Hey, who isn't? His column today raises the possibility that because the long-term unemployed are effectively excluded from the labor market, they don't exert downward pressure on the inflation rate. This means that we should only focus on the short-term unemployment rate, which is already near its average rate over the last two decades.

There are many reasons for not accepting this view. For example, if the number of short-term unemployed dwindled, it is likely that employers would start to look to the longer term unemployed as a source of labor. However even if we accepted the story outlined in Samuelson's piece, it is difficult to see how anyone could be concerned about the rate of unemployment falling to a level that is inconsistent with stable inflation.

According to the Congressional Budget Office the terms of a trade-off between the acceleration of inflation and unemployment have changed in recent years. In their most recent analysis, they estimated that being a full percentage point below the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (NAIRU) for a full year will lead to a 0.3 percentage point increase in the inflation rate.

This means that if the NAIRU is actually 6.0 percent and the Fed were to flub things and let the unemployment rate fall to 5.0 percent for a full year, then the core consumption expenditure deflator (the Fed's main measure of inflation) would rise from 1.3 percent to 1.6 percent. Pretty scary stuff.

In short, it's pretty hard to see the downside risk in this picture. The Fed targets a 2.0 percent rate of inflation, there are arguably reasons we should be looking to an even higher rate (@ 3-4 percent). If we accept the NAIRU story in its entirety and assume that we are already getting close to it, we will still have many years before the inflation rate would rise to a pace that provides a real basis for concern.


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