Saturday, September 12, 2015

Making Money Work: Lord Turner, Steve Keen, Chris Giles & Richard Spencer on Corbynonmics and money creation.

Lord Adair Turner has learnt a bit on the practicalities of speechmaking since we last reported (see ECOBATE 2014, 11 Nov 2014). In Winchester his PowerPoint slides were lost en route and but he did a brilliant job improvising. At the Positive Money event Making Money Work at Central Hall, Westminster on Monday 7th Sept he safely had 2 paper copies of his slides for each of the 200 or so attendees. His talk developed his ECOBATE 2014 theme and gave much detail as to how he thinks government economic and monetary policy technically could, and politically should, develop. 

He said that he did not agree with the extreme radical Positive Money view for the abolition of fractional reserve banking and its replacement with 100% reserve banking. But the 2008 crisis and slow recovery since cannot be understood without a clear understanding of the nature of debt, money and credit. Pre-crisis and for many decades we were far too relaxed about the private credit creation by banks. Post-crisis we are too terrified of the potential of what he termed 'overt money finance' (OMF) of government deficits -another name for this is 'helicopter money'. 

Lord T said there is no reason whatsoever against helicopter money, it was all a question of how much you do. A small amount will stimulate a little with no excessive inflation. He thought it would however be excessive to fund 10% of the fiscal deficit this way as it would bring hyperinflation and destroy the economy. 

In discussion  - Chair: Fran Boait (Positive Money) ; Prof Steve Keen (Univ of Kingston) & Chris Giles (Financial Times) - the matter of the doubtful effectiveness of Quantitative Easing (QE) so far was discussed in contrast to OMF. Chris Giles thought that whilst he would never rule any new idea out (e.g. Jeremy Corbyn's 'Peoples QE') he was sceptical that it is seen as a sort of magic solution which has no cost. He was cautious of using OMF as a monetary tool.  If it was used simply to put new money in everyone's bank account, good, but to use it to spend on infrastructure was fraught with problems - you might have to halt the construction of the HS2 railway unfinished, due to monetary rules.  Money is not the only driver of the economy, in addition there is housing and planning policy and new macroeconomic tools as to how banks should lend; however in the future QE might be seen to have been OMF.  Here Lord T agreed that QE, as started in 2009, might become post-facto OMF. He illustrated this with his view that with the Bank of Japan owning 60% of GDP in Japanese Government Bonds he thought it highly improbable that these would be repaid or sold off by the BoJ. He thinks it will become helicopter money and be shown to be a permanent monetisation of government debt. ''That is going to happen and I would place a bet on it'.

He thinks that we should consider a 2009 UK scenario where a 4% of GDP fiscal deficit was planned and £350bn 'reversible' QE issued. He put it that it might have been announced that 5% would be planned with the extra 1% being OMF money creation and non-reversible. He said that this would send an important signal and be much clearer than the current scenario of whether QE really is reversible.   

Currently the Bank of England is apparently doing two things: 1.Managing interest rates and QE for inflation targeting. 2. Managing bank lending through loan requirements and bank capital requirements, for economic safety and stability all without managing demand.  What he sees as actually happening is that the BoE is starting to manage the allocation capital as seen in the Funding for Lending Scheme to be directed to SME loans.  Five years ago such government allocation of capital was unthinkable! 

The cause of the crisis had been the mis-allocation of capital through private credit creation by banks.  Too much credit chased existing assets rather than to finance productive investment, which Richard Werner calls 'credit for GDP transactions'.   This caused a debt overhang with the danger of deflation.  Beyond the supply of consumer goods to most households,  housing becomes another way to compete between members of society to gain a more attractive home or stay at a hotel. As locations offer varying benefits this competition encourages more debt. Banks encourage this, being biased towards property lending due to the collateral available. Steve Keen pointed out the reverse case of lending to entrepreneurs where, maybe,  four out of five loans might fail with loss of principal. This shows the difficulties that banks can have in lending to productive ventures. 

Lord Turner questioned how widely we might be able to spread a new understanding of the monetary issues being discussed.  In confessional mode, in his new book 'Between Debt and the Devil' he has a chapter 'The crisis I did not see coming'. He had to embark on an intellectual journey to understand themes ignored in his earlier economics education - a frank admission in mid-career from a very high-flying player. He said the very essence of the insight of macroeconomics is that governments and states are not the sum of households. In the personal household economy, books have to be balanced, but the state economy is different. Steve Keen said whilst he was impressed by the new openness at the Bank of England but in contrast the political class think the government should be running a surplus. 'They vie with each other: 'My surplus is bigger than your surplus' ' which is the equivalent of banks believing they should be receiving more loan repayments than they put out in loans. Governments ought to be running a deficit with money creation financing a large part of that.  Clearly from the view of the panel, economics education should be transformed so that these things are understood in universities, but beyond that how easily can the ordinary voter understand it? As to conventional economics theory, the efficient market theory is clearly wrong as no financial trader would get up in the morning if it was, since they would not be able to make any money! But the public needs to know that economics will never give as clear answers in its field as for instance an engineer can give in designing a bridge.

In Q&A I said I was involved in helping to establish a local community bank - Hampshire Community Bank which would lend locally and give its profits to local good causes. Was this a good foil to the problems being discussed that had arisen through centralised, international banks?  By their strong applause the audience clearly appreciated the idea.
Steve Keen thought it was an excellent idea as local knowledge would inform bank decisions on loans. Centralised banking is essentially 'collateral banking' which is dangerous, but as Richard Werner emphasises local banks are the strength of German banking. 

Chris Giles said local banks are obviously good, but that a weakness might be that local firms gain loans merely by being local and not through normal due diligence and good banking practice. (Note: If I had been able to respond a comment could have been that this danger is just as likely with non-local banks! Just look at what happened leading up to the 2008 crisis. Where was careful banking practice by national /international banks then?)  

Richard Spencer, an economist whom Jeremy Corbyn uses to inform his People's QE, said that 5 weeks ago he hadn't heard of Corbynomics but since then he has been credited with writing it!  Jeremy Corbyn asks what does the economy need?  He thinks we need investment in public infrastructure and this needs money and if needed a deficit, and this if fine because people want to buy bonds. However he thinks the banking system is too powerful and People's QE would mean that the bond route would not always be wholly used and banks not needed for some fraction of the money. Corbyn has said that if the economy is booming People's QE would not be needed as the bond route might be wholly enough.  He (RS) largely agrees with Lord Turner's views apart from central bank independence. He said that for politicians to be told by the central bank the amount of OMF needed is not democracy, it would be rather like being told by bankers how much tax is needed. Politician should listen to able technocrats, such as at the Bank of England. But let's not have bankers in charge, let's have democracy in charge. Strong applause.

From the panel: When politicians had control of interest-rate-setting, public opinion (or party opinion) was often targeted very obviously and the high inflation of the 1970's might be seen as a warning that sole political control was dangerous.  'Commitment devices' (e.g. Committee on Climate Change/ Bank of England) agreed by politicians in order to keep a steady course over time ahead even when it hurts, are useful.  However the ECB has been given far too much control as it defines its own terms for price stability, for instance.      

Natalie Bennett the Green MP asked what the money system would look like if consideration for the environment and for addressing inequality (where everyone has enough) were both addressed. Chris Giles thought a monetary system could not create a better society. Lord Turner thinks that money systems are not an appropriate answer to carbon issues - there are enough devices around already.  Progressive taxation is the device to address inequality, not OMF. Steve Keen thinks that money creation is needed to redirect spending to carbon reduction, no-one will do this for a profit.    

Barb Jacobson for the Basic Income Trust asked about the idea of using money creation for cash payments to everyone?  

The panel agreed with the idea: There should be no problem with ensuring a single payment to each person through NI numbers and tax numbers / It should be directed to paying off personal debt first for those who have it / Alastair Darling tried to do it in 2009 but was told it would take 9 months, so he reduced VAT instead / Australia did the same thing in 2 weeks.

Chancellor George Osborne understands the subject of the Making Money Work event, as reported in  this blog   Nov 13 2013:
 ' It is theoretically possible for monetary authorities to finance fiscal deficits through the creation of money. This would allow governments to increase spending or reduce taxation without raising corresponding finance from the private sector.'   See Treasury document quoted para 3.34:  Here 

See the Positive Money official post for the event Making Money Work: HERE

Posted by Charles Bazlinton. Author: The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom      

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