The end of Prohibition and two great monetary thinkers

Today it is 80 years ago that US alcohol prohibition was ended. Interestingly enough two of my favorite monetary thinkers of the time – Irving Fisher and Clark Warburton – had strong views on prohibition.

Hence, Irving Fisher was a strong advocate of prohibition, while Clark Warburton was strongly against prohibition.

I would especially encourage everybody to have a look at Clark Warburton’s empirical work on prohibition in his Ph.D. dissertation, which was published as The Economic Results of Prohibition in 1932 – one year ahead of the end of prohibition

Fisher and Warburton had very similar – monetarist – views on monetary policy and theory, but they certainly did not agree on prohibition.

Later an other monetarist – Milton Friedman – picked up on a similar theme and he was very outspoken against the US War on Drugs.

As I noted in my previous post I believe that an end to the War on Drugs would be a quite positive supply shock to the US economy and would improve US public finances. The end of prohibition in 1933 likely had a similar positive effect on the US economy, but unfortunately other regulations such are the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) had much more negative supply effects. Said in another way Roosevelt was right on alcohol and money, but wrong on nearly everything else.

Prohibition Dec 5 1933I

I stole this picture from Cato Institute. Here is what Cato’s David Boaz has to say about the day to day.

You have to be upbeat about the Iranian economy – president Rouhani is a monetarist!

This is the new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Twiiter (on November 26):

From an economic perspective, we were in a state of stagflation–negative growth + extremely high inflation–first time in 50 yrs.

…Tracking inflation is very important to me. Change in inflation has been +2.2 – 2.3% MoM, which is now reduced to +1.2%

…Inflation has decreased from 43% to 36%–still very high, but it’s an improvement

…Our plan is to bring inflation below 25% by end of next year, from a level of 43% when we took office.

Ok, fine president Rouhani what do you want to do about it?

And here is his answer:

Screen-Shot-2013-11-29-at-10.19.58-AM

Wauw! Is Rouhani’s favourite economist Milton Friedman?

I wish President Rouhani the best of luck in reducing Iranian inflation and in reviving the Iranian economy – it is badly needed. I am sure he will succeed if he follows his apparent monetarist instincts.

HT Scott Sumner and Left Outside.

End the euro crisis now with a 10% M3 target

This is Michael Steen in the Financial Times:

Inflation in the eurozone dropped unexpectedly to an annual rate of 0.7 per cent in October, far below the European Central Bank’s target of close to but below 2 per cent, and significantly increasing the chances of an interest-rate cut.

The so-called “flash” estimate by Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, showed that the rate at which prices rise had slowed further since September, when it was 1.1 per cent, which is roughly what economists had expected for October.

A sharp outright fall in energy costs, by 1.7 per cent, drove the slowdown in the harmonised indices of consumer prices, which the ECB targets, but “core inflation”, which strips out energy, food, alcohol and tobacco, also fell to 0.8 per cent from 1 per cent.

I must say I am not the least surprised by the fact that the euro zone is heading for deflation. This is what I told The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard back in March:

“Europe is heading into a deflationary scenario if they don’t do anything to boost the money supply,” said Lars Christensen… “This already looks very similar to what happened in Japan in 1996 and 1997.”

It is tragic, but what we are seeing now in Europe is exactly the same as we saw in Japan in the mid-1990s – a central bank that pursued extremely tight monetary policies, while it continued to maintain that monetary policy was indeed very easing. We all know the result of the Bank of Japan’s failed policies was 15 years of stagnation and deflation – and sharply rising public debt levels. The ECB unfortunately is copying exactly the policies of the (old) BoJ instead of learning the lesson from the new BoJ’s effective anti-deflationary policies.

As I have earlier argued the development in velocity and money supply growth in Europe today is very similar to what we saw in Japan around 1996-97. Not surprisingly the outcome is the same – extremely weak nominal GDP growth and deflationary tendencies. In fact the outcome is much worse. Unemployment in the euro zone just keep on rising – contrary to the situation in the US, where the Fed’s monetary easing over the past year has helped improve the labour market situation.

In fact the latest unemployment numbers for the euro zone published yesterday (Thursday) shows that unemployment in the euro zone has reached a record-high level of 12.2% in September and even worse youth unemployment is now 24.1%. It is hard not to conclude that the ECB is directly responsible for the millions of European being without a job. Yes, there are serious structural problems in Europe, but the sharp increase in unemployment levels in the euro zone since particularly since the ECB’s misguided rate hikes in 2011 is nearly totally the fault of the ECB’s extremely tight monetary policy stance.

We are heading for deflation

But lets get back to why deflation looks more and more likely in the euro. This is what I had to say about the matter back in March:

If you don’t already realise why I am talking about the risk of deflation then you just have to remember the equation of exchange – MV=PY.

We can rewrite the equation of exchange in growth rates and rearrange it. That gives us the the following model for medium-term inflation:

(1) m + v = p + y

<=>

(1)’ p = m + v – y

If we assume that money-velocity (v) drops by 2.5% y/y (the historical average) and trend real GDP growth is 2% (also more or less the historical average) and use 3% as the present rate of M3 growth then we get the follow ‘forecast’ for euro zone inflation:

(1)’ p = 3 % + -2.5% – 2% = -1.5%

So the message from the equation of exchange is clear – we are closer to 2% deflation than 2% inflation.

Yes, it is really that simple and the policy makers in the ECB should of course have realized this long ago.

End the euro crisis now with a 10% M3 target

There is only one way to avoid deflation in the euro zone and that is an aggressive monetary policy response in the form of a significant and permanent expansion of the euro zone money base within a clearly defined rule-based framework.

I would obviously prefer that the ECB implemented an clear NGDP level targeting rule, but less might do it – and a lot of other policy options would be preferable to the present mess.

The “easy” solution would be for the ECB to re-instate its former two-pillar monetary policy – a money supply (M3) growth target and an inflation target. Therefore, I suggest that the ECB imitiately issues the following statement (I have suggested it before):

“Effective today the ECB will start to undertake monetary operations to ensure that euro zone M3 growth will average 10% every year until the euro zone output gap has been closed. The ECB will allow inflation to temporarily overshoot the normal 2% inflation. The ECB has decided to undertake these measures as a failure to do so would seriously threatens price stability in the euro zone – given the present growth rate of M3 deflation is a substantial risk – and to ensure financial and economic stability in Europe. A failure to fight the deflationary risks would endanger the survival of the euro.

The ECB will from now on every month announce an operational target for the purchase of a GDP weighted basket of euro zone 2-year government bonds. The purpose of the operations will not be to support any single euro zone government, but to ensure a M3 growth rate that is comparable with long-term price stability. The present growth rate of M3 is deflationary and it is therefore of the highest importance that M3 growth is increased significantly until the deflationary risks have been substantially reduced.

The announced measures are completely within the ECB’s mandate and obligations to ensure price stability and financial stability in the euro zone as spelled out in the Maastricht Treaty.”

That would end the euro crisis, while also ensuring inflation around 2% in the medium-term. There would be no bailing out or odd credit policies. Only a clear and rule based policy to ensure nominal stability. How hard can it be?

Leland Yeager wrote the best monetarist (text)book

In my recent post about Keynes’ “A Tract on Monetary Reform” I quoted Brad Delong for saying that Tract is the best monetarist book ever written. I also wrote that I disagreed with Brad on this.

That led Brad to respond to me by asking: “What do you think is a better monetarist book than the Tract?”

I think that is a very fair question, which I tried to answer in the comment section of my post, but I want to repeat the answer here. So here we go (the answer has been slightly edited):

One could of course think I would pick something by Friedman and I certainly would recommend reading anything he wrote on monetary matters, but in fact my pick for the best monetarist book would probably be Leland Yeager’s “Fluttering Veil”.

In terms of something that is very readable I would clearly choose Friedman’s “Money Mischief”, but that is of course a collection of articles and not a textbook style book. Come to think of it – we miss a textbook style monetarist book.

I actually think that one of the most important things about a monetarist (text)book should be a description of the monetary transmission mechanism. The description of the transmission mechanism is very good in Tract, but Yeager is even better on this point.

Friedman on the other hand had a bit of a problem explaining the monetary transmission mechanism. I think his problem was that he tried to explain things basically within a IS/LM style framework and that he was so focused on empirical work. One would have expected him to do that in “Milton Friedman’s Monetary Framework: A Debate with His Critics”, but I think he failed to do that. In fact that book is is probably the worst of all of Friedman’s books. It generally comes across as being rather unconvincing.

Finally I would also mention Clark Warburton’s “Depression, Inflation, and Monetary Policy; Selected Papers, 1945-1953″. Again a collection of articles, but it is very good and explains the monetary transmission mechanism very well. I believe Warburton was a much bigger inspiration for Friedman than he ever fully recognized – even though Warburton is mentioned in the introduction to “Monetary History”.

So there you go. I recommend to anybody who wants to understand monetarist thinking to read Yeager and Warburton. Yeager and Warburton’s books mentioned above will particularly make you understand three topic. 1) The monetary transmission (and why interest rates is not at the core of it), 2) The crucial difference between money and credit and finally 3) Why both inflation and recessions are always and everywhere monetary phenomena.

I will surely return to these books when I continue the reporting on my survey of monetary thinkers’ book recommendations in the coming days and weeks.

PS Leland Yeager’s “Fluttering Veil” is a collection of articles edited by George Selgin. George deserves a lot of credit (if not money!) for putting it together. It is a massively impressive book, which unfortunately have been read by far too few economists and even fewer policy makers.

From the Christensen book collection: Yeager and Warburton:

Yeager Warburton 2

If there is a ‘bond bubble’ – it is a result of excessive monetary TIGHTENING

Among ‘internet Austrians’ there is an idea that there is gigantic bubble in the global bond markets and when this bubble bursts then the world will come to an end (again…).

The people who have these ideas are mostly people who never really studied any economics and who get most of their views on economics from reading more or less conspiratorial “Austrian” school websites. Just try to ask them and they will tell you they never have read any economic textbooks and most of them did not even read Austrian classics as “Human Action”. So in that sense why should we worry about these views?

And why blog about it? Well, because it is not only internet Austrians who have these ideas. Unfortunately many central bankers seem to have the same kind of views.

Just have a look at this from the the Guardian:

A key Bank of England policymaker has warned of the risks to global financial stability when “the biggest bond bubble in history” bursts.

In a wide-ranging testimony to MPs, Andy Haldane, Bank of England director of financial stability, admitted the central bank’s new financial policy committee is taking too long to force banks to hold more capital and appeared to criticise the bank’s culture under outgoing governor Sir Mervyn King.Haldane told the Treasury select committee that the bursting of the bond bubble – created by central banks forcing down bond yields by pumping electronic money into the economy – was a risk “I feel acutely right now”.

He also said banks have now put the threat of cyber attacks on the top of their the worry-list, replacing the long-running eurozone crisis.

“You can see why the financial sector would be a particularly good target for someone wanting to wreak havoc through the cyber route,” Haldane said.

But he described bond markets as the main risk to financial stability. “If I were to single out what for me would be biggest risk to global financial stability right now it would be a disorderly reversion in the yields of government bonds globally.” he said. There had been “shades of that” in recent weeks as government bond yields have edged higher amid talk that central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, will start to reduce its stimulus.

“Let’s be clear. We’ve intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history,” Haldane said. “We need to be vigilant to the consequences of that bubble deflating more quickly than [we] might otherwise have wanted.”

I must admit that I am somewhat shocked by Haldane’s comments as it seems like Haldane actually thinks that monetary easing is the cause that global bond yields are low. The Bank of England later said it was not the view of the BoE, but Haldane’s “personal” views.

If Haldane ever studied Milton Friedman it did not have an lasting impact on his thinking. Milton Friedman of course told us that low bond yields is not an result of easy monetary policy, but rather a result of excessively TIGHT monetary policy. Hence, if monetary conditions are tight then inflation and growth expectations are low and as a consequence bond yields will also be low.

Hence, Milton Friedman would not be surprised that Japanese and US bond yields have risen recently on the back of monetary easing being implemented in the US and Japan.

In fact the development in global fixed income markets over the past five years is a very strong illustration that Friedman was right – and why Haldane’s fears are misguided. Just take a look at the graph below – it is 10-year US Treasury bond yields.

10y UST

(If you think you saw this graph before then you are right – you saw it here).

If Haldane is right then we should have seen bond yields decrease following the announcement of monetary easing. However, the graph shows that the opposite have happened.

Hence, the announcement of TAP and the dollar swaps lines in early 2009 was followed by an significant INCREASE in US (and global) bond yields. Similarly the pre-announcement of ‘QE2’ in August 2010 also led to an increase in bond yields.

And finally the latest sell-off in the global fixed income markets have coincided with monetary easing from the fed (the Evans rule) and the Bank of Japan (‘Abenomics’)

If you think there is a bond bubble

then blame the ECB’s rate hikes in 2011

Looking at US 10-year yields over the past five years we have had three major “down-legs”. The first down-leg followed the collapse of Lehman Brothers in October 2008. The second down-leg played out in the first half of 2010 following the hike in Federal Reserve’s discount rate in February 2010 and the People Bank of China’s increase in the reserve requirement in January 2010.

However, the biggest down-leg in US 10-year bond  yields followed the ECB’s two rate hikes of 2011 (April and July). Believe it or not, but the ECB was “able” to reduce US 10-bond yields more than the collapse of Lehman Brothers did.

Hence, if there is a ‘bubble’ in the global fixed income markets it has not been caused by monetary easing. No if anything it is a result of excessively tight monetary conditions.

In fact it is completely absurd to think that global bond yields are low as a result of central bank ‘manipulation’. Global bond yields are low because investors and households fear for the future – fears of low growth and deflationary tendencies. Global bond yields are low because monetary policy have been excessive tight.

Rejoice! Yields are rising

Unlike Andy Haldane I do not fear that day the bond ‘bubble’ (it is not a bubble!) will burst. In fact I look forward to the day US bond yields (and UK bond yields for that matter) once again are back to 5%. Because that would mean that investors and households again would believe that we are not heading for deflation and would once again believe that we could have ‘normal’ GDP growth.

And unlike Haldane I don’t believe that higher bond yields would lead to financial armageddon and I don’t believe that Japan will default if Japanese bond yield where to rise to 3 or 4%. Banks and countries do not go belly up when growth takes off. In fact the day US bond yields once again is back around 5% we can safely conclude that the Great Recession has come to an end.

Concluding, there is no ‘bond bubble’ and Andy Haldane should not have sleepless nights over it. The Bank of England did not cause UK yields to drop – or rather maybe it did, but only because monetary policy has been too tight rather than too easy.

PS I never heard any of these ‘bubble mongers’ explain why Japanese property prices and equity prices have been trending downward for nearly two decades despite interest rates being basically at zero in Japan.

PPS the graph above also shows that “Operation Twist” in 2011 failed to increase growth and inflation expectations. Any Market Monetarists would of course have told you that “Operation Twist” would fail as it did nothing to increase the money base or increase the expectation for future money base expansion.

—–

Related posts:

When US 30-year yields hit 5% the Great Recession will be over
Confused central banks and the need for an autopilot
Two cheers for higher Japanese bond yields (in the spirit of Milton Friedman)
Tight money = low yields – also during the Great Recession

“Everything reminds Paul Krugman of the GOP. Everything reminds me of sex, but I try to keep it out of my papers.”

This is Paul Krugman:

Actually, before I get there, a word about self-styled conservative “market monetarists”: guys, have you noticed who your real policy enemies are? People like me, Brad DeLong, etc. are skeptical about the Fed’s ability to offset the effects of fiscal austerity, but we do want it to try. The furious academic opposition to quantitative easing is instead coming from moderate conservative macroeconomists, notably Taylor and Feldstein. So your problem isn’t just that the GOP’s effective leader on economic issues gets his macro from Francisco D’Anconia; it’s that even the not-so-silly wing of the party is dead set against what you consider reform.

When I read Krugman’s comment I came to think about what Robert Solow once said about Milton Friedman:

“Everything reminds Milton Friedman of the money supply. Everything reminds me of sex, but I try to keep it out of my papers.”

Paul Krugman undoubtedly is an extremely clever economist and when he actually writes about economics – rather than about obsessing about the US Republican party – he can be very interesting to read.

Unfortunately he is no better than the people on the right in US politics he so hates. It seems like every issue he writes about has to involve the Republican Party. Frankly speaking I find that extremely boring and massively counterproductive.

Personally I refuse to participate in the tribalism advocated by Paul Krugman. I do not judge economists and their views on whether they are affiliated with the Republican party or the Democrat party in the US. I find these affiliations utterly irrelevant.

It is of course correct that Market Monetarists tend to agree with Keynesians like Krugman and Brad DeLong that the main economic problem  in the US, Japan and the euro zone right now is weak aggregate demand (we would say weak NGDP growth). None of ever denied that. However, we equally agree with John Taylor that monetary policy should be rule based and we agree with Allan Meltzer (at least the ‘old’ Meltzer) that monetary policy is highly potent. That is as least as important – or maybe even more important – when it comes to policy advocacy.

Furthermore, as particularly Scott Sumner often has argued that Paul Krugman has been extremely inconsistent on his view of monetary policy – sometimes he seems to that there is no role for monetary policy (he seems as obsessed with the imaginary liquidity trap as he is with the GOP) and sometimes he thinks monetary easing is great and will work. Or said in another way – we tend to agree the New Keynesian Krugman, but have no time for the paleo-Keynesian Krugman.

Finally would you all stop calling Market Monetarists “conservative”. As far as I know most of the Market Monetarist bloggers are either apolitical or think of themselves as libertarian or classical liberal. I am certainly no conservative – neither was Hayek nor was Friedman.

PS Josh Barro might be to “blame” to this discussion. It is probably this comment that triggered Krugman’s response:

“But while market monetarism is the shining success of the conservative reform movement, it also points to trouble for the reformists. We have had zero success in convincing Republican elected officials that easy money is ever a good idea. The Republican party has gotten, if anything, more rabidly afraid of inflation and more flirtatious with the idea of returning to a gold standard. The 2012 Republican National Convention adopted a platform calling for a “commission to investigate possible ways to set a fixed value for the dollar.”

PPS I feel that this blog post might have been a complete waste of time writing so I hope that I at least have not wasted your time as well.

PPPS Scott also comments on Krugman as do Dilbert:

186605.strip

 

Two cheers for higher Japanese bond yields (in the spirit of Milton Friedman)

I have no doubt that Milton Friedman would have congratulated Bank of Japan governor Haruhiko Kuroda on the fact that Japanese bond yields continue to rise.

This is what Friedman said about the level of bond yields and interest rates in 1998:

“Initially, higher monetary growth would reduce short-term interest rates even further. As the economy revives, however, interest rates would start to rise. That is the standard pattern and explains why it is so misleading to judge monetary policy by interest rates. Low interest rates are generally a sign that money has been tight, as in Japan; high interest rates, that money has been easy.”

Lets take it again – “As the economy revives, however, interest rates would start to rise”. Hence, the fact the Japanese bond yields are rising – and have done so since he presented his monetary policy regime change in early April – is a very clear sign that Mr. Kuroda’s efforts to get Japan out of deflation is working.

However, not all agree. This is  in the Telegraph quoting Richard Koo (Ambrose as we know do not agree with Koo):

“Richard Koo…an expert on Japan’s Lost Decade, said the sell-off in recent days has shown that the BoJ may not be able to hold down yields “no matter how many bonds it buys”. This could lead to a “loss of faith in the Japanese government” and the “beginning of the end” for its economy, if handled badly.”

Richard Koo obviously do not understand the monetary transmission mechanism. The purpose of what the Bank of Japan is doing is not to keep bond yields down. The purpose is to increase the money base and increase inflation expectations (to 2%). Both things are of course happening and the markets have not lost faith in the Japanese government or the Bank of Japan. Rather the opposite is the case.

Yes, nominal bond yields are rising – as Friedman and every living Market Monetarist said they would. However, real bond yields have collapsed since the introduction of Japan’s new monetary regime as inflation expectations have picked up. Something Mr. Koo for years has denied the Bank of Japan would be able to do.

Furthermore – and much more important – the markets do not think that the Japanese government is about to go bankrupt. In fact completely in parallel with the increase in inflation expectations the markets’ perception of the Japanese government’s default risk have decreased. Hence, the 5-year Credit Default Swap on Japanese companies has dropped from around 225bp in October last year to around 70bp today and at the same time the CDS on the government of Japan has declined as well – albeit less so.

This is actually not surprising at all. As monetary policy has been eased the expectation for nominal GDP growth has accelerated and as a natural consequence the markets are also starting to price in that the debt-to-NGDP ratio will drop. This is simple arithmetics.

Hence, the markets today feels significantly more comfortable that Japan will not default than was the case prior to Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party won the Japanese elections in September last year.

So it might be that Richard Koo is thinking that Abenomics is the “beginning of the end” for Japan, but I rather think that Abenomics might be the beginning of the end for Mr.Koo’s theory of the balance sheet recession in Japan.

—–

Nick Rowe has a blog post on the same topic.

Update: Scott Sumner basically put out the same post as me at the same time (at least the headlines are very similar). Scott, however, is slightly less optimistic about Abenomics than I am.

Update 2: And here is Marcus Nunes on a similar topic (why Richard Koo is wrong).

This should teach you not to mess with Milton Friedman

This is Argentine central bank governor Mercedes Marcó del Pont in an interview on March 26 2012:

“We’re recovering the sovereign capacity to formulate and implement economic policy”, said Marcó del Pont who anticipated some pictures will be coming down from the bank’s hall of fame “beginning with Milton Friedman.”

Now take a look at what have happened to the Argentine peso since these “brilliant” comments.

Peso crash

I leave it to my readers to figure out whether del Pont made a massive policy mistake when she ordered Uncle Milty’s picture removed….

 

PS take a look at this very interesting interview with the Argentine Minister of Economy Hernán Lorenzino about Argentine inflation. Lets just say Mr. Lorenzino seems a bit unsecure about how to present the “facts”

15 years too late: Reviving Japan (the ECB should watch and learn)

After 15 years of deflationary policies the Bank of Japan now clearly is changing course. That should be clear to everybody after today’s policy announcement from the Bank of Japan. I don’t have a lot of writing here other than I will say this is extremely good news. Good for Japan and good for the global economy and what the BoJ is doing is nearly textbook style monetary easing. The only minus is that the BOJ is targeting inflation and not the NGDP level, but anyway I am pretty convinced this will work and work soon.

Anyway lets pay tribute to Milton Friedman. This is Uncle Milty in 1998 in his article “Reviving Japan”:

The surest road to a healthy economic recovery is to increase the rate of monetary growth, to shift from tight money to easier money, to a rate of monetary growth closer to that which prevailed in the golden 1980s but without again overdoing it. That would make much-needed financial and economic reforms far easier to achieve.

Defenders of the Bank of Japan will say, “How? The bank has already cut its discount rate to 0.5 percent. What more can it do to increase the quantity of money?”

The answer is straightforward: The Bank of Japan can buy government bonds on the open market, paying for them with either currency or deposits at the Bank of Japan, what economists call high-powered money. Most of the proceeds will end up in commercial banks, adding to their reserves and enabling them to expand their liabilities by loans and open market purchases. But whether they do so or not, the money supply will increase.

There is no limit to the extent to which the Bank of Japan can increase the money supply if it wishes to do so. Higher monetary growth will have the same effect as always. After a year or so, the economy will expand more rapidly; output will grow, and after another delay, inflation will increase moderately. A return to the conditions of the late 1980s would rejuvenate Japan and help shore up the rest of Asia.

This is what the BoJ announced today:

Under this guideline, the monetary base — whose amount outstanding was 138 trillion yen at end-2012 — is expected to reach 200 trillion yen at end-2013 and 270 trillion yen at end-2014.

The monthly flow of JGB (Japanese Government Bonds) purchases is expected to become 7+ trillion yen on a gross basis.

The Bank will achieve the price stability target of 2 percent in terms of the year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) at the earliest possible time, with a time horizon of about two years. In order to do so, it will enter a new phase of monetary easing both in terms of quantity and quality. It will double the monetary base and the amounts outstanding of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) as well as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in two years, and more than double the average remaining maturity of JGB purchases.

After 15 years the BoJ is finally listening to Friedman’s advice and I am sure it will do a lot to revive the Japanese economy. In fact the BoJ is doing more than listening to Milton Friedman. The BoJ is also listening to the Market Monetarist message of using the Chuck Norris Effect by guiding market expectations. Good work Kuroda.

And finally a message to ECB boss Mario Draghi. If you want to end the euro crisis just copy-paste today’s BoJ statement. You have the same inflation target anyway. It is not really that hard to do.

“The Euro: Monetary Unity To Political Disunity?”

The re-eruption of the euro crisis as sparked not only economic and financial concerns, but maybe even more important the crisis is now very clearly leading to serious political disunity exemplified by an article the Spanish newspaper El País in, which Chancellor Merkel (somewhat unjustly) was compared to Hitler. And it is pretty clear that Germans are unlikely to get the same level of service if they go on vacation in Spain, Greece or Cyprus this year.

The political disunity in Europe should hardly be a surprised to anybody who have read anything Milton Friedman ever wrote on monetary union and fixed exchange rate regime. His article “The Euro: Monetary Unity To Political Disunity?” from 1997 has turned out to have been particularly prolific.

Here is Friedman on why the euro just is a bad idea:

By contrast, Europe’s common market exemplifies a situation that is unfavorable to a common currency. It is composed of separate nations, whose residents speak different languages, have different customs, and have far greater loyalty and attachment to their own country than to the common market or to the idea of “Europe.” Despite being a free trade area, goods move less freely than in the United States, and so does capital.

The European Commission based in Brussels, indeed, spends a small fraction of the total spent by governments in the member countries. They, not the European Union’s bureaucracies, are the important political entities. Moreover, regulation of industrial and employment practices is more extensive than in the United States, and differs far more from country to country than from American state to American state. As a result, wages and prices in Europe are more rigid, and labor less mobile. In those circumstances, flexible exchange rates provide an extremely useful adjustment mechanism.

If one country is affected by negative shocks that call for, say, lower wages relative to other countries, that can be achieved by a change in one price, the exchange rate, rather than by requiring changes in thousands on thousands of separate wage rates, or the emigration of labor. The hardships imposed on France by its “franc fort” policy illustrate the cost of a politically inspired determination not to use the exchange rate to adjust to the impact of German unification. Britain’s economic growth after it abandoned the European Exchange Rate Mechanism a few years ago to refloat the pound illustrates the effectiveness of the exchange rate as an adjustment mechanism.

Note how Friedman rightly notes that downward rigidities in price and wages are likely to cause problems in the euro zone in the event of a negative shock to one or more of the euro countries.

These problems cannot be ignored and if they are ignored it will likely lead to political disunity – if not indeed political disintegration. As Friedman express it:

The drive for the Euro has been motivated by politics not economics. The aim has been to link Germany and France so closely as to make a future European war impossible, and to set the stage for a federal United States of Europe. I believe that adoption of the Euro would have the opposite effect. It would exacerbate political tensions by converting divergent shocks that could have been readily accommodated by exchange rate changes into divisive political issues. Political unity can pave the way for monetary unity. Monetary unity imposed under unfavorable conditions will prove a barrier to the achievement of political unity.

Friedman unfortunately once again has been proven right by events over the past couple of weeks.

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