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Monetary Policy Mistakes and the Evolution of Inflation Expectations

  • Athanasios Orphanides


    (Central Bank of Cyprus)

  • John C. Williams


    (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco)

What monetary policy framework, if adopted by the Federal Reserve, would have avoided the Great Inflation of the 1960s and 1970s? We use counterfactual simulations of an estimated model of the U.S. economy to evaluate alternative monetary policy strategies. We show that policies constructed using modern optimal control techniques aimed at stabilizing inflation, economic activity, and interest rates would have succeeded in achieving a high degree of economic stability as well as price stability only if the Federal Reserve had possessed excellent information regarding the structure of the economy or if it had acted as if it placed relatively low weight on stabilizing the real economy. Neither condition held true. We document that policymakers at the time both had an overly optimistic view of the natural rate of unemployment and put a high priority on achieving full employment. We show that in the presence of realistic informational imperfections and with an emphasis on stabilizing economic activity, an optimal control approach would have failed to keep inflation expectations well anchored, resulting in highly volatile inflation during the 1970s. Finally, we show that a strategy of following a robust first-difference policy rule would have been highly successful in the presence of informational imperfections. This robust monetary policy rule yields simulated outcomes that are close to those seen during the period of the Great Moderation starting in the mid-1980s.

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Paper provided by Central Bank of Cyprus in its series Working Papers with number 2010-2.

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Length: 47 pages
Date of creation: May 2010
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cyb:wpaper:2010-2
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  1. David E. Lindsey & Athanasios Orphanides & Robert H. Rasche, 2005. "The reform of October 1979: how it happened and why," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Mar, pages 187-236.
  2. Andrew T. Levin & John C. Williams, 2003. "Robust monetary policy with competing reference models," Working Paper Series 2003-10, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  3. Orphanides, Athanasios & Williams, John C., 2003. "Imperfect knowledge, inflation expectations, and monetary policy," CFS Working Paper Series 2003/40, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  4. Herbert Stein, 1996. "A Successful Accident: Recollections and Speculations about the CEA," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 3-21, Summer.
  5. Orphanides, Athanasios, 2000. "The quest for prosperity without inflation," Working Paper Series 0015, European Central Bank.
  6. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2003. "Robust monetary policy rules with unknown natural rates," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2003-11, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  7. Orphanides, Athanasios & Williams, John C, 2006. "Inflation Targeting under Imperfect Knowledge," CEPR Discussion Papers 5664, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Fabio Milani, 2005. "Expectations, Learning and Macroeconomic Persistence," Working Papers 050608, University of California-Irvine, Department of Economics.
  9. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2008. "Imperfect Knowledge and the Pitfalls of Optimal Control Monetary Policy," Working Papers 2008-5, Central Bank of Cyprus.
  10. Franco Modigliani & Lucas Papademos, 1975. "Targets for Monetary Policy in the Coming Year," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 6(1), pages 141-166.
  11. Athanasios Orphanides, 2002. "Monetary-Policy Rules and the Great Inflation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 115-120, May.
  12. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2003. "The decline of activist stabilization policy: natural rate misperceptions, learning, and expectations," Working Paper Series 2003-24, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  13. Branch, William A. & Evans, George W., 2006. "A simple recursive forecasting model," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 91(2), pages 158-166, May.
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  15. Kalchbrenner, J H & Tinsley, Peter A, 1976. "On the Use of Feedback Control in the Design of Aggregate Monetary Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 66(2), pages 349-55, May.
  16. Robert J. Tetlow, 2010. "Real-time model uncertainty in the United States: 'Robust' policies put to the test," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2010-15, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  17. Dean Croushore & Tom Stark, 1999. "A real-time data set for macroeconomists," Working Papers 99-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  18. Marvin Goodfriend & Robert G. King, 2005. "The Incredible Volcker Disinflation," Boston University - Department of Economics - Macroeconomics Working Papers Series WP2005-007, Boston University - Department of Economics.
  19. Marc P. Giannoni & Michael Woodford, 2003. "Optimal Inflation Targeting Rules," NBER Working Papers 9939, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  20. Schmidt-Hebbel, Klaus & Tapia, Matias, 2002. "Inflation targeting in Chile," The North American Journal of Economics and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 13(2), pages 125-146, August.
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