By Yanis Varoufakis, Professor of Economics at the University of Athens. Cross posted from his blog
Under normal conditions, the interest rates that you and I must pay on a home loan, a car loan, our credit card, a business loan are pegged onto two crucial rates. One is the rate that banks charge one another in order to borrow from each other. The other is the Central Bank’s overnight rate. Alas, neither of these interest rates matter during this Crisis. While such ‘official’ rates are tending to zero (as Central Banks try to squeeze the costs of borrowing to nothing), the interest rates people and firms pay are much, much higher and track indices of fear and subjective estimates of the Eurozone’s disintegration.
Following the Crash of 2008, banks stopped lending to each other, fearful that they will never get their money back (as most banks became, in effect, insolvent). Thus, the interest rate at which they lend to one another simply ceased being a meaningful price (just like the prices of CDOs, following Lehman’s collapse, lost their meaning as no one bought or sold those pieces of paper). The truly scandalous aspect of the Libor scandal of recent weeks is that banks continued to use (and ‘fix’) an estimate of the interest rate at which they lent to each other (for the purposes of fixing all other interest rates; e.g. mortgage and credit card rates) when they did not lend to each other any more…
The demise of Libor and other measures of inter-bank lending interest rates left us with the official interest rate of Central Banks, like the European Central Bank. Recently, in an acknowledgment of past errors and of the strength of the European austerity-induced recession, the ECB lowered its key interest rate to 0.75% –