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Polity: Why Joyce is full of it on monetary policy

Written By: - Date published: 11:11 am, May 5th, 2014 - 33 comments
Categories: don brash, Economy, monetary policy, national, same old national, Steven Joyce - Tags: , , ,

polity_square_for_lynnlprent: Rob Salmond at Polity just saved me from having to write something like this post explaining economic basics to Steven Joyce today. Over the weekend Joyce demonstrated again why his tenure at MoBIE has been a failure for the overall economy. He fixates on one thing (like the business selling milk powder) to the exclusion of the overall picture. In part that is why we have neither expanding innovation or employment in our economy at present. He is a good tactical politician. But he is a fool on strategy.

Steven Joyce, Minister of Running Interference, is trumpeting a “back of the envelope calculation” this morning claiming it would take a six point rise in the Kiwisaver contribution rate to equal just a one point rise in interest rates. Ohmigod – that’s a 6:1 ratio! How horribly inefficient! And so on.

Here is why Joyce is spouting is a load of nonsense:

  1. Comparing apples with oranges
    A one percent change in interest rates takes, according to Joyce, around $2.5 billion out of new Zealanders’ disposable income. A 1% increase in savings rates only takes out around $400m. That is no surprise, because interest rates operate on capital holdings, while savings rates operate only oncurrent earnings. So the 6:1 thing is a rhetorical red herring, nothing more. If we compare apples with apples, Joyce is saying that KiwiSaver would need to collect an extra $2.5 billion from New Zealanders in order that banks do not have to collect the extra $2.5 billion from New Zealanders instead. True enough, but not really an argument.
  2. Ignoring most of the apples
    Labour has a wide range of policies designed to increase savings and expand what people can do with their savings, many of which will decrease the need to adjust the Variable Savings Rate (VSR). One is to make KiwiSaver universal, which will have a very large impact. Joyce’s calculations are all about how much Labour would have to change the VSR if it had absolutely no other policies that impact on savings. Which makes the analysis pretty much useless.
  3. Ignoring the world around him
    Joyce’s approach to monetary policy appears wilfully ignorant of interest rates in other countries. He keeps on about New Zealand’s interest rate history, instead. But nobody is choosing between New Zealand’s 2014 interest rates and New Zealand’s 1979 interest rates. For that, you need a DeLorean. Instead, millions of people are choosing between New Zealand’s 2014 interest rates and Japan’s or America’s or Australia’s 2014 rates. That is what is driving up our dollar, which is why managing growth without increasing interest rates is such a smart idea.
  4. Ignoring flow-on effects
    Assessing the impact of a policy on New Zealanders’ lives, you normally look at all the impacts of the policy, not just one. For example, if we manage heat in the economy through retirement savings rates instead of lending rates, we take away the major force driving the New Zealand dollar upwards (see above). That means our exports are more competitive, which means more foreign exchange earnings, a better balance of payments, and more jobs for New Zealanders. Oddly none of those obvious impacts appear in Joyce’s critique. Which is entirely disingenuous.

None of Joyce’s protests change the Labour’s fundamental point: If the economy is overheating, would you rather cool it down by giving your retirement account some money, or giving an Australian bank the money instead? If you would rather give the banks the money, National’s plan is for you. If you would rather give your retirement account the money, choice Labour’s plan.

This idea is entirely sensible, which is why it is getting praise from all over the spectrum, including even Don Brash!

Steven Joyce is treating the media and the public like fools. He thinks we will see “6:1” and run like terrified peasants. We aren’t that dumb.


33 comments on “Polity: Why Joyce is full of it on monetary policy”

  1. Tom Gould 1

    You need to take everything Joyce says with a huge grain of salt. The problem with spinning exaggerated rants on everything opposition parties do, day after day, is that he can’t do serious. And, remember, this is the guy who promised a trillion dollars from an oil bonanza. Still waiting.

  2. captain hook 2

    Joyce will just say anything as long as it is obtuse and confusing. He never will address the issue of why National panders to one sector of the economy and leaves the rest out to dry.

  3. Clemgeopin 3

    Joyce needs to watch this video again and again until he understands it properly and clearly.


    Or, he is better off spending his time trying to analyse and solve the Nova Pay mess.

  4. Enough is Enough 4

    I agree with this entirely. The bald conductor is spinning furiously.

    However to avoid his spin getting traction Parker needs to be armed with numbers. Otherwise he will be punished and National will be allowed to lie by saying Kiwisaver contributions will increase to 14%.

    Parker needs to smash their lies hard and early by showing the models and the numbers of what will happen to Kiwisaver in order to knock 1% off the OCR.

    • lprent 4.1

      One of the issues with putting up numbers is that they are unlikely to be particularly accurate at this point in time. Even the reserve bank with all of their modelling will have little idea about the sensitivity of applying these tools either on their own or in combination with other tools.

      When the reserve bank act was put into place with its single main active tool of the OCR plus the gabfest of warnings and other minor tools, it took nearly a decade before they managed to figure out how to use it without overshooting too much. Even now the expectations of the people in the “markets” it is designed to affect shift depending on what is happening in the wider markets at the time.

      Once the powers for this and the other monetary tools that Labour is proposing are put into place, I’d expect that it will take a decade for the reserve bank to learn how and when to use them. In all likelihood they won’t use them as their main tools for some time, but will instead tweak them slightly until they figure out the effect(s) that they have in conjunction with the tools that they already use.

      That was what was the complete bollocks with Steven Joyce’s “back of the envelope” numbers with “boffins”.

      They were simply lying with numbers. No-one can really anticipate the effects of these tools until they have been tried in our unique economy along with the other tools that are already in use.

      The point of having them, as Brash pointed out, was to have them so that we don’t have to continue to overuse the single main tool that the reserve ban currently has. That frequently is like trying to crack a brazil nut with a sledgehammer. We wind up with all of the growth squashed out of our real economy to quell property booms or applied too delicately – it actually encourages the mad rush of a bubble while the reserve bank is doing too little too late.

      The days of the single tool are long over.

  5. Tom Gould 5

    Turns out Joyce made it up, on the “back of a cigarette packet”, with a couple of Tory “boffins” and says it’s “not authoritative”. So why is it in the media? The guy’s an idiot.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 5.1

      They have boffins ?

      Boffin is of course one of the Hobbitt families .

  6. Gosman 6

    If Labour are going to introduce a range of policies to increase the savings rate in other areas beyond Kiwisaver won’t that make the proposed policy less effective?

    • lprent 6.1

      It is likely to make it less likely to be used. So what? That just means it will be used when it is needed to be used.

      We have reserve powers all the way through our system that are only there to be called into use when they are needed….

      Is that really a serious objection? Or are you just stroking that line?

      • Gosman 6.1.1

        It is a serious objection, or at least less an objection and more an observation. Fran O’Sullivan also highlighted this in a recent article on the policy. In theory there is nothing wrong with the proposal. In reality it would likely be far less effective at controlling the amount of currency in circulation than using interest rates.

        • lprent

          Fran is somewhat myopic and highly selective about what she chooses to look at. It might be less effective. However its’ efficiency wasn’t the reason that it was selected.

          She ignores the economic damage that the interest rate tool has increasingly been doing to our economy. That is why there is a widespread perception amongst both economic commentators who aren’t wedded to the advantages that the OCR gives them and the economically aware in the population.

          One of Fran’s blind spots for the last 20+ years I have read her is that she is completely oblivious to anything that actually produces value. IMHO She tends to just concentrate on money flows.

          • Gosman

            “increasingly” I don’t think your use of this word is accurate.

            • lprent

              I think it is entirely accurate. Look at the export trading position right now for NZ with the exception of dairy milk powder. Even that has just had a nasty probability of dropping in light of major price falls elsewhere in the world in recent days, not to mention the stuff up on milk powder with China


              Early tomorrow morning traders will be eyeing prices in the latest GlobalDairyTrade auction and a speech by Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler on the significance of dairy to the New Zealand economy.

              Non-dairy manufacturing is down for what? About the third quarter in a row. Unemployment policy from this government looks like it is more about standing people down off the roll than getting them into real jobs.

              About the only investment I see coming into the country comes in the form of people chasing the property bubble, and I suspect that reserve bank’s OCR policies are just going to make it more attractive to get their money in NZ dollars.

              • Draco T Bastard

                Unemployment policy from this government looks like it is more about standing people down off the roll than getting them into real jobs.

                That’s exactly what it is. Not that I’d call most jobs out there real jobs anyway.

                and I suspect that reserve bank’s OCR policies are just going to make it more attractive to get their money in NZ dollars.


                It’s the OCR and the high interest rates that it brings that are stuffing up our economy and helping make it unsustainable.

              • Gosman

                Increasingly would suggest that the use of interest rates has been increasing the rate of economic damage to the economy over time. The reality would suggest otherwise. The greatest amount of damage caused by a a tight monetary policy was in the mid 1980’s. This led to the failure of many agricultural based businesses and farms.

                • lprent

                  Only if you consider that SMP’s (ie the sheep subsidy) was a monetary policy. Personally I viewed it as being a straight welfare by Muldoon’s National government to farmers that discouraged them from adapting to the permanently low price of wool and mutton.

                  The removal of that particular bit of welfare caused the failure of most of those agricultural based businesses because all of a sudden the income from the vast numbers of sheep farmers disappeared.

                  Incidentally as my parents had a small farm at the time, and I’d spent a year out farming before university a few years earlier it wasn’t hard to see where the failure of the “agricultural based businesses” came from.

                  The changes in the exchange rate at that time were also a direct consequence of Muldoon’s National government running us directly towards a governmental default in 1984/5 largely as a consequence of that dumbarse farmer welfare.

                  • Gosman

                    No, I’m talking about the massive interest rate hikes that took place in the mid 1980’s to tame the rampant inflation prevalent in NZ at the time. This impacted farmers because they had overextended themselves. That was the worst impact of the interest rate policy in my mind. Yoy suggest it is increasing in it’s negative economic outcome. I can’t see much evidence to support that view.

                    • lprent

                      Wrong causation. It wasn’t the creation of money supply being turned off that caused that problem. It was the abrupt fall in the value of land.

                      When the tap was turned off on SMP’s, the property bubble that had formed around farm properties (and that had caused an inordinate amount of land to be put into production – I think we peaked at nearly 70 million sheep) burst. Farm land values fell drastically not only on sheep farms, but on all farm lands.

                      People who were over-extended were unable to get loans for the amounts that they had previously and/or were unable to service the mortgages that they had (at table mortgages on long terms to beat inflation) with the income at world prices.

                      They had to sell up voluntarily or by foreclosure sales. That pushed the land values down further. It took most of the decade before the effect of SMPs shook out through the farming sector.

                      That farm property bubble in the late 70s and early 80s was what caused me not to go farming. The property values were grossly over-priced compared to the returns from farming.

                      In many ways the same kind of thing is happening today with dairy prices. It is less complicated without the inflation and happens slower on the price reductions like the last 5 or 6 dairy auction results. But it is still happening.

                      That was what Wheeler was warning about today.

    • James N 6.2

      I think he meant “muffins” not “boffins”.

  7. Colonial Viper 7

    If the economy is overheating, would you rather cool it down by giving your retirement account some money, or giving an Australian bank the money instead?

    I suppose this is not quite as bad as increasing the numbers of unemployed to keep inflation low.

    Very selective parts of the economy are overheating in some locations, but for a majority of NZers in most of the country I suspect it is missing them entirely.

  8. Ennui 8

    The whole thing with Joyce and strategy is NOT that he is “no good” at strategy. That may or may not be, the reality is that Joyce lives in that torn environment between:

    A: The neo-liberal vision of “the invisible hand” of the market producing its own logic and strategy.
    B: The whys and wherefores of multi-national corporate and finance capitalism (formerly known as “robber baron”, monopoly, rentier etc).

    Neither of these things has Joyce, nor NACT, (nor both recent Labour administrations) challenged. It is pointless accusing Joyce of a lack of strategy when that option is actually proscribed by his party, by legislation etc. We live in a sad little country, at a sad time, with a sad little government sadly lacking in the decency and the courage to strive for something better.

  9. aerobubble 9

    Recap GFC. In order to stem a collapse in the world banking system major nations have started printing money. NZ dairy gets brought up by this cheap cash and in order to exchange something in return citizens get to buy cheap electronics etc. Only problem there’s not a lot of money around as citizens are paying mortgages off for over priced housing, and farmers for overprice farmland.

    Now we could cut back the about of dairy we sell and so take the pressure off our ecology and our economy, and lock our capacity to export to our citizens ability to purchase. No. No, what we actually do is have citizens and businesses (and now govt under key) borrow money from offshore, and deal with the imbalances from cheap money by selling off our profit centers.

    This is remarkably similar to why people should not borrow, because people pay twice, they pay the money to borrow it and they pay the capital back. A country that leaves their kids homes doesn’t have to work as hard. So a country that borrows heavily overseas has to pay twice, once to pay for the borrowing and then to pay the capital back.

    And all we needed was to sell less dairy, or better still, pay more to citizens to purchase more imports. But no your average National voter believes that wages need to be lower and debt is good, that the more dairy we have the better we will be off, YET ITS NOT TRUE, its just digging a even bigger debt pit to climb out of as interest rate rise along with the exchange rates.

    • Ennui 9.1

      Spot on Aero….

      I might add to yours “But no your average National voter believes that other peoples wages need to be lower and avoiding tax, lowering tax and allowing national debt to grow is good”……

      • aerobubble 9.1.1

        No. National voters believe in crushing unions, so want poorer bargaining power for employees, and most of them are employees. You see their boring, their followers, they don’t get that they lost their homes (or soon will, see below) because their wages (though it looked well paid) weren’t enough and National have removed their ability to drive up wages. Housing is over priced, rents will need to rise to maintain landlord mortgage repayments, rents can’t rise as power, food, fuel rise.

        Labour just said its going to lower the exchange rate, many over exposed to oil will be hurt, and unlike the rest of the world who have had to deal with higher price oil (having been in ‘good times’ due to Key’s financial policies) we are going to be hit by a triple whammy, oil, debt and housing collapse. Everybody else has been taking the hard medicine, nice Mr Key is just delaying the inevitable (and the longer the harder the crash). And the media just won’t criticize the neo-liberals,
        neo-liberals who don’t have to put up any sensible policy, or expose themselves to any kind of explanation about what has happened globally, what is happening, and what will happen. Its a good gig in a time of growth backed cheap high density non-renewable fuels to declare you
        don’t need to do government, and then declare you are working harder than ever doing less government, and how you win just by being there.

        Anyway more pointedly, if that’s not enough. No, its not about wages, its about the fact that we can produce everything we need, end world poverty, but we don’t because the wealthy can’t work out how to make a buck when most people will have reams of free time. And one or other must give, either the wealthy give up the notion of having a profit center everywhere, or the world wakes up to the con, that we don’t have to live exploited lives just so a few have bank balances that when laid to the moon several times makes for a party joke with their last friend.

        • Ennui

          Aero, nice summary, history may not repeat but the themes of humanity echo loudly: so many classes in the past have followed a trajectory to self fulfilling annihilation. Neo liberalism, the latest cab off the rank.

  10. dave 10

    your right when an ex governor like don brash says its a good idea and hes partisan ,you know Parker is on to something . joyce was running a Forbes reporter down 2 weeks ago for telling the truth its Joyce that has no credibility just a walking mouth spewing spin free of facts .there is a cure its called the mute button !

  11. captain hook 11

    The only economics joyce knows is all for me and none for you unless I have to pay you off.

  12. This type of economic illiteracy is a lynchpin of National’s political class. There are, admittedly, one or two people in the party that know about running a business, (ironically, probably less of them than there are in either the Green Party alone or the Labour party alone) but none of them understands how to run an entire economy.

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