Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Trouble With The Recent Consensus

In a speech The Specture Of Monetarism, at Liverpool John Moores University, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney talked about globalization and inequality.

The central theme of Carney’s speech and also the new/recent consensus of the economics profession is this:

III. The Way Forward

Given these developments, the challenge is how to manage and moderate the forces of innovation and integration which breed aggregate prosperity for the economy as a whole but which also foster isolation and detachment for substantial proportions of the population. In the balance of my remarks, I will focus on three priorities for doing so.

First, economists must clearly acknowledge the challenges we face, including the realities of uneven gains from trade and technology.

Second, we must grow our economy by rebalancing the mix of monetary policy, fiscal policy and structural reforms.

Third, we need to move towards more inclusive growth where everyone has a stake in globalisation.

[bold in original]

click the picture for the video and the text

While this acknowledges the trouble with globalization—under the current rules—it is still flawed. Carney continues to say:

Consider the disconnect between economists and workers. The former have not been sufficiently upfront about the distributional consequences of rapid changes in technology and globalisation. Amongst economists, a belief in free trade is totemic.xiv But, while trade makes countries better off, it does not raise all boats; in the clinical words of the economist, trade is not Pareto optimal.xv

(endnotes)

xiv E.g. Bhagwati, J. (2011), “Why free trade matters”, Project Syndicate, June 23.

xv In neoclassical models, free trade is Pareto Optimal in principle – in that the aggregate gains are sufficient to compensate those that lose out while preserving gains for the winners. This typically means some form of redistribution of the gains from trade is needed to achieve this outcome. This is the Kaldor-Hicks compensation principle. It is an open question, however, whether redistribution of this kind actually takes place in practice and, indeed, whether it is itself costless, as the Kaldor-Hicks principle assumes.

So Carney’s point is more about “Pareto optimality”, than on globalization under the current system.

The trouble with this view—as can be inferred from the quotes above—is that it’s based on the assumption of convergence of nations’ fortunes via globalization and free trade under the current system, instead of divergence and polarization. In other words, not only does globalization and free trade contribute to grievances for some economic actors, but also to nations and hence the world as a whole. Under a different set of rules, each nation would be better off and might avoid polarization.

As Nicholas Kaldor himself said (quoted above!) in 1980 in Foundations And Implications Of Free Trade Theory, written in 📚 Unemployment In Western Countries:

Owing to increasing returns in processing activities (in manufactures) success breeds further success and failure begets more failure. Another Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal called this’the principle of circular and cumulative causation’.

It is as a result of this that free trade in the field of manfactured goods led to the concentration of manufacturing production in certain areas – to a ‘polarization process’ which inhibits the growth of such activities in some areas and concentrates them on others.

You can preview Kaldor’s article on Google Books. It’s his finest.

Thomas Palley — The Federal Reserve Raising Interest Rates Is Unwelcome And Unnecessary

FOMC Projections

Thomas Palley writes:

Wednesday’s decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates is unwelcome and unnecessary. As admitted in its statement, investment remains soft, growth is only moderate, and inflation expectations are little changed. Moreover, the economy confronts financial headwinds from the recent jump in long term interest rates and an even stronger dollar.

The Federal Reserve seems to be relying on old economic thinking that should have been discarded after the financial crisis. That poses a danger the economy will be slowed before full employment is reached, putting a stop to workers reclaiming their fair share.

If the Federal Reserve is worried about financial market exuberance, it should use its regulatory tools and not the blunderbuss of higher interest rates. Financial markets must not be allowed to stampede the Fed into raising rates.

Also see his article The Federal Reserve Must Rethink How it Tightens Monetary Policy, written in September.

Not only that, Janet Yellen said this in the press conference following the interest rate hike decision:

I would say at this point that fiscal policy is not obviously needed to provide stimulus to get back to full employment.

That’s unconscionable.

Some Legal Issues Around Demonetisation

Arjun Jayadev has a nice article, With Its Talk Of Extinguishing Unreturned Cash, Is The Government Defaulting On Its Obligations? for Scroll.in about what happens subsequent to the withdrawal of the legal tender character of bank notes in the denominations of ₹500 and ₹1,000 (or “demonetisation”).

The idea of the government was to cause a loss for holders of “black money” (see this Government of India white paper on definitions) and fight counterfeiting.

Picture from a September 2015 press release showing additional features of the old notes. The notes bear signature of Raghuram G. Rajan

There are two important separate issues here: one is the withdrawal of the legal tender character. The other is whether the RBI will exchange the notes. When the Indian PM announced the former, Indians were told that the old notes (which were about 86% of currency in existence by value) ceased to be a legal tender in four hours and that banks would exchange them for new bank notes or accept them as deposits till December end. Banks would then exchange them with the Reserve Bank. The Reserve Bank itself would exchange them directly after that till the end of March.

Soon people asked the question whether the Reserve Bank can set a last date for exchange directly at their offices (even though the notes are no longer legal tender). This is because the bank notes have a promise. The Reserve Bank’s own site says:

What is the meaning of “I promise to pay” clause?

As per Section 26 of Reserve Bank of India Act, 1934, the Bank is liable to pay the value of banknote. This is payable on demand by RBI, being the issuer. The Bank’s obligation to pay the value of banknote does not arise out of a contract but out of statutory provisions.

The promissory clause printed on the banknotes i.e., “I promise to pay the bearer the sum of Rupees …” is a statement which means that the banknote is a legal tender for the specified amount. The obligation on the part of the Bank is to exchange a banknote with bank notes of lower value or other coins which are legal tender under the Indian Coinage Act, 2011, of an equivalent amount.

So technically I could still have the old notes of denominations ₹500 and ₹1,000 and go to the Reserve Bank’s office and ask them to exchange it after December end (when banks will no longer accept them), even though the note have lost the legal tender character on November 8 itself. And the RBI seems to be allowing it till March end. The question is: what about later?

The above quote does use the phrase “legal tender”, but it’s not written in the notes. In fact, because of the promise, the Reserve Bank has to provide the bearer in legal tender (i.e., old notes of lower denomination and/or new notes).

Some have argued that because of this “demonetisation” never made sense as the notes should have continued to have the value. I don’t agree with that because that assumes certainty on these issues. If I collect the old notes from people, I have a risk that I might lose the money because I could be wrong.

Anyway, a report today from The Hindu quotes the Reserve Bank Governor:

“Actually, the withdrawal of legal tender characteristics status does not extinguish any of RBI’s balance sheet. Therefore, there is no implication on the balance sheet as of now. The question of a special dividend automatically does not arise as of now,” Mr. Patel had said.

The report is basically source based and informs us that the government is indeed going to make a law to get around the issue.

Euro Area NCBs’ TARGET2 Balance As Cumulative Accommodating Item In The Balance Of Payments

There’s a discussion on Nick Rowe’s blog about the interpretation of TARGET2 balances of the NCBs in the Euro Area’s Eurosystem. How do we interpret this? My answer is the headline.

TARGET2 balances arise because of cross-border payment flows within Euro Area countries. Instead of going through how these arise, I assume the reader knows them. I have covered it many times in my blog and many others have written it.

Let’s work here in the approximation that the Euro Area is the world and there’s no economic activity outside it. Since cross-border flows within the Euro Area banking system and the Eurosystem are transactions between resident economic units and non-resident units, these flows will give rise to entries in the balance of payments of each nation within the Euro Area.

In the new balance of payments terminology, such as as in the sixth edition of the Balance Of Payments And International Investment Position Manual, (BPM6), there’s an identity:

current account balance + capital account balance = net lending (financial account balance).

For terminologies see this table from the guide:

balance-of-payments-overview

This is an identity but suggestive of some behaviour. The question is what is the residual in this. The current account consists of things such as exports, imports, interest payments between resident and non-resident units and so on. The capital account consists of acquisitions and disposals of non-produced non-financial assets and capital transfers. The financial account consists of things such as direct investment flows, portfolio investment flows and so on. Other than that, there’s also “reserve assets” and “other investment”.

There is a nice 1991 article by the BIS Capital flows in the 1980s: a survey of major trends. The author quotes James Meade who makes this distinction between autonomous flows and accommodative flows:

[accommodative capital flows] take place only because the other items in the balance of payments are such as to leave a gap of this size to be filled … [while] autonomous payments … take place regardless of other items in the balance of payments.

Strictly, this distinction makes sense in fixed exchange rate regimes. In floating exchange rate system, the two—accommodative and autonomous—can’t be clearly be separated.

Anyway, coming back to the Euro Area, before the crisis started, the banking system was working fine. So there would be flows in both the current account and the financial account. The goods and services balance in the current account depends on domestic demand and output at home and abroad and relative competitiveness. There’s no reason for this to be zero. Economic units engaged in the financial markets would buy and sell securities and these affect the financial account of the balance of payments of the two nations involved in the transaction. There’s no reason for balance of things such direct investment, portfolio investment (and financial derivative flows) to balance or to equal the current account balance. Since flows typically are via TARGET2, this affects banks’ balances at their NCBs. So it’s possible toward the end of the day for banks in Spain 🇪🇸 as a whole to find themselves in need for reserves (or settlement balances) and banks in say Germany 🇩🇪 to be in a situation where they have excess funds. So banks in Spain will likely contact banks in Germany to borrow funds, either for one day or more. This is because they will get a cheaper interest rate. If they borrowed from their NCB, the interest rate is slightly higher.

These borrowings and lendings give rise to other investment in balance of payments of the two nations. So in Meade’s language, this is an accomodative flow. Not all other investment items are accommodative flows and similarly, not all accommodative items are other investment items.

But as the financial crisis began in 2007, the interbank system froze. Banks didn’t lend each other much. Hence the residual was balances between the NCBs. This would arise automatically. So these flows can be said to be accommodating. The counterpart of this is banks borrowing from their NCBs.

There’s a technicality: somewhere around mid-2000s, the system was changed so that the bilateral balances of NCBs were assigned to the ECB on a daily basis.

Since the TARGET2 balance of NCBs is a stock and not a flow, they can be hence thought of as the cumulative accommodative item. Since the crisis, a lot of things have happened. The European Central Bank has taken various steps, so that banks have sufficient liquidity. Banks have been given facilities to borrow huge amounts from their NCBs for collateral at cheap rates. Later the ECB also started its asset purchase program in which it bought government bonds, ABS and covered bonds. Some of these were already in existence when the interbank markets froze. So even as interbank markets opened, they didn’t feel the need to borrow funds from banks abroad.

The IMF’s guide BPM6 says in Appendix 3 that these intra-Eurosystem claims (the TARGET2 balances) are to be recorded in Other Investment:

Intra-CUNCBs and CUCB balances

A3.46 Transactions and positions corresponding to claims and liabilities among CUNCBs and the CUCB (including those arising from settlement and clearing arrangements) are to be recorded for the central bank under other investment, currency and deposits or loans (depending on the nature of the claim) in the balance of payments and IIP of member economies. If changes in these intra-CU claims and liabilities do not arise from transactions, relevant entries are to be made under the “other adjustment” column of the IIP. Remuneration of these claims and liabilities is to be recorded in the balance of payments of CU member economies as income on a gross basis under investment income, other investment.

where CUCB and CUNCB are abbreviations for currency union central bank and currency union national central bank, respectively.

There is some similarity with “reserve assets” in the financial account of the balance of payments and the international investment position when comparing all this to a fix exchange rate regime. In the latter, when autonomous flows aren’t sufficient, the central bank may sell gold or foreign reserves in the markets. It may also engage in borrowing funds in foreign currency. These are also accommodative flows. In the Euro Area case however, the inter-NCB claims (and the assignment to the ECB) happens automatically. Also “reserve assets” don’t go below zero, while TARGET2 balances can be negative in the sense that they are in liabilities of some NCBs instead of being in assets.

The conclusion of all this is that TARGET2 is a sort of a residual finance to a whole nation which arises automatically. Some have interpreted this to conclude that this is unlimited. This is however not the case. Since the counterpart to these are banks’ borrowing from their NCBs, this is limited to how much collateral banks can provide the Eurosystem, with or without the help of their government.