Inflation: Get Concrete, Get Specific

The recent debate over US inflation seems to be full of mood affiliation on both sides, where people start with a mood (“panic” or “don’t worry”) and then look for facts to fit the mood.

My natural temperament is “don’t worry” and that is what I’ve generally thought about inflation, but the latest number of 6.2% inflation over the last year is a bit concerning, and makes me glad the the Fed has announced they plan to taper off of new asset purchases. But overall I think people are still talking past each other, and I wish more people would answer these questions:

What will CPI inflation be over the next 12 months?

What specifically should the Fed do differently, if anything? How quickly should they taper and raise rates?

If you are currently thinking “panic” or “don’t worry”, what data could come in that would change your mind?

I’ll start with my answers, informed more by my gut than by quantitative models: my guess for inflation over the next year is 4-5%, the Fed has things about right but I’d say “tighten faster” rather than “tighten slower” if I had to pick. I expect inflation to slow noticeably in the spring as the economy transitions from the unusual boom in demand for goods back to demand for services after Christmas and the Delta wave, as more people get back to work and supply bottlenecks have time to work themselves out. I would start to get more seriously concerned if we see no slowing by June, or if market-based measures of inflation or NGDP projections start to move substantially (2pp) higher.

To the extent that I’ve been on the wrong side of this, I blame the cognitive bias I seem to fall prey to most often- mistaking reversed stupidity for intelligence. Just because lots of people make obviously incorrect predictions of hyperinflation doesn’t mean that inflation will be low.

No, 6.2% inflation per year is not in the same universe as hyperinflation (50% inflation per month)

*The usual disclaimer applies- my affiliation with the Fed gives me zero insider information about or influence over monetary policy and I don’t speak for them.

3 thoughts on “Inflation: Get Concrete, Get Specific

  1. Kevin K November 18, 2021 / 2:25 pm

    Brother James,

    Have you looked into / have an opinion on the Chapwood Index? CPI is a woefully inadequate measure, and (using a schema laid out by Epsilon Theory), much more of a “cartoon” of an inflation measure than a functional one.

    What do middle-class Americans put most of their income toward? Housing, food, education, transportation. Every one of those is up ~dramatically~ more, in the last 5 years annualized, than the CPI number indicates – and here the Chapwood Index is a much more useful gauge, imho.

    Always enjoy your writings!
    Kevin

    Like

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