Tag Archives: wynne godley

Stephen Roach, Accounting Identities And Behavioural Relationships

A well known economic identity states:

Snational = Inational + CAB

where Snational and Inational are national saving and national investment and CAB is the current account balance of international payments. In calculating national saving and investment, one adds saving and investment, respectively, of all resident sectors of the economy.

However, an accounting identity shouldn’t be confused with behavioural relationships.

Steven Roach is a good economist and it’s sad to see him confusing this. In a recent article for Project Syndicate titled America’s Trade Deficit Begins at Home, he uses this identity to conclude that if America wants to reduce her trade deficit, the solution is more saving.

Roach says:

What the candidates won’t tell the American people is that the trade deficit and the pressures it places on hard-pressed middle-class workers stem from problems made at home. In fact, the real reason the US has such a massive multilateral trade deficit is that Americans don’t save.

Total US saving – the sum total of the saving of families, businesses, and the government sector – amounted to just 2.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2015. That is a 0.6-percentage-point drop from a year earlier and less than half the 6.3% average that prevailed during the final three decades of the twentieth century.

Any basic economics course stresses the ironclad accounting identity that saving must equal investment at each and every point in time. Without saving, investing in the future is all but impossible.

A little thought on behavioural relationships tell a different story. The main causality connecting accounting identities is behaviour of demand and output at home and abroad. While it is true that by accounting identity, the U.S. current account balance will improve by more saving (such as households saving more, firms retaining higher earnings and government (both at the federal and state level) attempting to increase its saving tighten fiscal policy, it happens via a contraction of output.

Wynne Godley was one who stressed this before the crisis. In his paper The United States And Her Creditors: Can The Symbiosis Last? written with Dimitri Papadimitrou, Claudio Dos Santos and Gennaro Zezza, this is made clear:

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. We prefer to use the accounting identity (tautology) that divides the economy into three sectors rather than two—the current account balance, the general government’s budget deficit, and the private sector’s surplus of disposable income over expenditure (net saving)—as a tool to bring coherence to the discussion of strategic issues. It is hardly necessary to add that little or nothing can be learned from these financial balances measured ex post until we know a great deal more about what else has happened in the economy—in particular, how the level of output has changed

[boldening: mine]

This was pre-crisis from a few who were avowed Keynesians all their life! It’s unfortunate to see Steve Roach make an error even after so many years into the global economic and financial crisis. One should study Keynes seriously. While I am sure Roach appreciates the paradox of thrift, he forgets applying it to the analysis of United States of America’s trade deficits.

Being Keynesian In The Short Term And Classical In The Long Term

I am not. But the post is about the possibility. The title is borrowed from a paper by Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy. (draft here)

Steve Roth has an article titled Note To Economists: Saving Doesn’t Create Savings. If you follow his blog regularly, his pieces read

The definition of saving is wrong. Saving is equal to income minus expenditure.

That’s not an exaggeration. He actually says it:

… Since saving = income – expenditures, [aggregate] saving must equal zero.

Steve Keen on Twitter supports Steve Roth.

Steve Keen Tweet

What’s with economists’ dislike for national accounts?

Steve Roth uses the phrase “savings” as a stock. Obviously his claim is just wrong as we know from national accounts:

Change in net worth = Saving + Holding Gains.

(with netting in holding gains).

Steve Keen doesn’t use saving as a stock but as a flow and a plural of saving. But Steve Keen’s point is also wrong. National saving is equal to the sum of saving of all economic units, such as households, firms, government etc. Even the household sector’s propensity to save collectively matters. That’s what macroeconomics is all about.

Now moving the more important point: is it possible that a higher propensity to consume reduces the long run rate of accumulation?

There are several Post-Keynesian economists who have considered the possibility. Of course it should be contrasted with supply side neoclassical economics. A few are Basil Moore, Wynne Godley, Marc Lavoie, and Gérard Duménil and Dominique Lévy as mentioned at the beginning of this post.

In their paper Kaleckian Models of Growth in a Coherent Stock-Flow Monetary Framework: A Kaldorian View, Godley and Lavoie find this in their models (draft version here):

We quickly discovered that the model could be run on the basis of two stable regimes. In the first regime, the investment function reacts less to a change in the valuation ratio-Tobin’s q ratio-than it does to a change in the rate of utilization. In the second regime, the coefficient of the q ratio in the investment function is larger than that of the rate of utilization (γ3 > γ4). The two regimes yield a large number of identical results, but when these results differ, the results of the first regime seem more intuitively acceptable than those of the second regime. For this reason, we shall call the first regime a normal regime, whereas the second regime will be known as the puzzling regime. The first regime also seems to be more in line with the empirical results of Ndikumana (1999) and Semmler and Franke (1996), who find very small values for the coefficient of the q ratio in their investment functions, that is, their empirical results are more in line with the investment coefficients underlying the normal regime.

… In the puzzling regime, the paradox of savings does not hold. The faster rate of accumulation initially encountered is followed by a floundering rate, due to the strong negative effect of the falling q ratio on the investment function. The turnaround in the investment sector also leads to a turnaround in the rate of utilization of capacity. All of this leads to a new steady-state rate of accumulation, which is lower than the rate existing just before the propensity to consume was increased. Thus, in the puzzling regime, although the economy follows Keynesian or Kaleckian behavior in the short-period, long-period results are in line with those obtained in classical models or in neoclassical models of endogenous growth: the higher propensity to consume is associated with a slower rate of accumulation in the steady state. In the puzzling regime, by refusing to save, households have the ability over the long period to undo the short-period investment decisions of entrepreneurs (Moore, 1973). On the basis of the puzzling regime, it would thus be right to say, as Dumenil and Levy (1999) claim, that one can be a Keynesian in the short period, but that one must hold classical views in the long period.

So there is a possibility that a higher propensity to consume leads to a lower growth in the long run. I do not think this is generally true, but this could be possible in some economies.

Two conclusions. It’s counter-productive to mix the definition of saving and what’s called “net lending” in national accounts. It’s possible (which shouldn’t mean that it’s necessarily the case) that Keynes’ paradox of savings doesn’t hold in the long run. I don’t believe that’s the case but purely arguing using national accounts and/or changing definitions won’t do.

Helicopters

Frequently, economists start discussing helicopters. This is the most counter-productive discussion. There are two things due to which they invoke this:

  1. Confusion
  2. Intent

The confusion part is basically due to economists’ complete failure to understand what money is and how to account for it and this is due to a lack of training in national accounting/flow of funds etc.

The intent part is equally important. This is because economists are trained in thinking of fiscal policy as impotent. After the crisis, they have party understood the role of fiscal policy but the notion that fiscal policy is impotent is so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult for them to come out of it. This reason is not so obvious but can be proved as follows: If they really think that fiscal policy is not impotent, they should rather suggest a rise in government expenditure than some helicopters.

There’s a third reason.

Wynne Godley in his paper Money, Finance And National Income DeterminationJune 1996 had a good description of all this:

Modern textbooks on macroeconomics treat money in a remarkably uniform – and remarkably silly – way. In the primary exposition the stock of “money” is treated as exogenous in the two senses a) that it is determined outside the model and b) that it has no accounting relationship with any other variable. The reader is then invited to assume, pro tem, that the central bank controls “the money supply” so that it is constant through time. When the operations of banks are described, typically some thirty chapters later, the quantity of money is some multiple of commercial banks’ reserves as a consequence of these institutions having become “loaned up”.

Silly? The money stock, as revealed in real life financial statistics, is as volatile as Tinkerbell – for good reasons, as I shall argue below. How can it be sensible to undertake a thought experiment in which the flickering quantity called “money” is literally constant through periods at least long enough for capital equipment to be planned, built and commissioned – and for lots of other things to happen as well? And the other, “money multiplier”, story has the strange defect that, while giving some account of how credit money might be created, it completely ignores the impact on spending of the counterpart changes in bank loans which are assumed to be taking place; perhaps it is because loan expenditure would mess up the solution of the IS-LM model when alternative assumptions about “the money supply” are used, that the supposed process of money creation normally gets separated from that of income determination by so many chapters.

The bibles of the neo-classical synthesis don’t help. There is a spectacular lacuna in the constructions presented, for instance, by Patinkin, Samuelson and Modigliani with regard to the asset side of commercial banks’ balance sheets. Usually the role and
even existence of bank credit is simply ignored. Modigliani (1963) gives banks (with regard to their assets) no role other than to hold government bonds; and Milton Friedman famously used a helicopter when he wanted to get more money into the system.

There is a reason for all this. It is that mainstream macroeconomics postulates in its basic model that macroeconomic outcomes are all determined by relative prices established in Walrasian markets. Individual agents are held to engage in a market process of which the outcome is to find prices for product, labour and money which clear all three markets plus, by Walras’s law, the market for “bonds”. But as is now well known, there is no use for money in the Walrasian world even though, paradoxically, “money” is a logical necessity if the model is to be solved.

[boldening: mine]

There is no need for helicopters. All is needed is a description via social accounting (i.e. national accounting). Just say “increase government expenditure” to the government or “expand fiscal policy”.

Link

What Post-Keynesian Economics Has Brought To An Understanding Of The Global Financial Crisis

I came across a nice Marc Lavoie paper from July 2015 from which I borrowed the titled of this post. Marc Lavoie discusses the importance of PKE monetary economics, stressing flow-of-funds modelling such as as done by Wynne Godley and his prescient analysis of the fate of the US economy and the rest of the world.

(the post title is the link)

Robert Blecker has a great article from the same conference (annual conference of the Canadian Economics Association) discussing similar things: heteredox understanding of the crisis. He discusseses Wynne Godley’s Seven Unsustainable Processes. He also talks of Hyman Minsky and neo-Kaleckian models of how income distribution effects aggregate demand. His paper titled Finance Distribution And The Role Of Government: Heterodox Foundations For Understanding The Crisis is here.

Non-selective Protectionism In Wynne Godley’s 1999 Article Seven Unsustainable Processes

‘Free Trade Loses Political Favour,’ says the front-page of today’s Wall Street Journal.

Free Trade Loses Political Favour

Paul Krugman has two articles conceding that he held wrong views earlier.

Krugman says:

But it’s also true that much of the elite defense of globalization is basically dishonest: false claims of inevitability, scare tactics (protectionism causes depressions!), vastly exaggerated claims for the benefits of trade liberalization and the costs of protection, hand-waving away the large distributional effects that are what standard models actually predict.

Krugman claims that he hasn’t done any of it but a reading of his 1996 article Ricardo’s Difficult Idea says the exact opposite.

The earliest cri de cœur of the U.S. balance of payments situation came from Wynne Godley in his 1999 article Seven Unsustainable Processes. 

In his sub-heading ‘Policy Considerations,’ he says:

Policy Considerations

The main conclusion of this paper is that if, as seems likely, the United States enters an era of stagnation in the first decade of the new millennium, it will become necessary both to relax the fiscal stance and to increase exports relative to imports. According to the models deployed, there is no great technical difficulty about carrying out such a program except that it will be difficult to get the timing right. For instance, it would be quite wrong to relax fiscal policy immediately, just as the credit boom reaches its peak. As stated in the introduction, this paper does not argue in favor of fiscal fine-tuning; its central contention is rather that the whole stance of fiscal policy is wrong in that it is much too restrictive to be consistent with full employment in the long run. A more formidable obstacle to the implementation of a wholesale relaxation of fiscal policy at any stage resides in the fact that this would run slap contrary to the powerfully entrenched, political culture of the present time.

The logic of this analysis is that, over the coming five to ten years, it will be necessary not only to bring about a substantial relaxation in the fiscal stance but also to ensure, by one means or another, that there is a structural improvement in the United States’s balance of payments. It is not legitimate to assume that the external deficit will at some stage automatically correct itself; too many countries in the past have found themselves trapped by exploding overseas indebtedness that had eventually to be corrected by force majeure for this to be tenable.

There are, in principle, four ways in which the net export demand can be increased: (1) by depreciating the currency, (2) by deflating the economy to the point at which imports are reduced to the level of exports, (3) by getting other countries to expand their economies by fiscal or other means, and (4) by adopting “Article 12 control” of imports, so called after Article 12 of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which was creatively adjusted when the World Trade Organization came into existence specifically to allow nondiscriminatory import controls to protect a country’s foreign exchange reserves. This list of remedies for the external deficit does not include protection as commonly understood, namely, the selective use of tariffs or other discriminatory measures to assist particular industries and firms that are suffering from relative decline. This kind of protectionism is not included because, apart from other fundamental objections, it would not do the trick. Of the four alternatives, we rule out the second–progressive deflation and resulting high unemployment–on moral grounds. Serious difficulties attend the adoption of any of the remaining three remedies, but none of them can be ruled out categorically.

[italics in original, underlying mine]

Stock-Flow Inconsistent?

The first rule of Post-Keynesian Economics is: You do not talk make accounting mistakes. The second rule of Post-Keynesian Economics is: You do not talk make accounting mistakes.

– Anonymous.

Jason Smith—who is a physicist—but writes a blog in Macroeconomics, wonders how equations in the simplest stock-flow consistent model given in the textbook Monetary Economics written by Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie make any sense from a dimensional analysis viewpoint.

He says he

seem[s] to have found a major flaw.

He sees the equation:

ΔH = GT

and wonders where the time dimensions are. For, H is the stock of money and hence has no time dimension, whereas the right hand side has flows and has time dimensions of inverse of time. For example if the US government spends $4 tn in one year, is $4 tn/year.

In continuous time, the above equation is:

dH/dt = GT

So how are these two equations the same?

Perhaps, Jason is not familiar with difference equations. He instead seems to prefer:

τ·ΔH = GT

Well that’s just wrong if τ is anything different from 1, as a matter of accounting.

Now moving on to time scales, it is true that in difference equations some time scale is implicit. But it doesn’t mean the methodology itself is wrong. Many physicists for example set all constants to 1 and then talk of numbers which are dimensionless.

So if a relativist sets “c=1”, i.e, the speed of light to 1, all velocities are in relation to the speed of light. So if somebody says the speed is 0.004, he/she means the speed is 0.004 times the speed of light.

But Jason Smith says:

Where does this time scale come from over which the adjustment happens? There is some decay constant (half life). It’s never specified (more on scales here and here). If you think this unspecified time scale doesn’t matter, then we can take Δtlp and the adjustment happens instantaneously. Every model would achieve its steady state in the Planck time.

That’s not true. String theorists for example set the parameter α’ = 1. But nobody ever claims that macroscopic adjustments happen at Planckian length scales or time scales.

Coming back to economics, there’s nothing wrong in

ΔH = GT

There’s an implicit time scale yes, such as a day, or a month, or a year, or even an infinitesimal. But parameters change accordingly. So in G&L models we have the consumption function

 C = α1 ·YD + α2 ·W

where is household consumption, YD, the disposable income and W, the household wealth.

Let’s say I start with a time period of 1 year for simplicity. αmight be 0.4. But if I choose a time period of 1 quarter, αwill correspondingly change to 0.1. In English: if households consume of 4/10th  of their wealth in one year, they consume in 1/10th one quarter.

So if we were to model using a time scale of a quarter instead of a year, α2 will change accordingly.

But the equation

ΔH = GT

won’t change because it is an accounting identity!

It’s the difference equation version of the differential equation:

dH/dt = GT

Physicists can pontificate on economic matters. I myself know string theory well. But boy, they shouldn’t make mathematical errors and embarrass themselves!

In other words, accounting identities can be written as accounting identities in difference equations. What changes is values of parameters when one chooses a time scale for difference equations.

Wynne Godley’s model is touched by genius. In fact according to one of the reviewers of Monetary Economics, Lance Taylor says that it is out of choice that Wynne Godley chose a difference equation framework. They can be changed to differential equations and we’ll obtain the same underlying dynamics.

Here’s Lance Taylor in A foxy hedgehog: Wynne Godley and macroeconomic modelling

Godley has always preferred to work in discrete time, responding to the way the data are presented.

Question: is the equation ΔH = Gconsistent with dimensional analysis?

Answer: Yes. H is the stock of money at the end of previous period. Δis the change in stock of money in a period. and are the government expenditure and tax revenues in that period. So H, ΔH, G and T have no times dimensions in difference equations. All are in the unit of account. Such as $10tn, $400bn, $4 tn, $3.6tn. Time dynamics is captured by model parameters.

In G&L’s book Monetary Economics, in Appendix 3 of Chapter 3, there’s a mean-lag theorem, which tells you the mean lag between two equilibrium (defined as a state where stock/flow ratios have stabilized):

it is:

[(1 − α1)/α2 ]· [(1 – θ)/θ]

where θ is the tax rate.

So, in the model, assuming a value of 0.6 for α1, 0.4 for α2, and 0.2 for θ we have the mean-lag equal to 4.

Let’s assume that time period is yearly. This means the mean lag is 4 years.

If instead, we were to use quarterly time periods, α2 would be 0.1 and the mean lag evaluates to 16, i.e., sixteen quarters, which is 4 years, same as before.

So there is really no inconsistency in stock-flow consistent models.

tl;dr summary: In difference equations, there’s nothing wrong with equations such as ΔH = GT. It is an accounting identity. By a choice of a time scale, one implicity chooses a time scale for parameter values. What’s wrong? Jason Smith would obtain the same results as the simplest Godley/Lavoie model if he were to work in continuous time and write equations such as dH/dt = GT. I will leave it to him as an exercise!

Last updated 4 Mar 2016, 1:17pm UTC. 

Occult Or Investment Banky?

Noah Smith has a blog post calling heteredox economics occult. Rather than write a long post which nobody will read, let me point out that Goldman Sachs’ chief economist Jan Hatzius uses Wynne Godley’s model. He frequently cites Wynne Godley (and only him!) for his model as well.

Noah Smith is a fan of investment banks and Goldman Sachs being the top firm should make him realize the importance of heterodox modelling.

Not only does heterodox economics have a framework, it is used by the top investment banking firm!

Here’s are two screen snips of GS’ paper written by their chief economist Jan Hatzius and describing their model in detail.

Jan Hatzius Paper Using Wynne Godley's Work

Jan Hatzius’ paper dated September 18, 2003

Jan Hatzius Paper Using Wynne Godley's Work - 2

Jan Hatzius acknowledging Wynne Godley for his model of the US economy 

U.S. Manufacturing Deficit

The latest U.S. trade report is out and has data for the whole year 2015. Manufacturing deficit is something worth noting.

The U.S. manufacturing deficit is $831 bn.

U.S. Manufacturing Deficit

U.S. Manufacturing Exports/Imports

It is sometimes said that manufacturing has lost its importance and that countries in balance of payments difficulties should look to trade in services to put things right. However, while it is still true that manufacturing output has declined substantially as a share of GDP, the figures quoted above show that the share of manufacturing imports has risen substantially. The importance of manufacturing does not reside in the quantity of domestic output and employment it generates, still less in any intrinsic superiority that production of goods has over provision of services; it resides, rather, in the potential that manufactures have for expansion in international trade.

– Wynne Godley, A Critical Imbalance In U.S. Trade, The U.S. Balance Of Payments, International Indebtedness, And Economic PolicySeptember 1995.

Anwar Shaikh’s New Book

Anwar Shaikh is one of the few economists who had warned about cracks in the foundations of growth of the US economy and the world economy as a whole and that it will lead to a crisis in the 2000s. He has a new book titled Capitalism: Competition, Conflict, Crises. It will be published around February next year.

Capitalism - Competition, Conflict And Crises

The book and 1024 pages and looks like a huge analysis of all ideas in economics. You can preview the table of contents at amazon.com here. The book is published by Oxford University Press and the book’s page at OUP is here.

Anwar Shaikh is a very knowledgeable economist. In an interview to Ian Macfarlane, Wynne Godley says how much he learned about neoclassical economics from Anwar Shaikh. They then put up a paper titled An Important Inconsistency at the Heart of the Standard Macroeconomic Model. Wynne Godley considered it one of his most important papers. I like the paper and want to sometime rework it in a slightly different way to show that neoclassical economics makes no sense at all.

Anwar Shaikh

Anwar Shaikh, Levy Institute, May 2011, Photograph by me.

UNCTAD On Economic Dynamics

From United Nations’ Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s 2015 report, page 44:

… exposure to unregulated and large financial flows alters macroeconomic developments in ways that can lead to a slowdown of GDP growth as well as unstable internal dynamics marked by sudden shifts of income and wealth between the main sectors (private, public and external). A convenient way to map these shifts and their relationship with economic growth is by using the “demand stances” framework (see Godley and Cripps, 1983; Godley and McCarthy, 1998; and Taylor, 2001 and 2006). This framework reasserts the Keynesian principle that sustained growth requires continuously increasing injections (which, in simple macroeconomic terms, include private investment, government expenditure and exports) into the flow of income. These injections, in turn, require a steady growth of leakages (measured by the propensity to save, the tax rate and the import propensity), which over time ensure financial stability, as credit rises along the circular flow of income. Thus GDP growth can be explained as the growth, along stable norms, of injections relative to leakages; these eventually determine financial transfers between the main sectors. Such ratios of injections to leakages are termed stances and provide a measure both of demand drivers and financial balances.

[endnote:

In mathematical terms, the main accounting identity defines GDP as the sum of consumption (C), private investment (I), government expenditure (G) and exports(X) minus imports(M). Simple assumptions allow specifying the tax rate (t) and the savings and import propensities, s and m respectively, as: T = t · GDP; S = s · GDP; M = m · GDP, where T stands for total tax revenue and S for private savings. Arrangements of these equations around the accounting identity yield the expression: GDP = (G + I + X)/(t + s + m), or alternatively: GDP = wt · (G/t) + ws · (I/s) + wm · (X/m) where wt , ws and wm are the weights of each of  the leakages (tax, savings and import propensities, respectively). This equation establishes that growth of GDP depends on the growth of the three variables, G/t, I/s and X/m; defined as fiscal stance, private stance and external sector stance, respectively, amplified by the strength of the respective multipliers, given the mentioned weights, in the macroeconomic context. To avoid complicating the presentation with derivation of the steady state conditions, it is sufficient to note that these stances reflect financial conditions as well, where a larger numerator than the denominator points towards a net borrowing position. Thus, a steady path of sustained growth and financial stability requires that none of these stances grow at a proportionally faster pace than the others for a prolonged period of time.

]