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What's happened to the Phillips curve?

Author

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  • Flint Brayton
  • John M. Roberts
  • John C. Williams

Abstract

The simultaneous occurrence in the second half of the 1990s of low and falling price inflation and low unemployment appears to be at odds with the properties of a standard Phillips curve. We find this result in a model in which inflation depends on the unemployment rate, past inflation, and conventional measures of price supply shocks. We show that, in such a model, long lags of past inflation are preferred to short lags, and that with long lags, the NAIRU is estimated precisely but is unstable in the 1990s. Two alternative modifications to the standard Phillips curve restore stability. One replaces the unemployment rate with capacity utilization. Although this change leads to more accurate inflation predictions in the recent period, the predictive ability of the utilization rate is not superior to that of the unemployment rate for the 1955 to 1998 sample as a whole. The second, and preferred, modification augments the standard Phillips curve to include an \"error-correction\" mechanism involving the markup of prices over trend unit labor costs. With the markup relatively high through much of the 1990s, this channel is estimated to have held down inflation over this period, and thus provides an explanation of the recent low inflation.

Suggested Citation

  • Flint Brayton & John M. Roberts & John C. Williams, 1999. "What's happened to the Phillips curve?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 1999-49, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  • Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:1999-49
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 1997. "Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number rome97-1, May.
    2. Robert J. Gordon, 1997. "The Time-Varying NAIRU and Its Implications for Economic Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 11-32, Winter.
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    4. Stock, James H. & Watson, Mark W., 1999. "Forecasting inflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(2), pages 293-335, October.
    5. Douglas Staiger & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1997. "The NAIRU, Unemployment and Monetary Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 33-49, Winter.
    6. Douglas O. Staiger & James H. Stock & Mark W. Watson, 1997. "How Precise Are Estimates of the Natural Rate of Unemployment?," NBER Chapters, in: Reducing Inflation: Motivation and Strategy, pages 195-246, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    8. Andrews, Donald W K & Ploberger, Werner, 1994. "Optimal Tests When a Nuisance Parameter Is Present Only under the Alternative," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(6), pages 1383-1414, November.
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    Keywords

    Phillips curve; Inflation (Finance); Econometric models;
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