Analysis & Opinions - Financial Times

Jay Powell’s Challenge at the Fed

| Feb. 04, 2018

He must work out how to achieve growth that is adequate and financially sustainable.

Janet Yellen has completed her term as chair of the US Federal Reserve with unemployment much lower than it was when she began, inflation low and closer to target than when she began, and with the financial system better capitalised and more liquid than the one she inherited. What more can anyone ask from a Fed chair?

Ms Yellen’s success is a tribute to her judgment and thoughtfulness. Importantly, though, like Alan Greenspan in the 1990s, she recognised quickly a major structural change in the economy and adjusted policy away from where traditional models would guide it. In Mr Greenspan’s case the structural change was the acceleration of productivity growth. In Ms Yellen’s, it was the decline in the neutral rate of interest — the rate of interest at which saving and investment would balance without either a major acceleration or deceleration in growth.

The fashionable view at the Fed and elsewhere when Ms Yellen took office in 2014 was that growth was slow despite very low interest rates because of “headwinds” — transitory factors associated with the financial crisis that would soon recede. When the headwinds receded, it would be possible for the economy to enjoy sustained growth with the “normal” 4 per cent federal funds rate. On this view, the near zero rate policy in place was highly expansionary and risked dangerous inflation.

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For Academic Citation: Summers, Lawrence.“Jay Powell’s Challenge at the Fed.” Financial Times, February 4, 2018.

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