The hit TV series “That 70s Show” aired from 1998 to 2006 and focused on six teenage friends living in Wisconsin in the late 70s. The irony was that the actors playing the teenagers were not born in the late 70s and had never experienced life during that period. Many alive today cannot fathom a lifestyle devoid of the internet, cable television, mobile phones, and social media. Oh…the horrors.
Yet, today, almost 50 years later, financial commentators, many of whom were not alive at the time, suggest that inflation and yields will repeat “That 70s Show.” Understandably, the increase in inflation and interest rates from their historic lows is cause for concern. As James Bullard noted, “Inflation is a pernicious problem,” which is why the Federal Reserve lept into action.
“When the US Federal Reserve embarked on an aggressive campaign to quash inflation last year, it did so with the goal of avoiding a painful repeat of the 1970s, when inflation spun out of control and economic malaise set in.” – CNN
That concern of “spiraling inflation” remains the key concern of the Federal Reserve in its current monetary policy decisions. It has also pushed many economists to point back at history, using “That 70s Show” period as the yardstick for justifying their concerns about a resurgence of inflation.
“The chair of the Federal Reserve at the time, Arthur Burns, hiked interest rates dramatically between 1972 and 1974. Then, as the economy contracted, he changed course and started cutting rates.
Inflation later roared back, forcing the hand of Paul Volcker, who took over at the Fed in 1979, Richardson said. Volcker brought double-digit inflation to heel — but only by raising borrowing costs high enough to trigger back-to-back recessions in the early 1980s that at one point pushed unemployment above 10%.
‘If they don’t stop inflation now, the historical analogy [indicates] it’s not going to stop, and it’s going to get worse,’ said Richardson, an economics professor at the University of California, Irvine.”
However, such may be an oversimplification to suggest Burns was wrong and Volker was right. The reason is the economy today is vastly different than during “That 70s Show.”