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Archive for the ‘Money rules’ Category

At a time when major central banks are reviewing their policy strategies (the US Fed already did so in September 2020, see George Selgin‘s excellent analysis here), there is always the temptation to call for an extension of the remit of central banks, to go ‘bold’ and ‘modern’, which effectively means to go beyond maintaining price stability. As the leading British economist, Charles Goodhart (LSE), has put it before, if you want to know what major central banks will do in the future, check what the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) is doing now. Well, the RBNZ is already giving us a hint about what’s coming. As announced few days ago, the bank has been instructed by the government to consider ‘how it can contribute to the Government’s housing policy objectives, consistent with its financial stability objective of promoting a sound and efficient financial system.‘ In the reply of the RBNZ to the government’s instructions, the monetary authority makes it clear that this ‘requires the Bank to have regard to the impact of its actions on the Government’s policy of supporting more sustainable house prices, including by dampening investor demand for existing housing stock, which would improve affordability for first-home buyers‘.

Since the very launch of ‘inflation targeting’ as a policy strategy by the RBNZ in 1989, followed by many other central banks in the 1990s, the definition of what price stability means and how to measure it have been at the core of the policy and academic debates and discussions. At the time it was decided to measure price stability in terms of a consumer price index (CPI), which excludes asset prices. Of course, monetary policy decisions do affect asset prices (see a recent paper on it here, by Tim Congdon, IIMR); but adding asset prices to the remit of the central bank would mean that we know in advance what the long term equilibrium of asset prices is, that compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. In real time, under uncertainty, we can identify trends and changes in asset prices which we may believe are not compatible with financial stability, but we can only know for sure ‘ex post’. Even if such a target for asset prices were easy to identify in real time, having both a CPI target and another one in terms of ‘sustainable house prices’ may become am impossible task for the central banks to achieve when both price indices move in opposite directions. For example, the aggressive response to Covid-19 crisis by major central banks since the Spring 2020 has resulted in an extraordinary increase in the amount of money broadly defined in major economies, indeed led by the USA; which has first affected asset prices, very much on the rise since then. However, CPI prices have not increased much yet (here we explain why CPI inflation will very likely increase later in 2021, particularly in the USA). At this juncture, should a central bank have a dual-price mandate, which prices should be prioritised?

The answer is very straightforward if central banks were to adopt a simpler and more effective policy strategy. By maintaining a moderate and stable rate of growth of money (broadly defined), central banks will be contributing to both CPI price stability and financial stability, but over the medium to the long term (approx. 2-3 years). Before the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, we observed a higher than 10% annual rate of growth in the amount of money in the Eurozone, while CPI inflation was still quite moderate. My colleague Pedro Schwartz and myself very much raised our concerns about this situation in 2007, in this report for the ECON Committee of the European Parliament. We didn’t know the extent of the crisis that was coming, but we knew that that rate of growth of money from 2004 to 2007 was not compatible with macroeconomic and financial stability. Of course, no one really paid much attention to it. As we estimated it at the time, following a price-stability rule would have meant a much lower rate of growth of money (broadly defined, by M3 in the Eurozone, see the red line below), around 5% – 6% per annum. The actual rate of growth of money in the Eurozone in 2007 (see the blue line below) doubled that benchmark rate compatible with price stability. M3 growth rates in the Eurozone are again in the double-digit territory (see IIMR February 2021 report here) and this can only mean higher inflation once the economy goes back to ‘normal’ (i.e. the demand for money reverts to levels closer to pre-crisis levels) and agents start to get rid of their excess in money holdings. We will see.

Source: Schwartz and Castañeda, 2007. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/cmsdata/178681/20071220ATT16955EN.pdf. You can find more details in the report on the calculations of the benchmark rules we used to assess the rate of growth of M3 in the Eurozone.

Let’s task central banks with what we know they can achieve. Central banks are very powerful policy-makers but they cannot do it all, and they shouldn’t either. Adding more tasks to their remits, be it an extra target in terms of asset prices, jobs creation, or contributing to a more green economy, among others, would put central banks in a very difficult technical and institutional position; one where they wouldn’t be able to achieve their mandate and they will be more exposed to political pressures. Let’s leave all the ‘extras’ for parliaments to deal with, if they like. This arrangement will preserve central bank independence and enhance their effectiveness in achieving monetary stability and financial stability, no more no less. Here you can find more details on this all in a 2020 report I wrote for SUERF on the ECB 2020-21 policy review strategy.

Thank you. Comments welcome.

Juan Castañeda

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Central banks are not just interest rate setters: an introduction to modern central bank roles

This is the online presentation I made at the 2020 Freedom Week (by the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute of Economic Affairs) on August 21st. It is an overview of the major roles undertaken by modern central banks in our economies, which involves much more than setting the policy rate. Actually, since the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis what leading central banks have been doing is to act as ‘bank of banks’, ‘bank of the government’ and, as regards monetary policy, to engage in asset purchase operations (i.e. Quantitative Easing). Once policy rates were brought down to the effective lower (nominal) bound, central banks have used outright asset purchases to be able to affect macroeconomic outcomes. Contrary to a very popular misperception, in purely fiat monetary systems, central banks cannot run out of ammunition, even when nominal policy rates are zero or close to zero. In this presentation, I briefly discuss (1) what central banks do as providers of services to the banking sector and to the government, as well as (2) the importance of monetary analysis to understand the effects of changes in the amount of money on inflation and output over the medium to the long term. This is at the core of what we do at the Institute of International Monetary Research.

I hope you find it a good introduction to central bank roles in modern economies. As ever, comments welcome.

Juan Castaneda

PS. If only for enjoying James Gillray‘s caricatures as a means to explain money and central banking, it may well be worth watching.

 

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A rule-based monetary strategy for the European Central Bank: a call for monetary stability

This is the paper I wrote on the current review of the ECB strategy, just published in SUERF Policy Note series (Num. 192, September 2020). As you will see in the summary below, I discuss different alternatives to reform the current strategy of the ECB, including the adoption of a (1) higher inflation target, (2) price level target, (3) average inflation target or (4) a nominal income rate target in line with a stable growth of money. I explain in the paper why I favour number 4, so that the ECB aims at maintaining a stable rate of growth of broad money, compatible with a stable rate of growth of nominal income over the medium term. This strategy would allow the ECB to accommodate to supply shocks much easier and without the need to intervene in the market: in case of a positive supply shock, prices would tend to fall in a growing economy, thus resulting in a more stable rate of growth of nominal income. Under this strategy, the central bank would not need to offset such fall in prices by an increase in the amount of money but to do nothing (G. Selgin explains this point masterly in his pamphlet, ‘Less than Zero’). This means that the amount of money in the economy would not be as pro-cyclical as it has been in the last 15 years; with too much money growth in the expansionary phase of the cycle and too little during recessions. The stability in the rate of growth of money, broadly measured, would become key to maintain a stable nominal income growth throughout the cycle.

The ECB will announce the outcome(s) of the review of its strategy in 2021. The choices made by the ECB will surely shape the bias of monetary policy in the Eurozone for one or two decades. Other major central banks are conducting similar exercises. The US Fed just announced its new strategy (see G. Selgin excellent analysis on it here) and the Bank of England’s strategy is also currently under review.

Clearly, ‘inflation targeting’, at least as applied in the years running up to the Global Financial Crisis, is not the best policy strategy to maintain both monetary stability and financial stability over the long term. Central banks should not just take the ‘easy’ option and adopt a higher inflation target or an (asymmetric and vague) average inflation targeting (AIT) strategy. The latter seems to be the option taken by the Fed. And I say ‘seems’ because it did not make it clear in the announcement made last week. How many years will the Fed use to average inflation around? And will it react equally to long periods of inflation and to long periods of disinflation? If a symmetric AIT, the Fed would both (1) adopt a below target inflation rate after a period of too much inflation, and (2) an above target inflation rate after a period of too little inflation. However, it seems unlikely that the Fed would systematically target a lower rate of inflation (lower than 2%) when inflation has reigned over a long period of time. In the current juncture these options (the outright increase in the inflation target or the average inflation target) may well give central banks room to be more inflationary in the next few years, but they will also likely harm their credibility if they cannot contain the growth of inflation in the future. We will see in the next few months/years how the Fed effectively applies his new AIT strategy. My fear is that, in the absence of enough information communicated to the market to assess its policies over the long term, the Fed has just adopted a strategy to be more inflationary in the next few years.

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Summary of the paper on the ECB strategy review (full paper at https://www.suerf.org/policynotes/16571/a-rule-based-monetary-strategy-for-the-european-central-bank-a-call-for-monetary-stability):

‘The 2020-2021 review of the ECB strategy will shape monetary policy in the Eurozone in the years to come. Crucially, it will also determine the scope and capabilities of the ECB within the ever-evolving architecture of the euro. As in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and the subsequent Euro Crisis, Member States are discussing new mechanisms to enhance economic recovery and further integration which, one way or another, will involve the support of, or the coordination of fiscal policy makers with the ECB. The impact of the new ECB strategy in the current debate about the future direction of the single currency should not be overlooked. In this note, we offer a proposal for the reform of the ECB strategy incorporating the lessons learned in the recent crises. We discuss several options for the ECB and set up a rule-based strategy suitable to operate in an environment of persistently low inflation and near zero interest rates. Under our proposal, monetary stability becomes the guiding principle for providing macroeconomic stability over the medium and long term, as well as for enhancing the transparency of the ECB communication policies.’

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Comments and feedback welcome.

Juan Castaneda

 

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Moneda, precios y el monetarismo en Europa

Aquí podéis encontrar la charla que tuve el placer de dar a mis amigos y colegas del Centro Hazlitt de la Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM), en Guatemala (Marzo 2020). El tema era la vigencia (o su no vigencia) del monetarismo como perspectiva y escuela de análisis económico en Europa. Como comprobaréis, soy muy pesimista en mi presentación; sobre todo en lo que se refiere a la explicación de la inflación en los modelos económicos predominantes en las ultimas tres/cuatro décadas. A pesar de ello, reivindico el uso de un análisis monetario riguroso (de la oferta y de la demand da dinero) si queremos explicar tendencias en los precios en el medio y largo plazo; una afirmación que me parece obvia, pero que en el entorno académico actual resulta tristemente revolucionaria … . Además, si bien soy muy crítico con el estado de los modelos macroeconómicos en lo que respecta a la explicación de la inflación, soy más optimista por lo que en la práctica los bancos centrales hacen cuando se enfrentan a una crisis financiera. Hemos visto cómo a partir de 2009/10 (o más tarde en la Eurozona), los bancos centrales recurrieron a operaciones de compra de activos (‘expansión cuantitativa’ o QE en sus siglas en inglés) para evitar la caída de la cantidad de dinero. Querían evitar con ello caer en el mismo error en el que cayó la Reserva Federal de los EEUU en los años 30 del siglo XX. Pareciera como si, por la vía de los hechos, los bancos centrales estuvieran persiguiendo una política monetaria encaminada a lograr la estabilidad del crecimiento del dinero (‘a la Friedman’).

Asimismo, también comento en algún detalle en la presentación algunas de las críticas más habituales que se hacen al monetarismo desde distintas perspectivas teóricas: como (1) la (supuesta) necesidad de imponer la estabilidad en la demanda de dinero (o de su inversa, la velocidad de circulación) para su validez en la práctica; o (2) el no tratamiento de los efectos reales que las variaciones en la cantidad de dinero traen consigo a medio y largo plazo. Como veréis en este video, intento demostrar que ambas críticas no son ciertas o están basadas en supuestos erróneos, y que la ecuación cuantitativa del dinero sigue siendo un esquema teórico válido para explicar variaciones de los precios y de la actividad nominal a lo largo del tiempo. Eso sí, no debería utilizarse esta ecuación y los supuestos en los que se basa, de una manera miope y mecanicista; eso sería un error grave. Hay muchas variables que afectan a la inflación en el corto plazo que están fuera del alcance de esta ecuación y de lo que los banqueros centrales pueden aspirar a controlar. Además, hay un grado indudable de incertidumbre y de retardos en la transmisión de las variaciones de la cantidad de dinero en los precios y la actividad económica; de ahí que sea mejor hacer análisis en el medio y largo plazo o en tendencia.

Aquí tenéis la grabación de la charla, que fue seguida de un coloquio con los miembros del Centro Hazlitt de la UFM que resultó muy provechoso e interesante. Muchas gracias a los asistentes y especialmente a Daniel Fernandez y a Clynton López, por su amable invitación a participar en estos seminarios. A ver cuándo podemos repetirlo!

Juan Castañeda

 

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‘Money talks’ is a series of mini-videos the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) will start to release every week on the 18th of June, Monday.

The name of the series says it all: experts in money and central banking will be covering key concepts to understand better monetary economics in less than two minutes long videos. Tim Congdon (Chairman of the IIMR) and Geoffrey Wood (IIMR Academic Advisory Council) along with myself and many others to come will be addressing the fundamentals in money and banking to be able to understand how our monetary systems work and which are the roles and functions of modern central banks.

The topics address include the following:

Episode 1: What is Money?

Episode 2: What is the Central Bank?

Episode 3: What is the Monetary Base?

Episode 4: What is the Money Multiplier?

Episode 5: What does Monetary Policy consist of?

Episode 6: What is Central Bank Independence?

Episode 7: The Central Bank as the Lender of Last Resort

Episode 8: Bail outs and Bank Failures

Episode 9: Basel Rules

Episode 10: What os ‘Narrow Banking’?

Episode 11: Fiat Money

Episode 12: What is a monetary policy rule?

Episode 13: What is Monetarism?

Episode 14: Monetary Policy Tasks

But of course, these are just the ones we are starting with. The list will be expanded in the next few weeks and the aim is to produce a library of mini-videos that could be a good reference to search for short definitions on money, banking and central banking.

If you are interested in this project, please subscribe to the IIMR YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLudZPVEs3S82iu2zb-QZfcK7pqnrHfPgO) to stay tuned.

As ever, comments and feedback most welcome!

 

Juan Castañeda

 

 

 

 

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Following up my last post on the eurozone crisis and the monetary policy of the ECB (see IIMR esearch Paper 3: Have Central Banks forgotten about money? by my colleague Tim Congdon and myself), please find below a video with further details on the changes made to the monetary strategy of the ECB since its establishment.

What I claim in the video is that the ECB did give a prominent role to the analysis of the changes in broad money up to 2003, when it reviewed its strategy, and not surprisingly it led to a higher rate of growth of money in the Eurozone in the years running up to the Global Financial Crisis. Just to be clear, I do not support that any central bank should adopt a ‘mechanistic’ monetary growth policy rule, by which the bank adheres to an intermediate M3 (or broad money) rate of growth target come what may. The link between money and prices and nominal income is indeed very strong over the medium and long term, but it is of course affected by other variables/phenomena in the short term that need to be properly considered and taken into account by policy makers. So rather than a mechanistic approach to such a monetary target, changes in money growth should be given a primary role in assessing inflation and nominal income forecasts, and thus in the making of monetary policy decisions; and this is precisely what the ECB did from 1999 to 2003 under its two-pillar strategy. So when money growth continuously exceeds the rate deemed to be compatible with monetary stability, this would signal inflationary pressures and even financial instability the central bank would eventually tackle by tightening its monetary policy. This rationale would show the commitment of the central bank to both monetary and financial stability over the long term, and the use of a broad monetary aggregate would serve as a credible indicator to make monetary policy decisions and as a means to transmit the central bank’s expectations on inflation and output growth.

As ever, comments very welcome.

Juan Castañeda

PS. More videos on the IIMR YouTube channel

 

 

 

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Did you know that central banks have not always been State-owned banks? The vast majority of them were in the hands of the public before the wave of nationalisations that took place right after the end of WWII. And the system did not work bad at all; the record of both price stability and financial stability before 1913 was certainly impressive. True, bank panics also occurred but the different response taken to such crises is the key to understand the pros of a monetary system fully in the hands of the public and market participants. And, a regards price stability, from approx. 1870 to 1913 most developed (and other less developed) economies ran the gold standard as the rule to determine the amount of money in the economy; a standard which very much tied the hands of central banks and governments as regards money creation. The outcome of the running of a system which preserved monetary stability for a 50 year-time period limited was (not surprisingly for any monetary economist!) was true price stability (by true, I mean that the price level in 1870 was roughly similar to that in 1913), and a growing and rather stable financial system on the whole.

Why was such a ‘miracle’ possible? There is no mystery nor secrecy about it at all! It was the establishment of the right institutions and policies to discipline both the Treasury and a highly independent (actually privately-owned!) central bank what explains such a favourable outcome. And, did you know something even more striking? Several central banks are traded in the market in our days in different ways: the Swiss National Bank, Belgium Central Bank, Reserve Bank of South Africa, Greece Central Bank and Bank of Japan. Historically speaking as I said above this is not an anomaly but the norm before the 1940s. Given the poor record of our monetary authorities since then and the miss-management of the recent financial crisis, why not extending private ownership even further and thus mitigate the threats of a politically-exposed (some will say ultimately ‘controlled’) central bank?

In an interview with Standard and Poor’s, ‘New way forward or outdated anomaly? The future of publicly traded central banks’ (S&P Global. Market Intelligence), I advocate for central banks to return to the public and the banking sector, in order to guarantee their independence from governments and thus be able to achieve a more sound and stable monetary system. You will find the arguments in favour of a more independent central banks, owned by market participants in many references. Here I will just mention two of them, one written by Tim Congdon (Chairman of the Institute of International Monetary Research), Central Banking in a Free Society (IEA), and the other by myself with Pedro Schwartz (Visiting Professor, University of Buckingham), Central banks; from politically dependent to market-independent institutions (Journal of Economic Affairs); both pieces written in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (2008-09) and the observed mismanagement of the lender of last resort function of central banks.

Find below an extract from the interview with my arguments:

‘Those in favor of privately owned central banks say such institutions would be better equipped to preserve market stability and could help prevent future financial crises.

“If publicly traded or owned by the banking sector … the market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear … rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term,” said Juan Castañeda, director of the Institute of International Monetary Research at the University of Buckingham in England.

In the event of another financial crisis, a central bank would be fully independent to intervene at a bank in need, and any injection of capital would come from the banking or private sector, Castañeda said. Situations like the nationalization of Northern Rock by the Bank of England at the outset of the global financial crisis could be averted were central banks not in public hands, he argued.

“Those are the things that you can avoid if your central bank is publicly traded,” he said, citing the late 19th century example of U.K.-based Barings Bank, which faced bankruptcy but was saved by a consortium of fellow lenders, helping to stave off a larger crisis.

Oversight of a central bank would belong to the bank’s shareholders, although national authorities would also have a say because of the bank’s management of monetary policy and financial stability.’

It is not surprising Tim Congdon and myself advocate for more independent central banks (privately-owned) as a way to protect them from political interference in the development of its functions. I do believe this would contribute to a more sound running of monetary policy and to less financial instability in the future. If publicly-traded or owned by the banking sector (following the US Fed model), market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear mandates/rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term. Should another financial crisis occur in the future (that it will), the central bank will have free hands to intervene promptly and avoid the contagion of panic in the market (by the application of its lender of last resort function). And if any injections of capital were needed, it would be the banking sector (or the private sector as a whole) which would bail-in the bank in crisis and, most likely, taxpayers’ money will not be needed again.

Of course this alternative arrangement is fully compatible with the central bank be given statutory functions (such as an inflation target for example) and be subject to parliamentary oversee; so the Governor will have to answer not just to the Bank’s shareholders but to Parliament as well in relation to the running of monetary policy and financial stability (find further details on these arrangements in Congdon’s 2009 work mentioned above).

Juan Castañeda

PS. An excellent narrative of the flaws of the current system can be found in Milne and Wood (2008)’s  analysis of Northern Rock bank crisis in the UK.

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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

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Selgin on deflation(s)

Professor G. Selgin (University of Georgia and Cato) has masterly studied the question of deflations and distinguished those benign deflations, associated with increasing productivity and economic growth, from those recessive deflations associated with stagnation in the economy, increasing unemployment and financial instability, which seems to be the only one mostly considered by all and sundry. As Hayek did it in the 20s and 30s last century, Selgin has studied in detailed this question and has emphasised the notable implications of distinguishing amongst these different types of deflations in the running of a sound monetary policy rule (see his excellent Less than zero. The case for a falling price level in a growing economy, fully available at the IEA website).

One of the main implications of his analysis of deflations for policy making is that price stabilisation (either the price level or the inflation rate) is not a desirable policy criterion if we are committed to achieving monetary stability in the long term: it can lead to excessive money growth in the expansions of the economy (thus, monetary disequilibrium), being a major pro-cyclical policy that will destabilise financial markets in the medium to the long term. Other, both theoretical and operational, critiques to price stability as a policy criterion can be found here. This is by far the main lesson that can be drawn for the recent financial crisis and its precedent years, and it will a be very useful one if we do not want to resume the same policy rules that have contributed to the recent crisis and the monetary and financial chaos in which we are still in.

Enjoy George Selgin’s video, which is a recent CNBC interview; it is an excellent and brief explanation on the nature and consequences of different  deflations: http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000171632

Juan Castañeda

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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

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

After_Gilray_TheTimes2013

 

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