- Abdul Khan
The Consequences of Myopic Monetary Policy: It's More Than Just Inflation
On October 20, 2022, Liz Truss set a record for the shortest term served by any United Kingdom Prime Minister in history. Her premiership was outlived just by a head of iceberg lettuce. As the majority party, British Conservatives scrambled to elect a new Prime Minister to fill this abrupt hole, settling on Truss’s main conservative rival – Rishi Sunak. Setting aside geopolitical factors such a drastic failure and upheaval in 6th largest economy has huge consequences for the global economy and particularly for one of it’s largest trading partners in the United States
The United States Federal Reserve and Chairman Jerome Powell’s hawkish inflation policy is arguably what set into motion the instability and ultimate downfall of the Truss administration. While inflation is clearly President Biden’s primary concern for the United States economy today, it seems increasingly likely that domestic interest rate hikes are insufficient in combating it and will instead prolong an inevitable global recession. However, if the US government and the Fed work together alongside major partners in Western Europe and East Asia to coordinate global open market operations and reassure investors and consumers, expectations of a ‘soft landing’ for the US economy after excessive COVID-19 expenditure need not be far-fetched.
Truss's predicament is also the result of her own actions. In fact, her administration has come under widespread criticism in recent weeks over its appalling failure to contain inflation and stabilize a depreciating pound. Especially unpopular was a sweeping, debt-funded tax-cut proposal, which among other consequences, would see the removal of the 45% tax rate for top earners and cost approximately $49 billion. News of this proposed budget immediately saw huge losses in Pound Sterling’s value as investors in the UK and abroad lost confidence in the regime’s ability to respond to inflationary pressures. As further evidence of the administration’s failure, UK Finance Minister Kwasi Kwarteng was forced to resign just three weeks after announcing the tax cut which sent shockwaves through financial markets.
However, If Truss and her administration dug their own grave, it was the US Federal Reserve that handed them the shovel. It was not in the Prime Minister’s office, but rather in the meeting room of the Board of Governors that initiated the downfall of the British pound, Euro, and many other prominent foreign exchanges that the UK’s economy depended on. The pound fell initially as a result of Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. This made holding the dollar more profitable which caused many currencies (especially the pound) to lose significant value. When Truss assumed Prime Minister, she inherited these circumstances which were doomed to fail. However, her attempts to salvage them worsened the issues, as if pouring gasoline on a fire, tanking the value of an already very fragile Pound.
The UK is only one example of the unexpected consequences of Powell’s fervent anti-inflation measures. Financial markets in the United States also struggled to find footing after Powell increased rates by 75 basis points (0.75%) for three straight months since July (which will continue in November according to economists). This sudden shift in the Fed’s approach to inflation, which they had claimed would be transitory less than a year ago, has caused a loss of confidence in the economy while also being ineffective in containing prices. As of September, there has been a reported 8.2% annual inflation rate which indicates that Powell’s record interest rate hikes have proved ineffective in stabilizing prices. However, the news is not all bad for the US with respect to other countries. The dollar has seen record rates of appreciation against a basket of other currencies, hitting the Eurozone, Pound, and Yen especially hard since they were slower in raising interest rates.
Even though making foreign debts cheaper and allowing American consumers to purchase more goods at lower prices from abroad benefits the US domestically, it harms American domestic exporters and foreign trading partners. A stronger dollar means it will be more difficult for foreigners to pay their debt and will further exacerbate whatever inflationary trends they are experiencing. And in typical economic fashion, these unforeseen consequences will have unforeseen consequences of their own, which could potentially trigger strong responses from central banks abroad, throwing the inflationary hot potato back into US hands.
If there is one lesson to take from the pandemic, it should be that half-measures and uncoordinated efforts will only prolong and exacerbate global crises, especially within economies. By failing to coordinate and take stronger preemptive action to combat inflation, the US will most likely face a recession for the coming years, according to experts. However, with careful economic analysis and long-term planning, the Fed may be able to lessen the recession’s impact. It can accomplish this by engaging in synchronized global monetary policy with partners like the ECB, Bank of Japan, and Bank of England. While each economy must act in accordance with its unique principles and circumstances, collaboration of open market and quantitative easing operations would mitigate effects like the turbulent waves seen in the ForEx market as well present a stronger united front. This would reassure global consumers, ultimately making price stabilization much easier while mitigating the need for contractionary policy. In doing so, the American economy might fare better against even the freshest of lettuce.