This mess was caused by over-investment in housing, and bringing down unemployment will be a gradual process. "You can't change the carpenter into a nurse easily, and you can't change the mortgage broker into a computer expert in a manufacturing plant very easily.
By Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Wall Street Journal
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was on Capitol Hill this week to answer critical questions about monetary policy, amid rising bond yields and sharply higher commodity prices. Mr. Bernanke showed no self-doubt, and Friday's resignation of Fed Governor Kevin Warsh, one of the board's inflation watchdogs, means that Mr. Bernanke's easy-money inclinations will have even fewer internal checks.
Enter Charles Plosser, the president of Philadelphia's Federal Reserve bank. A former dean of the William E. Simon School of Business at Rochester University, Mr. Plosser is widely known as an inflation hawk. And this year he has a vote on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), which sets monetary policy. He's now a man to watch.
One of the most perplexing questions for the Fed these days concerns the continuation of "QE2," its second round of quantitative easing, which will dump $600 billion in new money into our banking system over the first half of this year.
Mr. Plosser doesn't see a deflation risk for the U.S. economy right now. Even those who were worried about deflation six months ago, he says, have begun to change their tune. That means that, with moderate GDP growth and low inflation in the mix, the only thing left as an excuse for QE2 is high unemployment. Can lax monetary policy change that picture?
Mr. Plosser's answer is unequivocal: This mess was caused by over-investment in housing, and bringing down unemployment will be a gradual process. "You can't change the carpenter into a nurse easily, and you can't change the mortgage broker into a computer expert in a manufacturing plant very easily. Eventually that stuff will sort itself out. People will be retrained and they'll find jobs in other industries. But monetary policy can't retrain people. Monetary policy can't fix those problems."
Mr. Plosser reminds me that when QE2 was first proposed last year, he wasn't in favor. "I didn't think it was necessary and I thought that the costs outweighed the benefits." He says he thought that "it carried some very significant risks" that "would not be borne today but would be borne down the road when the time comes to unwind what we've been doing."
But last month, when Mr. Plosser got his first chance to vote on the FOMC, he didn't dissent. When I ask why, he launches into a summary of his four principles of good policy-making: "clear communication of objectives," "credible commitments toward achieving those objectives," "transparency" and "independence."
Credibility demands that the bank not "stomp on the brakes and then floor the accelerator," he says. "Why do you want to signal something and then yank it out from under the market? That's just not a good way to conduct policy."
I'm skeptical that policy makers will know when to change course, so I ask Mr. Plosser what signals he'll be looking for. He begins by cautioning that "with food and commodity prices, as well as oil prices for that matter, the challenge you always face is distinguishing relative price movements from price-level movements." For this reason, he tries "to get a feel for the underlying trends." Complete Must Read Article
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