Publications on Central bank policy
Research Project Report, April 2015 | April 2015This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.
This is the fourth in a series of reports summarizing the findings of the Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, directed by Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray. This project explores alternative methods of providing a government safety net in times of crisis. In the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the United States used two primary responses: a stimulus package approved and budgeted by Congress, and a complex and unprecedented response by the Federal Reserve. The project examines the benefits and drawbacks of each method, focusing on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency.
The project has also explored the possibility of reform that might place more responsibility for provision of a safety net on Congress, with a smaller role to be played by the Fed, enhancing accountability while allowing the Fed to focus more closely on its proper mission. Given the rise of shadow banking—a financial system that operates largely outside the reach of bank regulators and supervisors—the Fed faces a complicated problem. It might be necessary to reform finance, through downsizing and a return to what Hyman Minsky called “prudent banking,” before we can reform the Fed.
This report describes the overall scope of the project and summarizes key findings from the three previous reports, as well as additional research undertaken in 2014.Download:Associated Program:
Policy Note 2014/6 | December 2014Criticisms of the Federal Reserve’s “unconventional” monetary policy response to the Great Recession have been of two types. On the one hand, the tripling in the size of the Fed’s balance sheet has led to forecasts of rampant inflation in the belief that the massive increase in excess reserves might be spent on goods and services. And even worse, this would represent an attempt by government to inflate away its high levels of debt created to support the solvency of financial institutions after the September 2008 collapse of asset prices. On the other hand, it is argued that the near-zero short-term interest rate policy and measures to flatten the yield curve (quantitative easing plus "Operation Twist") distort the allocation and pricing in the credit and capital markets and will underwrite another asset price bubble, even as deflation prevails in product markets. Both lines of criticism have led to calls for a return to a more conventional policy stance, and yet there is widespread agreement that this would have a negative impact on the economy, at least in the short-term. However, since the analyses behind both lines of criticism are mistaken, it is probable that the analyses of the impact of the risks of return to more normal policies are also in error.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 820 | November 2014
Challenges for the Art of Monetary Policymaking in Emerging Economies
This paper examines the emerging challenges to the art of monetary policymaking using the case study of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in light of developments in the Indian economy during the last decade (2003–04 to 2013–14). The paper uses Hyman P. Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis as the conceptual framework for evaluating the endogenous nature of financial instability and its potential impact on monetary policymaking, and addresses the need to pursue regulatory policy as a tool that is complementary to monetary policy in light of the agenda of reforms put forward by Minsky. It further reviews the extensions to the Minskyan hypothesis in the areas of setting fiscal policy, managing cross-border capital flows, and developing financial institutional infrastructure. The lessons learned from the interplay of policy choices in these areas and their impact on monetary policymaking at the RBI are presented.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Srinivas Yanamandra
Policy Note 2014/5 | November 2014
The Fed’s zero interest policy rate (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) policies failed to restore growth to the US economy as expected (i.e., increased investment spending à la John Maynard Keynes or from an expanded money supply à la Ben Bernanke / Milton Friedman). Senior Scholar Jan Kregel analyzes some of the arguments as to why these policies failed to deliver economic recovery. He notes a common misunderstanding of Keynes’s liquidity preference theory in the debate, whereby it is incorrectly linked to the recent implementation of ZIRP. Kregel also argues that Keynes’s would have implemented QE policies quite differently, by setting the bid and ask rate and letting the market determine the volume of transactions. This policy note both clarifies Keynes’s theoretical insights regarding unconventional monetary policies and provides a substantive analysis of some of the reasons why central bank policies have failed to achieve their stated goals.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 802 | May 2014
Policy Challenges for Central Banks
Central banks responded with exceptional liquidity support during the financial crisis to prevent a systemic meltdown. They broadened their tool kit and extended liquidity support to nonbanks and key financial markets. Many want central banks to embrace this expanded role as “market maker of last resort” going forward. This would provide a liquidity backstop for systemically important markets and the shadow banking system that is deeply integrated with these markets. But how much liquidity support can central banks provide to the shadow banking system without risking their balance sheets? I discuss the expanding role of the shadow banking sector and the key drivers behind its growing importance. There are close parallels between the growth of shadow banking before the recent financial crisis and earlier financial crises, with rapid growth in near monies as a common feature. This ebb and flow of shadow-banking-type liabilities are indeed an ingrained part of our advanced financial system. We need to reflect and consider whether official sector liquidity should be mobilized to stem a future breakdown in private shadow banking markets. Central banks should be especially concerned about providing liquidity support to financial markets without any form of structural reform. It would indeed be ironic if central banks were to declare victory in the fight against too-big-to-fail institutions, just to end up bankrolling too-big-to-fail financial markets.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 40 | September 2013Nicola Matthews, University of Missouri–Kansas City, presents the main findings of her research on the Fed’s lending practices following the global financial crisis of 2008. Applying Walter Bagehot’s principles, she finds that the Fed departed from the traditional lender-of-last-resort function of a central bank by lending to insolvent banks without good collateral--and below penalty rates. Most of the Fed’s emergency facilities lent at rates that were, on average, at or below market rates, with the big banks the primary beneficiaries. The Fed went beyond aiding markets to effectively making markets. Reform, Matthews concludes, is the only solution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Nicola Matthews
Policy Note 2013/8 | August 2013Though it is not widely understood, the Federal Reserve has enormous untapped power to directly stimulate or influence the flows of lending and spending that generate jobs. Doing so would fulfill the Fed’s often neglected “dual mandate”: to strive for maximum employment as well as stable money. Fed technocrats often plead that legal or technical barriers won’t allow them to do this, but their objections reflect an institutional bias that favors finance over industry, capital over labor. The central bank has abundant precedent from its own history for taking more direct actions to aid the economy. And it has ample legal authority to lend to all kinds of businesses that are not banks. This policy note was originally published, in slightly different form, as “Can the Federal Reserve Help Prevent a Second Recession?,” The Nation, November 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):William Greider
Policy Note 2013/7 | August 2013Monetary policy is running out of gas. Six years ago, in the heat of crisis, the Federal Reserve’s response was awesome. The Fed created trillions of dollars and flooded the system with easy money—enough to stabilize financial markets and rescue wounded banks. It brought short-term interest rates down to near zero and long-term mortgage rates to bargain-basement levels. It provided a huge backstop for the dysfunctional housing sector, buying $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, nearly one-fourth of the market.
Flooding Wall Street with money saved the banks, but it didn’t work for the real economy, where most Americans live and toil. And official Washington now appears to have opted for an unspoken policy of complacency.
The Fed knows, even if politicians do not, the danger of sliding into a liquidity trap, which would utterly disarm its monetary tools. So the Fed wants Congress and the White House to borrow and spend more because, when the private sector is stalled and afraid to act, only the federal government can step in and provide the needed jump start. The country needs a stronger Fed—a central bank not afraid to use its awesome powers to help the real economy more directly. One of the ways it can do this is by revisiting—and extending—its bold ideas on debt relief. By harnessing the power of money creation, the Fed can help clear away the overhang of mortgage and student debt holding back the economic recovery. This policy note draws from articles originally published in The Nation. Portions are republished with permission.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):William Greider
Policy Note 2013/4 | April 2013In March of this year, the government of Cyprus, in response to a banking crisis and as part of a negotiation to secure emergency financial support for its financial system from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF), proposed the assessment of a tax on bank deposits, including a levy (later dropped from the final plan) on insured demand deposits below the 100,000 euro insurance threshold. An understanding of banks’ dual operations and of the relationship between two types of deposits—deposits of customers’ currency and coin, and deposit accounts created by bank loans—helps clarify some of the problems with the Cypriot deposit tax, while illuminating both the purposes and limitations of deposit insurance.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 37 | January 2013
The global financial crisis has generated renewed interest in the 1951 Treasury – Federal Reserve Accord and its lessons for central bank independence. A broader interpretation of the Accord and of Marriner S. Eccles’s role at the Federal Reserve should teach central bankers that independence can be crucial for fighting inflation, but also encourage them to be more supportive of government efforts to fight deflation and mass unemployment.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 127, 2012 | November 2012The United States must make a fundamental choice in its economic policy in the next few months, a choice that will shape the US economy for years to come. Pundits and policymakers are divided over how to address what is widely referred to as the “fiscal cliff,” a combination of tax increases and spending cuts that will further weaken the domestic economy. Will the United States continue its current, misguided, policy of implementing European-style austerity measures, and the economic contraction that is the inevitable consequence of such policies? Or will it turn aside from the fiscal cliff, using a combination of its sovereign currency system and Keynesian fiscal policy to strengthen aggregate demand?
Our analysis presents a model of what we call the “fiscal trap”—a self-imposed spiral of economic contraction resulting from a fundamental misunderstanding of the role and function of fiscal policy in times of economic weakness. Within this framework, we begin our analysis with the disastrous results of austerity policies in the European Union (EU) and the UK. Our account of these policies and their results is meant as a cautionary tale for the United States, not as a model.
Policy Note 2012/9 | August 2012
The Fix Is In—the Bank of England Did It!As the results of the various official investigations spread, it becomes more and more apparent that a large majority of financial institutions engaged in fraudulent manipulation of the benchmark London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) to their own advantage, and that bank management and regulators were unable to effectively monitor the activity of institutions because they were too big to manage and too big to regulate. However, instead of drawing the obvious conclusion—that structural changes are needed to reduce banks to a size that can be effectively regulated, as proposed on numerous occasions by the Levy Economics Institute—discussion in the media and political circles has turned to whether the problem was the result of the failure of central bank officials and government regulators to respond to repeated suggestions of manipulation, and to stop the fraudulent behavior.
Just as the “hedging” losses at JPMorgan Chase have been characterized as the result of misbehavior on the part of some misguided individual traders, leaving top bank management without culpability, politicians and the media are now questioning whether government officials condoned, or even encouraged, manipulation of the LIBOR rate, virtually ignoring the banks’ blatant abuse of principles of good banking practice. Just as in the case of JPMorgan, the only response has been to remove the responsible individuals, rather than questioning the structure and size of the financial institutions that made managing and policing this activity so difficult. Again, the rotten apples have been removed without anyone noticing that it is the barrel that is the cause of the problem. But in the current scandal, the ad hominem culpability has been extended to central bank officials in the UK and the United States.
Policy Note 2012/8 | July 2012From the very start, the European Monetary Union (EMU) was set up to fail. The host of problems we are now witnessing, from the solvency crises on the periphery to the bank runs in Spain, Greece, and Italy, were built into the very structure of the EMU and its banking system. Policymakers have admittedly responded to these various emergencies with an uninspiring mix of delaying tactics and self-destructive policy blunders, but the most fundamental mistake of all occurred well before the buildup to the current crisis. What we are witnessing today are the results of a design flaw. When individual nations like Greece or Italy joined the EMU, they essentially adopted a foreign currency—the euro—but retained responsibility for their nation’s fiscal policy. This attempted separation of fiscal policy from a sovereign currency is the fatal defect that is tearing the eurozone apart.
Public Policy Brief No. 123, 2012 | April 2012
The extraordinary scope and magnitude of the financial crisis of 2007–09 required an extraordinary response by the Federal Reserve in the fulfillment of its lender-of-last-resort (LOLR) function. In an attempt to stabilize financial markets during the worst financial crisis since the Great Crash of 1929, the Fed engaged in loans, guarantees, and outright purchases of financial assets that were not only unprecedented, but cumulatively amounted to over twice current US GDP as well. the purpose of this brief is to provide a descriptive account of the Fed's response to the recent crisis—to delineate the essential characteristics and logistical specifics of the veritable "alphabet soup" of LOLR machinery rolled out to save the world financial system. It represents the most comprehensive investigation of the raw data to date, one that draws on three discrete measures: the peak outstanding commitment at a given point in time; the total peak flow of commitments (loans plus asset purchases), which helps identify periods of maximum financial system distress; and, finally, the total amouunt of loans and asset purchases made between January 2007 and March 2012. This third number, which is a cumulative measure, reveals that the total Fed response exceeded $29 trillion. Providing this account from such varying angles is a necessary first step in any attempt to fully understand the actions of the central bank in this critical period—and a prerequisite for thinking about how to shape policy for future crises.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):James Andrew Felkerson
Working Paper No. 712 | April 2012
How to Achieve a Better Balance between Global and Official Liquidity
Global liquidity provision is highly procyclical. The recent financial crisis has resulted in a flight to safety, with severe strains in key funding markets leading central banks to employ highly unconventional policies to avoid a systemic meltdown. Bagehot’s advice to “lend freely at high rates against good collateral” has been stretched to the limit in order to meet the liquidity needs of dysfunctional financial markets. As the eligibility criteria for central bank borrowing have been tweaked, it is legitimate to ask, How elastic should the supply of central bank currency be?
Even when the central bank has the ability to create abundant official liquidity, there should be some limits to its support for the financial sector. Traditionally, the misuse of the fiat money privilege has been limited by self-imposed rules that central bank loans must be fully backed by gold or collateralized in some other way. But since the onset of the crisis, we have seen how this constraint has been relaxed to accommodate the demand for market support. My suggestion is that there has to be some upper limit, and that we should work hard to find guidelines and policies that can limit the need for central bank liquidity support in future crises.
In this paper, I review the recent expansion of central bank liquidity support during the crisis, before discussing the collateral polices related to central banks’ lender-of-last-resort and market-maker-of-last-resort policies and their rationale. I then examine the relationship between the central bank and the treasury, and the potential threat to central bank independence if they venture into too much risky balance sheet expansion. A discussion about the exceptional growth of the shadow banking system follows. I introduce the concept of “liquidity illusion” to describe the fragility upon which much of the sector is based, and note that market growth has been based largely on a “fair-weather” view that central banks will support the market on rainy days. I argue that we need a better theoretical framework to understand the growth in the shadow banking system and the role of central banks in providing liquidity in a crisis.
Recently, the concept of “endogenous finance” has been used to explain the strong procyclical tendencies of the global financial system. I show that this concept was central to Hyman P. Minsky’s theory of financial instability, and suggest that his insights should be integrated into the ongoing search for a better theoretical framework for understanding the growth of the shadow banking system and how we can limit official liquidity support for this system. I end the paper with a summary and a discussion of some of the policy issues. I note that the Basel III “package” will hopefully reduce the need for central bank liquidity support in the future, but suggest that further structural reforms of the financial sector are needed to ease the tension between freewheeling private credit expansion and the limited ability or willingness of central banks to provide unlimited official liquidity support in a future crisis.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 708 | February 2012
What is called “capitalism” is best understood as a series of stages. Industrial capitalism has given way to finance capitalism, which has passed through pension fund capitalism since the 1950s and a US-centered monetary imperialism since 1971, when the fiat dollar (created mainly to finance US global military spending) became the world’s monetary base. Fiat dollar credit made possible the bubble economy after 1980, and its substage of casino capitalism. These economically radioactive decay stages resolved into debt deflation after 2008, and are now settling into a leaden debt peonage and the austerity of neo-serfdom.
The end product of today’s Western capitalism is a neo-rentier economy—precisely what industrial capitalism and classical economists set out to replace during the Progressive Era from the late 19th to early 20th century. A financial class has usurped the role that landlords used to play—a class living off special privilege. Most economic rent is now paid out as interest. This rake-off interrupts the circular flow between production and consumption, causing economic shrinkage—a dynamic that is the opposite of industrial capitalism’s original impulse. The “miracle of compound interest,” reinforced now by fiat credit creation, is cannibalizing industrial capital as well as the returns to labor.
The political thrust of industrial capitalism was toward democratic parliamentary reform to break the stranglehold of landlords on national tax systems. But today’s finance capital is inherently oligarchic. It seeks to capture the government—first and foremost the treasury, central bank, and courts—to enrich (indeed, to bail out) and untax the banking and financial sector and its major clients: real estate and monopolies. This is why financial “technocrats” (proxies and factotums for high finance) were imposed in Greece, and why Germany opposed a public referendum on the European Central Bank’s austerity program.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2011/6 | November 2011Although it didn't originate with an economist, the malaprop “It’s déjà vu all over again” is invariably what springs to mind in the aftermath of virtually any euro summit of the past few years, all of which seem to end with the requisite promise of a so-called “final solution” to the problems posed by the increasingly problematic currency union. But it’s hard to get excited about any of the “solutions” on offer, since they steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that the eurozone’s problem is fundamentally one of flawed financial architecture. Today’s crisis has arisen because the creation of the euro has robbed nations of their sovereign ability to engage in a fiscal counterresponse against sudden external demand shocks of the kind we experienced in 2008. And it is being exacerbated by the ongoing reluctance of the European Union, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund—the “troika”—to abandon fiscal austerity as a quid pro quo for backstopping these nations’ bonds.
One-Pager No. 19 | November 2011The European Union’s survival depends on its ability to reform, either through enlargement—greater economic and fiscal coordination in the direction of some sort of federal state—or by getting smaller, with the eurozone becoming a true optimum currency area. Most analysts support the former proposition. But the rush to strengthen and expand the Union is precisely what led to the current crisis in the eurozone.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Twin Strategies to Resolve the Eurozone Crisis—without Debt Buyouts, Sovereign Guarantees, Insurance Schemes, or Fiscal Transfers
One-Pager No. 18 | November 2011
The cancellation of the October 26 meeting of the European Union’s council of finance ministers, or Ecofin, has further eroded confidence in its ability to solve the burgeoning sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone. A viable strategy is needed now—and as Stuart Holland illustrates, two viable strategies are even better than one.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Stuart Holland
One-Pager No. 15 | October 2011
The Merkel-Sarkozy Promise to End the Eurozone Crisis
Failure on the part of EU leaders to address the eurozone crisis is in large part due to the fact that Germany and France are at opposite poles—politically, economically, and culturally. In this context, the announcement by Germany’s Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy that they’ve agreed to a comprehensive package of proposals to solve the eurozone debt crisis is definitely a positive development. It indicates that they have set aside their disagreements—surely no small feat, since domestic political concerns have been pulling the two in completely opposite directions—in order to provide the leadership necessary for euro stability.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Policy Note 2011/3 | May 2011
This “Modest Proposal” by authors Varoufakis and Holland outlines a three-pronged, comprehensive solution to the eurozone crisis that simultaneously addresses the three main dimensions of the current crisis in the eurozone (sovereign debt, banking, and underinvestment), restructures both a share of sovereign debt and that of banks, and does not involve a fiscal transfer of taxpayers’ money. Additionally, it requires no moves toward federation, no fiscal union, and no transfer union. It is in this sense, say the authors, that it deserves the epithet modest.
To stabilize the debt crisis, Varoufakis and Holland recommend a tranche transfer of the sovereign debt of each EU member-state to the European Central Bank (ECB), to be held as ECB bonds. Member-states would continue to service their share of debt, reducing the debt-servicing burden of the most exposed member-states without increasing the debt burden of the others. Rigorous stress testing and recapitalization through the European Financial Stability Facility (in exchange for equity) would cleanse the banks of questionable public and private paper assets, allowing them to turn future liquidity into loans to enterprises and households. And the European Investment Bank (EIB) would assume the role of effecting a “New Deal” for Europe, drawing upon a mix of its own bonds and the new eurobonds. In effect, the EIB would graduate into a European surplus-recycling mechanism—a mechanism without which no currency union can survive for long.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Yanis Varoufakis Stuart Holland
Changes in Central Bank Procedures during the Subprime Crisis and Their Repercussions on Monetary Theory
Working Paper No. 606 | August 2010
The subprime financial crisis has forced several North American and European central banks to take extraordinary measures and to modify some of their operational procedures. These changes have made even clearer the deficiencies and lack of realism in mainstream monetary theory, as can be found in both undergraduate textbooks and most macroeconomic models. They have also forced monetary authorities to reject publicly some of the assumptions and key features of mainstream monetary theory, fearing that, on that mistaken basis, actors in the financial markets would misrepresent and misjudge the consequences of the actions taken by the monetary authorities. These changes in operational procedures also have some implications for heterodox monetary theory; in particular, for post-Keynesian theory.
The objective of this paper is to analyze the implications of these changes in operational procedures for our understanding of monetary theory. The evolution of the operating procedures of the Federal Reserve since August 2007 is taken as an exemplar. The American case is particularly interesting, both because it was at the center of the financial crisis and because the US monetary system and its federal funds rate market are the main sources of theorizing in monetary economics.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Marc Lavoie
Recent Rise in Federal Government and Federal Reserve Liabilities: Antidote to a Speculative Hangover
Strategic Analysis, April 2009 | April 2009
Federal government and Federal Reserve (Fed) liabilities rose sharply in 2008. Who holds these new liabilities, and what effects will they have on the economy? Some economists and politicians warn of impending inflation. In this new Strategic Analysis, the Levy Institute’s Macro-Modeling Team focuses on one positive effect—a badly needed improvement of private sector balance sheets—and suggest some of the reasons why it is unlikely that the surge in Fed and federal government liabilities will cause excessive inflation.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):