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What Hayek Tells Us About the Link Between Ultra-Loose Monetary Policy and Political Instability

The European Central Bank will increase the overall volume of its bond purchase program to 2.550.000.000.000 euros by September 2018. The main refinancing rate will remain at zero. Mario Draghi has stressed that this policy shall continue until inflation picks up sustainably (which is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future). The works of Friedrich August von Hayek (1931, 1944, 1976) help to explain why the tremendous monetary expansion is increasingly causing growing economic and political instability in Europe.

Hayek’s (1931) Production and Prices explains boom and bust with central bank mistakes. During the upswing, the central bank keeps the interest rate too low. Investment projects with comparatively low marginal efficiency are launched, financed by credit creation of the banking sector. Share prices hike, because profit opportunities of enterprises and banks increase, while deposit rates are low. Wages do not rise as long as idle capacities in the labor market exist. As soon as wages start to rise, enterprises lift prices and inflation picks up. When the central bank increases the interest rate to contain inflation, investment projects with low marginal efficiency have to be dismantled. The boom turns into bust. The central bank aggravates the recession by keeping the interest rate too high.

To understand the economic development of the industrialized countries since the mid 1980s Hayek (1931) is important, but two modifications have to be made (Schnabl 2016). In line with Hayek, central banks around the globe have tended to keep interest rates too low during upswings, thereby causing exuberant booms. In contrast to Hayek’s theory, they cut interest rates fast during crisis to avoid painful recessions. In addition, increasingly expansionary monetary policies became visible in rising asset rather than goods prices (see Figure). Therefore, interest rates could converge towards zero and central bank balance sheet could be inflated without inflation targeting central banks being forced to tighten monetary policy.

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