Author Archives: V. Ramanan

UNCTAD On The Case For A Global New Deal

The United Nations 🇺🇳 Conference On Trade And Development (UNCTAD) publishes wonderful annual reports on trade and development. These are written by heterodox authors many times. Alex Izurieta, Francis Cripps, Jayato Ghosh are a few contributors. This year’s report is here. 200 pages!

The report has detailed discussion on robots and its impact. This is quite different from what one hears normally.

From the press release:

With the United States withdrawing from its role as global consumer of last resort, recycling surpluses is a key element in rebalancing the global economy.  The report turns the spotlight on the eurozone – especially Germany – which is now running a large surplus with the rest of the world. The recent Group of 20 proposal made by Germany – a Marshall Plan for Africa – is welcome, but so far lacks the requisite financial muscle. The trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative of China is much bolder, even as its surplus has dropped sharply over the last two years.

The report draws lessons from 1947, when the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the United Nations joined forces to rebalance the post-war global economy, and the Marshall Plan was launched. Seven decades later, an equally ambitious effort is needed to tackle the inequities of hyperglobalization to build inclusive and sustainable economies.

In response to the political slogan of yesteryear – “there is no alternative” – the report outlines a global new deal to build more inclusive and caring economies.  This would combine economic recovery with regulatory reforms and redistribution policies, and do so with speed and at the requisite scale. The successes of the New Deal of the 1930s in the United States owed much to its emphasis on counterbalancing powers and giving a voice to weaker groups in society, including consumer groups, workers’ organizations, farmers and the dispossessed poor. This is no less true today.

In today’s integrated global economy, Governments will need to act together for any one country to achieve success. UNCTAD urges them to seize the opportunity offered by the Sustainable Development Goals and put in place a global new deal for the twenty-first century.

In addition, you can see the two short videos here.

A New Way To Learn Economics?

John Cassidy has a nice article titled A New Way To Learn Economics for The New Yorker on a new online introductory economics curriculum. produced by a lot of collaborators.

I went to the website which has the full book. Although there seems to be some progress, I have a strong reservation against it.

The chapter titled “Banks, money and the credit market” has a much better description on it than textbooks widely used, such as the ones by Paul Samuelson, Gregory Mankiw or Paul Krugman. On a cursory look, I didn’t find anything about the “money multiplier” model. Instead, the book says that central banks set short term interest rates and this has an effect on aggregate demand. If I missed something and if you find something orthodox, please let me know.

The chapter on fiscal policy looks like being written by fiscal hawks. There is a description of the government expenditure multiplier, which is not much different from other textbooks. There’s no mention of the more complicated nature of this process because of interactions between stocks and flows. For example, in stock-flow coherent (SFC) models, this one-step multiplier has a limited role.

Now, fiscal policy has strong effects and the book hardly does justice to any of this. It reads more like a defense of the establishment wisdom.

But it is in the area of international trade and globalization under the current rules of the game that the book is the most disappointing. The authors do tell students that it can produce “losers” but the problem of such an approach is that it doesn’t appreciate the fact that it leads to polarisation and divergences in fortunes of nations, instead of individuals. The assumption and conclusion (the same thing in most of economics!) is that if losers are compensated, fortunes of nations can converge.

This by Nicholas Kaldor, written in 1980, is change.

Not the new book, The Economy. 

As Morris Copeland emphasised, the root problem of economics is the total confusion of anyone and everyone on what money is. And his approach shows us that it’s not complicated. One just needs to study flow-of-funds or social accounting. There is hardly any emphasis of this in the book. Till then, students will remain confused and ignorant about the way the world works.

Link

Dirk Bezemer On How Wynne Godley And Some Other Economists Saw The Crisis Coming

Dirk Bezemer had investigated who saw the crisis coming and why. Now he has written a short piece for the Financial Times‘s readers.

It’s not an easy task. Many may have said that “there is going to be a crisis”. Some may even say the same thing their whole life. Even a broken clock is right twice a day!

So one has to choose some criteria to separate good analysis from fluke.

Also, What Bezemer observes is that the common theme of economists who saw it coming is the use of flow of funds accounting.

One small quibble in the latest article: Bezemer claims that lending to the financial sector “crowds out” production. I am not sure that’s the case. But it’s not important here.

The page title is the link.

Link

Alex Izurieta On The UN Global Policy Model

Alex Izurieta compares and contrasts the UN Global Policy Model with models of other international organizations such as the IMF, the OECD and the EU:

A central proposition in this essay is that global models cannot be taken to represent objective and scientific tools for policy analysis. Clearly, all models have to make simplifications and in doing so they will fail to capture some dimensions of economic reality. … Unfortunately, the dominant models proposed by the mentioned IOs ignore essential features of the socio-economic system and therefore deliver a seriously distorted view of policy impacts. Most salient are their assumptions about economic growth, distribution, fiscal and monetary policy, and their failure to address problems of global aggregation—that is, of adding up variables for each world region to account for all relevant macroeconomic factors.

Also an important point on “structural reforms”,

In a different model, such as the UN GPM, structural reforms that depress wages and increase inequality in one country have negative repercussions in other countries that tend to reduce aggregate demand in the world as a whole

[the post header is the link]

Link

Jayati Ghosh — After Neoliberalism, What Next?

Jayati Ghosh in Red Pepper: 

The question ‘what is your alternative?’ is a familiar one for most progressives, and too often we are overly defensive or self-critical about our supposed lack of alternatives. In truth, there are many economically-viable, socially-desirable alternative proposals in different contexts. The problem is not their lack of existence but their lack of political feasibility, and perhaps their lack of wider dissemination. …

While rejecting the totalising theory, it is possible to think of a broad framework around which there could be much agreement, even among people who do not necessarily identify themselves as of the ‘left’, but are nevertheless dissatisfied with current economic arrangements at both national and international levels.

The obsessively export-oriented model that has dominated the growth strategy for the past few decades must be reconsidered. This is not a just a desirable shift – it has become a necessity given the obvious fact that the US and the EU are no longer engines of world growth through increasing import demand in the near future. This means that both developed and developing countries must seek to redirect their exports to other countries and most of all to redirect their economies towards more domestic demand. This requires a shift towards wage-led and domestic demand-led growth, particularly in the countries with economies large enough to sustain this shift.

Hangovers And Economic Ideology

Post-Keynesians frequently highlight the Kaldor-Verdoorn Law which states that aggregate demand affects the supply side. This was even used by economists who prepared the economic plan for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in the United States, as explained well by John Cassidy for The New Yorker. Although, the law is not generally known, economists roughly understand it as a theory of “hangovers”.

The Kaldor-Verdoorn Law is:

rate of growth of productivity = constant1 +  constant × rate of growth of production

where constant1 is the exogenous rate of growth of productivity.

These constants will be different for every nation and are to be found empirically.

Of course, productivity is not the only measure of the supply side, but that gives an idea about the general notion of super-hysteresis. 

So Post-Keynesians would argue that slowdown, crises and recessions will affect the supply side but fiscal and monetary policy can be used to quickly recover and that delays will affect the supply side.

It’s interesting to note how others see it.

Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff do an empirical analysis and claim that the hangover effect is permanent.

John Cogan, Glenn Hubbard, John Taylor and Kevin Warsh claim this all wrong and that policy can be used to recover.

The two ideas contain a mix of ideology and scientific validity. As Joan Robinson says, “I believe that economic analysis, though it cannot help containing an element of propaganda, yet can be scientific as well.”

While Reinhart and Rogoff’s analysis about hangovers is half right, what they wish to say is that nothing can be achieved via policy to change it. Taylor and Co.’s analysis is correct that policy can be used to resolve the slowdown. They however reject the hangover effect or that there is a damage to the supply side because of a slowdown of aggregate demand. They are rejecting super-hysteresis. Also, by policy, what they mean is deregulation.

After The Economist, The IMF Now Emphasizing Surplus Countries’ Responsibility

Recently, The Economist had a cover story saying that surplus nations bear responsibility for global imbalances and weak economic growth. Now, the IMF is also advising surplus nations to expand domestic demand.

The IMF tweeted this, with a link to a new report (2017 External Sector Report) on global imbalances:

click to see the tweet on Twitter

As I have said before, this is the biggest concession to Keynes’ idea that surplus countries bear the responsibility.

In an articleThe General Theory In An Open Economy, published in 1996, Paul Davidson says:

Keynes was well aware that the domestic employment advantage gained by export-led growth ‘is liable to involve an equal disadvantage to some other country’ (p. 338). When countries pursue an ‘immoderate policy’ (p. 338) of export-led growth (e.g., Japan, Germany and the NICs of Asia in the 1980s), this aggravates the unemployment problem for the surplus nations’ trading partners. These trading partners are then forced to engage in a ‘senseless international competition for a favorable balance which injures all alike’ (pp. 338-9). The traditional approach for improving the trade balance is to make one’s domestic industries more competitive by either forcing down nominal wages (including fringe benefits) to reduce labour production costs and/or by a devaluation of the exchange rate. Competitive gains obtained by manipulating these nominal variables can only foster further global stagnation and recession as one’s trading partners attempt to regain a competitive edge by similar policies.

The Upshot NYT On The Kaldor-Verdoorn Law

Neil Irwin writing for The Upshot seems open to the idea that aggregate demand affects aggregate supply, quoting the work of J.W. Mason:

… But what if this is the wrong way of thinking about it? What if productivity growth is not so much an external force that proceeds in random fits and starts, but is rather deeply intertwined with the overall state of the economy and labor market?

It’s a chicken or egg problem: Does low productivity cause slow growth, or does slow growth cause low productivity?

Discussion of such matters was also welcomed by Narayana Kocherlakota on Twitter.

Recently, Simon Wren-Lewis also wrote recently in a post on his blog, Mainly Macro, titled, Why Recessions Followed By Austerity Can Have A Persistent Impact.

In standard economic theory, productivity rises explains the rise and fall of nations, although this shouldn’t really be happening because of the convergence promised by advocates of free trade!

In Kaldorian models, aka the principle of circular and cumulative causation, nations with higher competitiveness will see a large rise in production at the expense of other nations. Higher production leads to higher productivity, so the observed relation between success and productivity has a different story! Also, competitiveness has two aspects: price and non-price. Higher productivity does improve price-competitiveness. Further, I believe, competitiveness itself isn’t something fixed. Initial success feeds into higher competitiveness and the reverse for failure. So there’s a complicated story of causality.

How The Economist‘s Cover Story Is Causing Discomfort

The recent cover story of The Economist on Germany’s trade surpluses—titled The German Problem: Why Germany’s Current-Account Surplus Is Bad For The World Economy— is the biggest concession the magazine has made to Keynesianism. Of course, it’s not as if the publication is now a full Keynesian but still, it’s a large admission.

I have two previous posts on this:

  1. The Economist On Germany’s Balance Of Payments
  2. John Maynard Keynes On Surplus Nations’ Obligations

So it was expected that The Economist‘s story was going to be opposed by other publications pandering to the establishment. For example, FT‘s Martin Sandbu who wrote a pieceGermany Bashing Falls Flat.

Handelsblatt had this response:

Sandbu’s main point is:

That means the accusation against Germany comes about five years too late. There was indeed a strong jump in the nation’s trade surplus half a decade ago, at a time when the world was still struggling to come out of recession. But that surplus has not changed much since.

He also says:

[the] claim [that Germany’s penchant for high saving … is a drag on global growth] trips up both analytically and contextually. Analytically, because the impulse from net trade on aggregate demand is the change in the external balance, rather than its level — much like the impulse from a fiscal deficit is the change in public borrowing as a share of economic output. So long as imports, exports and other macroeconomic aggregates grow at the same rate, a stable external balance goes along with the same steady growth of aggregate demand.

This claim has a pretense to be analytical but it’s hardly the case. This can be seen in stock-flow consistent models but it’s not the easiest to show that in a blog post, so here’s an attempt:

Divide the world into Germany (and other surplus countries) and the rest of the world. The rest of the world’s current account deficit means (without minor qualifications about “revaluations”) that its net international investment position is deteriorating by the amount of its current account deficit. So it’s not the case that if some aggregates grow at some rate, everything is fine because others—such as NIIP/GDP—aren’t.

There are many debt sustainability conditions and each should be used with care. One condition is that

cad(g) < g

where the lowercase cad is the ratio CAD/GDPCAD is the current account deficit and g is the growth rate of GDP. It’s not as simple as it looks, because growth rate of GDP also affects the current account balance or deficit. The notation cad(g) is to indicate that it is so.

For high growth rates, cad(g) is larger than g.

In other words, sustainability implies that growth is restricted to be low.

Similarly, on the creditor’s side, an economy (i.e., Germany) growing at about 2.2% (nominal) and current account balance of 8.3%, that implies that its NIIP/GDP is rising fast (and hence deteriorating the ratio of others).

So Sandbu’s claim that those asking Germany to expand domestic demand aren’t analytical itself falls flat. His analysis just does a chart eyeballing of some numbers. Just because a few things aren’t worsening, doesn’t mean things are fine. Other metrics may be worsening.

Handelsblatt‘s analysis doesn’t really say much except claiming that Germany’s trade surplus just means its expenditure is less than its income and nothing more. It also errs on endorsing the claim that, “that national economies cannot be managed like large firms.”, which the crisis taught us is highly incorrect.

Stock-Flow Consistent Agent-Based Models

I wasn’t too excited about “agent-based models” before this, but I saw this paper What Drives Markups? Evolutionary Pricing In An Agent-Based Stock-Flow Consistent Macroeconomic Model by Marc Lavoie (co-authored with Pascal Seppecher and Isabelle Salle) and it got me a bit interested.

From the paper:

ABMs are conceived to analyze out-of-equilibrium dynamics and adaptation processes
from heterogeneous and interacting entities … On a more specific note, we use a stock-flow consistent (hereafter, SFC) framework … there has been a multiplicity of macroeconomic models that combine two important features: the principle of decentralization/disaggregation which is found in ABM and the principle of stock-flow consistency … In an ABM, macroeconomic variables are the result of a simple process of aggregation of individual data, as in the real word [sic] …, so that the accounting accuracy provided by the SFC ensures the relevance of the aggregation process …, as well as the interconnected nature of the balance sheets of all agents. Symmetrically, AB principles could provide micro-foundations to SFC macroeconomics, that is, a way to logically articulate and rigorously organize the interactions between the micro and the macro levels.