The history of macroeconomic thought has been one of lively debate between different schools.
First there is debate between those who favour active government intervention (Keynesians) to manage aggregate demand and those who favour a rules-based approach of targeting some variable, such as the money supply (as advocated by monetarists) or the rate of inflation (as pursued by many central banks), or a hybrid rule, such as a Taylor rule that takes into account a weighted target of inflation and real output growth.
Second there is debate about the relative effectiveness of monetary and fiscal policy. Monetarists argue that monetary policy is relatively effective in determining aggregate demand, which in turn affects output in the short run but only prices in the long run. Keynesians argue that monetary policy can be weak in the short run if the economy is in recession. Quantitative easing may simply be accompanied by a decline in the velocity of circulation. It’s not enough to make more money available and keep interest rates close to zero; people must have the confidence to borrow and spend. Keynesians argue that in these circumstances fiscal policy is more effective.
Third there is the debate about the size of the state and the extent of government borrowing. Libertarians, following the views of economists such as Hayek, argue that reducing the size of the state and reducing government borrowing will create a more dynamic economy, where the private sector will expand to take up the slack created by a reduction in the size of the public sector. Their approach to policy involves a mixture of cutting deficits and market-orientated supply-side policy. Economists on the left, by contrast, argue that economic growth is best stimulated in the short term by increases in government spending and that supply-side policy needs to be interventionist, with the government investing in infrastructure, research and development, education and health. Such growth policies, they argue can be targeted on the poor and help to arrest the growing inequality in society.
These debates have been given added impetus by the global financial crisis in 2008 and the subsequent recession, slow recovery and possibility of a slide back into recession. The initial response of governments and central banks was to stimulate aggregate demand. Through combinations of expansionary fiscal policy, interest rates cut to virtually zero and programmes of quantitative easing, the world seemed set on a course for recovery. But one result of the policies was a massive expansion in government deficits and debt. This led to increasing criticisms from the right, and a move away from expansionary to austerity fiscal policies in order to contain debts that were increasingly being seen as unsustainable. And all the while the debates have raged.
The following podcast and articles look at the debates and how they have evolved. The picture painted is a more subtle and nuanced one than a stark ‘Keynes versus Hayek’, or ‘Keynesians versus monetarists’.
Keynes v Hayek: The debate continues BBC Today Programme, Nicholas Wapshott and Paul Ormerod (23/12/11)
Von Hayek Revisited – Warts and All CounterPunch, David Warsh (26/12/11)
Fed up with Bernanke Reuters, Nicholas Wapshott (20/12/11)
Paul Krugman Versus Milton Friedman Seeking Alpha, ‘Shareholders Unite’ (6/12/11)
Keynes Was Right New York Times, Paul Krugman (29/12/11)
Keynes, Krugman, and Austerity National Review Online, William Voegeli (3/1/12)
The Madness of Lord Keynes The American Spectator, Samuel Gregg (19/12/11)
Central Bankers vs. Natural Stock Market Cycles in 2012 The Market Oracle, David Knox Barker (28/12/11)
Now is the time to eat, drink and be merry Financial Times, Samuel Brittan (29/12/11)
- To what extent is quantitative easing consistent with (a) Keynesian and (b) monetarist approaches to macroeconomic policy?
- What is meant by the ‘liquidity trap’ and what are its implications for monetary policy? Have we witnessed a liquidity trap since the beginning of 2009?
- What are the arguments for and against an independent central bank?
- Explain Milton Friedman’s assertion ‘that it was the Fed’s failure in 1930 to pursue “open market operations” on the scale needed that deepened the slump’.
- What are the implications of growing government deficits and debt for policies to avoid a slide back into recession?
With economic growth in the UK stalling and growing alarm about the state of the world economy, the Bank of England has announced a second round of quantitative easing (QE2). This will involve the Bank buying an extra £75 billion of government bonds (gilts) in the market over the following four months. This is over and above the nearly £200 billion of assets, mainly gilts, purchased in the first round of quantitative easing in 2009/10. The purchase will release extra (narrow) money into the economy. Hopefully, this will then allow more credit to be created and the money multiplier to come into play, thereby increasing broad money by a multiple of the £75 billion.
In his letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer seeking permission for QE2, the Governor stated:
In the United Kingdom, the path of output has been affected by a number of temporary factors, but the available indicators suggest that the underlying rate of growth has also moderated. The squeeze on households’ real incomes and the fiscal consolidation are likely to continue to weigh on domestic spending, while the strains in bank funding markets may also inhibit the availability of credit to consumers and businesses. While the stimulatory monetary stance and the present level of sterling should help to support demand, the weaker outlook for, and the increased downside risks to, output growth mean that the margin of slack in the economy is likely to be greater and more persistent than previously expected.
… The deterioration in the outlook has made it more likely that inflation will undershoot the 2% target in the medium term. In the light of that shift in the balance of risks, and in order to keep inflation on track to meet the target over the medium term, the Committee judged that it was necessary to inject further monetary stimulus into the economy.
But will increasing the money supply lead to increased aggregate demand, or will the money simply sit in banks, thereby increasing their liquidity ratio, but not resulting in any significant increase in spending? In other words, in the equation MV = PY, will the rise in M simply result in a fall in V with little effect on PY? And even if it does lead to a rise in PY, will it be real national income (Y) that rises, or will the rise in MV simply be absorbed in higher prices (P)?
According to a recent article published in the Bank of England’s Quarterly Bulletin, The United Kingdom’s quantitative easing policy: design, operation and impact, the £200 billion of asset purchases under QE1 led to a rise in real GDP of about 2%. If QE2 has the same proportionate effect, real GDP could be expected to rise by about 0.75%. But some commentators argue that things are different this time and that the effect could be much smaller. The following articles examine what is likely to happen. They also look at one of the side-effects of the policy – the reduction in the value of pensions as the policy drives down long-term gilt yields and long-term interest rates generally.
Bank of England launches second round of QE Interactive Investor, Sarah Modlock (6/10/11)
Britain in grip of worst ever financial crisis, Bank of England governor fears Guardian, Larry Elliott and Katie Allen (6/10/11)
Interview with a Governor BBC News, Stephanie Flanders interviews Mervyn King (6/10/11)
The meaning of QE2 BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (6/10/11)
Bank of England’s MPC united over quantitative easing BBC News (19/10/11)
Bank of England’s QE2 may reach £500bn, economists warn The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (6/10/11)
‘Shock and awe’ may be QE’s biggest asset The Telegraph, Philip Aldrick (6/10/11)
Quantitative easing by the Bank of England: printing more money won’t work this time The Telegraph, Andrew Lilico (6/10/11)
BOE launches QE2 with 75 billion pound boost Reuters, various commentators (6/10/11)
Shock and awe from Bank of England Financial Times, Chris Giles (6/10/11)
More QE: Full reaction Guardian, various commentators (6/10/11)
Quantitative easing warning over pension schemes Guardian, Jill Insley (6/10/11)
Pension schemes warn of QE2 Titanic disaster Mindful money (6/10/11)
Calm down Mervyn – this so-called global recession is really not that bad Independent, Hamish McRae (9/10/11)
Bank of England publications
Asset Purchase Facility: Gilt Purchases Bank of England Market Notice (6/10/11)
Governor’s ITN interview (6/10/11)
Bank of England Maintains Bank Rate at 0.5% and Increases Size of Asset Purchase Programme by £75 billion to £275 billion Bank of England News Release (6/10/11)
Quantitative Easing – How it Works
Governor’s letter to the Chancellor (6/10/11)
Chancellor’s reply to the Governor (6/10/11)
Minutes of the Monetary Policy Committee meeting, 5 and 6 October 2011 (19/10/11)
Quarterly Bulletin (2011, Q3)
- Explain how quantitative easing works.
- What is likely to determine its effectiveness in stimulating the economy?
- Why does the Bank of England prefer to inject new money into the economy by purchasing gilts rather than by some other means that might directly help small business?
- Explain how QE2 is likely to affect pensions.
- What will determine whether QE2 will be inflationary?
- Why is the perception of the likely effectiveness of QE2 one of the key determinants of its actual effectiveness?
Since March 2009, the Bank of England has engaged in a process of quantitative easing (QE). Over the period to January 2010 the Bank of England injected £200 billion of new money into the economy by purchasing assets from the private sector, mainly government bonds. The assets were purchased with new money, which enters the economy as credits to the accounts of those selling the assets to the Bank of England. This increase in narrow money (the monetary base) is then able to form the basis of credit creation, allowing broad money (M4) to increase by a multiple of the increased monetary base. In other words, injecting £200 billion allows M4 to increase by considerably more.
But just how much more will M4 rise? How big is the money multiplier? This depends on the demand for loans from banks, which in turn depends on the confidence of business and households. With the recovery only just beginning, demand is still very dampened. Credit creation also depends on the willingess of banks to lend. But this too has been dampened by banks’ desire to increase liquidity and expand their capital base in the wake of the credit crunch.
Not surprisingly, the growth in M4 has been sluggish. Between March and Decmber 2009, narrow money (notes, coin and banks’ reserve balances in the Bank of England) grew from £91bn to £203bn (an increase of 123%). M4, however, grew from £2011bn to £2048bn: an increase of only 1.8%. In fact, in December it fell back from £2069bn in November.
Despite the continued sluggishness of the economy, at its February meeting the Bank of England announced an end to further quantitiative easing – at least for the time being. Although Bank Rate would be kept on hold at 0.5%, there would be no further injections of money. Part of the reason for this is that there is still considerable scope for a growth in broad money on the basis of the narrow money already created. If QE were to continue, there could be excessive broad money in a few months’ time and that could push inflation well above target. As it is, rising costs have already pushed inflation above the 2% target (see Too much of a push from costs but no pull from demand).
So will this be an end to quantitative easing? The following articles explore the question.
Bank of England halts quantitative easing Guardian, Ashley Seager (4/2/10)
Bank calls time on quantitative easing (including video) Telegraph, Edmund Conway (5/2/10)
Bank of England’s time-out for quantitative easing plan BBC News (4/2/10)
Shifting goalposts keep final score in question Financial Times, Chris Giles and Jessica Winch (5/2/10)
Bank halts QE at £200bn despite ‘sluggish’ recovery Independent, Sean O’Grady (5/2/10)
Easy does it: No further QE BBC News blogs, Stephanomics, Stephanie Flanders (4/2/10)
Leading article: Easing off – but only for now Independent (5/2/10)
Not easy Times Online (5/2/10)
Quantitative easing: What the economists say Guardian (4/2/10)
- Explain how quantitative easing works?
- What determines the rate of growth of M4?
- Why has the Bank of England decided to call a halt to quantiative easing – at least for the time being?
- What is the transmission mechanism whereby an increase in the monetary base affects real GDP?
- What role does the exchange rate play in the transmission mechanism?
- Why is it difficult to predict the effect of an increase in the monetary base on real GDP?
- What will determine whether or not the Bank of England will raise interest rates in a few months’ time?
After the November 2009 meeting of the Monetary Policy Committee, the Bank of England announced that it would keep Bank Rate on hold at 0.5%, at which rate it has been since March. It also said that it would spend a further £25 billion over the next three months on asset purchases, primarily government bonds, thereby pumping additional money into the economy: the process known as “quantitative easing“. This would bring total asset purchases under the scheme to £200bn.
But although this represents a further increase in money supply, the rate of increase is slowing down. In the previous three months, £50 billion of assets had been purchased. So does this imply that the Bank of England sees a recovery around the corner? Will money supply have been expanded enough to finance the desired increase in spending – on both consumption and investment?
A problem so far is that most of the extra money has not been spent on goods and services. Banks have been building up their reserves, with much of the money simply being re-deposited in the Bank of England as reserve balances (see Table A1.1.1 in “Bankstats). At the same time, households have been taking on very little extra debt – indeed, In July, total household debt actually fell (see “Payback time) and consumer debt (i.e. excluding mortgages) has continued to fall. If quantitative easing is to work, the money must be spent!
But with the monetary base having expanded so much, is there a danger that, once the recovery gathers pace, spending growth will return with a vengeance? Will inflation rapidly become a problem again with an overheating economy? The following articles examine the issues.
Interest rates held at 0.5 per cent (includes video) Channel 4 News (5/11/09)
Bank of England extends quantitative easing to £200bn Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/11/09)
What the economists say: Quantitative easing £25bn boost Guardian (5/11/09)
Bank of England faced with its biggest split on policy in a decade Independent, Sean O’Grady (4/11/09)
Bank of England expands money-printing programme to £200bn to fight downturn (includes video) Telegraph (5/11/09)
The one thing worse than quantitative easing would be no QE at all Telegraph, Edmund Conway (5/11/09)
BoE: It ain’t over till it’s over Telegraph, Edmund Conway blog (5/11/09)
Bank raises stimulus to £200bn to end recession Times Online, Grainne Gilmore (5/11/09)
Bank of England to inject another £25bn of stimulus money Management Today (5/11/09)
Extra £25bn to stimulate economy BBC News (5/11/09)
Quantitative easing ‘not working’ (video of DeAnne Julius: former MPC member) BBC News (5/11/09)
Boxed in BBC Stephanomics (5/11/09)
The BoE’s £25bn gambit Financial Times, Chris Giles blog (5/11/09)
US to reduce Quantitative Easing as rates kept low Telegraph, James Quinn (4/11/09)
Quantitative easing ‘unpleasant’ BBC Today Programme, Stephen Bell and Wilem Buiter (7/11/09)
Experts debate whether quantitative easing is working (video) BBC Newsnight (6/11/09)
- What has been happening to the velocity of circulation of (narrow) money in the past few months? Explain the significance of this.
- What is likely to happen to the velocity of circulation in the coming months if (a) the economy recovers quite strongly; (b) recovery is modest?
- What is the relationship between quantitative easing and the growth in broad money (i.e. M4 in the UK)? How will banks’ desire to build up their reserves affect this relationship?
- Is the UK economy in a liquidity trap? Explain.
- Why is it likely that the Bank of England may well engage in more quantitative easing next March and beyond? How is the fiscal situation likely to affect Bank of England decisions?
- Examine the argument for the Bank of England buying more private-sector debt (virtually all of the asset purchases have been of public-sector debt)?
Governments and central banks around the world are trying hard to minimise the impact of the economic downturn on their economies. One means of doing this is to cut interest rates. The aim is to boost aggregate demand by giving people more disposable income and making borrowing and investment cheaper. But how responsive will people be to the interest rate cuts? The articles and podcasts below look at the issues.
Combating the recession The Economist (8/1/09)
Economic downturn: ‘Interest rates may not be such a useful tool any more’ Guardian (9/1/09) Podcast
Beyond rate cuts Financial Times (15/1/09)
Beyond retail therapy Guardian (8/1/09)
Uncharted territory for interest rates BBC News Online (8/1/09)
Latest cut in interest rates will not revive flagging economy Times Online (9/1/09)
Interest rates – the setting of the LIBOR rate BBC Biz Daily (9/1/09) Podcast – Tim Harford
- Explain the process by which lower interest rates boost aggregate demand.
- Explain what is meant by the LIBOR rate. Listening to the BBC Biz Daily podcast above may help in answering this.
- Assess the importance of the LIBOR rate in determining the levels of borrowing and investment in the economy.
- Discuss the relative effectiveness of fiscal and monetary policy in boosting the level of aggregate demand in the UK economy.