Gavyn Davies on Bernanke’s change of heart

keeping inflation low

Since the tenure of Paul Volcker began over thirty years ago, the mantra of the Federal Reserve has been to do what is necessary to keep inflation under control.  Over time, this morphed into the narrower target of keeping inflation under 2%, but the intent has always been to drive inflation lower.  Yes, the Fed has a “dual mandate,” both to conduct monetary policy in a way to achieve maximum sustainable GDP growth and to promote employment.  But the former has invariably trumped the latter.

…until now

In the September 12th pronouncement from its Open Market Committee, the Fed unveiled new monetary stimulus measures targeted at reducing unemployment.  For the first time, they are open-ended both in terms of time and of money.

Why?  

…especially when there’s a lively debate, even within the Fed, over whether we are in fact already at full employment.  If so, the new measures won’t create any new jobs.  It will only ignite wage inflation, as companies poach employees from rivals in order to expand.

Personally, I don’t know.  I think that if the Fed decision has any immediate implications for financial markets, they’re positive for stocks and neutral (at best) for bonds.  So arguably as an equity investor, I don’t need to know.

Still, I’m curious.  The best I can do is to fall back on the old saw that inflation is better than deflation, since the world’s central bankers have plenty of experience dealing with the former but have gone 0-for when confronted with the latter.

the Davies answer

Gavyn Davies, former chief economist for Goldman Sachs and now a blogger for the Financial Times, has a better answer in his 9/16 post for the newspaper.  It’s worth reading.

The thrust of the post is that, in Davies’ view, Mr. Bernanke’s QE3 decision implies he believes the US is at a tipping point with the chronically unemployed.

As workers remain out of the workforce, the theory goes, their skills gradually erode–and, with them, their chances of finding new employment.  At the same time, former workers’ enthusiasm for the job search effort also wanes.  Eventually, they drop out of the workforce permanently–becoming unfulfilled as persons, burdens on the rest of society for decades and–crucially–inhibitors of future GDP growth.

Recent surveys by the Labor Department suggest the “dropout” rate in the US is starting to accelerate, putting into motion the downward spiral just described.  In Davies’s view, this is what has changed the balance of risks in the Fed’s mind.

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