Guest post: Central Banks Should Quit “Kicking Them While They Are Down!” (by David Eagle)

Guest post: Central Banks Should Quit “Kicking Them While They Are Down!”

– Abandon Inflation Targeting! Embrace NGDP Level Targeting!

By David Eagle

Homeowners in the U.S. and many other places in the world are struggling to meet their mortgage payments while their average nominal income has fallen in the aftermath of one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Many sovereign governments in Europe are struggling to meet their debt obligations in the midst of reduced tax revenue caused by this recession.  On Monday, Feb. 13, 2012, many Greek citizens rioted in Athens against the austerity measures being passed by the Greek government under pressure from the European Union.  What do these homeowners, sovereign governments, and the Greek people have in common?  They are all victims.  They are victims of well-intentioned, but misguided central banks.

By explicitly or covertly targeting inflation, these central banks including the Federal Reserve of the U.S. and the European Central Bank have been “kicking these victims while they are down.”  These central banks are promising to continue kicking them while they are down in perpetuity.  I write this blog in hopes of ending the madness of this economic self-destruction.

In a previous guest blog at The Market Monetarist, I discussed why Price-Level Targeting (PLT) Pareto dominates Inflation Targeting (IT).  That blog’s conclusion followed from the realization that the uncertainty that borrowers and lenders face is not “inflation risk” but rather price-level risk.  It is then obvious that the long-term price-level risk faced by both borrowers and lenders is less under PLT than under IT.  Whenever the price level deviates from what was expected, either the borrower or the lender experiences a loss while the other experiences a gain.  Under PLT the central bank tries to reverse those losses or gains, whereas under IT the central bank tries to make those gains or losses permanent.  By making the losers’ losses permanent, IT “kicks them while they are down.”

IT is not the only monetary target that “kicks them while they are down.”  Many market monetarists and I have great respect for Bennett McCallum.  However, McCallum advocates what I nickname “ΔNT,” which is targeting the growth rate of nominal GDP.  The truth is that ΔNT “kicks them while they are down” just as much as does IT.  As I explained in one of my guest blogs at The Market Monetarist, both IT and ΔNT lead to NGDP base drift.  It is this evil NGDP base drift that “kicks them while they are down.”  As a result, central banks need to try to reverse any NGDP base drift in order to help lift economic agents back up after they have been knocked down by recessions.  The targeting regime designed specifically to eliminate NGDP base drift is what I nickname “NT.”  Under NT central banks target the level (not the growth rate) of NGDP; NT is the targeting regime advocated by most market monetarists.

The Evil NGDP Base Drift:

Let Xt be a prearranged nominal loan payment, and let xtXt/Pt be the real value of this nominal loan payment.  By the equation of exchange (MV=N=PY), we know that P=N/Y. Therefore, the real value of Xtis (Xt/Nt)Yt, which implies that the real value of Xt is proportional to Yt when Nt=E[Nt], which it will be under perfectly successful NT.

Define αtXt/Nt to be the actual proportion that the real value of this nominal payment is to RGDP.  Multiply the right side by Nt*/Nt* (which equals one) where Nt* is defined as the prerecession trend for NGDP (Under NT, Nt* would be the NGDP target).  Rearranging slightly gives:

(1) αt=(Xt/Nt*)(Nt*/Nt)

Define NGAP to be the percentage deviation of NGDP from its prerecession trend.  Hence, NGAPt≡(Nt─Nt*)/Nt*.  We can also write that NGAPt=Nt/Nt*-1, or 1+NGAPt = Nt/Nt*, which is the reciprocal of the last ratio in equation (1).  Define αt*Xt/Nt*, which is what αt would if Nt=Nt*, i.e., when NGAPt=0.  With this new definition and our understanding of NGAP, we can rewrite equation (1) as:

(2) αt= αt*/(1+NGAPt)

This states that the proportion that the real value of the nominal loan payment is of RGDP equals the proportion it would be if NGDP is on its prerecession trend divided by 1+NGAP.  Equation (2) is useful to show how borrowers and lenders are affected when NGDP deviates from its trend.  When NGDP rises above trend, NGAP becomes positive, decreasing this proportion, making borrowers better off at the expense of lenders; in other words, borrowers gain while lenders lose.  When NGDP falls below trend, NGAP becomes negative, increasing this proportion, making borrowers worse off and lenders better off; in other words, borrowers lose while lenders gain.

NGDP base drift occurs when NGAP becomes positive or negative, and the central bank accepts this NGAP and commits to keeping this NGAP in the future as it does both with IT and ΔNT.  This NGDP base drift then makes the effects on borrowers and lenders permanent.  On the other hand, under NT, the central bank tries to reverse these effects by returning NGAP to zero as soon as possible so that the effects on borrowers and lenders are temporary not permanent.

Because NGDP base drift causes the effects of NGAP on borrowers and lenders to be permanent, this NGDP base drift “kicks the loser when the loser is down.”  Hence, I view NGDP base drift as evil.

NGDP Targeting (NT) – The “Pi” or “e” of Monetary Economics

In my previous guest blog post where I explained why IT “kicks them while they are down,” I restricted that discussion to where real GDP (RGDP) remains the same.  That is because the First Principle from my blog on the Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics states that Pareto Efficiency requires the consumption of individuals to be the same only as long as RGDP remains the same.  When RGDP changes, the Second Principle applies, which states that Pareto efficiency requires that the consumption of an individual with average relative risk aversion be proportional to RGDP.

NT helps individuals achieve this consumption proportional to RGDP by trying to make the real value of prearranged nominal payments (such as loan payments) proportional to RGDP.  NT does this by trying to keep NGAP equal to zero.  As seen in equation (2), as long as NGAP is zero and consumers expect NGAP to be zero, then this proportion will be proportional to RGDP.

Nominal contracts work efficiently in a Pareto sense whenever NGDP is as expected.  People are not trying to guarantee real payments between each other; rather they want to let the natural feature of nominal contracts properly distribute the RGDP risk among the parties of the contract.  As long as NGDP is as expected, the real value of the nominal contract’s payment will be proportionate to RGDP, which is what an individual with average relative risk aversion needs according to the Second Principle.

In a previous guest blog post, I noted that when RGDP remains the same, the uncertainty borrowers and lenders face is not inflation risk, but rather price-level risk.  While simple and obvious, that statement nevertheless has profound implications concerning the issue of price-level targeting (PLT) vs. IT.  However, when we broaden our perspective to include when RGDP changes, we need to go beyond the concept of price-level risk.  Instead of inflation risk or price-level risk, economic agents should really be concerned about NGDP risk.

NGDP risk is what I view to be the true monetary risk in an economy.  Minimizing NGDP risk helps meet both The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics.  First, by minimizing NGDP risk we minimize the price-level risk when RGDP does remain the same.   Second, minimizing NGDP risk helps consumption levels be proportional to RGDP by helping the real value of nominal payments to be proportional to RGDP.

Many proponents of NGDP targeting have described NGDP targeting as a reasonable compromise to the dual mandate of monetary policy.  That is not my view.

My view is that NGDP targeting is the ideal, not a compromise.  NGDP targeting comes out of theory as the Pareto-efficient monetary policy, much as in mathematics the numbers “pi” and “e” come out of pure theory.

Why NT Pareto Dominates ΔNT:

NT targets the level of NGDP whereas ΔNT targets the growth rate of NGDP.  As explained in my second guest blog post, as long as the central bank meets its target, NT and ΔNT have the same effect.  The difference between NT and ΔNT occurs when the central bank misses its target.  Under NT, when NGDP is less (greater) than its trajectory, the central bank tries to increase (decrease) NGDP back to its original trajectory.  However, with ΔNT the central bank “lets bygones be bygones” and shifts its NGDP trajectory to be consistent with its targeted NGDP growth.

When the central bank misses its target under NT or ΔNT, borrowers and lenders experience zero-sum gains and losses as a result of NGDP differing from expected NGDP.  For example, assume NGDP initially is 10 (trillion monetary units), the targeted growth rate for NGDP under ΔNT is 5%, and the targeted level of NGDP under NT is 10(1.05)t.  Then the initial NGDP trajectory under both NT and ΔNT is 10(1.05)t, and the public’s initial expectation of NGDP at time t is this NGDP trajectory of 10(1.05)t.  In particular, the public’s expectation of NGDP at time t=1 is 10.50.  However, assume NGDP1=10.29 instead of 10.50.  This means NGAP is -2%, which causes the proportion in equation (2) to rise, causing the borrowers to lose and the lenders to gain.  Under NT, the central bank tries to return NGDP back up to its initial trajectory where NGAP will be 0%.  On the other hand, under ΔNT the central bank shifts its NGDP trajectory from 10(1.05)t to 10.29(1.05)t-1, which means that the expected future NGAP will be -2%, meaning the borrower’s loss will be made permanent.  In other words, central banks following ΔNT “kick the losers (the borrowers in this case) when they are down.”

On the other hand, suppose NGDP1=10.71 instead of the 10.50 expected NGDP.  This is a positive NGAP of 2%, which implies that the proportion in equation (2) decreases, making the borrower better off at the expense of the loser.  With NT, the central bank will try to reverse its mistake and return to its initial NGDP trajectory, return NGAP to 0%, and return the proportion of the real payment to RGDP back to as originally expected.  However, with ΔNT, the central bank tries to make its mistake permanent, trying to keep NGAP at +2%, thus making the borrower permanently better off and the lender permanently worse off.

Thus, the difference between NT and ΔNT is that under NT, the central bank tries to reverse the losses and gains faced by both borrowers and lenders, whereas under ΔNT, the central bank tries to make those losses and gains permanent.  Thus, ΔNT “kicks the losers when they are down.”  A priori, both the borrower and lender are better off knowing that the central bank is going to reverse its mistakes rather than making its mistakes and the resulting gains and losses permanent.  Therefore, NT Pareto dominates ΔNT.

Real life example #1: Homeowners and Mortgages:

During the last recession, NGDP sharply fell and central banks have been experiencing significant negative NGDP base drift.  While some say that this negative NGDP base drift is due to central banks being unable to increase NGDP, the fact is that negative NGDP base drift has been associated with most U.S. recessions even when the Federal Reserve was by no means considered impotent (I will report these empirical findings in a later blog post).

The negative NGDP base drift has made borrowers worse off and the continuing of that NGDP base drift continues those borrowers’ misery.  For example, consider homeowners who before the recession bought homes and financed those with fixed-payment mortgages.  When NGDP fell below its expected trend, average nominal income fell below what the homeowners had expected.  On average, these homeowners were squeezed between reduced nominal income and their fixed mortgage payments.  With central banks continuing rather than reversing the negative NGDP base drift, these homeowners will continue to be squeezed until (i) they finally pay off their mortgage after greater financial strain than they expected, or (ii) they default on their mortgages because of their inability to pay them.   If central banks were to pursue NT, eliminating this NGDP base drift, reducing NGAP to 0%, then average nominal income would again be as initially expected, ending the squeeze on the average homeowner once the central bank returns to its NGDP target path.

However, as they have in past recessions, central banks are letting the negative NGDP base drift continue and are therefore kicking these borrowers while they are down.

Real life example #2: European Sovereign Governments:

When NGDP fell during the last recession in Europe, the reduction of NGDP resulted in lower tax revenues to sovereign governments, but these governments’ nominal loan payments were fixed, squeezing these governments.  The European Central Bank by allowing this NGDP base drift to continue are committing these governments to a perpetual squeeze; the European Central Bank is kicking these governments while they are down.

How bad is this negative NGDP base drift in Euro area?  See the following graph:

The negative NGDP base drift in the aftermath of the last recession in the Euro area is very significant.  However, this NGDP base drift is even more evil than normally.  Not only is NGAP significantly negative, but it keeps getting worse.  In the second quarter of 2009, NGAP was -10.28%.  Since then NGAP has continued to get worse reaching -14.90% in the third quarter of 2011.

If instead the European Central Bank were to target NGDP and try to return NGDP to its prerecession trend and were successful, these governments’ tax revenue should increase to initially expected levels, eliminating the squeeze.  Many will claim that the European Central Bank is impotent, unable to eliminate this NGAP.  However, as the following graph shows, the European Central Bank has experienced NGDP base previously when it was not impotent.

Because of my work with the issue of price determinacy, I know that expectations is very important to a central bank’s ability to meet its targets.  Since the European Central Bank has let NGDP base drift persist in the past, then the public’s expectation is that they will let the NGDP base drift persist now.  To succeed in eliminating this NGDP base drift, to return NGAP to zero, we need to change expectations.  By committing to NT and following other suggestions the market monetarists and I have, the European Central Bank can change these expectations and eliminate the evil of NGDP base drift.  Rather than kicking the sovereign government borrowers and other debtors while they are down, central banks can return NGAP to zero and help lift these debtors to their feet, which is a lot nicer than kicking them while they are down.

Making Both Borrowers and Lenders Worse off

Up until now I have described the negative NGDP base drift caused by ΔNT and IT as making borrowers worse off while making lenders better off.  However, the latest recession has made so many borrowers so worse off as to cause many borrowers be unable to pay, leading to loan defaults.  Hence, not only has this negative NGDP base drift made borrowers worse off, it has also made lenders worse off.  Reversing the negative NGDP base by following NT rather than IT or ΔNT would thus help not only borrowers, but lenders as well.

Unfortunately, the central banks have either committed to inflation targeting or acted as if they were inflation targeters.  As a result, the expectation of those who recently entered into loan contracts after the negative NGAP occurred is that the central banks would not reverse this NGAP.  If they central banks do reverse this NGAP, then it will make these recent borrowers better off and the recent lenders worse off.  Had the central banks instead committed to a nominal GDP target, then these recent borrowers and lenders would have anticipated the elimination of NGAP.  This then does put the central banks in a difficult position.  Should they reverse the NGAP and return the borrowers and lenders back to their original expected proportions at the expense of more recent borrowers and lenders?  Or should they keep to their promise of nonreversal of NGAP which is consistent with more recent loans, but which will continue to kick the original borrowers while they are down.  It is a difficult decision.  Perhaps they can compromise and partially reverse the NGAP and then commit to a nominal GDP target in the future.

© Copyright (2012) David Eagle

Guest post: GDP-Linked Bonds (by David Eagle)

Guest post: GDP-Linked Bonds, Another Whole Literature to Synthesize into Market Monetarism

by David Eagle

As Dale Domian and I have been frustrated at our continuous attempts to publish our quasi-real indexing research, I have kept reminding myself of one thing and that is that we were the first to design quasi-real indexing (Eagle and Domian, 1995. “Quasi-Real Bonds–Inflation-Indexing that Retains the Government’s Hedge Against Aggregate-Supply Shocks,” Applied Economic Letters).  However, I have recently encountered some good news and some bad news concerning quasi-real indexing.

First, the bad news: It turns out that Dale and I were not the first to come up with the notion of quasi-real indexing.  Somebody actually beat us by two years.  The reference is is Robert Shiller’s Macro Markets: Creating Institutions for Managing Society’s Largest Economic Risks”.

Actually, Shiller did not use the term “quasi-real indexing.”  Instead, he used “GDP-linked bonds.”  Shiller shares the same origins for these bonds as Dale and I do.  We all started thinking about government bonds.  At the time of our 1995 paper, the U.S. government was considering inflation-indexed bonds.  Instead, we proposed an alternative bond that would be safer for the government.  Unfortunately, the U.S. government decided to issue TIPS, an inflation-indexed bond, rather than either Shiller’s proposal or Dale’s and my proposal.

Now the good news: A significant literature has evolved concerning GDP-linked bonds.  The existence of this literature provides the market monetarists another literature to bring into the Market Monetarism literature.  In particular, I have come to recognize that quasi-real indexing basically provides insurance against the central bank not meeting its nominal GDP target even if the central bank is not targeting GDP.  If those in the GDP-linked-bond literature can recognize that that is what their GDP-linked bonds do, they will then realize that George Selgin was right in Less than Zero about how risk on loans should be shared between borrowers and lenders.  Also, they should realize that nominal bonds will achieve the same effect as GDP-linked bonds as long as the central bank successfully targets nominal GDP.

You can find GDP-linked bonds in Wikipedia; unfortunately, you cannot find “quasi-real indexing” there (yet).  More recently Professor Shiller joined Mark Kamstra in a paper proposing “Trills,” which are a GDP-linked bond.  Other literature concerning GDP-linked bonds include:

Mark Kamstra and Robert J. Shiller: “The Case for Trills: Giving Canadians and their Pension Funds a Stake in the Wealth of the Nation.”

Kruse, Susanne, Matthias Meitner and Michael Schroder, “On the pricing of GDP-linked financial products.” Applied Financial Economics 15: 1125-1133, 2005.

Griffith-Jones, Stephany, and Krishnan Sharma, “GDP-Indexed Bonds: Making It Happen.” DESA Working Paper No. 21, 2006.

Schröder, Michael; Heinemann, Friedrich; Kruse, Susanne; Meitner, Matthias; “GDP-linked Bonds as a Financing Tool for Developing Countries and Emerging Markets”

Travota, Alexandra “On the Feasibility and Desirability of GDP-Indexed Concessional Lending,”

Also, some blog posts exist on GDP-linked bonds:

Jonathan Ford: The Case for GDP Bonds

: GDP-Linked Securities

Also, a very recent blog post in the WSJ.com just covered Robert Shiller’s proposal of these GDP-linked bonds:

“Worried About U.S. Debt? Shiller Pushes GDP-Linked Bonds”

I myself am still reading these other papers, books, and blog posts.

The reality is that if not only the U.S. government issued quasi-real bonds or GDP-linked bonds, but also European governments issued them as well, then the European sovereign debt crisis would not be at all as serious a problem as it is today.  Also, as most market monetarists know, if the European Central Banks had been targeting nominal GDP successfully, then the European sovereign debt crisis would be of a much smaller magnitude than it has become.  Paul Krugman has noted how the increase in European sovereign debt coincided with the beginning of the last recession.  I hope that Professor Krugman will look into the GDP-linked-bond and quasi-real-indexing literatures to learn how these types of bonds would have prevented this increase to happen.

Actually, Argentina has recently issued some GDP-linked bonds as one of the above blogs points out.

In economics, we have a lot of unconnected literatures that needs to be brought together. Obviously, Dale and my “quasi-real indexing” needs to be synthesized into the GDP-linked bond literature.  However, synthesizing both of these literatures along with the wage-indexation literature and the nominal GDP targeting literature leads to the incredible conclusions: (1) Much of the Pareto-efficiency associated with complete markets can be achieved either through quasi-real indexing of all contracts or by the central bank (successfully) targeting nominal GDP, (2) Most of the negative economic effects of the business cycle would be eliminated either through quasi-real indexing  or nominal GPD targeting.

I hope this post encourages those involved in the GDP-linked bond literature, wage indexation literature, and the literature on NGDP targeting to work on synthesizing all of their literatures together.

© Copyright (2012) by David Eagle

Guest blog: NGDP Targeting is NOT just for Central Banks! (David Eagle)

Guest blog: NGDP Targeting is NOT just for Central Banks!

By David Eagle

Because of Lars Christensen’s blog on “Market Monetarism vs Krugmanism,” I am interjecting a new topic into my guest blog series.  I agree with the comments from JJA and Scott B. on Scott Sumner’s blog.  While some of the market monetarists do not believe in the effectiveness of fiscal policy, I think there is a great opportunity for those fiscal conservatives among us to openly welcome Keynesians to bring fiscal policy into the realm of NGDP targeting.  I agree with JJA that NGDP targeting should be the aim for BOTH monetary and fiscal policy.  In other words, both monetary and fiscal policy should target NGDP, although under normal times that responsibility should fall on the central bank.  Let me restate this very important statement: The role of fiscal policy in stimulating aggregate demand should also be governed by the NGDP target.  In other words, if NGDP is below target and the central bank says it needs help from fiscal policy to boost NGDP, then those in favor of using fiscal policy should advocate for fiscal stimuli.  However, when NGDP is at or above target, then the fiscal policy should be directed towards fiscal surpluses to make up for the previous deficit spending.  If the central bank and fiscal authorities were to agree on a NGDP target, then we would not have had the huge fiscal deficits that we did have preceding 2008.

However, unfortunately the central bank and fiscal authorities have not been following a mutually agreed upon and transparent NGDP target.  Because of the murky waters concerning what the central bank is doing, fiscal and monetary policy often work in different directions.  In particular, when the central bank targets inflation, it often is not clear what the central bank’s intentions are with regard to NGDP.  (Because I agree with Scott Sumner that we should treat NGDP and aggregate demand as the same concept, even a central bank targeting inflation should be transparent about what its intentions are concerning aggregate demand, i.e., NGDP; but alas central banks today are not that transparent.)  Because of these murky waters, politicians have often been able to pass politically desirable tax cuts and increased government spending under the guise of stimulating the economy (i.e., stimulating aggregate demand, i.e., stimulating NGDP), even though the central bank is content to let bygones be bygones and keep NGDP on its current track, but consistent with its future inflation target.

The Japanese Experience:

Take Japan, for example, where the Bank of Japan was under pressure to be more independent of the Japanese Government and be more like “western central banks” at maintaining price stability.[1]  Then came the 1990s and the Japanese Government followed Keynesian fiscal policy to stimulate the economy.  Meanwhile the Central Bank of Japan was determined to follow in Paul Volker’s footsteps of regaining credibility for maintaining price stability.  As Scott Sumner (2011) reported, the Bank of Japan actually pursued restrictive monetary policy at times when the Japanese government was trying to be expansionary with its fiscal policy.[2]  Because they were pulling the economy in two different directions, the result was (i) the Bank of Japan offsetting much of what the aggregate-demand effects of the fiscal stimuli, and (ii) the national debt in Japan skyrocketed from 51% of GDP at the beginning of the 1980s to over 220% now.  Then came 3/11/11, the day of the triple supply shock in Japan – earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear crisis.  In addition to their enormous national debt, now Japan faces the high costs of rebuilding.

Lack of Coordination between US Fiscal Policy and the Federal Reserve:

The United States I think is another example.  In 2003, the Bush administration passed tax cuts and kept them in place for a long time (they are still in place today).  These tax cuts were to stimulate the economy.  However, at the same time, the Federal Reserve was content to “let bygones be bygones” and let the NGDP base drift caused by the 2001 recession continue (see my guest blog that explains NGDP base drift).  As a result, if the tax cuts did have any stimulative effect, the Federal Reserve would have countered them with monetary policy.  On the other hand, if both the Federal Reserve and the Bush administration had agreed upon a NGDP target, and if that NGDP target was above where NGDP was at the moment, then the Federal Reserve could have tried to boost NGDP by using tools that Ben Bernanke said he had and that Scott Sumner believes he had.[3]  Also, as I will explain in a later guest blog, expectations has an important role to play.  If the public expects the central bank and fiscal policy to succeed in boosting NGDP up to its target, then they will be more inclined to spend more because of higher expected short-term inflation, helping the monetary and fiscal policy reach this goal.  Unfortunately, despite all the rhetoric about the transparency of inflation targeting (IT), IT is not as transparent as NGDP targeting.  I believe the ultimate in transparency for both monetary and fiscal policy is NGDP targeting.

The Two-Headed British Media:

Sumner (2011) reports an example in Britain of how the lack of transparency with regard to aggregate demand, i.e. NGDP, led to the British media simultaneously condemning both fiscal and monetary policy simultaneously:

“Recent events in Britain provide a perfect example of the confusion generated by drawing this sort of false dichotomy between monetary and fiscal policy. The government of Prime Minister David Cameron has been sharply criticized for its policy of fiscal austerity. The recovery from the recent recession has been even weaker in Britain than in the United States, and there are fears that budget cuts will lead to a double-dip recession. At the same time, the press has been highly critical of the Bank of England for allowing inflation to rise far above the 2% target. But these criticisms cannot both be correct: Either Britain needs more aggregate demand or it does not. If it needs more, then the inflation rate in Britain needs to rise even higher, because the Bank of England needs to provide even more monetary stimulus. If inflation is too high and Britain needs less aggregate demand, then [the British] should desire fiscal austerity that would slow the economy. The press seems to believe in some sort of policy magic whereby fiscal stimulus can create growth without inflation and monetary tightening can reduce inflation without affecting growth.” (brackets added after consultation with Scott Sumner)

If the British media is confused, then obviously the British public is confused.  If British fiscal and monetary policy both pursued a NGDP target, I believe the British media and British public would finally understand that it cannot criticize both fiscal and monetary policy under these circumstances.  As I said before, expectations plays an important part to boosting aggregate demand (NGDP), and I know no better way to guide the public expectations concerning aggregate demand than a credible and transparent NGDP target for both monetary and fiscal policy.

Summary: NGDP targeting for both fiscal and monetary policy:

In summary, if the central bank and those in favor of fiscal policy could agree on a NGDP target and then jointly pursue that target, our economies would be so much better today.  In particular, on the fiscal side, we would have no justification for the high federal government debt we have accumulated.  If fiscal policy followed a NGDP target, then over half the time we should have fiscal surpluses rather than fiscal deficits.  Also, a NGDP target is so much more transparent for both fiscal policy and monetary policy than the murky waters of inflation targeting that we face today.  With fiscal policy and monetary policy following a NGDP target, expensive fiscal stimuli could not be justified to stimulate the economy when NGDP is at or above target.

Reference:

Sumner, Scott (2011). “Re-Targeting the Fed,” National Affairs Issue #9.


[1] Ben Bernanke (http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/speech/bernanke20100525a.htm) reported in 2010, “The importance of central bank independence also motivated a 1997 revision to Japanese law that gave the Bank of Japan operational independence.9 This revision significantly diminished the scope for the Ministry of Finance to influence central bank decisions, thus strengthening the Bank of Japan’s autonomy in setting monetary policy.”

[2] Scott Sumner states, “But the Japanese twice tightened monetary policy in an environment of zero inflation (in 2000 and 2006), so it would be hard to claim that they were trying to create inflation.”

[3] Sumner (2011, p. 4) states, ““But the Fed itself never claimed to be ‘out of ammunition,’ even after rates hit zero.  Indeed, Chairman Ben Bernanke has repeatedly stressed that the Fed still has many options for boosting demand, and he has proved the point with two rounds of ‘quantitative easing.’  Indeed, it is hard to see how a fiat-money central bank would ever be left unable to boost nominal spending.  That would logically imply it was unable to raise the rate of inflation – that is, to ‘debase the currency,’ which it can always do.  There is no example in history of any fiat-money central bank that tried to create inflation and failed.”

© Copyright (2012) by David Eagle

Guest blog: Why Price-Level Targeting Pareto Dominates Inflation Targeting (By David Eagle)

Guest blog: Why Price-Level Targeting Pareto Dominates Inflation Targeting

– And a Bizarre Tale of Blind Macroeconomists

By David Eagle

Some central banks throughout the world, including the Central bank of Canada and the Federal Reserve, have been considering Price-Level Targeting (PLT) as an alternative to Inflation Targeting (IT). In this guest blog, I present my argument why PLT Pareto dominates IT.  My argument is simple, and one that many readers will consider so obvious that they would expect most monetary economists to be already aware of this Pareto domination.

Please read the following quotation from Shukayev and Ueberfeldt (2010):

Various papers have suggested that Price-Level targeting is a welfare improving policy relative to Inflation targeting. … Research on Inflation targeting and Price-level Targeting monetary policy regimes shows that a credible Price-level Targeting (PT) regime dominates an Inflation targeting regime.

Reading the above quotation indicates that economists already know that PLT Pareto dominates IT.  However, there is a bizarre twist to this literature, which we will discuss later in this blog.  I ask you to continue patiently reading and trust that the ending to the blog will be well worth the journey, even to market monetarists who oppose both PLT and IT.

In my last guest blog for The Market Monetarist, I discussed what I called the Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics.  The First Principle concerned the Pareto implications when nominal GDP (NGDP) changes, but real GDP (RGDP) does not.  The Second Principle concerned the Pareto implications when RGDP changes, but NGDP does not.  Since PLT and IT have the same Pareto implications when RGDP changes, but NGDP does not; let us focus on the First Principle.  To do so, assume an economy where RGDP is known with perfect foresight; then the First Principle always applies.

A Nominal-Loan Example – Initial Expectations

Let us again consider a long term nominal loan.  This time, I will explain my argument with an example.  For this example, assume a €200,000 nominal mortgage with a 7.2% p.a. interest rate, compounded monthly, and a term of 15-years, and fixed, fully amortizing nominal monthly payments.  The monthly payment would then be a nominal €1820.09.  Let us assume that individual B borrowed the €200,000 from individual A.   The €1820.09 is the nominal amount B must pay A each month.

Let us also assume that both A and B expect inflation to be 2.4% p.a., compounded monthly, during this period.  They therefore built that expected inflation rate into their 7.2% p.a. negotiated nominal interest rate.[1]   Please note that in Finance, we second-naturedly convert per annum rates to per month rates when the rate is compounded monthly.  Thus, the 7.2% p.a. is actually 0.6% per month, and the 2.4% p.a. inflation rate is 0.2% per month.  While this monthly compounding adds an extra step and a source of confusion, I believe the gain in the realism of the example is worth it.

If inflation is the 2.4% p.a. expected rate, then the real value of the monthly payment at time t will equal 1820.09/(1.002)t where t is the number of months from the loan’s origination.  Since both A and B expect the inflation rate to be 2.4% p.a., compounded monthly, their expected real value[2] of this monthly loan payment at time t will be 1820.09/(1.002)t

As I discussed in my second guest blog on the Market Monetarist, PLT and IT have the same effect on the economy as long as the central bank is successful at meeting its target, whether that target is a price-level target or an inflation target.  Let us assume that under IT, the central bank’s inflation target is 2.4% p.a., whereas under PLT, the central bank’s price-level target at time t is 100(1.002)t.  Hence, under both PLT and IT, the central bank’s initial price-level trajectory is 100(1.002)t.

Scenarios of Missing the Target

When PLT and IT differ is when the central bank misses its target.  Suppose inflation on average over the first year turns out to be 1.2% p.a. instead of the expected  2.4% p.a (both rates are compounded monthly).  To be more clear given the monthly compounding issue, the central bank’s initially trajectory of the price level at one year (or at time t=12 months) was 100(1.002)12 = 102.43; however, the actual price level at one year turned out to be 100(1.001)12 = 101.21.  Under PLT, the central bank will try to return the economy to its initial price-level target of 100(1.002)t.  However, under IT, the central bank would shift its price-level trajectory to 101.21(1.002)t-12, which is less than the initial price-level trajectory of 100(1.002)t.  This is the phenomenon we call price-level base drift, which is caused by the central bank under IT letting bygones be bygones and merely aiming for future inflation to be consistent with its inflation target; the central bank under IT does not try to make up for lost ground.

The real value of the nominal loan payment at time t=12 when the actual inflation rate turns out to be1.2% 1820.09/1.00112 = €1798.39, which is greater than the expected nominal loan payment of €1776.97.

On the other hand, assume that the inflation rate on average over the first year was 3.6% p.a. rather than the targeted 2.4% p.a. This means that the actual price level at one year turned out to be 100(1.003)12 = 103.66.  Under PLT, the central bank would have tried to return the economy to its initial price-level target of 100(1.002)t.  However, under IT, the central bank would shift its price-level trajectory to 103.66(1.002)t-12, which is greater than the initial price-level trajectory of 100(1.002)t.

The real value of the nominal loan payment at time t=12 when the actual inflation rate was 3.6% instead of 2.4% is 1820.09/1.00312 = €1755,83, which is less that the initially expected value of €1776.97.

Comparing Actual to Expectations Beyond 12 Months

Because we are talking about four different scenarios, let PLT and IT represent PLT and IT when the inflation rate on average for the first year turns out to be 1.2% rather than 2.4%.  Let PLT+ and IT+ represent PLT and IT when the inflation on average for the first year turns out to be 3.6% rather than the expected 2.4%.  Under all four scenarios, assume that starting in at time t=24, which is 2 years after the loan began, the central bank is able to perfectly meet is price-level trajectory whether under PLT or IT and it does so for the remaining of the 15 years.

Under these assumptions, the real value of the monthly payment under PLT starting at time t=24 will be the same as expected because the central bank will get the price level back to its preannounced price-level target.  However, when the actual inflation rate for the first year turned out being 1.2%, the real value of the nominal monthly payment under IT would be 1820.09/((1.001)12(1.002)t-12) for t≥24 under the assumption the central bank (CB) then meets its target.  On the other hand, when the actual inflation rate for the first year turned out being 3.6%, the real value of the nominal monthly payment under IT would be 1820.09/((1.003)12(1.002)t-12) for t≥24 assuming the CB then meets its target.

The table below shows how the actual real values of these nominal loan payments compare to A and B’s original expectation under all four scenarios.

Note: This table only reports the payment at the end of each year.

That PLT Pareto dominates IT should be obvious from the table.  Under PLT, the central bank (CB) tries to get the real value of nominal loan payments to be back to what borrowers and lenders initially expected.  In other words, under PLT, the CB tries to reverse its mistakes.  Under IT, the CB makes its mistakes permanent.  Note that in the table under PLT, the real value of the nominal loan payments are as expected from time t=24 months on.  However, under IT, the real value of the nominal loan payments are either 1.21% less than expected when the CB fell short of its target, or 1.19% higher than expected when the CB overshot its target.  Clearly, both risk-averse borrowers and risk-averse lenders will be better off with the temporary deviations from expectations under PLT than under the permanent deviations under IT.

Kicking Borrowers or Lenders When They are Down

John Taylor referred to the price-level basis drift as the CB “letting bygones be bygones.”  After writing this blog, I have another view:  I view IT as meaning that when the CB hurts either borrowers or lenders because it is unable to meet its target, then the CB turns around and kicks that down borrower or lender again and again to make them suffer for the duration of their loan.  I have long opposed IT, but writing this blog makes me oppose it even more.  Why cannot other economists see IT for the Pareto damaging regime it is?

The issue of why PLT Pareto dominates IT is simple.  The risk to borrowers and lenders is not inflation risk; it is price-level risk.  To minimize price-level risk, we should not minimize inflation, we should minimize the deviation of the price-level from its expected value.  As such, when a central banking missing its target, it should not keep kicking those suffering from the CB’s past mistakes; the central bank should not make that miss permanent as in IT, but rather the CB should try to reverse that damage as it will try to do under PLT.  Hence PLT Pareto dominates IT.

The Bizarre Tale of the Blind Economists

Thank you all for bearing with me through my argument.  However, from the quote by Shukayev and Ueberfeldt, you knew that the economic profession already knew this.  After all, this is obvious.  (Lars, drink something before you read on; we don’t want your blood to boil too much.)

However, the argument that I gave is not the argument that the literature that Shukayev and Ueverfeldt cited.  That literature did not use the Pareto criterion; it used a loss function that included inflation.  (Yes, Lars, that xxxx loss function again.)

What the literature starting with Svenson (1999) found is that paradoxically when the central bank is trying to minimize a loss function involving inflation, it may actually be better able to do that through PLT than with IT.  That is what Shukayev and Ueverfeld (2010) meant when they said that the literature had found PLT welfare dominates IT.  That literature was referring to “welfare” as defined by their ad hoc loss function, not by their applying the Pareto criterion to the well being of borrowers and lenders.

Economists have been blinded from the obvious by their ad hoc assumption of a loss function involving inflation.  This bizarre twist to this literature is an example of the dangers that economists’ prejudices can enter into their ad hoc loss functions, causing them to miss the obvious.  In this case they have missed the obvious impacts on individual borrowers and lenders of PLT vs. IT.

Of course, there are other targeting regimes than just PLT and IT, but this blog focused on those two.  In my future writing, I plan to explain why NGDP level targeting Pareto dominates NGDP growth rate targeting, although the logic of that is really the same as I have just discussed; we just allow RGDP to vary so that the Second Fundamental Principle of Monetary Economics also applies.

Also, think about how the “kick them while they are down” characteristic of IT is relevant to the aftermath of the Financial crisis concerning the sovereign debt issues in Europe and the debt burdens on mortgage borrowers in the U.S. and elsewhere.  I guess I have to be careful here as I might be accused of starting riots.

References

Eagle, David and Dale Domian (2011), “Quasi-Real-Indexed Mortgages to the Rescue,” working paper delivered at the Western Economic Associating Meetings in San Diego, CA, http://www.cbpa.ewu.edu/~deagle/WEAI2011/QRIMs.doc

Shukayev, Malik and Alexander Ueberfeldt (2010).  “Price Level Targeting: What Is the Right Price?” Bank of Canada Working Paper 2010-8

Svensson, Lars E O, 1999. “Price-level Targeting versus Inflation Targeting: A Free Lunch?,”

Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 31(3), pages 277-95, August.

© Copyright (2012) by David Eagle


[1] The traditional Fisher equation states that i @ r + E[π] where i is the nominal interest rate, r is the real interest rate, and π is the inflation rate.  A more exact relationship we use in Finance is (1+i)=(1+r)(1+E[π) where these rates are per compound period, in this case per month.  According to the approximate and traditional Fisher equation, the real interest rate would be 4.8%, which equals the 7.2% nominal rate less the 2.4% expected inflation (the more precise Fisher equation using the monthly rates concludes the real rate will be 4.79%).

[2] You may note that the real value of the monthly nominal payment is expected to decline over time.  In the mortgage literature, this is known as the “tilt effect” (See Eagle and Domian, 2011).


It’s time to get rid of the ”representative agent” in monetary theory

“Tis vain to talk of adding quantities which after the addition will continue to be as distinct as they were before; one man’s happiness will never be another man’s happiness: a gain to one man is no gain to another: you might as well pretend to add 20 apples to 20 pears.”

Jeremy Bentham, 1789

I have often felt that modern-day Austrian economists are fighting yesterday’s battles. They often seem to think that mainstream economists think as if they were the “market socialists” of the 1920s and that the “socialist-calculation-debate” is still on-going. I feel like screaming “wake up people! We won. No economist endorses central planning anymore!”

However, I am wrong. The Austrians are right. Many economists still knowingly or out of ignorance today endorse some of the worst failures of early-day welfare theory. Economists have known since the time of Jeremy Bentham that one man’s happiness can not be compared to another man’s happiness. Interpersonal utility comparison is a fundamental no-no in welfare theory. We cannot and shall not compare one person’s utility with another man’s utility. But this is exactly what “modern” monetary theorists do all the time.

Take any New Keynesian model of the style made famous by theorists like Michael Woodford. In these models the central banks is assumed to be independent (and benevolent). The central banker sets interest rates to minimize the “loss function” of a “representative agent”. Based on this kind of rationalisation economists like Woodford find theoretical justification for Taylor rule style monetary policy functions.

Nobody seems to find this problematic and it is often argued that Woodford even has provided the microeconomic foundation for these loss functions. Pardon my French, but that is bullsh*t. Woodford assumes that there is a representative agent. What is that? Imagine we introduced this character in other areas of economic research? Most economists would find that highly problematic.

There is no such thing as a representative agent. Let me illustrate it. The economy is hit by a negative shock to nominal GDP. With Woodford’s representative agent all agents in the economy is hit in the same way and the loss (or gain) is the same for all agents in the economy. No surprise – all agents are assumed to be the same. As a result there is no conflict between the objectives of different agents (there is basically only one agent).

But what if there are two agents in the economy. One borrower and one saver. The borrower is borrowing from the other agent at a fixed nominal interest rate. If nominal GDP drops then that will effectively be a transfer of wealth from the borrower to the saver.

This might of course of course make the Calvinist ideologue happy, but what would the modern day welfare theorist say?

The modern welfare theorist would of course apply a Pareto criterion to the situation and argue that only a monetary policy rule that ensures Pareto efficiency is a good monetary policy rule: An allocation is Pareto efficient if there is no other feasible allocation that makes at least one party better off without making anyone worse off. Hence, if the nominal GDP drops and lead to a transfer of wealth from one agent to another then a monetary policy that allows this does not ensure Pareto efficiency and is hence not an optimal monetary policy.

David Eagle has shown in a number of papers that only one monetary policy rule can ensure Pareto efficiency and that is NGDP level targeting (See David’s guest posts here, here and here). All other policy rules, inflation targeting, Price level targeting and NGDP growth targeting are all Pareto inefficient. Price level targeting, however, also ensures Pareto efficiency if there are no supply shocks in the economy.

This result is significantly more important than any result of New Keynesian analysis of monetary policy rules with a representative agent. Analysis based on the assumption of the representative agent completely fails to tell us anything about the present economic situation and the appropriate response to the crisis. Just think whether a model with a “representative country” in the euro zone or one with Greece (borrower) and Germany (saver) make more sense.

It is time to finally acknowledge that Bentham’s words also apply to monetary policy rules and finally get rid of the representative agent.

——

For a much more insightful and clever discussion of this topic see David Eagle’s paper “Pareto Efficiency vs. the Ad Hoc Standard Monetary Objective – An Analysis of Inflation Targeting” from 2005.

Guest Blog: The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics (By David Eagle)

I am extremely happy that David Eagle is continuing his series of guest blogs on my blog.

I strongly believe that David’s ideas are truly revolutionary and anybody who takes monetary policy and monetary theory serious should study  these ideas carefully. In this blog David presents what he has termed the “Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics” as an clear alternative to the ad hoc loss functions being used in most of the New Keynesian monetary literature.

To me David Eagle here provides the clear microeconomic and welfare economic foundation for Market Monetarism. David’s thinking and ideas have a lot in common with George Selgin’s view of monetary theory – particularly in “Less than zero” (despite their clear methodological differences – David embraces math while George use verbal logic). Anybody that reads and understands David’s and George’s research will forever abandon the idea of a “Taylor function” and New Keynesian loss functions.

Enjoy this long, but very, very important blog post.

Lars Christensen

—————–

Guest Blog: The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics

by David Eagle

Good Inflation vs. Bad Inflation

At one time, doctors considered all cholesterol as bad.  Now they talk about good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.  Today, most economists considered all inflation uncertainty as bad, at least all core inflation uncertainty.  However, some economists including George Selgin (2002), Evan Koenig (2011), Dale Domian, and myself (and probably most of the market monetarists) believe that while aggregate-demand-caused inflation uncertainty is bad, aggregate-supply-caused inflation or deflation actually improves the efficiency of our economies.  Through inflation or deflation, nominal contracts under Nominal GDP (NGDP) targeting naturally provide the appropriate real-GDP risk sharing between borrowers and lenders, between workers and employers, and more generally between the payers and receivers of any prearranged nominal payment.  Inflation targeting (IT), price-level targeting (PLT), and conventional inflation indexing actually interfere with the natural risk sharing inherent in nominal contracts.

I am not the first economist to think this way as George Selgin (2002, p. 42) reports that “Samuel Bailey (1837, pp. 115-18) made much the same point.”  Also, the wage indexation literature that originated in the 1970s, makes the distinction between demand-induced inflation shocks and supply-induced inflation shocks, although that literature did not address the issue of risk sharing.

The Macroeconomic Ad Hoc Loss Function vs. Parerto Efficiency

The predominant view of most macroeconomists and monetary economists is that all inflation uncertainty is bad regardless the cause.  This view is reflected in the ad hoc loss function that forms the central foundation for conventional macroeconomic and monetary theory.  This loss function is often expressed as a weighted sum of the variances of (i) deviations of inflation from its target and (ii) output gap.  Macro/monetary economists using this loss function give the impression that their analyses are “scientific” because they often use control theory to minimize this function.  Nevertheless, as Sargent and Wallace (1975) noted, the form of this loss function is ad hoc; it is just assumed by the economist making the analysis.

I do not agree with this loss function and hence I am at odds with the vast majority of the macro/monetary economists.  However, I have neoclassical microfoundations on my side – our side when we include Selgin, Bailey, Koenig, Domian, and many of the market monetarists.  This ad hoc social loss function used as the basis for much of macroeconomic and monetary theory is basically the negative of an ad hoc social utility function.  The microeconomic profession has long viewed the Pareto criterion as vastly superior to and more “scientific” than ad hoc social utility functions that are based on the biased preconceptions of economists.  By applying the Pareto criterion instead of a loss function, Dale Domian and I found what I now call, “The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics.”  My hope is that these Fundamental Principles will in time supplant the standard ad hoc loss function approach to macro/monetary economics.

These Pareto-theoretic principles support what George Selgin (p. 42) stated in 2002 and what Samuel Bailey (pp. 115-18) stated in 1837.  Some economists have dismissed Selgin’s and Bailey’s arguments as “unscientific.”  No longer can they legitimately do so.  The rigorous application of neoclassical microeconomics and the Pareto criterion give the “scientific” support for Selgin’s and Bailey’s positions.  The standard ad-hoc-loss-function approach in macro- and monetary economics, on the other hand, is based on pulling this ad hoc loss function out of thin air without any “scientific” microfoundations basis.

Macroeconomists and monetary economists have applied the Pareto criterion to models involving representative consumers.  However, representative consumers miss the important ramifications of monetary policy on diverse consumers.  In particular, models of representative consumers miss (i) the well-known distributional effect that borrowers and lenders are affected differently when the price level differs from their expectations, and (ii) the Pareto implications about how different individuals should share in changes in RGDP.

The Two Direct Determinants of the Price Level

Remember the equation of exchange (also called the “quantity equation), which says that MV=N=PY where M is the money supply, V is income velocity, N is nominal aggregate spending as measured by nominal GDP, P is the price level, and Y is aggregate supply as measured by real GDP.  Focusing on the N=PY part of this equation and solving for P, we get:

(1) P=N/Y

This shows there are two and only two direct determinants of the price level:

(i)             nominal aggregate spending as measured by nominal GDP, and

(ii)           aggregate supply as measured by real GDP.

This also means that these are the two and only two direct determinants of inflation.

The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics

When computing partial derivatives in calculus, we treat one variable as constant while we vary the other variable.  Doing just that with respect to the direct determinants of the price level leads us to The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics:

Principle #1:    When all individuals are risk averse and RGDP remains the same, Pareto efficiency requires that each individual’s consumption be unaffected by the level of NGDP.

Principle #2:    For an individual with average relative risk aversion, Pareto efficiency requires that individual’s consumption be proportional to RGDP.[1]

Dale Domian and I (2005) proved these two principles for a simple, pure-exchange economy without storage, although we believe the essence of these Principles go well beyond pure-exchange economies and apply to our actual economies.

My intention in this blog is not to present rigorous mathematical proofs for these principles.  These proofs are in Eagle and Domian (2005).  Instead, this blog presents these principles, discusses the intuition behind the principles, and gives examples applying the principles.

Applying the First Principle to Nominal Loans:

I begin by applying the First Principle to borrowers and lenders; this application will give the sense of the logic behind the First Principle.  Assume the typical nominal loan arrangement where the borrower has previously agreed to pay a nominal loan payment to the lender at some future date.  If NGDP at this future date exceeds its expected value whereas RGDP is as expected, then the price level must exceed its expected level because P=N/Y.  Since the price level exceeds its expected level, the real value of the loan payment will be lower than expected, which will make the borrower better off and the lender worse off.  On the other hand, if NGDP at this future date is less than its expected value when RGDP remains as expected, then the price level will be less than expected, and the real value of the loan payment will be higher than expected, making the borrower worse off and the lender better off.  A priori both the borrower and the lender would be better off without this price-level risk.  Hence, a Pareto improvement can be made by eliminating this price-level risk.

One way to eliminate this price-level risk is for the central bank to target the price level, which if successful will eliminate the price-level risk; however, doing so will interfere will the Second Principle as we will explain later.  A second way to eliminate this price-level risk when RGDP stays the same (which is when the First Principle applies), is for the central bank to target NGDP; as long as both NGDP and RGDP are as expected, the price level will also be as expected, i.e., no price-level risk..

Inflation indexing is still another way to eliminate this price-level risk.  However, conventional inflation indexing will also interfere with the Second Principle as we will soon learn.

That borrowers gain (lose) and lenders lose (gain) when the price level exceeds (fall short of) its expectations is well known.  However, economists usually refer to this as “inflation risk.” Technically, it is not inflation risk; it is price-level risk, which is especially relevant when we are comparing inflation targeting (IT) with price-level targeting (PLT).

An additional clarification that the First Principle makes clear concerning this price-level risk faced by borrowers and lenders is that risk only applies as long as RGDP stays the same.  When RGDP changes, the Second Principle applies.

Applying the Second Principle to Nominal Loans under IT, PLT, and NT:

The Second Principle is really what differentiates Dale Domian’s and my position and the positions of Bailey, Selgin, and Koenig from the conventional macroeconomic and monetary views.  Nevertheless, the second principle is really fairly easy to understand.  Aggregate consumption equals RGDP in a pure exchange economy without storage, capital, or government.  Hence, when RGDP falls by 1%, aggregate consumption must also fall by 1%.  If the total population has not changed, then average consumption must fall by 1% as well.  If there is a consumer A whose consumption falls by less than 1%, there must be another consumer B whose consumption falls by more than 1%.  While that could be Pareto justified if A has more relative risk aversion than does B, when both A and B have the same level of relative risk aversion, their Pareto-efficient consumption must fall by the same percent.  In particular, when RGDP falls by 1%, then the consumption level of anyone with average relative risk aversion should fall by 1%.  (See Eagle and Domian, 2005, and Eagle and Christensen, 2012, for the basis of these last two statements.)

My presentation of the Second Principle is such that it focuses on the average consumer, a consumer with average relative risk aversion.  My belief is that monetary policy should do what is optimal for consumers with average relative risk aversions rather than for the central bank to second guess how the relative-risk-aversion coefficients of different groups (such as borrowers and lenders) compare to the average relative risk aversion.

Let us now apply the Second Principle to borrowers and lenders where we assume that both the borrowers and the lenders have average relative risk aversion.  (By the way “relative risk aversion” is a technical economic term invented Kenneth Arrow, 1957, and John Pratt, 1964.)  Let us also assume that the real net incomes of both the borrower and the lender other than the loan payment are proportional to RGDP.  Please note that this assumption really must hold on average since RGDP is real income.  Hence, average real income = RGDP/m where m is the number of households, which means average real income is proportional to RGDP by definition (the proportion is 1/m).

The Second Principle says that since both the borrower and lender have average relative risk aversion, Pareto efficiency requires that both of their consumption levels must be proportional to RGDP.  When their other real net incomes are proportional to RGDP, their consumption levels can be proportional to RGDP only if the real value of their nominal loan payment is also proportional to RGDP.

However, assume the central bank successfully targets either inflation or the price level so that the price level at the time of this loan payment is as expected no matter what happens to RGDP.  Then the real value of this loan payment will be constant no matter what happens to RGDP.  That would mean the lenders will be guaranteed this real value of the loan payment no matter what happens to RGDP, and the borrowers will have to pay that constant real value even though their other net real incomes have declined when RGDP declined.  Under successful IT or PLT, borrowers absorb the RGDP risk so that the lenders don’t have to absorb any RGDP risk.  This unbalanced exposure to RGDP risk is Pareto inefficient when both borrowers and lenders have average relative risk aversion as the Second Principle states.

Since IT and PLT violate the Second Principle, we need to search for an alternative targeting regime that will automatically and proportionately adjust the real value of a nominal loan payment when RGDP changes?  Remember that the real value of the nominal loan payment is xt=Xt/P.  Replace P with N/Y to get xt=(Xt/Nt)Yt, which means the proportion of xt to Yt equals Xt/Nt.  When Xt is a fixed nominal payment, the only one way for the proportion Xt/Nt to equal a constant is for Nt to be a known in advance.  That will only happen under successful NGDP targeting.

What this has shown is that the proportionality of the real value of the loan payment, which is needed for the Pareto-efficient sharing of RGDP risk for people with average relative risk aversion, happens naturally with nominal fixed-payment loans under successful NGDP targeting.  When RGDP decreases (increases) while NGDP remains as expected by successful NGDP targeting, the price level increases (decreases), which decreases (increases) the real value of the nominal payment by the same percentage by which RGDP decreases (increases).

The natural ability of nominal contracts (under successful NGDP targeting) to appropriately distribute the RGDP risk for people with average relative risk aversion pertains not just to nominal loan contracts, but to any prearranged nominal contract including nominal wage contracts.  However, inflation targeting and price-level targeting will circumvent the nominal contract’s ability to appropriate distribute this RGDP risk by making the real value constant rather than varying proportionately with RGDP.

Inflation Indexing and the Two Principles:

Earlier in this blog I discussed how conventional inflation indexing could eliminate that price-level risk when RGDP remains as expected, but NGDP drifts away from its expected value.  While that is true, conventional inflation indexing leads to violations in the Second Principle.  Consider an inflation indexed loan when the principal and hence the payment are adjusted for changes in the price level.  Basically, the payment of an inflation-indexed loan would have a constant real value no matter what, no matter what the value of NGDP and no matter what the value of RGDP.  While the “no matter what the value of NGDP” is good for the First Principle, the “no matter what the value of RGDP” is in violation of the Second Principle.

What is needed is a type of inflation indexing that complies with both Principles.  That is what Dale Domian’s and my “quasi-real indexing” does.  It adjusts for the aggregate-demand-caused inflation, but not to the aggregate-supply-caused inflation that is necessary for the Pareto-efficient distribution of RGDP among people with average relative risk aversion.

Previous Literature:

Up until now, I have just mentioned Bailey (1837) and Selgin (2002) without quoting them.  Now I will quote them.  Selgin (2002, p. 42) states, ““ …the absence of unexpected price-level changes” is “a requirement … for avoiding ‘windfall’ transfers of wealth from creditors to debtors or vice-versa.”  This “argument … is perfectly valid so long as aggregate productivity is unchanging. But if productivity is subject to random changes, the argument no longer applies.”  When RGDP increases causing the price level to fall, “Creditors will automatically enjoy a share of the improvements, while debtors will have no reason to complain: although the real value of the debtors’ obligations does rise, so does their real income.”

Also, Selgin (2002, p. 41) reports that “Samuel Bailey (1837, pp. 115-18) made much the same point.  Suppose … A lends £100 to B for one year, and that prices in the meantime unexpectedly fall 50 per cent. If the fall in prices is due to a decline in spending, A obtains a real advantage, while B suffers an equivalent loss. But if the fall in prices is due to a general improvement in productivity, … the enhanced real value of B’s repayment corresponds with the enhanced ease with which B and other members of the community are able to produce a given amount of real wealth. …Likewise, if the price level were … to rise unexpectedly because of a halving of productivity, ‘both A and B would lose nearly half the efficiency of their incomes’, but ‘this loss would arise from the diminution of productive power, and not from the transfer of any advantage from one to the other’.”

The wage indexation literature as founded by Grey and Fischer recognized the difference between unexpected inflation caused by aggregate-demand shocks and aggregate-supply shocks; the main conclusion of this literature is that when aggregate-supply shocks exist, partial rather than full inflation indexing should take place.  Fischer (1984) concluded that the ideal form of inflation indexing would be a scheme that would filter out the aggregate-demand-caused inflation but leave the aggregate-supply-caused inflation intact.  However, he stated that no such inflation indexing scheme had yet been derived, and it would probably be too complicated to be of any practical use.  Dale Domian and I published our quasi-real indexing (QRI) in 1995 and QRI is not that much more complicated than conventional inflation indexing.  Despite the wage indexation literature leading to these conclusions, the distinction between aggregate-demand-caused inflation and aggregate-supply-caused inflation has not been integrated into mainstream macroeconomic theory.  I hope this blog will help change that.

Conclusions:

As the wage indexation literature has realized, there are two types of inflation:  (i) aggregate-demand-caused inflation and (ii) aggregate-supply-caused inflation.  The aggregate-demand-caused inflation is bad inflation because it unnecessary imposes price-level risk on the parties of a prearranged nominal contract.  However, aggregate-supply-caused inflation is good in that that inflation is necessary for nominal contracts to naturally spread the RGDP risk between the parties of the contract.  Nominal GDP targeting tries to keep the bad aggregate-demand-caused unexpected inflation or deflation to a minimum, while letting the good aggregate-supply-caused inflation or deflation take place so that both parties in the nominal contract proportionately share in RGDP risk.  Inflation targeting (IT), price-level targeting (PLT), and conventional inflation indexing interfere with the natural ability of nominal contracts to Pareto efficiently distribute RGDP risk.  Quasi-real indexing, on the other hand, gets rid of the bad inflation while keeping the good inflation.

Note that successful price-level targeting and conventional inflation indexing basically have the same effect on the real value of loan payments.   As such, we can look at conventional inflation indexing as insurance against the central bank not meeting its price-level target.

Note that successfully NGDP targeting and quasi-real indexing have the same effect on the real value of loan payments.  As such quasi-real indexing should be looked at as being insurance against the central bank not meeting its NGDP target.

A couple of exercises some readers could do to get more familiar with the Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Welfare Economics is to apply them to the mortgage borrowers in the U.S. and to the Greek government since the negative NGDP base drift that occurred in the U.S. and the Euro zone after 2007.  In a future blog I very likely present my own view on how these Principles apply in these cases.

References:

Arrow, K.J. (1965) “The theory of risk aversion” in Aspects of the Theory of Risk Bearing, by Yrjo Jahnssonin Saatio, Helsinki.

Bailey, Samuel (1837) “Money and Its Vicissitudes in Value” (London: Effingham Wilson).

Debreu, Gerard, (1959) “Theory of Value” (New York:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), Chapter 7.

Eagle, David & Dale Domian, (2005). “Quasi-Real Indexing– The Pareto-Efficient Solution to Inflation Indexing” Finance 0509017, EconWPA, http://ideas.repec.org/p/wpa/wuwpfi/0509017.html.

Eagle, David & Lars Christensen (2012). “Two Equations on the Pareto-Efficient Sharing of Real GDP Risk,” future URL: http://www.cbpa.ewu.edu/papers/Eq2RGDPrisk.pdf.

Sargent, Thomas and Neil Wallace (1975). “’Rational’ Expectations, the Optimal Monetary Instrument, and the Optimal Money Supply Rule”. Journal of Political Economy 83 (2): 241–254.

Selgin, George (2002), Less than Zero: The Case for a Falling Price Level in a Growing Economy. (London: Institute of Economic Affairs).

Koenig, Evan (2011). “Monetary Policy, Financial Stability, and the Distribution of Risk,” Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Research Department Working Paper 1111.

Pratt, J. W., “Risk aversion in the small and in the large,” Econometrica 32, January–April 1964, 122–136.

© Copyright (2012) by David Eagle

 


[1] Technically, the Second Principle should replace “average relative risk aversion” with “average relative risk tolerance,” which is from a generalization and reinterpretation by Eagle and Christensen (2012) of the formula Koenig (2011) derived.

Selgin and Eagle should be best friends

David Eagle has a comment on Integral’s piece on Evan Koeing. Here is some of the comment:

“This is my first comment, Integral’s review states that Koenig “notes that since nominal debts are paid out of nominal income, any adverse shock to income will lead to financial disruption, not just shocks to the price level.” This drew my attention for reasons I will state in a moment so I looked at what Koenig wrote on p. 1, which is “Households and firms obligated to make fixed nominal payments are exposed to financial stress whenever nominal income flows deteriorate relative to expectations extant when the obligations were accepted, independent of whether the deterioration is due to lower-than-expected inflation or to lower-than-expected real income growth.” Both of these statements seem to indicate that the financial distress from an aggregate-supply shock is due to the income being in nominal form. I disagree; the financial distress related to aggregate-supply shocks will occur on average to people regardless whether their income is in real terms or nominal terms. The reason is because real aggregate supply is basically also real income. If real aggregate supply falls so must real income and so must average real income, by the same proportion. Hence what happens to a household’s income on average is the same whether the income is in real or nominal terms. Now we look at two households A and B where B is making a nominal payment to A. Also, assume that these households are average in the sense that both of their real incomes not including this nominal payment change proportionately to real aggregate supply as they do in Koenig’s model. Under successful price-level or inflation targeting, the real value of that nominal payment will be unchanged. Hence household B will be squeezed between his declining real income and the constant real payment he must make to A. On the other hand, while A is only exposed to her own real income declining, not the real value of the payment she is receiving from B. Therefore, under price-level or inflation targeting, the payer of the nominal payments absorbs more of the aggregate-supply risk than does the receiver.”

Note especially the bold part. Here is George Selgin in “Less than Zero” (page 41-42):

“… if the price level is kept constant in the face of unexpected improvements in productivity, readily adjusted money incomes, including profits, dividends,and some wage /payments, will increase; and recipients of these flexible money payments will benefit from the improvements in real output. Creditors, however, will not be allowed to reap any gains from the same improvements, as debtors’ real interest payments will not increase despite a general improvement in real earnings. Although an unchanged price level does fulfil creditors’ price-level expectations, creditors may still regret having engaged in fixed nominal contracts, rightly sensing that they have missed out on their share of an all-around advance of real earnings, which share they might have been able to insist upon had they (and debtors also) known about the improvement in productivity in advance.

Now imagine instead that the price level is allowed to fall in response to improvements in productivity. Creditors will automatically enjoy a share of the improvements, while debtors will have no reason to complain: although the real value of the debtors’ obligations does rise, so does their real income, while the nominal payments burden borne by debtors is unchanged. Debtors can, in other words, afford to pay higher real rates of interest; they might therefore, for all we know, have been quite happy to agree to the’ same fixed nominal interest rate had both they and creditors been equipped with perfect foresight. Therefore the debtors’ only possible cause for regretting the (unexpected) drop in prices is their missed opportunity to benefit from an alternative (zero inflation) that would in this case have given them an artificial advantage over creditors.” 

It seems to me that David and George more or less have the same model in their heads…what do you think?

Guest post: Why I Support NGDP Targeting (by David Eagle)

Welcome to David Eagle

I am extremely happy that professor David Eagle have accepted to write a series of guest blogs on my blog. I only recently became aware of David’s impressive research, but consider it to be truly original and in my view his research presents an extremely strong theoretical and empirical case for Nominal GDP level targeting, which of course is at the core of Market Monetarist thinking.

I have already written a number of posts on David’s research and even tried to elaborate on his research specifically in terms of suggesting a method – based on David’s research – to decompose inflation between demand inflation and supply inflation based on what I strongly inspired by David has termed a Quasi-Real Price Index (QRPI) and it is my hope that my invitation to David to write the guest blogs will help give exposure to his very interesting research. Furthermore, I hope that other researchers will be inspired by David’s truly path-breaking research to conduct research into the advantages of NGDP level targeting and related topics.

So once again, thank you David. It is an honour to host your guest blogs.

Lars Christensen  

 

Why I Support NGDP Targeting

By David Eagle

Nominal GDP (NGDP) represents the total spending in the economy, which in essence is the total aggregate demand in the economy.  The term “nominal” means that we ignore the effect of inflation on the value of the spending.  If we adjust for the effect of inflation, we then get a “real” value.  In particular, real GDP (RGDP) represents the total spending adjusted for the effect of inflation on the purchasing power of that spending.  RGDP also represents the conventional measure of total real supply in the economy because usually demand equals supply in a free economy.  I believe that, for most contingencies in the economy, both monetary policy and fiscal policy (as far as its aggregate-spending effects) should focus on targeting the total spending in the economy as measured by NGDP.  That way we will (i) reduce the prolonged high unemployment that has usually followed past recessions, (ii) minimize the demand-caused inflation uncertainties people experience while maintaining the role inflation or deflation plays in the sharing of aggregate-supply risk, (iii) reduce the likelihood of the economy experiencing a liquidity trap, and (iv) eliminate the “stimulate-the-economy” excuse for perpetual fiscal deficits when NGDP is at or above its target.

While I support nominal-GDP targeting (NT), I do not support nominal-GDP-growth-rate targeting (ΔNT).  I have long been an opponent of inflation targeting (IT), and I view ΔNT to be almost as bad as IT.  Both ΔNT and IT expose the economy to negative NGDP base drift, which is the source of several economic problems: (i) prolonged unemployment following recessions, (ii) greater uncertainty for borrowers, lenders, and other payers and receivers of fixed nominal future payments, and (iii) price-level indeterminacy, which can manifest itself in a liquidity trap like what many central banks throughout the world are currently facing.

I also am an opponent of price-level targeting (PLT) even though the NGDP base drift under PLT will be substantially less than under IT.  The reason is because Pareto efficiency requires people with average relative risk aversion to proportionately share in the risks of changes in real aggregate output.  Nominal contracts under NT naturally lead to this proportionate sharing.  However, PLT circumvents that proportionate sharing so that borrowers and other payers of fixed nominal payments absorb all the aggregate-supply risk of those payments in order to protect lenders and other receivers of fixed nominal payments from this risk.

I find that NT Pareto dominates PLT, IT, and ΔNT.  The only reason why NT is not Pareto efficient is a central bank cannot always meet its NGDP target.  I also find through empirical simulations that NT can eliminate the vast majority of the higher-than-normal, long-term unemployment that has usually plagued our economies following recessions.  Hence, I look at NT as the most desirable targeting regime from both a theoretical, Pareto-efficiency standpoint and from an empirical standpoint.

In the upcoming weeks, I plan to write several more guest blogs for “The Market Monetarist” to explain the theoretical and empirical justification for the points I have made in this introduction.  In some cases I will explain the full basis for that justification; in other cases, I will refer to other papers I or others have written.  My proposed blogs (which may change as I write this blogs) are as follows:

  1. Understanding NGAP, NGDP Base Drift, and Growth Vs. Level Targeting
  2. The Two Fundamental Welfare Principles of Monetary Economics
  3. Why Price-Level Targeting Pareto Dominates Inflation Targeting
  4. NGDP Base Drift – Why Recessions are followed by Prolonged High Unemployment
  5. NGDP Base Drift, Price Indeterminacy, and the Liquidity Trap
  6. Three Reasons to Target the Level of rather than the Growth Rate of Nominal GDP

My second blog will use examples to explain the concepts of NGAP, NGDP base drift, and the difference between targeting the level of NGDP and Targeting the growth rate of Nominal GDP.  This blog will also summarize the difference between price-level targeting and inflation targeting, and discuss the concepts of PGAP and price-level base drift.

© Copyright (2012) David Eagle

 

NGDP targeting would have prevented the Asian crisis

I have written a bit about boom, bust and bubbles recently. Not because I think we are heading for a new bubble – I think we are far from that – but because I am trying to explain why bubbles emerge and what role monetary policy plays in these bubbles. Furthermore, I have tried to demonstrate that my decomposition of inflation between supply inflation and demand inflation based on an Quasi-Real Price Index is useful in spotting bubbles and as a guide for monetary policy.

For the fun of it I have tried to look at what role “relative inflation” played in the run up to the Asian crisis in 1997. We can define “relative inflation” as situation where headline inflation is kept down by a positive supply shock (supply deflation), which “allow” the monetary authorities to pursue a easy monetary policies that spurs demand inflation.

Thailand was the first country to be hit by the crisis in 1997 where the country was forced to give up it’s fixed exchange rate policy. As the graph below shows the risks of boom-bust would have been clearly visible if one had observed the relative inflation in Thailand in the years just prior to the crisis.

When Prem Tinsulanonda became Thai Prime Minister in 1980 he started to implement economic reforms and most importantly he opened the Thai economy to trade and investments. That undoubtedly had a positive effect on the supply side of the Thai economy. This is quite visible in the decomposition of the inflation. From around 1987 to 1995 Thailand experience very significant supply deflation. Hence, if the Thai central bank had pursued a nominal income target or a Selgin style productivity norm then inflation would have been significantly lower than was the case. Thailand, however, had a fixed exchange rate policy and that meant that the supply deflation was “counteracted” by a significant increase in demand inflation in the 10 years prior to the crisis in 1997.

In my view this overly loose monetary policy was at the core of the Thai boom, but why did investors not react to the strongly inflationary pressures earlier? As I have argued earlier loose monetary policy on its own is probably not enough to create bubbles and other factors need to be in play as well – most notably the moral hazard.

Few people remember it today, but the Thai devaluation in 1997 was not completely unexpected. In fact in the years ahead of the ’97-devaluation there had been considerably worries expressed by international investors about the bubble signs in the Thai economy. However, the majority of investors decided – rightly or wrongly – ignore or downplay these risks and that might be due to moral hazard. Robert Hetzel has suggested that the US bailout of Mexico after the so-called Tequila crisis of 1994 might have convinced investors that the US and the IMF would come to the rescue of key US allies if they where to get into economic troubles. Thailand then and now undoubtedly is a key US ally in South East Asia.

What comes after the bust?

After boom comes bust it is said, but does that also mean that a country that have experience a bubble will have to go through years of misery as a result of this? I am certainly not an Austrian in that regard. Rather in my view there is a natural adjustment when a bubble bursts, as was the case in Thailand in 1997. However, if the central bank allow monetary conditions to be tightened as the crisis plays out that will undoubtedly worsen the crisis and lead to a forced and unnecessarily debt-deflation – what Hayek called a secondary deflation. In the case of Thailand the fixed exchange rate regime was given up and that eventually lead to a loosening of monetary conditions that pulled the

NGDP targeting reduces the risk of bubbles and ensures a more swift recovery

One thing is how to react to the bubble bursting – another thing is, however, to avoid the bubble in the first place. Market Monetarists in favour NGDP level targeting and at the moment Market Monetarists are often seen to be in favour of easier monetary policy (at least for the US and the euro zone). However, what would have happened if Thailand had had a NGDP level-targeting regime in place when the bubble started to get out of hand in 1988 instead of the fixed exchange rate regime?

The graph below illustrates this. I have assumed that the Thailand central bank had targeted a NGDP growth path level of 10% (5% inflation + 5% RGDP growth). This was more or less the NGDP growth in from 1980 to 1987. The graph shows that the actually NGDP level increased well above the “target” in 1988-1989. Under a NGDP target rule the Thai central bank would have tightened monetary policy significantly in 1988, but given the fixed exchange rate policy the central bank did not curb the “automatic” monetary easing that followed from the combination of the pegged exchange rate policy and the positive supply shocks.

The graph also show that had the NGDP target been in place when the crisis hit then NGDP would have been allowed to drop more or less in line with what we actually saw. Since 2001-2 Thai NGDP has been more or less back to the pre-crisis NGDP trend. In that sense one can say that the Thai monetary policy response to the crisis was better than was the case in the US and the euro zone after 2008 – NGDP never dropped below the pre-boom trend. That said, the bubble had been rather extreme with the NGDP level rising to more than 40% above the assumed “target” in 1996 and as a result the “necessary” NGDP was very large. That said, the NGDP “gap” would never have become this large if there had been a NGDP target in place to begin with.

My conclusion is that NGDP targeting is not a policy only for crisis, but it is certainly also a policy that significantly reduces the risk of bubbles. So when some argue that NGDP targeting increases the risks of bubble the answer from Market Monetarists must be that we likely would not have seen a Thai boom-bust if the Thai central bank had had NGDP target in the 1990s.

No balance sheet recession in Thailand – despite a massive bubble

It is often being argued that the global economy is heading for a “New Normal” – a period of low trend-growth – caused by a “balance sheet” recession as the world goes through a necessary deleveraging. I am very sceptical about this and have commented on it before and I think that Thai experience shows pretty clearly that we a long-term balance sheet recession will have to follow after a bubble comes to an end. Hence, even though we saw significant demand deflation in Thailand after the bubble busted NGDP never fell below the pre-boom NGDP trend. This is pretty remarkable when the situation is compared to what we saw in Europe and the US in 2008-9 where NGDP was allowed to drop well below the early trend and in that regard it should be noted that Thai boom was far more extreme that was the case in the US or Europe for that matter.

David Davidson and the productivity norm

Mattias Lundbeck research fellow at the Swedish free market think tank Ratio has an interesting link to a paper by Gunnar Örn over at Scott Sumner’s blog. The paper is from 1999 and is in Swedish (so sorry to those of you who do not read and understand Scandinavian…).

The paper reminded me that David Davidson – who was a less well known member of the Stockholm School – was a early proponent of a variation of the productivity norm. Davidson suggested that the monetary authorities should decompose the price index between supply factors and monetary/demand factors. Hence, this is pretty much in line with what I recently have suggested with my Quasi-Real Price Index (strongly inspired by David Eagle). Davidson’s method is different from what I have suggested, but the idea is nonetheless the same.

George Selgin has discussed Davidson’s idea extensively in his research. See for example here from “Less than Zero”:

“In his own attempt to assess the wartime inflation Swedish economist David Davidson came up with an ‘index of scarcity’ showing the extent to which the inflation was due to real as opposed to monetary factors (Uhr, 1975, p. 297). Davidson subtracted his scarcity index from an index of wholesale prices to obtain a residual representing the truly monetary component of the inflation, that is, the component reflecting growth in aggregate nominal spending.”

I hope in the future to be able to follow up on some of Davidson’s work and compare his price decomposition with my method (I should really say David Eagle’s method). Until then we can hope that some of our Swedish friends will pitch in with comments and suggestions.

——-

Mattias has a update on his blog on this comment. See here (Swedish)

 

%d bloggers like this: