The Brilliant Nick Rowe

This is our own Nick Rowe on “Boom-Bust”.

Nick is a brilliant monetary thinker – and very entertaining. I would so hope that the likes of the ECB and the Riksbank would listen to people like Nick.

Monetary sovereignty is incompatible with inflation targeting

When I started working in the financial sector nearly 15 years ago – after 5 years working for government – one thing that really puzzled me was how my new colleagues (both analysts and traders) where thinking about exchange rates.

As a fairly classically thinking economist I had learned to think of exchange rates in terms of the Purchasing Power Parity. After all why should we expect there to be a difference between the price of a Big Mac in Stockholm and Brussels? Obviously I understood that there could be a divergence from PPP in the short-run, but in the long-run PPP should surely expected to hold.

Following the logic of PPP I would – in the old days – have expected that when an inflation number was published for a country and the number was higher than expected the currency of the country would weaken. However, this is not how it really was – and still is – in most countries. Hence, I was surprised to see that upside surprises on the inflation numbers led to a strengthening of the country’s currency. What I initially failed to understand was that the important thing is not present inflation, but rather the expected future changes to monetary policy.

What of course happens is that if a central bank has a credible inflation target then a higher than expected inflation number will lead market participants to expect the central bank to tighten monetary policy.

Understanding exchange rate dynamic is mostly about understanding monetary policy rules

But what if the central bank is not following an inflation-targeting rule? What if the central bank doesn’t care about inflation at all? Would we then expect the market to price in monetary tightening if inflation numbers come in higher than expected? Of course not.

A way to illustrate this is to think about two identical countries – N and C. Both countries are importers of oil. The only difference is that country N is targeting the level of nominal GDP, while country C targets headline inflation.

Lets now imagine that the price of oil suddenly is halved. This is basically a positive supply to both country N and C. That causes inflation to drop by an equal amount in both countries. Realizing this market participants will know that the central bank of country C will move to ease monetary policy and they will therefore move reduce their holdings of C’s currency.

On the other hand market participants also will realize that country N’s central bank will do absolutely nothing in response to the positive supply shock and the drop in inflation. This will leave the exchange of country N unchanged.

Hence, we will see C’s currency depreciate relatively to N’s currency and it is all about the differences in monetary policy rules.

Exchange rates are never truly floating under inflation targeting

I also believe that this example actually illustrates that we cannot really talk about freely floating exchange rates in countries with inflation targeting regimes. The reason is that external shifts in the demand for a given country’s currency will in itself cause a change to monetary policy.

A sell-off in the currency causes the inflation to increase through higher import prices. This will cause the central bank to tighten monetary policy and the markets will anticipate this. This means that external shocks will not fully be reflected in the exchange rate. Even if the central bank does to itself hike interest rates (or reduce the money base) the market participants will basically automatically “implement” monetary tightening by increasing demand for the country’s currency.

This also means that an inflation targeting nearly by definition will respond to negative supply shocks by tightening monetary policy. Hence, negative external shocks will only lead to a weaker currency, but also to a contraction in nominal spending and likely also to a contraction in real GDP growth (if prices and wages are sticky).

Monetary policy sovereignty and importing monetary policy shocks

This also means that inflation targeting actually is reducing monetary policy sovereignty. The response of some Emerging Markets central banks over the past year illustrates well.

Lets take the example of the Turkish central bank. Over the past the year the Federal Reserve has initiated “tapering” and the People’s Bank of China has allowed Chinese monetary conditions to tighten. That has likely been the main factors behind the sell-off in Emerging Markets currencies – including the Turkish lira – over the past year.

The sell-off in Emerging Markets currencies has pushed up inflation in many Emerging Markets. This has causes inflation targeting central banks like the Turkish central bank (TCMB) to tighten monetary policy. In that sense one can say that the fed and PBoC have caused TCMB to tighten monetary policy. The TCMB hence doesn’t have full monetary sovereignty. Or rather the TCMB has chosen to not have full monetary policy sovereignty.

This also means that the TCMB will tend to import monetary policy shocks from the fed and the PBoC. In fact the TCMB will even import monetary policy mistakes from these global monetary superpowers.

The global business cycle and monetary policy rules

It is well-known that the business cycle is highly correlated across countries. However, in my view that doesn’t have to be so and it is strictly a result of the kind of monetary policy rules central banks follow.

In the old days of the gold standard or the Bretton Woods system the global business cycle was highly synchronized. However, one should have expected that to have broken down as countries across the world moved towards officially having floating exchange rates. However, that has not fully happened. In fact the 2008-9 crisis lead to a very synchronized downturn across the globe.

I believe the reason for this is that central banks do in fact not fully have floating exchange rate. Hence, inflation targeting de facto introduces a fear-of-floating among central banks and that lead central banks to import external shocks.

That would not have been the case if central banks in general targeted the level of NGDP (and ignored supply shocks) instead of targeting inflation.

So if central bankers truly want floating exchanges – and project themselves from the policy mistakes of the fed and the PBoC – they need to stop targeting inflation and should instead target NGDP.

PS It really all boils down to the fact that inflation targeting is a form of managed floating. This post was in fact inspired by Nick Rowe’s recent blog post What is a “managed exchange rate”?

2008 was a large negative demand shock – also in Canada

Scott Sumner has a follow-up post on Nick Rowe’s post about whether a supply shock or a demand shock caused the Canadian recession in 2008-9. Both Nick and Scott seem to think that the recession in some way was caused by a supply shock.

I must admit that I really don’t understand what Scott and Nick are saying. It is pretty clear to me that the shock in 2008-9 was negative aggregate demand shock.

Lets start with the textbook version of a negative aggregate demand (AD) shock). Here is how a negative demand shock looks in AS/AD model (the growth rate version):

Demand shock

So what happened in Canada? Here is a look at inflation measured by headline CPI and by the price deflator for final domestic sales.

CAD inflation

Both measures of inflation were running higher than the Bank of Canada’s official 2% inflation target when the crisis hit in the autumn of 2008.

However, it is pretty clear that inflation slowed sharply and dropped well-below the 2% inflation target in 2009 as the Canadian economy went into recession (real GDP contracted). It is hard to say that this is anything other than a rather large negative AD shock.

Obvioulsy inflation increased above 2% in 2011, but we all know that a major negative supply shock hit in 2011 as global oil prices spiked. In the case of Canada this in fact is both a negative supply shock and a positive demand shock (remember Canada is an oil exporter). That said, the rise in inflation was certainly not dramatic and since 2012 inflation has once again dropped well-below 2% indicating that monetary policy in Canada has become overly tight given the BoC’s 2% inflation target.

I might add that different measures of inflation expectations (both survey and market data) are telling the exact same story. Inflation and inflation expectations eased significantly in 2008-9 and once again in 2012.  

And we can tell the same story if we look at the price level. The graph below compares the two measures of prices (CPI and the final domestic demand deflator) with an 2% price path starting in Q3 2008.

Canada Price Level

Again the picture is clear. The price level – for both measures – are lower than a hypothetical 2% price level path – indicating that Mark Carney and his colleagues in the Bank of Canada have kept monetary conditions too tight over the past 4-5 years – maybe because of a preoccupation with the risk of “bubbles”. Mark Carney might be talking about NGDP level targeting, but he is certainly also speaking quite a bit about “macroprudential indicators” (modern central bank lingo for bubble risk).

Concluding, it is very clear that the Canadian economy was hit by a large negative demand shock in 2008 and initially the BoC has kept monetary policy overly tight and the recent tightening of monetary conditions certainly also looks problematic.

Once again it is monetary policy failure and it is certainly not a negative supply shock, which is to blame for the Canadian recession and sub-trend growth since 2008. Needless to say NGDP tells the exact same story. I should add that the size of this “monetary policy failure” is fairly small compared to for example for example what we have seen in the euro zone.

Reminding Scott about the Sumner Critique

Given the very clear evidence of a negative demand shock I find this comment from Scott somewhat puzzling:

Let’s suppose that the BOC had been targeting NGDP in 2008, when global trade fell off a cliff.  How would the Canadian economy have been affected?  Many would see the drop in global trade as a demand shock hitting Canada, as there would have been less demand for Canadian exports.  In fact, it would be an adverse supply shock.  Even if the BOC had been targeting NGDP, output would have probably fallen.  Factories in Ontario making transmissions for cars assembled in Ohio would have seen a drop in orders for transmissions.  That’s a real shock.  No (plausible) amount of price flexibility would move those transmissions during a recession.  If the assembly plant in Ohio stopped building cars, then they don’t want Canadian transmissions.  If the US stops building houses, then we don’t want Canadian lumber.  That’s a real shock to Canada, i.e. an AS shock.

I simply don’t understand Scott’s argument. A negative shock to exports obviously is a negative demand shock. From the perspective of nominal spending a negative shock to exports is a negative shock to money-velocity in the exact same way as a tightening of fiscal policy. Therefore, if the BoC had been targeting NGDP (it actually also goes for inflation targeting) the Sumner Critique would apply – the BoC would offset any negative shock to exports by easing monetary policy (increasing M to offset the drop in V). As a consequence domestic demand would rise and offset the drop in exports. And this obviously applies even if prices are sticky. Yes, the production of transmissions in Ontario drops, but that is offset by an increase in construction of apartments in Vancouver.

However, the point is that the BoC failed to offset the shock to exports and as a consequence prices have been growing slower than implied by BoC’s official inflation target.

There is absolutly nothing special about Canada – its monetary policy failure – the failure is just (a lot) smaller than in the euro zone or the US.

PS I could also have used the GDP deflator as well in my examples above. The story is the same. In fact it is worse! The GDP deflator dropped by more than 4% during 2009. The primary reason for the massive drop in the GDP deflator is that the price of oil measured in Canadian dollars dropped sharply in 2008-9. As drop in the oil price obviously is a negative demand shock as Canada is a oil exporter. The story in that sense is completely the same as what happened to the Russian economy in 2008-9. Had the BoC had followed a variation of an “Export Price Norm” as the Reserve Bank of Australia is doing then the negative shock would likely have been much smaller as was the case in Australia.

GDP deflator Canada

PPS JP Irving also comments on the Canadian story.

Scott of course “Recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomena”

Scott Sumner has a new post in which he claims that “I do not think all recessions are caused by demand shocks”. Well, Scott I disagree as I like Nick Rowe believe that “Recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomena”.

It is still Christmas so the rest of this blog post is a re-run (with small corrections) of a post from October 2011, but my views on the matter is unchanged. Read the text with Scott’s comments in mind….

At the core of Market Monetarist thinking, as in traditional monetarism, is the maxim that “money matters”. Hence, Market Monetarists share the view that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon. However, it should also be noted that the focus of Market Monetarists has not been as much on inflation (risks) as on the cause(s) of recessions as the starting point for the school has been the outbreak of the Great Recession.

Market Monetarists generally describe recessions within a Monetary Disequilibrium Theory framework in line with what has been outline by orthodox monetarists such as Leland Yeager and Clark Warburton. David Laidler has also been important in shaping the views of Market Monetarists (particularly Nick Rowe) on the causes of recessions and the general monetary transmission mechanism.

The starting point in monetary analysis is that money is a unique good. Here is how Nick Rowe describes that unique good.

“If there are n goods, including one called “money”, we do not have one big market where all n goods are traded with n excess demands whose values must sum to zero. We might call that good “money”, but it wouldn’t be money. It might be the medium of account, with a price set at one; but it is not the medium of exchange. All goods are means of payment in a world where all goods can be traded against all goods in one big centralised market. You can pay for anything with anything. In a monetary exchange economy, with n goods including money, there are n-1 markets. In each of those markets, there are two goods traded. Money is traded against one of the non-money goods.”

From this also comes the Market Monetarist theory of recessions. Rowe continues:

“Each market has two excess demands. The value of the excess demand (supply) for the non-money good must equal the excess supply (demand) for money in that market. That’s true for each individual (assuming no fat fingers) and must be true when we sum across individuals in a particular market. Summing across all n-1 markets, the sum of the values of the n-1 excess supplies of the non-money goods must equal the sum of the n-1 excess demands for money.”

Said in another way, recession is always and everywhere a monetary phenomena in the same way as inflation is. Rowe again:

“Monetary Disequilibrium Theory says that a general glut of newly produced goods can only be matched by an excess demand for money.”

This also means that as long as the monetary authorities ensure that any increase in money demand is matched one to one by an increase in the money supply nominal GDP will remain stable (Market Monetarists obviously does not say that economic activity cannot drop as a result of a bad harvest or an earthquake, but such “events” does not create a general glut of goods and labour). This view is at the core of Market Monetarists’ recommendations on the conduct of monetary policy.

Obviously, if all prices and wages were fully flexible, then any imbalance between money supply and money demand would be corrected by immediate changes prices and wages. However, Market Monetarists acknowledge, as New Keynesians do, that prices and wages are sticky.

Patri Friedman on Market Monetarism

Here is Patri Friedman on his blog “Patri’s Peripatetic Peregrinations”:

“I sent a friend an intro to market monetarism (a modern, blogosphere-inspired adjustment to the traditional monetarism my grandfather helped create). He was surprised I believed that printing money could be good, rather than agreeing with the Austrians.”

I am happy to see that Patri has read my paper on Market Monetarism.

There is of course nothing wrong in thinking that “printing money could be good” (under certain circumstances). In fact this is completely in line with what Patri’s grandfather Milton Friedman argued in terms of the Great Depression and the Japanese crisis.

Patri in his post also discusses how a “helicopter drop” could happen in a world of digital cash. Interestingly enough this discussion is similar to a recent internal Market Monetarist debate between Nick Rowe, Bill Woolsey and Scott Sumner about whether money is a medium of exchange or a medium of account. See for example here, here and here. Kurt Schuler also has contributed to the discussion. Finally Miles Kimball similarly has a very interesting post on the case for electronic money.

Patri’s discussion of digital cash to some extent also relates to my own discussion of monetary reform in Africa and the development of mobile based money (See for example here, herehere and here).

Anyway, I am happy to Patri seems to be showing some sympathy for Market Monetarism.

HT Lasse Birk Olesen

Glasner on “Friedman and Schwartz on James Tobin”

David Glasner is a very nice and friendly person, but I have to admit that David always scares me a bit – especially when I disagree with him. For some reason when David is saying something I am inclined to agree with him even if I think he is wrong. There are two areas where David and I see things differently. One the “hot potato” theory of money and two our view of Milton Friedman. I tend to think that the way Nick Rowe – inspired by Leland Yeager – describes the monetary disequilibrium theory make a lot of sense. David disagrees with Nick. Similiarly I have an (irrational?) love of Milton Friedman so I tend to think he is right about everything. David on the other hand is much more skeptical about Friedman.

Now David has post in which he makes the argument that Friedman nearly had the same view as James Tobin on the hot potato theory of money – which of course is stark opposition to Nick’s view. So now I have a problem – if he is right I must either betray uncle Milt or revise my view of the hot potato theory of money. Ok, that is not entirely correct, but you get the drift.

Anyway I don’t have a lot of time to write a long post and David’s discussion is much more interesting than what I can come up with. So have a look for yourself here.

I will be traveling quite a bit in the coming weeks so I am not sure how much blogging I will have time for. I will be in Riga, Stockholm, London, Dublin, Moscow and New York in the next couple of weeks so I might run into some of my local readers.

PS David sent me Tobin’s article long ago and I must admit that I have not read it carefully enough to be able to argue strongly for or against it.

Guest post: Nick Rowe, Barter, and Free Banking (By Lee Kelly)

I have for some time wanted the young and talented Lee Kelly to write a guest post for The Market Monetarist. I am happy that he now has done so. Anybody who follows the market monetarist blogs will be familiar with Lee’s name and his always insightful comments.

So thank you Lee and I hope you in the future will write many more posts for my blog.

Lars Christensen

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Guest post: Nick Rowe, Barter, and Free Banking

By Lee Kelly

Nick Rowe recently wrote about the increasing use of barter and makeshift monies during recessions. The market monetarist explanation for the last recession describes how attempts to engage in mutually beneficial exchange are frustrated by a shortage of money; this suggests that people would seek alternatives–such as barter and makeshift monies – to realise desired transactions. While such incentives would be expected to increase with the severity of the shortage, there are unfortunately too many other factors at play to draw precise quantitative predictions. That said, if there were no increase in barter or even a decrease, then I would tentatively consider the market monetarist explanation falsified, and it would require one heck of a good counterargument for me to reverse that judgement.

Alex Tabarrok has presented some evidence comparing the Great Depression and the recent recession. Evidence that barter and makeshift monies increased during the Great Depression is very strong–market monetarism passes the test. However, evidence regarding the last recession is less conclusive; there are suggestions of an increase in barter and makeshift monetary arrangements but nothing substantial.

Although I wouldn’t have expected anything comparable to the Great Depression, like Tabarrok, I’m surprised at just how weak of an effect appears to have been. My own observations are of a slight increase in barter, and the relative success of Bitcoin during the recession is suggestive, but there is little more than anecdotal evidence to go on for now. The evidence–or lack thereof–presented by Tabarrok should pose an interesting challenge to market monetarists.

In any case, my purpose here is actually to explain a little about the underlying theory of this explanation and how it dovetails with an arguments for free banking. An increasing use of barter and makeshift monies in during a shortage of money takes on a whole different meaning when viewed from the perspective of free market in money and banking. But first, let me try and keep everyone on the same page by clarifying just what is meant by a ‘shortage of money’ or an ‘excess demand for money’?

What is an Shortage or Excess Demand for Money?

The term ‘shortage’ has a precise meaning in economics. A shortage occurs when the market price of some good is below its equilibrium price. In such cases, there are more people willing to buy at the prevailing price than are willing to sell, leaving an excess demand. Holding supply and demand constant, the market normally clears such disequilibria by increasing prices until shortages are eliminated. However, a shortage may persist indefinitely when there is a price ceiling, i.e. an upper limit to some price usually mandated by a government. If the equilibrium price of some good is greater than its price ceiling, then rising prices are unable to entirely eliminate shortages.

Normally, when demand is frustrated by a price ceiling, the excess goes somewhere else. For example, a binding price ceiling on apples would frustrate demand, leaving some people who want to buy apples unable to find willing sellers at the prevailing price. What do people who want apples do instead? Maybe they buy pears, oranges, bananas, or whatever–probably something that serves a similar purpose. In any case, the excess demand for apples spills over into higher demand for other kinds of fruit.

Money is special. All else being equal, an increase in the demand for money is automatically a shortage of money. An excess demand for money cannot be cleared by increasing its price, because money doesn’t have a price of its own. To reach equilibrium, every other price must haphazardly grope its way there by a roundabout path of deflation. A shortage of money is unlike a shortage of anything else, because money is the medium of exchange. An excess demand for apples will probably just result in more spending on other fruit, but an excess demand for money results in less spending altogether. With an insufficient quantity of the medium of exchange to facilitate desired transactions, potential output is sacrificed–this manifests as the temporary lull in economic activity called a recession.

Barter and Makeshift Monies From a Free Banking Perspective

The relation between a shortage of money and barter is similar to the relation between a shortage of cars and cycling. Suppose the government imposes a binding price ceiling on cars and supply is elastic. While there will always be some driving and some cycling, the shortage of cars results in people cycling more than if the supply of and demand for cars were in equilibrium. However, cycling cannot substitute for all journeys that would otherwise be taken by car, and so those journeys simply never happen. Likewise, only a fraction of transactions frustrated by a shortage of money can be completed using substitutes like barter or makeshift monies.

What does this have to do with free banking? In a world where central banks operate an effective monopoly over money, there is only one monetary policy. If the central bank pursues bad monetary policy, then the economy is constantly rocked by surpluses or shortages of money. But what if people had a better alternative than barter or makeshift monies? What if there were multiple competing issuers of money? What if our eggs weren’t all in one basket?

Free banking theory envisions a world where each money issuer has their own “monetary policy”, and a shortage or surplus created by one issuer is a profit opportunity for all others. When attempts to engage in mutually beneficial exchange are frustrated by a shortage of money, then people will seek alternatives. In an ideal free banking scenario, those alternatives are readily available monies created by institutions poised to soak up any excess demand for money. A free banking system is, in this way, robust against errors of monetary policy that can devastate an economy dependent on a central bank.

No system is perfect, and I’m aware of the futility of advocating free banking. However, I’m very much in favour of theorising about free banking. It is often only when ideas are contrasted with alternatives that we tease out hidden assumptions. Insights that seem deep and elusive from one perspective can become trivial and obvious from another.

Normally, economists understand market failure and government intervention in the light of ideal markets, but all such norms are reversed when it comes to money and banking. Many insights that are hard to come with conventional thinking, such as nominal GDP targeting, are relatively straightforward when understood in the light of free banking. The idea that people will seek alternatives to a given money when it’s suffering from a shortage of surplus is not just implicit in free banking, but is at the the core of what it means for there to be monetary competition in the first place.

© Copyright (2012) Lee Kelly

How I would like to teach Econ 101

Recently our friend Nick Rowe commented on what he considers to be wrong arguments by Joseph Stiglitz and Bryan Caplan. Nick obviously is a busy bee because he had time to write his comment in between exams (you might have noticed that the blogging among the Market Monetarist econ professors has gone down a bit recently – they have all been busy with exams I guess…). Nick’s comment and the fact that he was busy with exams inspired me to write this comment.

The purpose of my comment is not to comment on Nick’s view of Stiglitz and Caplan – Nick is of course right as usual so there no reason to try to disagree. However, something Nick said nonetheless is worthwhile commenting on. In his comment Nick states: “Macro is not the same as micro.”

That made me think – and this not to disagree with Nick but rather he inspired me to think about this – that maybe it is exactly the problem that the “normal” view is that macro and micro is not the same thing.

The fact is that when I started studying economics more than 20 years ago at the University of Copenhagen we where taught Micro 101 and Macro 101. There was basically no link between the two. In Micro with learned all the basic stuff – marginalism, general equilibrium, Walras’ Law and the Welfare theorems etc. In Macro 101 there was (initially) no mentioning of what we learned in Micro, but we instead started out with some Keynesian accounting: Y=C+I+G+X-M. Then we moved on to the IS-LM model. The AD-AS model did not get much attention at that time as far as I remember. Then we were told about some “crazy” people who thought that money matters, but that did not really fit into the models because we didn’t really differentiate between real and nominal. Why should we? Prices where fixed in our models. As a consequence most students of my time chose either to specialise in the highly technical and mathematically demanding microeconomic theory (that seemed very far away from the real world) or you focused on real world problems and specialised in macroeconomics which at that time was quite old school Keynesian. Things have since changed with the New Keynesian revolution and macroeconomics have now adopted a lot of the mathematical lingo and rational expectations have been introduced, but it is my feeling that most economics students both in Europe and the US to a very large degree still study Micro and Macro as very separated disciplines and that I think is a huge problem for how the average economist come to see the world.

While macroeconomics as discipline undoubtedly today has much more of a micro foundation than use to be the case the starting point often still is Y=C+I+G+X+M. So yes, we might have a micro foundation for how C (and I for that matter) is determined but we still end up adding up C (and I) with the other variables on the right hand side of the equation – leaving the impression that the causality runs from the right hand side of the equation to the left hand side of the equation. The next thing we do is to come up with some theory for inflation and then we add that on top of Y to get nominal GDP, but again this is rarely discussed. The world is just real to most econ students (and their professors). That then leave the impression that real GDP determines inflation (most often via a Phillips curve of some kind).

So what would I do differently? Well nothing much in terms of microeconomics. I guess that is more or less fine (To my Austrian friends: Maybe if somebody could elaborate on the entrepreneur and give a Nobel prize to Israel Kirzner for that then that could be part of Micro 101 as well). For the purpose of moving from micro the macro I think the most important thing is to understand general equilibrium and that in Arrow-Debreu world there are no recessions. Prices clear all markets. There are never over or under supply of goods and services.

“And then we move on to macroeconomics” the professors says. And instead of telling about Y=C+I+G+X-M he instead says…

“You remember that we had n goods and n prices and that one agent’s income was another person’s consumption/expenditure. Well, that is still the case in macroeconomics, but in the macroeconomy we also have something we call money!”

Lets assume we maintain the assumption that prices are flexible (wages are also prices). Then the professors tells about aggregation so instead we can aggregate prices into one price index P and all goods into one index Y.

And then professor smiles and says “its time to hear about the equation of exchange”:

(1) MV=PY

“Wauw!” screams the students. “You have just introduced money to the Arrow-Debreu World! Amazing!”. Did we just go from micro to macro? Yes we did!

The professor explains to the students that (1) can be rearranged into

(1)’ P=MV/Y

The professor tells the students that we call (1)’ the AD curve and that we can write a AS curve Y=f(K,L) (“you remember production functions from Micro 101” the professors notes).

The students are obviously very impressed, but they also think it is completely logical.

The professor has now introduced the AD-AS model (and the dynamic AD-AS model). Since AD is just (1)’ the professor has not started to talk about fiscal policy (what multiplier??). In his head the AD curve can be shifted by shocks to M or V, but that has nothing to do with fiscal policy. In “his” AD-AS model fiscal policy does really not exist, as it is basically a micro phenomenon – fiscal policy might have an impact on relative prices, but it has no impact on the PY aggregate and fiscal policy might impact the supply side of the economy, but not the AD-curve? No, of course not.

The students are of course eager to hear what their new tool “money” can be used for and a clever student asks “Professor, what is the optimal monetary policy?”.

The professors answers “Do you remember the welfare theorems?”.

Student: “Yes, of course professor”.

Professor: “Good, then it is simple – we need a monetary policy that ensures a Pareto optimal allocation of consumption between different goods (including capital goods) and periods”.

Student: “But professor in the Arrow-Debreu world the market (relative prices) took care of that”.

Professor: “Exactly! So we should ‘emulate’ that in the macro world – how do we do that?”

Student: “That’s easy! We just fix MV!”

Professor: “Correct – you are absolutely right. In the world of monetary policy we call that Nominal Income Targeting or NGDP level targeting. It is one of the oldest ideas in monetary theory”.

Student: “Wauw that is cool. So when we fix that we don’t really have to think about aggregation and the macroeconomy anymore – correct?”

Professor: “Correct – and we could easily move back to Micro now”

That is of course not the whole story – the professor will of course introduce rigid prices and rational expectations. And of course when the NGDP targeting is sorted out then the students realise that generating wealth and prosperity is about increasing productivity – and of course they will learn about the supply side, but again they learned about production functions and savings and investments in Micro 101. But there is no need to introduce Y=C+I+G+X-M. Obviously it still holds formally, but it is not really interesting in the sense of understanding macroeconomics.

So Nick is not totally correct – macro and micro is basically the same thing if we have NGDP targeting. Where things go wrong is when we mess up things with another monetary policy rule (for example inflation targeting), but that kind of imperfects we will introduce in the next semester!

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PS The very clever student might ask “who produces money?” – Professor Selgin would answer “that is up to the market” and the student will reply “that makes sense – the market produces and allocates other goods very well so why not money?”.

David Eagle’s framework and the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism

Over the last couple of days I have done a couple of posts on the work of David Eagle (and Dale Domian). I guess that there still are a few posts that could be written on this topic. This is the next one.

Even though David Eagle’s work has been focusing on what he and Dale Domian have termed Quasi-Real Indexing I believe that his work is highly relevant for Market Monetarists. In this post I will try to draw up some lessons we can learn from David Eagle’s work and how it could be relevant to formulating a more consistent micro-foundation for Market Monetarism.

There are a no recessions in a world without money

The starting point in most of Eagle’s research is an Arrow-Debreu model of the world. Similarly the starting point for Market Monetarists like Nick Rowe and Bill Woolsey is Say’s Law – that supply creates its own demand. (See for example Nick on Say’s Law here).

This starting point is a world without money and both in the A-D model and under Say’s Law there can not be recessions in the sense of general glut in the product and labour markets.

However, once money and sticky prices and wages are introduced – both by Market Monetarists and by David Eagle – then we can have recessions. Hence, for Market Monetarists and David Eagle recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

N=PY – the simple way to illustrate some MM positions

In a number of his papers David Eagle introduces a simplified version of the equation of exchange where he re-writes MV=PY to N=PY. Hence, Eagle sees MV not some two variables, but rather as one variable – nominal spending (N), which is under the control the central bank. This is in fact quite similar to Market Monetarists thinking. While “old” monetarists traditional have assumed that V is constant (or is “stationary”) Market Monetarists acknowledges that this position no longer can be empirically supported. That is the reason why Market Monetarists have focused on the right hand side of the equation of exchange rather than on the left hand side like “old” monetarists like Milton Friedman used to do.

I, however, think that Eagle’s simplified equation of exchange has some merit in terms of clarifying some key Market Monetarist positions.

First of all N=PY gets us from micro to macro. Hence, PY is not one price and one output, but numerous prices and outputs. If N is kept constant that is basically the Arrow-Debreu world. That illustrates the point that we need changes in N to get recessions.

Second, N=PY can be a rearranged to P=N/Y. Hence, inflation is the “outcome” of the relationship between nominal spending (N) and real GDP (Y). In terms of causality this also illustrates (but it does not necessary prove) another key Market Monetarist point, which often has been put forward by especially Scott Sumner that nominal income (N) causes P and Y and not the other way around (See here and here). This is contrary to the New Keynesian formulation of the Phillips curve, where “excessive” growth in real GDP relative to “trend” GDP increases “price pressures”.

Third, P=N/Y also illustrates that there are two sources of price changes – nominal spending (N) and supply shocks. This lead us to another key Market Monetarist position – also stressed strongly by David Eagle – that there is good and bad inflation/deflation. This is a point stressed often by David Beckworth (See here and here). David Eagle of course uses this insight to argue that normal inflation indexing is sub-optimal to what he has termed Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI). This of course is similar to why Market Monetarists prefer NGDP targeting to Price Level Targeting (and inflation targeting).

The welfare economic arguments for NGDP targeting

In an Arrow-Debreu world the allocation is Pareto optimal and with fully flexible prices and wages changes in N will have no impact on allocation and an increase or a drop in N will have no impact on economic welfare. However, if we introduce sticky prices and wages in the model then unexpected changes in N will reduce welfare in the traditional neo-classical sense. Hence, to ensure Pareto optimality we have two options.

1)   The monetary institutional set-up should ensure a stable and predictable N. We can do that with a central bank that targets the NGDP level or with a Free Banking set-up (that ensures a stable N in a perfect competition Free Banking system). Hence, while Market Monetarists mostly argue in favour of NGDP from a macroeconomic perspective David Eagle’s framework also gives a strong welfare theoretical argument for NGDP targeting.

2)   (Full) Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI) will also ensure a Pareto optimal outcome – even with stick prices and wages and changes in N. David Eagle and Dale Domian have argued that QRI could be used to “immunise” the economy from recessions. Market Monetarists (other than myself) have so far as I know now directly addressed the usefulness of QRI.

Remaining with in the simplified version of the equation of exchange (N=PY) NGDP targeting focuses on left hand side of the equation, which can be determined by monetary policy, while QRI is focused on the right hand side of the equation. Obviously with one of the two in place the other would not be needed.

In my view the main problem with QRI is that the right hand side of the equation is not just one price and one output but millions of prices and outputs and the price system plays a extremely important role in the allocation of resources in the economy. It is therefore also impossible to expect some kind of “centralised” QRI (god forbid anybody would get such an idea…). I am pretty sure that my fellow Market Monetarist bloggers feel the same way. That said, I think that QRI can useful in understanding why the drop in nominal spending (N) has had such a negative impact on RGDP in the US and other places.

Furthermore, as I stressed in an earlier post QRI might be useful in housing funding reform in the US – as suggested by David Eagle. Furthermore, it is obviously QRI based government bonds could be used in the conduct of NGDP targeting – as in line with what Scott Sumner for example has suggested and as in fact also suggested by David Eagle.

David Eagle should inspire Market Monetarists

In conclusion I think that David Eagle’s and Dale Damion’s on work on both NGDP targeting and QRI will be a useful input to the further development of the Market Monetarist paradigm and I especially think it will be helpful in a more precise description of the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism.

PS David Eagle has also done work on interest rates targeting and is highly critical of Michael Woodford’s New Keynesian perspective on monetary policy. This research is relatively technical and not easily assessable, but should surely be of interest to Market Monetarists as well.

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See my other posts on David Eagle and Dale Domian:
Quasi-Real indexing – indexing for Market Monetarists
A simple housing rescue package – QRI Mortgages and NGDP targeting
David Eagle on “Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery”

Friedman’s thermostat and why he obviously would support a NGDP target

In a recent comment Dan Alpert argues that Milton Friedman would be against NGDP targeting. I have the exact opposite view and I am increasingly convinced that Milton Friedman would be a strong supporter of NGDP targeting.

Ed Dolan as the same view as I have (I have stolen this from Scott Sumner):

“I see NGDP targeting as the natural heir to monetarist policy prescriptions of the 1960s and 70s…If we look at the textbook version of monetarism, the point is almost trivial. Textbook monetarism begins from the equation of exchange, MV=PQ, where M is money (M1, back in the day), V is velocity, P is the price level, Q is real GDP, and PQ is NGDP. Next it adds the simplifying assumption that velocity is constant. It follows that targeting a steady rate of money growth is identical to targeting a steady rate of NGDP growth.”

Dolan’s clear argument reminded me of Friedman’s paper from 2003 “The Fed’s Thermostat”.

Here is Friedman:

“To keep prices stable, the Fed must see to it that the quantity of money changes in such a way as to offset movements in velocity and output. Velocity is ordinarily very stable, fluctuating only mildly and rather randomly around a mild long-term trend from year to year. So long as that is the case, changes in prices (inflation or deflation) are dominated by what happens to the quantity of money per unit of output…since the mid ’80s, it (the Fed) has managed to control the money supply in such a way as to offset changes not only in output but also in velocity…The improvement in performance is all the more remarkable because velocity behaved atypically, rising sharply from 1990 to 1997 and then declining sharply — a veritable bubble in velocity. Velocity peaked in 1997 at nearly 20% above its trend value and then fell sharply, returning to its trend value in the second quarter of 2003.…The relatively low and stable inflation for this period …means that the Fed successfully offset both the decline in the demand for money (the rise in V) before 1973 and the subsequent increase in the demand for money. During the rise in velocity from 1988 to 1997, the Fed kept monetary growth down to 3.2% a year; during the subsequent decline in velocity, it boosted monetary growth to 7.5% a year.”

Hence, Friedman clearly acknowledges that when velocity is unstable the central bank should “offset” the changes in velocity. This is exactly the Market Monetarist view – as so clearly stated by Ed Dolan above.

So why did Friedman man not come out and support NGDP targeting? To my knowledge he never spoke out against NGDP targeting. To be frank I think he never thought of the righthand side of the equation of exchange – he was focused on the the instruments rather than on outcome in policy formulation. I am sure had he been asked today he would clearly had supported NGDP targeting.

The only difference I possibly could see between what Friedman would advocate and what Market Monetarists are arguing today is whether to target NGDP growth or a path for the NGDP level.

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PS I am not the first Market Monetarist to write about Friedman’s Thermostat – both Nick Rowe and David Beckworth have blogged about it before.

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