Reserve Bank of New Zealand to consider employment alongside price stability: End of an era?

Reserve Bank of New Zealand questioned and changed the thinking on central banking by adopting inflation targets in 1989. The central bank only focused on price stability in its mandate.

After nearly 30 years, there were talks of  reviewing the mandate and adding employment to the inflation. It has been made official now and in the new agreement  signed between the government and central bank, adds employment to the mandate as well. This brings an end to an era when central banks only focused on price stability and adopted inflation targets for achieving the same. Though, Price stability will still be the major objective but it is not the only objective anymore.

The press release says:

Finance Minister Grant Robertson and incoming Reserve Bank Governor Adrian Orr today signed a new Policy Targets Agreement (PTA) setting out specific targets for maintaining price stability and a requirement for employment outcomes to be considered in the conduct of monetary policy.

The new PTA takes effect from 27 March 2018, when Adrian Orr starts his five-year term as Governor. The new PTA has to be signed under the existing provisions of the Reserve Bank Act 1989, which has price stability as the Reserve Bank’s primary objective.

The agreement continues the requirement for the Reserve Bank to keep future annual CPI inflation between 1 and 3 percent over the medium-term, with a focus on keeping future inflation near the 2 percent mid-point.

The new PTA now also requires monetary policy to be conducted so that it contributes to supporting maximum levels of sustainable employment within the economy.

The new focus on employment outcomes is an outcome of Phase 1 of the Review of the Reserve Bank Act 1989, which the Coalition Government announced in November 2017.

“The Reserve Bank Act is nearly 30 years old. While the single focus on price stability has generally served New Zealand well, there have been significant changes to the New Zealand economy and to monetary policy practices since it was enacted,” Grant Robertson said.

“The importance of monetary policy as a tool to support the real, productive, economy has been evolving and will be recognised in New Zealand law by adding employment outcomes alongside price stability as a dual mandate for the Reserve Bank, as seen in countries like the United States, Australia and Norway.

Michael Reddel who runs a goto blog on NZ economy takes us through the changes:

The new (shortlived) Policy Targets Agreement has a few changes, although mostly not of great substance.

  • there is an even longer statement of the government’s political aspirations (‘inclusive economy”, “low carbon economy”, an economy that “reduces inequality and poverty”) none of which has anything to do with monetary policy.  Closer to economic policy, there are worthy aspiration (“a strong diversified export base”) which monetary policy can’t do anything about, and government policy isn’t doing anything about.
  • the substance of the document has been shortened a bit, but mostly not in a good way.  For example,
    • if I welcome the deletion of the reference to asset prices added in 2012, I’m uneasy about removing the explicit expectation that in monitoring inflation the Bank shouldn’t just look at the headline CPI.
    • And perhaps it isn’t of much substance, but I’m interested that they chose to remove “average” from the requirement that policy “focus on keeping future inflation near the 2 per cent mid-point”.
    • And I am a little uneasy about the removal of the list of the sorts of event/shocks that might justifiably warrant inflation being away from target, and the removal of the requirement to explain, when inflation is outside the target range, what they are doing to ensure that future inflation remains consistent with the target.  At the margin, it slightly weakens formal accountability (weak enough in practice anyway) and –  in the current climate –  may weaken the impetus to get core inflation back to 2 per cent (after so many years),
  • there are several changes relating to the new employment aspect of the objective (which, contrary to Arthur Grimes, I consider neither ‘disastrous’ nor ‘crazy’, and which risk being more feeble and virtue-signalling in nature than anything else).
    • at a high level there is an expectation that “the conduct of monetary policy will….contribute to supporting maximum sustainable employment”,
    • adding “employment” to the list of in the provision requiring the Governor to seek to avoid “unncessary instability”, and
    • a requirement to explain in Monetary Policy Statements how “current” monetary policy decisions contribute to “maximum levels of sustainable employment”

Quite what, if any difference, these provisions make will really depend on the new Governor’s assessment.   His press release suggests no difference at all

Mr Orr said that the PTA also recognises the role of monetary policy in contributing to supporting maximum sustainable employment, as will be captured formally in an amendment Bill in coming months.

In other words, just formalising what is already there.  An approach that, not incidentally, delivered us an unemployment rate materially above the NAIRU –  on the Bank’s own numbers –  for most of the last decade.   At present, we can probably expect lots of rhetoric –  repeated references to the contribution the Bank is making –  and nothing of substance, although in fairness it may be hard to tell for some time (since the unemployment rate is now closer to a true NAIRU than it has been for some considerable time).  It will be interesting to see the Governor’s first MPS and the associated press conference.

Personally, I’d have preferred that the new requirements were specified in terms of unemployment –  explicitly an excess capacity measure. There probably isn’t a great deal in the issue, except that the current formulation tends to treat high rates of employment as a “good thing”, when there is little economic foundation to such a proposition. By contrast, minimising (sustainably) the rate of unemployment is more unambiguously a “good thing”.

Perhaps more disappointingly, it is fine to require the Bank to explain how current monetary policy decisions are contributing to maximum sustainable employment.  But that is the sort of obligation an undergraduate student of economics could meet without difficulty and without much substance.  It is unfortunate that the Bank is not being required to:

  • explain how past monetary policy decisions have actually contributed to maximum sustainable employment,
  • explain how its future monetary policy plans will do so (the Act requires the Bank to explain policy plans for the (rolling) next five years),
  • publish estimates of the maximum sustainable level of employment.

It will be interesting to see how NZ manages this transition…

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One Response to “Reserve Bank of New Zealand to consider employment alongside price stability: End of an era?”

  1. ashoksinghania Says:

    hope so india follows new zeland . considering indias demography
    it is need of the hour

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