Consultant Patrick Kehoe has been affiliated with the Bank since 1986 and served as a monetary advisor from 1997 to 2013. He is also the Frenzel Professor of International Economics at the University of Minnesota. Patrick received his B.A. in mathematics and Russian from Providence College in 1978 and his Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University in 1986. Patrick’s work has appeared in numerous prestigious journals, including the American Economic Review, Econometrica, the Journal of Political Economy, and the Review of Economic Studies. He currently serves on several editorial boards and is a Fellow of the Econometric Society. Throughout his career, Patrick has advised numerous Ph.D. students. He has been awarded several grants, including six from the National Science Foundation. His work focuses on monetary policy, time consistency, and financial crises.
Brazil has had a long period of high inflation. It peaked around 100 percent per year in 1964, decreased until the first oil shock (1973), but accelerated again afterward, reaching levels above 100 percent on average between 1980 and 1994. This last period coincided with severe balance of payments problems and economic stagnation that followed the external debt crisis in the early 1980s. We show that the high-inflation period (1960-1994) was characterized by a combination of fiscal deficits, passive monetary policy, and constraints on debt financing. The transition to the low-inflation period (1995-2016) was characterized by improvements in all of these features, but it did not lead to significant improvements in economic growth. In addition, we document a strong positive correlation between inflation rates and seigniorage revenues, although inflation rates are relatively high for modest levels of seigniorage revenues. Finally, we discuss the role of the weak institutional framework surrounding the fiscal and monetary authorities and the role of monetary passiveness and inflation indexation in accounting for the unique features of inflation dynamics in Brazil.
Modern business cycle theory focuses on the study of dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models that generate aggregate fluctuations similar to those experienced by actual economies. We discuss how this theory has evolved from its roots in the early real business cycle models of the late 1970s through the turmoil of the Great Recession four decades later. We document the strikingly different pattern of comovements of macro aggregates during the Great Recession compared to other postwar recessions, especially the 1982 recession. We then show how two versions of the latest generation of real business cycle models can account, respectively, for the aggregate and the cross-regional fluctuations observed in the Great Recession in the United States.
The vast bulk of the government financial interventions during the Great Recession was directed at helping banks weather the financial crisis. The design of these programs was heavily influenced by the view that helping banks preserve their means of providing finance to firms was the most important ingredient in ensuring a quick recovery from the crisis. We argue that the cross-state patterns of employment, output and debt in the United States suggest that financial frictions that led to a tightening of credit to consumers were more important in accounting for the recession than those that led to a tightening of credit to firms. Our analysis implies that policies designed to ease consumer credit conditions would have been more effective at ensuring a rapid recovery than the policies actually adopted that focused on easing firm credit conditions.
Before the advent of sophisticated international financial markets, a widely accepted belief was that within a monetary union, a union-wide authority orchestrating fiscal transfers between countries is necessary to provide adequate insurance against country-specific economic fluctuations. A natural question is then: Do sophisticated international financial markets obviate the need for such an active union-wide authority? We argue that they do. Specifically, we show that in a benchmark economy with no international financial markets, an activist union-wide authority is necessary to achieve desirable outcomes. With sophisticated financial markets, however, such an authority is unnecessary if its only goal is to provide cross-country insurance. Since restricting the set of policy instruments available to member countries does not create a fiscal externality across them, this result holds in a wide variety of settings. Finally, we establish that an activist union-wide authority concerned just with providing insurance across member countries is optimal only when individual countries are either unable or unwilling to pursue desirable policies.
During the recent U.S. financial crisis, the large decline in aggregate output and labor was accompanied by both a tightening of financial conditions and a large increase in the dispersion of growth rates across firms. The tightened financial conditions manifested themselves as increases in firms’ credit spreads and decreases in both equity payouts and debt purchases. These features motivate us to build a model in which increased volatility of firm level productivity shocks generates a downturn and worsened credit conditions. The key idea in the model is that hiring inputs is risky because financial frictions limit firms’ ability to insure against shocks. Hence, an increase in idiosyncratic volatility induces firms to reduce their inputs and reduce such risk. We find that our model can generate most of the decline in output and labor in the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the observed tightening of financial conditions.
During the Great Recession, regions of the United States that experienced the largest declines in household debt also experienced the largest drops in consumption, employment, and wages. Employment declines were larger in the nontradable sector and for firms that were facing the worst credit conditions. Motivated by these findings, we develop a search and matching model with credit frictions that affect both consumers and firms. In the model, tighter debt constraints raise the cost of investing in new job vacancies and thus reduce worker job finding rates and employment. Two key features of our model, on-the-job human capital accumulation and consumer-side credit frictions, are critical to generating sizable drops in employment. On-the-job human capital accumulation makes the flows of benefits from posting vacancies long-lived and so greatly amplifies the sensitivity of such investments to credit frictions. Consumer-side credit frictions further magnify these effects by leading wages to fall only modestly. We show that the model reproduces well the salient cross-regional features of the U.S. data during the Great Recession.
We elaborate on the business cycle accounting method proposed by Chari, Kehoe, and McGrattan (2007), clear up some misconceptions about the method, and then apply it to compare the Great Recession across OECD countries as well as to the recessions of the 1980s in these countries. We have four main findings. First, with the notable exception of the United States, Spain, Ireland, and Iceland, the Great Recession was driven primarily by the efficiency wedge. Second, in the Great Recession, the labor wedge plays a dominant role only in the United States, and the investment wedge plays a dominant role in Spain, Ireland, and Iceland. Third, in the recessions of the 1980s, the labor wedge played a dominant role only in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and New Zealand. Finally, overall in the Great Recession the efficiency wedge played a more important role and the investment wedge played a less important role than they did in the recessions of the 1980s.
“Financial repression”—policies that allow a government to place its debt with financial institutions at relatively low interest rates—has been used widely for centuries. This essay focuses on one important form of repression: requiring financial intermediaries to hold more government bonds than they would if policies didn’t require it. We argue that this policy should only be used when the government has an urgent need to issue debt and has difficulty issuing new debt because of potential lender doubts about the government’s ability to repay. This research suggests that policies that allow financial institutions to hold only small amounts of their own country’s government bonds may not be desirable.
We argue that bailouts create tax distortions, subsidy distortions and debt-size externalities. We show that an orderly resolution provision as in the Dodd-Frank Act addresses the tax and subsidy distortions but not the debt-size externalities. A regulatory system that imposes limits on the debt-equity ratio of firms and imposes a Pigouvian tax on their size eliminates the distortions and completely corrects the externalities.
We develop a model in which, in order to provide managerial incentives, it is optimal to have costly bankruptcy. If benevolent governments can commit to their policies, it is optimal not to interfere with private contracts. Such policies are time inconsistent in the sense that, without commitment, governments have incentives to bail out firms by buying up the debt of distressed firms and renegotiating their contracts with managers. From an ex ante perspective, however, such bailouts are costly because they worsen incentives and thereby reduce welfare. We show that regulation in the form of limits on the debt-to-value ratio of firms mitigates the time-inconsistency problem by eliminating the incentives of governments to undertake bailouts. In terms of the cyclical properties of regulation, we show that regulation should be tightest in aggregate states in which resources lost to bankruptcy in the equilibrium without a government are largest.
Recent studies say prices change about every four months. Economists have interpreted this high frequency as evidence against the importance of sticky prices for the real effects of monetary policy. Theory implies that this interpretation is correct if most price changes are regular, but not if most are temporary, as in the data. Temporary changes have a striking feature: after such a change, the nominal price tends to return exactly to its preexisting level. We study versions of Calvo and menu cost models that replicate this feature. Both models predict that the degree of aggregate price stickiness is determined mostly by the frequency of regular price changes, not by the combined frequency of temporary and regular price changes. Since regular prices are sticky in the data, the models predict a substantial degree of aggregate price stickiness even though micro prices change frequently. In particular, the aggregate price level in our models is as sticky as in standard models in which micro prices change about once a year. In this sense, prices are sticky after all.
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.
The United States is indisputably undergoing a financial crisis and is perhaps headed for a deep recession. Here we examine three claims about the way the financial crisis is affecting the economy as a whole and argue that all three claims are myths. We also present three underappreciated facts about how the financial system intermediates funds between households and corporate businesses. Conventional analyses of the financial crisis focus on interest rate spreads. We argue that such analyses may lead to mistaken inferences about the real costs of borrowing and argue that, during financial crises, variations in the levels of nominal interest rates might lead to better inferences about variations in the real costs of borrowing. Moreover, we argue that even if current increase in spreads indicate increases in the riskiness of the underlying projects, by itself, this increase does not necessarily indicate the need for massive government intervention. We call for policymakers to articulate the precise nature of the market failure they see, to present hard evidence that differentiates their view of the data from other views which would not require such intervention, and to share with the public the logic and evidence that burnishes the case that the particular intervention they are advocating will fix this market failure.
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.
Macroeconomists have largely converged on method, model design, reduced-form shocks, and principles of policy advice. Our main disagreements today are about implementing the methodology. Some think New Keynesian models are ready to be used for quarter-to-quarter quantitative policy advice; we do not. Focusing on the state-of-the-art version of these models, we argue that some of its shocks and other features are not structural or consistent with microeconomic evidence. Since an accurate structural model is essential to reliably evaluate the effects of policies, we conclude that New Keynesian models are not yet useful for policy analysis.
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.
We analyze the setting of monetary and nonmonetary policies in monetary unions. We show that in these unions a time inconsistency problem in monetary policy leads to a novel type of free-rider problem in the setting of nonmonetary policies, such as labor market policy, fiscal policy, and bank regulation. The free-rider problem leads the union’s members to pursue lax nonmonetary policies that induce the monetary authority to generate high inflation. The free-rider problem can be mitigated by imposing constraints on the nonmonetary policies, like unionwide rules on labor market policy, debt constraints on members’ fiscal policy, and unionwide regulation of banks. When there is no time inconsistency problem, there is no free-rider problem, and constraints on nonmonetary policies are unnecessary and possibly harmful.
In the data, a large fraction of price changes are temporary. We provide a simple menu cost model which explicitly includes a motive for temporary price changes. We show that this simple model can account for the main regularities concerning temporary and permanent price changes. We use the model as a benchmark to evaluate existing shortcuts that do not explicitly model temporary price changes. One shortcut is to take the temporary changes out of the data and fit a simple Calvo model to it. If we do so prices change only every 50 weeks and the Calvo model overestimates the real effects of monetary shocks by almost 70%. A second shortcut is to leave the temporary changes in the data. If we do so prices change every 3 weeks and the Calvo model produces only 1/9 of the real effects of money as in our benchmark. We show that a simple Calvo model can generate the same real effects as our benchmark model if we set parameters so that prices change every 17 weeks.
The classic explanation for the persistence and volatility of real exchange rates is that they are the result of nominal shocks in an economy with sticky goods prices. A key implication of this explanation is that if goods have differing degrees of price stickiness then relatively more sticky goods tend to have relatively more persistent and volatile good-level real exchange rates. Using panel data, we find only modest support for these key implications. The predictions of the theory for persistence have some modest support: in the data, the stickier is the price of a good the more persistent is its real exchange rate, but the theory predicts much more variation in persistence than is in the data. The predictions of the theory for volatiity fare less well: in the data, the stickier is the price of a good the smaller is its conditional variance while in the theory the opposite holds. We show that allowing for pricing complementarities leads to a modest improvement in the theory’s predictions for persistence but little improvement in the theory’s predictions for conditional variances.
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.
Robert Solow has criticized our 2006 Journal of Economic Perspectives essay describing “Modern Macroeconomics in Practice.” Solow eloquently voices the commonly heard complaint that too much macroeconomic work today starts with a model with a single type of agent. We argue that modern macroeconomics may not end too far from where Solow prefers. He is also critical of how modern macroeconomists use data to construct models. Specifically, he seems to think that calibration is the only way that our models encounter data. To the contrary, we argue that modern macroeconomics uses a wide variety of empirical methods and that this big-tent approach has served macroeconomics well. Solow also questions our claim that modern macroeconomics is firmly grounded in economic theory. We disagree and explain why.
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 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.
Theoretical advances in macroeconomics made in the last three decades have had a major influence on macroeconomic policy analysis. Moreover, over the last several decades, the United States and other countries have undertaken a variety of policy changes that are precisely what macroeconomic theory of the last 30 years suggests. The three key developments that have shaped macroeconomic policy analysis are the Lucas critique of policy evaluation due to Robert Lucas, the time inconsistency critique of discretionary policy due to Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott, and the development of quantitative dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models following Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott.
The central finding of the recent structural vector autoregression (SVAR) literature with a differenced specification of hours is that technology shocks lead to a fall in hours. Researchers have used this finding to argue that real business cycle models are unpromising. We subject this SVAR specification to a natural economic test and show that when applied to data from a multiple-shock business cycle model, the procedure incorrectly concludes that the model could not have generated the data as long as demand shocks play a nontrivial role. We also test another popular specification, which uses the level of hours, and show that with nontrivial demand shocks, it cannot distinguish between real business cycle models and sticky price models. The crux of the problem for both SVAR specifications is that available data require a VAR with a small number of lags and such a VAR is a poor approximation to the model’s VAR.
In the data, a sizable fraction of price changes are temporary price reductions referred to as sales. Existing models include no role for sales. Hence, when confronted with data in which a large fraction of price changes are sales related, the models must either exclude sales from the data or leave them in and implicitly treat sales like any other price change. When sales are included, prices change frequently and standard sticky price models with this high frequency of price changes predict small effects from money shocks. If sales are excluded, prices change much less frequently and a standard sticky price model with this low frequency of price changes predict much larger effects of money shocks. This paper adds a motive for sales in a parsimonious extension of existing sticky price models. We show that the model can account for most of the patterns of sales in the data. Using our model as the data generating process, we evaluate the existing approaches and find that neither well approximates the real effects of money in our economy in which sales are explicitly modeled.
We make three comparisons relevant for the business cycle accounting approach. We show that in theory, representing the investment wedge as a tax on investment is equivalent to representing this wedge as a tax on capital income as long as the probability distributions over this wedge in the two representations are the same. In practice, convenience dictates that the underlying probability distributions over the investment wedge are different in the two representations. Even so, the quantitative results under the two representations are essentially identical. We also compare our methodology, the CKM methodology, to an alternative one used in Christiano and Davis (2006) and by us in early incarnations of the business cycle accounting approach. We argue that the CKM methodology rests on more secure theoretical foundations. Finally, we show that the results from the VAR-style decomposition of Christiano and Davis reinforce the results of the business cycle decomposition of CKM.
We propose a simple method to help researchers develop quantitative models of economic fluctuations. The method rests on the insight that many models are equivalent to a prototype growth model with time-varying wedges which resemble productivity, labor and investment taxes, and government consumption. Wedges corresponding to these variables—efficiency, labor, investment, and government consumption wedges—are measured and then fed back into the model in order to assess the fraction of various fluctuations they account for. Applying this method to U.S. data for the Great Depression and the 1982 recession reveals that the efficiency and labor wedges together account for essentially all of the fluctuations; the investment wedge plays a decidedly tertiary role, and the government consumption wedge, none. Analyses of the entire postwar period and alternative model specifications support these results. Models with frictions manifested primarily as investment wedges are thus not promising for the study of business cycles. (See Additional Material for a response to Christiano and Davis (2006).)
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.
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.
The main substantive finding of the recent structural vector autoregression literature with a differenced specification of hours (DSVAR) is that technology shocks lead to a fall in hours. Researchers have used these results to argue that business cycle models in which technology shocks lead to a rise in hours should be discarded. We evaluate the DSVAR approach by asking, is the specification derived from this approach misspecified when the data are generated by the very model the literature is trying to discard? We find that it is misspecified. Moreover, this misspecification is so great that it leads to mistaken inferences that are quantitatively large. We show that the other popular specification that uses the level of hours (LSVAR) is also misspecified. We argue that alternative state space approaches, including the business cycle accounting approach, are more fruitful techniques for guiding the development of business cycle theory.
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.
In recent financial crises and in recent theoretical studies of them, abrupt declines in capital inflows, or sudden stops, have been linked with large drops in output. Do sudden stops cause output drops? No, according to a standard equilibrium model in which sudden stops are generated by an abrupt tightening of a country’s collateral constraint on foreign borrowing. In this model, in fact, sudden stops lead to output increases, not decreases. An examination of the quantitative effects of a well-known sudden stop, in Mexico in the mid-1990s, confirms that a drop in output accompanying a sudden stop cannot be accounted for by the sudden stop alone. To generate an output drop during a financial crisis, as other studies have done, the model must include other economic frictions which have negative effects on output large enough to overwhelm the positive effect of the sudden stop.
This paper by Baxter and Kouparitsas is an ambitious attempt to explore which variables are robust in explaining the correlations of bilateral GDP between countries at business cycle frequencies. Most of the variables turned out to be fragile. The main contribution is to show that countries with large amounts of bilateral trade tend to have robustly higher business cycle correlations. Another interesting finding is that neither currency unions nor industrial structure are robustly related to business cycle correlations.
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.
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.
The desirability of fiscal constraints in monetary unions depends critically on whether the monetary authority can commit to follow its policies. If it can commit, then debt constraints can only impose costs. If it cannot commit, then fiscal policy has a free-rider problem, and debt constraints may be desirable. This type of free-rider problem is new and arises only because of a time inconsistency problem.
We show how to decentralize constrained efficient allocations that arise from enforcement constraints between sovereign nations. In a pure exchange economy, these allocations can be decentralized with private agents acting competitively and taking as given government default decisions on foreign debt. In an economy with capital, these allocations can be decentralized if the government can tax capital income as well as default on foreign debt. The tax on capital income is needed to make private agents internalize a subtle externality. The decisions of the government can arise as an equilibrium of a dynamic game between governments.
Financial crises are widely argued to be due to herd behavior. Yet recently developed models of herd behavior have been subjected to two critiques which seem to make them inapplicable to financial crises. Herds disappear from these models if two of their unappealing assumptions are modified: if their zero-one investment decisions are made continuous and if their investors are allowed to trade assets with market-determined prices. However, both critiques are overturned—herds reappear in these models—once another of their unappealing assumptions is modified: if, instead of moving in a prespecified order, investors can move whenever they choose.
We show that optimal monetary and fiscal policies are time consistent for a class of economies often used in applied work, economies appealing because they are consistent with the growth facts. We establish our results in two steps. We first show that for this class of economies, the Friedman rule of setting nominal interest rates to zero is optimal under commitment. We then show that optimal policies are time consistent if the Friedman rule is optimal. For our benchmark economy in which the time consistency problem is most severe, the converse also holds: if optimal policies are time consistent, then the Friedman rule is optimal.
Economists have offered many theories for the U.S. Great Depression, but no consensus has formed on the main forces behind it. Here we describe and demonstrate a simple methodology for determining which theories are the most promising. We show that a large class of models, including models with various frictions, are equivalent to a prototype growth model with time-varying efficiency, labor, and investment wedges that, at least on face value, look like time-varying productivity, labor taxes, and investment taxes. We use U.S. data to measure these wedges, feed them back into the prototype growth model, and assess the fraction of the fluctuations in 1929–39 that they account for. We find that the efficiency and labor wedges account for essentially all of the decline and subsequent recovery. Investment wedges play, at best, a minor role.
Recent empirical work on financial crises documents that crises tend to occur when macroeconomic fundamentals are weak, but that even after conditioning on an exhaustive list of fundamentals, a sizable random component to crises and associated capital flows remains. We develop a model of herd behavior consistent with these observations. Informational frictions together with standard debt default problems lead to volatile capital flows resembling hot money and financial crises. We show that repaying debt during difficult times identifies a government as financially resilient, enhances its reputation and stabilizes capital flows. Bailing out governments deprives resilient countries of this opportunity.
Both Chile and Mexico experienced severe economic crises in the early 1980s, yet Chile recovered much faster than Mexico. This study analyzes four possible explanations for this difference and rules out three, explanations based on money supply expansion, real wage and real exchange rate declines, and foreign debt overhangs. The fourth explanation is based on government policy reforms in the two countries. Using growth accounting and a calibrated growth model, the study determines that the only policy reforms promising as explanations are those that primarily affect total factor productivity, or how inputs are used, not the inputs themselves. Interpreting historical evidence with economic theory, the study concludes that the crucial difference between Chile and Mexico in the 1980s and 1990s is earlier government policy reforms in Chile, particularly reforms in policies affecting the banking system and bankruptcy procedures.
Chile and Mexico experienced severe economic crises in the early 1980s. This paper analyzes four possible explanations for why Chile recovered much faster than did Mexico. Comparing data from the two countries allows us to rule out a monetarist explanation, an explanation based on falls in real wages and real exchange rates, and a debt overhang explanation. Using growth accounting, a calibrated growth model, and economic theory, we conclude that the crucial difference between the two countries was the earlier policy reforms in Chile that generated faster productivity growth. The most crucial of these reforms were in banking and bankruptcy procedures.
The central puzzle in international business cycles is that fluctuations in real exchange rates are volatile and persistent. We quantity the popular story for real exchange rate fluctuations: they are generated by monetary shocks interacting with sticky goods prices. If prices are held fixed for at least one year, risk aversion is high, and preferences are separable in leisure, then real exchanage rates generated by the model are as volatile as in the data and quite persistent, but less so than in the data. The main discrepancy between the model and the data, the consumption—real exchange rate anomaly, is that the model generates a high correlation between real exchange rates and the ratio of consumption across countries, while the data show no clear pattern between these variables.
Herd behavior is argued by many to be present in many markets. Existing models of such behavior have been subjected to two apparently devastating critiques. The continuous investment critique is that in the basic model herds disappear if simple zero-one investment decisions are replaced by the more appealing assumption that investment decisions are continuous. The price critique is that herds disappear if, as seems natural, other investors can observe asset market prices. We argue that neither critique is devastating. We show that once we replace the unappealing exogenous timing assumption of the early models that investors move in a pre-specified order by a more appealing endogenous timing assumption that investors can move whenever they choose then herds reappear.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Backus, Kehoe and Kydland (1992), Baxter and Crucini (1995) and Stockman and Tesar (1995) find two major discrepancies between standard international business cycle models with complete markets and the data: In the models, cross-country correlations are much higher for consumption than for output, while in the data the opposite is true; and cross-country correlations of employment and investment are negative, while in the data they are positive. This paper introduces a friction into a standard model that helps resolve these anomalies. The friction is that international loans are imperfectly enforceable; any country can renege on its debts and suffer the consequences for future borrowing. To solve for equilibrium in this economy with endogenous incomplete markets, the methods of Marcet and Marimon (1999) are extended. Incorporating the friction helps resolve the anomalies more than does exogenously restricting the assets that can be traded.
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.)
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.
The conventional wisdom is that monetary shocks interact with sticky goods prices to generate the observed volatility and persistence in real exchange rates. We investigate this conventional wisdom in a quantitative model with sticky prices. We find that with preferences as in the real business cycle literature, irrespective of the length of price stickiness, the model necessarily produces only a fraction of the volatility in exchange rates seen in the data. With preferences which are separable in leisure, the model can produce the observed volatility in exchange rates. We also show that long stickiness is necessary to generate the observed persistence. In addition, we show that making asset markets incomplete does not measurably increase either the volatility or persistence of real exchange rates.
We show that the desirability of fiscal constraints in monetary unions depends critically on the extent of commitment of the monetary authority. If the monetary authority can commit to its policies, fiscal constraints can only impose costs. If the monetary authority cannot commit, there is a free-rider problem in fiscal policy, and fiscal constraints may be desirable.
We provide an introduction to optimal fiscal and monetary policy using the primal approach to optimal taxation. We use this approach to address how fiscal and monetary policy should be set over the long run and over the business cycle. We find four substantive lessons for policymaking: Capital income taxes should be high initially and then roughly zero; tax rates on labor and consumption should be roughly constant; state-contingent taxes on assets should be used to provide insurance against adverse shocks; and monetary policy should be conducted so as to keep nominal interest rates close to zero. We begin optimal taxation in a static context. We then develop a general framework to analyze optimal fiscal policy. Finally, we analyze optimal monetary policy in three commonly used models of money: a cash-credit economy, a money-in-the-utility-function economy, and a shopping-time economy.
We construct a quantitative equilibrium model with price setting and use it to ask whether with staggered price setting monetary shocks can generate business cycle fluctuations. These fluctuations include persistent output fluctuations along with the other defining features of business cycles, like volatile investment and smooth consumption. We assume that prices are exogenously sticky for a short period of time. Persistent output fluctuations require endogenous price stickiness in the sense that firms choose not to change prices very much when they can do so. We find that for a wide range of parameter values the amount of endogenous stickiness is small. As a result, we find that in a standard quantitative business cycle model staggered price setting, by itself, does not generate business cycle fluctuations.
A traditional explanation for why sovereign countries repay debt is that they want to keep a good reputation so they can easily borrow more. This explanation does not hold if a country has access to an adequate means of savings regardless of the country’s past actions. With such access, a country gets only transient benefits from maintaining a good relationship with bankers, and such benefits cannot support borrowing. However, if a country is involved in a myriad of trust relationships, the country’s reputation can spill over to a nondebt relationship which has enduring benefits. Such a spillover can allow a country’s reputation to support a large amount of borrowing.
We ask what fraction of the variation in incomes across countries can be accounted for by investment distortions. In our neoclassical growth model the relative price of investment to consumption is a good measure of the distortions. Using data on relative prices we estimate a stochastic process for distortions and compare the resulting variance of incomes in the model to that in the data. We find that the variation of incomes in the model is roughly 4/5 of the variability of incomes in the data. Our model does well in accounting for 6 key regularities on income and investment in the data. The paper itself is followed by three appendices: Appendix 1 describing the log-likelihood function, Appendix 2 describing the construction of labor share of income associated with the production of consumption and investment goods, and the Data Appendix.
Bulow and Rogoff (1989b) show that as long as governments can earn the market rate of return by saving abroad, standard reputation models cannot support debt. We argue that these standard reputation models are partial in the sense that actions of agents in one arena affect reputation in that arena only. We develop a general model of reputation in which if a government is viewed as untrustworthy in one relationship, this government will be viewed as untrustworthy in other relationships. We show that our general model of reputation can support large amounts of debt.
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%.
A traditional explanation for why sovereign governments repay debts is that they want to keep good reputations so they can easily borrow more. Bulow and Rogoff show that this argument is invalid under two conditions: (i) there is a single debt relationship, and (ii) regardless of their past actions, governments can earn the (possibly state-contingent) market rate of return by saving abroad. Bulow and Rogoff conjecture that, even under condition (ii), in more general reputation models with multiple relationships and spillover across them, reputation may support debt. This paper shows what is needed for this conjecture to be true.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A standard explanation for why sovereign governments repay their debts is that they must maintain a good reputation to easily borrow more. We show that the ability of reputation to support debt depends critically on the assumptions made about institutions. At one extreme, we assume that bankers can default on payments they owe to governments. At the other, we assume that bankers are committed to honoring contracts made with governments. We show that if bankers can default, then a government gets enduring benefits from maintaining a good relationship with bankers and its reputation can support a large amount of borrowing. If, however, bankers must honor their contracts, then a government gets only transient benefits from maintaining a good relationship and its reputation can support zero borrowing.
We examine the results of four static applied general equilibrium (AGE) modeling teams’ analyses of the effects of NAFTA. What they show is that Mexico’s economy, because it’s the smallest, will see the biggest NAFTA-produced increase in economic welfare: from 2 to 5 percent of GDP. The U.S. welfare increase will be small, around 0.1 percent of GDP; Canada will notice no welfare increase due to NAFTA. We then discuss two examples of dynamic phenomena—labor force adjustment and capital flows—which are likely to influence NAFTA’s welfare impact, but that aren’t easy to incorporate into static AGE models. Early results indicate that this is an important direction for future study.
In this paper, we describe and analyze the basic structure of the applied general equilibrium (AGE) models used to assess the effects of government trade policies. Once we have constructed the basic model, we extend it to cover features such as increasing returns to scale, imperfect competition, and differentiated products, following the AGE modeling trend of the past 10 years. We then compare a static AGE model’s predictions with the actual data on how Spain was affected by entering the European Community and find that, when exogenous effects are included, a static AGE model’s predictions are fairly accurate.
This article reviews recent work comparing properties of international business cycles with those of dynamic general equilibrium models. Two discrepancies between theory and data are described. One concerns the correlation across countries of fluctuations in consumption, output, and productivity: in the data, the output correlation is generally the largest; in theoretical economies, however, for a wide range of parameter values, the consumption correlation is the largest. The other discrepancy concerns relative price movements: the standard deviation of the terms of trade is considerably larger in the data than in theoretical economies. Also described here are several changes in theoretical structure that researchers have attempted, without success, to bring the theory and the data closer together.
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.
This paper develops the quantitative implications of optimal fiscal policy in a business cycle model. In a stationary equilibrium the ex ante tax rate on capital income is approximately zero. There is an equivalence class of ex post capital income tax rates and bond policies that support a given allocation. Within this class the optimal ex post capital tax rates can range from being close to i.i.d. to being close to a random walk. The tax rate on labor income fluctuates very little and inherits the persistence properties of the exogenous shocks and thus there is no presumption that optimal labor tax rates follow a random walk. The welfare gains from smoothing labor tax rates and making ex ante capital income tax rates zero are small and most of the welfare gains come from an initial period of high taxation on capital income.
We find conditions for the Friedman rule to be optimal in three standard models of money. These conditions are homotheticity and separability assumptions on preferences similar to those in the public finance literature on optimal uniform commodity taxation. We show that there is no connection between our results and the result in the standard public finance literature that intermediate goods should not be taxed.
We look for the scale effects predicted by some theories of trade and growth based on the dynamic returns to scale that arise from learning by doing, investment in human capital, or development of new products. We find little empirical evidence of a relation between the growth rate of GDP per capita and the measures of scale implied by the theory. Restricting attention to the manufacturing sector, however, we find a significant relation between the growth rate of output per worker and the relevant scale variables. We also find that growth rates are significantly related to measures of intra-industry trade.
We provide a new interpretation of the statistical relation between the trade balance and the terms of trade. This relation includes the J-curve, the tendency for trade balances to be negatively correlated with contemporaneous movements in the terms of trade, positively correlated with lagged movements. We document this property in international data and show that it arises, as well, in a two-country stochastic growth model. In the model trade dynamics result, in large part, from fluctuations in investment. A favorable productivity shock in the domestic economy leads to an increase in domestic output, a decrease in its relative price, and a rise in the terms of trade. The increase in domestic productivity also leads to a temporary investment boom. This boom results in an initial trade deficit, followed by future surpluses, and thus a J-curve. We also use the model to provide a new perspective on earlier theories of trade and price dynamics.
This paper studies the quantitative properties of fiscal and monetary policy in business cycle models. In terms of fiscal policy, optimal labor tax rates are virtually constant and optimal capital income tax rates are close to zero on average. In terms of monetary policy, the Friedman rule is optimal—nominal interest rates are zero—and optimal monetary policy is activist in the sense that it responds to shocks to the economy.
We ask whether a two-country real business cycle model can account simultaneously for domestic and international aspects of business cycles. With this question in mind, we document a number of discrepancies between theory and data. The most striking discrepancy concerns the correlations of consumption and output across countries. In the data, outputs are generally more highly correlated across countries than consumptions. In the model we see the opposite.
We document properties of business cycles in ten countries over the last hundred years, contrasting the behavior of real quantities with that of the price level and the stock of money. Although the magnitude of output fluctuations has varied across countries and periods, relations among variables have been remarkably uniform. Consumption has generally been about as variable as output, and investment substantially more variable, and both have been strongly procyclical. The trade balance has generally been countercyclical. The exception to this regularity is government purchases, which exhibit no systematic cyclical tendency. With respect to the size of output fluctuations, standard deviations are largest between the two world wars. In some countries (notably Australia and Canada) they are substantially larger prior to World War I than after World War II, but in others (notably Japan and the United Kingdom) there is little difference between these periods. Properties of price levels, in contrast, exhibit striking differences between periods. Inflation rates are more persistent after World War II than before, and price level fluctuations are typically procyclical before World War II, countercyclical afterward. We find no general tendency toward increased persistence in money growth rates, but find that fluctuations in money are less highly correlated with output in the postwar period.
A traditional explanation for why sovereign governments repay debts is that they want to keep a good reputation so they can easily borrow more. Bulow and Rogoff have challenged this explanation. They argue that, in complete information models, government borrowing requires direct legal sanctions. We argue that, in incomplete information models with multiple trust relationships, large amounts of government borrowing can be supported by reputation alone.
This paper presents a simple general equilibrium model of optimal taxation similar to that of Lucas and Stokey (1983), except that we let the government default on its debt. As a benchmark, we consider Ramsey equilibria in which the government can precommit its policies at the beginning of time. We then consider sustainable equilibria in which both government and private agent decision rules are required to be sequentially rational. We concentrate on trigger mechanisms which specify reversion to the finite horizon equilibrium after deviations by the government. The main result is that no Ramsey equilibrium with positive debt can be supported by such trigger mechanisms.
This paper presents a simple general equilibrium model of optimal taxation in which both private agents and the government can default on their debt. As a benchmark we consider Ramsey equilibria in which the government can precommit to its policies at the beginning of time, but in which private agents can default. We then consider sustainable equilibria in which both government and private agent decision rules are required to be sequentially rational. We completely characterize the set of sustainable equilibria. In particular, we show that when there is sufficiently little discounting and government consumption fluctuates enough, the Ramsey allocations and policies (in which the government never defaults) can be supported by a sustainable equilibrium.
We propose a definition of time consistent policy for infinite horizon economies with competitive private agents. Allocations and policies are defined as functions of the history of past policies. A sustainable equilibrium is a sequence of history-contingent policies and allocations that satisfy certain sequential rationality conditions for the government and for private agents. We provide a complete characterization of the sustainable equilibrium outcomes for a variant of Fischer’s (1980) model of capital taxation. We also relate our work to recent developments in the theory of repeated games.
We examine the limiting behavior of cooperative and noncooperative fiscal policies as countries’ market power goes to zero. We show that these policies converge if countries raise revenues through lump-sum taxation. However, if there are unremovable domestic distortions, such as distorting taxes, there can be gains to coordination even when a single country’s policy cannot affect world prices. These results differ from the received wisdom in the optimal tariff literature. The key distinction is that, unlike in the tariff literature, the spending decisions of governments are explicitly modeled.
We show that some classes of sterilized interventions have no effect on equilibrium prices and quantities. The proof does not require complete markets, Ricardian equivalence, monetary neutrality, or the law of one price. Moreover, regressions of exchange rates or interest differentials on variables measuring debt’s currency composition contain no information about the effectiveness of such interventions. Other interventions require changes in monetary and fiscal policy; their effects depend, generally, on the influence of these changes on the economy and not on the intervention alone. In short, sterilized intervention is not, as the portfolio balance approach indicates, an extra policy instrument.
This paper provides a simple counterexample to the standard belief that in a world economy in which all countries are small, strategic interactions between policymakers are trivial and thus cooperative and noncooperative government policies coincide. It is well known that this holds for tariff policies. However, this paper demonstrates the result does not apply to government policies generally. Indeed, this paper presents a simple counterexample for the case of fiscal policy. In addition, the paper analyzes how optimally coordinated fiscal policies differ from noncooperative policies. It finds that, relative to optimally coordinated levels, noncooperative government spending can be too high or too low, depending on the sign of a transmission effect which captures the overall effect countries’ actions have on each other.
This paper presents a simple counterexample to the belief that international policy cooperation is desirable. It also explains circumstances under which such a counterexample is possible. Versions of this report were published under the titles “International Policy Cooperation May Be Undesirable” and “Policy Cooperation Among Benevolent Governments May Be Undesirable.”