The Economist endorses NGDP level targeting for the UK

The Economist is clearly the best magazine on economics, politics and finance in the world. The magazine has now formally joined the Market Monetarists in formally endorsing NGDP targeting – at least for the UK.

Here is from this week’s edition:

The Bank of England has been willing to use unconventional tools. It was an early pioneer of quantitative easing; its more recent “funding for lending” scheme for banks is a clever way to bring down banks’ funding costs (and should be used to hit the nominal GDP target). But Britain’s central bank has been less successful at mapping its future policy path. The Bank has interpreted its 2% inflation target in a flexible way, keeping monetary conditions loose even as inflation has stayed higher. But it has not said how long such flexibility will last. Each time its interest-rate-setting committee meets, there is the possibility it will change its mind.

That is where the nominal GDP target comes in. By promising to keep monetary conditions loose until nominal GDP has risen by 10%, the Bank would provide certainty that interest rates will stay low even as the economy recovers. That will encourage investment and spending. At the same time an explicit target of 10% would set a limit to the looseness, preventing people’s expectations for inflation becoming permanently unhinged. It is an approach similar in spirit to the Federal Reserve’s recent commitment not to raise interest rates until America’s unemployment rate falls below 6.5%.

This is not a perfect answer. Critics point out that nominal GDP is hard to measure—and that no one knows exactly how big the shortfall in nominal GDP is, particularly since Britain’s productivity has plunged since the financial crisis. Against that, a 10% increase is a fairly conservative and clear target. Adopting it would be better for the Bank’s credibility than repeatedly missing the inflation target.

Another worry is that all the growth would come through inflation. Sterling would fall, so imports would become pricier. Asset prices might bubble up, though Mr Carney could use other tools to cool them, such as limiting mortgage lending. There is in fact little risk of an unwanted boom. All this will take place as public spending is squeezed and Britain’s main trading partners in the euro zone are likely to be struggling.

The last problem is Mr Osborne. A temporary nominal-GDP target needs his explicit support. He should give it, because against a background of tight fiscal policy, monetary policy is the best macroeconomic lever that Britain has.

As always the good people at the Economist are clever people…


This is an economist with a bow tie who endorses NGDP level targeting

bowtie moscow

Update: Scott Sumner has a less optimistic comment on The Economicst’s endorsement of NGDP targeting.


Reading recommendations for Charles Goodhart

Charles Goodhart undoubtedly is one of the leading authorities on monetary policy, theory and history in the world. So when he comes out and speak out against NGDP level targeting he deserves an answer.

In his new article Central banks walk inflation’s razor edge on Goodhart speaks out against NGDP targeting. Unfortunately Goodhart comes across as being quite badly informed about what NGDP level targeting really is. Scott Sumner has already commented on Goodhart’s article and fundamentally agree with Scott’s reply to Goodhart. However, I will add a bit more in the form of some reading recommendations for Charles Goodhart. It is reading recommendations for some of my previous blog posts.

Here is Goodhart:

Not all change, though, represents progress. Of particular concern is the increasing desire of officials to tie monetary policy to real outcomes. This is best exemplified by the instructions handed down on January 11 by Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan: “We would like the BoJ to take responsibility for the real economy. I think that means jobs. I would like the BoJ to think about maximising jobs.” The Fed’s setting of a threshold for the unemployment rate, and the suggestion that the UK adopt a nominal income target, whereby real output growth and inflation get equal weights, go in the same direction.

Goodhart should know that there is a fundamental difference between targeting real GDP growth or (un)employment and targeting nominal GDP. Any Market Monetarist would agree that it is highly problematic if a central bank tries to target a real variable. However, Goodhart very well knows that nominal GDP is not a real variable, but a nominal variable and furthermore NGDP targeting is not giving “equal weights” to inflation and real out. NGDP targeting is exactly about NOT even trying to determine the “split” between real output and prices.

Here is what I earlier have said about this issue:

So just to make it completely clear….

…It is STUPID to target real variables such as the unemployment rate 

There is no doubt of my position in that regard and that is also why I and other Market Monetarists are advocating NGDP level targeting. The central bank is fully in control the level of NGDP, but never real GDP or the level of unemployment.

With sticky prices and wages the central bank can likely reduce unemployment in the short run, but in the medium term the Phillips curve certainly is vertical and as a result monetary policy cannot permanently reduce the level of unemployment – supply side problems cannot be solved with demand side measures. That is very simple.

And even earlier:

…I don’t think the Fed’s mandate is meaningful. The Fed should not try to maximize employment. In the long run employment is determined by factors completely outside of the Fed’s control. In the long run unemployment is determined by supply factors. In my view the only task of the Fed should be to ensure nominal stability and monetary neutrality (not distort relative prices) and the best way to do that is through a NGDP level target.

Of course I would not have expected Charles Goodhart to have read what I have written about NGDP targeting, but I do worry that he is making his argument without having read any of the Market Monetarist bloggers. Had he done that then he would have known that NGDP targeting is not about targeting real variables – in fact it is quite the opposite.

Back to Goodhart’s article:

But observations of policy-making over the years raise doubts that an ad hoc entry into a new policy regime will be followed by a nimble exit when the appropriate time comes. The fear is that, once the sell-by date of these initiatives passes, central bankers will be acting contrary to everything learnt, painfully, in the 1970s. They will be relating monetary management to real variables on a longer-term basis. In the end, any short-term benefit will be dwarfed by the long-run pain as they push inflation higher in the vain pursuit of a real economic objective.

I can fully understand Goodhart’s concerns about returning to the discretionary monetary policies of 1970s. However, what Goodhart seems to forget is that what we have had in the major countries of the world over the past five years has exactly been that – discretionary monetary policies. Neither the Federal Reserve nor the Bank of England have been following a rule based monetary policy. Instead monetary policy has been extremely discretionary. The same can by the way be said about the way the ECB has conducted monetary policy. NGDP targeting on the other hand would be a return to the rule based monetary policies of the Great Moderation.

Hence, NGDP level targeting is not about some kind of “ad hoc stimulus” rather it is about ensuring a rule based framework for monetary policy or as I have expressed it in an earlier post:

Market Monetarists are often misunderstood to think that monetary policy should “stimulate” growth and that monetary policy is like a joystick that can be used to fine-tune the economic development. Our view is in fact rather the opposite. Most Market Monetarists believe that the economy should be left to its own devises and that the more policy makers stay out of the “game” the better as we in general believe that the market rather than governments ensure the most efficient allocation of resources.

Exactly because we believe more in the market than in fine-tuning and government intervention we stress how important it is for monetary policy to provide a transparent, stable and predictable “nominal anchor”. A nominal GDP target could be such an anchor. A price level target could be another.

In fact Market Monetarists like myself are advocating that central banks basically are replaced by a Milton Friedman style “computer” in the form of a futures based NGDP targeting regime where the central bank will give up ALL discretion and simply let the price of an NGDP future determine the monetary policy stance. I dare Charles Goodhart to come up with any monetary policy proposal that is more rule based than that.
Finally, I am happy that such a respected and insight scholar as Charles Goodhart has entered the debate on NGDP level targeting, but I also hope that he will give the idea a closer examination. After all NGDP level targeting as advocated by Market Monetarists is as far away as you can get from the discretionary paleo-keynesian monetary experiments of the 1970s.
PS David Glasner comments on another Goodhart article on NGDP targeting.
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