Not all NGDP is created equal: a critique of market monetarism.

Author:Salter, Alexander William
  1. Introduction

    This article makes a simple but important point: NGDP as the emergent outcome of the market process is not the same thing as NGDP as an object of choice by a central bank. The rise of the Market Monetarist School and their policy recommendation that the central bank target the level of nominal GDP draws support from, amongst other sources, the literature on monetary equilibrium theory. NGDP targeting thus has been likened to fractional-reserve free banking in that it is a means for achieving monetary equilibrium and, as a consequence, stable nominal spending. (1) But the process by which NGDP is created and sustained matters: NGDP as an emergent outcome is a different phenomenon than NGDP as an object of choice by an extramarket organization. Furthermore, due to familiar arguments concerning knowledge, the pricing process, and the institutional framework for economic activity, this difference has implications for the inferences we can make concerning the causal relationship between stable nominal income and economic prosperity.

    I develop the argument as follows: In Section II I briefly summarize NGDP targeting, the Market Monetarist School, and its similarities to free banking and monetary disequilibrium. In Section III I show how the divergent views on how to achieve stable NGDP have serious implications for the process by which NGDP is created. In Section IV I trace out the consequences of these views. In Section V I offer concluding remarks.

  2. Market Monetarism and NGDP Level Targeting (2)

    The Market Monetarist School is known chiefly for its recommendation that central banks adopt a policy of targeting the level of nominal income (NGDP). (3) The economic operation of an NGDP target is straightforward: The central bank offsets a fall in the velocity of money by increasing the money supply, and vice versa. Using the familiar equation of exchange, MV = Py, we can see that offsetting changes in velocity with opposite one-for-one changes in the money supply (constant MV) results in a constant level of nominal income (Py). The result is an explicit policy of nominal aggregate demand stabilization. (4) Proponents of NGDP targeting note that, in the presence of aggregate demand shocks, NGDP targeting has the same stabilizing properties as a price level target, which historically has been more popular among academic macroeconomists. However, NGDP targeting outperforms price level targeting in the presence of aggregate supply shocks. This is because price level targeting requires the central bank to offset the impact of a negative (positive) aggregate supply shock on the price level by contracting (expanding) aggregate demand, which necessarily compounds the impact of the original aggregate supply shock on real income. (5) Market Monetarists, as advocates of neutralizing monetary policy as far as possible, recommend an NGDP level target out of a desire to minimize these effects.

    Market Monetarists and scholars working within the monetary disequilibrium framework find themselves in agreement on the theoretical desirability of an NGDP target. White (1989, 1995), Selgin (1988, 1994), and Selgin and White (1994) note that a free banking system has the unintended consequence of stabilizing nominal income in the face of ordinary shocks to the velocity of bank-issued money. (6) This is because profit-maximizing banks have a financial incentive to issue more (fewer) liabilities when the public demonstrates increased (decreased) demand to hold those liabilities. However, Market Monetarists and free banking monetary disequilibrium theorists sometimes differ with regard to their preferred implementation strategy. The free banking monetary disequilibrium theorists prefer solutions that will result in the abolishment of the Federal Reserve and the deregulation of banking. On the other side, at least for the time being, some Market Monetarists wish to keep the Federal Reserve, using it as a mechanism for implementing an explicit nominal income target. For example, leading Market Monetarist School writer Scott Sumner favors a system wherein the Federal Reserve chooses the NGDP growth trajectory and then sets up a futures market for trading NGDP contracts. The Fed uses the market price of these futures contracts to infer market expectations about the level of nominal income going forward. The Fed's job is ultimately to adjust the supply of base money via traditional open market operations until market expectations of the level of nominal income (which is intended to increase by the constant growth target every time period) matches the Fed's stated target. (7)

    It is not my intention here to conduct a detailed analysis of any plan for utilizing the central bank in implementing an NGDP level targeting regime. Instead, I will take the claims of both the monetary equilibrium theorists--that fractional-reserve free banking will result in a stable level of nominal income as the unintended result of profit-seeking bankers--and Market Monetarists--that the central bank is capable of implementing a nominal income level target using some combination of open market operations and futures contract targeting--as given and focus on the informational consequences of achieving a stabilization of nominal income as the emergent result of the market process versus as an object of control for an...

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