The interdependence of research and (monetary) policymaking

ECB chief Mario Draghi gives a nice speech on the topic. It is at Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting.

He looks at how research has impacted policies over the years summarising many years of research and policy. In the end points t0 5 lessons:

This account of how policymakers and researchers have interacted in the past ten years shows how indebted the former are to the latter. From my point of view, one can draw five lessons for policymakers.

First, sudden shocks often make visible the flaws in our policy frameworks and challenge the explanatory power of existing theories in ways that have been previously overlooked. But analysis conducted by researchers and embraced by policymakers remains essential in designing the policy response.

Second, a policy response that has its foundation in rigorous research is less prone to being impaired by political compromise and easier to explain to the general public.

Third, Keynes is often quoted as saying, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” Well, for policymakers, it is not that simple, and research helps us to decide whether a change in the facts deserves a policy response or, as we say, we should look through it.

Fourth, when the world changes as it did ten years ago, policies, especially monetary policy, need to be adjusted. Such an adjustment, never easy, requires unprejudiced, honest assessment of the new realities with clear eyes, unencumbered by the defence of previously held paradigms that have lost any explanatory power.

Fifth, we must be aware of the gaps that still remain in our knowledge. Our mainstream macroeconomic models still have little to say, for instance, about the non-linear propagation of shocks, the distributional impacts of policies, or how endogenous firm entry and exit can affect economic performance.[15] Policy actions undertaken in the last ten years in monetary policy and in regulation and supervision have made the world more resilient. But we should continue preparing for new challenges.

The changes that we have discussed, profound as they are, often hinge on one fundamental idea. A natural question to ask is whether such an idea sprang out as a response to a specific policy problem or was rather conceived previously in an entirely different, unrelated intellectual environment, perhaps addressing a different set of problems. It is a question that is especially relevant in economics, when previously held consensus views change. But it is a question that is unlikely to have a precise answer.

Let me rather use the 1939 words of Abraham Flexner, the first director of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study: “Almost every discovery has a long precarious history. Someone finds a bit here, another a bit there. A third step succeeds later, and thus onward till a genius pieces the bits together and makes the decisive contribution.”[16]

Today, I have had the privilege of addressing such people – geniuses who have pieced the bits together and made decisive contributions.

He misses the 6th and most important lesson: avoiding hubris and need for humility in both research and policymaking. We often see a lot of problems when both research and policymaking think they have solved all economic problems  and nothing can go wrong, is when all wrongs happen…


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