Monetary policy

By Thomas I. Palley

In his novel, The Jungle, the American muckraking author Upton Sinclair wrote about the horrendous work and sanitary conditions in the Chicago meat packing industry of the early 20th century. It is sometimes said Sinclair aimed for the heart but hit the stomach. That is because he aimed for progressive social and economic change, but instead his work prompted the founding of the Food and Drug Administration.

The same problem of missing the target confounds current discussions of the eurozone’s problems. What the euro lacks is a government banker, not a lender of last resort as is widely claimed. Read more

By Xhanti Payi

One of the most difficult struggles being fought by those who wish to attract investment into Africa is to destroy the widely held belief that Africa is one big country. Africa in reality is a collection of widely diverse and exciting countries, with varying prospects and challenges.

So apart from the argument that an African Monetary Union (AMU) would be a bad idea if the example of the European Monetary Union is anything to go by, there is a case to be made that a monetary union may interrupt the fight against negative sentiment about Africa that is born out of this that arbitrary aggregate approach. With that said, the idea of an African Monetary Union is a product of history, and arguing against it requires understanding of its context. Read more

By Thomas I. Palley

The eurozone‘s public finance crisis continues to fester, reflecting both political and intellectual failure. The intellectual failure is that the crisis has been interpreted exclusively as a debt crisis when it is also a central bank design crisis resulting from the euro’s flawed architecture. The flaw is the inability of eurozone governments to harness the central bank’s power to assist government finances. This systemic weakness explains why US and UK government bonds are weathering the storm, whereas Spain confronts default rumours despite having roughly similar debt and deficit profiles. Read more

By James Park

With the demise of Lehman Brothers in 2008 and the subsequent septic shock that stemmed the flow of liquidity in the financial system, the Federal Reserve responded with an unprecedented infusion of liquidity that has continued into this year.

However, this heightened rate of infusion is scheduled to finish in July. With the looming end of the second dose of quantitative easing (QE2) the media has latched onto the analogy of Bill Gross, Pimco’s co-chief investment officer, of QE2 and subsequent liquidity pumping efforts as a Ponzi scheme. The recent exit of Pimco (one of the world’s biggest bond fund managers) from US Treasuries underscores Mr Gross’s huckster metaphor.

While there is an element of warranted alarm, seeing the crisis through the clinical prism of blood composition and stem cells may provide a more balanced view. Read more

By Eswar Prasad and Karim Foda

Despite a number of recent shocks, the global economic recovery is getting on to a firmer footing.

The latest update of the Brookings Institution-FT Tracking Indices for the Global Economic Recovery (TIGER) indicates that resurgent job growth and rising business and consumer confidence are solidifying the recoveries in many advanced economies. Emerging markets are still doing well but some of the shine is coming off these economies as they tighten policies to cope with inflationary pressures.

The Overall Growth Index for the G20 economies shows a slight uptick in recent months, led by a gradual rebound in real activity. After the initial post-recession surge, financial markets have pulled back a bit, at least in terms of growth in stock market indexes and valuations. One bright spot is the resurgent business and consumer confidence in both advanced and emerging economies. Read more

Shankar Acharya

Suddenly this month the esoteric world of international finance is resonating to the clash of currencies. On September 27 Brazil’s finance minister stated that an “international currency war” has erupted. In its October 16 issue the London Economist put “Currency wars” on its cover, with evocative imagery of an aerial dogfight between paper planes of currency notes from different countries. Read more

The US Fed’s policy-setting committee (FOMC) undertook large asset purchases last year, buying $1.7 trillion of mortgage-related and Treasury bonds. Last month, the Fed reaffirmed the easing bias and indicated that it could start buying vast quantities of government debt if unemployment did not improve. Read more

By Eswar Prasad and Karim Foda

The October 2010 TIGER update paints a sobering picture of a global economy that has lost momentum and is teetering between a slowdown and at best a tepid recovery. Advanced economies are stuck in a funk and even the dynamic emerging markets have lost some of their swagger.

The Global Financial Index took a beating in 2010 Q2 roughly around the initial period of the European debt crisis and has continued to weaken. Stock markets around the world remain in a state of torpor after a correction that signals a reversal of the optimism that led to their getting ahead—perhaps too far ahead—of improvements in real economic activity.

Credit growth, the latest addition to the TIGER financial (and overall) index, fell sharply towards the end of 2009, but has since begun to rebound, especially in emerging markets. Emerging market bond spreads and the TED spread have remained flat this year indicating that, despite the correction, financial markets are not under huge stress. Read more

Shankar Acharya

These are uncertain times for global economic governance. For over six decades after the second world war the west framed the rules of engagement for the global economy.

In the initial years, the United States was the preeminent power, which oversaw the creation of the Bretton Woods system (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) and the initial rounds of trade liberalization under the newly-born General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which became the World Trade Organization at the end of the Uruguay Round in 1993).

As Europe recovered from the ravages of war and Japan launched on its high growth phase, these new leviathans (especially Europe) increasingly asserted themselves and won greater voice and roles in world economic governance. But it was still an essentially western enterprise, with a demilitarized Japan content to go along in return for an American nuclear umbrella.

The Soviet Union and its satellites were not an integral part of this economic system and the developing countries didn’t carry significant economic clout, not even the populous Asian giants of China and India. Read more

By Brendan Brown

There is a magic monetary wand out there which could accelerate economies along the road to prosperity out of the widespread destruction wrought by the global credit bubble.

This wand is not the creation of another monetary time-bomb labelled “quantitative easing”; rather the source of magic is an emergency conversion of banknotes. Read more

By Eswar Prasad and Karim Foda

Despite all the portents of doom the world economy has been quietly mending itself.

This is not to say that the recovery is firmly entrenched or that few risks remain, but despite the rough patches in 2010, it is important to keep in mind that the economic picture looks far better now than it did a year ago. Read more

By Kevin P. Gallagher

At the recent annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank Taiwan’s Central Bank governor Perng Fai-nan urged emerging market nations in Asia to use capital controls to promote financial stability.

Yesterday, this call was echoed by Noeleen Heyzer, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. She singled out China, India, Singapore, Indonesia and South Korea as the most vulnerable nations in need of controls

These statements would have been unthinkable a decade ago, and shows how much has changed.

Part of the stigma attached to capital controls has been dampened by the new tune at the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In a February 2010 staff position note and in the IMF‘s Global Financial Stability Report (GSFR) the IMF said that capital controls are a legitimate part of the toolkit for emerging markets. What’s more, the IMF’s economists found that those countries that deployed capital controls in the run-up to the current crisis were among the least hard hit from the global financial crisis.

It is time for the debate over capital controls to shift from whether to deploy controls to how and when.

The problem is that many of the world’s trade and investment treaties, especially those with the US, make it very difficult to effectively use capital controls. Read more

Shankar Acharya

In March the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) published the balance of payments data for the October-December quarter of 2009. It elicited surprisingly little comment. Surprising, because for the second quarter in a row the current account deficit was well above 3 per cent of GDP. Read more

By Michael Pomerleano

Developing and developed countries alike are inextricably connected in the international financial system. Yet this system is heading into strong headwinds and a dangerous period in which vulnerabilities will increase in the international financial system. Read more

By Kevin P. Gallagher

Clear and consistent proposals toward crisis recovery and prevention are needed at the International Monetary Fund upcoming annual meetings. Unfortunately, the IMF has been sending mixed messages over the past two months on the subject of capital controls. Read more

By Alistair Milne

Debt is a drug. High levels of debt used for unproductive purposes result in a temporary economic high. But after the high there is the inescapable low. Who should pay the bill when it eventually comes due? Should it be the debt user, for eagerly borrowing more than they can comfortably repay? Should it be the debt provider, for knowingly supplying more debt than they can reasonably expect to be paid back? Or should others rally round to help reduce the burden?

The struggle by Greece to repair its public finances is a big challenge to the European single currency. But the underlying question is no different from other previous debt crises, such as Imperial Spain in the 16th and 17th century, Latin America in the 1980s or most recently in US subprime mortgage lending. Who pays? Read more

Niall Ferguson is not given to understatement. So I was not surprised by the claim last week that the US will face a Greek crisis. I promptly dismissed this as hysteria. Like many other high-income countries, the US is indeed walking a fiscal tightrope. But the dangers are excessive looseness in the long run and excessive tightness in the short run. It is a dilemma of which Prof Ferguson seems unaware.

The remainder of this column can be read here. Please post comments below.

Pinn illustration

The financial crisis of 2009 is morphing into the fiscal anxieties of 2010. This is particularly true inside the eurozone. Spreads between rates of interest on Greek bonds and German bunds touched 3.86 percentage points in late January (see chart). The risk has emerged of a self-fulfilling confidence crisis that would have dire consequences for other vulnerable members. Much attention has focused on what might happen if the crisis were not resolved, with talk of bail-outs, defaults or even exits from the euro. But what would need to be done to resolve the crisis, without such a calamity? It is the demand, stupid. Read more

Ingram Pinn illustration

Barack Obama, president of the US, met Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China, for a private meeting on Tuesday. The agenda was long, covering the world economy, climate change and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. The last two are the most important, over the long run. But the first is the most urgent. If we do not achieve a healthy global economic recovery, hope of a co-operative relationship is likely to prove vain. Yet such a recovery is far from ensured. Worse, some of what is now happening – particularly China’s decision to depreciate the renminbi along with the dollar – makes healthy recovery less likely. Read more

By Thomas Palley

There is widespread recognition that the financial crisis which triggered the Great Recession was significantly due to financial excess, particularly in real estate lending. Now, policymakers are looking to reform the financial system in hope of avoiding future crises. But like the drunk who looks for his lost keys under the lamppost because that is where the light is, policymakers remain fixated on capital standards because that is what is already in place. Read more