One of the major issues in contemporary macroeconomics concerns monetary policy since the 2008 crisis. For many, if not most, of the major central banks, the conventional channels through which the money supply changes do not work anymore. For instance, by paying interest on reserves, the Federal Reserve has moved from adjusting the money supply to influencing the banks’ money demand. Some central banks have even maintained that money supply does not affect inflation anymore.
One of the lessons that should have been learned after the 2008 crisis is that price level stability does not guarantee economic and financial stability. Rather, central bankers and policy makers understand that the lesson is there should be even more regulation.
In a recent column, William White explains how “major central banks’ vigilant pursuit of positive but low inflation has become a dangerous delusion.” The idea that price level stability is both, necessary and sufficient to achieve macroeconomic stability and growth should have been put to rest by the 2008 financial crisis. But conflicting narratives have enabled it to live on.
Since the crisis, the focus of many central bankers has turned to macroprudential policy. The objective is to manage financial risk. Regulatory efforts have increased as a result. On the monetary policy front, price level stability still reigns supreme. New tools have been developed to execute monetary policy, to be sure. But the overall objective has been more-or-less left intact.
The war on cash we see starting to take place in recent times has a dangerous component. Besides the technical arguments in favor (and against) the efficiency gains of a cash-less economy, politicians are putting forward the argument that only those who have something to hide would oppose to a cash-less economy.
The problem is that this rhetoric implies that any individual is guilty of something until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence, one of the most basic principles of a free society, is being dangerously inverted.
Some economists, including Harvard’s Ken Rogoff, want to minimize the circulation of cash. Such proposals are usually justified on the grounds that they would (1) reduce criminal activity and tax evasion while also (2) helping central banks execute monetary policy when interest rates are at the zero lower bound. Both arguments have been challenged on this blog (here, here, and here).
At the Sound Money Project I have a comment on the importance of distinguishing between the bitcoin technological innovation and its use as a means of exchange. A solid technological innovation does meant that bitcoin is necessarily properly coded to be a successful monetary experiment.
Bitcoin is back in the spotlight as its price has soared in recent weeks. The most enthusiastic advocates see its potential to become a major private currency. But it is important to remember bitcoin is a dual phenomenon: a technological innovation and a potentially useful medium of exchange. One might recognize the technology as a genuine innovation without accepting its usefulness as a medium of exchange.