The recent financial crisis has challenged quite many of the benchmarks and established monetary economic theory used in the 1990s and 2000s to analyse and prescribe monetary policy decisions. To be frank, we all have learned something in the recent crisis. Let me just list some of the lessons of the crisis I believe all and sundry very much agree on:

  • Changes in the monetary base are not good indicators of overall inflation. The three, four or even fivefold expansion of the central banks’ balance sheets has not been accompanied by inflation. It is broad money what explains inflation over the medium and long term.
  • In times of crisis, and even more if severe banking/financial crises occurred, central banks are not (cannot be) independent. In their current form central banks are indeed the bankers of governments and this becomes very evident when public revenues collapse and public spending soars, resulting in a much more expensive access to credit (if at all) and a greater and greater appetite to borrow money from the central bank. Perhaps the best we can do is to run healthy public finances in times of expansion so that the threat of ‘fiscal dominance’ is minimised and contained as much as possible.
  • CPI ‘inflation targeting’, at least as pursued in the years prior to 2007/08, is not enough to preserve monetary and financial stability over the medium and long term. Particularly in the four years running up to the crisis CPI inflation remained fairly stable (with some spikes though to oil price shocks mostly) and central banks achieved their inflation targets, consisting in a rate of Consumer Price Index inflation around 2% over the long term. However many other economy prices, in particular both financial and real assets’ of various types, did increase quite significantly, and now we know that in an unsustainable way.
  • At least in the current institutional setting, the lender of last resort (LOLR) function of central banks is an essential tool to preserve the functioning of monetary markets and thus of financial markets. As I will detail in a later post this does not mean bailing out too risky and insolvent banks (and even less bailing out their managers and shareholders), but preserving the sound operation of the financial and payments systems as a whole. The conditions to do this are very well-known to monetary historians and I am afraid they are many times forgotten.
  • Monetary aggregates (money) played virtually no role in the framing of monetary policy decisions before the crisis. However, it has been more than eight years now with historically low (policy) nominal interest rates, so central banks have had to resort to a different source of policy measures; that is, the expansion in the amount of money by the so-called Quantitative Easing (QE) operations. And what are they but purchases of bonds and even equity that ultimately aimed to increase the amount of money in the economy?
  • Central banks are not running out of weaponry. In our modern monetary systems, where central banks create the ultimate source of liquidity in the economy, there is virtually no limit for central banks to create more money. Central banks can (as they have done in these years) extend the maturity and the amount of the lending provided to the banking sector, increase their purchases of both private and public assets from financial and non-financial institutions, they can also purchase equity in the market, … .
  • Tightening bank regulation in the midst of one of the worst financial crisis in recent history can only aggravate the impact and length of the crisis. The raising of the capital ratios and the establishment of new liquidity ratios by the so-called ‘Basel III Accord’, initially  announced in the Autumn of 2008, forced banks to even contract more their balance sheets (to cut down their liabilities, deposits mainly). This resulted in sharp a fall in money growth and the worsening of the crisis, which had to be (partially) offset by central banks extraordinary policy measures (such as QE) to prevent money supply from falling even further.

There are many other much more disputable issues related to monetary economics and monetary policy indeed. But if we only agreed on the above we would be putting a remedy to some of the biggest gaps if not ‘holes’ in this field and thus creating the conditions to establish a much sounder and sustainable monetary policy framework.

I will devote a single entry to each of the them in the following weeks.

Juan C.


Monetary economics is in shambles. More than eight years after the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis  many things in our economies have changed indeed, particularly the range of operations in which central banks have embarked in the last few years; but the way mainstream academia and policy makers understand and approach monetary economics have not. The old policy rules which contributed so much to the building up of monetary instability and finally to a profound financial crisis have not really been questioned nor replaced yet by a consistent set of new policies (or better, a policy rule) committed to maintaining monetary stability over the medium and long term. Even worse, I have attended myself scientific meetings on this field in the last years and very rarely (if at all) ‘money’ or ‘monetary aggregates’ are even mentioned in (supposedly) specialised monetary talks and lectures. Instead we seem to be stuck in endless discussions on interest rates and how a 0.25 increase/decrease in the policy rate may affect consumption, investment and eventually output by the spending and credit channels; for the initiated in this subject this means we still use the late 1990s and early 2000s’ new Keynesian model (with no money) to analyse and prescribe monetary policies.

Well there are indeed notable exceptions to the mainstream, and I am very pleased to invite you all to the 2016 monetary Public Lecture of the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR), by professor Charles Goodhart. One of the main purposes of the Institute is to promote research into how developments in banking and finance affect the economy as a whole. The Institute’s wider aims are to enhance economic knowledge and understanding, and to seek price stability, steady economic growth and high employment. Particular attention is paid to the effect of changes in the quantity of money on inflation and deflation, and on boom and bust.

Banks and central banks play a central role in the sound functioning of modern monetary economies. The 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis has shown again how important it is to understand their functioning and operations, and the relationship between the quantity of money and the overall economy.

We have much pleasure in inviting you to join us at the Institute’s 2016 public lecture on Wednesday 2nd November (18:30 hrs.) by Professor Charles Goodhart (LSE): ‘What have we learned about money and banking during and since the Great Recession?’, at the Institute of Directors (116 Pall Mall, London).

You may want to visit our website to learn more about the Institute’s research agenda and our latest publications on our website (http://www.mv-pt.org/index). You may want to know the public lecture will be recorded and available on our site.

Thank you,

Juan C.

PS. Please confirm your attendance by e-mail to Gail Grimston at gail.grimston@buckingham.ac.uk

A new monetary research centre has been established in collaboration with the University of Buckingham early this year, the Institute of International Monetary Research, to study something we should not have ever forgotten, the importance of the analysis of money growth in any modern economy. I know, it sounds simple and even obvious but it happens that we have disregarded monetary analysis for far too long, perhaps under the overall  dominant presumption at the time that just by focusing on stabilising CPI inflation (around a low but still positive rate of growth) the economy could maintain a stable rate of long term growth. As stated on the Institute’s website, its mission is quite clear:

“The purpose of the Institute of International Monetary Research is to demonstrate and bring to public attention the strong relationship between the quantity of money on the one hand, and the levels of national income and expenditure on the other.”

Of course, central banks claim they have always paid attention to monetary aggregates; you may ask, ‘how could a central bank forget about money?!’ Well, let’s start saying that some have indeed forgotten more than others, and even those which did explicitly include a monetary analysis in its reports and in the communication with the public usually gave far more weight to other (macro) indicators in the making of monetary policy decisions, to say the least … . The facts well speak for themselves, and this is what clearly happened, at the very least in the 4-5 years prior to the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC). We have seen again booming broad money growth during the last phase of the expansionary years prior to 2008 and then a sudden collapse in the midst of the GFC. The consequences and the impact on output growth have been enormous and this is another reminder on the key importance of keeping a stable rate of growth of money on long term basis as a policy goal. Those familiar with this blog will not find surprising my emphasis on monetary stability (see just a recent post on the topic here; let me say that I myself devoted my PhD dissertation to the distinction between monetary stability and price stability back in 2003! But of course nobody paid much attention to it then …).

Here you will find a video and the slides to the presentation of the Institute in London on the 11th of June (at the Royal Automobile Club), by its Director Tim Congdon. I have had the privilege to contribute to the Institute as one of its Deputy Directors and I do firmly believe there is ample room to both develop ourselves and cooperate with other colleagues and institutions to encourage much more monetary (and monetarist) research in the years to come so we can get a better understanding on the relation between broad money growth, overall inflation, asset price inflation and nominal income. More news and posts on the Institute’s events and agenda will follow.

Juan Castaneda

PS. The Institute’s website has not been chosen randomly of course, mv-pt.org, and requires no further explanation.

The communication of a banking crisis: it’s all about confidence!

During a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC (‘The Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture’) I visited the Presidents’ gallery and found Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s portrait accompanied by an interactive panel with some of his very popular at the time ‘fireside (radio) chats’ with the nation. One of them caught my attention; it was his address to the nation on the 13th of March of 1933 on the occasion of a major financial panic which led to the suspension of all banking activities for a week (the proclamation of 5 days of bank holiday). Of course the explanation of it would take us to the Great Depression and the massive fall in banks’ deposits in the country (as calculated by M. Friedman and A. Schwartz in their seminal Monetary History of the US, more than a third of the money supply since 1929). But what this brief post is about today is on just the communication of the suspension of the banking activities by the President himself to the nation: as you will hear in this audio recording, it is a very good explanation, and very easy to follow, of how the financial system in a modern economy operates and how fragile it becomes when confidence is lost and people run suddenly on their banks for liquidity. Even at that time, when the US was still on the gold standard and thus paper notes were ultimately backed by gold, the system relied on the confidence of the depositors on the soundness of the banks. Being very well aware of it, all the President tries to do with in this ‘fireside chat’ on the banking crisis was to restore the confidence lost by reassuring the american  people the monetary authorities were willing (and had already) to lend to sound banks to meet the liquidity needs of their customers. It is a good example of how to educate the people on these complex issues and to communicate how the crisis was being tackled.

Do not miss the opportunity to listen to it; in just a two-minute recording you will easily recognise all the elements involved in a banking panic and in the solutions needed: run on liquidity, fractional reserve, fiat versus backed money, lender of last resort, confidence, … . It is an excellent teaching material for a lecture in macroeconomics or money and banking.

However, involved in a massive fiscal expansionary program, only three months later the President suspended the convertibility of the US$ notes in gold, which left more room for the government and the baking sector as a whole to expand the amount of (fiat) money in circulation.

Juan Castañeda

PS. This audio and others of FDR and other Presidents can be found at ‘The American Presidency Project‘ website (http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/medialist.php?presid=32).


(Franklin Delano Roosevelt, picture taken at the National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC)

In a series of posts on the assessment of the bias of the US Fed prior to the Global Financial Crisis published on Alt-M, the blog of the recently established Center for Money and Financial Alternatives at the Cato Institute, David Beckworth just published a post with a very clear analysis of the inflationary bias of the Fed before 2008, based on an excellent paper written along with George Selgin and Berrak Bahadir in the Journal of Policy Modelling (those interested in monetary policy rules cannot miss it!).

The publication of both these posts and the academic article couldn’t be more timely. Surprisingly enough, monetary economists still disagree on the stance of monetary policy (not just in the US but elsewhere) before the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis; this proves that we, economists, are not even that good at what we were supposed to do well, that is, the ‘prediction’ of the past. Leaving the academic interest of the subject aside, this is a policy question of major concern for all, should we want to contribute to the running of more sound, and more monetary-stability-oriented, monetary policy rules in the years to come. Now there are very good academics suggesting the way to exit QE and to move forward towards a more ‘normal’ monetary environment, and it is thus the perfect time to make the case for a different type of policy rules, those compatible with the fall of prices in a growing economy.

As I wrote as a comment on a recent George Selgin’s entry to this blog, the productivity rule ‘certainly provides solid theoretical basis to support the running of a different type of monetary policy rules; indeed different to the (CPI) inflation stabilising rules applied by all and sundry before 2008, which contributed to the recent crisis as well as to the instability generated in markets in the last years. It is time to apply less active and less inflationary monetary rules, those that allow the price level to reflect changes in productivity during expansions. Rather than focusing on price stability (actually it is most often ‘inflation stability’) we should be focusing on rules that better preserve monetary and financial stability on longer term basis; and the productivity norm is a good example of the latter. They are not going to be the cure for all problems but at least they will not be adding monetary disturbances on top of other (real-side) disturbances and shocks affecting the economy. And this will help agents form their expectations and make their plans.

For those unfamiliar with this literature, David Beckworth’s post provides the explanation for why (market or Fed’s) interest rates should be increased whenever productivity raises, so that the market interest rate runs in parallel with the natural interest rate, as Wicksell put it a century ago. Since then, this has been taken as the condition to keep monetary equilibrium in the economy (or at least, to put it more modestly and accurately, to avoid at least major disequilibria in the markets) and thus to  prevent from the excess of money creation that so often has contributed to monetary and financial crises in the past as well as to the succession of the so-called boom and bust business cycles. Quoting Beckworth’s words from his recent post, ‘Was monetary policy loose during the last housing boom?’:

Note that the rise in the labor force and productivity growth rates both raised the expected return to capital. The faster productivity growth also implied higher expected household incomes. These developments, in turn, should have lead to less saving and more borrowing by firms and households and put upward pressure on the natural interest rate. Interest rates, in short, should have been rising given these large positive supply shocks during this time.

And guess what the Fed did during those years of increase in productivity? Focused much more on (a falling) CPI rate of inflation in a growing economy (which shouldn’t be surprising at all), its policy rule didn’t recommend a change in the Fed’s nominal interest rates (at the very best) and later on it kept on cutting them down for years to avoid deflation by all means. It is well time to put the debate on policy rules on the agenda so we dot repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Juan Castaneda

PS. To be fair and fully transparent, let me declare myself any possible conflict of interest (if at all): I am a lecturer at the University of Buckingham and yes, I am a visiting research scholar at Cato (during the spring 2015).

Two competing, free floating, currencies

My colleague and friend, Prof. Pedro Schwartz (President, Mont Pelerin Society), recently published a letter in the ‘Financial Times’ (‘Three conditions for a two-currency system’ praising the monetary system in Peru. Rather than a purely dollarised economy (either de facto or de iure), Peruvian authorities allow for the circulation of two currencies; the national currency (the ‘Sol’) and the US dollar. As Prof. Schwartz specifies in the letter, the system has been working rather well since its introduction in 1990, provided that three main conditions are met:

– Free movement of capital so Peruvians are free to put their income in either currency and take their money out of the country if they didn’t trust the national authorities.

– Both currencies freely float in the market, so their value clearly reflects the confidence of money holders on the issuer.

– And, in order to avoid the expel of the national currency from the market, the national central bank conducts an independent monetary policy focused on maintaining the purchasing power of the currency; which has resulted in a quite moderate rate of inflation in the last years. Doing so will foster the demand for the national currency on long term basis and thus make it attractive for the public.

Nothing really new so far; this type of two or even more currency systems worked well in the past all across the world: one currency was used for international trade, another for savings and possibly another for small transactions.  The government usually tried to control the parities but the price of the different currencies fluctuated in the market according to their purchasing power.

Those familiar with this blog won’t be surprised when I say that I do find this alternative monetary system a more desirable regime to both introduce more competition in the monetary system and thus discipline money issuers more effectively, as well as provide a convenient institutional tool for Euro zone member states in trouble to timely adjust their local costs and prices without the need to be expelled from the Euro (more details on this question here and here). Of course, this doesn’t mean that a devaluation of the local currency will solve all the problems, if not followed by credible and sound monetary and fiscal policies in the future under the three-condition system set out above.

Juan Castaneda

PS. I am currently working on a research paper with Prof. Schwartz to apply this system to the Euro zone (to be continued … soon).

Very, very basic hints on how a fractional reserve and fully centralised monetary reserve monetary system works

It seems to be unnecessary but, given all it’s being said by all and sundry in the last two weeks, may I remind the kind readers of this blog that the current monetary crisis in Greece is just a textbook example of how a fully centralised monetary system works. I would have thought that the members of the recently appointed new government in Greece were well aware of the institutional and economic constraints of the euro, as well as the very much restricted range of manoeuvre a monetary union allows to its members. Let’s start with the very basics:

Under a fractional reserve and fully centralised monetary system such as ours, the ultimate source of liquidity is under the control of a central bank, the single issuer of the currency with legal tender power. The Greek economy (along with quite some other countries in the euro area) has been running persistent and quite significant current account deficits and, particularly since the outbreak of the 2007-08 financial crisis, has required the extraordinary assistance of the ECB. When no one was willing to lend out money to Greece, the ECB has not only taken part on the bail-out successive plan(s) granted to Greece but also, and most importantly, has been accepting Greek government bonds as collateral in its main refinancing operation with Greek commercial banks. The latter has been key to maintain a regular source of liquidity to the Greek economy and thus to avoid the collapse of its national monetary system and a run on Greek banks.

Along with the loans, the ECB (actually the so-called Troika with the other two institutional lenders, the EU Commission and the IMF) has imposed conditionality on the provision of the loans granted to Greece. And of course, this is the (natural) expected behaviour of any lender: those willing to lend out their money would like to be sure the borrower will be able to honour his debts. Needles to say that successive Greek governments have accepted the deal because no other international creditor was willing to make a loan to the country or to accept Greek bonds as collateral. Who else but your central bank could take such a high risk and keep on hoarding in its portfolio assets nobody wants? (By the way, all the shareholders of the ECB are contributing to these loans and supporting this continuous financial assistance in accordance to their percentage in the capital of the bank).

Now a new government in Greece is playing a quite risky game, with potentially disastrous consequences for the country. All along the campaign, Syriza has been denouncing the ‘imposition’ of the bail-out programmes and the loss of sovereignty of the Greek government in favour of the interests of the international creditors (let us leave aside the meaningless and populist rhetoric used by its dealers to refer to the bankers, capitalists and free marketeers as those wickedly pulling the strings in the shadow … ). They claim that the debt is unfair and needs to be restructured, if not partially or totally written off (may I remind one more time that a more than 50% ‘voluntary’ haircut was already accepted by private bondholders in 2012). Actually the new finance minister has been very busy in his recent road trip throughout   Europe to demand a change in the rules of the game; as if he was in a position to do so. Let me remind again few very basic facts in this regard:

– The more radical the demands of the Greek governments the more difficult it will become to find any other source of liquidity in international markets and thus the more dependent the Greeks will be on the single source of money available, the ECB. Actually the risk premium of Greek bonds has already exploded in the last two weeks and thus this situation has already materialised.

– The message that the Greek government couldn’t be willing to fulfil the conditions of the bail out programme has already increased capital flights out of the country and this shouldn’t be surprising at all (as it already happened back in 2012). And again, in this financially stressed scenario Greek banks are even more fragile and exposed to high liquidity constraints, which can only be sorted out by the assistance of the ECB (if willing to accept Greek bonds as collateral).

In this context we may well understand last week’s Mr Draghi’s reaction to the demands of the Greek government; in particular, his announcement that since next Wednesday Greek banks will no longer have access to the regular financing operations of the ECB via the ordinary discount of Greek bonds as collateral. This can only mean two things: either (hopefully) the precipitation of a new mutually beneficial deal between the new Greek government and the Troika or, if not feasible, the most likely sudden collapse of Greek banks as soon as the ECB stops providing liquidity to them on a regular basis. Well, perhaps another alternative might happen, which is the return to the national (devalued) currency (see an alternative in line with the introduction of more monetary competition in Europe here).

I do not know who advices the new Greek government on these matters but it would help to familiarise first with the very basics on money and central banking. All my best wishes to the Greeks of course!

Juan Castaneda