Yesterday, I pointed out that the first instalment of the rescue package could be financed by cancelling the Stage 3 income tax cuts legislated for 2024-25. Today, the same suggestion is on the front page of the SMH. Morrison is apparently resisting the idea, but that can’t last long.
Trying to keep one day ahead, I’ve turned my mind to how the Reserve Bank should operate during and after the crisis. The first step is to abandon inflation targeting once and for all. The policy of using small interest rate adjustments to keep inflation in a range of 2-3 per cent made sense in the policy context of the (spurious) Great Moderation, when the target appeared consistent with maintaining unemployment at a stable level of 5 per cent or so, assumed to be the lowest the economy could sustain.
That all fell to pieces with the GFC. Inflation targeting, which did nothing to stop asset price bubbles, was a significant contributor to the crisis. Various ideas to address this problem were floated, but it ended up in the too-hard basket.
In the aftermath of the GFC, most central banks pushed their key interest rates down to zero. Even where this didn’t happen, as in Australia, inflation remained persistently below the target range, a problem that hadn’t been contemplated when the policy was first introduced in the 1990s, and the big concern was a resurgence of the inflation of the 1970s and 1980s.
It’s now obvious that we will never return to a world where inflation targeting makes sense. But what should replace it?
The first step should be a re-ordering of the Reserve Bank’s objectives to focus primarily on full employment rather than price stability. One way to implement this would be to target the level and growth rate of nominal income. My suggested target would be a 7 per cent rate of nominal growth, ideally made up of 3 per cent real growth* and 4 per cent inflation. The idea of the nominal target is that, if real growth falls below the target, the Reserve Bank loosens monetary policy and accepts higher inflation.
A 7 per cent growth rate would imply a doubling of nominal income over a decade. That in turn means that if we end the crisis with, say, debt equal to 60 per cent of national income, and balance the budget (on average) after that, the debt to income ration would fall to 30 per cent by 2030.
- In the longer term we should be looking at taking the benefits of technological growth in the form of more leisure rather than more output. But I haven’t had time to do the analysis on that.