Hamilton: Trade-offs, Not Tightropes
By Bryan Caplan
James Hamilton is one of the few macroeconomists whose short-run forecasts never sound like quackery. His latest analysis is full of insight:
Some analysts are saying that Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is walking a tightrope– if he does not drop interest rates quickly enough, the U.S. will be in recession, but if he goes too far, we’ll see a resurgence of inflation. I am increasingly persuaded that’s not an accurate description of the situation.
There are fundamental problems with credit markets at the moment, and these arise not from a nominal interest rate or wage rate that are too high (the usual textbook suspects), but instead from a real disruption in the basic process of financial intermediation, as if somebody had dropped a bomb on our financial system, preventing it from efficiently allocating credit. To the extent that’s the case, it may be that “full-employment GDP” would actually decline this year, and an effort to use a monetary expansion to prevent that would indeed be inflationary.
In any case, the tightrope analogy seems a misleading way to frame the issue, in that it presupposes that there exists a choice for the fed funds rate that would somehow contain both the solvency and the inflation problems. In my opinion, there is no such ideal target rate, and the notion that we can address the difficulties with a sagely chosen combination of monetary and fiscal stimulus and regulatory workout is in my mind doing more harm than good. Better for everyone to admit up front just how bad the problem is, and acknowledge that there is no cheap way out.
Alas, we can’t expect that kind of honesty from political leaders even during normal years. In an election year? Ha!