As they did three decades ago, surging oil prices are exacerbating inflationary pressures, further damaging a weak economy. The question is whether the toxic combination that produced stagflation then, crippling growth for years, is beginning to play out again.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is vowing to prevent that from happening, insisting the Fed is on the case. “Maintaining confidence in the Fed’s commitment to price stability remains a top priority as the central bank navigates the current complex situation,” he said in a speech this month.

But few Fed watchers are counting on him to back up that talk with action anytime soon.

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