Japan finally takes Bernanke-san’s advice – 10 years later

January 8, 2013

This post was based on reporting by Leika Kihara in Tokyo

Japan has crossed the monetary rubicon: the government is actively intervening in the affairs of the central bank, pressuring it to more aggressively tackle a prolonged bout of deflation and economic stagnation. The Bank of Japan is expected to discuss raising its inflation target from the current 1 percent level during its next rate decision on January 21-22.

Overnight, a Japanese newspaper reported the finance ministry and the central bank were considering signing a policy accord that would set as a common goal not just achieving 2 percent inflation but also steady job growth.

Key Japanese policymakers played down the prospect of making the BOJ responsible for stable employment like the U.S. Federal Reserve, but said a 2 percent inflation target will be at the heart of a new policy accord with the central bank.

That type of language sounds an awful lot like the advice Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke offered Japan in 2003, when he was a governor on the Fed’s board.

There is no unique solution to the problem of continuing declines in Japanese prices; a variety of policies are worth trying, alone or in combination. However, one fairly direct and practical approach is explicit (though temporary) cooperation between the monetary and the fiscal authorities. Let me try to explain why I think this direction is promising and may succeed where monetary and fiscal policies applied separately have not.

Some worry that, because the initiative came from the fiscal authorities rather than central bankers, this could undermine the long-term credibility of the BOJ as an institution. Tim Duy, a Fed-watcher and economist at the University of Oregon, wrote in an email:

I wish the Bank of Japan had moved in this direction on its own, thus maintaining independence. I do believe that central bank independence is important in the long run, and even in the short run is important to ensure that “cooperation” does not become the route to hyperinflation.

Bernanke has all but begged Congress and the Administration to do more.  He has repeatedly said the Fed can’t do it all, that long-run fiscal issues must be resolved in the context of not undermining the near-term recovery. He has promised to keep a lid on interest rates until the economy is in safe territory. In other words, he has already laid the groundwork for cooperation in the context of being independent. Indeed, he has done it even as forces in Congress argue against his policies. It is almost the opposite of the Japanese scenario. I believe it would be good in the U.S. context, but it is Congress and the Administration that stand in the way.

Still, this Reuters report out of Tokyo suggests there is broad popular support for the new Japanese PM’s more actively interventionist policy.

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/