Randall Wright

Randall Wright


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Randall Wright is currently the Ray Zeeman Professor of Liquid Assets at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Randy has been a consultant at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis since 2009. Since 1991 he has been an associate and co-organizer of the Macro Perspectives Group for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Randy received his B.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Manitoba and the University of Minnesota, respectively. He also holds an honorary M.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The primary focus of his research is monetary theory and policy, as well as labor economics, often using search theory.

His work has appeared in many prestigious publications, such as the Journal of Political Economy, the Journal of Monetary Economics, and the American Economic Review. He has also served, in various capacities, on the editorial boards of a number of prominent economics journals.

Innovation and Growth with Frictions

The generation and implementation of new ideas are major factors in economic performance and growth. If some people are better at research and others at development, there emerges a role for an “idea market,” where technology transfers reallocate knowledge to those best able to develop and apply it. Financial institutions can facilitate this reallocation by providing credit for these transfers.
However, the idea market is rife with frictions. These include so-called search-and-bargaining problems. Another obstacle is credit friction: If a debtor reneges, it is not always easy to repossess information or otherwise prevent its use.
These obstacles lead to several monetary policy implications. First, policymakers should strive for low inflation, since that encourages investment in liquidity, which is crucial for exchanging ideas when credit is imperfect. Second, policymakers should encourage financial intermediation, since that facilitates efficient reallocation of liquidity. Fiscal policy has a role, too, but in terms of lessons for central bank policy, sound money and sound banking are engines of economic growth.

Are Prices Sticky and Does it Matter?

Many economists believe that prices are “sticky”—they adjust slowly. This stickiness, they suggest, means that changes in the money supply have an impact on the real economy, inducing changes in investment, employment, output and consumption, an effect that can be exploited by policymakers.
In this essay, we argue that price stickiness doesn’t necessarily generate an exploitable policy option. We describe a model in which money is neutral (that is, growth or reduction in money supply doesn’t impact real economic activity) even in a context of sluggish price adjustment.

Macroeconomic Policy and Household Economics

Multiperson households are less reliant on cash than single people because they are more likely than singles to rely on home-based production to meet their daily needs.
This conclusion, supported by recent empirical research, suggests that fiscal and monetary policies that make market-based transactions more expensive will favor the formation of households. Individuals will seek to minimize costs due to such policies by forming partnerships, whether through marriage or less-formal arrangements.
Fiscal policies, such as consumption and incomes taxes, and monetary policy that raises inflation can thereby influence societal structure as well as behavior within households.

Search-Based Models of Money and Finance: An Integrated Approach

Many applications of search theory in monetary economics use the Shi-Trejos-Wright model, hereafter STW, while applications in finance use Duffie-Gârleanu-Pederson, hereafter DGP. These approaches have much in common, and both claim to be about liquidity, but the models also differ in a fundamental way: in STW agents use assets as payment instruments when trading goods; in DGP there are no gains from exchanging goods, but agents trade because they value assets differently with goods serving as payment instruments. We develop a framework nesting the two. This clarifies the connection between the literatures, and generates new insights and applications. Even in the special cases of the baseline STW and DGP models, we provide propositions generalizing and strengthening what is currently known, and rederiving some existing results using more tractable arguments.

Buyers, Sellers and Middlemen: Variations in Search Theory

We study bilateral exchange, both direct trade and indirect trade that happens through chains of intermediaries or middlemen. We develop a model of this activity and present applications. This illustrates how, and how many, intermediaries get involved, and how the terms of trade are determined. Bargaining with intermediaries depends on how they bargain with downstream intermediaries, leading to interesting holdup problems. We discuss the roles of buyers and sellers in bilateral exchange, and how to interpret prices. We develop a particular bargaining solution and relate it to other solutions. We also illustrate how bubbles can emerge in the value of inventories.

Endogenous Credit Cycles

We study models of credit with limited commitment, which implies endogenous borrowing constraints. We show that there are multiple stationary equilibria, as well as nonstationary equilibria, including some that display deterministic cyclic and chaotic dynamics. There are also stochastic (sunspot) equilibria, in which credit conditions change randomly over time, even though fundamentals are deterministic and stationary. We show this can occur when the terms of trade are determined by Walrasian pricing or by Nash bargaining. The results illustrate how it is possible to generate equilibria with credit cycles (crunches, freezes, crises) in theory, and as recently observed in actual economies.

Innovation and Growth with Financial, and other, Frictions

The generation and implementation of ideas, or knowledge, is crucial for economic performance. We study this process in a model of endogenous growth with frictions. Productivity increases with knowledge, which advances via innovation, and with the exchange of ideas from those who generate them to those best able to implement them (technology transfer). But frictions in this market, including search, bargaining, and commitment problems, impede exchange and thus slow growth. We characterize optimal policies to subsidize research and trade in ideas, given both knowledge and search externalities. We discuss the roles of liquidity and financial institutions, and show two ways in which intermediation can enhance efficiency and innovation. First, intermediation allows us to finance more transactions with fewer assets. Second, it ameliorates certain bargaining problems, by allowing entrepreneurs to undo otherwise sunk investments in liquidity. We also discuss some evidence, suggesting that technology transfer is a significant source of innovation and showing how it is affected by credit considerations.

Sticky Prices: A New Monetarist Approach

Why do some sellers set nominal prices that apparently do not respond to changes in the aggregate price level? In many models, prices are sticky by assumption; here it is a result. We use search theory, with two consequences: prices are set in dollars, since money is the medium of exchange; and equilibrium implies a nondegenerate price distribution. When the money supply increases, some sellers may keep prices constant, earning less per unit but making it up on volume, so profit stays constant. The calibrated model matches price-change data well. But, in contrast with other sticky-price models, money is neutral.

New Monetarist Economics: Models

The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the models used in New Monetarist Economics, which is our label for a body of recent work on money, banking, payments systems, asset markets, and related topics. A key principle in New Monetarism is that solid microfoundations are critical for understanding monetary issues. We survey recent papers on monetary theory, showing how they build on common foundations. We then lay out a tractable benchmark version of the model that allows us to address a variety of issues. We use it to analyze some classic economic topics, like the welfare effects of inflation, the relationship between money and capital accumulation, and the Phillips curve. We also extend the benchmark model in new ways, and show how it can be used to generate new insights in the study of payments, banking, and asset markets.

New Monetarist Economics: Methods

This essay articulates the principles and practices of New Monetarism, our label for a recent body of work on money, banking, payments, and asset markets. We first discuss methodological issues distinguishing our approach from others: New Monetarism has something in common with Old Monetarism, but there are also important differences; it has little in common with Keynesianism. We describe the principles of these schools and contrast them with our approach. To show how it works, in practice, we build a benchmark New Monetarist model, and use it to study several issues, including the cost of inflation, liquidity and asset trading. We also develop a new model of banking.

Introduction to “Models of Monetary Economies II: The Next Generation

This article is a summary of the papers presented at the Models of Monetary Economies II conference, hosted in May 2004 by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. It focuses on several themes in the papers, including the microfoundations of monetary theory, optimal monetary policy, and the role of banking, and also overviews how the contributions fit together. Finally, the article comments on monetary theory in general—how it has evolved and where it may be headed.

A Unified Framework for Monetary Theory and Policy Analysis

Search-theoretic models of monetary exchange are based on explicit descriptions of the frictions that make money essential. However, tractable versions of these models typically need strong assumptions that make them ill-suited for studying monetary policy. We propose a framework based on explicit micro foundations within which macro policy can be analyzed. The model is both analytically tractable and amenable to quantitative analysis. We demonstrate this by using it to estimate the welfare cost of inflation. We find much higher costs than the previous literature: our model predicts that going from 10% to 0% inflation can be worth between 3% and 5% of consumption.

A Model of Commodity Money, With Applications to Gresham’s Law and the Debasement Puzzle

We develop a model of commodity money and use it to analyze the following two questions motivated by issues in monetary history: What are the conditions under which Gresham’s Law holds? And, what are the mechanics of a debasement (lowering the metallic content of coins)? The model contains light and heavy coins, imperfect information, and prices determined via bilateral bargaining. There are equilibria with neither, both, or only one type of coin in circulation. When both circulate, coins may trade by weight or by tale. We discuss the extent to which Gresham’s Law holds in the various cases. Following a debasement, the quantity of reminting depends on the incentives offered by the sovereign. Equilibria exist with positive seigniorage and a mixture of old and new coins in circulation.

Coexistence of Money and Interest-Bearing Securities

A random matching model with money is used to study the nominal yield on small denomination, bearer, safe, discount securities issued by the government. There is always one steady state with matured securities circulating at par and, for some parameters, another with them circulating at a discount. In the former, a necessary and sufficient condition for a positive nominal yield on not-yet-matured securities is exogenous discriminatory treatment of them by the government. In the latter, the post-maturity discount on securities induces a deeper pre-maturity discount even without such discriminatory treatment.

An Equilibrium Model of the Business Cycle with Household Production and Fiscal Policy

We estimate a dynamic general equilibrium model of the U.S. economy that includes an explicit household production sector and stochastic fiscal variables. We use our estimates to investigate two issues. First, we analyze how well the model accounts for aggregate fluctuations. We find that household production has a significant impact and reject a nested specification in which changes in the home production technology do not matter for market variables. Second, we study the effects of some simple fiscal policy experiments and show that the model generates different predictions for the effects of tax changes than similar models without home production.

Estimating Substitution Elasticities in Household Production Models

Dynamic general equilibrium models that include explicit household production sectors provide a useful framework within which to analyze a variety of macroeconomic issues. However, some implications of these models depend critically on parameters, including the elasticity of substitution between market and home consumption goods, about which there is little information in the literature. Using the PSID, we estimate these parameters for single males, single females, and married couples. At least for single females and married couples, the results indicate a high enough substitution elasticity that including home production will make a significant difference in applied general equilibrium theory.

Dynamic Bargaining Theory

The goal of this paper is to extend the analysis of strategic bargaining to nonstationary environments, where preferences or opportunities may be changing over time. We are mainly interested in equilibria where trade occurs immediately, once the agents start negotiating, but the terms of trade depend on when the negotiations begin. We characterize equilibria in terms of simply dynamical systems, and compare these outcomes with the myopic Nash bargaining solution. We illustrate the practicality of the approach with an application in monetary economics.

Two-Sided Search

We integrate search theory into an equilibrium framework in a new way and argue that the result is a simple but powerful tool for understanding many issues related to bilateral matching. We assume for much of what we do that utility is less than perfectly transferable. This turns out to generate multiple equilibria that do not arise in a standard model, with transferable utility, unless one adds increasing returns. We also provide simple conditions for uniqueness that apply to models with or without transferable utility or increasing returns. Examples, applications, and extensions are discussed.

Household Production and Taxation in the Stochastic Growth Model

We estimate a dynamic general equilibrium model of the U.S. economy that includes an explicit household production sector. We use these estimates to investigate two issues. First, we analyze how well the model accounts for aggregate fluctuations. Second, we use the model to study the effects of fiscal policy. We find household production has a significant impact, and reject a nested specification in which changes in the home production technology do not matter for market variables. The model generates very different predictions for the effects of tax changes than similar models without home production.

Putting Home Economics Into Macroeconomics

The implications of adding household production to an otherwise standard real business cycle model are explored in this article. The model developed treats the business and household sectors symmetrically. In particular, both sectors use capital and labor to produce output. The article finds that the household production model can outperform the standard model in accounting for several aspects of U.S. business cycle fluctuations.

Acceptability, Means of Payment, and Media of Exchange

This essay explains the use of fiat money, or why intrinsically useless objects are accepted as payment in transactions. People accept a particular object as a means of payment because others do: social conventions matter more than the intrinsic characteristics of the object itself. Not everything can become a fiat money, though. If an object is especially costly to hold, for example, it will not be accepted as a means of payment. This explanation of fiat money is illustrated in a simple theoretical economic model.
This essay was originally published in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance. It is reprinted in this journal with the permission of Macmillan Press and Stockton Press.

The Labor Market in Real Business Cycle Theory

The standard real business cycle model fails to adequately account for two facts found in the U.S. data: the fact that hours worked fluctuate considerably more than productivity and the fact that the correlation between hours worked and productivity is close to zero. In this paper, in a unified framework, the authors describe and analyze four extensions of the standard model, by introducing nonseparable leisure, indivisible labor, government spending, and household production.

The Labor Market Implications of Unemployment Insurance and Short-Time Compensation

Two types of unemployment insurance systems are studied. In one, unemployed workers receive benefits while those on reduced hours do not, as in North America (at least until recently). In the other, short-time compensation is paid to workers on reduced hours, as in Europe. With incomplete experience-rating of unemployment insurance taxes, the first system leads to inefficient temporary layoffs. The latter system does not lead to layoffs but does lead to inefficient hours per worker. Some cross-country evidence is presented regarding these effects. The implication of the analysis is that policy reform on the tax, not the benefit, side of the system is the best way to reduce the inefficiencies implied by both types of unemployment insurance.

Barter and Monetary Exchange Under Private Information

We analyze economies with private information concerning the quality of commodities. Without private information there is a nonmonetary equilibrium with only high quality commodities produced, and money cannot improve welfare. With private information there can be equilibria with bad quality commodities produced, and sometimes only nonmonetary equilibrium is degenerate. The use of money can lead to active (i.e., nondegenerate) equilibria when no active nonmonetary equilibrium exists. Even when active nonmonetary equilibria exist, with private information money can increase welfare via its incentive effects: in monetary equilibrium, agents may adopt trading strategies that discourage production of low quality output.

More on Money as a Medium of Exchange

We extend the analysis of Kiyotaki and Wright, who study an economy in which the different commodities that serve as media of exchange are determined endogenously. Kiyotaki and Wright consider only symmetric, steady-state, pure-strategy equilibria, and find that for some parameter values no such equilibria exist. We consider mixed-strategy equilibria and dynamic equilibria. We prove that a steady-state equilibrium exists for all parameter values and that the number of steady-state equilibria is generically finite. We also show, however, that there may be a continuum of dynamic equilibria. Further, some dynamic equilibria display cycles.

Why is Automobile Insurance in Philadelphia So Damn Expensive?

We document and attempt to explain the observation that automobile insurance premiums vary dramatically across local markets. We argue high premiums can be attributed to the large numbers of uninsured motorists in some cities, while at the same time, the uninsured motorists can be attributed to high premiums. We construct a simple noncooperative equilibrium model, where limited liability can generate inefficient equilibria with uninsured drivers and high, yet actuarially fair, premiums. For certain parameterizations, an optimal full insurance equilibrium and inefficient high price equilibria with uninsured drivers exist simultaneously, consistent with the observed price variability across seemingly similar cities.

Homework in Macroeconomics: Household Production and Aggregate Fluctuations

This paper explores some macroeconomic implications of including household production in an otherwise standard real business cycle model. We calibrate the model based on microeconomic evidence and long run considerations, simulate it, and examine its statistical properties Our finding is that introducing home production significantly improves the quantitative performance of the standard model along several dimensions. It also implies a very different interpretation of the nature of aggregate fluctuations.

A Discussion of Cooley and Hansen’s “Welfare Costs of Moderate Inflations”

This is a note on the analysis of inflation and taxation in Cooley and Hansen’s cash-in-advance economy described in their paper “The Welfare Costs of Moderate Inflations.” Basic issues concerning the costs and consequences of inflation are considered, their results are assessed, and some directions for extensions are suggested.

Indivisibilities, Lotteries and Sunspot Equilibria

We analyze economies with indivisible commodities. There are two reasons for doing so. First, we extend and provide new insights into sunspot equilibrium theory. Finite competitive economies with perfect markets and convex consumption sets do not allow sunspot equilibria; these same economies with nonconvex consumption sets do, and they have several properties that can never arise in convex environments. Second, we provide a reinterpretation of the employment lotteries used in contract theory and in macroeconomic models with indivisible labor. We show how socially optimal employment lotteries can be decentralized as competitive equilibria once sunspots are introduced.

A Note on Labor Contracts with Private Information and Household Production

A classic result in the theory of implicit contract models with asymmetric information is that “underemployment” results if and only if leisure is an inferior good. We introduce household production into the standard implicit contract model and show that we can have underemployment at the same time that leisure is a normal good.

A Contribution to the Pure Theory of Money

We analyze a general equilibrium model with search frictions and differentiated commodities. Because of the many differentiated commodities, barter is difficult because it requires a double coincidence of wants, and this provides a medium of exchange role for fiat money. We prove the existence of equilibrium with valued fiat money and show it is robust to certain changes in the environment, including imposing transactions costs, storage costs, and taxes on the use of money. Rate of return dominance, liquidity, and the potential welfare improving role of fiat money are discussed.