It’s the Inflation Wars! Barry
Ritholtz and Dan Gross
Wasik and Johnny
Debacle and dozens of others are elbowing each other out of the way to proclaim
from the rooftops that we have a Serious Inflation Problem and that the Fed
should therefore raise rates – or, at the very least, not cut them. Brad
DeLong tries to fight against the tide, but he must be feeling a bit lonely
My feeling about all this is that it all depends on which measure of inflation
one chooses to target – and this is crucial – ex ante.
At any given point in time, something is inflating at a dangerous pace.
It might be tech stocks or houses or food prices or wages or hotel rooms or
bicycle tires, but the key to taking any given inflation hawk seriously is to
ask whether they were in any way reassured that inflation was not a
problem when their chosen indicator was not rising in price.
The Fed has said, quite consistently, that the measure of inflation it cares
about most is core inflation, as measured in nominal dollars, ex food and energy.
You can argue with that decision, but once they’ve made that decision, I’m not
a fan of suddenly deciding when food and energy prices rise that, oh deary me,
they do matter for monetary-policy purposes after all.
Personally, if I were going to ask the Fed to target anything, I’d be tempted
to ask them to target the TIPS spread on 10-year bonds. But my point is that
if the TIPS spread starts gapping out and the Fed isn’t targeting it,
then they really shouldn’t panic and start raising overnight interest rates
as a result. The Fed has enough on its plate trying to target just one measure
of inflation. Let’s not try and force them to target half a dozen.