Monthly Archives: January 2016

Kalecki And Keynes On Wages

The blogger writing for Social Democracy For The 21st Century: A Post Keynesian Perspective has an interesting post about Keynes’ view on wages.

I have a few points to add, which may not be contradictory to that post. It’s possible Keynes’ understanding changed from his discussions with Kalecki. In fact, Jan Toporowski, biographer of Michael Kalecki sees Kalecki’s position as far superior compared to that of Keynes. In an article titled Kalecki And Keynes On Wages, he says:

Both Kalecki and Keynes realised that their macroeconomic analysis depended critically on the inability of the labour market to be brought into equilibrium by changes in wages, as postulated by neoclassical theory. In 1939 therefore they wrote their explanation for this inability of free markets in capitalism to attain the equilibrium imagined by Robbins, in which all resources, including labour, are fully utilised. Keynes however got stuck on the effects of wages on the short-period equilibrium in an abstract Marshallian model. Kalecki was able to demonstrate more clearly the complex real income effects of wage changes.

Kalecki’s approach to the subject was much clearer, and free of Marshallian dilemmas applied to historical data.

Jan Toporowski

Jan Toporowski, Levy Institute, May 2011

In the article, Toporowski points out the debate between Keynes and John T. Dunlop, Lorie Tarshis and Michal Kalecki. He also quotes Keynes from the GT:

in the short period, falling money wages and rising real wages are each, for independent reasons, likely to accompany decreasing employment; labour being readier to accept wage-cuts when employment is falling off, yet real wages inevitably rising in the same circumstances on account of the increasing marginal return to a given capital equipment when output is diminished.

Keynes was not fully correct on this but it is interesting to note that he was almost there. Perhaps his own quote explains: he himself couldn’t escape from old ideas which ramify into every corner of our minds.

In his book Post-Keynesian Economics: New Foundations, pp 277-278, Marc Lavoie says:

Indeed, in several versions of post-Keynesian short-run model of employment, higher real wages are conducive to higher levels of employment.

In their biography, Michal Kalecki (Great Thinkers In Economics), Julio López G and Michaël Assous point out that it was Michal Kalecki who first figured this out before Dunlop-Tarshis-Kalecki (1939) in his 1938 paper The determinants of distribution of the national income, also published in Collected works of Michal Kalecki, Vol. I, edited by J. Osiatynsky, Oxford University Press, 1990.


Collected Works Of Michal Kalecki - Volume 1


So here’s Kalecki. It’s great and humble of him to call it the “Keynesian theory”, although he found something contrary to Keynes’ own point. But that’s the thing about Keynes – he said a lot of things which is contrary to his own revolutionary thoughts. Heterodox economists see it in a nicer way. Joan Robinson would have said, “Keynes should not have said that”. Keynes’ opponents would pounce on his several vulnerabilities. And then there’s the bastardization of Keynes’ work. Most of economics before the crisis simply states: “Keynes is wrong”.  Over to Kalecki:

Final remarks

1. There are certain ‘workers’ friends’ who try to persuade the working class to abandon the fight for wages in its own interest, of course. The usual argument used for this purpose is that the increase of wages causes unemployment, and is thus detrimental to the working class as a whole.

The Keynesian theory undermines the foundation of this argument. Our investigation above has shown that a wage increase may change employment in either direction, but that this change is unlikely to be important. A wage increase, however, affects to a certain extent the distribution of income: it tends to reduce the degree of monopoly and thus to raise real wages. On the other hand, ‘real’ capitalist incomes tend to fall off because of the relative shift of income from rentiers to corporations, which lowers capitalist propensity to consume.

If viewed from this standpoint, strikes must have the full sympathy of ‘workers’ friends’. For a rise in wages tends to reduce the degree of monopoly, and thus to bring our imperfect system nearer to the ideal or free competition. On the other hand, it tends to increase the thriftiness of capitalists by causing a relative shift of income from rentiers to corporations. And ‘workers’ friends’ are usually admirers both of free competition and or thrift as a virtue of the capitalist class.

2. Another question may arise in connection with the Keynesian theory of wages. Is not the struggle of workers for higher wages idle if they lose whatever gain they may make in the form of a higher cost of living? We have shown that wage reduction causes a change in the distribution of the national income to the disadvantage of workers, and that in the event of an increase in wages the reverse occurs. This is not to deny, however, that changes in real wages are much smaller than those in money wages; but never the less they may be quite material, especially as we are dealing with averages which reflect only slightly great fluctuations in real wages in particular industries.

We noticed above the great stability of the relative share of manual labour in the national income. This is not in contradiction with the influence of money wages upon the distribution of the national income. On the contrary, the resistance to wage cuts prevents the degree of monopoly from rising in the slump to the extent it would if ‘free competition’ prevailed on the labour market. Although, in fact, the relative share of manual labour is more or less stable, this would not obtain if wages were very elastic.

It is quite true that the fight for wages is not likely to bring about fundamental changes in the distribution of the national income. Income and capital taxation are much more potent weapons to achieve this aim, for these taxes (as opposed to commodity taxes) do not affect prime costs, and thus do not tend to raise prices. But in order to redistribute income in this way, the government must have both the will and the power to carry it out, and this is unlikely in a capitalist system.


The UN Global Policy Model

I came across the UN Global Policy Model document with lots of equations and written by Francis Cripps and Alex Izurieta. (h/t Jo Michell). The article date is May 2014.

Just thought I should link it for readers interested.

(The post title is the link).

Keynes’ ‘Human’ Apple

The point needs emphasising because the art of thinking in terms of models is a difficult–largely because it is an unaccustomed–practice. The pseudo-analogy with the physical sciences leads directly counter to the habit of mind which is most important for an economist proper to acquire.

I also want to emphasise strongly the point about economics being a moral science. I mentioned before that it deals with introspection and with values. I might have added that it deals with motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogeneous in the same way that the material of the other sciences, in spite of its complexity, is constant and homogeneous. It is as though the fall of the apple to the ground depended on the apple’s motives, on whether it is worth while falling to the ground, and whether the ground wanted the apple to fall, and on mistaken calculations on the part of the apple as to how far it was from the centre of the earth.

But do not be reluctant to soil your hands, as you call it. I think it is most important. The specialist in the manufacture of models will not be successful unless he is constantly correcting his judgment by intimate and messy acquaintance with the facts to which his model has to be applied.

J. M. Keynes to Harrod, 10 July 1938

Monetary Mysticism

Normally, I’d give such things a pass. But there are monetary mysticists – the Neochartalists (“MMTers”) – who make a big issue of a few monetary things. In a post on banking, Eric Tymoigne such mystical things:

Throughout this blog I will not the use the words “loan” “lender” “borrower” “lending” “borrowing” when analyzing banks (private or Fed) and their operations. Banks don’t lend money, and customer don’t borrow money from banks. Words like “advance” “creditor” “debtor” are more appropriate words to describe what goes on in banking operations.

The word “lend” (and so “borrow”) is really a misnomer that has the potential of confusing—and actually does confuse—people about what banks do.

So banks do not make loans?

But that’s not the main point in my post. It is the other claim:

  • Point 2: The Fed does not earn any money in USD

When the Fed receives a net income in USD it is not receiving any money/cash flow, i.e. its asset side is not going up. What goes up is net worth.

[highlighting: mine]

Such things are also closely related to claims by the Neochartalists that “taxes don’t fund government expenditure” or “taxes don’t fund anything”. The claim “the Fed does not earn any money in USD” is quite silly.

If you were to ever do an honest-to-goodness calculations with such things, you’ll notice that items accounts receivable and accounts payable are important things. In the simplest example, the Federal Reserve holds government bonds as assets and has bank reserves or settlement balances of banks and currency notes on liabilities. So the Fed is accruing interest on bonds it holds and has payables on interest on banks’ settlement balances. The system of national accounts 2008, has a nice explanation on para 7.115:

The accrual basis of recording

Interest is recorded on an accrual basis, that is, interest is recorded as accruing continuously over time to the creditor on the amount of principal outstanding. The interest accruing is the amount receivable by the creditor and payable by the debtor. It may differ not only from the amount of interest actually paid during a given period but also the amount due to be paid within the period.

So the Federal Reserve’s assets can indeed go up along with net worth because of interest income. It will reflect in accounts receivable in assets. When an actual interest payment is received, it is a transaction in the financial account of the system of national accounts. Then, accounts receivable falls and so do liabilities but net worth doesn’t change. More generally, the Fed may also make advances to banks as the banking system as a whole can lose reserves for paying interest. There is absolute no need for the kind of mysticism that Neochartalists do.

Proof Of Infinitude Of Primes Using The Irrationality Of π

So a new largest prime number has been found.  It is

274,207,281 −  1

Of course we know that there is an infinitude of primes, so the number above is just the largest known.

A standard proof is via contradiction. Assume there is a largest prime pn . Then it can be shown that the number p1p2p3pn + 1 is also a prime, contradicting our assumption that there is a largest prime.

Yesterday I found another proof from Wikipedia which is fascinating. There is a formula:

π/4 = 3/4 × 5/4  × 7/8 × 11/12 × 13/12 × 17/16 × 19/20 × 23/24 × 29/28 × 31/32 × …

The numerator is all primes (except 2), one after the other. The denominator is the nearest multiple of 4 of the numerator.

We know  π is irrational. If there are a finite number of primes, the right hand side is a rational number, which doesn’t makes sense since the left hand side is irrational. Hence the right hand side is an infinite product. Hence there is an infinitude of primes!

National Accounting As Atheism

The title of this post isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It’s just a playful poke on Eric Lonergan’s post mentioned below.

On his blog, Sample Of One, Eric Lonergan has a post tiled Accounting as religion: Buffett, Derrida, and MMT. The post ends with the following line:

… but money is not a liability of the state.

Eric’s post is arguing with the Neochartalists but my post here has nothing to do with Neochartalism. I always find it amusing when people go “money is not the liability of the state, even though it’s technically a liability” and so on. I am going to take a different track here and make an argument like James Tobin’s brilliant 1963 paper Commerical Banks As Creators Of “Money” . I explained Tobin’s brilliant analysis in a post James Tobin, Banking And The Widow’s Cruse.

For this, I will go to a scenario in an open economy:

  • £ is the local currency and $ is the foreign currency.
  • Suppose foreigners hold £1bn in currency notes among other claims on residents. Of course in real life nobody holds £1bn in cash notes but I can always make my case more realistic.
  • Suppose the exchange rate £/$ is falling and the foreign exchange market is nervous and runaway expectations are building up on the exchange rate.
  • This forces the “£-central bank” to intervene.
  • The central bank has less foreign reserves, i.e., $s and hence asks the government treasury to issue $-denominated debt equivalent £1bn. This is done to obtain proceeds to make a sale of $s in the fx markets, with the hope that it reverses the direction of expectations.
  • The central bank sells $s worth £1bn in the foreign exchange market.
  • Foreigners who held £1bn in currency notes are the counterparties.

So liabilities have been dollarized.

Now in this story, the net asset position of the £-nation hasn’t changed. The net international investment position is the same. Only the composition of liabilities. However people who claim that “currency is not really a liability” will agree that the government has a liability in $s. In their way of counting, there is an additional liability (after netting). But that doesn’t make sense. I just walked you through transactions of equal monetary exchanges. If you think

money is not a liability of the state.

do you not see a self-inconsistency here?

In other words, the potential for liability dollarization makes accounting items such as currency notes, reserve balances at the central bank etc. as a liability in a true sense.

Moral of the post: Always start with the open economy.

Kaldor And Oil

…  a more fundamental proposition [is] that any large change in commodity prices – irrespective of whether it is in favour or against the primary producers – tends to have a dampening effect on industrial activity; it retards industrial growth in both cases, instead of retarding it in the one case and stimulating it in the other. There are, as I shall now show, two reasons for this. It is partly a consequence of the fact that whilst a fall in commodity prices tends to be an effective instrument in moving the terms of trade against the primary producers, a rise in commodity prices is not likely to be nearly as effective in moving the terms of trade in their favour. It is partly also a consequence of an asymmetry in the behavioural consequences as between a gain and a loss of real income, the result of which is that any sudden shift in the distribution of world income, caused by a change in the terms of trade, is likely to have an adverse effect on industrial demand (in real terms).

The important cause of the first asymmetry is that while commodity prices are demand-determined, industrial prices are cost-determined, and because of that the rise in commodity prices has a very powerful inflationary effect operating on the cost side. The rise in the price of basic materials and fuels is passed through the various stages of production into the final price with an exaggerated effect – it gets ” blown up ” on the way by a succession of percentage additions to prime costs which mean, in effect, an increase in cash margins at each stage. This causes (initially) a rise in the share of profits in the value added by manufacturing which in itself is a powerful factor (in countries where trade union power is strong) in causing pressure for wage increases. Added to this is the price-induced rise in wages caused by what Sir John Hicks called “Real Wage Resistance” – the reluctance of workers to accept a cut in their standard of living (which is not paralleled by similar reluctance to accept a rise). For these reasons a swing in the terms of trade in favour of the primary producers is not likely to last for long. The industrial sector with its superior market power, resists any compression of its real income by countering the rise in commodity prices through a cost-induced inflation of industrial prices.

Moreover – and here we come to the second reason mentioned above – the inflation itself has a deflationary effect on the effective demand for industrial goods in real terms, partly because the rise in the profits of producers in the primary sector is not matched by a rise in their expenditure – this was particularly marked on the present occasion through the vast accumulation of financial assets by the oil producers – and partly because the governments of most, if not all, of the industrial countries are likely to react to their domestic inflation by fiscal and monetary measures which reduce consumer demand and put a brake on industrial investment. Thus the rise in commodity prices may well result in a wage/price spiral-type of inflation in the industrial sectors which in turn causes industrial activity to be restricted. The latter tends to eliminate the shortages and thereby reverse the trend in commodity prices. A good example of this has been the U.S. inflation of I972-3, which was clearly cost induced but not wage-induced; it was caused by the rise in commodity prices (with wage rises trailing behind the rise in living costs) and which led to strongly restrictionist monetary policies in order to counter the inflation, which in turn brought about a considerable economic recession. (Somewhat later similar restrictionist policies were adopted by governments of other leading countries, such as Germany and Japan.)

If the above analysis is correct, the market mechanism is a highly inefficient regulator for securing continuing adjustment between the growth of availabilities and the growth in requirements for primary products in a manner conducive to the harmonious development of the world economy.

The emergence of commodity surpluses which should, in principle, lead to accelerated industrialisation may have a perverse effect by diminishing effective demand for industrial products. Similarly the emergence of shortages which should accelerate the growth of availabilities of primary products through improvements in the terms of trade may lead instead to an inflation of manufacturers’ prices which tends to offset the improvement in the terms of trade, and by its dampening effect on industrial activity, worsens the climate for new investment in both the primary sector and the industrial sector.

– Kaldor, Nicholas. 1976. “Inflation and Recession in the World Economy”. The Economic Journal 86 (344). [Royal Economic Society, Wiley]: 703–14. doi:10.2307/2231447. Link

J. W. Mason And Alan Greenspan On Monetary Policy

J. W. Mason has a fantastic article titled The Fed Doesn’t Work For You in Jacobin: Reason In Revolt. I especially liked the lines where he points out economists’ inconsistency while worrying about rising wage share in the national income as coming from “demand” but explaining the fall in the share over the last 30-40 years as something “structural”.

There’s a funny disconnect in these conversations. A rising wage share supposedly indicates an overheating economy — a macroeconomic problem that requires a central bank response. But a falling wage share is the result of deep structural forces — unrelated to aggregate demand and certainly not something with which the central bank should be concerned.

Contrast that to Alan Greenspan who spoke recently after the Federal Reserve rate hike (h/t JKH):

A Conversation With Alan Greenspan

Greenspan talks of the money multiplier in response to a question by a lady about the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy after having conceded that he doesn’t understand how it works! To be more accurate he says that interest paid on reserves has helped in broad money not multiplying. But this explanation is as bad as the notion of the money multiplier.

The Phrase “Financial Intermediary” In National Accounts

A lot of times heterodox economists and bloggers complain about the usage of the phrase “financial intermediary” when talking about banks. Such as this one from 2016. The reason given is: “because loans make deposits”. In my opinion, this is counter-productive. While it’s true loans make deposits, it is irrelevant to whether banks should be termed financial intermediaries or not. In fact, that is standard usage. The System of National Accounts 2008, on para 4.101 says:

Financial corporations can be divided into three broad classes namely, financial intermediaries, financial auxiliaries and other financial corporations. Financial intermediaries are institutional units that incur liabilities on their own account for the purpose of acquiring financial assets by engaging in financial transactions on the market. They include insurance corporations and pension funds. Financial auxiliaries are institutional units principally engaged in serving financial markets, but do not take ownership of the financial assets and liabilities they handle. Other financial corporations are institutional units providing financial services, where most of their assets or liabilities are not available on open financial markets.

[italics and boldening in original]

Further 4.106 says:

In general, the following financial intermediaries are classified in this subsector:

a. Commercial banks, “universal” banks, “all-purpose” banks;

b. Savings banks (including trustee savings banks and savings and loan associations);

c. Post office giro institutions, post banks, giro banks;

d. Rural credit banks, agricultural credit banks;

e. cooperative credit banks, credit unions; and

f. Specialized banks or other financial corporations if they take deposits or issue close substitutes for deposits.

Heterodox economists use national accounts and flow of funds more often than orthodox economists who build their theory around a production function, so it is surprising that they vehemently oppose the usage of the phrase “intermediary” for banks. More importantly, the debate is not just semantics but also about “aggregate demand”. The ones who dislike the phrase “intermediary” seem to think that non-bank lending doesn’t have effects on aggregate demand. Funnily, while asserting others use the “loanble funds model”, they are themselves making such errors in their mental model.

Perhaps the term “financial intermediary” is used in the national accounts because it is centred around the production process. At the same time – of course – attention is equally given to finance. So there is nothing really to gain by trying to ban the usage of the phrase “intermediary” for banks.

Aside: IE users should upgrade their browser to IE11. 

Microsoft is going to stop support for old IE browsers. From now on, it will support the latest version only, unlike earlier when it was supporting several versions simultaeneously. So using old browsers will expose you to security risks. Websites’ codes are also browser dependent, so it is possible that my site won’t work with old IE soon. So please upgrade to IE11.

Or do something geeky. Pick up Chrome Canary or the Firefox Nightly build. But IE11 is not bad. It’s superfast.

Happy New Year!