Sympathy for the devil: odpravljanje dolga s tiskanjem denarja?

Izvrsten intervju z Adairjem Turnerjem, nekdanjim direktorjem britanske agencije za nadzor finančnega sistema in avtorjem sveže knjige “Between Debt and the Devil: Money, Credit, and Fixing Global Finance“. Turner v knjigi podira mnoge ustaljene mite. Denimo, da banke posojajo naprej depozite: nasprotno banke kolateralno ustvarjajo depozite, ko dajejo kredite. In problem je v kreditih, le 15% bančnih kreditov je namenjeno spodbujanju rasti, preostali del ustvarja nepremičninski balon, stem pa tudi generira finančne krize. Zato je Turner radikalen: treba je omejiti kreditiranje nepremičnin. Treba je zmanjšati neenakost. Radikalen je tudi iz vidika, kako iz sedanje dolžniško-deflacijske krize: z monetizacijo dolga oziroma s “tiskanjem denarja”, torej z monetarnim financiranjem povečanih javnih deficitov. …vendar na kontroliran način.

Iz tako globoke dolžniško-deflacijske krize ni mogoče zlesti drugače kot z uporabo Fridmanovega helikopterskega denarja.

Lynn Parramore: Your book raises fascinating questions about the way we relate to money and how modern economies work. You talk a lot about finance— all the lending and swishing around of money and credit that allows a business to invest or lets me purchase a house, and so on. Why the focus on finance?

Adair Turner: A striking feature of the last 50 or 60 years in advanced economies, particularly in the U.S. and the U.K., is the dramatic increase in the relative role of finance. It’s gone in the U.S. from 2 ½ percent to about 8 percent of GDP. If finance was like restaurants or hotels or automobiles or clothes, we’d say, well, if it’s grown it must be because as people got richer, they wanted to buy more of these things, and it’s up to consumers. But nobody gets up in the morning and says, I think I’ll have a really good day today: I’ll go and buy some financial services. It’s not an end-consumption good. It’s not part of what makes us enjoy life. If what finance is doing is making the rest of the economy more efficient, then it’s beneficial. But there are some very big questions about whether we need all the finance we’ve got.

LP: How does this relate to financial crises?

AT: Let’s look at the scale of the increase of lending that occurred. In 1950, across advanced economies, private credit was about 50 percent of GDP. It grew gradually up until the 1990s and then it grew even faster over the last 20 years up to 2007, when it reached 170 percent. The vast majority of all of that lending was actually not what the economic textbooks say banks do. They almost always say that banks lend money to entrepreneurs or businesses in order to fund capital investment. Well, that’s about 15 percent of what they do. Most is lending money against real estate. Some of that real estate is newly constructed, but most of the lending goes to people or to commercial real estate investors to buy real estate that already exists. There’s actually a socially useful function here – we need mortgages to lubricate the exchange of houses between individuals and between generations. But it’s a process that can incredibly easily get out of hand.

It can get out of hand, particularly when you’re talking about cities where it’s difficult to build new houses, like Manhattan, like San Francisco, like bits of L.A. or Miami — all the places with zoning constraints or where there’s a very strong tendency for people who can afford it to want to live in town and not right on the edge of town. In those areas, when you have a lot of credit extended, the price of houses goes up in the short term. Most of the housing value is not explained by the bricks and mortars, it’s explained by the land on which it sits. The reason why this is important is that you can get into these cycles, which we’ve seen again and again, where more credit gets extended to buy houses, so the price of houses or commercial real estate goes up, so borrowers think, oh, I’d better borrow some more money. The lender thinks, oh, it would be sensible to lend some more money. The process just goes on, up and up in a cycle until confidence breaks and then it comes down. When it comes down it drives the economy into a recession because you get a whole load of corporations or households which suddenly feel like they’ve got too much debt and they just hit the brakes on investment and consumption.

The debt just never goes away—it simply shifts around the economy from the private to the public sector. Soon it seems that all our classic policy levers are stuck. We think, well, the private sector is trying to cut debt, so why don’t we offset that with public deficits?

LP: Is that what happened in the U.S. in 2009?

AT: Yes, a whole load of U.S. households started cutting consumption and the economy went into a recession. Tax revenues went down, public expenditures went up, and unemployment went up. To begin with, you get a fiscal deficit and that seems fine, but the problem is, after a while the public debt goes up, and it’s as if for every unit that private debt goes down, public debt goes up two or three, and the total amount of debt goes up and up. After a while, people say, we can’t allow the public debt to go up anymore, we’ve got to try and get the fiscal deficit under control. Then you’ve got the public sector and the private sector trying to get their debt burdens under control, and that drives the economy into recession. To fix this we say, ah, let’s have ultra-loose monetary policy. We’ll have interest rates which are zero. We’ll have quantitative easing. But if people feel that they’re over-leveraged, you can cut the interest rate to zero and they still don’t want to borrow or invest or consume.

LP: And this is where we are now, right?

AT: This is where the devil comes in. A lot of people say that we’re stuck in this long-term, slow, inadequate growth across the world and we’re out of ammunition to fight against it. We can’t raise the fiscal deficits and we can’t cut interest rates even more than zero. I make the point that governments and central banks together never run out of ammunition because they always have a policy instrument available. Milton Friedman — not a mad, inflationist socialist! — said that if you ever get stuck in that position, what you do is “helicopter money.” (The original Friedman thought experiment involved the central bank distributing money by helicopter). You run fiscal deficits financed by printed money.

We’ve made this a taboo because we’re terrified by Weimar Germany and modern Zimbabwe, where people did it on such a large scale that it produced hyperinflation. So people say, you mustn’t even talk about money finance or helicopter money because it will produce hyperinflation. But they simultaneously say that we can do nothing whatsoever about deflation. Now, it can’t be true that it’s as binary as that. It can’t be true that money finance is an instrument which is either incapable of doing anything or the moment you switch it on takes you to hyperinflation. Clearly, from history, it is a tool which can be used provided you design it well, in moderation.

LP: So perhaps we need to develop, as the Rolling Stones put it, some “sympathy for the devil.”

AT: Monetary finance is like a medicine, which, taken in small quantities, can be very valuable, and taken in large quantities, is toxic. We have to make a choice as to whether we trust ourselves enough to create a set of rules and institutional relationships that would give us the confidence that we could use money printing and money finance in a responsible fashion in a small amount, or whether we’re so terrified that we’ll misuse it that we lock it away in the medicine cabinet, even if, in certain circumstances, it would be helpful.

My belief is that we are in such a deep deflationary problem across the world that we have to consider radical options.

Vir: Lynn Parramore, Institute for New Economic Thinking

%d bloggers like this: