Inflation is back, and it is posing a serious challenge for central banks around the world. After decades of low and stable inflation, many countries are now experiencing high and volatile inflation that is exceeding expectations and targets. This has raised questions about the ability and credibility of central banks to forecast and control inflation in a changing world.
Inflation forecasting is a crucial task for central banks, as it informs their monetary policy decisions and communicates their expectations to the public and the markets. However, inflation forecasting is not an easy or precise science. It involves making assumptions and judgments about the complex and dynamic interactions between various economic factors, such as demand, supply, expectations, wages, productivity, exchange rates, fiscal policy, and global shocks.
In recent years, central banks have faced several difficulties and uncertainties in forecasting inflation, such as:
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent policy responses, which have caused unprecedented disruptions and distortions in the economy and the price system.
- The structural changes in the economy and the society, such as digitalization, globalization, aging, climate change, and inequality, which have altered the behavior and preferences of consumers, producers, and workers.
- The limitations and shortcomings of the economic models and tools that central banks use to forecast inflation, which may not capture the full complexity and diversity of the real world, or may rely on outdated or inaccurate data and assumptions.
- The lack of intellectual diversity and innovation within the central banks, which may lead to groupthink, complacency, and inertia in their forecasting and policy-making processes.
The consequences of inflation forecasting failures
The failures of central banks to forecast inflation accurately and timely have serious consequences for their policy effectiveness and credibility. For example:
- If central banks underestimate inflation, they may keep monetary policy too loose for too long, which may fuel inflationary pressures and expectations, and erode their credibility and independence.
- If central banks overestimate inflation, they may tighten monetary policy too much or too soon, which may dampen economic growth and employment, and create deflationary risks and financial instability.
- If central banks are uncertain or inconsistent in their inflation forecasts, they may confuse or mislead the public and the markets, which may reduce their transparency and accountability, and undermine their communication and guidance.
These consequences may have negative implications for the economic and social welfare of the people, as well as for the stability and resilience of the financial system.
The need for rethinking monetary policy in a changing world
Given the challenges and consequences of inflation forecasting, central banks need to rethink their monetary policy frameworks and strategies in a changing world. Some of the possible steps that central banks can take are:
- To be more realistic and humble about their ability and limitations to forecast inflation, and to acknowledge and communicate the uncertainties and risks involved in their forecasts.
- To be more flexible and adaptive in their monetary policy responses, and to avoid being trapped or constrained by their previous commitments or promises, such as forward guidance or quantitative easing.
- To be more vigilant and proactive in monitoring and addressing the sources and drivers of inflation, and to use a broader range of indicators and information, such as surveys, market signals, and alternative data.
- To be more open and diverse in their intellectual and institutional frameworks, and to seek and incorporate different perspectives and insights from various disciplines and stakeholders, such as academics, practitioners, and civil society.
By rethinking their monetary policy in a changing world, central banks can improve their inflation forecasting and policy-making, and enhance their credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the public and the markets.