The persistence of inflation at relatively low rates despite years of monetary stimulus has led to wide-ranging investigations into its determinants. Traditionally the rate of inflation has been linked via a Phillips curve relationship to domestic factors, such as slack in the labor market. But is there also a global element?
Maurice Obstfeld, who has returned to UC-Berkeley from his post as chief economist at the International Monetary Field, examines some of the mechanisms by which global factors could affect U.S. inflation in a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Global Dimensions of U.S. Monetary Policy.” He reviews the evidence on the Phillips curve, and reports that there is little evidence that globalization has had a direct impact on the response of wages to unemployment. An indirect linkage, however, may exist through labor’s lower share of GDP, which could respond to foreign factors such as global supply chains. There may also be a relationship through the correlation of import prices and Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation.
Another mechanism is based in the linkages of U.S. financial markets with those abroad. If these markets are integrated, then the natural rate of interest (r*) depends on foreign savings and investment as well as the domestic counterparts. An increase in foreign savings will lower the global r* which will stimulate domestic spending. Former Federal Reserve Board Chair Ben Bernanke claimed that this effect the cause of the housing boom in the U.S. that led to the global financial crisis.