Thursday, June 7, 2012

What is wrong with European central banking: the view from Cyprus

These are times where policy coordination between central banks and fiscal authorities seems to be particularly welcome. For one, monetary policy, which seems to be the only sustained and coherent policy, cannot right the ship beyond the short term, and the short term is shorter than the current crisis. For two, fiscal authorities are completely stuck in political wars exactly at the wrong moment. Upcoming elections in Europe and the United States certainly do not help in that. Central bankers have been rather frustrated with the political climate, yet they are still willing scape goats to deflect the furor of the public about unpopular policies.

But sometimes, enough is enough. One such case has been the open criticism of the central banker of Cyprus, who railed against the ineptitude of its government which has completely ignored his advice. Cyprus may not seem a big deal, yet it is a major banking center that may go down with Greece depending on how things unravel there. And this central banker, whose mandate was not renewed, is also not a nobody, as he was previously a senior official at the Board of Governors of the US Fed.

In probably his last paper while in Cyprus, Athanasios Orphanides summarizes all what is wrong with central banking in Europe (Cyprus is part of the monetary union). He recognizes that banking supervision must be taken much more seriously by central bankers, as the stability mandate that was typically meant for prices and sometimes employment or output is now interpreted to include the financial sector as well. Of course, this implies that central banks need to take more responsibilities in supervising the financial all the way to regulating individual institutions, an authority they do not always have at this point. But foremost, Orphanides argues that the biggest liability is economic governance. This is especially important within a monetary union where several governments need to agree. A more uniform fiscal policy would help tremendously, especially when monetary policy, in its more rudimentary form, is applied uniformly across the union. Worse, problems from fiscal policies that are not sustainable in the long term are magnified in a monetary union. You need rules and you need to adhere to them. Politicians are rather bad at this. Central bankers much better.

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