Tag Archives: anthony thirlwall

Kaldor’s Vision Of The Growth And Development Process According To Thirlwall

Anthony Thirlwall’s new book Essays on Keynesian and Kaldorian Economics is out. It has a nice chapter (chapter 11) originally written by Thirlwall himself from 1991 titled Kaldor’s Vision Of The Growth And Development Process. The description from introduction (pdf from Palgrave’s website) is a good summary:

Essay 11 outlines Kaldor’s vision of the growth and development process – a topic that concerned him for most of his academic life after the Second World War. The Essay covers his growth laws; his export-led growth model incorporating the notion of ‘circular and cumulative causation’, and his two-sector model of the interrelationship between the agricultural (primary product) and industrial sectors of the world economy. Central to Kaldor’s vision was the distinction to be made between increasing returns activities on the one hand (manufacturing industry) and diminishing returns activities on the other (land-based activities such as agriculture and mining). This distinction lies at the heart of his three growth laws that (i) manufacturing is the engine of growth because of (ii) static and dynamic returns to scale in industry (also known as Verdoorn’s law), and (iii) increases in productivity outside of manufacturing as resources are drawn from diminishing returns activities. The question, of course, is what determines industrial growth in the first place. Kaldor’s answer was that it is the prosperity and growth of the agricultural sector in the early stages of development, and then export growth in the later stages. In an open economy, exports are the only true [exogenous] component of aggregate demand. Consumption and investment are largely endogenous.

This view of the role of exports is the basis of his ‘regional’ export-led growth model with cumulative features which has four structural equations: (i) output growth as a function of export growth; (ii) export growth as a function of changing competitiveness and income growth outside the region; (iii) competitiveness as a function of productivity growth, and (iv) productivity growth as a function of output growth (Verdoorn’s Law). Depending on the parameters of the model, regional growth rates may diverge or converge (see Essay 12). It is also possible to introduce a balance of payments constraint into the model which, if relative prices (or real exchange rates) don’t change in the long run, leads to the result that growth will approximate to the rate of growth of exports relative to the income elasticity of demand for imports, which is the dynamic analogue of the static Harrod foreign trade multiplier, which Kaldor argued was a more important multiplier than the Keynesian closed economy multiplier for understanding the pace and rhythm of growth in open economies.

In a closed economy, however, growth by definition cannot be determined by exports. The world as a whole is a closed economy, and Kaldor lectured in Cambridge for many years on a two-sector model of world growth in which the growth of the industrial sector of the world economy is fundamentally determined by the rate of land-saving innovations in agriculture as an offset to diminishing returns in that sector. The model shows that if growth is to be maximised, there must be an equilibrium terms of trade between the two sectors, otherwise growth will be demand constrained if agricultural prices are ‘too low’, or supply constrained if agricultural prices are ‘too high’. Kaldor himself never brought the model to fruition in published form, but attempts have been made to formalise it by Targetti (1985) and myself (see Essay 13).

Google Books preview below.

Anthony Thirlwall’s New Book On Keynesian And Kaldorian Economics

During the global economic and financial crisis Keynes became popular again but Nicholas Kaldor’s ideas and the mention of the man himself didn’t take off as much. It’s unfortunate, as Kaldor played a huge role in the development of Keynesian economics itself. Kaldor’s own ideas are a subject of its own. Anthony Thirlwall is releasing a new collection of essays on Keynes and Kaldor in a book titled Essays on Keynesian and Kaldorian Economics to be published by Palgrave Macmillan.

Book website here

Anthony Thirlwall - Essays On Keynesian And Kaldorian Economics


This volume of essays contains sixteen papers that the author has written over the last forty years on various aspects of the life and work of John Maynard Keynes and Nicholas Kaldor. The essays cover both theoretical and applied topics, and highlight the continued relevance of Keynesian and Kaldorian ideas for understanding the functioning of capitalist economies. Kaldor was one of the first economists to be converted to the Keynesian revolution in the mid-1930s, and he never lost the faith, so there was a strong affinity between them. But while Keynes revolutionised employment theory, Kaldor’s major concern in the latter part of his life was with the theory and applied economics of economic growth. The papers on Keynes mainly relate to defending Keynesian economics against his classical and monetarist critics and showing how Keynesian ideas relate to developing economies and the functioning of the world economy in general. The papers on Kaldor give a sketch of his life and role as policy advisor, and outline his vision of the growth and development process within regions; within countries, and also the world economy as a whole.

Table of Contents


  1. Keynesian Economics after Fifty Years; N. Kaldor
  2. A ‘Second Edition’ of Keynes’ General Theory (writing as John Maynard Keynes)
  3. Keynesian Employment Theory is Not Defunct
  4. The Renaissance of Keynesian Economics
  5. The Relevance of Keynes Today with Particular Reference to Unemployment in Rich and Poor Countries
  6. Keynes, Economic Development and the Developing Countries
  7. Keynes and Economic Development
  8. A Keynesian View of the Current Financial and Economic Crisis in the World Economy (an interview with John King)
  9. Nicholas Kaldor: A Biography
  10. Kaldor as a Policy Adviser
  11. Kaldor’s Vision of the Growth and Development Process
  12. A Model of Regional Growth Rate Differences on Kaldorian Lines (with R. Dixon)
  13. A General Model of Growth and Development on Kaldorian Lines
  14. A Plain Man’s Guide to Kaldor’s Growth Laws
  15. Testing Kaldor’s Growth Laws across the Countries of Africa (with Heather Wells)
  16. Talking about Kaldor (an interview with John King)

Anthony-P-ThirlwallAnthony Thirlwall

ROKE Issue On Steve Keen’s Notion Of Aggregate Demand

The new issue of ROKE (Review of Keynesian Economics) is online with a few articles available free for some time. Marc Lavoie, Thomas Palley and Brett Fiebiger comment on Keen’s notion of aggregate demand.

Marc Lavoie’s article A comment on ‘Endogenous money and effective demand’: a revolution or a step backwards? is available here.

Steve Keen’s own paper Endogenous money and effective demand is available here.

From Marc Lavoie’s introduction and the ending:

Steve Keen argues that post-Keynesians have not sufficiently emphasized the revolutionary character of endogenous money for macroeconomic theory, and that this should be done by recognizing that aggregate demand is equal to current or past income plus the change in debt. This equation, attributed in particular to Hyman Minsky, is discussed and questioned, and it is recalled that a similar equation had been proposed by Alfred Eichner. The consequences of bank credit for firms or households are further analysed within the context of the national accounts, and it is shown that one does not need a redefinition of aggregate demand and aggregate supply, in contrast to what is proposed by Keen…

All post-Keynesians certainly concur with the idea that banks have the capacity to alter the level of aggregate demand, and hence that it would be desirable for banks, debt, and money to be included in models of macroeconomics… There are several examples of post-Keynesian macroeconomic models that incorporate banks, debt, and money – for instance, Godley and Cripps (1983) and Godley and Lavoie (2007), just to mention those that I am most familiar with… But this does not imply, as Keen claims, that we need a redefinition of aggregate demand such that the starting point of macroeconomics is that ‘effective demand is equal to income plus the turnover of new debt’ (Keen 2014a, p. 286). Nor does it mean that aggregate supply needs to be redefined ‘to incorporate the financial markets’ (ibid., p. 290). To provide new definitions of existing terms will only lead to a maze of confusions.

Keen makes the grandiose claim that his approach leads to a ‘new, monetary macroeconomics’ (Keen 2014a, p. 286). While statements of this kind may appeal to an internet audience, I doubt they will convince readers of this journal.

Marc also quotes my blog post Income ≠ Expenditure? which critiqued Keen. (Thanks!).

Tom Palley and Brett Fiebiger’s papers are not available for download by the journal. I will update the post in case ROKE decides to make it available. The permanent links are available in the left column of the papers linked in the post. Palley’s draft version is available here

Also don’t miss the paper by Anthony Thirlwall in the current issue.

Origins Of The Sectoral Balances Identity

I thought I should share what I found recently about who was to state the sectoral balances identity first – since it comes across as enlightening to say the least. I found the identity in Nicholas Kaldor’s 1944 article Quantitative Aspects Of The Full Employment Problem In Britain. It was published as Appendix C to Full Employment In A Free Society by William Beveridge.

(If you find the mention of this identity anywhere before, please let me know!)

Here’s a Google Books screenshot of the page:

The article also appears in Kaldor’s Collected Essays, Vol 3 (Chapter 2, pp. 23-82).

The ‘net’ is net of consumption of fixed capital. Also ‘balance of payments’ is used for the current balance (footnote 1, page 28). (In The Scourge Of Monetarism, Kaldor used ‘net saving’ as saving net of investment).

Anthony Thirlwall wrote a biography of Kaldor in 1987 and he mentions that Kaldor kept pushing the implications of the identity in the 1960s (page 251). He managed to convinced some of his colleagues such as Wynne Godley and Francis Cripps and pick up public fights with others such as Richard Kahn.

Wynne Godley recalled how he came to appreciate this identity in his book Monetary Economics with Marc Lavoie. In Background Memories (W.G.) he wrote:

… In 1970 I moved to Cambridge, where, with Francis Cripps, I founded the Cambridge Economic Policy Group (CEPG). I remember a damascene moment when, in early 1974 (after playing round with concepts devised in conversation with Nicky Kaldor and Robert Neild), I first apprehended the strategic importance of the accounting identity which says that, measured at current prices, the government’s budget deficit less the current account deficit is equal, by definition, to private saving net of investment. Having always thought of the balance of trade as something which could only be analysed in terms of income and price elasticities together with real output movements at home and abroad, it came as a shock to discover that if only one knows what the budget deficit and private net saving are, it follows from that information alone, without any qualification whatever, exactly what the balance of payments must be. Francis Cripps and I set out the significance of this identity as a logical framework both for modelling the economy and for the formulation of policy in the London and Cambridge Economic Bulletin in January 1974 (Godley and Cripps 1974). We correctly predicted that the Heath Barber boom would go bust later in the year at a time when the National Institute was in full support of government policy and the London Business School (i.e. Jim Ball and Terry Burns) were conditionally recommending further reflation! We also predicted that inflation could exceed 20% if the unfortunate threshold (wage indexation) scheme really got going interactively. This was important because it was later claimed that inflation (which eventually reached 26%) was the consequence of the previous rise in the ‘money supply’, while others put it down to the rising pressure of demand the previous year …

The Monetary Economics Of Sovereign Government Rating

If a government (outside monetary unions) can make a draft at the central bank, why do rating agencies rate governments’ creditworthiness?

In this post, I will attempt to describe the dynamics of defaults and restructurings by going through some monetary economics of open economies.

Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff wrote a book in 2009 titled This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries Of Financial Folly or simply This Time Is Different arguing that governments do indeed default – both in debt denominated in the domestic and foreign currencies. They blame the public debt and the government for the public debt – hence giving the innuendo that governments across the planet should attempt to cut public debt by tight fiscal policies. This is an illegitimate conclusion – on which I will say more below.

At another extreme are the Chartalists who argue that the government cannot “run out of money” and hence fiscal policy has no monetary constraints. Sometimes they qualify this statement by saying that the currency they are discussing are “sovereign currencies”. Now, there are various definitions of what a sovereign currency is but it is frequently pointed out by them that nations who have seen restructuring of government debt did not have a “sovereign currency” – because the currency is either pegged or fixed or it is the case that the government had a lot of debt in foreign currency which presumably allows defaults/restructuring of government debt in the domestic currency as well. The motivation behind this is Milton Friedman’s idea that nations should freely float their currencies in international markets and that markets will clear and that the State intervention in the currency markets can only make things worse. Hence Reinhart/Rogoff don’t prove them wrong – according to them – since the situations are supposedly different.

We will see that while there is some truth to it, the notion of a “sovereign currency” is highly misleading. Such intuitions are coincident with the incorrect notion that indebtedness to foreigners (in domestic currency) is just a technical liability and there’s nothing more to that!

Here’s S&P’s article on the methodology it uses to assign ratings on governments: Standard & Poor’s – Sovereign Government Rating And Methodology. One can see the importance it gives to the external sector. However, S&P does not provide a mechanism on how a government will finally end up defaulting. The purpose of this post is to look into this.

Before this let us make a connection between the public debt and the net indebtedness of a nation. Most people in the planet confuse the two. The former is the debt of the government whereas the latter is the (net) indebtedness of the nation as a whole. This is the net international investment position (adjusting for traditional settlement assets such as gold) with the sign reversed. This can be obtained by consolidating all the sectors of an economy and the consolidation involves (for example) netting of the assets of the domestic private sector held abroad and also its gross indebtedness to the rest of the world.

So one can think of two extremes:

  1. Japan – with a high public debt of about 195% of gdp (includes just the central government debt),  while being a net creditor of the world. It’s NIIP is about 50% of gdp (data source: IMF)
  2. Australia – with a low public debt of 18% of gdp and NIIP of minus 59% of gdp.

So in the case of Japan, while the government is a huge debtor, the nation as a whole is a creditor, whereas in the case of Australia, it is the opposite. So the rating agencies get it wrong or opposite!

Let us first assume a closed economy. The greatest starting point in analyzing economies is the sectoral balances approach. For a closed economy it is:


where NAFA is the Net Accumulation of Financial Assets of the private sector and DEF is the government’s budget deficit. If the private sector wants to accumulate a lot of financial assets, and the government wants to run the economy near full employment, the public debt will be higher, the higher the propensity to save, for example. (This is not as straightforward as presented here but can be shown in a simple stock-flow consistent model). So unlike what neoclassical economists think, the level of public debt is somewhat irrelevant. Neither does the government has too much trouble in financing its debt because the public debt is the mirror image of the private sector net financial asset position.

Now let us take the case of an open economy. The sectoral balances identity now is


A deficit in the current account implies an increase in the net indebtedness to foreigners. Unless the markets miraculously clear with the exchange rate adjusting to bring the CAB in balance, a deficit in the current account implies the nation as a whole has to attract foreigners to finance this deficit i.e., via a lower NAFA or higher DEF. In the long run, the private sector is accumulating financial assets (or has small positive NAFA) and the whole of the current account balance is reflected in the public sector balance.

So the debate fixed vs floating doesn’t help too much. A relaxation of fiscal policy may spill over into higher imports with the public debt and the net indebtedness to foreigners keeps rising forever to gdp. Hence nations typically have to curb growth to bring the current account into balance.

An excellent reference for this is New Cambridge Macroeconomics And Global Monetarism – Some Issues In The Conduct Of U.K. Economic Policy, 1978, by Martin Fetherston and Wynne Godley.

This is theory. So let’s look at an open economy mechanism of an event of default by the government as a story.

In the following, I will use the phrase “pure float” instead of the dubious terminology “sovereign currency”.

Here’s the simplest model:

In the above, a nation with its currency on a pure float and with zero official sector liabilities in foreign currencies has a somewhat weak external position in 2012. Now, according to some of the Neochartalist arguments this nation can’t default on its government debt. However this is a wrong conclusion as the scenario above hightlights. In the scenario constructed, the balance of payments position weakens over the years (and I have mentioned that roughly in 2020 it weakens). In 2022, foreigners are no longer willing to finance the debt. This may be due to a capital flight or due to the inability of the banking system to maintain a low net open position in foreign currency. The depreciation of the domestic currency isn’t sufficient to clear the fx markets and the official sector (either the central bank or the government’s treasury) necessarily has to intervene in the foreign exchange markets by issuing debt denominated in foreign currency. The government is then acting as the borrower of the last resort and the objective is to use the proceeds to partially have more foreign exchange reserves and/or to sell the foreign currency proceeds from the debt issuance to clear the fx markets. The government is then left with a net liability position in the foreign currency. Soon the external situation worsens to the point requiring official foreign help – such as from the IMF – which promises to help and requires a restructuring of the debt both in domestic and foreign currencies.

Free marketers have a blind belief in the markets and the theories are built on the assumption that markets always clear. The recent crisis has highlighted that this isn’t the case. Even for the case of Australia – whose currency can be considered closed to being pure float – has had issues in the external sector and the Reserve Bank of Australia had to borrow in US dollars from the Federal Reserve (via swap lines) to help Australian banks meet their foreign currency funding needs during the crisis.

Of course the above is not typical but to prevent the external vulnerability to go out of control, governments keep domestic demand low and a lot of times, they over-do this.

The point of the exercise is to prove that it is not meaningless to think of nations becoming bankrupt in whichever situation one can think of and it doesn’t help to laugh at the rating agencies and make fun of them – possibly with the exception for the case of Japan. Statements such as “government with a sovereign currency cannot become bankrupt” are simply misleading. In the above, the Chartalists would argue that the currency was not sovereign and they were not wrong about the default but the currency was sovereign in their own definition in 2012!

Here are some comments on some nations.

Japan: As mentioned above, Japan is a net creditor of the rest of the world and partially as a consequence of that, most of the Japanese government’s debt is held internally. The rating agencies are aware of this but in spite of this continue to make comments on the creditworthiness of the Japanese government. It is possible that residents may transfer funds abroad for unknown reasons (which the raters for some reason suspect) but it may require just a minor interest rate hike to prevent this from happening. Japan has a relatively strong external situation and hence has no issues in financing its government debt.

Canada: Nick Rowe of WCI mentioned to me on his blog that worrying about the balance of payments constraint is like “beating a dead horse” – citing the example of Canada which has floated its currency and it seems has no trouble with its external sector. But this ignores other things in the formulation of the problem. Canada is an advanced nation and an external situation which is not weak. However, a growth of the nation much faster than the rest of the world will lead to a worsening of the external situation. To some extent the nation’s external situation has been the result of its relatively better competitiveness of exporters compared to its propensity to import and a demand situation which either as a conscious attempt of demand management of the government or by pure fluke has helped its external situation remain non-vulnerable.

United States: The US dollar is the reserve currency of the world and slowly over time, the United States has turned from being a creditor of the rest of the world to becoming the world’s largest debtor nation. (Again not due to its public debt but because of its net indebtedness to foreigners). The US external sector is a great imbalance and any attempt to get out of the recession by fiscal policy alone will worsen its external situation leading to a crash at some point. S&P is right! So to come out of the depressed state, the nation has to complement fiscal expansion with improvement of the external situation such as by (and not restricted to) asking trading partners to not revalue their currencies. Still for some reasons bloggers at the “New Economic Perspectives” think that

… Bernanke also knows that the US has infinite ability to finance these fiscal components, that there is no solvency issue and that the policy rate and both ends of the yield curve are under the direct control of the Fed.

Back to This Time Is Different. While Reinhart and Rogoff’s analysis of government debt may be useful, their conclusions can be destructive for the world as a whole. The domestic private sector of a nation needs continuous injection from outside so that it can run surpluses in general and tightening of fiscal policies will lead to a depression. Global imbalances is crucial in understanding the nature of this crisis (and not public debt alone) and even coordinated attempts to reflate economies may provide only a temporary relief. Since failure in international trade restricts the growth of nations and their attempts to reach full employment, what the world needs is an entirely different way to run the economies under managed trade with fiscal expansion. Ideas of “free trade” such as that outlined here by Alan Blinder simply help some classes of society at the expense of others because it relies on the “market mechanism” which has failed over and over again.

This brings me to “sovereignty”. As argued, the concept “sovereign currency” is almost vacuous (except highlighting the problems of the Euro Area) but sovereignty as argued by Wynne Godley in his great 1992 article Maastricht And All That and by Anthony Thirlwall in the same year on FT (my post on it here Martin Wolf Pays A Generous Tribute To Anthony Thirlwall) definitely have great importance. Some of Thirwall’s concepts of economic sovereignty in the article were: the ability to protect and encourage strategic industries, the possibility of designing systems of managed trade to even out payments imbalances, the ability to protect against certain countries with persistent surpluses, differential taxes which discriminate in favour of the tradeable goods sector.

Updated: 5 May 2012 at 11:07am GMT – typos corrected

Martin Wolf Pays A Generous Tribute To Anthony Thirlwall

Readers of this blog will notice how I attach special importance to the balance of payments in telling the story of how economies work.

In a recent blog post Can one have balance of payments crises in a currency union? at FT, Martin Wolf refers to the work of Anthony Thirlwall – who has made great contributions to the Kaldorian story of growth of nations.

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The following article on the Euro appeared in the Financial Times on 9 October 1991 and the FT link of the article is here.

The whole blog post is written nicely by Martin Wolf and although lacking the Kaldorian punch, definitely worth reading.

Let us start at the most basic level: that of the individual. Can individuals have a balance of payments crisis? Certainly.

: -)

Thirwall and his colleague John McCombie wrote this supremely insightful book in 1994 titled Economic Growth and the Balance of Payments Constraint

Updated 18 Mar 2014 (Broken link removed).