Sunday, 30 June 2019
Mark Carney opposes QE for the people because he thinks it would result in the Bank of England having negative equity….:-)
I got the above information from Frances Coppola’s new book “The Case for People’s Quantitative Easing”, p.92. There is nothing wrong with Coppola’s demolition of Carney’s claim that I can see. Indeed, there’s not much wrong with the book as a whole: it’s an excellent piece of work.
But it really is bizarre for the governor of a central bank to make the above claim. So I thought I’d add some criticisms of Carney’s claim to those made by Coppola (or maybe I’m just repeating her criticisms using my own words).
Anyway, the first flaw in Carney’s claim is that a currency issuer almost by definition has negative equity, or put another way, the fact of issuing currency decreases the equity of the issuer. For example, there is nothing to stop me writing out IOUs on the back of envelopes and trying to use those bits of paper to purchase goods and services. Assuming I don’t purchase assets with some sort of permanent value, like land or a house, i.e. assuming I use the envelopes to fund current consumption, then every £ worth of envelope reduces my equity by a £.
Indeed, the latter “envelope” scenario is not totally unrealistic in that large firms and rich individuals a century or more ago regularly paid for items they wanted to purchase with so called “bills of exchange” which were basically just IOUs.
Now is the above reduction in equity a problem? Well it’s only a problem if the suspicion arises that I am not ultimately able to pay my debts or meet my liabilities. But governments and their central banks can grab any amount of money anytime off taxpayers. Thus they ought to have no problems meeting their liabilities!
Moreover, no one ever worries about whether government as a whole (including the central bank) has negative or positive equity: that is, no one ever worries about whether total government assets (roads, land, buildings etc) exceed total government debt. Reason is as above: government never has a problem paying its debts because it can simply grab money off the private sector whenever it wants!!
Another weakness in Carney’s argument is that if we go for QE for the people (aka “overt money creation”), and assuming it’s government rather than the central bank itself that spends the “overt money”, then the central bank would presumably get some sort of receipt or bond from government in exchange for money supplied. And that receipt / bond equals an asset as viewed by the central bank.
In that case, the central bank’s equity does not decline, though the equity of government as a whole would decline in that the money was spent on current consumption as opposed to capital investments.