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monetary theory

This is the second part of Lecture 9 in Advanced Macro II, Spring 2019, at PIDE by Dr. Asad Zaman. The first part (L09A: Why Minsky Matters) covers the first 27m of the YouTube lecture linked below. The second part, L09B, starts 27:22m is about 1hr long:

 

A 1500 word summary/outline of the key points covered in L09B is given below:

Krugman fails to understand Minsky

On the one hand, Minsky has been transformed from an eclectic outcast to a darling of the mainstream after the crisis. On the other hand, Krugman and others have failed to appreciate the central insights of Minsky, just as they did with Keynes. While Keynes had completely rejected mainstream theories on solid grounds, Hicks and Samuelson constructed a neoclassical synthesis which conceded the short-run to Keynes on the basis of short run wage rigidities, but kept the fundamentals of mainstream theories intact. Similarly, today mainstream economists like Krugman admit to being at fault in not predicting the GFC, but blame it on external factors, rather than central weaknesses in mainstream theories. Three external factors which account for the failure of economists to “see it coming” are:

  1. The GFC was Black Swan Event. A period of stability led to under-estimation of risks and a discounting of the probabilities of crisis.
  2. The Fed kept interest rates low for too long. This allowed massive credit creation, which led to bubbles
  3. Rise of Shadow Banking Industry went un-noticed. The unregulated financial sector created a crisis by making high leverage gambles, using derivatives as insurance.

Accordingly, mainstream economists propose three solutions, none of which require re-thinking traditional Macroeconomics.

  1. We should pay more attention to the possibility of black swan events, and allow for distributions with fat tails in our stock market models.
  2. We should pay more attention to monetary policy
  3. We should do more regulation of shadow banking (Macro-Prudential Regulations)

In fact, this analysis fails to understand the central insights of Minsky. The mainstream, deluded by theories of intermediation, does not understand the central role of private sector credit creation in generating crises. Even more important, Minsky attacks the central religious belief in “equilibrium”. While Krugman believes that market forces are stabilizing, Minsky promotes the heresy that “equilibria” are inherently unstable. In modern financial economies, the very stability of the equilibria generates the forces which de-stabilize the economy.  Very briefly, stability encourages risk taking behavior, which increases until a crisis occurs. This view is truly deeply heretical because it attacks the founding pillars (optimization/equilibrium) of mainstream orthodoxy.

Mainstream Views on Money

The standard story of money, taught worldwide in conventional textbooks, is that the Central Bank controls the High Powered Reserves, and the total money supply is determined as a simple multiple – M = kR, where M is money supply, k is the money multiplier, and R is the High Powered Reserves. Monetarists argue that the Money supply has no effect on the real economy except for determining prices. Accordingly, Friedman recommended the simple monetary policy rule that the Central Bank should aim for 6% per annum growth in the money supply. Setting a fixed target, and achieving it would anchor expectations about future money and prices, allowing inter-temporal trade without frictions created by uncertainty. Attempt by Central Banks to follow this policy proved to be a complete failure. The reason is that the process of credit creation by private banks is not under the control of the Central Bank. This depends on the investment climate and business expectations. Central Banks would routinely fail to meet announced policy targets, since the money supply depended on factors outside their control. This failure would damage credibility of the central bank, further weakening the impact of monetary policy.

This failure of the Friedman rule led to the use of Minsky’s preferred and recommended policy: the use of the overnite discount rate (and not reserves) for monetary policy. In addition, Minsky recommended the elimination of the interbank borrowing of reserves. The theory behind the creation of the inter-bank market was that this allows extra liquidity to the banks. However, Minsky thought that reserves should only be borrowed from the Central Bank, because this will allow the Central Bank to monitor the quality of loans being offered as collateral. The inter-bank borrowing market allows a general decline in quality of loans, as occurred prior to the GFC. Had Minsky’s idea been implemented, it would have been possible for the Central Bank to forestall the crisis by refusing to accept high risk mortagages as collateral for borrowing of reserves. The Fed would have been aware of risky debt portfolios accumulating in the Private Banks, because that is used as collateral for reserves.

The Financial Instability Hypothesis

One of the key contributions of Minsky, which advances on Keynes, is the recognition that the Business Cycle is caused by Pro-cyclical Credit Creation. In booming economy, there is a huge demand for credit, and everybody is lending, substantially expanding the supply of credit to the economy. Financial assets are used as basis for loans, and easy availability of credit can lead to rise in the prices of these assets, creating a bubble. When all banks are lending, accepting high-risk assets as collateral, no one bank can afford to get left behind, because they would lose market shares. When the music is playing, everyone must dance. BUT, when music stops, you are caught holding assets no one wants. In more prosaic terms, pro-cyclical lending exacerbates the cycle.

To explain the business cycle, Minsky offers us a pair of related theories. The first is the Keynesian theory of Investment as the driver of the business cycle. The second is Minsky’s contribution, the Financial Theory of Investment. These are explained further below.

Keynesian Theory of Investment: What differentiates Keynesian views from modern macro is the idea that investment is driven by “animal spirits” – expectations about the future which are not ‘anchored’ by any past events (and hence not ‘rational’).  This corresponds to the Keynesian view that the future is DEEPLY and INHERENTLY uncertain. Because it is COMPLETELY unpredictable – rational expectations cannot exist. If all investors are optimistic, this will create a self-fulfilling prophecy, and similarly for pessimism. Random fluctuations in investor sentiments can lead to an upswing maintained for sufficiently long to lead to creation of extra credit. Now the pro-cyclical behavior of financial institutions further fuels the fire, providing extra credit with high leverage, high risk, weak collaterals. Then the Central Bank Responds to the increasing aggregate demand by raising interest rates. In the expansion phase, firms have short term debt which is to be rolled over. Now this becomes more costly than anticipated and creates losses, possibly bankruptcies. This leads to a minor downswing which is further exacerbated by financial response created by tightening credit, and reducing money supply.

Minsky’s Typology of Finance: In this context, it is useful to learn the Minsky Classification of financing:

  1. Hedge Finance (not related to Hedge Funds): earnings enough to repay interest and principal.
  2. Speculative Finance (earnings sufficient for interest payments, but not for principal)
  3. Ponzi Finance (earnings not even sufficient for interest – more borrowing to pay off interest)

Speculative Finance is based on the speculation that asset values will increase in the future, allowing repayment of the principal – for example, this could happen in market where property values are rising rapidly. However, if incomes decrease or interest rates increase, then speculative finance can turn into Ponzi finance, where one has to borrow to make interest payments. This is problematic because loans may not be available, leading to bankruptcies. Many households took Ponzi financing to purchase houses in 2000-2007, speculating that rising house prices would cover their costs. To some extent, Lenders lend to protect past loan, but they will cut losses at some point by going for loan default and collecting collateral.

Causes of Crisis: As the expansion continues, financial fragility continues to increase, as riskier loans are extended, with more leveraging. There are multiple sources which can create a crisis which bursts the bubble:

  • income flows turn out to be lower than expected,
  • interest rates rise,
  • lenders curtail lending,
  • prominent firm or bank defaults on payment commitments.

When leveraging is high, then one failed payment has a multiplied impact on contraction of credit, and this can rapidly multiply defaults throughout the system, leading to a financial crisis. A financial crisis collapses the economy via the following mechanisms:

  1. Debtors cut back spending to make payments
  2. This leads to fall in Aggregated Demand, hence fall in income, jobs, wages
  3. To make loan payments,Asset are sold, which leads to fall in asset prices.

In extreme cases, this can lead to the Debt-Deflation seen by Irving Fisher in the aftermath of the Great Depression. Because of asset price collapse, and defaults by financial institutions, wealth is wiped out. Inability to make payments leads to widespread bankruptcies. Output and employment collapse. Debt increases further from efforts to pay it off.

Minsky’s Policy Recommendation: It was thought that the development of the inter-bank Funds market would facilitate credit creation. Minsky argued AGAINST this. It is not true that banks first acquire reserves and then they make loans. Rather, Banks make loans and then borrow reserves to meet reserve requirements. The Inter-bank market weakens the REGULATORY capacity of the central bank, it does not create additional capacity for lending. If the Central Bank is the sole source for reserve funds, it can monitor the quality of assets being used for collateral throughout the system, and thereby control systemic risks much more efficiently.

Course Website: bit.do/az4macro – contains lectures for both Adv Macro I and II.

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This post is the third part of lecture 8 of Advanced Macro L08C: Fisher’s Debt-Deflation Theory of the Great Depression. In previous segments of this lecture L08A: Micro-Foundations for Keynesian Economics, and L08B: Keynesian Explanation for Great Depression: Seriously Incomplete, we examined the Keynesian explanation for the Great Depression, and found serious deficiencies in it. L08A explains that many different kinds of outcomes, with and without unemployment, are possible depending on how we specify details of the micro-structure that Keynes failed to specify. L08B explains that a simple deficiency in aggregate demand created by savings does not suffice to create unemployment because savings of current period is income/wealth of the next. It is necessary to look at abnormal savings, together with fixed prices, to create surplus production which signals shortfall in aggregate demand to the producers. Thus, many elements – micro-structure, role of debt, and different sectors of the economy – must be added to the Keynesian model to achieve the outcome of unemployment due to shortfall in aggregate demand that is at the center of Keynesian analysis.

This post deals with the last segment of the lecture, which explains Fisher’s Debt-Deflation theory of inflation. The lecture goes through and explains the article: Fisher, Irving (1933), “The Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions”, Econometrica – making only minor commentaries. The goal is to understand what Fisher was saying, before attempting analysis, critique, and extensions. Many elements of this explanation are crucial to understanding the Great Depression, but are not available in the standard Keynesian analysis. Recently, elements of this theory have been picked up and presented as “Fisher-Minsky-Koo approach: Debt, Deleveraging, And The Liquidity Trap: A Fisher-Minsky-Koo Approach”  Gauti B. Eggertsson and Paul Krugman: The Quarterly Journal of Economics,Vol. 127, No. 3 (August 2012), pp. 1469-1513. In this lecture, we only present Fisher’s original paper. Post covers portion of lecture from 37m to 1:15m.

Summary of Fisher’s Econometrica paper on Debt-Deflation.
Fisher starts with an insight which comes straight from the experience of living through the Great Depression. An economic system is complex, subject to numerous conflicting forces acting simultaneously and repeatedly through time. It is unlikely to ever be in equilibrium. It is unfortunate the modern economics rejects this fundamental insight.

Fisher starts by asking how we can study disequilibria? In theoretical terms, the answer is to look at the forces which are acting in a given economic situation. Instead of looking at the long run outcome of how these forces would be resolved to arrive at equilibrium, we should use historical experience to judge the relative speed and strength of these forces. This would be a radically different methodology from the one currently in use in economics today.

By using this methodology, Fisher comes to the conclusion that the Business Cycle is a myth. There are many different kinds of economic forces which create multiple cycles. The complex of of forces can acting in tandem or at cross purposes. There are three types of tendencies (forces) – both cyclical and non-cyclical: (1) Those which create growth; (2) Those which create random fluctuations; and (3) Those which create cycles – these cycles can be stable and unstable, and they can be due to  (or interact with) internal factors, or external shocks to the economy.

He compares the economic system to a boat, which can resist small waves, but will capsize in a major storm. The system can accommodate small cycles, but may fall into crisis in big ones. There are some economic variables which can systematically deviate from equilibrium values. He names Capital Stocks, Real Income, Prices. In particular, Say’s Law is regularly violated. The production of goods can be in excess, or deficient, both in stocks and in flows. Forces in temporary disequilibrium will determine what happens next. Overshooting or Undershooting targets for production is common. BUT – this is NOT the cause of BIG disequilibria. The CENTRAL diagnosis of Fisher is the following:

The biggest cause of economic crises is: Too little money (too high price) mistaken for excess of goods!!

NOTE: This resonates with Friedman’s insufficient money supply explanation. Also, the Keynesian explanation, both of which work with short run fixity of prices.

In arriving at this diagnosis, Fisher lists and considers many common factors which lead to disequilibrium, and rejects them as sources of major crises. He then focuses attention on the Big Bad Actors – Debts and Deflation – as the cause of crisis. H says that the Apparent Causes are Over-Investment & Over-Speculation – this was obvious to all in the aftermath of the Great Depression. But Fisher thinks that the real Harm is caused by UNDERLYING debt which is used to finance this activity.

The mechanism which Fisher outlines starts with excess debt taken in a booming economy. Since assets like land, stocks are booming, people are happy to take debt at low interest, planning repay from the gains they make due to rapidly rising prices of stocks and real estate. Banks are happy to lend because they have the valuable asset as collateral for the loan, so even if the lender cannot repay, they will be able to cover their costs by selling the asset. Since banks create the money they lend, there is no check on the process, and loans increase geometrically leading to a situation with excess debt.

At some point, the bubble bursts. This is generally caused by failure of nerve of some party – either the banks, or the lenders. As indebtedness increases, people take loans to repay interest on past loans, and eventually, a steady stream of failures to repay emerges to public notice. At this point some people panic and start selling their assets, which sets off a chain reaction. As people sell to pay off loans, money supply contracts, and loans become less available. Now people who were relying on borrowing to repay previous loans start defaulting, or start to sell assets to cover loans. As more and more people sell assets, asset prices collapse. The collapse of prices leads to DEFLATION. Deflation increases the value of money, so that the debt burden becomes heavier. Paradoxically, the attempt to pay off debt puts people deeper into debt.

Balance sheets of banks, and firms, contain assets which are priced according to their market prices (This is called Mark-to-Market in accounting terminology). When stock and real estate prices collapse, the net worth of banks and businesses can become negative. Similarly, mortgage loans go under-water; they have negative equity. In simpler terms, this means that the value of house you own is less than the amount of loan you must pay to the bank to get ownership of the house. In this situation, it pays for the homeowner to declare bankruptcy and walk away from the loan and the house. Similarly, businesses whose net worth has become negative can collapse. This leads to panic and loss of confidence about the future in the general public. As expectations about the future become negative, people stop investing, business stop producing and lay-off employees. Heavily indebted people lose incomes and ability to pay off loans. Negative expectations about the future become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In the “Fisher” Sequence of events which leads to major crisis, Fisher says that two diseases – excessive debt, and price deflation – act together to create crisis.The effort to pay off debt leads to falling asset prices, which leads to further increase in real debt, and decrease in ability to pay. This is a vicious cycle which leads to collapse. Either one of the two forces acting individually would tend to return the system to equilibrium. The system can take small shocks and return to equilibrium, but large shocks, acting in tandem, lead to collapse.

Some Comments on Fisher’s Debt-Deflation paper

Fisher attempts to define “over-indebtness” which would lead to crisis, but failed to do so satisfactorily. Here Hyman Minsky made a major contribution. Minsky identifies three stages of debt in the business cycle. In the first stage, people & firms borrow to invest, and their stream of earnings is enough to pay off the interest and the principal. In the second stage, earnings are not sufficient to pay the principal, but enough to pay interest. Now loans are re-financed when the principal is due. In the third stage, earnings streams are not even sufficient to repay interest, and borrowing is done to pay interest on the loan. This last stage is what Fisher wanted to define as “over-indebtedness”, but failed to do.

He attempts to quantify the size of loans relative to assets/income available to repay. He writes that debts in 1929 were at historically highest known levels. By 1933, debts reduced by 20%, Prices decreased by 55%. Value of dollar increased by 75% — real debt increase 40%. This provides support for his key hypothesis: As you pay off debt, you go deeper into debt

Fisher offers the solution as price reflation, breaking one of the two components of the vicious cycle. He thought that if we could take policy actions to prevent prices from falling, or to put them back up to pre-crisis levels, then the economic system would find its way back to equilibrium. However, subsequent authors have cast doubts on this, suggesting that the levels of debt are so high that they cannot be repaid, even if assets do not lose their value. Thus the only solution would be to require debt-forgiveness.

The Wikipedia entry on Debt-Deflation provides a good summary of key points of Fisher’s thesis, and also its influence on subsequent work, and later developments. In fact, Fisher’s theories were ignored and neglected in favor of Keynes for a long time, prior to revival of interest in the 1980s. One of the reasons for this neglect was the idea that debt did not matter. What is a debt of one person is an asset of the other, so debts cancel. This mirage – that debts do not matter – continues to mislead economists. It is the large-scale inability to repay debts which is ignored in this picture.

As debts mounted up, Fisher’s Debt-Deflation theory has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. It seems clear from a lot of research that levels of debt play a very important role in leading to financial and economic crises. For example, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi in House of Debt, highlight the role of leveraged debt as a key factor in the Global Financial Crisis. “Deflation”, or a dramatic fall in inflated asset prices, also plays a major role, and when combined with leveraged debt, this creates the catastrophic combination that Fisher identified. In retrospect, it seems that the widely accepted Keynesian explanation for the Great Depression was seriously incomplete, and Fisher identified some key elements missing from Keynes. For an update on Fisher, see:   DEBT, DELEVERAGING, AND THE LIQUIDITY TRAP: A FISHER-MINSKY-KOO APPROACH  by Gauti B. Eggertsson and Paul Krugman, in The Quarterly Journal of Economics,Vol. 127, No. 3 (August 2012), pp. 1469-1513

Last Portion of Lecture 8 – from 1hr 15m onwards

The last portion of the lecture  L08D Friedman-Schwartz   discusses the Friedman-Schwartz book on the Monetary History of the United States, which puts forth yet another diagnosis for the reasons of the Great Depression. They argued that it was the sharp contraction in the money supply that was responsible. This diagnosis was the one that was actually followed by Bernanke during the Global Financial Crisis, who massively increased money supply via Quantitative Easing programs. This did prevent financial collapse, but could not prevent the Great Recession, invalidating the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis about the causes of the Great Depression. Furthermore, as a result of Quantitative Easing, reflation of asset prices has also occurred, which was Fisher’s proposed remedy. This has not proven very satisfactory, in many different ways. Of the two problems, Fisher thought that taking care of Deflation would suffice, but it seems to be only half of the remedy. The other half is the “Debt”, which can be removed by various methods, such as debt-forgiveness.

Economists do not understand inflation. Daniel K. Tarullo. Former Governor, Federal Reserve Board should surely be in a position to know. I will list some key conclusions from his paper with the revealing title:  Monetary Policy Without a Working Theory of Inflation :

  1. We do not, at present, have a theory of inflation dynamics that works sufficiently well to be of use for the business of real-time monetary policy-making
  2. Many … good monetary policymakers … have an almost instinctual attachment to some of those problematic concepts and hard-to-estimate variables.
  3. (Nonetheless!) Going forward, monetary policy decisions will need to be made with as much, if not more, emphasis on the constellation of observable indicators with which the FOMC is confronted
  4. (Despite all this!) Macroeconomists (should) continue to play a decidedly leading role.

The italicized words are mine, not in Tarullo’s paper. If we pause to reflect, these are breathtaking conclusions. Tarullo says — quite clearly and explicitly — that current theories of inflation are NOT of use for real-time monetary policy. Furthermore, despite their evident failure, economists are blindly attached to these theories — they are “ unmoved by lack of correspondence between their theories and facts of observation “. But, regardless of these, for reasons that I could not fathom, Tarullo advocates going forward with using current constellation of observable indicators, and having the blind macro-economists continue to play a leading role in monetary policy decision making.

The real reason that economists do not understand inflation is because it is an outcome of the class struggle between laborers and capitalists. This topic is taboo in conventional economic theory — it has been ruled out of bounds of the subject, and to study it is to commit professional suicide. My post on “ Marxism Revisited ” shows how graduate students are taught to ridicule and hold Marxist theories in contempt.  As an illustration, the Daniel Tarullo article cited above does not mention the conflict theory, even though he surveys all theories of inflation to show that they do not work. Like Vol-de-Mort, the conflict theory cannot even be named in order to be rejected.

Let me mention that it was in the process of teaching Macro from the MMT Textbook by Mitchell, Wray and Watts that I first came across this theory, which makes eminent sense. The heterodoxy has such a low profile that I did not even know about the existence of this theory until recently. According to the conflict theory, the workers demand higher wages in order to get a bigger share in the revenue pie. Firms usually find it easier to meet their demand and pass on the prices via markup pricing, rather than resist demands and risk a strike. This creates a spiral, as workers try to regain real wages lost due to inflation. There are many reasons why this story disagrees with neoclassical views. For one thing, the marginal productivity theory suggests that each party — capitalist and laborers — get exactly what they deserve in terms of marginal product. Furthermore, this share is technologically fixed, so that a struggle cannot take place. Even though the theory is absurd and easily refuted both empirically and theoretically, it continues to occupy dominant position in neoclassical textbooks. For a theoretical refutation, see my post on Simple Model Explains Complex Keynesian Concepts which shows that with a Leontief type production function, both the marginal product of capital and labor is the same at the total marginal product, so sharing between the two must be based on different principles — relative power of the two parties or the institutional structures which is often a concrete embodiment of this abstract power. Each factor cannot get its own marginal product because this would be twice the marginal revenue.

The 45m Video Lecture below on Employment and Inflation goes through Chapter 11 of the Mitchell, Wray, and Watts Intro to MMT textbook. This deals with evolving conceptions of the Phillips curve and the central role it has played in the making of Monetary Policy. In particular, the chapter documents how wrong theories of inflation have guided monetary policy with DISASTROUS effects. Even though inflation has been successfully controlled, the costs in terms of low growth and high unemployment have been extremely high. Again the conflict theory predicts this outcome, as the costs of this type of monetary policy have been paid by the powerless labor class, while the benefits are enjoyed by the powerful capitalist class.

 

For access to lecture notes, slides, and other course materials for my Advanced Macroeconomics course, use the link below:

 Advanced Macroeconomics at PIDE, Sep 2018, by Dr. Asad Zaman 

[bit.do/wwmmt] 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.

POSTSCRIPT: Linked Video below provide more detailed explanations of some key aspects of MMT. There is a lot more excellent expository material available on the internet.

See videos by Stephanie Kelton, linked in the following post: Everything you wanted to know about Modern Monetary Theory. For an alternative route to understanding MMT, looking the history of Central Banking leads to deep insights. For the history of the Bank of England, see Origins of Central Banking. From this history, we learn how Central Banks can create money out of nothing, and how the Bank of England took this right away from King William III. A more theoretical explanation of the technical trick involved in this method of money-creation, see an explanation of this historical episode in more abstract and theoretical terms: “Monetization, Maturity Transformation, and MMT

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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