Robust Monetary Policy Rules with Unknown Natural Rates

Authors

Athanasios Orphanides

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2003-01 | December 1, 2003

We examine the performance and robustness properties of alternative monetary policy rules in the presence of structural change that renders the natural rates of interest and unemployment uncertain. Using a forward-looking quarterly model of the U.S. economy, estimated over the 1969-2002 period, we show that the cost of underestimating the extent of misperceptions regarding the natural rates significantly exceeds the costs of overestimating such errors. Naive adoption of policy rules optimized under the false presumption that misperceptions regarding the natural rates are likely to be small proves particularly costly. Our results suggest that a simple and effective approach for dealing with ignorance about the degree of uncertainty in estimates of the natural rates is to adopt difference rules for monetary policy, in which the short-term nominal interest rate is raised or lowered from its existing level in response to inflation and changes in economic activity. These rules do not require knowledge of the natural rates of interest or unemployment for setting policy and are consequently immune to the likely misperceptions in these concepts. To illustrate the differences in outcomes that could be attributed to the alternative policies we also examine the role of misperceptions for the stagflationary experience of the 1970s and the disinflationary boom of the 1990s.

Article Citation

Orphanides, Athanasios, and John C. Williams. 2003. “Robust Monetary Policy Rules with Unknown Natural Rates,” Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco Working Paper 2003-01. Available at https://doi.org/10.24148/wp2003-01

About the Author
John C. Williams served as President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco from March 1, 2011 to June 17, 2018. Dr. Williams was previously the executive vice president and director of research for the San Francisco bank, which he joined in 2002. He began his career in 1994 as an […] Learn more about John C. Williams