The Federal Reserve plans to continue the implementation of “Quantitative Easing 2” under the direction of Chairman Bernanke. Bernanke was recently questioned on Capitol Hill about the direction and need for future QE2 for fear of future inflation. In the spotlight is Senator Paul Ryan (R-WI) who is outspoken in his criticism of the Federal Reserve. Economist James Kwak criticized Senator Ryan on his concept of inflation, the supply of money, and the exchange rate of a currency. An older post by economist James Hamilton on his blog Econbrowser examines a similar notion to that discussed by Ryan by focusing on the equation of exchange as it relates to different types of money (specifically base money versus currency).
These articles all beg the question, “Is inflation becoming a problem in the U.S.?” The Economist recently published a story highlighting the different inflation rates here and in developing countries taking note of rising food and commodity prices here and abroad. You can refer to the Fed’s monetary aggregates at the WSJ website here.
Questions you might answer
- Do you think inflation is a problem today in the U.S.? If so, do you think that QE2 is exacerbating that problem?
- Do the arguments of Kwak and/or Hamilton convince you that QE2 is not directly problematic with regard to inflationary pressures?
- Does QE2 present an increasing problem with regard to the Fed’s exit strategy? Is all of this debate about Fed policy warranted?
- Does the value of our currency present a problem for U.S. citizens? Or does devaluation of our currency possibly lead to an improved outcome for Americans?
16 thoughts on “ECON430-Topic #2: Status of QE2 and Inflation”
Typically inflation is an issue because of its secondary effects on confidence and expectations. When consumers predict future inflation because of rising commodity prices, their reaction in turn promotes inflation. An article in The Economist highlights these inflation expectation issues, “Price rises change expectations of inflation, leading workers to bid for wage increases that preserve their buying power and firms to push through price increases” . However, in the U.S. our current low inflation is partially fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s justification for continuing this round of QE; suggesting inflation won’t be an issue because of our developed economic standing . We do not see inflation affecting the U.S. now (.7% core inflation in 2010) and I don’t believe it will be an issue following QE2 . James Hamilton insists that policies like QE2 only increase the supply of reserves in the system, not necessarily increasing currency held by the public and inflating the dollar . “The supply of reserves could therefore increase a trillion dollars without causing inflation. The quantity of currency held by the public could not.” House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan fears this sort of macroeconomic manipulation, but fails to acknowledge the distinction between our monetary base expanding, and inflation increasing. QE2 will not exacerbate an already non-existent issue; increasing the monetary base will benefit the economy rather than inflate it out of control.
I think inflation is not a problem right now. I’m also not certain if QE2 is going to increase the rate of inflation, because it is unclear if QE2 is going to stimulate the economy further. But QE2 will keep the consumers and investors confident in the economy.
Proponents of QE2 say that it will have ‘modest support’ to the economy, while opponents feel it could ‘backfire’ by pushing up the commodity prices and create high inflation (and the Fed wouldn’t be able to control). To be scared of a future uncontrollable inflation is really not clear whether it comes from the QE2 or the inability of emerging economies to tackle their inflation problems. According to the Fed, the high price of foods and grains is because of the fast growing of the emerging markets economy, not the US monetary policy. He adds that “it’s entirely unfair to attribute excess demand pressures in emerging markets to US monetary policy.”
Would the Fed be able to tackle a ‘coming’ inflation on time, is a good question that the house representative Frank Lucas, R-Okla asked Ben Bernanke during the House Budget Committee meeting last week. According to the head of the Fed, they have the ‘political will’ to ‘boost interest rates when needed.
Therefore, at this moment I’m uncertain if the QE2 will cause high inflation in the US; or whether the emerging economies will control their inflations; or whether the Fed will be able to see and tackle the high inflation in the future if it is caused by QE2.
In regard to the question of whether inflation is a problem in the US, the answer right now is no. As Chairman Bernanke stated, “that all measures of domestic inflation — the prices that real Americans pay for the real stuff that they actually buy — are at historic lows: core inflation of 0.7 percent in 2010, the price index for personal consumption expenditures at 1.2 percent, and average hourly earnings at 1.7 percent,” ]. This is with the quantitative easing that has already taken place and to follow Kimberly’s post, simply expanding the monetary base will not necessarily equate to higher inflation. However, what can and will cause higher inflation in the future are the increasing expectations of inflation as well as the increased prices of foreign commodities. QE2 can always be retracted as the Fed begins to sell back the bonds later, but actual higher prices in goods will become a serious problem if the issue persists. In The Economist article, they discuss the impending effects this could have saying, “Price rises change expectations of inflation, leading workers to bid for wage increases that preserve their buying power and firms to push through price increases, generating a vicious spiral,” . This should be Congress’s main concern when dealing with inflation instead of QE2 because these effects will be more severe and harder to deal with later when inflation becomes a problem in the US.
Looking at the inflation situation, currently there seems to be no inflation threat, even though the surging demand for commodities has pushed up food and energy prices. In fact, statistics show that CPI, PPI and hourly earnings are considerably lower than pre-recession levels. I am of the opinion that QE2 has had little effect on prices in the general economy. This is because despite the role of QE2 in depressing interest rates and increasing money supply, other factors such as increased lending standards, increased reserve holding by banks and also consumer and private sector deleveraging have slowed down the M2 money supply growth, hence keeping inflation in check. Reading Kwak’s article made me doubt Paul Ryan’s understanding of Monetary Theory. This whole inflation threat argument seems not to be backed by complete evidence but more by the perception that, if inflation is rising in other countries then it must be rising here too. Yes, QE2 has increased the money supply but instead of increasing M2, it seems have increased M0 that’s why we are currently not seeing any signs of inflation in the economy. The Fed has a huge predicament on its hands with regards to the exit strategy for QE2. This is because apart from deciding the appropriate timing for an exit, the current unemployment situation only exacerbates the problem, since a withdrawal of QE2 will hike interest rates, which is not ideal in a high unemployment environment and not forgetting that this further hurts the housing market. Devaluation increases exports by making American goods cheaper compared to foreign goods. Therefore, devaluation is not necessarily negative since it can increase foreign demand for US goods allowing US firms to boost production and add jobs. On the other hand, devaluation results in higher commodity prices and a lower purchasing power for US consumers.
The very recent economic crisis, just like any other ones in modern human history, had similar negative impacts. Yet I think just trying to understand this very recent one as any other ones happened before it the same old way, we may overlook key factors which have changed the nature of the game and fail to accurately locate new forces that are driving the dynamics of the free market. One of the factors that the world has not seen before is the rise in demand of commodities from emerging markets. Using China and the United States as examples, China’s daily consumption of crude oil grew from 217 barrels in 1965 to 8625 barrels 2009 while that of U.S. grew from 11522 barrels to 18686 barrels.  Although the magnitude of increase in both countries are about the same, but the rate of increase in China is much higher than it is in the United States. Similar stories can be found in many emerging markets and in different commodity markets. Demand for commodities is rising while supply is not. Therefore just because of this one factor, it is very obvious that commodity prices are going to maintain its already high levels, if not increase even more. That being said, inflation in the United States is very likely on the way. I do believe that the Central bank should play an active role in a crisis like this. Although I don’t think inflation is going to take off before 2013, when I put this situation into the context however, I think Fed need to be very careful with quantitative easing because these unfavorable outcomes people are arguing about in the articles are mostly based on assumptions, which can be flawed. It’s better that we proceed with care than take the chance of losing control.
Despite today’s economic troubles, I do not think that inflation is a problem. Although we are seeing a rise in commodity and gas prices, central banks should ignore these rises since they can be considered as temporary shocks. In reality, this temporary upward price pressure will actually “cut into consumer spending—which in turn suggests lower, not higher, inflation down the road” . In regards to QE2, I agree with Bernake’s remark where he “blamed higher prices on strong demand from fast-growing countries such as China– not the Fed’s policies to stimulate the economy” . This can be seen in an article published by The Economist where emerging markets have seen a dramatic increase in inflation and developed markets haven’t really since this inflationary pressure . Although the Fed’s policies haven’t had the full effect that they wanted, they have still lowered unemployment to 9%, and kept inflation relatively low as compared to developed markets. With that said, I think it’s a little silly that people like Paul Ryan, Todd Rokita, and Ron Paul can be so critical and favor completely abolishing the Fed. I agree with Percy’s comment that the problem of inflation does seem to see more about perception rather than evidence. It seems as if since we are assuming that since these “emerging markets” are in trouble with inflation, it will have a direct effect on our economy. But if this is the case, the QE2 program can’t really be to blame for this perception.
Given the fear concerning the rise in price of commodities, I think the issue of the value of our currency is not as clear cut as we might want it to be. The issue of dollar devaluation has come across many politicians that are concerned with the trade deficit. According to a publication by the New York Fed, devaluation of our currency might not directly result in a decrease of demand on imports . This becomes an issue when devaluating our currency can lead to the raising prices of many commodities we import. The focus of the discussion should concern the capacity of the devaluation’s effect on the export driven industry. Devaluating our currency won’t necessarily help us because many other countries will have the same incentive to devalue their currency even further. In the case that we devalue our currency, the rising prices of commodities will lead to inflation which is something we should avoid. Then, the devaluation of our currency could become a restraint for consumers in America  . I don’t think the value of our currency presents a problem for U.S. citizens but rather the artificial values of currencies of countries like China.
The last time we reached high inflation (double-digit) was when President Reagan was in office in the late 1970s to early 1980s.  The U.S. is completely different now with the advancement of technology (internet) and interconnectedness with many other countries and economies. I think it will be difficult for developed economies such as the U.S. to see high inflation because the world has become so much more competitive and, though I hesitate to say it, elastic. The economist article mentions workers may not ask for wage increases for fear of losing their jobs to someone who will work for cheaper . In the same regards are businesses’ ability raise prices to a certain extent before consumers find alternative, less costly choices (possibly from abroad).
Take for an example, the rumors saying we’ll see $4/gallon gasoline again  with the increase in demand from emerging countries being the driving force behind it. However, as soon as we did hit that threshold near the end of 2008, there were major pushes to alternative options as well as shifts in consumer behavior. The oil-reliant countries of the Middle East don’t want us to lose our addiction to oil and therefore, may promote economically accommodative oil prices in the future.
Ultimately, I think these considerations, along with the fact that countries are still running well below capacity , enforce Bernanke’s argument that the threat of inflation is low.
I think that the issue with inflation is of concern but at this point in time, it is not a problem. Over the last 2 years despite the Feds QE initiative to pump money in to the economy inflation, has not been a problem, if anything deflation was a concern. However, in the last few months there had been a change in thought, the economy has seen to be stabilizing as of 2/14 the stock market as seen one of the longest rallies in history for example the Dow is up 96% from its lows of March 2009. Also GDP is on an uptick with a growth of 2.9% last year  and it is expected to maintain at a healthy level. With all this the views have shifted from deflation to an increased risk of inflation. It’s hard to say if the Feds QE programs could further intensify inflation with all the money still on the sideline and companies sitting on very large amounts of cash or if Fed did too little or too much. I would say though that a factor that will affect the inflation rate, will be the rate at which spending increases by the consumers and companies. It appears that both are picking up, in healthy way. It should be noted that if in fact the economy continues to turn around in full force the Fed should worry about inflation but as of now this should not be a concern.
No, I don’t think inflation is a problem today in the U.S. According to James Kwak, “the prices that real Americans pay for the real stuff that they actually buy — are at historic lows: core inflation of 0.7 percent in 2010, the price index for personal consumption expenditures at 1.2 percent, and average hourly earnings at 1.7 percent,” . But there is cause for concern in surging food and energy costs. These goods are usually pretty volatile though. Bernanke says that QE2 will be reviewed at all meetings at the Federal Open Market Committee meetings, including the next one on March 15.
I strongly agree with James Hamilton that QE2 is not directly increasing inflation. Hamilton argues that QE2 is simply increasing reserves in banks, rather than simply printing money. Just simply increasing reserves doesn’t directly result in inflation. When lending begins to increase the Fed will need to take appropriate measures (increase interest rate on excess reserves or begin selling assets ).
A devaluation of our currency has both positives and negatives. The positives are that our exports should increase with a cheaper dollar. However on the other hand, more expensive foreign currencies results in imports to be more expensive. According to Lucia Di Leo, “U.S. import prices rose 1.5% in January,” .
 – http://baselinescenario.com/2011/02/09/paul-ryan-criticizes-bernanke-for-failing-to-contain-tooth-fairy/
 – http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/02/15/feds-lacker-warns-more-easing-would-lead-to-inflation/?mod=wsj_share_twitter
 – http://www.econbrowser.com/archives/2010/12/velocity_of_mon.html
I do not believe inflation is a problem yet for the US. I agree with Bernanke that we are seeing commodity-based inflation due to strong demand from developing countries . Commodities such as copper has been trading at record highs of ~$4.6 a pound in the futures market on expectations of strong Chinese demand . Relative to other countries, our core inflation of 0.7% is below the average for developed countries of about 1% and far below the emerging market inflation rate of close to 3%  .
I believe if we see consistently high unemployment in 2011 this will cap businesses’ ability to raise prices and ultimately result in lower inflation. QE2 certainly seems to have raised inflation expectations with the traditional inflation-hedge commodities such as gold trading up but with a still weak consumer we are seeing businesses experience higher production costs that they can’t pass on, keeping a lid on CPI .
A side-effect (or primary motivation if you ask any other country) of QE2 has been a tightening of the US trade deficient . As much as Paul Ryan and ECB president Jean-Claude Triche like how a “solid, strong US dollar” sounds, devaluation may ultimately be what we need in order to close our trade gap in a world where other countries refuse to let their currencies appreciate.
If you examine the facts on the matter of inflation it shows that we are in no immediate rush to panic, PCE rose by 1.2 percent, compared with 2.4 percent in 2009. Core inflation was 0.7 percent in 2010, compared with around 2.5 percent in 2007. (1) The economy is in great need of the banks to start lending out reserves to stimulate the investment and housing sectors, plus a rise in confidence/demand by the American public. QE2 is attempting to achieve just that, as Bernanke’s remarks suggest the Fed will stick with the bond-buyingplan through June. The program is aimed at invigorating the economy by lowering rates on loans and boosting prices on stocks. (2) As long as the Fed begins to tighten monetary policy before inflation becomes a problem, then QE2 ideally will lead to a manageable inflation rate that could push the stock market and housing prices higher. (3) People misinterpret inflation at times this does technically mean the value of our currency is worth less, but it also implies that the economy is growing again, disposable incomes rising, and businesses are expanding. I strongly believe these positive effects outweigh currency devaluation, and are much more constructive in contrast to a possible deflation.
I do not think the value of our currency directly presents a problem for U.S. citizens. The U.S. is still maintaining a low rate of inflation, and in comparison to other countries is in significantly better shape. Nevertheless, if our currency was to devalue then our exports would increase, thus possibly leading to an improved outcome for Americans. Contrary to the U.S. Ben Bernanke in the New York Times states of China, “They have an inflation problem, and the way they’re addressing it is not by raising their currency value, which would reduce the demand for their exports. Rather, they are leaving it where it is, and they are instead trying to reduce domestic demand through higher interest rates”. He goes on to say that allowing the Renminbi to appreciate would improve the welfare of the Chinese population. The “strong demand from fast growing countries” is causing higher domestic prices according to Bernanke in Republicans Grill Bernanke in Inflation Threat. However, no matter what the cause of the increased prices, inflation in the U.S. does not pose any immediate threat. The quantitative easing measures are set to cease in June, and even if the dollar does depreciate some that is not necessarily a bad thing for Americans.
In Congress, Bernanke Faces Questions About Inflation. New Yorks Times. February 9, 2011.
Republicans Grill Bernanke in Inflation Threat. Yahoo! News. February 9,2011.
An increase in prices is no stranger the worlds’ economies. It is known that when we see a rapid increase in the supply of money that prices will have to increase. The real question comes to be will the consumers’ buying power remain constant or not. When a consumer realizes that he or she is paying more than in the past for the same good it can set things into motion, one of these things being inflation. Anticipation of higher future prices is deemed enough to cause inflation alone. However, we have realized a enormous increase in the demand for reserves by banks in recent times, yet no increase in the demand for these reserves by the public (currency demand).  This would lead me to believe that inflation is not a direct effect of the Federal Reserve’s QE2. Right now there is a worldwide increase in basic commodity prices; this includes things ranging from food to energy costs. Yet interestingly enough the core consumer-price inflation, which is an inflation index excluding food and energy costs, is at a very low level comparatively. These price increases, ie. inflation, are more prominent among emerging markets. This is highly due to increased demand within these countries. While there is much disagreement between what is to be done to combat the current woes in our economy, whether the tactic is to continue on our path increasing the debt ceiling or to cut spending as an alternative, one thing remains constant and that is our inflation target.
On another note I believe that a depreciation of our currency would only lead to a balancing of our current account. I believe this is a giant step in the right direction for reducing our debt today and possible accumulation of future debt.
I do not think that inflation was a problem in 2010 because rates were average (about 2.3% ). However, inflation is expected to be much higher in 2011 because the monetary base has been growing so fast in the past few years . I do not think that QE2 is making inflation worse because it takes some time for the money that is put into the economy to finally “trickle” down to consumers and really have an effect on prices . At the same time, it is not a good thing to be injecting more money into the economy when their already maybe a rising inflation. With a policy like QE2 there is also the risk that you may overshoot the target you are aiming for and have to implement another policy to offset this. This could create a problem with the Fed’s exit strategy because it could lead to more and more policies. While I do think that some sort of quantitative easing should be done, I think that QE2 is may be a little excessive with reports estimating that inflation is already on the rise .
The rise in inflation will cause a devaluation of the dollar which according to Paul Ryan is always a bad thing . In some times this is true, but with a high level of current unemployment in the U.S. it could create jobs. With a lower valued currency, our exports will become cheaper to other countries which will create opportunity for more jobs. In this sense I think that a devalued currency is a good thing for Americans, but it will also lead to a decrease in investment in American assets. Currently I think that the increase of jobs offsets the decrease in investment, but if inflation stays high then the outcome for Americans will soon turn bad.
The Fed is fairly confident in their quantitative easing techniques, but many critiques seem to question whether this will cause future inflation hikes . I do not believe our current inflation is too high, according to sources our estimated average inflation for 2010 was around 1.64%, which is relatively low compared to our semi-targeted rate of around 2% . I do, however, agree with the critiques of the Fed’s quantitative easing. I believe we are most likely going to see an increase in our countries inflation because the qe2 is increasing our monetary base by purchasing 600 million dollars in bonds over the open market, getting people to pull money out of government bonds, which is essentially similar to when they print money. Since the quantitative easing implemented by the government, there has been a general price increase in many consumer commodities including airline tickets, insurance, and even food costs according to sources. Whether or not these commodities have in fact increased, the sudden spikes of monetary base will inevitably cause inflation to rise if it has not already. The government has not fully developed an exit strategy for an extreme inflation increase. The fed has began to pay interest on bank holdings, encouraging them not to lend too much in hopes that this will derail any high inflation runs. This plan does not take into account that banks interest on loans will eventually be greater than it’s interest on their reserves. This will release the reserves back into the monetary base causing inflation.