Posts Tagged ‘Boom and bust cycle’

On the economic effects of the policy responses to Covid-19

Today the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA, London) has just published a report by my colleague Tim Congdon and myself (Institute of International Monetary Research and University of Buckingham) on the debate on the expected inflationary vs. deflationary consequences of the current crisis. Of course there are many unknowns yet and we should not claim or have the illusion that we can forecast exactly inflation rates in the next 2-3 years. But what we can attempt is to do ‘pattern predictions’ (see Hayek’s 1974 Nobel lecture speech). Based on the monetary data available and the theoretical body linking changes in the amount of money to price changes over the medium/long term, we have observed in the last two months an extraordinary increase in the amount of money in most leading economies (certainly in the USA, with a rate of growth of money, M3, of 25% in April 2020). This comes from the implementation of quite significant asset purchases programmes (i.e. Quantitative Easing) and the (partial) monetisation of very much enlarged government deficits; a trend that will most likely continue for the rest of the year. It is both the extraordinary money growth rates seen recently, along with the expected persistence in monetary growth in 2020 what support our forecast of an inflationary cycle in the US (and in other leading economies, though to a lesser extent) in the next 2-3 years. The diagram below from the report says it all (see page 8).
More details in the report (IEA Covid-19 Briefing 7, June 2020) at:
https://iea.org.uk/themencode-pdf-viewer-sc/?file=/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Inflation_the-new-threat25787FINAL.pdf. Also, the webinar presentation of the report with my colleagues Geoffrey Wood and Tim Congdon will be available soon at the IEA’s website/YouTube channel.
Money growth (M£) in the USA
Juan Castañeda
Summary of the report (in pages 4-5):
  • The policy reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic will increase budget deficits massively in all the world’s leading countries. The deficits will to a significant extent be monetised, with heavy state borrowing from both national central banks and commercial banks.
  • The monetisation of budget deficits, combined with official support for emergency bank lending to cash-strained corporates, is leading – and will continue to lead for several months – to extremely high growth rates of the quantity of money.
  • The crisis has shown again that, under fiat monetary systems, the state can create as much as money as it wants. There is virtually no limit to money creation. The frequently alleged claim that ‘monetary policy is exhausted at low (if not zero) interest rates’ has no theoretical or empirical basis.
  • By mid- or late 2021 the pandemic should be under control, and a big bounce-back in financial markets, and in aggregate demand and output, is to be envisaged. The extremely high growth rates of money now being seen – often into the double digits at an annual percentage rate – will instigate an inflationary boom. The scale of the boom will be conditioned by the speed of money growth in the rest of 2020 and in early 2021. Money growth in the USA has reached the highest-ever levels in peacetime, suggesting that consumer inflation may move into double digits at some point in the next two or three years.
  • Central banks seem heedless of the inflation risks inherent in monetary financing of the much-enlarged government deficits. Following the so-called ‘New Keynesian Model’ consensus, their economists ignore changes in the quantity of money. Too many of these economists believe that monetary policy is defined exclusively by interest rates, with a narrow focus on the central bank policy rate, long-term interest rates and the yield curve. The quantity theory of money today provides – as it always has done – a theoretical framework which relates trends in money growth to changes in inflation and nominal GDP over the medium and long term. A condition for the return of inflation to current target levels is that the rate of money growth is reduced back towards annual rates of increase of about 6 per cent or less.

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Last month I had the pleasure to contribute to the IIMR/IEA annual monetary conference (8 November 2017) in London, ‘Has Financial Regulation Gone Too Far? And do banks really need all the extra capital?‘. I gave a short talk in session 3, ‘The role of the central bank in financial regulation‘, chaired by Charles Goodhart (LSE), on the essential nature of central banks as banking institutions. It may sound silly to state the obvious but, as my good friend, mentor and excellent colleague – Pedro Schwartz – always reminds me, we should not take for granted the fundamentals in economics, even less in money and central banking. Let me then start by saying that modern central banks were established to cope with two major tasks: (1) to be the bankers of the State (the Bank of England and other continental European central banks are good examples of this, see here) but also (2) to become the bankers of the banks in monetary systems operated under a fractional reserve (again, the Bank of England is the first modern central bank in this regard); the latter is what we call the lender of last resort function of central banks.

In the early years of the establishment of central banks, with the running of the gold standard, strictly speaking, there was no monetary policy nor the pursue of a macroeconomic target as we understand it now; but a bank of issue with a privilege position in the monetary market, and mainly focused on maintaining the convertibility of its currency at the pre-announced rate. It was only quite recently (historically speaking), after the abandonment of the gold standard in the interwar years, that central banks have explicitly adopted or given other tasks, and indeed macroeconomic tasks, such as keeping price stability or achieving economic growth.

But we should not forget that central banks are at the core of the monetary system and the banking sector, providing financial services to a ‘club’ of commercial banks which create money in the currency issued by the central banks. Which money? ‘Bank money’, that is, bank deposits under a fractional reserve system. This money constitutes the bulk of the money supply in modern economies, and it is vital for the central bank to keep a steady growth of the amount of money in circulation to preserve stable and long term economic growth; thus avoiding too much money during the expansion of the economy or too little in a banking crisis. What I state in my talk is that privately-owned central banks are genuinely interested in maintaining financial stability, and thus will be willing to intervene in a liquidity crisis much more promptly and efficiently than a central bank under the shadow – if not the control – of the State. This is something I have supported in other articles (recently in this article), and my colleague at the IIMR, Tim Congdon, has written on (see chapter 7 in ‘Central Banking in a Free Society‘).

This is the video of the talk:

Comments are very welcome as ever!


Juan Castañeda

PS. To the best of my knowledge the characterisation of central banks as the bankers of a ‘club’ was first coined by Charles Goodhart in his seminal 1988 book, ‘The Evolution of Central Banks‘, a book anyone interested in the history and functions of central banks must read. However, unlike Goodhart’s position in his book, I do not see a conflict of interest for a self-interested central bank to become a lender of last resort in times of crisis. Actually, central banks did make a profit when lending in times of crisis, such as the Bank of England in several banking crises in the 19th century.


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