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Archive for the ‘Money rules’ Category

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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 “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:

http://www.libremercado.com/2013-03-10/juan-castaneda-los-bancos-centrales-deben-hacer-menos-no-mas-1276484372/

Juan Castañeda

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(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:

http://www.libremercado.com/2013-03-10/juan-castaneda-los-bancos-centrales-deben-hacer-menos-no-mas-1276484372/

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

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(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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