Systematic risk

Central Banks and Systematic Risks

Modern economies are built by businesses that take risk. As Edison’s defense suggests, successful risk-takers need scope to experiment without distraction. Economies lacking institutions to support risk-taking are prone to stagnation.

By securing economic and financial stability, central banks play a key role in promoting the risk-taking that is fundamental to innovation and capital formation. On rare occasions, it is officials’  bold willingness to do “whatever it takes” that does the job. More often, it is a series of moderate, gradual actions. Yet, even then, the understanding that the central bank has the broad capacity to act—and, when necessary, to do so without limit—is a key factor underpinning the stability of the system...

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Connect the Dots

How and what should the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) communicate to make monetary policy most effective? That is the question addressed by this year’s U.S. Monetary Policy Forum report (Language After Liftoff: Fed Communication Away from the Zero Lower Bound).

Over the past two decades, the FOMC has made enormous strides in promoting transparency. In sharp contrast to most of its previous history, the Fed now emphasizes that transparency enhances the effectiveness of monetary policy.

Yet, central bank communication is a work in progress. And, as the new USMPF report argues, there remains scope for improvement. In our view, the simplest and most useful change that the authors recommend, and that the Fed could implement—immediately and without cost—is to “connect the dots:” that is, to link (while maintaining anonymity) the published interest rate forecasts of each FOMC participant that appear in the quarterly “dot plot” (found in the Summary of Economic Projections, or SEP) to that same person’s projections of inflation, unemployment, and economic growth.

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Financial Innovation and Risk Management

In 2013, Robert Shiller shared the Nobel Prize for Economics with Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen for their research on asset pricing. While Shiller is known as a critic of the efficient markets hypothesis and as a proponent of behavioral finance, less appreciated is his work on advancing financial technology to help societies manage fundamental economic risks.

At a time when the recent crisis has given financial innovation a bad name, Shiller’s contrarian message is that well-designed financial instruments and markets are an enormous boon to social welfare. We agree.

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Post hoc, ergo propter hoc?

On the occasion of the Fed’s Jackson Hole Symposium, the New York Sun published an editorial attacking central banking and fiat money. Let’s get this out of the way at the start: we are big fans of both. In our view, the world is a more stable and prosperous place with central banks than it was without them. And fiat money allows a central bank to stabilize the price of goods and services that would be quite volatile if, instead, we chose to steady the price of gold (the Sun’s apparent favorite). The result is higher growth from which we all benefit.

We also like tabloids. They’re fun. Our main problem with the Sun’s piece is its all-too-common mode of argument.

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Monetary policy target regimes: inflation, price level, nominal GDP, etc.

Should central banks target inflation, the price level or nominal GDP? The question of the appropriate policy target has been a subject of analysis at least since the 1980s and has become a matter of intense debate (see here and here) for the past several years. Many proponents of price-level or nominal GDP targeting share the idea that – by credibly committing to make up the shortfalls in the price level or in nominal GDP relative to the pre-crisis trend – policymakers could drive down the current real interest rate and accelerate the economic recovery.

Looking at where we are today, what would this mean?
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