Archive for September 5th, 2017

Will we see a return of the city-state?

September 5, 2017

Interesting piece by Jamie Barlett , Director at the think-tank Demos in London.

(more…)

Advertisements

If Fiscal councils are just advisers to Governments, should central banks/MPC also do the same?

September 5, 2017

Interesting piece by Prof Simon Wren-Lewis on his blog.

He says Fiscal councils are just advisory bodies but monetary policy is a delegated control body. Why can’t we have monetary policy committee/central banks do the same?

With fiscal councils (or Independent Fiscal Institutions) now commonplace in advanced economies, a natural question arises. Why are all these councils advisory, while independent central banks have control over monetary policy? For fiscal policy we seem to have delegated advice [1], while for monetary policy we have delegated control. In this post I want to focus on control over how policy instruments are changed, and not control of the goals of policy. For clarity assume that governments still control the ultimate goals of monetary policy (e.g. an inflation target) and fiscal policy (e.g. a target for the deficit in 5 years time).
As fiscal councils are the less familiar, it is natural to try and answer this question by asking why fiscal councils are not given control over fiscal policy. I am, of course, not talking about controlling the detail of government spending or taxes, but instead setting a target for the projected deficit which governments should aim to achieve in a budget. There are lots of potential answers to that question, which I have written about elsewhere.
However we could ask the question the other way around, and I cannot remember anyone asking it this way. Why are there no independent advisory central banks? In the UK, for example, imagine having the MPC meeting, and then immediately advising (in secret for a short time) the Chancellor of their recommendation for interest rates. The Chancellor would very quickly (within an hour or day?) decide whether to accept that recommendation or do something different. After that, the decision and the MPC’s recommendation would be announced.
He says this could happen in US but much more difficult in other countries:
Two straightforward points. First, a system of that kind could only work in the US if Congress gave the President the power to accept the Fed’s recommendation or impose the President’s own decision: perhaps not something we would want to contemplate right now. In the Eurozone the ECB would have to give recommendations to Ecofin, which might make it both impractical and perhaps undesirable. Second, this form of delegation is obviously weaker than giving complete control to the central bank, and that in itself may be a reason why it is not adopted.
Nevertheless, for a country like the UK, it would be a mistake to underestimate the political pressure the Chancellor would be under to accept the central bank’s public advice. The Chancellor or Treasury minister would be entirely responsible from deviating from the recommendation given to them, and if it went wrong they would incur a considerable political cost. In these circumstances, it would be understandable for governments to reason that there was little to be gained from having the power to overrule central bank advice. They would get it in the neck if they overruled this advice and turned out to be wrong, but equally if the MPC make mistakes they would also have ultimate responsibility for accepting this advice. If in practice nearly all of the time they are going to accept the central bank’s recommendations, why not give them complete control so that at least you are not implicated when things go wrong.
….
Of course many governments used to be happy to control monetary policy, as long as the advice they were getting was secret. But if that advice is public, as surely we all agree it should be, would even formally advisory central banks start to in effect control monetary policy because governments would never incur the risk of going against their advice? In which case, why so much fuss about independent central banks that do control monetary policy being undemocratic?
I stress again that I’m talking about control of month to month interest rate changes, and not the goals of monetary policy (inflation targets or NGDP targets). I think those should be democratically decided (as in the UK, but not the US or EZ), and that central banks should be accountable in a meaningful way if they do not achieve these goals. But for the day to day business of setting rates, I cannot see that much would be gained by putting those under democratic control. 
Hmm.
I think secrecy is the key. India is an interesting example here as well. History of RBI tells you how government pretty much controlled monetary policy till 1991. Some might say it was till 1997 when the Government stopped automatic financing of deficits via the adhoc Treasury bills.
The Government could pretty much run the monetary policy with RBI just playing an advisory role as there was much secrecy. Once we moved towards sharing more details with financial media and so on, the previous model broke down. RBI was now given a delegated control role…
Lots to think about in the post. Political economy of central banking…

How is it that ECB understands role/importance of cash where cash usage is declining?

September 5, 2017

Yves Mersch member of ECB Executive Board has a piece on role of cash in the system. It is interesting to note that despite the fact that some of the European countries are seeing a decline in cash usage, ECB thinks cash still plays an important role in the system. He made an earlier speech on the issue as well.

In this piece he says:

There is much talk about the demise of cash. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of its death are an exaggeration. Cash remains popular. A crucial point for banks to understand, since respecting clients’ needs and wishes is a precondition to ensuring their loyalty and support. This not only applies to the relationship between private banks and their clients, but also between central banks and the public, where cash provides a tangible daily link. I will discuss each in turn.

….

In this context, some see major business opportunities arising from abolishing cash, by eliminating the high storage, issuance, and handling costs that the financial industry currently faces. Customers would benefit, too, as they would no longer need to carry wads of cash or search for ATMs.

But this assumed increase in convenience would come at a cost. There are a wide range of legal, governance and operational questions that need to be considered carefully before switching away from cash. Just as cash has a number of technological safeguards to protect from counterfeiting, innovative payment systems require significant safeguards to protect individuals from theft and from loss of personal information. That protection of personal information extends to ensuring the ability of law-abiding citizens to maintain their anonymity and addressing legitimate concerns surrounding the use of Big Data for personal profiling.

Most importantly, empirical evidence suggests that the lobbying to abolish cash fails to respect the will of the people: cash remains popular. Recent research for the ECB finds that 80% of transactions at point of sale are in cash. Even adjusting for the value of transactions, cash still accounts for the majority. Indeed, the demand for cash currently outstrips the growth in nominal GDP.

Banks should see such developments as a positive opportunity to engage with customers, without actively pushing them away from cash where it remains their preference. Enabling customers to manage their finances in the manner that most appeals to them encourages loyalty and supports customer retention.

He then discusses how cash provides the crucial link between central bank and public…

Life aboard the longest train ride through India and looking at railways thorough window seat…

September 5, 2017

Two picture essays/articles on Indian railways.

First on National Geographic which has pictures from Vivek Express, India’s longest train ride. The second is on Scroll which talks about a crowd-sourced photography project on Indian Railways.

In Nat Geo link, there is this dilemma for the modern world:

(more…)


%d bloggers like this: