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You are on page 1of 77

Monetary Policy

∗

Gauti Eggertsson

International Monetary Fund

Michael Woodford

Princeton University

June 26, 2003

Abstract

We consider the consequences for monetary policy of the zero ﬂoor for nominal in-

terest rates. The zero bound can be a signiﬁcant constraint on the ability of a central

bank to combat deﬂation. We show, in the context of an intertemporal equilibrium

model, that open-market operations, even of “unconventional” types, are ineﬀective if

future policy is expected to be purely forward-looking. Nonetheless, a credible commit-

ment to the right sort of history-dependent policy can largely mitigate the distortions

created by the zero bound. In our model, optimal policy involves a commitment to

adjust interest rates so as to achieve a time-varying price-level target, when this is con-

sistent with the zero bound. We also discuss ways in which other central-bank actions,

while irrelevant apart from their eﬀects on expectations, may help to make credible a

central bank’s commitment to its target

∗

We would like to thank Tamim Bayoumi, Ben Bernanke, Mike Dotsey, Ben Friedman, Stefan Gerlach,

Mark Gertler, Marvin Goodfriend, Ken Kuttner, Maury Obstfeld, Athanasios Orphanides, Dave Small, Lars

Svensson, Harald Uhlig, Tsutomu Watanabe, and Alex Wolman for helpful comments, and the National

Science Foundation for research support through a grant to the NBER. The views expressed in this paper

are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.

The consequences for the proper conduct of monetary policy of the existence of a lower

bound of zero for overnight nominal interest rates has recently become a topic of lively

interest. In Japan, the call rate (the overnight cash rate that is analogous to the federal

funds rate in the U.S.) has been within 50 basis points of zero since October 1995, so that

little room for further reductions in short-term nominal interest rates has existed since that

time, and has been essentially equal to zero for most of the past four years. (See Figure 1

below.) At the same time, growth has remained anemic in Japan over this period, and prices

have continued to fall, suggesting a need for monetary stimulus. Yet the usual remedy —

lower short-term nominal interest rates — is plainly unavailable. Vigorous expansion of the

monetary base (which, as shown in the ﬁgure, is now more than twice as large, relative to

GDP, as in the early 1990s) has also seemed to do little to stimulate demand under these

circumstances.

The fact that the federal funds rate has now been reduced to only one percent in the

U.S., while signs of recovery remain exceedingly fragile, has led many to wonder if the U.S.

could not also soon ﬁnd itself in a situation where interest-rate policy would no longer be

available as a tool for macroeconomic stabilization. A number of other nations face similar

questions. The result is that a problem that was long treated as a mere theoretical curiosity

after having been raised by Keynes (1936) — namely, the question of what can be done to

stabilize the economy when interest rates have fallen to a level below which they cannot be

driven by further monetary expansion, and whether monetary policy can be eﬀective at all

under such circumstances — now appears to be one of urgent practical importance, though

one with which theorists have become unfamiliar.

The question of how policy should be conducted when the zero bound is reached — or

when the possibility of reaching it can no longer be ignored — raises many fundamental

issues for the theory of monetary policy. Some would argue that awareness of the possibility

of hitting the zero bound calls for fundamental changes in the way that policy is conducted

even when the bound has not yet been reached. For example, Krugman (2003) refers to

deﬂation as a “black hole”, from which an economy cannot expect to escape once it has

1

1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002

1

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

2

2.2

Monetary Base/GDP

1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002

0

2

4

6

8

10

Call Rate

Figure 1: Evolution of the call rate on uncollateralized overnight loans in Japan, and the

Japanese monetary base relative to GDP [1992 = 1.0].

been entered. A conclusion that is often drawn from this pessimistic view of the eﬃcacy

of monetary policy under circumstances of a liquidity trap is that it is vital to steer far

clear of circumstances under which deﬂationary expectations could ever begin to develop

— for example, by targeting a suﬃciently high positive rate of inﬂation even under normal

circumstances.

Others are more sanguine about the continuing eﬀectiveness of monetary policy even

when the zero bound is reached, but frequently defend their optimism on grounds that again

imply that conventional understanding of the conduct of monetary policy is inadequate in

important respects. For example, it is often argued that deﬂation need not be a “black

hole” because monetary policy can aﬀect aggregate spending and hence inﬂation through

channels other than central-bank control of short-term nominal interest rates. Thus there

2

has been much recent discussion — both among commentators on the problems of Japan,

and among those addressing the nature of deﬂationary risks to the U.S. — of the advantages

of vigorous expansion of the monetary base even when these are not associated with any

further reduction in interest rates, of the desirability of attempts to shift longer-term interest

rates through purchases of longer-maturity government securities by the central bank, and

even of the possible desirability of central-bank purchases of other kinds of assets. Yet if

these views are correct, they challenge much of the recent conventional wisdom regarding

the conduct of monetary policy, both within central banks and among monetary economists,

which has stressed a conception of the problem of monetary policy in terms of the appropriate

adjustment of an operating target for overnight interest rates, and formulated prescriptions

for monetary policy, such as the celebrated “Taylor rule” (Taylor, 1993), that are cast in

these terms. Indeed, some have argued that the inability of such a policy to prevent the

economy from falling into a deﬂationary spiral is a critical ﬂaw of the Taylor rule as a guide

to policy (Benhabib et al., 2001).

Similarly, the concern that a liquidity trap can be a real possibility is sometimes presented

as a serious objection to another currently popular monetary policy prescription, namely

inﬂation targeting. The deﬁnition of a policy prescription in terms of an inﬂation target

presumes that there is in fact an interest-rate choice that can allow one to hit one’s target

(or at least to be projected to hit it, on average). But, some would argue, if the zero

interest-rate bound is reached under circumstances of deﬂation, it will not be possible to hit

any higher inﬂation target, as further interest-rate decreases are not possible despite the fact

that one is undershooting one’s target. Is there, in such circumstances, any point in having

an inﬂation target? This has frequently been oﬀered as a reason for resistance to inﬂation

targeting at the Bank of Japan. For example, Kunio Okina, director of the Institute for

Monetary and Economic Studies at the BOJ, was quoted by Dow Jones News (8/11/1999)

as arguing that “because short-term interest rates are already at zero, setting an inﬂation

target of, say, 2 percent wouldn’t carry much credibility.”

Here we seek to shed light on these issues by considering the consequences of the zero lower

3

bound on nominal interest rates for the optimal conduct of monetary policy, in the context

of an explicit intertemporal equilibrium model of the monetary transmission mechanism.

While our model remains an extremely simple one, we believe that it can help to clarify

some of the basic issues just raised. We are able to consider the extent to which the zero

bound represents a genuine constraint on attainable equilibrium paths for inﬂation and real

activity, and to consider the extent to which open-market purchases of various kinds of assets

by the central bank can mitigate that constraint. We are also able to show how the character

of optimal monetary policy changes as a result of the existence of the zero bound, relative to

the policy rules that would be judged optimal in the absence of such a bound, or in the case

of real disturbances small enough for the bound never to matter under an optimal policy.

To preview our results, we ﬁnd that the zero bound does represent an important con-

straint on what monetary stabilization policy can achieve, at least when certain kinds of real

disturbances are encountered in an environment of low inﬂation. We argue that the possibil-

ity of expansion of the monetary base through central-bank purchases of a variety of types

of assets does little if anything to expand the set of feasible equilibrium paths for inﬂation

and real activity that are consistent with equilibrium under some (fully credible) policy com-

mitment. Hence the relevant tradeoﬀs can correctly be studied by simply considering what

can be achieved by alternative anticipated state-contingent paths of the short-term nominal

interest rate, taking into account the constraint that this quantity must be non-negative at

all times. When we consider such a problem, we ﬁnd that the zero interest-rate bound can

indeed be temporarily binding, and in such a case it inevitably results in lower welfare than

could be achieved in the absence of such a constraint.

1

1

We do not here explore the possibility of relaxing the constraint by taxing money balances, as originally

proposed by Gesell (1929) and Keynes (1936), and more recently by Buiter and Panigirtzoglou (1999) and

Goodfriend (2000). While this represents a solution to the problem in theory, there are substantial practical

diﬃculties with such a proposal, not least the political opposition that such an institutional change would

be likely to generate. Our consideration of the optimal policy problem also abstracts from the availability

of ﬁscal instruments such as the time-varying tax policy recommended by Feldstein (2002). We agree with

Feldstein that there is a particularly good case for state-contingent ﬁscal policy as a way of dealing with a

liquidity trap, even if ﬁscal policy is not a very useful tool for stabilization policy more generally. Nonetheless,

we consider here only the problem of the proper conduct of monetary policy, taking as given the structure

of tax distortions. As long as one does not think that state-contingent ﬁscal policy can (or will) be used

to eliminate even temporary declines in the natural rate of interest below zero, the problem for monetary

4

Nonetheless, we argue that the extent to which this constraint restricts possible stabi-

lization outcomes under sound policy is much more modest than the deﬂation pessimists

presume. Even though the set of feasible equilibrium outcomes corresponds to those that

can be achieved through alternative interest-rate policies, monetary policy is far from pow-

erless to mitigate the contractionary eﬀects of the kind of disturbances that would make

the zero bound a binding constraint. The key to dealing with this sort of situation in the

least damaging way is to create the right kind of expectations regarding the way in which

monetary policy will be used subsequently, at a time when the central bank again has room

to maneuver. We use our intertemporal equilibrium model to characterize the kind of ex-

pectations regarding future policy that it would be desirable to create, and discuss a form

of price-level targeting rule that — if credibly committed to by the central bank — should

bring about the constrained-optimal equilibrium. We also discuss, more informally, ways in

which other types of policy actions could help to increase the credibility of the central bank’s

announced commitment to this kind of future policy.

Our analysis will be recognized as a development of several key themes of Paul Krugman’s

(1998) treatment of the same topic in these pages a few years ago. Like Krugman, we give

particular emphasis to the role of expectations regarding future policy in determining the

severity of the distortions that result from hitting the zero bound. Our primary contribution,

relative to Krugman’s earlier treatment, will be the presentation of a more fully dynamic

analysis. For example, our assumption of staggered pricing, rather than the simple hypothesis

of prices that are ﬁxed for one period as in the analysis of Krugman, allows for richer (and

at least somewhat more realistic) dynamic responses to disturbances. In our model, unlike

Krugman’s, a real disturbance that lowers the natural rate of interest can cause output to

remain below potential for years (as shown in Figure 2 below), rather than only for a single

“period”, even when the average frequency of price adjustments is more than once per year.

These richer dynamics are also important for a realistic discussion of the kind of policy

commitment that can help to reduce economic contraction during a “liquidity trap”. In our

policy that we consider here remains relevant.

5

model, a commitment to create subsequent inﬂation involves a commitment to keep interest

rates low for a time in the future, whereas in Krugman’s model, a commitment to a higher

future price level does not involve any reduction in future nominal interest rates. We are also

better able to discuss questions such as how the creation of inﬂationary expectations during

the period that the zero bound is binding can be reconciled with maintaining the credibility

of the central bank’s commitment to long-run price stability.

Our dynamic analysis also allows us to further clarify the several ways in which the

management of private-sector expectations by the central bank can be expected to mitigate

the eﬀects of the zero bound. Krugman emphasizes the fact that increased expectations

of inﬂation can lower the real interest rate implied by a zero nominal interest rate. This

might suggest, however, that the central bank can aﬀect the economy only insofar as it

aﬀects expectations regarding a variable that it cannot inﬂuence except quite indirectly;

and it might also suggest that the only expectations that should matter are those regarding

inﬂation over the relatively short horizon corresponding to the short-term nominal interest

rate that has fallen to zero. Such interpretations easily lead to skepticism about the practical

eﬀectiveness of the expectational channel, especially if inﬂation is regarded as being relatively

“sticky” in the short run. Our model is instead one in which expectations aﬀect aggregate

demand through several channels. First of all, it is not merely short-term real interest

rates that matter for current aggregate demand; our model of intertemporal substitution

in spending implies that the entire expected future path of short real rates should matter,

or alternatively that very long real rates should matter.

2

This means that the creation of

inﬂation expectations, even with regard to inﬂation that should occur only more than a

year in the future, should also be highly relevant to aggregate demand, as long as it is not

accompanied by correspondingly higher expected future nominal interest rates. Furthermore,

2

In the simple model presented here, this occurs solely as a result of intertemporal substitution in private

expenditure. But there are a number of reasons to expect long rates, rather than short rates, to be the

critical determinant of aggregate demand. For example, in an open-economy model, the real exchange rate

becomes an important determinant of aggregate demand. But the real exchange rate should be closely linked

to a very long domestic real rate of return (or alternatively, to the expected future path of short rates) as a

result of interest-rate parity, together with an anchor for the expected long-term real exchange rate (coming,

for example, from long-run purchasing-power parity).

6

the expected future path of nominal interest rates matters, and not just their current level,

so that a commitment to keep nominal interest rates low for a longer period of time should

stimulate aggregate demand, even when current rates cannot be further lowered, and even

under the hypothesis that inﬂation expectations would remain unaﬀected. Since the central

bank can clearly control the future path of short-term nominal interest rates if it has the

will to do so, any failure of such a commitment to be credible will not be due to skepticism

about whether the central bank is able to follow through on its commitment.

The richer dynamics of our model are also important for the analysis of optimal policy.

Krugman mainly addresses the question whether monetary policy is completely impotent

when the zero bound binds, and argues for the possibility of increasing real activity in the

“liquidity trap” by creating expectations of inﬂation. This conclusion in itself, however (with

which we agree), does not answer the question whether, or to what extent, it should actually

be desirable to create such expectations, given the well-founded reasons that the central bank

should have to not prefer inﬂation at a later time. Nor is Krugman’s model well-suited to

address such a question, insofar as it omits any reason for even an extremely high degree of

subsequent inﬂation to be harmful. Our model with staggered pricing, instead, implies that

inﬂation (whether anticipated or not) creates distortions, and justiﬁes an objective function

for stabilization policy that trades oﬀ inﬂation stabilization and output-gap stabilization in

terms that are often assumed to represent actual central-bank concerns. We characterize

optimal policy in such a setting, and show that it does indeed involve a commitment to

history-dependent policy of a sort that should result in higher inﬂation expectations in

response to a binding zero bound. We can also show to what extent it should be optimal

to create such expectations, assuming that this is possible. We ﬁnd, for example, that it is

not optimal to commit to so much future inﬂation that the zero bound ceases to bind, even

though this is one possible type of equilibrium; this is why the zero bound does remain a

relevant constraint, even under an optimal policy commitment.

7

1 Is “Quantitative Easing” a Separate Policy Instru-

ment?

A ﬁrst question that we wish to consider is whether expansion of the monetary base rep-

resents a policy instrument that should be eﬀective in preventing deﬂation and associated

output declines, even under circumstances where overnight interest rates have fallen to zero.

According to the famous analysis of Keynes (1936), monetary policy ceases to be an eﬀective

instrument to head oﬀ economic contraction in a “liquidity trap,” that can arise if interest

rates reach a level so low that further expansion of the money supply cannot drive them

lower. Others have argued that monetary expansion should increase nominal aggregate de-

mand even under such circumstances, and the supposition that this is correct lies behind the

explicit adoption in Japan since March 2001 of a policy of “quantitative easing” in addition

to the “zero interest-rate policy” that continues to be maintained.

3

Here we consider this question in the context of an explicit intertemporal equilibrium

model, in which we model both the demand for money and the role of ﬁnancial assets

(including the monetary base) in private-sector budget constraints. The model that we use

for this purpose is more detailed in several senses than the one used in subsequent sections

to characterize optimal policy, in order to make it clear that we have not excluded a role

for “quantitative easing” simply by failing to model the role of money in the economy. The

model is discussed in more detail in Woodford (2003, chapter 4), where the consequences

of various interest-rate rules and money-growth rules are considered under the assumption

that disturbances are not large enough for the zero bound to bind.

Our key result is an irrelevance proposition for open market operations in a variety of

types of assets that might be acquired by the central bank, under the assumption that the

open market operations do not change the expected future conduct of monetary or ﬁscal

policy (in senses that we make precise below). It is perhaps worth stating from the start

that our intention in stating such a result is not to vindicate the view that a central bank

3

See Kimura et al. (2002) for discussion of this policy, as well as an expression of doubts about its

eﬀectiveness.

8

is powerless to halt a deﬂationary slump, and hence to absolve the Bank of Japan, for

example, from any responsibility for the continuing stagnation in that country. While our

proposition establishes that there is a sense in which a “liquidity trap” is possible, this

does not mean that the central bank is powerless under the circumstances that we describe.

Rather, the point of our result is to show that the key to eﬀective central-bank action to

combat a deﬂationary slump is the management of expectations. Open-market operations

should be largely ineﬀective to the extent that they fail to change expectations regarding

future policy; the conclusion that we draw is not that such actions are futile, but rather that

the central bank’s actions should be chosen with a view to signalling the nature of its policy

commitments, and not in order to create some sort of “direct” eﬀects.

1.1 A Neutrality Proposition for Open-Market Operations

Our model abstracts from endogenous variations in the capital stock, and assumes perfectly

ﬂexible wages (or some other mechanism for eﬃcient labor contracting), but assumes monop-

olistic competition in goods markets, and sticky prices that are adjusted at random intervals

in the way assumed by Calvo (1983), so that deﬂation has real eﬀects. We assume a model

in which the representative household seeks to maximize a utility function of the form

E

t

∞

¸

T=t

β

T−t

¸

u(C

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

) −

1

0

v(H

t

(j); ξ

t

)dj

,

where C

t

is a Dixit-Stiglitz aggregate of consumption of each of a continuum of diﬀerentiated

goods,

C

t

≡

¸

1

0

c

t

(i)

θ

θ−1

di

θ−1

θ

,

with an elasticity of substitution equal to θ > 1, M

t

measures end-of-period household money

balances,

4

P

t

is the Dixit-Stiglitz price index,

P

t

≡

¸

1

0

p

t

(i)

1−θ

di

1

1−θ

(1.1)

4

We shall not introduce fractional-reserve banking into our model. Technically, M

t

refers to the monetary

base, and we represent households as obtaining liquidity services from holding this base, either directly or

through intermediaries (not modelled).

9

and H

t

(j) is the quantity supplied of labor of type j. (Each industry j employs an industry-

speciﬁc type of labor, with its own wage w

t

(j).) Real balances are included in the utility

function, following Sidrauski (1967) and Brock (1974, 1975), as a proxy for the services that

money balances provide in facilitating transactions.

5

For each value of the disturbances ξ

t

, u(·, ·; ξ

t

) is concave function, increasing in the ﬁrst

argument, and increasing in the second for all levels of real balances up to a satiation level

¯ m(C

t

; ξ

t

). The existence of a satiation level is necessary in order for it to be possible for

the zero interest-rate bound ever to be reached; we regard Japan’s experience over the past

several years as having settled the theoretical debate over whether such a level of real balances

exists. Unlike many papers in the literature, we do not assume additive separability of the

function u between the ﬁrst two arguments; this (realistic) complication allows a further

channel through which money can aﬀect aggregate demand, namely an eﬀect of real money

balances on the current marginal utility of consumption. Similarly, for each value of ξ

t

, v(·; ξ

t

)

is an increasing convex function. The vector of exogenous disturbances ξ

t

may contain several

elements, so that no assumption is made about correlation of the exogenous shifts in the

functions u and v.

For simplicity we shall assume complete ﬁnancial markets and no limits on borrowing

against future income. As a consequence, a household faces an intertemporal budget con-

straint of the form

E

t

∞

¸

T=t

Q

t,T

[P

T

C

T

+δ

T

M

T

] ≤ W

t

+E

t

∞

¸

T=t

Q

t,T

¸

1

0

Π

T

(i)di +

1

0

w

T

(j)H

T

(j)dj −T

h

T

**looking forward from any period t. Here Q
**

t,T

is the stochastic discount factor by which the

ﬁnancial markets value random nominal income at date T in monetary units at date t, δ

t

is

the opportunity cost of holding money (equal to i

t

/(1 + i

t

), where i

t

is the riskless nominal

interest rate on one-period obligations purchased in period t, in the case that no interest

5

We use this approach to modelling the transactions demand for money because of its familiarity. As

shown in Woodford (2003, appendix section A.16), a cash-in-advance model leads to equilibrium conditions

of essentially the same general form, and the neutrality result that we present below would hold in essentially

identical form were we to model the transactions demand for money after the fashion of Lucas and Stokey

(1987).

10

is paid on the monetary base), W

t

is the nominal value of the household’s ﬁnancial wealth

(including money holdings) at the beginning of period t, Π

t

(i) represents the nominal proﬁts

(revenues in excess of the wage bill) in period t of the supplier of good i, w

t

(j) is the nominal

wage earned by labor of type j in period t, and T

h

t

represents the net nominal tax liabilities

of each household in period t.

Optimizing household behavior then implies the following necessary conditions for a

rational-expectations equilibrium. Optimal timing of household expenditure requires that

aggregate demand Y

t

for the composite good

6

satisfy an Euler equation of the form

u

c

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

) = βE

t

¸

u

c

(Y

t+1

, M

t+1

/P

t+1

; ξ

t+1

)(1 +i

t

)

P

t

P

t+1

¸

, (1.2)

where i

t

is the riskless nominal interest rate on one-period obligations purchased in period t.

Optimal substitution between real money balances and expenditure leads to a static

ﬁrst-order condition of the form

u

m

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

)

u

c

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

)

=

i

t

1 +i

t

,

under the assumption that zero interest is paid on the monetary base, and that preferences

are such that we can exclude the possibility of a corner solution with zero money balances.

If both consumption and liquidity services are normal goods, this equilibrium condition can

be solved uniquely for the level of real balances L(Y

t

, i

t

; ξ

t

) that satisfy it in the case of any

positive nominal interest rate.

7

The equilibrium relation can then equivalently be written as

a pair of inequalities

M

t

P

t

≥ L(Y

t

, i

t

; ξ

t

), (1.3)

i

t

≥ 0, (1.4)

together with the “complementary slackness” condition that at least one must hold with

equality at any time. (Here we deﬁne L(Y, 0; ξ) = ¯ m(Y ; ξ), the minimum level of real

balances for which u

m

= 0, so that the function L is continuous at i = 0.)

6

For simplicity, we here abstract from government purchases of goods. Our equilibrium conditions directly

extend to the case of exogenous government purchases, as shown in Woodford (2003, chap. 4).

7

In the case that i

t

= 0, L(Y

t

, 0; ξ

t

) is deﬁned as the minimum level of real balances that would satisfy

the ﬁrst-order condition, so that the function L is continuous.

11

Household optimization similarly requires that the paths of aggregate real expenditure

and the price index satisfy the bounds

∞

¸

T=t

β

T

E

t

[u

c

(Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)Y

T

+u

m

(Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)(M

T

/P

T

)] < ∞, (1.5)

lim

T→∞

β

T

E

t

[u

c

(Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)D

T

/P

T

] = 0 (1.6)

looking forward from any period t, where D

t

measures the total nominal value of govern-

ment liabilities (monetary base plus government debt) at the end of period t. under the

monetary-ﬁscal policy regime. (Condition (1.5) is required for the existence of a well-deﬁned

intertemporal budget constraint, under the assumption that there are no limitations on

households’ ability to borrow against future income, while the transversality condition (1.6)

must hold if the household exhausts its intertemporal budget constraint.) Conditions (1.2)

– (1.6) also suﬃce to imply that the representative household chooses optimal consumption

and portfolio plans (including its planned holdings of money balances) given its income ex-

pectations and the prices (including ﬁnancial asset prices) that it faces, while making choices

that are consistent with ﬁnancial market clearing.

Each diﬀerentiated good i is supplied by a single monopolistically competitive producer.

There are assumed to be many goods in each of an inﬁnite number of “industries”; the goods

in each industry j are produced using a type of labor that is speciﬁc to that industry, and

also change their prices at the same time. Each good is produced in accordance with a

common production function

y

t

(i) = A

t

f(h

t

(i)),

where A

t

is an exogenous productivity factor common to all industries, and h

t

(i) is the

industry-speciﬁc labor hired by ﬁrm i. The representative household supplies all types of

labor as well as consuming all types of goods.

8

The supplier of good i sets a price for that good at which it supplies demand each period,

hiring the labor inputs necessary to meet any demand that may be realized. Given the

8

We might alternatively assume specialization across households in the type of labor supplied; in the

presence of perfect sharing of labor income risk across households, household decisions regarding consumption

and labor supply would all be as assumed here.

12

allocation of demand across goods by of households in response to ﬁrm pricing decisions, on

the one hand, and the terms on which optimizing households are willing to supply each type

of labor on the other, we can show that the nominal proﬁts (sales revenues in excess of labor

costs) in period t of the supplier of good i are given by a function

Π(p

t

(i), p

j

t

, P

t

; Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

,

˜

ξ

t

) ≡ p

t

(i)Y

t

(p

t

(i)/P

t

)

−θ

−

v

h

(f

−1

(Y

t

(p

j

t

/P

t

)

−θ

/A

t

); ξ

t

)

u

c

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

)

P

t

f

−1

(Y

t

(p

t

(i)/P

t

)

−θ

/A

t

),

where p

j

t

is the common price charged by the other ﬁrms in industry j.

9

(We introduce

the notation

˜

ξ

t

for the complete vector of exogenous disturbances, including variations in

technology as well as preferences.) If prices were fully ﬂexible, p

t

(i) would be chosen each

period to maximize this function.

Instead we suppose that prices remain ﬁxed in monetary terms for a random period of

time. Following Calvo (1983), we suppose that each industry has an equal probability of

reconsidering its prices each period, and let 0 < α < 1 be the fraction of industries with

prices that remain unchanged each period. In any industry that revises its prices in period t,

the new price p

∗

t

will be the same. This price is implicitly deﬁned by the ﬁrst-order condition

E

t

∞

¸

T=t

α

T−t

Q

t,T

Π

1

(p

∗

t

, p

∗

t

, P

T

; Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

,

˜

ξ

T

)

¸

= 0. (1.7)

We note furthermore that the stochastic discount factor used to price future proﬁt streams

will be given by

Q

t,T

= β

T−t

u

c

(C

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)

u

c

(C

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

)

. (1.8)

Finally, the deﬁnition (1.1) implies a law of motion for the aggregate price index of the form

P

t

=

(1 −α)p

∗1−θ

t

+αP

1−θ

t−1

1

1−θ

. (1.9)

Equations (1.7) and (1.9) jointly determine the evolution of prices given demand conditions,

and represent the aggregate-supply block of our model.

9

In equilibrium, all ﬁrms in an industry charge the same price at any time. But we must deﬁne proﬁts

for an individual supplier i in the case of contemplated deviations from the equilibrium price.

13

It remains to specify the monetary and ﬁscal policies of the government.

10

In order to

address the question whether “quantitative easing” represents an additional tool of policy,

we shall suppose that the central bank’s operating target for the short-term nominal interest

rate is determined by a feedback rule in the spirit of the Taylor rule (Taylor, 1993),

i

t

= φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

), (1.10)

where now

˜

ξ

t

may also include exogenous disturbances in addition to the ones listed above,

to which the central bank happens to respond. We shall assume that the function φ is non-

negative for all values of its arguments (otherwise the policy would not be feasible, given

the zero lower bound), but that there are conditions under which the rule prescribes a zero

interest-rate policy. Such a rule implies that the central bank supplies the quantity of base

money that happens to be demanded at the interest rate given by this formula; hence (1.10)

implies a path for the monetary base, in the case that the value of φ is positive. However,

under those conditions in which the value of φ is zero, the policy commitment (1.10) implies

only a lower bound on the monetary base that must be supplied. In these circumstances, we

may ask whether it matters whether a greater or smaller quantity of base money is supplied.

We shall suppose that the central bank’s policy in this regard is speciﬁed by a base-supply

rule of the form

M

t

= P

t

L(Y

t

, φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

); ξ

t

)ψ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

), (1.11)

where the multiplicative factor ψ satisﬁes

(i) ψ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

) ≥ 1,

10

It is important to note that the speciﬁcation of monetary and ﬁscal policy in the particular way that we

propose here is not intended to suggest that either monetary or ﬁscal policy must be expected to be conducted

according to rules of the sort assumed here. Indeed, in later sections of this paper, we recommend policy

commitments on the part of both monetary and ﬁscal authorities that do not conform to the assumptions

made in this section. The point is to deﬁne what we mean by the qualiﬁcation that open-market operations

are irrelevant if they do not change expected future monetary or ﬁscal policy. In order to make sense of such

a statement, we must deﬁne what it would mean for these policies to be speciﬁed in a way that prevents

them from being aﬀected by past open-market operations. The speciﬁc classes of policy rules discussed here

show that our concept of “unchanged policy” is not only logically possible, but that it could correspond to

a policy commitment of a fairly familiar sort, one that would represent a commitment to “sound policy” in

the views of some.

14

(ii) ψ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

) = 1 if φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

) > 0

for all values of its arguments. (Condition (ii) implies that ψ = 1 whenever i

t

> 0.) Note

that a base-supply rule of this form is consistent with both the interest-rate operating target

speciﬁed in (1.10) and the equilibrium relations (1.3) – (1.4). The use of “quantitative

easing” as a policy tool can then be represented by a choice of a function ψ that is greater

than 1 under some circumstances.

It remains to specify which sort of assets should be acquired (or disposed of) by the

central bank when it varies the size of the monetary base. We shall suppose that the asset

side of the central-bank balance sheet may include any of k diﬀerent types of securities,

distinguished by their state-contingent returns. At the end of period t, the vector of nominal

values of central-bank holdings of the various securities is given by M

t

ω

m

t

, where ω

m

t

is a

vector of central-bank portfolio shares. These shares are in turn determined by a policy rule

of the form

ω

m

t

= ω

m

(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

), (1.12)

where the vector-valued function ω

m

(·) has the property that its components sum to 1 for

all possible values of its arguments. The fact that ω

m

(·) depends on the same arguments as

φ(·) means that we allow for the possibility that the central bank changes its policy when the

zero bound is binding (for example, buying assets that it would not hold at any other time);

the fact that it depends on the same arguments as ψ(·) allows us to specify changes in the

composition of the central-bank portfolio as a function of the particular kinds of purchases

associated with “quantitative easing.”

The payoﬀs on these securities in each state of the world are speciﬁed by exogenously

given (state-contingent) vectors a

t

and b

t

and matrix F

t

. A vector of asset holdings z

t−1

at the end of period t − 1 results in delivery to the owner of a quantity a

t

z

t−1

of money,

a quantity b

t

z

t−1

of the consumption good, and a vector F

t

z

t−1

of securities that may be

traded in the period t asset markets, each of which may depend on the state of the world in

period t. This ﬂexible speciﬁcation allows us to treat a wide range of types of assets that

15

may diﬀer as to maturity, degree of indexation, and so on.

11

The gross nominal return R

t

(j) on the jth asset between periods t −1 and t is then given

by

R

t

(j) =

a

t

(j) +P

t

b

t

(j) +q

t

F

t

(·, j)

q

t−1

(j)

, (1.13)

where q

t

is the vector of nominal asset prices in (ex-dividend) period t trading. The absence

of arbitrage opportunities implies as usual that equilibrium asset prices must satisfy

q

t

=

¸

T≥t+1

E

t

Q

t,T

[a

T

+P

t

b

T

]

T−1

¸

s=t+1

F

s

, (1.14)

where the stochastic discount factor is again given by (1.8). Under the assumption that

no interest is paid on the monetary base, the nominal transfer by the central bank to the

Treasury each period is equal to

T

cb

t

= R

t

ω

m

t−1

M

t−1

−M

t−1

, (1.15)

where R

t

is the vector of returns deﬁned by (1.13).

We specify ﬁscal policy in terms of a rule that determines the evolution of total gov-

ernment liabilities D

t

, here deﬁned to be inclusive of the monetary base, as well as a rule

that speciﬁes the composition of outstanding non-monetary liabilities (debt) among diﬀer-

ent types of securities that might be issued by the government. We shall suppose that the

evolution of total government liabilities is in accordance with a rule of the form

D

t

P

t

= d

D

t−1

P

t−1

,

P

t

P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

, (1.16)

which speciﬁes the acceptable level of real government liabilities as a function of the pre-

existing level of real liabilities and various aspects of current macroeconomic conditions.

This notation allows for such possibilities as an exogenously speciﬁed state-contingent target

11

For example, security j in period t −1 is a one-period riskless nominal bond if b

t

(j) and F

t

(·, j) are zero

in all states, while a

t

(j) > 0 is the same in all states. Security j is instead a one-period real (or indexed)

bond if a

t

(j) and F

t

(·, j) are zero, while b

t

(j) > 0 is the same in all states. It is a two-period riskless nominal

pure discount bond if instead a

t

(j) and b

t

(j) are zero, F

t

(i, j) = 0 for all i = k, F

t

(k, j) > 0 is the same in

all states, and security k in period t is a one-period riskless nominal bond.

16

for real government liabilities as a proportion of GDP, or for the government budget deﬁcit

(inclusive of interest on the public debt) as a share of GDP, among others.

The part of total liabilities that consists of base money is speciﬁed by the base rule (1.11).

We suppose, however, that the rest may be allocated among any of a set of diﬀerent types of

securities that may be issued by the government; for convenience, we assume that this is a

subset of the set of k securities that may be purchased by the central bank. If ω

f

jt

indicates

the share of government debt (i.e., non-monetary liabilities) at the end of period t that is of

type j, then the ﬂow government budget constraint takes the form

D

t

= R

t

ω

f

t−1

B

t−1

−T

cb

t

−T

h

t

,

where B

t

≡ D

t

− M

t

is the total nominal value of end-of-period non-monetary liabilities,

and T

h

t

is the nominal value of the primary budget surplus (taxes net of transfers, if we

abstract from government purchases). This identity can then be inverted to obtain the net

tax collections T

h

t

implied by a given rule (1.16) for aggregate public liabilities; this depends

in general on the composition of the public debt as well as on total borrowing.

Finally, we suppose that debt management policy (i.e., the determination of the compo-

sition of the government’s non-monetary liabilities at each point in time) is speciﬁed by a

function

ω

f

t

= ω

f

(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

;

˜

ξ

t

), (1.17)

specifying the shares as a function of aggregate conditions, where the vector-valued function

ω

f

also has components that sum to 1 for all possible values of its arguments. Together,

the two relations (1.16) and (1.17) complete our speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy, and close our

model.

12

We may now deﬁne a rational-expectations equilibrium as a collection of stochastic pro-

cesses {p

∗

t

, P

t

, Y

t

, i

t

, q

t

, M

t

, ω

m

t

, D

t

, ω

f

t

}, with each endogenous variable speciﬁed as a function

12

We might, of course, allow for other types of ﬁscal decisions from which we abstract here — government

purchases, tax incentives, and so on — some of which may be quite relevant to dealing with a “liquidity

trap.” But our concern here is solely with the question of what can be achieved by monetary policy; we

introduce a minimal speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy only for the sake of closing our general-equilibrium model,

and in order to allow discussion of the ﬁscal implications of possible actions by the central bank.

17

of the history of exogenous disturbances to that date, that satisfy each of conditions (1.2) –

(1.6) of the aggregate-demand block of the model, conditions (1.7) and (1.9) of the aggregate-

supply block, the asset-pricing relations (1.14), conditions (1.10) – (1.12) specifying monetary

policy, and conditions (1.16) – (1.17) specifying ﬁscal policy each period. We then obtain

the following irrelevance result for the speciﬁcation of certain aspects of policy.

Proposition. The set of paths for the variables {p

∗

t

, P

t

, Y

t

, i

t

, q

t

, D

t

} that are consistent

with the existence of a rational-expectations equilibrium are independent of the speciﬁcation

of the functions ψ in equation (1.11), ω

m

in equation (1.12), and ω

f

in equation (1.17).

The reason for this is fairly simple. The set of restrictions on the processes {p

∗

t

, P

t

, Y

t

, i

t

, q

t

, D

t

}

implied by our model can be written in a form that does not involve the variables {M

t

, ω

m

t

, ω

f

t

},

and hence that does not involve the functions ψ, ω

m

, or ω

f

.

To show this, let us ﬁrst note that for all m ≥ ¯ m(C; ξ),

u(C, m; ξ) = u(C, ¯ m(C; ξ); ξ),

as additional money balances beyond the satiation level provide no further liquidity services.

By diﬀerentiating this relation, we see further that u

c

(C, m; ξ) does not depend on the exact

value of m either, as long as m exceeds the satiation level. It follows that in our equilibrium

relations, we can replace the expression u

c

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

) by

λ(Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

; ξ

t

) ≡ u

c

(Y

t

, L(Y

t

, φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

; ξ

t

); ξ

t

); ξ

t

),

using the fact that (1.3) holds with equality at all levels of real balances at which u

c

depends

on the level of real balances. Hence we can write u

c

as a function of variables other than

M

t

/P

t

, without using the relation (1.11), and so in a way that is independent of the function

ψ.

We can similarly replace the expression u

m

(Y

t

, M

t

/P

t

; ξ

t

)(M

t

/P

t

) that appears in (1.5)

by

µ(Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

; ξ

t

) ≡ u

m

(Y

t

, L(Y

t

, φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

; ξ

t

); ξ

t

); ξ

t

)L(Y

t

, φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

; ξ

t

); ξ

t

),

18

since M

t

/P

t

must equal L(Y

t

, φ(P

t

/P

t−1

, Y

t

; ξ

t

); ξ

t

) when real balances do not exceed the

satiation level, while u

m

= 0 when they do. Finally, we can express nominal proﬁts in period

t as a function

˜

Π(p

t

(i), p

j

t

, P

t

; Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

,

˜

ξ

t

),

after substituting λ(Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

; ξ

t

) for the marginal utility of real income in the wage demand

function that is used (see Woodford, 2003, chapter 3) in deriving the proﬁt function Π. Using

these substitutions, we can write each of the equilibrium relations (1.2), (1.5), (1.6), (1.7),

and (1.14) in a way that no longer makes reference to the money supply.

It then follows that in a rational-expectations equilibrium, the variables {p

∗

t

, P

t

, Y

t

, i

t

, q

t

, D

t

}

must each period satisfy the relations

λ(Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

; ξ

t

) = βE

t

¸

λ(Y

t+1

, P

t+1

/P

t

; ξ

t+1

)(1 +i

t

)

P

t

P

t+1

¸

, (1.18)

∞

¸

T=t

β

T

E

t

[λ(Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

; ξ

T

)Y

T

+µ(Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

; ξ

T

)] < ∞, (1.19)

lim

T→∞

β

T

E

t

[λ(Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

; ξ

T

)D

T

/P

T

] = 0, (1.20)

q

t

=

P

t

λ(Y

t

, P

t

/P

t−1

; ξ

t

)

¸

T≥t+1

β

T−t

E

t

λ(Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

; ξ

T

)[P

−1

T

a

T

+b

T

]

T−1

¸

s=t+1

F

s

, (1.21)

E

t

∞

¸

T=t

(αβ)

T−t

λ(Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

; ξ

T

)P

−1

T

˜

Π

1

(p

∗

t

, p

∗

t

, P

T

; Y

T

, P

T

/P

T−1

,

˜

ξ

T

)

¸

= 0, (1.22)

along with relations (1.9), (1.10), and (1.16) as before. Note that none of these equations

involve the variables {M

t

, ω

m

t

, ω

f

t

}, nor do they involve the functions ψ, ω

m

, or ω

f

.

Furthermore, this is the complete set of restrictions on these variables that are required

in order for them to be consistent with a rational-expectations equilibrium. For given any

processes {p

∗

t

, P

t

, Y

t

, i

t

, q

t

, D

t

} that satisfy the equations just listed in each period, the implied

path of the money supply is given by (1.11), which clearly has a solution; and this path for

the money supply necessarily satisﬁes (1.3) and the complementary slackness condition, as a

result of our assumptions about the form of the function ψ. Similarly, the implied composition

of the central-bank portfolio and of the public debt at each point in time are given by (1.12)

19

and (1.17). We then have a set of processes that satisfy all of the requirements for a rational-

expectations equilibrium, and the result is established.

1.2 Discussion

This proposition implies that neither the extent to which quantitative easing is employed

when the zero bound binds, nor the nature of the assets that the central bank may pur-

chase through open-market operations, has any eﬀect on whether a deﬂationary price-level

path will represent a rational-expectations equilibrium. Hence the notion that expansions

of the monetary base represent an additional tool of policy, independent of the speciﬁca-

tion of the rule for adjusting short-term nominal interest rates, is not supported by our

general-equilibrium analysis of inﬂation and output determination. If the commitments of

policymakers regarding the rule by which interest rates will be set on the one hand, and

the rule which total private-sector claims on the government will be allowed to grow on the

other, are fully credible, then it is only the choice of those commitments that matters. Other

aspects of policy should matter in practice, then, only insofar as they help to signal the

nature of policy commitments of the kind just mentioned.

Of course, the validity of our result depends on the reasonableness of our assumptions,

and these deserve further discussion. Like any economic model, ours abstracts from the

complexity of actual economies in many respects. This raises the question whether we may

have abstracted from features of actual economies that are crucial for a correct understanding

of the issues under discussion.

Many readers may suspect that an important omission is the neglect of “portfolio-balance

eﬀects,” which play an important role in much recent discussion of the policy options that

would remain available to the Fed in the event that the zero bound is reached by the federal

funds rate.

13

The idea is that a central bank should be able to lower longer-term interest

rates even when overnight rates are already at zero, through purchases of longer-maturity

government bonds, shifting the composition of the public debt in the hands of the public

13

See, e.g., Clouse et al. (2003) and Orphanides (2003).

20

in a way that aﬀects the term structure of interest rates. (As it is generally admitted in

such discussions that base money and very short-term Treasury securities have become near-

perfect substitutes once short-term interest rates have fallen to zero, the desired eﬀect should

be achieved equally well by a shift in the maturity structure of Treasury securities held by

the central bank, without any change in the monetary base, as by an open-market purchase

of long bonds with newly created base money.)

There are evidently no such eﬀects in our model, resulting either from central-bank

securities purchases or debt management by the Treasury. But this is not, as some might

expect, because we have simply assumed that bonds of diﬀerent maturities (or for that

matter, other kinds of assets that the central bank might choose to purchase instead of the

shortest-maturity Treasury bills) are perfect substitutes. Our framework allows for diﬀerent

assets that the central bank may purchase to have diﬀerent risk characteristics (diﬀerent

state-contingent returns), and our model of asset-market equilibrium incorporates those term

premia and risk premia that are consistent with the absence of arbitrage opportunities.

Our conclusion diﬀers from the one in the literature on portfolio-balance eﬀects for a

diﬀerent reason. The classic theoretical analysis of portfolio-balance eﬀects assumes a rep-

resentative investor with mean-variance preferences. This has the implication that if the

supply of assets that pay oﬀ disproportionately in certain states of the world is increased

(so that the extent to which the representative investor’s portfolio pays oﬀ in those states

must also increase), the relative marginal valuation of income in those particular states is

reduced, resulting in a lower relative price for the assets that pay oﬀ in those states. But in

our general-equilibrium asset-pricing model, there is no such eﬀect. The marginal utility to

the representative household of additional income in a given state of the world depends on

the household’s consumption in that state, not on the aggregate payoﬀ of its asset portfolio in

that state. And changes in the composition of the securities in the hands of the public don’t

change the state-contingent consumption of the representative household — this depends on

equilibrium output, and while output is endogenous, we have shown that the equilibrium

21

relations that determine it do not involve the functions ψ, ω

m

, or ω

f

.

14

Our assumption of complete ﬁnancial markets and no limits on borrowing against future

income may also appear extreme. However, the assumption of complete ﬁnancial markets is

only a convenience, allowing us to write the budget constraint of the representative household

in a simple way. Even in the case of incomplete markets, each of the assets that is traded

will be priced according to (1.14), where the stochastic discount factor is given by (1.8),

and once again there will be a set of relations to determine output, goods prices, and asset

prices that do not involve ψ, ω

m

, or ω

f

. The absence of borrowing limits is also innocuous, at

least in the case of a representative-household model, since in equilibrium the representative

household must hold the entire net supply of ﬁnancial claims on the government; as long as

the ﬁscal rule (1.16) implies positive government liabilities at each date, then, any borrowing

limits that might be assumed can never bind in equilibrium. Borrowing limits can matter

more in the case of a model with heterogeneous households. But in this case, the eﬀects of

open-market operations should depend not merely on which sorts of assets are purchased

and which sorts of liabilities are issued to ﬁnance the purchases, but also on the way in

which the central bank’s trading proﬁts are eventually rebated to the private sector (with

what delay, and how distributed across the heterogeneous households), as a result of the

speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy. The eﬀects will not be mechanical consequences of the change

in the composition of the assets in the hands of the public, but instead will result from

the ﬁscal transfers to which the transaction gives rise; and it is unclear how quantitatively

signiﬁcant such eﬀects should be.

Indeed, leaving aside the question of whether there exists a clear theoretical foundation

for the existence of portfolio-balance eﬀects, there is not a great deal of empirical support for

quantitatively signiﬁcant eﬀects. The attempt of the U.S. to separately target short-term and

14

Our general-equilibrium analysis is in the spirit of the irrelevance proposition for open-market operations

of Wallace (1981). Wallace’s analysis is often supposed to be of little practical relevance for actual monetary

policy because his model is one in which money serves only as a store of value, so that it is not possible for

there to be an equilibrium in which money is dominated in rate of return by short-term Treasury securities,

something that is routinely observed. However, in the case of open-market operations that are conducted at

the zero bound, the liquidity services provided by money balances at the margin have fallen to zero, so that

an analysis of the kind proposed by Wallace is correct.

22

long-term interest rates under “Operation Twist” in the early 1960’s is generally regarded as

having had a modest eﬀect at best on the term structure.

15

The empirical literature that has

sought to estimate the eﬀects of changes in the composition of the public debt on relative

yields has also, on the whole, found eﬀects that are not quantitatively large when present at

all.

16

For example, Agell and Persson (1992) summarize their ﬁndings as follows: “It turned

out that these eﬀects were rather small in magnitude, and that their numerical values were

highly volatile. Thus the policy conclusion to be drawn seems to be that there is not much

scope for a debt management policy aimed at systematically aﬀecting asset yields.”

Moreover, even if one supposes that large enough changes in the composition of the

portfolio of securities left in the hands of the private sector can substantially aﬀect yields,

it is not clear how relevant such an eﬀect should be for real activity and the evolution of

goods prices. For example, Clouse et al. (2003) argue that a suﬃciently large reduction in the

number of long-term Treasuries in the hands of the public should be able to lower the market

yield on those securities relative to short rates, owing to the fact that certain institutions will

ﬁnd it important to hold long-term Treasury securities even when they oﬀer an unfavorable

yield.

17

But even if this is true, the fact that these institutions have idiosyncratic reasons

to hold long-term Treasuries — and that, in equilibrium, no one else holds any or plays

any role in pricing them — means that the lower observed yield on long-term Treasuries

may not correspond to any reduction in the perceived cost of long-term borrowing for other

institutions. If one is able to reduce the long bond rate only by decoupling it from the rest of

the structure of interest rates, and from the cost of ﬁnancing long-term investment projects,

it is unclear that such a reduction should do much to stimulate economic activity or to halt

deﬂationary pressures.

15

Okun (1963) and Modigliani and Sutch (1967) are important early discussions that reached this conclu-

sion. Meulendyke (1998) summarizes the literature, and ﬁnds that the predominant view is that the eﬀect

was minimal.

16

Examples of studies ﬁnding either no eﬀects or only quantitatively unimportant ones include Mogigliani

and Sutch (1967), Frankel (1985), Agell and Persson (1992), Wallace and Warner (1996), and Hess (1999).

Roley (1982) and Friedman (1992) ﬁnd somewhat larger eﬀects.

17

Cecchetti (2003) similarly argues that it should be possible for the Fed to independently aﬀect long-bond

yields if it is determined to do so, given that it can print money without limit to buy additional long-term

Treasuries if necessary.

23

Hence we are not inclined to suppose that our irrelevance proposition represents so poor

an approximation to reality as to deprive it of practical relevance. Even if the eﬀects of

open-market operations under the conditions described in the proposition are not exactly

zero, it seems unlikely that they should be large. In our view, it is more important to

note that our irrelevance proposition depends on an assumption that interest-rate policy is

speciﬁed in a way that implies that these open-market operations have no consequences for

interest-rate policy, either immediately (which is trivial, since it would not be possible for

them to lower current interest rates, which is the only eﬀect that would be desired), or at any

subsequent date either. We have also speciﬁed ﬁscal policy in a way that implies that the

contemplated open-market operations have no eﬀect on the evolution of total government

liabilities {D

t

} either — again, neither immediately nor at any later date. While we think

that these deﬁnitions make sense, as a way of isolating the pure eﬀects of open-market

purchases of assets by the central bank from either interest-rate policy on the one hand

and from ﬁscal policy on the other, it is important to note that someone who recommends

monetary expansion by the central bank may intend for this to have consequences of one or

both of these other sorts.

For example, when it is argued that surely nominal aggregate demand could be stimulated

by a “helicopter drop of money”, the thought experiment that is usually contemplated is

not simply a change in the function ψ in our policy rule (1.11). First of all, it is typically

supposed that the expansion of the money supply will be permanent. If this is the case,

then the function φ that deﬁnes interest-rate policy is also being changed, in a way that will

become relevant at some future date, when the money supply no longer exceeds the satiation

level.

18

Second, the assumption that the money supply is increased through a “helicopter

18

This explains the apparent diﬀerence between our result and the one obtained by Auerbach and Obstfeld

(2003) in a similar model. These authors assume explicitly that an increase in the money supply while the

zero bound binds carries with it the implication of a permanently higher money supply, and also that there

exists a future date at which the zero bound ceases to bind, so that the higher money supply will imply a

diﬀerent interest-rate policy at that later date. Clouse et al. (2003) also stress that maintenance of the higher

money supply until a date at which the zero bound would not otherwise bind represents one straightforward

channel through which open markets operations while the zero bound is binding could have a stimulative

eﬀect, though they discuss other possible channels as well.

24

drop” rather than an open-market operation implies a change in ﬁscal policy as well. The

operation increases the value of nominal government liabilities, and it is generally at least

tacitly assumed that this is a permanent increase as well. Hence the experiment that is

imagined is not one that our irrelevance proposition implies should have no eﬀect on the

equilibrium path of prices.

Even more importantly, we should stress that our irrelevance result applies only given

a correct private-sector understanding of the central bank’s commitments regarding future

policy, which may not be present. We have just argued that the key to lowering long-term

interest rates, in a way that actually provides an incentive for increased spending, is by

changing expectations regarding the likely future path of short rates, rather than through

intervention in the market for long-term Treasuries. As a logical matter, this need not

require any open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries at all. Nonetheless, the private

sector may be uncertain about the nature of the central bank’s policy commitment, and so

may scrutinize the bank’s current actions for further clues. In practice, the management

of private-sector expectations is an art of considerable subtlety, and shifts in the portfolio

of the central bank could be of some value in making credible to the private sector the

central bank’s own commitment to a particular kind of future policy, as we discuss further

in section 6. “Signalling” eﬀects of this kind are often argued to be an important reason

for the eﬀectiveness of interventions in foreign-exchange markets, and might well provide a

justiﬁcation for open-market policy when the zero bound binds.

19

We do not wish, then, to argue that asset purchases by the central bank are necessarily

pointless under the circumstances of a binding zero lower bound on short-term nominal

interest rates. However, we do think it important to observe that insofar as such actions

can have any eﬀect, it is not because of any necessary or mechanical consequence of the

shift in the portfolio of assets in the hands of the private sector itself. Instead, any eﬀect

of such actions must be due to the way in which they change expectations regarding future

19

Clouse et al. (2003) argue that this is one important channel through which open-market operations can

be eﬀective.

25

interest-rate policy, or, perhaps, the future evolution of total nominal government liabilities.

In sections 6 and 7 we discuss reasons why open-market purchases by the central bank might

plausibly have consequences for expectations of these types. But since it is only through

eﬀects on expectations regarding future policy that these actions can matter, we shall focus

our attention on the question of what kind of commitments regarding future policy are in

fact to be desired. And this question can be addressed without explicit consideration of the

role of open-market operations by the central bank of any kind. Hence we shall simplify

our model — abstracting from monetary frictions and the structure of government liabilities

altogether — and instead consider how it is desirable for interest-rate policy to be conducted,

and what kind of commitments about this policy it is desirable to make in advance.

2 How Severe a Constraint is the Zero Bound?

We turn now to the question of the way in which the existence of the zero bound restricts the

degree to which a central bank’s stabilization objectives, with regard to both inﬂation and

real activity, can be achieved, even under ideal policy. It follows from our discussion in the

previous section that the zero bound does represent a genuine constraint. The diﬀerences

among alternative policies that are relevant to the degree to which stabilization objectives

are achieved having only to do with the implied evolution of short-term nominal interest

rates, and the zero bound obviously constrains the ways in which this instrument can be

used, though it remains to be seen how relevant this constraint may be.

Nonetheless, we shall see that it is not at all the case that there is nothing that a central

bank can do to mitigate the severity of the destabilizing impact of the zero bound. The

reason is that inﬂation and output do not depend solely upon the current level of short-term

nominal interest rates, or even solely upon the history of such rates up until the current

time (so that the current level of interest rates would be the only thing that could possibly

changed in response to an unanticipated disturbance). The expected character of future

interest-rate policy is also a critical determinant of the degree to which the central bank

achieves its stabilization objectives, and this allows an important degree of scope for policy

26

to be improved upon, even when there is little choice about the current level of short-term

interest rates.

In fact, the management of expectations is the key to successful monetary policy at all

times, and not just in those relatively unusual circumstances when the zero bound is reached.

The eﬀectiveness of monetary policy has little to do with the direct eﬀect of changing the level

of overnight interest rates, since the current cost of maintaining cash balances overnight is

of fairly trivial signiﬁcance for most business decisions. What actually matters is the private

sector’s anticipation of the future path of short rates, as this determines equilibrium long-

term interest rates, as well as equilibrium exchange rates and other asset prices — all of which

are quite relevant for many current spending decisions, hence for optimal pricing behavior as

well. The way in which short rates are managed matters because of the signals that it gives

about the way in which the private sector can expect them to be managed in the future.

But there is no reason to suppose that expectations regarding future monetary policy, and

hence expectations regarding the future evolution of nominal variables more generally, should

change only insofar as the current level of overnight interest rates changes. A situation in

which there is no decision to be made about the current level of overnight rates (as in Japan

at present) is one which brings the question of what expectations regarding future policy

one should wish to create more urgently to the fore, but this is in fact the correct way to

think about sound monetary policy at all times.

Of course, there is no question to be faced about what future policy one should wish for

people to expect if there is no possibility of committing oneself to a diﬀerent sort of policy

in the future than one would otherwise have pursued, as a result of the constraints that are

currently faced (and that make desirable the change in expectations). This means that the

private sector must be convinced that the central bank will not conduct policy in a way that

is purely forward-looking, i.e., taking account at each point in time only of the possible paths

that the economy could follow from that date onward. For example, we will show that it

is undesirable for the central bank to pursue a certain inﬂation target, once the zero bound

is expected no longer to prevent it from being achieved, even in the case that the pursuit

27

of this target would be optimal if the zero bound did not exist (or would never bind under

an optimal policy). The reason is that an expectation that the central bank will pursue the

ﬁxed inﬂation target after the zero bound ceases to bind gives people no reason to hold the

kind of expectations, while the bound is binding, that would mitigate the distortions created

by it. A history-dependent inﬂation target

20

— if the central bank’s commitment to it can

be made credible — can instead yield a superior outcome.

But this too is an important feature of optimal policy rules more generally (see, e.g.,

Woodford, 2003, chapter 7). Hence the analytical framework and institutional arrangements

used to make monetary policy need not be changed in any fundamental way in order to deal

with the special problems created by a “liquidity trap”. As we explain in section 4, the

optimal policy in the case of a binding zero bound can be implemented through a targeting

procedure that represents a straightforward generalization of a policy that would be optimal

even if the zero bound were expected never to bind.

2.1 Feasible Responses to Fluctuation in the Natural Rate of In-

terest

In order to characterize the way in which stabilization policy is constrained by the zero bound,

we shall make use of a log-linear approximation to the structural equations of section 2, of a

kind that is often employed in the literature on optimal monetary stabilization policy (see,

e.g., Clarida et al., 1999; Woodford, 2003). Speciﬁcally, we shall log-linearize the structural

equations of our model (except for the zero bound (1.4)) around the paths of inﬂation,

output and interest rates associated with a zero-inﬂation steady state, in the absence of

disturbances (ξ

t

= 0). We choose to expand around these particular paths because the zero-

inﬂation steady state represents optimal policy in the absence of disturbances.

21

In the event

20

As we shall see, it is easier to explain the nature of the optimal commitment if it is described as a

history-dependent price-level target.

21

See Woodford (2003, chapter 7) for more detailed discussion of this point. The fact that zero inﬂation

is optimal, rather than mild deﬂation, depends on our abstracting from transactions frictions, as discussed

further in footnote xx below. As shown by Woodford, a long-run inﬂation target of zero is optimal in this

model, even when the steady-state output level associated with zero inﬂation is suboptimal, owing to market

power.

28

of small enough disturbances, optimal policy will still involve paths in which inﬂation, output

and interest rates are at all times close to those of the zero-inﬂation steady state. Hence an

approximation to our equilibrium conditions that is accurate in the case of inﬂation, output

and interest rates near those values will allow an accurate approximation to the optimal

responses to disturbances in the case that the disturbances are small enough.

In the zero-inﬂation steady state, it is easily seen that the real rate of interest is equal to

¯ r ≡ β

−1

−1 > 0, and this is also the steady-state nominal interest rate. Hence in the case of

small enough disturbances, optimal policy will involve a nominal interest rate that is always

positive, and the zero bound will not be a binding constraint. (Optimal policy in this case is

characterized in the references cited in the previous paragraph.) However, we are interested

in the case in which disturbances are at least occasionally large enough for the zero bound to

bind, i.e., for it to prevent attainment of the outcome that would be optimal in the absence

of such a bound. A case in which it is possible to rigorously consider this problem using only

a log-linear approximation to the structural equations is that in which we suppose that the

lower bound on nominal interest is not much below ¯ r. We can arrange for this gap to be as

small as we may wish, without changing other crucial parameters of the model such as the

assumed rate of time preference, by supposing that interest is paid on the monetary base at

a rate i

m

≥ 0 that cannot (for some institutional reason) be reduced. Then the lower bound

on interest rates actually becomes

i

t

≥ i

m

(2.1)

We shall characterize optimal policy subject to a constraint of the form (2.1), in the case

that both a bound on the amplitude of disturbances ||ξ|| and the size of the steady-state

opportunity cost of holding money

¯

δ ≡ (¯ r −i

m

)/(1 + ¯ r) > 0 are small enough. Speciﬁcally,

both our structural equations and our characterization of the optimal responses of inﬂation,

output and interest rates to disturbances will be required to be exact only up to a resid-

ual of order O(||ξ,

¯

δ||

2

). We shall then hope (without here seeking to verify this) that our

characterization of optimal policy in the case of a small opportunity cost of holding money

and small disturbances is not too inaccurate in the case of an opportunity cost of several

29

percentage points (the case in which i

m

= 0) and disturbances large enough to cause the

natural rate of interest to vary by several percentage points (as will be required in order for

the zero bound to bind).

As shown in Woodford (2003), the log-linear approximate equilibrium relations may be

summarized by two equations each period, a forward-looking “IS relation”

x

t

= E

t

x

t+1

−σ(i

t

−E

t

π

t+1

−r

n

t

), (2.2)

and a forward-looking “AS relation” (or “New Keynesian Phillips curve”)

π

t

= κx

t

+βE

t

π

t+1

+u

t

. (2.3)

Here π

t

≡ log(P

t

/P

t−1

) is the inﬂation rate, x

t

is a welfare-relevant output gap, and i

t

is

now the continuously compounded nominal interest rate (corresponding to log(1 +i

t

) in the

notation of section 2). The terms u

t

and r

n

t

are composite exogenous disturbance terms that

shift the two equations; the former is commonly referred to as a “cost-push disturbance”,

while the latter indicates exogenous variation in the Wicksellian “natural rate of interest”,

i.e., the equilibrium real rate of interest in the case that output is at all times equal to the

natural rate of output. The coeﬃcients σ and κ are both positive, while 0 < β < 1 is again

the utility discount factor of the representative household.

Equation (2.2) is a log-linear approximation to (1.2), while (2.3) is derived by log-

linearizing (1.7) – (1.9) and then eliminating log(p

∗

t

/P

t

). We omit the log-linear version

of the money-demand relation (1.3), since we are here interested solely in characterizing the

possible equilibrium paths of inﬂation, output, and interest rates, and we may abstract from

the question of what the required path for the monetary base may be that is associated

with any such equilibrium in considering this. (It suﬃces that there exist a monetary base

that will satisfy the money-demand relation in each case, and this will be true as long as

the interest-rate bound is satisﬁed.) The other equilibrium requirements of section 2 can be

ignored in the case that we are interested only in possible equilibria that remain forever near

the zero-inﬂation steady state, as they are automatically satisﬁed in that case.

30

Equations (2.2) – (2.3) represent a pair of equations each period to determine inﬂation

and the output gap, given the central bank’s interest-rate policy. We shall seek to com-

pare alternative possible paths for inﬂation, the output gap, and the nominal interest rate

that satisfy these two log-linear equations together with the inequality (2.1). Note that

our conclusions will be identical (up to a scale factor) in the event that we multiply the

amplitude of the disturbances and the steady-state opportunity cost

¯

δ by any common fac-

tor; alternatively, if we measure the amplitude of disturbances in units of

¯

δ, our results will

be independent of the value of

¯

δ (to the extent that our log-linear approximation remains

valid). Hence we choose the normalization

¯

δ = 1 − β, corresponding to i

m

= 0, to simplify

the presentation of our results. In the case, the lower bound for the nominal interest rate is

again given by (1.4).

2.2 Deﬂation under Forward-Looking Policy

We begin by considering the degree to which the zero bound impedes the achievement of

the central bank’s stabilization objectives in the case that the bank pursues a strict inﬂation

target. We interpret this as a commitment to adjust the nominal interest rate so that

π

t

= π

∗

(2.4)

each period, insofar as it is possible to achieve this with some non-negative interest rate. It

is easy to verify, by the IS and AS equation, that a necessary condition for this target to be

satisﬁed is:

i

t

= r

n

t

+π

∗

(2.5)

When inﬂation is on target, the real rate is equal to the natural real rate at all times and

the output gap at its long run level. The zero bound, however, prevents (2.5) from holding

if r

n

t

< −π

∗

. Thus if the natural rate of interest is low, the zero bound frustrates the Central

Bank’s ability to implement an inﬂation target. Suppose the inﬂation target is zero so that

π

∗

= 0. Then the zero bound is binding if the natural rate of interest is negative, and the

Central Bank is unable to achieve its inﬂation target.

31

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−15

−10

−5

0

5

(a) inflation

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−15

−10

−5

0

5

(b) output gap

Figure 2: Dynamics of inﬂation and the output gap under strict inﬂation targeting, for three

alternative inﬂation targets.

To illustrate this, let us consider the following experiment: Suppose the natural rate of

interest is unexpectedly negative in period 0 and reverts back to the steady-state value ¯ r > 0

with a ﬁxed probability in every period. Figure 2 shows the state-contingent paths of the

output gap and inﬂation in the case of three diﬀerent possible inﬂation targets π

∗

. In the

ﬁgure we assume in period 0 that the natural rate of interest becomes -2 percent per annum

and then reverts back to the steady-state value of +4 percent per annum with a probability

0.1 each quarter. Thus the natural rate of interest is expected to be negative for 10 quarters

on average at the time that the shock occurs.

The dashed lines in Figure 2 show the state-contingent evolution of the output gap

and inﬂation if the central bank targets zero inﬂation.

22

The ﬁrst dashed line shows the

22

In our numerical analysis, we interpret periods as quarters, and assume coeﬃcient values of σ = 0.5,

κ = 0.02, and β = 0.99. The assumed value of the discount factor implies a long-run real rate of interest

of ¯ r equal to four percent per annum, as noted in the text. The assumed value of κ is consistent with the

32

equilibrium if the natural rate of interest returns back to steady state in period 1, the next

line if it returns in period 2, and so on. The inability of the central bank to set a negative

nominal interest rate results in a 12 percent per output gap and 9 percent annual deﬂation.

Since there is a 90 percent chance of the natural rate of interest to remain negative for

the next quarter, this creates expectation of future deﬂation and negative output gap which

creates even further deﬂation. Even if the central bank lowers the short-term nominal interest

rate to zero the real rate of return is positive because the private sector expects deﬂation.

The solid line in the ﬁgure shows the equilibrium if the central bank targets a one percent

inﬂation target. In this case the private sector expect one percent inﬂation once out of the

trap. This, however, is not enough to oﬀset the minus two percent negative natural rate of

interest, so that in equilibrium the private sector expect deﬂation instead of inﬂation. The

result of this and a negative natural rate of interest is 3 percent annual deﬂation (when the

natural rate of interest is negative) and an output gap of more than 5 percent.

Finally the dotted line shows the evolution of output and inﬂation if the central bank

targets 2 percent inﬂation. In this case the central bank can satisfy equation (3.14) even

when the natural rate of interest in negative. When the natural rate of interest is minus two

percent, the central bank lowers the nominal interest rate to zero. Since the inﬂation target

is two percent, the real rate is minus two percent, which is enough to close the output gap

and keep inﬂation on target. If the inﬂation target is high enough, therefore, the central bank

is able to accommodate a negative natural rate of interest. This is the argument given by

Phelps (1972), Summers (1991), and Fischer (1996) for a positive inﬂation target. Krugman

(1998) makes a similar argument, and suggests more concretely that Japan needs a positive

inﬂation target of 4 percent under its current circumstances to achieve negative real rates

and curb deﬂation.

empirical estimate of Rotemberg and Woodford (1997). The assumed value of σ represents a relatively low

degree of interest-sensitivity of aggregate expenditure. We prefer to bias our assumptions in the direction

of only a modest eﬀect of interest rates on the timing of expenditure, so as not to exaggerate the size of

the output contraction that is predicted to result from an inability to lower interest rates when the zero

bound binds. As Figure 2 shows, even for this value of σ, the output contraction that results from a slightly

negative value of the natural rate of interest is quite substantial.

33

While we see that commitment to a higher inﬂation target will indeed guard against the

need for a negative output gap in periods when the natural rate of interest falls, the price of

this solution is the distortions created by the inﬂation, both when the natural rate of interest

is negative and under more normal circumstances as well. Hence the optimal inﬂation target

(from among the strict inﬂation targeting policies just considered) will be some value that

is at least slightly positive, in order to mitigate the distortions created by the zero bound

when the natural rate of interest is negative, but not so high as to keep the zero bound from

ever binding (see Table 1). In the case of an intermediate inﬂation target, however (like the

one percent target considered in the ﬁgure), there is both a substantial recession when the

natural rate of interest becomes negative, and chronic inﬂation at all other times. Hence no

such policy allows a complete solution of the problem posed by the zero bound in the case

that the natural rate of interest is sometimes negative.

Nor can one do better through commitment to any policy rule that is purely forward-

looking in the sense discussed by Woodford (2000). A purely forward-looking policy is one

under which the central bank’s action at any time depends only on an evaluation of the

possible paths for the central bank’s target variables (here, inﬂation and the output gap)

that are possible from the current date forward — neglecting past conditions except insofar

as they constrain the economy’s possible evolution from here on. In the log-linear model

presented above, the possible paths for inﬂation and the output gap from period t onward

depend only on the expected evolution of the natural rate of interest from period t onward. If

we assume a Markovian process for the natural rate, as in the numerical analysis above, then

any purely forward-looking policy will result in an inﬂation rate, output gap, and nominal

interest rate in period t that depend only on the natural rate in period t — in our numerical

example, on whether the natural rate is still negative or has already returned to its long-run

steady-state value. It is easily shown in the case of our 2-state example that the optimal

state-contingent evolution for inﬂation and output from among those with this property will

be one in which the zero bound binds if and only if the natural rate is in the low state; hence

it will correspond to a strict inﬂation target of the kind just considered, for some π

∗

between

34

zero and two percent.

But one can actually do considerably better, through commitment to a history-dependent

policy, in which the central bank’s actions will depend on past conditions even though these

are irrelevant to the degree to which its stabilization goals could in principle be achieved

from then on. We characterize the optimal form of history-dependent policy, and determine

the degree to which it improves upon the stabilization of both output and inﬂation, in the

next section.

2.3 The Optimal Policy Commitment

We now characterize optimal monetary policy. We do this by optimizing over the set of all

possible state-contingent paths for inﬂation, output and the short-term nominal interest rate

consistent with the log-linearized structural relations (2.2) and (2.3), under the assumption

(for now) that the expectations regarding future state-contingent policy that are required for

such an equilibrium can be made credible to the private sector. In considering the central

bank’s optimization problem under the assumption that credible commitment is possible

regarding future policy, we do not mean to minimize the subtlety of the task of actually

communicating such a commitment to the public and making it credible. However, we

do not believe that it makes sense to recommend a policy that would systematically seek

to achieve an outcome other than a rational-expectations equilibrium — that is, we are

interested in policies that will have the desired eﬀect even when correctly understood by

the public. Optimization under the assumption of credible commitment is simply a way of

ﬁnding the best possible rational-expectations equilibrium. Once the equilibrium that one

would like to bring about has been identiﬁed, along with the interest-rate policy that it

requires, one can turn to the question of how best to signal these intentions to the public

(an issue that we brieﬂy address in section 5 below).

We assume that the government minimizes:

min E

0

∞

¸

t=0

β

t

(π

2

t

+λx

2

t

)

¸

(2.6)

35

This loss function can be derived by a second order Taylor expansion of the utility of the

representative household.

23

The optimal program can be found by a Lagrangian method,

extending the methods used in Clarida et al. (1999) and Woodford (1999; 2003, chapter 7)

to the case in which the zero bound can sometimes bind, as shown by Jung et al. (2001).

Let us combine the zero bound and the IS equation to yield the inequality:

x

t

≤ E

t

x

t+1

+σ(r

n

t

+E

t

π

t+1

)

The Lagrangian for this problem is then:

L

0

= E

0

∞

¸

t=0

β

t

1

2

[π

2

t

+λx

2

t

] +φ

1t

[x

t

−x

t+1

−σπ

t+1

−σr

n

t

] +φ

2t

[π

t

−κx

t

−βπ

t+1

]

**The ﬁrst order conditions for an optimal policy commitment are shown by Jung et al. to be:
**

π

t

+φ

2t

−φ

2t−1

−β

−1

σφ

1t−1

= 0 (2.7)

λx

t

+φ

1t

−β

−1

φ

1t−1

−kφ

2t

= 0 (2.8)

φ

1t

≥ 0, i

t

≥ 0, φ

1t

i

t

= 0 (2.9)

One can not apply standard solution methods for rational expectation models to solve this

system due to the complications of the nonlinear constraint (2.9). The numerical method

that we use to solve these equations is described in the appendix.

24

Here we discuss the

23

See Woodford (2003, chapter 6) for details. This approximation applies in the case that we abstract from

monetary frictions as assumed in this section. If transactions frictions are instead non-negligible, the loss

function should include an additional term proportional to This would indicate welfare gains from keeping

nominal interest rates as close as possible to the zero bound (or, more generally, the lower bound i

m

).

Nonetheless, because of the stickiness of prices, it would not be optimal for interest rates to be at zero at

all times, as implied by the ﬂexible-price model discussed by Uhlig (2000). The optimal inﬂation rate in the

absence of shocks would be slightly negative, rather than zero as in the “cashless” model considered in this

section; but it would not be so low that the zero bound would be reached, except in the event of temporary

declines in the natural rate of interest, as in the analysis here.

Note also that (2.6) implies that the optimal output gap is zero. More generally, there should be an

output-gap stabilization objective of the form (x

t

− x∗)

2

; the utility-based loss function involves x∗ = 0

only if one assumes the existence of an output or employment subsidy that oﬀsets the distortion due to the

market power of ﬁrms. However, the value of x∗ does not aﬀect the optimal state-contingent paths derived

in this section and shown in ﬁgures 3 and 4, nor the formulas given in section 3 for the optimal targeting

rule.

24

Jung et al. (2001) discuss the solution of these equations only for the case in which the number of

periods for which the natural rate of interest will be negative is known with certainty at the time that the

disturbance occurs. Here we show how the system can be solved in the case of a stochastic process for the

natural rate of a particular kind.

36

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−0.2

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

(a) inflation

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−1

0

1

2

3

(b) output gap

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

99.8

100

100.2

100.4

(c) the price level

Figure 3: Dynamics of the output gap and inﬂation under an optimal policy commitment.

results that we obtain for the particular numerical experiment considered in the previous

section.

What is apparent from the ﬁrst order conditions (2.7)-(2.8) is that optimal policy is

history dependent, so that the optimal choice of inﬂation, the output gap and the nominal

interest rates depends on the past values of the endogenous variables. This can be seen by

the appearance of lagged value of the Lagrange multipliers in the ﬁrst order conditions. To

get a sense of how this history dependence matters, it is useful to consider the numerical

exercise from the last section: Suppose the natural rate of interest becomes negative in period

0 and then reverts back to steady state with a ﬁxed probability in each period.

Figure 3 shows the optimal output gap, inﬂation and the price level from period 0 to

period 25. One observes that the optimal policy involves committing to the creation of an

output boom once the natural rate again becomes positive, and hence to the creation of

future inﬂation. Such a commitment stimulates aggregate demand and reduces deﬂationary

37

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−1

0

1

2

3

4

5

nominal interest rate

Figure 4: The associated state-contingent path of the short-term nominal interest rate, under

the policy shown in Figure 3 [solid line], and under the zero inﬂation target shown in Figure

2 [dashed line].

pressures while the economy remains in the “liquidity trap”, through each of several channels.

As Krugman (1998) points out, creating the expectation of future inﬂation can lower real

interest rates, even when the nominal interest rate cannot be reduced. In the context of

Krugman’s model, it might seem that this requires that inﬂation be promised quite quickly

(by the following “period”). Our fully intertemporal model shows how even the expectation

of later inﬂation — nominal interest rates are not expected to rise to oﬀset it — can stimulate

current demand, since in our model current spending decisions depend on real interest-rate

expectations far in the future. For the same reason, the expectation that nominal interest

rates will be kept low later, when the central bank might otherwise have raised them, will

also stimulate spending while the zero bound still binds. And ﬁnally, the expectation of

higher future income should stimulate current spending, in accordance with the permanent

38

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

0

2

4

6

(a) interest rate

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−10

−5

0

(b) inflation

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−15

−10

−5

0

(c) output gap

optimal

π*=0

Figure 5: Comparison of the state-contingent paths under the two policies compared in

Figure 4, in the case that the natural rate of interest is negative for 15 quarters.

income hypothesis. In addition, prices are less likely to fall, even given the current level of

real activity, insofar as future inﬂation is expected. This reduces the distortions created by

deﬂation itself.

On the other hand, these gains from the change in expectations during the “trap” can

be achieved (given rational expectations on the part of the private sector) only if the central

bank is expected to actually pursue the inﬂationary policy after the natural rate returns to its

normal level. This will in turn create distortions then, which limits the extent to which this

tool is used under an optimal policy. Hence some contraction of output and some deﬂation

occur during the period that the natural rate is negative, even under the optimal policy

commitment. It is also worth noting that while the optimal policy involves commitment to

a higher price level in the future, the price level will ultimately be stabilized. This is in

sharp contrast to a constant positive inﬂation target that would imply an ever-increasing

39

price level.

Figure 4 shows the corresponding state-contingent nominal interest rate under the op-

timal commitment, and contrasts it to the evolution of the nominal interest rate under a

zero inﬂation target. To increase inﬂation expectations in the trap, the central bank com-

mits to keeping the nominal interest rates at zero after the natural rate of interest becomes

positive again. In contrast, if the central bank targets zero inﬂation, it raises the nominal

interest rate as soon as the natural rate of interest becomes positive again. The optimal

commitment is an example of history-dependent policy, in which the central bank commits

to raise the interest rates slowly at the time the natural rate becomes positive in order to

aﬀect expectations when the zero bound is binding.

The nature of the additional history-dependence of the optimal policy may perhaps be

more easily seen if we consider the evolution of inﬂation, output and interest rates under a

single possible realization of the random fundamentals. Figure 5 compares the equilibrium

evolution of all three variables, both under the zero inﬂation target and under optimal policy,

in the case that the natural rate of interest is negative for 15 quarters (t = 0 through 14),

though it is not known until quarter 15 that the natural rate will return to its normal level in

that quarter. Under the optimal policy, the nominal interest rate is kept at zero for ﬁve more

quarters (t = 15 through 19), whereas it immediately returns to its long-run steady-state

level in quarter 15 under the forward-looking policy. The consequence of the anticipation of

policy of this kind is that both the contraction of real activity and the deﬂation that occur

under the strict inﬂation target are largely avoided, as shown in the second and third panels

of the ﬁgure.

3 Implementing Optimal Policy

We turn now to the question of how policy should be conducted in order to bring about the

optimal equilibrium characterized in the previous section. The question of the implemen-

tation of optimal policy remains a non-trivial one, even after the optimal state-contingent

evolutions of all variables have been identiﬁed, for in general the solution obtained for the

40

optimal state-contingent path of the policy instrument (i.e., the short-term nominal interest

rate) does not represent in itself a useful description of a policy rule.

25

For example, in

the context of the present model, a commitment to a state-contingent nominal interest-rate

path, even when fully credible, does not imply determinate rational-expectations equilibrium

paths for inﬂation and output; it is instead necessary for the central bank to be committed

(and understood to be committed) to a particular way of responding to deviations of inﬂa-

tion and the output gap from their desired evolution. Another problem is that a complete

description of the optimal state-contingent interest-rate path is unlikely to be feasible. In

the previous section, we showed that it is possible to characterize (at least numerically) the

optimal state-contingent interest-rate path in the case of one very particular kind of stochas-

tic process for the natural rate of interest. But a solution of this kind allowing for all the

possible states of belief about the probabilities of various future evolutions of the natural

rate (and disturbances to the aggregate-supply relation as well) would be diﬃcult to write

down, let alone to explain to the public.

Here we show that optimal policy can nonetheless be implemented through commitment

to a policy rule that speciﬁes the central bank’s short-run targets at each point in time as a

(fairly simple) function of what has occurred prior to that date.

How can the optimal policy be implemented? One may be tempted to believe that our

suggested policy is not entirely realistic or operational. Figures 3 and 4, for example, indicate

that the optimal policy involves a complicated state contingent plan for the nominal interest

rate, that may be hard to communicate to the public. Furthermore, it may appear that

it depends on a knowledge of a special statistical process for the natural rate of interest,

that is in practice hard to estimate. Our discussion of the ﬁxed inﬂation target suggest that

the eﬀectiveness of increasing inﬂation expectation to close the output gap depends on the

diﬀerence between the announced inﬂation target and the natural rate of interest. It may,

therefore, seem crucial to estimate the natural rate of interest to implement the optimal

policy. Below we show the striking result that the optimal policy rule can be implemented

25

For further discussion in a more general context, see Woodford (2003, chapter 7).

41

without any estimate or knowledge of the statistical process for the natural rate of interest.

This is an example of a robustly optimal direct policy rule of the kind discussed in Giannoni

and Woodford (2002) for the case of a general class of linear-quadratic policy problems. An

interesting feature of the present example is that we show how to construct an robustly

optimal rule in the same spirit, in a case where not all of the relevant constraints are linear

(owing to the fact that the zero bound binds at some times and not at others).

3.1 An Optimal Targeting Rule

To implement the rule proposed here, the central bank need only observe the price level and

the output gap. The rule suggested replicates exactly the history dependence discussed in

the last section. The rule is implemented as follows.

[i] In each and every period, there is a predetermined price-level target p

∗

t

. The Central

Bank chooses the interest rate i

t

to achieve the target relation

´

˜ p

t

= p

∗

t

(3.10)

if this is possible; if it is not possible, even by lowering the nominal interest rate to zero,

then i

t

= 0. Here ˜ p

t

is an output-gap adjusted price index,

26

deﬁned by

˜ p

t

≡ p

t

+

λ

κ

x

t

.

[ii] The target for the next period is then determined as

p

∗

t+1

= p

∗

t

+β

−1

(1 +κσ)∆

t

−β

−1

∆

t−1

(3.11)

where ∆

t

is the target shortfall in period t

∆

t

≡ p

∗

t

− ˜ p

t

. (3.12)

26

On the desirability of a target for this index in the case that the zero bound does not bind, see Woodford

(2003, chapter 7). This would correspond to a nominal GDP target in the case that λ = κ, and that the

natural rate of output follows a deterministic trend. However, the utility-based loss function derived in

Woodford (2003, chapter 6) involves λ = κ/θ, where θ > 1 is the elasticity of demand faced by the suppliers

of diﬀerentiated goods, so that the optimal weight on output is considerably less than under a nominal GDP

target. Furthermore, the welfare-relevant output gap is unlikely to correspond too closely to deviations of

real GDP from a deterministic trend.

42

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

1

1.005

1.01

1.015

p

~

p*

Figure 6: Responses of the price-level target and the gap-adjusted price level to a shock to

the natural rate of interest.

It can be veriﬁed that this rule does indeed achieve the optimal commitment solution. If the

price-level target is not reached, because of the zero bound, the central bank increases its

target for the next period. This, in turn, increases inﬂation expectations further in the trap,

which is exactly what is needed to reduce the real interest rate.

Figure 6 shows how the price-level target p

∗

t

would evolve over time, depending on the

number of periods for which the natural rate of interest remains negative, in the same

numerical experiment as in Figure 3. (Here the solid lines show the evolution of the gap-

adjusted price level ˜ p

t

, while the dashed lines show the evolution of p

∗

t

.) One observes that

the target price level is ratcheted steadily higher during the period in which the natural

rate remains negative, as the actual price level continues to fall below the target by an

43

increasing amount. Once the natural rate of interest becomes positive again, the degree

to which the gap-adjusted price level undershoots the target begins to shrink, although the

target often continues to be undershot (as the zero bound continues to bind) for several more

quarters. (How long this is true depends on how high the target price level has risen relative

to the actual index; it will be higher the longer the time for which the natural rate has been

negative.) As the degree of undershooting begins to shrink, the price-level target begins to

fall again, as a result of the dynamics speciﬁed by (3.11). This hastens the date at which

the target can actually be hit with a non-negative interest rate. Once the target ceases to be

undershot, it no longer changes, and the central bank targets and achieves a new constant

value for the gap-adjusted price level ˜ p

t

, one slightly higher than the target in place before

the disturbance occurred.

Note that this approach to implementing optimal policy gives an answer to the question

whether there is any point in announcing an inﬂation target (or price-level target) if one

knows that it is extremely unlikely that in the short run it can be achieved, owing to the fact

that the zero bound is likely to continue to bind. The answer here is yes. The central bank

wishes to make the private sector aware of its commitment to the time-varying price-level

target described by (3.10) – (3.12), since eventually it will be able to hit the target, and

the anticipation of that fact (i.e., of the level that the price level will eventually reach, as a

result of the policies that the bank will follow after the natural rate of interest again becomes

positive) while the natural rate is still negative is important in mitigating the distortions

caused by the zero bound. The fact that the target is not hit immediately should not create

doubts about the meaningfulness of central-bank announcements regarding its target, if it

is explained that the bank is committed to hitting the target if this is possible at a non-

negative interest rate, so that at each point in time, either the target will be attained or a

zero-interest-rate policy will be followed. The existence of the target is relevant even when

it is not being attained, as it allows the private sector to judge how close the central bank

is to a situation in which it would feel justiﬁed in abandoning the zero-interest-rate policy;

hence the current gap between the actual and target price level should shape private-sector

44

expectations of the time for which interest rates are likely to remain low.

27

Would the private sector have any reason to believe that the central bank was serious

about the price-level target, if each period all that is observed is a zero nominal interest rate

and yet another target shortfall? The best way of making a rule credible is for the central

bank to conduct policy over time in a way that demonstrates its commitment. Ideally, the

central bank’s commitment to the price-level targeting framework would be demonstrated

before the zero bound came to bind (at which time the central bank would have frequent

opportunities to show that the target did determine its behavior). The rule proposed above is

one that would be equally optimal under normal circumstances as in the case of the relatively

unusual kind of disturbance that causes the natural rate of interest to be substantially

negative.

To understand how the rule works out of the trap it is useful to note that when the

nominal interest rate is positive, ∆

t

= 0 at all times. The central bank, therefore, should

demonstrate a commitment to subsequently undo overshoots and undershoots of the price-

level target. In this case, deﬂation that occurs when the economy ﬁnds itself in a liquidity

trap should create expectations of future inﬂation, as mandated by optimal policy. The

additional term ∆

t

implies that when the zero bound is binding, the central bank should

raise its long-run price-level target even further, thus increasing inﬂation expectations even

more.

It may be wondered why we discuss our proposal in terms of a (gap-adjusted) price-level

target, rather than an inﬂation target. In fact, we could equivalently describe the policy in

terms of a time-varying target for the gap-adjusted inﬂation rate ˜ π

t

≡ ˜ p

t

− ˜ p

t−1

. The reason

that we prefer to describe the rule as a price-level targeting rule is that the essence of the

rule is easily described in those terms. As we show below, a ﬁxed target for the gap-adjusted

27

An interesting feature of the optimal rule is that it involves history-dependence that cannot be summa-

rized solely by the past history of short-term nominal interest rates; if the nominal interest rate has fallen

to zero in the recent past, it matters to what it extent the zero bound has prevented the central bank from

pursuing as stimulative a policy as it otherwise would have. In this respect, the optimal policy rule derived

here is similar to the rules advocated by Reifschneider and Williams (1999), under which the interest-rate

operating at each point in time should depend on how low the central bank would have lowered interest rates

in the past had the zero bound not prevented this.

45

price level would actually represent quite a good approximation to optimal policy, whereas

a ﬁxed inﬂation target would not come close, as it would fail to allow for any of the history-

dependence of policy that is necessary to mitigate the distortions resulting from the zero

bound.

3.2 A Simpler Proposal

One may argue that an unappealing aspect of the rule suggested above is that it involves the

term ∆

t

, which determines the change in the price-level target, and is only non-zero when

the zero bound is binding. Suppose that the central bank’s commitment to a policy rule

can only become credible over time through repeated demonstrations of its commitment to

act in accordance with it. In that case, the part of the rule that involves the adjustment of

the target in response to target shortfalls when the zero bound binds might not come to be

understood well by the private sector for a very long time, since the occasions on which the

zero bound binds will presumably be relatively infrequent.

Fortunately, most of the beneﬁts that can be achieved in principle through a credible

commitment to the optimal targeting rule can be achieved through commitment to a much

simpler rule, which would not involve any special provisos that are invoked only in the event

of a liquidity trap. Let us consider the following simpler rule,

p

t

+

λ

κ

x

t

= p

∗

, (3.13)

where now the target for the gap-adjusted price level is ﬁxed at all times. The advantage of

this rule, although not fully optimal when the zero bound is binding, is that it may be more

easily communicated to the public. Note that the simple rule is fully optimal in the absence

of the zero bound. In fact, even if the zero bound occasionally binds, this rule results in

distortions only a bit more severe than those associated with the fully optimal policy.

Figure 7 and 8 compares the result for these two rules. The dotted line shows the

equilibrium under the constant price-level target rule in (3.13) whereas the solid line shows

the fully optimal rule in (3.10)-(3.12). As the ﬁgures show, the constant price-level targeting

46

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−0.4

−0.2

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

(a) inflation

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−2

−1

0

1

2

3

(b) output gap

Figure 7: State-contingent paths of inﬂation and the output gap under the optimal targeting

rule [solid lines] and under the simple rule [dotted lines].

rule results in state-contingent responses of output and inﬂation that are very close to those

under the optimal commitment, even if under this rule the price level falls farther during the

period while the zero bound binds, and only asymptotically returns from below to the level

that it had prior to the disturbance. Table 1 shows that most of the welfare gain achieved

by the optimal policy, relative to what can be achieved by a purely forward-looking policy

such as a strict inﬂation target, is already achieved by the simple rule. The table reports the

value of expected discounted losses (2.6), conditional on the occurrence of the disturbance in

period zero, under the three policies shown in Figure 2, the optimal policy characterized in

Figure 3, and under the constant price-level targeting rule. Both of the latter two history-

dependent policies are vastly superior to any of the strict inﬂation targets. While it is true

that losses remain twice as large under the simple rule as under the optimal rule, we are

referring to fairly small losses at this point.

47

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−1

0

1

2

3

4

5

(a) nominal interest rate

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

0.995

1

1.005

(b) price level

Figure 8: State-contingent paths of the nominal interest rate and the price level under the

same two policies as in Figure 7.

As with the fully optimal rule, no estimate of the natural rate of interest is needed to

implement the constant price-level targeting rule. At ﬁrst, it may seem puzzling that a

constant price-level targeting rule does well, since no account is taken of the size of the

disturbance to the natural rate of interest. This is because a price-level target commits the

central bank to undo any deﬂation by subsequent inﬂation; a larger disturbance, that creates

a larger initial deﬂation, automatically creates greater inﬂation expectations in response.

Thus there is an “automatic stabilizer” built into the price-level target, that is lacking under

a strict inﬂation targeting regime.

28

A proper communication strategy for the central bank about its objectives and targets

when outside the trap is of crucial importance for this policy rule to be successful. To see

28

Wolman (2003) also stresses this advantage of rules that incorporate a price-level target over rules that

only respond to the inﬂation rate, such as a conventional Taylor rule.

48

Table 1: Relative losses under alternative policies [loss under zero inﬂation target = 100].

Strict Inﬂation Targets

π

∗

= 0 100

π

∗

= 1 25.5

π

∗

= 2 43.3

Price-Level Targeting Rules

constant target 0.098

optimal rule 0.049

this, consider a rule that is equivalent to (3.13) when the zero bound is not binding. Taking

the diﬀerence of (3.13) we obtain:

π

t

+

λ

κ

(x

t

−x

t−1

) = 0 (3.14)

Although this rule results in an identical equilibrium to the constant price-level targeting

rule when the zero bound is not binding, the result is dramatically diﬀerent when the zero

bound is binding. This is because this rule implies that the inﬂation rate is proportional to

the negative of the growth rate of the output gap. Thus it mandates deﬂation when there

is growth in the output gap. This implies that the central bank will deﬂate once out of a

liquidity trap since this is a period of output growth. This is exactly opposite to what is

optimal as we have observed above. Thus the outcome under this rule is even worse than a

strict zero inﬂation target, even if this rule replicates the price level targeting rule when out of

the trap. What this underlines is that it is not enough to replicate the equilibrium behavior

that correspond to (3.13) at normal times to induce the correct set of expectations when

the zero bound is binding. It is crucial to communicate to the public that the government

is committed to a long-run price-level target. This commitment is exactly what creates the

desired inﬂation expectations when the zero bound is binding.

49

3.3 Should a Central Bank “Keep Powder in the Keg?”

Thus far we have only considered alternative policies that might be followed from the date

at which the natural rate of interest unexpectedly falls to a negative value, causing the

zero bound to bind. A question of considerable current interest in countries like the U.S.,

however, is how policy should be aﬀected by the anticipation that the zero bound might

well bind before long, even if this is not yet the case. Some commentators have argued that

in such circumstances the Fed should be cautious about lowering interest rates all the way

to zero too soon, in order to “save its ammunition” for future emergencies. This suggests

that the anticipation that the zero bound could bind in the future should lead to tighter

policy than would otherwise be justiﬁed given current conditions. Others argue alternatively

that policy should instead be more inﬂationary than one might otherwise prefer, in order to

reduce the probability that a further negative shock can result in a situation where the zero

bound binds.

Our above characterization of the optimal targeting rule can shed light on this debate.

Recall that the rule (3.10) – (3.12) describes optimal policy regardless) of the assumed

stochastic process for the natural rate of interest, and not only in the case of the particular

two-state Markov process assumed in Figure 3. In particular, the same rule is optimal in

the case that information is received indicating the likelihood of the natural rate of interest

becoming negative before this actually occurs. How should the conduct of policy be aﬀected

by that news? Under the optimal targeting rule, the optimal target for ˜ p

t

is unaﬀected by

such expectations, as long as a situation has not yet been reached in which the zero bound

binds, since it is only target shortfalls that have already occurred that can justify a change in

the target value p

∗

t

. Thus an increased assessment of the likelihood of a binding zero bound

over the coming year or two would not be a reason for increasing the price-level target (or

the implied target rate of inﬂation).

29

29

This particular aspect of our conclusions, however, is likely to depend on a relatively special feature of

our model, namely, the fact that our target variables (inﬂation and the output gao) are both purely forward-

looking variables: their equilibrium values at any point in time depend (in our simple model) only on the

economy’s exogenous state and the expected conduct of policy from the current period onward. There are

50

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−0.2

0

0.2

0.4

0.6

inflation

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

−1

0

1

2

3

output gap

−5 0 5 10 15 20 25

99.8

100

100.2

100.4

the price level

Figure 9: State-contingent paths of inﬂation and output under optimal policy, when the

decline in the natural rate of interest can be anticipated four quarters in advance.

On the other hand, the evolution of inﬂation, output and interest rates will be aﬀected

by this news, even in the absence of any immediate change in the central bank’s price level-

target owing to the eﬀect on forward-looking private-sector spending and pricing decisions.

The anticipation of a coming state in which the natural rate of interest will be negative,

and actual interest rates will not be able to fall as much, owing to the zero bound, will

reduce both desired real expenditure (at unchanged short-term interest rates) and desired

price increases, as a result of the anticipated negative output gaps and price declines in the

future. This change in the behavior of the private sector’s outlook will require a change in

the way that the central bank must conduct policy in order to hit its unchanged target for

the gap-adjusted price level, likely in the direction of a pre-emptive loosening of policy.

a variety of reasons why a more realistic model may well imply that these variables are functions of lagged

endogenous variables as well, and hence of past policy. In such a case, the optimal target criterion will be

at least somewhat forward-looking, as discussed in Giannoni and Woodford (2003).

51

This is illustrated by the numerical experiment shown in Figure 9. Here we suppose that

in quarter zero it is learned (by both the central bank and the private sector) that the natural

rate of interest will fall to the level of -2 percent per annum only in period 4. It is known

that the natural rate will remain at its normal level, +4 percent per annum until then; after

the drop, it will return to the normal level with a probability of 0.1 each quarter, as in the

case considered earlier. We now consider the character of optimal policy from period zero

onward, given this information. Figure 9 again shows the optimal state-contingent paths of

inﬂation and output in the case that the disturbance to the natural rate, when it arrives

lasts for one quarter, two quarters, and so on.

We observe that under the optimal policy commitment, prices begin to decline mildly

as soon as the news of the coming disturbance is received. The central bank is nonetheless

able to avoid undershooting its target for ˜ p

t

at ﬁrst, by stimulating an increase in real

activity suﬃcient to justify the mild deﬂation. (Given the shift to pessimism on the part

of the private sector, this is the policy dictated by the targeting rule, given that even a

mild immediate increase in real activity is insuﬃcient to prevent price declines, owing to

the anticipated decline in real demand when the disturbance hits.) By quarter 3, this is no

longer possible, and the central bank undershoots its target for ˜ p

t

(as both prices and output

decline), even though the nominal interest rate is at zero. Thus optimal policy involves

driving the nominal interest rate to zero even before the natural rate of interest has turned

negative, when that development can already be anticipated for the near future. The fact

that the zero bound binds even before the natural rate of interest becomes negative means

that the price-level target is higher than it otherwise would have been at the time that the

disturbance to the natural rate arrives. As a result, the deﬂation and output gaps during

the period in which the natural rate is negative are less severe than in the case in which the

disturbance is unanticipated. In this scenario, optimal policy is somewhat more inﬂationary

after the disturbance occurs than in the case considered in Figure 3, for in this case the

optimal policy commitment takes into account the contractionary eﬀects in periods before

the disturbance takes eﬀect of anticipations that the disturbance will result in price-level

52

and output declines. The fact that optimal policy after the disturbance occurs is diﬀerent in

this case, despite the fact that the disturbance has exactly the same eﬀects as before from

quarter 4 onward, is another illustration of the history-dependence of optimal policy.

4 Preventing a Self-Fulﬁlling Deﬂationary Trap

In our analysis thus far, we have assumed that the real disturbance results in a negative

natural rate of interest only temporarily. We have therefore supposed that price-level sta-

bilization will eventually be consistent with positive nominal interest rates, and accordingly

that a time will foreseeably be reached at which it is possible for the central bank to create

inﬂation by keeping short-term nominal rates at a low (but non-negative) level. Some may

ask, however, if it is not possible for the zero bound to bind forever in equilibrium, not

because of a permanently negative natural rate, but simply because deﬂation continues to

be (correctly) expected indeﬁnitely. If so, it might seem that the central bank’s commitment

to a non-decreasing price-level target would be irrelevant; the actual price level would fall

further and further short of the target, but because of the binding zero bound, there would

never be anything the central bank could do about this.

In the model presented in section 2, a self-fulﬁlling permanent deﬂation is indeed con-

sistent with both the Euler equation (1.2) for aggregate expenditure, the money-demand

relation (1.3) and the pricing relations (1.7) – (1.9). Suppose that from some date τ onward,

all disturbances ξ

t

= 0 with certainty, so that the natural rate of interest is expected to take

the constant value ¯ r = β

−1

−1 > 0, as in the scenarios considered in section 3. Then possible

paths for inﬂation, output, and interest rates consistent with each of the relations just listed

in all periods t ≥ τ is given by

i

t

= 0,

P

t

/P

t−1

= β < 1,

p

∗

t

/P

t

= ˜ p

∗

≡

1 −αβ

θ−1

1 −α

1

1−θ

< 1,

Y

t

=

˜

Y

53

for all t ≥ τ, where

˜

Y <

¯

Y is implicitly deﬁned by the relation

Π

1

(˜ p

∗

, ˜ p

∗

, 1;

˜

Y , ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0), 0) = 0.

Note that this deﬂationary path is consistent with monetary policy as long as real balances

satisfy M

t

/P

t

≥ ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0) each period; faster growth of the money supply does nothing

to prevent consistency of this path with the requirement that money supply equal money

demand each period.

There remains, however, one further requirement for equilibrium in the model of section 2,

the transversality condition (1.6), or equivalently the requirement that households exhaust

their intertemporal budget constraints. Whether the deﬂationary path is consistent with

this condition as well depends, properly speaking, on the speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy: it is

a matter of whether the government budget results in contraction of the nominal value of

total government liabilities D

t

at a suﬃcient rate asymptotically. Under some assumptions

about the character of ﬁscal policy, such as the “Ricardian” ﬁscal policy rule assumed by

Benhabib et al., the nominal value of government liabilities will necessarily contract along

with the price level, so that (1.6) is also satisﬁed, and the processes described above will

indeed represent a rational-expectations equilibrium. In such a case, then, a commitment to

the price-level targeting rule proposed in the previous section will be equally consistent with

more than one equilibrium: if people expect the optimal price-level process characterized

earlier, then that will indeed be an equilibrium, but if they expect perpetual deﬂation, this

will be an equilibrium as well.

We can, however, exclude this outcome through a suitable commitment with regard to

the asymptotic evolution of total government liabilities. Essentially, there needs to be a

commitment to policies that ensure that the nominal value of government liabilities cannot

contract at the rate required for satisfaction of the transversality condition despite perpetual

deﬂation. One example of a commitment that would suﬃce is a commitment to a balanced-

budget policy of the kind analyzed by Schmitt-Groh´e and Uribe (2000). These authors show

that self-fulﬁlling deﬂations are not possible under commitment to a Taylor rule, together

54

with the balanced-budget ﬁscal commitment. The key to their result is that the ﬁscal rule

includes a commitment not to allow budget surpluses any more than budget deﬁcits would

be allowed; hence it is not possible for the nominal value of government liabilities to contract,

even when the price level falls exponentially forever.

The credibility of this sort of ﬁscal commitment might be doubted, and so it is worth

mentioning that another way of maintaining a ﬂoor on the asymptotic nominal value of total

government liabilities is through a commitment not to contract the monetary base, together

with a commitment of the government to maintain a non-negative asymptotic present value

of the public debt. In particular, suppose that the central bank commits itself to follow a

base-supply rule of the form

M

t

= P

∗

t

¯ m(Y

t

; ξ

t

) (4.1)

in each period when the zero bound binds (i.e., when it is not possible to hit the price-level

target with a positive nominal interest rate), where

P

∗

t

≡ exp

p

∗

t

−

λ

κ

x

t

¸

is the current price-level target implied by the adjusted price-level target p

∗

t

. When the

zero bound does not bind, the monetary base is whatever level is demanded at the nominal

interest rate required to hit the price-level target. This is a rule in the same spirit as (1.11),

specifying a particular level of excess supply of base money in the case that the zero bound

binds, but letting the monetary base be endogenously determined by the central bank’s other

targets at all other times. Equation (4.1) is a more complicated formula than is necessary to

make our point, but it has the advantage of making the monetary base a continuous function

of other aggregate state variables at the point where the zero bound just ceases to bind.

This particular form of commitment has the advantage that it may be considered less

problematic for the central bank to commit itself to maintain a particular nominal value for

its liabilities than for the Treasury to do so. It can also be justiﬁed as a commitment that is

entirely consistent with the central bank’s commitment to the price-level targeting rule; even

when the target cannot be hit, the central bank supplies the quantity of money that would

55

be demanded if the price level were at the target level. Doing so — refusing to contract the

monetary base even under circumstances of deﬂation — is a way of signalling to the public

that the bank is serious about its intention to see the price level restored to the target level.

If we then assume a ﬁscal commitment that guarantees that

lim

T→∞

E

t

Q

t,T

B

T

= 0, (4.2)

i.e., that the government will asymptotically be neither creditor nor debtor, the transversality

condition (1.6) reduces to

lim

T→∞

β

T

E

t

[u

c

(Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)M

T

/P

T

] = 0. (4.3)

In the case of the base-supply rule (4.1), this condition is violated in the candidate equilibrium

described above, since the price-level and output paths speciﬁed would imply that

β

T

E

t

[u

c

(Y

T

, M

T

/P

T

; ξ

T

)M

T

/P

T

] = β

τ

u

c

(

˜

Y , ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0); 0) ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0)P

∗

T

/P

τ

≥ β

τ

u

c

(

˜

Y , ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0); 0) ¯ m(

˜

Y ; 0)P

∗

τ

/P

τ

,

where the last inequality makes use of the fact that under the price-level targeting rule,

{p

∗

t

} is a non-decreasing series. Note that the ﬁnal expression on the right-hand side is

independent of T, for all dates T ≥ τ. Hence the series is bounded away from zero, and

condition (4.3) is violated.

Thus a commitment of this kind can exclude the possibility of a self-fulﬁlling deﬂation

of the sort described above as a possible rational-expectations equilibrium. It follows that

there is a possible role for “quantitative easing” — understood to mean supply of base money

beyond the minimum quantity required for consistency with the zero nominal interest rate

— as an element of an optimal policy commitment. A commitment to supply base money

in proportion to the target price level, and not the actual current price level, in a period in

which the zero bound prevents the central bank from hitting its price-level target, can be

desirable both as a way of ruling out self-fulﬁlling deﬂations and as a way of signalling the

central bank’s continuing commitment to the price-level target, even though it is temporarily

unable to hit it.

56

Note that this result does not contradict the irrelevance proposition of section 2, for

we have here made a diﬀerent assumption about the nature of the ﬁscal commitment than

the one made in section 2. Condition (4.2) implies that the evolution of total nominal

government liabilities will not be independent of the central bank’s target for the monetary

base. As a consequence, the neutrality proposition of section 2 no longer holds. The import

of that proposition is that expansion of the monetary base when the economy is in a liquidity

trap is necessarily pointless; rather, it is that any eﬀect of such action must depend either

on changing expectations regarding future interest-rate policy or on changing expectations

regarding the future evolution of total nominal government liabilities. The present discussion

has illustrated circumstances under which expansion of the monetary base — or at any rate,

a commitment not to contract it — could serve both of these ends.

Nonetheless, the present discussion does not support the view that the central bank

should be able to hit its price-level target at all times, simply by ﬂooding the economy with

as much base money as is required to prevent the price level from falling below the target

at any time. Our analysis in section 3 still describes all of the possible paths for the price

level consistent with rational-expectations equilibrium, and we have seen that even if the

central bank were able to choose the expectations that the private sector should have (as

long as it were willing to act in accordance with them), the zero bound would prevent it from

being able to fully stabilize inﬂation and the output gap. Furthermore, the degree of base

expansion during a “liquidity trap” called for by rule (4.1) is quite modest. The monetary

base will be gradually raised, if the zero bound continues to bind, as the price-level target

is ratcheted up to steadily higher levels. But our calibrated example above indicates that

this would typically involve only quite a modest increase in the monetary base, even in the

case of a “liquidity trap” that lasts for several years. There would be no obvious beneﬁt

to the kind of rapid expansion of the monetary base actually tried in Japan over the past

two years. An expansion of the monetary base of this kind is evidently not justiﬁed by any

intentions regarding the future price level, and hence regarding the size of the monetary base

once Japan exits from the “trap.” But an injection of base money that is expected to be

57

removed again once the zero bound ceases to bind should have little eﬀect on spending or

pricing behavior, as shown in section 2.

5 Further Aspects of the Management of Expectations

In section 2, we argued that neither expansion of the monetary base as such nor purchases

of particular types of assets through open-market purchases should have any eﬀect on either

inﬂation or real activity, except to the extent that such actions might result in changes

in expectations regarding future interest-rate policy (or possibly expectations regarding

the asymptotic behavior of total nominal government liabilities, and hence the question

of whether the transversality condition should be satisﬁed). Because of this, we were able,

in sections 3 and 4, to characterize the optimal policy commitment without any reference

to the use of such instruments of policy; a consideration of the diﬀerent possible joint paths

of interest rates, inﬂation and output that would be consistent with rational-expectations

equilibrium suﬃced to allow us to determine the best possible equilibrium that one could

hope to arrange, and to characterize it in terms of the interest-rate policy that one should

wish for the private sector to expect.

However, this does not mean that other aspects of policy — beyond a mere announcement

of the rule according to which the central bank wishes to be understood to be committed

in setting future interest-rate policy — cannot matter. They may matter insofar as certain

kinds of present actions may help to signal what the bank’s intentions regarding future

policy are, or may make it more credible that the central bank will indeed carry out these

intentions. A full analysis of the ways in which policy actions may be justiﬁed as helping

to steer expectations is beyond the scope of this article, and in any event the question is

one that has as much to do with psychology and eﬀective communication as with economic

analysis. Nonetheless, we oﬀer a few remarks here about the kinds of policies that might

contribute to the creation of desirable expectations.

58

5.1 Demonstrating Resolve

One way in which current actions may help to create desirable expectations regarding future

policy is by being seen to be consistent with the same principles that the central bank

wishes the private sector to understand will guide its policy in the future. We have already

mentioned one example of this, when we remarked that one way to convince the private

sector that the central bank will follow the optimal price-level targeting rule following a

period in which the zero bound has been hit is by following this rule before such a situation

arises.

Our discussion in the previous section provides a further example. Adjustment of the

supply of base money during the period in which the zero bound binds so as to keep the

monetary base proportional to the target price level rather than the actual current price level

can be helpful, even though it is irrelevant as far as interest-rate control is concerned, as a

way of making visible to the private sector the central bank’s belief about whether the price

level ought properly to be (and hence, the quantity of base money that the economy ought

to need). By making the existence of the price-level target more salient, such an action can

help to create the expectations regarding future interest-rate policy that are necessary in

order to mitigate the distortions created by the binding zero bound.

As a further example, Clouse at al. (2003) argue that open-market operations may be

stimulative, even when the zero bound has been reached, because they “demonstrate resolve”

to keep the nominal interest rate at zero for a longer time than would otherwise be expected.

Here it should be remarked that an expansion of the monetary base when the zero bound is

binding need not be interpreted in this way. Consider, for example, a central bank with a

constant zero inﬂation target, as discussed in section 2.2. When the zero bound binds, such

a bank is unable to hit its inﬂation target, and should exhibit frustration with this state of

aﬀairs. If some within the bank believe that it should always be possible to hit the target

with suﬃciently vigorous monetary expansion, one might well observe substantial growth

in the monetary base at a time when the inﬂation target is being undershot. Nonetheless,

this would not imply any commitment to looser policy subsequently; such a central bank

59

would never intentionally allow the monetary base to be higher than that required to hit

the inﬂation target, in a period in which it is possible to hit it. The result should be the

equilibrium evolution shown in Figure 2, and no eﬀect of the “quantitative easing” that

occurs while the zero bound binds. This shows that it matters what the private sector

understands to be the principle that motivates “quantitative easing”, and not simply the

size of the increase in the monetary base that occurs.

Similarly, open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries when short rates are at zero,

as advocated by Bernanke (2002) and Cecchetti (2003), among others, may well have a

stimulative eﬀect even if portfolio-balance eﬀects are quantitatively unimportant. We have

argued in sections 2 and 3 that it is desirable for the central bank to commit itself under such

circumstances to maintain low short-term rates even after the natural rate of interest rises

again. The level of long rates can provide an indicator of the extent to which the markets

actually believe in such a commitment. If a central bank’s judgment is that long rates

are remaining higher than they should be under the optimal equilibrium owing to private-

sector skepticism about whether the history-dependent interest-rate policy will actually be

followed, then a willingness to buy long bonds from the private sector at a price which it

regards as more appropriate is one of way of demonstrating publicly that it expects to carry

out its commitment regarding future interest-rate policy. Given that the private sector is

likely to be uncertain about the nature of the central bank’s commitment (in the case of

imperfect credibility), and that it can reasonably assume that the central bank knows more

about its own degree of resolve than others do, action by the central bank that is consistent

with a belief on its own part that it will keep short rates low in the future is likely to shift

private beliefs in the same direction. If so, open-market purchases of long bonds could lower

long-term interest rates, stimulate the economy immediately, and bring the economy closer

to the optimal rational-expectations equilibrium. Note, however, that the eﬀect follows, not

from the purchases themselves, but from the way in which they are interpreted. In order for

them to be interpreted as indicating a particular kind of commitment with regard to future

policy, it is important that the central bank have itself formulated such an intention, and

60

that it speak about it to the public, so that its open-market purchases will be seen in this

light.

Similar remarks apply to the proposals by McCallum (2000) and Svensson (2001) that

purchases of foreign exchange be used to stimulate the economy through devaluation of the

exchange rate.

30

Under the optimal policy commitment described in section 2, a decline in

the natural rate of interest should be accompanied by depreciation of the exchange rate,

both because nominal interest rates fall (and are expected to remain low for some time) and

because the expected long-run price level (and hence the expected long-run nominal exchange

rate) should increase. It follows that the extent to which the exchange rate depreciates can

provide an indicator of the extent to which the markets believe that the central bank is

committed to such the optimal policy; and if the depreciation is insuﬃcient, purchases of

foreign exchange by the central bank provide one way for it to demonstrate its own conﬁdence

in its policy intentions. Again, the eﬀect in question is not a mechanical consequence of the

bank’s purchases, but instead depends on their interpretation.

31

5.2 Providing Incentives to Improve Credibility

A related but somewhat distinct argument is that actions at the zero bound may help to

render the central bank’s commitment to an optimal policy more credible, by providing

the bank with a motive to behave in the future in the way that it would currently wish

that people would expect it to behave. Here we brieﬂy discuss how policy actions that are

possible while the economy remains in a “liquidity trap” may be helpful in this regard. Our

perspective is not so much that the central bank is in need of a “commitment technology”

because it will itself be unable to resist the temptation to break its commitments later in

30

Svensson’s proposal includes a target path for the price level, which the exchange-rate policy is used

to (eventually) achieve, and in this respect is similar to the policy advocated here. However, Svensson’s

discussion of the usefulness of intervention in the market for foreign exchange does not emphasize the role

of such interventions as a signal regarding future policy.

31

The numerical analysis by Coenen and Wieland (2003) ﬁnds that an exchange-rate policy can be quite

eﬀective in creating stimulus when the zero bound is binding. But what is actually shown is that a rational-

expectations equilibrium exists in which the exchange rate depreciates and deﬂation is halted; these eﬀects

could be viewed as resulting from a credible commitment to a target path for the price level, similar to the

one discussed in section 3, and not requiring any intervention in the foreign exchange market at all.

61

the absence of such a constraint, as that it may well be in need of a way of making its

commitment visible to the private sector. Taking actions now that imply that the central

bank will be disadvantaged later if it were to deviate from the policy to which it wishes to

commit itself can serve this purpose.

To consider what kind of current actions provide useful incentives, it is helpful to analyze

(Markov) equilibrium under the assumption that policy is conducted by a discretionary

optimizer, unable to commit its future actions at all, as in Eggertsson (2003a, b). Let us

ﬁrst consider what a Markov equilibrium under discretionary optimization would be like, in

the case that the only policy instrument is the choice each period of a short-term nominal

interest rate, and the objective of the central bank is the minimization of the loss function

(2.6). As shown in section 3, if credible commitment of future interest-rate policy is possible,

this problem has a solution in which the zero bound does not result in too serious a distortion,

though it does bind.

Under discretion, however, the outcome will be much inferior. Note that discretionary

policy (under the assumption of Markov equilibrium in the dynamic policy game) is an

example of a purely forward-looking policy. It then follows from our argument in section 3

that the equilibrium outcome will correspond to the kind of equilibrium discussed there in

the case of a strict inﬂation target. More speciﬁcally, it is obvious that the equilibrium is

the same as under a strict inﬂation target π

∗

= 0, since this is the inﬂation rate that will be

chosen by the discretionary optimizer once the natural rate is again at its steady-state level.

(From that point onward, a policy of zero inﬂation clearly minimizes the remaining terms in

the discounted loss function.)

As shown in Figure 2, an expectation by the private sector that the central bank will

behave in this fashion results in a deep and prolonged contraction of economic activity and a

sustained deﬂation, in the case that the natural rate of interest remains negative for several

quarters. We have also seen that these eﬀects could largely be avoided, even in the absence

of other policy instruments, if the central bank were able to credibly commmit itself to a

history-dependent monetary policy in later periods. Thus, in the kind of situation considered

62

here, there is a deﬂationary bias to discretionary monetary policy, although, at its root, the

problem is again the one identiﬁed in the classic analysis of Kydland and Prescott (1977).

Let us now consider instead the extent to which the outcome could be improved, even in a

Markov equilibrium with discretionary optimization, by changing the nature of the policy

game.

One example of a current policy action, available even when the zero bound binds, that

can help to shift expectations regarding future policy in a desirable way is for the govern-

ment to cut taxes and issue additional nominal debt, as discussed in Eggertsson (2003a).

Alternatively, the tax cut can be ﬁnanced by money creation — for when the zero bound

binds, there is no diﬀerence between expanding the monetary base and issuing additional

short-term Treasury debt at a zero interest rate. This is essentially the kind of policy imag-

ined when people speak of a “helicopter drop” of additional money on the economy; but it

is the ﬁscal consequence of such an action with which we are here concerned.

Of course, if the objective of the central bank in setting monetary policy remains as

assumed above, this will make no diﬀerence to the discretionary equilibrium — the optimal

policy once the natural rate of interest becomes positive again will once more appear to be

the immediate pursuit of a strict zero inﬂation target. However, if the central bank also

cares about reducing the social costs of increased taxation — whether due to collection

costs or other distortions — as it ought if it really takes social welfare into account, the

result is diﬀerent. As shown in Eggertsson (2003a), the tax cut will then increase inﬂation

expectations, even if the government cannot commit to future policy.

It may be asked why, if such an incentive exists, Japan continues to suﬀer deﬂation,

given the growth during the 1990s in Japanese government debt. One possible answer is

that although gross nominal debt over GDP is 140 percent in Japan today, this does not

reﬂect the true inﬂation incentives of the government. The ratio of gross national debt to

GDP overestimates the inﬂation incentives of the government, because a substantial portion

of Treasury debt is held by other governmental institutions.

32

Net government debt is only

32

Government institutions such as Social Security, Postal Savings, Postal Life Insurance and the Trust Fund

63

67 percent of GDP, and as a result inﬂation incentives may not be much greater in Japan

than in a number of other countries.

An even more likely reason for the continued low expectations of inﬂation in Japan at

present, despite the current size of the nominal public debt, is skepticism as to whether the

central bank can be expected to care about reducing the burden of the public debt when

determining future monetary policy. The Bank of Japan may not be believed by the public

to have such an objective; the expressed resistance of the Bank to suggestions that it increase

its purchases of Japanese government bonds, on the ground that this could encourage a lack

of ﬁscal discipline, certainly suggests that reducing the burden of government ﬁnance is not

among its highest priorities. As Eggertsson (2003a) stresses, in order for ﬁscal policy to

be eﬀective as a means of increasing inﬂationary expectations, ﬁscal and monetary policy

must be coordinated to maximize social welfare. The consequences of a narrow concern with

inﬂation stabilization on the part of the central bank, together with in ability to credibly

commit future monetary policy, can be dire, even from the point of view of the bank’s own

stabilization objectives.

Another instrument that may be used to change expectations regarding future monetary

policy is open-market purchases of real assets or foreign exchange. An open-market purchase

of real assets (say, real estate) can be thought of as another way of increasing nominal

government liabilities, which should aﬀect inﬂation incentives in much the same way as deﬁcit

spending, as discussed in Eggertsson (2003a). The alternative approach has the advantage

of not worsening the overall ﬁscal position of the government — a current concern in Japan,

owing to the size of the existing gross debt — while still increasing the ﬁscal incentive for

Bureau hold a large part of this nominal debt. If the part of the public debt that is held by these institutions

is subtracted from the total value of gross government debt it turns out that the “net” government debt over

output is only 51 percent. The important thing to notice is that most of the government institutions that

hold the government nominal debt have real liabilities. For example, Social Security (that holds roughly 25%

of the nominal debt held by the government itself) pays Japanese pensions and medical expenses. Those

pensions are indexed to the CPI. If inﬂation increases, the real value of Social Security assets will decrease

but the real value of most its liabilities remain unchanged. Thus the Ministry of Finance would eventually

have to step in to make up for any loss in the value of Social Security assets if the government is to keep its

pension program unchanged. Therefore, the gains of reducing the real value of outstanding debt is partly

oﬀset by a decrease in the real value of the assets of government institutions such as Social Security.

64

inﬂation. A further advantage of this approach is that it need not depend on a perceived

central-bank interest in reducing the burden of the public debt. Since the (nominal) capital

gains from inﬂation accrue to the central bank itself under this policy, the central bank may

be perceived to have an incentive to inﬂate simply on the ground that it cares about its own

balance sheet, for example on the ground that a strong balance sheet will help to ensure its

independence. (One can easily argue that under a rational scheme of cooperation between

the central bank and the government, the central bank should not choose policy on the basis

of concerns about its balance sheet — but under such an ideal regime, it should choose

monetary policy with a view to reduction of the burden of the public debt, among other

goals.)

The incentive eﬀects of open-market operations in foreign exchange are even simpler,

as shown by Eggertsson (2003b). Open-market purchases of foreign assets give the central

bank an incentive to inﬂate in the future in order to obtain capital gains at the expense of

foreigners. These will be valuable if it cares either about its own balance sheet or about

reducing the burden of the public debt, as in the case of real asset purchases. However,

capital gains on foreign exchange as a result of depreciation of the domestic currency will

be valuable even in the case that the central bank does not care about its balance sheet (for

example, because it cooperates perfectly with the Treasury) and yet does not care about

the burden of the debt either (for example, because non-distorting sources of revenue are

available to the Treasury). For capital gains at the expense of foreigners would allow an

increase in domestic spending (by either the government or the private sector), and this

must be valued by a central bank that acts in the national interest.

Under rational expectations, of course, no such capital gains are realized on average.

Still, the purchase of foreign assets can work as a commitment device, because reneging on

its inﬂation commitment would cause capital losses if the government holds foreign assets.

Purchases of foreign assets are thus a way of committing the government to looser monetary

policy in the future. This creates a reason for purchases of foreign exchange to cause a

devaluation (which will also stimulate current demand), even without any assumption of a

65

deviation from interest-rate parity, of the kind relied upon by authors such as McCallum

(2000) in recommending devaluation for Japan.

Clouse et al. (2003) argue that open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries should

also change expectations in a way that results in immediate stimulus. The argument is that

if the central bank were not to follow through on its commitment to keep short rates low for

a period of time, it should suﬀer a capital loss on the long bonds that it purchased at a price

that made sense only on the assumption that it would keep interest rates low. Similarly,

Tinsley (1999) has proposed for a policy that would create this kind of incentive even more

directly, namely, the sale by the Fed of options to obtain federal funds at a future date at a

certain price, on which the Fed would then stand to lose money if it did not keep the funds

rate at the rate to which it had previously committed itself.

While these proposals should also help to reinforce the credibility of the kind of policy

commitment associated with the optimal equilibrium (characterized in section 2), they have

at least one important disadvantage relative to purchases of real assets or of foreign exchange.

This is that they only provide the central bank an incentive to maintain low nominal interest

rates for a certain period of time; they do not provide it with an incentive to ensure that

the price level eventually rises to a higher level, and so they may do little to counter private-

sector expectations that nominal interest rates will remain low for years — but because

goods prices are going to continue to fall, not because the central bank is committed to

eventual reﬂation. This is arguably the kind of expectations that have now taken root in

Japan, where even ten-year bond yields are already well below one percent, though prices

continue to fall and economic activity remains anemic. Creation of a perception that the

central bank has an incentive to continue trying to raise the price level, and not to be content

as long as nominal interest rates remain low, may be more a successful way of creating the

sort of expectations associated with the optimal equilibrium.

66

6 Conclusion

We have argued that the key to dealing with a situation in which monetary policy is con-

strained by the zero lower bound on short-term nominal interest rates is the skillful manage-

ment of expectations regarding the future conduct of policy. By “management of expecta-

tions” we do not mean that the central bank should imagine that with suﬃcient guile it can

lead the private sector to believe whatever if wishes it to, independently of what it actually

does; we have instead assumed that there is no point in trying to get the private sector to

expect something that it does not itself intend to bring about. But we do contend that it

is highly desirable for a central bank to be able to commit itself in advantage to a course of

action that is desirable due to the beneﬁts that ﬂow from its being anticipated, and then to

work to make this commitment credible to the private sector.

In the context of a simple optimizing model of the monetary transmission mechanism, we

have shown a purely forward-looking approach to policy — under which there is therefore

no possibility of committing future policy to respond to conditions at an earlier date —

can lead to quite bad outcomes in the event of a temporary decline in the natural rate of

interest, regardless of the kind of policy that is pursued at the time of the disturbance. We

have also characterized optimal policy, under the assumption that credible commitment is

possible, and shown that it involves a commitment to eventually bring the general level of

prices back up to a level even higher than it would have had if the disturbance had never

occurred. Finally, we have described a type of history-dependent price-level targeting rule

with the property that a commitment to base interest-rate policy on this rule determines the

optimal equilibrium, and that the same form of targeting rule continues to describe optimal

policy regardless of which of a very large number of types of disturbances may aﬀect the

economy.

Given the role of private-sector anticipation of history-dependent policy in making pos-

sible a desirable outcome, it is important for central banks to develop eﬀective methods of

signaling their policy commitments to the private sector. An essential precondition for this,

67

certainly, is for the central bank itself to clearly understand the kind of history-dependent

behavior to which it should be seen to be committed, so that it can communicate its thinking

on the matter and act consistently with the principles that it wishes the private sector to

understand. Simply conducting policy in accordance with a rule may not suﬃce in itself to

bring about an optimal, or nearly optimal, equilibrium; but it is the place to start.

68

A Appendix: The Numerical Solution Method

Here we illustrate a solution method for the optimal commitment solution discussed in section

2.3. This same method can also be applied, with appropriate modiﬁcation of each of the

steps, to ﬁnd the solution in the case that the central bank commits to a constant price level

target rule or to a constant inﬂation target. We assume that the natural rate of interest

becomes unexpectedly negative in period 0 and the reverts back to normal with probability

α

t

in every period t. Our numerical work assumes that there is a ﬁnal date S in which the

natural rate becomes positive with probability one (this date can be arbitrarily far into the

future).

The solution takes the form:

i

t

= 0 ∀ if 0 ≤ t < τ +k

i

t

> 0 ∀ if t ≥ τ +k

It follows that:

E

t

x

t+1

−x

t

+σ(E

t

π

t+1

+r

n

t

) = 0 if t < τ +k

φ

1t

= 0 if t ≥ τ

Here τ is he stochastic date at which the natural rate of interest returns to steady state. We

assume that τ can take any value between 1 and the terminal date S that can be arbitrarily

far into the future. The number τ + k

τ

is the period in which the zero bound stops being

binding in the contingency when the natural rate of interest becomes positive in period τ.

Note that the value of k

τ

can depend on the value of τ. We will ﬁrst show the solution for

the problem as if we knew the sequence {k

τ

}

S

τ=1

. We then describe a numerical method to

ﬁnd the sequence {k

τ

}

S

τ=1

.

A.0.1 The solution for t ≥ τ +k

τ

The system can be written in the form:

¸

E

t

Z

t+1

P

t

¸

= M

¸

Z

t

P

t−1

¸

(A.1)

69

If there are two eigenvalues of the matrix M outside the unit circle this system has a unique

bounded solution of the form:

P

t

= Ω

0

P

t−1

(A.2)

Z

t

= Λ

0

P

t−1

(A.3)

A.0.2 The solution for τ ≤ t < τ +k

Again this is a perfect foresight solution but with the zero bound binding. The solution

satisﬁes the equations:

π

t

= κx

t

+βπ

t+1

x

t

= σ(r

n

t

+π

t+1

) +x

t+1

(A.4)

π

t

+φ

2t

−φ

2t−1

−β

−1

σφ

1t−1

= 0

λ

x

x

t

+φ

1t

−β

−1

φ

1t−1

−κφ

2t

= 0

The system can be written as:

¸

P

t

Z

t

¸

=

¸

A B

C D

¸ ¸

P

t−1

Z

t+1

¸

+

¸

M

V

¸

This system has a solution of the form:

P

τ+j

= Ω

kτ −j

P

t−1

+ Φ

k

τ−

j

(A.5)

Z

τ+j

= Λ

kτ −j

P

τ,t−1

+ Θ

k

τ−

j

(A.6)

where j = 0, 1, 2, ..., k. Here Ω

k

τ

−j

is the coeﬃcient in the solution when there are k

τ

− j

periods until the zero bound stops being binding (i.e. when j −k

τ

= 0 the zero bound is not

binding anymore and the solution is equivalent to (A.2)-(A.3)). We can ﬁnd the numbers

Λ

j

, Ω

j

, Θ

j

and Φ

j

for j = 2, 3, ....., k by solving the equations below using the initial conditions

Φ

0

= Θ

0

= 0 for j = 0 and the initial conditions for Λ

j

and Ω

j

given in (A.2)-(A.3):

Ω

j

= [I −BΛ

j−1

]

−1

A

Λ

j

= C +DΛ

j−1

Ω

j

70

Φ

j

= (I −BΛ

j−1

)

−1

[BΘ

j−1

+M]

Θ

j

= DΛ

j−1

Φ

j

+DΘ

j−1

+V

A.0.3 The solution for t < τ

The solution satisﬁes the following equations:

˜ π

t

= κ˜ x

t

+β{(1 −α

t+1

)˜ π

t+1

+α

t+1

(Λ

k

t+1

11

˜

φ

1t

+ Λ

k

t+1

12

˜

φ

2t

+ Θ

k

t+1

1

)}

˜ x

t

= σ{r

nL

t

+ (1 −α

t+1

)˜ π

t+1

+α

t+1

(Λ

k

t+1

11

˜

φ

1t

+ Λ

k

t+1

12

˜

φ

2t

+ Θ

k

t+1

1

)}+

{(1 −α

t+1

)˜ x

t+1

+α

t+1

(Λ

k

t+1

21

˜

φ

1t

+ Λ

k

t+1

22

˜

φ

2t

+ Θ

k

t+1

2

)}

˜ π

t

+

˜

φ

2t

−

˜

φ

2t−1

−β

−1

σ

˜

φ

1t−1

= 0

λ

x

˜ x

t

+

˜

φ

1t

−β

−1

˜

φ

1t−1

−κ

˜

φ

2t

= 0

Here hat on the variables refers to the value of each variable contingent on that the natural

rate of interest is negative. Λ

k

t+1

ij

is the ijth element of the matrix Λ

k

t+1

. The value k

t+1

depends on for how many additional periods the zero bound is binding (recall that here we

are solving for the equilibrium assuming that we know the value of the sequence {k

τ

}

S

τ=1

).

We can write the system as:

¸

˜

P

t

˜

Z

t

¸

=

¸

A

t

B

t

C

t

D

t

¸ ¸

˜

P

t−1

˜

Z

t+1

¸

+

¸

M

t

V

t

¸

We can solve this backwards from the date S in which the natural rate returns back to

normal with probability one. We can then calculate the path for each variable to date 0.

Note that.

B

S−1

= D

S−1

= 0

By recursive substitution we can ﬁnd a solution of the form:

˜

P

t

= Ω

t

˜

P

t−1

+ Φ

t

(A.7)

˜

Z

t

= Λ

t

˜

P

t−1

+ Θ

t

(A.8)

71

where the coeﬃcients are time dependent. To ﬁnd the numbers Λ

t

, Ω

t

, Θ

t

and Φ

t

consider

the solution of the system in period S −1 when B

S−1

= D

S−1

= 0. We have:

Ω

S−1

= A

S−1

Φ

S−1

= M

S−1

Λ

S−1

= C

S−1

Θ

S−1

= V

S−1

We can ﬁnd of numbers Λ

t

, Ω

t

, Θ

t

and Φ

t

for period 0 to S −2 by solving the system below

(using the initial conditions shown above for S −1):

Ω

t

= [I −B

t

Λ

t+1

]

−1

A

t

Λ

t

= C

t

+D

t

Λ

t+1

Ω

t

Φ

t

= (I −B

t

Λ

t+1

)

−1

[B

t

Θ

t+1

+M

t

]

Θ

t

= D

t

Λ

t+1

Φ

t

+D

t

Θ

t+1

+V

t

Using the initial condition

˜

P

−1

= 0 we can solve for each of the endogenous variables under

the contingency that the trap last to period S by (A.7) and (A.8). We then use the solution

from (A.2)-(A.6) to solve for each of the variables when the natural rate reverts back to

steady state.

A.0.4 Solving for {k

τ

}

∞

t=0

A simple way to ﬁnd the value for {k

τ

}

∞

τ=1

is to ﬁrst assume that k

τ

is the same for all τ and

ﬁnd the k so that the zero bound is never violated. Suppose that the system has converged

at t=25 (i.e. the response of each of the variables is the same). Then we can move to 24

and see if k

τ

= 4 for τ = 1, 2, ...24 is a solution that never violates the zero bound. If not

move to 23 and try the same thing and so on. For preparing this paper we wrote a routine in

MATLAB that applied this method to ﬁnd the optimal solution and veriﬁed that the results

satisﬁed all the necessary conditions.

72

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76

The consequences for the proper conduct of monetary policy of the existence of a lower bound of zero for overnight nominal interest rates has recently become a topic of lively interest. In Japan, the call rate (the overnight cash rate that is analogous to the federal funds rate in the U.S.) has been within 50 basis points of zero since October 1995, so that little room for further reductions in short-term nominal interest rates has existed since that time, and has been essentially equal to zero for most of the past four years. (See Figure 1 below.) At the same time, growth has remained anemic in Japan over this period, and prices have continued to fall, suggesting a need for monetary stimulus. Yet the usual remedy — lower short-term nominal interest rates — is plainly unavailable. Vigorous expansion of the monetary base (which, as shown in the ﬁgure, is now more than twice as large, relative to GDP, as in the early 1990s) has also seemed to do little to stimulate demand under these circumstances. The fact that the federal funds rate has now been reduced to only one percent in the U.S., while signs of recovery remain exceedingly fragile, has led many to wonder if the U.S. could not also soon ﬁnd itself in a situation where interest-rate policy would no longer be available as a tool for macroeconomic stabilization. A number of other nations face similar questions. The result is that a problem that was long treated as a mere theoretical curiosity after having been raised by Keynes (1936) — namely, the question of what can be done to stabilize the economy when interest rates have fallen to a level below which they cannot be driven by further monetary expansion, and whether monetary policy can be eﬀective at all under such circumstances — now appears to be one of urgent practical importance, though one with which theorists have become unfamiliar. The question of how policy should be conducted when the zero bound is reached — or when the possibility of reaching it can no longer be ignored — raises many fundamental issues for the theory of monetary policy. Some would argue that awareness of the possibility of hitting the zero bound calls for fundamental changes in the way that policy is conducted even when the bound has not yet been reached. For example, Krugman (2003) refers to deﬂation as a “black hole”, from which an economy cannot expect to escape once it has 1

Call Rate 10 8 6 4 2 0

1992

1994

1996

1998

2000

2002

Monetary Base/GDP 2.2 2 1.8 1.6 1.4 1.2 1 1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002

Figure 1: Evolution of the call rate on uncollateralized overnight loans in Japan, and the Japanese monetary base relative to GDP [1992 = 1.0]. been entered. A conclusion that is often drawn from this pessimistic view of the eﬃcacy of monetary policy under circumstances of a liquidity trap is that it is vital to steer far clear of circumstances under which deﬂationary expectations could ever begin to develop — for example, by targeting a suﬃciently high positive rate of inﬂation even under normal circumstances. Others are more sanguine about the continuing eﬀectiveness of monetary policy even when the zero bound is reached, but frequently defend their optimism on grounds that again imply that conventional understanding of the conduct of monetary policy is inadequate in important respects. For example, it is often argued that deﬂation need not be a “black hole” because monetary policy can aﬀect aggregate spending and hence inﬂation through channels other than central-bank control of short-term nominal interest rates. Thus there

2

S. they challenge much of the recent conventional wisdom regarding the conduct of monetary policy. which has stressed a conception of the problem of monetary policy in terms of the appropriate adjustment of an operating target for overnight interest rates. it will not be possible to hit any higher inﬂation target. Is there. on average). For example. of the desirability of attempts to shift longer-term interest rates through purchases of longer-maturity government securities by the central bank. and among those addressing the nature of deﬂationary risks to the U. 1993). 2 percent wouldn’t carry much credibility. Kunio Okina. and even of the possible desirability of central-bank purchases of other kinds of assets. and formulated prescriptions for monetary policy. The deﬁnition of a policy prescription in terms of an inﬂation target presumes that there is in fact an interest-rate choice that can allow one to hit one’s target (or at least to be projected to hit it. if the zero interest-rate bound is reached under circumstances of deﬂation. some would argue. But. Indeed. the concern that a liquidity trap can be a real possibility is sometimes presented as a serious objection to another currently popular monetary policy prescription. both within central banks and among monetary economists. director of the Institute for Monetary and Economic Studies at the BOJ. namely inﬂation targeting. such as the celebrated “Taylor rule” (Taylor. that are cast in these terms. setting an inﬂation target of. some have argued that the inability of such a policy to prevent the economy from falling into a deﬂationary spiral is a critical ﬂaw of the Taylor rule as a guide to policy (Benhabib et al. any point in having an inﬂation target? This has frequently been oﬀered as a reason for resistance to inﬂation targeting at the Bank of Japan. 2001).. Yet if these views are correct. in such circumstances. as further interest-rate decreases are not possible despite the fact that one is undershooting one’s target.has been much recent discussion — both among commentators on the problems of Japan.” Here we seek to shed light on these issues by considering the consequences of the zero lower 3 . say. — of the advantages of vigorous expansion of the monetary base even when these are not associated with any further reduction in interest rates. was quoted by Dow Jones News (8/11/1999) as arguing that “because short-term interest rates are already at zero. Similarly.

we consider here only the problem of the proper conduct of monetary policy. we ﬁnd that the zero bound does represent an important constraint on what monetary stabilization policy can achieve. We are also able to show how the character of optimal monetary policy changes as a result of the existence of the zero bound. When we consider such a problem. even if ﬁscal policy is not a very useful tool for stabilization policy more generally. we ﬁnd that the zero interest-rate bound can indeed be temporarily binding. While this represents a solution to the problem in theory. the problem for monetary 1 4 . taking as given the structure of tax distortions. We agree with Feldstein that there is a particularly good case for state-contingent ﬁscal policy as a way of dealing with a liquidity trap. as originally proposed by Gesell (1929) and Keynes (1936).bound on nominal interest rates for the optimal conduct of monetary policy. taking into account the constraint that this quantity must be non-negative at all times. and more recently by Buiter and Panigirtzoglou (1999) and Goodfriend (2000). not least the political opposition that such an institutional change would be likely to generate. We are able to consider the extent to which the zero bound represents a genuine constraint on attainable equilibrium paths for inﬂation and real activity. relative to the policy rules that would be judged optimal in the absence of such a bound. Our consideration of the optimal policy problem also abstracts from the availability of ﬁscal instruments such as the time-varying tax policy recommended by Feldstein (2002). To preview our results.1 We do not here explore the possibility of relaxing the constraint by taxing money balances. there are substantial practical diﬃculties with such a proposal. and in such a case it inevitably results in lower welfare than could be achieved in the absence of such a constraint. and to consider the extent to which open-market purchases of various kinds of assets by the central bank can mitigate that constraint. While our model remains an extremely simple one. Nonetheless. As long as one does not think that state-contingent ﬁscal policy can (or will) be used to eliminate even temporary declines in the natural rate of interest below zero. at least when certain kinds of real disturbances are encountered in an environment of low inﬂation. in the context of an explicit intertemporal equilibrium model of the monetary transmission mechanism. we believe that it can help to clarify some of the basic issues just raised. or in the case of real disturbances small enough for the bound never to matter under an optimal policy. We argue that the possibility of expansion of the monetary base through central-bank purchases of a variety of types of assets does little if anything to expand the set of feasible equilibrium paths for inﬂation and real activity that are consistent with equilibrium under some (fully credible) policy commitment. Hence the relevant tradeoﬀs can correctly be studied by simply considering what can be achieved by alternative anticipated state-contingent paths of the short-term nominal interest rate.

For example. ways in which other types of policy actions could help to increase the credibility of the central bank’s announced commitment to this kind of future policy. and discuss a form of price-level targeting rule that — if credibly committed to by the central bank — should bring about the constrained-optimal equilibrium. Even though the set of feasible equilibrium outcomes corresponds to those that can be achieved through alternative interest-rate policies. we argue that the extent to which this constraint restricts possible stabilization outcomes under sound policy is much more modest than the deﬂation pessimists presume. we give particular emphasis to the role of expectations regarding future policy in determining the severity of the distortions that result from hitting the zero bound. more informally. allows for richer (and at least somewhat more realistic) dynamic responses to disturbances.Nonetheless. at a time when the central bank again has room to maneuver. Like Krugman. unlike Krugman’s. a real disturbance that lowers the natural rate of interest can cause output to remain below potential for years (as shown in Figure 2 below). 5 . In our model. our assumption of staggered pricing. even when the average frequency of price adjustments is more than once per year. We also discuss. These richer dynamics are also important for a realistic discussion of the kind of policy commitment that can help to reduce economic contraction during a “liquidity trap”. rather than the simple hypothesis of prices that are ﬁxed for one period as in the analysis of Krugman. rather than only for a single “period”. will be the presentation of a more fully dynamic analysis. The key to dealing with this sort of situation in the least damaging way is to create the right kind of expectations regarding the way in which monetary policy will be used subsequently. monetary policy is far from powerless to mitigate the contractionary eﬀects of the kind of disturbances that would make the zero bound a binding constraint. In our policy that we consider here remains relevant. relative to Krugman’s earlier treatment. We use our intertemporal equilibrium model to characterize the kind of expectations regarding future policy that it would be desirable to create. Our primary contribution. Our analysis will be recognized as a development of several key themes of Paul Krugman’s (1998) treatment of the same topic in these pages a few years ago.

2 This means that the creation of inﬂation expectations. This might suggest. especially if inﬂation is regarded as being relatively “sticky” in the short run. Krugman emphasizes the fact that increased expectations of inﬂation can lower the real interest rate implied by a zero nominal interest rate. however. it is not merely short-term real interest rates that matter for current aggregate demand. We are also better able to discuss questions such as how the creation of inﬂationary expectations during the period that the zero bound is binding can be reconciled with maintaining the credibility of the central bank’s commitment to long-run price stability. rather than short rates.model. First of all. In the simple model presented here. our model of intertemporal substitution in spending implies that the entire expected future path of short real rates should matter. to the expected future path of short rates) as a result of interest-rate parity. But the real exchange rate should be closely linked to a very long domestic real rate of return (or alternatively. a commitment to a higher future price level does not involve any reduction in future nominal interest rates. the real exchange rate becomes an important determinant of aggregate demand. from long-run purchasing-power parity). and it might also suggest that the only expectations that should matter are those regarding inﬂation over the relatively short horizon corresponding to the short-term nominal interest rate that has fallen to zero. in an open-economy model. that the central bank can aﬀect the economy only insofar as it aﬀects expectations regarding a variable that it cannot inﬂuence except quite indirectly. whereas in Krugman’s model. even with regard to inﬂation that should occur only more than a year in the future. together with an anchor for the expected long-term real exchange rate (coming. 2 6 . as long as it is not accompanied by correspondingly higher expected future nominal interest rates. For example. should also be highly relevant to aggregate demand. or alternatively that very long real rates should matter. a commitment to create subsequent inﬂation involves a commitment to keep interest rates low for a time in the future. to be the critical determinant of aggregate demand. this occurs solely as a result of intertemporal substitution in private expenditure. Such interpretations easily lead to skepticism about the practical eﬀectiveness of the expectational channel. But there are a number of reasons to expect long rates. for example. Our model is instead one in which expectations aﬀect aggregate demand through several channels. Furthermore. Our dynamic analysis also allows us to further clarify the several ways in which the management of private-sector expectations by the central bank can be expected to mitigate the eﬀects of the zero bound.

and show that it does indeed involve a commitment to history-dependent policy of a sort that should result in higher inﬂation expectations in response to a binding zero bound. We can also show to what extent it should be optimal to create such expectations. any failure of such a commitment to be credible will not be due to skepticism about whether the central bank is able to follow through on its commitment. This conclusion in itself. even when current rates cannot be further lowered.the expected future path of nominal interest rates matters. and not just their current level. We ﬁnd. instead. Our model with staggered pricing. and justiﬁes an objective function for stabilization policy that trades oﬀ inﬂation stabilization and output-gap stabilization in terms that are often assumed to represent actual central-bank concerns. The richer dynamics of our model are also important for the analysis of optimal policy. Krugman mainly addresses the question whether monetary policy is completely impotent when the zero bound binds. so that a commitment to keep nominal interest rates low for a longer period of time should stimulate aggregate demand. and even under the hypothesis that inﬂation expectations would remain unaﬀected. it should actually be desirable to create such expectations. implies that inﬂation (whether anticipated or not) creates distortions. Since the central bank can clearly control the future path of short-term nominal interest rates if it has the will to do so. given the well-founded reasons that the central bank should have to not prefer inﬂation at a later time. We characterize optimal policy in such a setting. Nor is Krugman’s model well-suited to address such a question. even though this is one possible type of equilibrium. assuming that this is possible. however (with which we agree). 7 . this is why the zero bound does remain a relevant constraint. insofar as it omits any reason for even an extremely high degree of subsequent inﬂation to be harmful. or to what extent. even under an optimal policy commitment. does not answer the question whether. for example. that it is not optimal to commit to so much future inﬂation that the zero bound ceases to bind. and argues for the possibility of increasing real activity in the “liquidity trap” by creating expectations of inﬂation.

monetary policy ceases to be an eﬀective instrument to head oﬀ economic contraction in a “liquidity trap. in which we model both the demand for money and the role of ﬁnancial assets (including the monetary base) in private-sector budget constraints. where the consequences of various interest-rate rules and money-growth rules are considered under the assumption that disturbances are not large enough for the zero bound to bind.” that can arise if interest rates reach a level so low that further expansion of the money supply cannot drive them lower. It is perhaps worth stating from the start that our intention in stating such a result is not to vindicate the view that a central bank See Kimura et al. Others have argued that monetary expansion should increase nominal aggregate demand even under such circumstances. Our key result is an irrelevance proposition for open market operations in a variety of types of assets that might be acquired by the central bank. chapter 4). even under circumstances where overnight interest rates have fallen to zero. in order to make it clear that we have not excluded a role for “quantitative easing” simply by failing to model the role of money in the economy. (2002) for discussion of this policy. The model is discussed in more detail in Woodford (2003. The model that we use for this purpose is more detailed in several senses than the one used in subsequent sections to characterize optimal policy. According to the famous analysis of Keynes (1936). under the assumption that the open market operations do not change the expected future conduct of monetary or ﬁscal policy (in senses that we make precise below). 3 8 .3 Here we consider this question in the context of an explicit intertemporal equilibrium model. as well as an expression of doubts about its eﬀectiveness. and the supposition that this is correct lies behind the explicit adoption in Japan since March 2001 of a policy of “quantitative easing” in addition to the “zero interest-rate policy” that continues to be maintained.1 Is “Quantitative Easing” a Separate Policy Instrument? A ﬁrst question that we wish to consider is whether expansion of the monetary base represents a policy instrument that should be eﬀective in preventing deﬂation and associated output declines.

for example. ξt )dj .is powerless to halt a deﬂationary slump. with an elasticity of substitution equal to θ > 1. We assume a model in which the representative household seeks to maximize a utility function of the form ∞ Et T =t β T −t u(Ct . and hence to absolve the Bank of Japan. 9 . the conclusion that we draw is not that such actions are futile. this does not mean that the central bank is powerless under the circumstances that we describe. Mt measures end-of-period household money balances. ξt ) − 1 0 v(Ht (j). Open-market operations should be largely ineﬀective to the extent that they fail to change expectations regarding future policy. where Ct is a Dixit-Stiglitz aggregate of consumption of each of a continuum of diﬀerentiated goods. and assumes perfectly ﬂexible wages (or some other mechanism for eﬃcient labor contracting). but assumes monopolistic competition in goods markets. Mt refers to the monetary base. and sticky prices that are adjusted at random intervals in the way assumed by Calvo (1983). While our proposition establishes that there is a sense in which a “liquidity trap” is possible. and not in order to create some sort of “direct” eﬀects. but rather that the central bank’s actions should be chosen with a view to signalling the nature of its policy commitments.1) We shall not introduce fractional-reserve banking into our model. Technically. either directly or through intermediaries (not modelled). Rather. Pt ≡ 4 1 0 pt (i) 1−θ di 1 1−θ (1. and we represent households as obtaining liquidity services from holding this base.1 A Neutrality Proposition for Open-Market Operations Our model abstracts from endogenous variations in the capital stock.4 Pt is the Dixit-Stiglitz price index. the point of our result is to show that the key to eﬀective central-bank action to combat a deﬂationary slump is the management of expectations. Mt /Pt . from any responsibility for the continuing stagnation in that country. 1. Ct ≡ 1 0 θ θ−1 θ−1 θ ct (i) di . so that deﬂation has real eﬀects.

) Real balances are included in the utility function. this (realistic) complication allows a further channel through which money can aﬀect aggregate demand. a household faces an intertemporal budget constraint of the form ∞ ∞ Et T =t Qt.16). namely an eﬀect of real money balances on the current marginal utility of consumption. As shown in Woodford (2003. As a consequence. δt is the opportunity cost of holding money (equal to it /(1 + it ). we do not assume additive separability of the function u between the ﬁrst two arguments.T is the stochastic discount factor by which the ﬁnancial markets value random nominal income at date T in monetary units at date t. 1975). v(·. ξt ) is an increasing convex function.T [PT CT + δT MT ] ≤ Wt + Et T =t Qt. For simplicity we shall assume complete ﬁnancial markets and no limits on borrowing against future income. for each value of ξt .and Ht (j) is the quantity supplied of labor of type j. u(·. Similarly. (Each industry j employs an industryspeciﬁc type of labor. Here Qt. ξt ). ·.5 For each value of the disturbances ξt . we regard Japan’s experience over the past several years as having settled the theoretical debate over whether such a level of real balances exists. increasing in the ﬁrst argument. in the case that no interest We use this approach to modelling the transactions demand for money because of its familiarity. ξt ) is concave function. The existence of a satiation level is necessary in order for it to be possible for ¯ the zero interest-rate bound ever to be reached.T 1 0 ΠT (i)di + 1 0 h wT (j)HT (j)dj − TT looking forward from any period t. Unlike many papers in the literature. appendix section A. with its own wage wt (j). where it is the riskless nominal interest rate on one-period obligations purchased in period t. following Sidrauski (1967) and Brock (1974. The vector of exogenous disturbances ξt may contain several elements. so that no assumption is made about correlation of the exogenous shifts in the functions u and v. and the neutrality result that we present below would hold in essentially identical form were we to model the transactions demand for money after the fashion of Lucas and Stokey (1987). 5 10 . and increasing in the second for all levels of real balances up to a satiation level m(Ct . a cash-in-advance model leads to equilibrium conditions of essentially the same general form. as a proxy for the services that money balances provide in facilitating transactions.

(1.is paid on the monetary base). and Tth represents the net nominal tax liabilities of each household in period t. Optimal timing of household expenditure requires that aggregate demand Yt for the composite good6 satisfy an Euler equation of the form uc (Yt . ξt+1 )(1 + it ) Pt . ξ). ξt ). wt (j) is the nominal wage earned by labor of type j in period t. chap. Mt /Pt . ξt ) 1 + it under the assumption that zero interest is paid on the monetary base. so that the function L is continuous at i = 0. Pt+1 (1. 7 In the case that it = 0. uc (Yt . ξ) = m(Y . Mt /Pt .7 The equilibrium relation can then equivalently be written as a pair of inequalities Mt ≥ L(Yt . we here abstract from government purchases of goods. ξt ) is deﬁned as the minimum level of real balances that would satisfy the ﬁrst-order condition. ξt ) = βEt uc (Yt+1 . Mt+1 /Pt+1 .4) together with the “complementary slackness” condition that at least one must hold with equality at any time. ξt ) that satisfy it in the case of any positive nominal interest rate. it . ξt ) it = . Πt (i) represents the nominal proﬁts (revenues in excess of the wage bill) in period t of the supplier of good i. and that preferences are such that we can exclude the possibility of a corner solution with zero money balances. Our equilibrium conditions directly extend to the case of exogenous government purchases. this equilibrium condition can be solved uniquely for the level of real balances L(Yt . 4). Pt it ≥ 0. Optimizing household behavior then implies the following necessary conditions for a rational-expectations equilibrium.3) (1. Mt /Pt . so that the function L is continuous. 6 11 . Wt is the nominal value of the household’s ﬁnancial wealth (including money holdings) at the beginning of period t. 0. 0. as shown in Woodford (2003. L(Yt .2) where it is the riskless nominal interest rate on one-period obligations purchased in period t. the minimum level of real ¯ balances for which um = 0. (Here we deﬁne L(Y. If both consumption and liquidity services are normal goods. Optimal substitution between real money balances and expenditure leads to a static ﬁrst-order condition of the form um (Yt .) For simplicity. it .

MT /PT . (Condition (1. where At is an exogenous productivity factor common to all industries.6) looking forward from any period t. lim β T Et [uc (YT . MT /PT . and ht (i) is the industry-speciﬁc labor hired by ﬁrm i. and also change their prices at the same time. under the assumption that there are no limitations on households’ ability to borrow against future income. There are assumed to be many goods in each of an inﬁnite number of “industries”.5) is required for the existence of a well-deﬁned intertemporal budget constraint.6) must hold if the household exhausts its intertemporal budget constraint. 8 12 . Each good is produced in accordance with a common production function yt (i) = At f (ht (i)).) Conditions (1. while the transversality condition (1. in the presence of perfect sharing of labor income risk across households.2) – (1. household decisions regarding consumption and labor supply would all be as assumed here. the goods in each industry j are produced using a type of labor that is speciﬁc to that industry. Given the We might alternatively assume specialization across households in the type of labor supplied.5) (1.6) also suﬃce to imply that the representative household chooses optimal consumption and portfolio plans (including its planned holdings of money balances) given its income expectations and the prices (including ﬁnancial asset prices) that it faces. ξT )(MT /PT )] < ∞. hiring the labor inputs necessary to meet any demand that may be realized. The representative household supplies all types of labor as well as consuming all types of goods. Each diﬀerentiated good i is supplied by a single monopolistically competitive producer.Household optimization similarly requires that the paths of aggregate real expenditure and the price index satisfy the bounds ∞ T =t T →∞ β T Et [uc (YT . ξT )YT + um (YT . where Dt measures the total nominal value of government liabilities (monetary base plus government debt) at the end of period t. MT /PT . ξT )DT /PT ] = 0 (1.8 The supplier of good i sets a price for that good at which it supplies demand each period. while making choices that are consistent with ﬁnancial market clearing. under the monetary-ﬁscal policy regime.

YT .1) implies a law of motion for the aggregate price index of the form 1−θ Pt = (1 − α)p∗1−θ + αPt−1 t 1 1−θ . uc (Ct . PT . This price is implicitly deﬁned by the ﬁrst-order condition t ∞ Et T =t ˜ αT −t Qt. the deﬁnition (1. p∗ . pt (i) would be chosen each period to maximize this function. including variations in technology as well as preferences. Instead we suppose that prices remain ﬁxed in monetary terms for a random period of time. MT /PT .7) We note furthermore that the stochastic discount factor used to price future proﬁt streams will be given by Qt. t t (1. pj . and let 0 < α < 1 be the fraction of industries with prices that remain unchanged each period. we can show that the nominal proﬁts (sales revenues in excess of labor costs) in period t of the supplier of good i are given by a function ˜ Π(pt (i). Pt . ξt ) ≡ pt (i)Yt (pt (i)/Pt )−θ t vh (f −1 (Yt (pj /Pt )−θ /At ). Yt . uc (Yt . Mt /Pt . all ﬁrms in an industry charge the same price at any time.7) and (1. ξt ) t − Pt f −1 (Yt (pt (i)/Pt )−θ /At ). ξt ) where pj is the common price charged by the other ﬁrms in industry j. In any industry that revises its prices in period t. on the one hand. and represent the aggregate-supply block of our model. Mt /Pt . 9 13 .) If prices were fully ﬂexible.allocation of demand across goods by of households in response to ﬁrm pricing decisions. Mt /Pt . and the terms on which optimizing households are willing to supply each type of labor on the other.T Π1 (p∗ . we suppose that each industry has an equal probability of reconsidering its prices each period. But we must deﬁne proﬁts for an individual supplier i in the case of contemplated deviations from the equilibrium price. MT /PT . ξT ) .8) Finally. ξt ) (1.9 (We introduce t ˜ the notation ξt for the complete vector of exogenous disturbances. (1.9) Equations (1. ξT ) = 0. In equilibrium.T = β T −t uc (CT . Following Calvo (1983).9) jointly determine the evolution of prices given demand conditions. the new price p∗ will be the same.

10) implies only a lower bound on the monetary base that must be supplied. but that there are conditions under which the rule prescribes a zero interest-rate policy. Yt . ξt ). we shall suppose that the central bank’s operating target for the short-term nominal interest rate is determined by a feedback rule in the spirit of the Taylor rule (Taylor. In these circumstances. ξt ) ≥ 1. to which the central bank happens to respond. Such a rule implies that the central bank supplies the quantity of base money that happens to be demanded at the interest rate given by this formula. Yt . Yt . The point is to deﬁne what we mean by the qualiﬁcation that open-market operations are irrelevant if they do not change expected future monetary or ﬁscal policy. but that it could correspond to a policy commitment of a fairly familiar sort.11) 14 . (1. one that would represent a commitment to “sound policy” in the views of some. We shall suppose that the central bank’s policy in this regard is speciﬁed by a base-supply rule of the form ˜ ˜ Mt = Pt L(Yt . in the case that the value of φ is positive. It is important to note that the speciﬁcation of monetary and ﬁscal policy in the particular way that we propose here is not intended to suggest that either monetary or ﬁscal policy must be expected to be conducted according to rules of the sort assumed here. Yt . In order to make sense of such a statement. ˜ it = φ(Pt /Pt−1 . However.10 In order to address the question whether “quantitative easing” represents an additional tool of policy. given the zero lower bound). the policy commitment (1.10) implies a path for the monetary base. we recommend policy commitments on the part of both monetary and ﬁscal authorities that do not conform to the assumptions made in this section. 10 (1.10) ˜ where now ξt may also include exogenous disturbances in addition to the ones listed above. 1993). ξt ). ξt ). We shall assume that the function φ is nonnegative for all values of its arguments (otherwise the policy would not be feasible.It remains to specify the monetary and ﬁscal policies of the government. where the multiplicative factor ψ satisﬁes ˜ (i) ψ(Pt /Pt−1 . Indeed. we must deﬁne what it would mean for these policies to be speciﬁed in a way that prevents them from being aﬀected by past open-market operations. ξt )ψ(Pt /Pt−1 . under those conditions in which the value of φ is zero. The speciﬁc classes of policy rules discussed here show that our concept of “unchanged policy” is not only logically possible. we may ask whether it matters whether a greater or smaller quantity of base money is supplied. φ(Pt /Pt−1 . hence (1. in later sections of this paper.

Yt . The fact that ω m (·) depends on the same arguments as φ(·) means that we allow for the possibility that the central bank changes its policy when the zero bound is binding (for example. a quantity bt zt−1 of the consumption good. We shall suppose that the asset side of the central-bank balance sheet may include any of k diﬀerent types of securities. These shares are in turn determined by a policy rule of the form m ˜ ωt = ω m (Pt /Pt−1 .˜ ˜ (ii) ψ(Pt /Pt−1 .10) and the equilibrium relations (1. (Condition (ii) implies that ψ = 1 whenever it > 0. (1.3) – (1. The use of “quantitative easing” as a policy tool can then be represented by a choice of a function ψ that is greater than 1 under some circumstances.) Note that a base-supply rule of this form is consistent with both the interest-rate operating target speciﬁed in (1.12) where the vector-valued function ω m (·) has the property that its components sum to 1 for all possible values of its arguments. Yt . ξt ) > 0 for all values of its arguments.4). each of which may depend on the state of the world in period t. This ﬂexible speciﬁcation allows us to treat a wide range of types of assets that 15 . buying assets that it would not hold at any other time). distinguished by their state-contingent returns. ξt ) = 1 if φ(Pt /Pt−1 . where ωt is a vector of central-bank portfolio shares. the fact that it depends on the same arguments as ψ(·) allows us to specify changes in the composition of the central-bank portfolio as a function of the particular kinds of purchases associated with “quantitative easing. At the end of period t. ξt ). and a vector Ft zt−1 of securities that may be traded in the period t asset markets.” The payoﬀs on these securities in each state of the world are speciﬁed by exogenously given (state-contingent) vectors at and bt and matrix Ft . A vector of asset holdings zt−1 at the end of period t − 1 results in delivery to the owner of a quantity at zt−1 of money. It remains to specify which sort of assets should be acquired (or disposed of) by the central bank when it varies the size of the monetary base. the vector of nominal m m values of central-bank holdings of the various securities is given by Mt ωt . Yt .

11 16 . while at (j) > 0 is the same in all states. Pt Pt−1 Pt−1 (1. the nominal transfer by the central bank to the Treasury each period is equal to m Ttcb = Rt ωt−1 Mt−1 − Mt−1 . as well as a rule that speciﬁes the composition of outstanding non-monetary liabilities (debt) among diﬀerent types of securities that might be issued by the government. j) are zero. Ft (k. Ft (i.14) where the stochastic discount factor is again given by (1. security j in period t − 1 is a one-period riskless nominal bond if bt (j) and Ft (·.T [aT + Pt bT ] s=t+1 Fs . qt−1 (j) (1. j) are zero in all states. j) > 0 is the same in all states.13). and security k in period t is a one-period riskless nominal bond. and so on. here deﬁned to be inclusive of the monetary base. (1. . (1.15) where Rt is the vector of returns deﬁned by (1. degree of indexation.13) where qt is the vector of nominal asset prices in (ex-dividend) period t trading. ξt .11 The gross nominal return Rt (j) on the jth asset between periods t − 1 and t is then given by Rt (j) = at (j) + Pt bt (j) + qt Ft (·. Security j is instead a one-period real (or indexed) bond if at (j) and Ft (·. j) = 0 for all i = k. while bt (j) > 0 is the same in all states. We shall suppose that the evolution of total government liabilities is in accordance with a rule of the form Dt Dt−1 Pt ˜ =d . Yt .16) which speciﬁes the acceptable level of real government liabilities as a function of the preexisting level of real liabilities and various aspects of current macroeconomic conditions. This notation allows for such possibilities as an exogenously speciﬁed state-contingent target For example. Under the assumption that no interest is paid on the monetary base. It is a two-period riskless nominal pure discount bond if instead at (j) and bt (j) are zero. j) .may diﬀer as to maturity.8). We specify ﬁscal policy in terms of a rule that determines the evolution of total government liabilities Dt . The absence of arbitrage opportunities implies as usual that equilibrium asset prices must satisfy T −1 qt = T ≥t+1 Et Qt.

it . Pt . Together. the two relations (1.” But our concern here is solely with the question of what can be achieved by monetary policy. for convenience. and Tth is the nominal value of the primary budget surplus (taxes net of transfers. allow for other types of ﬁscal decisions from which we abstract here — government purchases. with each endogenous variable speciﬁed as a function t We might. Finally. and close our model. the determination of the composition of the government’s non-monetary liabilities at each point in time) is speciﬁed by a function f ˜ ωt = ω f (Pt /Pt−1 . of course.16) and (1.e.17) complete our speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy. This identity can then be inverted to obtain the net tax collections Tth implied by a given rule (1. Mt . we introduce a minimal speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy only for the sake of closing our general-equilibrium model. among others. that the rest may be allocated among any of a set of diﬀerent types of securities that may be issued by the government. and so on — some of which may be quite relevant to dealing with a “liquidity trap. We suppose. 12 17 .e. and in order to allow discussion of the ﬁscal implications of possible actions by the central bank. (1. ξt ). ωt }. where Bt ≡ Dt − Mt is the total nominal value of end-of-period non-monetary liabilities. we suppose that debt management policy (i.. we assume that this is a f subset of the set of k securities that may be purchased by the central bank. Yt . non-monetary liabilities) at the end of period t that is of type j. or for the government budget deﬁcit (inclusive of interest on the public debt) as a share of GDP. ωt . If ωjt indicates the share of government debt (i. then the ﬂow government budget constraint takes the form f Dt = Rt ωt−1 Bt−1 − Ttcb − Tth . if we abstract from government purchases). qt .. Yt . Dt . however. tax incentives.11).17) specifying the shares as a function of aggregate conditions. The part of total liabilities that consists of base money is speciﬁed by the base rule (1.for real government liabilities as a proportion of GDP.16) for aggregate public liabilities. where the vector-valued function ω f also has components that sum to 1 for all possible values of its arguments. this depends in general on the composition of the public debt as well as on total borrowing.12 We may now deﬁne a rational-expectations equilibrium as a collection of stochastic prof m cesses {p∗ .

m. By diﬀerentiating this relation. We can similarly replace the expression um (Yt .11). ξt ).of the history of exogenous disturbances to that date. without using the relation (1. L(Yt . we see further that uc (C.2) – (1. It follows that in our equilibrium relations. Yt . or ω f . Pt /Pt−1 . ωt }. ξt )L(Yt . we can replace the expression uc (Yt . and conditions (1. let us ﬁrst note that for all m ≥ m(C. Dt } t f m implied by our model can be written in a form that does not involve the variables {Mt .10) – (1.11).16) – (1. ξt ). Yt . ξt ). qt . Pt .12). and hence that does not involve the functions ψ. ξt ). that satisfy each of conditions (1. ξt ) ≡ um (Yt . ξ). Pt . it . conditions (1. ξ) does not depend on the exact value of m either. ξ).9) of the aggregatesupply block. the asset-pricing relations (1. 18 . The reason for this is fairly simple. using the fact that (1. conditions (1. φ(Pt /Pt−1 . The set of paths for the variables {p∗ . ωt .12) specifying monetary policy. Yt . ω m . Mt /Pt . qt . ξt ) ≡ uc (Yt . m(C. We then obtain the following irrelevance result for the speciﬁcation of certain aspects of policy. ¯ as additional money balances beyond the satiation level provide no further liquidity services. ξt ) by λ(Yt . ξt ).3) holds with equality at all levels of real balances at which uc depends on the level of real balances.17). ω m in equation (1. m. ξt )(Mt /Pt ) that appears in (1. and so in a way that is independent of the function ψ.6) of the aggregate-demand block of the model. L(Yt . The set of restrictions on the processes {p∗ . Yt . as long as m exceeds the satiation level. ξt ). To show this. Pt /Pt−1 . φ(Pt /Pt−1 . Dt } that are consistent t with the existence of a rational-expectations equilibrium are independent of the speciﬁcation of the functions ψ in equation (1.7) and (1. it . Proposition. ξ). and ω f in equation (1. ξ) = u(C. ξt ). Mt /Pt . Yt . Hence we can write uc as a function of variables other than Mt /Pt . φ(Pt /Pt−1 . ¯ u(C.17) specifying ﬁscal policy each period.14).5) by µ(Yt .

ξt ) = βEt λ(Yt+1 . while um = 0 when they do. which clearly has a solution. Pt . qt . Pt . Pt /Pt−1 . PT /PT −1 .3) and the complementary slackness condition. (1.12) 19 . as a result of our assumptions about the form of the function ψ. it . Pt /Pt−1 . ξT )[PT aT + bT ] Fs . lim β T Et [λ(YT .5). Pt /Pt−1 .9).10). chapter 3) in deriving the proﬁt function Π.6). (1.14) in a way that no longer makes reference to the money supply. 2003. t after substituting λ(Yt . or ω f . PT /PT −1 .21) (1. ξT )] < ∞. we can express nominal proﬁts in period t as a function ˜ ˜ Π(pt (i). and this path for the money supply necessarily satisﬁes (1. ξt ) T ≥t+1 s=t+1 ∞ Et T =t −1 ˜ ˜ (αβ)T −t λ(YT . the variables {p∗ . ξt+1 )(1 + it ) ∞ T =t T →∞ Pt . ξT ) = 0.16) as before. Yt . It then follows that in a rational-expectations equilibrium. λ(Yt . ξT )PT Π1 (p∗ .since Mt /Pt must equal L(Yt . ωt .19) (1. pj .2).7). ξt ) when real balances do not exceed the satiation level. For given any processes {p∗ . (1. ξT )YT + µ(YT . ω m . p∗ . YT . and (1. the implied t path of the money supply is given by (1. Pt+1 (1.18) (1. ξT )DT /PT ] = 0. (1. Finally. PT . PT /PT −1 .20) (1. Furthermore. PT /PT −1 . ξt ) for the marginal utility of real income in the wage demand function that is used (see Woodford. the implied composition of the central-bank portfolio and of the public debt at each point in time are given by (1. T −1 Pt T −t −1 qt = β Et λ(YT . t t along with relations (1. it . and (1. φ(Pt /Pt−1 . Pt . Pt+1 /Pt . Dt } t must each period satisfy the relations λ(Yt . Dt } that satisfy the equations just listed in each period.11). qt . Yt .22) β T Et [λ(YT . nor do they involve the functions ψ. we can write each of the equilibrium relations (1. Pt /Pt−1 . Yt . ξt ). Using these substitutions. ωt }. this is the complete set of restrictions on these variables that are required in order for them to be consistent with a rational-expectations equilibrium. Yt . ξt ). PT /PT −1 . Note that none of these equations f m involve the variables {Mt . Similarly. PT /PT −1 .

We then have a set of processes that satisfy all of the requirements for a rationalexpectations equilibrium. ours abstracts from the complexity of actual economies in many respects. and the rule which total private-sector claims on the government will be allowed to grow on the other. has any eﬀect on whether a deﬂationary price-level path will represent a rational-expectations equilibrium. If the commitments of policymakers regarding the rule by which interest rates will be set on the one hand. Like any economic model. the validity of our result depends on the reasonableness of our assumptions.and (1.g. then. This raises the question whether we may have abstracted from features of actual economies that are crucial for a correct understanding of the issues under discussion. Of course. Other aspects of policy should matter in practice.. is not supported by our general-equilibrium analysis of inﬂation and output determination. Many readers may suspect that an important omission is the neglect of “portfolio-balance eﬀects. nor the nature of the assets that the central bank may purchase through open-market operations. (2003) and Orphanides (2003).13 The idea is that a central bank should be able to lower longer-term interest rates even when overnight rates are already at zero. only insofar as they help to signal the nature of policy commitments of the kind just mentioned.” which play an important role in much recent discussion of the policy options that would remain available to the Fed in the event that the zero bound is reached by the federal funds rate.17). Clouse et al. Hence the notion that expansions of the monetary base represent an additional tool of policy. are fully credible. through purchases of longer-maturity government bonds. and these deserve further discussion. independent of the speciﬁcation of the rule for adjusting short-term nominal interest rates. 20 . e. and the result is established. then it is only the choice of those commitments that matters. 1. shifting the composition of the public debt in the hands of the public 13 See.2 Discussion This proposition implies that neither the extent to which quantitative easing is employed when the zero bound binds.

and our model of asset-market equilibrium incorporates those term premia and risk premia that are consistent with the absence of arbitrage opportunities. resulting in a lower relative price for the assets that pay oﬀ in those states. Our conclusion diﬀers from the one in the literature on portfolio-balance eﬀects for a diﬀerent reason. other kinds of assets that the central bank might choose to purchase instead of the shortest-maturity Treasury bills) are perfect substitutes. as by an open-market purchase of long bonds with newly created base money. The marginal utility to the representative household of additional income in a given state of the world depends on the household’s consumption in that state. there is no such eﬀect. Our framework allows for diﬀerent assets that the central bank may purchase to have diﬀerent risk characteristics (diﬀerent state-contingent returns).) There are evidently no such eﬀects in our model. the relative marginal valuation of income in those particular states is reduced. because we have simply assumed that bonds of diﬀerent maturities (or for that matter. we have shown that the equilibrium 21 .in a way that aﬀects the term structure of interest rates. as some might expect. But in our general-equilibrium asset-pricing model. The classic theoretical analysis of portfolio-balance eﬀects assumes a representative investor with mean-variance preferences. (As it is generally admitted in such discussions that base money and very short-term Treasury securities have become nearperfect substitutes once short-term interest rates have fallen to zero. This has the implication that if the supply of assets that pay oﬀ disproportionately in certain states of the world is increased (so that the extent to which the representative investor’s portfolio pays oﬀ in those states must also increase). not on the aggregate payoﬀ of its asset portfolio in that state. resulting either from central-bank securities purchases or debt management by the Treasury. And changes in the composition of the securities in the hands of the public don’t change the state-contingent consumption of the representative household — this depends on equilibrium output. the desired eﬀect should be achieved equally well by a shift in the maturity structure of Treasury securities held by the central bank. without any change in the monetary base. and while output is endogenous. But this is not.

to separately target short-term and Our general-equilibrium analysis is in the spirit of the irrelevance proposition for open-market operations of Wallace (1981). the assumption of complete ﬁnancial markets is only a convenience.relations that determine it do not involve the functions ψ. the liquidity services provided by money balances at the margin have fallen to zero. and asset prices that do not involve ψ. at least in the case of a representative-household model.8). but also on the way in which the central bank’s trading proﬁts are eventually rebated to the private sector (with what delay. However. ω m . ω m . the eﬀects of open-market operations should depend not merely on which sorts of assets are purchased and which sorts of liabilities are issued to ﬁnance the purchases. goods prices. since in equilibrium the representative household must hold the entire net supply of ﬁnancial claims on the government. then. But in this case. as a result of the speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy. but instead will result from the ﬁscal transfers to which the transaction gives rise. any borrowing limits that might be assumed can never bind in equilibrium.16) implies positive government liabilities at each date. Indeed. so that an analysis of the kind proposed by Wallace is correct. so that it is not possible for there to be an equilibrium in which money is dominated in rate of return by short-term Treasury securities. each of the assets that is traded will be priced according to (1. Wallace’s analysis is often supposed to be of little practical relevance for actual monetary policy because his model is one in which money serves only as a store of value. in the case of open-market operations that are conducted at the zero bound. allowing us to write the budget constraint of the representative household in a simple way. 14 22 . and how distributed across the heterogeneous households). Even in the case of incomplete markets. and it is unclear how quantitatively signiﬁcant such eﬀects should be. there is not a great deal of empirical support for quantitatively signiﬁcant eﬀects. Borrowing limits can matter more in the case of a model with heterogeneous households. as long as the ﬁscal rule (1. or ω f . or ω f . The absence of borrowing limits is also innocuous. The attempt of the U.14).S. The eﬀects will not be mechanical consequences of the change in the composition of the assets in the hands of the public. and once again there will be a set of relations to determine output.14 Our assumption of complete ﬁnancial markets and no limits on borrowing against future income may also appear extreme. something that is routinely observed. However. leaving aside the question of whether there exists a clear theoretical foundation for the existence of portfolio-balance eﬀects. where the stochastic discount factor is given by (1.

Roley (1982) and Friedman (1992) ﬁnd somewhat larger eﬀects. For example. 17 Cecchetti (2003) similarly argues that it should be possible for the Fed to independently aﬀect long-bond yields if it is determined to do so. and from the cost of ﬁnancing long-term investment projects. Meulendyke (1998) summarizes the literature. found eﬀects that are not quantitatively large when present at all.16 For example. and that their numerical values were highly volatile. 15 23 . the fact that these institutions have idiosyncratic reasons to hold long-term Treasuries — and that. Thus the policy conclusion to be drawn seems to be that there is not much scope for a debt management policy aimed at systematically aﬀecting asset yields. given that it can print money without limit to buy additional long-term Treasuries if necessary. Agell and Persson (1992). it is unclear that such a reduction should do much to stimulate economic activity or to halt deﬂationary pressures.long-term interest rates under “Operation Twist” in the early 1960’s is generally regarded as having had a modest eﬀect at best on the term structure. and ﬁnds that the predominant view is that the eﬀect was minimal. Okun (1963) and Modigliani and Sutch (1967) are important early discussions that reached this conclusion. (2003) argue that a suﬃciently large reduction in the number of long-term Treasuries in the hands of the public should be able to lower the market yield on those securities relative to short rates. and Hess (1999). Wallace and Warner (1996). no one else holds any or plays any role in pricing them — means that the lower observed yield on long-term Treasuries may not correspond to any reduction in the perceived cost of long-term borrowing for other institutions. Clouse et al. in equilibrium.17 But even if this is true. If one is able to reduce the long bond rate only by decoupling it from the rest of the structure of interest rates. Frankel (1985). owing to the fact that certain institutions will ﬁnd it important to hold long-term Treasury securities even when they oﬀer an unfavorable yield.” Moreover. on the whole. it is not clear how relevant such an eﬀect should be for real activity and the evolution of goods prices.15 The empirical literature that has sought to estimate the eﬀects of changes in the composition of the public debt on relative yields has also. even if one supposes that large enough changes in the composition of the portfolio of securities left in the hands of the private sector can substantially aﬀect yields. Agell and Persson (1992) summarize their ﬁndings as follows: “It turned out that these eﬀects were rather small in magnitude. 16 Examples of studies ﬁnding either no eﬀects or only quantitatively unimportant ones include Mogigliani and Sutch (1967).

it is more important to note that our irrelevance proposition depends on an assumption that interest-rate policy is speciﬁed in a way that implies that these open-market operations have no consequences for interest-rate policy. either immediately (which is trivial. when it is argued that surely nominal aggregate demand could be stimulated by a “helicopter drop of money”. We have also speciﬁed ﬁscal policy in a way that implies that the contemplated open-market operations have no eﬀect on the evolution of total government liabilities {Dt } either — again.11). Clouse et al. and also that there exists a future date at which the zero bound ceases to bind. (2003) also stress that maintenance of the higher money supply until a date at which the zero bound would not otherwise bind represents one straightforward channel through which open markets operations while the zero bound is binding could have a stimulative eﬀect. it is typically supposed that the expansion of the money supply will be permanent. it is important to note that someone who recommends monetary expansion by the central bank may intend for this to have consequences of one or both of these other sorts. the assumption that the money supply is increased through a “helicopter This explains the apparent diﬀerence between our result and the one obtained by Auerbach and Obstfeld (2003) in a similar model.18 Second. Even if the eﬀects of open-market operations under the conditions described in the proposition are not exactly zero. when the money supply no longer exceeds the satiation level. In our view. as a way of isolating the pure eﬀects of open-market purchases of assets by the central bank from either interest-rate policy on the one hand and from ﬁscal policy on the other. then the function φ that deﬁnes interest-rate policy is also being changed. in a way that will become relevant at some future date. the thought experiment that is usually contemplated is not simply a change in the function ψ in our policy rule (1. it seems unlikely that they should be large. so that the higher money supply will imply a diﬀerent interest-rate policy at that later date. or at any subsequent date either. For example. neither immediately nor at any later date.Hence we are not inclined to suppose that our irrelevance proposition represents so poor an approximation to reality as to deprive it of practical relevance. which is the only eﬀect that would be desired). If this is the case. though they discuss other possible channels as well. First of all. While we think that these deﬁnitions make sense. 18 24 . These authors assume explicitly that an increase in the money supply while the zero bound binds carries with it the implication of a permanently higher money supply. since it would not be possible for them to lower current interest rates.

We have just argued that the key to lowering long-term interest rates. As a logical matter. and it is generally at least tacitly assumed that this is a permanent increase as well. and might well provide a justiﬁcation for open-market policy when the zero bound binds. Even more importantly. we should stress that our irrelevance result applies only given a correct private-sector understanding of the central bank’s commitments regarding future policy. and so may scrutinize the bank’s current actions for further clues. to argue that asset purchases by the central bank are necessarily pointless under the circumstances of a binding zero lower bound on short-term nominal interest rates. rather than through intervention in the market for long-term Treasuries. it is not because of any necessary or mechanical consequence of the shift in the portfolio of assets in the hands of the private sector itself. which may not be present. Nonetheless. The operation increases the value of nominal government liabilities. Instead. (2003) argue that this is one important channel through which open-market operations can be eﬀective. In practice. then. and shifts in the portfolio of the central bank could be of some value in making credible to the private sector the central bank’s own commitment to a particular kind of future policy. any eﬀect of such actions must be due to the way in which they change expectations regarding future Clouse et al. as we discuss further in section 6. However. this need not require any open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries at all. is by changing expectations regarding the likely future path of short rates. we do think it important to observe that insofar as such actions can have any eﬀect. Hence the experiment that is imagined is not one that our irrelevance proposition implies should have no eﬀect on the equilibrium path of prices. the management of private-sector expectations is an art of considerable subtlety. 19 25 .19 We do not wish. “Signalling” eﬀects of this kind are often argued to be an important reason for the eﬀectiveness of interventions in foreign-exchange markets. the private sector may be uncertain about the nature of the central bank’s policy commitment.drop” rather than an open-market operation implies a change in ﬁscal policy as well. in a way that actually provides an incentive for increased spending.

In sections 6 and 7 we discuss reasons why open-market purchases by the central bank might plausibly have consequences for expectations of these types. and the zero bound obviously constrains the ways in which this instrument can be used. we shall focus our attention on the question of what kind of commitments regarding future policy are in fact to be desired. It follows from our discussion in the previous section that the zero bound does represent a genuine constraint. And this question can be addressed without explicit consideration of the role of open-market operations by the central bank of any kind. or even solely upon the history of such rates up until the current time (so that the current level of interest rates would be the only thing that could possibly changed in response to an unanticipated disturbance). Nonetheless. with regard to both inﬂation and real activity. The reason is that inﬂation and output do not depend solely upon the current level of short-term nominal interest rates. The diﬀerences among alternative policies that are relevant to the degree to which stabilization objectives are achieved having only to do with the implied evolution of short-term nominal interest rates. perhaps. or. 2 How Severe a Constraint is the Zero Bound? We turn now to the question of the way in which the existence of the zero bound restricts the degree to which a central bank’s stabilization objectives. Hence we shall simplify our model — abstracting from monetary frictions and the structure of government liabilities altogether — and instead consider how it is desirable for interest-rate policy to be conducted. the future evolution of total nominal government liabilities. and this allows an important degree of scope for policy 26 . The expected character of future interest-rate policy is also a critical determinant of the degree to which the central bank achieves its stabilization objectives.interest-rate policy. we shall see that it is not at all the case that there is nothing that a central bank can do to mitigate the severity of the destabilizing impact of the zero bound. though it remains to be seen how relevant this constraint may be. even under ideal policy. and what kind of commitments about this policy it is desirable to make in advance. But since it is only through eﬀects on expectations regarding future policy that these actions can matter. can be achieved.

and not just in those relatively unusual circumstances when the zero bound is reached. A situation in which there is no decision to be made about the current level of overnight rates (as in Japan at present) is one which brings the question of what expectations regarding future policy one should wish to create more urgently to the fore. This means that the private sector must be convinced that the central bank will not conduct policy in a way that is purely forward-looking. should change only insofar as the current level of overnight interest rates changes. we will show that it is undesirable for the central bank to pursue a certain inﬂation target. In fact. but this is in fact the correct way to think about sound monetary policy at all times. and hence expectations regarding the future evolution of nominal variables more generally. since the current cost of maintaining cash balances overnight is of fairly trivial signiﬁcance for most business decisions. as this determines equilibrium longterm interest rates. even in the case that the pursuit 27 . For example. But there is no reason to suppose that expectations regarding future monetary policy. What actually matters is the private sector’s anticipation of the future path of short rates.e.to be improved upon. once the zero bound is expected no longer to prevent it from being achieved. the management of expectations is the key to successful monetary policy at all times. as well as equilibrium exchange rates and other asset prices — all of which are quite relevant for many current spending decisions. taking account at each point in time only of the possible paths that the economy could follow from that date onward. The way in which short rates are managed matters because of the signals that it gives about the way in which the private sector can expect them to be managed in the future. even when there is little choice about the current level of short-term interest rates. as a result of the constraints that are currently faced (and that make desirable the change in expectations). Of course.. The eﬀectiveness of monetary policy has little to do with the direct eﬀect of changing the level of overnight interest rates. i. there is no question to be faced about what future policy one should wish for people to expect if there is no possibility of committing oneself to a diﬀerent sort of policy in the future than one would otherwise have pursued. hence for optimal pricing behavior as well.

as discussed further in footnote xx below. we shall log-linearize the structural equations of our model (except for the zero bound (1. The reason is that an expectation that the central bank will pursue the ﬁxed inﬂation target after the zero bound ceases to bind gives people no reason to hold the kind of expectations.21 In the event As we shall see. As shown by Woodford. a long-run inﬂation target of zero is optimal in this model. depends on our abstracting from transactions frictions.. in the absence of disturbances (ξt = 0). A history-dependent inﬂation target20 — if the central bank’s commitment to it can be made credible — can instead yield a superior outcome. chapter 7) for more detailed discussion of this point. Clarida et al.1 Feasible Responses to Fluctuation in the Natural Rate of Interest In order to characterize the way in which stabilization policy is constrained by the zero bound. it is easier to explain the nature of the optimal commitment if it is described as a history-dependent price-level target.of this target would be optimal if the zero bound did not exist (or would never bind under an optimal policy). owing to market power. while the bound is binding. Woodford. the optimal policy in the case of a binding zero bound can be implemented through a targeting procedure that represents a straightforward generalization of a policy that would be optimal even if the zero bound were expected never to bind. But this too is an important feature of optimal policy rules more generally (see. Woodford. 1999. Hence the analytical framework and institutional arrangements used to make monetary policy need not be changed in any fundamental way in order to deal with the special problems created by a “liquidity trap”. of a kind that is often employed in the literature on optimal monetary stabilization policy (see.g. 20 28 . 2003). even when the steady-state output level associated with zero inﬂation is suboptimal. rather than mild deﬂation. e.4)) around the paths of inﬂation.g. Speciﬁcally. As we explain in section 4. The fact that zero inﬂation is optimal. that would mitigate the distortions created by it. output and interest rates associated with a zero-inﬂation steady state. 2. chapter 7). We choose to expand around these particular paths because the zeroinﬂation steady state represents optimal policy in the absence of disturbances. we shall make use of a log-linear approximation to the structural equations of section 2.. 21 See Woodford (2003.. e. 2003.

optimal policy will still involve paths in which inﬂation. r ¯ both our structural equations and our characterization of the optimal responses of inﬂation.) However. Then the lower bound on interest rates actually becomes it ≥ im (2. output and interest rates are at all times close to those of the zero-inﬂation steady state. optimal policy will involve a nominal interest rate that is always positive.of small enough disturbances. we are interested in the case in which disturbances are at least occasionally large enough for the zero bound to bind. A case in which it is possible to rigorously consider this problem using only a log-linear approximation to the structural equations is that in which we suppose that the ¯ lower bound on nominal interest is not much below r. Speciﬁcally. and this is also the steady-state nominal interest rate.1) We shall characterize optimal policy subject to a constraint of the form (2. i. (Optimal policy in this case is characterized in the references cited in the previous paragraph. by supposing that interest is paid on the monetary base at a rate im ≥ 0 that cannot (for some institutional reason) be reduced. and the zero bound will not be a binding constraint. it is easily seen that the real rate of interest is equal to r ≡ β −1 − 1 > 0. output and interest rates near those values will allow an accurate approximation to the optimal responses to disturbances in the case that the disturbances are small enough. We shall then hope (without here seeking to verify this) that our characterization of optimal policy in the case of a small opportunity cost of holding money and small disturbances is not too inaccurate in the case of an opportunity cost of several 29 . without changing other crucial parameters of the model such as the assumed rate of time preference.1). In the zero-inﬂation steady state. for it to prevent attainment of the outcome that would be optimal in the absence of such a bound.e. in the case that both a bound on the amplitude of disturbances ||ξ|| and the size of the steady-state ¯ opportunity cost of holding money δ ≡ (¯ − im )/(1 + r) > 0 are small enough. δ||2 ).. Hence in the case of ¯ small enough disturbances. We can arrange for this gap to be as small as we may wish. Hence an approximation to our equilibrium conditions that is accurate in the case of inﬂation. output and interest rates to disturbances will be required to be exact only up to a resid¯ ual of order O(||ξ.

the log-linear approximate equilibrium relations may be summarized by two equations each period.2). and this will be true as long as the interest-rate bound is satisﬁed.3) is derived by loglinearizing (1. xt is a welfare-relevant output gap.2) and a forward-looking “AS relation” (or “New Keynesian Phillips curve”) πt = κxt + βEt πt+1 + ut . (It suﬃces that there exist a monetary base that will satisfy the money-demand relation in each case. output. the former is commonly referred to as a “cost-push disturbance”..e.3) Here πt ≡ log(Pt /Pt−1 ) is the inﬂation rate. and it is now the continuously compounded nominal interest rate (corresponding to log(1 + it ) in the n notation of section 2). and we may abstract from the question of what the required path for the monetary base may be that is associated with any such equilibrium in considering this. i.9) and then eliminating log(p∗ /Pt ). We omit the log-linear version t of the money-demand relation (1. while the latter indicates exogenous variation in the Wicksellian “natural rate of interest”.2) is a log-linear approximation to (1. 30 . as they are automatically satisﬁed in that case. (2. As shown in Woodford (2003).) The other equilibrium requirements of section 2 can be ignored in the case that we are interested only in possible equilibria that remain forever near the zero-inﬂation steady state. (2.7) – (1. while 0 < β < 1 is again the utility discount factor of the representative household. since we are here interested solely in characterizing the possible equilibrium paths of inﬂation. Equation (2. The coeﬃcients σ and κ are both positive.3). the equilibrium real rate of interest in the case that output is at all times equal to the natural rate of output. a forward-looking “IS relation” n xt = Et xt+1 − σ(it − Et πt+1 − rt ). and interest rates. while (2. The terms ut and rt are composite exogenous disturbance terms that shift the two equations.percentage points (the case in which im = 0) and disturbances large enough to cause the natural rate of interest to vary by several percentage points (as will be required in order for the zero bound to bind).

however. that a necessary condition for this target to be satisﬁed is: n it = rt + π ∗ (2. We shall seek to compare alternative possible paths for inﬂation. Note that our conclusions will be identical (up to a scale factor) in the event that we multiply the ¯ amplitude of the disturbances and the steady-state opportunity cost δ by any common fac¯ tor. and the nominal interest rate that satisfy these two log-linear equations together with the inequality (2. 2. the output gap. the real rate is equal to the natural real rate at all times and the output gap at its long run level. if we measure the amplitude of disturbances in units of δ. the lower bound for the nominal interest rate is again given by (1.2) – (2.3) represent a pair of equations each period to determine inﬂation and the output gap. and the Central Bank is unable to achieve its inﬂation target. corresponding to im = 0. to simplify the presentation of our results. The zero bound. prevents (2.5) from holding n if rt < −π ∗ . insofar as it is possible to achieve this with some non-negative interest rate. given the central bank’s interest-rate policy.4) each period.4).5) When inﬂation is on target. alternatively. It is easy to verify. Hence we choose the normalization δ = 1 − β. our results will ¯ be independent of the value of δ (to the extent that our log-linear approximation remains ¯ valid).1). Then the zero bound is binding if the natural rate of interest is negative. In the case.Equations (2.2 Deﬂation under Forward-Looking Policy We begin by considering the degree to which the zero bound impedes the achievement of the central bank’s stabilization objectives in the case that the bank pursues a strict inﬂation target. Thus if the natural rate of interest is low. the zero bound frustrates the Central Bank’s ability to implement an inﬂation target. Suppose the inﬂation target is zero so that π ∗ = 0. by the IS and AS equation. We interpret this as a commitment to adjust the nominal interest rate so that πt = π ∗ (2. 31 .

Thus the natural rate of interest is expected to be negative for 10 quarters on average at the time that the shock occurs. Figure 2 shows the state-contingent paths of the output gap and inﬂation in the case of three diﬀerent possible inﬂation targets π ∗ . In the ﬁgure we assume in period 0 that the natural rate of interest becomes -2 percent per annum and then reverts back to the steady-state value of +4 percent per annum with a probability 0.22 The ﬁrst dashed line shows the 22 In our numerical analysis. The assumed value of the discount factor implies a long-run real rate of interest of r equal to four percent per annum.99. κ = 0. for three alternative inﬂation targets. The dashed lines in Figure 2 show the state-contingent evolution of the output gap and inﬂation if the central bank targets zero inﬂation. To illustrate this. we interpret periods as quarters.5.02. The assumed value of κ is consistent with the ¯ 32 . as noted in the text.1 each quarter. let us consider the following experiment: Suppose the natural rate of ¯ interest is unexpectedly negative in period 0 and reverts back to the steady-state value r > 0 with a ﬁxed probability in every period. and assume coeﬃcient values of σ = 0.(a) inflation 5 0 −5 −10 −15 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 (b) output gap 5 0 −5 −10 −15 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 2: Dynamics of inﬂation and the output gap under strict inﬂation targeting. and β = 0.

the real rate is minus two percent. the next line if it returns in period 2. and so on. When the natural rate of interest is minus two percent. Since the inﬂation target is two percent. however. so that in equilibrium the private sector expect deﬂation instead of inﬂation.equilibrium if the natural rate of interest returns back to steady state in period 1. and suggests more concretely that Japan needs a positive inﬂation target of 4 percent under its current circumstances to achieve negative real rates and curb deﬂation. This. Summers (1991). is not enough to oﬀset the minus two percent negative natural rate of interest. The assumed value of σ represents a relatively low degree of interest-sensitivity of aggregate expenditure. the central bank lowers the nominal interest rate to zero. The result of this and a negative natural rate of interest is 3 percent annual deﬂation (when the natural rate of interest is negative) and an output gap of more than 5 percent. Even if the central bank lowers the short-term nominal interest rate to zero the real rate of return is positive because the private sector expects deﬂation. In this case the private sector expect one percent inﬂation once out of the trap.14) even when the natural rate of interest in negative. As Figure 2 shows. therefore. The solid line in the ﬁgure shows the equilibrium if the central bank targets a one percent inﬂation target. the output contraction that results from a slightly negative value of the natural rate of interest is quite substantial. so as not to exaggerate the size of the output contraction that is predicted to result from an inability to lower interest rates when the zero bound binds. empirical estimate of Rotemberg and Woodford (1997). The inability of the central bank to set a negative nominal interest rate results in a 12 percent per output gap and 9 percent annual deﬂation. Krugman (1998) makes a similar argument. which is enough to close the output gap and keep inﬂation on target. In this case the central bank can satisfy equation (3. this creates expectation of future deﬂation and negative output gap which creates even further deﬂation. This is the argument given by Phelps (1972). Since there is a 90 percent chance of the natural rate of interest to remain negative for the next quarter. If the inﬂation target is high enough. 33 . We prefer to bias our assumptions in the direction of only a modest eﬀect of interest rates on the timing of expenditure. Finally the dotted line shows the evolution of output and inﬂation if the central bank targets 2 percent inﬂation. and Fischer (1996) for a positive inﬂation target. even for this value of σ. the central bank is able to accommodate a negative natural rate of interest.

Hence the optimal inﬂation target (from among the strict inﬂation targeting policies just considered) will be some value that is at least slightly positive. in order to mitigate the distortions created by the zero bound when the natural rate of interest is negative. both when the natural rate of interest is negative and under more normal circumstances as well. and chronic inﬂation at all other times. and nominal interest rate in period t that depend only on the natural rate in period t — in our numerical example.While we see that commitment to a higher inﬂation target will indeed guard against the need for a negative output gap in periods when the natural rate of interest falls. output gap. then any purely forward-looking policy will result in an inﬂation rate. however (like the one percent target considered in the ﬁgure). the price of this solution is the distortions created by the inﬂation. but not so high as to keep the zero bound from ever binding (see Table 1). as in the numerical analysis above. Hence no such policy allows a complete solution of the problem posed by the zero bound in the case that the natural rate of interest is sometimes negative. A purely forward-looking policy is one under which the central bank’s action at any time depends only on an evaluation of the possible paths for the central bank’s target variables (here. Nor can one do better through commitment to any policy rule that is purely forwardlooking in the sense discussed by Woodford (2000). In the log-linear model presented above. hence it will correspond to a strict inﬂation target of the kind just considered. inﬂation and the output gap) that are possible from the current date forward — neglecting past conditions except insofar as they constrain the economy’s possible evolution from here on. on whether the natural rate is still negative or has already returned to its long-run steady-state value. In the case of an intermediate inﬂation target. there is both a substantial recession when the natural rate of interest becomes negative. for some π ∗ between 34 . If we assume a Markovian process for the natural rate. the possible paths for inﬂation and the output gap from period t onward depend only on the expected evolution of the natural rate of interest from period t onward. It is easily shown in the case of our 2-state example that the optimal state-contingent evolution for inﬂation and output from among those with this property will be one in which the zero bound binds if and only if the natural rate is in the low state.

one can turn to the question of how best to signal these intentions to the public (an issue that we brieﬂy address in section 5 below). In considering the central bank’s optimization problem under the assumption that credible commitment is possible regarding future policy. under the assumption (for now) that the expectations regarding future state-contingent policy that are required for such an equilibrium can be made credible to the private sector. We characterize the optimal form of history-dependent policy. in the next section.6) 35 . and determine the degree to which it improves upon the stabilization of both output and inﬂation. through commitment to a history-dependent policy.zero and two percent.3 The Optimal Policy Commitment We now characterize optimal monetary policy. we are interested in policies that will have the desired eﬀect even when correctly understood by the public. 2. We do this by optimizing over the set of all possible state-contingent paths for inﬂation.3). Once the equilibrium that one would like to bring about has been identiﬁed. along with the interest-rate policy that it requires.2) and (2. we do not believe that it makes sense to recommend a policy that would systematically seek to achieve an outcome other than a rational-expectations equilibrium — that is. But one can actually do considerably better. in which the central bank’s actions will depend on past conditions even though these are irrelevant to the degree to which its stabilization goals could in principle be achieved from then on. Optimization under the assumption of credible commitment is simply a way of ﬁnding the best possible rational-expectations equilibrium. we do not mean to minimize the subtlety of the task of actually communicating such a commitment to the public and making it credible. However. We assume that the government minimizes: ∞ min E0 t=0 2 β t (πt + λx2 ) t (2. output and the short-term nominal interest rate consistent with the log-linearized structural relations (2.

there should be an output-gap stabilization objective of the form (xt − x∗)2 . (2001). 24 Jung et al. more generally. but it would not be so low that the zero bound would be reached. as in the analysis here.This loss function can be derived by a second order Taylor expansion of the utility of the representative household. (1999) and Woodford (1999. extending the methods used in Clarida et al. the utility-based loss function involves x∗ = 0 only if one assumes the existence of an output or employment subsidy that oﬀsets the distortion due to the market power of ﬁrms. chapter 6) for details.9). 36 . rather than zero as in the “cashless” model considered in this section. This approximation applies in the case that we abstract from monetary frictions as assumed in this section. Nonetheless. More generally. 2003. Note also that (2.7) (2.24 Here we discuss the 23 See Woodford (2003. chapter 7) to the case in which the zero bound can sometimes bind. to be: πt + φ2t − φ2t−1 − β −1 σφ1t−1 = 0 λxt + φ1t − β −1 φ1t−1 − kφ2t = 0 φ1t ≥ 0. the lower bound im ). the value of x∗ does not aﬀect the optimal state-contingent paths derived in this section and shown in ﬁgures 3 and 4. nor the formulas given in section 3 for the optimal targeting rule.23 The optimal program can be found by a Lagrangian method. Here we show how the system can be solved in the case of a stochastic process for the natural rate of a particular kind. as implied by the ﬂexible-price model discussed by Uhlig (2000). The numerical method that we use to solve these equations is described in the appendix.8) (2. it ≥ 0.9) One can not apply standard solution methods for rational expectation models to solve this system due to the complications of the nonlinear constraint (2. Let us combine the zero bound and the IS equation to yield the inequality: n xt ≤ Et xt+1 + σ(rt + Et πt+1 ) The Lagrangian for this problem is then: ∞ L0 = E0 t=0 βt 1 2 n [πt + λx2 ] + φ1t [xt − xt+1 − σπt+1 − σrt ] + φ2t [πt − κxt − βπt+1 ] t 2 The ﬁrst order conditions for an optimal policy commitment are shown by Jung et al. The optimal inﬂation rate in the absence of shocks would be slightly negative. as shown by Jung et al. φ1t it = 0 (2. the loss function should include an additional term proportional to This would indicate welfare gains from keeping nominal interest rates as close as possible to the zero bound (or. If transactions frictions are instead non-negligible. it would not be optimal for interest rates to be at zero at all times.6) implies that the optimal output gap is zero. (2001) discuss the solution of these equations only for the case in which the number of periods for which the natural rate of interest will be negative is known with certainty at the time that the disturbance occurs. because of the stickiness of prices. However. except in the event of temporary declines in the natural rate of interest.

8) is that optimal policy is history dependent.4 0.8 −5 0 5 10 (c) the price level 15 20 25 0 5 10 (b) output gap 15 20 25 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 3: Dynamics of the output gap and inﬂation under an optimal policy commitment. This can be seen by the appearance of lagged value of the Lagrange multipliers in the ﬁrst order conditions. To get a sense of how this history dependence matters. Such a commitment stimulates aggregate demand and reduces deﬂationary 37 . What is apparent from the ﬁrst order conditions (2. inﬂation and the price level from period 0 to period 25.7)-(2. the output gap and the nominal interest rates depends on the past values of the endogenous variables.(a) inflation 0.6 0.4 100. it is useful to consider the numerical exercise from the last section: Suppose the natural rate of interest becomes negative in period 0 and then reverts back to steady state with a ﬁxed probability in each period. One observes that the optimal policy involves committing to the creation of an output boom once the natural rate again becomes positive.2 0 −0. Figure 3 shows the optimal output gap.2 −5 3 2 1 0 −1 −5 100.2 100 99. results that we obtain for the particular numerical experiment considered in the previous section. so that the optimal choice of inﬂation. and hence to the creation of future inﬂation.

and under the zero inﬂation target shown in Figure 2 [dashed line]. in accordance with the permanent 38 . the expectation that nominal interest rates will be kept low later. since in our model current spending decisions depend on real interest-rate expectations far in the future. As Krugman (1998) points out. the expectation of higher future income should stimulate current spending. creating the expectation of future inﬂation can lower real interest rates. even when the nominal interest rate cannot be reduced. For the same reason. will also stimulate spending while the zero bound still binds.nominal interest rate 5 4 3 2 1 0 −1 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 4: The associated state-contingent path of the short-term nominal interest rate. In the context of Krugman’s model. And ﬁnally. it might seem that this requires that inﬂation be promised quite quickly (by the following “period”). when the central bank might otherwise have raised them. through each of several channels. pressures while the economy remains in the “liquidity trap”. under the policy shown in Figure 3 [solid line]. Our fully intertemporal model shows how even the expectation of later inﬂation — nominal interest rates are not expected to rise to oﬀset it — can stimulate current demand.

In addition. This reduces the distortions created by deﬂation itself. This is in sharp contrast to a constant positive inﬂation target that would imply an ever-increasing 39 . in the case that the natural rate of interest is negative for 15 quarters. income hypothesis. even under the optimal policy commitment. Hence some contraction of output and some deﬂation occur during the period that the natural rate is negative. On the other hand. the price level will ultimately be stabilized. these gains from the change in expectations during the “trap” can be achieved (given rational expectations on the part of the private sector) only if the central bank is expected to actually pursue the inﬂationary policy after the natural rate returns to its normal level. This will in turn create distortions then. even given the current level of real activity. prices are less likely to fall. It is also worth noting that while the optimal policy involves commitment to a higher price level in the future. insofar as future inﬂation is expected. which limits the extent to which this tool is used under an optimal policy.(a) interest rate 6 4 2 0 −5 0 5 10 (b) inflation 15 20 25 0 −5 −10 −5 0 5 10 (c) output gap 15 20 25 0 −5 −10 −15 −5 optimal π*=0 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 5: Comparison of the state-contingent paths under the two policies compared in Figure 4.

price level. Figure 4 shows the corresponding state-contingent nominal interest rate under the optimal commitment, and contrasts it to the evolution of the nominal interest rate under a zero inﬂation target. To increase inﬂation expectations in the trap, the central bank commits to keeping the nominal interest rates at zero after the natural rate of interest becomes positive again. In contrast, if the central bank targets zero inﬂation, it raises the nominal interest rate as soon as the natural rate of interest becomes positive again. The optimal commitment is an example of history-dependent policy, in which the central bank commits to raise the interest rates slowly at the time the natural rate becomes positive in order to aﬀect expectations when the zero bound is binding. The nature of the additional history-dependence of the optimal policy may perhaps be more easily seen if we consider the evolution of inﬂation, output and interest rates under a single possible realization of the random fundamentals. Figure 5 compares the equilibrium evolution of all three variables, both under the zero inﬂation target and under optimal policy, in the case that the natural rate of interest is negative for 15 quarters (t = 0 through 14), though it is not known until quarter 15 that the natural rate will return to its normal level in that quarter. Under the optimal policy, the nominal interest rate is kept at zero for ﬁve more quarters (t = 15 through 19), whereas it immediately returns to its long-run steady-state level in quarter 15 under the forward-looking policy. The consequence of the anticipation of policy of this kind is that both the contraction of real activity and the deﬂation that occur under the strict inﬂation target are largely avoided, as shown in the second and third panels of the ﬁgure.

3

Implementing Optimal Policy

We turn now to the question of how policy should be conducted in order to bring about the optimal equilibrium characterized in the previous section. The question of the implementation of optimal policy remains a non-trivial one, even after the optimal state-contingent evolutions of all variables have been identiﬁed, for in general the solution obtained for the 40

optimal state-contingent path of the policy instrument (i.e., the short-term nominal interest rate) does not represent in itself a useful description of a policy rule.25 For example, in the context of the present model, a commitment to a state-contingent nominal interest-rate path, even when fully credible, does not imply determinate rational-expectations equilibrium paths for inﬂation and output; it is instead necessary for the central bank to be committed (and understood to be committed) to a particular way of responding to deviations of inﬂation and the output gap from their desired evolution. Another problem is that a complete description of the optimal state-contingent interest-rate path is unlikely to be feasible. In the previous section, we showed that it is possible to characterize (at least numerically) the optimal state-contingent interest-rate path in the case of one very particular kind of stochastic process for the natural rate of interest. But a solution of this kind allowing for all the possible states of belief about the probabilities of various future evolutions of the natural rate (and disturbances to the aggregate-supply relation as well) would be diﬃcult to write down, let alone to explain to the public. Here we show that optimal policy can nonetheless be implemented through commitment to a policy rule that speciﬁes the central bank’s short-run targets at each point in time as a (fairly simple) function of what has occurred prior to that date. How can the optimal policy be implemented? One may be tempted to believe that our suggested policy is not entirely realistic or operational. Figures 3 and 4, for example, indicate that the optimal policy involves a complicated state contingent plan for the nominal interest rate, that may be hard to communicate to the public. Furthermore, it may appear that it depends on a knowledge of a special statistical process for the natural rate of interest, that is in practice hard to estimate. Our discussion of the ﬁxed inﬂation target suggest that the eﬀectiveness of increasing inﬂation expectation to close the output gap depends on the diﬀerence between the announced inﬂation target and the natural rate of interest. It may, therefore, seem crucial to estimate the natural rate of interest to implement the optimal policy. Below we show the striking result that the optimal policy rule can be implemented

25

For further discussion in a more general context, see Woodford (2003, chapter 7).

41

without any estimate or knowledge of the statistical process for the natural rate of interest. This is an example of a robustly optimal direct policy rule of the kind discussed in Giannoni and Woodford (2002) for the case of a general class of linear-quadratic policy problems. An interesting feature of the present example is that we show how to construct an robustly optimal rule in the same spirit, in a case where not all of the relevant constraints are linear (owing to the fact that the zero bound binds at some times and not at others).

3.1

An Optimal Targeting Rule

To implement the rule proposed here, the central bank need only observe the price level and the output gap. The rule suggested replicates exactly the history dependence discussed in the last section. The rule is implemented as follows. [i] In each and every period, there is a predetermined price-level target p∗ . The Central t Bank chooses the interest rate it to achieve the target relation pt = p∗ ˜ ´ t (3.10)

if this is possible; if it is not possible, even by lowering the nominal interest rate to zero, ˜ then it = 0. Here pt is an output-gap adjusted price index,26 deﬁned by λ pt ≡ pt + xt . ˜ κ [ii] The target for the next period is then determined as p∗ = p∗ + β −1 (1 + κσ)∆t − β −1 ∆t−1 t+1 t where ∆t is the target shortfall in period t ˜ ∆t ≡ p∗ − pt . t

26

(3.11)

(3.12)

On the desirability of a target for this index in the case that the zero bound does not bind, see Woodford (2003, chapter 7). This would correspond to a nominal GDP target in the case that λ = κ, and that the natural rate of output follows a deterministic trend. However, the utility-based loss function derived in Woodford (2003, chapter 6) involves λ = κ/θ, where θ > 1 is the elasticity of demand faced by the suppliers of diﬀerentiated goods, so that the optimal weight on output is considerably less than under a nominal GDP target. Furthermore, the welfare-relevant output gap is unlikely to correspond too closely to deviations of real GDP from a deterministic trend.

42

005 1 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 6: Responses of the price-level target and the gap-adjusted price level to a shock to the natural rate of interest. in the same numerical experiment as in Figure 3. as the actual price level continues to fall below the target by an 43 . because of the zero bound. increases inﬂation expectations further in the trap. If the price-level target is not reached.p~ p* 1. (Here the solid lines show the evolution of the gap˜ adjusted price level pt . which is exactly what is needed to reduce the real interest rate. depending on the number of periods for which the natural rate of interest remains negative. in turn. ∗ Figure 6 shows how the price-level target pt would evolve over time.015 1.) One observes that t the target price level is ratcheted steadily higher during the period in which the natural rate remains negative. the central bank increases its target for the next period. It can be veriﬁed that this rule does indeed achieve the optimal commitment solution.01 1. This. while the dashed lines show the evolution of p∗ .

Note that this approach to implementing optimal policy gives an answer to the question whether there is any point in announcing an inﬂation target (or price-level target) if one knows that it is extremely unlikely that in the short run it can be achieved.e.10) – (3. since eventually it will be able to hit the target. although the target often continues to be undershot (as the zero bound continues to bind) for several more quarters. either the target will be attained or a zero-interest-rate policy will be followed. the price-level target begins to fall again. and the anticipation of that fact (i. Once the target ceases to be undershot. so that at each point in time. (How long this is true depends on how high the target price level has risen relative to the actual index.) As the degree of undershooting begins to shrink.increasing amount. as a result of the policies that the bank will follow after the natural rate of interest again becomes positive) while the natural rate is still negative is important in mitigating the distortions caused by the zero bound. The central bank wishes to make the private sector aware of its commitment to the time-varying price-level target described by (3.11). of the level that the price level will eventually reach.12). if it is explained that the bank is committed to hitting the target if this is possible at a nonnegative interest rate.. Once the natural rate of interest becomes positive again. The answer here is yes. it will be higher the longer the time for which the natural rate has been negative. hence the current gap between the actual and target price level should shape private-sector 44 . owing to the fact that the zero bound is likely to continue to bind. as it allows the private sector to judge how close the central bank is to a situation in which it would feel justiﬁed in abandoning the zero-interest-rate policy. the degree to which the gap-adjusted price level undershoots the target begins to shrink. one slightly higher than the target in place before ˜ the disturbance occurred. and the central bank targets and achieves a new constant value for the gap-adjusted price level pt . The existence of the target is relevant even when it is not being attained. The fact that the target is not hit immediately should not create doubts about the meaningfulness of central-bank announcements regarding its target. it no longer changes. This hastens the date at which the target can actually be hit with a non-negative interest rate. as a result of the dynamics speciﬁed by (3.

should demonstrate a commitment to subsequently undo overshoots and undershoots of the pricelevel target.27 Would the private sector have any reason to believe that the central bank was serious about the price-level target. To understand how the rule works out of the trap it is useful to note that when the nominal interest rate is positive. The reason ˜ ˜ ˜ that we prefer to describe the rule as a price-level targeting rule is that the essence of the rule is easily described in those terms. we could equivalently describe the policy in terms of a time-varying target for the gap-adjusted inﬂation rate πt ≡ pt − pt−1 . the central bank should raise its long-run price-level target even further. As we show below. as mandated by optimal policy. therefore. 27 45 . The rule proposed above is one that would be equally optimal under normal circumstances as in the case of the relatively unusual kind of disturbance that causes the natural rate of interest to be substantially negative. under which the interest-rate operating at each point in time should depend on how low the central bank would have lowered interest rates in the past had the zero bound not prevented this. thus increasing inﬂation expectations even more. deﬂation that occurs when the economy ﬁnds itself in a liquidity trap should create expectations of future inﬂation. ∆t = 0 at all times. if each period all that is observed is a zero nominal interest rate and yet another target shortfall? The best way of making a rule credible is for the central bank to conduct policy over time in a way that demonstrates its commitment. the optimal policy rule derived here is similar to the rules advocated by Reifschneider and Williams (1999). It may be wondered why we discuss our proposal in terms of a (gap-adjusted) price-level target. The additional term ∆t implies that when the zero bound is binding. a ﬁxed target for the gap-adjusted An interesting feature of the optimal rule is that it involves history-dependence that cannot be summarized solely by the past history of short-term nominal interest rates. the central bank’s commitment to the price-level targeting framework would be demonstrated before the zero bound came to bind (at which time the central bank would have frequent opportunities to show that the target did determine its behavior). In this respect. Ideally. In fact. The central bank. rather than an inﬂation target. it matters to what it extent the zero bound has prevented the central bank from pursuing as stimulative a policy as it otherwise would have. In this case.expectations of the time for which interest rates are likely to remain low. if the nominal interest rate has fallen to zero in the recent past.

which determines the change in the price-level target. 3. since the occasions on which the zero bound binds will presumably be relatively infrequent. The dotted line shows the equilibrium under the constant price-level target rule in (3. and is only non-zero when the zero bound is binding. κ (3. this rule results in distortions only a bit more severe than those associated with the fully optimal policy. even if the zero bound occasionally binds. as it would fail to allow for any of the historydependence of policy that is necessary to mitigate the distortions resulting from the zero bound. most of the beneﬁts that can be achieved in principle through a credible commitment to the optimal targeting rule can be achieved through commitment to a much simpler rule.13) where now the target for the gap-adjusted price level is ﬁxed at all times.13) whereas the solid line shows the fully optimal rule in (3.2 A Simpler Proposal One may argue that an unappealing aspect of the rule suggested above is that it involves the term ∆t .price level would actually represent quite a good approximation to optimal policy.10)-(3. Fortunately. λ pt + xt = p∗ . although not fully optimal when the zero bound is binding.12). The advantage of this rule. whereas a ﬁxed inﬂation target would not come close. Suppose that the central bank’s commitment to a policy rule can only become credible over time through repeated demonstrations of its commitment to act in accordance with it. the part of the rule that involves the adjustment of the target in response to target shortfalls when the zero bound binds might not come to be understood well by the private sector for a very long time. In fact. In that case. is that it may be more easily communicated to the public. Let us consider the following simpler rule. Figure 7 and 8 compares the result for these two rules. Note that the simple rule is fully optimal in the absence of the zero bound. As the ﬁgures show. the constant price-level targeting 46 . which would not involve any special provisos that are invoked only in the event of a liquidity trap.

rule results in state-contingent responses of output and inﬂation that are very close to those under the optimal commitment. and under the constant price-level targeting rule. the optimal policy characterized in Figure 3. even if under this rule the price level falls farther during the period while the zero bound binds. 47 . Table 1 shows that most of the welfare gain achieved by the optimal policy.4 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 (b) output gap 3 2 1 0 −1 −2 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 7: State-contingent paths of inﬂation and the output gap under the optimal targeting rule [solid lines] and under the simple rule [dotted lines].6).(a) inflation 0. we are referring to fairly small losses at this point.4 0. is already achieved by the simple rule. While it is true that losses remain twice as large under the simple rule as under the optimal rule. under the three policies shown in Figure 2.2 0 −0. Both of the latter two historydependent policies are vastly superior to any of the strict inﬂation targets. and only asymptotically returns from below to the level that it had prior to the disturbance.2 −0. conditional on the occurrence of the disturbance in period zero. The table reports the value of expected discounted losses (2.6 0. relative to what can be achieved by a purely forward-looking policy such as a strict inﬂation target.

005 1 0. since no account is taken of the size of the disturbance to the natural rate of interest. it may seem puzzling that a constant price-level targeting rule does well.995 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 8: State-contingent paths of the nominal interest rate and the price level under the same two policies as in Figure 7. Thus there is an “automatic stabilizer” built into the price-level target. such as a conventional Taylor rule. that creates a larger initial deﬂation. 28 48 . This is because a price-level target commits the central bank to undo any deﬂation by subsequent inﬂation.(a) nominal interest rate 5 4 3 2 1 0 −1 −5 0 5 10 15 20 25 (b) price level 1. At ﬁrst. As with the fully optimal rule. To see Wolman (2003) also stresses this advantage of rules that incorporate a price-level target over rules that only respond to the inﬂation rate. automatically creates greater inﬂation expectations in response. that is lacking under a strict inﬂation targeting regime. a larger disturbance. no estimate of the natural rate of interest is needed to implement the constant price-level targeting rule.28 A proper communication strategy for the central bank about its objectives and targets when outside the trap is of crucial importance for this policy rule to be successful.

This commitment is exactly what creates the desired inﬂation expectations when the zero bound is binding. This is exactly opposite to what is optimal as we have observed above.13) we obtain: λ πt + (xt − xt−1 ) = 0 κ (3. This implies that the central bank will deﬂate once out of a liquidity trap since this is a period of output growth.Table 1: Relative losses under alternative policies [loss under zero inﬂation target = 100].5 π∗ = 2 43. Thus the outcome under this rule is even worse than a strict zero inﬂation target. Taking the diﬀerence of (3.13) at normal times to induce the correct set of expectations when the zero bound is binding. even if this rule replicates the price level targeting rule when out of the trap. consider a rule that is equivalent to (3.049 ∗ this.098 optimal rule 0. This is because this rule implies that the inﬂation rate is proportional to the negative of the growth rate of the output gap. Thus it mandates deﬂation when there is growth in the output gap.3 Price-Level Targeting Rules constant target 0. the result is dramatically diﬀerent when the zero bound is binding. It is crucial to communicate to the public that the government is committed to a long-run price-level target.13) when the zero bound is not binding. Strict Inﬂation Targets π =0 100 π∗ = 1 25. 49 .14) Although this rule results in an identical equilibrium to the constant price-level targeting rule when the zero bound is not binding. What this underlines is that it is not enough to replicate the equilibrium behavior that correspond to (3.

3 Should a Central Bank “Keep Powder in the Keg?” Thus far we have only considered alternative policies that might be followed from the date at which the natural rate of interest unexpectedly falls to a negative value. and not only in the case of the particular two-state Markov process assumed in Figure 3. is likely to depend on a relatively special feature of our model. in order to “save its ammunition” for future emergencies.29 This particular aspect of our conclusions.10) – (3. Recall that the rule (3. even if this is not yet the case. the same rule is optimal in the case that information is received indicating the likelihood of the natural rate of interest becoming negative before this actually occurs. is how policy should be aﬀected by the anticipation that the zero bound might well bind before long. In particular. the optimal target for pt is unaﬀected by ˜ such expectations. in order to reduce the probability that a further negative shock can result in a situation where the zero bound binds. A question of considerable current interest in countries like the U.3.12) describes optimal policy regardless) of the assumed stochastic process for the natural rate of interest. Our above characterization of the optimal targeting rule can shed light on this debate. Others argue alternatively that policy should instead be more inﬂationary than one might otherwise prefer.S. the fact that our target variables (inﬂation and the output gao) are both purely forwardlooking variables: their equilibrium values at any point in time depend (in our simple model) only on the economy’s exogenous state and the expected conduct of policy from the current period onward. There are 29 50 . How should the conduct of policy be aﬀected by that news? Under the optimal targeting rule. however. since it is only target shortfalls that have already occurred that can justify a change in the target value p∗ . Thus an increased assessment of the likelihood of a binding zero bound t over the coming year or two would not be a reason for increasing the price-level target (or the implied target rate of inﬂation).. namely. causing the zero bound to bind. Some commentators have argued that in such circumstances the Fed should be cautious about lowering interest rates all the way to zero too soon. as long as a situation has not yet been reached in which the zero bound binds. however. This suggests that the anticipation that the zero bound could bind in the future should lead to tighter policy than would otherwise be justiﬁed given current conditions.

likely in the direction of a pre-emptive loosening of policy.2 −5 3 2 1 0 −1 −5 100. as discussed in Giannoni and Woodford (2003).inflation 0. and actual interest rates will not be able to fall as much. 51 . In such a case.4 100. This change in the behavior of the private sector’s outlook will require a change in the way that the central bank must conduct policy in order to hit its unchanged target for the gap-adjusted price level.8 −5 0 5 10 the price level 15 20 25 0 5 10 output gap 15 20 25 0 5 10 15 20 25 Figure 9: State-contingent paths of inﬂation and output under optimal policy.6 0. and hence of past policy. On the other hand. output and interest rates will be aﬀected by this news. The anticipation of a coming state in which the natural rate of interest will be negative. the evolution of inﬂation. even in the absence of any immediate change in the central bank’s price leveltarget owing to the eﬀect on forward-looking private-sector spending and pricing decisions. owing to the zero bound.2 100 99.2 0 −0. the optimal target criterion will be at least somewhat forward-looking. will reduce both desired real expenditure (at unchanged short-term interest rates) and desired price increases. a variety of reasons why a more realistic model may well imply that these variables are functions of lagged endogenous variables as well. when the decline in the natural rate of interest can be anticipated four quarters in advance.4 0. as a result of the anticipated negative output gaps and price declines in the future.

this is the policy dictated by the targeting rule. this is no ˜ longer possible. it will return to the normal level with a probability of 0. It is known that the natural rate will remain at its normal level. +4 percent per annum until then. after the drop. owing to the anticipated decline in real demand when the disturbance hits. when that development can already be anticipated for the near future. by stimulating an increase in real ˜ activity suﬃcient to justify the mild deﬂation.This is illustrated by the numerical experiment shown in Figure 9. The central bank is nonetheless able to avoid undershooting its target for pt at ﬁrst. given this information. the deﬂation and output gaps during the period in which the natural rate is negative are less severe than in the case in which the disturbance is unanticipated. We now consider the character of optimal policy from period zero onward. when it arrives lasts for one quarter. As a result. Here we suppose that in quarter zero it is learned (by both the central bank and the private sector) that the natural rate of interest will fall to the level of -2 percent per annum only in period 4.) By quarter 3. In this scenario.1 each quarter. We observe that under the optimal policy commitment. (Given the shift to pessimism on the part of the private sector. and the central bank undershoots its target for pt (as both prices and output decline). given that even a mild immediate increase in real activity is insuﬃcient to prevent price declines. two quarters. Thus optimal policy involves driving the nominal interest rate to zero even before the natural rate of interest has turned negative. even though the nominal interest rate is at zero. optimal policy is somewhat more inﬂationary after the disturbance occurs than in the case considered in Figure 3. The fact that the zero bound binds even before the natural rate of interest becomes negative means that the price-level target is higher than it otherwise would have been at the time that the disturbance to the natural rate arrives. prices begin to decline mildly as soon as the news of the coming disturbance is received. for in this case the optimal policy commitment takes into account the contractionary eﬀects in periods before the disturbance takes eﬀect of anticipations that the disturbance will result in price-level 52 . Figure 9 again shows the optimal state-contingent paths of inﬂation and output in the case that the disturbance to the natural rate. as in the case considered earlier. and so on.

and interest rates consistent with each of the relations just listed in all periods t ≥ τ is given by it = 0. 4 Preventing a Self-Fulﬁlling Deﬂationary Trap In our analysis thus far. but because of the binding zero bound. ˜ p∗ /Pt = p∗ ≡ t 1 − αβ θ−1 1−α ˜ Yt = Y 53 1 1−θ < 1. it might seem that the central bank’s commitment to a non-decreasing price-level target would be irrelevant. a self-fulﬁlling permanent deﬂation is indeed consistent with both the Euler equation (1. all disturbances ξt = 0 with certainty. as in the scenarios considered in section 3. so that the natural rate of interest is expected to take the constant value r = β −1 − 1 > 0.3) and the pricing relations (1.9). Then possible ¯ paths for inﬂation. The fact that optimal policy after the disturbance occurs is diﬀerent in this case. the money-demand relation (1. there would never be anything the central bank could do about this. if it is not possible for the zero bound to bind forever in equilibrium. is another illustration of the history-dependence of optimal policy. we have assumed that the real disturbance results in a negative natural rate of interest only temporarily. output. despite the fact that the disturbance has exactly the same eﬀects as before from quarter 4 onward. the actual price level would fall further and further short of the target.2) for aggregate expenditure. Some may ask. not because of a permanently negative natural rate. but simply because deﬂation continues to be (correctly) expected indeﬁnitely. In the model presented in section 2. however.7) – (1. Suppose that from some date τ onward. We have therefore supposed that price-level stabilization will eventually be consistent with positive nominal interest rates.and output declines. Pt /Pt−1 = β < 1. . and accordingly that a time will foreseeably be reached at which it is possible for the central bank to create inﬂation by keeping short-term nominal rates at a low (but non-negative) level. If so.

then. m(Y . and the processes described above will indeed represent a rational-expectations equilibrium. this will be an equilibrium as well.˜ ¯ for all t ≥ τ. where Y < Y is implicitly deﬁned by the relation ˜ ¯ ˜ Π1 (˜∗ . but if they expect perpetual deﬂation. p∗ . Whether the deﬂationary path is consistent with this condition as well depends. 1. such as the “Ricardian” ﬁscal policy rule assumed by Benhabib et al. properly speaking. together 54 . 0) = 0. exclude this outcome through a suitable commitment with regard to the asymptotic evolution of total government liabilities. so that (1. there needs to be a commitment to policies that ensure that the nominal value of government liabilities cannot contract at the rate required for satisfaction of the transversality condition despite perpetual deﬂation. the transversality condition (1. Y . We can. however.. 0). In such a case. on the speciﬁcation of ﬁscal policy: it is a matter of whether the government budget results in contraction of the nominal value of total government liabilities Dt at a suﬃcient rate asymptotically. These authors show e that self-fulﬁlling deﬂations are not possible under commitment to a Taylor rule.6). one further requirement for equilibrium in the model of section 2. or equivalently the requirement that households exhaust their intertemporal budget constraints. then that will indeed be an equilibrium. faster growth of the money supply does nothing ¯ ˜ to prevent consistency of this path with the requirement that money supply equal money demand each period. 0) each period.6) is also satisﬁed. a commitment to the price-level targeting rule proposed in the previous section will be equally consistent with more than one equilibrium: if people expect the optimal price-level process characterized earlier. however. Essentially. the nominal value of government liabilities will necessarily contract along with the price level. Under some assumptions about the character of ﬁscal policy. There remains. p ˜ Note that this deﬂationary path is consistent with monetary policy as long as real balances satisfy Mt /Pt ≥ m(Y . One example of a commitment that would suﬃce is a commitment to a balancedbudget policy of the kind analyzed by Schmitt-Groh´ and Uribe (2000).

The credibility of this sort of ﬁscal commitment might be doubted. and so it is worth mentioning that another way of maintaining a ﬂoor on the asymptotic nominal value of total government liabilities is through a commitment not to contract the monetary base. Equation (4. This is a rule in the same spirit as (1. together with a commitment of the government to maintain a non-negative asymptotic present value of the public debt. This particular form of commitment has the advantage that it may be considered less problematic for the central bank to commit itself to maintain a particular nominal value for its liabilities than for the Treasury to do so. where λ Pt∗ ≡ exp p∗ − xt t κ is the current price-level target implied by the adjusted price-level target p∗ .1) in each period when the zero bound binds (i. suppose that the central bank commits itself to follow a base-supply rule of the form Mt = Pt∗ m(Yt . When the t zero bound does not bind. but letting the monetary base be endogenously determined by the central bank’s other targets at all other times. specifying a particular level of excess supply of base money in the case that the zero bound binds. ξt ) ¯ (4. The key to their result is that the ﬁscal rule includes a commitment not to allow budget surpluses any more than budget deﬁcits would be allowed. hence it is not possible for the nominal value of government liabilities to contract. when it is not possible to hit the price-level target with a positive nominal interest rate).11).with the balanced-budget ﬁscal commitment.e.. even when the target cannot be hit.1) is a more complicated formula than is necessary to make our point. the central bank supplies the quantity of money that would 55 . the monetary base is whatever level is demanded at the nominal interest rate required to hit the price-level target. In particular. It can also be justiﬁed as a commitment that is entirely consistent with the central bank’s commitment to the price-level targeting rule. even when the price level falls exponentially forever. but it has the advantage of making the monetary base a continuous function of other aggregate state variables at the point where the zero bound just ceases to bind.

0)m(Y . since the price-level and output paths speciﬁed would imply that ∗ ˜ ¯ ˜ β T Et [uc (YT .6) reduces to T →∞ lim β T Et [uc (YT . Hence the series is bounded away from zero. m(Y . MT /PT . If we then assume a ﬁscal commitment that guarantees that T →∞ lim Et Qt. Thus a commitment of this kind can exclude the possibility of a self-fulﬁlling deﬂation of the sort described above as a possible rational-expectations equilibrium.3) is violated. (4.e. It follows that there is a possible role for “quantitative easing” — understood to mean supply of base money beyond the minimum quantity required for consistency with the zero nominal interest rate — as an element of an optimal policy commitment.3) In the case of the base-supply rule (4. (4. MT /PT . 0)PT /Pτ ¯ ˜ ˜ ¯ ˜ ≥ β τ uc (Y . A commitment to supply base money in proportion to the target price level. ¯ ˜ where the last inequality makes use of the fact that under the price-level targeting rule.be demanded if the price level were at the target level.. 0). for all dates T ≥ τ. and not the actual current price level. 0)m(Y . even though it is temporarily unable to hit it. ξT )MT /PT ] = 0. {p∗ } is a non-decreasing series. 0). the transversality condition (1. ξT )MT /PT ] = β τ uc (Y . Doing so — refusing to contract the monetary base even under circumstances of deﬂation — is a way of signalling to the public that the bank is serious about its intention to see the price level restored to the target level. 56 . this condition is violated in the candidate equilibrium described above. can be desirable both as a way of ruling out self-fulﬁlling deﬂations and as a way of signalling the central bank’s continuing commitment to the price-level target. m(Y . Note that the ﬁnal expression on the right-hand side is t independent of T . in a period in which the zero bound prevents the central bank from hitting its price-level target.T BT = 0. 0)Pτ∗ /Pτ . and condition (4.2) i.1). that the government will asymptotically be neither creditor nor debtor.

for we have here made a diﬀerent assumption about the nature of the ﬁscal commitment than the one made in section 2. as the price-level target is ratcheted up to steadily higher levels. even in the case of a “liquidity trap” that lasts for several years. the zero bound would prevent it from being able to fully stabilize inﬂation and the output gap. The import of that proposition is that expansion of the monetary base when the economy is in a liquidity trap is necessarily pointless. and hence regarding the size of the monetary base once Japan exits from the “trap. it is that any eﬀect of such action must depend either on changing expectations regarding future interest-rate policy or on changing expectations regarding the future evolution of total nominal government liabilities. simply by ﬂooding the economy with as much base money as is required to prevent the price level from falling below the target at any time.1) is quite modest. Nonetheless. a commitment not to contract it — could serve both of these ends. The present discussion has illustrated circumstances under which expansion of the monetary base — or at any rate.” But an injection of base money that is expected to be 57 . Condition (4. An expansion of the monetary base of this kind is evidently not justiﬁed by any intentions regarding the future price level. and we have seen that even if the central bank were able to choose the expectations that the private sector should have (as long as it were willing to act in accordance with them). if the zero bound continues to bind. rather. There would be no obvious beneﬁt to the kind of rapid expansion of the monetary base actually tried in Japan over the past two years.Note that this result does not contradict the irrelevance proposition of section 2. Our analysis in section 3 still describes all of the possible paths for the price level consistent with rational-expectations equilibrium. the neutrality proposition of section 2 no longer holds. Furthermore. The monetary base will be gradually raised. the present discussion does not support the view that the central bank should be able to hit its price-level target at all times. the degree of base expansion during a “liquidity trap” called for by rule (4.2) implies that the evolution of total nominal government liabilities will not be independent of the central bank’s target for the monetary base. But our calibrated example above indicates that this would typically involve only quite a modest increase in the monetary base. As a consequence.

we oﬀer a few remarks here about the kinds of policies that might contribute to the creation of desirable expectations. Nonetheless. inﬂation and output that would be consistent with rational-expectations equilibrium suﬃced to allow us to determine the best possible equilibrium that one could hope to arrange. and hence the question of whether the transversality condition should be satisﬁed). we argued that neither expansion of the monetary base as such nor purchases of particular types of assets through open-market purchases should have any eﬀect on either inﬂation or real activity.removed again once the zero bound ceases to bind should have little eﬀect on spending or pricing behavior. we were able. and in any event the question is one that has as much to do with psychology and eﬀective communication as with economic analysis. a consideration of the diﬀerent possible joint paths of interest rates. and to characterize it in terms of the interest-rate policy that one should wish for the private sector to expect. or may make it more credible that the central bank will indeed carry out these intentions. Because of this. except to the extent that such actions might result in changes in expectations regarding future interest-rate policy (or possibly expectations regarding the asymptotic behavior of total nominal government liabilities. this does not mean that other aspects of policy — beyond a mere announcement of the rule according to which the central bank wishes to be understood to be committed in setting future interest-rate policy — cannot matter. However. 5 Further Aspects of the Management of Expectations In section 2. A full analysis of the ways in which policy actions may be justiﬁed as helping to steer expectations is beyond the scope of this article. to characterize the optimal policy commitment without any reference to the use of such instruments of policy. 58 . as shown in section 2. They may matter insofar as certain kinds of present actions may help to signal what the bank’s intentions regarding future policy are. in sections 3 and 4.

Our discussion in the previous section provides a further example. Here it should be remarked that an expansion of the monetary base when the zero bound is binding need not be interpreted in this way. the quantity of base money that the economy ought to need). such a central bank 59 . even when the zero bound has been reached. Consider.2. even though it is irrelevant as far as interest-rate control is concerned. (2003) argue that open-market operations may be stimulative. such an action can help to create the expectations regarding future interest-rate policy that are necessary in order to mitigate the distortions created by the binding zero bound. such a bank is unable to hit its inﬂation target. Nonetheless. As a further example. We have already mentioned one example of this. Adjustment of the supply of base money during the period in which the zero bound binds so as to keep the monetary base proportional to the target price level rather than the actual current price level can be helpful. when we remarked that one way to convince the private sector that the central bank will follow the optimal price-level targeting rule following a period in which the zero bound has been hit is by following this rule before such a situation arises.1 Demonstrating Resolve One way in which current actions may help to create desirable expectations regarding future policy is by being seen to be consistent with the same principles that the central bank wishes the private sector to understand will guide its policy in the future. and should exhibit frustration with this state of aﬀairs. By making the existence of the price-level target more salient. a central bank with a constant zero inﬂation target. because they “demonstrate resolve” to keep the nominal interest rate at zero for a longer time than would otherwise be expected. When the zero bound binds. Clouse at al. If some within the bank believe that it should always be possible to hit the target with suﬃciently vigorous monetary expansion. one might well observe substantial growth in the monetary base at a time when the inﬂation target is being undershot.5. for example. as a way of making visible to the private sector the central bank’s belief about whether the price level ought properly to be (and hence. as discussed in section 2. this would not imply any commitment to looser policy subsequently.

then a willingness to buy long bonds from the private sector at a price which it regards as more appropriate is one of way of demonstrating publicly that it expects to carry out its commitment regarding future interest-rate policy. Note. stimulate the economy immediately. but from the way in which they are interpreted. open-market purchases of long bonds could lower long-term interest rates. The level of long rates can provide an indicator of the extent to which the markets actually believe in such a commitment. that the eﬀect follows. and no eﬀect of the “quantitative easing” that occurs while the zero bound binds. If a central bank’s judgment is that long rates are remaining higher than they should be under the optimal equilibrium owing to privatesector skepticism about whether the history-dependent interest-rate policy will actually be followed. and bring the economy closer to the optimal rational-expectations equilibrium. and 60 . may well have a stimulative eﬀect even if portfolio-balance eﬀects are quantitatively unimportant. and that it can reasonably assume that the central bank knows more about its own degree of resolve than others do. This shows that it matters what the private sector understands to be the principle that motivates “quantitative easing”. open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries when short rates are at zero. among others. it is important that the central bank have itself formulated such an intention. We have argued in sections 2 and 3 that it is desirable for the central bank to commit itself under such circumstances to maintain low short-term rates even after the natural rate of interest rises again. Similarly. If so.would never intentionally allow the monetary base to be higher than that required to hit the inﬂation target. The result should be the equilibrium evolution shown in Figure 2. in a period in which it is possible to hit it. however. not from the purchases themselves. In order for them to be interpreted as indicating a particular kind of commitment with regard to future policy. action by the central bank that is consistent with a belief on its own part that it will keep short rates low in the future is likely to shift private beliefs in the same direction. and not simply the size of the increase in the monetary base that occurs. as advocated by Bernanke (2002) and Cecchetti (2003). Given that the private sector is likely to be uncertain about the nature of the central bank’s commitment (in the case of imperfect credibility).

a decline in the natural rate of interest should be accompanied by depreciation of the exchange rate. both because nominal interest rates fall (and are expected to remain low for some time) and because the expected long-run price level (and hence the expected long-run nominal exchange rate) should increase. Our perspective is not so much that the central bank is in need of a “commitment technology” because it will itself be unable to resist the temptation to break its commitments later in Svensson’s proposal includes a target path for the price level. Again.2 Providing Incentives to Improve Credibility A related but somewhat distinct argument is that actions at the zero bound may help to render the central bank’s commitment to an optimal policy more credible.30 Under the optimal policy commitment described in section 2. which the exchange-rate policy is used to (eventually) achieve. However. It follows that the extent to which the exchange rate depreciates can provide an indicator of the extent to which the markets believe that the central bank is committed to such the optimal policy. and in this respect is similar to the policy advocated here. But what is actually shown is that a rationalexpectations equilibrium exists in which the exchange rate depreciates and deﬂation is halted. 30 61 . but instead depends on their interpretation. 31 The numerical analysis by Coenen and Wieland (2003) ﬁnds that an exchange-rate policy can be quite eﬀective in creating stimulus when the zero bound is binding. Here we brieﬂy discuss how policy actions that are possible while the economy remains in a “liquidity trap” may be helpful in this regard. Svensson’s discussion of the usefulness of intervention in the market for foreign exchange does not emphasize the role of such interventions as a signal regarding future policy.that it speak about it to the public. and if the depreciation is insuﬃcient. the eﬀect in question is not a mechanical consequence of the bank’s purchases. Similar remarks apply to the proposals by McCallum (2000) and Svensson (2001) that purchases of foreign exchange be used to stimulate the economy through devaluation of the exchange rate. these eﬀects could be viewed as resulting from a credible commitment to a target path for the price level.31 5. and not requiring any intervention in the foreign exchange market at all. by providing the bank with a motive to behave in the future in the way that it would currently wish that people would expect it to behave. purchases of foreign exchange by the central bank provide one way for it to demonstrate its own conﬁdence in its policy intentions. so that its open-market purchases will be seen in this light. similar to the one discussed in section 3.

it is obvious that the equilibrium is the same as under a strict inﬂation target π ∗ = 0. To consider what kind of current actions provide useful incentives. if the central bank were able to credibly commmit itself to a history-dependent monetary policy in later periods. Note that discretionary policy (under the assumption of Markov equilibrium in the dynamic policy game) is an example of a purely forward-looking policy. the outcome will be much inferior. It then follows from our argument in section 3 that the equilibrium outcome will correspond to the kind of equilibrium discussed there in the case of a strict inﬂation target. this problem has a solution in which the zero bound does not result in too serious a distortion. however.) As shown in Figure 2. (From that point onward. though it does bind. As shown in section 3. since this is the inﬂation rate that will be chosen by the discretionary optimizer once the natural rate is again at its steady-state level. in the case that the natural rate of interest remains negative for several quarters.the absence of such a constraint. unable to commit its future actions at all. We have also seen that these eﬀects could largely be avoided. Taking actions now that imply that the central bank will be disadvantaged later if it were to deviate from the policy to which it wishes to commit itself can serve this purpose. in the kind of situation considered 62 . b). Thus. Under discretion. Let us ﬁrst consider what a Markov equilibrium under discretionary optimization would be like. an expectation by the private sector that the central bank will behave in this fashion results in a deep and prolonged contraction of economic activity and a sustained deﬂation. a policy of zero inﬂation clearly minimizes the remaining terms in the discounted loss function. even in the absence of other policy instruments. as that it may well be in need of a way of making its commitment visible to the private sector. More speciﬁcally. if credible commitment of future interest-rate policy is possible. and the objective of the central bank is the minimization of the loss function (2. in the case that the only policy instrument is the choice each period of a short-term nominal interest rate. it is helpful to analyze (Markov) equilibrium under the assumption that policy is conducted by a discretionary optimizer.6). as in Eggertsson (2003a.

However. One possible answer is that although gross nominal debt over GDP is 140 percent in Japan today. but it is the ﬁscal consequence of such an action with which we are here concerned. that can help to shift expectations regarding future policy in a desirable way is for the government to cut taxes and issue additional nominal debt. if such an incentive exists.32 Net government debt is only 32 Government institutions such as Social Security. As shown in Eggertsson (2003a). this will make no diﬀerence to the discretionary equilibrium — the optimal policy once the natural rate of interest becomes positive again will once more appear to be the immediate pursuit of a strict zero inﬂation target. the tax cut can be ﬁnanced by money creation — for when the zero bound binds. there is a deﬂationary bias to discretionary monetary policy. although. even if the government cannot commit to future policy. Alternatively. Japan continues to suﬀer deﬂation. Postal Life Insurance and the Trust Fund 63 . this does not reﬂect the true inﬂation incentives of the government. given the growth during the 1990s in Japanese government debt. even in a Markov equilibrium with discretionary optimization.here. because a substantial portion of Treasury debt is held by other governmental institutions. available even when the zero bound binds. Postal Savings. if the objective of the central bank in setting monetary policy remains as assumed above. It may be asked why. as discussed in Eggertsson (2003a). there is no diﬀerence between expanding the monetary base and issuing additional short-term Treasury debt at a zero interest rate. by changing the nature of the policy game. the result is diﬀerent. at its root. the problem is again the one identiﬁed in the classic analysis of Kydland and Prescott (1977). the tax cut will then increase inﬂation expectations. The ratio of gross national debt to GDP overestimates the inﬂation incentives of the government. if the central bank also cares about reducing the social costs of increased taxation — whether due to collection costs or other distortions — as it ought if it really takes social welfare into account. This is essentially the kind of policy imagined when people speak of a “helicopter drop” of additional money on the economy. Let us now consider instead the extent to which the outcome could be improved. Of course. One example of a current policy action.

the gains of reducing the real value of outstanding debt is partly oﬀset by a decrease in the real value of the assets of government institutions such as Social Security. owing to the size of the existing gross debt — while still increasing the ﬁscal incentive for Bureau hold a large part of this nominal debt. certainly suggests that reducing the burden of government ﬁnance is not among its highest priorities. Therefore. 64 . the real value of Social Security assets will decrease but the real value of most its liabilities remain unchanged. together with in ability to credibly commit future monetary policy. Those pensions are indexed to the CPI. which should aﬀect inﬂation incentives in much the same way as deﬁcit spending. Another instrument that may be used to change expectations regarding future monetary policy is open-market purchases of real assets or foreign exchange. is skepticism as to whether the central bank can be expected to care about reducing the burden of the public debt when determining future monetary policy. For example. on the ground that this could encourage a lack of ﬁscal discipline. real estate) can be thought of as another way of increasing nominal government liabilities. and as a result inﬂation incentives may not be much greater in Japan than in a number of other countries. Thus the Ministry of Finance would eventually have to step in to make up for any loss in the value of Social Security assets if the government is to keep its pension program unchanged. An open-market purchase of real assets (say. The alternative approach has the advantage of not worsening the overall ﬁscal position of the government — a current concern in Japan. If the part of the public debt that is held by these institutions is subtracted from the total value of gross government debt it turns out that the “net” government debt over output is only 51 percent.67 percent of GDP. even from the point of view of the bank’s own stabilization objectives. The important thing to notice is that most of the government institutions that hold the government nominal debt have real liabilities. ﬁscal and monetary policy must be coordinated to maximize social welfare. despite the current size of the nominal public debt. can be dire. Social Security (that holds roughly 25% of the nominal debt held by the government itself) pays Japanese pensions and medical expenses. As Eggertsson (2003a) stresses. The Bank of Japan may not be believed by the public to have such an objective. in order for ﬁscal policy to be eﬀective as a means of increasing inﬂationary expectations. The consequences of a narrow concern with inﬂation stabilization on the part of the central bank. An even more likely reason for the continued low expectations of inﬂation in Japan at present. as discussed in Eggertsson (2003a). If inﬂation increases. the expressed resistance of the Bank to suggestions that it increase its purchases of Japanese government bonds.

as in the case of real asset purchases. These will be valuable if it cares either about its own balance sheet or about reducing the burden of the public debt. and this must be valued by a central bank that acts in the national interest. A further advantage of this approach is that it need not depend on a perceived central-bank interest in reducing the burden of the public debt. For capital gains at the expense of foreigners would allow an increase in domestic spending (by either the government or the private sector).) The incentive eﬀects of open-market operations in foreign exchange are even simpler. of course. as shown by Eggertsson (2003b). it should choose monetary policy with a view to reduction of the burden of the public debt. Under rational expectations. the central bank should not choose policy on the basis of concerns about its balance sheet — but under such an ideal regime. However. (One can easily argue that under a rational scheme of cooperation between the central bank and the government. Open-market purchases of foreign assets give the central bank an incentive to inﬂate in the future in order to obtain capital gains at the expense of foreigners. no such capital gains are realized on average. among other goals. because it cooperates perfectly with the Treasury) and yet does not care about the burden of the debt either (for example. the central bank may be perceived to have an incentive to inﬂate simply on the ground that it cares about its own balance sheet. because non-distorting sources of revenue are available to the Treasury). even without any assumption of a 65 . capital gains on foreign exchange as a result of depreciation of the domestic currency will be valuable even in the case that the central bank does not care about its balance sheet (for example. Purchases of foreign assets are thus a way of committing the government to looser monetary policy in the future.inﬂation. Still. because reneging on its inﬂation commitment would cause capital losses if the government holds foreign assets. This creates a reason for purchases of foreign exchange to cause a devaluation (which will also stimulate current demand). Since the (nominal) capital gains from inﬂation accrue to the central bank itself under this policy. the purchase of foreign assets can work as a commitment device. for example on the ground that a strong balance sheet will help to ensure its independence.

on which the Fed would then stand to lose money if it did not keep the funds rate at the rate to which it had previously committed itself. and so they may do little to counter privatesector expectations that nominal interest rates will remain low for years — but because goods prices are going to continue to fall. not because the central bank is committed to eventual reﬂation. 66 . Similarly. they do not provide it with an incentive to ensure that the price level eventually rises to a higher level. of the kind relied upon by authors such as McCallum (2000) in recommending devaluation for Japan. Tinsley (1999) has proposed for a policy that would create this kind of incentive even more directly. may be more a successful way of creating the sort of expectations associated with the optimal equilibrium. Creation of a perception that the central bank has an incentive to continue trying to raise the price level. though prices continue to fall and economic activity remains anemic. Clouse et al. This is that they only provide the central bank an incentive to maintain low nominal interest rates for a certain period of time. the sale by the Fed of options to obtain federal funds at a future date at a certain price. where even ten-year bond yields are already well below one percent. they have at least one important disadvantage relative to purchases of real assets or of foreign exchange. While these proposals should also help to reinforce the credibility of the kind of policy commitment associated with the optimal equilibrium (characterized in section 2). The argument is that if the central bank were not to follow through on its commitment to keep short rates low for a period of time. This is arguably the kind of expectations that have now taken root in Japan. it should suﬀer a capital loss on the long bonds that it purchased at a price that made sense only on the assumption that it would keep interest rates low. and not to be content as long as nominal interest rates remain low. namely.deviation from interest-rate parity. (2003) argue that open-market purchases of long-term Treasuries should also change expectations in a way that results in immediate stimulus.

we have shown a purely forward-looking approach to policy — under which there is therefore no possibility of committing future policy to respond to conditions at an earlier date — can lead to quite bad outcomes in the event of a temporary decline in the natural rate of interest. An essential precondition for this. But we do contend that it is highly desirable for a central bank to be able to commit itself in advantage to a course of action that is desirable due to the beneﬁts that ﬂow from its being anticipated. In the context of a simple optimizing model of the monetary transmission mechanism.6 Conclusion We have argued that the key to dealing with a situation in which monetary policy is constrained by the zero lower bound on short-term nominal interest rates is the skillful management of expectations regarding the future conduct of policy. 67 . and that the same form of targeting rule continues to describe optimal policy regardless of which of a very large number of types of disturbances may aﬀect the economy. and shown that it involves a commitment to eventually bring the general level of prices back up to a level even higher than it would have had if the disturbance had never occurred. we have described a type of history-dependent price-level targeting rule with the property that a commitment to base interest-rate policy on this rule determines the optimal equilibrium. Finally. and then to work to make this commitment credible to the private sector. it is important for central banks to develop eﬀective methods of signaling their policy commitments to the private sector. regardless of the kind of policy that is pursued at the time of the disturbance. under the assumption that credible commitment is possible. By “management of expectations” we do not mean that the central bank should imagine that with suﬃcient guile it can lead the private sector to believe whatever if wishes it to. Given the role of private-sector anticipation of history-dependent policy in making possible a desirable outcome. we have instead assumed that there is no point in trying to get the private sector to expect something that it does not itself intend to bring about. We have also characterized optimal policy. independently of what it actually does.

Simply conducting policy in accordance with a rule may not suﬃce in itself to bring about an optimal.certainly. or nearly optimal. so that it can communicate its thinking on the matter and act consistently with the principles that it wishes the private sector to understand. but it is the place to start. is for the central bank itself to clearly understand the kind of history-dependent behavior to which it should be seen to be committed. equilibrium. 68 .

The number τ + kτ is the period in which the zero bound stops being binding in the contingency when the natural rate of interest becomes positive in period τ . We assume that τ can take any value between 1 and the terminal date S that can be arbitrarily far into the future.3. τ A. This same method can also be applied. We will ﬁrst show the solution for the problem as if we knew the sequence {kτ }S=1 .1 The solution for t ≥ τ + kτ The system can be written in the form: Et Zt+1 Pt =M 69 Zt Pt−1 (A. We then describe a numerical method to τ ﬁnd the sequence {kτ }S=1 .A Appendix: The Numerical Solution Method Here we illustrate a solution method for the optimal commitment solution discussed in section 2. The solution takes the form: it = 0 it > 0 It follows that: n Et xt+1 − xt + σ(Et πt+1 + rt ) = 0 ∀ ∀ if if 0≤t<τ +k t≥τ +k if if t<τ +k t≥τ φ1t = 0 Here τ is he stochastic date at which the natural rate of interest returns to steady state. Our numerical work assumes that there is a ﬁnal date S in which the natural rate becomes positive with probability one (this date can be arbitrarily far into the future). to ﬁnd the solution in the case that the central bank commits to a constant price level target rule or to a constant inﬂation target. We assume that the natural rate of interest becomes unexpectedly negative in period 0 and the reverts back to normal with probability αt in every period t.0.1) . with appropriate modiﬁcation of each of the steps. Note that the value of kτ can depend on the value of τ .

e. Θj and Φj for j = 2.. 3.0.3) Again this is a perfect foresight solution but with the zero bound binding.2)-(A.t−1 + Θkτ − j (A. 2.4) πt + φ2t − φ2t−1 − β −1 σφ1t−1 = 0 λx xt + φ1t − β −1 φ1t−1 − κφ2t = 0 The system can be written as: Pt Zt = A B C D Pt−1 Zt+1 + M V This system has a solution of the form: Pτ +j = Ωkτ −j Pt−1 + Φkτ − j Zτ +j = Λkτ −j Pτ.. 1.. ....If there are two eigenvalues of the matrix M outside the unit circle this system has a unique bounded solution of the form: Pt = Ω0 Pt−1 Zt = Λ0 Pt−1 A.2)-(A. The solution satisﬁes the equations: πt = κxt + βπt+1 n xt = σ(rt + πt+1 ) + xt+1 (A. . when j − kτ = 0 the zero bound is not binding anymore and the solution is equivalent to (A.3)). k by solving the equations below using the initial conditions Φ0 = Θ0 = 0 for j = 0 and the initial conditions for Λj and Ωj given in (A. We can ﬁnd the numbers Λj .2 The solution for τ ≤ t < τ + k (A.. Ωj . k. Here Ωkτ −j is the coeﬃcient in the solution when there are kτ − j periods until the zero bound stops being binding (i.3): Ωj = [I − BΛj−1 ]−1 A Λj = C + DΛj−1 Ωj 70 ..6) where j = 0.5) (A.2) (A.

8) 71 .7) (A.Φj = (I − BΛj−1 )−1 [BΘj−1 + M ] Θj = DΛj−1 Φj + DΘj−1 + V A. The value kt+1 depends on for how many additional periods the zero bound is binding (recall that here we are solving for the equilibrium assuming that we know the value of the sequence {kτ }S=1 ). Λijt+1 is the ijth element of the matrix Λkt+1 . We can then calculate the path for each variable to date 0. τ We can write the system as: ˜ Pt ˜ Zt = At Bt Ct Dt ˜ Pt−1 ˜ Zt+1 + Mt Vt k We can solve this backwards from the date S in which the natural rate returns back to normal with probability one. BS−1 = DS−1 = 0 By recursive substitution we can ﬁnd a solution of the form: ˜ ˜ Pt = Ωt Pt−1 + Φt ˜ ˜ Zt = Λt Pt−1 + Θt (A.3 The solution for t < τ The solution satisﬁes the following equations: t+1 ˜ t+1 ˜ πt = κ˜t + β{(1 − αt+1 )˜t+1 + αt+1 (Λ11 φ1t + Λ12 φ2t + Θ1t+1 )} ˜ x π k k k t+1 ˜ t+1 ˜ nL xt = σ{rt + (1 − αt+1 )˜t+1 + αt+1 (Λ11 φ1t + Λ12 φ2t + Θ1t+1 )}+ ˜ π kt+1 ˜ k kt+1 ˜ {(1 − αt+1 )˜t+1 + αt+1 (Λ21 φ1t + Λ22 φ2t + Θ2t+1 )} x k k k ˜ ˜ ˜ πt + φ2t − φ2t−1 − β −1 σ φ1t−1 = 0 ˜ ˜ ˜ ˜ λx xt + φ1t − β −1 φ1t−1 − κφ2t = 0 ˜ Here hat on the variables refers to the value of each variable contingent on that the natural rate of interest is negative. Note that.0.

Ωt .0.24 is a solution that never violates the zero bound.e.4 Solving for {kτ }∞ t=0 A simple way to ﬁnd the value for {kτ }∞ is to ﬁrst assume that kτ is the same for all τ and τ =1 ﬁnd the k so that the zero bound is never violated..6) to solve for each of the variables when the natural rate reverts back to steady state. We then use the solution from (A. Θt and Φt for period 0 to S − 2 by solving the system below (using the initial conditions shown above for S − 1): Ωt = [I − Bt Λt+1 ]−1 At Λt = Ct + Dt Λt+1 Ωt Φt = (I − Bt Λt+1 )−1 [Bt Θt+1 + Mt ] Θt = Dt Λt+1 Φt + Dt Θt+1 + Vt ˜ Using the initial condition P−1 = 0 we can solve for each of the endogenous variables under the contingency that the trap last to period S by (A.7) and (A. the response of each of the variables is the same). 2.2)-(A. Then we can move to 24 and see if kτ = 4 for τ = 1.where the coeﬃcients are time dependent.. A. 72 .8). For preparing this paper we wrote a routine in MATLAB that applied this method to ﬁnd the optimal solution and veriﬁed that the results satisﬁed all the necessary conditions. If not move to 23 and try the same thing and so on. . To ﬁnd the numbers Λt . Suppose that the system has converged at t=25 (i. We have: ΩS−1 = AS−1 ΦS−1 = MS−1 ΛS−1 = CS−1 ΘS−1 = VS−1 We can ﬁnd of numbers Λt . Ωt . Θt and Φt consider the solution of the system in period S − 1 when BS−1 = DS−1 = 0.

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