Ben Bernanke’s Great Inflation Coverup

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.

This is what Ben Bernanke is up against:

Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher said the central bank’s third round of bond purchases will probably fail to create jobs while risking higher inflation. “I do not see an overall argument for letting inflation rise to levels where we might scare the market,” Fisher said yesterday.

….“A sustained increase” in inflation expectations “would suggest incipient doubts about our commitment to the Bernanke doctrine of sailing on a course consistent with 2 percent long- term inflation,” Fisher said in a speech in New York.

Bernanke’s problem is pretty simple here: he almost certainly wants higher inflation, but he can’t say he wants higher inflation. He simply doesn’t have enough support for inflation tolerance among his Fed colleagues.

Nonetheless, higher inflation would be good. The simplest way to see this is to look at interest rates. Once the Fed has reduced interest rates to zero, it can’t go any further. But what if the economy is so bad that all the standard models suggest you need negative interest rates to get the economy back on track? The only answer is higher inflation. If inflation is running at 2% and interest rates are at zero, the real interest rate is -2%. If you borrow money, you’re effectively being allowed to pay back less than you borrowed, which provides a big incentive to buy a house or expand your business.

But if even that’s not enough, then how about inflation of 4%? As long as you promise to keep interest rates at zero, the real interest rate is now -4%. The Fed is making it almost irresistable to take out a loan and buy new stuff. And there’s a virtuous circle here: businesses understand that negative borrowing rates stimulate consumption and demand, so not only is it super cheap to expand production, but they have good reason to think it will pay off as demand increases in the future.

But this all depends on tolerating higher inflation for a while, and inflation is a major hot button in American politics, as guys like Fisher demonstrate. So Bernanke has to pretend that he’s still dedicated to 2% inflation even though he’s probably not. This is unfortunate, since it blunts the power of his policies. If he could come right out and make it clear exactly what he’s doing and how long he plans to keep it up, it could have a big impact. But he can’t, and so his policy loses about half its power. All because inflation is such a boogeyman. This is the price we pay for our mindless fears.

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate