Publications by Author: Friedman, Benjamin M

Friedman, Benjamin M. 2005. “Think Again: Homeland Security.” Foreign Policy. Publisher's Version
Friedman, Benjamin M. 2000. “Debt Restructuring”. Abstract

What difference does it make, and for whom, whether the nonperforming debts of emerging market borrowers are restructured? This paper begins by positing a set of counterfactual conditions under which restructuring would not matter, and then shows how several ways in which the actual world of international lending departs from these conditions give both lenders and borrowers ample reason to care whether nonperforming debts are restructured. One implication of the way in which debt restructuring matters is that restructuring should not be too' easy. Further, with a greater frequency of defaults, some credit flows to emerging market countries would not be extended in the first place. An important element driving this line of argument is moral hazard, but (unlike in much of the recent literature of emerging market debt problems) what is central here is not the availability of credit from the IMF or other official lenders but the more fundamental moral hazard inherent in all uncollateralized borrower–lender relationships.

The threat to monetary policy from the electronic revolution in banking is the possibility of a decoupling' of the operations of the central bank from markets in which financial claims are created and transacted in ways that, at some operative margin, affect the decisions of households and firms on such matters as how much to spend (and on what), how much (and what) to produce, and what to pay or charge for ordinary goods and services. The object of this paper is to discuss how this possibility arises and what it implies, to dismiss as unessential to the argument various extreme characterizations that have arisen in the recent debate on this issue (for example, that no one will use money for ordinary economic transactions), and to address the specific arguments on the issue offered by Charles Goodhart, Charles Freedman and Michael Woodford.

Friedman, Benjamin M. 2000. “Monetary Policy”. Abstract

Monetary policy is one of the two principal means (the other being fiscal policy) by which government authorities in a market economy regularly influence the pace and direction of overall economic activity, importantly including not only the level of aggregate output and employment but also the general rate at which prices rise or fall. The ability of central banks to carry out monetary policy stems from their monopoly position as suppliers of their own liabilities, which banks in turn need (either as legally required reserves or as balances for settling interbank claims) in order to create the money and credit used in everyday economic transactions. Important developments both in research and in the actual conduct of monetary policy in recent decades have revolved around the choice of a short–term interest rate versus a reserve quantity as the central bank's direct operating instrument, whether to use some measure of money as an intermediate target, whether to constrain the central bank to follow some fairly simple policy rule, what degree of political independence a central bank should have, and whether to target inflation. Some key areas of ongoing research in this area, as of the beginning of the 21st century, are whether the behavioral process by which monetary policy affects nonfinancial economic activity centers more on money or on credit, quantitative measurement of whatever is the mechanism at work, the –off between price inflation and real aspects of economic activity like output and employment, and just why it is that the public in most industrialized countries is as averse to inflation as is apparently the case.

Most central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve System, implement their monetary policy by setting interest rates. This paper reviews the major changes that have taken place along the way from the Federal Reserve's interest rate–based policy structure of the 1960s to the interest rate–based structure in place today, and then goes on to consider three open questions that this way of conducting monetary policy presents: (1) whether there is a nominal anchor' problem, and if so whether explicit inflation targeting would solve it, (2) whether there is a role in this policymaking process for interest rates other than whatever particular rate the Federal Reserve chooses to set, or equivalently for equity prices, and (3) to what extent the electronic revolution now under way in banking threatens the efficacy of an interest rate–based monetary policy. The paper concludes by considering the implications of the rules–versus–discretion debate for the role of interest rates in monetary policymaking.

This paper looks again at the U.S. deficit debate of the 1980s, this time with the benefit of the Commerce Department's newly revised data for that period and also in light of the experience of the 1990s when sizeable budget surpluses replaced chronic large deficits. The familiar conclusion that sustained government deficits at full employment depress private capital formation has stood up well in both regards. By contrast, the more recent experience in particular has sharply contradicted any simple notion that the government balance and the current account balance move in parallel. Other relevant issues include the equilibrium (that is, noninflationary) unemployment rate, the response of private saving to government dissaving, and the role of debt and equity in financing private capital formation.



The influence of monetary policy over interest rates, and via interest rates over nonfinancial economic activity, stems from the central bank's role as a monopolist over the supply of bank reserves. Several trends already visible in the financial markets of many countries today threaten to weaken or even undermine the relevance of that monopoly, and with it the efficacy of monetary policy. These developments include the erosion of the demand for bank–issued money, the proliferation of nonbank credit, and aspects of the operation of bank clearing mechanisms. What to make of these threats from a public policy perspective in particular, whether to undertake potentially aggressive regulatory measures in an effort to forestall them depends in large part on one's view of the contribution of monetary policy toward successful economic performance.



A familiar question raised by the Federal Reserve System's evolving use of money growth targets over the past twenty years is whether monetary policymakers had sound economics reasons for changing their procedures as they did — either in adopting money growth targets in the first place, or in subsequently abandoning them, or in both instances. This paper addresses that question by comparing two kinds of evidence base on U.S. time–series data. The main conclusion from this comparison is that whatever economic conditions might have warranted reliance on money growth targets in the 1970s and early 1980s had long disappeared by the 1990s, so that abandoning these targets was an appropriate response to changing circumstances. Whether adopting money growth targets earlier on was likewise appropriate is less clear.