The market meltdown yesterday and the cumulative market losses of the past few weeks have showcased two important failures of the Fed. First, the Fed has yet to seriously anchor short-to-medium term nominal spending expectations. This is not particularly surprising since at best the Fed has an implicit and fuzzy inflation target. It is bad enough that the inflation target is vague, but being a growth rate target also means it also has no memory. That is, any deviation from the inflation target is allowed to persist. Consequently, the price level and nominal spending become a random walk, creating more long-term uncertainty than if the Fed had a level target.
Now the market meltdown seems to have started in Europe yesterday, but it really was a culmination of a number of bad economic news releases over the past few weeks and more importantly over the past few years. Ultimately, these developments can arguably be traced to a U.S. monetary policy that has been passively tight over the past three years. Thus, the second failure highlighted by the market meltdown yesterday was the Fed’s ongoing tight monetary policy. The market meltdown provides confirmation that us quasi-monetarists were right all along on this point.
So what can be done? As Scott Sumner, myself, and other quasi-monetarists have been saying for some time the Fed needs to get off its rear and announce an explicit nominal GDP level target. Such an approach has many virtues, but probably the best one is that it would anchor nominal spending expectations. This, in turn, would make the U.S. economy less vulnerable to shocks. Just knowing and believing the Fed would buy up as many assets as needed to maintain a stable growth path for nominal spending would make if far less likely economic shocks would have much of an adverse impact in the first place. It would also make for a nice way of narrowing the Fed’s mandate. Here is how it would work.