Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Bernanke Tells Harvard: Things Are Different This Time

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke ’75 spoke to Harvard College’s graduating class today in Tercentanary Theatre at Harvard.

Bernanke spoke to the class about the year 1975, the year he graduated from Harvard. He told the class:

Then as now, we were experiencing a serious oil price shock, sharply rising prices for food and other commodities, and subpar economic growth. But I see the differences between the economy of 1975 and the economy of 2008 as more telling than the similarities.

Oh yeah, they are different alright.

Bernanke again:

Economists generally agree that monetary policy performed poorly during this period. In part, this was because policymakers, in choosing what they believed to be the appropriate setting for monetary policy

Sure, it is real different this time, for the worse. In 1975 money supply (M2) grew at 8.0%, today it is growing at 10.2%.

Bernanke again:

For a central banker, a particularly critical difference between then and now is what has happened to inflation and inflation expectations. The overall inflation rate has averaged about 3-1/2 percent over the past four quarters, significantly higher than we would like but much less than the double-digit rates that inflation reached in the mid-1970s and then again in 1980.

The inflation rate in 1975 was 9.0%. According to John Williams at Shadow Government Statistics, if you calculated the inflation rate now, the same way it was calculated in 1975, the CPI is near 12% this year.

Bernanke then had the chutzpah to add:

The Federal Reserve and other central banks have learned the lessons of the 1970s… as a central banker, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the contribution of monetary policy to the improved productivity performance.

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