Economist Dean Baker: Inflation Hawks Are Job Killers

Wednesday, 06 Aug 2014 09:29 AM

By Michael Kling

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High-level inflation hawks at the Federal Reserve are job killers, Dean Baker, co-director of the Center of Economic and Policy Research, charges.

Some key policy makers argue that an increasingly tight labor market will prompt wage growth and out-of-control hyperinflation. So the Fed must take preemptive action against that inflation by raising rates or our dollars will become worthless.

Higher interest rates would also make it harder for borrowers to meet debt payments, discourage investment and make it harder for people to find jobs, Baker writes in an article for The Huffington Post.

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We've seen this debate on the interest rates before, Baker argues. In the mid-1990s, most economists thought the unemployment rate could not fall below 6 percent without causing serious inflation and pressed the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. In 1996 inflation hawks at the Congressional Budget Office predicted unemployment would be 6 percent in 2000 and the budget deficit would be 2.5 percent of GDP.

Unemployment fell to 5 percent in 1997, 4.5 percent in 1998 and 4 percent year-round average in 2000.

Instead of a budget deficit, we had a 2.5 percent budget surplus, contrary to the CBO prediction.

If the inflation hawks had gotten their way in the mid-1990s the economy would have been completely different, he argues. "Millions of workers would have been denied jobs, tens of millions would not have seen pay gains, and we would have continued to run substantial budget deficits."

It's the same situation today, Baker notes. "Many in the financial industry couldn't care less about unemployment. They don't want to risk any inflation that could erode the value of their wealth. Their voices are being heard at the top levels of the Fed."

Even though the topic is a huge jobs issue, he says, it's receiving less media attention than other subjects that involve less than 1 percent as many jobs, such as the Export-Import Bank or the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon emissions rules.

Others believe see signs that inflation is beginning to increase after being dormant the last five years. Inflation may be close to 3 percent this year, Scott Burns, a principal at AssetBuilder Inc., writes in his blog.

Rising prices in a host of categories, especially shelter, the biggest expense for most Americans, suggests that a 3 percent inflation rate is imminent, he warns.

The Consumer Price Index for shelter rose 0.2 percent in June after rising 0.3 percent in May, he points out. It rose 2.8 percent over the previous 12 months, while wages rose only 2.3 percent.

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