This article appeared in the May 2016 issue of Globe Asia.
Ever since the US Federal Reserve (Fed) began to consider raising the federal funds rate, which it eventually did in December 2015, a cottage industry has grown up around taper talk. Will the Fed raise rates, or won’t it? Each time a consensus congeals around the answer to that question, all the world’s markets either soar or dive.
This obsession with taper talk – the interest rate story – is simple, but strange. Indeed, it is misguided – wrongheaded. So, why the obsession? It is, in part, the result of a Keynesian hangover. The Keynesians focus on interest rates. The mainstream macro model that is widely in use today is referred to as a ‘New Keynesian’ model. The thrust of monetary policy in this model is entirely captured by changes in current and expected interest rates (the price of money). Money is nowhere to be found, however.
See Banks Tighten As Economic Outlook Grows More Uncertain
The misguided focus on interest rates not only poses a problem for those who are observing the current economic environment and formulating expectations, but also for those who are interpreting important economic and market events of the past. For example, Nobelist and Keynesian Robert Shiller, in his famous book, Irrational Exuberance, comes to the conclusion that the stock market crash in 1929 was caused by the Fed’s excessively restrictive monetary policy. That’s because Shiller focuses on interest rates and thinks that the Fed’s increase in the discount rate in August 1929 signaled monetary tightening. But, as Elmus Wicker carefully documents in Wall Street, the Federal Reserve and Stock Market Speculation: A Retrospective, which was recently published by the Center for Financial Stability in New York, the Fed was accommodative, not restrictive, prior to the 1929 stock market crash.
This post was published at FinancialSense on 05/03/2016.