Last Update on Greek GDP

Gennaro Zezza | August 24, 2014

ElStat, the Greek statistical institute, has recently published a flash estimate for GDP in the second quarter of 2014. In current euro prices, GDP keeps falling by 2.5% against the same quarter of 2013. We already know many will claim this as a success of the austerity plans, since the fall is now slower than in previous quarters … but output is still falling.

It is also interesting to note that the flash estimate has also revised GDP in the first quarter of 2014, lowering it by 1% against the previous GDP estimate (see chart). The revision is larger on the current price GDP, against constant price GDP, which implies that the new estimate of the fall in prices is larger than it was.
GreekGDP2014q2
Our last analysis of the Greek economy is available here

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A Fiscal Policy Rule Without Austerity

Greg Hannsgen | August 18, 2014

What will happen about fiscal policy after the tumultuous events beginning in 2010 or so in Europe and the end of Great-recession-era fiscal stimulus in the US? In the US, Paul Krugman and other economists debate the meaning of the CBO’s recent fiscal report, which, as Krugman points out, clearly show a drastic fall in the US deficit—to less than 3 percent of GDP at last check.

This brings us to the main subject of our post: an interesting article that seems to be out in the July issue of the Cambridge Journal of Economics (abstract—rather technical). I happened to run across this new study last week. It may be one of those cases in which an academic article has some implications for macro policy. The authors consider an inflation-targeting fiscal rule: they explore the outcome when government spending is always adjusted upward or downward, depending upon the actual inflation rate, according to an algorithm of sorts set in advance.

Before I go on, I should note the disclaimer that a paper of my own featuring fiscal targets also appeared last month in Metroeconomica, an international journal whose chief editors are based in Austria and Italy. I argue in the paper against deficit targets that restrict spending levels without regard to the strength of the economy. This notion that fiscal policy should aim for budget balance rather than good economic performance is the “Treasury view” lambasted, by the way, in another article in the same journal, penned by Suzanne Konzelman. I will try to outline the article on fiscal targets in terms of what I found in the process of working on my own paper. The post also includes an interactive model of how the rule in my own paper would work in a simplified version of the economy.

I am happy to see various parallels and hope the new piece is indicative of widespread interest in output-stabilizing policy rules, or at least non-austerity rules, and in stock-flow-consistent macro models, including the Levy Institute macro model. The differences between the policy rules and other assumptions in the two papers are numerous. Most importantly perhaps, Matthew Greenwood-Nimmo, the author of the new CJE article, considers a different type of rule. An inflation-targeting rule is the main fiscal policy rule considered in the paper. Inflation-targeting is certainly run-of-the-mill for monetary policy around the world, but as this IMF country-by-country list of fiscal rules now in force indicates, most actual rules simply specify low deficits or low ratios of the budget deficit to GDP.

The new CJE article notes, commenting on a fiscal policy rule from our former Distinguished Scholar Wynne Godley’s work with Canadian Marc Lavoie, that “it seems unlikely that the form of fiscal intervention advocated by Godley and Lavoie…could be fine-tuned to the degree required to achieve a point target in practice, as activating and deactivating public works projects, for example, is likely to generate a somewhat lumpy path of government spending [i.e., one that moved in big steps rather than smoothly]. For this reason, the use of a band target [a range, rather than a specific number] for fiscal policy seems more appropriate.”*

Specifically, Godley and Lavoie’s rule–published years ago in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics and reprinted in 2012 and in a collection of papers by Godley —called for a level of government spending that would immediately fill the gap between actual and potential output—and hopefully keep unemployment low. In contrast, Greenwood-Nimmo adopts a rule with spending changes in specific amounts that go into force abruptly once inflation exceeds or drops below certain upper and lower bounds or thresholds.

continue reading…

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Can a Euro Treasury End the Crisis?

Michael Stephens | August 14, 2014

Dimitri Papadimitriou introduces Jörg Bibow’s plan for the creation of a Euro Treasury:

It was only a matter of time until the euro area was hit with the kind of crisis from which it is still struggling to recover—this was understood well in advance, by many at the Levy Institute and elsewhere. The problem has always stemmed from a structural weakness in the design of the currency union: member-states gave up control over their own currencies but retained responsibility for fiscal policy. This situation rendered them subject to sovereign debt runs—which occurred when the fallout from a banking crisis fell squarely on euro area national treasuries—of the sort that countries controlling their own currencies do not face.

As we have pointed out previously, member-states are in some ways in the same situation as US states, which are forced to cut back when the economy contracts—that is to say, at the very moment when expanded public spending is required to place a floor under the economic collapse. But US states have the benefit of a treasury at the federal level that can spend without the same sovereign debt concerns (which the US federal government did, briefly, before succumbing in 2010 to a misguided notion of “fiscal responsibility,” not to mention congressional obstruction). The eurozone member-states, however, do not have the benefit of this treasury–central bank combination at the level of the central government—a lacuna Jörg Bibow addresses with the proposal outlined in this policy brief.

One challenge for “United States of Europe” or “complete the union”-type plans is their political toxicity, but Bibow has tailored his Euro Treasury plan so as to minimize the political vulnerabilities (this is not a transfer union) while preserving the principal benefit: ending the divorce between monetary and fiscal powers in the euro area. continue reading…

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A New Book on Money to Please Fans of Minsky and MMT

Greg Hannsgen | August 12, 2014

Opinions heard on the subject of money and the economy often seem uninformed or absurd. For a great book about money and monetary theory, I would strongly recommend Money: The Unauthorized Biography by Felix Martin, a 2014 book from Alfred A. Knopf. This book might just please students of history and finance and others who might already be familiar with one theory or another about the origins of money and ways of managing a monetary system. These and other readers might benefit from a readable account of these theories up to the current time and what they might have to say about the recent financial crisis and its roots in theory and practice.

Martin is critical of mainstream finance as well as orthodox macroeconomics, and friendly to points of view related to Hyman Minsky’s financial fragility hypothesis and other truly monetary forms of economics. The latter were introduced to the civilized world by John Maynard Keynes, Bagehot, Wynne Godley, James Tobin, our own Randy Wray, and others sometimes mentioned in this blog. But as the new book shows, their intellectual roots in monetary thought go deeper into the centuries. Martin’s accounts seems fair all around. I think it will be one of those books that offers almost everyone who reads it something surprising and of interest.  Nonetheless, the book is one of those many signs of widespread recognition that Keynes’s monetary production theory and related points of view offer a vantage point that the mainstream missed, helping to bring on the financial crisis. It is a fascinating and lucid read.

(By the way, the New York Times Book Review ran a favorable review earlier this year in an edition that covered many titles related to the theme of money–some not so good.)

As you may have guessed, I have been doing some reading of new books from a summer trip to my local bookstore and hope to get to more of them in posts in the near future.

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It’s Official: Too Big to Fail Is Alive and Well

L. Randall Wray | August 6, 2014

Thank heaven for Tom Hoenig, the only proven-honest central banker we’ve got. Yes, I know he’s moved on from the KC Fed to serve as Vice Chairman of the FDIC. He actually might do a lot more good over there, anyway.

In recent months, we’ve heard how Wall Street’s Blood-sucking Vampire Squids have reformed themselves. They no longer pose any danger to our economy. They’ve written “living wills” that describe how they’ll safely bury themselves without Uncle Sam’s help next time they implode.

You see, it doesn’t matter that they remain big—indeed, the biggest behemoths are much bigger than they were before they caused the last Global Financial Crisis. They are no longer “too big to fail” because they’ve all got plans to unwind their dangerous positions when stuff hits the fan.

This is very important to Wall Street and Washington because Dodd-Frank requires downsizing and simplification of the Vampire Squids if they remain a threat.

Big financial institutions that are highly interconnected can cause a relatively small problem with one bank’s assets to snowball into a national and international crisis that forces Uncle Sam to intervene to bail-out the miscreants.

We know that the biggest half-dozen US banks are huge and have highly interconnected balance sheets. We know they have legacy garbage on their balance sheets, and they are creating massive quantities of new trashy assets every day they remain open.

That’s their business model. They love that model because it enriches a handful of top management at each institution. As Bill Black says, these are run as control frauds—their motto is “Frauds R Us.” Nearly every day one of them gets caught red-handed in yet another fraud. They pay peanuts in fines and go about their fraudulent business. Nice work if you can get it.

So it is critical that each of these demonstrate it has a way to disconnect its balance sheet from the others as it oversees its own demise. Otherwise, these institutions would have to be downsized and their frauds curtailed.

As expected, most government officials have been congratulating themselves and Wall Street’s “finest” for the “heckuva job, Brownie” they’ve been doing in writing those living wills. continue reading…

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Greece: A Nation for Sale and the Death of Democracy

C. J. Polychroniou | August 2, 2014

When the European Union (EU) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) came to Greece’s rescue in May 2010 with a 110 billion euro bailout loan in order to avoid the default of a eurozone member state (a second bailout loan worth 130 billion euros was activated in March 2012), the intentions of the rescue plan were multifold. First, the EU-IMF duo (with the IMF in the role of junior partner) wanted to protect the interests of the foreign banks and the financial institutions that had loaned Greece billions of euros. Greece’s gross foreign debt amounted to over 410 billion euros by the end of 2009, so a default would have led to substantial losses for foreign banks and bondholders, but also to the collapse of the Greek banking system itself, as the European Central Bank (ECB) would be obliged in such an event to refuse to fund Greek banks.

Second, by bailing out Greece, the EU wanted to avoid the risk of negative contagion effects spreading across the euro area. A Greek default would have led to a financial meltdown across the euro area and perhaps to the end of the euro altogether.

Third, with Germany as Europe’s hegemonic power, there was a clear intention to punish Greece for its allegedly “profligate” ways (although it was large inflows of capital from the core countries that financed consumption and rising government spending), and by extension, send out a message to the other “peripheral” nations of the eurozone of the fate awaiting them if they did not put their fiscal house in order.

Fourth, the EU wanted to take the opportunity presented by the debt crisis to turn Greece into a “guinea pig” for the policy prescriptions of a neoliberal Europe. Berlin and Brussels had long ago embraced the main pillars of the Washington Consensus—fiscal austerity, privatization, deregulation and de-statization—and the debt crisis offered a golden opportunity to cut down the Greek public sector to the bare bones and radicalize the domestic labor market with policies that slash wages and benefits and enhance flexibilization and insecurity. continue reading…

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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…

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The Implications of Flat or Declining Real Wages for Inequality

Michael Stephens | July 24, 2014

by Julie L. Hotchkiss, a research economist and senior policy adviser at the Atlanta Fed, and Fernando Rios-Avila, a research scholar at the Levy Institute

A recent Policy Note published by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College shows that what we thought had been a decade of essentially flat real wages (since 2002) has actually been a decade of declining real wages. Replicating the second figure in that Policy Note, Chart 1 shows that holding experience (i.e., age) and education fixed at their levels in 1994, real wages per hour are at levels not seen since 1997. In other words, growth in experience and education within the workforce during the past decade has propped up wages.

Chart 1_Actual and Fixed Real Wages

The implication for inequality of this growth in education and experience was only touched on in the Policy Note that Levy published. In this post, we investigate more fully what contribution growth in educational attainment has made to the growth in wage inequality since 1994. continue reading…

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Predatory Capitalism and Where to Go from Here

C. J. Polychroniou | July 23, 2014

Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy that revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism, and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.[1] As such, the landscape of contemporary capitalism is shaped by three interrelated forces: financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization. All three of these elements constitute part of a coherent whole which has given rise to an entity called predatory capitalism.[2]

On the Links between Financialization, Neoliberalism, and Globalization

The three pillars on which contemporary predatory capitalism is structured—financialization, neoliberalism, and globalization—need to be understood on the basis of a structural connectivity model, although it is rather incorrect to reduce one to the other. Let me explain.

The surge of financial capital long predates the current neoliberal era, and the financialization of the economy takes place independently of neoliberalism, although it is greatly enhanced by the weakening of regulatory regimes and the collusion between finance capital and political officials that prevails under the neoliberal order. Neoliberalism, with its emphasis on corporate power, deregulation, the marketization of society, the glorification of profit and the contempt for public goods and values, provides the ideological and political support needed for the financialization of the economy and the undermining of the real economy. Thus, challenging neoliberalism—a task of herculean proportions given than virtually every aspect of the economy and of the world as a whole, from schools to the workplace and from post offices to the IMF, functions today on the basis of neoliberal premises—does not necessarily imply a break with the financialization processes under way in contemporary capitalist economies. Financialization needs to be tackled on its own terms, possibly with alternative finance systems and highly interventionist policies, which include the nationalization of banks, rather than through regulation alone. In any case, what is definitely needed in order to constrain the destructive aspects of financial capitalism is what the late American heterodox economist Hyman Minsky referred to as “big government.” We shall return to Minsky later in the analysis. continue reading…

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Wray on Why Money Matters

Michael Stephens | July 21, 2014

Randall Wray did a guest post at FT Alphaville as part of a series devoted to the upcoming Mission-Oriented Finance conference.

In his post, Wray counters the conventional story about the nature and significance of money with an alternate view drawing on Schumpeter’s notion of bankers as the “ephors” of capitalism:

Bank and central bank money creation is limited by rules of thumb, underwriting standards, capital ratios and other imposed constraints. After abandoning the gold standard, there are no physical limits to money creation. We cannot run out of keystroke entries on bank balance sheets.

This recognition is fundamental to issues surrounding finance. It is also scary.

[...]

It is difficult to find examples of excessive money creation to finance productive uses. Rather, the main problem is that much or even most finance is created to fuel asset price bubbles. And that includes finance created both by our private banking ephors and our central banking ephors.

The biggest challenge facing us today is not the lack of finance, but rather how to push finance to promote both the private and the public interest — through the capital development of our country.

Read the post here.

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