Economists Nervously Eye the Bank of England’s Market Rescue

Under ordinary circumstances, these conditions would lead the Bank of England to do even more to bring down the inflation it had already been fighting, raising interest rates more quickly or selling more of its bond holdings. Some analysts early last week expected the bank to announce an emergency rate increase. Instead, the brewing financial crisis forced the bank to do, in effect, the opposite, lowering borrowing costs by buying bonds.

While lowering rates and stoking the economy was not the point — just a side effect — some economists warn that those actions risk setting a dangerous precedent in which central banks can only tighten policy to control inflation if their national governments cooperate and do not roil markets in a way that threatens financial stability. That situation puts politicians more in the driver’s seat when it comes to making economic policy.

Guillaume Plantin, a French economist who has studied the interplay between central banks and governments, likened the dynamic to a game of chicken: To avoid a financial crisis, either Ms. Truss had to abandon her tax-cut plans, or the Bank of England had to set aside, at least temporarily, its efforts to raise borrowing costs. The result: “The Bank of England had to chicken out,” he said.

Policymakers have known for decades that when the government steps in to rescue private companies or individuals, it can encourage them to repeat the same risky behavior in the future, a situation known as “moral hazard.” But in the private sector, there are steps governments can take to offset those risks — regulating banks to reduce the risk of collapse, for example, or wiping out shareholders if the government does need to step in to help.

It is less clear what monetary policymakers can do to prevent the government itself from taking advantage of the safety net a central bank provides.

“There is a moral hazard here: You are protecting some people from the full consequences of their actions,” said Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chair and a former member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, who agreed that it is necessary to intervene to prevent market dysfunction. “If you think about the entities that benefited from this, one was the chancellor of the Exchequer, the government.”

Some forecasters have warned that other central banks might have to pull back on their own efforts to fight inflation to avoid destabilizing financial markets. Some investors are speculating that the Fed will have to end its policy of shrinking government bond holdings early or risk stirring market turmoil, for instance.

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