Misdiagnosis of 2008 and the Fed: Inflation Targeting Was Not the Problem. An Unwillingness to Vaporize Asset Values Was Not the Problem...

Must-Read: This, from the very sharp Martin Wolf, seems to me to go substantially awry when Martin writes the word "convincingly".

With that word, Wolf appears to buy into Mallaby's misdiagnosis of the problem of 2008.

The root problem of 2008 was not that inflation targeting generates instability (even though a higher inflation target then and now would have been very helpful). The root problem of 2008 was not that the Federal Reserve was unwilling to vaporize asset values--the Federal Reserve vaporized asset values in 1982, and stood willing to do so again if it were to seem appropriate. The root problem of 2008 was a failure to recognize that the highly leveraged money center banks had used derivatives not to distribute subprime mortgage risk to the broad risk bearing capacity of the market as a whole but, rather, to concentrate it in themselves:

Martin Wolf: Man in the Dock:

Of his time as Fed chairman, Mr Mallaby argues convincingly that:

The tragedy of Greenspan’s tenure is that he did not pursue his fear of finance far enough: he decided that targeting inflation was seductively easy, whereas targeting asset prices was hard; he did not like to confront the climate of opinion, which was willing to grant that central banks had a duty to fight inflation, but not that they should vaporise citizens’ savings by forcing down asset prices. It was a tragedy that grew out of the mix of qualities that had defined Greenspan throughout his public life—intellectual honesty on the one hand, a reluctance to act forcefully on the other....

Mr Greenspan lacked Mr Volcker’s moral courage. Yet... Mr Greenspan survived so long because he knew which battles he could not win.... Nevertheless, Mr Greenspan had the intellectual and moral authority to do more.... Greenspan also held a fear and a hope. His fear was that participants in the financial game would always be too far ahead of the government’s referees and that the regulators would always fail. His hope was that “when risk management did fail, the Fed would clean up afterwards.” Unfortunately, after the big crisis, in 2007-08, this no longer proved true. If Mr Mallaby faults Mr Greenspan for inertia on regulation, he is no less critical of... inflation-targeting.... Monetary policy is as likely to lead to instability with such an anchor as without one...

But at least as I read Mallaby, he does not criticize Greenspan for "inertia on regulation" nearly as much as he does for Greenspan's failure to "vaporise citizens’ savings by forcing down asset prices..." even when there is no evidence of rising inflation expectations or excess demand in the goods and labor markets as a whole.

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