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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Rates of Interest

The media employ thousands of Economists, whose principal roles are to unravel the impenetrable prose and the ludicrous dogmas that permeate their subject, and to explain economic policy to the victims on whom it is inflicted. These Economists have been allowed more air-time and column inches in the past few days to explain how the US Federal Reserve Board can raise the controlling rate of interest in the US economy, while the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England has done nothing since it foolishly lowered the bank rate after the Brexit vote last year. This arid discussion is slightly enlivened by the fact that the Governor of the Bank of England and the Bank's Chief Economist have very recently made public statements which appear to be conflicted. The Governor says the time is not yet ripe to raise the rate, the Chief Economist seems to think that it is just the right time.

Interest rates in all the major western economies [though not in some well-run states, like Canada] were lowered to historically absurd levels in 2008, as governments and central banks strove to shore up the world's banking industry as the monumental extent of their past reckless gambling became clear. The supply of money to the banking system was expanded beyond all historic precedent, and interest rates were reduced to a fraction of one per cent. In effect, monetary policy was abandoned in face of the perceived need to avoid an economic collapse that would make the slump of the nineteen-thirties seem like a trivial glitch in the long process of growth in the global economy.

A whole generation of adults has grown up in a world where there has been no regime of interest rates. The lack of interest in Economic History on the part of most university teachers of Economics has compounded this issue. So here is just a brief reference to the 'real' world that existed before 2007. That world was epitomised in the British economy between 1819 and 1914.

After paying for the wars against revolutionary France and reactionary Napoleon by high taxation and high inflation, the British government decided to stabilise the monetary system. This was achieved through the implementation of a new Bank Charter Act. The Act specified that the Bank of England could issue a limited amount of paper currency, under the condition that the notes would be exchangeable, on demand, at the Bank for fine gold at a specified rate. Thus banknotes were as 'good as gold' and the amount of them could only be increased as the Bank's reserve of gold increased. The Bank could also lend notes, at a standard rate of interest that was known as the Bank Rate. If the Bank increased the Bank Rate, that signaled that money was only available to borrow on stiffer terms, and investors were thus discouraging from taking higher risks. When the Bank rate was reduced, credit was relaxed and business relatively boomed. While most private borrowing and lending was undertaken by agencies other than the Bank of England, at higher rates of interest than the Bank Rate, rates on private loans rose and fell in response to the changes in the Bank Rate. Thus control of the system was established by the Bank: and that has effectively been abrogated since 2008.

More on this topic to follow, but the above dollop is enough for one day.

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