It is time for BoE to make the 4% NGDP target official

While I do not want to overestimate the effects of Brexit on the UK economy it is clear that last week’s Brexit vote has significantly increased “regime uncertainty” in the UK.

As I earlier have suggested such a spike in regime uncertainty is essentially a negative supply shock, which could turn into a negative demand shock if interest rates are close the the Zero Lower Bound and the central bank is reluctant to undertake quantitative easing.

In the near-term it seems like the biggest risk is not the increase in regime uncertainty itself, but rather the second order effect in the form of a monetary shock (increased money demand and a drop in the natural interest rate below the ZLB).

Furthermore, from a monetary policy perspective there is nothing the central bank – in the case of the UK the Bank of England – can do about a negative supply other than making sure that the nominal interest rate is equal to the natural interest rate.

Therefore, the monetary response to the ‘Brexit shock’ should basically be to ensure that there is not an additional shock from tightening monetary conditions.

So far the signals from the markets have been encouraging 

One of the reasons that I am not overly worried about near to medium-term effects on the UK economy is the signal we are getting from the financial markets – the UK stock markets (denominated in local currency) has fully recovered from the initial shock, market inflation expectations have actually increased and there are no signs of distress in the UK money markets.

That strongly indicates that the initial demand shock is likely to have been more than offset already by an expectation of monetary easing from the Bank of England. Something that BoE governor Mark Carney yesterday confirmed would be the case.

These expectations obviously are reflected in the fact that the pound has dropped sharply and the market now is price in deeper interest rate cuts than before the ‘Brexit shock’.

Looking at the sharp drop in the pound and the increase in the inflation expectations tells us that there has in fact been a negative supply shock. The opposite would have been the case if the shock primarily had been a negative monetary shock (tightening of monetary conditions) – then the pound should have strengthened and inflation should have dropped.

Well done Carney, but lets make it official – BoE should target 4% NGDP growth

So while there might be uncertainty about how big the negative supply shock will be, the market action over the past week strongly indicates that Bank of England is fairly credible and that the markets broadly speaking expect the BoE to ensuring nominal stability.

Hence, so far the Bank of England has done a good job – or rather because BoE was credible before the Brexit shock hit the nominal effects have been rather limited.

But it is not given that BoE automatically will maintain its credibility going forward and I therefore would suggest that the BoE should strengthen its credibility by introducing a 4% Nominal GDP level target (NGDPLT). It would of course be best if the UK government changed BoE’s mandate, but alternatively the BoE could just announce that such target also would ensure the 2% inflation target over the medium term.

In fact there would really not be anything revolutionary about a 4% NGDP level target given what the BoE already has been doing for sometime.

Just take a look at the graph below.


I have earlier suggested that the Federal Reserve de facto since mid-2009 has followed a 4% NGDP level target (even though Yellen seems to have messed that up somewhat).

It seems like the BoE has followed exactly the same rule.  In fact from early 2010 it looks like the BoE – knowingly or unknowingly – has kept NGDP on a rather narrow 4% growth path. This is of course the kind of policy rule Market Monetarists like Scott Sumner, David Beckworth, Marcus Nunes and myself would have suggested.

In fact back in 2011 Scott authored a report – The Case for NGDP Targeting – for the Adam Smith Institute that recommend that the Bank of England should introduce a NGDP level target. Judging from the actual development in UK NGDP the BoE effectively already at that time had started targeting NGDP.

At that time there was also some debate that the UK government should change BoE’s mandate. That unfortunately never happened, but before he was appointed BoE governor expressed some sympathy for the idea.

This is what Mark Carney said in 2012 while he was still Bank of Canada governor:

“.. adopting a nominal GDP (NGDP)-level target could in many respects be more powerful than employing thresholds under flexible inflation targeting. This is because doing so would add “history dependence” to monetary policy. Under NGDP targeting, bygones are not bygones and the central bank is compelled to make up for past misses on the path of nominal GDP.

when policy rates are stuck at the zero lower bound, there could be a more favourable case for NGDP targeting. The exceptional nature of the situation, and the magnitude of the gaps involved, could make such a policy more credible and easier to understand.

Shortly after making these remarks Mark Carney became Bank of England governor.

So once again – why not just do it? 1) The BoE has already effectively had a 4% NGDP level target since 2010, 2) Mark Carney already has expressed sympathy for the idea, 3) Interest rates are already close to the Zero Lower Bound in the UK.

Finally, a 4% NGDP target would be the best ‘insurance policy’ against an adverse supply shock causing a new negative demand shock – something particularly important given the heightened regime uncertainty on the back of the Brexit vote.

No matter the outcome of the referendum the BoE should ease monetary conditions 

If we use the 4% NGDP “target” as a benchmark for what the BoE should do in the present situation then it is clear that monetary easing is warranted and that would also have been the case even if the outcome for the referendum had been “Remain”.

Hence, particularly over the past year actual NGDP have fallen somewhat short of the 4% target path indicating that monetary conditions have become too tight.

I see two main reasons for this.

First of all, the BoE has failed to offset the deflationary/contractionary impact from the tightening of monetary conditions in the US on the back of the Federal Reserve becoming increasingly hawkish. This is by the way also what have led the pound to become somewhat overvalued (which also helps add some flavour the why the pound has dropped so much over the past week).

Second, the BoE seems to have postponed taking any significant monetary action ahead of the EU referendum and as a consequence the BoE has fallen behind the curve.

As a consequence it is clear that the BoE needs to cut its key policy to zero and likely also would need to re-start quantitative easing. However, the need for QE would be reduced significantly if a NGDP level target was introduced now.

Furthermore, it should be noted that given the sharp drop in the value of the pound over the past week we are likely to see some pickup in headline inflation over the next couple of month and even though the BoE should not react to this – even under the present flexible inflation target – it could nonetheless create some confusion regarding the outlook for monetary easing. Such confusion and potential mis-communication would be less likely under a NGDP level targeting regime.

Just do it Carney!

There is massive uncertainty about how UK-EU negotiations will turn out and the two major political parties in the UK have seen a total leadership collapse so there is enough to worry about in regard to economic policy in the UK so at least monetary policy should be the force that provides certainty and stability.

A 4% NGDP level target would ensure such stability so I dare you Mark Carney – just do it. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer can always put it into law later. After all it is just making what the Bank of England has been doing since 2010 official!

Why the US labour market is softening – the one graph version

Friday’s US labour market report was a huge disappointment. This graph explains why.

Muscial Chairs model

This is of course Scott Sumner’s Musical Chairs model of the US labour markets. Simply said the model predicts unemployment to rise if demand growth (nominal GDP) slows relative to the growth of labour costs (average hourly earnings).

With monetary conditions tightening (NGDP growth slowing) and minimum wage hikes helping push up wage growth it should hardly be surprising that we are now seeing a softening of US labour market conditions.

It is not dramatic, but there can be little doubt about the trend and it is essentially the same kind of policy mistakes that we saw in the 1930s – too tight monetary policy combined with labour regulation that push up wage growth. Scott of course documents this very well in his new book the Midas Paradox

Guest post: Tight Money, High Wages: a review of Scott Sumner’s The Midas Paradox

My friend the great economic historian Clark Johnson has written a review of Scott Sumner’s new book The Midas Paradox.

I am very happy that Clark has given me the possibility to publish the review on my blog as a guest post.

If you are interested in the causes of the Great Depression you should certainly read Scott’s new book, but you should not miss Clark’s own book on the Great Depression Gold, France, and the Great Depression, 1919-1932

Here is Clark’s review…

Tight Money, High Wages: a review of Scott Sumner’s The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression (Independent Institute, 2015)

By Clark Johnson

January 2016

Scott Sumner’s new book, The Midas Paradox, uses a “gold market approach” to understand the causes and persistence of the depression of the 1930s.  By wide agreement, the roots of the 1929-1932 depression lay in a shortfall of aggregate demand – which was a consequence of systemic monetary constraint.  Sumner uses the world’s quantity of monetary gold and the ratio of gold-to-money to determine the stance of monetary policy and to identify lost opportunities.  The more usual indicators of interest rates and the quantity of money turn out to be misleading under a gold standard.

He then moves beyond the roots of the downturn to the reasons for persistence of weak economic conditions for years after the underlying monetary problem was solved.  He develops the unexpected view that the US in particular saw a supply-side depression that began in 1933, one driven in large part by New-Deal-driven interferences in labor markets.

Monetary Origins of Depression

Sumner credits what he calls the Mundell-Johnson hypothesis, according to which the roots of the depression were in the post-WWI undervaluation of gold, as a precursor to his study. As the junior placeholder on that hypothesis, I recap my understanding of it here.  The purchasing power of an ounce of gold changed little from the middle of the seventeenth century to the middle of the twentieth.  Gold constraints were typically relaxed during wars to facilitate official spending and borrowing – and allowing price inflation.  But English deflation restored prewar price levels in the years after the Puritan wars of the seventeenth century and the Napoleonic wars of the nineteenth.

A similar deflation was likely to occur after the First World War as major economies of Germany, Britain, and France would return to gold convertibility at the prewar value of $20.67/ ounce during the 1920s.  The low postwar gold value affected monetary reserves in two ways: 1) it depressed the value of outstanding stocks; and 2) it reduced the price incentive for new gold production.  In France, the US, and Germany, which had traditionally had large gold coin circulations, gold was mostly taken out of circulation during and after the war, which lessened confidence in convertible paper money.  Economist Gustav Cassel drew attention to the “gold standard paradox,” by which a gold-based monetary system would require ever-increasing gold production to accommodate economic growth while maintaining reserve ratios.

Yet world gold production during the 1920s was below what it had beezn in the decade before the war; and given the postwar decline in gold’s purchasing power, the real value of new gold produced in the mid-1920s was just over 50 percent of what it had been in 1914.

Read the rest of the review here

Scott Sumners’ new book: The Midas Paradox – Buy it now!

For years my friend Scott Sumner has been working on his book on the Great Depression. It has taken some time to get it out,  but now it will soon be available (December).

The book The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression published by the Independent Institute can be preorder from Amazon now. See here (US) and here (Europe/UK). Needless to say I have already ordered the book.

This is the official book description:

Economic historians have made great progress in unraveling the causes of the Great Depression, but not until Scott Sumner came along has anyone explained the multitude of twists and turns the economy took. In The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression, Sumner offers his magnum opus-the first book to comprehensively explain both monetary and non-monetary causes of that cataclysm.

Drawing on financial market data and contemporaneous news stories, Sumner shows that the Great Depression is ultimately a story of incredibly bad policymaking-by central bankers, legislators, and two presidents-especially mistakes related to monetary policy and wage rates. He also shows that macroeconomic thought has long been captive to a false narrative that continues to misguide policymakers in their quixotic quest to promote robust and sustainable economic growth.

The Midas Paradox is a landmark treatise that solves mysteries that have long perplexed economic historians, and corrects misconceptions about the true causes, consequences, and cures of macroeconomic instability. Like Milton Friedman and Anna J. Schwartz’s A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960, it is one of those rare books destined to shape all future research on the subject.

What I particularly like about the book – yes, I have read it – is that it re-tells the story of the Great Depression by combining financial market data and news stories from the time of the Great Depression. I very much think of this as the Market Monetarist method of analyzing economic, financial and monetary events.

By studying the signals from the markets we can essentially decompose if the economy has been hit by nominal/monetary or real shocks and if we combine this with information from the media about different events we can find the source of these shocks. It takes Christina (and David) Romer’s method of analyzing monetary shocks to a new level so to speak. This is exactly what Scott skillfully does in The Midas Paradox.

So I strongly recommend to buy Scott Sumners’ The Midas Paradox: Financial Markets, Government Policy Shocks, and the Great Depression.

Does Y determine MV or is it MV that determines P?

Scott Sumner a couple of days ago wrote a post on the what he believes is a Great Stagnation story for the US. I don’t agree with Scott about his pessimism about long-term US growth and I don’t think he does a particularly good job arguing his case.

I hope to be able to write something on that in the coming days, but this Sunday I will instead focus on another matter Scott (indirectly) brought up in his Great Stagnation post – the question of causality between nominal and real shocks.

This is Scott:

“I’ve been arguing that 1.2% RGDP and 3.0% NGDP growth is the new normal.  The RGDP growth is of course an arbitrary figure, reflecting the whims of statisticians at the BEA.  But the NGDP slowdown is real (pardon the pun.)”

The point Scott really is making here (other than the productivity story) is that it is real GDP that determines nominal GDP (“NGDP slowdown is real”). That doesn’t sound very (market) monetarist does it?

Is this because because Scott – the founding father of market monetarism – suddenly has become a Keynesian that basically just thinks of nominal GDP as a “residual”?

No, Scott has certainly not become a Keynesian, but rather Scott fully well knows that the causality between nominal and real shocks – whether RGDP determines NGDP or it is the other way around – is critically dependent on the monetary policy regime – a fact that most economists tend to forget or even fail to understand.

Let me explain – I have earlier argued that we should think of the monetary policy rule as the “missing equation” in the our model of the world. The equation which “closes” the model.

It is all very easy to understand by looking at the equation of exchange:


The equation of exchange says that the money supply/base (M) times the velocity of money (V) equals the price level (P) times real GDP (Y).

The central bank controls M and sets M to hit a given nominal target. Market Monetarists of course have argued that central banks should set M so to hit an nominal GDP target. This essentially means that the central bank should set M so to hit a given target for P*Y.

We know that in the long run real GDP is determined by supply side factors rather than by monetary factors. So if we have a NGDP target then the central bank basically pegs M*V, which means that if the growth rate in Y drops (the Great Stagnation story) then the growth rate of P (inflation) will increase.

So we see that under an NGDP targeting regime the causality runs from M*V (and Y) to P. Inflation is so to speak the residual in the economy.

But this is not what Scott indicates in the quote above.

This is because he assumes that the Fed is targeting around 2% (in fact 1.8%) inflation. Therefore, IF the Fed in fact targets inflation – rather than NGDP – then in the equation of exchange the Fed “pegs” P (or rather the growth rate of P).

Therefore, under inflation targeting the Fed will have to reduce the growth rate of M (for a given V) by exactly as much has the slowdown in (long-term) growth rate of Y to keep inflation (growth P) on track.

This means that under inflation targeting shocks to Y (supply shocks) determines both M and P*Y, which of course also means that “NGDP slowdown is real” (as Scott argues) if we combine a slowdown in long-term Y growth and an inflation targeting regime.

Scott won – so he is wrong about causality

Scott since 2009 forcefully has argued that the Federal Reserve should target nominal GDP rather than inflation. I on the other hand believe that Scott has been even more succesfull than he believes and that the Federal Reserve already de facto has switched to an NGDP targeting regime (targeting 4% NGDP growth). Furthermore, I believe that the financial markets more or less realise this, which means that money demand (and therefore money-velocity) tend to move to reflect this regime.

This also means that if Scott won the argument over NGDP targeting (in the US) then he is wrong assuming that that real shocks will become nominal (that Y determines M*V).

The problem of course is that we are not entirely sure what the Fed really is targeting – and neither is most officials. As a consequence we should not think that the monetary-real causality in anyway is stable. This by the way is exactly why we can both have long and variable leads and lags in monetary policy.

For further discussion of these topics see these earlier posts of mine:

The monetary transmission mechanism – causality and monetary policy rule

Expectations and the transmission mechanism – why didn’t anybody think of that before?

How (un)stable is velocity?

The missing equation

The inverse relationship between central banks’ credibility and the credibility of monetarism

Sunday notes – Three working papers and three prediction markets

It is Sunday morning and I really shouldn’t be blogging, but I just have time to share a couple of working papers with you.

First on the list yet another great paper from my friend Bob Hetzel at the Richmond Fed – “A Comparison of Greece and Germany: Lessons for the Eurozone?”

Here is the abstract:

During the Great Recession and its aftermath, the economic performance of Greece and Germany diverged sharply with persistent high unemployment in Greece and low unemployment in Germany. A common explanation for this divergence is the assumption of an unsustainable level of debt in Greece in the years after the formation of the Eurozone while Germany maintained fiscal discipline. This paper reviews the experience of Greece and Germany since the creation of the Eurozone. The review points to the importance of monetary factors, especially the intensification of the recession in Greece starting in 2011 derived from the price-specie flow mechanism described by David Hume.

It is incredible that Bob continues to write great and insightful papers on monetary matters and this paper is no exception. By the way Bob is celebrating 40 years at the Richmond Fed this year.

Second (and third) are two papers by Andrew Jalil. First a paper he has co-authored with Gisela Rua“Inflation Expectations and Recovery from the Depression in 1933: Evidence from the Narrative Record”.

Here is the abstract:

This paper uses the historical narrative record to determine whether inflation expectations shifted during the second quarter of 1933, precisely as the recovery from the Great Depression took hold. First, by examining the historical news record and the forecasts of contemporary business analysts, we show that inflation expectations increased dramatically. Second, using an event-studies approach, we identify the impact on financial markets of the key events that shifted inflation expectations. Third, we gather new evidence—both quantitative and narrative—that indicates that the shift in inflation expectations played a causal role in stimulating the recovery.

It is clear to see both the influence of Christina Romer and Barry Eichengreen in the paper, but mostly I am reminded of Scott Sumner‘s unpublished book on the Great Depression.

I very much like the narrative approach to analysis of “monetary events” where you combine news from for example newspapers or magazines (or these days Google Trends) with the financial market reaction to such news – an approach utilized both in this great paper and in Scott’s Great Depression book.

Such approach captures the impact of expectations in the monetary transmission mechanism much better than traditional econometric studies of monetary policy shocks. As Scott Sumner often has argued – monetary policy works with longer and variable leads – as a consequence it might not make sense to look at present money base and money supply growth or interest rates. Instead we should be looking at expectations of changes in monetary policy. By combining newsflow from the media with information from financial markets we can do that.

The conclusion from the Jalil-Rua paper by the way very much is that monetary policy can be highly potent and that expectations are key for the transmission of monetary shocks.

Marcus Nunes, David Glasner and Mark Thoma also comment on the Jalil-Rua paper.

The other Jalil paper is a paper – Comparing tax and spending multipliers: It is all about controlling for monetary policy – from 2012 that I discovered when Googling Jalil. It is at least as interesting as his paper with Rua and it is on the topic of fiscal austerity and the importance of the monetary policy regime for the size of fiscal multipliers.

Here is the abstract:

This paper derives empirical estimates for tax and spending multipliers. To deal with endogeneity concerns, I employ a large sample of fiscal consolidations identified through the narrative approach. To control for monetary policy, I study the output effects of fiscal consolidations in countries where monetary authorities are constrained in their ability to counteract shocks because they are in either a monetary union (and hence, lack an independent central bank) or a liquidity trap. My results suggest that for fiscal consolidations, the tax multiplier is larger than the spending multiplier. My estimates indicate that whereas the tax multiplier is roughly 3—similar to the recent estimates derived by Romer and Romer (2010), the spending multiplier is close to zero. A number of caveats accompany these results, however.

You really shouldn’t be surprised by these empirical results if you have been reading market monetarist blogs as we – the market monetarists – have for a long time been arguing that if the central bank is targeting either inflation or nominal GDP (essentially aggregate demand) then there will be full monetary offset of fiscal austerity.The so-called fiscal cliff in the US in 2013 is a good example. Here fiscal austerity was fully offset by the expectation of monetary easing from the Federal Reserve.

This of course is really not different from the results in a standard New Keynesian model even though self-styled “Keynesians” often fails to recognise this. But don’t just blame Keynesians – often self-styled anti-Keynesians also fail to appreciate the importance of the monetary regime for the impact of fiscal policy.

More challenging of standard Keynesian thinking is in fact that Jalil shows that even when we don’t have monetary offset the public spending multiplier appears to be close to zero, while there is a strongly negative tax multiplier. That means that governments should rely on spending cuts rather than on tax hikes when doing austerity.

And finally I should note this Sunday that Hypermind has launched a couple of new prediction markets that should be of interest to most people in the finanial markets. The new markets are a U.S. presidential election prediction market and one on whether we will see Grexit in 2015 and one on whether EUR/USD will hit parity.

Enjoy the reminder of the weekend – tomorrow I am heading to Poland for a couple speaking engagements. I think I will be spreading a rather upbeat message on the Polish economy.


If you want to hear me speak about these topics or other related topics don’t hesitate to contact my speaker agency Specialist Speakers – e-mail: or

Brad, Ben (Beckworth?) and Bob

I have been a bit too busy to blog recently and at the moment I am enjoying a short Easter vacation with the family in the Christensen vacation home in Skåne (Southern Sweden), but just to remind you that I am still around I have a bit of stuff for you. Or rather there is quite a bit that I wanted to blog about, but which you will just get the links and some very short comments.

First, Brad DeLong is far to hard on us monetarists when he tells his story about “The Monetarist Mistake”. Brad story is essentially that the monetarists are wrong about the causes of the Great Depression and he is uses Barry Eichengreen (and his new book Hall of Mirrors to justify this view. I must admit I find Brad’s critique a bit odd. First of all because Eichengreen’s fantastic book “Golden Fetters” exactly shows how there clearly demonstrates the monetary causes of the Great Depression. Unfortunately Barry does not draw the same conclusion regarding the Great Recession in Hall of Mirrors (I have not finished reading it all yet – so it is not time for a review yet) even though I believe that (Market) Monetarists like Scott Sumner and Bob Hetzel forcefully have made the argument that the Great Recession – like the Great Depression – was caused by monetary policy failure. (David Glasner has a great blog on DeLong’s blog post – even though I still am puzzled why David remains so critical about Milton Friedman)

Second, Ben Bernanke is blogging! That is very good news for those of us interested in monetary matters. Bernanke was/is a great monetary scholar and even though I often have been critical about the Federal Reserve’s conduct of monetary policy under his leadership I certainly look forward to following his blogging.

The first blog posts are great. In the first post Bernanke is discussing why interest rates are so low as they presently are in the Western world. Bernanke is essentially echoing Milton Friedman and the (Market) Monetarist message – interest rates are low because the economy is weak and the Fed can essentially not control interest rates over the longer run. This is Bernanke:

If you asked the person in the street, “Why are interest rates so low?”, he or she would likely answer that the Fed is keeping them low. That’s true only in a very narrow sense. The Fed does, of course, set the benchmark nominal short-term interest rate. The Fed’s policies are also the primary determinant of inflation and inflation expectations over the longer term, and inflation trends affect interest rates, as the figure above shows. But what matters most for the economy is the real, or inflation-adjusted, interest rate (the market, or nominal, interest rate minus the inflation rate). The real interest rate is most relevant for capital investment decisions, for example. The Fed’s ability to affect real rates of return, especially longer-term real rates, is transitory and limited. Except in the short run, real interest rates are determined by a wide range of economic factors, including prospects for economic growth—not by the Fed.

To understand why this is so, it helps to introduce the concept of the equilibrium real interest rate (sometimes called the Wicksellian interest rate, after the late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Swedish economist Knut Wicksell). The equilibrium interest rate is the real interest rate consistent with full employment of labor and capital resources, perhaps after some period of adjustment. Many factors affect the equilibrium rate, which can and does change over time. In a rapidly growing, dynamic economy, we would expect the equilibrium interest rate to be high, all else equal, reflecting the high prospective return on capital investments. In a slowly growing or recessionary economy, the equilibrium real rate is likely to be low, since investment opportunities are limited and relatively unprofitable. Government spending and taxation policies also affect the equilibrium real rate: Large deficits will tend to increase the equilibrium real rate (again, all else equal), because government borrowing diverts savings away from private investment.

If the Fed wants to see full employment of capital and labor resources (which, of course, it does), then its task amounts to using its influence over market interest rates to push those rates toward levels consistent with the equilibrium rate, or—more realistically—its best estimate of the equilibrium rate, which is not directly observable. If the Fed were to try to keep market rates persistently too high, relative to the equilibrium rate, the economy would slow (perhaps falling into recession), because capital investments (and other long-lived purchases, like consumer durables) are unattractive when the cost of borrowing set by the Fed exceeds the potential return on those investments. Similarly, if the Fed were to push market rates too low, below the levels consistent with the equilibrium rate, the economy would eventually overheat, leading to inflation—also an unsustainable and undesirable situation. The bottom line is that the state of the economy, not the Fed, ultimately determines the real rate of return attainable by savers and investors. The Fed influences market rates but not in an unconstrained way; if it seeks a healthy economy, then it must try to push market rates toward levels consistent with the underlying equilibrium rate.

It will be hard to find any self-described Market Monetarist that would disagree with Bernanke’s comments. In fact as Benjamin Cole rightly notes Bernanke comes close to sounding exactly as David Beckworth. Just take a look at these blog posts by David (here, here and here).

So maybe Bernanke in future blog posts will come out even more directly advocating views that are similar to Market Monetarism and in this regard it would of course be extremely interesting to hear his views on Nominal GDP targeting.

Third and finally Richmond Fed’s Bob Hetzel has a very interesting new “Economic Brief”: Nominal GDP: Target or Benchmark? Here is the abstract:

Some observers have argued that the Federal Reserve would best fulfi ll its mandate by adopting a target for nominal gross domestic product (GDP). Insights from the monetarist tradition suggest that nominal GDP targeting could be destabilizing. However, adopting benchmarks for both nominal and real GDP could offer useful information about when monetary policy is too tight or too loose.

It might disappoint some that Bob fails to come out and explicitly advocate NGDP level targeting. However, I am not disappointed at all as I was well-aware of Bob’s reservations. However, the important point here is that Bob makes it clear that NGDP could be a useful “benchmark”. This is Bob:

At the same time, articulation of a benchmark path for the level of nominal GDP would be a useful start in formulating and communicating policy as a rule. An explicit rule would in turn highlight the importance of shaping the expectations of markets about the way in which the central bank will behave in the future. A benchmark path for the level of nominal GDP would encourage the FOMC to articulate a strategy (rule) that it believes will keep its forecasts of nominal GDP aligned with its benchmark path. In recessions, nominal GDP growth declines significantly. During periods of inflation, it increases significantly.

The FOMC would then need to address the source of these deviations. Did they arise as a consequence of powerful external shocks? Alternatively, did they arise as a consequence either of a poor strategy (rule) or from a departure from an optimal rule?

That I believe is the closest Bob ever on paper has been to give his full endorsement of NGDP “targeting” – Now we just need Bernanke (and Yellen!) to tell us that he agrees.


UPDATE: This blog post should really have had the headline “Brad, Ben, Bob AND George”…as George Selgin has a new blog post on the new(ish) blog Alt-M and that is ‘Definitely Not “Ben Bernanke’s Blog”’

Prediction market: Fed on track to hit 4% NGDP growth in 2015

Since December last year the prediction market site Hypermind has been running a prediction market for US nominal GDP growth for 2015 (plus markets for each quarter of the year).

I think the development of a prediction market for NGDP growth is extremely interesting and such market can help us much better to understand monetary and economic issues. Furthermore, the Federal Reserve should be very excited about such markets as they provide a minute-by-minute “tracker” of the Fed’s performance and credibility.

Of course the Federal Reserve does not official target nominal GDP growth, but I have earlier argued that the Fed effectively since Q2 2009 has kept US NGDP on a (very narrow) path close to a 4% trend. The graph below shows this.

What does the Hypermind’s prediction market then tell us? Well, guess what – right now the market is predicting NGDP growth to be exactly 4% in 2015! So at least judging from the prediction market US monetary policy is right now perfectly calibrated to keep actual NGDP on the 4% path through 2015.

NGDP prediction market Hypermind

This of course does not mean that US monetary policy is “perfect”. First, of all the Fed does not official have a 4% NGDP target. Second, communication about the Fed’s policy instrument(s) is far from perfect. But if we decide to say that the Fed effectively has a 4% NGDP target then at least the “market” now perceives this target as credible.

I have earlier argued that central bankers should endorse prediction markets such as Hypermind. This is what I wrote back in 2012:

My point is that the “average” forecast of the market often is a better forecast than the forecast of the individual forecaster. Furthermore, I know of no macroeconomic forecaster who has consistently over long periods been better than the “consensus” expectation. If my readers know of any such super forecaster I will be happy to know about them.

…Unlike the market where the profit motive rules central banks and governments are not guided by an objective profit motive but rather than by political motives – that might or might not be noble and objective.

It is well known among academic economists and market participants that the forecasts of government institutions are biased. For example Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer have demonstrated that the IMF consistently are biased in a too optimistic direction in their forecasts.

…Instead of relying on in-house forecasts central banks could consult the market about the outlook for the economy and markets. Scott Sumner has for example argued that monetary policy should be conducted by targeting NGDP futures. I think that is an excellent idea. However, first of all it could be hard to set-up a genuine NGDP futures markets. Second, the experience with inflation linked bonds shows that the prices on these bonds often are distorted by for example lack of liquidity in the particular markets.

I believe that these problems can be solved and I think Scott’s suggestion ideally is the right one. However, there is a more simple solution, which in principle is the same thing, but which would be much less costly and complicated to operate. My suggestion is the central bank simply set-up a prediction market for key macroeconomic variables – including of the variables that the central bank targets (or could target) such as NGDP level and growth, inflation, the price level.

…The experience with prediction markets is quite good and prediction markets have been used to forecast everything from the outcome of elections to how much a movie will bring in at the box office. A clear advantage with prediction markets is that they are quite easy to set-up and run. Furthermore, it has been shown that even relatively small size bets give good and reliable predictions. This mean that if a central bank set up a prediction market then the average citizen in the country could easily participate in the “monetary policy market”.

I hence believe that prediction markets could be a very useful tool for central banks – both as a forecasting tool but also as a communication tool. A truly credible central bank would have no problem relying on market forecasts rather than on internal forecast.

I of course understand that central banks for all kind of reasons would be very reluctant to base monetary policy on market predictions, but imagine that the Federal Reserve had had a prediction market for NGDP (or inflation for that matter) in 2007-8. Then there is no doubt that it would have had a real-time indication of how much monetary conditions had tightened and that likely would caused the Fed into action much earlier than was actually the case. A problem with traditional macroeconomic forecasts is that they take time to do and hence are not available to policy makers before sometime has gone by.

With Hypermind’s NGDP prediction market we now have such a market I was calling for back in 2012 and in the future I will try to keep track of the Hypermind’s NGDP prediction market as I believe that such markets can teach us quite a bit about the workings of monetary policy.

Furthermore, it would be extremely interesting to see a similar market being set up for the euro zone so I hope Hypermind in the future will find a sponsor to set up such a market.


Some of my earlier posts on prediction markets:

The Crowd: “Lars, you are fat!”
Prediction markets and UK monetary policy
Leave it to the market to decide on “tapering”
Guest post: Central bankers should watch the Eurovision (by Jens Pedersen)
Remembering the “Market” in Market Monetarism
Gabe Newell on prediction markets – NGDP level targeting and Lindsay Lohan
Yet another argument for prediction markets: “Reputation and Forecast Revisions: Evidence from the FOMC”
Benn & Ben – would prediction markets be of interest to you?
Prediction markets and government budget forecasts
Central banks should set up prediction markets
Markets are telling us where NGDP growth is heading
Scott’s prediction market
Bank of England should leave forecasting to Ladbrokes
Ben maybe you should try “policy futures”?
Robin Hanson’s brilliant idea for central bank decision-making

Great news! Scott Sumner Joins the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Great news – it has just been published that Scott Sumner will join the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and become Ralph G. Hawtrey Chair in Monetary Policy.

This is from Mercatus Center’s press release:

Arlington, VA, January 13, 2015 – The Mercatus Center at George Mason University welcomes Professor Scott Sumner as the Ralph G. Hawtrey Chair in Monetary Policy.

“Scott has significantly improved our understanding of the causes of the Great Recession, starting in 2008, and more generally he has brought the notion of a rules-based approach to monetary policy back into favor,” says Mercatus General Director Tyler Cowen. “With his establishment of the Program on Monetary Policy at Mercatus, we can look forward to a robust research program focused on these and other areas.”

Sumner, named one of Foreign Policy’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers,” is a professor of economics at Bentley University and best known for his research on the Great Depression, prediction markets, and monetary policy. He is the author of the influential economics blog The Money Illusion, where he has written extensively about the need for rules-based monetary policy, particularly the concept of nominal GDP targeting.

“The Mercatus Center has developed a reputation as a world-class research center that academics, policymakers, and the media can turn to for answers, grounded in social-science research, to pressing problems facing the country and the world today,” says Sumner. “That is why I am so pleased to be directing the Mercatus Center’s new Program on Monetary Policy. I look forward to building this platform into a vital resource on issues concerning monetary-policy reform, including rules-based Fed policy and nominal GDP targeting.”

Everything about this is great. The Mercatus Center is an outstanding institution and Scott will make it even better.

PS Scott also comments on his new career.



Tighter monetary conditions – not lower oil prices – are pushing down inflation expectations

Oil prices are tumbling and so are inflation expectations so it is only natural to conclude that the drop in inflation expectations is caused by a positive supply shock – lower oil prices. However, that is not necessarily the case. In fact I believe it is wrong.

Let me explain. If for example 2-year/2-year euro zone inflation expectations drop now because of lower oil prices then it cannot be because of lower oil prices now, but rather because of expectations for lower oil prices in the future.

2y2y BEI euro zone

But the market is not expecting lower oil prices (or lower commodity prices in general) in the future. In fact the oil futures market expects oil prices to rise going forward.

Just take a look at the so-called 1-year forward premium for brent oil. This is the expected increase in oil prices over the next year as priced by the forward market.

brent 1-year foreard

Oil prices have now dropped so much that market participants now actually expect rising oil prices over the going year.

Hence, we cannot justify lower inflation expectations by pointing to expectations for lower oil prices – because the market actual expects higher oil prices – more than 2.5% higher oil prices over the coming year.

So it is not primarily a positive supply shock we are seeing playing out right now. Rather it is primarily a negative demand shock – tighter monetary conditions.

Who is tightening? Well, everybody -The Fed has signalled rate hikes next year, the ECB is continuing to failing to deliver on QE, the BoJ is allowing the strengthening of the yen to continue and the PBoC is allowing nominal demand growth to continue to slow.

As a result the world is once again becoming increasingly deflationary and that might also be the real reason why we are seeing lower commodity prices right now.

Furthermore, if we were indeed primarily seeing a positive supply shock – rather than tighter global monetary conditions – then global stock prices would have been up and not down.

I can understand the confusion. It is hard to differentiate between supply and demand shocks, but we should never reason from a price change and Scott Sumner is therefore totally correct when he is saying that we need a NGDP futures market as such a market would give us a direct and very good indicator of whether monetary/demand conditions are tightening or not.

Unfortunately we do not have such a market and there is therefore the risk that central banks around the world will claim that the drop in inflation expectations is driven by supply factors and that they therefore don’t have to react to it, while in fact global monetary conditions once again are tightening.

We have seen it over and over again in the past six years – monetary policy failure happens when central bankers fail to differentiate properly between supply and demand shocks. Hopefully this time they will realized the mistake before things get too bad.

PS I am not arguing that the drop in actual inflation right now is not caused by lower oil prices. I am claiming that lower inflation expectations are not caused by an expectation of lower oil prices in the future.

PPS This post was greatly inspired by clever young colleague Jens Pedersen.

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