Conceding that their grip on the economy is slipping, central bankers are proposing a radical economic reset that would shift yet more power from government to themselves.
Central bankers are acknowledging that they are out of ammunition. Mark Carney, the soon-to-be-retiring head of the Bank of England, said in a speech at the annual meeting of central bankers in August in Jackson Hole, Wyoming,
“In the longer-term, we need to change the game.”
The same point was made by Philipp Hildebrand, former head of the Swiss National Bank, in an August 2019 interview with Bloomberg.
“Really there is little if any ammunition left,” he said. “More of the same in terms of monetary policy is unlikely to be an appropriate response if we get into a recession or sharp downturn.”
“More of the same” meant further lowering interest rates, the central bankers’ stock tool for maintaining their targeted inflation rate in a downturn. Bargain-basement interest rates are supposed to stimulate the economy by encouraging borrowers to borrow (since rates are so low) and savers to spend (since they aren’t making any interest on their deposits and may have to pay to store them). But over $15 trillion in bonds are now trading globally at negative interest rates, yet this radical maneuver has not been shown to measurably improve economic performance. In fact new research shows that negative interest rates from central banks, rather than increasing spending, stopping deflation, and stimulating the economy as they were expected to do, may be having the opposite effects. They are being blamed for squeezing banks, punishing savers, keeping dying companies on life support, and fueling a potentially unsustainable surge in asset prices.
So what is a central banker to do? Hildebrand’s proposed solution was presented in a paper he wrote with three of his colleagues at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, where he is now vice chairman. Released in August to coincide with the annual Jackson Hole meeting of central bankers, the paper was co-authored by Stanley Fischer, former governor of the Bank of Israel and former vice chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve; Jean Boivin, former deputy governor of the Bank of Canada;