Chapter 25: Financial Markets and the Economy

Start Up: Clamping Down on Money Growth

For nearly three decades, Americans have come to expect very low inflation, on the order of 2% to 3% a year. How did this expectation come to be? Was it always so? Absolutely not.

In July 1979, with inflation approaching 14% and interest rates on three-month Treasury bills soaring past 10%, a desperate President Jimmy Carter took action. He appointed Paul Volcker, the president of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, as chairman of the Fed’s Board of Governors. Mr. Volcker made clear that his objective as chairman was to bring down the inflation rate—no matter what the consequences for the economy. Mr. Carter gave this effort his full support.

Mr. Volcker wasted no time in putting his policies to work. He slowed the rate of money growth immediately. The economy’s response was swift; the United States slipped into a brief recession in 1980, followed by a crushing recession in 1981–1982. In terms of the goal of reducing inflation, Mr. Volcker’s monetary policies were a dazzling success. Inflation plunged below a 4% rate within three years; by 1986 the inflation rate had fallen to 1.1%. The tall, bald, cigar-smoking Mr. Volcker emerged as a folk hero in the fight against inflation. Indeed he has returned 20 years later as part of President Obama’s economic team to perhaps once again rescue the U.S. economy.

The Fed’s seven-year fight against inflation from 1979 to 1986 made the job for Alan Greenspan, Mr. Volcker’s successor, that much easier. To see how the decisions of the Federal Reserve affect key macroeconomic variables—real GDP, the price level, and unemployment—in this chapter we will explore how financial markets, markets in which funds accumulated by one group are made available to another group, are linked to the economy.

This chapter provides the building blocks for understanding financial markets. Beginning with an overview of bond and foreign exchange markets, we will examine how they are related to the level of real GDP and the price level. The second section completes the model of the money market. We have learned that the Fed can change the amount of reserves in the banking system, and that when it does the money supply changes. Here we explain money demand—the quantity of money people and firms want to hold—which, together with money supply, leads to an equilibrium rate of interest.

The model of aggregate demand and supply shows how changes in the components of aggregate demand affect GDP and the price level. In this chapter, we will learn that changes in the financial markets can affect aggregate demand—and in turn can lead to changes in real GDP and the price level. Showing how the financial markets fit into the model of aggregate demand and aggregate supply we developed earlier provides a more complete picture of how the macroeconomy works.

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