Jerome Powell wants to say ‘Bye bye bye’ to inflation as he dusts off the Fed’s early- 2000s playbook

May 4, 2022, 8:39 PM UTC

The Federal Reserve just took the U.S. on a time warp back to 2000. 

As expected, the Fed raised interest rates by half a percentage point on Wednesday—the steepest increase handed down since 2000. In addition to the rate hike, the central bank also announced plans to start shrinking its balance sheet in June in a concerted effort to drive down soaring inflation rates. 

As Bankrate’s Sarah Foster noted on Twitter, that was an era when N’Sync ruled the airwaves. Their hit “Bye, Bye, Bye” spent 12 weeks on the top 10 charts in spring 2000. In short, it was a long time ago.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that taming inflation is a multi-decade matter of economic importance.

“We understand the pain involved,” Powell said of the 8.5% inflation rate in March, the highest seen in more than four decades.

“If you’re a normal economic person, then you probably don’t have that much extra to spend, and it’s immediately hitting your spending on groceries, on gasoline, on energy, and things like that,” Powell said.

But the process of bringing down inflation is not pain free either. The way the Fed is approaching getting supply and consumer demand back in balance is through rate hikes. That will push mortgage rates, auto rates, credit card interest, and borrowing rates much higher. “So it’s not gonna be pleasant either,” Powell acknowledged. 

Powell also did not rule out having to take drastic steps, recalling an era even further back than the 2000s. He said he has “tremendous admiration” for Paul Volcker, the former Fed chair who dramatically hiked rates in the late 1970s and early 1980s to end the era of runaway inflation that many fear is seeing a rebirth under Powell. Volcker had “the courage to do what he thought was the right thing,” Powell said.

Volcker’s actions led the U.S. into two recessions, and some left-wing pundits still argue that his medicine was worse than the disease, although for better or worse, it undeniably ended the “Great Inflation.”

Some financial experts are already estimating there’s a 35% probability that the Fed’s current plan to bring down inflation lands the U.S. in another recession, while JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is now estimating the odds are even worse than that.

Powell continues to reiterate he doesn’t see that outcome happening, though. “I think we have a good chance to restore price stability without a recession—without a severe downturn and without materially higher unemployment,” Powell said.

“I​​t’s certainly possible that we’ll need to move policy to levels that we see as restrictive as opposed to just neutral,” Powell added. “We see restoring price stability as absolutely essential for the country over the coming years,” Powell said. “Without price stability, the economy doesn’t work for anybody, really.

“But in the end, everyone is better off. Everyone—particularly people on fixed incomes at the lower part of the income distribution are better off with stable prices,” Powell says. “And so we need to do everything we can to restore stable prices. We’ll do it as quickly and effectively as we can. We think we have a good chance to do it without a significant increase in unemployment or a really sharp slowdown.”

Powell may as well have ended his remarks Wednesday by making a Volckerish vow on inflation from another famous Justin Timberlake line: “It’s gonna be me.”

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