The episode delves into the effectiveness of monetary policy by central banks in managing the economy over the business cycle. Do the actions of central banks stabilize or destabilize economies? Show host Gene Tunny chats with Addison Wiggin, a bestselling author, market economist, and host of the Wiggin Sessions podcast, about monetary policy and financial crises. Addison also shares some reflections on the US debt ceiling drama. This is part 2 of the conversation Gene held with Addison in early June 2023, the first part of which was released as EP192 on the US banking crisis.
Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored.
About this episode’s guest: Addison Wiggin
Three-time New York Times best-selling author, Addison Wiggin, is a 30-year market economist with a passion for the real-world impact of financial markets on our lives. Addison is the author and host of The Wiggin Sessions, a podcast that connects key thinkers and industry experts for a deep dive into history, politics, and economics. Some of his most accomplished works as a writer, publisher, and filmmaker include the New York Times Best Seller The Demise Of The Dollar and the documentary I.O.U.S.A, an exposé on the national debt crisis in America.
What’s covered in EP196
- How is it that the US dollar can be the reserve currency of the world? (2:37)
- Why not just accept that the business cycle is a thing and not do anything about it? (7:25)
- Minsky’s instability thesis. (11:42)
- The debt ceiling is just political theater. (16:52)
- Central bankers and economists thought we’d solve the problem of business cycle management. (21:29)
- How monetary policy was determined during the Gold standard era (25:06)
- When the Federal Reserve presided over the contraction of the US money supply as multiple banks failed, the money supply fell 30% from 1930 to 1933. (30:17)
- What does all this mean in the current context? (35:54)
- Central banks need to choose wisely and they need some methodology to do so. (41:23)
Links relevant to the conversation
Part 1 of Gene’s conversation with Addison:https://economicsexplored.com/2023/06/18/exploring-the-us-banking-crisis-with-addison-wiggin-ep192/
US Federal Reserve on what happened to monetary policy during the Great Depression, “From the fall of 1930 through the winter of 1933, the money supply fell by nearly 30 percent.”:
Episode with Stephen Kirchner in April 2022 in which the “lean versus clean” debate was discussed:
Till Time’s Last Sand: A History of the Bank of England by David Kynaston:
Do central banks stabilize or destabilize economies? w/ Addison Wiggin, NYT-bestselling-author – EP196
N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It was then checked over by a human, Tim Hughes from Adept Economics, to pick out any clangers that otters sometimes miss. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.
Gene Tunny 00:06
Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist and former Australian Treasury official. The aim of this show is to help you better understand the big economic issues affecting all our lives. We do this by considering the theory, evidence and by hearing a wide range of views. I’m delighted that you can join me for this episode, please check out the show notes for relevant information. Now on to the show.
Hello, thanks for tuning in to this show. In this episode, I chat about monetary policy and financial crises with Addison Wiggin, The New York Times bestselling author, market economist and host of the Wiggin Sessions podcast. This is part of the conversation that I had with Addison in early June 2023. I broadcast the bulk of that conversation in an episode on the US banking crisis a few weeks ago. But this bit I’ve held back I held it back to this episode, because I wanted to have more time to reflect and comment on the excellent points that Addison makes in this segment. Please stick around until after my conversation with Addison for some additional thoughts from me on the issues. I should note that this conversation that we have about monetary policy, it was triggered by an observation that I made about recent market movements in the Australian dollar in early June 2023. So my observations about the exchange rate are dated. But the discussion which follows is evergreen. Okay, let’s get into the episode. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Addison Wiggin.
It’s interesting how markets react Yeah, it’s just, we just had this situation where because we had this surprise, monthly inflation number, and then we had the minimum wage decision or the award wage decision yesterday, then the markets go oh that makes it more likely that the central bank here the Reserve Bank will increase the cash rate. And so what we’re seeing now is that the dollar has appreciated against the US. So it was going down, it was going down to below 65 cents US and now it’s back up to around 66. Yeah, it’s funny how…
Addison Wiggin 02:37
And that’s one thing that I wanted to point out, because I think it’s it’s a concept that a lot of people either have trouble with, but in this book, I so I’m going to hold up the book again, because I think it’s worth the read. It’s pretty short. And my son helped me write it for millennials. So it’s like a quick read. But I was trying to wrap my head around, how is it that the dollar can be the reserve currency of the world? Meaning it’s the place where people, other banks and like big corporations hold their asset value? And how can we have that at the same that gives the United States a massive amount of advantage globally, when making trade deals, and whatever selling guns to go shoot Russians or whatever, whatever people want to do, we can do that, at the same time that we have inflation domestically, because there’s a difference between the reserve currency of the world which, you know, the Central Bank of Australia is going to is going to make deals with the Federal Reserve. Like that is an exchange trade thing. Or if I don’t know if Apple wants to open a plant in Brisbane or something like those exchanges happen in US dollars. And a lot of the commodities that Australia exports are priced in dollars, gold, and their earths and copper, like those things, they’re all priced in dollars. So there’s a tremendous advantage for the for the US economy that we have the reserve currency of the world, but at the same time, we have a payment currency, which is the stuff that we buy eggs in or we finance our homes or, or we take out loans to put our kids through school, whatever, that you can have massive inflation in that at the same time that the stability of the reserve currency. You know, you were talking about a penny between, it used to be five now it’s six or six like it’s pretty, pretty stable, globally. It’s a freaking nightmare at home when they can’t figure out how to slow prices down or the bizarre thing that we were just talking about. They want people to they want the unemployment and the jobs number rate to go up, but they actually want that to be the result of slowing the economy.
Gene Tunny 05:00
Well, yeah, I mean, they want a sustainable rate of economic growth and you want to avoid the overheating economy, you want to avoid the, the huge boom and followed by the, the big bust. And that’s a concern. I mean, in Australia what we’ve had because particularly because in a combination of the massively generous pandemic response, I mean, just like nothing that was just ever expected. And I mean, incredibly generous to, particularly to small business people, and also to welfare recipients who had their, if you’re on the Jobseeker you had that doubled, compared with what it was before, for maybe six months to a year. And there’s all this and people were allowed to pull money out of their retirement savings, their superannuation, their compulsory super, so there’s all this extra money. And I mean, the boom we had was just incredible. And unemployment nationally got down to three and a half percent. And I mean, I never thought it would go below four, like we we thought full employment in Australia was around, or the natural, the non accelerating inflation rate of unemployment or natural rate of unemployment, we thought it was around 5%. And then suddenly, it’s got unemployment rates got down to three and a half percent never thought we’d see it. Cutting off immigration was possibly part of that for a time. But the idea is to try and set the interest rate so that the economy doesn’t get on, I mean, you know, this, it doesn’t end up in that boom bust cycle or that or it’s not as amplified as it as it would be, if you…
Addison Wiggin 06:33
Yeah, so that I my issue with that is that they that’s that was the idea of lowering interest rates for as long as they did is that they wanted to mitigate the boom bust cycle. They wanted to use the tools that they had from history to figure out a way to mitigate the booms, but also mitigate the busts, they wanted to like level the whole thing out. And look what happened, we had a pandemic. And then we had, we had to throw a bunch of money at citizens, and then they saved it, the savings rate went higher than the credit rate at one point on each money. And then as soon as the market I mean, as soon as the economy started opening again, it plummeted all the way to the lowest rates, we saw the the fastest rate of disposable income drop, since 1933. It just went whoo bump. Like they did anything but mitigate the business cycle. In, in my view, I mean, I’m just a guy who studies and writes about it and talks about it write books about it, whatever. But in my view, why not just accept that the business cycle is a thing and not do anything about it? Let, let credit go to the market price that is this, it’s designed to go to, don’t have a central bank that is trying to manipulate overnight rates so that their buddies on Wall Street can get, can keep funding their projects and stuff. It messes with the natural cycle of booms and busts. And that’s what I honestly believe would would do away with these kinds of massive inflationary cycles that we go through, or the opposite, which they’re really afraid of, which is a deflationary period where they can’t sell anything, and the economy just falls apart. That’s what happened in the 30s. I’ve been reading a lot recently about what’s going on, what went on in the 30s. And that’s when we got all these regulatory agencies, it’s probably about the time that Australia started enacting its own financial regulatory systems too. They don’t help. And in fact, they’re always late and they’re always wrong. So it’s like, they’re not mitigating the business cycle. And they’re not actually helping anyone be more honest and truthful in the marketplace. It’s it’s politics, and it’s nastiness. And nothing actually, like they’re not achieving anything. And I’m costing, casting a wide net here because I’m talking about regulatory agencies within the financial network, like we’ve got the SEC, we’ve got the FTC, we’ve got the CFTC, there’s a bunch of lawyers out there trying to stop people from doing anything under the guise that they can mitigate the boom and bust cycle, and that’s just the natural order of things. That’s capitalism. Let’s, let’s go. That’s the way I look at it.
Gene Tunny 09:44
Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.
Female speaker 09:49
If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.
Gene Tunny 10:19
Now back to the show.
Yeah, look, I think there’s, I think some of the fine tuning they’re doing or if that’s the right term, I think there’s there is a concern that some of it may actually be contributing to the instability of the economy. I, I think that’s right. What Bernanke would argue is that if he hadn’t, so if we go back to say, ’08, I mean, he would argue in, you know, Paulson and Tim Geithner, they would argue that if they hadn’t done what they did, or some variation of it, you could have had a rerun of the 1930s. And you could have had unemployment of 20%, or something, or whatever you saw during the Depression. I don’t know to what extent that’d occur, but that’s what their argument would be. Yeah, it’s a it’s it’s something I’ve been thinking about. I mean, I don’t really know the answer myself. I am concerned like you that a lot of the actions that they’ve taken have contributed ultimately contributed to instability rather than making things more stable.
Addison Wiggin 11:26
Yeah, well, let me go back to Hyman Minsky who was writing in the 50s. And he was mostly describing what he read, he lived through the 30s. And then when he was an adult, he was a professor, I think, at MIT. And he was talking about, like, his area of study was the 1930s. And he studied like Schumpeter, and those guys who were writing during that time, Garet Garrett is another one that I’ve been sort of fascinated with. Because as we’re moving through our own like situation, the the stuff that I read, sounds like it was written yesterday, but it was written in like 1932, or whatever. So Minsky’s idea was the longer you have a period of stability, the stability, it, it’s actually called the Minsky Instability Theory, that the longer you have periods of stability, the more mistakes get made, and the inevitability of a crash is going to happen. So artificially creating periods of stability by lowering interest rates, or by keeping them low for longer than the market demands, or by incentivizing the couple of the things that were talking about before 2018, were alternative energy, and areas of the market that had been underserved by the regular stock market, they were passing political motives, or political policies that encouraged, you know, wind and whatever, I wish they had gone into nuclear at that time, but they failed, they missed on that one. But there was a lot of money going into areas of the market that that weren’t rewarded by a return on equity, like money that was put in was not rewarded. And so there was a shit tonne of money going into areas of the market that didn’t deserve it for a long period of time. And so the Minsky instability thesis is that when you do that, for a long period of time, there’s people make mistakes, they don’t, they don’t get punished by the market, that’s a kind of a harsh way to say it. But they don’t, they don’t lose their money, they get rewarded for making bad mistakes that are based on policy. And if that goes on long enough, when you have to clean up the mess after that, which is what Powell has been trying to do, it’s hard to figure out what Powell even thinks, but when you have to clean up the mess, then all of those mistakes that were based on false premises. They come to light in that, like if you’re watching anything of the financial news, currently, that’s each headline is about the mistakes that were made in like 2015 or 2018. Or what the hell happened during the pandemic. Like we’re still cleaning up that mess and we don’t know, a way forward other than this debate of whether the Fed is going to lower either pause or lower rates again, like that’s the only tool they have. They will they have two tools, they have one, they can lower rates and then other central banks around the world will follow. Or they can engage in another round of QE and support specific industries. Like I think we’re gonna see a heavy push either later this year or early next year to support in industries that are trying to develop new technology for cleaner energy, just because there’s so much private equity going into that space right now. That when they start losing money as they have been, there’s going to be a push for government to step in and bail them out.
Gene Tunny 15:24
Right, okay, even though, I mean you, you’ve just you’ve narrowly averted a debt default, haven’t you? And they’re going to have to have some cuts in discretionary spending. So yeah, I guess, yeah, maybe they’ll find some way to do it. But the
Addison Wiggin 15:39
let’s let’s talk about the debt default for just a second. It’s so absurd. Like, I’m like just a citizen of the United States. I grew up here. My dad is mildly conservative. I don’t really give a shit about politics at all, because I mostly think that they’re talking out of one side of their mouths, and then they’re making deals behind doors somewhere else, right. So the idea that we have a debt ceiling came about because Congress used to have to justify all of their spending every year, they had to, once they pass the budget, they had to like stand up and say, We want to spend money on this highway to do this, or this pipeline to do that, or whatever. They had to justify it. But when we went into the very expensive wars that we’ve been involved in World War One, World War Two, Korean War, war on poverty, war on drugs, war in Vietnam, war in Afghanistan, that’s our longest one, like you can’t justify spending that hasn’t happened yet. So they put the debt ceiling in place in 1960. Saying that, well, you can just spend money on whatever you want. But it can’t go above this amount. And 78 times now, I think it’s 79. Now that they’ve just reached a new deal, they’ve had to raise the debt ceiling since 1960. Like, the whole concept of a debt ceiling is just political theatre and it’s not even a useful tool to anyone. It just makes people anxious. I actually started watching the market. I was like, When is this gonna start impacting the market May 18. Nothing in the financial news. Like the banking crisis got wiped off the headlines, which I think is still sustaining right now. We’re gonna see more banks fail. And people other than the NVIDIA boost that we got last week, when AI started grabbing all the tech people’s attention, the markets were just trending slower and slower, lower, like, they were just kind of trending now. And everybody was waiting for Kevin McCarthy and Joe Biden, to come to an agreement. That’s it, it was like really boring. And all they were trying to do is figure out how much they’re going to pay their defence contractors, their buddies who make weapons to send to Ukraine, and that’s literally all they were talking about, one of the things they were talking about is the Republicans wanted work requirements for food stamps. And the Democrats didn’t want that. They just wanted people to get food stamps. And then there was a third one that was a pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia and the Democratic Senator Manchin, Manchin, wanted it to go through and the Democratic senator from Virginia didn’t want it to go through because his constituents, it was going to go through their farms, and they didn’t want it to go through their flocks. The details that they were fighting over were minuscule compared to that $31.4 trillion debt ceiling that they were arguing about. It’s all politics. It’s meaningless, and it’s it’s a charade that comes up and they supposedly put a cap on it for two years, but I’m gonna guess they’re gonna spend more than they agreed to. And we’ll be in this boat again next year or, or in 2025.
Gene Tunny 19:16
Yeah, because you’ve still got the problem of the unsustainability a lot of the the automatic spending really the
Addison Wiggin 19:24
Oh, yeah, that wasn’t even, that was off the table from the beginning. They’re like, Yeah, of course, they Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid and all that. We’re gonna pay that and that is adjusted according to the inflation rate, which earlier this year or late in 2022, it was 9% so that the adjustments were already baked in.
Gene Tunny 19:51
So unless they’re gonna do something about that, or you know, the alternative is to actually increase tax revenue, but no one wants to do that. And so if you not gonna do do that, then you do have to tackle those entitlement programmes. And again, you know, Donald Trump says, I’m not going to touch them. And so the other GOP people, they’re probably not going to do it want to do anything about it?
Addison Wiggin 20:12
It’s kind of ridiculous because one of two, or actually, both of two things need to happen. And I’m like, Libertarian, I don’t I I’m not, I don’t even vote. So for me to say this is like, I’m just talking about the economics, not the political side of things, but they need to raise taxes. And they have to cut spending, there’s no way out of this any other way, unless they can get a bunch of dumb ass central banks around the world to keep funding our debt by buying bonds. Like that’s, it’s just like, if, if I tried to teach this to a, you know, a class of like third graders, they would be like, those don’t make sense, like we can’t spend more than you take in and you have to borrow it from people who don’t like you. Pretty obvious that it’s unsustainable. And yet we tell ourselves day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year that we can do this forever.
Gene Tunny 21:24
Okay, I hope you found that informative and enjoyable. I think Addison made some great points about the effectiveness of monetary policy. At times, it may well have contributed to economic instability. Prior to the 2008 financial crisis, central bankers and many economists had thought we’d solved the problem of business cycle management. Inflation targeting policies were seen as contributing to the period known as the Great Moderation with low inflation and less volatile economies. But as we know, now, the victory was short lived. The fundamental problem of business cycle management has not been solved. It’s possible inflation targeting central banks, they didn’t pay enough attention to the financial risks that were building up in economies. They were too willing to cut rates to shore up financial markets with a view to preventing a wider panic which could cause a recession. There was the so called Greenspan put, named after Alan Greenspan, who chaired the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. It was called the Greenspan put through a comparison to a put option in financial markets. So that’s an option, which allows the owner of stocks to lock in a certain price at which they can sell the stock in the future. There was a view in financial markets that Greenspan would intervene to shore up stock prices so they wouldn’t fall too much. Arguably, this created a moral hazard and encouraged excessive risk-taking in financial markets. So monetary policy could actually have been destabilising. I should note, there is an active debate on the extent to which and whether the central bank should intervene with a view to avoiding the accumulation of financial market risks. So this is the so called Lean versus Clean debate that I discussed with Steven Kirschner in Episode 135 in April 2022. So please check out that episode if you haven’t listened to it yet. I will put a link to it in the show notes. There’s no doubt that the monetary policy actions of Central banks can have significant impacts on economic activity, whether on the whole they are stabilising or destabilising is difficult to assess. In the 60s and 70s, Milton Friedman argued that the best thing for central banks to do would be to adopt a money supply growth rule, so committing to growing the money supply by a certain percent each year. This turned out to be easier said than done and Friedman’s approach known as monetarism was widely seen as a failure. We might come back to monetarism in a future episode for a closer look at how it was implemented and what went wrong. There’s a fascinating story there. The key point is that there’s been a an active debate for decades on the right way to conduct monetary policy and various approaches have been tried. We we’re still grappling for the right approach. The challenge is that central banks need some Northstar for setting monetary policy. So whether it’s inflation targeting or nominal GDP targeting, the latter being something that Stephen Kirchner advocated for in that discussion I had with him last year. It’s no longer as easy as it was during the gold standard, for instance. So if we look back to that period in history. In a 1908 speech to his Manchester constituents, Winston Churchill, who was then the President of the UK Board of Trade, he explained how the gold standard guided the hand of the Bank of England in setting its monetary policy rate, known as the bank rate. If England buys from America or Germany, more than she intends to buy having regard to our own productions, instantly, there is a cause for the shipment of bullion, that is gold, and bullion is shipped to supply the deficiency, then the bank rate is put up in order to prevent the movements of bullions. And the rise of the bank rate immediately corrects and arrests the very trade, which has given rise to this disparity. That quotes from David Kynaston’s excellent history of the Bank of England. Till time’s last sand, if I remember correctly, I’ll put a link to that book in the show notes. So if you want to get a copy of it, you can find it on Amazon. It’s a terrific read, and lots of great history in there. And yes, that quote from Churchill, is in there. So as the quote from Churchill suggests, setting the bank rate, or the federal funds rate in the age of the gold standard, would have been much simpler. Now, that’s not necessarily an endorsement of the gold standard as that system had its problems and economists such as I think it was Eichengreen, Barry Eichengreen have argued that the gold standard ended up contributing to the Great Depression. So there’s a, there’s a big debate around that, that we probably don’t have time to go into now. Going back to the gold standard, isn’t realistic. I’m just making the point here that in history, when there was a gold standard, it was more obvious what should be done with the monetary policy rate, the bank rate in the UK, the federal funds rate in the United States, or the cash rate in Australia. So we’re no longer in that era of the gold standard or even Bretton Woods, the era of fixed exchange rates, which ended in the early 1970s. And because of that, it’s much less obvious what should be done with with these policy interest rates of central banks, so we’re still trying to figure that out. Econometric evidence is only so convincing so any econometric evidence on which monetary policy regime might be more effective than others, which one might have lower inflation and lower economic volatility measured by the volatility of GDP, for example, it’s only going to be so convincing, it’s not going to convince everyone that there’s just so many influences on the economy, that it’s just very difficult to determine whether any particular policy, whether it’s making the impact, the size of the impact, it’s difficult to know what would happen in the absence of a specific monetary policy change. It’s difficult to know what the right counterfactual is so we can’t run controlled experiments in macro economics, there’s no, we can’t treat the economy like a laboratory in which we can test alternative monetary policy so we’re left with questions that are difficult, if not impossible to answer. For instance, what would have happened if the Fed hadn’t intervened so aggressively during the financial crisis or the pandemic? Would we have had repeats of the Great Depression? That was what the policymakers that was what the central bankers were worried about. Look, it’s hard to know there are many factors to consider, for instance, is fiscal policy fiscal policy is is set in a much better way in the post war era than it was during the depression or before that. We have automatic stabilisers in the budget such as progressive taxation and unemployment benefits and they can help prevent economic activity from collapsing and so therefore, there may be less case for an aggressive monetary policy response. So there are other things to consider it’s a very difficult question to answer. Regarding times of economic crisis we could ask, was aggressive monetary policy, so an aggressive monetary policy stimulus was that required, so was it required, or instead, did we simply need a monetary policy that didn’t make things worse. So there is an argument that the Great Depression was caused by bad monetary policy. When the Federal Reserve presided over the contraction of the US money supply as multiple banks failed. The US money supply fell nearly 30%, from 1930 to 1933. So that’s a statistic that you can find on the US Federal Reserve website. I’ll put a link in the show notes. As Ben Bernanke admitted to Milton Friedman in 2002. Regarding the Great Depression, we did it. We’re very sorry. We won’t do it again. That was Bernanke responding to the strong argument that Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz made in their famous monetary history of the United States from the early 60s. It only took the Federal Reserve 40 years to to admit they agreed with Friedman on that. Now, if you do have a, an emergency, a major economic crisis, then look, the arguably there is scope for a monetary policy response, most economists, the large majority of economists would accept that there has to be some sort of central bank policy response, and probably even a stimulus of some kind, although there’d be debates on just how much that should be and how large it should be. One of the problems I think we’ve been we’ve had recently is that the well, the monetary policy response during the COVID period, when combined with the fiscal policy response was just massive, and it’s been massively destabilising. And it contributed to a very strong recovery, I mean, massive, massively. A very strong recovery in excess of anything that we really expected. And that’s contributed to the inflation that we’re experiencing that that we’re seeing in the United States and the UK and Australia. It’s, it’s what’s happening in Ukraine, of course, but it’s also a lot of it to do with just that, you know, the after effects of that massive fiscal and monetary policy response. So unintended consequences of of that, that policy response. So look, I think economists would accept that there is scope for some stimulus, some response in the face of a massive shock, adverse shock like that, but it looks like it was really over done. And then there’s the issue of just what central banks should do. Outside of these major crises just in the sort of normal course of events or the over the course of the business cycle, to what extent they, they should be actively managing interest rates, trying to control the money supply, trying to influence the course of the economy. There’s a big debate over that, this idea of fine tuning. Now, when I was studying in the early 90s, when I was at uni, the leading macroeconomics textbook at the time was, well it was called macro economics. It was by professors at MIT. So very famous professors Rudiger Dornbusch, and Stanley Fischer. I think Stan Fischer went on to be the governor of the Central Bank of Israel, if our if I remember correctly, he was a former Vice Chair of the Federal Reserve, and he served as the eighth governor of the Bank of Israel, from 2005 to 2013 so very distinguished economist, and what he wrote with Rudiger Dornbusch, in that textbook, they wrote that in discussing the desirability of activist, monetary and fiscal policy, we want to distinguish between policy actions taken in response to major disturbances in the economy. So, I was just talking about that earlier when we think about incidents like COVID or the financial crisis, or the depression. So there, so back to the quote. So in discussing the desirability of activist monitors monetary and fiscal policy, we want to distinguish between policy actions taken in response to major disturbances in the economy. and fine tuning in which policy variables are continually adjusted in response to small disturbances in the economy, we see no case for arguing that monetary and fiscal policy should not be used actively in the face of major disturbances to the economy. Fine tuning presents more complicated issues. The case for fine tuning is a controversial one. I think that’s a good summary of how economists think about monetary and fiscal policy as well, that was written in the early 90s but I think that is still a good summary of, of what the consensus would be. So what, what Dornbusch and Fischer were getting at in terms of the problems with with fine tuning, they’re thinking about the problem there is that you’re not sure whether a particular shock to the economy, is it permanent? Is it transitory? Is this just a normal part of the business cycle, and therefore, you shouldn’t really react to it. There’s also there’s the issue of of lags in policymaking, it can take time to recognise disturbances in the economy, then can take time to implement policy and for that, to have an impact on the the economy. So there are these lags, which complicate macro economic policy. And they mean that the case for having an activist policy, so trying to be clever in how you’re setting interest rates and making these fine adjustments to interest rates. It does make you wonder, just the extent to which we can do that the extent to which our policymakers will get that right, and won’t actually contribute to instability in the economy, which I think is a significant risk. What does all this mean, in the current context? Well, it probably would have meant after we got out of the, the emergency period during COVID, and it was clear that the economy was recovering very strongly. And inflation was a risk, I think, thinking about this, all these points that, that I’ve been discussing here, I think, possibly central bank should have increased interest rates much faster, they should have got them up to perhaps what you might call a neutral rate, or a bit higher than a neutral rate much more quickly than they did. And then leaving them there and not not adjusting them every month or every couple of months, depending on how various economic variables are tracking. I mean, it gets a it gets very difficult to, to do that, and to be sure that you’re making the right judgement. So perhaps that’s one, that could be an interpretation of what central banks could have done if they recognised that this whole approach and fine tuning so to speak, is is not really optimal. I think it’s an open question. I’m not necessarily saying that I’m not saying okay, this would have been the right approach that there isn’t, there isn’t still the potential to fine tune the economy, there may well be, but it’s not clear that some other approach may not be superior. And so therefore, I don’t think you can actually reject the hypothesis or reject the argument that these frequent adjustments of policy interest rates, they could actually contribute to economic instability. We, I think that’s, that’s a question economists should be thinking more about. So there are certainly real examples of where the monetary policy response as part of a fine tuning approach was probably excessive, and it sent the economy into recession. The example I always come back to is the early 1990s recession in Australia, which was arguably deeper than it should have been, much deeper. The unemployment rate went up to around 11% in 1992, our central bank, the Reserve Bank, increased interest rates to around 17 to 18% to slow down the economy so in Australia, we had this colossal boom in the 80s. It was the age of the entrepreneur. And there was a lot of investment particularly in commercial property. And the central bank intervened aggressively, it was also worried about the balance of payments, the it was worried about the current account deficit. And it thought that very tight monetary policy was justified. And at the time, they thought, Oh, well, the economy can handle this, they did their economic modelling the Treasury and the RBA, they were forecasting a soft landing for the economy, it turned out to be the worst downturn since the Great Depression. So when I think of that incident, I’m always reminded of just how difficult it is to fine tune the economy, so to speak, and, and looking back on it that early 90s recession, it happened when I was in high school, and it was something that really made me interested in economics. And it made me actively think about studying economics and, and even eventually becoming an economist. So that was one of the incidents that that stimulated my interest in economics for sure. Okay, so we’re going to start wrapping up this afterword. Central banks, they do need to set policy rates, so they’re at the centre of the monetary system, they can control the amount of liquidity in the overnight money market. So in the cash market, as we call it, in Australia. And that ends up setting the benchmark for interest rates across the economy. So central banks are playing a very important role in our monetary system in our, in our payment system in our financial markets. They need to choose wisely. And they need some methodology to do so. So whether it’s set and forget, some sort of set and forget methodology or some type of rule, whether it’s inflation targeting, nominal GDP targeting, some other method, they need something to help guide their decision making. And we still haven’t figured out what that should be. So for a while, we thought that inflation targeting was the right methodology but that’s imperfect, we’ve learned. Some critics of inflation targeting they argue, it’s given us too much financial instability. Other critics come at it from another direction, they argue central banks, they actually didn’t fully follow the inflation targeting policy, it hasn’t been properly implemented. So they would argue that central banks should have had looser monetary policy during the 2010s so that they could have got the inflation rate up. So it got into the target range. And, and they would argue that what we ended up getting was lower growth, lower employment, higher rates of unemployment than otherwise. So we’ve got criticisms of inflation targeting for a variety of reasons. So it looks like it hasn’t. It hasn’t lived up to the promise it, it’s been imperfect. Okay, in summary, there’s still an active debate over how to conduct monetary policy when it comes to fine tuning the economy. It’s possible that at times central banks have actually contributed to economic instability. We can’t say definitively one way or another, whether their policy actions have been stabilising or destabilising on average. I think that’s fair to say. That’s my interpretation of things. If you’ve got a different view, then please let me know. I would love to hear from you. I think that central banks are trying to do the best they can, I mean arguably, they have helped prevent a rerun of the Great Depression at at certain times, particularly in 2008, you could probably argue that actions by the Federal Reserve, in particular did help prevent a much more severe downturn, although that was a very bad downturn already. But look, outside of those sort of incidents, I guess maybe during COVID, the assistance was was was definitely some assistance was needed but then they overdid it, and now we’re suffering from the high inflation. So look, possibly they do some good in times of crisis, but then, in other times, it’s hard to know they could actually be destabilising. This is one of these issues where it’s difficult to read the evidence. And it’s, it’s unclear, and we’re still trying to figure things out. So that’s not a great answer. But that’s my understanding of what the evidence and the theory tells us at the moment. So yep, if you’ve got a different view, let me know. So any thoughts you have on what Addison or I had to say in this episode, please get in touch. You can email me via email@example.com. Thanks for listening.
Righto, thanks for listening to this episode of Economics Explored. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please get in touch. I’d love to hear from you. You can send me an email via firstname.lastname@example.org Or a voicemail via SpeakPipe. You can find the link in the show notes. If you’ve enjoyed the show, I’d be grateful if you could tell anyone you think would be interested about it. Word of mouth is one of the main ways that people learn about the show. Finally, if your podcasting app lets you then please write a review and leave a rating. Thanks for listening. I hope you can join me again next week.
Thank you for listening. We hope you enjoyed the episode. For more content like this. To begin your own podcasting journey, head on over to obsidian-productions.com