Conference – Free Banking systems: diversity in financial and economic growth

Lund University (in Skåne, Sweden) is less than one hour drive from my home in Copenhagen so I very much hope I will be able to participate in the upcoming conference on  “Free Banking systems: diversity in financial and economic growth” at Lund University School of Economics and Management on September 4 – 5 2014. Furthermore, the conference will hopefully lure monetary scholars to Copenhagen as well. I will certainly see whether we could arrange some informal get-together in Copenhagen in connection with the conference.

The conference looks very promising.

I have stolen this from Kurt Schuler at Freebanking.org:

Call for papers:
Conference: Free Banking systems: diversity in financial and economic growth
Lund University School of Economics and Management, September 4 – 5, 2014

Department of Economic History, Lund University, Sweden
For more info on the venue please see: http://www.ekh.lu.se/en

Travelling: Most conveniently to Copenhagen Airport (Kastrup)
There are frequent trains from Copenhagen Airport (Kastrup) to the city of Lund. Travelling time is approximately 35 minutes and the cost for a single journey is around 12 Euros. For more info on travelling please see: http://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/o.o.i.s/24936

Paper proposal deadline: April 30, 2014
We invite all scholars interested in participating to submit an abstract of approximately 400 words and a short bio to the main organizer Anders Ögren on e-mail: anders.ogren@ekh.lu.se

Notification of acceptance: May 30, 2014

Paper deadline: August 15, 2014
Note that as this is a pre-conference to the session S10133 at the WEHC in Kyoto August 3 – 7, 2015 papers can be preliminary at this point in time.

Conference rationale

In 1992 Kevin Dowd edited the important book “The Experience of Free Banking” gathering several historical episodes of Free Banking in a “historical laboratory”. This collective volume aimed at evaluating Free Banking as a way of achieving both banking stability as well as monetary stability. It was found that the problems usually attached to Free Banking, such as rapid inflation and banking instability, in fact were not at all the consequence of Free Banking, underlining instead that these results questioned the idea that the Central Bank’s monopoly on currency issuance is a natural monopoly. In a way this book was a continuation of the theoretical development on Free Banking made in influential works such as Smith’s “The Rationale of Central Banking” (1936), Hayek’s “Denationalization of Money” (1978), White’s “Free banking in Britain” (1984) and Selgin’s “The Theory of Free Banking” (1988) (to name a few).

As a result of the recent crisis Free banking as a way of achieving both banking stability as well as monetary stability is back on the agenda for scholarly debates. Again there are those who argue that Free Banking systems are more prone to banking instability and banking failures with less positive impact on growth than banking systems operating under a state sponsored Central Bank. But to the contrary there are those that argue that banking and monetary instability and slumps in growth due to crises are results of the increased importance of central banks.

Supporters and skeptics of Free Banking alike are using historical episodes as laboratories for empirical testing of their ideas. But to what extent are the features of the alleged Free Banking episodes comparable, not only between different historical episodes but also in relation to theory or in relation to Central Bank based banking systems. Historically many varieties of banking exists between what would be the theoretically pure Free banking system and a Central bank based system. All these varieties provides essential information about how a banking system works and why it obtains certain results in terms of banking and monetary stability and in extension in growth. Thus comparing the diversity of the development of Free Banking systems allows us to understand their different impact on economic growth.

Thus the idea with this conference is to continue the work to make historical cross country comparisons on Free Banking episodes and theories – aiming at understanding what features that are required for different stages of free or central banking and to disentangle the impact of these different variables on banking and monetary stability. We welcome scholars working on empirical cases of what is suggested to be Free Banking – whether their results seem to support Free Banking or Central Banking or a hybrid between the two.

This conference is an open pre-conference to the session S10133 at the WEHC in Kyoto August 3 – 7, 2015. Due to time constraints participation in this conference does not necessarily imply participation at this session at the WEHC conference.

Organizers:

Anders Ögren
Lund University
E-mail: anders.ogren@ekh.lu.se

Andres Alvarez
Universidad de los Andes

 

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A dollar-based Free Banking system: The way to nominal stability in Argentina

Inflation is skyrocketing in Argentina and the country seems unable to ever maintaining any form of nominal stability. In my view the problem with lack of nominal stability in Argentina is, however, not fundamentally monetary – it is rather a constitutional problem. Hence, it seems like the country’s politicians are able to make the decisions that are necessary to maintain monetary stability.

So even though I am quite critical about different suggestions for dollarization in different countries I for some time have thought that in the case of Argentina there is no reason to try to come up with an “optimal” monetary regime. In many ways Argentina is economically-politically a failed state. Hence,  simply getting rid of the Argentine peso might be the least horrible solution.

Nicolas Cachanosky and Adrian O. Ravier in a new very interesting paper – A Proposal of Monetary Reform for Argentina: Flexible Dollarization and Free Banking - has an interesting proposal for dollarization in Argentina.

Here is the abstract:

Argentina’s economy and monetary institutions are, once again, experiencing a serious crisis. In this document, we propose a monetary reform for Argentina that consists of flexible dollarization plus a free banking regime. By flexible dollarization, we mean that the peso should be replaced with the U.S. dollar as a first step, but the market should have the freedom to interact with any selected currency. Therefore, the country does not become attached the U.S. dollar; on the contrary, it becomes a free currency country. By free banking, we mean giving financial institutions permission to issue their own banknotes convertible into U.S. dollars or any other currency or commodity of their choice.

It should be noted that the problems of the Argentine economy go beyond those of monetary policy. This proposal should not be understood as a sufficient reform to fix the Argentinean economy but as a necessary one. This proposal should also not be understood as a monetary panacea but as a monetary framework that is still superior to one provided by the Argentine central bank BCRA and Argentine policy makers to their country.

There is only major problem with the suggestion – Argentine policy makers seem unable to make sensible decisions. That said, ideas matter. In fact they matter a lot so hopefully one day some visionary Argentine reformist government will pick-up Cachanosky-Ravier monetary reform plan.

HT Anthony Evans

George Selgin on Free Banking and NGDP targeting

I should really be sleeping but George Selign just put out a blog post on Free Banking and NGDP Targeting.

This is how George kicks off:

“Kurt’s recent post on NGDP targeting just happens to come right on time to introduce one I’d been contemplating concerning the connection between such targeting and free banking. While many readers may suppose the two things to represent entirely distinct, if not antagonistic, approaches to monetary reform, I have always regarded them as complementary. Yet I also agree with Kurt in regarding NGDP targeting as “a form of central economic planning.”

Am I contradicting myself? Much as I’d like to quote Walt Whitman, I don’t think I am. Instead, I think that it is those who would insist on the incompatibility of free banking and NGDP targeting whose reasoning is faulty. They fall victim, I believe, to a category error, namely, that of conflating banking regimes with base money regimes.”

Read the rest here.

Bedtime for me…

PS please read this as well.

Kurt Schuler endorses NGDP targeting

Long time free banking advocate Kurt Schuler has a new piece at freebanking.org in which he endorses NGDP targeting.

This is Kurt:

Given that I do not expect to see free banking in the immediate future, I would like to see one, or preferably more, central banks that now target inflation try targeting nominal GDP targeting instead. Targeting nominal GDP has some prospective advantages over inflation targeting. One is that nominal GDP targeting allows what seems to be a more appropriate behavior for prices over the business cycle, allowing “good” (productivity- rather than money supply-driven) deflation during the boom and “good” inflation during the bust.

I agree very much with Kurt on this and it is in fact one of the key reasons why I support NGDP targeting. Central banks should indeed allow ‘good deflation’ as well as ‘good inflation’. Hence, to the extent the present drop in inflation in for example the US reflects a positive supply shock the Federal Reserve should not react to that by easing monetary policy. I have discussed that topic in among others this recent post.

Back to Kurt:

Another is that inflation targeting as it has been both most widely proposed and as it has always been adopted has been a “bygones are bygones” version, with no later compensation for past misses of the target. During the Great Recession, many central banks undershot their targets, even allowing deflation to occur. They never corrected their mistakes. Nominal GDP targeting in the form that Scott Sumner and others have advocated it requires the central bank to undo its past mistakes.

Note here that Kurt comes out in favour of the Market Monetarist explanation of the Great Recession. It was the Federal Reserve and other central  banks’ failure to keep NGDP ‘on track’ – and even their failure to just hit their inflation targets – that caused the crisis.

And I think it is notable that Kurt notes that “(i)f it (the central bank) undershot last year’s target, it has to increase the growth rate of the monetary base, other things being equal, to meet this year’s target, which is last year’s target plus several percentage points.” 

That of course indirectly support for monetary easing to get the NGDP level back on track. I am sure that will enrage some Austrian School readers of freebanking.org in the same way as they recently got very upset by George Selgin apparent defense of quantitative easing in 2008/9. See for example Joe Salerno’s angry response to George Selgin here. See George’s reply to Joe (and Pete Boettke) here.

I am, however, not at all surprised by Kurt’s views on this issues – I knew them already – but I am happy to once again be reminded that Free Banking thinkers like Kurt and George and Market Monetarists think very alike. In fact I personally have a hard time disagreeing with anything Kurt and George has to say about monetary theory. And I would also note that Kurt has been an advocate of the market based approach to monetary policy analysis advocated particularly by Manley Johnson and Bob Keleher in their book “Monetary Policy, A Market Price Approach”. The Johnson-Keleher view of markets and money of course comes very close to being Market Monetarism. For more on this topic see Kurt on Keleher here.

However, I would also use this occasion to stress that Market Monetarists should learn from people like George and Kurt and we should particularly listen to their more cautious approach to central banks as hugely imperfect institutions. This is Kurt:

With nominal GDP targeting it may well also happen that there will be flaws that only become apparent through experience. My reason for thinking that flaws are likely is that, like inflation targeting, nominal GDP targeting is an imposed monetary arrangement. It is not a fully competitive one that that people are at liberty to cease using at will, individually, the way they can cease buying Coca-Coca and start buying Pepsi or apple juice instead. Nominal GDP targeting when carried out by a central bank, which has monopoly powers, is a form of central economic planning subject to the same criticisms that apply to all forms of central planning. In particular, it does not allow for the occurrence of the type of discovery of knowledge that comes from being able to replace one arrangement with another through competition.

I agree with Kurt here. Even if NGDP targeting is preferable to other “targets” central banks are still to a large extent very flared institutions. Therefore, it is in my opinion not enough just to advocate NGDP targeting – or even worse just advocating monetary easing in the present situation – we also need to fundamentally reform of monetary institutions.

Finally, advocating NGDP targeting is not just a plain argument for more monetary easing – not even in the present situation. Hence, it is for example notable that the recent drop in inflation in for example the US to a very large extent seems to have been caused by a positive supply shock. This has caused some to call for the fed to step up monetary easing. However, to the extent that what we are seeing is a positive supply this of course is “good deflation”. So yes, there are numerous reasons to argue for a continued expansion of the US money base, but lower inflation is not necessarily such reason.

Believe it or not – Africa is just a very good story

I am in Stockholm this morning – the main topic for today’s meeting is the prospects for the African economies. I have for a long time had the view that Africa could very well turn into the best investment story in the world.

There is no doubt that my view of Africa is to a large extent influenced by my having worked professionally on the Central and Eastern European economies for more than a decade and I see a lot of the same potential in Africa as the miracle we have seen in countries such as Poland and Slovakia over the past now more than 20 years.

In contrast to the common perception, I do not think Africa is destined always to do badly. Indeed, I believe that in 20 years we will be able to point to success stories in Africa in the same way we talk about the success of Poland or Slovakia today.

The end of the Cold War – now it is finally showing in Africa

It was the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism that started the catch-up process in Central and Eastern Europe that led to most of the significant progress in living conditions for ordinary people in the former communist countries and led also to the spread of democracy and respect for human rights. Not everything is perfect in Central and Eastern Europe – far from it – but few would argue that life was better for Central and Eastern Europeans in 1989 than today.

The change in Central and Eastern Europe was very visible when the Cold War ended – the Berlin Wall disappeared, free elections were held, economic reforms were (mostly) swift and with the support of Western governments. However, what most people do not realise is that the end of the Cold War was equally – if not more – important for the African countries. While the Cold War was indeed cold in Europe, in Africa very hot wars had continued since the 1960s as a direct result of the Cold War.

Effectively the continent had been spilt between the East and the West and both parties had their own dictators running things (or rather mismanaging and looting). When the Cold War ended, the new democratic Russia stopped financing communist dictators in Africa and as communist regimes in countries such as Ethiopia or Angola opened up or collapsed, the West stopped funding ‘their’ dictators in Africa. This effectively meant that the number of dictatorships in Africa became a lot fewer in the 1990s.

As dictators fell across Africa and democracy spread (yes it is far from perfect anywhere in Africa), market reforms took off and the African economies gradually opened up.

So, as in Central and Eastern Europe, there is a direct line from the end of the Cold War to market reforms.

As in Central and Eastern Europe, the reforms sparked an economic take-off but unlike in Central and Eastern Europe the economic take-off in Africa has been much less noticed by commentators, policymakers and investors. However, it remains that over the past decade African countries such as Angola have been among the fastest growing countries in the world. Indeed, a country such as Angola has had a significantly more impressive growth record over the past 10 years than emerging market darlings such as Brazil, Turkey and Poland.

The best emerging markets story for the next decade

The picture of Africa is changing – over the past decade Africa has gone more or less unnoticed but more and more investors are now discovering it and more and more investors are realising that Africa could very well be the new catch-up story. Indeed, I would argue that the African story might very well become the best emerging markets story in the coming decade.

I believe there are numerous reasons why one should be optimistic about the medium- and long-term growth outlook for Africa.

First – the obvious reason – Africa remains very poor, so there is a lot of catch-up potential. Being the poorest continent in the world, the catch-up potential is the greatest.

Second, the catch-up potential is being unlocked, as reforms spread across the continent. Without these market reforms, Africa will not unlock its enormous potential. We have already seen serious reform across the continent but Africa is still lagging way behind when it comes to opening up and freeing up the economies. Africa should learn from countries such as Poland that moved swiftly when communism came to an end. African leaders should realise that if they want to be re-elected they should undertake economic reform to spur economic growth. Put another way, former Polish Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz should be a frequent visitor to Africa – as far as I know he is not.

Third, war raged Africa for nearly three decades. However, although over the past two years we have seen wars in North Africa and civil unrest in more places on the continent, the general picture is that Africa in general has become a peaceful (but not necessarily safe) continent.

Fourth, Prime Ministers and Presidents generally leave office when the lose elections in Africa. This did not used to be the case. Elections used to be rare. Today, they are common across Africa. They might not live up to the standards we are used to in Europe and North Africa but democracy is, nonetheless, spreading across the continent. With democracy comes accountability and with accountability comes better economic policies.

This is largely an overly rosy picture and we all know Africa’s problems: tribal conflicts, corruption, AIDS, bad infrastructure, an overreliance on foreign aid and so on. However, we all know this but it is all changing and in my view will continue to change in the coming decade. Therefore, I am optimistic.

Private provision of public goods – the case of money

One of the most interesting prospects for Africa in my view is how technology is helping to overcome some of Africa’s traditional problems.

For decades, Africa has been struggling with very weak government institutions. Consequently, the protection of property rights has been weak and, in general, there has been little respect for the rule of law. Even though this is changing, the process is often frustratingly slow. However, now it seems likely that technological developments could replace government institutions.

Take the telecom industry, for example. In most places in Africa, landlines have not worked well. This used to be a major problem. However, now mobile telephony is taking over. Private companies today are providing cheap and accessible telecom solutions to Africans. Today, more than half of all adult Africans own a mobile telephone.

In Kenya, today most economic transactions are carried out using the mobile-based electronic money M-pesa. In this sense, mobile-based money is taking over the role of cash-in-hand money and it is quite easy to imagine that mobile money will spread across Africa. Indeed, one could ask why M-pesa-style monetary regimes should not replace regular central banking – in the same way that mobile telephony has replaced out-dated dysfunctional landlines across Africa.

Another example is that mobile money has solved Zimbabwe’s so-called ‘coin problem’. After Zimbabwe effectively moved to dollarising the economy, the problem of a lack of dollar (and cent) coins emerged. However, this problem has now been solved with a private mobile phone-based solution.

Therefore, one could easily imagine the spreading of de facto Free Banking – private money issuance – across Africa as technological developments make this possible. In general, Africans are more likely to trust the money provided by international telecom providers such as Safaricom than they are to trust their own – often corrupt – central banks. Therefore, why not imagine a system of mobile-based free banking across Africa, with the mobile money being backed by, for example, the US dollar or even by Bitcoins or similar ‘quasi commodity’ money.

I am not trying to forecast what will happen to central banking in Africa but the development of M-pesa and the solution of the coin problem in Zimbabwe show that there are often private-based solutions to collective goods problems and as technology becomes cheaper and cheaper these solutions are increasingly likely to become accessible to African, which is likely to help boost African growth in the coming decade.

Larry White on Bernard Lietaer’s new book

Larry White has a very insightful review of Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne’s new book “Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity Into Prosperity“. As Larry writes in a Facebook update “I wanted to like the book more”. I have the exact same feeling about much of Lietaer’s work.

Bernard Lietaer of course is a pioneer in the “local currency” movement. Fundamentally local currencies (or parallel currencies) have a lot in common with free banking and it is of course why Larry and myself would like to like the work of people like Bernard Lietaer. However, the problem with the local currency crowd in my view is that it’s leading proponents base their arguments for “local currencies” on seriously flawed economic arguments. In fact I would rather say that they tend to have anti-economic arguments. As Larry notes in his review:

“In Rethinking Money, economist Bernard Lietaer and journalist Jacqui Dunne offer interesting accounts of community currency projects more or less like Berkshares around the world. But they admire them for rather different reasons. The dominant monetary system is problematic, in their view, because it “perpetuates scarcity and breeds competition,” stifles cooperation, makes life stressful, concentrates wealth at the top, causes financial instability, and threatens the environment. It does so chiefly because the need to pay interest is “structurally embedded” in the system.

…Today’s government-dominated monetary and financial systems do of course exhibit instability. But the book’s other indictments of them are more dubious. Any monetary system “perpetuates” (does not abolish) “scarcity,” as economists use the term, and so too does any barter system. Scarcity, meaning that we do not have enough time and resources to accomplish all of our imaginable goals, is an ineluctable feature of human life. Competition is not a problem: Indeed, to bring about greater prosperity we need more competition, not less, and especially so in money and banking. Freer competition promotes rather than stifles greater social cooperation. Free-market banking and money-issue would end the government’s monopoly on basic money and its control over the interbank transfer system. It would end both special privileges for commercial banks and special restrictions on their activities. Greater efficiency, stability, and prosperity would follow. But to think that “monetary scarcity can be a thing of the past” is to engage in wishful thinking.”

I completely agree with Larry’s comments – Lietaer and other “local currency” proponets’ analysis is flawed. That is too bad as I strongly believe that we can learn a lot from the experience with “local currencies”. In fact I believe that “local currencies” can help us remove monetary disequilibrium. However, the general anti-capitalist and “localist” (or rather protectionist) perspective of people like Bernard Lietaer is entirely wrong.

One of the key problems in the local currency literature is that it seems to be completely unaffected by the research on Free Banking. As Larry correctly notes:

They unfortunately never mention F.A. Hayek’s unconventional work The Denationalization of Money, nor any of the literature of the last 30 years concerning non-fiat, redeemability-based free banking.

In reviewing Georgina M. Gómez’s boo Argentina’s Parallel Currency about Argentina’s experience with parallel currencies I made a similar comment:

What strikes me when I read Dr. Gómez’s book is the near total lack of references to Free Banking theory and to monetary theory in general. For example there is no reference to Selgin, White, Horwitz and other Free Banking theorists. There is no references to Leland Yeager’s views on monetary disequilibrium either. That is too bad because I think theorists such as Selgin and Yeager would make it much easier for Gómez to explain and understand the emergence of CCS if she had utilized monetary disequilibrium theory and Free Banking theory.

As I noted – I strongly believe that we can learn a lot about monetary issues and particularly about the feasability of Free Banking by studying local/parallel currencies, but we need to do it from the perspective of Larry White rather than from the perspective of Bernard Lietaer – competition in money and finance is good and is a source of stability rather than instability.

See some of my earlier posts on local currencies here:

Free Banking theorists should study Argentina’s experience with parallel currencies

Time to try WIR in Greece or Ireland? (I know you are puzzled)

PS for a Free Banking critique of local currency thinking see George Selgin’s piece “The Folly that is “Local” Currency”

Selgin interview on Free Banking

I just came across this excellent interview with George Selgin on Free Banking. I find it hard to disagree with George on this issue.

The (mobile) market just solved Zimbabwe’s “coin problem”

I wonder if any of my readers remember my post about how ““Good E-money” can solve Zimbabwe’s ‘coin problem’”.

In my post on Zimbabwe’s so-called “coin problem” I came up with a possible solution:

“This might all seem like fantasy, but the fact remains that there today are around 500 million cell phones in Africa and there is 1 billion Africans. In the near future most Africans will own their own cell phone. This could lay the foundation for the formation of what would be a continent wide mobile telephone based Free Banking system.

Few Africans trust their governments and the quality of government institutions like central bankers is very weak. However, international companies like Coca Cola or the major international telecom companies are much more trusted. Therefore, it is much more likely that Africans in the future (probably a relatively near future) would trust money (or near-money) issued by international telecom companies – or Coca Cola for that matter.

In fact why not imagine a situation where Bitcoin merges with M-pesa so you get mobile telephone money backed by a quasi-commodity standard like the Bitcoin? I think most Africans readily would accept that money – at least their experience with government issued money has not exactly been so great.”

Guess what – the power of the market will never disappoint you. See this story:

EcoCash, a mobile money-transfer service operated by telecommunications company EcoNet Wireless Zimbabwe, has reached a million subscribers in under six months since its launch, according to Mobile Money Africa. EcoCash enables money transfers across all networks between mobile users, a rapidly expanding sector of the Zimbabwean population.

And in a country where 80 percent of residents do not have access to mainstream bank accounts, a service that requires nothing but a mobile phone is a popular and more convenient alternative. Mobile phone users now make up 77 percent of the population, compared to just 6 percent in 2006, reports Mobile Money for the Unbanked. And EcoNet Wireless, EcoCash’s parent company, has that market cornered in Zimbabwe, with 6.5 million customers, which represents 70 percent of the market share of cell phone users, according to Mobile Money Africa….

….Within that segment, EcoCash has seen success by targeting the low-end market. Customers don’t need to have bank accounts, and 1,400 street agents throughout the country help make subscribing a quick and easy process. Agents receive a commission when customers total transactions reach $50, encouraging agents to target those likely to be actively using the service…

While the legalization of foreign currency in 2009 has pulled Zimbabwe’s previously plummeting economy out of a nose-dive, it’s also created challenges, including a shortage of change. The “coin problem” can make small transactions difficult to complete accurately, reported the New York Times, and small transactions tend to be the kind low-income users make. But now mobile cash services like EcoCash allow precise payment, regardless of the size of a transaction.

The ease of transactions is just one factor contributing to the skyrocketing popularity of EcoCash. Actual banks are more difficult to access than mobile phones, and the dark history of the Zimbabwean dollar contributed to widespread distrust of traditional banking services, reports the Zimbabwe Daily Mail.

…Visibility aids EcoCash in its market domination. EcoCash markets its services through advertisements on public mini-buses, known as kombis, in urban areas, and over radio talk shows in rural areas. Widespread marketing helps keep EcoCash ahead of other, smaller competitor. And while some competitors require users to have bank accounts, EcoCash allows customers to bank with just their phone.

…EcoCash modeled much of its strategy off of the success of Kenyan mobile money service M-Pesa, also under the umbrella of a telecommunications company,Safaricom. M-Pesa’s popularity has exploded in Kenya, with a customer base of close to 15 million subscribers, up from 2 million over five years.

Like EcoNet, M-Pesa’s parent company, Safaricom, dominates the telecommunications market in Kenya with a 67 percent market share, according to The Zimbabwe Independent. Like EcoCash, M-Pesa grew rapidly in its first year, although EcoCash’s first-year growth outpaced that of M-Pesa. And while Microfinance Africa reports that other countries have had difficulty replicating the long-term success of M-Pesa, similar marketing and business strategies and market domination make EcoCash a potential candidate to exhibit similar growth.”

PS I know I promised more posts on African monetary reform – I hope I soon will get to it…

 

UNrelated post: Please have a look at Mayor Bill Woolsey’s fantastic blog Monetary Freedom. Bill’s posts over the last two weeks are incredibly good!

An empirical – not a theoretical – disagreement with George, Larry and Eli

Last week George Selgin warned us (the Market Monetarists) about getting to excited about the recent actions of the Federal Reserve. Now fellow Free Banker Larry White raises a similar critique in a post on freebanking.org.

Here is Larry:

“While saluting Sumner 2009…I favor an alternative view of 2012: the weak recovery today has more to do with difficulties of real adjustment. The nominal-problems-only diagnosis ignores real malinvestments during the housing boom that have permanently lowered our potential real GDP path. It also ignores the possibility that the “natural” rate of unemployment has been hiked by the extension of unemployment benefits. And it ignores the depressing effect of increased regime uncertainty.”

Larry’s point is certainly valid and Bill Woolsey has expressed a similar view:

“Targeting real variables is a potential disaster.  Expansionary monetary policy seeking an unfeasible  target for unemployment was the key error that generated the Great Inflation of the Seventies.  Employment or the employment/population ratio could have the same disastrous result.”

I have already in an earlier post addressed these issues. I agree with Bill (and George Selgin) that it potentially could be a disaster for central banks to target real variables and that is also why I think that an NGDP level target is much preferable to the rule the fed now seems to try to implementing. Both Larry and George think that the continued weak real GDP growth and high unemployment in the US might to a large extent be a result of supply side problems rather than as a result of demand side problems. Eli Dourado makes a similar point in a recent thoughtful blog post. Bill Woolsey has a good reply to Eli.

To me our disagreement is not theoretical – the disagreement is empirical. I fully agree that it is hard to separate supply shocks from demand shocks and that is exactly why central banks should not target real variable. However, the question is now how big the risk isthat the fed is likely to ease monetary policy excessively at the moment.

In my view it is hard to find much evidence that there has been a major supply shock to the US economy. Had there been a negative supply shock then one would have expected inflation to have increased and one would certainly not have expected wage growth to slow. The fact is that both wage growth and inflation have slowed significantly over the past four years. This is also what the markets are telling us – just look at long-term bond yields. I would not argue that there has not been a negative supply shock – I think there has been. For example higher minimum wages and increased regulation have likely reduced aggregate supply in the US economy, but in my view the negative demand shock is much more import. I am less inclined to the Austrian misallocation hypothesis as empirically significant.

A simple way to try to illustrate demand shocks versus supply shocks is to compare the development in real GDP with the development in prices. If the US primarily has been hit by a negative supply shock then we would have expect that real GDP to have dropped (relative to the pre-crisis trend) and prices should have increased (relative to the pre-crisis trend). On the other hand a negative demand shock will lead to a drop in both prices and real GDP (relative to pre-crisis trend).

The graph below shows the price level measured by the PCE core deflator – actual and the pre-crisis trend (log scale, 1993:1=100).

The next graph show the “price gap” which I define as the percentage difference between the actual price level and the pre-crisis trend.

Both graphs are clear – since the outbreak of the Great Recession in 2008 prices have grown slower than the pre-crisis trend (from 1993) and the price gap has therefore turned increasingly negative.

This in my view is a pretty clear indication that the demand shock “dominates” the possible supply shock.

Compare this with the early 1990s where prices grew faster than trend, while real GDP growth slowed. That was a clear negative supply shock.

That said, it is notable that the drop in prices (relative to the pre-crisis trend) has not been bigger when one compared it to how large the drop in real GDP has been, which could be an indication that White, Selgin and Dourado also have a point – there has probably also been some deterioration of the supply side of the US economy.

Monetary easing is still warranted

…but rules are more important than easing

I therefore think that monetary easing is still warranted in the US and I am not overly worried about the recent actions of the Federal Reserve will lead to bubbles or sharply higher inflation.

However, I have long stressed that I find it significantly more important that the fed introduce a proper rule based monetary policy – preferably a NGDP level target – than monetary policy is eased in a discretionary fashion.

Therefore, if I had the choice between significant discretionary monetary easing on the one hand and NGDP level targeting from the present level of NGDP (rather than from the pre-crisis trend level) I would certainly prefer the later. Nothing has been more harmful than the last four years of discretionary monetary policy in the US and the euro zone. To me the most important thing is that monetary policy is not distorting the workings of the price system and distort relative prices. Here I have been greatly inspired by Larry and George.

I have stressed similar points in numerous earlier posts:

NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative (we try again)
NGDP targeting is not about ”stimulus”
NGDP targeting is not a Keynesian business cycle policy
Be right for the right reasons
Monetary policy can’t fix all problems
Boettke’s important Political Economy questions for Market Monetarists
NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative
Lets concentrate on the policy framework
Boettke and Smith on why we are wasting our time
Scott Sumner and the Case against Currency Monopoly…or how to privatize the Fed

I think we Market Monetarists should be grateful to George, Larry and Eli for challenging us. We should never forget that targeting real variables is a very dangerous strategy for monetary policy and we should never put the need for “stimulus” over the need for a strictly ruled based monetary policy. And again I don’t think the disagreement is over theory or objectives, but rather over empirical issues.

As our disagreement primarily is empirical it would be interesting to hear what George, Larry and Eli think about the euro zone in this regard? Here it to me seem completely without question that the problem is nominal rather than real (even though the euro zone certainly has significant supply side problems, but they are unrelated to the crisis).

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Update: David Beckworth and George Selgin joins/continue the debate.

Free Banking theorists should study Argentina’s experience with parallel currencies

The latest book I have got in the mail is Georgina M. Gómez’s “Argentina’s Parallel Currency” about Argentina’s experience with parallel currencies or what has also been termed Complementary Currency Systems (CCS).

I have only read 10-15 pages in the book and studied the index and references – so this is certainly no book review. As I expected this is not exactly the type of economic literature that I would normally read and it is certainly not in the broader neo-classical tradition of economics that I feel comfortable with. Rather it is an piece of institutional economics – and not in the tradition of Hayek. Anyway, I find the book very interesting nonetheless. And no, I am not open-minded, but I see opportunities in what I read. Opportunities that the research on CCS can teach us a lot about monetary theory and to a large extent can confirm some key Market Monetarist and Free Banking positions.

What strikes me when I read Dr. Gómez’s book is the near total lack of references to Free Banking theory and to monetary theory in general. For example there is no reference to Selgin, White, Horwitz and other Free Banking theorists. There is no references to Leland Yeager’s views on monetary disequilibrium either. That is too bad because I think theorists such as Selgin and Yeager would make it much easier for Gómez to explain and understand the emergence of CCS if she had utilized monetary disequilibrium theory and Free Banking theory.

For example Dr. Gómez notes the countercyclical nature of CCS. When the economy turns down people turn to CCS. In Argentina the participants in the country’s CCS exploded in 2001-2. Dr. Gómez note the correlation unemployment, property rates and growth, but fails (I think…) to mention the obvious connection to money-velocity.

To me it is pretty clear – if money demand outpaces money supply then there is an profit opportunity that entrepreneurs can explore by issuing “money substitutes”. This is exactly what CCS is. Therefore, we would expect that when money-velocity drops then the use of CCS will increase. This is exactly what happened in the US during the Great Depression and in Argentina in 2001-2.

The very clear countercyclical nature of CCS “users” to me is indirect confirmation that under a truly privatized monetary system of Free Banking the money supply would increase in response to an increase in the money demand. Hence, a Free Banking system would be truly “countercyclical”. Said, in another way nominal GDP would be stabilized – as under NGDP level targeting.

George Selgin has been very critical about CCS and I would certainly agree that the motives of many proponents of CCS seem rather dubious. For example many CCS proponents stress the “localist” nature of these systems. That smells of protectionism to George – and to me. However, the motives for CCS proponents are not important. What is important is that the experience with CCS in for example Argentina provides data for studying some key positions of Free Banking Theorists – such as the “countercyclical” nature of the money supply in a privatized monetary system.

Finally I should once again note that I have only read 10-15 pages of Dr. Gómez book and this is certainly not a review of her book and the points raised about is no critique of the book, but rather a call for monetary theorists to have a closer look at the Argentine experience.

Related post:

Time to try WIR in Greece or Ireland? (I know you are puzzled)

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Unrelated links:

Take a look at Ambrose Evan-Pritchard latest piece on US monetary policy. Ambrose is clearly the leading proponent of Market Monetarism among European journalists.

Kurt Schuler contributes to the renewed war of words between the Free Bankers and the Rothbardian Austrians. See my earlier post on the war here.

Ramesh Ponnuru tells the story of “The Republicans’ Most Hypocritical Economic Argument”, which is basically the story about why the Sumner critique also applies to defense.

PS I have not forgotten that I promised to do more on African monetary reform – I have 2-3 pieces in the pipeline. I still welcome suggestions on what to focus on in terms of my Protect African Monetary Reform.

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