High-income economies have had ultra-cheap money for more than five years. Japan has lived with it for almost 20. This has been policy makers’ principal response to the crises they have confronted. Inevitably, a policy of cheap money is controversial. Nonetheless, as Japan’s experience shows, the predicament may last a long time.
The highest interest rate charged by any of the four most important central banks in the high-income economies is 0.5 per cent at the Bank of England. Never before this period had the rate been below 2 per cent. In the US, the eurozone and the UK, the central bank’s balance sheet is now close to a quarter of gross domestic product. In Japan, it is already close to half, and rising. True, the Federal Reserve is tapering its programme of asset purchases, and there is talk that the BoE will soon tighten policy. Yet in the eurozone and Japan the question is whether further easing might be needed.