Inflation, Credibility, and Expectations: Again Some More

Paul Krugman rightly attacked the confidence fairy again yesterday — claiming that the unemployment of the 80s following Volcker’s tightening proves that Fed credibility doesn’t help — but I think he misfires this time. Here’s what I sed over there, with some tweaks:

To be fair, Paul, isn’t the point here that in 1980 the Fed was decidedly lacking in inflation-fighting credibility? Volcker changed that — as you say, at great cost — and reluctance to lose the resulting credibility has been grounds for not sufficiently addressing the employment side of the Fed’s mandate ever since.

More to the point, though: I am utterly mystified why the Fed thinks that saying it will allow slightly higher inflation (3 or 4 percent), doing so, then presumably bringing it back down, would hurt its inflation-fighting credibility. Quite the contrary.

Unless: they actually believe that they couldn’t pull it off — that a wage-price spiral would ensue, destroying their credibility. Which is the same as saying “if we let things go a little now, allowing more inflation while spurring employment, we may have to allow a lot of unemployment in the future (a la Volcker) to control runaway inflation.”

Given our (their) inability to predict economic futures, and their at-least-perceived decades-long ability to control inflation without big Volcker-style employment hits, this seems like a ridiculous concern.

The more likely explanation in my view: each extra point of inflation would transfer hundreds of billions of dollars of buying power every year from creditors to debtors. Permanently. This isn’t just Econ 101; it’s simple arithmetic.

And the Fed is run by creditors.

This explanation is completely in keeping with the rightie mantra that (only personal financial) incentives matter.

This raises a question I have, especially for (Market) Monetarists:

Suppose two or three years from now inflation is at 4% and employment is strong. Could the Fed bring inflation down by saying they’re going to be less expansive — setting expectations for lower inflation? Or is expectations-setting asymmetrical?

Can the Fed set higher expectations for growth/inflation largely through Open Mouth Operations, while lowering expectations would require (more) actual monetary operations, Volcker-style?

Cross-posted at Angry Bear.