Central Banks are inhibiting growth
Last night (10/01/2012) I went to a lecture given by the Governor of the Bank of Japan, Masaaki Shirakawa, at the LSE. The subject was entitled: “Deleveraging and Growth: is the developed world following Japan’s long and winding road?” In short, the simple answer is “yes, based on current trends and without any change of course.”
Mr. Shirakawa delivered a very interesting lecture the centred around, among other things including his love of the Beatles, how central banks should play a role as a guarantor of financial system stability. I have not touched the role of central banks in the past, but my opinion on the role of central banks differs from Mr. Shirakawa and probably from a lot of central bankers too.
My opinion is that the role of central banks should not extend beyond price stability. Why? Because the adoption of a extra-governmental role in guaranteeing financial system stability: a) reduces independence of a central bank; and b) aids in the depression of growth.
The independence of a central bank is undermined when it engages in a role outside price stability because, ultimately, the mechanisms and controls of a central bank are given over to the whims of politicians. For example, Quantitative Easing is a monetary mechanism to produce demand. Whether this actually works is another matter.
The crux of this argument revolves around the depression of growth.
The Bank of England’s base rate dramatically fell from 5% in September 2008 to 0.5% in March 2009, where it has stayed since. UK CPI trend since 2008 has been upward, largely encouraged by low interest rates. The same can be said of the Federal Reserve. QE itself is, arguably, a depressor of growth as the practical results would indicate an entrenchment of non-investment. Lender of last resort encourages the risky banking practices of the pre-2008 crash which aids in financial instability and depressing confidence. Unintended consequences of a policy often extolled by politicians.
By acting in an extra-governmental role, central banks maintain the status quo of “government spending is best”. This, to most economists is crass. Government spending, at best, does little to encourage innovation and enterprise because it is too busy propping up businesses that would otherwise have gone bust.
So, instead of an invigorated and dynamic economy, government spending and central bank intervention in its extra-governmental role is inhibiting growth.