Would an ECB Rescue Be Inflationary?

Michael Stephens | December 7, 2011

This is one of the questions Marshall Auerback tackles in a piece at Counterpunch.  His answer, as you might expect, is “no.”  He also addresses the concern that the ECB risks an impaired balance sheet if it steps up and plays a larger role in buying member-state debt:

… if the ECB bought the bonds then, by definition, the “profligates” do not default. In fact, as the monopoly provider of the euro, the ECB could easily set the rate at which it buys the bonds (say, 4% for Italy) and eventually it would replenish its capital via the profits it would receive from buying the distressed debt (not that the ECB requires capital in an operational sense; as usual with the euro zone, this is a political issue). At some point, Professor Paul de Grauwe is right :  convinced that the ECB was serious about resolving the solvency issue, the markets would begin to buy the bonds again and effectively do the ECB’s heavy lifting for them. The bonds would not be trading at these distressed levels if not for the solvency issue, which the ECB can easily address if it chooses to do so.  But this is a question of political will, not operational “sustainability.”

So the grand irony of the day remains this: while there is nothing the ECB can do to cause monetary inflation, even if it wanted to, the ECB, fearing inflation, holds back on the bond buying that would eliminate the national [government] solvency risk but not halt the deflationary monetary forces currently in place.


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