Archive for the Category NGDP targeting

 
 

Alternative Money University

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching in a four day program called “Alternative Money University”, organized by George Selgin. The program will take place July 15-18 at the Cato Institute in Washington DC, and George provides some information about registering in his blog:

Students in or entering their last year of undergraduate or beginning years of graduate studies are invited to apply. Successful applicants will be chosen on the basis of their academic records and demonstrated interest in monetary economics.

Those chosen to take part will attend, free of charge (with hotel and travel expenses covered by the Cato Institute), several thought-provoking academic seminars led by top scholars in the field. This year’s seminars will include:

The Evolution of Money and Banks,” taught by George Selgin, the director of Cato’s Center for Monetary and Financial Alternative and professor emeritus of economics at the University of Georgia.

The Economics of Commodity Money (and Bitcoin),” taught by Lawrence H. White, professor of economics at George Mason University and senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

The Role of Monetary Policy in the Great Recession,” taught by David Beckworth, senior research fellow in the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and host of the Macro Musings podcast.

Monetary Rules vs. Discretion,” taught by, Scott Sumner, Ralph G. Hawtrey Chair of Monetary Policy and director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and professor emeritus at Bentley University.

If you wish to apply, or to learn more about the program, visit www.cato.org/amu. Applications are open until January 31, 2018.

St. Louis Fed President James Bullard will be providing a keynote address at the beginning of the event.

I’m not sure about the logistics of doing this, but I’d like to use the unpublished manuscript for my new book as a teaching resource. This book will be called “The Money Illusion: Market Monetarism and the Great Recession”, and will be based on my last 9 years of blogging. If I’m able to do so, then students in my course would be the first to use this book in a class.

I’m really looking forward to this project. I’ve never actually taught a course where most of the students wanted to be there—where most of the students actually want to learn the material. So it will be a new experience for me.

The increasing popularity of NGDP targeting

There seems to be an increasing groundswell of support for NGDP targeting.  At the recent AEA meetings in Philadelphia, David and Christina Romer presented a paper that endorsed the concept.  A couple days later Larry Summers touted the idea at a Brookings Conference on monetary policy.  At the same conference, Jeffrey Frankel presented this slide:

Sam Bell directed me to a copy of the Fed minutes from 1995, where Lawrence Lindsey endorsed the idea:

…one of the things we all taught in economics was that, if we have one instrument, we can only work with one target. I don’t think it necessarily follows that the target should be price inflation. I think it should be nominal GDP, and I believe that is somewhat in line with what Governor Yellen said. But once we pick nominal GDP as our objective function, it begs a second question that has to be answered. It is that a nominal GDP target probably has to be consistent with some desired level of inflation. So, having this process and having Congress tell us some desired level of inflation, I think is probably good. But our target should not be the desired level of inflation; our target should be nominal GDP.

Lindsey is a leading candidate for the position of vice chair of the Fed:

Other names linked to the position at the time include former Fed Governor Lawrence Lindsey, head of an economic advisory firm, and Mohamed El-Erian, a columnist for Bloomberg View and chief economic adviser at Allianz SE, Pimco’s parent company. Neither could be immediately reached for comment on Monday.

Unfortunately he does have one downside:

In contrast to Chairman Greenspan, Lindsey argued that the Federal Reserve had an obligation to prevent the stock market bubble from growing out of control. He argued that “the long term costs of a bubble to the economy and society are potentially great…. As in the United States in the late 1920s and Japan in the late 1980s, the case for a central bank ultimately to burst that bubble becomes overwhelming. I think it is far better that we do so while the bubble still resembles surface froth and before the bubble carries the economy to stratospheric heights.”

I don’t think you want to point to the late 1920s as an example of why central banks should pop stock market bubbles.

(In this post I discussed El-Erian.)

Here’s another interesting slide from Frankel’s presentation:

Here are a few thoughts on those three points:

i.  I believe the Fed can hit an NGDP target, or an inflation target.  The Fed also believes that, or they would not be raising interest rates right now.

ii.  I believe that people actually understand NGDP targeting better than inflation targeting.  Ask 100 people back in 2010 why the Fed was trying to raise the inflation rate.  Ask them why the Fed thought it was a good idea to raise the cost of living for American citizens at a time when they were struggling with high unemployment and heavy mortgage debt.  I bet less than 3 out of 100 could answer the question.  Then ask them why the Fed might want to raise America’s total national income during a deep recession.

iii.  I wonder if the data revision issue implies that we should be targeting something like total labor compensation.  Am I correct in assuming that this variable is revised less significantly than overall NGDP?  It might also correlate better with labor market stability.

HT:  Sam Bell, Scott Freelander, Tyler Cowen

 

Was the zero bound holding back the Fed during 2009-15?

Most people thought the answers was yes.  I thought it was no.  Here’s a question for the zero bound worriers.  If the zero bound was holding back the Fed during 2009-15, then what’s been holding back the Fed over the past 20 months? Inflation is still below target.

Ignacio Morales set me an interesting graph from JP Morgan, which shows the correlation between global NGDP growth and growth in global profits:
Notice that the correlation seems particularly strong since 2009.

Ben Southwood sent me a ECB study by Luca Gambetti and Alberto Musso, which shows that the ECB’s asset purchase program worked via many different channels. Here’s the abstract:

This paper provides empirical evidence on the macroeconomic impact of the expanded asset purchase programme (APP) announced by the European Central Bank (ECB) in January 2015. The shock associated to the APP is identified with a combination of sign, timing and magnitude restrictions in the context of an estimated time-varying parameter VAR model with stochastic volatility. The evidence suggests that the APP had a significant upward effect on both real GDP and HICP inflation in the euro area during the first two years. The effect on real GDP appears to be stronger in the short term, while that on HICP inflation seems more marked in the medium term. Moreover, several channels of transmission appear to have been activated, including the portfolio rebalancing channel, the exchange rate channel, the inflation re-anchoring channel and the credit channel.

Ben Klutsey pointed me to a Larry Summers piece in the FT:

Historically, the Fed has responded to recession by cutting rates substantially, with the benchmark funds rate falling by 400 basis points or more in the context of downturns over the past two generations. However, it is very unlikely that there will be room for this kind of rate cutting when the next recession comes given market forecasts. So the central bank will have to improvise with a combination of rhetoric and direct market intervention to influence longer-term rates. That will be tricky given that 10-year Treasuries currently yield below 2.20 per cent and this would decline precipitously with a recession and any move to cut Fed funds.

As a result, the economy is probably quite brittle within the current inflation targeting framework. This is under-appreciated. Responsible new leadership at the Fed will have to give serious thought to shifting the monetary policy framework, perhaps by putting more emphasis on nominal gross domestic product growth, focusing on the price level rather than inflation (so periods of low inflation are followed by periods of high inflation) or raising the inflation target. None of these steps would be easy in current circumstances, but once recession has come effectiveness will diminish.

 

Why Australia hasn’t had a recession in 26 years

In previous posts I pointed out that Australia had avoided recession for 26 years by keeping NGDP growing at a decent clip.  Some commenters suggested that it wasn’t monetary policy; rather Australia was a “lucky country” benefiting from a mining boom.  That theory made no sense, because if your economy depends on highly volatile commodity exports then you should have a more unstable business cycle than countries with large and highly diversified economies.  In any case, recent data completely blows that theory out of the water:

Stephen Kirchner directed me to a very interesting article discussing the views of Warwick McKibbin, who used to be a governor at the Reserve Bank of Australia:

Former Reserve Bank of Australia board member Warwick McKibbin says the world’s central banks should switch to a system of using official interest rates to target nominal income growth to ensure huge household and government debt burdens are unwound safely. . . .

“Inflation has been a good intermediate step because it tied down price expectations and gave people confidence that central banks wouldn’t deflate away their assets,” he will tell a major economics conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

“That’s important when you have high inflation,” as was the case in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

“But you can still have the same credibility if you do have a very explicit income target, which is really growth plus inflation,” he says.

In Australia, he suggests, that would mean the Reserve Bank would attempt to keep nominal gross domestic product growth – which is essentially a measure of how much the economy is paid for the goods and services it produces – at about 6 per cent.

Australia has a population growth rate of 1.4%, and so there is no question that Australia’s NGDP growth rate should be higher than in the US rate (pop. growth = 0.7%), and much higher than in Japan (falling population).  Nonetheless, I think 6% is a bit high, I’d recommend something closer to 5% for Australia.  On the other hand even 6% would be far better than the sort of policy enacted by the Fed, ECB and BOJ since 2008.

Professor McKibbin, from the Australian National University’s Crawford School, acknowledges that in practice the Reserve Bank already pursues an “ambiguous nominal” income growth target because the formal 2-3 per cent inflation target is only applied “over the cycle”

This supports the claim of various market monetarists, who have suggested that Australia was a covert NGDP level targeter during the Great recession.

I’ve argued that the greatest advantage of NGDP targeting for countries like Japan is that it can reduce the burden of the public debt.  McKibbin makes a similar argument:

“What will matter over coming decades will be nominal income growth because the sustainability of high public and private debt-to-income ratios will need higher nominal income growth than in the past.

Interestingly, even a 6% target would seem to call for monetary tightening right now:

According to his proposed income targeting scheme today’s Reserve Bank cash rate of 1.5 per cent is probably too low given nominal GDP rose in the first quarter by 2.3 per cent from the previous three months, and by 7.7 per cent from a year earlier. “Right now the central bank has probably got loose monetary policy by nominal income standards and you’d expect they’d be tightening policy according to this rule because nominal income growth is rising quite quickly.”

Wait, that can’t be right.  My critics say Australia was just a lucky country benefiting from a mining boom.  It can’t possibly be doing well now that mining investment is collapsing.  Or am I missing something?

The Economist describes how smart countries handle re-allocation out of declining sectors:

As the mining boom petered out, the Reserve Bank cut its benchmark “cash” rate from 4.75% in 2011 to 1.5%. The Australian dollar fell steeply (it is now worth $0.76, compared with a peak of $1.10 six years ago). The cheaper currency and lower interest rates have allowed the older and more populous states of New South Wales and Victoria to keep the economy bustling. Property developers are building more houses, farmers are exporting more food, and foreigners (both students and tourists) are paying more visits: Australia welcomed 1.2m Chinese last year, a record.

Re-allocation doesn’t cause recessions, tight money does.

In the past, I’ve argued that Australia might want to target total compensation of employees, rather than NGDP.  That’s because changes in the price of mineral exports can cause big swings in NGDP, without having much impact on the labor market.  Over the past 12 months, employee compensation in Australia rose by only 1.4%, far below the 7.7% rise in NGDP.  You don’t see those sorts of discrepancies in the US.  So maybe Australia doesn’t need tighter money.

PS.  David Beckworth has a new policy paper on NGDP and the knowledge problem facing policymakers.  As usual, David includes some nice graphics.

 

David Beckworth interviews Paul Krugman

Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that Krugman is a brilliant economist. David Beckworth’s interview with Krugman is probably my favorite so far in the series, even though on the policy issues I tend to agree more with earlier interviewees such as Bullard.  (Interestingly, these two agreed on a number of issues, despite being far apart on the political spectrum.)

There’s no transcript, so I’ll rely on memory, and then leave a few observations after each point:

1.  When discussing his famous 1998 paper, Krugman said the hard part was determining the implication of an “expectations trap” for policymakers.

This is a very good point, and most people underestimate this problem.  Krugman himself has changed his views as to the paper’s implication, in the years since it was published.

2.  He indicated that when trying to exit a liquidity trap, you don’t need to just convince the central bankers, you also need to convince the public.

I have a “build it and they will come” attitude here.  If the central bank adopts an effective policy response, I think the public will believe it.  The real problem has been the failure of central banks to be willing to adopt “do whatever it takes” policies.

3.  He suggested that price level targeting might not be enough—you might need a higher inflation target if the equilibrium real interest rate fell to very low levels, and stayed there.

Here my view is different.  A liquidity trap should not be viewed as zero nominal interest rates, but rather the zero bound on eligible assets that the central bank has not yet purchased.  Imagine a policy of targeting the price level with CPI futures. That policy will work regardless of how low the equilibrium interest rate falls, as low as the central bank has the ability to adjust its balance sheet to base money demand.  Ditto for exchange rate targeting (i.e. Singapore). Liquidity traps are not times when fiscal policy is needed, they are times when bigger central bank balance sheets are needed.

Krugman cites Japan’s falling population.  On the one hand that might reduce Japan’s equilibrium real interest rate.  But it also reduces aggregate supply, which is inflationary.

4.  Krugman noted that elite policymakers don’t think that an inflation target of higher than 2% is responsible.

My immediate reaction was “Hmmm, where did they get that idea.”  To his credit, Krugman later joked “I may have set back policy by decades with that credibly promise to be irresponsible remark.”

5.  The first QE in the US and Europe helped to restore confidence to economies that had been destabilized by private sector financial turmoil.

My reaction is that that financial turmoil was at least partly caused by bad monetary policy, which was causing NGDP growth expectations to plummet.

6.  Krugman points out that Congress would have objected to a higher inflation target.

I think that’s right, but other options like PL targeting and NGDP targeting we at least possibilities.  More importantly, the Fed could have kept the inflation target at 2% and done far more in the realm of “concrete steppes”.

7.  Krugman’s ideal policy back in 2009 would have been enough fiscal stimulus to get inflation up to 4%, followed by standard monetary policy to stabilize the economy after that (presumably something like policy during the Great Moderation, except with a high enough inflation target to prevent hitting the zero bound.)

That might work, but if you raised the inflation target to 4%, then I doubt you’d even need fiscal stimulus.

8.  On whether 2% was a target or a ceiling, Krugman actually seemed less cynical than David (which might surprise people given their personalities).

I tend to agree with Krugman on this point, but I also believe that David has the better argument, and this is one place where Krugman struggled a bit to refute it. He talked about central bankers wanting to go back to the old days of Volcker, when they fought a heroic battle against inflation, and he also talked about the Fed as an institution having a bias toward fighting inflation.  Of course you could view those observations as supporting David’s claim about 2% being a ceiling, and I sensed that Krugman saw that as well.

9.  Krugman suggested that he had mixed feelings about NGDP targeting, worrying that it might allow too much inflation volatility.

Here again, he struggled a bit in his reply.  At one point he tried to suggest a scary counterfactual of 1% RGDP growth and 4% inflation, and then immediately seemed to realize that a few minutes earlier he had advocated 4% inflation.  In my view Krugman missed the point here.  A period of 1% RGDP trend growth is precisely when you are likely to see the sort of low equilibrium real interest rate that Krugman himself thinks calls for 4% inflation target.  Admittedly I am relying a bit on a sort of “divine coincidence” of RGDP trend growth and equilibrium real interest rates moving together, but I also think there are strong labor market reasons to prefer NGDP targeting. Krugman said something about menu costs of inflation, but surely he cares more about unemployment than menu costs, and labor market stability is almost certainly more closely correlated with NGDP than inflation. Indeed an awareness of that fact (in my view) largely explains why central banks have “flexible” inflation targets.

Like most other mainstream economists, Krugman doesn’t seem aware of all the arguments for NGDP targeting made by market monetarists, and even earlier by George Selgin.  We still have work to do.

Overall a great interview.  Krugman said, “I don’t really know” more often than one might expect from reading his NYT columns, which is to his credit.

I used to think his bashing of the GOP was exaggerated, but now it seems on target.  I say he’s finally got it right, whereas Krugman would presumably say that Trump proves that he was right all along.