By Adam Posen
The opinions expressed are his own
It is past time for monetary policy to be doing more to support recovery. The Jackson Hole conference has come and gone, and no shortage of excuses was provided for central banks to hold their fire — even though most economists acknowledged the grim outlook for the advanced economies.
Too much attention has been paid, however, to the failings of fiscal policies and to the shortfall from effects of earlier quantitative easing. Further asset purchases by the G7 central banks are needed to check not just a downturn, but the lasting erosion of productive capacity and of debt sustainability — especially when even justified fiscal and financial consolidation is undercutting short-term recovery. Easier monetary policy will increase the odds of other policies improving, and those policies’ effectiveness when they do.
It is also past time to stop fearing inflationary ghosts. There is no credible threat of sustained higher inflation in the advanced economies that should restrain central bank action. The rate of wage growth is tepid and compatible with price stability, at most, even in Germany; the inability of wages to keep up with recent real price shocks underscores the ongoing downward pressure from labour market slack. Consumption was driven down by fiscal tightening and household retrenchment as much as oil prices, and those forces will be ongoing. Had consumer confidence not been weakly footed to begin with, the oil shock would not have had such an impact.
Commodity prices have since demonstrated again that they go down as well as up, and thus monetary policy should not react to their short-term gyrations (and deceleration in Western growth will likely send them further downwards). Credit and broad money aggregates are barely growing and current account deficits are slowly shrinking, so no asset price bubbles will emerge. Importantly, interest rates on long-term G7 government bonds display no consistent rise in inflation expectations, no matter how the data is parsed.
Some of us had seen this coming. This is what happens to economies following a financial crisis, particularly when the crisis hits simultaneously across integrated markets. That is why I began advocating more quantitative easing in the UK a year ago. Yet even if some believe that the recent setbacks reflect new developments — rather than just long-run vulnerabilities (fragile Central European banking systems, dysfunctional American fiscal politics, British over-dependence on the financial sector) exposed by the crisis — that still should be enough to downgrade any plausible prior forecast for growth and inflation to where additional monetary stimulus is called for on its own terms.