Transcripts of the monetary policymaking body of the Federal Reserve from 2002–2008.

So I support alternative A. I think it makes sense to deemphasize the funds rate target. For reasons that were illuminated by Brian earlier and reasons that Governor Duke alluded to as well, I don’t think a target range is useful. We don’t want to discourage hope among our community bankers that we might get above ¼ percent should conditions normalize to some degree. We do set an interest rate on excess reserve balances, or more precisely, the Committee’s reduction in the federal funds rate target reduces the rate on excess reserves, given the Board’s adopted formula for setting the excess reserves rate. We have a similar sort of governance disconnect between the discount rate approval decisions of the Board of Governors and the federal funds rate decisions taken by the Federal Open Market Committee. We have managed to coordinate those very effectively, with cohesion and with consensus. It seems to me to make sense to take the same approach to the excess reserves rate.

I like the language in alternative A, paragraph 3, where we abandon the target and indicate that the funds rate is likely to be near zero for a while. The conditionality, the way it is expressed there or in B4, is fine with me. I like the idea of shifting attention to the interest rate on reserves by including the statement in the related actions sentence of A5; that further cements the governance coordination that we have in mind there.

I think it makes eminent sense to be very explicit very soon about our numerical objective for inflation. Monetary policy at the zero bound is all about discouraging expectations of deflation. If we haven’t tried first announcing an explicit objective for inflation, we don’t have any excuses if we fail to prevent a fall into a deflationary equilibrium. But I am sympathetic to the notion that it might not be best to slip it in the statement in the dead of night without any fanfare. It might encourage the view that it is a temporary expedient and that we might abandon this language in some future statement, should we find it convenient. I think it would be better to do this and issue a separate statement very clearly articulating that the Committee has adopted a numerical inflation objective, here is what it means, here is how we interpret it, and here is why we do it. Perhaps January would be the right time to do that, and we could, between now and then, lay the groundwork for a clearer and more forceful communication. I think it is likely to have a bigger effect on financial market participants and the public should we do so. Without that statement about an objective, the sentence that precedes it—specifically the phrase that is in brackets in A2—is a little scary. So I would prefer to leave that bracketed thing out if we are not going to include the inflation objective.

The fourth paragraph in alternative A and the corresponding paragraphs in B and C discuss how we are going to conduct monetary policy while the funds rate is at zero. I think they are intended to signal a shift toward quantitative measures, but I found the language ambiguous and confusing. None says anything about the monetary base. None says anything about the size of our balance sheet. In other words, they don’t indicate that the credit programs wouldn’t be sterilized. I think the phrase “use our balance sheet” is ambiguous. It doesn’t necessarily mean expand the size; it could mean put some stuff on it. So I would like to see us find a way to improve the clarity of the language in paragraph 4 regarding the quantitative measures that I think it is intended to communicate.

That paragraph also mentions two programs: the agency debt purchases, which we talked about earlier—let me set that aside—and the TALF, which the Committee has not been asked to formally consider and approve. Now, I can appreciate the strict constructionist governance view of who gets to approve them; it is not important that we vote on them. But I have been thinking about this in terms of the ideal—the vision you portrayed and described for us yesterday of a cohesive consensus-building decisionmaking process. I compared the TALF and what the Committee has heard about it. Contrast that with the deliberations we gave to the extension of foreign exchange swap lines to emerging-market countries. There were fairly extensive briefing memorandums provided to the Committee, and there was a fairly lengthy discussion of that step. In contrast, we were basically informed about the TALF rather than consulted in any meaningful sense.

Part of the problem here is that this paragraph conflates the use of our balance sheet with expansions of the base, and these are two distinct policy actions. In the current circumstance, unsterilized lending does increase the base. But we have been doing these programs since before that was true, and the distinction doesn’t come through clearly in the language here. There is a tension here because a couple of different plausible theories are floating around about how this stuff affects the economy and our objectives and how things are going to work at the zero bound. I am not sure that we are going to settle on a single theory. In fact, I am sure that we are not going to settle on a single theory. But we should strive, in the interest of consensus, for a statement that encompasses a range of plausible views. We have done that in the past in finessing things like different views of the Phillips curve and the like, and I would urge us to try to do that here rather than take a monolithic approach.

Finally, let me say something about the directive. The new drafts of A, B, and C add a sentence, the operative words of which are “keep the Committee informed,” and it is that the Secretary and the System Open Market Account Manager would keep the Committee informed. This is somewhat short of the language you used yesterday, which admittedly might not be appropriate for the directive. But I wrote the language down, and it is that the Board would bring programs to the FOMC for review and discussion. I like the sentence that is added in the sense that it is a step in the right direction toward your vision of a collaborative body seeking consensus on these issues. But I am afraid that this language won’t do much to dispel questions that have arisen in the press about our governance cohesion and decisionmaking. So I personally would prefer to go as far as we could in that direction. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech