Japan announces "quantitative and qualitative easing"

¥135trn of government bonds will be bought by the central bank.

The Bank of Japan has announced it is to carry out "quantitative and qualitative easing" in an effort to return inflation to its target rate of 2 per cent in "about two years". In a statement, the bank's incoming governor has said:

In order to do so, it will enter a new phase of monetary easing both in terms of quantity and quality. It will double the monetary base and the amounts outstanding of Japanese government bonds (JGBs) as well as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in two years, and more than double the average remaining maturity of JGB purchases.

The scale of the easing plan is enormous. The bank currently has ¥135trn of outstanding bonds, and plans to increase that to ¥270trn. That's an easing programme of £1.878trn, compared to the Bank of England's asset purchase programme of £375bn over the last few years.

But the "qualitative" aspect of the easing is even more groundbreaking:

In addition, JGBs with all maturities including 40-year bonds will be made eligible for purchase, and the average remaining maturity of the Bank's JGB purchases will be extended from slightly less than three years at present to about seven years – equivalent to the average maturity of the amount outstanding of JGBs issued.

Increasing the money supply by such a monumental amount is a risky move. The classic equation for money, MV=PY, holds that if the (V)elocity of money – the rate at which money changes hands – stays fixed, then an increase in the (M)oney supply must lead to an increase in either the (P )rice level, or output (Y), or both. The BoJ will be hoping for the price level to increase to two per cent and stay there, and for an increase in output to pick up the rest of the money; but once started, inflation can be hard to stop.

At the moment, deflation is Japan's biggest priority, but it runs the risk of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

Perhaps the most important part of the announcement is what the FT's Kate Mackenzie calls "Communications and other Jedi matters". It's the bit where the bank attempts to push expectations in the direction they want, without actually saying what they want, because if they say what they want, people will second-guess what they want and then what they want won't actually happen the way they want it to and – look, they just said this:

The quantitative and qualitative monetary easing, introduced by the Bank today, will underpin the Bank’s commitment, and is expected not only to work through such transmission channels like longer-term interest rates and asset prices but also to drastically change the expectations of markets and economic entities.

What does it mean? We'll find out a bit more on the 26th, when the bank meets next.

Newly appointed Bank of Japan (BOJ) Governor Haruhiko Kuroda. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.