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Why are real interest rates so low? Secular stagnation and the relative price of investment goods

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  • Gregory Thwaites

    (Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM))

Abstract

Over the past four decades, real interest rates have risen then fallen across the industrialised world. Over the same period, nominal investment rates are down, while house prices and household debt are up. I explain these four trends with a fifth - the widespread fall in the relative price of investment goods. I present a simple closed-economy OLG model in which households finance retirement in part by selling claims on the corporate sector (capital goods) accumulated over their working lives. As capital goods prices fall, the interest rate must fall to reflect capital losses. And in the long run, a given quantity of saving buys more capital goods. This has ambiguous effects on interest rates in the long run: if the production function is inelastic, in line with most estimates in the literature, interest rates stay low even after relative prices have stopped falling. Lower interest rates reduce the user cost of housing, raising house prices and, given that housing is bought early in life, increasing household debt. I extend the model to allow for a heterogeneous bequest motive, and show that wealth inequality rises but consumption inequality falls. I test the model on cross-country data and find support for its assumptions and predictions. The analysis in this paper shows recent debates on macroeconomic imbalances and household and government indebtedness in a new light. In particular, low real interest rates may be the new normal. The debt of the young provides an alternative outlet for the retirement savings of the old; preventing the accumulation of debt, for example through macroprudential policy, leads to a bigger fall in interest rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory Thwaites, 2014. "Why are real interest rates so low? Secular stagnation and the relative price of investment goods," Discussion Papers 1428, Centre for Macroeconomics (CFM).
  • Handle: RePEc:cfm:wpaper:1428
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    1. Socializing investment
      by chris in Stumbling and Mumbling on 2016-10-07 17:49:18

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    Cited by:

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    2. Dilian Vassilev, 2020. "Secular stagnation – the origin of the concept, a review of the scientific literature and the nature of the academic debate," Economic Thought journal, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences - Economic Research Institute, issue 2, pages 137-158.
    3. Sergio de Ferra, 2017. "External Imbalances, Gross Capital Flows and Sovereign Debt Crises," 2017 Meeting Papers 726, Society for Economic Dynamics.
    4. Rana Sajedi & Gregory Thwaites, 2016. "Why Are Real Interest Rates So Low? The Role of the Relative Price of Investment Goods," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 64(4), pages 635-659, November.
    5. Harashima, Taiji, 2018. "Why Are Inflation and Real Interest Rates So Low? A Mechanism of Low and Floating Real Interest and Inflation Rates," MPRA Paper 84311, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Spahn, Peter, 2016. "Population growth, saving, interest rates and stagnation: Discussing the Eggertsson-Mehrotra model," Hohenheim Discussion Papers in Business, Economics and Social Sciences 04-2016, University of Hohenheim, Faculty of Business, Economics and Social Sciences.
    7. Neri, Stefano & Gerali, Andrea, 2019. "Natural rates across the Atlantic," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C).
    8. Alexius, Annika, 2017. "Why are real interest rates so low? Evidence from a structural VAR with sign restrictions," Research Papers in Economics 2017:6, Stockholm University, Department of Economics.
    9. Robin Döttling & Enrico Perotti, 2015. "Mortgage Finance and Technological Change," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 15-079/IV, Tinbergen Institute.
    10. Gauti B. Eggertsson & Neil R. Mehrotra & Jacob A. Robbins, 2019. "A Model of Secular Stagnation: Theory and Quantitative Evaluation," American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 1-48, January.
    11. MIYAGAWA Tsutomu & TAKIZAWA Miho & TONOGI Konomi, 2016. "Declining Rate of Return on Capital and the Role of Intangibles in Japan," Discussion papers 16051, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    12. Enrico Sergio Levrero, 2021. "Estimates of the Natural Rate of Interest and the Stance of Monetary Policies: A Critical Assessment," International Journal of Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 50(1), pages 5-27, February.
    13. Darius Kulikauskas, 2015. "Measuring fundamental housing prices in the Baltic States: empirical approach," ERES eres2015_31, European Real Estate Society (ERES).
    14. Guido Baldi & Patrick Harms, 2017. "The Natural Rate of Interest and Secular Stagnation," DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus 110, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • E13 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General Aggregative Models - - - Neoclassical
    • E22 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Consumption, Saving, Production, Employment, and Investment - - - Investment; Capital; Intangible Capital; Capacity
    • E43 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Interest Rates: Determination, Term Structure, and Effects
    • E60 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Macroeconomic Policy, Macroeconomic Aspects of Public Finance, and General Outlook - - - General

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