Monday, October 3, 2011

Monetary and fiscal policy cooperation in a liquidity trap

We are living interesting times in terms of macroeconomic policy: the world faces big shocks and substantial challenges, and many current circumstances have no historical precedents. This means that policy makers cannot draw from experience and need to invent new policies from somewhere better than their guts. And after a few hesitations, theory is now in much better shape to answer questions from policy makers. For example, what should one do when there is a liquidity trap in a globalized economy, especially if the trap itself is globalized?

David Cook and Michael Devereux show how, and it borders on a political miracle. Not only does one need to get the cooperation of fiscal and monetary authorities (something the US is not close to achieving) but one needs the cooperation across countries even if it entails some costs to the "winners" (something the Chinese have so far refused and the Swiss recently abandoned).

Specifically, Cook and Devereux show that with so many countries currently with negative real interest rates, we have a worldwide liquidity trap. In an open economy, the policy prescription differs from a closed economy. If there is a negative demand shock, fiscal policy needs of course to raise aggregate demand, but with a global economy, this can come from anywhere in the world and thus a coordinated fiscal policy is due. But to channel the impulse to the relevant countries, monetary policy coordination is necessary to raise interest rates in the foreign countries, even if they are in a liquidity trap. And this takes some serious courage. One can always dream.

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