Monetary Policy Implementation: Making Better and More Consistent Use of the Federal Reserve’s Balance Sheet

Since December 2015, the Federal Reserve has operated a new “floor system” in which it brings about desired changes in its targeted federal funds rate by managing the interest rate it pays on bank reserves and other short-term liabilities. The design of this new system reflects the tendency of Fed officials to view monetary policy as affecting the economy through “Keynesian” interest rate channels. From this Keynesian perspective, policy actions that change the size of the balance sheet are seen as tools for influencing credit market conditions that operate in addition to and independently of the Fed’s monetary policy stance.

The alternative monetarist framework proposed by the author views monetary policy and its effects as operating through the interaction between money supply and demand. Use of this framework makes clear that, even under a floor system, monetary policy actions designed to affect the aggregate price level and the rate of inflation must be accompanied sooner or later by traditional open market operations that have implications for the size and composition of the Fed’s balance sheet.

Use of the monetarist framework also underscores the likelihood that the Fed, by paying interest on reserves, has unknowingly contributed to the restrictiveness of its own monetary policies since the financial crisis, a period during which inflation has run consistently below target. More generally, the monetarist framework downplays the importance of the zero lower interest rate bound and suggests that monetary policy could be conducted more effectively by adopting and adhering to a consistent, rule-like manner during good times and bad.