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Optimal Monetary Policy For the Masses: the James Bullard and Larry Summers View

Wednesday, June 13, 2018 15:45
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James Bullard and Ricardo DiCecio have a new paper where they model wealth, income, and consumption inequality.  They also incorporate fixed-price nominal debt contracts.  They then derive the optimal monetary policy for the masses in such a model. Here is what they find:

This paper builds upon the risk-sharing view of NGDP targeting. The basic idea is that in a world of fixed-price nominal debt contracts (i.e. the real world), a NGDP level target provides better risk sharing among creditors and debtors against economic shocks than does a price stability target.  
This is because a NGDP level target makes inflation countercyclical. During recessions, inflation rises and causes creditors to bear some of the unexpected pain by lowering the real debt payments they receive from debtors. During booms, inflation falls and allows creditors to share in some of the unexpected gain by increasing the real debt payments they receive from debtors. Debtors, in other words, bear less risk during recessions but also share unexpected gains during expansions. 
NGDP level targeting, in other words, causes a fixed-price nominal debt world to look and feel a lot like an equity-world. In a similar spirit, some observers have called for a risk-sharing mortgages as a way to avoid another Great Recession. The point of this paper is that the same benefit that such risk-sharing mortgages would bring can had by having a central bank target the growth path of NGDP.
Larry Summers is also worried about the masses and is therefore rethinking the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target

My conclusion, therefore, is that in our current framework the economy is singularly brittle. We do not have a basis for assuming that monetary policy will be able, as rapidly as necessary, to lift us out of the next recession. This has a substantial cost likely in the range of at least $1 trillion over the next decade. This suggests the suboptimality of our current monetary policy framework… 

If I had to choose one framework today, I would choose a nominal GDP target of 5 to 6 percent. And I would make that choice for two reasons. First, it would attenuate the issues around explicitly announcing a higher inflation target, which I think are a little bit problematic on political economy grounds. Second, a nominal GDP target has an additional advantage in its implicit response to changing conditions. Arithmetically a nominal GDP target has the property that the expected rate of inflation rises as the expected real growth in GDP declines. This is desirable. If growth in underlying real GDP declines, neutral real interest rates are likely to decline as well. In this case allowing higher inflation to make possible even more negative real rates reduces the risk of policy impotence.

Sounds good to me, but are there any real world examples of NGDP level targeting? Probably the best example of a country following something like a NGDP level target has been Israel over the past decade. The Bank of Israel officially targets an inflation range of 1-3 percent, but in practice has made inflation so countercyclical that effectively it has been doing a NGDP level target. The figure below shows this countercyclical nature using the GDP deflator:
Note that both inflation overshooting and undershooting have been tolerated. The GDP deflator has been as hight as 6 percent and almost as low as 1 percent. Overall, its inflation rate has averaged about 2 percent, right in the center of the 1-3 percent target range. So this approach provides both a nominal anchor and short-run inflation flexibility for Israel.  
As consequence of making Israeli inflation countercyclical, the growth path of NGDP has been kept stable: 

This is what monetary policy for the masses looks like!


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