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The discretization filter: A simple way to estimate nonlinear state space models

Leland E. Farmer

Quantitative Economics, 2021, vol. 12, issue 1, 41-76

Abstract: Existing methods for estimating nonlinear dynamic models are either highly computationally costly or rely on local approximations which often fail adequately to capture the nonlinear features of interest. I develop a new method, the discretization filter, for approximating the likelihood of nonlinear, non‐Gaussian state space models. I establish that the associated maximum likelihood estimator is strongly consistent, asymptotically normal, and asymptotically efficient. Through simulations, I show that the discretization filter is orders of magnitude faster than alternative nonlinear techniques for the same level of approximation error in low‐dimensional settings and I provide practical guidelines for applied researchers. It is my hope that the method's simplicity will make the quantitative study of nonlinear models easier for and more accessible to applied researchers. I apply my approach to estimate a New Keynesian model with a zero lower bound on the nominal interest rate. After accounting for the zero lower bound, I find that the slope of the Phillips Curve is 0.076, which is less than 1/3 of typical estimates from linearized models. This suggests a strong decoupling of inflation from the output gap and larger real effects of unanticipated changes in interest rates in post Great Recession.

Date: 2021
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