The world wisely edges away from talk of a currency war: The diplomatic communiqués that follow international summits are rarely noteworthy. They have to be acceptable to everyone, so tend toward the lowest common denominator. But the Group of 20’s most recent communiqué, following its meeting on the sidelines of the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, contains one sentence of consequence. “Monetary policy,” it reads, “should be directed toward domestic price stability and continuing to support economic recovery according to the respective mandates of central banks”.
The significance of this addition should not be overlooked. It means that the Bank of Japan is to be applauded, not criticised, for the aggressive asset-purchase programme it has adopted in the effort to hit its 2 per cent inflation target.
It also implies that the Federal Reserve’s heavy use of quantitative easing and forward guidance are entirely appropriate given its dual mandate to pursue low inflation and high employment – more so now that other instruments that could be used to achieve those goals, notably fiscal policy, are currently unavailable.
This is a significant advance from the “currency war” rhetoric that prevailed earlier this year. Back then, the BoJ's new policies were impugned as an effort to depreciate the yen and gain an export advantage. The BoJ and Fed were criticised for unleashing a torrent of capital flows into emerging markets. Now, in contrast, officials in other countries, while still less than fully comfortable about the consequences, realise that they would be even worse off had the Fed and the BoJ responded to them. Capital inflows and local currency appreciation may be uncomfortable for emerging markets but renewed recession in the US and Japan, which could be induced by premature abandonment of easing, would be worse.