Friday , November 15 2019
Home / David Beckworth
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

Allan Meltzer’s Life Work

October 14, 2019

The Hoover Press and the Mercatus Center have just released a new book on Allan Meltzer’s contributions to economics. The book is comprised of papers that were presented at a 2018 conference commemorating his work on the monetary transmission mechanism, the history of the Fed, and his more general work on public policy. Below is the table of contents for the book:

I happen to be the editor of the book and, as seen above, have two chapters in it: the introductory chapter and a chapter based on my podcast interview with Allan Meltzer.  So please check it out.
P.S. We had an event last week at the AEI highlighting the release of the book. It was hosted by Desmond Lachman and featured a panel discussion including John Taylor, George Selgin, Ed Nelson, and myself. I got to speculate on

Read More »

New Policy Brief on NGDPLT

October 3, 2019

I have a new policy brief out on NGDP level targeting. The article summarizes in an accessible manner the key arguments for NGDP level targeting while also addressing the main concerns of this approach. The policy brief also shows how one could implement a NGDP level target in practice. The article comes out now as part of the conversation the Fed is having this year in its review of monetary policy. Please check it out. 

Related Links

The Financial Stability Case for NGDP Targeting

NGDP Targeting and the Taylor Rule on An Even Playing Field

Read More »

The Repo Man Cometh

September 23, 2019

Source

The repo market hit some road bumps last week. Trading pressures in this key funding market pushed repo interest rates well above the Fed’s target interest rate range. This development caused some observers to worry that it was a 2008-type run on the repo market all over again. Bill Dudley and others, however, noted this was a technical blip, not the beginning of a financial crisis. Moreover it was something the Fed could easily fix with an old fashion tool, temporary open market operations, even if the Fed got off to a slow start doing so last week. 

There have been great Twitter discussions and explanations of this repo market stress, including ones from Nathan Tankus, Bauhinia Capital, Guy LeBas, and George Selgin. There are also have been many good pieces from

Read More »

Some Assorted Macro Musings

September 10, 2019

Dollar Dominance

I have been part of a dollar dominance conversation for the past few weeks. It started with my NRO article, discussions on the topic at the Jackson Hole conference, and a follow-up blog post. Later, there were twitter conversations, an interview on Bloomberg TV, and several podcast recordings. This all culminated in an article I wrote for The Bridge that summarizes what I see as the main issues of dollar dominance and what realistically can be done about it. Check it out and also see the follow-up twitter thread I provided that documents some of the claims made in the piece.

Paul Volcker is What the Public Wanted

Back in May, I interviewed Robert Samuelson about his book on the Great Inflation of the early 1970s to early 1980s. One of the claims he makes is that

Read More »

More on the U.S. as a Banker to the World

August 28, 2019

I have a new article where I make the case that the U.S. financial system acts as a banker to the world: it tends to issue safer assets to foreigners while acquiring claims to riskier assets abroad. As a result, the United States’ balance sheet with the rest of the world looks like a bank’s balance sheet. This banker-to-the-world role has becoming even more important over the past few decades as the financial integration of the world economy has not been matched by a proportional deepening of financial markets.

This is not a novel idea. Charles Kindleberger first made this point in 1965. Subsequent work by Gorinchas and Rey (2007), Caballero et al. (2008), Caballero and Krishnamurthy (2009), Mendoza et al. (2009), Forbes (2010), He et al. (2016), Gourinchas et al. (2017), Matteo

Read More »

New Articles on NGDP Targeting

June 7, 2019

Just a quick note on a couple of my papers that recently got published. First,  Josh Hendrickson and I published in the Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking earlier this year with an article titled "Nominal GDP Targeting and the Taylor Rule on an Even Playing Field". Here is the abstract:

Some economists advocate nominal GDP targeting as an alternative to the Taylor Rule. These arguments are largely based on the idea that nominal GDP targeting would require less knowledge on the part of policymakers than a traditional Taylor Rule. In particular, a nominal GDP targeting rule would not require real‐time knowledge of the output gap. We examine the importance of this claim by amending a standard New Keynesian model to assume that the central bank has imperfect information about the output

Read More »

Is the Fed’s Floor System Beginning to Fold?

April 24, 2019

Last December, I participated in an AEI event where I made the case that the Fed’s current floor operating system could collapse into a corridor operating system fairly soon. My argument was that even without a significant reduction in the supply of reserves, a large shift in the demand for reserves could be sufficient to move the Fed off the perfectly elastic or ‘flat’ portion of the bank reserve demand curve. The Fed, in other words, could have a relatively large balance sheet and still end up in a corridor operating system. 

Graphically, such a development is depicted in the figures below. The figure on the left shows a floor operating system with a large supply of reserves on the flat portion of demand curve. In this system, the IOER is both the target and overnight interest rate.

Read More »

Is Low Inflation Really a Mystery?

April 16, 2019

Over the past decade, inflation has persistently undershot the Fed’s inflation target. The Fed’s preferred measure of inflation, the core PCE deflator, has average 1.56 percent over this time compared to a target of 2 percent. The Fed officially begin inflation targeting in 2012, but was implicitly targeting 2 percent long before that time. So below-target inflation has been happening for close to a decade and for many observers it is a mystery.

There have been a spate of articles as to why the Fed has not been able to hit its inflation target. Some have wondered if the Fed really understands or even controls the inflation rate. Even Fed officials have been perplexed by the low inflation since it cannot be explained by their Phillips curve models. As a result, they sometimes

Read More »

The FOMC Decision: A NGDP Perspective

March 22, 2019

The FOMC voted this week not to raise its target interest rate and signaled no additional hikes are planned for this year conditional on the outlook. This is a big change from last fall when the FOMC was talking up multiple rate hikes and dismissing concerns about the flattening yield curve. This 11th-hour conversion to a more dovish stance is a remarkable turnaround, one that some observers like Tim Duy are calling a "major break". 

The change is being attributed to growth concerns and a weakening of financial markets. I do not want to go through all the indicators supporting the Fed’s worries, but I do want to see whether Nominal GDP (NGDP) lends support to this decision. As many readers of this blog know, I believe that properly evaluated NGDP growth is probably the best indicator

Read More »

Oh, the Horror of a Corridor!

January 10, 2019

The December 2018 FOMC minutes are out and reveal members continue to discuss the potential long-run frameworks for monetary policy implementation. Their discussion as to whether they should keep their current floor operating system or move to a corridor operating system can be illustrated using the figure below:

The FOMC likes the floor system since it separates the size of the Fed’s balance sheet from the setting of its target interest rate. This added flexibility is possible because the reserve supply schedule is on the horizontal part of the reserve demand curve as seen above. Here, banks will take all the reserves sent their way–killing off interbank lending–as their demand for reserves is perfectly elastic. The corridor system puts the reserve schedule back on the downward

Read More »

How Close is the Fed to a Corridor System?

December 13, 2018

I recently participated in an AEI event that showcased George Selgin’s new book on the Fed’s floor  system. My role at the event was to comment, along with Bill Nelson, on George’s book. 

Readers of this blog will know I share many of George’s concerns about the floor system that are outlined in his book and I would like to see the Fed move to a symmetric corridor system. The FOMC spent a good portion of its November meeting discussing this issue. My comments at the AEI event, however, were not on the tradeoffs between a corridor and floor system but rather on how close the Fed currently is to a corridor system. There are some indicators that the Fed may not be too far away.

To illustrate my point, consider the figures below. The question I considered is how far the Fed is from

Read More »

A Risk Sharing View of Monetary Policy

December 13, 2018

I have a new working paper titled "Better Risk Sharing Through Monetary Policy? The Financial Stability Case for a Nominal GDP Target". I presented this paper at the recent Cato Monetary Policy Conference.Here is the abstract:

A series of papers have shown that a monetary regime targeting nominal GDP (NGDP)

can reproduce the distribution of risk that would exist if there were widespread use of state contingentdebt securities (Koenig, 2013; Sheedy, 2014; Azariadis et al., 2016, Bullard and DiCecia, 2018). This paper empirically evaluates this view by exploiting an implication of the theory: those countries whose NGDP stayed closest to its expected pre-crisis growth path during the crisis should have experienced the least financial instability. This paper constructs an NGDP gap measure

Read More »

A New Paper on the Fed’s Floor System

November 28, 2018

As readers of this blog know, I have an interest in the Fed’s operating system. This interest has culminated in a new paper where I look at the consequences of the Fed moving from a corridor system to a floor system in 2008. In particular, the paper looks at what this change has meant for bank portfolios and, as a result, financial intermediation provided by banks. The paper concludes with some policy recommendations. I would also note that George Selgin has just released a new book on this topic. My hope is that these projects will help inform the conversation over what operating system the Fed wants as it continues to normalize monetary policy. 

Paper Outline
So what does my paper have to say? It starts by laying out the standard arguments for a floor system:

The central idea

Read More »

Janet Yellen on NGDPLT

November 26, 2018

Andrew Metrick of Yale University interviewed former Fed Chair Janet Yellen today. It was an interesting discussion and one where they talked about, among other things, what changes the Fed could bring about in light of the recently announced strategies, tools, and communication review to be held in 2019.  Janet Yellen said her idea for reform "has much in common with NGDP targeting". Her response can be seen in the video below:

[embedded content]

Glad to see her endorse a NGDPLT-like monetary regime.

Read More »

“Et tu, John Williams?”

October 2, 2018

Tim Duy reports that r-star, which rose to prominence over the past few years, is experiencing a Caesar-like betrayal at the Fed:

The Federal Reserve’s “r-star” has gone full supernova. New York Federal Reserve President John Williams, its key proponent, made clear in a speech late Friday that the neutral interest rate is no longer a guiding star for monetary policy. This means a federal funds rate in the range of what is considered neutral has no special significance as far as policy is concerned… 

Williams’s attachment to r-star cannot be overstated. At a professional level, it has been a key element of his research agenda. As recently as May he said that for “the moment, r-star continues to shine brightly, guiding monetary policy, but hold steady, low on the horizon.” The

Read More »

FOMC Preview: “We Have the Nerve to Invert the Curve”

September 21, 2018

The quote in the title should be the motto for the 2018-2019 FOMC. For the FOMC is set to raise its interest rate target next week and expected to raise it several times more in 2019 despite a flattening treasury yield curve.

As seen in the above chart, the outright inversion of the treasury yield typically leads to a recession.  Despite this robust pattern, a growing number of Fed officials have become emboldened in their dismissal of it "since this time is different."  As Caroline Baum notes, 

In April, John Williams acknowledged that an inverted yield curve is “a powerful signal of recessions,” based on a significant body of research, including that by staff economists at his former bank. 

By September, Williams was already disavowing that signal. “I don’t see the flat yield

Read More »

More Non-Star Metrics for Monetary Policy

September 17, 2018

In an earlier post and Bridge article, I discussed some ways to use nominal GDP (NGDP) as a cross-check on the FOMC "navigating  by stars" of r*, u*, and y*. The  motivation for these pieces was Fed Chair Jay Powell’s concerns about the challenge of using these star variables when they seem increasingly in flux. Here, again, is a key excerpt from his talk:

Navigating by the stars can sound straightforward. Guiding policy by the stars in practice, however, has been quite challenging of late because our best assessments of the location of the stars have been changing significantly… the FOMC has been navigating between the shoals of overheating and premature tightening with only a hazy view of what seem to be shifting navigational guides.

The Fed chair is implicitly challenging us to find

Read More »

The Fed’s Floor System: Sayonara?

September 14, 2018

Are the days of the Fed’s floor system numbered? Last month I claimed that they could be if President Trump’s fiscal policy continues to spawn rapid increases in the issuance of treasury bills. His administration is relying heavily on treasury bills to finance its deficits as seen below:

This increased issuance of treasury bills matters because it implies, all else equal, a rise in treasury bill yields. Below is a figure showing the  DTCC overnight treasury-repo rate relative to the IOER rate. Lately, the treasury-repo rate has been bouncing above the interest on excess reserves (IOER) rate. This development could be a big deal.

If sustained, this rise of overnight interest rates above the IOER rate could spell the end of the Fed’s floor system. 

To see why, recall that

Read More »

Navigating by the Stars and Steadying the Ship Speed

September 14, 2018

I have a new article over at The Bridge where I piggyback off of Jay Powell’s recent speech about the challenges of the Fed ‘navigating’ by the stars of  r*, u*, and y*. His concern is how to use them when they seem to be moving a lot:

Navigating by the stars can sound straightforward. Guiding policy by the stars in practice, however, has been quite challenging of late because our best assessments of the location of the stars have been changing significantly… the FOMC has been navigating between the shoals of overheating and premature tightening with only a hazy view of what seem to be shifting navigational guides.

Here is a chart I made for the piece that did not make the final cut. It shows the changing range of FOMC estimates for u* and the actual unemployment rate (u). I also added

Read More »

Closer to OCA Criteria: Eurozone or Dollarzone?

July 26, 2018

This is a quick follow-up to my recent article on the Eurozone. There I argued for more integration or separation in the Eurozone since ECB monetary policy is pushing regional economies further apart rather than together. I showed a version of the below chart in the article to illustrate this point:

ECB policy–and its response to the various shocks hitting the Eurozone–has effectively kept nominal demand growth in the core economies fairly stable while pulling it down in the periphery. This divergence suggest the Eurozone is quite far from being an optimal currency area (OCA). 

Someone asked on twitter what the chart would look like for the United States. So I made a similar chart that compares the top twenty states (ranked in terms of GDP per capita) to the bottom twenty:

Read More »

Will Australia Be the First Country to Try NGDPLT?

July 25, 2018

There is a new Brookings paper by Warwick J. McKibbin and Augustus J. Panton titled Twenty-five Years of InflationTargeting in Australia: Are There Better Alternatives for the Next 25Years? Here is how they answer the question in their title:

This paper surveys alternative monetary frameworks and evaluates whether the current inflation targeting framework followed by the RBA for the past 25 years is likely to be the most appropriate framework for the next 25 years. While flexible inflation targeting has appeared to work well in Australia in the past decades, the nature of future shocks suggests that some form of nominal income targeting is worth considering as an evolutionary change in Australia’s framework for monetary policy.

Put differently, this Brookings paper argues that

Read More »

The Future of the Eurozone

July 16, 2018

So we are live at NRO discussing the future of the Eurozone:
Albert Einstein is rumored to have quipped that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. If he were alive today, Einstein might say this is the definition of some key euro-zone policymakers.
There I argue hard choices have to made in the Eurozone: further integrate or separate.
So where does this leave the euro zone? For now, euro-zone officials are still kicking the can down the road, but at some point they will face a fork. One path will force further integration upon the euro zone, along the lines of Emmanuel Macron’s proposal and better ECB monetary policy. The other path will lead to the separation of the euro zone. As Ashoka Mody shows in his new book, the

Read More »

The Treasury Yield Curve Blues

June 20, 2018

The Fed needs to start worrying more about the flattening treasury yield curve.  Bloomberg is reporting that bond traders are getting ready for a yield curve inversion as soon as next week.  One fixed income manager quoted in the article had this to say: 
If the Fed decides to move more this year, I think it’s inevitable that the curve inverts and I think it will be a mistake,” said Colin Robertson, managing director of fixed income at Northern Trust Asset Management… He sees greater than a 50 percent chance of the 2- to 10-year spread inverting if the Fed raises rates once more this year, and if the central bank follows its projections and hikes twice more, Robertson sees inversion as a lock.

Here is what the 10-year minus 2-year spread currently looks like: 

The yield

Read More »

The People’s Fed Chair

June 15, 2018

Ever since his confirmation hearings, Fed Chair Jay Powell has struck me as an ordinary, plainspoken person. This week I was reminded of this trait at his FOMC press conference and tweeted this statement:

This impression is consistent with reports from last year when he was being considered for Fed chair:
[F]riends and former colleagues of Powell’s describe him as “annoyingly normal.” He lives in Chevy Chase, Md., and often rides his bike about eight miles from home to the Fed. He doesn’t drink much, plays golf and the guitar, and has an odd ability to repeat people’s sentences backward to them, a quirk former colleagues say is a reminder of his smarts — and how closely he listens.
I bring this up because Jeanna Smialek of Bloomberg has a new article that nicely captures this feature

Read More »

Optimal Monetary Policy For the Masses: the James Bullard and Larry Summers View

June 13, 2018

James Bullard and Ricardo DiCecio have a new paper where they model wealth, income, and consumption inequality.  They also incorporate fixed-price nominal debt contracts.  They then derive the optimal monetary policy for the masses in such a model. Here is what they find:

This paper builds upon the risk-sharing view of NGDP targeting. The basic idea is that in a world of fixed-price nominal debt contracts (i.e. the real world), a NGDP level target provides better risk sharing among creditors and debtors against economic shocks than does a price stability target.  

This is because a NGDP level target makes inflation countercyclical. During recessions, inflation rises and causes creditors to bear some of the unexpected pain by lowering the real debt payments they receive from

Read More »

The Sovereign Money Blues

June 12, 2018

The Sovereign Money Referendum 

Sovereign banking will not happen in Switzerland. The referendum to end fractional reserve banking and turn all money creation over to the Swiss National Bank (SNB) central bank failed by a wide margin on Sunday. This rejection is not a surprising result, given the polls going into the vote. There never was much chance the so-called Vollgeld plan would would pass. 

Still, the sovereign money referendum was useful in that it generated new discussions on the benefits and costs of opening up the central bank’s balance sheet to the public. In the United States, there had already been some debate surrounding the opening up of the Fed’s balance sheet to non-bank financial firms in response to the financial crisis. Depending on who you asked, this "creeping

Read More »

A Tale of Three Nominal GDP Growth Paths

June 12, 2018

Check out the figure below. It has nominal GDP plotted for three countries, normalized to 100 in 2007. The first country (black line) has kept nominal GDP on  a stable growth path over the entire period. The second country (red line) saw its nominal GDP growth path permanently decline in 2008-2009 but has since stabilized its growth rate.  The third country (blue line) had its nominal GDP growth path collapse and has only recently seen it grow past its its 2008 peak value. 

So we see three very different paths of a nominal variable that should be controlled by monetary authorities over long periods, like that depicted in the chart. Consequently, not only are we seeing a tale of three different nominal GDP growth paths, we are also see a tale of three very different central banks

Read More »

What Can Argentina Teach Us about the Phillips Curve?

May 22, 2018

In the United States, there has been existential angst over Phillips curves for the past few years. Fed officials and other observers have been engaged in deep soul searching as they try to reconcile a falling unemployment rate with stubbornly low inflation. The Phillips curve says this development should not be happening–inflation should rise as the economy nears full employment. And yet, it has been happening for several years. 

Various attempts have been made to reconcile the apparent breakdown in the Phillips curve relationship. Some, like Joe Gagnon, say there is a non-linear relationship that comes into play when inflation is really low. Others, like Adam Ozimek and Ernie Tedeschi claim there is no Phillips curve mystery if one simply uses the correct measure of slack: the

Read More »

The U.S. Mortgage Market: Chart Edition

May 10, 2018

Today, I interviewed Nick Timiraos of the Wall Street Journal for the Macro Musing podcast. He is on the Fed beat now, but covered the GSEs during and after the financial crisis for the paper. Consequently, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the other GSEs. His knowledge and experience were the basis of our conversation today. It was a fun show and should be out in about a month.

I wanted to share some figures I collected on the U.S. mortgage market in preparation for the show. They come from an amazing monthly report on housing from the Urban Institute called Housing Finance at a Glance. These figures provide a peak into my conversation with Nick.

Consider first  the historical share of mortgage debt outstanding by type of institution. This chart is

Read More »

Why Yes, the FOMC Would Like Some Inflation Overshoot Now

April 13, 2018

The Fed claims it has a symmetric two percent inflation target. From  its 2017 and 2018 Statements on Longer Run Goals and Monetary Policy, the FOMC states:

The Committee reaffirms its judgment that inflation at the rate of 2 percent… is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate. The Committee would be concerned if inflation were running persistently above or below this objective. Communicating this symmetric inflation goal clearly to the public helps keep longer-term inflation expectations firmly anchored…

Numerous Fed officials have repeated this point as well. They too see the inflation target as a symmetric one, an understanding that allows for an occasional inflation overshoot. Despite these claims, however, the Fed has persistently

Read More »