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The Fed Doesn’t Fear Inflation. Its Critics Have Longer Memories

Niall Ferguson

By Niall Ferguson

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon in the sense that it is and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.” It was in a lecture delivered in London in 1970 that Milton Friedman uttered those famous words, the credo of monetarism. Over the previous five years, inflation in most countries had been on the rise.

In the first half of the 1960s, U.S. consumer prices had never gone up by more than 2% in any 12-month period. The average inflation rate from January 1960 until December 1965 had been just 1.3%. But thereafter it moved upward in two jumps, reaching 3.8% in October 1966 and 6.4% in February 1970.

For Friedman, this had been the more or less inevitable consequence of allowing the money supply to grow too rapidly. The monetary aggregate known as M2 (cash in public hands, plus checking and savings accounts, as well as money market funds) grew at an average annual rate of 7% throughout the 1960s. Moreover, as Friedman pointed out in his lecture, the velocity of circulation had not moved in the opposite direction….

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