Tag Archives: monetary policy

Ben Bernanke Doesn’t Get the Message

By James Kwak

I was on vacation last week (far from Jackson Hole) when Ben Bernanke gave his widely anticipated speech. The media (see the Times, for example) seemed to focus mainly on his criticisms of the political branches and economic policymaking, which were accurate enough. But in my opinion, Bernanke drew the wrong lessons from those observations.

He was very clear that the problem today is unemployment, not inflation:

“Recent data have indicated that economic growth during the first half of this year was considerably slower than the Federal Open Market Committee had been expecting, and that temporary factors can account for only a portion of the economic weakness that we have observed. Consequently, although we expect a moderate recovery to continue and indeed to strengthen over time, the Committee has marked down its outlook for the likely pace of growth over coming quarters. With commodity prices and other import prices moderating and with longer-term inflation expectations remaining stable, we expect inflation to settle, over coming quarters, at levels at or below the rate of 2 percent, or a bit less, that most Committee participants view as being consistent with our dual mandate.”

Continue reading

A Foray into Monetary Policy and Tangentially Related Speculations

By James Kwak

Yesterday I wrote an Atlantic column about the bizarre situation that the Federal Reserve is in. Ordinarily, we think central bank independence is important because it permits the bank to take unpopular, anti-growth steps when the political branches of government want popular, pro-growth steps. But today we’re in Bizarro world: the political branches are intent on strangling the economy, so the Fed should be ignoring the political winds and stimulating the economy—especially since it’s clear that fiscal policy is off the table. Rick Perry just provided a last-minute dose of color.

Obviously Perry and the Republicans don’t want the Fed to stimulate the economy because they don’t want the economy to recover before the 2012 elections. But I think there’s something deeper here, which Mike Konczal gets at in this great post. Konczal summarizes the nineteenth-century gold-standard ideology this way: “Paper money decreases the power of the husband over his wife and the father over his family, loosens the natural leadership that serves as the best protection against ‘effeminate’ manners, and gives us a democracy without nobility.”

Continue reading

Paul Ryan Criticizes Bernanke for Failing to Contain Tooth Fairy

By James Kwak

In a Congressional hearing today, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), chair of the House Budget Committee, strongly criticized Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke for failing to contain the severe inflation threat posed by the Tooth Fairy.

Ryan pointed to numerous studies showing that, despite ongoing economic sluggishness, the Tooth Fairy is paying much more for children’s baby teeth than in past years. In neighborhoods such as Winnetka, Cleveland Park, the Upper East Side, and Palo Alto, children can receive more than $20 per tooth — a dramatic increase from the 25-50 cents that the Tooth Fairy paid only a decade or two ago. In the Hamptons, summertime prices for teeth can easily exceed $100, according to a survey commissioned by the American Enterprise Institute.* Because the Tooth Fairy is able to create money magically, her purchases of unused teeth (with no apparent economic value**) increase the money supply, fueling inflation. Without explicitly accusing Bernanke of participation in the Tooth Fairy’s scheme, Ryan implied that the Tooth Fairy’s higher payouts may be part of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing scheme.

Continue reading

No to Bernanke

The American Economics Association is meeting in Atlanta, where Simon says it is frigid. I went to an early-January conference in Atlanta once. There was a quarter-inch of snow, the roads turned to ice, and everything closed. All flights were canceled, so I and some friends ended up taking the train to Washington, DC, which had gotten two feet of snow, and eventually to New York.

Paul Krugman’s speaking notes are here. Ben Bernanke’s are here.

Bernanke’s speech is largely a defense of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy in the past decade, and therefore of the old Greenspan Doctrine dating back to the 1996 “irrational exuberance” speech–the idea that monetary policy is not the right tool for fighting bubbles. The Fed has gotten a lot of criticism saying that cheap money earlier this decade created the housing bubble, and I think it certainly played a role.

Continue reading

Fed Chest-Thumping for Beginners

I generally avoid writing about monetary policy, since every economics course I’ve taken since college has been a micro course, and besides Simon is a macroeconomist, among other things. But since just about everyone in my RSS feed has been linking to Tim Duy’s recent article on the Fed, I thought I would try to put in context for all of us who don’t understand Fed-speak.

Duy takes as his starting point a series of statements by Fed governors and bank presidents indicating “hawkishness,” which in central banker jargon means caring primarily about inflation, not economic growth. (“Doves” are those who care more about economic growth and jobs, although, just like in the national security context, no one likes to be known as a dove. This itself is a disturbing use of language, since it implicitly justifies beating up on poor people, but let’s leave that for another day.)

Continue reading

Escape from Punchbowlism

This post was written by StatsGuy, a regular commenter here and very occasional guest contributor. We asked him to expand on the ideas he put forward in this comment on the relationships between monetary policy, international capital flows, and bank capital requirements.

Former Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin is most famous for his notorious quip that the job of the Fed is to “take away the punchbowl just as the party gets going.” It seems this has evolved into a full fledged theory of monetary management.

Unfortunately, structural problems – like trade imbalances, inadequate capital ratios, and weak financial regulation – severely constrain Fed monetary policy options by impacting currency flows and the value of the dollar. (Some specific mechanisms are listed in the previous comment.)

Why does this matter? Because it means the Fed cannot use monetary policy as effectively to keep the country going at full throttle and avoid a prolonged fall in utilization rates (unemployment and idle machines).  How can it be that capacity utilization is still lower than at the bottom of the 81/82 recession and we’re ALREADY raising the bubble/inflation alarm? (Paul Krugman discusses this here, and the answer is that the output gap is itself defined against neutral inflation, not just capacity utilization.)

Continue reading

Much Ado About Bernanke

There has been a lot of talk recently about Ben Bernanke, he of the Wall Street Journal op-ed and the multiple Congressional appearances. (Hey, can anyone put me in touch with his agent?*) At the risk of seeming ignorant (or revealing myself to be ignorant), I must say I don’t really understand what the fuss is about.

The question seems to be whether the Fed will be able to tighten monetary policy fast enough when necessary to dampen the potential inflationary effect of its current expansive monetary policy (Fed funds rate at zero, buying long-term securities, etc.). My read on the situation is as follows:

  1. Almost everyone agrees that expansive monetary policy has been appropriate during the crisis and recession to date.
  2. Everyone agrees that at some point monetary policy will have to be tightened.
  3. No one knows when that will happen.
  4. Everyone agrees that because policy has been so expansionary recently, tightening monetary policy when necessary will be more difficult than usual.
  5. Everyone agrees more or less on what tools will be available to the Fed.
  6. No one is certain the Fed will or will not be successful, because there are no relevant datapoints to compare it to.
  7. No matter what Bernanke actually thought, he would still have to say exactly what he is saying this week.

I don’t see much in there worth arguing about.

As Catherine Rampell says, a more interesting question is when the Fed will start tightening policy. This is the kind of thing that can set the Fed against the administration, as stereotypically one focuses on inflation and the other on unemployment. But since most people think it is too early to start now, that debate would be purely speculative at the moment.

* He does need a grammar checker, though. His first sentence – “The depth and breadth of the global recession has required a highly accommodative monetary policy” – contains an error in subject-verb agreement.

By James Kwak