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Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis working papers are preliminary materials circulated to stimulate discussion and critial comment.

Monetary Policy/Macroeconomics

Interest on Reserves, Interbank Lending, and Monetary Policy

A two-sector general equilibrium banking model is constructed to study the functioning of a floor system of central bank intervention. Only retail banks can hold reserves, and these banks are also subject to a capital requirement, which creates “balance sheet costs” of holding reserves. An increase in the interest rate on reserves has very different qualitative effects from a reduction in the central bank’s balance sheet. Increases in the central bank’s balance sheet can have redistributive effects, and can reduce welfare. A reverse repo facility at the central bank puts a floor un- der the interbank interest rate, and is always welfare improving. However, an increase in reverse repos outstanding can increase the margin between the interbank interest rate and the interest rate on government debt.

Credit Search and Credit Cycles

The supply and demand of credit are not always well aligned and matched, as is reflected in the countercyclical excess reserve-to-deposit ratio and interest spread between the lending rate and the deposit rate. We develop a search-based theory of credit allocations to explain the cyclical fluctuations in both bank reserves and the interest spread. We show that search frictions in the credit market can not only naturally explain the countercyclical bank reserves and interest spread, but also generate endogenous business cycles driven primarily by the cyclical utilization rate of credit resources, as long conjectured by the Austrian school of the business cycle. In particular, we show that credit search can lead to endogenous local increasing returns to scale and variable capital utilization in a model with constant returns to scale production technology and matching functions, thus providing a micro-foundation for the indeterminacy literature of Benhabib and Farmer (1994) and Wen (1998).

Multidimensional Skill Mismatch

What determines the earnings of a worker relative to his peers in the same occupation? What makes a worker fail in one occupation but succeed in another? More broadly, what are the factors that determine the productivity of a worker occupation match? To help answer questions like these, we propose an empirical measure of multidimensional skill mismatch, which is based on the discrepancy between the portfolio of skills required by an occupation and the portfolio of abilities possessed by a worker for learning those skills. This measure arises naturally in a dynamic model of occupational choice and human capital accumulation with multidimensional skills and Bayesian learning about one’s ability to learn skills. Not only does mismatch depress wage growth in the current occupation, it also leaves a scarring effect—by stunting skill acquisition—that reduces wages in future occupations. Mismatch also predicts different aspects of occupational switching behavior. We construct the empirical analog of our skill mismatch measure from readily available US panel data on individuals and occupations and find empirical support for these implications. The magnitudes of these effects are large: moving from the worst- to the best-matched decile can improve wages by 11% per year for the rest of one’s career.

Current Federal Reserve Policy Under the Lens of Economic History: A Review Essay

This review essay is intended as a critical review of Humpage (2015), and it expands on the issues raised in that volume. Federal Reserve Policy during the financial crisis, and in its aftermath are addressed, along with the relationship to historical experience in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Banker Preferences, Interbank Connections, and the Enduring Structure of the Federal Reserve System

Established by a three person committee in 1914, the structure of the Federal Reserve System has remained essentially unchanged ever since, despite criticism at the time and over ensuing decades. This paper examines the original selection of cities for Reserve Banks and branches, and placement of district boundaries. We show that each aspect of the Fed’s structure reflected the preferences of national banks, including adjustments to district boundaries after 1914. Further, using newly-collected data on interbank connections, we find that banker preferences mirrored established correspondent relationships. The Federal Reserve was thus formed on top of the structure that it was largely meant to replace.

Optimal Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound

We study optimal monetary policy at the zero lower bound. The macroeconomy we study has considerable income inequality which gives rise to a large private sector credit market. Households participating in this market use non-state contingent nominal contracts (NSCNC). A second, small group of households only uses cash and cannot participate in the credit market. The monetary authority supplies currency to cash-using households in a way that changes the price level to provide for optimal risk-sharing in the private credit market and thus to overcome the NSCNC friction. For sufficiently large and persistent negative shocks the zero lower bound on nominal interest rates may threaten to bind. The monetary authority may credibly promise to increase the price level in this situation to maintain a smoothly functioning (complete) credit market. The optimal monetary policy in this model can be broadly viewed as a version of nominal GDP targeting.

Fertility Shocks and Equilibrium Marriage-Rate Dynamics

Why did the marriage probability of single females in France after World War 1 rise 50% above its pre-war average, despite a 33% drop in the male/female singles ratio? We conjecture that war-time disruption of the marriage market generated an abnormal abundance of men with relatively high marriage propensities. Our model of matching over the lifecycle, when calibrated to pre-war data and two war-time shocks, succeeds in matching the French time path under the additional assumption of a pro-natalist post-war preference shock. We conclude that endogeneity issues make the sex ratio a potentially unreliable indicator of female marriage prospects.

The Making of an Economic Superpower---Unlocking China’s Secret of Rapid Industrialization

The rise of China is no doubt one of the most important events in world economic history since the Industrial Revolution. Mainstream economics, especially the institutional theory of development based on a dichotomy of extractive vs. inclusive political institutions, is highly inadequate in explaining China’s rise. This article argues that only a radical reinterpretation of the history of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the West (as incorrectly portrayed by neoliberalism and the institutional theory) can fully explain China’s growth miracle and why the determined rise of China is unstoppable despite its current “backward” financial system and political institutions. Conversely, China’s spectacular and rapid transformation from an impoverished agrarian society to a formidable industrial superpower sheds considerable light on the fundamental weakness of mainstream “blackboard” economics and the institutional theory, and provides more-accurate reevaluations of historical episodes such as Africa’s enduring poverty trap despite radical political and economic reforms, Latin America’s lost decade and debt crises, 19th century Europe’s great escape from the Malthusian trap, and the Industrial Revolution itself.

Self-Fulfilling Credit Cycles

In U.S. data 1981–2012, unsecured firm credit moves procyclically and tends to lead GDP, while secured firm credit is acyclical; similarly, shocks to unsecured firm credit explain a far larger fraction of output fluctuations than shocks to secured credit. In this paper we develop a tractable dynamic general equilibrium model in which unsecured firm credit arises from self-enforcing borrowing constraints, preventing an efficient capital allocation among heterogeneous firms. Unsecured credit rests on the value that borrowers attach to a good credit reputation which is a forward-looking variable. We argue that self-fulfilling beliefs over future credit conditions naturally generate endogenously persistent business cycle dynamics. A dynamic complementarity between current and future borrowing limits permits uncorrelated sunspot shocks to unsecured debt to trigger persistent aggregate fluctuations in both secured and unsecured debt, factor productivity and output. We show that these sunspot shocks are quantitatively important, accounting for around half of output volatility.

Schools and Stimulus

This paper analyzes the impact of the education funding component of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Recovery Act) on public school districts. We use cross- Sectional differences in district-level Recovery Act funding to investigate the program''s impact on staffing, expenditures and debt accumulation. To achieve identification, we use exogenous variation across districts in the allocations of Recovery Act funds for special needs students. We estimate that $1 million of grants to a district had the following effects: expenditures increased by $570 thousand, district employment saw little or no change, and an additional $370 thousand in debt was accumulated. Moreover, 70% of the increase in expenditures came in the form of capital outlays. Next, we build a dynamic, decision theoretic model of a school district''s budgeting problem, which we calibrate to district level expenditure and staffing data. The model can qualitatively match the employment and capital expenditure responses from our regressions. We also use the model to conduct policy experiments.

Rehypothecation and Liquidity

We develop a dynamic general equilibrium monetary model where a shortage of collateral and incomplete markets motivate the formation of credit relationships and the rehypothecation of assets. Rehypothecation improves resource allocation because it permits liquidity to flow where it is most needed. The liquidity benefits associated with rehypothecation are shown to be more important in high-inflation (high interest rate) regimes. Regulations restricting the practice are shown to have very different consequences depending on how they are designed. Assigning collateral to segregated accounts, as prescribed in the Dodd-Frank Act, is generally welfare-reducing. In contrast, an SEC15c3-3 type regulation can improve welfare through the regulatory premium it confers on cash holdings, which are inefficiently low when interest rates and inflation are high.

Scarcity of Safe Assets, Inflation, and the Policy Trap

We construct a model in which all consolidated government debt is used in transactions, with money being more widely acceptable. When asset market constraints bind, the model can deliver low real interest rates and positive rates of inflation at the zero lower bound. Optimal monetary policy in the face of a financial crisis shock implies a positive nominal interest rate. The model reveals some novel perils of Taylor rules.

Institutions Do Not Rule: Reassessing the Driving Forces of Economic Development

The pursuit to uncover the driving forces behind cross-country income gaps has divided economists into two major camps: One emphasizes institutions, while the other stresses non-institutional forces such as geography. Each school of thought has its own theoretical foundation and empirical support, but they share an implicit hypothesis—the forces driving economic development remain the same regardless of a country’s stage of development. Such hypothesis implies a theory that the process of development in human history is a continuous improvement in income levels, driven by the same forces, and that structural changes do not dictate the influences of geography and institutions on national income. This paper tests this theory and found it not supported by the data. Specifically, non-institutional factors predominantly explain the cross-country income variations among agrarian countries, while institutional factors largely account for the income differences across industrialized economies. In addition, we find evidence of developmental trap in which non-institutional forces explain a country’s lack of industrialization, while institutions do not. The finding that institutions cannot account for the absence/presence of industrialization lends support to views held by many prominent historians who have cast serious doubts on the notion that institutional changes caused the British Industrial Revolution.

Equilibrium Sovereign Default with Exchange Rate Depreciation

This study proposes and quantitatively assesses a terms-of-trade penalty for defaulting: defaulters must exchange more of their own goods for imports, which causes an adjustment to the equilibrium exchange rate. This penalty can take the place of an ad hoc fall in output: Facing only this penalty and temporary exclusion from debt markets, countries are willing to maintain borrowing obligations up to a realistic level of debt. The terms-of-trade penalty is consistent with the observed relationship between sovereign default and a country's trade flows and prices. The defaulter's currency depreciates while trade volume falls drastically. We demonstrate that a default episode can imply up to a 30% real depreciation, which matches observed crisis events in developing countries.

Explaining Educational Attainment Across Countries and over Time

Consider the following facts. In 1950, the richest countries attained an average of 8 years of schooling whereas the poorest countries 1.3 years, a large 6-fold difference. By 2005, the difference in schooling declined to 2-fold because schooling increased faster in poor than in rich countries. What explains educational attainment differences across countries and their evolution over time? We consider an otherwise standard model of schooling featuring non- homothetic preferences and a labor supply margin to assess the quantitative contribution of productivity and life expectancy in explaining educational attainment. A calibrated version of the model accounts for 90 percent of the difference in schooling levels in 1950 between rich and poor countries and 71 percent of the faster increase in schooling over time in poor relative to rich countries. These results suggest an alternative view of the determinants of low education in developing countries that is based on low productivity.

Universal Basic Income versus Unemployment Insurance

In this paper we compare the welfare effects of unemployment insurance (UI) with an universal basic income (UBI) system in an economy with idiosyncratic shocks to employment. Both policies provide a safety net in the face of idiosyncratic shocks. While the unemployment insurance program should do a better job at protecting the unemployed, it suffers from moral hazard and substantial monitoring costs, which may threaten its usefulness. The universal basic income, which is simpler to manage and immune to moral hazard, may represent an interesting alternative in this context. We work within a dynamic equilibrium model with savings calibrated to the United States for 1990 and 2011, and provide results that show that UI beats UBI for insurance purposes because it is better targeted towards those in need.

Technology Innovation and Diffusion as Sources of Output and Asset Price Fluctuations

We develop a model in which innovations in an economy's growth potential are an important driving force of the business cycle. The frame- work shares the emphasis of the recent “new shock” literature on revisions of beliefs about the future as a source of fluctuations, but differs by tieing these beliefs to fundamentals of the evolution of the technology frontier. An important feature of the model is that the process of moving to the frontier involves costly technology adoption. In this way, news of improved growth potential has a positive effect on current hours. As we show, the model also has reasonable implications for stock prices. We estimate our model for data post-1984 and show that the innovations shock accounts for nearly a third of the variation in output at business cycle frequencies. The estimated model also accounts reasonably well for the large gyration in stock prices over this period. Finally, the endogenous adoption mechanism plays a significant role in amplifying other shocks.

Reaction functions in a small open economy: What role for non-traded inflation?

I develop a structural general equilibrium model and estimate it for New Zealand using Bayesian techniques. The estimated model considers a monetary policy regime where the central bank targets overall inflation but is also concerned about output, exchange rate movements, and interest rate smoothing. Taking the posterior mean of the estimated parameters as representing the characteristics of the New Zealand economy, I compare the consequences that two alternative reaction functions have on the central bank''s loss, for different specifications of its preferences. I obtain conditions under which the monetary authority should respond directly to non-tradable inflation instead of overall inflation. In particular, if preferences are relatively biased towards inflation stabilization, responding directly to overall inflation results in better macroeconomic outcomes. If instead the central bank places relatively more weight on output stabilization, responding directly to non-traded inflation is a better strategy.

Targeted Search in Matching Markets

In reality matching is not purely random nor perfectly assortative. We propose a parsimonious way to model the choice of whom to meet that endogenizes the degree of randomness in matching, and show that this allows for better identification of preferences. The model features an interaction between a productive and a strategic motive. For some preference specifications, there is a tension between these two motives that drives an endogenous wedge between the shape of sorting patterns and the shape of the underlying match payoff function, allowing for better empirical identification. We show the empirical relevance of our theoretical results by applying it to the U.S. marriage market.

Sovereign Default and Maturity Choice

This study develops a novel model of endogenous sovereign debt maturity choice that rationalizes various stylized facts about debt maturity and the yield spread curve: first, sovereign debt duration and maturity generally exceed one year, and co-move positively with the business cycle. Second, sovereign yield spread curves are usually non-linear and upward-sloped, and may become non-monotonic and inverted during a period of high credit market stress, such as a default episode. Finally, output volatility, sudden stops, impatience and risk aversion are key determinants of maturity, both in our model and in the data.

Fiscal Policy Spillovers: Points of Employment to Places of Residence

This paper studies the effects of interregional spillovers from the government spending component of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the Recovery Act). Using cross-county Census Journey to Work commuting data, we cluster U.S. counties into local labor markets, each of which we further partition into two sub-regions. We then compare differential labor market outcomes and Recovery Act spending at the regional and sub-regional levels using instrumental variables. Our instrument is the sum of spending by federal agencies not instructed to allocate Recovery Act funds according to the severity of local downturns. Among pairs of subregions, we find evidence of fiscal policy spillovers. According to our benchmark specification, $1 of Recovery Act spending in a subregion increases its own wage bill by $0.50 during the first two years following the act''''''''s passage. We find similar spillover effects when we replace the wage bill with employment as our measure of economic activity. The spillover effect occurs in the service sector, whereas the direct effect occurs in both the services and goods producing sector.

Rural-Urban Migration, Structural Transformation, and Housing Markets in China

This paper explores the contribution of the structural transformation and urbanization process in the housing market in China. City migration ‡flows combined with an inelastic land supply, due to entry restrictions, has raised house prices. This issue is examined using a multi-sector dynamic general-equilibrium model with migration and housing market. Our quantitative findings suggest that this process accounts for about 80 percent of urban housing prices. This mechanism remains valid in an extension calibrated to the two largest cities where housing booms have been particularly noticeable. Overall, supply factors and productivity account for most of the housing price growth.

Three Scenarios for Interest Rates in the Transition to Normalcy

This article develops time-series models to represent three alternative, potential monetary policy regimes as monetary policy returns to normal. The first regime is a return to the high and volatile inflation rate of the 1970s. The second regime, the one that most Federal Reserve officials and business economists expect, is a return to the credible low inflation policy that characterized the U.S. economy from 1983 to 2007, a period that has come to be known as the Great Moderation. The third regime is one in which policymakers decide to keep policy interest rates at or near zero for the foreseeable future. Japanese data are used to estimate this regime. These time-series models include four variables, per capita GDP growth, CPI inflation, the policy rate and the 10-year bond rate. These models are used to forecast the U.S. economy from 2008 through 2013 and represent the possible outcomes for interest rates that may follow the return of monetary policy to normal. Here, normal depends on the policy regime that follows the liftoff of the federal funds rate target that is expected in mid-2015.

Central Bank Purchases of Private Assets

A model is constructed in which households and banks have incentives to fake the quality of collateral. These incentive problems matter when collateral is scarce in the aggregate – when real interest rates are low. Conventional monetary easing can exacerbate these problems, in that the misrepresentation of collateral becomes more pro…table, thus increasing haircuts and interest rate differentials. Central bank purchases of private mortgages may not be feasible, due to misrepresentation of asset quality. If feasible, central bank asset purchase programs work by circumventing suboptimal fi…scal policy, not by mitigating incentive problems in asset markets. (Previously circulated under the title,"Central Bank Purchases of Private Assets.")

Occupational Hazards and Social Disability Insurance

Using retrospective data, we introduce evidence that occupational exposure significantly affects disability risk. Incorporating this into a general equilibrium model, social disability insurance (SDI) affects welfare through (i) the classic, risk-sharing channel and (ii) a new channel of occupational reallocation. Both channels can increase welfare, but at the optimal SDI they are at odds. Welfare gains from additional risk-sharing are reduced by overly incentivizing workers to choose risky occupations. In a calibration, optimal SDI increases welfare by 2.6% relative to actuarially fair insurance, mostly due to risk sharing.

The 2009 Recovery Act: Stimulus at the Extensive and Intensive Labor Margins

This paper studies the effect of government stimulus spending on a novel aspect of the labor market: the differential impact of spending on the total wage bill versus employment. We analyze the 2009 Recovery Act via instrumental variables using a new instrument, the spending done by federal agencies that were not instructed to target funds towards harder hit regions. We find a moderate positive effect on jobs created/saved (i.e., the extensive margin") and also a significant increase in wage payments to workers whose job status was safe without Recovery Act funds (i.e., the intensive margin"). Our point estimates imply that roughly one-half of the wage payments resulting from the Act were paid at the intensive margin. To provide a theoretical underpinning for the estimates, we build a micro-founded dynamic model in which a firm meets new government demand with a combination of new hiring and increasing existing workers'' average hours. Faced with hiring costs and an overtime premium, the firm responds by increasing hours along both margins. Our model analysis also provides insight into how government spending policy should be structured to lower the cost of generating new jobs. Finally, we catalogue survey evidence from Recovery Act fund recipients that reinforces the importance of the intensive labor margin.

The Great Housing Boom of China

China’s housing prices have been growing nearly twice as fast as national income over the past decade, despite a high vacancy rate and a high rate of return to capital. This paper interprets China’s housing boom as a rational bubble emerging naturally from its economic transition. The bubble arises because high capital returns driven by resource reallocation are not sustainable in the long run. Rational expectations of a strong future demand for alternative stores of value can thus induce currently productive agents to speculate in the housing market. Our model can quantitatively account for China’s paradoxical housing boom.

Financial Stress Regimes and the Macroeconomy

Some financial stress events lead to macroeconomic downturns, while others appear to be isolated to financial markets. We identify financial stress regimes using a model that explicitly links …financial variables to macroeconomic outcomes. The stress regimes are identified using an unbalanced panel of …financial variables with an embedded method for variable selection. Our identified stress regimes are associated with corporate credit tightening and with NBER recessions. An exogenous deterioration in our …financial condition index has strong negative effects in economic activity, and negative amplification effects on inflation in the stress regime. We employ a novel factor-augmented vector autoregressive model with smooth regime changes (FAST-VAR).

How Has Emprical Monetary Policy Analysis Changed After the Financial Crisis?

In the wake of the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate (FFR) target essentially to zero and resorted to unconventional monetary policy. With the nominal FFR constrained by the zero lower bound (ZLB) for an extended period, empirical monetary models cannot be estimated as usual. In this paper, we consider whether the standard empirical model of monetary policy can be preserved without breaks. We consider whether alternative policy instruments (e.g., a long-term interest rate) can be considered substitutes for the FFR over the ZLB period. Furthermore, we compare the shadow rates proposed in Krippner [2012] and Wu and Xia [2016] as alternative measures of the stance of monetary policy. We ask whether the shadow rate is a sufficient representation of the policy instrument or if the financial crisis requires other modifications. We find that, when using a dataset that spans both the pre-ZLB and ZLB periods, the shadow rate acts as a fairly good proxy for monetary policy by producing impulse responses of macro indicators similar to what we’d expect based on the post-WWII, non-ZLB benchmark and by displaying stable parameter estimates when compared to this benchmark.

Taxing Top Earners: A Human Capital Perspective

We assess the consequences of substantially increasing the marginal tax rate on U.S. top earners using a human capital model. We find that (1) the peak of the model Laffer curve occurs at a 52 percent top tax rate, (2) if human capital were exogenous, then the top of the Laffer curve would occur at a 66 percent top tax rate and (3) applying the theory and methods that Diamond and Saez (2011) use to provide quantitative guidance for setting the top tax rate to model data produces a tax rate that substantially exceeds 52 percent.

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