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But it didn’t last. As the ’70s transitioned into the ’80s, several structural developments in the larger economy caused a qualitative shift in how monetary policy worked. First, more and more people got access to credit, in the form of credit cards and home equity loans. This boom in consumer credit meant not only that households had new purchasing power but that a substantial chunk of spending was happening through a channel—borrowing—that was sensitive to the Fed’s interest rate mechanism. If inflation was getting out of hand, the Fed could simply tinker with interest rates and, suddenly, a huge chunk of the economy, including consumer spending, would respond in kind. For the central banker, this was something of a revelation: it was no longer necessary to provoke recessions—a messy, blunt instrument—in order to restrain inflation. Federal Grant Record Retention Requirements
The third policy option is known as nominal gross domestic product targeting, the major proponent of which is the economist Scott Sumner. The idea is all about self-fulfilling expectations. Recall that the central bank owns the printing press, so it can create arbitrary quantities of dollars. By making a pre-commitment to keep the economy on a particular spending trajectory, self-fulfilling collapses in spending would not happen. Something similar to this policy seems to have kept Australia and Israel out of the Great Recession. But in order to sustain such a policy, the Fed might have to intervene in the economy quite frequently, and then the distributional consequences could be serious. Quantitative easing, for example, helps push up asset prices (the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some), which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Free Money Machine