Posts Tagged ‘money out of thin air’

It’s not all about interest rates!

In a piece published by CityAM on 12/11/2019 (‘Interest rates aren’t central banks’ only ammunition to defend against recession‘), I criticised the view apparently shared by most policy commentators about the alleged lack of ammunition of central banks to tackle the next crisis; they claim that this is because policy rates have reached either zero or close to zero levels and therefore there is no more room for monetary expansion. As I put in the article, this is wrong:

But interest rate change is not the only policy tool available to create money. Indeed, nor is it the most effective in times of crisis. In modern economies, where monetary systems are purely based on fiat currencies, money can be created “out of thin air”. As shocking as it may sound, this means that central banks can always increase the amount of money in the economy.

Since 2008 central bank (main policy) rates had been cut down to zero or near zero territory, and for many years it was mainly by changes in the amount of money how central banks managed to stabilise spending (through unconventional policy measures or QE). The outcome in the US, the UK but also in the Eurozone (though achieved much later), has been the stabilisation of the rate of growth of broad money in these economies followed by a period of a relatively stable overall macroeconomic picture (i.e. broad money growth in the US around 4% – 5% for a long period of time).


Broad money growth, US


The fundamentals to understand how monetary policy decisions are made in modern monetary systems, particularly in times of a financial crisis, where commercial banks struggle to expand deposits, can be summarised as follows:

  • In the absence of a truly binding anchor (such a metallic standard under the gold or silver standards) central banks can always create money ‘out of thin air’, with no limit.
  • In modern monetary systems both commercial banks and central banks create money; actually the bulk of the means of payments used are created by commercial banks in the form of deposits and the extension of overdrafts (see the seminal paper on this, Money creation in the modern economy , by McLead, Radia and Thomas, 2014).
  • The announcement and later application of tighter bank regulation in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (2009 – 2010) increased bank capital requirements by approx. 60%, thus limiting the ability of banks to give loans and create deposits (i.e. money) in an already recessive economy. In the absence of the creation of money by markets (i.e. banks), central banks had no choice but to step in and buy assets from the market (from non-financial institutions), the so-called QE operations. Otherwise, money supply would have contracted very severely, with the harm it would have inflicted on the economy (this time, central bankers were determined to avoid the mistakes they made in the Great Depression years as Ben Bernanke had famously put it back in 2002, when deposits contracted by more than 30% in four years in the USA, therefore aggravating and prolonging the recession).

I argue in the article that, for better or worse, the ‘monetary weaponry’ in modern monetary systems can never be exhausted (Venezuela today is a dramatic example of it, when the printing press is heavily exploited by the government). Under purely fiat monetary systems, we need to tie the hands of the central banks so they abide by a rule in order to maintain a moderate and stable rate of growth of money; a rule that does not result in excessive money growth during the expansion of the economy, nor in a strong decline or even a fall in money growth during recessions. My colleague from the University of Buckingham and the Institute of International Monetary Research, Professor Geoffrey Wood, explains masterly and in few minutes how to define and adopt such a monetary rule in the Eurozone in this video.


Juan Castañeda

PS. You can have access to the CityAM article in full at https://www.cityam.com/interest-rates-arent-central-banks-only-ammunition-to-defend-against-recession/


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