Another look at Kohn’s June 11th speech
This still reads hawkish to me:
The results of such exercises imply that, over recent history, a sharp jump in oil prices appears to have had only modest effects on the future rate of inflation. This result likely reflects two factors. First, commodities like oil represent only a small share of the overall costs of production, implying that the magnitude of the direct pass-through from changes in such prices to other prices should be modest, all else equal. Second, inflation expectations have been well anchored in recent years, contributing to a muted response of inflation to oil price shocks. But the anchoring of expectations cannot be taken as given; indeed, the type of empirical exercises I have outlined reveal a larger effect of the price of oil on inflation prior to the last two decades, a period in which inflation expectations were not as well anchored as they are today.
Nonetheless, repeated increases in energy prices and their effect on overall inflation have contributed to a rise in the year-ahead inflation expectations of households, especially this year. Of greater concern is that some measures of longer-term inflation expectations appear to have edged up since last year. Any tendency for these longer-term inflation expectations to drift higher or even to fail to reverse over time would have troublesome implications for the outlook for inflation.
The central role of inflation expectations implies that policymakers must look beyond this type of reduced-form exercise for guidance. After all, the lags of inflation in reduced-form regressions are a very imperfect proxy for inflation expectations. As emphasized in Robert Lucas’s critique of reduced-form Phillips curves more than 30 years ago, structural models are needed to have confidence in the effect of any shock on the outlook for inflation and economic activity.
This was considered the dovish part:
In particular, an appropriate monetary policy following a jump in the price of oil will allow, on a temporary basis, both some increase in unemployment and some increase in price inflation. By pursuing actions that balance the deleterious effects of oil prices on both employment and inflation over the near term, policymakers are, in essence, attempting to find their preferred point on the activity/inflation variance-tradeoff curve introduced by John Taylor 30 years ago.
So the question is whether that point was realized by a 2% Fed funds rate currently?
Such policy actions promote the efficient adjustment of relative prices: Since real wages need to fall and both prices and wages adjust slowly, the efficient adjustment of relative prices will tend to include a bit of additional price inflation and a bit of additional unemployment for a time, leading to increases in real wages that are temporarily below the trend established by productivity gains.
But it was then qualified by this return to hawkishness regarding the inflation expectations that he previously said showed signs of elevating:
I should emphasize that the course of policy I have just described has taken inflation expectations as given. In practice, it is very important to ensure that policy actions anchor inflation expectations. This anchoring is critical: As demonstrated by historical experiences around the world and in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s, efforts to bring inflation and inflation expectations back to desirable levels after they have risen appreciably involve costly and undesirable changes in resource utilization.11 As a result, the degree to which any deviations of inflation from long-run objectives are tolerated to allow the efficient relative price adjustments that I have described needs to be tempered so as to ensure that longer-term inflation expectations are not affected to a significant extent.
And the FOMC all agree that long term inflation expectations have been affected to some extent already.
To reiterate, the Phillips curve framework is one important input to my outlook for inflation and provides a framework in which I can analyze the nature of efficient policy choices. In the case of a shock to the relative price of oil or other commodities, this framework suggests that policymakers should ensure that their actions balance the deleterious economic effects of such a shock in the short run on both unemployment and inflation.
Of course, the framework helps to define the short-run goals for policy, but it doesn’t tell you what path for interest rates will accomplish these objectives. That’s what we wrestle with at the FOMC and is perhaps a subject for a future Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference.
This all could mean a Fed funds rate that causes unemployment to grow and dampen inflation expectations down, but not grow so much as to bring inflation down quickly is in order.
The question then is whether the appropriate Fed funds rate for this ‘balance’ between growth, employment, and inflation expectations is 2% or something higher than that.