The ECB recently released a Working Paper – Financial Fragilty of Euro Area Households – which attempts “to identify distressed households by taking account of both the solvency and the liquidity situation of an individual household”. The paper uses survey data based on a sample of 51,000 households in 14 Euro nations. Taken at face value, the research provides some interesting and, perhaps, unexpected outcomes with respect to where the vulnerability lies. On the back of further damaging news about the economic prospects for Germany, the ECB research should, but won’t, motivate a major shift in German government policy towards stimulus. But then the head of the Bundesbank claims that stimulus is not required because Germany is travelling at normal capacity. The data would suggest otherwise and the ECB research would suggest that Germany is very vulnerable to a further recession.
One despairs when a sober institution gets ahead of itself, usually because they make hiring mistakes, and start to think they know stuff. This is an organisation that is steeped in statistical analysis and should have a very good idea of empirical regularities. They know that interest rates have been “essentially zero” in Japan since the 1990s and they know that what hasn’t happened as a consequence. They know that central banks have been “expanding their balance sheets” (now “collectively at … three times their pre-crisis level”) and what hasn’t happened as a consequence (inflation). But as the neo-liberal paradigm has concentrated its control of the policy debate, this organisation has morphed from playing a useful role as a coordinator of central banking into a propaganda unit pumping out misinformation and outright lies and distorting the public debate. Welcome to the Bank of International Settlements, which is now firmly ensconced with the likes of the IMF, the OECD, the ECB, the EU, the World Bank, and others as being part of the problem the World economy faces.
One of the oft-heard criticisms of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is that the original developers (including myself) say one thing but know another. We say – there are no financial constraints on a currency issuing government but then, as if as an afterthought, admit that in the real world there are lots of constraints on government spending. On Christmas Day 2009 I wrote the following blog – On voluntary constraints that undermine public purpose. It renders such criticisms redundant. But in the light of the Cyprus schemozzle (putting it mildly), it is interesting to reflect on what could have been done to avoid the ugly consequences that will follow the “Bail-in” package. Even within the constraint of keeping Cyprus in the Eurozone, the authorities (in particular, the ECB) has the capacity to save that nation’s banking system and avoid destroying the nation’s economy. The fact they chose not to use that capacity is telling given the consequences that will now follow. They might have followed their American counterparts who in 2011 clearly knew how to reduce the damage of the crisis and operate as a central bank rather than as part of a vicious syndicate of unelected and unaccountable socio-paths (aka the Troika).
And what is UE you might ask? Unemployment easing! As the major economies start to slow again (as fiscal stimulus is withdrawn prematurely), the calls are coming thick and fast for more quantitative easing. The Bloomberg editorial (June 8, 2012) – The Key to a Stronger Recovery: A Bolder Fed – was representative of this renewed call for the central banks to somehow stimulate aggregate demand to the tune of several percent of GDP in many nations. Like the latest bailout in Europe, the call for more QE is predictable. Neither initiative addresses the real problem with the relevant policy tool or change. What is needed is something much more direct. Why don’t we have a policy of unemployment easing (UE) where the treasury departments, supported by their respective central banks, immediately set about directly creating jobs and reducing the unemployment rates around the world. Putting cash (wages) into the hands of those that are most constrained (the unemployed) will do much more good for the economy than doing portfolio swaps with banks who will not lend to thin air! So we need UE not QE.
CNBC’s Head of News, one Patrick Allen produced this article (May 10, 2012) – European Central Bank Leveraged Like Lehman – which several readers E-mailed to me suggesting that there was a problem that had to be addressed and would prevent the ECB funding member state deficit increases in pursuit of growth. The only problem I am afraid to say is the “author” doesn’t know much about the subject that he is writing about. This, sadly, in a general problem out there in commentary land. The article was in fact reporting the views of one Satyajit Das who gets a lot of airtime on national radio in Australia and elsewhere but perpetuates many of the mainstream myths about the way the monetary system operates and its limits and propensities. Das mixes factual statements (which I agree with) with causalities and reasoning (which I do not agree with). The journalists then build their stories based on an uncritical precising of so-called experts like Das and the myths then spread. Let us be absolutely clear. There is no meaningful comparison between the ECB and Lehman or any central bank and any private bank. Further, the ECB cannot go broke.
On November 16, 2011 by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) published a – Discussion Paper – Implementing Basel III liquidity reforms in Australia – which details how the prudential regulator plans to implement the new Basel III reforms which aim “to strengthen the liquidity framework for authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs)”. in that paper, APRA indicated that there were not enough assets in the Australian financial system to satisfy the new liquidity requirements. In other words, there are not enough government bonds on the issue that the banks can use for this purpose. This is a consequence of the excessive pursuit of government surpluses over the last 16 odd years. APRA indicated that a country-specific solution to this asset would be required. in this context, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) a new facility – the Committed Liquidity Facility (CLF), which will provide high-quality liquidity to the commercial banks to allow them to meet the Basel III liquidity requirements. What the CLF demonstrates once again is that a currency issuing government is not financially constrained and can maintain integrity of the of the financial system and purchase any goods and services that are available for sale in its own currency any time that it chooses.