The man who warned about inflation is wary of the future
Some contrarian economists on Wall Street are beginning to think inflation may rear up to seven percent for the first part of the year – a pace not seen in many decades.
The current warnings, while still dismissed in some quarters as fear mongering, or simply politics, have deep roots…including a retired central banker, Tom Hoenig, who sounded the alarm a decade ago that easy Fed policy would have profound economic consequences:
Between 2008 and 2014, the Federal Reserve printed more than $3.5 trillion in new bills. To put that in perspective, it’s roughly triple the amount of money that the Fed created in its first 95 years of existence. Three centuries’ worth of growth in the money supply was crammed into a few short years. The money poured through the veins of the financial system and stoked demand for assets like stocks, corporate debt and commercial real estate bonds, driving up prices across markets. Hoenig was the one Fed leader who voted consistently against this course of action, starting in 2010. In doing so, he pitted himself against the Fed’s powerful chair at the time, Ben Bernanke, who was widely regarded as a hero for the ambitious rescue plans he designed and oversaw.
Hoenig lost his fight. Throughout 2010, the FOMC votes were routinely 11 against one, with Hoenig being the one. He retired from the Fed in late 2011, and after that, a reputation hardened around Hoenig as the man who got it wrong. He is remembered as something like a cranky Old Testament prophet who warned incessantly, and incorrectly, about one thing: the threat of coming inflation.
But he turned out to be right. And as for the future…
[Hoenig] is still issuing warnings about the dangers of runaway money printing, and he is still being mostly ignored.
Hoenig isn’t optimistic about what American life might look like after another decade of weak growth, wage stagnation and booming asset values that primarily benefited the rich. This was something he talked about a lot, both publicly and privately. In his mind, economics and the banking system were tightly intertwined with American society. One thing affected the other. When the financial system benefited only a handful of people, average people started to lose faith in society as a whole.
The future is an undiscovered country, and we can only guess at what it may contain. Hopefully, it’s not economic ruin. But it behooves us to be skeptical of those who pretend a loose Federal Reserve, and a fiscally reckless political class, can somehow get us there unscathed.