Is inflation dead or hibernating?


Is inflation dead or hibernating? The answer will shape the future of central banking and the global economy. It requires exploring shifts in the tectonic plates of the global economy rather than developments on its surface, ie shifts in secular forces and policy regimes.

Looking back, obviously central banks have been instrumental in taming the Great Inflation of the 1970s. But this cannot be the whole story: post-Great Financial Crisis, inflation has remained stubbornly below targets despite major efforts to push it up. Inflation has been very insensitive to economic slack, and inflation expectations appear to be rather backward-looking. Arguably, secular forces such as globalisation and technology have played an important complementary role.

Looking forward, in the wake of the pandemic, disinflationary forces are likely to prevail in the near term, owing to excess capacity and the continued impact of the secular forces. But at some point inflation could become a problem again, if underlying economic conditions and policy regimes came to resemble more those in the 1970s: a deglobalised world; high public debt; financial repression; highly constrained central bank autonomy; and a larger role of the state in the economy. If so, the winter of hibernation will have been quite long, but just a winter nonetheless.

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