Krugman’s blog, 9/4/15

There was one post yesterday, “The Fed Should Remember the 90s:”

I’m (a) having a good time (b) jet-lagged to the point of madness, so posting limited. But I do want to weigh in on the latest job report and the Fed.

Headline unemployment, at 5.1 percent, is now quite low by historical standards, and the baying for a rate increase is louder than ever. But inflation is subdued, indeed below target, and wages are still going nowhere. Should the Fed be raising rates in the name of “normalization”?

Well, consider the situation in 1997, when the unemployment rate dropped through 5 percent. The Fed did raise rates a quarter point, but then stopped, waiting for inflation to become a problem — which it never did, even though unemployment continued to fall, eventually to 4 percent.

The lesson is that the Fed really doesn’t know what level of U3 constitutes full employment, and should be very cautious about acting preemptively absent any signs of inflation problems.

Why is this time different? Many people seem to think that the case for raising rates is made stronger by the fact that we’re currently at zero, which seems weird and unnatural. But if you actually think through the logic, it’s the other way around. When the Fed funds rate was 5 percent, there was room to cut if a rate hike turned out to be premature — that is, the risks of moving too soon and moving too late were more or less symmetrical. Now they aren’t: if the Fed moves too late, it can always raise rates more, but if it moves too soon, it can push us into a trap that’s hard to escape.

Hiking rates now is still a really bad idea — and the arguments for that bad idea just keep getting worse.

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