Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Quantitative Easing the Right Policy

The Fed's recent announcement of pursuing additional Quantitative Easing--now called QEinfinity by some or QEp (p for perpetual)--keeps monetary policy in the foreground.  Scott Sumner is the best known advocate of nominal GDP targeting--the idea the Fed should target a nominal rate of GDP growth, perhaps 5%, with the idea that ultimately it will help get to 3% real GDP growth.  Tyler Cowen in his Marginal Revolution blog has several good posts on it.  He supports the idea but is concerned about the linkages that will or should or might lead to the growth of real GDP.  Today's Wall Street Journal has an op-ed piece that claims the easy money of the Fed is punishing the middle class.  It is worth a read.

I am less certain about nominal GDP targeting as the cure. Like Cowen, it can sound rather mechanical.  Whether one agrees with the op-ed piece I cite above, it is clear that easy money is punishing savers, including most retirees.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is China a Case for Stimulus?

Is China an example of fiscal stimulus successfully maintaining a growing economy? Tyler Cowen and Matt Yglesias offer contrasting opinons.  (A link to Cowens which also links Yglesias' blog is here.)  Cowen argues that the spending has been riddled with malinvestments and influenced by corruption so helps demonstrate an important problem with massive stimulus programs. Yglesias counters with the argument that no sector has lower productivity than the unemployment sector, so that even malinvestments are better than no investments.  He also states that no one in China is debating whether the typical household is better off than it was four years ago.

But Yglesias is ignoring a couple of points in my view. First, it is a short-run view only.  Just as I can live well by running up debt, eventually it has to stop. The same is true for nations.  Second, and relatedly, if we asked the typical American household in 2006 or early 2007 whether they were better off than four years earlier, most would have said they were better off.  Unemployment was relatively low, housing prices were high and rising, the stock market was booming, and the consumer was seen as the engine of strong economic growth. But that all came crashing down once house prices collapsed.  Given the overbuilding of office buildings and apartments in China, it is difficult to believe that a similar crash won't happen there.

A final thing to consider is the political situation in China.  The autocratic central government is very concerned about social stability.  Maintaining growth and increased GDP is crucial to prevent social unrest.  But the measures being used to maintain growth may cause even more social unrest if and when the whole thing falls apart.