Last week a group of prominent economists wrote an open letter to the Federal Reserve arguing that the current Fed target of 2% annual inflation is too low.
Their basic view is:
–circumstances have changed a lot in the US since 2% became the economists’ consensus for the right level of inflation a quarter-century ago, so it isn’t necessarily the right number anymore, and
–the lack of oomph in the US economy is a result of maintaining an inflation target that’s too low. So let’s try 3% instead.
Having a 3% inflation target instead of 2% isn’t a new idea. I heard it for the first time about 20 years ago, from an economist at the then Swiss Bank Corp. Her argument was that getting from 3% to 2% inflation would require an enormous amount of effort without any obvious payoff. The whole idea of inflation targeting is to eliminate the possibility of the kind of runaway inflation–and associated crazy economic choices–of the kind the US had begun to experience in the late 1970s. Whether actual inflation is 3% or 2% matters little, just as long as the current level is not the launching pad for a progression of 4%, 6% 9%…
Another way of looking at this would be to say that the nominal figures matter much more than academic economists realize, and that 4% nominal GDP growth (2% trend economic growth + 2% inflation) feels too much like stagnation. Therefore, it undermines the entrepreneurial tendencies of ordinary people.
How to create 3% inflation? …slower interest rate increases and/or increased government stimulus (meaning tax cuts and infrastructure spending).
The letter certainly won’t affect the Fed’s thinking about a rate rise in June. But it seems to me that the debate on this issue can only intensify.
By the way, I think 3% inflation would be good for stocks, neutral/bad for fixed income.