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ECB: Broken rules and frivolous policy

GIS – Comment by Prince Michael of Liechtenstein*

For years, the ECB has egregiously violated its own statutes. Today’s high inflation is the predictable result.

EZB breaks rules GIS report
ECB: Broken rules and frivolous policy | Following in Mario Draghi’s footsteps, Christine Lagarde has helped the ECB break its own rules by pumping huge amounts of money into the European economy. © GIS

For the first time in more than 10 years, the European Central Bank has increased its key interest rate, raising it by 0.5 percent. The move follows a long period of decreasing interest rates and pumping money into the economy via so-called quantitative easing. Europe, like the United States, was flooded with liquidity.

Some in the media even called the 0.5 percent rate rise a “courageous” step, because it was more than the expected 0.25 percent. The increase is ostensibly meant to help slow inflation, which the ECB leadership first denied and then ignored for months after it first appeared. Yet even as she announced the rises, ECB President Christine Lagarde made veiled promises to continue her institution’s irresponsible financing of some member states.

She revealed that the ECB’s governing council had approved the creation of a new policy tool, called the Transmission Protection Instrument. The TPI will enable the ECB to buy government bonds from certain member countries if the “risk premium” (the rate of return above that which is guaranteed) rises too much. Its purpose is to counteract what the ECB calls “unwarranted, disorderly market dynamics which pose a serious threat to the effectiveness of monetary policy in the euro area.” This statement is outrageous. The market dynamics that increase the risk premium are entirely justified, as the risk is naturally higher in fiscally mismanaged countries. In fact, any so-called “market disorder” would be the consequence of fiscal irresponsibility among member states, which the ECB among others, had encouraged with its policies over the years.

Breaking the rules

Do these explanations expose incompetence? Or is the easy-money policy a centralist agenda at the ECB, which clearly counteracts the bank’s role, function and statutes? If a company’s management team were to break the firm’s rules so egregiously, it would be considered a criminal act.

The ECB’s primary objective is to maintain price stability. It is clearly forbidden from financing public debt or setting fiscal policy. This is the cornerstone of the euro area’s monetary system. Guaranteeing the ECB’s political independence was crucial to ensure that it would not meddle in such matters. This meant safeguarding its institutional independence: the ECB must not seek or take instruction from any institution, government, or other body. It also meant assuring the bank’s functional and operational independence, financial and organizational independence, legal independence and the personal independence of its executive board members.

Unfortunately, most eurozone member countries began violating the rules of the Maastricht Treaty, which set limits on government deficit and total debt, shortly after it was signed. France and Germany were the first to do so. Yet these criteria formed a key pillar of the monetary union. Breaching them put stress on the system and led directly to the financial crisis of 2012.

That crisis was certainly not a market failure. Instead, it was a failure of states, due to excessive debt, caused by oversized public sectors. Governments refused to tackle the problem at the root by reducing the size and role of state institutions. On the contrary, the ECB president at the time, Mario Draghi, famously said on July 26, 2012, that the bank was “ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro.”

With that statement alone Mr. Draghi had already broken the ECB’s fundamental rule that its primary goal was to protect the value of the euro, not finance fiscal deficits. At that point, member governments had, de facto, received carte blanche to spend. Any problems that arose were “solved” by dousing them with money. To be fair, it is worth noting that such bad practices were not limited to the euro area.

The amount spent on financing eurozone members’ deficits increased more and more. After Ms. Lagarde, a professional politician, was appointed ECB president in an agreement between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, money printing rose to staggering levels.

If Mr. Draghi’s statement had not made it clear, then in the following years it became obvious that the ECB’s main purpose was no longer protecting the purchasing power, savings and income of those in the eurozone. Instead, the goal had become the defense of the euro itself as an institution.

This mentality was rife among Europe’s leaders. Chancellor Merkel, for example, made the outrageous statement in 2011 that “if the euro fails, Europe fails.” In doing so, she essentially admitted that she believed Europe’s very existence depended on a currency that governments could use to spend away their problems. What a cynical dismissal of the continent’s strengths, rules and people!

r the past three years, one of businesses’ main concerns has become securing supply chains for raw materials and semifinished products. But another factor that has grown just as troublesome, or maybe even worse, is the lack of good workers. Inflation is now the topic on everyone’s mind. Prices are rocketing. People are rightfully concerned. Officials attempt to calm the public by claiming that this situation will be overcome because it is mainly due to the interruption in supply chains caused by Covid-19, and now by the war in Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden even went as far as to call it Vladimir Putin’s inflation. The European Central Bank and its president constantly denied a medium- to longer-term problem and were consequently always wrong in their forecasts. These are either cynical lies or proof of incompetence.

On the contrary, this inflation is structural. It is caused by demand exceeding the supply of goods and services. Consumers, including governments, have money in abundance. Central banks’ irresponsible money printing to cover government overspending and waste has created a situation in which the amount of money circulating throughout the economy disproportionally exceeds the goods and services on offer.
This phenomenon is exacerbated by the growing number of people in nearly all economies engaging in supervisory and administrative jobs – mainly public services – instead of productive private sector positions. The flood of laws, rules and regulations issued on national and supranational levels has become a self-fueling engine, sucking up more and more resources.

Driven by irresponsible deficit policies, the public and administrative sectors are growing. In turn, the bureaucratic complications feed such sectors as tax advisory, compliance, legal services and standardization boards, but also supranational bodies such as the 38-nation Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Talent badly needed in business is absorbed into these new professions, made necessary by expanding government. These roles then feed complications that create more layers of unproductive positions in public administration and business advisory. At the same time, we see that next to inflation and supply-chain disruptions, a severe shortage of workers in productive jobs is one of the economy’s biggest problems.

We are becoming increasingly authoritarian and hiding behind democratically unaccountable supranational organizations. The unstoppable regulatory process gives authorities increasing power and opportunities to make arbitrary decisions. Any perceived threat, from terrorism to Covid-19 to climate change, is welcomed as a pretext to tighten the screws on freedom. It is certainly necessary to fight terrorism, support sustainability and take measures against pandemics, but all of those goals can be achieved without placing disproportionate limits on freedom and constructing convoluted bureaucracies.
Through excessive administration, legislation and regulation, restrictions on freedom, government overspending and irresponsible monetary policies, we are committing suicide as a free and prosperous society. This suicide is assisted by a collusion of governments, supranational organizations, rent-seeking cronies and ideas such as the “great reset” promulgated by the World Economic Forum.

When we will have finally succeeded in killing a prosperous economy, politicians, media and nongovernmental organizations will blame the failure on markets, not the state. The proposed solution will then be more government intervention and “full equality.” Such solutions are already being implemented. When the trend is complete, the bureaucratic dream of 19th- and 20th-century communists will have come true … 


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ECB: Broken rules and frivolous policy

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International Vernon Smith Prize 2022 – Call for Papers!

The International Vernon Smith Prize is an essay competition for the advancement of Austrian Economics – sponsored and organized by ECAEF – the EUROPEAN CENTER OF AUSTRIAN ECONOMICS FOUNDATION, Vaduz (Principality of Liechtenstein). Topic for the 2022 competition:

“… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”


– 1st Prize: €4,000  –
– 2nd Prize: €3,000  –
– 3rd Prize: €2,000 –

The wisdom that people lose their freedom as soon as words begin to lose their meaning can easily be traced back at least to Confucius (551-479BC). As reality becomes intelligible only through clear and uncorrupted words, the direct cause of most disagreements and political discords seems to be an ‘anarchy of meanings’. And yet, no more than gradually we begin to comprehend that the intentional alteration of the meaning of words or fake news not only have grave political implications for any society grounded on the Rule of Law. They also critically jeopardize the sovereignty of its citizens and their trust in institutions.
Among the most evident examples in the long list of Semantic Traps is the transformation of the almost sacred word ‘social’. Shrouded in mystery, over time this ubiquitous term more than others has corrupted the fantasies of social scientists and politicians alike. Used in certain pervasive word arrangements such as Social Justice or Social Democracy, the word is employed to hint at feelings of envy, of guilt or even of revenge. Time and again this term is not only utilized to effectively disguise true political objectives. With unmistakable collectivist undertones, the word social often also bears strong resentments against individual freedom, private property or the market economy in general. 
An international jury will judge the essays, and the three winners be invited to present their papers at a special event on 7 February, 2023.

All entries must meet the following four requirements:

(1) Entries may be submitted by individuals of up to 30 years (in 2022).

(2) Entries may not exceed 12 pages, including a full bibliography and a 1/2 page summary; 1.5 spacing; left/right margins no less then 1 inch.

(3) Entries must be submitted in English in electronic form (PDF) to and must include a current CV with Date of Birth.

(4) Entries must be received on or before November 20, 2022.

(5) Prizes are not transferable and will be awarded on the basis of originality, grasp of subject, and the logical consistence of the argument.

An international jury will judge the essays and the winners will be invited to present their papers at a special event in Vaduz, Principality of Liechtenstein on 7 February, 2023. It is mandatory that all 3 prizewinners participate in the award ceremony.

The International Vernon Smith Prize has been established in 2008 by ECAEF for the advancement of Austrian Economics. It is named after Vernon Lomax Smith (born on January 1, 1927) and recipient of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science (shared with Daniel Kahneman). He is the founder and president of the International Foundation for Research in Experimental Economics, a Member of the Board of Advisors for The Independent Institute, and a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. He currently teaches at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics and School of Law in Orange, California.

Taking Money out of Politics –

On Central Banks, Inflation and the Case for Competing Currencies

The following essay was Kurt R. Leube’s* introductionary talk to the XVII. Gottfried von Haberler Conference, May 12, 2023.

‘The government monopoly of the issue of money was bad enough so long as metallic money predominated. But it became an unrelieved calamity since paper money (or other token money), which can provide the best and the worst money, came under political control.’ F. A. von Hayek

Taking Money out of Politics – On Central Banks, Inflation and the Case for Competing Currencies
16th Gottfried von Haberler Conference Vaduz Liechtenstein 2022

For centuries on end, roughly all governments have acquired and reserved for themselves the power of monopoly for the creation and issuance of money. Over time the ruling classes discovered and developed elusive methods to inflate the currency which they control. And as a consequence they briskly declared it ‘legal tender’ or ‘fiat’ money. What makes this autocratic privilege politically and socially such a grave threat is not just the governments’ power, but more to the point their exclusive privilege to produce money and to force their people to use and accept it at a set price.
During the course of time there were numerous accounts of cruel punishment for any attempt to question this prerogative. Among them we can find reports about the execution of those who declined to use the paper money issued by 13-century Chinese rulers. In medieval England similar acts of rejections quite often were sentenced as a majesty insult or, somewhat later in France with up to 20 years in a dungeon and shackled in chains.

Although a currency monopoly appears to have hardly ever generated good or beneficial results except for the rulers and their desire to enhance their unopposed coercive powers, the money prerogative apparently grew into an almost universally accepted and deep-rooted legend. Indeed, the vast majority of economists, of monetary professionals or sociologists almost never seriously pondered to challenge this somewhat dazing fabrication. In other words, the privilege of issuing money is virtually unchecked and became synonymous with economic power, despite the fact that governments everywhere and at all times were and still are the chief cause of currency depreciation. Faced with expenditures beyond control, staggering debts and a raging inflation, most governments find it impossible to resist the political pressures. Indeed, the temptation to interfere with the coinage, thereby assuming to gain some short-lived economic boost through creative fiscal policy measures, is usually too strong to resist.
Thus, in times of inflation it seems only natural that people start thinking about alternatives and feel they could be better off if governments were deprived of their control over monetary policy and their primary means of wrecking the economy. History clearly shows, that even under the threat of serious fines, people always rejected government’s inflated currency and resorted instead to cigarettes, whiskey or other useful commodities as a medium of exchange and thus drove out the bad money. As ‘Lucky Strike’ cigarettes were included in the ‘C-Rations’ provided to US combat troops during WW II, through the spontaneously established black market they gained a wide circulation during the months after the war. It took people in Germany and Austria not much more than a few weeks to establish some sort of Zigarettenwaehrung. In any case, money proved to be too serious an instrument as to leave the state authorities in charge of the monetary system.

It was Carl Menger (1840-1921), the founder of the Austrian School who discovered that money is not created by government decree, rather it is the people acting and trading in spontaneously developing markets. After all, only individuals decide what the most marketable good is for them to use as a medium of exchange. Some 20 years after Menger’s Grundsätze der Volkswirtschaftslehre were published in Vienna in 1871, Ludwig von Mises continued the work on monetary theory in his celebrated Theorie des Geldes und der Umlaufsmittel, Leipzig 1911. About 20 years thereafter, Richard von Strigl, an eminent but regretfully lesser known scholar of the 4th generation of the Austrians suggested that one way to restrain government abuse of a currency is to allow individuals to contract among themselves in any currency they choose. In 1933 F. A. von Hayek followed with his seminal essay on ‘Über Neutrales Geld’ and in 1937 his equally seminal book, Monetary Nationalism and International Stability was published in Geneva. In an often over looked but important footnote in his magnum opus The Constitution of Liberty, Hayek suggested that it is neither vital nor desirable that a government ‘should have a monopoly of the issue of all kinds of money’. The culmination of his monetary ideas however F.A. von Hayek published his revolutionary ‘Denationalization of Money’ in London in 1976. Although there are countless arguments in favor of the state power of monopoly for the creation and issuance of money, it is doubtful whether it is necessary or even desirable that governments or central banks should have such exclusive capability.
As the concept of competing currencies is not really new, it should not surprise that history is replete with examples of successful currency competition, both within countries and between them. For example in China, home of the world’s first paper money, currencies issued by private merchants and provincial governments competed for many centuries. Indeed, bills issued by governmental and private banks coexisted there as late as the first half of the 20th century. And in Europe, under the free banking systems in Scotland between 1716 and 1844, private banks routinely issued their own paper money or ‘banknotes’ that were redeemable for underlying real or basic monies, like gold or silver. And competition among those basic monies pitted gold against silver and copper. There were relatively unrestricted monetary systems also in New England (1820-60) or in Canada (1817-1914). Other successful episodes of the competitive provision of banknotes took place in Sweden, in Switzerland, France, in Ireland, Spain, or Australia. In parts of the US, predominately between 1825 and 1858 several systems of private issuance and bill discounting were well received by the fast growing population.
At first glance this topic may sound unusual or even somewhat incomprehensible to all students of conventional monetary theory and to all those who have been brought up on the concept of ‘legal tender’ it seems that a solution could be the self-interest of monetary agencies. These banking institutions will suffer by losing their livelihood if they do not supply currencies that users will find dependable and stable.

In such a revolutionary system, in which private financial institutions create currencies that compete for acceptance, the stability in value is presumed to be the decisive factor for acceptance. Since unlike other commodities, money does not serve by being used up, but by being handed on, competition will favor currencies with the greatest solidity in value due to the fact that a devalued currency hurts creditors, and an upward-revalued currency will hurt debtors. As a consequence, the chief attraction the issuer of a competitive currency has to offer customers is the assurance that its value will be kept stable or otherwise made to behave in a predictable manner. In others words, issuers of notes would be careful to maintain a constant price between a predetermined basket of goods and their currency with the intention of retaining their existing customers and gaining new ones. Monetary institutions may find through experimentation that an extensive basket of commodities, etc. forms the ideal monetary base. Such baskets are part of the assurance that the value of their currencies will be kept stable or otherwise made to perform in a foreseeable fashion. Institutions would issue and regulate their currency primarily through loan-making, and secondarily through currency buying and selling activities. It is postulated that specialized electronic platform would report daily or hourly information on whether institutions are managing their currencies within a previously-defined tolerance. Issuers who fail to maintain a stable exchange rate are then expected to lose market share. The maintenance of exchange rates in the quest for market share would better regulate monetary value than a central bank. After all, money is the only object that will never get ‘cheaper’ through competition, because its desirability and appeal are exclusively based on its staying ‘expensive’. So – whom should we trust regarding our money? Politicians, economists or the people?

Whatever the chances of political success for a radical ‘Denationalization of Money’ will be in the near future, it seems necessary to consider the feasibility of free banking in order to gain a proper perspective on the role of central banks play in a market economy. If the market is competent to evolve a stable and self-regulating monetary order in the absence of a privileged central bank, then central banking cannot be regarded as a necessary framework without which a free market economy would collapse. It must instead become evident that central banks exist for a different reason. By shrouding monetary policy with fiscal policy measures, central banks serve governments as an effective source of revenue through money creation.

In times of worldwide raging inflations it is long overdue, essential and worthwhile to reconsider the purpose of central banks and promote the revolutionary idea of applying the principles of free markets to the creation of money and its consequences. At the forthcoming XVII. Gottfried von Haberler Conference on May 12, 2023, internationally leading scholars will discuss this intriguing and promising topic.

*Kurt R. Leube is Professor Emeritus and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University (USA) and Academic Director at ECAEF (European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation) in Vaduz, Liechtenstein.

Sorry, on Inflation We Were Wrong

by Emanuele Canegrati*

Sorry, on Inflation We Were Wrong | Over the last two months, top officials of the two most important central banks in the world, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, have publicly admitted that they have made big mistakes in considering the 2021-2022 inflationary surge afflicting the global economy only as a mere “temporary” phenomenon.

The first to admit the error was the European Central Bank. In the Economic Bulletin, Issue 3/2022 (April 2022), Frankfurt’s economists issued a mea culpa for persistently underestimating inflation, blaming increasingly large forecast errors on surging energy prices, supply chain bottlenecks and a stronger-than-expected demand rebound from the pandemic. Financial Times wrote that “the ECB made its worst ever inflation forecast in December 2021 when it predicted eurozone consumer price growth would fall to 4.1 per cent in the first quarter of this year. Instead, it rose to 6.1 per cent, prompting the ECB to accelerate its plans for stopping net bond purchases and opening the door to a potential interest rate rise as early as July”.

The second to apologize was Janet Yellen, a former chair of the Federal Reserve and current United States secretary of the Treasury. “I think I was wrong then about the path that inflation would take,” Yellen admitted in a CNN interview on the first of June 2022. “There have been unanticipated and large shocks to the economy that have boosted energy and food prices and supply bottlenecks that have affected our economy badly that I didn’t — at the time — didn’t fully understand, but we recognize that now.”

The consequences of these errors may weigh like a boulder on the future reputation of the ECB and the FED. But they were not due only to bad luck. Certainly, an unprecedented situation such as the outbreak of a world-scale pandemic made the predictive capacity of major international institutes more limited than it already is under normal circumstances. And to make this capacity more restricted, we must bear in mind that post-Covid inflation began to emerge seriously from early 2021, at a time when the world, in the middle of an unprecedented vaccination campaign, could not say whether and when the pandemic would be over.

“On inflation we were wrong”. Source: wikipedia

Nowadays, we are surely in a better position to analyse the roots of inflation and draw some conclusions. First, there is a short-term cause, reasonably forecastable: the strong aggregate demand rebound observed towards the end of the pandemic. Then, there are two short-term causes not easily predictable: the supply shortages occurred in global supply chains and the Russian invasion of Ukraine which has produced an exponential increase in energy prices. Finally, there is a long-term cause, less cited but no less important than the others: the decision by governments, especially European ones, to pour billions of dollars in the so-called green and digital transitions, with the aim of reducing dependence on traditional and polluting energy sources and increasing the weight of the digitalization in the economy. Was this last cause predictable? According to a great number of experts, yes it was very easy to foresee that both the transitions would have been strongly inflationary. In the green transition case, the faster the transition towards renewables occurs, the higher the expected inflation in the medium term.

Even the European Central Bank seemed to have realized about the danger, as it published a position paper for tackling what it called “new age of energy inflation”, identifying several root causes, including “fossilflation” (the price pressure created by dependency on fossil fuels) and “greenflation”, in which prices of inputs for greener infrastructures and production processes, such as metals and minerals, rise due to high demand. Unfortunately, analyses were not followed by actions for containing the inflationary phenomenon.

Why has this happened? The mistake made not only by the European Central Bank but also by the Fed on the nature of inflation did not depend on a physiological difficulty (impossibility, in a Hayekian view) in elaborating complex macroeconomic forecasts, but it is rather a child of the credence in the “secular stagnation” which has been indoctrinated in public officials.

The secular stagnation is a theory first put forward during the Great Depression, and revived in the 2010s by economist Lawrence Summers, who served as an economic advisor in both the Clinton and Obama administrations. Professor Olivier Blanchard, a former IMF director is also a notable follower of the secular stagnation. According to this theory, the lack of investing observed over the last decades is due to an increased tendency toward saving by economic agents. The deficiency of a strong intervention by governments through high-spending fiscal policy leads economy to stagnation, weak economic growth and near zero inflation environment.

Put differently, the secular absence of growth and inflation can only be eliminated by policymakers through massive public spending programs. Better if accompanied by an ultra-expansionary monetary policy, which injects a huge mass of money into the financial system. This policy mix would lead the economy to Keynes’ “full employment”, with physiological unemployment and inflation rates.

Central banks (over the past decade) and governments (especially during the pandemic) have followed the advice of the promoters of secular stagnation to the letter. The results are what we all observe today. The rate of inflation has exploded globally, reaching the highest levels of the last forty years in most of Western countries. An outcome completely opposite to what the theorists of secular stagnation expected.
The Arcadian age longed for by theorists of secular stagnation, one in which governments would be able to increase growth while keeping inflation under control thanks to a calibrated mix of interventionist and half-planned Keynesian policies has not come true. Rather, stagflation is the situation the world faces.

No one knows today when this inflation will end. Perhaps another Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve who put an end to the Great Inflation of the 1970s, will be needed to tackle the price increase. Volcker was the man who, challenging US politicians and influential lobbyists, as well as the mainstream Keynesian school that ruled at the time, made “bad cop” decisions, ushering in the “whatever it takes” policy on interest rates: any hike needed until inflation is back under control. It worked. It took two recessions, a double-digit unemployment rate, but eventually inflation got back into the ranks.

Volcker’s lesson is more valid today than ever. First, it helps us to understand that easy money, the policies of indiscriminate subsidies granted by governments, the idea that goods and services are not scarce and therefore should not have a price system that regulates their exchange are crazy thoughts. By the simple law of supply and demand, the scarcer a good is, the higher its price. It works now as it worked centuries ago. Second, it helps us to recognize that any energy, digital, technological revolution or “transition” that is not the result of a spontaneous market process but is directly imposed by public power will inflate the goods and services necessary to carry it out. Thus, a government that forces an economic revolution on the market must be willing to pay the consequences in terms of inflation.

But since that government will not be happy with an independent central bank that adopts restrictive monetary policies to fight that inflation, it will criticize the central bank and try to replace the inconvenient bankers with more complacent ones, willing to monetize the entire process through expansionary monetary policies, thus aggravating the situation. This was precisely the attempt by the proponents of the theory of secular stagnation. An attempt which luckily failed, albeit at a very high cost for taxpayers.

*Dr. Emanuele Canegrati is a PhD at Catholic University of Milan, economist at Department of Treasury, Head Market Analyst at BlackPearlFX and Fellow of the Liechtenstein Academy Foundation.

Henrique Schneider: Über den Rechtspositivismus und das Ende des Rechtsstaats

Heute veröffentlichen wir einen weiteren Video-Mitschnitt von der 16. Gottfried von Haberler Konferenz an der Universität Liechtenstein. Thema: “Über den Rechtspositivismus und das Ende des Rechtsstaats”. Der Vortrag wurde von Henrique Schneider gehalten.

Henrique Schneider: Über den Rechtspositivismus und das Ende des Rechtsstaats

Henrique Schneider studierte Ökonomie in der Schweiz, Deutschland, Österreich, USA und China. Er ist der Chefökonom des Schweizerischen Gewerbeverbands SGV in Bern. Der promovierte Ökonom schreibt in der Tagespresse und in wissenschaftlichen Publikationen über Mikroökonomie, das Geldsystem und Innovation.