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Monetary policy mistakes and the evolution of inflation expectations

  • Athanasios Orphanides
  • John C. Williams

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 Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2010-12.

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Date of creation: 2010
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2010-12
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  1. Athanasios Orphanides, 2002. "Monetary policy rules and the Great Inflation," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2002-8, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2006. "Inflation Targeting Under Imperfect Knowledge," Working Papers Central Bank of Chile 398, Central Bank of Chile.
  3. Lindsey, David E. & Orphanides, Athanasios & Rasche, Robert H., 2013. "The Reform of October 1979: How It Happened and Why," Review, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, issue Nov, pages 487-542.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.).
  6. Orphanides, Athanasios, 2003. "The quest for prosperity without inflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(3), pages 633-663, April.
  7. Fabio Milani, 2005. "Expectations, Learning and Macroeconomic Persistence," Macroeconomics 0510022, EconWPA.
  8. Goodfriend, Marvin & King, Robert G., 2005. "The incredible Volcker disinflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(5), pages 981-1015, July.
  9. Orphanides, Athanasios & Williams, John C., 2004. "The decline of activist stabilization policy: Natural rate misperceptions, learning, and expectations," CFS Working Paper Series 2004/24, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  10. 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.).
  11. Levin, Andrew T. & Williams, John C., 2003. "Robust monetary policy with competing reference models," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 50(5), pages 945-975, July.
  12. Dean Croushore & Tom Stark, 1999. "A real-time data set for macroeconomists," Working Papers 99-4, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
  13. 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.
  14. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2003. "Imperfect Knowledge, Inflation Expectations, and Monetary Policy," NBER Working Papers 9884, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. 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.
  16. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2008. "Imperfect knowledge and the pitfalls of optimal control monetary policy," Working Paper Series 2008-09, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Dean Croushore, 1993. "Introducing: the survey of professional forecasters," Business Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, issue Nov, pages 3-15.
  20. 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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