Friday Dec 02, 2022

Rapid Inflation Fuels Debate Over What’s to Blame: Pandemic or Policy – The New York Times


The price increases bedeviling consumers, businesses and policymakers worldwide have prompted a heated debate in Washington about how much of today’s rapid inflation is a result of policy choices in the United States and how much stems from global factors tied to the pandemic, like snarled supply chains.

At a moment when stubbornly rapid price gains are weighing on consumer confidence and creating a political liability for President Biden, White House officials have repeatedly blamed international forces for high inflation, including factory shutdowns in Asia and overtaxed shipping routes that are causing shortages and pushing up prices everywhere. The officials increasingly cite high inflation in places including the euro area, where prices are climbing at the fastest pace on record, as a sign that the world is experiencing a shared moment of price pain, deflecting the blame away from U.S. policy.

But a chorus of economists point to government policies as a big part of the reason U.S. inflation is at a 40-year high. While they agree that prices are rising as a result of shutdowns and supply chain woes, they say that America’s decision to flood the economy with stimulus money helped to send consumer spending into overdrive, exacerbating those global trends.

The world’s trade machine is producing, shipping and delivering more goods to American consumers than it ever has, as people flush with cash buy couches, cars and home office equipment, but supply chains just haven’t been able to keep up with that supercharged demand.

Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, said that “more than half of the increase, at least, is due to global factors.” But “there is also a domestic demand component that is important,” she said.

The White House has tried to address inflation by boosting supply — announcing measures to unclog ports and trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, all of which take time. But rising inflation has already imperiled Mr. Biden’s ability to pass a sprawling social policy and climate bill over fears that more spending could add to inflation. Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat whose vote is critical to getting the legislation passed, has cited rising prices as one reason he won’t support the bill.

The demand side of today’s price increases may prove easier for policymakers to address. The Federal Reserve is preparing to raise interest rates to make borrowing more expensive, slowing spending down, in a recipe that could help to tame inflation. Fading government help for households may also naturally bring down demand and soften price pressures.

Inflation has accelerated sharply in the United States, with the Consumer Price Index climbing by 7 percent in the year through December, its fastest pace since 1982. But in recent months, it has also moved up sharply across many countries, a fact administration officials have emphasized.

“The inflation has everything to do with the supply chain,” President Biden said during a news conference on Wednesday. “While there are differences country by country, this is a global phenomenon and driven by these global issues,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said after the latest inflation data were released.

It is the case that supply disruptions are leading to higher …….


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