The “Export Price Norm” saved Australia from the Great Recession

Milton Friedman once said never to underestimate the importance of luck of nations. I believe that is very true and I think the same goes for central banks. Some nations came through the shock in 2008-9 much better than other nations and obviously better policy and particularly better monetary policy played a key role. However, luck certainly also played a role.

I think a decisive factor was the level of key policy interest rate at the start of the crisis. If interest rates already were low at the start of the crisis central banks were – mentally – unable to ease monetary policy enough to counteract the shock as most central banks did operationally conduct monetary policy within an interest rate targeting regime where a short-term interest rate was the key policy instrument. Obviously there is no limits to the amount of monetary easing a central bank can do – the money base after all can be expanded as much as you would like – but if the central bank is only using interest rates then they will have a problem as interest rates get close to zero. Furthermore, it played a key role whether demand for a country’s currency increased or decreased in response to the crisis. For example the demand for US dollars exploded in 2008 leading to a “passive tightening” of monetary policy in the US, while the demand for for example Turkish lira, Swedish krona or Polish zloty collapsed.

As said, for the US we got monetary tightening, but for Turkey, Sweden and Poland the drop in money was automatic monetary easing. That was luck and nothing else. The three mentioned countries in fact should give reason to be careful about cheering too much about the “good” central banks – The Turkish central bank has done a miserable job on communication, the Polish central bank might have engineered a recession by hiking interest rates earlier this year and the Swedish central bank now seems to be preoccupied with “financial stability” and household debt rather than focusing on it’s own stated inflation target.

In a recent post our friend and prolific writer Lorenzo wrote an interesting piece on Australia and how it has been possible for the country to avoid recession for 21 years. Lorenzo put a lot of emphasis on monetary policy. I agree with that – as recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomena – the key reason has to be monetary policy. However, I don’t want to give the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) too much credit. After all you could point to a number of monetary policy blunders in Australia over the last two decades that potentially could have ended in disaster (see below for an example).

I think fundamentally two things have saved the Australian economy from recession for the last 21 years.

First of all luck. Australia is a commodity exporter and commodity prices have been going up for more than a decade and when the crisis hit in 2008 the demand for Aussie dollars dropped rather than increased and Australia’s key policy rate was relatively high so the RBA could ease monetary policy aggressively without thinking about using other instruments than interest rates. The RBA was no more prepared for conducting monetary policy at the lower zero bound than the fed, the ECB or the Bank of England, but it didn’t need to be as prepared as interest rates were much higher in Australia to begin with – and the sharp weakening of the Aussie dollar obviously also did the RBA’s job easier. In fact I think the RBA is still completely unprepared for conducting monetary policy in a zero interest rate environment. I am not saying that the RBA is a bad central bank – far from it – but it is not necessarily the example of a “super central bank”. It is a central bank, which has done something right, but certainly also has been more lucky than for example the fed or the Bank of England.

Second – and this is here the RBA deserves a lot of credit – the RBA has been conducting it’s inflation targeting regime in a rather flexible fashion so it has allowed occasional overshooting and undershooting of the inflation target by being forward looking and that was certainly the case in 2008-9 where it did not panic as inflation was running too high compared to the inflation target.

One of the reasons why I think the RBA has been relatively successful is that it effectively has shadowed a policy of what Jeff Frankel calls PEP (Peg the currency to the Export Price) and what I (now) think should be called an “Export Price Norm” (EPN). EPN is basically the open economy version of NGDP level targeting.

If the primary factor in nominal demand changes in the economy is exports – as it tend to be in small open economies and in commodity exporting economies – then if the central bank pegs the price of the currency to the price of the primary exports then that effectively could stabilize aggregate demand or NGDP growth. This is in fact what I believe the RBA – probably unknowingly – has done over the last couple of decades and particularly since 2008. As a result the RBA has stabilized NGDP growth and therefore avoided monetary shocks to the economy.

Under a pure EPN regime the central bank would peg the exchange rate to the export price. This is obviously not what the RBA has done. However, by it’s communication it has signalled that it would not mind the Aussie dollar to weaken and strengthen in response to swings in commodity prices – and hence in swings in Australian export prices. Hence, if one looks at commodity prices measured by the so-called CRB index and the Australian dollar against the US dollar over the last couple of decades one would see that there basically has been a 1-1 relationship between the two as if the Aussie dollar had been pegged to the CRB index. That in my view is the key reason for the stability of NGDP growth over the past two decade. The period from 2004/5 until 2008 is an exception. In this period the Aussie dollar strengthened “too little” compared to the increase in commodity prices – effectively leading to an excessive easing of monetary conditions – and if you want to look for a reason for the Australian property market boom (bubble?) then that is it.

This is how close the relationship is between the CRB index and the Aussie dollar (indexed at 100 in 2008):

However, when the Great Recession hit and global commodity prices plummet the RBA got it nearly perfectly right. The RBA could have panicked and hike interest rates to curb the rise in headline consumer price inflation (CPI inflation rose to around 5% y/y) caused by the weakening of the Aussie dollar. It did not do so, but rather allowed the Aussie dollar to weaken significantly. In fact the drop in commodity prices and in the Aussie dollar in 2008-9 was more or less the same. This is in my view is the key reason why Australia avoided recession – measured as two consecutive quarters of negative growth – in 2008-9.

But the RBA could have done a lot better

So yes, there is reason to praise the RBA, but I think Lorenzo goes too far in his praise. A reason why I am sceptical is that the RBA is much too focused on consumer price inflation (CPI) and as I have argued so often before if a central bank really wants to focus on inflation then at least the central bank should be focusing on the GDP deflator rather on CPI.

In my view Australia saw what Hayekian economists call “relative inflation” in the years prior to 2008. Yes, inflation measured by CPI was relatively well-behaved, but looking at the GDP deflator inflationary pressures were clearly building and because the RBA was overly focused on CPI – rather than aggregate demand/NGDP growth or the GDP deflator – monetary policy became excessively easy and the had the RBA not had the luck (and skills?) it had in 2008-9 then the monetary induced boom could have turned into a nasty bust. The same story is visible from studying nominal GDP growth – while NGDP grew pretty steadily around 6% y/y from 1992 to 2002, but from 2002 to 2008 NGDP growth escalated year-by-year and NGDP grew more than 10% in 2008. That in my view was a sign that monetary policy was becoming excessive easy in Australia. In that regard it should be noted that despite the negative shock in 2008-9 and a recent fairly marked slowdown in NGDP growth the actual level of NGDP is still somewhat above the 1992-2002 trend level.

George Selgin has forcefully argued that there is good and bad deflation. Bad deflation is driven by negative demand shocks and good deflation is driven by positive supply shocks. George as consequence of this has argued in favour of what he has called a “productivity norm” – effectively an NGDP target.

I believe that we can make a similar argument for commodity exporters. However, here it is not a productivity shock, but a “wealth shock”. Higher global commodity prices is a positive “wealth shock” for commodity exporters (Friedman would say higher permanent income). This is similar to a positive productivity shock. The way to ensure such “wealth shock” is transferred to the consumers in the economy is through benign consumer price deflation (disinflation) and you get that through a stronger currency, which reduces import prices. However, a drop in global commodity prices is a negative demand shock for a commodity exporting country and that you want to avoid. The way to do that is to allow the currency to weaken as commodity prices drop. This is why the Export Price Norm makes so much sense for commodity exporters.

The RBA effective acted as if it had an (variation of the) Export Price Norm in 2008-9, but certainly failed to do so in the boom years prior to the crisis. In those pre-crisis years the RBA should have tightened monetary policy conditions much more than it did and effectively allowed the Aussie dollar to strengthen more than it did. That would likely have pushed CPI inflation well-below the RBA’s official inflation (CPI) target of 2-3%. That, however, would have been just fine – there is no harm done in consumer price deflation generated by positive productivity shocks or positive wealth shocks. When you become wealthier it should show up in low consumer prices – or at least a slower growth of consumer price inflation.

So what should the RBA do now?

The RBA managed the crisis well, but as I have argued above the RBA was also fairly lucky and there is certainly no reason to be overly confident that the next shock will be handled equally well. I therefore think there are two main areas where the RBA could improve on it operational framework – other than the obvious one of introducing an NGDP level targeting regime.

First, the RBA should make it completely clear to investors and other agents in the economy what operational framework the RBA will be using if the key policy rate where to hit zero.

Second, the RBA should be more clear in it communication about the link between changes in commodity prices (measured in Aussie dollars) and aggregate demand/NGDP and that it consider the commodity-currency link as key element in the Australian monetary transmission mechanism – explicitly acknowledging the importance of the Export Price Norm.

The two points above could of course easily be combined. The RBA could simply announce that it will continue it’s present operational framework, but if interest rates where to drop below for example 1% it would automatically peg the Aussie dollar to the CRB index and then thereafter announce monetary policy changes in terms of the changes to the Aussie dollar-CRB “parity”.

Australian NGDP still remains somewhat above the old trend and as such monetary policy is too loose. However, given the fact that we have been off-trend for a decade it probably would make very little sense to force NGDP back down to the old trend. Rather the RBA should announce that monetary policy is now “neutral” and that it in the future will keep NGDP growth around a 5% or 6% trend (level targeting). Using the trend level starting in for example 2007 in my view would be a useful benchmark.

It is pretty clear that Australian monetary conditions are tightening at the moment, which is visible in both weak NGDP growth and the fact that commodity prices measured in Australian dollars are declining. Furthermore, it should be noted that GDP deflator growth (y/y) turned negative earlier in the year – also indicating sharply tighter monetary conditions. Furthermore, NGDP has now dropped below the – somewhat arbitrary – 2007-12 NGDP trend level. All that could seem to indicate that moderate monetary easing is warranted.

Concluding, the RBA did a fairly good job over the past two decades, but luck certainly played a major role in why Australia has avoided recession and if the RBA wants to preserve it’s good reputation in the future then it needs to look at a few details (some major) in the how it conducts its monetary policy.

PS I could obviously tell the same story for other commodity exporters such as Norway, Canada, Russia, Brazil or Angola for that matter and these countries actually needs the lesson a lot more than the RBA (maybe with the exception of Canada).

PPS Sometimes Market Monetarist bloggers – including myself – probably sound like “if we where only running things then everything would be better”. I would stress that I don’t think so. I am fully aware of the institutional and political constrains that every central banker in the world faces. Furthermore, one could easily argue that central banks by construction will never be able to do a good job and will always be doomed to fail (just ask Pete Boettke or Larry White). As everybody knows I have a lot of sympathy for that view. However, we need to have a debate about monetary policy and how we can improve it – at least as long as we maintain central banks. And I don’t think the answer is better central bankers, but rather I want better institutions. It is correct it makes a difference who runs the central banks, but the institutional framework is much more important and a discussion about past and present failures of central banks will hopefully help shape the ideas to secure more sound monetary systems in the future.

PPPS I should say this post was inspired not only by Lorenzo’s post and my long time thinking the that the RBA had been lucky, but also by Saturos’ comments to my earlier post on Malaysia. Saturos pointed out the difference between the GDP deflator and CPI in Australia to me. That was an important import to this post.

About these ads

Malaysia should peg the renggit to the price of rubber and natural gas

The Christensen family arrived in Malaysia yesterday. It is vacation time! So since I am in Malaysia I was thinking I would write a small piece on Malaysian monetary policy, but frankly speaking I don’t know much about the Malaysian economy and I do not follow it on a daily basis. So my account of how the Malaysian economy is at best going to be a second hand account.

However, when I looked at the Malaysian data something nonetheless caught my eye. Looking at the monetary policy of a country I find it useful to compare the development in real GDP (RGDP) and nominal GDP (NGDP). I did the same thing for Malaysia. The RGDP numbers didn’t surprise me – I knew that from the research I from time to time would read on the Malaysian economy. However, most economists are still not writing much about the development in NGDP.

In my head trend RGDP growth is around 5% in Malaysia and from most of the research I have read on the Malaysian economy I have gotten the impression that inflation is pretty much under control and is around 2-3% – so I would have expected NGDP growth to have been around 7-8%. However, for most of the past decade NGDP growth in Malaysia has been much higher – 10-15%. The only exception is 2009 when NGDP growth contracted nearly 8%!

How could I be so wrong? Well, the most important explanation is that I don’t follow the Malaysian economy very closely on a daily basis. However, another much more important reason is the difference between how inflation is measured. The most common measure of inflation is the consumer price index (CPI). However, another measure, which is much closer to what the central bank controls is the GDP deflator – the difference between NGDP and RGDP.

In previous posts I have argued that if one looks at the GDP deflator rather than on CPI then monetary policy in Japan and the euro zone has been much more deflationary than CPI would indicate and the fact that the Bank of Japan and the ECB have been more focused on CPI than on the GDP deflator have  led to serious negative economic consequences. However, it turns out that the story of Malaysian inflation is exactly the opposite!

While Malaysian inflation seems well-behaved and is growing around 2% the GDP deflator tells a completely different story. The graph below illustrates this.

As the graph shows inflation measured by the GDP deflator averaged nearly 7% in the 2004-2008 period. In the same period CPI inflation was around 3%. So why do we have such a massive difference between the two measures of inflation? The GDP deflator is basically the price level of domestically produced goods, while CPI is the price level of domestically consumed goods. The main difference between the two is therefore that CPI includes indirect taxes and import prices.

However, another difference that we seldom talk about is the difference between the domestic price and the export price of the same good. Hence, if the price of a certain good – for example natural gas – increased internationally, but not domestically then if the country is an natural gas producer – as Malaysia is – then the GDP deflator will increase faster than CPI.

I think this explains the difference between CPI and GDP deflator inflation Malaysia in the last 10-12 years – there is simply a large difference between the domestic price and the international price development of a lot of goods in Malaysia and the reason is price controls. The Malaysian government has implemented price controls on a number of goods, which is artificially keeping prices from rising on these goods.

The difference between CPI and the GDP deflator therefore is a reflection of a massive misallocation of economic resources in the Malaysian economy and inflation is in reality much larger than indicated by CPI. While the inflation is not showing up in CPI – due to price controls – it is showing up in shortages. As any economist knows if you limit prices from rising when demand outpaces supply then you will get shortages (Bob Murphy explains that quite well).

Here is an 2010 Malaysian news story:

PETALING JAYA: There is an acute shortage of sugar in the country.

Consumers and traders in several states have voiced their frustration in getting supply of the essential commodity, describing the shortage as the “worst so far”.

A check at several grocery shops here revealed that no sugar had been on sale for over a week…

…Fomca secretary-general Muhd Sha’ani Abdullah said it had received complaints in various areas including Kuantan, Muar, Klang and Temerloh since a month ago.

He said the problem was not due to retailers hoarding sugar but the smuggling of the item to other countries, especially Thailand.

Federation of Sundry Goods Merchants president Lean Hing Chuan said the shortage nationwide was caused by manufacturers halving production, adding that its members started noticing the slowdown in April.

“Factories might be slowing down their production to keep their costs down until subsidies for sugar are withdrawn,” Lean said.

I got this from the excellent local blog “Malaysia Economics” in which the economics of price controls is explained very well (See this post). By the way the author of Malaysia Economics has a lot of sympathy for Market Monetarism – so I am happy to quote his blog.

So while the problem in Japan and the euro zone is hidden deflation the problem in Malaysia is hidden inflation. The consequence of hidden inflation is always problems with shortages and as it is always the case with such shortages you will get problems with a ever increasing black economy with smuggling and corruption. This is also the case in Malaysia.

I believe the source of these problems has to be found in the Malaysian authorities response to the 1997 Asian crisis. Malaysia came out of the Asian crisis faster than most of other South East Asian countries due to among other things fairly aggressive monetary policy easing. Any Market Monetarist would tell you that that probably was the right response – however, the problem is that the Malaysian central bank (BNM) kept easing monetary policy well after the Malaysian economy had recovered from the crisis by keeping the Malaysian ringgit artificially weak.

The graph below clearly shows how the price level measured with the GDP deflator and CPI started to diverge in 1997-98.

As global commodity prices started to rise around a decade ago the price of a lot of Malaysia’s main export goods – such as rubber, petroleum and liquified natural gas – started to rise strongly. However, until 2005 the BNM kept the Malaysian ringgit more less fixed against the US dollar. Therefore, to keep the renggit from strengthen the BNM had to increase the money supply as Malaysian export prices were increasing. This obviously is inflationary.

There are to ways to curb such inflationary pressures. Either you allow your currency to strengthen or you introduce price controls. The one is the solution of economists – the other is the solution of politicians. After 2005 the BNM has moved closer to a floating renggit, but it is still has fairly tightly managed currency and the renggit has not strengthened nearly as much as the rise in export prices would have dictated. As a consequence inflationary pressures have remained high.

Two possible monetary policy changes for Malaysia

Overall I believe the the combination of price controls and overly easy monetary policy is damaging the for the Malaysian economy. As I see it there are two possible changes that could be made to Malaysian monetary policy. Both solutions, however, would have to involve a scrapping of price controls and subsidies in the Malaysian economy. The Malaysian government has been moving in that direction in the last couple of years and there clearly are fewer price controls today than just a few years ago.

The fact that price controls are being eased is having a positive effect (and GDP deflator inflation and CPI inflation also is much more in line with each other than earlier). See for example this recent news story on how easing price controls on sugar has led to a sharp drop in smuggling of sugar. It is impossible to conduct monetary policy in a proper fashion if prices are massively distorted by price controls and regulations. The liberalization of price in Malaysia is therefore good news for monetary reform in Malaysia.

The first option for monetary reform is simply to allow the renggit to float completely freely and then target some domestic nominal variable like inflation (the GDP deflator!), the price level or preferably the NGDP level. This is more or less the direction BNM has been moving in since 2005, but we still seems to be far away from a truly freely floating renggit.

Another possibility is to move closer to policy closer to Jeff Frankel’s idea of Pegging the exchange rate to the Export Price (PEP). In many ways I think such a proposal would be suitable for Malaysia – especially in a situation where price controls have not been fully liberalized and where the authorities clearly are uncomfortable with a freely floating renggit.

A major advantage of PEP compared to a freely floating currency is that the central bank needs a lot less macroeconomic data to conduct monetary policy. This obviously would be an advantage in Malaysia where macroeconomic data still is distorted by price controls and subsidies. Second, PEP also means that monetary policy automatically would be rule based. Third, compared to a strict FX peg a variation of PEP would not lead to boom-bust cycles when export prices rise and fall as the currency would “automatically” appreciate and depreciate in line with changes in export prices.

Another reason why a variation of PEP might be a good solution for Malaysia is that the prices of the country’s main export goods such as rubber, petroleum and liquified natural gas are highly correlated with internationally traded commodity prices. Hence, it would be very easy to construct a real-time basket of international traded commodity prices that would be nearly perfectly correlated with Malaysian export prices.

The BNM is already managing the renggit against a basket of currencies. It would be very simply to include a basket of international traded commodity prices – which is correlated with Malaysian export prices (I have made a similar suggestion for Russia – see here). This I believe would give the same advantage as a floating exchange rate, but with less need for potentially distorted macroeconomic data while at the same time avoiding the disadvantages of a fixed exchange rate.

Had the BNM operated such a PEP style monetary policy over the last decade the renggit would had strengthened significantly more than was the case from 2000 until 2008. However, the renggit would have weaken sharply in 2008 when commodity prices plummeted at the onset of the Great Recession. Since 2009 the renggit would then had started strengthening again (more than has been the case). This in my view would have lead to a significantly more stable development in nominal GDP (and real GDP).

And price controls would not have been “needed”. Hence, while commodity prices were rising the renggit would also have been strengthening significantly more than actually was the case and as a consequences import prices would have dropped sharply and therefore push down consumer prices (CPI). Hence, the Malaysian consumers would have been the primary beneficiaries of rising export prices. In that sense my suggestion would have been a Malaysian version of George Selgin’s “productivity norm” – or rather a “export price norm” (maybe we should call PEP that in the future?).

But now I should be heading back to the pool – I am on vacation after all…

PS I got a challenge to my clever readers: Construct a basket of US dollars and oil prices (or rubber and natural gas) against the renggit that would have stabilized NGDP growth in Malaysia at 5-7% since 2000. I think it is possible…

Exchange rates are not truly floating when we target inflation

There is a couple of topics that have been on my mind lately and they have made me want to write this post. In the post I will claim that inflation targeting is a soft-version of what economists have called the fear-of-floating. But before getting to that let me run through the topics on my mind.

1) Last week I did a presentation for a group of Norwegian investors and even thought the topic was the Central and Eastern European economies the topic of Norwegian monetary politics came up. I am no big expert on the Norwegian economy or Norwegian monetary policy so I ran for the door or rather I started to talk about an other large oil producing economy, which I know much better – The Russian economy. I essentially re-told what I recently wrote about in a blog post on the Russian central bank causing the 2008/9-crisis in the Russian economy, by not allowing the ruble to drop in line with oil prices in the autumn of 2008. I told the Norwegian investors that the Russian central bank was suffering from a fear-of-floating. That rang a bell with the Norwegian investors – and they claimed – and rightly so I think – that the Norwegian central bank (Norges Bank) also suffers from a fear-of-floating. They had an excellent point: The Norwegian economy is booming, domestic demand continues to growth very strongly despite weak global growth, asset prices – particularly property prices – are rising strongly and unemployment is very low and finally do I need to mention that Norwegian NGDP long ago have returned to the pre-crisis trend? So all in all if anything the Norwegian economy probably needs tighter monetary policy rather than easier monetary policy. However, this is not what Norges Bank is discussing. If anything the Norges Bank has recently been moving towards monetary easing. In fact in March Norges Bank surprised investors by cutting interest rates and directly cited the strength of the Norwegian krone as a reason for the rate cut.

2) My recent interest in Jeff Frankel’s idea that commodity exporters should peg their currency to the price of the main export (PEP) has made me think about the connect between floating exchange rates and what monetary target the central bank operates. Frankel in one of his papers shows that historically there has been a rather high positive correlation between higher import prices and monetary tightening (currency appreciation) in countries with floating exchange rates and inflation targeting. The mechanism is clear – strict inflation targeting central banks an increase in import prices will cause headline inflation to increase as the aggregate supply curve shots to the left and as the central bank does not differentiate between supply shocks and nominal shocks it will react to a negative supply shock by tightening monetary policy causing the currency to strengthen. Any Market Monetarist would of course tell you that central banks should not react to supply shocks and should allow higher import prices to feed through to higher inflation – this is basically George Selgin’s productivity norm. Very few central banks allow this to happen – just remember the ECB’s two ill-fated rate hikes in 2011, which primarily was a response to higher import prices. Sad, but true.

3) Scott Sumner tells us that monetary policy works with long and variable leads. Expectations are tremendously important for the monetary transmission mechanism. One of the main channels by which monetary policy works in a small-open economy  – with long and variable leads – is the exchange rate channel. Taking the point 2 into consideration any investor would expect the ECB to tighten monetary policy  in responds to a negative supply shock in the form of a increase in import prices. Therefore, we would get an automatic strengthening of the euro if for example oil prices rose. The more credible an inflation target’er the central bank is the stronger the strengthening of the currency. On the other hand if the central bank is not targeting inflation, but instead export prices as Frankel is suggesting or the NGDP level then the currency would not “automatically” tend to strengthen in responds to higher oil prices. Hence, the correlation between the currency and import prices strictly depends on what monetary policy rule is in place.

These three point leads me to the conclusion that inflation targeting really just is a stealth version of the fear-of-floating. So why is that? Well, normally we would talk about the fear-of-floating when the central bank acts and cut rates in responds to the currency strengthening (at a point in time when the state of the economy does not warrant a rate cut). However, in a world of forward-looking investors the currency tends move as-if we had the old-fashioned form of fear-of-floating – it might be that higher oil prices leads to a strengthening of the Norwegian krone, but expectations of interest rate cuts will curb the strengthen of NOK. Similarly the euro is likely to be stronger than it otherwise would have been when oil prices rise as the ECB again and again has demonstrated the it reacts to negative supply shocks with monetary easing.

Exchange rates are not truly floating when we target inflation 

And this lead me to my conclusion. We cannot fundamentally say that currencies are truly floating as long as central banks continue to react to higher import prices due to inflation targeting mandates. We might formally have laid behind us the days of managed exchange rates (at least in North America and Europe), but de facto we have reintroduced it with inflation targeting. As a consequence monetary policy becomes excessively easy (tight) when import prices are dropping (increasing) and this is the recipe for boom-bust. Therefore, floating exchange rates and inflation targeting is not that happy a couple it often is made out to be and we can fundamentally only talk about truly floating exchange rates when monetary policy cease to react to supply shocks.

Therefore, the best way to ensure true exchange rates flexibility is through NGDP level targeting and if we want to manage exchange rates then at least do it by targeting the export price rather than the import price.

Should small open economies peg the currency to export prices?

Nominal GDP targeting makes a lot of sense for large currency areas like the US or the euro zone and it make sense that the central bank can implement a NGDP target through open market operations or as with the use of NGDP futures. However, operationally it might be much harder to implement a NGDP target in small open economies and particularly in Emerging Markets countries where there might be much more uncertainty regarding the measurement of NGDP and it will be hard to introduce NGDP futures in relatively underdeveloped and illiquid financial markets in Emerging Markets countries.

I have earlier (see here and here) suggested that a NGDP could be implemented through managing the FX rate – for example through a managed float against a basket of currencies – similar to the praxis of the Singaporean monetary authorities. However, for some time I have been intrigued by a proposal made by Jeffrey Frankel. What Frankel has suggested in a number of papers over the last decade is basically that small open economies and Emerging Markets – especially commodity exporters – could peg their currency to the price of the country’s main export commodity. Hence, for example Russia should peg the ruble to the price of oil – so a X% increase in oil prices would automatically lead to a X% appreciation of the ruble against the US dollar.

Frankel has termed this proposal PEP – Peg the Export Price. Any proponent of NGDP level target should realise that PEP has some attractive qualities.

I would especially from a Market Monetarist highlight two positive features that PEP has in common in (futures based) NGDP targeting. First, PEP would ensure a strict nominal anchor in the form of a FX peg. This would in reality remove any discretion in monetary policy – surely an attractive feature. Second, contrary to for example inflation targeting or price level targeting PEP does not react to supply shocks.

Lets have a closer look at the second feature – PEP and supply shocks. A key feature of NGDP targeting (and what George Selgin as termed the productivity norm) is that it does not distort relative market prices – hence, an negative supply shock will lead to higher prices (and temporary higher inflation) and similarly positive supply shocks will lead to lower prices (and benign deflation). As David Eagle teaches us – this ensures Pareto optimality and is not distorting relative prices. Contrary to this a negative supply shock will lead to a tightening of monetary policy under a inflation targeting regime. Under PEP the monetary authorities will not react to supply shock.

Hence, if the currency is peg to export prices and the economy is hit by an increase in import prices (for example higher oil prices – a negative supply shock for oil importers) then the outcome will be that prices (and inflation) will increase. However, this is not monetary inflation. Hence, what I inspired by David Eagle has termed Quasi-Real Prices (QRPI) have not increased and hence monetary policy under PEP is not distorting relative prices. Any Market Monetarist would tell you that that is a very positive feature of a monetary policy rule.

Therefore as I see it in terms of supply shocks PEP is basically a variation of NGDP targeting implemented through an exchange rate policy. The advantage of PEP over a NGDP target is that it operationally is much less complicated to implement. Take for example Russia – anybody who have done research on the Russian economy (I have done a lot…) would know that Russian economic data is notoriously unreliable. As a consequence, it would probably make much more sense for the Russian central bank simply to peg the ruble to oil prices rather than trying to implement a NGDP target (at the moment the Russian central bank is managing the ruble a basket of euros and dollars).

PEP seems especially to make sense for Emerging Markets commodity exporters like Russia or Latin American countries like Brazil or Chile. Obviously PEP would also make a lot for sense for African commodity exporters like Zambia. Zambia’s main export is copper and it would therefore make sense to peg the Zambian kwacha against the price of copper.

Jeffrey Frankel has written numerous papers on PEP and variations of PEP. Interestingly enough Frankel was also an early proponent of NGDP targeting. Unfortunately, however, he does not discussion the similarities and differences between NGDP targeting and PEP in any of his papers. However, as far as I read his research it seems like PEP would lead to stabilisation of NGDP – at least much more so than a normal fixed exchange regime or inflation targeting.

One aspect I would especially find interesting is a discussion of shocks to money demand (velocity shocks) under PEP. Unfortunately Frankel does not discuss this issue in any of his papers. This is not entirely surprising as his focus is on commodity exporters. However, the Great Recession experience shows that any monetary policy rule that is not able in someway to react to velocity shocks are likely to be problematic in one way or another.

I hope to return to PEP and hope especially to return to the impact of velocity-shocks under PEP.

—–

Links to Frankel’s papers on PEP etc. can be found on Frankel’s website. See here.

Did Japan have a “productivity norm”?

A couple of days ago I stumbled on a comment from George Selgin that made me think of deflation in Japan. Here is George’s comment (from 2009):

“From roughly 1999 through 2005, on the other hand, Japan’s deflation rate did more-or-less match its rate of productivity growth. But by then the Japanese economy was growing again, if only modestly. This happened in part precisely because the Japanese government had at last turned to quantitative easing: had it not done so Japan’s deflation might well have proceeded well beyond productivity-norm bounds. In short, Japan’s case suggests that deflation (insofar as it doesn’t exceed the bounds of productivity growth) and zero interest rates are each of them red-herrings: Japan’s economy tanked when its NGDP growth rate fell dramatically, and it began to recover when the rate stabilized again, even though it stabilized at a very low value. (It has since slumped badly again.)”

So what George is saying is effectively saying is that at least for a period Japan did de facto have a “productivity norm”. I was unaware that George had that view when I sometime ago commented on Japanese deflation. In my comment “Japan’s deflation story is not really a horror story” I argued that “obviously, Japan has deflation because money demand growth consistently outpaces money supply growth. That’s pretty simple. That, however, does not necessarily have to be a problem in the long run if expectations have adjusted accordingly. The best indication that this has happened is that Japanese unemployment in fact is relatively low. So maybe what we are seeing in Japan is a version of George Selgin’s “productivity norm”. I am not saying Japanese monetary policy is fantastic, but it might not be worse than what we are seeing in the US and Europe.”

I have to admit that I wrote that without having a real good look at the Japanese data and before I had written about decomposition of inflation between demand inflation and supply inflation. So when I read George’s comment  I decided to have a look at the Japanese data once again and do a Quasi-Real Price Index for Japan.

The graph below tells the Japanese deflation story.

The graph shows that George is a bit too “optimistic” about how long Japan have had a productivity norm – while George claims that this (unintended!) policy started in 1999 that is not what my decomposition of Japanese inflation shows. In fact Japan saw significant demand deflation until 2003. That said, the period 1999 until 2008 was clearly less deflationary than was the case in the 1990s when monetary policy was strongly deflationary and we saw significant demand deflation. However, it is clear that George to some extent is right and there was clearly a period over the past decade where monetary policy looked liked it followed a productivity norm, but it is also clear – as George states – that from 2007/8 monetary policy turned strongly deflationary once again.

Overall, I am pleasantly surprised by the numbers as it very clearly illustrates the shifts in monetary policy in Japan over the past 30 years. First, it is very clear how Japanese monetary policy was tightened in 1992-93 and remained strongly deflationary until 2002-3, In that regard it is hardly surprisingly that the 1990s is called Japan’s “lost decade”. The fault no doubt is with Bank of Japan – it kept monetary policy in a deflationary mode for nearly a decade.

However, in March 2001 the Bank of Japan announced a policy of quantitative easing. For those who believe that QE does not work they should have a look at my graph. It is very clear indeed that it does work – and from 2002 demand deflation eased off. This by the way coincided with a relatively strong rebound in Japanese growth and the Japanese economy kept on growing nicely until the Bank of Japan reversed its QE policy in 2007. Since then deflation has returned – and once again the Bank of Japan is to blame.

But once again George Selgin is correct – yes, we continued to have headline deflation in the period 2001-2007, but from 2003 this deflation was primarily a result of a positive productivity shock. In that sense the Bank of Japan had a period where it followed a productivity norm. The problem was that this was never a stated policy and as a result Japan was once allowed fall back to demand deflation from 2007.

NGDP targeting would have prevented the Asian crisis

I have written a bit about boom, bust and bubbles recently. Not because I think we are heading for a new bubble – I think we are far from that – but because I am trying to explain why bubbles emerge and what role monetary policy plays in these bubbles. Furthermore, I have tried to demonstrate that my decomposition of inflation between supply inflation and demand inflation based on an Quasi-Real Price Index is useful in spotting bubbles and as a guide for monetary policy.

For the fun of it I have tried to look at what role “relative inflation” played in the run up to the Asian crisis in 1997. We can define “relative inflation” as situation where headline inflation is kept down by a positive supply shock (supply deflation), which “allow” the monetary authorities to pursue a easy monetary policies that spurs demand inflation.

Thailand was the first country to be hit by the crisis in 1997 where the country was forced to give up it’s fixed exchange rate policy. As the graph below shows the risks of boom-bust would have been clearly visible if one had observed the relative inflation in Thailand in the years just prior to the crisis.

When Prem Tinsulanonda became Thai Prime Minister in 1980 he started to implement economic reforms and most importantly he opened the Thai economy to trade and investments. That undoubtedly had a positive effect on the supply side of the Thai economy. This is quite visible in the decomposition of the inflation. From around 1987 to 1995 Thailand experience very significant supply deflation. Hence, if the Thai central bank had pursued a nominal income target or a Selgin style productivity norm then inflation would have been significantly lower than was the case. Thailand, however, had a fixed exchange rate policy and that meant that the supply deflation was “counteracted” by a significant increase in demand inflation in the 10 years prior to the crisis in 1997.

In my view this overly loose monetary policy was at the core of the Thai boom, but why did investors not react to the strongly inflationary pressures earlier? As I have argued earlier loose monetary policy on its own is probably not enough to create bubbles and other factors need to be in play as well – most notably the moral hazard.

Few people remember it today, but the Thai devaluation in 1997 was not completely unexpected. In fact in the years ahead of the ’97-devaluation there had been considerably worries expressed by international investors about the bubble signs in the Thai economy. However, the majority of investors decided – rightly or wrongly – ignore or downplay these risks and that might be due to moral hazard. Robert Hetzel has suggested that the US bailout of Mexico after the so-called Tequila crisis of 1994 might have convinced investors that the US and the IMF would come to the rescue of key US allies if they where to get into economic troubles. Thailand then and now undoubtedly is a key US ally in South East Asia.

What comes after the bust?

After boom comes bust it is said, but does that also mean that a country that have experience a bubble will have to go through years of misery as a result of this? I am certainly not an Austrian in that regard. Rather in my view there is a natural adjustment when a bubble bursts, as was the case in Thailand in 1997. However, if the central bank allow monetary conditions to be tightened as the crisis plays out that will undoubtedly worsen the crisis and lead to a forced and unnecessarily debt-deflation – what Hayek called a secondary deflation. In the case of Thailand the fixed exchange rate regime was given up and that eventually lead to a loosening of monetary conditions that pulled the

NGDP targeting reduces the risk of bubbles and ensures a more swift recovery

One thing is how to react to the bubble bursting – another thing is, however, to avoid the bubble in the first place. Market Monetarists in favour NGDP level targeting and at the moment Market Monetarists are often seen to be in favour of easier monetary policy (at least for the US and the euro zone). However, what would have happened if Thailand had had a NGDP level-targeting regime in place when the bubble started to get out of hand in 1988 instead of the fixed exchange rate regime?

The graph below illustrates this. I have assumed that the Thailand central bank had targeted a NGDP growth path level of 10% (5% inflation + 5% RGDP growth). This was more or less the NGDP growth in from 1980 to 1987. The graph shows that the actually NGDP level increased well above the “target” in 1988-1989. Under a NGDP target rule the Thai central bank would have tightened monetary policy significantly in 1988, but given the fixed exchange rate policy the central bank did not curb the “automatic” monetary easing that followed from the combination of the pegged exchange rate policy and the positive supply shocks.

The graph also show that had the NGDP target been in place when the crisis hit then NGDP would have been allowed to drop more or less in line with what we actually saw. Since 2001-2 Thai NGDP has been more or less back to the pre-crisis NGDP trend. In that sense one can say that the Thai monetary policy response to the crisis was better than was the case in the US and the euro zone after 2008 – NGDP never dropped below the pre-boom trend. That said, the bubble had been rather extreme with the NGDP level rising to more than 40% above the assumed “target” in 1996 and as a result the “necessary” NGDP was very large. That said, the NGDP “gap” would never have become this large if there had been a NGDP target in place to begin with.

My conclusion is that NGDP targeting is not a policy only for crisis, but it is certainly also a policy that significantly reduces the risk of bubbles. So when some argue that NGDP targeting increases the risks of bubble the answer from Market Monetarists must be that we likely would not have seen a Thai boom-bust if the Thai central bank had had NGDP target in the 1990s.

No balance sheet recession in Thailand – despite a massive bubble

It is often being argued that the global economy is heading for a “New Normal” – a period of low trend-growth – caused by a “balance sheet” recession as the world goes through a necessary deleveraging. I am very sceptical about this and have commented on it before and I think that Thai experience shows pretty clearly that we a long-term balance sheet recession will have to follow after a bubble comes to an end. Hence, even though we saw significant demand deflation in Thailand after the bubble busted NGDP never fell below the pre-boom NGDP trend. This is pretty remarkable when the situation is compared to what we saw in Europe and the US in 2008-9 where NGDP was allowed to drop well below the early trend and in that regard it should be noted that Thai boom was far more extreme that was the case in the US or Europe for that matter.

David Davidson and the productivity norm

Mattias Lundbeck research fellow at the Swedish free market think tank Ratio has an interesting link to a paper by Gunnar Örn over at Scott Sumner’s blog. The paper is from 1999 and is in Swedish (so sorry to those of you who do not read and understand Scandinavian…).

The paper reminded me that David Davidson – who was a less well known member of the Stockholm School – was a early proponent of a variation of the productivity norm. Davidson suggested that the monetary authorities should decompose the price index between supply factors and monetary/demand factors. Hence, this is pretty much in line with what I recently have suggested with my Quasi-Real Price Index (strongly inspired by David Eagle). Davidson’s method is different from what I have suggested, but the idea is nonetheless the same.

George Selgin has discussed Davidson’s idea extensively in his research. See for example here from “Less than Zero”:

“In his own attempt to assess the wartime inflation Swedish economist David Davidson came up with an ‘index of scarcity’ showing the extent to which the inflation was due to real as opposed to monetary factors (Uhr, 1975, p. 297). Davidson subtracted his scarcity index from an index of wholesale prices to obtain a residual representing the truly monetary component of the inflation, that is, the component reflecting growth in aggregate nominal spending.”

I hope in the future to be able to follow up on some of Davidson’s work and compare his price decomposition with my method (I should really say David Eagle’s method). Until then we can hope that some of our Swedish friends will pitch in with comments and suggestions.

——-

Mattias has a update on his blog on this comment. See here (Swedish)

 

David Eagle on “Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery”

I am continuing my mini-review of the research done by Dale Domian and David Eagle. The next paper in the “series” is a truly excellent paper on an empirical investigation of the impact of different monetary policy targets (inflation targeting, Price Level Targeting and Nominal Income Targeting) on the speed of recovery in the US economy.

Here is the abstract of the paper “Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery”:

“Using panelled time-series event studies of U.S. recessions since 1948, this paper studies the speed at which the unemployment rate recovers from a recession. This paper identifies recessions (such as the 1990s and 2001 recessions) as ones consistent with inflation targeting, whereas other recessions are more consistent with nominal-income targeting. We then find that the unemployment recovery time is significantly faster for those recessions consistent with nominal-income targeting than for those recessions consistent with inflation targeting. We then discuss the theoretical superiority of nominal income targeting from a Pareto-efficient micro foundations standpoint. Also, by studying the time path of nominal aggregate spending, we find definite empirical evidence of the “let bygones be bygones” property of inflation targeting.”

The paper is extremely innovative in its method. The characteristics of the three types of targeting are used to identify what type of targeting the Federal Reserve (implicitly) has used during different recessions since World War II.

It is then shown that in those recessions the Fed has targeted nominal income the recovery was speedier than in those periods when the Fed targeted inflation.

The very innovative methods in my view clearly should inspire Market Monetarists to adopt these methods in future research to test and demonstrate the merits of Nominal Income Targeting.

Furthermore, David Eagle demonstrates in a numbers of his papers that Nominal Income Targeting (NGDP targeting) is Pareto optimal. Hence, contrary to most Market Monetarists who focus on the macroeconomic advantages of NGDP Targeting Dr. Eagle demonstrates the microeconomic advantages and has a clear welfare perspective on NGDP Targeting. I think this is a tremendous strength in his (and Domian’s) research. Eagle’s and Domian’s research in many ways remind me of George Selgin’s argument for the so-called Productivity Norm.

I certainly hope that Eagle and Domian will continue to pursue research in this area (and the related area of Quasi-Real Indexing) and I hope that the future will lead to exchange of ideas between Eagle and Domian and the Market Monetarists. Maybe one day they might even join the “club”.

Quasi-Real indexing – indexing for Market Monetarists

This morning when I was looking for something else on the internet I by coincidence came across Dr. David Eagle’s website. Dr. Eagle is an Associate Professor of Finance at the Eastern Washington University.

I regret to say that I had never heard of David Eagle before and I have never seen any of his research before and I had never heard about an idea that he has developed with Dr. Dale L. Domian a Professor of Finance in the School of Administrative Studies at York University. The idea is what Eagle and Domian call Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI).

I am quite delighted, however, that I have now come across Eagle’s and Domian’s research and I am happy to share some of it with my readers. I think their work on QRI will be of interest Market Monetarists and QRI could be a interesting and useful supplement to NGDP targeting.

The idea behind QRI is that normal inflation indexing of wage contacts, bonds etc. is imperfect as it does not differentiate between the causes of inflation. Hence, it is crucial whether inflation is caused by demand or supply shocks. A parallel discussion to this is George Selgin’s discussion of the so-called productivity norm, which also argues that one should differentiate between the causes of inflation (or deflation).

Here is Eagle and Domian (from the abstract in a recent working paper: “Immunizing our Economies against Recessions – A Microfoundations Investigation”)

“We find that, instead of using derivatives or expensive fiscal stimuli, we can achieve recession protection through indexing wages, mortgages, bonds, etc., to changes in nominal GDP but not to aggregate-supply-caused inflation. This type of indexing we call, “quasi-real indexing.”

Hence, the idea is to shield economic agents from swings in nominal GDP. This can be done as Market Monetarists argue with NGDP targeting (something Eagle and Domian agrees on and support), but also with QRI.

Here is a bit more on QRI (from another paper “Unsticking those Sticky Wages To Mitigate Recessions Without Expensive Fiscal Stimuli”):

The conventional form of inflation indexing, also known as cost of living adjustments (COLAs), is based on price changes no matter what the cause… there are two and only two determinants of inflation: (1) aggregate demand as measured by nominal GDP, and (2) aggregate supply as measured by real GDP. QRI is linked to only one of these causes — nominal GDP, but not to real GDP. Because QRI is based on a cause, not the price level itself. QRI is proactive; if the price level is sticky as most economists believes, then QRI can respond to changes in nominal GDP prior to the price level being affected by those changes.”

I think this makes quite a bit of sense – and it is pretty much how Market Monetarists think.

Everything Eagle and Domian write on the topic of QRI seems to be a bit of a gold mine for Market Monetarists thinking and their modelling could be helpful in the further theoretical development of Market Monetarism. See here for example:

”Many economists may criticize QRI because it only responds to aggregate-demand-caused inflation and not to aggregate-supply-caused inflation. They may cite the almost universally accepted goal in monetary policy and macroeconomic policy of minimizing an objective function involving inflation (or the price level) and output gap (or unemployment or output). In fact, this objective function has been institutionalized into the legislative mandate for the Federal Reserve… However, that objective function, which is an ad hoc assumption of economists, has blind economists from what microfoundations says should be the objective of monetary and macroeconomic policy. Later in this paper, we present Pareto-efficiency arguments why we should only adjust for aggregate-demand-caused inflation and not for aggregate-supply caused inflation. At this point in the paper, realize that at one time medical science considered all cholesterol as bad; now they consider there to be both good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. Up to now, economists have considered any inflation above the targeted inflation rate to be bad inflation. Our view, supported by microfoundations involving Pareto efficiency is that unexpected aggregate-demand-caused inflation (or deflation) is bad but aggregate-supply-caused inflation (or deflation) is necessarily for the economy to efficiently handle the lower (or higher) supply.”

This is exactly what Market Monetarist are saying – and this discussion gives an excellent input to for example the discussion of the Taylor rule versus NGDP targeting.

There are many aspects of QRI and as I state above I have only become familiar with the topic today so I will not go in to it all in this post. However, as I see it the (for now) small literature seems very interesting and the QRI could sheet a lot of light on the advantages of NGDP targeting and it also seems like QRI could be helpful in crisis resolution in both Europe and the US. In that regard Eagle’s and Domian’s papers on QRI linked bonds seem especially of interest.

I sincerely hope that my fellow Market Monetarist bloggers will have a look at Eagle’s and Domian’s interesting work on QRI and finally I would like to quote an appeal from David Eagle’s website posted on February 26 2009:

“I write this internet note with the hope that it gets to someone with influence. That someone could be a state or other local legislator struggling with how to cut their budget. That someone could be an administrator with a federal government trying to find some way to help their economy get through the current financial debacle. That someone could be working in a bank with the task of figuring out a way to refinance mortgages to avoid foreclosures and make it more affordable for homeowners to stay in their houses. That someone could work for a firm who is struggling to meet payroll in this time of lower demand for their product. That someone could even be President Obama as he struggles with many of these issues on the macroeconomic level. All these people are looking for ways to either better deal with the current recession or help others better deal with the current recession. I write this note, because I have a solution, a cheap solution, although the solution involves a major change in how businesses, governments, workers, lenders, and borrowers deal with each other. The solution is quasi-real indexing, a type of inflation indexing Dale Domian and I have designed.
Many of you will be skeptical and will ask, “What does inflation indexing have to do with the current recession?” A quick economic lesson will answer this question for you. Remember the debate between the Keynesian economists and the classical economists in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The classical economists criticized Keynesian economics by arguing that in the long run, prices and wages will adjust to return real output to its normal level. In response, John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run, we all are dead!” The essence of Keynesian economics is that prices and wages are sticky, especially in the downward direction. Inflation indexing can then be very relevant if that indexing causes prices and wages to adjust very quickly.

However, the current recession makes this indexing really relevant. If most contracts were quasi-real indexed, then the current financial crisis would not be having such a negative effect on the overall economy.

Why is the financial crisis having such a negative effect on the economy? Because the financial crisis has caused nominal aggregate spending to decline. This can be explained relatively simply with one equation, N=PY, where N is the level of nominal aggregate spending, P is the general price level, and Y is real GDP. When N decreases, either P or Y must decrease. Prior to Keynesian economics, the classical economists thought that the decline in N would be felt by a decline in P, with no effect on Y. However, in the 1930s during the Great Depression, John M. Keynes challenged that premise, by arguing that in the short run, prices and wages would be sticky, which means that a drop in N will lead to a drop in Y. Even Milton Friedman and the Monetarists would not argue with this statement, but Friedman put the blame for the drop in N during the Great Depression on an over 30% decrease in the money supply between 1929 and 1933.

The important lesson to learn from the above paragraph is that a drop in nominal aggregate spending (N), as is occurring today, impacts the real output (Y) because prices and wages do not adjust much in the short run. This is where quasi-real indexing can help. If wages and some prices were quasi-real indexed, they will immediately respond to changes in nominal aggregate spending, one of the major causes of inflation. This is one of the advantages of quasi-real indexing over traditional inflation indexing — quasi-real indexing responds almost immediately to changes in nominal aggregate spending, rather than waiting for the price effects to occur.

A second advantage of quasi-real indexing is that it does not filter out the inflation caused by aggregate-supply shocks. Why is this advantage? Realize that 30 years ago, medical professionals thought that all cholesterol was bad. Now, they have come to recognize that some cholesterol is good while other is bad. Our research indicates that aggregate-supply-caused inflation is actually good; only aggregate-demand-caused inflation is bad. Quasi-real indexation filters out the bad inflation while leaving the good inflation intact. When all wages, prices, mortgages, bonds, and other contracts are quasi-real indexed; the economy becomes immune to fluctuations to nominal aggregate spending. In this sense quasi-real indexation immunizes an economy against recessions caused by drops in nominal aggregate spending. It also protects workers, employers, lenders, and borrowers from the uncertainties caused by unexpected changes in nominal aggregate spending. Hence, quasi-real indexation improves the economic efficiency of an economy.

One concern in the current economy that is contributing to the financial crisis are mortgages. An objective of the Obama administration is to help households refinance their mortgages in such a way to make them more affordable for people to stay in their homes and avoid foreclosure. Quasi-real mortgages can do just that. Realize that quasi-real mortgages are a lot like Price-Level-Adjusted Mortgages (PLAMs), except quasi-real mortgages do not have the defect of increasing monthly mortgage payments when aggregate-supply-caused inflation occurs. The initial payment on both quasi-real mortgages and PLAMs is significantly lower than with a fixed-nominal-rate, fixed payment mortgage. The literature on mortgages calls this effect the “tilt” effect. For example, the initial payment on a 7.2%, fixed-rate, fixed-payment 30-year, $200,000 mortgage is $1357.58. However, the initial payment on a 3.6%, quasi-real 30-year, $200,000 mortgage is $909.29, which is over 30% less than under a traditional mortgage.

Wages are difficult to reduce in a recession, but they really should come down for economic efficiency. One reason why workers may be reluctant to give in to wage cuts is because of their fixed obligations like mortgages, although if they refinanced with a quasi-real mortgage, that would be less of an issue. A second reason why workers may be reluctant to give in to wage cuts is because once their wage is cut, they may think it will be difficult to get their wage raised when the economy returns to normal. That is part of the reason that quasi-real indexing would work so well; quasi-real indexing would automatically increase wages when the economy (nominal aggregate spending) recovers. Also, if nominal aggregate spending increases too much, leading to high inflation, the quasi-real indexing will take care of that, usually before the inflation took place.

Furthermore, employers may try to bring down wages down or make other cuts so that they are prepared for even bleaker times. However, quasi-real indexing of wages would do those reductions automaticly when nominal aggregate spending falls, so there would be no need for employers to bring down the wages below where they otherwise should be. Also, employees may be more willing to accept these wage cuts in return for quasi-real indexing being there to protect them in the future when the economy rebounds.

In the past, I have been frustrated with the publication barriers put up by economic journals, which have prevented me from getting my ideas exposed. With this note, I am bypassing those journals (although Dale and I will still try to publish in those journals). I hope that someone in Cyberland will find our message and investigate and try to contact us. Dale and I are currently writing more papers to help communicate these very important ideas. However, our previous papers were written at a very high theoretical level; we are now trying to bring these papers down to earth, making them more readable to more people. When we get those papers in more polished forms, I will try to make them available on this web site.”

Well Dr. Eagle – now I done a bit to spread your idea, which I find intriguing and I am sure my fellow Market Monetarist bloggers will take up the idea as well and discuss it. I don’t think QRI will take us out of this recession – we probably need NGDP level targeting for that – but I am pretty sure that the QRI literature will help us understand the present crisis better and could be very helpful in the crisis resolution.

PS When I read about Dr. Eagle’s frustrations I am reminded of how Scott Sumner felt back in 2009.

—-

Eagle’s and Domian’s papers on QRI and NGDP targeting:

Immunizing our Economies against Recessions — A Microfoundations Investigation

Unsticking those Sticky Wages To Mitigate Recessions Without Expensive Fiscal Stimuli

Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery

Quasi-Real-Indexed Mortgages to the Rescue

Using Quasi-Real Contracts to Help Mitigate Aggregate-Demand-Caused Recessions and Inflations

Quasi-real Government Bonds — Inflation Indexing With Safety 

Be right for the right reasons

Richard Williamson has a comment on my earlier post ”NGDP targeting is not a Keynesian business cycle policy”.

While Richard agrees on the Market Monetarist call for NGDP targeting he nonetheless disagree with my arguments for NGDP targeting. He is Richard:

“That’s from Lars Christensen, in a post arguing that a lot of people (I presume he doesn’t intend to be talking to me, but he might as well be) of a market monetarist persuasion are using Keynesian-type terms when talking about NGDP targeting. Whilst I believe it is technically correct to argue that central bank NGDP targeting would improve ‘macro-stability’, or that we need ‘monetary stimulus’, or that NGDP targeting is conducive to higher long-run real GDP growth, I should probably recognise that a lot of these phrases comes with a whole load of connotations (especially to economists) that I don’t necessarily intend.”

I fundamentally do not have problem with using consequentialist arguments like “NGDP targeting would improve macro-stability”. Most Market Monetarists are doing that all the time. However, I am quite sceptical about that the call for “monetary stimulus”.

It might be because Richard is not an economist (no offence intend), but to a quasi-reactionary economist like myself when I hear the word “stimulus” I am reminded of discretionary policies. Market Monetarists are arguing strongly against discretionary policies and in favour of rules.

The key reason that quantitative easing of monetary policy in the US has not worked better than has been the case is to a very large extent that the Federal Reserve implemented QE without stating what it tried to achieve and hence missed anchoring expectations. Furthermore, if the Fed had been operating a NGDP level target or a price level target then it would not have needed to take nearly as aggressive action in terms of increasing the money base as the Chuck Norris effect probably would have done a lot to stabilise the macroeconomic situation. Said in another way a credible monetary target would have ensured that market forces would have done most of the lifting and therefore the unprecedented increase in the US monetary based would not have been needed.

So in conclusion Market Monetarists should be more focused on arguing the case for a monetary policy rule like NGDP level targeting or price level targeting rather than pushing for further QE.  Obviously further QE is likely needed if the Federal Reserve would do the right thing and a target a return of NGDP to the pre-crisis trend.

In fact from a strategically point of view more QE without a clear monetary policy rule might in fact undermine the public/political support for NGDP level targeting as another round of QE just risks just increasing the money base without really increasing expectations for NGDP growth. This is a key reason why it is so important for me to stress why we are favouring NGDP targeting. We have to be right for the right reasons.

Furthermore, again from a strategy perspective I think it would be much easier to win over conservative and libertarian economists and policy makers for the case for NGDP level targeting if is made completely clear that Market Monetarists are in favour restricting central banks’ powers rather than increasing their discretionary powers. Furthermore, it is also key that we make it completely clear that we are certainly not inflationists. In fact I personally think that in an ideal world central banks would targeting NGDP to ensure what George Selgin calls a productivity norm, which in fact would mean moderate (productive driven) deflation.

I am well aware it could be pretty counterproductive to argue for deflation right now as must people don’t understand the crucial difference between deflation generated by monetary excessive money demand and deflation as a result of productivity growth. But on the other hand there comes a day when we get out of the present mess and then we want to be able to argue as forcefully as now that monetary policy is overly loose. I would not have liked to be on the wrong side of the debate in the 1970s (I was born in the early 1970s so I did not do much debating on monetary policy then – that only started in the 1980s).

Sometime certain arguments can be “convenient”, but in the long-run convenient arguments don’t win the debates. The correct arguments win debates in the long-run. Just ask Milton Friedman.

Finally thanks to Richard Williamson for commenting on my post. It is highly appreciated even if I disagree.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,675 other followers

%d bloggers like this: