Attendees of the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh and members of the Federal Reserve Board in Washington should carefully read a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Fed Governor Kevin Warsh. In a piece titled "The Fed's Job Is Only Half Over," the former Wall Street investment banker sends a shot across the global economic bow. He says the Fed's job will not be done until it removes the easy-money policies put in place over the past year. In other words, an exit strategy.
Warsh writes that "policy likely will need to begin normalization before it is obvious that it is necessary, possibly with greater force than is customary." He's saying the Fed must be tougher, and act sooner, if it is to avoid an inflationary bubble reminiscent of the 2002-06 period, or for that matter the 1970s.
Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2006, Warsh may be the only real supply-sider at the central bank. And while he doesn't explicitly talk about the profligate surge of fiscal spending and borrowing by the Obama administration and its international counterparts, it's not hard to infer that he's talking about that, as well.
But back to monetary policy. Warsh says the Fed should not obsess about backward-looking indicators, like gross domestic product and yesterday's inflation readings. Instead, he argues that the central bank should track forward- looking signs of growth and inflation by paying careful attention to financial markets, asset prices and risk premiums.
In essence, Warsh is opting for a market-price rule that presumably tracks commodities (including gold), bond markets, the dollar exchange rate and various credit-risk spreads in the fixed-income area. He's moving away from the Philips Curve and the idea that the Fed should target an unemployment-inflation tradeoff -- which is all Ben Bernanke ever seems to talk about.
Since the unemployment rate is a hopelessly lagging indicator, the inflation forces will be well out of the barn by the time it starts dropping significantly. But Warsh knows that markets flash signs of the future. So rather than drive by watching the rearview mirror, he wants the central bank to look through the front windshield.