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Was monetary policy optimal during past deflation scares?

Roberto Billi

Economic Review, 2009, issue Q III, No v. 94, no. 3, 67-98

Abstract: Countries around the world have fallen into one of the deepest recessions since the Great Depression—a recession exacerbated by a severe financial crisis. Among the challenges that face monetary policymakers in such uncertain times is the danger that economies worldwide, including the United States, Japan, and the Euro Area, may enter a period of deflation, in which the prices of goods and services fall relentlessly. ; Policymakers and economists agree that sustained deflation would likely worsen the already fragile economic and financial environment. Past episodes of deflation in the wake of financial crises have included falling asset values, collapsing business and consumer confidence, credit crunches, widespread bankruptcies, long-lasting surges in unemployment, and other adverse conditions. Moreover, a deflationary environment has the potential to complicate the conduct of monetary policy. ; Policymakers have responded vigorously to the current crisis to prevent deflation. Some analysts warn that the U.S. policy response might be too proactive and cause a subsequent surge in inflation. At the same time, other analysts advise that the policy response in many other countries might not be active enough to fend off deflation. Of course, it is too early to judge the success of the different policies in the current episode. Still, it is possible to learn from past attempts by policymakers to fend off deflation under similar economic circumstances. ; Billi shows how Taylor rules can be used to evaluate monetary policy. He then compares actual policy during past deflation scares—in Japan in the 1990s and in the United States in the 2000s—with how policy would have been conducted using Taylor rules based, to the extent possible, on data available at the time. The rule-based evidence suggests that Japan’s monetary policy response during its deflation scare might have been too weak, while the U.S. response might have been too strong.

Date: 2009
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