Minsky Meets Brazil (Part II)

Michael Stephens | August 24, 2016

by Felipe Rezende

This series will discuss at length the underlying forces behind Brazil’s current crisis. (See Part I here)

Part II

Building on Keynes’s investment theory of the cycle, Minsky’s work suggests that the structure of the economy becomes more fragile over a period of tranquility and prosperity. That is, endogenous processes breed financial and economic instability. While Minsky adopted Keynes’s “investment theory of the cycle,” he added a financial theory of investment, with a detailed exposition of the theory in his book John Maynard Keynes (1975), which put at the forefront the interrelation between investment decisions and the financial structure designed to allow economic units to take positions in assets by issuing debt. In this regard, debt accumulation is at the core of Minsky’s instability theory. His financial theory of investment incorporated Kalecki’s approach in which aggregate profits are created, mostly, by the autonomous components of demand (Minsky 1986, 1989). One can add to this analysis Godley’s three balances approach, which explores the interlinkages between the government sector, the private sector, and the external sector. This means that a surplus must be matched by an equal deficit and flows accumulate to stocks.

In this regard, Godley’s framework sheds light on the identification of financial fragility at the macro level, in which, to accumulate financial wealth, the private sector (firms and households) needs to spend less than its income. This can be accomplished through a combination of government budget deficits and current account surpluses. This framework is then incorporated into Minsky’s theory of the business cycle to analyze Brazil’s current crisis. In particular, Minsky’s framework not only sheds light on how to detect unsustainable financial practices, but the position adopted in this paper is that the current Brazilian crisis does fit with Minsky’s instability theory.

This article attempts to demonstrate the existence of endogenously generated instability in the Brazilian economy, which has created frequent and systemic financial crises. Brazil’s current crisis is not due to unsustainable policies; the country’s problem is systemic. continue reading…

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Tcherneva: Time for a US Job Guarantee (Part 2)

Michael Stephens | August 22, 2016

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JM Keynes Writings Project

L. Randall Wray |

JMK Writings Project Flyer

A crowdfunding campaign starting October 2016, on Indiegogo:

Overall aim:  To complete the publication of all of Keynes’s remaining unpublished writings of academic significance.

Only about one third were published in the Royal Economic Society edition. A huge quantity of valuable unpublished material remains, scattered across 60 archives in 6 countries.

Aim of this campaign:  Preparation of the Eton and early Cambridge volumes.

Campaign start:  11 October 2016.

To locate project: Google ‘JMK Writings Project Indiegogo.’

It is also planned, with publisher cooperation, for the campaign to assist selected universities in developing countries.

How you can help:

  1. Spread the word prior to the campaign launch – to academic colleagues (in economics or elsewhere), students in classes, conference participants, policy-makers, parliamentarians, philanthropists etc.
  2. Make, and encourage, donations, of ANY size, according to your situation. Especially on the first or second day of the campaign. Experience shows that strong starts are correlated with strong finishes.

Editor: Professor Rod O’Donnell, University of Technology Sydney, Australia.

Contact:  jmkwritingsproject@gmail.com

See also https://www.uts.edu.au/staff/rod.odonnell

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Tcherneva: Time for a US Job Guarantee

Michael Stephens | August 15, 2016

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Minsky Meets Brazil

Michael Stephens | August 12, 2016

by Felipe Rezende

This is the first in a series of blog posts on the Brazilian crisis.

Part I

A consensus has emerged in Brazil (and elsewhere) blaming Rousseff’s “new economic matrix” policies for the country’s worst crisis since the Great Depression (see here, here, here, here, and here). With the introduction of policy stimulus through ad hoc tax breaks for selected sectors seen as failing to boost economic activity and the deterioration of the fiscal balance — which posted a public sector primary budget deficit in 2014 after fifteen years of primary fiscal surpluses — opponents argued that government intervention was the problem. It provided the basis for the opposition to demand the return of the old neoliberal macroeconomic policy tripod and fiscal austerity policies. There was virtually a consensus that spending cuts would create confidence, reduce interest rates, and stimulate private investment spending. Fiscal austerity, according to this view, would be expansionary and pave the way for economic growth.

However, there is an alternative interpretation of the Brazilian crisis: as the result of endogenous processes that created destabilizing forces, reducing margins of safety and increasing financial fragility. As Minsky put it, “stability is destabilizing.” The success of traditional stabilization policies over substantial periods has created endemic financial fragility and rising domestic and external private indebtedness, causing the deterioration of the current account and the fiscal balance. This crisis was aggravated by the pursuit of structural stabilization policies in 2015, in an attempt to produce a fiscal surplus, which caused further deterioration of fiscal deficits and government debt followed by the collapse of economic activity.

1. Minsky’s Instability Theory

In Minsky’s work, he extended Keynes’s investment theory of the cycle to add the financial theory of investment to demonstrate that, in a modern capitalist economy, investment decisions have to be financed and the liability structure created due to those investment decisions will generate endogenous destabilizing forces. His theory of the business cycle, grounded in his financial theory of investment, shows that a capitalist economy is inherently unstable due to the interconnectedness of balance sheets of economics units and cash flows. From this perspective, while the financial system in a capitalist economy plays a key role in providing the financing to business to promote the real capital development of the economy, it also plays a key role in creating destabilizing forces.

Minsky’s framework not only sheds light on how to detect unsustainable financial practices, the position adopted in this paper is that the current Brazilian crisis does fit with Minsky’s instability theory. continue reading…

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Brexit Dilemma: Why Did the UK Reduce Interest Rates to Only 0.25 Percent Today?

Lekha Chakraborty | August 4, 2016

by Abhishek Anand and Lekha Chakraborty [1]

The global market was eagerly waiting for the July Monetary Policy Statement of the Bank of England (BoE). Speculation was rife that, post Brexit, the BoE would become the latest entrant into the set of central banks experimenting with negative interest rate policy (NIRP) in a desperate bid to reinvigorate its economy.

Remember that the global financial markets were shaken after the referendum result and the pound plunged to a three-decade low. The BoE governor Mark Carney had to step in with a pledge to provide $345 billion for the financial system of the country. He also issued a statement that “the BoE has put in place extensive contingency plans” to deal with a “period of uncertainty and adjustment.” Analysts had their own predictions regarding the BoE’s possible monetary policy stance. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Goldman Sachs, and ING Bank were of the opinion that the BoE could lower its key interest rate in its July meeting. The result of a Bloomberg survey showed that in the event of Brexit, credit-easing measures such as quantitative easing (QE) and rate cuts may be the immediate options resorted to. The global importance of Brexit could be gauged from the fact that the Fed has had to delay to the fourth quarter of this year its plan of a possible interest rate hike in a bid to support global economic recovery.

However, the market was left surprised by the BoE’s decision to maintain its bank rate unchanged. The Monetary Policy Committee at BoE voted 8-1 to leave borrowing costs at 0.5 percent and hinted that it would launch a stimulus package in August. Today, the BoE reduced rates to 0.25 percent.

But why did NIRP not find favor with the BoE? After all, by the end of March 2016 as many as six central banks had adopted NIRP in an attempt to counter sluggish growth and deflationary pressures (fig 1). The latest country to join this mad race is the Bank of Japan, which announced in its January 2016 monetary policy statement a negative interest rate of –0.1 percent to current accounts that financial institutions hold at the Bank. continue reading…

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New Book: Rethinking Capitalism

Michael Stephens | July 21, 2016

A new book edited by Michael Jacobs and Mariana Mazzucato and featuring contributions from Joseph Stiglitz, L. Randall Wray, Stephanie Kelton, and others will be released tomorrow:

Rethinking Capitalism Cover

The TOC is below:

Rethinking Capitalism TOC

You can download the introductory chapter here (pdf).

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Wray on Revenue, Redemption, and When Austerity Is Justified

Michael Stephens | July 12, 2016

L. Randall Wray has an essay in the recent issue of the World Economic Review. Wray’s target is the belief that “government needs tax revenue to pay for most (or even all) of its spending.” According to Wray, a version of this belief distorts our understanding of what are the limits of, say, the US federal government’s ability to spend. (In terms of the sense of “limits” here, Wray wants to distinguish between the constraints imposed by the particularities of US law and broader financial/economic constraints.)

With the aid of references to the history of American colonial paper currency, Wray presents a competing conception of tax revenues as “redemption,” according to which taxes support the value of the notes that have been issued, rather than being the means by which the government raises its “income” and a precondition of its ability to spend.

What’s the upshot of this “taxes as redemption” story?

While affordability is not in question, inflation is a danger. To be sure, inflation can occur even at low levels of aggregate demand (witness the stagflation of the 1970s in the USA), but if government spending should drive the economy beyond full employment, then inflation will result. Government spending can also be inflationary before full employment if it is directed to sectors with a low elasticity of output (where additional demand causes prices to rise without increasing output much). One could envision additional ways in which misdirected spending and poor policy could cause inflation. The point is, however, that the danger is not affordability but rather inflation.

Currency depreciation is also a possibility for floating exchange rate systems […]

Hence, “more austerity” can be the right answer, but only in specific circumstances. If government is spending so much that prices are rising faster than desired, or if the currency is depreciating more than desired, then the answer could be to reduce spending or raise taxes. The difference here is not subtle. In these cases, it is not affordability but rather inflation or currency depreciation that is the problem. Policy makers ought to be able to see the difference: austerity is needed not because government is running out of its own currency but rather because prices are rising or currency is depreciating more rapidly than desired.

You can read the essay here: (pdf) “Taxes are for Redemption, Not Spending

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Paul McCulley Has Had It with Orthodox Macroeconomists

Michael Stephens | June 13, 2016

Writing in The Hill, Paul McCulley argues that his profession’s fussy obsession with the Fed’s zero-point-whatever monetary policy is leading us into a dead end: “after a financial crisis, itself spawned by bursting of a bubble in private-sector debt creation, the power of monetary policy to generate robust aggregate spending growth is severely truncated.”

The policy problem we need desperately to solve — whose solution is key to a robust recovery, McCulley argues — is fiscal: “fiscal deficits need to be dramatically bigger.” To that end, he adds, it’s time to place the concept of “central bank independence” in its proper context:

Central bank independence has its time and place. But when economic growth is milquetoast and the reality is that inflation is too low, not too high (with the risk of outright deflation in the event of a recessionary shock), there is no reason whatsoever for the monetary and fiscal authorities to act independently — as if they were oil and water — in pursuit of the common public good.

Right now, what the country needs is for the fiscal authority to exercise its latitude to purposely ramp up its spending more than its taxing, and for the monetary authority to print however much money is necessary to keep interest rates low, unless and until inflation smacks the economy in the face. And the fiscal and monetary authorities need to openly declare that these actions are a political joint venture.

Yes, my profession needs to remember that macroeconomics, as a discipline, is about solving collective action problems. The solutions are often politically messy, offending the sensibilities of the moneyed class. Such is the nature of effective democracy: Messiness that delivers for all.

Read it all here.

Related: “Central Bank Independence: Myth and Misunderstanding

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Basic Income and the Job Guarantee

Michael Stephens | June 8, 2016

Pavlina Tcherneva was interviewed by Joe Weisenthal yesterday to present the case against a universal basic income policy (a proposed version of which was just voted down in Switzerland). Watch:

Thcerneva Weisenthal_Basic Income v Job Guarantee

Tcherneva has written about the UBI versus Job Guarantee debate, including this contribution (pdf) to a special issue of the journal Basic Income Studies (paywall).

She also spoke about this last November at a roundtable convened by Dissent magazine:
continue reading…

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