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Blanchard on Countours of Policy

Author(s): John Cochrane

Answering Blanchard...

From the Grumpy Economist:

Olivier Blanchard, (IMF research director) has a thoughtful blog post, Contours of Macroeconomic Policy in the Future. In part it's background for the IMF's upcoming conference with the charming title Rethinking
Macro Policy III: Progress or Confusion?
” (You can guess my choice.)

Olivier cleanly poses some questions which in his view are likely to be the focus of policy-world debate for the next few years.  Looking for policy-oriented thesis topics? It's a one-stop shop.

Whether these should be the questions is another matter. (Mostly no, in my view.)

As a blogger, I can't resist a few pithy answers. But please note, I'm mostly having fun, and the questions and essay are much more serious.

Financial regulation

...
Where do we stand? Are some dimensions of systemic risk easier to measure (e.g., leverage in the banking sector vs. interconnectedness of banks and non-banks or risks outside the banking sector)? How should we assess the experience with stress-tests?  And have we made enough progress in reducing systemic risk since the crisis, e.g., with Dodd-Frank, the Vickers commission, the Financial Stability Board, etc?

Answer: "Systemic risk" is barely defined. The idea that regulators will, this time, really really, understand risks taken by the big banks, see trouble ahead, and stop the banks from failing, is a triumph of hope over repeated
experience.

The
only progress -- and it's big -- is the slow realization that banks can and
should issue lots more equity.

Macro Prudential Policies... Do we have or can we develop tools to deal with the different types of risk, from high housing prices, to insufficient capital in some financial institutions, to sudden drops in liquidity in some financial markets?Using these tools ...raises political economy issues.  In a housing boom, increasing the loan to value ratio may be politically difficult.  Questions:  Given these issues, when should we use macro prudential tools, or should we use tougher, non contingent financial regulation? To be concrete, should we aim for variable capital ratios and decide when to adjust them, or just give up on the variable part, and aim for high but constant capital ratios?

Answer: The hubris that the Davos set will be able to figure out just the right amount of capital, and then fine-tune that month-to-month and bank-to-bank is astounding. "Political economy concerns" is putting it mildly. The IMF's "bubble" or "imbalance" is the local Congressman's boom, and he or she will be hopping mad if the Fed restricts credit to his district or pet industry in favor of another

The fact that our regulators are still talking about liquidity betrays a fundamental confusion of individual vs. systemic risks. Liquidity is the plan, "if we lose money we'll sell assets." To who? Regulators demanding liquidity to plan for a financial crisis is like the FAA making sure everyone on the plane has enough money to buy a parachute in case of engine failure.  

Finally, it is clear that both financial regulation and macro prudential tools are likely to lead financial actors to adjust and explore ways of getting around them. Questions:  In this game of cat and mouse, can the macro prudential regulators hope to win?  Or will regulation and tools become increasingly complex and possibly counterproductive?

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