Applications of game theory to macroeconomics
Design and consistency of macroeconomic policy
Interaction of monetary and fiscal policy
Marco Bassetto joined the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis as a senior research economist in 2019. Formerly, he was a senior economist and research advisor in the Economic Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. He has also been a professor at University College London and an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and at Northwestern University. He received a B.A. from Bocconi University (Milan, Italy) and a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago.
Marco’s research focuses on applications of game theory to macroeconomics and the design and consistency of macroeconomic policy. His work has been published in a number of top-tier journals, including American Economic Review, Econometrica, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Review of Economic Studies, Journal of Economic Theory, Journal of Monetary Economics, Review of Economic Dynamics, and Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control.
We study the information sensitivity of government debt denominated in domestic vs. foreign currency: the former is subject to inflation risk and the latter to default. Default only affects sophisticated bond traders, whereas inflation concerns a larger and less informed group. Within a two-period Bayesian trading game, differential information manifests itself in the secondary market, and we display conditions under which debt prices are more resilient to bad news even in the primary market, where only sophisticated players operate. Our results can explain debt prices across countries following the 2008 financial crisis, and also provide a theory of “original sin.”
Forward guidance has been suggested as a form of commitment (“Odyssean”) by the policymaker or as a way of conveying information (“Delphic”). I analyze the interaction between households and the central bank as a game in which the central bank sends messages. Without private information, the set of equilibrium payoffs is independent of any announcements: pure Odyssean forward guidance is redundant. With private information, communication can have social value. Forward guidance is well suited to leverage preexisting credibility to communicate a central bank’s private information about its own preferences or beliefs.
A central equation for the fiscal theory of the price level (FTPL) is the government budget constraint (or “government valuation equation”), which equates the real value of government debt to the present value of fiscal surpluses. In the past decade, the governments of most developed economies have paid very low interest rates, and there are many other periods in the past in which this has been the case. In this paper, we revisit the implications of the FTPL in a world where the rate of return on government debt may be below the growth rate of the economy, considering different sources for the low returns: dynamic inefficiency, the liquidity premium of government debt, or its favorable risk profile.
We analyze a new class of equilibria that emerges when a central bank conducts monetary policy by setting an interest rate (as an arbitrary function of its available information) and letting the private sector set the quantity traded. These equilibria involve a run on the central bank׳s interest target, whereby money grows fast, private agents borrow as much as possible against the central bank, and the shadow interest rate is different from the policy target. We argue that these equilibria represent a particular danger when banks hold large excess reserves, such as is the case following periods of quantitative easing. Our analysis suggests that successfully managing the exit strategy requires additional tools beyond setting interest-rate targets and paying interest on reserves; in particular, freezing excess reserves or fiscal-policy intervention may be needed to fend off adverse expectations.
We study the effects of credit shocks in a model with heterogeneous entrepreneurs, financing constraints, and a realistic firm-size distribution. As entrepreneurial firms can grow only slowly and rely heavily on retained earnings to expand the size of their business, we show that, by reducing entrepreneurial firm size and earnings, negative shocks have a very persistent effect on real activity. In determining the speed of recovery from an adverse economic shock, the most important factor is the extent to which the shock erodes entrepreneurial wealth.
The aim of this paper is to study the relationship between the intertemporal behavior of taxes and wealth distribution. The optimal‐taxation literature has often concentrated on representative‐agent models, in which it is optimal to smooth distortionary taxes. When tax liabilities are unevenly spread in the population, deviations from tax smoothing lead to interest rate changes that redistribute wealth. When a “bad shock” hits the economy, the optimal policy will then call for smaller or larger deficits, depending on the political power of different groups. This effect is particularly relevant in the case of large shocks to government finances, such as wars.
We review the role of the central bank’s balance sheet in a textbook monetary model and explore what changes if the central bank is allowed to pay interest on its liabilities. When the central bank (CB) cannot pay interest, away from the zero lower bound its (real) balance sheet is limited by the demand for money. Furthermore, if securities are not marked to market and the central bank holds its bonds to maturity, it is impossible for the CB to make losses, and it always obtains profits from being a monopoly provider of money. When the option of paying interest on liabilities is allowed, the limit on the CB’s balance sheet is lifted. In this case, the CB is free to take on interest‐rate risk – for example, by buying long‐term securities and financing those purchases with short‐term debt that pays the market interest rate. This is a risky enterprise that can lead to additional profits but also to losses. To the extent that losses exceed the profits of the monopoly operations, the CB faces two options: either it is recapitalised by Treasury or it increases its monopoly profits by raising the inflation tax.
This paper considers an optimal taxation environment where household income is private information, and the government randomly audits and punishes households found to be underreporting. We prove that the optimal mechanism derived using standard mechanism design techniques has a bad equilibrium (a tax riot) where households underreport their incomes, precisely because other households are expected to do so as well. We then consider three alternative approaches to designing a tax scheme when one is worried about bad equilibria.
This paper analyzes the effects of intergenerational conflict on capital and labor income tax rates, transfers, and government spending in a model of multidimensional policy choice. The different nature of tax liabilities for the young and the old can explain why the old receive large gross lump-sum transfers through social security, while the young receive little or none. A natural link also emerges between the size of the government as a provider of public goods and the magnitude of transfers that the same government will implement.
We analyze a “golden rule” that separates capital and ordinary account budgets and allows a government to finance only capital items with debt. Many national governments followed this rule in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and most U. S. states do today. We study an overlapping-generations economy where majorities choose durable and nondurable public goods in each period. When demographics imply even moderate departures from Ricardian equivalence, the golden rule substantially improves efficiency. Examples calibrated to U. S. demographics show greater improvements at the state level or with nineteenth century demographics than under current national demographics.
We study a simple model of production, accumulation, and redistribution, where agents are heterogeneous in their initial wealth, and a sequence of redistributive tax rates is voted upon. Though the policy is infinite-dimensional, we prove that a median voter theorem holds if households have identical, Gorman aggregable preferences; furthermore, the tax policy preferred by the median voter has the “bang-bang” property.
How should a government use the power to commit to ensure a desirable equilibrium outcome? In this paper, I show a misleading aspect of what has become a standard approach to this question, and I propose an alternative. I show that the complete description of an optimal (indeed, of any) policy scheme requires outlining the consequences of paths that are often neglected. The specification of policy along those paths is crucial in determining which schemes implement a unique equilibrium and which ones leave room for multiple equilibria that depend on the expectations of the private sector.
We consider a government that can only raise funds by levying distortionary taxes. We allow the government to collect taxes in a given period that are based on incomes earned in previous periods. We show that once we do so, given any debt path, the government can adjust its tax policy so as to attain that debt path without affecting equilibrium allocations or prices.
The goal of this paper is to probe the validity of the fiscal theory of the price level by modelling explicitly the market structure in which households and the government make their decisions. I describe the economy as a game, and I am thus able to state precisely the consequences of actions that are out of the equilibrium path. I show that there exist government strategies that lead to a version of the fiscal theory, in which the price level is determined by fiscal variables alone. These strategies are however more complex than the simple budgetary rules usually associated with the fiscal theory, and the government budget constraint cannot be merely viewed as an equilibrium condition.
Exchange Rate and Inflation Risks in Portfolio Choices
This article shows how the recovery of inflation in 2009-10 occurred precisely at the only time (since 1985) the models would predict disinflation, i.e., inflation went up when the models said it should go down.
Examining industrialized countries, the authors find that large deficits are not associated with higher inflation contemporaneously, nor are they associated with the emergence of higher inflation in subsequent years. This finding suggests that countries that can afford large deficits have built solid reputations and institutions supporting a sound monetary policy and the reversion to a stable fiscal regime.
Since 1999, 13 countries have abandoned their national currency and joined the European Monetary Union, adopting the euro. This new currency regime posed unprecedented challenges in designing institutions that would ensure its success and stability. Particularly important to this endeavor was defining the interaction between fiscal policy and monetary policy. In the case of national currencies, large and persistent fiscal deficits frequently lead to higher levels of inflation (Sargent and Wallace, 1981; and Sargent, 1986). This possibility became an even greater concern when many countries decided to share a single currency. Under the new regime, each country would fully reap any benefits of deficit spending but could potentially force others to face the undesirable consequences of undermining the independence of the newly created European Central Bank or generating instability in the Eurobond market (Chari and Kehoe, 2004). This concern was addressed in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which paved the way for the monetary union, and especially in the European Stability and Growth Pact (SGP), which was adopted in 1997. The pact made permanent some of the conditions that the Maastricht Treaty required of entrants at the creation of the single currency.