minting money Bloomberg/Getty Images

Long Reads

Central Banking’s Final Frontier?

As central bankers worldwide continue to struggle to boost growth, inflation, and unemployment, the real issue is not whether more powerful monetary instruments are still available. The question is whether using them is necessary – or even threatens to do more harm than good.

LONDON – Have central bankers run out of ammunition in their battle against deflation and unemployment? The answer, many policymakers and economists writing for Project Syndicate agree, is clearly No. “Monetary policymakers have plenty of weapons and an endless supply of ammunition at their disposal,” says Mojmír Hampl, Vice-Governor of the Czech National Bank. The real issue is not whether more powerful monetary instruments are still available, but whether using them is necessary – or even threatens to do more harm than good.

There are, in principle, four broad ways to add more stimulus to the world economy. The obvious course is to keep cutting interest rates, if necessary deeper into negative territory, as suggested by Koichi Hamada, economic adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. In Hamada’s view, interest-rate cuts work mainly by weakening currencies and so boosting exports. Likewise, Raghuram Rajan, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, believes that “exchange rates may be the primary channel of transmission” for monetary easing, but worries that currency depreciation is a zero-sum game for the world as a whole.

A bigger problem is that rate cuts may not weaken currencies at all. As I noted six months ago, the fact is that the “widely assumed correlation between monetary policy and currency values does not stand up to empirical examination.” Indeed, Hamada admits that Japan’s recent rate cuts perversely strengthened the yen: “The effects on the yen and the stock market have been an unpleasant surprise.”

To continue reading, please subscribe to On Point.

To access On Point, log in or register now now and read two On Point articles for free. For unlimited access to the unrivaled analysis of On Point, subscribe now.

required

Log in

http://prosyn.org/GsMvaAb;
  1. Trump visits China Thomas Peter-Pool/Getty Images

    China’s New World Order?

    • Now that Chinese President Xi Jinping has solidified his position as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, he will be able to pursue his vision of a China-led international order.

    • But if China wants to enjoy the benefits of regional or even global hegemony in the twenty-first century, it will have to prove itself ready to accept the responsibilities of leadership.
  2. Paul Manafort Alex Wong/Getty Images

    The Fall of the President’s Men

    • There can no longer be any doubt that Donald Trump is the ultimate target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 

    • But even if Mueller doesn’t catch Donald Trump in a crime, the president will leave much human and political wreckage behind.
  3. Painted portraits of Chinese President Xi Jinping and late communist leader Mao Zedong Greg Baker/Getty Images

    When China Leads

    For the last 40 years, China has implemented a national strategy that, despite its many twists and turns, has produced the economic and political juggernaut we see today. It would be reckless to assume, as many still do in the US, Europe, and elsewhere, that China’s transition to global preeminence will somehow simply implode, under the weight of the political and economic contradictions they believe to be inherent to the Chinese model.