Daily Archives: March 1, 2012

With the US presidential race heating up, the candidates are increasingly prone to make sweeping promises. They say they will do this or that in their first day in office – balance the budget, close the prison at Guantánamo, abolish the Federal Reserve, whatever – and their supporters all cheer that one of their cherished goals will be achieved instantly if only their man gets to sit in the Oval Office.

This is, of course, rank nonsense. And it has nothing to do with the relative absurdity of the promises being made. It has to do with the nature of US government, which is something even Americans often forget.

In the US system, the president is far weaker than the chief executive in most other countries. The reason is that it was baked in the cake by the framers of the constitution who were deeply sceptical about monarchism. They wanted a leader who was subservient to the legislature, not its overlord.

Thus we can safely ignore sweeping promises from all the presidential candidates if they require the enactment of legislation. This is especially so regarding the federal budget. Read more

With the €530bn lent to banks through its latest three-year longer-term refinancing operation, the size of the European Central Bank’s balance sheet has increased to unprecedented levels, raising a number of concerns. Not all are justified.

The main concern is that sooner or later the increase in central bank money will lead to inflation. However, there is no empirical evidence – across countries and over time – that the size of the central bank balance sheet in advanced economies is related to inflation. Even though inflation is ultimately a monetary phenomenon, the quantity of money circulating in the economy also depends on the motives underlying the demand for money by the private sector, in particular by the banking system. If the increase in central bank money helps commercial banks to finance additional private or public consumption and investment, over and above the economy’s productive potential, it may indeed fuel inflation. If, instead, the demand for central bank money reflects a change in the composition of financial market participants’ portfolios, towards less-risky assets, the increase in central bank money is not inflationary. It contributes instead to preventing deflation.

With the LTRO, the ECB has helped to reduce systemic risk and avoided a credit crunch. To minimise the inefficiencies and perverse incentives that may result from the increase in its balance sheet, and to reduce counter-party risk, the ECB should be given a greater role in co-ordinating and overseeing supervision of the eurozone banking system. The euro area needs a supervisory and regulatory compact, as much as – if not more than – a fiscal compact. Read more