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Brave RBA should raise rates

By Henry Thornton - posted Tuesday, 4 September 2007

It’s official - monetary policy can be tightened during an election campaign. So there is no impediment to further rate hikes this year - indeed, the public would hold the Reserve to account if it failed to raise rates when needed just because of a minor matter like a political contest under way.

"I'm not going to do what some dick-head minister tells me," said a previous RBA guv'nor. Current guv'nor Glenn Stevens has placed a further stake in the sand, and good luck to him.

The global economy is booming. The US sub-prime lending crisis has produced wobbles in financial markets, but First World central banks have lent freely, thereby softening Baghot's classic advice. Third World central banks have been printing money freely.


Third World central banks, of course, lack the formal independence of established central banks - indeed, in many Third World nations, the politicians are "independent" of the people they govern. So in these nations the central bankers are mere arms of government, as was the Reserve Bank of Australia in the 1970s.

Watching China's "crawling peg" currency co-existing with burgeoning money supply growth reminds Henry of Australia's situation in the early 1970s. China's deflation of goods and service prices has been replaced by inflation. In a spooky echo of Australia in the early 1970s, food price inflation is seen as the "special factor" at work in China.

In reality, China's goods and services inflation is due to lax monetary policy and soon this will be clear to all.

China's economy, like those of other emerging economic powers such as India and Brazil, is growing fast, boosted by the steroid of easy money. Already the hundreds of millions of new industrial workers are asking for a bigger share of the economic pie. As in Australia in the 1970s, this tendency will strengthen. The reality of global inflation originating in Third World nations is no doubt why US Fed chief Ben Bernanke is trying to hold the line on interest rate cuts. At Jackson Hole's recent monetary conference, Bernanke reportedly had a bet each way, but equity markets surged - so market participants obviously think they got a nod and a wink for ease to come. Soon the global equity market correction that started in July will be just another slightly painful memory.

The domestic economy is running well, to the point where capacity constraints are biting. This much has been strongly confirmed by Stevens. Late last week we learned that credit growth is still running fast, business fixed investment is booming (well ahead of economists' expectations) and retail sales for July are booming. Henry heard a leading retailer speaking of "nearly insatiable" demand for flat-screen TVs, as just one example. While there are battlers in Australia, the top and the middle are getting better paid - and richer - almost at will. The China boom is expected to maintain strong growth for the foreseeable future.

Released with mining giant Rio Tinto's stellar results was a study by Professor Ross Garnaut and colleague Ligang Song. China's resources demand is "at the turning point". And the turn is upwards rather than downwards. In releasing the study, Rio Tinto Australia managing director Charlie Lenegan said: "The increase in China's demand for metals over this period (2000-2020) may be comparable to the total demand of the industrial world today. If Garnaut and Song are right, the implications for the global economy are staggering."


China will struggle to restrain inflation - Henry's prediction is that it will fail. The current resources boom will intensify and Australia will also struggle to avoid inflation. The world failed to avoid inflation in the 1970s, during the previous (and much smaller) resources boom, and the costs in lost production and lost jobs were dreadful.

But there are differences to China now or Australia then. We have a floating exchange rate and independent central bank.

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First published in The Australian on Septmeber 4, 2007.

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About the Author

Henry Thornton (1760-1815) was a banker, M.P., Philanthropist, and a leading figure in the influential group of Evangelicals that was known as the Clapham set. His column is provided by the writers at

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