Narrative, communication, and monetary policy

In a recent article on interest.co.nz I chatted about monetary policy in New Zealand. As we’ve noted in the past, measures of price growth are pretty elevated in New Zealand – however, I make the case that RBNZ actions have been relatively appropriate (given uncertainty and the size and nature of the supply/income shock) but that it is their communication that lets the team down.

The comments below the article fundamentally think I’m misguided – and that the Bank has dropped the ball more fully. Blanchard also has an excellent post on the US case which may be also be used to be more critical of the policy operation of the RBNZ.

Although I am constantly misguided and wrong, there are two things I would raise here to defend my own position:

  1. With external shocks there was always going to be an “income loss” – fiscal and monetary policy determine how this is distributed. The Bank can’t make this type of “cost of living” crisis and related loss go away – it can only ensure that the transition back to their clearly communicated inflation target is “least cost”.
  2. Criticising communication is a big critique of the RBNZ – managing inflation expectations is their core job.

There is no point bagging an institution for things that are not their fault – but more transparent and clear communication about monetary policy, instead of every other issue that the Bank seems obsessed with at the moment, is needed. The current lack of communication about narrative/forward looking guidance about how the mandate will be achieved, combined with forecasts that arguably point to a general failure of the mandate, is a problem. If this type of failure doesn’t lead to changes in how monetary policy is communicated in the current environment, or lead to a situation where the responsible people at the RBNZ face consequences for this failure, then inflation expectations are going to become unanchored.

And I would argue that the nature of the comments on my interest.co.nz article indicate that people’s faith in the RBNZ to manage inflation expectations is frayed – and their reaction reinforces the importance of the very communication issue I am pointing to!

If you feel compelled to attack the Bank further or launch into an impassioned defence, then go for it in the comments. I just want good policy communication and evidence-based policy that supports the wellbeing of New Zealanders – something that both the Bank and private sector commentators have a responsibility to up their game on, given the quality of the current discussion of New Zealand’s “cost of living crisis”. (Noting that a number of NZ economists – as shown in the comments of this piece – are trying to clarify what is going on)

Fiscal policy itself matters here, and clearly understanding the trade-offs associated with fiscal policy choices – at a minimum through the necessary monetary policy offset, but also through the distributional implications and consequences on growth and productivity – is another important area for discussion. Let’s leave this for another time though.

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