Posts Tagged ‘F. Hayek’

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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 “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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Una crisis económica sorprendente (2007-2012)

La verdad es que esta profesión tiene una buena parte de vanidad y la entrada de hoy es una nueva muestra de ello. Hace ya meses, en septiembre de 2012 salió a la venta el libro que he escrito con el economista José Antonio Aguirre, titulado “Una crisis económica sorprendente (2007-2012)” (Ediciones Aosta), del que escribí un artículo en el blog sobre el contenido del libro.

José Antonio Aguirre es un economista profesional que sabe realmente de mercados financieros y de los economistas clásicos; de hecho, ha sido el editor pionero en la traducción al castellano de libros clásicos de economía de autores de referencia, como I. Fisher,  F. Hayek o K. Wicksell u otros más recientes e igualmente relevantes como James Buchanan o George Selgin. De la mano de mi director de tesis doctoral (Prof. Schwartz), tuve ocasión de leer su magnífico estudio sobre la banca central y la competencia monetaria, que acompañó a la edición en castellano del excelente libro de Vera Smith de 1936, “Fundamentos de la Banca Central y de la Libertad Bancaria“; ambos trabajos de lectura diría que obligatoria para quienes quieran entender los fundamentos del sistema de banca central actual y sus alternativas. Por ello, ha sido un verdadero placer para mi escribir este libro con quién, sin saberlo entonces, me ayudó tanto a entender un poco más sobre lo que es el dinero con su trabajos sobre economía monetaria.


Aquí podréis ver más información sobre el libro, una reseña y el índice de contenidos.

La presentación tendrá lugar el martes 5 de febrero de 2013 (19:00hrs.) en la Fundación Rafael del Pino (Madrid). Aquí encontraréis más datos prácticos sobre el acto. El profesor Pedro Schwartz hará la presentación, seguida de la intervención de los autores y de un tiempo para preguntas y comentarios del público. Por supuesto, como siempre, y lo saben bien quienes me conocen, las preguntas serán muy bienvenidas, especialmente si son críticas.

En fin, me permito invitarte a venir y quedo muy agradecido de antemano.

Juan Castañeda

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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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Keynes and Hayek: A never ending controversy

A classic: what would have J. M. Keynes and F. A. Hayek said in the context of this major financial crisis were they alive? What would these “giants” of Economics suggest to tackle the problems arisen in the recent crisis?


Well, we know quite well what Hayek would have probably suggested. Firstly, in relation to the diagnosis of the crisis, his theoretical works on the boom and bust crises fit very well with the current crisis. Moreover, his (Austrian) interpretation of the business cycles is very well-established in his works, mostly written in the 20s and 30s, and they have indeed received much more attention recently. So I do firmly think that he would claim some credit for the Austrian theory of the business cycle. As to his policy measures to overcome the crisis, I am afraid that he would probably suggest that the painful adjustment of the economy (including the liquidation of the so-called mal-investments, those associated with excessive money growth in the expansionary years) would have to take place, one way or another. And he would also possibly claim, as he did in his excellent works on money, central banks and the monetary system, that we should finally reform the nature of the monetary system with the introduction of more competence in the money market; which would imply the abolition of the legal tender clause of the national money(ies). This is exactly what he proposed in his Institute of Economic Affairs excellent “Denationalisation of money” in 1976.


In relation to Keynes, we cannot be so positive about what he would have said. We know how pragmatic (and “case sensitive”) and even volatile Keynes could be, so we cannot really predict the policy solutions he would have proposed. This is exactly what Hayek claimed on the academic relation they maintained in the 30s. By the time Hayek was able to reply and contest a Keynes’ book or article, the latter had already launched another work with a different approach and even with a quite different perspective or theory. This was viewed by Hayek as a lack of consistency, something Hayek was not accustomed to and very much unusual for the very systematic Austrian theorist. Anyhow, if it were the Keynes of the General Theory, he would indeed ask the State to take firm steps in the running of the economy by the conduction of the aggregate (effective) demand. In essence, it would imply both (1) lowering nominal interest rates to the minimum and (2) then managing directly aggregate investment.

Another interpretation: some videos proposed

There is an excellent (and much funnier and entertaining) interpretation of their theories, and their application/adaptation to the current scenario, masterly made by John Papola and Russ Roberts in their very interesting and valuable “Econstories.tv” ‘s project. You will find below  several videos on the works and theories of these two economists, as well as interviews with excellent scholars on the works of this two excellent economists (see the interviews with Professor Lawrence White and Lord Robert Skidelsky).

– Video 1: “Fear the boom and bust”, at: http://econstories.tv/2010/06/22/fear-the-boom-and-bust/

– Video 2: “Fight of the century”, at: http://econstories.tv/2011/04/28/fight-of-the-century-music-video/

Enjoy them.

Juan Castañeda

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(Artículo publicado originalmente en el diario OroyFinanzas, el 17 de Septiembre de 2012

El patrón oro, también una cuestión de poder y hegemonía

Es evidente que hay una relación entre el buen o mal gobierno de las monedas fiduciarias y el precio del oro. Cuando la gente estima que las monedas nacionales se van a depreciar, como resultado de lo que consideran políticas monetarias y fiscales demasiado expansivas, insostenibles a medio y largo plazo, aumenta la demanda de oro y se dispara su precio claro. Así ocurrió durante las crisis del dólar americano durante los años 70 del siglo pasado y ha vuelto a ocurrir desde mediados de los años 2000; lo que se ha constatado con más intensidad tras el estallido de la crisis financiera en los años 2007 y 2008. Es de todos bien conocida esta propiedad del oro como valor refugio del poder adquisitivo de los ahorradores, que ha sido “testada” y funcionado realmente bien a lo largo de muchos años (siglos).

Fuente imagen: Wikipedia commons

Otra cosa bien distinta es defender una vuelta al patrón oro, pero que muy distinta. Supone dar unos cuantos pasos más allá para cambiar no sólo el sistema monetario tal y como lo conocemos, sino también las reglas de juego de la sociedad en una economía de mercado. Es este precisamente el núcleo de la conversación que mantuve sobre este tema con Luís Iglesias en su programa “Conversaciones en libertad”. Hablamos allí de las condiciones necesarias para poder mantener un sistema de patrón oro, de sus consecuencias económicas y sociales, de cómo fijar o bien dejar libre el precio del oro, así de cómo se conduciría la política monetaria bajo ese régimen de emisión de moneda. Como ven, no es poco.

El oro y la hegemonía mundial

En otros trabajos me he centrado en las implicaciones técnicas de esta cuestión. Ciertamente son muy relevantes pero me atrevo a decir que de segundo orden comparadas con las consecuencias políticas que acarrearía esta decisión; tanto en lo referente a los cambios

(1) de modelo social y económico que traerían aparejados como (2) a los que resultarían por la disputa de la hegemonía económica mundial. Y es a estas últimas a las que me referiré, si quiera brevemente, a continuación.

Los países que a lo largo de la historia reciente han impulsado un sistema de patrón oro como norma de regulación de la oferta de dinero a escala internacional han sido siempre, y no por causalidad, los países más prósperos y poderosos económica y políticamente. Así lo fue la Inglaterra del siglo XIX (hasta la “Gran Guerra”) y así lo fue EEUU tras la Segunda Guerra Mundial (al menos entre los países democráticos y las economías de mercado). Cierto es que los sistemas de patrón oro liderados por ambos países distan mucho de ser iguales; pero al menos sí compartían la existencia de un anclaje final de sus monedas nacionales en el oro a una paridad o precio fijo. A ambos países les convino en cada momento histórico la estabilidad del sistema monetario, lo que les permitió expandir sus operaciones comerciales y financieras por todo el mundo. Y es que no descubro el Mediterráneo cuando afirmo que una moneda estable es un requisito esencial para la prosperidad comercial y económica.

¿Quién lideraría el cambio a un patrón oro ahora?

EEUU sería el primer candidato; es la superpotencia política y militar del mundo, así como aún la principal economía mundial. Además, es el principal poseedor de reservas oficiales en oro (alrededor del 25% del total mundial). A pesar de todo ello, no creo que de verdad apueste por volver al patrón oro. La razón es sencilla; ha dejado de ser desde hace décadas la economía más productiva del mundo. Tiene una balanza comercial muy, muy deficitaria desde los años 70, que ha de financiar año a año con entradas de ahorro exterior en forma de préstamos. Hasta ahora, el hecho de emitir su deuda en la aún principal moneda de reserva internacional le permite financiarse más fácilmente y sin duda a un bajo coste.

De adoptar el bajo el patrón oro clásico, gobernado por el Estado, ya no sería así. Al quedar fijado el tipo de cambio del dólar con el oro, ante el recurrente déficit comercial americano, la Reserva Federal de EEUU habría de utilizar el oro de sus reservas para mantener la cotización del dólar; ello conllevará salidas netas y masivas de oro a los países con quienes mantienen ese déficit comercial (China, países del sudeste asiático y algunos países europeos). En pocos años, la Reserva Federal agotaría sus reservas de oro y la potencia económica encargada del “manejo” del patrón oro habría de suspender la relación con el oro y devaluar su moneda. En definitiva, en muy poco tiempo la dinámica de funcionamiento del patrón oro revelaría los enormes desequilibrios de países como EEUU, ya que pronto impondría costes y límite al insostenible exceso de gasto que la economía americana, tanto de agentes privados como del Estado; exceso de gasto que aún puede permitirse precisamente porque los actuales patrones monetarios, puramente fiduciarios, permiten un manejo más “flexible” de la moneda y así esquivar (que no evitar) por un tiempo el ajuste del gasto que más tarde o más temprano habrá de llegar.

Juan Castañeda


Nota: Puede accederse directamente al audio de la conversación en la que se basa este artículo aquí:


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