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monetary theory

In a rapidly changing world, ways of thinking which served us well in other eras, become obstacles to understanding, and reacting appropriately to change. Traditional economic theories, currently being taught all around the world,blinded economists to the possibility of the global financial crisis.The Queen of England went to London School of Economics to ask why “no one saw it coming?”.The US Congress appointed a committee to study why economic theories “dismissed the notion that a financial crisis was possible”. At the heart of this failure arewrong ideas about the role of money in the economy. All major schools of macroeconomics currently being taught around the globe teach that the quantity of money only affects the prices, and does not have any other effects on the real economy. Economists write that “money is a veil” – it hides the workings of the real economy, but does not play any role in it. Economists were blindsided by the crisis because models currently in use for policy making do not have a role for money, credit, banking, and debt, even though these were the factors responsible for the Global financial crisis.

The crisis made clear to all and sundry the vital role of money in the economy. Surprisingly, the mainstream economics profession has been extremely resistant to change. The same textbooks, theories and models which failed so drastically, continue to be used in teaching and policy making throughout the world. However, the space for unorthodoxy has expanded substantially, and a lot of new theories of money have emerged to challenge mainstream views. Among these, Modern Monetary Theory, which provides a radically different perspective on money, has emerged as a strong contender. This article aims to summarize some of the key insights of MMT, which creates new ways of looking at the world of fiat money that we live in today.

The starting point of MMT is that our thinking about money is conditioned by the view that money is based on gold, which leads us to ignore the radical differences between gold-backed money and “fiat” money, which comes into existence by government decree, and does not require any backing. With a gold-backed currency, the concept of a government deficit makes sense – the government must have gold, in order to spend it. However, with a fiat currency, a deficit must always be self-imposed; the government chooses not to print money in order to pay its obligations.The idea that the government does not have money to fund social welfare or investment is wrong, because the government creates money by sovereign fiat, and can always print as much money as it likes. MMT raises the question of why the government should impose taxes on citizens to generate revenue – why not just print the money instead? Readers who have been conditioned by economic theories will eagerly proffer the standard answer: because this will lead to inflation! But this answer is neither sufficient, nor satisfactory.

Based on his experiences as Governor of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, Daniel Tarullo has written that at present we do not have a working theory of inflation. Similarly, Joseph Stiglitz has written that the stable relationship between money and inflation broke down in the 1980’s, leaving us with no reliable guide to monetary policy. The Quantitative Easing program that was adopted in major world economies after the Global Financial Crisis involved printing huge amounts of money. However, to the surprise of economists, no inflation resulted, in conflict with standard theories of inflation. So, the idea that if the government prints money, inflation will necessarily result is not credible.

As experience of the past few decades has shown, there is no automatic relationship between printing money and inflation. A more sophisticated analysis is needed. MMT provides rather different answers to when and whether governments should print money, as well as the why of taxation. First let us consider the printing of money. Whether or not it is inflationary depends on how the printed money is used. For instance, if it is deposited in the accounts of billionaires and adds to their financial wealth, without being used for any other purpose, then it will not have any inflationary effect. If the money is used to purchase goods in a sector where the economy has excess capacity for production, then the demand stimulus will create an expansion, with increase in employment and in production. This is the Keynesian phenomenon – in a recession, where economy is below it peak production capacity, a monetary stimulus can create increases in employment without inflation. If the money is used to buy goods in sectors where economy is at peak productive capacity, then it will create inflation in the short run. What happens in the long run depends on whether the industry can expand to meet the excess demand.

Against this Keynesian possibility where printing money increases production and employment, there are many possible ways that money creation can harm the economy.If money is spent on land and stocks, this will lead to inflation in their prices. Money can also be used for purchase of luxury foreign goods, or transferred abroad in various forms. In such cases, increased demand for dollars would lead to depreciation of the exchange rates. Keynesian economists have suggested that dropping money from helicopters would be a useful policy to reduce unemployment in recessions. Modern Monetary Theory tells us that we need to be more discriminating in targeting the printing and distribution of money. If money goes to sectors of the economy where there is excess capacity, it will stimulate production and employment, without causing inflation. If it goes to domestic sectors operating at peak capacity, it will lead to domestic inflation. If it is exchanged for dollars and flows out of the country, it will lead to depreciation.

One of the key resulting insights is that the “deficit” numbers by themselves – whether in percentages of GNP or in absolute quantitative terms – are meaningless. The government can “sustain” any amount of deficit by printing money to pay its obligations. Of course, this is not a license for irresponsible spending. Creation of money, and its utilization in ways which do not enhance productive capacity of the domestic economy are sure to cause harm to the economy. Rather, MMT provides us with a license for responsible spending. If there are worthwhile projects which will utilize resources currently lying idle, then there is no need to be scared of the deficit numbers in spending on these projects. Viewed in this light, the project of building a million houses is not constrained by the budget of the government. Rather it is constrained by the availability of resources which are required for this purpose. If there is idle productive capacity in terms of labor, land, and materials, spending is this area will utilize them to the maximum. If the capacity does not exist, then a carefully balanced spending strategy, which builds capacity in a way coordinated with the increasing demand for utilization of this capacity, can be funded by deficit financing, without causing harm to the economy. Of course, it goes without saying that this requires skillful management and planning.

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After the Global Financial Crisis, there has been a lot of re-thinking about Monetary Policy, as one might expect. In fact, in light of the magnitude of the failure, re-thinking efforts have been much less than proportional. There are many, many, different strands of thought, and personally, I do not have clarity on what needs to be done. Furthermore, the situation is rapidly changing, so that a solution for today would not be a solution for tomorrow.  The fundamental problem is private sector creation of money, and nobody wants to discuss this elephant-in-the-room. But there may be a good reason for this unwillingness — with the financial sector is firmly in control of the US Government, and the Euro area, it does not seem politically feasible to think about radical alternatives. The goal of this post is just to summarize a paper of Stiglitz expressing his post-GFC thoughts on Monetary Policy — without much in the way of comments and discussion. The full paper itself is linked at the bottom of the post.

Summary of Joseph Stiglitz paper on monetary policy:

  1. In response to GFC 2007-8, massive programs of QE (quantitative easing) have been launched all over the world. While these actions may have prevented another Great Depression, economic growth and employment has not been restored to pre-crisis levels.

History of Evolution of Thinking at Central Banks

  1. Monetary policy had been based on the quantity theory of money (QTM) MV=PQ, which posits a stable relationship between the quantity of money, and the GNP. However, starting in the 1980’s this equation became unstable – Velocity fluctuated erratically, and none of the measures of money showed any stable relationship to important real and nominal variables like the GNP, and even the interest rate.
  2. This failure of QTM should have prompted a deeper investigation of monetary theory, and reasons for its failure, but it did not. [Stiglitz is unaware of the research of Richard Werner, which explains the failure, and provides and alternative: The Quantity Theory of Credit]
  3. Instead of investigating WHY the quantity of money failed to have stable relationships with macroeconomic variables, Central Banks shifted to the use of interest rates as the main instrument for monetary policy.
  4. Post Crisis experience has led the problem that interest rates have hit 0%, but the economy has not responded in the manner expected – cheap credit should have led to borrowing for investments, stimulating production, and borrowing for consumption, stimulating demand and lifted the economy out of the recession. However this has not happened.
  5. In light of this experience, current thinking is that monetary policy has become ineffective because we have hit a liquidity trap at 0% interest rate. We cannot take it down further. Some efforts are being made to create negative interest rate policy in the hopes of breaking through the liquidity trap.

Stiglitz’s proposed solutions:

  1. The key variable which drives the economy is the supply of credit to investors and consumers. This supply, provided by private banks, does not respond in a systematic or mechanical way to either the quantity of money produced by the central bank, or the interest rates. This problem does not have much to do with 0% interest rate floor. What we need to do is to target the flow of credit directly, if we want to have an effective monetary policy.

Errors of conventional theories, models, and policies.

  1. Conventional macro models assume perfect information and liquidity, which makes banks unnecessary. Using a more realistic model with liquidity constraints, credit rationing and asymmetric information, Greenwald & Stiglitz (G&S) show that credit provision by banks depends on their net worth, perceptions of risk, and the regulatory framework.
  2. In abnormal situations like post-GFC, these other factors which affect the provision of credit by banks, can overwhelm the normal channels by which monetary policy operates, rendering it ineffective. To restore effectiveness, Central Banks must go outside the conventional channels, and utilize macro and micro prudential regulations.
  3. Even if Central Banks succeed in increasing supply of credit provided by private banks, this may fail to have desired effects of stimulating production and consumption. This happens when credit is provided for non-productive activities like lands and stocks, which increases their prices without creation production or consumption. Cheaply available money can flow to harmful speculative activities, instead of productive investment.
  4. Lowering interest rates to fight recession creates a jobless recovery (as observed in USA). Lower costs of capital lead firms to substitute machines for labor.

The problem is that we are asking too much from a single instrument. But most governments have eschewed using this broader set of instruments.

  1. Using aggregated macroeconomic models hides the distributional effects of monetary policy. Stimulus using monetary policy hurts the poor and the laborers, and enriches the wealthy, leading to increasing inequality.

CONCLUSIONS FOR PART 1:

  1. Conventional theories of how money works, which are the basis of monetary policy today, have been discredited. The transmission channel for conventional tools – interest rates, Open Market Operations, Reserve requirements – is very weak, and can be interrupted or disrupted by outside factors.
  2. Managing a complex economic system requires as many tools as one can manage; the single minded focus on short term interest rates as the instrument and inflation as the target substantially limits the possibilities for effective interventions by the Central Bank.

PART 2: Creation of a RADICAL New System which circumvents all of these problems.

  1. The total amount of credit creation should be directly under government control. This credit can then be allocated or auctioned to banks – banks can no longer create credit, unless they acquire/purchase the right from the government. In turn, the government can put conditions on allocating credit to banks to ensure that it is lent out for productive investments only, and not for speculation. Electronic money can ensure that the system works, since all money and credit creation can be monitored.
  2. In open economies, fluctuations in the exchange rates and in balance of payments create tremendous costs. These can be managed by a trading chit system which stabilizes the trade deficit or surplus at a pre-determined level. Every exporter is issues a trading chit equal in value to his exports. Every importer must acquire trading chits in order to be able to import. Since the value of export chits necessarily equals the value of import chits, this system will have exactly balanced trade with no surplus or deficit. If economic conditions dictate running a deficit, the government can issue 20% extra chits, over and above export earnings – this would stabilize the trade deficit, and hence also the exchange rates. This is of tremendous value in stabilizing the economy.

POSTSCRIPT: At the time I wrote this, I was not aware of Richard Koo’s work on balance sheet recessions. This issue, heavy debt liabilities, seems of central importance, and has been completely ignored by Stiglitz, and many other authors (though not Mian & Sufi: House of Debt). See the 10m Video: Koo: Balance Sheet Recessions or read the RWER paper by Koo: The World in Balance Sheet Recession

 

 

This is the second lecture on Understanding the Rise and Fall of the Gold Standard — shortlink: bit.do/azifa2 — we start with a  Summary of First Lecture 

The first lecture discusses the Keynesian theory that the exact level of money in an economy is critically important – too little leads to recessions, while too much leads to inflations. Furthermore, domestic business cycles, and international financial crises are caused by pro-cyclical behavior of current artificial systems of money creation and international trade. Standard macro theories make it impossible to understand the economy because they assert that money is neutral, and does not affect the real economy – exactly the opposite of the Keynesian idea that the quantity of money is all important. Standard macro model currently in use throughout the world have no explicit role of money, banks, and credit, even though these factors are of central importance in understanding the world. Once we understand the vital role and function of money within an economy, it becomes possible to understand historical events of the twentieth century – whereas this is impossible using conventional macro theories. The first lecture summarizes how the colonial system came into being, and the monetary arrangement for a hard currency at the core and soft currencies in the periphery. This system of fiat currencies works fine within one system of colonies, where the value of money is decreed by sovereign fiat. For trading between different countries, the gold backed currencies were used. As European countries prospered by exploiting resources throughout the globe within their colonies, inter-European trade increased. The optimal quantity of money required for the domestic economy is not the same as that required for stable international exchange rates. The pro-cyclical money creation which is characteristic of the system creates cycles, and large cycles lead to crises on a routine basis. World War I was partly caused by the breakdown of the colonial trading system due to the end of expansion possibilities after the completion of the conquest of the globe. Efforts to restore the gold standard after World War I failed. The second part of the lecture discusses the post World War I history, with reference to the international financial architecture that emerged in the post-Gold era after World War I.

3100 Word Summary of Second Lecture on Global Financial Architecture

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[bit.do/azifa] Lecture 1 on Rise and Fall of the Gold Standard, on Friday 4th May 2018 in AR Kemal Rm at PIDE, by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE. 1hr 20m Video Lecture. Shortlink for Lecture 2: bit.do/azifa3

3100 word summary of lecture:

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I am planning a sequence of posts on re-reading Keynes, where I will try to go through the General Theory. This first post explains my motivations for re-reading Keynes. As always, my primary motive is self-education; this will force me to go through the book again — I first read it in my first year graduate course on Macroeconomics at Stanford in 1975, when our teacher Duncan Foley was having doubts about modern macro theories, and decided to go back to the original sources. At the time, I could not understand it at all, and resorted to secondary sources, mainly Leijonhufvud, to make sense of it. Secondarily, i hope to be able to summarize Keynes’ insights to make them relevant and useful to a contemporary audience. Thirdly, there are many experts, especially Paul Davidson, on this blog, who will be able to prevent me from making serious mistakes in interpretation.

Reasons for Studying Keynes

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” Blaise Pascal

In line with the objectives of the WEA Pedagogy Blog, I am initiating a study group with the aim of [re-]reading Keynes’ classic The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. There are many reasons why I think this is a worthwhile enterprise. I hope to make weekly posts summarizing various aspects of the book, as we slog through the work, which can be difficult going in some parts. At the very least, this will force me to re-read Keynes, something I have been meaning to do for a long time. In this first post, I would like to explain my motivation in doing this exercise. Read More

The Global Financial Crisis of 2007 has led to a renewed interest in Keynesian theories. In particular, Krugman in “The Return of Depression Economics” argued that Keynesian ideas remain relevant to understanding 6196411489_a5cf9e16fc_bcontemporary recessions. To motivate this, he has used a real world example of the Capitol Hill Baby-Sitting Cooperative (BSC). According to an analysis by economists who were members of the Cooperative, the BSC suffered from a recession due to a shortage of “scrip”, the currency used to exchange baby-sitting services.

Krugman’s analysis is based on an intuitive and heuristic analysis by Sweeney and Sweeney (1977). However, the BSC is a very simple single good economy, where the sole function of money is to allow for inter-temporal trade. This simplicity allows for a rigorous analytic treatment. Our research was motivated by the idea of analytically validating the intuitive insights of the Sweeneys and Krugman. Is the BSC a Keynesian economy? Can a shortfall of money create a recession in this economy? A simple model which displays Keynesian effects should be useful in building understanding of these phenomenon in more complex situations.

A few authors who have analyzed the BSC economy have found Keynesian effects under the assumption of fixed prices. But in presence of fixed prices, the existence of an optimal quantity of money, and recession for low money is a triviality. The Keynesian rejection of neutrality of money is not based solely on sticky prices. In this paper, we create a simple model of the BSC economy to investigate the presence of Keynesian phenomena. The model leads to strange and paradoxical results, not available in earlier analyses. We list these results below.

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FullEmplWe are used to thinking that there is progress in knowledge. As we gain experience, the collective wisdom of mankind increases. The story of economics in the twentieth century provides the most amazing example of the opposite: How precious knowledge of vital importance for the welfare of humanity was gained and then lost. Many studies show that a meaningful job is the most important determinant of life satisfaction, and among the thing most desired by the general public. Economists learned how to create full employment, leading to a period of tremendous prosperity. How and why these lessons were forgotten provides a perfect illustration of the thesis that knowledge is shaped to protect the interests of the powerful.

Before the Great Depression of 1929, dominant economic theories stated that the free market automatically eliminates unemployment. Obviously, a theory which does not recognize the existence of a problem cannot provide solutions. Before the Great Depression, the economy was booming, with jobs for all and high levels of production. After 1929, factories lay idle, there was massive and persistent unemployment, and correspondingly high level of general misery. Why did unemployment persist, and how could we get the economy back to full employment of all the resources now lying idle? The revolutionary accomplishment of Keynes was to recognize the source of the problem, and provide an effective remedy.

Keynes argued that the key to the problem was depressed investor expectations about the future. Investors were afraid to produce goods because they did not foresee any demand. If they did take a risk and start producing, the demand would be created, because they would provide jobs to people in the process of production. People with jobs would have income and demand goods. Thus a favorable future forecast would create a self-fulfilling prophecy. People were not demanding goods because they did not have jobs. Producers were not providing jobs because they did not see any demand. This deadlock could be broken by the government in several ways. Lowering interest rates and making money cheaply available would reduce the costs of production, and might induce producers to take a risk on starting investments and production. Indeed, just printing a lot of money and throwing it from helicopters would be enough – people with money would demand goods, and producers would start hiring people to fulfill the demand for goods. The “Helicopter Money” scheme could fail for a number of reasons. The alternative was for government to step into the gap, and start hiring people itself. Even meaningless jobs like digging ditches and filling them up again would be enough to start off a chain reaction which would lead to full employment.  Using the secrets of Keynesian demand management, Western governments managed to achieve near full employment, and widespread prosperity for fifty years.

Unfortunately, general prosperity of the 99% does not suit the interests of the 1%. Full employment leads to an unruly labor class, who can walk out of unsatisfactory jobs to find a better one. Secondly, direct government investment can interfere with business profits. Thirdly, before the Keynesian era, politicians understood that business confidence was essential to economic prosperity and votes. Keynes freed the government from this dependence, much to the annoyance of business leaders.

The story of how Keynesian theories were ridiculed and discredited, and completely fallacious pre-Keynesian theories were re-furbished to take their place is long and complex, and cannot be detailed here. The punchline is that the remedies to today’s economic ills are known, but they are not being implemented because they go against the interests of the powerful. There has been a huge increase in debt globally; Debt forgiveness would remove the heavy weight dragging down aggregate demand which is weighing down the economy. Helicopter money is being dropped but into the vaults of the banks instead of the pockets of the public, and Keynes is being blamed for the lack of effectiveness of this ridiculous policy. Zero interest loans to producers are not working, so negative interest rates are being talked about. Meanwhile, everyone ignores the elephant in the room, a fully effective Keynesian theory which explains exactly how we can stimulate aggregated demand to revive the global economy.

Above 700 Words published in Express Tribune on Tuesday 30th  For short posts on diverse Topics see my author page on LinkedIn. Other works: Index . More material on Keynesian Economics. Some additional materials for readers of WEA Blogs:

Some of ideas are taken from Kalecki’s insightful note on why captains of industry resist full employment, even though it bring benefits to them as well. There is very strong evidence from multiple sources that their is a finance mafia in operation globally, which thrives on poor economic performance. This enables them to make multi-billion dollar loans and reap in interest payments. Enforcement of austerity is a crucial element in this scheme, since creation of Sovereign money — which is also done indirectly by deficit financing – by states would deprive them of their most valuable weapon — they have money while others don’t.  Keeping an economy starved of the money lubricant required for smooth functioning helps the 1% at tremendous cost to the 99%