NBER Publications by Alisdair McKay

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Working Papers and Chapters

January 2015The Power of Forward Guidance Revisited
with Emi Nakamura, Jón Steinsson: w20882
In recent years, central banks have increasingly turned to “forward guidance” as a central tool of monetary policy, especially as interest rates around the world have hit the zero lower bound. Standard monetary models imply that far future forward guidance is extremely powerful: promises about far future interest rates have huge effects on current economic outcomes, and these effects grow with the horizon of the forward guidance. We show that the power of forward guidance is highly sensitive to the assumption of complete markets. If agents face uninsurable income risk and borrowing constraints, a precautionary savings effect tempers their responses to changes in future interest rates. As a consequence, forward guidance has substantially less power to stimulate the economy. In addition, we ...
April 2013The Role of Automatic Stabilizers in the U.S. Business Cycle
with Ricardo Reis: w19000
Most countries have automatic rules in their tax-and-transfer systems that are partly intended to stabilize economic fluctuations. This paper measures how effective they are. We put forward a model that merges the standard incomplete-markets model of consumption and inequality with the new Keynesian model of nominal rigidities and business cycles, and that includes most of the main potential stabilizers in the U.S. data, as well as the theoretical channels by which they may work. We find that the conventional argument that stabilizing disposable income will stabilize aggregate demand plays a negligible role on the effectiveness of the stabilizers, whereas tax-and-transfer programs that affect inequality and social insurance can have a large effect on aggregate volatility. However, as curre...
August 2006The Brevity and Violence of Contractions and Expansions
with Ricardo Reis: w12400
Early studies of business cycles argued that contractions in economic activity were briefer (shorter) and more violent (rapid) than expansions. This paper systematically investigates this claim and in the process discovers a robust new business cycle fact: expansions and contractions in output are equally brief and violent but contractions in employment are briefer and more violent than expansions. The difference arises because employment typically lags output around peaks but both series roughly coincide in their troughs. We discuss the performance of existing business cycle models in accounting for this fact, and conclude that none can fully account for it. We then show that a simple model that combines three familiar ingredients%u2013labor hoarding, a choice of when to scrap old technol...

Published: McKay, Alisdair & Reis, Ricardo, 2008. "The brevity and violence of contractions and expansions," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(4), pages 738-751, May. citation courtesy of

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