Fed Officials Mull Inflation as a Fix

The Federal Reserve spent the past three decades getting inflation low and keeping it there. But as the U.S. economy struggles and flirts with the prospect of deflation, some central bank officials are publicly broaching a controversial idea: lifting inflation above the Fed’s informal target. 

The rationale is that getting inflation up even temporarily would push “real” interest rates—nominal rates minus inflation—down, encouraging consumers and businesses to save less and to spend or invest more.

Both inside and outside the Fed, though, such an approach is controversial. It could undermine the anti-inflation credibility the Fed won three decades ago by raising interest rates to double-digits to beat back late-1970s price surges. “It’s a big mistake,” said Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon University, a central bank historian. “Higher inflation is not going to solve our problem. Any gain from that experience would be temporary,” adding that the economy would suffer later. 

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