Colin Hines and the Magic Money Tree


It had to happen of course: once people started talking about unconventional monetary policy then there was always going to be someone who espied the Magic Money Tree. And it's Colin Hines who has:

It was heartening to hear Ed Miliband say in his speech that tackling climate change is a passion of his and that solving it could be a massive job-generating opportunity (Report, 24 September). The inevitable question of how to pay for this can be tackled by writing to Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England. He is on record as saying that if the government requested it, then the next round of QE could be used to buy assets other than government debt. Miliband said that the Green Investment Bank would be used to fund green economic activity and so Labour should allow it to issue bonds that could then be bought by the Bank using “Green QE”. Similarly, local authorities could issue bonds to build new energy-efficient public homes funded by “Housing QE”.

The Bank has already pumped £375bn of QE into the economy, but with little tangible benefit to the majority. Imagine the galvanising effect on the real economy of every city and town if a £50bn programme of infrastructural QE became the next government’s priority. This could make every building in the UK energy-tight and build enough highly insulated new homes to tackle the housing crisis. It would provide a secure career structure for those involved for the next 10 years and beyond, massive numbers of adequately paid apprenticeships and jobs for the self employed, a market for local small businesses, and reduced energy bills for all. Such a nationwide programme would generate tax revenue to help tackle the deficit, but in an economically and socially constructive way. Best of all it would not be categorised as increased public funding, since QE spending has not and would not be counted as government expenditure. Colin Hines Convener, Green New Deal Group

Wonderful, eh? We can have everything we want, and a pony, without ever having to pay for it!


The problem being that Hines (and there are others of that ilk out there too) hasn't grasped the difference between the creation of credit to reduce interest rates (what QE does) and the creation of base money to spend into the real economy. That second has rather different effects: as the Germans found out post WW I, the Hungarians post WW II and the Zimbabweans more recently. It creates hyperinflation, those last having it to such a bad extent that they kept printing until they'd run out of the real money necessary to buy the ink to print the play money.

I do not, note, claim that £1 billion or £50 billion or even £500 billion of this "Green QE" will inevitably produce inflation of 1000 % a day. I do however claim that use of this Magic Money Tree will, given the way that politics works (which politician doesn't like spending money she's not had to find through taxation?) will inevitably lead to hyperinflation. For the thing is we've tried this experiment before, many a time, and that is always what does happen.

Simply not a good idea.