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Even the most casual observer of American politics knows that today’s Republican and Democratic parties seem to disagree with one another on just about every issue under the sun. Some assume that this divide is merely an inevitable feature of a two-party system, while others reminisce about a golden era of bipartisan cooperation and hold out hope that a spirit of compromise might one day return to Washington. In this post, we present evidence that political polarization—or the trend toward more ideologically distinct and internally homogeneous parties—is not a recent development in the United States, although it has reached unprecedented levels in the last several years. We also show that polarization is strongly correlated with the extent of income inequality, but only weakly associated with the rate of economic growth. We offer several tentative explanations for these relationships, and discuss whether all forms of polarization are created equal.
This week-long series examined the evolution of the Federal Reserve’s securities portfolio and its performance over time. While the intent has been to enhance understanding of the Fed’s activities, the Federal Reserve has long maintained a commitment to transparency and accountability. The
historical information presented in these posts represents the work of New York
Fed staff to collect portfolio-related information from annual statements and reports, most of which
are public. To enhance public access, the
resulting time series we compiled are being provided in downloadable Excel files
accompanying each post. In this last post of the series,
we review sources of information on the Fed’s operations, income, and balance
Marco Del Negro,
Jamie McAndrews, and Julie Remache
In 2012, the Fed’s remittances
to the U.S. Treasury amounted to $88.4 billion. The vast majority of these
remittances originated as income from the SOMA portfolio (see the second post in this series for an account of the history of SOMA income). While
net income has been high in recent years because of the Fed’s large balance
sheet, it is likely to drop in the future as the Fed normalizes interest rates.
This is because the Fed will likely face increased interest expense on its
reserve balances and possibly realize losses in the case of asset sales. A
recent paper by economists at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve
System (Carpenter et al.) shows that under some scenarios the Fed
may be forced to decrease its remittances to zero for a few years (see also the
related work by Hall
and Reis and by Greenlaw,
Hamilton, Hooper, and Mishkin). The fact that remittances may vary more
over the next few years than they have in the past has highlighted the fact
that monetary policy has fiscal implications.
Fleming, Deborah Leonard, Grant Long, and Julie Remache
Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has actively used changes in the size and
composition of the System Open Market Account (SOMA) portfolio to implement monetary
policy in recent years. These actions have been intended to promote the Committee’s
mandate to foster maximum employment and price stability but, as discussed in a
prior post, have also generated high levels of portfolio
income, contributing in turn to elevated remittances to the U.S. Treasury. In
the future, as the accommodative stance of monetary policy is eventually
normalized, net portfolio income is likely to decline from these high levels
and may dip below pre-crisis averages for a time, potentially contributing to a
suspension in remittances (Carpenter
et al. 2013). But what would the path of the
portfolio and income look like had these unconventional balance sheet actions not
been taken? In this post, we conduct a counterfactual exercise to explore such
Meryam Bukhari, Alyssa Cambron, Marco Del Negro, and Julie Remache
Note: On August 15, 2013, the data files associated with this post and with the post “The SOMA Portfolio through Time” were expanded to include historical data in nominal dollars. In addition, the estimated value for 1996 in the chart “Total Portfolio Unrealized Gains and Losses” was revised and the associated data file was updated.
Historically, the Federal Reserve has held mostly
interest-bearing securities on the asset side of its balance sheet and, up
until 2008, mostly currency on its liability side, on which it pays no
interest. Such a balance sheet naturally generates income, which is almost entirely remitted to the U.S. Treasury once operating expenses and statutory dividends on capital are paid and sufficient earnings are retained to equate surplus capital to capital paid in. The financial crisis that began in late 2007
prompted a number of changes to the balance sheet. First, the asset side of the balance sheet increased dramatically, a result of both the various liquidity facilities and the Large-Scale Asset Purchase programs (LSAPs) (see yesterday's post on the history of the Fed’s balance sheet). Second, this expansion of the balance sheet was financed in large part by issuing interest-bearing reserves instead of additional noninterest-bearing currency. As a consequence of these changes, future net income from the Fed’s portfolio will
depend on a wider range of factors and may be more variable for a period of
time—a topic that has generated increased discussion (see papers by Carpenter
et al., Hall and Reis,
Hamilton, Hooper, and Mishkin).
Meryam Bukhari, Alyssa Cambron, Michael Fleming, Jonathan McCarthy, and Julie Remache
The System Open Market Account (SOMA) is a portfolio held by the Federal Reserve to support monetary policy implementation and reflects assets and liabilities (domestic, and some foreign) acquired through open market operations. The SOMA has attracted greater attention in recent years as, with the federal funds rate near its lower bound, the size and composition of the domestic portfolio has been used as an active monetary policy instrument. Earnings on the SOMA portfolio represent a significant amount of the Fed’s income and, given the substantial increase in the size of the portfolio and shift in its composition, income has increased notably, with remittances to the Treasury totaling $88.4 billion in 2012.
Basit Zafar, Max Livingston, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
The payroll tax cut, which was in place during all of 2011 and 2012, reduced Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from workers’ paychecks by 2 percent. This tax cut affected nearly 155 million workers in the United States, and put an additional $1,000 a year in the pocket of an average household earning $50,000. As part of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, Congress allowed the 2011-12 payroll tax cut to expire at the end of 2012, and the higher income that workers had grown accustomed to was gone. In this post, we explore the implications of the payroll tax increase for U.S. workers.
The summer of 2011 was an unsettling period for financial markets. In the United States, Congress was unable to agree to terms for raising the debt ceiling until August, creating considerable uncertainty over whether the government would be forced to default on its debt. In Europe, the borrowing costs of some peripheral countries increased dramatically, raising questions about the health of some of the largest banks. In this post, we analyze data recently made public by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to see how the U.S. money market mutual fund (MMF) industry reacted to these stresses. We conclude that MMFs appeared to be more concerned with the European debt crisis because they increased their holdings of U.S. Treasuries and other government securities while decreasing their holdings of financial securities issued by European banks over that period.
Basit Zafar, Olivier Armantier, Scott Nelson, Giorgio Topa, and Wilbert van der Klaauw
Managing consumers’ inflation expectations is of critical importance to central banks in the conduct of monetary policy. But managing inflation expectations requires more than just monitoring expectations; it also requires an understanding of how these expectations are formed. In this post, we present results from a new study that investigates how individual consumers use selected information on food prices in forming their inflation expectations. While the provision of this information leads individuals to meaningfully revise expectations of their own-basket inflation rate, we find there is little impact on expectations of overall inflation.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), under current policies the ratio of federal debt held by the public over gross domestic product—the debt-to-GDP ratio—will rise rapidly over the next decade. This unsustainable fiscal position presents the nation with two significant challenges. First, it requires fiscal consolidation that will, at a minimum, cause the ratio to level off in the not-too-distant future. Second, fiscal consolidation has to occur in a way that will keep the U.S. economy operating at as close to full employment as possible—a process known as rebalancing. While these challenges are very daunting, we’ve faced them before, and met them quite successfully in the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s. Using federal budget accounting and national income accounting, this post describes how fiscal consolidation and rebalancing were accomplished in the previous episode. By doing so, we can put our current fiscal position in perspective while shedding light on what needs to happen if we’re to be successful this time.
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