Tag Archives: Federal Reserve

QE3 and the Optimality of Nominal GDP Targeting

The Fed’s announcement last week that they intend to conduct open-ended open market purchases has been seen as a victory for advocates of nominal GDP level targeting, especially market monetarists. Scott Sumner has received praise from a number of publications for leading the charge (see here and here). Scott has long advocated nominal GDP level targeting and was criticizing tight monetary policy from the beginning of the recession. The shift toward open-ended open market purchases is therefore certainly a change in the direction of policy and one that is much more in line with a level target. Nonetheless, I don’t think that this is as much of a victory for level targeters as is being claimed. Thus, I would like to take this post to describe my differing view and also the recent discussion of optimal monetary policy.

The intuition of a level target runs as follows. The purpose of the level target is to anchor long run expectations. Thus, suppose that the central bank announces that their objective is to target 5% trend growth in nominal GDP consistent with the trend from essentially 1983 – 2008. This policy announcement suggests that the central bank would like to create nominal GDP growth in the short term that is higher than 5% (since we have been below that trend since 2008), but once nominal GDP returns to trend, growth will return to 5%. So long as the central bank has a good degree of credibility in committing to these actions, this should help to anchor expectations.

Thus, if nominal GDP is significantly below the long run trend, the policy suggested by this intuition is for the central bank to announce its intention to conduct open market purchases sufficient to achieve its target. In other words, the central bank announces a plan to conduct open-ended open market purchases (i.e. whatever it takes to hit its target).

The recent Fed statement represents a stark change from previous policies specifically as it pertains to its efforts at quantitative easing. Specifically, rather than announcing particular dollar values of assets that they intends to purchase, the Fed has changed their statement to reflect their desire to “increase policy accommodation by purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month.” That’s clearly open-ended. However, advocates of a nominal GDP level target and similar objectives should NOT see this a clear victory.

As the description of the intuition behind level targeting makes clear, the use of open-ended open market purchases should be coupled with an explicit objective for policy. There is no such objective in the Fed’s statement. The duration of policy is not defined in terms of objectives, but rather time:

To support continued progress toward maximum employment and price stability, the Committee expects that a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens. In particular, the Committee also decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that exceptionally low level ofs for the federal funds rate are likely to be warranted at least through mid-2015.

The federal funds rate is not the objective of monetary policy, it is the intermediate target. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, we need the Fed to define what they mean by “after the economic recovery strengthens.”

The closest the FOMC statement comes to an objective is the following statement:

The Committee will closely monitor incoming information on economic and financial developments in coming months. If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the Committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability. In determining the size, pace, and composition of its asset purchases, the Committee will, as always, take appropriate account of the likely efficacy and costs of such purchases. [Emphasis added.]

This is hardly an explicit objective for policy. In addition, not only does the statement leave out an explicit objective, its one mention of a criteria for adjusting policy is a reference to the labor market. Does the Fed now believe that they can target employment? So some less skeptical of the Fed, this question might seem facetious. However, the Fed explicitly put in the statement that they will judge policy in accordance with fluctuations in the labor market. What is an acceptable amount of unemployment to the Fed? To what extent do they think that they can reduce unemployment?

Note here the important difference between the nominal GDP targeting example given above and the actual policy that is being implemented. The adoption of a nominal GDP level target would lead to higher nominal GDP growth in the short run which, given non-neutralities, would lead to a corresponding short run increase in real GDP thereby reducing unemployment. Thus, the objective of the policy would be to increase nominal GDP growth. The result of the policy (assuming that it is successful) would be to reduce unemployment. The actual policy of the Fed, however, seems to be to use unemployment as their objective. This is not the same thing.

This brings me to my final point. Throughout the discussion above, I was comparing the difference between actual Fed policy and a hypothetical nominal GDP target. This latter type of policy has become substantially more popular in the public conversation thanks to Scott Sumner. Its popularity in the economic literature has been somewhat lagging, but once had the support of Ben McCallum, Greg Mankiw, and others. More recently, Michael Woodford quasi-embraced nominal GDP targeting in his recent talk in Jackson Hole. However, Woodford also stated that he doesn’t see nominal GDP targeting as optimal policy. Rather, flexible inflation targeting in which the central bank targets inflation, but gives some weight to the output gap is optimal within the New Keynesian framework.

On this last point, Woodford is clearly correct — he wrote the book on optimal monetary policy in New Keynesian models, literally. Nominal GDP targeting can be consistent with optimal monetary policy in these models, but it depends on the particular characteristics of the model and the value of the parameters. Nonetheless, it is in the New Keynesian framework that nominal GDP targeting should find much of its support. Optimal monetary policy within these frameworks is defined as the policy that minimizes fluctuations in utility around the steady state. By performing a second-order Taylor series expansion of the utility function around the steady state and some mathematical manipulation, it can be shown that the optimal monetary policy is one that minimizes the weighted average of deviations of inflation from its target and output from its “natural” level. (This, by the way, is contrary to the assertions by Scott Sumner and George Selgin that the welfare criteria in these models is ad hoc.) Woodford is obviously correct that in this context that flexible inflation targeting is the optimal monetary policy. However, how should one use this criteria to practically guide monetary policy? I would argue that New Keynesians should advocate nominal GDP targeting because flexible inflation targeting places a large knowledge burden on central bankers as it requires that they know what natural (or potential) output is an any given point in time. In fact, we have very poor estimates of the output gap in real time — a point highlighted in work by Athanasios Orphanides.

Regardless of what policy is optimal, however, recent Fed policy is only a minor step in the direction of the desired policy of advocates of more expansionary monetary policy.

Thinking About Monetary Policy

Nick Rowe and Bill Woolsey bring up some interesting points in their recent posts. These points are often neglected, but are of the utmost importance for monetary policy. Below, I will explore what is meant by a monetary policy tool, target, and goal and why it is important to understand the distinct characteristics of each.

Often times, we are told that monetary policy is tight (or loose) by observing the interest rate. In a recent post, I made the case that the real interest rate isn’t a good predictor of the output gap. In a standard New Keynesian framework, if the real rate doesn’t predict the output gap, it will not help to predict inflation either. Thus, the real interest rate does not appear to be a good indicator of policy. In that same post I argued that the growth of the Divisia monetary aggregates do help to predict the output gap. So does this mean that these aggregates are a good indicator of the stance of policy? Potentially, but not necessarily.

To motivate the discussion, consider a simple monetary equilibrium framework captured by the equation of exchange:

mBV = Py

where m is the money multiplier, B is the monetary base, V is the velocity of the monetary aggregate, P is the price level and y is real output. The monetary base, B, is the tool of monetary policy because it is under more or less direct control by the Federal Reserve. The Fed’s job is to adjust to base in order to achieve a particular policy goal.

Other important factors in the equation of exchange are the money multiplier, m, and the velocity of circulation, V. These are important because V will reflect changes in the demand for the monetary aggregate whereas m will reflect changes in the demand for the components of the monetary base.

Now suppose that the Federal Reserve’s goal is to maintain monetary equilibrium. In other words, the Fed wants to ensure that the supply of money is equal to the corresponding demand for money. In the language of the equation of exchange, this would require that mBV is constant. Or, in other words, that changes in m and V are offset by changes in B.

This goal would certainly make sense because an excess supply of money ultimately leads to higher inflation whereas an excess demand for money results in — initially — a reduction in output. Unfortunately, this is a difficult task because it is difficult to observe shifts in m and V in real time. Nonetheless, there is an alternative way to ensure that monetary equilibrium is maintained. For example, in the equation of exchange, a constant mBV implies a constant Py. Thus, if the central bank wants to maintain monetary equilibrium, they can establish the path of nominal income as their policy goal.

Thus far, the framework we have employed has outlined two aspects of monetary policy. First, the monetary policy tool (or instrument) is the monetary base. This is considered a policy instrument because it is directly controlled by the Fed. Second, the goal of monetary policy is to target a desired path for nominal income. This goal is considered desirable because it maintains monetary equilibrium. Even with the instrument and goal in place, the analysis is not complete. The central bank needs an intermediate target.

The intermediate target of monetary policy can be anything that has a strong statistical relationship with the goal variable. In addition, it must be available at higher frequencies than the goal variable. This intermediate target can be a measure of the money supply, the federal funds rate, or even the forecast of the goal variable. (It is important to note that the federal funds rate is NOT the instrument of monetary policy despite the frequent usage of this term.)

Returning to the equation of exchange, a natural choice for an intermediate variable (so long as there exists a strong statistical relationship) is a monetary aggregate. Re-writing the equation of exchange, we have the more familiar form:

MV = Py

where M is the monetary aggregate used as the intermediate target.

The behavior of monetary policy is characterized as follows. The central bank chooses the monetary base with the intent of guiding the path of nominal expenditures. However, the control of the monetary base in and of itself is not always enough to ensure that the policy goal is met. This is because changes in the demand for the monetary base will result in changes in the money multiplier and, as a result, a different relationship between the monetary base and nominal expenditure. In order to ensure that the monetary base is being adjusted enough to maintain the desired path of nominal expenditures, the central bank uses the monetary aggregate as the intermediate target. In other words, the central bank chooses B so as to ensure that:

mB = M*

where M* is the desired level of the monetary aggregate. What’s more, this desired level of the monetary aggregate is chosen such that it maintains the desired level of nominal expenditure.

The most important question that I want to address is in regards to the “best” measure of the stance of monetary policy. In our example, the monetary base serves to demonstrate the actual adjustments made by the monetary authority. However, it does not necessarily demonstrate the stance of monetary policy (i.e. if policy is loose or tight). For example, if there is a change in the demand for the components of the monetary base, the money multiplier will change and, depending on the direction of the change, the monetary base might suggest that monetary policy has been expansionary or contractionary even when M and Py remain correspondingly constant.

The same problem exists for M. The central bank adjusts the monetary base to target the intermediate variable, M. The target of M is meant to generate the desired path for Py. Like the monetary base, however, movements in M will not be sufficient to produce the desired path of nominal expenditure if the demand for M — reflected in V — changes. Relying on M to discover the stance of monetary policy is potentially misleading as well in that higher than expected changes in M might merely reflect declines in V.

So what is the best way to determine the stance of monetary policy?

The answer is quite simple. If the goal is to achieve a certain level of nominal expenditure, (Py)*, then the stance of monetary policy is best determined by deviation of the goal variable from its target:

Py – (Py)*

If this value is positive, it suggests that policy has been overly expansionary. If this value is negative, it suggests that policy has been overly contractionary. This point seems to be missed by many within the United States, but is widely accepted elsewhere. For example, the Bank of England has an explicit inflation target. If their target is 2% and inflation comes in at 3%, there would be little doubt that the policy was over-expansionary regardless of the level of the nominal interest rate or the behavior of monetary aggregates. The problem in the United States seems to center around the fact that the Fed has no explicit goal for monetary policy. Rather the Fed is to promote full employment and low inflation. As a result, we tend to rely on the behavior of the intermediate targets like the federal funds rate and monetary aggregates to gauge the stance of policy when, in fact, these variables can potentially be misleading.

The Bernanke Speech

Bernanke gave a speech at the AEA meetings defending the actions of the Federal Reserve in the early part of the decade. Scott Sumner makes a keen observation:

Bernanke’s explanation for the Fed’s actions in 2002 show exactly how monetary policy failed in 2008. In particular, Bernanke made the following three observations regarding 2002:

1. Monetary policy needs to focus on the macroeconomy, not specific sectors.

2. Monetary policy must be forward-looking, must target the forecast.

3. Monetary policy must be especially aggressive when there is risk of liquidity trap (which would render conventional policy ineffective.)

In 2008 the Fed did exactly the opposite. Between September and December 2008 the Fed focused on banking, not the macroeconomy, they adopted a backward-looking Taylor Rule, and they were extremely passive when the threat of a liquidity trap was already obvious.

BTW, the quote of the day comes from Sumner’s post as well:

Unlike [Arnold] Kling, the stock market does believe monetary policy has a near-term impact on the economy.

UPDATE: David Beckworth on why we should doubt the claims put forth in the speech.

Inflation is a Monetary Phenomenon, But This Isn’t Inflation

There has been much talk recently about the potential inflation on the horizon given the unprecedented movement of the Federal Reserve of increasing the monetary base through quantitative easing. The talk has predominantly surrounded the substantial increase in the monetary base. However, increases in the monetary base are not sufficient to cause inflation. Like discussion of other markets, we must consider both supply and demand conditions.

Milton Friedman famously quipped, “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.” Friedman was undoubtedly correct. However, recently a few seem to have taken this claim to mean something different entirely. Namely, that any increase in the money supply necessarily causes inflation. This is something that Friedman himself did not believe.

In his restatement of the quantity theory of money, Friedman pointed out that the quantity theory is primarily a theory of money demand. Specifically, quantity theorists view the level of real money balances as more important than the nominal quantity of money. Thus, if at any point in time people have chosen to hold some level of real money balances that they deem optimal, an increase in the nominal money supply will leave these individuals with a larger level of real money balances than they wish to hold. These individuals will then necessarily try to reduce their holdings of nominal money balances such that their real money balances fall back to their optimal level (perhaps by increasing spending). Unfortunately, as a group, they will not be able to do so because every person’s spending is another person’s receipt (or income). Initially output will increase and gradually prices will rise until the level of real balances falls back to the optimal level.

Given this discussion, it should not be difficult to understand why I prefer a monetary equilibrium framework. What’s more, it should be apparent that what causes inflation is not an increase in the money supply, but rather an excess supply of money.

Ultimately, the question at hand is whether the current increases in the monetary base imply that there is an excess supply for money. If so, inflation is on the horizon. If not, we need not fear inflation.

Personally, I do not believe that the recent increases in base money imply that there is an excess supply of money. There are a couple reasons for this belief. First, it has been well-known — at least among monetarists — since Clark Warburton’s influential work that the peaks in the time series variables important for quantity theorists follow this order: (1) money, (2) output, and (3) velocity. The implication here is that declines in velocity (increases in the demand for money) are an accentuating feature of the business cycle. In other words, after output begins to fall, the demand for money increases. As our previous discussion of monetary equilibrium implies, this creates an excess demand for money, which results in falling output and prices — thereby exacerbating the previous decline in output.

Second, the money multiplier has declined drastically. In fact, the money multiplier for M1 remains below 1. This means that for every increase of $1 in base money, the money supply (as measured by M1) increases by less than $1. In order to determine the cause of the decline in the M1 multiplier, we should first discuss its components. The money multiplier for M1 consists of the currency-to-deposit ratio, the required reserve-to-deposit ratio, and the excess reserve-to-deposit ratio. An increase in any of these ratios implies that the money multiplier will fall. The required reserve ratio is set by the Federal Reserve and has not changed. Thus, the decline in the M1 multiplier must be the result of changes in the currency-to-deposit ratio and the excess reserve ratio. As previously mentioned, the demand for money often increases during the downturn in the business cycle. What’s more, financial crises often induce a flight to quality in which individuals abandon risky investments for safe investments such as bonds or cash. The increase in cash balances increases the currency-to-deposit ratio.

The largest cause of the decline in the money multiplier, however, is the result of the increase in the level of excess reserves. What’s more, this increase in excess reserves can be directly attributed to the fact that the Federal Reserve started paying interest on excess reserves late last year. In doing so, the Fed essentially reduced the opportunity cost of holding excess reserves thereby giving banks the incentive to hold more reserves on their balance sheets. This is why our friend Scott Sumner not only supports eliminating the interest payments on excess reserves, but prefers that the Fed impose a penalty on those who hold reserves above the required level.

Ultimately, the money multiplier (M1) has fallen from around 1.6 prior to the recession to .93 as of June 17. At the beginning of January 2008, the monetary base was roughly $848 billion. Given that money multiplier, this would suggest that M1 was around $1.356 trillion. Thus, given the current money multiplier, this would suggest that the monetary base would have to be about $1.458 trillion today to maintain the same money supply — an increase of roughly 72%. Given that we are currently in a recession, this suggests that the Fed wants to increase the money supply rather than simply maintain the earlier level. Given that the monetary base is about 90% higher than it was at this time last year, this would suggest that the Fed is expansionary, but hardly over-expansionary given the circumstances surrounding money demand.

With that being said, the Fed must be careful and begin pulling money out of the economy when this demand for base money subsides and the money multiplier begins to rise again. A failure to do so would result in a substantial period of inflation. However, at the current time, the evidence suggests that the massive increase in the monetary base is justified by the increase in the demand for base money. Thus, the increase is in the monetary base doesn’t suggest that massive inflation is on the horizon … yet.

(In the future, I hope to post on how the Fed can prevent finding itself in such a precarious situation in the future, but this is clearly enough for now.)

Should We Fear Rising Bond Yields?

There seems to be some concern as to the rising yields on long-term bonds. Our friend Jimmy P. (now of Reuters) quotes Scott Grannis, who writes:

The Fed is trying to fight a force of nature—the bond market—and they are bound to lose. Purchasing long-maturity Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities or corporate bonds in an to keep their yields low is a self-defeating strategy … Ultimately, inflation and inflation expectations are what drive bond yields. If the Fed buys too many bonds, rising inflation expectations will kill the world’s demand to own bonds, and yields will rise. … So far this year, the yield on 10-year Treasuries has risen from 2.05% to 3.4%, and that is just a down payment on the eventual rise.

This presents two interesting questions:

1. Is the Fed trying to lower long-term rates?

2. Are rising long-term rates a bad thing?

I think that the answer to (1) is ‘no’. Counter to what seems to be the conventional wisdom, I believe that the Fed is buying long-term bonds because because short-term bonds and cash having largely been near perfect substitutes for quite some time. Thus replacing an asset that banks are gladly holding at near zero yield for an asset that earns zero yield isn’t likely to create the proper incentive to expand the money supply and stimulate economic activity. Buying the longer term debt, on the other hand, serves the purpose of creating the incentive to replace said debt with something that earns a return, thereby promoting lending and monetary expansion. What’s more this monetary expansion, if successful (or, more appropriately, credible) will begin to create an increase in inflation expectations, reduce the real interest, and therefore create demand for investment.

This latter point brings us to question number 2.

I similarly think that the answer to (2) is ‘no’ as well (or at least ‘not yet’). The creation of inflation expectations will temporarily lower the real interest rate, but as these expectations become more widespread the nominal interest rates will start to creep up. The recent increase in nominal rates is seen by some (including Scott Grannis, above) to be a sign that investors are worried about inflation. I am not convinced that this is the case for two reasons.

First, the nominal rates on bonds have been at historically low levels for some time. These low rates are largely the result of expectations of deflation and, more importantly, the flight to quality. Given this diagnosis, it is not surprising that these longer term bond yields have started to rise. Indeed, Martin Wolf (HT: David Beckworth) notes:

The jump in bond rates is a desirable normalisation after a panic. Investors rushed into the dollar and government bonds. Now they are rushing out again. Welcome to the giddy world of financial markets.

At the end of December 2008, US 10-year Treasury yields fell to the frighteningly low level of 2.1 per cent from close to 4 per cent in October (see chart). Partly as a result of this fall and partly because of a surprising rise in the yield on inflation-protected bonds (Tips), implied expected inflation reached a low of close to zero. The deflation scare had become all too real.

What has happened is a sudden return to normality: after some turmoil, the yield on conventional US government bonds closed at 3.5 per cent last week, while the yield on Tips fell to 1.9 per cent. So expected inflation went to a level in keeping with Federal Reserve objectives, at close to 1.6 per cent. Much the same has happened in the UK, with a rise in expected inflation from a low of 1.3 per cent in March to 2.3 per cent. Fear of deflationary meltdown has gone.

The most important point to take away from this is that inflation expectations are in line with rates in which the Federal Reserve is quite comfortable. Thus, I am not trying to argue that rising inflation expectations have played no role in the rising bond yields, but rather than these increases are the result of a return to normal conditions (hence my reason for offering the qualification ‘not yet’).

The second reason that I remain unconcerned about the rising yields is that the phenomenon is not unique to the United States. One of the main points underlying the inflation expectation concerns is that the Federal Reserve will monetize some of the growing debt (or similarly about the risk of default). However, if increases in bond yields were the result of the growing budget deficit and debt, then one would expect to see such increases in the United States, but not countries with relatively small deficits. With that being said, Stephen Gordon’s recent comparison of the yields on Canadian and U.S. bonds throws a wet blanket on this hypothesis. He notes:

As we all know, Canada’s deficit and debt picture resembles in no way that of the US. But a US recovery is a sufficient (although perhaps not necessary) condition for a Canadian recovery.

If investors were suddenly concerned about default, it’s hard to see why Canadian bond yields should be affected in the same way that US yields would be. But if investors are anticipating a US recovery that would spill over to Canada, then we would expect long-term interest rates in both countries to increase.

Thus, like Gordon, I would argue that the rising yields are a good thing as they seem to indicate a return to normalcy rather than runaway inflation expectations. This is also a sign that the Fed’s policy of quantitative easing is working (at least in terms of what I believe to be the Fed’s goals).

In Search of Monetary Stability

I have been discussing a multitude of issues including quantitative easing, Ricardian Equivalence, and the current state of monetary policy with Scott Sumner over the in comments of his excellent blog and it has given me the inspiration to provide a more thorough outline of my thinking.

I think that the best way to think about money is, as Leland Yeager might say, in terms of monetary equilibrium. In other words, if we view money as being just one other good in a Walrasian general equilibrium model, then an excess demand (supply) of money is accompanied by an excess supply (demand) of goods and services. Thus, maintaining monetary equilibrium is essential to achieving economic stability. What’s more, the particular problem with an excess demand (or supply) of money is that money has no market of its own. Or as Keynes would say, labor cannot be shifted away from the production of goods where there is an excess supply to the manufacture of money. Further, the fact that money does not have a market of its own implies that an excess demand (supply) of money will have an impact on all markets because money is a medium of exchange.

My view here is not unique. In fact, Nick Rowe recently wrote an excellent post on this very topic that rightfully referenced the work of Robert Clower. The central point is that individuals have notional demands for money, goods, and services. Notional demand is understood as the intended demand. Thus, suppose for example that everyone arrives at some centralized market with their own plans for consumption and ultimate real money balances. If there is an excess demand for say lemonade, individuals can bid up the price of lemonade and the market will clear. If the excess demand is for money, however, there exists no price to adjust to clear the market and the effective demand for goods and services will fall short of supply.

A very simple way to think about monetary equilibrium is in the context of the equation of exchange:

MV = PY

where M is money, V is velocity, P is the price level, and Y is real output. Thus, M is the supply of money and V can be seen as the demand for money. (A particular note: velocity is understood as the number of times that the average dollar — or other medium of account* — is turned over. Thus an decrease in velocity reflects an increase in the demand for money.) Monetary equilibrium therefore implies that the product MV should be constant (and thus so should nominal GDP, or PY. Keep in mind that this is a static analysis).

The maintenance of monetary equilibrium essentially implies that monetary policy should be aimed at satisfying money demand (or nominal income) rather than the price level (as is currently the case). Thus, in a growing economy, the price level should actually be falling as increases in real output and productivity put downward pressure on prices. This type of thinking loosely forms the basis for what George Selgin calls the productivity norm. Such a maintenance of monetary equilibrium has a rich history in the course of economic thought (see Selgin, 1995).

So how does this framework relate to the current situation? Scott Sumner believes that the current recession could have been avoided using a nominal income target (more specifically, using nominal income futures targeting). I am not sure that I agree with this assertion, but it does fit with this framework. Allow me to explain.

If Sumner is correct, then (using our simple equation of exchange model) anticipations of lower nominal income would be reflected in an increase in the demand for money or a decrease in spending (a fall in V). (Alternatively, it is possible that the increase in the demand for money could be an exogenous event such as described by Keynes when there is an increase in uncertainty.) If the central bank was targeting nominal income, they would respond by increasing the money supply to offset the fall in velocity such that nominal income remains at the target level.

Sumner, however, likes to view this phenomenon through the lens of nominal income and expectations rather than through a monetary equilibrium framework (or at least that is my impression). Thus, in his mind, the nominal income target signals to economic agents that the Federal Reserve will do everything that it can to make sure that nominal income does not fall. If the Fed is credible on this point, then nominal income will not fall because people expect the Fed to follow through on this promise. I actually think that my view of monetary equilibrium is consistent with this view, but that Sumner simply has a different way of describing the policy.

In any event, Sumner has recently expressed his concern with the productivity norm view because (as I understand it) he is concerned with nominal wage rigidity. Thus, the falling prices implied by the productivity norm might actually produce malign effects. He would prefer a broader idea of a nominal income target. He might be correct, but I do not share this concern about wage rigidity. The reason is because wage rigidity should only be a concern when prices are falling due to adverse aggregate demand shocks. Falling prices due to productivity advances should have no effect on the nominal wage. In fact, rising productivity should be consistent with higher real wages (in this case due to falling prices). In any event, one need not worry about this problem under the current circumstances because the decline in nominal income is the result of a severe adverse aggregate demand shock.

I am inclined to think that nominal income targeting is certainly more desirable than the current regime. However, the ultimate question is whether or not the current situation could have been avoided under a nominal income targeting regime. Scott Sumner believes that we could have avoided the recession and simply experienced a burst of the housing bubble had we followed a nominal income target. I actually think that we might not have even had a housing bubble if we had a nominal income target (that allows for falling prices). In any event, the current situation has raised interesting questions about the state of monetary policy and monetary stability. Hopefully, we will also stumble upon some of the answers.


* “Money is here called a medium and not, as customary, a unit of account because, clearly, money itself is not a unit, but the good whose unit is used as the unit of account” Niehans (1978).

Bernanke pushes the accelerator

From the FOMC statement:

In these circumstances, the Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote economic recovery and to preserve price stability. The Committee will maintain the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and anticipates that economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period. To provide greater support to mortgage lending and housing markets, the Committee decided today to increase the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet further by purchasing up to an additional $750 billion of agency mortgage-backed securities, bringing its total purchases of these securities to up to $1.25 trillion this year, and to increase its purchases of agency debt this year by up to $100 billion to a total of up to $200 billion. Moreover, to help improve conditions in private credit markets, the Committee decided to purchase up to $300 billion of longer-term Treasury securities over the next six months. The Federal Reserve has launched the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility to facilitate the extension of credit to households and small businesses and anticipates that the range of eligible collateral for this facility is likely to be expanded to include other financial assets. The Committee will continue to carefully monitor the size and composition of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet in light of evolving financial and economic developments.

[Emphasis added.]