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Archive for the ‘Hyperinflation’ Category

Quantitative Easing or the reinvention of the wheel

Much has been said about the QE operations conducted in the US and elsewhere in the recent financial crisis. Some have claimed they constitute a true revolution in central banking; some have even gone further to suggest that it is the beginning of a new monetary policy. And, also quite many still claim that these extraordinary monetary policy measures should not be applied as they are supposed to be highly inflationary by their own nature.

Just a very quick look at the modern monetary history in Europe and in the US will reveal how wrong those views can be. On the one hand, as tested quite many times in our economic history, yes, too loose monetary policies (via QE operations or other else) will result in inflation, but only if (broad) money grows much faster than real income. So, how inflationary QE will be in the coming years cannot be assessed without making a proper monetarist analysis. Monetary expansion will have other effects, true (in part, already addressed here). On the other hand, even though under a different name, with the current QE operations we are just “inventing the wheel” or, following the Spanish saying, “discovering the Mediterranean sea”.

As quoted from Geoffrey Wood’s “The lender of last resort reconsidered” (A paper prepared for a conference in honour of Anna J Schwartz. Washington, 14-15 April 2000), in relation to the 1825 panic affecting the british banks:

There had been a substantial external drain of gold, and there was a shortage of currency.  A panic developed, and there were runs on banks.  The type of bills the Bank would normally discount soon ran out and the panic continued.  If a wave of bank failures were to be prevented, the banks would have had to borrow on the security of other types of assets. Of that change of policy Jeremiah Harman, a Director of the Bank, spoke as follows when giving evidence before a Parliamentary Committee in 1832.  The Bank had lent money “… by every possible means and in modes we had never adopted before; we took in stock on security, we purchased Exchequer bills, we made advances in Exchequer bills, we not only discounted outright but we made advances on the deposit of bills of exchange to an immense amount, in short by every means consistent with the safety of the Bank, and we were not on some occasions over nice”. Published in the Journal of Financial Services Research, 2000, vol. 18, issue 2, pages 203-227. See:  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A%3A1026542821454.

So the Bank of England, already in the early 19th c., did conduct a truly active monetary policy to prevent the collapse of the banking system in Britain “by every possible means”; which included the purchase of stocks, public bonds, the discount of paper, … . And even most interesting,  Professor Wood (Cass Business School and University of Buckingham) provided in his work (written in 2000!) an excellent description of several successful application of the lender of last resort role of central banks that did prevent the collapse of the banking system without provoking (the supposed) hyperinflation. His work could have been taken as an excellent guide to make policy decisions from 2008 on.

The study of monetary history will do no harm to all of us at all, either academics or policy-makers. Quite the contrary!!!

Juan Castañeda

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A conversation on money, central banks (and much more)

GoldMoney has just published a very interesting video on money and the current Eurozone crisis. In the video, James Turk interviews Professor Pedro Schwartz (San Pablo University, Madrid) on how central banks create money in our days and on the risks of the current expansionary monetary measures announced and developed by two major central banks, the ECB and the Federal Reserve of the US. As you will see, Professor Schwartz masterly explains how money is created “out of the blue” and why he thinks the ECB is actually disregarding its own Statutes, that clearly establish the prohibition of lending to any national government. How is the ECB doing so? Very easy; by purchasing public bonds of the States in crisis indirectly, in the secondary markets, and by accepting those bonds as valid and unlimited collateral in the conduction of the standard open market operations. Doing so the ECB is actually loosing its independence from political bodies and governments, and it is expanding its own remit; which was just to preserve price stability in the Eurozone, and not injecting money to foster GDP growth in the short run or to finance the State(s). Professor Schwartz also talks about the risks of inflation in the medium to the long term coming from the current (massive) injections of liquidity of central banks in the money markets.

In sum it is a very clear and interesting video that I do strongly recommend not only to any student of Economics, but also to anyone interested in how money is created in our days.

You will find below the summary of the conversation as extracted by GoldMoney.

Juan Castañeda

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GoldMoney’s James Turk interviews Prof. Pedro Schwartz who is the president of the Economic and Social Council of Madrid. They talk about bank regulation, the creation of money out of thin air and the beauty of the free market system.

They discuss how banks have expanded despite of government regulation which Schwartz in large attributes to the granted privilege of fractional reserve lending. Using this procedure a bank can create loans above the actual amount of deposits at hand and therefore create new money. This also leads to fragility in the banking system and to boom and bust cycles. Schwartz argues for a leaner and more effective regulation of financial markets as the current regulation has not worked in regards to the financial crisis.

They talk about the “tennis” between the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank when it comes to the creating money out of thin air. Schwartz states that the ECB is disregarding the rules that were aimed to guard it from being influenced by political pressure. Despite the opposition of the German Bundesbank they are buying government bonds. This is equal to digital money printing and Schwartz scents that it is not being done for monetary policy, but for the stimulation of the economy which goes beyond the original remit of the bank.

However despite the injections of new liquidity by the ECB Europe is still in recession, because interbank lending has dried up. That means that banks are parking much of the liquidity back at the ECB. The big question will be what will happen to inflation once the economy starts to pick up again and those funds find their way into the real economy. Schwartz also questions whether it is a productive business when banks can make a profit by borrowing money from the ECB at 1% interest and then turning around to buy government bond which yield 5% or 6%.

A serious inflationary disaster will only be prevented if governments will succeed in reducing their deficits and stop selling bonds. Schwartz states that cutting government spending is the only viable solution to the problem. To accomplish this there has to be a change in social mentality so that people recognise that nothing is free and that the government sector has to shrink. In the end the market is the most efficient mechanism of allocating resources according to the wants and needs of people.

This video was recorded on 14 September 2012 in Madrid.

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(Summary from: http://www.goldmoney.com/video/pedro-schwartz-on-the-creation-of-money-out-of-thin-air.html)

 

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The most important hyperinflations in modern history

Steve Hanke  and Nicholas Krus (both at John Hopkins University) have just published a very interesting working paper at CATO Institute, “World Hyperinflations”, (See here: http://www.cato.org/publications/working-paper/world-hyperinflations) which will be a chapter in Randall Parker and Robert Whaples (eds.) The Handbook of Major Events in Economic History, London: Routledge Publishing. (expected, Summer 2013).

Here is the abstract of their paper:

“This chapter supplies, for the first time, a table that contains all 56 episodes of hyperinflation, including several which had previously gone unreported. The Hyperinflation Table is compiled in a systematic and uniform way. Most importantly, it meets the replicability test. It utilizes clean and consistent inflation metrics, indicates the start and end dates of each episode, identifies the month of peak hyperinflation, and signifies the currency that was in circulation, as well as the method used to calculate inflation rates.”

It is a very much interesting and indeed an arduous work. They use very extensive and detailed empirical sources and evidence to collect the 56 major episodes of hyperinflation along the 20th century in a single table. Just  with a very quick look at the table, everyone can notice how easy inflations and, especially, hyperinflations can deteriorate the purchasing power of money in few  months, even in just days or few hours under the worst circumstances. This is a key lesson for policy-makers to draw from our recent monetary history; a lesson that should never be left aside.

Enjoy it.

 

Juan Castañeda

PS. See the full version of their paper here: http://www.cato.org/pubs/researchnotes/WorkingPaper-8.pdf

 

 

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