Powell Disses Uncle Milty

Those of us who are concerned about inflation increasing faster than the Federal Reserve anticipates are focusing on the rapid increase in the M2 measure of the money supply. This measure has soared since COVID-19 hit the US, up about 25% from a year ago, the fastest growth on record.

It is the key difference between the current situation and the situation in the aftermath of the Financial Crisis of 2008-09. During that first round of Quantitative Easing and big spending bills (like TARP), the M2 measure remained subdued because the Fed kept banks from lending, in part by raising capital standards. As a result, inflation remained subdued as well.

This is consistent with what the late great economist Milton Friedman (Uncle Milty) taught us. He said, watch M2: Nominal economic growth and inflation will tend to track M2 broadly over time, adjusted for any fluctuations in the velocity of money, the speed with which money circulates through the economy.

But Fed Chairman Jerome Powell disagrees. As he recently said, “When you and I studied economics a million years ago, M2 and monetary aggregates seemed to have a relationship to economic growth,” but, “right now ... M2 ... does not really have important implications. It is something we have to unlearn I guess.” In other words, Uncle Milty’s theories don’t work.

Wow! A Federal Reserve Chairman who casually dismisses the monetary lessons of Milton Friedman does so not only at his own peril but the country’s.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note is already up about 50 basis points this year even though short-term interest rates haven’t budged and aren’t expected to do so anytime soon. Meanwhile, analysts are marking up their estimates of real GDP growth this year.