16 February 2012

Mervyn and the runaway train

Just occasionally, the newspapers offer a glimpse of explanation.  Is quantitative easing a Good Thing?  The Independent provides a metaphor:
The train is hurtling down a track towards five recklessly drunk people who are about to be killed. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can delay it by enough for the drunks to move away by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very trusting, very fat man next to you. Your only way to avert disaster is to push him over the bridge and on to the track, killing him to save five. Do you proceed?
Philosophers and others with too much time on their hands have been mulling this sort of thing for ages.
Sir Mervyn's runaway train is that even if QE does save the five on the track, the fat man – pensioners, savers – are being brutally mowed down.
Annuity rates are tragic. Savings returns are not much better.
QE is a transfer of wealth from the prudent to the drunk. But if Sir Mervyn hadn't put it in place, everyone might have suffered.
The point is that there are no "good" policies when it comes to the economy, merely ones that are the least bad available.
Well OK as far as it goes.  But what if you're the prudent fat man, relying on annuities or savings to keep you afloat?

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