Research Programs

Monetary Policy and Financial Structure

Monetary Policy and Financial Structure

This program explores the structure of markets and institutions operating in the financial sector. Research builds on the work of the late Distinguished Scholar Hyman P. Minsky—notably, his financial instability hypothesis—and explores the institutional, regulatory, and market arrangements that contribute to financial instability. Research also examines policies—such as changes to the regulatory structure and the development of new types of institutions—necessary to contain instability.

Recent research has concentrated on the structure of financial markets and institutions, with the aim of determining whether financial systems are still subject to the risk of failing. Issues explored include the extent to which domestic and global economic events (such as the crises in Asia and Latin America) coincide with the types of instabilities Minsky describes, and involve analyses of his policy recommendations for alleviating instability and other economic problems.

Other subjects covered include the distributional effects of monetary policy, central banking and structural issues related to the European Monetary Union, and the role of finance in small business investment.

 



Program Publications

  • In the Media | April 2014
    By Robert Feinberg
    MoneyNews, April 22, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and a leading dove of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), delivered a speech April 9 titled "Monetary Goals and Strategy" to the 23rd annual Hyman Minsky Conference, which is sponsored by the Levy Institute of Bard College and held at the National Press Club in Washington. 

    With the exception of me, the modest-sized audience was composed of liberals who follow economic policy very closely and believe that governmental authorities should tinker constantly with the economy in order to improve its performance and the distribution of income. 

    The conference honors Minsky as one of the earliest exponents of this view, who propagated it articulately from the earliest years of the permanent and ongoing financial crisis.

    Chicago has traditionally been a hotbed of conservative and even hard money economics, especially at the University of Chicago. However, the Chicago Fed under Evans has placed itself firmly in the dovish camp on monetary policy, and in 2015 Evans will rotate into a voting seat on the FOMC, so that he can back his sentiments with a vote. Evans has taught at the University of Chicago, University of Michigan and University of South Carolina, and he received degrees in economics from the University of Virginia and Carnegie-Mellon University, which is a stronghold of conservative monetary scholarship.

    What makes Evans' speech especially significant is that he poses a scholarly challenge to conservative advocates of a monetary rule, particularly in circumstances where the economy has performed so poorly that the federal funds rate has already dropped to the bottom, and he contends that under these conditions, even Milton Friedman would agree that the FOMC should take an aggressive stance in order to keep the economy from slipping into a zone of negative inflation that could cripple economic growth for decades. 

    The speech was divided into four parts. First, Evans reviewed the "Three Big Events in Fed History," in his order of importance: 1) The Great Depression (1929 to 1938); 2) The Great Inflation (1965 to 1980); and The Treasury Accord (1951). He defended the independence of the Fed, but accepted in a serious way, not just rhetorically, that with the independence must go accountability.

    Second, Evans laid out a three-part strategy for achieving the goals the FOMC has set out during the long term. 

    Third, he used bulls-eye charts to demonstrate that the Fed has missed both its employment and inflation targets. 

    And finally, he lamented the inability to stimulate the economy by adjusting the federal funds rate once it has reached its lower bound. 

    He concluded by advocating that the Fed adopt more aggressive policies now to stimulate growth, even at the risk of exceeding the 2 percent inflation target for some time after the employment target has been reached. 

    He criticized as "timid" the stance of most of his colleagues who argue for a slow glide path to the target so as not to risk touching off another bout of inflation.

    (Archived video can be found here. A copy of the speech can be found here.) 
  • In the Media | April 2014
    By Panos Mourdoukoutas

    Forbes, April 14, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    For years, China has been enjoying robust economic growth that has turned it into the world’s second largest economy.

    The problem is, however, that China’s growth is in part driven by over investment in construction and manufacturing sectors, fueling asset bubbles that parallel those of Japan in the late 1980s. With one major difference: China’s overinvestment is directed by the systematic efforts of local governments to preserve the old system of central planning, through massive construction and manufacturing projects for the purpose of employment creation rather than for addressing genuine consumer needs.

    Major Chinese cities are filled with growing numbers of new vacant buildings. They were built under government mandates to provide jobs for the hundreds of thousands of people leaving the countryside for a better life in the cities, rather than to house genuine business tenants.

    China’s real estate bubble is proliferating like an infectious disease from the eastern cities to the inner country. It has spread beyond real estate to other sectors of the economy, from the steel industry to electronics and toys industries.  Local governments rush and race to replicate each other’s policies, especially local governments of the inner regions, where corporate managers have no direct access to overseas markets, and end up copying the policies of their peers in the coastal areas.

    We all know how the Japanese bubble ended. What should Chinese policy makers do? How can they burst their bubble?

    There is  a bad way and a good way, according to L. Randall Wray and Xinhua Liu, writing in "Options for China in a Dollar Standard World: A Sovereign Currency Approach.” (Levy Economics Institute, Working Paper No 783, January 2014).

    The bad way is to pursue European-style austerity, which reins in central government deficits.

    We all know what that means–the Chinese economy is almost certain to be placed in a downward spiral that will jeopardize employment growth. Besides, as the authors observe, China’s fiscal imbalances aren’t with central government, but with local governments. In fact, China’s main imbalance “appears to be a result of loose local government budgets and overly tight central government budgets.”

    That’s why the authors propose fiscal restructuring rather than austerity. Rein in local government spending, and expand central government spending.

    That’s the good way to burst the bubble. But is it politically feasible? Can Beijing reign over local governments?

    That remains to be seen. 

  • Conference Proceedings | April 2014
    Cosponsored by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and MINDS – Multidisciplinary Institute for Development and Strategies, with support from the Ford Foundation

    Everest Rio Hotel
    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    September 26–27, 2013

    This conference was organized as part of the Levy Institute’s global research agenda and in conjunction with the Ford Foundation Project on Financial Instability, which draws on Hyman Minsky's extensive work on the structure of financial governance and the role of the state. Among the key topics addressed: designing a financial structure to promote investment in emerging markets; the challenges to global growth posed by continuing austerity measures; the impact of the credit crunch on economic and financial markets; and the larger effects of tight fiscal policy as it relates to the United States, the eurozone, and the BRIC countries. 

  • This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.

    This is the third in a series of reports examining the Federal Reserve Bank’s response to the global financial crisis, with particular emphasis on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency. In this year’s report, we focus on issues of central bank independence and governance, with particular attention paid to challenges raised during periods of crisis. We trace the principal changes in governance of the Fed over its history—changes that accelerate during times of economic stress. We pay special attention to the famous 1951 “Accord” and to the growing consensus in recent years for substantial independence of the central bank from the treasury. In some respects, we deviate from conventional wisdom, arguing that the concept of independence is not usually well defined. While the Fed is substantially independent of day-to-day politics, it is not operationally independent of the Treasury. We examine in some detail an alternative view of monetary and fiscal operations. We conclude that the inexorable expansion of the Fed’s power and influence raises important questions concerning democratic governance that need to be resolved. 

  • In the Media | April 2014
    The Bond Buyer, April 11, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    Federal Reserve Governor Daniel Tarullo said the central bank shouldn't raise interest rates "preemptively" on a belief the recession cut the supply of ready labor in the economy. "We should remain attentive to evidence that labor markets have actually tightened to the point that there is demonstrable inflationary pressure," Tarullo said today in remarks prepared for a speech in Washington. "We should not rush to act preemptively in anticipation of such pressures based on arguments about the potential increase in structural unemployment in recent years." Tarullo, the central bank's longest-serving governor, backed a March 19 statement in which the Federal Open Market Committee said it will keep the main interest rate below normal long-run levels while attempting to meet its mandate for full employment and stable prices. In a wide-ranging speech, Tarullo cited slower productivity growth, the smaller share of national income accruing to workers, rising inequality and decreasing economic mobility as "serious challenges" for the U.S. economy. Monetary policy, by focusing on the full-employment component of the dual mandate, can "provide a modest countervailing factor to income inequality trends by leading to higher wages at the bottom rungs of the wage scale," Tarullo, 61, said at the 23rd Annual Hyman P. Minsky Conference in Washington. The Fed governor rebuffed concerns about near-term inflation from wages, noting that even as the unemployment rate has fallen to 6.7 percent in March from 7.5 percent in the same month a year earlier, "one sees only the earliest signs of a much-needed, broader wage recovery." "Compensation increases have been running at the historically low level of just over 2 percent annual rates since the onset of the Great Recession, with concomitantly lower real wage gains," Tarullo said. The reasons for that lag in wage gains are not clear, he said. "The issue of how much structural damage has been suffered by the labor market is of less immediate concern today in shaping monetary policy than it might have been had we experienced a period of rapid growth during the recovery," Tarullo said at the event, organized by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. 
  • In the Media | April 2014
    By Denis MacShane
    The OMFIF Commentary, April 11, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    The normal duty of central bankers (especially in Europe) is to denounce inflation as the work of the devil and call for labour market flexibility as a barely disguised code for reducing wages.

    But a gathering of academic economists at the annual Minsky Conference this week in Washington heard an impassioned plea from one of America’s top central bankers that it was time to increase wages and let inflation rise again.

    Charles Evans is president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Chicago, where he has worked much of his professional life, in addition to stints as an economics professor and author of heavyweight academic articles on monetary policy.

    Evans, currently a non-voter, is among the more dovish members of the Federal Open Market Committee. In his paper at the Bard College Levy Institute’s Minsky Conference, commemorating the work of depression-fighting economist Hyman Minsky, Evans said the US economy now needed a serious boost in wages to help business demand.

    Evans used moderate, cautious language. However, the message was clear: Deflation and low wages are the new dragons to be slain.

    ‘Low wage increases are symptomatic of weak income growth and low aggregate demand. Stronger wage growth would likely result in more customers walking through the doors of business establishments and leading to stronger sales, more hiring and capacity expansion,’ Evans said.

    He suggested a target wage growth figure of 3.5%, which he argued ‘is sustainable without building inflation pressures.’ This compares with the current range of 2-2.25 in compensation growth, coinciding with labour’s historically low share of national income.

    Evans is right to underscore the dramatic change in the amount of US added value that goes to employees. Until 1975, wages normally accounted for more than 50% of American GDP, but this fell to 43.5% by 2012.

    Evans said fears about inflation which have hovered over monetary policy-making since the 1970s have been exaggerated. Evans argued: ‘No one can doubt that we [the Fed] are undershooting our 2% [inflation] target. Total personal consumption expenditure (PCE) prices rose just 0.9% over the past 12 months; that is a substantial and serious miss.’

    ‘Below-target inflation’, said Evans, ‘is a worldwide phenomenon and it is difficult to be confident that all policy-makers around the world have fully taken its challenge on board. Persistent below-target inflation is very costly, especially when it is accompanied by debt overhang, substantial resource slack and weak growth.’

    'Despite current low rates, I still often hear people say that higher inflation is just around the corner. I confess that I am somewhat exasperated by these repeated warnings given our current environment of very low inflation. Many times, the strongest concerns are expressed by folks who said the same thing back in 2009 and then in 2010.’

    Denis MacShane is former UK Minister for Europe and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. He was a speaker on European politics at the Minksy Conference.
  • In the Media | April 2014
    By Joseph Lawler
    Washington Examiner, April 11, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    The so-called "Great Moderation" of low economic volatility between the mid-1980s and the financial crisis of 2008 was not as great as it seemed, and the future likely won't be as pleasant, according to President Obama's top economic adviser.

    Jason Furman, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said in a speech in Washington on Thursday that “the Great Recession certainly does reveal serious limitations of the concept of a great moderation,” and that the U.S. economy shouldn't be expected to return to a pattern of relatively smooth growth now that the banking crisis is in the past.

    The "Great Moderation" was a term coined by economists James Stock, another current member of the CEA, and Mark Watson in a 20003 paper. It was meant to describe the decline in volatility in macroeconomic indicators such as gross domestic product growth and inflation since Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker brought the high inflation rates of the 1960s and '70s to an end.

    In 2004, Ben Bernanke, then a Fed governor under Chairman Alan Greenspan, popularized the term in a speech that attributed the smoothing out of the business cycle to better monetary policy by the Fed -- although Bernanke also acknowledged that luck may also have played a significant role, and that luck might run out in the future.
       

    Furman, however, suggested that improvements in the private sector and in the government's management of fiscal and monetary policy may not have reduced the risks of severe recessions, but rather pushed the risks out to the tails of the risk distribution. In other words, economic shocks might be rarer, but more dangerous. While the U.S. did not suffer a deep recession in the late '80s and '90s, it was due for one eventually.

    Furman illustrated the point with two charts. Looking at deviations in one-year GDP growth from the long-term average, he noted, it appears that there was a Great Moderation, briefly interrupted by the 2007-2009 recession:
     
    But looking at the deviations in 10-year GDP growth from the average, it's a different story. Volatility in economic growth spiked and hasn't returned to normal.
    Furman concluded that it "would be foolish to be complacent and fully assume that in the deeper, lower frequency sense there ever was a genuine 'Great Moderation,' let alone that it has returned and renders further policy steps unnecessary."

    He proposed four measures for further stabilizing the economy in the future, including automatic fiscal stabilizers to even out government spending and taxing in boom times and downturns, reducing income inequality, improving coordination among countries and promoting financial stability.

    Notably, Furman drew special attention to housing finance as a component of financial stability. Although the Obama administration for the most part has left the issue of what should be done with bailed-out government-sponsored mortgage businesses Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to Congress, Furman did signal support for a bill that Democratic and Republican senators on the Senate Banking Committee have introduced.

    The committee "is making promising bipartisan progress and the administration looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to forge a new private housing finance system that better serves current and future generations of Americans," he said.

    The event at which Furman was speaking, hosted by the Levy Economics Institute, was named after Hyman Minsky, an American economist whose worked focused on financial crises and their relationship to economic downturns. 
  • In the Media | April 2014
    NDTV, April 10, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    Washington (Reuters | Update)
    :

    The Federal Reserve will likely wait at least six months after ending a bond-buying program before raising interest rates, and will only act that quickly "if things really go well," a top US central banker said on Wednesday.

    "It could be six, it could be 16 months," Chicago Fed President Charles Evans told reporters on the sidelines of a Levy Economics Institute forum.

    Last month, Fed Chair Janet Yellen put the wait at "around six months" depending on the economy. Her comment undercut stocks and bonds and prompted economists to revise forecasts. Traders and Wall Street economists now expect the first rate hike to come around the middle of next year.

    "If I had my druthers, I'd want more accommodation and I'd push it into 2016," Evans said of the first rate hike, but "the actual, most likely case I think is probably late 2015."

    The Fed has kept rates near zero since the depths of the recession in late 2008, and has bought some $3 trillion in bonds to help lower US borrowing costs. It has reduced its bond-buying and expects to wind it down by the fall.

    Evans said the current pace of reducing the bond purchases, $10 billion at each Fed policy meeting, is "reasonable" and takes the Fed "into the October timeframe" for shelving the program.

    "I am confident that, depending on how the economic circumstances come out, we'll keep interest rates low for quite some period of time," he said.

    WOULD WELCOME ECB EASING Evans, a vocal policy dove, has long worried that the Fed has been too timid in its efforts to lower employment and raise inflation toward the central bank's targets.

    "We're in a very low inflation global environment," he said. "The eurozone well below 1 per cent and Japan has been very low for a long period of time, and I'm worried that there's something more afoot" than just the US or eurozone experience.

    Asked about a possible further easing of policy by the European Central Bank, he said: "Yes I think that would be quite welcome," adding he would welcome "all actions that help generate stronger world growth."

    A fellow dove at the central bank, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, has proposed lowering the interest rate the Fed pays banks on excess reserves. The aim would be to provide more accommodation and boost inflation from just above 1 per cent currently.

    Asked about this idea, Evans said he was willing to look at the possibility, but noted that the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee has long considered it and has not acted. 
  • In the Media | April 2014
    By Jonathan Spicer
    Manorama Online, April 10, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve will likely wait at least six months after ending a bond-buying program before raising interest rates, and will only act that quickly "if things really go well," a top U.S. central banker said on Wednesday.

    "It could be six, it could be 16 months," Chicago Fed President Charles Evans told reporters on the sidelines of a Levy Economics Institute forum.

    Last month, Fed Chair Janet Yellen put the wait at "around six months" depending on the economy. Her comment undercut stocks and bonds and prompted economists to revise forecasts. Traders and Wall Street economists now expect the first rate hike to come around the middle of next year.

    "If I had my druthers, I'd want more accommodation and I'd push it into 2016," Evans said of the first rate hike, but "the actual, most likely case I think is probably late 2015."

    The Fed has kept rates near zero since the depths of the recession in late 2008, and has bought some $3 trillion in bonds to help lower U.S. borrowing costs. It has reduced its bond-buying and expects to wind it down by the fall.

    Evans said the current pace of reducing the bond purchases, $10 billion at each Fed policy meeting, is "reasonable" and takes the Fed "into the October timeframe" for shelving the program.

    "I am confident that, depending on how the economic circumstances come out, we'll keep interest rates low for quite some period of time," he said.

    WOULD WELCOME ECB EASING
    Evans, a vocal policy dove, has long worried that the Fed has been too timid in its efforts to lower employment and raise inflation toward the central bank's targets.

    "We're in a very low inflation global environment," he said. "The eurozone well below 1 percent and Japan has been very low for a long period of time, and I'm worried that there's something more afoot" than just the U.S. or eurozone experience.

    Asked about a possible further easing of policy by the European Central Bank, he said: "Yes I think that would be quite welcome," adding he would welcome "all actions that help generate stronger world growth."

    A fellow dove at the central bank, Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota, has proposed lowering the interest rate the Fed pays banks on excess reserves. The aim would be to provide more accommodation and boost inflation from just above 1 percent currently.

    Asked about this idea, Evans said he was willing to look at the possibility, but noted that the Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee has long considered it and has not acted.
  • In the Media | April 2014
    Morningstar Advisor, April 10, 2014. All Rights Reserved.

    WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The U.S. economy, aided by the Federal Reserve's easy monetary-policy stance, is beginning to look healthier, Federal Reserve Gov. Daniel Tarullo said Wednesday. "While we've not had certainly the pace and pervasiveness of the recovery that we wanted, the unconventional monetary policy have been critical in supporting the moderate recovery we have had, which I think now is looking reasonably well-rounded going forward, and I think that is reflected in the fairly wide expectation growth is going to be picking up over the course of this year," Tarullo said at a conference organized by the Levy Institute of Bard College. Tarullo sounded in no hurry to end the Fed's easy policy stance. He said the Fed "should not rush to act preemptively" in anticipation of inflationary pressures. Tarullo's comments were noteworthy because he rarely speaks about monetary policy -- rather, most of his speeches deal with financial-stability issues given his role as the central bank's point-man on strengthening regulation in the wake of the financial crisis.