Keeping monetary policy easy to achieve higher inflation has the potential to push rents still higher, negatively affecting a large percentage of households. Consequently, I am not as enthusiastic or encouraged as some when I see inflation moving higher, especially when it has been driven by a sector like housing. Inflation is a tax and those least able to afford it generally suffer the most.Dean notes:
First, the people who are denied work as a result of higher interest rates will be disproportionately those at the bottom of the ladder: African Americans, Hispanics, and workers with less education. Furthermore, higher unemployment rates mean that the workers who have jobs will have less bargaining power and be less able to push up their wages. It's hard to see how people who lose jobs and get lower pay increases will benefit from a slightly lower inflation rate. The other reason why the argument doesn't quite work is that even the modest inflation we have seen in recent years is driven almost entirely by rising rents. Higher interest rates could actually make rental inflation worse. An immediate effect of higher interest rates is lower construction. This will reduce the supply of housing in cities with rapidly rising rents, making the shortage of housing units worse. This will compound the negative effect of reduced labor market opportunities. That hardly seems like a winning policy option for the poor.Let me just add that the same Bloomberg report that Dean cites has a link to a recent paper by Olivier Coibion, Yuriy Gorodnichenko, Lorenz Kueng, and John Silvia:
We study the effects of monetary policy shocks on—and their historical contribution to—consumption and income inequality in the United States since 1980 as measured by the Consumer Expenditure Survey. Contractionary monetary policy systematically increases inequality in labor earnings, total income, consumption and total expenditures. Furthermore, monetary policy shocks account for a non-trivial component of the historical cyclical variation in income and consumption inequality. Using detailed micro-level data on income and consumption, we document some of the different channels via which monetary policy shocks affect inequality, as well as how these channels depend on the nature of the change in monetary policy.The Bloomberg report notes:
Many economists remember a 1998 study by Christina and David Romer. It concluded that while expansionary monetary policy can reduce poverty in the short run by juicing economic growth, in the longer run everyone will benefit more from policies that aim for low and stable inflation because those measures improve the economy’s overall efficiency. Although it is true that high inflation in itself can sometimes disadvantage the poor -- the idea is that wealthier people are able to more-easily diversify their savings into assets less susceptible to inflation -- it’s only a small part of the story when it comes to the implications for monetary policy, according to Olivier Coibion, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. In a recent study, Coibion and his co-authors found that over the period from 1980 to 2008, the inflation-as-regressive-tax argument was swamped by other benefits of accommodative monetary policy that pushed in the opposite direction, leading to a conclusion somewhat at odds with the Romers’ findings.Their findings amplify what Dean Baker has been saying. I hope that he gets to read their new paper. We all should – especially members of the Federal Reserve.