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Posts Tagged ‘Pedro Schwartz’

How has the Euro performed? Are the economies of the Eurozone countries more homogeneous today than in 1999?

The 2017 optimality index 

Professor Pedro Schwartz and myself have conducted a research to (1) assess the trend in macroeconomic imbalances within the Eurozone since 1999 and (2) compare it to those in the US dollar monetary area. This is an extension of the research paper published last year in Economic Affairs (October, 2017), ‘How Functional is the Eurozone? An Index of European Economic Integration Through the Single Currency’. We have collected 10 different economic indicators per country (that is, for the 19 Eurozone Member States and 50 US states plus Washington DC) to measure how homogeneous or asymmetric the Eurozone Member States’ economies are, and calculated an overall index of economic dispersion, as well as four separate sub-indices to measure for asymmetries as regards (1) cycle synchronicity, (2) public finances, (3) competitiveness and (4) monetary and credit growth. The overall index can be interpreted as a measure of macroeconomic dispersion and thus of the asymmetries existing within the currency area.

In a nutshell, what the calculations and indices tell us is the following:

  1. Overall, the economies of the Eurozone Member States are less homogeneous today than in 1999. Integration did deteriorate even during the ‘good years’ (the expansionary phase of the cycle; specifically, a 86% accumulated increase in macroeconomic asymmetries from 1999 to 2006.
  2. During both the Global Financial Crisis and the Eurozone Crisis asymmetries escalated, in particular those regarding differences in competitiveness across Member States. Since 2015 the overall index of dispersion had shown a slight recovery: the new fiscal measures adopted at the EU level, along with the adjustment in costs and prices in those Member States mostly affected by the crises, seem to have been effective. In addition, the new programme of Quantitative Easing by the ECB, which began in 2015, has also helped, by reducing monetary growth dispersion across the Member States.
  3. However, this positive trend has been reversed in 2017, due to a deterioration in the competitiveness and monetary dispersion indices. This raises concerns about the stability of the Eurozone, since it shows that the return to macroeconomic stability and integration to something like pre-crisis levels is not an easy task even in times of economic growth. It also shows that the changes introduced in the euro architecture during the crisis have not been as effective as hoped.

For further details, you can access the summary of our project here: https://www.mv-pt.org/staff-research. You can also access the tables and figures with the comparison with the indices of dispersion in the USA here. These indices are now part of the research agenda of the Institute of International Monetary Research (IIMR) and an update with new figures will be published every year.

Note: Euro-12 and Euro-19 overall index of dispersion, 1999=100  (https://www.mv-pt.org/staff-research). The higher the value of the index the greater asymmetries are.

A full academic article by Pedro Schwartz and myself with further explanations on the figures and the calculations will follow soon. As always, comments most welcome!

Juan Castañeda

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Confronting financial crises under different monetary regimes:  Spain in the Great Depression years

This is the title of the paper I have written with my friend and colleague Professor Pedro Schwartz, which is being published in May 2018 as a chapter in a book, Money, Currency and Crisis. In Search of Trust, 2000 BC to AD 2000, edited by R. J. van der Spek and Bas van Leewen (Routledge). As we put it in the first section of the chapter, “the thesis of the present essay is that the recession was much lighter in Spain than in the US, Italy, Germany or France (see Figure 1); that the causes of the contraction were domestic rather than epidemic; and that the relative shallowness of the contraction in Spain, and of the UK after abandoning gold, may have been due in some measure to similarly flexible monetary arrangements.

 

The exchange rate system does matter in coping with a major crisis, and both the 1930s and the 2000s crises are good examples of this. Spain in the 1920s and 1930s, free of exchange rate commitments, and thus with full monetary sovereignty, led the Peseta float  in response to quite dramatic changes in both domestic and international market conditions. Being a very rigid economy at the time, the depreciation of the Peseta was an effective and timely tool to cut down costs and prices. This is not to say that depreciation is panacea; it is not! If not followed by orthodox both fiscal and monetary policies, it will just lead to greater and greater inflation over time, and we have plenty of examples of this. It is useful though to compare the adjustment of the Spanish economy to the Great Depression in the 1930s to that to the Global Financial Crisis in the 2000s via ‘internal devaluation’ (i.e. cutting domestic wages and prices); the charts below are quite revealing of the effects of these two alternatives (see Figures 15 and 16) and do provide a textbook case-study on the advantages and disadvantages of each.

 

As figures 15 and 16 above show, the depreciation of the Peseta carried most of the burden of the adjustment to the 1930s crisis, while it has been domestic costs (Unit Labour Costs) in the 2000s crisis.

Over the medium to the long term, both an internal devaluation and a standard (external) devaluation achieve the same (necessary) goal: to cut down costs, prices and spending in the economy in crisis. This is something unavoidable in either policy scenario; the economy cannot continue spending as it used to before the crisis. In addition, an internal devaluation also brings greater competitiveness over the long term, given that the economy will be able to produce with lower costs than its competitors. However, the economic and political costs of this latter policy option are not negligible in the short term. This is the trade-off every economy confronts in a major crisis, (1) either to opt for a quick devaluation to cut down domestic costs and prices almost instantaneously, or (2) to cut down public and private spending (internal devaluation).

  • The external devaluation option, when the country retains its currency and its domestic monetary policy, is the most appealing option in the short term; especially by politicians, as it may be unnoticed by the public for a time. But, if not accompanied by fiscal and monetary restrictive policies, it will surely lead to inflation very soon.
  • The internal devaluation option was the only available for the Eurozone countries in the 2000s crisis, and was the right policy to pursue, however painful as indeed it was. The experience of Spain, and the other Eurozone countries in crisis from 2009 to 2014, shows again how stringent the conditions to remain in a monetary union are in times of crisis: both labour and good and services markets must be as flexible as possible to let prices go up and down whenever needed; otherwise, the adjustment will be even more painful and will take longer, and more jobs and output will be lost.

The preference for one or the other policy will depend very much on how rigid markets are to adjust to new market conditions, and the commitment of policy-makers to run orthodox monetary and fiscal policies. In the absence of committed policy-makers to adjusting costs and prices, an external devaluation will just be a gateway to rampant inflation.

 

Juan Castañeda

 

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For those interested in the chapter, please find the abstract below (more in the book!):

Spain was effectively on silver from 1868 down to the II Republic in 1931. Being off the gold standard and on a depreciating silver standard from the 1890s on helped the economy adjust almost painlessly to the several economic crises it suffered during that period and resulted in a much milder recession than the rest of the world in the 1930s. This proves how relevant is the monetary regime to deal with shocks and economic crises, particularly when confronting financial crises. 

Devaluation corrects past policy mistakes at the cost of making the country poorer; but it will only hold in the longer term if it is accompanied by sound fiscal and monetary policies. During WWI a neutral Spain had accumulated a large gold reserve by selling to all belligerent countries. Pressure to move to gold was resisted but the slow depreciation of the silver anchor after WWI was accompanied by a surprisingly sound Bank of Spain monetary policy. Though the Treasury did use its power to borrow from the Bank from time to time the Board of the Bank correspondingly tightened interest rates to maintain monetary stability. This resulted in quite moderate rates of growth of the money supply that helped keep internal prices in check. In fact, the peseta behaved like a properly managed nominal currency. In the ‘twenties the rate of exchange of the peseta versus the pound sterling fell along with silver against gold, due to a persistent structural deficit in the balance of payments; and though from 1929 to 1935 the peseta fell less rapidly than silver, it did fall more than if it had been on gold.

Being on the silver standard dampened the effects of the Great Depression in Spain. Under a gold standard regime the balance of payments would have rebalanced quickly but with a large restructuring cost such as that suffered by Spain today under the ‘euro-standard’: Then as now, almost immovable structural inflexibility makes external depreciation a more politically and socially acceptable policy than harshly imposed internal devaluation.

Another positive effect of the peseta being anchored on a depreciating silver standard was to allow the Bank of Spain freely to act as lender of last resort in 1931 and thus prevent the deep banking crisis that struck other developed economies.

However one must not exaggerate the effect of a flexible monetary policy in a country like Spain in the 1930ies: Spain still was an agricultural country and she enjoyed two bumper crops in wheat in 1933 and 1935; and in any case the relative smallness of the foreign sector helped dampen the effects of what was happening in the rest of the world.

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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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‘How functional is the Eurozone? An index of European economic integration through the single currency’

This is the title of the paper I have just written with my good friend and colleague, Professor Pedro Schwartz (Camilo Jose Cela University in Madrid and University of Buckingham), which will be published in Economic Affairs (October issue, 2017).

We deal with a quite straight forward question: How can we measure the optimality of a currency area? When does it become more and more difficult to run a single monetary policy? If there are internal asymmetries in the currency area, how do they evolve? To answer, if only tentatively, these questions we have developed the method to calculate the index of optimality of a currency area, which we have split up in four major categories and components: (1) fiscal synchronicity, (2) public finance, (3) competitiveness and (4) monetary. Both the overall index and the above partial indices will inform us about the performance of the currency union and how internal asymmetries have increased or decreased. We have applied it to the eurozone, from 1999 to 2016. The results and calculations give us a metric to identify the building up of internal tensions in the running of the single monetary policy since the inception of the euro in 1999.

If only a chart, this is the summary of what we found in our research; in a nutshell, the adoption of the euro has not increased convergence among eurozone economies. The overall index of dispersion increased by 25% from 1999 to 2005 (see figure below),  and so asymmetries amongst member states even during an expansionary cycle. Of course, as expected, internal dispersion soared during and immediately after the outbreak of the Global Financial Crisis. This increase in dispersion in the crisis years ‘s not a symptom of the malfunction of the euro; what we should rather focus on is on the time taken for asymmetries to resume pre-crisis levels. Overall, even after 10 year since the start of the recent crisis, the optimality index still shows the Eurozone has a long way ahead to resume pre-2007 crisis levels (such as 1999 levels, when even countries joining the Eurozone were far from convergence).

 

 

This is the abstract of the paper:

‘This is a step in empirically assessing how near the Eurozone is to becoming an ‘optimal currency area’, as originally defined by Mundell (1961). For this purpose we have compiled ten indicators, organised them in four chapters, and summarised them in an overall indicator of ‘optimality’. The resulting picture is mixed, with zone optimality not increasing when circumstances were favourable but the trend towards integration returning after the 2008-2014 crisis. The suggestion is that dis-integration during the crisis, rather than an evidence of failure of the Eurozone when the going was tough, showed a self-healing mechanism at work. However our measurements and indices show that optimality is much lower than that in 1999.’

Feedback most welcome, as ever.

Juan Castañeda

 

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El 2 de marzo de 12 a 14 horas en la Fundación Rafael del Pino (Madrid) tendré la oportunidad de participar en un coloquio con Jose Manuel González Páramo (BBVA, moderador), Pedro Schwartz (UCJC) y David Marsh (OMFIF) sobre cómo afectará Brexit a la Unión Bancaria Europea y a los servicios financieros que presta la llamada ‘City’ de Londres.

El tema, mejor dicho, los temas que hay sobre la mesa son verdaderamente complejos. Pero por supuesto que pueden tratarse de manera asequible para no especialistas; si hay algo que realmente me disgusta en Economía es cuando especialistas en la materia se enzarzan en un debate utilizando un lenguaje innecesariamente oscuro que no entiende nadie (algo que ocurre con demasiada frecuencia, casi de manera generalizada, con los artículos académicos en Economía …, lo que no les hace mejores sino más alejados de la realidad e incomprensibles). En concreto, seguro se tratará de cómo la salida del Reino Unido de la Unión Europea (UE) afectará a los servicios financieros que Londres, como plaza financiera de referencia en Europa, presta tanto a países como a empresas financieras y no financieras en el continente. Uno de las ideas que sostendré en el debate es que si Londres ha sido durante décadas (siglos) una plaza eficiente en la prestación de tales servicios, que por supuesto cumple con la regulación financiera Europea, por qué no debería seguir haciéndolo? Desde una perspectiva puramente económica, la cuestión no admite controversia: es eficiente y beneficioso para las dos partes aprovechar las ventajas competitivas que cada uno puede aportar en el comercio de bienes y servicios. Esto es algo que un estudiante de primero de Economía debería saber.

Hablaremos también de la union bancaria Europea, y de lo que implica e implicará en los próximos años en lo que se refiere a la regulación y, si fuera necesario, la liquidación ordenada de un banco en una futura crisis bancaria. Se trata de un conjunto de nuevas regulaciones e instituciones aprobadas por todos los países de la UE que tratan de paliar alguno de los fallos observados en las respuestas que los Estados Miembros dieron a las distintas crisis bancarias nacionales en la reciente crisis financieras. Y, aunque no muchos lo sepan, el Reino Unido, aún no siendo parte de la zona del Euro, como miembro de la UE sí ha tenido que cumplir con parte de la regulación que acompaña a la union bancaria Europea.

El evento también servirá para presentar el libro, ‘European Banking Union. Prospects and Challenges’ (Routledge), que hemos editado G. Wood D. Mayes y yo mismo. Se trata de una colección de capítulos que tratan de cómo se ha diseñado la union bancaria, su definición y funcionamiento, así como de algunos de los aspectos que en opinión de algunos de los autores puede poner en peligro su efectividad y viabilidad. Aquí podéis encontrar un resumen del libro, así como más información sobre los temas de los que trata:

‘Recent failures and rescues of large banks have resulted in colossal costs to society. In wake of such turmoil a new banking union must enable better supervision, pre-emptive coordinated action and taxpayer protection. While these aims are meritorious they will be difficult to achieve. This book explores the potential of a new banking union in Europe.

This book brings together leading experts to analyse the challenges of banking in the European Union. While not all contributors agree, the constructive criticism provided in this book will help ensure that a new banking union will mature into a stable yet vibrant financial system that encourages the growth of economic activity and the efficient allocation of resources.’

Quedáis invitados todos!

Juan Castañeda

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Did you know that central banks have not always been State-owned banks? The vast majority of them were in the hands of the public before the wave of nationalisations that took place right after the end of WWII. And the system did not work bad at all; the record of both price stability and financial stability before 1913 was certainly impressive. True, bank panics also occurred but the different response taken to such crises is the key to understand the pros of a monetary system fully in the hands of the public and market participants. And, a regards price stability, from approx. 1870 to 1913 most developed (and other less developed) economies ran the gold standard as the rule to determine the amount of money in the economy; a standard which very much tied the hands of central banks and governments as regards money creation. The outcome of the running of a system which preserved monetary stability for a 50 year-time period limited was (not surprisingly for any monetary economist!) was true price stability (by true, I mean that the price level in 1870 was roughly similar to that in 1913), and a growing and rather stable financial system on the whole.

Why was such a ‘miracle’ possible? There is no mystery nor secrecy about it at all! It was the establishment of the right institutions and policies to discipline both the Treasury and a highly independent (actually privately-owned!) central bank what explains such a favourable outcome. And, did you know something even more striking? Several central banks are traded in the market in our days in different ways: the Swiss National Bank, Belgium Central Bank, Reserve Bank of South Africa, Greece Central Bank and Bank of Japan. Historically speaking as I said above this is not an anomaly but the norm before the 1940s. Given the poor record of our monetary authorities since then and the miss-management of the recent financial crisis, why not extending private ownership even further and thus mitigate the threats of a politically-exposed (some will say ultimately ‘controlled’) central bank?

In an interview with Standard and Poor’s, ‘New way forward or outdated anomaly? The future of publicly traded central banks’ (S&P Global. Market Intelligence), I advocate for central banks to return to the public and the banking sector, in order to guarantee their independence from governments and thus be able to achieve a more sound and stable monetary system. You will find the arguments in favour of a more independent central banks, owned by market participants in many references. Here I will just mention two of them, one written by Tim Congdon (Chairman of the Institute of International Monetary Research), Central Banking in a Free Society (IEA), and the other by myself with Pedro Schwartz (Visiting Professor, University of Buckingham), Central banks; from politically dependent to market-independent institutions (Journal of Economic Affairs); both pieces written in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis (2008-09) and the observed mismanagement of the lender of last resort function of central banks.

Find below an extract from the interview with my arguments:

‘Those in favor of privately owned central banks say such institutions would be better equipped to preserve market stability and could help prevent future financial crises.

“If publicly traded or owned by the banking sector … the market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear … rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term,” said Juan Castañeda, director of the Institute of International Monetary Research at the University of Buckingham in England.

In the event of another financial crisis, a central bank would be fully independent to intervene at a bank in need, and any injection of capital would come from the banking or private sector, Castañeda said. Situations like the nationalization of Northern Rock by the Bank of England at the outset of the global financial crisis could be averted were central banks not in public hands, he argued.

“Those are the things that you can avoid if your central bank is publicly traded,” he said, citing the late 19th century example of U.K.-based Barings Bank, which faced bankruptcy but was saved by a consortium of fellow lenders, helping to stave off a larger crisis.

Oversight of a central bank would belong to the bank’s shareholders, although national authorities would also have a say because of the bank’s management of monetary policy and financial stability.’

It is not surprising Tim Congdon and myself advocate for more independent central banks (privately-owned) as a way to protect them from political interference in the development of its functions. I do believe this would contribute to a more sound running of monetary policy and to less financial instability in the future. If publicly-traded or owned by the banking sector (following the US Fed model), market incumbents will have a genuine interest in setting clear mandates/rules for the central bank to maintain financial stability over the long term. Should another financial crisis occur in the future (that it will), the central bank will have free hands to intervene promptly and avoid the contagion of panic in the market (by the application of its lender of last resort function). And if any injections of capital were needed, it would be the banking sector (or the private sector as a whole) which would bail-in the bank in crisis and, most likely, taxpayers’ money will not be needed again.

Of course this alternative arrangement is fully compatible with the central bank be given statutory functions (such as an inflation target for example) and be subject to parliamentary oversee; so the Governor will have to answer not just to the Bank’s shareholders but to Parliament as well in relation to the running of monetary policy and financial stability (find further details on these arrangements in Congdon’s 2009 work mentioned above).

Juan Castañeda

PS. An excellent narrative of the flaws of the current system can be found in Milne and Wood (2008)’s  analysis of Northern Rock bank crisis in the UK.

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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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A conversation on money, central banks (and much more)

GoldMoney has just published a very interesting video on money and the current Eurozone crisis. In the video, James Turk interviews Professor Pedro Schwartz (San Pablo University, Madrid) on how central banks create money in our days and on the risks of the current expansionary monetary measures announced and developed by two major central banks, the ECB and the Federal Reserve of the US. As you will see, Professor Schwartz masterly explains how money is created “out of the blue” and why he thinks the ECB is actually disregarding its own Statutes, that clearly establish the prohibition of lending to any national government. How is the ECB doing so? Very easy; by purchasing public bonds of the States in crisis indirectly, in the secondary markets, and by accepting those bonds as valid and unlimited collateral in the conduction of the standard open market operations. Doing so the ECB is actually loosing its independence from political bodies and governments, and it is expanding its own remit; which was just to preserve price stability in the Eurozone, and not injecting money to foster GDP growth in the short run or to finance the State(s). Professor Schwartz also talks about the risks of inflation in the medium to the long term coming from the current (massive) injections of liquidity of central banks in the money markets.

In sum it is a very clear and interesting video that I do strongly recommend not only to any student of Economics, but also to anyone interested in how money is created in our days.

You will find below the summary of the conversation as extracted by GoldMoney.

Juan Castañeda

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GoldMoney’s James Turk interviews Prof. Pedro Schwartz who is the president of the Economic and Social Council of Madrid. They talk about bank regulation, the creation of money out of thin air and the beauty of the free market system.

They discuss how banks have expanded despite of government regulation which Schwartz in large attributes to the granted privilege of fractional reserve lending. Using this procedure a bank can create loans above the actual amount of deposits at hand and therefore create new money. This also leads to fragility in the banking system and to boom and bust cycles. Schwartz argues for a leaner and more effective regulation of financial markets as the current regulation has not worked in regards to the financial crisis.

They talk about the “tennis” between the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank when it comes to the creating money out of thin air. Schwartz states that the ECB is disregarding the rules that were aimed to guard it from being influenced by political pressure. Despite the opposition of the German Bundesbank they are buying government bonds. This is equal to digital money printing and Schwartz scents that it is not being done for monetary policy, but for the stimulation of the economy which goes beyond the original remit of the bank.

However despite the injections of new liquidity by the ECB Europe is still in recession, because interbank lending has dried up. That means that banks are parking much of the liquidity back at the ECB. The big question will be what will happen to inflation once the economy starts to pick up again and those funds find their way into the real economy. Schwartz also questions whether it is a productive business when banks can make a profit by borrowing money from the ECB at 1% interest and then turning around to buy government bond which yield 5% or 6%.

A serious inflationary disaster will only be prevented if governments will succeed in reducing their deficits and stop selling bonds. Schwartz states that cutting government spending is the only viable solution to the problem. To accomplish this there has to be a change in social mentality so that people recognise that nothing is free and that the government sector has to shrink. In the end the market is the most efficient mechanism of allocating resources according to the wants and needs of people.

This video was recorded on 14 September 2012 in Madrid.

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(Summary from: http://www.goldmoney.com/video/pedro-schwartz-on-the-creation-of-money-out-of-thin-air.html)

 

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(Originally published in GoldMoney Research, 18th July 2012)

 

“A plea for good economics: Pedro Schwartz vs Paul Krugman”

“The trouble with some Nobel Prize-winners is that they are tempted to pontificate on matters outside the speciality in which they have excelled. When Professor Krugman expatiates on macroeconomics, he tends to oversimplify complicated questions of theory and policy, and to misrepresent crucial periods of the past, all to suit his political pre-conceptions”.

These were part of Professor Pedro Schwartz’s opening words in his critical comment on Paul Krugman’s presentation of his new book in Madrid (End This Depression Now!, Norton ed. 2012). As Krugman’s book title suggests, we are going through one of the worst economic crises since the 1930s Great Depression. But does this mean, as Krugman argues, that more government intervention in the economy is the solution?

Following his own rationale (see video, minutes 10-30), it is as if we are faced with an easy choice: do we want to overcome the crisis with expansionary demand policies at the cost of a little more inflation? Or do we prefer instead painful austerity measures that condemn us to a long recessive and stagnated economy, but not much inflation? Well, the answer is easy then. Let’s have some inflation!

During the so-called Keynesian years of the 1950s and 1960s, we were told that there was a trade-off between inflation and unemployment, that is, easy money promotes employment while hard money does the opposite. Yes, those were the years of the traditional Phillips Curve. But the recession and inflation that accompanied the oil crises in the 1970s and the stagflation of that decade – the dreaded combination of high unemployment and high inflation – showed that inflation is, after all, a monetary phenomenon; in other words the result of excessive money creation. Regardless of past evidence, Krugman keeps on saying that fiscal and monetary expansion is the only way to fill the gap left by the bursting of the housing bubbles in countries like Spain. In addition, he supports this inflationary policy mix as it would result in an improvement of the economy’s competitiveness, as it would be a feasible way to cut real wages and prices. Throw in a call for increased financial regulation, and et voila: the neo-Keynesian brew is complete.

Professor Schwartz’s intervention (see video here, minutes 35-48) was a blessing. He refuted Krugman’s recipes and rejected the expansion of aggregate demand as an effective way to address the current recession. As he remarked, were not expansionary fiscal and monetary expansionary policies large contributors to the present crisis? How then are they going to be the solution now? As Menger pointed out many years ago, economics must deal with the unintended consequences of human decisions; so a good economist must not be tempted to just please the public with popular solutions. He must be prepared to stick his neck out in favour of difficult decisions. I fully share Professor Schwartz’s views and think that more spending would be myopic and counterproductive in the long term. We have learnt painfully in the past that increased public deficits financed by a loose monetary policy is neither an effective nor a sustainable long-term solution to such crises.

Juan Castañeda

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(Artículo originalmente publicado en el diario OroyFinanzas, el 13 de Julio de 2012)

Una demoledora crítica al Keynesianismo del profesor Schwartz

La semana pasada tuvo lugar la presentación del último libro del profesor Paul Krugman en Madrid (¡Acabad ya con esta crisis! Crítica. 2012), en la Fundación Rafael del Pino, que ha tenido un eco realmente extraordinario, dada la notoriedad del ponente y la relación de los temas tratados con situación crítica por la que pasa la economía europea y, muy singularmente, la española. En mi opinión, lo más relevante no fue la propia charla del profesor Krugman, cuyas teorías y propuestas de sobra conocemos por su vasta labor divulgativa desarrollada en diversas tribunas, y muy especialmente, en su columna y blog del New York Times; sino los comentarios del profesor Pedro Schwartz que siguieron a continuación. Y fue así porque nunca he visto una respuesta tan directa y bien dirigida, a la vez que clara y elegante, al grueso de las teorías y políticas keynesianas. Son unos minutos de verdadera docencia de saber hacer en la profesión de economista que se echan mucho de menos; comprobarán que el dominio de la materia tratada no ha de estar acompañado de un lenguaje vulgarizado, oscuro ni distante. Todo lo contrario.

La tesis de la crítica del profesor Schwartz puede resumirse en pocas líneas: ¿cómo van a ser las políticas de expansión de la demanda las que nos saquen de este atolladero? ¿No habíamos quedado en que precisamente el crédito barato y la expansión del gasto nos habían llevado por una senda de crecimiento irracional y, a la vista está que también insostenible? ¿Se va a solucionar la situación crítica de la economía española consumiendo más y más, a la par que permitiendo que el Estado ocupe el hueco que dejó la burbuja inmobiliaria? Bien, atendiendo a las recomendaciones dadas por Krugman en este mismo acto, parece que confía en que el Estado en su sentido más amplio (incluyendo el BCE claro) vaya a dar con la solución. ¿Cómo? Fácil, permitiendo:

(1) la financiación privilegiada de presupuestos expansivos y deficitarios con “dinero contante y sonante” del banco central, así como

(2) la creación de inflación. Sólo así parece que los salarios y costes españoles podrán ganar la competitividad perdida desde hace ya tantos años, y permitirnos ampliar nuestras exportaciones. En definitiva, si no hay demanda privada interna, que sea suplida por el Estado o por el resto del mundo.

Me temo que la crisis española tiene mucho más que ver con el mal diseño institucional de la moneda europea, así como con el crecimiento insostenible del gasto público en una etapa expansiva de la economía sostenida por pies de barro. Una vez pinchada la burbuja inmobiliaria, la recaudación de los ingresos públicos cayó irremediable y drásticamente; ello, unido a tasas de crecimiento del gasto público formidables, sólo podía conducir a un déficit público persistente. Si a ello le añadimos el experimento de las políticas keynesianas de expansión del gasto público desarrolladas en 2009, la situación financiera del Estado sólo podía empeorar. Por tanto, el ajuste fiscal teníamos que hacerlo en todo caso; otra cosa es que estemos pagando un muy alto precio por él, dada la ausencia de los instrumentos necesarios para que la Eurozona funcione de verdad como una unión monetaria y, a la postre, veremos que también fiscal.

Como comprobarán al ver el vídeo del acto, la crítica del profesor Schwartz fue auténticamente demoledora y sólo me queda recomendarles que la vean. Lo que resultó realmente decepcionante fue que Paul Krugman “se saliera por la tangente”. Adoptó una salida fácil e injustificada que le permitió escapar de la respuesta a los desafíos y críticas planteadas por el profesor Schwartz; recursos que no deberían acompañar a alguien de su talla intelectual y sin duda admirable trayectoria académica.

 

Juan Castañeda

 

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