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David Beckworth

David Beckworth

I am an associate professor of economics at Western Kentucky University, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and a former economist at the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Articles by David Beckworth

Paul Krugman on Temporary vs Permanent Monetary Injections

24 days ago

Paul Krugman looks back on the past twenty years of macroeconomic policy and finds that his 1998 paper was more prescient than he or anyone could have imagined. Back then many observers assumed that central bankers–particularly those at the Bank of Japan–need only increase the monetary base to increase the price level. It was that simple.

Ken Rogoff, for example, said the following in commenting on Krugman’s 1998 article:

No one should seriously believe that the BOJ would face any significant technical problems in inflating if it puts it mind to the matter, liquidity trap or no. For example, one can feel quite confident that if the BOJ were to issue a 25 percent increase in the current supply and use it to buy back 4 percent of government nominal debt, inflationary expectations

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Fed Chair Jay Powell on Monetary Policy Rules

24 days ago

Jay Powell went to Capitol Hill today for his first congressional testimony as Fed Chair. In addition, he submitted the Federal Reserve’s annual Monetary Policy Report to Congress.  A lot of ground was covered in his testimony, follow-up questions, and in the report. Here, I want to highlight one very interesting and potentially significant part of his testimony. And that is Jay Powell’s endorsement of monetary policy rules.

At the end of his written testimony, Jay Powell had this to say:

In evaluating the stance of monetary policy, the FOMC routinely consults monetary policy rules that connect prescriptions for the policy rate with variables associated with our mandated objectives. Personally, I find these rule prescriptions helpful. Careful judgments are required about the

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Assorted Macro Musings

28 days ago

Some assorted macro musings from the week

A Monetary Correction

Ramesh Ponnuru and I have a new article in the National Review where we make the contrarian case that monetary policy was actually tight over the past decade relative to its own inflation target and past trends in the growth of aggregate nominal spending. We note the following:

The economy seems largely to have adjusted to the new, lower pace of spending growth. The problem now is not that monetary policy is erring on the side of tightness and thus holding back the economy’s potential. It’s that the Fed’s apparent bias against letting spending and inflation drift higher, even temporarily, makes it more likely that the next economic downturn will again be severe and the next recovery will again be sluggish.

As evidence

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Summer Program on Monetary Policy for Students

January 24, 2018

Here is a great summer program for advanced undergraduate or beginning graduate student that are interested in monetary economics. Scott Sumner and I will be presenters and St. Louis Fed President Jim Bullard will be the keynote speaker. Your travel and lodging will be covered, but you need to apply by January 31. 

Alternative Money University (AMU) is an academic workshop for advanced undergraduate and beginning graduate students with a particular interest in monetary economics. During three days of intensive seminars, students will learn from leading scholars in the field about subjects not typically addressed in undergraduate or graduate economics courses — including topics in monetary history, the theory and practice of monetary policy, and the workings of unconventional monetary

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Do Changes in Potential Output and Data Revisions Make NGDP Targeting Impractical?

January 15, 2018

It’s Back…

Over the past few months there has been increasing chatter about the need for a new framework for U.S. monetary policy. The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), for example, recently had its Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy conference where, among other things, Ben Bernanke called for the Fed to adopt a temporary price-level target. PIIE also launched Angel Ubide’s new book  on reforming monetary policy. Similarly, at the AEA meetings there was a session titled Monetary Policy in 2018 and Beyond where Christina Romer again made the case for a NGDP level target. Likewise, the Brookings Institute held a recent conference on whether the Fed should abandon its 2 percent inflation target. There, Jeff Frankel shared the arguments for a NGDP level target and Larry

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Yes, IOER Continues to be Bad Political Optics

January 10, 2018

So the Federal Reserve is reporting that interest on excess reserves (IOER) payments hit $25.9 billion in 2017. This amount is more than double the dollar size of the IOER payments in 2016 as seen below. 

This increase is understandable given the rise in the Fed’s short-term interest rate target and the size of its balance sheet. But, as I have noted before, this is horrible optics. For the largest recipients of the IOER payments are large domestic banks and foreign banks. As seen in the figure below, they hold most of the excess reserves and therefore earn most of the IOER payments. 

Put differently, the systematically-important or "too-big-to-fail" banks that were bailed out during the crisis and are still implicitly subsidized by the government as well as foreign banks are the

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Christmas Economics 2017

December 25, 2017

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We are replaying our special Christmas podcast. The guest are Anna Goeddeke and Laura Birg, two economists from Germany. Together they coauthored an article in Economic Inquiry titled “Christmas Economics—a Sleigh Ride” that surveys the literature on the economics of Christmas. We covered a number of interesting topics like the seasonal business cycle, the deadweight loss of Christmas, and charitable giving during the holidays. 

Below is an excerpt from an earlier post when the episode first ran that touches on on the business cycle issues surrounding Christmas:

The seasonal business cycle discussion was particularly fascinating for me. There is a literature that starts with Barksy and Miron (1989) (ungated version) that shows most of the variation in aggregate

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Yes, Occupational Licensing is Making the U.S. Economy Less of an OCA

December 12, 2017

From a new working paper by Janna E. Johnson, Morris M. Kleiner:
Occupational licensure, one of the most significant labor market regulations in the United States, may restrict the interstate movement of workers. We analyze the interstate migration of 22 licensed occupations. Using an empirical strategy that controls for unobservable characteristics that drive long-distance moves, we find that the between-state migration rate for individuals in occupations with state-specific licensing exam requirements is 36 percent lower relative to members of other occupations. Members of licensed occupations with national licensing exams show no evidence of limited interstate migration.

Not only does this development have implications for workers, it also has macroeconomic implications. For the

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Clashing Over Commerce

December 7, 2017

Doug Irwin’s new book on the history of U.S. trade policy, Clashing Over Commerce, is now available for purchase. You may recall that I interviewed him about the book in this recent podcast. The podcast is embedded below. My colleague Dan Griswold has a nice review of the book over at National Review.  I learned a lot from the book and my conversation with Doug. I highly recommend it.

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Hypothermia, Inflation, and the Fed’s Epistemological Jam

November 29, 2017

Imagine you fall into a freezing lake and get hypothermia. You are rushed to the ER and receive good service initially, but your body temperature continues to remain below 98.6 Fahrenheit. The doctor says he is not sure why you are so cold. It is a puzzle to him and everything he thought he knew about body temperatures seems to be wrong. He says not to worry, though, as he turns on the air-conditioner. All should be well soon, he thinks, once the room starts to cool down. 

The doctor leaves your room and comes back to check on you after 15 minutes. He finds that your body temperature has dropped even more and that you are shivering. He concludes the room was not cool enough so he dials up the air conditioner even more to really get the cold air blowing. 

The doctor leaves and

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Abenomics Update

November 27, 2017

So a quick update on that grand monetary experiment in Japan known as Abenomics. 

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his party were returned to power in a decisive October election. This means the Bank of Japan will continue to expand the monetary base, peg the 10-year government bond at 0%, and strive for 2% inflation. 

I was an early fan of Abenomics, but have become a bit more skeptical over time. Others, like Noah Smith, are convinced it is working and are glad to see it continue. Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal is also a fan. They make a reasonable argument that the real side of the economy has benefited from the Bank of Japan’s policies. 

Maybe so, but what about the nominal side of the economy? Yes, we ultimately care about the real side, but the central bank can only

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Monetary Regime Change Update

November 2, 2017

I recently made the case that we got a monetary regime change in 2008 that explains the stubbornly low inflation since that time:

A monetary regime change has occurred that has lowered the growth rate and growth path of nominal demand. Since the recovery started in 2009Q3, NGDP growth has averaged 3.4 percent. This is below the 5.4 percent of 1990-2007 period (blue line in the figure below) or a 5.7 percent for the entire Great Moderation period of 1985-2007. Macroeconomic policy has dialed back the trend growth of nominal spending by 2 percentage points. That is a relatively large decline. This first development can be seen in the figure below.

The figure above also speaks to the second part of this regime change: aggregate demand growth was not allowed to bounce back at a higher

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Financial Regulatory Laffer Curve

October 22, 2017

Lawrence J. White has an interesting article where he considers the optimal size of our financial regulatory structure. He acknowledges that the structure it is "maddenly complex" and that it "easy to make a case for drastic simplification." Larry also notes, however, that there are benefits to having some regulatory diversity. We need to recognize this tradeoff, he contends, when considering the simplification of our financial regulatory system. 

To help us better understand this tradeoff, Larry lays out the case for reducing the number of financial regulators:

Regulatory decisions could be made faster, especially in a crisis, when policymakers need timely access to sensitive, proprietary information, and must coordinate actions both domestically and internationally. There would be

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The Other Side of the Fed’s Balance Sheet

October 20, 2017

Who controls the Fed’s balance sheet? The answer may seem obvious. The Fed, after all, determines the size of its balance sheet. It also controls what happens to the asset side of its balance sheet. Its power over the liability side, however, is limited.

This diminished control arises because the public’s demand for currency, bank regulations, and U.S. Treasury cash balances all influence the composition of the Fed’s liabilities.1 These are exogenous forces that have the potential to create some economic bumps on the road ahead as the Fed normalizes the size of its balance sheet. 

So far, though, little attention has been paid to these liability-side issues. Most focus has been given to the asset side of the Fed’s balance sheet. This focus, in my view, is misguided. I see the

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From a Floor System to A Corridor System

October 9, 2017

So I was looking at the Fed’s 2016 annual report and was able to construct the following chart:

Several observations from this figure. First, the sharp growth in the Fed’s income is unsurprising as it is a natural consequence of the Fed’s QE programs. These large scale asset purchase programs expanded the Fed’s assets from around $900 billion in late 2008 to $4.5 trillion today. Moreover, the Fed’s portfolio has changed from being mostly short-term treasury securities to one of long-term treasury and agency securities. In addition, the Fed also started paying interest on excess reserves (IOER) to banks during this time. Together, these two developments have effectively turned the Fed into the largest fixed-income hedge fund in the world. Hence, the surge in the Fed’s income.

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The Future Path of the Monetary Base and Why It Matters

September 22, 2017

Now that the shrinking of the Fed’s balance sheet has been announced, I thought it worth nothing what it means for the future path of the monetary base. Drawing upon the Fed’s median forecast of its assets through 2025 that comes from the 2016 SOMA Annual Report, I was able to create the figures below. 

The figures show the trend growth path of currency and a series I call the ‘permanent monetary base’ extrapolated to 2025. The latter series is the monetary base minus excess reserves. This measure has been used by Tatom (2014) and Belongia and Ireland (2017) as a more reliable indicator of the monetary base that actually matters for monetary conditions. These two measures, which reflect the liability side of the Fed’s balance sheet, are plotted along side the projected path of the

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The Political Economy of Shrinking the Fed’s Balance Sheet

September 21, 2017

Most folks know the arguments for and against shrinking the Fed’s balance sheet on purely economic terms. For a good recap of these arguments see Cardiff Garcia, Henry Curr, and Nick Timiraos. There are however, other political economy forces at work that potentially play into the Fed’s decision to shrink its balance sheet.

Most folks do not go there because it is a controversial approach. For it takes a more cynical view of government officials. It goes beyond the view of the Fed as a technocratic institution filled with saintly people doing their best to stabilize the business cycles. It recognizes that people are people no matter where they work and are responsive to political incentives. Now to be clear, many good people work at the Fed because they believe in the mission. But to

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Is Larry Summers a Fan of Nominal GDP Level Targeting?

September 19, 2017

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You are going to have listen to my podcast with him to find out the answer. Here is a hint: we spent a portion of the show talking about NGDP level targeting (NGDPLT) and what it would take to actually get it implemented it at the Federal Reserve. So listen to the show to find out Larry’s thoughts on NGDPLT as well as his views on secular stagnation, Fed policy since the crisis, and macroeconomic policymaking in real time. It was a fun interview. 

P.S. You can also read the transcript of our interview.

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Will Shrinking the Fed’s Balance Sheet Matter?

September 19, 2017

This week the Fed is expected to announce it will begin shrinking its balance sheet. Will it matter? 

To answer that question it is useful to first recall how and why the Fed’s balance sheet was expanded. Between December 2008 and October 2014 the Fed conducted a series of large scale asset purchases (LSAPs) that expanded its balance sheet from about $900 billion to $4.5 trillion. That is an expansion of about 500 percent. 

The Fed turned to LSAPs for additional stimulus when its target for the federal funds rate—the traditional tool of U.S. monetary policy—hit the zero lower bound in late 2008. The main theory the Fed used to justify the LSAPs was the portfolio balance channel. It says that because of market segmentation the Fed’s purchase of safe assets would force investors to

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Monetary Regime Change: Mission Accomplished

September 15, 2017

Christina Romer, former CEA chair, called for a monetary regime change several times between 2011 and 2013. It is now several years later and it appears we did finally get a monetary regime change. Unfortunately, it is not the kind of regime change Christina advocated and actually goes in the opposite direction. 

Christina called for the Fed to adopt a nominal GDP level target that would restore aggregate demand to its pre-crisis growth path. Instead, we got a regime change that has effectively lowered the growth rate and the growth path of aggregate demand. This regime change, in my view, is behind the apparent drop in trend inflation that Greg Ip recently reported on in the Wall Street Journal. 

It is not easy to change trend inflation–just ask Paul Volker–but the Fed and other

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The IOER Debate Redux

August 23, 2017

Back in the glory days of macroeconomics blogging there was a lot of electronic ink spilled over interest on excess reserves (IOER). Commentators, including myself, debated whether IOER mattered to the recovery or if it was just another innocuous tool for the Fed to control interest rates. 

I generally argued that the IOER did matter for the economy–it was more than just a new tool. It began with a call I  made in October 2008 that the introduction of IOER that month was likely to be contractionary. In later conversations, I acknowledged that, yes, the Fed does sets the aggregate level of reserves. Even so, I retorted, banks could still influence the composition of all those reserves based on their investing decisions. These decisions, in turn, could be influenced by the level of

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Assorted Musings

July 21, 2017

Some Assorted Musings:

1.  I have a new policy brief at the Mercatus Center that makes the case for a Nominal GDP level target from the knowledge problem perspective. It is a non-technical paper meant to be accessible by policy makers and lay people. It echoes some of the  more technical arguments made in this paper by Josh Hendrickson and myself. 

 2. George Selgin testified this week before the House Financial Services Committee as part of the hearing Monetary Policy v. Fiscal Policy: Risks to Price Stability and the Economy. His testimony is a tour de force through the issue of interest on excess reserves. 

3.  Scott Sumner pushes back against all the macro moralists waving their finger at Germany for running current account surpluses. He argues it is mistaken to blame Germany’s

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An Alternative to Raising the Inflation Target

July 5, 2017

Ramesh Ponnuru and I have a new article in the National Review where we make the case that a better alternative to a higher inflation target is a NGDP level target:

Does the U.S. economy need more inflation? A group of 22 progressive economists has written a letter to the Federal Reserve urging it to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study whether the central bank should raise its target for inflation above its current 2 percent. Fed chairman Janet Yellen, in her press conference following the latest interest-rate increase, called it “one of the most important questions” facing the organization. The economists’ advice shouldn’t be rejected out of hand, but it should be rejected. They make some valid points in their diagnosis of the ills of the current monetary regime. But the Fed can

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Monetary Disequilibrium

June 16, 2017

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This week on the podcast I had a great time talking the monetary disequilibrium view of business cycles with Steve Horwitz. This perspective sees the deviation between desired and actual money holdings as the cause of business cycles.  Since money is the one asset on every market, all one needs to do is disrupt monetary equilibrium and you have disrupted every other market. This is not true for any other asset. The monetary disequilibrium view, in short, takes money seriously.

This understanding is different than the dominant view today that sees business cycles being the result of deviations between the expected paths of the natural and actual real interest rate. After the show I asked Steve if there was mapping between these these two views and he said yes. The

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Musings on June’s FOMC Meeting

June 15, 2017

The FOMC decided today to raise its target interest rate so that it now sits in the 1.00-1.25 percent range. This move was largely expected and the FOMC continues to signal via its economic projections that it wants one more interest rate hike this year. Nothing terribly new here, but there were several developments today that caught my attention and are worth considering.

First, the FOMC released a surprisingly detailed plan of how it will unwind its balance sheet later this year. Fed chair Janet Yellen also said during the press conference these plans could be "put in effect relatively soon" if the data come in as expected. The announcement today can be seen as part of the FOMC’s ongoing efforts to get the markets ready for the shrinking of its balance sheet. 

To shed light on

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Is the United States Becoming Less of an Optimal Currency Area?

May 31, 2017

It took the United States roughly 150 years to become an optimal currency area (OCA), according to economic historian Hugh Rockoff. This long journey meant that it was not until the late 1930s that a one-size-fits-all monetary policy made sense for the U.S. economy. Since then the U.S. economy has often been held up as the best example of a currency union that meets the OCA criteria. This especially was the case when comparisons have been made to the Eurozone, like in this classic Blanchard and Katz (1992) paper.  But all is not well in this land of the OCA.Declining Labor Mobility

Since the 1980s there has been a decline in labor mobility across the United States.  This can be see in the figure below:

Source: Molloy, Smith, and Wozniak (2014)

A number of explanations have been

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China vs the Trilemma, Price Level Path, Balance Sheet Confusion, and FOMC Debates

May 26, 2017

Here are some assorted macro musings from the past week:
1.  Been there, done that, and it did not end well China edition. Once again, China forgets there is a macroeconomic trilemma. From the Wall Street Journal:

China’s central bank is effectively anchoring the yuan to the dollar, a policy twist that has helped stabilize the currency in a year of political transition and market jitters about China’s economic management…. 

The newfound tranquility may not last: The focus seen in recent weeks on stability against the dollar, whether it goes up or down, means pressure on the yuan to weaken could get dangerously bottled up, potentially bring bouts of sharp devaluation.

Pegging an exchange rate, tinkering with domestic monetary policy, and allowing some capital flows can be a

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Bad Optics: the Fed’s Balance Sheet Edition

May 19, 2017

Despite the all Fed talk about shrinking its balance sheets, many observers are hoping the Fed keeps it large.  They want the Fed to maintain a large balance sheet for various reasons: it earns a positive return for the government; it provides a financial stability tool via provisions of safe assets; it needs to remain big and accommodative until the economy really starts roaring. There are also complications to shrinking the Fed balance sheet.

Whatever you make of these arguments they all ignore an important political-economy consideration: a large Fed balance sheet makes for bad optics because of interest paid on excess reserve (IOER). 

The figure below explains why. Using data from the Federal Reserve’s H8 report, the figure shows the cash assets of "large

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Talking Monetary Policy with Paul Krugman

May 17, 2017

Paul Krugman joined me for the latest Macro Musings podcast. It was a fun show and we covered a lot of ground from liquidity traps to secular stagnation to fighting the last war over inflation. Paul and I have had conversations in the blogosphere since the 2008 so it was real treat to finally chat with him in person.In our conversation there were two issues brought up that deserved, in my view, more time than we could give on the show. So I want to address them in this post.

The first one is the important distinction between temporary and permanent monetary base injections. This distinction came up up in our discussion on what it takes to reflate an economy in a zero lower bound (ZLB) environment. Krugman’s 1998 paper showed that to do so requires a permanent increase in the monetary

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