A Thought Experiment On Why Wages Are So Weak

This does not necessarily stop you from raising rates, but you are faced with a dilemma. If raising rates is effective you end up with the downturn you wanted to avoid, if raising rates is ineffective you are fooling
yourself in thinking that the margin versus the zero bound means that you are all clear in the next downturn. Being able to raise policy rates to three percent without tanking the economy very likely means that you can cut them in the next recession, you won’t have much of an impact. Hawks would argue that reducing the risk of a financial market bubble reduces the risk of a recession down the road.

It seems to me that whichever way you turn, fiscal policy has to be taken out of the doghouse. Post election, Fed officials reversed their pre-election love affair with fiscal policy, arguing that the economy does not need it. One might say that if the inflation undershoot turns out to be persistent, fiscal policy will become even more necessary to offset structural pressures. And if you think that high liquidity is contributing to asset market ebullience, then a bit of fiscal stimulus combined with monetary tightening can maintain activity and unwind some of the asset market pressures.

Modest long-term price pressures are probably positive on the fixed income side. Long-term disinflationary pressures and modest investment will keep downward pressure on long-term bond yields even if the Fed tightens at the short end in response to fiscal policy. The use of fiscal likely means being more relaxed about the size of the balance sheet. Debt-to-GDP would have to grow both cyclically and structurally, but debt servicing may not grow very rapidly because of the low inflation and the Fed’s interest income being recycled back to the Treasury. Short-term policy rates may swing around a lot versus stable but relatively low long-term rates.

The central bank could take a hard line and maintain or shrink the balance sheet even as fiscal expansion was put in place. Still, it would hardly help macroeconomic stabilization if government finances were called into question, so willy-nilly it is likely that the balance sheet would absorb some of the debt incurred via fiscal policy.

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