Tag Archives: james tobin

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.

Is Floating Better? Is The Stock Of Money Exogenous In Fixed Exchange Rate Regimes?

I believe that the basic problem today is not the exchange rate regime, whether fixed or floating. Debate on the regime evades and obscures the essential problem … Clearly flexible rates have not been the panacea which their more extravagant advocates had hoped … I still think that floating rates are an improvement on the Bretton Woods system. I do contend that the major problems we are now experiencing will continue unless something else is done too.

– James Tobin, A Proposal For Monetary Reform, 1978

Frances Coppola has written a post saying that floating exchange rates are not the panacea. Although I agree with her point, there are however a few points in her article which has some issues. She says that money stock is exogenous in gold standard.

Under a strict gold standard, the quantity of money circulating in the economy is effectively set externally. The domestic money supply can only grow through foreign earnings, which bring gold into the country.

… This is evident from the quantity theory of money equation MV = PQ, which is fundamentally flawed in a fiat currency fractional reserve system but works admirably under a strict gold standard or equivalent.

Frances is critiquing Neochartalists there but ends up accepting their notion that macroeconomics is something different when a nation’s currency is not floating and there’s an exogenous stock of money in fixed exchange rate regimes. There is absolutely no proof that it is so. Money stock can grow if there’s higher economic activity due to rise in private expenditure relative to income or via fiscal policy. But why this obsession with Monetarism? It doesn’t work anywhere: whether the exchange rate is fixed or floating. All arguments made in Post Keynesian economics carry through to the gold standard. Indeed Robert Mundell himself realized this in 1961 [1].

Here’s a quote from the book Monetary Economics by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie, page 197, footnote 11:

It must be pointed out that Mundell (1961), whose other works are often invoked to justify the elevance of the rules of the game in textbooks and the IS/LM/BP model, was himself aware that the automaticity of the rules of the game relied on a particular behaviour of the central bank. Indeed he lamented the fact that modern central banks were following the banking principle instead of the bullionist principle, and hence adjusting ‘the domestic supply of notes to accord with the needs of trade’ (1961: 153), which is another way to say that the money supply was endogenous and that central banks were concerned with maintaining the targeted interest rates. This was in 1961!

Bretton Woods was the emperor’s new clothes and floating exchange rates are the emperor’s new new clothes. The important question is whether floating exchange rates offer any market mechanism to resolve balance of payments imbalances and the answer is that it doesn’t. In gold standard, current account deficits can be financed by official sale of gold in international markets and residents borrowing from abroad. In floating exchange rate regimes, it is financed by borrowing from abroad. Hardly much difference. So the main adjustment is left to movement of the exchange rate. One needs to suspend all doubt and believe in the invisible hand to think the movement of exchange rates can do the trick. The reason it is the emperor’s new new clothes is that the promises never worked. And similar promises were made by economists that there’s a market mechanism to resolve balance of payments imbalances in fixed exchange rate regimes.

To summarize, my argument is that the only point to debate is whether floating the exchange rate resolves imbalances as compared to fixed exchange rates, not about the endogeneity of money. Although there is a role because of the movement of the exchange rate, floating exchanges is not a panacea. Although I am not on the side of the Neochartalists in the debate, I thought I’d point this out: do not fall into the pitfall of your opponent.

  1. Mundell, R. (1961) ‘The international disequilibrium system’, Kyklos, 14 (2),
    pp. 153–72.

Discrete Time Or Continuous Time?

There is always some debate by people on how continuous time is better modelling. A James Tobin quote from his Nobel Lecture comes to mind.

Macroeconomic Modeling Strategy: Continuous or Discrete Time

The issues just discussed are related to the modeling of time. The equations introduced above count time in discrete periods of equal finite length. Within any period, each variable assumes one and only one value. In particular, clearing of asset markets determines one set of asset prices per period. From one period to the next asset stocks jump by finite amounts. Therefore the demands and supplies for these jumps affect asset prices and other variables within the period, the more so the greater the length of the period. They will also, of course, influence the solutions in subsequent periods.

The same modeling strategy can be used with continuous time. The specific saving functions, as well as the total saving function, then tell the rate at which savers want to be increasing their stocks of particular assets and of total wealth. They will reflect both the continuous execution of long run saving and portfolio plans and the speeds of adjustment of stocks to deviations from these plans that arise because of surprises, news, and altered circumstances or preferences.

Either representation of time in economic dynamics is an unrealistic abstraction. We know by common observation that some variables, notably prices in organized markets, move virtually continuously. Others remain fixed for periods of varying length. Some decisions by economic agents are reconsidered daily or hourly, while others are reviewed at intervals of a year or longer except when extraordinary events compel revisions. It would be desirable in principle to allow for differences among variables in frequencies of change and even to make those frequencies endogenous. But at present models of such realism seem beyond the power of our analytic tools. Moreover, many statistical data are available only for arbitrary finite periods.

Representation of economies as systems of simultaneous equations always strains credibility. But it takes extraordinary suspension of disbelief to imagine that the economy solves and re-solves such systems every microsecond. Even with modern computers the task of the Walrasian Auctioneer, and of the market participants who provide demand and supply schedules, would be impossible. Economic interdependence is the feature of economic life and we as professional economists seek to understand and explain. Simultaneous equations systems are a convenient representation of interdependence, but it is more persuasive to think of the economic processes that solve them as taking time than as working instantaneously.

In any event, a model of short-run determination of macroeconomic activity must be regarded as referring to a slice of time, whether thick or paper thin, and as embedded in a dynamic process in which flows alter stocks, which in turn condition subsequent flows.

Subscripting Helps!

The accounting identities equating aggregate expenditures to production and of both to incomes at market prices are inescapable, no matter which variety of Keynesian or classical economics you espouse. I tell students that respect for identities is the first piece of wisdom that distinguishes economists from others who expiate on economics. The second? … Identities say nothing about causation.

– James Tobin, 1997, p. 300, ‘Comment’, in B.D. Bernheim and J.B. Shoven (eds), National Saving and Economic Performance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This is a continuation of my post Stock-Flow Inconsistent? which was a reply to Jason Smith’s blog post More like stock-flow inconsistent on his blog Information Transfer Economics. If you had checked my post before around noon UTC yesterday, you might want to check the updated version.

Jason Smith also has updated his post and proposes a new equation:

ΔH = Γ·(G – T)

(incorrect equation)

Now, that’s quite wrong because it violates rules of accounting.

Morever, Jason Smith insists that it is a behavioral equation.

A lot of clarity can be achieved if one uses subscripts, so that things are clearer.

So we have two equations:

ΔH = GT

dH/dt = GT

Although these two are related, they are not exactly the same: the former is in a difference equation form and the latter in the differential equation form. The in the former has no time dimensions and the in the latter has time dimension equal to –1. The in the former is total expenditure in a period, the in the latter is a rate. 

Since stock-flow consistent models are written typically in difference equations, rather than differential equations, let us avoid subscripts for difference equations for the former and use it for latter.

So it is better to write the equations as:

ΔH = G – T

dHcontinuous/dt = Gcontinuous – Tcontinuous

Each time step in the formalism of difference equations is Δt and hence

G = Gcontinuous ·Δt

T = Tcontinuous ·Δt

Hcontinuous = H

So,

ΔHt = Gcontinuous – Tcontinuous

(approximately)

Or,

ΔH/ Δt = Gt – Tt

Or,

ΔH = G – T

So instead of reaching the correct equation which is:

ΔH= Δt · (Gcontinuous – Tcontinuous)

Jason reaches the equation:

ΔH = Γ·(G – T)

(incorrect equation)

But

ΔH = G – T

as it is an accounting identity in the model!

National Accounting As Atheism

The title of this post isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It’s just a playful poke on Eric Lonergan’s post mentioned below.

On his blog, Sample Of One, Eric Lonergan has a post tiled Accounting as religion: Buffett, Derrida, and MMT. The post ends with the following line:

… but money is not a liability of the state.

Eric’s post is arguing with the Neochartalists but my post here has nothing to do with Neochartalism. I always find it amusing when people go “money is not the liability of the state, even though it’s technically a liability” and so on. I am going to take a different track here and make an argument like James Tobin’s brilliant 1963 paper Commerical Banks As Creators Of “Money” . I explained Tobin’s brilliant analysis in a post James Tobin, Banking And The Widow’s Cruse.

For this, I will go to a scenario in an open economy:

  • £ is the local currency and $ is the foreign currency.
  • Suppose foreigners hold £1bn in currency notes among other claims on residents. Of course in real life nobody holds £1bn in cash notes but I can always make my case more realistic.
  • Suppose the exchange rate £/$ is falling and the foreign exchange market is nervous and runaway expectations are building up on the exchange rate.
  • This forces the “£-central bank” to intervene.
  • The central bank has less foreign reserves, i.e., $s and hence asks the government treasury to issue $-denominated debt equivalent £1bn. This is done to obtain proceeds to make a sale of $s in the fx markets, with the hope that it reverses the direction of expectations.
  • The central bank sells $s worth £1bn in the foreign exchange market.
  • Foreigners who held £1bn in currency notes are the counterparties.

So liabilities have been dollarized.

Now in this story, the net asset position of the £-nation hasn’t changed. The net international investment position is the same. Only the composition of liabilities. However people who claim that “currency is not really a liability” will agree that the government has a liability in $s. In their way of counting, there is an additional liability (after netting). But that doesn’t make sense. I just walked you through transactions of equal monetary exchanges. If you think

money is not a liability of the state.

do you not see a self-inconsistency here?

In other words, the potential for liability dollarization makes accounting items such as currency notes, reserve balances at the central bank etc. as a liability in a true sense.

Moral of the post: Always start with the open economy.

Respect For Identities

The accounting identities equating aggregate expenditures to production and of both to incomes at market prices are inescapable, no matter which variety of Keynesian or classical economics you espouse. I tell students that respect for identities is the first piece of wisdom that distinguishes economists from others who expiate on economics. The second? … Identities say nothing about causation.

– James Tobin, 1997, p. 300, ‘Comment’, in B.D. Bernheim and J.B. Shoven (eds), National Saving and Economic Performance, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This is such a nice quote by James Tobin. Almost all economists, orthodox or heterodox would agree with it I believe.

In practice, however, economists confuse identities for behaviour and causation no end. They even confuse identities themselves. But it now seems that some think that usage of national accounting identities produces erroneous conclusions.

In a series of posts, (here and few posts before), David Glasner, the author of the blog Uneasy Money — Commentary on monetary policy in the spirit of R. G. Hawtrey, seems to be suggesting that letting identities go is the way forward for macroeconomic modeling.

Glasner says:

There are two reasons why defining savings and investment to be identically equal in all states of the world is not useful in a macroeconomic theory of income. First, if we define savings and investment (or income and expenditure) to be identically equal, we can’t solve, either algebraically or graphically, the system of equations describing the model for a unique equilibrium.

[boldening and emphasis added]

So it seems that using accounting identities in your model would lead to inconsistencies. I and a few other commenters have tried to convince Glasner of his errors in series of posts.

Some people seem to think that identities do not tell anything. The truth is not so straightforward. Identities constrain outcomes. Any macroeconomic model which does not use identities as constraints may produce non-possible states of the world.

Brad deLong confronted Glasner on Twitter with this point:

If you have time, interest and energy, please convince Glasner that accounting identities cause no issues in macroeconomic modeling.

Reconciliation Of The Supply And Demand For Money

What brings the supply and demand for money into equivalence?

It is interesting that the recent Bank of England quarterly bulletin referred to an article of Peter Howells, a Post-Keynesian (also available here), although I don’t think the authors appreciate why the paper is interesting.

The title of my blog post is flicked from a paper by Basil Moore which is in reply to Howells.

Howells sets up the problem:

[B]anks set up their collateral standard and lending rates … and then meet all loan requests forthcoming. The demand for loans is determined by other variables in the economic system … making the loan volume exogenous from the banks’ point of view and the resulting quantity of deposits endogenous … Notice, crucially that in this view, increases in the money supply are demand-determined but the demand in question is the demand for loans … the question then is what reconciles the demand resulting from this lending with peoples’ willingness to hold money? … What is it that ensures that the supply of new deposits created by the flow of net new lending is just equal to the quantity demanded?

Let me present it in another way. To be clear let us assume the economy is closed. Output is determined by domestic demand or by private expenditure and government expenditure. Output is equal to the national income and is distributed to various economic units such as households who among other things allocate a part of their wealth into deposits. So there is a money demand. Of course expenditure is partly from income and sale of existing assets and by borrowing from other economic units and in particular from banks which lend by creating deposits in this process. So there is a change in the money supply. So there are two pictures with overlapping stories but not exactly so the question is – what processes ensure that

Ms = Md

is valid at every instant of time?

Does the rise in income and higher demand for money (because of a rise in wealth) alone ensure this? Is there a price clearance? Prices of what? Goods and services? Or prices in financial markets? (‘price’ includes interest rates such as deposit rates, loan rates, bond yields, equity prices and so on).

Also note this is in nominal variables. So is the rise in income purely due to a rise in prices or purely a rise in real output or a mix of the two? What causes inflation?

Where does QE fit into this? Does it raise output? Real/nominal? Raise prices – of goods and services or asset prices or both?

It is important to appreciate the formulation of the question. In case you don’t yet appreciate the question, more from Howells:

The starting point is that the demand for the loans that create the deposits originates in the desire of deficit units to spend in exceess of income. It is a question of financing an income-expenditure discrepancy. Furthermore, it is a decision made by a subset of the community since not everyone is involved in demanding an increase in their indebtedness to banks. (Indeed it is not even the case that everyone holds a stock of bank debt…). By contrast, the decision to hold (i.e., not spend) the newly created deposits is a portfolio decision. Furthermore, it is a decision made by different people (“the community as a whole”) from those concerned with borrowing it… the fact remains that so long as we are dealing with two groups of agents, with different motives, an ex ante coincidence of preferences is quite implausible. The question, then, is how are these ex ante preferences to be reconciled, ex post.

Back to Moore’s paper. Moore summarizes possible solutions suggested by Howells:

… Howells considers four responses that have been proposed to his conundrum:

  1. Kaldor and Trevithic[k] – any excess money is automatically extinguished as a result of the repayment of bank debt.
  2. Chick – the income multiplier process will automatically increase the demand for active balances.
  3. Laidler – the buffer stock demand for money is a demand “on average” over a period of time, rather than a demand for a fixed stock at a moment of time.
  4. Moore – “convenience lending,” the rejection of an independent money demand curve, rooted in a “full-blooded rejection of the idea of equilibrium”: In a non-ergodic world, no meaning can be attached to the notion of a unique general equilibrium stock of  money demanded.

Howells maintains that the above list offers “promising solutions” to the mechanism that reconciles net new lending to borrowers with the change in the demand for money for the wealth holders. But he concludes that “each … on its own is almost insufficient” for the “reconciliation. As a result, he proposes that variations in relative interest rates, “which can and do occur continuously, provide the key to the fine-tuning required by the balance-sheet identity” 

Frequently in such discussions the accommodative behaviour of the banking system is forgotten. So there is another mechanism as highlighted by Nicholas Kaldor in his book The Scourge Of Monetarism (Oxford University Press, 1982):

As it is, a highly developed banking system already provides such facilities on an ample scale, since it is prepared to accommodate the public’s changing demand between different types or financial assets by altering the composition of the banks’ assets or liabilities in a reverse direction. If the non-banking public wishes to switch its holding of gilts for interest-bearing bank deposits, the banks are ready to supply such deposits at the minimum of inconvenience, and at the same time to place their surplus funds into the gilts which were previously held by the public. Similarly the banks provide easy facilities to their customers for switching balances on current accounts into interest-bearing deposit accounts, or vice versa.

In general banks not only hold government bonds but also other kinds of securities such as mortgage-backed securities, agency debt and so on. In olden days, there was no securitization and banks would hold more government bonds which got substituted. (See the Fed’s H.8 weekly release for data on banks’ assets) [There’s a Geithner ppt which mentions this in one slide, anyone has a link?]

This point is an important one because here the reconciliation happens via changes in quantities. Remember it is not just loans which create deposits but also banks buying bonds from the non-banking system which create deposits.

The answers to these questions can be found systematically by using James Tobin’s asset allocation theory.

Let me mention some positions. At one end are Monetarists for whom the direction of causality is from money to other things. So there may be an excess of money and if so leads to higher expenditure and a hot potato process in which money supply and demand are brought into equivalence by rise in prices of goods and services. It can also lead to a rise in real output but the Monetarists emphasize the price aspect more. In addition they also distinguish between government expenditure and private expenditure and try to point out that the latter is more efficient and so on.

Looking at an economy as a moving picture, as expenditures increase, output rises and there is a rise in prices of goods and services and a rise in the stock of money. Monetarists look at coincident events and assign some strange causalities.

Moving beyond Monetarism, there’s also a view that the reconciliation of the supply and demand for money necessarily happens via a rise in interest rates on everything including bank loans leading to a crisis. Of course that it not true because beyond a point banks will reduce lending instead of offering loans at higher interest rates. Banks have their own animal spirits but this is via tightening credit standards, quality of collateral etc. Also this is not the only outcome because the process of lending and borrowing increases output and income and can stabilize debt ratios. Nonetheless, debts can move into unsustainable territories and financial crisis do happen, and when it happens, there’s a high demand for money and the reconciliation may happen via bankruptcies of firms and the central bank may need to accommodate the rise in demand for money by lending at a large scale since bankruptcies threaten a fall in output.

Of course there are many more mechanisms for the reconciliation which I have avoided. It may happen that due to changes in portfolio preferences, there is a stock market boom and firms will go IPO instead of borrowing from the banking system. So we have economic units who wish to hold less money and more equities and firms borrowing less from the banking system leading to a reconciliation. (A more careful analysis is needed because firms have deposits after having raised funds through an IPO).

Now consider convenience lending. There is of course some truth to it. If you receive you salary on a Friday evening, you are not rushing to allocate newly held deposits into the stock market because it is already closed (unless you have an international brokerage account). So you are holding the deposits non-volitionally. However, subscribing to convenience lending alone is a bit extreme. 

Now to QE/LSAP. When the central bank purchases financial assets such as government bonds from the markets, it creates bank settlement balances and deposits in the process. Wealth holders will then purchase other assets and the reconciliation happens via changes in prices of financial assets.

This post is far from any complete analysis of the interesting questions but hopefully I have got readers interested in something. The question on reconciliation asks what reconciliates the demand and supply of money – income, prices (of goods and services or prices in financial markets), quantities and so on.  Also, some seem to think that “price clearing” has to do with some notions about an equilibrium. I don’t think these two are the same things. One can have price changes and clearances without appealing to the notion of any “equilibrium”.

Money Stock Determination

The recent Bank of England quarterly bulletin has interested blogosphere into what goes on to determine the stock of money.

Money can mean various things and here I restrict to the the monetary aggregates as defined by central banks – as in the referred publication. But whoever is interested in “money creation” also becomes interested in the creation of assets and liabilities, so the right question is more general.

As I had pointed out in my previous post, the Bank of England articles seriously ignore the role of fiscal policy. Winterspeak also mentions this.

So what is the answer? In my view the most systematic way of saying this via Tobin’s theory asset allocation, improved drastically by stock-flow consistent models of Godley and Lavoie.

Also there are two things – influence and determination. For example, something can have an influence on the stock of money but may not determine it.

Since economies are highly dynamic it is not easy to answer this in a single sentence but it can perhaps be said that fiscal policy, private expenditure and QE influence the stock of money but it is ultimately determined by the holders of wealth.

Of course since people generally have a Monetarist intuition, the right notion that fiscal policy, private expenditure and QE influencing the determination of the stock of money is incorrectly taken by people to mean that QE has the same effect as a fiscal expansion. Which of course QE does not.

First take private expenditure. Since we know that “loans create deposits” it can be suspected that bank credit has an influence on money. Of course this process is more dynamic as the expenditure has its own multiplier effect (not to be confused with the money mulplier!) on output and income. But bank credit determining the stock of money is stretching too much. For example, while a bank makes a house loan and creates deposits in the process, the process of securitization reduces the stock of money as ultimate buyers of the securized products exchange money with the mortgage-backed securities (MBS). And of course there’s the reflux mechanism via which economic units may reduce their debts toward the banking system.

Now take fiscal policy.  Like private expenditure, government expenditure and taxes also influence the level of aggregate demand. This has an influential effect on credit creation via effect of increased output and income on private expenditure and via the process highlighted in the previous paragraph this has an influence on the determination of the stock of money.

Also, while economic units are earning and making decisions on spending, they are also accumulating financial and non-financial assets. So they have a preference on how much of their wealth they allocate into each asset. A Monetarist would talk of an excess supply of money and this raising prices of goods and services and bringing the demand and supply of money into equivalence. But there is no need for this from an endogenous money perspective. One can have the equivalence brought about by adjustments of prices of financial assets and also adjustment of quantities of assets and liabilities held by various economic units such as banks. This is where the importance of the work of Tobin’s theory of asset allocation comes in.

Now let’s discuss QE. Large scale purchases of financial assets by the central bank – although influences the stock of money, doesn’t determine it. Also QE doesn’t have a direct influence on aggregate demand like private or public expenditure. It has indirect effects via raising prices of financial assets (which can be described by Tobin’s theory of asset allocation) and inducing capital gains and a wealth effect on consumption. The Monetarist intuition highly exaggerates the effect.

The point of my writing the post was to show that fiscal policy has a strong effect on influencing the stock of money. This happens via the strong effect of fiscal policy on output and income inducing private expenditure. Of course private expenditure needn’t be only induced and has an autonomous nature as well, so both fiscal policy and private expenditure have an effect. The effect is via a rise in output and income and this leading to a rise in wealth and economic units allocating a fraction of their increased wealth into ‘money’ (as in currency notes and deposits).

So Winterspeak is right in pointing out the incorrect statement of the Bank of England paper:

The amount of money created in the economy ultimately depends on the monetary policy of the central bank. In normal times, this is carried out by setting interest rates.

The above quote is suggestive of a very strong influence of interest rates on private expenditure, ignores the autonomous nature of private expenditure and the role of fiscal policy.

Nick Rowe defends textbook economics over his blog and suggests some influence of QE on prices via the Monetarist hot potato process where there is an excess supply of money and via a non-equilibrium process leads to a rise in prices of good and services! But in this he mixes asset allocation decisions with expenditure decisions, as if the two can be treated as the same. In the market for goods and services, producers set the price based on costs and their markups. So it is hard to see the influence. The supplies and demands of assets are actually brought into equivalence in the financial markets rather than the market for goods and services. He may have a point but the degree to which this has an effect is low. So holders of wealth may allocate some of their portfolio into commodity funds (after having sold their bonds to the central bank) which may buy commodities in exchanges and expectations due to a price rise and speculation and myths may cause a price rise but this is quite different from his suggested dynamics. Or it may have an effect via a depreciation of the currency and change in the consumer price index due to a change in prices of foreign goods.  The question then is to what extent do what economists stress are important are actually important. 

Needless to say, the usual story from money to other things is misleading. The point however is that “how money is created” is a good starting point to understand macroeconomics.

Bank Of England On Money Creation

In the natural sciences, controversies are settled in a few months, or at a time of crisis, in a year or two, but in the social so-called sciences, absurd misunderstandings can continue for sixty or a hundred years without being cleared up.

– Joan Robinson, 1981 (1979), What Are The Questions And Other Essays – Further Contributions To Modern Economics, M.E. Sharpe

The latest Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin (2014 Q1) will be released on the 14th. It has pre-released two articles which go into money creation and the myths associated with it. 

The page is here. The second article Money creation in the modern economy may interest you more but the first is also readable.

Interestingly, the second pape refers to Post-Keynesians : Tom Palley’s 1996 book , Basil Moore’s 1988 book, a JPKE paper by Peter Howells and a 1981 paper by Nicholas Kaldor and J. Trevithick which discusses the reflux mechanism (reprinted in Kaldor’s Collected Economic Essays, Vol. 9). It also refers to James Tobin’s 1963 paper Commercial Banks As Creators Of “Money”. 

One negative is the omission of fiscal policy from the discussion altogether and emphasising monetary policy. This underplay of fiscal policy and overemphasis of monetary policy is one deep bias of the profession. The paper also has a slightly different emphasis on what determines the quantity of lending than emphasized by Post-Keynesians but I won’t go into it now. Still the page is worth a look. 

The full bulletin will be available on this page in a couple of days.

Update: The webpage for the full quarterly report is now available and it is here: Quarterly Bulletin 2014 Q1

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.