Independent central banks don’t do what this Fed has done. They leave such fiscal action to the legislative branch. By that same token, Mr. Volcker’s Fed had to avoid financing the large (for that time) Reagan budget deficits to be able to bring down inflation. The central bank was made independent expressly so that it could refuse to finance deficits. But is there a political consensus that the much larger Obama deficits will not pressure the Fed to expand reserves to buy Treasury bonds?The end result? Inflation.
It doesn’t help that the administration’s stimulus program is an obstacle to sound policy. It will create jobs at the cost of an enormous increase in the government debt that has to be financed. And it does very little to increase productivity, which is the main engine of economic growth.
Indeed, big, heavily subsidized programs are rarely good for productivity. Better health care adds to the public’s sense of well-being, but it adds only a little to productivity. Subsidizing cleaner energy projects can produce jobs, but it doesn’t add much to national productivity. Meanwhile, higher carbon tax rates increase production costs and prices but do not increase productivity. All these actions can slow productive investment and the economy’s underlying growth rate, which, in turn, increases the inflation rate.
We should look instead at...the gross domestic product deflator. In this year’s first quarter, it rose 2.9 percent — a sure sign of inflation.
Besides, no country facing enormous budget deficits, rapid growth in the money supply and the prospect of a sustained currency devaluation as we are has ever experienced deflation. These factors are harbingers of inflation.
When will it come? Surely not right away. But sooner or later, we will see the Fed, under pressure from Congress, the administration and business, try to prevent interest rates from increasing. The proponents of lower rates will point to the unemployment numbers and the slow recovery. That’s why the Fed must start to demonstrate the kind of courage and independence it has not recently shown.
Milton Friedman often said that “inflation was always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” The members of the Federal Reserve seem to dismiss this theory because they concentrate excessively on the near term and almost never discuss the medium- and long-term consequences of their actions. That’s a big error. They need to think past current political pressures and unemployment rates. For the next few years, they cannot neglect rising inflation.