Posts Tagged ‘christchurch’

August 23rd, 2012


Steve Keen: Public Talk in Christchurch

Steve Keen is in New Zealand to present a range of seminars in Auckland and Wellington. He is also coming down to Christchurch to give a public talk. Details are below. It should be an interesting event.


Public Talk in Christchurch on September 8th at the University of Canterbury 

Economist Steve Keen in New Zealand 6-10 Sept 2012
Author of best-selling book Debunking Economics, Steve Keen is Professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Western Sydney. He is a speaker of international renown and a voice of reason in confusing financial times. He was recently interviewed by Kim Hill on Radio NZ National and he’s crossing the ditch in September to talk to New Zealanders about the economy.
Professor Keen will present an evening public lecture in Christchurch:

Saturday 8th September at 5pm – C1 Lecture Theatre, University of Canterbury, Arts Rd, Ilam
Professor Keen will provide an overview of conventional economic theory, briefly cover its short-comings in dealing with the current financial situation, and outline his analysis as described in his book Debunking Economics. He will bring his discussion of the global economy right up to the present, and take a look at issues in New Zealand, including the housing market, debt levels and asset ownership, that affect our nation’s economic well-being.
Q: Who will benefit from attending the Steve Keen public talk? 
A: Everyone who wants to understand the economy.
(Economists, analysts, policy-makers, academics, politicians, public servants, teachers, students, investors, home-owners, renters, business owners, commentators, monetary reformers, financial advisers …)
See for further details on his Auckland and Wellington seminars.


May 28th, 2012


Drowning in Debt? QE making you Queasy? Try Monetary Dialysis

As Spain heads to debtors prison, questions are being asked about the viability of the whole Euro project. It’s become clear that a large scale monetary union without fiscal integration, is not a viable long-term structure. Distortions in interest rates and currency levels are good for some but not for others. Add in the corruption of the entire financial system and you have a recipe for disaster that impacts everyone.

Quantitative easing is also not working. Why not?

Quantitative Easing first entered popular language during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Central banks, specifically the US Federal Reserve (FED) and the Bank of England (BoE), tried to provide stimulus to their economies by buying securities from banks, with a goal to reduce monetary conditions and, thereby, hoping to induce an increase in lending and hopefully, as a result, new economic activity.

As interest rates fell to zero, the Fed began QE1 in November 2008 with a $600 billion purchase of Mortgage-backed securities (MBS). It did this by creating new credit in its own account and then exchanging this for the MBS held by the banks. The purpose of this was threefold: to improve bank balance sheets, raise the price of securities (and therefore reduce interest rates along the yield curve) and stimulate new borrowing. This was not an entirely new policy, as Japan had been engaged in the same process for over 10 years, though with limited success. The Bank of England followed suit in March 2009 and started buying UK Government bonds and a limited amount of other high-grade assets.

The initial impact was felt in the asset markets with the price of stocks, bonds and commodities all rising. In fact, rising commodity prices were seen as an unwelcome side effect of QE, given that QE was supposed to boost lending and, therefore, economic activity, specifically new jobs. Banks were supposed to be lending these excess reserves, not speculating in financial markets. The reality was that banks had no interest in lending and businesses and consumers had little interest in borrowing. The central bankers had failed to note that they were in the middle of a huge debt bubble and that `trying to offer new debt into a market saturated with the stuff was hardly going to be a winner.

There is no doubt QE helped restore confidence to the financial markets and, as a side effect, helped steady the general economy. Whether it actually worked in the manner it was supposed to, is highly debatable. As Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, stated when giving evidence to the UK Treasury Committee on QE,

“I can’t guarantee that it (QE) means that bank lending will rise, but what I do believe is that it won’t fall as far as it might otherwise have done”.

In terms of impact, the US bailout of the auto industry had more success with over 1m jobs saved. Whilst the financing aspects were contentious, the outcome has been positive. As Obama aides noted, direct government funding enabled the auto industry to survive and this would not have happened if it had been left to the market. Setting aside the merits of saving the US auto industry, what was crucial and different about this policy was that it involved direct stimulus into the real economy, where people are employed to make products.

As Nouriel Roubini noted, the US Government would have been better off just spending the new credit used for QE directly into the economy. He suggested, in a co-authored 2011 paper, that there should be a massive infrastructure rebuild ($1.2 trillion) in the US, which would create jobs and lay the foundation for “a more efficient and cost-effective economy”. He further noted that the crisis had been exacerbated by “inadequate action” by policymakers who had an “inadequate understanding of what ails us”.

It’s clear that policymakers have not stepped back and tried to understand both the causes and outcomes of the crisis. In a debt deflating environment, no amount of new debt is going to help the problem. Until the bad debt has been cleared, new investment is unlikely to happen and the economy dies a slow death. One option that hasn’t been considered, as Roubini alludes to, is to actually stimulate the real economy directly i.e. the economy that produces real goods and services. Governments can actually print new money and spend it directly into the economy through infrastructure projects. That way the money directly enters the economy and supports real economic activity, in a way that QE was supposed to do but never did.

We actually proposed this type of policy in 2011, immediately after the devastating February 22nd Christchurch Earthquake. A direct injection of $5 billion of new money was suggested, as a way of financing new and necessary infrastructure for the rebuild of the city. At that time, this was calculated to save around $200 million a year in financing costs and avoid further increases in government debt.

Ironically, the Minister of Finance rejected this, on the grounds that it may cause “an adverse combination of high inflation, arbitrary wealth transfers and a loss of confidence in the creditworthiness of New Zealand”. This response supports Roubini’s position that policymakers simply do not understand the problem. In the case of New Zealand, the Minister of Finance seems to be quite happy to keep borrowing money and worsening the financial position of the country.

As has been seen, inflation is non-existent in a debt deflating economy. Of course, any new injections of new money must be carefully monitored and be at a level which is not likely to cause over stimulation of the economy. As Willem Buiter, a former external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee notes, an injection of base money “even in huge amounts, need not become inflationary ever”. Buiter goes on to state that “any inflationary increase impact of the enlarged stock of base money on the stock of bank credit or broad money can be neutralized by either raising bank reserve requirements, or by raising the remuneration rate on excess reserves held by banks”.

Thus, inflationary concerns can be set aside when this double-sided process is undertaken. This type of intervention has been called “Monetary Dialysis”, where clean money comes into the system (newly minted e-notes) and replaces or causes a reduction in debt money (bank credit) in order to keep the money supply at a prescribed level. The key is that the process is managed within the same framework that current monetary conditions are dealt with. No new legislation is required and the process can begin immediately. The RBNZ is already developing a new suite of macro-prudential tools and will be well placed to manage this policy shift.

In this process, all the objections raised by the Minister of Finance are dealt with. Infrastructure is rebuilt, people are employed, goods and services are provided, inflation is stable and money is saved, as there are no financing costs incurred. This really is the ultimate point: its is not about not having enough money, it is whether you have surplus labour (unemployment) and resources (capacity in the economy). This was the stark lesson of the Great Depression and it’s incredible that it still hasn’t been properly understood.

As to the creditworthiness of New Zealand, it is more likely that this will improve, as the overall level of debt falls and the productive economy recovers. What’s not to like about that?


December 11th, 2011

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To Print or Not to Print?


“To be, or not to be, that is the question,

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.”  Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1.

It seems, after nearly 30 years of deregulated markets, that we face a sea of troubles ourselves. An extreme global debt deleveraging is upon us, the numbers too outrageous to even consider. Not only have we consumed beyond our means, we have mortgaged our future. Whereas once credit was difficult to come by and banks conservative in their lending (can you pay this back?), the brave new world brought us access to unlimited treasures, all paid for on a credit system, which had limited restraint.

As financial models became more complex and debt could be packaged, securitised and sold off, all sense of restraint was lost. Who owed whom was lost in a parallel universe of metaphor: swap, hedge, collateral, obligation, repurchase. Repaying principal and interest, in the old fashioned sense was put to one side. Can you afford the interest? Don’t worry about the principal, that will pay itself off as the price rises! Can’t afford the interest? Don’t worry, we’ll lend that to you as well, or have a holiday (from interest that is….keeps charging but pay it some other time). Tick, tock, tick, tock.

Maybe Hamlet wasn’t as crazy as he sounded.

As I explained in a previous post on the Euro, deleveraging debt is a painful process. As debts are written off, the money supply contracts, causing a contraction in the general economy. This creates a spiral where demand for new credit drops and this causes further losses to business, resulting in more job losses and so on. Traditionally, this has been dealt with by the lowering of interest rates, which hopefully stimulate demand for credit and reduce interest burdens. Sadly, this doesn’t work until the overhanging debt has been cleared out, by which time unemployment has risen and economic output has contracted to severe levels.

The road to austerity is a self-fulfilling process. Clearing the debt mountain will take many years and, perhaps, like Japan, it could be a decade or more. During that time people will be unemployed, machines will sit idle and resources will be untouched. In the 1930s governments stood back, waiting for the miracle of the market. None came. That is not a road we want to travel down.

As the shadow banking system starts to fall apart, it is time to plan and look forward to building a stable and local supply of money to see us through the hard times. Continuing to rely on overseas capital and ever increasing borrowing is a road to ruin. Our gross debt will hit $90 billion  by 2016, according to Treasury forecasts. The government talks of returning to surplus by 2015 but that is very optimistic. Even then we will still carry this debt for many years to come.

So is printing new money and spending it directly into the economy a better idea? I talked about this in a recent interview with Kim Hill and Radio NZ National, which you can catch here.

RadioNZ National Kim Hill interview

I have had an incredible amount of positive feedback since the interview and, interestingly, from a very wide range of people. There were a few comments about “funny money”, including a little pop from Nevil Gibson at the NBR. My answer to that is if you think this is funny money, try explaining the nearly $4 trillion that’s been used to buy debt off US banks! The feedback has confirmed the following: that there needs to be a clearer explanation on how the money creation process actually works (even though the RB has published on this here), that inflation needs to be better understood and that people are extremely concerned about the way the financial system is structured. We will be working on producing a simpler explanation to those issues.

In the meantime, around the world, there is a lot of new work being undertaken around the quantitative easing process and how that is not really working. Sushil Wadhwani (Goldman Sachs and MPC member in the UK) and economist (and former colleague of mine) Michael Dicks have looked at more direct interventions into the economy, noting that QE is a very roundabout way of trying to stimulate an economy. They look at directing lending to companies from the central bank and, more interestingly, at simply giving households a voucher to spend. You can read the brief paper here. Their proposals are in the right direction but do not go far enough. Nouriel Roubini recently wrote that direct spending on new infrastructure in the US would be much more useful than simply buying toxic bonds off failing banks.

What’s clear is that more and more economists and policy analysts are realising that QE is a sop to the banks, boosting their balance sheets and stock prices, at the expense of the taxpayer. Clearly this is a misallocation (and perhaps misappropriation) of taxpayer funds. Furthermore, even with trillions of $ of QE, there has been no inflationary effects at all. This is important to note when considering the direct injection of new money, as we have proposed, for the Christchurch rebuild.

As I noted in this recent piece for ChangeNZ, as long as there is surplus labour and resources, there will be no inflationary effects from new money. This has been confirmed from business sources, who note the economy is limping along at between 33-50% of capacity. So there is little concern over the direct effects of the new money in raising prices. The indirect effects through the banking system are also likely to be minimal, given a very low demand for credit across the economy. Indeed, with debt deleveraging in full swing, we are likely to see further reductions in debt, offsetting any new potential demand for credit. Still, credit numbers will need to be watched carefully and, at the same time, it’s important to note that the amount we are suggesting is only $5 billion. Ultimately the goal is a strong and locally managed financial system with price stability. That is something we have not had, despite the continuing myth of a central bank induced low inflationary environment. The time is right to consider an alternative way forward.

Perhaps we should leave the final words to Hamlet, as we ponder the road ahead:

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have,

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry,

And lose the name of action..…”








May 31st, 2011


TEDxEQChCh: Christchurch- the City of Innovation

It’s been 10 days now since the amazing day that saw 700 people pack into the Aurora center to be inspired around the rebuilding of Christchurch. As one of the organisers it was a relief to see the event run smoothly and generate the kind of excitement and energy we had alway hoped for. This couldn’t have happened without a huge amount of support from a huge army of volunteers and of course a bunch of committed organisers. The photo stream is now up and shortly the videos will be going up. I can’t wait to see them and write about them individually though some have already here, here and here. For me, some strong themes emerged from the day which I think are worth mentioning.

- Cities are about people. That should be our first and foremost consideration.

- Community participation and engagement are key. Listen to the people and you will find out what they want.

- Sustainability. We need a city that is built to last. That means thinking ahead to what the future will bring.

- Innovation. This is a time to embed innovation into the new city. With so much creation ahead, it’s time to really bring this to the fore.

- Branding. It’s time to look beyond the Garden City. Let’s be known for something different, something new. Anything.

I’m going to start with Christchurch: the City of Innovation. That’s what we do. We are a city of ideas, inspiration and invention. We attract the best and smartest to live in our amazing city. We are a talent utopia.

What’s your branding for the new Christchurch?

April 22nd, 2011

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Danger: Moral Hazards Ahead

Capitalism and free markets.

What a great idea. It’s a shame no one has actually tried it out or bothered to let homo rationalus economicus that it’s an urban myth. We operate mainly in a state sponsored system of capital markets underpinned by arcane and often opaque trading rules and regulations.

The provision of capital is key to any functioning economy and has been since the beginning of time. Each empire had its own approach to coinage to support trade and the governing class or head of state. The first pillar of modern capitalism was established in 1694 with the formation of the Bank of England. Thus began the first stirrings of the fractional reserve banking system and the modern financial system.

I’ve previously covered the many bailouts experienced by the banking system and the Bank of England itself and in some ways our current malaise is no different. The central precept of free markets is that they should operate on their own merits - caveat emptor.

I’m not going to discuss that fallacy here but focus on the problems of bail outs. Why should a failing business be rescued by the state? The simple answer to that is when it has implications for the national economy or issues of national security (often regarded as twos sides of the same coin). We have seen the fiasco in the US, the UK and Europe. We have seen the banking system bailed out, private companies bailed out and yet we still hear the mantra of free markets, trade and market liberalisation and privatisation repeated.

Here in NZ we have seen South Canterbury Finance bailed out and most recently AMI. On both occasions the government intervened to provide capital from taxpayers for businesses which had clearly failed. In the case of SCF depositors were guaranteed under a standard deposit guarantee framework but bondholders also benefitted to the tune of $350m. Those bonds should never have been covered under a deposit guarantee scheme. Investors enjoyed a big free lunch here at the expense of the taxpayer. In the case of AMI, the government intervened to support an insurance company who didn’t have enough reserves on hand post the February 22nd quake. The government could easily make a good case for supporting AMI, in terms of providing it with backstop liquidity but in doing so it needed to be very clear that it was suspending any belief in free markets.

The moral hazard is clear but the implications have not been explored. On one hand the government wants to bail out private companies who are clearly responsible for their own position. At the same time they want to promote policies like privatisation because, wait for it, private companies are more efficient than public ones.

It’s very clear that the neo-liberal dream is in tatters but no one seems to want to wake up and smell the reality. Market morality is indeed quite hazardous.

February 25th, 2011


Christchurch Quake: Time for Public Money and a New Deal

I was at University when the quake struck, eating my lunch and reading a paper on “Native Rights”. I didn’t hang about and immediately dived under the table as I didn’t like the look of the walls and ceiling lights flailing about like paper decorations. When the first shake had finished I headed outside quickly and sat down whilst the two big after shocks rocked the surrounding buildings. The University seemed reasonably unscathed……nothing like the CBD which is 5 kms to the East.

The damage of the Feb 22nd 6.3 shake is way worse than the Sep 4th 7.1 quake. No doubt this is due to the depth and the proximity of the epicenter. But this post is not about the earthquake, it’s about the economic impact and the re-building to come.

The cost of this disaster is only guessable at the moment. Numbers from $10 to 16bln have been thrown out but it could be anything. There is no doubt that this is a complete rebuild of the city’s infrastructure and central business district. Added to that is the viability of the eastern suburbs. They were affected badly and there will be questions over ground issues when it comes to re-building.

I want to go back to 1936 and the First Labour government which introduced low interest loans as part of a system of public finance to rebuild the country’s post-war economy. Think of it as New Zealand’s New Deal. The Reserve Bank governor can direct this at any time. This is certainly one possibility.

What I would like to see is fresh new money being injected directly into the economy by the government. The Treasury can action this at any time. The New Zealand economy has been struggling for a few years now since the GFC hit and deleveraging started. Business is struggling and cash is constantly tight. This latest quake will have finished off many business hanging by a thread.

I am proposing the Treasury create $5bln of new interest free money and credit it to the Government Earthquake Department for use in the rebuilding of public infrastructure. This is real money (not debt) and it will flow through into the economy thus giving it a boost as well as providing liquidity to the economy.

The money supply will increase by $5bln but I don’t believe there will be any inflationary risk. We are currently in a period of deflation and deleveraging with falling house prices and economic stagnation. NZ needs all the help it can get and there has never been a greater need nor a better time for this proposal.

It’s time for a New Deal. Please pass this on if you can.

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I’m a Londoner who moved to Christchurch, New Zealand in 2002. After studying economics and finance at Manchester University and a couple of years of backpacking, I ended up working in the financial markets in London. I traded the global financial markets on behalf of investment banks for 11 years. I write about the intersection of economic, social and environmental issues . My prime interest is in designing better systems to create a better world. I welcome comments and input.

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