A soft form of coordination would rely on monetary and fiscal policy both providing stimulus when needed. Looking at the policy response during and after the crisis, and as we discussed earlier, there was room for a better policy mix with less reliance on monetary policy and more emphasis on fiscal policy. This is, in principle, a fruitful avenue to explore. Yet there are reasons why that better policy mix was not achieved – chiefly that it is practically and politically easier to resort to monetary policy. These forces are likely to keep prevailing in the future – and those simply hoping for a better form of soft coordination will probably be disappointed.
The charts below highlight how major economies are on a path of neutral budgets or mild deficit consolidation over the next five years based on IMF forecasts as of April 2019. This comes as their debt servicing costs have declined relative to growth – and given the recent plunge in interest rates those debt servicing costs have likely fallen further. See the expected change in the interest bill in the chart on the left below. This implies that fiscal policy is currently not pulling its weight.
This means that in a downturn the only solution is for a more formal – and historically unusual – coordination of monetary and fiscal policy to provide effective stimulus. Already many of the monetary policy tools adopted since the crisis – QE including private sector assets – have fiscal implications. Special facilities such as the eurozone’s Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT) during the sovereign crisis also show how the central bank can throw its balance sheet behind fiscal solutions.
Any additional measures to stimulate economic growth will have to go beyond the interest rate channel and “go direct” – when a central bank crediting private or public sector accounts directly with money. One way or another, this will mean subsidising spending – and such a measure would be fiscal rather than monetary by design. This can be done directly through fiscal policy or by expanding the monetary policy toolkit with an instrument that will be fiscal in nature, such as credit easing by way of buying equities. This implies that an effective stimulus would require coordination between monetary and fiscal policy – be it implicitly or explicitly.
Both the Bank of Japan and Swiss National Bank are already buying equities. In the Bank of Japan’s case this is through ETFs and it is the biggest single owner of domestic equities. The Swiss National Bank has been buying Autonomies and it is now also a listed stock so investors can see the value of its holdings rise and fall. For both these countries converting the eroding value of fiat currencies into the shares of globally significant business is a sound if cynical strategy. It is only a matter of time before other central banks do the same.Back to top