The very unpleasant echo from the 1930s

I am trying very hard not to become alarmist, but I must admit that I see very little positive news at the moment and I continue to see three elements – monetary policy failure/weak growth, the rise of extremist politics (Trump, Orban, Erdogan, Putin, ISIS etc) and sharply rising geopolitical tensions coming together to a very unpleasant cocktail that brings back memories of the 1930s and the run up to the second World War.

It has long been my hypothesis that the contraction in the global economy on the back of the Great Recession – which in my view mostly is a result of monetary policy failure – is causing a rise in political extremism both in Europe (Syriza, Golden Dawn, Orban etc) and the US (Trump) and also to a fractionalization and polarization of politics in normally democratic nations.

That is leading to the appeal of right-wing populists like Donald Trump, but equally to the appeal of islamist groups like ISIS among immigrant youth in for example France and Belgium. Once the democratic alternative loses its appeal extremists and populists will gain ground.

The geopolitical version of this is Ukraine and Syria (and to some extent the South China Sea). With no growth the appeal of protectionism and ultimately of war increases.

Unfortunately the parallels to the 1930s are very clear – without overstating it try to look at this:

  • Syrian war vs Spanish civil war: Direct and indirect involvement of authoritarian foreign regimes (Stalin/Hitler vs Erdogan/Putin)
  • Euro  zone vs the gold standard
  • The rise of populists and extremists: Communists, Nazis and Fascists vs Syriza, Golden Dawn, Jobbik, Orban, regional separatism in Europe, anti-immigrant sentiment, Trump and ISIS (in Europe) etc.
  • The weakening (failure?) of democratic institution: Weimar Republic vs the total polarization of politics across Europe – weak and unpopular minority governments with no “political muscle” for true economic reforms across Europe.

Maybe this is too alarmist, but you would have to be blind to the lessons from history not to see this. However, that does not mean that history will repeat itself – I certain hope not – but if we ignore the similarities to the 1930s things will only get worse from here.

PS if you are looking for more empirical evidence on these issues then have a look at Manuel Funke, Moritz Schularick and Christoph Trebesch’s recent very good post on on The political aftermath of financial crises: Going to extremes.

HT Otto Brøns-Petersen.


If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: or

The un-anchoring of inflation expectations – 1970s style monetary policy, but now with deflation

In country after country it is now becoming clear that we are heading for outright deflation. This is particularly the case in Europe – both inside and outside the euro area – where most central banks are failing to keep inflation close to their own announced inflation targets.

What we are basically seeing is an un-anchoring of inflation expectations. What is happening in my view is that central bankers are failing to take responsibility for inflation and in a broader sense for the development in nominal spending. Central bankers simply are refusing to provide an nominal anchor for the economy.

To understand this process and to understand what has gone wrong I think it is useful to compare the situation in two distinctly different periods – the Great Inflation (1970s and earlier 1980s) and the Great Moderation (from the mid-1980s to 2007/8).

The Great Inflation – “Blame somebody else for inflation”

Monetary developments were quite similar across countries in the Western world during the 1970s. What probably best describes monetary policy in this period is that central banks in general did not take responsibility for the development in inflation and in nominal spending – maybe with the exception of the Bundesbank and the Swiss National Bank.

In Milton Friedman’s wonderful TV series Free to Choose from 1980 he discusses how central bankers were blaming everybody else than themselves for inflation (see here)

As Friedman points out labour unions, oil prices (the OPEC) and taxes were said to have caused inflation to have risen. That led central bankers like then Fed chairman Arthur Burns to argue that to reduce inflation it was necessary to introduce price and wage controls.

Friedman of course rightly argued that the only way to curb inflation was to reduce central bank money creation, but in the 1970s most central bankers had lost faith in the fundamental truth of the quantity theory of money.

Said in another way central bankers in the 1970s simply refused to take responsibility for the development in nominal spending and therefore for inflation. As a consequence inflation expectations became un-anchored as the central banks did not provide an nominal anchor. The result was predictable (for any monetarist) – the price level driffed aimlessly, inflation increased, became highly volatile and unpredictable.

Another thing which was characteristic about monetary policy in 1970s was the focus on trade-offs – particularly the Phillips curve relationship that there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment (even in the long run). Hence, central bankers used high unemployment – caused by supply side factors – as an excuse not to curb money creation and hence inflation. We will see below that central bankers today find similar excuses useful when they refuse to take responsibility for ensuring nominal stability.

The Great Moderation – “Inflation is always and everywhere monetary phenomenon” 

That all started to change as Milton Friedman’s monetarist counterrevolution started to gain influence during the 1970s and in 1979 the newly appointed Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker started what would become a global trend towards central banks again taking responsibility for providing nominal stability and in the early 1990s central banks around the world moved to implement clearly defined nominal policy rules – mostly in the form of inflation targets (mostly around 2%) starting with the Reserve Bank of  New Zealand in 1990.

Said in the other way from the mid-1980s or so central banks started to believe in Milton Friedman’s dictum that “Inflation is always and everywhere monetary phenomenon” and more importantly they started to act as if they believed in this dictum. The result was predictable – inflation came down dramatically and became a lot more predictable and nominal spending/NGDP growth became stable.

By taking responsibility for nominal stability central banks around the world had created an nominal anchor, which ensured that the price mechanism in general could ensure an efficient allocation of resources. This was the great success of the Great Moderation period.

The only problem was that few central bankers understood why and how this was working. Robert Hetzel obvious was and still is a notable exception and he is telling us that reason we got nominal stability is exactly because central banks took responsibility for providing a nominal anchor.

That unfortunately ended suddenly in 2008.

The Great Recession – back to the bad habits of the 1970s

If we compare the conduct of monetary policy around the world over the past 5-6 years with the Great Inflation and Great Moderation periods I think it is very clear that we to a large extent has returned to the bad habits of the 1970s. That particularly is the case in Europe, while there are signs that monetary policy in the US, the UK and Japan is gradually moving back to practices similar to the Great Moderation period.

So what are the similarities with the 1970s?

1) Central banks refuse to acknowledge inflation (and NGDP growth) is a monetary phenomenon.

2) Central banks are concerned about trade-offs and have multiple targets (often none-monetary) rather focusing on one nominal target. 

Regarding 1) We have again and again heard central bankers say that they are “out of ammunition” and that they cannot ease monetary policy because interest rates are at zero – hence they are indirectly saying that they cannot control nominal spending growth, the money supply and the price level. Again and again we have heard ECB officials say that the monetary transmission mechanism is “broken”.

Regarding 2) Since 2008 central banks around the world have de facto given up on their inflation targets. In Europe for now nearly two years inflation has undershot the inflation targets of the ECB, the Riksbank, the Polish central bank, the Czech central bank and the Swiss National Bank etc.

And to make matters worse these central banks quite openly acknowledge that they don’t care much about the fact that they are not fulfilling their own stated inflation targets. Why? Because they are concerning themselves with other new (ad hoc!) targets – such as the development in asset prices or household debt.

The Swedish Riksbank is an example of this. Under the leadership of Riksbank governor the Stefan Ingves the Riksbank has de facto given up its inflation targeting regime and is now targeting everything from inflation, credit growth, property prices and household debt. This is completely ad hoc as the Riksbank has not even bothered to tell anybody what weight to put on these different targets.

It is therefore no surprise that the markets no longer see the Riksbank’s official 2% inflation target as credible. Hence, market expectations for Swedish inflation is consistency running below 2%. In 1970s the Riksbank failed because it effectively was preoccupied with hitting an unemployment target. Today the Riksbank is failing – for the same reason: It is trying to hit another other non-monetary target – the level of household debt.

European central bankers in the same way as in the 1970s no longer seem to understand or acknowledge that they have full control of nominal spending growth and therefore inflation and as a consequence they de facto have given up providing a nominal anchor for the economy. The result is that we are seeing a gradual un-anchoring of inflation expectations in Europe and this I believe is the reason that we are likely to see deflation becoming the “normal” state of affairs in Europe unless fundamental policy change is implemented.

Every time we get a new minor or larger negative shock to the European economy – banking crisis in Portugal or fiscal and political mess in France – we will just sink even deeper into deflation and since there is nominal anchor nothing will ensure that we get out of the deflationary trap. This is of course the “Japanese scenario” where the Bank of Japan for nearly two decade refused to take responsibility for providing an nominal anchor.

And as we continue to see a gradual unchoring of inflation expectations it is also clear that the economic system is becomimg increasingly dysfunctional and the price system will work less and less efficiently – exactly as in the 1970s. The only difference is really that while the problem in 1970s was excessively high inflation the problem today is deflation. But the reason is the same – central banks refusal to take responsibility for providing a nominal anchor.

Shock therapy is needed to re-anchor inflation expectations

The Great Inflation came to an end when central banks around the world finally took responsibility for providing a nominal anchor for the economy through a rule based monetary policy based on the fact that the central bank is in full control of nominal spending growth in the economy. To do that ‘shock therapy’ was needed.

For example example the Federal Reserve starting in 1979-82 fundamentally changed its policy and communication about its policy. It took responsibility for providing nominal stability. That re-anchored inflation expectations in the US and started a period of a very high level of nominal stability – stable and predictable growth in nominal spending and inflation.

To get back to a Great Moderation style regime central banks need to be completely clear that they take responsibility for for ensuring nominal stability and that they acknowledge that they have full control of nominal spending growth and as a consequence also the development in inflation. That can be done by introducing a clear nominal targeting – either restating inflation targets or even better introducing a NGDP targeting.

Furthermore, central banks should make it clear that there is no limits on the central bank’s ability to create money and controlling the money base. Finally central banks should permanently make it clear that you can’t have your cake and eat it – central banks can only have one target. It is the Tinbergen rule. There is one instrument – the money base – should the central bank can only hit one target. Doing anything else will end in disaster. 

The Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan have certainly moved in that direction of providing a nominal anchor in the last couple of years, while most central banks in Europe – including most importantly the ECB – needs a fundamental change of direction in policy to achieve a re-anchoring of inflation expectations and thereby avoiding falling even deeper into the deflationary trap.


PS This post has been greatly inspired by re-reading a number of papers by Robert Hetzel on the Quantity Theory of Money and how to understand the importance of central bank credibility. In that sense this post is part of my series of “Tribute posts” to Robert Hetzel in connection with his 70 years birthday.

PPS Above I assume that central banks have responsibility for providing a nominal anchor for the economy. After all if a central bank has a monopoly on money creation then the least it can do is to live up to this responsibility. Otherwise it seems pretty hard to argue why there should be any central bank at all.

Going Down Under with Scott Sumner

This is Scott Sumner (“A New View of The Great Recession”):

”Five years on, economists still don’t agree on the causes of the financial crisis of 2007–08. Nor do they agree on the correct policy response to the subsequent recession. But one issue on which there is almost universal agreement is that the financial crisis caused the Great Recession. In this essay, I suggest that the conventional view is wrong, and that the financial crisis did not cause the recession—tight money did.

This new view must overcome two difficult hurdles. Most people think it is obvious that the financial crisis caused the recession, and many are incredulous when they hear the claim that monetary policy has been contractionary in recent years. The first part of the essay will explain why the conventional view is wrong; monetary policy has indeed been quite contractionary in the United States, Europe and Japan (but not in Australia.) The second part will explain how people have reversed causation, attributing the recession to the financial crisis, when in fact to a large extent the causation went the other direction.”

Would you like to read more? You can if you get a copy of Australia’s leading free market think tank Centre for Independent Studies’ excellent quarterly journal Policy. Policy is edited by Stephen Kirchner. Stephen also blogs at Institutional Economics.

You can subscribe to Policy here.

And there is more good news for the Australians. Scott will soon visit the country Down Under. Scott will attend CIS’s Consilium conference next month.

When US 30-year yields hit 5% the Great Recession will be over

US bond yields are spiking today. You might expect me to celebrate it and say this is great (while everybody else are freaking out…) Well, you are right – it doesn’t worry me the least bit.

That said, the US story is not necessarily the same story as the Japanese story. Hence, while Japanese real yields actually have declined sharply US real yields continue to rise as break-even inflation in the US has actually declined recently – most likely on the back of a positive supply shock due to lower commodity prices.

But obviously higher real yields should only be a worry if it is out sync with the development in the economy – as in 2008-9 when real yields and rates spiked, while at the same time the economy collapsed. However, if the economy is in recovery it is only naturally that real yields and rates start to rise as the recovery matures as it certainly seems to be the case in the US.

Anyway, this is not really what I wanted to discuss. Instead I was reminded about something Greenspan said 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.

Yes, that is correct. Greenspan was thinking that the Federal Reserve should (or actually did) target NGDP growth of 4.5%. Furthermore, he (indirectly) said that that would correspond to 30-year US Treasury yields being around 5.5%.

This is more or less also what we had all through the Great Moderation – or rather both 5% 30-year yields and 5% NGDP growth. However, the story is different today. While, NGDP growth expectations for the next 1-2 years are around 4-5% (ish) 30-year bond yields are around 3.3%. This in my view is a pretty good illustration that while the US economy is in recovery market participants remain very doubtful that we are about to return to a New Great Moderation of stable 5% NGDP growth.

That said, with yields continuing to rise faster than the acceleration in NGDP growth we can say that we are seeing a gradual return to something more like the Great Moderation. That obviously is great news.

In fact I would argue that when US 30-year hopefully again soon hit 5% then I think that we at that time will have to conclude that the Great Recession finally has come to an end. Last time US 30-year yields were at 5% was in the last year of the Great Moderation – 2007.

We are still very far away from 5% yields, but we are getting closer than we have been for a very long time – thanks to the fed’s change of policy regime in September last year.

Finally, when US 30-year bond yields hit 5% I will stop calling for US monetary easing. I will, however, not stop calling for a proper transparent and rule-based NGDP level targeting regime before we get that.

The root of most fallacies in economics: Forgetting to ask WHY prices change

Even though I am a Dane and work for a Danish bank I tend to not follow the Danish media too much – after all my field of work is international economics. But I can’t completely avoid reading Danish newspapers. My greatest frustration when I read the financial section of Danish newspapers undoubtedly is the tendency to reason from different price changes – for example changes in the price of oil or changes in bond yields – without discussing the courses of the price change.

The best example undoubtedly is changes in (mortgage) bond yields. Denmark has been a “safe haven” in the financial markets so when the euro crisis escalated in 2011 Danish bond yields dropped dramatically and short-term government bond yields even turned negative. That typically triggered the following type of headline in Danish newspapers: “Danish homeowners benefit from the euro crisis” or “The euro crisis is good news for the Danish economy”.

However, I doubt that any Danish homeowner felt especially happy about the euro crisis. Yes, bond yields did drop and that cut the interest rate payments for homeowners with floating rate mortgages. However, bond yields dropped for a reason – a sharp deterioration of the growth outlook in the euro zone due to the ECB’s two unwarranted interest rate hikes in 2011. As Denmark has a pegged exchange rate to the euro Denmark “imported” the ECB’s monetary tightening and with it also the prospects for lower growth. For the homeowner that means a higher probability of becoming unemployed and a prospect of seeing his or her property value go down as the Danish economy contracted. In that environment lower bond yields are of little consolation.

Hence, the Danish financial journalists failed to ask the crucial question why bond yields dropped. Or said in another way they failed to listen to the advice of Scott Sumner who always tells us not to reason from a price change.

This is what Scott has to say on the issue:

My suggestion is that people should never reason from a price change, but always start one step earlier—what caused the price to change.  If oil prices fall because Saudi Arabia increases production, then that is bullish news.  If oil prices fall because of falling AD in Europe, that might be expansionary for the US.  But if oil prices are falling because the euro crisis is increasing the demand for dollars and lowering AD worldwide; confirmed by falls in commodity prices, US equity prices, and TIPS spreads, then that is bearish news.

I totally agree. When we see a price change – for example oil prices or bond yields – we should ask ourselves why prices are changing if we want to know what macroeconomic impact the price change will have. It is really about figuring out whether the price change is caused by demand or supply shocks.

The euro strength is not necessarily bad news – more on the currency war that is not a war

A very good example of this general fallacy of forgetting to ask why prices are changing is the ongoing discussion of the “currency war”. From the perspective of some European policy makers – for example the French president Hollande – the Bank of Japan’s recent significant stepping up of monetary easing is bad news for the euro zone as it has led to a strengthening of the euro against most other major currencies in the world. The reasoning is that a stronger euro is hurting European “competitiveness” and hence will hurt European exports and therefore lower European growth.

This of course is a complete fallacy. Even ignoring the fact that the ECB can counteract any negative impact on European aggregate demand (the Sumner critique also applies for exports) we can see that this is a fallacy. What the “currency war worriers” fail to do is to ask why the euro is strengthening.

The euro is of course strengthening not because the ECB has tightened monetary policy but because the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve have stepped up monetary easing.

With the Fed and the BoJ significantly stepping up monetary easing the growth prospects for the largest and the third largest economies in the world have greatly improved. That surely is good news for European exporters. Yes, European exporters might have seen a slight erosion of their competitiveness, but I am pretty sure that they happily will accept that if they are told that Japanese and US aggregate demand – and hence imports – will accelerate strongly.

Instead of just looking at the euro rate European policy makers should consult more than one price (the euro rate) and look at other financial market prices – for example European stock prices. European stock prices have in fact increased significantly since August-September when the markets started to price in more aggressive monetary easing from the Fed and the BoJ. Or look at bond yields in the so-called PIIGS countries – they have dropped significantly. Both stock prices and bond yields in Europe hence are indicating that the outlook for the European economy is improving rather than deteriorating.

The oil price fallacy – growth is not bad news, but war in the Middle East is

A very common fallacy is to cry wolf when oil prices are rising – particularly in the US. The worst version of this fallacy is claiming that Federal Reserve monetary easing will be undermined by rising oil prices.

This of course is complete rubbish. If the Fed is easing monetary policy it will increase aggregate demand/NGDP and likely also NGDP in a lot of other countries in the world that directly or indirectly is shadowing Fed policy. Hence, with global NGDP rising the demand for commodities is rising – the global AD curve is shifting to the right. That is good news for growth – not bad news.

Said another way when the AD curve is shifting to the right – we are moving along the AS curve rather than moving the AS curve. That should never be a concern from a growth perspective. However, if oil prices are rising not because of the Fed or the actions of other central banks – for example because of fears of war in the Middle East then we have to be concerned from a growth perspective. This kind of thing of course is what happened in 2011 where the two major supply shocks – the Japanese tsunami and the revolutions in Northern Africa – pushed up oil prices.

At the time the ECB of course committed a fallacy by reasoning from one price change – the rise in European HICP inflation. The ECB unfortunately concluded that monetary policy was too easy as HICP inflation increased. Had the ECB instead asked why inflation was increasing then we would likely have avoided the rate hikes – and hence the escalation of the euro crisis. The AD curve (which the ECB effectively controls) had not shifted to the right in the euro area. Instead it was the AS curve that had shifted to the left. The ECB’s failure to ask why prices were rising nearly caused the collapse of the euro.

The money supply fallacy – the fallacy committed by traditional monetarists 

Traditional monetarists saw the money supply as the best and most reliable indicator of the development in prices (P) and nominal spending (PY). Market Monetarists do not disagree that there is a crucial link between money and prices/nominal spending. However, traditional monetarists tend(ed) to always see the quantity of money as being determined by the supply of money and often disregarded changes in the demand for money. That made perfectly good sense for example in the 1970s where the easy monetary policies were the main driver of the money supply in most industrialized countries, but that was not the case during the Great Moderation, where the money supply became “endogenous” due to a rule-based monetary policies or during the Great Recession where money demand spiked in particularly the US.

Hence, where traditional monetarists often fail – Allan Meltzer is probably the best example today – is that they forget to ask why the quantity of money is changing. Yes, the US money base exploded in 2008 – something that worried Meltzer a great deal – but so did the demand for base money. In fact the supply of base money failed to increase enough to counteract the explosion in demand for US money base, which effectively was a massive tightening of US monetary conditions.

So while Market Monetarists like myself certainly think money is extremely important we are skeptical about using the money supply as a singular indicator of the stance of monetary policy. Therefore, if we analyse money supply data we should constantly ask ourselves why the money supply is changing – is it really the supply of money increasing or is it the demand for money that is increasing? The best way to do that is to look at market data. If market expectations for inflation are going up, stock markets are rallying, the yield curve is steepening and global commodity prices are increasing then it is pretty reasonable to assume global monetary conditions are getting easier – whether or not the money supply is increasing or decreasing.

Finally I should say that my friends Bob Hetzel and David Laidler would object to this characterization of traditional monetarism. They would say that of course one should look at the balance between money demand and money supply to assess whether monetary conditions are easy or tight. And I would agree – traditional monetarists knew that very well, however, I would also argue that even Milton Friedman from time to time forgot it and became overly focused on money supply growth.

And finally I happily will admit committing that fallacy very often and I still remain committed to studying money supply data – after all being a Market Monetarist means that you still are 95% old-school traditional monetarist at least in my book.

PS maybe the root of all bad econometrics is the also forgetting to ask WHY prices change.

The Hetzel-Ireland Synthesis

I am writing this while I am flying with Delta Airlines over the Atlantic. I will be speaking about the European crisis at a seminar on Friday at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

I must admit that it has been a bit of a challenge to blog in recent weeks. Mostly because both my professional and my private life have been demanding. After all blogging is something I do in my spare time. So even though I wanted to blog a lot about the latest FOMC decision and the world in general I have simply not been able to get out the message. Furthermore – and this will interest many of my readers – Robert Hetzel and his wonderful wife Mary visited Denmark last week. Bob had a very busy schedule – and so did I as I attended all of Bob’s presentations in Copenhagen that week. Bob told me before his presentations that I would not be disappointed and that none of the presentations would be a “rerun”. Bob is incredible – all of this presentations covered different countries and topics. Obviously there was a main theme: The central banks failed.

I must admit after three days of following Bob and having the privilege to hear him talk about the University of Chicago in 1970s and his stories about Milton Friedman I simply had an mental “overload”. I had a very hard time expressing my monetary policy views – and the major policy turnaround at the Fed didn’t make it easier.

Anyway I feel that I have to share some of Bob’s incredible insight after his visit to Copenhagen, but I also feel that whatever I write will not do justice to his views.

So I have chosen a different way of doing it. Instead of telling you what Bob said in Copenhagen I will try to tell the story about how (a clever version of) New Keynesian economics and Monetarism could come to similar conclusions – and that merger is really Market Monetarism.

Why is that? I have for some time wanted to write something about a couple of new and very interesting, but slightly technical paper by Mike Belongia and Peter Ireland. Both Mike and Peter have a monetarist background, but Peter has done a lot work in the more technical New Keynesian tradition. And that is what I will focus on here, but I promise to return to Mike’s and Peter’s other papers.

The other day my colleague and good friend Jens Pedersen sent me a paper Peter wrote in 2010 – “A New Keynesian Perspective on the Great Recession”. When I read the paper I realised how I was going to write the story about Bob’s visit to Copenhagen.

Bob’s and Peter’s explanations of the Great Recession are exactly the same – just told within slightly different frameworks. Bob first wrote a piece on the Great Recession it in 2009 and Peter wrote his piece in 2010.

Peter and Bob are friends and both have been at the Richmond fed so it is not totally surprising that their stories of what happened in 2008-9 are rather similar, but I nonetheless think that we can learn quite a bit from how these two great intellects think about the crisis.

So what is the common story?

In think we have to go back to Milton Friedman’s Permanent Income Hypothesis (PIH). While at the Richmond Peter while at the Richmond fed in 1995 actually wrote about PIH and how it could be used for forecasting purposes. And one thing I noticed at all of Bob’s presentations in Copenhagen was how he returned to Irving Fisher and the determination of interests as a trade off between consumption today and in the future. Friedman and Fisher in my view are at the core of Bob’s and Peter’s thinking of the Great Recession.

So here is the Peter and Bob story: In 2007-8 the global economy was hit by a large negative supply shock in the form of higher oil prices. That pushed up US inflation and as a consequence US consumers reduced their expectations for their future income – or rather their Permanent Income. With the outlook for Permanent Income worsening interest rates should drop. However, as interest rates hit zero the Federal Reserve failed to ease monetary policy because it was unprepared for a world of zero interest rates. The Fed should of course more aggressively moved to a policy of monetary easing through an increase in the money base. The fed moved in that direction, but it was too late and too little and as a result monetary conditions tightened sharply particularly in late 2008 and during 2009. That can be described within a traditional monetarist framework as Bob do his excellent book “The Great Recession – policy failure or market failure” (on in his 2009 paper on the same topic) or within an intelligent New Keynesian framework as Peter do in his 2010 paper.

Peter uses the term a “New Keyensian Perspective” in his 2010. However, he does not make the mistakes many New Keynesians do. First, for all he realizes that low nominal interest rates is not easy monetary policy. Second, he do not assume that the central bank is always making the right decisions and finally he realizes that monetary policy is not out of ammunition when interest rates hit zero. Therefore, he might as well have called his paper a “New Friedmanite-Fisherian Perspective on the Great Recession”.

Anyway, try read Bob’s book (and his 2009 paper) and Peter’s paper(s). Then you will realize that Milton Friedman and Irving Fisher is all you need to understand this crisis and the way out of is.

I am finalizing this post after having arrived to my hotel in Provo, Utah and have had a night of sleeping – damn time difference. I look forward to some very interesting days at BYU, but I am not sure that I will have much time for blogging.

David Laidler: “Two Crises, Two Ideas and One Question”

The main founding fathers of monetarism to me always was Milton Friedman, Anna Schwartz, Karl Brunner, Allan Meltzer and David Laidler. The three first have all now passed away and Allan Meltzer to some extent seems to have abandoned monetarism. However, David Laidler is still going strong and maintains his monetarist views. David has just published a new and very interesting paper – “Two Crises, Two Ideas and One Question” – in which he compares the Great Depression and the Great Recession through the lens of history of economic thought.

David’s paper is interesting in a number of respects and any student of economic history and history of economic thought will find it useful to read the paper. I particularly find David’s discussion of the views of Allan Meltzer and other (former!?) monetarists interesting. David makes it clear that he think that they have given up on monetarism or as he express it in footnote 18:

“In this group, with which I would usually expect to find myself in agreement (about the Great Recession), I include, among others, Thomas Humphrey, Allan Meltzer, the late Anna Schwartz, and John Taylor, though the latter does not have quite the same track record as a monetarist as do the others.”

Said in another way David basically thinks that these economists have given up on monetarism. However, according to David monetarism is not dead as another other group of economists today continues to carry the monetarist torch – footnote 18 continues:

“Note that I self-consciously exclude such commentators as Timothy Congdon (2011), Robert Hetzel (2012) and that group of bloggers known as the “market monetarists”, which includes Lars Christensen, Scott Sumner, Nicholas Rowe …. – See Christensen (2011) for a survey of their work – from this list. These have all consistently advocated measures designed to increase money growth in recent years, and have sounded many themes similar to those explored here in theory work.”

I personally think it is a tremendous boost to the intellectual standing of Market Monetarism that no other than David Laidler in this way recognize the work of the Market Monetarists. Furthermore and again from a personal perspective when David recognizes Market Monetarist thinking in this way and further goes on to advocate monetary easing as a respond to the present crisis I must say that it confirms that we (the Market Monetarists) are right in our analysis of the crisis and helps my convince myself that I have not gone completely crazy. But read David’s paper – there is much more to it than praise of Market Monetarism.

PS This year it is exactly 30 years ago David’s book “Monetarist Perspectives” was published. I still would recommend the book to anybody interested in monetary theory. It had a profound impact on me when I first read it in the early 1990s, but I must say that when I reread it a couple of months ago I found myself in even more agreement with it than was the case 20 years ago.

Update: David Glasner also comments on Laidler’s paper.

Between the money supply and velocity – the euro zone vs the US

When crisis hit in 2008 it was mostly called the subprime crisis and it was normally assumed that the crisis had an US origin. I have always been skeptical about the US centric description of the crisis. As I see it the initial “impulse” to the crisis came from Europe rather than the US. However, the consequence of this impulse stemming from Europe led to a “passive” tightening of US monetary conditions as the Fed failed to meet the increased demand for dollars.

The collapse in both nominal (and real) GDP in the US and the euro zone in 2008-9 was very similar, but the “composition” of the shock was very different. In Europe the shock to NGDP came from a sharp drop in money supply growth, while the contraction in US NGDP was a result of a sharp contraction in money-velocity. The graphs below illustrate this.

The first graph is a graph with the broad money supply relative to the pre-crisis trend (2000-2007) in the euro zone and the US. The second graph is broad money velocity in the US and the euro zone relative to the pre-crisis trend (2000-2007).

The graphs very clearly illustrates that there has been a massive monetary contraction in the euro zone as a result of M3 significantly undershooting the pre-crisis trend. Had the ECB kept M3 growth on the pre-crisis trend then euro zone nominal GDP would long ago returned to the pre-crisis trend. On the other hand the Federal Reserve has actually been able to keep M2 on the pre-crisis path. However, that has not been enough to keep US NGDP on trend as M2-velocity has contracted sharply relative the pre-crisis trend.

Said in another way a M3 growth target of for example 6.5% would basically have been as good as an NGDP level target for the euro zone as velocity has returned to the pre-crisis trend. However, that would not have been the case in the US and that I my view illustrates why an NGDP level target is much preferable to a money supply target.

The European origin of the crisis – or how European banks caused a tightening of US monetary policy

Not surprisingly the focus of the discussion of the causes of the crisis often is on the US given both the subprime debacle and the collapse of Lehman Brothers. However, I believe that the shock actually (mostly) originated in Europe rather than the US. What happened in 2008 was that we saw a sharp rise in dollar demand coming from the European financial sector. This is best illustrated by the sharp drop in EUR/USD from close to 1.60 in July 2008 to 1.25 in early November 2008. The rise in dollar demand is obviously what caused the collapse in US money-velocity and in that regard it is notable that the rise in money demand in Europe primarily was an increase in demand for dollar rather than for euros.

This is why I stress the European origin of the crisis. However, the cause of the crisis nonetheless was a tightening of US monetary conditions as the Fed (initially) failed to appropriately respond to the increase in dollar demand – mostly because of the collapse of the US primary dealer system. Had the Fed had a more efficient system for open market operations in 2008 then I believe the crisis would have been much smaller and would have been over already in 2009. As the Fed got dollar-swap lines up and running and initiated quantitative easing the recovery got underway in 2009. This triggered a brisk recovery in both US and euro zone money-velocity. In that regard it is notable that the rebound in velocity actually was somewhat steeper in the euro zone than in the US.

The crisis might very well have ended in 2009, but new policy mistakes have prolonged the crisis and once again European problems are causing most headaches and the cause now clearly is that the ECB has allowed European monetary conditions to become excessively tight – just have a look at the money supply graph above. Euro zone M3 has now dropped more than 15% below the pre-crisis trend. This policy mistake has to some extent been counteracted by the Fed’s efforts to increase the US money supply, but the euro crisis have also led to another downleg in US money velocity. The Fed once again has failed to appropriately counteract this.

Both the Fed and the ECB have failed

In the discussion above I have tried to illustrate that we cannot fully understand the Great Recession without understanding the relationship between US and euro zone monetary policy and I believe that a full understanding of the crisis necessitates a discussion of European dollar demand.

Furthermore, the discussion shows that a credible money supply target would significantly have reduced the crisis in the euro zone. However, the shock to US money-velocity shows that an NGDP level target would “perform” much better than a simple money supply rule.

The conclusion is that both the Fed and the ECB have failed. The Fed failed to respond appropriately in 2008 to the increase in the dollar demand. On the other hand the ECB has nearly constantly since 2008/9 failed to increase the money supply and nominal GDP. Not to mention the numerous communication failures and the massively discretionary conduct of monetary policy.

Even though the challenges facing the Fed and ECB since 2008 have been somewhat different in nature I would argue that proper nominal targets (for example a NGDP level target or a price level target) and better operational procedures could have ended this crisis long ago.


Related posts:

Failed monetary policy – (another) one graph version
International monetary disorder – how policy mistakes turned the crisis into a global crisis

The Sumnerian Phillips curve

In my previous post ”Dude, here is your model” I suggested to model the supply in the economy with what I called a Sumnerian Phillips curve in a attempt to help Scott Sumner formulate a his ”model” of the world.

Here is the Sumnerian Phillips curve:

(1) Y=Y*+a(N-NT)

Where Y is real GDP and Y* is trend growth in real GDP. N is nominal GDP and NT is the central bank’s target for nominal GDP. a is a constant.

Commentator ”Martin” has suggested the following parametre for (1):




It should be noted that Martin formulates (1) in growth rates rather than levels.

As the graph below shows Martin’s suggestion seems to fit US data very well.

One thing is very clear from the model. The Great Recession was caused by a sharp drop in NGDP. The Fed did it. Nobody else.

It also shows that there is no supply side explanation for the Great Recession. The drop in real GDP can be explained by nominal GDP. It is very simply. Too simple to understand maybe? If you disagree you have to argue that the Fed can not determine nominal GDP – may I then remind you that MV=N=PY. Or maybe we should ask Gideon Gono?

So what are the policy lessons?

Well, first of all if the central bank keeps N growing at a rate comparable with the target then real GDP growth will also remain stable. But if the central bank allow N to drop below target then Y will drop as well. Hence, recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

Obviously the central bank can determine N as we know that MV=N=PY. So it is really pretty simply – ensure a growth rate of the money supply (M) that for a given money-velocity (V) ensures that N growth at a stable rate. Then you sharply reduces the risk of recessions and and you will ensure low and stable Inflation. The Federal Reserve did that during the Great Moderation and I can not see any reason why we can not return to such a situation. Unfortunately central bankers seem to have less of an unstanding of this – particularly in Europe (Is it only me who fell like screaming!?)

Jens Weidmann, do you remember the second pillar?

Today the ECB is very eager to stress it’s 2% inflation target. However, a couple of years ago the ECB in fact had two targets – the so-called two pillars of monetary policy. The one was the inflation target and the other was a money supply target – the so-called reference value for the growth rate of M3.

The second pillar in many ways made a lot of sense – at least as a instrument for monetary analysis. The second pillar was put into the ECB tool box by the Bundesbank which insisted that monetary analysis was as important as a pure inflation target. Read for example former ECB chief economist and Bundesbanker Otmar Issing’s defense of the two-pillar set-up here.

The starting point for calculating the reference value for M3 was the equation of exchange:

(1) MV=PY

or in growth rates:

(2) m+v=p+y

(2) of course can be re-written to:

(2)’ m=p+y-v

If we assume trend real GDP growth (y) is 2% you can calculate the reference value for m that will ensure 2% inflation over the medium term. You of course also have to make an assumption about velocity. ECB used to think that trend growth in v was -0.5 to -1%.

This give us the following reference growth rate for M3 (m-target):

(3) m-target=2+2-(-1)=5% (4.5% if you assume velocity growth of -0.5%)

Said in another way if the ECB keeps M3 growing at 5% year-in and year-out then inflation should be around 2% in the medium term. An yes, this is of course exactly what Milton Friedman recommend long ago.

2.5% M3 growth is hardly inflationary

Today we got the latest M3 numbers for the euro zone. The calvinists should be happy – M3 decelerated sharply to 2.5% y/y in April. Half of what should be the reference growth rate for M3 – and that is ignoring the fact that velocity has collapsed.

What does that tells us about the inflationary risks in the euro zone? Well, there are no inflationary risks – there are only deflationary risks.

Using the assumptions above we can calculate the long-term inflation if M3 keeps growing by 2.5% – from (2)’ we get the following:

(4) p=m-y+v

(4)’ p=2.5-2+(-1)=-0.5%

So it is official! Monetary analysis as it used to be conducted in the Bundesbank is telling you that we are going to have deflation in the euro zone in the medium term! And don’t tell me about monetary overhang – the ECB is in the business of letting bygones be bygones (otherwise the ECB would target the NGDP LEVEL or the price LEVEL) and by the way the ECB spend lots of time in 2004-7 to explain why money supply growth overshot the target.

Jens Weidmann – monetarist or calvinist?

The Bundesbank brought in monetary analysis and a money supply focus to the ECB so I think it is only fair to ask whether Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann still believe in monetary analysis? If he is true to the strong monetarist traditions at the Bundesbank then he should come out forcefully in favour of monetary easing to ensure M3 growth of at least 5% – in fact it should be much higher as velocity has collapsed, but at least to bring M3 back to 5% would be a start.

I hope the Bundesbank will soon refind it’s monetarist traditions…please make Milton Friedman and Karl Brunner proud!

PS I of course still want the ECB to introduce a NGDP level target, but less would make me happy – a 5-10% target range for M3 (the range prior to the crisis) and a minimum price on European inflation linked bonds would would clearly be enough to at least avoid collapse.


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