… The [February employment] report is another in a string of strong employment reports, but it also contains depressingly familiar news about weak wage growth and millions of workers still short of work … In a manner of speaking, the economy has already been subject to a shadow interest rate hike because of the strong dollar … The implication is clear: the Fed must hold off raising interest rates … It would be foolish to jeopardize our progress in the name of fighting phantom inflation.
Thomas Palley has a new Op-Ed for The Globalist titled The U.S. Federal Reserve and Shared Prosperity in which he argues against ““pre-emptive inflation tightening” that sacrifices wage growth and full employment versus “testing the waters” that gives wage growth and full employment a chance.” He asks the Fed to abandon its 2% inflation target with many compelling reasons. The largely neoliberal economics profession has maintained that if inflation is low and stable, full-employment will take care of itself. Palley argues against this ideology.
The article is a short version of a full paper titled The Federal Reserve and Shared Prosperity: A Guide to the Policy Issues and Institutional Challenges.
The Federal Reserve is a hugely powerful institution whose policies ramify with enormous effect throughout economy. In the wake of the Great Recession, monetary policy focused on quantitative easing. Now, there is talk of normalizing monetary policy and interest rates. That conversation is important, but it is also too narrow and keeps policy locked into a failed status quo. There is need for a larger conversation regarding the entire framework for monetary policy and how central banks can contribute to shared prosperity. It is doubtful the US can achieve shared prosperity without the policy cooperation of the Fed. That makes understanding the Federal Reserve, the policy issues and institutional challenges, of critical importance.
The Jackson Hole Symposium organized by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City has been getting a lot of attention these days. The main reason is that Ben Bernanke announced his intention of doing LSAP (QE) in this symposium a few years back.
One would have expected some improvement by economists on monetary matters but here is Robert Hall from Stanford University in the first talk titled The Natural Rate of Interest, Financial Crises and the Zero Lower Bound:
… Every economic principles book describes how, when banks collectively hold excess reserves, the banks expand the economy by lending them out. The process stops only when the demand for deposits rises to the point that the excess reserves become required reserves and banks are in equilibrium. That process remains at the heart of our explanation of the primary channel of expansionary monetary policy …
When will economists learn? The above shows Hall has no clue whatsoever.
Also, a few economists concede that they have been incorrect about simple basics and causalities but dodge it by saying “you haven’t read the textbook” and so on – so quote the above line!
There was a discussion last week on a social network site on Basil Moore’s book Horizontalists And Verticalists. Someone mentioned he never knew anyone who owned a copy of the book! Lucky me.
I was browsing through my copy and came across this – which I thought I should quote on central bank “defensive behaviour”.
Actually, among Post-Keynesians, Alfred Eichner was the first to understand and highlight the “defensive” nature of central bank open market operations.
Outside PKE, it was a paper of Raymond E. Lombra and Raymond G. Torto titled Federal Reserve Defensive Behaviour And The Reverse Causation Argument which started analyzing the details of the Federal Reserve defensive behaviour and supported the theory of endogenous money on which economists such as James Tobin and Nicholas Kaldor were writing at the time. The term “defensive” was coined by Robert Roosa of the Federal Reserve in the book Federal Reserve Operations In The Money And Government Securities Markets originally written in 1956.
Recently central banks around the world have been doing a lot of things (“unconventional measures”) in trying to “boost” their economies – such as “large scale asset purchases” (QE). For some, recent central bank action is the natural way to start to understand monetary economics. For me, it is first important to understand what they did before the crisis to correctly understand what they have been doing and judge if their actions have any usefulness at all – on a case by case basis.
Anyways, here is from Basil Moore’s book (pages 97-99):
Open-market operations: defensive rather than dynamic?
According to the conventional story taught in most textbooks and worked through by students in countless T-account exercises, central bank open-market security purchases have expansionary effects on the money stock by raising the high-powered base. Central bank security sales conversely lower the high-powered base, and so operate to reduce the stock of money outstanding.
Table 5.2 presents the relationship between changes in total bank reserves, the monetary base, and the Federal Reserve net open-market security purchases or sales. The data are monthly time intervals for the period October 1979 to December 1983. This is the period when quantitative targeting was purportedly at last rigorously instituted. Nonborrowed reserves were avowedly the Fed’s chief operating instrument for controlling the growth rate of the monetary aggregates.
To the student of introductory economics, and even to many economists, these results will surely be startling. On a monthly basis, Federal Reserve net open-market operations fail to explain any of the actual changes in unadjusted or adjusted total reserves! They explain only 5 percent of changes in the unadjusted and only 10 percent of the changes in the high-powered base. In all cases the coefficient on net open-market purchases and sales is extremely small. It has no statistical significance in explaining observed changes in bank reserves. Although the coefficient is statistically significant in explaining the monetary base, its magnitude implies that $1000 of open-market purchases or sales were necessary to change the value of the base by $1!
The explanation for these apparently puzzling results is not far to seek (Lombra and Torto, 1973). From the central bank’s point of view a large number of stochastic nonpolicy factors operate to add or withdraw reserves from the banking system. These factors can be analyzed by an examination of the central bank’s balance sheet identity. This documents the various financial flows that accompany any change in the base: changes in float, changes in the public’s currency holding, foreign capital inflows or outflows, changes in treasury balances held with the Fed, changes in bank borrowing from the discount window. All of these flows are completely outside the control of the monetary authorities. In order to achieve a desired level of the base, these flows must be completely offset by open-market operations.
If the Fed were to take no action in the face of these large stochastic inflows and outflows of funds, the banking system would experience sharp fluctuations in its excess reserve position. Such changes would be unrelated to the Federal Reserve’s policy intentions, and would provoke continued liquidity crises and great instability in interest rates. As a result most Federal Reserve open-market operations are “defensive” and designed to offset the effects of these nonpolicy forces. Central banks operate to make reserves available to the banking system on reasonably stable terms, from day to day and week to week.
Studies of Federal Reserve open-market operations have estimated that more than 85 per cent of Federal Reserve security purchases of [sic] sales are “defensive” (Lombra and Torto, 1973, Forman, Groves and Eichner, 1984). Such flexibility is needed to deal with the very large inherent volatility of money flows. On a week-to-week basis such “noise” in the behaviour of the narrow money supply accounts for dollar changes in reserves of plus or minus $3 billion more than two-thirds of the time. This represents nearly 10 percent of total reserves, which were concurrently in the order of $40 billion (J. Pierce, 1982). On a monthly bias, such “noise” accounts for changes in the money stock or plus or minus 5 percent about two-thirds of the time.
Earlier this week, the Reserve Bank of India reduced banks’ reserve requirements by 50bps. It’s called Cash Reserve Ratio and the RBI reduced it from 6.00% to 5.50% with effect from the following week.
The Reserve Bank of India is one of the most backward central bank in liquidity management and sometimes panics and changes the reserve requirements. Typically this happens when taxes flow into the government of India’s account at the RBI and since this is not smooth, the RBI simply doesn’t know what to do.
To me this confusion was good, because three years back when someone asked me to read about this in office, I came across this Reuters article and after reading it (and slightly before when I became interested in macroeconomics after the Federal Reserve announced a Large Scale Asset Purchase Program, popularly known as “QE”) I started having suspicions on the way economists seem to describe banking and economics. This ultimately led me to some Neochartalists’ blogs and finally to Post-Keynesian Economics.
In many countries central banks have a zero-reserve requirement, such as in the UK, Canada, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. In the United States, the Federal Reserve imposes a requirement of 10% with additional complications.
Basil Moore in his 1988 book Horizontalists and Verticalists goes into the details of central banking operating procedures and provides a fantastic account of central banking. See pages 63-65 and 95-97 for reserve requirements.
From page 63-65:
… Fed non-interest earning reserve requirements put member banks at a disadvantage relative to non-members, who were generally allowed to hold interest-earning assets as reserves and who in addition typically had lower reserve requirements. Because membership in the Federal Reserve system is voluntary under the dual banking system tradition, as interest rates rose an increasing number of banks withdrew from the system. In desperation the Federal Reserve finally proposed to pay interest on required reserve balances. Congressional reaction to this potential erosion of seigniorage from reserve earnings was loud and swift and led rapidly to the Monetary Control Act of 1980. Its solution, to make reserve requirements universal and uniform for all depository institutions, whether members of the Federal Reserve or not, was, as revealed in the 1979 hearings before the Senate Banking Committee, a compromise clearly designed to safeguard the volume of Fed-Treasury transfers and at the same time reduce membership attrition for the Fed.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, changes in reserve requirements imposed by the central bank do not directly affect the volume of bank intermediation. A change of required reserve ratios influences the volume of bank intermediation only indirectly, by affecting the required reserve markup or spread. A rise (reduction) in reserve requirements raises (lowers) the cost of obtaining funds to place in loans financed via additional reservable deposits, in the manner of an indirect tax. The banks will therefore raise (lower) the markup of their lending rates over their borrowing rates. As a result, depending on the interest elasticity of demand for bank credit, the volume of bank intermediation will be indirectly reduced (increased).
From pages 95-97:
… In practice the Federal Reserve fully compensates for any excess reserves created by a lowering of reserve requirements by open-market sales so as to maintain free reserves at some target level. This evidence is clearly consistent with the notion that nominal money stock is demand-determined …
There are other effects. The ECB governing council decided in December to reduce reserve requirements to 1% from 2% January 18. This “freed up” a lot of collateral banks in the Euro Area needed to pledge to the Eurosystem, thereby providing some relief to the banking system in crisis.
Chart Source: ECB
On 18 January, reserve requirement was €103.33bn as compared to €207.03bn on the previous day.
Alfred Eichner was a Post-Keynesian economist known for his text Macrodynamics of Advanced Market Economies published 3 years after his death in 1988. He died at the age of 50 in an accident and at the time he was preparing to include an analysis of open economy macroeconomics in his story of how economies work.
This post is about an article/chapter he wrote (with Leonard Forman and Miles Groves)* in 1984 in a book titled Money And Macro Policy edited by Marc Jarsulic. It is a fantastic book with chapters written by Basil Moore and Marc Lavoie as well on the endogeneity of money. I discussed this previously in my post More On Horizontalism.
Google Books allows a preview of the chapter and embedding it on a webpage and I have done so at the end of this post. If it doesn’t appear properly in your browser, please let me know. Else, like me, you can buy the book :) Of course G-books won’t allow a preview of all pages due to copyright restrictions.
Eichner’s chapter (#2) is titled The Demand Curve For Money Further Considered.
The authors start off the description with
First, the amount of bank reserves, and thus the monetary base, is not the exogenously determined variable assumed in both orthodox Keynesian and monetarist models but instead depends on the level of nominal income. This is because the central bank, in order to maintain the liquidity of the financial system, is forced to purchase government securities in the open market so as to accommodate, at least in part, the need for additional credit as the pace of economic activity quickens. With the amount of unborrowed bank reserves, and thus the monetary base, to a significant extent endogenously determined, it follows that the money supply is, to no less an extent endogenously determined as well. It is therefore a misspecification to assume that the money stock, or any of its components, is entirely exogenous, subject to the control of the monetary authorities, and then to derive a demand curve for money based on that assumption. In reality, the demand for and supply of “money” are interdependent, with no possibility in practice of being able to distinguish between the two.
Second, it is the demand for credit rather than the demand for money which is the necessary starting point for analyzing the role played by monetary factors in determining the level of real economic activity…
The authors then point out the neutralizing nature of open-market operations of the Fed. Usually this – open market operations – is presented in textbooks and in some old Federal Reserve publications as causing the amount of reserves to rise and allowing banks to increase the supply of reserves. Eichner had earlier worked with data and failed to see open market operations increasing the amount of reserves in practice. He realized that the open market operations neutralize flows:
… Thus, in the face of a fluctuating public demand for currency, flows of gold into and out of the country, variations in the amount of deposits held at the Fed by foreigners and others, changes in the amount of float and fluctuations in the Treasury’s cash holdings, the Fed must engage in open-market operations just to maintain bank reserves at a given level. This is the neutralizing component of a fully accommodating policy, and it is one reason why it is difficult in practice to relate change in bank reserves to open market operations …
What is so nice about the quote above is that Eichner knew exactly what factors affect reserve balances. At the time, “float” may have been more important than it is today. Eichner not only knew that the Treasury’s account at the Fed affects reserve balances but also holdings of other institutions such as foreign central banks – i.e., as a result of “flows of funds into or out of the Federal Reserve System” in his own words. (In the same paragraph from which the quote is taken).
Further the article goes:
An increase in the demand for credit will, to the extent it is satisfied, lead to an increase in bank deposits (especially demand deposits). This is because banks make loans by simply crediting the borrower’s account at the bank with the funds advanced. The increase in deposits will, however, require that banks maintain larger reserves at the Fed. Thus required reserves, ResR, will increase and, unless the Fed acts through the purchase of government securities in the open market to provide banks with the necessary additional reserves, banks will find themselves with insufficient reserves to meet their legal requirements… the Fed is forced to accommodate, at least in part, whatever demand for credit may manifest itself.
The terminology “accommodating” was later made clear later by Eichner in his book Macrodynamics as operations aimed at pegging the short term interest rate whatever the economic or credit conditions. So when the Fed is not accommodating – in this terminology – it means it is pursuing a policy of raising rates at frequent intervals with an aim to impact credit and aggregate demand.
The Google Books link is embedded below.
*Chief Economist and Economic Analyst, respectively at The New York Times at the time of writing.
I am reading Dani Rodrik’s The Globalization Paradox and borrowed the title for this post.
I am curious as to what Barry Eichengreen has to say in his talk at the Federal Reserve’s annual forum at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He is the author of the book Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise And Fall Of The Dollar And The Future Of The International Monetary System – one of the books I want to read soon. The phrase Exhorbitant Privilege was coined in the 1960s by the then French Finance Minster Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. The term refers to the high ability of the United States (and directly and indirectly, the United States government) to borrow in US$ to finance its balance of payments deficit.
To some extent, the scale and timing of the Federal Reserve’s emergency operations during the credit crisis which started around 2007 has helped maintaining the hegemony of the US$ for a while and Barry Eichengreen knows that. This United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report Federal Reserve System – Opportunities Exist To Strengthen Policies And Processes For Managing Emergency Assistance is a nice reference for the kind of operations done by the Fed, especially international swap lines. Many central banks made use of the swap lines and lent large quantities of US$ to the banking system because banks were facing funding issues in dollars.
Back to the Jackson Hole Symposium. Everyone is waiting for the ECB Chairman Jean-Claude Trichet’s talk. Meanwhile Christine Lagarde, IMF’s chief touched on some issues about imbalances in her speech. She rightly points out that
… risks have been aggravated further by a deterioration in confidence and a growing sense that policymakers do not have the conviction, or simply are not willing, to take the decisions that are needed.
which is quite right, IMO because this crisis needs coordination at a scale never seen before. She also points out that
As we all know, a major cause of the crisis was too much debt and leverage in key advanced economies. Financial institutions engaged in practices that magnified, disguised and fragmented risk, while households borrowed too much. Experience tells us that these excesses (combining both housing and financial crises) take a long time to work off—and require decisive action. We have made some progress, but not enough to unshackle growth.
I am by no means downplaying what has been done. In 2008, governments took bold action to prevent a calamitous collapse in demand. They offset private contraction with fiscal expansion and used public resources to recapitalize financial institutions. They strengthened financial regulation, and reinforced the capacity and resources of international institutions. And monetary authorities did their part as well.
But today, it is public sector balance sheets themselves that are in the firing line. Today, the headline problems are sovereigns in most advanced economies, banks in Europe, and households in the United States. Adding to this—global growth is also being held back by policies that slow demand in some key emerging market economies while balance sheet risks are increasing in others.
The fundamental problem is that in these advanced economies, weak growth and weak balance sheets—of governments, financial institutions, and households—are feeding negatively on each other. If growth continues to lose momentum, balance sheet problems will worsen, fiscal sustainability will be threatened, and policy instruments will lose their ability to sustain the recovery.
which is quite right. Fiscal expansion has helped nations recover from the private sector imbalance but fiscal policy alone cannot achieve everything. However, somewhere her message won’t work well because she mentions earlier in her speech that
Two years ago, it became clear that resolving the crisis would require two key rebalancing acts—a domestic demand switch from the public to the private sector, and a global demand switch from external deficit to external surplus counties. On the first, the idea was that strengthened private sector finances would allow the engine of growth to switch back from the public to the private sector. On the second, the idea was that higher demand in surplus countries would make up for a lower spending path in deficit countries. But the actual progress on rebalancing has been timid at best, while the downside risks to the global economy are increasing.
implying thereby that coordinated fiscal policy (expansion) has no role in the long run, at least giving the impression to the reader/listener. However, she is right in stressing that surplus nations need to take up the task of rebalancing.
While talking of “urgent recapitalization” banks in Europe require, Lagarde also talks of a common vision for Europe:
Third, Europe needs a common vision for its future. The current economic turmoil has exposed some serious flaws in the architecture of the eurozone, flaws that threaten the sustainability of the entire project. In such an atmosphere, there is no room for ambivalence about its future direction. An unclear or confused message will add to market uncertainty and magnify the eurozone’s economic tensions. So Europe must recommit credibly to a common vision, and it needs to be built on solid foundations—including, for example, fiscal rules that actually work.
but no mention of a fiscal union! Most people – economists at least – would take the above to mean a plan to work toward achieving targets for deficits and public debt – an impossible dream.
Lagarde’s conclusions are right
There is a clear implication: we must act now, act boldly, and act together.
but this comes only by at least and not limited to coordinating fiscal policies not by “fiscal consolidation” – a phrase which literally suggests a fiscal contraction.
The IMF is a part of the problem but Christine Lagarde’s heart is in the right place – she needs to carefully think about how fiscal policy really matters and convey to others some of the ideas she has thought of, since they are slightly different from the IMF’s traditional beliefs. How far she goes will be interesting to see.
The sectoral balances identity
NAFA = PSBR + BP
(where NAFA is the private sector net accumulation of financial assets, PSBR is the public sector borrowing requirement to finance its deficit and BP is the current balance of payments) and the approach which is built around this, implies that if the public sector wants more saving, the government has no choice but to accommodate this demand unless it is prepared to run the economy at less than full employment. However, it doesn’t mean that the government has the ability to fully relax its fiscal stance up to constraints from the supply side, because if domestic demand starts expanding faster than domestic output, the nation’s balance of payments situation will suffer and this can be resolved only by correctly negotiated international policies which is good for all. The IMF should look at it that way instead of recommending fiscal expansion as a temporary measure.
For a different take on Lagarde’s speech check Zero Hedge
Financial Times has a post Lagarde calls for urgent action on banks on this. The writer points out that
On fiscal policy, she continued the IMF’s change of emphasis away from immediate fiscal tightening, and towards fiscal programmes that reduce deficits over the long-term but which allow spending to continue while economies stay weak.