Policy Exchange and the Near Consensus on the Merits of QE

I went to this event today.

“22/02/2010 – Ideas Space

Quantitative Easing: Friend or Future Foe?

The Bank of England entered unchartered territory in January last year when the Treasury authorised it to begin a radical monetary policy experiment that we now know as “Quantitative Easing”. Given the unprecedented monetary conditions resulting from the liquidity crisis, the Asset Purchase Facility has been welcomed with open arms, and now stands at almost £200bn invested in UK gilts and corporate debt. But has QE had an economic impact to match its political use? Will the cure prove as dangerous as the disease? How and when should the Bank close the lid on this potential Pandora’s Box?”

Several leading economic figures including Roger Bootle, Tim Congdon and Allister Heath, chaired by Policy Exchange’s Chief Economist, Andrew Lilico, will debate and discuss the merits of quantitative easing, the exit strategies for the Bank of England, the main challenges the UK’s economy will face as a result of the program in 2010 and beyond, and how policymakers should face them.”

These are my notes:

Tim Congdon spoke first , this basic message was that unless money supply, primarily bank deposits, is kept very tight and only moderately growing, there will be trouble ahead with boom or bust. QE has kept the economy on the road and the money supply has not fallen. He acknowledges that there were some problems in measuring this.

Roger Bootle second, he opened by accusing one of our columnist, Liam Halligan of being intellectually devoid of any understanding of economics as he viewed Liam’s world to be predicated on massive inflation and a bond strike and this would never happen. He also said that QE could happen an infinitum. I tell no lie, this is what he said. In fact he was of the view that this should go on and on for whatever amount of time until we were out of trouble. People needed to believe that this policy was going to be the policy that would sort out the economy and indeed he agreed with Krugman, that crude of all the crude Keynesians, that Japan had actually done too little to stop the ongoing deflation. The UK’s risk was never going to be inflation but deflation.

Allister Heath opened with saying he reluctantly supported QE as the key thing was to stop a monetary deflation but questioned why we were having a debate in the first place about the merits of QE and should we do more etc when we should be questioning why do we inflation targeting ? As this has given us the biggest boom and bust in living memory should we not dispense with this independent Bank of England , FSA and other so called control bodies and centralise further into one overall controlling body that controls the broad money supply?

I was utterly bemused by all this tosh spoken in the name of economics with glimmers of hope only coming from Allister Heath.

The chairman asked three questions and the audience were asked three questions with one follow up.

I asked “in business I create wealth by making my factors of production work more efficiently to produce more goods and services. I invariably have to lengthen the structure of my production by saving and investing this money in new and more efficient kit to produce more of my goods and services for better prices and service level for my customers. With those goods I can exchange them with other entrepreneurs, shop keepers etc for my basic food, rent for my roof over my head etc via the medium of money. Money is bits of paper in this country and an electronic bank deposit, so having more of the bits of paper and banks deposits to exchange for the same goods and services would only mean my purchasing power had been debased, so no wealth would have been created. I thought this question go to the heart of the matter.

The second was about bond yields – had they or had they not moved up or down.

The third as about what the panel thought about the questioner’s view that we could only get out of this mess via and export related recovery.

Peter Bottomley asked a question that I cannot remember.

The Chairman then had another round of questions.

Mine was relegated to the bottom by the Chairman. Roger Bootle thought it should be answered by Tim Congdon and in the end Allister Heath did give an answer which acknowledged that no wealth could be created by paper alone and that there was a large body of work in Mises and Hayek showing that the creation of credit causes boom and bust . He was reluctant to support QE as it at least kept money supply near static as opposed to imploding, but saw no ability for it to create wealth . I was not allowed time to debate this with Allister , but did mention afterwards that as he said to me, the Austrian School was divided between those who would support a printing of money to offset a fall in V and those who would just advocate a deflation to allow the market to clear at new lower prices. Having to go I should have added, there is a third camp based around the Cobden Centre who would advocate 100% reserves as this would fix the money supply and you can never have a run on the bank with 100% reserves in place. This is explained here http://www.cobdencentre.org/2010/02/a-day-of-reckoning/  .

Allister framed his discussion in the mainstream language of the Quantity Theory of Money, more I suspect to engage with his fellow economists rather than he having any belief in it being more than a tautology. For a refutation of the Quantity Theory see here http://www.cobdencentre.org/2009/09/qe-errors/  . I did point out at the end after the event had finished that if V went down, how could me selling a house to someone, real bricks and mortar exchanging for money and having it sold back to me for the same 10 times create any wealth? Yes we can increase the velocity of the circulation of money by doing daft things like I describe, but Allister accepted nothing like wealth creation will come of it.

The medium of exchange will not create wealth on its own. It is not wealth. If you hold these bits of paper you hold claims to wealth. The retained goods and the savings we have are wealth. The whole capital infrastructure of our companies and private balance sheets  are wealth . This infrastructure drives wealth creation via the dynamic entrepreneurial spirit of men of action who mix the factors of production into the most efficient combinations to satisfy the most amounts of needs. No small matter of printing paper that facilitates exchange or adding electronic reserves to banks will make that wealth creation process any easier.  The second part of this article explains how wealth is created http://www.cobdencentre.org/2009/09/can-the-manipulation-of-interest-rates-create-wealth/  .

A poor day for economics!