The 75th anniversary of Bretton Woods … and Atlantic City

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The Bretton Woods conference, which established the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, was held from July 1-22, 1944 and remains widely known today, 75 years later. Far less known is the smaller conference that immediately preceded it in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from June 15-30, 1944. Only 17 countries attended, as opposed to 44 at Bretton Woods, and the conference was closed to the press, whereas at Bretton Woods dozens of journalists were present. Not much has ever been written about the Atlantic City conference, in contrast to a number of books and hundreds of articles that have examined Bretton Woods and its legacy.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of Bretton Woods, in 2014 the Center for Financial Stability held a conference in the same location, the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The conference featured papers that can be found elsewhere on the CFS Web site and the presentation of The Bretton Woods Transcripts, a book of previously unpublished conference material that I edited with Andrew Rosenberg and that the CFS published.

For the 75th anniversary, the CFS later this year will issue a book edited by me and Gabrielle Canning, a young scholar who, conveniently, is my neighbor. The book, Just before Bretton Woods: The Atlantic City Financial Conference, June 1944, collects American and British archival documents that present a detailed picture of what happened at Atlantic City. The Atlantic City conference developed the draft agreements for the IMF and the World Bank from which the Bretton Woods conference proceeded. It is accurate to say that Atlantic City made the World Bank possible. Whereas there was already an internationally agreed statement on the principles to govern the IMF before Atlantic City, no similar statement existed for the World Bank. At Atlantic City, the two leading delegations, from the United States and Britain, found that their ideas about the Bank were close enough to assemble quickly a draft that was also broadly agreeable to the other countries present.

From China / Monetary Policy Paradigm Shifts

I had the pleasure of presenting “Monetary Policy Paradigm Shifts” as well as delivering conference summary remarks at a discussion hosted by the Shanghai Development Research Foundation (SDRF). The conference hosts beautifully structured the inquiry regarding monetary policy across three areas. Corresponding conclusions follow:

– “Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)” is neither modern nor monetary. It is theory. CFS has avoided discussing this topic; however, threads seem to be drifting into mainstream thinking. MMT has already been tried and performed poorly. Our assessment rests on studies and empirical evidence including Gail Makinen’s “Studies in Hyperinflation & Stabilization” published by CFS in 2014.

– “Fundamental changes in theory and policy today” are a function of three policy miscalculations since 2002. Monetary mistakes in the past have paved the way for more experiments and the surfacing of ideas such as MMT.

– “The effect on global markets and economies” is to skew incentives for savers and investors, distort market signals, and limit growth.

Although tricky, a slow and careful restoration of normalcy is essential. It is today’s critical constrained maximization problem.

View the remarks at www.centerforfinancialstability.org/research/ShanghaiDRF_111819.pdf

de Larosière on the Monetary Policy Challenge

We are delighted to share Jacques de Larosière’s latest thinking on “The Monetary Policy Challenge.” Jacques thoughtfully evaluates the 2% inflation target so prevalent in advanced economy central banks today. His assessment is based on careful examination of structural determinants of inflation as well as distortions arising from equilibrium inflation consistently falling short of its target.

He chronicles unintended consequences from excessively accommodative monetary policy – which stretch from a weakening of the banking system, deterioration of pension institutions to the proliferation of zombie companies.

“Who could reasonably believe that lowering already so low rates would strengthen growth?”

He notes that it “is not too late to act” and offers concrete solutions.

The full report is available at www.CenterforFinancialStability.org/research/de_Larosiere_MPC_112519.pdf

Jacques de Larosière is the Chairman of the Strategic Committee of the French Treasury and Advisor to BNP Paribas. He previously served as the President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Governor of the Banque de France, and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

CFS Monetary Measures for October 2019

Today we release CFS monetary and financial measures for October 2019. CFS Divisia M4, which is the broadest and most important measure of money, grew by 6.6% in October 2019 on a year-over-year basis versus 5.9% in September.

For Monetary and Financial Data Release Report:
http://www.centerforfinancialstability.org/amfm/Divisia_Oct19.pdf

For more information about the CFS Divisia indices and the data in Excel:
http://www.centerforfinancialstability.org/amfm_data.php

Bloomberg terminal users can access our monetary and financial statistics by any of the four options:

1) {ALLX DIVM }
2) {ECST T DIVMM4IY}
3) {ECST} –> ‘Monetary Sector’ –> ‘Money Supply’ –> Change Source in top right to ‘Center for Financial Stability’
4) {ECST S US MONEY SUPPLY} –> From source list on left, select ‘Center for Financial Stability’

Hanke delivers John Ise Distinguished Lecture w/ Barnett interview…

CFS Special Counselor and Johns Hopkins professor Steve Hanke delivers the John Ise Distinguished Lecture at the University of Kansas – moderated by CFS Director of Advances in Monetary and Financial Measurement and KU Oswald Distinguished Professor of Macroeconomics.

Hanke and Barnett explored monetary systems throughout the world, tariffs and their effects on trade deficits, abolishing time zones and changing the calendar, plus “everything under the sun.”  View video

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Defends Libra

In testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended his company’s proposed virtual currency, “Libra.” The Committee also considered several bills related to technology and the financial services industry.

Mr. Zuckerberg emphasized that Facebook would not launch the Libra payment system until it has the support of U.S. regulators. He warned that, while these issues are being “debate[d],” China and other countries are working to launch similar payment systems. He argued that since Libra would be backed by U.S. dollars, it would “extend” U.S. financial leadership. He also addressed several concerns, assuring the legislators that:

– a recent white paper co-authored by Facebook (see previous coverage) was intended to start a dialogue with financial experts and regulators, rather than serve as the “final word”;

– Facebook does not intend to “circumvent” regulators; and

– the intended purpose of Libra is to provide for the transfer of money through an online payment system, not to be a replacement for sovereign currency.

Mr. Zuckerberg also affirmed Facebook’s commitment to preventing discrimination among Facebook’s advertisers. To “combat[]” discrimination, he stated, Facebook has made specific changes to policies in order to prevent discriminatory advertisement targeting. For example, Facebook banned the use of age, gender or zip codes in housing and credit advertisements.

Committee members at the hearing discussed several bills concerning technology and finance related to issues raised by the testimony. These included:

H.R. Draft “Keep Big Tech Out of Finance Act” would prohibit large platform utilities (i.e., Facebook) from (i) being authorized as, or affiliating with, a U.S. financial institution or (ii) operating a digital asset that is intended to be “widely used” as a method for exchange, pursuant to the Federal Reserve.

H.R. Draft “Stablecoins Are Securities Act of 2019” would make clear that a managed stablecoin is subject to the same securities laws’ requirements as other securities that are meant to protect investors, such as disclosure, antifraud and conflicts of interest.

H.R. Draft “Bill to Prohibit the Listing of Certain Securities” would limit issuers of stablecoins access to capital markets prohibiting certain trading on U.S. national securities exchanges.

H.R. Draft “Designing Accounting Safeguards to Help Broaden Oversight and Regulations on Data” would create more “transparency” on how consumer data is collected by requiring commercial data operators to disclose (i) the type of user data collected, (ii) an examination of how valuable the user data is and (iii) third-party contracts involving the collection of the data.

H.R. Draft “Diverse Asset Managers Act” would require SEC registrants to (i) consider at least one “diverse” asset manager when seeking asset management services and (ii) report to the SEC the extent to which diverse asset managers are used.

LOFCHIE COMMENTARY

Facebook’s attempted entry into the digital currency market accelerated the inevitable: Congress and the financial regulators are more closely scrutinizing the entry of technology firms into the financial markets. What was not inevitable was Congressional overreaction. While it now seems universal practice to refer to Libra as a Stablecoin, it is not: it is an asset-backed coin (try “ABCoin”). Because the managers of Libra would have had the ability to shift the assets supporting Libra, Libra is not stable. Because of the management of the underlying assets backing the product, Libra almost certainly would have been a “security,” at least in the absence of an exemption, and therefore, it is not necessary to amend the securities laws to that end.

A true Stablecoin, whether backed by the dollar or another currency (or even a pool of currencies) may be issued as a custodial receipt that is not a security, and need not be regulated as a security. It would thus be a shame if such Stablecoins, which may very well provide an attractive alternative to other payment methods, were made impossible because of an overbroad reaction to Libra.

Mr. Zuckerberg is absolutely correct that the United States benefits if a global stablecoin backed by the dollar were to emerge. Facebook’s principal mistake, which arguably reflects a certain lack of sophisticated understanding of financial regulation, was to go forward with a managed ABCoin, rather than a true Stablecoin.

Penn: Quant Tools and Macro Workshop

The Penn Institute for Economic Research (PIER) will offer a workshop on Quantitative Tools for Macroeconomic Policy Analysis. Francis X. Diebold, Enrique G. Mendoza, and Frank Schorfheide will provide training on essential state-of-the-art methods.

Guest Speakers include:

– Guillermo Calvo
– Narayana Kocherlakota
– Donald Kohn (three-hour mini-workshop on the practice of Macroprudential Policy)

The workshop will be held May 4 to May 8 at the University of Pennsylvania. Details are available at http://economics.sas.upenn.edu/pier/tools-workshop.

Conclusion and Summary: Future of the Global Monetary and Financial System roundtable

The CFS co-organized a “Future of the Global Monetary and Financial System: 75 years after Bretton Woods” roundtable with the Euro 50 Group. The roundtable gathered high-level personalities coming from all over the world.

My final takeaways are:

  • First, the time is right for the Bretton Woods Institutions (BWIs) to exercise greater leadership. The IMF is uniquely situated to help govern effectively and navigate in an increasingly complex and challenging world. But, with greater complexities and areas of engagement comes the risk of mission creep.
  • Second, the international monetary and financial system would benefit from a move with great purpose over time to a more rules-based system.
  • Third, policy actions today would benefit from a system-wide and longer-term perspective.

A roundtable summary and conclusions are available at
www.CenterforFinancialStability.org/bw2019/Final_Remarks_BW_in_DC.pdf

The conference agenda and bios are available at
www.CenterforFinancialStability.org/bw2019.php

Aliber’s “Reflections on Bretton Woods”

Robert Z. Aliber offers his “Reflections on Bretton Woods.” Bob is professor emeritus of International Economics and Finance at the University of Chicago, co-author of Manias, Panics, and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises, and a good friend of CFS.

Bob covers much ground. Topics include:

  • The White Mountains, Cog Railroad, and Mount Washington Hotel.
  • Bretton Woods Conferences.
  • How the Founders of Bretton Woods might view the last 75 years.
  • Trade and Tariffs.
  • The IMF.

The full report is available at http://www.CenterforFinancialStability.org/research/Reflections_on_Bretton_Woods_101719.pdf.

IRS to Ask Taxpayers about Virtual Currency Transactions

The IRS proposed an amended draft of the 2019 Form 1040 that includes a question about taxpayer virtual currency transactions.

As previously covered, the IRS provided updated guidance in the form of a revenue ruling and an FAQ on the tax treatment of virtual currency transactions. The FAQ addressed (i) when a cryptocurrency on a distributed ledger undergoes a protocol change that permanently divides the legacy from the existing distributed ledger (i.e., a “hard fork”) and (ii) when units of a cryptocurrency are delivered to the distributed ledger addresses of multiple taxpayers (i.e., an “airdrop”), typically following a hard fork.

The IRS proposed adding the following question to the 2019 Form 1040: “At any time during 2019, did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?”

Comments on the revised draft must be submitted to the IRS within 30 days after October 11, 2019.

CFS Monetary Measures for September 2019

Today we release CFS monetary and financial measures for September 2019. CFS Divisia M4, which is the broadest and most important measure of money, grew by 5.9% in September 2019 on a year-over-year basis versus 5.4% in August.

For Monetary and Financial Data Release Report:
http://www.centerforfinancialstability.org/amfm/Divisia_Sep19.pdf

For more information about the CFS Divisia indices and the data in Excel:
http://www.centerforfinancialstability.org/amfm_data.php

Bloomberg terminal users can access our monetary and financial statistics by any of the four options:

1) {ALLX DIVM }
2) {ECST T DIVMM4IY}
3) {ECST} –> ‘Monetary Sector’ –> ‘Money Supply’ –> Change Source in top right to ‘Center for Financial Stability’
4) {ECST S US MONEY SUPPLY} –> From source list on left, select ‘Center for Financial Stability’