Government vs private investment

Those of you based in London hopefully know that I have a regular column in City AM each Tuesday. Last week I discussed government vs. private investment:

When private sector investment declines, then the reasons need to be identified and a solution found. The key policy question needs to be “why aren’t businesses investing?” Attempting to offset it with government spending is just an accounting deception. And too much government intervention can be the underlying cause, not the cure – through high tax rates, burdensome regulations and policy uncertainty.

The print edition contained a chart in which I used the Gross Fixed Capital Formation data to compile and contrast government and private investment. That data has now been published by Kaleidic Economics: here is the announcement, and you can view the data here.


The money supply continues to contract

Regular readers will know that The Cobden Centre’s sister roundtable – Kaleidic Economics – is engaged in measuring the MA measure of the money supply, as discussed here several times. In October 2011 MA fell by 6.6% compared to the previous year, which is around twice the recent rate of contraction. As turmoil regarding the Eurozone and threats of a double dip recession continue, good policymaking requires good data. And the monetary aggregates paint a gloomy picture.


Did QE work?

I think this is a complicated question to answer, and both sides of the debate have a tendency to over simplify.

If we understand the goal of QE to be an increase in aggregate demand such that the Bank of England’s implicit and explicit objectives are met, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that it worked “better” than its critics feared, but not as well as its advocates hoped. In other words, I think output is higher than it would have been without QE, inflation is lower than some people warned, but the former is lower than and the latter higher than the MPC would like.

In this week’s column for City AM I wanted to highlight an irony in the debate. If “above target inflation makes little difference if expectations remain anchored” one possible explanation of the muted effects of QE is the Bank’s decision to retain an inflation target. Therefore:

We now have the odd situation where those warning of impending hyperinflation – the sternest critics of QE – provide the intellectual prerequisites for it to work. By contrast, in pandering to those concerns, its proponents ensure that it will not.

It strikes me that unless the Bank of England allows inflation expectations to rise, QE will have a muted effect.

Read the whole article here.


Monetary policy is not all about pulling levers

My latest article for City A.M.

I’M A big fan of the Bank of England museum. I find the way it attempts to educate children about how monetary policy is conducted to be charming. There is an exhibit with a tube of clear plastic containing a ball. The tube is “balanced” when the ball is level with a marker for 2 per cent inflation, and there is a lever labelled “interest rate”. As you pull down on the lever, the tube rotates and the ball shoots over 2 per cent. If you pull up, the tube moves in the opposite direction. Just as you grasp the mechanistic relationship between the target and the tool, “economic shocks” are added to send the tube into constant motion.

Continue reading.


Money supply down 4.3% in August

When we updated MA (our Austrian school measure of the money supply) for August, we expected to see signs of the market turbulence that has characterised recent events. Although still in a monetary contraction, MA is falling at a lower rate than previous months. It has been indicating a tightening of credit conditions for several years now, but has not significantly deteriorated.


New columns in City AM

Those of you who work in London may have noticed the new “Forum” section of City AM, the free daily newspaper. Cobden Center Advisory Board Member Jamie Whyte has a regular column, and I am delighted to be writing one myself. Focusing on macroeconomic theory and policy, it appears every Tuesday in the print edition, and this week’s focuses on unemployment figures.

Obama’s jobs plan assumes that any job is better than no job – that the goal of public policy should be to employ idle resources. But resources are never idle. Regardless of whether they are in use, they are performing an important economic function, and it is costly to put them to the wrong use. The challenge isn’t to create more jobs, but to create the right type.

We live in a world of social media, so please keep an eye on the Forum and make sure you comment on, like and retweet articles you wish to promote. The climate of opinion is moving towards Austrian economics – help us turn a rumble into a roar.


Jamie Whyte discusses QE on Radio 4

The Cobden Centre’s Jamie Whyte appeared on BBC Radio 4 yesterday morning to discuss the prospect of further quantitative easing in the US and UK.

In my view, three key points came across:

  1. the economic situation was different in 2008 (only a serious monetary crisis can justify monetary stabilisation);
  2. central bank interventions get in the way of market discovery processes;
  3. previously injected money has been hoarded, so it hasn’t had the desired effects on broad money (central bankers are “pushing on the end of a piece of string”)

Excellent stuff!!

If you weren’t up at 6:20 to hear the original broadcast, you can catch it on iPlayer until next Thursday, 11 August, at 9:02 AM.


June 2011 MA falls by 5.1%

Last month I reported on a revised version of MA – an “Austrian” measure of the money supply – which suggested that the UK economy is undergoing a monetary contraction. As part of that project we are updating the measure on a monthly basis, and can report that in June 2011 MA continued to contract, but at the slightly lower rate of -5.1%.

Most economists accept that narrow money does not tell us much about the economy, but MA suggests that broad money is actually underestimating the scale of the problem.


An updated version of MA

I have recently updated an “Austrian” measure of the UK money supply labelled MA. The Executive Summary is as follows:

The 2008/09 financial crisis and subsequent recession has created renewed attention to UK monetary aggregates. This discussion paper argues that although measures of the money supply are crucial to understanding the economy, existing approaches are flawed: “Notes and Coin” is too narrow, and M4 is too broad. An alternative measure that is based on the Austrian school approach to the definition of money (MA) is proposed, which indicates the following:

  • From January 2008 – January 2009 MA fell from a monthly growth rate of 27.9% to one of – 3.9%
  • In the 30 months from December 2008 – May 2011 MA grew in 6 of them but contracted in 24

This finds evidence to support the conventional wisdom that a sustained and increasing monetary expansion during the “great moderation” was followed in 2008 by a catastrophic slowdown in money creation that has become a sustained monetary contraction.

The paper can be viewed here and the data is available to view via Kaleidic Economics. Kaleidic is a business roundtable that will be launching soon.

Note that in May 2011 MA fell by -5.9% (compared to the previous year), meaning that it has been contracting since October last year. The monetary deflation that has followed the financial crisis shows no signs of abating.


Knowledge problems vs. incentive problems in the financial crisis

As one of the few Austrian economists in the UK, I’ve become somewhat frustrated by the lack of attention to knowledge processes when talking about the UK experience of the financial crisis. This isn’t to say that perverse incentives weren’t important, but that in many cases they provide an alternative hypothesis to knowledge problems. And it’s a distinctly Austrian approach to illuminate the latter. See this working paper for more; comments and feedback most welcome.

This paper seeks to provide a distinctly Austrian interpretation of the financial crisis and subsequent recession that affected the UK economy in 2007-2010. In doing so it challenges the conventional wisdom that focuses on poorly aligned incentives, providing a theoretical and empirical claim for the primacy of ignorance explanations. Particular emphasis is given to the role of regime uncertainty and so-called “big players”, as well as how faulty behavioural foundations and “price naivety” misunderstand economic calculation and recalculation. Far from being an example of “market failure”, the financial crisis has revealed that almost a century on from the socialist calculation debate many economists still fail to understand the basic principles of a market economy.

Read the article here: