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Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Sad State of the Economics Profession

By Frank Hollenbeck

It is not an exaggeration to say the current reputation of economists is probably just below that of a used car salesman. The recent failures of economic policies to boost growth or employment have tarnished this image even more. This, however, is in sharp contrast to the past when economists were seen as the intellectual roadblock to popular misconceptions, bad ideas, or more importantly, government policies sold to the public on false assumptions. Popular slogans such as “protecting American jobs” play on nationalism, but in reality only serve special interests. The economist of the past would never have hesitated to highlight the fallacies in such reasoning.

Most economists today, however, have sold themselves to the enemy. They work for government agencies such as the IMF, OECD, World Bank, central banks, or academic institutions where their research is heavily subsidized by government agencies. To succeed they have to “toe the line.” You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Today, these economists and bought-and-paid-for journalists inform us of the dangers of deflation and the risks of “ low-flation,” and how the printing press will protect us from this catastrophe. Yet there is no theoretical or empirical justification for this fear. On the contrary, a stable money supply would allow prices to better serve the critical function of allocating resources to where they are most needed. The growth resulting from stable money would normally be associated with rapidly falling prices as was the case during most of the nineteenth century.

When President Obama first talked about raising the minimum wage, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate in economics, quickly published an article supporting such an increase. Yet, even a first-year student in economics knows price controls distort the resource allocation function of prices, thus benefiting one group or special interests at the expense of the rest of society. Although some will receive a higher minimum wage, many others will simply be thrown under the bus. A political pundit should not be masquerading as an economist.

Read the full article here...

Why Mises (and not Hayek)?

By Hans-Hermann Hoppe
Let me begin with a quote from an article that my old friend Ralph Raico wrote some 15 years ago:
Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek are widely considered the most eminent classical liberal thinkers of this century. They are also the two best known Austrian economists. They were great scholars and great men. I was lucky to have them both as my teachers.… Yet it is clear that the world treats them very differently. Mises was denied the Nobel Prize for economics, which Hayek won the year after Mises's death. Hayek is occasionally anthologized and read in college courses, when a spokesman for free enterprise absolutely cannot be avoided; Mises is virtually unknown in American academia. Even among organizations that support the free market in a general way, it is Hayek who is honored and invoked, while Mises is ignored or pushed into the background.
I want to speculate — and present a thesis — why this is so and explain why I — and I take it most of us here — take a very different view. Why I (and presumably you) are Misesians and not Hayekians.
My thesis is that Hayek's greater prominence has little if anything to do with his economics. There is little difference in Mises's and Hayek's economics. Indeed, most economic ideas associated with Hayek were originated by Mises, and this fact alone would make Mises rank far above Hayek as an economist. But most of today's professed Hayekians are not trained economists. Few have actually read the books that are responsible for Hayek's initial fame as an economist, i.e., his Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle and his Prices and Production. And I venture the guess that there exist no more than 10 people alive today who have studied, from cover to cover, his Pure Theory of Capital.
Rather, what explains Hayek's greater prominence is Hayek's work, mostly in the second half of his professional life, in the field of political philosophy — and here, in this field, the difference between Hayek and Mises is striking indeed.
My thesis is essentially the same one also advanced by my friend Ralph Raico: Hayek is not a classical liberal at all, or a "Radikalliberaler" as the NZZ, as usual clueless, has just recently referred to him. Hayek is actually a moderate social democrat, and since we live in the age of social democracy, this makes him a "respectable" and "responsible" scholar. Hayek, as you may recall, dedicated his Road to Serfdom to "the socialists in all parties." And the socialists in all parties now pay him back in using Hayek to present themselves as "liberals."
Now to the proof, and I rely for this mostly on the Constitution of Liberty, and his three volumeLaw, Legislation, and Liberty which are generally regarded as Hayek's most important contributions to the field of political theory.

Austrian Economics: How Austrians Ride the Financial Bull

By Douglas French

The single most asked question I get at investment conferences is, ‘Do you have a list of money managers who invest guided by the Austrian School of economics?’ The question is a good one. After all, the Austrian School stands alone in predicting the fall of the Soviet Union and the housing and financial crash.

Anyone with a retirement account has been whipsawed by the stock market over the past few decades. Fidelity’s Peter Lynch told everyone to buy stocks and hold. Everything would work out great. Diligent savers would even end up millionaires, courtesy of an ever-expanding stock market. The efficient-market hypothesis (EMH) provided intellectual support for the idea. The market reflects all information, so there’s no way to beat it, said the economists.

Now everyone knows better. Or at least they should.

The average person’s 401(k) was turned into a 201(k) in 2000, and was destroyed again in 2008 if they were brave enough to stay or get back in the market. Many people swore off stocks after the last crash only to watch the S&P 500 triple. Now the Fed’s zero interest policy has pulled them back just in time for the next market train wreck.

Those educated in the Austrian School understand how the central bank creates the business cycle’s booms and busts. And they know there is a better way than just buying, holding, and hoping. But how does one apply it using Friedrich Hayek’s and Ludwig von Mises’ theories to make money in the market?

Continue reading...

Monday, 14 April 2014

In a World of Elastic Currencies, Certainty Often Unleashes The Beast Further Down the Road

And that beast is credit expansion not backed by prior savings. 

An elastic currency is a currency that can increase and decrease in quantity. As Jeffrey M. Herbener explained: "An elastic currency has two characteristics: a central bank empowered to issue fiat paper money and commercial banks empowered to issue fiduciary media".

During uncertain times, banks tend to be extra prudent with their lending standards. This is why this chart could unleash more bad news for the U.S. economy further down the road.


Inventories to Sales Ratio for U.S. Businesses Jumps Again in February

Are sales not meeting the inventory expectations? Or is increased sales just around the corner? Perhaps it's too early to tell either.

Not seasonally adjusted:


Seasonally adjusted:


Saturday, 12 April 2014

U.S. Money, Credit & Treasuries Review (as of 2 April 2014)

According to data released yesterday by the Federal Reserve, the U.S. monetary base closed at USD 3.8850 trillion for the bi-weekly period ending 2 April 2013, leaving the base USD 134 billion, or 3.6%, higher than year end 2013. Compared to the same period last year, the base increased 30.1%. This is a tremendous increase even by Japanese standards


With the Fed tapering now starting to bite combined with a higher denominator than last year, the year on year percentage increase was the lowest since the bi-weekly period ending 21 August last year. This means that even if the Fed did not taper, the growth rate in the base would continue to slow. The Fed taper therefore means the growth rate will drop even more. The monthly asset purchases will now be USD 55 billion a month starting this month. Assuming the Fed continues to buy USD 55 billion a month in assets for the rest of the year, this would result in an expansion of the base of "just" under 17% this year. With the Fed's expectation to reduce asset purchases "by a further $10 billion at each upcoming meeting absent a material change in the economic outlook" (here) the increase in the growth rate would fall below the 17% increase if the plan is stuck with. The growth rate in the base would as a result drop more than half the just under 40% expansion witnessed in 2013. 


In one way or another, this drop in the growth rate of the monetary base will have negative consequences for the stock market as interest rates could move higher and money supply will expand less than otherwise. Both are negative for not only equities, but most asset prices. It would be challenging to argue that Fed balance sheet expansion has not been a primary driver of stock market prices especially in 2013. Perhaps stock market investors is just starting to absorb this knowledge as the S&P 500 index dropped 2.65% this week. 


The M2 money supply year on year growth came in at 5.8% for the week, the lowest since the bi-weekly period ending 22 January and down from 6.2% two weeks ago. The growth rate in Bank Credit, a primary driver of money supply growth, fell from 3.0% two weeks ago to 2.9%. This is a low growth rate in a historical perspective (it has averaged 6.4% since 1985), but it is a significant increase from the trough of 1.1% hit on 25 December last year. As the Fed is now tapering, it's an absolute necessity that bank credit growth picks up to support money supply growth. Be advised that it's not my position that keeping a high money supply growth rate is the right thing to do. Regular readers of this review and EcPoFi in general will know that my commentary on the money supply is from the perspective of the Austrian Business Cycle Theory. This theory explains that booms are fueled by increases in the money supply (which again is driven by bank credit and government deficits supported by banks or the Federal Reserve) and will come to an end when the money supply growth falls. 


Continued massive budget deficits, a debt to GDP ratio of 100% and government intervention in most areas of the economy ranging from minimum wages to housing, but who cares? When turmoil sets in, being it nervous stock market investors or emerging market crisis, the money still flows to U.S. government treasuries even as money inflation is running at around 6%. During the last two weeks, the 1-year treasury yield shred 3 basis points and the 10-year one did the same. The latter is now down 30 basis since 27 December last year. Compared to a year ago, the 1-year yield is down 2 basis points while the 10-year yield is up 92 basis points resulting in the spread between the two widening by 92 basis points.



The key developments in the money supply, bank credit and treasury yields for the bi-weekly period ending 2 April 2014 (11 April for treasury yields) are summarised in the tables below. 



The U.S. Money, Credit & Treasuries Review is a report issued on a bi-weekly basis by EcPoFi. You can access all previous issues since February 2013 here.

Recommended for the keen follower of money supply developments: The Short Version of the Austrian True Money Supply.

Must read, the central banker with a different view: The Central Banker of All Central Bankers Explains The Way To Recovery.

Friday, 11 April 2014

The Short Version of the "Austrian" True Money Supply (TMS), as of 31 March 2014

The short version of the Austrian True Money Supply (SVTMS) for the U.S. increased by 0.50% (29.94% annualised) during the most recent week ending 31 March 2014 to reach $10.0720 trillion calculated from the latest data published by the Federal Reserve. 



The 1-year growth rate in the money supply fell fairly significantly this week to 6.95% from 8.06% last week, the lowest for 12 weeks. The downward trend in the 1-year growth rate hence continues.




The 12-month smoothed growth rate as a result also fell. At 8.40% it was the lowest since June 2009. At 8.40%, it is now also below the 8.47% long term average. The growth rate has now declined consistently, every single week, since May 2012. Though the growth rate is still significant, a mere slowing down in the growth rate can be very bad news for the stock market. 



Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Central Banker of All Central Bankers Explains The Way To Recovery

"Moreover, why should we trust the analytical paradigms and macroeconomic models that led us so badly astray pre-crisis - those very models of which the shortfall of demand view is one offspring?" 

The transcript of a speech (including the quote above) held yesterday by Jaime Caruana, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, has just been published. Coming from a central banker, his views and conclusions are surprising to say the least. Why? Because many of his views run contrary to those held by most central bankers around the world and are instead much in line with, and based on, those promoted by Austrian economists and the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT)

Before you get too carried away, Mr Caruana still advocates management of the business cycle by central banks and the bailing out of banks in the midst of financial crisis. Where his views differ from those normally communicated by central bankers are his interpretations of the crisis and policy prescriptions. 

In the paper, he discusses two main views on the causes of "chronic [economic] weakness" experienced in many countries following the 2008 bust and what should be done about it going forward. 

He largely, though not completely, dismisses the first view which he refers to as the "shortfall of demand view". In his own words, this view "argues that there is a persistent global shortfall of demand, which is particularly acute in crisis-hit advanced economies". This is the view held by most (all?) central bankers and mainstream economists today in my experience. 

The second view he puts forward is the view that "maintains that the key is removing the impediments to growth that are the legacy of a balance sheet recession". He refers to this view as the "balance sheet view". 

Before explaining these two views in detail, he describes three "takeaways" from the article (my bold):
  • First, not all recessions are born equal. The post-crisis recession we have seen is a balance sheet recession, linked to the bust phase of a long financial cycle. The unsustainable pre-crisis financial boom created a false sense of prosperity while masking balance sheet vulnerabilities and real resource misallocations, both across sectors and in the aggregate. As the boom turned to bust, the subsequent balance sheet recession revealed and exacerbated these weaknesses. In addressing a balance sheet recession, the key is to target the nexus between debt overhangs, poor asset quality and the misallocation of both capital and labour. These problems cannot be redressed by traditional aggregate demand policies alone. If not sufficiently redressed, the balance of risks and rewards of aggregate demand policies – monetary policy in particular – will worsen over time. Strong sustainable growth requires tackling these impediments head-on and restoring productivity growth.
  • Second, the post-crisis policy response has been unbalanced. There has been a lot of emphasis on fiscal pump-priming and monetary accommodation and not enough on balance sheet repair and structural reforms. This suggests that we have not yet fully come to grips with the financial cycle. In economies still recovering from balance sheet recessions, reacting ever more aggressively with monetary and fiscal policy will not resolve the problem. After a certain point, it may even be counterproductive (eg depletion of policy ammunition, development of new imbalances).
  • And third, given the previous takeaways, a logical policy conclusion would be that policy frameworks need to adjust based on a longer-term focus. Monetary, fiscal and prudential policies alike need to be more symmetrical over the financial cycle: policies should lean more deliberately against financial booms and ease less aggressively and persistently during busts, assigning priority to repair and reform. This symmetry would limit the amplitude of the disruptive cycles and avoid the risk of exhausting ammunition over time. Correspondingly, there should be more emphasis on structural policies (eg labour, competition, taxation) to address structural problems. There are no short cuts: the path from here to there will not be easy. But the longer we wait, the bigger the costs will be.
These three points alone should, at least partially, please readers frustrated with governments and central bankers focused on policies that "stimulate aggregate demand". 

But there's more of the good stuff to come. Caruana explains "I shall argue that the balance sheet view provides a more convincing overarching interpretation of what has been happening in the global economy in general..." and
But, equally, there is no doubt in my mind that, as an overarching explanation, the balance sheet view is much more compelling. It can explain in one single sweep both pre- and post-crisis developments across the world. It served us well pre-crisis in identifying risks as events unfolded. And it seems to trace them better now, for both crisis-hit and non-crisis-hit economies. Surely Occam's razor applies. Moreover, why should we trust the analytical paradigms and macroeconomic models that led us so badly astray pre-crisis - those very models of which the shortfall of demand view is one offspring?
Therefore, instead of focusing on his refutations and arguments against the first view (the shortfall of demand view), I will here lay out his arguments in favour of the second view (the balance sheet view). 

Caruana summarises the balance sheet view in seven propositions (my bold): 
  1. First, the crisis is not an exogenous shock; rather, it represents the inevitable collapse of a previous unsustainable boom – the bust phase of a financial cycle. This naturally ushers in a balance sheet recession, featuring large sectoral and aggregate debt and capital stock overhangs and an impaired financial sector.
  2. Second, given initial conditions, deleveraging is a necessary precondition for a self-sustained recovery: debt overhangs relative to income need to be reabsorbed for the economy to rebound sustainably.
  3. Third, a key factor restricting aggregate demand is anaemic credit demand: agents realise that they have borrowed too much given their lower income expectations and seek to pay down debt. This numbs the effectiveness of monetary and fiscal stimulus.
  4. Fourth, the major asymmetry in the global monetary and financial system that worsens the picture is that easy monetary conditions in major economies spread to the rest of the world. As a result, the system has produced inappropriately low interest rates for the world as a whole. Non-crisis-hit countries find it hard to operate with interest rates that are significantly higher than those in the large crisis-hit jurisdictions because of the fear of exchange rate overshooting, even when the economy has been growing strongly. In several cases, this has been fuelling unsustainable financial booms (“financial imbalances”). The result is expansionary in the short run but contractionary over the longer term.
  5. Fifth, a key source of hysteresis is the misallocations of credit and resources (capital and labour) that built up during the unsustainable boom and may worsen during the bust. Given debt overhangs, in crisis-hit economies the allocation of credit matters more than the total amount of credit extension for the recovery and medium-term growth.
  6. Sixth, negative real interest rates, especially when associated with zero policy rates, are not equilibrium phenomena. As a result, they risk causing collateral damage, not only in the crisis-hit countries themselves, where they may further delay balance sheet adjustment or encourage unhealthy forms of risk-taking, but also, and more visibly, elsewhere in the world, by causing a build-up of financial imbalances. This, in turn, could end up validating those low interest rates, as the unwinding of the imbalances could make normalisation extraordinarily difficult globally.
  7. Finally, disinflationary, and possibly deflationary, pressures may in part reflect benign underlying forces, notably heightened global competition, that the boom had obscured. To that extent, the concern is not so much declines in the prices of goods and services per se as the harmful interaction between debt and asset prices.
Students of Austrian economics and the ABCT will recognise and agree with many of Caruana's propositions above as he is clearly laying out that the bust was due to an unsustainable boom. He also explains that a recession is necessary to correct these mistakes ("deleveraging"). In addition, he also recognises that artificially low interest rates may encourage "unhealthy risk-taking", i.e. the creation of new bubbles. Finally, Caruana regognises that not all deflation is inherently bad (he also later in the article writes "The historical evidence indicates that deflations have often been associated with sustained growth in output".)

He proceeds by discussing the evidence supporting the "balance sheet view" (my bold),
In contrast [to the "shortfall of demand view"], the balance sheet view is more controversial and not part of the prevailing paradigm. To my knowledge, there is not yet a macroeconomic model that captures this view. Nonetheless, there is considerable evidence that supports it – including evidence based on research by my colleagues at the BIS. Let me outline here some evidence in six areas.
First, the nexus between systemic banking crises, financial cycles and the measurement of potential output. Recent studies have found that banking crises, and the balance sheet recessions they usher in, tend to occur at the peak of financial cycles. Such cycles are best captured by the joint behaviour of credit and property prices and, crucially, are much longer than business cycles: they last from 16 to 20 years rather than up to eight or 10 years. Indeed, it is possible to construct fairly reliable real-time leading indicators of systemic banking crises based precisely on the behaviour of credit and property prices. These also identified fairly accurately the vulnerabilities ahead of the recent crisis.
Second, the measurement of potential output. Systemic banking crises have particularly persistent effects on output and, in all probability, potential output too. It is now widely accepted that they have historically been associated with large permanent output losses: output may at some point grow again at its pre-crisis long-term rate, but does not return to its previous path. The current episode is no exception. Unless one is willing to entertain the (implausible) idea that output can be below potential for decades, this indicates that potential output is lower than estimated pre-crisis.
Additional evidence supports this point; and it also casts doubt on more traditional measures of potential that generally draw on the behaviour of inflation. Importantly, all the measures of potential output used nowadays in policy institutions and academia failed to identify in real time that output was running above its potential, or sustainable, level ahead of the great financial crisis: after all, inflation was low and stable. They have done so only ex post, a few years after the recession set in, as those institutions and scholars rewrite history with the benefit of hindsight. By contrast, recent work indicates that, by using information from the financial cycle, notably the behaviour of credit and property prices, it is possible to do precisely that. The intuition is simple: it was the build-up of financial imbalances, not rising inflation, that signalled the unsustainable expansion of output before the crisis. Such financial booms may also have helped to mask the trend decline in productivity growth, while globalised competition helped to keep goods prices in check.
Third, the role of deleveraging. There is evidence that, in sharp contrast to a normal recession, a balance sheet recession requires deleveraging. In this case, deleveraging during the recession induces a stronger subsequent recovery. Moreover, there is generally little link between post-crisis credit expansion, beyond the recession, and output growth: so-called “credit-less recoveries” are the rule, not the exception, following balance sheet recessions. This casts the post-crisis slow bank credit growth in a different light. In addition, in contrast to the view that stresses regulation-induced credit supply constraints, much of the adjustment in the banking sector has taken place through retained earnings and external capital, and far less through lending cuts. Likewise, a large widening of lending spreads has been persistent mainly in some peripheral euro area countries.
Not surprisingly, for much the same reason, balance sheet recessions, in contrast to normal ones, appear to numb the effectiveness of both monetary and fiscal policy. A recent cross-country study suggests that looser monetary and fiscal policies during the recession are not followed by stronger subsequent recoveries. This is consistent with the intuition that agents’ attempt to pay back debt reduces the impact of lower interest rates and fiscal transfers: agents have little intention to borrow more and prefer to save the additional income. The result is not surprising for monetary policy, but conflicts with empirical studies that suggest fiscal multipliers are higher when economic slack is large. A possible explanation is that those studies fail to distinguish normal from balance sheet recessions.
Fourth, the source of hysteresis. The risk of hysteresis as a result of credit and real resource misallocations is borne out, in particular, by the Japanese experience. There is considerable evidence that, following the financial bust in the early 1990s, the combination of very low interest rates and forbearance hurt production potential, by trapping resources in inefficient companies at the expense of more profitable ones. Nordic countries, which faced similar problems roughly at the same time, and were forced to take tougher monetary and fiscal policies, recovered much better. Presumably, in addition to larger exchange rate depreciations, this reflected in part their aggressive steps to repair the banking system and reform the economy. Forbearance and delays in balance sheet repair also appear to have been at play in the more recent post-crisis experience, at least in some jurisdictions.
Fifth, the causes of deflationary pressures. The historical evidence indicates that deflations have often been associated with sustained growth in output. Surprisingly perhaps, the Great Depression was more the exception than the rule. Similar spells have also been evident since the 2000s, including in China, Nordic countries and, as I speak, Switzerland. In these cases, sustained output growth has proceeded alongside strong increases in credit and asset prices. At the same time, there is growing evidence that global factors have been playing a bigger role in domestic inflation just as domestic measures of slack have lost significance. Indeed, macroeconomists and policymakers know that, for many years now, the link between domestic slack and inflation has proved elusive. To be sure, one common explanation is that better-anchored expectations, underpinned by greater central bank credibility, have reduced the sensitivity of inflation. Even so, it would be implausible to rule out the role of the globalisation of the real economy, notably the entry of China and former communist countries into the world trading system. Surely, in addition to relative prices changes, this produced welcome disinflationary tailwinds, which were at play well before the crisis and may well still be at play.
Finally, the asymmetries in the international monetary system. There is considerable evidence that, for the world as a whole, policy interest rates have been persistently below traditional benchmarks, fostering unbalanced expansions. Policy rates are comparatively low regardless of the benchmarks – be these trend growth rates or more refined ones that capture the influence of output and inflation, such as Taylor rules. Moreover, there is clear evidence that US monetary policy helps explain these deviations, especially for small open and emerging market economies. This, together with the large accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, is consistent with the view that these countries find it hard, economically or politically, to operate with rates that are considerably higher than those in core advanced economies. And, alongside such low rates, several of these economies, including some large ones, have been exhibiting signs of a build-up of financial imbalances worryingly reminiscent of that observed in the economies that were later hit by the crisis. Importantly, some of the financial imbalances have been building up in current account surplus countries, such as China, which can ill afford to use traditional policies to boost domestic demand further. This is by no means new: historically, some of the most disruptive financial booms have occurred in current account surplus countries. The United States in the 1920s and Japan in the 1980s immediately spring to mind.
Caruana then lays out his policy prescriptions based on the "balance sheet view",
  • The priority is not so much mechanically to fill an output gap through traditional demand management. Rather, it is to establish the basis for a self-sustained and prompt recovery through aggressive balance sheet repair, resolving the legacy of the crisis and limiting the risk of chronic weakness. In this phase, monetary policy should work together with prudential and fiscal policies to address the debt overhang–poor asset quality nexus head-on. It should also give way to structural policy, to reduce other impediments to growth. And in deciding the necessary degree of accommodation, monetary policymakers should consider carefully to what extent disinflationary pressures result from positive supply developments or from a domestic shortfall in demand.
  • Failing to carry out these policies raises several risks, as standard aggregate demand measures fail to gain lasting traction. Fiscal policy expansion risks undermining further the sustainability of public sector finances. A persistently aggressive monetary policy risks exacerbating collateral damage, both domestically and internationally, as unwelcome spillovers foster the build-up of disruptive financial imbalances in other countries whenever financial cycles are out of sync. And as results disappoint, such a policy can ultimately sap the central banks’ credibility, effectiveness and public support. 
  • More generally, there is a serious risk of exhausting the policy room for manoeuvre over time. As policymakers respond asymmetrically over successive business and financial cycles, hardly tightening or even easing during booms and easing aggressively and persistently during busts, they run out of ammunition and entrench instability. Failure to consider the sources of disinflationary pressures can add to this risk. As a result, lasting normalisation remains elusive. In particular, the accumulation of debt and the distortions in production and investment patterns associated with unusually low interest rates hinder their return to more normal levels. Low rates, paradoxically, validate themselves. 
  • This is an instance of “time inconsistency”: policy steps look compelling when taken in isolation, but, as a sequence, they lead policymakers astray. The shortfall of demand view sees no tension between boosting demand in the short term and longer-term growth; if anything, the former promotes the latter. The balance sheet view is fundamentally about intertemporal trade-offs: a short-term approach to boosting demand risks more wrenching pain further down the road. The only way to reconcile short-term and long-term prospects is to improve the latter, so as to unblock private demand, especially investment.
Furthermore, he explains that "the balance sheet view has implications for policy responses at the current juncture and for adjustments to policy frameworks",
  • Policies now should take advantage of the window of opportunity provided by stronger growth to repair and reform. Monetary policy should stay on course towards normalisation, avoiding the risk of financial dominance, ie of being unduly influenced by financial market jitters. By filling the void left by other policies, it has been overburdened for too long. Fiscal policy should keep a close eye on long-term sustainability: it should consolidate where fiscal trajectories are unsustainable and make room to use any available firepower to support the restructuring of balance sheets, such as through banking system recapitalisations. Moreover, it should not be lulled into a false sense of security where unsustainable financial booms have been under way: there is ample evidence that they flatter the fiscal accounts, as potential output growth is overestimated, revenues are bloated and contingent liabilities accumulate. Prudential policy should strengthen financial institutions’ balance sheets. In crisis-hit economies, this means full and prompt balance sheet repair, by enforcing loss recognition and building up capital and liquidity buffers. In those economies experiencing financial booms, it means strengthening defences further. Everywhere, it means completing the financial regulatory reforms. And it means paying much more attention to structural policies that raise growth potential. This would allow countries to rebound more strongly post-crisis and reverse the long-term trend decline in productivity growth.
  • Policy frameworks need to incorporate financial cycles systematically. As my colleagues and I have explained in more detail elsewhere, policies – monetary, fiscal and prudential – should respond more deliberately to financial booms, by building up buffers, and respond less aggressively and persistently to busts, by drawing the buffers down. This calls for longer policy horizons than those currently in place – recall that the financial cycle is much longer than the business cycle. And it calls for governance arrangements that effectively insulate policymakers from the huge political economy pressures that induce asymmetric policies: no one objects during a boom; everyone demands support during a bust. These adjustments, unfortunately, are easy to identify but exceedingly difficult to implement.
Finally, in his concluding remarks he notes,
The balance sheet view highlights the tight nexus between balance sheets and economic activity. It focuses on how balance sheet problems and the associated distortions in the real economy develop during financial booms, hardly noticed under the rising tide, only to emerge during busts, once the tide recedes. It acknowledges the power of financial factors, but recognises that only structural ones hold the key to long-term growth. It acknowledges that the interaction between financial factors and monetary policy influences inflation and disinflation, but it recognises that, in today’s highly integrated world economy, the globalisation dividend may still be generating welcome disinflationary pressures. It stresses stocks, not only flows. It emphasises policies with a financial cycle perspective, not individual responses to isolated shocks.
The policy prescriptions follow naturally. Where economies are still recovering from balance sheet recessions, address head-on the pernicious nexus between the debt overhang and poor asset quality and rely less on traditional aggregate demand policies: they are less effective and may possibly, at some point, become counterproductive in the longer term. After all, not all recessions are born equal. Where economies have been experiencing financial booms, lean aggressively against them and do not be fooled by their false veneer of prosperity. After all, not all expansions are equally sustainable. Since initial conditions matter, everywhere, make sure that fiscal accounts are sound and financial institutions well capitalised, and work hard on structural policies. After all, there are no short cuts. Finally, adjust policy frameworks so that monetary, prudential and fiscal policies are more symmetrical over successive financial and business cycles. This would reduce the probability and severity of endogenous financial crises and provide policymakers with more leeway to act.
In summary, Caruana explicitly, though not officially, recognises many of the lessons from Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) and also puts forth some solutions to end the chronic lack of growth which I think many adherents of Austrian economics would welcome. As such, these points of view coming from perhaps the central banker of all central bankers is good news. It will hopefully receive attention in mainstream news and help to create a healthy debate among mainstream economists, monetary cranks and demagogues. Perhaps Caruana's speech and paper also can serve as an excuse for central bankers to implement policies which are less damaging than those currently being recycled around the world.

Read his full speech titled "Global economic and financial challenges: a tale of two views" here.

"The Greatest Economic Myth in the World Today"

By Patrick Barron
New French PM calls for greater ECB action and criticises strong euro French Prime Minister Manuel Valls yesterday won a vote of confidence in the lower house of the French parliament by 306 to 239. In his keynote speech, Valls stressed that the exchange rate of the euro is “too high”, and that “the ECB carries out a less expansionary monetary policy than its American, English and Japanese counterparts”. He also announced €50bn of budget savings between 2015 and 2017, and a series of tax cuts aimed at reducing labour costs by €30bn by 2016.
Monsieur Valls expresses his belief in the greatest economic myth in the world today--that debasing one's own currency is the path to economic recovery and prosperity.  I cannot say this often enough--no nation can force another, against its will, to pay for its economic recovery. Debasing one's own currency leads to an external transfer of wealth to one's trading partners and to an internal redistribution of wealth from the non-exporting sector of the economy to the exporting sector of the economy. 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The winner of the IEA Brexit Prize

Iain Mansfield, the Director of Trade and Investment at the UK’s embassy in the Philippines, was yesterday announced as the winner of the IEA Brexit Prize.

The Brexit Prize was an open competition and people were "invited to compose a Blueprint for Britain outside the EU, covering the process of withdrawal from the EU and the post-exit repositioning of the UK in the global trading and governance systems".

Here's the summary of the winning entry:
Exiting from the EU should be used as an opportunity to embrace openness. The UK should pursue free trade agreements with major trading nations such as China, the USA and Russia and deepen its engagement with organisations such as the G8, G20 and OECD. In Europe, a priority must be to secure open trade relations, ideally by membership of the European Free Trade Area, though remaining outside the European Economic Area. Bilateral strategic relationships with allies such as Australia, Canada and France, as well as emerging powers in Asia and Latin America, should be cultivated.
Domestically, a ‘Leaving the EU’ Bill should be brought forward rapidly, to implement the legal secession from the EU two years after activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Separately, a ‘Great Repeal Bill’, based upon the Public Bodies Act (2011), should be enacted, bringing about within three years the comprehensive review and, where appropriate, repeal, of regulation of EU origin with the aim of lessening the bureaucratic burden on business, the public sector and third sector. Administratively, the Government will need to strengthen its capacity in a wide range of areas from trade negotiations to anti-trust enforcement. Current levels of funding from the EU to sectors and regions should initially be maintained domestically, including in agriculture, to prevent economic shocks whilst the surplus should be recycled to help pay down the deficit. Measures such as tax breaks and supply-side incentives would help preserve the UK’s position as the number one inward investment destination in Europe.
The outcome would be to accelerate the shifting pattern of UK’s exports and total trade away from the EU to the emerging markets, where the majority of the world’s growth is located. A more business friendly regulatory regime and the new security of the City of London from European interference will enhance competitiveness and compensate for the partial loss of access to European markets. The total long-term impact is estimated to be between -2.6% and +1.1% of GDP, with a best estimate of +0.1%. Although the years immediately surrounding the exit are likely to feature some degree of market uncertainty, if the right measures are taken the UK can be confident of a healthy long- term economic outlook outside the EU.
Read more about the announcement and read the full paper here