Jeremy Corbyn, the newly elected leader of the Labour Party, is proposing a number of radical economic policies. One that has attracted considerable attention is for a new form of QE, which has been dubbed ‘people’s quantitative easing’.
This would involve newly created money by the Bank of England being directly used to fund spending on large-scale housing, energy, transport and digital projects. Rather than the new money being used to purchase assets, as has been the case up to now, with the effect filtering only indirectly into aggregate demand and even more indirectly into aggregate supply, under the proposed scheme, both aggregate demand and aggregate supply would be directly boosted.
Although ‘conventional’ QE has worked to some extent, the effects have been uneven. Asset holders and those with large debts, such as mortgages, have made large gains from higher asset prices and lower interest rates. By contrast, savers in bank and building society accounts have seen the income from their savings decline dramatically. What is more, the indirect nature of the effects has meant time lags and uncertainty over the magnitude of the effects.
But despite the obvious attractiveness of the proposals, they have attracted considerable criticism. Some of these are from a political perspective, with commentators from the right arguing against an expansion of the state. Other criticisms focus on the operation and magnitude of the proposals
One is that it would change the relationship between the Bank of England and the government. If the Bank of England created money to fund government projects, that would reduce or even eliminate the independence of the Bank. Independence has generally been seen as desirable to prevent manipulation of the central bank by the government for short-term political gain. Those in favour of people’s QE argue that the money would be directed into a National Investment Bank, which would then make the investment allocation decisions. The central bank would still be independent in deciding the amount of QE.
This leads to the second criticism and that is about whether further QE is necessary at the current time. Critics argue that while QE of whatever type was justified when the economy was in recession and struggling to recover, now would be the wrong time for further stimulus. Indeed, it could be highly inflationary. The economy is currently expanding. If banks respond by increasing credit, the velocity of circulation of narrow money could rise and broad money supply grow, providing enough money to underpin a growing economy.
Many advocates of people’s QE accept this second point and see it as a contingency plan in case the economy fails to recover and further monetary stimulus is deemed necessary. If further QE is not felt necessary by the Bank of England, then the National Investment Bank could fund investment through conventional borrowing.
The following articles examine people’s QE and look at its merits and dangers. Given the proposal’s political context, several of the articles approach the issue from a very specific political perspective. Try to separate the economic analysis in the articles from their political bias.
Jeremy Corbyn’s proposal
The Economy in 2020 Jeremy Corbyn (22/7/15)
People’s quantitative easing — no magic Financial Times, Chris Giles (13/8/15)
How Green Infrastructure Quantitative Easing would work Tax Research UK, Richard Murphy (12/3/15)
What is QE for the people? Money Week, Simon Wilson (22/8/15)
QE or not QE? A slippery slope to breaking the Bank EconomicsUK.com, David Smith (23/8/15)
We don’t need “People’s QE”, basic economic literacy is enough Red Box, Jonathan Portes (13/8/15)
Is Jeremy Corbyn’s policy of ‘quantitative easing for people’ feasible? The Guardian, Larry Elliott (14/8/15)
Corbynomics: Quantitative Easing for People (PQE) Huffington Post, Adnan Al-Daini (7/9/15)
Corbyn’s “People’s QE” could actually be a decent idea FT Alphaville, Matthew C. Klein (6/8/15)
Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘People’s QE’ would force Britain into three-year battle with the EU The Telegraph, Peter Spence (15/8/15)
Would Corbyn’s ‘QE for people’ float or sink Britain? BBC News, Robert Peston (12/8/15)
Strategic Quantitative Easing – public money for public benefit New Economics Foundation blog, Josh Ryan-Collins (12/8/15)
People’s QE and Corbyn’s QE Mainly Macro blog, Simon Wren-Lewis
You can print money, so long as it’s not for the people The Guardian, Zoe Williams (4/10/15)
- What is meant by ‘helicopter money’? How does it differ from quantitative easing as practised up to now?
- Is people’s QE the same as helicopter money?
- Can people’s QE take place alongside an independent Bank of England?
- What is meant by the velocity of circulation of money? What happened to the velocity of circulation following the financial crisis?
- How does conventional QE feed through into aggregate demand?
- Under what circumstances would people’s QE be inflationary?
Following the recession of 2008/9, the UK has engaged in four rounds of quantitative easing (QE) – the process whereby the central bank increases the money supply by purchasing government bonds, and possibly other assets, on the open market from various institutions. The final round was announced in July 2012, bringing the total assets purchased to £375bn. As yet, however, there are no plans for quantitative tightening – the process of the Bank of England selling some of these assets, thereby reducing money supply.
The aim of QE has been to stimulate aggregate demand. Critics claim, however, that the effect on spending has been limited, since the money has not gone directly to consumers but rather to the institutions selling the assets, who have used much of the money to buy shares, bonds and other assets. Nevertheless, with banks having to strengthen their capital base following the financial crisis, QE has helped then to achieve this without having to make even bigger reductions in lending.
The Bank of England now reckons that the recovery is sufficiently established and there is, therefore, no need for further QE.
This is also the judgement of the Federal Reserve about the US economy, which experienced annual growth of 3.5% in the third quarter of 2014. The IMF predicts that US growth will be around 3% for the next three years.
The Fed has had three rounds of QE since the financial crisis, but in October 2014 called an end to the process. Since the start of this year, it has been gradually reducing the amount it injects each month from $85bn to $15bn. The total bond purchases over the past five years have been some $3.6tn, bringing the Fed’s balance sheet to nearly $4.5tn.
But as QE comes to an end in the USA, Japan is expanding its programme. On 31 October, the Bank of Japan announced that it would increase its asset purchases from ¥60-70tn per year to ¥80tn (£440bn). The Japanese government and central bank are determined to boost economic growth in Japan and escape the two decades of deflation and stagnation. The Tokyo stock market rose by some 8% in the week following the announcement and the yen fell by more than 5% against the dollar.
And the European Central Bank, which has not used full QE up to now, looks as if it is moving in that direction. In October, it began a programme of buying asset-backed securities (ABSs) and covered bonds (CBs). These are both private-sector securities: ABSs are claims against non-financial companies in the eurozone and CBs are issued by eurozone banks and other financial institutions.
It now looks as if the ECB might take the final step of purchasing government bonds. This is probably what is implied by ECB President Mario Draghi’s statement after the 6 November meeting of the ECB that the ground was being prepared for “further measures to be implemented, if needed”.
But has QE been as successful as its proponents would claim? Is it the solution now to a languishing eurozone economy? The following articles look at these questions.
Fed calls time on QE in the US – charts and analysis The Guardian, Angela Monaghan (29/10/14)
Quantitative easing: giving cash to the public would have been more effective The Guardian, Larry Elliott (29/10/14)
End of QE is whimper not bang BBC News, Robert Peston (29/10/14)
Federal Reserve ends QE The Telegraph, Katherine Rushton (29/10/14)
Bank of Japan to inject 80 trillion yen into its economy The Guardian, Angela Monaghan and Graeme Wearden (31/10/14)
Every man for himself The Economist, Buttonwood column (8/11/14)
Why Japan Surprised the World with its Quantitative Easing Announcement Townhall, Nicholas Vardy (7/11/14)
Bank of Japan QE “Treat” Is a Massive Global Trick Money Morning, Shah Gilani (31/10/14)
ECB stimulus may lack desired scale, QE an option – sources Reuters, Paul Carrel and John O’Donnell (27/10/14)
ECB door remains open to quantitative easing despite doubts over impact Reuters, Eva Taylor and Paul Taylor (9/11/14)
ECB could pump €1tn into eurozone in fresh round of quantitative easing The Guardian,
Angela Monaghan and Phillip Inman (6/11/14)
Ben Bernanke: Quantitative easing will be difficult for the ECB CNBC, Jeff Cox (5/11/14)
Not All QE Is Created Equal as U.S. Outpunches ECB-BOJ Bloomberg, Simon Kennedy (6/11/14)
A QE proposal for Europe’s crisis The Economist, Yanis Varoufakis (7/11/14)
UK, Japan and 1% inflation BBC News, Linda Yueh (12/11/14)
Greenspan Sees Turmoil Ahead As QE Market Boost Unwinds Bloomberg TV, Gillian Tett interviews Alan Greenspan (29/10/14)
- What is the transmission mechanism between central bank purchases of assets and aggregate demand?
- Under what circumstances might the effect of a given amount of QE on aggregate demand be relatively small?
- What dangers are associated with QE?
- What determines the likely effect on inflation of QE?
- What has been the effect of QE in developed countries on the economies of developing countries? Has this been desirable for the global economy?
- Have businesses benefited from QE? If so, how? If not, why not?
- What has been the effect of QE on the housing market (a) in the USA; (b) in the UK?
- Why has QE not been ‘proper’ money creation?
- What effect has QE had on credit creation? How and why has it differed between the USA and UK?
- Why did the announcement of further QE by the Bank of Japan lead to a depreciation of the yen? What effect is this depreciation likely to have?
The spectre of deflation haunts the eurozone economy. Inflation in the 12 months to May 2014 was 0.5%, down from 0.7% to April and well below the target of 2% (see). Price deflation can result in deflation of the whole economy. With the prospect of falling prices, many consumers put off spending, hoping to buy things later at a lower price. This delay in spending deflates aggregate demand and can result in a decline in growth or even negative growth: hardly a welcome prospect as the eurozone still struggles to recover from the long period of recession or sluggish growth that followed the 2007–8 financial crisis.
The ECB is well aware of the problem. Its President, Mario Draghi, has stated on several occasions that the central bank will do whatever it takes to ward off deflation and stimulate recovery. At its monthly meeting on 5 June, the ECB Council acted. It took the following measures (see Mario Draghi’s press conference and the press release):
• The main refinancing rate it charges banks on reverse repos (when using open-market operations) was cut from 0.25% to 0.15%.
• The rate it pays banks for depositing money in the ECB was cut from 0% to –0.1%. In other words, banks would be charged for ‘parking’ money with the ECB rather than lending it.
• It will provide targeted lending to banks (targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTROs)), initially of 7% of the total amount of each banks’ loans to the non-financial private sector within the eurozone. This will be provided in two equal amounts, in September and December 2014. These extra loans will be for bank lending to businesses and households (other than for house purchase). The total amount will be some €400 billion. Substantial additional lending will be made available quarterly from March 2016 to June 2016.
• It will make preparations for an asset purchase scheme. Unlike that in the UK, which involves the purchase of government bonds, this will involve the purchase of assets which involve claims on private-sector (non-financial) institutions. Depending on financing arrangements, this could amount to quantitative easing.
• It will suspend sterilising the extra liquidity that has been injected under the Securities Markets Programme (operated from May 2010 to September 2012), which involved purchasing eurozone countries’ existing bonds on the secondary market. In other words it will stop preventing the securities that have been purchased from increasing money supply. This therefore, for the first time, represents a genuine form of quantitative easing.
The question is whether the measures will be enough to stimulate the eurozone economy, prevent deflation and bring inflation back to around 2%. The measures are potentially significant, especially the prospect of quantitative easing – a policy pursued by other main central banks, such as the Fed, the Bank of England and the Bank of Japan. A lot depends on what the ECB does over the coming months.
The following articles consider the ECB’s policy. The first ones were published before the announcement and look at alternatives open to the ECB. The others look at the actual decisions and assess how successful they are likely to be.
Articles published before the announcement
Mario Draghi faces moment of truth as man with power to steady eurozone The Observer, Larry Elliott (1/6/14)
What the ECB will do in June? Draghi spells it out The Economist (26/5/14)
Draghi as Committed as a Central Banker Gets, as Economists Await ECB Stimulus Bloomberg, Alessandro Speciale and Andre Tartar (19/5/14)
ECB’s credit and credibility test BBC News, Robert Peston (2/6/14)
90 ECB decamps to debate monetary fixes Financial Times, Claire Jones (25/5/14)
Monetary policy in a prolonged period of low inflation ECB, Mario Draghi (26/5/14)
Articles published after the announcement
ECB launches €400bn scheme, seeks to force bank lending Irish Independent (5/6/14)
The ECB’s toolbox BBC News, Linda Yueh (5/6/14)
ECB’s justified action will help but is no panacea for eurozone deflationary ills The Guardian, Larry Elliott (5/6/14)
Why Negative Rates Won’t Work In The Eurozone Forbes, Frances Coppola (4/6/14)
Germany’s fear of QE is what’s stopping us from cracking open the Cava The Telegraph, Roger Bootle (8/6/14)
Euro area economic and financial data ECB
- Why has the eurozone experienced falling inflation and a growing prospect of negative inflation?
- Explain how the Securities Markets Programme (SMP) worked (check it out on the ECB site). What countries’ bonds were purchased and why?
- What is meant by sterilisation? Why did the ECB sterilise the effects of the assets purchased under the SMP?
- If it is practical for the ECB to set a negative interest rate on the deposit facility for banks, would it be practical to set a negative interest rate for the main refinancing operations or the marginal lending facility? Explain.
- Why has the ECB, up to now, been unwilling to engage in quantitative easing? What has changed?
- Why may the introduction of a negative interest rate on bank deposits in the ECB have only a very small effect on bank lending?
- How much is broad money supply growing in the eurozone? Is this enough or too much? Explain.
- What else could the ECB have done to ward off deflation? Should the ECB have adopted these measures?
‘Deflation could be replacing debt as the main problem – and there’s nothing to suggest the ECB is up to the job.’ So begins the linked article below by Barry Eichengreen, Professor of Economics and Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.
The good news in this is that worries about debt in eurozone countries are gradually receding. Indeed, this week Ireland officially ended its reliance on a bailout (of €67.5 billion) from the EU and IMF and regained financial sovereignty (see also).
The bad news is that this does not mark the end of austerity. Indeed, many eurozone countries could get stuck in a deflationary trap, with austerity policies continuing to depress aggregate demand. Eurozone inflation is less than 1% and falling. Broad money supply growth is now below that of the US dollar, the yen and sterling (see chart: click here for a PowerPoint).
The ECB has been far more cautious than central banks in other countries in acting to prevent recession and deflation. Unlike the USA, Japan and the UK, which have all engaged in extensive quantitative easing, the ECB had been reluctant to do so for fear of upsetting German opinion and taking the pressure off southern European countries to reform.
But as Eichengreen points out, the dangers of inaction could be much greater. What is more, quantitative easing is not the only option. The ECB could copy the UK approach of ‘funding for lending’ – not for housing, but for business.
Europe’s economic crisis could be mutating again The Guardian, Barry Eichengreen (10/12/13)
- What problems are created by falling prices?
- What effect would deflation have on debt and the difficulties in repaying that debt?
- What measures have already been adopted by the ECB to stimulate the eurozone economy? (Search previous articles on this site.)
- Why have such measures proved inadequate?
- What alternative policies are open to the ECB?
- What are the arguments for the ECB being given a higher inflation target (such as 3 or 4%)?
- What are the arguments for and against relaxing fiscal austerity in the eurozone at the current time?
As we saw in the news item The difficult exit from cheap money, central banks around the world have been operating an extremely loose monetary policy since the beginning of 2009. Their interest rates have been close to zero and trillions of dollars of extra money has been injected into the world economy through various programmes of quantitative easing.
For the past few months the Federal Reserve has been purchasing bonds under its most recent programme dubbed QE3, and thereby increasing narrow money, by $85 billion per month. Since the start of its QE programme in 2009, it has pumped around $2.8 trillion of extra money into the US and world economies. This huge increase in money supply has boosted the demand for assets worldwide and world stock markets have risen. Much of the money has flowed into developing countries, such as India, and has acted as a boost to their economies.
Once the US economy is growing strongly again, the aim is to taper off, and ultimately end or even reverse, the QE programme. It was expected that the Fed would decide to start this tapering off process at its meeting on 18 September – perhaps reducing bond purchases initially by some $10 billion. (Note that this would still be an increase in money supply, just a slightly smaller one.) Over the past few days, US bond prices have been falling (and yields increasing) in anticipation of such a move.
As it turned out, the Fed decided to delay tapering off. It will continue with its assets purchase programme of $85 billion per month for the time being. The reason given was that the US economy was still too fragile and needed the monthly injections of money to stay at the current level.
Normally it might be expected that the announcement of a more fragile recovery would cause the US stock market, and others worldwide, to fall. In fact the opposite occurred, with investors relieved that the extra money, which allows extra asset purchases, would continue at the same rate.
But this then raises the question of just what will be the effect when tapering off does actually occur. Will stock markets then go into a tailspin? Or will they merely stop rising so fast. That depends very much on the role of speculation.
Bernanke’s Own Words on Asset Purchases, Economy Bloomberg (18/9/13)
Bernanke: Fed to delay bond tapering PBS Newshour on YouTube (full speech plus questions) (18/9/13)
No tapering announced by Fed CNBC on Yahoo Finance (18/9/113)
The impact of US stimulus moves at home and abroad BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (18/9/13)
Is the upturn reaching Americans? BBC World, Stephanie Flanders (17/9/13)
Shares hit high as Federal Reserve maintains stimulus BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (18/9/13)
US Fed decision to delay tapering was a relief ET Now (India), Bimal Jalan (19/9/13)
Federal Reserve surprises markets by delaying QE tapering The Telegraph, Katherine Rushton (18/9/13)
Federal Reserve delays QE tapering: the full statement The Telegraph (18/9/13)
Q&A: What is tapering? BBC News (18/9/13)
Fed delay is no reason to celebrate The Guardian, Larry Elliott (19/9/13)
Federal Reserve tapering decision has baffled the markets The Guardian, Larry Elliott (19/9/13)
Taper tiger The Economist (21/9/13)
Everything You Need to Know About the Fed’s Decision Not to Taper QE3 The Atlantic, Matthew O’Brien (18/9/13)
Fed’s dovish turn leaves Wall Street economists mulling taper timing: poll Reuters, Chris Reese (18/9/13)
Good news and bad news from the Fed BBC News, Stephanie Flanders (19/9/13)
Is the Fed frightened of its shadow? BBC News, Robert Peston (19/9/13)
The Federal Reserve and Janet Yellen face a tough task with insufficient tools The Guardian, Mohamed A. El-Erian (14/10/13)
- Why might a slowing down in the increase in US money supply cause asset prices to fall, rather than merely to rise less quickly?
- Why has the US QE programme led to a rise in asset prices overseas?
- Distinguish between stabilising and destabilising speculation. Which type of speculation has been occurring as a result of the US QE programme?
- How has QE affected unemployment in the UK and USA? How is the participation rate and the flexibility of labour markets relevant to the answer?
- Explain the following two statements by Stephanie Flanders and Robert Peston respectively. “The market conditions argument has a circularity to it: talk of tapering leads to higher market rates, which in turn puts the taper itself on hold.” “The Fed simply hinting that less money would be created, means that there will be no reduction in the amount of money created (for now at least).”
- Why have US long-term interest rates, including mortgage rates, risen since May of this year?
- What impact have higher US long-term interest rates had on economies in the developing world? Explain.