Something certainly has to be done, and urgently -- as US economist Steve Hanke says, "by having a free, floating exchange rate combined with inflation targeting" "the New Zealand economy is on a death spiral" -- and removing the Reserve Bank's legislatively constrained myopic focus on "price stability" would be prime amongst things that should be done, but given the circling of monetary cranks around the rotting corpse of the Reserve Bank Stabilisation Act, I have little confidence in where such a change might end up.
The fact that Bill English is opposed (and solely it seems for the reason that, to paraphrase him in this morning's Herald, "this is how we've always done things") is perhaps good reason however to give it serious consideration, since Billy Boy is almost a beacon for the wrong side of every issue.
Let me just explain briefly why I've placed the words "price stability" in inverted commas above, and my answer to that will help explain why, on the face of it at least, removing this as a target for the Reserve Bank governor would be a good thing. As Frank Shostak explains, "the policy of "price stability" always leads to more instability." That may seem incongruous, but only if you fail to see how prices (plural) are formed. It's true that monetary inflation (that is, the Reserve Bank printing too much money) is the primary cause of inflation of prices, but it's not true that every change in prices is due to such monetary legerdemain; when prices need to fall or to rise for reasons other than monetary reasons -- when say a technological change makes a product line cheaper, or when supply and demand factors make a line of goods or services more expensive -- then mandating price stability puts an artificial constraint on markets, constraints that will and do lead to malinvestments and severe dislocations, just as we're seeing, and with our small currency it leads too to serious foreign exchange problems.
An article in the latest Free Radical explains this apparent paradox of how "price stability" leads instead to instability; says M.A. Abrams, it comes about through a complete misunderstanding of the nature of monetary inflation:
In an economically progressive community (that is, one where the real costsIt's time to cut the Reserve Bank Stabilisation Act loose. That's one thing that could be done immediately. But cutting it loose should not be used to politicise the currency in another way. That would be a remedy worse than the malady from which we're presently suffering.
of production per unit are falling and output per head is increasing), any
additions to the supply of money in order to prevent falling prices will be
hidden inflation; and in a retrogressive community, (that is, one where output
per head is diminishing and real costs of production are rising), any
contraction of the supply of money in order to prevent rising prices will be
hidden deflation. Inflation and deflation can occur just as well behind a stable
price level as when the price level is rising and falling...
Thus, in the case where [economic progress] due to increased saving is
corrected by additional money for consumers, the result is to prevent any
[increase in the efficiency] of production; and where a fall in prices due to
improved knowledge is corrected by additional money, the result is to force a
transition to less [efficient] methods. In both cases the fruits of
progress are rejected because of a determination to keep prices stable.
Moreover, in both cases the correction of the attempted advances has involved
the abandonment of some of the higher stages of production where certainly some
of the factors used are highly specialized and these will therefore become
unemployed as a result of the transition.