Karen Petrou: Why Failing to Focus on Economic Equality Flummoxes Fed Policy

2023-01-04T10:22:48-05:00August 29th, 2022|The Vault|

August doldrums always seem to power up spirals of will-he or won’t-he speculation about the Fed’s Jackson Hole meeting because there usually isn’t all that much else to talk about economically-speaking. This year is different because this year has revealed the Fed as a central bank without a compass at a time of extraordinarily strong winds towards the rocks.  Still, in all the punditry over whether the Fed can somehow maneuver to Jay Powell’s “softish landing,” there’s one missing, critical factor:  inequality and what the Fed must do about it or, if it won’t, what we must do about the Fed.

The Fed is fond of blaming fiscal policy for economic inequality, but U.S. fiscal policy has been awesomely stimulative since the pandemic struck and the U.S. has still grown ever more unequal in terms of both income and wealth.  This is because ultra-accommodative monetary policy stokes inequality and, at the scale practiced by the Federal Reserve, towers over even trillions of fiscal stimulus.  As a result, the U.S. didn’t get the Fed’s promise of “robust growth” accompanied by only a bit of “transitory” inflation.  Of course, we instead got a crushing combination of high-flying inflation that will leave long-lasting scars on vulnerable households even if it meaningfully abates as some now hope.

The Fed thinks itself aloof from any inequality accountability because it cloaks itself in the mantle of “maximum employment” as armor against any inequality-effect assertions.  It was in fact this focus solely on employment …