Josh Hendrickson shows that the Fed targeted NGDP growth

I have previously quoted Alan Greenspan for saying the following at a FOMC meeting in 1992:

“Let me put it to you this way. If you ask whether we are confirming our view to contain the success that we’ve had to date on inflation, the answer is “yes.” I think that policy is implicit among the members of this Committee, and the specific instruments that we may be using or not using are really a quite secondary question. As I read it, there is no debate within this Committee to abandon our view that a non-inflationary environment is best for this country over the longer term. Everything else, once we’ve said that, becomes technical questions. I would say in that context that on the basis of the studies, we have seen that to drive nominal GDP, let’s assume at 4-1/2 percent, in our old philosophy we would have said that [requires] a 4-1/2 percent growth in M2. In today’s analysis, we would say it’s significantly less than that. I’m basically arguing that we are really in a sense using [unintelligible] a nominal GDP goal of which the money supply relationships are technical mechanisms to achieve that. And I don’t see any change in our view…and we will know they are convinced (about “price stability”) when we see the 30-year Treasury at 5-1/2 percent.

Now Josh Hendrickson has a new paper out – “An Overhaul of Federal Reserve Doctrine: Nominal Income and the Great Moderation” - that basically confirms that the Fed actually did what Greenspan said it would do – at least during the Great Moderation. Here is the abstract:

“The Great Moderation is often characterized by the decline in the variability of output and inflation from earlier periods. While a multitude of explanations for the Great Moderation exist, notable research has focused on the role of monetary policy. Specifically, early evidence suggested that this increased stability is the result of monetary policy that responded much more strongly to realized inflation. Recent evidence casts doubt on this change in monetary policy. An alternative hypothesis is that the change in monetary policy was the result of a change in doctrine; specifically the rejection of the view that inflation was largely a cost-push phenomenon. As a result, this alternative hypothesis suggests that the change in monetary policy beginning in 1979 is reflected in the Federal Reserve’s response to expectations of nominal income growth rather than realized inflation as previously argued. I provide evidence for this hypothesis by estimating the parameters of a monetary policy rule in which policy adjusts to forecasts of nominal GDP for the pre- and post-Volcker eras. Finally, I embed the rule in two dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models with gradual price adjustment to determine whether the overhaul of doctrine can explain the reduction in the volatility of inflation and the output gap.”

Josh has written and excellent paper and I recommend everybody to have a look at Josh’s paper – maybe if we are lucky Ben Bernanke might also read the paper. After all the paper will be published in Journal of Macroeconomics. Bernanke is on the editorial board of JoM.

PS Josh also has a comment on this on his blog.

Update: Scott Sumner also has a comment on Josh’s paper.

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  1. Benjamin Cole

     /  February 12, 2012

    Fantasttic quote from Greenspan–the first (at least acting) Market Monetarist?

    Was this the great secret behind the Great Moderation? Market Monetarism?

    I think so.

  2. Benjamin, I agree. The first decade at the Fed Greenspan more or less followed MM policies. Other than targeting NGDP (growth rather than the level) Fed policies was also guided by a strong focus on market signals. Thinks however started to change in 1997/98…

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