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October 18, 2012

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Bernanke: Accommodative Policies Do Not Impose (Net) Costs on Developing Countries

Posted: 14 Oct 2012 12:24 AM PDT

Ben Bernanke responds to foreigners complaining about US monetary policy (including saying that if some countries want to enjoy the benefits of an undervalued currency, then they must also pay the costs, "including reduced monetary independence and the consequent susceptibility to imported inflation":

U.S. Monetary Policy and International Implications, Speech by Ben Bernanke: Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here. This morning I will first briefly review the U.S. and global economic outlook. I will then discuss the basic rationale underlying the Federal Reserve's recent policy decisions and place these actions in an international context. ...
Federal Reserve's Recent Policy Actions
All of the Federal Reserve's monetary policy decisions are guided by our dual mandate to promote maximum employment and stable prices. With the disappointing progress in job markets and with inflation pressures remaining subdued, the FOMC has taken several important steps this year to provide additional policy accommodation. ...
As I have said many times, however, monetary policy is not a panacea. Although we expect our policies to provide meaningful help to the economy, the most effective approach would combine a range of economic policies and tackle longer-term fiscal and structural issues as well as the near-term shortfall in aggregate demand. Moreover, we recognize that unconventional monetary policies come with possible risks and costs; accordingly, the Federal Reserve has generally employed a high hurdle for using these tools and carefully weighs the costs and benefits of any proposed policy action.
International Aspects of Federal Reserve Asset Purchases
Although the monetary accommodation we are providing is playing a critical role in supporting the U.S. economy, concerns have been raised about the spillover effects of our policies on our trading partners. In particular, some critics have argued that the Fed's asset purchases, and accommodative monetary policy more generally, encourage capital flows to emerging market economies. These capital flows are said to cause undesirable currency appreciation, too much liquidity leading to asset bubbles or inflation, or economic disruptions as capital inflows quickly give way to outflows.
I am sympathetic to the challenges faced by many economies in a world of volatile international capital flows. And, to be sure, highly accommodative monetary policies in the United States, as well as in other advanced economies, shift interest rate differentials in favor of emerging markets and thus probably contribute to private capital flows to these markets. I would argue, though, that it is not at all clear that accommodative policies in advanced economies impose net costs on emerging market economies, for several reasons.
First, the linkage between advanced-economy monetary policies and international capital flows is looser than is sometimes asserted. Even in normal times, differences in growth prospects among countries--and the resulting differences in expected returns--are the most important determinant of capital flows. The rebound in emerging market economies from the global financial crisis, even as the advanced economies remained weak, provided still greater encouragement to these flows. Another important determinant of capital flows is the appetite for risk by global investors. Over the past few years, swings in investor sentiment between "risk-on" and "risk-off," often in response to developments in Europe, have led to corresponding swings in capital flows. All told, recent research, including studies by the International Monetary Fund, does not support the view that advanced-economy monetary policies are the dominant factor behind emerging market capital flows.1 Consistent with such findings, these flows have diminished in the past couple of years or so, even as monetary policies in advanced economies have continued to ease and longer-term interest rates in those economies have continued to decline.
Second, the effects of capital inflows, whatever their cause, on emerging market economies are not predetermined, but instead depend greatly on the choices made by policymakers in those economies. In some emerging markets, policymakers have chosen to systematically resist currency appreciation as a means of promoting exports and domestic growth. However, the perceived benefits of currency management inevitably come with costs, including reduced monetary independence and the consequent susceptibility to imported inflation. In other words, the perceived advantages of undervaluation and the problem of unwanted capital inflows must be understood as a package--you can't have one without the other.
Of course, an alternative strategy--one consistent with classical principles of international adjustment--is to refrain from intervening in foreign exchange markets, thereby allowing the currency to rise and helping insulate the financial system from external pressures. Under a flexible exchange-rate regime, a fully independent monetary policy, together with fiscal policy as needed, would be available to help counteract any adverse effects of currency appreciation on growth. The resultant rebalancing from external to domestic demand would not only preserve near-term growth in the emerging market economies while supporting recovery in the advanced economies, it would redound to everyone's benefit in the long run by putting the global economy on a more stable and sustainable path.
Finally, any costs for emerging market economies of monetary easing in advanced economies should be set against the very real benefits of those policies. The slowing of growth in the emerging market economies this year in large part reflects their decelerating exports to the United States, Europe, and other advanced economies. Therefore, monetary easing that supports the recovery in the advanced economies should stimulate trade and boost growth in emerging market economies as well. In principle, depreciation of the dollar and other advanced-economy currencies could reduce (although not eliminate) the positive effect on trade and growth in emerging markets. However, since mid-2008, in fact, before the intensification of the financial crisis triggered wide swings in the dollar, the real multilateral value of the dollar has changed little, and it has fallen just a bit against the currencies of the emerging market economies. ...

Links for 10-14-2012

Posted: 14 Oct 2012 12:03 AM PDT

That Blurry Line Between Makers and Takers

Posted: 13 Oct 2012 03:30 PM PDT

Flight layover blogging -- this is from Tyler Cowen:

That Blurry Line Between Makers and Takers, by Tyler Cowen, Commentary, NY Times: Mitt Romney has apologized for his depiction of 47 percent of America as wealth takers rather than wealth makers. But his blunder touched inadvertently on some discomforting truths about the importance of politics in income distribution in the United States.
If Mr. Romney's points were to be reformulated in a more defensible direction, the outline might look something like this...

Waiting for you to go read Tyler's column so my comments will make sense (hopefully, anyway). . . . Where Tyler and I differ most is not in the diagnosis of the problem. We both think, for example, that moneyed interests have captured far too much of Washington. Where we differ is the solution. His libertarian leanings lead him to propose getting government out of the way. If government is not involved, then moneyed interests can't screw things up. I have some sympathy for that point of view. But I suspect (strongly) I also have more faith than he does in government's ability to do good. Yes, we need to do our best to stop money from capturing politicians, something that increasing inequality makes worse. But we also need government to stand up for the typical household who does not have the power that comes with wealth. If government simply steps out of the way, stops regulating, etc., then the power that comes with wealth will exploit the powerless (think of things like workplace safety) and they will be even worse off than they are now -- I have no doubt about that. There are some areas where less government is the solution, but in many cases the answer is a government that represents all of our interests, not just those who can provide campaign cash in great volumes. Getting there is a problem -- how do you get a captured government to uncapture itself? -- but even with all its imperfections I just don't believe that no government at all will result in a better outcome for the vast majority of Americans. (A good analogy is monopoly power. I think the government should do more to reduce monopoly power, but it doesn't due to the influence of the wealthy and powerful who own these companies. But getting rid of anti-trust law altogether, i.e. getting government out of the way completely,  won't improve the outcome -- monopoly problems would simply get worse). I want to improve government, not kill it.

The Futility of Base-Broadening to Pay for Massive Tax Rate Cuts

Posted: 13 Oct 2012 08:18 AM PDT

A quick one before hightailing it to the airport:

New JCT Study Shows Futility of Base-Broadening to Pay for Massive Tax Rate Cuts, by David Dayens: As long as the only thing we're going to talk about for the next few weeks in the election is taxes, I might as well provide the update. The Joint Committee on Taxation, the "CBO for taxes" as it were, the nonpartisan scorekeeper on tax policy, just released a report that should end all discussion about the Romney campaign's plans for a deficit-neutral 20% across-the-board rate cut.

Repealing all itemized deductions in the U.S. tax code would pay for only a 4 percent cut in income tax rates,... an estimate ... that casts doubt on Republicans' ability to finance lower income-tax rates with base broadening....

...[T]his is not a perfect indicator of the Romney plan. But the basic principle applies, and it's so far from the reality of what Romney wants to achieve – a 20% rate cut without adding to the deficit, and without an increase on the middle class – that I think it serves as more evidence of the futility of the exercise. ...

Mark Zandi, the Moody's.com economist always trotted out to bless this or that plan, admitted today that the Romney plan is mathematically impossible....

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