Why the Fed shouldn’t worry about inflation – but should we?

Complaining about inflation now may seem to be similar to the captain of a boat complaining about pushing the engine too hard when the ship is sinking – but I’m going to do it anyway 😉

Bank in September Fred Mishkin wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal (ht Economists View and Greg Mankiw).  In it he mentions that the concern should not lie with headline annual growth in the consumer price index, but a more generalised and persistent increase in the price level.  Looking at core inflation, nominal wage growth, and the such in the US indicates that they are not truly suffering from an inflation problem.

Heading into the recent crisis this still seemed to be the case.  The October NBNZ Business confidence survey (which I will discuss tomorrow) still had elevated inflationary pressure, and I suspect the labour market data we have seen today and back on Monday (note that I haven’t seen this data when I wrote this) would indicate a strong inflationary undercurrent.

The truth is, even with a drastic slowdown in domestic economic activity, there is the risk that some form of underlying inflation mark-up is occurring during the wage negotations of the firm and the price setting behaviour of other firms.  I think this is evident in changing marketing strategies – with a “fixed price contract” now seen as an amazingly special deal by electricity retailers.  Purging this from the economic environment is difficult and costly – and is the ultimate cost of loose policy over the past six years.  If our recession is deeper than that experienced by the rest of the world, we can probably put it down to a historical failure by our central authorities.

The US may be able to relax about inflation – but we still can’t 🙁