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

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

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

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

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

Here is Friedman:

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

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

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

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

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

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Argentine lessons for Greece

As Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is fighting to putting together a new government after he yesterday survived a no-confidence vote in the Greek parliament I am once again reminded by the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002.

In my view the similarities with the Argentine crisis are striking – and most of the mistakes made by Argentine policy makers and by the international institutions are being repeated today in regard to the Greek crisis. Most important both in the Argentine case and in the Greek case policy makers refused to acknowledge that monetary policy is at the root of the problems rather than fiscal matters.

My favourite account of the Argentine crisis is the excellent book “And the Money Kept Rolling in (And Out)” by Paul Blustein.

You can’t help thinking of Greece and the efforts of the last year to “save“ the country when you see the title of Chapter 7: “Doubling a Losing Bet”.

I highly recommend Blustein’s book for those who want to understand how international institutions like the IMF works and why they fail and to understand how monetary regimes like Argentina’s currency board become “sacred” – in the same as the gold standard used to be – and this leads to crisis.

But back to Greece – or rather to the parallels to the Argentine crisis.

It has been rumours that former Greek central bank governor Lucas Papademos could take over as new Prime Minister in Greece. I have no clue whether this is going to happen, but the story made me think.

When you are in serious trouble you call in a well-respected former central banker to get some credibility. Argentina did that when Domingo Cavallo – the former successful central bank governor – became economics minister. Cavallo became economics minister on March 20 2001. He then tried to push through a number of austerity measures. He resigns on December 20 after massive protest and violence that kills 20 people. So far there has luckily been less killed in Greece.

So Cavallo lasted only 8 months – even respected central bankers cannot preform fiscal miracles in insolvent nations. But Cavollo’s 8 months as economics minister might be a benchmark for how long a central banker can stay on as economics minister – or Prime Minister.

Another measure of how long Papademos will be able to survive as Prime Minister if he indeed where to succeed Papandreou is to look at how many presidents Argentina had in 2001.

First president to step down was Fernando de la Rúa – on December 20 2001 – the same day Cavallo stepped.

Next one to step down was Adolfo Rodríguez Saá after 7 days in power on December 30 2001.

Eduardo Duhalde came into office January 2 2002 and stays on until May 25 2003. Duhalde a populist famously defaulted on Greece foreign debt – and is more popular with the Argentine public than with foreign creditors.

The question is whether Papademos would be Cavallo, Saá or Duhalde. He can’t really be Cavallo – as we are too long into the process and as Greece has already defaulted on some of the debt, but on the other hand the EU has not pulled the plug on Greece yet. It was really the IMF’s stop for funding of Argentina on December 5 2001 that “killed” Saá. Saá, however, while in government defaulted on foreign private debt on December 7 2001 (Greece effective defaulted on a large share of the private sector debt last week).

The Argentine currency board came to an end on January 6 2002 – around a month after the default on foreign debt and three weeks after Saá resigned…

If this is any guidance for the Greek situation we are surely in the end game…

PS I met Cavallo at a seminar back in 2008 – I was somewhat shocked to hear that he still thinks it was wrong that Argentina gave up the currency board despite more than 20 people died in civil unrest while he was economics minister. The Argentine economy rebound strongly after the currency board was given up and has growly strongly since then.I am certainly not claiming everything is fine in Argentina, but things are certainly better than in 2001.

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Update: Cavallo indeed has a view on Greece in the light of his own expirience. See his comment here. Lets just say I think he is mostly wrong…

Update 2 (November 13): Scott Sumner is out with an excellent comment on the lessons from Argentina.

The Market Monetarist voice at Cato Institute

In a pervious post I have noted that Tim Lee a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute has been endorsing basically Market Monetarist ideas. Now Tim has a comment on Market Monetarism. I am happy to see that Tim has nice things to say about Market Monetarism and my paper on Market Monetarism in his latest article at forbes.com.

Once again – I am happy to see that Tim Lee is continuing the work for nominal income targeting that William Niskanen started at the Cato Institute. NGDP should be the natural position of the good people at the Cato Institute.

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