Capacity utilization rates and unemployment rates: are they complements or substitutes in warning about future inflation?
This research examines capacity utilization as a measure of economic slack in the US economy. Many macroeconomists have questioned the use of capacity utilization as a measure of economics slack on several fronts. The first issue revolves around the definition and accuracy of measurement of the capacity utilization rate in the US economy. Since this research uses existing Federal Reserve measures of capacity utilization, no insights into the definition and measurement issues are offered other than the fact that a consistent role was found for two different Fed measures of capacity utilization in explaining inflation. The second issue effectively involves the concern as to robustness of the link between the capacity utilization rate and inflation. There is indeed reason for the Federal Reserve to take note of changes in capacity utilization when trying to determine its policy position with regard to inflation. Clearly, the high capacity measure developed in this research offers distinct information about the inflation process. The third issue raises the question as to whether the capacity utilization and unemployment rates are complements or substitutes in the inflation equation. Both rates tend to provide similar information regarding price changes at low levels of aggregate resource usage. However, as resource usage in the economy becomes increasingly close to its maximum potential, the labour market impact on inflation, as capture by unemployment rate measures, is distinctly different from that of capacity constraints. Finally, if the capacity utilization rate is indeed a useful measure of inflationary pressure, is there a threshold level of the capacity utilization rate above which policymakers should become particularly concerned about the potential of accelerating inflation? Across two measures of inflation, the widely discussed capacity threshold level is in the 84-85% range.