The Market Monetarist voice at Cato Institute

In a pervious post I have noted that Tim Lee a scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute has been endorsing basically Market Monetarist ideas. Now Tim has a comment on Market Monetarism. I am happy to see that Tim has nice things to say about Market Monetarism and my paper on Market Monetarism in his latest article at forbes.com.

Once again – I am happy to see that Tim Lee is continuing the work for nominal income targeting that William Niskanen started at the Cato Institute. NGDP should be the natural position of the good people at the Cato Institute.

Tim Lee – Market Monetarist

Timothy B. Lee at the Cato Institute has a couple of interesting comments out on US monetary policy – they are at the core very much Market Monetarist.

Here is a few recommendations:

Fighting the Last Monetary War (Happy to see Tim is reading Friedman’s Money Mischief – one of my favourite books)
More on Nominal Sales and Monetary Policy (happy to see a tribute to William Niskanen’s monetary policy views)
Beckworth, Ponnuru and Niskanen on Monetary Policy (Tim, you make us proud…)

Most Market Monetarists talk about NGDP level targeting, but I guess people like Beckworth and Woolsey would prefer targeting “nominal final sales to domestic purchasers” as William Niskanen suggested. I have sympathy for that as well – especially if I think of none-US monetary policy then a target on what I would call final domestic spending would be appropriate. Furthermore, final sales was also Clark Warburton’s prefered measure for Py and given I think Warburton is the most underappreciated monetarist ever it is only natural for me to advocate to use final sales rather NGDP as a measure of Py.

Anyway, nice to see a Cato scholar on board. The Cato Institute has been at the forefront of “policy development” in the US for decades and it’s annual monetary conference continues to be hugely influential on US and global thinking about monetary policy and theory so it is truly great that Tim is spreading the message from William Niskanen.

Beckworth and Ponnuru: Tight budgets, Loose money

David Beckworth and Ramesh Ponnuru just came out with a new article on the economic policy debate in the US. Beckworth and Ponnuru lash out against both left and right in American politics. Let me just say that I agree with basically everything in the article, but you should read it yourself.

However, what I find most interesting in the article is not the discussion about the US political landscape, but rather the very clear description of both the Great Moderation and the causes for the Great Recession:

“The Fed did a pretty good job of stabilizing the economy. The result of its monetary policies was that the economy, measured in current-dollar or “nominal” terms, grew at about 5 percent a year, with inflation accounting for 2 percent of the increase and real economic growth 3 percent. Keeping nominal spending and nominal income on a predictable path is important for two reasons. First, most debts, such as mortgages, are contracted in nominal terms, so an unexpected slowdown in nominal income growth increases their burden. Also, the difficulty of adjusting nominal prices makes the business cycle more severe. If workers resist nominal wage cuts during a deflation, for example, mass unemployment results…During the great moderation, people began to expect spending and incomes to grow at a stable rate and made borrowing decisions based on it. But maintaining this stability requires the Fed to increase the money supply whenever the demand for money balances—people’s preference for cash over other assets—increases. This happened in 2008 when, as a result of the recession and the financial crisis, fearful Americans began to hold their cash. The Federal Reserve, first worried about increased commodity prices as a harbinger of inflation and then focused on saving the financial system, failed to increase the money supply enough to offset this shift in demand and allowed nominal spending to fall through mid-2009″

I wish a lot more people would understand this – Beckworth and Ponnuru are certainly not to blame if you don’t understand it yet.

———

UPDATE: See this interesting comment on Niskanen and Beckworth/Ponnuru by Tim B. Lee.

The Chuck Norris effect, Swiss lessons and a (not so) crazy idea

Here is from The Street Light:

“You may recall that in September the Swiss National Bank (SNB) announced that it was going to intervene as necessary in the currency markets to ensure that the Swiss Franc (CHF) stayed above a minimum exchange rate with the euro of 1.20 CHF/EUR. How has that been working out for them?

It turns out that it has been working extremely well. Today the SNB released data on its balance sheet for the end of September. During the month of August the SNB had to spend almost CHF 100 billion to buy foreign currency assets to keep the exchange rate at a reasonable level. But in September — most of which was after the announcement of the exchange rate minimum — the SNB’s foreign currency assets only grew by about CHF 25 billion. Furthermore, this increase in the CHF value of the SNB’s foreign currency assets likely includes substantial capital gains that the SNB reaped on its euro portfolio (which was valued at about €130 bn at the end of September), as the CHF was almost 10% weaker against the euro in September than in August. Given that, it seems likely that the SNB’s purchases of new euro assets in September after the announcement of the exchange rate floor almost completely stopped.”

This is a very strong demonstration of the power of monetary policy when the central bank is credible. This is the Chuck Norris effect of monetary policy: You don’t have to print more money to ease monetary policy if you are a credible central bank with a credible target. (Nick Rowe and I like this sort of thing…)

And now to the (not so) crazy idea – if the SNB can ease monetary policy by announcing a devaluation why can’t the Federal Reserve and the ECB do it? Obviously some would say that not all central banks in the world can devalue at the same time – but they can. They can easily do it against commodity prices. So lets say that the ECB, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England and the SNB tomorrow announced a 15% devaluation against commodity prices (for example the CRB index) and that they will defend that one sided “peg” until the nominal GDP level returns to their pre-Great Recession trend levels. Why 15%? Because that is more or less the NGDP “gap” in the euro zone and the US.

The clever reader will notice that this is the coordinated and slightly more sexy version of Lars E. O. Svensson’s fool-proof way to escape deflation and the liquidity trap.

Is a coordinated 15% devaluation of the major currencies of the world (with the exception of RMB) a crazy idea? Yes, it is quite crazy and it could trigger all kind of political discussions, but I am pretty sure it would work and would very fast bring US and European NGDP back towards the pre-crisis trend. And for those who now scream at the screen “How the hell will higher commodity prices help us?” I will just remind you of the crucial difference between demand and supply driven increases in commodity prices. But okay, lets say we don’t want to do that – so lets instead do the following. The same central banks will “devalue” 15% against a composite index for stock prices in the US, the UK, the euro zone and Japan. Ok, I know you are very upset now. How can he suggest that? I am not really suggesting it, but I am arguing that monetary policy can easily work and all this “crazy idea” would actually do the trick and bring back NGDP back on track in both the US and Europe.  But you might have a better idea.

George Selgin on Bernanke and NGDP targeting

Bill Woolsey has comment on Fed governor Ben Bernanke’s comment’s yesterday regarding NGDP targeting.

Here is what Bernanke said:

“So the fed’s mandate is, of course, a dual mandate. We have a mandate for both employment and for price stability. And we have a framework in place that allows us to communicate and to think about the two sides of that mandate. We talked yesterday about nominal GDP as an indicator, as an information variable, something to add to the list of variables that we think about. And it was a very interesting discussion. However, we think that within the existing framework that we have, which looks at both sides of the mandate, not just some combination of the two, we can communicate whatever we need to communicate about future monetary policy. So we are not contemplating at this time any radical change in framework. We are going to stay within the dual mandate approach that we’ve been using until this point.”

George Selgin who is one of the pioneers of NGDP targeting – even though we all know George prefers Free Banking – has a comment on Bill’s blog. I think George’s comment make a lot of sense:

“Right. BB doesn’t get it: nominal spending isn’t an indicator to be used in helping the Fed to regulate P and y. It is itself the very thing the Fed ought to regulate. The idea that Py is some sort of composite of two more “fundamental” variables, where the Fed is supposed to be concerned with the stability of each, is a crude fallacy. Neither stability of y nor that of P is desirable per se. Stability of Py, on the other hand–which is to say stability of nominal aggregate demand–is desirable in itself.”

Right on George! (for those not schooled in econ lingo P is prices and y is real GDP and Py obviously is nominal GDP).

Germany 1931, Argentina 2001 – Greece 2011?

The events that we are seeing in Greece these days are undoubtedly events that economic historians will study for many years to come. But the similarities to historical crises are striking. I have already in previous posts reminded my readers of the stark similarities with the European – especially the German – debt crisis in 1931. However, one can undoubtedly also learn a lot from studying the Argentine crisis of 2001-2002 and the eventual Argentine default in 2002.

What this crises have in common is the combination of rigid monetary regimes (the gold standard, a currency board and the euro), serious fiscal austerity measures that ultimately leads to the downfall of the government and an international society that is desperately trying to solve the problem, but ultimately see domestic political events makes a rescue impossible – whether it was the Hoover administration and BIS in 1931, the IMF in 2001 or the EU (Germany/France) in 2011. The historical similarities are truly scary.

I have no clue how things will play out in Greece, but Germany 1931 and Argentina 2001 does not give much hope for optimism, but we can at least prepare ourselves for how things might play out by studying history.

I can recommend having a look at this timeline for how the Argentine crisis played out. You can start on page 3 – the Autumn of 2001. This is more or less where we are in Greece today.

Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #6

Gold standard?

The last remnants of the global gold standard system died when the Bretton Woods agreement collapsed in 1971, but the notion of a global currency system based on a gold standard occasionally pops up in both general and academic debates, especially in the USA.

Friedman was never any great proponent of the gold standard or other goods-based currency systems. He sees a gold standard system as neither possible nor desirable in a today’s world: undesirable because its reintroduction would imply enormous costs in connection with purchasing gold, and not possible because the “mythology” that surrounded the gold standard in the nineteenth century no longer exists. In the nineteenth century everyone expected changes in the money supply to be determined by developments in the price of gold, and that money and gold were close substitutes. Today, we expect the central bank – not gold – to ensure the value of our money. A reintroduction of the gold standard would require a shift in this perception.

In the nineteenth century the gold standard ensured low (or more correctly no) inflation for long periods of time. On the other hand, prices fluctuated considerably from year to year as gold production rose and fell. According to Friedman this was possible because the goods and labour markets were much more flexible at that time than now. Any attempt to reintroduce the gold standard now would result in exactly the same negative outcomes as a fixed exchange rate policy.

Despite the global gold standard having been abandoned many years ago, most central banks continue to own large amounts of gold. Friedman’s view is that one should fully acknowledge the end of the gold standard system and auction off the gold reserves of the central banks.

This concludes my little series on Milton Friedman’s view on FX policy. See the other posts here:

Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #1
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #2
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #3
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #4
Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #5

Needed: Rooseveltian Resolve

Here is Ben Bernanke (in 1999):

Needed: Rooseveltian Resolve
Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1932 with the mandate to get the country out of the Depression. In the end, the most effective actions he took were the same that Japan needs to take—- namely, rehabilitation of the banking system and devaluation of the currency to promote monetary easing. But Roosevelt’s specific policy actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment—-in short, to do whatever was necessary to get the country moving again. Many of his policies did not work as intended, but in the end FDR deserves great credit for having the courage to abandon failed paradigms and to do what needed to be done. Japan is not in a Great Depression by any means, but its economy has operated below potential for nearly a decade. Nor is it by any means clear that recovery is imminent. Policy options exist that could greatly reduce these losses. Why isn’t more happening?

To this outsider, at least, Japanese monetary policy seems paralyzed, with a paralysis that is largely self-induced. Most striking is the apparent unwillingness of the monetary authorities to experiment, to try anything that isn’t absolutely guaranteed to work. Perhaps it’s time for some Rooseveltian resolve in Japan.

——

I got this quote from Bernanke’s 1999 paper “Japanese Monetary Policy: A Case of Self-Induced Paralysis?” – or rather David Bechworth has a great post on Bernanke’s paper and that got me reading. I knew the paper, but didn’t remember how powerful it actually was. Try replace “Japan” with “USA” in the paper and you will see a very strong Bernankian critique of Bernanke.

Thanks for David for alerting me and his many other readers to this great paper.

PS: As I finnish writing this I realised that Scott Sumner in fact wrote the same story (and I guess Marcus Nunes had alerted him to the Bernanke paper).

Twitting Market Monetarist

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See also the left-hand side of this site.

Milton Friedman on exchange rate policy #5

The euro – “a great mistake”

The European Monetary Union came into being in 1999, with the euro being introduced at the same time (as “account money”, and in 2002 as physical currency). Milton Friedman was an outspoken critic of this project, and his criticisms can be traced all the way back to “The Case for Flexible Exchange Rates” from 1953. The basic idea behind the euro is that to exploit the full potential of a single European market for goods, capital and labour – the inner market – a single common currency is essential. Friedman opposes this idea, as his view is namely that free trade is best promoted through floating exchange rates when wage and price formation are sluggish.

In Friedman’s eyes the euro area is not an optimal currency area, as the European goods and labour markets are still heavily regulated, and so prices and wages are relatively slow to adjust. At the same time, the mobility of labour between the euro countries is limited – due to both regulations and cultural differences. If this situation is not changed, it will, according to Friedman, inevitably lead to political tensions within the EU that may reach an intensity the European Central Bank (ECB) cannot ignore.

An asymmetric shock to one or more euro countries would require real national adjustment (price and wage adjustments), as nominal adjustments (exchange rate adjustments) are not possible within the framework of the monetary union. In Friedman’s view this would spark tension between the countries hit by the asymmetric shock and those not affected. Thus the euro might actually fan political conflict and the disintegration of Europe – which is in diametric opposition to the founding idea behind the single currency.

For Friedman the euro is not primarily an economic project. Rather, Friedman views the euro as basically a political concept designed to force further political integration onto Europe. Friedman believes that in the long run no country can maintain its sovereignty if it abandons its currency. The integration of the goods, capital and labour markets in the euro member countries is a prerequisite for the euro to function, and according to Friedman this can only happen through further political integration – something he fears will lead to the formation of a European superstate.

Recent developments unfortunately have proven Friedman’s analysis right…

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