The Devil Is In The Detail

There are two ways in which the terminology “net lending” is used.

In national accounts, it is the difference between saving and investment for any economic unit or a sector. “− I”. It is the financial surplus.

Bankers and central bankers use “net lending” a bit differently. Here there is “netting” when redemptions are netted.  For example, suppose a bank lends 100 units in one period and for simplicity assume all 100 are redeemed. Also assume that it makes 110 units of loans in the next period. In this case, net lending is 10 units.

But these two shouldn’t be confused.

Steve Keen should perhaps understand that the devil is in the detail and if he is interested in making accounting models of the economy, he should improve his accounting.

In a recent Forbes piece, he says:

So if the private sector is to finance the government sector’s surplus, and if the economy is growing at the same time, then there has to be a net flow of new money created by the banking sector—part of which expands the non-banking public’s money stock, and part of which finances the government sector’s surplus. Therefore the banking sector has to “run a deficit”: new loans have to exceed loan repayments (plus interest payments on outstanding debt).

Call this net flow of new money NetLend.

[emphasis: mine]

In the scenario assumed, banks have a surplus because presumably their operations are profitable. In the absence of fixed capital formation by banks, their undistributed profits are their financial surplus. Banks are net lenders in the national accounting sense (and hence have a financial surplus not a deficit). They net lenders in bankers’ language because gross new loans exceed redemptions.

While it is not wrong redefine terminologies, Keen is doing a sectoral balance analysis where deficit/surplus has a different meaning.

In short, in a growing economy, if the government is in surplus, it is more likely that non-financial corporations and households together have a deficit or a negative financial balance. Gross new loans by banks exceeding gross redemptions does not imply banks have a deficit (i.e., a negative financial balance). It is of course not impossible for banks to have a deficit in such scenarios: consider for example, banks purchasing a lot of buildings for their offices. In that case, banks’ “− I”  may be negative.

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