In order to do that, economists have relied for the past seventy years or so on two basic tools: fiscal policy and monetary policy. The first concerns how the government taxes and spends; the second concerns the action of the central bank (in America, that’s the Federal Reserve), which controls the supply of money. While both tools are complex, the main thing to understand is that they both have an accelerator and a brake pedal. If the economy is overheating, with spending overtaking new production of goods and services, resulting in a bidding spiral and increasing inflation, we can hit the brakes. If the economy is moving too slowly, with spending not keeping pace with the production of goods and services, we can hit the gas.
The third policy option is known as nominal gross domestic product targeting, the major proponent of which is the economist Scott Sumner. The idea is all about self-fulfilling expectations. Recall that the central bank owns the printing press, so it can create arbitrary quantities of dollars. By making a pre-commitment to keep the economy on a particular spending trajectory, self-fulfilling collapses in spending would not happen. Something similar to this policy seems to have kept Australia and Israel out of the Great Recession. But in order to sustain such a policy, the Fed might have to intervene in the economy quite frequently, and then the distributional consequences could be serious. Quantitative easing, for example, helps push up asset prices (the stock market has regained all the ground lost since 2009 and then some), which disproportionately benefits the wealthy. Free Money Machine
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