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Trump says he’s “not thrilled” by Federal Reserve interest rate hikes

A broken norm, but also a decent point.

President Donald Trump looks on as Jerome Powell speaks at an event at the White House. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Speaking to CNBC’s Joe Kernen, President Trump took the unusual step of criticizing the Federal Reserve Bank for its current trajectory of higher interest rates, saying he’s “not thrilled” by the Fed’s plans to raise interest rates.

Presidents working in the aftermath of the inflation of the 1970s have generally refrained from commenting in public about the Fed’s management of the macroeconomy. During Barack Obama’s administration, it was exceptionally hard to get any official at any level to express any view even off the record because they were so firmly committed to upholding the tradition of the Fed’s operational independence.

That’s in part because post-Nixon presidents who tried to gently nudge the Fed often found that it backfired, with the central bank feeling it now had to bend over backward to demonstrate its independence. And even Trump, while saying he’s “not happy about” rate increases, was at pains to clarify that “at the same time, I’m letting them do what they feel is best.”

It’s not unusual for Trump to break with norms governing presidential conduct, though in this case, he may find that there’s some support for his position on the left side of the political spectrum.

The Fed’s basic position is that with the unemployment rate now low and the inflation rate near the Fed’s 2 percent target, the time is right for a measured series of interest rate increases aimed at restraining the pace of economic growth. To do otherwise, as the Fed sees it, would be to risk sparking a higher pace of inflation that might then require a much sharper series of rate hikes.

The contrary view contains several points:

On that view, the smart strategy is to keep rates low, trust that the employment-population ratio will continue to rise, hope that workers’ growing bargaining power lets them get some wage increases, and ideally address the shortage of apartments to rent on the supply side rather than by trying to slow economic growth.

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