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Hedge fund co-founder backs Corbyn’s ‘people’s QE’

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the TUC Conference at The Brighton Centre on September 15, 2015 in Brighton, England. It was Mr Corbyn's first major speech since becoming leader of the party at the weekend and he received a standing ovation from the members of the TUC.
Mary Turner | Getty Images
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses the TUC Conference at The Brighton Centre on September 15, 2015 in Brighton, England. It was Mr Corbyn's first major speech since becoming leader of the party at the weekend and he received a standing ovation from the members of the TUC.

Jeremy Corbyn has found an unlikely supporter for one of the leftwing Labour leader's main economic policies: from the senior ranks of Britain's hedge fund industry.

Paul Marshall, co-founder of the $22 billion hedge fund Marshall Wace, has applauded Mr Corbyn's idea of "people's quantitative easing" to fund infrastructure projects.

The idea has been criticised by many economists, the CBI and by some of Mr Corbyn's parliamentary colleagues. But Mr Marshall, a former Liberal Democrat donor, has revealed his support for the idea.

In an opinion piece written for the Financial Times, he said that hedge fund managers like himself, as well as property owners and bankers, "owe a debt" to the quantitative easing, or QE, that has caused asset prices to surge in value since the financial crisis.

"It is no surprise that the Left are angry about this, and no surprise that they are reaching out for other versions of QE which do not so directly benefit bankers and the rich," said Mr Marshall, who has become one of the UK's wealthiest hedge fund managers through the growth of Marshall Wace, which he co-founded in 1997.

Mr Marshall argued that people's QE — advocated by Mr Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell — could be a better alternative if used correctly.

"If Corbyn/McDonnell pared back the idea to something they would seek to implement next time the country was in financial crisis, it would carry quite a lot of respectability," he said.

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Mr Corbyn may not openly welcome the support, given the criticism he has directed at hedge funds.

In a speech last week he accused the Conservatives of being a party funded by the industry. "They seem quite relaxed about the involvement of hedge funds and funny money in politics, they seem absolutely obsessed with the cleanest money in politics, which is trade union funds being used for political campaigning," he told the TUC conference in Brighton.

But Mr Marshall's comments may help to counter the widespread criticism from various other quarters. Tony Yates, a former economist for the Bank of England, has warned the policy would be "the first step along the road to undermining the social usefulness of money".

John Cridland, director-general of the CBI business lobby group, has said that QE should only be used in emergencies. "What we've got now is an economy which is soundly based, a recovery which is long term," he said. "You can't print money and borrow endlessly. You have to have a soundly based economic recovery."

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Criticism within the Labour party was led by the last shadow chancellor, Chris Leslie, who said the policy "sounds so easy" but was fundamentally flawed. Mr Leslie said in an article in the New Statesman that governments could not "magically" abolish the deficit with printed money and expect no repercussions.

"Resorting to the printing press to artificially create money for public expenditure purposes would be a major distortion for the economy," he said. "Such a new monetarism would spark higher inflation and make it harder for those on lower incomes to afford goods and services, provoking a rise in mortgage rates to counteract the effect."

In the closing stages of his leadership campaign, Mr Corbyn played down the idea that he was wedded to people's QE, saying that it might be suitable only in particular circumstances.