Adair Turner has just released a new paper – The Case for Monetary Finance – An Essentially Political Issue – which he presented at the 16th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, hosted by the IMF in Washington on November 5-6, 2015. The New Yorker columnist John Cassidy decided to weigh into this topic in his recent article (November 23, 2015) – Printing Money. The topic is, of course, what we now call Overt Monetary Financing (OMF), which simply means that all of the unnecessary hoopla of governments matching their deficit spending with bond-issuance to the private bond markets, as if the latter are funding the former, is dispensed with. That artefact from the fixed exchange rate Bretton Woods system is maintained as a voluntary procedure by fiat-currency issuing governments but only provides financial assets to the non-government sector in the form of ‘corporate welfare’. The debt issuance of debt has nothing to do with funding the spending and is used by all and sundry to attack such spending for creating so-called ‘debt mountains’. OMF brings together the central bank and the treasury functions of government into a coherent framework whereby the central bank merely credits private bank accounts on behalf of the government to indicate the spending initiatives implemented by the Treasury.
Its my Friday lay day blog and today a short topic on banking. The Fairfax economics editor Peter Martin had a good story yesterday (October 22, 2015) – Westpac, Commonwealth Bank protect mortgage profits no matter what – which bears on the lack of competition that exists within the Australian financial sector.
I read two articles (among others) on the flight over to Europe yesterday that are worth commenting on. The two articles discussed the role of monetary policy and, in particular, whether the policy changes to address the crisis had achieved their aims. I read these articles as I was doing some computations which would suggest that the main game in town remains fiscal policy. The first article was in the Wall Street Journal (October 4, 2015) – How the Fed Saved the Economy – written by former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. He claims that the US is approaching full employment because of the ‘extraordinary’ policy innovations that the US Federal Reserve Bank introduced during his period as Chairman. The second article was in the New York Times and argued that monetary policy authorities do not have the necessary policy tools to combat the next crisis. The NYTs article captures the ideological bias that entered policy discussions since the emergence of Monetarism in the 1970s. It makes out that policy is powerless, which is largely only a statement about monetary policy. It is a reflection of how perceptions of what we think monetary policy can achieve are way out of line with reality. But that is core Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). But that doesn’t mean that policy overall is powerless. Governments can always prevent a financial crisis and a recession from occurring if they are willing to use their fiscal capacities. Of course, that capacity is the anathema to the neo-liberals which is really the problem. There is no policy powerlessness. Just an ideological bias against using the available tools properly and responsibly.
A few weeks ago I wrote – US Federal Reserve decision correct – there is no ‘normal’ – and suggested that the reason Wall Street and other well-to-dos were busily invading the media at every opportunity berating the US central bank for not increasing interest rates was because they had a vested interest in rates rising. They massage their call for higher interest rates in terms of global concerns for inflation (mostly) but just below the surface (they are mostly pretty crude in their advocacy) is the real reason – their own profit bottom line improves. On October 1, 2015, the Bank for International Settlements published its Working Paper no. 514 – The influence of monetary policy on bank profitability. The research demonstrates my very point. They find that when the short-term interest rate rise (that is, the policy rate set by the central bank) “bank profitability – return on assets” also rises. They also find that this “effect is stronger when the interest rate level is lower”. The overall conclusion is that “unusually low interest rates … erode bank profitability”. So forget all the spurious arguments about inflation risk etc that the financial media (who are really just ghost writers for the top-end-of-town) write ad nauseum. The real reason the Wall Street lobby keeps pushing for rate hikes is because they want more profit.
Last week (September 17, 2015), the US Federal Reserve Bank took the sensible decision to leave the US policy interest rate unchanged. Nine of the ten Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted accordingly. One dissenter wanted rates to rise by 25 basis points. The central bank made the correct decision, even if you might like to question their reasoning. The decision has not pleased the financial markets who have been baying under the moon for months if not years for interest rates to return to higher and more stable levels. There is no surprise in that. They make more profits under those conditions and when there are low rates and higher uncertainty about their direction (and adjustment speed), profits come less easily. Further, they long for what they call “normal levels” of interest rates despite the fact that reality changed with the GFC and we now know that monetary policy is relatively ineffective as a policy tool for controlling or influencing aggregate spending. And it is typical that they ignore the millions of people who remain idle in one way or another and are enduring flat real wages and rising poverty rates. There is no old “normal’ now. Things have changed.
Greetings from London in the early morning! If we went back a few years and dug out all the predictions and scare campaigns that were being issued by mainstream economists and their conservative ‘think tank’ conduits about the impending disaster that would accompany the near zero interest rate regimes that the US Federal Reserve Bank had implemented it would make a great comedy sketch. There should be no surprise with the massive predictive failures of the mainstream economists in this regard. They clearly did not understand the underlying dynamics that govern the way the central bank interacts with the commercial banks. The problem is that these conservative forces are so dumb they don’t have adaptive learning mechanisms and so even in the fact of evidence contrary to their Groupthink they keep pumping out the same nonsense. The other problem is that they tend to be well funded by the right-wing establishment that they exhibit disproportionate influence on the public policy debate. That influence has turned to demands that the US Federal Reserve Bank (the central bank) increase interest rates and reverse its quantitative easing – apparently because hyperinflation is just around the corner. Nothing could be further from the truth. At present the US economy is some way into a very slow and relatively tepid recovery. But it has still some way to go and while interest rate changes have a relatively weak impact on overall growth any anti-growth noise is undesirable. It is also not justifiable given the central bank’s own logic.
I have received a lot of E-mails over the weekend about a paper released by the CEPR Policy Portal VOX (June 20, 2015) – Can central banks avoid sovereign debt crises? – which purports to provide “new evidence” to support the conclusion that “the ability of the central bank to avert a debt self-fulfilling debt crisis is limited”. It is another one of those mainstream attempts to brush away reality and draw logical conclusions from a flawed analytical framework. When one digs a bit the conclusion withers on the vine of a stylised economic model that leaves out significant features of the monetary system – such as for starters, a currency-issuing government can never go broke in terms of the liabilities its issues in its own currency. All the smoke and mirrors of stylised New Keynesian mathematical models cannot render that reality false.In other words, the paper and the lineage of papers it draws upon should be disregarded by anyone who desires to understand how the monetary system operates and the capacity and opportunities that the currency-issuing government (including its central bank) has within that system.
Its my Friday lay day blog and today a brief discussion about property price bubbles and how the Reserve Bank of Australia (our central bank) has fallen out with the Australian government. This week, the simmering tension between the Governor of the RBA and the Conservative Australian government more or less came out into the open when the Governor told the nation that the fiscal strategy of the Government was failing and a higher deficit was required given the circumstances. The RBA Governor has also come clean on the issue of house prices in Australia which he said he was “acutely concerned” about and called them “crazy” again, a direct contradiction of the claims by the Government that there is no problem and people should just “get a better paying job” if they wanted to buy a home. It is rare for a central banker to be so pointed about the failure of Government policy.
The Bank of England released a new working paper on Friday (May 29, 2015) – Banks are not intermediaries of loanable funds – and why this matters – which further brings the Bank’s public research evidence base into line with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and, thus, further distances itself from the myths that are taught by mainstream economists in university courses on money and banking. The paper tells us that the information that students glean from monetary economics courses with respect to the operations of banks and their role in the economy is not knowledge at all but fantasy. They emphatically state that the real world doesn’t operate in the way the textbooks construe it to operate and, that as a consequence, economists have been ill-prepared to make meaningful contributions to the debates about macroeconomic policy.
Last month, the Schweizerische Nationalbank (SNB), the nation’s central bank recorded some large ‘book’ losses after it had abandoned its attempt to stop the Swiss franc (CHF) from appreciating against the euro. It started trying … as a way of protecting its manufacturing sector but abandoned the strategy on January 15, 2015. It had been buying euro in large quantities with francs and on April 30, 2015 the SNB released the – Interim results of the Swiss National Bank as at 31 March 2015 – which showed that its first-quarter 2015 losses were 30 billion CHF or around 29 billion euros. They lost CHF 29.3 billion on its “foreign currency positions” and CHF 1 billion on its gold holdings. This has raised the question, once again, whether central bank losses matter. The answer is always that they do not matter at all given the central bank can never become illiquid as it issues the currency (under some arrangement or another). So the commentators who whip up a lather about impending doom arising from central bank bankruptcies are to be ignored. But central bank officials also publicly express concern about their capital holdings. Why would they introduce that concern into the public domain when they know full well that they cannot go broke. The answer is that they are politicians themselves except they evade democratic scrutiny and election.