Archive for the ‘Inflation’ Category

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.


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Mr. Carney, the Old Lady is not for tying

I found this caricature in The Times last Saturday (see below) and I could not resist the temptation to write a post on it. With a blog like this one, with its name, I had no other choice but to welcome and echo this caricature and its message. As I already explained in more detail here, I do believe that a  course on money and central banking could be taught by using these classical (and contemporary) caricatures as the main material of the course. They provide the political and historical context needed to properly analyse how different constraints/events have affected the policies conducted by the central banks along the modern history.

As J. Gillray masterly did it two centuries ago, here you will find again the (poor) Old Lady screaming and fighting with the authorities; represented this time not by the prime minister but by the next governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Carney. There are some other differences of course. In this new version of Gillray’s “Political-ravishment, or the old lady of Treadneedle-Street in danger!” (1797), the new governor is not taking some gold coins from her pocket but trying to keep the Lady well tied up and under his control. The Lady is obviously protesting and is struggling to free herself from the new ties imposed in the last years; ties which represent the new and extraordinary lending facilities the Bank has had to implement since the outbreak of the recent financial crisis to assist the banking system and the Government. True, many will say that the central banks, wisely acting as the lenders of last resort of the financial system, had no other alternative but to support the banking system and maintain the proper running of the payment system. Fine, I agree to some extent since, in the face of a major financial panic, the central bank must act firmly and timely to avoid the collapse of the financial system. But at some point these extraordinary policies will have to cease and the central banks will return gradually to normality in the coming years; which certainly will mean the adoption of a more orthodox monetary policy, one committed to maintaining the stability of the financial system but also the purchasing power of the currency. Let’s see if the new governor of the Bank of England succeeds and is able to extend the existing “ties” or even adopt new ones: an expansionary nominal income targeting strategy?, the adoption of a new, higher of course, inflation target?

Nothing new at all. Under the gold standard there were clear rules which prevented the central banks from printing too much money. In our days, under a fully fiat monetary system, one in which money is created out of thin air (or ex novo), those rules are even much more needed (though become blurred many times …); so, yes, somebody must tie the hands of the Government and those of its bank (i.e. the national central bank) not to overspend and overissue respectively, in order to maintain monetary stability and the purchasing power of the currency in the medium to the long term. Until relatively recently (in the interwar years), it was in the very nature of the central bank to limit the amount of money in circulation to preserve the value of its own currency in the markets. It was a profit maximising institution for quite a long time and that was the best policy to increase the demand of its money and thus its revenues (the seigniorage). However, as depicted in this caricature, this time it looks like the world is turning upside down, since it is the (next) governor of the Bank of England, the “manager” of the bank, the one who wants to impose his own (new) ties to the Old Lady to keep on running extraordinary policy measures in the UK.

Future will tell which vision prevails in the UK and elsewhere, the classical one which defines the central bank as a bank which provides essential financial services to the banking system (a sound money amongst them) or the modern view of the central bank as a major policy actor committed to a time changing basket of macroeconomic goals, either given by the government or not.

Paraphrasing Mrs. Thatcher’s very famous quote (1980), The Time‘s cartoonist has chosen a very clever title for this satirical caricature: “the Lady is not for tying (see below). Enjoy it.

Juan Castañeda


Published in The Times, 4th May 2013. Business section p. 51. “The Lady’s not for tying”. By CD, after Gillray.



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 “Los Bancos Centrales deben hacer menos, no más”

Este es el acertado titular con que el periodista especializado en economía, Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, resume nuestra entrevista, que acaba de publicarse en Libre Mercado (10/3/2013). En un tiempo en que parece que todos piden al banco central que haga más, como si fuera una especie de Deus ex Machina  omnipotente capaz de sacarnos de la crisis y parálisis económica actuales, merece la pena recordar que fue precisamente el activismo y excesivo crecimiento monetario desarrollado en la última expansión económica lo que está en la base de los problemas que aún padecemos. Por eso, una vez solventada la crisis financiera (cuando quiera que ésto sea), convendría reflexionar sobre cuál es la mejor política monetaria para la nueva etapa expansiva que, en mi opinión, pasará por una reforma en profundidad de las reglas monetarias vigentes hasta 2007. Una política monetaria que sea menos activa y se centre en la estabilidad monetaria y no en el manejo de la economía, el control del ciclo (del “output gap”) ni tampoco la estabilización de los precios, menos aún si se hace persiguiendo un crecimiento (aunque sea moderado) de la inflación medida mediante el IPC.

Hablamos también de los recientes rescates bancarios, la política de préstamo (más o menos expreso)  de los bancos centrales a sus Estados, así  como de algunas alternativas al sistema actual de monopolio de emisión de moneda de curso legal controlado en última instancia por el Estado. Como siempre, vuestros comentarios serán muy bienvenidos en el blog.

Texto completo de la entrevista aquí:


Juan Castañeda


(A summary in English)

“Central banks should do less, not more”

This is the headline of my recent interwiew with the economic journalist, Diego Sánchez de la Cruz, just published in Libre Mercado (10/03/2013). In a time when all and sundry ask the central bank to do more, as if it were an omnipotent “Deus ex Machina”  able to overcome the current economic and financial crisis, it is worth remembering that it was central banks’ monetary activism and excessive money creation during the last economic expansion what ultimately caused a massive distortion in financial markets and led to the current crisis. As recessions and crises have its roots in the previous expansion, we should be discussing now which is the best monetary policy to be adopted in the next expansionary phase of the cycle (see here a summary of the debate in the UK). One less active and more focused on maintaining monetary stability and not the management of the economy, the stabilisation of the cycle (the “output gap”) or price stabilisation, let alone the stabilisation of a positive inflation target as measured by CPI.

We also discussed in the interview other “policies” of the central banks, such as the recent banks’ bailouts and the more or less explicit financial assistance to the(ir) States; finally, we also talk about some alternatives to the current monetary system ultimately controlled by the State. As always, your comments are very welcome.

Full access to the interview here:


Juan Castañeda

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Monetary stability is what matters Mr. Carney

Quite a lot is being said and written recently on nominal income targeting. Mr. Carney, the new elected governor of the Bank of England, has had a primary role in it. Even though there has been a debate amongst academics and central banks’ analysts for quite a long time, his recent suggestion in a public speech (see here) of a nominal income rule for the conduction of monetary policy by the Bank of England has been the true milestone that have triggered the debate on monetary policy strategies across the world, and particularly in the UK. Almost everyday many commentators and columnists are analysing this question in prestigious and influential business papers such as Financial Times or The Economist. This is not surprising at all, as nominal income targeting is presented as an alternative to inflation targeting, the monetary strategy framework used de facto or officially by most central banks during the last business cycle expansion, the years of the so-called Great Moderation.

This debate is needed and essential for the conduction of a more stable monetary policy in the near future, but we should analyse in more detail what is being exactly proposed and for which purposes.

Just a transitory solution?

First of all, it is important to remember that Mr. Carney suggested the adoption of a nominal income rule as a new (and more flexible) policy framework to provide even further monetary stimulus to the economy. And, in particular, he has suggested a nominal GDP level target. However, following his own words, it can be interpreted as just a transitory policy proposal to allow the central banks the injection of more money in the economy. This is confirmed by the tone of the comments/articles published on his proposal, which evidenced a warm welcome by all and sundry. Just see below the reaction of The Economist  (“Shake´em up Mr Carney”) last week as an example, even suggesting a nominal GDP rate of growth target to be adopted by the Bank of England:

“That is where the nominal GDP target comes in. By promising to keep monetary conditions loose until nominal GDP has risen by 10%, the Bank would provide certainty that interest rates will stay low even as the economy recovers. That will encourage investment and spending. At the same time an explicit target of 10% would set a limit to the looseness, preventing people’s expectations for inflation becoming permanently unhinged. It is an approach similar in spirit to the Federal Reserve’s recent commitment not to raise interest rates until America’s unemployment rate falls below 6.5%”.

Following this article, there is no doubt that this strategy is taken as a mere temporary solution, just for the current (very much extraordinary) time:

“The last problem is Mr Osborne. A temporary nominal-GDP target needs his explicit support. He should give it, because against a background of tight fiscal policy, monetary policy is the best macroeconomic lever that Britain has”.

So are we just discussing about a temporary solution for an extraordinary scenario or are we proposing a permanent change of the monetary strategy followed by the Bank of England since 1998? The test to evaluate the true commitment of central banks to a more reliable and stable monetary policy rule will come when the economy enters into a new expansionary phase in the near future. At that time, a nominal income rule committed to monetary stability will prevent money and credit from growing as much as they both did in the past; so it will become much harder to follow it. We will see then how committed central bankers, academics and market analysts are to the conduct of this monetary rule.

Not a single but many nominal income rules

Secondly, there is no a single nominal income rule. Many considerations matter in its operational definition: it could be adopted either in terms of nominal GDP levels or in rates of growth; if just current indicators or alternatively expected variables enter into the decision-making process, it could be either a backward or a forward-looking rule; depending on the ability given to the central bank to react to (registered or expected) deviations from the target, it could be a passive (or non-reactive) or an active rule; the selection of the inflation and GDP growth targets obviously matter a lot, … . So, as some of their critics suggest, I agree that they could be used by central banks to inflate the markets in an attempt to manage again aggregate demand and real variables (see some on the critics here; made by a true expert in monetary economics, professor Goodhart). However, I do not agree with the critics on their entire dismissal of these rules, as they do not  have to be necessarily inflationary and destabilising monetary rules at all; quite the contrary!

You can find more detailed explanations on nominal income targeting and the reply to its most common critics in two excellent blogs on monetary economics: Scott Sumner´s The money illusion and Lars Christensen´s The market monetarist. I wrote a brief article on these rules in 2005 for the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs: “Towards a more neutral monetary policy: proposal of a nominal income rule”. As you will see there, I proposed a nominal income rule committed to maintaining monetary stability and not price stability; one by which (broad) money supply grows at the expected  rate of growth of the economy in the long term, and at the same time allowing prices to fall. As evidenced in a more recent paper written with professor G. Wood (see the full version here), its application would have led to much lower rates of growth of money during the last expansion of the economy and, on the other hand, it can be said that it would have avoided the sudden collapse in money growth since 2008. In sum, it would have provided both a (1) less inflationary and (2) more stable rate of growth of money.

Leaving the details (some very important indeed) aside, I do support a permanent change in the monetary policy strategy of central banks. It is time to abandon inflation stabilising rules that, as it is evident for almost all now, have not led to monetary nor financial stability.

A solid theoretical background: monetary stability rather than price stability

There has been a long debate and controversy amongst the supporters and critics of price stabilisation as a criterion for the running of monetary policy (2). F. A. Hayek masterly stated in the 20s and 30s how inflationary the application of that policy criterion could be in the presence of growing economies. As he explained, those central banks committed to maintaining price stability have to inject more money into the markets just to offset the (benign) deflationary pressures accompanying the expansion of the economy; which leads to a rapid (and unsustainable) growth of money and credit that finally distorts financial and real markets (the so-called “boom and bust” business cycle theory). However, since the end of WWII, and after three decades of fine tuning monetary policies and central banks subject to the financial needs of a growing State, the proposal and adoption of (low though positive) inflation targets since the late 70s was received as a blessing by mostly all; especially by the academia, who had been claiming long ago for a more consistent policy rule committed to price stability in the medium to the long run.

The american economist George Selgin followed Hayek´s lead and proposed in his excellent 1997´s “Less than zero. The case for a falling price level in a growing economy” (entirely available at the IEA´s site) what he called a “productivity norm”; which, in a nutshell, allowed for some (mild and benign) deflation when productivity and the supply of real goods and services are growing.

A discussion on monetary policy rules is essential to avoid some of the (monetary) mistakes made during the last expansion of the business cycle. We have already seen how the adoption of price stability as a policy target, or worse (CPI) inflation targeting rules, do not necessarily contribute to financial stability in the medium to the long run. J. A. Aguirre and I have proposed recently (see more details on our book here) another policy rule; one committed to monetary stability that prescribes money growth in line with the real growth of the economy in the long run, and allows for disinflation and even mild deflation when productivity growth increases the output of goods and services in the economy. Nominal income targeting may well be a (only one of them) way to implement it.

We have been waiting for a debate on this question for quite a long time and is indeed very much welcome.

Juan Castañeda


(1) However, both in the oral and written evidence provided to the UK Parliament´s Treasury select committee this week Mr. Carney was much more conservative, and in fact supported the current “flexible inflation targeting” strategy of the Bank of England.

(2) As to the critique on price stabilisation rules, see some of my previous entries to the blog:

“Central banks price stabilisation rules creates inflation”

– An a paper I wrote with Pedro Schwartz on this question: “Price stability does not always lead to monetary stability nor to financial stability” 

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Is nominal income targeting really on the table Mr Carney?

In a recent speech at Toronto, the next Governor of the Bank of England, Mr. Carney, has recently suggested (or better, implied) that nominal income targeting could be a better alternative monetary strategy to flexible inflation targeting. This is not trivial at all, and has not received enough attention in the media yet (amongst those who did, see Lars Christensen´s entry to his very interesting blog: “The Market Monetarist” from which I knew about it).

Mr Carney may have wisely identified one of the main flaws of  past monetary policy decisions and a major cause of the financial distress suffered in most developed economies since 2007/08: by targeting inflation and, even worse, CPI inflation, most central banks achieved price stability yes (thus defined), but at the same time credit and liquidity expanded too much and for too long worldwide. During the years of the expansion of world output prior to 2007 (during the so-called “Great Moderation” years), mainly due to significant technological progress and the huge development and growth of India and China´s exports of manufactured goods in international markets, a growing world supply of consumption goods and services led to quite stable and moderate (consumption) prices. However, at the same time (in particular, since early 2000s years), any measure of broad money growth showed an exceptional increase in liquidity, which distorted agents´s investment decisions and resources allocation. We now know how it badly ended in huge financial instability, massive output losses and employment cuts and even economic depression in some peripheral EMU countries. In a nutshell, as leading economists of the 20s clearly identified and stated (F.A. Hayek amongst them, or George Selgin in our days), in a growing economy, the conduct of a price stability rule does not guarantee monetary stability, nor financial stability. Contrary to what is commonly thought, it is not a necessary condition I am afraid (see more details here).

Unlike the standard “inflation targeting” strategy, the one adopted by the Bank of England (and many others) since 1998, a nominal income rule does not set an inflation target alone but a nominal income target. By doing so, the central bank would adopt the joint evolution of prices and real output as the policy target. Under this rule, if the economy is growing, an increasing supply of real output may be offset by decreasing inflation or even mild (benign) deflation, thus leading to a more modest nominal income measure, and thus less money growth. In my view, if adopted as a policy rule, this alternative monetary policy would have resulted in more modest and stable money growth (thus more money stability) and it may have reduced the likelihood of the massive dislocation of financial markets occurred in recent years. The theoretical basis of this rule can be seen in the work I published in 2005 for the Journal of the Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as its application in a more recent academic work I wrote with professor G. Wood. As stated in both works, a nominal income targeting rule is more compatible with monetary stability, a true necessary condition to achieve long run economic growth as well as financial stability.

There is a now a much clearer support for this type of rules. The reason is quite obvious: as real GDP is stagnated if not decreasing and CPI inflation is still moderate (roughly around 2%-3%), the conduction of a nominal income rule which targets the rate of growth of real GDP in the medium to the long run would produce higher rates of growth of money, being thus even more expansionary. This might be the reason why it is becoming a quite popular rule in our days. However, this is not all. In order to be a stabilising (sound and beneficial) rule in the medium to the long run, it should be fully symmetrical; so that in a context of a new phase of economic growth and disinflation (or mild deflation) liquidity growth becomes much more moderate than in the years prior to 2007. This will be the true test to this rule, if ever applied by central banks in the coming years.

Let´s see in the coming months if a very much needed debate on monetary policy rules is finally open in the UK or elsewhere. At least a major figure amongst central bankers has suggested it. Well done and good luck Mr Carney!

Juan Castañeda

PS. I want to acknowledge and thank Lars Christensen for his excellent blog on monetary economics (The Market Monetarist), from which I learned about Mr Carney´s speech.

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And then we all became economists …

One of the few positive consequences of the recent financial crisis is that people do know now much more about how markets work, on the scope and limits of Government intervention and, even more important, on the unintended consequences of ill-designed policies and bad regulation. We might not be fully aware of it now, but better informed people will be an essential requisite to better monitor and control discretionary and inflationary policies in the future. Those who have a degree in Economics will be familiar with what economists usually call  “rational behaviour” or “rational agents”, who are able to escape from another very important concept, “money illusion”. Let me explain then very briefly.

Being rational in economics means that we make decisions by exploiting all the information and resources at our disposal in order to get a particular outcome (whichever the final goal is: increasing the value of a portfolio or that of a charity). This rational assumption does not necessarily imply that people cannot err; of course they can, but then they will learn by their own experience and incorporate past failures in order to improve how to make their expectations in the future. So the key point is that they cannot be cheated systematically! One example of this is the ability of people to react to anticipated inflation; after suffering substantial losses in the past, as a consequence of recurrent inflationary policies, people have learned that (1) real variables is what really matters in making economic decisions and that (2) printing money is not tantamount to prosperity or economic growth (quite the contrary!). In consequence, in a nutshell, in the face of excessive fiscal spending and money growth, inflation will be expected; so people, instead of keeping on increasing their spending more and more, will be saving part of their income in deposits and other financial assets adjusted to inflation in order to maintain their purchasing power along the time. By doing so they will not have “money illusion” and will act rationally.

People may have finally seen that the expansionary monetary policies conducted before 2007 led to inflation and provoked market distortions and major financial instability. Let´s see if we have learned this important and painful lesson of the recent crisis, so we can counteract these policies should they persist in the near future.

Finally, find here a very brief and funny (fiction) movie that depicts a conversation amongst traditional Spanish housewives (in Andalusia), who wisely discuss on the current policies to overcome the crisis in a typical and beautiful southern spanish “patio”. I wish most economic ministers and Governments´economic advisers had their knowledge and vivid conversation! Enjoy it:

Hablando en Plata (Directed by Mikel Gil, “Producciones Varadas”):

Juan Castañeda

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