This isn’t your father’s 7% inflation rate

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Consumer price inflation in December, at 7%, was last this high in the summer of 1982. That’s about all the two periods have in common.

Today, the inflation rate is on the rise. Back then, it was falling. It had peaked at 14.8% in 1980, while Jimmy Carter was still president and the Iranian revolution had pushed up oil prices. Core inflation that year reached 13.6%.

Upon becoming Federal Reserve chairman in 1979, Paul Volcker set out to crush inflation with tight monetary policy. In combination with credit controls, that effort pushed the U.S. into a brief recession in 1980. Then, as the Fed’s benchmark interest rate reached 19% in 1981, a much deeper recession began. By the summer of 1982, inflation and interest rates were both falling sharply. Four decades of generally low-single-digit inflation would follow.

“We have had dramatic success in getting the inflation rate down,” one Fed official observed that August. But Mr. Volcker had other problems to contend with: His high interest rates had pushed Mexico into default, touching off the Latin American debt crisis, and unemployment would climb to a post-World War II high of 10.8% that fall.

A full version of this report can be found at WSJ.com

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