Monthly Archives: April 2012

Private Indebtedness In CBO’s Forecasts

Michael Stephens of the Levy Institute highlights the recent Levy Institute Strategic Analysis: Back To Business As Usual? Or A Fiscal Boost? in a post Where Will US Growth Come From If Austerity Reigns on the Institute’s blog Multiplier Effect. 

According to the authors Dimitri Papadimitriou, Gennaro Zezza and Greg Hannsgen,

The results of our simulation are reported in Figure 4. The government deficit falls rapidly, but if we want to achieve the CBO’s projected growth path, the private sector has to start borrowing again, switching to a deficit position. Under this scenario, we would return to a situation not so different from the one we had before the 2007–09 recession.

In Figure 5 we report the path of household and non-financial business debt, relative to GDP. Both of these sectors must become more indebted, given our scenario 1 assumptions. If this is the path the US economy takes, it will not be long before another crisis hits, if only because of heavy private sector indebtedness.

Here’s private indebtedness in the assumed CBO scenario of growth and lower budget deficits.

So this implies that the United States still has cracks in the foundations of growth (as per a title of the Institute’s Strategic Analysis piece before the crisis) and policy needs to change.

The Institute’s Strategic Analysis articles have always pointed out logical inconsistencies in the CBO’s projections (from mid 1995 onward) and presented more realistic scenarios on growth with solid suggestions on how to run the economy. Here’s from April 2007 in a report titled The U.S. Economy – What’s Next:

The authors said:

In Figure 3, we translate the debt-to-GDP ratios in Figure 2 into flows of lending relative to GDP simply by subtracting from each quarter’s debt the previous quarter’s debt. One striking feature of Figure 3, not at all obvious from inspection of Figure 2, is that net lending was already falling rapidly from the beginning of 2006. The lower line for the post-2006 period shows what would happen to the net lending flow if the debt-to-income ratio were to level off: net lending would continue to fall rapidly, though not so far or fast as happened in 1980. The projections in the figure also show the enormous gap between the leveling-off scenario, in which we are inclined to believe, and the (implied) CBO scenario, in which we don’t believe at all.

In reaching provisional conclusions about the future growth rate of output and the future configuration of the three financial balances, we have used revised assumptions about output in the rest of the world because of lower U.S. growth than in the CBO scenario (based on the solution of a world model) and the performance of the stock market. The major conclusion is that output growth slows down almost to zero sometime between now and 2008 and then recovers toward 3 percent or thereabouts in 2009–10. However, by the end of the period, the level of output is still far (about 3 percent) below that in the CBO’s projection, which implies that unemployment starts to rise significantly and does not come down again.

(emphasis: mine)

Of course every situation is different, so to see/make some scenarios and projections, do look at Back To Business As Usual? Or A Fiscal Boost?

Debt Monetization

Let us take the public sector budget equation:

GT = ΔH + ΔB

Inspired by Milton Friedman’s popularity in the 1970s and the 80s, most textbooks and journal articles incorrectly claim that the central bank “controls” the money stock (such as M0, M1, M2 etc). Simultaneously they also claim – rightly – that the central bank targets the short term interest rates.

Recently, Alan Blinder – formerly Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board – said this in New York Times’ Room For Debate (h/t wh10):

Remember “conventional” monetary policy? The Federal Reserve shortens recessions by creating more bank reserves (“printing money”), which fuels a multiple expansion of the money supply and credit because banks don’t want to hold excess reserves. So they get rid of them making more loans and deposits, which also lowers short-term interest rates. Compare that to current reality: Banks are content to hold over $1.6 trillion in excess reserves, short-term interest rates are stuck near zero, and Fed policy often works on long-term interest rates instead. No, this is not your father’s monetary policy, and the old ways of teaching about it simply won’t do.

Einstein declared that everything should be made as simple as possible, but not more so. The crisis has made the “but not more so” part more important.

Alan Blinder is a good economist, but I guess the best way to put it is that the usual story is pure fantasy.

(To be a bit technical, let us assume – in what follows – till the next section that the central bank is targeting overnight interest rates using a corridor system)

Apart from the chimerical money multiplier story, neoclassical economists also bring in the government’s budget into the story. So the story goes that if the government wants to increase its expenditures, it will sooner or later ask the central bank to “monetize” its deficit. So the government’s Treasury and the central bank can decide the proportion of the deficit which is financed by issuing H (high-powered-money or currency notes and reserves/bank settlement balances) and B (government bills and bonds). This – higher issuance of H will cause a sequence of events involving higher private expenditure inevitably resulting in price rise and higher inflation in this story.

In my post Open Mouth Operations, I discussed two kinds of open market operations – temporary and permanent. As we saw, when the private sector needs more currency notes, the central bank must neutralize this outflow by engaging in permanent open market operations. The central bank just targets/sets the short term interest rates and simply cannot be anything but defensive.

Neoclassical economists however, think of this as purely being decided by the central bank (or the central bank acting under pressure by the government) and the process is called debt monetization. Since this involves purchases of government bonds, debt monetization is a process of purchases of government bonds by the central bank (directly from the government or in open markets) in order to increase the stock of money.

We however saw that this decision of the central bank is based purely on the private sector’s needs for currency or banks’  need for higher reserves/settlement balances and the central bank must act defensively.

This was understood well by members of the “New Cambridge” School and some of their critics. In an article attempting to show the full working of their model, New Cambridge Macroeconomics And Global Monetarism – Some Issues In The Conduct Of U.K. Economic Policy, 1978, Martin Fetherston and Wynne Godley say:

… It will further be assumed that domestic monetary policy involves supplying cash and bonds in whatever amounts necessary to maintain private (and overseas) portfolio equilibrium at given (i.e., baseline) rates of interest…

This was from a conference Public Policy In Open Economies and Alan Blinder understood this – in a reply to the New Cambridge model, Whats New And Whats Keynesian In The New Cambridge Keynesianism (same link as above) he said:

Fiscal policy can, therefore, have no immediate effect on these asset demands. (It has a longer-run effect through raising net wealth.) The central bank monetizes just enough government debt to keep interest rates from rising, so there can be no “crowding out.”

on the New Cambridge model. i.e., as we move forward in time, because the private sector has higher wealth, the Bank of England will purchase government debt depending on how much of this wealth the private sector wants in the form of money.

Hence we can say that monetization is endogenous. So if the central bank purchases more government bonds than it is supposed to, banks will have more settlement balances and the central bank’s target will fall to the lower end of the corridor and will be forced to sell bonds in equal quantities. The description of the corridor and floor systems can be found in the post Open Mouth Operations.

The Floor System And Central Bank Large Scale Asset Purchases

In recent times (since the last three years), central banks especially the Federal Reserve – who have adopted a floor system – have been purchasing a lot of domestic government bonds in the open markets (and also other securities such as “agency debt” and “agency MBS”). This is also called “QE”, and it’s a bad phrase. However does this mean the private sector has “excess money”? The private sector’s wealth allocation decision depends on its portfolio preferences between various forms of wealth and since purchases also lead to a reduction of long term government bond yields (as compared to the case when the asset purchase program hadn’t been carried out) and hence the private sector wishes to hold less of its wealth in the form of government bonds and more in the form of money – hence sold the bonds the Federal Reserve intends to buy!

Of course the result is that banks have more central bank reserves than they wish to hold, but as a whole the banking system won’t convert these settlement balances into currency notes unless the non-bank private sector wishes to hold them. If the non-bank private sector needs more currency notes, banks will easily accommodate this need and so will the central bank and this need is not a function of how much settlement balances the banking system holds. And it won’t cause price rises either because “money” doesn’t lead to inflation. The strategy of the central banks in reducing long term bonds comes with asking the banks to hold the settlement balances for some time (and keeping them happy by paying interest on the reserves) and the Federal Reserve may sometime phase out the program by an “exit strategy”. However this has nothing to do with “inflation expecations” or some chimerical story about runaway inflation waiting to happen.

The Federal Reserve’s strategy has been to create more demand by reducing long term rates so that depending on the interest elasticity (as opposed to income elasticity) of investment by the private sector and/or its animal spirits, there may be higher activity. But since income elasticity effects are stronger, the LSAP hasn’t really worked as desired.

Private expenditure depends mainly on private income and LSAPs do not directly affect private expenditure. There can be indirect effects due to portfolio preferences – because LSAPs may induce the private sector to purchase other asset classes such as corporate equities leading to a rise in stock prices, leading to wealth effects via capital gains. Hence we see a lot of references to James Tobin’s work in central bank papers on this.

There were other effects which didn’t work as desired – such as refinancing of existing mortgages due to lower interest rates and this leading to extra demand because it was thought that households will be able to refinance in huge numbers and this will lead to higher consumption because they will spend the difference they gain due to lower monthly outflows to the banking system.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the fantasy story that there is an excess of money appearing out of nowhere and which will be eliminated via higher expenditures resulting in a permanent price rise and fantasy stories such as that.

To summarize, stories around money leading to inflation, excess money due to central bank government debt purchases etc have all led to tragic debates around macroeconomic issues.

Here’s from Marc Lavoie’s Changes In Central Bank Procedures During The Subprime Crisis And Their Repercussions On Monetary Theory (working paper here):

The financial crisis has made these features of the real world even more obvious and it should make clear that nearly all of mainstream monetary theory as applied to central banking is nearly worthless, as is for instance the infamous money multiplier fable and the presumed causal relationship running from bank reserves at the central bank to price inflation.

Also, while central bankers simply did not know that a crisis was going to hit but did good work (in my opinion) in preventing an implosion of the financial system, there is simply no need to congratulate them for having purchased government debt such as as done by Paul McCulley here and as done by Adair Turner here at the recent INET conference. Their arguments sound something like: central banks prevented a deflation of prices by purchasing government debt!


A qualification needs to be made in the above analysis on the purchases of Euro Area governments’ debt by the Eurosystem under the ECB’s Securities Markets Progam (SMP). Here some government debt markets have/had the potential to become “dysfunctional” (ECB’s phrase) and NCBs purchase(d) government bonds in the secondary markets to prevent government bond yields from rising forever as a result of a self-fulfilling prophecy of financial markets and its inability to absorb government debt because of suspicions that some governments could become insolvent in the long run. This is useful because it just postpones the day of reckoning or buys some time to reach an economic state of lower activity to keep some Euro Area nations’ net foreign indebtedness in check.

The ECB website and communications stress that these operations are being “sterilized” and hence keeps price stability in check but the explanation is right if there is a Monetarist causality from money to prices!

Seven Unsustainable Processes – Original

Of all the economists, Wynne Godley had the rarest of rare ability to model and imagine the economic dynamics of the whole world. “… a full macroeconomic model in his head, which, by some sort of subconscious process, he computed.” as his obituary from FT said.

In the recent INET conference paper, Dirk Bezemer discusses Wynne Godley’s approach (among others’) and also refers to his paper Seven Unsustainable Processes from 1999.

I obtained this original scanned copy of the paper Seven Unsustainable Processes – Medium Term Policies For The United States And The World by Wynne Godley from 1999 from the Levy Economics Institute and  thought that since this version is missing for some reason from the website, I’ll post it here (after asking them if I may post).

Click to see the pdf.

Seven Unsustainable Processes from 1999

Here’s the link to the updated version of the paper from the year 2000. The original had a typo. Two columns in Table 1 appeared with incorrect headings (should have been the reverse).

Wynne Godley at the Levy Institute

Godley warns of the private sector indebtedness:

… Moreover, if, per impossibile, the growth in net lending and the growth in money supply growth were to continue for another eight years, the implied indebtedness of the private sector would then be so extremely large that a sensational day of reckoning could then be at hand.

Wynne Godley never liked the chimerical and primitive view of economists where anything and everything is traded in the markets via supply and demand. So,

The difference between the consensus view and that put forward here could not exist without a profound difference in the view of how the economy works. So far as the author can observe, the underlying theoretical perspective of the optimists, whether they realize it or not, sees all agents, including the government, as participants in a gigantic market process in which commodities, labor, and financial assets are supplied and demanded. If this market works properly, prices (e.g., for labor and commodities) get established that clear all markets, including the labor market, so that there can be no long-term unemployment and no depression. The only way in which unemployment can be reduced permanently, according to this view, is by making markets work better, say, by removing “rigidities” or improving flows of information. The government is a market participant like any other, its main distinguishing feature being that it can print money. Because the government cannot alter the market-clearing price of labor, there is no way in which fiscal or monetary policy can change aggregate employment and output, except temporarily (by creating false expectations) and perversely (because any interference will cause inflation).

No parody is intended. No other story would make sense of the assumption now commonly made that the balance between tax receipts and public spending has no permanent effect on the evolution of the aggregate demand. And nothing else would make sense of the debate now in full swing about how to “spend” the federal surplus as though this were a nest egg that can be preserved, spent, or squandered without any need to consider the macroeconomic consequences.

The seven unsustainable processes were:

(1) the fall in private saving into ever deeper negative territory, (2) the rise in the flow of net lending to the private sector, (3) the rise in the growth rate of the real money stock, (4) the rise in asset prices at a rate that far exceeds the growth of profits (or of GDP), (5) the rise in the budget surplus, (6) the rise in the current account deficit, (7) the increase in the United States’s net foreign indebtedness relative to GDP.

As it happened, the United States went into a recession but recovered quickly because of further deregulations and low interest rates which led to more borrowing, and a fiscal stimulus which put a floor on the downfall. However, the private sector went back into deficits and its indebtedness kept rising relative to income. The current balance of payments also went deeply in deficit rising to about 6.43% at the end of 2005 – hemorrhaging the circular flow of national income at a massive scale. See the related post here: The Un-Godley Private Sector Deficit.

Not only did Godley see the crisis coming, he also figured out that the United States will soon run into policy issues and will have less room to come out of a crisis. In this 2005 strategic analysis paper The United States And Her Creditors – Can The Symbiosis Last? he and his collaborators (Dimitri Papadimitriou, Claudio Dos Santos and Gennaro Zezza) pointed out that:

The range of strategic policy options for the United States is beginning to narrow … As the normal equilibrating forces (changes in exchange rates) are being subverted, it is very far from obvious what the United States can do on her own …

In his last ever article, Prospects For The United States And The World – A Crisis That Conventional Remedies Cannot Resolve (from which I got the subtitle of my blog!), Godley and collaborators (Dimitri Papadimitriou and Gennaro Zezza) said:

The prospects for the U.S. economy have become uniquely dreadful, if not frightening. In this paper we argue, as starkly as we can, that the United States and the rest of the world’s economies will not be able to achieve balanced growth and full employment unless they are able to agree upon and implement an entirely new way of running the global economy.

Stressing the need for concerted action (from which I got the title of my blog!), the authors said:

… Fiscal policy alone cannot, therefore, resolve the current crisis. A large enough stimulus will help counter the drop in private expenditure, reducing unemployment, but it will bring back a large and growing external imbalance, which will keep world growth on an unsustainable path …

… What must come to pass, perhaps obviously, is a worldwide recovery of output, combined with sustainable balances in international trade. Since this series of reports began in 1999, we have emphasized that, in the United States, sustained growth with full employment would eventually require both fiscal expansion and a rapid acceleration in net export demand. Part of the needed fiscal stimulus has already occurred, and much more (it seems) is immediately in prospect. But the U.S. balance of payments languishes, and a substantial and spontaneous recovery is now highly unlikely in view of the developing severe downturn in world trade and output … By our reckoning (which is put forward with great diffidence), if the United States were to attempt to restore full employment by fiscal and monetary means alone, the balance of payments deficit would rise over the next, say, three to four years, to 6 percent of GDP or more—that is, to a level that could not possibly be sustained for a long period, let alone indefinitely …

… It is inconceivable that such a large rebalancing could occur without a drastic change in the institutions responsible for running the world economy—a change that would involve placing far less than total reliance on market forces.

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 not 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.

Debtor Exhaustion: Joseph Stiglitz

Here’s Joe Stiglitz’s talk in the recent INET conference at Berlin on global imbalances:

click to watch the video on YouTube

Here’s the presentation

Stiglitz makes an argument about causality from trade deficit to fiscal deficit. I think it is a bit misleading. The causality works via demand and output at home and abroad. See this Imbalances Looking For A Policy for an explanation.

Another aspect where Stiglitz may have improved is to stress on coordinated fiscal policy in addition to monetary policy.

Anyways, excellent talk.

I Like Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf has just written an article on FT: Why the Bundesbank is wrong questioning the arguments made by Jens Weidmann, president of the Bundesbank. (This speech: Rebalancing Europe).

This chart is interesting:

(click to enlarge)

Wolf says:

Arguably, the crucial step is to agree on the nature of the illness. On this, progress is now being achieved, at least among economists. It is widely accepted that the balance of payments is fundamental to any understanding of the present crisis. Indeed, the balance of payments may matter more in the eurozone than among economies not bound together in a currency union.

I am not sure how widely accepted or understood this is, but it’s exactly right!

(Also never mind the reference to Werner Sinn in the next line in the original article – although Sinn still had a point in spite of his rather painful analysis)

Unable to make a draft at the central bank, governments are left with less means of protecting themselves in case of failures. Hence nations in a currency union are more directly dependent on the external sector.

Then on Weidmann:

Alas, these remarks confuse productivity with competitiveness. Yet these are distinct: the US, for example, is more productive, but less competitive, than China. External competitiveness is relative. Moreover, at the global level, the adjustment must also be shared. Mr Weidmann knows this. As he says, “of course, surplus countries will eventually be affected as deficit countries adjust”. The question is by what mechanism.

[emphasis: mine]

Martin Wolf knows how economies as a whole work roughly and he has been emphasizing that the solution to the world’s problems lie with the creditor nations. Also, in 2004 he said that America is in a comfortable path to ruin!

So here’s an unsuccessful attempt to prove Martin Wolf doesn’t “get it” from Bill Mitchell: So near but so far … from comprehension. This was a critique of an article written by Martin Wolf where he showed that the creditor status of Japan is hugely helpful to its recovery in spite of having a huge public debt . . . Martin Wolf’s right in spite of Mitchell’s assertion that he is wrong 🙂

Kaldor’s Reflux Mechanism

The recent debates of Post Keynesians with Neoclassical/New Keynesians has highlighted that the latter group continues to hold Monetarists’ intuitions. Somehow the exogeneity of money is difficult for them to get rid of, in spite of their statements and rhetoric that money is endogenous in their models.

So there is an excess of money in their models and this gets resolved by a series of buy and sell activities in the “market” (mixing up decisions of consumption and portfolio allocation) until a new “equilibrium” is reached where there is no excess money.

Two-Stage Decision

While the following may sound obvious, it is not to most economists. Keynes talked of a two-stage decision – how much households save out of their income and how they decide to allocate their wealth. In the incorrect “hot potato” model of Neoclassical economists and their New “Keynesian” cousins, these decisions get mixed up without any respect for the two-stage decision. It is as if there enters an excess money in the economy from somewhere and people may consume more (as if consumption is dependent on the amount of deposits and not on income) till prices rise to bring the demand for money equal to what has been “supplied” (presumably by the central bank).

In their book Monetary Economics, Wynne Godley and Marc Lavoie have this to say (p 103):

A key behavioural assumption made here, as well as in the chapters to follow, is that households make a twostage decision (Keynes 1936: 166). In the first step, households decide how much they will save out of their income. In the second step, households decide how they will allocate their wealth, including their newly acquired wealth. The two decisions are made within the same time frame in the model. However, the two decisions are distinct and of a hierarchical form. The consumption decision determines the size of the (expected) end-of-period stock of wealth; the portfolio decision determines the allocation of the (expected) stock of wealth. This behavioural hypothesis makes it easier to understand the sequential pattern of household decisions.

[Footnote]: In his simulation work, but not in his theoretical work, Tobin endorsed the sequential decision that has been proposed here: ‘In the current version of the model households have been depicted as first allocating income between consumption and savings and then making an independent allocation of the saving among the several assets’ (Backus et al. 1980: 273). Skott (1989: 57) is a concrete example where such a sequential process is not followed in a model that incorporates a Keynesian multiplier and portfolio choice.

Constant Money?

So even if one agrees that loans make deposits, there is still a question of deposits just being moved around and the (incorrect) intuition is that someone somewhere must be holding the deposit and hence similar to the hot potato effect. The error in this reasoning is the ignorance that repayment of loans extinguishes money (meant to be deposits in this context).

Nicholas Kaldor realized this Monetarist error early and had this to say

Given the fact that the demand for money represents a stable function of incomes (or expenditures), Friedman and his associates conclude that any increase in the supply of money, however brought about (for example, through open-market operations that lead to the substitution of cash for short-term government debt in the hands of discount houses or other financial institutions), will imply that the supply of money will exceed the demand at the prevailing level of incomes (people will “find themselves” with more money than they wish to hold). This defect, in their view, will be remedied, and can only be remedied, by an increase in expenditures that will raise incomes sufficiently to eliminate the excess of supply over the demand for money.

As a description of what happens in a modern economy, and as a piece of reasoning applied to situations where money consists of “credit money” brought about by the creation of public or private debt, this is a fallacious piece of reasoning. It is an illegitimate application of the original propositions of the quantity theory of money, which (by the theory’s originators at any rate) were applied to situations in which money consisted of commodities, such as gold or silver, where the total quantity in existence could be regarded as exogenously given at any one time as a heritage of the past; and where sudden and unexpected increases in supply could occur (such as those following the Spanish conquest of Mexico), the absorption of which necessitated a fall in the value of the money commodity relative to other commodities. Until that happened, someone was always holding more gold (or silver) than he desired, and since all the gold (and silver) that is anywhere must be somewhere, the total quantity of precious metals to be held by all money-users was independent of the demand for it. The only way supply could be brought into conformity, and kept in conformity, with demand was through changes in the value of the commodity used as money.

[boldening: mine]

from Nicholas Kaldor wrote a major article in 1985 titled How Monetarism Failed (Challenge, Vol. 28, No. 2, link).

In his essay Keynesian Economics After Fifty Years, (in Keynes And The Modern World, ed. George David Norman Worswick and James Anthony Trevithick, Cambridge University Press, 1983), Kaldor wrote:

The excess supply would automatically be extinguished through the repayment of bank loans, or what comes to the same thing, through the purchase of income yielding financial assets from the banks.

Here’s the Google Books preview of the page:

click to view on Google Books

In his article, Circuit And Coherent Stock-Flow Accounting, (in Money, Credit, and the Role of the State: Essays in Honour of Augusto Graziani, 2004. Google Books link) Marc Lavoie showed how this precisely works using Godley’s transactions flow matrix. (Paper available at UMKC’s course site). See Section 9.3.1

The fact that the supply of credit and demand for money appeared to be independent

 … has led some authors to claim that there could be a discrepancy between the amount or loans supplied by banks to firms and the amount or bank deposits demanded by households. This view of the money creation process is however erroneous. It omits the fact that while the credit supply process and the money-holding process are apparently independent, they actually are not, due to the constraints or coherent macroeconomic accounting. In other words, the decision by households to hold on to more or less money balances has an equivalent compensatory impact on the loans that remain outstanding on the production side.

So if households wish to hold more deposits, firms will have to borrow more from banks. If households wish to hold less deposits, they will purchase more equities (in the model) and hence firms will borrow lesser from banks and/or retire their debt toward banks.

Other References

  1. Lavoie, M. 1999. The Credit-Led Supply Of Deposits And The Demand For Money – Kaldor’s Reflux Mechanism As Previously Endorsed By Joan Robinson, Cambridge Journal Of Economics. (journal link)
  2. Kaldor N. and Trevithick J. 1981. A Keynesian Perspective On Money, Lloyd’s Bank Review.

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)