Old man Armstrong’s out on the Herald’s front lawn this morning, shaking his fist and telling those bloody kids in Labour to stop questioning whether the Reserve Bank is doing the right thing. They should sit quietly and accept whatever the Bank decides to do. This is called ‘consensus’, apparently. Problem is, Armstrong provides no justification for complete RB independence.
His entire argument is: it’s been that way for 20 years so it must continue to be that way forever, regardless of whether it works or not. He says:
“With Labour also committed to making the Reserve Bank take heed of exchange rate fluctuations, Cunliffe has to avoid leaving the impression that Labour’s answer to every economic problem is to fiddle with the Reserve Bank’s mandate – and thereby neutering the institution in the process”
John, you’ve failed to make any argument as to why the Reserve Bank shouldn’t be neutered. Why should we all bow-down to the Reserve Bank like it’s some neoliberal god? Why is complete independence – a concept that’s only two decades old – sacrosanct?
Let’s face it, the Bank is a disaster. The two decades of the modern Reserve Bank have seen a string of housing bubbles, diving high-value exports due to a high dollar, high unemployment and low wage growth, and rising international debt. Not only failed to fix these problems, it’s made them worse.
It’s prime tool is the OCR. Even working perfectly, the OCR works by punishing every mortgage holder and business in the country with higher interest rates when inflation goes up, whether or not the punished sector is at fault.
But, in reality, the OCR has the most impact on the economy via the exchange rate – ie. when housing gets out of control, the RB raises the OCR, which forces interest rates up, which attracts hot money from overseas boosting the exchange rate and strangling our exporters. Ironically, this just brings in more cheap credit from overseas to fund the housing bubble. For a decade now, we have had some of the highest interest rates in the developed world leading to a near-permanently over-valued dollar, and it’s killing the economy without fixing the housing bubble.
When the Bank, finally, tried to add a new tool, LVRs, it stuffed up by punishing first home buyers the most. Sensible tweaks, like excluding first home buyers (easily done as it’s already done for the Kiwisaver deposit subsidy) and limiting LVRs to problem housing markets were ignored in favour of blanket punishment.
So, what has the Bank done to earn a free-pass from every government to do whatever the hell it likes? As far as I can see, all its done in its 20 years of independence is kill our exporting industry, help us rack up massive foreign debt, and failed to tackle successive housing bubbles.
But no, Armstrong says that Labour should just keep quiet. “some kind of consensus between the two main parties would be of considerable assistance to the Reserve Bank if they stopped questioning its efforts to cool a dangerously overheated property market as it sees fit”. His argument would be a lot stronger if he wasn’t arguing for a failed institution to be allowed to continue to make mistakes in peace.