THE ROLE OF INTEREST-RATE TARGETS IN FED POLICY
How does the Federal Reserve affect the economy? Our discussion here and earlier in the book has treated the money supply as the Fed’s policy instrument. When the Fed buys government bonds in open-market operations, it increases the money supply and expands aggregate demand. When the Fed sells government bonds in open-market operations, it decreases the money supply and contracts aggregate demand. Discussions of Fed policy often treat the interest rate, rather than the money supply, as the Fed’s policy instrument. Indeed, in recent years, the Federal Reserve has conducted policy by setting a target for the federal funds rate-the interest rate that banks charge one another for short-term loans. This target is reevaluated every six weeks at meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). The FOMC has chosen to set a target for the federal funds rate (rather than for the money supply, as it has done at times in the past) in part because the money supply is hard to measure with sufficient precision. , The Fed’s decision to target an interest rate does not fundamentally alter our analysis of monetary policy. The theory of liquidity preference illustrates an important principle: Monetary policy can be described either in terms of the money supply or in terms of the interest rate. When the FOMC sets a target for the federal funds rate of, say, 6 percent, the Fed’s bond traders are told: “Conduct whatever open market operations are necessary to ensure that the equilibrium interest rate equals 6 percent.” In other words, when the Fed sets a target for the interest rate, it commits itself to adjusting the money supply to make the equilibrium in the money market hit that target. As a result, changes in monetary policy can be viewed either in terms of changing the interest rate target or in terms of changing the money supply. When you read in the newspaper that “the Fed has lowered the federal funds rate from 6 to 5 percent,” you should understand that this occurs only because the Fed’s bond traders are doing what it takes to make it happen. To lower the federal funds rate, the Fed’s bond traders buy government bonds; and this purchase increases the money supply and lowers the equilibrium interest rate (just as in Figure 3). Similarly, when the FOMC raises the target for the federal funds rate, the bond traders sell government bonds, and this sale decreases the money supply and raises the equilibrium interest rate. The lessons from this analysis are simple: Changes in monetary policy aimed at expanding aggregate demand can be described either as increasing the money supply or as lowering the interest rate. Changes in monetary policy aimed at contracting aggregate demand can be described either as decreasing the money supply o! as raising the interest rate.