Tag: slack

Although the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England is independent in setting interest rates, until recently it still had to follow a precise remit set by the government. This was to target inflation of 2% (±1%), with interest rates set to meet this target in 24 months’ time. But things have changed since the new Governor, Mark Carney, took up office in July 2013. And now things are not so clear cut.

The Bank announced that it would keep Bank Rate at the current historically low level of 0.5% at least until unemployment had fallen to 7%, subject to various conditions. More generally, the Bank stated that:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

This ‘forward guidance’ was designed to provide more information about future policy and thereby more certainty for businesses and households to plan.

But unemployment has fallen rapidly in recent months. It fell from a 7.7% average for the three months May to July 2013 to 7.1% for the latest available three months (September to November 2013). And yet there is still considerable slack in the economy.

It now, therefore, looks highly unlikely that the MPC will raise Bank Rate as soon as unemployment falls below 7%. This then raises the question of how useful the 7% target has been and whether, if anything, it has created further uncertainty about future MPC decisions.

The following still appears on the Bank of England website:

The MPC intends at a minimum to maintain the present highly stimulative stance of monetary policy until economic slack has been substantially reduced, provided this does not entail material risks to price stability or financial stability.

But this raises two questions: (a) how do you measure ‘economic slack’ and (b) what constitutes a substantial reduction?

So what should the Bank do now? What, if any, forward guidance should it offer to the markets? Will that forward guidance be credible? After all, credibility among businesses and households is an important condition for any policy stance. According to Larry Elliott in the first article below, there are five options.


Bank of England’s method of setting interest rates needs reviewing The Guardian, Larry Elliott (9/2/14)
Mark Carney set to adjust Bank interest rate policy BBC News (12/2/14)
Forward guidance: dead and alive BBC News, Robert Peston (11/2/14)
What “forward guidance” is, and how it (theoretically) works The Economist (11/2/14)
BOE’s forward guidance 2.0: Cheap talk, or big change? Market Watch (11/2/14)

Bank of England pages
Monetary Policy Bank of England
MPC Remit Letters Bank of England
Forward Guidance Bank of England


  1. What data would you need to have in order to identify the degree of economic slack in the economy?
  2. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  3. Why might the issuing of the forward guidance last July have itself contributed to the fall in unemployment?
  4. Why is it difficult to obtain such data – at least in a reliable form?
  5. Why is credibility an important requirement for policy?
  6. Why may LFS unemployment be a poor guide to the degree of slack in the economy?
  7. Discuss the relative merits of each of the five policy options identified by Larry Elliott.

If aggregate demand were to expand, would there be sufficient spare capacity to allow aggregate supply to expand to meet the additional demand? This is the question addressed by the podcast and article below.

If there is plenty of spare capacity, policies to increase aggregate demand could help to take up the slack and thereby achieve economic growth – at least as long as spare capacity remains. In other words, in the short run the aggregate supply curve may be horizontal or only gently upward sloping at the current point of intersection with the aggregate demand curve. This is illustrated by point a in the diagram. A rightward shift in the aggregate demand curve would cause a movement along the aggregate supply curve to a new higher level of real national income (Y).

If, however, there is little or no spare capacity, an increase in nominal aggregate demand is likely to be purely inflationary, or virtually so. This would the case at point b in the diagram. Real national income cannot expand beyond the full-capacity level, YFC. Under such circumstances, any attempt by the government to stimulate economic growth should focus on the supply side and attempt to shift the aggregate supply curve to the right. Examples of supply-side policy include incentives to encourage research and development, incentives for the private sector to invest in new capacity and direct public investment in infrastructure.

Unemployment is not just caused by a lack of aggregate demand relative to aggregate supply. It may be the result of a mismatching of labour supply with the demand for labour. People may have the wrong qualifications or not be where the jobs are. Unemployment may co-exist with quite high levels of vacancies. There may be vacancies for highly qualified scientists, technicians or craftspeople and unemployment of people with low skills or skills no longer in high demand. The same may apply to capital equipment. There may be a shortage of high-tech equipment or equipment to produce goods in high demand and redundant older equipment or equipment in areas of declining demand.

Part of a comprehensive set of policies to tackle unemployment and achieve economic growth would be to focus on the whole balance of the economy and the matching of the demand and supply of inputs.

Is there ‘spare capacity’ in the economy? BBC Today Programme, Evan Davis and Andrew Sentance (4/12/12)

OBR’s supply pessimism could be the ruin of this government The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (25/11/12)

Claimant count and vacancies dataset ONS (14/11/12)
Labour Market Statistics, November 2012 ONS (14/11/12)
Actual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)
Usual weekly hours worked ONS (14/11/12)


  1. Distinguish between ‘unemployment’, ‘underemployment’ and ‘disguised unemployment’?
  2. To what extent does the level of unemployment provide a good measure of spare capacity?
  3. Is the UK economy suffering from a deflationary gap? If so, how would you measure the size of that gap?
  4. If there is substantial spare capacity, is expansionary fiscal policy the best means of achieving economic growth?
  5. What policies are likely to have both a positive supply-side effect and a positive demand-side effect?
  6. What constraints does the government face in attempting to boost aggregate demand?
  7. Why might policies designed to stimulate aggregate demand also increase supply capacity?
  8. What policies would you recommend for tackling the mismatching of the demand and supply of inputs?