Harold James: Inflationary Angst Grips Central Banks

Roundup: Historians' Take

Harold James is professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University and professor of history at the European University Institute, Florence. His most recent book is The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalisation Cycle.

Can central banks contain inflation? We once thought they could. Over the past 20 years, central banks around the world, including the United States Federal Reserve, pursued price stability with remarkable success. But now, in the wake of the financial crisis, a tide of distrust is sweeping the world – including a new and widespread fear that central banks are incapable of controlling inflation.

In the US, the Tea Party has made a return to the gold standard a part of its platform, and Utah is debating making gold and silver coins legal tender. German inflation worries have pushed the government into a much harsher stance on debt relief in Europe. In China, fear of inflation is unleashing large-scale discontent.

Inflation fear was already present before the new challenges of 2011 raised questions about long-term energy prices. As pro-democracy protests shake Arab authoritarian regimes, the prospect of sustained conflict threatens a global economy still dependent on oil, while the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake and nuclear accident raises doubts about the security of nuclear energy....

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