The Great Debate UK

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Time to stop following defunct economic policies

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Can economists contribute anything useful to our understanding of politics, business and finance in the real world?

I raise this question having spent last weekend in Toronto at the annual conference of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a foundation created in 2009 in response to the failure of modern economics in the global financial crisis (whose board I currently chair). Unfortunately, the question raised above is as troubling today as it was in November 2008, when Britain’s Queen Elizabeth famously stunned the head of the London School of Economics by asking faux naively, “But why did nobody foresee this [economic collapse]?”

As John Maynard Keynes observed in 1936, when he challenged the economic orthodoxies that were aggravating the Great Depression: “The ideas of economists, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist.”

This remark is as relevant today as in 1936. Joseph E. Stiglitz, the Nobel laureate, asked rhetorically in Toronto: “Why are central banks and governments still trying to predict the effects of their policies with an economic model that is manifestly absurd?”

How central bankers have got it wrong

If you asked someone to list the chief qualities needed to be a good central banker I assume that the list may include: good communicator, wise, attention to detail, clear thinking, credibility, and good with numbers.  However, in recent months these qualities have been sadly lacking, most notably last week when the Federal Reserve wrong-footed the markets and failed to start tapering its enormous QE programme.

The market had expected asset purchases to be tapered because: 1, Ben Bernanke had dropped fairly big hints at his June press conference that tapering was likely to take place sooner rather than later and 2, because the unemployment rate has consistently declined all year and if it continues moving in this direction then it could hit the Fed’s 6.5% target rate in the coming months.

Roll up, roll up – welcome to the great taper farce

We are at the stage of the financial cycle where central banks turn into circuses and central bankers become the circus performers. The market is transfixed by the show, watching every move and trying to anticipate what trick or shock will come next.

What is interesting about this particular circus is that the Ringmaster is about to leave, their replacement is turning into a whole new show of its own.

The watered down version of Forward Guidance

The new governor of the Bank of England has shaken things up at the Old Lady. Not only has he brought a touch of glamour to the Bank, he is considered a George Clooney look-alike by some, but he has dramatically altered the way that the Bank does things. Since he arrived a little over a month ago we’ve had statements released after meetings and now the Bank has adopted forward guidance.

But has this central banker with a twinkle in his eye run into a brick wall at the BOE? The forward guidance that he announced during the August Inflation Report went down like a lead balloon. The markets immediately challenged the Bank’s pledge to keep interest rates low until 2016, UK Gilt yields at one point rose to their highest level since before he joined as Governor, and the pound also jumped sharply.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

When illogical policy seems to work

It’s cynical, manipulative and hypocritical – and it looks like it is going to work. How often do you hear a sentence like this, to describe a government initiative or economic policy?  Not often enough.

The media and a surprisingly high proportion of business leaders, financiers and economic analysts seem to believe that policies which are dishonest, intellectually inconsistent or obviously self-interested in their motivation are ipso facto doomed to fail or to damage the public interest. But this is manifestly untrue. The effectiveness of public policies and their ultimate desirability is in practice judged not by their motivations, but by their results.

Sizing up Carney

–Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.–

Back  in the last quarter of 2012 when Mark Carney was announced as the Governor-elect of the Bank of England, imaginations ran wild about the new arsenal he could bring to the BoE’s toolkit for getting the UK economy moving again. GDP targeting and unlimited QE were not beyond the realms of possibility. Carney in the past had dismissed suggestions that central bankers were out of options when it came to stimulating over-leveraged developed economies. However, as we get closer to his start date the debate has shifted regarding monetary policy.

Dear Mark

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Dear Mark Carney,

As you arrive in your new office, you will not be short of free advice, least of all from economists. Nonetheless, like a supporter of the away team valiantly trying to make himself heard above the roar of the home crowd, this is my feeble attempt to compete against the chorus of voices calling for ever more, ever larger doses of QE, ever lower interest rates and even more devaluation of the Pound.

Economic quagmire adds pressure for monetary policy change

–Darren Williams is Senior European Economist at AllianceBernstein. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Bank of England governor-elect, Mark Carney, has raised hopes that the central bank may soon switch to a nominal GDP target. Although the costs seem to outweigh the benefits, the attractions of a radical new approach will grow if the economy remains stuck in the doldrums.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Is a revolution in economic thinking under way?

Four years after the start of the Great Recession, the global economy has not recovered, voters are losing patience and governments around the world are falling like ninepins. This is a situation conducive to revolutionary thinking, if not yet in politics, then maybe in economics.

In the past few months the International Monetary Fund, previously a bastion of austerity, has swung in favor of expansionary fiscal policies. The U.S. Federal Reserve has committed itself to printing money without limit until it restores full employment. And the European Central Bank has announced unlimited bond purchases with printed money, a policy denounced, quite literally, as the work of the devil by the president of the German Bundesbank.

Governments, not central banks, must act

–Michala Marcussen is global head of economics at Société Générale Corporate and Investment Bank. The opinions expressed are her own.–

Marcussen

The reflex induced by three decades of success is to look to central banks to steer the economy back to a path of sustainable growth, but five years on from the outbreak of the crisis, it is becoming increasingly evident that, despite the introduction of multiple unorthodox policy tools and huge balance sheet expansion, central banks can only help buy time, they cannot fix the underlying issues of huge debt mountains and weak trend potential growth. For this, government action is required, and as each new round of monetary policy easing seemingly comes with diminishing returns – both in terms of the absolute impact and its duration – there is a growing sense of urgency for governments to act.

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