A higher inflation target for the Eurozone

There’s quite a lot written these days about the structural failings of the Euro. The failure to back a common currency with a common treasury (of some sort). The failure to Europeanise banking sector insurance and regulation. The failure to block political desires from trumping economic sense when it came to admission of ‘Mediterranean’ Eurozone members.

Setting those aside, I’ve not really read too much along the lines of the ECB inflation target being ‘structurally’ too low. But that makes sense, no?

If we operate in a system in which ‘external’ (aka currency) devaluation is impossible, then we must rely on ‘internal’ devaluation. It turns out that’s really hard. Prices and especially wages are rather sticky in the downward direction. The result is that rebalancing comes in the form of unemployment, and so reduced economic output. That’s bad. It’s particularly bad if a country has debts to service from that economic output.

Welcome to the Eurozone periphery.

If the fundamental problem is that prices and wages need to be revalued across Eurozone countries, then a higher ECB inflation target would seem to make a lot of sense. David McWilliams says that Ireland needs to devalue by 30% compared to Germany. Let’s assume that downward stickiness puts a 0% lower bound on inflation, which Ireland hits because things are pretty rough here, while German inflation is on ECB target. With the 2% (or less!) target set by the ECB, it’ll take about 15 years for the rebalancing of prices to work through. With, say, a 5% ECB target, it’d take about 6 years. Dating the start of the Irish crisis at summer 2008, by now, we’d be over half way to a full rebalancing under the higher inflation target.

I’m really not sure why a higher inflation target isn’t on the agenda, even. Is it because it’s so politically impossible for Germany? Maybe. Other things that were previously politically impossible for Germany are now on the agenda or even implemented, though. Sovereign bailouts. Private sector losses on sovereign debt (before 2013). Eurobonds (if you’re a German Social Democrat, at least). Probably other things I’m forgetting.

So, it’s a question rather than an answer that I have here: why isn’t a higher inflation target even remotely on the Eurozone agenda? I guess I should start looking for some data on this.

P.s. Jörg Bibow makes clear that a higher inflation target would not have (necessarily) stopped the crisis from developing.

It is unhelpful to deny the ultimate cause of the euro bust: Germany’s reneging on the golden rule of a monetary union, commitment to a common inflation rate. Germany’s Über-competitiveness, obtained by wage disinflation rather than productivity gains, bankrupted its partners.

The point is that it seems like it would mitigate the costs in a fairly positive-sum kind of a way.

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