Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Could the Shadow Open Market Committee have outperfomed the Fed?

Decisions of the Open Market Committee of the US Federal Reserve bank have long been scrutinized, both by market for obvious reasons and by academics. Some of the latter have even formed a Shadow Open Market Committee in reaction to the decision by President Nixon to impose price and wage controls in 1971, with the support of the Fed president. This committee has evaluated Fed policy and criticize Fed actions when due. But would it have done a better job?

William Poole, Robert Rasche and David Wheelock, who are all Fed employees, study how the policies advocated by the SOMC during the period of high inflation in the 1970s would have performed. Those policies where at odds with what the Fed was doing and even with what many academics were proposing. The policy rule was rather simple: reduce the target money growth rate by one percent every year, down to 4%. To evaluate this rule, you need a model, so they take the New-Keynesian model of Clarida, Gali, and Gertler (1999) off the shelf and run various experiments: one with the SOMC rule, one with the historic data (the Fed's action: a one time drop in money growth). While both policies eventually achieve their goal of reducing inflation, the SOMC one does so with less cost in output.

Now things are not that easy. To be fair to the Fed, it had at the time had rather little credibility, and it is not clear it could have gained any more credibility by adopting the SOMC's policy, as it requires some long-term commitment. Also, the Fed had to fight against attempts by Congress to take over monetary policy, and thus its policy choices were limited. And had the SOMC known that it policy would have been actually implemented, I am not convinced it would have taken the same choice. Indeed, it was rather risky, as it was at odds with what most other people were advocating. And markets may have reacted with incredulity to such an odd move.

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