Tag Archives: Monetary policy

Fiscal Policy Remains In The Stone Age

By Simon Wren-Lewis – Or maybe the middle ages, but certainly not anything more recent than the 1920s. Keynes advocated using fiscal expansion in what he called a liquidity trap in the 1930s. Nowadays we use a different terminology, and talk about the need for fiscal expansion when nominal interest rates are stuck at the Zero Lower Bound or Effective Lower Bound.

When monetary policy loses its reliable and effective instrument to manage the economy, you need to bring in the next best reliable and effective instrument: fiscal policy.

The Eurozone as a whole is currently at the effective lower bound. Rates are just below zero and the ECB is creating money for large scale purchases of assets: a monetary policy instrument whose impact is much more uncertain than interest rate changes or fiscal policy changes (but certainly better than nothing). The reason monetary policy is at maximum stimulus setting is that Eurozone core inflation seems stuck at 1% or below. Time, clearly, for fiscal policy to start lending a hand with some fiscal stimulus.

You would think that causing a second recession after the one following the GFC would have been a wake up call for European finance ministers to learn some macroeconomics. Yet what little learning there has been is not to make huge mistakes but only large ones: we should balance the budget when there is no crisis. more>

Three Cheers for Financial Repression

By Tom Streithorst – “Financial repression.” It sounds terrifying, right? It smacks of authoritarian bureaucrats sucking the life-blood out of hard-working, innovative makers and doers.

Umm, no. That’s not even close. It’s about bondholders. Economists started using the term in the 1970s when bondholders were losing money because inflation exceeded the interest rate.

These days, it’s market forces more than government policy that push real interest rates below zero. Whether you call it a savings glut or secular stagnation, our collective desire to save far exceeds our collective desire to invest. Savers want safe assets more than borrowers want to invest in productive capacity.

Don’t cry for the rentier class. For the past forty years (ever since Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker manufactured a brutal recession in order to eliminate 1970s inflation) economic policymakers have concentrated on ensuring the profitability of the bond market more than just about anything else. They focused their attention on financial stability and low inflation rather than the traditional goal of promoting full employment.

Consequently, the financial sector has quadrupled in size relative to the rest of the economy, the rich absorb most of the benefits of growth, and workers’ real wages have stagnated or even declined. Financialization has made wealthholders richer than ever, but it hasn’t done much for the rest of us.

What is good for the bankers has not been good for the economy as a whole. more>

Today, inflation. Tomorrow, crisis?

By Robert J. Samuelson – Until recently, inflation seemed to be dead or, at least, in a prolonged state of remission. It was beaten down by cost-saving technologies and a caution against raising wages and prices instilled by the Great Recession. From 2010 to 2015, annual inflation as measured by the CPI averaged about 1.5 percent, often too small to be noticed.

It’s doubtful that many economists believe that inflation is now so high. Remember those erratic month-to-month swings. But the pervasive nature of the inflation suggests that supply is shrinking compared with demand.

Inflation’s rebound seems to vindicate former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen, who argued that price increases were in hibernation, not the mortuary. Now, her successor, Jerome H. Powell, faces the tricky task of containing inflation without killing the economy.

What’s scarier is the possibility that higher inflation and interest rates will trigger a global financial crisis — some mixture of stock market collapses, bond and loan defaults and banking failures. more>

Monetary policy and Guy Fawkes lanterns

By Nick Hubble – For many dozens of years, central bankers have been managing the relationship between inflation and unemployment. Only to discover there isn’t one.

The last ten years proved the point. In fact, the relationship between inflation and unemployment has only held for a preciously short amount of time. And yet it continues to be the most influential economic theory around. That’s because it justifies monetary policy itself. The idea that governments can and must manage the economy.

I know that managing the economy through interest rates sounds like a stupid idea. But people used to believe in similar absurdities.

It’s all down to the Phillips Curve – the relationship between inflation and unemployment.

If unemployment is too high, inflation will be too low because workers aren’t cashed up enough to spend and push up prices. If inflation is too high, it’s because too many workers have too many jobs and too much income, which pushes up prices.

This theory is stupid. It ignores something called supply and demand. If prices rise because workers are cashed up and can buy more, then production increases and increases supply. That returns prices to a lower level. As commodity traders will tell you, the cure for high prices is high prices. It incentivizes supply. But to an economist, the cure for high prices is higher interest rates. Because they can’t help but meddle.

If central bankers can’t control inflation or unemployment, why put up with the problems they create? Like asset bubbles, debt booms, inequality and explicit backdoor bailouts for bankers that encourage absurd levels of risk? more>

Money And Credit: Paradigm Shift Is Overdue, Part I

By John M. Balder – All of us were taught in Economics 101 that central banks determine the money supply by using their high-powered (base) money and the multiplier. Both of these concepts should be tossed in the trash can. These notions are in error, as both the BOE and the Federal Reserve have recognized. In fact, central banks passively accommodate bank demand for reserves (as doing otherwise could prove disruptive to financial stability).

The influence central banks exert over money and credit creation is achieved via their control of short-term interest rates, and not via quantitative restrictions.

A quick aside here, I have always been curious as to why economists tend to focus so exclusively on the real economy, while choosing to ignore the financial system entirely. Similarly, my work in banking regulation in the early 1990s indicated that most regulators tended to ignore macroeconomic variables.

Is this a case of “where you stand on an issue is often a function of where you sit?” As one who participated in both endeavors, I have perpetually felt a need to connect macro with finance. This may be happening more today than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but it still has a long way to go. more>

Away from Oil: A New Approach

By Basil Oberholzer – Two main problems arise from the connections between monetary policy, financial markets and the oil market: the first is financial and economic instability caused by oil price volatility. The second is an environmental problem: a lower oil price inevitably means more oil consumption. This is a threat to the world climate.

Is there a joint answer to these problems? There is. While hitherto existing policy propositions like futures market regulation or a tax on fossil energy face some advantages and disadvantages, they are not able to deal with both the economic instability and the environmental problem at the same time. What is proposed here is a combination of monetary and fiscal policy. Let’s call it the oil price targeting system.

First, to achieve economic stability in the oil market, a stable oil price is needed. Second, to reduce oil consumption, the oil price should be increasing. So, let us imagine that the oil price moves on a stable and continuously rising path in order to fulfill both conditions. To implement this, the oil price has to be determined exogenously. Due to price exogeneity, speculative attacks cannot have any influence on the price and bubbles cannot emerge anymore. The oil price target can be realized by monetary policy by means of purchases and sales of oil futures. Since the central bank has unlimited power to exert demand in the market, it can basically move the oil price wherever it wants. more> https://goo.gl/eUh85j

Deficits In Trade And Deficits In Understanding

By Omar Al-Ubaydli – To see why the current trade deficit is benign, we need to understand the relationship between trade and the dollar’s value. Greenbacks are like any commodity in that the more people want to possess them, the higher their price. People acquire dollars primarily for two reasons: buying American goods and investing within the United States.

If the United States is importing more than it exports, then American consumers are exchanging dollars for foreign currencies to buy foreign goods more than foreigners are doing the reverse, meaning that foreigners are accumulating lots of dollars that they’re not using to buy American goods.

So why has America been recording a large, persistent trade deficit, and why isn’t the dollar devaluing? It’s due to the second major difference (from 1970s): The investment-based demand for foreign currencies—which we momentarily set aside—has ballooned. People no longer exchange currencies just to buy foreign goods.

Consequently, the dollar no longer corrects trade imbalances. more> https://goo.gl/L1VHHr

Michael Hudson Names the Pathogens in Our Economic Thinking

BOOK REVIEW

J is for Junk Economics, Author: Michael Hudson.

By Alexander Reed Kelly – “I know that’s [a] technical word but to create a way of looking at the economy of making national income statistics that make it appear as if Goldman Sachs is productive. As if Donald Trump is productive. To make it appear that people who take money from the rest of the economy without working, without really providing any service [are] actually contributing to [Gross National Product] and to economic growth.”

“Well under Thatcherism or Clintonism or whatever you want to call it, the idea is to turn the sidewalks over to the monopolists financed by Wall Street, to all of a sudden begin charging and the result is to make America a high cost economy. So, that when people like Donald Trump come in and say we’re going to make America great again, what he means is competitive again. But how can you make it competitive if you make Americans pay so much more in healthcare, as much in healthcare as an Asian would earn in an entire year. If you gave Americans all of their food and clothing and everything they buy and [sell] for nothing, they still couldn’t compete because of all of the costs that other countries pay for through the government; government healthcare, government spending, government roads.” more> https://goo.gl/oLat2t

Keynesian economics: is it time for the theory to rise from the dead?

By Larry Elliott – Imagine this. In late 1936, shortly after the publication of his classic General Theory, John Maynard Keynes is cryogenically frozen so he can return 80 years later.

Things were looking grim when Keynes went into cold storage. The Spanish civil war had just begun, Stalin’s purges were in full swing, and Hitler had flouted the Treaty of Versailles by militarizing the Rhineland. The recovery from the Great Depression was fragile.

The good news, Keynes hears, is that lessons were learned from the 1930s. Governments committed themselves to maintaining demand at a high enough level to secure full employment. They recycled the tax revenues that accrued from robust growth into higher spending on public infrastructure. They took steps to ensure that there was a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.

The bad news was that the lessons were eventually forgotten. The period between FDR’s second win and Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House can be divided into two halves: the 40 years up until 1976 and the 40 years since.

Keynes discovers that governments deviate from his ideas. Instead of running budget surpluses in the good times and deficits in the bad times, they run deficits all the time. They fail to draw the proper distinction between day-to-day spending and investment. more> https://goo.gl/EyFn5m

Finance Is Not the Economy

By Dirk Bezemer and Michael Hudson – To explain the evolution and distribution of wealth and debt in today’s global economy, it is necessary to drop the traditional assumption that the banking system’s major role is to provide credit to finance tangible capital investment in new means of production.

Banks mainly finance the purchase and transfer of property and financial assets already in place.

This distinction between funding “real” versus “financial” capital and real estate implies a “functional differentiation of credit,” which was central to the work of Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Schumpeter. Since the 1980s, the economy has been in a long cycle in which increasing bank credit has inflated prices for real estate, stocks, and bonds, leading borrowers to hope that capital gains will continue. Speculation gains momentum — on credit, so that debts rise almost as rapidly as asset valuations.

When the financial bubble bursts, negative equity spreads as asset prices fall below the mortgages, bonds, and bank loans attached to the property. We are still in the unwinding of the biggest bust yet. This collapse is the inevitable final stage of the “Great Moderation.” more> https://goo.gl/GmDT72