Noah Smith is clueless about Monetarism

Israel Arroyo on Twitter alerted me to a new comment BloombergView by Noah Smith titled “Monetarists Are Out of Ideas”. The whole thing is complete nonsense and shows that Noah Smith has absolutely no insight into monetary theory and particularly no knowledge at all about monetarism.

In fact there is basically nothing about monetarism in the article. Most of the article is about views of the so-called Neo-Fisherians (in itself a misnomer), which has nothing to do with monetarism and none of the economists mentioned in the article are monetarist or call themself monetarists.

In fact there is only one paragraph in the article that actually mentions monetarism. Here is the whole thing:

Monetarism — broadly defined as the idea that monetary policy influences inflation and output in the standard, textbook way — is at the core of mainstream New Keynesian models, and still dominates central bank thinking. There’s evidence for it, and there’s evidence against it, but in the end, I think its prominence endures because it represents a compromise between the Keynesian interventionists and the opposing coalition of anti-interventionists. It posits that technocratic central bankers, manipulating a single price in the economy (the interest rate), are all we need. This is a minimal intervention that liquidationists can stomach and that Keynesians can grudgingly accept.

All of that is basically wrong.

Noah Smith argues that “It (monetarism) posits that technocratic central bankers, manipulating a single price in the economy (the interest rate), are all we need.”

I guess Noah Smith never read anything any monetarist ever wrote about monetary policy, but he could for example start with reading Milton Friedman’s 1967 presidential address to the American Economic Association The Role of Monetary Policy:

… the monetary authority could assure low nominal rates of interest-but to do so it would have to start out in what seems like the opposite direction, by engaging in a deflationary monetary policy. Similarly, it could assure high nominal interest rates by engaging in an inflationary policy and accepting a temporary movement in interest rates in the opposite direction. These considerations not only explain why monetary policy cannot peg interest rates; they also explain why interest rates are such a misleading indicator of whether monetary policy is “tight” or “easy.” For that, it is far better to look at the rate of change of the quantity of money.

Noah Smith should of course know that this is the monetarist position since any student of economics will be introduced to Friedman’s classic article i  Macro 101, but maybe Noah Smith skipped that class. In fact it seems like Smith completely skipped reading anything ever written on monetarism or by monetarists.

It is at the core of monetarist thinking that interest rates tell us very little about the monetary stance. Furthermore, monetarists for decades have argued that central bankers should use the money base to control the monetary stance and that central bankers should not use the “interest rate” as a monetary policy instrument. In fact monetarists argue “the” interest rate is not a instrument at all – it is an intermediate target.

So it is very clear that Noah Smith is completely clueless about what monetarism is and consequently it is very hard to take his views on whether monetarists are out of ideas serious.

In fact I would say it is hard to take anything serious Noah Smith says on monetary matters when he so clearly demonstrates that he didn’t study any monetary theory at all.




The cost of the Sino-US FX deal: Surging money market rates (in Hong Kong)

This is from Financial Times’ FT Fast this morning:

A key lending rate between Hong Kong banks jumped to its highest level since February, potentially making it more expensive to short the renminbi.

The overnight CNH-Hong Kong Interbank Offer Rate (Hibor), a daily benchmark for offshore renminbi interbank lending, jumped to 5.446 per cent on Thursday – its highest level since February 19 – from 1.56767 per cent yesterday, write Peter Wells and Hudson Lockett.

Hong Kong banks do not rely on Hibor to anywhere near the same degree that global banks rely on Libor, the more famous US-dollar counterpart that is a crucial benchmark for loans that global lenders rely on for trillions of dollars of funding each day.

As such, the spike in CNH-Hibor has little practical impact on the banks themselves, but it has recently been viewed as more of a deterrent to speculators betting on CNH, the offshore renminbi.

On January 12, CNH-Hibor hit 66.815 per cent, the highest level since the benchmark was introduced in 2013, amid heavy speculation the People’s Bank of China, acting through state-owned banks, was soaking up liquidity to make the cost of shorting the renminbi more prohibitive as the currency came under pressure from speculators.

Ahead of this month’s G20 summit Commerzbank analyst Hao Zhou was among those predicting the PBoC would hold the line at Rmb6.7 against the dollar for a number of reasons, including a desire to facilitate special drawing rights (SDR) operations set to begin on October 1. However, he noted that “of course, politics tops the agenda again, especially as China is keen to show its ability to manage the whole economy and financial markets although the country still faces strong capital outflows.”

The central bank today weakened the currency’s midpoint fix for the first time since the end of G20, a move in line with analyst predictions that efforts to shore up the renminbi’s value would dissipate when the summit was over.

A spike in Hibor would track with a scenario in which the central bank either intervened itself or had mainland banks sop up liquidity on its behalf. It also has other options – as Commerzbank’s Zhou noted late last month: “We also expect that China’s central bank will allow the local banks to trade CNH in September, in order to narrow the CNY-CNH spread.”

This happens after China and the US over the weekend agreed to “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes”.

As my loyal readers know I am very critical about this deal (see my post on that topic here) as I believe that it is an attempt to quasi fix global exchange rates to avoid ‘currency war’ effectively limits the possibility for monetary easing – both in the US and China.

Ending China’s crawling devaluation will be bad news 

Since the Federal Reserve in December hiked the fed funds target rate the People Bank of China effective has tried to decouple Chinese monetary policy from US monetary policy by allowing a crawling devaluation of the Renminbi.


This in my view has played a positive role in offsetting the negative impact of the Fed’s foolish attempt to tighten US monetary conditions.

However, the Sino-US ‘currency peace’ deal limits the PBoC’s possibility of continuing this policy and this is why HIBOR rates are now surging. This obviously is bad news for the Chinese economy – in fact it is bad news for the global economy and markets.

China does not need tighter monetary conditions. Chinese monetary conditions in my view is still quasi-deflationary and if the PBoC abandons its unannounced crawling devaluation policy it will cause a excessive tightening of Chinese monetary conditions, which could push back the Chinese economy towards recession.

It is too bad that policy makers from the ‘Global Monetary Superpowers’ believe that limiting currency flexibility is the right policy. Instead they should embrace floating exchange rates and instead focus on avoiding the biggest risk to the global economy – deflation.



In a deflationary world at the ZLB we need ‘competitive devaluations’

Sunday we got some bad news, which many wrongly will see as good news – this is from Reuters:

China and the United States on Sunday committed anew to refrain from competitive currency devaluations, and China said it would continue an orderly transition to a market-oriented exchange rate for the yuan CNY=CFXS.

…Both countries said they would “refrain from competitive devaluations and not target exchange rates for competitive purposes”, the fact sheet said.

Meanwhile, China would “continue an orderly transition to a market-determined exchange rate, enhancing two-way flexibility. China stresses that there is no basis for a sustained depreciation of the RMB (yuan). Both sides recognize the importance of clear policy communication.”

There is really nothing to celebrate here. The fact is that in a world where the largest and most important central banks in the world – including the Federal Reserve – continue to undershoot their inflation targets and where deflation remains a real threat any attempt – including using the exchange rate channel – to increase inflation expectations should be welcomed.

This of course is particularly important in a world where the ‘natural interest rate’ likely is quite close to zero and where policy rates are stuck very close to the Zero Lower Bound (ZLB). In such a world the exchange rate can be a highly useful instrument to curb deflationary pressures – as forcefully argued by for example Lars E. O. Svensson and Bennett McCallum.

In fact by agreeing not to use the exchange rate as a channel for easing monetary conditions the two most important ‘monetary superpowers’ in the world are sending a signal to the world that they are in fact not fully committed to fight deflationary pressures. That certainly is bad news – particularly because especially the Fed seems bewildered about conducting monetary policy in the present environment.

Furthermore, I am concerned that the Japanese government is in on this deal – at least indirectly – and that is why the Bank of Japan over the last couple of quarters seems to have allowed the yen to get significantly stronger, which effective has undermined BoJ chief Kuroda’s effort to hit BoJ’s 2% inflation target.

A couple of months ago we also got a very strong signal from ECB chief Mario Draghi that “competitive devaluations” should be avoided. Therefore there seems to be a broad consensus among the ‘Global Monetary Superpowers’ that currency fluctuation should be limited and that the exchange rate channel should not be used to fight devaluation pressures.

This in my view is extremely ill-advised and in this regard it should be noted that monetary easing if it leads to a weakening of the currency is not a beggar-thy-neighbour policy as it often wrongly is argued (see my arguments about this here).

Rather it could be a very effective way of increase inflationary expectations and that is exactly what we need now in a situation where central banks are struggling to figure out how to conduct monetary policy when interest rates are close the ZLB.

See some of my earlier posts on ‘currency war’/’competitive devaluations’ here:

Bernanke knows why ‘currency war’ is good news – US lawmakers don’t

‘The Myth of Currency War’

Don’t tell me the ‘currency war’ is bad for European exports – the one graph version

The New York Times joins the ‘currency war worriers’ – that is a mistake

The exchange rate fallacy: Currency war or a race to save the global economy?

Is monetary easing (devaluation) a hostile act?

Fiscal devaluation – a terrible idea that will never work

Mises was clueless about the effects of devaluation

Exchange rates and monetary policy – it’s not about competitiveness: Some Argentine lessons

The luck of the ‘Scandies’


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