The Stabilization Bias and Robust Monetary Policy Delegation Peter Tillmann1 Swiss National Bank August 6, 2008

Abstract: Discretionary monetary policy suffers from a stabilization bias, whose size is known to be dependent on the degree of shock persistence. This note analyzes the size of this bias and, consequently, the rationale for delegating monetary policy to an inflation-averse central banker, when the economy faces uncertainty about the true degree of shock persistence. We show that the stabilization bias increases if uncertainty becomes larger. Hence, the degree of optimal monetary conservatism increases with the degree of uncertainty. Keywords: minmax policy, delegation, shock uncertainty, conservative central bank, stabilization bias JEL classification: E32, E52, E58

1

Swiss National Bank, Economic Analysis, Börsenstrasse 15, CH-8022 Zurich, E-mail: [email protected] I am grateful to an anonymous referee for helpful comments and suggestions. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Swiss National Bank. All remaining errors are mine.

"Shocks can be temporary or long-lasting, and it is rarely entirely clear at the time of the shock exactly what type of shock one is facing in reality" Charles Freedman (Bank of Canada, 1999)

"Central bankers are given little guidance as to the nature of the stochastic disturbances that drive the business cycle on average" Otmar Issing (European Central Bank, 2002)

1

Introduction

Since Rogoff’s (1985) seminal analysis, it is now common wisdom that delegating monetary policy to a central bank which is more inflation-averse than the social planner, i.e. to a "conservative central banker", can raise welfare. In the recent generation of general equilibrium models for monetary policy analysis, the rationale for policy delegation is that monetary policy under discretion gives rise to inefficient inflation stabilization. A so-called stabilization bias emerges, which can be corrected by appointing a hawkish central banker, see e.g. Clarida, Galí, and Gertler (1999).2 Since the public knows that inflation will respond less to a cost-push shock, expected future inflation is subdued. Stabilizing inflation becomes less costly in terms of future output contraction. Note that this rationale strengthens as the persistence of the cost-push shock process increases. A larger persistence eventually translates into higher volatility and aggravates the stabilization bias. This note analyzes the delegation decision under uncertainty about the persistence of shocks. In order to facilitate an analytical solution, the model is kept simple. The social planner is unable to formulate a probability distribution over the interval of possible realizations of the persistence of shocks. Instead, he follows a minmax strategy when deciding upon the optimal weight the central bank should attach to output fluctuations. This optimal weight is chosen such that the welfare loss that could occur due to persistence uncertainty is minimized. Throughout the paper, we refer to delegation that follows a minmax strategy as "robust delegation", since the delegation outcome is robust to uncertainty about the shock process.3 As a central result it is shown that the stabilization bias increases when uncertainty becomes larger. 2

Svensson (1997) coins the term "stabilization bias". Dennis and Söderström (2006) provide a detailed quantitative analysis of the size of the stabilization bias and the gains from commitment, respectively. 3 See Hansen and Sargent (2008), Giannoni (2002, 2007), and Onatski and Williams (2003) for recent contributions to the minmax or "robust control" approach to monetary policy under various kinds of uncertainty.

2

This is because under the minmax paradigm, the planner should overestimate the true degree of persistence. Hence, the degree of monetary conservatism increases with the degree of uncertainty.4 This note is organized as follows. Section 2 derives optimal monetary policy and the size of the stabilization bias under certainty. In section 3, we introduce uncertainty about the shock process and derive the main result. Section 4 sums up the results of this paper.

2

Optimal policy under certainty

Consider the simplest version of a New-Keynesian model. Inflation is described by a forward-looking Phillips curve (1), which represents a log-linearized equilibrium condition of a simple sticky-price general equilibrium model. Here π t is the inflation rate, xt the output gap, and Et is the expectations operator. The discount factor is denoted by β < 1 and κ, the slope coefficient of the Phillips curve, is inversely related to the degree of nominal rigidities π t = βEt π t+1 + κxt + et

(1)

The cost-push shock et exhibits some degree of persistence described by the AR(1) coefficient 0 ≤ ρ < 1 et = ρet−1 + εt with εt ∼ N (0, 1) Monetary policy is assumed to minimize the welfare loss due to sticky prices, which is described in terms of inflation volatility and output gap volatility weighted by the parameter λ > 0 © ª (2) min π 2t + λx2t π t , xt

Under discretionary policy, expectations are taken as given and the first order conditions of maximizing (2) subject to (1) imply κπ t + λxt = 0

(3)

The policymaker sets the output gap such that (3) holds.5 Hence, the persistence properties of the cost-push shock do not affect monetary policy setting. Naturally, shock persistence affects equilibrium inflation and output, which can be shown to be 4

Gaspar and Vestin (2004) analyze the rationale for delegation under uncertainty in a framework in which the central bank knows the true structural relationships of the underlying model but cannot reliably observe potential output. The central finding is that the optimal degree of conservatism increases as the quality of information deteriorates. 5 Note that the Euler equation for output is not binding for the central bank’s problem. Thus, the economy is fully described by the inflation adjustment equation given by (1) and the loss function (2).

3

(see Walsh 2003a) λ et λ (1 − βρ) + κ2 κ = − et λ (1 − βρ) + κ2

= π dis t

(4)

xdis t

(5)

Both inflation and output gap fluctuations are stabilized less if shocks become more persistent. The solution under discretion differs from that under commitment to a rule. Suppose = bx et the central bank can credibly commit to a non-inertial rule of the form xrule t rule and π t = bπ et , where bx and bπ are coefficients to be determined. With this rule, equilibrium inflation is given by = π rule t

λ (1 − βρ) et λ (1 − βρ)2 + κ2

(6)

Comparing (4) and (6) makes obvious that inflation is inefficiently stabilized under 6 ) < var(π dis discretion, i.e. var(π rule t t ) for ρ > 0. This bias, which is known as the rule , becomes larger if ρ increases. For white noise shocks, stabilization bias, i.e. π dis t −π t the stabilization bias disappears. Let us assume that commitment is not feasible. One way to overcome the stabilization bias is to delegate policy to a central bank that differs from the social planner with respect to the weight attached to conflicting policy objectives. The social planner weights fluctuations in the output gap with a weight λP , which is not restricted to coincide with the weight of the central bank. Throughout the paper we assume that this weight is given, i.e. λP is certain and cannot change. The social planner then chooses λCB in order to minimize the welfare loss resulting from the equilibrium outcome for a given λCB (∙ ¸2 ∙ ¸2 ) λCB κ P min +λ (7) λCB (1 − βρ) + κ2 λCB (1 − βρ) + κ2 λCB As a result, the following condition is obtained λCB = λP (1 − βρ)

(8)

Since βρ < 1, the optimal output weight of the central bank lies below the weight the social planner attaches to output gap fluctuations. Hence, the central banker should put more weight on inflation stabilization than the social planer.7 The central bank is conservative in the sense of Rogoff (1985). Since the public knows that inflation will respond less to a cost-push shock, future expected inflation rises less. When a conservative central banker is appointed, the discretionary solution will coincide with the outcome under commitment to the optimal simple rule. 6 7

Note that xdis = xrule . t t See Clarida, Galí, and Gertler (1999) for this result derived from a standard New-Keynesian model.

4

3

Optimal delegation with uncertain shock persistence

Now the economy, i.e. the central bank as well as the social planner and the public, is assumed to be uncertain about the true degree of persistence in the shock process and only knows that ρ lies in an interval bounded by zero and unity ρ

[ρl , ρh ]

with 0 ≤ ρl < ρh < 1

Note that the first order condition (3) is independent of the policymaker’s belief about ρ. It follows that optimal discretionary policy is not affected by this kind of uncertainty.8 However, we know from the previous section that the stabilization bias crucially depends on the persistence properties of shocks. Hence, the social planner is concerned about persistence uncertainty as the decision to delegate monetary policy to an inflation averse central banker is affected by the uncertainty surrounding ρ. We now turn to the optimal delegation decision in the presence of uncertainty about shock persistence. Assume that the social planner is unable to formulate a probability distribution over the interval of possible realizations of ρ. Instead, he follows a minmax approach and wants to delegate policy to a central banker such that the worst possible welfare loss due to persistence uncertainty is minimized. This robust delegation is the outcome of the following problem ½ h ³ ´i¾ dis dis (9) min max E Lt π t (ρ) , xt (ρ) λCB

ρ [ρl ,ρh ]

where Lt = π 2t + λP x2t depends now on the social planner’s output weight λP , which is not restricted to coincide with λCB .

Proposition 1 A robustness—concerned social planner always bases its policy on ρ∗ = ρh , where ρ∗ = arg max {Lt }. Hence, the planner overestimates the true degree of shock ρ

persistence in order to minimize the welfare costs of uncertainty.

Proof. The planner must identify the worst case realization of ρ that maximizes the welfare loss Lt . He solves (∙ ¸2 ∙ ¸2 ) λ κ max {Lt } = max + λP (10) ρ ρ λ (1 − βρ) + κ2 λ (1 − βρ) + κ2 t Apparently, the welfare loss increases in the degree of shock persistence, i.e. ∂L ∂ρ > 0.

Corollary 2 The optimal output weight of the central bank (i) decreases if the economy faces larger uncertainty about the persistence of the shock process and (ii) is lower than that of the social planner. 8

Kara (2002) provides a similar analysis of robust policy under shock uncertainty. However, he does not analyze the optimal delegation decision.

5

Proof. The planner takes ρ∗ = ρh as given and solves the optimal delegation problem (∙ ¸2 ∙ ¸2 ) κ λCB P min +λ (11) λCB (1 − βρh ) + κ2 λCB (1 − βρh ) + κ2 λCB The first order condition is given by λCB = λP (1 − βρh )

(12)

(i) λCB falls if ρh increases. Since ρh > ρ, the degree of monetary conservatism should be higher under uncertainty than under certainty. (ii) It follows from βρh < 1 that λCB < λP

To assess the quantitative effects of robust delegation, we compute three policy scenarios. All results are reported in table (1). To compute these policy scenarios, we set the discount factor β to 0.99 and the output weight of the social planner to λP = 0.25. The slope of the Phillips curve is set to κ = 0.05 and the true degree of shock persistence is ρ = 0.30. All of these parameter values are in line with the theoretical literature and the available empirical evidence. In particular, Walsh (2003b) uses identical numbers for β, λ, and κ. In addition, Galí and Gertler (1999), among others, find an estimate of κ of 0.047 for the U.S. economy. First, under certainty, the optimal output weight of the central bank should be 0.176 < 0.25. The stabilization bias thus motivates a conservative central bank. Second, if the shock process turns out to be distorted but the central bank sticks to λCB = 0.176, the welfare loss increases drastically as the worst case belief about shock persistence ρh becomes larger. Third, consider the case of robust delegation. Under robust delegation, the weight in the central bank’s objective function is adjusted according to the degree of uncertainty. As a result, the welfare loss due to distortions of the shock process is smaller than in the case of nonrobust delegation. Figure (1) visualizes the optimal degree of central bank conservatism for different degrees of worst-case shock persistence. As uncertainty increases, i.e. as ρh becomes larger, the central bank should become more conservative. Since the level of the welfare loss in absolute terms contains no direct economic meaning, we apply Jensen’s (2002) metric to express the welfare effect of appointing a central banker with an optimal degree of conservatism in terms of an equivalent permanent decrease in inflation. A permanent increase of inflation of π equiv percentage points results ¡ ¡ equiv ¢2 ¢2 P t = π equiv . in an increase in the objective function by (1 − β) E0 ∞ t=0 β π Thus, the inflation equivalent satisfies ´ ¡ ´ ³ ³ ¢2 (13) L λrobust + π equiv = L λnonrobust

¡ ¢ ¡ ¢ where L λnonrobust refers to the welfare loss under non-robust delegation and L λrobust describes the welfare loss under robust delegation. This "inflation equivalent" π equiv 6

describes a permanent deviation of inflation from target that in welfare terms is equivalent to delegating monetary policy to a central banker with λCB and is given by q ¡ ¢ ¡ ¢ equiv π = L λnonrobust − L λrobust (14)

The last column of table (1) shows that the inflation equivalent increases if uncertainty becomes larger. For example, when uncertainty is large, i.e. if ρh = 0.90, the absence of robust delegation entails a welfare loss equivalent to an increase of inflation of 4.63 percentage points.

4

Conclusions

This note has shown that the stabilization bias of discretionary monetary policy, i.e. the insufficient stabilization of inflation, increases if the economy faces uncertainty about the persistence of supply shocks hitting the economy. A social planner, who delegates monetary policy to an inflation averse central bank and follows a minmax approach to uncertainty should take this uncertainty into account when delegating policy. This paper shows that the planner should overestimate the degree of shock persistence. Thus, the optimal degree of conservatism under uncertainty is higher than under certainty.

References [1] Clarida, R., J. Galí, and M. Gertler (1999): "The Science of Monetary Policy: A New Keynesian Perspective", Journal of Economic Literature 37, 1661-1707. [2] Dennis, R. and U. Söderström (2006): "How Important is Precommitment for Monetary Policy?", Journal of Money, Credit, and Banking 38, 847-872. [3] Freedman, C. (1999): "Discussion of Professor Goodhart’s lecture: ’Central Bankers and Uncertainty’ ", Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin. [4] Galí, J. and M. Gertler (1999): ”Inflation dynamics: a structural econometric investigation”, Journal of Monetary Economics 44, 195-222. [5] Gaspar, V. and D. Vestin (2004): "Imperfect Knowledge, Learning and Conservatism", unpublished, European Central Bank. [6] Giannoni, M. P. (2002): "Does Model Uncertainty Justify Caution? Robust Optimal Monetary Policy in a Forward-Looking Model", Macroeconomic Dynamics 6, 111-144. [7] Giannoni, M. P. (2007): "Robust Optimal Monetary Policy in a Forward-Looking Model with Parameter and Shock Uncertainty", Journal of Applied Econometrics 22, 179-213. 7

[8] Hansen, L. P. and T. J. Sargent (2008): Robustness, Princeton University Press: Princeton. [9] Issing, O. (2002): "Monetary Policy in a Changing Economic Environment", paper presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s 2002 Jackson Hole Conference. [10] Jensen, H. (2002): "Targeting Nominal Income Growth or Inflation?", American Economic Review 92, 928-956. [11] Kara, A. H. (2002): "Robust Targeting Rules for Monetary Policy", unpublished, Central Bank of Turkey. [12] Onatski, A. and N. Williams (2003): "Modelling Model Uncertainty", Journal of the European Economic Association 1, 1087-1122. [13] Rogoff, K. (1985): "The optimal degree of commitment to an intermediate monetary target", Quarterly Journal of Economics 100, 1169-89. [14] Svensson, L. (1997): "Optimal Inflation Targets, "Conservative" Central Banks, and Linear Inflation Contracts", American Economic Review 87, 98-114. [15] Walsh, C. E. (2003a): Monetary Theory and Policy, MIT Press: Cambridge. [16] Walsh, C. E. (2003b): "Speed Limit Policies: The Output Gap and Optimal Monetary Policy", American Economic Review 93, 265-278.

8

Table 1: Welfare loss under different policy scenarios Delegation λCB

Welfare π 2t

x2t

L

0.176

1.944

0.157

1.983

uncertainty, non-robust delegation 0.176 λP = 0.25, ρh = 0.50 P 0.176 λ = 0.25, ρh = 0.75 P 0.176 λ = 0.25, ρh = 0.90

3.709 13.544 65.857

0.300 1.096 5.330

3.784 13.818 67.190

uncertainty, robust delegation 0.126 λP = 0.25, ρh = 0.50 P 0.064 λ = 0.25, ρh = 0.75 P 0.027 λ = 0.25, ρh = 0.90

3.631 11.388 24.815

0.569 6.870 83.546

3.773 13.105 45.702

certainty λP = 0.25, ρ = 0.30

π equiv

0.105 0.804 4.635

Notes: The discount factor β is set to 0.99 and the output weight of the social planner to λP = 0.25. The slope of the Phillips curve is κ = 0.05 and the true degree of shock persistence is ρ = 0.30. π equiv refers to Jensen’s (2002) inflation equivalent, i.e. the welfare gain from optimal monetary policy delegation. The realizations of π 2t and x2t are multiplied by (1 − ρh )−1 in order to obtain conditional variances.

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1

output weight of the central bank

0.9 45 degree line shock persistence = 0.50 shock persistence = 0.75 shock persistence = 0.90

0.8 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1 0

0

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

1

output weight of the planner

Figure 1: Optimal output weight of the central bank as a function of the planner’s weight for different degrees of worst-case shock persistence ρh

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The Stabilization Bias and Robust Monetary Policy Delegation

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