Adam Posen was the latest member of the committee to articulate his confusion. Earlier this week, he gave a talk at the annual christmas breakfast of Essex Institute of Directors, which was held in the "charming" town of Billericay.
Mr.Posen explained why recent inflationary develops were no different from earlier times. He argued that four important "empirical realities" affecting inflation were still at work in the UK, despite the recent upheavals caused by the banking crisis.
Those regularities were:
- Unemployment affects inflation at 1-2 Year horizons:
- Large output gaps persist after financial crises:
- Private consumption contracts in the medium-term during fiscal consolidations
- Unit labour costs are a significant predictor of inflation
In fact, downward pressure on prices is everywhere except in the data. Here, the inflation rate stubburnly refuses to adhere to Mr. Posen's empirical regularities.
So, where is the flaw in Mr. Posen's argument. I believe it is on this assumptions about the output gap. The UK was uniquely dependent on financial markets as a source of economic growth. The financial crisis has eliminated a key source of UK growth. More generally, the extended contraction in output has destroyed both human and physical capital, limiting the flexibility of the economy to jump back as aggregate demand picks up.
Therefore, the output gap isn't as wide as the Bank of England thinks. Competitive pressures in product markets are not that elevated, and firms can pass on the sterling depreciaiton and VAT hikes more easily into prices.
One final irony from Mr. Posen; he barely mentioned interest rates. The key policy instrument was only mentioned four times, and never in the context of a credible counter inflationary strategy.