Central Banks Don’t Matter

This post Central Banks Don’t Matter appeared first on Daily Reckoning.

“There is no money in monetary policy.”

Could it be true? Is there no money in monetary policy?

Yesterday we argued the Federal Reserve cannot even define money… much less measure it to any reasonable satisfaction.

Today we venture upon a heresy deeper still — that central bank “monetary” policy has no actual existence.

No money stands beneath it, behind it, beside it.

The emperor is well and truly nude.

Who then actually controls monetary policy today?

The answer may very well lie hidden in the “shadows.”

The details — the shocking details — to follow.

Monetary Policy Is Actually About Credit and Debt

First moneyman par excellence Jeff Snider — author of today’s opening quotation — rams a sharp stake through the heart of the monetary myth:

Monetary policy has been quite intentionally stripped of money. Banks evolved and there was really no easy way to define money beyond a certain point (in the ’60s), so economists just gave up trying… 

Money as it relates to “monetary” policy is not really money at all. What monetary policy refers to in contemporary terms is something wholly different… When the Federal Reserve… act[s] on monetary measures, they seek not to increase the supply of money to the economy but rather the supply of credit… Monetary policy in the modern sense of the word actually has little to do with money. Instead, it is always and everywhere about credit and debt…

All money is debt-based money in today’s lunatic and preposterous world.

The dollar in your wallet you consider an asset. But only someone else’s previous debt fanned it into existence.

Technically it is a Federal Reserve note. A note is a debt instrument.

None of the foregoing will stagger or flabbergast Daily Reckoning readers.

Money is debt in today’s world. Debt represents a claim upon the future. The Federal Reserve is a vast engine of debt, a menace.

But this Snider fellow strays far beyond the normal run of grievances…

He commits perhaps the grandest heresy in the universes of economics and finance:

That the Federal Reserve and all central banks are largely powerless…

The Central Bank Is Not Central

They are merely men behind curtains… irrelevancies… and the emperor in fact wears no clothing.

Here Snider strips the emperor bare:

The Fed is, largely outside of temporary sentiment, irrelevant. The central bank is not central… The thing people have the most trouble with is the idea that central banks are not central. It flies in the face of everything you have been taught and told your whole life. The media still give these guys every benefit of every doubt, and central bankers (ab)use that privileged platform to perpetuate their myth. 

Central banks are not central? The Federal Reserve is irrelevant?

As well argue that gravity is a vicious fiction, that 2 and 2 is 9, that Washington never axed the cherry tree.

Snider further argues that the interest rate the Federal Reserve monkeys — the fed funds rate — is likewise an irrelevancy:

There is absolutely no legitimate reason why anyone should [notice federal funds.] The federal funds market is a nonentity… pocket change… It is the sparest of spare liquidity… Today, federal funds is nothing, an extraneous anachronism.

The Fed’s Target Audience: You 

Why then does the Federal Reserve target the fed funds rates?

Because it wants you to believe that it bosses the markets, that its false fireworks are real:

What was decided, essentially, was to keep federal funds as the primary monetary policy focus. The reason? You.

Monetary policy contains no money; it runs entirely on expectations. Therefore, according to this view, what ultimately matters is how you perceive monetary policy…

So the FOMC decided that for the public they would still use federal funds to signal to you their intentions… There is no money in monetary policy; it is entirely psychology.

What about quantitative easing? Was it not about “printing money”

QE accomplished next to nothing….QE’s real purpose was …in trying to manage expectations which central bankers were more than happy to let you believe this was all money printing… 

Then you might act in anticipating all that “money printing” was going to have stimulative and even sharp inflationary effects. You might then pull forward purchasing activity, or, if a business, hiring and production, before the expected higher costs arrived.

Blasphemy mounts upon blasphemy!

But if not the central banks… who or what is central?

Who, then, is running monetary policy?

The Shadow Banking System

You will find the answer in the shadows, says Snider — the shadow banking system.

The shadow banking system?

That is the deeply interconnected network of banking institutions that operate outside direct control of central banks.

They include the large banks and their offshore units.

This shadow banking system extends through Europe, the Caribbean and Asia, the world over.

In 2017, the Bank for International Settlements — the central bank of central banks —  estimated $13 trillion to $14 trillion dwell within the shadow system.

But this shadow banking system is invisible.

It hides in shadow, leaving only traces of its activity… as a thief leaves traces of his crime.

Only a properly trained sleuth can sniff them out:

No one can directly observe this global [shadow banking] system, what is actually the world’s reserve currency. First of all, it is primarily based offshore from everywhere, therefore outside of official recognition. There are no direct statistics. The term “shadow” is, in this case, perfectly appropriate.

The United States dollar is the coin of this realm.

The shadow system first took shape in the 1950s and ’60s after Bretton Woods placed the dollar at the center of the international monetary system.

It expanded through the 1980s, ’90s… into the early aughts.

And beneath notice, the shadow banking system shouldered the central banks out of the international monetary system. Snider:

“The global money system moved on without central banks bothering to notice.”

Did the Shadow Banking System Cause the Great Financial Crisis?

These shadow banks traded heavily in derivatives and other risky instruments. All without oversight.

Where do asset bubbles come from, asks Snider? “They came from the shadows” is his answer — including the U.S. housing bubble:

Especially from the 1960s forward, and particularly in the 1990s forward, was that as the [shadow banking system] replaced other forms of mediation in global trade. What actually happened was it became a parallel banking system unto itself… not so much that a company in Japan could import goods from Sweden. But so that the banks in Japan or Sweden or Switzerland or anywhere around the world could participate in this [shadow banking] system that at the time was stoking a U.S. housing bubble, while at the same time creating vast bubbles in emerging market[s]… 

So what we’re describing here is almost an entire massive complete system… that existed offshore and wholesale, in the shadows, because there was no regulatory authority… no government authority over the conduct of this system. It was essentially a self-contained system that operated beyond the reach of everybody.

To repeat:

Snider argues that the 2008 crisis was not merely a housing crisis. It was rather a crisis of the shadow banking system:

The Great Financial Crisis has been laid at the doorstep of subprime, a bunch of greedy Wall Street bankers insufficiently regulated to have not known any better.

That was just a symptom of the first. The housing bubble itself was more than housing. What was going on in the shadows wasn’t bounded by national borders or geography… The Great Financial Crisis was a [shadow banking] event, nothing less. 

Why hasn’t the global economy recovered from the Great Financial Crisis? Might the answer involve the shadow banking system?

More tomorrow…


Brian Maher
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning

The post Central Banks Don’t Matter appeared first on Daily Reckoning.