The Problem With “Green” Monetary Policy

Otmar Issing in this Proj Synd piece says there is no thing as Green monetary policy:

Although there is increasing support for the idea that central banks should actively contribute to the fight against climate change, monetary policymakers have no mandate to do so, and for good reason. Tackling climate change is – and must remain – the responsibility of elected governments and parliaments.


the growing public demand that central banks contribute more actively to the fight against climate change leads to a different dimension. In theory, central banks could introduce preferential interest rates for “green” activities – thus driving up the prices of “green bonds” – while adopting a more negative attitude toward noxious assets, such as those tied to fossil fuels. And yet, assessing whether and to what extent an asset is environmentally harmful or helpful would be extremely difficult.

Putting aside these more technical issues, the broader question remains: Should central banks assume responsibility for implementing policies to combat climate change? A number of prominent central bankers have already argued that they should. And current proposals for extending central banks’ mandate have come on top of growing concerns about income distribution and other issues tangentially related to monetary policy.

One is reminded of an ironic comment by the great Chicago School economist Jacob Viner. “If you were to ask me what are the professed goals of most central bankers,” Viner wrote in 1964, “I would say on the basis of what I have heard them say that if they were appearing before a commission … they would either include a wide range of goals, including virtue and motherhood and also everything they could think of which is nice and good, or insist on the lack of power of central banks to serve effectively any specific important goal.”

After having played a decisive role in preventing the world from falling into another 1930s-style depression, central banks after the 2008 financial crisis have been held up as saviors of the world. The title of “maestro,” once accorded just to former US Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, has now been extended to the entire field. With central bankers at the height of their reputation, it is not surprising that many would now want them to make a substantive contribution to the fight against climate change.

But central bankers should never forget what they are appointed for: namely, to preserve price stability and, in some cases, to support high levels of employment. Central bankers are not omnipotent, and they should not be made to feel as if they were. Confronting climate change is above all the responsibility of governments and legislatures that are exposed to the risk of losing elections. Climate policies that will affect social and economic arrangements across all of society belong in the hands of those who are directly answerable to voters.

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