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European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde appeared for an interview on CBS’ Face The Nation(04/24/22) to discuss the current global inflation brought about by covid and the Russsia-Ukraine war. During her interview, President Lagarde made an interesting observation, telling host Margaret Brennan that inflation is higher in the U.S. because unlike Europe, the U.S. focused more on issuing covid stimulus/relief checks than on job retention. Europe’s primary focus during covid was on job retention. She said the resultant labor shortage in the U.S. is driving up wages, which are in turn, driving up costs. Hmm, interesting.
Host Margaret Brennan(video at 4:53):“In this country there’s a lot of debate around how much the government is to blame versus the central bankers for the inflation that we are experiencing. The U.S. spent $6 trillion on covid relief, $2 trillion of it on President Biden’s watch last Spring when the economy was already recovering. Do you think some of this spending in the U.S. exacerbated inflation, because Europe didn’t spend like this?”
President Lagarde:“We in Europe spent less in stimulus, and I think we spent differently. We spent pretty much half as much as what the U.S. government spent on stimulus, and heating up the economy. But we also spent differently because I think the focus was predominantly on keeping the jobs, not necessarily sending the checks, and as a result of that, people who managed to keep their jobs alive, while not necessarily going to work because covid stopped everybody from going to work at some point in time, they had their job. So when covid was over, they went back to their job. So, I think that the labor market that you have currently in the U.S., which is incredibly tense, where you have a lot of jobs that are not filled, where you have plenty of vacancies, we don’t have that in Europe at the moment, and the current situation you have on the labor market here in the U.S. is clearly contributing to possible strong inflation and second round effect, where prices go up, wages go up, short supply of labor, wages continue to go up, and that feeds back into prices. That’s one of the differences between our two economies.”
There’s no other way to interpret ECB President Lagarde’s remarks other than(I’ll be happy to stand corrected of course), the current strong inflation in the U.S. is largely driven by the fact that the government did not do enough to help people keep their jobs during covid. In other words, even though a lot of people could not physically go to work during covid, more should have been done to make sure their jobs would still be there for them after the pandemic–propping up their employers to keep them afloat. According to President Lagarde, this is precisely what Europe focused on–propping up the employers, and is the reason Europe is not seeing the high levels of inflation as the U.S.
For the record, this does not mean Europe did not hand out covid stimulus/relief checks to workers like the U.S. did. What President Lagarde is saying is that the primary focus in Europe was job retention. It’s also worth pointing out for the sake of fairness, that the entire U.S. covid response, and the resultant high inflation, cannot be pinned solely on the Biden administration. Reasonable people will agree that the Trump admin is equally to blame.
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