British style Binge-drinking and QE – all we need is Chuck Norris

Here is quote of the day:

“being surprised about why QE doesn’t work when you’re trying to keep inflation expectations at 2% is like being surprised why people don’t have a party at a “free” bar if you make it clear you will remove alcohol from anyone who starts to feel drunk”.

This is Anthony Evans in City AM on Bank of England’s conduct of monetary policy. I think this is excellent – the Bank of England should call in Chuck Norris.

“Fed greatly destabilized the U.S. economy”

As the European crisis just gets worse and worse I am reminded by what a clever man once said – he is that clever man Ben Bernanke in 2004:

“Some important lessons emerge from the story. One lesson is that ideas are critical. The gold standard orthodoxy, the adherence of some Federal Reserve policymakers to the liquidationist thesis, and the incorrect view that low nominal interest rates necessarily signaled monetary ease, all led policymakers astray, with disastrous consequences. We should not underestimate the need for careful research and analysis in guiding policy. Another lesson is that central banks and other governmental agencies have an important responsibility to maintain financial stability. The banking crises of the 1930s, both in the United States and abroad, were a significant source of output declines, both through their effects on money supplies and on credit supplies. Finally, perhaps the most important lesson of all is that price stability should be a key objective of monetary policy. By allowing persistent declines in the money supply and in the price level, the Federal Reserve of the late 1920s and 1930s greatly destabilized the U.S. economy and, through the workings of the gold standard, the economies of many other nations as well.”

I wonder what he is thinking of his colleagues in the ECB and about his own responsibilities today.

Please listen to Nicholas Craft!

Professor Nicholas Craft as written a report for the British think tank Centre Forum on “Delivering growth while reducing deficits: lessons from the 1930s”. The report is an excellent overview of the British experience during the 1930s, where monetary easing through exchange rate depreciation combined with fiscal tightening delivered results that certainly should be of interest to today’s policy makers.

If you are the lazy type then you can just read the conclusion:

“The 1930s offers important lessons for today’s policymakers. At that time, the UK was attempting fiscal consolidation with interest rates at the lower bound but devised a policy package that took the economy out of a double-dip recession and into a strong recovery. The way this was achieved was through monetary rather than fiscal stimulus.

The key to recovery both in the UK and the United States in the 1930s was the adoption of credible policies to raise the price level and in so doing to reduce real interest rates. This provided monetary stimulus even though, as today, nominal interest rates could not be cut further. In the UK, the ‘cheap money’ policy put in place in 1932 provided an important offset to the deflationary impact of fiscal consolidation that had pushed the economy into a double-dip recession in that year.

If economic recovery falters in 2012, it may be necessary to go beyond further quantitative easing as practised hitherto. It is important to recognize that at that point there would be an alternative to fiscal stimulus which might be preferable given the weak state of public finances. The key requirement would be to reduce real interest rates by raising inflationary expectations.

At that point, inflation targeting as currently practised in the UK would no longer be appropriate. A possible reform would be to adopt a price level target which commits the MPC to increase the price level by a significant amount, say 15 per cent, over four years. In the 1930s, the Treasury succeeded in developing a clear and credible policy to raise prices. It maybe necessary to adopt a similar strategy in the near future.

It would be attractive if this kind of monetary stimulus worked, as in the 1930s, through encouraging housebuilding. This suggests that an important complementary policy reform would be to liberalize the planning restrictions which make it most unlikely that we will ever see the private sector again build 293000 houses in a year as happened in 1934/5.”

If I have any reservations against Craft’s views then it is the focus on real interest rates in the monetary transmission mechanism. I think that is a far to narrow description of the transmission mechanism in which I think interest rates plays a rather minor role. See my previous comment on the transmission mechanism.

That minor issue aside Craft provides some very insightful comments on the 1930s and the present crisis and  I hope some European policy makers would read Craft’s report…

I got this reference from David Glasner who also has written a comment on Craft’s report.

The Tragic year: 1931

Benjamin Anderson termed 1931 the “the tragic year” – these are some of the events in that tragic year: 

  1. One of Europe’s largest banks with large exposure to Central and Eastern Europe gets into serious trouble (It is of course Austria’s largest bank Österiechishe Kredit Anstalt – and it of course collapsed)
  2. Europe’s Sovereign debt crisis is threatening financial stability and currency collapse (It’s the Germans that are to blame – they can’t pay their war debts)
  3. Major international banks push for a big country to save the sinners (The US banks ask US president Hoover to help ease the pain on Germany)
  4. Debt restructuring (The Hoover moratorium gives Germany a bit of relief – the US banks are happy to begin with)
  5. Monetary policy keeps deflationary pressures on (The French central bank keeps hoarding gold)
  6. An insane commitment to a failed monetary system (the gold standard mentality keeps the commitment to the gold standard despite the fact that it is killing Europe)
  7. Some countries have had enough and give up the monetary standard (The UK leaves the gold standard – the Scandinavian countries follows suit – and recover fast from the Great Depression)
  8. Technocracy is popular and it suggested that indebted nations should be run by technocrats (The so-called Technocracy Movement became increasingly popular in German)

And here we are 80 years on…do you see any similarities? I wonder what 2012 will bring – in 1932 10 countries (or so…) defaulted…

The Fed can save the euro

David Beckworth has a excellent comment on the correlation between NGDP in the US and the euro zone.

David shows that US NGDP growth leads NGDP growth in the euro zone. This means that if the Federal Reserve were to move to push NGDP back to the pre-crisis trend level then it would likely lead to a similar increase in the NGDP level in the euro zone.

Hence, if the Fed were to introduce a NGDP level target then because the US is a “global monetary superpower” then the ECB would effective be forced to do the same thing. Interestingly this would probably mean that the ECB would overshoot it’s 2% inflation in the short-run as NGDP shifts from on level to another. How would the ECB react to that? Well, first of all the EUR/USD would undoubtedly spike, which would curb short time inflationary pressures and the question is really whether the ECB would have time to do anything about the jump in NGDP. Paradoxically because the ECB is targeting future inflation then it could say “well, inflation is now at 5%, but that is really not something we can do anything about and inflation nonetheless be back to 2% once US NGDP settles down at the new (old) NGDP trend level so no tightening of monetary policy is needed”.

For now the ECB refuses any easing of monetary policy, but if the Fed were to act decisively then the ECB probably would import an easing of monetary policy – and that would probably save the euro. So please Ben can you help us?

The Fisher-Friedman-Sumner-Svensson axis

Here is Scott Sumner in 2009:

“People like Irving Fisher had a perfectly good macro model.  Indeed, except for Ratex it’s basically the model that I use in all my research.  But the problem is that these pre-1936 models didn’t use Keynesian language.  And they didn’t obsess about trying to develop a general equilibrium framework. A GE framework is not able to predict any better than Fisher’s models, and is not able to offer more cogent policy advice than Fisher’s model.  Indeed in many ways Fisher’s “compensated dollar plan” was far superior to the monetary policy the Fed actually implemented last October.  (Although I would prefer CPI futures target to a flexible gold price, at least Fisher’s plan had a nominal anchor.)”

I used to think of that Scott mostly was influenced by his old teacher Milton Friedman, but I increasingly think that Scott is mostly influenced by Irving Fisher.

Well of course this is not really important and Friedman undoubtedly was hugely influenced by Irving Fisher. Fisher’s influence on Friedman is excellently explained in a paper by Bordo and Rockoff from earlier this year,

Here is the abstract:

“This paper examines the influence of Irving Fisher’s writings on Milton Friedman’s work in monetary economics. We focus first on Fisher’s influences in monetary theory (the quantity theory of money, the Fisher effect, Gibson’s Paradox, the monetary theory of business cycles, and the Phillips Curve, and empirics, e.g. distributed lags.). Then we discuss Fisher and Friedman’s views on monetary policy and various schemes for monetary reform (the k% rule, freezing the monetary base, the compensated dollar, a mandate for price stability, 100% reserve money, and stamped money.) Assessing the influence of an earlier economist’s writings on that of later scholars is a challenge. As a science progresses the views of its earlier pioneers are absorbed in the weltanschauung. Fisher’s Purchasing Power of Money as well as the work of Pigou and Marshall were the basic building blocks for later students of monetary economics. Thus, the Chicago School of the 1930s absorbed Fisher’s approach, and Friedman learned from them. However, in some salient aspects of Friedman’s work we can clearly detect a major direct influence of Fisher’s writings on Friedman’s. Thus, for example with the buildup of inflation in the 1960s Friedman adopted the Fisher effect and Fisher’s empirical approach to inflationary expectations into his analysis. Thus, Fisher’s influence on Friedman was both indirect through the Chicago School and direct. Regardless of the weight attached to the two influences, Fisher’ impact on Friedman was profound.”

I wonder if Bordo and Rockoff would ever write a paper about Fisher’s influence on Sumner…or maybe Scott will write it himself? I especially find Scott’s “link” to the compensated dollar plan intriguing as I fundamentally think that Scott’s intellectual love affair with “Market Keynesian” Lars E. O. Svensson has to be tracked back to exactly this plan.

PS I am intrigued by the compensated dollar plan (CDP) and I increasingly think that variations of the CDP could be a fitting monetary policy set-up for Emerging Markets and small open economies with underdeveloped financial markets. One day I might get my act together and write a post on that topic.




Bank of Canada is effectively targeting the price level

Last week the Bank of Canada and Canadian government announced – not overly surprising – that it will continue its 2% inflation targeting regime.

This is a slight disappointment to Market Monetarists, but that said maybe the BoC is not really having a inflation targeting. In fact research show that BoC effectively has been targeting the price level rather than inflation.

This at least is the conclusion in a IMF paper from 2008. Here is the abstract:

“One of the pioneers of inflation targeting (IT), the Bank of Canada is now considering a possibility of switching to price-level-path targeting (PLPT), where past deviations of inflation from the target would have to be offset in the future, bringing the price level back to a predetermined path. This paper draws attention to the fact that the price level in Canada has strayed little from the path implied by the two percent inflation target since its introduction in December 1994, and has tended to revert to that path after temporary deviations. Econometric analysis using Bayesian estimation suggests that a low probability can be assigned to explaining this behavior by sheer luck manifesting itself in mutually offsetting shocks. Much more plausible is the assumption that inflation expectations and interest rates are determined in a way that is consistent with an element of PLPT. This suggests that the difference between IT as it is actually practiced (or perceived) and PLPT may be less stark than what pure theoretical constructs posit, and that the transition to a full- fledged PLPT regime will likely be considerably easier than what was previously thought. The paper also shows that inflation expectations are a major driver of actual inflation in Canada, which makes it easier to keep inflation close to the target without large output costs.”

HT Jens Pedersen

Reuter’s Hayek vs Keynes debate

See the Reuters debate on Hayek vs Keynes.

This concept is a great idea. I would love to see a Cassel vs Hayek debate or a Cassel vs Keynes debate.

HT Michał Gamrot

Irving Fisher and the New Normal

A lot of the debate about how to escape the Great Recession is focused on the question of deleveraging and it is often said that we have entered a period of more or less permanent low growth – a “New Normal”. I fundamentally think the idea of the new normal theoretically and empirically flawed.

Irving Fisher – undoubtedly one of the greatest economists of the 20th century – formulated his debt-deflation theory, which is highly relevant for the debate about the “New Normal” and more importantly about how to escape the “New Normal”.

According to Fisher the economy and market goes through nine phases after the bubble bursts:

  1. Debt liquidation and distress selling.
  2. Contraction of the money supply as bank loans are paid off.
  3. A fall in the level of asset prices.
  4. A still greater fall in the net worth of businesses, precipitating bankruptcies.
  5. A fall in profits.
  6. A reduction in output, in trade and in employment.
  7. Pessimism and loss of confidence.
  8. Hoarding of money.
  9. A fall in nominal interest rates and a rise in deflation adjusted interest rates.

This is how a lot of people today think of the crisis. We had a bubble and it busted and now we have to go through these more or less “natural” phases and therefore we will just have to take the pain.

I would certainly not disagree that there is a serious risk that we indeed will live through a long period of low growth and a quasi-deflationary environment. Here is Fisher:

“Unless some counteracting cause comes along to prevent the fall in the price level, such a depression as that of 1929-33 (namely when the more the debtors pay the more they owe) tends to continue, going deeper, in a vicious spiral, for many years. There is then no tendency of the boat to stop tipping until it has capsized. Ultimately, of course, but only after almost universal bankruptcy, the indebtedness must cease to grow greater and begin to grow less. Then comes recovery and a tendency for a new boom-depression sequence. This is the so-called “natural” way out of a depression, via needless and cruel bankruptcy, unemployment, and starvation.”

This is pretty much Fisher description of the New Normal. However, unlike the New Normal crowd Fisher did not think that we have to live through “a vicious spiral, for many years”:

“On the other hand, if the foregoing analysis is correct, it is always economically possible to stop or prevent such a depression simply by reflating the price level up to the average level at which outstanding debts were contracted by existing debtors and assumed by existing creditors, and then maintaining that level unchanged.”

So what is Fisher saying? Basically advocating a variation of the Market Monetarists solution to bring NGDP back to the pre-crisis trend level.

The skeptics, however, are saying that it is not possible to do that with monetary policy, but Fisher has an answer ready to the liquidity trap crowd:

That the price level is controllable is not only claimed by monetary theorists but has recently been evidenced by two great events: (1) Sweden has now for nearly two years maintained a stable price level, practically always within 2 per cent of the chosen par and usually within 1 per cent. (2) The fact that immediate reversal of deflation is easily achieved by the use, or even the prospect of use, of appropriate instrumentalities has just been demonstrated by President Roosevelt.

Fisher continues – about Roosevelt’s decision to give up the gold standard in 1933:

“Those who imagine that Roosevelt’s avowed reflation is not the cause of our recovery but that we had “reached the bottom anyway” are very much mistaken. At any rate, they have given no evidence, so far as I have seen, that we had reached the bottom. And if they are right, my analysis must be woefully wrong. According to all the evidence, under that analysis, debt and deflation, which had wrought havoc up to March 4, 1933, were then stronger than ever and, if let alone, would have wreaked greater wreckage than ever, after March 4. Had no “artificial respiration” been applied, we would soon have seen general bankruptcies of the mortgage guarantee companies, savings banks, life insurance companies, railways, municipalities, and states. By that time the Federal Government would probably have become unable to pay its bills without resort to the printing press, which would itself have been a very belated and unfortunate case of artificial respiration. If even then our rulers should still have insisted on “leaving recovery to nature” and should still have refused to inflate in any way, should vainly have tried to balance the budget and discharge more government employees, to raise taxes, to float, or try to float, more loans, they would soon have ceased to be our rulers. For we would have insolvency of our national government itself, and probably some form of political revolution without waiting for the next legal election. The mid-west farmers had already begun to defy the law…If all this is true, it would be as silly and immoral to “let nature take her course” as for a physician to neglect a case of pneumonia. It would also be a libel on economic science, which has its therapeutics as truly as medical science.”

So what is Fisher saying? Yes we are going through a debt-deflation cycle started by a monetary shock and it can go on for years, but the downward spiral can be stopped with monetary policy – for example by bringing NGDP back to the pre-crisis trend level – and there is no liquidity trap as long as policy makers use Rooseveltian Resolve or learn a lesson from the Swedish central bank Riksbanken.

Roth’s Monetary and Fiscal Framework for Economic Stability

Steve Roth over at has a comment on my previous post ”Be right for the right reasons”, which in itself was a comment on Richard Williamson who had commented on one of my previous comments (“NGDP targeting is not a Keynesian business cycle policy”) so you might consider this as ponzi-commenting…Anyway, Steve’s comment deserves an answer. He has some intriguing ideas.

What Steve suggests is what he calls “the MMTer’s guaranteed employment scheme”. For those who are not following the monetary debate in blogosphere it might be helpful to tell that MMT means Modern Monetary Theory – or what in the old days was known as Chartalism. I don’t want to use too much time explaining Chartalism (I am not really that strong on what they think), but lets just say that MMTer’s fundamentally think that monetary policy and fiscal policy is the same thing and that money enters circulation through government spending.

Steve’s idea is the following:

“My personal preferred stabilizer is to up the EITC bigtime, expand it up the income spectrum, pay it on weekly paychecks, and index its benefit levels to some measure of unemployment.”

EITC for those who don’t know it means “Earned Income Tax Credit” and is a Federal tax credit given to low income families in the US.

Steve does not say it directly, but I guess that his idea is that the Federal Reserve should fund this scheme. Or at least for a monetarist or a Market Monetarist this is crucial if the programme is going to “work”.

Some would consider Steve Roth’s idea to be completely insane. I do not. However, I have a number of reservations, but most important I have serious trouble with Steve’s premise.

I fundamentally think that recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon and hence monetary and fiscal policy should not be designed to be “countercyclical”. Monetary policy should be designed not mess with Say’s Law or said in another way monetary policy should not create recessions in the first place. If central banks where to engage in countercyclical policies then it basically end up fighting against it’s own past mistakes. This is also why I so strongly oppose when some Market Monetarists call for “monetary stimulus” as it exactly sounds as if we would like central banks to follow some kind of “countercyclical” policy.

Therefore there is no need for an “employment scheme” if central banks stop messing with Say’s Law by introducing credible NGDP level targeting.

That said, Roth’s scheme might not be in conflict with the idea of NGDP target. In fact if the Federal Reserve said that it in the future would say it would send each a American a cheque of the same size as the average EITC (hence doubling the EITC cheque) and that it would do so until NGDP had returned to the pre-crisis level then that in my view most likely would be a successful mechanism for returning NGDP to the pre-crisis trend. That does not mean that I endorse Steve’s scheme and and the fact that I think it would “work” does not mean that I in anyway agree with MMT theories – I don’t. The only thing it really means is that I think monetary policy is very powerful and that NGDP always can be increased by the use of monetary policy – then it is less important how you inject the money into the economy.

Fundamentally I think it is a pretty bad idea to have the central bank funding government expenditure and given central banks exist I believe they would be made independent of political pressures.

Finally, a comment on my headline. When I read Steve’s comment I came to think of a paper Milton Friedman wrote back in 1948 “A Monetary and Fiscal Framework for Economic Stability”. In the paper Friedman suggests something similar to Steve. Friedman’s suggestion is basically that the government should balance its budgets over the “business cycle”, but in downturns the central bank should print money to finance the public deficits. That in Friedman’s view creates a monetary-fiscal stabiliser of the economy. Friedman luckily became wiser as he aged. Here is a he said about in 1960 in “A Program for Monetary Stability” about his 1948 proposal:

“I have become increasingly persuaded that the proposal is more sophisticated and complex than is necessary, that a much simpler rule would also produce highly satisfactory results and would have two great advantages: first, its simplicity would facilitate the public understanding and backing that is necessary if the rule is to provide an effective barrier to opportunistic “tinkering”; second, it would largely separate the monetary problem from the fiscal and hence would require less far-reaching reform over a narrower area.”

So Steve, I don’t think we need to get the central bank involved in getting NGDP back on track and monetary policy should not be funding government programmes – especially not programmes that are not to great to begin with.

PS Steve, you have one advantage in the debate with me. Friedman suggested in 1948 to use a monetary-fiscal stabiliser and the EITC is of course a (bad) variation of Friedman’s suggestion for a Negative Income Tax and I hate arguing against any of Friedman’s ideas.

PPS Steve got my surname slightly wrong – it is Christensen and not Christiansen.

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