Tag Archives: flow of funds

Simon Wren-Lewis On Wynne Godley’s Models

Simon Wren-Lewis has an article on his blog on stock-flow consistent/coherent models by Wynne Godley. Unlike other articles, this has a more engaging tone and isn’t dismissive.

This is a  good thing but it has the tone “Oh, there’s hardly anything new” about stock-flow consistent modeling and the sectoral balances approach. 🤦. To me this is highly inaccurate, to say the least. None of the models outside SFC models —with one exception—come anywhere close to the important question about what money is and how money is created. Even in the Post-Keynesian literature, while there are various non-mathematical approaches, there’s hardly anything that comes close. That important exception is the work of James Tobin as is summarized in his Nobel Prize lecture Money and Finance in the Macroeconomic Process. Except that Wynne Godley’s model greatly improve upon the deficiencies of Tobin’s approach.

The sectoral balances approach is a mini-version of stock-flow coherent modeling. Wren-Lewis seems to say there’s hardly anything great and don’t tell much. First, almost nobody was making a cri de coeur as much as Wynne Godley. Second, the approach makes it clear why a huge recession was coming. This is because US private expenditure was rising faster than private income and the US private sector was in deficit for long and the private sector was accumulating debt on a huge scale relative to income. It’s difficult to say when this would have reversed pre-2007, but had to reverse. Once this is reversed, i.e., when private expenditure slows relative to private income, so that the private sector goes into a surplus, output will fall as a result of a slowdown of private expenditure.

Moreover, the US economy had a critical imbalance in its trade with its current account balance of payments touching almost 6.5% at the end of 2005, hemorrhaging the circular flow of national income at a massive scale.

Wynne Godley’s argument was that because of the external imbalance, the US fiscal policy will be unable to expand output to full employment easily, once the US enters a recession. Hence, he proposed import controls for the United States.

None of anybody outside Wynne Godley’s circle came anywhere close to saying anything of this sort.

But these empirical analysis is a much more complicated discussion. At a simpler level, nobody has come closer to what stock-flow coherent models achieve. All we see is economists struggling with basic questions on how money is created, what role it plays and so on.

Wren-Lewis also criticises SFC models saying they have minimal behavioural hypothesis. Now, this is far from the truth. If you write stock-flow consistent models, which are more realistic, you’ll end up with having a lot of equations and parameters. Behaviour of each “sector” is articulated in these models. How money is created by the act of loan making by banks, to how households and firms accumulate assets and liabilities, to how firms making pricing decisions and how much they produce and how much households consume. In addition, the importance of fiscal policy is articulated: how governments make spending decisions, whether government expenditure can be thought of as exogenous and how in normal times—when politicians pay attention to how much the government’s deficit and debt it has—governement’s fiscal policy can be thought of as endogenous. And crucially, the supreme importance of the government’s finance in the financial assets/liabities creation process. While most economists stop at one time-step for the expenditure process, using stock-flow consistent models, you can see the full process. Moreover, the analysis highlights the correct direction of causalities. A good example is the direction of causation from prices to money.

I want to however highlight another important point. A lot about how the economy works can be understood without going too much into behaviour. Just national accounts, flow of funds and a minimal set of behavioural assumptions would be a great progress. The rest of the profession however struggles to even understand basic flow of funds. A lot can be understood because most of the times, economists are erring on basic accounting. Hence their story doesn’t add up and produces something completely unrelated to the real world. If only economists understood this, that’ll be a lot of progress. Stock-flow consistent models are rich in behavioral analysis but even without it, understanding flow of funds with a minimal set of assumptions is the right direction.

We Don’t Need No Helicopters … Hey! Economists! Leave Fiscal Policy Alone

A lot has been written on helicopter money recently. Most of them bad with a few exceptions such as one by JKH.

In my opinion, the main reason economists come up with stories such as “helicopter money” etc. is that it is difficult in standard economic theory to introduce money.

Few quotes from Mervyn King’s book The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy:

But my experience at the Bank also revealed the inadequacies of the ‘models’ – whether verbal descriptions or mathematical equations  – used by economists to explain swings in total spending and production. In particular such models say nothing about the importance of money and banks and the panoply of financial markets that feature prominently in newspapers and on our television screens. Is there a fundamental weakness in the intellectual economic framework underpinning contemporary thinking? [p 7]

For over two centuries, economists have struggled to provide a rigorous theoretical basis for the role of money, and have largely failed. It is a striking fact that as as economics has become more and more sophisticated, it has had less and less to say about money… As the emininent Cambridge economist, and late Professor Frank Hahn, wrote: ‘the most serious challenge that the existence of money poses to the theorist is this: the best developed model of the economy cannot find room for it’.

Why is modern economics unable to explain why money exists? It is the result of a particular view of competitive markets. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ …

… Money has no place in an economy with the grand auction. [pp 78-80]

But the ex-Bank of England governor perhaps never worked with stock flow consistent models. The advantage of these models is that what money is and how it is created is central to the question of how economies work. The framework used in stock flow consistent models is not new exactly. What’s new in stock-flow consistent models is the behavioural analysis on top of the existing framework the system of national accounts and flow of funds. As Morris Copeland, who formulated the flow of funds accounts of the U.S. economy said:

The subject of money, credit and moneyflows is a highly technical one, but it is also one that has a wide popular appeal. For centuries it has attracted quacks as well as serious students, and there has too often been difficulty in distinguishing a widely held popular belief from a completely formulated and tested scientific hypothesis.

I have said that the subject of money and moneyflows lends itself to a social accounting approach. Let me go one step farther. I am convinced that only with such an approach will economists be able to rid this subject of the quackery and misconceptions that have hitherto been prevalent in it.

– Morris Copeland, Social Accounting For Moneyflows in Flow-of-Funds Analysis: A Handbook for Practitioners (1996) [article originally published in 1949]

So what do we mean by helicopter money and it is really needed or useful? For that we need to go into a bit into some behavioural equations in stock-flow consistent models. One way is to use a somewhat simplified notation from Tobin’s nobel prize lecture Money and Finance in the Macroeconomic Process. In Tobin’s analysis, the government’s fiscal deficit is financed by high-powered money and government bonds:

GT = ΔH + ΔB

ΔH = γH·(G – T)

ΔB = γB·(G – T)

 γ+ γ= 1

0 ≤  γH, γB  ≤ 1

So the deficit is financed by “high-powered money” (H) and government bonds (B) in proportion γand γB

Now it is important to go into a bit of technicalities. Prior to 2008, central banks implemented monetary policy by a corridor system. After 2008, when the financial system needed to be rescued and later when central banks started the large scale asset purchase program (“QE”), central banks shifted to a floor system.

Although economics textbooks keep claiming that the central bank “controls the money supply”, in reality they are just setting interest rates.

In the corridor system, there are three important rates:

  1. The deposit rate: The rate at which central banks pay interest on banks’ deposits (reserves) with them,
  2. The target rate: The rate which the central bank is targeting, and is typically the rate at which banks borrow from each other, overnight, at the end of the day.
  3. The lending rate: The rate at which the central bank will lend to banks overnight.

There are many complications but the above is for simplicity. Typically the target rate is mid-way between the lower (deposit rate) and the higher (lending rate).

In the floor system, the government and the central bank cannot set the overnight at the target rate if the central bank doesn’t supply as much reserves as demanded by banks. Else the interest rate will fall to the deposit rate or rise to the lending rate. In a system with a “reserve-requirement”, banks will need an amount of reserves deposited at the central bank equal to a fraction of deposits of non-banks at banks.

So,

H = ρ·M

where M is deposits of non-banks at banks and ρ is the reserve requirement. In stock-flow consistent models, is endogenous and cannot be set by the central bank. Hence is also endogenous.

In the floor system, the target rate is the rate at which the central bank pays interest on deposits. Hence the name “floor”. There are some additional complications for the Eurosystem, but let’s not go into that and work in this simplification.

In the floor system, the central bank and the government can decide the proportions in which deficit is financed between high powered money  and government bonds. However since deposits are endogenous the relation between high powered money and deposits no longer holds.

In short,

In a corridor system, γand γB are endogenous, M is endogenous and H = ρ·M. In a floor system, γand γB can be made exogenous, M is endogenous and H ≠ ρ·M. is not controlled by the central bank or the government in either cases and is determined by asset allocation decisions of the non-bank sector.

Of course, the government deficit Gitself is endogenous and we should treat the government expenditure G and the tax-rates θ as exogenous not the deficit itself.

So we can give some meaning to “helicopter money”. It’s when the central bank is implementing monetary policy by a floor system and γand γB are exogenous.

But this doesn’t end there. there are people such as Ben Bernanke who have even proposed that the central bank credit government’s account with some amount and let it spend. So this introduces a new variable and let’s call it Gcb.

So we have a corridor system with variables G and θ versus a floor system with variables G’G’cbθ,  γ’and γ’B

The question then is how is the latter more superior. Surely the output or GDP of an economy is different in the two cases. However people constantly arguing the case for “helicopter money” are in the illusion that the latter case is somewhat superior. Why for example isn’t the vanilla case of a corridor system with higher government expenditure worse than “helicopter money”.

Also it effectively reduces to a fiscal expansion combined with a large scale asset purchase program of the central bank (“QE”). I described QE’s effect here. Roughly it works by a wealth effect on output with some effect on investment via asset allocation.

To summarize, the effect on output by these crazy ways can be achieved by a higher fiscal expansion. There’s hardly a need to bring in helicopters. Some defenders say that it is faster but that just sounds like an excuse to not educate policymakers.

Last updated 8 Jun 2016, 2:17pm UTC.

United States’ Net Wealth, Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, United States’ Net Wealth. There I pointed out a new table which has been included in the Federal Reserve Statistical Release Z.1, Financial Accounts of the United States – Flow of Funds, Balance Sheets and Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts. This table in flow of funds report is B.1: Derivation of U.S. Net Wealth.

In the meanwhile, the Federal Reserve has released a note U.S. Net Wealth in the Financial Accounts of the United States which is worth your time.

In the note, the authors detail about the meaning of the measure of the “U.S. Net Wealth.” The definition is similar to the System of National Accounts 2008 (2008 SNA). The net worth of a nation is the sum of non-financial assets plus the net international investment position. The note says:

In estimating U.S. net wealth, we use direct measures of the value of households’, nonprofits’, noncorproate businesses’, and governments’ nonfinancial wealth. For corporate businesses, we use the market value of their outstanding equity shares to better capture the value of intangible assets, such as intellectual property. We then net out financial obligations between U.S. resident households, businesses, and government agencies and the rest of the world, because the concept of U.S. net wealth should exclude nonfinancial assets that are financed abroad rather than domestically, and include the value of nonfinancial wealth held by U.S. entities abroad. Taking all this together, we define net U.S wealth as the value of tangible assets controlled by households and nonprofits, noncorporate business, and government sectors of the U.S. economy, plus the market value of domestic nonfinancial and financial corporations, net of U.S. financial obligations to the rest of the world.

[emphasis, boldening: mine]

So what table B.1 does is that it uses non-financial assets for all sectors except when shares of companies are publicly traded.

There is however an issue here. Value of equities outstanding needn’t be a good measure. This is because firms issue both debt and equity. Imagine the case of a corporation which has a debt/equity mixture of 9:1.

Suppose the balance sheet is like this (in the SNA/IMA format):

Assets
Non-financial assets: $1 bn

Liabilities and Net Worth
Market value of bonds issued: $900 mn
Market value of equities issued: $90 mn
Net Worth: $10 mn

I am assuming that “non-financial assets” is the correct value of both tangibles and intangibles, which is $1bn here. But because of debt securities, the value of equities ($90 mn) is highly unlikely to touch $1bn. In other words, the total outstanding value of equities issued by the corporation is hardly a measure of non-financial assets in this case. Applying this idea further, it can be concluded that we need to keep track of the debt securities of the corporation as well. In summary, table B.1 needs to be updated conceptually.

United States’ Net Wealth

The latest release of the Federal Reserve Statistical Release Z.1, Financial Accounts of the United States – Flow of Funds, Balance Sheets and Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts or just “flow of funds” has a new table B.1: Derivation of U.S. Net Wealth.

According to the release:

A new table on the derivation of U.S. net wealth (table B.1) has been added to the summary section of the “Financial Accounts.” The calculation of U.S. net wealth includes the value of nonfinancial assets (real estate, equipment, intellectual property products, consumer durables, and inventories) held by households and nonprofit organizations and noncorporate businesses. For the federal government and state and local governments sectors, only structures, equipment, and intellectual property products are included; values for land and nonproduced nonfinancial assets are not available. The measure of U.S. net wealth also includes the market value of domestic nonfinancial and financial corporations, and is adjusted to reflect net U.S. financial claims on the rest of the world. This definition of U.S. net wealth differs from the sum of the net worth of sectors shown in the Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts (IMA). A forthcoming FEDS Note will provide additional information.

United States Net Worth

click to expand, and click again to zoom

According to it, the United States net wealth was $79.69 trillion.

It’s important to understand how this is reached. Normally we divide the world in various sectors: households, production firms, the financial sector, government and the rest of the world. In real life one adds more nuances to all this. So for example, in the table above, we have a sector “non-financial non-corporate businesses”.

Now, there are two types of assets: non-financial assets and financial assets. Non-financial assets are things such as houses, machines and so on. Financial assets are things such as currency notes, bonds, equity securities and so on.

In the system of national accounts (e.g., the 2008 SNA), all financial assets have a counterpart liability. So financial assets = liabilities for the world as a whole. It’s of course not true for a nation because assets and liabilities between residents and non-residents do not cancel out.

There is one complication, however: equity securities. The 2008 SNA treats equity securities as liabilities of corporations, just like debt securities. This is despite the fact that a company isn’t bound by law to pay dividends to holders of equity, unlike the case for debt securities or loans (for which interest is needed to be paid periodically and also the principal upon maturity).

All economic units have a net worth. This is the difference between assets and liabilities. So,

Assets = Liabilities + Net Worth.

Since equities are treated as liabilities in the 2008 SNA, the net worth of firms can in fact turn negative. This might happen if the price of equities is high.

So it is easy to derive the net worth of a nation. Resident economic units’ liabilities held by resident economic units cancel out and one is left with non-resident units’ liabilities to residents (i.e., resident units’ assets “held abroad”) and residents’ liabilities to non-residents.  This is the net international investment position.

So, as per the 2008 SNA (and the Balance of Payments Manual, 6th Edition),

Net Worth of a nation = Non-financial assets held by residents + Net International Investment Position

The Federal Reserve however does not do the same for flow of funds. It does not treat equities as liabilities.

But one has to be careful about double counting. It’s easy to sum up non-financial assets of all economic units, such as as done by the SNA. But in the flow of funds, with the special treatment on equities, we shouldn’t use corporate businesses’ non-financial assets. If you read the explanation and see the table B.1 carefully, corporate businesses’ assets have not been added, only “non-corporate businesses'” non-financial assets have been added. Since equities are not treated as liabilities in the sense of debt securities, the market value of corporations is needed to be added. This is line 13 in Table B.1.

There is one complication however. Even though equities is not treated as liabilities, that held by foreigners is treated as liabilities. Otherwise, one can have a source of inconsistency. Suppose equities held by a non-resident economic units is not treated as liabilities. Suppose foreigners sell $1bn of equities and purchase T-bills with that. This will mean that the net wealth reduces. Which doesn’t make sense. Hence, one is forced to treat foreigners’ equity holdings as liabilities. So the foreign aspect of the whole calculation is the same as as done in the SNA and one needs to include the net international investment position of the United States which is line 24. (minus $5.47 trillion).

So that basically summarizes the calculation of the United States net wealth as per the Federal Reserve flow of funds report.

How does this compare with the SNA measurement? Some tables in the report are only updated to 2014. So let’s use those numbers.

Flow of funds’ net wealth for 2014 = $77.89 tn (Table B.1, line 1).

Now, go to Table S.2.a. These tables use SNA definitions. Add lines 76-81.

This gives us a value of $87.34 trillion.

However the Z.1 report has an error in the way SNA/IMA way of calculating net worth. Line 77 in Table S.2.a is incorrect. There’s double counting. It uses the SNA/IMA concept of net worth but instead calculates it using the FoF concept. One should subtract line 29 in table B.101 which is $10.04 trillion. Hence the US net worth in the SNA definition is $87.34 trillion minus $10.04 trillion which is $77.30 trillion.

So in short, the net worth of the United States as per the flow of funds definition at the end of 2014 was $77.89 trillion and according to the SNA/IMA it was $77.30 trillion.

What does all this mean? Hmm. Not to easy to answer, except saying that familiarity with the system of measurement helps in understanding how the economy works. Which measurement is better – the new table B.1 or S.2.a? Doesn’t matter.

I am thankful to commenters in this blog post by Steve Randy Waldman, especially JKH and Marko.

Last edited 8 Oct 2015, 2:22pm UTC. [Error in Fed’s Z.1 report pointed out and my own fixed]

Update: Part 2 of this post/afterthought here United States’ Net Wealth, Part 2

Credit And Economic Growth

In a new column for Bloomberg, Noah Smith questions the intuition that credit fuels economic growth.

He says:

It seems like the only people who don’t instinctively believe in credit-fueled growth are academic economists.

The academics have good reason for being skeptical.

His reason (in short) is the following:

It’s pretty obvious how credit drives my personal household consumption. If I borrow, I can get a nice big TV and a new car, but eventually I’ll have to skimp to pay it back. In a way, the consumption-fueled borrowing binge is an illusion of wealth — after all, borrowing doesn’t increase my salary. Pleasure today means pain tomorrow.

Notice how Smith’s argument uses a lot of national accounting and flow of funds concepts: consumption, borrowing, wealth, repayment (of loans) and so on. The interesting thing is that one can use the system of national accounts and flow of funds to create models which show precisely the opposite of what Smith is saying. The best place obviously to look out for is the book Monetary Economics: An Integrated Approach to Credit, Money, Income, Production and Wealth by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie which has models called stock-flow consistent models or SFC models. It is however difficult to write down a simple SFC model in a blog post, so I will try to highlight how it works in words but refer the reader to these models.

Here’s how in a simple model:

  1. Consumers decide to borrow more and banks respond by granting them loans.
  2. Consumers spend the funds received on consumption goods.
  3. Since loans make deposits, it’s not as if someone forgoes consumption to lend as neoclassical textbooks say.
  4. Firms see their inventories go down and respond by increasing their inventories by producing more.
  5. For producing more, firms hire more labour and pay salary/compensation.
  6. People newly employed spend their income and there’s further rise in production as firms produce more when seeing a higher demand for their products.
  7. Higher production leads to a rise in productivity and wages/household incomes of the already employed rise in response (although not necessarily the case).

So we have a higher output than what we started with and higher national income.

One can take several issues with this and this is one reasons models are really helpful and pinpoint what’s going on. This is the reason I referred to the book by Godley and Lavoie above. So for example, one can ask: what if the rise in the national income and output is just a rise in the nominal value but that it’s possible that prices have changed and that the real output hasn’t changed. This of course needs a model of prices and inflation but a familiarity with stock-flow consistent models will make you realize that it is an extreme assumption to think that the real output hasn’t risen in the sequence of events highlighted above.

The second thing is the above “model” in words had just banks lending to households whereas in the real world, credit (as in any credit, such as firms borrowing) is via credit markets of which banks are only one part. This issue is not so simple to argue out, but it can be shown that it really doesn’t matter (in the first approximation). I do not know how to quickly argue it out in short here but will leave that for now.

Of course the above model can be misleading. For example, if households take a lot of debt, debt repayment burden will hit and cause a slowdown as households’ consumption will drop and this may lead to an economic slowdown. This point may look similar to what Noah Smith is saying, but that is not the case. One can imagine an economy starting with a GDP of 100 and growing to 120 in some time period and then slowing down to 118 because of the debt burden. Also the above model was implicitly a pure private sector model and in general one has both the government and the overseas sector adding more complications. Again more reasons why having a proper mathematical model for such things is important.

Another critique of Smith (in my mini-exchange of tweets with him on Twitter) was that SFC models do have behavioural assumptions. I agree, but my point was that there’s no reason to dismiss the argument “credit fuels growth” by purely theoretical arguments. If at all, the system of national income and flow of funds make it more convincing that credit is important.

Of course none of this means that policies should be promoted to ease credit conditions always and try to create a boom and what Smith says is somewhat true – there can be pain later, so it is important to consider fiscal policy, balance of payments and so on but the story told here is quite different from the one told by Noah Smith.

Profits And Borrowing

I think Marshall Auerback is seriously mixing up different parts of the flow of funds accounts of an economy. He is heteredox, so it will be good if he gets these things right.

In his latest, he asks Why Are US Corporations Borrowing So Much If Profits Are At A Record Percentage Of GDP?, i.e., the reported profits seems contradictory to the fact that borrowing is rising. As mentioned in my recent blog post Massive Overstatement Of Profits?, Auerback attributes it to firms cooking the books. In his latest, he says:

 … debt is once again rising relative to GDP.  That shouldn’t be happening if corporate savings (profits) are booming.

Funnily, his question precisely has the answer: because profits are rising, so has liabilities of U.S. firms, because increased profits has led them to increase investment. This can easily be shown via a few national accounts/flow of funds identities. For the nonfinancial production firms sector, we have:

Net Lending = Undistributed Profits − Investment

Profits is undistributed profits plus dividends, and net lending is net acquisition of financial assets less net incurrence of liabilities,

Net Lending = NAFA − NIL

so,

NIL = Investment − Profits + Dividends + NAFA

where NIL and NAFA are firms’ net incurrence of liabilities and net acquisition of financial assets, respectively in the language of the flow of funds or the system of national accounts such as the 2008 SNA.

This suggests that if profits rise, firms may incur less liabilities but assuming other things in the equation stay the same. But if other things are themselves changing — such as if investment is rising, profits can rise simultaneously with rising liabilities. It is slightly paradoxical at first but CFOs generally know that firms’ borrowing requirement may rise when it is growing fast and the same is possible even if firms are taken as a whole. Firms may also buy back shares by borrowing from banks and this adds more interesting things to the story.

Of course, it is possible that the rising debt may move into an unsustainable territory but this story is a bit different than cooking the books interpretation of Auerback.

Paradox Of Profits?, Part 2

In the previous post Paradox of Profits?, I mentioned how I view the paradox of profits as the confusion between production firms’ operating surplus (as defined in the SNA such as the 2008 SNA or earlier versions) and surplus on the financial account of the system of national accounts.

The paradox is highlighted by saying that at the beginning of the monetary ‘circuit’, firms inject an amount of money M and can only recover a maximum of M.

So let us think of an economy in which there is no money or banks initially and suddenly someone producers find a way to make cakes and the banking system opens simultaneously. This is admittedly an oversimplification but nonetheless useful.

Initially firms decide to make 100 cakes and price it $1 per cake. They hire labour and pay $60 as wages. For this, they borrow $60 from banks. Households is a mix of both labour and entrepreneurs.

Now households consume cakes worth $55.

Before proceeding, it is important to note that inventories will be valued at current costs. So even though firms have initially paid households $60 and recovered $55, they have still made a profit of $22. This is because 55 cakes were sold and cost $55 × 0.6 = $33.

So:

Profits = $22

I am neglecting the interest costs on loans but this is minor in comparison to the income generated by production so as to matter crucially.

That profits are $22 can be seen from the profits formula of the previous post:

Ff  = C ΔIN  WB  rlL

Having sold 55 units of cakes, firms have 45 units left in their inventory. But since inventories are valued at current costs, the multiplicative factor here is 0.6, so ΔIN  = $27. So,

$22 ≈ $55 + $27 − $60 − ε

After having paid their employees, firms started out with no bank balance but soon have $55 in bank deposits. They then pay back $33 of loans, leaving them with $22 of bank deposits. At this stage household hold $5 of deposits: they received $60 and consumed $55.

So total bank deposits is $27. This is equal to the value of inventories. This is also equal to the initial loan of $60 minus the repayment of $33. So firms’ inventories are backing the loan amount.

Firms are now in a situation to distribute dividends. It is clear that they don’t have trouble paying interest to banks. (In this example but not always the case).

Another production cycle starts. Dividends will buy more cakes and make more profits for firms. Fixed capital formation can also be added in the story without any problem.

Paradox Of Profits?

Post-Keynesians unnecessarily worry a lot about the paradox of profits. This post is on my thoughts on the paradox. In my view, there is no paradox at all. It is simply the case of not looking at all the parts of the system of national accounts/flow of funds.

Although Post-Keynesians use Kalecki’s profit equation in which the government deficit adds to profits, the statement of the paradox is for a pure credit economy. But in any case, there is none.

Let us assume that at the beginning of the ‘circuit’, production firms need an initial loan to pay the wage bill WB in advance. Households receive the wages and consume and allocate their saving in financial assets (households don’t buy houses). The two financial assets are money and equities so:

WB − C = ΔM + ΔE

Production firms’ profits Fis:

Ff  I – WB rlL

Here, is the gross fixed capital formation of production firms or investment, L is the outstanding loan of firms from the banking system and ris the rate of interest on these loans.

Now assume all investment is financed by issuing equities (i.e., ΔE = I). With a small amount of algebra:

Ff  = − ΔM  − rlL

So this is the “paradox”.

Now there are several things wrong with this. The simplest is that profits are actually paid to households and there’s a term for change in inventories missing in the right hand side. If profits are not paid, they are retained and investment is then financed by both issuing equities and retained earnings. So ΔE ≠ I. 

There is an alternative way of stating the “paradox” which says: if firms inject money at the start of the production process, how do they recover more money at the end of the process? This seems to confuse what is known as operating surplus in the system of national accounts (such as in the 2008 SNA or earlier versions) with the surplus on the financial account.

So let us redo this. Here is the transactions flow matrix for the economy (assuming away banks’ undistributed profits):

Paradox Of Profits - Transactions Flow Matrix

First assume all profits are distributed (i.e., FUf = 0 and FDf Ff).

So:

 WB + rmF + F− C = ΔM + ΔE

Ff  = C I + ΔIN  WB  rlL

Then assuming ΔE = and a bit of algebra,

ΔIN = ΔM

In other words, there is no paradox at allFf  has simply dropped outAll this means is that if households wish to hold more of their assets in deposits instead of equities, firms will be left with more inventories.

Of course, you might ask, “how have you assumed that profits are distributed when there is a paradox?”. The answer is that I haven’t done anything self-inconsistent. More consistency checks would be via constructing a dynamic model and check if it solves but assuming it does, the above static analysis is good enough. There is no paradox to begin with.

So in the above, although there was no paradox of profits, there was still a pressure on output and hence profits—if households wished to hold more of their wealth in deposits and reduce their preference to buy equities, firms will be left with more inventories and will have to reduce investment. This reduction in investment happens because of two reasons – a fall in equity prices and a fall in output leading to a fall in firms’ expectations of sales. Of course, this can be seen via writing dynamic models, and one shouldn’t rely on identities. But bank loans will be useful here and so higher preference for ‘money’ needn’t necessarily lead to a fall in output. If households wish to hold more money instead of other assets, firms may switch to bank loans and this process creates deposits.

But let’s for the moment still assume that investment is not financed via bank loans but via issuance of equities and retained earning. In this case,

WB + rmFD + Fb − C = ΔM + ΔE

Ff  = C I ΔIN  WB  rlL

but also,

ΔE = I  FU

and with some algebra,

ΔIN = ΔM

Again, no paradox. At all!

Now in the final case, assume that production firms use bank loans to finance investment in addition to financing it via equities. The equations are:

WB + rmFD + Fb − C = ΔM + ΔE

Ff  = C I ΔIN  WB  rlL

ΔE =  ζΔL − FU

where 0 < ζ < 1 is that part of ΔL used for investment expenditure. In this case,

ΔIN + ζΔ= ΔM

So if households wish to hold more deposits, firms will switch to bank loans without any drop in inventories, output or expectations, with the qualification of course that bank credit is available.

Some have suggested (via Kalecki’s profit equation) that the paradox can be resolved only because of government deficits. This is not needed at all because there is no paradox. So around the turn of the millennium, the US government had its budget balance in surplus and the nation’s current account balance of international payments was in deficit over many quarters. Yet US firms made profits and were able to distribute them.

See the data below: the first one highlights in yellow the current account balance (line 42) and the budget balance (line 49) and also the fact that the financial balances of other sectors (lines 47/48) were low negative compared to profits numbers in question (source Z.1):

Flow of Funds, Table F.8

 (click to expand and click again)

the second one shows the net undistributed profits (undistributed profits less depreciation) (line 24), distributed profits (line 17) and depreciation (line 2) from which profits can be calculated, implying budget deficit and/or positive current account balance of payments is not needed to resolve the paradox of profits (because there is none to begin with).

Flow of Funds, Table S.5.a

 (click to expand and click again)

Of course, fiscal policy was tight around the time (although the budget balance is a poor measure of this) and this led to a fall in output soon, but that issue shouldn’t be confused with the paradox of profits.

Conclusion

One does not simply confuse operating surplus and surplus on the financial account of the system of national accounts. There is no resolution of the paradox of profits because there is none to begin with.

Last updated 13 Nov 2015, 8:16 am UTC. 

Massive Overstatement Of Profits?

In an article, The Profits’ Conundrum, Marshall Auerback uses Kalecki’s profit equation analysis (which is just a simple rearrangement of terms of the sectoral balances equation) to claim that corporate profits have been overstated in the United States.

Now consider the US deficit and explain how on earth we can still have profits as a record percentage of GDP.  There is no way that we can have had a fall in the fiscal deficit to GDP ratio from ten percent to three percent (we are in the middle of fiscal yr 2014 remember) without some kind of significant decline in the profit share of GDP.

But NIPA says there is no such fall.   All the people who use this sectoral balance analysis keep saying that the profit decline is coming which of course is nonsense.  If it is to be it is here and now; we are dealing with an identity.  This cannot be ignored, but it is by virtually every single Wall Street analyst.

This does pose the real possibility that we have a massive overstatement of profits.

While it is possible this is the case, I don’t see how this follows from the usage of Kalecki’s profit equation or the sectoral balances equation without any dynamical analysis thrown in.

While the government deficit has fallen, the household sector saving has fallen too and there has been a big rise in firms’ investment expenditure in recent times. So let us look at the data but before that derive the profit equation.

From sectoral balances we know that net lending (in the language of the U.S. Z.1 Flow of Funds report) of all sectors should add to zero.

Firms’ undistributed profits FU is the sector’s saving. So firms’ net lending is:

FU − If

where Iis firms’ investment expenditure.

This should be the sum of net borrowing of all the other sectors – households, government and the rest of the world: Household net borrowing + Government net borrowing + Rest of the World net borrowing

Or, in the more usual language,

FU = If  + Government deficit − Household Net Lending + CAB

where CAB is the current account balance of international payments.

Each term is a flow and has a time subscript such as −1 or 0 or 1 but I will avoid it. Now let’s compare 2013 and 2009.

We need the numbers highlighted in yellow to check what’s going on from the Fed’s Z.1 report:

Table F.8, Z.1 Q4 2013 Highlighting Corrected

(click to expand and see clearly)

Government deficit is the negative of net lending and between 2009 and 2013 this has reduced by $776.5bn. However, private investment has increased by $704.4bn and household net lending fell by $216.2bn. The change in current account balance over the period is small (line 42). So the rise in private investment and the fall in household net lending (and change in the current account balance) more than offsets the fall in the government deficit.

Also remember, reported profits is the sum of undistributed profits and distributed income of corporations. Table S.1.a has data only till 2012 but it shouldn’t be difficult to get a feel for the numbers.

Table S.1.a, Z.1 Q4 2013

(click to expand)

So the change in distributed income also has been high.

And add complications of taxes to the numbers (pre-tax vs. post-tax), the difference in profits in the last few years is even higher.

Why this exercise if you can get the profits numbers directly? To show that things do add up except for small discrepancies which are always present.

So pure rearrangements of terms of sectoral balance identity doesn’t prove the overstatement of profits as claimed by Auerback. Of course it still leaves the possibility of dynamics which lead to a contraction of aggregate demand and hence profits but Auerback’s claim is that this is purely due to accounting identities and this claim is erroneous.

Last Updated: 07 March 2014 11:27am UTC (minor errors corrected)

Tobinesque Models

Paul Krugman writes today on his blog on James Tobin’s work:

Let me offer an example of how this ended up impoverishing macroeconomic analysis: the strange disappearance of James Tobin. In the 1960s Tobin developed and elaborated a sophisticated view(pdf) of financial markets that offered insights into things like the role of intermediaries, the effects of endogenous inside money, and more. I’ve found myself using Tobinesque analysis a lot since the financial crisis hit, because it offers a sophisticated way to think about the role of finance in economic fluctuations.

But Tobin, as far as I can tell, disappeared from graduate macro over the course of the 80s, because his models, while loosely grounded in some notion of rational behavior, weren’t explicitly and rigorously derived from microfoundations. And for good reason, by the way: it’s pretty hard to derive portfolio preferences rigorously in that sense. But even so, Tobin-type models conveyed important insights — which were effectively lost.

Compare that to his article in response to another article on Wynne Godley which appeared in the New York Times – completely dismissing Godley’s work.

Three things: first Krugman claimed earlier that we needn’t look at old ideas:

But it is kind of funny to see a revival of old-fashioned macro hailed, at least by some, as the key to a reconstruction of the field

directly contradicting what he says today.

Second – obviously not having read Wynne Godley, he missed the point that Wynne’s analysis has significant improvement of James Tobin’s work.

Third, of course, Krugman’s understanding of monetary economics in general is poor, as can be seen when he gets into debates with heteredox economists and makes the most elementary errors. So it is strange he is lecturing others on this and fails once again to acknowledge heteredox economists.

Here’s Marc Lavoie describing in his article From Macroeconomics to Monetary Economics: Some Persistent Themes in the Theory Work of Wynne Godley in the book Contributions to Stock-Flow Modeling: Essays in Honor of Wynne Godley:

As Godley points out on a number of occasions, he himself owed his formalization of portfolio choice and of the fully consistent transactions-flow matrices to James Tobin. Godley was most particularly influenced and stimulated by his reading of the paper by Backus et al. (1980), as he writes in Godley (1996, p. 5) and as he told me verbally several times. The discovery of the Backus et al. paper, with its large flow-of-funds matrix, was a revelation to Godley and allowed him to move forward. But as pointed out in Godley and Lavoie (2007, p. 493), despite their important similarities, there is a crucial difference in the works of Tobin and Godley devoted to the integration of the real and monetary sides. In Tobin, the focus is on one-period models, or on the adjustments from the initial towards the desired portfolio composition, for a given income level. As Randall Wray (1992, p. 84) points out, in Tobin’s approach ‘flow variables are exogenously determined, so that the models focus solely on portfolio decisions’. By contrast, in Godley and Cripps and in further works, Godley is preoccupied in describing a fully explicit traverse that has all the main stock and flow variables as endogenous variables. As he himself says, ‘the present paper claims to have made … a rigorous synthesis of the theory of credit and money creation with that of income determination in the (Cambridge) Keynesian tradition’ (Godley, 1997, p. 48). Tobin never quite succeeds in doing so, thus not truly introducing (historical) time in his analysis, in contrast to the objective of the Godley and Cripps book, as already mentioned earlier. Indeed, when he heard that Tobin had produced a new book (Tobin and Golub, 1998), Godley was quite anxious for a while as he feared that Tobin would have improved upon his approach, but these fears were alleviated when he read the book and realized that there was no traverse analysis there either.

Draft link here.