Tag Archives: euro area

MoneyWeek Interviews Steve Keen

In this interview, Steve Keen talks of Europe post the UK EU Referendum (“Brexit”).

Steve Keen talks of various things such as the importance of manufacturing etc. In the first four minutes, he also refers to Wynne Godley’s 1992 LRB article Maastricht And All That.

Steve Keen MoneyWeek Interview

click the picture to see the video on MoneyWeek’s website. 

Nice interview.

A few complaints. Although Steve Keen is correct about the importance of debt, he is still holding on to his equation, “aggregate demand = gdp + change in debt”. Also in the interview Keen talks of quantitative easing is about banks selling bonds to the Fed. Although banks in their role as primary dealers do sell the bonds to the Federal Reserve, the counterfactual is not banks holding all the bonds.

I also do not believe in debt jubilees (except in exceptional case such as farmers with huge debt in India). Debt jubilee is unfair to the people who didn’t go into debt. Good initiatives are things such as forgiving medical debt as done by John Oliver.

Financing Vs. Spending Unions: How To Remedy The Euro Zone’s Original Sin

by Thomas Palley

In economic policy, timing isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. The euro zone crisis has been evolving for over seven years, making it difficult to time policy proposals. Now, the shock of Brexit has created a definitive political opportunity for reforming rather than patching the euro. With that in mind, I would like to revive an earlier mistimed proposal for a euro zone “financing union” (English version, German version). The proposal contrasts with others that emphasize “spending unions”. But first some preliminaries.

The euro zone’s original sin

The original sin within the euro zone is the separation of money from the state via the creation of the European Central Bank (ECB) which displaced national central banks. Under the euro, countries no longer have their own currency for which they can set their own exchange rate and interest rate, and nor can they call on a national central bank to buy government bonds and finance government spending.

PDF HERE

This article first appeared at Thomas Palley’s blog

The UK Should Leave The EU

It’s the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum tomorrow. In my opinion, the UK should leave the EU.

When discussing the Euro Area, it is emphasized frequently that Euro Area governments do not have the power to make expenditures by making drafts at the central bank as argued by Wynne Godley in 1992:

It needs to be emphasised at the start that the establishment of a single currency in the EC would indeed bring to an end the sovereignty of its component nations and their power to take independent action on major issues. As Mr Tim Congdon has argued very cogently, the power to issue its own money, to make drafts on its own central bank, is the main thing which defines national independence. If a country gives up or loses this power, it acquires the status of a local authority or colony. Local authorities and regions obviously cannot devalue. But they also lose the power to finance deficits through money creation while other methods of raising finance are subject to central regulation. Nor can they change interest rates.

The Euro Area was formed because Europeans wanted to come together and create a union which is big and powerful enough to be not affected by financial markets. The original intent was right but soon the whole idea came to be influenced by neoliberalism. The thing which was hugely missing (“the incredible lacuna” in Wynne Godley’s words in the above cited article) was the absence of central government of the Euro Area itself, which will have the power to collect taxes from Euro Area economic units and make expenditures. After some years of boom, the Euro Area found itself in crisis and could not deal with it well because there was no central government and fiscal policy to the rescue. The European Central Bank tried to save the monetary union but isn’t as powerful enough as a central government. More importantly, the Euro Area was brought into existence with the idea of free trade. Not only was power taken away from relatively economically weaker nations such as Greece but free trade was imposed by bringing their producers compete in the common market. In summary, there were two reasons why some Euro Area nations suffered.

  1. The monetary arrangement
  2. The common market.

Typically the former is emphasized more than the latter. Perhaps the reason is simple. It is easier to explain the former than the latter. In my experience, the latter is more difficult for people to understand and appreciate. Very few have emphasized it. Few exceptions are: Nicholas Kaldor, Wynne Godley.

Because economic growth is “balance of payments constrained”, free trade is devastating. The Euro Area could have had free trade if it had a central government which keeps imbalances in check because of fiscal transfers and regional policies.

Which brings us to the European Union itself and Britain’s membership. Although the UK government neither didn’t surrendered its sovereignty to make drafts at the central bank nor irrevocably fix the exchange rate in 1999, the nations’ producers still compete in the common market. It is better off leaving the European Union and have powers to impose tariffs on imports. Free trade is destructive to trade and one needs a lot of protection – at least the power of the optionality to impose such things any time a nation needs.

It was surpising to see less heterodox noise on this.

Nicholas Kaldor wrote a lot on this in the 1970s before the United Kingdom European Communities membership referendum in 1975. In his Collected Economics Essays, Volume 7, Nicky wrote (Introduction, page xxvi, October 1977) :

The final section of this volume, Part III, reproduces papers written in the course of the “Great Debate” on the question of British Membership of the Common Market in 1970 and 1971, and includes as a postscript a lecture on Free Trade written in 1977. As this debate came to an end when Britain entered the market, a decision which was later confirmed in popular referendum with a 2:1 majority, the reproduction of these papers may strike as otiose and serving little purpose other than somewhat ignoble one of self-vindication in the eyes of future historians. However, if the long-run effects of our membership turn out to be as disastrous as I feared they would be in 1971—and nothing that has happened has caused me to change my views—I think it is of the utmost importance that the true arguments against membership should be accessible to successive generations of students, the more so since the political debate continues to be dominated by issues (such as our effects of membership on the cost of food, on our agriculture, or the net budgetary cost of membership) which I regard as secondary and which could be brushed aside if the long-run effects on Britain’s manufacturing industry and on our capacity to provide employment were favourable.

[page xxviii] … the last essay of this volume, “The Nemesis of Free Trade”, which recounts the arguments in the great debate on Free Trade and Protection conducted at the beginning of this century between Herbert Asquith and Joseph Chamberlain. The points made on both sides seem to have lost none of their freshness or relevance in the intervening years. What has changed is our freedom to act. In 1905 we were free to decide whether to continue with the policy of free imports or to protect our industries. In 1977 the choice is no longer open to us, except at a political cost of withdrawing from the Common Market, an act which few people would contemplate seriously so soon after accession.

But after so many years, here is the chance to undo all this and withdraw from the EU. The UK should leave the EU.

Sergio Cesaratto On TARGET2 Balances

Sergio Cesaratto has posted a reply on Matias Vernengo’s blog, replying to a paper by Marc Lavoie on economic problems of the Euro Area

For previous discussions, see the citations in that post or see my previous post on this.

Marc’s point is that because TARGET2 allows unlimited and uncollateralized credit/debit facilities between Euro Area NCBs and the ECB, the troubles facing the Euro Area are not balance-of-payments in origin.

As mentioned earlier, this however is not the thing to look at. One should look at counterparts to the intra-ESCB (TARGET2) debts. Intraday overdrafts, marginal lending facility, MRO, LTRO, ELA … none of these can rise without limit. At some point, a crisis occurs and foreigners’ help is needed.

Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain, Cyprus all have high negative net international investment positions. No wonder these nations have seen the most troubles.

I echo Sergio’s example (on Calabria) with a similar example of my own. If nations in a monetary union cannot face a balance-of-payments crisis, why not have the whole world join the Euro Area and adopt the Euro as their currency and have the ECB as the central bank of the world and guarantee all government debts without any condition? Surely, that should be the solution to the problems of the world! Not!

Surely austerity has been high and the ECB can help to keep government bond yields in check and allow for expansionary fiscal policies. It had its “OMT”, which has never been used as the annoucement effect itself has kept government bond yields low. But Greece has faced difficulties despite this.

The ECB alone cannot resolve the crisis.  Attempts to boost domestic demand with fiscal policy will bring higher imbalances within the Euro Area. The Euro Area needs a central government with high powers to tax and spend. Regional imbalances will be kept in check via fiscal transfers and regional policies of the government. And the powers of the government won’t be limited with this. There are many other things such as wages which need to be coordinated at the federal level, for example. Euro Area balance-of-payments cannot be neglected.

Sergio Cesaratto’s Debate With Marc Lavoie On Whether The Euro Area Crisis Is A Balance-Of-Payments Crisis – II

This is a continuation of the post from the end of 2014, although reading that isn’t necessary. 

In a new paper, Marc Lavoie continues his debate with Sergio Cesaratto on whether the Euro Area crisis is a balance-of-payments crisis or not. For the sake of completeness, here’s the list of papers, with references copy-pasted from Marc’s latest paper. Not all links are final versions and some may not be available to read in full).

  1. Cesaratto, S. 2013. “The Implications of TARGET2 in the European Balance of payments Crisis and Beyond.” European Journal of Economics and Economic Policy: Intervention 10, no. 3: 359–382. link
  2. Lavoie, M. 2015. “The Eurozone: Similarities to and Differences from Keynes’s Plan.” International Journal of Political Economy 44, no. 1 (Spring): 3–17. link
  3. Cesaratto, S. 2015. “Balance of Payments or Monetary Sovereignty?. In Search of the EMU’s Original Sin–Comments on Marc Lavoie’s The Eurozone: Similarities to and Differences from Keynes’s Plan.” International Journal of Political Economy 44, no. 2: 142–156. link
  4. Lavoie, M. 2015. “The Eurozone Crisis: A Balance-of-Payments Problem or a Crisis Due to a Flawed Monetary Design?” International Journal of Political Economy 44, no. 2: 157-160. (abstract)

As mentioned in my part 1, referred to on top of this post, I agree with Sergio Cesaratto.

sergio-and-marcSergio Cesaratto with Marc Lavoie (picture credit: Matias Vernengo)

Marc Lavoie’s main point in the final paper seems to be that, “Eurozone countries can never run out of TARGET2 balances, which can take unlimited negative values, so that the evolution of the balance of payments cannot be the source of the crisis”.

This is not accurate in my view. Although the rules of the Eurosystem allow unlimited and uncollateralized credit facility between the Euro Area NCBs and the ECB, one has to look at the counterpart to the T2 imbalances. If an economic unit transfers funds across border from country A to country B, this first results in a reduction of balances of banks in country A at their NCB and may result in an intraday overdraft (“daylight overdraft” in U.S. language), usage of the marginal lending facility with the NCB, an MRO, or an LTRO and finally ELA in late stages of a crisis (if capital outflow is large).

Marc himself mentions this point in his latest paper:

If a Eurozone country is running a current account deficit that banks from other Eurozone members decline to finance, or if it is subjected to capital outflows, then all that happens is that the national central bank of that country will be accumulating TARGET2 debit balances at the ECB. There is no legal limit to these debit balances. The national central bank with the debit balances, which pay interest at the target interest rate, has as a counterpart in its assets the advances that it must make to its national commercial banks at that same target interest rate. And the commercial banks can obtain central bank advances as long as they show proper collateral. Why would the size of current account deficits or TARGET2 debit balances worry speculators? There might be a problem with the quality of the loans that have been granted by the banks, or with the size of the government debt, but that as such has nothing directly to do with a balance-of-payments problem.

[italics: mine]

But that is the case! It’s because of balance-of-payments. Nations who had high indebtedness to the rest of the Euro Area saw more capital flight. This is because in times of crisis, there is a home bias and international investors are likely to sell securities abroad and repatriate funds home. Large current account imbalances lead to a large negative net international investment position. (It’s of course also true that revaluations are important, and this is what happened in the case of Ireland). So when non-residents sell securities to domestic investors, banks are likely to get into a bad situation because they have to accommodate these transfer of funds and are losing central bank balances on a large scale.

It is precisely nations which had worse net international investment positions which were affected as charted in my previous post on this.

Now moving on to definitions: what is a balance-of-payments problem? The simplest definition is the problem for residents in obtaining finance from non-residents. Greece precisely has been struggling to obtain funds from non-residents.

So I do not agree with Marc’s view that:

Cesaratto, as others, is adamant that the Eurozone crisis is a balance-of-payments crisis, whereas I believe, as others do, that this is a side issue.

Marc Lavoie also says that the people arguing for this view are implicitly assuming some kind of “excess saving” view on all this:

In discussions with colleagues who support a “current account deficit” view of the Eurozone crisis, I sometimes get the impression that they are also endorsing a kind of “excess saving” view of the economy. They tell me that current accounts deficits are unsustainable within the Eurozone because the core Eurozone countries will refuse to lend to the periphery and will thus prevent these countries from financing economic activity. This seems wrong to me.

I disagree with this. It’s precisely because residents’ liabilities are large compared to their financial assets that they have to rely on non-residents/foreigners. And during the crisis a lot of capital outflow has happened and this precisely shows that non-resident private investors are unwilling to lend again on the same scale as before. This obviously means that to obtain finance, governments of nations affected have to take the help of the official sector abroad, such as from governments, the ECB and the IMF. If TARGET2 alone could do the trick, is the Greek government foolish to go abroad?

It is of course true that the design of the Euro Area was faulty. But that still leaves open the question about why Germany is not facing a crisis as severe as Greece. The design view cannot explain this. Any country (or all countries) in the Euro Area could have faced a crisis. There is a pattern here and that is where balance-of-payments comes in.

This debate is an interesting one. Both Sergio Cesaratto and Marc Lavoie agree on almost everything, except this BIG thing.

Of course this also spills over to policy proposals. Marc Lavoie believes that the European Central Bank can guarantee that all nations can have independent fiscal policies (by promising to buy all government debt which the financial markets isn’t interested in purchasing). Sergio Cesaratto is clear on this (and I agree very much) – in another paper Alternative Interpretation of a Stateless Currency Crisis:

A more resolute role of the ECB as lender of last resort accompanied by fine-tuned expansionary fiscal policies can only be imagined in a different political and institutional framework, quite close to that of a political union.

Let’s consider what happens if there is no federal government and if the ECB is the main supranational authority (ignoring other supranational institutions which have limited powers). Suppose the ECB were to guarantee the debt of governments of all Euro Area nations. There’s nothing to prevent, say, the government of Finland to increase the compensation of its employees every year by a huge percentage and thereby affecting Finnish corporations’ compensation of its employees. This will result in a reduction of competitiveness of Finnish producers and Finnish resident economic units will rely more on goods and services produced abroad. This will raise Finland’s net indebtedness to the rest of the Euro Area and the world. If someone believes that this debt is not a problem, how about the inflationary impact of this rise in demand on the rest of the Euro Area?

So the solution lies in bringing down the balance-of-payments imbalances (both negative and positive ones such as that of Germany). This requires a supranational institution, which is a central government. National governments would have rules on their budgets but the central government — since its goals and objectives are different — wouldn’t be bound by any rules. Wage rises would need to be coordinated. And as I argue in this post, fiscal transfers also plays a role of keeping imbalances in check.

Of course there are many other economists who also argue that the Euro Area problem is a balance-of-payments problem, but with a different motive. Their argument is to blame the nations in crisis instead of taking a humanist approach.

To summarize, the Euro Area problem wouldn’t have been a balance-of-payments problem had the official sector promised to act as a lender of the last resort to national Euro Area governments without any condition. As long as there are conditions, it is a balance-of-payments problem. One cannot pretend that the European Central Bank has or can be given such powers to lend without any condition. And hence the Euro Area crisis is a balance-of-payments problem.

Federal Government And Regional Balance Of Payments

The Financial Times has a column titled Europe’s Fiscal Union Envy Is Misguided. The author echoes a recent article in The New York Times (referred here in my blog). According to the FT columnist, in the United States,

… The bulk of the risk-sharing happens through credit and capital markets – that is to say, private lending, borrowing and investment returns do most of the job of evening out regional shocks.

and,

… The best thing the eurozone can do to promote risk-sharing is to stop flirting with its own disintegration: as long as investors suspect politicians might let the currency unravel, they will hunker down behind national borders. Next, get cracking on developing the capital markets union – where there is much more reason to envy the Americans.

In addition, the FT author presents the following graph.

FT Image 20 July 2015Now, there are several things wrong with this. It’s true that risk-sharing happens through credit and capital markets, the argument ignores that fiscal transfers improve the net indebtedness of regions. Financial markets may improve risks by the way they work, but they cannot change net indebtedness of regions in significant ways. Borrowing is not comparable to fiscal transfers. It’s vague what “capital income and insurance flows” is.

Let’s see how a federal system works.

There are regions with local governments but there is also a federal government which raises taxes from economic units of all regions and spends on the units. Some regions will be net recipients of such flows of funds — the government expenditure toward these regions is higher than what it receives in taxes — while others will pay more taxes than what they receive from the government. These needn’t sum to zero, as the federal government may be in a deficit.

There is one peculiar thing in the way such accounting is done. The federal government is outside all regions when studying balance of payments of each region. However for the whole group, the federal government is inside. The Sixth Edition of the IMF’s Balance Of Payments And International Investment Position Manual (BPM6) does this in a similar way for monetary unions, such as for the Euro Area. In that case, the European Central Bank and the European Parliament and other such supranational institutions are considered to be outside each nation when nations’ balance of payments statistics is produced, but inside when the balance of payments of the whole region is studied.

Now, some regions may see an improvement in their balance of payments compared to the case where there is no federal government. There are four kinds of flows which are important here when thinking about the current account balance of payments of a region:

  1. Exports
  2. Imports
  3. Federal government expenditures and transfers
  4. Federal taxes and transfers.

Of course, expenditure of the federal government in the region itself may be thought of as an export, so exports in the list above is meant to exclude that and include transactions such as a private sector producer selling a car to a household in another region.

So one can roughly identify surplus regions as ones which have higher exports than imports in the definition above and others as deficit regions. These transactions of course also affect the capital and financial accounts of the balance of payments and the “regional investment position”.

Usually, one thinks of “fiscal transfers” as affecting aggregate demand. But from the above analysis, it should be clear that it also affects the regional investment position. Economic units in deficit regions also see an improvement in their net asset position. Economic units in deficit regions in aggregate will typically receive more federal government payments than what they send in taxes. The counterpart to this in the capital and financial account of the balance of payments is an improvement in their net acquisition of financial assets and net incurrence of liabilities, as compared to the case where there is no federal government. This is turn improves the regional investment position.

Of course there is still a possibility that the private sector of a union with a federal government as a whole may turn unsustainable but at least there is a regional mechanism of improvement compared to the case when there is no federal government.

To summarize, the point of the above analysis is that the financial sector as a whole cannot achieve this on its own. It takes a federal government to not only affect demand in all regions but also keep their debts in check. The workings of finances of a federal government affects the asset and liability positions of any region as a whole. The financial sector cannot take up the task of a federal government.

Ben Bernanke Embracing Heterodox Ideas

It’s remarkable how some economists were ahead of the time, while others such as Ben Bernanke seem to just catch up. In a recent post on his blog Ben Bernanke gives out some unorthodox ideas to resolve the Euro Area crisis.

Ben Bernanke says:

… Germany’s large trade surplus puts all the burden of adjustment on countries with trade deficits, who must undergo painful deflation of wages and other costs to become more competitive. Germany could help restore balance within the euro zone and raise the currency area’s overall pace of growth by increasing spending at home, through measures like increasing investment in infrastructure, pushing for wage increases for German workers (to raise domestic consumption), and engaging in structural reforms to encourage more domestic demand. Such measures would entail little or no short-run sacrifice for Germans, and they would serve the country’s longer-term interests by reducing the risks of eventual euro breakup.

Second, it’s time for the leaders of the euro zone to address the problem of large and sustained trade imbalances (either surpluses or deficits), which, in a fixed-exchange-rate system like the euro zone, impose significant costs and risks. For example, the Stability and Growth Pact, which imposes rules and penalties with the goal of limiting fiscal deficits, could be extended to reference trade imbalances as well. Simply recognizing officially that creditor as well as debtor countries have an obligation to adjust over time (through fiscal and structural measures, for example) would be an important step in the right direction.

That’s in 2015.

Compare that to the conclusion from a 2007 paper titled A Simple Model Of Three Economies With Two Currencies: The Eurozone And The USA written by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie for Cambridge Journal Of Economics (journal link):

… it should be noted that balanced fiscal and external positions for all could as well be reached if the euro country benefiting from a (quasi) twin surplus as a result of the negative external shock on the other euro country decided to increase its government expenditures, in an effort to get rid of its budget surplus. This case, where the surplus countries rather than the deficit countries adjust, as many authors have underlined, would eliminate the current downward bias in worldwide economic activity. Now this would require an entirely new attitude towards government deficits. One would need an anti-Maastricht approach, that would run against the Stability and Growth Pact and its neoliberal obsession with fiscal balance and government debt reduction. For instance, one would need a new Pact, that would discourage fiscal surpluses. National governments that ran budget surpluses would pay large proportional automatic levies to the European Union, who would be compelled to spend the sums thus collected in the deficit countries. In this manner, the ‘weak’ and the ‘strong’ members of the eurozone could converge towards a super-stationary state, with balanced budgets and current accounts, through an increase rather than a decrease in government expenditures and economic activity.

Alternatively, the present structure of the European Union would need to be modified, giving far more spending and taxing power to the European Union Parliament, transforming it into a bona fide federal government that would be able to engage into substantial equalisation payments which would automatically transfer fiscal resources from the more successful to the less successful members of the euro zone. In this manner, the eurozone would be provided with a mechanism that would reduce the present bias towards downward fiscal adjustments of the deficit countries. This raises the profound question as to whether in the long term it is possible to have a community of nations which have a single currency which does not have a federal budget of substantial size, and by implication a federal government to run it—a point that was made very early on in Godley (1992).

[italics in original]

Is A Fiscal Union Expensive For Its Rich Members?

Josh Barro writing for The New York Times claims that a fiscal union for the Euro Area will be an enourmous expense for its rich members.

He cites the example of Connecticut:

But the American fiscal union is very expensive for rich states. According to calculations by The Economist, Connecticut paid out 5 percent of its gross domestic product in net fiscal transfers to other states between 1990 and 2009; that is, its tax payments exceeded its receipt of government services by that amount. This is typical for rich states: They pay a disproportionate share of income and payroll taxes, while government services are disproportionately collected in states where people are poor or old or infirm.

This is blatantly wrong. It assumes that output of individual regions and the whole of the the Euro Area will roughly be the same with or without a fiscal union. It ignores the notion that each region may be better off because a supranational fiscal authority will have powers to raise output via expenditure and taxes which individual regions cannot achieve.

In his 1997 article Curried EMU — The Meal That Fails To Nourish for Observer, Wynne Godley made this point well (link):

A useful comparison can be made with the US. Americans often point that if would make no sense if each US state had its own currency, so what is all the fuss about? But the question should be asked the other way round. How would the US make out with no President, no Congress, no federal budget, and no federal institutions apart from the ‘Fed’ itself, plus a powerful central bureaucracy?

The analogy is useful because the United States does so obviously need a federal budget as well as a federal bank, and the activities of the two authorities have to be co-ordinated.  If there is a recession, remedial (expansionary) fiscal policy at the federal level is the only proper response; it is inconceivable that corrective action could be left to component states, which have neither the perspective nor the co-ordinating machinery to do the job. If there is a federal budget there must obviously be a legislative and executive apparatus that executes it and is democratically accountable for it. Moreover, the need for federal institutions extends far beyond economic affairs.

[emphasis added]

So it is incorrect to claim that a fiscal union is highly expensive for rich states. If there is a fiscal union, while rich regions will receive less from the supranational fiscal authority than what they pay in taxes, there’ll be higher output and income than otherwise simply because there is a powerful institution which raises output of each region. Rich nations will be able to net export more than otherwise, for example, compensating for transfers in absolute terms.

Analysis such as by Josh Barro are erroneous usually because of implicit assumptions made such as an aggregate production function, which implies a neutral role for fiscal policy. This can easily be verified: his assumption is that output is determined by other factors, not fiscal policy (because he doesn’t say so) and hence the role of a central government is one which just transfers from rich regions to poor, instead of having any impact on the output of the whole region. Silly.

Derailed: Wynne Godley On The Euro Area

I am in favour of Britain having much closer ties with other European countries, provided that appropriate institutions are created and the whole thing is brought under effective political control. But I have never been able to understand what it is that those who support the Maastricht Treaty think they are going to get out of it. Maastricht supporters are keen on ‘not being left out’. But left out of what exactly?

It seems clear that the Maastricht criteria for the establishment of ‘convergence’ were far too narrowly conceived. To fulfil the conditions necessary for a successful currency union it is not nearly enough that member countries agree to follow simple rules on budgetary policy and achieve some minimum period of low inflation and currency stability. They need to reach a degree of structural homogeneity such that shocks to the system as a whole do not normally affect component regions in drastically different ways. Moreover, arrangements should be made which ensure that when substantial changes of a structural kind do turn up the federal authority is equipped to share out any burden which ensues. It would be wrong to suppose that there exist well-defined ‘fault lines’ which can be cured once and for all. Structural changes are always going to be taking place as a consequence of political earthquakes, or for other reasons, and the Community must have some way of dealing with them.

– Wynne Godley, Derailed, 1993

A list of articles by Wynne Godley on the Euro Area:

  1. ‘Commonsense Route To A Common Europe’, Observer,  6 January 1991, page 28 (scan)
  2. ‘Maastricht And All That’, London Review of Books, Vol. 14 No. 19, 8 October 1992, pages 3-4 (link)
  3. ‘Derailed’, London Review of Books, Vol. 15 No. 16, 19 August 1993, page 9 (link, more here)
  4. ‘Curried EMU – The Meal That Fails To Nourish’, Observer, 31 August 1997, page 24 (scan)

Wynne-Godley-July-1981Wynne Godley, July 1981
(picture source)

JKH On Paul De Grauwe’s Fiscal Arithmetic

In a recent article for VOX, Paul De Grauwe and Yuemei Ji write about potential fiscal effects of a possible asset purchase program by the Eurosystem (European Central Bank and the National Central Banks in the Euro Area). In that the authors take an extreme stand suggesting that a default by a Euro Area government on bonds held by the Eurosystem doesn’t even matter.

JKH has written a fantastic critique of the VOX article by De Grauwe and Ji.

JKH says:

De Grauwe goes on to say that because bonds held by the ECB –defaulted or otherwise – are “eliminated” on consolidation, it doesn’t matter what they were valued at on the ECB balance sheet in the first place. They may as well have been valued at zero – because they have effectively been eliminated and replaced by ECB liabilities (assumed by implication to be permanently interest free).

Thus, the balance sheet implication of De Grauwe’s treatment is that some portion of future currency issued by the ECB will be “backed” on its own balance sheet by an asset of zero value – the defaulted Italian bond. The problem is that this currency would have been issued in any event according to the demand that will arise naturally from the growth of the European economy over time (notwithstanding current depressed conditions). And so ECB seigniorage will have been reduced from what it would have been had it included the effect of good interest on Italian bonds. That reduction in seigniorage due to default is a real fiscal cost, because it reduces the profit remittance of the ECB from what it would have been in the non-default counterfactual. And the fact that the reduced seigniorage gets distributed to the residual capital holders means that there has been a fiscal transfer to the defaulting sovereign from the remaining capital holders. So De Grauwe is simply wrong on this point.

Another way to look at it is by looking at the international investment position. A default by a nonresident on a claim on held by residents is a reduction in the net international investment position and a reduction in the wealth of the geographic region. (The wealth of a nation is the sum of the value of its non-financial assets plus the net international investment position). International investment position matters as a sounder position implies that there is higher potential to raise output.

De Grauwe has another article for The Economist from today. He writes:

Since Milton Friedman we have all become monetarists. In order to raise inflation it will be necessary to increase the growth rate of the money stock. This requires that the ECB increase the money base. And to achieve the latter there is only one practical instrument, ie, an open-market purchase of government bonds. There is no other way to raise inflation than through an increase in the money base and a bond-buying programme is the time-tested way to achieve this.

It is sad that Monetarism is still alive today, despite being repeatedly been shown to be incorrect. But more importantly for the current discussion about risks, De Grauwe repeats his stand again and states it more explicitly:

This confusion between accounting losses and real losses is unfortunate. It has led to long hesitation to act. It also leads to bad ideas and wrong proposals.

So losses do not even matter!

The problem with a Eurosystem asset purchase program of Euro Area government bonds is that it achieves little. It is not a coordinated Euro Area wide fiscal expansion which is badly needed. The ECB already has the OMT program which has helped government bond yields from rising and leading to a crisis, so a QE will hardly achieve much except having an impact on prices of financial market securities. QE just diverts attention from important challenges for a unified Europe. Challenges such as how to move toward the formation of a central government.