Monetary policy

People with a free-market orientation believe that the economy has a strong tendency towards equilibrium. Over the long term money is “neutral”: a rise in the money supply merely raises the price level. In the short term, however, monetary policy may have a big impact on the economy. A big question, however, is over how to measure the impact of monetary policy in an environment such as the present one, when short-term interest rates are close to zero and the credit system is damaged.

The difficulty arises because of the huge divergence between what is happening to the monetary base (the monetary liabilities of the government, including the central bank) and what is happening to broader measures of money (principally the liabilities of the banking system). The former has exploded. But the growth rate of the latter is extremely low. (Look at the chart that accompanied my column, “Why it is right for central banks to keep printing”)

People worried that governments are “printing money” point to the balance sheets of central banks with horror and insist this is bound to be inflationary. Inside the eurozone, Germans are particularly concerned about the willingness of the European Central Bank to buy the debt of governments. Yet the growth of broad money (M3) in the eurozone over the past twelve months has been close to zero. That would suggest there is no inflationary pressure whatsoever.

So which measure is relevant? My responses would be as follows: Read more