“The Fed has penciled in three rate hikes this year, and the first could come as soon as March.”
“Adam Ozimek, chief economist at freelancing platform Upwork, said the Fed misjudged how large the inflation spike would be, though he still thinks — as the Fed previously argued — that price increases will eventually start to cool on their own. He said the danger instead is that the Fed will overreact to levels of inflation that ultimately prove temporary, hurting the millions who still haven’t returned to the labor force.
“Inflation is by any measure extremely high, yet labor slack remains significant as well and we are far from full employment,” he said. “The policy challenge is far more complicated than in 2018, when Powell faced uncertainty about labor slack but without the added pressure of high inflation.”
Still, others have praised the Fed’s restraint amid the price spikes, keeping rates low and allowing the job market to heal more quickly. They argue that inflation is significantly being fed by supply chain issues that the central bank isn’t equipped to solve.
Former Fed Chair William McChesney Martin once said the central bank’s job was “to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going.” But Sahm argued that a few rate increases don’t have to ruin anything.
“Things are getting better,” she said. “We need to pour a little less punch in the punch bowl.””
“Some of the causes are fairly self-evident: Entering the third year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US — and much of the rest of the world — is grappling with a supply chain crisis. That means most goods, from game consoles to oranges, are more difficult to get to store shelves for one reason or another, whether it’s a lack of critical tech components or a backup at ports due to labor shortages. But US consumers simply haven’t stopped buying, and that demand-supply disjunction has caused record inflation.
Some economists, as well as President Joe Biden, take the view that the pandemic — and the pandemic-snarled supply chain — are the primary culprits, and inflation will ease as the US keeps combating the pandemic and implements supply-chain fixes. On Friday, according to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Biden told reporters that “the reason for inflation is that we have a supply chain problem that is really severe.”
Others, though, are concerned the problem is bigger than that. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, for example, has also pointed to government spending as a reason for increased inflation, and believes it’s far from a bump in the road.”
“lockdowns and being stuck at home — unable to travel or go to restaurants, bars, and live events — have shifted what Americans are spending their money on. Less money spent on travel or experiences, combined with stimulus funds, has driven many Americans to buy more consumer goods. That, combined with supply chain problems decades in the making and exacerbated by the pandemic, has led to the current, precipitous rise in inflation.”
“While the US has spent trillions in pandemic relief, however, inflation is also occurring elsewhere in the world, where governments have taken different approaches to dealing with the fallout from the pandemic — suggesting that government spending doesn’t tell the whole story.”
“While the Biden administration is doing what it can to fix supply chain issues and drive down rising gas prices, most of the tools to address inflation are in the hands of the Federal Reserve.”
“One way the Fed plans to cool the economy is “tapering” — gradually decreasing the $120 billion it spends per month on government-backed bonds, which has injected money into the financial markets during the pandemic. In November, Fed Chair Jerome Powell announced the central bank would reduce that amount by $15 billion each month. The purchasing program is supposed to end halfway through 2022, but as the New York Times reported in early December, it could finish more quickly as the Fed attempts to reduce inflation.
“At this point, the economy is very strong, and inflationary pressures are high,” Powell said in late November. “It is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases, which we actually announced at our November meeting, perhaps a few months sooner.”
Along with that could also come interest rate hikes, although the Fed has not announced specific plans to do so.”
“Beyond monetary policy, though, the other massive piece of the puzzle is the supply chain — and that’s something politicians and policymakers have much less control over. Biden has attempted to ease supply chain woes by running the Port of Los Angeles 24 hours a day, clearing the docks so goods don’t wait for days on cargo ships stranded in the water. And the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve last month was geared toward reducing gas prices, which have already begun to fall.
Most likely, however, the supply chain will remain snarled for the foreseeable future — keeping inflation higher than we’re used to — and policymakers will have to react to that reality.”
“there is one thing Biden could do to immediately provide consumers with relief. He could eliminate the tariffs imposed by former President Donald Trump.
Those tariffs, which Biden has been stubbornly unwilling to reverse during his first year in office, are adding roughly 0.5 percent to annual inflation across the economy. That’s the conclusion drawn by Ed Gresser, a former assistant U.S. Trade Representative who is currently the vice president and director for trade and global markets at the Progressive Policy Institute, a center-left think tank. Trump’s tariffs on washing machines, solar panels, steel, aluminum, and a host of Chinese-made goods are a “secondary but noticeable contribution” to overall inflation right now, Gresser writes.”
“Biden could cut tariffs without having to wait for Congress or the Federal Reserve to act. Similarly, cutting tariffs would not come with some of the negative tradeoffs that other actions might. Raising interest rates will harm the economy in other ways (for example, by making it more expensive to borrow). Lifting tariffs will ease inflation and provide a tax cut to many American businesses. It is quite literally a win-win.”
“Politicians might want to deploy tariffs (to raise prices) for a number of reasons: to protect domestic industries, to influence where in the world individuals choose to invest, to retaliate against what they perceive as unfair trade practices from other countries, and so on. But all those goals—and tariffs are poor ways of accomplishing most of them—are second-order functions. To the extent that any of those things occur, they happen because tariffs raise prices.”
“Inflation can act as a regressive tax if rising prices are centered on necessities and if workers in poorer bargaining positions are unable to obtain pay increases. When inflation was growing at about 2 percent per year pre-pandemic, a person making $15 an hour, or $30,000 annually, would lose about $600 a year without a pay increase—not a trivial amount for someone living paycheck to paycheck.
But 2 percent inflation growth is no longer our reality. Prices are now up 6.8 percent since last year, which is the sharpest increase in 39 years. If a $15-per-hour worker didn’t receive a pay raise over this last year, his real earnings could fall by as much as $2,040.
Some workers did see a bump in their paychecks, albeit not enough to offset inflation. After accounting for increases in nominal earnings, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that, on average, workers experienced a 1.9 percent pay cut over the last year due to inflation. This means a $15-per-hour worker likely saw $570 disappear from his wallet.”
“The reason for the plunging lira is no secret. In contrast to virtually every economist on the planet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insists that low interest rates and cheap money fuel a thriving economy that fights inflation. His claims—dubbed “insane” in some quarters—don’t seem to have done much for the value of the currency. Nevertheless, he sticks to his policy and fires officials who disagree.
Instead, what Erdogan has actually accomplished is a surging money supply that dilutes the value of the lira and has driven Turks to despair.”
“U.S. consumer prices raced ahead in November at the fastest pace in 39 years, dealing a potential setback to President Joe Biden’s spending plans and giving Republicans more ammunition against Democrats heading into the election year.
Costs for key goods and services soared 0.8 percent for the month and 6.8 percent for the year, the highest since 1982, the Labor Department reported Friday. Prices for everything from food to automobiles have been surging as blistering demand from cash-rich consumers in a growing economy overwhelms a supply chain plagued by a lack of available workers.”
“The cost increases, which are outpacing wage gains and turning Americans’ views on the economy sour, have sliced into Biden’s approval ratings and made the 2022 midterm elections even more challenging for Democrats. The hot reading on consumer prices, which followed a 6.2 percent jump in October, is also likely to fuel Republican criticism of Biden’s economic performance, which they have dubbed “Bidenflation.”
It could embolden conservative Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia to oppose the president’s $1.7 trillion Build Back Better package, which the party hopes will clear the Senate by Christmas. Biden will need every Democratic vote in the 50-50 Senate to pass the bill.”
““Fortunately, in the weeks since the data for [Friday’s] inflation report was collected, energy prices have dropped,” Biden said in a prepared statement. He added that the CPI report “does not reflect today’s reality, and it does not reflect the expected price decreases in the weeks and months ahead, such as in the auto market.”
At the White House press briefing on Thursday, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese echoed these points and said many top economic forecasters see inflation falling quickly next year and coming closer to the Fed’s target of slightly over 2 percent per year for by the end of 2022.”
“Over the course of the pandemic, home prices have skyrocketed; the underlying issue is simply that there are not enough homes for the people who need them (in particular in the places where people need to live for their jobs). This supply crisis is forcing a growing number of people to bid on a small number of available homes, thus increasing prices.
But not all “housing investments” are created equal. Generally, there are two ways you can attack an affordability crisis: 1) You work to make the item itself less expensive (supply-side policies), or 2) You give people more money to be able to afford the item (demand-side policies).
Both have their place in policymaking. But if you pursue demand-side policies when you are facing a massive supply shortage, you end up increasing prices, not decreasing them. And the nation is facing an estimated 3.8 million unit shortage.”
“The major constraint on building housing in the places where people are demanding it the most is zoning laws. These laws restrict what kinds of homes can be built and where, and regulate the size of homes to the point that smaller or “starter” homes are becoming incredibly scarce. For instance, a law mandating that lots of land be no less than 4,000 square feet means that starter homes (smaller than 1,400 square feet) are illegal. The history behind these laws is complicated, but essentially they are a way for some homeowners to block change in their communities, and in their original form were a tool of segregationists.
Beyond even small, single-family homes, it is illegal in most of the United States to build duplexes or small apartment buildings that could bring down the cost of housing. The White House has repeatedly acknowledged this problem, but in the Build Back Better bill, Democrats have metaphorically thrown up their hands, abrogating responsibility for the driving force behind skyrocketing home prices.
The best way to have tackled this problem would have been to tie the dollars in the bipartisan infrastructure framework to zoning reform. Iowa law professor Greg Shill suggested tying existing highway dollars to zoning reform, quipping that “there’s no reason Iowans should be subsidizing a highway from Silicon Valley to SF when the Valley makes it illegal to build homes under $1M.”
Essentially, if California wants federal dollars to build highways or transit, it’s going to need to reform policies like parking minimums and minimum lot sizes to get it. Instead, states are being handed money from the federal government to construct transportation networks that exclude large swaths of the American public from using them.
The federal government has held highway funding hostage for other reasons in the past — notably was the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which “requires that States prohibit persons under 21 years of age from purchasing or publicly possessing alcoholic beverages as a condition of receiving State highway funds.” President Ronald Reagan also conditioned highway dollars on setting a national minimum speed limit; this was later repealed, which one study shows may have cost over 12,500 lives
If Democrats are serious about attacking housing inflation, they should put real money into incentivizing states to hold localities accountable. States are ultimately in control of local zoning policy “
“A lack of robots is one of the single biggest problems among the many logistical issues currently tangling America’s supply chains.
At most major ports around the world, the cranes that unload shipping containers from boats to trucks are largely automated. That means they can operate around the clock at lower cost and—extra importantly right now—have zero risk of catching COVID-19. One recent study found that cranes at the mostly automated port in Rotterdam, Netherlands, are roughly 80 percent more efficient than cranes at the Port of Oakland, California, where humans still man the controls. In other words, it takes nearly twice as long to unload the same ship in Oakland as it would in Rotterdam.
One of the major hurdles to automation is the expense. It can cost as much as $500 million to install new, fully automated terminals at existing ports, according to the Journal of Commerce, a trade publication. Even if it might make sense to do that in the long run, short-term considerations keep American ports operating at their current, less efficient status quo.
Conveniently, Congress has just passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending bill—one that includes $17 billion for port infrastructure. Of that $17 billion, about $2.6 billion is specifically earmarked for defraying the cost of upgrading equipment at America’s ports, nominally to reduce air pollution.
If you were a member of Congress looking to spend a bunch of money to immediately and meaningfully upgrade American infrastructure in a way that would help solve the current supply chain logjams, automating ports should be at or near the top of the list. It’s quite literally a no-brainer.
The bad news, however, is buried on page 308 of the 1,600-plus page bill: “The term ‘zero-emission port equipment or technology’ means human-operated equipment or human-maintained technology.”
Yes, the subsidies doled out as part of President Joe Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure deal are expressly forbidden from being used to automate operations at American ports. Instead, taxpayers will spend billions to upgrade existing cranes with lower-emissions alternatives that won’t actually work any faster or cheaper. It’s a major missed opportunity.
Why? Biden’s close ties to labor unions probably have something to do with it. Along with the cost, unions are the biggest reason why American ports don’t have more robots. When an automated terminal was introduced at the Port of Los Angeles a few years ago, the politically powerful longshoreman’s union that represents dockworkers threw a fit.
But the automated terminals were a hit with truck drivers who work at the port. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2019 that drivers, who are paid by the delivery, were thrilled to have more reliable loading schedules, instead of having to wait around for hours to pick up a container. One truck driver told the paper that automation meant no longer having to “wait hours and hours in long lines” because the dockworkers decided to “leave early to go to lunch and come back late.””
“Automated ports in places like Norfolk, Virginia, meanwhile, are handling record volumes with no backlogs, according to the Journal of Commerce. “With the automation, you can rework your yard to say, ‘Okay, while I was expecting to be loading Ship A first, I’m now loading Ship B first,′ and can keep import flow fluid,” Stephen Edwards, CEO and executive director of the Port of Virginia, told the Journal in September.
Ports should invest in automation regardless of whether Congress is subsidizing that transition, of course. But if lawmakers are going to approve huge amounts of new spending to upgrade American infrastructure, it’s fair to wonder why one of the most useful upgrades is expressly forbidden. It looks like Congress and the White House are more interested in cowing to unions than helping fix America’s supply chain problems.”
“inflation is real. The all-item consumer price index (CPI) was up more than 5 percent on a year-over-year basis for July, August, and September, and now shows a 6.2 percent increase for October—the largest jump since 1990. The Fed considers 2 percent inflation to be its bright-line monetary policy goal. Obviously, there is a large gap between that and what we are seeing on the ground.”
“Individuals whose salaries, wages, Social Security payments, and even mortgage interest or rental rates are automatically adjusted for inflation have much less to worry about than their neighbors on fixed salaries, who must cope with ballooning grocery bills or pay twice as much at the pump. On these grounds, inflation may be devastating for some and almost meaningless for others. These gaps widen as inflation gets worse.”
“The rate of inflation gets captured in interest rates that borrowers must pay, especially for longer-term debt. Lenders hope to be paid back with at least as much purchasing power. If they believe inflation will tick away at 4 percent, interest rates tend to rise with this baked-in expectation.
In any case, higher interest rates mean higher interest costs on all forms of public and private debt. As a result, mortgage rates will rise, all forms of construction will suffer, and businesses will postpone making large investments in plants and equipment.
Now consider the public debt—especially the federal debt that ballooned from large deficits in recent years. (In 2020, federal revenues were $3.4 trillion and spending was $6.6 trillion.) The interest cost of the national debt in 2008 was $253 billion and remained at about that level through 2015. Even though the debt doubled in those years, sharply falling interest rates and low inflation worked to contain costs.
But that was yesterday. With today’s higher inflation and rising interest rates (perhaps with more to come), the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the interest cost of public debt to be $413 billion in 2021. Obviously, any dollar spent on interest cannot be spent on government benefits and services to taxpayers.”