Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Do let’s force mortgagors to pay more interest so as to enable monetary policy to work better.

Many economists at the moment seem to want to raise interest rates back to their “normal” level, and in some cases, they want to do that simply to enable central banks to cut interest rates come a recession. I.e. they want mortgagors to be forced to pay more interest just to enable monetary policy to impart stimulus, when in fact fiscal policy can perfectly well impart stimulus.

There’s an example of this sort of thinking in a tweet by Simon Wren-Lewis where he says “I would add a fiscal policy that sees its primary goal as avoiding interest rates hitting their lower bound….”

So what’s the problem with the “lower bound”? Milton Friedman and Warren Mosler advocated a permanent zero rate. I.e. they argued that government should pay no interest to anyone: it should simply issue whatever amount of non-interest yielding base money is needed to keep the economy at capacity.

A case could be made for artificially high interest rates and hence interest rate cuts working better when needed if it can be shown that interest rate cuts work much more predictably and/or quickly that fiscal stimulus. But there’s little evidence for that, far as I know.

So the conclusion is that the policy set out by Positive Money, the New Economics Foundation and Prof Richard Werner, namely that the state should simply print base money and spend it into the economy (and/or cut taxes) when stimulus is needed, while interest rates are left to their own devices, is the best one.

That policy is certainly supported by a significant proportion of MMTers, though I’m not sure that’s “official MMT policy”, if there is such a thing.

Note that the above “print and spend and/or cut taxes” is not what might be called “pure fiscal policy”: in that new money is created, there’s a bit of monetary policy there. So a better description of the latter Positive Money / MMT policy might be “monetary and fiscal policy joined at the hip”.

Also, the latter print and spend policy is not to rule out interest rate rises in an emergency. I.e. if there was a serious outbreak of irrational exuberance, having the central bank wade into the market and offer to borrow at above the going rate might be a useful tool. However, I suggest that “print and spend” should always be the objective.

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