Brad DeLong wrote an excellent article several months ago titled “The Republic of the Central Banker” about the vast and often underappreciated power wielded by central bankers. His focus, naturally, is on the U.S. Federal Reserve system and its chairman. But the central banker who holds sway over the largest economic unit is no longer the Fed Chair. Rather, it’s the head of the European Central Bank, Jean Claude Trichet. His decisions have vast influence over the fate of the entire global economy. And he seems to not be doing a very difficult job, arguing confidently that there’s no risk of deflation and maintaining the ECB’s lifelong obsession with inflation.
This is a problem for Europe. But it’s a problem for us, too. American households are increasing their savings rates which is macroeconomically counterproductive in a downturn. Counterproductive but probably unavoidable considering the past years of dissavings. But the world needs someone to be reducing savings and generating demand. And many of the people in a position to do that live in Germany. But absent a central bank that appreciates the gravity of the situation and is interested in stimulating demand, it won’t happen. And all of us around the world will suffer for it. I think confidence had developed over the past few decades that whatever might come to pass, policymakers wouldn’t just repeat the blunders of the Great Depression era. But that confidence seems to some extent misplaced.