Jul 1st 2014

The World’s Central Banker

by J. Bradford DeLong

J. Bradford DeLong, a former Assistant US Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration, is Professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley.

BERKELEY – The US Federal Reserve these days is broadly happy with its monetary policy. But, since mid-2007, its policy has been insufficiently expansionary. The policy most likely to succeed right now would be analogous to that implemented by the Fed in 1979 and 1933, Great Britain in 1931, and Shinzo Abe today.

Those of us who fear that the Fed’s approach has greatly deepened the US economy’s malaise and is turning America’s cyclical unemployment into permanent long-term structural non-employment have lost the domestic monetary-policy argument. But there is another policy argument that needs to be joined. The Fed is not just the US central bank; it is the world’s central bank.

America’s current exchange-rate regime is one of floating rates – or at least of rates that can float. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, economists like Milton Friedman assumed that a global regime of floating exchange rates would be one in which currency values moved slowly and gradually alongside differences in the economy’s inflation and productivity-growth rates.

In the 1970s, the economist Rudi Dornbusch (and reality) taught us that that was wrong: a floating-rate regime capitalizes expected future differences in nominal interest rates minus inflation rates into today’s exchange rate. A country that changes its monetary policy vis-à-vis the US changes its current exchange rate by a lot; and, in today’s highly globalized world, that means that it deranges its import and export sectors substantially. Because no government wants to do that, nearly all governments today follow the US in setting monetary policy, diverging from it only tentatively and cautiously.

So the US is not just one economy in a world of economies following their own monetary policies under a flexible exchange-rate regime. The US is, rather, a global hegemon: the central bank for the world, with a responsibility not just to stabilize output, employment, and inflation and ensure financial stability in the US, but also to manage the world economy in its entirety.

One area of concern is the health and stability of growth in emerging markets as they attempt to benefit from capital inflows; satisfy North Atlantic demands for open financial markets; and manage the resulting instability created by speculative “hot money,” the carry trade, irrational exuberance, and overshooting. Emerging-market central-bank governors fear a US that alternates between expansionary policy that fuels huge hot-money inflows and a domestic inflationary spiral, and rapid tightening that chokes off credit and causes a domestic recession.

Then there is the main problem facing the global economy today: the crisis of Europe and the eurozone. The creation of the euro without an appropriate fiscal union meant that transfers from surplus to deficit regions would not eliminate or even cushion demand imbalances. The fact that the eurozone lacked the labor-market flexibility needed to make it an optimal currency area meant that adjustment via regional reallocation of economic activity would be glacial, while its members’ loss of control over monetary policy ruled out adjustment via nominal depreciation.

Moreover, Europe lacks the governance institutions needed to choose the easiest path to manage economic rebalancing: moderate inflation in the north, rather than grinding deflation and universal bankruptcy in the south. The European Union’s institutional design amplifies the voices of those interests pushing for policies that have now set Europe on the deflationary road, thus all but guaranteeing lost decades during which the EU will fail to deliver growth and prosperity.

We have an example from the early twentieth century of the political consequences of such a period of economic depression and stagnation. The reaction to what Karl Marx called “parliamentary cretinism” is the rise of movements that seek, instead, a decisive leader – someone to tell people what to do. Such leaders soon learn that their solutions are no better than anybody else’s and decide that the best way to remain in power is by blaming all problems on foreigners. Thus they exalt the “nation” and focus their policies on zero-sum quarrels with other countries and on scapegoating deviant “aliens” at home.

This is not in Europe’s interest, and it is not in America’s interest to have to deal with such a Europe. A democratic, prosperous, and stable Europe implies a much better and safer world for the US.

Here is where the Fed comes in. By shifting its monetary-policy regime to target 4% annual inflation – or 6% annual nominal GDP growth – the US would set in motion rapid rebalancing in the eurozone. Rather than see the 30% euro appreciation that would follow from the ECB’s current monetary policy, German exporters would scream for measures to prevent America’s “competitive devaluation,” finally bringing about moderate inflation in the north rather than the current grinding depression in the south.

A world in which the US has a proven record of honoring the trust that is required of it to play the role of global economic hegemon is a much better world for the US than one in which it is not trusted. Simply put, the US must manage the global economy for the collective common good, or else confront a world in which global macroeconomic management results from race-to-the-bottom national policy struggles.

America’s medium- and long-term political, security, and, yes, economic interests require the Fed to recognize that its policy mission is not to focus narrowly on attempting to achieve and maintain internal balance. Rather, it is to embrace and fulfill its role as the world’s central bank, by balancing aggregate demand and potential supply for the global economy as a whole.



Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2014.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jan 13th 2021
EXTRACT: "Trump intentionally and directly incited the insurrection of January 6. But he does not bear sole responsibility. Every one of his enablers, and the enablers of his enablers, is guilty. Fox Corp’s hidden backers, especially those who are so fond of touting their piety, must now ask themselves, as the Gospel of Mark instructs: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? "
Jan 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "What’s astonishing is that the bottom 50% reduced their borrowing over roughly the same period, but their debt servicing costs increased. Over this time, smaller corporations saw their profit margins dip consistently into negative territory. The decades-long fall in interest rates appears to be the only thing that has kept smaller corporations afloat. Smaller corporations thus appear to be caught in a vicious circle. The fact that their debt-servicing burdens have increased sharply despite deleveraging and falling interest rates points toward rapidly deteriorating financial fortunes. This is reaffirmed by the severe losses registered in their negative profit margins."
Jan 11th 2021
EXTRACT: " The answer can’t be to pretend that the crisis is now over or to believe that the way forward can be found by simply impeaching the President or using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. That will not do. January 6th had antecedents. And more than one man has responsibility for what happened."
Jan 10th 2021
EXTRACTS: ”Not everyone who mobbed the Capitol on 1/6 was a terrorist, but there were many terrorists among them. Some people came armed, or with ties for taking congressional representatives and senators hostage. Some were desperately looking for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi in order to assassinate them….” …… ”Although the Capitol police had a major failure when they did not stop the breach of the building by the mob, they were remarkably successful at spiriting the politicians down to the basement and its tunnels that led to nearby offices.” ….. “The goal of the Trump-inspired insurrection was to stop Congress from certifying the election of Joe Biden as president. Trump moved on several levels to accomplish that goal. He conspired with senators to have them object to the Arizona and Pennsylvania vote counts. In fact, he was trying to convince senators to join this effort by telephone even after the Capitol had been breached and senators were being escorted to the basement, according to Mike Lee. He also tried to disrupt the proceedings by encouraging the breach of the Capitol by a flashmob and by cadres. He may have stopped security forces from being deployed, as part of his coup, to ensure that the insurrection was not stopped prematurely.” …… “Significant blows have been dealt to the Trump terrorist network in the past two days, but the vast well of support it has built up among less violent supporters, and among media enablers like Fox, Breitbart and Newsmax, will make it very difficult to root out.”
Jan 10th 2021
EXTRACTS:"Trumpism may survive under a different leader. This is what a politician like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas is hoping. His attempt to pander to Trump’s voter base by sabotaging President-elect Joe Biden’s victory is a play for a future presidential run. But Cruz lacks the vulgar charisma of Trump. He is a highly-educated cynic, a ruthless political operator, but not someone who can easily inspire the masses."....... "More than most of his colleagues in the demagogue business, Trump is a creature of show business. His great success was not in real estate; he was in fact a terrible businessman, blundering from one failure to another. What made him was a television show. That is what boosted his brand, which he has used with a truly mammoth talent for self-promotion. Cruz, Josh Hawley, Tom Cotton, or Marco Rubio – all Republican senators with ambitions to follow in Trump’s footsteps – don’t even come close." ........ "And Trump’s followers will lose their messiah. Without Trump’s bizarre but effective grip on the party, Republicans may well face a period of vicious infighting, which could conceivably tear their party apart. If so, they richly deserve it."
Jan 9th 2021
EXTRACTS: "The world needs an America it can believe in. America needs to invest real time, energy, and resources in re-establishing the pre-eminence of truth and trust. It took generations to build it but just four years to destroy it." ..... "If it can happen in America, it can certainly happen anywhere else. America must now prove to the world that it can pick itself up, dust itself off, and get and stay on a path so many people in the world aspire to be. It will take a Herculean effort on the part of Mr. Biden and the Democrats to do so. If they fail to do so, it is arguable whether America can ever again claim to be exceptional."
Jan 8th 2021
EXTRACT: "Congress has a right, but not a duty, to impeach. Sometimes, lawmakers might simply tolerate certain presidential misdeeds, having concluded that the costs of pursuing further action would outweigh the benefits. But this is not one of those times. ... Just as the act of punishing a public official sends a message about a polity’s moral commitments, so, too, does a failure to punish when it is warranted. By voting to acquit Trump last year, after the House of Representatives impeached him over the Ukraine scandal, Senate Republicans signaled that they were sticking with a career criminal, come what may. Trump enablers like Senator Susan Collins of Maine hoped that those proceedings would teach Trump a lesson. And so they did: Trump learned that there were no consequences for illegally coercing others into doing him favors and rigging elections on his behalf. ............ Plenty, like Senators Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, have bet their political fortunes on genuflecting to America’s burgeoning far-right movement. But others might now be looking for a way out of the Trumpian maw. The storming of the Capitol demonstrated that you cannot have QAnon à la carte; neither Trump nor his Republican collaborators can control the forces they have unleashed. The revolution always devours its own children, and sometimes their fathers, too. If Republicans fail to de-Trumpify fully and immediately, they will learn that for themselves – but not before things get much, much worse."
Jan 2nd 2021
EXTRACTS: "Barack Obama had his flaws as a president, but he always exuded an air of dignity and refinement. Few presidents in history have his gift for English prose. Obama is not only a stylish writer, but a discerning reader. His behavior in office was always impeccable, and he and his wife, Michelle, are the model of a highly civilized couple .... And that is precisely what some of his opponents could never abide. Racists hated the very idea of being governed by a black man. But the fact that he was such a well-educated and cultivated black man made his ascent to the highest office even more intolerable ........ Trump had to erase the image of high civilization that Obama represented. He had to drag it down to his own level. "
Dec 29th 2020
EXTRACTS: "American capitalism is not serving most Americans. While educated elites live longer and more prosperous lives, less-educated Americans – two-thirds of the population – are dying younger and struggling physically, economically, and socially. This growing divide between those with a four-year college degree and those without one is at the heart of our recent book, Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. The rise in deaths that we describe is concentrated almost entirely among those without a bachelor’s degree, a qualification that also tends to divide people in terms of employment, remuneration, morbidity, marriage, and social esteem – all keys to a good life ....... The US economy has long been experiencing large-scale disruption, owing to changes in production techniques (especially automation) and, to a lesser extent, globalization. The inevitable disturbances to employment, especially among less-educated workers who are most vulnerable to them, have been made vastly worse by the inadequacy of social safety nets and an absurdly expensive health-care system. Because that system is financed largely by employer-based insurance, which varies little with earnings, it places the greatest burden on the least skilled, who are priced out of good jobs."
Dec 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "For the sake of comparison, it is worth remembering just how disastrous the 2000-15 period was for US incomes. Whereas the median real (inflation-adjusted) household income in 2000 was $62,500, in 2011 it was a mere $57,000. Only in 2016, President Barack Obama’s last year in office, did the median real household income clear its 2000 peak. And only during the first three years of the Trump presidency did incomes continue growing strongly enough to surpass the previous high tide. In 2019, the median household income was closing in on $69,000, more than 20% above the post-Great Recession nadir, and 10% above the previous Clinton-era peak ............What explains these trends? For starters, between 2001 and 2016, the US government did not emphasize the need to achieve a high-pressure economy that eliminates the economy’s demand shortfall, which is what it takes to deliver large wage increases for typical workers. In 2010, when the Obama administration began its pivot to austerity, it de-prioritized restoring employment to normal levels in the interest of pursuing spending cuts and fiscal consolidation ...........the siren song of austerity can today be heard once again. A growing chorus of commentators is insisting that near-zero interest rates are unnatural, and that the deficit needs to be cut substantially ...........Back in 2012, Lawrence H. Summers, fresh from a stint as Director of the US National Economic Council, and I tried to warn policymakers about the error of this line of thinking. We failed, ........ "
Dec 28th 2020
EXTRACT: "The longer-term consequences of the COVID-19 cycle are likely to be more severe. While mass vaccination points to an end to the pandemic itself (one hopes by late 2021), it does not provide immunity against lasting economic damage. Recent research on the impact of 19 major pandemics dating back to the fourteenth century – each with death counts in excess of 100,000 – highlights the long shadow of the economic carnage. Real rates of return on “safe” European assets – a measure of the interplay between aggregate supply and demand – were found to be depressed for several decades following these earlier horrific outbreaks."
Dec 19th 2020
EXTRACT: "US President-elect Joe Biden’s economic-policy agenda differs markedly from that of President Donald Trump. But Biden’s ability to enact his proposals will depend on three factors: the final composition of the Senate; his ability to learn from past successes and failures (not least the historically anemic Obama-era recovery); and whether the US economy can avoid a growth-sapping shock."
Dec 17th 2020
EXTRACTS: "As is evident by Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, UNESCO, and the UN Human Rights Council, many of America’s allies now question some fundamental tenets of American commitment and leadership. China’s willingness and ability to step in and take up some of the slack that has resulted says as much about Washington’s self-imposed weakness as it does about Beijing’s fundamental strength..........Regardless of what overtures the Biden administration makes and which objecrtives it is able to achieve in its first year, the carnage left in the wake of Trump’s exit will take many years – perhaps decades – to reverse..........Many of the world’s people never believed that the outrages that occurred during Trump’s tenure were even possible in America. Trump has proven that it is not only possible, but that it could happen again, as it is widely presumed that Trump will run again in 2024 and again win the Republican nomination for president. That is, perhaps, the most enduring legacy of the Trump era, which makes the debate about whether the world is better off with American or Chinese leadership less easily dismissed."
Dec 15th 2020
EXTRACT: ".....strikingly, exit polls suggest that Trump actually gained support from all of the demographic groups that he had maligned, insulted, and harmed, garnering more black, Hispanic, and Muslim votes than he did in 2016. Asian-Americans also pivoted to Trump, voting for him by a larger margin than they did for him in 2016. And Trump won around 55% of white women in 2020. In two consecutive elections, the majority of white women chose a blatant misogynist over a female presidential or vice-presidential candidate........ Trump’s trade war with China, moreover, had a devastating impact on rural America. But that didn’t stop him from winning Iowa and other farm states by a healthy margin. Likewise, some first-generation Chinese immigrants (with PhDs and Ivy League credentials) are fervent Trump supporters, despite his malicious labeling of COVID-19 as the “China virus.”......... The common foundation supporting this vast Trumpian tent of rural whites, Latinos in Texas, Chinese-American entrepreneurs, white suburban women, and a small but growing share of black men is a deep-seated notion of authority – a more primordial disposition than ethnic tribalism, religious affiliation, and sexual identity. These voters worship power and the powerful, and identify with all exercises of power by their chosen leader."
Dec 15th 2020
EXTRACT: "In 2014, almost one-half of Iranians felt their country “should have the right to a nuclear weapon because it is a major nation.” After the framework agreement was announced in 2015 support for that proposition dropped to 20%. Following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal, the percentage of Iranians who felt they had a right to a nuclear weapon because they are a major nation rose again to 40%. "
Dec 11th 2020
EXTRACT: "The European Union is facing an existential threat, and yet the EU’s leadership is responding with a compromise that appears to reflect a belief that the threat can simply be wished away. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s kleptocratic regime in Hungary and, to a lesser extent, the illiberal Law and Justice (PiS) government in Poland, are brazenly challenging the values on which the European Union has been built. Treating their challenge as a legitimate political stance deserving of recognition and a compromise solution will only add – massively – to the risks that the EU now faces."
Dec 9th 2020
EXTRACT: " Increased government spending during the pandemic is essential for managing public health, supporting households that have lost income, and preserving businesses that otherwise may fail and thus cause longer-term damage to output and employment. Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, has urgedpolicymakers to “spend but keep the receipts.” Likewise, World Bank Chief Economist Carmen M. Reinhart reminds us that, “first you worry about fighting the war, then you figure out how to pay for it.” "
Dec 2nd 2020
EXTRACT: "In the trade war with the US, China has given little ground ....... And in November, China mounted something of a geopolitical coup with the signing of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a new trade agreement that will put it at the center of the world’s largest free-trade area. The RCEP will connect China’s huge market to those of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – from Indonesia and Singapore to Vietnam – and will include important US allies such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. For the time being, India is not participating, but it might join later. The only regional player to be left out of the RCEP is America. The creation of a new, China-centered economic bloc illustrates the difference between reality and reality TV. When Trump arrived in the White House in January 2017, one of his first official acts was to withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama that would have created something like the RCEP, only with America at the center and China left out. Witnessing this US act of self-harm, China’s leaders presumably couldn’t believe their luck, and Xi’s government has been working hard to exploit Trump’s generous gift ever since."
Nov 30th 2020
EXTRACT: "There has been much puzzlement that the world’s stock markets haven’t collapsed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, and especially in the United States, which has recently been setting record highs for new cases. But maybe it isn’t such a puzzle."
Nov 25th 2020
EXTRACT: "To paraphrase Charles Dickens, this is the best of times and the worst of times. As financial markets celebrate the coming vaccine-led boom, the confluence of epidemiological and political aftershocks has pushed us back into a quagmire of heightened economic vulnerability. In Dickensian terms, to reach a “spring of hope,” we first must endure a “winter of despair.” "