Wray: What’s Wrong with the Euro Setup?

Michael Stephens | March 10, 2015

In this March 7th presentation, L. Randall Wray argues that the central problem in the EMU is not profligate peripheral nations, trade imbalances, or insufficient “structural reform.” The fundamental issue, which can best be framed through an understanding of money, is a flawed setup — the EMU is designed to fail.

La Asociación de Economía Crítica, ATTAC, Econonuestra y FUHEM Ecosocial le invitan a la sesión “Teoría monetaria moderna: ¿Austeridad presupuestaria frente a déficits públicos?”:

See also “Euroland’s Original Sin

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Spain’s Proposal for a Job Guarantee

L. Randall Wray | March 5, 2015

Yesterday I participated in a press conference and gave the first of a series of lectures in Madrid on MMT and the Job Guarantee. At the press conference, Alberto Garzón announced his party’s plan to create a million jobs in a targeted JG: “IU plantea un plan de 9.600 millones para crear un millón de empleos en un año

Alberto and his brother, Eduardo, are well-versed in MMT. He emphasized that the barrier to full employment is not technical but political. If the political will exists, full employment can be achieved and sustained. MMT shows the way to understanding the policy options that are available to sovereign government.

The newspaper article summarized some of the points I made, arguing that we should no longer see the finances of a government as similar to those of a household:

Por su parte, Randall Wray, que ha estado presente en la presentación de la propuesta, ha rechazado las teorías que equiparan el funcionamiento del Estado con el de una familia, ya que el primero puede emitir su propia moneda y no puede quedarse sin dinero, por lo que sus opciones de gasto e inversión son diferentes y la austeridad no es la única salida posible.

Esto hace plausible el trabajo garantizado, que ya se aplicó de alguna manera en los años 30 del siglo XX en Estados Unidos con el ‘New Deal’ de Franklin D. Roosevelt, pero también en Argentina y, más recientemente, en la India, que incluso ha “incluido en su Constitución el derecho al trabajo”, que la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos de la ONU también recoge.

La diferencia con este tipo de propuestas aplicadas hasta la fecha en otros países –”Casi todos los que tienen un paro inferior al 2%”, según el profesor estadounidense– es que la ambición de IU es que sea “universal y permanente”, y que no se desactive una vez superada la crisis.

Many other links to yesterday’s events are here.

A universal and permanent Job Gurantee will make full employment a reality.

garzon_wray_JG

I’ll report more on MMT in Spain tomorrow.

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The 24th Annual Minsky Conference

Michael Stephens |

Is Financial Reregulation Holding Back Finance for the Global Recovery?

Organized by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College with support from the Ford Foundation

The National Press Club
Washington, D.C.
April 15–16, 2015

The 2015 Minsky Conference will address, among other issues, the design, flaws, and current status of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, including implementation of the operating procedures necessary to curtail systemic risk and prevent future crises; the insistence on fiscal austerity exemplified by the recent pronouncements of the new Congress; the sustainability of the US economic recovery; monetary policy revisions and central bank independence; the deflationary pressures associated with the ongoing eurozone debt crisis and their implications for the global economy; strategies for promoting an inclusive economy and a more equitable income distribution; and regulatory challenges for emerging market economies.

To register, please click here.

Participants

Lakshman Achuthan
Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer, Economic Cycle Research Institute

Daniel Alpert
Managing Partner, Westwood Capital, LLC

Robert J. Barbera
Co-director, Center for Financial Economics, The Johns Hopkins University

Lael Brainard*
Member, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

James Bullard
President, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

Vítor Constâncio
Vice President, European Central Bank

Scott Fullwiler
Professor of Economics and James A. Leach Chair in Banking and Monetary Economics, Wartburg College

Michael Greenberger
Professor, School of Law, and Director, Center for Health and Homeland Security, The University of Maryland

Bruce Greenwald
Robert Heilbrunn Professor of Finance and Asset Management, Columbia University

Thomas Hoenig
Vice Chairman, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

Jan Kregel
Senior Scholar, Levy Institute, and Professor, Tallinn University of Technology

Paul McCulley

Perry Mehrling
Professor of Economics, Barnard College

Patricia Mosser
Deputy Director, Research and Analysis Center, Office of Financial Research, US Department of the Treasury

Dimitri B. Papadimitriou
President, Levy Institute

D. Nathan Sheets*
Under Secretary for International Affairs, US Department of the Treasury

Gillian Tett*
US Managing Editor, Financial Times

Paul Tucker
Senior Fellow, Harvard Business School

Éric Tymoigne
Research Associate, Levy Institute, and Professor of Economics, Lewis & Clark College

Elizabeth Warren
US Senator (D-MA)

Maxine Waters*
US Representative (D-CA, 43)

L. Randall Wray
Senior Scholar, Levy Institute, and Professor, University of Missouri–Kansas City

* Invited

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Bitcoin and the Rules of Finance

Michael Stephens | March 3, 2015

Levy Research Associate Éric Tymoigne contributed to a debate in the Wall Street Journal over the viability of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Here’s Éric:

Bitcoins are an odd sort of commodity. They are not financial instruments. The value fluctuates widely, in line with changing views regarding the overall usefulness of the bitcoin payment system and the speculative manias surrounding such views. There is no financial logic behind bitcoins’ face value. In other words, if you like to gamble, this is a perfect asset. If you are looking for an alternative monetary instrument, look elsewhere.

The bitcoin system has two components: the means of payment themselves, and an online ledger, called the block chain, which is a record of all bitcoins that have been created and who holds them. The ledger is the main innovation. It provides an open, decentralized, fast, cheap and supposedly secure means of completing transactions.

But as an alleged alternative currency, bitcoin is unacceptable. Its volatility and lack of liquidity pose risks far beyond most traditional currencies.

Read the WSJ debate and the rest of Tymoigne’s contribution here: “Do Cryptocurrencies Such as Bitcoin Have a Future?

See also Tymoigne’s earlier posts at New Economic Perspectives:

The Fair Price of a Bitcoin is Zero

Bitcoin System: Some Additional Problems

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MMT in Madrid: An Update

L. Randall Wray | March 2, 2015

Another event has been added. Hope to meet Spanish followers of MMT in Madrid this week.

TG_4_03

Here are some details:

 

Press release below the fold:

continue reading…

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Galbraith and Krugman on the Greek Deal

Michael Stephens | February 28, 2015

If you haven’t read it already, Senior Scholar James Galbraith shared his take on the four-month Greek deal in Social Europe:

there was never any chance for a loan agreement that would have wholly freed Greece’s hands. Loan agreements come with conditions. The only choices were an agreement with conditions, or no agreement and no conditions. The choice had to be made by February 28, beyond which date ECB support for the Greek banks would end. No agreement would have meant capital controls, or else bank failures, debt default, and early exit from the Euro. SYRIZA was not elected to take Greece out of Europe. Hence, in order to meet electoral commitments, the relationship between Athens and Europe had to be “extended” in some way acceptable to both.

But extend what, exactly? There were two phrases at play, and neither was the vague “extend the bailout.” The phrase “extend the current programme” appeared in troika documents, implying acceptance of the existing terms and conditions. To the Greeks this was unacceptable, but the technically-more-correct “extend the loan agreement” was less problematic. The final document extends the “Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement” which was better still. The MFFA is “underpinned by a set of commitments” but these are – technically – distinct. In short, the MFFA is extended but the commitments are to be reviewed.

[…]

If you think you can find an unwavering commitment to the exact terms and conditions of the “current programme” in that language, good luck to you. It isn’t there. So, no, the troika can’t come to Athens and complain about the rehiring of cleaning ladies.

[…]

Greece won a battle – perhaps a skirmish – and the war continues. But the political sea-change that SYRIZA’s victory has sparked goes on.

Galbraith was recently interviewed by RNN’s Sharmini Peries on the same topic:

 

 

continue reading…

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The Greek Debt Problem and Selective Historical Memory

Michael Stephens | February 27, 2015

Michalis Nikiforos, Dimitri Papadimitriou, and Gennaro Zezza, who put together the Levy Institute’s stock-flow consistent macroeconomic model and simulations for Greece, have just released a new policy note, the upshot of which is that restructuring Greece’s unsustainable public debt is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a sustained economic recovery in that country. They also point to an interesting historical precedent that ought to inform the ongoing discussion of Greece’s debt and the conditions imposed by its official creditors.

The troika’s official story—about how Greece’s debt-to-GDP ratio will be brought down from its current 175 percent to 120 percent by 2022—is, as the authors put it, “wildly implausible.” The official forecasts depend upon large primary surpluses (in excess of 4 percent of GDP beginning in 2016) being accompanied by robust economic growth rates (based on, according to the official story, expanding net export surpluses and dazzling growth in private investment)—which is, the authors point out, virtually unprecedented.

But even if it were possible for Greece to pay down its public debt through continuing austerity, Nikiforos, Papadimitriou, and Zezza argue that this should be opposed on both moral (with respect to consequentialist considerations and principles of fairness) and prudential grounds. In this context, they quote Keynes’s dissent regarding the terms imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles; a quotation which could just as effectively be deployed today in defense of Greece:

The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable,—abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe. Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents or of rulers. (Economic Consequences of the Peace [1919])

In yet another twist, precedent for how the Greek debt situation ought to be handled can also be found in German history—in the aftermath of its next war. According to Nikiforos, Papadimitriou, and Zezza, Germany’s post-WW2 experience provides us with a template for a bold Greek debt restructuring and recovery plan. The authors calculate that Germany was the beneficiary of debt cancellation amounting to more than four times the country’s 1938 GDP (or West German GDP in 1950). And these calculations don’t include foregone war reparations or foregone interest payments:

around DM3 billion in annual income transfers to foreign countries was avoided. This is a very significant amount given that West German exports totaled no more than DM8 billion in 1950. For Germany to find DM3 billion without a contraction of its GDP and imports would have required a 40 percent increase in exports.

We are often told how the trauma of Weimar hyperinflation shapes the German approach to policy to this very day (here’s a NYTimes headline from 2011: “Haunted by ’20s Hyperinflation, Germans Balk at Euro Aid”). In the context of the renegotiation of the terms of Greece’s bailout, Germany’s post-WW2 experience, in which it was the beneficiary of “the largest debt restructuring deal in history,” seems not to have left so indelible a mark on its national memory (at least as measured by the stance of current leadership toward the Greek plight).

As pointed out by Nikiforos, Papadimitriou, and Zezza, the debt cancellation and subsequent extensive reconstruction efforts orchestrated for Germany and other European economies played a significant role in shaping German economic history: “the postwar German economic miracle and the robust development of the rest of the European economies was not the result of abstract market forces. Instead, they were based on very specific and detailed planning.”

Selective amnesia aside, the key lesson to be drawn from the historical experience is that restructuring Greece’s public debt is only the very first step in what would be required to put the country back on its feet. The restructuring needs to be accompanied by a comprehensive policy program designed around fixing the eurozone’s structural defects and rebuilding a Greek economy that has suffered damage comparable to that inflicted by a protracted war.

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Papadimitriou on Greece’s Four-Month Extension

Michael Stephens | February 25, 2015

Levy Institute President Dimitri Papadimitriou discusses the four-month extension of Greece’s bailout agreement with its eurozone partners and the mood in Athens in this interview with Kathleen Hays and Vonnie Quinn.

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The Spanish Launch of Modern Money Theory

L. Randall Wray |

Update 2/28: more details here.

Sorry, I’ve been very busy in recent weeks, finishing up a book on Minsky and revising my Modern Money Primer for a second edition (more on both of those projects later).

Meanwhile, Lola Books is gearing up to release the Primer in Spanish next week. I’ll be in Madrid for the launch and for a series of meetings. I’ll give two presentations that are open to the public. Details are below. Hope to see our Spanish friends there!

March 5, 2015
I’ll make a presentation at the Izquierda Unida economic program. This event will officially introduce MMT into Spanish politics.
Location: Sede Central de CC.OO.
Address: c/ Fernández de la Hoz 12, planta baja; Madrid
Time :19 h. See the event flyer below.

March 7, 2015
Presentation of the Primer at the ‘Association pour la Taxation des Transactions financière et l’Aide aux Citoyens’ (Association for the Taxation of Financial Transactions and Aid to Citizens)
Location: Fuhem
Address: c/ Duque de Sexto 40; Madrid
Time: 11 h.

Wray_Event Flyer_Spain

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What’s Wrong with David Leonhardt’s NYT Piece on Inequality?

Pavlina Tcherneva | February 20, 2015

The New York Times made waves this week with another piece on inequality, saying that it has not risen since 2007. The article was based on this paper by GWU’s Stephen Rose.

The article also suggests that expansions are not a good way of looking at trends in inequality (as I have done in the past, also covered by the NYT). Instead, one needs to look at the business cycle. It also concludes that, thankfully, because of government tax and transfer policies, inequality has not been “that bad” over the last few years and governments can clearly do something about it.

So what’s wrong with this picture?

Here is the graph that appeared in the NYT (I’ve reproduced it below showing only the bottom 90% and top 10% of families using the same Saez data).

Tcherneva_NYT1

Now let’s reproduce the exact same graph, using the same data but excluding capital gains. The trends reverse. The bottom 90% of families have lost proportionately more than the top 10% since 2007.

Tcherneva_NYT2

Now, I am not fond of excluding capital gains (I am in favor of annuitizing them), because they are very important to income dynamics, but still, without capital gains, the bottom 90% lose proportionately more (relative to the top 10%) than with them.

In any case, if we include the top 1% and the 0.01% in the above two charts, one would find that they do lose proportionately more including or excluding capital gains.

However, the bottom line is this: this exercise gives an extremely narrow look at income distribution trends, based on a very incomplete picture. As Nick Bunker from the Washington Center for Equitable Growth put it:

“Reasonable people can disagree about the best benchmark. But what isn’t reasonable is using a peak as a benchmark to claim inequality hasn’t increased over an incomplete business cycle.”

So let’s look at complete business cycle data. The following chart shows how the distribution of income growth has evolved from one peak to another.

Tcherneva_NYT3

There is a clear shift in trend after the ’80s. During 3 out of the last 4 complete business cycles, the wealthy 10% have gotten a proportionately greater share of the growth. And in the last full business cycle (2000-2007), they got all of the growth, while incomes of the bottom 90% fell. Yes, since 2007, both groups shared the losses about equally, but why should we be surprised that the top 10% shouldered 45% of the decline? (Again, this is not a complete business cycle yet!)

We live in a casino economy driven by serial asset bubbles, where the incomes of the wealthy (and not just their capital gains) are increasingly tied to stock market performance.

So when the biggest bubble in human history popped, the wealthy families lost a ton of income. At the same time middle class households fell into poverty, lost their decent jobs and pay, and got unemployment insurance or food stamps from the government. Can one really conclude from this that inequality is not “that bad”?

As an example, inequality will not be “that bad” if one person in the US earned 100% of all the national income, and then the ‘evil government’ (or ‘benevolent dictator’; take your pick) decided to tax most it and then gave transfers to the rest. But is this the kind of ‘better’ income distribution that we are aiming for? Aren’t we all talking about an economy where most people have decent jobs, decent wages, decent salary growth prospects, and a decent chance to participate and share in that growth?

There are many ways to slice and dice this data.

I have looked at expansions because they answer a very specific question: Once the economy returns to some normalcy and promises to deliver prosperity, to whom does it keep its promise? And the answer is, increasingly to the top 10%.

The problem with the NYT article is not the inequality chart, even though it shows an incomplete and thus misleading business cycle picture. The problem is the conclusion: that ‘taxes’ and ‘transfers’ are the solution to the deep structural economic problems that are causing the generation and distribution of incomes to be so inequitable from the very outset.

So the next time someone tells you that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” you can respond “no, increasingly it sinks most.”

(cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives)

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