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?


Barnett getting it right…

William Barnett has a comment on his blog about the comments from Scott Sumner, Bill Woolsey and myself.

Here is Barnett:

“Regarding the insightful commentaries that just appeared on the three blogs, The Money Illusion, The Market Monetarist, and Monetary Freedom, I just posted the following reply on the Monetary Freedom blog.

All very interesting. The relevant theory is in the appendixes to my new book, Getting It Wrong. The source of the new Divisia data is the program I now direct at the Center for Financial Stability in NY City. The program is called Advances in Monetary and Financial Measurement (AMFM).

AMFM will include a Reports section discussing monetary conditions. Although not yet online, that section will address many of the concerns rightfully appearing in the excellent blogs, The Money Illusion, The Market Monetarist, and Monetary Freedom. The distinction between the AMFM Reports section and the AMFM Library, which is already online, is that the AMFM Library only relates to articles published in peer-reviewed journals and books, while the AMFM Reports section will relate to the public media and online blogs. 

There will be a press release when the full AMFM site is ready to go online.”

I certainly hope to be able to follow up on William’s work in the future. I am particularly interested in the reasons for the sharp drop in Divisia M3 and Divisia M4 in 2008/09. The numbers surely confirms that monetary policy has dramatically tightened in 2008 – as Market Monetarists long has argued – most notable Scott Sumner and Bob Hetzel.

Divisia Money and “A Subjectivist Approach to the Demand for Money”

Recently Scott Sumner have brought up William Barnett’s new book “Getting it Wrong: How Faulty Monetary Statistics Undermine the Fed, the Financial System, and the Economy”. The theme in Barnett’s book is basically that “normal” money supply numbers where subcomponents of the money supply is added up with equal weight give wrong measure of the “real” money supply. Instead Barnett’s recommend using a so-called Divisia Money method of the money supply.

Here is a William Barnett’s discription of divisia money (from the comment section on Scott’s blog):

“Unlike the Fed’s simple-sum monetary aggregates, based on accounting conventions, my Divisia monetary aggregates are based on microeconomic aggregation theory. The accounting distinction between assets and liabilities is irrelevant and is not the same for all economic agents demanding monetary services in the economy. What is relevant is market data not accounting data.”

And here is the official book discription of Barnett’s book:

“Blame for the recent financial crisis and subsequent recession has commonly been assigned to everyone from Wall Street firms to individual homeowners. It has been widely argued that the crisis and recession were caused by “greed” and the failure of mainstream economics. In Getting It Wrong, leading economist William Barnett argues instead that there was too little use of the relevant economics, especially from the literature on economic measurement. Barnett contends that as financial instruments became more complex, the simple-sum monetary aggregation formulas used by central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, became obsolete. Instead, a major increase in public availability of best-practice data was needed. Households, firms, and governments, lacking the requisite information, incorrectly assessed systemic risk and significantly increased their leverage and risk-taking activities. Better financial data, Barnett argues, could have signaled the misperceptions and prevented the erroneous systemic-risk assessments.

When extensive, best-practice information is not available from the central bank, increased regulation can constrain the adverse consequences of ill-informed decisions. Instead, there was deregulation. The result, Barnett argues, was a worst-case toxic mix: increasing complexity of financial instruments, inadequate and poor-quality data, and declining regulation. Following his accessible narrative of the deep causes of the crisis and the long history of private and public errors, Barnett provides technical appendixes, containing the mathematical analysis supporting his arguments.”

Needless to say I have ordered the book at look forward to reading. I am, however, already relatively well-read in the Divisia money literature and I have always intuitively found the Divisia concept interesting and useful and which that more central bank around the world had studied and published Divisia money supply numbers and fundamentally I think Divisia money is a good supplement to studying market data as Market Monetarists recommend. Furthermore, it should be noted that the weight of the different subcomponents in Divisia money is exactly based on market pricing of the return (the transaction service) of different components of the money supply.

My interest in Divisia money goes back more than 20 years (I am getting old…) and is really based on an article by Steven Horwitz from 1990. In the article “A Subjectivist Approach to the Demand for Money” Steve among other thing discusses the concept of “moneyness”. This discussion I think provide a very good background for understanding the concept of Divisia Money. Steve does not discuss Divisia Money in the article, but I fundamentally think he provides a theoretical justification for Divisa Money in his excellent article.

Here is a bit of Steve’s discussion of “moneyness”:

“Hicks argues that money is held because investing in interest-earning assets involves transactions costs ; the act of buying a bond involves sacrificing more real resources than does acquiring money. It is at least possible that the interest return minus the transactions costs could be negative, making money’s zero return preferred.

While this approach is consistent with the observed trade-off between interest rates and the demand for money (see below), it does not offer an explanation of what money does, nor what it provides to its holder, only that other relevant substitutes may be worse choices. By immediately portraying the choice between money and near-moneys as between barrenness and interest, Hicks starts off on the wrong track. When one “objectifies” the returns fro111each choice this way, one is led to both ignore the yield on money held as outlined above and misunderstand the choice between holding financial and non-financial assets. The notion of a subjective yield on money can help to explain better the relationship between money and near-moneys.

One way in which money differs from other goods is that it is much harder to identify any prticular good as money because goods can have aspects of money, yet not be full-blooded moneys. What can be said is that financial assets have degrees of “moneyness” about them, and that different financial assets can be placed along a moneyness continium. Hayek argues that: “it would be more helpful…if “money”were an adjective describing a property which different things could possess to varying degrees. A pure money asset is then defined as the generally accepted medium of exchange. Items which can he used as lnedia of exchange, but are somewhat or very much less accepted are classified as near-moneys.

Nonetheless, money and near-moneys share an important feature Like all other objects of exchange, their desirability is based o n their utility yield. However in the case of near-moneys, that yield is not simply availability. Near-moneys do yield some availability services, but not to the degree of pure money. ‘The explanation is that by definition, near-moneys are not as generally acceptable and therefore cannot he available for all the same contingencies as pure money. For example, as White argues, a passbook savings account is not the same as pure money because, aside from being not directly transferrable (one has to go to the hank and make a withdrawal, unlike a demand deposit), it is not generally acceptable. Even a demand deposit is not quite as available as currency or coin is – some places will not accept checks. These kinds of financial assets have lower availability yields than pure money because they are simply not as marketable.”

If you read Steve’s paper and then have a look at the Divisia numbers – then I am pretty sure that you will think that the concept makes perfect sense.

And now I have written a far too long post – and you should not really have wasted your time on reading my take on this issue as the always insightful Bill Woolsey has a much better discussion of the topic here.

David Eagle’s framework and the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism

Over the last couple of days I have done a couple of posts on the work of David Eagle (and Dale Domian). I guess that there still are a few posts that could be written on this topic. This is the next one.

Even though David Eagle’s work has been focusing on what he and Dale Domian have termed Quasi-Real Indexing I believe that his work is highly relevant for Market Monetarists. In this post I will try to draw up some lessons we can learn from David Eagle’s work and how it could be relevant to formulating a more consistent micro-foundation for Market Monetarism.

There are a no recessions in a world without money

The starting point in most of Eagle’s research is an Arrow-Debreu model of the world. Similarly the starting point for Market Monetarists like Nick Rowe and Bill Woolsey is Say’s Law – that supply creates its own demand. (See for example Nick on Say’s Law here).

This starting point is a world without money and both in the A-D model and under Say’s Law there can not be recessions in the sense of general glut in the product and labour markets.

However, once money and sticky prices and wages are introduced – both by Market Monetarists and by David Eagle – then we can have recessions. Hence, for Market Monetarists and David Eagle recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

N=PY – the simple way to illustrate some MM positions

In a number of his papers David Eagle introduces a simplified version of the equation of exchange where he re-writes MV=PY to N=PY. Hence, Eagle sees MV not some two variables, but rather as one variable – nominal spending (N), which is under the control the central bank. This is in fact quite similar to Market Monetarists thinking. While “old” monetarists traditional have assumed that V is constant (or is “stationary”) Market Monetarists acknowledges that this position no longer can be empirically supported. That is the reason why Market Monetarists have focused on the right hand side of the equation of exchange rather than on the left hand side like “old” monetarists like Milton Friedman used to do.

I, however, think that Eagle’s simplified equation of exchange has some merit in terms of clarifying some key Market Monetarist positions.

First of all N=PY gets us from micro to macro. Hence, PY is not one price and one output, but numerous prices and outputs. If N is kept constant that is basically the Arrow-Debreu world. That illustrates the point that we need changes in N to get recessions.

Second, N=PY can be a rearranged to P=N/Y. Hence, inflation is the “outcome” of the relationship between nominal spending (N) and real GDP (Y). In terms of causality this also illustrates (but it does not necessary prove) another key Market Monetarist point, which often has been put forward by especially Scott Sumner that nominal income (N) causes P and Y and not the other way around (See here and here). This is contrary to the New Keynesian formulation of the Phillips curve, where “excessive” growth in real GDP relative to “trend” GDP increases “price pressures”.

Third, P=N/Y also illustrates that there are two sources of price changes – nominal spending (N) and supply shocks. This lead us to another key Market Monetarist position – also stressed strongly by David Eagle – that there is good and bad inflation/deflation. This is a point stressed often by David Beckworth (See here and here). David Eagle of course uses this insight to argue that normal inflation indexing is sub-optimal to what he has termed Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI). This of course is similar to why Market Monetarists prefer NGDP targeting to Price Level Targeting (and inflation targeting).

The welfare economic arguments for NGDP targeting

In an Arrow-Debreu world the allocation is Pareto optimal and with fully flexible prices and wages changes in N will have no impact on allocation and an increase or a drop in N will have no impact on economic welfare. However, if we introduce sticky prices and wages in the model then unexpected changes in N will reduce welfare in the traditional neo-classical sense. Hence, to ensure Pareto optimality we have two options.

1)   The monetary institutional set-up should ensure a stable and predictable N. We can do that with a central bank that targets the NGDP level or with a Free Banking set-up (that ensures a stable N in a perfect competition Free Banking system). Hence, while Market Monetarists mostly argue in favour of NGDP from a macroeconomic perspective David Eagle’s framework also gives a strong welfare theoretical argument for NGDP targeting.

2)   (Full) Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI) will also ensure a Pareto optimal outcome – even with stick prices and wages and changes in N. David Eagle and Dale Domian have argued that QRI could be used to “immunise” the economy from recessions. Market Monetarists (other than myself) have so far as I know now directly addressed the usefulness of QRI.

Remaining with in the simplified version of the equation of exchange (N=PY) NGDP targeting focuses on left hand side of the equation, which can be determined by monetary policy, while QRI is focused on the right hand side of the equation. Obviously with one of the two in place the other would not be needed.

In my view the main problem with QRI is that the right hand side of the equation is not just one price and one output but millions of prices and outputs and the price system plays a extremely important role in the allocation of resources in the economy. It is therefore also impossible to expect some kind of “centralised” QRI (god forbid anybody would get such an idea…). I am pretty sure that my fellow Market Monetarist bloggers feel the same way. That said, I think that QRI can useful in understanding why the drop in nominal spending (N) has had such a negative impact on RGDP in the US and other places.

Furthermore, as I stressed in an earlier post QRI might be useful in housing funding reform in the US – as suggested by David Eagle. Furthermore, it is obviously QRI based government bonds could be used in the conduct of NGDP targeting – as in line with what Scott Sumner for example has suggested and as in fact also suggested by David Eagle.

David Eagle should inspire Market Monetarists

In conclusion I think that David Eagle’s and Dale Damion’s on work on both NGDP targeting and QRI will be a useful input to the further development of the Market Monetarist paradigm and I especially think it will be helpful in a more precise description of the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism.

PS David Eagle has also done work on interest rates targeting and is highly critical of Michael Woodford’s New Keynesian perspective on monetary policy. This research is relatively technical and not easily assessable, but should surely be of interest to Market Monetarists as well.


See my other posts on David Eagle and Dale Domian:
Quasi-Real indexing – indexing for Market Monetarists
A simple housing rescue package – QRI Mortgages and NGDP targeting
David Eagle on “Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery”

Woolsey on DeLong on NGDP Targeting

Interestingly enough both Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong have now come out in favour of NGDP level targeting. Hence, the policy recommendation from these two Keynesian giants are the same as from the Market Monetarist bloggers, but even though the Keynesians now agree with our policy recommendation on monetary policy in the US the theoretical differences are still massive. Both Krugman and DeLong stress the need for fiscal easing in the US. Market Monetarists do not think fiscal policy will be efficient and we are in general skeptical about expanding the role of government in the economy.

Bill Woolsey has an excellent comment on Brad Delong’s support for NGDP targeting. Read it here.

Despite theoretical differences it is interesting how broad based the support for NGDP level targeting is becoming among US based economists (In Europe we don’t have that sort of debate…we are just Calvinist…)

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