On 12 February the IMF published a paper by Olivier Blanchard (the IMF Chief Economist from MIT), Giovanni Dell’Ariccia and Paolo Mauro, on “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy.” The paper re-examines the traditional macroeconomic and financial policy framework in the wake of the recent devastating crisis. It reviews the main elements of the pre-crisis consensus about macroeconomic policy, evaluates what was wrong and what still holds of that consensus and makes a first attempt at re-drawing the contours of a new macroeconomic policy framework. It makes compulsory and compelling reading. Among other points the authors note how, traditionally, central banks have adopted low inflation rates of around 2 percent (like the ECB, just to name names); they argue that such a target should be raised. Interviewed by the IMF Survey Online, on this point Olivier Blanchard explains:
“The crisis has shown that interest rates can actually hit the zero level, and when this happens it is a severe constraint on monetary policy that ties your hands during times of trouble.
As a matter of logic, higher average inflation and thus higher average nominal interest rates before the crisis would have given more room for monetary policy to be eased during the crisis and would have resulted in less deterioration of fiscal positions. What we need to think about now is whether this could justify setting a higher inflation target in the future.”
Such an enlightened argument is not universally accepted. Frankfurt Rundschau reported that a Bundesbank internal paper, on the strength of this policy recommendation by Blanchard et al., launched a devastating attack on the IMF and referred to it as the Inflation Maximising Fund (Eurointelligence.com of 9 April).
The Wall Street Journal of 9 April reports:
Trichet: Some Euro Zone Countries May Need to Accept Deflation (by Brian Blackstone)
“European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet says some countries in the euro zone might have to accept a period of deflation to restore long-term economic growth prospects.
“Some countries, to regain competitiveness, will have to keep inflation below the EU average,” Mr. Trichet told the Italian paper Il Sole 24 in an interview published Friday.
Asked by the paper whether this means “even accepting a period of deflation, with all the possible social consequences this might have?” Mr. Trichet replied: “Yes.”
“It is normal that some regions, after growing above the EMU average for some time, and after having accumulated high national inflation, experience a correction and therefore a period of negative inflation, as it is currently happening in Ireland,” Mr. Trichet said.
The ECB contends that it has avoided deflation for the euro zone as a whole, which is supported by recent data showing annual inflation in the region at about 1.5% in March, though that was probably pushed higher by energy and food prices.”
Let us rejoice that Monsieur Jean-Claude Trichet has not demanded that all the Euro-zone countries should have a rate of inflation lower than the average …