Glenn Stevens, governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, in an address to the Bank of Thailand today commented on the dangers facing central bank monetary policy:
For the major countries a further dimension to what is happening is the blurring of the distinction between monetary and fiscal policy. Granted, central banks are not directly purchasing government debt at issue. But the size of secondary market purchases, and the share of the debt stock held by some central banks, are sufficiently large that it can only be concluded that central bank purchases are materially alleviating the market constraint on government borrowing. At the very least this is lowering debt service costs, and it may also condition how quickly fiscal deficits need to be reduced. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that in circumstances of deficient private demand with low inflation or the threat of deflation. In fact it could be argued that fiscal and monetary policies might actually be jointly more effective in raising both short and long-term growth in those countries if central bank funding could be made to lead directly to actual public final spending – say directed towards infrastructure with a positive and long-lasting social return – as opposed to relying on indirect effects on private spending.
The problem will be the exit from these policies, and the restoration of the distinction between fiscal and monetary policy with the appropriate disciplines. The problem isn’t a technical one: the central banks will be able to design appropriate technical modalities for reversing quantitative easing when needed. The real issue is more likely to be that ending a lengthy period of guaranteed cheap funding for governments may prove politically difficult. There is history to suggest so. It is no surprise that some worry that we are heading some way back towards the world of the 1920s to 1960s where central banks were ‘captured’ by the Government of the day.
Hat tip to Walter Kurtz at Business Insider.