This article was originally posted by Advisor’s sister magazine, Canadian Business.
These days, Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz talks about Keynes almost as much as Twitter talks about Trump. If not a champion for Justin Trudeau’s deficit-spending plan, Poloz has emerged as important defender of the intellectual soundness of the young prime minister’s big economic idea. None of these things came out of his mouth while the guy who hired him was around, as ex-PM Stephen Harper had no time for Keynes and deficits. Poloz said little about Harper’s obsession with a balanced budget, which in retrospect speaks volumes. Monetary policy and fiscal policy were out of sync, and there apparently was nothing the central bank governor felt he could say about it. As the central bank would tell you if you asked, that’s not its job.
Conservative central bankers such as Poloz stay clear of subjects outside their remits because they don’t want to give politicians an excuse to resume telling central banks how to manage inflation. Poloz and others talk about their independence as being “sacrosanct.” They believe that without distance from government, the public would question their ability to keep their promises to meet their inflation targets. And then the credibility that central banks have worked so hard to build since the double-digit interest rates of the 1980s would unravel.
That’s probably true. But it is also true that we have come a long way since Paul Volcker, the iconic former chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, induced a recession to break the back of the high inflation that plagued economies through the 1970s. Is it still reasonable to assume that monetary policy should simply react to fiscal policy, even if the choices of politicians make the inflation and financial stability goals of central banks more difficult to achieve? For a couple of decades, most central bankers thought that all they had to do to engineer a stable economy was hit their inflation targets. The collapse of global financial system in 2008 wrecked that fantasy. Every central bank on the planet now is rethinking how it should do its job. One of the things they might have to do is redefine their relationships with politicians.
Poloz delivered a lecture at the Canadian Economics Association’s annual conference in Ottawa on June 4 that raised important questions about the relationship between monetary and fiscal policy. He used the Bank of Canada’s main forecasting model—the one that prompted the central bank’s surprise interest-rate cut in January 2015—to go back in time and muse about how things might have turned out if the monetary and fiscal mix had been different. One of the periods Poloz chose was 2011 to 2015. Instead of a rush to balance the budget, he assumed the government aimed to cover all its expenses with the exception of interest payments, or a “structural balance.” He also assumed the same level of economic output as was actually achieved through those years.
The model produced results that should resonate with those who worry that ultralow interest rates have pushed Canada to the verge of a financial crisis. The benchmark interest rate would be 2.5% now instead of 0.5%, and household debt would be lower by an amount equal to 5% of GDP, according to Poloz’s calculations.
Read the full article at Canadian Business.