Category Archives: Contributions

“Schuldenbremse — Licht und Schatten (Debt Brake—Merits and Risks),” FuW, 2021

Finanz und Wirtschaft, June 5, 2021. PDF.

  • The debt brake addresses some political economy frictions, but not others.
  • Focusing too narrowly on explicit government debt it provides incentives to accumulate implicit debt, sell assets, or engage in creative accounting.
  • The political pressure to raise SNB profit disbursements is a symptom of these incentives.

“Die Schattenseiten von Schuldenbremsen (The Dark Side of Debt Limits),” ifoSD, 2021

ifo Schnelldienst 4/2021, April 14, 2021. PDF.

Was Schuldengrenzen aus politökonomischer Sicht besonders attraktiv erscheinen lässt – ihre vermeintliche Einfachheit und Klarheit – birgt also auch Risiken. Es führt dazu, dass Politiker und ihre Wähler die Solidität der Staatsfinanzen über Gebühr an expliziten Bruttoschulden messen. Was aber zählt, wenn es um unerwünschte Umverteilung zulasten künftiger Generationen geht, ist staatliches Nettovermögen in einer umfassenden Gesamtschau.

“Money Creation, Bank Profits, and CBDC,” VoxEU, 2021

VoxEU, February 5, 2021. HTML.

Based on CEPR DP 15457, I assess possible implications of the introduction of retail CBDC for bank profits. The model implies annual implicit subsidies to U.S. banks of up to 0.8 percent of GDP during the period 1999-2017.

SNB Profit Distributions

The Federal Department of Finance and the SNB have agreed on a new scheme for the distribution of SNB profits. Agreement for the period 2020-2025, Explanations. Some comments in German (also available as PDF):

Profitieren Bund und Kantone finanziell von den höheren SNB-Ausschüttungen?

  • Höhere Gewinnausschüttungen in der Gegenwart bedingen tiefere in der Zukunft.
  • In erster Näherung bleibt das Nettovermögen von Bund und Kantonen unverändert, denn es berücksichtigt auch den Wert der zukünftigen Ansprüche gegenüber der SNB.
  • Siehe z.B. „Die Volkswirtschaft“ 8-9 2020, HTML.

Warum dann die positiven Reaktionen bei Vertretern von Bund und Kantonen?

  • Politiker/Wähler orientieren sich an den ausgewiesenen Schulden des Staates. Höhere Ausschüttungen ermöglichen eine tiefere Schuldenaufnahme. Daher die Reaktionen.
  • Relevanter als ausgewiesene Schulden ist das Nettovermögen. Dieses wird von Ausschüttungen (in erster Näherung) nicht beeinflusst.

Was ist die primäre Wirkung höherer Ausschüttungen?

  • Die Schuldenbremse wird in der Gegenwart gelockert und in der Zukunft angezogen.
  • Falls die Schuldenbremse bindet, erhöhen frühere, höhere Ausschüttungen den Spielraum für staatliche Ausgaben in der Gegenwart, aber nicht in der Zukunft.
  • Hohe Ausschüttungen könnten über ihre Wirkung auf das Eigenkapital der SNB auch deren geldpolitische Entscheide beeinflussen.

Wie ist die neue Gewinnausschüttungsformel ökonomisch zu bewerten?

  • Ausschüttungen sollten die Geldpolitik nicht konterkarieren.
  • Die Geldpolitik setzt Bilanzlänge und -struktur der SNB als Instrumente ein. Ihre Glaubwürdigkeit kann vom Eigenkapital der SNB abhängen.
  • Demnach müssten Ausschüttungen von Bilanzlänge, -struktur und Eigenkapital der SNB abhängen. Nicht vom Gewinn des Vorjahres.

Wie ist die neue Gewinnausschüttungsformel politökonomisch zu bewerten?

  • Problematisch ist, dass der Eindruck entstehen kann, alle paar Jahre würde unter politischem Druck um eine neue Formel gefeilscht. Die Bindung an eine sinnvolle Regel würde diesem Eindruck entgegenwirken.
  • Gleichzeitig reduziert die neue Formel den politischen Druck. Sie signalisiert die Bereitschaft der SNB zur Diskussion.

Wie könnte ein alternatives Ausschüttungsmodell aussehen?

  • Die SNB erklärt periodisch, welche Bilanzlänge und -struktur sie zur Erfüllung ihrer Aufgaben benötigt. Sie stellt sich der Kritik, entscheidet aber eigenverantwortlich.
  • Ausschüttungen sind nicht zweckgebunden. Dadurch wird vermieden, dass sich Interessengruppen bilden, die systematisch auf höhere Ausschüttungen drängen.

Welches Grundproblem bliebe bestehen?

  • Eine ökonomisch begründete Ausschüttungspolitik führt zu fluktuierenden Ausschüttungen. Diese können die Schuldenbremse konterkarieren.
  • Glättet die SNB hingegen ohne geldpolitische Notwendigkeit ihre Ausschüttungen, masst sie sich eine Kontrolle der Fiskalpolitik an, die ausserhalb ihres Aufgabenbereichs liegt.

Comments on Geneva Report 23

Panel with Elga Bartsch, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Giancarlo Corsetti, Olivier Garnier, and Charles Wyplosz. Moderated by Tobias Broer.

Elga Bartsch, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Giancarlo Corsetti, Xavier Debrun: Geneva Report 23 | It’s All in the Mix: How Monetary and Fiscal policies Can Work or Fail Together.

Event at PSE.

My comments on the report.

“Staatsschulden sind keineswegs kostenlos (Free Government Debt?),” NZZ, 2021

NZZ, February 1, 2021. PDF (title changed by NZZ). Related article in Ökonomenstimme. HTML.

Do negative interest rates render government debt costless? No. What about r<g? I discuss Olivier Blanchard’s presidential address and the conclusions that columnists have drawn.

For background: See this post.

“The Pandemic Endgame,” VoxEU, 2021

VoxEU, January 11, 2021, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. HTML.

Based on the CEPR discussion paper, we draw conclusions for the pandemic endgame. We explain why Israel will likely impose a harsher lockdown than other countries, especially poor ones. And why we should expect “inverse lockdowns”—measures to stimulate social interaction.

John Cochrane about CBDC and Me

Writing about CBDC, John Cochrane makes it clear that he is in favor. He links to my work and writes

Dirk Niepelt has written a lot about CBDC theory, including reserves for all in 2015, a recent Vox-EU summary and papers,  here with Markus Brunnermeier a JME paper “CBDC coupled with central bank pass-through funding need not imply a credit crunch nor undermine financial stability,” a follow up including “The model implies annual implicit subsidies to U.S. banks of up to 0.8 percent of GDP during the period 1999-2017.”  Here  “reserves for all” “does not affect macroeconomic outcomes,”

Not Much Left of “Modern Monetary Theory”

Alberto Bisin (Journal of Economic Literature, December 2020) reviews Stephanie Kelton’s “The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy:”

Never is its logical structure expressed in a direct, clear way, from head to toe. … Some of these statements are literally correct but used for incorrect or misleading implications—plays on words, effectively. They seem taken directly from the book of tricks of the Greek sophists (the ones Aristophanes makes fun of).

John Cochrane (blog post, July 2020) reviews the same book:

Skeptics have called it “magical monetary theory.” They’re right.

Dirk Niepelt (blog post/Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German), April 2019):

The Macroeconomic Perpetuum Mobile.

“Dirk Niepelt im swissinfo.ch-Gespräch (Interview with Dirk Niepelt),” swissinfo, 2020

Swissinfo, December 14, 2020. HTML, podcast.

We talk about CBDC, the Swiss National Bank, whether CBDC would render it easier to implement helicopter drops, and how central bank profits should be distributed.

“Optimally Controlling an Epidemic,” CEPR, 2020

CEPR Discussion Paper 15541, December 2020, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF (local copy).

We propose a flexible model of infectious dynamics with a single endogenous state variable and economic choices. We characterize equilibrium, optimal outcomes, static and dynamic externalities, and prove the following: (i) A lockdown generically is followed by policies to stimulate activity. (ii) Re-infection risk lowers the activity level chosen by the government early on and, for small static externalities, implies too cautious equilibrium steady-state activity. (iii) When a cure arrives deterministically, optimal policy is dis-continous, featuring a light/strict lockdown when the arrival date exceeds/falls short of a specific value. Calibrated to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the baseline model and a battery of robustness checks and extensions imply (iv) lockdowns for 3-4 months, with activity reductions by 25-40 percent, and (v) substantial welfare gains from optimal policy unless the government lacks instruments to stimulate activity after a lockdown.

“Wirtschaftspolitik in Corona-Zeiten (Economic Policy in Times of Corona),” FuW, 2020

Finanz und Wirtschaft, December 9, 2020. PDF.

  • Economic policy is not about GDP growth. It’s about welfare.
  • Externalities are key. Infection externalities don’t go away by calling for responsible behavior. Infection externalities can turn positive.
  • Keeping worthy companies or networks alive does not require government intervention, unless capital markets don’t work.
  • To judge the right amount of burden sharing is beyond economics. But economics gives some clues: In an ideal world, idiosyncratic risk exposure would be insured while in second best, taxes and subsidies achieve only part of that. The data show that trade-offs between public health and economic activity are less severe than sometimes argued.

The Economist on CBDC and Disintermediation

The Economist discusses the risk of CBDC-induced bank disintermediation. Their summary of the 2019 paper by Markus Brunnermeier and myself:

If people prefer CBDCS, however, the central bank could in effect pass their funds on to banks by lending to them at its policy interest rate. “The issuance of CBDC would simply render the central bank’s implicit lender-of-last-resort guarantee explicit,” wrote Markus Brunnermeier of Princeton University and Dirk Niepelt of Study Centre Gerzensee in a paper in 2019. Explicit and, perhaps, in constant use.

“CBDC: State of Play, Practical Challenges, Open Issues,” SUERF Webinar, 2020

SUERF Webinar “CBDC: State of play, practical challenges, open issues” with Ulrich Bindseil (ECB) and Morten Bech (BIS). Moderated by Dirk Niepelt. December 4, 2020, 2 pm.

“Monetary Policy with Reserves and CBDC: Optimality, Equivalence, and Politics,” CEPR, 2020

CEPR Discussion Paper 15457, November 2020. PDF (local copy).

We analyze policy in a two-tiered monetary system. Noncompetitive banks issue deposits while the central bank issues reserves and a retail CBDC. Monies differ with respect to operating costs and liquidity. We map the framework into a baseline business cycle model with “pseudo wedges” and derive optimal policy rules: Spreads satisfy modified Friedman rules and deposits must be taxed or subsidized. We generalize the Brunnermeier and Niepelt (2019) result on the macro irrelevance of CBDC but show that a deposit based payment system requires higher taxes. The model implies annual implicit subsidies to U.S. banks of up to 0.8 percent of GDP during the period 1999-2017.

“Unabhängigkeit der Nationalbank (Independence of the SNB),” FuW, 2020

Finanz und Wirtschaft, July 25, 2020. PDF.

The Swiss National Bank—yes, the Swiss one—feels it must remind politicians of its independence. Parliamentarians from left to right (!) voice demands. To shrink the SNB’s balance sheet? No, for more central bank profits to be distributed sooner rather than later.

I discuss misconceptions, possible motivations, and a constructive response. «The best way to defend the independence of a central bank is never to exercise it.»

“Monetäre Staatsfinanzierung mit Folgen (Monetary Financing of Government),” Die Volkswirtschaft, 2020

Die Volkswirtschaft, July 24 2020. PDF.

Clarifying the connections between outright monetary financing, QE, the distribution of seignorage profits, the relationship between fiscal and monetary policy, and central bank independence.

Abstract:

Wenn Parlamentarier höhere Gewinnausschüttungen der Nationalbank fordern, Kritiker im
Euroraum mehr «Quantitative Easing» oder Helikoptergeld verlangen und andere Stimmen
monetäre Staatsfinanzierung monieren, dann steht die Beziehung zwischen Geld- und
Fiskalpolitik zur Debatte. Eine Auslegeordnung.

“Macroeconomic Analysis,” VoxEU, 2020

VoxEU, June 22, 2020. HTML.

Is macroeconomics useful? Of course. To make the point, academics must regain the interpretative high ground from market commentators. While it helps when policymakers understand fundamental macroeconomic concepts, it is equally important for the general public to grasp them. More, and how this relates to the new textbook, on VoxEU.

“Digital Money, Payments and Banks,” CEPR/IESE Report, 2020

Discussion of Antonio Fatás’ chapter in Elena Carletti, Stijn Claessens, Antonio Fatás, Xavier Vives, The Bank Business Model in the Post-Covid-19 World, CEPR/IESE report, London, June 2020. PDF.

Antonio’s chapter offers a rich overview of the dramatic changes in the world of money and banking that we have seen in recent years. I focus on two themes: the nature of money and how it relates to these developments, and the government’s response to the structural changes we observe.

I discuss the price of money, its fundamental value, store-of-value bubble, and liquidity bubble components; the opaque legal tender concept and the absurd situation that governments outlaw the use of government money (contrary to what some theories would imply); the role of trust in a world without cash; and the substitution of money by smart contracts tied to a database.

And I comment on the many facets of digitalization; the time lag between the origination of new business models and regulatory catch-up; and on central bank digital currency as a key element of structural change in the financial system.

“Reserves For All? Central Bank Digital Currency, Deposits, and their (Non)-Equivalence,” IJCB, 2020

International Journal of Central Banking. PDF.

This paper offers a macroeconomic perspective on the “Reserves for All” (RFA) proposal to let the general public hold electronic central bank money and transact with it. I propose an equivalence result according to which a marginal substitution of outside money (e.g., RFA) for inside money (e.g., deposits) does not affect macroeconomic outcomes. I identify key conditions for equivalence and argue that these conditions likely are violated, implying that RFA would change macroeconomic outcomes. I also relate the analysis to common arguments found in discussions on RFA and point to inconsistencies and open questions.

“Wenn die Notenbank den Staat finanziert (When the Central Bank Finances the State),” FAS, 2020

FAS, 31 May 2020. PDF.

Monetary deficit financing is the norm—after all, central banks distribute their profits. Monetary financing occurs in the context of regular open market operations and QE and, hyper charged, with helicopter drops. The question is not whether monetary policy should finance the government, but why it does so, and to what extent. Fiscal and monetary policy are inherently connected; what constitutes monetary policy is defined by objectives.

“Tractable Epidemiological Models for Economic Analysis,” CEPR, 2020

CEPR Discussion Paper 14791, May 2020, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. PDF (local copy).

We contrast the canonical epidemiological SIR model due to Kermack and McKendrick (1927) with more tractable alternatives that offer similar degrees of “realism” and flexibility. We provide results connecting the different models which can be exploited for calibration purposes. We use the expected spread of COVID-19 in the United States to exemplify our results.

Debt Monetization

On VoxEU, Refet Gürkaynak and Deborah Lucas argue in favor of helicopter drops to finance the fiscal burden due to Covid-19 and they propose an elegant way to implement such drops without undermining the central bank’s equity position (if regulators accept accounting tricks).

The special issue bonds would be zero coupon perpetuities and therefore would not obligate Treasury to any future payments. The legislation would require the Fed to buy these bonds from the banks at par. The bonds would then remain on the Fed’s balance sheet indefinitely. This monetises the special issue bonds.