An Ecological Future for SFC Macroeconomics?

Greg Hannsgen | June 14, 2015

subsidence cal

(USGS Graphic from NYT, June 7, 2015)

SFC (stock-flow-consistent) economics is about watertight accounting: each model strictly accounts for all financial stocks and flows, making sure, for example, that when a change in someone’s income is assumed, all corresponding changes to other incomes and balance sheet items and their behavioral effects are taken into account. Along the same lines are the laws of physics, as ecological economists have emphasized—though seemingly with little regard for the all-important world of finance, government deficits, MMT, etc. This subfield has represented another group of dissenters in academic economics and the policy world since the 1970s or so. Some early ecological dissenters rejected academic economics altogether, with anti-economist Hazel Henderson, for example, devoting a chapter of one work to a critique of the Post-Keynesian school, which she found far too narrowly focused on economic growth and the distribution of wealth.

It is fortunate then that among the papers presented at the Post Keynesian Study Group (PKSG) workshop in the U.K. last month were two that attempted to meld Post-Keynesian economics with ecological economics. In particular, the paper by Yannis Dafermos, Giorgos Galanis, and Maria Nikolaidi echoed themes in SFC modeling, bringing back to mind the map in this news article on land subsidence in California (accompanying image above) which had appeared in the New York Times last weekend and seemed to be a good illustration of Dafermos’s theme.

From the article: “Underground water supply isn’t fenced or restricted; it is moisture held in the soil, rocks and clay, and drawn through wells like soda through a straw.
“In a normal year, Mr. Famiglietti says, 33 percent of California’s water comes from underground, but this year it is expected to approach 75 percent. Since 2011, he says, the state has lost eight trillion gallons from its overall water reserves, two-thirds of that from its underground aquifers.
“‘We can’t keep doing this,’ Mr. Famiglietti says.
“The draining of the aquifers creates another hazard above ground. As water is pulled from the spongy layers below, the ground above collapses, creating what is known as subsidence. Where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

As the aquifers involved shrink, the earth’s surface seems to fall—a perhaps ineluctable implication of a fall in the total amount of rock, soil, water, etc., below.

The still-tentative study by the three authors attempts to comprehensively account for matter and energy within a Post-Keynesian SFC model, with tables reminiscent of the latter approach. For example, the matter that makes up the materials used by manufacturers winds up going up smokestacks, emerging as output, being recycled, etc., and all such destinations are included in the cells of an all-encompassing table. A similar scheme can be used for the use of energy, and in fact the paper draws upon early work by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen—a hero of the ecological economists—to unify concerns about energy, the environment, and the economy in a systemic approach based on the laws of thermodynamics. In their paper, the authors cite Levy Institute research on SFC macroeconomics, including a paper on proposals to create green jobs. I recently blogged about some financial themes in a paper by Tai Young-Taft and myself, which also contained a (far less thoroughgoing) use of green accounting.

As I draft this post, I am away from the Institute for the day. I send my best wishes to the attendees and staff of our Minsky Summer Seminar, many of whom have come a long distance to learn more about Hyman Minsky and his economics.

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One Response to “An Ecological Future for SFC Macroeconomics?”

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  1. Comment by David Chester — July 15, 2015 at 11:21 am   Reply

    The idea of SFC (stock-flow consistent) is an important one and it is also applicable to the macroeconomics system at large. This methodology has recently been developed in my more general book about the Big Picture of our organized society “Consequential Macroeconomics–Rationalizing About How Our Social System Works”. Unlike past works on theoretical macroeconomics, this approach starts (after an humorous introduction) formally with proper axioms, necessary assumptions and full definitions of the variables. The approach is a logical and scientific one and the result is a seamless model of the whole shebang!
    It was written when the author grew tired and frustrated with the almost universal, previous vague and imprecise ways, by which this vital subject was presented and taught. Here at last, (after 240 years on from Adam Smith’s beginning) there is provided a better way for complete and comprehensive macroeconomics understanding (of a fairly easy kind to grasp) and for research into the use of various proposals for policy change.

    Interested parties may obtain a reviewer’s e-copy from me at chesterdh@hotmail.com when they explain where their interest in this subject lays.

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