Macroprudential Tools for Economic Flow Control

Central banks, including the Fed, are trying to narrowly target their manipulation of national economies by using new tools to manipulate economic incentives in particular sectors.

The point of the new tools is to protect the entire financial system and economy, so economists refer to them as macroprudential.  That distinguishes them from microprudential, which describes traditional oversight to assure safety and soundness of individual banks.

However,

The whole idea makes some economists uneasy.

The techniques have ignited a debate among central bankers, bank regulators and academics over whether they can do what proponents promise.

Some see “macroprudential” as a euphemism for the largely discredited practice of governments deciding where capital should flow.

They should be uneasy; that’s exactly the effect, whether it’s intentional or not.  Too expensive to put money into this industry, investors and businesses say.  We’ll put our money in that industry, instead.

And create a bubble there instead of here.  Or we’ll put our money into that country instead of this one, they say.

And the net result is to drive inflation in that country instead of this one.  Or, more likely and more insidiously, strengthen an existing tendency toward a bubble or toward inflation, possibly pushing that tendency past a threshold.

But the US government, at least, more broadly than the Fed had already been engaged in macroprudential tools for economic flow control: the Community Reinvestment Act, which was used to pressure banks into making more home loans to poorer credit rated borrowers than the banks thought prudent; tax policy for social engineering, which among other things gives preferential treatment to loans for this purpose but not for that purpose; and so on.  This has gotten even more so since the Panic of 2008: stimulus spending, special loans for particular industries, selective law enforcement where this impacts the economy, etc.

We already know, from all that empirically derived evidence, that targeting this or that sector of the economy not only does not work positively, it exacerbates the economy’s corrections (recessions) when those do (inevitably) occur.

The Fed had at one time a mandate to control price level (inflation) while pushing toward full employment.  It needs to stick to its knitting.  Sure, those are broad-brush goals, but our economy is too complex for any force other than the invisible hand of a free market to control.

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