Fed faces choice between elevated inflation and recession

After spending much of last year sounding a bit like the inflation-tolerant, former central bank chief Arthur Burns, Powell has increasingly taken on the mantle of inflation-slayer — and Fed icon — Paul Volcker. It’s a role he’s likely to embrace with relish on Wednesday, when he speaks with reporters after a widely-expected decision by the Fed to raise interest rates by another half percentage point.

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But so far at least, he’s shied away from endorsing the tough monetary medicine — and punishingly deep recession — that it took for Volcker to break the back of inflation four decades ago. While Powell has recently acknowledged that getting price pressures under control could require some pain — and maybe even higher unemployment — he’s steered clear of talking about a recession.

That’s perhaps understandable, given how fraught politically that is, especially for President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party ahead of mid-term elections in November.

“The chairman of the Fed doesn’t want to let the ‘r’ word slip out of his mouth in a positive way, that we need a recession,” former US central bank policy maker Alan Blinder said. “But there are a lot of euphemisms and he’ll use them.”

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