Ever since Paul Volcker’s Federal Reserve defeated high inflation in the 1980s, there have been sporadic rumors of the old monster’s return. The murmurs are getting louder now.
The Fed has flooded the economy with money since the pandemic hit, and promised to keep interest rates low until inflation rises above 2 percent and stays there. The federal budget deficit is large and Congress is considering relief legislation that would make it still larger. Market-based indicators of expected inflation have been rising.
Hence the new round of inflation hand-wringing. The Harvard economist Lawrence Summers raises the prospect of “inflationary pressures we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability.” Olivier Blanchard, the former chief economist for the International Monetary Fund, warns that we risk not just “overheating” the economy but “starting a fire.”