There has been an interesting debate recently about whether the austerity policies being pursued in the UK are the correct ones. What would have happened if the government had pursued a more expansionary policy? Would the increase in borrowing, at least in the short term, have triggered a financial crisis?
Without austerity policies, would the eurozone crisis have led to a collapse in investor confidence in the UK, especially if Greece had been forced out of the euro?
On the one side, Kenneth Rogoff argues that increasing the UK’s budget deficit would have been dangerous and could have led to a flight from the pound. Generally, but with some reservations, he supports the fiscal policies that have been pursued by the Coalition.
I am certainly not arguing that the UK or other advanced countries handled the post-crisis period perfectly. There should have been more infrastructure spending, even more aggressive monetary policy and probably more ruthless bank restructuring. But there has to be a balance between stimulus and stability. To assume we always knew things would calm down, and to retrospectively calibrate policy advice accordingly, is absurd
Paul Krugman and Simon Wren-Lewis challenge Rogoff’s arguments. Paul Krugman uses a version of the IS-LM model to analyse the effect of a loss of international confidence in the UK following problems in the eurozone and worries about excessive UK borrowing.
In the model, the LM curve (labelled MP in Krugman’s diagrams) illustrates the effect of an increase in real GDP on interest rates with a particular monetary policy (e.g. an inflation target or a Taylor rule, which involves a mix of two policy objectives: an inflation target and real GDP). As GDP rises, putting upward pressure on inflation, so the central bank will raise interest rates. Hence, like the traditional LM curve, the monetary-policy related LM curve will slope upwards, as shown in the diagram.
Initial equilibrium GDP is Y0. The rate of interest is at the minimum level, r0 (i.e. the rate of 0.5% that the Monetary Policy Committee has set since January 2009). This, in the model, is the liquidity trap, where any increase in money supply (a rightward shift in the LM curve) will have no effect on interest rates or GDP.
In Rogoff’s analysis of a crisis triggered by excessive borrowing and problems in the eurozone, the IS curve will shift to the left (as illustrated by curve IS1) as capital flows from the UK and confidence collapses. Real GDP will fall to Y1. This will be the outcome of fiscal expansion in the world of the early 2010s.
Krugman argues that the opposite will occur. The outflow of capital will drive down the exchange rate. This will lead to an increase in exports and a decrease in imports. Aggregate demand thus rises and the IS curve will shift to the right (e.g. to IS2 in the diagram. Real GDP will rise (e.g. to Y2 in the diagram). If the rise in aggregate demand is sufficient, the economy will rise out of the liquidity trap and interest rates will rise (e.g. to r2 in the diagram).
Not surprisingly, Rogoff challenges this analysis, as you will see if you read his second paper below. He doesn’t criticise the model per se, but challenges Krugman’s assumptions. For example, a depreciation of sterling by some 20% since 2008 doesn’t seem to have had a major effect in stimulating exports (see the chart in the news item, A balancing act). And exports could well have declined if the eurozone economy had collapsed, given that exports to the eurozone account for around 44% of total UK exports.
Rogoff’s assumptions in turn can be challenged. Simon Wren-Lewis argues that, provided a credible long-term plan for deficit reduction is in place, maintaining a fiscal stimulus in the short run, to keep the recovery going that was beginning to emerge in 2010, would help to increase investor confidence, not undermine it. And, with a policy of quantitative easing, which involves the Bank of England buying central government debt, there is no problem of a lack of demand for UK gilts by the private sector.
What is clear from this debate is the willingness of both sides to accept points made by the other. It is an extremely civilised debate. In fact, it could be seen as a model of how academic debate should be conducted. There is none of the ‘shouting’ that has charaterised much of the pro- and anti-austerity lobbying since the financial crisis burst onto the world stage.
Britain should not take its credit status for granted Scholars at Harvard from Financial Times, Kenneth Rogoff (3/10/13)
Ken Rogoff on UK austerity mainly macro, Simon Wren-Lewis (3/10/13)
Phantom Crises (Wonkish) The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman (3/10/13)
Three Wrongs do not make a Right Scholars at Harvard from Financial Times, Kenneth Rogoff (7/10/13)
Is George Osborne really a hero of global finance? The Guardian, Robert Skidelsky (24/10/13)
- Explain how the policy-dependent LM curve illustrated in the diagram is derived.
- What would cause the policy-dependent LM curve to shift?
- Explain what is meant by the ‘liquidity trap’. Why does being in a liquidity trap make monetary policy ineffective?
- How would you determine whether or not the UK is currently in a liquidity trap?
- How is the level of (a) public-sector debt and (b) private sector debt owed overseas likely to affect the confidence of investors concerning the effects of an expansionary fiscal policy?
- Compare the UK’s total external debt with that of other countries (see the following tables from Principal Global Indicators, hosted by the IMF: External debt and Short-term external debt).
- What insurance policy (if any) does the UK have to protect against market panic about the viability of UK debt?
- What areas of agreement are there between Rogoff on the one side and Krugman and Wren-Lewis on the other?
Tight fiscal policies are being pursued in many countries to deal with high public-sector deficits that resulted from the deep recession of 2008/9. This has put the main onus on monetary policy as the means of stimulating recovery. As a result we have seen record low interest rates around the world, set at only slightly above zero in the main industrialised countries for the past 4½ years. In addition, there have been large increases in narrow money as a result of massive programmes of quantitative easing.
Yet recovery remains fragile in many countries, including the UK and much of the rest of Europe. And a new problem has been worries by potential investors that loose monetary policy may be soon coming to an end. As the June blog The difficult exit from cheap money pointed out:
The US economy has been showing stronger growth in recent months and, as a result, the Fed has indicated that it may soon have to begin tightening monetary policy. It is not doing so yet, nor are other central banks, but the concern that this may happen in the medium term has been enough to persuade many investors that stock markets are likely to fall as money eventually becomes tighter. Given the high degree of speculation on stock markets, this has led to a large-scale selling of shares as investors try to ‘get ahead of the curve’.
Central banks have responded with a new approach to monetary policy. This is known as ‘forward guidance’. The idea is to manage expectations by saying what the central bank will do over the coming months.
The USA was the first to pursue this approach. In September 2012 the Fed committed to bond purchase of $40bn per month (increased to $85bn per month in January 2013) for the foreseeable future; and record low interest rates of between 0% and 0.25% would continue. Indeed, as pointed out above, it was the ‘guidance’ last month that such a policy would be tapered off at some point, that sent stock markets falling in June.
The Fed has since revised its guidance. On 10 July, Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman said that monetary policy would not be tightened for the foreseeable future. With fiscal policy having been tightened, QE would continue and interest rates would not be raised until unemployment had fallen to 6.5%.
Japan has been issuing forward guidance since last December. Its declared aim has been to lower the exchange rate and raise inflation. It would take whatever fiscal and monetary policies were deemed necessary to achieve this (see A J-curve for Japan? and Japan’s three arrows).
Then on 4 July both the Bank of England and the ECB adopted forward guidance too. Worried that growth in the US economy would lead to an end to loose monetary policy before too long and that this would drive up interest rates worldwide, both central banks committed to keeping interest rates low for an extended period of time. Indeed, the ECB declared that the next movement in interest rates would more likely be down than up. Mario Draghi, the ECB president said that the ending of loose monetary policy is ‘very distant’.
The effect of this forward guidance has been to boost stock markets again. The hope is that by managing expectations in this way, the real economy will be affected too, with increased confidence leading to higher investment and faster economic growth.
With the publication of its August 2013 Inflation Report, the Bank of England clarified its approach to forward guidance. It was announced that Bank Rate would stay at the current historically low level of 0.5% ‘at least until the Labour Force Survey headline measure of unemployment has fallen to a threshold of 7%’. In his Inflation Report Press Conference opening remarks, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, also stated that:
While the unemployment rate remains above 7%, the MPC stands ready to undertake further asset purchases if further stimulus is warranted. But until the unemployment threshold is reached the MPC intends not to reduce the stock of asset purchases from the current £375 billion.
Nevertheless, the Bank reserved the right to abondon this undertaking under cirtain circumstances. As Mark Carney put it:
The Bank of England’s unwavering commitment to price stability and financial stability is such that this threshold guidance will cease to apply if material risks to either are judged to have arisen. In that event, the unemployment threshold would be ‘knocked out’. The guidance will remain in place only if, in the MPC’s view, CPI inflation 18 to 24 months ahead is more likely than not to be below 2.5%, medium-term inflation expectations remain sufficiently well anchored, and the FPC has not judged that the stance of monetary policy poses a significant threat to financial stability that cannot otherwise be contained through the considerable supervisory and regulatory policy tools of the various authorities. The two inflation knockouts ensure that the guidance remains fully consistent with our primary objective of price stability. The financial stability knockout takes full advantage of the new institutional structure at the Bank of England, ensuring that monetary and macroprudential policies coordinate to support a sustainable recovery. The knock-outs would not necessarily trigger an increase in Bank Rate – they would instead be a prompt for the MPC to reconsider the appropriate stance of policy.
Similarly, it is important to be clear that Bank Rate will not automatically be increased when the unemployment threshold is reached. Nor is 7% a target for unemployment. The rate of unemployment consistent with medium-term price stability – a rate that monetary policy can do little to affect – is likely to be lower than this. So 7% is merely a ‘way station’ at which the MPC will reassess the state of the economy, the progress of the economic recovery, and, in that context, the appropriate stance of monetary policy.
The articles in the updated section below consider the implications of this forward guidance and the caveat that the undertaking might be abondoned in certain circumstances.
Q&A: What is ‘forward guidance’ BBC News, Laurence Knight (4/7/13)
Forward guidance crosses the Atlantic The Economist, P.W. (4/7/13)
ECB has no plans to exit loose policies, says Benoit Coeure The Telegraph, Szu Ping Chan (25/6/13)
ECB issues unprecedented forward guidance The Telegraph, Denise Roland (4/7/13)
Independence day for central banks BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (4/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (16/7/13)
The Monetary Policy Committee’s search for guidance (II) BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (17/7/13)
Bank of England surprise statement sends markets up and sterling tumbling The Guardian, Jill Treanor and Angela Monaghan (4/7/13)
Forward guidance only works if you do it right Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau (7/7/13)
Fed’s Forward Guidance Failing to Deliver Wall Street Journal, Nick Hastings (15/7/13)
Talking Point: Thoughts on ECB forward guidance Financial Times, Dave Shellock (11/7/13)
Forward guidance in the UK is likely to fail as the Fed taper approaches City A.M., Peter Warburton (12/7/13)
Forward guidance more than passing fashion for central banks Reuters, Sakari Suoninen (11/7/13)
Markets await Mark Carney’s ‘forward guidance’ The Guardian, Heather Stewart (17/7/13)
Beware Guidance The Economist, George Buckley (25/7/13)
Articles for update
The watered down version of Forward Guidance Reuters, Kathleen Brooks (8/8/13)
Clarity Versus Flexibility at the Bank of England Bloomberg (7/8/13)
Mark Carney’s guidance leaves financial markets feeling lost Independent, Ben Chu (8/8/13)
Bank links interest rates to unemployment target BBC News (7/8/13)
Mark Carney says forward guidance should boost economy BBC News (8/8/13)
The Bank’s new guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (7/8/13)
Uncertainty over BoE guidance lifts sterling to 7-week peak Reuters, Spriha Srivastava (8/8/13)
Bank of England’s guidance is clear, say most economists: Poll The Economic Times (8/8/13)
Britain’s economy: How is it really doing? The Economist (10/8/13)
Markets give thumbs down to Mark Carney’s latest push on forward guidance The Guardian, Larry Elliott (28/8/13)
Carney’s guidance on guidance BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (28/8/13)
Webcasts and podcasts for update
Inflation Report Press Conference Bank of England (7/8/13)
Interest rates to be held until unemployment drops to 7% BBC News, Extracts of Statement by Mark Carney, Governor of the Band of England (7/8/13)
Bank of England links rates to unemployment target BBC News (7/8/13)
Mark Carney: Financial institutions ‘have to change culture’ BBC Today Programme (8/8/13)
Bank of England’s Mark Carney announces rates held BBC News. John Moylan (7/8/13)
Central Bank Statements and Speeches
How does forward guidance about the Federal Reserve’s target for the federal funds rate support the economic recovery? Federal Reserve (19/6/13)
Remit for the Monetary Policy Committee HM Treasury (20/3/13)
Bank of England maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and the size of the Asset Purchase Programme at £375 billion Bank of England (4/7/13)
Monthly Bulletin ECB (see Box 1) (July 2013)
Inflation Report Press Conference: Opening remarks by the Governor Bank of England (7/8/13)
MPC document on Monetary policy trade-offs and forward guidance Bank of England (7/8/13)
Monetary policy and forward guidance in the UK Bank of England, David Miles (24/9/13)
Monetary strategy and prospects Bank of England, Paul Tucker (24/9/13)
- Is forward guidance a ‘rules-based’ or ‘discretion-based’ approach to monetary policy?
- Is it possible to provide forward guidance while at the same time pursuing an inflation target?
- If people know that central banks are trying to manage expectations, will this help or hinder central banks?
- Does the adoption of forward guidance by the Bank of England and ECB make them more or less dependent on the Fed’s policy?
- Why may forward guidance be a more effective means of controlling interest rates on long-term bonds (and other long-term rates too) than the traditional policy of setting the repo rate on a month-by-month basis?
- What will determine the likely success of forward guidance in determining long-term bond rates?
- Is forward guidance likely to make stock market speculation less destabilising?
- Is what ways is the ‘threshold guidance’ by the Bank of England likely to make the current expansionary stance of monetary policy more effective?
- Is 7% the ‘natural rate of unemployment’? Explain your reasoning.
At present, the Bank of England has an inflation target of 2% CPI at a 24-month time horizon. Most, other central banks also have simple Inflation targets. But central bankers’ opinions seem to be changing.
Consider four facts.
1. Many central banks around the world have had record low interest rates for nearly four years, backed up in some cases by programmes of quantitative easing, officially in pursuit of an inflation target.
2. The world is mired in recession or sluggish growth, on which monetary policy seems to have had only a modest effect.
3. Inflation seems to be poorly related to aggregate demand, at least within an economy. Instead, inflation in recent years seems to be particularly affected by commodity prices.
4. Success in meeting an inflation target could mean failure in terms of an economy achieving an actual growth rate equal to its potential rate.
It’s not surprising that there have been calls for rethinking monetary policy targets.
There have recently been two interesting developments: one is a speech by Mark Carney, Governor designate of the Bank of England; the other is a decision on targets by the Fed, reported at a press conference by Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve.
Mark Carney proposes the possible replacement of an inflation target with a target for nominal GDP (NGDP). This could be, say, 5%. What is more, it should be an annual average over a number of years. Thus if the target is missed in one year, it can be made up in subsequent years. For example, if this year the actual rate of nominal GDP growth is 4%, then by achieving 6% next year, the economy would keep to the average 5% target. As Stephanie Flanders points out:
Moving to nominal GDP targets would send a signal that the Bank was determined to get back the nominal growth in the economy that has been lost, even if it is at the cost of pushing inflation above 2% for a sustained period of time.
In the USA, Ben Bernanke announced that the Fed would target unemployment by keeping interest rates at their current record lows until unemployment falls below a threshold of 6.5%.
Until recently, the Fed has been more flexible than most other central banks by considering not only inflation but also real GDP when setting interest rates. This has been close to following a Taylor rule, which involves targeting a weighted averaged of inflation and real GDP. However, in January 2012, the Fed announced that it would adopt a 2% long-run inflation target. So the move to targeting unemployment represents a rapid change in policy
So have simple inflation targets run their course? Should they be replaced by other targets or should targeting itself be abandoned? The following articles examine the issues.
Mark Carney hints at need for radical action to boost ailing economies The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (11/12/12)
George Osborne welcomes inflation target review The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick and James Kirkup (13/12/12)
Monetary policy: Straight talk The Economist, R.A. (12/12/12)
New Bank of England governor Mark Carney mulls end of inflation targets The Guardian, Larry Elliott (12/12/12/)
Carney’s trail of carnage Independent, Ben Chu (12/12/12)
Mark Carney suggests targeting economic output BBC News (12/12/12)
A new target for the Bank of England? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (14/12/12)
Should the UK really ditch inflation target? Investment Week, Katie Holliday (14/12/12)
BoE economist Spencer Dale warns on Mark Carney’s ideas The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (12/12/12)
Ben Bernanke Outlines Fed Policy for 2013 IVN, Alex Gauthier (14/12/12)
Fed gives itself a new target BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (13/12/12)
Fed to Keep Easing, Sets Target for Rates CNBC, Jeff Cox (12/12/12)
Bernanke calls high unemployment rate ‘an enormous waste’ Los Angeles Times, Jim Puzzanghera (12/12/12)
Think the Fed has been too timid? Check out Britain and Japan. Washington Post, Brad Plumer (13/12/12)
Inflation Targeting is Dead, Long Live Inflation! The Market Oracle, Adrian Ash (14/12/12)
Speech and press conference
Guidance Bank of Canada, Mark Carney (11/12/12)
Transcript of Chairman Bernanke’s Press Conference Federal Reserve Bank, Ben Bernanke (12/12/12)
- Which of the following would meet an NGDP target of 5%: (a) 5% real growth and 0% inflation; (b) 5% real growth and 5% inflation; (c) 5% inflation and 0% growth?
- What are the main arguments in favour of an NGDP target?
- What factors would need to be taken into account in deciding the target rate of NGDP?
- What are the main arguments against an NGDP target?
- Is it possible to target two indicators with one policy instrument (interest rates)? Explain.
- Explain what is meant by Taylor rule?
- Is having an unemployment target a type of Taylor rule?
- Why may the rate of inflation (whether current or forecast) be a poor indicator of the state of the real economy?
Should the object of monetary policy be simply one of keeping inflation within a target range? In a speech given on 9 October, the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, questioned whether the interest-rate setting policy of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has been too narrow.
He considered whether interest rates should have been higher before the financial crisis and crash of 2007–9. This could have helped to reduce the asset price bubble and discouraged people from taking out excessive loans.
But then there is the question of the exchange rate. Would higher interest rates have pushed the exchange rate even higher, with damaging effects on exports? Today the trade weighted exchange rate is some 20% lower than before the crash. The government hopes that this will encourage a growth in exports and help to fuel recovery in demand. But as Dr King said, “The strategy of reducing domestic spending and relying more on external demand is facing a real problem because not everyone can do it at the same time.”
Then there is the question of economic growth. Should a target rate of growth be part of the MPC’s target? Should the MPC adopt a form of Taylor rule which targets a weighted average of the inflation rate and the rate of economic growth?
Certainly monetary policy today in the UK and many other countries is very different from five years ago. With interest rates being close to zero, there is little scope for further reductions; after all, nominal rates cannot fall below zero, otherwise people would be paid for borrowing money! So the focus has shifted to the supply of money. Several attempts have been made to control the money supply through programmes of quantitative easing. Indeed many economists expect further rounds of quantitative easing in the coming months unless there is a substantial pick up in aggregate demand.
So what should be the targets of monetary policy? The following articles look at Dr King’s speech and at various alternatives to a simple inflation target.
Mervyn King says must face up to monetary policy’s limits’ Reuters, David Milliken and Sven Egenter (9/10/12)
Bank of England’s Mervyn King defends low interest rates pre-crisis The Telegraph, Emma Rowley (9/10/12)
Banks should have had a leverage cap before crash, says Mervyn King The Guardian, Heather Stewart and Phillip Inman (9/10/12)
King Says BOE Must Keep Targeting Inflation as Tool Revamp Looms Bloomberg, Scott Hamilton and Svenja O’Donnell (9/10/12)
After 20 years, time to change Merv’s medicine? Channel 4 News blogs, Faisal Silam (9/10/12)
King signals inflation not primary focus Financial Times, Norma Cohen and Sarah O’Connor (9/10/12)
Should Bank start the helicopter? BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (12/10/12)
Twenty years of inflation targeting Bank of England speeches, Mervyn King (9/10/12)
- What are the arguments for using monetary policy to target a particular rate of inflation?
- Would it ever be a good idea to adjust the targeted rate of inflation up or down and if so when and why?
- Explain how a Taylor rule would work and in what ways it is superior or inferior to pursuing a simple inflation target.
- Are attempts to control the money supply through quantitative easing (or tightening) consistent or inconsistent with pursuing an inflation target? Explain.
- What are the arguments for and against abandoning targeting in monetary policy and replacing it with discretionary policy that takes a number of different macroeconomic indicators into account?
The US Federal Reserve bank has launched a third round of quantitative easing, dubbed QE3. The hope is that the resulting growth in money supply will stimulate spending and thereby increase growth and employment.
Ben Bernanke, the Fed Chairman, had already said that the stagnation of the labour market is of grave concern because of “the enormous suffering and waste of human talent it entails, but also because persistently high levels of unemployment will wreak structural damage on our economy that could last for many years”. Not, surprisingly, the markets were expecting strong action – and that is what they got.
Under QE3, the Fed will buy mortgage-backed securities of $40bn per month. And this will go on for as long as it takes for the employment market to show significant improvement. It is this open-ended commitment which makes QE3 different from QE1 and QE2. Under these earlier rounds of quantitative easing, the Fed purchased a fixed amount of assets – $2.3tn of bonds.
QE3 also comes on top of a policy in operation since September 2011 of buying long-term government bonds in the market and selling shorter-dated ones. This ‘funding’ operation is known as ‘Operation Twist’.
The markets responded favourably to the announcement of QE3, especially to the fact that its size and duration would depend on the state of the real economy. Nevertheless, there are real questions about its likely effectiveness. The most important is whether the increase in narrow money will translate into an increase in borrowing and spending and hence an increase in broad money; or whether the rise in narrow money will be offset by a fall in the velocity of circulation as banks seek to increase their liquidity ratios and to recapitalise.
The following articles look at the details of QE3 and whether it is likely to achieve its desired result. Will the Fed be forced to raise asset purchases above $40bn per month or to introduce other measures?
Federal Reserve to buy more debt to boost US economy BBC News (14/9/12)
Bernanke takes plunge with QE3 Financial Times, Robin Harding (14/9/12)
US monetary policy at an important turning point Financial Times, Gavyn Davies (2/9/12)
Cliffhanger The Economist (22/9/12)
Your flexible Fed BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (13/9/12)
Back Ben Bernanke’s QE3 with a clothes peg on your nose The Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (23/9/12)
QE3 Stimulus from Federal Reserve Drives Mortgage Rates Down to Record Lows TellMeNews, Sharon Wagner (24/9/12)
Helicopter Ben Bernanke: The Problem With QE1, QE2, QE3 and QE Infinity TellMeNews, Martin Hutchinson (18/9/12)
QE: More bang than buck Business Spectator, Stephen Grenville (18/9/12)
QE3: What it Really Means PBS NewsHour, Paul Solman (20/9/12)
US Money Stock Measures Federal Reserve Statistical Release
Data Releases Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
Civilian Unemployment Rate (UNRATE) FRED Economic Data
- What distinguishes the Fed’s QE3 from its QE1 and 2?
- What will determine the likely success of QE3 in stimulating the real economy?
- Why has there been a huge surge in liquidity preference in the USA? What would have been the impact of this without QE1 and QE2?
- Explain what is meant by ‘portfolio balance effects’ and how significant are these in determining the success of quantitative easing?
- Does QE3 suggest that the Fed is pursuing a type of Taylor Rule?
- Why might QE3 be a “pro-cyclical” blunder?
- To what extent would monetarists approve of the Fed’s policies on QE?
- How is QE3 likely to affect the dollar exchange rate and what implications will this have for countries trading with the USA?