Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Economics: Not about theories but thoughts and behavior

It is the dismal science because nobody really knows enough of how his neighbors think and act in economic situations. That is why economists, many of them too bright for the discipline are always disagreeing among themselves. Finally something with some promise comes along: Behavioral Economics.

Paul Krugman's lastes op-ed in the NYT is literally screaming at the Fed to stop deflation. Of course, the Fed doesn't see deflation as starkly likely as Krugman.

Here the last couple of paragraphs by Krugman.

But here we are, visibly sliding toward deflation — and the Fed is standing pat.
What should it be doing? Conventional monetary policy, in which the Fed drives down short-term interest rates by buying short-term U.S. government debt, has reached its limit: those short-term rates are already near zero, and can’t go significantly lower. (Investors won’t buy bonds that yield negative interest, since they can always hoard cash instead.) But the message of Mr. Bernanke’s 2002 speech was that there are other things the Fed can do. It can buy longer-term government debt. It can buy private-sector debt. It can try to move expectations by announcing that it will keep short-term rates low for a long time. It can raise its long-run inflation target, to help convince the private sector that borrowing is a good idea and hoarding cash a mistake.
Nobody knows how well any one of these actions would work. The point, however, is that there are things the Fed could and should be doing, but isn’t. Why not?
After all, Fed officials, like most observers, have a fairly grim view of the economy’s prospects. Not grim enough, in my view: Fed presidents, who make forecasts every time the committee that sets interest rates meets, aren’t taking the trend toward deflation sufficiently seriously. Nonetheless, even their projections show high unemployment and below-target inflation persisting at least through late 2012.
So why not try to do something about it? The closest thing I’ve seen to an explanation is a recent speech by Kevin Warsh of the Fed’s Board of Governors, in which he declared that doing what Mr. Bernanke recommended back in 2002 risked undermining the Fed’s “institutional credibility.” But how, exactly, does it serve the Fed’s credibility when it fails to confront high unemployment, while consistently missing its own inflation targets? How credible is the Bank of Japan after presiding over 15 years of deflation?
Whatever is going on, the Fed needs to rethink its priorities, fast. Mr. Bernanke’s “it” isn’t a hypothetical possibility, it’s on the verge of happening. And the Fed should be doing all it can to stop it.

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