When the next crisis comes, don’t blame the central bankers

President Trump’s tweets criticising the Federal Reserve bank, and the European Central Bank, draw attention to how prominent central banking has become over recent years. Central banking’s high profile today marks a significant shift from earlier times. Central banking used to be regarded as a necessary activity that most people knew existed, but few could get that excited about.

Increasingly over the past three decades the central banks have attained a much more prominent role, not only in the US but across the mature industrial countries. This has had nothing to do with changes to the calibre of central bankers, or to the development of new banking techniques. Instead, it was primarily a response to the exhaustion of Western politics that became more evident from the second half of the 1980s.

There are three important features of central banking in modern mature economies. First, the misleading fallacy of central bank ‘independence’. Second, the associated sheltering of politicians from responsibility for the economy. And third, the waning efficacy of central banking.

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2019: the economic picture isn’t rosy

Compared to the start of 2018, economic forecasters at the end of the years are much more gloomly about global economic prospects for the forthcoming period. Trade wars, the ‘end’ of cheap money, excessive emerging market corporate debt, and Britain ‘crashing out’ of the EU are some of the major risks identified in the turn-of-the-year economic projections. We’re told that sluggishness is taking hold again.

Despite the shift in tone there is still too much complacency about the deeper challenges we’re facing. Here are three that deserve more attention and discussion, not just by forecasters but by all of us: accumulating Western atrophy inflaming international economic unevenness; exorbitant debt levels in the mature nations; dysfunctional economic policies.

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