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    Debate Looms Over I.M.F.: Should It Do More Than Put Out Fires?

    As the International Monetary Fund gets set for its annual meeting, economists ask if it’s time to update its mandate as the world’s financial crisis responder.Lopsided access to vaccinations, extreme economic inequality, rising food prices and staggering debt are on the agenda when the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank gather for their annual meetings in Washington next week.A pressing issue not in the official program is the controversy that has been swirling for weeks around the chief of the I.M.F., Kristalina Georgieva, threatening her leadership.An investigation last month accused Ms. Georgieva of rigging data to paint China as more business friendly in a 2018 report when she was chief executive at the World Bank. Ms. Georgieva has denied any wrongdoing.The scandal has focused on the bank’s credibility — billion-dollar decisions can be made on the basis of its information — as well as Ms. Georgieva’s culpability.But lurking behind the debate over her future are foundational questions about the shifting role of the I.M.F., which has helped guide the planet’s economic and financial system since the end of World War II.Once narrowly viewed as a financial watchdog and a first responder to countries in financial crises, the I.M.F. has more recently helped manage two of the biggest risks to the worldwide economy: the extreme inequality and climate change.Some stakeholders, though, have chafed at the scope of the fund’s ambitions, and how much it should venture onto the World Bank’s turf of long-term development and social projects. And they object to what’s perceived as a progressive tilt.“There is a modernizing streak here running through major financial institutions which is creating a kind of tension,” said Adam Tooze, a historian at Columbia University and the author of “Shutdown: How Covid Shook the World’s Economy.”Other pressures weigh on the agency as well. Washington is still home to the I.M.F.’s headquarters, and the United States is the only one of the 190 member countries with veto power, because it contributes more money than any other. But its dominance has been increasingly challenged by China — straining relations further tested by trade and other tensions — and emerging nations.The willingness of the Federal Reserve and other central banks to flush trillions of dollars into the global economy to limit downturns also means that other lenders, aside from the I.M.F., have enough surplus cash on hand to lend money to strapped nations. China has also greatly expanded its lending to foreign governments for infrastructure projects under its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.At the same time, long-held beliefs like the single-minded focus on how much an economy grows, without regard to problems like inequality and environmental damage, are widely considered outdated. And the preferred cocktail for helping debt-ridden nations that was popular in the 1990s and early 2000s — austerity, privatization of government services and deregulation — has lost favor in many circles as punitive and often counterproductive.The debate about the role of the I.M.F. was bubbling before the appointment of Ms. Georgieva, who this month started the third year of her five-year term. But she has embraced an expanded role for the agency. A Bulgarian economist and the first from an emerging economy to head the fund, she stepped up her predecessors’ attention to the widening inequality and made climate change a priority, calling for an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, for a tax on carbon and for significant investment in green technology.She has argued that however efficient and rational the market is, governments must step in to fix built-in flaws that could lead to environmental devastation and grossly inequitable opportunity. Sustainable debt replaced austerity as the catchword.When the coronavirus pandemic brutally intensified the slate of problems — malnourishment, inadequate health care, rising poverty and an interconnected world vulnerable to environmental disaster — Ms. Georgieva urged action.Here was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” she said, “to support a transformation in the economy,” one that is greener and fairer.The I.M.F. opposed the hard line taken by some Wall Street creditors in 2020 toward Argentina, emphasizing instead the need to protect “society’s most vulnerable” and to forgive debt that exceeds a country’s ability to repay.I.M.F. headquarters in Washington, where Republicans have bristled at Ms. Georgieva’s agenda.Daniel Slim/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThis year, Ms. Georgieva managed to create a special reserve fund of $650 billion to help struggling nations finance health care, buy vaccines and pay down debt during the pandemic.That approach has not always sat well with conservatives in Washington and on Wall Street.Former President Donald J. Trump immediately objected to the new reserve funds — known as special drawing rights — when they were proposed in 2020, and congressional Republicans have continued the criticism. They argue that the funds mostly help American adversaries like China, Russia, Syria and Iran while doing little for poor nations.Ms. Georgieva’s activist climate agenda has also run afoul of Republicans in Congress, who have opposed carbon pricing and pushed to withdraw from multinational efforts like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris climate agreement.So has her advocacy for a minimum global corporate tax like the one that more than 130 nations signed on Friday.In July, Laurence D. Fink, who runs BlackRock, the world’s largest investment management company, and was at odds with the I.M.F.’s stance on Argentina, called the fund and the World Bank outdated and said they needed “to rethink their roles.”The investigation into data rigging at the World Bank focused on what is known as the Doing Business Report, which contains an influential index of business-friendly countries. WilmerHale, the law firm that conducted the inquiry, said various top officials had exerted pressure to raise the rankings of China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Azerbaijan in the 2018 and 2020 editions.The law firm reported that Ms. Georgieva was “directly involved” with efforts to improve China’s rating for the 2018 edition. She said WilmerHale’s report was inaccurate and rejected its accusations. The I.M.F. executive board is reviewing the findings.The United States, which is the fund’s largest shareholder, has declined to express support for her after the allegations. Ahead of a meeting of the I.M.F. board on Friday, Ms. Georgieva maintained strong support from many of the fund’s shareholders, including France, which had lobbied hard for her to get the job in 2019. Late Friday, the I.M.F. released a statement saying the board would “request more clarifying details with a view to very soon concluding its consideration of the matter.”In Congress, Republicans and Democrats called for the Treasury Department to undertake its own investigations. A letter from three Republicans said the WilmerHale inquiry “raises serious questions about Director Georgieva’s ability to lead the International Monetary Fund.”Several people sprang to her defense, including Shanta Devarajan, an economist who helped oversee the 2018 Doing Business Report and a key witness in the investigation. He wrote on Twitter that the law firm’s conclusions did not reflect his full statements, and that the notion that Ms. Georgieva had “put her thumb on the scale to benefit one nation is beyond credulity.”“It was her job to ensure the final report was accurate and credible — and that’s what she did,” Mr. Devarajan added.In an interview, he said critics had used the investigation to discredit Ms. Georgieva. The problem, he said, is “how people may have chosen to read the findings of the report and use that to criticize Kristalina’s credibility and leadership.”Mr. Devarajan was not the only one to make the case that the controversy was functioning in some ways as a proxy for the contest over the I.M.F.’s direction. Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia, wrote in The Financial Times that Ms. Georgieva was receiving “McCarthyite treatment” by “anti-China forces” in Congress.Whatever role one might prefer for the I.M.F. — traditional, expanded or something else entirely — the scandal is both a distraction and a threat.Nicholas Stern, a British economist who formerly served as the chief economist and senior vice president of the World Bank, said this controversy could not come at a worse moment.“The coming few years are of vital importance to the future stability of the world economy and environment,” he wrote in a letter to the I.M.F. board in support of Ms. Georgieva. “This is as decisive a period as we have seen since the Second World War.”Alan Rappeport More

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    Fed’s Brainard Signals Climate Change Guidance May Be Coming for Big Banks

    Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor, on Thursday offered the clearest signal yet that America’s central bank is going to begin seriously assessing big banks’ exposure to climate-related financial risks.Ms. Brainard said the Fed was developing climate-related scenarios for use in banks’ safety checkups, which are often called stress tests. She also endorsed the use of supervisory guidance — the Fed’s recommendations to banks — to encourage financial institutions to curb their exposures.“I anticipate it will be helpful to provide supervisory guidance for large banking institutions in their efforts to appropriately measure, monitor, and manage material climate-related risks, following the lead of a number of other countries,” Ms. Brainard said in remarks prepared for a Fed research conference.Ms. Brainard said the Fed is also assessing climate-related risks from a broader perspective — trying to game out what melting ice caps and rampant wildfires could mean for the financial system as a whole.“We are developing scenario analysis to model the possible financial risks associated with climate change and assess the resilience of individual financial institutions and the financial system to these risks,” she said.The fact that it is developing climate scenarios puts the Fed more in line with its global counterparts, including the European Central Bank and the Bank of England, that have been examining what climate-related risks could mean for the banking sector. In addition, the Fed and its leader, Jerome H. Powell, have faced backlash for moving slowly toward a more concerted climate push.Mr. Powell had also suggested that the Fed would test banks’ exposure to climate problems, though his remarks, to lawmakers during testimony last week, were not as definitive or as detailed as Ms. Brainard’s. He explained that the Fed’s goal was to make sure regulated banks could manage any of the risks that threats like climate change posed.“Scenario analysis is almost certainly going to be one of the principal tools for doing exactly that,” Mr. Powell said.The central bank oversees the nation’s largest banks, including institutions such as Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. More

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    Fed Chair Jerome Powell Faces Reappointment Amid Tumult

    Mr. Powell is facing down progressive pushback and an ethics scandal as the White House considers his future.As Jerome H. Powell’s term as the chair of the Federal Reserve nears its expiration, President Biden’s decision over whether to keep him in the job has grown more complicated amid Senator Elizabeth Warren’s vocal opposition to his leadership and an ethics scandal that has engulfed his central bank.Mr. Powell, whose four-year term as chair expires early next year, continues to have a good chance of being reappointed because he has earned respect within the White House for his aggressive use of the Fed’s tools in the wake of the pandemic recession, people familiar with the administration’s internal discussions said.But the decision and the timing of an announcement remain subject to an unusually high level of uncertainty, even for a top economic appointment. The White House will most likely announce Mr. Biden’s choice in the coming weeks, but that, too, is tenuous.The administration is preoccupied with other major priorities, including passing spending legislation and lifting the nation’s debt limit. But the uncertainty also reflects growing complications around Mr. Powell’s renomination. Ms. Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, has blasted his track record on big bank regulation and last week called him a “dangerous man” to lead the central bank.She has also taken aim at Mr. Powell for not preventing top Fed officials from trading securities in 2020, a year in which the central bank rescued markets, potentially giving the officials privileged information. Two regional presidents traded for their own profit in assets that the Fed’s actions could have influenced, according to recent disclosures. And Richard H. Clarida, the Fed’s vice chair, moved money from bond funds into stock funds in late February 2020, just before the Fed hinted that it would rescue markets and the economy. “It is not clear why Chair Powell did not takes steps to prevent these activities,” Ms. Warren said during a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, after sending a letter on Monday calling for the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether the transactions amounted to insider trading. “The responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the Federal Reserve rests squarely with him.”Asked on Tuesday whether he had confidence in Mr. Powell, the president said he did but that he was still catching up on events.The White House’s decision over Mr. Powell’s future is pending at a critical moment for the U.S. economy. Millions of jobs are still missing compared with before the pandemic, and inflation has jumped higher as strong demand clashes with supply chain disruptions, presenting dueling challenges for the Fed chair to navigate. The Fed’s next leader will also shape its involvement in climate finance policy, a possible central bank digital currency and the response to the central bank’s ethics dilemma.“This is starting to feel like an incredibly consequential time for the Fed,” said Dennis Kelleher, the chief executive of Better Markets, a group that has been critical of the Fed’s deregulatory moves in recent years and has criticized it for insufficient ethical oversight.The administration is under pressure to make a prompt decision, in part because the Fed’s seven-person Board of Governors in Washington will soon face a spate of openings. One governor role is already open. Mr. Clarida’s term ends early next year, leaving another vacancy, and Randal K. Quarles’s term as the board’s vice chair for supervision will expire next week, although his term as a governor runs through 2032.By announcing key picks soon, the Biden administration could ensure that someone was ready to step into Mr. Quarles’s leadership role. And nominating several officials at once could give the president a chance to show that he is heeding the concerns of Democrats in Congress, who want to see more diversity at the Fed and officials who favor tougher bank regulation.But the ethics scandal threatens to complicate the picks.Recent financial disclosures showed that Robert S. Kaplan at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas traded millions of dollars in individual stocks last year, and that Eric S. Rosengren at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston traded real estate-tied securities even as he warned publicly about problems in that sector. The trades have drawn criticism because they occurred during a year in which the Fed hugely influenced a wide range of financial markets.Both men resigned from their roles as regional presidents amid the controversy, though Mr. Rosengren said he was leaving for health reasons.Attention has now turned to Mr. Clarida. All of his trades were in broad funds, not individual securities, and have been public since May, but have drawn attention amid the current reckoning. He sold a stake in a bond fund totaling at least $1 million and moved that money into stock funds on Feb. 27, 2020. The transaction gave him more exposure to stocks shortly before the Fed rolled out policies that goosed such investments.The Fed has said Mr. Clarida’s trades were part of a planned portfolio rebalancing, but declined to specify when the planning happened.Mr. Powell kicked off an internal ethics review last month. A Fed spokesperson said on Monday that an independent government watchdog would carry out an investigation into whether senior officials broke relevant ethics rules or laws.But some progressives have seized on the problems to bolster their case that Mr. Powell should not be reappointed. Jeff Hauser, the founder and executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which has urged Mr. Biden to keep corporate influence out of his administration, has pointed out that the Fed chair himself moved money around last year, listing 26 transactions, albeit all in broad-based funds. He also noted that Lael Brainard, a Fed governor and a longtime favorite to replace Mr. Powell if he is not reappointed, did not report any transactions year.“If you’re trying to go above and beyond, and be beyond reproach, not trading is the better option,” Mr. Hauser said.Senator Elizabeth Warren has called for the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether top Fed officials engaged in insider trading in 2020.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesIt is not clear how much the blowback will ultimately fall on Mr. Powell. During his testimony to a Senate committee last week, lawmakers asked him about the ethics issues without explicitly blaming him for them.The trades were not historically abnormal. Mr. Kaplan transacted in stocks throughout his tenure, including when Mr. Powell’s predecessor, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, led the central bank. Ms. Yellen’s vice chair, Stanley Fischer, bought and sold individual stocks, his 2017 disclosures showed. Ms. Brainard herself has in the past made broad-based transactions. It was the Fed’s more expansive role in 2020 that spurred the backlash.Agencies often need a “wake-up call” to notice evolving problems with their oversight rules, said Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and an ethics adviser in President Barack Obama’s White House.“My own view is that Chair Powell is pivoting briskly to address the weaknesses in the Fed’s ethics system,” he said. Ms. Warren cited regulation, not ethics issues, upon first announcing that she would not support Mr. Powell. Democrats have raised concerns for years about the deregulatory approach that the Fed has embraced under Mr. Quarles’s leadership. Mr. Powell has largely deferred to his vice chair for supervision as the central bank made bank stress tests more transparent and enabled big banks to become more intertwined with venture capital.Critics say reappointing Mr. Powell amounts to retaining that more hands-off regulatory approach. And some progressive groups suggest that if Mr. Powell stays in place, Mr. Quarles will feel emboldened to stick around: He has hinted that he might stay on as a Fed governor once his leadership term ends.That would mean four of seven Fed Board officials — a majority — would remain Republican-appointed. Two other governors — Michelle W. Bowman and Christopher J. Waller — were nominated by President Donald J. Trump.During Mr. Powell’s Senate testimony last week, Ms. Warren said renominating him as chair meant “gambling that, for the next five years, a Republican majority at the Federal Reserve, with a Republican chair who has regularly voted to deregulate Wall Street, won’t drive this economy over a financial cliff again.”Even without Ms. Warren’s approval, Mr. Powell would most likely draw enough support to clear the Senate Banking Committee, the first step before the full Senate could vote on his nomination, because of his continued backing from the committee’s Republicans. But having a powerful Democratic opponent whose support the administration needs on other legislative priorities is not helpful.The Fed chair does have some powerful allies in the administration, including Ms. Yellen, the Treasury secretary. But the decision rests with Mr. Biden.“I know he will talk to many people and consider a wide range of evidence and opinions,” Ms. Yellen said on CNBC on Tuesday. More

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    Nobody Really Knows How the Economy Works. A Fed Paper Is the Latest Sign.

    Many experts are rethinking longstanding core ideas, including the importance of inflation expectations.It has long been a central tenet of mainstream economic theory that public fears of inflation tend to be self-fulfilling.Now though, a cheeky and even gleeful takedown of this idea has emerged from an unlikely source, a senior adviser at the Federal Reserve named Jeremy B. Rudd. His 27-page paper, published as part of the Fed’s Finance and Economics Discussion Series, has become what passes for a viral sensation among economists.The paper disputes the idea that people’s expectations for future inflation matter much for the level of inflation experienced today. That is especially important right now, in trying to figure out whether the current inflation surge is temporary or not.But the Rudd paper is part of something bigger still. It reflects a broader rethinking of core ideas about how the economy works and how policymakers, especially at central banks, try to manage things. This shift has also included debates about the relationship between unemployment and inflation, how deficit spending affects the economy, and much more.In effect, many of the key ideas underlying economic policy during the Great Moderation — the period of relatively steady growth and low inflation from the mid-1980s to 2007 that also seems to be a high-water mark for economists’ overconfidence — increasingly look to be at best incomplete, and at worst wrong.It is vivid evidence that macroeconomics, despite the thousands of highly intelligent people over centuries who have tried to figure it out, remains, to an uncomfortable degree, a black box. The ways that millions of people bounce off one another — buying and selling, lending and borrowing, intersecting with governments and central banks and businesses and everything else around us — amount to a system so complex that no human fully comprehends it.“Macroeconomics behaves like we’re doing physics after the quantum revolution, that we really understand at a fundamental level the forces around us,” said Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, in an interview. “We’re really at the level of Galileo and Copernicus,” just figuring out the basics of how the universe works.“It requires more humility and acceptance that not everything fits into one model yet,” he said.Or put less politely, as Mr. Rudd writes in the first sentence of his paper, “Mainstream economics is replete with ideas that ‘everyone knows’ to be true, but that are actually arrant nonsense.”One reason for this, he posits: “The economy is a complicated system that is inherently difficult to understand, so propositions like these” — the arrant nonsense in question — “are all that saves us from intellectual nihilism.”And from that starting point, a staff economist at the world’s most powerful central bank went on to say, in effect, that his own employer has been focused on the wrong things for the last few decades.Dockworkers unloading cars in Baltimore in 1971. Importers were worried about the effect of the 10 percent duty imposed by President Nixon on foreign-made items as part of his new economic “game plan” to halt inflation.Bettmann/Getty ImagesMainstream policymakers, very much including Mr. Rudd’s bosses at the Fed, believe that inflation is, in large part, self-fulfilling — that what people expect future inflation to look like has an ability to shape how much prices rise in the near term.In the common telling, the Great Inflation of the 1970s got going because people came to believe inflation would keep spiraling. The surge in gasoline prices wasn’t simply a frustrating development, but a harbinger of things to come, so people needed to demand higher raises, and businesses could feel confident charging higher prices for most everything.In this story, the great achievement of the Fed in the early 1980s was to break this cycle by re-establishing credibility that it would not allow sustained high inflation (though at the cost of a severe recession).That is why today’s discussions over the inflation outlook often spend a lot of time focusing on things like what bond prices suggest inflation will be five or 10 years from now, or how people answer survey questions about what they expect.Mr. Rudd argues that there is no solid evidence that the conventional story of the 1970s describes the real mechanism through which inflation takes place. He says there’s a simpler explanation consistent with the data: that businesses and workers arrive at prices and wages based on the conditions they’ve experienced in the recent past, not some abstract future forecast.For example, when inflation has been low in the recent past, workers might not demand raises as they would in a world where inflation was high; after all, their existing paychecks go pretty much as far as they used to. You don’t need some theory involving inflation expectations to get there.Some economists who are sympathetic to the idea that central bankers have overly fetishized precise measurements of inflation expectations aren’t ready to fully dismiss the idea.For example, Mr. Posen, a former Bank of England policymaker, says there remains a simple and hard-to-dispute idea about inflation expectations supported by lots of history: that if people distrust a country’s monetary system, inflation shocks can spiral upward. Economic policy credibility matters. But that isn’t the same as assuming that some survey or bond market measure of what will happen to inflation in the distant future is particularly meaningful for forecasting the near future.“It has been a noble lie that has become a critical part of the catechism of global monetary policy, that long-term inflation expectations are not just interesting but are a decisive determinant of real-time inflation,” said Paul McCulley, a former Pimco chief economist, commenting on Mr. Rudd’s paper.This isn’t the only way in which basic precepts underlying economic policy are shifting beneath economists’ feet.Particularly prominently, for years central bankers believed there was a tight relationship between the unemployment rate and inflation, known as the Phillips Curve. Over the course of the 2000s, though, that relationship appeared to weaken and become a less reliable guideline for how to set policy.Similarly, interest rates and inflation fell worldwide, for reasons that scholars are still trying to understand fully. That implied a lower “neutral interest rate,” or the rate that neither stimulates nor slows the economy, than was widely believed to be the case as recently as the mid-2010s.In many ways, the Fed’s policies just before the pandemic were aimed at incorporating those lessons and embracing sustained lower interest rates — and the possibility of lower unemployment — than many in the mainstream thought reasonable a few years earlier.In the realm of fiscal policy, some conventional wisdom has also been upended in the last few years. It was thought that large government debt issuance would risk causing a spike in interest rates and crowd out private sector investment. But in that period, huge budget deficits have been paired with low interest rates and abundant credit for businesses.All of this makes it a challenging time for central bankers and other shapers of policy. “If you’re a policymaker and you don’t have robust confidence in the parameters of the game you are managing, it makes your job a whole lot more difficult,” Mr. McCulley said.But if you are in charge of making economic policy that affects the lives of millions, you can’t simply shrug your shoulders and say, “We don’t know how the world works, so what are we supposed to do?” You look at the evidence available, and make the best judgment you can.And then, if you think it turns out you were wrong about something, publish a sassy paper to try to get it right. More

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    The world’s top central bankers see supply chain problems prolonging inflation.

    The world’s top central bankers acknowledged that inflation, which has spiked higher across many advanced economies this year, could remain elevated for some time — and that though they still expect it to fade as pandemic-related supply disruptions calm, they are carefully watching to make sure that hot price pressures do not become more permanent.Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, spoke Wednesday on a panel alongside Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank; Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England; and Haruhiko Kuroda, head of the Bank of Japan.Mr. Powell noted that while demand was strong in the United States, factory shutdowns and shipping problems were holding back supply, weighing on the economy and pushing inflation above the Fed’s goal of 2 percent on average.“It is frustrating to acknowledge that getting people vaccinated and getting Delta under control, 18 months later, still remains the most important economic policy that we have,” Mr. Powell said. “It is also frustrating to see the bottlenecks and supply chain problems not getting better — in fact, at the margin, apparently getting a little bit worse.”“We see that continuing into next year, probably, and holding inflation up longer than we had thought,” Mr. Powell said.The Fed chair’s comments aligned closely with those of Mr. Bailey and Ms. Lagarde, who also cited uncertainties around persistent supply-chain bottlenecks as a risk.“We’re back from the brink, but not completely out of the woods,” Ms. Lagarde said of the economic rebound. “We still have uncertainty.”She said supply-chain disruptions were accelerating in some sectors, while energy price increases were an area to watch, along with potential new waves of the coronavirus pandemic that might be vaccine-resistant.“Monetary policy can’t solve supply-side shocks,” Mr. Bailey said. “What we have to do is focus on the potential second-round effects from those shortages.”The joint appearance of some of the world’s most powerful economic officials, sponsored by the European Central Bank, came during a turbulent week in financial markets. While stocks were rebounding on Wednesday morning, they had fallen sharply on Tuesday as government bond yields rose. Investors have been shaken by a political standoff over the debt ceiling in the United States, problems in China’s heavily indebted property sector, the reality that global central banks are preparing to dial back economic support and the possibility that recent rapid price gains might last.The burst in inflation has swept Europe and the United States this year as consumer demand booms but factory shutdowns and shipping snarls keep many goods in short supply. Central bankers have consistently argued that those price increases will prove temporary. As businesses adjust to the postpandemic recovery, they say, supply-chain kinks will unravel. And while consumers have been spending down savings stockpiled during the pandemic and padded by government stimulus, those will not last forever.But economic officials have increasingly acknowledged that while they expect the inflationary pop to be temporary, it may last longer than they initially anticipated.In the United States, consumer price inflation came in at 5.3 percent in August, and the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge — the personal consumption expenditures, or P.C.E., index — grew 4.2 percent in the year through July. August P.C.E. data is slated to be released on Friday.Consumer prices are expected to peak “slightly above” 4 percent later this year in Britain, double the central bank’s target.Elsewhere in Europe, inflation is also high, though the jump has not been as large. Euro-area inflation came in at 3 percent in August, the highest reading in roughly a decade. But price gains there are expected to slow more materially over the coming years than in Britain and the United States.Japan is a notable outlier among developed economies, with slow demand and inflation near zero. Weak inflation leaves central banks with less room to help the economy in times of trouble, and can fuel a cycle of economic stagnation, making it a problem.Central bankers in continental Europe, Britain and America have been wrestling with how to respond to the jump in prices. If they overreact to inflation that is temporarily elevated by factors that will soon fade, they could slow labor market recoveries unnecessarily — and may even doom themselves to a future of too-low inflation, much like the situation Japan faces.But if shoppers come to expect consistent inflation amid today’s burst, they may demand higher wages, fueling an upward cycle in prices as businesses try to cover climbing labor costs.Monetary policymakers want to avoid such a situation, which could force them to raise interest rates sharply and spur a serious economic slowdown to tank demand and tame prices.“There’s a tension between our two objectives: maximum employment and price stability,” Mr. Powell said. “Inflation is high, well above target, and yet there appears to be slack in the labor market.”“Managing through that process over the next couple years, I think, is the highest and most important priority, and it’s going to be very challenging,” he added.For now, most top global officials are preaching patience, while moving to gradually reorient their policies away from full-blast economic support. The Fed is preparing a plan to slow its large-scale bond buying, which can keep money pumping through the financial system and lower many types of borrowing costs, even as its policy rate remains at rock bottom. The Bank of England has signaled that policy will need to be tightened soon, and the European Central Bank is slowing its own pandemic-era purchase program.“The historical record is thick with examples of underdoing it,” Mr. Powell said, noting that economic policymakers tend to underestimate economic damage and under-support recoveries. “I think we’ve avoided that this time.” More

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    Elizabeth Warren Calls Jerome Powell a ‘Dangerous Man’

    Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, blasted the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, for his financial regulation track record and said that she would not support him if the White House renominated him, calling him a “dangerous man to head up the Fed.”Mr. Powell’s term as head of the central bank ends in early 2022, and the Biden administration is considering whether to reappoint him. Mr. Powell, a Republican, was nominated to the Fed’s Board of Governors by former President Barack Obama and elevated to chair by former President Donald J. Trump.While some prominent Democratic economists and advocacy groups support Mr. Powell, who has been intensely focused on the labor market during his term as Fed chair, some progressives openly oppose him. They often cite his track record on financial regulation — as Ms. Warren did to his face on Tuesday, as he testified before the Senate Banking Committee.“The elephant in the room is whether you’re going to be renominated,” Ms. Warren said, looking down at the Fed chair during the hearing. “Renominating you means gambling that, for the next five years, a Republican majority at the Federal Reserve, with a Republican chair who has regularly voted to deregulate Wall Street, won’t drive this economy over a financial cliff again.”Ms. Warren, and those who agree with her, have worried that leaving Mr. Powell in place will prevent the Fed from taking a tougher stance on financial regulation. Mr. Powell has said that when it comes to regulatory matters, he defers to the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, noting that Congress created that job to lead up bank oversight following the 2008 financial crisis.“I respect that that’s the person who will set the regulatory agenda going forward,” Mr. Powell said during a news conference last week. “And furthermore, it’s fully appropriate to look for a new person to come in and look at the current state of regulation and supervision and suggest appropriate changes.”Ms. Warren’s colleague Senator Michael Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota, followed her scathing comments by saying that Mr. Powell deserved to be renominated, and that he looked forward to working with him for the next several years.The White House has so far given little indication of whom it will pick to lead the central bank.President Biden already has the opportunity to fill one open governor position at the Fed, and several other roles will soon become available: The governor seat of the Fed’s vice chair, Richard Clarida, will expire in the coming months, as will Randal K. Quarles’s position as vice chair for supervision. The openings could give the administration a chance to remake the central bank from the top with its nominations, who must pass Senate confirmation.Other lawmakers at the Senate hearing pushed Mr. Powell to focus on improving diversity at the central bank — highlighting another key concern among Democrats as the leadership shuffle gets underway.Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio and the head of the Senate Banking Committee, pointed out that there had never been a Black woman on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors in Washington, while also referring to reporting from earlier this year that showed a dearth of Black economists at the central bank.He asked if Mr. Powell believed that the central bank should have a Black woman on its Board of Governors.“I would strongly agree that we want everyone’s voice heard around the table, and that would of course include Black women,” Mr. Powell said. “We of course have no role in the selection process, but we would certainly welcome it.”Lisa Cook, a Michigan State University economist, and William Spriggs, chief economist of the labor union AFL-CIO, are often raised as possible candidates for governor positions or leadership roles. Both are Black. Lael Brainard, a white woman who is currently a Fed governor, is frequently raised as a possible replacement for Mr. Powell if he is not renominated, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, a white woman who is a former top Fed and Treasury official, is often suggested as a replacement for Mr. Quarles.Mr. Powell, as he noted, has no formal role in selecting his future colleagues at the Fed Board.He and his colleagues at the Fed Board will, however, have a chance to weigh in on who will take over two newly open positions around the Fed’s decision-making table. The central bank has 19 total officials at full strength, seven governors and 12 regional bank presidents.Robert S. Kaplan, the Dallas Fed president, and Eric S. Rosengren, the Boston Fed president, both announced their imminent retirements on Monday, amid widespread criticism of the fact that they were trading securities in 2020 — during a year in which the Fed unrolled a widespread market rescue in response to the pandemic.Mr. Powell addressed that scandal on Tuesday, pledging to lawmakers that the Fed would change its ethics rules and saying that the Fed was looking into the trading activity to make sure it was in compliance with those rules and with the law.“Our need to sustain the public’s trust is the essence of our work,” Mr. Powell said, adding that “we will rise to this moment.”Beyond grabbing headlines, the departures will leave two regional bank jobs available at the Fed. The regional branches’ boards, except for bank-tied members, will search for and select replacement presidents. The Fed’s governors in Washington have a “yes” or “no” vote on the pick.The Fed has never had a Black woman as a regional bank president, either. Raphael Bostic, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, is the first Black man to serve in one of those roles.At the Board of Governors, Mr. Quarles’s leadership term ends most imminently, on Oct. 13. His position as governor does not expire until 2032, and he has signaled that he will likely stay on as a Fed governor at least through the end of his leadership term at the Financial Stability Board, a global oversight body, in December. Mr. Powell’s leadership term ends in early 2022, though he could stay on as governor since his term in that role does not expire until 2028. Mr. Clarida will have to leave early next year unless he is reappointed. More

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    Janet Yellen and Jerome Powell warn that the Delta variant is slowing the recovery.

    America’s two top economic policymakers will warn lawmakers on Tuesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus has slowed the economic recovery but will convey optimism about the economy’s overall trajectory, according to prepared remarks.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, will testify before the Senate Banking Committee as the U.S. economy is at a crossroads, with businesses facing labor shortages and consumers coping with rising prices amid a resurgent pandemic. Congress is also grappling with a thicket of legislative challenges in the coming days, all of which could have an impact on the economy. They include extending federal funding to avoid a U.S. government shutdown, raising the debt limit to prevent defaulting on the nation’s financial obligations and passing President Biden’s infrastructure and social safety net packages.“While our economy continues to expand and recapture a substantial share of the jobs lost during 2020, significant challenges from the Delta variant continue to suppress the speed of the recovery and present substantial barriers to a vibrant economy,” Ms. Yellen will say, according to her prepared remarks. “Still, I remain optimistic about the medium-term trajectory of our economy, and I expect we will return to full employment next year.”The testimony will offer Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell a chance to publicly press lawmakers to take action to raise or suspend the nation’s borrowing cap and to warn of the calamitous consequences if the United States defaulted on its obligations. Ms. Yellen has cautioned that debt-limit brinkmanship is eroding confidence in the United States and that a default, which could happen as soon as mid-October, would do irreparable harm to the economy.For weeks, Ms. Yellen has been quietly pressing lawmakers to put politics aside and ensure that the United States can continue to meet its fiscal obligations. She has been in touch with Wall Street chief executives and former Treasury secretaries as she looks to keep markets calm and find allies who can help her make the case to recalcitrant Republicans, who believe Democrats must deal with the debt limit on their own.“It is imperative that Congress swiftly addresses the debt limit,” Ms. Yellen will say. “The full faith and credit of the United States would be impaired, and our country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession.”Mr. Powell is slated to tell senators that the Fed will continue to support the economy with its monetary policies, which influence how expensive it is to borrow and spend. But he will also make it clear that Fed officials will act if a recent jump higher in prices persists.“Inflation is elevated and will likely remain so in coming months before moderating,” Mr. Powell is prepared to say, based on remarks released Monday afternoon.He will cite the lingering coronavirus pandemic as a risk to the economic outlook, according to his prepared statement.Mr. Powell has also fretted about the debt limit in recent weeks, saying during a news conference last week that default is “just not something that we should contemplate,” and that “no one should assume that the Fed or anyone else can protect the markets or the economy in the event of a failure, fully protect in the event of a failure to make sure that we do pay those debts when they’re due.”Ms. Yellen and Mr. Powell will testify again on Thursday before the House Financial Services Committee. More

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    Top Fed officials say the labor market needs more time to heal.

    Top Federal Reserve officials emphasized on Monday that the labor market was far from completely healed, underlining that the central bank will need to see considerably more progress before it will feel ready to raise interest rates.“We still have a long way to go until we achieve the Federal Reserve’s maximum employment goal,” John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech Monday afternoon.Leading Fed officials — including Mr. Williams, Lael Brainard and Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair — have given similar assessments of the outlook in recent days and weeks. They have pointed out that the economy is swiftly healing, bringing back jobs and normal business activity, and that existing disruptions to supply chains and hiring issues will not last forever.But they say that the recovery is incomplete and that it’s worth being modest about the path ahead, especially as the Delta variant demonstrates the coronavirus’s ability to disrupt progress.“Delta highlights the importance of being attentive to economic outcomes and not getting too attached to an outlook that may get buffeted by evolving virus conditions,” Ms. Brainard, a Fed governor, said on Monday.Those comments came on the heels of the Fed’s September meeting, at which the central bank’s policy-setting committee clearly signaled that officials could begin to pare back their vast asset-purchase program as soon as November. They have been buying $120 billion in government and government-backed securities each month.The speeches on Monday emphasized that as officials prepare to make that first step away from full-fledged economic support, they are trying to separate the decision from the Fed’s path for its main policy interest rate, which is set to zero.Central bankers have said they want to see the economy return to full employment and inflation on track to average 2 percent over time before lifting rates away from rock bottom.That makes the debate over the labor market’s potential a critical part of the Fed’s policy discussion.Some regional Fed presidents, including James Bullard at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and Robert S. Kaplan at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, have suggested that the labor market may be tighter than it appears, citing data including job openings and retirements.But Mr. Williams said on Monday that the job market still had substantial room to improve. While the unemployment rate has fallen from its pandemic high, he said the Fed was looking at more than just that number, which tracks only people who are actively looking for work. The Fed also wants the employment rate to rebound. He pointed out that a high level of job openings is not a clear signal that the job market has healed.“Even if job postings are at a record high, job postings are not jobs,” Mr. Williams said. “These vacancies won’t be filled instantly.”Although Mr. Williams said he had been watching the impact of school reopenings on the labor market, he said he did not think they would cause a huge surge in people returning to work this month or in October.“It may take quite a bit longer for the labor supply to come fully back,” he said.Ms. Brainard batted back the idea that labor force participation — the share of adults who are working or looking for jobs — might not return to its prepandemic level.“The assertion that labor force participation has moved permanently lower as a result of a downturn is not new,” she said. A similar debate played out following the 2008 financial crisis and labor force participation ultimately rebounded, especially for people in their prime working years.Ms. Brainard warned that Delta was slowing job market progress. Last week there were more than 2,000 virus-tied school closures across nearly 470 school districts, she said, and “the possibility of further unpredictable disruptions could cause some parents to delay their plans to return to the labor force.” More