Unfortunately for defenders of Fed policy, today’s paper is filled with stories of rising inflation. In Singapore, consumer price inflation is running at 5.5%. In Vietnam, consumer price inflation is running at over 12%. There are food riots in India. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, George Melloan detailed the linkage between economics and turmoil in the Middle East. Consumer price inflation in Egypt rose to 18% annually in 2009 from 5% in 2006. In Iran, inflation rose from 13% in 2006 to 25% in 2009. As Melloan wryly observes, “about the only one failing to acknowledge a problem seems to be the man most responsible, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.”
Monetary policy is not the sole culprit in food price inflation. There have been supply shocks. Central bankers always point to supply shocks to explain rising prices. But it is not just food prices rising, but most commodity prices. Plus, as noted, broad measures of consumer prices around the world are signaling rising inflation.
The Bernanke’s response is two-fold. First, he questions the linkage between his policies and what is happening to global prices. Second, he argues other central banks are in a better position to mitigate the effects of Fed policy. Both arguments are disingenuous.
Commodities, plus most traded goods, are priced in dollars. The Fed creates base money. The more base money, the higher the dollar price of goods globally.
The Fed Chairman argues that foreign central banks can offset the Fed’s policy. As discussed here recently, this is true only to a limited extent if at all. Small, open economies have great difficulty in offsetting inflows of the global currency. If these central banks raise domestic interest rates and appreciate their currencies, they are likely to attract additional capital flows. If not, they risk sending their economies into recession.