Archive for the ‘Monetary Policy’ Category

Options for an Independent Scotland

Michael Stephens | September 18, 2014

People in Scotland are heading to the polls today to decide the question of secession. One of the major policy questions for an independent Scotland is whether the country should attempt to keep the pound. As many have now begun to appreciate — with a little help from the eurozone spectacle — this would likely be a big mistake.

In “Euroland’s Original Sin,” Dimitri Papadimitriou and L. Randall Wray explained why a separation between fiscal and monetary sovereignty — when countries do not issue their own currency yet retain responsibility for fiscal policy — is the root of the problem in the eurozone. Any country with this setup will face budgetary constraints to which currency-issuing nations are not subject; the kind of constraints that can generate a sovereign debt crisis if, for instance, the country’s fiscal authority is forced to handle the fallout from a large banking crisis. This is a drum that many people affiliated with the Levy Institute have been banging for some time (well before the eurozone fell into its current mess).

Recently, both Paul Krugman and Martin Wolf  have written columns in which they make similar arguments in the context of Scottish independence (and the SNP’s ostensible plan to retain the pound). Philip Pilkington wrote a policy brief a few months ago in which he also argued, with the aid of an analysis of Scotland’s financial balances, that retaining the pound would leave the country open to a eurozone-periphery-style crisis. Pilkington’s story focuses on Scotland’s reliance on oil and gas revenues and the particular instability that could be generated, for a currency-using (vs. issuing) Scotland, by oil price fluctuations.

Although Pilkington suggests it might make sense to retain the pound in the short run (during which time he advocates the use of “tax-backed bonds” to limit instability, a proposal Pilkington originally developed with Warren Mosler [see here and here] for the eurozone), he argues that Scotland ultimately needs to move toward issuing its own freely-floating currency. The question is how to move from the first to the second phase with a minimum of disruption. The policy brief thus lays out a “dual currency” transition plan for Scotland: continue reading…

Comments


Can Fiscal Policy Stabilize the Economy?

Greg Hannsgen | September 10, 2014

 
[WolframCDF source=”http://multiplier-effect.org/files/2014/09/alternative-fiscal-policies.cdf” width=”397″ height=”448″ altimage=”http://multiplier-effect.org/files/2014/09/alternative-fiscal-policies.png” altimagewidth=”397″ altimageheight=”448″]
Here is a new Wolfram CDF, which I have constructed based on a macro model. The assumptions behind the model–other than the exact parameter values–are loosely stated in this list:

1) industries dominated by a handful of firms, rather than perfect competition
2) production technology that requires capital and labor inputs
3) chronic underemployment and less-than-full capacity utilization (percent of capital stock in use at a given time)
4) sovereign money and a policy-determined interest rate
5) two groups of households, only one of which has money to save
6) net investment a function of the profit and capacity utilization rates
7) budget deficits offset by the issuance of treasury bills and sovereign money
8) a government that employs workers to produce free public services
9) a fiscal policy rule with (a) a balanced budget target (labeled “0” in the CDF above) or (b) public production and capacity utilization targets (labeled “1” in the CDF above)
10) nonlinear functions that result in endogenous cycles in this figure for some parameter values and policy functions (try different parameter values with policy rule “1” for example)
11) gradual adjustment of public and private-sector output toward levels indicated by one of the two fiscal policy rules and output demand, respectively.

The arrows in the CDF show directions of movement in 2D space, where the two axes represent public production (horizontal) and capacity utilization (vertical). We got a different look at the same model in this previous post. In this new CDF, I have tried to improve on the realism of the parameter values. Here is a link to the download site at Wolfram for the needed CDFPlayer software.

The most serious omissions in the model above, by the way, are a foreign sector, a mechanism by which the broad price level can change over time, and commercial bank deposits and loans. As mentioned before, I am working on adding these and other new features to a larger version of the model depicted above for the upcoming International Post Keynesian Conference in Kansas City later this month. Any macroeconomic model, of course, is only an abstract and simplified version of a real economy. But the bottom line is that (1) guiding fiscal policy with a balanced-budget target leads to instability in all cases, while (2) the output-stabilizing fiscal rule generates a business cycle of varying size or convergence to a point.

Comments


Another Eccles at the Fed?

Greg Hannsgen | July 30, 2014

From time to time, I call attention to solid coverage of the Federal Reserve in the popular press, for example this post, which links to an interesting William Greider profile of Ben Bernanke. Nicholas Lemann profiles the new Fed chair in the July 21 issue of The New Yorker. One of the key themes of the newer article is that Yellen is “the most liberal [Fed chair] since Marriner Eccles,” and an “unrepentant Keynesian.”

The article usefully contrasts Yellen’s policy views with those of orthodox macroeconomics. Yellen identifies as an adherent of the philosophy that government is capable of greatly improving on the outcomes of a modern capitalist system. (For many, this is the essence of what is known as the liberal view in the US political realm. Yellen’s liberalism will matter (1) in financial regulation, and (2) in macro policy, where the Fed is influential.)

Of course,  there are many varieties of liberalism. Here is a perhaps-characteristic Yellen quote from the article, explaining economics as a personal career choice: “What I really liked about economics was that it provided a rigorous, analytical way of thinking about issues that have great impact on people’s lives.  Economics is a subject that really relates to core aspects of human well-being, and there’s a methodology for thinking about these things. This was a very appealing combination to me.”

The quote continues, “Market economies are capable of massive breakdowns that can result in long, devastating periods of high unemployment. And I felt that economists had really learned something about how to address that.”

On the other hand, the article expresses sympathy with the view expressed by Bernanke and others that Keynesian economics  itself (as practiced by most academic economics departments) did not foresee the financial crisis that began about 2008. As readers of this blog know, of course, economists affiliated with the Levy Institute and its Minskyan tradition were among the few who did anticipate a crisis. The article notes that Yellen herself “began to be concerned that there was a dangerous bubble in housing markets” in 2005 and 2006, but quotes her as conceding that she “absolutely did not see it as something that could take the financial system down.”

What about the role of bank money and nominal wages, topics on my own mind with the approach of the International Post Keynesian Conference, which the Levy Institute is partially sponsoring? continue reading…

Comments


Daniel Alpert at the Minsky Summer Seminar

Michael Stephens | June 24, 2014

On Saturday, Daniel Alpert delivered the closing remarks at the Levy Institute’s Hyman P. Minsky Summer Seminar:

Minsky had the rarely seen ability to stand back from all he had learned—even at times from his own mentors—and not only see and articulate what was misunderstood, what wasn’t working, but also to explain why conventional wisdom is often not always all that wise and why markets often proceed in delusional fashion.  And by this I mean not merely the often irrational animal spirits of markets, nor the Keynes’ casino, nor his beauty contest, but an almost collective agreement to ignore the most obvious of fact-pictures staring right back at us.  And often, to ignore them because they force consideration of exogenous variables that aren’t readily incorporated into existing mainstream models, to ignore them because they are too heterodox to be considered by those who have invested their lives work in developing and interpreting mainstream theory, or to overlook them because they involve understanding the often obtuse complexities of actual market operations that go beyond ivory tower theories of market behavior.

Read Alpert’s full remarks here.

Comments


Are German Savers Being Expropriated?

Jörg Bibow | June 14, 2014

Last week the ECB’s governing council agreed on interest rate cuts and some fresh liquidity measures. The policy move has sparked off quite some excitement in all kinds of corners. Certainly financial markets highly welcomed the ECB’s much-awaited new easing initiative, with stock indices surging and bond yields plunging to record levels. International commentators generally felt that the ECB was – finally, if belatedly – doing the right kind of thing. And, generally speaking, the European political body seems to be sufficiently famished, and perhaps also a little terrified by the recent EU parliament election results, to welcome any perceived easing of pain. Only one party felt seriously short-changed by the euro’s independent guardian of stability: German savers.

In Germany, the ECB’s latest policy decisions, featuring a negative interest rate to be paid by banks to the ECB for lending to the ECB by means of its deposit facility, triggered an across-the-board outcry orchestrated by the German media, ranging from heavyweight tabloid Bild to the mouthpiece of Germany’s conservative intelligentsia Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. German savers appear to be up in arms against the ECB’s outrageous decision to shave 10 basis points off its key policy rate and introducing a negative rate on its deposit facility. The president of Germany’s savings bank association declared that the ECB’s move amounted to expropriating German savers. And former ECB executive board member Jürgen Stark, who had resigned back in 2012 for “personal reasons,” which seemed to be all too clearly related to the ECB’s government bond buying program, was glad to add fuel to the flames by declaring in an interview that the ECB was breaching its mandate.

The German media reaction to the ECB rate cut is more than a bleak statement about the quality of economic journalism in Germany. One probably has to concede that it also well reflects the general state of mind and German psyche about Europe’s common currency project and the havoc it has wreaked across the continent. There are some important lessons here for Germany’s euro partners – and beyond.

First of all, these events once again highlight that in the German euro debate superficial morals prevail over any economic expertise. In Germany, saving is by its nature always virtuous. Savers, as creditors, occupy the moral high ground. Creditors are simply morally superior to debtors. In fact, debtors are suspected to be afflicted by some moral defect. As savers apparently have a moral right to get paid interest, the ECB’s move is seen as expropriation; its decision to make the creditor pay what seems like a “Strafzins” (penalty interest rate) for lending to the debtor seems outright immoral.

Within these pseudo-moralistic dimensions inspiring the German euro debate economic reasoning is conspicuous for its absence. It is somehow lost that there can be no creditor without any debtor. It is also lost that Germany as a nation can only run a current account surplus if other nations run deficits and pile up debts. So it has never entered the German national debate that Germany only managed to balance its public budget thanks to other countries’ willingness to borrow and spend on German exports. Instead, morally, it seems a clear-cut case that Germany has done everything right. If there is trouble in the system, it must be because of others’ failures and moral deficiencies. continue reading…

Comments


McCulley on Fed Policy, Inflation, and the Taylor Rule

Michael Stephens | June 13, 2014

Paul McCulley, a familiar face at Levy Institute events (he gave a keynote at our Rio conference and at last year’s Minsky Summer Seminar), is back at PIMCO and his first note is (predictably) worth a read.

His latest essay looks at Federal Reserve policy from the standpoint of what McCulley terms the Fed’s “secular victory in the long War Against Inflation” and discusses, among other things, how the Great Moderation fed into Minskyan financial instability, how we should think about the Fed’s “neutral” real policy rate, and what this means for the question of whether stocks and bonds are overvalued. Here he is on the Taylor Rule:

The “neutral” real policy rate is not secularly constant.

It evolves as a function of changing “real” economic variables – demographics, technological progress, productivity, etc. – as well as changing institutional arrangements, notably changes in the degree of regulation of banking and finance, domestically and internationally. Thus, the notion of a “fixed” center of real policy rate gravity for prudent monetary policy is an oxymoron.

Which is why, for me, it is so befuddling that the Fed, and thus the markets, still clings – even if reluctantly – to one man’s estimate of an “equilibrium” real fed funds rate, made in 1993: John Taylor, who assumed it to be 2%, which, in his own words, was because it was “close to the assumed steady state growth rate of 2.2%.”

And that assumption became embedded in his ubiquitous Taylor Rule.

[…]

… that’s the origin of the 4% number that, to this day, the FOMC prints as its “longer-term blue dot” for where the fed funds rate “should be” (if the Fed were, theoretically, pegging the meter on both of its mandates).

I’ve got to hand it to John, whom I’ve known and liked for a very long time: Twenty-one years on, and you are still hardwired into the catechism of Fed policy!

But surely, economic life has changed since 1993, about the same time that Al Gore was inventing the Internet.

I believe the FOMC’s 4% nominal longer-term blue dot – which implicitly embeds John’s 2% real rate assumption – is wrong, unless we want to say that 2014 is 1993 redux. I don’t.

Read the whole thing.

Comments


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=”http://multiplier-effect.org/files/2014/04/3D-excess-demand-graphN5.cdf” 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.

Comments


Charles Evans on Missing the Fed’s Targets

Michael Stephens | April 17, 2014

Chicago Fed President Charles Evans spoke at last week’s Minsky conference, and news reports have focused on his comments regarding the expectation that the Federal Reserve will wait at least six months after the end of QE before beginning to raise interest rates (Evans: “It could be six, it could be 16 months”; “If I had my druthers, I’d want more accommodation and I’d push it into 2016,” but “the actual, most likely case I think is probably late 2015”).

But his speech might also be of interest to those who have been following the debate over whether the Federal Reserve is, let’s say, equally passionate about the two sides of its “dual mandate” (price stability and maximum employment). Right now, the Fed is missing both of its ostensible targets, with inflation below 2 percent and unemployment above the Fed’s estimate of the “natural” rate, which ranges from 5.2 to 5.6 percent (for Evans, it’s 5.25 percent). Many have suggested that the Fed appears much more concerned about inflation rising above 2 percent than it does about high unemployment, or below-target inflation, for that matter.

In the video below, Evans shares his view of how the Fed should “score” its hits and misses on unemployment and inflation:

the 9 percent unemployment rate we faced back in September 2011 can be depicted in “inflation-loss equivalent units” by showing the inflation rate that gives an equivalent loss when unemployment is at its sustainable rate. So what is that rate? If unemployment was at its natural rate, what would be the inflation rate that would make you equally uncomfortable as if you were facing the 9 percent [unemployment] rate? The answer is 5-1/2 percent inflation. […]

I think we need continued strongly accommodative monetary policy to get inflation back up to 2 percent within a reasonable time frame. After all, notice that the red and green regions of the bull’s-eye chart [posted below] show modest inflation above 2 percent is much more acceptable than even 6 percent unemployment.

BullsEye Accountability_Evans

Here he is on the outlook for inflation:

Despite current low rates, I still often hear people say that higher inflation is just around the corner. I confess that I am somewhat exasperated by these repeated warnings given our current environment of very low inflation. Many times, the strongest concerns are expressed by folks who said the same thing back in 2009, and then in 2010, and … well, you get the picture. […]

[A]nother potential source of inflationary pressures would be rising inflation expectations. Here, I mean a breakout of inflation expectations separate from any fundamentals that might accompany the previously discussed cases of rising commodity prices and stronger bank lending. One could think of this as the spontaneous combustion theory of inflation. The story goes like this: Households and businesses simply wake up one day and expect higher inflation is coming without any further improvement in economic fundamentals. Without appealing to esoteric economic theories of sunspots, these expectations don’t seem sustainable in the current environment.

The rest of the videos of speakers and panelists from the conference will be posted here.

Comments


Inflation, Deflation, and ECB Asymmetry

Jörg Bibow | March 13, 2014

It is quite interesting to see how popular myths can live on in the public’s mind and continue to cause harm and irritation even when the facts speak to totally different language. How can education fail so badly?

The particular example I have in mind here is Germans’ supposed exceptionalism in matters of inflation hyper-sensitivity. Whether or not Germans really are special in this regard, even internationally many observers seem to feel that Germans would be truly justified to be that way. Hence Germans are readily excused for doing stupid things because they seem to be justified that way. There is a highly relevant context to this today: the ECB’s asymmetry in mindset and approach.

I recently argued in a Letter to the Editors, “Beware what you wish for when it comes to ECB measures,” published by The Financial Times on February 26 2014, that there was actually nothing really new about the ECB’s revealed asymmetry regarding inflation versus deflation risks. At issue is a genetic defect inherited from the Bundesbank. In fact, there can be absolutely no doubt anymore about the ECB being asymmetric in mindset and approach, and more and more observers have come to realize that in more recent times. But there is also a long track record of asymmetric “stability-oriented” monetary policy that includes and precedes the ECB’s own life.

My letter prompted a response from a Mr Han de Jong, the Chief Economist of ABN AMRO Bank in Amsterdam, arguing that there would be a solid basis in history for Americans to fear deflation over inflation while the opposite is true for Germans, pointing to the Great Depression as the biggest trauma in US economic history of the last 100 years and contrasting it with Germany’s hyperinflation of 1922-23 (“Economic trauma scarred both the US and Europe,” Letters, March 3 2014).

This is surely right about America. While some US economists speak of the “Great Inflation” of the 1970s, which was followed by the Volcker shock and a double-dip recession in the early 1980s, this episode truly pales in comparison to the calamitous Great Depression experience of the 1930s. The memory of the Great Depression lives on in modern America. US policymakers are haunted by the ghosts of that historical episode. And that is a good thing!

When it comes to Germany, however, the story is less straightforward than is popularly held. continue reading…

Comments


The 1943 Proposal to Fund Government Debt at Zero Interest Rates

Michael Stephens | February 4, 2014

One thing Jan Kregel’s new policy note makes clear is that congressional debates about raising the debt ceiling were a great deal more enlightening in the 1940s and ’50s. Here is Rep. Wright Patman (D-TX) in 1943 defending his proposal to fund what were expected to be huge wartime expenditures by bypassing the private financial system and placing government debt directly with the Federal Reserve Banks at zero interest rates:

the Government of the United States, under the Constitution, has the power, and it is the duty of the Government, to create all money. The Treasury Department issues both money and bonds. Under the present system it sells the bonds to a bank that creates the money, and then if the bank needs the actual money, the actual printed greenbacks to pay the depositors, the Treasury will furnish that money to the banks to pay the depositors. In that way, the Government farms out the use of its own credit absolutely free.

To Patman, “farming” out the government’s credit in this way was just a direct — and unnecessary — subsidy to private banks: “I am opposed to the United States Government, which possesses the sovereign and exclusive privilege of creating money, paying private bankers for the use of its own money. These private bankers do not hire their own money to the Government; they hire only the Government’s money to the Government, and collect an interest charge annually.” “If money is to be created outright,” he argued, “it should be created by the Government and no interest paid on it.”

As Kregel points out, one of the challenges for Patman’s proposal is that a zero rate on government debt seems to require giving up control over interest rates as a tool of monetary policy. However, Kregel notes that a proposal appearing in a 1946 Federal Reserve annual report (and repeated a number of times until the 1951 Fed-Treasury Accord) offers a solution: with the aid of supplementary required reserves, it would be possible to maintain a zero rate on government bonds while allowing the policy rate to rise. (As Marriner Eccles realized, the use of such policies would also require that fiscal policy play a role in controlling inflation — very much in the vein of Abba Lerner’s functional finance, Kregel observes.)

One of the takeaways from this discussion — beyond the remarkable deterioration of the quality of congressional debate — is that the supposed problem of financing the debt should be getting a lot less attention than it does in today’s deficit and debt ceiling debates. The real question, Kregel stresses, is “whether the size of the deficit to be financed is compatible with the stable expansion of the economy.”

Read Kregel’s policy note: “Wright Patman’s Proposal to Fund Government Debt at Zero Interest Rates: Lessons for the Current Debate on the US Debt Limit

Comments