Why central bankers are obsessed with inflation not breaching a certain band?

July 25th, 2010

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If you follow central bankers all over the world, you will notice that for many of them, their monetary policy (under normal economic circumstances) targets a particular rate of price inflation. In Australia, the RBA targets price inflation to be around the 2-3% band, according to their preferred measure of price inflation. In the US, the band was 1-2% (we doubt they are in the position of targeting price inflation now, given that they are now in the zone of unconventional monetary policy). It is not the same for every central bank though. For example, Singapore?s central bank, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), based their monetary policy on the exchange rate.

By now, you may wonder why the RBA specifically target the band of 2-3%? Why not 4-5%? Why not 9-10%? Why not even higher so that price inflation will ?inflate? away the debt of the masses, as in the 1970s?

Around 4 months ago, Saul Eslake wrote a very insightful article (unusual for a mainstream economist),


These inflation targets were chosen because, when inflation is about ”2-point something”, people tend not to notice it. And when they don’t notice it, they tend not to do things to protect themselves against it that are likely to lead eventually to prices rising at a faster rate.

By contrast, when inflation is, say, 4 per cent or higher, experience amply demonstrates that people do notice it – and they start to do things to protect themselves against its adverse consequences, such as seeking higher wages, or (in the case of businesses) putting up prices in anticipation of faster increases in costs.

The inevitable result is that, sooner or later, inflation starts rising at a faster rate than 4 per cent, and the central bank is eventually obliged to raise interest rates to slow the economy sufficiently to bring inflation back down to 4 per cent again. But when it has done so (at some cost in terms of unemployment), people start doing the same things again to protect themselves against the effects of 4 per cent inflation.

In other words, a 4 per cent, or higher, inflation rate is unlikely to be sustainable in the way that a 2 or 3 per cent inflation rate has been. It is likely to result not only in inflation being more volatile, but also in economic activity being more volatile and, probably, slower on average.

You may notice that this is what we implied in an article that we wrote back in December 2008: Demand for money, inflation/deflation & its implication. Once you understand the logic, you will be able to see the application of systems thinking. In other words, once price inflation goes over a tipping point, it becomes a dynamic process whereby money supply will balloon in an ever increasing positive feedback loop, resulting in higher and higher price inflation rate, which if not arrested, becomes hyperinflation.

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