Curious how almost everyone who's anyone in New York or Washington thinks that the Japanese problem has a monetary solution, while almost everyone who's anyone in Tokyo disagrees. This time it's the turn of Morgan Stanley's Robert Alan Feldman.
Is it too late for Japan? The monetization is now complete along the yield curve. European investors ....worry that Germany might be the next Japan, or that somewhere else might be the next Japan. In particular, criticism has been targeted at the Fed and ECB for not moving aggressively enough in the face of deflation potential. Japan is cited as the example of what not to do, for example, in a paper by the Federal Reserve (“Preventing Deflation: Lessons from Japan’s Experience in the 1990s,” by Ahearne et al., June 2002). Although I agree that Japan has provided some examples of what other countries should not do (just as have European and North American economies at times), the contention that monetary policy was the key failure is, in my view, absurd. Rather, the key omission was an aggressive approach to structural reform in both financial and industrial sectors.
So we get back to the debate on what monetary policy should do. For those who think that ending deflation simply means lowering rates a lot and/or printing a lot of money, Japan’s experience should toll a warning bell. Base money is up by 80% since 1997, while deflation has continued. Even monetarists in Japan now agree that the collapse of money velocity cannot stop without structural reform. Moreover, the Weimar experience suggests that rapid money printing will not end the troubles of the Japanese economy. Even in less dramatic contexts, no one has ever argued that high inflation improves resource allocation -- even if it removes bank debt at the expense of creditors. On the contrary, capital flight is the natural result of such an approach, in the wake of which both confidence and real investment collapse.
I agree with my colleagues that it is necessary for the ECB and the Fed to move aggressively, in order to prevent deflation. Where my approach differs is on the question of whether monetary aggressiveness is sufficient. Easy money was NOT sufficient for Japan to avoid deflation. Structural policies were necessary too. In my view, the real lesson from Japan will be learned only when both Europe and the United States focus on the heavy, political issues of dealing with structural impediments to resource re-allocation in their own economies.
Source: Morgan Stanley Global Economic Forum