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Why Is It So Hard to Measure the Current Output Gap?


  • Simon van Norden

    ((Bank of Canada))


In order for time series estimates of the output gap to be useful to policy makers, this paper argues that two factors will be critical. First, they must be able to produce an estimate of the current output gap based only on past information. Put another way, to evaluate the performance of such estimators, we should focus on their properties as _filters_ rather than _smoothers_. Second, the decomposition of actual output into potential output and the output gap must not be based on arbitrary assumptions about the time-series behaviour of these variables. In general, this leads to a multiplicity of possible solutions that may differ greatly in their policy implications. The arbitrary selection of one of these creates arbitrary policy advice. A trivial but flexible estimator of the output gap (dubbed TOFU) can be constructed which satisfies both of the above criteria. It estimates the output gap as part of a larger economic relationship. A discussion of its properties shows that except under very strict circumstances, such time series estimates will produce better estimates of the output gap ex post than they will ex ante. Furthermore, under certain conditions, contemporary and historical data will be of no use in estimating the output gap whatsoever. This in turn places limits on the extent to which time series methods can hope to improve upon structural estimates of the output gap.

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  • Simon van Norden, 1995. "Why Is It So Hard to Measure the Current Output Gap?," Macroeconomics 9506001, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpma:9506001 Note: 22 pages of text & 3 pages graphs. Text and Graphs in separate Postscript files. Files compressed in a single Info-zip archive, then uuencoded.

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Christopher A. Sims, 1986. "Are forecasting models usable for policy analysis?," Quarterly Review, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue Win, pages 2-16.
    2. Lippi, Marco & Reichlin, Lucrezia, 1994. "VAR analysis, nonfundamental representations, blaschke matrices," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 63(1), pages 307-325, July.
    3. Evans, George & Reichlin, Lucrezia, 1994. "Information, forecasts, and measurement of the business cycle," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(2), pages 233-254, April.
    4. Lippi, Marco & Reichlin, Lucrezia, 1993. "The Dynamic Effects of Aggregate Demand and Supply Disturbances: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 644-652, June.
    5. Setterfield, M. A. & Gordon, D. V. & Osberg, L., 1992. "Searching for a will o' the wisp : An empirical study of the NAIRU in Canada," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 36(1), pages 119-136, January.
    6. Lucas, Robert Jr, 1976. "Econometric policy evaluation: A critique," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-46, January.
    7. Alain DeSerres, & Alain Guay & Pierre St-Amant, "undated". "Estimating and Projecting Potential Output Using Structural VAR Methodology: The Case of the Mexican Economy," Staff Working Papers 95-2, Bank of Canada.
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    Cited by:

    1. Martha Misas & Enrique López, 2000. "La Utilización De La Capacidad Instalada De La Industria En Colombia: Un Nuevo Enfoque," ENSAYOS SOBRE POLÍTICA ECONÓMICA, BANCO DE LA REPÚBLICA - ESPE, vol. 18(38), pages 5-44, December.
    2. Dupasquier, Chantal & Guay, Alain & St-Amant, Pierre, 1999. "A Survey of Alternative Methodologies for Estimating Potential Output and the Output Gap," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 577-595, July.
    3. Ince, Onur & Papell, David H., 2013. "The (un)reliability of real-time output gap estimates with revised data," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 713-721.
    4. Alex Nikolsko‐Rzhevskyy, 2011. "Monetary Policy Estimation in Real Time: Forward‐Looking Taylor Rules without Forward‐Looking Data," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 43(5), pages 871-897, August.
    5. Tatiana Cesaroni, 2010. "Estimating potential output using business survey data in a svar framework," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 30(3), pages 2249-2258.
    6. Gonzalo Llosa & Shirley Miller, 2004. "Using Additional Information in Estimating the Output Gap in Peru: a Multivariate Unobserved Component Approach," Money Affairs, Centro de Estudios Monetarios Latinoamericanos, vol. 0(1), pages 57-82, January-J.
    7. Guay, A & St-Amant, P, 1996. "Do Mechanical Filters Provide a Good Approximation of Business Cycles?," Working Papers-Department of Finance Canada 1996-2, Department of Finance Canada.
    8. Gonzalo Llosa/Shirley Miller, 2004. "Using additional information in estimating output gap in Peru: a multivariate unobserved component approach," Econometric Society 2004 Latin American Meetings 243, Econometric Society.
    9. Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy, Alex, 2008. "Monetary Policy Evaluation in Real Time: Forward-Looking Taylor Rules Without Forward-Looking Data," MPRA Paper 11352, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    10. Galvao Ana Beatriz & Marcellino Massimiliano, 2014. "The effects of the monetary policy stance on the transmission mechanism," Studies in Nonlinear Dynamics & Econometrics, De Gruyter, vol. 18(3), pages 1-20, May.
    11. Razzak, W., 1997. "The Hodrick-Prescott technique: A smoother versus a filter: An application to New Zealand GDP," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 163-168, December.
    12. Yetman, James, 2003. "Probing potential output: Monetary policy, credibility, and optimal learning under uncertainty," Journal of Macroeconomics, Elsevier, vol. 25(3), pages 311-330, September.
    13. Adriana Fernandez & Evan F. Koenig & Alex Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy, 2008. "The relative performance of alternative Taylor rule specifications," Staff Papers, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, issue Jun.
    14. Paul Conway & Ben Hunt, 1997. "Estimating potential output: a semi-structural approach," Reserve Bank of New Zealand Discussion Paper Series G97/9, Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
    15. Alain Guay & Pierre Saint-Amant, 2005. "Do the Hodrick-Prescott and Baxter-King Filters Provide a Good Approximation of Business Cycles?," Annals of Economics and Statistics, GENES, issue 77, pages 133-155.
    16. Liu, Fei, 2011. "中国产出缺口的估计(1985-2009)及两种评估方法的比较
      [China's output gap estimates (1985-2009) and comparison of the two estimation methods]
      ," MPRA Paper 38785, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    17. Fernandez, Adriana Z. & Koenig, Evan F. & Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy, Alex, 2010. "Can alternative Taylor-rule specifications describe Federal Reserve policy decisions?," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 32(6), pages 733-757, November.
    18. Chantal Dupasquier & Alain Guay & Pierre St-Amant, 1997. "A Comparison of Alternative Methodologies for Estimating Potential Output and the Output Gap," Staff Working Papers 97-5, Bank of Canada.

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    • E - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics


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