Desperate Central Bankers

NEW HAVEN – The final day of the summer marked the start of yet another season of futile policymaking by two of the world’s major central banks – the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan. The Fed did nothing, which is precisely the problem. And the alchemists at the BOJ unveiled yet another feeble unconventional policy gambit.

Both the Fed and the BOJ are pursuing strategies that are woefully disconnected from the economies they have been entrusted to manage. Moreover, their latest actions reinforce a deepening commitment to an increasingly insidious transmission mechanism between monetary policy, financial markets, and asset-dependent economies. This approach led to the meltdown of 2008-2009, and it could well sow the seeds of another crisis in the years ahead.

Lost in the debate over the efficacy of the new and powerful tools that central bankers have added to their arsenal is the harsh reality of anemic economic growth. Japan is an obvious case in point. Stuck in what has been essentially a 1% growth trajectory for the last quarter-century, its economy has failed to respond to repeated efforts at extraordinary monetary stimulus.

Whatever the acronym – first, ZIRP (the zero interest-rate policy of the late 1990s), then QQE (the qualitative and quantitative easing launched by BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda in 2013), and now NIRP (the recent move to a negative interest-rate policy) – the BOJ has over-promised and under-delivered. In fact, with Japan’s real annual GDP growth slipping to 0.6% since Shinzo Abe was elected Prime Minister in late 2012 – one-third slower than the sluggish 0.9% average annual rate over the preceding 22 lost years (1991 to 2012) – the so-called maximum stimulus of “Abenomics” has been an abject failure.