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The root of most fallacies in economics: Forgetting to ask WHY prices change

Even though I am a Dane and work for a Danish bank I tend to not follow the Danish media too much – after all my field of work is international economics. But I can’t completely avoid reading Danish newspapers. My greatest frustration when I read the financial section of Danish newspapers undoubtedly is the tendency to reason from different price changes – for example changes in the price of oil or changes in bond yields – without discussing the courses of the price change.

The best example undoubtedly is changes in (mortgage) bond yields. Denmark has been a “safe haven” in the financial markets so when the euro crisis escalated in 2011 Danish bond yields dropped dramatically and short-term government bond yields even turned negative. That typically triggered the following type of headline in Danish newspapers: “Danish homeowners benefit from the euro crisis” or “The euro crisis is good news for the Danish economy”.

However, I doubt that any Danish homeowner felt especially happy about the euro crisis. Yes, bond yields did drop and that cut the interest rate payments for homeowners with floating rate mortgages. However, bond yields dropped for a reason – a sharp deterioration of the growth outlook in the euro zone due to the ECB’s two unwarranted interest rate hikes in 2011. As Denmark has a pegged exchange rate to the euro Denmark “imported” the ECB’s monetary tightening and with it also the prospects for lower growth. For the homeowner that means a higher probability of becoming unemployed and a prospect of seeing his or her property value go down as the Danish economy contracted. In that environment lower bond yields are of little consolation.

Hence, the Danish financial journalists failed to ask the crucial question why bond yields dropped. Or said in another way they failed to listen to the advice of Scott Sumner who always tells us not to reason from a price change.

This is what Scott has to say on the issue:

My suggestion is that people should never reason from a price change, but always start one step earlier—what caused the price to change.  If oil prices fall because Saudi Arabia increases production, then that is bullish news.  If oil prices fall because of falling AD in Europe, that might be expansionary for the US.  But if oil prices are falling because the euro crisis is increasing the demand for dollars and lowering AD worldwide; confirmed by falls in commodity prices, US equity prices, and TIPS spreads, then that is bearish news.

I totally agree. When we see a price change – for example oil prices or bond yields – we should ask ourselves why prices are changing if we want to know what macroeconomic impact the price change will have. It is really about figuring out whether the price change is caused by demand or supply shocks.

The euro strength is not necessarily bad news – more on the currency war that is not a war

A very good example of this general fallacy of forgetting to ask why prices are changing is the ongoing discussion of the “currency war”. From the perspective of some European policy makers – for example the French president Hollande – the Bank of Japan’s recent significant stepping up of monetary easing is bad news for the euro zone as it has led to a strengthening of the euro against most other major currencies in the world. The reasoning is that a stronger euro is hurting European “competitiveness” and hence will hurt European exports and therefore lower European growth.

This of course is a complete fallacy. Even ignoring the fact that the ECB can counteract any negative impact on European aggregate demand (the Sumner critique also applies for exports) we can see that this is a fallacy. What the “currency war worriers” fail to do is to ask why the euro is strengthening.

The euro is of course strengthening not because the ECB has tightened monetary policy but because the Bank of Japan and the Federal Reserve have stepped up monetary easing.

With the Fed and the BoJ significantly stepping up monetary easing the growth prospects for the largest and the third largest economies in the world have greatly improved. That surely is good news for European exporters. Yes, European exporters might have seen a slight erosion of their competitiveness, but I am pretty sure that they happily will accept that if they are told that Japanese and US aggregate demand – and hence imports – will accelerate strongly.

Instead of just looking at the euro rate European policy makers should consult more than one price (the euro rate) and look at other financial market prices – for example European stock prices. European stock prices have in fact increased significantly since August-September when the markets started to price in more aggressive monetary easing from the Fed and the BoJ. Or look at bond yields in the so-called PIIGS countries – they have dropped significantly. Both stock prices and bond yields in Europe hence are indicating that the outlook for the European economy is improving rather than deteriorating.

The oil price fallacy – growth is not bad news, but war in the Middle East is

A very common fallacy is to cry wolf when oil prices are rising – particularly in the US. The worst version of this fallacy is claiming that Federal Reserve monetary easing will be undermined by rising oil prices.

This of course is complete rubbish. If the Fed is easing monetary policy it will increase aggregate demand/NGDP and likely also NGDP in a lot of other countries in the world that directly or indirectly is shadowing Fed policy. Hence, with global NGDP rising the demand for commodities is rising – the global AD curve is shifting to the right. That is good news for growth – not bad news.

Said another way when the AD curve is shifting to the right – we are moving along the AS curve rather than moving the AS curve. That should never be a concern from a growth perspective. However, if oil prices are rising not because of the Fed or the actions of other central banks – for example because of fears of war in the Middle East then we have to be concerned from a growth perspective. This kind of thing of course is what happened in 2011 where the two major supply shocks – the Japanese tsunami and the revolutions in Northern Africa – pushed up oil prices.

At the time the ECB of course committed a fallacy by reasoning from one price change – the rise in European HICP inflation. The ECB unfortunately concluded that monetary policy was too easy as HICP inflation increased. Had the ECB instead asked why inflation was increasing then we would likely have avoided the rate hikes – and hence the escalation of the euro crisis. The AD curve (which the ECB effectively controls) had not shifted to the right in the euro area. Instead it was the AS curve that had shifted to the left. The ECB’s failure to ask why prices were rising nearly caused the collapse of the euro.

The money supply fallacy – the fallacy committed by traditional monetarists 

Traditional monetarists saw the money supply as the best and most reliable indicator of the development in prices (P) and nominal spending (PY). Market Monetarists do not disagree that there is a crucial link between money and prices/nominal spending. However, traditional monetarists tend(ed) to always see the quantity of money as being determined by the supply of money and often disregarded changes in the demand for money. That made perfectly good sense for example in the 1970s where the easy monetary policies were the main driver of the money supply in most industrialized countries, but that was not the case during the Great Moderation, where the money supply became “endogenous” due to a rule-based monetary policies or during the Great Recession where money demand spiked in particularly the US.

Hence, where traditional monetarists often fail – Allan Meltzer is probably the best example today – is that they forget to ask why the quantity of money is changing. Yes, the US money base exploded in 2008 – something that worried Meltzer a great deal – but so did the demand for base money. In fact the supply of base money failed to increase enough to counteract the explosion in demand for US money base, which effectively was a massive tightening of US monetary conditions.

So while Market Monetarists like myself certainly think money is extremely important we are skeptical about using the money supply as a singular indicator of the stance of monetary policy. Therefore, if we analyse money supply data we should constantly ask ourselves why the money supply is changing – is it really the supply of money increasing or is it the demand for money that is increasing? The best way to do that is to look at market data. If market expectations for inflation are going up, stock markets are rallying, the yield curve is steepening and global commodity prices are increasing then it is pretty reasonable to assume global monetary conditions are getting easier – whether or not the money supply is increasing or decreasing.

Finally I should say that my friends Bob Hetzel and David Laidler would object to this characterization of traditional monetarism. They would say that of course one should look at the balance between money demand and money supply to assess whether monetary conditions are easy or tight. And I would agree – traditional monetarists knew that very well, however, I would also argue that even Milton Friedman from time to time forgot it and became overly focused on money supply growth.

And finally I happily will admit committing that fallacy very often and I still remain committed to studying money supply data – after all being a Market Monetarist means that you still are 95% old-school traditional monetarist at least in my book.

PS maybe the root of all bad econometrics is the also forgetting to ask WHY prices change.

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David Laidler: “Two Crises, Two Ideas and One Question”

The main founding fathers of monetarism to me always was Milton Friedman, Anna Schwartz, Karl Brunner, Allan Meltzer and David Laidler. The three first have all now passed away and Allan Meltzer to some extent seems to have abandoned monetarism. However, David Laidler is still going strong and maintains his monetarist views. David has just published a new and very interesting paper – “Two Crises, Two Ideas and One Question” – in which he compares the Great Depression and the Great Recession through the lens of history of economic thought.

David’s paper is interesting in a number of respects and any student of economic history and history of economic thought will find it useful to read the paper. I particularly find David’s discussion of the views of Allan Meltzer and other (former!?) monetarists interesting. David makes it clear that he think that they have given up on monetarism or as he express it in footnote 18:

“In this group, with which I would usually expect to find myself in agreement (about the Great Recession), I include, among others, Thomas Humphrey, Allan Meltzer, the late Anna Schwartz, and John Taylor, though the latter does not have quite the same track record as a monetarist as do the others.”

Said in another way David basically thinks that these economists have given up on monetarism. However, according to David monetarism is not dead as another other group of economists today continues to carry the monetarist torch – footnote 18 continues:

“Note that I self-consciously exclude such commentators as Timothy Congdon (2011), Robert Hetzel (2012) and that group of bloggers known as the “market monetarists”, which includes Lars Christensen, Scott Sumner, Nicholas Rowe …. – See Christensen (2011) for a survey of their work – from this list. These have all consistently advocated measures designed to increase money growth in recent years, and have sounded many themes similar to those explored here in theory work.”

I personally think it is a tremendous boost to the intellectual standing of Market Monetarism that no other than David Laidler in this way recognize the work of the Market Monetarists. Furthermore and again from a personal perspective when David recognizes Market Monetarist thinking in this way and further goes on to advocate monetary easing as a respond to the present crisis I must say that it confirms that we (the Market Monetarists) are right in our analysis of the crisis and helps my convince myself that I have not gone completely crazy. But read David’s paper – there is much more to it than praise of Market Monetarism.

PS This year it is exactly 30 years ago David’s book “Monetarist Perspectives” was published. I still would recommend the book to anybody interested in monetary theory. It had a profound impact on me when I first read it in the early 1990s, but I must say that when I reread it a couple of months ago I found myself in even more agreement with it than was the case 20 years ago.

Update: David Glasner also comments on Laidler’s paper.

Friedman’s Japanese lessons for the ECB

I often ask myself what Milton Friedman would have said about the present crisis and what he would have recommended. I know what the Friedmanite model in my head is telling me, but I don’t know what Milton Friedman actually would have said had he been alive today.

I might confess that when I hear (former?) monetarists like Allan Meltzer argue that Friedman would have said that we were facing huge inflationary risks then I get some doubts about my convictions – not about whether Meltzer is right or not about the perceived inflationary risks (he is of course very wrong), but about whether Milton Friedman would have been on the side of the Market Monetarists and called for monetary easing in the euro zone and the US.

However, today I got an idea about how to “test” indirectly what Friedman would have said. My idea is that there are economies that in the past were similar to the euro zone and the US economies of today and Friedman of course had a view on these economies. Japan naturally comes to mind.

This is what Friedman said about Japan in December 1997:

“Defenders of the Bank of Japan will say, “How? The bank has already cut its discount rate to 0.5 percent. What more can it do to increase the quantity of money?”

The answer is straightforward: The Bank of Japan can buy government bonds on the open market, paying for them with either currency or deposits at the Bank of Japan, what economists call high-powered money. Most of the proceeds will end up in commercial banks, adding to their reserves and enabling them to expand their liabilities by loans and open market purchases. But whether they do so or not, the money supply will increase.

There is no limit to the extent to which the Bank of Japan can increase the money supply if it wishes to do so. Higher monetary growth will have the same effect as always. After a year or so, the economy will expand more rapidly; output will grow, and after another delay, inflation will increase moderately. A return to the conditions of the late 1980s would rejuvenate Japan and help shore up the rest of Asia.”

So Friedman was basically telling the Bank of Japan to do quantitative easing – print money to buy government bonds (not to “bail out” the government, but to increase the money base).

What were the economic conditions of Japan at that time? The graph below illustrates this. I am looking at numbers for Q3 1997 (which would have been the data available when Friedman recommended QE to BoJ) and I am looking at things the central bank can influence (or rather can determine) according to traditional monetarist thinking: nominal GDP growth, inflation and money supply growth. The blue bars are the Japanese numbers.

Now compare the Japanese numbers with the similar data for the euro zone today (Q1 2012). The euro zone numbers are the red bars.

Isn’t striking how similar the numbers are? Inflation around 2-2.5%, nominal GDP growth of 1-1.5% and broad money growth around 3%. That was the story in Japan in 1997 and that is the story in the euro zone today.

Obviously there are many differences between Japan in 1997 and the euro zone today (unemployment is for example much higher in the euro zone today than it was in Japan in 1997), but judging alone from factors under the direct control of the central bank – NGDP, inflation and the money supply – Japan 1997 and the euro zone 2012 are very similar.

Therefore, I think it is pretty obvious. If Friedman had been alive today then his analysis would have been similar to his analysis of Japan in 1997 and his conclusion would have been the same: Monetary policy in the euro zone is far too tight and the ECB needs to do QE to “rejuvenate” the European economy. Any other view would have been terribly inconsistent and I would not like to think that Friedman could be so inconsistent. Allan Meltzer could be, but not Milton Friedman.

——-

* Broad money is M2 for Japan and M3 for the euro zone.

Related posts:

Meltzer’s transformation
Allan Meltzer’s great advice for the Federal Reserve
Failed monetary policy – (another) one graph version
Jens Weidmann, do you remember the second pillar?

Meltzer’s transformation

Allan Meltzer was one of the founding fathers of monetarism and he has always been one of my favourite economists. However, I must admit that that is no longer the case. His commentary over the last couple of years has had very little to do with monetarism. In fact most of Meltzer’s commentary reminds me of “internet Austrianism”. His latest comment in the Wall Street Journal is certainly not better, but it quite well illustrates his transformation from monetarist to crypto-Austrian. In fact I think it is too depressing even to comment on it (or link to it). However, David Glasner has a very good comment on Meltzer. I suggest you all read it.

If you want to read something Meltzer once wrote that really makes a lot of sense I suggest you take a look at this. That to me is the real Meltzer and the Meltzer I will think of when I take down one of his excellent books on monetary theory and history from my bookshelf.

Allan Meltzer’s great advice for the Federal Reserve

Here is Allan Meltzer’s great advice on US monetary policy:

“Repeatedly, the message has been to reduce tax rates permanently… A permanent tax cut was supposed to do what previous fiscal efforts had failed to do — generate sustained expansion of the American economy. 

No one should doubt that an expansion is desirable for US… and the rest of the world…The US government has watched the economy stagnate much too long. A policy change is long overdue. 

The problem with the advice (about fiscal easing) is that few would, and none should, believe that the US can reduce tax rates permanently. US has run big budget deficits for the past five years and accumulated a large debt that must be serviced at considerably higher interest rates in the future … And the US must soon start to finance large prospective deficits for old age pensions and health care. There is no way to finance these current and future liabilities that will not involve higher future tax rates… 

It is wrong when somebody tells the American to maintain the value of the dollar…The fluctuating rate system should work both ways. Strong economies appreciate; weak economies depreciate. 

What is the alternative? Deregulation is desirable, but it will do its work slowly. If temporary tax cuts are saved, not spent, and permanent tax cuts are impossible, the US choice is between devaluation and renewed deflation. The deflationary solution runs grave risks. Asset prices would continue to fall. Investors anticipating further asset price declines would have every reason to hold cash and wait for better prices. The fragile banking system would face larger losses as asset prices fell. 

Monetary expansion and devaluation is a much better solution. An announcement by the Federal Reserve and the government that the aim of policy is to prevent deflation and restore growth by providing enough money to raise asset prices would change beliefs and anticipations. Rising asset prices, including land and property prices, would revive markets for these assets once the public became convinced that the policy would be sustained. 

The volume of “bad loans” at US banks is not a fixed sum. Rising asset prices would change some loans from bad to good, thereby improving the position of the banking system. Faster money growth would add to the banks’ ability to make new loans, encouraging business expansion.

This program can work only if the exchange rate is allowed to depreciate. Five years of lowering interest rates has shown that there is no way to maintain the exchange rate and generate monetary expansion…

…Some will see devaluation as an attempt by the US to expand through exporting. This is a half-truth. Devaluation will initially increase US exports and reduce imports. As the economy recovers, incomes will rise. Rising incomes are the surest way of generating imports of raw materials and sub-assemblies from US trading partners.

Let money growth increase until asset prices start to rise.”

I think Allan Meltzer as a true monetarist presents a very strong case for US monetary easing and at the same time acknowledges that fiscal policy is irrelevant. Furthermore, Meltzer makes a forceful argument that if monetary policy is eased then that would significantly ease financial sector distress. The readers of my blog should not be surprised that Allan Meltzer always have been one of my favourite economists.

Meltzer indirectly hints that he wants the Federal Reserve to target asset prices. I am not sure how good an idea that is. After all what asset prices are we talking about? Stock prices? Bond prices? Or property prices? Much better to target the nominal GDP target level, but ok stock prices do indeed tend to forecast the future NGDP level pretty well.

OK, I admit it…I have been cheating! Allan Meltzer did indeed write this (or most of it), but he as not writing about the US. He was writing about Japan in 1999 (So I changed the text a little). It would be very interesting hearing why Dr. Meltzer thinks monetary easing is wrong for the US today, but right for Japan in 1999. Why would Allan Meltzer be against a NGDP target rule that would bring the US NGDP level back to the pre-crisis trend and then there after target a 3%, 4% or 5% growth path as suggested by US Market Monetarists such as Scott Sumner, Bill Woolsey and David Beckworth?

 

US Monetary History – The QRPI perspective: The Volcker disinflation

I am continuing my mini-series on modern US monetary history through the lens of my decomposition of supply inflation and demand inflation based on what I inspired by David Eagle have termed a Quasi-Real Price Index (QRPI). In this post I will have a look at the early 1980s and what have been termed the Volcker disinflation.

When Paul Volcker became Federal Reserve chairman in August 1979 US inflation was on the way to 10% and the fight against inflation had more or less been given up and there was certainly no consensus even among economists that inflation was a monetary phenomenon. Volcker set out to defeat inflation. Volcker is widely credited with achieving this goal and even though one can question US monetary policy in a number of ways in the period that Volcker was Fed chairman there is no doubt in mind my that Volcker succeed and by doing so laid the foundation for the great stability of the Great Moderation that followed from the mid-80s and lasted until 2008.

Below you see my decomposition of US inflation in the 1980s between demand inflation (which the central bank controls) and supply inflation.

As the graph shows – and as I spelled out in my earlier post on the 1970s inflationary outburst – the main cause of the rise in US inflation in 1970s was excessive loose monetary policy. This was particularly the case in late 1970s and when Volcker became Fed chairman demand inflation was well above 10%.

Volcker early on set out to reduce inflation by implementing (quasi) money supply targeting. It is obviously that the Volcker’s Fed had some operational problems with this strategy and it effectively (unfairly?) undermined the idea of a monetary policy based on Friedman style money supply targeting, but it nonetheless clearly was what brought inflation down.

The first year of Volcker’s tenure undoubtedly was extremely challenging and Volcker hardly can say to have been lucky with the timing. More or less as he became Fed chairman the second oil crisis hit and oil prices spiked dramatically in the wake of the Iranian revolution in 1979. The spike in oil prices boosted supply inflation dramatically and that pushed headline inflation well above 10% – hardly a good start point for Volcker.

Quasi-Real Price Index and the decomposition of the inflation data seem very clearly to illustrate all the key factors in the Volcker disinflation:

1)   Initially Volker dictated disinflation by introducing money supply targeting. The impact on demand inflation seems to have been nearly immediate. As the graph shows demand inflation dropped sharply in1980 and the only reason headline inflation did not decrease was the sharp rise in oil prices that pushed up supply inflation.

2)   The significant monetary tightening sent the US economy into recession in 1980 and this lead Volcker & Co. to abandon the policy of monetary tightening and “re-eased” monetary policy in the summer of 1980. Again the impact seems to have been immediate – demand inflation picked up sharply going into 1981.

3)   Over the summer the Fed moved to hike interest rates dramatically and slow money supply growth sharply. That caused demand inflation to ease off significantly and inflation had finally been beaten.

4)   The Fed allowed demand inflation to pick up once again in 1984-85, but at that time Volcker was more lucky as supply factors helped curb headline inflation.

The zigzagging in monetary policy in the early 1980s is clearly captured by my decomposition of inflation. To me shows how relatively useful these measures are and I think they could be help tools for both analysts and central bankers.

This post in no way is a full account of the Volcker disinflation. Rather it is meant as an illustration of the Quasi-Real Price Index and my suggested decomposition of inflation.

My two main sources on modern US monetary history is Robert Hetzel’s “The Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve – A History” and Allan Meltzer’s “A History of the Federal Reserve”. However, for a critical account of the first years of the Volcker disinflation I can clearly recommend our friend David Glasner’s “Free Banking and Monetary Reform”. I am significantly less critical about money supply targeting than David, but I think his account of the Volcker disinflation clear give some insight to the problems of money supply targeting.

US Monetary History – The QRPI perspective: 1960s

In my previous post I showed how US inflation can be decomposed between demand inflation and supply inflation by using what I term an Quasi-Real Price Index (QRPI). In the coming posts I will have a look at use US monetary history through the lens of QRPI. We start with the 1960s.

In monetary terms the 1960s in some sense was a relatively “boring” decade in the sense that inflation remained low and relatively stable and growth – real and nominal – was high and relatively stable. However, the monetary policies in the US during this period laid the “foundation” for the high inflation of the 1970s.

In the first half of the 1960s inflation remained quite subdued at not much more than 1%, however, towards the end of the decade inflation started to take off.

What is remarkable about the 1960s is the quite strong growth in productivity that kept inflation in check. The high growth in productivity “allowed” for easier monetary policy than would otherwise have been the case an demand inflation accelerated all through the 1960s and towards the end of the decade demand inflation was running at 5-6% and as productivity growth eased off in 1966-67 headline inflation started to inch up.

In fact demand inflation was nearly as high in the later part of the 1960s in the US as was the case in the otherwise inflationary 1970s. In that sense it can said that the “Great Inflation” really started in 1960 rather than in the 1970s.

My favourite source on US monetary history after the second War World is Allan Meltzer’s excellent book(s) “A History of the Federal Reserve”. However, Robert Hetzel’s – somewhat shorter – book “The Monetary Policy of the Federal Reserve: A History” also is very good.

Both Meltzer and Hetzel note a number of key elements that were decisive for the conduct of monetary policy in the US in the 1960s. A striking feature during the 1960s was to what extent the Federal Reserve was very direct political pressure by especially the Kennedy and Johnson administrations on the Fed to ease monetary policy. Another feature was the most Federal Reserve officials did not share Milton Friedman’s dictum that inflation is a monetary phenomenon rather the Fed thinking was strongly Keynesian and so was the thinking of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. As a consequence the Federal Reserve seemed to have ignored the rising inflationary pressures due to demand inflation and as such is fully to blame for the high headline inflation in the 1970. I will address that in my next post on US monetary history from an QRPI perspective.

“Ben Volcker” and the monetary transmission mechanism

I am increasingly realising that a key problem in the Market Monetarist arguments for NGDP level targeting is that we have not been very clear in our arguments concerning how it would actually work.

We argue that we should target a certain level for NGDP and then it seems like we just expect it too happen more or less by itself. Yes, we argue that the central bank should control the money base to achieve this target and this could done with the use of NGDP futures. However, I still think that we need to be even clearer on this point.

Therefore, we really need a Market Monetarist theory of the monetary transmission mechanism. In this post I will try to sketch such a theory.

Combining “old monetarist” insights with rational expectations

The historical debate between “old” keynesians and “old” monetarists played out in the late 1960s and the 1970s basically was centre around the IS/LM model.

The debate about the IS/LM model was both empirical and theoretical. On the hand keynesians and monetarists where debating the how large the interest rate elasticity was of money and investments respectively. Hence, it was more or less a debate about the slope of the IS and LM curves. In much of especially Milton Friedman writings he seems to accept the overall IS/LM framework. This is something that really frustrates me with much of Friedman’s work on the transmission mechanism and other monetarists also criticized Friedman for this. Particularly Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer were critical of “Friedman’s monetary framework” and for his “compromises” with the keynesians on the IS/LM model.

Brunner and Meltzer instead suggested an alternative to the IS/LM model. In my view Brunner and Meltzer provides numerous important insights to the monetary transmission mechanism, but it often becomes unduly complicated in my view as their points really are relatively simple and straight forward.

At the core of the Brunner-Meltzer critique of the IS/LM model is that there only are two assets in the IS/LM model – basically money and bonds and if more assets are included in the model such as equities and real estate then the conclusions drawn from the model will be drastically different from the standard IS/LM model. It is especially notable that the “liquidity trap” argument breaks down totally when more than two assets are included in the model. This obviously also is key to the Market Monetarist arguments against the existence of the liquidity trap.

This mean that monetary policy not only works via the bond market (in fact the money market). In fact we could easily imagine a theoretical world where interest rates did not exist and monetary policy would work perfectly well. Imagining a IS/LM model where we have two assets. Money and equities. In such a world an increase in the money supply would push up the prices of equities. This would reduce the funding costs of companies and hence increase investments. At the same time it would increase holdholds wealth (if they hold equities in their portfolio) and this would increase private consumption. In this world monetary policy works perfectly well and the there is no problem with a “zero lower bound” on interest rates. Throw in the real estate market and a foreign exchange markets and then you have two more “channels” by which monetary policy works.

Hence, the Market Monetarist perspective on monetary policy the following dictum holds:

“Monetary policy works through many channels”

Keynesians are still obsessed about interest rates

Fast forward to the debate today. New Keynesians have mostly accepted that there are ways out of the liquidity trap and the work of for example Lars E. O. Svensson is key. However, when one reads New Keynesian research today one will realise that New Keynesians are as obsessed with interest rates as the key channel for the transmission of monetary policy as the old keynesians were. What has changed is that New Keynesians believe that we can get around the liquidity trap by playing around with expectations. Old Keynesians assumed that economic agents had backward looking or static expectations while New Keynesians assume rational expectations – hence, forward-looking expectations.

Hence, New Keynesians still see interest rates at being at the core of monetary policy making. This is as problematic as it was 30 years ago. Yes, it is fine that New Keynesian acknowledges that agents are forward-looking but it is highly problematic that they maintain the narrow focus on interest rates.

In the New Keynesian model monetary policy works by increasing inflation expectation that pushes down real interest rates, which spurs private consumption and investments. Market Monetarists certainly do think this is one of many channels by which monetary policy work, but it is clearly not the most important channel.

Rules are at the centre of the transmission mechanism

Market Monetarist stresses the importance of monetary policy rules and how that impacts agents expectations and hence the monetary transmission mechanism. Hence, we are more focused on the forward-looking nature or monetary policy than the “old” monetarists were. In that regard we are similar to the New Keynesians.

It exactly because of our acceptance of rational expectations that we are so obsessed about NGDP level targeting. Therefore when we discuss the monetary policy transmission mechanism it is key whether we are in world with no credible rule in place or whether we are in a world of a credible monetary policy rule. Below I will discussion both.

From no credibility to a credible NGDP level target

Lets assume that the economy is in “bad equilibrium”. For some reason money velocity has collapsed, which continues to put downward pressures on inflation and growth and therefore on NGDP. Then enters a new credible central bank governor and he announces the following:

“I will ensure that a “good equilibrium” is re-established. That means that I will ‘print’ whatever amount of money is needed so to make up for the drop in velocity we have seen. I will not stop the expansion of the money base before market participants again forecasts nominal GDP to have returned to it’s old trend path. Thereafter I will conduct monetary policy in such a fashion so NGDP is maintained on a 5% growth path.”

Lets assume that this new central bank governor is credible and market participants believe him. Lets call him Ben Volcker.

By issuing this statement the credible Ben Volcker will likely set in motion the following process:

1) Consumers who have been hoarding cash because they where expecting no and very slow growth in the nominal income will immediately reduce there holding of cash and increase private consumption.
2) Companies that have been hoarding cash will start investing – there is no reason to hoard cash when the economy will be growing again.
3) Banks will realise that there is no reason to continue aggressive deleveraging and they will expect much better returns on lending out money to companies and households. It certainly no longer will be paying off to put money into reserves with the central bank. Lending growth will accelerate as the “money multiplier” increases sharply.
4) Investors in the stock market knows that in the long run stock prices track nominal GDP so a promise of a sharp increase in NGDP will make stocks much more attractive. Furthermore, with a 5% path growth rule for NGDP investors will expect a much less volatile earnings and dividend flow from companies. That will reduce the “risk premium” on equities, which further will push up stock prices. With higher stock prices companies will invest more and consumers will consume more.
5) The promise of loser monetary policy also means that the supply of money will increase relative to the demand for money. This effectively will lead to a sharp sell-off in the country’s currency. This obviously will improve the competitiveness of the country and spark export growth.

These are five channels and I did not mention interest rates yet…and there is a reason for that. Interest rates will INCREASE and so will bond yields as market participant start to price in higher inflation in the transition period in which we go from a “bad equilibrium” to a “good equilibrium”.

Hence, there is no reason for the New Keynesian interest rate “fetish” – we got at least five other more powerful channels by which monetary policy works.

Monetary transmission mechanism with a credible NGDP level target

Ben Volcker has now with his announcement brought back the economy to a “good equilibrium”. In the process he might have needed initially to increase the money base to convince economic agents that he meant business. However, once credibility is established concerning the new NGDP level target rule Ben Volcker just needs to look serious and credible and then expectations and the market will take care of the rest.

Imagine the following situation. A positive shock increase the velocity of money and with a fixed money supply this pushed NGDP above it target path. What happens?

1) Consumers realise that Ben Volcker will tighten monetary policy and slow NGDP growth. With the expectation of lower income growth consumers tighten their belts and private consumption growth slows.
2) Investors also see NGDP growth slowing so they scale back investments.
3) With the outlook for slower growth in NGDP banks scale back their lending and increase their reserves.
4) Stock prices start to drop as expectations for earnings growth is scaled back (remember NGDP growth and earnings growth is strongly correlated). This slows private consumption growth and investment growth.
5) With expectations of a tightening of monetary conditions players in the currency market send the currency strong. This led to a worsening of the country’s competitiveness and to weaker export growth.
6) Interest rates and bond yields DROP on the expectations of tighter monetary policy.

All this happens without Ben Volcker doing anything with the money base. He is just sitting around repeating his dogma: “The central bank will control the money base in such a fashion that economic agents away expect NGDP to grow along the 5% path we already have announced.” By now he might as well been replaced by a computer…

…..

Recommended reading on the “old” monetarist transmission mechanism

Milton Friedman: “Milton Friedman’s Monetary Framework: A Debate with His Critics”
Karl Brunner and Allan Meltzer: “Money and the Economy: Issues in Monetary Analysis”

For a similar discussion to mine with special focus on the Paradox of Thrieft see the following posts from some of our Market Monetarist friends:

Josh Hendrickson
David Beckworth
Bill Woolsey
Nick Rowe

And finally from Scott Sumner on the differences between New Keynesian and Market Monetarist thinking.

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Update: Scott Sumner has a interesting comment on central banking “language” and “interest rates”.

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