Tag Archives: john maynard keynes

Disappointing Start, Mr. Bernanke

Ben Bernanke has a new blog at Brookings.

In his second post, Why are interest rates so low?, Bernanke “explains the rationale behind the Federal Reserve’s continued policies”. We should be thankful to Bernanke for his leadership qualities to have kept interest rates low to help the world economy recover from a crisis. The latest post however ends up just stating the standard neoclassical economics story: a hugely inaccurate way of looking at the world. Keynes himself debunked many such notions.

First he starts off with the notion of the Wicksellian interest rate.

To understand why this is so [“Why are interest rates so low?”], it helps to introduce the concept of the equilibrium real interest rate (sometimes called the Wicksellian interest rate, after the late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Swedish economist Knut Wicksell). The equilibrium interest rate is the real interest rate consistent with full employment of labor and capital resources, perhaps after some period of adjustment. Many factors affect the equilibrium rate, which can and does change over time. In a rapidly growing, dynamic economy, we would expect the equilibrium interest rate to be high, all else equal, reflecting the high prospective return on capital investments.

Full employment in the United States? When did this happen? Keynes himself rejected this (see here) (quote h/t Lars Syll).

Keynes said:

In my Treatise on Money I defined what purported to be a unique rate of interest, which I called the natural rate of interest—namely, the rate of interest which, in the terminology of my Treatise, preserved equality between the rate of saving (as there defined) and the rate of investment. I believed this to be a development and clarification of Wicksell’s ‘natural rate of interest’, which was, according to him, the rate which would preserve the stability of some, not quite clearly specified, price-level.

I had, however, overlooked the fact that in any given society there is, on this definition, a different natural rate of interest for each hypothetical level of employment. And, similarly, for every rate of interest there is a level of employment for which that rate is the ‘natural’ rate, in the sense that the system will be in equilibrium with that rate of interest and that level of employment. Thus it was a mistake to speak of the natural rate of interest or to suggest that the above definition would yield a unique value for the rate of interest irrespective of the level of employment. I had not then understood that, in certain conditions, the system could be in equilibrium with less than full employment.

I am now no longer of the opinion that the [Wicksellian] concept of a ‘natural’ rate of interest, which previously seemed to me a most promising idea, has anything very useful or significant to contribute to our analysis. It is merely the rate of interest which will preserve the status quo; and, in general, we have no predominant interest in the status quo as such.

Ben Bernanke then says:

Large deficits will tend to increase the equilibrium real rate (again, all else equal), because government borrowing diverts savings away from private investment.

This again confuses the direction of causality from saving to investment among other things. Bernanke himself is a witness to the fact that large US government deficits didn’t have such effects. Economists such as Paul Krugman have an explanation for this, claiming this is untrue when the economy is in a “liquidity trap” but think this is the case. A large deficit has the private sector net lending as the mirror image and there’s no reason for interest rates to necessarily rise because of large deficits. Ben Bernanke is simply repeating economists’ favourite “crowding out” argument.

Ben Shalom Bernanke. Huge disappointment.

Anthony Thirlwall’s New Book On Keynesian And Kaldorian Economics

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

Book website here

Anthony Thirlwall - Essays On Keynesian And Kaldorian Economics


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

Table of Contents


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

Anthony-P-ThirlwallAnthony Thirlwall

Separated at Birth? The Twin Budget and Trade Balances

The International Monetary Fund, IMF has one full chapter devoted to the subject of “twin deficits” in their latest issue of World Economic Outlook. The subject of “twin deficits” is full of complications and can invoke the deepest emotions from economists. Naively, the argument goes as follows: The “three financial balances” identity can be written as


where NAFA, DEF and BP stand for the Net Acquisition of Financial Assets of the private sector, Government Deficit, and the current Balance of International Payments. From the above, if the government deficit increases, for a constant NAFA (rather a constant NAFA/GDP), an increase in DEF causes BP to reduce, i.e., reduces the current account balance or causes the current account deficit to increase.

Now, this is hardly the best way to put it – because it is mistaking an accounting identity for a behavioural relationship. For example, in conjecturing, one is implicitly assuming that the budget deficit is exogenous or fixed by the government. It is then argued that to reduce the current account deficit (or BP with a minus sign), the government should cut its budget deficit.

There is some truth to “twin deficits”, in my opinion. A lot actually! However, conclusions from any analysis need to be studied in a proper framework and stock-flow coherent macroeconomics is the only way to do this. Money is automatically endogenous in “SFC” models – it cannot be otherwise.

The government sets its fiscal policy or fiscal stance. This can be approximated to be G/θ, where G is for government expenditures and θ is the tax rate (as opposed to total taxes). The budget deficit is out of the control of the government and is dependent among other things, the private sector propensity to consume, the exports and imports. Assuming exports remain constant, relaxing the fiscal stance (i.e., an increase of G/θ) leads to an increase in domestic demand, ceteris paribus. An increase in demand leads to an increase in imports. (If people have higher incomes, they will purchase more imported products). This leads to the widening of the current account deficit and hence through the sectoral balances identity a widening of the budget deficit.

Various things can be said about what is written in the last paragraph. Take the case when ceteris is not paribus. An increase in the propensity to save (i.e., a decrease in propensity to consume) can lead to a higher NAFA and DEF  and increasing BP (as a result of lower domestic demand and hence lower imports).

Come back to ceteris paribus: assume that demand abroad has increased for some reason. This could be due to an increase in the fiscal stance of the foreign government or a private sector led credit expansion abroad. This will lead to an increase in exports for the country we are discussing. So in such a scenario, an increase in the fiscal stance – up to some limit – will not lead to a widening of CAD, i.e., decrease in BP.

Wynne Godley put it best in a Levy article in 1995 (always perfect with his wording):

Refuting the “Saving is Too Low” Argument 

It is sometimes held that, in the words of the Economist (May 27. 1995, p. 18), “America’s current account deficit is enormous because its citizens save so little and its government spends too much.” The basis for this proposition is the accounting identity that says that the private sector’s surplus of saving over investment is always equal to the government’s deficit plus (or minus) the current account surplus (or deficit). As this relationship invariably holds by the laws of logic, it can be said with certainty that if private saving were to increase given the budget deficit or if the budget deficit were to be reduced given private saving, the current account balance would be found to have improved by an exactly equal amount. But an accounting identity, though useful as a basis for consistent thinking about the problem can tell us nothing about why anything happens. In my view, while it is true by the laws of logic that the current balance of payments always equals the public deficit less the private financial surplus, the only causal relationship linking the balances (given trade propensities) operates through changes in the level of output at home and abroad. Thus a spontaneous increase in household saving or a spontaneous reduction in the budget deficit (say, as a result of cuts in public expenditure) would bring about an improvement in the external deficit only because either would induce a fall in total demand and output, with lower imports as a consequence.

How is protectionism related to all this? When nations face severe balance of payments issues, they are forced to deflate demand in order to bring the balance of payments at sustainable levels. If that doesn’t work either, nations may try to directly reduce imports. This works via reducing the propensity to import and hence imports. However, it is difficult to take such a step because it can lead to retaliation. As John Maynard Keynes once put it:

During most of the period in which the modern world has been evolved … the failure to solve this problem has been a major cause of impoverishment and social discontent and even of wars and revolutions.

i.e., the failure to resolve the balance of payments problem. The only way to peacefully resolve this issue is by working toward a solution which is good for all. Even the Bank of England (and Mervyn King) has realized this. Else we will just have a long period of low demand and high unemployment, leading to social unrest. More on that some other time.

[Update, 3 Jan 2012: Fixed some errors]