Whither Central Banking?

Larry Summers whose tweets created quite a storm of late.

In Proj Syndicate Piece along with Anna Stansbury he writes central banks should realise their impotence in solving another crisis:

In an environment of secular stagnation in the developed economies, central bankers’ ingenuity in loosening monetary policy is exactly what is not needed. What is needed are admissions of impotence, in order to spur efforts by governments to promote demand through fiscal policies and other means.

Phew!

He says lower interest rates will not work this time around:

From a macro perspective, low interest rates promote leverage and asset bubbles by reducing borrowing costs and discount factors, and encouraging investors to reach for yield. Almost every account of the 2008 financial crisis assigns at least some role to the consequences of the very low interest rates that prevailed in the early 2000s. More broadly, students of bubbles, from the economic historian Charles Kindleberger onward, always emphasize the role of easy money and overly ample liquidity.

From a micro perspective, low rates undermine financial intermediaries’ health by reducing their profitability, impede the efficient allocation of capital by enabling even the weakest firms to meet debt-service obligations, and may also inhibit competition by favoring incumbent firms. There is something unhealthy about an economy in which corporations can profitably borrow and invest even if the project in question pays a zero return.

These considerations suggest that reducing interest rates may not be merely insufficient, but actually counterproductive, as a response to secular stagnation.

This formulation of the secular stagnation view is closely related to the economist Thomas Palley’s recent critique of “zero lower bound economics”: negative interest rates may not remedy Keynesian unemployment. More generally, in moving toward the secular stagnation view, we have come to agree with the point long stressed by writers in the post-Keynesian (or, perhaps more accurately, original Keynesian) tradition: the role of particular frictions and rigidities in underpinning economic fluctuations should be de-emphasized relative to a more fundamental lack of aggregate demand.

If reducing rates will be insufficient or counterproductive, central bankers’ ingenuity in loosening monetary policy in an environment of secular stagnation is exactly what is not needed. What is needed are admissions of impotence, in order to spur efforts by governments to promote demand through fiscal policies and other means.

Instead of more old New Keynesian economics, we hope, but do not expect, that this year’s gathering in Jackson Hole will bring forth a new Old Keynesian economics.

 

 

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