Economists spent 2021 expecting inflation to prove “transitory.” They spent much of 2022 underestimating its staying power. And they spent early 2023 predicting that the Federal Reserve’s rate increases, meant to cure the inflation, would plunge the economy into a recession. None of those forecasts have panned out. The New York Times: Two big issues have made it difficult to forecast since 2020. The first was the coronavirus pandemic. The world had not experienced such a sweeping disease since the Spanish flu in 1918, and it was hard to anticipate how it would roil commerce and consumer behavior. The second complication came from fiscal policy. The Trump and Biden administrations poured $4.6 trillion of recovery money and stimulus into the economy in response to the pandemic. President Biden then pushed Congress to approve several laws that provided funding to encourage infrastructure investment and clean energy development. Between coronavirus lockdowns and the government’s enormous response, standard economic relationships stopped serving as good guides to the future.
Take inflation. Economic models suggested that it would not take off in a lasting way as long as unemployment was high. It made sense: If a bunch of consumers were out of work or earning tepid pay gains, they would pull back if companies charged more. But those models did not count on the savings that Americans had amassed from pandemic aid and months at home. Price increases began to take off in March 2021 as ravenous demand for products like used cars and at-home exercise equipment collided with global supply shortages. Unemployment was above 6 percent, but that did not stop shoppers. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 exacerbated the situation, pushing up oil prices. And before long, the labor market had healed and wages were growing rapidly.