Guest post by Peter Tchir.
Today I will be attending Ben’s talk in NY. I’m curious to see him speak in person, but can’t help but think of the questions I would ask if I could.
- Do you think that low rates are hurting savers, allowing big established businesses to make money while stopping new entrants, and do you finally admit your wealth effect theory is totally wrong since the wealth isn’t well distributed and has failed to produce results?
- At one point will you admit that the ultimate exit strategy is to just forgive the debt? That for all the talk about fiscal cliff, it would still leave us with a large annual deficit and really no end in sight to a ever growing pile of debt, making debt forgiveness the logical next step since you already pay back all the coupon income?
Okay, those are the questions that I would like to ask, but if I was given a chance to ask those questions, I would probably be too nervous. They seem obnoxious, even by my standards, and as much as I’d like answers to them, here are some more likely questions I’d ask.
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With news dominated by the Greek elections, the imploding Spanish economy and more, people tend to forget about other issues. One of those being the currency wars going on. Some thoughts on the subject, via Voxeu.
In the mid-1990s, many of the large developed countries ended their activist approach to foreign-exchange-market intervention. Yet while these operations faded, they never disappeared. The Great Recession recently piqued interest in them, as exchange-rate volatility increased and threats of currency wars were heard (see Neely 2011). Still, then, the key question remains: Do sterilised interventions allow countries a way around the fundamental trilemma of international finance by providing them with a means of systematically affecting exchange rates independent of their monetary policies? Japan, Switzerland, and China provide some lessons on that score. In recent research (Bordo et al. 2012a), we demonstrate that despite differences across these three countries in their degree of exchange-rate flexibility and their extent of sterilisation the fundamental trilemma holds.
The fundamental trilemma of international finance maintains that a country cannot simultaneously peg an exchange rate, maintain an independent monetary policy, and permit free cross-border financial flows (Feenstra and Taylor 2008). At best, only two of the three are feasible.
With twitter feeds exploding over the Euro breaching the 1.25 level, and rumors of French banks preparing for a Grexit, let’s review what central planners balance sheets look like. Via Macroblog (Atlanta Fed).
Relative to before the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings are currently about 3.3 times larger. Initially, the source of that increase was the collateral associated with various temporary lending facilities that the Fed used to address the financial panic. Those assets were then replaced on net by purchases under the first large-scale asset purchase program in 2009. Then in late 2010, asset holdings increased further as a result of a second large-scale asset purchase program.
Of course, size isn’t everything. While it might be tempting to try and interpret the change in the size of the central bank’s balance sheet as a summary statistic of the degree of monetary policy accommodation, as Dave Altig’s post points out, that interpretation is not so straightforward. Increasing the size of the balance sheet is not the only thing a central bank can do to ease monetary policy when short-term interest rates are very low. For example, in late 2011 the Fed began a maturity extension program that changed the composition of the assets on the balance sheet, but this program did not materially alter the size of the balance sheet.
With this caveat in mind, the following chart compares the proportionate changes in the size of asset holdings of five central banks over the period from the first quarter of 2007 through the first quarter of 2012: the Federal Reserve (FR), the Bank of England (BE), the European Central Bank (ECB), the Bank of Canada (BC), and the Bank of Japan (BJ).
There has been a lot of talk lately of the old vs the new Bernanke. What did Bernanke actually think before he became the man ruling the markets? The scholar of the Great Depression gave a famous speech on the Japanese situation. We suggest a quick recap of what Bernanke said prior to becoming Mr Market.
The Bank of Japan became fully independent only in 1998, and it has guarded its independence carefully, as is appropriate. Economically, however, it is important to recognize that the role of an independent central bank is different in inflationary and deflationary environments. In the face of inflation, which is often associated with excessive monetization of government debt, the virtue of an independent central bank is its ability to say “no” to the government. With protracted deflation, however, excessive money creation is unlikely to be the problem, and a more cooperative stance on the part of the central bank may be called for. Under the current circumstances, greater cooperation for a time between the Bank of Japan and the fiscal authorities is in no way inconsistent with the independence of the central bank, any more than cooperation between two independent nations in pursuit of a common objective is inconsistent with the principle of national sovereignty.
I have argued today that a quid pro quo, in which the MOF acts to immunize the BOJ’s balance sheet from interest-rate risk and the BOJ increases its purchases of government debt, is a good way to attack the ongoing deflation in Japan. I would like to close by reiterating a point I made earlier–that ending deflation in consumer prices is only part of what needs to be done to put Japan back on the path to full recovery. Banking and structural reform are crucial and need to be carried out as soon and as aggressively as possible. Although the importance of reforms cannot be disputed, however, I do not agree with those who have argued that deflation is only a minor part of the overall problem in Japan. Addressing the deflation problem would bring substantial real and psychological benefits to the Japanese economy, and ending deflation would make solving the other problems that Japan faces only that much easier. For the sake of the world’s economy as well as Japan’s, I hope that progress will soon be made on all of these fronts.
Below is the full speech from the source.