Inflation remains high, with September’s numbers coming in at a 5.4 percent annualized rate, the highest number in a decade. The Federal Reserve’s target is 2 percent. While this is not a return to Carter-era stagflation, it is cause for concern. The economic recovery is difficult enough as it is, and high inflation only makes it harder. Inflation not only means higher prices for consumers, it means higher input prices for businesses, and is contributing to supply chain difficulties. That means consumers are facing price increases due to supply-and-demand factors, in addition to inflation.
Inflation is what happens when the amount of money circulating in the economy grows faster than the amount of goods and services. Keeping inflation in check means keeping those numbers in sync. Today’s record deficit spending is pushing them apart, by increasing monetary flows without necessarily increasing the amount of wealth being created. The upcoming trillion-dollar infrastructure bill, $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, and $6 trillion annual budget will only make matters worse.
The Fed can help by raising interest rates, which it has indicated it might do early next year. Although politically independent, the Fed will likely face political pressure to keep rates low. Low rates can have a temporary, short-term stimulus effect, though at the price of a bust later. And there are the mid-term elections next year, likely before the bill would come due. Higher rates also make the government’s debt payments more expensive, making the big spending bills more difficult to pass.
If Washington wants to get inflation back to target levels, it needs to spend less while removing obstacles to wealth creation. In addition to fiscal restraint and respecting the Fed’s independence, that means easing back on permits, licenses, trade barriers, and financial regulations that are burdening supply chains and making it difficult for businesses to hire workers and create more goods and services.