Part of an interview of Michael Woodford:
Q&A: Economist Woodford on Fed and Rate Expectations, RTE: ...Given the importance of financial stability for the wider economy, do you think financial stability should play a greater or explicit role in the Federal Reserve’s policy strategy?
Woodford: No doubt, the Fed should give greater attention to financial stability than it did in the past. One should try and set up a framework to safeguard financial stability, and it may very well be that ... central banks should play a key role. But, ideally, one would be scrutinizing the risks developing and adjust capital requirements accordingly, rather than using monetary policy to respond to these risks. You’ve got to realize that pretending you can do everything with one tool means you won’t do any of them too well.
Should the Fed be more reactive — leaning against the wind -toward sharp moves in asset prices, such as house prices and equities? Should the Fed include a broader range of asset prices in its policy strategy?
Woodford: I’m not too sympathetic of that way of putting things. Using monetary policy to prevent certain moves in asset prices wouldn’t be a terribly effective tool. And to the extent that it would be effective, it’d involve important costs for the rest of the economy. It’d be particularly bad for the Fed to be saying “we have a view on where asset prices should be, and we’re going to get them there by using monetary policy.” Instead, the focus of the Fed’s investigation should be on what kind of risks financial institutions get themselves into — not on asset prices as such.
The Fed has downgraded the role of money and credit aggregates in its policy strategy. Given the more recent developments, do you think it’s now time to reconsider, or reverse the move?
Woodford: The issue that deserves more attention is monitoring risks to financial stability and identifying possible systemic risks. Unfortunately, traditional monetary and credit statistics aren’t that closely related to the things you really ought to be measuring. For example, lending by non-bank entities has played an important role in the recent real-estate euphoria. Given the emergence of new kinds of institutions and financing arrangements, you cannot simply revert to the old statistics people used to look at decades ago. There should be more research on understanding which measures are in fact the valuable indicators.
The last section is important. Many people have said that we cannot tell when a bubble is inflating (and thus when risks are increasing), but how hard have we actually tried? Have we seriously looked at data on, to name just one element of what I have in mind, leverage cycles? Do we know how leverage cycles relate to crises, that kind of knowledge that years of hard work by a variety of researchers brings about? Some people likely know the answer to this, or at least have some idea about this, but it's not data you'll find in standard sources such as FRED. As another example, what about measures and data on the degree of financial market connectedness? This can be measured in principle, but little effort has been devoted to doing so. Even traditional measures such as P/E ratios and Q-ratios haven't received the attention they deserve.
Until we dig in and try seriously to develop new empirical measurements that can monitor and identify risks, measures intended to inform us when risks are increasing to dangerous levels, we won't know if we can identify bubbles or not. I understand that financial theory says such predictions are impossible, and this has led people to shy away from such work, but that result relies upon assumptions that may not be true. The crisis has revealed the shaky foundation those models rest upon, so it's no longer an excuse for not trying, or, as in the past, for dismissing work along these lines as unimportant and a waste of time.