It was fun to watch. Nouriel Roubini, NYU economist and crisis personality, was one of just five carefully selected individuals at a large gathering in the International Monetary Fund HQ1 building’s towering atrium who actually got to ask questions of the policymakers on stage.
Roubini was characteristically biting in his critique of conventional orthodoxy, singling out the European Central Bank for not having done enough to stem the euro zone’s two-year financial crisis. He challenged the notion that the ECB is powerless to boost growth further, suggesting — to the clear discomfort of some policymakers in the room — that measures to weaken the currency could provide a badly-needed boost to exports:
I saw that on the panel there are four central bankers and the panel is about fiscal policy and sovereign debt. So the natural question is then to think maybe about what could be the contribution of central banks in resolving sovereign debt issues. Now, one simple answer would be to just monetize very large budget deficits and I understand why a central bank would say that’s a no-no.
But there’s a more subtle argument and it’s the following one: we know that while fiscal austerity is necessary, in the short-run, as even Christine Lagarde said and the IMF’s work suggests, that has a net recessionary effect on the economy. You’re raising taxes, you’re reducing transfer payments, you’re reducing government spending, so you’re reducing disposable income, you’re reducing aggregate demand. It makes the recession worse and you can get a vicious circle. Not only do you have deleveraging of the public sector but the raising of taxes and cutting of transfer payments induces also deleveraging of the private sector.
So if domestic demand is going to be anemic and weak in this fiscal adjustment because of private and public sector deleveraging you need net exports to improve to restore growth. That’s what happened in emerging market crises. But in order to have an improvement in net exports you need a weaker currency and a much more easy monetary policy to help induce that nominal and real depreciation that is not occurring right now in the euro zone. That’s one of the reasons why we’re getting a recession that’s even more severe. So, can’t we think of monetary policy as helping to induce the change in relative prices that’s necessary to have a restoration of growth if domestic demand is weak through net export improvements?