Interest Rate Hikes Will Not Save Us from Inflation

Rather than making money harder to get, the U.S. government needs to focus on the other side of the demand vs. supply equation.

In prescribing cures for inflation, economists rely on the diagnosis of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman: inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon—too much money chasing too few goods. But that equation has three variables: too much money (“demand”) chasing (the “velocity” of spending) too few goods (“supply”). And “orthodox” economists, from Lawrence Summers to the Federal Reserve, seem to be focusing only on the “demand” variable. 

The Fed’s prescription is to suppress demand (borrowing and spending) by raising interest rates. Summers, a  former U.S. Treasury Secretary who presided over the massive post-2008 bank bailouts, is proposing to reduce demand by raising taxes or raising unemployment rates, reducing disposable income and thus people’s ability to spend. But those rather brutal solutions miss the real problem, just as Summers missed the crisis leading up to the 2008-09 crash. As explained in a November 2021 editorial titled “Too Few Goods – The Simple Explanation for October’s Elevated Inflation Rates,” we don’t actually have too much consumer money chasing available goods: 

Continue reading

Paul Volcker’s Long Shadow

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called Paul Volcker “the most effective chairman in the history of the Federal Reserve.” But while Volcker, who passed away Dec. 8 at age 92, probably did have the greatest historical impact of any Fed chairman, his legacy is, at best, controversial.

“He restored credibility to the Federal Reserve at a time it had been greatly diminished,” wrote his biographer, William Silber. Volcker’s policies led to what was called “the New Keynesian revolution,” putting the Fed in charge of controlling the amount of money available to consumers and businesses by manipulating the federal funds rate (the interest rate at which banks borrow from each other). All this was because Volcker’s “shock therapy” of the early 1980s – raising the federal funds rate to an unheard of 20% – was credited with reversing the stagflation of the 1970s. But did it? Or was something else going on?

Less discussed was Volcker’s role at the behest of President Richard Nixon in taking the dollar off the gold standard, which he called “the single most important event of his career.” He evidently intended for another form of stable exchange system to replace the Bretton Woods system it destroyed, but that did not happen. Instead, freeing the dollar from gold unleashed an unaccountable central banking system that went wild printing money for the benefit of private Wall Street and London financial interests. Continue reading