The Economy

Fed Official Questions Post-Crisis Monetary Policy

The Federal Reserve should consider new policy options to combat weak economic growth, says St. Louis Fed president James Bullard.
Matthew HellerMay 29, 2015
Fed Official Questions Post-Crisis Monetary Policy

A top U.S. Federal Reserve official has questioned whether the monetary policy that the Fed has used since the 2007-09 financial crisis to stimulate the economy has been effective.

The Fed’s monetary tools have included forward guidance and the bond-buying program known as “quantitative easing.” Most officials at the central bank credit the policy, including near-zero interest rates, with averting an even more severe recession and an even slower recovery.

But in a new study he co-authored, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard bucks the conventional wisdom, arguing that forward guidance and quantitative easing may actually be of little use in jump-starting a moribund economy.

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“In the framework presented here the forward guidance policy — promising to remain at the zero lower bound beyond the time that the zero lower bound is actually constraining — is not helpful,” Bullard wrote with co-authors Costas Azariadis of Washington University, Aarti Singh of the University of Sydney, and Jacek Suda of Narodowy Bank Polski.

According to conventional theory, forward guidance should lead to higher growth and also to higher expected and actual inflation.

Bullard also told reporters that “Quantitative easing doesn’t look like a good policy either,” according to Reuters.

“It’s time to question the current theory and explore other models about what is going on at the zero lower bound,” Bullard said.

As an alternative strategy, Bullard favors boosting inflation temporarily, a form of so-called nominal GDP targeting that would still allow the Fed to target an inflation goal because policymakers would aim for lower inflation during high-growth periods to balance out higher inflation during low-growth times.

“The monetary policymaker can still maintain a complete credit market by having a one-time, or special, increase in the price level,” Bullard said.

But that approach, Reuters said, “has never gained real traction among policymakers, in part because it is difficult to explain and potentially to carry out.”