Back in March, I argued that Michael Woodford should fill one of the vacant seats at the Fed. His recent op-ed in the Financial Times solidifies my position as he talks about the role of expectations and targeting the price level rather than inflation:
[Quantitative easing] would be a dramatic move. But we must not kid ourselves. It would have at best a modest effect in a large, liquid market such as Treasury bonds and, therefore, is unlikely to dig the US economy out of its current hole. There is, however, another option: for the Fed to clarify its “exit strategy” from its current, unconventional monetary stance. This would mean making clear that the Fed has no plans to tighten policy through increases in the federal funds rate, even if inflation temporarily exceeds the rate regarded as consistent with the Fed’s mandate. In short, the Fed should allow a one-time-only inflation increase, with a plan to control it once the target level of prices has been reached.
This proposal is different from that made in some quarters (and rejected by Fed officials) for an increase in the Fed’s inflation target. In order to obtain the benefits just cited, it is not necessary to make people expect a continuing high rate of inflation. Indeed, that would be counterproductive. To the extent that expectations of a permanently higher inflation rate would create uncertainty about the value of the dollar, for instance, they could easily make long-run real bond yields higher, rather than lower.
Critics will say this will undermine the Fed’s credibility on price stability. They are wrong because the price increases allowed under this “catch-up” policy would be limited in advance. Catch-up inflation would simply put prices back on the path they would have followed had the Fed been able to cut interest rates earlier.
The instinct of policymakers such as Mr Bernanke is to say less about future policy during a time of economic turmoil, on the grounds that the future seems especially difficult to predict at such times. Yet it is precisely when policymakers face unprecedented conditions that it is most difficult to assume that the public will be able to form correct expectations without explicit guidance. At times like the present, uncertainty about the future is one of the greatest impediments to faster recovery.
Although I would prefer a nominal income target rather than a price level target, the latter will suffice. Woodford does an excellent job explaining the implications of level targeting as well as the importance of expectations.
More importantly, as David Beckworth notes, this view seems to be making inroads at the Fed.