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Inflation Control Needs Another Model


At the conclusion of the April meeting, the Monetary Policy Committee had already warned that the focus will henceforth be on inflation. Yesterday it raised the repo rate somewhat sooner than was expected by the market.


GS-III: Indian Economy and issues relating to Planning, Mobilization of Resources, Growth, Development and Employment.

Dimensions of the Article

  • Discourse on inflation engaged in by the western central banks
  • Inflation control in India
  • What needs to be done?
  • Way Forward

 Discourse on inflation engaged in by the western central banks

  • Inflation reflects an excess of output over its ‘natural’ level.
  • Inflation targeting refers to the policy of controlling inflation by raising the interest rate over which the central bank has control, i.e. the rate at which it lends to commercial banks, the ‘repo rate’.
  • This, it is argued, will induce firms to stay their investment plans and reduce inventories, lowering production.
  • As economy-wide output declines, becoming equal to the natural level of output, inflation will cease.
  • This story does not just legitimize a policy of output contraction for inflation but sees it as optimal.
  • The natural level of output itself is the productive counterpart of the natural level of employment, the level that obtains in a freely functioning labour market.
  • So, at the natural level of output, the economy is deemed to be at full employment.
  • Salient in the context is the fact that the natural level of output is unobservable.
  • Hence inflation as a reflection of an “overheating” economy is something that must be taken on trust.

Inflation control in India

  • Not surprisingly for a theory based on an unobservable variable, the proposition that inflation is due to an overheating economy fares poorly when put to a statistical test for India. 
  • There is not a single demonstration of the empirical validity of the model of inflation presented in the RBI report of 2014, which recommended a move to inflation targeting.
  • On the other hand inflation in India can be explained in terms of the movement of the prices of agricultural goods and, to a lesser extent, imported oil.
  • How effective is monetary policy in controlling inflation: The implication of this finding is damaging for the claim that monetary policy can control inflation, for neither the price of agricultural goods nor that of imported oil is under the central bank’s control.
  • The only route by which monetary policy can, in principle, control inflation is by curbing the growth of non-agricultural output, which would in turn lower the growth of demand for agricultural goods.
  • As the demand for agricultural goods slows, so will inflation, but this comes at the cost of output and employment.
  • At least, this is the theory.
  • Whether this takes place in practice depends upon the extent to which changes in the repo rate are transmitted to commercial bank lending rates.

What needs to be done?

  • Focus on supply of agricultural goods: The implication for the policymaker that inflation is driven by agricultural goods prices, as is the case in India presently, is that the focus should be on increasing the supply of these goods.
  • Growing per capita income in India has shifted the average consumption basket towards foods rich in minerals, such as fruits and vegetables, and protein, such as milk and meat.
  • But the expansion of the supply of these foods has been lower than the growth in demand for them.
  • So a concerted drive to increase the supply of food other than rice and wheat holds the key.
  • Costly food threatens the health of the population, as people economize on their food intake, and holds back the economy, as only a small part of a household’s budget can be spent on non-agricultural goods.

Way Forward

Monetary policy maneuvers, typified by the RBI’s raising of the repo rate is not an efficient solution for agricultural price-driven inflation. Any lasting inflation control would require placing agricultural production on a steady footing, with continuously rising productivity.

Source – The Hindu

March 2024