The impact on redistribution of the ECB’s monetary policy

By Jérôme Creel and Mehdi El Herradi

A few weeks before Christine Lagarde assumes the presidency of the European Central Bank (ECB), it may be useful to examine the balance sheet of her predecessors, not only on macroeconomic and financial matters but also with respect to inequality. In recent years, the problem of the redistributive effects of monetary policy has become an important issue, both academically and at the level of economic policy discussions.

Interest in this subject has grown in a context marked by the conjunction of two factors. First there has been a persistent level of inequality in wealth and income, which has been hard to reduce. Then there are the activities of the central banks in the advanced economies following the 2008 crisis to support growth, particularly through the implementation of so-called “unconventional” measures [1]. These measures, mainly manifested in quantitative easing (QE) programmes, are suspected to have increased the prices of financial assets and, as a result, favoured wealthier households. At the same time, the low interest rate policy could have resulted in a reduction in interest income on assets with fixed yields, most of which are held by low-income households. On the other hand, the real effects of monetary policy, particularly on changes in the unemployment rate, could help keep low-income households in employment. The ensuing debate, which initially broke out in the United States, also erupted at the level of the euro zone after the ECB launched its QE programme.

In a recent study focusing on 10 euro zone countries between 2000 and 2015, we analysed the impact of the ECB’s monetary policy measures – both conventional and unconventional – on income inequality. To do this, we drew on three key indicators: the Gini coefficient, both before and after redistribution, and an interdecile ratio (the ratio between the richest 20% and the poorest 20%).

Three main results emerge from our study. On the one hand, a restrictive monetary policy has a modest impact on income inequality, regardless of the indicator of inequality used. On the other hand, this effect is mainly due to the southern European countries, especially in the period of conventional monetary policy. Finally, we found that the redistributive effects of conventional and unconventional monetary policies do not differ significantly.

These results thus suggest that the monetary policies pursued by the ECB since the crisis have probably had an insignificant and possibly even favourable impact on income inequality. The forthcoming normalization of the euro zone’s monetary policy could, on the contrary, increase inequality. Although this increase may be limited, it is important that decision-makers anticipate it.


[1] For an analysis of the expected impact of the ECB’s unconventional policies, see Blot et al. (2015).

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The European Central Bank is readying the future

By Christophe Blot and Paul Hubert

At the press conference following the meeting of the ECB’s Governing Council on Thursday, 8 June, Mario Draghi announced that the Bank’s key interest rates would remain unchanged (0% for the main refinancing operations rate, a negative 0.40% for the deposit facility rate and 0.25% for the lending facility rate). In particular, Draghi gave some valuable insights into the future direction of the euro zone’s monetary policy by changing its message. Whereas he had systematically stated that rates could be cut (“at lower levels”), he now stated that they would be maintained at the “present level” for an “extended period of time” and “well past the horizon of our net asset purchases”. Continue reading “The European Central Bank is readying the future”

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Where are we at in the euro zone credit cycle?

By Christophe Blot and Paul Hubert

In December 2016, the European Central Bank announced the continuation of its Quantitative Easing (QE) policy until December 2017. The continuing economic recovery in the euro zone and the renewal of inflation are now raising questions about the risks associated with this programme. On the one hand, isn’t the pursuit of a highly expansionary monetary policy a source of financial instability? Conversely, a premature end to unconventional measures could undermine growth as well as the ECB’s capacity to achieve its objectives. Here, we study the dilemma facing the ECB [in French] based on an analysis of credit cycles and banking activity in the euro zone. Continue reading “Where are we at in the euro zone credit cycle?”

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Leave the euro?

By Christophe BlotJérôme CreelBruno DucoudréPaul HubertXavier RagotRaul SampognaroFrancesco Saraceno, and Xavier Timbeau

Evaluating the impact of France leaving the euro zone (“Frexit”) is tricky, as many channels for doing this exist and the effects are uncertain. However, given that this proposal is being advanced in the more general debate over the costs and benefits of membership in the European Union and the euro, it is useful to discuss and estimate what is involved. Continue reading “Leave the euro?”

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How negative can interest rates get?

By Christophe Blot and Paul Hubert

On 11 June 2014, the European Central Bank decided to set a negative rate on deposit facilities and on the excess reserves held by credit institutions in the euro zone. This rate was then lowered several times, and has been -0.40% as of March 2016. This raises questions about the reasons why agents, in this case the commercial banks, agree to pay interest on deposits left with the ECB. In an article on the causes and consequences of negative rates, we explain how the central bank has come to impose negative rates and how far they can go, and then we discuss the costs of this policy for the banks. Continue reading “How negative can interest rates get?”

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What would be the risks of extending QE?

By Christophe BlotPaul Hubert and Fabien Labondance

Following the last meeting of the ECB Governing Council on 22 October, Mario Draghi said that on Thursday, December 3rd, the Bank would review the orientation of its monetary policy in the light of economic and financial developments and the new Eurosystem staff forecasts, which will be disclosed at that time. The main issue facing the meeting is whether the ECB will take new steps to support activity. It could for instance announce further cuts in the deposit facility rate or an extension of quantitative easing (QE). Up to now the ECB has been careful to show its determination to meet its primary objective of price stability, even though in return it is encountering criticism that these waves of monetary expansion have had little effect on inflation but are fuelling asset price bubbles. Continue reading “What would be the risks of extending QE?”

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Is Greece in the process of divorce?

By Jérôme Creel

The ongoing Greek saga is looking more and more like an old American TV series. JR Ewing returns to the family table feeling upset with Sue Ellen for her failure to keep her promise to stop drinking. Given the way things are going, a divorce seems inevitable, especially if Bobby sides with his brother and refuses to help his sister-in-law any longer.

Just like in Dallas, addiction to a potentially toxic substance, public debt, is plaguing Europe’s states and institutions. Analyses on Greece focus mainly on debt-to-GDP ratios. On these terms, Greece’s public debt-to-GDP ratio rose from 2011 to 2014: European public opinion can therefore legitimately question the ability of the Greek people (really the Greek state) to curb spending and raise taxes. A divorce is inevitable. But if we look at the amounts involved, the situation seems somewhat different. Continue reading “Is Greece in the process of divorce?”

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The spirit of the letter of the law … to avoid a “Graccident”

Raul Sampognaro and Xavier Timbeau

The noose, in the words of Alexis Tsipras, is getting tighter and tighter around the Greek government. The last tranche of the aid program (7.2 billion euros) has still not been released as the Brussels Group (the ex-Troika) has not accepted the conditions on the aid plan. The Greek state is therefore on the brink of default. It might be thought that this is simply one more episode in the drama that Greece has been acting out with its creditors and that, once again, at the last moment the money needed will be found. But if Greece has managed to meet its deadlines up to now, it has been at the price of expedients that it is not at all certain can be used again. Continue reading “The spirit of the letter of the law … to avoid a “Graccident””

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The ECB’s quantitative easing exercise: you’re never too young to start

By Christophe BlotJérôme CreelPaul Hubert and  Fabien Labondance

The ECB decision to launch a quantitative easing (QE) programme was widely anticipated. Indeed, on several occasions in the second half of 2014 Mario Draghi had reiterated that the Governing Council was unanimous in its commitment to take the steps needed, in accordance with its mandate, to fight against the risk of a prolonged slowdown in inflation. Both the scale and the characteristics of the ECB plan announced on 22 January 2014 sent a strong, though perhaps belated signal of the Bank’s commitment to fight the risk of deflation, which has been spreading in the euro zone, as can be seen in particular in inflation expectations over a two-year horizon (Figure 1). In a special study entitled, “Que peut-on attendre du l’assouplissement quantitatif de la BCE?” [“What can we expect from the ECB’s quantitative easing?”], we clarify the implications of this new strategy by explaining the mechanisms for the transmission of quantitative easing, drawing on the numerous empirical studies on previous such programmes in the US, the UK and Japan. Continue reading “The ECB’s quantitative easing exercise: you’re never too young to start”

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The Greek Sisyphus and its public debt: towards an end to the ordeal?

By Céline Antonin

After its failure to elect a new President by a qualified majority vote, the Greek Parliament was dissolved, with early elections to be held on 25 January 2015. The radical left party Syriza is leading the opinion polls on the election, ahead of the “New Democracy” party of the outgoing Prime Minister, Anthony Samaras. While Syriza’s economic programme has met with enthusiasm from the population, it has aroused concern from the Troika of creditors (IMF, ECB and EU), particularly on three issues: the country’s potential withdrawal from the euro zone, the implementation of a fiscal stimulus, and a partial sovereign default. This last topic will be the main issue after the elections. Continue reading “The Greek Sisyphus and its public debt: towards an end to the ordeal?”

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