Current Scholarship
Unconventional central banking and the politics of liquidity

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Author: Fathimath Musthaq

The 2008 financial crisis saw central banks introduce a variety of tools to shore up the financial system, including unconventional measures that made use of central bank balance sheets to directly shape markets. This paper argues that central banks increasingly rely on unconventional tools in noncrisis times to maintain confidence in an unstable financial system: in rich countries, outright asset purchase programs form the core of monetary policy, and in emerging capitalist economies, the sale and purchase of foreign exchange assets constitute the central mechanism of exchange rate policy. These interventions increasingly target ‘market dysfunction,’ as opposed to (a narrow interpretation of) monetary policy or the level of the exchange rate, suggesting a convergence in central bank operations around maintaining the plumbing of finance. Using two case studies – foreign exchange operations by the Reserve Bank of India and asset purchase programs by the U.S. Federal Reserve – the paper demonstrates a blurring of the boundaries between crisis and noncrisis interventions, and lends evidence to the concept of a de-risking state that guarantees liquidity. The paper concludes with a discussion of how a de-risking state exacerbates inequality, financial vulnerabilities and undermines meaningful action on pressing issues such as climate change.

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