Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sign of the Times

The rhetoric from the right, which is all to often echoed by the maintream media, is that the Obama administration has moved policy so far to the left that it produced a backlash from a traditionally right-of-center populace. The latest object of right-wing scorn is the Federal Reserve's program of Quantitative Easign, meant to fight the growing specter of deflation while hopefully promoting employment. This policy has been roundly criticized by right-wing luminaries as varied as Ron Paul, William Kristol and Sarah Palin. So how far to the left is this policy? It is so leftist that in 2000 the policy was promoted, in an almost identical economic circumstances as a way of helping Japan out of its economic mailaise by no less prominent and raging a leftist than Milton Friedman:

David Laidler: Many commentators are claiming that, in Japan, with short interest rates essentially at zero, monetary policy is as expansionary as it can get, but has had no stimulative effect on the economy. Do you have a view on this issue?

Milton Friedman: Yes, indeed. As far as Japan is concerned, the situation is very clear. And it’s a good example. I’m glad you brought it up, because it shows how unreliable interest rates can be as an indicator of appropriate monetary policy.
During the 1970s, you had the bubble period. Monetary growth was very high. There was a so-called speculative bubble in the stock market. In 1989, the Bank of Japan stepped on the brakes very hard and brought money supply down to negative rates for a while. The stock market broke. The economy went into a recession, and it’s been in a state of quasi recession ever since. Monetary growth has been too low. Now, the Bank of Japan’s argument is, “Oh well, we’ve got the interest rate down to zero; what more can we do?” It’s very simple. They can buy long-term government securities, and they can keep buying them and providing high-powered money until the high powered money starts getting the economy in an expansion. What Japan needs is a more expansive domestic monetary policy. The Japanese bank has supposedly had, until very recently, a zero interest rate policy. Yet that zero interest rate policy was evidence of an extremely tight monetary policy. Essentially, you had deflation. The real interest rate was positive; it was not negative. What you needed in Japan was more liquidity.

All that's missing is a quote from Das Kapital, wouldn't you agree?

(David Beckworth via Brad DeLong)

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