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Keynesians and Market Monetarists Didn’t See Inflation Coming

The government’s latest report puts the twelve-month official consumer price inflation rate at 8.5 percent, the highest since December 1981:

As economists…

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The government’s latest report puts the twelve-month official consumer price inflation rate at 8.5 percent, the highest since December 1981:

As economists debate the causes of, and cure for, this price inflation, it’s worth recounting which schools of thought saw it coming. Although individuals can be nuanced, generally speaking the Austrians have been warning that the Fed’s reckless policies threaten the dollar. In contrast, as I will document in this article, two of the leaders of the Keynesian and market monetarist schools didn’t see this coming at all.

My Worst Professional Mistake

Before diving into it, I need to address a problem: my hands-down worst professional mistake occurred during the early years of the Fed’s “QE” (quantitative easing) programs, when I made bets on (consumer price) inflation with two economist colleagues. I ended up losing those bets and thereby gave Paul Krugman the opportunity to lecture me on my intellectual dishonesty because I clung to my (ostensibly falsified) Austrian model even after my prediction blew up in my face. Indeed, if you check out my Wikipedia entry, you’ll see that apparently my life story is that I was born, got my PhD, and lost an inflation bet—in that order. (For those interested in the details, I summarize the episode with relevant links in this postmortem blog post. I also participated in a 2014 Reason symposium along with Peter Schiff and others, commenting on the lack of inflation.)

Ever since the rounds of QE failed to yield surging consumer price inflation at the scale some of us warned of, the Keynesians and market monetarists understandably ran victory laps, saying that they were to be trusted over those permabear Cassandra Austrians. (To be sure, the market monetarists were far more civil about it than the prominent Keynesians.) So it is not with gloating or vindictiveness that I write the present article, but rather I do it to set the record straight and document for posterity that the leading Keynesians and market monetarists totally missed this bout of price inflation.

The Keynesians Camp: Paul Krugman and Klaus Schwab

Let’s do the fun one first: Paul Krugman has not fared well in light of our current inflationary experience. As late as June 2021, Krugman wrote an article in the New York Times titled “The Week Inflation Panic Died.” Here are some key excerpts, with my bold added, and keep in mind that when Krugman wrote this, the most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation rate was only 4.9 percent:

Remember when everyone was panicking about inflation, warning ominously about 1970s-type stagflation? OK, many people are still saying such things, some because that’s what they always say, some because that’s what they say when there’s a Democratic president….

But for those paying closer attention to the flow of new information, inflation panic is, you know, so last week.

Seriously, both recent data and recent statements from the Federal Reserve have, well, deflated the case for a sustained outbreak of inflation … [T]o panic over inflation, you had to believe either that the Fed’s model of how inflation works is all wrong or that the Fed would lack the political courage to cool off the economy if it were to become dangerously overheated.

Both beliefs have now lost most of whatever credibility they may have had….

The Fed has been arguing that recent price rises are similarly transitory … The Fed’s view has been that this episode, like the inflation blip of 2010–11, will soon be over.

And it’s now looking as if the Fed was right ...

…. Monetary doomsayers have been wrong again and again since the early 1980s, when Milton Friedman kept predicting an inflation resurgence that never arrived. Why the eagerness to party like it’s 1979?

To be fair, government support for the economy is much stronger now than it was during the Obama years, so it makes more sense to worry about inflation this time around. But the vehemence of the inflation rhetoric has been wildly disproportionate to the actual risks—and those risks now seem even smaller than they did a few weeks ago.

Of course, Krugman’s confident dismissal of those Biden-hating doomsayers blew up in his face, as CPI inflation kept ratcheting higher and higher. In a December 2021 NYT column, Krugman threw in the towel and admitted he had been wrong, but in his own special way (again, with my bolding):

The current bout of inflation came on suddenly…. Even once the inflation numbers shot up, many economists—myself included—argued that the surge was likely to prove transitory. But at the very least it’s now clear that “transitory” inflation will last longer than most of us on that team expected….

… I believe that what we’re seeing mainly reflects the inherent dislocations from the pandemic, rather than, say, excessive government spending. I also believe that inflation will subside over the course of the next year and that we shouldn’t take any drastic action. But reasonable economists disagree, and they could be right….

The latest projections from board members and Fed presidents are for the interest rate the Fed controls to rise next year, but by less than one percentage point, and for the unemployment rate to keep falling.

Perhaps surprisingly, my own position on policy substance isn’t all that different from either Furman’s or the Fed’s. I think inflation is mainly bottlenecks and other transitory factors and will come down, but I’m not certain, and I am definitely open to the possibility that the Fed should raise rates, possibly before the middle of next year….

Maybe the real takeaway here should be how little we know about where we are in this strange economic episode. Economists like me who didn’t expect much inflation were wrong, but economists who did predict inflation were arguably right for the wrong reasons, and nobody really knows what’s coming.

For those keeping score at home, remember that when I pointed out that Keynesians Christina Romer and Jared Bernstein had been notoriously wrong in their forecasts of unemployment following the Obama stimulus package, Krugman told us that “some predictions matter more than others.” So this time around, Krugman can’t argue that his botched inflation predictions are irrelevant. Instead, as we see above, he’s claiming that his opponents were right but for the wrong reasons. Even when Krugman is wrong, he’s still better than his enemies!

And for the sake of completeness, let’s reproduce this quotation from Klaus Schwab (who has doctoral degrees in both economics and engineering) and Thierry Malleret in COVID-19: The Great Reset. Writing in July 2020, Schwab and Malleret claimed:

At this current juncture, it is hard to imagine how inflation could pick up anytime soon…. The combination of potent, long-term, structural trends like ageing and technology … and an exceptionally high unemployment rate that will constrain wages for years puts strong downward pressure on inflation. In the post-pandemic era, strong consumer demand is unlikely. (p. 70)

So when he’s not plotting to take over the world, Klaus Schwab is making erroneous inflation predictions.

The Leader of the Market Monetarists, Scott Sumner

As I said earlier, the market monetarists are far more civil than Krugman, Brad DeLong, and some other leading Keynesians. (And as far as I know, they’re not bent on world domination either.) But to repeat myself: since 2008, the one trump card the market monetarists had in their rivalry with the Austrians was that many of us prematurely warned about consumer price inflation à la the 1970s, whereas the market monetarists relied on TIPS (Treasury inflation-protected securities) yields and other market indicators to reassure their readers that inflation wouldn’t be a problem.

In that context, then, it’s very interesting that Scott Sumner, founder and leader of the market monetarists, wrote a blog post entitled, “Fed Policy: The Golden Age Begins,” in January 2020. Here are the key excerpts, with my bold:

We are entering a golden age of central banking, where the Fed will become more effective and come closer to hitting its targets than at any other time in history. Over the next few decades, inflation will stay close to 2% and the unemployment rate will generally be relatively low and stable. And this certainly won’t be due to fiscal policy, which is currently the most recklessly pro-cyclical in American history.

… Fed policy is becoming more effective because it is edging gradually in a market monetarist direction….

If they continue moving in this direction, then NGDP [nominal gross domestic product] growth will continue to become more stable, the business cycle will continue to moderate, inflation will stay in the low single digits, and unemployment will stay relatively low and stable.

It won’t be perfect; the business cycle is not quite dead. There will be an occasional recession. But the business cycle is definitely on life support….

As an analogy, when I was young I would frequently read about airliners crashing in the US…. My daughter is a junior in college and doesn’t recall a single major airline crash in the US, excluding a couple of small commuter planes in the 2000s…. After each crash, problems were fixed and planes got a bit safer.

Recessions and airline crashes: They are getting less frequent, and for the exact same reason.

Before closing, let me deal with the obvious response from the market monetarist camp: They could defend Sumner’s claims by arguing that the Fed only strayed from the ideal path because of covid. Well, sure, but Sumner was still wrong for placing so much faith in central bankers and their “independence.”

Furthermore, as I explain in my chapter on market monetarism in this book, Sumner’s criterion of “NGDP growth” as a measure of tight or loose policy is almost a tautology. It is close to me arguing, “We will continue to see rising prices because of the Fed’s reckless policies, unless demand growth subsides, in which case we won’t.”

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Spread & Containment

War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Government

CDC Announces Overhaul After Botching Pandemic

CDC Announces Overhaul After Botching Pandemic

After more than two years of missteps and backpedaling over Covid-19 guidance that had a profound…

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CDC Announces Overhaul After Botching Pandemic

After more than two years of missteps and backpedaling over Covid-19 guidance that had a profound effect on Americans' lives, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced on Wednesday that the agency would undergo a complete overhaul - and will revamp everything from its operations to its culture after failing to meet expectations during the pandemic, Bloomberg reports.

Director Rochelle Walensky began telling CDC’s staff Wednesday that the changes are aimed at replacing the agency’s insular, academic culture with one that’s quicker to respond to emergencies. That will mean more rapidly turning research into health recommendations, working better with other parts of government and improving how the CDC communicates with the public. -Bloomberg

"For 75 years, CDC and public health have been preparing for Covid-19, and in our big moment, our performance did not reliably meet expectations," said Director Rochelle Walensky. "I want us all to do better and it starts with CDC leading the way.  My goal is a new, public health action-oriented culture at CDC that emphasizes accountability, collaboration, communication and timeliness."

As Bloomberg further notes, The agency has been faulted for an inadequate testing and surveillance program, for not collecting important data on how the virus was spreading and how vaccines were performing, for being too under the influence of the White House during the Trump administration and for repeated challenges communicating to a politically divided and sometimes skeptical public."

A few examples:

Walensky made the announcement in a Wednesday morning video message to CDC staff, where she said that the US has 'significant work to do' in order to improve the country's public health defenses.

"Prior to this pandemic, our infrastructure within the agency and around the country was too frail to tackle what we confronted with Covid-19," she said. "To be frank, we are responsible for some pretty dramatic, pretty public mistakes — from testing, to data, to communications."

The CDC overhaul comes on the heels of the agency admitting that "unvaccinated people now have the same guidance as vaccinated people" - and that those exposed to COVID-19 are no longer required to quarantine.

Tyler Durden Wed, 08/17/2022 - 12:22

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Economics

Why Is No One at Nike Working This Week?

And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

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And will the move gain broader acceptance among American employers?

You go into an office, pull at the door and find that it doesn't give and nobody's there. 

It may sound like the start of the common rushing-to-the-office-on-a-Saturday nightmare but, more and more, collective time off is being embraced by employees as part of a push for a better work culture.

While professional social media platform LinkedIn  (MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report and dating app Bumble  (BMBL) - Get Bumble Inc. Report had already experimented with collective time off for workers, the corporate ripples truly began with Nike  (NKE) - Get Nike Inc. Report.

In August 2021, the activewear giant announced that it was giving the 11,000-plus employees at its Oregon headquarters the week off to "power down" and "destress" from stress brought on by the covid-19 pandemic.

"In a year (or two) unlike any other, taking time for rest and recovery is key to performing well and staying sane," Matt Marrazzos, Nike's senior manager of global marketing science, wrote to employees at the time.

Nike Is On Vacation Right Now

The experiment was, not exactly unexpectedly, very well-received — a year later, the company instituted its second annual "Well-Being Week." Both the corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., and three Air Manufacturing design labs with over 1,500 employees are closed for a collective paid vacation from Aug. 15 to 19.

"We knew it would be impactful, but I was blown away by the feedback from our teammates [...]," Nike's Chief Human Resources Officer Monique Matheson wrote in a LinkedIn post.

"Because everyone was away at the same time, teammates said they could unplug – really unplug, without worrying about what was happening back at the office or getting anxiety about the emails piling up."

Shutterstock/TheStreet

Of course, the time off only applies to corporate employees. To keep the stores running and online orders fulfilled but not exacerbate the differences between blue and white collar workers, Nike gave its retail and distribution employees a week's worth of paid days off that they can use as they see fit.

Nike has tied the change to its commitment to prioritize mental health. In the last year, it launched everything from a "marathon of mental health" to a podcast that discusses how exercise can be used to manage anxiety and depression.

Rippling Through the Corporate World?

But as corporations are often criticized for turning mental health into positive PR without actually doing much for employees, the collective week off was perhaps the most significant thing the company did for workers' mental health.

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The practice of set office closures has long been common practice in many European countries. In France, not only corporate offices but even restaurants and retail stores empty out over the month of August for what is culturally considered sacred vacation time. 

But as American work culture prioritizes individual choice and "keeping business going" above all else, the practice has been seen as radical by many corporate heads and particularly small businesses that may find it more difficult to have such a prolonged drop in business. 

But in many ways, the conversations mirror some companies' resistance to remote work despite the fact that one-fourth of white-collar jobs in the U.S. are expected to be fully remote by 2023

"This is the kind of perk that makes employees want to stay," industry analyst Shep Hyken wrote in a comment for RetailWire. "And knowing they can’t completely shut the entire company down, I like the way they are compensating the distribution and retail store employees."

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