40 Years of Lessons Learned: Jackson Hole 1982 & 2022

The stock market reaction to the Kansas City Fed meeting in Jackson Hole today was not so pleasant. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down over 1,000 points or by over 3 %. The S&P 500 was down 3.4 percent. The markets started to fall with Chairman Powell’s speech in which he said “We must keep at it until the job is done,” and he emphasized credibility almost as if in a full policy rule-like mode.

But the emphasis of the market commentary was not much on the benefits of credibility of monetary policy. Rather it was that the Fed will simply keep raising the federal funds rate until we really see inflation coming down.

Here it is important to think about history, with the perspective of 40 years. It is not easy. I attended the 1982 Jackson Hole Conference and gave a paper called “The Role of Expectations in the Choice of Monetary Policy,” which stressed the importance of expectations. https://web.stanford.edu/~johntayl/Onlinepaperscombinedbyyear/1982/The_Role_of_Expectations_in_the_Choice_of_Monetary_Policy.pdf.

The year 1982 was so much different than the year 2022. Inflation had been high for 15 years in 1982, not 15 months as today, and inflation had set in. The wage price spiral was in full bloom. It took a big change in monetary policy too bring inflation down, and that is what had happened. But today inflation is not so entrenched as it was in the 1970s when higher interest rates caused big recessions. An expectation of a credible disinflation policy will prevent pass through to wages and other prices. The emphasis should be on credibility and expectations, and on a clear understanding of how different policy and the economy have been recently compared with the 1960s and 1970s. Yes, the Fed has to adjust the interest rate some more to bring inflation down to levels consistent with the the 2 percent target. But a more credible Fed policy will make the adjustment much smoother and with the main impact on inflation, not on the real economy.

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