Quantitative Easing – Too Blunt an Instrument?


Maybe I’m not the only person who grew up in the 70s who finds a great irony in governments now trying to stimulate inflation. Just as they had little idea how to control inflation I doubt that Quantitative Easing (QE) is the best way to stimulate it. A more targeted approach is required, an approach that will do more than increase asset prices, an approach that might get industry and economies growing and growing faster.

Yesterday the European Central Bank (ECB) announced a larger than expected two year program of QE in the expectation that this will avoid continued deflation in the Eurozone. While QE is likely to be successful in this limited aim, it is possible that despite QE the UK will suffer a period of deflation, the lessons from the UK and the US suggest it will do little else.

QE in the UK and the USA, and arguably already in the Eurozone, has increased asset prices. Maybe it has even created an asset price bubble, if it has then as night follows day, bust will follow bubble. What QE has failed to do in any meaningful way is to:

  1. get capital into businesses, particularly smaller and medium sized businesses – the engines of all economies,
  2. increase the buying power of consumers, there is some evidence that wages are growing again now, but generally wages have not increased these last several years,
  3. increase productivity, which by some measures has fallen, this may be linked to 1 above, and is the largest single problem facing the UK economy today.

There are many restrictions on government, national and / or EU, passing money direct to companies and direct to their citizens. However as part of the program to avoid deflation greater emphasis should be given to this. If commercial banks won’t lend to any but government and the largest corporations, and the evidence of the last few years is that they won’t or have forgotten how to, then government sponsored development banks, programs for state aid and AltFi businesses should be given more of this money to do so and stimulate industry. Giving more money to consumers is relatively easy, reduce personal taxes. In consumer lead economies its nonsense to take money away from those who drive effective demand.

Of course there’ll be cries that this approach is unfair; the Germans may well be better at state aid than the Greeks for example. And taxes are for national government not EU, so there will be a disparate approach. There’s also a question of how to make sure there’s value for money from the investments made. Then again there’s little value from QE, beyond possibly a small amount of inflation.

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