Tag Archives: newspaper clips

Endogeneity, Exogenous, Et Cetera

Louis-Philippe Rochon and Sergio Rossi have a very interesting article Endogenous Money: The Evolutionary Versus Revolutionary Views in the Review Of Keynesian Economics. I think it was written many years back and was in an unpublished form and has been published now. It is a nice critique of views of some Post-Keynesians such as Victoria Chick and also others such as Basil Moore. For instance, the paper quotes Moore’s view from 2001:

[w]hen money was a commodity, such as gold, with an inelastic supply, the total quantity of money in existence could realistically be viewed as exogenous.

Click the image to visit the ROKE website.


There are also some nice articles in a recent issue of JPKE on neoliberalism and the financial crisis.

Some gossip: The JPKE was initially supposed to have been called Journal of Keynesian Economics but it didn’t make it because the acronym would have been JOKE.

Also, Jayati Ghosh has written an excellent blog article on Thatcherism – the ‘triumph of private gain over social good’ (borrowing words from her).

Matias Vernengo has a recent blog post on the persistence of poverty in the United States. Which reminds me of an interview clip of Anwar Shaikh titled “The Sin Of Our Era”:

Back to formal matters.

What does it mean when an economist says words such as “endogenous”, “exogenous”? Most of the times, economists – mainstream economists – themselves confuse these terms and hence you see a lot of usage of these words in Post-Keynesian economics.

I was reading an article on econometrics by Fischer Black (of the Black-Scholes fame) titled The Trouble with Econometric Models

An exogenous variable is supposed to be a causal variable, if the structure of a model has economic meaning. In fact, it is usually just a variable that is put on the right-hand side of equations in a model, but not on the left-hand side.

Similarly, an endogenous variable is supposed to be a caused variable. In fact, it is usually just a variable that shows up at least once on the left-hand side of an equation

which is fair but there exists another language.

There is however another usage – that is in the control sense.

In an outstanding paper Federal Reserve “Defensive” Behavior And The Reverse Causation Argument, Raymond E. Lombra and Raymond G. Torto point out the following in the footnote:

Apparently no generally accepted concept of an endogenous money stock (or monetary base) has been defined. In statistical theory a variable is endogenous if it is jointly determined with other variables in the system. However, many monetary theorists have chosen to call a variable endogenous only if its magnitude is not under the control of policymakers. Such semantic problems have undoubtedly prolonged this debate.

For the money stock measure such as M1, M2 etc., there shouldn’t be any confusion. The trouble arises for things such as interest rates. For example, some economists may say that if inflation rises, the central bank may/will raise the short-term interest rate and it is endogenous while others will say it is up to the central bank to decide how much to change the interest rate, if at all. Such things lead to a lot of debate.

I like the latter usage (the control sense) but I think it is difficult to exclusively have the same usage.

The word “control” is also misunderstood. Here is a fine article on Wynne Godley in The Times from 16 June 1978 where he details on how misunderstood the word is:

Leading Economist Insists That You Cannot Control M3

(click to expand)

Margaret Thatcher’s Gigantic Con Trick

There have been too many praises for Mrs Thatcher after her death today.

Wynne Godley once described the Thatcher “miracle” as a gigantic con-trick. Here is from a newspaper article:

I regard the Thatcher miracle as a gigantic con-trick. Almost every major indicator – output, unemployment, industrial investment, and the balance of payments has performed poorly over the nine Thatcher years taken as a whole … The ‘con’ trick has been achieved by the enrichment of part of the community at the expense of a minority, by skilful but thorougly dishonest presentation of the facts, by the ruthless use of patronage and the exploitation of an ugly vein of populism in the British people.

– Wynne Godley in Why I Won’t Apologize, September 18, 1988, Observer. 

The article scan is below:

Wynne Godley - Why I Won't Apologize

Wynne Godley, Why I Won’t Apologize
(click to enlarge and click again)

Also see the papers which describes the right facts:

  1. Coutts, K. and Godley, W. (1989), The British Economy Under Mrs Thatcher. The Political Quarterly, 60: 137–151. (Link)
  2. Godley, W. (1990), The British Economy Under Mrs Thatcher: A Rejoinder. The Political Quarterly, 61: 101–102. (Link)

Thatcher’s bluff was caught very early by Godley. The huge rise in unemployment (to 3 million) was predicted first by Wynne Godley himself in 1979.

Reference: Godley W., ‘Britain’s chronic recession-can anything be done?’ in W. Beckerman (ed.) Slow Growth in Britain, Oxford University Press, 1979.

His King’s College Obituary (Annual Report, 2011) had this to say about Thatcherism:

Wynne rather relished his reputation as the ‘Cassandra of the Fens’. He famously made a double prediction: that under current policies of the first Thatcher government unemployment would inevitably rise to three million, but – the second prediction – that this would not in fact happen, on the grounds that, since in post-war Britain three million unemployed had to be an electoral suicide note, the policies would have to be changed. He was right with the first prediction, and – misreading the not-for-turning dispositions of the Iron Lady – wrong with the second. The actual outcomes appalled him. For Wynne the fundamental economic responsibility of a government was to ensure ‘full employment’. In pursuit of that aim he was uninhibited as Keynes himself and perhaps rather close in his motivation. He believed it was essential to use fiscal levers to stimulate demand, and was even prepared – though under very strict conditions – to countenance temporary import controls to protect and strengthen economic activity. His ideas were controversial and, like the man himself, often stood at an odd angle to the contemporary world, but the moral imagination which informed them was large and generous.

Minor edits on 9 April 2013, 5:28am GMT. 

Recommended Readings

The crisis has a lot of connections with the way Macroeconomics was done in the 1970s and this interests me a lot. Of course the equally important reason was that Nicholas Kaldor and Wynne Godley were highly involved in the public discussions. Here are some books I collected which have special importance to the Cambridge Economic Policy Group (CEPG):

I could manage to only get used copies of the first two books.

The book has the paper New Cambridge Macroeconomics And Global Monetarism – Some Issues In The Conduct Of U.K. Economic Policy, by Martin Fetherston and Wynne Godley and comments by others such as Alan Blinder – which I mentioned in the post Debt Monetization. The book is also available from Wiley but you have to pay $500+ for it!

This one got the title right – it wasn’t Keynesianism versus Monetarism. It was New Cambridge versus Keynesianism versus Monetarism.

The following book by Peter Kenway was first published in 1994 but was republished recently because the crisis has deep roots with debates in the 1970s!

It has nice discussions about the various types of income/expenditure models of the 1970s in the UK with a lot on the CEPG. It gives nice lists of all models – some of them here (via amazon.com preview):

Here’s a short autobiography by Wynne Godley (written around 1999) on how he dissented from the profession. Here’s a Google Books preview from the book A Biographical Dictionary of Dissenting Economists edited by Philip Arestis and Malcolm C. Sawyer

I like this:

 … I had extraordinary difficulty in understanding, not the sentences, but what real life state of affairs mainstream ‘neoclassical’ macroeconomics could possibly be held to be describing. I went through the standard textbooks on macroeconomics and then back to the underlying professional literature (the locus classicus being, as I now see it, Modigliani. 1944 and 1963). I taught myself how to draw the diagrams and solve the equation systems, but for years could not make any connection between these and the real world as I knew it…

One of the things which made Godley dissenting was the proposal to control imports as the paper title suggests:

(click for link to the journal)

This was met with huge hostility as a Times article (from the late 70s) shows. Economists confused it as “selective protectionism”:

(click to enlarge and click again)

G&L’s Monetary Economics – Second Edition

I got my copy of Monetary Economics by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie yesterday. I know some people were waiting for the second edition of the book, and had postponed their purchase to get the newer edition – so they can get it now!

There aren’t any changes in this edition – except for correction of some typos and that this edition is a paperback while the first one was hardcover. I already knew this as Marc Lavoie told me “don’t buy it” – but of course how can I not!

One thing I noticed is a nice summary by Wynne Godley which he wrote after the first edition was published.

Here’s an autograph from Marc Lavoie I got last year in May – live to tell!

I hope I live up to it :)

The first time I saw something called the Transactions Flow Matrix in a Levy Institute paper, I rushed to buy the book. When I started reading it, it became clear that nobody has ever come close to it! After a while – and solving the models on a computer gives one greater intuition – it slowly started becoming clear to me why so much effort has been put in.

Wynne Godley always wanted to write a textbook to help others understand Cambridge Keynesianism, as he often thought that while top economists from Cambridge knew how economies work together, they never attempted to share this knowledge. I think his aim was also to sharpen his own knowledge and to think of scenarios which one may not be able to foresee using simple arguments.

With this aim, he made a first attempt with his partner at “New Cambridge”, Francis Cripps.

I really like this from the book’s introduction:

… Our objective is most emphatically a practical one. To put it crudely, economics has got into an infernal muddle. This would be deplorable enough if the disorder was simply an academic matter. Unfortunately the confusion extends into the formation of economic policy itself. It has become pretty obvious that the governments of many countries, whatever their moral or political priorities, have no valid scientific rationale for their policies. Despite emphatic rhetoric they do know what the consequences of their actions are going to be. Moreover, in a highly interdependent world system this confusion extends to the dealings of governments with one another who now have no rational basis for negotiation.

This was a great book but didn’t receive much attention except for a small group who thought (rightly!) it was a work of genius. He wanted to do more and so we see him mention in an article on him – praising his prescience on writing the fate of the British economy on the wall in the 70s and the 80s. Here’s from the Guardian:

… What I’m doing is abolishing economics as currently understood, conducting an enormous sanitary operation upon a very clogged profession. I’m going to push a dose of salts through that system. It is a ruthless application of logic and accountancy to macroeconomics.

(click to enlarge and click again)

When Wynne Godley lost the partnership of Francis Cripps (whom Wynne called the smartest Economist he ever met), he was forced to do a lot of things himself and probably felt somewhat alone. After writing some amazing papers in the 1990s, he needed someone like Cripps to write a book. Fortunately he met Marc Lavoie and they collabrated for many years in writing papers and articles and finally the book.

Marc Lavoie recalls the memories in this article from the Godley conference last year.

In an article A Foxy Hedgehog: Wynne Godley And Macroeconomic Modelling – reviewing the book and Wynne Godley’s models, Lance Taylor says:

The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.

… Surely someone who puts so much effort into one complicated construct is more like Plato than Aristotle, Einstein than Feynman, Proust than Joyce.

Open Mouth Operations

In the previous post Is Paul Krugman A Verticalist?, I discussed the confusions economists and market commentators have on open market operations. Even top economists such as Krugman suffer from confusions on central banking and monetary matters.

I also mentioned the work of Alfred Eichner on bringing out more clarity on the defensive nature of open market operations. Let’s look at these matters more closely.

Before this let’s look at what people in general think. Most people think of open market operations as some kind of extra activity on the part of the central bank in collaboration with the bureau of engraving and printing and think of it as operational implementation of Milton Friedman’s helicopter drops! So when a central bank such as the Federal Reserve changes its target on interest rates – such as lowering the “Fed Funds target rate”, people start commenting as if the Federal Reserve is undertaking a mystical operation.

This is Monetarist or Verticalist intuition. It is easy to show that open market operations have nothing to do with fiscal policy and as we saw in the previous blog – very little with monetary policy itself. The open market operation of the central bank is not an income/expenditure flow such as government expenditure flows or tax flows and the former does not affect the net worth of the change the net worth of either the domestic private or the foreign sector. Hence it is hardly fiscal. Yet commentators and economists keep arguing that the central bank is “injecting money” into the economy!

Even Paul Krugman erred on some of these matters and was shown how to do good economics by Scott Fullwiler in his post Krugman’s Flashing Neon Sign. Missing everything Fullwiler was saying, Krugman wrote another post A Teachable Money Moment which has the following diagram:

Below we will see how Krugman’s Neoclassical/New Keynesian (whichever) intuition is flawed.

Setting Interest Rates

These matters (the public understanding) have become worse ever since the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world started purchasing government debt in the open markets on a large scale – in programs called Large Scale Asset Purchases (also called “QE”). In the following I will consider cases when there is no “asset purchase program” by the central bank and tackle this issue later in another post.

A simple case to highlight how a central bank defends an interest rate (as opposed to changing it) is considering the corridor system. There target for overnight rates is usually at the midpoint of this “corridor”. At the lower end of the corridor banks get paid interest on their settlement balances they keep at the central bank while at the upper end it is the rate at which the central bank lends.

Because banks settle among each other on the books of the central bank, this gives the latter to fix the short-term rates and indirectly influence long term rates.

Why do banks need to settle with each other?

One of the first economists to understand the endogenous nature of money was Sir Dennis Holme Roberston who used to work for the Bank of England. In 1922, he wrote a nice book simply titled Money.

 From page 52:

. . . If A who banks at bank X pays a cheque for £10 to B who banks at bank Y, then Bank Y, when it gets the cheque from B, will present it for payment to Bank X: and bank X will meet its obligation by drawing a cheque for £10 on its chequery at the Bank of England. As a matter of fact, the stream of transactions of this nature between big banks is so large and steady in all directions that the banks are enabled to cancel most of them out by an institution called the clearing-house:  but the existence of these chequeries at the Bank of England facilitates the payment of any balance which it may not be possible at the moment to deal with in this way …

Because banks finally settle at the central bank finally, central banks have learned since their creation that they can set interest rates. This is strongest at the short end of the “yield curve” but directly or indirectly central banks also influence long term rates.

At the end of each day, some banks will be left with excess of settlement balances (if they see more inflows than outflows) and some banks will face the opposite situation. Because they need to satisfy a reserve requirement at the central bank (which can be zero as well), some banks would need to borrow funds from others. Borrowing means paying back with interest and this is where the central bank’s ability to target rates comes enters the picture.

For suppose some bank X needs funds and other banks wish to lend bank X at a very high interest rate. In this scenario bank X can simply borrow from the central bank, while other banks who demanded higher interest will see themselves with excess settlement balances earning less than the target rate. So it would have been better for the latter to have lent than keep excess balances. (Of course the qualifier is that these things are valid under scenarios when there is less stress on the financial system). Also with the same logic, the rate at which banks lend each other will not fall below the corridor because it will be foolish of a bank to have lent settlement balances to another bank when it could have earned higher by just keeping excess settlement balances at the central bank.

Here is a diagram from the post Corridors And Floors In Monetary Policy from FRBNY’s blog which explains central bank’s operations:

The other system as per this post is the floor system – in which the central bank’s target is the interest paid on settlement balances itself, rather than the midpoint of any corridor. This is what has been followed by the US Federal Reserve in recent times.

Back to the corridor system, an important question arises. Hopefully the reader is convinced that the overnight rate at which banks lend each other is between the corridor. However it is still unclear how and why the central bank can keep it at the midpoint.

If the central bank and the bankers understand the system well, it is possible for the central bank to be quite perfect in this. This happens for example in the case of Canada, where the bank is quite accurate in its objective.

The reason is that the central bank can easily add and subtract settlement balances by various means.

Take an example. Suppose the interest on reserves is 2.25%, the target is 3.00% and the discount rate – the rate at which the central bank lends overnight – 3.75%. If the central bank observes that banks are lending each other at 3.25% – slightly away from the target of 3.00%, it can simply create excess balances. Among the many ways, there are two –

  1. purchase/sale of government securities and/or repurchase/reverse repurchase agreements.
  2. shifts of government deposits from the central bank account into the Treasury’s account at banks or the opposite.

So the central bank knows how the curve in the figure above looks like and adds/subtracts settlement balances by the above methods (mainly). So banks are lending each other at 3.25%, the central bank will add settlement balances; if they are lending each other at 2.75% – the central bank will drain settlement balances.

More generally the “threat” by the central bank is reasonably sufficient to make banks lend at the target!

Open Mouth Operations

Let us suppose the central bank had been targeting 3.00% for three months now and decides to decrease rates.

What does it do?

Almost nothing!

The announcement itself will make banks gravitate toward the new target!

In his paper Monetary Base Endogeneity And The New Features Of The Asset-Based Canadian And American Monetary Systems, Marc Lavoie says:

When they [central banks] are not accommodating—that is, when they are pursuing “dynamic” operations as Victoria Chick (1977, p. 89) calls them—central banks will increase (or decrease) interest rates. As shown above, to do so, they now need to simply announce a new higher target overnight rate. The actual overnight rate will gravitate toward this new anchor within the day of the announcement. No open-market operation and no change whatsoever in the supply of high-powered money are required.

Hence the term “open mouth operations” which was coined by Julian Wright and Greame Guthrie in their paper Market-Implemented Monetary Policy with Open Mouth Operations.

Open Market Operations

The above paper by Marc Lavoie is an excellent source for open market operations and looking at central banking from an endogenous money viewpoint.

I mentioned in the previous post that the open market operations are defensive. In my analysis in this post till now, I ignored the factors which cause settlement balances of the banking sector as a whole to change. Let us bring in this complication.

Apart from banks, the Treasury – the domestic government’s fiscal arm – and other institutions such as foreign central banks, governments and international official institutions (such as the IMF) also keep an account at the (domestic) central bank. When these institutions transact, there is an addition/subtraction of banks’ settlement balances at the central banks.

Here’s one example. Suppose the Treasury transfers funds of $1m to a contractor for settlement of a project done by the latter. When the funds are transferred, the contractor’s bank account increases by $1m and the bank in which he banks sees its deposits and settlement balances rise by $1m while the central bank will reduce the Treasury’s deposits by $1m.

This may lead to a deviation of banks’ lending rate to each other and the central bank needs to drain reserves. The central bank can achieve this by shifting government funds at a bank into the central bank account. If the central bank transfers $1m of funds, banks’ deposits and settlement balances reduce by $1m and the Treasury’s account at the central bank will increase by $1m.

This is not an “open market operation” but another way of adding/draining reserves. In general, depending on institutional setups, the central bank may also do purchase/sale of government securities and/or repurchase agreements.

But this has nothing to do with policy itself – rather it is to maintain status quo. (Of course “large scale asset purchases” is a slightly different matter – first one needs to understand the corridor system).

In other words, this is a defensive behaviour on part of the central bank.

Alfred Eichner

In the previous post and in Alfred Eichner And Federal Reserve Operating Procedures, I mentioned about the contribution of Eichner. In an essay in honour, Alfred Eichner, Post Keynesians, And Money’s Endogeneity – Filling In The Horizontalist Black Box, (from the book Money And Macrodynamics – Alfred Eichner And Post-Keynesian Economics) Louis-Philippe Rochon says:

For Eichner, the overall or “primary objective [of the central bank], in conducting its open market operations, is to ensure the liquidity of the banking system,” which applies to either the accommodating or defensive roles. In either case, Eichner argues that “the Fed’s open market operations are largely an endogenous response to . . . the need both to offset the flows into and out of the domestic monetary-financial system and to provide banks with the reserves they require”; that is, resulting from the demand for money and the demand for credit respectively (1987, 847, 851).

And while the accommodating argument has been debated at length by post-Keynesians, the defensive role has been virtually ignored and only recently rediscovered (see Rochon 1999). Yet it is certainly Eichner’s greatest contribution to the post-Keynesian theory of endogenous money. . .

. . . The “defensive” behavior is defined by Eichner as the “component of the Fed’s open market operations [consisting] of buying or selling government securities so that, on net balance, it offsets these flows into or out of the monetary-financial system,” leaving the overall amount of reserves unchanged. This is the result of changes in portfolio decisions and increases or decreases in bank (demand) deposits. As a result of an increase in the nonbank’s desire to hold currency, for instance, “in order to maintain bank reserves at the same level, the Fed will need to purchase in the open market government securities equal in value to whatever additional currency the nonbank public has decided to hold” (Eichner 1987, 847).

In making the distinction between temporary and permanent open market operations, Rochon also quotes Scott Fullwiler:

Outright or permanent open market operations are primarily undertaken to offset the drain to Fed balances due to currency withdrawals by bank depositors. . . . Temporary open market operations are aimed at keeping the federal funds rate at its target on average through temporary additions to or subtractions from the quantity of Fed balances. Temporary operations attempt to offset changes in Fed balances due to daily or otherwise temporary fluctuations in the Treasury’s account, float, currency, and other parts of the Fed’s balance sheet, in as much as is necessary to meet bank’s demand for Fed balances. (2003, 857)

Paul Krugman

All this is completely opposite of Paul Krugman’s position that

. . . And currency is in limited supply — with the limit set by Fed decisions.

And Krugman’s mistake is not minor – it seems he is completely unaware of the huge difference money endogeneity makes.

So what is the difference between Krugman’s diagram and the one from FRBNY blog – even though they look similar? The difference is that the latter is descriptive of behaviour when policy is unchanged and is useful for describing open market operations etc while Krugman uses the same to describe policy changes – which in reality happen via open mouth operations. Paul Krugman confuses open market operations and open mouth operations. So much for a “teachable money moment”.

Krugman also shows his Monetarist intuition by claiming:

And which point on that curve it chooses has large implications for the economy as a whole. In particular, the Fed can always choke off a private-sector credit boom by moving up and to the left.

implying that the central bank in reality controls the monetary base and thence the money stock.

Some Post Keynesians argued since long ago that the central bank cannot control the money stock:

Here’s on Wynne Godley from from The Times, 16 June 1978:

(click to enlarge)

Martin Wolf Pays A Generous Tribute To Anthony Thirlwall

Readers of this blog will notice how I attach special importance to the balance of payments in telling the story of how economies work.

In a recent blog post Can one have balance of payments crises in a currency union? at FT, Martin Wolf refers to the work of Anthony Thirlwall – who has made great contributions to the Kaldorian story of growth of nations.

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

The following article on the Euro appeared in the Financial Times on 9 October 1991 and the FT link of the article is here.

The whole blog post is written nicely by Martin Wolf and although lacking the Kaldorian punch, definitely worth reading.

Let us start at the most basic level: that of the individual. Can individuals have a balance of payments crisis? Certainly.

: -)

Thirwall and his colleague John McCombie wrote this supremely insightful book in 1994 titled Economic Growth and the Balance of Payments Constraint

Updated 18 Mar 2014 (Broken link removed). 

Imbalances Looking For A Policy

… and not Infernal Muddles

Readers of this blog may be aware of my fanhood for Wynne Godley and the title of this post is from a paper by him from 2004, although it was US-centric. This post is on imbalances in the Euro Area.

Wynne had not only always foreseen crises, but also knew about the muddle in the public debate and in academia both before and after the crises and the policy space available to resolve the crisis. Here’s from the short paper:

The public discussion is fractured. There are vacuous suggestions coming from sections of Wall Street that Goldilocks has been reincarnated and everything is fine. There are right-wing voices calling unconditionally for cuts in the budget deficit. The Bush administration seems complacent and, thank goodness, is not being convinced about cutting the federal budget deficit any time soon. Many are concerned about the current account deficit. Some of them fear a big and “disorderly” devaluation of the dollar while others think the dollar isn’t falling enough. No one has a clear idea about what can actually be done, by whom, and when. I have no sense that anyone who pontificates on these matters (outside the Levy Institute!) does so with the benefit of a comprehensive stock-flow model—the indispensable basis for competent strategic thinking.

In his 1983 book Macroeconomics, with Francis Cripps, he wrote:

… Our objective is most emphatically a practical one. To put it crudely, economics has got into an infernal muddle. This would be deplorable enough if the disorder was simply an academic matter. Unfortunately the confusion extends into the formation of economic policy itself. It has become pretty obvious that the governments of many countries, whatever their moral or political priorities, have no valid scientific rationale for their policies. Despite emphatic rhetoric they do know what the consequences of their actions are going to be. Moreover, in a highly interdependent world system this confusion extends to the dealings of governments with one another who now have no rational basis for negotiation.

Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union published for the first time today the indicators of the “Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure Scoreboard”.

The Headline Indicators Statistical Information release provides detailed data (since 1995) for current account imbalances, the net international investment position, share of world exports, private credit flow (net incurrence of liabilities discussed in the previous post), private debt and the general government debt for the EU27 countries not just EA17. People a bit familiar about Post Keynesian Stock-flow coherent macro models will be aware of the connection between these.

The flow accounting identity


where NL is the Net Lending of the private sector to the rest of the world, PSBR is the Public Sector Borrowing Requirement, equal to the government’s deficit and BP is the current balance of payments (or simply the current account balance) adds to stocks of assets and liabilities via the short-hand equation (also mentioned in the previous post)

Closing Stocks = Opening Stocks + Flows + Revaluations

and hence the connection between the stocks and flows mentioned by Eurostat. The report also provides data for Real Effective Exchange Rates, Normal Unit Labour Costs, evolution of House Prices (which rise faster in booms and do the opposite in busts) relative to prices of final consumption expenditure of households.

The Euro Area was formed with the “intuition” that by having a single currency, among other advantages – the nations would not have balance-of-payments problems at all.

Wynne Godley saw this muddle as early as 1991:

(click to expand in a new tab)

Writing for The Observer where he said:

… But more disturbing still is the notion that with a common currency the ‘balance or payments problem’ is eliminated and therefore that individual countries are relieved of the need to pay for their imports with exports.

Quite the reverse: the existence or a common currency makes a country more directly dependent on its ability to sell exports and import substitutes than it was before, particularly as it will then possess no means whereby it can (in the broadest sense) protect itself against failure.

and that:

… If we are to proceed creatively towards EMU, it is essential to break out of the vicious circle of ‘negative integration’— the process by which power is progressively removed from individual governments without there being any positive, organic, all-European alternative to transcend it. The nightmare is that the whole country, not just the countryside becomes at best a prairie, at worst a derelict area.

The Eurostat is a statistical organization and its job is to report and maybe suggest some policies to the policy makers. It has rightly identified the imbalances which are looking for a policy. Unfortunately, these imbalances are typically brought to a balance (or at least attempted to) by deflating demand and hence reducing output and increasing unemployment. The recent treaty changes with a new “fiscal compact” shows what the policy makers are trying to do. But they do not realize its implications!

Here’s from a 1995 article A Critical Imbalance in U.S. Trade written by Godley:

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.

and also in The United States And Her Creditors: Can The Symbiosis Last? (link) from 2005:

A well-known accounting identity says that the current account balance is equal, by definition, to the gap between national saving and investment. (The current account balance is exports minus imports, plus net flows of certain types of cross-border income.) All too often, the conclusion is drawn that a current account deficit can be cured by raising national saving—and therefore that the government should cut its budget deficit. This conclusion is illegitimate, because any improvement in the current account balance would only come about if the fiscal restriction caused a recession. But in any case, the balance between saving and investment in the economy as a whole is not a satisfactory operational concept because it aggregates two sectors (government and private) that are separately motivated and behave in entirely different ways.

The European Commission has taken the report and produced another titled “Alert Mechanism Report” which has this table called “MIP Scoreboard” which highlights the imbalances in grey:

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and makes observations on many individual nations – e.g., for Spain:

Spain: the economy is currently going through an adjustment period, following the build-up of large external and internal imbalances during the extended housing and credit boom in the years prior to the crisis. The current account has shown significant deficits, which have started to decrease recently in the context of the severe economic slowdown and on the back of an improving export performance, but remain above the indicative threshold. Since 2008 losses in price and cost competitiveness have partially reversed. While the adjustment of imbalances is on-going, the absorption of the large stocks of internal and external debt and the reallocation of the resources freed from the construction sector will take time to restore more balanced conditions. The contraction in employment linked to the downsizing of the construction sector and the economic recession has been aggravated by a sluggish adjustment of wages, fuelling rising unemployment.

The above is reminiscent of the Monetarist experiments of the 70s and the 80s where wages are squeezed by deflating demand (resulting in reducing employment instead of increasing it). No suggestion is made on how wages are to be negotiated. While I do not yet the best way to say the following, here it is: while wages are cost to firms, they are incomes to households and this strategy puts higher pressure on the fall in demand and creates a more recessionary scenario.

The Euro Area had no central government which is responsible for demand management in the broadest sense and individual nations having forgotten Keynesian principles, had haphazard policies from the start. In some nations, governments had a more relaxed fiscal stance but it was not seen in their budget balances because the domestic private sectors were happily involved in having its expenditure higher than income – adding to stronger growth and hence higher tax revenues. Thus the budget balance was seen under control. In others, this may have been the result of the private sector itself contributing to most of the increase in domestic demand by high net borrowing. The high growth in private sector incomes also led to deterioration in external balances of the weaker nations and the whole process was allowed to go due to irresponsible behaviour of the financial sector which was underpricing risk. Everyone was acting as if there was no balance-of-payments constraint (sectoral imbalances in general) which will hit hard someday.

When the crisis hit, governments realized that they had given up the ultimate protection (and simultaneously the lenders to governments) – making a draft at their home central bank.

Let me offer an intuition on sectoral balances in general and not just for the Euro Area. While it is true that a “good” sectoral balance is one in which all the “three financial balances” are near zero, it is important that policy be designed (and bargained at an international level) so that these balances are brought to their preferred paths of staying near zero in the medium term without affecting the aim of full employment.

So imagine a closed economy. Most economists would suggest that – under certain conditions – the government should design policy to aim to reach a budget surplus (or a primary surplus) but this comes at the cost of lower demand and higher employment and hence a poor strategy. A higher fiscal stance – as opposed to targeting a balanced budget – will automatically lead to primary surpluses in the medium term because of the increase in demand and national income leading to increases in the government’s tax receipts. In open economies this gets complicated. Under the current arrangement a unilateral fiscal expansion by a nation such as Spain is ruled out because this will bring about a return to high current account deficits because of a faster rise in domestic demand than domestic output putting the nation on a different unsustainable path.

Now this may sound like TINA – but it is not if one thinks of alternative strategies which are aimed at bring the three financial balances from getting out of hand but with a coordinated fiscal reflation. However, this is difficult without there being institutional means of achieving the desired outcome and hence there is an urgent need for a more integrated Europe with higher spending and taxing powers for the European Parliament (unlike the 2% budget rule of Charles Goodhart) which will be induced in substantial fiscal transfers. Competitiveness also needs to be addressed but the powers of the government go beyond fiscal policy alone and policies need to be designed in a more integrated Europe which reduce transfer addiction such as a common wages policy as suggested by George Irvin and Alex Izurieta in their article Fundamental Flaws In The European Project (August 2011):

Policy action is necessary if these trade imbalances are gradually to disappear. Crucially, labour productivity must increase faster in the deficit countries than in the surplus countries, an aim difficult to achieve unless proactive fiscal policy and infrastructure investment trigger a modernising wave of “crowding in” private investment. This means that Europe must redistribute investment resources from rich to poor regions. In addition, if higher labour productivity growth is to be achieved in the periphery, a “common wages policy” (not to be confused with a common wage) must be adopted which better aligns wage and productivity growth and sustains aggregate demand. This will not be achieved with wage disparities exercising a deflationary impact on the union. In the absence of national exchange rate realignment, adjustment must take place through a regional wage bargaining process.

Update: The European Commission background paper “Scoreboard For The Surveillance Of Macroeconomic Imbalances” is available at here

Macdougall Report

Charles Goodhart and Dirk Schoenmaker just released their article on a game plan for saving the Euro, which is approaching its endgame. According to them,

An EZ Minister of Finance without money is like an emperor without clothes. There are proposals to have tax capacity capable of funding a budget of about 2% of European GDP (Marzinotto et al 2011; Goodhart 2011). This 2% should cover most eventualities, including effective stabilisation policies. Yet there may be exceptional circumstances, for example, relating to banking resolution where more is needed (the deep pockets of government).

Given the severe imbalances in the Euro Area, this looks too low. Really 2%? A recent empirical study done by The Economist for the United States suggests otherwise.

What is wrong with the Euro Area? Wynne Godley said this best in an article (written in 1991) in The Observer titled “Commonsense Route To A Common Europe”. Scan here

But more disturbing still is the notion that with a common currency the ‘balance or payments problem’ is eliminated and therefore that individual countries are relieved of the need to pay for their imports with exports.

Quite the reverse: the existence or a common currency makes a country more directly dependent on its ability to sell exports and import substitutes than it was before, particularly as it will then possess no means whereby it can (in the broadest sense) protect itself against failure.

All of this was recognised in the Macdougall Report of 1977 which correctly argued that if a monetary union were not later to fly apart it would be necessary to have a Community budget at least seven times larger than existed then, with most of the increase going into the social and regional fund. The object of having a greatly enlarged budget would, of course, be to carry out the kind of fiscal equalisation that is at present performed by national budgets, and which is essential if a minimum standard of living is to be maintained throughout the Community.

[emphasis added ;-)]

The Macdougall Report is available from the European Commission website: Part 1 and Part 2. Haven’t read it, so my knowledge is restricted to the above quote, and it adds to my huge list of things to do.

At the time of writing, I believe the situation was much different. The imbalances in the “three sectors” (public, private and external) is now severe in the Euro Area. (Three for each country, so actually 17 x 3)

Sir Donald Macdougall died in 2004 and according to The Guardian‘s obituary:

His career – as an Oxford don, a London “special adviser”, a mover and shaker in Whitehall and Westminster – started before the second world war, and wound down with skilful “letters to the editor” against the euro.

There have been so many proposals on attempts to rescue the Euro Area. Ideas termed “monetary financing” by the European Central Bank carry tremendous risks of exacerbating imbalances within the Euro Area, because nations will keep relying on the Eurosystem’s financing and is a potential political time-bomb. And, there are those simpletons, who argue that nations should just walk away! As if …

To me, it looks as if the European leaders know that the size of the central government and the fiscal transfers would be substantial given Macdougall’s estimations were done when the situation was much different and a redoing may prove this. It is the political unacceptability of this, which will finally lead to Eurocalypse.

Same Old, Same Old

John Cassidy of The New Yorker comments on the failed austerity policies in the UK:

During the past eighteen months, a callow and arrogant Chancellor of the Exchequer, empowered by a hands-off Prime Minister and backed by the bulk of the country’s financial and media establishment, has needlessly brought Britain to the brink of another recession by embracing draconian spending cuts that hark back to the early nineteen-thirties. Rather than changing course and taking measures to boost growth, the Conservative-Liberal coalition is doubling down on austerity. On Tuesday, it announced plans to extend its cuts for two more years, until 2016-2017. “Until now, we had been thinking of four years of cuts as unprecedented in modern times,” Paul Johnson, the director of the non-partisan Institute for Fiscal Studies, said. “Six years looks even more extraordinary.”

The following was written in The Guardian in early 1981. Click to enlarge. And click again to enlarge.

According to FT,

In the early 1980s, when recovery from global recession was slow, the jobless rate more than doubled, soaring from 5.3 per cent in August 1979 to 11.9 per cent in 1984.

13 quarters were required to recover the output drop, according to the BoE Inflation Report, February 2009

Seems nothing has changed in the last 30 years! Although, the Bank of England has dropped the bank rate to 0.5%, the present budget policies of the UK Government is a hangover of Thatcherism.

Commonsense Route To A Common Europe

If you read my posts or look at the “Tag Cloud” on the right, you will recognize what a big fan of Wynne Godley I am :-).

Above is an Observer article from 1991. Click the newspaper clip to enlarge.

Quoting from the end of the article:

If we are to proceed creatively towards EMU, it is essential to break out of the vicious circle of ‘negative integration’— the process by which power is progressively removed from individual governments without there being any positive, organic, all-European alternative to transcend it. The nightmare is that the whole country, not just the countryside becomes at best a prairie, at worst a derelict area.

Updated 12 Oct 2014 6:02pm UTC