Monetary Policy and Price Level Determinacy in a Cash-in-Advance Economy

Woodford, Michael

The paper considers the determinacy of the equilibrium price level in the cash-in-advance monetary economy of Lucas and Stokey (1983, 1987), in the case of deterministic “fundamentals”. The possibilities both of a multiplicity of perfect foresight equilibria and of “sunspot equilibria” are considered. Two types of monetary policy regimes are considered and compared, one in which the money supply grows at a given exogenous rate (that may be positive or negative), and one in which the nominal interest rate on one-period government debt is pegged at a given non-negative level. In the case of constant money growth rate regimes, it is shown that one can easily have both indeterminacy of perfect foresight equilibrium and existence of sunspot equilibria; indeed, in the case of negative rates of money growth (as called for by Friedman (1969)), both types of indeterminacy necessarily occur. On the other hand, sufficient conditions for uniqueness of equilibrium (and non-existence of equilibria other than a deterministic steady state) are also given, and a class of cases is identified in which a sufficiently high rate of money growth guarantees this. Thus there may be a conflict between the aims of choosing a rate of money growth that results in a high level of welfare in the steady state equilibrium and choosing a rate that makes this steady state the unique equilibrium.) In the case of the interest rate pegging regimes, sufficient conditions are given for uniqueness of equilibrium (and impossibility of sunspot equilibria), and it is shown that these necessarily hold in the case of any low enough nominal interest rate. Thus the nominal interest rate peg allows simultaneous achievement of price level determinacy and a high level of welfare in the unique (steady state) equilibrium.
In this paper I consider the consequences of alternative choices of the monetary policy regime for the determinacy of the rational expectations equilibrium value of money, and in particular for the existence or not of “sunspot” equilibria, i.e., rational expectations equilibria in which fluctuations in the price level occur in response to random events that represent no change in economic “fundamentals”, simply due to self-fulfilling revisions of people's expectations. I am interested in particular in making the point that a consideration of the complete set of possible equilibria associated with a given policy regime may alter one's evaluation of the relative desirability of alternative policies, relative to the conclusion that one might reach if one considered only a single possible equilibrium associated with each policy regime (perhaps a unique equilibrium involving a “minimum set of state variables”). In view of this I give particular attention to policy regimes of types that have sometimes been advocated as ways of reducing the inefficiency associated with a rate of return differential between money and other financial assets, and show that policies that might otherwise be desirable (policies that make possible a more desirable equilibrium than would otherwise be possible) can have the unfortunate consequence of rendering equilibrium indeterminate and making possible equilibrium fluctuations in response to “sunspot” events.


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November 25, 2013