The BIS Bashers

PRAGUE – It might seem an unlikely proposition, but central banking has become exciting. This is not necessarily a welcome development. Decisions taken by the leading monetary authorities since the 2008-2009 global financial crisis have been unorthodox, creative, and at times risky. Their high-stakes choices today will affect the global economy for decades to come.

Moreover, central bankers have become more vocal in expressing strongly held positions in the mass media, as if seeking to win over popular opinion. It is a potent and dangerous mix. In this environment, sober, informed voices, like that of the Bank for International Settlements, the central bank of central banks, should also be given a fair hearing. Unfortunately, many central bankers have sought to marginalize the BIS rather than engage with it.

One of the most contentious debates has been over when to end the “unconventional” monetary-policy measures that were introduced in the aftermath of the financial crisis to ensure that banks continued to lend, thereby stimulating growth and averting deflation. Some central bankers now worry that ending these measures prematurely will tip the economy back into recession. Yet others fear that the current strategy, though originally intended to prevent an economic collapse, is now sowing the seeds of future instability, including the emergence of another asset-price bubble.

In their efforts to resolve such dilemmas, policymakers are also wrestling over whether to focus on traditional monetary tools such as interest rates, or make greater use of so-called “macro-prudential measures,” such as capital add-ons and buffers or adjustments to banks’ loan-to-value ratios.