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Opinion | Can We Tame Inflation While Investing in the Future?

And I’ve been hearing echoes of that misrepresentation in some current debates, as people advocating new economic ideas — or at least what they claim are new ideas — assert that conventional economic thinking was responsible for austerity policies after 2008. Um, no: Fiscal austerity was exactly what conventional economics told us not to do in a depressed economy, and it was only the peddlers of unorthodox economics who gave austerity policies intellectual cover.

Which brings us to our current moment. This time around, fiscal stimulus wasn’t underpowered, and there’s definitely a case to be made that excessive deficit spending in 2021 was a factor in rising inflation (although we can argue about how big a factor, since inflation is also up a lot in countries that didn’t engage in much stimulus). But now what?

As I said, the IS-LM model tells us that policymakers have two tools for managing the overall level of demand: fiscal and monetary policy. When you’re trying to boost a deeply depressed economy, monetary policy becomes unavailable, because you can’t push interest rates below zero. But if you’re trying to cool off an overheated economy, monetary policy is available: Interest rates can’t go down, but they can go up.

And because changing monetary policy is easy, conventional analysis says that monetary tightening is the way to go. Indeed, the Fed has made it clear that it intends to do just that. Getting the pace and size of rate hikes right will be tricky, but conceptually it isn’t hard.

But the folk economics position — where by “folk,” I mainly mean Senator Joe Manchin — is that excessive government spending caused inflation, so now we have to call off any new spending, even if it’s more or less paid for with new revenue.

Well, that’s not what conventional economics says; on the contrary, the standard model says that the Fed can handle this while we deal with other priorities.

And while conventional economics isn’t always right, any people attacking it now should ask themselves whether they’re doing so in a constructive way. In particular, I’m seeing a lot of denigration of monetary policy from people who don’t seem to realize that they are, de facto, giving aid and comfort to politicians who don’t want to invest in America’s children and the fight against climate change.

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