Who would have thought that six years after the global financial crisis, most advanced economies would still be swimming in an alphabet soup – ZIRP, QE, CE, FG, NDR, and U-FX Int – of unconventional monetary policies? No central bank had considered any of these measures (zero interest rate policy, quantitative easing, credit easing, forward guidance, negative deposit rate, and unlimited foreign exchange intervention, respectively) before 2008. Today, they have become a staple of policymakers’ toolkits.
Indeed, just in the last year and a half, the European Central Bank adopted its own version of FG, then moved to ZIRP, and then embraced CE, before deciding to try NDR. In January, it fully adopted QE. Indeed, by now the Fed, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the ECB, and a variety of smaller advanced economies’ central banks, such as the Swiss National Bank, have all relied on such unconventional policies.
One result of this global monetary-policy activism has been a rebellion among pseudo-economists and market hacks in recent years. This assortment of “Austrian” economists, radical monetarists, gold bugs, and Bitcoin fanatics has repeatedly warned that such a massive increase in global liquidity would lead to hyperinflation, the US dollar’s collapse, sky-high gold prices, and the eventual demise of fiat currencies at the hands of digital krypto-currency counterparts.
None of these dire predictions has been borne out by events. Inflation is low and falling in almost all advanced economies; indeed, all advanced-economy central banks are failing to achieve their mandate – explicit or implicit – of 2% inflation, and some are struggling to avoid deflation. Moreover, the value of the dollar has been soaring against the yen, euro, and most emerging-market currencies. Gold prices since the fall of 2013 have tumbled from $1,900 an ounce to around $1,200. And Bitcoin was the world’s worst-performing currency in 2014, its value falling by almost 60%.
To be sure, most of the doomsayers have barely any knowledge of basic economics. But that has not stopped their views from informing the public debate. So it is worth asking why their predictions have been so spectacularly wrong.
The root of their error lies in their confusion of cause and effect. The reason why central banks have increasingly embraced unconventional monetary policies is that the post-2008 recovery has been extremely anaemic. Such policies have been needed to counter the deflationary pressures caused by the need for painful deleveraging in the wake of large buildups of public and private debt.
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