Three Essays Due On Language And The Way We Think

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Although a federal and decentralized central bank is not a novelty, Eurosystem is a special case. It is the central bank of an economy that has a much deeper national segmentation than any other currency area. Its components have for many generations (and until few weeks ago) of performed the full range of central banking functions under their own responsibility and in a national context. They have been accountable to, and sometimes dependent on, national institutions. Public opinion has perceived, and still perceives, them as national entities. The notion of the public interest they were referring to was the notion of a national interest. Significant differences existed, and partly remain, in their tasks, organizations, statutes and cultures.

On a functional ground, i.e. from the point of view of the relationship between economic variables that models usually consider, chronically weak economy is one in which expectations deteriorate, investments stagnate, consumption declines. Structural unemployment may increase the risk of a deflationary spiral because a longer expected duration of unemployment may imply that households respond more conservatively (in terms of increasing savings) of in the face of a deflationary shock. Today, we see no signs of deflation. Markets and observers who pay attention to communications by the Eurosystem know that the monetary policy strategy of the euro area is symmetrical, equally attentive to inflation and deflation. Thus, they know that if that risk became reality, Eurosystem would have to act, and would act. But we know that monetary policy is much less effective in countering deflation than it is in countering inflation.

Every economist, observer or policy-maker would probably agree that the most serious problem for the European economy, today and in the years to come, is high unemployment. In large parts of continental Europe the economic system just seems to have lost the ability to create new jobs.

In the articulation of any federal constitution (Bund, Land and local, to use the German terminology) central bank undoubtedly belongs to the level of the "federation", or Bund. The fact that important activities are conducted by "local" components of the system (Landeszentralbanken, or Federal Reserve District Banks) is an organisational feature that does not impinge upon the constitutional position of the central bank. The same happens within Monetary Union. The Eurosystem is the central bank of the euro area, even though operations are carried out - to the extent possible and appropriate - through its component parts, the NCBs. Indeed, constitutional and the organisational profile of the institution are not in contradiction.

In this situation, making the Eurosystem a central bank requires drawing the appropriate distinction between being national in the organisational sense and being euro area-wide in the definition of the public interest pursued. This is a difficult distinction to draw in conceptual terms, not only in practical terms or from the point of view of personal attitudes.

In the preparatory discussions and negotiations that led to the Maastricht Treaty, central banks took the view that monetary functions are indivisible and that, contrary to the fiscal field, subsidiarity cannot apply to the monetary field. Their traditional and strongly held position has been that the public interest assigned to central bank is a whole which cannot easily be decomposed. Indeed, while there is a fairly well developed theory of fiscal federalism, there is no equivalent for the monetary field.

Secondly, central banker should avoid mistakes. It may seem obvious, but he should never forget that independence does not mean infallibility and that the likely new environment will offer no forgiveness for mistakes. A mistake would be the attempt to provide a substitute for the lack of structural policies by providing unnecessary monetary stimulus: it is not because the right medicine is neither supplied by the pharmacist nor demanded by the patient that the wrong medicine becomes effective. Another mistake would be to give the impression that the central bank has a ceiling in mind for growth, rather than for inflation. On the contrary, central bank should make it clear that any rate of non-inflationary growth is welcomed and would be accommodated, higher the better.