World-Watching: Small Business and Food Waste: Not a Small Problem

[from APEC News]

by Aaron Sydor

Faced with a possible food crisis, economies must work together and take action on food waste … starting at the front line with MSMEs.

Conflict, supply disruption, rising prices, and shortages are all impacting food supplies globally. Just as we are nearing some form of recovery from the pandemic, we are now facing another global challenge in the form of a food crisis – and it’s likely to get worse.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) tells us that 349 million people face acute food insecurity this year — an increase from 287 million people in 2021. It is a tragedy that when the world is “hungrier than ever,” as the WFP calls it, so much food goes to waste. One-third of food production, or 1.3 billion tons per year, goes to waste globally, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. It is inconceivable, then, that we don’t make the most of the food that we have.

This is a regional problem that cannot be solved by individual economies acting on their own. It must be looked at with a wider lens, such as through bodies, like APEC, that promote regional economic cooperation. APEC members acknowledge that all areas of the agri-food value chain are interdependent and that there is a need for a whole-system approach.

Among the forum’s efforts to reduce food waste is the Food Security Roadmap Towards 2030 which aims to establish an open, fair, transparent, productive, sustainable and resilient APEC food system. This corresponds to the UN and other multilateral goals by taking action through the following avenues: digital transformation; productivity and international trade; sustainability; public-private partnerships; and inclusivity, especially in the inclusion of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) along the agri-food value chain.

For more on this topic, download “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain.” [Archived PDF]

In my capacity as the Chair of APEC’s Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group, I’d like to stress the importance of the latter: inclusivity and small business. MSMEs account for over 97 percent of all business in APEC economies and employ over half of the workforce. Any strategy for reducing food wastage will have to involve the wholesale participation of the region’s smaller businesses.

This is easier written than done. For one thing, fit-for-purpose data is scarce. No APEC economy has food waste data that is specific to MSMEs. And while all have policies and measures to address the problem of food waste, there are no large-scale direct MSMEfood waste reduction targets, policies or plans. Few have tried to reduce MSME food waste in the retail food and food service industries. Supermarkets, food storage facilities or warehouses in many APEC economies aren’t required to donate excesses.

Most entrepreneurs aren’t even aware of the problem, or underestimate its true cost. Those who do understand have limited options or capital, and are unable to find cost-effective solutions to create value out of food waste, and face problems with logistics and transportation. On top of this, there are few to no regulatory frameworks to guide them. From a technology perspective, a majority of APEC economies utilize modern technologies, including mobile applications, to reduce or manage MSME food waste/surplus food, but these modern technologies are used only by large companies in big cities.

Amid these challenges are an abundance of opportunities to help MSMEs reduce food waste. Training, policies and guidelines can aid them in improving profits by reducing costs and increasing the value added of food. They can reduce their carbon footprint, which enhances consumer demand, and divert waste to new products or bioenergy.

A November study by the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group presents case studies, identifies the best available data on food waste for MSMEs, and identifies several best practices for economies in dealing with food waste through MSME policy.

In one section, the study’s authors analyze a case study of a successful MSME, and identify four key factors contributing to its successful reduction of food waste: 1) creating a network of people — e.g., a community surrounding a farm; 2) using innovation and technology to facilitate farming and save time; 3) producing knowledge and providing it through several channels — e.g., a learning and training center, friendly guide books; and 4) considering the environment at every step of the process.

The paper, called “Enhancing Green MSMEs’ Competitiveness for a Sustainable and Inclusive Asia-Pacific: Food Sector Waste Reduction in Food Supply Chain,” [Archived PDF] is extensive and easily doubles as a handbook for anyone interested in MSME food waste, or the problem of food waste in general. It is a great example of what can be achieved when economies combine knowledge and resources in the pursuit of keeping the region inclusive, prosperous, and fed.

Aaron Sydor is the Chair of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.

Economics-Watching: FedViews for January 2023

[from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco]

Adam Shapiro, vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, stated his views on the current economy and the outlook as of January 12, 2023.

  • While continuing to cool over the last several months, 12-month inflation remains at historically high levels. The headline personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index rose 5.5% in November 2022 from a year earlier. This marks a decline in inflation to a level last observed in October 2021, but still well above the Fed’s longer-run goal of 2%. A portion of the inflation moderation is attributable to recent declines in energy prices. Core PCE inflation, which removes food and energy prices, has shown less easing.
  • Owing to fiscal relief efforts and lower household spending over the course of the pandemic, consumers accumulated over $2 trillion dollars in excess savings, based on pre-pandemic trends. Since then, consumers have drawn down over half of this excess savings which has helped support recent growth in personal consumption expenditures. A considerable amount of accumulated savings remains for some consumers to support spending in 2023.
  • In the wake of the pandemic, consumer spending patterns shifted away from services towards goods. While there appears to be some normalization of spending behavior, this shift has generally persisted. Real goods spending remains significantly above its pre-pandemic trend, driven by strong demand for durables such as furniture, electronics, and recreational goods. Spending on services has shown a resurgence but remains below its pre-pandemic trend.
  • Supply chain bottlenecks for materials and labor remain a constraint on production, although there are some recent signs of easing. The fraction of manufacturers who reported operating below capacity due to insufficient materials peaked in late 2021 and has moderately declined over the past year. However, the fraction of manufacturers reporting insufficient labor has persisted at high levels.
  • The labor market remains tight, despite some signs of cooling. The number of available jobs remains well above the number of available workers, although vacancy postings have been trending down in recent months. The tight labor market has put continued upward pressure on wages and labor market turnover.
  • A decomposition of headline PCE inflation into supply– and demand-driven components shows that both supply and demand factors are responsible for the recent rise in inflation. The surge in inflation in early 2021 was mainly due to an increase in demand-driven factors. Subsequently, supply factors became more prevalent for the remainder of 2021. Supply-driven inflation has moderated significantly over recent months, while demand-driven inflation remains elevated.
  • The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) raised the federal funds rate by 50 basis points at the December meeting to a range of 4.25 to 4.5%. This cycle of continued rate increases since March of last year represents the fastest pace of monetary policy tightening in 40 years. The increase in the federal funds rate has been accompanied by a gradual reduction in the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.
  • Economic activity in sectors such as housing, which is sensitive to rising interest rates, has slowed considerably in recent months. Housing starts have fallen steadily over the past year, as have other housing market indicators, such as existing home sales and house prices.
  • Although the labor market is currently very strong, financial markets are pointing to some downside risks. Namely, the difference between longer- and shorter-term interest rates has turned negative, which historically tends to occur immediately preceding recessions. It remains unclear whether lower longer-term yields are indicative of anticipated slower growth or lower inflation.
  • Short-term inflation expectations remain elevated relative to their pre-pandemic levels in December 2019. Consumers are expecting prices to rise 5% this year, while professional forecasters are expecting prices to rise 3.5%. Longer-term inflation expectations remain more subdued, indicating that both consumers and professionals believe inflation pressures will eventually dissipate.
  • Rent inflation is expected to remain high over the next year. The prices for asking rents have grown quite substantially over the last two years. As new leases begin and existing leases are renewed, these higher asking rents will flow into the stock of rental units, putting upward pressure on rent inflation.
  • We are expecting inflation to moderate over the next few years as monetary policy continues to restrain demand and supply bottlenecks continue to ease. We anticipate that it will take some time for inflation to reach the Fed’s longer-run goal of 2%.
Inflation is cooling, but remains very high
Savings are boosting consumer demand
Goods consumption remains elevated
Supply shortages are prevalent, but easing
Labor market remains tight, but is cooling
Both supply and demand drive inflation
Monetary policy tightening is having real effects
Yield curve is inverted, signaling recession risk
Short-term inflation expectations remain elevated
High rent inflation is in the pipeline
Inflation likely to remain above 2% for some time

[Archived PDF]

Read other issues from FedViews.

Education and the Long-Term: Automation As Example

The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook

Chapter 2: The Challenge of Automation

“Since 1955 and the advent of automation, overtime has been detrimental to the workers. Again and again workers have been faced with the decision to work overtime or not to work overtime, and the decision has usually been: ‘To hell with those out of work. Let’s get the dollar while the dollar is gettable.’ The amazing thing is that this has nothing to do with the backwardness of these workers. Not only can they run production and think for themselves, but they sense and feel the changes in conditions way in advance of those who are supposed to be responsible for their welfare. But with all these abilities there is one big organic weakness. Over and over again workers in various shops and industries, faced with a critical issue, only divide and become disunited, even though they are well aware that they are being unprincipled and weakening their own cause as workers. Since the advent of automation there has not been any serious sentiment for striking, particularly if the strike was going to come at the expense of material things that the workers already had in their possession, like cars, refrigerators, TV sets, etc. They were not ready to make any serious sacrifices of these; they would rather sacrifice the issue. Between the personal things and the issue, they have chosen the personal. Most American workers have geared themselves to a standard of living that is based on a five-day week plus—either in the form of overtime or another job, part or full time. And any time this standard of living is threatened, it is a personal crisis, which means that more and more decisions are being personalized and individualized rather than collectivized and socialized.”

(The American Revolution: Pages From a Negro Worker’s Notebook, James Boggs, Monthly Review Press, 1963, page 33)

As far back as 1963, with President John Kennedy in office, James Boggs (a Detroit autoworker) was already quite aware of automation and its challenges.

A “meta-intelligent” education means we learn from any sources available including “angry pamphlets” without worrying about the ideological blinders or fireworks because our desire is not to engage in polemics but to “extract signals” from a noisy world.

Chapter 2 of James Boggs’s pamphlet is called “The Challenge of Automation” and begins: “Since 1955 and the advent of automation, overtime has been detrimental to the workers…”

This immediately tells you that automation is a very long-run historical trend and should be seen in a larger sweep with history as your searchlight.

Indeed the famous German classic The Weavers by Gerhart Hauptmann is about machines as a threat to employment:

The Weavers (German: Die Weber, Silesian German: De Waber) is a play written by the German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann in 1892. The play sympathetically portrays a group of Silesian weavers who staged an uprising during the 1840s due to their concerns about the Industrial Revolution and replacement by machines and automation.

In 1927, it was adapted into a German silent film The Weavers, directed by Frederic Zelnik and starring Paul Wegener.

A Broadway version of The Weavers was staged in 1915–1916.

To dismiss all such movements and revolts as Luddite-like is not useful since it sweeps legitimate problems under the rug.

This includes Ernst Toller’s classic The Machine Wreckers (German: Die Maschinenstürmer). Two of his early plays were produced in this period: The Machine Wreckers (1922), whose opening night in 1937 he attended, and No More Peace, produced in 1937 by the Federal Theatre Project and presented in New York City in 1938.

All of these critiques of machines and automation are part of a long-term historical overview of machines and jobs and in our time, robotics and AI, etc which should be analyzed as a trajectory and arc where “machine wreckers” à la Hauptmann or Toller are understood empathetically and realistically and not dismissed as vandals.

Movies As Parallel Universities: The Promised Land

The Promised Land is a Polish film masterpiece based on Nobel laureate Reymont’s 1899 novel. The novel describes the industrialization of the Polish city of Łódź in the nineteenth century and reminds one a little of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle of 1906 but with the emphasis not on dangers and miseries for labor but on the “mad dance” of the capitalist industrial free-for-all:

The Promised Land (Polish: Ziemia obiecana) is a 1975 Polish drama film directed by Andrzej Wajda, based on the novel by Władysław Reymont. Set in the industrial city of Łódź, The Promised Land tells the story of a Pole, a German, and a Jew struggling to build a factory in the raw world of 19th century capitalism.”


Wajda presents a shocking image of the city, with its dirty and dangerous factories and ostentatiously opulent residences devoid of taste and culture. The film follows in the tradition of Charles Dickens, Émile Zola and Maxim Gorky, as well as German expressionists such as Dix, Meidner and Grosz, who gave testimony of social protest. Think also of the English poet, William Blake’s metaphor describing industrial England as a world of “dark Satanic mills.”

Reymont, the author of the original novel, was in his heart a ruralist and intensely disliked the modern industrial world, which he saw as maniacal and destructive.

In the 2015 poll conducted by the Polish Museum of Cinematography in Łódź, The Promised Land was ranked first on the list of the greatest Polish films of all time.


“Karol Borowiecki (Daniel Olbrychski), a young Polish nobleman, is the managing engineer at the Bucholz textile factory. He is ruthless in his career pursuits, and unconcerned with the long tradition of his financially declined family. He plans to set up his own factory with the help of his friends Max Baum (Andrzej Seweryn), a German and heir to an old handloom factory, and Moritz Welt (Wojciech Pszoniak), an independent Jewish businessman. Borowiecki’s affair with Lucy Zucker (Kalina Jędrusik), the wife of another textile magnate, gives him advance notice of a change in cotton tariffs and helps Welt to make a killing on the Hamburg futures market. However, more money has to be found so all three characters cast aside their pride to raise the necessary capital.

On the day of the factory opening, Borowiecki has to deny his affair with Zucker’s wife to a jealous husband who, himself a Jew, makes him swear on a sacred Catholic object. Borowiecki then accompanies Lucy on her exile to Berlin. However, Zucker sends an associate to spy on his wife; he confirms the affair and informs Zucker, who takes his revenge on Borowiecki by burning down his brand new, uninsured factory. Borowiecki and his friends lose all that they had worked for.

The film fast forwards a few years. Borowiecki recovered financially by marrying Mada Müller, a rich heiress, and he owns his own factory. His factory is threatened by a workers’ strike. Borowiecki is forced to decide whether or not to open fire on the striking and demonstrating workers, who throw a rock into the room where Borowiecki and others are gathered. He is reminded by an associate that it is never too late to change his ways. Borowiecki, who has never shown human compassion toward his subordinates, authorizes the police to open fire nevertheless.”


Notice the sentence above:

Borowiecki’s affair with Lucy Zucker (Kalina Jędrusik), the wife of another textile magnate, gives him advance notice of a change in cotton tariffs and helps Welt to make a killing on the Hamburg futures market.

Textiles and hence cotton prices and tariffs are, as elsewhere, “the name of the game” in Łódź industry.

There is a concrete basis in reality for this 19th century version of our derivatives trading contributing to 2008 and the Great Recession:

In a discussion of futures markets, we read:

“Already in 1880 merchants were buying an idea rather than a palpable commodity, as we saw happen in the grains futures market. In that year, sixty-one million bags (coffee, in this example) were bought and sold on the Hamburg futures market, when the entire world harvest was less than seven million bags!

It was this sort of speculation that caused the German government to shut down the futures market for a while.”

(Global Markets Transformed: 1870-1945, Steven Topik & Allen Wells, Harvard University Press, 2012, page 234)

The danger with such speculative excesses is that the economy, national or global, becomes a “betting parlor” (bets on bets on bets in an infinite regress, as in the lead-up to 2008) and governments have been paralyzed and passive in the face of such “casino capitalism” (to use Susan Strange’s vocabulary) because laissez-faire neoliberal ideology has a profound hold in the West, especially in Anglo-America.

Professor Milton Friedman (died in 2006) argued in interviews going back to the 1960s and before, that speculators fulfill a valuable economic function since they “keep the system efficient.”

The current semi-dismantling and neutralizing of the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and guidelines has to do not only with lobbying but also with the hold of various strands of such “laissez-faireideology and market fundamentalism.

Keynes’s classic essay, “The End of Laissez-Faire” tends to yield to the countervailing force of this market fundamentalism/“laissez-faire religion.”

Economy Watching: Philadelphia Fed

from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia:

Fed President Patrick Harker Says It Will “Soon” Be Time to Taper Asset Purchases

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker told a virtual audience at the Prosperity Caucus in Washington, D.C., that the asset purchases once necessary during the acute phase of the COVID-19 pandemic are no longer effective as a tool for supporting the economy. He also said the U.S. economy created millions of jobs in recent months, but “we just can’t fill them.”

Economic Outlook: Growth Despite Constraints

Good evening! Thanks so much for having me. I understand that when this group meets in person there is usually pizza involved — so I intend to collect on that debt next time we do this in the flesh.

I plan to offer a few remarks about the state of the national economy and the path of Federal Reserve policy. Then we can move to our Q&A, which I’m really looking forward to.

But before I do that, I need to give you the standard Fed disclaimer: The views I express today are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of anyone else on the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) or in the Federal Reserve System.

Fed Structure

I know this group encompasses a very diverse crowd — we have everyone from House staffers to Senate staffers here. So, just in case anyone doesn’t know, I want to begin by giving you a very brief explanation of what, exactly, a regional Federal Reserve Bank is. Our nation’s central bank, after all, is quite unusual — unique, even — in its design.

The configuration of the Federal Reserve System — a central bank with a decentralized structure — owes its existence to the 1913 Federal Reserve Act. It is something of a testament to old-fashioned American compromise and reflects the unique demands of the United States and our economy.

The System consists of a Board of Governors, which sits in Washington, and 12 regional Banks around the country.

The Board seats seven governors, including the Chair. Each regional Bank has its own president and board of directors, which is made up of business, banking, and community leaders from the area. Fundamentally, this provides the Fed with a perspective — within each District — of the sectors and issues that make the region tick. Mine is the Third District, which encompasses eastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and the state of Delaware. We’re the smallest District geographically, but I like to think we punch above our weight.

The FOMC, which is responsible for monetary policy, is composed of the Fed’s governors and regional Bank presidents. Regional Bank presidents don’t always get to vote. Most of us rotate into a voting position every three years, but the governors always vote, as does the president of the New York Fed. New York, owing to the presence of Wall Street, enjoys something of a “first among equals” status within the System.

While the rest of us don’t always vote, we do always represent our Districts and play a part in the discussion. If you were at a normal FOMC meeting, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell a voting member until the end of the meeting when it’s time to raise hands. Everybody contributes.

The Fed’s decentralized nature is, in my view, a unique strength. We’re making national policy, but we’re doing it for an enormous country, and the averages of economic data can obscure realities on the ground. Conditions look very different in Philadelphia, Dover, or Washington than they do in Dallas, Salt Lake City, or Honolulu. This System gives a voice to a range of localities and sectors. It also allows us to focus on regional issues within each Bank’s District.

The United States has a unique set of needs. It’s easy to forget that we’re an outlier because we’re such a massive country: Only Russia and Canada are bigger geographically, only China and India have larger populations, and no one country has a bigger economy, at least for now. And that economy is vast, spreading across sectors and natural resources in a way that is not typical of other nations.

So, it makes sense that we have a System that feeds back information from around the country.

The State of the Economy

And what that information is telling us is that, for the past 18 months, the economy has moved in tandem with the waxing and waning of the COVID-19 pandemic. During periods when case rates and hospitalizations have declined, the economy has surged as American consumers have voted with their wallets. When COVID-19 risks abate, more Americans dine out at restaurants, check in to hotels, and fill up airplanes. Those are important categories of spending in a country where consumption makes up about 70 percent of total economic activity. In the second quarter of this year, for instance, GDP grew at a very healthy annualized rate of around 6.7 percent as case rates plummeted.

And, of course, the opposite occurs during periods when the virus spikes. When the Delta variant of COVID-19 erupted, fomenting the country’s fourth major wave of the pandemic, things started moving sideways. Consumer confidence tanked, and large industries like hospitality and leisure stagnated at best. So for this quarter, we can expect growth to come in at an annualized rate of around 3 percent, a sharp slowdown from earlier this year. 

But there are reasons to be sanguine that the country’s recovery from this wave of COVID-19 may prove more durable than in the past and that we can avoid a fifth wave. And that is because more than half of the country is fully vaccinated. Getting more shots into arms will save lives and aid the recovery by reducing the size and severity of future spikes. The Delta variant has also concentrated minds: It seems to have not only persuaded more Americans to get shots on their own, but it also pushed more corporations and institutions to mandate their employees to get vaccinated. That is cause for optimism.

Filling me with less optimism is the persistent constraints the economy is operating under.

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile many of our supply chains are. We’re now experiencing shortages of crucial parts like computer chips, which has hobbled not only the production of cars and trucks, but also comparatively smaller durable goods like home appliances. My recent experience attempting to purchase a printer — there were essentially none at my local electronics store — testifies to that. And good luck trying to find a new washing machine or dishwasher.

These supply chain constraints are rippling through the entire economy. Manufacturers in our region have reported having to curtail production because of difficulties securing raw materials. We’re also seeing low inventory of everything from shoes to backpacks to even chicken wings, which is a particularly troubling development as the NFL season is picking up. Unfortunately, there are indications that these constraints could persist for a couple of more years.

There’s another input lacking in supply as well, further constraining the economy: labor. It isn’t true, as was widely reported, that the economy only created 194,000 jobs in September. In reality, the U.S. economy has created many millions of jobs in recent months — we just can’t fill them. Indeed, job openings are at record highs, hitting nearly 10.5 million at the end of August. Simultaneously, more people are quitting their jobs, and the rate at which open positions are being filled is continuing to slow.

It seems that a combination of factors — trouble accessing childcare or eldercare, lingering fears about the virus, the rise in equities and home values spurring people to retire, and perhaps a general revaluation of life choices — is persuading a lot of Americans to stay on the sidelines even as the economy has reopened. And notably, the elimination of extra federal unemployment benefits has not — at least not yet — appeared to nudge people back into the workforce. I do expect that will change eventually and especially as other forbearance programs run out.

So, where does all of this leave us? For 2021, I would expect GDP growth to come in around 5.5 percent, which is a downward revision from before Delta took hold. Growth will then moderate to about 3.5 percent in 2022, and 2.5 percent in 2023. Inflation, meanwhile, should come in around 4 percent for 2021, though I do see upside risk here. After that, our modal forecast — that is, the average of all of our forecasts — calls for inflation of a bit over 2 percent for 2022 and right at 2 percent in 2023.

Fed Policy

In terms of monetary policy, I am in the camp that believes it will soon be time to begin slowly and methodically — frankly, boringly — taper our $120 billion in monthly purchases of Treasury bills and mortgage-backed securities. This comes down to the efficacy of these purchases as a tool.

They were necessary to keep markets functioning during the acute phase of the crisis. But to the extent that we are still dealing with a labor force issue, the problem lies on the supply side, not with demand. You can’t go into a restaurant or drive down a commercial strip without noticing a sea of “Help Wanted” signs. Asset purchases aren’t doing much — or anything — to ameliorate that.

After we taper our asset purchases, we can begin to think about raising the federal funds rate. But I wouldn’t expect any hikes to interest rates until late next year or early 2023, unless the inflation picture changes dramatically.


Given the strong headwinds facing the economy, it is a testament to its underlying strength that growth continues at a relatively robust pace. That is a tribute, as always, to the ingenuity and tenacity of our people, especially in the face of huge challenges.

Thank you very much again for having me. And now let’s move on to questions.

How Did Computerization Since the 1980s Affect Older Workers?

(from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College’s Issue in Brief, by Anek Belbase and Anqi Chen)

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Since the 1980s, computers have reshaped the job market, replacing workers in jobs that rely on routine tasks, from bank tellers to auto workers.
  • In response, workers moved to two types of non-routine jobs beyond the reach of computers: cognitive (e.g., analysts) and physical (e.g., food servers).
  • Older workers have fared like all other workers because, overall, they were just as likely to be in the routine jobs that were disrupted.
  • They also moved into non-routine jobs at similar rates, as the abilities needed for these jobs, such as a college degree or people skills, did not vary much by age.
  • A subsequent study will explore whether, over the next two decades, increasingly capable computers might favor jobs that do rely on skills that vary by age.

Read the full brief [archived PDF]. Download the data [Excel .xlsx].

China Monitor: How Immigration Is Shaping Chinese Society

(from MERICS China Monitor)

To the surprise of many, China has emerged as a destination country for immigration: As China’s population ages and its workforce shrinks, China needs more immigrants.

The background of immigrants to China is becoming more diverse. While the number of high-earning expatriates from developed countries has peaked, China is now also attracting more students than ever from all over the world, including many from lesser developed countries. Low-skilled labor and migration for marriage are also on the rise. The main areas that attract foreigners are the large urban centers along the coast (Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing) and borderland regions in the South, Northeast and Northwest, but smaller numbers are also making their way to smaller cities across China.

In the new MERICS China MonitorHow immigration is shaping Chinese society” [archived PDF], MERICS Director Frank N. Pieke and colleagues from other European universities and institutions discuss the most salient issues confronting the Chinese government and foreign residents themselves.

According to their analysis, for many foreigners China has become considerably less accommodating over the last ten years, particularly with regard to border control, public security, visa categories, and work and residence permits. China’s immigration policy is still driven by narrow concerns of regulation, institutionalization and control. It remains predicated on attracting high-quality professionals, researchers, entrepreneurs and investors. Long-term challenges like the emerging demographic transition, remain to be addressed.

The authors detect a worrying trend towards intolerance to ethnic and racial difference, fed by increasing nationalism and ethnic chauvinism. They argue that the Chinese government, civil society, foreign diplomatic missions, employers of foreigners and international organizations present in China should take a clear stance against racism and discrimination. China’s immigration policy needs to include the integration of foreigners into society and provide clear and predictable paths to acquiring permanent residence.

[Archived PDF]

Federal Reserve Review of Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools, and Communications: Some Preliminary Views

(Speech by Governor Lael Brainard, at the Presentation of the 2019 William F. Butler Award New York Association for Business Economics, New York, New York)

It is a pleasure to be here with you. It is an honor to join the 45 outstanding economic researchers and practitioners who are past recipients of the William F. Butler Award. I want to express my deep appreciation to the New York Association for Business Economics (NYABE) and NYABE President Julia Coronado.

I will offer my preliminary views on the Federal Reserve’s review of its monetary policy strategy, tools, and communications after first touching briefly on the economic outlook. These remarks represent my own views. The framework review is ongoing and will extend into 2020, and no conclusions have been reached at this time.1

Outlook and Policy

There are good reasons to expect the economy to grow at a pace modestly above potential over the next year or so, supported by strong consumers and a healthy job market, despite persistent uncertainty about trade conflict and disappointing foreign growth. Recent data provide some reassurance that consumer spending continues to expand at a healthy pace despite some slowing in retail sales. Consumer sentiment remains solid, and the employment picture is positive. Housing seems to have turned a corner and is poised for growth following several weak quarters.

Business investment remains downbeat, restrained by weak growth abroad and trade conflict. But there is little sign so far that the softness in trade, manufacturing, and business investment is affecting consumer spending, and the effect on services has been limited.

Employment remains strong. The employment-to-population ratio for prime-age adults has moved up to its pre-recession peak, and the three-month moving average of the unemployment rate is near a 50-year low.2 Monthly job gains remain above the pace needed to absorb new entrants into the labor force despite some slowing since last year. And initial claims for unemployment insurance—a useful real-time indicator historically—remain very low despite some modest increases.

Data on inflation have come in about as I expected, on balance, in recent months. Inflation remains below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent symmetric objective, which has been true for most of the past seven years. The price index for core personal consumption expenditures (PCE), which excludes food and energy prices and is a better indicator of future inflation than overall PCE prices, increased 1.7 percent over the 12 months through September.

Foreign growth remains subdued. While there are signs that the decline in euro-area manufacturing is stabilizing, the latest indicators on economic activity in China remain sluggish, and the news in Japan and in many emerging markets has been disappointing. Overall, it appears third-quarter foreign growth was weak, and the latest indicators point to little improvement in the fourth quarter.

More broadly, the balance of risks remains to the downside, although there has been some improvement in risk sentiment in recent weeks. The risk of a disorderly Brexit in the near future has declined significantly, and there is some hope that a U.S.China trade truce could avert additional tariffs. While risks remain, financial market indicators suggest market participants see a diminution in such risks, and probabilities of recessions from models using market data have declined.

The baseline is for continued moderate expansion, a strong labor market, and inflation moving gradually to our symmetric 2 percent objective. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has taken significant action to provide insurance against the risks associated with trade conflict and weak foreign growth against a backdrop of muted inflation. Since July, the Committee has lowered the target range for the federal funds rate by ¾ percentage point, to the current range of 1½ to 1¾ percent. It will take some time for the full effect of this accommodation to work its way through economic activity, the labor market, and inflation. I will be watching the data carefully for signs of a material change to the outlook that could prompt me to reassess the appropriate path of policy.


The Federal Reserve is conducting a review of our monetary policy strategy, tools, and communications to make sure we are well positioned to advance our statutory goals of maximum employment and price stability.3 Three key features of today’s new normal call for a reassessment of our monetary policy strategy: the neutral rate is very low here and abroad, trend inflation is running below target, and the sensitivity of price inflation to resource utilization is very low.4

First, trend inflation is below target.5 Underlying trend inflation appears to be running a few tenths below the Committee’s symmetric 2 percent objective, according to various statistical filters. This raises the risk that households and businesses could come to expect inflation to run persistently below our target and change their behavior in a way that reinforces that expectation. Indeed, with inflation having fallen short of 2 percent for most of the past seven years, inflation expectations may have declined, as suggested by some survey-based measures of long-run inflation expectations and by market-based measures of inflation compensation.

Second, the sensitivity of price inflation to resource utilization is very low. This is what economists mean when they say that the Phillips curve is flat. A flat Phillips curve has the important advantage of allowing employment to continue expanding for longer without generating inflationary pressures, thereby providing greater opportunities to more people. But it also makes it harder to achieve our 2 percent inflation objective on a sustained basis when inflation expectations have drifted below 2 percent.

Third, the long-run neutral rate of interest is very low, which means that we are likely to see more frequent and prolonged episodes when the federal funds rate is stuck at its effective lower bound (ELB).6 The neutral rate is the level of the federal funds rate that would keep the economy at full employment and 2 percent inflation if no tailwinds or headwinds were buffeting the economy. A variety of forces have likely contributed to a decline in the neutral rate, including demographic trends in many large economies, some slowing in the rate of productivity growth, and increases in the demand for safe assets. When looking at the Federal Reserve’s Summary of Economic Projections (SEP), it is striking that the Committee’s median projection of the longer-run federal funds rate has moved down from 4¼ percent to 2½ percent over the past seven years.7 A similar decline can be seen among private forecasts.8 This decline means the conventional policy buffer is likely to be only about half of the 4½ to 5 percentage points by which the FOMC has typically cut the federal funds rate to counter recessionary pressures over the past five decades.

This large loss of policy space will tend to increase the frequency or length of periods when the policy rate is pinned at the ELB, unemployment is elevated, and inflation is below target.9 In turn, the experience of frequent or extended periods of low inflation at the ELB risks eroding inflation expectations and further compressing the conventional policy space. The risk is a downward spiral where conventional policy space gets compressed even further, the ELB binds even more frequently, and it becomes increasingly difficult to move inflation expectations and inflation back up to target. While consumers and businesses might see very low inflation as having benefits at the individual level, at the aggregate level, inflation that is too low can make it very challenging for monetary policy to cut the short-term nominal interest rate sufficiently to cushion the economy effectively.10

The experience of Japan and of the euro area more recently suggests that this risk is real. Indeed, the fact that Japan and the euro area are struggling with this challenging triad further complicates our task, because there are important potential spillovers from monetary policy in other major economies to our own economy through exchange rate and yield curve channels.11

In light of the likelihood of more frequent episodes at the ELB, our monetary policy review should advance two goals. First, monetary policy should achieve average inflation outcomes of 2 percent over time to re-anchor inflation expectations at our target. Second, we need to expand policy space to buffer the economy from adverse developments at the ELB.

Achieving the Inflation Target

The apparent slippage in trend inflation below our target calls for some adjustments to our monetary policy strategy and communications. In this context and as part of our review, my colleagues and I have been discussing how to better anchor inflation expectations firmly at our objective. In particular, it may be helpful to specify that policy aims to achieve inflation outcomes that average 2 percent over time or over the cycle. Given the persistent shortfall of inflation from its target over recent years, this would imply supporting inflation a bit above 2 percent for some time to compensate for the period of underperformance.

One class of strategies that has been proposed to address this issue are formal “makeup” rules that seek to compensate for past inflation deviations from target. For instance, under price-level targeting, policy seeks to stabilize the price level around a constant growth path that is consistent with the inflation objective.12 Under average inflation targeting, policy seeks to return the average of inflation to the target over some specified period.13

To be successful, formal makeup strategies require that financial market participants, households, and businesses understand in advance and believe, to some degree, that policy will compensate for past misses. I suspect policymakers would find communications to be quite challenging with rigid forms of makeup strategies, because of what have been called time-inconsistency problems. For example, if inflation has been running well below—or above—target for a sustained period, when the time arrives to maintain inflation commensurately above—or below—2 percent for the same amount of time, economic conditions will typically be inconsistent with implementing the promised action. Analysis also suggests it could take many years with a formal average inflation targeting framework to return inflation to target following an ELB episode, although this depends on difficult-to-assess modeling assumptions and the particulars of the strategy.14

Thus, while formal average inflation targeting rules have some attractive properties in theory, they could be challenging to implement in practice. I prefer a more flexible approach that would anchor inflation expectations at 2 percent by achieving inflation outcomes that average 2 percent over time or over the cycle. For instance, following five years when the public has observed inflation outcomes in the range of 1½ to 2 percent, to avoid a decline in expectations, the Committee would target inflation outcomes in a range of, say, 2 to 2½ percent for the subsequent five years to achieve inflation outcomes of 2 percent on average overall. Flexible inflation averaging could bring some of the benefits of a formal average inflation targeting rule, but it would be simpler to communicate. By committing to achieve inflation outcomes that average 2 percent over time, the Committee would make clear in advance that it would accommodate rather than offset modest upward pressures to inflation in what could be described as a process of opportunistic reflation.15

Policy at the ELB

Second, the Committee is examining what monetary policy tools are likely to be effective in providing accommodation when the federal funds rate is at the ELB.16 In my view, the review should make clear that the Committee will actively employ its full toolkit so that the ELB is not an impediment to providing accommodation in the face of significant economic disruptions.

The importance and challenge of providing accommodation when the policy rate reaches the ELB should not be understated. In my own experience on the international response to the financial crisis, I was struck that the ELB proved to be a severe impediment to the provision of policy accommodation initially. Once conventional policy reached the ELB, the long delays necessitated for policymakers in nearly every jurisdiction to develop consensus and take action on unconventional policy sapped confidence, tightened financial conditions, and weakened recovery. Economic conditions in the euro area and elsewhere suffered for longer than necessary in part because of the lengthy process of building agreement to act decisively with a broader set of tools.

Despite delays and uncertainties, the balance of evidence suggests forward guidance and balance sheet policies were effective in easing financial conditions and providing accommodation following the global financial crisis.17 Accordingly, these tools should remain part of the Committee’s toolkit. However, the quantitative asset purchase policies that were used following the crisis proved to be lumpy both to initiate at the ELB and to calibrate over the course of the recovery. This lumpiness tends to create discontinuities in the provision of accommodation that can be costly. To the extent that the public is uncertain about the conditions that might trigger asset purchases and how long the purchases would be sustained, it undercuts the efficacy of the policy. Similarly, significant frictions associated with the normalization process can arise as the end of the asset purchase program approaches.

For these reasons, I have been interested in exploring approaches that expand the space for targeting interest rates in a more continuous fashion as an extension of our conventional policy space and in a way that reinforces forward guidance on the policy rate.18 In particular, there may be advantages to an approach that caps interest rates on Treasury securities at the short-to-medium range of the maturity spectrum—yield curve caps—in tandem with forward guidance that conditions liftoff from the ELB on employment and inflation outcomes.

To be specific, once the policy rate declines to the ELB, this approach would smoothly move to capping interest rates on the short-to-medium segment of the yield curve. The yield curve ceilings would transmit additional accommodation through the longer rates that are relevant for households and businesses in a manner that is more continuous than quantitative asset purchases. Moreover, if the horizon on the interest rate caps is set so as to reinforce forward guidance on the policy rate, doing so would augment the credibility of the yield curve caps and thereby diminish concerns about an open-ended balance sheet commitment. In addition, once the targeted outcome is achieved, and the caps expire, any securities that were acquired under the program would roll off organically, unwinding the policy smoothly and predictably. This is important, as it could potentially avoid some of the tantrum dynamics that have led to premature steepening at the long end of the yield curve in several jurisdictions.

Forward guidance on the policy rate will also be important in providing accommodation at the ELB. As we saw in the United States at the end of 2015 and again toward the second half of 2016, there tends to be strong pressure to “normalize” or lift off from the ELB preemptively based on historical relationships between inflation and employment. A better alternative would have been to delay liftoff until we had achieved our targets. Indeed, recent research suggests that forward guidance that commits to delay the liftoff from the ELB until full employment and 2 percent inflation have been achieved on a sustained basis—say over the course of a year—could improve performance on our dual-mandate goals.19

To reinforce this commitment, the forward guidance on the policy rate could be implemented in tandem with yield curve caps. For example, as the federal funds rate approaches the ELB, the Committee could commit to refrain from lifting off the ELB until full employment and 2 percent inflation are sustained for a year. Based on its assessment of how long this is likely take, the Committee would then commit to capping rates out the yield curve for a period consistent with the expected horizon of the outcome-based forward guidance. If the outlook shifts materially, the Committee could reassess how long it will take to get inflation back to 2 percent and adjust policy accordingly. One benefit of this approach is that the forward guidance and the yield curve ceilings would reinforce each other.

The combination of a commitment to condition liftoff on the sustained achievement of our employment and inflation objectives with yield curve caps targeted at the same horizon has the potential to work well in many circumstances. For very severe recessions, such as the financial crisis, such an approach could be augmented with purchases of 10-year Treasury securities to provide further accommodation at the long end of the yield curve. Presumably, the requisite scale of such purchases—when combined with medium-term yield curve ceilings and forward guidance on the policy rate—would be relatively smaller than if the longer-term asset purchases were used alone.

Monetary Policy and Financial Stability

Before closing, it is important to recall another important lesson of the financial crisis: The stability of the financial system is important to the achievement of the statutory goals of full employment and 2 percent inflation. In that regard, the changes in the macroeconomic environment that underlie our monetary policy review may have some implications for financial stability. Historically, when the Phillips curve was steeper, inflation tended to rise as the economy heated up, which prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates. In turn, the interest rate increases would have the effect of tightening financial conditions more broadly. With a flat Phillips curve, inflation does not rise as much as resource utilization tightens, and interest rates are less likely to rise to restrictive levels. The resulting lower-for-longer interest rates, along with sustained high rates of resource utilization, are conducive to increasing risk appetite, which could prompt reach-for-yield behavior and incentives to take on additional debt, leading to financial imbalances as an expansion extends.

To the extent that the combination of a low neutral rate, a flat Phillips curve, and low underlying inflation may lead financial stability risks to become more tightly linked to the business cycle, it would be preferable to use tools other than tightening monetary policy to temper the financial cycle. In particular, active use of macroprudential tools such as the countercyclical buffer is vital to enable monetary policy to stay focused on achieving maximum employment and average inflation of 2 percent on a sustained basis.


The Federal Reserve’s commitment to adapt our monetary policy strategy to changing circumstances has enabled us to support the U.S. economy throughout the expansion, which is now in its 11th year. In light of the decline in the neutral rate, low trend inflation, and low sensitivity of inflation to slack as well as the consequent greater frequency of the policy rate being at the effective lower bound, this is an important time to review our monetary policy strategy, tools, and communications in order to improve the achievement of our statutory goals. I have offered some preliminary thoughts on how we could bolster inflation expectations by achieving inflation outcomes of 2 percent on average over time and, when policy is constrained by the ELB, how we could combine forward guidance on the policy rate with caps on the short-to-medium segment of the yield curve to buffer the economy against adverse developments.

  1. I am grateful to Ivan Vidangos of the Federal Reserve Board for assistance in preparing this text. These remarks represent my own views, which do not necessarily represent those of the Federal Reserve Board or the Federal Open Market Committee. (return to text)
  2. Claudia Sahm shows that a ½ percentage point increase in the three-month moving average of the unemployment rate relative to the previous year’s low is a good real-time recession indicator. See Claudia Sahm (2019), “Direct Stimulus Payments to Individuals” [archived PDF], Policy Proposal, The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution (Washington: THP, May 16). (return to text)
  3. Information about the review of monetary policy strategy, tools, and communications is available on the Board’s website. Also see Richard H. Clarida (2019), “The Federal Reserve’s Review of Its Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools, and Communication Practices” [archived PDF], speech delivered at the 2019 U.S. Monetary Policy Forum, sponsored by the Initiative on Global Markets at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, New York, February 22; and Jerome H. Powell (2019), “Monetary Policy: Normalization and the Road Ahead” [archived PDF] speech delivered at the 2019 SIEPR Economic Summit, Stanford Institute of Economic Policy Research, Stanford, Calif., March 8. (return to text)
  4. See Lael Brainard (2016), “The ‘New Normal’ and What It Means for Monetary Policy” [archived PDF] speech delivered at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago, September 12. (return to text)
  5. See Lael Brainard (2017), “Understanding the Disconnect between Employment and Inflation with a Low Neutral Rate” [archived PDF], speech delivered at the Economic Club of New York, September 5; and James H. Stock and Mark W. Watson (2007), “Why Has U.S. Inflation Become Harder to Forecast?” [archived PDF], Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, vol. 39 (s1, February), pp. 3–33. (return to text)
  6. See Lael Brainard (2015), “Normalizing Monetary Policy When the Neutral Interest Rate Is Low” [archived PDF] speech delivered at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, Stanford, Calif., December 1. (return to text)
  7. The projection materials for the Federal Reserve’s SEP are available on the Board’s website. (return to text)
  8. For example, the Blue Chip Consensus long-run projection for the three-month Treasury bill has declined from 3.6 percent in October 2012 to 2.4 percent in October 2019. See Wolters Kluwer (2019), Blue Chip Economic Indicators, vol. 44 (October 10); and Wolters Kluwer (2012), Blue Chip Economic Indicators, vol. 37 (October 10). (return to text)
  9. See Michael Kiley and John Roberts (2017), “Monetary Policy in a Low Interest Rate World” [archived PDF], Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Spring, pp. 317–72; Eric Swanson (2018), “The Federal Reserve Is Not Very Constrained by the Lower Bound on Nominal Interest Rates” [archived PDF] NBER Working Paper Series 25123 (Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research, October); and Hess Chung, Etienne Gagnon, Taisuke Nakata, Matthias Paustian, Bernd Schlusche, James Trevino, Diego Vilán, and Wei Zheng (2019), “Monetary Policy Options at the Effective Lower Bound: Assessing the Federal Reserve’s Current Policy Toolkit” [archived PDF], Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2019-003 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, January). (return to text)
  10. The important observation that some consumers and businesses see low inflation as having benefits emerged from listening to a diverse range of perspectives, including representatives of consumer, labor, business, community, and other groups during the Fed Listens events; for details, see this page. (return to text)
  11. See Lael Brainard (2017), “Cross-Border Spillovers of Balance Sheet Normalization” [archived PDF] speech delivered at the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Monetary Economics Summer Institute, Cambridge, Mass., July 13. (return to text)
  12. See, for example, James Bullard (2018), “A Primer on Price Level Targeting in the U.S.” [archived PDF], a presentation before the CFA Society of St. Louis, St. Louis, Mo., January 10. (return to text)
  13. See, for example, Lars Svensson (2019), “Monetary Policy Strategies for the Federal Reserve” [archived PDF] presented at “Conference on Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools and Communication Practices,” sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Chicago, June 5. (return to text)
  14. See Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2019), “Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, September 17–18, 2019,” press release, October 9; and David Reifschneider and David Wilcox (2019), “Average Inflation Targeting Would Be a Weak Tool for the Fed to Deal with Recession and Chronic Low Inflation” [archived PDF] Policy Brief PB19-16 (Washington: Peterson Institute for International Economics, November). (return to text)
  15. See Janice C. Eberly, James H. Stock, and Jonathan H. Wright (2019), “The Federal Reserve’s Current Framework for Monetary Policy: A Review and Assessment” [archived PDF] paper presented at “Conference on Monetary Policy Strategy, Tools and Communication Practices,” sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Chicago, June 4. (return to text)
  16. See Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2019), “Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, July 31–August 1, 2018” [archived PDF] press release, August 1; and Board of Governors (2019), “Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, October 29–30, 2019” [archived PDF] press release, October 30. (return to text)
  17. For details on purchases of securities by the Federal Reserve, see this page. For a discussion of forward guidance, see this page. See, for example, Simon Gilchrist and Egon Zakrajšek (2013), “The Impact of the Federal Reserve’s Large-Scale Asset Purchase Programs on Corporate Credit Risk,” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, vol. 45, (s2, December), pp. 29–57; Simon Gilchrist, David López-Salido, and Egon Zakrajšek (2015), “Monetary Policy and Real Borrowing Costs at the Zero Lower Bound,” American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics, vol. 7 (January), pp. 77–109; Jing Cynthia Wu and Fan Dora Xia (2016), “Measuring the Macroeconomic Impact of Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound,” Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, vol. 48 (March–April), pp. 253–91; and Stefania D’Amico and Iryna Kaminska (2019), “Credit Easing versus Quantitative Easing: Evidence from Corporate and Government Bond Purchase Programs” [archived PDF], Bank of England Staff Working Paper Series 825 (London: Bank of England, September). (return to text)
  18. See Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2010), “Strategies for Targeting Interest Rates Out the Yield Curve,” memorandum to the Federal Open Market Committee, October 13, available at this page; and Ben Bernanke (2016), “What Tools Does The Fed Have Left? Part 2: Targeting Longer-Term Interest Rates” [archived PDF] blog post, Brookings Institution, March 24. (return to text)
  19. See Ben Bernanke, Michael Kiley, and John Roberts (2019), “Monetary Policy Strategies for a Low-Rate Environment” [archived PDF], Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2019-009 (Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System) and Chung and others, “Monetary Policy Options at the Effective Lower Bound,” in note 9. (return to text)