Must-read: Simon Wren-Lewis: “Can Central Banks Make Three Major Mistakes in a Row and Stay Independent?”

Must-Read: Simon Wren-Lewis: Can Central Banks Make Three Major Mistakes in a Row and Stay Independent?: “Mistake 1: If you are going to blame anyone for not seeing the financial crisis coming…

…it would have to be central banks. They had the data that showed a massive increase in financial sector leverage. That should have rung alarm bells, but instead it produced at most muted notes of concern about attitudes to risk. It may have been an honest mistake, but a mistake it clearly was.

Mistake 2: Of course the main culprit for the slow recovery from the Great Recession was austerity, by which I mean premature fiscal consolidation. But the slow recovery also reflects a failure of monetary policy…. Monetary policy makers should have said very clearly… that fiscal stimulus would have helped them do that job….

What could be mistake 3: The third big mistake may be being made right now in the UK and US… supply side pessimism. Central bankers want to ‘normalise’ their situation… writing off the capacity that appears to have been lost as a result of the Great Recession…. In both cases the central bank is treating potential output as something that is independent of its own decisions and the level of actual output. In other words it is simply a coincidence that productivity growth slowed down significantly around the same time as the Great Recession. Or if it is not a coincidence, it represents an inevitable and permanent cost of a financial crisis. Perhaps that is correct, but there has to be a fair chance that it is not…. What central banks should be doing in these circumstances is allowing their economies to run hot for a time….

If we subsequently find out that their supply side pessimism was incorrect (perhaps because inflation continues to spend more time below than above target, or more optimistically growth in some countries exceed current estimates of supply without generating ever rising inflation), this could spell the end of central bank independence. Three counts and you are definitely out?


Brad DeLong
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