Posted on the Huffington Post today:
The disaster in Japan is almost beyond comprehension. Without minimizing the scale of the humanitarian tragedy, it is already possible to discern the emerging economic debate.
Stock markets immediately anticipated the potential benefits to Japan’s construction industries and their suppliers. Policy makers in the U.K. and Europe, who are busy implementing austerity measures to curb budget deficits, should take note.
The valuable argument coming from the ashes of this crisis is simple: Japan can afford to rebuild.
The Bank of Japan is clear about this. In asserting this point, and calming markets with massive liquidity injections, the central bank is basing its Keynesian policy on a wholly different analysis from that of economists and politicians promoting austerity measures in Europe and the U.S.
The economic possibilities of nations don’t depend on financial resources, but rather on human, technological and organizational power. The banking industry relies on these productive resources. The stability of banks hinges on lending for projects that will generate revenue streams for their own repayment.
Power of Banking
Japan is replete with all the human ingenuity and dedication that reconstruction and rebirth demands. The power of modern banking can enable Japanese society to deploy all of these resources, irrespective of the condition of Japanese public finances. The domestic banking system can circumvent the naysayers of international finance in a manner that should be understood by all financial authorities and economists.
Japan can address this natural and man-made disaster without handing a begging bowl around to other nations.
Read the full article on the Huffington Post >
8 April, 2010
This is a piece written for a conference on Islamic finance to be held on 29th April in Edinburgh.
The notion of the moral economy is intrinsic to all the major faiths, each of which has placed ethical boundaries on the behaviour of those active in the market.
The ten commandments of the Jewish Torah or Christian Old Testament laid down an ethical boundary – or regulation – for work:
“for six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.
The Qu’ran lays down clear ethical boundaries for lending and borrowing, and for trade.
These boundaries have been vital in the maintenance of great civilisations. As Karl Polanyi, the great economic historian argued (in his 1944 book “The Great Transformation”) – the regulation of the conduct of human affairs by law is vital to the maintenance of civilised society, and to the market, because
“robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as the victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime and starvation….neighbourhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed”.
So one of the great contradictions we in the West face today is this: law – or regulation – needs boundaries, in particular ethical boundaries; but also geographical and political boundaries.
However markets, in particular financial markets, abhor boundaries.
How do we reconcile therefore, the ethical boundaries/regulation advocated by the world’s great religions with the resistance of, in particular financial markets, to these boundaries? Continue reading… ›
5th January, 2010
There has been much sturm and drang generated by the Guardian and others on the threat posed to government finances by the flawed and often irrational rating agencies, and by the supposedly despotic, vengeful and greedy bond markets.
Methinks they protest too much.
We at the Green New Deal group have long argued that there is no reason why governments should rely for their financing on the capricious private bond markets. Instead, we write in ‘The Cuts Won’t Work’ - finance ministers should oblige the banks in which taxpayers have a substantial stake to lend to the Treasury at very low rates of interest.
That’s how World War II was largely financed in Britain – and no one was the worse for it. The loans were given a title: Treasury Deposit Receipts. These TDRs – bless them – financed a war that saved Britain from the threat Nazism posed to its very existence. Today they could be used to finance the public investment needed to substitute for the collapse in private investment – and to stave off the threat posed by climate change.
Analysts on the Financial Times Lex column (FT 1st January, 2010) have obviously read our latest report, and describe our proposal as “an intriguing alternative” . Governments they write “may lean on the commercial banks in which they hold large stakes to take up the strain instead. Forcing them to purchase government bonds would help replace the market heft of central banks.”
Quite so. You read it first in the Green New Deal.
25th November, 2009
Dear patient readers of this blog…please find below my latest Huff Post post.
Some may wonder why I cheered when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel announced that the president plans to cut the deficit, because he “does not want to keep on adding to the debt.”
It’s no secret that conservative economists believe that the way to cut the deficit is to cut government spending. In other words, government must manage the federal budget in the same way that you manage your household budget.
But in truth, the president must do the opposite.
To strengthen the levees against the rising tide of debt and the “hurricane of unemployment,” the president must both spend down the debt with a bigger fiscal stimulus, and also get a grip on monetary policy — regulating lending and keeping interest rates low for all of us, not just the banks.
Third, the administration must manage government debt effectively and not leave it to the self-serving and private financial markets.
I am surprised at how often I have to explain why the fiscal stimulus is so important. But because fiscal conservatives just don’t get it, they must be reminded of the well documented evidence again and again.
Government spending, unlike private spending, will pay down the debt by generating income, including tax revenues, and by reducing welfare payments. For unlike private households, governments generate revenues when they spend or invest, particularly on projects at home.
When a household spends its savings on say, a new wind turbine, solar panels for the roof, or insulation, money drains away from the household bank account. The engineers, builders and laborers that construct the turbine don’t pay money back into the householder’s bank account — regrettably.
By contrast, when the federal government invests in jobs that can’t be exported to China, the engineers, builders and laborers employed pay taxes back into the government’s account. They then spend the balance of their incomes in shops and businesses, and these pay taxes too. Indeed the spending might stimulate a small business to invest and hire, adding even more taxpayers paying back into the government’s account.
It’s called the multiplier effect because guess what? It multiplies government revenues. The evidence shows that the increase in revenues outweighs the spending and thus helps cut government debt.
However, it’s not enough to spend away government debt. More must be done, (and this is where Paul Krugman and I part company).
If the president is really determined to not “keep on adding to the debt,” then he must tackle monetary as well as fiscal policy. As John Maynard Keynes repeatedly emphasized, monetary policy must always precede and underpin fiscal policy. They go together like a horse and carriage — you can’t have one without the other.
It is not enough to use public funds to bail out the economy, while at the same time allowing the private banking sector to arbitrarily raise interest rates for government, commercial and household borrowing.
It’s particularly not fair — indeed it’s downright immoral — that the private banking sector is reaping such rich pickings from low rates set by the Federal Reserve; from the struggling body that is the US economy, and from government borrowing.
For proof of the bankers’ rich pickings, study the chart below from the International Monetary Fund. It shows (in pink) the low rates of interest paid by banks to the Fed and other central banks, in contrast to the rates of interest (in green) that the banks then charge to companies, households and individuals.
Note how the rates for those of us active in the real economy are always higher than they are for bankers borrowing direct from the Fed and/or central banks.
Then note how much they diverge after 2008. Bank borrowing costs fall to nothing, while private borrowing costs soar. No wonder bank profits are ballooning.
(The chart is from the IMF’s October 2009 Global Financial Stability Report. The composite real private borrowing rate [RPBR] is a GDP-weighted average of the U.S., Japan, euro area, and U.K. RPBRs.)
The Treasury must get a grip on high rates of interest — rates bankrupting businesses and homeowners, causing foreclosures and unemployment to rise — all “adding to the government debt” by increasing welfare spending.
The administration (through the Treasury, the Fed and the banking system) must adopt policies to force down rates across the spectrum, for government and the private sector; for the commercial and household sector as well as banks; all loans, short-term and long-term, safe and risky.
To stop “adding to the debt” it is vital to keep interest rates very low — while ensuring that lending is ‘tight’ — i.e. well regulated. Today, in the midst of the crisis, money is tight, and it is expensive.
Above all the Treasury must get a grip on its own debt management — and not leave that to the private, self-interested finance markets.
Because after all, bankers have one great way of making capital gains: by “adding to the debt.”
The Motley Fool, September 2nd, 2009
Motley Fool blogger TMF Sinchiruna spotlights the Times interview, describing me as “once ridiculed, later vindicated…” TMF Sinchiruna goes on to say: “Peter Schiff, Jim Rogers, Niall Fergusson, Ann Pettifor … these are the voices that I believe investors need to hear. Turn off the tv and look deep into the events of last year and consider for yourselves whether anything more than a hail-mary reflationary maelstrom has been heaped upon the fire that started it all.”
Read the Motley Fool article >
Also just did an interview for You and Yours on Radio 4 which was broadcast Wednesday. You can listen to it here.
Article Published in the Times, September 1st 2009. Photo by Jon Enoch.
Ann Pettifor predicted a painful end to the good times. Now she says that only radical action can prevent further gloom
Ann Pettifor is a member of a select club — the seers who saw it all coming. Now the economist, who predicted the credit crunch as far back as 2003, believes that the worst is yet to come unless there is radical reform of the financial system.
Six years ago she parodied the International Monetary Fund’s annual economic forecast with her own — The Real World Economic Outlook. Then, in 2006, her book The Coming First World Debt Crisis, warned that rich countries were heading for a debt crisis that would overshadow anything seen in the developing world. Both were ridiculed.
With the British and world economies languishing in the worst recession since the Great Depression and with once-mighty banks reliant on government life support, she could be forgiven for being a little smug. Not a bit of it: “No, being Cassandra is not something I wish for. I hate this role of being a gloomer and doomer, as I’m an optimist by nature. But I am very pessimistic now.”
Continue reading… ›
by Ann Pettifor, 8 March, 2009. There is much confusion about the meaning and impact of QE. This is an attempt to summarise what it means, what it does not mean, and how it can be effective in preventing insolvencies by lowering interest rates.
I am indebted to Graham Turner of GFC Economics for sharing his knowledge and experience of Japan’s use of QE with me. Graham spent time in Japan during the years of that country’s Credit Crunch which began in 1990, and is also knowledgeable about the 1930s when QE was adopted by policy-makers. Japan adopted QE eleven years too late – in 2001, but has since then kept interest rates below 2%.
Graham notes that Ben Bernanke’s book “Essays on the Great Depression” ‘contains no reference to Quantitative Easing…there is astonishingly little analysis of the monetary policy response that secured recovery (in the 1930s) in any of Mr. Bernanke’s essays.’
First lets remind ourselves that a bond is like a loan. The issuer is the borrower, the bond holder is the lender. So when I buy a bond from the Federal Reserve or BoE, the governors of these banks are issuing a bond (‘I promise to repay on this date…at this rate…’) and I am trusting their word with my money. Bonds, like loans, usually have a fixed term, or maturity. The interest rate on the bond is known as the ‘coupon’, and is what the issuer pays to the bond holders.
Rates on company or corporate bonds are important because they determine whether companies can afford to borrow to invest, to pay wages or to manage cash flow. They determine whether entrepreneurs can take risks – and invest, e.g. in green technology. If they can’t do any of these things they declare bankruptcy, and lay off their employees.
Above all interest rates determine whether companies can afford to repay the huge debts dumped on them by lenders, so-called ‘private equity’ companies and other financial institutions during the inflation of the credit bubble.
Interest rates on government and corporate bonds can be lowered by QE – purchases of government bonds by central banks and the shifting of these bonds out of the market, and on to the balance sheets of central banks.
The first myth to dispel is that interest rates are currently low. Base rates may be low, but the rates that companies pay, as Warren Buffett has argued is at ‘record levels’. He tells shareholders that “highly-rated companies, such as Berkshire, are experiencing borrowing costs that, in relation to Treasury rates, are at record levels. Though Berkshire’s credit is pristine – one of only seven AAA corporations in the country – (its) cost of borrowing is now far higher than competitors with shaky balance sheets but government backing.”
Graham Turner shows that ‘average yields on loans for non-investment grade companies in the UK rose to 31.66% on the 4th March, 2009.’ These are bankrupting rates.
The second myth to dispel is that QE is about ‘printing money’. QE is not about directly using liquidity injections to boost the supply of money. As we have learned to our cost, plenty of liquidity has been injected into banks, but this has not slowed the pace of bankruptcies. As Turner notes: ‘money supply (M) is entirely endogenous, and depends on the structure of borrowing costs being secured through bond purchases. ‘ It will be vital for the Bank of England to set a long term interest rate target, and to use the purchase of government gilts to reach that long-term, and low target.
QE is about preventing debtors from defaulting. This is done by the Central Banks targeting lower rates of interest e.g. for 30-year bonds (or loans), and achieving this by purchasing government bonds and taking them on to their balance sheets, (It can be used to purchase corporate bonds, but is more effective in bringing down all rates, if used to purchase government bonds.)
These purchases are known as ‘open market purchases’. By purchasing government bonds, central banks increase the price of the bonds, but damp down the yields, or rates of interest, on these bonds. It is particularly important that rates on e.g. 20-year bonds should be driven down low.
Within a month of the Federal Reserve starting large scale open market purchases of government bonds in April, 1932, corporate bond yields had started to fall decisively.
By buying up government bonds, the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England will increase the price of government bonds, and lower the yield – effectively the interest rate on these bonds. By lowering the rate on government bonds, central banks will help suppress rates across the board.
By lowering rates, they will begin to help companies, and stop the spread of insolvencies – the economic ‘virus’ at the heart of the crisis.
Two additional points: QE has to be applied early on in the crisis. If insolvencies are allowed to spread and engulf the whole economy, there comes a point when QE just cannot help. Second, in a highly synchronised, global economy, it is vital that central banks co-ordinate and co-operate to apply QE across the board. If applied in just one or two economies, the measure will not work. If it is not applied in the United States soon, then US insolvencies will cause unemployment to spiral higher, and will exacerbate global economic failure.
So the stakes are high, and the timing of QE measures vital.
7th December, 2008
On friday 5th December the Financial Times finally acknowledged that ‘real borrowing costs remain high‘. For those readers that may have missed it let me recap: UK interest rates are now at 2%. The three-month Libor rate (the London inter-bank offer rate – fixed by a committee of the British Bankers Association) has come down from 6% to just under 4%. Mortgage rates for new borrowing are just under 6%. The cost of borrowing for companies (loans and overdrafts) is at 7%. The yield on UK corporate bonds (BBB) are just under 12%. Lets hear no more about low rates of interest.
Continue reading… ›
Al Jazeera: 19th November 2008
On Wed. Riz Khan hosted a discussion on the financial crisis. I was surprised to disagree with economist and panelist James Galbraith over why it is that IOUs (or debt) issued by the Federal Reserve replaced gold as the world’s reserve asset. Watch the discussion on Al Jazeera’s site here.
7th November 2008
Yesterday’s dramatic Bank of England 1.5% rate cut was an extraordinary admission of analytical failure. The Monetary Policy Committee of orthodox economists (with Danny Blanchflower the honourable exception) is well behind the curve. While it is tiresome to beat one’s own drum, I am obliged to point out that on the 12th July I wrote a short piece for the Guardian beseeching the Bank of England not to “sacrifice the economy on the cross of inflation targeting”. Today’s numbers from the Insolvency Service reveal that more than 4,000 companies have been sacrificed. Company insolvencies have risen by 26.3% over a year ago, and by 10% over the last quarter. This represents the loss of a great deal of productive activity, and of thousands of jobs.
Continue reading… ›