How much QE is needed with a NGDP target?

Today I got an interesting question: “does NGDP targeting equate to more quantitative easing (QE) of monetary policy?”.

The simple answer is that it all depends on Chuck Norris, or rather on the Chuck Norris effect. I have earlier defined the Chuck Norris effect in the following way:

“You don’t have to print more money to ease monetary policy if you are a credible central bank with a credible target.”

Let’s say we have a central bank – for example the Federal Reserve that tomorrow announces a target for the level of nominal GDP (NGDP) 15% higher than the present level and that it will hit that target within 24 months.

The “clever” reader would of course ask how you can achieve that target with interest rates at near zero. Well, through quantitative easing, of course – by printing money. Or rather by increasing the supply of money more than the demand for money.

So the relevant measure is not the supply of money, but rather the supply of money relative to demand for the dollar. The demand for money of course is extremely dependent on the expectation of the future value of money.

So let’s assume that the announcement of the +15% NGDP level target is credible – what would happen? This announcement would effectively mean that the central bank would try to reduce the purchasing power of the money it issues, which effectively of course would equate to “burning” households and companies cash holdings. If we know that the value of cash we have today will be worth less tomorrow we would course do everything to get rid of that cash – that goes for households, banks, companies and institutions.

This is key for how the transmission mechanism works under credible NGDP level targeting. The expectation of a 15% increase in NGDP would cause de-hoarding of cash, which is the same as to say that private consumption and investments would increase, banks would increase lending (ease credit conditions) and the currency would weaken, which would spur exports. This would automatically lead to an increase in NGDP.

Hence, if the Chuck Norris effect is strong enough then the central bank could achieve its NGDP target without undertaking any QE at all.

In the “real world” it is unlikely that any central bank will be able to raise NGDP by 15% without actually increasing money supply. After all, the problem in the present crisis is exactly that the major central banks of the world are lacking credibility about their targets – otherwise for example market expectations in the eurozone would not be below 2%. Therefore, to get the needed credibility the central bank would probably need to announce clearly that it would undertake unlimited amounts of QE if needed to achieve its +15% NGDP target level and probably also define through which channel the increase in the money supply would occur – for example, through the buying of foreign currency (which in our view would probably be the most effective as you would circumvent the crisis-hit banking sector), or through buying or government or corporate bonds, etc.

However, if this were done it is likely that the goal of lifting NGDP by 15% could be achieved by printing significantly less “extra” money than if it simply implemented QE without a clear target of what it wants to achieve. So once again, the central banks need to call in Chuck Norris. It’s all about the anchoring of expectations and you will only achieve this by announcing a credit NGDP and credible strategy of how to achieve it.

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