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September 1, 2015

Latest Posts from Economist's View

Posted: 01 Sep 2015 01:17 AM PDT
Everyone seems to be posting the syllabus for the graduate courses they are teaching this fall. Mine is simple. In my Monetary Theory and Policy course we are going to go through this book by Jordi Gali (don't tell anyone I actually know this stuff):
Front Cover
Blurb: This revised second edition of Monetary Policy, Inflation, and the Business Cycle provides a rigorous graduate-level introduction to the New Keynesian framework and its applications to monetary policy. The New Keynesian framework is the workhorse for the analysis of monetary policy and its implications for inflation, economic fluctuations, and welfare. A backbone of the new generation of medium-scale models under development at major central banks and international policy institutions, the framework provides the theoretical underpinnings for the price stability–oriented strategies adopted by most central banks in the industrialized world.
Using a canonical version of the New Keynesian model as a reference, Jordi GalĂ­ explores various issues pertaining to monetary policy's design, including optimal monetary policy and the desirability of simple policy rules. He analyzes several extensions of the baseline model, allowing for cost-push shocks, nominal wage rigidities, and open economy factors. In each case, the effects on monetary policy are addressed, with emphasis on the desirability of inflation-targeting policies. New material includes the zero lower bound on nominal interest rates and an analysis of unemployment's significance for monetary policy.
  • The most up-to-date introduction to the New Keynesian framework available
  • A single benchmark model used throughout
  • New materials and exercises included
  • An ideal resource for graduate students, researchers, and market analysts
I'm looking forward to it. The revised version has lots of new, up to date material, and I really like the fact that he uses variations on a core model throughout the text (it makes the math and intuition a bit easier since you don't have to redo everything with each new topic). I'm a bit torn to move away from Carl Walsh's book, both books have their advantages and I'll still draw quite from the Walsh text. But my focus this quarter is Gali.
Posted: 01 Sep 2015 01:11 AM PDT
In response to this from Paul Romer:
The Clinical-Bench Science Distinction in Macro: I had hoped to find time to offer a more thoughtful response to Simon Wren Lewis's most recent comments on the way forward in macroeconomics...
For now, I'll go ahead with what I hope is a suggestion that could encourage some kind of consensus:
Perhaps the discussion about macro would benefit from a distinction like the one in biomedicine between bench science and clinical work.
In my interpretation, what Lucas and Sargent were trying to do in the 1970s was to develop the bench science side of macroeconomics. ...
Lucas (1972) got things off to a very promising start. It offered both a technical advance–a tractable way to introduce uncertainty and expectations–and an initial conjecture about the fundamental imperfection–incomplete information. It also boasted prematurely about new insights into policy. If at this time, we had already established the distinction between bench science and clinical practice, this might have been recognized as harmless obiter dicta.
Assuming the profession can get back to generally sensible bench science inquiry into the basic scientific questions of macroeconomics (and of course, there were economists who kept doing good bench science on macro questions far away from the RBC reality distortion field), we could copy the quid-pro-quo that prevails in biomedicine: Bench scientists get the freedom to explore any question they want. In return, when they get a result that they think might have implications for clinical practice, the bench-scientists can't just try to pull rank and order the clinicians to change to some new clinical protocol.
The bench scientists have to persuade other bench scientists first. Then the bench scientists together have to persuade the clinicians, and this will not in general, be an easy task. For every important bench-science insight (e.g. that clinicians should wash their hands, or that you can treat ulcers with antibiotics) there are countless episodes in which the bench scientists persuaded each other that they were onto something really big that turned out to be a whimper or simply wrong. ...
So the clinicians are going to be appropriately skeptical. This will irritate the bench scientists, but so what. ...
I'll offer this old Reuters column of mine, A great divide holds back the relevance of economists, on the same topic (from 2011, with links to responses by Summers, Krugman, Hamilton, and Baker among others -- they don't all agree -- full list of responses here). My point, in part, was that causality shouldn't run only from "bench scientists" to practitioners (who then, according to the above, should be free to accept or reject the advice of theorists). The "bench research" should also be informed by the needs of practitioners. That increases the likelihood that theorists will address the most important questions faced by the practitioners, and hence that the research will be useful. That doesn't mean that theorists shouldn't entertain questions with no obvious application, some important discoveries are made in that way. But the theorists should at least consider the needs of the practitioners when deciding which questions are the most important, and most in need of answers.
Posted: 01 Sep 2015 12:24 AM PDT
From Vox EU:
Dynasties and development, by Jan Frederick P. Cruz and Ronald U Mendoza: The possibility of a showdown between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush in the US Presidential polls may have some political pundits salivating, but perhaps many more Americans wondering. Is political power becoming too concentrated in the US? A Bush or a Clinton was President or Vice President in the US for almost 30 years between 1981 and 2009, a dynastic run that may yet be extended by the 2016 elections. ...
In the end, political dynasties in today's modern and developing democracies are a reminder of how personalities still dominate the political landscape, be it in Washington, DC or in Bombay and Manila. Democracies do not necessarily reflect a level playing field, when certain political clans wield disproportionately large influence and control over public resources. And in the worst cases, all that political power is not wielded to advance development or reduce poverty. They appear, instead, to be linked to underdevelopment and rising inequality, particularly in countries and regions with relatively weaker democratic institutions.
Whoever said that during elections is the only time the vote of the richest citizen is equivalent to that of the poorest needs to start rethinking whether this still holds true...
Posted: 01 Sep 2015 12:06 AM PDT
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:55 AM PDT
"Those predicting Mr. Trump's imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history":
A Heckuva Job, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: ...Katrina was special in political terms because it revealed such a huge gap between image and reality. Ever since 9/11, former President George W. Bush had been posing as a strong, effective leader keeping America safe. He wasn't. But as long as he was talking tough about terrorists, it was hard for the public to see what a lousy job he was doing. It took a domestic disaster, which made his administration's cronyism and incompetence obvious to anyone with a TV set, to burst his bubble.
What we should have learned from Katrina, in other words, was that political poseurs with nothing much to offer besides bluster can nonetheless fool many people into believing that they're strong leaders. And that's a lesson we're learning all over again as the 2016 presidential race unfolds.
You probably think I'm talking about Donald Trump, and I am. But he's not the only one.
Consider, if you will, the case of Chris Christie. Not that long ago he was regarded as a strong contender for the presidency... Now Mr. Christie looks pathetic — did you hear the one about his plan to track immigrants as if they were FedEx packages? But he hasn't changed, he's just come into focus.
Or consider Jeb Bush... What happened to Jeb the smart, effective leader? He never existed.
And there's more. Remember when Scott Walker was the man to watch? Remember when Bobby Jindal was brilliant?
I know, now I'm supposed to be evenhanded, and point out equivalent figures on the Democratic side. But there really aren't any; in modern America, cults of personality built around undeserving politicians seem to be a Republican thing. ...
Which brings us back to Mr. Trump.
Both the Republican establishment and the punditocracy have been shocked by Mr. Trump's continuing appeal to the party's base. He's a ludicrous figure, they complain. His policy proposals, such as they are, are unworkable, and anyway, don't people realize the difference between actual leadership and being a star on reality TV?
But ... those predicting Mr. Trump's imminent political demise are ignoring the lessons of recent history, which tell us that poseurs with a knack for public relations can con the public for a very long time. Someday The Donald will have his Katrina moment, when voters see him for who he really is. But don't count on it happening any time soon.
Posted: 31 Aug 2015 08:55 AM PDT
Tim Duy:
Does 25bp Make A Difference?, by Tim Duy: I am often asked if 25bp really makes any difference? If not, why does it matter when the Fed makes its first move? The Fed would like you to believe that 25bp really isn't all that important. Indeed, they don't want us focused on the timing of the first move at all, reiterating that the path of rates is most important. Yet I have come to believe that the timing of the first rate hike is important for two reasons. First, it will help clarify the Fed's reaction function. Second, if the experience of Japan and others who have tried to hike rates in the current global macroeconomic environment is any example, the Fed will only get one shot at pulling the economy off the zero bound. They better get it right.
On the first point, consider that there is no widespread agreement on the timing of the Fed's first move. Odds for September have been bouncing around 50%, lower after a couple of weeks of market turmoil, but bolstered by the Fed's "stay the course" message from Jackson Hole. I think you can contribute the lack of consensus to the conflicting signals send by the Fed's dual mandate. On one hand, labor markets are improving unequivocally. The economy is adding jobs and measures of both unemployment and underemployment continue to improve. The Fed has said that only "some" further progress is necessary to meet the employment portion of the dual mandate. I would argue the Fed Vice-Chair Stanley Fischer even was kind enough to define "some" while in Jackson Hole:
In addition, the July announcement set a condition of requiring "some further improvement in the labor market." From May through July, non-farm payroll employment gains have averaged 235,000 per month. We now await the results of the August employment survey, which are due to be published on September 4.
Nonfarm payroll growth was the only labor market indicator he put a number to. He clearly intended to tie that number to the Fed statement. Basically, he said "some" further improvement is simply another month of the same pattern.
While the Fed is moving closer to the employment mandate, however, the price stability mandate is moving further from view:
On a year-over-year basis, core-CPI is at four year lows, and the collapse in the monthly change suggests that year-over-year trends will not soon turn in the Fed's favor. One can argue that the net effect on policy should be zero. After all, the Fed has long argued that inflation will revert to target, yet inflation has only drifted away from target. What kind of central bank tightens policy when they are moving farther from their inflation target?
Fischer, however is undeterred:
Can the Committee be "reasonably confident that inflation will move back to its 2 percent objective over the medium term"? As I have discussed, given the apparent stability of inflation expectations, there is good reason to believe that inflation will move higher as the forces holding down inflation dissipate further. While some effects of the rise in the dollar may be spread over time, some of the effects on inflation are likely already starting to fade. The same is true for last year's sharp fall in oil prices, though the further declines we have seen this summer have yet to fully show through to the consumer level. And slack in the labor market has continued to diminish, so the downward pressure on inflation from that channel should be diminishing as well.
So back to the question: What kind of central bank tightens policy when they are moving further from their inflation target? Answer: The Federal Reserve. Why? Faith in their estimate of the natural rate of unemployment. Inflation expectations hold the baseline steady, shocks cause deviations from that baseline. The shocks will all dissipate over time, including labor market shocks. The economy is approaching full employment, therefore the downward pressure from labor market slack will soon diminish and turn into upward pressure in the absence of tighter monetary policy.
Now note that, aside from the equilibrium real rate, of the four variables in a Taylor-type reaction function, only one of those variables is unobserved. The target inflation rate is defined, and unemployment and inflation are measured. The natural rate of unemployment is unobserved and needs to be estimated. How confident are policymaker's in their estimate (5.0-5.2 percent) of the natural rate of unemployment?
I would argue that the Fed will reveal a high degree of confidence in that estimate if they hike rates in the face of inflation drifting away from trend. That would be new information in defining their reaction function. I think it would be a signal that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has largely abandoned here concerns about underemployment, which remains unacceptably high.
The clarification of the Fed's reaction function by narrowing the confidence interval around the Fed's estimate of the natural rate of unemployment would, I think, be an important new piece of information. Moreover, I think it would be a fairly hawkish signal - remember that financial market participants, as well as the Federal Reserve staff, tend to have a more dovish outlook that FOMC participants. The sooner the Fed hikes rate, the more hawkish the signal relative to expectations.
That signal, I suspect, is more important than the actual 25bp. The latter might not mean much, but at the zero bound, the former probably means a lot.
The timing of the first hike is also important because the Fed will only get one bite at the apple. That at least is what we saw with the rush to tighten in Japan, Europe, and Sweden. The downside risks of tightening too early are thus enormous, amounting to essentially locking your economy into a subpar equilibrium. This was the Fed's staff's warning in the last set of minutes:
The risks to the forecast for real GDP and inflation were seen as tilted to the downside, reflecting the staff's assessment that neither monetary nor fiscal policy was well positioned to help the economy withstand substantial adverse shocks.
Again, Fischer seems to fear the opposite risk more. Via the New York Times:
And Mr. Fischer emphasized that Fed officials could not afford to wait until all of their questions were answered and all of their doubts resolved. "When the case is overwhelming," he said, "if you wait that long, then you've waited too long."
I am not looking for an overwhelming case, just inflation that is trending toward target instead of away. Yet even that is apparently too much for Fischer as unemployment bears down on their estimate of the full employment.
You can take the central banker out of the 1970's, but you can't take the 1970's out of the central banker.
Bottom Line: I am coming around to the belief that the timing of the first rate hike is more important than Fed officials would like us to believe. The lack of consensus regarding the timing of the first hike tells me that we don't fully understand the Fed's reaction function and, importantly, their confidence in their estimates of the natural rate of unemployment. The timing of the first hike will thus define that reaction function and thus send an important signal about the Fed's overall policy intentions.

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