Firestone Backfiring – An Unfriendly Critique ;-)

Firestone's Gun

Joe Firestone’s gun

Joe Firestone has a blog post critiquing Marc Lavoie’s critique of Neochartalism.

Among other things, he seems to have issues with Marc Lavoie’s critique of the Neochartalist claim [which he quotes] that

. . . the creation of high powered money requires government deficits in the long run; . . .

Firestone states:

High-powered money includes cash money and reserves emanating from the Government, including the Federal Reserve. If there’s no deficit spending the Government is destroying as much money through taxation as it is spending/creating.

The trouble with Neochartalism is that Neochartalists and “MMT” fans go to over-overkill levels to show the importance of fiscal policy. In general it is a mix of doublespeak and outright incorrect statements and it is highly unacademic and unscholarly.

Firestone is mixing various things. HPM or “high powered money” is different from the net financial assets created by deficit spending of the government.

To see this point, first imagine an open economy in which there is a current account balance of payments surplus of say around 4% of GDP for over 10 years or so (some proxy for “long run”) and the (domestic) private sector “NAFA” – net accumulation of financial assets is around 2% of GDP. The government budget will be in surplus – as a matter of accounting. This needn’t cause any trouble for the private sector.

Of course this doesn’t take away the role of fiscal policy and in no sense is the above statement meant to propose a policy for the government to be in surplus. In fact since the government’s budget balance is endogenous, it could well be the case in the above situation that the government’s fiscal policy is expansionary.

HPM is a different matter. The central bank can easily provide banks with reserves via open market operations or direct lending. Deficit spending is not really needed.

It may also be the case that while taxes flowing into the account of the government at the central bank is “destroying” more HPM than what expenditures is creating, net redemptions of government bonds (as the government is retiring debt) is creating HPM.

Now consider another case but a closed economy.  Assume that the private sector NAFA is negative for many quarters/years and the government’s budget is in surplus. This by itself is not a problem for HPM but may become unsustainable because the nonfinancial sector can start to have liquidity pressures – i.e., financial assets/income of the private nonfinancial sector may start to deteriorate even though net wealth/gdp is not falling (wealth includes nonfinancial assets such as firms’ fixed capital and households’ houses) and this may lead to more financial fragility.

Again, fiscal policy can be expansionary even with a surplus budget because the government budget balance is endogenous. Cannot be found from the above given data.

But Firestone blurs such matters giving the reader an impression that the private sector is losing assets and sees a reduction in output and income. And to the basic point, this has really little to do with HPM.

Firestone is highly confused and muddled when he says

Lavoie seems to think that net high powered money creation isn’t necessary for an economy, even if it is good to have.

Net HPM creation is not equal to private sector NAFA.

In fact typically the government’s cash flows do not affect the HPM when looked over larger time intervals. Expenditures add to HPM as the government moves its balances from its account at the central bank and taxes do the opposite. Bond issuances reduce HPM and redemptions increase it. Over short intervals, the flows are offset by central bank operations. Also for the wonkish, this needn’t always be the case: when there is a flow out of the government’s account at the central bank, it can simply lead to reduction of banks’ daylight overdrafts instead of increasing HPM. Firestone confuses cash flows with deficits.

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