Monthly Archives: June 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.