Where do we go from here: Inflation or recession?

I agree with my old professor that probably the best thing for the Fed to do is stabilize inflation and then lower it gradually. I just wonder whether that’s possible. For one thing, it may already be too late to avoid a recession; we’ve already had one quarter of negative growth. But the greater uncertainty is whether the Fed could announce a policy of high but stable inflation and make it stick.

After decades of credibly maintaining a 2 percent inflation target, could the Fed suddenly announce that it will let inflation stay high — but go no higher? Or would expectations of future inflation slip their anchors and take off for the stratosphere? Would it be politically possible for the Fed to stay that course, with anxious Americans clamoring for Congress to do something (like appoint inflation hawks to the Board of Governors)? It may be that for all its costs, the Volcker Way is still the best option open to us, given the political constraints — though if so, that’s all the more reason for the Fed to make sure that inflation not only gets low, but stays low.

“If you ever let inflation begin again, who knows how quickly people will begin to expect it?” says Huizinga. And no matter how you do it, “breaking that cycle is very expensive.”

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