Eoin Treacy's view -
The Fed’s move away from pre-emptive action in its new policy framework is the most important factor raising the risk that it will fall well behind the curve and be too late to deal effectively with an inflation problem without a major disruption to activity. Monetary policy operates with long and variable lags, and as we have noted, it will also take time to recognize that inflation has actually overshot excessively and persistently. As inflation rises sustainably above target, forward looking expectations are likely to become unanchored and drift higher, adding momentum to the process.
By this point, the Fed will likely be moved to act, and when it does the impact will be highly disruptive to the markets and the economy. In the past, the Fed has not been able to reverse a sustained run-up in inflation without causing a recession and potentially large increase in unemployment. Being behind the curve when it starts will make the event that much more painful. Rising interest rates will also cause havoc in a debt-heavy world, leading to financial crises especially in emerging markets. If the Fed lets up and reverses rate increases in response to rising unemployment and other economic pain as occurred during the 1970s, inflation could back up again, leading to a repeat of the stop-go economic cycles that occurred during that period.
Depending on the timing of this potential inflation scenario, the 2022 midterm elections could be crucial. A surprisingly strong showing on the Democratic side could even pave the way for modifying the Federal Reserve Act to raise the inflation objective. This discussion has been brewing in academic circles for some time, not the least as a way to enhance the Fed’s power to move interest rates into negative territory when needed. But such a move could damage the Fed’s inflation fighting credibility. It could also lead to still higher inflation over time and ultimately intensifying the kind of boom-bust cycle experienced during the 1970s.
In brief, the easy policy decisions of the disinflationary 1980-2020 period appear to be behind us.
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The response to the credit crisis resulted in massive asset price inflation which exacerbated inequality across society in most countries. The response to the pandemic is aimed at reversing that trend and providing greater opportunity to the people left behind by the last recovery. That implies massive money printing, spending and social programs.
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