Click Bait Monetary Economics

Some economic commentators, in trying to point out the importance of government deficits and debt, go for the overkill.

Exhibit:


Sorry for picking Steve Roth, who is generally a nice person. But this is counterproductive. If you see the comments below, a commentator who claims to be a trained accountant also agrees with Steve Roth. The bait involves saying that this argument is “technically right”. It can be technically right for several reasons but outright misleading and commentators should stop doing this. So it could be true because the act of bank loan making itself creates an asset and liability equally, so there is no increase in net assets of either households or the private sector as a whole by just one transaction. But this is not just the argument. The argument seems to be that it doesn’t increase household net worth at all even if another transaction is involved, such as a house purchase because a firm sells the house not a household and in national accounts firms are distinct from households. So much click baiting.

In this post, I show how a household’s net worth rises on sale of a house. Let’s assume that I (Household 2) am a sole proprietor of a house building firm (Firm P) and hence the ownership of the firm is not publicly traded in a stock exchange. Suppose I sell a house worth $1mn to you (Household 1). The house is sold from my firm’s inventory of houses and becomes a sale. You buy this after taking a loan from Bank A.

Now, we need some good national accounting. A good way is to just pick up Wynne Godley’s stock-flow consistent models in which he values inventories at current cost of production. See Godley and Lavoie’s book Monetary Economics, Edition 1, page 29.

Let’s suppose the current cost of production is $400,000.

Now we need another concept: own funds at book value from the 2008 SNA, Paragraph 13.71d-e:

d. Book values reported by enterprises with macrolevel adjustments by the statistical compiler. For untraded equity, information on “own funds at book value” can be collected from enterprises, then adjusted with ratios based on suitable price indicators, such as prices of listed shares to book value in the same economy with similar operations. Alternately, assets that enterprises carry at cost (such as land, plant, equipment, and inventories) can be revalued to current period prices using suitable asset price indices.

e. Own funds at book value. This method for valuing equity uses the value of the enterprise recorded in the books of the direct investment enterprise, as the sum of (i) paid-up capital (excluding any shares on issue that the enterprise holds in itself and including share premium accounts); (ii) all types of reserves identified as equity in the enterprise’s balance sheet (including investment grants when accounting guidelines consider them company reserves); (iii) cumulated reinvested earnings; and (iv) holding gains or losses included in own funds in the accounts, whether as revaluation reserves or profits or losses. The more frequent the revaluation of assets and liabilities, the closer the approximation to market values. Data that are not revalued for several years may be a poor reflection of market values.

The accounting entries are simple (I am considering increases/decreases here, so “= +” is understood as an increase in the thing on its left.)

For Household 1:

Assets

Liabilities and Net Worth

House = +$1mn

Bank Loan = +$1mn
Net Worth = +$0

For Bank A:

Assets

Liabilities and Net Worth

Loan to Household 1 = +$1mn

Deposits of Firm P = +$1mn
Net Worth = +$0

For Firm P:

Assets

Liabilities and Net Worth

Deposits = +$1mn
Inventories = −$0.4mn

Own Funds = +$0.6mn
Net Worth = +$0

For Household 2:

Assets

Liabilities and Net Worth

Own Funds at Firm P = +$0.6mn

Net Worth = +$0.6mn

So, my (Household 2’s) net worth has risen by $600,000 by selling you (Household 1) a house.

I have in this example, intentionally chosen a privately owned firm to score a point. If the firm had been publicly owned, the house sale would have increase the firm’s net worth and my (Household 2’s) net worth would increase when the firm’s net worth reflects in the share price (which is not immediate). But I just had to show one example. It’s not just academic – many firms are family owned.

Steve Roth’s claim are similar to claim made by Neochartalists who claim that the private sector can only save if the government runs deficits and so on. All counterproductive.

The case for fiscal expansion can be made quite strongly, but not by these click bait claims.

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