New Economy-New Policy Rules?

Article excerpt


The New Economy

United States economic performance during the latter portion of the 1990s far exceeded even optimistic forecasts. From 1996 through 2000, nonfarm business sector productivity grew by about 3.0 percent per year, on average. In the ten years previous to this period, from 1986 through 1995, it had increased at an average rate of only 1.4 percent per year. The late 1990s coincided with a spell of accelerated progress in computer technology and a widening adoption of the Internet by businesses and consumers. U.S. real output increased about 4.3 percent per year, on average, from 1996 through 2000, while, at the same time, inflation pressures remained rather subdued, with the personal consumption expenditures price index increasing at an average rate of only about 1.9 percent per year.

Economists in the United States have been cognizant of these changing trends. Many commentators have argued that technological change may be increasing American productivity, making it possible for the economy to grow at a faster rate without creating inflation. And, in fact, Federal Reserve officials have made many such arguments in recent years. Consider, for example, the May 6, 1999, Congressional testimony by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: "...the evidence appears to be mounting that, even if productivity does not continue to accelerate, the pickup already observed does seem to explain much of the extraordinary containment of inflation despite the ever-tightening labor markets of recent years." The next day the Washington Post reported: "Greenspan said the unexpected jump in productivity is the major reason that for the past three years so many forecasters, including those at the Fed, have underestimated economic growth while overestimating inflation."

This set of events is sometimes collectively called "the new economy," and we will use this meaning of the term for the purposes of this paper.

Optimal Monetary Policy Rules in the New Economy

The U.S. monetary policy debate has been importantly influenced by Taylor (1993), who argued that simple, nominal interest rate-based monetary policy rules might produce good stabilization performance. Taylor's (1993) ideas were based on a given, constant inflation target for the monetary authorities and, especially important for this paper, a given, constant long-run level of productivity. Nearly all rules in this literature are then specified relative to these fundamental objects. In addition, Taylor's (1993) analysis was not of an optimal policy rule, but of an ad hoc rule that Taylor reasoned would perform well based on historical experience. Svensson (1997) showed how a version of the Taylor rule could be viewed as the optimal monetary policy rule in a simple dynamic macroeconomic model, again for a given inflation target and a given underlying level of productivity. In addition, the papers in the Taylor (1999) volume generally favor the idea that something close to optimal stabilization performance could be obtained by adhering to a Taylor rule, across a wide variety of macroeconomic models.

However, one of the key "new economy" events is the shift in productivity. It seems natural that a fully optimal monetary policy rule would take account of the changing nature of the supply side. Our main goal in this paper is to derive an optimal monetary policy rule in an environment with unobserved shifting productivity, so that the policy authorities must infer the underlying regime from observed data. We wish to accomplish this in the simplest possible framework, but one in which we are sure that a Taylor-type rule would be optimal were it not for the productivity changes. Accordingly, we adopt Svensson's (1997) model as a baseline, and we augment the model with two-state regime switching in the level of long-run productivity. We wish to understand how a Taylor-type rule would have to be altered to allow for the possibility that underlying productivity shifts may occur. …