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Bennett McCallum on EconPapers – start downloading NOW!

In a post today Scott Sumner pays tribute to Bennett McCallum. I am as Scott is a big fan of Dr. McCallum (and of Scott).

I have promised to do some posts on Dr. McCallum’s huge work on Nominal Income Targeting (NIT). I am particularly interested his work on NIT in small open economies, but it is all worth reading.

I suggest anybody interested in Dr. McCallum’s work starts at EconPapers. Take a look here and start downloading. I welcome anybody who would like to do guest blogs on their reading of Dr. McCallum’s work.

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Christina Romer comes out in support of NGDP targeting

The momentum for NGDP targeting is clearly building. Anybody who is interested in monetary policy and in what will be driving the global market sentiment going forward should have a look this issue.

The latest convert is Christina Romer the former chair of Council of Economic Advisers.

Have a look at Dr. Romer’s open letter to Ben Bernanke.

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Update: Scott Sumner has an excellent comment on Christina Romer, where he pays tribute to the great Bennett McCallum. Some thing I naturally appreciate very much given the attention that I have been giving to McCallum and the McCallum rule myself.

David Beckworth also has a comment on Romer (and some Baseball stuff an European like me can’t understand…)

See a few of my McCallum posts here:
Bennett McCallum – grandfather of Market Monetarism

More on the McCallum-Christensen rule (and something on Selgin and the IMF)

The “China Bluff”

Nick Rowe has a short comment on the news that EU’s rescue fund the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) will try to tempt China to put money into the rescue fund by issuing bonds in Euros.

It is hard to disagree with Nicks’ comment: “The whole Eurozone problem is that each Eurozone country was issuing bonds in what was effectively a foreign currency, and so it lacked an effective lender of last resort. Now, if the Telegraph is correct, the Eurozone as a whole is planning to repeat the mistake, and become just like Greece.”

But that is not really what I want to comment on, but rather Nick’s comment reminded me about what we could call the “China bluff”. Since 2008 every time a bank or a country gets into serious trouble and is on the brink of collapse a CEO or Finance Minister or even a Prime Minister will say that some wealthy investor will soon throw money into the “project”. Most often these promises of “new money” coming in turn out to be far fetched fantasies.

The Icelandic collapse in 2008 maybe the most stunning example of the “China bluff”. At that time it was not China, but rather Russia that would come to the rescue of Iceland and the Icelandic banking sector. As the entire Icelandic financial system was collapsing suddenly Icelandic officials announced that Russia would step in with a loan to help Iceland and judging from the comments one was led to think that the Russian government already had agreed to a substantial loan to Iceland. However, the whole thing turned out to be a “China bluff” – an attempt by official to turn around market sentiment by promising that a wealthy investor would save the day. We all today know that Iceland had to call in the help of the Nordic countries and the IMF to avoid a default – Russian money was nowhere to be seen.

My recommendation to investors and the like is therefore that every time an embattled bank or nation “promises” money from China, Russia or the Middle East be skeptical…VERY SKEPTICAL. It might just be the China bluff.
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Update: Marcus Nunes also has a comment on the EFSF-China story.

“Chinese Silver Standard Economy and the 1929 Great Depression”

Only two major countries – China and Spain – were not on the Gold Standard at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929. As a consequence both countries avoided the most negative consequences of the Great Depression. That is a forcefully demonstration of how the “wrong” exchange rate regimes can mean disaster, but also a reminder of Milton Friedman’s dictum never to underestimate the importance of luck.

I have recently found this interesting paper by

Cheng-chung Lai and Joshua Jr-shiang Gau on the “Chinese Silver Standard Economy  and the 1929 Great Depression”. Here is the abstract for you:

“It is often said that the silver standard had insulated the Chinese economy from the Great Depression that prevailed in the gold standard countries during the 1929-35 period. Using econometric testing and counterfactual simulations, we show that if China had been on the gold standard (or on the gold-exchange standard), the balance of trade of this semi-closed economy would have been ameliorated, but the general price level would have declined significantly. Due to limited statistics, two important factors (the GDP and industrial production level) are not included in the analysis, but the general argument that the silver standard was a lifeboat to the Chinese economy remains defensible.”

If anybody has knowledge of research on Spanish monetary policy during the Great Depression I would be very interested hearing from you (lacsen@gmail.com).

PS Today I have received Douglas Irwin’s latest book “Trade Policy Disaster: Lessons From the 1930s” in the mail. I look forward to reading it and sharing the conclusions with my readers. But I already know a bit about the conclusion: Countries that stayed longer on the Gold Standard were more protectionist than countries with more flexible exchange rate regimes. This fits with Milton Friedman’s views – see here and here.

Milton Friedman on Exchange rate policy #2

“The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”

I 1950 Milton Friedman was attached to the US Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA), which was charged with overseeing the implementation of the Marshall plan.

The ECA wanted to see a common European market and therefore a liberalisation of intra-European trade and a breaking down of customs barriers between the European countries. Most European nations were, however, sceptical of the idea, as they feared it would lead to problematic balance of payments deficits – and thus pressure on the fixed exchange rate policy.

Once again the political dynamics of the fixed exchange rate system were stoking protectionist tendencies. This was an important theme in the memorandum that Milton Friedman wrote to the ECA on the structure of exchange rate policy in Europe. This memorandum, “Flexible Exchange Rates as a Solution to the German Exchange Crisis”, formed the foundation for his now classic article from 1953, “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates”, in which he presented his arguments for floating exchange rates. The main arguments are presented below.

Friedman’s basic argument against fixed exchange rate policies is fundamentally political. He pointed out that the combination of inflexible wages and prices and a fixed exchange rate policy would lead to imbalances in the economy – such as balance of payments deficits. Friedman feared – and as in the Canadian example above also observed – that politicians would attempt to “solve” these problems through widespread regulation of the economy in the form of trade restrictions and price and wage controls – precisely what Friedman wanted at all costs to avoid.

When prices and wages are very flexible, imbalances can be corrected relatively painlessly via wage and price adjustments. Thus there would be no great need for changes in exchange rates. In the real world, however, wages and prices are not fully flexible, says Friedman, and so imbalances can arise when pursuing a fixed exchange rate policy. Sooner or later these imbalances will put pressure on the fixed exchange rate system.

According to Friedman there are two ways to solve this problem: either regulating the movement of capital and goods across international borders or allowing currencies to float freely. There is of course a third option – make prices and wages more flexible. However, this would require significant reforms, and Friedman is doubtful that politicians would choose this route – even though he might constantly argue for such reforms.

Thus for Friedman there are in reality just two options, and he is in no doubt that flexible exchange rates are by far preferable to further regulation and protectionism.

Friedman acknowledges that adjustment to a “shock” to the economy (for example a jump in oil prices) can happen via pricing. However, he states that prices are typically not fully flexible – in part due to various forms of government regulation – and that an adjustment of the exchange rate will therefore be much less painful.

Friedman illustrates this with the so-called Daylight-Saving-Time argument. According to Friedman, the argument in favour of flexible exchange rates is in many ways the same as that for summer time. Instead of changing the clocks to summer time, everyone could instead “just” change their behaviour: meet an hour later at work, change programme times on the TV, let buses and trains run an hour later, etc. The reason we do not do this is precisely because it is easier and more practical to put clocks an hour forward than to change everyone’s behaviour at the same time. It is the same with exchange rates, one can either change countless prices or change just one – the exchange rate.

According to Friedman, a further advantage of flexible exchange rates is that adjustments to economic shocks can be continual and gradual. This is in stark contrast to fixed exchange rates. Here, all adjustments have to take place via changes in prices and wages, and as prices and wages are sluggish movers, the adjustment process will be slow. This implies that the country will still at some point be forced to adjust its exchange rate (devalue or revalue), and these adjustments will typically be much greater than the continual adjustments that occur in a flexible exchange rate system, as imbalances will grow larger in a fixed exchange rate system than in a flexible exchange rate system.

Read on: Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #3

See also my post: “Milton Friedman on Exchange rate policy #1”

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