Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy1
Prepared by Olivier Blanchard, Giovanni Dell’Ariccia, and Paolo Mauro
Authorized for Distribution by Olivier Blanchard
February 12, 2010
Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are those of the authors and should not be
attributed to the IMF, its Executive Board, or its management.
The great moderation lulledmacroeconomists and policymakers alike in the belief that we
knew how to conduct macroeconomic policy. The crisis clearly forces us to question that
assessment. In this paper, we review the main elements of the pre-crisis consensus, we
identify where we were wrong and what tenets of the pre-crisis framework still hold, and take
a tentative first pass at the contours of a new macroeconomicpolicy framework.
JEL Classification Numbers: E44, E52, E58, G38, H50
Keywords: Macroeconomic policy, macroprudential regulation, inflation targets, automatic
Authors’ Email Addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com ; firstname.lastname@example.org
It was tempting for macroeconomists and policymakers alike to take much of the credit for
the steady decrease incyclical fluctuations from the early 1980s on and to conclude that we
knew how to conduct macroeconomic policy. We did not resist temptation. The crisis clearly
forces us to question our earlier assessment.
This is what this paper tries to do. It proceeds in three steps. The first reviews what we
thought we knew. The second identifies where we were wrong. The third, and the most
tentative of thethree, takes a first pass at the contours of a new macroeconomic policy
A caveat before we start: the paper focuses on general principles. How to translate these
principles into specific policy advice tailored to advanced economies, emerging market
countries, and developing countries is left for later. The paper also mostly stays away from
some of the larger issues raised by thecrisis, from the organization of the international
monetary system to the general structure of financial regulation and supervision, touching on
those issues only to the extent that they relate directly to the issue at hand.
II. WHAT WE THOUGHT WE KNEW
To caricature (we shall give a more nuanced picture below): we thought of monetary policy
as having one target, inflation, and one instrument,the policy rate. So long as inflation was
stable, the output gap was likely to be small and stable and monetary policy did its job. We
thought of fiscal policy as playing a secondary role, with political constraints sharply limiting
its de facto usefulness. And we thought of financial regulation as mostly outside the
macroeconomic policy framework.
Admittedly, these views were more closely heldin academia: policymakers were often more
pragmatic. Nevertheless, the prevailing consensus played an important role in shaping
policies and the design of institutions. We amplify and modulate these points in turn.
A. One Target: Stable Inflation
Stable and low inflation was presented as the primary, if not exclusive, mandate of central
banks. This was the result of a coincidence between thereputational need of central bankers
to focus on inflation rather than activity (and their desire, at the start of the period, to
decrease inflation from the high levels of the 1970s) and the intellectual support for inflation
targeting provided by the New Keynesian model. In the benchmark version of that model,
constant inflation is indeed the optimal policy, delivering a zero output gap(defined as the
distance from the level of output that would prevail in the absence of nominal rigidities),
which turns out to be the best possible outcome for activity given the imperfections present
in the economy.2
2 Blanchard and Galí (2007).
This divine coincidence (as it has been called) implied that, even if policymakers cared very
much about activity, the best they could do was to...