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Inflation is Now the Lesser Evil

CAMBRIDGE – It is time for the world’s major central banks to acknowledge that a sudden burst of moderate inflation would be extremely helpful in unwinding today’s epic debt morass.

Yes, inflation is an unfair way of effectively writing down all non-indexed debts in the economy. Price inflation forces creditors to accept repayment in debased currency. Yes, in principle, there should be a way to fix the ills of the financial system without resort to inflation. Unfortunately, the closer one examines the alternatives, including capital injections for banks and direct help for home mortgage holders, the clearer it becomes that inflation would be a help, not a hindrance.

Modern finance has succeeded in creating a default dynamic of such stupefying complexity that it defies standard approaches to debt workouts. Securitization, structured finance, and other innovations have so interwoven the financial system’s various players that it is essentially impossible to restructure one financial institution at a time. System-wide solutions are needed.

Moderate inflation in the short run – say, 6% for two years – would not clear the books. But it would significantly ameliorate the problems, making other steps less costly and more effective.