Within the Federal Reserve sometime in 1996, a discussion took place among FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) members regarding the subject of inflation targeting. Federal Reserve District Governor (San Francisco) Janet Yellen believed that a little inflation “greases the wheels” of the labor market. Her preferred “target” was 2%. She asked Chairman (at the time) Alan Greenspan his preference.

The Chairman replied.  “I would say the number is zero, if inflation is properly measured.”

On the surface, it might seem that Chairman Greenspan is indicating that no inflation is preferable to “a little” inflation.  But that is contradictory to the actual mechanics of ongoing monetary action by the Fed since its inception in 1913.

The Federal Reserve creates inflation through ongoing expansion of the  supply of money and credit. And our fractional-reserve banking system is intrinsically inflationary – at the very least. And what did he mean by the parenthetical comment, “if inflation is properly measured”.

More likely, he was adopting the role of devil’s advocate and trying to promote further, active discussion among FOMC members. The results seem to indicate this.

In meetings the next day, Greenspan summarized the discussion: “We have now all agreed on 2 percent.” The Federal Reserve now had an internally stated, unofficial inflation target. Their own “guiding light”. But they didn’t want to talk about it publicly.  At least Greenspan didn’t.

He termed their discussion “highly confidential [in] nature” and said: “I will tell you that if the 2 percent inflation figure gets out of this room, its going to create more problems for us than I think any of you might anticipate.”

Ben Bernanke didn’t share Greenspan’s reservations.  He wanted everyone to know that the Fed’s inflation target was 2%.  But why?

One possibility is the need for justification.

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