Archive for the Category Never Reason From a Price Change


Two examples of low interest rate monetary policies

I’ve done a number of posts comparing New Keynesian and NeoFisherian views on the relationship between monetary policy and interest rates.  Here I’d like to illustrate the problem with a picture, as people often have trouble understanding this issue.  It’s really hard to not reason from a price change.  It’s hard to stop thinking of interest rate movements as a “policy” rather than an outcome.

These two graphs show the path of the exchange rate (E) over time, under two different monetary policies.  In both cases a higher exchange rate (E rising) reflects domestic currency appreciation.  Importantly, both of these examples are “low interest rate policies”, when the central bank reduces interest rates to a lower level than before.  But case #1 is an easy money policy, whereas case #2 is a tight money policy:

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 4.51.28 PM

To focus on the essentials, I’d like to assume that a policy change occurs at time = T’, and that the following movement in the exchange rate is anticipated, once policy has shifted.  (The policy move itself was unanticipated beforehand.)

Notice that in both cases, the exchange rate is expected to appreciate after time = T’.  Because of the interest parity theory, this expected appreciation means that interest rates will be lower than before the policy change, when the exchange rate was stable and interest rates were the same as in the other country.  So from the interest parity theory we know that these two cases are both shifts to a lower interest rate policy.

But now let’s look at the long run impact of the two policies on the level of the exchange rate.  In case #1, the exchange rate ends up lower (depreciated) in the long run, despite the near-term expectation of appreciation.  Because of PPP, that means the policy is expected to increase the price level in the long run.  In other words, it’s an expansionary monetary policy.

In case #2, the exchange rate appreciates in the long run, yielding a lower price level.  That’s a contractionary policy.

Because the first case looks so convoluted—a currency that is expected to appreciate over time but still end up lower than before—you might think it represents the “weird and controversial model”.  Just the opposite, the first case is the New Keynesian model of easy money, and more specifically the Dornbusch overshooting version.  The second more straightforward case reflects the weird and controversial NeoFisherian model.  Just looking at the second graph, it’s easy to see how the NeoFisherians are able to get their result from mainstream mathematical models of the economy.

Here’s another way of thinking about the two cases.  In case #1, there is a one-time increase in the money supply (and/or reduction in money demand).  It reduces interest rates (due to the liquidity effect.)  But it also leads to expectations of a higher price level in the long run, due to currency depreciation and PPP.  Because prices are sticky in the short run, the effect of easy money is to initially depreciate the currency, not raise the price level in proportion.

In case #2, there is a permanent decrease in the growth rate of the money supply (and/or increase in money demand growth).  Because of the quantity theory of money, that leads to a permanent decrease in the inflation rate.  And because of the Fisher effect, the lower inflation leads to lower nominal interest rates.  And because of interest parity, lower nominal interest rates lead to an expected appreciation in the currency.  But you don’t even need the interest parity relationship.  By itself, the lower expected inflation combined with PPP leads to the expected appreciation in the currency.

So how does this help us to better understand the New Keynesian/NeoFisherian dispute?  It may be helpful to contrast the “highly visible” with the “highly important”.  The New Keynesians are focused on the highly visible, while the NeoFisherians are focused on the highly important.

The vast majority of specific, short-term decisions by central banks are better viewed as one-time shifts in the money supply, rather than permanent changes in the growth rate of the money supply.  Thus “easy money” announcements often make short-term interest rates fall, even as inflation expectations rise.  At the same time, the truly major moves in interest rates over time largely reflect longer-term changes in the growth rate of the money supply (and money demand—in more recent years).  Thus the low nominal rates in Japan are primarily due to tight money, not easy money.

Both the New Keynesian and the NeoFisherian models are wrong, as both sides engage in reasoning from a price change.  The correct (market monetarist) model says that low rates can reflect easy or tight money, and that one should not draw any inferences about the current stance of monetary policy by looking at interest rates.

If one cannot draw any inferences about the current stance of policy by looking at rates, can one draw any inferences at all?  I see two:

1.  On any given day, a decision by a central bank to cut rates by more than the market expected is usually (not always) expansionary.  It reflects “expansionary intent” and may be viewed as a signal by the central bank of a desire to make policy more expansionary.  This is, of course, consistent with New Keynesianism.  But it does not mean the current stance of policy is expansionary.

2.  When nominal interest rates fall persistently over a long period of time, it is usually (not always) evidence that monetary policy has been contractionary.  (This is more consistent with NeoFisherism).  But it does not mean that the current stance of monetary policy is contractionary.  As usual, Milton Friedman was decades ahead of the rest of the profession:

Low interest rates are generally a sign that money has been tight, as in Japan; high interest rates, that money has been easy.  .  .   .

After the U.S. experience during the Great Depression, and after inflation and rising interest rates in the 1970s and disinflation and falling interest rates in the 1980s, I thought the fallacy of identifying tight money with high interest rates and easy money with low interest rates was dead. Apparently, old fallacies never die.

In America, monetary policy in 2017 and 2018 became a bit more expansionary, despite higher rates.

Is an NGDP Phillips Curve somehow “wrong”?

I touched on this issue over at Econlog, but I’ll try again here in slightly a different way.

The original Phillips Curve from 1958 had nominal wage inflation on the vertical axis.  (Actually the original original PC was developed by Irving Fisher in the 1920s, and used price inflation.) Then American economists switched to price inflation in the 1960s.  In the 1970s and 1980s, economists accepted the Natural Rate Hypothesis and the expectations-augmented Phillips Curve was developed:

When inflation is higher than expected you are in a boom, and when it’s lower than expected you are in a recession.

But inflation probably not the right variable, for standard “never reason from a price level change” reasons.  Higher inflation can reflect more AD, or less AS:

So what is the right variable?  As far as I can tell, the Phillips Curve should be using unexpected changes in NGDP:

So here’s my question to economics instructors.  Suppose you have an advanced topics chapter at the end of macro 101, which covers the standard Phillips Curve (using inflation), and discusses the Natural Rate Hypothesis and the importance of expectations.  Would it be acceptable to have a section at the very end of that chapter with the final two graphs shown here?  I.e., the two AS/AD graphs to show students the downside of using inflation as an indicator of whether the economy is overheating, and the NGDP version of the Phillips Curve to explain to students why more and more economists favor NGDP targeting.

Or is there something I am missing, which makes NGDP unsuitable for the vertical axis of a Phillips Curve?

PS.  The principles textbook I’m working on will be ready for consideration later this year, available for use in classes in the fall of 2019.


Abe reasons from a price change

Here’s the FT:

Shinzo Abe has demanded Japanese companies lift pay by three per cent next year as he uses his big victory in last week’s election to intensify his push to boost the country’s economy.

The Japanese prime minister’s decision to give a specific number marks a deepening of government interference in private sector wage settlements. Last year, Mr Abe simply called for pay rises at least as great as the year before.

Would higher wages be good for the Japanese economy?  It depends.  If the higher wages are achieved through more aggregate demand, then they might be associated with higher employment.  If implemented via less aggregate supply (as Abe proposes), they will lower employment.

Consider the following two options:

If the BOJ adopts an expansionary monetary policy, boosting NGDP, then the demand for labor will increase.  This will boost growth, increase wages, and employment will rise to point B.

If the BOJ does not boost NGDP but Abe pressures firms into raises wages anyway, then employment will decline to point C.

It’s very demoralizing that top officials in Japan the US and Europe continue to make the EC101 error of reasoning from a price change.  Over and over again.

Why do we even bother teaching EC101 in colleges?  What’s the point?

PS.  Now that taxes are in the news let me agree with Jeff Flake, who is calling for tax reform, not tax cuts.

Tax reform would be one of the very best things the GOP could do right now.  Tax cuts would be among the very worst moves they could make.

It’s often said that the modern GOP exists for one purpose only, to enact tax cuts.  I don’t think people have fully internalized the implication of that truth.  If and when the GOP does enact tax cuts and/or reform, it will no longer have a reason to exist.  Tax reform might end up being a major achievement, or it might not.  But either way the enactment of a major tax bill will mark the end of the modern GOP.  They will no longer have a reason to exist.

I have no idea what will take it’s place.  Perhaps a white nationalist Bannonite party.  National socialists.  But whatever it is, it won’t be the modern GOP—which will be dead.

PPS.  On the graph, I forget to label points B and C as a 3% wage gain.

Is the battle against “reasoning from a price change” unwinnable?

Over at Econlog, I have another post that touches on reasoning from a price change.  I must have already done a hundred such posts.  And yet every day I see more examples of this EC101 error in reasoning almost everywhere I look.  Not just among the uneducated, but in elite newspapers like the WSJ, NYT, Economist, etc. Here’s a new example from the FT:

Loose monetary policy led to share buybacks that enriched mainly the wealthy

One of the great ironies of the 10 years following the financial crisis is the way in which low interest rate monetary policy — which was designed to get Main Street USA back up and running and to help people buy homes and start businesses — has bolstered share prices and the markets more than it has helped ordinary Americans.

This is just embarrassing, and yet it happens all the time.  Is there any way to make people see that this is flat out wrong?  We teach students in EC101 not to reason from a price change, but people don’t seem to get the message.  What are we doing wrong?  Is there any way to explain this that I haven’t yet tried?  Lots of you commenters are closer to people with “average opinion” than I am.  Some of you may have recently learned not to reason from a price change.  So what works? What allows people to see that low interest rates are not a loose monetary policy?

PS.  A few reporters such as Caroline Baum warn against the fallacy of reasoning from a price change, but most don’t seem to get it.

The internet’s highest honor

Vaidas Urba pointed me to a very clever post by John Carney of CNBC.  It includes parodies of many well known bloggers, on the theme of Christmas and economics.  Here’s an example–see if you can guess who:

If the Fed would simply announce a nominal target for presents, we’d all receive more presents on Christmas day.  There are many ways to do NCPT, but I prefer that the Fed creates a presents futures market.

A lot of people look at the amount of presents under the tree and attempt to derive the stance of Santa.  But this is wrong.  You need to examine the demand for presents as well as the supply.  In general, a large pile of presents is a sign that Christmas policy has been too tight, while coal in the stocking is a sign that it has been too loose.

At the risk of spoiling the joke, I’m going to try to improve it further

A lot of people look at the amount of presents under the tree and attempt to derive the stance the parents’ generosity.  But this is wrong.   The pile of presents represents the interaction of generosity and deserts.  In general, a larger pile of presents is a sign that the stance of Christmas policy has been relatively generous.  But the level of generosity also depends on how many presents are deserved, which depends both on the behavior of the child and the wealth of the parents.  An increased pile might represent greater generosity, but also greater deserts, due to improved wealth and/or better behavior by the child.

Yeah, I know, I’ve ruined the joke.

PS.  Although I am now a “somebody”, I am under no illusion that I am anywhere but at the bottom of the class of people called “somebody”.  But at least I’m not a nobody.