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2022.05.13 无痛的通货膨胀不再是可信的

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发表于 2022-5-15 23:41:30 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式

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Finance and economics
Jón Steinsson believes that a painless disinflation is no longer plausible
The economics professor says that the Fed’s hard-won credibility is at stake

May 13th 2022

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After rising steadily for over a year, inflation in America is now higher than it has been for four decades. On May 4th the Federal Reserve raised the federal funds rate by 0.5 percentage points. Jerome Powell, its chair, also indicated that further 0.5-percentage-point increases are likely in June and July. Together, these actions will constitute the fastest tightening of policy since the 1980s.

This “expeditious” tightening is a welcome shift from late last year. Back then the thinking of the Fed, of pundits and of market participants fell far behind the curve. The Fed was expected to raise rates by less than one percentage point over the course of 2022. Proposals (including one of my own) to raise rates by a total of two percentage points were considered radical.


Even now some critics see the Fed‘s current stance as falling short. Markets currently expect it to raise rates to about 2.75% by the end of the year, and only by about 0.5 percentage points more next year. The Fed‘s own (rather optimistic) forecast from March had inflation at 4.3% at the end of this year and 2.7% at the end of 2023. This same forecast had unemployment remaining at record lows for the foreseeable future. This combination of forecasts has been dubbed the “immaculate disinflation” because inflation is seen as falling rapidly despite a very tight labour market and a policy rate that is for the most part negative in real terms (ie, adjusted for inflation).

Is it plausible that inflation will come down with so little pain? This was certainly not the case last time inflation rose to its current heights in America. Back in the 1980s, the process of disinflation was extremely painful. Under the leadership of Paul Volcker, the Fed raised interest rates to 20% and engineered a huge recession.

There are differences, however, between today’s situation and that of 40 years ago. Arguably, the most important is the credibility the Fed has built up since then thanks to its inflation-fighting. In the early 1980s, its credibility was in tatters after a decade of high and volatile inflation. But the Fed’s relentless focus on bringing about low and stable inflation meant that by 2000 its credibility was sky high.

Credibility has the effect of anchoring longer-term expectations of inflation. Since the late 1990s, those expectations have been virtually constant. This makes controlling inflation much easier than it otherwise would be. For example, those setting wages and prices in the economy react less strongly to temporary disturbances, such as a disruption in the energy markets.


The case for an “immaculate disinflation” today rests on longer-run expectations about inflation continuing to be solidly anchored at the Fed’s target of 2%. If this remains the case, it is entirely possible that inflation will simply return to target as the disturbances associated with covid-19 and the war in Ukraine dissipate. In this scenario, there is no need for particularly tight policy. After all, the unemployment rate is no lower today than it was at the start of 2020 when inflation was 2%.

The risks to this benign scenario are twofold. First, it may be that some of the special disturbances associated with the pandemic and the war do not fade away quickly. A new wave of covid-19 may emerge. China’s adherence to its zero-covid policy seems likely to cause substantial disruptions for some time. And there is no end in sight to the war in Ukraine.

The second, more serious, risk is that the Fed’s credibility starts eroding. The longer inflation stays high, the likelier this is. At a certain point the excuses for inflation’s persistence will wear thin—even if they are valid. The public will simply lose confidence in the Fed. I worried about this possibility late last year when the Fed’s delayed pivot towards tighter policy seemed woefully inadequate. Even now, I worry that the Fed is in a race against time to bring down inflation before its credibility is seriously damaged. For that reason, I think it needs to err on the side of tightening more than the most optimistic scenario would warrant, as insurance against the possibility that things might get worse.

These risks imply that disinflation will probably be painful. However, I remain optimistic that it is possible to disinflate at substantially lower cost than past experience suggests. The Fed has established the notion that it is ready to raise rates in 0.5-percentage-point increments as often as is needed. This amounts to as much as four percentage points of tightening per year, which should really be enough. More importantly, Fed officials are at last willing to state unequivocally that they will do whatever it takes to bring down inflation. It is only if the public remains fully confident that the Fed is willing to cause whatever pain is needed, that it stands any chance of engineering a disinflation without much suffering.
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Jón Steinsson is a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley.



金融和经济
Jón Steinsson认为,无痛的通货膨胀不再是可信的
这位经济学教授说,美联储来之不易的公信力正面临威胁

2022年5月13日


在稳步上升了一年多之后,美国的通货膨胀率现在比四十年来的都要高。5月4日,美联储将联邦基金利率提高了0.5个百分点。美联储主席杰罗姆-鲍威尔还表示,在6月和7月有可能进一步提高0.5个百分点。这些行动加在一起,将构成1980年代以来最快的政策紧缩。

这种 "快速 "的紧缩政策与去年年底相比是一个可喜的转变。那时,美联储、专家学者和市场参与者的想法都远远落后于曲线。预计美联储将在2022年期间加息不到一个百分点。将利率总共提高两个百分点的建议(包括我自己的一个建议)被认为是激进的。


即使是现在,一些批评者也认为美联储目前的立场是不够的。市场目前预计,到今年年底,它将把利率提高到2.75%左右,而明年只提高0.5个百分点左右。美联储自己3月份的预测(相当乐观),今年年底的通货膨胀率为4.3%,2023年底为2.7%。同样的预测显示,在可预见的未来,失业率将保持在历史最低水平。这种预测组合被称为 "完美的通货膨胀",因为尽管劳动力市场非常紧张,而且政策利率在大多数情况下是实际负值(即根据通货膨胀调整),但通货膨胀被视为迅速下降。

通货膨胀会在如此小的痛苦中下降,这是否可信?上次美国的通货膨胀上升到目前的高度时,情况肯定不是这样的。早在20世纪80年代,通货膨胀的过程是非常痛苦的。在保罗-沃尔克的领导下,美联储将利率提高到20%,并策划了一场巨大的衰退。

然而,今天的情况与40年前的情况有区别。可以说,最重要的是,由于美联储对抗通货膨胀,从那时起已经建立了信誉。在20世纪80年代初,在经历了十年的高涨和波动的通货膨胀之后,它的可信度已经破损。但是,美联储坚持不懈地专注于实现低而稳定的通货膨胀,这意味着到2000年,它的可信度已经很高。

公信力具有固定长期通胀预期的作用。自20世纪90年代末以来,这些预期几乎保持不变。这使得控制通货膨胀比其他情况下要容易得多。例如,那些在经济中确定工资和价格的人对临时性的干扰,如能源市场的干扰,反应不那么强烈。


今天,"完美的通货膨胀 "的理由是,对通货膨胀的长期预期继续牢固地固定在美联储2%的目标上。如果情况仍然如此,那么随着与19号汽油事件和乌克兰战争有关的干扰消散,通货膨胀将完全有可能恢复到目标值。在这种情况下,没有必要采取特别严格的政策。毕竟,今天的失业率并不比2020年初通胀率为2%时低。

这种良性情景的风险是双重的。首先,可能是与大流行病和战争有关的一些特殊干扰没有迅速消失。可能会出现新一波的covid-19。中国坚持其零科维德政策,似乎可能在一段时间内造成实质性的干扰。而乌克兰的战争也看不到尽头。

第二个更严重的风险是,美联储的公信力开始受到侵蚀。通货膨胀率保持在高位的时间越长,就越有可能出现这种情况。在某一时刻,通胀持续存在的借口将变得很薄弱--即使它们是有效的。公众将直接失去对美联储的信心。去年年底,当美联储延迟转向紧缩政策似乎远远不够时,我就担心过这种可能性。即使是现在,我也担心美联储正与时间赛跑,在其信誉受到严重损害之前降低通胀。出于这个原因,我认为它需要在紧缩政策方面比最乐观的情况下做得更多,作为对事情可能变得更糟的保险。

这些风险意味着通货紧缩可能是痛苦的。然而,我仍然乐观地认为,有可能以比过去的经验更低的成本进行通货膨胀。美联储已经确立了这样一个概念,即它准备在需要的时候以0.5个百分点的速度提高利率。这相当于每年有多达四个百分点的紧缩,这确实应该足够了。更重要的是,美联储官员终于愿意明确表示,他们将不惜一切代价来降低通胀。只有当公众仍然完全相信美联储愿意造成任何必要的痛苦时,它才有机会在没有太多痛苦的情况下设计出一个通货膨胀。
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Jón Steinsson是加州大学伯克利分校的经济学教授。
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