Neochartalists Shifting Positions

In a three part series, Bill Mitchell, makes the case against free trade. While this is most welcome – success and failure of nations depends on success in international trade via the principle of circular and cumulative causation – it’s quite a drastic change from what Neochartalists have claimed before. From “exports are a cost and imports benefits”, they have shifted their position. Mitchell goes on to concede:

These so-called ‘free trade’ agreements are nothing more than a further destruction of the democratic freedoms that the advanced nations have enjoyed and cripple the respective states’ abilities to oversee independent policy structures that are designed to advance the well-being of the population.

[emphasis: mine]

Neochartalists have always denied – till recently – that free trade can put a constraint on fiscal policy. They interpreted such critiques as an argument against fiscal expansion, instead of realizing that it’s possible to both argue for fiscal expansion and realize that it is constrained by balance of payments. One potential solution is import controls. Mitchell concedes that it’s required sometimes. He says:

In those cases, import controls may be justified to limit the damage to the less developed nation, despite the material benefits to the more developed nation being obvious.

[boldening: mine]

In another blog post as I noticed here, Mitchell says this while making proposals on reforming the international institutional framework:

2. Macroeconomic stabilisation – support for national currencies in the face of problematic balance of payments.

This function recognises that all nations should maintain sovereign currencies and float them on international markets but at the same time recognising that capital flows may be problematic at certain times and that some nations require more or less permanent assistance due to their export capacities and domestic resource bases.

There have been many critiques of Neochartalism but very few touch on this or give attention. But since international trade is the most important determinant of the rise and fall of nations, and that Neochartalism claims to be some fundamental theory of human interactions, its extreme position and shifting away from it should be noticed and critiqued, although welcomed.

In short, Neochartalism which is some sort of moral superiority on fiscal policy has accepted that free trade can put constraints on it. The solution of course is beyond the scope of this post but this shift should acknowledged when Neochartalism is discussed.

Opposing Principles Of Political Economy Just Because Donald Trump Supports It

The blurb of a recent articleThe Ruthlessly Effective Rebranding Of Europe’s New Far Right by Sasha Polakow-Suransky for The Guardian, says:

Across the continent, rightwing populist parties have seized control of the political conversation. How have they done it? By stealing the language, causes and voters of the traditional left

A better way to put it is that the left has genuinely lost interest in addressing people’s grievances, and is promoting policies of neoliberals. The far right has found a clever winning strategy.

Donald Trump will soon be the President of the United States 🇺🇸 and economists and financial analysts have discussed Trump’s liking of fiscal policy. There seems to be a tendency of economists who are leaning toward the Democratic Party in the US to not support this. To me it just looks like a defense of the party than a defense of the correct principles of political economy.

To be fair to them, Donald Trump indeed has a character and ideology leaning to the dark side. But it still doesn’t mean why the US government shouldn’t engage on a fiscal expansion plan. Because this is a principle which belongs to the traditional left. Else they should stop pretending to be ideologically leaning to the left in the “political spectrum”.

Brad Setser has a post on his blog Follow The Money in which he seems to be not excited about a possible fiscal expansion by the US government. Now, Donald Trump is an erratic person and we’ll never know what he’s going to do until he does it but let’s just assume that he does it.

Setser’s point is that surplus nations have more room for fiscal expansion than deficit nations and I agree with that. But Trump’s policy is also to declare China 🇨🇳 a “currency manipulator”, in his own words. In another post, Setser opposes this and favours status quo on this issue from the US viewpoint.

Currently, although the US has a large negative international investment position (minus 44% of Q2 GDP), it’s not that the US economy is under immediate threat from a collapse of the dollar. The US economy can expand by raising tariffs and also asking other governments to do fiscal expansion. Even if others don’t initially, they might when they start to see the positives.

But none of these points will be made by economists. Trump’s fiscal stimulus may not even be large and its effect on the US international investment position may not be that bad. The US anyway has the option to appeal to the Article 12 of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade).

I think Bernie Sanders said it the best about the Democrats in a speech at Berklee, a few days back (at 38m, 58s in the video):

In other words, one of the struggles that you’re going to be seeing in the Democratic Party is whether we go beyond identity politics. I think it’s a step forward in America if you have an African American head or CEO of some major corporation. But you know what, if that guy is going to be shipping jobs out of his country and exploiting his workers, doesn’t mean a whole hell of a lot if he’s black or white or Latino.

The Democrats have clinged on to social issues because Trump’s views are horrible on this. While Trump should be passionately opposed on such issues, it’s an attempt by the Democrats to impose neoliberalism on the population. Sanders, although a Democrat, understands this.

Sanders’ opinion on this, his statement after the US election results were out, is the right one and should be followed:

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

Some Musings On The Phrase “Legal Tender”

On 8th November 2016, at around 8pm, Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, in a shock announcement, declared that 86% of currency notes in circulation—notes denominated ₹500 and ₹1,000—are no longer legal tender from midnight. Instead new notes with denominations ₹500 and ₹2,000 will be issued. Holders of old notes can deposit them at their banks or exchange them from any bank.rupees-one-thousand

A thousand rupee note, which is no longer a legal tender. Source: RBI

This has led to the “wisdom” that using the old notes is illegal or something. This was partly because of Modi’s own words:

To break the grip of corruption and black money, we have decided that the five hundred rupee and thousand rupee currency notes presently in use will no longer be legal tender from midnight tonight, that is 8th November 2016. This means that these notes will not be acceptable for transactions from midnight onwards.

What is a legal tender? Usually currency notes (and coins) are considered legal tender. It is something which can be used to:

  • extinguish existing debt,
  • settle fines decided by the courts,
  • pay taxes.

Credit card and cheque payments or electronic funds transfer are not usually considered legal tender. One can of course settle existing debts such as to a credit card company using funds in your bank account (i.e., not using legal tender) but this is perhaps because of the agreement you may have signed with your credit card company or in good faith: the creditor can insist you pay in legal tender but may not have a chance in courts if you settle your debt using funds in your bank account. Same with corporate bonds or loans from banks and government’s debt.

It’s also possible to pay in foreign currency to settle your debt as long as the creditor accepts.

It’s also important to make a distinction whether it is (pre)existing debt or not. So for example, payment for a T-shirt may not fall in the above list, as the funds you owe the shopkeeper comes into existence only after you express an interest to own the T-shirt. Hence the shopkeeper may reject your payment method. I believe, some shops in Sweden do not accept currency notes. But a Swedish creditor such as a credit card company or a bank must accept the currency notes for a repayment of a debt or a loan if the debtor insists.

And of course, people buy T-shirts with credit cards. So we come to the important point. As long a seller of goods or services in India accepts the old ₹500 or ₹1,000 notes, it’s not illegal at all for the same reason that buying something with a credit card is not illegal. The seller might accept it in the knowledge that he has time till Dec 30 to get the notes exchanged at bank.

But there are more complications. The message of the Indian government has been that anyone who deposits large amounts of cash notes can be investigated. So this affects the acceptance of old notes. Anyway, this point is separate from the confusion people have that it is illegal to use old notes. No, it is as legal to use old notes to transact like like it’s not illegal to buy a T-shirt with your credit card.

But in reality very few economic units are accepting old notes. I believe it’s party because of fear of being with too many currency notes and also because of the incorrect notion that it’s illegal to do so.

Update: After I wrote the first draft, I found this from the Swedish central bank Riksbank’s website:

Other questions about banknotes and coins

Can shops refuse to accept cash?

The main rule is that cash is legal tender and therefore shall be accepted as payment. This rule can, however, be waived by shops, restaurants, etc. In principle, therefore, a shop can refuse cash entirely, refuse to accept coins or certain denominations (e.g. 1000-krona banknotes) or even refuse to accept banknotes and coins that are soon due to go out of circulation, etc. From a consumer perspective, it is better for me to get this information in good time (for example in the form of a sign on the shop door) so that I can choose if I want to shop there or go somewhere else.

The question of whether a shop may refuse older banknotes and coins but accept new ones has, as far as we know, not been tested in court and it is therefore not possible to answer it with any degree of certainty. The Riksbank’s position is that shops that accept cash should accept both older and new banknotes and coins as long as they are legal tender. Shops should not refuse to accept the older banknotes and coins until after 30 June 2017, as this is when they will cease to be a valid means of payment.

Link

Jayati Ghosh: The Political Economy Of Demonetising High Value Notes

Who better to write about the recent demonetisation than Jayati Ghosh? In yesterday’s The Hindu, she writes:

The demonetisation of bank notes per se is not the problem. Indeed, it has occurred periodically in India and many other countries, both to reduce concerns about counterfeiting and to spread the use of cash-based illegal transactions. To the extent that it reduces these, it should certainly be welcomed. However, when this has been done in India in the past or in other countries, it has typically been done gradually, allowing adequate time for people to replace the old notes with new ones to prevent too much disruption of economic activity. This overnight shock, by contrast, is hugely destabilising, with likely medium-term material damage to a very large part of the population. It affects very little of the stock of ill-gotten wealth and does nothing about its generation, but it has severe impact upon ordinary people, whose lives have already been hugely disrupted.

Although, the best you can read on this issue, I’d differ saying that announcement should have been a shock. But that’s a minor quibble, since the government assumption on which this is based – that people have a stock of cash notes in their water tanks itself is wrong.

[The title of this page is the link]

To President Obama And Secretary Clinton: In The Name Of God, Go

by Thomas Palley

Dear Secretary Clinton and President Obama:

On April 20, 1653, Oliver Cromwell spoke these words to the Long Parliament:

“You have sat here too long for any good you have been doing… Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of god, go.”

Secretary Clinton, you are rightly being blamed for the electoral tragedy that has befallen our country. The country wanted change and you offered continuity. You prided yourself on the neoliberal economic policies of your husband, President Bill Clinton, which have driven our country into stagnation and despair. Your rejection in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania speaks to a greater rejection of the economic policies you, your husband, and your Third Way associates imposed on the party of Franklin Roosevelt.

President Obama, you too deserve enormous blame. You wasted the historic opportunity at the beginning of your presidency to break with neoliberal economics. Instead, you pushed Obamacare with its expensive sub-standard insurance that is punitively imposed on the self-employed. Donald Trump benefitted enormously from the premium increase notices that were received up and down the country in the week before the election. And at the end, you pushed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another neoliberal globalization agreement, which ceded the economic argument to Mr. Trump. Your charm and intelligence are no substitute for the economic change we need, you promised, and then reneged on.

Cromwell’s words apply to both of you. Heed them and be gone.

Sincerely,

Tom Palley

This post first appeared at Thomas Palley’s website

The Soon-To-Be Conventional Wisdom: “Fiscal Policy Is Not So Good”

Donald Trump is the President-elect of the United States. It hardly needs to be mentioned how bad his campaign was. Glenn Greenwald rightly called him an abusive, misogynistic, bigoted, scary, lawless authoritarian.

However on the economic scale, Trump’s plans seem to be to the left of Hillary Clinton. Trump wants to pump the prime, meaning do a fiscal expansion and also put tariffs.

Trump is yet to take his office, but the narrative change about fiscal policy has already started. The important thing to remember is that this is done by economists who might otherwise not object to it – at least the fiscal stimulus.

In other words, just to oppose Trump, economists are on the path to build a conventional wisdom that fiscal policy is neutral or impotent or even destructive if it’s expansionary (as in higher expenditure and/or cuts in tax rates).

Example: Lawrence Summers’ article A Badly Designed US stimulus Will Only Hurt The Working Class for Financial Times. While obviously unable to deny the importance of fiscal expansion (because it works), Summers says:

I am optimistic regarding the efficacy of fiscal expansion. But any responsible economist has to recognise that, past a point, it can lead to some combination of excessive foreign borrowing, inflation and even financial crisis. As Dornbusch showed, in emerging markets this can happen quite quickly. In the US the process would take longer.

Moreover, he also goes on to argue that China is not gaining unfair advantage by keeping its exchange rate at a highly devalued level. Notice the change in tone in Summers’ language. From writing about how the constraints are far, Summers is now saying that fiscal policy is not that good. Surely he’s using a language to hedge himself —as any economist should do—but he’s clearly not saying that, “Fiscal expansion will be good for the US economy. Trump should rather design taxes to be progressive” but instead, giving innuendos that fiscal policy is not that good.

Even a non-progressive system of taxation or even tax cuts for the wealthy can be expansionary. It raises inequality but the size of the pie is still rising. To me it’s still better than a neutral fiscal stance. But Summers’ language is such that it is worse.

Obviously no economist will jump overnight to shifting his/her position to saying, “fiscal policy is impotent or worse expansion destructive”, after the elections, from a position, “fiscal policy should be expansionary” before the elections. So conventional wisdom will be created slowly over the next few months – slowly manufacturing constent, borrowing the phrase from Noam Chomsky.

Is my reading of Summers wrong? Time will tell! But why didn’t Summers ever complain about the non-progressive system of taxation earlier?

Remonetisation

On 8th November 2016, at around 8pm, the Prime Minister of India, in a shock announcement, declared that 86% of currency notes in circulation—notes denominated ₹500 and ₹1,000—are no longer legal tender from midnight. Instead new notes with denominations ₹500 and ₹2,000 will be issued. The press is calling this “demonetisation”, although “remonetisation” seems to be a better word.

rbi-2000-rupee-note

Picture source: RBI on Twitter. Click picture for higher resolution

These notes are worth about $7.37 and $14.75 (at today’s exchange rate USDINR = 67.811). Although this is not much for people resident in the advanced world, it is quite a lot for Indians, especially the poor.

Holders of these currency notes are given time till 30th December to either

  1. exchange these currency notes with banks who will provide the holders with old currency notes denominated ₹100, ₹50, ₹50 or ₹10, or
  2. deposit them in their bank accounts.

The reasons provided were that there is a lot of counterfeiting happening from across the border and there is a lot of “black money” with Indians. Now there is a lot of political rhetoric around “black money” but Indians have this imagery that everyone doing immoral or illegal things with their finances has hidden a lot of currency notes in the water tanks of their homes. Before the Prime Minister’s Bhartiya Janata Party, won the elections, he promised to bring in “black money” worth $40 trillion (no typo!) from abroad and promised that every poor Indian will easily get around $30,000. But having failed in this, he feels pressured to do something about it.

Now, as Pronab Sen points out in Mint, that is hardly the case. The one doing shady things with their financial statements may hold wealth in various forms such as real estate, gold, foreign exchange, foreign accounts, via Panama etc. Moreover, people have been standing in queues in banks and ATMs for the whole day, just to exchange their notes. This is because the Indian government and the central bank didn’t make the new notes immediately available. Since there is a liquidity shortage, and that since a lot of people live in daily wages, there have been delays in payments of wages. People have postponed their expenditures to subsistence levels because it’s not clear how long the shortage will last.

How does the Indian government hope to gain from this operation? Currently, currency notes equivalent of around $222 bn of old notes are no longer legal tender. India’s annual GDP was $1.51 tn in 2015 for comparison with the US (where the currency in circulation is $1.48 tn and annual GDP was $18.44 tn, annualized in Q2 2016 and India’s population is 1.25 bn while US population is 319 mn). When notes are returned and new currency is issued, the Reserve Bank’s liabilities changes because some people won’t return their currency notes in the fear that their finances will be investigated. How much it is is anybody’s guess. But let’s say currency notes equivalent of $210 bn is returned. The RBI will see this as income from this operation and will pay an additional dividend of $12 bn to the government. The government can raise its expenditure because of higher tax revenues.

But since all this was poorly implemented and 11 people have died so for this political propaganda of the government. It’s not like in the Western world here in India. There is a parallel “informal economy” in India and a large population is extremely poor. It is difficult to calculate the loss of output.

I want to distract here to Monetarism and the relevance of this to monetary theory especially the causality from money to prices and output. It’s usually argued by Post-Keynesians that the causality is from price and output to money but as central bank asset purchases (“QE”) have highlighted, there is causality in the reverse direction also via rise in prices of financial assets causing a wealth effect.

Right now in India, there’s a drop of liquidity and from the story above, I hoped to convince you that there is a causality from money to output. People’s wealth hasn’t dropped but liquidity has. So Monetarism can have some truth to it, in selected cases. In standard Post-Keynesian theory, it is assumed that all demand for “money” is accomodated. But right now, this isn’t the case, leading to the reverse-reverse causality.

rbi-500-rupee-note

Picture source: RBI on Twitter. Click picture for higher resolution

Let’s Say, “China”

Trade has always been a subject close to non-orthodox economics. Post-Keynesians emphasize the principle of circular and cumulative causation, which in the words of Nicholas Kaldor means, “success creates further success and failure begets more failure”. The importance of trade for the prospects of the US economy was emphasized the most by Wynne Godley in his series of papers for the Levy Institute from the mid-90s to late 2000s. In his paper Seven Unsustainable Processes, Godley said,

The logic of this analysis is that, over the coming five to ten years, it will be necessary not only to bring about a substantial relaxation in the fiscal stance but also to ensure, by one means or another, that there is a structural improvement in the United States’s balance of payments. It is not legitimate to assume that the external deficit will at some stage automatically correct itself; too many countries in the past have found themselves trapped by exploding overseas indebtedness that had eventually to be corrected by force majeure for this to be tenable.

There are, in principle, four ways in which the net export demand can be increased: (1) by depreciating the currency, (2) by deflating the economy to the point at which imports are reduced to the level of exports, (3) by getting other countries to expand their economies by fiscal or other means, and (4) by adopting “Article 12 control” of imports, so called after Article 12 of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which was creatively adjusted when the World Trade Organization came into existence specifically to allow nondiscriminatory import controls to protect a country’s foreign exchange reserves. This list of remedies for the external deficit does not include protection as commonly understood, namely, the selective use of tariffs or other discriminatory measures to assist particular industries and firms that are suffering from relative decline. This kind of protectionism is not included because, apart from other fundamental objections, it would not do the trick. Of the four alternatives, we rule out the second–progressive deflation and resulting high unemployment–on moral grounds. Serious difficulties attend the adoption of any of the remaining three remedies, but none of them can be ruled out categorically.

In his 2008 paperProspects For The United States And The Rest Of The World: A Crisis That Conventional Remedies Cannot Resolve, he said:

At the moment, the recovery plans under consideration by the United States and many other countries seem to be concentrated on the possibility of using expansionary fiscal and monetary policies.

But, however well coordinated, this approach will not be sufficient.

What must come to pass, perhaps obviously, is a worldwide recovery of output, combined with sustainable balances in international trade. Since this series of reports began in 1999, we have emphasized that, in the United States, sustained growth with full employment would eventually require both fiscal expansion and a rapid acceleration in net export demand. Part of the needed fiscal stimulus has already occurred, and much more (it seems) is immediately in prospect. But the U.S. balance of payments languishes, and a substantial and spontaneous recovery is now highly unlikely in view of the developing severe downturn in world trade and output. Nine years ago, it seemed possible that a dollar devaluation of 25 percent would do the trick. But a significantly larger adjustment is needed now. By our reckoning (which is put forward with great diffidence), if the United States were to attempt to restore full employment by fiscal and monetary means alone, the balance of payments deficit would rise over the next, say, three to four years, to 6 percent of GDP or more—that is, to a level that could not possibly be sustained for a long period, let alone indefinitely. Yet, for trade to begin expanding sufficiently would require exports to grow faster than we are at present expecting, implying that in three to four years the level of exports would be 25 percent higher than it would have been with no adjustments.

It is inconceivable that such a large rebalancing could occur without a drastic change in the institutions responsible for running the world economy—a change that would involve placing far less than total reliance on market forces.

So there was a voice for the Post-Keynesian community talking about US trade.

Dean Baker has an article saying the TPP gave us Trump and I agree. Although Donald Trump is a disaster socially, he is less dogmatic about trade and has promised to put tariffs on China (and has even promised fiscal expansion!). Since the Democrats (except Bernie Sanders) didn’t say anything about it and guarded orthodoxies, I believe this was decisive for Trump’s victory.

For the sake of quotes, here’s from The New York Times, July 31, 2016:

Mr. Trump himself said in a telephone interview last week that he believed more borrowing and spending would help lift economic growth, a departure from traditional Republican economics.

“It’s called priming the pump,” Mr. Trump said. “Sometimes you have to do that a little bit to get things going. We have no choice — otherwise, we are going to die on the vine.”

He added: “The economy would be crushed under Hillary. But no matter who it is, the debt is going up.”

Here’s a fun video of Donald Trump saying China in loop

donald-trump-says-china

click the picture to see the video on YouTube.

Since today morning the BBC has been saying how immoral Trump’s policies are: that fiscal expansion invariably burdens future generations and that thinking of the Chinese government using unfair trade policies is orthodoxy.

That’s not all, Paul Krugman even claimed that equity prices aren’t going to ever rise to pre-Trump level, a position which he flipped within hours after financial markets recovered.

So it’s not difficult to conclude that purely for the sake of defending one’s favourite party or ideology, people are going to make the case against fiscal policy and for free trade. We might hear a lot of pre-Keynesian orthodoxies from smart people more and more. I won’t even be surprised if Paul Krugman becomes a fiscal hawk again.

This has already been the case in discussions around wars. George Bush started the Iraq war and faced a lot of opposition from the so-called progressives. But then Barack Obama is the record holder for the most number of days as being in office as the President of the United States while the nation was at war but hardly gets any opposition from those who opposed him. I have also noticed that the same people who opposed Bush are now war apologizers.

So economic orthodoxy lies ahead. What will be sad is that it will come from people to the left of Republicans in the political spectrum.

The Full Julian Assange Interview With John Pilger

Recently, Bloomberg’s Mark Halpern in a short clip managed to get an answer from Julian Assange to the question, “what aspect of the recent leaks by WikiLeaks has the media under-reported” and it was, “Everything”.

Russia Today has released the full video (link at the bottom) of a recent Julian Assange interview with John Pilger. In that, Assange talks about corruptions of the Clinton Foundation and how it has been responsible for terrorist funding. Assange also defends against the charges on him by various others that WikiLeaks is trying to put Donald Trump into the White House.

Hillary Clinton is a leader for neoliberals and neocons. She pretends to look progressive but is far from it. She’s for free trade and balanced budgets and a war hawk. She started sounding progressive and lefty in order to compete against Bernie Sanders.

Julian Assange has exposed Hillary Clinton, although the media tries to pretend otherwise with a “meh”, everytime WikiLeaks releases new emails in the past 30 days. But it’s not the case: Democrats and their supporters are fearful of WikiLeaks as can be seen by a Tweet now deleted tweet by Matthew Yglesias in which he accuses WikiLeaks of trying to side with Donald Trump:

Report on the documents all you like, but the tweets show Wikileaks is a pro-Trump disinformation operation not a transparency group.

As Mark Halpern says in the short clip linked above, you have an Australian guy working for an Icelandic organization, in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the United Kingdom striking fear in the heart of the Democratic presidential candidate in the United States – that’s one hell of a story. I should also add, effectively detained by the Swedish government.

The Julian Assange interview with John Pilger is at Russia Today’s YouTube channel. Transcripts are available at John Pilger’s site.

julian-assange-with-embassy-cat

Julian Assange with Embassy Cat. Source: Embassy Cat’s Instagram page.

Noam Chomsky On Free Trade Agreements

Julian Assange is a probably the third most important figure in the current US elections. I came across a video from earlier this year in which Noam Chomsky defends Julian Assange.

“Free trade” puts a tight reign on the rise in output of economies, takes away a sovereignty from nations and is anti-democratic. Not only that, from the very start, free trade agreements are reached in the most undemocratic ways. Around 2/3rd of this nine-minute video, Chomsky explains how this is so. First, the documents are secretive. Then they are handed over to governments for a yes/no vote, which Chomsky says means they should vote “yes”.

It’s also one of the most important speeches on politics and power.

julian-assange-with-noam-chomsky

Julian Assange with Noam Chomsky. Source: WikiLeaks