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Good question. Given that the policy rate is at 1% and they didn't cut last week, the answer seems to be that that's what the Bank wants. But why do they want that? Maybe they are targeting house prices? Maybe some nominal rates *do* matter and maybe mortgage rates are one of them.

Or more precisely, maybe they are targeting consumer debt.

Would the increased value of the Canadian dollar have counteracted possible inflation?

Nick - a few reactions, which may or may not be relevant.

In the 1990s, the rapid expansion of Walmart had a measurable impact on US CPI. Could Amazon and cross-border shopping be having a real impact on Cdn CPI?

It strikes me that the measurement error in calculating the price level is probably greater than 1%, which makes it really hard to know whether or not any of these puzzles reflect real macro puzzles, or are just an artifact of the data. E.g. sales of $1,100 apple notebooks are going up; sales of other, $800 notebooks are going down. So the average price people are paying for computers goes up. Does this mean the price of computers is going up? Or to take another example, people switch from buying real books to electronic books downloaded on kindle or kodo (or is it kudu - I'm thinking more African antelope at the moment). What does this do to CPI? As the housing market cools off, newly built homes in the suburbs don't sell, but downtown Vancouver real estate keeps its value - what does that do to CPI?

Also, is zero inflation a good thing or a bad thing. If relative prices are changing, and price reductions are costly due to nominal downwards price rigidity, then I'd figure zero inflation is a bad thing.

Good luck with the administrating - hang in there.

I don't really understand why inflation targeting is supposed to prevent recessions? Inflation targeting is supposed to keep inflation in check which is an important necessary (but not sufficient) condition for balanced growth. There are plenty of other things that can create a recession that inflation targeting won't solve. This seems like an unreasonable burden of proof placed on inflation targeting by the market monetarists to criticize inflation targeting for an outcome inflation targeting was never claimed to guarantee.

More thoughts...

But then, of course, when debt level targeting causes disinflation that just shows you what a bad policy that is when you are barely above the ZLB. Consumer debt is supposed to be managed by CMHC. If this is not just a blip, it could be a very dangerous turn of events. The only silver lining is that they seem to already have begun exchange rate management and they could ramp it up if we get seriously liquidity trapped. But if that coincides with a US downturn it's not going to be popular in Washington.


Unless the Bank *knows* that there suddenly is a bias in the inflation measure then they shouldn't be letting it drop.


Also, zero inflation is bad because it lowers the nominal natural rate. That makes it more likely the we get liquidity trapped. We urgently, critically need *more* inflation, not less.

All your questions can be answered by recognizing that the way we measure inflation is horrifically flawed.

@ Nick

"This post is about Canada, and the Canadian picture-puzzle is clearer (to me anyway). But I don't think Canada is alone."

What I think is:

a) the spill over from other countries like US and Europe
In Europe the Recession has clearly not reached bottom yet. I see your picture of the canadian canoe, swimming in the wake of the US / EU supertankers as appropriate

b) what is your favourite Canadian housing index, link? And how does this go into the various inflation indices, together with the very rapidly falling interest rates?
Trying to explain to Scott Sumnner some 9 month ago, how that goes ino the US indices was instructive

c) I am at present trying (http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2013/01/what-is-going-on-with-the-bank-of-canadas-balance-sheet.html?cid=6a00d83451688169e2017d40a4f6b2970c#comment-6a00d83451688169e2017d40a4f6b2970c) to quantify such a spillover effect with Kostas for a timed event last year. It just got a little more complicated, so it is still Work in progress.

d) if the Bank of Canada is running an implicit peg to the USD, as I say, you dont have to worry about inflation that much anyways.

@ Robert McClelland
please provide detailed evidence for your completely unspecific allegation, that the official inflation numbers are "horrifically flawed". I ll give you some 0.2% systematic bias in the direction which pleases you, some total 1% fluctuation, due to various reasons, over a time scale of a year. For more I want to see evidence.

I had such discussions several times. It ALWAYS turned out, that the allegation were pretty unfounded.

This is one of the few things, I agree with Paul Krugman : - )

If the Phillips curve involves a long distributed lag on unemployment, that would explain the sluggish response of inflation, right? Say a big recession drives down the underlying inflation rate only a tiny bit in the very short run (and it's subject to other influences -- noise if you will -- so it might not fall at all for a few years), but it has a gradual impact over time, so that, provided there is not a full recovery, the general trend of the inflation rate will tend to be downward (and again, due to other influences, we might not see this in the data for several years).

K: the BoC *says* it is targeting 2% inflation (except in the very short term) and I have no reason to disbelieve them. *Maybe* they are fudging a bit, and letting forecast inflation fall below target for other reasons, or maybe they think the current fall in inflation is just a blip. But that is not the question here. The question is, as Andy puts it, why is there (or why does there appear to be) such a *long* distributed lag in the Phillips Curve?

Andy: yep. But doesn't the lag seem to be longer than we thought it was, or than it was in the past? Maybe because inflation targeting itself has made the lag longer (inflation stickier)?

qmanrei: That *would* maybe explain it, except the Loonie has, if anything, been depreciating a little over the last couple of years.

Frances: It might be some special price shocks, but none come obviously to mind. House prices barely show up in the CPI, except very slowly and indirectly via "owners equivalent rent".

I hanging in there on the admin! They gave me a laptop so I can drill down into DataCubes during budget meetings, and join the modern world. But I still haven't destroyed any committees yet for you.

Robert: whether or not a measure of inflation is "flawed" depends on what you want to use it for. But in this case it doesn't really matter, because we haven't changed the way we measure inflation, but it isn't responding the way we used to think it did (or doesn't seem to be).

genauer: *Maybe* Canadian inflation is finally falling because inflation is finally falling in other countries. But that just pushes the same question back to those other countries.

Best source of Canadian house prices is Teranet-National Bank. It's a Canadian version of Case-Shiller.

@ Andy & Nick,

a lot of (social) contracts in Europe are / have been on explicit inflation tracking,
and often on not ex-Food energy, like the FEDs favourite PCE ex food and energy (mine too, for the US). It is often even worse, there are some , e.g. in the UK with some RPI plus 0.5%, well, with some historic justifications, ...., but at present more like a NGDP on stereoids.

This means that explicitely some 50% government sector, and implicitely some more, minus the few official cutbacks, ... are/were effectively short circuiting the Phillips curve, deep into 2012, in the most cases in Europe,

and from my gut feeling, at least 30´% of the US as well.

Sooo, for Europe the explanation is frustatingly simple and clear, so far.

And now comes the question, how independent prices (beyond real estate) are independent in Canada.

In the moment I see the effects of the FED QE tsunami spilling into the last hamlets in Germany and Malaysia, personally. But enough of this, focus is Canada, and I will see whether something comes out of this petroleum idea.

Nick: But in this case it doesn't really matter, because we haven't changed the way we measure inflation

It does matter if inflation is now rising or declining due to an influence that is not measured. Essentially what I'm saying is economists need to first check to see if their measuring stick is still accurate. I have a hunch it's not due to either some previously unidentified influence or possible even a new influence.

"The first puzzle is why inflation targeting failed. The Bank of Canada succeeded in keeping inflation on target, but keeping inflation on target failed to prevent the recession.

The second puzzle is why inflation did not fall below target during the recession."

If the BoC's ratio of assets to money falls by 2%/year, while at the same time the BoC fails to issue enough new money to accommodate the needs of business, then inflation will stay on target while you get a recession.

Meanwhile, if the recession has little or no impact on the BoC's balance sheet, then the recession will not affect the inflation rate.

I suspect Mike Moffatt's answer would be that the Bank of Canada's monetary stance has been too tight over the past couple of years. I've been reluctant to adopt that view, but it's getting harder to resist.

HST? Looks like an upturn in the rate of growth of CPI in 2010, when it was introduced in Ontario and BC, and moderation after the first year, which might be savings getting passed on and the shock having passed.

"The first puzzle is why inflation targeting failed. The Bank of Canada succeeded in keeping inflation on target, but keeping inflation on target failed to prevent the recession."

No! I say it again, Nick, inflation targeting did not fail because there was a recession. Inflation targeting was never intended to do more than deliver a framework of price stability (with perhaps a little leeway for output stabilisation if the inflation targeting was "flexible") - which it did - within which the non-monetary economic authorities were supposed to promote and stabilise real economic activity. It was the non-monetary authorities which failed, essentially because their jobs, like fiscal and structural reform and financial regulation, were politically costly. Last time, I quoted you the ECB line; this time I will offer Bernanke's view from his book on inflation targeting: "the maintenance of low and stable inflation is important, perhaps necessary, for achieving other macroeconomic goals" (note "necessary", not "sufficient").

"I suspect Mike Moffatt's answer would be that the Bank of Canada's monetary stance has been too tight over the past couple of years. I've been reluctant to adopt that view, but it's getting harder to resist."

That is my answer. I wish I had been wrong last year, but I don't think I was.

But *why* did they make that mistake? I really don't know. My best guess is that the BoC's model doesn't adequately account for political risk and the situation in Europe. But I don't put a lot of weight on that guess.

It's possible that something broke with our inflation measurement. But given NGDP data, that opens up more questions than it answers.

1. If we're *understating* inflation, then why is RGDP growth so low?
2. If we're *overstating* inflation, then RGDP growth is reasonable.. but then how do we explain unemployment?

Bank of Canada has been too tight over the last 12-24 months.

There have been significant international developments over this time: expanding QE, EU recession, slowdown in China...even Australia has been cutting rates. Resource prices have been dropping while Canadian GDP growth has been modest. All the while the Bank has stood pat while beating their chest that rates were imminently going up. One of the results is an overvalued Canadian dollar that whittles away our trade position.

Why? The Bank has been fixated with the sideshow of consumer debt. End of story. As someone noted above, this is not the Bank's responsibility.

genauer: "Sooo, for Europe the explanation is frustatingly simple and clear, so far."

Not to me. You lost me.

Robert: OK. We can't rule out the possibility that the definition of "inflation" that works best in the Phillips Curve is different from what Statistics Canada measures, and that that difference suddenly mattered more over the last few years.

Mike Sproul: Your model seems to me to have a horizontal AD curve and a vertical AS curve, and that the recent recession was caused by an AS/supply shock. That's not how I see the recent recession. It looked to me like deficient AD>

Rebel: you are setting a very low bar for "successful" monetary policy. Sure, monetary policy cannot prevent bad weather and earthquakes etc. But it can (if we get it right) prevent deficient aggregate demand. And if IT cannot prevent deficient AD recessions, we need to change it.

Mike and Mark: if this current downtrend in inflation is more than just a blip, then we will be able to say that the BoC had monetary policy too tight over the last year or two. But yes, that still leaves us with the question: given the history on unemployment and RGDP, why did inflation not fall earlier, and start falling now?

From Sep 2011 to Dec 2012 yoy CPI has fallen from 3.2% to 0.8% while the UR has changed from 7.2% to 7.1% (and was at 7.4% in Oct). Avg. annualized GDP growth has been about 1.5% over the last 4 quarters.

That's tight policy imo.

To me, this has mostly to do with events outside Canada, especially in China. Inflation all over the world did not fall much in this recession because China's massive stimulus effort ended the recession there almost before it got started. (It did get started a bit - you read stories early on about factory closings and mass migrations back to the countryside, but it was very short lived.)

China's massive and growing demand for resources kept commodity prices rising, which drove inflation everywhere despite lack of demand in other countries.

Recently, China took steps to cool its economy, which to me accounts for any small dip in inflation. I understand that those cooling efforts now seem to have done their job and we can probably expect a return to rapid growth in demand for resources.

Nick Rowe: "Sure, monetary policy cannot prevent bad weather and earthquakes etc. But it can (if we get it right) prevent deficient aggregate demand. And if IT cannot prevent deficient AD recessions, we need to change it."

Hmmm. Does that mean that the inflation target was too low?


Are you sure that your puzzles are puzzles?

The data are clear that, in all inflation targeting countries for the past couple of decades, the relationship between inflation innovations and your favourite measure of the cycle (output gaps? NAIRUs? markup?) is quite a loose one. Some (but not all) claim that the latter add nothing to inflation forecasts. To qualify as a puzzle, I think you need to show that the deviations of inflation from forecast are larger than what we would have predicted based on past experience.

Put another way, isn't what we're seeing completely consistent with the kind of performance that we should have expected from inflation targeting?

Footnote: I'm happy to cite empirical studies on inflation forecasting and the fit of Phillips Curves if you want to get into that.

From Sep 2011 to Dec 2012 yoy CPI has fallen from 3.2% to 0.8% while the UR has changed from 7.2% to 7.1% (and was at 7.4% in Oct). Avg. annualized GDP growth has been about 1.5% over the last 4 quarters.

That's tight policy imo.

Reasoning of this sort bothers me. It is a logical fallacy, specifically Affirming the Consequent. Simply because output falls, inflation falls and unemployment rises does not mean monetary policy is tight. Monetary policy might be ineffective and there is no recognition of how strong or weak monetary policy might be in a given set of circumstances, or that the relative strength might change at a moment in time.

Perhaps we are, as Keynes put it, "trying to push a piece of spaghetti uphill".

Simon: I am comfortable with the idea that, if the BoC is targeting 2% inflation at a 2 year horizon, then the 2-year ahead forecast for inflation should always be 2%. No current information should help us forecast 2-year ahead inflation. But 2 year ahead information should help us forecast 2 year ahead inflation.

Let me try to be clearer.
Given the relationship we see between activity measures (pick your favourite) and short-term inflation forecasts, how much variance reduction in that activity measure should we have expected from a policy of stabilizing the (medium-term) inflation rate?
How different is that from what we see?

A few loosely related points...

First, I'm not sure if it's right to assume that falling inflation is a delayed response to monetary policy. The way I see it, you could just as easily argue that things have deteriorated in the last 6-12 months and disinflation is the leading indicator of excessively tight monetary policy. Unemployment hasn't moved much in the past year and maybe it's about to start rising. Employment data is hard to read because it's pretty noisy on a short term basis.

Second, I wonder if inflation is so well anchored that the Bank really doesn't have much knowledge of how much they can actually affect it via rates policy. Maybe it's like a tanker that just stays on course. Sometimes the captain turns the wheel one way or the other in anticipation of winds and waves but the boat never really changes course. He may be a great captain, but for all we know the wheel isn't even connected to the rudder, or maybe he would have had to move it 10 times as much to get any effect.

Maybe that's an additional benefit of level targeting, especially NGDP: they actually have to *do* something most of the time so they get a lot more feedback about just what it takes to steer the ship at any given moment.

Last (and somewhat OT) I cannot fathom what the Bank could possibly be thinking right now, unless they are trying to bring the housing market down easy. The only relevant measure that seems at all on target is the 10-year break even rate which is currently trading around 2.04%. But by all reasonable short-term measures, and especially given the risk of being so close to the ZLB, easing looks like a no-brainer to me at this point. Why are they not cutting?

yeah, you reminded me, that I have to put more effort into writing normal English.
And Normal defined as in "understandable at least by the 5% versed in economics" : - )

My main thrust is basically the same as Simon:

Where is the problem?

Half a percentage point deviation in inflation targeting, over less than one year?

The tight number, I came up earlier for McClelland, was an integral 1% times 1 year for detecting signal from noise.

Besides running the peg, the BoC should pretty much do nothing in the moment, you also have to keep a firm hand on the tiller, and not switch too often. Sorry, that I do not have something better in the moment than to refer to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_process_control, especially the references.

Both Canada and German Unemployment are close to long term equilibrium, give the level of our social systems. If we would live alone on this planet, we should have rates at 4%, with Canada slowly rising to not crash the exaggerated housing market, and Germany going as a starter to 5%. Doesnt happen, because we dont live alone.

Like Simon and Determinant say, the underlying mechanisms for the phillips curve are completely broken. Good, in most ways.

In contrast to 1929 - 1933, we did not have a cumulative 30% deflation, and a breakdown of international trade, something we in Germany actually associate more often with "austerity"

@ Nick,

Since my post on Europe, 4 days ago, was too cryptic.

Lets take as an example Spain, 2.9% inflation, 26% unemployment, huugh, looks terryfying, doesn't it, and how does that fit on a phillips curve?


Take a look at their pension system, because I think that is also typical for their wage sector.

They have to wien the system of the inflation indexing, because it is long term too generous/expensive. The Nordics took that step in 1993, we in 2003. The Spanish demographics is really not that different.

The Socialist did it 2 times by exception rule, but the Conservative Rajoy reversed, because he had promised it the pensioners to win the elections. 2 Step forward, one step back.

And this 4 years into the crisis. This year he takes kind of a half step, only 1 - 2 %, but he did raise VAT http://www.vatlive.com/european-news/european-vat-rates-on-the-increase-review-the-major-changes/
like so many others, after finding out, that he can not raise income taxes anymore without serious side effects.

In companies, it is the same, they tried to get rid of those they do not absolutely need, but fouling it up with the existing employees with some wild wage cut attempt would be pretty stupid in most cases.

Where should some deflation come from?

I swear, you guys are like the police, pursuing the guy you just know is guilty, tunnel vision all the way. It's got to be a macro thing, right?

Here's a clip from a news story summer of 2010:

"Canada's annual inflation rate increased to 1.8 per cent for July, boosted by the HST, after a one per cent rise in June.

Prices were affected by the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario and British Columbia, and a two-percentage-point increase in Nova Scotia's HST, Statistics Canada said Friday."

The fall of in the rate of growth of prices since would also be consistent with the HST as a significant factor, as you get past the anniversary date jump and the savings passed on occur with a lag over time.

I'm not saying this solves your mystery, but I'd suggest it might be a considerable factor.

Determinant, I would say that if everything you describe happened then money is indeed too tight.

I was using the variables Nick was discussing. If I was Scott Sumner I would just say that average quarterly nGDP growth has averaged 3.0% annualized over the last four quarters. The reason inflation growth has been slowing for over a year is that money is too tight.

I don't think monetary policy is ineffective right now.

Jim Sentance:

I certainly agree with you that this discussion is a bit bizarre, and a pretty good example of how economists can get their heads stuck in the clouds, looking at their models and data and failing to notice the real world out here. One very big thing going on out here is the entry of China and India into the industrialized world economy. That's a lot of people starting to consume more and more resources, driving up commodity prices. You just can't have a reasonable discussion of inflation under these circumstances if you ignore that.


I'd certainly agree that commodity prices have been a factor as well.

"monetary policy.....can (if we get it right) prevent deficient aggregate demand. And if IT cannot prevent deficient AD recessions, we need to change it."

Two questions for Nick:

(1) Do you think that monetary policy can prevent deficient AD recessions while inflation remains within a reasonable target range - ie "flexible" inflation targeting, or do you have to drop inflation as a constraint?

(2) Do you think that monetary policy is the only / best way to prevent AD recessions?

I think I can see one way in which monetary policy can prevent deficient AD recessions - by using inflation to reset misaligned prices, but it seems to me that this would generate moral hazard, and I guess that is not in macroeconomic models, because it is something that builds up over several cycles and is hard to observe. But from looking at the UK, I think moral hazard is perhaps the most crippling economic factor of all - ie household debt is a big problem, but as long as debt keeps paying off (because your housing assets are not inflated away), household debt will quickly re-grow to take up any slack created by inflation. In short, if using monetary policy cannot be used to prevent AD recessions without raising average inflation, I would be against using it as the main macroeconomic tool.


It seems very clear to me that monetary policy can prevent most AD recessions, but not all. Think about the money supply. Loosely speaking, that's just the total of the bank accounts of all people and businesses in the country. If prices remain constant and you boost the money supply, at least some of those bank accounts must have risen, making the owners more likely to spend. If there's slack in the economy, you can surely remove it that way.

Prices are obviously not constant, but they are not infinitely flexible either. If they were, and aggregate demand fell for whatever reason, prices and wages would just fall, and that would boost consumption because the real value of the money supply would have risen. Everybody would have more spending power in their bank accounts, even if the nominal value was the same. If we lived in such a flexible-price world, AD shocks would quickly self-correct. But here in the real world, prices cannot adjust so easily, and they exhibit downward rigidity. With no policy response, AD can be depressed for a long time.

Monetary policy can usually fix such situations, but it has an important limitation. The central bank is limited to producing money for lending, and it gets that money out into the real economy through lending. Producing money for lending reduces interest rates, and the interest rate cannot go below zero. If the bank gets the rate down to zero, and still has not injected enough money to remove a severe AD shock, it has a problem. Injecting more money will not make borrowers borrow more. Instead, the money just piles up as excess bank reserves. Take a look at excess bank reserves in the U.S. right now and you'll see what I mean.

Under such circumstances, fiscal policy is one solution.

I agree unreservedly with your analysis, Paul. Many people have come to the same conclusion, but it's unpopular for political reasons. Fiscal policy is lefty and monetary policy is right-wing. It depends on what your opinion on debt and spending is.

I looked up more data on crashes. 1990 Japan, 1998 in Asia, 1929, etc.

It is practically always the same, after a long streak of calm, people run up a bubble, nearly always together with stocks, within 3.5 - 4.5 years, by a factor of 2, or for newcomers to the game, a little more. This is (nearly) always accompanied by a lot of cheap credit, often because of measures to ammeliorate prior small recessions. And then comes the Minsky moment. Prices not only correcting by a factor of 2, but some more.

Lesson: dont create the bubbles.

Here is some more quantitative data from (prior) 1929


If somebody has better data, especially in tabulated form, and also for US house prices from 1918 or so on, I would be interested.

When I look at financial data (e.g. the Scorecard) from UK and other EU states, I ll get this itchy feeling too. This UK productivity puzzle smells so fishy.


I agree that it would be nice never to create bubbles. But it's going to happen again and again and again as long as human nature remains human nature. We won't learn from the past any more than the Japanese learned from their ancestors never to build in a tsunami-prone area. (The ancestors really tried in some areas, even setting up stones marking past high-water marks with warnings to their children, which were, of course, ignored.)

What I really wish is that we could learn to deal with the aftermath of the bubbles. It's not rocket science. If the collapse is too big to handle with monetary policy, you have to use fiscal policy, and you have to use enough of it to get the economy back to where monetary policy works normally (i.e. with interest rates comfortably above zero). Too little fiscal policy gets you where many countries are today - stuck at zero interest rate, with unemployment still high.

@ Paul

maybe you expand a little bit, what you mean with "fiscal policy" more specifically.

I can imagine, that we are actually pretty close.

Before I get started with just another one of these german examples, with which I can get on the nerves of some people so well : - )

@ Determinant, RebelEconomist, Paul, Simon

Naaah, I cant withstand. Let us first have a look at

1. household debt
The UK and Canada look frightening, and these are data only until 2008 (I plan to make updates to several presentations end of march, april 2013, when the new CIA world factbook, and the OECD data for 2012 are out. As far as I understand, the trajectories for UK, CAN, DE should follow roughly the pathes shown here.
Canada should be around 170% now, and I do not really understand the UK, eeerm I actually just hope this!

Germany did a turnaround around 2000.

This kind of plot was actually used by Warren Brussee to write his “The Second Great Depression, 2007 – 2020”, and that was before the house price bubble really went off, I mentioned that here already. When people realize that they can not go on upping debt by 5% every year, but maybe pay down 5%, of course you get an AD recession. But ever increasing debt is not a long term stable solution. My understanding is, that the FED was only watching the interest cost of this, and not the absolute amount.
We insisted 15 years ago on government debt limits. We all now know that this is not sufficient.

Consequences :

2. Scorecard / Sixpack
Most readable form, from my perspective:
Looking at a lot more parameters now. And we should add percentage of people employed in the construction sector to this.

6% for Canada, 5 % for Germany, formerly 15% for Spain, overbuilt for years, what should these 10% people, not needed for the next ten years there, do now? A 45 year old construction worker will not become an iPad game programmer.
Quite a number of Euro countries, especially small ones, were found to be lacking the ability for financial oversight, planning, therefore:

3. Central ECB financial supervision

But that has disadvantages as well.

4. Student loans
We had only small (500 Euro) tuitions, eliminating that now, in the overwhelmingly public universities, and publicly administered loans at very generous conditions. If studies do not work out, not nice, but not a financial catastrophe. If people get good wages, we ll tax them then : - )

5. Pensions
Germany had some good years. But the pensions rise this year only 1% in the West, 3% in the East, we cut the contributions to 19%. That leaves then some (20 -19%) /19% = 5% relative buffer for bad times ahead.
Stabilizing, ameliorating, prohibiting personal catastrophes everywhere. Prepared over long times, by fiscal policies and not ever more weird monetary.
6. Inflation

We keep this in the target zone 2 +/- 0.5%. That means, that the southerners will have less of it, 1%, after they VAT increases flowed through. And the northerners a little more , 2.5 -3% for lets say 3 -5 years. Equals out for the whole Eurozone. As it should be, and is part of the ECB doctrine.

We are getting the situation under control, slowly, systematically, long term sustainable.

3 things-

1. Import price inflation from the US: US inflation displays considerable persistence- see Gordon (2008) etc. US inflation is often modelled including up to 24 lags. This sounds strange to many econometricians, but if you try it yourself you will find 24 lags minimising AIC and BIC in a simple univariate model of US inflation. Imports aside, Canadian inflation may demonstrate similar persistence- I know the US does, but haven't looked at this for Canada.

2. Overly tight monetary policy in 2012: Canadian monetary policy was tight in 2012 compared to an implied Taylor rule estimate. Despite the fact that the overnight rate has been locked at 1 per cent for around 30 months.

3. Output/ employment persistently below reasonable estimates of full capacity.


I am not very familiar with the German economy, so I hope you will correct any misperceptions. I see Germany as having gotten through the 2008 collapse fairly well due to 3 things - a lack of a serious housing bubble, very good automatic stabilizers, and strong manufacturing exports to China. I would certainly count those automatic stabilizers like strong support for companies to retain workers at reduced hours as fiscal policy.

Canada escaped fairly well due to well regulated banks, lack of a serious housing bubble, and strong commodity exports. Here, again, the role of China was important. Its rapid, massive stimulus effort kept its own economy from collapsing and helped much of the rest of the world indirectly. Without that, I am convinced we would be looking at a much grimmer picture.

I agree that the household debt situation is a potential problem, but that's what you get if you use monetary policy. Monetary policy can only work if low interest rates encourage people to take on more debt. This is one reason that I question the use of monetary policy as the main stabilization tool. It tends to create instability by encouraging people to take on debt in one recession, which can lead to a bubble in the recovery, thus sowing the seed for the next recession.

I do not really subscribe to your suggestion that skills mismatch is a serious problem. I believe that if demand is high enough, people will find jobs they can be trained to do. My main reason for thinking so comes from the history of the end of the great depression in Canada. During the depression, many had been telling stories about skills mismatches, but once the war hit, Canada's largely agricultural economy was turned into a weapons manufacturing powerhouse almost overnight. Factories were often staffed by women who had no manufacturing experience at all. Once the government threw caution to the winds and began borrowing and spending heavily on the war effort, the depression was over. Skills mismatches were sorted out very fast.

A 45 year old construction worker may not become an ipad programmer, but if the demand for workers is there, he may well become a factory worker, while a computer science student who has been working in the factory because of no job opportunities becomes an ipad programmer.

Paul: "During the depression, many had been telling stories about skills mismatches, but once the war hit, Canada's largely agricultural economy was turned into a weapons manufacturing powerhouse almost overnight. Factories were often staffed by women who had no manufacturing experience at all."

Very good point/example/argument.

Someone (you, Livio, Scott Sumner, or someone, but not me) should do a blog post on that point. I assume it works for the US as well.


I am sure it does work for the U.S. Paul Krugman has made this point before. I find that history interesting and have read a bit about it in the past. I will try to find the time for a little more research.

things, I actually wonder about:

does anyone of you have any shop floor experience?

did any of you ever program for money (/per hour), as an individual or in an company?

I've worked on the floor of a factory and as a programmer.

University fail > factory quit > university degree > programmer.


Many people have made the point that when AD increased in WW2 employment increased too. Nothing new there.

The point that WW2 required a massive intersectoral reallocation of demand and labour, yet it did not see structural unemployment increase, is obvious now you have said it, but somehow I missed seeing the importance of that obvious fact before. If ever there should have been a time for an absolutely massive increase in skills mismatch unemployment, WW2 was it, yet it didn't happen.

I didn't know that "During the depression, many had been telling stories about skills mismatches..."

@ edeast

one indiscret question, I am perfectly fine, if you dont give numbers, but I am really curious

at what age did you do the steps?

the more general question: what do you think a 45 year old construction worker,
with the best will and intentions, would add to your programming team?

Do you know a single example?

early 20s later 20s
Programming is(can be) very abstract and hard. Even CNC programming is out of reach for some factory workers.

However the specific example of making smartphone apps, isn't out of the question for a construction worker because there is a very large market in making tools and programs that allows easier app creation.
But getting a financially successful app is like a recording artist getting a hit, anyone can play chords on a guitar, virtuosi shred:)
There is still a chance a construction worker can use domain knowledge and get lucky, but not on my team.

edeast, thanks a lot.

Let us drive this "gedankenexperiment" a little further.

You are a corporation of 50 folks or more, in your field, growing at 30% per year.
Just to put some numbers to it.

And I am a really mean big bad "socialist" government, not the North Korean type,
but like Sweden in 1975. I want you to hire at least 30% male unemployed construction workers with age 45 or more. I can do cruel things to you, like ratting you out publicly for being anti social, age discriminating, ...., you know, the whole program : -)

But I do ask you and similar establishments, at what fraction of the wage, I have to subsidize that, to hire these folks, at otherwise equal wages to normal employees, and I will play nice with you, give you some public recognition as "fair chances, good Canadian" certificate, you can put in your front office / web site : - )

How high does the wage subsidy fraction has to be, to make you succumb to my targets?

for tonight, people who walk their own trails:


I dunno genauer, way too many variables and speculation. Throwing bodies at a software problem, slows it down.(Mythical Man Month). Growing at 30% a year, product already shipped, I'd add them to sales or something, commission based. Base salary = minimum wage + gov subsidy. Those with technical aptitude would find a better role. Sales liabilities would be fired.


I am very much not suggesting that anyone can become a useful computer programmer. Most people have a range of things they can do or can be trained to do. That range is often fairly broad, but not infinite. As I said, a 45 year old construction worker is unlikely to be capable of being trained as a computer programmer, but probably has things he can be trained to do, and other interests, besides construction. Someone else quite possibly can become a programmer, but is doing something else. If there is an excess supply of construction workers and an excess demand for programmers, I suggest that rising wages for programmers will entice people throughout the economy who have the interest and the capacity to take the training, freeing up jobs that the construction worker can take. I also suggest that evidence like the experience of Canada at the start of WWII suggests this sort of process can happen pretty fast.

@ edeast
I enjoyed reading the Mythical Man Month. The problem of folks drawing up too optimistic time lines and budgets is absolutely not confined to programming : -)

I have seen stories, that they have even now difficulties in the US, to fill open jobs for CNC. Still nobody wants to get some grease under his fingernails, or …. ?

@ Paul

To answer some of your questions:
Germany did not have any housing bubble until 2008. Prices jumped in fact by 20% here in Dresden, because people got scared of inflation. Nominal prices went down from 1800 / m2 in 1998 to 1200 in 2008, and now we are back at 1800, with the hyperlow interest rates. Now we start our bubble.

In the moment I go with what I know about the US in this time and just assume that Canada was very similar. Your employment numbers went up at the same time, although you went to war two year earlier. Interesting! In 1940 you had just 2.2 Mio paid workers. I am looking at your Series D260-265 data. Here it looks like your overnight took more like 2 years. If something is different, please tell me.

Many people had been unemployed for a long time. Many of these new jobs did not require much training or special skills, or were extremely physically demanding.
The government controlled prices and wages, and determined who gets what amount of material.

That meant that if somebody worked at only 50 to 70% of “normal”, then this was paid. There was no competition / significant trade from any other country. No WTO accusing you of unfair competition : - ) You had huge additional demand. Not to worry about the government deficit, while at war.

Private debt went down, pretty substantially. No wonder, if a lot of consumer goods were simply not available any more.

The Income tax started with 23% at 0 Dollar, and went up to 94% at 200 k$

The tiny picture I have hear for Canada, looks very similar.

When you can do all such things, you can solve your unemployment problem within 3 years, the 2 from the history above, and 1 more for more skill necessary today. I agree on that : )

I just realize, that we somehow got into this Spanish 45 old construction worker thing, not from me shown as “the typical example of skill mismatch everywhere”, but as a very specific Spanish problem, and why you have to track a lot more parameters then just government debt. Apparently that specifity did not get across fully.

Finally, to get some 1 or 2% of the working population moving out of a gainful employment, like in Canada or Germany, that can happen with some natural attrition, etc. But 26 % unemployment, as in Spain, the change of wage differentials would have to be huge. You would need war like powers.

Agriculture is some 4% in the EU, manufacturing shrinking (from 50% to 20% over the last 20 years, here around) You will not push substantial fractions of people into these sectors, unless you force them to very low wages.

The bitter truth is, it took Finland and Eastern Germany some 15 years, to work down a 20 % unemployment in 1992.

A few more thoughts

Short form:

1. Cost-Benefit-Analysis

As in the case here, very often, in the moment you try to get specific, you pretty quickly arrive at a point, where the cure looks worse than the disease, at least in a society, which has some social minimum payment system defined and organized, like the Nordics and western / central Europe.

2. Social minimum payments

When you think about costs, and what are the alternatives, how cruel are certain politics in fact, you arrive very quickly at the question: What do some people at the lower end of the social ladder, e.g. long term unemployed get, and how bad is that.
To summarize this short, what would a family of 4, for whatever reason long term unemployed, but Canadian citizens in good standing, get in Montreal or Toronto, or whatever some here consider median Canadian?

Long form:

1. Cost-Benefit-Analysis

As in the case here, very often, in the moment you try to get specific, you pretty quickly arrive at a point, where the cure looks worse than the disease, at least in a society, which has some social minimum payment system defined and organized, like the Nordics and western / central Europe.

I would be very interested in some (quantitative) description of the Canadian system. Some of you may ask, why can’t that German goy google it for himself? We recently had this here, for severance packages, that when I googled a world bank paper on comparisons, the description for Canada (federal rules) was very low and very misleading, and Determinant put this straight right here, that in Canada the state rules are much more generous and relevant.

To ask people with local competence, like here, has substantial advantages : - ) Within a few hours I knew substantially more than the world bank clown, authoring a paper on this topic.

2. Social minimum payments

When you think about costs, and what are the alternatives, how cruel are certain politics in fact, you arrive very quickly at the question: What do some people at the lower end of the social ladder, e.g. long term unemployed get, and how bad is that.

In Germany this is called HARTZ IV. The official calculator was pulled down, because in Europe we very much try not to attract folks from somewhere else, based on such numbers. Last summer, after our Supreme Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) found, that people applying for political asylum should get just 90 Euro more in cash payout per month, instead of food, etc., whoooms, suddenly 560 % more in Bosnia and 300% more in Macedonia discover that they are politically persecuted, within just 3 months, and are soo scared that they make it through 2 safety layers of “safe 3rd countries”, right to the german handout office, despite that not a single one of them was finally accepted, after the usually 2 years litigation : -) http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2013-01/asyl-deutschland-erstantraege
One inofficial calculator (in German only, but I can imagine that most of you could figure it out http://biallo.sueddeutsche.de/tz/sueddeutsche2/Soziales/ALG2rechner.php) gives NET 24 000 Euros, or 32 000 Dollar per anno, as a social minimum for a family of 4, in a cheap eastern German town. Not to be sneezed at, I think. Free education, health insurance exactly the same as mine, comes on top of that.

To summarize this short, what would a family of 4, for whatever reason long term unemployed, but Canadian citizens in good standing, get in Montreal or Toronto, or whatever some here consider median Canadian?

The forgotten link to Canadian data I mentioned:

was it helpful at all, to do a short/long form?


I am sorry that I don't have much knowledge about your question. I will tell you what I think I know, but it might not be completely right.

Here in Ontario, the program for the long-term unemployed is called Welfare. It used to be administered provincially, but this was changed some years back and now it is the responsibility of municipalities. Very bad idea, I think, creating a situation like what you describe, where any municipality that is more generous gets punished.

Many say that the payments are very inadequate, but I do not know enough to judge the fairness of such opinions. There are also charities, including food banks, and a program, "Ontario Works" which aims to provide subsidies to help people get into the labour force.

I think we do not have as much of a problem with attracting unwanted immigrants as you although there certainly are situations. We are relatively isolated from poorer countries. Our current Federal government is more antagonistic to immigration than past ones. They have been trying to block refugee claimants, including Roma from Hungary. I don't think we really have a serious problem with people coming here to get welfare, although I am sure you could find someone claiming otherwise. We do let in quite a few immigrants and refugees, most of whom wind up working, but often in low-paid jobs. One problem you hear a lot about is that immigrants often cannot get their qualifications recognized by our professional associations, so a lot of talent and education is wasted.

Hope this at least gives you a little context for what you can find on line.

@ Paul

Thanks a lot. I think you helped me enough, to get the following picture together, in an efficient way.

With social minimum payments in Canada at just 43% for 4, and 59% for one person, compared to Germany, there is no surprise, that long term unemployment has a very different meaning here and there.

If I would be willing to ratch up the daily poverty pain by a factor of 2 or more, to Canadian levels, then I could push people around a lot more like Nick Rowe imagines.

I am neither a Xian nor a union member, but I cite Matthew 25: 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

There is some financial cost of the abuse of political asylum, but what would you do in their situation? But we weigh it against having blood on our hands with a false rejection.

With the problems of recognizing qualifications, similar here, there is also the other side, e.g. people claiming to have computer science degrees, which then turning out to have just some training with MS Office.

Details & references:

According to http://www.peelregion.ca/ow/applying/allowance.htm
the Canadia equivalent would be 12 * (448 + 688) = 13632 $ / anno or just 43% of the German rate.

This is .....
…. harsh, to say the least, from my perspective, which is probably on the 10% most fiscally conservative side here. No politician in Germany, who wants to stay alive, would argue against a relative 40% raise.

For a single (e.g. http://de.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100301124428AA3d5XW
550 - 663 $/ month (the side above: 227 + 372 = 599 $) or 59% of German

The German value, calculated with the link in my last post (382 + 372 Euro) = 755 Euro = 1010 Dollar / month

Toronto (http://www.toronto.ca/socialservices/foodrent.htm)
standard 4 person family 12* (453 + 695) = 13776, same as Ontario with rounding errors.


I would not dispute your judgement of our system. Our whole social support system has been in decline for the past couple of decades. I think you could say it started with the way we balanced our federal budget back in the mid 90's. The federal government balanced largely by reducing its payments to the provinces, which then downloaded responsibilities to the municipalities. We have become much more like the Americans and less like the Europeans. The main difference is that we still have reasonable health care.

Don't forget, though, to take the cost of living into account. I traveled a bit in Spain and Portugal before the crisis really hit. My impression was that you could buy for a Euro there about what I can buy for a dollar here although the Euro cost a lot more.

@ Paul,

I usually try hard to be not judgemental, just trying to know what is, and to understand, especially the dynamics and dependencies.

This blog entry made me much more aware of

a) what one can do with war powers, or not

b) together with analyzing the pickles on the loonie exchange rate with the up/down kinks on the BoC balance sheet

You do, what you have to do (a somewhat ironic quote from Hegel: Freiheit ist Einsicht in die Notwendigkeit)

this is kind of the last straw to make me aware, that the economic decision freedom of Canada, in relation to the US as the (90%) center star, is even lower than I thought.

This enforces, what I am afraid of, to be the case for Germany as well, the local center star, but only a 25% fraction of the whole. Our social spread will go up as well.

For exchange rate / PPP discussions, we had recently


that the present 1.33 CADEUR=X (yahoo lingo) is not far of the 1.25 fair value I use.
I readily believe that visible prices in Spain/ Portugal were higher by 10 - 15% in the boom, before the crisis hit. I also believe, they are down by that now : - )

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