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Inflation expectations, uncertainty and monetary policy


  • Christopher A Sims


Monetary economics as practiced by central bank modelers has made a great deal of progress in recent years. In a 2002 paper I interviewed research economists at four central banks and surveyed the models in use at those banks. I criticized the models for having lost all touch with statistical inference and with its connection to decision theory. I also criticized them for not following the rational expectations literature by jointly specifying and estimating the equations in their systems. And I pointed out that none of the models had a consistent treatment of asset markets. Since then many central banks, taking advantage of the new computational methods for Bayesian inference that economists are learning to use, have made substantial progress toward meeting the first two of these criticisms. They have still for the most part done little about the third. And academic economists are beginning to question some of the standard assumptions in the rational expectations framework that underlies these models. Recent events in financial markets, and the difficulties that they raise for central banks, make it painfully clear that even the frontier Bayesian DSGE models like that in use at the Swedish Riksbank do not model asset markets in any depth. But the problem goes beyond that: these models, and most academic macro models as well, assume a standard rational expectations framework: there is only one probability measure in play, the "true" probability measure from which nature draws realizations. Agents in the model form expectations using this true distribution, conditioning on information sets that consist of all information in the model dated t and earlier. It is well documented that people do not actually behave this way, and in the literature on behavioral finance there is some suggestion that deviations from this standardized assumption of rational behavior given a common probability distribution may be important. The recent events in financial markets - the dotcom boom, the US house price boom, perhaps the continuing commodity price boom - look to some observers like bubbles that must have fed off some sort of irrational behavior. Many observers think that monetary policy might have somehow fueled these bubble-like episodes in asset markets. These are important questions for monetary policy, and it is disturbing that the monetary policy models in use cannot even be used to pose these questions. In this paper I focus on two particular, and related, deviations from the assumption that all agents have the same probability distribution and that they optimally process all information available up to some date t. I consider the implications of agents' being able to process information only at a limited rate, and the implications of agents' assuming differing probability distriubions. This is part of a series of BIS Working Papers (273 to 278) collecting papers presented at the BIS's Seventh Annual Conference on "Whither monetary policy? Monetary policy challenges in the decade ahead" in Luzern, Switzerland, on 26-27 June 2008. The event brought together senior representatives of central banks and academic institutions to exchange views on this topic. BIS Paper 45 contains the opening address of William R White (BIS), the contributions of the policy panel on "Beyond price stability - the challenges ahead" and speeches by Edmund Phelps (Columbia University) and Martin Wolf (Financial Times). The participants in the policy panel discussion chaired by Malcolm D Knight (BIS) were Martin Feldstein (Harvard University), Stanley Fischer (Bank of Israel), Mark Carney (Bank of Canada) and Jean-Pierre Landau (Banque de France). This Working Paper includes comments by Athanasios Orphanides and Lars E O Svensson.

Suggested Citation

  • Christopher A Sims, 2009. "Inflation expectations, uncertainty and monetary policy," BIS Working Papers 275, Bank for International Settlements.
  • Handle: RePEc:bis:biswps:275

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Faust, Jon & Svensson, Lars E O, 2001. "Transparency and Credibility: Monetary Policy with Unobservable Goals," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 42(2), pages 369-397, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Oleg KITOV & Ivan KITOV, 2012. "Inflation And Unemployment In Switzerland: From 1970 To 2050," Journal of Applied Economic Sciences, Spiru Haret University, Faculty of Financial Management and Accounting Craiova, vol. 7(2(20)/ Su), pages 141-156.
    2. María del Carmen Ramos-Herrera & Simón Sosvilla-Rivero, 2013. "Inflation expectations in Spain: The Spanish PwC Survey," Cuadernos de Economía - Spanish Journal of Economics and Finance, ELSEVIER, vol. 36(101), pages 109-115, Agosto.
    3. Olivier Armantier & Wändi Bruine de Bruin & Giorgio Topa & Wilbert Klaauw & Basit Zafar, 2015. "Inflation Expectations And Behavior: Do Survey Respondents Act On Their Beliefs?," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 56, pages 505-536, May.
    4. Balazs VARGA & Zsolt DARVAS, "undated". "Time-Varying Coefficient Methods to Measure Inflation Persistence," EcoMod2010 259600167, EcoMod.
    5. Gbaguidi, David, 2012. "La courbe de Phillips : temps d’arbitrage et/ou arbitrage de temps," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 88(1), pages 87-119, mars.
    6. Buncic, Daniel & Lentner, Philipp, 2016. "The term structure of interest rates in an estimated New Keynesian policy model," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 126-150.
    7. repec:fip:fednep:00044 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Lena Draeger & Michael J. Lamla, 2015. "Disagreement à la Taylor: Evidence from Survey Microdata," KOF Working papers 15-380, KOF Swiss Economic Institute, ETH Zurich.
    9. Barnea, Emanuel & Landskroner, Yoram & Sokoler, Meir, 2015. "Monetary policy and financial stability in a banking economy: Transmission mechanism and policy tradeoffs," Journal of Financial Stability, Elsevier, vol. 18(C), pages 78-90.
    10. Baker, Steven D. & Hollifield, Burton & Osambela, Emilio, 2016. "Disagreement, speculation, and aggregate investment," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 119(1), pages 210-225.
    11. Armantier, Olivier & Topa, Giorgio & Van der Klaauw, Wilbert & Zafar, Basit, 2017. "An overview of the Survey of Consumer Expectations," Economic Policy Review, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, issue 23-2, pages 51-72.
    12. Piero Ferri, 2011. "Macroeconomics of Growth Cycles and Financial Instability," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 14260.
    13. Bodo Herzog, 2015. "Anchoring of expectations: The role of credible targets in a game experiment," Journal of Economic and Financial Studies (JEFS), LAR Center Press, vol. 3(6), pages 1-15, December.


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