Aposto Europe's Friday issue features an article by Nobel laureate in economics, Professor at Columbia University and member of the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, Joseph E. Stiglitz in collaboration with Project Syndicate.
All pain and no gain from higher interest rates
Central banks’ unwavering determination to increase interest rates is truly remarkable. In the name of taming inflation, they have deliberately set themselves on a path to cause a recession – or to worsen it if it comes anyway. Moreover, they openly acknowledge the pain their policies will cause, even if they don’t emphasize that it is the poor and marginalized, not their friends on Wall Street, who will bear the brunt of it. And in the United States, this pain will disproportionately befall people of color.
As a new Roosevelt Institute report that I co-authored shows, any benefits from the extra interest-rate-driven reduction in inflation will be minimal, compared to what would have happened anyway. Inflation already appears to be easing. It may be moderating more slowly than optimists hoped a year ago – before Russia’s war in Ukraine – but it is moderating nonetheless, and for the same reasons that optimists had outlined. For example, high auto prices, caused by a shortage of computer chips, would come down as the bottlenecks were resolved. That has been happening, and car inventories have indeed been rising.
Optimists also expected oil prices to decrease, rather than continue to increase; that, too, is precisely what has happened. In fact, the declining cost of renewables implies that the long-run price of oil will fall even lower than today’s price. It is a shame that we didn’t move to renewables earlier. We would have been much better insulated from the vagaries of fossil-fuel prices, and far less vulnerable to the whims of petrostate dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s own war-mongering, journalist-murdering leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (widely known as MBS). We should be thankful that both men failed in their apparent attempt to influence the US 2022 midterm election by sharply cutting oil production in early October.
Yet another reason for optimism has to do with mark-ups – the amount by which prices exceed costs. While markups have risen slowly with the increased monopolization of the US economy, they have soared since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. As the economy emerges more fully from the pandemic (and, one hopes, from the war) they should decrease, thereby moderating inflation. Yes, wages have been temporarily rising faster than in the pre-pandemic period, but that is a good thing. There has been a huge secular increase in inequality, which the recent decrease in workers’ real (inflation-adjusted) wages has only made worse.