Advertisements
Advertisements

The Fed can hit any NGDP target

I hate getting into debates where different bloggers go back and forth forever and never reach any conclusion. I am not blogging to get into debates, however, I must admit that Steven Williamson’s recent posts on NGDP level targeting have provoked me quite a bit.

In his first post Williamson makes a number of claims, which I find highly flawed. However, Scott Sumner has already at length addressed most of these issues in a reply to Williamson so I don’t want to get into that (and as you guessed I am fully in agreement with Scott). However, Williamson’s reply to Scott is not less flawed than his initial post. Again I don’t want to go through the whole thing. However, one statement that Williamson makes I think is a very common mistake and I therefore think a comment is in order. Here is Williamson:

“The key problem under the current circumstances is that you can’t just announce an arbitrary NGDP target and hit it with wishful thinking. The Fed needs some tools, and in spite of what Ben Bernanke says, it doesn’t have them.”

This is a very odd comment coming from somebody who calls himself a (New) Monetarist. It is at the core of monetarism in the sense of Friedman, Brunner, Meltzer, Cagan, Schwartz, Warburton and Yeager etc. that nominal GDP is determined by the central bank and no monetarist has ever acknowledged that there is a liquidity trap. Williamson claims that he does not agree with everything Friedman said, but I wonder what Friedman said he agrees with. If you don’t believe that NGDP is determined by the central bank then it makes absolutely no sense to call yourself a monetarist.

Furthermore, if you don’t think that the Fed can hit an NGDP target how could you think it could hit an inflation target? Both changes in NGDP and in prices are monetary phenomena.

Anyway, let’s get back to the question whether the central bank can hit an NGDP target and what instruments could be used to hit that target.

The simplest way to do it is actually to use the exchange rate channel. Let’s assume that the Federal Reserve wants to increase the US NGDP level by 15% and that it wants to do it by the end of 2013.

Scott has suggested using NGDP futures to hit the NGDP target, but let’s assume that is too complicated to understand for the critics and the Fed. Instead the Fed will survey professional forecasters about their expectations for the level of NGDP by the end of 2013. The Fed will then announce that as long as the “consensus” forecast for NGDP is below the target the Fed will step up monetary easing. The Fed will do the survey once a month.

Let’s start out with the first announcement under this new regime. Initially the forecasters are skeptical and forecast NGDP to be 12% below target. As a consequence the Fed announces a Swiss style exchange target. It simply announces that it will intervene in the FX market buying unlimited amounts of foreign currency until the US dollar has weakened 20% in nominal effective terms (and yes, the Fed has the instruments to do that – it has the printing press to print dollars). I am pretty sure that Williamson would agree that that directly would increase US NGDP (if not I would love to see his model…).

The following month the forecasters will likely have moved their forecasts for NGDP closer to the target level. But we might still have too low a level of forecasted NGDP. Therefore, the Fed will the following month announce a further “devaluation” by lets say 5%. The process will continue until the forecasted level for NGDP equals the target level. If the consensus forecast starts to overshoot the target the Fed will simply announce that it will reverse the process and revalue the dollar.

Therefore there is certainly no reason to argue 1) that the Fed can not hit any NGDP target 2) that the Fed does not have an instrument. The exchange rate channel can easily do the job. Furthermore, if the Fed announces this policy then it is very likely that the market will be doing most of the lifting. The dollar would automatically appreciate and depreciate until the market expectations are equal to the NGDP target.

If you have heard all this before then it is because this a variation of Irving Fisher’s compensated dollar plan and Lars E. O. Svensson’s foolproof way out of a liquidity trap. And yes, I have previously suggested this for small open economies, but the Fed could easily use the same method to hit a given NGDP target.

Update: I should note that the example above is exactly that – an example. I use the example to illustrate that a central bank can always increase NGDP and that the exchange rate channel is an effective tool to achieve this goal. However, the numbers mentioned in my post are purely “fictional” and again it example rather than a policy recommendation. That said, I am pretty that if the Fed did exactly as what I suggest above the US would very fast bee out of this crisis. The same goes for the ECB.

Update II: Marcus Nunes and Bill Woolsey also comment on Williamson. Nick Rowe comments on David Adolfatto’s anti-NGDP targeting post(s).

Advertisements

Exchange rate based NGDP targeting for small-open economies

The debate about NGDP targeting is mostly focused on US monetary policy and the focus of most of the Market Monetarist bloggers is on the US economy and on US monetary policy. That is not in anyway surprising, but this is of little help to policy makers in small-open economies and I have long argued that Market Monetarists also need to address the issue of monetary policy in small-open economies.

In my view NGDP level targeting is exactly as relevant to small-open economies as for the US or the euro zone. However, it terms of the implementation of NGDP level targeting in small open economies that might be easier said than done.

A major problem for small-open economies is that their financial markets typically are less developed than for example the US financial markets and equally important exchange rates moves is having a much bigger impact on the overall economic performance – and especially on the short-term volatility in prices, inflation and NGDP. I therefore think that there is scope for thinking about what I would call exchange rate based NGDP targeting in small open economies.

What I suggest here is something that needs a lot more theoretical and empirical work, but overall my idea is to combine Irving Fisher’s compensated dollar plan (CDP) with NGDP level targeting.

Fisher’s idea was to stabilise the price level by devaluing or revaluing the currency dependent on whether the actual price level was higher or lower than the targeted price level. Hence, if the price level was 1% below the target price level in period t-1 then the currency should devalued by 1% in period t. The Swedish central bank operated a scheme similar to this quite successfully in the 1930s. In Fisher’s scheme the “reference currency” was the dollar versus gold prices. In my scheme it would clearly be a possibility to “manage” the currency against some commodity price like gold prices or a basket of commodity prices (for example the CRB index). Alternatively the currency of the small open economy could be managed vis-à-vis a basket of currencies reflecting for example a trade-weighted basket of currencies.

Unlike Fisher’s scheme the central bank’s target would not be the price level, but rather a NGDP path level and unlike the CDP it should be a forward – and not a backward – looking scheme. Hence, the central bank could for example once every quarter announce an appreciation/depreciation path for the currency over the coming 2-3 years. So if NGDP was lower than the target level then the central bank would announce a “lower” (weaker) path for the currency than otherwise would have been the case.

For Emerging Markets where productivity growth typical is higher than in developed markets the so-called Balassa-Samuelson effect would say that the real effective exchange rate of the Emerging Market economy should gradually appreciate, but if NGDP where to fall below the target level then the central bank would choose to “slowdown” the future path for the exchange rate appreciation relative to the trend rate of appreciation.

I believe that exchange rate based NGDP level targeting could provide a worthwhile alternative to floating exchange (with inflation or NGDP targeting) or rigid pegged exchange rate policies. That said, my idea need to be examined much closer and it would be interesting to see how the rule would perform in standard macroeconomic models under different assumptions.

Finally it should be noted that the there are some clear similarities to a number for the proposal for NGDP growth targeting Bennett McCallum has suggested over the years.

%d bloggers like this: