Whither the Euro? The Liar’s Paradox

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Whither the Euro? The Liar’s Paradox

In Dickens’ Hard Times the character Mr Gradgrind can’t help but speak about Facts to his pupils: ‘Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else’. As we listen to Mr Draghi, to Mr Carney and to Ms Yellen, as we read the Financial Times or listen to business channels, isn’t it all about the Facts and the numbers? Analyst’s commentary coupled with an over-reliance on Facts and numbers has thrown economic policy making into the lion’s den of semantic incoherence. We forget that the real economy is about losing a job, going bankrupt, losing your home, personal and household debt.

Facts and Numbers:  Relevance of Godel

Sadly, economic policy making has evolved into a game of natural numbers. In addition to semantic incoherence – ‘numbers on the upside’ or  ‘targets below forecasts’ – we would argue that Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem may have a direct relevance to policy makers, warning them of the incompleteness of an economic policy, reliant on numbers alone.  Each time a new policy statement – boosting credit in Southern Europe, changing interest rates or QE – is added as an axiom, there are other true statements that still cannot be proved, even with the new axiom. If an axiom is ever added that makes the system complete, it does so at the cost of making the system inconsistent. His argument shows that any consistent effective formal system that includes enough of the theory of the natural numbers is incomplete: there are true statements expressible in the language of economic theory that still remain unprovable within the EU system of policy signalling. For example, what would happen if QE were introduced by the ECB? Thus the policy problem for ECB and for the EU is that no formal system, reliant on numbers and number predictions, satisfying the hypotheses of the theorem, exists. Instead we have noise and signals.  

Godel’s sentence

Economic policy today is transmitted as number signals into the financial markets. Any decision to change interest rates, for example, will have already been discounted by hyperopic analysts. Mr Draghi like Mr Carney will push the forward guidance to ensure a target natural number is met – an inflation level or a growth rate target. On a quarter-to-quarter comparison, EU growth averages less than 0.5%. It is but a number. The Fed sets an unemployment target number of 7%, however measured, and only when unemployment converges to that number will the Fed signal an interest rate change. However, Godel’s incompleteness continues with the austerity mess, and the game of number predictions.

Waiting for Economics

What has happened to macroeconomics in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians? Once there was a policy mantra, P: ‘low (high) inflation explains currency appreciation (depreciation)’ and ‘low (high) interest rates explain currency depreciation (appreciation)’. The US Fed added QE which contributed to a devaluing US dollar. The ECB has been anxious about the strength of the Euro v US dollar, but the Euro has depreciated against Sterling. Is the interest-rate differential between the US and EU so much greater in natural number counting than that of the EU and UK to explain a depreciating-appreciation Euro. If policy prescriptions, P, each represent examples of the Gödel sentence that each time a new policy statement is added as an axiom, there are other true statements that still cannot be proved. We have the liar’s paradox embedded in economic policy decision making: Nominate a P. ‘P is false’. But it cannot be true for then, as stated, it is false – nor can it be false, for then, it is true.

Signals and Noise

Interest rates and inflation figures are Facts, they are numbers. Natural numbers that are allowed to guide policy – it is a mess. EU faces a deflation trap defined by a long period of low inflation, below a target rate of 2%.  The Economist in its May 24th 2014 edition referred to this period as one of ‘lowflation’. Mr Draghi had signalled in early June 2014 how he intended to tackle the imminent threat of deflation – lower interest rates and a European style QE boosting credit by providing funding to banks on the condition that they lend to business.  Now we await the ECB meeting this week (September 4th). He will be reminded that the economic fundamentals are just numbers. Interest rates, exchange rates and inflation are natural numbers. The EU target inflation is 2%, ECB interest rates are now at 0.15%, falling from 0.25% and the Euro/Sterling rate of exchange fluctuates around 0.7911 and 0.8123. Natural numbers but with a potent impact on policies that directly affect everyday life.

1944-2014: Breton Woods to Brisbane

Did Mr Draghi signal at the Jackson Hole meetings last month that the Eurozone needs a relaxed fiscal and monetary policy? Will we see a signal from the ECB this week towards a purchasing of securitised assets? According to European Commission figures last month (August 2014) Eurozone inflation was at 0.3%, well below the target of 2%. In the real economy, however, bad banks dominate the landscape, unemployment continues to rise and growth remains stagnant. Yet our policy makers remain persuaded by Facts and data and numbers.

A reliance on Facts and numbers will continue to stifle policy making; it will ensure that Europe is at least a decade away from any numbered gains in productivity, any increases in real wages or any increases in growth. There is always hope. But in the reliance on Facts and data there is a great danger for policy makers sailing between the Charybdis of raising interest rates too soon and the Scylla of raising rates too late.

Analysts could be predicting a weakening Euro, strengthening US$ and Sterling as we end 2014. FX analysts will try to predict likely movements in the currencies but currency misalignment still continues. Indeed, in a world of numbers we will continue to ask: whither the Euro and Eurozone economies in an era of stagnant growth? But unless ECB engages with QE, Europe will continue to drift into debt-deflation cycle. Maybe there is hope that at the G20 in Brisbane later this year our policy makers will consider an interim regime of managed exchange rates across the world #tuncnunc to facilitate a return to economics. Earlier discussion on managed exchange rates on http://www.patrickmcnutt.com/news/signalling-china-and-the-us/


Godel’s Theorem

Gödel’s theorem shows that, in theories that include a small portion of number theory a complete and consistent finite list of axioms can never be created, nor even an infinite list that can be enumerated by analyst’s computer programmes.


 € Appreciates: Low inflation and High Interest Rates

If appreciates expect lower inflation, and high real interest rates

€ Devalues: High Inflation and Low Interest Rates

Low and negative rates of interest € devalues


 € Appreciates: Low inflation and High Interest Rates

If appreciates expect lower inflation, and high real interest rates

Higher unemployment and downward pressure on wages

Internal Member State devaluation


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