Andrew Atkeson

Andrew Atkeson


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Andrew Atkeson is a professor of economics at the University of California–Los Angeles and a consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. He has been affiliated with the Bank since 1998, when he started as a research economist. Prior to joining the Bank, he taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Chicago.

Andy received his B.A. in economics from Yale University in 1983 and his Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1988. His research focuses on, among other things, monetary policy, social insurance, international economics, innovation and firm dynamics, and the intersection of macroeconomics and finance.

Andy’s work has appeared in journals such as Econometrica, the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Political Economy, and the Review of Economic Studies. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a Fellow of the Econometric Society.

Aggregate Implications of Innovation Policy

We present a tractable model of innovating firms and the aggregate economy that we use to assess the link between the responses of firms to changes in innovation policy and the impact of those policy changes on aggregate output and welfare. We argue that the key theoretical determinant of the relative long-run aggregate impact of alternative policies is their impact on the expected profitability of entering firms. We show that, to a first-order approximation, a wide range of policy changes have a long-run aggregate impact in direct proportion to the fiscal expenditures on those policies, and that to evaluate the aggregate impact of such policy changes, there is no need to calculate changes in firms’ decisions in response to these policy changes.
We use these results to compare the relative magnitudes of the impact on aggregates in the long run of three innovation policies in the United States: the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit, federal expenditure on R&D, and the corporate profits tax. We argue that the corporate profits tax is a relatively important policy through its negative effects on innovation and physical capital accumulation that may well undo the benefits of federal support for R&D. We also use a calibrated version of our model to examine the absolute magnitude of the impact of these policies on aggregates. We show that, depending on the magnitude of spillovers, it is possible for changes in innovation policies to have a very large impact on aggregates in the long run. However, over a 15-year horizon, the impact of changes in innovation policies on aggregate output is not very sensitive to the magnitude of spillovers.
On the basis of these results we conclude that, while it is possible to make comparisons about the relative importance of different policies and sharp predictions about their aggregate impact in the medium term, it is very difficult to shed much light on the implications of innovation policies for long-run aggregate outcomes and welfare without accurate estimates as to the magnitude of innovation spillovers.

External and Public Debt Crises

The recent debt crises in Europe and the U.S. states feature similar sharp increases in spreads on government debt but also show important differences. In Europe, the crisis occurred at high government indebtedness levels and had spillovers to the private sector. In the United States, state government indebtedness was low, and the crisis had no spillovers to the private sector. We show theoretically and empirically that these different debt experiences result from the interplay between differences in the ability of governments to interfere in private external debt contracts and differences in the flexibility of state fiscal institutions.

Optimal Regulation in the Presence of Reputation Concerns

In all markets, firms go through a process of creative destruction: entry, random growth and exit. In many of these markets there are also regulations that restrict entry, possibly distorting this process. We study the public interest rationale for entry taxes in a general equilibrium model with free entry and exit of firms in which firm dynamics are driven by reputation concerns. In our model firms can produce
high-quality output by making a costly but efficient initial unobservable investment. If buyers never learn about this investment, an extreme “lemons problem” develops, no firm invests, and the market shuts down. Learning introduces reputation incentives such that a fraction of entrants do invest. We show that, if the market operates with spot prices, entry taxes always enhance the role of reputation to induce investment, improving welfare despite the impact of these taxes on equilibrium prices and total production.

Measuring the Financial Soundness of U.S. Firms, 1926–2012

Building on the Merton (1974) and Leland (1994) structural models of credit risk, we develop a simple, transparent, and robust method for measuring the financial soundness of individual firms using data on their equity volatility. We use this method to retrace quantitatively the history of firms’ financial soundness during U.S. business cycles over most of the last century. We highlight three main findings. First, the three worst recessions between 1926 and 2012 coincided with insolvency crises, but other recessions did not. Second, fluctuations in asset volatility appear to drive variation in firms’ financial soundness. Finally, the financial soundness of financial firms largely resembles that of nonfinancial firms.

The Market for OTC Derivatives

We develop a model of equilibrium entry, trade, and price formation in over-the-counter (OTC) markets. Banks trade derivatives to share an aggregate risk subject to two trading frictions: they must pay a fixed entry cost, and they must limit the size of the positions taken by their traders because of risk-management concerns. Although all banks in our model are endowed with access to the same trading technology, some large banks endogenously arise as “dealers,” trading mainly to provide intermediation services, while medium sized banks endogenously participate as “customers” mainly to share risks. We use the model to address positive questions regarding the growth in OTC markets as trading frictions decline, and normative questions of how regulation of entry impacts welfare.

Policies to Stimulate Innovation

National policymakers have long been interested in technological innovation by firms and its potential contribution to economic growth and improved well-being. Policies to encourage innovation by firms include government funding for research and development, direct and indirect subsidies, tax credits and other tax benefits such as deductibility of research expenses. Other policies such as the corporate profits tax also impact firms’ decisions to innovate. Which policies are most successful in spurring innovation at companies, given their fiscal cost to taxpayers? To what extent does the firm-level innovation induced by these policies truly generate broader economic growth?

Innovation, Firm Dynamics, and International Trade

We present a general equilibrium model of the response of firms’ decisions to operate, innovate, and engage in international trade to a change in the marginal cost of international trade. We find that, although a change in trade costs can have a substantial impact on heterogeneous firms’ exit, export, and process innovation decisions, the impact of changes in these decisions on welfare is largely offset by the response of product innovation. Our results suggest that microeconomic evidence on firms’ responses to changes in international trade costs may not be informative about the implications of changes in these trade costs for aggregate welfare.

Sophisticated Monetary Policies

The Ramsey approach to policy analysis finds the best competitive equilibrium given a set of available instruments. This approach is silent about unique implementation, namely designing policies so that the associated competitive equilibrium is unique. This silence is particularly problematic in monetary policy environments where many ways of specifying policy lead to indeterminacy. We show that sophisticated policies which depend on the history of private actions and which can differ on and off the equilibrium path can uniquely implement any desired competitive equilibrium. A large literature has argued that monetary policy should adhere to the Taylor principle to eliminate indeterminacy. Our findings say that adherence to the Taylor principle on these grounds is unnecessary. Finally, we show that sophisticated policies are robust to imperfect information.

Sluggish Responses of Prices and Inflation to Monetary Shocks in an Inventory Model of Money Demand

We examine the responses of prices and inflation to monetary shocks in an inventory-theoretic model of money demand. We show that the price level responds sluggishly to an exogenous increase in the money stock because the dynamics of households’ money inventories leads to a partially offsetting endogenous reduction in velocity. We also show that inflation responds sluggishly to an exogenous increase in the nominal interest rate because changes in monetary policy affect the real interest rate. In a quantitative example, we show that this nominal sluggishness is substantial and persistent if inventories in the model are calibrated to match U.S. households’ holdings of M2.

On the Need for a New Approach to Analyzing Monetary Policy

We present a pricing kernel that summarizes well the main features of the dynamics of interest rates and risk in postwar U.S. data and use it to uncover how the pricing kernel has moved with the short rate. Our findings imply that standard monetary models miss an essential link between the central bank instrument and the economic activity that monetary policy is intended to affect, and thus we call for a new approach to monetary policy analysis. We sketch a new approach using an economic model based on our pricing kernel. The model incorporates the key relationships between policy and risk movements in an unconventional way: the central bank’s policy changes are viewed as primarily intended to compensate for exogenous business cycle fluctuations in risk that threaten to push inflation off target. This model, while an improvement over standard models, is considered just a starting point for their revision.

Pricing-to-Market, Trade Costs, and International Relative Prices

International relative prices across industrialized countries show large and systematic deviations from relative purchasing power parity. We embed a model of imperfect competition and variable markups in a quantitative model of international trade. We find that when our model is parameterized to match salient features of the data on international trade and market structure in the US, it can reproduce deviations from relative purchasing power parity similar to those observed in the data because firms choose to price-to-market. We then examine how pricing-to-market depends on the presence of international trade costs and various features of market structure.

If Exchange Rates Are Random Walks, Then Almost Everything We Say About Monetary Policy Is Wrong

The key question asked by standard monetary models used for policy analysis is, How do changes in short-term interest rates affect the economy? All of the standard models imply that such changes in interest rates affect the economy by altering the conditional means of the macroeconomic aggregates and have no effect on the conditional variances of these aggregates. We argue that the data on exchange rates imply nearly the opposite: the observation that exchange rates are approximately random walks implies that fluctuations in interest rates are associated with nearly one-for-one changes in conditional variances and nearly no changes in conditional means. In this sense, standard monetary models capture essentially none of what is going on in the data. We thus argue that almost everything we say about monetary policy using these models is wrong.

On the Optimal Choice of a Monetary Policy Instrument

The optimal choice of a monetary policy instrument depends on how tight and transparent the available instruments are and on whether policymakers can commit to future policies. Tightness is always desirable; transparency is only if policymakers cannot commit. Interest rates, which can be made endogenously tight, have a natural advantage over money growth and exchange rates, which cannot. As prices, interest and exchange rates are more transparent than money growth. All else equal, the best instrument is interest rates and the next-best, exchange rates. These findings are consistent with the observed instrument choices of developed and less-developed economies.

Time-Varying Risk, Interest Rates, and Exchange Rates in General Equilibrium

Under mild assumptions, the data indicate that fluctuations in nominal interest rate differentials across currencies are primarily fluctuations in time-varying risk. This finding is an immediate implication of the fact that exchange rates are roughly random walks. If most fluctuations in interest differentials are thought to be driven by monetary policy, then the data call for a theory which explains how changes in monetary policy change risk. Here we propose such a theory based on a general equilibrium monetary model with an endogenous source of risk variation—a variable degree of asset market segmentation.

The Advantage of Transparency in Monetary Policy Instruments

Monetary policy instruments differ in tightness—how closely they are linked to inflation—and transparency—how easily they can be monitored. Tightness is always desirable in a monetary policy instrument; when is transparency? When a government cannot commit to follow a given policy. We apply this argument to a classic question: Is the exchange rate or the money growth rate the better monetary policy instrument? We show that if the instruments are equally tight and a government cannot commit to a policy, then the exchange rate’s greater transparency gives it an advantage as a monetary policy instrument.

Modeling the Transition to a New Economy: Lessons from Two Technological Revolutions

Many view the period after the Second Industrial Revolution as a paradigmatic example of a transition to a new economy following a technological revolution and conjecture that this historical experience is useful for understanding other transitions, including that after the Information Technology Revolution. We build a model of diffusion and growth to study transitions. We quantify the learning process in our model using data on the life cycle of U.S. manufacturing plants. This model accounts quantitatively for the productivity paradox, the slow diffusion of new technologies, and the ongoing investment in old technologies after the Second Industrial Revolution. The main lesson from our model for the Information Technology Revolution is that the nature of transition following a technological revolution depends on the historical context: transition and diffusion are slow only if agents have built up through learning a large amount of knowledge about old technologies before the transition begins.

Modeling and Measuring Organization Capital

Manufacturing plants have a clear life cycle: they are born small, grow substantially as they age, and eventually die. Economists have long thought that this life cycle is driven by the accumulation of plant-specific knowledge, here called organization capital. Theory suggests that where plants are in the life cycle determines the size of the payments, or dividends, plant owners receive from organization capital. These payments are compensation for the interest cost to plant owners of waiting for their plants to grow. We build a quantitative growth model of the life cycle of plants and use it, along with U.S. data, to infer the overall size of these payments. They turn out to be quite large—more than one-third the size of the payments plant owners receive from physical capital, net of new investment, and more than 40% of payments from all forms of intangible capital.

The Optimal Degree of Discretion in Monetary Policy

How much discretion should the monetary authority have in setting its policy? This question is analyzed in an economy with an agreed-upon social welfare function that depends on the randomly fluctuating state of the economy. The monetary authority has private information about that state. In the model, well-designed rules trade off society’s desire to give the monetary authority discretion to react to its private information against society’s need to guard against the time inconsistency problem arising from the temptation to stimulate the economy with unexpected inflation. Although this dynamic mechanism design problem seems complex, society can implement the optimal policy simply by legislating an inflation cap that specifies the highest allowable inflation rate. The more severe the time inconsistency problem and the less important is private information, the smaller is the optimal degree of discretion. As either the time inconsistency problem becomes sufficiently severe or private information becomes sufficiently unimportant, the optimal degree of discretion is none.

Deflation and Depression: Is there an Emprical Link?

Are deflation and depression empirically linked? No, concludes a broad historical study of inflation and real output growth rates. Deflation and depression do seem to have been linked during the 1930s. But in the rest of the data for 17 countries and more than 100 years, there is virtually no evidence of such a link.

Are Phillips Curves Useful for Forecasting Inflation?

This study evaluates the conventional wisdom that modern Phillips curve-based models are useful tools for forecasting inflation. These models are based on the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (the NAIRU). The study compares the accuracy, over the last 15 years, of three sets of inflation forecasts from NAIRU models to the naive forecast that at any date inflation will be the same over the next year as it has been over the last year. The conventional wisdom is wrong; none of the NAIRU forecasts is more accurate than the naive forecast. The likelihood of accurately predicting a change in the inflation rate from these three forecasts is no better than the likelihood of accurately predicting a change based on a coin flip. The forecasts include those from a textbook NAIRU model, those from two models similar to Stock and Watson’s, and those produced by the Federal Reserve Board.

The Advantage of Transparent Instruments of Monetary Policy

A classic question in international economics is whether it is better to use the exchange rate or the money growth rate as the instrument of monetary policy. A common argument is that the exchange rate has a natural advantage since exchange rates provide signals of policymakers’ actions that are easier to monitor than those provided by money growth rates. We formalize this argument in a simple model in which the government chooses which instrument it will use to target inflation. In it, the exchange rate is more transparent than the money growth rate in that the exchange rate is easier for the public to monitor. We find that the greater transparency of the exchange rate regime makes it easier to provide the central bank with incentives to pursue good policies and hence gives this regime a natural advantage over the money regime.

The Transition to a New Economy After the Second Industrial Revolution

During the Second Industrial Revolution, 1860–1900, many new technologies, including electricity, were invented. These inventions launched a transition to a new economy, a period of about 70 years of ongoing, rapid technical change. After this revolution began, however, several decades passed before measured productivity growth increased. This delay is paradoxical from the point of view of the standard growth model. Historians hypothesize that this delay was due to the slow diffusion of new technologies among manufacturing plants together with the ongoing learning in plants after the new technologies had been adopted. The slow diffusion is thought to be due to manufacturers’ reluctance to abandon their accumulated expertise with old technologies, which were embodied in the design of existing plants. Motivated by these hypotheses, we build a quantitative model of technology diffusion which we use to study this transition to a new economy. We show that it implies both slow diffusion and a delay in growth similar to that in the data.

On the Optimality of Transparent Monetary Policy

We analyze the optimal design of monetary rules. We suppose there is an agreed upon social welfare function that depends on the randomly fluctuating state of the economy and that the monetary authority has private information about that state. We suppose the government can constrain the policies of the monetary authority by legislating a rule. In general, well-designed rules trade-off the need to constrain policymakers from the standard time consistency problem arising from the temptation for unexpected inflation with the desire to give them flexibility to react to their private information. Surprisingly, we show that for a wide variety of circumstances the optimal rule gives the monetary authority no flexibility. This rule can be interpreted as a strict inflation targeting rule where the target is a prespecified function of publicly observed data. In this sense, optimal monetary policy is transparent.

Paths of Development for Early-and-Late-Bloomers in a Dynamic Heckscher-Ohlin Model

We show that in a dynamic Heckscher-Ohlin model the timing of a country’s development relative to the rest of the world affects the path of the country’s development. A country that begins the development process later than most of the rest of the world—a late-bloomer—ends up with a permanently lower level of income than the early-blooming countries that developed earlier. This is true even though the late-bloomer has the same preferences, technology, and initial capital stock that the early-bloomers had when they started the process of development. This result stands in stark contrast to that of the standard one-sector growth model in which identical countries converge to a unique steady state, regardless of when they start to develop.

Money, Interest Rates, and Exchange Rates With Endogenously Segmented Asset Markets

This paper analyzes the effects of money injections on interest rates and exchange rates in a model in which agents must pay a Baumol-Tobin style fixed cost to exchange bonds and money. Asset markets are endogenously segmented because this fixed cost leads agents to trade bonds and money only infrequently. When the government injects money through an open market operation, only those agents that are currently trading absorb these injections. Through their impact on these agents’ consumption, these money injections affect real interest rates and real exchange rates. We show that the model generates the observed negative relation between expected inflation and real interest rates. With moderate amounts of segmentation, the model also generates other observed features of the data: persistent liquidity effects in interest rates and volatile and persistent exchange rates. A standard model with no fixed costs can produce none of these features.

Taxing Capital Income: A Bad Idea

Under a narrow set of assumptions, Chamley (1986) established that the optimal tax rate on capital income is eventually zero. This study examines and extends that result by relaxing Chamley’s assumptions, one by one, to see if the result still holds. It does. This study unifies the work of other researchers, who have confirmed the result independently using different types of models and approaches. This study uses just one type of model (discrete time) and just one approach (primal). Chamley’s result holds when agents are heterogeneous rather than identical, the economy’s growth rate is endogenous rather than exogenous, the economy is open rather than closed, and agents live in overlapping generations rather than forever. (With this last assumption, the result holds under stricter conditions than with the others.)

Money and Interest Rates With Endogenously Segmented Markets

This paper analyses the effects of open market operations on interest rates in a model in which agents must pay a fixed cost to exchange assets and cash. Asset markets are endogenously segmented in that some agents choose to pay the fixed cost and some do not. When the fixed cost is zero, the model reduces to the standard one in which persistent money injections increase nominal interest rates, flatten the yield curve, and lead to a downward-sloping yield curve on average. In contrast, if markets are sufficiently segmented, then persistent money injections decrease interest rates, steepen or even twist the yield curve, and lead to an upward-sloping yield curve on average.

Models of Energy Use: Putty-Putty vs. Putty-Clay

Energy use is inelastic in time-series data, but elastic in international cross-section data. Two models of energy use reproduce these elasticities: a putty-putty model with adjustment costs developed by Pindyck and Rotemberg (1983) and a putty-clay model. In the Pindyck-Rotemberg model, capital and energy are highly complementary in both the short run and the long run. In the putty-clay model, capital and energy are complementary in the short run, but substitutable in the long run. We highlight the differences in the cross-section implications of the models by considering the effect of an energy tax on output in both models. In the putty-putty model, an energy tax that doubles the price of energy leads to a fall in output in the long run of 33%. In contrast, the same tax in the putty-clay model leads to a fall in output of only 5.3%.

The Balance of Payments and Borrowing COnstraints: An Alternative View of the Mexican Crisis

In this paper we develop a model in which a country faces a balance of payments crisis if constraints on its international borrowing bind. We use the model to describe the dynamics of the trade balance, capital account, and balance of payments of a country that borrows to finance consumption following sweeping macroeconomic and structural reforms and then hits constraints on its international borrowing. We compare the predictions of this theoretical example with events in Mexico from 1987 through 1995.

Social Insurance and Transition

We study the general equilibrium effects of social insurance on the transition in a model in which the process of moving workers from matches in the state sector to new matches in the private sector takes time and involves uncertainty. As to be expected, adding social insurance to an economy without any improves welfare. Contrary to standard intuition, however, adding social insurance may slow transition. We show that this result depends crucially on general equilibrium interactions of interest rates and savings under alternative market structures.

Industry Evolution and Transition: Measuring Investment in Organization Capital

We use a calibrated model of the dynamics of organization capital and industry evolution to measure the size of investment in organization capital in the steady state and the dynamics of organization capital during the transition following a major reform. We find that, in the steady state, aggregate net investment in organization capital is roughly one-fifth of measured output. During the initial phase of transition, the failure rate of plants rises 200-400 percent, measured output and aggregate productivity stagnate, physical investment falls, and net investment in organization capital rises between 300 and 500 percent above its steady-state level.

Putty-Clay Capital and Energy

We evaluate the ability of models with putty-clay capital and stochastic energy prices to account for the dynamics of energy use and output. Economists have noted a close relationship between changes in the price of energy and changes in output. Moreover, they have documents that this relationship is asymmetric: energy price increases are associated with large output charges while energy prices decreases are associated with small output changes. Finally, following energy price changes, energy use adjusts slowly over time. Standard models with putty-putty capital fail to reproduce the features of the data. In our study of putty-clay models, we first develop a simple characterization of equilibrium. We apply these results to solve a prototype model. Preliminary results suggest that models with putty-clay capital improve on putty-putty models in accounting for the data.

Optimal Social Insurance, Incentives, and Transition

We study transition in a model in which the process of moving workers from matches in the state sector to new matches in the private sector takes time and involves uncertainty. When there are incentive problems in this rematching process, the optimal scheme may involve forced layoffs, involuntary unemployment, and a recession.

Industry Evolution and Transition: The Role of Information Capital

In this paper, we build a model of the transition following large-scale economic reforms that predicts both a substantial drop in output and a prolonged pause in physical investment as the initial phase of the optimal transition following the reform. We model reform as a change in policy which induces agents to close existing enterprises using old technologies of production and to open up new enterprises adopting new technologies of production. The central idea of our paper is that it is costly to close old enterprises and open new enterprises because, in doing so, information capital built up about old enterprises is lost and time must pass before information capital about new enterprises can be acquired. Thus, an acceleration of the pace of industry evolution leads in the short run to a net loss of information capital, a drop in productivity, a recession, and a fall in physical investment. We calibrate our model of industry evolution, information capital, and transition to match micro data on industry evolution in the United States and macro data from the United States, Japan, and the former communist countries of Europe. We find that the loss of information capital that accompanies a major acceleration in the pace of industry evolution in an economy leads initially to a decade of recession and a five year pause in physical investment before the benefits of reform are realized.