Monday, December 05, 2011

Fed's Evans on "Forward Guidance"

by Calculated Risk on 12/05/2011 01:45:00 PM

Over the weekend, the WSJ had an article about a new communication strategy at the Fed: Federal Reserve Prepares to Make Itself Perfectly Clear

Here are some related comments from Chicago Fed president Charles Evans today: A Risk Management Approach to Monetary Policy

The Fed could sharpen its forward guidance in two directions by implementing a state-contingent policy. The first part of such a policy would be to communicate that we will keep the funds rate at exceptionally low levels as long as unemployment is somewhat above its natural rate. The second part of the policy is to have an essential safeguard — that is, a commitment to pull back on accommodation if inflation rises above a particular threshold. This inflation safeguard would insure us against the risks that the supply constraints central to the structural impediments scenario are stronger than I think. Rates would remain low as long as the conditions were unmet.

Furthermore, I believe the inflation-safeguard threshold needs to be above our current 2 percent inflation objective — perhaps something like 3 percent. Now, the “3 percent inflation” number may seem shocking coming from a conservative central banker. However, as Kenneth Rogoff recently wrote in a Financial Times piece, “Any inflation above 2 percent may seem anathema to those who still remember the anti-inflation wars of the 1970s and 1980s, but a once-in-75-year crisis calls for outside-the-box measures.”[5] I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Rogoff.

And actually, this middle ground policy guidance is not as out-of-the box as one might think. Importantly, it is consistent with the most recent liquidity trap research, which shows that improved economic performance during a liquidity trap requires the central bank, if necessary, to allow inflation to run higher than its target for some time over the medium term. Such policies can generate the above-trend growth necessary to reduce unemployment and return overall economic activity to its productive potential. In fact, I have seen model simulation results that suggest to me that core inflation is unlikely to rise as high as 3 percent under such a policy.
If, as I fear, the liquidity trap scenario describes the present environment, we risk being mired in recession-like circumstances for an unacceptably long period. Indeed, each passing month of stagnation represents real economic losses that are borne by all. In addition, I worry that even when the economy does regain traction, its new potential growth path will be permanently impaired. The skills of the long-term unemployed may atrophy and incentives for workers to invest in acquiring new skills may be diminished. Similarly, businesses facing uncertain demand are less inclined to invest in new productive capacity and technologies. All of these factors may permanently lower the path of potential output.

As I said in the fall of 2010 and I repeat the message again today: I think state-contingent policies such as those I just described are a productive way to provide such necessary monetary accommodation. There is simply too much at stake for us to be excessively complacent while the economy is in such dire shape. It is imperative to undertake action now.