Monday, July 7, 2014

Keynesian Yellen vs. Wicksellian BIS

Gavyn Davies writes an excellent summary of the debate between the"mainstream-central bank-Keynesian" view of the economy and the "alternative-BIS-Wicksellian" view. (It's on the blog section of the Financial Times, but I'm not sure if it's gated.)

Davies juxtaposes a recent speech by Yellen to the BIS annual report, both of which, I'm sure, are excellent readings.

Similarities between the two views:
There is agreement that financial crashes that trigger “balance sheet recessions” lead to deeper and longer recessions than occur in a normal business cycle. There is also agreement that inflation is not likely to re-appear any time soon, and that the current recovery should be used to strengthen the balance sheets of the financial sector through regulatory and macro-prudential policy.
Wicksellians and Keynesians have radically opposed views, however, on what caused the great financial crisis:
The BIS views the crash as the culmination of successive economic cycles during which the central banks adopted an asymmetric policy stance, easing monetary policy substantially during downturns, while tightening only modestly during recoveries[...]On this view, monetary policy has been too easy on average, leading to a long term upward trend in debt and risky financial investments. The financial cycle, which extends over much longer periods than the usual business cycle in output and inflation, eventually peaked in 2008[...]In contrast, the mainstream central bank view denies that monetary policy has been biased towards accommodation over the long term. Ms Yellen’s speech claims that higher interest rates in the mid 2000s would have done little to prevent the housing and financial bubble from developing. She certainly admits that mistakes were made, but they were in the regulatory sphere, where there was insufficient understanding of the new financial instruments that would eventually exacerbate the effects of the housing crash. Higher interest rates, she says, would have led to much worse unemployment, without doing much to reduce leverage and dangerous financial innovation.
Because central banks are using the "wrong model," their policies are inadequate, and even exacerbating some problems:
[...]even now, the BIS says that the central banks are attempting to validate the long term rise in debt and leverage, instead of allowing it to correct itself. Excessive debt, it contends, is preventing the rise in capital investment needed for a healthy recovery. Financial and household balance sheets need to be repaired (ie debt needs to be reduced) before this can take place.[...]The BIS argues that zero interest rates and quantitative easing are becoming increasingly ineffective in boosting GDP growth. Instead, they are artificially inflating asset prices, and blocking a necessary correction in excessive debt. Macro-prudential and regulatory policy might be helpful here, but will not be sufficient. The main risk is that the exit from these accommodative monetary policies may come too late.
The Yellen view is in sharp contrast to this. There is no admission that quantitative easing is becoming ineffective, or that excessive debt should be reversed [3]. There is an outright rejection of the view that interest rates have been too low throughout previous cycles. If anything, the “secular stagnation” argument is adopted, suggesting that real interest rates have been and remain too high, because the zero lower bound prevents them from falling as far as would be required to reach the equilibrium real rate. On this view, the danger is that the exit from accommodative monetary policies will come too early, not too late.
One massive difference between the two views of the economy is that the BIS would prefer to see a tightening of both monetary and fiscal policies, whereas Keynesians think that neither should be tightened "too soon." On fiscal policy:
This divergence of views on economic capacity leads in turn to a major difference on appropriate fiscal policy. The BIS implies that cyclically-adjusted fiscal policy is looser than it seems, because GDP can never return to its earlier trends. The Keynesian/Yellen view is that fiscal policy should not be tightened too soon, and perhaps not at all until output has fully recovered.

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