The Federal Reserve should heed the lessons of the 1960s and raise interest rates to prevent inflation from accelerating suddenly and uncomfortably, one of the Fed's most hawkish policymakers suggested on Friday. Richmond Federal Reserve Bank President Jeffrey Lacker did not comment directly on the stance of monetary policy or on the appropriate timing or pace of future rate hikes in remarks prepared for delivery to a University of Chicago Booth School of Business conference.
But, in a discussion of the policy mistakes of the 1960s that allowed inflation to take hold and spiral out of control, Lacker suggested strongly today's Fed would do well to avoid the trap of believing that just because inflation has been stable for so long, it will continue to be so.
Though now, as then, it is difficult to know exactly how much slack remains in the economy, and now, as then, fiscal policy is uncertain, leaving rates too low for too long can be disastrous, he said.
Then-Fed Chair William McChesney Martin, Lacker said, actually did understand that only timely rate hikes would be enough to keep inflation down, but "the problem may have been less a lack of understanding and more a lack of political will."
While the Fed's independence is more assured now than in the 1960s, when its actions were openly and strongly criticized by the president, Lacker added, "given various legislative proposals that have emerged in the last few years, I think wed all agree that central bank independence cannot be taken for granted."
Lacker, who retires this year and does not vote on policy, has long advocated rate hikes. The Fed is expected to raise rates later this month, but keep the pace of hikes very slow compared to past tightening cycles.