John Cochrane on the safe asset shortage

I gave some comments on “Global Imbalances and Currency Wars at the ZLB,” by Ricardo J. Caballero, Emmanuel Farhi, and Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas at the conference, “International Monetary Stability: Past, Present and Future”, Hoover Institution, May 5 2016. My comments are here, the paper is here

The paper is a very clever and detailed model of “Global Imbalances,” “Safe asset shortages” and the zero bound. A country’s inability to “produce safe assets” spills, at the zero bound, across to output fluctuations around the world. I disagree with just about everything, and outline an alternative world view.

A quick overview:

Why are interest rates so low? Pierre-Olivier & Co.: countries can’t  “produce safe stores of value”
This is entirely a financial friction. Real investment opportunities are unchanged. Economies can’t “produce” enough pieces of paper. Me: Productivity is low, so marginal product of capital is low.

Why is growth so low? Pierre-Olivier: The Zero Lower Bound is a “tipping point.” Above the ZLB, things are fine. Below ZLB, the extra saving from above drives output gaps. It’s all gaps, demand. Me: Productivity is low, interest rates are low, so output and output growth are low.

Data: I Don’t see a big change in dynamics at and before the ZLB. If anything, things are more stable now that central banks are stuck at zero. Too slow, but stable.  Gaps and unemployment are down. It’s not “demand” anymore.

Exchange rates. Pierre-Olivier  “indeterminacy when at the ZLB” induces extra volatility. Central banks can try to “coordinate expectations.” Me: FTPL gives determinacy, but volatility in exchange rates. There is no big difference at the ZLB.

Safe asset Shortages. Pierre-Olivier: driven by a large mass of infinitely risk averse agents. Risk premia are therefore just as high as in the crisis. Me: Risk premia seem low. And doesn’t everyone complain about “reach for yield” and low risk premia?

Observation. These ingredients are plausible about fall 2008. But that’s nearly 8 years ago! At some point we have to get past financial crisis theory to not-enough-growth theory.

I agree, here is the rest.


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