When you get right down to it, we really know very little about how people form their inflation expectations. To what extent are expectations based on past inflation experience versus looking into the future? Do people scour all of the available data to predict inflation, or do they just consider the information most readily available to them? And, perhaps most important, how do people act on the inflation expectations that we measure through the household surveys?
There is much at stake in the answers to these questions. We might discover important differences between household survey information and financial market data. We may also find an answer to one of the great questions - and obstacles - in the monetary policy process. Namely, are inflation expectations responsible for the long time it takes for monetary policy actions to show up in the inflation data?
Understanding what lies behind our measures of inflation expectations could greatly enhance the design and conduct of monetary policy. For example, it could help us understand what types of institutional arrangements and communication policies help the central bank retain credibility for meeting its price stability objective, even when large and persistent relative price changes ripple through the inflation data.
To that end, unlocking some of the mysteries about inflation expectations may help central banks decide whether, and how, to incorporate a numerical inflation objective into the monetary policy process. Some central banks have used these numerical objectives as a tool to help anchor inflation expectations. Economists refer to a numerical inflation objective as a "commitment device," that is, a means for holding a central bank's feet to the fire. That may be so. But whether or not there is an explicit numerical objective, anchoring inflation expectations requires a central bank to keep inflation low and stable, to reinforce its commitment to price stability, and to clearly communicate its policies in pursuit of that commitment