Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve: The competing inflation fighting narratives …

John Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, today remarked on the state of inflation in the United States and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System’s (“Board” or “Federal Reserve”) efforts to address rising prices throughout American markets for food, energy, other goods and services. 

Mr Williams reminded listeners of the Board’s dual mandate of maintaining stable prices and attaining maximum employment and reiterated that the Board has the monetary tools to address inflation stemming from congestion in the supply chain, China’s recent attempts to combat the surge in new Covid cases, Russia’s invasion of its Eastern European neighbor, Ukraine.

With demand exceeding supply and a tightening labor market, Mr Williams expects monetary actions to cool the demand side of the equation.  The Board has already embarked on cooling down the demand side, first by announcing during its last Federal Open Market Committee meeting (a committee that Mr Williams is a member of) an interbank overnight lending rate range of .75% to 1.00%. 

In order to influence its member banks to borrow excess reserves from each other within this range, the Board will begin unwinding its holdings of US Treasury notes and agency-backed securities on 1 June.  In theory, as more securities hit the market for sale, the price of these securities fall while the interest rates paid on these securities increase.  As interest rates increase, the Board believes the increase will be accompanied by a slow-down in lending by commercial banks and borrowing by businesses and consumers which is expected to result in a less heated economy. 

But as the campaign season heats up in the United States, how well will the Biden-Harris administration manage the political economy during a downturn?  Today, Mr Biden, in remarks addressing inflation, spun a narrative that inflation is the result of Vladimir Putin’s antics in Ukraine and by a federal budget deficit caused by wealthy individual and large corporations’ unwillingness to pay their fair share of taxes. 

Admitting that monetary policy is the purview of the Board of Governors, Mr Biden offered up a fiscal solution contained in his Build Back Better agenda.  Components of the Build Back Better agenda offered in his remarks included investment in renewable energy infrastructure; passing clean energy and electric vehicle tax credits; promulgating fuel regulations that would increase miles per gallon for fossil fuel vehicles; and releasing one million barrels a day from America’s strategic petroleum reserves.

Throughout Mr Biden’s speech, Vladimir Putin’s name was cited repeatedly giving me the impression that remarks were intended to drum up electorate support for continued U.S. and NATO involvement in the Ukraine-Russia conflict versus resolving the inflation issue.  I also get the sense that by early summer, Mr Biden will tie Mr Putin to former president Donald Trump, thereby turning the inflation messaging into a strategic communication that garners more electoral support for the Democratic Party.

As an economic narrative, Mr Biden’s fiscal and legislative policy will depend on a defacto gridlocked Congress.  By keeping attention on Mr Putin and to a lesser extent Mr Trump, Mr Biden hopes Americans do not notice his inability to manage the political economy out of an inflationary mess.

All ears should stay open to what the Federal Reserve says and eyes open to what the consumer does.  While the Board lost credibility by continually repeating that inflation was transitory, it is in a position to take faster and more measurable action via monetary policy as opposed to Mr Biden’s fiscal and legislative agenda.

Alton Drew

10 May 2022

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