Blanchard and the lessons of the crisis, again

Olivier Blanchard has again posted on the lessons from the crisis, and one has reasons to be underwhelmed again (his previous attempt is discussed here). The general tone is the same as before, we don't know enough (#1 on humility is about that, but also #2 that suggests that we don't know enough about how financial markets operate). Caution here is at the service of an Hippocratic oath suggesting that an intervention carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.

His rule #4 says that macro-prudential regulations like capital controls "don’t work great. People and institutions find ways around them. In the process of reducing the problem somewhere you tend to create distortions elsewhere." So, first do no harm [no mention of George DeMartino's actual economic oath, by the way], and please don't use capital controls [that's why I remain very skeptical about the IMF's new view on capital controls; for more go here].

The lesson #3 is simply funny; what they didn't know that there are spillover and contagion effects? He is even making the mainstream sound worse than it is [for a more thorough discussion of what the mainstream learned and its limitations go here].

Last but not least there is lesson #5, which suggests that Central Bank Independence (CBI) does not work if the tasks go beyond inflation targeting. Note that he had defended as a change in macro the idea to raise the inflation target from 2% to 4% [seriously!]. Here he tells you that CBI has been "one of the major achievements of the last 20 years." The problem is not with CBI per se, but that with new demands on central banks (why the new demands appeared is an incognita, and he does not think is deregulation, or at least doesn't say so) CBI becomes more difficult.

There is no discussion of why CBI has been orthogonal to the so-called Great Moderation, caused by stagnant real wages and globalization. The problem with CBI is that by definition it imposes a rule of not coordinating with the Treasury on fiscal policy, and in some cases the central bank might be forbidden to do basic things like buying government debt (like the ECB). The justification is the fear of inflationary pressures, while the truth might be closer to Kalecki's view that fiscal and monetary policy are used to maintain a significant level of unemployment to keep workers in line.

So again it seems that Blanchard has learned nothing from this crisis. Mind you, John Taylor, Martin Feldstein and others are out there calling for higher interest rates. So, all in all, you might think that Blanchard, like Krugman and DeLong, is among the most moderate and reasonable in the mainstream. However, he is at the IMF, an institution that is still pushing fiscal austerity, and his inability (or unwillingness) to learn from the crisis has considerably more impact on economic policies around the world.

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