Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Fed Needs To Get Ahead of the Eurozone Crisis

Brad DeLong says what I have been thinking for some time:
Where is my fed announcement that it will not let chaos in Europe cause a double dip here?
Exactly.  The Fed needs to be proactive not reactive, otherwise it risks making the same mistakes it made in 2008.  Here is what I said along these same lines earlier this year:
Nick Rowe is concerned that the collapse of the Eurozone could lead to another Lehman-type event for the global financial system.  He is also wondering what central banks should be doing in preparation for such an event.  Nick is not the only one concerned.  Others have expressed concerned that financial contagion could arise from credit default swaps on Greek bonds or U.S. money market funds that are indirectly linked to the Greek economy through investments in the core Eurozone countries.  Even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke expressed concern in his last press conference about the indirect exposure the U.S. economy has to Greek crisis:
 Answering a question during Wednesday's press conference about the U.S. financial system's exposure to Greece's problems, Bernanke went to great lengths to explain how U.S. institutions had very little "direct exposure" to Greece but considerable "indirect exposure" via their loans to European banks that have loaned to Greece. He drew attention to U.S. money market funds' "very substantial" holdings of European bank-issued commercial paper, which others have estimated to represent a whopping 40% of their assets
[M]emories of the chaos that followed the demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008 are strong and tend to color how investors, including U.S. money funds, respond to troubling events, such as the Greek crisis...The fear is that a default by Greece or a disorderly restructuring of the nation's debt could create contagion in the bond markets of other troubled sovereigns, thereby doing damage to the balance sheets of banks that have loaned to those governments. This could then raise fears about counterparty credit risks in short-term lending markets and, in a worst-case scenario, the paralysis of this vital source of bank funding. 
So what can the Fed do? Here is a suggestion: the Fed could say if total current dollar spending begins to plummet because concerns about the financial system are causing investors to rapidly buy up safe money-like assets (time and saving accounts, money market accounts, treasuries, etc.) then the Fed would begin buying up less-safe and less-liquid assets until the investors' demand for money-like assets is satiated such that they return total current dollar spending to its previous level. The Fed would need to stress the "until" part means it would purchase as many trillions of dollars of assets as necessary to restore total current dollar spending. Since this  process would take place over time, the Fed would also want to set a target growth rate for where it wanted the level of total current dollar spending to go.    

If the above sounds reasonable to you, then you should be a fan of nominal GDP level targeting.  It is exactly what the U.S. economy needed in early 2008 when inflation expectations and velocity started falling.  And it is exactly what the  U.S. economy needs now. 
We now have two good reasons for the Fed to adopt a nominal GDP level target: one, it would restore robust nominal spending growth to the U.S. economy and two, it would better insulate the U.S. economy from the Eurozone crisis.  Time is of the essence, act now!


  1. I wonder if the eurozone makes sense. If the Greeks had the drachma, and their debts were in drachmas, they could inflate their way out this mess. Sure, better spending and tax policies are necessary, but to solve the immediate crisis, a boatload of fresh drachmas would help.

    Nobody could expect a Greek default if they could print more money. They might expect falling bond values. They might ask for higher interest rates on new bonds.

    And so the Fed needs to act aggressively and boldly, as Beckworth says.

    Where is Chuck Norris? At this point, Tiny Tim would be more aggressive than Bernanke.

  2. The new Greek PM's course syllabus last spring at Harvard. Maybe it'd be better if he were a central banker. But somewhat reassuring that a eurozone PM will be that well-read.