The Federal Reserve seems determined to make mistakes. First it started rumors that it would resume Treasury bond purchases, with the amount as high as $1 trillion.
Then the press reported rumors about plans to raise the inflation target to 4% or higher, from 2%. This is a major change from the Fed's quick rejection of a higher target when the International Monetary Fund suggested it a few months ago.
Increasing inflation to reduce unemployment initiated the Great Inflation of the 1960s and 1970s. Milton Friedman pointed out in 1968 why any gain in employment would be temporary: It would last only so long as people underestimated the rate of inflation. Friedman's analysis is now a standard teaching of economics. Surely Fed economists understand this.
Adding another trillion dollars to the bank reserves by buying bonds will not relax a constraint that is holding back spending. There is no shortage of liquidity in the economy.
The most important restriction on investment today is not tight monetary policy, but uncertainty about administration policy. Businesses cannot know what their taxes, health-care, energy and regulatory costs will be, so they cannot know what return to expect on any new investment.
The only lasting solution for housing is to let prices fall to a new equilibrium. Painful, yes, but necessary. Temporary palliatives such as lower interest rates delay that adjustment.
Once the economy does begin to heat up, the Fed will urgently need to reduce excess bank reserves lest they stoke inflation. The Fed has talked about policies it can use to do so, such as raising the interest rates it pays to banks to hold their reserves. It has not offered a coherent, credible program to do so since it does not say, and probably does not know, how high the market interest rate would have to be.
Yes, a sustained deflation would be a big problem, but it is unlikely in today's circumstances. Countries with a depreciating exchange rate, an unsustainable budget deficit, and more than $1 trillion of excess monetary reserves are more likely to inflate. That's our problem today, and it's another reason the Fed should give up this nonsense about more stimulus and offer a credible long-term program to prevent the next inflation.