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The Failure of Inflation Targeting

New York – The World’s central bankers are a close-knit club, given to fads and fashions. In the early 1980’s, they fell under the spell of monetarism, a simplistic economic theory promoted by Milton Friedman. After monetarism was discredited – at great cost to those countries that succumbed to it – the quest began for a new mantra.

The answer came in the form of “inflation targeting,” which says that whenever price growth exceeds a target level, interest rates should be raised. This crude recipe is based on little economic theory or empirical evidence; there is no reason to expect that regardless of the source of inflation , the best response is to increase interest rates. One hopes that most countries will have the good sense not to implement inflation targeting; my sympathies go to the unfortunate citizens of those that do.  (Among the list of those who have officially adopted inflation targeting in one form or another are: Israel, the Czech Republic, Poland, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, South Africa, Thailand, Korea, Mexico, Hungary, Peru, the Philippines, Slovakia, Indonesia, Romania, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, Iceland, and Norway.)

Today, inflation targeting is being put to the test – and it will almost certainly fail. Developing countries currently face higher rates of inflation not because of poorer macro-management, but because oil and food prices are soaring, and these items represent a much larger share of the average household budget than in rich countries. In China, for example, inflation is approaching 8% or more. In Vietnam, it is even higher and is expected to approach 18.2% this year, and in India it is 5.8% . By contrast, US inflation stands at 3%. Does that mean that these developing countries should raise their interest rates far more than the US?

Inflation in these countries is, for the most part, imported . Raising interest rates won’t have much impact on the international price of grains or fuel. Indeed, given the size of the US economy, a slowdown there might conceivably have a far bigger effect on global prices than a slowdown in any developing country, which suggests that, from a global perspective, US interest rates, not those in developing countries, should be raised.