Benn Steil from the Council on Foreign Relations has an interesting comment on the Federal Reserve’s forecasting performance. I don’t really want to discuss Benn Steil’s views, but rather the fed research he quotes.
Here is Steil:
“The Fed studied its own staff’s forecasting performance over the period 1986 to 2006. It found that the average root mean squared error—or the deviation from the actual result—for the staff’s next-year gross domestic product (GDP) forecasts was 1.34, compared with 1.29 by what the Fed describes as a “large group” of private forecasters. That is, the Fed’s predicting performance was worse than that of market-watchers outside the Fed. For next-year CPI forecasts, the error term was 1.03 for Fed staff, and only 0.93 for private forecasters. The Fed’s conclusion? In its own words, its “historical forecast errors are large in economic terms.”
I have unfortunately not be able to locate the research quoted by Steil so if anybody out there can locate it please let me know. I have the feeling that the research is rather old – and as such Steil’s story is not really “breaking news”.
Anyway what can I say? The Fed is not able to beat the “consensus forecast”. That is not really surprising. That does not show that the Fed economists in anyway are incompetent. It just shows that the “market” or the wisdowm of the crowds is better at forecasting than the Fed. In fact the “consensus” will most of the time beat any professional forecaster.
So the relevant question that Steil should ask is why is the Fed doing forecast instead of leaving it to the market. The Fed of course should set-up a prediction market rather than relying on in-house forecasts – especially when the market clearly is better at forecasting than the skilled economists at the Fed.
By the way contrary to what Steil implies I don’t think we can say anything about whether the Fed should be trusted or not based on the Fed’s forecasting performance. In fact if the Fed consistently was able to beat the market then I guess the market would pretty fast adopt the Fed forecast. There is a lot of reason to be skeptical about the Fed, but the “average” forecasting performance of the Fed’s staff is not one of them. I have personally been doing a lot of forecasting over the years and I would never claim that I am better at forecasting that the “crowd” so this is not a critique of the Fed economists, but rather an endorsement of the market.
See my previous posts on the use of prediction markets in the conduct of monetary policy.
Robin Hanson’s brilliant idea for central bank decision-making
Prediction markets and government budget forecasts
Please fasten your seatbelt and try to beat the market
Central banks should set up prediction markets
PS Mr. Steil might be interested in noting that market expectations for medium-term inflation still is well below 2%. Contrary to what Mr. Steil seems to think US monetary policy is overly tight! Unfortunately neither Benn nor Ben seem to care much about market expectations…
Update: George Farnon alerted me to this article: Federal Open Market Committee forecasts: Guesses or guidance? It is yet another argument for prediction markets…the Fed would never dare…