helicopters John Moore/Getty Images

The Case Against Helicopter Money

With the ECB's expansionary policies having failed to push inflation rates back up to the authorities' target of “below but close to 2%,” some economists are now advocating so-called “helicopter drops” – that is, financing private consumption with the printing press. Such a move would be a huge mistake.

MUNICH – Despite years of expansionary monetary policy, the European Central Bank has failed to push inflation back up to its target of “below but close to 2%.” The latest measures – a zero interest rate on the ECB’s main refinancing operations, an increase in monthly asset purchases from €60 billion ($67 billion) to €80 billion, and an even lower deposit rate of -0.40% – are unlikely to change this. That is why some economists are urging the ECB to go even further, with so-called “helicopter drops” – that is, financing private consumption by printing money.

The idea of helicopter money dates back to the monetarism debates of the 1960s. A central bank, it was argued, never runs out of options for stimulating aggregate demand and stoking inflation, provided it is willing to resort to radical measures. But what was once a theoretical notion now seems to be a concrete possibility.

In practice, helicopter drops would arrive in the form of lump-sum payments to households or consumption vouchers for everybody, funded exclusively by central banks. Governments or commercial banks distributing the money would be credited with a deposit or be given cash, but no claim would be created on the left-hand side of the central bank’s balance sheet.

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