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A war is being waged against the central banks. Its focus is the policies they adopted in the aftermath of the global financial CRIsis of 2007-09 and the eurozone CRIsis that followed, especially quantitative easing or “large-scale asset purchases”. But complaints are also made against negative interest rates and even just low rates. These protests could CRIpple the ability of central banks to respond effectively to the next recession, let alone another crisis.


This is a concern because short-term interest rates may remain low by historical standards even as they “normalise” in coming years. Inflation is low and long-term real interest rates seem to have become structurally low, too. Short-term rates may not even get to, say, 3 per cent before the next downturn. This would give central banks little room to cut, by historical standards, before finding themselves back at zero. In the US, the Federal Reserve has cut by four percentage points, or more, between cyclical peaks and troughs.


This does not mean the central banks would, in reality, be out of ammunition. The possibilities are many, as former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke noted in a paper delivered in October at a conference on Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. But some of the possibilities would be un-popular, perhaps so unpopular as to be politically infeasible.

这并不意味着央行实际上会弹尽粮绝。正如美联储前主席本?伯南克(Ben Bernanke) 10月在华盛顿彼得森国际经济研究所(Peterson Institute for International Economics)举行的“反思宏观经济政策”(Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy)会议上发表的一篇论文中指出的那样,可能性很多。但一些可能性将是不得人心的,甚至可能因此在政治上行不通。

The challenge in such situations is to make achievement of the inflation target credible by indicating both the central bank’s determination and the effectiveness of the means at its disposal. In fact, in trying to stimulate the economy, the central bank has infinite firepower. It could, if it dared, purchase almost everything, including, notably, foreign currency. If its commitment were credible, inflation would follow. The technical difficulty, rather, is calibrating policies successfully. The objections are political, not technical. Some are perfectly reasonable: use of the vast powers of central banks to price and create money must be constrained. But some objections are wrong-headed.


One is that these policies are “unusual” or “unconventional”. So what? The world economy has evidently been in an unusual state, in which demand matches potential supply only at very low real and nominal interest rates. The long struggle to raise inflation to target in the US and, still more, in the eurozone and Japan, shows that. Equally, the relationship between unemployment and inflation has changed. Unusual conditions demand unusual policies.


Another objection is that policies are creating “artificial” prices. Why should the rate of interest that achieves full employment and target inflation — the “neutral”, or “natural” rate — be considered artificial? This criticism assumes that, in the absence of central bank policies, the economy would achieve an equilibrium. But an economy with a modern credit and monetary system is not self-stabilising, in this way.


A further objection is that it is unfair to savers that returns are so low. But the view that creditors should be helped, at the expense of debtors and activity in the economy, is just the perspective of a sectional interest against a far broader one.


A related criticism is that easy money policies have worsened inequality, especially of wealth. But keeping the post-crisis economy in recession in order to reduce wealth inequality would have been insane. In any case, wealth inequality matters less than inequality of incomes, where the effect of raising asset prices is to lower returns for prospective owners, so improving inequality in the longer term. Above all, the worst form of inequality is to leave millions of people stuck unnecessarily in prolonged unemployment.


Yet another objection is that these policies will destabilise finance. The answer is to adopt policies that are deliberately targeted against financial instability, such as higher capitalisation of banks or less leverage in the economy.


The most heated objections have been to quantitative easing. At the outset, critics complained it would lead to hyperinflation. When this failed to oc-cur, they just condemned it as somehow unnatural. But use of the central banks’ balance sheet is a natural extension of monetary policy, in exceptional circumstances. It signals an intention to pursue easy monetary policy for a long time and to lower interest rates further up the yield curve. This may be unusual, because circumstances are unusual, but it is not in any way unnatural.


Such complaints against the successful actions of central banks are not harmless. They are intended to force premature tightening now and, more important, to clip the wings of central banks in future. But, given the instability of finance, today’s low neutral interest rates and the unwillingness of governments to use fiscal policy, the willingness of central banks to adopt unconventional policies may be all we have to manage the next big downturn.


Preventing them from acting, perhaps by limiting their independence, would be a grave, possibly a disastrous, blunder.


来自:VOA英语网 文章地址: http://www.tingvoa.com/html/20180213/536558.html