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Monetary Policy Mistakes and the Evolution of Inflation Expectations

  • Athanasios Orphanides
  • John 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 high and highly volatile inflation during the 1970s. Finally, we show that a strategy of following a robust first-difference policy rule would have been highly effective at stabilizing inflation and unemployment 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 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17080.

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Date of creation: May 2011
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Monetary Policy Mistakes and the Evolution of Inflation Expectations , Athanasios Orphanides, John C. Williams. in The Great Inflation: The Rebirth of Modern Central Banking , Bordo and Orphanides. 2013
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17080
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  1. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2004. "The decline of activist stabilization policy: natural rate misperceptions, learning, and expectations," International Finance Discussion Papers 804, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Athanasios Orphanides & John Williams, 2004. "Imperfect Knowledge, Inflation Expectations, and Monetary Policy," NBER Chapters, in: The Inflation-Targeting Debate, pages 201-246 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Lindsay, David E. & Orphanides, Athanasios & Rasche, Robert H., 2004. "The reform of October 1979: How it happened and why," CFS Working Paper Series 2005/01, Center for Financial Studies (CFS).
  4. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2006. "Inflation Targeting under Imperfect Knowledge," Computing in Economics and Finance 2006 38, Society for Computational Economics.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Croushore, Dean & Stark, Tom, 2001. "A real-time data set for macroeconomists," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 105(1), pages 111-130, November.
  8. Athanasios Orphanides, 2002. "Monetary-Policy Rules and the Great Inflation," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(2), pages 115-120, May.
  9. 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.
  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. Milani, Fabio, 2007. "Expectations, learning and macroeconomic persistence," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(7), pages 2065-2082, October.
  12. Athanasios Orphanides & John C. Williams, 2009. "Imperfect Knowledge and the Pitfalls of Optimal Control Monetary Policy," Central Banking, Analysis, and Economic Policies Book Series, in: Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel & Carl E. Walsh & Norman Loayza (Series Editor) & Klaus Schmidt-Hebbel (Series (ed.), Monetary Policy under Uncertainty and Learning, edition 1, volume 13, chapter 4, pages 115-144 Central Bank of Chile.
  13. Orphanides, Athanasios, 2000. "The quest for prosperity without inflation," Working Paper Series 0015, European Central Bank.
  14. Wiliam Branch & George W. Evans, 2005. "A Simple Recursive Forecasting Model," University of Oregon Economics Department Working Papers 2005-3, University of Oregon Economics Department, revised 01 Feb 2005.
  15. Goodfriend, Marvin & King, Robert G., 2005. "The incredible Volcker disinflation," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 52(5), pages 981-1015, July.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  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. 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.).
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