Chuck Norris on monetary policy #3

Yet another other great “fact” from

“TARP didn’t have to be passed to kickstart the economy. All that the President needed to do was to ask Chuck Norris to roundhouse kick it”

Well, it is entirely correct – TARP really didn’t do anything to “kickstart” the US economy. Just look at the US stock markets – the ultimate forecasting tool for NGDP expectations. It kept dropping until the Federal Reserve called in Chuck Norris in March 2009 and initiated quantitative easing of monetary policy – the monetary version of a roundhouse kick.


Do you remember Friedman’s “plucking model”?

Clark Johnson’s paper on the Great Recession has reminded me of Milton Friedman’s so-called “Plucking model” as Johnson mentions Friedman original 1966 paper on the Plucking model. I haven’t thought of the Plucking model for some time, but it is indeed an important contribution to economic theory which in my view is somewhat under-appreciated.

At the core of the Plucking model is that the business cycle is asymmetrical. If you studies modern day textbooks on Macroeconomics it will talk about the “output gap” as it is something we can observe in the real world and a lot of econometric modeling is done under the assumption that real GDP move symmetrically around “potential GDP” over time.

The idea in the Plucking model is, however, that the business cycle really can’t be symmetrical as no economy can produce more than at full capacity. Hence, all shocks in the model will have to be negative shocks – or shocks to the potential GDP. Simply expressed negative shocks are demand shocks and positive shocks are supply shocks – and Friedman assumes that the demand shocks dominates.

A numbers of older and relatively new research confirms empirically the the Plucking model, but for some reason it is not getting a lot of attention.

A key implication of the Plucking model is that there is not correlation between the extent and the size of the “boom” prior to a crisis and how fast the recovery is afterwards. The implication of this is that the idea of “The New Normal” where we will have to have lower growth in the coming years because of “overspending” prior to the crisis simply does not find support in economic history.

Here is a recent interesting paper that finds empirical support for the Plucking model – including for the period covering the Great Recession.

Needless to say – Austrian business cycle fanatics do not agree with the conclusions in the Plucking model…

More research on the Plucking model would be interesting and it would be interesting to see how Market Monetarists can learn from the model.

“Nominal Income Targeting” on Wikipedia

First Market Monetarism hit Wikipedia and now it is “Nominal Income Targeting”. It is interesting stuff. So take a look. However, the writer(s) obviously has a Market Monetarist background of some kind (and no, it is not me…). This is obviously nice, but it should be noted that Nominal Income Targeting has quite long history in the economic literature pre-dating Market Monetarism and that in my view should be reflected on the “Nominal Income Targeting”-page on Wikipedia. I also miss the link to the Free Banking literature. Furthermore, there should be cross references to other monetary policy rules such as price level targeting and inflation targeting. But the great thing about Wikipedia is that these texts over time improves…

Anyway, it is nice to see NI targeting on Wikipedia. Keep up the good work those of you who are doing the hard work on Wikipedia texts.

Clark Johnson has written what will become a Market Monetarist Classic

As I have written about in an earlier post I am reading Clash Johnson’s book on the Great Depression “Gold, France and the Great Depression”. So far it has proved to be an interesting and insightful book on what (to me) is familiar story of how especially French and US gold hoarding was a major cause for the Great Depression.

Clark Johnson’s explanation of Great Depression is similar to that of two other great historians of the Great Depression Scott Sumner and Douglas Irwin. Both are of course as you know Market Monetarists.

Given Johnson’s “international monetary disorder view” of the Great Depression I have been wondering whether he also had a Market Monetarist explanation for the Great Recession. I now have the answer to that question and it is affirmative – Clark Johnson is indeed a Market Monetarist, which becomes very clear when reading a new paper from the Milken Institute written by Johnson.

One thing I find especially interesting about Johnson’s paper is that he notes the importance of the US dollar as the global reserve currency and this mean that US monetary policy tightening has what Johnson calls “secondary effects” on the global economy. I have long argued that Market Monetarists should have less US centric and more global perspective on the global crisis. Johnson seems to share that view, which is not really surprising given Johnson’s work on the international monetary perspective on the Great Depression.

Johnson presents six myths about monetary policy and the six realities, which debunk these myths. Here are the six myths.

Myth 1: The Federal Reserve has followed a highly expansionary monetary policy since August, 2008.

Johnson argues that US monetary policy has not been expansionary despite the increase in the money base and the key reason for this is a large share of the money base increase happened in the form of a similar increase in bank reserves. This is a result of the fact that the Federal Reserve is paying positive interest rates on excess reserves. This is of course similar to the explanation by other Market Monetarists such as David Beckworth and Scott Sumner. Furthermore, Johnsons notes that the increase that we have seen in broader measure of the money supply mostly reflects increased demand for dollars rather than expansionary monetary policies.

Johnson notes in line with Market Monetarist reasoning: “Monetary policy works best by guiding expectations of growth and prices, rather than by just reacting to events by adjusting short-term interests”.

Myth 2: Recoveries from recessions triggered by financial crises are necessarily low.

Ben Bernanke’s theory of the Great Depression is a “creditist” theory that explains (or rather does not…) the Great Depression as a consequence of the breakdown of financial intermediation. This is also at the core of the present Fed-thinking and as a result the policy reaction has been directed at banking bailouts and injection of capital into the US banking sector. Johnson strongly disagrees (as do other Market Monetarists) with this creditist interpretation of the Great Recession (and the Great Depression for that matter). Johnson correctly notes that the financial markets failed to react positively to the massive US banking bailout known as TARP, but on the other hand the market turned around decisively when the Federal Reserve announced the first round of quantitative easing (QE) in March 2009. This in my view is a very insightful comment and shows some real Market Monetarist inside: This crisis should not be solved through bailouts but via monetary policy tools.

Myth 3: Monetary policy becomes ineffective when short-term interest rates fall close to zero.

If there is an issue that frustrates Market Monetarists then it is the claim that monetary policy is ineffective when short-term rates are close to zero. This is the so-called liquidity trap. Johnson obviously shares this frustration and rightly claims that monetary policy primarily does not work via interest rate changes and that especially expectations are key to the understanding of the monetary transmission mechanism.

Myth 4: The greater the indebtedness incurred during growth years, the larger the subsequent need for debt reduction and the greater the downturn.

It is a widespread view that the world is now facing a “New Normal” where growth will have to be below previous trend growth due to widespread deleveraging. Johnson quotes David Beckworth on the deleveraging issue as well site Milton Friedman’s empirical research for the fact there is no empirical justification for the “New Normal” view. In fact, the recovery after the crisis dependent on the monetary response to the crisis than on the size of the expansion prior to the crisis.

Myth 5: When money policy breaks down there is a plausible case for a fiscal response.

Recently the Keynesian giants Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have joined the Market Monetarists in calling for nominal GDP targeting in the US. However, Krugman and DeLong continue to insist on also loosening of US fiscal policy. Market Monetarists, however, remain highly skeptical that a loosening of fiscal policy on its own will have much impact on the outlook for US growth. Clark Johnson shares this view. Johnson’s view on fiscal policy reminds me of Clark Warburton’s position on fiscal policy: fiscal policy only works if it can alter the demand for money. Hence, fiscal policy can work, but basically only through a monetary channel. I hope to do a post on Warburton’s analysis of fiscal policy at a later stage.

Myth 6: The rising prices of food and other commodities are evidence of expansionary policy and inflationary pressure.

It is often claimed that the rise in commodity prices in recent years is due to overly loose US monetary policy. Johnson refute that view and instead correctly notes that commodity price developments are related to growth on Emerging Markets in particular Asia rather than to US monetary policy.

Johnson’s answer: Rate HIKES!

Somewhat surprise after conducting an essentially Market Monetarist analysis of the causes of the Great Recession Clark Johnson comes up with a somewhat surprising policy recommendation – rate hikes! In fact he repeats Robert McKinnon’s suggestion that the four leading central banks of the world (the Federal Reserve, the ECB, the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England) jointly and coordinated increase their key policy rates to 2%.

Frankly, I have a very hard time seeing what an increase interest rates could do to ease monetary conditions in the US or anywhere else and I find it very odd that Clark Johnson is not even discussing changing the institutional set-up regarding monetary policy in the US after an essentially correct analysis of the state US monetary policy. It is especially odd, as Johnson clearly seem to acknowledge the US monetary policy is too tight. That however, does not take anything away from the fact that Clark Johnson has produced a very insightful and interesting paper on the causes for the Great Recession and monetary policy makers and students of monetary theory can learn a lot from reading Clark Johnson’s paper. In fact I think that Johnson’s paper might turnout to become an Market Monetarist classic similar to Robert Hetzel’s “Monetary Policy in the 2008-2009 Recession” and Scott Sumner’s “Real problem is nominal”.


Update: Marcus Nunes and David Beckworth also comment on Clark Johnson’s paper. Thanks to both Benjamin “Mr. PR” Cole and Marcus Nunes for letting me know about Johnson’s great paper.

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