Economic Theory

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 381–399

A simple model for study of the determination of the price level and the interaction of monetary and fiscal policy

  • Christopher A. Sims


A representative-agent model with money holdings motivated by transactions costs, a fiscal authority that taxes and issues debt, no production, and a convenient functional form for agents' utility is presented. The model can be solved analytically, and illustrates the dependence of price determination on fiscal policy, the possibility of indeterminacy, even stochastic explosion, of the price level in the face of a monetary policy that holdsM fixed, and the possibility of a unique, stable price level in the face of a monetary policy that simply pegs the nominal interest rate at an arbitrary level.

In a rational expectations, market-clearing equilibrium model with a costlessly-produced fiat money that is useful in transactions, the following things are true under broad assumptions.

- A monetary policy that fixes the money stock may (depending on the transactions technology) be consistent with indeterminacy of the price level—indeed with stochastically fluctuating, explosive inflation.

- A monetary policy that fixes the nominal interest rate, even if it holds the interest rate constant regardless of the observed rate of inflation or money growth rate, may deliver a uniquely determined price level.

- The existence and uniqueness of the equilibrium price level cannot be determined from knowledge of monetary policy alone; fiscal policy plays an equally important role. Special case models with interest-bearing debt and no money are possible, just as are special cases with money and no interest-bearing debt. In each the price level may be uniquely determined.

Determinacy of the price level under any policy depends on the public's beliefs about what the policy authority would do under conditions that are never observed in equilibrium.

These points are not new. Eric Leeper [1991] has made most of them within a single coherent model. Woodford [1993], in a representative agent cash-in-advance model, has displayed the possibility of indeterminacy with a fixed quantity of money and the possibility of uniqueness with an interest-rate pegging policy. Aiyagari and Gertler [1985] use an overlapping generations model to make many of the points made in this paper, without discussing the possibility of stochastic sunspot equilibria. Sargent and Wallace [1981] and Obstfeld [1983] have also discussed related issues.

This paper improves on Leeper by moving beyond his analysis of local linear approximations to the full model solution, as is essential if explosive sunspot equilibria are to be distinguished from explosive solutions to the Euler equations that can be ruled out as equilibria. It improves on the other cited work by pulling together into the context of one fairly transparent model discussion of phenomena previously discussed in isolation in very different models.

We study a representative agent model in which there is no production or real savings, but transactions costs generate a demand for money. The government costlessly provides fiat money balances, imposes lump-sum taxes, and issues debt, but has no other role in the economy. We make restrictive assumptions about the form of the utility function and the form of a transactions cost term in the budget constraint.

The model could be extended to include production, capital accumulation, non-neutral taxation, productive government expenditure, and a more general utility function without affecting the conclusions discussed in this paper. Indeed the model I informally matched to data in an earlier paper [1988] makes some such extensions. While such an extended model is more realistic, it is harder to solve. The version in my earlier paper [1988] was solved numerically and simulated. The bare-bones model of this paper allows an explicit analytic solution that may make its results easier to understand.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher A. Sims
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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