Mr Haldane the Chief Economist of the Bank of England thinks we might need negative interest rates on money held in banks. I disagree He thinks we might need lower interest rates, not higher, in the future. He wants to stop people who have saved from keeping their savings. He wants to persuade them to spend their money. Why not, he muses out loud, charge them for the privilege of owning cash? To do so, he suggests getting rid of banknotes, and forcing people to hold cash in accounts which could be charged a negative interest rate (or taxed) accordingly, to force people to spend.
This is a bad idea. He does accept that banknotes are not about to disappear, and all the time there are bank notes people do not have to pay a negative interest rate to hold money. He suggests substituting digital money for banknotes, so all with money would have pay the negative interest rate. Even were he able to create his dreamworld, a nightmare for savers, there would be nothing to stop them simply transferring their cash to another currency and another banking system where there was no penalty for daring to save. Nor could he prevent various other cash like assets popping up to protect savers from his negative interest rates. He needs to understand many people have good reasons to save. A society with too little savings would leave the elderly with insufficient means and the unfortunate with no reserves to fall back on.
Nor do I accept his premise that saving is evil, a crime against economic growth. If the Bank of England had kept the commercial banks in better shape between 2005 and 2010 by regulating them sensibly, they could carry on using the money that people had saved. A healthy banking system is designed to put savers into contact with borrowers, with the banks as the intermediaries standing behind the risks. It is designed to let the prudent, the elderly and those relying on savings to get a return on their savings by lending their money to the adventurous and the hard up to invest and spend beyond their immediate means. It is only because the Bank overdid the easy credit up to 20078 and then visited a tough bust on the banks thereafter that savers have been robbed of return and potential borrowers starved of loans.
The UK economy is the fastest growing major economy in the world today. Wages and real wages are now rising. There is more investment underway. That does not argue for interest rates below the current 0.5%. In order to sustain recovery and have a more normal economic performance post crash, we need to complete the repair of the commercial banks. They can then get the savers’ cash to work. Trying to abolish or diminish savings is a very bad idea. It would undermine people’s sense of independence and security. If digital money is linked in people’s minds to negative interest rates, it will slow enthusiasm for this technology. Let’s have properly working banks and a return on savers’ money.