WHATEVER ELSE may be going on in town, the Federal Reserve Board intends to hold sternly to its present course. It does not intend to accommodate the Reagan administration's ballooning deficits or to provide the traditional election- year injection of credit. The board's chairman, Paul Volcker, laid out the logic this week to the congressional banking committees. To be effective, he correctly argued, the board's attack on inflation has to be consistent and predictable.
For the near future, it means that the board's restraint on the money supply may not be quite so tight as it was last year. The money supply actually ended 1981 a little below the board's target range for the year. That puts the board in the happy position of being able to lower its target range a little for the coming year, while simultaneously offering to let money flow into the markets a little faster than it had been doing through most of 1981.
But that is very different from promising the great spritz of credit at low interest rates that the government has repeatedly used to swing the economy into rapid recoveries from past recessions. The Federal Reserve's current policy is consistent with a recovery later this year, Mr. Volcker said, but he warned his audience not to expect a "sharp snap- back."
An economy with a zero rate of inflation is one that lives on less credit than the United States, in the past decade, became accustomed to doing. That, in turn, means lower sales of the things sold on credit--most notably, houses and automobiles. For Americans in the 1980s, it means struggling toward a stable prosperity that does not depend on repeated artificial respiration--administered through the Federal Reserve--for the credit-sensitive industries. That technique was effective for a time, but the inflationary results were cumulative and have now become prohibitively dangerous.
Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve's monetary targets are not consistent with the Reagan administration's budget projections and their huge deficits stretching out to the horizon. The experience of the past couple of years suggests that when the Federal Reserve limits credit, and the Treasury takes an increasing share of that credit to finance the federal deficit, interest rates soar and the private economy suffers severely. Mr. Volcker suggests that the solution is to reduce the size of the federal deficit. He's right about that, too.