Archive for the ‘money’ Category
These are my thoughts on reading An Austrian Defense of the Euro by the esteemed Jesús Huerta de Soto, professor of economics at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos.
Proponents of sound money should readily agree that to the extent that the euro is presently a “hard” currency, it can be considered superior to a collection of “soft” national currencies. However, there is at least one tangible benefit for some when national governments control their own currencies: users of money, fearing inflation, can frequently escape from a depreciating currency by switching into one of its more stable foreign counterparts. A floating exchange rate régime complements this system by efficiently reflecting the depreciation of the softer currency in the price and thereby illustrating the relative loss of purchasing power.
The euro abolished these dynamics, preventing escape through exiting the monetary system of just a single nation and requiring instead financial migration from a large supranational bloc.
But is it not true that a fixed exchange rate régime imposes discipline on governments, whereas a floating exchange rate régime allows for profligacy and a race to the bottom? Yes, this is true, so long as the fixed exchange rate in question has been imposed on the producers of money, and not imposed on the users of money. For example, suppose that Central Bank A pledges that one unit of their currency, alpha, shall be worth exactly one unit of Central Bank B’s currency, beta, and succeeds in buying and selling alphas and betas in the marketplace to enforce this rate. The fixed exchange rate should indeed help to impose some discipline on the government which owns Central Bank A. Central Bank A will be incentivised not to inflate the supply of alphas any more than B inflates the supply of betas; if they inflate too much, they will pay the price for it by the requirement to supply extra betas into the marketplace (a currency unit which they cannot create without cost) in order to maintain the fixed rate. This is the mechanism by which fixed exchange rates can help to produce monetary and hence fiscal discipline.
Does the euro impose a fixed exchange rate? Yes, it does. However, it imposes the fixed rate on the people, not on the central bank . The ECB is not required to guarantee the exchange rate of the euro against any other currency. Furthermore, and in particular, the citizens of Spain are not guaranteed that their currency will be maintained at a particular rate against the currency of Italy.
What has happened in reality is that the exchange rate between Spain and Italy has been obliterated. To demonstrate the point: suppose there are two bakers in your town, producing equally desirable bread. Suppose one of them makes a solemn promise that his bread will never cost more than his rival’s. This is fine, so long as he and his rival are genuinely competing to make a profit out of the business of providing you with their bread. But suppose your baker and his rival undergo a corporate merger, and a single entity now owns and completely controls both bakeries. And suppose your baker continues to promise that his bread will not cost more than the other guy’s. What would you make of his promise now? You would laugh at it. He is in a combination. The same entity dictates prices in both bakeries, and therefore the guarantee is worthless. You now have to pay the price dictated to you by the parent company, no matter which baker you go to. In like manner, the promise that one euro in Spain can be exchanged for one euro in Italy is something which carries no guarantee of value to users of the euro.
Many national governments, having been relegated to mere users rather than sovereign producers of money, have experienced great discomfort due to their inability to print their way out of recent difficulties. But the price for fiscal disclipline, in the present, on a national level, is fiscal indiscipline, in the future, on a supranational level.
The euro is a money monopoly, and a monopoly not over one nation (as most currencies are), but over many nations. The institution of the euro represents a grand weakening in the global competition to provide a reliable medium of exchange. This competition was not too strong to begin with, since almost every country holds a money monopoly over its territory, but the momentous consequence of the single currency is that eurozone countries no longer compete against each other to provide an attractive, stable money. Absent any threat of capital flight within the eurozone from nations with poor monetary policies to nations with sensible monetary policies, the ECB has the freedom to produce a form of money less satisfactory to the consumer than that which Europeans on average would otherwise have experienced. We can trust that sooner or later, if they have not done so already, they will choose to exercise this power. As a consequence of this, the EU will be relatively free to follow fiscal policies less restrained than those which Europeans on average would have witnessed. The errors of the nation are replaced by the errors of the bloc.
The route to sound money, whether that may be gold or silver or something else, with 100% or fractional reserves, must require increased levels of competition among producers of money, not decreased levels of competition. Few of us would argue that decreased competition would improve the quality of any other good.
After the grandest of economic failures in recent years, some Irish people are now wondering about a possible escape from the Eurozone. One of the ideas, floated by David McWilliams, is that the country switches over to use Sterling instead. And amazingly, after 250+ votes on politics.ie, the Yes side are winning.
It may sound bizarre to some, but Hayek argued that government need not impose any currency on the territory under its control. The government could simply allow people to use whichever currency they choose. Most people would be likely to use the same one as everybody else in their everyday business (due to money’s network effects), which could be a foreign currency (Sterling, for example) or a new domestically produced currency (a Punt Nua issued by an Irish bank). This would then be the de facto, but crucially not the de jure national currency.
For it to work properly, the government would need to accept taxes in whichever form of money was being commonly used by the people. The government would also need to accept the loss of the ability to counterfeit and to devalue money (which it can be argued was the objective of nationalising money in the first place).
Imposing the Pound Sterling on Ireland would not represent a true liberalisation of the economy. However, by leaving the huge money-monopoly region called the Eurozone and using the currency of Ireland’s closest neighbour instead, with all of the implications which that has for a return to banking and fiscal sovereignty, it does appear to scream of common sense.
Ever taken a statistics course? Most stats lecturers devote a special moment to highlight how statistics can be misused. For instance my tutor once showed us a graph like this:
We can clearly see that there’s a correlation between ice-cream consumption and deaths by drowning. But what can we infer from this? It’s possible that eating ice-cream causes drowning (due to stomach cramps while swimming). It’s also vaguely possible that drowning deaths cause increased ice-cream consumption (mourning relatives might go for an ice-cream to cheer themselves up). However the most sensible explanation is that both ice-cream consumption and drowning deaths increase is due to another factor: the weather. People eat more ice-cream and go swimming more often in summer.
However, such a straightforward explanation is hardly ever seen in economics. The empirical approach often remains unquestioned. Consider this syllogism: in the past, taxes were low. Today, taxes are high. We were poor in the past but now we are rich. Therefore, increasing taxes causes prosperity. Such a view is completely ridiculous, yet almost completely unquestioned.
Or take the suggestion in the graph below. Income inequality sharply increased before two major recessions. Therefore it’s fair to assume that one causes the other.
As World War II raged, an amazing thing happened in Irish politics. According to Wikipedia’s entry for Seán T. O’Kelly:
O’Kelly was appointed Minister of Finance in 1939. He secured the passing of The Central Bank Act in 1942. On 17 July 1942 at the fifth and final stage of the Dail debate on the “Central Banking Bill”, he argued that the owner of the credit issued by the Central Bank of Ireland, should be the private property of the joint stock banker and not the property of the people of Ireland. This debate was carried out when only five Deputies were present in the Dáil.
“There are two methods of rebutting the contention that credit money here belongs to the Irish people. One is the method of denying its existence, and that, as I understand it, is the position of the Leader of the Opposition. The position taken up by the Leader of the Opposition and by those who think with him is that a banker lends the money of his depositors and shareholders and nothing else, and that, therefore, the public have no concern with the activities of a bank, other than their personal dealings with it.
I propose to submit to the House that, far from that being true, the day the banker gets established, the least of his business is the lending of his money or that of his depositors and shareholders, that that represents only one-tenth of his activities and that the remaining nine-tenths of his total activities consists in lending and dealing in a commodity called credit money which he creates on the strength of the fact that he is functioning in a community consisting of law-abiding men who maintain, by their several individual exertions, a stable community.
This conception is so revolutionary to many persons who have never given any study to banking that a large number of people, without examining the evidence, simply throw their hands in the air and say that it could not be true; but the astonishing fact is that it is true, and, by the mercy of Providence, these facts were made manifest and placed forever on record in the evidence of the Committee on Finance and Industry which sat under the chairmanship of Lord MacMillan in 1931, and the minutes of whose evidence have been reported.”
We’ve got new central bank figures:
Monthly statistics from the Central Bank show the first net fall in mortgage lending since 1990. The figures also show a sharp fall off in credit card spending…
It is the first time that repayments on existing mortgages has been greater that new mortgage lending since the Central Bank began this monthly statistics series in 1990. The figures show that, overall, mortgage lending fell by over €100m last month.
Contrary to what most people think, deflation is a good thing. Under a free market monetary system, this imaginary digital “credit” would never have been brought into existence in the first place. As loans are paid in faster than they are being created, with the most speculative loans already in a state of default and evaporating from the system entirely, the money supply more closely reflects that which would prevail in a deregulated, decentralised system (however a pale imitiation it might be).
Here is Cato’s Dan Mitchell explaining the problems with Keynesian solutions to recessions.
Hat-tip to Krazy Kaju for his summary:
The idea that government fiscal stimulus can increase actual aggregate demand is false. That money needs to either be borrowed, taxed, or printed. If it’s borrowed, that’s less money that the private economy may borrow. If it is taxed, that is less money that the private economy has. If it is printed, that is less value per dollar that the private economy has.
Here is the 9 page document released by the G20 today, outlining its plans for “solving” the global economic crisis.
The agreements we have reached today, to treble resources available to the IMF to $750 billion, to support a new SDR allocation of $250 billion, to support at least $100 billion of additional lending by the MDBs, to ensure $250 billion of support for trade finance, and to use the additional resources from agreed IMF gold sales for concessional finance for the poorest countries, constitute an additional $1.1 trillion programme of support to restore credit, growth and jobs in the world economy.
We are undertaking an unprecedented and concerted fiscal expansion, which will save or create millions of jobs which would otherwise have been destroyed, and that will, by the end of next year, amount to $5 trillion, raise output by 4 per cent, and accelerate the transition to a green economy.
Our central banks have also taken exceptional action. Interest rates have been cut aggressively in most countries, and our central banks have pledged to maintain expansionary policies for as long as needed and to use the full range of monetary policy instruments, including unconventional instruments, consistent with price stability.