Archive for the ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ Category

The Reality of the Present and the Challenge of the Future: Fagg Foster for the 21st Century

L. Randall Wray | April 23, 2014

(Here is a presentation I gave at the University of Denver at the annual J. Fagg Foster honors ceremony. Most of you will not know of Foster, but you should. While he did not publish much, he was the professor of a number of prominent institutionalists who attended DU in the early postwar period. I was lucky to have studied with his student, Marc Tool, and was introduced to Foster’s work at the very beginning of my studies of economics. My presentation below is based on two of Foster’s articles: J. Fagg Foster (1981) “Understandings and Misunderstandings of Keynesian Economics,” JEI, vol XV, No 4, p. 949-957.; and (1981) “The Reality of the Present and the Challenge of the Future”, JEI vol XV, No 4, p. 963-968. Both are from 1966, republished in a special issue of the Journal of Economic Issues, 1981. You should read them.)

Is this the age of Keynes? That’s the question raised by Fagg Foster in 1966.

In the 1960s the answer seemed obvious. Keynes dominated economics—or, at least, macroeconomics—and Keynesianism dominated policy. And it worked! Or, so most thought.

Foster wasn’t sure. While he agreed that “[t]here probably has been no instance in history in which a pattern of ideas has had so much effect on the everyday life of everyone in so short a time,” he thought most of Keynes’s followers misunderstood his theory.

Further, Foster wasn’t convinced the theory provided a firm basis for policy.

Finally, he lamented that “among all post-Keynesian economists, the institutionalists seem to have been least affected by Keynes’s theory…. The institutionalists have not even contemplated the possibility of any generic relationships between the Keynesian theory and their own.”

A decade later, so-called Keynesian economics was in disarray, a casualty of the apparent failure of policy to fine-tune the economy. Stagflation at the end of the 1970s delivered the final blow, and fueled the rise of increasingly preposterous approaches such as Rational Expectations, Real Business Cycle theory, the Efficient Markets Hypothesis and hence on to DSGE with a single representative agent standing in for the whole economy.

In truth, even in the heyday of Keynesianism, policy was directed to stimulate the sentiments of business undertakers—precisely what Keynes recommended against—with supply-side tax cuts and a cornucopia of subsidies to the captains of industry.

While a parallel approach developed calling itself New Keynesian, the only thing new was the adoption of the craziest “new” orthodox ideas (witness rational expectations). And the only thing “Keynesian” was the presumption that sticky wages and prices prevent instantaneous market clearing—which was actually the old Neoclassical explanation of unemployment that Keynes had dispatched.

With friends like these, Keynes doesn’t need enemies.

In retrospect, Foster might have been a bit hard on the institutionalists. continue reading…


Distribution, Stagnation, and Macro Policy in an Interactive Model

Greg Hannsgen | April 21, 2014

The funny-shaped surface in the Wolfram “CDF” below (software download link) depicts excess demand for goods. The flat one represents the zero line where supply and demand are equal. On each axis is a variable that affects the degree to which demand outpaces or falls short of supply: (1) firms’ share in the price of goods, after paying wages, which equals the pricing markup m divided by (1 + m); and  (2) the income and production generated by the private sector, measured by capacity utilization. The height dimension measures excess demand for goods.

The sliding levers at the top of the CDF allow one to change (1) (“chi”) the percentage of disposable income spent by the wealthy households who own most stock, as well as all government-issued securities; (2) the rate of production by the public sector, which hires workers to produce services; and/or (3) the annual compound real interest rate (yield) on government securities. All of the other parameters are held constant as you move the levers. Click on the “plus” sign next to a lever, and further information appears.

[WolframCDF source=”” width=”331″ height=”361″ altimage=”3D-excess-demand-graphN5.png” altimagewidth=”309″ altimageheight=”351″]

Click here for a much larger, easier-to-read version of this CDF on a webpage of its own.

At the curved line where the two surfaces intersect (the edge of the dark blue region when viewed from above), aggregate demand is just equal to private-sector output, and there is no tendency for capacity utilization to change. Finding this intersection gives us the set of combinations of output and the distributional parameter at which all newly produced units are being sold, and no new goods orders are stacking up unfilled. Experimenting with the CDF, one finds that capacity utilization is usually higher: (1) when the share of the “K-sector”, or capital-owning sector, (m/(1 + m)) is lower, (2) when that sector spends a greater percentage of its disposable income, or (3) when government production and payrolls are larger.

One should keep in mind the simplification required to construct such a “small” model, which in graphical form represents only an imaginary economy; the numbers are not intended to mirror those of any particular country or data set–but the economic  system portrayed in the CDF is meant to be similar in many of its essentials to that of large industrialized nations with their own currencies, huge companies, liquid securities markets, floating exchange rates, etc. Another possible way to interpret this highly “stratified” industrial system is as an entire global economy in a mere 3 sectors: workers; firms/wealthy households; and government/central bank.

A larger version of the model featured an unemployment benefits system. To come: a discussion of the movements over time that may or may not bring the economy closer to the line where excess demand just reaches the flat surface and no higher. The model still has only a rudimentary financial system, with no private borrowing. Hence, the interest rate lever acts upon the economy solely by changing the amount of interest payments from the government to households–a distributional and fiscal variable in its own right and an MMT insight. (Business investment depends on capacity utilization and the gross after-tax profit rate.) The model is drawn more or less directly from Levy Institute working paper 723 (see this previous post) as revised recently for the academic journal Metroeconomica.


Modern Money In Six Short Videos

L. Randall Wray | March 31, 2014

I recently did an interview for Euro Truffa on six topics related to MMT. The website is here. They are transcribing my interview to Italian (I think that only two are up so far) and putting up the videos. They have also posted all of the videos to YouTube.

As you can tell, I did not realize they were recording the video—I might have tried to sit still if I had known. Also, the coffee had not quite kicked in so I was not entirely awake. Here are the links with just a brief indication of the topic for each.

The first two videos have already been embedded here. (1) The first one addresses all the (silly) (non)-controversy about “consolidating” the Government’s central bank and treasury for the purposes of analysis of fiscal and monetary policy operations. I provide three responses to the critics. (2) The second video tackles the belief that the Euroland crisis is due to current account “imbalances.” As I explain, the real problem is the abandonment of sovereign currency. No one describes the USA financial crisis as a problem of current account imbalances between, say, Alabama and New York. Why? We unified our currency—the dollar—but under Uncle Sam in Washington. The EMU only partially unified, without a central fiscal authority that issues the euro.

(3) In this one, I argue that a floating currency provides more domestic policy space. A country that floats does not need to accumulate reserves of foreign currency. Still, I do not argue that a floating exchange rate is always and everywhere the best strategy.

(4) This one addresses the Job Guarantee (or ELR) and questions about inflation and labor discipline. I argue that the JG provides a job to anyone who wants to work, but without sparking inflation or eliminating discipline. Note that Minsky, like Heinz, argues there are 57 varieties (I think I said 52—again, too early in the morning for me to be doing interviews) of capitalism and pickles.

(5) This segment continues discussion of the JG, arguing that it is morally reprehensible to keep people unemployed, poor, and hungry on the argument that this is necessary to avoid a trade deficit. I do not agree with Tom Palley, who objects to the JG on the argument that “the poor will want meals.” Give them jobs, let them eat. If you do not like trade deficits, then reduce imports of luxury goods bought by the wealthy.

(6) How to save the EMU? Some suggest a unified central bank system—like the Fed. I argue that the problem is fiscal policy, not monetary policy.

Here are the original questions, in English and Italian: continue reading…


MMT, the Consolidation Hypothesis, and Why Louisiana Won’t Leave Its Currency Union

Michael Stephens | March 18, 2014

In this interview with Euro Truffa, L. Randall Wray responds to some recent critiques of Modern Money Theory (MMT).

In the first segment, Wray defends the idea that we can, for the purposes of simplifying the analysis of affordability constraints faced by modern governments, safely disregard many of the self-imposed constraints on Treasury-Central Bank cooperation (this is sometimes referred to as the “consolidation hypothesis.” For more on this topic, see “Modern Money Theory 101: A Reply to Critics,” by Randall Wray and Éric Tymoigne, as well as Tymoigne’s recent working paper on Fed-Treasury operations in the United States).

In this next segment (sorry, video quality is bad, but audio is fine), Wray challenges the idea that the eurozone crisis is chiefly a balance of payments crisis.


Working Paper Roundup 3/7/2014

Michael Stephens | March 7, 2014

Central Bank Independence: Myth and Misunderstanding
L. Randall Wray
“This paper argues that the Fed is not, and should not be, independent, at least in the sense in which that term is normally used.

Our understanding of policy, of the policy space available to the sovereign, and of the operational realities of fiscal and monetary policy would be improved if we abandoned the myth of central bank independence.”

Changes in Global Trade Patterns and Women’s Employment in Manufacturing: An Analysis over the Period of Asianization and Deindustrialization
Burca Kizilirmak, Emel Memis, Şirin Saraçoğlu, and Ebru Voyvoda
“We provide estimates for total and women’s employment effects of world trade, evaluating the changes in trade flows in 30 countries (21 OECD and 9 non-OECD countries) for 23 manufacturing sectors by breaking up the sources of these changes between the trade with the North, the South, and China. …
Our results present a net negative impact of trade on total employment as well as on women’s employment in 30 countries over the period of analysis [1995-2006]. … Country level results show that the United States has by far the largest estimated employment losses from the change in structure of trade: 81 percent of the employment losses in the North originate in the US”

Full Employment: The Road Not Taken
Pavlina R. Tcherneva
“It is common knowledge that Keynesian stimuli are frequent policy tools to deal with recessions and unemployment; what is not commonly known is that modern ‘Keynesian policies’ bear little, if any, resemblance to the policy measures Keynes himself believed would guarantee true full employment over the long run.”

From the State Theory of Money to Modern Money Theory: An Alternative to Economic Orthodoxy
L. Randall Wray
“This paper explores the intellectual history of the state, or chartalist, approach to money, from the early developers (Georg Friedrich Knapp and A. Mitchell Innes) through Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes, and Abba Lerner, and on to modern exponents Hyman Minsky, Charles Goodhart, and Geoffrey Ingham. This literature became the foundation for Modern Money Theory (MMT).”

Modern Money Theory and Interrelations between the Treasury and the Central Bank: The Case of the United States
Éric Tymoigne
“[T]here is nothing written in stone in terms of fiscal operations. If tomorrow nobody is willing to take treasuries, the Treasury, with or without the help of the Federal Reserve, has the means to bypass that problem if it chooses to use them; it becomes a political issue rather than an economic one. The theoretical implication that MMT draws from this is that one can simplify the economic analysis without a loss of generality by assuming that the Federal Reserve directly funds the Treasury.”


When Will They Ever Learn: Uncle Sam is not Robin Hood

L. Randall Wray | March 4, 2014

Memo to Obama: Don’t tie progressive spending policy to progressive tax policy. Each can stand on its own.

Reported today in the Washington Post:

Obama proposes $600 billion in new spending to boost economy

President Obama on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious budget that promised more than $600 billion in fresh spending to boost economic growth over the next decade while also pledging to solve the nation’s borrowing problem by raising taxes on the wealthy, passing an overhaul of immigration laws and cutting health costs without compromising the quality of care. Obama seeks to raise more than $1 trillion – largely by limiting tax breaks that benefit the wealthy – to spend on building roads and bridges, early childhood education and tax credits for the poor.

Here’s the conceit: Uncle Sam is broke. He’s got a borrowing problem. He’s gone hat-in-hand to those who’s got, trying to borrow a few dimes off them. But they are ready to foreclose on his Whitehouse.

Obama knows his economy is tanking. Five and a half years after Wall Street’s crisis, we still have tens of millions of workers without jobs. Even the best-case scenarios don’t see those jobs coming back for years.

Obama will leave office with a legacy of economic failure.

Belt-tightening austerity isn’t working. He wants to spend more, but he doesn’t have more to spend. He’s run up his credit tab at the local saloon and the bar-keep won’t pour another whiskey.

So he’s got an idea: let’s take from the rich and give to the poor, homeless and jobless. Robin Hood rides to the rescue.

Look, we all love Robin Hood. continue reading…


Seeing “It” Coming: An Interview on the Global Financial Crisis and Euroland’s Fatal Flaw

L. Randall Wray | February 20, 2014

I recently did an interview for the magazine “Synchrona Themata” (“Contemporary Issues”). The interview, which will appear in Greek, was conducted by Christos Pierros, doctoral student at the University of Athens Doctoral Program in Economics (UADPhilEcon). What follows is the English transcript:

What do you think went wrong in 2008? Why was standard macro theory unable to predict such an event?

This was a collapse of what Hyman Minsky called “Money Manager Capitalism.” In many ways it was similar to the 1929 collapse of “Finance Capitalism” that led to the Great Depression. MMC and FC share several common characteristics. First, the dominant approach of economists and policy makers in the 1920s and in the 2000s was one of “laissez faire”—that is, a worship of free markets. Importantly, that meant that finance was “freed” from regulation and supervision. Second, in both cases we lived in an era of globalization—with both goods and finance crossing borders fairly freely. That ensured that when crisis hit, it would spread around the world. Third, finance dominated over industry. Our economy in both cases was “financialized”—with finance sucking 40 percent of all corporate profits out of the economy. To say that “finance ran amuck” is an understatement. To say that our economies were completely taken over by “blood sucking vampire squids of Wall Street” is only a slight exaggeration.

Standard macro theory either thinks all these are “good” trends, or ignores them. That is why—as the Queen of England remarked—none of these economists saw the crisis coming.

Do you believe that by using other tools of analysis (another methodology) one could have seen it coming? If yes, which type of analysis would that be?

Certainly. Many of us saw the crisis coming. The three approaches that made it possible to understand what was going on were: a) Minsky’s financial instability approach; b) Wynne Godley’s sectoral balance approach; and c) Modern Money Theory—which actually builds upon the approaches of Minsky and Godley. All of those working in these approaches “saw it coming.”

Just very briefly, those following Minsky could see that financial institutions were engaged in highly risky practices that would eventually cause liquidity and solvency problems. Those following Godley knew that government budgets were too tight—including the governments of the USA, Spain, and Ireland. By the same token, private sector households and firms had taken on far too much debt. That was particularly true of homebuyers in the USA, in the UK, and in Spain. And those following MMT knew that Euroland was designed to fail; by disconnecting fiscal policy from currency sovereignty, the EMU ensured that the first serious downturn or financial crisis would threaten the very existence of the European Union.

Do you see any shift in the paradigm of economics taking place? If yes, towards which direction? continue reading…


How Reorienting China’s Fiscal Policy Can Reduce Financial Fragility

Michael Stephens | December 19, 2013

L. Randall Wray just published a one-pager on China’s policy options from the perspective of Modern Money Theory:

Since adopting a policy of gradually opening its economy more than three decades ago, China has enjoyed rapid economic growth and rising living standards for much of its population. While some argue that China might fall into the middle-income “trap,” they are underestimating the country’s ability to continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is likely that China’s growth will eventually slow, but the nation will continue on its path to join the developed high-income group—so long as the central government recognizes and uses the policy space available to it.

China doesn’t necessarily need an expansion of total government spending — what it needs, Wray argues, is to “shift spending away from local governments, which have limited fiscal capacity, and toward the sovereign central government, which has more fiscal policy space.” Local government budgets, which face solvency constraints (local governments actually need to raise revenue to pay debt service), are showing signs of being over-extended — and the reality is probably even worse than the data suggest, Wray points out, given that local governments have been relying on off-balance-sheet investment vehicles. By contrast, Wray observes that China’s central government, facing no risk of insolvency, has a relatively tight budget. The logic of the sovereign currency approach suggests that these stances should be reversed.

He also finds signs of financial fragility related to corporate sector debt — traces of what Minsky would have called “speculative finance” — and suggests that the transition to slower economic growth in China will likely create even more instability in this context (by making it more difficult to service private debt). According to Wray, using the central government’s ample fiscal policy space, enabling “a slow transition to relying less on corporate debt to finance economic growth,” should help reduce financial instability risks.

Read the one-pager here.


James Galbraith Makes It Simple

Michael Stephens | December 13, 2013

Q: “Now why do you believe the US government will never, ever have a problem funding its public expenditures and deficits?”

A: “Because the electricity supply to the computers that send those signals will never be cut off.”

Q: “It’s that simple?”

A: “Simple as that.”

If you want the more complicated version, Galbraith wrote a policy note a couple years back that explains why the long-term budget projections that elicit so much bipartisan anxiety are unjustifiably pessimistic with regard to the question of whether the US public debt is “sustainable” over the long term, which is to say, whether the public debt-to-GDP ratio will stabilize or continue to grow without limit.

On this question, as he explains, it’s all about the relationship between the rate of economic growth and the rate of interest on government debt. If the real growth rate is greater than the real interest rate on debt, then even a small primary deficit is consistent with a debt-to-GDP ratio that stabilizes over the long term.

(Paul Krugman also danced on the edge of this idea a few weeks back, as part of his meditations on “secular stagnation” and the possibility of real interest rates staying low (or negative) for the foreseeable future: “I don’t want to push this too hard, but I just want to make it clear that if we really believe in low or even negative normal real interest rates, conventional views of fiscal prudence make even less sense than people like me have been saying.”)


Three Links on the Eurozone Crisis

Michael Stephens | December 9, 2013

1) In an interview with Roger Strassburg, James Galbraith discusses the “Modest Proposal,” a plan for resolving the eurozone’s multiple crises without creating any new institutions or amending any treaties. Galbraith is a co-author of the latest version of the proposal, joining Yanis Varoufakis and Stuart Holland (an earlier version was published as a Levy Institute policy note). The interview then turned to a discussion of next year’s potential US debt standoff in the context of Modern Money Theory.

Read Galbraith’s full interview here at Yanis Varoufakis’s site.

2)  Starting off from Wynne Godley’s 1997 observation that the fundamental problem with the EMU setup was the institutionalized divorce between fiscal policy and currency sovereignty, Rob Parenteau develops an alternative public financing instrument that attempts to get around this flaw:

… governments will henceforth issue revenue anticipation notes to government employees, government suppliers, and beneficiaries of government transfers. These tax anticipation notes, which are a well known instrument of public finance by many state governments across the US, will have the following characteristics: zero coupon (no interest payment), perpetual (meaning no repayment of principal, no redemption, and hence no increase in public debt outstanding), transferable (can be sold onto third parties in open markets), and denominated in euros. In addition, and most importantly, these revenue anticipation notes would be accepted at par value by the federal government in settlement of private sector tax liabilities.

Read the rest here at Naked Capitalism. Parenteau recently discussed the idea at the Levy Institute’s Athens conference. You can listen to his presentation here (Saturday, November 9, Session 4; slides available here).

Also, see Philip Pilkington and Warren Mosler’s related proposal for “tax-backed bonds,” recently updated.

3) Usually, when we think about the rising threat of authoritarianism accompanying Greece’s policy-induced economic disaster, we think about Golden Dawn, but C. J. Polychroniou argues that there’s more to the deterioration of Greece’s political culture than the growing popularity of the far-right party:

In today’s economically beleaguered Greece, where the repayment of foreign debt, the sale of public assets to private interests and the blocking of alternative routes to recovery define the official public policy agenda, the government has resurrected the many authoritarian practices of the past in an apparent effort to keep the game going for as long as possible.

Read the rest at Truthout.