Category Archives: Keynesian Economics

ARE WE AS BRAVE AS LABOUR IN THE 1930s?- Bryan Gould.

New Zealanders like to think that we are, in most respects, up with – if not actually ahead of – the play. Sadly, however, as a new government is about to emerge, there is no sign that our politicians and policymakers are aware of recent developments in a crucial area of policy, and that, as a result, we are in danger of missing out on opportunities that others have been ready to take.

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The story starts, at least in its most recent form, with two important developments. First, there is the now almost universal recognition that the vast majority of money in circulation is not – as most people once believed – notes and coins issued on behalf of the government by the Reserve Bank, but is actually created by the commercial banks through the credit they advance, using bank entries rather than cash, and usually on mortgage.

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The truth of this proposition, so long denied, is now explicitly accepted by the Bank of England, and was – as long ago as 1994 – explained in a letter written by our own Reserve Bank to an enquirer, and stating in terms that 97% of the money included in the usually used definition of money known as M3 is created by the commercial banks.

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The proposition is endorsed by the world’s leading monetary economists – Lord Adair Turner, the former chair of the UK’s Financial Services Authority and Professor Richard Werner of Southampton University, to name but two. These men are not snake-oil salesmen, to be easily dismissed. They have been joined by leading financial journalists, such as Martin Wolf of the Financial Times.

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The second development was the use by western governments around the world of “quantitative easing” in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis. “Quantitative easing” was a sanitised term to describe what is often pejoratively termed “printing money” – but, whatever it is called, it was new money created at the behest of the government and used to bail out the banks by adding it to their balance sheets.

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These two developments, not surprisingly, generated a number of unavoidable questions about monetary policy. If banks could create billions in new money for their own profit-making purposes, (they make their money by charging interest on the money they create), why could governments not do the same, but for public purposes, such as investment in new infrastructure and productive capacity?

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And if governments were indeed to create new money through “quantitative easing”, why could that new money not be applied to purposes other than shoring up the banks?

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The conventional answer to such questions (and the one invariably given in New Zealand by supposed experts in recent times) is that “printing money” will be inflationary – though it is never explained why it is miraculously non-inflationary when the new money is created by bank loans on mortgage or is applied to bail out the banks.

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But, in any case, the master economist, John Maynard Keynes, had got there long before the closed minds and had carefully explained that new money could not be inflationary if it was applied to productive purposes so that new output matched the increased money supply. Nor was there any reason why the new money should not precede the increased output, provided that the increased output materialised in due course.

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Those timorous souls who doubt the Keynesian argument might care to look instead at practical experience. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used exactly this technique to increase investment in American industry in the year or two before the US entered the Second World War. It was that substantial boost to American industrial capacity that was the decisive factor in allowing the Allies to win the war.

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And the great Japanese (and Keynesian) economist, Osamu Shimomura, (almost unknown in the West), took the same approach in advising the post-war Japanese government on how to re-build Japanese industry in a country devastated by defeat and nuclear bombs.

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The current Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is a follower of Shimomura. His policies, reapplied today, have Japan growing, after years of stagnation, at 4% per annum and with minimal inflation.

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Our leaders, however, including luminaries of both right and left, some with experience of senior roles in managing our economy – and in case it is thought impolite to name them I leave it to you to guess who they are – prefer to remain in their fearful self-imposed shackles, ignoring not only the views of experts and the experience of braver leaders in other countries and earlier times, but – surprisingly enough – denying even our own home-grown New Zealand experience.

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Many of today’s generation will have forgotten or be unaware of the brave and successful initiative taken by our Prime Minister in the 1930s – the great Michael Joseph Savage. He created new money with which he built thousands of state houses, thereby bringing an end to the Great Depression in New Zealand and providing decent houses for young families (my own included) who needed them.

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Who among our current leaders would disown that hugely valuable legacy?

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Bryan Gould, 2 October 2017

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BryanGould.com

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How to Use Fiscal and Monetary Policy to Make Us Rich Again – Tom Streithorst. 

The easiest way to return to Golden Age tranquility and equality is to empower fiscal policy.

During the post war Golden Age, from 1950 to 1973, US median real wages more than doubled. Today, they are lower than they were when Jimmy Carter was president. If you want an explanation why Americans are pessimistic about their future, that is as good a reason as any. In a recent article, Noah Smith examines the various causes of the slide in labor’s share of national income and finds most explanations wanting. With a blind spot common amongst economists he doesn’t even investigate the most obvious: politics.

Take a look at this chart. From the end of World War II, productivity rose steadily. Until the 1972 recession wages went up alongside it. Both dipped, both recovered and then, right around the time Ronald Reagan became President, productivity continued its upward trajectory but wages stopped following. If wages had continued to track productivity increases, the average American would earn twice as much as he does today and America would undoubtedly be a calmer and happier nation.

Collectively we are richer than we were 40 years ago, as we should be, considering the incredible advances in technology since them, but today the benefits of productivity increases no longer go to workers but rather to owners of stocks, bonds, and real estate. Wages don’t go up, but asset prices do. Rising productivity, that is to say the ability to make more goods and services with fewer inputs of labor and capital should make us all more prosperous. That it hasn’t can only be a distributional issue.

The timing suggests Ronald Reagan had something to do stagnating wages. That makes sense. Reagan cut taxes on the rich, deregulated the economy, eviscerated the labor unions and created the neoliberal order that still rules today. But perhaps an even more significant change is the tiny, technical and tedious shift from fiscal to monetary policy.

Government has two ways of affecting the economy: monetary and fiscal policy. The first involves the setting of interest rates, the other government tax and spending policy. Both fiscal and monetary policy work by putting money in people’s pockets so they will spend and thereby stimulate the economy but fiscal focuses on workers while monetary mostly benefits the already rich. Since Ronald Reagan, even under Democratic presidents, monetary has been the policy of choice. No wonder wages stopped going up but real estate, stock and bond prices have gone through the roof. During the Golden Age we shared the benefits of technological progress through wages gains. Since Reagan, we have allocated them through asset price inflation.

Fiscal policy, by increasing government spending, creates jobs and so raises wages even in the private sector. Monetary policy works mostly through the wealth effect. Lower interest rates almost automatically raise the value of stocks, bonds, and other real assets. Fiscal policy makes workers richer, monetary policy makes rich people richer. This, I suspect, explains better than anything else why monetary policy, even extreme monetary policy remains more respectable than even conventional monetary policy.

During the Golden Age, fiscal was king. Wages rose steadily and everybody was richer than their parents. Recessions were short and shallow. Economic policy makers’ primary task was insuring full unemployment. Anytime unemployment rose over a certain level, a government spending boost or tax cut would get the economy going again. And since firms were confident the government would never allow a steep downturn, they were ready and willing to invest in new technology and increased productive capacity. The economy grew faster (and more equitably) than it ever has before or since.

During the 1960s, Keynesian economists thought they could “fine tune” the economy, using Philips curve trade offs between inflation and unemployment. Stagflation in the 1970s shattered that optimism. Inflation went up but so did unemployment. New Classical economists decided in the long run, Keynesian stimulus couldn’t increase GDP, it could only accelerate inflation. Keynesianism stopped being cool. According to Robert Lucas, graduate students, would “snicker” whenever Keynesian concepts were mentioned.

In policy circles, Keynesians were replaced by monetarists, acolytes of Milton “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” Friedman. Volcker in America and Thatcher in Britain decided the only way to stomp out inflationary expectations was to cut the money supply. This, despite their best efforts, they were unable to do. Controlling the money supply proved almost impossible but monetarism gave Volcker and Thatcher the cover to manufacture the deepest recession since the Great Depression.

By raising interest rates until the economy screamed Volcker and Thatcher crushed investment and allowed unemployment to rise to levels unthinkable just a few years before. Businessmen, union leaders, and politicians pleaded for a rate cut but the central bankers were implacable. Ending inflationary expectations was worth the cost, they insisted. Volcker and Thatcher succeed in crushing inflation, not by cutting the money supply, but rather with an old fashioned Phillips curve trade off. Workers who fear for their jobs don’t ask for cost of living increases. Inflation was history.

The Federal Funds Rate hit 20% in 1980. Now even after a few hikes, it is barely over 1%. The story of the past 30 years is of the most stimulative monetary policy in history. Anytime the economy stumbled, interest rate cuts were the automatic response. Other than military Keynesianism and tax cuts, fiscal policy was relegated to the ash heap of history. Reagan of course combined tax cuts with increased military spending but traditional peacetime infrastructure stimulus was tainted by the 1970s stagflation and for policymakers remained beyond the pale.

Fiscal stimulus came back, momentarily, at the peak of the financial crisis. China’s investment binge combined with Obama’s stimulus package probably stopped the Great Recession from being as catastrophic as the Great Depression but by 2010, fiscal stimulus was replaced by its opposite, austerity. According to elementary macroeconomics, when the private sector is cutting back its spending, as it was still doing in the wake of the financial crisis, government should increase its spending to take up the slack. But Obama in America, Cameron in Britain and Merkel in the EU insisted that government cut spending, even as the private sector continued to retrench.

It is rather shocking, for anyone who has taken Econ 101 that in 2010, when the global economy had barely recovered from the worst recession since the Great Depression, politicians and pundits were calling for lower deficits, higher taxes and less government spending even as monetary policy was maxed out. Rates were already close to zero so central banks had no more room to cut.

So, instead of going to the tool box and taking out their tried and tested fiscal kit, which would have created jobs and had the added benefit of improving infrastructure, policymakers instead invented Quantitative Easing, which in essence is monetary policy on steroids. Central Banks promised to buy bonds from the private sector, increasing their price, thereby shoveling money towards bond owners. The idea was that by buying safe assets they would push the private sector to buy riskier assets and by increasing bank reserves they would stimulate lending but the consequence of all the Quantitative Easings is that all of the benefits of growth since the financial crisis have gone to the top 5% and most of that to the top 0.1%.

A feature or a bug? The men who rule the planet are happy that most of us think economics is boring, that we would much rather read about R Kelly’s sexual predilections than about the difference between fiscal and monetary policy but were we to remember that spending money on infrastructure or health care or education would create jobs, raise wages, and create demand which the economy craves, we would have a much more equitable world.

One cogent objection to stimulative fiscal policy is that it has the potential to be inflationary. Indeed the fundamental goal of macroeconomic policy is to match the economy’s demand to its ability to supply. If fiscal policy gets out of hand (as arguably it did in the 1960s when Lyndon Johnson tried to fund both his Great Society and the Vietnam war without raising taxes), demand could outstrip supply, creating inflation. But should that happen, we have the monetary tools to cure any inflationary pressure. Rates today are still barely above zero. Should inflation threaten, central banks can raise interest rates and nip it in the bud.

Fiscal and monetary policy both have a place in policymakers’ toolkits. Perhaps the ideal combination would be to use fiscal to stimulate the economy and monetary to cool it down. Both Brexit and Trump should have told elites that unless they share the benefits of growth, a populist onslaught could threaten all our prosperity. The easiest way to return to Golden Age tranquility and equality is to empower fiscal policy to invest in our future and create jobs today.

2017 August 6

Evonomics.com

A Keynesian Opportunity Missed. Did We Take Low Interest Rates for Granted? – NY Times. 

The era of superlow interest rates, which began in 2008, will draw to a close this year if, as expected, the Federal Reserve lifts rates to fend off inflation from tax cuts and spending increases under a Trump administration.

The end of rock-bottom rates represents a huge missed opportunity for generations of Americans. Congress could have — and should have — used those near-zero rates to borrow money to rebuild the country’s decrepit infrastructure, which would have sped up the recovery by creating jobs and set the stage for growth long into the future.

That chance was squandered. After Republicans won control of the House in 2010, they managed to shift the debate from economic-recovery spending to deficit reduction. They did this despite evidence that the still-weak economy required more, not less, federal aid, and even threatened to default on the national debt unless federal spending was slashed. In 2013 and 2014, the budget was cut so deeply that the government sector subtracted from economic growth. In 2015, the government added nothing to growth. In 2016, it added a smidgen.

New York Times

Keynes Reborn – Koichi Hamasaki. 

Large public debts are not always bad for an economy, just as efforts to rein them in are not always beneficial.

The focus on a balanced budget in the United States, for example, has led some elements of the Republican Party to block normal functions of state and even federal authorities, supposedly in the name of fiscal discipline. Likewise, the eurozone’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis has been held back by strict fiscal rules that limit member countries’ fiscal deficits to 3% of GDP.

Contrary to popular belief, aggregate demand and the price level (inflation) are not dictated only – or even primarily – by monetary policy. Instead, they are determined by the country’s net wealth and the liabilities of the central bank and the government.

When government deficits are lower, investing in government debt becomes more attractive. As the private sector purchases more of that debt, demand for goods and services falls, creating deflationary pressure. If the central bank attempts to spur inflation by expanding its own balance sheet through monetary expansion and by lowering interest rates, it will cause the budget deficit to fall further, reinforcing the cycle. In such a context monetary policy alone would not be adequate to raise inflation; fiscal policy that increases the budget deficit would also be necessary.

John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Moneywhich argued for active fiscal policies, was published in 1936. Forty years later, a counterrevolution took hold, reflecting sharp criticism of fiscal activism. After another 40 years, Keynes’ key idea is back, in the form of the FTPL (fiscal theory of the price level). This may be old wine in a new bottle, but old wine often rewards those who are willing to taste it.

Project Syndicate 

How New Keynesian Economics Betrays Keynes – Roger E. A. Farmer. 

Classicals, Keynesians, and Bastard Keynesians. 

Macroeconomics is a child of the Great Depression. Before the publication of Keynes’ book, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, macroeconomics consisted primarily of mon­etary theory.

Economists were preoccupied with price stability, as we are today, but the idea that government should control ag­gregate economic activity through active fiscal and monetary policy was absent.

There is no self-correcting market mechanism to return the boat to a safe harbor. We must rely on political interventions to maintain full employment. That is the essential insight of Keynes’ General Theory.

Hicks embraced the Keynesian idea that mass unemployment is caused by insufficient aggregate demand, and he formal­ized that idea in the IS- LM model.

The program that Hicks initiated was to understand the connection between Keynesian economics and general equi­librium theory. But, it was not a complete theory of the macro­economy because the IS- LM model does not explain how the price level is set. The IS- LM model determines the unemploy­ment rate, the interest rate, and the real value of GDP, but it has nothing to say about the general level of prices or the rate of inflation of prices from one week to the next.

To complete the reconciliation of Keynesian economics with general equilibrium theory, Paul Samuelson introduced the neoclassical synthesis in 1955. According to this theory, if un­employment is too high, the money wage will fall as workers compete with each other for existing jobs. Falling wages will be passed through to falling prices as firms compete with each other to sell the goods they produce. In this view of the world, high unemployment is a temporary phenomenon caused by the slow adjustment of money wages and money prices. In Samuelson’s vision, the economy is Keynesian in the short run, when some wages and prices are sticky. It is classical in the long run when all wages and prices have had time to adjust.

In Keynes’ vision, there is no tendency for the economy to self- correct. Left to itself, a market economy may never recover from a depression and the unemployment rate may remain too high forever. In contrast, in Samuelson’s neoclassical synthe­sis, unemployment causes money wages and prices to fall. As the money wage and the money price fall, aggregate demand rises and full employment is restored, even if government takes no corrective action. By slipping wage and price adjust­ment into his theory, Samuelson reintroduced classical ideas by the back door— a sleight of hand that did not go unnoticed by Keynes’ contemporaries in Cambridge, England. Famously, Joan Robinson referred to Samuelson’s approach as “bastard Keynesianism.”

The New Keynesian agenda is the child of the neoclassical synthesis and, like the IS- LM model before it, New Keynesian economics inherits the mistakes of the bastard Keynesians. It misses two key Keynesian concepts: (1) there are multiple equilibrium unemployment rates and (2) beliefs are funda­mental. My work brings these concepts back to center stage and integrates the Keynes of the General Theory with the mi­croeconomics of general equilibrium theory in a new way.

Evonomics.com

THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE PEACE by JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES, C.B. Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge – Introduction. 

A warning for our times. 

The writer of this book was temporarily attached to the British Treasury during the Great War and was their official representative at the Paris Peace Conference up to June 7, 1919; he also sat as deputy for the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Supreme Economic Council.

He resigned from these positions when it became evident that hope could no longer be entertained of substantial modification in the draft Terms of Peace.

The grounds of his objection to the Treaty, or rather to the whole policy of the Conference towards the economic problems of Europe, will appear in the following chapters.

They are entirely of a public character, and are based on facts known to the whole world.

J.M. Keynes. King’s College, Cambridge, November, 1919.

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Introduction


The power to become habituated to his surroundings is a marked characteristic of mankind. Very few of us realize with conviction the intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, temporary nature of the economic organization by which Western Europe has lived for the last half century.
On this sandy and false foundation we scheme for social improvement and dress our political platforms, pursue our animosities and particular ambitions, and feel ourselves with enough margin in hand to foster, not assuage, civil conflict in the European family.

Moved by insane delusion and reckless self-regard, the German people overturned the foundations on which we all lived and built. But the spokesmen of the French and British peoples have run the risk of completing the ruin, which Germany began, by a Peace which, if it is carried into effect, must impair yet further, when it might have restored, the delicate, complicated organization, already shaken and broken by war, through which alone the European peoples can employ themselves and live.
Perhaps it is only in England and America that it is possible to be so unconscious.
In continental Europe the earth heaves and no one but is aware of the rumblings. There it is not just a matter of extravagance or “labor troubles”; but of life and death, of starvation and existence, and of the fearful convulsions of a dying civilization.

In this lies the destructive significance of the Peace of Paris.
If the European Civil War is to end with France and Italy abusing their momentary victorious power to destroy Germany and Austria-Hungary now prostrate, they invite their own destruction also, being so deeply and inextricably intertwined with their victims by hidden psychic and economic bonds.

The British people received the Treaty without reading it. But it is under the influence of Paris, not London, that this book has been written by one who, though an Englishman, feels himself a European also, and, because of too vivid recent experience, cannot disinterest himself from the further unfolding of the great historic drama of these days which will destroy great institutions, but may also create a new world.

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1919 – Keynes predicts economic chaos

At the Palace of Versailles outside Paris, Germany signs the Treaty of Versailles with the Allies, officially ending World War I. The English economist John Maynard Keynes, who had attended the peace conference but then left in protest of the treaty, was one of the most outspoken critics of the punitive agreement. In his The Economic Consequences of the Peace, published in December 1919, Keynes predicted that the stiff war reparations and other harsh terms imposed on Germany by the treaty would lead to the financial collapse of the country, which in turn would have serious economic and political repercussions on Europe and the world.

In January 1919, John Maynard Keynes traveled to the Paris Peace Conference as the chief representative of the British Treasury. The brilliant 35-year-old economist had previously won acclaim for his work with the Indian currency and his management of British finances during the war. In Paris, he sat on an economic council and advised British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, but the important peacemaking decisions were out of his hands, and President Wilson, Prime Minister Lloyd George, and French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau wielded the real authority. Germany had no role in the negotiations deciding its fate, and lesser Allied powers had little responsibility in the drafting of the final treaty.

The treaty that began to emerge was a thinly veiled Carthaginian Peace, an agreement that accomplished Clemenceau’s hope to crush France’s old rival. According to its terms, Germany was to relinquish 10 percent of its territory. It was to be disarmed, and its overseas empire taken over by the Allies. Most detrimental to Germany’s immediate future, however, was the confiscation of its foreign financial holdings and its merchant carrier fleet. The German economy, already devastated by the war, was thus further crippled, and the stiff war reparations demanded ensured that it would not soon return to its feet. A final reparations figure was not agreed upon in the treaty, but estimates placed the amount in excess of $30 billion, far beyond Germany’s capacity to pay. Germany would be subject to invasion if it fell behind on payments.

Keynes, horrified by the terms of the emerging treaty, presented a plan to the Allied leaders in which the German government be given a substantial loan, thus allowing it to buy food and materials while beginning reparations payments immediately. Lloyd George approved the “Keynes Plan,” but President Wilson turned it down because he feared it would not receive congressional approval. In a private letter to a friend, Keynes called the idealistic American president “the greatest fraud on earth.” On June 5, 1919, Keynes wrote a note to Lloyd George informing the prime minister that he was resigning his post in protest of the impending “devastation of Europe.”

“If we aim at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare say, will not limp. Nothing can then delay for very long the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the later German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victor, the civilisation and the progress of our generation.”

This Day In History 

Keynesian economics: is it time for the theory to rise from the dead? – Larry Eliot. 

Lessons were learned from the 1930s. Governments committed themselves to maintaining demand at a high enough level to secure full employment. They recycled the tax revenues that accrued from robust growth into higher spending on public infrastructure. They took steps to ensure that there was a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor.

The period between FDR’s second win and Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House can be divided into two halves: the 40 years up until 1976 and the 40 years since.

Keyne’s lessons were forgotten. (Hans: after the assault on western economies by the offspring of Saudi Arabia’s oil embargo of 1973: Hyper Inflation and the mistaken conviction that Keynesian economics was to blame.) Instead of running budget surpluses in the good times and deficits in the bad times, UK governments ran deficits all the time. They failed to draw the proper distinction between day-to-day spending and investment. In Britain, December 1976 was the pivotal moment. Matters came to a head in early December when a divided and fractious cabinet agreed that austerity was a price that had to be paid for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, which was needed to prop up the crashing pound.

Subsequently there was a paradigm shift. Labour had been reluctant converts to monetarism; the Thatcherites who followed were true believers. Controls on capital were lifted, full employment was abandoned as the prime policy goal, trade union power was curbed, taxes for the better off were cut, inequality was allowed to widen, finance waxed as manufacturing waned.

The Guardian