The Trump administration’s policies will raise U.S. wages without causing broader inflation, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in an interview, brushing aside signs that investors are growing nervous about rising prices.
“There are a lot of ways to have the economy grow,” Mnuchin said aboard a train to Philadelphia on Thursday, where he toured the U.S. Mint. “You can have wage inflation and not necessarily have inflation concerns in general.”
An unexpectedly big jump in average hourly earnings in January set off a stock-market swoon as investors worried about higher inflation and interest rates. In addition, long-term Treasury yields have surged in recent weeks, in part driven by concerns that widening budget deficits under President Donald Trump will fuel inflation.
As Trump’s chief economic cheerleader, Mnuchin has consistently deflected any suggestion that the president’s policies could have a downside. He sidestepped the idea that tax cuts and increased federal spending Trump has signed into law amount to an economic stimulus. The government will issue more than $1 trillion in new debt this year, analysts say, in part as a consequence of higher budget deficits.
“Is it very good for the economy? Absolutely,” Mnuchin said of the tax cuts. “One of the reasons why the president won the election is because most middle-class Americans had very little wage growth.”
Mnuchin’s remarks reflect the administration’s public argument for the tax cuts. Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, has said that the law signed in December will help boost productivity gains by encouraging companies to invest in efficiency-enhancing equipment, allowing the economy to grow faster without spurring inflation.
The Treasury secretary also suggested that the U.S. is less vulnerable to oil-driven inflation because of rising energy production in the country.
“We’re no longer fully dependent on foreign oil,” Mnuchin said. “Energy is always a big concern in terms of inflation, among the geopolitical risks.”
After ebbing in 2017, inflation recently picked up. Consumer prices in January were 2.1 percent higher than a year earlier, up from 1.6 percent in June. Wages also are rising. Average hourly earnings rose 2.9 percent in January from a year earlier, the fastest pace since the recession ended in June 2009. With unemployment at its lowest level since 2000, companies increasingly must pay more to hire and retain the workers they need.
The big question, still unanswered, is whether businesses will raise prices to cover the added labor costs.
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