The Econ blogosphere has erupted over the apparently heinously inconceivable idea that Larry Summers might be the next Fed chair.
Here's Ezra on the situation:
As far as I can tell, there’s almost no one in the economics blogosphere who wants to see Larry Summers named as Ben Bernanke’s replacement. The bulk of opinion ranges from relative indifference between the two candidates (“as we know there’s no real daylight between Yellen and Summers“) to extremely strong anti-Summers opinions (“Larry Summers will destroy the economy“) — with much of the latter being driven by Summers’s record on financial regulation. Tyler Cowen is almost alone in holding up the pro-Summers end of the argument.
Personally, I'm a Bernanke guy. I think he did an amazing job in the height of the crisis and would love to see him take another term. But I'd be fine with Larry Summers (I'm sure Larry is breathing a sigh of relief now that he knows) as Chair. I'd be fine with Yellen too, though I worry that she thinks the Fed can do more than it actually can (at least such a belief is not likely to be very harmful in the near term at least).
But, all the commotion about who's going to be the next Chair is way overblown. It's just not that important, for two reasons. First, the Fed is not independent of politics and without big political change there is not going to be big monetary policy change. Second, the ability of monetary policy to reliably guide the real economy is much more limited than most people want to believe.
On the Fed and politics, you can start here, or here.
As a quick example, consider the "Volcker disinflation" in the early 1980s. Big Paul took office in 1979 and announced in October that the Fed would focus on monetary aggregates and lower their growth rates. However, the actual policy of lower money growth didn't happen until after the election in 1980, which installed a conservative Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate. In the year between the announcement and the election, monetary growth was unchanged from the previous two years. In the year after the election, monetary growth was only half as fast.
On the limited power of monetary policy to control the real economy, you can start with Adam Posen's recent review essay. Here's a good bit:
Indeed, central bankers should be far humbler today than they were in recent decades, when some claimed credit for the so-called great moderation, the period of reduced economic volatility that lasted from the late 1980s to the early years of this century. It is now clear that the prosperity and stability much of the world enjoyed during those years were largely the result of good luck.
In my view, Posen, if anything is overstating the power of monetary policy over the real economy.
Consider post 2007 US monetary history. The Fed promptly took the policy rate to zero. We still had big problems. So the Fed started QE. We still had big problems. So the Fed did further rounds. We still had big problems. So the Fed tried forward guidance. We still had big problems. So the Fed tried outcome-based as opposed to calendar-based forward guidance. Guess what? We still have big problems (I know, counterfactuals are a b**ch, but the Fed clearly didn't fix things).
You may say, "but recoveries after financial crises are always slow". But people, that's just another way of saying that Central Banking is not that powerful when it's most needed!
You may say, "but they should have done more and that would have fixed things".
That's borderline epistemic closure. "The right monetary policy can do anything. The economy is not fixed, so the right monetary policy was not employed", is going to be pretty hard to ever disprove.
I think some of the Summers backlash is because Larry understands that the power of monetary policy for the real economy is rather limited.