Sunday, December 18, 2016

Two Curses of Cash: On Rogoff

Rogoff argues that we should eliminate big bills like US $100 and its big economy equivalents. Doing so will have two benefits.

The first benefit is that most people do not use large bill. These are in the financial system in the gray and black economy where having dense stores of value that are also a medium of exchange facilitates crime like drug dealing and human trafficking. There is profit to the issuing countries of these bills, a seignorage income that would be lost if these bills were pulled from the economy, but the ills caused and made easier by their presence are worse than the loss.

The other benefit is that by not having cash around, it gives the central banks more space to move interest rates if necessary. Right now, there is an effective floor at zero percent that the Federal Reserve and its sister institutions can’t go much lower because once you impose significant costs to keeping money in reserves, then the option is to hold cash. There is some cost to holding large quantities of cash so Japan and some European banks have gone a bit below zero, but not that far. 

This space is important because even conservative Taylor rules of setting the interest rates would have been significantly negative in the aftermath of 2008. The zero-bound kept the Fed from going lower and it may have significantly increased the duration of the downturn in the aftermath of the crisis (especially since in the US and Europe where there was little help from fiscal policy because austerian parties bought into the fallacious idea of the family analogy for governments).

I’m on Rogoff’s side here, especially since it isn’t new to me as I have seen the idea at length in the work of Miles Kimball (ex-Michigan, now at CU) as he has made the argument on his blog. I’m more a supporter because of the second reason, which I am sure is the more controversial part of his argument – many people are suspicious of central bank activity, and they feel that giving the banks more leeway would encourage the activist central banks. I am of the opinion that independent monetary policy needs all possible weapons in its quiver as we have seen inaction at the exchequer cause real damage in the