Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Is Taylor a Hawk or Not?

Two Bloomberg articles published just a week apart call John Taylor, a contender for Fed Chair, first hawkish, then dovish. The first, by Garfield Clinton Reynolds, notes:
...The dollar rose and the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell on Monday after Bloomberg News reported Taylor, a professor at Stanford University, impressed President Donald Trump in a recent White House interview. 
Driving those trades was speculation that the 70 year-old Taylor would push rates up to higher levels than a Fed helmed by its current chair, Janet Yellen. That’s because he is the architect of the Taylor Rule, a tool widely used among policy makers as a guide for setting rates since he developed it in the early 1990s.
But the second, by Rich Miller, claims that "Taylor’s Walk on Supply Side May Leave Him More Dove Than Yellen." Miller explains,
"While Taylor believes the [Trump] administration can substantially lift non-inflationary economic growth through deregulation and tax changes, Yellen is more cautious. That suggests that the Republican Taylor would be less prone than the Democrat Yellen to raise interest rates in response to a policy-driven economic pick-up."
What actually makes someone a hawk? Simply favoring rules-based policy is not enough. A central banker could use a variation of the Taylor rule that implies very little response to inflation, or that allows very high average inflation. Beliefs about the efficacy of supply-side policies also do not determine hawk or dove status. Let's look at the Taylor rule from Taylor's 1993 paper:
r = p + .5y + .5(p – 2) + 2,
where r is the federal funds rate, y is the percent deviation of real GDP from target, and p is inflation over the previous 4 quarters. Taylor notes (p. 202) that lagged inflation is used as a proxy for expected inflation, and y=100(Y-Y*)/Y* where Y is real GDP and Y* is trend GDP (a proxy for potential GDP).

The 0.5 coefficients on the y and (p-2) terms reflect how Taylor estimated that the Fed approximately behaved, but in general a Taylor rule could have different coefficients, reflecting the central bank's preferences. The bank could also have an inflation target p* not equal to 2, and replace (p-2) with (p-p*). Just being really committed to following a Taylor rule does not tell you what steady state inflation rate or how much volatility a central banker would allow. For example, a central bank could follow a rule with p*=5 and a relatively large coefficient on y and small coefficient on (p-5), allowing both high and volatile inflation.

What do "supply side" beliefs imply? Well, Miller thinks that Taylor believes the Trump tax and deregulatory policy changes will raise potential GDP, or Y*. For a given value of Y, a higher estimate of Y* implies a lower estimate of y, which implies lower r. So yes, in the very short run, we could see lower r from a central banker who "believes" in supply side economics than from one who doesn't, all else equal.

But what if Y* does not really rise as much as a supply-sider central banker thinks it will? Then the lower r will result in higher p (and Y), to which the central bank will react by raising r. So long as the central bank follows the Taylor principle (so the sum of the coefficients on p and (p-p*) in the rule are greater than 1), equilibrium long-run inflation is p*.

The parameters of the Taylor rule reflect the central bank's preferences. The right-hand-side variables, like Y*, are measured or forecasted. That reflects a central bank's competence at measuring and forecasting, which depends on a number of factors ranging from the strength of its staff economists to the priors of the Fed Chair to the volatility and unpredictability of other economic conditions and policies. 

Neither Taylor nor Yellen seems likely to change the inflation target to something other than 2 (and even if they wanted to, they could not unilaterally make that decision.) They do likely differ in their preferences for stabilizing inflation versus stabilizing output, and in that respect I'd guess Taylor is more hawkish. 

Yellen's efforts to look at alternative measures of labor market conditions in the past are also about Y*. In some versions of the Taylor rule, you see unemployment measures instead of output measures (where the idea is that they generally comove). Willingness to consider multiple measures of employment and/or output is really just an attempt to get a better measure on how far the real economy is from "potential." It doesn't make a person inherently more or less hawkish.

As an aside, this whole discussion presumes that monetary policy itself (or more generally, aggregate demand shifts) do not change Y*. Hysteresis theories reject that premise. 


  1. The Taylor rule is ex-post. Use money flows, M*Vt. The distributed lag effects of money flows are mathematical constants.

    Janet Yellen should be reappointed. Her interest rate hikes to counteract the rise in inflation during 2017 have been extraordinarily prescient.

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