Two presidents and a governor

A James Alexander post

In the last day of public comments by FOMC members before the whole committee entered purdah the market was treated to three separate statements.

  1. Kashkari

First off was Neel Kashkari. He knows little about monetary economics and it showed he hasn’t bothered to find out anything since his appointment. He should take this course for starters. At least is he is enthusiastic and inquisitive.

In a blog post entitled “Nonmonetary Problems: Diagnosing and Treating the Slow Recovery” he rather airily dismissed the idea that the slow recovery was due to poor monetary policy. He tasked his economics team at the Minneapolis Fed with building on some random thoughts of Greg Mankiw in a New Times op-ed. Mankiw came up with five, Kashkari and his team added two more, I think.  I have read so many of the secular stagnation theses and other ad hoc nostrums I go a bit bored.

What was not seriously discussed was monetary policy. He did at least mention raising the inflation target, moving to a level target or even NGDP targeting. But he then spoilt these promising thoughts with this incredible statement:

However, there are significant downside risks with these policy recommendations [raising the IT, LT of NGDPLT] that I believe must be carefully considered before being adopted. First, the Federal Reserve is struggling to hit its current target of 2 percent and has come up short for four years. Market forecasts and expectations about our ability to hit 2 percent have fallen. If we announced a new higher target, it isn’t clear why anyone would believe that we could hit it. The Federal Reserve’s credibility could be weakened.

The trouble is, the Fed has buckets of credibility. Despite “struggling to hit its current target” it ended QE in 2014, threatened all through 2015 to raise rates and did so in December. And then the Fed projected four more 25bps hikes in 2016 and around eight more within two years or so. What on earth effect does Kashkari think all that actual and clearly threatened firepower have on inflation expectations? No wonder the inflation data the Fed is so dependent upon keeps disappointing.

Still Kashkari is a lot more dovish than his two peers in the Kansas (George) and San Francisco (Williams) Feds, and will swing the average vote much more dovish in 2017 when it is his turn to vote.

  1. Lockhart

The president of the Atlanta Fed is a bit on the hawkish side, but mostly a bit of a tease. He said nothing of note in his speech and ended a bit dovish, but teasingly so:

“Among these—and I will close on this note—are, first, what is the right policy setting given an outlook of getting to full employment and price stability relatively soon—in the next couple of years? And, if 1.6 percent inflation and 4.9 percent unemployment were all you knew about the economy, would you consider a policy setting one tick above the zero lower bound still appropriate? These are some of the questions on my mind as I approach the next few meetings. I think circumstances call for a lively discussion next week.”

3.Brainard

This was the big one. The speech worried markets on Friday 9th September when it was announced, especially after a litany of hawkish regional Fed presidents reiterating their inane and extremely tired views on the coming hyperinflation unless rates were raised soon.

The markets need not have worried. Brainard echoed many of the very sensible comments made by her governor colleague Tarullo.

1. Inflation Has Been Undershooting, and the Phillips Curve Has Flattened … With the Phillips curve appearing to be a less reliable guidepost than it has been in the past, the anchoring role of inflation expectations remains critically important. On expected similar to realized inflation, recent developments suggest some reasons to be concerned more about undershooting than overshooting. Although some survey measures have remained well anchored at 2 percent, consumer surveys have moved to the lower end of their historical ranges and have not risen sustainably

The other four sections were all pretty sensible:

2. Labor Market Slack Has Been Greater than Anticipated …the unemployment rate is not the only gauge of labor market slack, and other measures have been suggesting there is some room to go … 

  1. Foreign Markets Matter, Especially because Financial Transmission is Strong  …In turn, U.S. activity and inflation appear to be importantly influenced by these exchange rate movements. In particular, estimates from the FRB/US model suggest that the nearly 20 percent appreciation of the dollar from June 2014 to January of this year could be having an effect on U.S. economic activity roughly equivalent to a 200 basis point increase in the federal funds rate

[but whose fat finger caused the USD appreciation?] …

  1. The Neutral Rate Is Likely to Remain Very Low for Some Time … Ten years ago, based on the underlying economic relationships that prevailed at the time, it would have seemed inconceivable that real activity and inflation would be so subdued given the stance of monetary policy. To reconcile these developments, it is difficult not to conclude that the current level of the federal funds rate is less accommodative today than it would have been 10 years ago. Put differently, the amount of aggregate demand associated with a given level of the interest rate is now much lower than before the crisis

[OK, this is really confused. Interest rates are not monetary policy, expected nominal growth is. High rates mean money is or was easy, low rates mean it is or was tight] …

  1. Policy Options Are Asymmetric… From a risk-management perspective, therefore, the asymmetry in the conventional policy toolkit would lead me to expect policy to be tilted somewhat in favor of guarding against downside risks relative to preemptively raising rates to guard against upside risks.”

And then we get what seems to be a highly encouraging trend, seen first with John Williams, but repeated by Neel Kashkari today, a nod to alternative policy options:

There is a growing literature on such policy alternatives, such as raising the inflation target, moving to a nominal income target, or deploying negative interest rates.15 These options merit further assessment. However, they are largely untested and would take some time to assess and prepare. For the time being, the most effective way to address these concerns is to ensure that our policy actions align with our commitment to achieving the existing inflation target, which the Committee has recently clarified is symmetric around 2 percent–and not a ceiling–along with maximum employment.”

The last point echoes what we have identified coming from the Bank of England, that 2% is not necessarily a ceiling, although the Fed is not yet saying that about projected inflation.

There is no mea culpa, that the Fed has caused the inflation undershooting by excessively tight monetary policy but, hey, we can’t have everything just yet.

And all this is going to be evaluated in the “months ahead”. Read my lips: no September, November or even December rate hike. A good news day!

“Heads or Tails”

From a recent Vox post: “The tail that wags the economy: The origin of secular stagnation”:

The Great Recession has had long-lasting effects on credit markets, employment, and output. This column combines a model with macroeconomic data to measure how the recession has changed beliefs about the possibility of future crises. According to the model, the estimated change in sentiment correlates with economic activity. A short-lived financial crisis can trigger long-lived shifts in expectations, which in turn can trigger secular stagnation.

The typical post-WWII recession has a distinct trough, followed by a sharp rebound toward a stable trend line. Following the Great Recession, however, this rebound is missing. The missing recovery is what Summers (2016) and Eggertsson & Mehotra (2014) call ‘secular stagnation’ (see also Teulings and Baldwin 2014).

And show a version of this chart

holy-grail_1

Why did the dysfunction in credit markets impact the real economy for so long? Many explanations for the real effects have been advanced, and these are still being compared to data (e.g. Gertler and Kiyotaki 2010, Brunnermeier and Sannikov 2014, and Gourio 2012, 2013). Existing theories about why the crisis took place assume that the shocks that triggered it were persistent. Yet such shocks in previous business cycle episodes were not so persistent. This differential in persistence is just as puzzling as the origin of the crisis. What most explanations of the Great Recession miss is a mechanism that takes some large, transitory shocks and then transforms them into long-lived economic responses.

Perhaps the fact that this recession has been more persistent than others is because, before it took place, it was perceived as an extremely unlikely event. Today, the question of whether the financial crisis might repeat itself arises frequently. Financial panic is a new reality that was never perceived as a possibility before.

I believe there´s a simpler and more direct explanation – or mechanism – consistent with the changes in “beliefs, expectations or sentiment” which, in addition to helping understand the fall in productivity growth, is also consistent with the post war history of the behavior of RGDP depicted in the chart above.

That alternative explanation relies on observing that what is manifestly different in the present cycle is the behavior of monetary policy, if you understand monetary policy to be the main determinant of aggregate nominal spending (NGDP).

My strategy divides the post war period (actually the period after 1953, to avoid complications from the immediate post war years and the period of the Korean War) in four parts. The “low inflation” 1950s and early 1960s, the “rising-high inflation” of the late 1960s to the early 1980s, the “falling-low inflation” years from the mid-1980s to 2006, and the “Great Recession/Great Stagnation/Too Low Inflation” years thereafter.

In this story, it´s not “the tail that wags the economy”, but the “hydra-head” of the FOMC, who wields close control of aggregate nominal spending in the economy.

The panel depicts NGDP and RGDP during the four episodes. All corresponding charts have the same scale and they cover the period from the peak of the cycle to 28 quarters from the trough (which is the time span since the Great Recession ended in June 2009).

holy-grail_2

holy-grail_3

From looking at the behavior of NGDP and the associated behavior of RGDP during the episodes, it becomes clear why we´re living a Great Stagnation. For the past 60 years, monetary policy has never been this tight! That´s the mechanism that transforms transitory shocks into long-lived economic responses.

And on the productivity implications of inadequate AD growth, this was tweeted by Adam Tooze:

Keynes on the aggregate demand context necessary for rapid productivity growth

holy-grail_4

Alt-M And Deflationist-Statist Fiat-Money Central Banks

A Benjamin Cole post

There is a still-popular framework in some monetary circles (including parts of the Alt-M crowd) that fiat-money central banks are statist-inflationist redoubts, despite the last 35 years of global disinflation and then deflation, along with falling interest rates.

The track record of the last few decades suggests that major fiat-money central banks are actually disinflationist and then deflationist, and appear unwilling to alter course.

The old argument was that nations want to pay off debts with cheap money. So nations deploy central banks to print money—the word “debauchery” and “theft” are often used—and pay off bondholders with devalued currency, cheating the lenders of their just due.

Today

Of course, today we see Europe and Japan in quicksand-deflation and ZLB, and the U.S. perhaps but one recession away from a similar fate.

The sinister statist-inflationist central banks are proving themselves incompetent at printing up cheap money. How can this be?

The Answer

What if the statist central banks are actually very clever? They have figured out that if they can engineer deflation, then nations can borrow in perpetuity for something close to free. Japan, for example, is floating the idea of perma-bonds that pay no interest.

And through quantitative easing, nations are paying off national debt without inflationary consequence, as long as central banks can keep deflation as the norm. In Japan, for example, the Bank of Japan owns one-third of that nation’s national debt.

Central banks, by keeping interest rates artificially high—remember, with ZLB rates have a floor, despite some negative-interest rates here and there—they can use QE to pay off national IOUs forever.

The long road to deflation and ZLB has also resulted in incredible riches for bondholders, who saw their holdings soar in value. Far from being robbed, bondholders have effectively enjoyed three decades of Fat City Boom Days thanks to central banks.

Just by chance, I am sure.

Conclusion

A good cabal theory is that wealthy and politically influential bondholders, through captive central banks, have engineered an economy-sapping long disinflation and then deflation, extorting rising real rents along the way on soaring bond values.

Well, as cabal theories go, it holds more water than the inflation-statist fiat money central banks tale.

Europe overtakes US growth

A James Alexander post

It’s taken a while but the evidence is now in. Euro Area NGDP growth has overtaken US NGDP growth. Congratulations to the ECB, commiserations to the Fed. Go Europe!

ja-ez-us-growth_1

Sadly, it is not quite so simple. While the Fed has much to atone for letting NGDP drift so far off trend, the ECB has much more below trend growth to make up as the growth “gap” since the Great Recession makes very clear.

For those who prefer “Real” GDP, i.e. a real number GDP deflated by inflation, then we can also see a similar pattern of Europe overtaking the US.

ja-ez-us-growth_2

The main reason for this Euro Area relative resurgence is that monetary policy remains on a tightening bias in the US despite these terrible trends in Nominal and Real GDP, while the ECB is still very much in easing mode. The trends are equally visible in Base Money growth: 6% down YoY in the US, 30-40% up in the Euro Area.

The regional drivers of Euro Area growth are the big four countries who make up 75% of Euro Area GDP, while BeNeLux makes up a further 10%. Their report cards show:

  • Germany (29%) – NGDP slowed to 3.2% YoY in 2Q 2016 from a 3.6% trend over the last five quarters. It seems to have been driven by a fall in the deflator rather than RGDP growth which was stable at 1.7% YoY.
  • France (21%) – still growing at over 2% YoY NGDP doesn’t sound exciting but is very good for that country which has a terribly sluggish nominal economy hidebound by labor regulations and other restrictions. QoQ growth was 0%, which wasn’t too bad given the country had terror attacks and a major football championship keeping people away from the shops. Equally, keeping large parts of the labor force out of the economy as evidenced by its very low Labor Force Participation and Employment/Population ratios helps France´s productivity statistics but doesn’t make the country happy or grow very fast.
  • Italy (15%) – Despite the long-drawn out saga of the low nominal growth-inspired banking crisis, NGDP growth in Italy is above 2% for a second quarter running, helping keep RGDP positive YoY. ECB monetary policy is set for the average grower inside the Euro Area and Italy is very definitely average.
  • Spain (10%) – NGDP picked up after a 1Q2016 dip but did not regain the 4% recorded in 2H 2016. Still, it is very welcome given the political chaos engendered by not having a government and as the country has much catch up to do in terms of lost NGDP growth during the double dip recession.

Even writing these mini-report cards on various regions within the Euro Area, one feels very conscious that one is approaching the monetary area the wrong way. It is, or should be, seen as one bloc but the national politics keeps interfering. It mirrors the tension between the permanent Federal Reserve governors and the regional Fed presidents on the FOMC. The US is far more of a single market than the Euro Area but can still see tensions, especially when the central governors are two seats short due to nomination blocs by Congress on Presidential appointees.

Perhaps the sheer diversity of ECB council members strengthens the central officers in a way Janet Yellen can only dream. Who knows? But what is clear is that the ECB is on the right path at the moment while the Fed is not.

Lael, a “courier pigeon”?

Last month, John Williams wrote an “out-of-the-mainstream” letter. He was quickly reined in and three days later “toed the line”.

Now, we are told that Lael Brainard will give a speech in Chicago on September 12:

One of the most influential Fed doves has announced that she will speak on Monday, Sept 12 on the US economy in Chicago at noon local time (1 pm ET).

The location is the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and they say she will discuss “the economic outlook for the United States and monetary policy implications” and will be in conversation with Michael Moskow, who was CEO of the Chicago Fed.

Maybe it’s been in the works for a while, maybe she’s been dispatched to reel in hike expectations for September 21. Either way, that’s going to be a critical speech.

The fact that she´s regarded as an “influential dove” increases the “likelyhood” of a September hike if she so indicates. It will certainly be interesting to read.

The BoE’s new monetary policy tool: toleration of above target projected inflation

A James Alexander post

Watching Bank of England Governor Mark Carney joust again with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP at the UK’s Treasury Select Committee yesterday got me looking back to the May press conference when Carney launched his warnings about the riskiness of voting Leave, that were then repeated at the May Treasury Select Committee hearings.

There was a lot going on at the time but Carney had a secret weapon, a new monetary policy tool whose importance is still being overlooked.

Carney took sides, but …

The intensity of the debate over Brexit was terrific during May and June. The Bank of England was clear that there could be financial chaos and a technical recession. There was only downside risk from the voting Leave. In that view the BoE was amplifying, but with authority, the typical consensus expert view. It took sides with the Cameron/Osborne government, clearly and simply, loyally.

Remain supporters amongst journalists and politicians were very pleased. Leave supporters were not. Rees-Mogg was entirely right to question the independence of the bank. If Carney had talked in any remotely balanced way about the potential benefits of Leave then he would have been fair but as Rees-Mogg noted, he didn’t take up that opportunity. All serious people agreed Brexit would be a disaster, and Carney is a very serious person indeed.

However, the sub-text was also crystal clear. And FX markets, a prime window onto, and channel of, monetary policy very much got the message. If the UK voted Leave then all the monetary policy power of the Bank of England would be brought to bear immediately to offset any shock to demand, due to fears about the supply side.

Once it was clear that the UK had voted Leave then the markets immediately knew what to expect from UK monetary policy. Potential rate cuts, QE and other liquidity schemes – plus the bonus of a dramatic and statesmanlike broadcast from Carney himself. Sterling fell 10% in response to the u-turn in monetary policy, UK domestic equities fell in response to demand shock fears caused by long-run supply side fears. Political turmoil didn’t help much either. But, it wasn’t a disaster. Financial institutions sailed through unscathed, many even profitably. There was no repeat of Lehman.

With one step he was free

In the hearing yesterday Carney was not exactly smug, but he did say he was “serene” about the new stance. He also elaborated about just how profound the 180-degree u turn on monetary policy had been. He said monetary policy was on a tightening bias as late as May/June, and the next moves in rates were due to be up. That had all changed now and he clearly was a much happier man as a result. His incorrect monetary policy stance of the previous year and a  half was now just a distant memory, “ancient history” as he called it.

No monetary shock here, so no demand shock either

While the vote to leave was a shock a bigger shock, a monetary shock, would have been if the Bank of England hadn’t intervened to offset the uncertainty shock.

If it had decided to defend the currency with a monetary tightening, that would have been truly disastrous. Some central bankers have made that mistake in the past and it never ends well.

If it had appeared to stand pat and just keep its tightening bias, that would still have been a shock. Some central bankers have done that too, and it didn’t end well.

The BoE had primed markets that it would respond appropriately and it did. GBP immediately fell 10%, and then rates were cut and QE was expanded. Osborne’s replacement, Philip Hammond, also made it very clear that the response to the Brexit shock was monetary, not fiscal.

The BoE even said it would also tolerate an above target inflation rate – all in order to ensure financial stability and a return of inflation to 2% in the longer term. That “even ” is subtle, but very powerful.

Overshoot of projected inflation now tolerated

Why did Carney never say during 2015 that it would tolerate a period of above target inflation in order to bring current inflation up to target. Well, the obvious answer is because the BoE took its own projections seriously, and they showed inflation returning to 2%.

Those projections always showing this happening kept monetary policy tight, with promises of more tightening to come if those projections showed an overshoot. The fact that this stance meant constant under-shooting was lost on the BoE.

Is this a new tool?

After the Brexit vote the UK central bank seems to have added this new weapon to its toolbox: Toleration of projected overshoots to its inflation target at a time when actual inflation is stubbornly below target.

The BoE tolerated current inflation above target when it was above target, but what else could it do? It was a fact, but was it a choice too? We don’t really know. We do know that it wouldn’t tolerate inflation projections going above its target until we had the vote to leave, now we do.

Perhaps this new tool could also be used by other central banks. Temporary overshoots of projected inflation in order to get current inflation up to target. Are you listening at the Fed, ECB and BoJ?

Switzerland escapes deflation … by printing money

A James Alexander post

Back in Autumn last year I was concerned  by the negative trend in Swiss NGDP during 3Q 2015. In January 2015 the new head of the Swiss National Bank broke the fixed ceiling on the currency vs the Euro that had prevented appreciation and a consequent monetary tightening. The ceiling had been so credible that after early attacks the SNB had not had to defend it by selling currency and thus expanding its balance sheet – a major cause of concern inside Switzerland.

On breaking the ceiling the currency duly rose dramatically and the SNB was forced to sell currency in order to stop what it saw as “excessive” appreciation. Effectively, the SNB was now running an unofficial peg vs the Euro. It was forced to begin expanding its balance sheet all over again. The initial currency appreciation was monetary tightening and did see NGDP slow and then turn negative, dragging down RGDP too, but not quite sending Switzerland into a recession.

ja-swiss16_1

Over the last three quarters the recession was narrowly avoided so there has been no poor ending yet. Why not?

• The unofficial peg vs the Euro means that monetary policy has stopped tightening.

• The cost of maintaining the new unofficial peg means Switzerland is actually engaged in monetary easing as Base Money has grown steadily thanks to the continual sale of currency in return for foreign assets. If a major country did this it would be termed “currency manipulation”, but the US Treasury has only named China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Germany on its infamous May 2016 “Monitoring List”.

• It won’t have helped that Switzerland is running with very negative policy rates, but it doesn’t appear to have hurt either.

ja-swiss16_2

In just the 2nd quarter of 2016 alone he SNB has bought more USD (11.5bn) and more EUR (16bn) than they owned before the financial crisis.

ja-swiss16_3

By tying itself again to Euro monetary policy Switzerland has effectively outsourced its monetary policy direction to the ECB, which itself is trying hard to ease monetary policy via its QE programme, despite the massive handicap of its absurdly low inflation ceiling. Euro Area NGDP and RGDP growth has avoided disaster as a result, and has had a similar impact on Switzerland.

Independent Fiat-Money Central Banks and ITs: A Toxic Combination

A Benjamin Cole post

The woeful record of independent fiat-money central banks and inflation targets is one of nearly universal economic asphyxiation. Everywhere on the globe where a central bank has an IT, one sees inflation below targets, deflation and anemic growth.

Right to it:

  • The Reserve Bank of Australia has an inflation target of 2% to 3%, but with inflation at 1% the RBA is below target. Growth is subpar—and this is the best of the lot.
  • Thailand has a1.5% inflation band around 2.5% IT, and has no inflation and subpar growth.
  • The People’s Bank of China has a 4% IT, and a 1.8% inflation rate. The nation is about at half of real growth rates when inflation was close to target.
  • The ECB has a 2% IT, and is in deflation perma-gloom
  • Japan has a 2% IT, and is in deflation perma-gloom.
  • The Bank of England has a 2% IT, and a 0.3% inflation rate. Growth is subpar.
  • Singapore has exchange-rate target on currencies that are ruled by ITs. The city-state nation most recently posted 0.3% QoQ growth and is in deflation.

Calling Inspector Clouseau

I see a pattern!

For that matter the Fed has a 2% IT on the PCE, often misperceived as a 2% ceiling on the CPI (perhaps even by FOMC officials). The Fed is below target and real growth in the U.S. microscopic. What a surprise!

Should not the macroeconomic topic of the day be,  “Why are global central banks nearly universally falling below their ITs while mired in slow growth?”

At this late date, why does anyone think an IT is a good idea? Where has an IT worked (with the possible exception of the RBA’s IT-band, a slightly less worse idea than an strict IT).

The sooner fiat-money central banks kill off ITs the better. They have not worked. Is that not reason enough?

Yes, NGDPLT’s would be better.

The oddity: For decades, there has been long-winded sermons on the risks of fiat-money central banks, one reason they were made independent. The premise, even in present-day literature, is that central banks have been loose, are loose, and want to be loose, to serve sinister statist-inflationist goals and populist madmen.

The reality? Independent fiat-money central banks have universally asphyxiated commerce through tight money.

How else to explain gathering global deflation and slow growth?

When will macroeconomic orthodoxy accept the reality?

The genius that was Milton Friedman

Going back over old posts, I found one from 6 years ago that covered Milton Friedman. That was in Portuguese, and here I have more.

This is taken from the Q&A following Friedman´s Keynote Address at a Bank of Canada Conference in 2000. Here´s Friedman, on the hot topics of today: The Euro, Inflation Targeting operated primarily through interest rates, and Japan

Michael Bordo: Do you think the recent introduction of the euro will lead to the formation of other common-currency areas?

Milton Friedman: That’s an extremely interesting question. I think that the euro is one of the few really new things we’ve had in the world in recent years. Never in history, to my knowledge, has there been a similar case in which you have a single central bank controlling politically independent countries.

The gold standard was one in which individual countries adhered to a particular commodity—gold—and they were always free to break or to leave it, or to change the rate. Under the euro, that possibility is not there. For a country to break, it really has to break. It has to introduce a brand new currency of its own.

I think the euro is in its honeymoon phase. I hope it succeeds, but I have very low expectations for it. I think that differences are going to accumulate among the various countries and that non-synchronous shocks are going to affect them.

Right now, Ireland is a very different state; it needs a very different monetary policy from that of Spain or Italy. On purely theoretical grounds, it’s hard to believe that it’s going to be a stable system for a long time. On the other hand, new things happen and new developments arise.

The one additional factor that has come out that leads me to raise a question about this is the evidence that a single currency—currency unification— tends to very sharply increase the trade among the various political units. If international trade goes up enough, it may reduce some of the harm that comes from the inability of individual countries to adjust to asynchronous shocks. But that’s just a potential scenario.

You know, the various countries in the euro are not a natural currency trading group. They are not a currency area. There is very little mobility of people among the countries. They have extensive controls and regulations and rules, and so they need some kind of an adjustment mechanism to adjust to asynchronous shocks—and the floating exchange rate gave them one. They have no mechanism now. If we look back at recent history, they’ve tried in the past to have rigid exchange rates, and each time it has broken down. 1992, 1993, you had the crises. Before that, Europe had the snake, and then it broke down into something else. So the verdict isn’t in on the euro. It’s only a year old. Give it time to develop its troubles.

(Note: and the troubles developed)

Malcolm Knight: Countries with a flexible exchange rate need a nominal target for monetary policy to anchor expectations. Do you feel that inflation targeting provides a useful nominal target?

Milton Friedman: As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s a good thing to have a nominal target, to say that you’re not going to try to fine-tune, and to indicate what you aren’t going to do.

The problem I have is this: the current mechanism for all of the central banks who are inflation targeting is a short-term interest rate—as in the United States—in all of the central banks.

We know from the past that interest rates can be a very deceptive indicator of the state of affairs. A low interest rate may be a sign of an expansive monetary policy or of an earlier restrictive policy. And similarly, a high rate may be a sign of restriction, of trying to hold things down; or it may be a sign of past inflation.

The 1970s offer the classical illustration in which there were high interest rates that were reflecting the Fisher effect of inflation expectations. So I’m a little leery of operating primarily, or almost primarily, via interest rates. But, I think that having a given inflation target is a good objective. The question is, how long will you be able to keep it?

David Laidler: Many commentators are claiming that, in Japan, with short interest rates essentially at zero, monetary policy is as expansionary as it can get, but has had no stimulative effect on the economy. Do you have a view on this issue?

Milton Friedman: Yes, indeed. As far as Japan is concerned, the situation is very clear. And it’s a good example. I’m glad you brought it up, because it shows how unreliable interest rates can be as an indicator of appropriate monetary policy.

The Japanese bank has supposedly had, until very recently, a zero interest rate policy. Yet that zero interest rate policy was evidence of an extremely tight monetary policy. Essentially, you had deflation. The real interest rate was positive; it was not negative. What you needed in Japan was more liquidity.

Shared misery is more comforting

This could only come from someone like Trichet:

Lackluster growth in the euro area is just as miserable as that seen in the U.S., the former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), told CNBC on Friday, defending the central bank’s policies.

“I would like to underline something that is not something well-perceived. I compared over the last 12 months real growth in the U.S. and real growth in the euro area and, to my great surprise, the euro area had growth of 1.6 percent over 12 months whereas in the U.S. it was 1.2 percent,” Jean-Claude Trichet told CNBC on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti forum.

“The euro area is, of course, posting growth which is totally insufficient but we share that insufficiency with the U.S…so we shouldn’t present growth in the euro areas as totally miserable. We share this misery with the other advanced economies in the current period,” he added.

Further arguing that:

Trichet defended the central bank’s track record, however, saying that it had done a “fantastic job” over a “very difficult time.”

Which, as the chart indicates, he made much more difficult!

Trichet´s Misery