The Monetary policy committee (MPC) in the UK seems set to repeat the imposition of financial repression we
saw in the period 2010-12. That is the aggresive reduction in the real
interest rate by failing to keep the nominal rate up with inflation.
Inflation looks set to rise to 3-4% in 2017-18, with nominal interrest
rates left at 0.25 or 0.5% (as seems the plan), that means a negative
real interest rate of -2.5 to -3.5%. Now in 2010 that may have been an
excusable policy: we were in the extraordinary times of the
immediate aftermath of the finacial crisis. However, there is no
justifucation in the current state of the economy for reducing real
rates so rapidly to such a low negative rate. The role of the MPC is to
target inflation, which requires nominal interest rates to rise at
least as much as infation is expected to increase (i.e. the Taylor
principle, that real rates rise when inflation rises above target).

Real interest rates should almost never be negative. Prior to the 2008
crisis, the only time real interest rates had been negative was back in
the 1970s during the “Great Inflation”. Back then there was an excuse:
people did not really understand inflation and how to cope with it.
The failure to keep real interest rates positive is widely seen as
simply bad policy. Since then, real interest rates have nearly always
been positive, with nominal rates being around 1-2% higher than
inflation.

In the last year, we finally had a return to a
positive real rate: the policy rate was 0.5 and inflation was around
zero. However, the MPC and Governor Mark Carney have openly stated that
they intend to keep the policy interest rate at its current level
whilst inflation will be well above target. This will be seen as an
historic failure of judgement by the MPC. Financial repression on this
scale will lead to a massive redistribution of income, with the Bank of
England in effect becoming a major instrument of fiscal policy, taking
from savers and pensioners and giving to borrowers. This sort of
redistribution is not what the MPC is about. Its role is targeting
inflation, something which it seems to have forgotten.

What about Brexit? Well, Andy Haldane (the chief economist at the Bank of England) has admitted that the Bank’s forecasts overstated the effect of the Brexit vote on the real economy. The real effects of brexit have yet to come into play (Brexit has not happened yet). However, the implication is that the post Brexit cut in interest rates needs t be reversed: I have yet to see the MPC indicating that this is what it intends to do.

In the US, interest rates are rising: this is something that the UK would be well advised to do immediately. A policy of financial repression is not what the UK economy needs in 2017.