Zero Hedge, on 12/06/2015
With Citi’s chief economist proclaiming “only helicopter money can save the world now,” and the Bank of England pre-empting paradropping money concerns, it appears that Australia’s largest investment bank’s forecast that money-drops were 12-18 months away was too conservative.
Over the last few months, in a prime example of currency failure and euro-defenders’ narratives, Finland has been sliding deeper into depression. Almost 7 years into the the current global expansion, Finland’s GDP is 6pc below its previous peak. As The Telegraph reports, this is a deeper and more protracted slump than the post-Soviet crash of the early 1990s, or the Great Depression of the 1930s. And so, having tried it all, Finnish authorities are preparing to unleash “helicopter money” to save their nation by giving every citizen a tax-free payout of around $900 each month!
Just over two years ago, when the world was deciding who would be Bernanke Fed Chair replacement, Larry Summers or Janet Yellen (how ironic that Larry Summers did not get the nod just because a bunch of progressive economists thought he would not be dovish enough) we wrote about a different problem: with the end of QE3 upcoming and with the inevitable failure of the economy to reignite (again), we warned that there remains one option after (when not if) QE fails to stimulate growth: helicopter money.
While QE may be ending, it certainly does not mean that the Fed is halting its effort to “boost” the economy. In fact… the end of QE may well be simply a redirection, whereby the broken monetary pathway, one which uses banks as intermediaries to stimulate inflation (supposedly a failure according to the economist mainstream), i.e., “second-round effects”, is bypassed entirely and replaced with Plan Z, aka “Helicopter Money” mentioned previously as an all too real monetary policy option by none other than Milton Friedman and one Ben Bernanke. This is also known as the nuclear option.
Today Finland needs the nuclear option. As The Telegraph explained, nobody can accuse Finland of being spendthrift, or undisciplined, or technologically backward, or corrupt, or captive of an entrenched oligarchy, the sort of accusations levelled against the Greco-Latins.
The country’s public debt is 62pc of GDP, lower than in Germany. Finland has long been held up as the EMU poster child of austerity, grit, and super-flexibility, the one member of the periphery that supposedly did its homework before joining monetary union and could therefore roll with the punches.
Finland tops the EU in the World Economic Forum’s index of global competitiveness. It comes 1st in the entire world for primary schools, higher education and training, innovation, property rights, intellectual property protection, its legal framework and reliability, anti-monopoly policies, university R&D links, availability of latest technologies, as well as scientists and engineers.
Its near-perfect profile demolishes the central claim of the German finance ministry – through its mouthpiece in Brussels – that countries get into bad trouble in EMU only if they drag their feet on reform and spend too much.
The country has obviously been hit by a series of asymmetric shocks: the collapse of its hi-tech champion Nokia, the slump in forestry and commodity prices, and the recession in Russia.
The relevant point is that it cannot now defend itself. Finland is trapped by a fixed exchange rate and by the fiscal straightjacket of the Stability Pact, a lawyers’ construct that was never intended for such circumstances. The Pact is being enforced anyway because rules are rules and because leaders in the Teutonic bloc have an idee fixee that moral hazard will run rampant if any country in the EMU core sets a bad example.
Finland’s output shrank a further 0.6pc in the third quarter and the country’s three-year long recession is turning into a fourth year. Industrial orders fell 31pc in September. “It’s spooky,” said Pasi Sorjonen from Nordea.
Finland is digging itself into an ever deeper hole. The International Monetary Fund warned this week against austerity overkill and “pro-cyclical” cuts before the economy is strong enough to take it.
The IMF spoke softly but the message was clear. Finland should not even be thinking of a “front-loaded” fiscal contraction or slashing investment at a time when its output gap is 3.2pc of GDP.
The Finnish authorities admitted in their reply to the IMF’s Article IV report that they had no choice because they had to comply with the Stability Pact. This is what European policy-making has come to.
Some in Finland were quick to throw stones at Greece during the debt crisis, seemingly unaware at the time that they too lived in a glass house. Their own story is not really that different from the EMU disasters that unfolded in the South.
Interest rates were too low for Finland’s needs during the commodity boom, causing the economy to overheat. Unit labour costs spiralled up 20pc from 2006 onwards, leaving the country high and dry when the music stopped. Public debt was low but private debt was high (somewhat like Spain and Ireland). The crisis hit later merely because the commodity bubble did not burst until 2012.
Sweden was able to navigate similar shocks by letting its currency take the strain at key moments over the last decade. Swedish GDP is now 8pc above its pre-Lehman level.
The divergence between Finland and Sweden is staggering for two Nordic economies with so much in common, and it has rekindled Finland’s dormant anti-euro movement.
And that ‘political’ crisis may have been just the kick the authorities needed to unleash the nuclear money drop option, as The Telegraph continues,
Authorities in Finland are considering giving every citizen a tax-free payout of €800 ($900) each month.
Under proposals being draw up by the Finnish Social Insurance Institution (Kela), this national basic income would replace all other benefit payments, and would be paid to all adults regardless of whether or not they receive any other income.
Unemployment in Finland is currently at record levels, and the basic income is intended to encourage more people back to work. At present, many unemployed people would be worse off if they took on low-paid temporary jobs due to loss of welfare payments.
Detractors caution that a basic income would remove people’s incentive to work and lead to higher unemployment. Those in favour point to previous experiments where a basic income has been successfully trialed.
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipilä supports the idea, saying: “For me, a basic income means simplifying the social security system.”
The basic income will cost Finland roughly €46.7 billion per year if fully implemented. Kela’s proposals are due to be submitted in November 2016.
That’s around 20% of GDP annually… and while politicians will claim it is temporary, these ‘initiatives’ never are – just ask Japan!
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As we previously detailed, support is growing around the world for such spending to be funded by “People’s QE.” The idea behind “People’s QE” is that central banks would directly fund government spending… and even inject money directly into household bank accounts, if need be. And the idea is catching on.
Already the European Central Bank is buying bonds of the European Investment Bank, an E.U. institution that finances infrastructure projects. And the new leader of Britain’s Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is backing a British version of this scheme.
That’s the monster coming to towns and villages near you! Call it “overt monetary financing.” Call it “money from helicopters.” Call in “insane.”
But it won’t be unpopular. Who will protest when the feds begin handing our money to “mid- and low-income households”?
Simply put, The Keynesian Endgame is here… as the only way to avoid secular stagnation (which, for the uninitiated, is just another complicated-sounding, economist buzzword for the more colloquial “everything grinds to a halt”) is for central bankers to call in the Krugman Kraken and go full-Keynes.
Rather than buying assets, central banks drop money on the street. Or even better, in a more modern and civilised fashion, credit our bank accounts! That, after all, may be more effective than buying assets, and would not imply the same transfer of wealth as previous or current forms of QE. Indeed, ‘helicopter money’ can be seen as permanent QE, where the central bank commits to making the increase in the monetary base permanent.
Again, crediting accounts does not guarantee that money will be spent – in contrast to monetary financing where the newly created cash can be used for fiscal spending. And in many cases, such policy would actually imply fiscal policy, as most central banks cannot conduct helicopter money operations on their own.
So again, the thing to realize here is that this has moved well beyond the theoretical and it’s not entirely clear that most people understand how completely absurd this has become (and this isn’t necessarily a specific critique of SocGen by the way, it’s just an honest look at what’s going on). At the risk of violating every semblance of capital market analysis decorum, allow us to just say that this is pure, unadulterated insanity. There’s not even any humor in it anymore.
You cannot simply print a piece of paper, sell it to yourself, and then use the virtual pieces of paper you just printed to buy your piece of paper to stimulate the economy. There’s no credibility in that whatsoever, and we don’t mean that in the somewhat academic language that everyone is now employing on the way to criticizing the Fed, the ECB, and the BoJ.
The monetizing of state debt by the central bank is the engine of helicopter money. When the central state issues $1 trillion in bonds and drops the money into household bank accounts, the central bank buys the new bonds and promptly buries them in the bank’s balance sheet as an asset.
The Japanese model is to lower interest rates to the point that the cost of issuing new sovereign debt is reduced to near-zero. Until, of course, the sovereign debt piles up into a mountain so vast that servicing the interest absorbs 40+% of all tax revenues.
But the downsides of helicopter money are never mentioned, of course. Like QE (i.e. monetary stimulus), fiscal stimulus (helicopter money) will be sold as a temporary measure that quickly become permanent, as the economy will crater the moment it is withdrawn.
The temporary relief turns out to be, well, heroin, and the Cold Turkey withdrawal, full-blown depression.