Friday, November 03, 2006

A Textbook Example...

Greg Ip has an interesting piece in today's Wall Street Journal:
Fed Official Says Bad Data Helped Fuel Rate Cuts, Housing Speculation

In an apparent and rare in-house critique, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said that because of faulty inflation data, the Fed kept interest rates too low for too long earlier this decade, fueling speculative housing activity.

...Mr. Fisher said from 2002 to early 2003, inflation, as measured by the price index of personal consumption expenditures (PCE) excluding food and energy, was running below 1%. That suggested that a serious shock to the economy could turn inflation to deflation, or generally falling prices... To reduce the risk of deflation, the Fed lowered its target for the Fed funds rate -- charged on overnight loans between banks -- to 1% in June 2003 and held it there until mid-2004. It has since raised it to 5.25%.

Mr. Fisher noted that subsequent revisions show PCE inflation was actually a half a percentage point higher than originally estimated. "In retrospect, the real Fed funds rate turned out to be lower than what was deemed appropriate at the time and was held lower longer than it should have been," Mr. Fisher said.
This seems like a pretty good description of the situation. But it's nothing that economists haven't known about for a long time. Just look up the term "recognition lag" in any intro macro textbook, and you'll see a description of exactly this phenomenon.

It's nice to see that the things we teach our students actually happen in real life. Except, of course, when those things mean that monetary policy may have made some serious mistakes that might have lasting negative repercussions on the economy...

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