SPEAKERS CONTENTS INSERTS
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CONDUCT OF MONETARY POLICY
WEDNESDAY, JULY 23, 1997
House of Representatives,
Committee on Banking and Financial Services,
The committee met, pursuant to call, at 10:10 a.m., in room 2128, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. James A. Leach, [chairman of the committee], presiding.
Present: Chairman Leach; Representatives McCollum, Roukema, Baker, Lazio, Castle, Snowbarger, Foley, LaFalce, Vento, Frank, Gutierrez, Roybal-Allard, Barrett, Velázquez, Watt, Hinchey, Bentsen, Jackson, Kilpatrick, Maloney of Connecticut, Hooley, Carson, and Sanders.
Chairman LEACH. The hearing will come to order.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome our distinguished first panel of witnesses. I would particularly like to extend my appreciation to Vice Chairman Rivlin and Governor Meyer for adjusting their vacation plans in order to testify before us this morning.
By way of background, the committee has not traditionally held two days of hearings in conjunction with the requirement of the semiannual reports to Congress under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. Rather, we have held one day of hearings in which Chairman Greenspan has testified before the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy, so ably led by Representatives Mike Castle and Floyd Flake.
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But, as Members are aware, April 17, I received a letter from the Minority requesting that the committee convene an oversight hearing before the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting scheduled for May 20. The purpose of the requested hearing was to examine the rationale and economic assumptions of the Federal Reserve's decision to raise the Federal funds target by 25 basis points from 5.25 to 5.5 percent.
As I wrote in my April 17 responseand I ask the indulgence of my colleagues while I quote''Congress has, by statute, set the goals of monetary policy to be pursuit of maximum employment and stable prices. And through the Humphrey-Hawkins mechanism, the Federal Reserve reports semiannually to the committee on the state of the Nation's economy. The precedent of holding a hearing on every quarter-point shift in interest rates is troubling, particularly given that U.S. economic expansion is entering its seventh consecutive year with high levels of employment and relatively low inflation. Whatever one's view of the threat of inflation at this time, the case for political second-guessing must be viewed against the backdrop of rather impressive Fed monetary policy stewardship developed over the past decade within the constraints of a deficit-ridden fiscal policy.''
The letter went on to note that there is a tradition of independence at the Fed that has protected the economy; nevertheless, the Fed is accountable to Congress and ultimately the American people. Fed policy should never be immune from criticism. In this overall context, my sense is that it would be ill-advised to rush to judgment, and that the most appropriate time to express its perspective on monetary policy is the next regularly scheduled Humphrey-Hawkins hearing.
Page 3 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The letter concluded in agreement with the Minority's suggestion that outside experts from business, labor, and academia be invited to present their views on monetary policy, and pledged on behalf of the Majority that we would be happy to work with them on developing a witness list.
This hearing fulfills that commitment. We have consulted closely with the Minority in selecting witnesses for this hearing. In addition to representatives from the Federal Reserve, we will be hearing from two additional panels of distinguished witnesses representing a wide diversity of views.
In thinking through the issue of alternative perspectives, I want the Minority to know that I think Mr. Frank is absolutely correct in suggesting that other views ought to be heard from, especially when a change in Fed policy appears to be underway. I also think that periodically, perhaps every two years, other perspectives should be placed on the table, even when no significant change in monetary policy is contemplated.
As for the quarter-point bump-up in the Federal funds rate that took place in March, it is interesting to note that, as reflected in Treasury issuances, 10-year note rates have decreased 43 basis points and 30-year bond rates have decreased 49 basis points since the March decision of the Federal Open Market Committee. In other words, the most meaningful rates in the economy have declined significantly as the Fed has made clear that its attention to inflation concerns is vigilant.
As for the economy at large, the current economic expansion has been extraordinarily steady, albeit unspectacular. The unemployment rate is down to 5 percent, while inflation is running at an annual rate of 1.5 percent in the first 6 months of this year. If the Consumer Price Index does, in fact, overstate inflation by as much as 1 percent, then the United States may well be close to achieving functional price stability, an extraordinary achievement and vindication of almost two decades of restraint of monetary policy.
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Although short-term interest rates are high in real terms, long-term rates, which affect particularly industries like housing, have fallen from a peak of just over 7 percent to approximately 6.5 percent. At the same time, U.S. equity markets are enjoying one of the greatest bull runs in history, with a Dow Jones Industrial Average at a peak of over 8,000, up nearly 25 percent since Chairman Greenspan cautioned about ''irrational exuberance'' late last year.
More broadly, the pessimistic predictions of American economic decline, so much in vogue in the 1980's, have proven to be without merit. Our climate of macroeconomic stability, corporate competitiveness, worker productivity, modern financial markets, and the culture of entrepreneurship make the U.S. economy the envy of the world.
Why has the United States enjoyed such steady growth and low inflation at levels of relatively high employmentwhat appears to be becoming near full employment? My own sense is, the Fed enjoys such credibility in financial markets that its commitment to an anti-inflation policy is not in doubt. Likewise, the recent congressional emphasis on fiscal prudence and deficit reduction may be helping to raise the long-term growth of output in the economy.
Nevertheless, Members and, more importantly, the public, have many legitimate questions about the conduct of monetary policy. How long can we maintain the current expansion? Is expansion best maintained through a modest dose of monetary restraint or loosening of the reins of the economy? Can the United States grow faster without jeopardizing stable prices? What is the relationship between employment and inflation? Can the Fed accountability be increased without undermining its independence? And what is the appropriate policy and oversight role of Congress regarding the Fed's conduct of monetary policy? I hope our distinguished witnesses can answer those questions and more.
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Chairman LEACH. At this point, I would like to turn to Mr. LaFalce.
Mr. LAFALCE. I thank the Chairman very much.
Last April, Representative Frank and I initiated a request to you from the committee Democrats for a hearing to examine the rationale and economic assumptions behind the Federal Reserve's decision on March 25 to raise the Federal funds target rate. You responded that such an examination was unnecessary at that time and should wait until the regularly-scheduled Humphrey-Hawkins hearings in July. I am very, very pleased that you have scheduled today's hearing with the full range of economic observers.
For those most directly affected by interest rate hikes, the Federal Open Market Committee did not see a need to raise rates when it met in May and earlier this month. Nonetheless, the basis for our request was, and remains, sound. It is critical that components of the economy and their interrelationship be understood and considered when judgments about interest rate bubbles are rendered.
Yesterday, Chairman Greenspan testified that our economy's recent performance has truly been exceptional, and that the reasons for the performance may well lie much deeper than the preemptive actions of the Fed, deregulation of certain industries, and congressional and Administration budget-cutting efforts. Chairman Greenspan proceeded to list a number of influences that have contributed to the economy's unusually good performance.
Page 6 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Nonetheless, he did warn that caution and alertness to inflationary pressures are always warranted. Inevitably he said that a change at some point in the tools of monetary policyand that is the Federal funds ratewill be required to foster sustainable growth and low inflation, and that is exactly why the hearing this morning is important, to understand both the impact of Federal Reserve policy and the range of considerations that must be part of the analysis that defines monetary policy.
It is my personal view that any interest rate increase should be preceded by a fairly clear set of consistent indicators that inflation is about to ignite. Despite arguments about lead time and preemptive necessity, I do not think it is too late to take effective anti-inflationary action when there are clear indications that inflation is on the horizon rather than seeing some possible signs of inflation in the distant future. I believe it is important to allow economic growth benefits to reach workers. Choking off economic growth just when small wage increases are beginning to help low-wage workers will not begin to correct the decline in real wages that for many workers are still below the 1989 peak.
We should be very reluctant to take actions that will slow the economy, the economy where people live and work in neighborhoods and factories, especially if we are motivated to do so because of our concerns about irrationally high stock market valuations. What is or is not irrational is a subject of considerable debate.
Historically, wage increases have not led inflation. The notion that wages should be a proxy for inflationary pressures, I don't think is grounded in experience of the inflation spikes we have witnessed since World War II. If one graphs the sharp peaks of inflation, one learns they have occurred either during periods of war or serious supply shortages: The Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the OPEC oil crisis of the mid-1970's.
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Mr. Chairman, the witnesses appearing today undoubtedly will provide us with a wide range of views and experience on what is moving today's economy and the appropriate role of monetary policy as a lever of control and adjustment, and I look forward to their testimony and, again, thank you for accommodating our concerns and requests.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome the panel and thank you for holding the hearing today.
I think that sometimes we get a little complacent when we think about the situation with regard to monetary policy because it has been nearly 20 years since we had a roaring inflation rate that required truly heavy brakes by the central bank of the United States and the Federal Reserve. But you look around the world, and you see what happens in countries that don't have a central bank that has the kind of options that our bank is given, or at least doesn't have the freedom to exercise those options, like in Thailand and some other countries we could name. And we then, I think, can more fully appreciate the fact that we have a stable force at work to try to make certain that we don't encounter those rough spots to the degree that some of the rest of the world has.
In fact, I believe that some of the great problems of the economies of our allies and friends such as Israeland I could name a couple more; Argentina in recent yearshave been as strongly difficult as they have been because they don't have the kind of flexibility and freedom for their central banks and independence that we have given to ours.
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I think these hearings today are very important, not only to look at the mechanisms that we use, but to reinforce the fact that we need a very viable central bank and we should be thankful that our economy is as strong as it is. And while I might not agree with every move and vote that the Open Market Committee makesI don't know how anybody couldoverall, the track record speaks very well for itself.
I, too, share concerns over some of the issues that will be raised today. I know one of the top questions to be asked is whether or not we should be continuing to focus as much as the Humphrey-Hawkins law has on the dual track of maximum employment and stable prices. That is a very grave question. I suspect it is a good academic one. It is also one of policy that many Members are raising in recent weeks.
But the hearings can not only explore that issue but give us a better, firm understanding of the rationale that individual Members and those who may be influencing indirectly, if not directly, the votes of the Open Market Committee, the rationales that they use to achieve the balanced approach that has gotten us to the point where we are now, and that may give us some insight into what changes need to be made, if any, in law to help guide future Fed policies down the road.
I thank you for holding this hearing today, Mr. Chairman. I think it is a very positive one, and I look forward to hearing the witnesses.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Page 9 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. Vento.
Mr. VENTO. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for responding to the requests for an expanded hearing with regard to monetary policy.
I think most of us have come to realize that the importance of monetary policy and setting it is enormously important in terms of our economy. It has been a point of stability in the latter part of the 1980's and the early part of the 1990's, but I think one which needs to be refocused on at this point, because there seems to be, within the Federal Open Market Committee, a timidity with regard to, in fact, exercising the options that are available given the circumstances in the economy in terms of the low inflation, a timidity which is often reflected in a tendency to move toward higher rates, notwithstanding that the inflation and other indexes would indicate the justification for yet lower Fed discount rates. And of course the Fed discount rate is just one of many of the indexes that need to be examined in terms of others that from time to time have been held up as the benchmark mechanism for, in fact, establishing or trying to set policy.
Of course, I would hasten to note that, going back in my experience here, most of the Fed governors and chairmen have indicated that they are not setting it at all, they are just responding to what is taking place in the market. But I think most of us today recognize that monetary policy, along with fiscal policy, is an integral part of what happens in our mixed economy. And I think that the condition of that economy, while better than it has been, could be improved with a more aggressive type of monetary policy activity in terms of moving closer to what the actual inflation and other rates are in terms of the discount rate. It would be a great benefit in terms of the fiscal policy that we need to deal with and, more importantly, in the marketplace in terms of providing greater business opportunity and employment.
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I think today that while we have indices that we use in terms of employment, they don't reflect accurately the underemployment and unemployment of individuals that do not show up in those statistics, and I think that as we look at the rates, the benchmark rates of the Fed, that as they get multiplied into other credit lines, they are much more expensive and prohibitive to the type of growth and innovation that we need. I think so much so, that much of that has moved in ways to seek different efficiencies, in terms of bonds and other bases outside of the primary financial institution role, that historically has been a stronger source of credit.
I look forward to hearing the diverse views of these governors and others that are welding this important policy role in 1997 and hope that we can establish a type of rapport and dialogue which could, in fact, provide for a greater latitude and a greater responsiveness with regard to monetary policy to build the type of stability and confidence.
I realize it is more of an art than a science at this point, but I hope to see that monetary policy could be reengaged in terms of moving in a positive direction in terms of steering this great economy in this global environment to an unprecedented type of benefit.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Vento.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Mr. Chairman, I simply want to congratulate you and thank you for complying with the request of the Minority in setting up this very timely hearing. I am most appreciative, particularly timely following Mr. Greenspan's testimony. I think we saw what Wall Street thought of it in terms of the actions yesterday.
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But I also want to particularly observe that you have selected panels here, and the range of analysis that we are going to have here today is particularly instructive. You have picked the most highly professional and objective people to testify, and I would expect there would be a minimum of partisan prejudices expressed here today. But I think we have exceptionally qualified people on all three panels, and I want to thank you for that and look forward to the testimony. It is very instructive and timely.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Marge.
I want to gives particular credit to Mr. Frank for suggesting that maybe we ought to move the hearing from more than simply the Fed Chairman on these issues.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to say I have distressed my colleague, Mrs. Roukema, from time to time by agreeing with her too much.
I have to do it again, Marge. I agree with everything you said. I am sorry.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. I accept your apology.
Page 12 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. FRANK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, not just for being willing to have the hearing, but there was great cooperation between us and among all of us in selecting, I think, a very balanced panel, and I appreciate that. And I really think this is Congress doing its job in the best way. We are not talking about anything partisan, we are not squabbling, we are talking about areas where there are very legitimate and profound differences of opinion on one of the most important questions that confronts the country, and I think that it is important that we are doing that.
I should note that because we are dealing here with a serious, intellectually challenging subject of great importance in which there are no good guys or bad girls or corrupt people or honest people but simply well-intentioned people grappling with an issue of great public policy, it will almost certainly get very little attention in the media, but we will not, I hope, allow that to deter us.
The question that we are dealing with is central. And I do have one minor quibble, Mr. Chairman. You said that when Mr. LaFalce and I asked for a hearing, it was to examine a rate increase in March. To be honest, it was more to try to deter one in May. But they are not unrelated. And we had no hearing and no increase, so it was a pretty good wash for us.
The question does, as you correctly say, go beyond this or that quarter-point or even half-point. We are talking about, I think, the most fundamental economic question before us, because as yesterday's hearing showed, it implicates questions of social equity. It implicates, in my judgment, what international trade policy will be. And the question is, there is clearly a great deal of dissatisfaction on the part of a lot of people in the middle-income brackets and lower, people who didn't used to think of themselves as being in the lower- and middle-income brackets but have found themselves there.
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There is dissatisfaction because they have seen a recent period in which they have read a lot of good news while they are getting bad news. It is one thing to be laid off because the company has gone bankrupt or there is a recession, but it is another thing to be laid off when the company is declaring record profits and you are reading that the economy is in a period of extended growth. We have, many of us believe, a very difficult problem now of greater inequality at a time of wealth. Technological change, international trade, all of those factors are there.
Clearly, as difficult as those issues are, they are greatly exacerbated in an environment of slow growth. Relatively rapid growth, better growth, doesn't solve all of these problems, but it gives us the wherewithal to solve them in terms of revenues.
Obviously, just one example: Mr. Eisner will testify later that if we could keep growth at a higher level than we have had by a half-percent or so, the Social Security crisis greatly attenuates as a crisis because of that revenue stream. Clearly, it makes no sense to talk about assimilating welfare recipients into the job market unless you substantially can reduce the unemployment travesty. So we have to be able to do not just as well as we have been doing in overall growth, but somewhat better if we are to resolve problems.
The last point I would make on this, I will quote again what John Kennedy said about Franklin Roosevelt when Kennedy launched the Alliance for Progress. Referring back to the Good Neighbor policy of Roosevelt, he said Franklin Roosevelt could be a good neighbor abroad because he was a good neighbor at home. It is not an accident that Roosevelt gave us the minimum wage law during the Roosevelt Administration, and there are varying degrees of enthusiasm about some of these things, but we got the National Labor Relations Act, a blessed memory since it was silently assassinated about 10 years ago. We got the National Labor Relations Act, we got the Fair Labor Standards Act and Social Security, and we also got reciprocal trade because you could not have gotten one without the other.
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And I have to say to people now who are supportive of an expansion of the international economic cooperation which I believe is ultimately in our own overall interest, if we do not alleviate the sense of anger and unfairness that is prevalent among so many working and middle-class people, and with good reason; this is not just some perceptual problem they have
I would ask for an additional 45 seconds.
Chairman LEACH. Without objection.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you.Then you are going to continue to see resistance.
I thought the Mexico loan approach of 2 years ago made sense. The Chairman worked very valiantly to put it together. I had some conditions I wanted to see on it. I think it worked well, but, you know, it is still wildly unpopular with a majority of Americans because they see it as a product of a national economic establishment that is indifferent, at best, to their interests.
The centrality of the point is this: There is good reason to believe that we are now able to get faster growth without having inflationary problems than before. I have to be honest; I very much want that to be true, because I think if it is not true, we see an exacerbation of all these other social problems, of the Social Security crisis, of Medicare, of welfare, of all of these issues. And what troubles me is the notion that for institutional reasons, for cultural reasons, for a whole range of reasons, there are people on the Federal Reserve System who are resistant to the good news, who approach it with the notion of a prosecutor cross-examining a defense witness.
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Obviously, we cannot be sure that this is all there. It does seem to me that anyone who approached the economic facts of the last couple of years without preconception would be somewhat more optimistic of our ability to grow with low inflation than appears to me to be prevalent among many of the monetary policymakers.
And that is why I think this hearing deals with the central question of our time. We have to figure out whether we can do this, because I have to say this in closingI appreciate the indulgence, Mr. Chairmanif, in fact, the pessimists are right and we have been growing these past 2 years greater than our capacity, then woe is us, because if we are not able to grow at at least this rate and better, we are a Nation with very serious internal difficulties that will frustrate what many in the financial community think ought to be the best policies.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Frank.
Yes, first, is Mr. Castle here? I wanted to go to him as a subcommittee Chairman, and then I will come back.
Mr. CASTLE. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
We did have a rather interesting hearingit has been alluded toat the Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy yesterday, and we appreciate the Chairman and his long staying-power to answer questions from the breadth of the political spectrum, and every question possible, I think, was brought to his attention. I think that hearing and our meeting today are very important and the actions of Congress and the Administration are basic to creating prosperity now and in the future.
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The arcane practices of monetary policy are a proper subject of interest to almost every citizen, although almost none of them are cognizant of those practices, but they really are important to all of us. To borrow an expression from Dr. DiClemente, a witness later today, ''The Fed is the guardian of the lifeblood of the market economy.'' When the Fed does its job well and this is reinforced by responsible legislation and policy, we all prosper.
Today, we will be reminded of the difficult job that is involved in the production of good economic analysis. We will also see demonstrations that strongly contrasting conclusions can be drawn from the same data by different experts. This shouldn't be viewed simply as an esoteric exercise in arguing statistics and growth cycles. What concerns us today on both sides of the aisle are the personal consequences of these analyses. The prospect of planning for a secure and comfortable retirement as a result of a life of hard work and careful savings should not be undercut by Government action. Taxes and inflation should not steal the fruits of that labor and saving. The broadest possible opportunity should be offered to every citizen, and this especially includes the opportunity for young people to get an education that will equip them to advance as far as personal application and ambition can take them.
Chairman Greenspan touched on this theme, which was of great personal interest. That is, we are all diminished because we are not yet successfully equipping our youth to take advantage of the opportunities available in the information-intensive, computer-driven economy that is upon us.
I also believe that the good work of the Federal Reserve and this Congress to date only prepares the foundation for us to take up the major challenge of making the balanced budget the normal state of affairs. We accomplished this in Delaware some number of years ago, and it has enhanced our general prosperity. We will also be called upon to reform our retirement system and our educational system. None of this will be possible without good monetary policy, and if we keep these goals in sight, all the charts and graphs we will see today will come alive with meaning.
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Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. Castle.
Mr. SANDERS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for holding this hearing.
I would hopeand I am going to be running in and out, but I would hope that our distinguished guests today would comment perhaps on Mr. Greenspan's view that the economy is performing ''exceptionally.'' You see, I have a hard time understanding that. I think the confusion lies in that for the people on top, the economy is performing exceptionally. Perhaps never before in American history have the rich been doing quite as well as they are doing now. As you are familiar and know, last year the CEOs of large American corporations saw a 54 percent increase in their compensation. That is pretty good. That is exceptional.
But what about tens of millions of middle-class and working families? They got a 3 percent increase in their compensation. That is not so exceptional. That, in fact, means, looking at inflation, that tens of millions of American workers saw a continuation of the process by which their standard of living declines, by which they work longer hours for lower wages.
Now, maybe I am missing something; OK? But it seems to me that only within the Beltway, only within a climate heavily influenced by corporate interests, could anyone say that the economy is ''exceptional'' when tens of millions of people over the last 20 years have seen a significant decline in their standard of living and continue to see a decline in their standard of living. Can somebody say that the economy is ''exceptional''?
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I would hope that you would comment about the new jobs that are being created and talk about the fact, as I understand it, that low-wage American workers are now the lowest paid workers in the industrialized world. I hope that you would comment about the growing gap between the rich and the poor and maybe talk about the morality or the propriety of Bill Gates. What is he up to? I am sure he made another billion dollars yesterday. He is up to about $35 billion. A proliferation of millionaires and billionaires, and guess what? The United States has the highest rate of childhood poverty in the industrialized world by far. We have people sleeping out on the street. We have 40 million Americans without health insurance.
Maybe I spend too much time back home talking to Vermonters who are working 50-, 60-, 70-hours a week, talking to women who would rather stay home with the kids but are forced to work in order to bring in an extra paycheck. Maybe I am missing how the economy is performing in an exceptional way.
Mr. Frank talked about his concern about what it means socially if we do not address the needs of low-income and working families, and I absolutely agree with him. Also, touch on that point and touch on the morality of an economy which is making the people on the top so fabulously wealthy.
Do you have anything to say about one person being worth $35 billion while so many other people are seeing a decline in their standard of living? What does that say about our tax policy? Should we have a tax on wealth and do what some of the European countries are doing? Is that proper?
Page 19 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Should we raise the minimum wage so that low-income workers earn wages that are above the poverty level? What about a tax package that is now floating through Congress, 55 percent of which gives tax breaks to the upper 5 percent? Will you comment on that? Will you comment on a two-party system that seems not to reflect the needs of ordinary Americans?
I get a little bit confused when I hear about how wonderful this economy is going. It does not reflect the economy that I see back home, nor does it reflect the economy that exists anywhere in America.
Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I appreciate this hearing. I will be running in and out.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Mr. LAZIO. I just wanted to welcome a good friend of mine who is going to be testifying here, Bill McDonough, who is an outstanding public servant and is doing a wonderful job in the Fed in the New York area. And also the two other panelists. Good to see you again, Vice Chairman Rivlin. We worked together on the budget.
I would want to comment on the fact, obviously the Fed has limited ability to impact on stagnant wages. Those are policy decisions that we need to make here in Congress and obviously the President needs to show some leadership on. And in terms of having or achieving the long-term goal of low inflation in a sustained way, I have to compliment the Federal Reserve, that, in fact, speculative inflation does deprive low-income people and does disproportionately hurt low-income people in their capacity to make ends meet, and so it is an important goal, and one that I share, to restrain inflation.
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In fact, our economy, I think, is doing remarkably well internationally. A few years ago, we were envious of the Saudis and the Japanese, and now the attention has turned to America and people are looking to this economy. Billions are pouring into this country; IPOs creating new jobs, increasingly good jobs; higher-skilled, good paying jobs. This is exactly the goal that we need for America, not to look back at the past and say that we need to recreate jobs that there is no market for, but to look to create jobs by correctly funding investment here in America that will enable us to be competitive and to pay the kind of wages that you need to have in order to meet some of the social goals that we have here in this country.
I look forward to this hearing and compliment you, Mr. Chairman, and certainly the subcommittee Chairman, Mike Castle, for your work on this.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
Mr. GUTIERREZ. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And I would like to welcome the witnesses to this hearing here this morning.
And just to kind of follow up a little bit on what Mr. Lazio spoke about, indeed it is our responsibility here in Congress to make sure that working men and women receive an equitable share of the distribution of the wealth that is created here in this Nation. Certainly we need to intervene, and maybe it is correct that the Fed doesn't have any ability, not that I believe that, but that is what some people said, that they do not have the ability. But they do have the ability, when Mr. Greenspan comes here, to make the stock market go up 65 points while he spoke here. So apparently they do have an impact on the economy just by coming and stating what their opinion happens to be.
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And while it may rest with us as a legislative body to take certain action, they can certainly opine on what they think the House of Representatives might do or not do in order to foster greater equity in the distribution of this great wealth that we are seeing created here in the United States of America so that we can all rise together, so that all working men and women can gain some added self-respect and self-esteem and pride and a sense of accomplishment. I think that this is one of the fundamental issues that we are going to have to address as a Nation. If millions of people feel as though they are not part of this great process of progress in this Nation, and they feel alienated from that process, are we truly doing everything we can to make this a greater and better Nation for all of us?
I think that while you are here, we are certainly interested in hearing your opinions, because I, for one, do not believe that the participants in today's hearing just don't have an opinion on this. I mean, working men and women who make minimum wage certainly have an opinion, because they watch the news and they see the S&P and they see the stock market. They read there are jobs, and they read their papers on the way to work, and they are certainly involved in the economy and see what is going on. I just don't believe that the kinds of well-versed and certainly articulate spokespeople that we are going to have here don't have an opinion.
One last comment, Mr. Chairman. There is this great conference in Chicago. The National Conference of La Raza has a great conference in Chicago, and Vice President Al Gore went out there yesterday. And there is something interesting, an interesting point that our witnesses might care to comment on later on.
Page 22 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Latinos in the United States of America have been at a record pace in the creation of jobs. There is this burgeoning middle class, entrepreneurial middle class. And the number of Latinos who today are part of the middle class have grown over the last 10 years. And that is good; right? There is incorporation and integration. The problem is that the median income for Latinos has decreased in the United States of America.
How do you take a group of people and say on the one hand some people are prospering and doing betterand obviously it is through their entrepreneurial skillsright?and contributions. And yet as a group, their wages are lower. Something is wrong.
Last, we are all going to be in this boat together, and the boat is going to sail smoothly to the extent that everyone feels that the boat is taking them to a harbor in which they can all eat well, dress well, live well, educate their children well. Otherwise, I think there is going to be a Nation of haves and have-nots that is going to seriously erode the possibility for progress, for success, for all of us. For all of us.
I don't think we want to reach that, but I see this continuing concentration of wealth on the one hand. I want the rich to be wealthy; I have absolutely no problem with that, none whatsoever. I am not speaking about a Nation in which there are not wealthy people; I just want to make sure that working men and women get to partake in this great progress.
Thank you so much for coming here this morning.
Page 23 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Gutierrez.
Ms. ROYBAL-ALLARD. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I, too, would like to express my gratitude to my colleague, Mr. Frank, who has been so diligent in his efforts to make this hearing possible. As has been stated, this hearing is critical because the decisions of the Federal Reserve regarding the conduct of monetary policy have a serious and direct impact on the financial well-being of all Americans. And I think you have heard that over and over again, the emphasis on the word ''all.''
As a result, I believe that the Members of this committee have an obligation to consider this issue very closely and to hear differing viewpoints. And for that, I would like to thank the Chairman for providing us with this opportunity.
As you know, the economy is currently doing better than most expected. The unemployment rate reached its lowest level in 24 years when it fell to 4.8 percent in April. Currently, unemployment nationally is at a low 5 percent. Prices have been stable, and the Consumer Price Index rose just .1 percent in June, bringing the year-to-date annual rate to 1.4 percent, the lowest rate for the first 6 months of any year since 1986. The question of whether the Federal Reserve needs to take further action to slow this growth to prevent the possibility of inflation is the critical question that must be answered because of the financial impact any action will have on every American.
Page 24 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I, too, am particularly concerned about the impact that such a policy would have on low- and middle-income Americans. The Los Angeles area, where my district is located, has only recently begun to emerge from the last recession. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles is still 2 percent higher than the national average. The per capita income in my congressional district is just under $7,000 last count, the lowest in the country. Almost 30 percent of all adults and over 34 percent of the children in my district live below the poverty level.
The low-income residents of inner cities and areas like Los Angeles are only just beginning to see the benefits of these seven consecutive years of economic growth. If the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to prevent what many consider to be phantom inflation, low-income individuals may find that they are finally arriving at the party only to have the door slammed in their faces.
I look forward to hearing your comments and to have you each address this issue of how we are going to protect middle- and low-income families or, rather, how are we going to give them also opportunities to improve the quality of their lives?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
Mr. HINCHEY. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. Thank you again for holding these hearings. I think that they are very helpful to the Members and also for the general public.
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Ms. Rivlin, I welcome you. It is very good to see Mr. McDonough and Mr. Meyer. Thank you very much for being here with us. Yesterday we had the chairman here, and he talked about his view of monetary policy, as he always does, somewhat enigmatically, as I understand it.
But what we are seeing in the economy generally is that the supply-side economics that were practiced under a previous administration have managed to supply a great deal to those that have much, and very little to the struggling many. The trickle-down theory of economics just does not work, no matter how you try to refashion it. And the question is, how do we get more of the benefits of this booming economy to more of the American people?
I think, frankly, that the Clinton Administration has answered that question in large measure, because it was unquestionably the budget resolution of 1993 which brought the annual Federal budget deficit down from a record high of more than $290 billion a year to where it is today; somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 billion, as I understand it, and still falling as we meet.
There is some question as to whether the budget would actually come into balance in the very near future absent any additional action from the Congress or the Administration. Simply by leaving the policies of the 1993 Clinton budget proposal in place, we may, in fact, get into surplus by virtue of those policies. Unquestionably, that is what has brought us to this particular point when this economy is doing so very well.
We have even seen in recent years, under the economic policies of President Clinton and Vice President Gore, some improvement in the economic situation of the average working American. The great disparity in wealth and income which plagued this economy beginning back in the mid 1970's through the early 1990's now shows signs of reversal, and working people are beginning to get a modicum of the benefits of this growing economy.
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That was a Herculean effort, and it was a determined effort, on the part of the President. I was here in January 1993, and I remember how that bill passed with only one vote in the House of Representatives and a tie in the Senate broken only by the vote of the Vice President of the United States. He said to me and some others yesterday that every time he votes, we win. And I guess it actually works that way.
That budget bill passed so narrowly, but the benefits of it are becoming clearer and clearer. And now we are struggling here with another budget, and the Majority party in this House wants to create tax cuts which are going to blow the deficit out again in the outyears and provide the major benefits of that tax cut to the people who need it the least.
Their attitude seems to be that you should tax the benefits of capital gains at half the level that you tax the benefits of people who make their living by working the ways people work in this country, either with their minds, or their hands, or some combination of the two. That is wrong, in my estimation.
What concerned me about the chairman's testimony yesterday, however, was the hint that it may be necessary to raise interest rates again next year. I hope that that is not the case.
I remember what happened in 1994 when the economy began to grow again as a result of the budget resolution of 1993. The Fed stepped in and raised interest rates, and raised interest rates, and raised interest rates, and raised interest rates over and over and over again in 1994, and interest rates doubled during that year and the expansion of the economy was choked off. It wasn't given the opportunity to succeed in a way that it would have absent those increases in interest rates. I hope that that does not happen again.
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Some might argue that those interest rate increases even had a bearing on the complexion of the congressional elections in November 1994. Whether they did or not, the important thing is that people in this economy, the vast majority of American people generally, are beginning to experience some of the benefits of this economy.
It would be a serious mistake indeed, in my opinion, to raise interest rates, absent any firm, solid, irrefutable evidence that inflation exists, and I don't see any anywhere around. There is a lot of talk about it in the papers, even on the front page of the New York Times, about the specter of inflation, but no one points to any material evidence. It is all illusory, all a figment of the imagination of bankers and writers.
Let's make sure that we know what we are doing here, because this economy is beginning to show signs of goodness and greatness for the majority of the American people, and we want to make sure that that continues.
Thank you very much.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
Mr. SNOWBARGER. Mr. Chairman, thank you; and thank you to the witnesses for appearing today in the hope that you may have some minimal amount of time to answer all of these statements.
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I don't have any opening statement.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. Snowbarger.
Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman; and let me just say on the one hand, first of all, let me just thank the witnesses for being here and the other panelists that will testify later, and thank the Chairman for calling this hearing.
This hearing dealing with the conduct of monetary policy requires us to look at a number of issues in the abstract, in particular whether or not the business cycle has been repealed or extended; whether or not the Phillips Curve has been denied; whether or not we can increase growth beyond current levels and still maintain a stable economy; whether or not we are in a transitory period, as the chairman of the Fed testified yesterday, and as I know some of you all have in your statements as well.
Like the chairman's testimony yesterday, there are still more questions than there are answers; and there may never be some of the answers. But I think we also have to be aware that we have probably the best general economy in this country that we have had in the last 20 or more years. The President is certainly capable of saying it is morning in America, again from his period in office, like we saw from another President not too many years ago.
But be that as it may, with low unemployment, stable growth, low inflation, there are gaping holes within the economy. Whether or not those are a result of monetary policy is yet to be answered, and I am not sure whether it will be answered in today's hearing or not.
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There are many questions related to fiscal policy, including the Nation's tax policy, as well as our regulatory policy and labor policy, trade policy and the impact that they have on income distribution, which I think is the concern of a great number of the Members of this committee, particularly on my side of the aisle.
I welcome the panelists. I appreciate the Chairman calling this hearing. I would encourage our Members to listen carefully, but let's not have any illusions that we walk away today with any of the answers because I am not sure any of the panelists have the answers, either.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. Bentsen.
It has been suggested that there should be a second round of opening statements, but we won't do that.
Let me just very briefly introduce our first panel. It is composed of the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board of the United States, Ms. Alice Rivlin, a recent appointee to the Board; Lawrence H. Meyer; and the President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Mr. Bill McDonough.
Mr. LAFALCE. Mr. Chairman.
Page 30 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman LEACH. Yes, sir.
Mr. LAFALCE. Before we proceed, could I ask unanimous consent to have Mr. Gonzalez' opening statement included in the record immediately following your opening remarks?
Chairman LEACH. Without objection, so ordered.
Each of these individuals has extraordinary resumes and backgrounds, and I would simply say on behalf of the party that is not the same as the Executive branch, I think the President has done an extraordinary job in his choice of Federal Reserve Board members. Ms. Rivlin and Mr. Meyer were designated by President Clinton and they are first-class appointees.
I would also say that sometimes when you think of the New York Federal Reserve Board and the Fed here in Washington, you think of coastal institutions, which they are, but these three individuals have ties to the Midwest, which I think is very important to all three. Mr. Meyer was recently in St. Louis. Mr. McDonough was recently in Chicago. Ms. Rivlin comes from the Midwest and is married to an Iowan. In fact, of the seven members of the Federal Reserve Board, one is from Iowa City, Iowa. Ms. Rivlin is married to a gentleman from Iowa City, Iowa.
So, the center of power, of monetary policy, I think, can correctly be defined as in the State of Iowa.
Mr. LAFALCE. Mr. Chairman, as I recall the law, it requires a geographical diversification and a balance. Are you suggesting a coup d'etat based upon this concentration geographically?
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Chairman LEACH. What we have done is sneakily put people in other parts of the country to make the appointments, but the real ties are
Mr. FRANK. Mr. Chairman, I did want to note Mr. Sanders is out of the room and if we do want to go back through the failed routine, you might want to wait until he comes back so he can do it.
Chairman LEACH. Good enough.
But I think it is appropriate to begin with the Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve Board. Ms. Rivlin probably has as much respect on Capitol Hill from her prior work as anyone I know. Ms. Rivlin.
STATEMENT OF HON. ALICE M. RIVLIN, VICE CHAIR, BOARD OF GOVERNORS, FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM
Ms. RIVLIN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I think we all feel considerably welcomed here this morning.
I am very glad to be here and I am glad you are having this hearing at this particular moment. Monetary policy, as several of you have observed, is not only important, it is also often mysterious; Mr. Castle said ''arcane.'' It is good to get a wide range of views and to discuss it frequently, and I think it is especially good right now, when the economy in general is going well, but when there is a great deal of uncertainty about what is happening.
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I would like very briefly to discuss three questions. One is, why is the economy doing so well? Especially, why do we have such low inflation at a time when we also have low unemployment?
Second, why is it so important right now, and I believe it is, to keep this good news flowing?
And third, what policies, monetary and other, are needed to keep the performance of the economy strong and sustained?
At the moment, we have the most positive set of aggregate economic statistics in many, many years, indeed, decades.
It is true, as several Members have emphasized, that not everybody is doing well.
People with less skill and education have been falling behind for some time, and that is a very serious situation. But what is good about the overall situation and why the chairman, I think, described it as exceptional, is that it gives us the abilityif the economy can continue with this low inflation and low unemploymentto solve some of the major problems that still do face us. This includes, in particular, raising the overall standard of living and providing opportunities for those with less skill and lower wages to move up in the income scale.
Page 33 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC It has been a surprise to most economists that we do have such tight labor markets with so little inflation. It is important to understand why it is happening, as well as we can, if we want to make it last. Some of the factors leading to this situation are clearly temporary. Some may be more permanent. At the moment, it is too soon to tell.
Some of the surprise that has greeted economists has been that wages and other forms of compensation have not moved up faster in the face of very low unemployment. Why haven't they? In part, we have had an increase in the labor force, with more people coming into work, which has taken the pressure off.
Without these new entrants, unemployment would have been even lower. It is likely that access to new entrants can't continue for too much longer. Some have proposed that worker insecurity is part of the answer, or that less membership in labor unions has mandated wage pressures. It is also possible that employers are bargaining harder to keep wages from rising faster, because they perceive themselves to be in a more competitive situation than they have ever been in before at home and abroad.
We have certainly had lower increases in health costs than had been plaguing us for a very long time, and that has helped keep the cost of total compensation down. And lower inflation expectations themselves mean that wages don't move up as rapidly.
Many of these factors may be temporary. One hopes that many of them are not temporary. Indeed, we are seeing wage increases now and as several people have pointed out, that is good for workers. That is what this is all about, a good economy should produce income increases for everybody.
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The bigger mystery is why prices have been so subdued. Overall, they have not been accelerating. Indeed, producer prices are still falling and that is very good, indeed.
Again, some of the reasons may be temporary and some may be permanent and we aren't quite sure yet. Temporary things include the influence of the strong dollar. The dollar may not get much stronger, but it has certainly helped to keep down import prices. Energy prices have been falling. They won't continue to fall forever. But the really important question is whether we are on the verge of a sustained increase in the growth of productivity. Productivity increases are what we really need to move to a higher sustained growth track and to have a higher standard of living for everyone.
There are some reasons to think that we really are in a new situation. Many of them were detailed in the chairman's statement yesterday. We may be moving to a higher productivity track, though we can't be sure, because it hasn't shown up very clearly in the aggregate statistics yet.
I think it is always important to keep the economy growing on the highest possible growth track and reduce the chances of sliding into recession, but there are at least three reasons why it is particularly important right now. Several of them have been mentioned already.
First, we need to make welfare reform work. That will not be possible if we slide into recession. Only if we keep the unemployment rates low can we have a chance of finding jobs for people who are currently on welfare.
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Also, there is an enormous movement across the country to develop communities. Partnerships between private and public institutions are producing good things in central cities and smaller towns and in rural areas. Unless we can keep this economy growing, those efforts will not succeed. Finally, as has also been mentioned, we need to prepare our economy for having more retirees, and unless we can keep the economy growing and moving on to a higher track, that will be hard. It will be much easier if we are growing faster and if we don't slide into recession.
What kind of monetary policies do we need? I think we need a central bank that is continuously balancing the risks. We don't wantyou don't want us to be slowing down the economy unnecessarily. On the other hand, I don't think you want a central bank that is taking significant risk of the economy overheating, largely because we might then have to rein in harder later and because we might be getting the kind of imbalances in the economy that have in the past precipitated recessions.
The perception now that I think all of us share on the Open Market Committee is that the economy is growing strongly and that there is not much risk, in the near-term, of it sliding into a recession. There is a somewhat greater risk of the economy overheating. That is why we tapped the brakes a little bit in March, and we have to watch and see whether it will be necessary to do that again.
I think the chances of keeping a continued low inflation are enhanced by having a Federal Reserve that is known to be cautious and that is sounding cautious. Unless the Federal Reserve is concerned about inflation, we will have inflationary expectations which tend to be self-fulfilling prophecy.
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But monetary policy, though very important, is not the only policy game in town. Besides a wise monetary policy, we clearly need a much greater emphasis on training and skills and providing people with the ability to earn more wages. Those kinds of programs are more likely to work in an environment where we have low unemployment.
We also need investment. We need it in research and development and technology. That takes saving, it takes both public and private saving. That is why I take such particular pleasure, as I worked on the 1993 budget bill, in seeing the Federal deficit coming down so much more rapidly than any of us thought it could, because that means we have less public dissaving.
We need to assure people that they will have an adequate retirement and that the resources they need will be there. That means we need to address the long-run question of dealing with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, and we need to do it in a way that increases overall saving and investment for the economy.
I can't promise you that the Fed will call everything right. I can, however, promise you that we will try to do our part to keep the good news flowing and to keep inflation down and unemployment down.
I look forward to an exchange of views with the committee.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, and I must say to Mr. Frank, we have seen something here that vindicates any request for another hearing for him, because the Vice Chair under the Fed has inaugurated a group policy that has never been brought before this committee in my memory, and that is that she has read from yellow pages which have not been cleared by Fed staff. That, in and of itself, is worthy of some interest.
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STATEMENT OF WILLIAM J. McDONOUGH, PRESIDENT, FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF NEW YORK
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My pages are white, but also uncleared.
The ultimate goal of monetary policy in the United States today must be to achieve the highest level of sustainable economic growth, which in turn will promote the highest possible standard of living for all our citizens and the greatest number of jobs.
In saying this, however, I want to be clear as to what we can expect monetary policy to do and what we know it cannot do.
What monetary policy cannot do in and of itself is produce economic growth. Economic growth stems from increases in the supply of capital and labor, and from the productivity with which labor and capital are used, neither of which is directly influenced by monetary policy.
But what monetary policy can do is to help foster economic growth by ensuring a stable price environment. The pursuit of price stability involves anchoring inflation at low levels over the long-term, and thereby locking in inflation expectations. In addition, monetary policy can help offset the effects of financial crises, as well as prevent severe downturns of the economy.
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Now, let me make myself clear. Price stability, to me, is the absolutely essential means to produce sustained economic growth. Moreover, there need be no inconsistency between seeking long-run price stability and leaning against short-run business cycles. Indeed, a stable price environment that the public expects to persist almost certainly will enhance the capacity of monetary policy to fight occasions of cyclical weakness in the economy.
In my view, a goal of price stability requires that monetary policy be oriented beyond the horizon of its immediate impact on inflation and the economy. This horizon is on the order of 2 to 3 years and is important for setting the stage for what comes later. The longer-run purpose of today's policy actions should be to lay the foundation for price stability and sound economic growth over the coming decade. This orientation properly puts the focus of a forward-looking policy on the time horizon most important to household and business planning. This is the horizon that is relevant for the definition of price stability articulated by Chairman Greenspan: that price stability exists when inflation is not a consideration in household and business decisions.
But we may well ask, why is price stability so important? Price stability is important because a rising price level, inflation, even at moderate rates, imposes substantial costs on society. These costs are both economic and social. The economic ones are much discussed. Let me concentrate on the social.
The avoidance of unnecessary boom-bust cycles limits the serious social costs that inflation can impose, costs that all too often are underestimated in economists' typical calculations. Inflation may strain a country's social fabric, pitting different groups in a society against each other as each group seeks to make certain its wages keep up with the rising level of prices. Moreover, inflation tends to fall particularly hard on the less fortunate in society. These people do not possess the economic clout to keep their real income streams steady, or even buy necessities when a bout of inflation leads to an increase in the prices they must pay. When the bust comes, they also suffer disproportionately, by being among the first to lose their jobs. They also are not users of sophisticated financial instruments that might help protect their modest savings from confiscation by inflation.
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I am convinced that the less fortunate in our society benefit particularly from an environment of price stability and the economic growth that stability fosters, as we currently are seeing in our economy. Sustained economic growth brings a lower level of unemployment, higher labor force participation and greater availability of jobs to those who are not easily hired because they need more training and more help from their employers.
Unless all parts of society share inand therefore have a stake ineconomic growth, we cannot have the social and political cohesion that is essential to the continuation of growth.
From a personal perspective, I believe that much of the success the Federal Reserve has had in containing inflation in recent years reflects monetary policy actions that preempted inflationary pressures before they actually showed up in general prices.
The main reason we need a preemptive approach is because monetary policy works with uncertain and long-term lags. Because of its long and variable lags, monetary policy requires of Federal Reserve officials the experience and the courage to deal with what will always be a level of uncertainty. The FOMC has been willing to deal with the uncertainty caused by the overestimation of inflation and the underestimation of growth in most economic models in the last year or so.
The committee's monetary policy has been an important ingredient in the excellent economic performance we have been enjoying.
Page 40 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC And so, Mr. Chairman, I believe that the American people, whom we serve, have benefited from a monetary policy aimed at maximizing economic growth through the tool of price stability. That is the approach that should continue to guide the Federal Reserve in carrying out the responsibilities given us by the Congress.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. McDonough.
STATEMENT OF HON. LAURENCE H. MEYER, MEMBER, BOARD OF GOVERNORS, FEDERAL RESERVE SYSTEM
Mr. MEYER. Mr. Chairman and Members of the committee, I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you this morning to discuss my views on monetary policy. I am well aware that despite the recent good performance of the economy, some Members of this committee have reservations about the conduct of monetary policy, specifically the decision to raise the federal funds rate target one-quarter percentage point on March 25th.
I am also aware that there has been a particular interest by some Members, particularly Congressman Frank, in my views, specifically my views about the relevance of the NAIRU concept to understanding recent performance and risks to the outlook. I welcome the chance to discuss these issues with you this morning.
Page 41 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Achieving price stability in the long-run and preventing an increase in inflation in the short-run are not ends in themselves. They are a means to an end, important because they are the best way that the Federal Reserve can contribute to achieving the highest sustainable level of production and the maximum sustainable rate of growth for the American people. This is a key point. While there may be, from time to time, differences about how to reach these common goalsindeed, it would be amazing if there were notthere is no disagreement about the goals.
The history of business cycles has repeatedly taught us that the greatest risk to an expansion comes from failing to prevent an overheated economy. The best way to ensure the durability of this expansion is, therefore, to be vigilant that we do not allow the economy to overheat and produce the inevitable rise in inflation. Failure to heed this lesson of history would result not only in higher inflation, but also in cyclical instability and higher unemployment rates.
Recent aggregate economic performance has been extraordinarily favorable. I have noted on several occasions that U.S. policymakers, including the Federal Reserve, would probably be inclined to accept more credit for this performance if they had forecast it or even could explain how it was possible. Herein lie the challenges. First, how do we explain such favorable performance? And specifically, what accounts for the favorable combination of low inflation and low unemployment? Second, what can monetary policy do to extend the good performance? Specifically, how should monetary policy be positioned, in light of the uncertainties in the current economic environment, so as to balance what I call ''regularities and possibilities.'' Regularities that suggest that there are limits to the economy's productive capacity, at any point in time, and to the growth of capacity over time, and possibilities that suggest that these limits may have become more flexible in recent years.
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In recent years, monetary policy has not simply been guided by historical regularities about the relationship between inflation and unemployment inherited from the 1980's and early 1990's. Rather, monetary policy has been adaptive, pragmatic and flexible in response to evolving economic circumstances. Such an adaptive approach does not throw out the framework that has successfully guided forecasting and policymaking in the past, but attempts, in real time, to adjust that approach based on the current data.
There are, in my judgment, two key issues in the outlook related to monetary policy and these focus on the interaction among growth, utilization rates and inflation. First, will growth rebound to an above-trend rate, raising utilization rates still further? Second, are prevailing utilization rates already so high that inflation will begin to rise, even if growth remains at trend? These are the same questions I raised in my first speech after coming to the board in September, 1996. They are the key questions that have affected my judgment about the appropriate posture of monetary policy over the last year and they remain relevant today.
I have covered in my written testimony my views on the relationship between inflation and unemployment and on how fast the economy can grow, along with a discussion of what factors might explain the recent surprisingly favorable performance of inflation and unemployment. I look forward to expanding upon these topics in response to your questions. Let me conclude with a brief discussion of the March 25th policy move.
The policy action on March 25th was clearly a preemptive one, not based on inflation pressures evident at the time, but on inflation pressures likely to emerge in the absence of policy action. As the chairman has repeatedly emphasized, lags in the response to monetary policy make it imperative that monetary policy be forward-looking and anticipatory, not backward-looking and reactive.
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One of the principles of such a forward-looking monetary policy, in my judgment, is to lean gently against the cyclical winds. This means that when growth is above trend and utilization rates are increasing, it is often prudent to allow short-term rates to rise. Monetary policy should not sit on interest rates and wait until the economy blows by capacity and inflation takes off. To do so would be to risk a serious boom-bust cycle and would require abrupt and decisive increases in interest rates later to regain control of inflation.
A small, cautious step early is the recipe for avoiding the necessity of a sharp and destabilizing move later on. This is why I believe the March 25th move was prudent. I voted in favor of it because I thought it would help prolong the expansion and contribute to the goals of maximum sustainable employment and maximum sustainable growth.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Meyer. Since it is now part of the public record, let me just make it clear Mr. Meyer voted for the increase in March.
Ms. Rivlin, you also did; is that correct?
Ms. RIVLIN. Yes, I did.
Chairman LEACH. And you are both appointees of this Administration; is that correct?
Page 44 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Ms. RIVLIN. That's correct.
Mr. MEYER. Yes.
Chairman LEACH. First, let me return to a theme of the chairman yesterday, and that was the question of growth. Some Members have suggested, and some in the public, that the Fed is biased against growth. Could you respond to that? Is this a valid observation or is it not?
And second, a kind of a subtlety here. Mr. Meyer said you want to preempt a little bit early, which I think is a very thoughtful observation. But in theory, if you had the option of 2 years in which you had 3 percent growth, or the option in which you have in 1 year, 1 percent growth, and the next year, 7 percent growth, which is a better deal? I mean, is steadiness the goal or is the goal the highest rate of growth at the end of a given period of time? Let me first ask Mr. Meyer.
Mr. MEYER. Well, steadiness has its value, to be sure. It is much more difficult to make economic decisions when growth rates are fluctuating all over the place.
But in terms of preemptive policy, it is important to understand the relationship between growth, utilization rates and inflation.
I make the distinction between trend growth and the actual growth rate of the economy. Trend growth is a rate of growth that is possible based on the growth of productive capacity due to increases in labor force and increases in productivity over the long-run. The higher the trend growth rate, the better, as the chairman said in his last testimony.
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I don't think we would really ever make the mistake of suppressing trend growth for the following reason: Let's say that we were at an unemployment rate of 5 percent. If growth was at trend, the unemployment rate would stay the same. That is how we would know if growth was at trend.
I would like the growth rate to be higher; if it is 4, that is better than 3; 5 is better than 4; 6 is better than 5. As long as utilization rates aren't changing, the higher the growth, the better.
High utilization rates are often good, but after some point they signal potentially excess demand. When utilization rates get so high that they result in excess demand, that is when strains come into the economy and that is when there are very dangerous signs that we may be getting to the end of the expansion.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Ms. RIVLIN. In answer to your question, ''are we biased against growth?'' Absolutely not. We are biased in favor of growth. That is what we think we are aiming for. The highest sustainable rate of growth is what the Fed really is trying to achieve.
There are a couple of problems. One is, we don't know what that sustainable rate is. And there are indications that it may be higher than was thought. That depends primarily on whether we are getting more productivity increase and can look forward to more productivity increase than we have had in the past. And I think the jury is still out on that.
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Is steady growth better than unsteady growth? Yes, I think clearly so. And the thing to be avoided, the real risk when you are in the kind of situation we are in now, is that growth might be so high that it did touch off inflation and other kinds of imbalances and tipped us eventually into recession.
The thing we really want to avoid, if we can possibly do it, is a recession in the near-term. Forever.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Let me just quickly ask Mr. McDonough to comment on this: It has been argued that there are real or perceived tradeoffs between inflation and unemployment. In fact, when I was a student of economics, it wasn't quite with the popular wisdom, but it was fairly common almost, that there were ''3-5 principles''3 percent inflation meant 5 percent unemployment and 5 percent meant 3but, I am exaggerating and putting in different numbers.
It is my impression that today any real or perceived tradeoff is no longer academic wisdom and that there is a growing consensus in the academic community that low levels of inflation are more likely to create higher levels of employment, and that that is what the Fed is oriented to.
So my question, as you look at Open Market decisionsof which, as Chairman of the New York Fed you are partthat is your primary driving assumption. Is that valid or not?
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Mr. MCDONOUGH. Well, we assume, Mr. Chairman, that in the economics jargon of your days as a student that the long-term Phillips Curve doesn't exist; that there is no tradeoff. You don't buy long-term economic growth through inflation.
There is a short-term Phillips Curve, which is one of the reasons we can make monetary policy effective and had a great deal to do with Governor Meyer's discussion.
To go back to your question. If you had 1 and 7 coming out of a recession, that is better than 3 and 3, because 8 is better than 6. However, at the very good growth rate we are at now, what we want to avoid doing is getting into a boom-bust cycle, because we are all convinced that after adding up the pluses and minuses of the boom-bust cycle, it will be a lower algebraic total than would be the case if we had sustained economic growth.
Now, what we want is the highest possible level of sustained economic growth. That involves, in our view, a monetary policy which avoids the evils of inflation, especially the social costs of inflation, which I tried to describe.
What we really need in our society, which is not done by monetary policyalthough facilitated by monetary policyis a higher sustained level of investment, taking advantage of the fact that Americans use investment much more efficiently than do other countries around the world, so that we can constantly increase productivity. That is what makes a better life for the American people.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
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Mr. LAFALCE. Thank you. Rather than ask you one specific question, I will try to describe to the three of you some of the, what I refer to as ''felt difficulties'' that I have in dealing with economic issues in generalbut monetary policy issues in particularto see how you respond to them.
One of the difficulties I have is, for a while I thought I had a handle on what might be guiding monetary policy, and I thought it might be a basket of commodities, including gold, and Chairman Greenspan did give some testimony to that effect. Then I was concerned that what might be driving monetary policy might be the Dow Jones, becauseat least in part, and that was at the time of the ''irrational expectations'' speech when the Dow Jones was approximately, as I recall, 6300today it is almost 8100, a 25 percent increase. I am wondering if the judgment with respect to possible irrational expectations that existed then still exist today, and to what extent is that, if at all, a factor?
Another difficulty is dealing with this whole question of inflation. On the one hand, inflation is a problem. On the other hand, inflation is overstated by perhaps 1 percent, at least for the purposes of benefits, most particularly Social Security benefits. How accurate are our measures of inflation? How accurate are our measures of unemployment?
We do an awful lot of extrapolation, an awful lot of guesswork. People stop looking for employment because they can't find a job. They are no longer considered unemployed. That is one way of dealing with the problem, the way George Bernard Shaw suggested that we deal with the problem of the poor. ''Exterminate them.'' We deal with the problems of the unemployed by telling them to stop looking for work.
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I remember once when Chairman Greenspan came in and said that we had been wrong in looking back on the growth in GNP. The Fed was off by about 100 percent. Then, 3 months later he said, ''No, we were off by almost 200 percent.'' And that is even looking back.
Therefore, it would seem to me that before we would do anything like increasing the Federal funds raised, there would have to be a pretty compelling reason. It would seem to me that we should be extremely reluctant to increase interest rates through the raise of the Federal funds rate. And I am wondering what your perspective is on some of the points I have made?
Ms. RIVLIN. Can I start off on that?
The question, ''What is guiding monetary policy?'' has a very clear answer. It is the desire to keep the economy growing at the highest sustainable growth rate. We have all said that several times, but it is really true. It can't be emphasized enough.
So that the other things that you have talked about, baskets of currencies or other measures
Mr. LAFALCE. Commodities.
Ms. RIVLIN. Or commodities. Once you establish that we are aiming at the highest sustainable growth rate, then one also has to say, as we have said several times, that a low level of inflation, we believe, is one of the ingredients of higher growth in the long-term.
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Now, there are lots of ways to measure inflation. The thing that most of us keep our eye on most of the time is the Consumer Price Index because that reflects as closely as possible what most people have to buy and are exposed to.
That is not a perfect index, however. There has been a lot of discussion about that recently. Most of us think that the CPI is somewhat overestimated; that inflation may actually be even lower by maybe half a percent, maybe more, than the Consumer Price Index says it is.
But that, in a sense, is a different issue, because if that is true, it has been true for a long time. And the index that is published and the right index are pretty much parallel.
It is important to get it right, but it isn't what is significant for monetary policy.
There are also various ways of measuring unemployment, and they tend to move together and there is no perfect way to measure.
Mr. LAFALCE. Does anybody else have any comments on some of the difficulties I have expressed?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Well, I could perhaps make a short comment. There is no single indicatoror two or three indicatorsthat we can look at to tell us exactly where the economy is and where it is likely to be 2 years from now.
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The monetary aggregates are not working. The forecasting models are working in fits and starts, and so I think we have to look at everything possible in the employment area, in production costs and especiallyin the case of a Reserve bank president like meyou have to get out of your office and spend a lot of time with real people. Which is why you see me wandering around Buffalo and why I know the Hudson Valley rather well. You have to get out and see real people in order to understand what is happening in the economy and to figure out where it is likely to go.
Mr. LAFALCE. Let me ask you a specific question. If we were to have as a policy a 3.5 percent increase in the GNP per year for the next 5 years, what would you think of that?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I would think it is a great idea. I think I would rather have a larger number, but we as a society would have to invest more in order to crank up our capability of producing that kind of growth level without unleashing the evils of inflation.
Mr. LAFALCE. Mr. Rivlin, could you respond to that specific 3.5 percent?
Ms. RIVLIN. 3.5 is better than 2.5, as Mr. McDonough says. I hope we can grow that fast. I think there are some indications that we canthat we are looking at a higher level of productivity increase than we have had in the past. But realize what this means. Our economy can grow approximately as fast as our labor forceour working labor force is growing, plus productivity. The labor force is growing at about 1 percent per year. Maybe we could rev that up to 1.1 or 1.2, but not much more.
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To get to 3.5 percent growth, you would have to have a productivity increase of about 2.5 percent per year. That's terrific, but we haven't had that level in years. It would be more than doubling the rate of productivity increase of the last couple of decades, and I don't know whether we can do that. There is some indication that productivity is moving up, but is it doubling? I doubt it.
Mr. MEYER. Could I respond to those?
Mr. LAFALCE. Yes.
Mr. MEYER. I want to respond, first, to your question about what guides monetary policy, and then I want to come back and deal with your question about how fast the economy can grow.
As to what guides monetary policy, I think the kind of issues that you were looking at seem to be pretty easy to deal with. We have a certain set of ultimate objectives of monetary policy. We didn't pick those ultimate objectives. You picked them. Congress wrote them into the Federal Reserve Act. You told us that maximum sustainable employment and price stability were the objectives and that is what guides me in terms of monetary policy. I took an oath of office to uphold that Act, and I certainly intend to do so.
Now, I want to pull us back to reality, shall we say, in terms of thinking about economic growth. As an economist, it is my job to set out a disciplined sense of what the possibilities are; that is very, very important. We don't want to get into a dream world and think that we don't have tough choices to make because the economy can grow 3 1/2, 4 1/2, or 5percent; that there could be such bounty that all social problems would go away; and that we don't have tough decisions to make. That is not the case.
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I presented in my written testimony a table which I think is very important. It gave outside estimates, including those from the Council of Economic Advisors, the Congressional Budget Office, and leading economic forecasting firms, of what trend growth is, that is, what the possibilities are. These estimates are in a pretty narrow range. I don't want to say that they are the last word, but they run from 2.1- to 2.3-percent.
When you look for private sector estimates of trend growth, they range from 2- to 2 1/2-percent. Would we like to be at 3 1/2 percent? Absolutely. Can monetary policy get us to 3 1/2 percent if the current trend is 2 1/4? Absolutely not.
Can Congress get us there? Well, honestly, no. But you, Congress, have the tools to make a difference. We have no effect on the long-run trend rate of growth, absolutely none. Congress has an influence through a variety of policies, through the budget deficit policy, through tax policy, and through the composition of spending. You keep asking me to opine on fiscal policy, but I have to tell you, you are the experts on those policies.
I feel like you are putting me into a very unusual position that I should come here and tell you how to set education policy, what to do about the deficit, what to do about tax reform.
My plate is pretty full. I worry day-after-day about monetary policy and about the economic outlook. But it is my job to present a real sense of discipline about what the possibilities are for monetary policy, and I hope my written testimony was a contribution to that end.
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Mr. LAFALCE. I thank you.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Mrs. Roukema, could I ask for 30 seconds, if I could, of your time?
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Absolutely.
Chairman LEACH. You have been generous with your time.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. You are the Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Let me just say very quickly I thought that last statement was very profound, but you took an oath to the Constitution not to a particular law, but that particular law, as Chairman of this committee, I strongly support and I think the majority of the Members do. And I raise this because there is a theory that that law should be changed dramatically only to look at a numerical number rather than at the effect on the economy. And all three of you today made it very clear that your concerns are with the effect on the economy.
And I think that is a very important precept and something I am very appreciative of. I am sorry.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Mr. Chairman, I have two questions and one question follows directly on what you just asked or just commented upon. And the other one follows on what Mr. Meyer just said. Hopefully, I can get it in before a vote comes.
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Mr. McDonough, I am not sure that I interpreted some of your comments accurately, but with respect to the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, I think there were some implicit implications in your testimony that you indicate that stabilization of price supports might be more important than achieving maximum sustainable growth, or maybe both together. But the reason I am asking you is could you clarify what you meant? And do you see any reason to amend or modify Humphrey-Hawkins? Please.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think the Humphrey-Hawkins Act does set out a variety of goals that are supposed to be accomplished. I think a reasonable interpretation is that the primary goal is maximum sustained economic growth. It is a growth bill. The Federal Reserve, as I interpret it, as I carry out my responsibilities, is in the business of maximizing growth.
I am convinced that growth is maximized through the tool of price stability. Price stability is a means to an end. The end, which is always more important than the means, is maximum sustained economic growth.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Yes. Now, do you see any area, either related to that or another area, where you believe that the Act should be amended or modified?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. To tell you the truth, Mrs. Roukema, I am
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Please tell me the truth. That is why I am asking the question. I want the truth.
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Mr. MCDONOUGH.I don't claim to know enough about it. All I know is that the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, as it exists today, gives me all the clarity I need.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. OK. Good.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. So, if the Congress would like to change the emphasis of it so that our marching orders are somewhat different
Mrs. ROUKEMA. I am not proposing that, but I heard some inferences in the opening statements of Members where the question might be raised and I wanted to hear your reaction.
Now, to get to my other question, I was interested in Ms. Rivlin saying that monetary policy is not the only game in town, and Mr. Meyer in some way anticipated my question.
I appreciate what you are doing on monetary policy; I do. But it is not the only game in town. The Congress has an obligation here. And that obligation is currently working its way through what is called a budget bill and a tax bill.
Can you evaluate how you feelparticularly with all of you making such a stress on higher sustained levels of investment, how you think we are doing in terms of the priorities that we have set in the budget agreement and the tax bill? Ms. Rivlin, or Mr. Meyer, whoever would like to go first.
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Ms. RIVLIN. I think one of the best things about the tax bill is that it isn't terribly large, because I think it is more important to get the budget deficit down right now than it is to reduce taxes. The bill presently provides some relief to some of the people who need it most, I think young families with children. That is good. Some of the problems that have been alluded to about income distribution I think could be made better by making sure that the working poor get major benefit from this bill.
I am less enthusiastic about cutting capital gains, because largely it will not have much impact on the economy, and it does tend to reinforce the widening of the distribution of income.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. That last statement surprises me. But Mr. Meyer.
Mr. MEYER. I will briefly opine on fiscal policy, but cautiously so. I agree with the Vice Chair that reducing the deficit is the most important contribution in terms of promoting higher national saving, lowering interest rates, and increasing investment. Number two, with respect to the tax policy
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Do you think we are doing a good job on that in this budget?
Mr. MEYER. I think that, in terms of achieving a balance by 2002, I think it is OK. But, I think there is just way too much emphasis on 2002. It doesn't really matter where we are in 2002 relative to where we are today. Where we are today is about as good as we are going to be in 2002.
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The issue of the changes that you are considering today has nothing to do with where we go in 2002. It is setting a foundation for the more difficult problems that come later, and I think there is inadequate attention to that groundwork. That is what we should be doing and focusing on, and I don't think we have done quite enough in this bill.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Thank you very much. Mr. McDonough, do you wish to comment on that aspect?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. If you will permit me not to comment, I would be delighted not to comment.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. I would permit you not to comment.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate it.
Chairman LEACH. Also do you want to be
Mrs. ROUKEMA. No. They have answered my questions. I think we get a pretty positiveif not an A-plus, we get something like a B-plus maybe, or maybe even an A. Thank you. I am opining. I am opining. Thank you.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Vento.
Mr. VENTO. Thanks, Mr. Chairman. One of the witnesses that is going to appear later today is going to comment about the fact that technological advances achieved in the private sector can permit faster growth with continued low inflation. There are a number of factors, I thought, about that one.
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That is probably a dissertation for most of you, but another factor is, of course, the globalization of our economy. What is happening with that? I have also reflected on our monetary policy during times of problems, and I think this is a more stable time. I think there are still some real challenges here and I think that is why it is good to discuss this today, and I appreciate your being here; but that the globalization issue, in terms of what other central banks are doing, I noticed that for a long time we were kind of being led and now they are following in terms of the value of the dollar and so forth.
Can you comment on those two aspects and technological changes that would permitI guess this would say we are moving away from the one model or the one theory that has been used here. I will leave that to my colleague, Mr. Frank.
Mr. MEYER. The model of the economy that we use to explain growth gives a very prominent role to technological change in raising productivity over time. Now the question that you are asking, however, is whether we are on the verge of some dramatic increase in the rate of productivity growth, because of the innovations that have taken place recently. And the answer is, I hope so. But I don't know. I don't make policy on the basis of hope. I make policy on the basis of what I know.
I look very carefully at these things. I try to look at the data, because there is a qualitative story that would tell us that there is a possibility that the trend growth may be higher. But, again, in terms of monetary policy, it is not that critical, because there is just no way policy is going to suppress a high rate of growth. If trend growth increased and we were suppressing actual growth, the unemployment rate would be rising, and rising, and rising forever. That is not going to happen, I am quite sure.
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Mr. VENTO. I think the real issue here is whether you are leading or following.
Mr. MEYER. The question isyes, I amI am following the data very closely, very closely.
Mr. VENTO. OK.
Mr. MEYER. And that is what I think is prudent to do.
Mr. VENTO. As you point out, it is an art and a science combined. I guess it is a question of emphasizing the art part of it.
Mr. McDonough, do you want to try to respond? He didn't touch globalization.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think technology and globalization go very much hand-in-glove. One of the reasons that the American economy is doing well is that we are the world's leaders in technology. We were worried 10 years ago that the Japanese were going to take over the world in information technology. We have clearly surpassed everybody. That creates great opportunities for the American people.
It may be possibleas Governor Meyer says, we don't know yetthat there may have been an accumulation of investment in computer power and information technology which will kick in and make it possible for us to grow productivity faster and therefore grow the economy better. We do not know that yet. It is a very interesting question, and one has to hope and pray that the answer is yes.
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Globalization also helps the United States, because world trade, especially for a country that is as good and competitive in exports as we are, makes it possible for us to create jobs through these export industries.
Now unfortunately, like most things in life, there is another side of the technology-cum-globalization coin, and that is that it puts an enormous amount of additional benefit on those who are technologically skilled and better educated. It is the single biggest driver behind the disparity of income which a number of you discussed in your opening statements and about which monetary policy can do very little but, in my view, is the major structural problem in our economy.
We don't want to solve the problem by killing technology, but we have to recognize that this greater reward to people who are better educated and better skilled creates a problem for those who are not making it, which we as a society need to focus on.
Mr. VENTO. The education institution itself might be worried.
Governor Rivlin, did you want to respond?
Ms. RIVLIN. I am not sure I have anything to add. I think those are the important points.
Mr. VENTO. Well, you know, we had participated, some of us, in rewriting the legislation in 1978, and we strongly believe in the social goals that are embraced in it, because we think monetary policynotwithstanding the tendency to be modest about what the impact was by then-Chairman Arthur Burns or his predecessorsthat it does have an important role, and in fact we think it is on a par with fiscal policy. And of course the relationship is1 percent here or there, in a $5 trillion debt, does have an impact on fiscal policy.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. Vento.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Thank you.
Mr. McDonough, in answering the questions a minute ago that Mrs. Roukema asked you, I don't think you got to the point that I would like for you to have. Governor Rivlin and Governor Meyer too.
Senator Mack and Congressman Saxton have been toying with the idea of legislation, I think, introduced at least a couple of times to eliminate the maximum employment consideration for the Open Market Committee and to focus on price stability. If that were done, if we were to take that out of the legislation as a part of the criteria legislatively, would it make any difference, in your judgment, to how Open Market decisions were made? And if so, would that be positive or negative?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think that it would make very little difference now, because I believe that the FOMC, in its entirety, its entire membership, believes that price stability is a means to achieve sustained economic growth. So in a way it would say, rather than look at price stability as a means, that is the goal, and we as the Congress of the United States will worry about everything else.
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Mr. MCCOLLUM. And so maximum economic growth would net maximum employment; that is your view?
Governor Rivlin, what do you think?
Ms. RIVLIN. I have a stronger view. I think it would be a mistake to change the law. I think the drafters of Humphrey-Hawkins got it about right. You could reword it, but I don't think it would be sensible to single out price stability or a target inflation rate as the only goal of the Federal Reserve.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. It would make a difference?
Ms. RIVLIN. I think at the margin it might make some difference. But my point is that the Federal Reserve should have as its goal what other economic policymakers have, and I believe that is maximum sustainable growth. And if you go beyond that and say that the only goal is price stability, I don't know that it would make a big difference, but I think it would tip the balance toward
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Governor, I wouldn't argue with maximum sustainable growth, but ''maximum employment,'' those are words that are used in the Act, and those are the words I understand they want to strike, as opposed to ''maximum sustainable growth.'' There is quite a bit in there, of course.
Ms. RIVLIN. I think that would be a mistake. I think all of those things are important and should be weighed by the FOMC in its review of the economy.
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Mr. MCCOLLUM. Mr. Meyer, what is your view?
Mr. MEYER. Well, I had an interesting discussion with Senator Mack before my confirmation hearings, and I respect his thoughtful views on this subject.
My view is that I am a dual objective person. I said so in my opening statement of my confirmation hearings. I believe that we have an influence on employment in the short-run. We don't have an influence in the long-run on the rate of growth, but we do have an influence on employment in the short-run. And I think it is reasonable, therefore, to make us sensitive to the importance of maximum sustainable employment as well as price stability. These are both our goals.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Let me ask you a question related to this. The price of gold has dropped to something like $322 an ounce, I think in part because of the foreign banks, like Australia, selling gold, and there have been some indications this has been encouraged by our Federal Reserve.
What price pressures do you see, Governor Meyer, on the commodities markets in general? And do you think that commodity prices; A, are a good signal of inflation or disinflation?; and, B, is the selling of this gold now making this less a usable tool for the Open Market Committee?
Mr. MEYER. I think it is a perfect example why I have never focused on gold in my own analysis as a particularly useful signal or forecaster of inflation.
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What has happened to gold now is a result of political decisions being made about what the composition of international reserves of central banks around the world. It has nothing to do with inflation expectations.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. But if that were not happening, would it not be more likely?
Mr. MEYER. But there are always assorted other influences on the gold market, and, again, I don't view that as very useful.
The broader commodity markets are a different story. The broader commodity markets have some value, because they tend to be very sensitive early warnings of aggregate demand pressures in the world economy. These are set in world markets.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. And broader commodity markets being what?
Mr. MEYER. I am talking industrial raw materials rather than food and oil, because those are very volatile. Industrial raw materials can be of some value, but they have a very small weight in the determination of overall prices, and therefore they are almost always overweighted in people's forecasts about what inflation is going to be. They are not unimportant, but there are many, many factors that are much more important in the determination of prices than commodity prices.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Could I, with the indulgence of the Chairman, get Governor Rivlin and Mr. McDonough to respond?
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Chairman LEACH. I think this is important.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. I would appreciate their views.
Ms. RIVLIN. Mine are similar. I have never had a great focus on gold, and I think the current situation simply justified that.
High gold prices sometimes are an indicator of high inflationary expectations. People hold gold because they think the price of everything else is going up. We don't have that at the moment, and that is good. But I think Governor Meyer has put the argument about commodity prices just about right.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. But if you saw the price of gold going up steeply or sharply, that might be some signal that inflation might be on the horizon because of the psychological result of the marketplace? Is that your thinking?
Ms. RIVLIN. I think that is possible, but I wouldn't give it enormous weight.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Mr. McDonough.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Let me just clarify a fact issue, since because of the distribution of responsibility among senior central bankers, if anybody had been encouraging the foreign central banks to sell gold, I would have been the person. That is part of my job. I can assure you, no such encouragement was given. We don't tell them what to do with their goldbuy, sell, or keep it.
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As regards the gold price, I think if you saw the gold price move up, first of all, you would want to know why. If all of a sudden everybody in India decided to get married 6 months from nowwhich is a big main source of demand for jewelry gold, then you would say that romance is in, in India. On the other hand, if it were sort of a generalized approach to the gold price going up, you would have to ask yourself a question about whether inflationary expectations internationally were increasing. That should be something one should be concerned about. That is about the only signal it would give you.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. And the commodity basket?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think the commodity basketI agree exactly with what Governor Meyer said about it.
Mr. MCCOLLUM. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Frank.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you.
At one level of formulation, I think we all agree, but clearly there are differences. Let me try to summarize what I think the differences are. You say price stability is very important and therefore you must act to protect price stability. The problem I have is that we have had price stability for some time and you aresome of you, acting as if we didn't. That is the problem.
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I agree, Governor Meyer, you should not act out of hope, but I think you have to some extent been acting out of fear, and I think that is an equally bad idea. Some do say we should always err on the side of caution, but that means more unemployment. And I appreciate your saying maybe in the long-run it doesn't affect employment, but it does in the short-run. Everybody I know is employed in the short-run. I don't know anyone that has a job 11 years from now. Keynes was right; in the long-run, we will all be dead. Obviously, we are talking about this short-run.
My problem is this. I believe you Governor Meyer, cited train lines, estimates for various people in the NAIRU, but the problem I have is this. If you had been here 2 years ago citing all of those experts and all of those authorities, they would have been wrong. They would have been significantly wrong on the pessimistic side. And so I now feel that I have to quote MarxChico''Who am I supposed to believe, you or my allies?'' The fact is that you are citing a set of statistics and a set of indicators that I think have been proven inaccurate over 2 years.
I agree, we have an open question. Is that a one-time inaccuracy or not? You address that, and I think that it is probably a one-time inaccuracy. But at the very least, it seems that you are not entitled to simply cite those things. That is my problem. Of course, long-term price stability is a good thing.
And, Mr. McDonough, you are one of the few from the Fed who are willing to make the CPI a two-way ratchet. Usually we have people from the Fed telling us inflation is a problem, and they cite the CPI with no adjustment, but then they tell us we are giving the poor old people too much money in Social Security, and they tell us the CPI always overstates inflation. If it overstates inflation for the poor old people, it overstates inflation for the economy. And I appreciate you taking that into account.
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Here is my problem. On that accountby the way, I believe, by the Fed's own acknowledgment, the March increase was wholly unnecessary. I hope it wasn't damaging, but it was clearly based on assumptions about growth which turned out not to be true. Mr. Greenspan acknowledged that. You voted for the March increase, and I think it clearly was proven to be unnecessary. Things began to drop in the second quarter, and nobody thinks that the March increase caused that.
Here is the problem. Yes, price stability is a good thing. There is a lot of the empirical evidence of the last couple of years is that we can sustain more growth than we thought without endangering price stability. And you are acting to some extent as if that didn't happen and wasn't true, and you are telling us that you have to err on the side of caution.
Well, Mr. Meyer, let me ask you: You say Professor Gordon is saying the NAIRU is 5.4 to 5.9. How long have we been under the NAIRU then, by your estimate, and what negative consequences have happened? And are you convinced that there are going to be negative consequences?
For how long have we been under the NAIRU, and by how much? And why have we seen no negative consequences of it yet, and when do you think we will?
Mr. MEYER. Your point is well taken. You ought to have less confidence in this model, less confidence in the estimate of NAIRU, because of everything that has gone on. You are absolutely right. I agree with you. I have less confidence in it, too. But I believe, because of the extraordinary value and reliability of this concept and estimate earlier
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Mr. FRANK. How long have we been under it?
Mr. MEYER. I have said since I came to the board that I thought NAIRU might be 5.5 percent. We averaged 5.4 percent in 1996. We have been significantly under the estimate of NAIRU, in my judgment, for about 3 months.
The lags involved in monetary policy are very long. We will not have a test of whether we are below NAIRU until about the middle of 1998. That is the whole point.
Mr. FRANK. First, I am pleased to get your estimate at 5.5, because you had a range of 5.4 to 5.9 here.
Mr. MEYER. Those were outside estimates.
Mr. FRANK. Right. But you think 5.5. We have been under it, I thought, for more than 3 months.
Mr. MEYER. Well, 5.4 was the average in 1996.
Mr. FRANK. But now we are into the seventh month. You don't have to apologize to me for saying that we are only slightly under it. I am glad. I am not worried. You are worried. You don't have to reassure me. If your message is we are not sufficiently under what you think the NAIRU is to worry about, then we have a happier time than I anticipated, and I am glad.
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Mr. MEYER. Let me make it a little bit more interesting for you. You say that we should certainly not have made the move in March, because what we worried about didn't happen, because growth slowed down. I completely disagree with that. I have called that monetary policy action ''just-in-time monetary policy.'' I believe it was worthwhile.
When we were making that decision, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. My judgment was that the momentum in growth was so strong that I believed that the unemployment rate was going to move down to or below 5 percent over the next 6 months. It moved down to 4.8 percent. Now it is up to 5 percent, but the point is, it did move down. It was utilization rates that were the issue here. In my judgment, monetary policy should result in interest rates being pro-cyclical. When the economy is growing above trend and utilization rates
Mr. FRANK. First of all, what I am saying is that I think you are disregarding evidence that the trend is better than it has been, and specifically when you talk about the slowdown. But it did slow down. You are now telling me that we are not significantly below the NAIRU. Do you think that the March increase is the reason that we didn't grow faster?
Mr. MEYER. No. Monetary policy
Mr. FRANK. Let me say two things. It is one thing to say, ''at the time I made the right decision,'' but I think in retrospect the explanations given for it were simply wrong, that the growth rate didn't continue at the high level that it was at then and it didn't stop the growth rate.
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Further, if you knew in March what unemployment and inflation and growth rate figures were going to be for the succeeding months, you still would have voted for the increase?
Mr. MEYER. That is correct.
Mr. FRANK. Why?
Mr. MEYER. Because the issue wasn't the growth rate. The fact of the matter is, the growth rate in the first half of the year was stronger than I anticipated when the decision was made in March.
Mr. FRANK. But if the issue wasn't the growth rate, why did you raise interest rates?
Mr. MEYER. You are absolutely right. The issue was the expectation that utilization rates would rise further from already high levels. The expectation, by the way, was realized immediately. It was done in anticipation of an increase in utilization rates which, indeed, happened immediately.
Mr. FRANK. Are utilization rates, and have they been in this quarter, at an unsustainable high level?
Mr. MEYER. What?
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Mr. FRANK. Are the utilization rates at an unsustainable high level now?
Mr. MEYER. We will only know that over time.
Mr. FRANK. You don't have an opinion on that?
Mr. MEYER. I have given my opinion on it.
Mr. FRANK. I missed it. Give it to me againslower.
Mr. MEYER. I am concerned that the utilization rates may already be so high
Mr. FRANK. My problem is that this is a confirmation of what I thought. We are not significantly below the NAIRU, but now you
Mr. MEYER. By my estimate, half a percentage point.
Mr. FRANK. I am just quoting you.
Mr. MEYER. But, Mr. Frank
Mr. FRANK. Excuse me. You said we are not significantly below. What I am saying is, there seems to be a kind of, ''let's find a reason to justify putting on the brakes,'' and I think that this can translate that this is an unfortunate pessimism that is there.
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I reject the notion that you are supposed to err on the side of caution, because all the errors are on the side of slowing down. Nobody ever thinks about erring on the side of maybe avoiding some unemployment, and I think that adds up to a bias that is unfortunate.
I am not saying that you are biased against growth. Obviously, you are not. You are biased against, in my judgment, the interpretation of the most recent set of statistics that suggest that we can sustain more growth than we have been. I think it is cultural lag, rather than bias that is our problem.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you. The time of the gentleman, who has implicitly acknowledged that he speaks faster than he listens, has expired.
Mr. FRANK. I find it much more interesting when I speak than when I listen, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. So do the rest of us.
Mr. SANDERS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I will try to speak slower. ''Fat chance,'' says Mr. Frank.
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One of the concerns that I have in terms of what is going on in American society, is that we have the lowest voter turnout in the industrialized world. The next congressional election, I am guessing 65 percent of the American people don't vote. They don't really care much about what you say. They don't care much about what I say, what Congress does. They think Congress and the United States Government is largely irrelevant to their lives.
And one of the reasons, I think, that they feel that is when they hear statements from people in governmental policy such as Alan Greenspan, and many others, who say that the economy today is performing in an exceptional way.
Now, in 1994, earnings for production workers were $389 compared to $444 in 1979, in 1994 dollars. What we have experienced over the last 20 years is a precipitous dropdeclinein the wages and the standard of living of tens of millions of American workers. In 1995, according to Business Week, the average compensation for corporate CEOs increased by 54 percent.
See, I think that is where Mr. Greenspan got the idea of an exceptional economy. He forgot that most people weren't corporate CEOs. But for average workers during that year, there was a 3 percent increase.
The last statistics that I have seen from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that last year, compensation went up by 2.9 percent, which indicates that if we understand the people at the very bottom got a bump, because of a rise in the minimum wage, the average American worker's standard of living continues to go down. People are working longer hours for lower wages, and in my State you find people working two jobs, three jobs, begging for overtime. Women who would prefer to stay home with their kids are now forced to work.
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CEOs are now earning 200 times what their workers are making. We have the largest gap between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world. I don't hear so many people talking about that issue.
If we are here to represent the middle class and the working class of this countryand I know the word ''working class'' offends people. Maybe I am the only one who feels that we do not live in a classless society. When you have CEOs making 200 times the workers, we have the most unfair distribution of wealth.
I want to ask you some pointed questions. Am I the only person who thinks that the economy is not exceptional when tens of millions of workers have seen a decline in their standard of living? And when we have the largest gap between the rich and the poor in the industrialized world? Who wants to tell me that you all think that the economy is just exceptional? Please come to Vermont and help me explain that.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I would be happy to try on that.
Alice, you want to go?
Ms. RIVLIN. I would be happy to.
''Exceptional'' doesn't mean ''perfect.'' What it does mean is that we have lower unemployment and lower inflation than we have had in several decades, and that gives us the chance to correct some of the problems you are talking about.
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I share your view that CEOs and quarterbacks and lots of other people probably make more money than they are worth. That is not a problem I can solve. The bottom end of the income distribution is much more important. We have the chance now, with low unemployment, to move people up in the income distribution.
Mr. SANDERS. Other brief comments? Do you all agree with Ms. Rivlin?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I would like to add something to it. The fact that we think that the economy has been behaving unusually well does not mean that there are not some problems in society. I think there are some serious problems in society in regard to the ability of people in the bottom, say, quintile of our society, to make it out of the situation in which they find themselves. I am very sensitive to that. I was an orphan, who was on relief, who got to where I am today because in the United States of America that was possible.
Now you, above all else, but also the Federal Reserve operating in its capacity, have to address those problems in our society which are very serious and need looking at, but there is absolutely nothing that lowering interest rates will do to solve those problems.
Mr. SANDERS. You used the words, Mr. McDonough, ''exceptionally well'' What I am suggesting to you, is that if people work longer hours for lower wages, if their standard of living is in decline, the economy is not working ''exceptionally well.''
You can tell me, and I will accept, unemployment is low. True. Inflation is low. True. But you know what is more important for tens of millions of Americans? How they are doing. And if people are going out working 50, 60, 70hours a week to pay the bills, if at one time in our economy one breadwinner could provide for one family and now you need two, how can you, with a straight face, tell the people that the economy is doing ''exceptionally well''?
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You can say truthfully that inflation is low. No argument. You can say truthfully unemployment is low. No argument. But come up with new criteria. Say those things, but don't say that the economy is doing exceptionally well.
My next questionwe don't have a whole lot of time. The United States has the most unfair distribution of wealth in the industrialized world. The richest 1 percent own 42 percent of the wealth, more than the bottom 90 percent. Mr. Gates makes a billion dollars more every day, and people down below are having a hard time surviving.
What are you going to do about the unfair distribution of wealth, so that we do not have that dubious distinction of, on the one hand, having a proliferation of millionaires and billionaires and, on the other hand, having the highest rate of child poverty in the industrialized world? Twenty-two percent of our kids are in poverty; proliferation of millionaires and billionaires. What are you going to do about that?
Mr. MEYER. I would like to answer that question, and I don't mean to be disrespectful, and I hope this will not seem too sharp, but I am going to give you a very simple answer. What am I going to do as a member of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System voting on monetary policy? What am I going to do about income inequality? The answer isnothing.
One of the most important things that you have to understand as a policymaker is what you are capable of achieving and what you are not capable of achieving. I envy you the position that you have as a Member of this body and as a Member of Congress, because these are the very issues, the heart of the problems, that we are facing today.
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And you are absolutely right. I think you are right on in your comments. And I apologize for focusing on some of the issues that macroeconomists focus oninflation and the low unemployment rateand not giving attention to the slow rate of growth in productivity, the slow average rate of increase in the standard of living, and the fact that, in that context many people are falling behind. You are absolutely right, we do need to focus public policy on that. It is the most important thing we can do.
The only thing I want to do is throw it back to you. Monetary policy has one instrument and two goals. Some people think that we have too many goals already, and you want us to do something about the income distribution. Frankly, I don't know how to do that.
Mr. SANDERS. Let me see if I can help you. Let me ask you: Some of usI introduced legislation to raise the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour, so that low-wage workers might get a boost; people making $6 or $7 an hour might make a little bit more money. We have to make that decision, not you. Are you going to be supportive of those efforts?
Mr. MEYER. that is not my favorite way of handling it. I prefer what I call ''opportunity legislation.''
The problem in the United States is that we have the vision that we are supposed to be the land of opportunity, but it isn't working like it is supposed to work. We need opportunity legislation so that people can be assured that they will have equal opportunity. That means education; that means training.
Page 80 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. SANDERS. Will you then suggest that we should raise taxes on upper-income people to put more money in education to make college affordable for everybody? How is that?
Mr. MEYER. I am not saying that we have to raise it. It is a question of spending priorities.
Mr. SANDERS. But some people, both in the Clinton Administration and Republicans, are supporting huge tax breaks for the rich. What do you think about doing away with those and putting more money into education, so that we can have opportunity? Do you support that?
Mr. MEYER. I am not going to make a judgment at this point about where that money should come from, and, of course, education is a very complicated subject in terms of where the education dollars get spent. But education and training are the kinds of things that are absolutely important. I think the earned income tax credit is extremely important. It seems to me that that is a much better way of helping working families.
Mr. SANDERS. Will you support us in expanding the earned income tax credit? You just told us it was a good idea.
Mr. MEYER. I am simply not going to take positions on every single matter of fiscal policy.
Mr. SANDERS. Let me conclude, Mr. Chairman
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Mr. MEYER. I don't go around the country and give speeches about fiscal policy, about education, about these things. I go around the country talking about what I spend every single day focusing on, and that is economic outlook, monetary policy, bank regulation, financial modernization, consumer protection, and so forth.
Mr. SANDERS. Thank you very much.
I would simply conclude by saying this. I conclude by how I began. Most Americans could care less what you think, and what I think. They have given up on the political process. You should be ashamed and concerned about that. We should be ashamed. We have the lowest voter turnout in the industrialized world, and if somebody does not start paying attention to middle-class workers, and lower-middle-class workers who are falling further and further behind, rather than talking about the ''exceptional'' economy, we are not going to live in a democracy.
Mr. MEYER. I disagree.
Chairman LEACH. In case anybody doesn't think our committee has diversity, they are wrong. And in case anyone doesn't think that people of diverse views don't have fundamental truth in some of the things they say, they are also wrong.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 82 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I think Ms. Velázquez had asked to have some questions submitted, so I ask unanimous consent that I could submit some questions on her behalf for the panel, if that is all right with the Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Without objection.
Mr. BARRETT. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I would like to follow down the road maybe that Mr. Sanders was going down. And I viewed the news yesterdayI was, frankly, happy to hear Mr. Greenspan be very upbeat on the economy, and I agree that this isat least in my adult lifesort of an unprecedented time in some quarters of our economy, with low unemployment, with low inflation, with the stock market doing very well.
And as I was reading some of the news reports, one of the things that struck me was one of the factors, or actually two of the factors that were cited by some observers as to why we are in this unusual situation. The first factor was insecurity among workers, and the second factor was the lack of aggressiveness, in particular, by organized labor, or maybe lack of effectiveness by organized labor, to help push up wages.
Mr. Meyer, I understand where your role is not to do anything, and I don't want to restate whatever you said. I concur with it. But I am wondering. I was sitting here thinking, ''I wonder what they think about or what they talk about when they are in that room? Like most Americans have this sort of ''Wizard of Oz'' view of what goes on behind the closed doors.
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Does the insecurity of American workers ever come into play in this discussion of what you do, Mr. Meyer?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Do you want me to answer that? I have been there longer than any of these people.
Mr. BARRETT. I will ask all three of you.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Chairman Greenspan brought up the possible theory that people have decided that they are more concerned about job security than they are about getting a pay raise. If that is so, we are not saying that is a good thing or a bad thing, but if it exists, then it is a partial explanation of why wage pressures have been so low. Again, we are not saying it is a good thing or it is a bad thing, but if you observe it, then you should decide whether to take it into consideration.
I think what you find at the table of the Federal Open Market Committee is a bunch of people who are trying to do their jobs very well. Some of us, like Governor Meyer, are trained economists. I, thank God, stopped studying economics in 1962 with an MA, and therefore I tend to look at things much more as a banker, which I did all of my life, but somebody who, because of historical accident, is terribly interested in the social well-being of the less well off. So I kind of bring that to the table.
And then we all talk and share views. And in the process of the meeting, a consensus is formed. And the consensus is that this is what we need to do to sustain economic growth in order to sustain the greatest number of jobs.
As Vice Chair Rivlin said earlier, can we guarantee you that we will always be right? Of course not. You have got 12 voting human beings, and therefore it is possible that sometimes we will be right; I hope most of the time. And occasionally we will be wrong.
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Now, another thingthe reason I volunteered to head offthat the 12 Reserve Bank presidents can do is that we have an unbelievably good bully pulpit from which to try to influence the people in our community to attack problems that don't have anything to do with monetary policy but have a lot to do with people being better off.
Let me just tell you a tale of something we did recently at the New York Fed. I am a great, great believer in the community development corporations, because the leadership of the community form them. They go into a community, and they know what their problems are and how to solve them infinitely better than I do.
The kickoff speaker at this event was the Reverend Calvin Butts, a superb human being who is the pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He knows more about Harlem than I ever can. But, what I can do is to bring the leaders of the business community together with the real leaders of the communitythe real people, as I call thembring them together so that they can accomplish something.
One of the things that was accomplished was that Frank Newman, the head of the Bankers Trust Corporation, formed a group of financial leaders and they created a multimillion dollar pool to make grants to community development corporations, because frequently you have got the leadership, you have got the ideas, but you don't have any money. So we have got to start it. That is the kind of thing that we can do that has very little to do with monetary policy, but can help solve real problems.
Mr. BARRETT. I appreciate that.
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Ms. Rivlin, do you want to comment?
I guess I can't accept the notionand I think you both stated it very honestlythat there is a sort of morally neutral element here. I don't think it is good for society to have the masses insecure about their jobs, and I think to the extent that you have a bully pulpit, I think that bully pulpit should be used.
And I recognize that you don't have the tools to perform three or four different things, but to accept the notion that one of the reasons that we have low unemployment and low inflation is that everybody is terrified about losing their job next Friday I don't think is really a great thing for the masses in this country, and it seems as though no one at the Federal Reserve cares about that at all.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. There is a big difference between observing something and not caring about it. I wouldn't spend my time thrashing about the Second Federal Reserve District trying to create more development and get more jobs if I were indifferent to the situation.
Mr. BARRETT. But I don't hear anybody speaking out in an atmosphere where there are massive layoffsand I agree that every one of you wants to see more jobs created. What I am talking about is that the people who have the jobs, who are told that, ''Your jobs are going to be moved to Mexico if you try to have a wage increase. We are going to downsize you and move your jobs to another part of the country.'' I think that there is a moral element here that I hear nothing about.
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Ms. RIVLIN. I agree with that. I think that there is a moral element, and it comes into play very strongly in the board room at the Federal Reserve.
You asked the question of whether we talk about it. We talk about a lot of the things that we have been talking about here. I didn't make any point in my statement that I haven't made to my colleagues. The most important thing right now is to keep this economy growing at the highest sustainable rate and keep labor markets tight.
It is good to have tight labor markets. And the reasons for thatsome of the ones I enumerated in my statementare that that is the way we raise the living standards for the least fortunate. That is way you make welfare reform work. That is the way we make community development work. Those are very important things to be doing, and we may disagree on how to do it, but that is what we all want to do.
Mr. FRANK. Would you yield?
I would ask for 10 seconds, Mr. Chairman, to make a point.
Chairman LEACH. Without objection.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you.
Governor Rivlin, I am delighted to hear you say that you think we should keep labor markets tight, but that is not what the Fed is doing. As a matter of fact, tight labor marketsfor example lower unemploymentis a bad thing. At this point, we are being told that they are too tight, that we are too much below the NAIRU, and I think that is, unfortunately, the opposite end.
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Mr. Barrett's point has particular poignancy. Not only do the workers now have this insecurity, but as long as we are told growth is going to have to be limited in the short-run, they don't even get the benefit of that insecurity. They don't even get the benefit. But I simply cannot accept that you are in favor of tight labor markets as a board when, in fact, it is tightness in the labor market that led you to raise interest rates.
Ms. RIVLIN. The tightness in the labor market is a very beneficial thing to the economy now. We are getting millions of people who have jobs
Mr. FRANK. Was it beneficial in March when you raised rates?
Ms. RIVLIN. We have millions of people who have jobs and job experience that they would not have had. The Chairman made a major point of that in his statement. I happen to believe that one of the things that will enable us to keep the unemployment rate coming down is exactly that, that as people with less job experience who would have been unemployed get trained and job experience
Mr. FRANK. The fact is, for the majority of your board, if the unemployment rate came down significantly, they would be advocating raising the interest rates right now. That is what this hearing is all about, and that is my problem.
Ms. RIVLIN. But I don't think that is right.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. That is not the way the Federal Open Market Committee has been behaving.
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Mr. FRANK. Mr. Meyer, wouldn't you feel that if we were too far below the NAIRU, they would be obligated to move rates?
Mr. MEYER. I would argue that since there is uncertainty about where that particular point is. I don't put emphasis so much on that particular point. When you are close to it, then as utilization rates increase, you have to
Mr. FRANK. Can you answer in 10 seconds?
Mr. MEYER. That is what I have consistently said.
Mr. FRANK. I want to declare a partial victory. If I am told I am wrong to think that a reduction in the unemployment rate would cause you to raise rates, I am delighted to be wrong, never happier to be wrong.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Barrett.
Mr. BARRETT. I think my time has expired.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Hinchey.
Mr. HINCHEY. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And let me thank our three guests for their obvious sincerity and the candor of their answers to these questions. I think this has been a very helpful discussion.
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At least by inference, perhaps more directly by Mr. Meyer, there have been a number of suggestions that the Fed does not deal with fiscal policy and to a large extent the problems that we are talking about are problems that can only be dealt with by fiscal policy or a combination of fiscal and monetary policy.
There is a role for fiscal policy that is not being met. It has been the failure of this Congress and previous Congresses going back under both parties for more than a decade, in my opinion, that have abjectly failed to deal with their responsibilities with regard to fiscal policy. Those reasons, along with the tight monetary policy of the Federal Reserve, is causing the great disparity of wealth and income that we have seen recently. Civilian compensation under the latest measurement has risen at 2.9 percent, inflation at 2.3 percent, creating a .6 point difference on the positive side for the American workers. That is one of the first times in recent months that we have seen that kind of progress in years, which is great, but it is still not enough.
My question is, what can we do, what can you do, to get that .6 of a percent up to where it ought to be so that a majority of people in our economy can begin to feel the benefits of this economic growth that we are experiencing?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. We can reduce inflationary expectations, which is what well-sustained monetary policy can do. And in the process of reducing inflationary expectations, we can make the economy grow better. That is, in my view, the only thing we can do directly to attack it.
Page 90 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You are absolutely right that what we really need to do to solve the major problem in society is a combination of good fiscal policy and good monetary policy. If you get the two together, we can do a lot of good for the people.
Ms. RIVLIN. I would put it a little differently. I think we can have, to the extent that we know how to do it, a monetary policy that will keep the economy growing as fast as it can and keep the unemployment rates down. I think we are in a good spot now. Things are beginning to move at the bottom of the wage distribution particularly, and we need to keep this going.
Mr. HINCHEY. Let me attempt to posit a theory as to why we have low inflation at the same time we have this strong economic growth, and it is simply this: We have broken the economic contract, or the social contract. The social contract in this country has been broken as a result of a variety of phenomena that have occurred in recent years. One is that you have about one-third as many people engaged in organized collective bargaining than you had several decades ago; 30 percent of the workforce as opposed to 11 percent of the workforce today. That weakens the bargaining position of the working men and women of this country and weakens their ability to achieve greater economic justice in the marketplace.
Also, we have had an extraordinary level of technological advancement, which is not adequately factored into the decisionmaking process yet, in my opinion.
Also, you have had trade agreements, such as NAFTA and GATT. You can today, if you are an American manufacturer or if you are selling manufactured goods in the United States, no matter what your nationality might be, go to Kwandong, hire a factory worker for $30 a month. He will work for you for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, for $30 a month. That puts pressure on the American worker, and that keeps inflation down, and that keeps wages down.
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The end of the Cold War. One of the things that the Soviet Union did was to educate their people, and they now have an extraordinary surplus of educated people. So if you are an engineering firm in the United States, you can contract for scientists in St. Petersburg, Russia, to work for you for $150 a month, and you can get first-class science for $150 a month from that worker, that scientist, that engineer in St. Petersburg. That puts pressure on the American work force. That holds wages down. And none of these events are adequately factored into the decisionmaking process that goes on in this town either by the Federal Reserve Board or by the Congress of the United States.
And the people who are suffering are the American working man and woman, because they have not been permitted to participate anywhere near the level that they expect to participate in this strong economic growth that we are experiencing, and, consequently, all of the money is going to a handful of people in our society.
The Clinton Administration has started to reverse that, but not enough yet. And holding down the deficit is not enough. We have got to have, as you have suggested, a fiscal policy which promotes growth and a better economic condition for workers. But we have also got to have a different psychology, in my view, respectfully, at the Federal Reserve Board which recognizes that the ball game has changed. We are playing today by a whole new set of rules. The old set of rules is out the window. We haven't adjusted to the new set of rules.
Mr. McDonough, you said something I thought was very profound and interesting. ''Price stability is the best means to achieve maximum economic growth and maximum employment.''
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That is an interesting statement in a sense that it already has done what some of our colleagues want to do with Humphrey-Hawkins. It already has said that price stability is paramount, and the way to achieve the other requirement of the charter of the Federal Reserve and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act is simply by focusing your attention on one side of the equation, on the price stability side, and not on the maximum growth side and not on the maximum employment side.
It is a psychological barrier that we need to cross. And if we can cross that psychological barrier, both you, the Fed, and we, the Congress, we can begin to achieve the kind of economic growth that the people in this country really deserve.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think we may not have a psychological barrier but a communications barrier. My viewand I believe it is the collective view of the FOMCis that the goal is sustained economic growth. Within our powers, the best contribution we can make to that is through price stability, because if we have that, then the other thingssuch as fiscal policycan be better applied. Moreover, it is likely that you will have an atmosphere in which both businesses and households will be willing to invest, and the economy will grow more.
What it does not get at well at all, which you are very concerned about and I am very concerned about, is the disparity of income problem.
Now, if an economy is creating wealth, there is more to spread around. There is a very clear issue of how it is being spread. Since quarterbacks don't hit small womenbut might hit tall men, I am not going to say quarterbacks are overpaid, but clearly there is a distribution of income problem in our society which we need to look at.
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As a citizen, I am going to be batting the drums to have you ladies and gentlemen working on that. But in our business of monetary policy, the best thing we can do to contribute to the overall success of public policy is to achieve maximum economic growth by stabilizing prices. That we firmly believe in, and some of usI think all of usfirmly believe that there are other problems in our society that need to be solved. But if we start trying to solve them by bad monetary policy, we just make it worse, we don't make it better.
Ms. RIVLIN. I agree with that. The one thing we want to avoid, in the interest of a strong economy, is making some of the mistakes that other countries have made. If you spend any time in France and Germany these days, you realize that in the interest of protecting workers, in part, they now have found themselves in a situation with 12- and 13-percent unemployment and they don't know how to get out of it, and that is self-perpetuating, too. They are raising a whole generation of young people who have very little opportunity ever to have a job or job experience.
We really need to remember that the benefit of having job growth and low unemployment is that we are doing exactly the opposite. We are making it possible for more people to learn and to move up.
Mr. HINCHEY. I am not suggesting, if I may, Mr. Chairman, with your forbearance, that we ought to be following or imitating what is going on in France or Germany. What I am saying is that we ought to have a monetary policy that allows for stronger economic growth.
Page 94 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC The Philips Curve, in effect, has shifted as a result of those phenomena that I mentioned. This is a changed circumstance, and we ought to have a Federal Reserve policy that allows for economic growth, that encourages economic growth.
I would agree with you more, Mr. McDonough, if I did not know that the Congress of the United States has, in effect, tied its hands and eviscerated any ability to have a pro-growth fiscal policy. There is no pro-growth fiscal policy in the Congress of the United States these days, as a result of the binds that this Congress has constructed for itselfnot just this particular one, but this and previous oneswhich make it virtually impossible for the Congress to adopt a fiscal policy that is growth-oriented.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I think it is difficult to make it growth-oriented in the Keynesian sense, but let me use my own town as an example. New York City spends plenty of money on the public school system, but the public school system isn't very good. What the mayor and the school authorities wisely did is, they brought in a terrific school chancellor. The State legislature in Albany changed the law and gave the chancellor the power so he could do something.
A lot of us in the private sector are working very, very closely with him in order to bring the private sector in. He was sitting with me at lunch one day, and he said, ''I would like to create an internship program for a thousand 16-year-olds so that they can get work experience.'' And I said, ''Terrific. We will take the first 25.'' And we now hope we can get this going next summer.
If we have great fiscal restraint, which we certainly do, I think what we have to concentrate on is using the money wisely. And in this New York City example, I can tell you, the way things are going, we are going to be producing a lot better educated kids in the next few years than was the case in the past, with no additional expenditures, just using the money smarter.
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Chairman LEACH. The time of Mr. Hinchey has expired.
Let me make an announcement. It is the Chair's intent to go straight through. We have been fortunate to not have votes on the floor, and I am very apprehensive that that process will start, and so the next panel will proceed immediately after this panel. For panelists, there is a carryout shop on the floor below us.
Mr. FRANK. Mr. Chairman, we can waive the rule against testifying with your mouth full.
Chairman LEACH. Well, in the oldest extant book of etiquette in the United States written by George Washington at the age of 16, one of his admonitions is: Speak not with your mouth full.
Mr. FRANK. That is if you have wooden teeth, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Bentsen.
Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I apologize for having to leave. I had to pick up my children and deposit them somewhere else. But I did have some questions that I really did want to ask you. Then I have to leave to go to another thing, so I apologize for that in advance.
Page 96 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC First of all, Mr. Meyer, in reading your testimony, I have a couple of questions. One, you seem to be stating that you think that the lower unemployment rate, low inflation is not a result, necessarily, of temporary factors but is a transition within the economy. In part, worker insecurity, which I think we all would agree is probably a bad labor policy for this country; but in addition, you seem to be stating that somewhere productivity is increasing, maybe in the product side more than the labor side.
Yesterday, Mr. Greenspan testified that unit labor cost had been flat over the recent period. One thing that we have always been told, those of us who are concerned about income distribution and wage stagnation, at least at the middle and lower ends, has been that to get away from wage stagnation, you have to increase productivity commensurate with increasing output.
If that is going on, or if you think that is going on, why have we not seen an increase then in wages at the middle and lower end?
Mr. MEYER. Let me clarify what is in the written testimony. I did break up the explanations of the low-inflation, low-unemployment environment into what I called ''temporary'' factors, and somewhat longer-lasting, if not permanent, structural changes. Of those, I would say there is no speculation about the role of temporary factors; they are clearly important. They are the single most important factor explaining the recent performance.
Somequite a number ofeconomists believe that you can explain most of the surprise by this confluence of temporary events. The appreciation of the dollar, the decline in import prices, lower rate of increase in employee benefit costs because of what is going on in the health care industry, the faster rate of decline in computer prices, and most recently, the decline in energy prices and the slow increase in food prices, all of these are important. We can document them, and we can have some ability to parse out how important they are.
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Now, it is my judgment that when you take all of these things into account, there is still something more going on, that the explanation is not just these temporary events, but also some longer-lasting changes. That is why I am saying that I think the critical unemployment rate threshold is not 6 percent as it wasand I thought it was, as we entered this decadebut something that might be lower. So I do think that there might be some fundamental factors at work.
It is very difficult to test worker insecurity precisely, but it has the right feel to it. There are lots of labor market phenomena that seem consistent with this story, although it is not entirely a positive story. I am using it to explain this environment, but it has got a pessimistic tone as to why things are the way they are.
In terms of productivity, I always say ''may.'' It really hasn't shown up in any clear-cut way in the data yet. There are a variety of reports that we hear from businesspeople, that I talk about in my testimony, that they are seeing significant increases in the efficiency of the production process because of corporate reorganization and the application of new technology, but it hasn't really shown in the data. We can hope that that will occur, but to me it is still one of the possibilities, but something that I cannot confirm at this time.
Mr. BENTSEN. If I could, Mr. McDonough has mentioned this, the issue of globalization, and this is probably beyond monetary policy, but it would appear that globalization, the world market that we deal with now, has put us, in some instances, at a competitive disadvantage as it relates to environmental policy, worker health and safety policy, and still some remaining labor policy.
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How do we handle that, absent rolling back environmental protection, which I certainly don't agree with and I don't think the majority of Americans agree with, rolling back worker health and safety policies and wage policies, for that matter? What is the prescription for dealing with that competitive disadvantage, if in fact there is one?
Mr. MEYER. I just don't believe there is a competitive disadvantage at all. I think American producers are doing an extraordinary job of competing in the world marketplace. I think we are very, very competitive. That seems to be at conflict
Mr. BENTSEN. Could I interrupt you for a second, because I would like to follow up on that, because every Member of this committee will tell you that we have people who come in our offices every day representing industry, telling us that: ''You have to unshackle us from regulation; we cannot compete with low wages in the Philippines, or in the Asian Pacific, or in Mexico; if you do not reduce regulation or give us some more leeway under environmental regulation, we are going to have no choice but to move our plants overseas.''
I am a free trader, and I get very nervous when we get into those types of arguments. But what you are saying seems to conflict with what we hear from a lot of industry.
Mr. MEYER. Fine.
Mr. BENTSEN. I mean
Mr. MEYER. No, I believe that the efforts that really began in the late 1980's, when we were suffering some serious competitive problems and made great efforts to cut costs to make U.S. goods more competitive in world markets, have paid off very significantly. We see that.
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If you look at exports, they are one of the fastest growing components of aggregate demand. Exports are growing very rapidly. The trade balance has continued to increase, partly because of the great strength of the U.S. economy, and also because of an extraordinary appetite for imports on the part of the American people.
But our export growth has been excellent. It has shown a lot of strength, and I think American firms have demonstrated their capability. We are a world class competitor. There is no question about it, in my judgment.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. We sure shouldn't shift to dirty air in the United States in order to compete. I think that the efforts that have been made under the previous administration and under this one to insist, in our trade discussions, in our trade negotiations, that we shouldn't be competing with clean-air American steel against dirty-air other people's steel is a tack we should continue to take. There are those who think that is inappropriate as a matter of foreign policy or trade policy; I don't agree.
Mr. BENTSEN. But do you believe there is any need for any sort of compensation? Mr. Meyer says that we really are not at a disadvantage there; we have found other efficiencies in order it make up for great regulation. Is that your opinion?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. That is certainly true at the macro level. At the micro level, which is the level of the people who come to see you, they are not interested in the whole economy, they are interested in their business. I don't know whether they have a case or not. As you well know, because they want you to help them, there are mechanisms within our Government structure to hear those complaints.
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Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you.
Chairman LEACH. Let me modify an earlier Chair announcement before turning to Mr. Jackson to conclude. I am informed that in a minute or two there is going to be a voteprobably two votes, possibly just one vote on the floor, and so what I would like to do, with the conclusion of Mr. Jackson's remarks, is bring this panel to an end and then to reconvene a half-an-hour after we conclude.
Mr. JACKSON. Thank you.
Let me ask unanimous consent that my opening remarks be entered in the record.
Chairman LEACH. Without objection.
Mr. JACKSON. Governor Rivlin, Governor Meyer, President McDonough, welcome.
Yesterday, Chairman Greenspan acknowledged that the true unemployment rate and underemployment rate is actually much higher than that which is officially reported. For example, he said that the official unemployment rate is 5 percent, which means 7 million Americans are unemployed. He also acknowledged that there were an additional 5 million people who were actually unemployed, who are actively looking for work, who cannot find jobs but are not reported in the official numbers. That means in reality there are 12 million people who are unemployed.
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Mr. Greenspan further acknowledged that while the exact numbers were harder to come by, there were additional millions who had never been employed, who were working part-time, who would like to be working full-time, or who were underemployed; that is, working at jobs in terms of pay scales and pay levels which were clearly below their qualifications. I suggested that the total number is somewhere between 15 to 20 million Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed, and he did notI repeathe did not challenge my figures.
Then I asked him if the actual number of people who are unemployed or underemployed was reported each month as 15 to 20 million Americans, whether such accurate reports would have Fed policy implications. He saidand I quote''No.'' I said, ''Let's say 9 percent,'' and then he saidin essence, he saidand I quote''Reality is reality, and simply reporting the reality differently would have no effect on policy.'' At least he said he hoped it wouldn't have an effect on policy.
Ms. Rivlin said a few moments ago that unemployment in Europe was 12 to 13 percent. It might be because the Europeans are reporting their numbers a little differently than we are. I will give you an opportunity to respond.
My question is, do each of you agree that if the Labor Department each month reported to the American people that 15 and 20 million able-bodied Americans were unemployed or underemployed, that it would have no effect on Fed policy whatsoever?
I would encourage you to be brief, because I want the American people to understand your answers.
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Ms. RIVLIN. I think the way we measure unemployment, looking at the people who have jobs or the people who don't have jobs relative to those who are actively seeking work is a very useful way to do it. There are also people who are not actively seeking work who either might want more hours or who would like a better job or a job if they could get one. It is useful to know how many of those
Mr. JACKSON. Let me ask a quick question. Let's say that there are 19 million peoplethat is an official number19 million people are working part-time jobs. It doesn't suggest that they are looking for full-time work. Would that be incorporated in your thinking in terms of official unemployment numbers?
Ms. RIVLIN. If I could get to the end of my sentence, I think that all of these figures are important and useful and should be incorporated in the thinking. But they move together; they move up and down together.
The chart that I happen to have in front of me is of unemployment levels, and if you reconfigured it to include people who are not actively looking for jobs, that total number has come down, and it has come down very fast, and it is now about at the level that it was in the 1970's.
Most of these statistics move together, and therefore focusing on one rather than the other wouldn't change policy discussions.
Mr. JACKSON. Consistent with what the Chairman had to say yesterday, if the number were more accurate, 15 to 20 million AmericansI am interestedagain, my specific question is what impact on Fed policy of that number, the actual number, would have, from your perspective?
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Ms. RIVLIN. The Fed, as I said, ought to look at all of these unemployment rates, but I don't think that they move separately and I don't think that that particular number should have an independent impact.
Mr. JACKSON. Mr. McDonough.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Mr. Jackson, looking at your concern about the American people who are unemployed or looking for jobs or part-timers who would like to have jobs, clearly all of those people are a matter of public policy interest and Federal Reserve interest. The question that the Chairman was answering was, would policy be different if, instead of looking at the official unemployment rate of 5 percent, we looked at all of these other incrementals.
Mr. JACKSON. And they were included in that number; is that right?
Mr. MCDONOUGH. Right. I think the answer is, at the present time the policy would not change.
Part of the session, while you were out, we spent a fair amount of time talking about things that we really could do through using spending better, through the private sector working harder with the public sector in joint ventures to do things. I think it puts an even greater degree of intensity on that.
Frankly, that is why I spend so much time working on those issues. To me, whether somebody is officially unemployed or is a person who would like to have a job but doesn't come under the statistics, is the same kind of problem. We ought have the same compassion for those people, and public policy in general ought to be trying to help them.
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Now we think that the Federal Reserve policy, as it is presently shaped, is doing the best that monetary policy can to make a contribution to the solution to that problem. Does that solve the problem? No, it doesn't. But it is the most we think we can do to help solve the problem.
Mr. JACKSON. Let me ask a question of Mr. McDonough.
In light of public policy in terms of what we can do, Members of Congress, if the numbers were accurate and suggested that there were 15 to 20 million people who were unemployed, as an official statistic, it certainly suggests that the priorities of the Federal Government in terms of its spending priorities should then begin to reflect ways to tackle unemployment in ways that probably it presently doesn't contemplate. I think that is a political reality that we would all, as Members, have to deal with. Let me ask Mr. Meyer.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. As I mentioned earlier, the most important thing is what you are spending the money on.
Mr. MEYER. I think it is very instructive to look at these broader measures. Part of the issue is, what is the nature of the problems in the society, and I think these measures give us a better feel for that. But I have to tell you that they do, to the best of our knowledge, move together with the other rates of unemployment.
We are trying to achieve the maximum sustainable level of employment, and looking at these numbers doesn't change my view about what that maximum sustainable level of employment is. It doesn't change my view of what monetary policy should be. But, on the other hand, it does set forth a little more clearly what the challenge is that faces us as a society.
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And I would certainly commend any efforts in Congress to deal with these issues, although these are particularly difficult ones to deal with. The average level of unemployment might be brought down through a variety of meansincluding education and training.
Mr. JACKSON. Mr. Chairman, I have a couple of other questions that I would like to submit for the record in view of the time. However, Mr. Chairman, I do have one question that I do want to ask. My questions I will submit for the record
Chairman LEACH. The Chair is lenient on his time. Without objection, your question will be submitted for the record, and then proceed as you wish.
Mr. JACKSON. Thanks. My questions for the record will be on Fed policy and welfare reform and the impact of wage increases and indications of inflationary threat. But I want to ask a question that almost never gets addressed in these hearings, because I raised it a couple of weeks ago and the Chairman of the committeewhen we talked about Export-Import Bank and the implications for putting taxpayers' money at risk, the Chairman of the full committee indicated that he felt that the American taxpayers' money as it relates to overseas investments was truly only at risk in the event of some global economic depression.
I shared with the Chairman that historically the cost of human rights in any country has had some tremendous economic implications in our own country, the United States, certainly in India. Certainly in South Africa before they could have a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, Mr. Mandela had to start building homes and repairing Soweto, which has budget implications, which obviously has monetary policy implications.
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I talked with Moskow, your contemporary at the Chicago Fed, who indicated that we are seeing the same thing in Europe, with their move toward one central bank and one currency, their human rights considerations.
I am interested, however, in this one point. The day that Chinalet's say there are 1,200,000,000 people in China. The day that 700 million of them decide that they want the same quality of life as people who live in Hong Kong, they want the same education system, let's say they all want something basic that is very American, a minimum wage. Say that civil rights marches like in Tiananmen Square are breaking out all over China.
I am interested in what the impact on Fed policy will be when, let's say, one-fourth, maybe one-fifth, of the world's population decides that they want to be paid and receive the same kind of quality of life that we have, what its implications will be on our economy?
Ms. RIVLIN. Basically, I think it can only be good. If they want toand I think they dogrow faster and raise their standard of living, that is a vast market for us, and we will be better off with a more prosperous China than a less prosperous China.
Mr. JACKSON. Would you want to make the argument, Ms. Rivlin, that therefore we should be on the side of those forces that are fighting for human rights within their country and therefore it may raise some questions about our present policy with respect to China?
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Ms. RIVLIN. Well, I am not sure this is the moment to get into exactly what our China policy should be, but we
Mr. JACKSON. In terms of long-term risk and putting the taxpayers' money at risk in terms of overseas investments, certainly that would have some impact on the economy in the globalized economy.
Ms. RIVLIN. In the long-run, what we want is a prosperous China, and strong human rights, and there are judgment calls on how you get there. Clearly, we benefit from their doing better and their being much more democratic and more conscious of their own need for human rights.
Mr. MCDONOUGH. I share those views in their entirety.
Mr. MEYER. I share those views, and you are overtaxing what I know about in terms of trying to figure out what is the best way of getting from where we are to where we want to go. But I share those goals.
Mr. JACKSON. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mr. Jackson.
Page 108 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Does Mrs. Roukema want to add anything to this panel?
Mr. FRANK. I wanted to thank them and you for the indulgence in terms of time and their patience.
Chairman LEACH. Let me just say, we thank you. And I also think the President ought to be thanked for appointments of two of the three before you, the third coming in a different fashion.
And I also believe that the Federal Reserve Board has done a remarkable job, given the constraints of fiscal policy, and that it is simply self-evident, that if you have a larger deficit, it is harder to operate in a constrained monetary policy so both our fiscal and monetary policy work together.
In addition, I think it should be emphasized that monetary policy has different effects on different industries, but it cannot differentiate in itself from those effects. Fiscal policy can target, and so, for example, fiscal policy can spend more money in one kind of problem, one kind of region, over another, whereas monetary policy is consistent, although the effects on one industry or another can be different.
Mr. JACKSON. Would the Chairman yield?
Chairman LEACH. Yes, of course.
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Mr. JACKSON. Would the Chairman acknowledge that if there were more accurate numbers with respect to unemployment, that it could fundamentally shift the nature and line of our questioning to the Fed with respect to each of us had 9 percent unemployment, or that were the national figure, that the political reality in our districts would subsequently shift and force maybe a different line of questioning?
Chairman LEACH. Well, the definitions are always very important, and I think it is imperative that people have consistent definitions, and then if there are other definitions, that they be consistent too.
And we have a slightly different definitional approach than Europe, and we changed our definitions at several points over the last several generations, but I think it is key that people bear in mind that there are other ways of looking at unemployment, and you have raised a very significant one, and I think we are all obligated to understand that the single definitional approach is not the only definitional approach.
At any regard, let me thank you all. You are serving your country as I think the law has prescribed. Thank you.
Ms. RIVLIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Given the prior announcement of the Chair, and it is my understanding that the vote that was expected about 1:05 is now expected after 1:20 or 1:25. The Chair would recess until 2:10. The hearing is in recess.
Page 110 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC [Whereupon, at 1:16 p.m., the hearing was recessed, to reconvene at 1:50 p.m., the same day.]
Chairman LEACH. The hearing will reconvene. Panel Two is composed of Mr. Gordon Richards, who is the Chief Economist for the National Association of Manufacturers, and who, I understand, has a distinguished background in economics; and Mr. David Smith, who is Director of Public Policy for the AFL-CIO, and since 1994, he has also been a Senior Fellow at the 20th Century Fund. As a board member and vice chair of that organization, I can attest to the distinction of that assignment. Unless there has been a prior arrangement between the two, I think we will begin with Mr. Richards. Is that appropriate, or would you prefer the other way around?
Mr. SMITH. Fine with me.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Richards, please.
STATEMENT OF GORDON R. RICHARDS, CHIEF ECONOMIST, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS
Mr. RICHARDS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to address two issues in my testimony today. The first is that there have been structural changes in labor and product markets that make it possible to achieve lower inflation rates; and the second is that there has been an increase in the rate of technological advance which makes it possible to achieve higher productivity, and therefore higher growth rates. The basic conclusion here is that monetary policy should accommodate the potential for higher growth.
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The NAM has repeatedly urged the Federal Open Market Committee to leave interest rates unchanged and, in some instances, to lower them. We have never argued that the Federal Reserve should actively reflate, as it did during the 1960's and 1970's. Rather, we argue that monetary policy should be loosened, or certainly not tightened, mainly in order to allow the economy to reach its potential.
The most important changes that we have seen in the economy of the early 1990's consists of a whole series of technological advances, which have taken place in the private sector and particularly in private industry. To see this, consider the standard model of economic growth which has been widely known for more than four decades. This model holds that the long-term trend in output per person is determined primarily by the rate of technological advance. But of course, technological advance is not a fixed number; rather, the rate of technological advance depends on real world events, such as the advent of microcomputers or scientific breakthroughs.
Some of this credit for technological advances certainly lies with the way in which industry has used the best available computer technologies to achieve process improvements, such as statistical quality control, just-in-time inventory control, and CAD-CAM, which enables scientists and engineers to design new products on the computer more rapidly. Evidence for an acceleration in the rate of technological advance is provided by a substantial pickup in manufacturing productivity, which has achieved robust gains, about 4 percent last year. The upshot is that as a result of these technological improvements, overall productivity is now picking up. I will get to the evidence shortly, but the key implication is both lower inflation and higher potential output.
Page 112 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One item of evidence supporting the idea of faster productivity is that the inflation rate has declined consistently through this business cycle. In 1992, the inflation rate, as measured by the GDP deflator, was 2.8 percent. In 1996, it was 2.1 percent, and as of early this year, it had dipped below 2 percent.
It should be noted that the actual inflation rate is lower than sometimes reported. The Consumer Price Index is frequently used, but it is widely recognized that this overstates the inflation rate by perhaps half a percentage point and, in some instances, more so.
The low inflation has coincided with the fact that the unemployment rate has also continued to drop, and in this respect, I would like to address the issue of the natural rate of unemployment, or NAIRU.
The natural rate of unemployment declined very sharply in the early 1990's. One problem in the analysis of the NAIRU is that many economists have interpreted this as a fixed number, whereas, in fact, the NAIRU is likely to vary through time as conditions in the labor markets change. There are several reasons why the NAIRU should have declined. As some of the witnesses this morning were discussing, during the 1990 to 1991 recession and the slow recovery in 1992 to 1993, rational workers would keep wage increases moderate simply in order to preserve job security. At the same time, this wouldn't explain why a lower NAIRU would tend to persist. In my mind, this reflects two basic causes. The first is, of course, that labor markets are now much more competitive; and secondand I think this point is more importantthere has been a shift in the structure of compensation. Workers are now compensated less through hourly wages and more through performance schemes, such as commissions, productivity bonuses and stock options. And what this means, of course, is that the total compensation to labor becomes less dependent on rigid wage contracts and more dependent on the profitability of firms, so that even with labor markets much tighter now than in the past, the inflation rate is less apt to accelerate.
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One should mention, of course, in many instances, that this is actually a good deal for workers and better than an increase in the hourly wage. The stock market has risen so fast that when workers took stock options instead of wages, they did, on average, better than they would have otherwise.
To return to the issue of the natural rate of unemployment, this clearly is not a fixed number. Structural changes in the labor market can cause the natural rate to decline, and in this respect, we did an econometric analysis. We concluded that in the late 1980's, the natural rate was as high as 5.7 percent, but in the early 1990's, it dropped to about 5 percent and has shown no tendency to increase since that time.
Furthermore, it is entirely possible that the natural rate could be lowered below 5 percent. For instance, the more the existing unemployed workers are given education and training, the more skills they have; as a result, it would be entirely possible to get the NAIRU down well below 5 percent, and as a result, the actual unemployment rate could be kept even lower than it is today.
A related concept of the NAIRU is what we call ''potential output.'' Governor Meyer used the term ''trend growth.'' Potential output is, of course, the long-term growth rate that is consistent with stable inflation. The intuition behind this concept is that if demand grows faster than the ability of the economy to produce, labor and product markets would tighten, causing inflation to rise.
The usual measure of potential output is to add the growth rate of the labor force to the trend in productivity. First, let's look at productivity. The official BLS measure of productivity in non-farm business shows an average growth rate of just over 1 percent per year, and in 1996, the BLS estimate was a productivity gain of only .7 percent, which is pretty anemic. These very low productivity numbers have led some analysts to arrive at very low estimates for potential output.
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Several items of evidence demonstrate that the productivity numbers are seriously understated. In 1996, the income side of national income and product accountsNIPArose much more rapidly than the product side. The statistical discrepency between the two came to $74 billion, and if you raise the product side to account for the additional income, then productivity in the nonfarm business sector would work out to something like 1.8 percent, which is a good deal higher than the .7 estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A second reason why the official productivity numbers are too low is that they are just impossible to reconcile with declining inflation. For instance, in 1996, the employment cost index rose by 3.3 percent, whereas the inflation rate, taking out the energy component, rose by only 1.9 percent, so the discrepancy between the two suggests that the productivity must have been at least 1.5 percent in 1996.
A third way to approach this issue is to look at measures of technological advance. Productivity is, of course, not a direct measure of technology, but it encompasses the effect of both capital and technology. So we built a production functionwe built a model of the economy in which we look at empirical measures of technology. In it, we use measures such as research and development; we use the quality of computers; we use measures of the education of the labor force. We theorize in a relationship between computers and capital, so that when you have capital equipment that is computer-controlled, you can produce much more efficiently. We also theorize that computers increase the efficiency of R&D, because scientists and engineers can use them to do more sophisticated calculations.
Page 115 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Looking at all these measures, we then compute the implied rate of productivity growth and the implied rate of growth of potential output and find that in 1996, the productivity growth rate we come up with is about 1.8 percent, very similar to what you get if you simply look at the difference between the income and the product side of national income accounts. And for the early 1990's, we find that potential output was much higher than any of the major models are indicating; we find a potential output growth of slightly over 3 percent in 1993 to 1996. Forecasting this model for the late 1990's, we find the potential output is just shy of 3 percent per year; my preferred estimate would be around 2.9 to 2.8 percent up until the year 2000.
The implication of all this is that we are actually in a very favorable economic situation. We achieved low unemployment, low inflation, and we can sustain a stable growth rate at a higher rate of growth than some of the other economists have suggested. The Federal Reserve deserves some credit for having contributed to this stable environment. We are not indifferent to the fact that on prior occasions, the Federal Reserve reflated too actively, and this caused a whole series of cycles of inflation, followed by booms and busts in the 1960's and 1970's. We certainly don't want to repeat that kind of experience.
We also give the Federal Reserve high marks for having kept interest rates low in the early 1990's, especially in 1993 when the recovery was having trouble getting started and the Fed left the funds rate at 3 percent.
Where we fault the Federal Reserve is that they were much too cautious in 1994 and 1995, where they raised the Federal funds rate from 3 percent to about 6 percent. Then of course they had to backtrack; they lowered the Federal funds rate by 75 basis points later on in 1995 because it was becoming apparent that the economy is slowing down.
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Finally, we have argued that the increase in interest rates on March 25 was unnecessary, and that this, to some extent, indicates the Fed is still erring on the side of caution.
In conclusion, what should the Federal Reserve do now? So far, the year 1997 is shaping up to be a pretty good one. The growth rate for the year will come in at about 3 percent or above. The strong first quarter was of course not sustainable; it was just the result of a whole series of one-time factors. We currently project that the economy is slowing to a growth rate of about 2.5 to 3 percent in the second half and will probably maintain a pace like this through next year. And as we have indicated, some people might consider this to be above potential. We consider this to be slightly below potential, so we are not concerned about any increase in inflation; instead, we predict the inflation rate is going to continue at around 2 percent.
In sum, the best course of action for the Federal Reserve is simply to leave interest rates where they are. If so, the economy will converge to a path of stable growth near its potential; the inflation rate will remain in the range of 2 percent.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would be happy to answer your questions.
Chairman LEACH. Well, thank you very much, Mr. Richards.
Page 117 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF DAVID A. SMITH, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC POLICY, AFL-CIO
Mr. SMITH. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for holding these hearings. There are few subjects that are more important than the one you are wrestling with today, and deciding to have a second day of hearings is an important service.
I also want to thank you for giving NAM and the AFL-CIO a chance to sing out of the same song book. We don't very often get to do that, and we welcome that chance.
With unemployment near its lowest official rate in almost a quarter of a century and inflation lower than it has been in 30 years, these ought to be good times for working Americans and their families. Instead, as many of you noted in talking with the earlier panel, the prosperity that is reflected in the stock market and in skyrocketing CIO salaries in the productivity numbers has seemed to bypass
Chairman LEACH. Excuse me. You meant CEO, not CIO.
Mr. SMITH.I did mean CEO, I am sorryhas seemed to bypass a large majority of workers.
The employment situation has improved since the early 1990's, but downsizing in both the public and private sectors has kept layoffs and economic insecurity at high levels.
Page 118 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Rising productivity hasn't shown up in paychecks. Average hourly wages remain 12 percent below their 1973 levels. There is room here. Rising productivity, rising corporate profits give corporate America ample room to pay long-overdue wage increases. And against this backdrop, it is especially troubling that the Federal Reserve continues to be concerned about the slight evidence of wage increases that we have seen during the past year.
They send an unfortunate message to working Americans. ''Economic expansion is acceptable so long as only the CEO paychecks and corporate profits are its beneficiaries, but when working Americans begin to take home a little bit more, it is time to slam on the brakes.'' This logic puts the Federal Reserve Bank, which is the central reserve bank for all of us, in the position of using the power of monetary policy to promote and defend the most unequal distribution of income and wealth we have seen in this country since the early 1920's.
We are especially troubled by the Fed's apparent increased interest in targeting the Employment Cost Index. That turns out to bebecause it ignores productivitya de facto income policy applied only to working Americans. If we were to try to target zero growth in the ECI, we would in effect say, ''No wage increases, never again.'' Not only is this bad policy, but it violates the spirit of the legal mandate under which the Fed is supposed to operate. The Employment Act of 1946 and the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978 instruct the Fed to pursue policies that produce full employment as well as stable prices.
We are pleased at the current unemployment situation, but would note that it is still a full point above the Humphrey-Hawkins target. If unemployment were a point lower, income would be roughly 3 percent, or $225 billion higheralmost $2,250 for each household in the country.
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I want to comment on something which several of you inquired about earlier. It is increasingly apparent that labor markets aren't as tight as the official numbers would lead us to believe. The official rate of 5 percent in June needs to be compared to their broader measure. The U6 series would suggest that 9.2 percent of the labor force was still unemployed out ofnot seeking work or working part-time involuntarily. This broader measure, we need to pay attention to it.
We also need to pay attention to the growing evidence that increased opportunity increases supply in the labor markets. We have seen sharp increases in labor force participation, as the economy has continued to grow and as job opportunities have become more available. That elasticity needs to be considered as we think about just how tight these markets are.
I think we are seeing a lot of older people, who may have been laid off or downsized, finding their way into the market; and young people, who had never previously entered it, are finding this period of relatively strong job growth an inducement to come back in. This elasticity of supply, of course, is going to be expanded as we continue to implement welfare reform and add a couple million additional workers to the low end of the market, so we ought not to overstate the extent to which this market is tight or that we don't have any more room to go.
I want to comment briefly on the question of price stability as a goal. We are convinced that, if one were to follow the advice of Governor Meyer this morning, and target zero price inflation or stable prices, that that would be a deeply misguided course. There are solid economic grounds for believing that steady, low inflation can help reduce the long-run rate of unemployment by greasing the wheels of adjustment in labor markets. Nobel laureate Jim Tobin has argued this throughout his distinguished career and just last year, three former colleagues of Governor Rivlin published an important paper in the Brooking's Review of Economic Activity, suggesting that steady, low rates of inflation were a lubricant for the economy.
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By contrast, high rates of unemployment create permanent losses that can never be regained; the production, the output, the consumption that is associated with full employment is not possible to recover when employment is discouraged.
Today, as actually Governor Rivlin noted, we have the best opportunity in a generation to recognize the full employment promise of the Humphrey-Hawkins Act. We certainly ought not squander that opportunity because we fear that somewhere, some worker might be getting a raise.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Mr. Smith.
I had two questions. One, taking off on a theme that was raised earlier by the gentleman from Vermont, this issue of inequality of standards of living and in pay, some have ascribed this to the increasing technical nature of the economy, where people that are technically literate are getting premiums; others have suggested it relates to international competition, that we are in an international labor market.
Are there things that the AFL-CIO thinks that the Federal Reserve can do that would have a direct impact on this inequality issue?
Mr. SMITH. Yes, and most importantly, encourage tight labor markets. There is simply no better device that we know of to encourage reductions in income inequality than tight labor markets, where opportunities at the bottom grow, where pressure to provide the kinds of training that allow working people to upgrade their skills grow. There is nothing better for reduction of income inequality than tight labor markets. Tighter labor markets than we have now would be that much better. I think later this afternoon, my former colleague, Professor Galbraith, will elaborate on the argument, New York FedPresident McDonoughsaid a couple of times this morning that the Fed can't do much about social inequity. That is simply not true. He is right that there are many things that the Fed cannot do in this area, and that there are many responsibilities Congress has to address inequality; but, the Fed can ensure we run tight labor markets, that full employment does remain a goal and that the upward effect of competition in those labor markets finds its way into paychecks and into living standards for working people.
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Chairman LEACH. There were somewhat oblique references in the earlier panel to the Humphrey-Hawkins Act and the Humphrey-Hawkins Act basically establishes for the Federal Reserve kind of a twin charter of concern for sustained economic growth and labor markets, and then the second charter relates to restrained monetary policy and the need for a strong dollar.
Now, many of us believe that those two goals are consistent, but in any regard, there has been a movement in the last decade to suggest that the only charter for the Fed should relate exclusively to the management of the money supply. How does the AFL-CIO see that?
Mr. SMITH. Actually, I thought in your intervention this morning, Mr. Chairman, you expressed the AFL's position quite well. We would severely and strongly resist any change in that mandate. Economic policy is about the management of factors which affect the everyday life of all 230 million of us; it is not about a single thing. Managing the economy so that prices are stable, if the cost of that is substantial unemployment, forgone output, falling investment, and technological advance, is an absurd tradeoff. To think that there is a single indicator for economic policy would, in our judgment, be an enormous mistake, and we share your views on that.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
Mr. LAFALCE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. Smith, it is always good seeing alumni of the United States Congress, and Professor Galbraith, it is good seeing you again, and we look forward to your testimony.
You are the Director of Public Policy for the AFL-CIO. When did you assume that position?
Mr. SMITH. Just before the first of the year.
Mr. LAFALCE. Is there a separate chief economist?
Mr. SMITH. There isn't a chief economist with that position, Congressman. Several economists work on my staff and other places in the Federation.
Mr. LAFALCE. OK. I was curious about that.
The hearings are ostensibly about monetary policy, extremely important. You are responsible for overall public policy, but monetary policy is one component. I am just going to take this opportunity to ask you some other questions on some other areas.
Is there some strategic public policy initiative that the AFL-CIO is involved in, with respect to the achievements of worker rights internationally? We have been given an explanation for some of the market and economic dynamics today, including technology, international trade, and so forth. I honestly don't think that we are going to be able to cope with so many of the problems our domestic workers are having without expanding worker rights internationally. I just see an exacerbation of the tensions that exist in international trade until we can come to grips with that issue, and I am wondering what the AFL-CIO is doing in that effort?
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Mr. SMITH. You point to an important topic, Congressman. We have consistently argued that as the United States contemplates extending trading arrangements and moving toward more open markets that those efforts must be linked to an explicit effort to ensure that worker rights and environmental protections aren't degraded. The result of an absence of attention to those questions is a race to the bottom, when we create a perfectly rational incentive for capital and employers to seek the most degradable environment or the most exploitable worker. That is clearly not in the interest of American workers, nor is it in the interest of workers around the world.
We have argued, and will continue to, as you consider the President's upcoming request for Fast-Track authority, that as we extend trade agreements, there ought to be explicit attention paid to enforceable worker and environmental rights questions, and that that ought to be on the agenda. In fairness to the Administration, Ambassador Barshefsky worked very hard in Singapore at the last WTO ministerial meeting to convince the WTO to make this part of the WTO charter. She failed in that effort; but we will encourage the Administrationand youto keep these issues on the table as you consider the upcoming trade debate.
Mr. LAFALCE. What is the AFL-CIO, or labor in general, doing to create advisory bodies to our negotiators in the international trade negotiations, similar to the advisors that the owners of capital have, the corporations have? And second, what is AFL-CIO doing to effectuate the provisions of the 1994 appropriations bill, commonly referred to as the Frank-Sanders amendment, which calls upon the international financial institutions, or at least upon the United States executive directors, to attempt to achieve, within contracts awarded by the international financial institutions, contractual provisions dealing with worker rights?
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Mr. SMITH. Let me start at the end of your question.
We have been working most recently with the Inter-American Development Bank and the other regional banks, as well as the World Bank, to urge them and encourage them and assist them, where they are willing to accept our assistance, at doing precisely what the amendment of Congressman Sanders and Congressman Frank calls for.
We are engaged in a series of ongoing conversations with officials at all four regional development banks, as well as with Jim Wolfensohn and his staff.
On the advisory question, we worked very hard to convince the Western Hemisphere trade ministers, who recently held their ministerial meeting in Bela Horizante, Brazil, to take such a step. We joined with trade unionists throughout the hemisphere in urging that they accept a labor advisory panel on a similar footing to the business advisory panel. That request was rejected. The American Government supported us. We will renew that request, and mirror it in our continuing conversations about other trade advisory panels.
Mr. LAFALCE. Thank you.
Mr. SMITH. Thank you.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
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Mrs. ROUKEMA. I apologize to Mr. Richards. I came in toward the end of his presentation, but I would like to give him the opportunity to respond to a couple of things that I heard Mr. Smith comment about; and one of those was that there is room here for paying long-overdue wage increases.
I would like your reaction to that statement in speaking about the general improvement in the economy and the business profits, I think it was, in that context that Mr. Smith made it. And, also, does that have a direct relationship, in your opinion, to Fed policy?
That is the first question I have. Then I have a follow-up.
Mr. RICHARDS. What the Federal Reserve can do is simply to ensure a stable environment in which the economy is allowed to reach its full potential. The Federal Reserve has less power over the distribution of income than is sometimes alleged. As long as the Federal Reserve allows the economy to grow at potential, we will eventually get to something like full employment, which one can think of as the unemployment rate declining to its natural rate or NAIRU. At that point, wages should reflect market forces, which is to say workers total compensation would rise roughly at the rate of productivity growth in real terms.
The reason that hasn't happenedthat is the reason wages have lagged behind productivity in the early 1990's is, of course, the actual unemployment rate was much higher than the natural rate; or to put it another way, there was a lot of slack in labor markets holding wages down.
Page 126 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Now that we are at a situation which is near to full employment, I think we are reasonably close to the NAIRU, then market forces ought to ensure that workers compensation goes up roughly at the rate of productivity growth; and as I indicated in my testimony, we estimate that the productivity growth rate picked up starting in 1996 and will probably continue to do fairly well in the late 1990's.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. And that has been reflected in the board's documentation?
Mr. RICHARDS. Yes, that is right. And in our view, this implies a much more favorable path for wages in the late 1990's than the early 1990's, when you had a combination of low productivity growth and high unemployment, both of which were keeping wages down.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. The second question and perhaps Mr. Smith may want to come back as well, but first Mr. Richards.
Mr. Smith said the Fedand I didn't quite know what he meant by this; maybe I wasn't listening carefully enoughbut that the Fed should encourage tight labor markets. I don't know how the Fed can do that? What is your interpretation of that goal, and do you understand the Fed's relationship to the tight labor markets?
Mr. SMITH. Gordon, go ahead.
Mr. RICHARDS. Thank you.
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I think this is really just a matter of phraseology. The way I prefer to think about it is that Federal Reserve accommodates the economy's potential for growth, and market forces will ensure the unemployment rate eventually falls to its natural rate. In the short-term, you can go a little above potential and get unemployment down faster, and I think we should have done that in the early 1990's, but once the unemployment rate is down to its natural rate or something like it, then the Fed should adopt the stance of simply allowing the economy to grow along its potential or its long-term trends, and that, in and of itself
Mrs. ROUKEMA. In terms of growth of money and the interest rates
Mr. RICHARDS. In other words, the Federal Reserve
Mrs. ROUKEMA. In other words, the inflation factor.
Mr. RICHARDS. The Federal Reserve should set interest rates at a level that is consistent with the economy growing along its potential trends, and in that instance, you would not have the sort of tightening in labor markets that would cause inflation to overheat. Rather, labor markets would be pretty much in equilibrium, which is to say that new workers would be able to find jobs because the economy's growth rate would be sufficient to accommodate the gains in the labor force.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. So you are agreeing with Mr. Smith?
Page 128 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. RICHARDS. Yes.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Mr. Smith, did you want to comment further?
Mr. SMITH. I would be happy to accept my colleague's view here. I think the simple point here is, Congresswoman, the Fed can encourage tighter labor markets by refusing to put its foot on the brake to restrain increases in employment and increases in growth, and we believe it should do that. At some point, presumably, we will have soaked up the labor that is available, but we are clearly not at that point yet.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Of course, the Fed has to weigh that requirement against the inflation spiral, and that isgo ahead.
Mr. SMITH. We need to be careful with this presumed trade-off. Much of the discussion this morning, for instance, is of the preemptive strike. The preemptive strike suggests that perhaps something bad will happen in the future, so we will do something bad now. We will restrain the opportunity of men and women to work, because we are afraid thatGovernor Meyer said sometime in 1998something bad might happen. We think that is an unwise basis on which to make policy.
Mrs. ROUKEMA. Thank you very much.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Mrs. Roukema.
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Mr. VENTO. Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I appreciate the testimony of the witnesses and their written statements.
Mr. Smith, we raised the question this morning aboutwhat really your colleague on this panel, Mr. Richards raised, with regard to technology and the nature of thehe didn't say this, but the interrelated nature of the global markets and technology have created a sort of different environment in which monetary policy is now exercised. I think all of us recognize these relationships, especially with the Western European counterparts and the related nature of our economies in terms of managing monetary policy. We are doing pretty well now in terms of the value of the dollar, compared to the deutschemark and some of the other currencies.
And he goes on to point outand Mr. Richards may want to elaborate on this, but I want you to respond as wellon a technology getting a better ability on the part of a monetary policy, or those that exercise it, to in fact have more information and do a better job with this issue, given the goals which I agree with under the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, as you know from my comments this morning.
Did you want to comment?
Mr. SMITH. I think, Congressman Vento, that there are really two answers to your question. The broad question of the introduction of additional technology into the economy is certainly something that we ought to encourage; we ought to encourage additional investment, we ought to encourage substantial purchase of productivity-increasing equipment, and, again, the Fed being morerather than lessaccommodating will encourage that.
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The second part of your question suggests that technology has allowed us in some fashion to understand the economy better and, therefore, to manage the business of monetary policy more efficiently. I don't know if that is true.
I was struck by Congressman Frank's colloquy this morning with Governor Meyer. Technology has allowed a bunch of economists to regularly recalculate NAIRU, but all that has meant is that they can do calculations that chase a chimera ever more rapidly, so they can adjust this construct to changing information with greater speed. I am not sure that is a policymaking advance.
Mr. VENTO. Dr. Richards.
Mr. RICHARDS. I would like to return to one of the themes in my testimony, and that is the tremendous importance of technical advance for the long-term growth of the economy. More than 40 years ago, the model developed by Robert Solow argued that the long-term trend in output per person has to do with the rate of technological advance primarily and, secondarily, with increases in capital stock. Productivity is pretty much that same phenomenon, it is mainly determined by technological advances, and second, by increased investments.
Again, let's look
Mr. VENTO. I would feel a lot better if you would have added investment and human resources in the third, which is the one that usually is lagging, incidentally.
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Mr. RICHARDS. That certainly is true also. Improvements in the skills of the labor force are
Mr. VENTO. But you are telling me a theory of that?
Mr. RICHARDS. Yes. The question then becomes what sort of growth rate can the economy sustain? I was surprised in Governor Meyer's testimony at the extent to which many of the models and some of the forecasters, such as the CBO, are saying the sustainable growth rate or potential output is only around 2.1 or 2.2 percent a year. When we take into account the new technological innovations, we arrive at a much higher figure for this. My preferred estimate is around 2.9 to 2.8 percent, which is sustainable out to the year 2000. The only reason I don't know whether or not it is sustainable beyond that is because I haven't done the calculations beyond the year 2000.
The result is that if the Federal Reserve were to recalculate potential output along the lines we have suggested, they could afford to pursue a looser monetary policy, and we would achieve higher growth rates at the same rate of inflation, which is to say an inflation rate of less than 2 percent. In this sense, the crux of whether or not the economy can grow more rapidly at a stable rate of inflation is intimately bound up with the rate of technological advance.
Mr. VENTO. The international central banks probably should be the subject of another hearing, in terms of how that dictates or limits or adjusts, because I am certain that the witnesses this morning in here probably would have come back and argued it does or doesn't affect them. I think it does; I think there is a degree of transparency.
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Furthermore, Mr. Chairman, in my view, there is a timidity with regard to the action of the Federal Reserve Board in recent years, all undergirded by the general, what we think of as positive help to the economy, and certainly not the instability that occurred in the late 1960's, or the late 1960'sthe late 1970's, pardon meand early 1980's that I was familiar with; and that has made almost anything look good.
But, I think the question is whether monetary policy is being used to the extent it should, based on the type ofreally of burdens that fiscal policy labors under, both because of a deficient monetary policy and because of limits in terms of the growth of our economy generally, that are hampered by this type of monetary policy; whereas indeed I think it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of what is going on and whether you think 2 or 2.5 is the inflation rate and that a 5 percent unemployment rate is appropriate.
I find the same concern that my colleague apparently identified this morning, with when they try to use a simple index or even a complex index because seldom do they mesh. I mean, I think this is a case of not being pure science and being a lot more art in terms of what goes on. As such, I agree with the comments that Mr. Smith made with regard to the responsibilities and the power of the Federal Reserve Board. I mean, I even at one time had proposed an Office of Congressional Monetary Policy, but we all know, this gets back to who has the power and who hasn't, and I think all of it is influenced too by who serves on the Federal Reserve Board. They come out of banks; they have an interest in interest rates.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Page 133 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the witnesses sticking with us.
I do have to comment, I welcome C-SPAN being here. I know they are going to need us in the long days of recess in August, so there is a supply and demand problem there that we are filling; but I do have to note the absence of most of the press. No one is going to be murdered, impeached, accused or challenged, and they stay away, and that is unfortunate because we are dealing with the single, I think, most significant economic policy question we have, which is what is the rate of growth which this economy is capable of in a noninflationary way, and how can we help it; and I welcome both of the witnesses.
Mr. Smith noted, the National Association of Manufacturers finds themselves on the same side; and I think we would also findMr. Richards would know thismany of the other representatives of producers in the economy would take the same position. And I think it is somewhat significant that we have both representatives of the workers and representatives of various aspects of the productive sector of the economy, the direct producers, and I do not mean productive in a nonpejorative or pejorative way, but direct producers convinced of this.
And I think that is very important because I really believe we have a situation where, if they listen to Mr. Meyer and Mr. McDonough in particular, and as I interpret what the Federal Reserve Board of Governors and the regional bank presidents do, I do get the sense that they are complying with the notion that, ''Well, it may work in practice, but it is no good in theory, and so much the worse for practice.''
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The point is, and I would like to ask both of you, who follow this closely, if you took the assumptions that Mr. Meyer operates on, if you took the notion of a nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, of 5.5 to 5.9 percent, if you took their views of the rates of growthin other words, if you took as accurate the census statistics on what is tolerable employment and what is the trend rate of growth for the economy, and if you had those views two years ago, and if I went to one of the economists two years ago who had those views and said, ''Look, here is what is going to happen in the intervening two years.'' What would they have expected to happen?
Mr. RICHARDS. I think that the entire economics profession overestimated the NAIRU or the natural rate of unemployment for quite some time. Our own analysis indicates that the NAIRU fell very sharply in the early 1990's, in fact, my preferred estimate is that it was 5.7 in the late 1980's and it fell to about 5 percent in the early 1990's, and it stayed down there; and in some sense, what went wrong was that the forecasters assumed that the NAIRU was a fixed number.
Mr. FRANK. In other words, Mr. Richards, what went wrong is what some people think went right, but to the economists, given their forecasting models, that was wrong?
Mr. RICHARDS. A poor choice of words on my part Mr. Frank. Rather, what went right was, of course, the natural rate declined; but what went wrong was a lot of economists failed to perceive it.
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Mr. FRANK. Mr. Smith.
Mr. SMITH. Gordon is kinder than I am inclined to be.
Mr. FRANK. That has generally been my experience.
Mr. SMITH. The natural rate of unemployment, we have not found it. We have theorized about it, we have posited it, we have chased it, and, as Gordon has said, it continues to move around. I think it is time to entertain the notion that no such beast exists. Governor Meyer this morning cited some new work by Professor Gordon at Northwestern. Professor Gordon's work hasn't even quite caught up with the existing rate of unemployment, which appears to be sustainable at a noninflationary rate. I would urge the profession, and some of my current and former colleagues, to pay attention to something they are likely to find, rather than chase this illusion.
Mr. FRANK. If I could, Mr. Chairman, I am going to ask for a couple of additional minutes. I want to take a minute out; we need to deal with the confusion.
As the Fed people used the term, it is the nonaccelerating inflation rate of employment, Mr. Meyer kindly even underlined the first letter of each word for us. I do have to say he pronounces it ''NAIRU,'' maybe to make it clear.
Mr. SMITH. That is because he is from Iowa, Congressman.
Page 136 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. FRANK. We don't knock Iowa in this committee. I have never heard ''A-I'' pronounced as ''I'' in English; it is usually the other way around. But, the point I would make is this. Actually, you note Professor Gordon hasn't quite caught up. We may discover a new economic statistic here; that is, NAIRU as the lagging indicator, that the NAIRU will lag the actual unemployment rate by half a percent to three-quarters of a percent, and that might be a way to calculate in the future.
But, the point I would like to get at subsequently here is this. And it does seem to be clear, if you had used the statistics Mr. Meyer usedand I think he is a representative here of the Open Market Committee in generalthen you would have anticipated a lot more inflation than we have had over the last couple of years.
The question then is, how did we have so little inflation? Why the surprising good news?
My problem is, too many people on the Fed seem to me inclined to explain that away to some aberration and to continue to use the models that were, in fact, proven inaccurate. And I think, Mr. Richards, you hit on the key point, the most rational explanation is there has been an increase in our productivity. I mean, you look at the fact that the labor petition made and the labor market has gone up only a certain amount, and we have had much more growth, not just for a month or two months, but for a significant period now, we have done better than their models predicted.
The logical answer is, we have had an increase in productivity, and they resist that because they can't measure productivity well, they say, well their current measures don't do it. Well, people who are quite ready to criticize the current measure of consumer price inflation, I wish they would apply the same skepticism to the measures of productivity, because it seems to me you have given the obvious answer, that in fact we have done better in productivity. And they then get back to, we are supposed to believe them and not our own eyes, and it just can't be that good.
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Is it your experience, representing the major manufacturers of the country, that productivity has in fact gone up and there is reality to this explanation?
Mr. RICHARDS. Yes, my testimony details three reasons why we believe that productivity has increased. One is, of course, it is showing up on the income side of the national income accounts, and if you add that to product, you find a much higher productivity growth rate. We also look at the decline in inflation, which has to be caused by an increase in the productivity growth rate. We look at various measures of technology, ranging from R&D to computers, and again we find that the implied rate of productivity growth is much faster.
So, we have three separate ways to calculate productivity here, and in each case, they yield a much higher estimate.
Mr. FRANK. Mr. Smith.
Mr. SMITH. If I might, I agree with much of what my colleague has said, and there is another explanation, which is, labor markets aren't as tight as we believe they are.
Mr. FRANK. Can I make one very real point? We talk about the labor market; as a matter of national policy rates, we added to the labor force a group of people previously not counted, welfare recipients who number in the hundreds of thousands. If you take the number of welfare recipients we expect to get jobs, whom we have legally ordered, in effect, to get jobs if they are going to survive, you add significantly to the labor force, you add a couple tenths of a percentage to the labor force, in terms of the unemployment rate. You are talking about two-tenths of a percent, three-tenths of a percent, significant figures in what we are talking about in the unemployment rate; so there have been some changes. I guess it clarified for me today.
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I will say, in summary, and I appreciate the indulgence, Mr. Chairman, the situation is this. Clearly, the economy performed much better with much less inflation at a given level of unemployment and growth than most of the prevailing economic models predicted, especially those in use at the Fed; and instead of taking what I think would be the likeliest answer for someone who approached this without preconceptionsmainly, among other things, productivity has done better and the labor market was not as tight as we thought. They are resisting that. And we still had today, it seemed to me, Mr. Meyer and Mr. McDonough suggesting that they think we ought to be tightening at some point in the future.
Let me say, in closing, their argument for tightening, that somewhere, somehow, something is going to cause inflation; they can't point to it now and they can't explain where it is going to come from, but it is just, things can't be this good.
I remember when I was a kid reading a biography of Ty Cobb, and it said the last time he got thrown out of a game for hitting an umpire, he was about 40, and his hitting skills had slowed down a little bit. He hit what everybody thought was a home run; but the umpire ruled after it went out of everybody's sight line, it had curved foul and called it a foul. And Cobb got quite angry.
And it seems to me that is what they are telling us, outside anybody's sight line, outside of anything measurable, outside of our experience in the last couple of years, this economy is curving it to high inflation, and they are going to stop it. And I wish we had Ty Cobb back to remonstrate with them.
Page 139 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman LEACH. If the gentleman will yield, at the age of 41, he hit .323.
Mr. FRANK. But, for him, that was the decline because his lifetime batting average was .367.
Chairman LEACH. Including a number of .400-plus years.
Mr. SANDERS. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and my apologies for running back and forth. Just a couple of questions I would like to ask our panelists.
Last year, according to Business Week Magazine a couple of months ago, the CEOs of major corporations earned a 54 percent increase in their compensation, workers earned a 3 percent increase in their compensation; CEOs of major corporations now make over 200 times what their workers earn. I would ask both of the gentlemen, what is your assessment of that situation? Is that a good situation for the United States of America? If it is not, what should we do about it?
Mr. SMITH. Congressman, I think we share both your outrage and your puzzlement at those numbers. The growth of inequality in this country during the last 20 years has been shameful. It is partly accounted for by a lack of opportunities, a lack of investments in human beings who find themselves at the bottom of the labor market; but it is partly accounted for by outrageous salaries and associated perquisites. As a moral issue, as a question of what kind of society do we want to be, how do we share the fruits of our productivity, it is suggestive of some quite ugly things.
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I would point out however, that we cannot fix what ails the bottom of the labor market. We cannot address the problems that low-income workers face simply by somehow appropriating or extracting more the compensation of the very wealthy. We need a fast-growing economy. We need tighter labor markets, we need policies that invest in those men and women. We ought not simply think there is a one-for-one tradeoff here. But the pattern that you described is one that we deplore.
Mr. SANDERS. The gentleman from the National Association of Manufacturers.
Mr. RICHARDS. You raise two issues, one of them being inequality and incomes, which has to do with the fact that wages were depressed in the early 1990'sI indicated earlier, I think that a large part of the problem is simply the fact we had too much slack in labor markets. We had an unemployment rate briefly over 7 percent and a natural rate of unemployment, probably less than 5. As a result, it was not until the last couple of years that you have gotten back to a situation of near full employment. As a result, the result for wages and wage increases in particular is going to be much better in the late 1990's than it was in the early 1990's.
Another dimension of inequality has to do with ownership of wealth. In fact, most CEOs are not paid huge salaries; they are paid in stock options, and one of the reasons their total compensation has gone up is the appreciation of the stock market.
This brings up an interesting issue from my point of view. That is, what is the best way to rectify the inequality of wealth in this country? This is not a NAM position; it is my personal view as an economist. I think workers should own more stock, and we have seen some movement in that direction. Many companies are paying their workers more stock options. Quite a few of us as small investors have gotten into the market and done well. There is an opportunity for workers, as long as they are employed and are able to save and invest their income, to actually raise their wealth by investing in the stock market; and I think that the best way to reduce inequality in this society is, in fact, to get workers more into the stock market so that they own more national wealth.
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Mr. SANDERS. Thank you for your thoughts. Afterall of a sudden, last year, the CEOs were earning 200 times what their workers were making, Mr. Richards, as I understand it, including all forms of compensation. And you are right about stock options, but you also have to acknowledge that there are some very fabulous salaries out there for CEOs as well.
Do you want to comment on the fact that the spread is $200-to-$1, the largest in the world; we have the most unfair distribution of wealth? You talked about distribution of wealth, the richest 1 percent own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. What do you think about that?
Mr. RICHARDS. Supposing back in 1989 workers had been offered large stock options in the old wages. In other words, companies had gone to workers and said, ''All right, we will give you stock options instead of the current compensation you are currently getting, and these stock options will be tax favored, you can put them into IRAs and so on.'' In the event that had been done, given the appreciation of the stock market we have seen in the early 1990's, then workers would be much better off today than they are. To some extent, the reason we have so much inequality is workers were not given the opportunity of getting in the stock market.
Mr. SANDERS. You are still not quite answering my question, because stock options are important, but they are not the only thing. There are areas of companies all over America cutting back on health insurance for workers today, companies that areprobably the National Association of Manufacturers wants to create a situation where workers today who receive benefits are now going to be what are called ''independent contractors,'' which will mean a continued lowering in their standard of living.
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I am asking you, very simply, does the NAM have any concern that we have the most unfair distribution of wealth and the most unfair distribution of income, that CEOs today make 200 times of their workers? Is that on your radar screen as a near area of concern?
Mr. RICHARDS. It is on our radar screen and I have suggested a possible solution, and I stand by that solution. I think workers have to be given stock, because that way they will be able to share in national wealth, and if they are given stock, the problem of inequality in future years will be reduced.
Mr. SANDERS. We have heardlast year, as you know, there was a big fight over here about whether or not we could raise the minimum wage more than $4.25. And some of us thought that was virtually a starvation wage, the lowest minimum wage this country had had for 40 years, and we raised it up to $5.15. And there were terrible predictions that the economy would collapse and no one would have any jobs and all that stuff, none of which has in fact taken place.
Now some of us think, given the fact our low-wage workers are the lowest paid workers in the industrial worldwe are behind the Italian low-wage workers and German low-wage workersand maybe we want to raise the minimum wage again to make sure that everybody that works 40 hours in America does not live in poverty.
How do you gentlemen stand on the need to raise the minimum wage again, say to $6.50 an hour? I think Senator Kennedy has proposed something along those lines, and I have something in the House.
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Mr. Smith, do you want to comment on that?
Mr. SMITH. Congressman, for most of the postwar era, the minimum wage was roughly 50 percent of the average manufacturing wage. It is still short of that target; it has been short of that target, I believe, since 1979.
It is certainly appropriate to restore the purchasing power of the minimum wage at a minimum to that level, and then to index it so that we don't go through these disgraceful battles every few years, where some American citizens argue that their brothers and sisters don't deserve a wage sufficient to raise their family.
Mr. SANDERS. Mr. Richards, what do you think? Can we do better than $5.15 an hour?
Mr. RICHARDS. At the current time, market events have really gotten ahead of the minimum wage; and in many cases, even the less skilled workers are making a good deal more than the minimum wage.
Mr. SANDERS. In some cases.
Mr. RICHARDS. Some less skilled workers are. The issue you have to consider, whenever you consider raising the minimum wage, is if you raise it beyond a given threshold, you end up pushing people out of work because you are raising costs on the kind of businesses that employ low-wage workers, which are typically not manufacturing firms; they are typically places like grocery stores and restaurants with very constrained liquidity. In many cases, these firms are not paying their CEOs much.
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Mr. SANDERS. McDonald's and Burger King, I suspect, compensate them.
Mr. RICHARDS. In other words, the danger that you face in raising the minimum wage is that you could end up throwing low-wage workers out of work if you raise it too high?
Mr. SMITH. If I might, Gordon's argument ought to sound familiar to you. It is what you heard last year. The facts are in. We raised the minimum wage, it goes up again in about 6 weeks, and there has been not a ripple in the economy, but more people are taking home more money; it is hard to argue with that.
Gordon's argument strikes me as disengenuous. I suppose at some level the minimum wage could be a job eater, but to argue because that might happen if we raise the minimum wage to $16, we shouldn't raise it to $6 is not correct.
Mr. SANDERS. One of the issues we don't talk about, and it is amazing how little we do talk about in the Congress, but what has always amazed me is, with all of the booming economy and new technology, it turns out American workers are working many longer hours than either 15 or 20 years ago. I think the figure I recall is about 160 hours a year more than was the case 20 years ago, because lower wages have forced people to work overtime and two and three jobs, as is the case in the State of Vermont.
In Germany, I think workers get 6 weeks paid vacation, throughout Europe, Sweden, France, and so on. In this country it is not uncommon for workers to be getting 1 week, 2 weeks paid vacation. What about extending developing legislation which basically gives people more time off, without cuts in pay, so that we can create more decent-paying jobs and give people an opportunity to experience family values, rather than having to work all the time?
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Does anyone want to comment on the overworked American?
Mr. SMITH. Congressman, I think what we have seen in the last 2 decades is families using almost any means to keep up. First, they supplied more workers to the labor force, two adult households become two-worker households. Workers have added hours. This has allowed their standard of living not to fall as rapidly as their hourly compensation has fallen.
This has become not simply an economic problem, but a social problem as well, and addressing it both statutorily and in the collective bargaining process is certainly appropriately on the agenda.
Mr. SANDERS. Sir.
Mr. RICHARDS. As a market economist, I still think decisions of that nature should be made between individuals and their employers, and the private agents should be able to arrive at employment contracts that are favorable to themselves. Many families have a second wage earner for the simple reason that women want to participate in the labor force and earn more money. I think this is in some ways a very favorable development.
Mr. SANDERS. That is certainly true, but on the other hand, as Mr. Smith indicated, I think what is obviously true is, the millions of women who would prefer to stay home with the kids who have now got to work in order to compensate for the decline in wages that the male has made.
Page 146 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Is this not a concern that people have? Why are our workersa figure that I saw is that our people are working 200 hours a year more than they are in Europe. The National Association of Manufacturers is concerned about that?
Mr. RICHARDS. We are concerned, but we think much of the downward pressure on real wages had to do with specific developments over the 1960's and 1970's. Specifically, we had the entry of the Baby Boomers into the labor force, which meant you had a temporary surplus of labor; you had events like the OPEC price shocks, which, of course, lowered wages very sharply; and you also had deep recessions, which put downward pressure on wages.
Now, under the circumstances, clearly some families were forced to have a second wage earner because their real wages were going down. At the same time, one development in the Baby Boom generation was that more people wanted to participate in the labor force and have careers, and I view that as a completely positive development.
As we now enter into a situation in which we are reaching a very low rate of unemployment, we should also be able to sustain a higher growth rate for a long period of time. Chances are wages will begin to catch up and people can then make whatever decision they choose regarding their participation in the labor force.
Mr. SANDERS. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Bentsen.
Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First of all, I know my colleague from Massachusetts had talked about the fact that productivity may be understated, and I think Mr. Richards does make that fairly clearin your testimony, that you think productivity probably isin the last year is probably around 1.8 percent, rather than .7 percent, something like that.
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Barney mentioned, where are the people who said CPI is understated when it comes to productivity? There was a study the Fed put out, I think the Boston Fed, one of their researchers put out, that in fact said we may not only be understating CPI, but may also be understating productivity as well as GDP. That is not hashed out, but it is probably something to take a look at.
Additionally, it would appear that there is slack in the labor market in some degrees. In other degrees, obviously there is not. There is an article in today's Houston Chronicle where there is a great demand for geophysicists. That demand ebbs and flows, and obviously ebbed in earlier years, and the geophysicist market is not that big to begin with.
But in the lower levels, there is still a problem, and I think both industry as well as labor agrees with that. Whether or not that is a tool or something that monetary policy can cure, I think probably not. I think that is a labor policy issue or a fiscal policy issue for us in terms of education.
Mr. Richards, I read in your testimony that you seem to indicateand I don't know if this NAM speaking, but perhaps we do need to be making more investments in the education area. But what I want to ask is a question that I brought up earlier for both of you, and this comes in the case of trade negotiations as well as regulatory policy.
I have people from the labor groups, as well as from manufacturers, who come to my office and say, ''We need more regulation in trade,'' or more specifically, ''We need less regulation in environmental policy. We need more freedom in labor policy as it relates to work rules or health and safety rules.''
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Are we at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world?
Mr. RICHARDS. There are several dimensions to competitiveness, but there are two highly important factors. One is labor cost less productivity, and the other is the exchange rate.
You mentioned several dimensions of cost. Of course, the labor cost is the main cost faced by other businesses, which other costs include regulation, compliance with regulation and, for instance, input prices.
If we look at the cost situation in American industry, the rising productivity growth has put us in a very good competitive situation. The rising productivity has been sufficiently strong as to make American products quite competitive in world markets.
Despite the fact that the dollar has been going up, we have seen reasonably good export growth through the 1990's. Exports are still likely to grow around 6 to 7 percent per year, and the only thing really holding us back from achieving an export growth rate of perhaps 10 to 11 percent a year is the dollar has appreciated in the last couple of years. If the dollar were back at its level of, say, 2 years ago, mid-1995, chances are we would be seeing even faster export growth.
But the United States is certainly not at a comparative disadvantage in international markets. I think the United States actually enjoys a competitive advantage in the world markets at the present time. There are two reasons. One is, of course, the strengthened productivity in manufacturing, because manufacturing does a lot of the trade; and the other is the fact, we got the exchange rates down from the overvalued levels of the mid-1980's.
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Mr. BENTSEN. If I might, I don't want to pick on NAM, for instance, but let's say other business groups, for instance, why do they want, or why in the last Congress did they want such dramatic changes? I guess my confusion is, I have people that come to my office and say, ''You have to roll back the clean air and water acts, you have to give us more work rule flexibility in order for us to maintain competitiveness; otherwise, we will have to move our plant overseas or our new expansion will be overseas.''
One industry group which told me that, which has a very large presence in my district, the same year they were telling me that they exceeded every other country in the level of exports of their product. So, on the one handand at the same time, at least on an average, their stock values continued to rise and their price-to-earnings ratios have risen dramatically.
I guess my confusion is, why on the one hand do we hear we are doing so well and then on the other hand we are being asked to make changes in the rules that would affect the employees who maybe are not doing quite as well?
Mr. SMITH. Can I take a crack at that?
I think we ought not to be surprised when owners of capital act like owners of capital. Reduced regulatory constraints, reduced obligations to pay workers, easier opportunities to degrade the environment, produce higher returns. Your job is to constrain that behavior in appropriate ways consistent with allowing the economy to grow and increase the goods and services that we all get to divvy up.
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But, it certainly should not surprise you, I think, Congressman, that the business owners will continue to wish to pay their workers less, to pollute more, and to invest less in health and safety. It is not a surprise. It is not right or wrong, it is simply the nature of the transaction that we are engaged in.
It is your job to measure those competing claims and to ensure that we don't degrade environments or workers or health and safety when we can avoid it.
Mr. RICHARDS. I would like to answer that question. You raised the issue of which perspective is correctare we very competitive, or are we facing a competitive disadvantage? In my opinion, the correct perspective is, we are now very competitive.
One of the problems is that corporate lobbyistsof course, not my own employersoften use the term ''competitiveness'' in a very irresponsible way. When they want a particular policy changed, they throw around ''competitiveness'' as though it were a buzzword.
In fact, competitiveness is determined mainly by the exchange rate and, secondarily, by way of productivity growth. If you look at the effect of something like environmental regulationand I have run this through econometric modelsI cannot find any evidence that it has ever affected our trade balance. I can, however, find evidence it has lowered the growth rate of the U.S. economy.
There are some estimates by Dale Jordanson of Harvard that I think are very good in this respect. Just to take environmental regulation as an example, what happens is that more capital spending gets diverted to pollution abatement. As a result, over an average business cycle, the capital stock ends up lower; as a result of that, GDP ends up somewhat lower and that, in turn, implies lower employment and lower wages.
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So the ultimate costs of environmental regulation are borne in the form of lower domestic GDP and perhaps somewhat lower wages, but not in the form of a loss of trade competitiveness.
Mr. BENTSEN. With the Chairman's indulgence, if I might
Chairman LEACH. If I could just say, we have got another very long panel.
Mr. BENTSEN. A very short question.
Chairman LEACH. Please, go ahead.
Mr. BENTSEN. I appreciate the Chairman.
I am not picking on you, Mr. Richards. Actually, I think you raised a very interesting point.
You said in your testimony that labor structure has changed, structural change in the labor markets, and you talk about the fact no longer are there rigid wage contracts, but instead you have pay for performance schemes, commission stock options, and so forth, which I don't disagree with.
Page 152 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC You also mention that this is an exceptionally good deal for workers and a better deal than an increase in the hourly wage.
You talk some about stock options. I guess my question is, do you have any data that indicates how prevalent that is in the labor markets? I actually think stock options for most employees is an excellent idea, because I think that probably adds to productivity. It gives them a piece of the profit margin. But is that really prevalent throughout the labor markets at this point in time, or is that something that we ought to be encouraging as a Federal tax policy or fiscal policy?
Mr. RICHARDS. I think that it is still the exception rather than the rule, but it is becoming much more pervasive. It is being adopted in particular by a lot of newer manufacturing outfits. We had a couple of companies recently who indicated that they give their workers a base wage of $9 an hour, but that the workers in many cases are achieving a take-home pay of something like $50,000 a year, and most of that consists of productivity bonuses or stock options or other forms of compensation. Unfortunately, we don't have any national data.
The only thing I can say is that this is something which, in my judgment, should be encouraged. It is a way of, one, making the workers more productive, and two, more importantly, rectifying income inequality, because it is a way of sharing national wealth.
Mr. BENTSEN. Would it be efficient or inefficient to provide some form of a tax concession in return for providing such options at certain levels of income?
Mr. RICHARDS. It would be extremely efficient. In fact, I would encourage Congress to draft such legislation.
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Mr. SMITH. Congressman, I would just observe that you can't eat a stock option, and the phenomenon that Gordon is discussing is a phenomenon that occurs in a fairly small and very particular part of the labor market. It is not something that most wage earners have an opportunity to do, and I would venture that very few of the people in America who work for an hourly wage would trade in the opportunity to take home a little bit more for a stock option.
Mr. BENTSEN. But, I know our time is up, but would it be, from labor's perspective, in a supplemental way an added benefit?
Mr. SMITH. Well, an added benefit is an added benefit. But the substitute of a stock option for take-home pay would strike us as not much of a benefit.
Mr. BENTSEN. Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Let me turn to Mr. Kennedy, but first make the observation, Mr. Smith, and it is the only point today I have a slight difference of opinion on.
Mr. SMITH. I knew that might happen if I stayed up here long enough, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. An economist has won a Nobel Prize for one precept, and that precept is, the major reason people want to save in America is for retirement. The precept of stock options is tied to retirement, and it is in most of the programs we have, whether it be 401Ks or whatever, these are extraordinarily popular with the average working person who has an exceptionally sophisticated understanding of the meaning of that retirement program to him.
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My own view is, to the degree that can be encouraged, that is another way of expanding real worker take-home pay, which just means it is in a saved circumstance. That doesn't mean it is a substitute for higher income, but as an augment, and it is a very sophisticated augment, because the tax policy frequently means more than take-home pay. I don't think what Mr. Bentsen was getting at is the least bit irrational.
Mr. SMITH. If I might, just for a minute, we may disagree less than you had thought. Certainly compensation in the form of increased resources for retirement security is something that we support, but Mr. Richards was suggesting trading hourly compensation for some kind of incentive compensation, some kind of contingent compensation. I think that is quite a different matter than encouraging more employers to contribute to the retirement security of their employees.
Mr. BENTSEN. If I might, though, wouldn't you agree to the extent that in addition toand obviously you are for anything in additionbut in trying to deal with income distribution, that expanding the reach of stock options is a favorable policy, that it just doesn't go to the top, as Mr. Sanders would mention; with you, it also goes to the middle and the bottom as well, that those workers enjoy in the fruits of their labor as well.
Mr. SMITH. We certainly agree with you, Congressman, that workers ought to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and we would start with higher paychecks.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Kennedy.
Page 155 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. KENNEDY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome Mr. Richards, and I also very much want to welcome David Smith, whom I have known for many years and whose work I think has done a large part to help many, many working families. I am delighted to see him before the committee.
And thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting all of the panels that are part of this process today.
I was somewhat frustrated and wanted to get your opinion, David, on the line of questions that actually the three of usBarney, myself and Bernie Sanderspursued with Chairman Greenspan yesterday, as well as the last time he was before the committee.
It seemed, in effect, at the end of the series of questions that the three of us posed, that he doesn't necessarilyalthough we probably disagree on some of the specificationthat he would say when he is sitting there that he does think there is a big problem betweenthe disparity between the rich and the poor in the United States, and that this is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.
But his basic conclusion, after you get through all of the words, is that this is not really within the purview of the Federal Reserve, and that he really has to deal with macroeconomics policy pertaining to monetary policy, and that all he can do is kind of look at the figures, and if the figures show there is an overall economic growth without inflation, then he is not going to raise interest rates. If inflation sticks up its head, he is going to raise interest rates.
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I suppose the converse of that is, if the markets were all gummed up and not moving forward, that he would probably lower interest rates or something like that.
But I don't know whether you feel the position of the Federal Reserve Chairman offers opportunities beyond simply raising and lowering rates to achieve some of the goals that I think both of you have spoken about here today, and certainly in times past.
Mr. SMITH. Briefly, Congressman, the Chairman surely is right that the Fed doesn't have the same sort of stewardship of social policy, for instance, that Congress does. But he is also a bit disingenuous.
The most important thing we can do to move toward a reduction in income inequality in this society is ensure that we keep labor markets tight. Tight labor markets encourage the kinds of investments in workers and investments in capital which allow the economy to grow, allow us to produce more and allow us to distribute more.
They also allow people who have been locked out of the labor force or left out of the labor force to rejoin it. No policy is more important in determining how tight our labor markets are than what the Federal Reserve Bank does. So the Chairman does have a role.
He certainly is correct that in some social policies there is not much the Fed can do. But to suggest that the Fed therefore has no capacity to affect income distribution, I think is incorrect.
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Mr. FRANK. If the gentleman will yield to me, I am struck by that, and it occurs to me some of my free market friends seem to lose their faith in the free market when it comes to labor. Essentially what you are saying is, the way to increase the price that labor gets is to increase demand for it, and that seems to be a perfectly acceptable application of free market economics to which a lot of our free market friends take exception. It is one of those things, like agriculture, where there was apparently a footnote in all of the conservative texts which said, this doesn't apply to wages, or whatever.
Mr. KENNEDY. I also want to come back to this issue. Yesterday on page 14 he says, as I noted, ''The recent performance of the labor markets suggests the economy was on an unsustainable track. Unless aggregate demand increases more slowly than it has in recent years, more in line with the trends of supply of labor and productivity, imbalances will emerge.''
Essentially what he is pointing at there is the notion that we have too much employment. Effectively, he is trying to suggest that we are hitting a stage in terms of the economic policy where there isat one point, I can't remember exactly where in his testimony, he was saying we have too many unskilled workers in the labor force, which is going to create some sort of inflationary cycle. At a certain stage, there is kind of a bizarre quality to the way he is structuring the question.
I am sure there is an economic theory that would suggest that because we have more unskilled laborers in the work force, therefore you are going to create inefficiencies. But the truth of the matter is, I think we come at it from a perspective that the more people you have working in the society, the better off the society is, the more people are able to purchase more goods and services and, effectively, everybody can gain.
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I think our great frustration is this notion that somehow there is either a number out there of unemployed people or a percentage of unemployment, or there is a growth of actual wages that might occur that, therefore, would automatically trigger a rise in the interest rates.
I wonder if you could just comment whether or not you think that those are legitimate concerns, or whether or not you think that there is an alternative view?
Mr. SMITH. Congressman, I have been struck, as this debate has unfolded over the last couple of years, by the appropriateness of a couple of chapters from ''Grapes of Wrath.'' Steinbeck describes ''Oakies'' moving to the West Coast and being denied employment in the cannery factories south of San Francisco because they were simply not up to the arduous and difficult task of canning sardines.
A decade later, these same people were arming democracy and preparing for the Second World War, building the bomber fleets and advanced weaponry in L.A.
We have enormous capacity with tight labor markets to train and develop workers who currently may not be as productive, but they will stay unproductive if they stay unemployed.
Mr. KENNEDY. Exactly. I know we are out of time.
Mr. Richards, if you wanted to offer any comments.
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Mr. RICHARDS. Thank you. I think you should really approach these issues on a two-pronged basis. What the Federal Reserve can do is ensure that you have sufficient economic growth so that we don't grow below potential, that unemployment doesn't increase, that the unemployment rate gradually declines to something like its structural rate or natural rate, sometimes called NAIRU. This, I think, was the concept Mr. Greenspan was dealing with.
The issue for Congress, of course, is what can be done legislatively to ensure the natural rate of unemployment declines. Here, education of the work force, greater training of workers, any efforts to make labor markets function more efficiently will encourage those workers to get jobs, as a result of which the natural rate of unemployment will tend to decline, probably to well below the level we currently see.
Currently the level of unemployment is around 5 percent. I think it would be entirely conceivable to get the actual unemployment rate and natural rate down below 5 percent, probably closer to 4, if you would adopt some structural policies, such as additional education and training, and at the same time the Federal Reserve keeps monetary policy sufficiently loose that the economy grows along potential.
Mr. KENNEDY. Well, Mr. Richardson, I would point out, while I very much agree with your perspective on this in terms of the goals, in any event, the truth is that the Chairman yesterday also indicated that he didn't believe that the kinds of programs that we hadand even though we were voting on the House floor just yesterday on revamping the vo-tech bill, were in fact successful in getting people the kind of job training and educational opportunities that they need.
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Now, there might be some areas we need to revamp even more. But, nevertheless, it seems to me what we need at this point, in addition to all of the rest of the economic policy, is someone who is showing at least some sensitivity in talking about some of these concerns in terms of the differentials between rich and poor, and the fact we can have more people working in the work force and through that work actually encouraging people to gain new skills and move up the economic ladder, which I is what I ultimately believe is the fundamental and most important building block of the economy of this country.
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for the time.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you for those thoughtful perspectives. I want to thank both of you.
One of the symbolisms of the National Association of Manufacturers and the AFL-CIO is that we are all in the same boat together. I think it is impressive that there are differentiations of judgment, but also a lot of similarity. I thank you both for your quality testimony. Thank you.
On our next panel is Mr. John Lipsky, the Chief Economist of the Chase Manhattan Bank. Prior to that, he served as Chief Economist at Salomon Brothers and was an economist with the International Monetary Fund. Prior to that, he received his real education in the public school system of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Our second witness is Dr. Robert Eisner, who is a Professor at Northwestern University. He was also a Senior Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and was an economist and statistician for the United States Government in the Office of Price Administration.
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Our third panelist is Dr. William Brown, Managing Director and Chief Economist at the J.P. Morgan Company. He is a graduate of Harvard University.
Our fourth witness is Dr. Lawrence Chimerine. Dr. Chimerine is the Managing Director and Chief Economist at the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington, DC., for more than 16 years has been a consultant to hundreds of major corporations, and was once Manager of Research and Forecasting for the IBM Corporation.
Our fifth panelist is Dr. Robert B. DiClemente who is Director and head of the United States Economic and Market Analyst Group at Salomon Brothers.
Our last panelist is Dr. James K. Galbraith, who is a Professor at the Lyndon Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He holds a large number of establishment degrees from Harvard, Yale and Cambridge, but is best known for challenging establishment theories.
If there is no objection, we will begin as introduced, unless there has been a prior arrangement. If not, we will begin with John Lipsky.
STATEMENT OF JOHN LIPSKY, CHIEF ECONOMIST AND DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH, CHASE MANHATTAN BANK
Page 162 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Mr. LIPSKY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon to give my views on U.S. monetary policy. I would note that there must be something about an Eastern Iowa upbringing that fosters an interest in finance and economic policy. The earliest discussions on that topic that I recall were at Franklin Junior High School in Cedar Rapids.
But, more generally, I have often wondered about the broader implications of Cedar Rapids economic record. Unemployment there persistently has been below the national average, but without producing the distorting and destabilizing effects that normally are described as inevitable in those circumstances.
Turning to the subject of the committee's invitation, which was to examine the state of the economy and to review the conduct of monetary policy, there are four main points that I would like to make today.
First, the U.S. economy is performing exceptionally well compared both with our own industrial country partners and with our post-World War II experience.
Second, this economic success is not a result of only temporary factors or luck, but rather derives in large part from good policy choices and from favorable structural developments. Of the former factors, sustained anti-inflationary monetary policy has been the most important.
The third point is that the outlook remains free of expansion-threatening imbalances, as near-term growth likely will be somewhat more moderate than is reflected in current consensus views. Thus, inflation risks will remain quiescent and potential pressures for additional tightening of Federal Reserve monetary policy likely will be absent in the coming months.
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Fourth, looking beyond near-term issues, Fed officials need to examine possible new guides for setting policy, because the changing structure of the U.S. economy has rendered traditional monetary policy indicators less reliable. The new class of so-called ''feedback rules'' looks particularly promising in this regard.
The U.S. economy's performance during the past few years has exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts. In particular, growth has strengthened while inflation has remained tame. The improved price outlook has helped to lower long-term interest rates, thereby boosting investment and improving the economy's long-term growth potential.
Accelerating productivity growth, aided by double-digit growth in investment on capital equipment during the past few years, has permitted both noninflationary wage gains and robust increases in business profits. The rise in U.S. asset prices, including the stunning stock market gains of the past 2 years, no doubt derives in large part from the unexpectedly favorable corporate earnings performance and the prospect that the benign economic environment will be sustained.
The excellent U.S. performance of the 1990's stands in stark contrast with the disappointing recent record of our G7 partners. Without exception, they have suffered deeper recessions and weaker recoveries than has the United States. Investment growth in these countries generally has been sluggish, and job gains have been paltry or nonexistent for years.
In fact, the recent U.S. economic success in effect represents a new American challenge to other industrial countries. International investors have grown more confident that the U.S. outlook will remain favorable in the future. It is not surprising, therefore, that the dollar has strengthened over the past 2 years and that net long-term private capital inflows have accelerated to a record pace.
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This is not to claim that the U.S. economy today represents some theoretical ideal and that all problems have been overcome. Nor is it evident that the business cycle has been rescinded for all time. Nonetheless, to claim that nothing new is going on ignores the obvious: U.S. GDP has grown in every quarter save four since the Fall of 1982. This is the best record of the post-World War II era, and suggests that we need to examine closely the structural shifts currently underway and to rethink traditional notions of the business cycle.
A debate has emerged whether the U.S. economy is being governed by a new paradigm. Analysts, investors and policymakers alike have wondered whether the unexpectedly good U.S. economic performance has resulted from temporary factors and simple good luck, or rather, from improved economic policy decisions and/or favorable structural changes. The answer to these questions is important. If the U.S. performance reflects good decisions, then it likely will be sustainable. Moreover, U.S. policy may represent a prototype for other industrial countries.
In my view, the U.S. economy's low inflation expansion has not resulted from good luck, but derives in large part from four basic factors: one, sustained anti-inflationary monetary policy; two, economic liberalization, including financial market deregulation, the elimination of price controls and reductions of barriers to entry in several key sectors, such as telecommunications; three, declining budget deficits in the context of a medium- and long-term focus for budget policy; and four, improved inventory controls and a trend decline in inventory sales ratios that, together, have reduced troublesome inventory cycles.
Of these factors, the persistent application of serious anti-inflationary monetary policy has been the most important. Since Mr. Paul Volcker became Federal Reserve Chairman in 1979 and, subsequently, under the leadership of Mr. Alan Greenspan, the Fed has pursued price stability as its primary policy goal. As inflation has declined, the Fed's credibility has grown, while inflation fears have waned. Given the focus of this hearing and in the interests of brevity, I will not offer further comments regarding the other factors, beyond noting that the combination of credible monetary policy and significant regulatory reform has been unique to the United States among the G7 economies in the past two decades.
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The fruits of the Fed's anti-inflationary policies have been particularly evident in the past few years. The reason for this apparently delayed impact, is straightforward. The central bank earns credibility the same way that Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Ken Griffey, Jr., have earned their reputations as hitters: That is, by stepping up to the plate and swinging the bat with consistent success. The Fed earns credibility by promoting good economic performance through successfully resisting inflationary pressures. Unlike baseball players, who get to bat hundreds of times each season and whose batting average is calculated anew every year, the Fed faces reputation-setting inflationary challenges very infrequently, but the results accumulate. By resisting inflationary pressures vigorously in the late 1970's, again in the late 1980's, and most recently in 1994-1995, the Fed's reputation has been enhanced progressively and the economy's performance has improved as a result.
By now, the Fed's message is widely understood. There will be no return to higher inflation. The clarity and credibility of the Fed's commitment to price stability has lowered both inflation expectations and long-term interest rates. This has bolstered the prospects for sustained investment-led growth andin the context of reducing mortgage rateshas bolstered the housing sector.
What economistsand what many others recognized some years agothat there is no long-term tradeoff between low unemployment and low inflationincreasingly is evident in the historical record. In the post-World War II era, the periods of strongest growth in output and in income per capita and the lowest unemployment rates, have coincided with the lowest inflation.
Page 166 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Many analysts and financial market participants harbor pessimistic views about U.S. prospects. Consensus expectations encompass higher inflation and higher interest rates in the next few quarters, including new Fed rate hikes and the risk of an eventual cyclical downturn. The pessimists maintain that when the U.S. unemployment rate falls below 5.5 to 6 percentthat is, below NAIRUinflation will accelerate necessarily.
Moreover, with the stock market allegedly levitating on a speculative tidal wave of mutual fund purchases and with second quarter income growth outpacing consumption, a new acceleration of private spending toward an inflationary pace is viewed by many as a foregone conclusion.
I don't find these arguments convincing. Several factors suggest that U.S. economic growth in the coming quarters likely will be somewhat more moderate and inflation risks somewhat less acute than is reflected in the current market consensus.
First, the combination of good productivity growth and strong investment is boosting the economy's productive capacity at a faster pace than has been typical in past decades.
Second, the NAIRU almost certainly has declined in recent years, reflecting increased labor mobility and shifts in demographics, economic expectations and cultural attitudes. Thus, the near-term risk of inflationary wage pressures is less convincing than would have been the case in past decades.
Third, the widely used concept of consumer spending ''momentum'' is overstated in the consensus view. Current income trends provide powerful explanations of current spending, but offer little guidance about future spending. Yet, the outlook for future income trends is uncertain.
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Fourth, the consumer investment cycle and the so-called ''wealth effect'' on spending of rising equity and other asset prices, appear to be winding down.
Finally, the dollar's continued rise and sluggish growth among our main trading partners will keep imported inflation low.
The prospects are good, therefore, for continued moderate growth and quiescent inflation pressures. In this case, the Fed may not need to tighten policy further in this expansion phase. Indeed, it is conceivable that, in time, the Fed's next policy decision could be an easing.
Looking beyond the near-term policy challenges, a long-run issue remains to be addressed: Whether reliable, objective procedures can be developed for setting monetary policy.
Fed officials can no longer rely on many traditional monetary policy indicators. Money supply rules, for example, have been rendered problematic by structural changes in the financial sector. As has been mentioned already, economic indicators, such as NAIRU, appear to be more useful in explaining the past than in predicting the future.
At the same time, monetary policy techniques in use in several other countries, such as formal inflation targeting, seem more helpful in establishing credibility than in providing operational guidelines.
Page 168 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Finally, pegging the dollar's value to some external anchor, such as gold or a basket of commodities, enjoys limited theoretical or practical support.
In recent years, the Fed has been forced by the absence of a reliable policy rule to operate in a highly pragmatic fashion. This provides one explanation for the heightened attention paid to public speeches by Fed officials. In any case, uncertainty is sufficiently great about whether the current combination of good growth, low unemployment and steady inflation can be maintained.
But, the Fed must remain flexible with regard to upcoming policy decisions. That is, the policy-setting FOMC must sift through myriad data series, as well as qualitative factors, in order to determine as well as possible the appropriate Fed funds rate.
A more systematic approach to setting Fed policy might rely on so-called ''feedback monetary policy rules.'' These rules use readily available and easily understood data to help set Fed policy in a self-correcting framework. The best known is the Taylor Rule, named after its author, Professor John Taylor of Stanford University. This rule relies on both output and inflation data to indicate when Fed policy shifts are needed to meet a specified inflation target.
Regardless of the analytical method used, the basic question that needs to be answered is whether at this time there exists a policy-driven or other imbalance in the economy, and if so, whether Fed action would be an appropriate remedy. At present, it is difficult to develop a strong case for additional Fed tightening. Unless more convincing evidence emerges of growing inflationary pressures, the FOMC can leave policy unchanged.
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These remarks have addressed several complicated issues in a highly summarized fashion, and I will be very happy to answer questions later.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT EISNER, PROFESSOR, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY
Mr. EISNER. Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here.
Some half a century ago, the policy of Congress was directed in the Employment Act of 1946 to maximum employment, production and purchasing power. There has been very little direct implementation of that goal over the years. In 1978, of course, the Humphrey-Hawkins Act attempted to guide the Congress in policy to a better implementation of specific goals, including 4 percent unemployment; and yet that goal, to be achieved by 1983, has not been achieved and, in fact, there has been little action really directed toward it. To the extent unemployment has gone down, it has not been due to a conscious aim to drive it down, with some very rare exceptions.
I suggest that there is really a lot of opposition to full employment in this country in various circles. I would like to suggest, only half jokingly, that there are many closet Marxists. Karl Marx, some of you may recall, argued there has to be a ''reserve army'' of the unemployed in order to keep workers from bidding up their wages and thereby driving out profits and destroying the system.
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A lot of people in this country seem to believe that you cannot have labor markets too tight, or unemployment too low, or the modern view of that, wages will simply drive up inflation, which will be a disaster.
Now, that view has been reincarnated, this old Marxist view, in the NAIRU, which I consider one of the worst abominations to affect economic policy, and indeed, much of my profession, to my embarrassment. It is a view, a dogma, without a sound basis in economic theory, and supported over the years by econometric estimates, of which I have made many, but which are based on a restricted model. In fact, current modern estimates are showing high standard errors, meaning our ability to estimate where in the world this NAIRU is is very uncertain.
I have been attacking it for a number of years in a number of papers. I submit for the record one which is in The American Prospect Spring 1995 issue, an early paper of mine on that entitled ''Our NAIRU Limit, the Governing Myth of Economic Policy.''
What I found in my own work on the NAIRU is that if you separate out periods in which unemployment is below the alleged NAIRU and unemployment above the alleged NAIRU, you do find that high unemployment does tend to lower inflation, which should be no surprise. If businesses cannot sell their products and workers can't get jobs, that may begin to lower inflation. But low unemployment has not raised inflation. As I say, I have a number of papers, estimates over about 40 years of data, bringing this out.
I might also point out that the application of NAIRU is closely associated with rates of growth, and the big view of the Fed and many people is if you allow the economy to grow too rapidly, that it will reduce the unemployment rateGod forbidand put the unemployment rate below the NAIRU and, therefore, cause inflation.
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Just one slightly parenthetic remark: I was quickly looking at some numbers while I was sitting here, and I can point out that, in the four quarters from the first quarter of 1996 to the first quarter of 1997, the real GDP growth was about 4.1 percent. Unemployment did, in fact, come down. As for the inflation rate measured by this GDP price deflator, which is the broadest measure of prices in the economy, prices went up all of 1.8 percent. Indeed, you can even question whether they went up that much.
What I have tried to stress over and over againand I think this should be a critical guide for policy of this body, or the Fedwhat counts for the economy? We have been hearing what counts for real people.
What counts is the gross domestic product, the total amount of what we can produce in a year. What counts is the distribution of that product and, therefore, the income that we earn from producing it. What counts is not only the present, but our investment in the future; the more investment of all kinds that we have, both public and private, physical capital and human capital, the greater will be our output in the future. And finally, what counts, not only because it promotes growth and is good for GDP, you have more GDP with more people working, but what counts is employment and unemployment themselves. Because in our world, in our society, a person without a job who needs a job is nothing. That is destructive not only of income, it is destructive of family, it is destructive of human beings, it is destructive of the very fabric of our society.
Those are the targets we have to keep in mind.
Page 172 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Where does inflation come into all this? We keep talking about inflation. In fact I was able to watch Chairman Greenspan on television last night, and I noticed that he indicated that inflation is simply a tool for something else. He, too, is interested in the growth of the economy. We do not want excessive inflation, but you know, if everybody is paying higher prices, slightly higher, sellers as well as buyers, that is not necessarily the end of the world.
Again, I am not arguing for higher inflation, but Alan Greenspan, Chairman Greenspan said, as well, that he wants to keep a stable price situation, low inflation or no inflation, because that promotes the other objectives of growth.
Now, the thing that I think many people seem to forget and I trust the Members of this committee are well aware of, and Chairman Greenspan is well aware of, the Fed has limited tools. The Fed cannot do everything. What it can do is control the cost and the amount of credit, and that is intended to influence the amount that people in the economy spend.
If they spend more, what happens? There is more production, and there may be higher prices in some circumstances. If they spend less, there may be lower prices. There will almost certainly be less production.
The one tool that the Federal Reserve has of raising the discount rate, actually raising the Federal funds rate, choking off credit, has the effect of making people spend less; and if it does anything to lower inflation, that will do it precisely as it lowers output and increases unemployment. There are no two ways about that.
You can slow inflation, if the Fed is doing it, by increasing unemployment, by slowing the rate of growth.
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Now, Alan Greenspan spoke of the importance of maintaining a sustainable growth rate. That is an interesting thing to get into. I am not saying the economy can grow at 4 or 5 percent forever. Maybe it could, but nothing can go on forever. The population can't grow for 1 percent a year forever or we will overflow the Earth.
The question is, first, how fast you can grow in the short-run? I just pointed out, it grew more than 4 percent in the last year. As long as there is some slack in the economy, more people that can go to work, then output can grow at a more rapid rate; and we certainly should and can promote policies which mean lower interest rates, as far as monetary policy goes, that would enable the economy to grow as fast as it can until it uses up all the slack.
I am not saying that is sustainable. I know that 4.1 percent is not sustainable indefinitely. I am confident that 3 percent is sustainable, even though the Administration and Congress talk of 2.1 to 2.3 percent rates. Sustainable growth, in the first place, means in the short-run to get yourself up to that capacity limit; in the longer run, to grow as fast as the economy can grow.
I think some things in economic theory and evidence are forgotten. That a lower rate of growth is not necessarily more sustainable than a higher rate of growth. A lower rate of growth, like 1 percent instead of 2 or 3, means less demand for new capital, less investment, and may well bring a collapse of the economy. The faster growth we have had actually brings out more investment and, therefore, keeps the economy profitable, growing and successful.
Page 174 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC I might then close in terms of what I would urge and argue. In the first place, clearly, the Federal Reserve should do no harm. That means it should not raise interest rates, not tighten credit. As many of us have suggested now, it should not tighten because it thinks somehow there might be some inflation some time in the future. There is no evidence of that now, and if there were a bit, you might wait until you see the whites of their eyes before you fire anyway.
The second thing I would say is, the Fed has responsibility to do more than do no harm. The Humphry-Hawkins Act says it should be directing itself to maximum employment, low unemployment, a 4 percent target. That means it should keep trying to lower interest rates to keep the economy moving forward as rapidly as it can, and that, by the way, will also meet each of the objectives of what I say counts and what I think we must all recognize countsmaximum production now, maximum investment in the future, maximum employment now, and as has been addressed by a number of people, a better distribution of income.
Because a more prosperous economy with lower unemployment will increase the demand for labor and of low-skilled labor, which is generally the first to be unemployed, it will increase that demand for low-paid labor and help the distribution of income as well.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Page 175 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOCSTATEMENT OF WILLIAM A. BROWN, MANAGING DIRECTOR AND CHIEF ECONOMIST, J.P. MORGAN COMPANY
Dr. BROWN. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. The starting point for my comments today is the tremendous surge we have seen over the past 18 months in optimism about current and prospective economic performance. It is evident almost everywherein the performance of the stock market, in household attitudes, in business actions as seen in the continued boom in capital spending.
The mood of optimism is particularly striking as it is in such contrast to the pervasive gloom of only several years ago. As someone who spends a lot of time giving presentations on the economy to a wide range of people, I can testify how hard it was only 4 years ago to convince people that things might actually get better. Today, there is a similar resistance to any suggestion that they might not be this good forever.
Let me quickly highlight the economic performance that lies behind this transformation in sentiment and then discuss the implications for monetary policy.
The economy in recent years has featured sustained, although unspectacular, growth and very well-behaved inflation. One explanation for this good performance is that we have entered a new age in which rapid growth and inflation are compatible. I would be very cautious about embracing such notions. It is worth remembering that the 2.8 percent average growth in this expansion is the lowest of all post-World War II expansions and falls well short of the 4 percent achieved as recently as the 1980's expansion and the close to 5 percent of the 1960's expansion.
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Inflation, although low and well-behaved, was lower consistently in the 1950's, has been as well-behaved at times in the past, particularly in the cycle of the 1960's, and has benefited from some potentially temporary factors, most importantly, a very favorable external environment. In short, it has been a nice business cycle, but this performance is far from unprecedented and certainly no miracle.
There is one aspect of recent performance, however, that is worth highlighting and is unusually positive. Recent economic and market performances both suggest that the unwinding of the inflation rise of the late 1960's and 1970's is now complete. The three-decade rise and fall of inflation has been the central economic and financial market event of the post-World War II period. Over the past 15 years, a gradual working down of inflation has been a central focus for monetary policy.
Although critically necessary, disinflation came at a heavy price. Since the Federal Reserve began in earnest to attack the inflation program under Chairman Volcker at the beginning of the 1980's, the unemployment rate has averaged 6.9 percent. In the two decades before inflation rose decisively, the unemployment rate had averaged 4.9 percent.
The completion of the disinflation process holds out the possibility of sustaining substantially lower unemployment rates than we have gotten used to over the past 15 years. How low? I think both the fact that the roughly 5 percent average of the 1950's brought with it a bit of an up-creep in inflation and the fact that wage inflation has accelerated modestly in the past year, suggests that 5 percent is probably at the low end of what will prove possible. But something below 6 percent is a reasonable expectation and would be a substantial improvement over what we have been experiencing on average.
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There is some reason, as well, to believe that lower inflation might also contribute to a higher sustainable rate of economic growth, as one major intermediate-term uncertainty for business is removed. The relationship between inflation and sustainable growth, however, is poorly defined; and as I indicated, the low growth rate during the current cycle does not provide much encouragement. Higher sustainable growth thus remains a hope more than something that can be counted on.
Despite this major accomplishment, the magnitude in the swing toward optimism seems disproportionate to the actual and prospective performance of the economy, although it is not out of line with the history of sentiment swings over the business cycle. Just as slow growth in the early 1990's led people to conclude this was the norm, people are now extrapolating recent solid growth. In both cases, what was missed was that economic performance was being significantly influenced by business cycle considerations.
This brings me to the question of the appropriate stance of monetary policy. Over the past 18 months, the Federal Reserve has displayed a relatively relaxed approach to the inflation threat posed by strong growth in an already fully employed economy. The delayed, and so far modest, one-quarter point tightening is in clear contrast, for example, to the aggressive tightening undertaken at a similar point in the last cycle in 1988.
The easier approach is justified by the progress that has been made in the disinflation process and by the apparent recent further fall in longer-term inflation expectations. Both are sound reasons for moving monetary policy away from a focus on reducing inflation, and they justify as well a somewhat more confident approach to managing inflation risks. They do not mean, however, that the Federal Reserve can relax in the important job of managing the business cycle.
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One key function of monetary policy is to lean against the swings between gloom and euphoria, whether rational or otherwise, in order to keep the economy on a reasonably even keel. This is what has been done successfully in the current cycle, either by luck or design; and it is a key reason for the excellent economic performance we have been enjoying. Every time growth threatened to boom, something has knocked it back.
In 1992, growth reached 4 percent, but a severe recession in Europe and Japan and a tax increase at home cooled things for a time. By 1994, growth worked its way back to 4 percent, but Fed tightening, a major setback in global bond markets and a collapse in exports to Mexico cooled growth again.
Over the past year, growth once again has climbed back to 4 percent or a little bit better. What is different this time is that no countervailing forces are emerging. Neither the Fed nor market interest rates have risen appreciably, a modest tax cut is on the way, and growth abroad is accelerating noticeably. In fact, the major reaction to the pickup in growth has been the surge of optimism that has elevated the stock market and produced the largest increase in stock market wealth on record. With no restraint in place, growth will not fall back quickly as it did twice earlier in the cycle and is anticipated to do by most forecasts, including those of the Federal Reserve.
The current growth surge will inevitably come to an end, but the risk is that the slowing will be brought about by a rise in inflation and the market and policy reactions, or by a buildup of cyclical excesses and their inevitable unwinding. In either case, the slowing of growth will likely be sharp and extended, as both an acceleration in inflation and cyclical excesses involve the need for reversal and thus for a period of ''payback.''
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In contrast, slowing due to monetary tightening can be quickly reversed, if appropriate. Ironically, the Federal Reserve's relative inaction over the past year has encouraged people to believe that the current growth surge is sustainable. The resulting upgrades to earnings expectations and demand forecasts are feeding, rather than dampening, the surge in activity.
What is needed now is not another cheerleader for the U.S. economyit has plentybut a timely dose of restraint. The need does not reflect any underlying problem in the economy. Just the opposite, it is the basic health of the economy that requires a firmer hand on the monetary reins. It would be a shame if a cyclical misstep at the end of a very well-managed expansion prevented the country from realizing fully the potential benefits of restored low inflation and global competitiveness.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you very much, Dr. Brown.
STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE CHIMERINE, MANAGING DIRECTOR AND CHIEF ECONOMIST, ECONOMIC STRATEGY INSTITUTE
Dr. CHIMERINE. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is nice to see you and the other Members again. I suspect you are beginning to suffer from monetary policy fatigue with, now, with two days of hearings on the subject. I am going to try to be very brief and, to the extent possible, avoid too much repetition, focusing primarily on what I believe to be the key issues in the decisions the Fed will be making over the next several months, and presenting my views on those and what the Fed should do in response.
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I guess the question that everyone is wrestling with is, is there now something different? There are two reasons why many of us believe there is something different, particularly with respect to inflation.
First, it is very rare to have experienced such benign inflation as late in the business cycle as we are right now, and in fact, I cannot remember another case where all the inflation measures were actually declining in the sixth year of an economic expansion as they are now. In almost every other expansion at this time, inflation would be accelerating.
And second, and I am not sure whether this has been mentioned before, wage increases have not only been modest, but for several years now, at least three, probably four, virtually all of the models that have wage equations in them have been consistently overpredicting wages. That is, the traditional relationships between wages and all the determining factors, levels of corporate profits, unemployment measures and lagged inflation rates, and whatever else they might be, has changed.
Those equations have been sizably and consistently overstating wage increases now for a number of years, so this has been going on for so long now that I think the conclusion that something different is taking place is a legitimate conclusion, even though I realize the phrase ''this time is different,'' is one of the most overused phrases in the English language.
By the way, if I can make one comment on an observation Will Brown made a moment ago, this is a relatively modest expansion by traditional measures, such as real GDP, but it is very difficult to make comparisons between this expansion and those, for example, which occurred in the 1950's and 1960's. There are a number of demographic changes, changes in average education levels, and other factors, which pushed up economic growth very strongly during those years, and don't do it to the same extent now, so the economy has probably been doing better over the last 4 or 5 years than it appears to be based solely on GDP comparisons for economic expansions.
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What is different this time? I think there are several key differences. Probably the most significant are a number of factors which have dramatically reduced pricing flexibility and pricing power throughout the United States, in almost every major industry. I think some of these factors have already been discussed. They include the increase in global competition; more intense domestic competition; deregulation across a number of major industries in the United States, now even spreading to telecommunications and electric power and others; an increasing number of industries characterized by learning curves, which forces down prices over time, as these industries grow; huge excess capacity in retailing, resulting from massive building and overbuilding in recent years; and the growth of discount operations, many based largely on economies of scale, in a wide number of industries, especially in parts of retailing and distribution. All of these have created intense competition and pricing pressures in so many industries that more often than not, price cutting and price discounting is the order of the day, rather than price increases, and there is no sign whatsoever, in my opinion, that any of this is changing in any way.
Almost all of the companies I talk to tell me it is still extraordinarily intense out there, and it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to raise prices. In fact, in virtually every case, all the companies I talked to tell me they essentially start their business planning process with the assumption that they will not be able to raise prices, and then work backward to find ways to keep costs under control, so they can continue to show improved profitability, despite the inability to raise prices.
They are doing this by holding wages as low as they can; by reducing benefits in many cases; by increasingly outsourcing high cost activities to someone on the outside who can do it more cost-effectively; by using more and more cost-saving technologies, more of which is probably available now than might have been the case 10 or 20 years ago; by pressuring suppliers, in some cases unmercifully telling them on a regular basis what kind of price cuts they expect from them each year, and so on down the list.
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And while it is true that if market conditions change, it is possible some of these companies may be able to push through some price increases where they haven't in recent years, the fact is that they are putting in place many changes which are holding down costs, reducing the risk of inflation as we move ahead.
On the labor side, I think there have been many changes as well, which have reduced increases in wages for any given rate of unemployment, some of which have been discussed extensively already. These include the decline in union power; the decline in the real minimum wage over the last 10 or 12 yearseven with the increase last year, the minimum wage in real terms is still relatively lowwidespread job insecurity, a legacy of corporate downsizing; increased competition coming from low-wage countries; and a number of other factors that clearly appear to have dampened wage increases in recent years. In line with the comment made earlier, they are lagging behind what the traditional relationships have been predicting.
By the way, these factors reinforce each other. Small wage increases, being held down by corporate efforts to keep costs under control, only reinforce the factors that have probably reduced wage increases on the labor side. In my opinion, these are intense factors that are still in place and suggest that the favorable inflation climate is likely to continue.
Some would take the opposite view. They point to the modest acceleration in wages over the last 12 or 18 months as a sure sign of coming inflation. This is the first step, they argue, in cost increases, which will ultimately push prices up. I think this is a misguided conclusion. The increase in wages has been very slow and gradual and very spotty.
Page 183 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Second, it is probably more of a catch-up than a precursor or a leading indicator of inflation. As many people have discussed already, wages have been lagging for years. And in fact, in this expansion period, a larger share of the increase in national income has gone into corporate profits and a smaller share into employee compensation by far, than in any recent expansion, so these wage increases are not leading indicators of inflation. Furthermore, they are being offset by productivity increases in almost every single industry and with a high level of profit margins can easily be absorbed within current levels of profits. I don't view this modest, gradual pickup in wages as a sign of inflation.
Notwithstanding, given the fact that there is no automatic pass-through, with the intense competition in product markets and end markets, even the increases in wages that have taken place, even if they are not offset completely by productivity growth, probably won't be passed on given current market conditions.
Then you hear the argument that the economy is growing too fast, or is going to start growing too fast again, which is sure to create inflationary pressures. I think the real story is that the first quarter growth rate was an aberration. It was caused in great part by temporary and erratic factors, such as very mild winter weather, early tax refunds, and probably, inaccurate seasonal adjustment factors. It overstated the underlying growth rate in the economy. The economy has slowed in the second quarter. And whatever bits of information we have for July suggest that things might be picking up a little bit again, but not by a lot, and certainly there is no evidence of any overheating or a rapid surge in economic growth taking place at the current time.
Third, I think there is still room to grow in the economy. When you take into account the expansion of global capacity in many industries, the investment boom we have had in the United States, which is the real story of this business expansionwe have had the best 3- or 4-year growth in business equipment spending since the 1970'swhich is increasing productivity and increasing capacity in many industries, all of which have created significant capacity to accommodate additional economic growth. Even on the labor side, with the increase in the labor force coming from former welfare recipients and former discouraged workers entering the labor market, and prior victims of downsizing, and with a shift of people from part-time to full time work, the labor market is probably not as tight as some people think it might be.
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Then, there is the argument that Will made a moment ago that maybe the economy is not booming now, but it is sure to boom as we move forward because of all the wealth that has been created by the stock market boom. The relationship between wealth and spending is very weak at best. Not only that, many families are now spending less and putting more of their income into mutual funds and other retirement funds. We are still seeing a high level of inflows into these funds, probably reflecting higher savings, not lower savings, as you would expect from the wealth effect. As others have mentioned, the trade deficit is rising, holding down growth. Finally, given our inability to forecast accurately at present, I would be reluctant to base any recommendation to the Fed on a forecast of more rapid economic growth as we move forward.
And finally there is the issue of NAIRU. The truth of the matter is, NAIRU has been nowhere near as reliable as a predictive tool in the past as some people have suggested. We can't measure it. We probably can't even accurately measure the actual unemployment rate anymore, given all the changes taking place in labor markets. It is a weak concept, it is too unstable, and in my opinion should not be used as the basis for monetary policy. Again, even if it does suggest some acceleration in wages, in the current environment that does not necessarily mean more inflation any more than the pickup in commodity prices 2 or 3 years ago did, after years in which commodity prices were depressed.
This is an increase in relative prices at most, not an early sign of future inflation. And if you look at other leading indicators of inflation, like gold prices, commodity prices and the value of the dollar, you certainly don't see anything there either. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the favorable inflation environment is going to change at any time in the near future.
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What should the Fed do in response? Number one, stand pat right now. Number two, ease when they can, to a minimum, reverse the unnecessary tightening move at the March meeting. I think the entire discussion of what the Fed should do has to start with the point that real interest rates are already extraordinarily high and, in fact, with the more favorable inflation numbers recently they have increased further. This is not an extremely loose monetary policy, based on the aggregates of money or based on real interest rates.
Third, I think the Fed should scrap preempting. The environment is different now. We have very few cost-of-living adjustments in union contracts or in business-to-business contracts, unlike the situation 15 to 20 years ago. There is no longer an inflation psychology in this country like there was at that time. Nonunion companies no longer use the cost of living as a factor determining their compensation programs.
The risk of a wage-price spiral triggered by some event that pushes inflation up, then feeding into wages, and prices and wages spiraling upward out of control, thus no longer exists. The Fed has ample time to watch and to see what happens to inflation. If it picks up, it will have plenty of time to tighten, if it is necessary, but in this environment, given the uncertain outlook, given the already favorable inflation performance and given the structural changes that have reduced the risk of a wage-price spiral, in my opinion, there is absolutely no need to preempt.
And finally, I think it would be a terrible mistake to reform or repeal Humphrey-Hawkins, or to change it in any way that would reduce economic growth and low unemployment as a priority for the Federal Reserve System.
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Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Dr. Chimerine. I just want to stress, we suffer less from MPFmonetary policy fatigue, than we do from PVBwhich is pre-voting bells.
Let me now turn to Dr. DiClemente. Please go ahead.
STATEMENT OF ROBERT V. DiCLEMENTE, DIRECTOR, U.S. ECONOMIC RESEARCH, SALOMON BROTHERS, INC.
Dr. DICLEMENTE. My prepared testimony is in four parts, covering the Feds' track record, the economic outlook, the so-called Phillips Curve debate and finally central bank independence. I will only summarize them here briefly.
After 7 years of sustained growth, the current economic expansion continues to post impressive results. The percentage of the population employed is the highest ever, and inflation is at 30-year lows. I believe the Federal Reserve has played a key role in this outcome. Although economists once argued that the effort to squeeze out inflation would make the economy less stable, in fact, the volatility of GDP has been reduced by half in the past 15 years. At the same time, when we compare the Fed's track record to the experience of other countries, the so-called ''misery index,'' which combines inflation and joblessness, is now at 7 1/2 percent, 5 points below, or 5 points better than the OECD standard.
Page 187 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC One of the useful tools for assessing the Fed's track record entails the application of operational guides for policy. One such guide, the Taylor Rule, you have heard about earlier, is a very helpful way of demonstrating that policy has, indeed, been appropriate. Fed funds rates prescribed by the Taylor formula demonstrate that the forces motivating policy in recent years are quite transparent.
One often hears the criticism that the Fed is, quote, ''flying by the seat of its pants'' or ''chasing ghosts.'' Nothing could be further from the truth. The path of the actual funds rate tracks very closely the prescribed Taylor rate over most of the past decade. Of course, we need to be mindful that these policy decisions affect the economy with a lag.
In this sense, today's inflation statistics tell us about the appropriateness of decisions made 2 years ago. Stable underlying inflation in 1997 provides the ultimate verdict that the Fed's shift in 1994 and 1995 was both timely and needed. Without those actions, I believe we would have higher interest rates today and a more troubled economic setting.
Despite this record, the risk of greater inflationary pressures is rising slightly. A similar perception justified the minor adjustment that the Fed made in March, and I believe that they will need to take further modest actions in the year ahead. In this context, we must avoid the temptation to believe that globalization and technological advance have removed the limits on our capacity to grow.
There is evidence, which I discussed in my testimony, that our official data are undercounting growth and productivity, but the margin of error is small. We can be optimistic about the longer term implications of these developments, but we must separate secular optimism from cyclical reality. Whether or not productivity growth has improved, capacity has become more flexible, Fed officials know that our resources have been stretched beyond our long-run supply potential in recent years, as evidenced by the decline in unemployment, a lengthening work week, near record overtime, and unprecedented labor force participation.
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We have also benefited from developments that are less likely to dampen inflation much further. Among them, I would highlight rapid labor force growth, which has begun to slow quite noticeably, substantial global economic slack, which is now being absorbed by stronger growth, and sizable dollar appreciation. The dollar's 14 percent appreciation over these past 2 years, has knocked a half of a percentage point off the CPI, according to our model simulations. Benefits from this point on will be more modest.
Back home, our financial conditions remain highly supportive. Money growth, in particular, is now edging above its target and is accelerating. Thus, limited slack with strong demand poses an obvious threat to eventual higher inflation. Unfortunately, the short-term tradeoffs that do exist between inflation and unemployment have led to false characterizations that the Fed worries that unemployment is too low, or that too much growth may cause inflation.
Of course, inflation is not caused by too many people working. Nor is unemployment an inflation cure. But output and employment generated by easy money policies are fleeting. In this context, the aphorism that there is no free lunch might be better rephrased as central banks can print money, but they cannot print savings.
The challenge for the Fed is to discern whether strong demand is being supported by saving and productivity, or by excess credit and artificially low interest rates. The Fed does not and cannot set limits for growth or employment. It is not necessary. If demands are outstripping our capacity to satisfy them, the disparity will cast a shadow in the form of longer delivery times, rising input prices, and increased over time. Rising bond yields and other market signals could also provide evidence that inflation expectations are deteriorating.
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It is important in this context that the Fed has the freedom to choose the tactics and the instruments for achieving its goals.
The value of such independence has been recognized increasingly around the world, most recently by the new British Government and in legislatures of 15 countries that approved the Maastricht Treaty. There is a large and growing body of evidence now that economic performance is superior in those countries with a high degree of central bank independence. These countries have experienced lower inflation, with no loss of economic growth. And in the United States, as I mentioned, this has fostered greater stability that in turn has attracted investors everywhere to our markets.
Independence, of course, does not mean that the Fed chooses its own goals to be pursued in a closed fashion. Congress has set those objectives, as maximum employment and stable prices. The law does not say 5 percent unemployment or relatively low inflation, nor should it. The language recognizes the data imperfections and the inexact channels through which inflation works. The avoidance of highly
Chairman LEACH. If I could interrupt you, sir, we have had second votes and that is what my reference to prevoting bells was about. And I apologize, I am going to have to recess at the moment, pending the vote and we will return in about 15 minutes. Thank you. The hearing is in recess.
Chairman LEACH. The hearing will reconvene and I apologize to Dr. DiClemente. There is nothing more awkward than to be interrupted in your train of thought, but please proceed.
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Dr. DICLEMENTE. Just virtually at the end, I was extolling the virtues of central bank independence, with the modifier that independence does not mean that the central bank should choose its own goals to be pursued in some closed fashion. Congress, of course, has set those objectives for the Fed as maximum employment and stable prices. The law, as we know, does not say 5 percent unemployment or relatively low inflation, nor do I think it should.
The language of the Humphrey-Hawkins and Federal Reserve Act, as amended, recognizes there are imperfections in our inflation measures, and the inexact channels through which inflation works. The avoidance of highly specific measures is farsighted, in my view, and assures the public that policy will, indeed, have a long-term focus. Accounting for policy in public, as the Fed has done here, results not only in a better understanding of the Fed's mission, but it offers the Fed the chance to heighten the credibility of its goals.
Although I think the Fed still has work to do, the current generation of leaders has set a standard for commitment to price stability and therefore to maximum employment, and in doing so, they have obeyed the law.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Doctor. You are the first person, by the way, that suggested that they have obeyed the law. Everyone else says they have been successful or unsuccessful. That is a very interesting conclusion.
Page 191 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Dr. Galbraith.
STATEMENT OF JAMES K. GALBRAITH, PROFESSOR, LYNDON B. JOHNSON SCHOOL OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN
Dr. GALBRAITH. Mr. Chairman, let me first state my pleasure at returning as a witness to this committee and to these hearings, both of which I served for years as staff. As an occasional critic of Federal Reserve policy, I am especially pleased to appear on a day when I have few criticisms to offer.
For the past 2 years, the Federal Reserve has mostly refrained from raising interest rates. That was good policy. It represents conceptual progress, I hope, and it certainly should continue. Chairman Greenspan's statement yesterday seemed to indicate that the present policy will continue for the time being and that is also good news. I believe Congress has been an effective part of this success story; that it has been doing its job, partly through these hearings, in keeping the fundamental issues behind monetary policy in public view.
If I may turn first to one of those issues, 2 years ago, the economic profession was in almost unified consensus around the idea that if unemployment were to fall below 6 percent, the then-estimated natural rate of unemployment, or NAIRU, there would be a strong tendency for inflation to accelerate. Of course, no such consensus exists anymore. The debate today is between those who think that the NAIRU has fallen to some undetermined value and for an unknown reason, and those who believe that the concept has been shown to be useless as a guide to economic policy.
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I may be going beyond the evidence here, but it seems to me at least possible that the balance of opinion at the Federal Reserve may now be moving toward the second camp. If so, so much the better.
Doubts about the natural rate of unemployment necessarily imply doubts about the pernicious doctrine of the preemptive strike. Again, if such doubts are coming to the fore, so much the better.
Why and how have we achieved our present condition? Accepting, as a point of departure, the official measures of growth and productivityand we have had some discussion of those this afternoonI present, in my written statement, four figures which show how the present economic expansion compares to earlier ones. I have some copies for the other Members of the panel. I won't go over them in detail, they cover growth, productivity, unemployment and wages, and the evidence, as a whole, suggests to me that there is nothing all that remarkable about the present economic expansion. In most respects, it is on a par with the expansion of the 1980's and well below that of the 1960's.
The conclusion I would draw is that we should not allow an overly rosy view of our growth and employment record so far to breed an unwarranted pessimism about inflation. Things could be worse, but they also could be better, and if current policy is continued, there is a chance that they might well get better. Indeed, we face today the tantalizing possibility that the original Humphrey-Hawkins interim targets of 4 percent unemployment with reasonable price stability could be achieved within a year or two from the present date.
Page 193 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC If so, that would be a very good thing for the economy, for American living standards, for the progress of average wages, and certainly and not incidentally, for the Federal budget. I do want to spend a minute on another aspect of economic performance that the sustained achievement of full employment would help us to address and that is the problem of highand in recent years, rising economic inequality.
In Figures Five and Six of my testimony, I share with the committee some of my own work, which extends the measurement of wage inequality back as far as 1920, and compares this measure of inequality in the structure of wages, mostly in manufacturing wages, with the unemployment rate, on a year-to-year basis over that entire 72-year timeframe. The association between the two measures is very strong, and it suggests to me that sustained achievement of full employment would be the single most effective measure that the country could take to begin to bring inequality back down toward the levels that we enjoyed in the 1950's and 1960's, when, as a whole, our economy was much more middle-class, much more, I think, balanced, in its distribution of wage and salary incomes than is the case today.
For more recent years, I might add, I have also identified effects of interest rates, the real exchange rate, inflation, and the minimum wage, in the measure of inequality, and this suggests to me that monetary policy affects inequality in multiple ways; that it is not something which is entirely separate from the effects of Federal Reserve policy, but, rather, intimately, bound up with it and in quite complex fashion. Therefore, one needs to be very attentive to the conduct of monetary policy in the future if we hope to restore a higher degree of equality in the wage structure. But unemployment is the main thing, particularly over this long sweep of history, and my final chart suggests that rather than speaking of the natural rate of unemployment, we might speak of that rate of unemployment below which inequality tends to decline.
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I have estimated that at around 5 1/2 percent. I think we are in a range right now where the tendency is for inequality to decline slightly, and I suggest we might christen that statistical estimate the ''Ethical Rate of Unemployment,'' and set it as a kind of ceiling, since we should be aware that if unemployment does go above that rate, there is a very strong historical tendency for inequality to rise.
There is one point, finally, on which I would differ with what I understand to have been Chairman Greenspan's statement of yesterday. That was his implicationwhich I must say I only get from reading the newspaper accounts this morningthat ultimately interest rates will have to be increased. It seems to me that it would be more logical to follow the evidence of our recent experience toward the conclusion that interest rates should be gradually lowered.
If we are, in fact, entering a period in which we can set aside the natural rate of unemployment as a guide to macroeconomic policy, if, in fact, we are in a period when inflation has been unwound, then it seems to me there is very little justification for retaining the very high real interest rates that the current nominal rate structure and low rate of inflation together produce. And, particularly, if I am correct in reading Chairman Greenspan's statement as predicting a slowdown in economic growth over the period ahead, then it seems to me that a natural implication of that prediction would be that the Federal Reserve should consider a gradual reduction of interest rates, so as to mitigate the effects of a slowdown in economic growth, to get us toward full employment and to help us stay at full employment. For the benefits of a low unemployment rate will only be realized if it can be sustained over a very substantial period of time.
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I will close by, again, saying that the Congress has a role in keeping Chairman Greenspan, and the Federal Reserve, focused on the evidence and the logic of the facts that are developing before us, and in avoiding any actions on the fiscal side that might themselves generate pressure for rising interest rates and the tighter monetary policy. Given the choice, it seems to me that the right course of action is simply to keep the pressure on monetary policy, to keep interest rates stable, and if possible, to bring them down, and to keep progress toward full employment at reasonably stable prices.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you, Dr. Galbraith.
Let me first begin with Dr. Lipsky. There appears to be a growing economic consensus that statistics today perhaps overstate inflation and understate productivity. If this is the case, does this have any implications on statistics that relate to real wages and real living standards? That is, would they be higher or lower?
Mr. LIPSKY. Yes, Mr. Chairman. The answer is there is uncertainty about the data that hasn't been, and perhaps won't be resolved. However, the preponderance of evidence suggests that productivity gains have been somewhat greater than portrayed in the official data.
If that is the case, a number of important implications follow. One is that real wage gains probably have been larger than portrayed in the data. Another is that the amount of productive capacity available in the economy is larger than had been portrayed in official figures. Such a conclusion would be consistent with the experience of the last year or year-and-a-half, during which more rapid growth and higher capacity utilization rates have not been accompanied by evidence of accelerating inflation pressures.
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Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Dr. Brown, in your testimony, you placed more emphasis than some of the witnesses today on the international environment, and one of those aspects is obviously the value of the dollar and interest rates relative to other economies, and if that other economies' interest rates increase, there is a tendency to raise our interest rates in order to attract investment and vice versa, and as others come down, unrelated to the internal dynamics of our own economy, there might be a case for bringing ours down. From an external perspective, is the case today for keeping stable, increasing or decreasing interest rates?
Dr. BROWN. As you mentioned, I think the external environment has been a very favorable one for U.S. inflation from a number of points of view. First, relatively weak economies abroad have kept global commodity prices weak. Second, there have been relatively low interest rates abroad, which has allowed the dollar to go up, even though U.S. interest rates have only risen modestly. The stronger dollar has tended to help cap inflation.
I think what we are seeing abroad is a broad-based acceleration in growth, both in Europe and in Japan, that is likely to continue through 1998, so I think as we look forward, we will gradually lose this beneficial effect on inflation, and, therefore, on capping interest rates. Maybe I could make one point relative to interpreting the ''surprisingly good inflation performance in the past year or 18 months,'' whether that indicates that we should be lowering our estimates of NAIRU.
If you take a reasonably standard NAIRU equation, it says that if the unemployment rate is one percentage point below full employment, you should expect the inflation rate to accelerate something like three-tenths of a percentage point in the following year. Over the last year, the unemployment rate has been somewhat less than full employment, below even the high side estimates, so it would point to a quite modest acceleration of inflation.
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The standard inflation equation also says that if the dollar goes up 10 percent on a trade-weighted basis, which is what it has done in the last year, you should expect inflation to come down between three- and five-tenths of a percentage point, so the dollar rise in the past year has been enough, on standard theory, to more than offset the upward pressure you would expect from inflation, coming from the low unemployment rate.
Chairman LEACH. Thank you.
Dr. Galbraith, you have disappointed the committee a bit. Your testimony was very reasonable. But several months ago, in the New York Times, you had an article in which you suggested that Dr. Greenspan's goals were to repress wages by slowing economic growth, and you also suggested that Dr. Greenspan has hinted that he wants to deflate the stock market. Why, you say, not to protect middle-class families from a bursting bubble, but to scare them out of stocks and back to the banks. Now, is that a valid perspective from your point of view?
Dr. GALBRAITH. At the time that the Federal Reserve raised rates in March, I believe Chairman Greenspan was speaking very explicitly about the stock market, and leaving the impression that the irrational exuberance, I think he said at the time, of stock investors was somehow unsettling to monetary policy and a reason for raising rates. I did criticize that action in March, which I thought was unnecessary. I thought that it also set up a kind of unstable dynamic between the Federal Reserve and the stock market, in which stock investors would basically place their bets from one day to the next on what they thought would happen at the Open Market Committee and the Open Market Committee would be making its decisions on the basis of the actions taken by short-term speculators. This was something which changed a stock market that had been moving up very steadily up to that point into a very unstable market.
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Now, in May and more recently, the Federal Open Market Committee has not raised rates again, in spite of continuing very strong gains in the stock market, and Chairman Greenspan said yesterday, if press reports are correct, almost nothing about the stock market. At least nothing that would raise concerns that he would act on the basis of those recent gains, and so
Chairman LEACH. I think the most recent thing he said, at least in a public context, he was very careful on this: ''If earning trends continue to improve as they currently have, the market may not be overvalued,'' which is a nice conditional. Let me just ask one other question.
As you know, since the March 25 basis points move upward in the Federal funds rates, 10- and 30-year market instruments, at least Government market instruments, have come down significantly. One 39 basis points, the otheror I think one was 37 and one was 49. Do any of you credit the decision to move up shortthe Federal funds rates, to bringing down the long-term rates, or is that totally unrelated, or part and parcel? Let me turn to, maybe, Dr. Chimerine.
Dr. CHIMERINE. Mr. Chairman, I think it is two things. First, the Fed has clearly gained credibility by its performance in recent years, and without that credibility, long-term interest rates probably would be higher than they are right now. But what also happened is that Chairman Greenspan began to drop hints late last year, suggesting that the Fed might tighten. The markets responded in advance of the tightening, by discounting it, so that we had a sharp increase in long-term yields, long-term interest rates, early this year in anticipation of that tightening and perhaps even more.
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Now, the markets have turned and interest rates are coming down because it is becoming clearer that the Fed is not going to tighten any more, and as a result, some of the additional tightening that has previously been discounted has come out of the market. But I don't think you can really say that the increase in the funds rate, the tightening move in March, is responsible directly for the drop in long-term rates. I think the market just discounted more, thinking the Fed would do more, and now it has reversed course on that.
Chairman LEACH. Mr. Eisner.
Mr. EISNER. Yes. I might just urge that we really should pay attention to the real rate of interest, and that, I think Dr. Chimerine had indicated earlier is quite high by historical standards.
We now have these index bonds for the Treasury which tell us that apparently it is over 3 percent, and that is a high rate. The trick is not to get the nominal long-term rate down by reducing expectations of inflation, which it may do. If the expectations of inflation come down at a greater rate than the nominal rate comes down, your real rate is going up, which depresses investment, and that is bad for the economy.
Chairman LEACH. Dr. DiClemente.
Dr. DICLEMENTE. Two points that I would make in this context. We have seen, for example, in the last 3 months, two important surveys that were conducted regarding long-term inflation expectations. These are direct results of polls of either households or professional forecasters about the 5- or 10-year inflation outlook. These numbers have been very stubbornly stuck at about 3 or 3.25 percent now for the last few years; and for the last few months, both of them have dropped below 3 percent for the very first time. The professional forecasters' survey is about 2.85 and the Michigan survey, which comes out as part of their normal consumer sentiment survey, has dropped to about 2.9 percent.
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This has coincided with the phenomenon we have seen in the Treasury market, where the spread between conventional 10-year bonds and the yield on so-called TIPS, The Inflation Protection Securities, that has narrowed from about, again, 3.1 percent, not surprisingly down to below 2.75 percent. Whether or not that is a function of the Fed's actions, there is certainly some evidence, in a very crude way, that there has been another sea change toward lower long-term inflation expectations, and that is very important, because it lowers risk premiums, it lowers interest rates for real borrowers.
Chairman LEACH. Now, the two institutions represented here follow this on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and it is my understanding that large banks often make a prediction each week on whether the trends will be up that week, let alone what they will be a decade from now.
Do you think that this indication of dedication toand fighting inflation even if the signals aren't present in the economy, but there might be indications that they could become presentis that a beneficial effect on these medium- and long-term interest rates, or are they inconsequential?
Mr. LIPSKY. Mr. Chairman, I think they have been quite consequential. The growing credibility of the Fed and its evident willingness to act has persistently reduced inflation expectations over the past few years. The troublesome aspect has been that expectations invariably have lagged behind the reality of relatively low inflation. This has kept the apparent real interest rate, as measured by actual inflation versus actual interest rates, unusually high.
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The latest evidence suggests that the 3 percent barrier is being broken on long-term inflation expectations, just as the 4 percent barrier was broken following the Gulf War recession. If the latest breakthrough is confirmed and sustained, it will lower long-term real interest rates, boost investment and improve the long-term economic outlook. The Fed's credibility has been critical in this process.
Chairman LEACH. Dr. Brown, would you concur?
Dr. BROWN. Yes, I would agree. I think long-term inflation expectations are ratcheting down and confidence that inflation will stay lower is rising. It is certainly higher now than it was even 6 or 12 months ago.
Chairman LEACH. Let me just ask one more question and then turn to Mr. Frank.
If we were to ask all of you to advise the Congress on these inflation expectations, would you say it would be wise for Congress to pursue a policy of continuing reduction of deficits, or would it be wise for Congress to back off these constraints and let the deficits come back up? Would a signal of a firmer emphasis on deficits be helpful or harmful to this expectation of inflation issue?
Mr. EISNER. Well, I have long been suggesting that reducing deficits would certainly bring it into balance, but should not be a high priority, if it has any at all. It is hard to tell what influences expectations in the short-run, but in the real world, we do see that reducing the underlying directly-measured, inflation-adjusted structural deficit will reduce interest rates to the extent it slows the economy.
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If it does succeed in slowing the economy, and I don't presume that was its intent, then there will be less demand by business to invest and interest rates will come down. Beyond that, what investors in the short-run will determine is even harder to tell.
Chairman LEACH. Does anyone want to disagree with that?
Dr. CHIMERINE. I will mildly disagree, Mr. Chairman. I think, all other things remaining the same, that bringing the deficit down is helpful over the long-term, but I don't think that is the only priority. I think policies aimed at promoting faster long-term economic growth would help a lot, and I think the things we need to do in the tax system and other in policy areas are primarily to shift the focus away from some of the short-term mentality that exists in the markets now and, in corporate planning, moving more toward building for the future and creating more long-term growth. There may be times you have to choose between that and the deficit and times when that should have a higher priority.
Chairman LEACH. Fair enough.
Let me turn to Mr. Frank at this point, because we have a vote.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It is another motion to adjourn. I am not going to make it. If you want to go over, I will just stay here. We are doing warfare, and the motion is to adjourn, and they cannot adjourn without me.
I must say I am a little intrigued at the Fed getting the creditor potentially getting the credit, for bringing down long-term rates by the short-term increase. The reason they did this short-term increase was presumably to slow down the economy which was growing too fast, and if they wound up instead reducing long-term rates, which could have a stimulative effect, then they should certainly be upset, because they would have had exactly the opposite effect of what they were trying to do.
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Dr. Brown, you were the most cautious in terms of policy and you seem to be the most supportive of saying the Fed ought to be thinking about some tightening soon. I assume that is based on the feeling that we are growing above capacity now?
Dr. BROWN. Yes, 4 percent growth in the last year and accelerating.
Mr. FRANK. But 4 percent growth, Mr. Eisner gave the figures that was first quarter 1996 to first quarter 1997; the second and third quarters have been significantly below 4 percent, haven't they?
Dr. BROWN. We don't have the third quarter yet.
Mr. FRANK. But we expect it to be less.
Dr. BROWN. I do not expect it to be below 4 percent.
Mr. FRANK. Do you think the third quarter is going to be 4 percent?
Dr. BROWN. Yes.
Mr. FRANK. Let me ask it this way. We have already had a year, first quarter to first quarter, of 4.1 percent growth, twice what some people believe is the trend, or nearly twice. How come no inflation has shown up yet?
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I mean, by the models that people have been using to say above-trend growth means you have to tighten, wouldn't you have told me that if we grew at nearly twice what the consensus is of trend growth that inflation would begin to be showing? You know, we are now several months after the end of that year, we are in the fifth month, fourth month after the end of the year. Doesn't the fact that there has been no inflation at all of any significant kind after a year of 4 percent growth give you pause?
Dr. BROWN. Not very much pause if one takes into consideration the fact that the dollar has risen substantially over this period and, in fact, the reason inflation has done well in the last year is that goods prices, particularly prices of imported goods which are sensitive to the dollar, have decelerated sharply. The domestically-driven components of prices, including wages and services prices, have not decelerated and actually have crept up a little bit when you adjust for changes in BLS procedures.
What I see happening is very modest upward pressure on inflation from domestic forces, in particular, the strong growth and falling unemployment, offsetor even more than offset over the past yearby very favorable external forces.
Mr. FRANK. That would explain maybe the drops in the PPI. But leaving aside the offsets, you talk about creeping up and really quite small effects?
Dr. BROWN. Yes.
Mr. FRANK. If you are correct, we have seen growth nearly twice what it should be, or maybe twice what it should be, and all we getI mean, that is after one year of growth, twice what the trend is, and now 4 or 5 months after that year is over and we are still only getting creeps in moderate amounts. I thought you just acknowledged you thought, with Mr. Lipsky, that long-term inflation expectations are down; why then the need to tighten?
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Dr. BROWN. Well, a couple of points. One, you have to consider lags, as all of the Federal Reserve Board Governors and FOMC members mentioned. Inflation responds to activity in the economy with a lag. The real issue is what inflation does next year and how long growth is sustained above 4 percent.
A second point I would make, completely independently of what inflation does, I think there is an argument for Fed tightening. The Fed's job is not only controlling inflation, it is also balancing the ups and downs of the business cycle. For example, I don't think the Bank of Japan deserves a pat on the back for their managing of the Japanese economy during the 1980's. They allowed a tremendous bubble to occur in financial markets, in investment activity, in the economy tremendous overheating. They never got substantial inflation as a result of that, but they paid a very severe price for this in terms of an extended period of weakness as payback for those excesses. So I think
Mr. FRANK. I understand that, but I think we should talk about lending practices and other things, and it doesn't seem to me we are suffering from it. I mean, history can sometimes mislead you, when one-to-one analogies from history are always wrong. America today is not Japan in the 1980's. And, in effect, you are conceding that you can't make the case for tightening on inflation. I don't think you can make it by, you know, the bad real estate practices of Japan in the 1980's either.
What is it about today's economy? You say there is a lag, but that is why I thought those figures Dr. Eisner gave were so relevant.
Page 206 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC We have had, from beginning in 1996it is now 18 months after that period of very heavy growth, and all you can point to are very minor pieces of inflation.
Let me just summarize and then ask you to comment. The only justification we get for tightening is preemption, and I have got to say, you know, I remember to some extent from nuclear times, uncertainty is a very poor basis for a preemptive strike. I mean, in the nature of preemption, you ought to be more sure. You cannot argue, it seems to me, simultaneously, logically for caution and for indecisiveness and uncertainty and then justify preemption based on uncertainty.
Dr. BROWN. I wouldn't compare a 25- or 50-basis point increase in the funds rate with nuclear preemption.
Mr. FRANK. I am not talking about March; I am talking about your tightening for the future. If they told me in March that that is all they were going to do and they weren't going to do it in May or July, I would have taken a week off. I wouldn't have gotten excited.
Dr. BROWN. If monetary policy was up to me, I would have had a funds rate of 50 basis points above current levels.
Mr. FRANK. Justified by what? Justified by what? I mean, the argument is we have been doing well, it seems to me all you have got. It seems to me you say, the Fed's job is to lean toward the cycle. You said in your testimony this has not been such a great expansion. We can't stand prosperity, literally?
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Dr. BROWN. No. It is simply that a market economy has a tendency for instability at a fixed interest rate. The Fed needs to adjust.
Mr. FRANK. But there is no sign of it now?
Dr. BROWN. No, there are signs that the enthusiasm, the animal spirits, are moving in the up direction. We have seen a tremendous rise in the stock market; we have seen a clear and quite decisive acceleration in growth; we have seen very sharp increases in confidence levels. Against those developments, which are reality and facts of the past year, a 50- or 75-basis point rise in short-term interest rates is a very modest, measured response.
Mr. FRANK. I have to say it sounds to me like you have a case more for the Psychic Friends Network than for the Open Market Community.
Chairman LEACH. Will the gentleman yield?
Mr. FRANK. Yes.
Chairman LEACH. I understand the phrase ''animal spirits'' is rooted in Keynes, but it doesn't strike me as immensely relevant, except to Congressional politics.
Mr. FRANK. Or specifically Republican congressional politics right now, Mr. Chairman.
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Mr. EISNER. If I could get in a last remark on raising the funds rate, but also on something which I think is fundamentally an issue on policy. It is said that the Fed should be trying to stabilize the economy both ways, in other words, keeping it from being too good as well as keeping it from being too bad.
I remember the Chairman just mentioned Keynes, and Keynes' solution was to stabilize the business cycle, not by lopping off the booms, but by filling in the troughs, and that, I think, is a very fundamental point.
Congressman Frank has repeatedly been questioning people as to why the Fed may be erring, may always be worried about erring in terms of allowing too much inflation. It can also err very seriously by risking a recession; am I not doing enough to combat that?
I would say that the Fed policy should be directed at keeping the economy as prosperous as possible all the time with both as rapid as possible. I don't see why people think we can have too much of a good thing.
Chairman LEACH. Will the gentleman yield here?
Mr. FRANK. Yes, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. First, I think your reading of Keynes is modern-day traditional and not deep in this sense: Keynes saysand it has been widely accepted by virtually everybody in economicsthat even downturns of the economy, or national emergencies to some extent, can be better dealt with through borrowing; but he also said that in good times you paid it back. And that flip side of Keynes is precisely lopping off some of the excesses of good times, and it is a principal element of the written Keynes, not the political Keynes; and it is the only thing that makes Keynes, as a body of logic, rather compelling. But if you don't include that and if you don't accept that, then you are into the easiness of economic policy as well as the easiness of political policy that can be pretty counterproductive.
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Mr. EISNER. Well, I don't believe that he in any way meant to slow the economy to lop off the booms. Obviously, when things fluctuate, all kinds of things will fluctuate. I mean, one of the reasons so many of us were petrified of the thought of a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution is that it did not recognize that, while in good times, you might well have a deficit going down, maybe a balanced budgetas I think we may shortly have without any action by the Congressin bad times, the deficit will go up.
Chairman LEACH. Excuse me. Without any action by the Congress?
Mr. FRANK. Yes. I will take back my time to say the best way to achieve deficit reduction right now would be to vote against this budget deal. The budget deal itself scores out as increasing the deficit over the next 2 yearsthose are CBO figuresso that if you are interested in maximizing short-term deficit reduction, you vote against the budget deal. CBO scores this as increasing the deficit.
Let me say this, that increasing the deficit over what it will be this yearwe can't tell you exactly what it will be as opposedaccording to trend lines, because the Administration is afraid of the news being too good and won't release the new estimates. So, the Administration is sitting on the projection of what the deficit would be next year, and the year after, absent a budget deal, because they are threatened by good news in this case. Not an uncommon malady apparently in this room today.
Could I just go back? I want to ask my last question, and Dr. Eisner talked about it. I mean, one of the defenses against our criticisms of the Fed has been that there is no long-term relationship between inflation and employment, so don't worry about it; but I guess I would ask whether that works both ways? I mean, if that is the case, if worrying too much about inflation can't be a long-term threat to employment, then maybe high employment can't be a long-term threat to low inflation.
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But I also want to ask every member of the panelDr. Eisner has just spoken on it, and his ride to the airport is waiting, if he wants to leave now, but I would like to ask everybody elsewe have heard a lot about the danger of the Fed not tightening enough and allowing inflation. Is there a danger today and going forward, as a matter of policy, of the Fed tightening excessively and the result being recessions deeper or more frequent than they have to be in a better world?
Mr. Lipsky, let's start with you.
Mr. LIPSKY. Yes, of course, there is no justification for excessive monetary tightness. I think the issue at stake for current monetary policy is whether there are policy-driven imbalances in the economy that will be destabilizing.
Right now, we are all struggling a bit because of the lack of a clear framework for analyzing that question and because the traditional benchmarks don't seem to be providing very clear answers. In any case, there is no reason for excessive tightness of monetary policy or for excessive ease.
Mr. FRANK. I just want to reemphasize one point, because I agree with you that this is a time when there is not clarity. I just want again to stress what seems to me the appropriateness of preemption in a time of lack of clarity. You really need, it seems to me, to have some certainty of what you are doing before you go off and preempt.
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Dr. BROWN. I would agree that you make errors in both directions. I think the Fed erred in not moving quickly enough to support an economy that was hurting from the effects of the banking crisis in the late 1980's and early 1990's. I think the risks at this point are quite clearly in the other direction.
What the economy is being faced with is a set of very positive things, and the danger is that those positives in the short-run could get out of hand a bit and drive the economy a little bit too rapidly, creating excesses.
Dr. CHIMERINE. I would take the opposite view. I don't think the risks are heavily weighted toward overheating and more inflationary pressures. We know the economy has slowed over the last 3 or 4 months. There is no evidence that it is surging back up, and I know some believe that we will have 4 percent growth in the third quarter. I don't. But even at this stage it is all hypothetical, it is all forecast. And let's be honest about it, forecast reliability in recent years has not been strong enough to be certain of any outcome. Not only that, there are some factors that will hold down growth as we go forward. For example, the trade deficit is clearly rising.
Second, a pent-up demand for consumer durables, which was very large as we came out of the 19901991 recession and the stagnation that preceded it, to some extent has been used up. Real interest rates are already extraordinarily high, so you could easily put out a forecast now of very modest economic growth over the next year or two that is very credible.
The second key point is what I mentioned in my testimony, and you mentioned a minute ago. The need to preempt, in my view, is much less now than it used to be, and as a result, to preempt based upon very iffy forecasts when you don't have to and when there is no sign of inflation doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As a result, I would not tighten, and I think there is some risk that if the Fed overtightens, this economy could slow down too much.
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Dr. DICLEMENTE. I think that it is important to remember that credibility does work in both directions. To the extent that many Fed officials have said that their anti-inflation policy is not an anti-growth policy, in fact, it is a profoundly progrowth policy. The credibility of that position would certainly be damaged if they err on the side of tightness and create an unwanted or undesirable slowdown in the economy, that position would be tougher to defend.
But I thinkand I thought this is where you were going with this statementif the Fed errs on the side of too much stimulus, recognizing that policy does not have long-term effects on the economy's ability to grow or the levels of employment, that is a very small mistake. Similarly, any damage done to the economy in the very short-run by a misstep, a limited misstep, is also going to wash out over time. The economy adjusts to these missteps as long as they are not prolonged or accumulated over time.
Mr. FRANK. I appreciate that; I just want to underline one specific reason I do. Some of those who are strong supporters of the Fed argue thatand Mr. Meyer said this explicitly in his April speech after the March increase; he said, ''If it is a pretty cozy decision, better to err on the side of restriction than on no restriction because,'' he said, in effect, ''a little inflation goes a very long way and once the genie is out of the bottle, it is hard to recap it.'' That is not his metaphor, but it was his thought process.
Because if you look at Mr. Meyer's April speech, he explicitly disagreed with what you just said, that we ought to ask for neutrality, includingand I welcome that, because as I said, Mr. Meyer explicitly said, ''When in doubt, err on the side of restriction, because the consequences will be worse.''
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Dr. DICLEMENTE. But if youI think that in a situation where, if you are going to make a mistake that is going to actually develop into a serious problem, certainly the first mistake you are likely to make is taking the view that small mistakes are just that. To get ourselves back into a serious inflation problem, I think we would have to begin with things like extreme New Era thinking and overestimating our potential to grow and that sort of thing.
But, I think in this particular situationand maybe I would take issue with the Fed's position as wellthere is an element of flexibility that they have earned as a result of their credibility. They don't need to be as preemptive. In fact, no one has mentioned this, but I suspect one of the reasons we are getting the competitive pricing behavioror wage-setting behaviorthat we are getting, is that it is, in fact, a widely-accepted premise that inflation is not going to get us out of a cost problem, or cover our inefficiencies the way it might have 10 or 20 years ago.
I have to begin my business, as Lawrence was saying before, with the point that I have to find out at what price I can make money, what cost structure will allow me to make money. Begin with the premise of zero inflation. I think the Fed is benefiting from that. We are getting dividends from these years and years of declining inflation expectations, which should translate into a greater flexibility for the Fed to err in the short-run.
Mr. FRANK. You keep suggesting thingsI am sorry, but that is your penalty.
Page 214 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC That is very important for this reason. It does seem to me if you look at the constriction on the increase in wages, on the growing inequality, that working people in effect are told, ''Look, here is the bargain; you are not going to have the kind of social benefits you would get in Europe; you are not going to have a very good rate of wage increase.'' The compensation is higher employment overall. The tradeoff for the workers, people have been saying, is, you will have higher employment.
If, in fact, when employment begins to rise, that is choked off because we think it is unsustainable, then they are not getting what was supposed to be the other end of the bargain and the consequence is a lot of social anger that is not helping.
Dr. GALBRAITH. I think we have had a substantial experiment in the last 2 years with a stable interest rate policy, and that has paid off, and we are now moving gradually perhaps toward full employment. I am enough of an old Keynesian traditionalist to believe that the very strong upward movement of Federal revenues, which may move us toward a budget deficit of zero or a surplus much sooner than expected, will also have a depressing effect on economic growth. So to the extent that we do need to balance or have a counterweight against any excesses in that direction, the budget has already provided one, provided that that surplus is not given away in the near-term by legislative action.
Given that is the case, it seems to me that it is appropriate for Federal Reserve policy to consider unwinding the very high real interest rates that have been our lot since the early 1980's, and the way to move in that direction as long-term rates decline is to begin a phased and gradual reduction of short-term rates. That seems to me to be the logical step to take, given everything else that is happening in the economy right now, as I see it.
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Mr. FRANK. One last question for, particularly, Dr. Brown.
If, in fact, we get no negativethere is no way to be sure one way or anotherwe might, but if the inflation rate a year from now is about where it has been, what would your thought be about the implications of that for interest rate policy at the Fed?
Dr. BROWN. Well, at the time, you have to look at what other things are doing, but there would be no great argument for moving policy one way or the other for that reason alone a year from now.
Mr. FRANK. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman LEACH. Well, thank you, Mr. Frank.
If I were to ask this paneland I think I know some of the answers, but not allif you had three options to lower the Federal fund rate slightly, to keep it the same, or to raise it, where would the panel come down?
Dr. Brown is for increasing, Dr. Galbraith is for lowering, I assume. Where do the other three stand?
Mr. LIPSKY. Is the question for today?
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Chairman LEACH. Today.
Mr. LIPSKY. Steady.
Chairman LEACH. Dr. Chimerine.
Dr. CHIMERINE. Stay right now, but at the first opportunity, lower it.
Chairman LEACH. Dr. DiClemente.
Dr. DICLEMENTE. I would be steady with readiness to act to raise rates.
Mr. FRANK. Let me say, I know Mr. Eisner well enough; let's rank him as leaning over.
Chairman LEACH. Well, then, what we have is a perfectly balanced panel.
Mr. FRANK. Mr. Chairman, could I just say, we do have, though, it seems to me, a kind of 5-to-1 for staying where we are; and I do think that ought to be part of it, that 5-to-1 for stability as of now into the future.
Page 217 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC Chairman LEACH. So, 5-to-1 against your original concerns in March that led to the
Mr. FRANK. Oh, 5-to-1 for my original concerns, which was to stay where we are. Because if you will remember, the letter you got, Mr. Chairman, was after the March increase.
As I said, I was worried about a May increase that didn't happen, and I was worried about a July increase and about an August increase that I think we just got a 5-to-1 vote against the August increase with the shadow Open Market Committee we have just started here.
Chairman LEACH. Let me just raise one other minor thing, and it is not immensely minor because in monetary policy there are, once in a while, legislative effects that are different from simply the whole fiscal issue; and one is that there is a viewit has been around for, oh, a half a decade or so, and it is particularly increasing in the conservative wing of my political party and particularly on the Senate sidethat Humphrey-Hawkins ought to be changing its goals. And today the goals are dual, that is, maximum employment and minimum inflation, in effect, and stable inflation. So one of the arguments is that one should dispense with the maximum inflation and simply go to the minimumthe stable monetary policy.
My own perspective is that that is a very numerical goal without any heart; that is, you measure monetary policy and its effects on the economy and the economy as a people issue, and if you separate people from numbers, I think you lose a lot of support from the Federal Reserve Board and monetary policy in general.
Page 218 PREV PAGE TOP OF DOC But I just want to ask, is anyone on this panel in favor of taking out of the current Humphrey-Hawkins approach the idea of being concerned with maximum employment?
Dr. DICLEMENTE. Mr. Chairman, I dealt with it at some length in my prepared testimony, and I would come down very strongly in favor of leaving it alone.
Chairman LEACH. Fair enough.
Well, thank you. I appreciate that, because this is an issue that could, with great suddenness, arise at any point in a legislative circumstance; and I obviously agree with you, Dr. DiClemente.
Well, anyway, this has been a very helpful and thoughtful panel. All of you have distinguished yourselves, and I assure you we will make this available to a wider audience than has been the case. I apologize for bringing you here at a time that we are in the middle of major appropriations debates, as well as certain political debates within the various parties.
Thank you very much. The hearing is adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 5:35 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]