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Further Evidence on the Distributional Effects of Disinflationary Monetary Policy


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  • Willem Thorbecke

    (The Jerome Levy Economics Institute)


The performance of the U.S. economy between 1994 and 1998 was so good that some pundits began to call for the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates to depress economic activity and reduce asset prices. Using a combination of methods the author argues that slowing the economy to stabilize asset prices would have adverse distributional effects. Impulse-response functions from the VAR indicate that unexpected increases in the federal funds rate increase unemployment among blacks and Hispanics by 50 to 90 percent more than among whites. Applying the narrative approach to two disinflationary periods, the author shows that higher interest rates in the 1974 disinflation decimated the housing industry, and that two interest rate sensitive sectors–construction and durable goods–showed the largest declines in 1980 and 1981 (periods following the 1979 tightening). Utilizing the Romer and Romer approach and examining the minutes of Federal Open Market Committee meetings to determine dates on which the Fed attempted to create a recession to reduce inflation, the author estimates that antiinflationary policy shocks increase unemployment among nonwhites more than twice as much as it does among whites. A social accounting matrix (SAM) is then used to examine the effects of disinflationary policy on various socioeconomic groups. In both of the two sectors that were hardest hit by recession following the 1974–1975 and 1979–1982 disinflations (construction and durable goods), blue-collar workers were harmed more than other workers in terms of lost income. In both industries urban households were hurt much more than rural households. The author concludes that minorities bear the brunt of disinflationary policy and will not share proportionately in the benefits of keeping the stock market stable, a factor that the Fed should take into account when contemplating actions aimed at stabilizing asset markets.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by EconWPA in its series Macroeconomics with number 9904001.

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Length: 34 pages
Date of creation: 05 Apr 1999
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Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9904001

Note: Type of Document - Acrobat PDF; prepared on IBM PC; to print on PostScript; pages: 34; figures: included
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  1. Roland-Holst, D.W. & Sancho, F., 1991. "Ralative Income Determination in the United States: A Social Accounting Perspective," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 188.92, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  2. Eric M. Leeper & Christopher A. Sims & Tao Zha, 1996. "What Does Monetary Policy Do?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 27(2), pages 1-78.
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Cited by:
  1. Katharine L. Bradbury, 2000. "Rising tide in the labor market: to what degree do expansions benefit the disadvantaged?," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue May, pages 3-33.
  2. Yolanda K. Kodrzycki, 2000. "Discouraged and other marginally attached workers: evidence on their role in the labor market," New England Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, issue May, pages 35-40.


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