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The Bank of Japan Listens to Ben Bernanke After Fifteen Years, and Goes for Reflation

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Will Ben Bernanke listen to Ben Bernanke anytime soon?

Ben McLannahan, Jonathan Soble, and Josh Noble:

Bank of Japan unveils aggressive easing: The Bank of Japan will aim to double the monetary base over two years through the aggressive purchase of long-term bonds, in a dramatic shift aimed at ridding Japan of the deflation that has dogged the country for almost two decades. Haruhiko Kuroda on Thursday announced his arrival as central bank governor with a “new phase of monetary easing”, a move that comes after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the bank to target a 2 per cent rate of inflation. “We can’t escape deflation with the incremental approach that’s been taken until now,” Mr Kuroda said after the announcement. “We need to use every means available.”…

The Nikkei 225 stock average closed up 2.2 per cent, snatching back losses earlier in the day. The benchmark 10-year bond yield fell almost a fifth to 0.446 per cent, matching the all-time low of June 2003. The yen tumbled from 92.91 to the US dollar to a two-week low of about 95.20. The BoJ said it would double Japan’s monetary base from Y135tn ($1.43tn) to Y270tn by March 2015, mainly by buying more long-term government bonds. That will raise the average remaining maturity of its holdings from about three years to seven years, keeping downward pressure on yields all along the curve. Under the new measures, the BoJ will expand its balance sheet by 1 per cent of gross domestic product each month this year and by 1.1 per cent per month in 2014, according to estimates from Barclays…

Noah Smith comments:

Noahpinion: Abe surprised me!: I was wrong. For months I voiced heavy skepticism that Shinzo Abe's new administration would follow through on its plans for huge economic policy changes - in particular, a serious push for reflation. Yesterday, Abe's new central bank chief, Haruhiko Kuroda, proved me wrong by announcing a dramatic new program of quantitative easing….

Now, 60-70 trillion yen is about $600-700 billion, which is about the size of America's recent "QE1" and "QE2". Japan will basically do an new "QEx" every year. In addition to buying long-term government bonds (which the Fed did in QE2), Japan's central bank is going to buy stock and real estate. This is exactly the sort of reflationary policy that Miles Kimball recommended as a cure for depressions, back when I took his macro class. In any case, the move is very very big. George Soros says that the BOJ's plan is "three times as big" as the Fed's attempts at QE. People from big banks and research companies are saying much the same thing.

Anyway, so Abe defied my expectations and really implemented a serious policy change. Now, we get to see how well monetary policy really works, in an economy with a deflationary trap and well-anchored deflationary expectations. A dramatic (though uncontrolled) natural macroeconomic experiment is being carried out in Japan - probably the biggest thing since Volcker whipped U.S. inflation in the early 80s.

IF monetary policy works - i.e. if it can raise inflation in a controlled manner while boosting output - it's not only a huge win for Japan - which needs moderate inflation to erode its mountainous debt, and could probably use an employment boost too - but also for New Keynesian and monetarist type macroeconomics, which generally holds that a central bank has the tools to control the rate of inflation (or to beat any depression). A failure would mean either an uncontrolled "inflation snap-up", or a failure to budge Japanese expectations and prices. A majority or plurality of top macroeconomists probably believes in some sort of monetarism, so hopes are high. I'm a little bit more agnostic, and I'm excited to see what happens.

So, Mr. Abe (or "Shinzo" as I somewhat cheekily called him in a recent interview on a Japanese website) convinced me. Excellent job. Now let's see if you can convince me again with structural reform and the TPP!