Robert J. Samuelson: Flirting with higher inflation could prove risky and treacherous
Something similar could happen in financial markets. Investors — not knowing whether inflation would return to 2 percent and fearing it might go higher than 4 percent — might demand much higher interest rates to prevent erosion of their money. This, too, would undermine Krugman's strategy.
None of this is preordained. Krugman's theory could be right. It responds to an understandable urge to do something about the feeble recovery and the millions left without work and hope. But in this debate, I side with Bernanke. Flirting with more inflation is treacherous. If inflation expectations change, the consequences are hard to predict. The double-digit inflation in the late 1970s (peak: 13 percent) resulted from well-intended mistakes and unleashed many damaging side effects.
What we should have learned since 2008 is that the Federal Reserve can't do everything, and overambitious goals guarantee disappointment. The larger lesson is that economists have exaggerated their understanding and control of the economy. People often don't act according to academic theories. There isn't a proper policy response for every need. This captures our frustration.
Robert J. Samuelson is a Washington Post columnist.
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