Archive for June 14th, 2020

A model of parallel currencies under free exchange rates

Money is one of the most studied and truly complex phenomena in Economics. How money is created? And how is it destroyed? ‘What constitutes money and what doesn’t? Is money only the means of payment sanctioned by law, by the State? In our current monetary systems, can we ‘create’ as much as money as we like? If so, wouldn’t it be inflationary? These are some of the questions Economics students frequently ask at the start their degrees. Today I am only going to focus, if only timidly, on one of them; the absence of competition in the national currencies markets in our days. Of course, the absence of competition in this market is not the result of the application of the conventional laws of Economics; quite the opposite, as masterly explained by Vera Smith in her ‘Rationale of Central Banking and the Free Banking Alternative’ in 1936, the granting of the legal tender clause to a single currency, that issued by the State, has been an explicit decision made by the government (the relation between the State and the central bank has always been problematic to say the least, you can find more details on it here). F. Hayek also explains marvellously the abolishment of the laws of Economics as regards money in his ‘Denationalisation of Money’ in 1976. More recently, my colleague from the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR), Tim Congdon, discussed this issue in his ‘Money in a Free Society’ in 2009 and makes the case for a privatised and truly independent central bank, detached from the political agenda or the economic needs of the government.

Following this debate, two colleagues of mine, Pedro Schwartz and Sebastian Damrich, and myself have reflected on these issues in a working paper just published by the Applied Economics Centre of the John Hopkins University (‘A model of parallel currencies under free floating exchange rates’. In Studies in Applied Economics, Num. 160, June 2020). In the paper we assess the feasibility of a parallel currency system under different macroeconomic scenarios. We first offer the rationale for the introduction of more competition in this market and then develop a model to see wether (and under which conditions) a parallel currency system ends up in the running of a single currency economy, or rather in two currencies competing for the market. We draw policy implications and use the the eurozone as a case-study, but the model could well be applied to any other set of countries sharing a currency or willing to access a different currency area. In a nutshell, what we show in the model is the conditions for the issuer of each currency to gain a higher market share and benefit from it. We make a distinction between (1) a macroeconomic stable scenario, defined in the paper ‘as one in which the sensitivity of the market share of the currencies to changes in prices in both currencies is not high (as we presume changes in inflation in both currencies will be rather small)’ (see page 25). In this scenario, it is ultimately the supply of each currency what determines their market share (the less inflationary currency will gain more market share over time); and (2) a highly unstable macroeconomic scenario, ‘where agents’ demand of each currency is very sensitive to changes in relative prices in both currencies. In this high price sensitive scenario, an increase in the switching costs to favour the use of one of the currencies (i.e. the government’s preferred currency) would only lead to inflation in that favoured currency and very quickly to its expulsion from the market’ (see page 25). The model can thus be applied to well-established economies, where both the national currency and the common currency circulate in the economy and to highly inflationary economies, where the government favours the use of its currency and uses the currency as a source of revenues (i.e. seigniorage).

This is the abstract of the paper, which you will be able to access in full here:

‘The production of good money seems to be out of reach for most countries. The aim of this paper is to examine how a country can attain monetary stability by granting legal tender to two freely tradable currencies circulating in parallel. Then we examine how such a system of parallel currencies could be used for any Member State of the Eurozone, with both the euro and a national currency accepted as legal tender, which we argue is a desirable monetary arrangement particularly but not only in times of crisis. The necessary condition for this parallel system to function properly is confidence in the good behaviour of the monetary authorities in charge of each currency. A fully floating exchange rate between the two would keep the issuers of the new local currency in check. This bottom-up solution based on currency choice could also be applied
in countries aspiring to enter the Eurozone, instead of the top-down once and for all imposition of the euro as a single currency that has turned out to be very stringent and has shown institutional flaws during the recent Eurozone crisis of 2009 – 2013. Our scheme would have alleviated the plight of Greece and Cyprus. It could also ease the entry of the eight Member States still missing from the Eurozone.’

All comments welcome. We still have to work more on the paper and suggestions for change and further references will be most appreciated.


Juan E. Castañeda

PS. A previous study on parallel currencies by P. Schwartz, F. Cabrillo and myself can be found here; where we put it forward as a solution to ease and expedite the adjustments needed to apply to the Greek economy in the midst of the so-called euro crisis.


Read Full Post »