Yearly Archives: 2017

Morris Copeland’s Monetary Economics

Morris Copeland was the discoverer (or inventor?) of the flow of funds approach. The U.S. Federal Reserve publishes the statistics every quarter but is largely ignored. Copeland was of the view that it is essential to get rid of myths in economics. He said:

The subject of money, credit and moneyflows is a highly technical one, but it is also one that has a wide popular appeal. For centuries it has attracted quacks as well as serious students, and there has too often been difficulty in distinguishing a widely held popular belief from a completely formulated and tested scientific hypothesis.  I have said that the subject of money and moneyflows lends itself to a social accounting approach. Let me go one step farther. I am convinced that only with such an approach will economists be able to rid this subject of the quackery and misconceptions that have hitherto been prevalent in it.

– in Social Accounting For Moneyflows, in Flow-of-Funds Analysis: A Handbook for Practitioners (1996) [article originally published in 1949]

In an article titled, Some Illustrative Analytical Uses Of Flow-of-Funds Data, in the book, The Flow-of Funds Approach To Social Accounting, published in 1962, he has several interesting things to say about the myths prevalent even among most economists.

Page 196:

The FOF accounts help to dispel various misconceptions in regard to the role of money and of other forms of credit in the income and money circuit. Among these misconceptions are such ideas as that: (1) it is safe to assume that private nonbank cash balances are mostly consumer cash balances; (2) the banking sector is more than a mere financial intermediary, that by itself it can “create” a substantial amount of “money” that can be used to finance a substantial increase in aggregate demand; (3) a government deficit in a particular year or other period can be considered inflationary without stopping to consider whether it represents a fiscal change from the preceding period that tends to increase aggregate demand or whether it occurs at a time when the economy is operating at or near or far below full capacity; and (4) when the government seeks to raise a large amount of money through financial channels to finance a war, one can ignore the fact that an excess of nonfinancial uses over nonfinancial sources of funds for the government means an equal excess of nonfinancial sources over nonfinancial uses of funds for the rest of the economy and a consequent equal amount of money that the rest of the economy will necessarily advance to the government through financial channels.

Note: in (2) above, Copeland is talking of finance of government deficit via sale to banks as compared to sale to the general public and these two have different effects on the money stock. Same below.

Page 197:

It is not easy for us today to imagine what it must have been like to try to understand the workings of our economy in the absence of social accounting information. The workings of those aspects that involve financial transactions seem to have been particularly difficult to understand. Indeed, I think we can say that in the absence of financial transaction social accounting information various misunderstandings were permitted to develop. Let me mention three:

  1. One of these relates to the role of trade credit in the business cycle. This is a subject that probably received somewhat less attention than it deserved fifty-odd years ago, but it seems to have greatly intrigued H. J. Davenport, and he came up with this curious conclusion about the contraction of credit during a commercial crisis— “Side by side with the diminution of bank credit there is taking place an enforced and inevitable expansion of credit relations between producers and consumers, producers and middle-men, and between middle-men and consumers.”
  2. During World War I Secretary of the Treasury W. G. McAdoo, among others, was greatly concerned about the possibility that the huge wartime increase in the demand for funds would drive interest rates sharply up. As a matter of fact, interest rates did rise but by no means as sharply as McAdoo had anticipated. Railroad bond yields rose from 4.12 per cent in April 1917 to 4.42 per cent in November 1918. During World War II the yields on long-term United States bonds actually declined.
  3. There is a view still entertained by quite a number of economists that an increment in the currency and deposit liabilities of the banking and monetary system creates a net addition to the total sources of funds available to finance purchases of GNP and so, a net addition to aggregate demand.

Page 207:

There is still another type of misconception that I hesitated to mention in my opening remarks because it is of a rather subtle nature. I would like to comment on it briefly at this point. Let me indicate its nature by quoting from George Leland Bach’s Economics. An Introduction to Analysis and Policy:

When private spending on consumption and investment falls short of high production and employment levels, the government can increase total expenditures by spending more than it currently collects in taxes. At the extreme, it can finance this net addition by creating new money so as to assure a net addition to private spending. Or it can borrow existing funds from the public, hoping to draw on funds that would not otherwise be spent …

Conversely, when total private spending is too high, with resulting inflation, the government can withdraw funds from the income stream by taxing away more than it spends. At the extreme, it may simply hold or destroy this net surplus. Or it may use the surplus to pay off government debt, hoping that the bondholders will not rush out and spend the funds they receive.

This policy statement seems to imply three propositions that a good many economists have accepted, propositions the validity of which I want to question. The three propositions are:

  1. A federal government nonfinancial deficit makes for an increase (or surplus makes for a decrease) in aggregate demand.
  2. A federal government nonfinancial deficit financed by an increase (or a federal nonfinancial surplus resulting in a decrease) in currency outside banks plus demand deposits adjusted makes for a larger increase (or for a larger decrease) in aggregate demand than a deficit financed by the sale to the public of (or a surplus that is used to retire publicly held) interest-bearing federal obligations.
  3. In considering the effect of a federal deficit (or surplus) on aggregate demand we can afford to neglect the difference between a deficit brought about by an increase in government expenditures and one brought about by a decrease in government receipts (or between a surplus brought about by a decrease in government expenditures and one brought about by an increase in government receipts).

So you see Morris Copeland was the clearest monetary economist at his time.

Noam Chomsky On Neoliberalism: It’s Market For You But State Power For Me

Radio Open Source has a nice intervew of Noam Chomsky by Christopher Lydon where they discuss neoliberalism among other things.  Audio, transcript.

What is neoliberalism?

This question is asked frequently, especially by those who deny that such a thing exists (not the interviewer of course!). In my experience, those who deny it the most are the most neoliberal. At any rate—although I’ll try to describe what it is—it’s not important to get the definition right. Isn’t the creation of the Euro Area without a central government neoliberalism?

In the above interview, Chomksy is faced with this question:

CL: You famously said about neoliberalism that it’s not new, and it’s not liberal. Do you want to define it for people who just landed from Mars?

NC: Well, it’s a kind of a mixture. The rhetoric is free market, individual choice and so on. That’s the rhetoric. The reality is rather different. It’s individualism and market for you but state power for me. So take a look, say, at the actual institutions like the World Trade Organization or NAFTA, what are called the “free trade agreements.” The media calls them “free trade agreements.” They’re not free trade agreements. They’re investor rights agreements. They’re highly protectionist. They provide unprecedented protection backed by state power for major conglomerates like the pharmaceutical industry, media conglomerates, others.

That’s quite accurate, although Chomsky didn’t take the effort to define it but just described it as it is.

A lot of people try to distinguish neoliberalism and the New Consensus of economics. It’s certainly true that you can find examples of economists who believe in neoclassical economics or the new consensus or whatever you call it but don’t exactly advocate policies of neoliberalism. But, I’ll just categorize them as being deceived by economists. Orthodox economics is neoliberalism, except for minor differences. The former is an academic subject built to defend the latter, which is a political ideology. New Consesus Economics exists in academia because neoliberals and conservatives in political positions award them. Neoliberals then quote their research to defend policies.

Neoliberalism is based on three extremely damaging ideas of neoclassical economics: free trade, tight fiscal policy and the production function.

After the economic and financial crisis, it’s true that economists have conceded that fiscal policy has strong positive effects. Yet, it’s situational in most occasions. When a neoliberal party is in power, they might advocate fiscal expansion, at least make it look like they’re doing it. Also, although they sound as if they are unorthodox about it, they’ll rarely concede that they had a different position before the crisis. They’ll make it look like they have always believed their current positions since their undergraduate days. They’ll also pander to people who might want to hear otherwise. So they have different public and private positions. In other words, doublespeak about fiscal policy is the hallmark of a neoliberal.

But although economists have shifted their positions on fiscal policy—at least when it suits them—their voice about free trade has grown stronger. It is here that Chomsky’s point about “market for you but state power for me” appears the most illuminating. Rich nations are rich due to their success in international trade and they try to impose it on poor nations by hook or crook. This requires the cooperation of governments because agreements are negotiated by governments. Poor nations generally are sceptical about economists’ narratives but are arm-twisted by governments of rich nations and there is an establishment around the government which pushes such things both directly and indirectly by controlling the narrative (or control of opinion and manufacturing consent, as Chomsky might say).

Another aspect about neoliberalism is the politics around wages. As Thomas Palley says,

With regard to income distribution, neoliberalism asserts that factors of production—labor and capital—get paid what they are worth. This is accomplished through the supply and demand process, whereby payment depends on a factor’s relative scarcity (supply) and its productivity (which affects demand).

The theoretical basis for this is the narrative build in neoclassical economics using the notion of a production function and marginalism. Reality check: In the late 70s and early 80s, orthodox economists promoted government policies of high interest rates and this created unemployment and led to drastic weakening of labour unions. They were also weakened by laws. Again, markets for you but state power for me.

To quote Chomsky again from the interview,

[neoliberalism’s] crucial principle is undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy.

What Is Equilibrium?

The new paper by Gennaro Zezza and Michalis Nikiforos for the Levy Institute, surveying the literature on stock-flow consistent models has a discussion on the concept of equilibrium:

In the short run, “equilibrium” is reached through price adjustments in financial markets, while output adjustments guarantee that overall saving is equal to investment. However, such “equilibrium” is not a state of rest, since the expectations that drive expenditure and portfolio decisions may not be fulfilled, and/or the end-of-period level for at least one stock in the economy is not at its target level, so that such discrepancies influence decisions in the next period.

In theoretical SFC models, the long-run equilibrium is defined as the state where the stock-flow ratios are stable. In other words, the stocks and the flows grow at the same rate. The system converges towards that equilibrium with a sequence of short-run equilibria, and thus follows the Kaleckian dictum that “the long-run trend is but a slowly changing component of a chain of short-run situations; it has no independent entity” (Kalecki 1971: 165). The adjustment takes place because stocks and stock-flow ratios are relevant for the decisions of the agents of the economy. If stocks did not feed back into flows, the model may generate ever-increasing (or decreasing) stock-flow ratios: a result that might be stock-flow consistent, but at the same time unendurable. The convergence towards the long-run equilibrium also depends on more conventional hypotheses regarding the parameters of the model.

So equilibrium is a state where stock-flow ratios are stable.

Of course equilibrium just means that and doesn’t automatically translate to full employment, for example. One can imagine stock-flow ratios such as public debt/gdp, private debt/gdp may converge to some level such as 80%, 50% respectively but with unemployment at, say, 5%.

Also, it’s worth mentioning—especially in open economies—there is in general no automatic/market mechanism which guarantees that stock-flow norms are converging to some stable ratios.

Let me offer an alternative viewpoint for the short run.

In the short run, there’s really no concept of equilibrium because there is no heavenly Walrasian auctioneer in most markets. As pointed out by Nicholas Kaldor, there are dealers who are both buyers and sellers simultaneously. Dealers quote bid/ask prices and the quantities they are willing to buy or sell. Since there is a mismatch in demand and supply of “outside buyers” and “outside sellers”, dealers accumulate inventories or stocks. Dealers make a business out of the bid-ask spread. In non-financial markets, the terminology is slightly different. You won’t find a board with bid/ask prices at a car dealer, but the concept is similar. Here even the producer has inventories in the goods market. In the services market, whatever is demanded is supplied (or put in queue or refused if capacity is reached).

So there’s no equilibrium to be reached in the short-run. It’s always in disequilibrium. Sometimes neoclassical authors make it look like accounting identities are violated in disequilibrium and satisfied in equilibrium arranged by the Walrasian auctioneer. But in SFC models, it’s illogical to have such a thing. Accounting identities must always be respected. At all times, between all time periods, even infinitesimally small.

In real life, especially because of complications of the open economy, there is no such thing as an equilibrium or a tendency to move toward any equilibrium via market forces.

Still, the concept of equilibrium is useful even in SFC models. One can start with a state with a stable stock-flow ratios and then study what happens if some parameter or some exogenous variable is changed or a set of them are changed simultaneously. The dynamics may or may not reach equilibrium in the long run but we can study what happens in the traverse.


Thomas Palley — Trump And The Neocons: Doing The Unilateralist Waltz

Thomas Palley:

The neocon factor dramatically changes the interpretation of the Trump administration’s unilateralist international economic policy chatter.

Donald Trump’s first one hundred days have revealed his inclination for unilateralism in international relations. That inclination reflects his opportunistic and bullying disposition, and it also fits well with his anti-globalization pose.

Trump’s unilateralism has also spawned a dangerous waltz with Washington’s neocon establishment. The opportunistic Trump looks to gain establishment support, while the neocon establishment looks to the opportunist-in-chief to implement its own unilateralist view of the world.

The waltz is clearly visible in recent military actions, but it also extends to international economic policy which is an area of budding neocon concern. A further twist is that neocon unilateralism can be exercised against both rivals and allies. Power is at the core of the neocon project, and power can be used to block rivals or bend allies.

[The title is the link]

Noam Chomsky On His New Book, Neoliberalism And More In An Interview With Amy Goodman

Recently, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now interviewed Noam Chomsky with an audience at Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chomsky has a new book, Requiem For The American Dream: The 10 Principles Of Concentration Of Wealth & Power.

The ten principles are:

  1. Reducing democracy
  2. Shaping ideology
  3. Redesigning the economy
  4. Shift the burden on the poor and the middle classes
  5. Attack the solidarity of the people
  6. Let special interests run the regulators
  7. Engineer election results
  8. Use fear and power of the state to keep the rabble in line
  9. Manufacture consent
  10. Marginalize the population

I loved the line about neoliberalism:

So, the neoliberal programs were basically taking off right around 1980. It escalated—started a little with the late Carter, escalated under Reagan, went on more under Clinton and so on. 2007 was the peak of supposed success. This is right before the crash. A lot of euphoria among economists, political analysts about the great achievements of neoclassical economics, of the great moderation, you know, the neoliberal programs, a dismantling of regulations—all these great successes, 2007. What was happening to American working people at that time? In 2007, wages, real wages, were lower than they had been in 1979 when the experiment took off. In fact, for the majority of the population, it’s a period of stagnation or decline. Benefits have declined.

You can read more on the same from the transcript in the website or see the video.

Jeremy Spoke In Class Today

King Jeremy the wicked 🤩

Jeremy Corbyn spoke today in central London about the Manchester attack and Labour’s plan for addressing terrorism.

In this brilliant speech, Corbyn talks about how the West’s foreign policy is responsible for terrorism. Corbyn said:

Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.

That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.

But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.

Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.

The transcript is on Labour’s website. You can see the full video on Jeremy Corbyn’s Facebook page.

Among the world leaders, Jeremy Corbyn is one of the few to say this. Nobody is ready to admit that the West’s intervention in the Middle East has led to so many problems for the world and has been counterproductive to say the least.

If you’ve missed my previous post, you can check for a link of a discussion featuring Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky on this. Another great writing is by John Schwarz of The Intercept, on the denial about the United States’ government’s role in the world, written earlier this year.

A good analysis of Manchester is by Max Blumenthal for Alternet, here. In that he shows how the Libyan intervention led to a rise in jihadism which had close connection to the Manchester suicide bombing.

Of course, none of this doesn’t mean that this is the only factor responsible for global terrorism. But via deceit, western governments and the media has prevented this main reason from being discussed. It’s good that Jeremy Corbyn has pushed this in public debates.

Some Interesting Links On Politics

John Pilger recently wrote an excellent article, Getting Julian Assange: An Untold Story, about Julian Assange on his website. The article was endorsed by Assange himself on Twitter. It tells the story about how Julian Assange has been made a political prisoner. The article was written in response to the closing of an investigation against him by Sweden. Although this is positive, the United Kingdom police has declared that it will still arrest Assange if he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

Chelsea Manning was released from prison on May 17, after Barack Obama reduced her punishment. Glenn Greenwald put up a fantastic article on The Intercept telling us how she is one of the biggest heroes of our generation. Greenwald says:

Ever since Chelsea Manning was revealed as the whistleblower responsible for one of the most important journalistic archives in history, her heroism has been manifest. She was the classic leaker of conscience, someone who went at the age of 20 to fight in the Iraq War believing it was noble, only to discover the dark reality not only of that war but of the U.S. government’s actions in the world generally: war crimes, indiscriminate slaughter, complicity with high-level official corruption, and systematic deceit of the public.

The recent terrorist attack in Manchester has again raised the question about what the root causes of terrorism are. There was a conversation last year between Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky and Glenn Greenwald on this. The discussion—although titled, A Discussion On Privacy—has an interesting digression on terrorism. The YouTube video with the link to that part of the discussion is here. It’s far from the lazy explanation usually given, i.e., religion.


Stock-Flow Consistent Models: A Survey

There’s a new paper by Gennaro Zezza and Michalis Nikiforos for the Levy Institute.


The stock-flow consistent (SFC) modeling approach, grounded in the pioneering work of Wynne Godley and James Tobin in the 1970s, has been adopted by a growing number of researchers in macroeconomics, especially after the publication of Godley and Lavoie (2007), which provided a general framework for the analysis of whole economic systems, and the recognition that macroeconomic models integrating real markets with flow-of-funds analysis had been particularly successful in predicting the Great Recession of 2007–9. We introduce the general features of the SFC approach for a closed economy, showing how the core model has been extended to address issues such as financialization and income distribution. We next discuss the implications of the approach for models of open economies and compare the methodologies adopted in developing SFC empirical models for whole countries. We review the contributions where the SFC approach is being adopted as the macroeconomic closure of microeconomic agent-based models, and how the SFC approach is at the core of new research in ecological macroeconomics. Finally, we discuss the appropriateness of the name “stock-flow consistent” for the class of models we survey.

[The title is the link]


Thomas Palley — Monetary Policy And The Punch Bowl: The Case For Quantitative Policy And Wage Growth Targeting

Thomas Palley in his new paper:

In a famous 1955 speech, William McChesney Martin, the legendary Chairman of the Federal Reserve, declared that the Federal Reserve “is in the position of the chaperone who has ordered the punch bowl removed just when the party was really warming up.” Martin’s characterization of the Fed and monetary policy is brilliant and enduring. It explains why the stock market celebrates when the Fed stays on “hold”, and why the market is prone to a tantrum when the Fed raises interest rates. Staying on “hold” means more punch, while raising rates may mean sobering up.

This paper uses the punch bowl metaphor to explore and illustrate monetary policy, to show what the Fed has been doing with the punch bowl, and to suggest how it might do things better in the future. The essence of the argument is that, for thirty years prior to the financial crisis of 2008, the Federal Reserve ran the economy with too much unemployment and slack, contributing to wage stagnation and income inequality. That undermined the aggregate demand generation process, necessitating monetary policy fueled debt and asset price bubbles to fill the demand shortage. The combination of inequality and debt bubbles has proven disastrous, creating mountainous debt burdens. We need a new model for monetary policy (i.e. a different way of managing the punch bowl) that delivers full employment with wage growth, while restraining excessive debt accumulation.

[The title is the link]

Two Hundred Years Of Ricardian Trade Theory

Ingrid Kvangraven has a nice article200 Years of Ricardian Trade Theory: How Is This Still A Thing? on the blog, Developing Economics. In that, she asks how “the observation of persistent imbalances (and recurring debt crises in the deficit countries) appears to have little impact on the popularity of Ricardo’s theory.”

It’s a nice article going into details about the assumptions of the trade theory, but let me just add another perspective. New Consensus Economics is based on the assumption about the magic of prices and market forces acting to resolve imbalances. Government “intervention” (a loaded word), supposedly spoils this magic and economists are trained to think that this is the reason for crisis. So a New Consensus economist doesn’t find this to be contradictory. “Hey government, why did you interfere with the workings of the market”, an economist is likely to say.

The role of the government in this model is mainly about law and order and is supposed to balance its books. Whenever a crisis arises, economists tend to blame “fiscal profligacy” and recommend contraction of fiscal policy and “economic reforms”.

Of course, since the financial crisis started about ten years back, economists have conceded that they have been wrong about several things. Fiscal policy is one major area where this is so. But the “learned intuition” is so deeply ingrained and ramified into every corner of their minds—borrowing words from Keynes—that it is difficult for them to escape old ideas.

It’s unfortunate that Keynes didn’t stress much about this problem, which is huge. In his GT, he did have a chapter on mercantilism and discussed how the mercantilists behaved the way they behaved because of their distrust in the role of market forces in resolving imbalances. Keynes also had a plan called the Keynes Plan, before the Bretton Woods established. Keynes proposes a fine on creditor nations as well (page 23-24):

from page 23 of IMF’s document on Keynes’ Plan

Usually one only hears of this in Post-Keynesian literature but this was not all. He also proposed other responsibilities for creditors:

from page 24 of IMF’s document on Keynes’ Plan

Of course, the idea of a Bancor sounds crazy because of its similarity to the Euro. The trouble with the Euro is that there is no central government with large fiscal powers, such as in a federation like the United States. Bancor would need a world government. Nonetheless, we can still embrace Keynes’ genius that creditors should take responsibility in the rules of the game and reject Bancor. So apart from the principle of effective demand, this is one of Keynes’ biggest contribution to the history of humankind—that creditor nations have a responsibility.

Unfortunately, the world is still stuck with Ricardo’s ideas!