It is what is known in financial circles as “helicopter money,” and, economically speaking it has usually been looked at as a very bad idea. However, more recently some well-respected financial experts are looking to the concept as a way to avoid the current path to a recession that many believe President Trump has put us on.
“Helicopter Money” is the use of direct and permanent injections of cash to stimulate an economy, usually by the large central banks.
History has told us that this is rarely a good idea, as it often leads to runaway inflation. But, right now, according to a recent piece in Bloomberg, there is an emerging consensus that says the next downturn may need to be fought with so-called “helicopter money,” but in a way that banks and governments have to work together.
What’s resurfacing is “the old idea of monetary policy sometimes pushing on a string,’’ Lawrence Summers, a former U.S. Treasury secretary, and now Harvard University professor, told Bloomberg Television recently. “We’ve got to think much harder, for economic stabilization, about mechanisms that involve spurring demand directly,’’
Summers says this kind of direct action is necessary, because the usual fixes — low interest rates – are already at all-time lows, and consumers are not borrowing.
The new “spin” on the “helicopter’s” blades, is to have the central banks and governments cooperate in providing the stimulus. That is a concept that the banking industry calls, “fiscal-monetary cooperation.” However, Summers says it could solve problems, and maybe create some new ones, on both sides.
One solution, he suggests, is to combine them –- for example, by letting central banks create money to finance government budget deficits. The challenge there, however, is to encase such “historically unusual’’ measures in explicit rules – “so that central bankers retain their independence and can apply the brakes if government spending gets out of control.”
This idea was recently written about in a White Paper published by BlackRock Inc. and co-written by the Fed’s former vice-chair. According to Bloomberg, their proposal involves an emergency fiscal fund that central banks could activate when inflation is dangerously below-target and there’s no room to cut rates. The money-tap would shut off automatically once prices are back on track. As that is just the sort of condition the economy is in now, many others have reached similar conclusions about what central bankers and government could do next, as long as they do so with government authorization.
Different Flight Plans for the “Helicopter”
The differences are only in the details. For example, in a new book by financial commentator Frances Coppola, titled “The Case For People’s Quantitative Easing,” Coppola calls for newly minted central-bank money to be funneled straight into the bank accounts of households or small businesses. That kind of stimulus will deliver more growth and better distribution, she argues — as well as addressing challenges like aging populations and automation.
“Helicopter money is not a free lunch,” says, Jamie Rush, Chief European economist for Bloomberg Economics. “But it might still be the best value meal going when the next crisis hits. Exactly how the money gets into the helicopter is likely to be less important than how it is dropped. But, if there are benefits to explicit monetary financing of deficits they are likely to stem from policy coordination [between the central banks and government].”