Category Archives: monetary policy

ECB QE via FX: Plan B

My post last month was a proposal for the European monetary authorities to pursue Quantitative Easing, not by buying euro bonds, but by buying dollar bonds.   I also presented this idea in a speech at a conference sponsored by the Dallas Fed, April 4, “Why the ECB Should Buy US Treasuries.”

But what if the ECB is told by the international community, especially the US, that it doesn’t want them to push the euro down against the dollar, that it fears a re-ignition of the currency wars?   And what if the ECB concludes that it can’t buy US treasuries without US agreement?   After all, it was only February of last year that the G-7 Ministers and Governors agreed not to try to influence exchange rates.

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Considering QE, Mario? Buy US Bonds, Not Eurozone Bonds

         The ECB should further ease monetary policy.  Inflation at 0.8% across the eurozone is below the target of “close to 2%.”  Unemployment in most countries is still high and their economies weak.  Under current conditions it is hard for the periphery countries to bring their costs the rest of the way back down to internationally competitive levels as they need to do.  If inflation is below 1% euro-wide, then the periphery countries have to suffer painful deflation. 

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Recent “U-turns” in Central Banks’ Forward Guidance Were Avoidable

          The Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have each recently backed away from “forward guidance” that they had given earlier in the form of thresholds for the unemployment rate.   As a result of their changes in emphasis, they are both being accused of confusing the financial markets.

The Fed at the end of 2012 had said that it planned on keeping monetary policy easy at least until the unemployment rate had fallen below 6 ½ %.     The Bank of England in mid-2013 had made a similar statement, with a threshold figure for UK unemployment of 7%.   

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Stan Fischer, the Fed, and Sub-par US Growth

      Now that Janet Yellen is to be Chair of the US Federal Reserve Board, attention has turned to the candidate to succeed her as Vice Chair.  Stanley Fischer would be the perfect choice.   He has an ideal combination of all the desirable qualities, unique in the literal sense that nobody else has them.  During his academic career, Fischer was one of the most accomplished scholars of monetary economics.  Subsequently he served as Chief Economist of the World Bank, number two at the International Monetary Fund, and most recently Governor of the central bank of Israel.   He was a star performer in each of these positions.   I thought in 2000 he should have been made Managing Director of the IMF.  

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Japan’s Consumption Tax: Take it Slow and Steady

Japan’s consumption tax rate is scheduled to increase substantially in April (from 5% to 8%).  The motive is to address the long-term problem of very high debt.  (Takatoshi Ito has stated the case in favor of the tax increase.)  Prime Minister Shinzō Abe has apparently decided to go ahead with it.   Many observers, however, are worried that the loss in purchasing power resulting from the sharp increase in the sales tax rate will send the Japanese economy back into recession.

It is very reminiscent of April 1997.   I remember Larry Summers, who was then Undersecretary of the US Treasury, repeatedly warning the Japanese government that if it went ahead with the consumption tax hike that was scheduled for that date, Japan’s economy would go back into recession.  I was in the US government then too.  As the date drew near, I asked Summers why he persisted in offering Tokyo this unwanted advice, given that the prime minister of the day was clearly locked into the policy politically.    Summers told me that he knew he was unlikely to change their minds, but that he wanted to be sure the Japanese would realize their mistake when they went ahead with the tax increase and his prediction subsequently came true – as it did.

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Dispatches from the Currency Wars

The value of the yen has fallen sharply since November, owing to the monetary component of Japan’s efforts to jump-start its economy (“Abenomics”).  Thus the issue of currency wars is expected to feature on the agenda at the G-8′s upcoming summit in Enniskillen, UK, June 17-18.

The phrase “currency wars” is catchy.  But does it have genuine analytical content?   It is another way of saying “competitive devaluation.”  To use the language of IMF Article IV(1) iii, it is what happens when countries are “manipulating exchange rates…to gain an unfair competitive advantage over other members…” To use the language of the 1930s, this manipulation would be a kind of beggar-thy-neighbor policy, with each country seeking to shift net exports toward its own goods at the expense of its neighbors.

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Nominal GDP Targeting is Left, Right?

The recent surge in interest in Nominal GDP Targeting, as an alternative to money targeting or inflation targeting if the central bank is to commit to a nominal target of some sort, has prompted some pushback.   This is not surprising.  But one of the responses is most peculiar.  This is the allegation (1) that the surge comes from liberals opportunistically adopting an idea that was originally proposed by conservatives, and (2) that they will not stick with this “fad” in the longer run because it is only designed to fit current circumstances of high unemployment and low output.   Remarkably, every component of this argument is wrong.

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Monetary Alchemy, Fiscal Science

          The year 2013 marks the 100th anniversaries of two separate major institutional innovations in American economic policy:  the Constitutional Amendment enacting the federal income tax, ratified on February 3, 1913, and the law establishing the Federal Reserve, passed in December 1913.  
           It took some time before the two new institutions became associated with the explicit concepts of fiscal policy and monetary policy, respectively.   It wasn’t until after the experience of the 1930s that they came to be viewed as potential instruments for managing the macro-economy.  John Maynard Keynes, of course, pointed out the advantages of expansionary fiscal policy in circumstances like the Great Depression.   Milton Friedman blamed the Depression on the Fed for allowing the money supply to fall.    [Tools of fiscal policy used by governments, in addition to tax rates and tax deductions, are spending and transfers.  Tools of monetary policy used by central banks include interest rates, quantities of money and credit, and instruments such as reserve requirements and foreign exchange intervention used in various (non-US) countries.]

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Central Banks Can Phase in Nominal GDP Targets without Losing the Inflation Anchor

      The time is right for the world’s major central banks to reconsider the framework they use in conducting monetary policy. The US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank are grappling with sustained economic weakness, despite years of low interest rates. In Japan, Shinzō Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) was elected prime minister December 16 on a platform of switching to a new, more expansionary, monetary policy.  Mark Carney, the incoming governor of the Bank of England, has made clear that he is open to new thinking

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Nominal GDP Targeting Could Take the Place of Inflation Targeting

In my preceding blogpost, I argued that the developments of the last five years have sharply pointed up the limitations of Inflation Targeting (IT), much as the currency crises of the 1990s dramatized the vulnerability of exchange rate targeting and the velocity shocks of the 1980s killed money supply targeting.   But if IT is dead, what is to take its place as an intermediate target that central banks can use to anchor expectations?

The leading candidate to take the position of preferred nominal anchor is probably Nominal GDP Targeting.  It has gained popularity rather suddenly, over the last year.  But the idea is not new.  It had been a candidate to succeed money targeting in the 1980s, because it did not share the latter’s vulnerability to shifts in money demand.  Under certain conditions, it dominates not only a money target (due to velocity shocks) but also an exchange rate target  (if exchange rate shocks are large) and a price level target (if supply shocks are large).   First proposed by James Meade (1978), it attracted the interest in the 1980s of such eminent economists as Jim Tobin (1983), Charlie Bean (1983), Bob Gordon (1985), Ken West (1986), Martin Feldstein & Jim Stock (1994), Bob Hall & Greg Mankiw (1994), Ben McCallum (1987, 1999), and others.

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