Archive for the ‘Monetary competition’ Category

Os mando el video del evento de la presentación del libro , The Economics of Monetary Unions
Past Experiences and the Eurozone
, en el que participamos Pedro Schwartz, Luis de Guindos y yo mismo, bajo la buena batuta de Vicente Montes
(Fundación Rafael del Pino). El tema era el análisis de la Eurozona y de su arquitectura como unión monetaria para, a continuación, hablar de sus mayores problemas y vías de reforma. Pedro y yo presentamos los resultados de nuestro estudio de la dispersión macroeconómica en la Eurozona, y su comparación con la de la libra esterlina y el dólar de EEUU. Podéis acceder aquí a los resultados del mismo, que están recogidos en un capítulo del libro, con un índice de dispersión macroeconómica para las tres monedas (1999 – 2019). Pero, como suele pasar, lo que más atractivo me pareció de todo el evento fue el diálogo posterior sobre tres temas fundamentales en economía monetaria:

  • Tiene la llamada Teoría Monetaria Moderna validez como para ser adoptada en la práctica? En definitiva, podemos librarnos de las restricciones de financiación del deficit público simplemente emitiendo más dinero? Es ello deseable?
  • En vista de la cantidad tan extraordinaria de dinero (entendido como ‘dinero amplio’, con depósitos bancarios incluidos) desde Marzo de 2020, qué efectos tendrá a medio y largo plazo? Qué relación hay entre dinero y precios?
  • Van a permitir los Estados la libre competencia entre el dinero electrónico que se están planteando emitir los bancos centrales y el que emita cualquier otra entidad, en este caso privada? Qué explica el tradicional monopolio de emisión?

Aquí os dejo el video de la presentación y el debate posterior. Como siempre, comentarios muy bienvenidos. Muy agradecido a la Fundación por su invitación.

Juan Castañeda


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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.


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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).

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A market solution for the Euro crisis

This month the Institute of Economic Affairs (London) has published a new book with a collection of essays of different authors on the crisis of the euro, edited by Philip Booth: “The Euro- the beginning, the middle … and the end?“. In these troubled times, dominated by those who only see more fiscal centralisation as the single way to overcome the euro crisis, this book is a true rarity; as, amongst others, it has several chapters with practical proposals to foster the introduction of more monetary competition to address and finally tackle some of the major problems affecting the European Monetary Union. And yes, I said “practical” proposals because, some of the chapters of the book do contain not only a description of the benefits of having more monetary competition in order to achieve more monetary stability in the medium to the long run, but also the institutional and market arrangements needed to be implemented in the current scenario in Europe.  A novelty indeed! In this regard, the proposal I support in the book (chapter 6), which consist of (1) at least the elimination of the legal tender clause and (2) the competition of the euro with the former national currencies, could be just a starting point in the right direction. Even more, we (profs. Schwartz, Cabrillo and myself) have calculated the costs of this alternative (more open) monetary regime and they are by far less than the costs we are all still paying just to maintain the current (flawed) system.

The publication of the book (12th April) was accompanied by the following (joint) statement of the contributing authors (see their names and  affiliations here):

“The euro zone as we know it must end or be radically reformed. Current mechanisms being used to manage the euro crisis are inadequate at every level. And as Cyprus shows us, the euro-zone crisis is far from over.
In new research from the Institute of Economic Affairs, The Euro: The Beginning, the Middle … and the End?, leading economists in this field, analyse the problems with the current approach being taken to resolve the euro zone crisis and argue:
  • Product and labour markets in euro-zone member states are far too rigid to respond adequately to economic shocks. The result has been high unemployment and prolonged recession in a number of euro-zone countries.
  • The EU must therefore face up to the inadequacies of its policies both in terms of the long-term structural errors in policy and of the short-term management of the euro-zone crisis.
  • There should not be a debt union of any form. Governments must be responsible for servicing their debts without bailouts.
  • Euro-zone countries must deregulate their labour markets and reduce government spending. Decentralisation and the promotion of a market economy must be at the heart of EU policy.
The report outlines several options for radical reform of monetary arrangements within the euro zone, including:
  • A complete and orderly break-up of the euro and a return to national currencies combined with the vigorous pursuit of free trade policies.
  • The suspension of Greece, and possibly other failing euro members, from all the decision-making mechanisms of the euro. These countries could then re-establish their own national currency to run in parallel with the euro. Both would be legal tender currencies with free exchange rates. Such an approach should be part of a more general agenda for decentralisation in the EU. This proposal mirrors the “hard ecu” proposal of the UK government before the euro was adopted as a single currency.
  • The enforcement of strict rules relating to government borrowing and debt that all member countries would have to meet. Member countries who did not obey the rules would not be able to take part in the decision-making mechanisms of the ECB. Furthermore, the ECB should play no part in underpinning the government debt of member countries.
  • A system of liberalised free-banking within which businesses and individuals choose the currency they wish to use.”

You can find more details on the book (and the full book free online) here, at the IEA website. The book will be presented at the IEA on the 9th of May (18:30); see more details here if you wish to attend.

I hope you find it interesting to promote the discussion on these important issues. All comments on our proposal on parallel currencies for the Euro zone will be very welcome.

Juan Castañeda

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A chat on fractional reserve and monetary competition

This video was originally recorded in Spanish and released on the 15th of March 2012 at Vimeo (Spanish version). Then it was very kindly supported by the GoldMoney Foundation, so we could release an English version of the video on July this year, entitled: “The Spanish economic crisis”. I would like to thank GoldMoney very much for their support.

You can also find below a summary of the content of the video, as quoted from the GoldMoney website (research section).

Enjoy it! Comments very much welcome.

Juan Castañeda


The Spanish economic crisis: ‘Yo Invito – ¿Dónde está mi dinero?’

What caused the Spanish economic crisis, and how safe is your money in banks? Maria Blanco, economist and member of the Instituto Juan de Mariana; Doctor in Economics Juan Castaneda; Marion Mueller, founder of OroyFinanzas.com; and Expansion.com journalist Miquel Roig discuss this and more over coffee at Madrid’s Café Gijón.

Fractional reserve banking, sound money, and the prospects for monetary reform in Spain and the wider world are the broader topics of conversation. Though the quartet are heartened that more and more people in Spain are taking an interest in economics since the country’s debt problems became apparent, they doubt that the kind of radical monetary reforms they favour would win support among many Spaniards. They are heartened though that elsewhere in the world – notably an increasing number of US states – the sound money cause is gaining support, albeit slowly, among citizens and politicians.

This video was recorded on 10 March 2012 in Madrid.


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Published in “GoldMoney Analysis” , 3rd June 2011

Modern central banks and the state: a coalition of interests

Money creation has long been synonymous with state power. In the dim-and-distant past, governments minted gold and silver coins, before eventually becoming the monopoly issuer of notes. In both cases they get a non-negligible profit – seignoriage – which is the difference between the face or exchange value of money and its intrinsic value. In the case of coins, the earning of a seignoriage is explained by the costs of minting and by the fact that the state (the seignior or lord) guaranteed the face value of the currency. As for paper money, seignoriage boomed with the increasing use of banks notes as substitutes for coins during the 19th century, as the face value of notes always massively exceeds the notes’ intrinsic value, thus boosting the earnings of the issuer. Unsurprisingly, governments – ever eager to find new sources of revenues – soon cottoned on to this fact.

As the law of basic economics dictates, an excessive supply of a good or service will push down its price. Regarding money, it means a deterioration of the purchasing power of the currency. Thus the massive inflow of precious metals into Spanish ports in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a result of the discovery of large gold and silver deposits in the Americas, was followed by rising prices across Europe (albeit at the modest rate – by modern standards – of around 2 per cent, according to the historian Niall Ferguson). Inflation is a monetary phenomenon that results from the growth of the money supply exceeding the growth in goods and services in an economy. If our income and wealth remain steady, but our money supply increases, then we will not be richer – we will simply pay more for existing goods.

The risk of inflation increases in purely fiat monetary systems in which there are no means of payment that retain any intrinsic value, and where only bank notes and other “bank money” media – such as various types of account deposits – are available for market transactions. In the absence of any limit on money creation in such a fiat system, the money supply grows at the whim of the monopoly issuer. This is why monetary rules are essential to protect the purchasing value of money. Such rules entail quantitative limits on the legal ability of monetary authorities (as well as the associated banking system) to create money.

The origins of central banks

Modern central banks are the result of the shared mutual interests of private banks and the state. In essence, the state granted the exclusive privilege to issue bank notes – for a certain amount of money – to a single bank, and received in exchange a credit by the bank of the same amount to cover its budget deficit.

This constituted true deficit monetisation as the deficit was paid for with newly printed money. As Vera Smith comments in her master work The Rationale of Central Banking and the Free Banking Alternative(1936), this exclusive privilege to issue notes was renewed and extended, both in relation to the area of influence of the bank notes and to the total amount of notes issued, every time the state needed further credit to finance increasing deficits. This monopoly of paper money was furthered by the imposition of legal tender clauses, while in many countries after the Second World War, the state took direct control of the central bank. This created an unstable monetary system that was heavily biased towards inflation.

Nevertheless, the monetary system – at least during the operation of the gold standard from the mid-19th century until 1914 – imposed effective limits on central banks’ proclivity towards money creation, as every single bank note had to be redeemable in gold on demand. As a result, money supply expansion was restricted, leading to a remarkable period of monetary and price stability.

These days, under fully fiat monetary systems, bank notes are no longer redeemable into gold and the acceptance of notes (as well as the stability of whole national economies) relies on central banks maintaining a disciplined approach to money issuance. But as the second half of the 20th century showed, central banks rarely stick to exacting standards. However, in our increasingly globalised world, people can often elude the effects of reckless monetary policies by buying sound currencies and gold and silver. In the face of this reaction, at the end of 20th century, states had no choice but to resume the independent status of the central banks and to let them conduct a monetary rule committed to maintaining low inflation. This, however, was not enough as central banks continued to issue excessive amounts of money – a key cause of the last financial crisis of 2007-08.

Maybe one day governments will again recognise the benefits of sound money.

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