Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Krugman vs. Taylor on the Zero-Bound Fed


Here's how I see the Great Debate about monetary policy, with John Taylor opening with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (http://on.wsj.com/VY0Iet) on the Fed being a drag on the economy through its continued zero-interest rate FOMC directive and Paul Krugman lambasting him via his NY Times perch for arguing that the low interest rates are inhibiting lending. (http://nyti.ms/VwkXU7):

Taylor is a "hard money" man (consistent with the dour mien of John Calvin, although Krugman says he has Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes in mind), unhappy at low interest rates that don't sufficiently reward prudent savers/debt-holders, so that banks withhold loans. Krugman has maintained consistently that the economy has not been stimulated enough on the fiscal side after the meltdown in 2008 and therefore staying at the zero-interest-rate bound at the short end of the market is a consequence; he is a continued-easy-money man.

Krugman's answer to Taylor's argument is that his theoretical framework is one of a ceiling, which is inappropriate. In fact the FOMC directs open market operations (buying short-term Treasury bills to put cash into the economy), and the equivalent in the longer end of the bond market, Quantitative Easing (buying longer-term Treasurys to bring down longer-term rates) also operates in the open market for debt.

The Fed does not regulate interest rates. It just buys and sells Treasurys.

For those who don't have time to pore through this exchange and its 60+ comments, I excerpt three comments that were posted around 9 am this morning to exemplify the struggle that the commentators have to be fair and to try to figure out who is right.
Justin - Brooklyn, NY: Can anyone kindly explain what this sentence is purporting to say? (I know that Krugman is refuting it, but this went over my head.): "low rates engineered by the Fed are just like a price ceiling that reduces the supply of loans, and therefore reduces overall lending."
AndyfromTucson - Tucson AZ: The reasoning is that the interest rate is the price paid for borrowing money, and so if the government caps the price at an artificially low level then it will reduce the supply of loans. Like if the government put a $5000 cap on the price of new automobiles all the car manufacturers would cut production. What Krugman is saying is that interest rates are not a legal cap, so this analysis doesn't work. Jan. 30, 2013 at 9:41 a.m.
save10percent - Denver, CO: My understanding of it is that as the price goes down (talking about the cost of taking out a loan, which is the interest paid), the quantity demanded goes up, but the quantity supplied goes down (econ 101). Taylor is saying that the fed sets the price ceiling too low and therefore banks aren't lending (less supply). Krugman says that the fed does not set a price ceiling for the interest on loans that banks make, so Taylor's argument doesn't make sense.
I have no doubt that Taylor will be back with an involved explanation why he was misunderstood. Meanwhile the winner of the debate pro tem is Paul Krugman and as one commentator observes, we can be glad that Gov. Mitt Romney did not win the presidential election, because if he had, Prof. Taylor was in line to become his Treasury Secretary.