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A defense of moderation in monetary policy

  • John C. Williams

This paper examines the implications of uncertainty about the effects of monetary policy for optimal monetary policy with an application to the current situation. Using a stylized macroeconomic model, I derive optimal policies under uncertainty for both conventional and unconventional monetary policies. According to an estimated version of this model, the U.S. economy is currently suffering from a large and persistent adverse demand shock. Optimal monetary policy absent uncertainty would quickly restore real GDP close to its potential level and allow the inflation rate to rise temporarily above the longer-run target. By contrast, the optimal policy under uncertainty is more muted in its response. As a result, output and inflation return to target levels only gradually. This analysis highlights three important insights for monetary policy under uncertainty. First, even in the presence of considerable uncertainty about the effects of monetary policy, the optimal policy nevertheless responds strongly to shocks: uncertainty does not imply inaction. Second, one cannot simply look at point forecasts and judge whether policy is optimal. Indeed, once one recognizes uncertainty, some moderation in monetary policy may well be optimal. Third, in the context of multiple policy instruments, the optimal strategy is to rely on the instrument associated with the least uncertainty and use alternative, more uncertain instruments only when the least uncertain instrument is employed to its fullest extent possible.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco in its series Working Paper Series with number 2013-15.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedfwp:2013-15
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  1. Svensson, Lars E.O., 1997. "Inflation Forecast Targeting: Implementing and Monitoring Inflation Targets," Seminar Papers 615, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  2. Wieland, Volker, 1999. "Monetary policy, parameter uncertainty and optimal learning," ZEI Working Papers B 09-1999, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  3. Michael T. Kiley, 2012. "The aggregate demand effects of short- and long-term interest rates," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2012-54, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  4. Soderstrom, Ulf, 2002. " Monetary Policy with Uncertain Parameters," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 104(1), pages 125-45.
  5. Woodford, Michael, 2013. "Forward Guidance by Inflation-Targeting Central Banks," CEPR Discussion Papers 9722, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  6. Craine, Roger, 1979. "Optimal monetary policy with uncertainty," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 59-83, February.
  7. David Reifschneider & John C. Williams, 1999. "Three lessons for monetary policy in a low inflation era," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-44, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  8. Svensson, Lars E.O. & Rudebusch , Glenn, 1998. "Policy Rules for Inflation Targeting," Seminar Papers 637, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  9. Thomas Laubach & John C. Williams, 2003. "Measuring the Natural Rate of Interest," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 1063-1070, November.
  10. Baumeister, Christiane & Benati, Luca, 2010. "Unconventional monetary policy and the great recession - Estimating the impact of a compression in the yield spread at the zero lower bound," Working Paper Series 1258, European Central Bank.
  11. Vasco Curdia & Andrea Ferrero & Han Chen, 2012. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Large-Scale Asset Purchase Programs," 2012 Meeting Papers 372, Society for Economic Dynamics.
  12. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2005. "Monetary policy with imperfect knowledge," Working Paper Series 2005-17, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  13. Rochelle M. Edge & Thomas Laubach & John C. Williams, 2007. "Welfare-maximizing monetary policy under parameter uncertainty," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2007-56, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  14. Robert J. Tetlow & Peter von zur Muehlen, 2000. "Robust monetary policy with misspecified models: does model uncertainty always call for attenuated policy?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2000-28, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  15. Glenn D. Rudebusch, 1999. "Is the Fed too timid? Monetary policy in an uncertain world," Working Papers in Applied Economic Theory 99-05, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  16. Charles Goodhart, 1998. "Central Bankers and Uncertainty," FMG Special Papers sp106, Financial Markets Group.
  17. John C. Williams, 1999. "Simple rules for monetary policy," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-12, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  18. Canlin Li & Min Wei, 2013. "Term Structure Modeling with Supply Factors and the Federal Reserve's Large-Scale Asset Purchase Progarms," International Journal of Central Banking, International Journal of Central Banking, vol. 9(1), pages 3-39, March.
  19. Glenn D. Rudebusch & John C. Williams, 2006. "Revealing the secrets of the temple: the value of publishing central bank interest rate projections," Working Paper Series 2006-31, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  20. John C. Williams, 2012. "The Federal Reserve’s unconventional policies," FRBSF Economic Letter, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue nov13.
  21. Sack, Brian, 2000. "Does the fed act gradually? A VAR analysis," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 229-256, August.
  22. John C. Williams, 2011. "Unconventional monetary policy: lessons from the past three years," Speech 92, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
  23. Giannoni, Marc P., 2002. "Does Model Uncertainty Justify Caution? Robust Optimal Monetary Policy In A Forward-Looking Model," Macroeconomic Dynamics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 6(01), pages 111-144, February.
  24. John C. Williams & Andrew T. Levin, 2003. "Parameter Uncertainty and the Central Bank's Objective Function," Computing in Economics and Finance 2003 215, Society for Computational Economics.
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