Publications on European Central Bank (ECB)
One-Pager No. 56 | June 2018The European Commission's proposal for the regulation of sovereign bond-backed securities (SBBSs) follows the release of a high-level taskforce report, sponsored by the European Systemic Risk Board, on the feasibility of an SBBS framework. The proposal and the SBBS scheme, Mario Tonveronachi argues, would fail to yield the intended results while undermining financial stability.
Tonveronachi articulates his alternative, centered on the European Central Bank's issuance of debt certificates along the maturity spectrum to create a common yield curve and corresponding absorption of a share of each eurozone country’s national debts. Alongside these financial operations, new reflationary but debt-reducing fiscal rules would be imposed.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Public Policy Brief No. 145, 2018 | June 2018
An Assessment and an Alternative ProposalIn response to a proposal put forward by the European Commission for the regulation of sovereign bond-backed securities (SBBSs), Mario Tonveronachi provides his analysis of the SBBS scheme and attendant regulatory proposal, and elaborates on an alternative approach to addressing the problems that have motivated this high-level consideration of an SBBS framework.
As this policy brief explains, it is doubtful the SBBS proposal would produce its intended results. Tonveronachi’s alternative, discussed in Levy Institute Public Policy Briefs Nos. 137 and 140, not only better addresses the two problems targeted by the SBBS scheme, but also a third, critical defect of the current euro system: national sovereign debt sustainability.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Working Paper No. 864 | April 2016
In this paper we analyze options for the European Central Bank (ECB) to achieve its single mandate of price stability. Viable options for price stability are described, analyzed, and tabulated with regard to both short- and long-term stability and volatility. We introduce an additional tool for promoting price stability and conclude that public purpose is best served by the selection of an alternative buffer stock policy that is directly managed by the ECB.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Warren Mosler Damiano B. Silipo
One-Pager No. 51 | December 2015Until market participants across the euro area face a single risk-free yield curve rather than a diverse collection of quasi-risk-free sovereign rates, financial market integration will not be complete. Unfortunately, the institution that would normally provide the requisite benchmark asset—a federal treasury issuing risk-free debt—does not exist in the euro area, and there are daunting political obstacles to creating such an institution.
There is, however, another way forward. The financial instrument that could provide the foundation for a single market already exists on the balance sheet of the European Central Bank (ECB): legally, the ECB could issue “debt certificates” (DCs) across the maturity spectrum and in sufficient amounts to create a yield curve. Moreover, reforming ECB operations along these lines may hold the key to addressing another of the euro area’s critical dysfunctions. Under current conditions, the Maastricht Treaty’s fiscal rules create a vicious cycle by contributing to a deflationary economic environment, which slows the process of debt adjustment, requiring further deflationary budget tightening. By changing national debt dynamics and thereby enabling a revision of the fiscal rules, the DC proposal could short-circuit this cycle of futility.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Public Policy Brief No. 140, 2015 | November 2015
Mario Tonveronachi, University of Siena, builds on his earlier proposal (The ECB and the Single European Financial Market) to advance financial market integration in Europe through the creation of a single benchmark yield curve based on debt certificates (DCs) issued by the European Central Bank (ECB). In this policy brief, Tonveronachi discusses potential changes to the ECB’s operations and their implications for member-state fiscal rules. He argues that his DC proposal would maintain debt discipline while mitigating the restrictive, counterproductive fiscal stance required today, simultaneously expanding national fiscal space while ensuring debt sustainability under the Maastricht limits, and offering a path out of the self-defeating policy regime currently in place.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Working Paper No. 845 | September 2015
Assessing the ECB’s Crisis Management Performance and Potential for Crisis ResolutionThis study assesses the European Central Bank’s (ECB) crisis management performance and potential for crisis resolution. The study investigates the institutional and functional constraints that delineate the ECB’s scope for policy action under crisis conditions, and how the bank has actually used its leeway since 2007—or might do so in the future. The study finds that the ECB may well stand out positively when compared to other important euro-area or national authorities involved in managing the euro crisis, but that in general the bank did “too little, too late” to prevent the euro area from slipping into recession and protracted stagnation. The study also finds that expectations regarding the ECB’s latest policy initiatives may be excessively optimistic, and that proposals featuring the central bank as the euro’s savior through even more radical employment of its balance sheet are misplaced hopes. Ultimately, the euro’s travails can only be ended and the euro crisis resolved by shifting the emphasis toward fiscal policy; specifically, by partnering the ECB with a “Euro Treasury” that would serve as a vehicle for the central funding of public investment through the issuance of common Euro Treasury debt securities.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Policy Note 2015/1 | February 2015
Financial Fragility and the Survival of the Single CurrencyGiven the continuing divergence between progress in the monetary field and political integration in the euro area, the German interest in imposing austerity may be seen as representing an attempt to achieve, de facto, accelerated progress toward political union; progress that has long been regarded by Germany as a precondition for the success of monetary unification in the form of the common currency. Yet no matter how necessary these austerity policies may appear in the context of the slow and incomplete political integration in Europe, they are ultimately unsustainable. In the absence of further progress in political unification, writes Senior Scholar Jan Kregel, the survival and stability of the euro paradoxically require either sustained economic stagnation or the maintenance of what Hyman Minsky would have recognized as a Ponzi scheme. Neither of these alternatives is economically or politically sustainable.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 819 | November 2014
How a Five-year Suspension of the Debt Burden Could Overthrow Austerity
The present study puts forward a plan for solving the sovereign debt crisis in the euro area (EA) in line with the interests of the working classes and the social majority. Our main strategy is for the European Central Bank (ECB) to acquire a significant part of the outstanding sovereign debt (at market prices) of the countries in the EA and convert it to zero-coupon bonds. No transfers will take place between individual states; taxpayers in any EA country will not be involved in the debt restructuring of any foreign eurozone country. Debt will not be forgiven: individual states will agree to buy it back from the ECB in the future when the ratio of sovereign debt to GDP has fallen to 20 percent. The sterilization costs for the ECB are manageable. This model of an unconventional monetary intervention would give progressive governments in the EA the necessary basis for developing social and welfare policies to the benefit of the working classes. It would reverse present-day policy priorities and replace the neoliberal agenda with a program of social and economic reconstruction, with the elites paying for the crisis. The perspective taken here favors social justice and coherence, having as its priority the social needs and the interests of the working majority.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Dimitris P. Sotiropoulos John Milios Spyros Lapatsioras
Public Policy Brief No. 137, 2014 | September 2014
A Proposal to Repair Half of a Flawed DesignThe flaws of the Maastrict Treaty are a frequent object of commentary but, as yet, Europe remains unable—or, perhaps more accurately, unwilling—to address these flaws. The European project will remain unfinished and the ability of the European Central Bank to implement effective monetary policies will continue to be hobbled. As Mario Tonveronachi observes in this public policy brief, Europe has a currency union, but this does not mean that Europe has achieved a single financial market, an essential element for a functioning union. He reminds us that a single European market requires pricing in relation to common risk-free assets rather than in relation to a collection of individual idiosyncratic sovereign rates. And financial operators must have access to the same risk-free assets for trading and liquidity operations. The euro provides neither of these functions, and thus, while there has been a measure of convergence, a single financial market, and the financial integration it represents, remains unachieved.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Mario Tonveronachi
Public Policy Brief No. 135, 2014 | August 2014Contrary to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent claim, the euro crisis is not nearly over but remains unresolved, leaving the eurozone extraordinarily vulnerable to renewed stresses. In fact, as the reforms agreed to so far have failed to turn the flawed and dysfunctional euro regime into a viable one, the current calm in financial markets is deceiving, and unlikely to last. The euro regime’s essential flaw and ultimate source of vulnerability is the decoupling of central bank and treasury institutions in the euro currency union. In this public policy brief, Research Associate Jörg Bibow proposes a Euro Treasury scheme to properly fix the regime and resolve the euro crisis. The Euro Treasury would establish the treasury–central bank axis of power that exists at the center of control in sovereign states. Since the eurozone is not actually a sovereign state, the proposed treasury is specifically designed not to be a transfer union; no mutualization of existing national public debts is involved either. The Euro Treasury would be the means to pool future eurozone public investment spending, funded by proper eurozone treasury securities, and benefits and contributions would be shared across the currency union based on members’ GDP shares. The Euro Treasury would not only heal the euro’s potentially fatal birth defects but also provide the needed stimulus to end the crisis in the eurozone.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 763 | May 2013
This working paper looks at excess reserves in historical context and analyzes whether they constitute a monetary policy problem for the Federal Reserve System (the “Fed”) or a potentially inflationary problem for the rest of us. Generally, this analysis shows that both absolute and relative sizes of excess reserves are a big problem for the Fed as well as the general public be-cause of their inflationary potential. However, like all contingencies, the timing and extent of the damage that reserve-driven inflation might cause are uncertain. It is even possible today to find articles in both scholarly circles and the popular press arguing either that the inflationary blow-off might never happen or that an increasing tendency toward prolonged deflation is the more probable outcome.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Walker F. Todd
Working Paper No. 762 | April 2013
Highlighting that France and Germany held largely contradicting hopes and aspirations for Europe’s common currency, this paper analyzes how the resulting euro contradiction conditioned the ongoing euro crisis as well as current strategies to resolve it. While Germany generally prevailed in hammering out the design of the euro policy regime, the German authorities have failed to see the inconsistency in their policy endeavors: the creation of a model whose workability presupposes that others behave differently cannot be made to work by forcing everyone to behave like Germany. This fundamental misunderstanding has made Germany the main culprit in the euro crisis, but it has yet to face the full consequences of its actions. Germany had sought every protection against the much-dreaded euro “transfer union,” but its own conduct has made that very outcome inevitable. Conversely, having been disappointed in its own hopes for the euro, France is now facing the prospect of a lost generation—a prospect, shared with other debtor nations in the union, that has undermined the Franco-German alliance and may soon turn it into the ultimate euro battleground.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 742 | December 2012
The Economic Consequences of Parochial Policy
Financial market crises with the threat of a subsequent debt-deflation depression have occurred with increasing regularity in the United States from 1980 through the present. Almost reflexively, when confronted with such circumstances, US institutions and the policymakers that run them have responded in a fashion that has consistently thwarted debt-deflation-depression dynamics. It is true that these “remedies,” as they succeeded, increasingly contributed to a moral hazard in US and global financial markets that culminated with the crisis that began in 2007. Nonetheless, the straightforward steps taken by established institutions enabled the United States to derail depression dynamics, while European 1930s-style austerity proved as ineffective as it was almost a century ago. Europe’s, and specifically Germany’s, steadfast refusal to embrace the US recipe has fostered mushrooming economic hardship on the continent. The situation is gruesome, and any serious student of economic history had to have known, given European policy commitments, that it was destined to turn out this way.
It is easy to understand why misguided policies drove initial European responses. Economic theory has frowned on Keynes. Economic successes, especially in Germany, offered up the wrong lessons, and enduring angst about inflation was a major distraction. At the outset, the wrong medicine for the wrong disease was to be expected.
What is much harder to fathom is why such a poisonous elixir continues to be proffered amid widespread evidence that the patient is dying. Deconstructing cognitive dissonance in other spheres provides an explanation. Not surprisingly, knowing what one wants to happen at home completely informs one’s claims concerning what will be good for one’s neighbors. In such a construct, the last best hope for Europe is ECB President Mario Draghi. He seems to be able to speak German and yet act European.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera Gerald Holtham
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 2012/8 | 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.
Policy Note 2012/7 | June 2012
Possible Costs and Likely Outcomes of a GrexitThe European Union’s (EU) handling of the Greek crisis has been an unmitigated disaster. In fact, EU political leadership has been a failure of historic proportions, as its myopic, neoliberal bent and fear-driven policies have brought the eurozone to the brink of collapse. After more than two years of a “kicking the can down the road” policy response, it’s a do-or-die situation for Euroland. Greece has reached the point where an exit looks rather imminent (it’s really a matter of time, regardless of the June 17 election outcome), Portugal is bleeding heavily, Spain is about to go under, and Italy is in a state of despair. This Policy Note examines why the bailout policies failed to rescue Greece and boost the eurozone, and what effects a “Grexit” might possibly have—on Greece and the rest of Euroland.
Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Working Paper No. 710 | March 2012
A Historic Monetary Policy Pivot Point and Moment of (Relative) Clarity
Not since the Great Depression have monetary policy matters and institutions weighed so heavily in commercial, financial, and political arenas. Apart from the eurozone crisis and global monetary policy issues, for nearly two years all else has counted for little more than noise on a relative risk basis.
In major developed economies, a hypermature secular decline in interest rates is pancaking against a hard, roughly zero lower-rate bound (i.e., barring imposition of rather extreme policies such as a tax on cash holdings, which could conceivably drive rates deeply negative). Relentlessly mounting aggregate debt loads are rendering monetary- and fiscal policy–impaired governments and segments of society insolvent and struggling to escape liquidity quicksands and stubbornly low or negative growth and employment trends.
At the center of the current crisis is the European Monetary Union (EMU)—a monetary union lacking fiscal and political integration. Such partial integration limits policy alternatives relative to either full federal integration of member-states or no integration at all. As we have witnessed since spring 2008, this operationally constrained middle ground progressively magnifies economic divergence and political and social discord across member-states.
Given the scale and scope of the eurozone crisis, policy and actions taken (or not taken) by the European Central Bank (ECB) meaningfully impact markets large and small, and ripple with force through every major monetary policy domain. History, for the moment, has rendered the ECB the world’s most important monetary policy pivot point.
Since November 2011, the ECB has taken on an arguably activist liquidity-provider role relative to private banks (and, in some important measure, indirectly to sovereigns) while maintaining its long-held post as rhetorical promoter of staunch fiscal discipline relative to sovereignty-encased “peripheral” states lacking full monetary and fiscal integration. In December 2011, the ECB made clear its intention to inject massive liquidity when faced with crises of scale in future. Already demonstratively disposed toward easing due to conditions on their respective domestic fronts, other major central banks have mobilized since the third quarter of 2011. The collective global central banking policy posture has thus become more homogenized, synchronized, and directionally clear than at any time since early 2009.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Robert Dubois
One-Pager No. 24 | February 2012
It’s a mistake to interpret the unfolding disaster in Europe as primarily a “sovereign debt crisis.” The underlying problem is not periphery profligacy, but rather the very setup of the European Monetary Union (EMU)—a setup that even now prevents a satisfactory resolution to this crisis. The central weakness of the EMU is that it separates nations from their currencies without providing them with adequate overarching fiscal or monetary policy structures—it’s like a United States without a Treasury or a fully functioning Federal Reserve. Without addressing this basic structural weakness, Euroland will continue to stumble toward the cliff—and threaten to pull a tottering US financial system over the edge with it.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
Resolving the Eurozone Crisis—without Debt Buyouts, National Guarantees, Mutual Insurance, or Fiscal Transfers
Policy Note 2011/5 | November 2011
One of the reasons for the failure of Europe’s governing bodies to resolve the eurozone crisis is resistance to debt buyouts, national guarantees, mutual insurance, and fiscal transfers between member-states. Stuart Holland argues that none of these are necessary to convert a share of national bonds to Union bonds or for net issues of eurobonds—two alternative approaches to the debt crisis that would offset default risk and, by securing the euro as a reserve currency, contribute to more balanced global growth.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
Working Paper No. 688 | September 2011
Greece’s Debt Crisis in Context
According to author and journalist C. J. Polychroniou, Greece was unfit to join the euro: its entry was orchestrated by fabricating the true state of the country’s fiscal condition, and its subsequent “growth performance” rested upon heavy state borrowing and European Union (EU) transfers. Moreover, the Greek economic crisis is also a political and moral crisis, as financial scandals and corruption have been major sources of wealth creation.
The EU and International Monetary Fund bailout plan (May 2010), which includes a structural adjustment program with harsh austerity measures, has been a social and economic catastrophe. Such policy ensures that Greece will default and be forced to exit the euro, says Polychroniou, but compelling Greek citizens to take charge of their own economic problems and national faults may be the best scenario. Extreme EU neoliberal policies also increase the risk of the eurozone’s dissolution.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
Working Paper No. 583 | November 2009
The Fiction and Reality of the 10th Anniversary Blast
This paper investigates why Europe fared particularly poorly in the global economic crisis that began in August 2007. It questions the self-portrait of Europe as the victim of external shocks, pushed off track by reckless policies pursued elsewhere. It argues instead that Europe had not only contributed handsomely to the buildup of global imbalances since the 1990s and experienced their implosive unwinding as an internal crisis from the beginning, but that it had also nourished its own homemade intra-Euroland and intra-EU imbalances, the simultaneous implosion of which has further aggravated Europe's predicament. To keep its own house in order in the future, Euroland must shun the outdated “stability oriented” policy wisdom inherited from Germany’s mercantilist past and Bundesbank mythology. Steps toward a fiscal union to back the euro are also warranted.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):