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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"How to Do More"

Adam Posen urges central banks to take aggressive action:

How to do more, by Adam Posen, External Member of the Monetary Policy Committee, Bank of England: We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor. - Samuel Gompers, May 2, 1890

Something's better than nothing, yes! But nothing's better than more.
- Stephen Sondheim, Sung by Madonna in the movie, Dick Tracy, 1990

Both the UK and the global economy are facing a familiar foe at present: policy defeatism. Throughout modern economic history, whether in Western Europe in the 1920s, in the US and elsewhere in the 1930s, or in Japan in the 1990s, every major financial crisis-driven downturn has been followed by premature abandonment—if not reversal—of the macroeconomic stimulus policies that are necessary to sustained recovery. Every time, this was due to unduly influential voices claiming some combination of the destructiveness of further policy stimulus, the ineffectiveness of further policy stimulus, or the political corruption from further policy stimulus. Every time those voices were wrong on each and every count. Those voices are being heard again today, much too loudly. It is the duty of economic policymakers including central bankers to rebut these false claims head on. It is even more important that we do the right thing for the economy rather than be slowed, confused, or intimidated by such false claims.

Make no mistake, the right thing to do right now is for the Bank of England and the other G7 central banks to engage in further monetary stimulus. If anything, it is past time for us to do so. The economic outlook has turned out to be as grim as forecasts based on historical evidence predicted it would be, given the nature of the recession, the fiscal consolidations underway, and the simultaneity of similar problems across the Western world. Sustained high inflation is not a threat in such an environment, and in fact the inflation that we have suffered due to temporary factors in the UK is about to peak.1 If we do not undertake the stimulative policy that the outlook calls for, then our economies and our people will suffer avoidable and potentially lasting damage. I will recap the argument for doing more in a moment.

My main purpose in speaking to you today is to explain how the Bank of England, and by extension other central banks, should do more to ease monetary policy at this juncture. I hope to convince you that doing more would be not only desirable, but constructive for the economy as a whole, effective as stimulus, and feasible without political compromise. A large part of this argument rests on asking you as sensible listeners to see through the distortions and falsehoods that have cropped up again in the aftermath of this crisis as in the past. Some common sense can be just as useful in appraising monetary policy as in evaluating the overall worth and likely success of other services for which the public contracts with technical experts. After such appraisal, I hope that you will agree with my arguments that:

  • More monetary ease will lead to greater restructuring of the economy in the right and necessary direction;
  • More of the same Quantitative Easing [QE] program that the Bank already undertook would be where to start, especially if done on sufficient scale;
  • More cooperation between the Bank and HM Government to promote investment and credit to small and medium business should be the beneficial next step.

Monetary policymakers must also free themselves from unfounded concerns and take these necessary actions. There are too many excuses for passivity being offered, none of which stand up to scrutiny or to the data. In essence, central banks can improve matters by doing more, even if we have to act alone. In so doing, we would make constructive actions by other policymakers in the fiscal and financial arenas outside of our remit more – not less – likely, and those actions more likely to succeed when undertaken.

Almost certainly, even if we were to do everything right on monetary policy (and we certainly will not get everything right, despite the best of intentions), there will still be suffering and ongoing problems from economic adjustment. And the benefits of our right policies may not turn out to be self-evident. But it is our responsibility and our duty to make things better if we can. Central bank officials have wasted too much time over the last year worrying about how their institutions would appear to markets, to politicians, and to the public, were we to undertake more stimulus. Sometimes you have to do the right thing even if it may be misperceived. I believe that by explaining how doing more would work, as I am trying to do today, the chances may increase that we will do the right thing on monetary policy now, and that it will be recognized as right later if not immediately.

1 Unless there is a sufficiently persistent supply shock to energy prices to more than offset the influence of declining rates of global growth on those prices for the next couple of years – something oil futures markets do not price in at present (in fact, they price in the opposite). ...[continue reading]...

    Posted by on Wednesday, September 14, 2011 at 10:17 AM in Economics, Monetary Policy | Permalink  Comments (22)


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