Incorporating Scenario Analysis into the Federal Reserve’s Policy Strategy & Communications

June 10, 2020 • Working Paper No. 59
By Michael D. Bordo, Andrew T. Levin, and Mickey D. Levy

The U.S. economy currently faces a truly extraordinary degree of uncertainty as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the Federal Reserve should begin highlighting alternative scenarios that illustrate key risks to the economic outlook, and those scenarios should inform the Fed’s policy strategy and public communications. We present a set of illustrative scenarios, including a baseline scenario with a rapid but incomplete recovery this year (an upward‐​tilting checkmark), a benign scenario in which an effective cure or vaccine becomes available and facilitates a nearly complete recovery by mid‐​2021, and a severely adverse scenario involving persistently high unemployment and disinflationary pressures. Insights into these scenarios can be drawn from key historical episodes, including the Spanish flu, the Great Depression, the end of World War II, and the global financial crisis. We conclude by identifying key challenges that the Federal Reserve will need to address in adjusting its monetary policy and emergency credit facilities under these three alternative scenarios.

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About the Authors

Michael Bordo is a professor of economics at Rutgers University, director of the Center for Monetary and Financial History, a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Andrew Levin is a professor of economics at Dartmouth College, research associate of the NBER, and international research fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research. Mickey Levy is chief economist for the Americas and Asia at Berenberg Capital Markets LLC.