La fausse promesse des taux d’intérêt négatifs

LONDRES – En tant que biographe et aficionado de John Maynard Keynes, on me demande parfois : « Que penserait Keynes des taux d'intérêt négatifs ? ».

C’est une bonne question, qui rappelle un passage de la Théorie générale de Keynes dans lequel il note que, si le gouvernement ne trouve rien de plus raisonnable pour guérir le chômage (par exemple, construire des maisons), enterrer puis déterrer des bouteilles remplies de billets de banque serait mieux que rien. Il aurait probablement dit la même chose au sujet des taux d'intérêt négatifs : une mesure désespérée prise par des gouvernements qui ne parviennent à envisager aucune autre solution.

Les taux d'intérêt négatifs sont tout simplement la dernière tentative infructueuse sur la longue liste de mesures monétaires pour relancer l'économie depuis la crise financière mondiale de 2008. Lorsque la diminution des taux d'intérêt à des niveaux historiquement bas n'a pas réussi à relancer la croissance, les banques centrales sont passées à ce qu'on a appelé l’assouplissement quantitatif : l’injection de liquidités dans les économies au moyen d’achats de bons du trésor et d’autres obligations de long terme. Il y a eu quelques effets positifs, mais, pour la plupart, les vendeurs ont thésaurisé l'argent au lieu de le dépenser ou de l’investir.

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