Average Inflation Targeting Would Be a Weak Tool for the Fed to Deal with Recession and Chronic Low Inflation

David Reifschneider (former Federal Reserve) and David Wilcox (PIIE)

Policy Brief
19-16
November 2019
Photo Credit: 
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The Federal Reserve faces two important monetary policy challenges: First, since the Great Recession it has struggled to move inflation convincingly up to the 2 percent target level. Second, during the next recession it will struggle to deliver enough support to the economy unless the recession is unusually mild. As a result, the search is on for alternative policy frameworks that might allow the Fed to achieve its monetary policy objectives more effectively. Among the alternatives is average inflation targeting (AIT). The basic idea is simple: Instead of aiming to return inflation over the medium term to the target rate of 2 percent, the Fed would aim to return the average of inflation over some period to the target rate. The crucial innovation of AIT is that when inflation has been running below the target rate, it would have the Fed aim for above-target inflation in the future, in order to bring average inflation up toward the target. Simulations of the Fed’s workhorse econometric model of the US economy (the FRB/US model) suggest that AIT would be a weak addition to the Fed’s policy toolkit for dealing with recessions and persistently low inflation. In addition, simple versions of AIT would sometimes compel the Fed to run an undesirably restrictive monetary policy. AIT is thus not a very appealing alternative to the current framework.

Data Disclosure: 

The data underlying this analysis are available here. [zip]