Not a drill: Inflation is here

The optimists, including those at the Fed, believe that the current inflation is temporary — a combination of demand spiking as the economy reopens while the supply chains haven’t fully recovered from the disruptions of the pandemic lockdowns. But this understates the scale and scope of what we are seeing. There are reasons to believe that the current moment is different from previous economic recoveries. The Great Recession of 2007–2009 involved a system-wide financial collapse, creating lasting deflationary pressures, and the recovery was historically slow. However, the U.S. economy was fundamentally strong in early 2020 heading into the once-in-a-century pandemic, and it quickly started to recover as soon as businesses started being allowed to reopen. Many states began easing up coronavirus restrictions in the middle of last year. In the third quarter of 2020, real GDP increased 33.4 percent. And in the fourth quarter — which concluded weeks before Biden took office — growth was 4 percent. In about a year’s time, the federal government has pumped $6 trillion in COVID-relief money into the economy, on top of the trillions that the Fed has been releasing through near-zero interest rates and bond purchases. While some of it may have been necessary to prop up the economy early during the lockdowns, it was clearly excessive by the time of Biden’s $1.9 trillion bill passed in March. The legislation he signed was nearly triple the projected output gap. Now, Biden is pursuing an additional $4 trillion in new spending on top of what he already signed. His budget projects that this year, the federal debt as a share of the economy will surpass the record previously set by World War II and will exceed that level every year over the next decade.