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The Dangers of an Extended Period of Low Interest Rates: Why the Bank of Canada Should Start Raising Them Now


  • Paul R. Masson

    (University of Toronto)


Interest rates in Canada and in many other countries have not been so low since the Great Depression. When taking into account inflation, short-term interest rates are negative in most developed countries, including Canada where the overnight rate currently stands at 1 percent in nominal terms. These historically low rates were initially a response to the global financial crisis that broke out in 2008. The financial crisis led to a sharp fall in economic activity, a dislocation of the financial system, and the need in many countries to recapitalize banks with public money. Output growth has resumed in the United States, but unemployment remains unsatisfactorily high. In the European Union, the recovery has been hampered by high public debt and fears of a breakdown of the euro area. Canada however does not face the same problems as either the United States or the EU. Its financial system was exposed to a much lesser extent to complicated sub-prime, mortgage-backed securities, and its economic difficulties are nowhere near as pronounced. The current downturn of output compared with its potential, although significant, has been less severe in Canada, and gross domestic product (GDP) has returned to a value closer to the economy’s capacity. In this Commentary, I argue that short-term rates are therefore too low in Canada, a situation that is starting to build in pervasive problems for the economy. Below-equilibrium interest rates for an extended period distort investment decisions, leading to excessive risk taking and inefficient and ultimately unprofitable investments. They also encourage the formation of asset bubbles whose collapse could lead to a recurrence of the recent financial crisis. Some of the symptoms of inefficient investment and asset price bubbles are already evident in Canada, in the housing sector for instance. The cumulative effect of artificially low interest rates also risks fuelling an underlying inflationary process. Therefore, I recommend that the Bank of Canada start now to reverse some of the monetary stimulus and begin raising interest rates.

Suggested Citation

  • Paul R. Masson, 2013. "The Dangers of an Extended Period of Low Interest Rates: Why the Bank of Canada Should Start Raising Them Now," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 381, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdh:commen:381

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joe Peek & Eric S. Rosengren, 2005. "Unnatural Selection: Perverse Incentives and the Misallocation of Credit in Japan," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(4), pages 1144-1166, September.
    2. Hahm, Joon-Ho & Mishkin, Frederic S. & Shin, Hyun Song & Shin, Kwanho, 2011. "Macroprudential policies in open emerging economies," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Nov, pages 63-114.
    3. Bo Becker & Victoria Ivashina, 2015. "Reaching for Yield in the Bond Market," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 70(5), pages 1863-1902, October.
    4. David Laidler, 2011. "Natural Hazards: Some Pitfalls on the Path to a Neutral Interest Rate," C.D. Howe Institute Backgrounder, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 140, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. William Scarth, 2014. "User Discretion Advised: Fiscal Consolidation and the Recovery," C.D. Howe Institute Commentary, C.D. Howe Institute, issue 412, July.

    More about this item


    Monetary Policy; Interest Rates;

    JEL classification:

    • E30 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Prices, Business Fluctuations, and Cycles - - - General (includes Measurement and Data)
    • E43 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Money and Interest Rates - - - Interest Rates: Determination, Term Structure, and Effects
    • E52 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Monetary Policy
    • E58 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - Monetary Policy, Central Banking, and the Supply of Money and Credit - - - Central Banks and Their Policies


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