Articles by Martin Wolf
Martin Wolf is Associate Editor and Chief Economics Commentator at the Financial Times, London. He was awarded the CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 2000 for services to financial journalism. He was made a Doctor of Science (Econ), honoris causa, by the London School of Economics in December 2006. Mr Wolf was appointed a member of the UK government’s Independent Commission on Banking in June 2010.
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Why it would be wise to prepare for the next recession
5 February 2016
What might central banks do if the next recession hit while interest rates were still far below pre-2008 levels? As a paper from the London-based Resolution Foundation argues, this is highly likely. Central banks need to be prepared for this eventuality. The most important part of such preparation is to convince the public that they know what to do.
Today, eight-and-a-half years after the first signs of the financial crisis, the highest short-term intervention rate applied by the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan or the Bank of England is the latter’s half a per cent, which has been in effect since March 2009 and with no rise in sight. The ECB and the BoJ are even using negative rates, the latter after more than 20 years of short-term rates of 0.5 per cent, or less. The plight of the UK might not be that dire. Nevertheless, the latest market expectations imply a base rate of roughly 1.6 per cent in 2021 and
around 2.5 per cent in 2025 — less than half as high as in 2007.
What are the chances of a significant recession in the UK before 2025? Very high indeed. The same surely applies to the US, eurozone and Japan. Indeed, the imbalances within the Chinese economy, plus difficulties in many emerging economies, make this a risk now. The high-income economies are likely to hit a recession with much less room for conventional monetary loosening than before
What would then be the options?
One would be to do nothing. Many would call for the cleansing depression they believe the world needs. Personally, I find this idea crazy, given the damage it would do to the social fabric..........
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Strip private banks of their power to create money
Printing counterfeit banknotes is illegal, but creating private money is not. The interdependence between the state and the businesses that can do this is the source of much of the instability of our economies. It could – and should – be terminated.
I explained how this works two weeks ago. Banks create deposits as a byproduct of their lending. In the
, such deposits make up about 97 per cent of the money supply. Some people object that deposits are not money but only transferable private debts. Yet the public views the banks’ imitation money as electronic cash: a safe source of purchasing power. UK
Banking is therefore not a normal market activity, because it provides two linked public goods: money and the payments network. On one side of banks’ balance sheets lie risky assets; on the other lie liabilities the public thinks safe. This is why central banks act as lenders of last resort and governments provide deposit insurance and equity injections. It is also why banking is heavily regulated. Yet credit cycles are still hugely destabilising.
What is to be done? A minimum response would leave this industry largely as it is but both tighten regulation and insist that a bigger proportion of the balance sheet be financed with equity or credibly loss-absorbing debt. I discussed this approach last week. Higher capital is the recommendation made by Anat Admati of Stanford and Martin Hellwig of the Max Planck Institute in The Bankers’ New Clothes.
A maximum response would be to give the state a monopoly on money creation.....
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Only the ignorant live in fear of hyperinflation
April 10, 2014
Some years ago I moderated a panel at which a US politician insisted that the Federal Reserve’s money printing would soon cause hyperinflation. Yet today the Fed’s main concern is rather how to get inflation up to its target. Like many others, he failed to understand how the monetary system works.
Unfortunately ignorance is not bliss. It has made it more difficult for central banks to act effectively. Fortunately the Bank of England is providing much needed education. In its most recent Quarterly Bulletin, its staff explain the monetary system. So here are seven fundamental points about how it really works as opposed to how people
First, banks are not just financial intermediaries. The act of saving does not increase deposits in banks. If your employer pays you, the deposit merely shifts from its account to yours. This does not affect the quantity of money; additional money is instead a by-product of lending. What makes banks special is that their liabilities are money – a universally acceptable IOU. In the UK, 97 per cent of broad money consists of bank deposits mostly created by such bank lending. Banks really do “print” money. But when customers repay, it is torn up.
Second, the “money multiplier” linking lending to bank reserves is a myth. In the past when bank notes could be freely exchanged for gold, that relationship might have been close. Strict reserve ratios could yet re-establish it. But that is not how banking operates today. In a fiat (or government-made) monetary system, the central bank creates reserves at will. It will then supply the banks with the reserves they need (at a price) to settle payments obligations.
Third, expected risks and rewards determine how much banks lend and so how much money they create. They need to consider how much they have to offer to attract deposits and how profitable and risky any additional lending might be. The state of the economy – itself strongly affected by their collective actions – will govern these judgments. Decisions of non-banks also affect banks directly. If the former refuse to borrow and decide to repay, credit and so money will shrink......