May/June 2008

In This Edition

  • Core Inflation: A Review of Some Conceptual Issues

    This paper reviews various approaches to the measurement of core inflation that have been proposed over the years using the stochastic approach to index numbers as a unifying framework. It begins with a review of how the concept of core inflation is used by the world's major central banks, including some of the inflation-targeting central banks. The author provides a comprehensive review of many of the measures of core inflation that have been developed over the years and highlights some of the conceptual and practical problems associated with them.

  • Inertial Taylor Rules: The Benefit of Signaling Future Policy

    This article traces the consequences of an energy shock on the economy under two different monetary policy rules: (i) a standard Taylor rule, where the Fed responds to inflation and the output gap, and (ii) a Taylor rule with inertia, where the Fed moves slowly to the rate predicted by the standard rule. The authors show that, with both sticky wages and sticky prices, the outcome of an inertial Taylor rule is superior to that of the standard rule, in the sense that inflation is lower and output is higher following an adverse energy shock. However, if prices alone are sticky, the results are less clear and the standard rule delivers substantially less inflation than the inertial rule in the short run.

  • Inflation and the Size of Government

    It is commonly supposed in public and academic discourse that inflation and big government are related. The authors show that economic theory delivers such a prediction only in special cases. As an empirical matter, inflation is significantly positively related to the size of government mainly when periods of war and peace are compared. The authors find a weak positive peacetime time-series correlation between inflation and the size of government and a negative cross-country correlation of inflation with non-defense spending.

  • Inflation Regimes and Inflation Expectations

    This paper examines the formation of expectations about future inflation over long horizons. A key issue that agents must confront is the possibility that the economic policy framework"”especially the monetary policy regime"”could change at some future date. Agents are likely to base inferences about possible future regimes on experience over many years and decades past. This aspect of expectations formation may explain why inflation premiums in long-term bond yields are higher in countries with a long history of high inflation.

  • FOMC Consensus Forecasts

    In November 2007, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) announced a change in the way it communicates its view of the economic outlook: It increased the frequency of its forecasts from two to four times per year, and it increased the length of the forecasting horizon from two to three years. The FOMC does not release the individual members' forecasts or standard measures of consensus such as the mean or median. Rather, it continues to release the forecast information as a range of forecasts, both the full range between the high and the low and a central tendency that omits the extreme values. This paper uses individual forecaster data from the Survey of Professional Forecasters (SPF) to mimic the FOMC's method for creating their central tendency. The authors show that the midpoint of the central tendency of the SPF is a reliable measure of the consensus, suggesting that the FOMC reporting method is also a reliable measure of consensus. For the dates when both are available, the authors also compare the relative forecast accuracy of the FOMC and SPF consensus forecasts for output growth and inflation. Overall, the differences in forecast accuracy are too small to be statistically significant.

  • Forecasting Inflation and Output: Comparing Data-Rich Models with Simple Rules

    There has been a resurgence of interest in dynamic factor models for use by policy advisors. Dynamic factor methods can be used to incorporate a wide range of economic information when forecasting or measuring economic shocks. This article introduces dynamic factor models that underlie the data-rich methods and also tests whether the data-rich models can help a benchmark autoregressive model forecast alternative measures of inflation and real economic activity at horizons of 3, 12, and 24 months ahead. The authors find that, over the past decade, the data-rich models significantly improve the forecasts for a variety of real output and inflation indicators. For all the series that they examine, the authors find that the data-rich models become more useful when forecasting over longer horizons. The exception is the unemployment rate, where the principal components provide significant forecasting information at all horizons.

  • Laffer Traps and Monetary Policy

    This article focuses on the interaction, in a stylized economy with flexible prices, of monetary and fiscal policy when both are active"”active in the sense that how the policy instrument is set depends on the state of the economy. Fiscal policy finances a given stream of government expenditures through distortionary labor taxes, and it operates under a strict balanced-budget rule. If monetary policy is passive, the economy may occasionally switch, because of self-fulfilling expectations, from the neighborhood of a "Laffer trap" equilibrium to the saddle-path leading to the high-welfare steady state. In the low-welfare stationary state, output, investment, and consumption are low while the tax rate is correspondingly high. However, active monetary policy may, by following a rule such that the nominal interest rate responds positively to the state of the economy, push the economy toward the high-welfare equilibrium and rule out expectation-driven business cycles.

  • The Federal Response to Home Mortgage Distress: Lessons from the Great Depression

    This article examines the federal response to mortgage distress during the Great Depression: It documents features of the housing cycle of the 1920s and early 1930s, focusing on the growth of mortgage debt and the subsequent sharp increase in mortgage defaults and foreclosures during the Depression. It summarizes the major federal initiatives to reduce foreclosures and reform mortgage market practices, focusing especially on the activities of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC), which acquired and refinanced one million delinquent mortgages between 1933 and 1936. Because the conditions under which the HOLC operated were unusual, the author cautions against drawing strong policy lessons from the HOLC's activities. Nonetheless, similarities between the Great Depression and the recent episode suggest that a review of the historical experience can provide insights about alternative policies to relieve mortgage distress.