Don’t blame the Fed: Inflation would be same today even if interest rates were raised earlier, new research shows

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Even if the Federal Reserve had begun raising interest rates nine months earlier, US inflation wouldn’t be any lower today than it is now.

That’s the upshot of simulations using a new Bloomberg Economics model, according to an analysis published Wednesday by David Wilcox, Bloomberg’s director of US economic research.

The exercise suggested the consumer price index would have been 5.9% higher in the first quarter of 2023 versus a year earlier if the Fed had begun raising its benchmark rate in the second quarter of 2021, rather than in the first quarter of 2022. That represents little difference from the actual increase of 5.8%.

“Even if the Fed had responded much faster, we would have had the most severe inflation outbreak since the 1970s,” Wilcox wrote. “To head off the inflation problem altogether, according to the model, the Fed would have had to put the economy through a very sharp recession.”

Further out, the model’s predictions for inflation under the alternative “liftoff” scenario more or less match Bloomberg Economics forecasts for inflation through the end of 2025.

Where an earlier liftoff would have made some difference, according to the model simulation, was in 2022. The exercise indicated inflation would have peaked around 7.6% in the third quarter of last year instead of 8.6% in the second quarter.

“That’s not a trivial difference — but not a game changer either,” Wilcox said.

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