Friday, December 21, 2018

Why the Fed’s Obsession With Inflation?

Popular Economics Weekly

tradingeconomics.com/FRED

The Federal Reserve’s December FOMC statement, said, after increasing their overnight rate another one-quarter percent: “Consistent with its statutory mandate, the Committee seeks to foster maximum employment and price stability. The Committee judges that some further gradual increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will be consistent with sustained expansion of economic activity, strong labor market conditions, and inflation near the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

Why is there still worry over inflation, 40 years after the 1970’s wage-price spiral that caused so much pain, and initiated the Fed’s obsession with keeping a low inflation target in the first place?

One has only to look at the decline of real wages and salaries since the 1980s to realize the Fed puts most of the inflation blame on real wages, the incomes of the working and middle classes. They use the outmoded formula that labor costs make up two-thirds of product costs; ergo, every time wages begin to rise the Fed must raise rates to keep wages from rising higher to prevent more inflation.

But the history of the Consumer Price Index gauge of retail inflation from 1929 portrayed in the above graph proves that inflation has been almost non-existent above 2 percent, with occasional bumps to 4 percent during boom times; except for the sharp spike in 1980 due to the wage-price spiral precipitated by the jump in oil prices of the 1970’s Arab oil embargos.

Then what are the “strong labor conditions” the Fed seems to be worried about that merit the quarter-point raise this week? The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, but wages are barely rising above today’s 2 percent inflation rate these days, even in a fully-employed economy. And the Fed predicts 2 percent inflation through 2021 in its just-released predictions with full employment also continuing through 2021.
They must not really believe wage costs determine inflation, if they predict low inflation will persist with full employment in the 3 percent range, per their above matrix. That can’t happen. The “strong labor market conditions” haven’t pushed up production costs, with so-called unit-labor costs rising just 0.9 percent Q-to-Q.

So what is the Fed to do? It should not tie their inflation predictions to wage increases, for starters. Inflation is caused by much more than rising wages. In today’s low inflation environment where robots are replacing many workers, the costs of production are tied more to the costs of robots, rather than labor personnel.

Tesla’s new Fremont, CA fully-automated Model 3 electric vehicle factory that was set up in just 3 weeks is evidence robots now control the cost and pace of production more than the personnel.

Harlan Green © 2018

 Follow Harlan Green on Twitter: https://twitter.com/HarlanGreen

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