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Imperfect Knowledge and the Pitfalls of Optimal Control Monetary Policy

In: Monetary Policy under Uncertainty and Learning

  • Athanasios Orphanides

    (Central Bank of Cyprus)

  • John C. Williams

    (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)

This paper examines the robustness characteristics of optimal control policies derived under the assumption of rational expectations to alternative models of expectations formation and uncertainty about the natural rates of interest and unemployment. We assume that agents have imperfect knowledge about the precise structure of the economy and form expectations using a forecasting model that they continuously update based on incoming data. We also allow for central bank uncertainty regarding the natural rates of interest and unemployment. We find that the optimal control policy derived under the assumption of perfect knowledge about the structure of the economy can perform poorly when knowledge is imperfect. These problems are exacerbated by natural rate uncertainty, even when the central bank's estimates of natural rates are efficient. We show that the optimal control approach can be made more robust to the presence of imperfect knowledge by deemphasizing the stabilization of real economic activity and interest rates relative to inflation in the central bank loss function. That is, robustness to the presence of imperfect knowledge about the economy provides an incentive to employ a "conservative" central banker. We then examine two types of simple monetary policy rules from the literature that have been found to be robust to model misspecification in other contexts. We find that these policies are robust to the alternative models of learning that we study and natural rate uncertainty and outperform the optimal control policy and generally perform as well as the robust optimal control policy that places less weight on stabilizing economic activity and interest rates.

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This chapter was published in: Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel & Carl E. Walsh & Norman Loayza (Series Editor) & Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel (Series Editor) (ed.) Monetary Policy under Uncertainty and Learning, , chapter 4, pages 115-144, 2009.
This item is provided by Central Bank of Chile in its series Central Banking, Analysis, and Economic Policies Book Series with number v13c04pp115-144.
Handle: RePEc:chb:bcchsb:v13c04pp115-144
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  1. Andrew Levin & Volker Wieland & John C. Williams, 1998. "Robustness of simple monetary policy rules under model uncertainty," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1998-45, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Lars Svensson & Noah Williams, 2005. "Monetary Policy with Model Uncertainty: Distribution Forecast Targeting," NBER Working Papers 11733, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Taylor, John B., 1998. "The Robustness and Efficiency of Monetary Policy Rules as Guidelines for Interest Rate Setting by the European Central Bank," Seminar Papers 649, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  4. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2006. "Inflation Targeting Under Imperfect Knowledge," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 398, Central Bank of Chile.
  5. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2002. "Robust Monetary Policy Rules with Unknown Natural Rates," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 33(2), pages 63-146.
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  8. Levin, Andrew & Wieland, Volker & Williams, John C., 2003. "The performance of forecast-based monetary policy rules under model uncertainty," CFS Working Paper Series 2003/06, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  9. Thomas Laubach, 2001. "Measuring The NAIRU: Evidence From Seven Economies," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 218-231, May.
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  11. Marc Giannoni & Michael Woodford, 2004. "Optimal Inflation-Targeting Rules," NBER Chapters, in: The Inflation-Targeting Debate, pages 93-172 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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  13. Athanasios Orphanides & Simon van Norden, 1999. "The reliability of output gap estimates in real time," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-38, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  14. John C. Williams, 2003. "Simple rules for monetary policy," Economic Review, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, pages 1-12.
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  21. Svensson, Lars O & Tetlow, Robert J, 2005. "Optimal Policy Projections," MPRA Paper 839, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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  24. Thomas Laubach & John C. Williams, 2001. "Measuring the natural rate of interest," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2001-56, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  25. Timothy Cogley & Thomas Sargent, . "Evolving Post-World War II U.S. Inflation Dynamics," Working Papers 2132872, Department of Economics, W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University.
  26. Rogoff, Kenneth, 1985. "The Optimal Degree of Commitment to an Intermediate Monetary Target," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 100(4), pages 1169-89, November.
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  28. Mccallum, Bennet T., 1988. "Robustness properties of a rule for monetary policy," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 173-203, January.
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