美国货币政策（United States Monetary Policy）
FRBSF Economic Letter
99-04; January 29, 1999
The Goals of U.S. Monetary Policy
* The evolution of the Fed's legislative mandate * The debate about the Fed's current mandate * References
The Federal Reserve has seen its legislative mandate for monetary policy change several times since its founding in 1913, when macroeconomic policy as such was not clearly understood. The most recent revisions were in 1977 and 1978, and they require the Fed to promote both price stability and full employment. The past changes in the mandate appear to reflect both economic events in the U.S. and advances in understanding how the economy functions. In the twenty years since the Fed's mandate was last changed, there have been further important economic developments as well as refinements in economic thought, and these raise the issue of whether to modify the goals for U.S. monetary policy once again. Indeed, a number of other countries--notably those that adopted the Euro as a common curency at the start of this year--have accepted price stability as the new primary goal for their monetary policies.
In this Letter, we spell out the evolution of the legislation governing U.S. monetary policy goals and summarize the debate about whether they could be improved.
The evolution of the Fed's legislative mandate
The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 did not incorporate any macroeconomic goals for monetary policy, but instead required the Fed to "provide an elastic currency." This meant that the Fed should help the economy avoid the financial panics and bank runs that plagued the 19th century by serving as a "lender of last resort," which involved making loans directly to depository institutions through the discount windows of the Reserve Banks. During this early period, most of the actions of monetary policy that affected the macro economy were determined by the U.S. government's adherence to the gold standard.
The trauma of the Great Depression, coupled with the insights of Keynes (1936), led to an acknowledgment of the obligation of the federal government to prevent recessions. The Employment Act of 1946 was the first legislative statement of these macroeconomic policy goals. Although it did not specifically mention the Federal Reserve, it required the federal government in general to foster "conditions under which there will be afforded useful employment opportunities ... for those able, willing, and seeking to work, and to promote maximum employment, production, and purchasing power."
The Great Inflation of the 1970s was the next major U.S. economic dislocation. This problem was addressed in a 1977 amendment to the Federal Reserve Act, which provided the first explicit recognition of price stability as a national policy goal. The amended Act states that the Fed "shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." The goals of "stable prices" and "moderate long-term interest rates" are related because nominal interest rates are boosted by a premium over real rates equal to expected future inflation. Thus, "stable prices" will typically produce long-term interest rates that are "moderate."
The objective of "maximum" employment remained intact from the 1946 Employment Act; however, the interpretation of this term may have changed during the intervening 30 years. Immediately after World War II, when conscription and price controls had produced a high-pressure economy with very low unemployment in the U.S., some perhaps believed that the goal of "maximum" employment could be taken in its mathematical sense to mean the highest possible level of employment. However, by the second half of the 1970s, it was well understood that some "frictional" unemployment, which involves the search for new jobs and the transition between occupations, is a necessary accompaniment to the proper functioning of the economy in the long run.
This understanding went hand in hand in the latter half of the 1970s with a general acceptance of the Natural Rate Hypothesis, which implies that if policy were to try to keep employment above its long-run trend permanently or, equivalently, the unemployment rate below its natural rate, then inflation would be pushed higher and higher. Policy can temporarily reduce the unemployment rate below its natural rate or, equivalently, boost employment above its long-run trend. However, persistently attempting to maintain "maximum" employment that is above its long-run level would not be consistent with the goal of stable prices.
Thus, in order for maximum employment and stable prices to be mutually consistent goals, maximum employment should be interpreted as meaning maximum sustainable employment, referred to also as "full employment." Moreover, although the Fed has little if any influence on the long-run level of employment, it can attempt to smooth out short-run fluctuations. Accordingly, promoting full employment can be interpreted as a countercyclical monetary policy in which the Fed aims to smooth out the amplitude of the business cycle.
This interpretation of the Fed's mandate was later confirmed in the Humphrey-Hawkins legislation. As its official title--the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978--clearly implies, this legislation mandates the federal government generally to "...promote full employment and production, increased real income, balanced growth, a balanced Federal budget, adequate productivity growth, proper attention to national priorities, achievement of an improved trade balance . . . and reasonable price stability..." (italics added).
Besides clarifying the general goal of full employment, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act also specified numerical definitions or targets. The Act specified two initial goals: an unemployment rate of 4% for full employment and a CPI inflation rate of 3% for price stability. These were only "interim" goals to be achieved by 1983 and followed by a further reduction in inflation to 0% by 1988; however, the disinflation policies during this period were not to impede the achievement of the full-employment goal. Thereafter, the timetable to achieve or maintain price stability and full employment was to be defined by each year's Economic Report of the President.
The debate about the Fed's current mandate
The Fed then has two main legislated goals for monetary policy: promoting full employment and promoting stable prices. With this mandate, the Fed has helped foster the exceptional performance of the U.S. economy during the past decade. Still, some have argued that the Fed's mandate could be improved, especially in looking ahead to future attempts to maintain or institutionalize recent low inflation. Much discussion has centered on two topics: the transparency of the goals and their dual nature.
The transparency of goals refers to the extent to which the objectives of monetary policy are clearly defined and can be easily and obviously understood by the public. The goal of full employment will never be very transparent because it is not directly observed but only estimated by economists with limited precision. For example, the 1997 Economic Report of the President (which has authority in this matter from the Humphrey-Hawkins Act) gives a range of 5 to 6% for the unemployment rate consistent with full employment, with a midpoint of 5.5%. Research suggests that there is a very wide range of uncertainty around any estimate of the natural rate, with one prominent study finding a 95% probability that it falls in the wide range of 4 to 7-1/2 % (see Walsh 1998).
Price stability as a goal is also subject to some ambiguity. Recent economic analysis has uncovered systematic biases, say, on the order of 1 percentage point, in the CPI's measurement of inflation (see Motley 1997). In this case, actual price stability would be consistent with measured inflation of 1%. In addition, at any point in time, different price indexes register different rates of inflation. Over the past year, for example, the CPI has risen about 1-1/2%, while the GDP price index has risen about 1%. Still, a transparent price stability goal could be specified as a precise numerical growth rate (or range) for a particular index (which could take into account any biases). However, economists have also suggested other ways to enhance the transparency of policy. For example, publishing medium-term inflation forecasts might help to clarify the direction of policy (Rudebusch and Walsh 1998). Because the central bank has some control over inflation in the medium term, its forecasts would contain an indication of where it wanted inflation to go.
A second recent proposed modification to the Fed's goals involves focusing to a larger extent on price stability and de-emphasizing business cycle stabilization. Some economists have argued that having dual goals will lead to an inflation bias despite the Fed's best attempts to control inflation. This argument stresses that the temptation to engineer gains in output in the short run will overcome the central bank's desire to control inflation in the long run. As a result of elevated inflation expectations of the public, inflation will end up being higher than the central bank intended, despite its best efforts. This "time-inconsistency" argument, as economists call it, coupled with the pain incurred in the 1970s as inflation skyrocketed and in the early 1980s as inflation was reduced to moderate levels, persuaded many that the primary goal of the central bank should be to stabilize prices.
This view is embodied in the charter for the central bank in the new European Monetary Union: "The primary objective of the European System of Central Banks is to maintain price stability. Without prejudice to the objective of price stability, the ESCB shall support the general economic policies in the Community." Among these latter policies are "a high level of employment" and "a balanced development of economic activities."
Economists remain divided on the importance of the time inconsistency problem and on the need to put primary emphasis on price stability at the expense of output stabilization. Some stress the fact that the central bank is the only entity that can guarantee price stability, and that this goal is not likely to be attained for long unless price stability is designated as the primary goal. Others find the arguments for time inconsistency implausible because policymakers, who are aware of the arguments about an inflationary bias and see the implications for inflation, can conduct policy without an inflationary bias (McCallum 1995). Still others argue that the abdication of other goals is irresponsible (Fuhrer 1997). Also, a good deal of empirical research using simulations of models of the U.S. economy suggests that a focus on dual goals can reduce the variance of real GDP (i.e., smooth the business cycle) while achieving an inflation goal as well (Rudebusch and Svensson 1998).
While these issues are not yet resolved, the experience of the past two decades provides some support to those who think dual goals that lack transparency can function successfully. It is true that some countries around the world have reduced inflation over this period while putting primary emphasis on explicit inflation targeting. But at the same time, with its current legislative mandate, the Fed also has had success in reducing inflation, while maintaining the flexibility of responding to business cycle conditions.
John P. Judd Vice President and Associate Director of Research
Glenn D. Rudebusch Research Officer References
Fuhrer, Jeffrey C. 1997. "Central Bank Independence and Inflation Targeting: Monetary Policy Paradigms for the Next Millennium?" New England Economic Review January/February, pp.20-36. Keynes, John Maynard. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. Harcourt, Brace, and Company: New York.
McCallum, Bennett. 1995. "Two Fallacies Concerning Central Bank Independence." American Economic Review Papers and Proceedings, vol. 85, no. 2 (May), pp. 207-211.
Motley, Brian. 1997. "Bias in the CPI: Roughly Wrong or Precisely Wrong." FRBSF Economic Letter 97-16 (May 23).
Rudebusch, Glenn D., and Lars E.O. Svensson. 1998. "Policy Rules for Inflation Targeting." NBER Working Paper 6512.
Rudebusch Glenn D., and Carl E. Walsh. 1998. "U.S. Inflation Targeting: Pro and Con." FRBSF Economic Letter 98-18 (May 29).
Walsh, Carl E. 1998. "The Natural Rate, NAIRU, and Monetary Policy." FRBSF Economic Letter 98-28 (September 18).
1942年 美国参加第二次世界大战。FED应财政部的要求正式承担保持国债低利率的义务。财政部需要低成本的资金来为战争筹款。FED因此不得不放弃货币存量的目标，专注于控制利率。 1950年 朝鲜战争爆发。财政部希望FED继续承担保持低利率的责任，而FED更希望控制战争带来的通货膨胀压力，双方发生矛盾。 1951年3月4日 FED和财政部签署《财政部和联邦储备系统协议》（the Treasury-Federal Reserve Accord），该协议终结了FED支持美国国债价格的义务，确保了联储制定和执行货币政策的独立性。在该协议之前，美国没有独立的货币政策，货币政策只是财政政策的附庸。 1958年11月 .W.Phillips发表《The Relation Between Unemployment and the Rate of Change of Money Wage Rates in the United Kingdoms,1861-1957》（Economica, November 1958, pp. 283-299）。它的直接含义就是通货膨胀与失业率之间存在替代关系，这篇文章的发表标志着Phillips Curve曲线的发现。 1975年 美国开始试验货币增长量目标制（Money-Growth Targeting）。FED宣布对三个主要的货币总量：M1、M2、M3的目标增长范围。由于实际上FED在存款方面能够控制的，只是基础货币，所以要想同时达到这三个不同的货币总量目标，实际上是不现实的。事实上，FED经常达不到它事先宣布的目标，经常有很大的误差。货币主义者声称，FED同时宣布三个不同的货币总量目标，表明它对于实行固定的货币增长规则并非十分严肃。 1979年8月 保罗·沃尔克就任FED主席。两个月后，他说服联邦公开市场委员会（FOMC）的同僚们赞同削减通货膨胀，使他们相信联储的运作程序需要根本性的变化。1978年的通货膨胀率为9％，1979年为12％。通货膨胀率的激增，使得FED下定决心对付通货膨胀问题。 1979年10月 FED宣布，它致力于货币供应的缓慢增长，将乐于默认更大更频繁的短期利率变动。这标志着FED操作程序的重大改变，FED将货币政策的中介目标集中到M2上，而放弃了短期利率。在这之后，利率迅速上升，而经济低迷。卡特政府对这一做法并没有表示反对。 1980年3月 短期利率超过15％，联储失去了卡特政府的支持。因为距离总统大选不到9个月了，卡特总统授权联储对信贷实行强行管制，并连续利用电视媒体有力地劝诫消费者抑制信贷的使用。在接下来的三个月里，经济明显地衰退了。FED将短期利率几乎削减了一半，以应对货币存量的下降。这个措施更像是为了在大选年扭转衰退的尝试，而不是联储瞄准货币总量的新政策的利率后果。利率降低以后，经济有所复苏。非常短期的紧缩货币政策和微弱的经济复苏，不足以降低通货膨胀率。 80年代初期 在实践货币增长目标制的期间，美国、德国、英国、加拿大的通货膨胀率确实都显著下降，但是它们的产出和失业率也变得很不稳定，失业率都显著上升。 1982年 由于无法接受失业率上升，FED宣布不再特别强调实行货币增长目标制（Money-growth targeting），转而更重视利率目标制（Interest Rate Targeting）。 1993年 FED宣布彻底废止使用货币增长目标制。在此之前的80年代，其他实行货币增长目标制的国家也已经纷纷不再实行（德国和瑞士除外，不过德国也在 1987年宣布将货币增长的目标从中央银行货币转为M3）。FED解释的原因是70年代和80年代，货币需求频繁变动，十分不稳定。这时，如果依然保持货币供给不变，就会造成利率的剧烈变动，这对经济是很不利的。