Global Inflation and the Fed: One More Time

George Melloan is unhappy with U.S. monetary policy, and he repeats what has become by some a criticism of Federal Reserve policy:

“In accounts of the political unrest sweeping through the Middle East, one factor, inflation, deserves more attention…

“Probably few of the protesters in the streets connect their economic travail to Washington. But central bankers do. They complain, most recently at last week’s G-20 meeting in Paris, that the U.S. is exporting inflation…

“About the only one failing to acknowledge a problem seems to be the man most responsible, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. In a recent question-and-answer session at the National Press Club in Washington, the chairman said it was ‘unfair’ to accuse the Fed of exporting inflation. Other nations, he said, have the same tools the Fed has for controlling inflation.

“Well, not quite.”

I would simply repeat my argument from our previous macroblog post, but I don’t really have to. Mr. Melloan makes the point for me [with my emphasis added in italics]:

“Consider, for example, that much of world trade, particularly in basic commodities like food grains and oil, is denominated in U.S. dollars. When the Fed floods the world with dollars, the dollar price of commodities goes up, and this affects market prices generally, particularly in poor countries that are heavily import-dependent. Export-dependent nations like China try to maintain exchange-rate stability by inflating their own currencies to buy up dollars.”

If the United States unwisely floods the world with dollars, driving down the international value of the dollar, countries with flexible exchange rates would see the value of their currencies rise—making food grains and oils denominated in dollars more affordable, not less. The only way inflation gets exported to these other countries is if they attempt to maintain the values of their currencies below the levels that markets would otherwise take them. That inflation is purely homegrown.

That point is also exactly the one I made last time with respect to Chinese inflation:

“To keep the nominal exchange rate from rising, the People’s Bank of China in effect prints yuan and buys dollars. Though this has limited impact on any real fundamentals, it is the source material for inflation.”

I did, however, leave one unfinished piece of business in the previous blog post:

“Of course, the astute and skeptical among you might ask, if the money-to-inflation nexus is relevant to China, why not the United States? A fair question, one that I will take on another day.”

Well, it’s another day, so here we go. In China, increases in the monetary base—the stuff that the central bank directly creates—translate pretty directly into broader measures of money held (and spent) by the public, as illustrated by the relative stability of the so-called M1 and M2 multipliers:

Admittedly, the collapse in the M2 multiplier in the United States—which has, for practical purposes neutralized the inflationary impact of the increase in the Fed’s balance sheet—may not last forever. If it reverses, I for one will read this again.

About David Altig 91 Articles

Affiliation: Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta

Dr. David E. Altig is senior vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In addition to advising the Bank president on Monetary policy and related matters, Dr. Altig oversees the Bank's research and public affairs departments. He also serves as a member of the Bank's management and discount committees.

Dr. Altig also serves as an adjunct professor of economics in the graduate school of business at the University of Chicago and the Chinese Executive MBA program sponsored by the University of Minnesota and Lingnan College of Sun Yat-Sen University.

Prior to joining the Atlanta Fed, Dr. Altig served as vice president and associate director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. He joined the Cleveland Fed in 1991 as an economist before being promoted in 1997. Before joining the Cleveland Fed, Dr. Altig was a faculty member in the department of business economics and public policy at Indiana University. He also has lectured at Ohio State University, Brown University, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Duke University, John Carroll University, Kent State University, and the University of Iowa.

Dr. Altig's research is widely published and primarily focused on monetary and fiscal policy issues. His articles have appeared in a variety of journals including the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking, the American Economic Review, the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, and the Journal of Monetary Economics. He has also served as editor for several conference volumes on a wide range of macroeconomic and monetary-economic topics.

Dr. Altig was born in Springfield, Ill., on Aug. 10, 1956. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees in economics from Brown University.

He and his wife Pam have four children and three grandchildren.

Visit: David Altig's Page

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