Bella Caledonia published a shortish piece of mine on the political economy of a currency union with Scotland, post-independence. I argued that disputes here reflected both the overwhelming strength of finance inside the UK economy, and the hidden weakness of its current account position. This provoked some debate; my reply is as below.
Posts Tagged ‘banks’
David Blanchflower, right again on the Bank of England’s ‘independence’:
The claim was that [central bank independence] would help bring macroeconomic stability and it seemed to have worked for a while, because inflation remained low for most of the next decade. But that was driven by cheap imports from China. When Tony Blair was asked recently in an interview at Columbia University what had driven the Great Moderation [ie the decade-long boom] he replied, “Luck”, and that seems about right.
It turns out that countries without an inflation target did just as well as those with one. And it didn’t protect us from the greatest economic shock of our lifetimes.
It’s not been clear, over the last year or so, that the Bank has exercised any meaningful ‘independence’ in any case. The Bank, and the Monetary Policy Committee, certainly gave the impression of being brought under the Treasury’s thumb. Not in itself a bad thing: the monomaniacal inflation-hunters on the MPC needed a sharp kick up the backside. It’s pity it had to be the nice people at HMT to do it; well, them and a recession so big that even the most myopic of latter-day monetarists managed to spot something was up.
The merest whiff of a glimmer of a faint hope of a recovery has, however, given at least one Committee member the excuse he needed to get straight back onto the inflation mainline, threatening interest rate hikes ahead of any meaningful improvement in the state of the economy. It’s not just as if the Great Depression never happened. It’s as if the last two years never happened.
The blip in prices upwards this month is likely to be nothing more than that: a blip, caused particularly by the reversal of the VAT cut. The biggest single risk to the UK economy remains that of deflation, with falling prices dragging down economic activity and pushing up the real burden of debts. But at least some of the MPC remain oblivious. Markets panic about inflation. And the MPC follows the markets.
Time to clip their wings. Close down the MPC, and put the Bank of England under democratic control; and, whilst you’re at it, why not do the same for the other nationalised banks?
This from the FT:
The Bank for International Settlements will gather top central bankers and financiers for a meeting in Basel this weekend amid rising concern about a resurgence of the “excessive risk-taking” that sparked the financial crisis.
In its invitation, the BIS cited concerns that “financial firms are returning to the aggressive behaviour that prevailed during the pre-crisis period”.
This should surprise precisely no-one. To all intents and purposes, the bankers got away with it: they’ve been bailed out, and if the bonuses symbolise one thing – other, I suppose, than a breathtaking indifference to public hatred – it’s a return to normality. The status quo ante has been restored, at great expense.
The finance industry won’t learn any lessons from any of this; worse yet, the incentives to take exactly the same ‘excessive risks’ that forced the crisis last time have all been reinforced: like the proverbial spoiled brat, if you think your doting parents will clean up after your mess, why would you do anything other than make yourself thoroughly obnoxious? Why not behave even more outrageously? The bankers can, and they probably will.