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Posts Tagged ‘G. Selgin’

This was the title of George Selgin (CFMA, Cato) talk at the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) seminar, ‘Quantitative Easing. Triumph or Folly?’ (3rd Nov. 2016). The title of course evokes Ben Bernanke‘s words at the conference held in 2002 to honour Milton Friedman for his 90th birthday; in his speech Bernanke ended with some words that have resonated everywhere in the midst and the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis in 2007-09: ‘Let me end my talk by abusing slightly my status as an official representative of the Federal Reserve. I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.‘ True, banks’ deposits have not contracted (as it did happened in the early 1930’s) around 30% in the recent crisis, but broad monetary growth (M2) plummeted in 2009 and did have a subsequent impact in the extension, amplitude and the severity of the crisis.

The 1930’s crisis is the historical precedent used by George Selgin to judge the Fed’s response to the two major financial crises occurred since the establishment of the US Fed in 1913; the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis. Selgin resorts to well-established monetary theory to recommend an early intervention in monetary markets in case of a banking crisis occurs in order to prevent the payment system and financial markets from falling. And he does so by using Walter Bagehot‘s well-known criteria for central banks to act effectively as the lenders of last resort in a monetary system where the reserves are held by a single bank: (1) the central bank must act promptly and provide loans to illiquid but solvent banks with no limit (2) against collateral (assets that would have been used in normal times) and (3) at a penalty rate; that is an interest rate higher than the normal or policy rate.

Did the Fed abide by those criteria?

As you can surely tell by the title of his talk, Selgin is very critical with the lack of an effective response of the Fed in 2008, which ended up in a drastic fall in monetary growth in the economy in 2009 (see the rate of growth of US M2 since 2007 here). Normally banks’ deposits at the central bank are a sort of a restriction that constraint the potential expansion of their balance sheets. The Fed’s policy of increasing the remuneration US banks’ deposits (or excess reserves) in the midst of the crisis (at a time where there were not many profitable investments options for banks) turned those deposits at the Fed as an asset. In this new policy scenario US banks comfortably sat on a vast amount of cash at the Fed, and did get a profit for doing so; this indeed discouraged them from channelling the money lent out by the Fed to the economy and resulted in an ineffective threefold expansion in the US monetary base. This recent example helps to explain the lack of a mechanical connection between expansions in the monetary base and those in  broader measures of money (such as M2, which hardly grew, if at all, at the time).

Watch out George Selgin’s video with his talk in full here for further details. In a nutshell, according to Selgin it was a combination of bad policy measures which caused the Great Contraction and not an inevitable policy outcome. Enjoy the talk!

Juan Castañeda

 

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The Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR, affiliated with the University of Buckingham) is holding an international conference on the assessment of Quantitative Easing (QE) in the US, UK, Eurozone and Japan on the 3rd of November (London). In the last few years a return to a more conventional set of monetary policies has been widely heralded, and in particular the return to a monetary policy rule focused on monetary stability and the stability of the overall economy over the long term (see the excellent conference organised by CATO and the Mercatus Centre  (George Mason University, US) on this very question just few weeks ago); but we believe the first priority at the moment is to analyse and clarify the impact of QE on financial markets and the broader economy. Amongst others, the following questions will be discussed: Has QE been instrumental in preventing another Great Depression? If QE is meant to boost asset prices, why has inflation generally been so low in recent years? Has QE increased inequality? Has QE been able to expand effectively broad money growth? Should QE programmes be extended at all? These are all vital questions we will address at the conference.

The conference is by invitation only and there are still (very few) places available, so please send an email to Gail Grimston at gail.grimston@buckingham.ac.uk should you wish to attend. It will be held on Thursday 3rd November 2016, in collaboration with Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), at the IEA headquarters in London. You will be able to find a programme with all the topics and the speakers here  As you will see we are delighted to have an excellent panel of experts on this field from the US, continental Europe and the UK. There will be of course very well-known academics but also practitioners as well as central bank economists. In particular economists such as George Selgin (CATO), Kevin Dowd (Durham University), Christopher Neely (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), Ryland Thomas (Bank of England) or Tim Congdon (IIMR, University of Buckingham) amongst many other very distinguished  economists will be giving a talk at the conference, which provides a unique opportunity to analyse in detail the effects and the effectiveness of QE in the most developed economies.

For your information you can also follow the conference live/streaming; please visit the IIMR website this week for further details on how to follow it remotely on the day. In addition the presentations (but not the discussion) will be filmed and published on our website later on. Drop us an email (enquiries@mv-pt.org) should you want to be updated on the Institute’s agenda and latest news.

Thank you,

Juan Castaneda

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Pasos en favor de una mayor competencia monetaria

Hace unos meses tuve la ocasión de dar una charla sobre el sistema monetario actual y sus alternativas de mercado en el Instituto Juan de Mariana de Madrid (18 de Mayo de 2013), titulada ‘Los Bancos Centrales y la reforma monetaria pendiente’. Lo que traté de transmitir es que un sistema caracterizado por la introducción de más competencia en el mercado de la creación de dinero no ha de llevarnos al caos monetario, como muchos aún creen, sino todo lo contrario; por cierto, resulta muy chocante esta creencia y crítica a la competencia entre monedas visto cómo el actual sistema de control estatal de la moneda ha estado muy cerca de llevarnos a un auténtico caos financiero muy recientemente. Además, ese sistema monetario más competitivo no ha de ser necesariamente uno en el que desaparezca completamente el dinero actual y sea sustituido de la noche a la mañana por una miríada de emisores privados de diferentes medios de pago. Tanto algunos de los partidarios como los muchos detractores de introducir competencia en este mercado lo entienden como un sistema en que la gente llevaría algo así como tres o cuatros (o incluso más) monedas distintas para usarlas en el mercado a conveniencia. No creo fuera así, pues sería ciertamente ineficiente y costoso realizar las operaciones normales de mercado en ese escenario de múltiples monedas y precios. De hecho, cuando hubo competencia monetaria, porque la hubo en siglos pasados y en mucho países, convivían a lo sumo dos o tres monedas, pero su uso estaba bastante diferenciado en función de la naturaleza de la operación a realizar: una moneda de menor valor era destinada para los pequeños pagos del día a día, otra de mayor valor para el pago de grandes sumas e impuestos en el país y una tercera (que podía ser una moneda circulante o sólo un patrón monetario) era destinada a operaciones con terceros en el resto del mundo. Un sistema así funcionó durante muchos años en la Castilla en la Edad Moderna.

Dado el elevado grado de intervención de las autoridades económicas en la emisión y verdadero ‘manejo’ de la moneda (por ejemplo, con la política monetaria), intervención que viene de muy antiguo, concentrarse en conseguir de manera fulminante ese ideal de mercado abierto y competitivo resulta poco realista, al menos a corto y medio plazo. Pero sí que hay cambios que pueden ir haciéndose en esa dirección: desde permitir la competencia de dos monedas en paralelo en el área del euro (algo que defendemos y explicamos varios profesores aquí) hasta, ‘simplemente’, eliminar la cláusula de dinero de curso legal de la moneda nacional (estatal); la eliminación de esa auténtica barrera legal (cierto, junto con otras condiciones adicionales) permitiría dar un gran salto en favor de la creación de un mercado abierto y disputable en el que podrían competir el banco central nacional y otros emisores privados (nacionales o extranjeros) por la provisión del mejor medio para realizar transacciones y también para diferir pagos, lo que no deja de ser una forma de ahorro claro. En función de la calidad de la moneda emitida en el mercado, la demanda de una y otras variará y, con ella, la apreciación o depreciación de las mismas; de esta forma, las variaciones del tipo de cambio (flexible) en el medio y largo plazo entre las monedas sería un buen indicador del mayor o menor poder adquisitivo de las mismas. Como maravillosamente explicó Vera Smith (1936) en sus Fundamentos de la Banca Central y de la Libertad Bancaria y detalla George Selgin(*) (1988) en La libertad de emisión del dinero bancario, en un sistema abierto a la competencia, los emisores de monedas tendrían incentivos para asociarse y formar una especie de clubes de emisión de moneda en el que proveerían por si mismos los servicios esenciales para el mantenimiento del poder de compra de la moneda y la fiabilidad de los pagos hechos con ella en el mercado. Si, bajo este sistema monetario abierto a la competencia, el Estado quiere seguir monetizando sus déficits fiscales e inflar el mercado con emisiones excesivas de esa moneda, la respuesta de los usuarios será desprenderse paulatinamente de ella; lo que se reflejará en una depreciación de la moneda estatal y en la consiguiente pérdida de las ganancias por señoreaje de emisión del Estado en favor del resto de competidores. Ello sería sin duda el mejor incentivo para abandonar tales políticas inflacionistas que acaban por deteriorar la calidad de la moneda.

Pero, como decía más arriba, hasta llegar a ese sistema más competitivo mucho nos queda por mejorar el presente. Y es a ello a lo que dediqué la segunda parte de mi intervención en el Instituto Juan de Mariana; al estudio de otras reglas de emisión de los bancos centrales distintas a las actuales que pueden contribuir a mejorar la calidad del dinero que emiten. La charla fue seguida de un muy activo turno de preguntas y comentarios por parte de los asistentes que espero os resulte de interés; especialmente animada fue sin duda la discusión sobre el patrón oro clásico y su posible aplicación en la actualidad. Os dejo a continuación el vídeo y una entrevista resumen de la misma. Como siempre, los comentarios y especialmente las críticas son muy bienvenidas:

Vídeo completo de la conferencia

Entrevista resumen

Juan Castañeda

Nota: (*) G. Selgin dará una charla en Madrid el 2 de Octubre, en la Fundación Rafael del Pino. Merece muy mucho la pena ir a escucharle. Es un auténtico especialista en estos temas, es muy ameno y se explica de maravilla. Toda la información para asistir la encontraréis aquí:

http://www.frdelpino.es/selgin/

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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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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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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.

libro

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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