Skip to main content


Showing posts from July, 2012

Palley on the ELR in the UK

Thomas I. Palley

The following story, which appeared in The Guardian on Sunday 29 July, was forwarded to me by Malcolm Sawyer:

“Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have unemployment benefits stopped”

In a sense, the UK, under Conservative Prime Minister Cameron, is looking to adopt a quasi-employer of last resort (ELR) scheme in which the ELR wage is set equal to existing unemployment benefits (Note: the Conservative scheme involves compulsory labor for benefits).

Read the rest here.

Kevin Gallagher on capital controls

Another interesting talk at the Central Bank of Argentina, this one by Kevin Gallagher from the University of Boston based to a great extent on his recent work with José Antonio Ocampo and Stephany Griffith-Jones on the regulation of capital flows (see here).

He has three main points to make. First, there is increasing and overwhelming evidence that there is no connection between capital account liberalization and economic growth. He cited the recent work by Arvind Subramanian, Olivier Jeanne and John Williamson (the latter of Washington Consensus fame) at the Peterson Institute, called "Who Needs to Open the Capital Account?," who argue (2012, p. 5) that "the international community should not seek to promote totally free trade in assets -- even over the long run-- because ... free capital mobility seems to have little benefit in terms of long run growth."

Second, it seems that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has come to partially recognize the appropriaten…

A Critique of the Lucas Critique

The blogosphere, it seems recently, has been particularly rich in blogoyakking (sp?) concerning microfoundations. Wren-Lewis, Noah Smith, Krugman, Rowe, Plosser, and others just in the week prior to this post.

And this has caused a persistent itch of mine to clamor for scratching. Here goes.

The Lucas critique is fairly widely acknowledged to have at least exacerbated the trend toward insisting on microfoundations in macro theory, and thus the rise of New Keynesian Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models. You know, representative agents showing rational expectations over generations, and all such things, reacting to policy changes. Which individual behaviors we can, more or less simply, just add up in order to understand the effects on the macro economy.

For those needing a brief review on "the" critique, Wikipedia is actually not bad, which I summarize. Lucas said:
"Given that the structure of an econometric model consists of optimal decision rules of economic ag…

More on MMT and ELR

Thomas I. Palley

Randy Wray and Mat Forstater, two leading contributors to the MMT School, have replied to my recent blog on the MMT controversy. Their replies warrant a brief response.

I agree that it does not matter very much who first identified the euro’s potential for failure. Along with other Keynesians, MMT-ers were early to identify the euro’s structural flaw – namely, its conversion of the financial status of national government into provincial government status via removal of government’s power to access money creation through a government controlled central bank. In many ways Warren Mosler (1995) is the godfather of interest in this issue.

Read the rest here.

In Defense of Post-Keynesian and Heterodox Economics

New book (and here) edited by Fred Lee and Marc Lavoie (there is a typo on the cover, Mark instead of Marc) forthcoming soon. The book is a response to critics of heterodox economics, mostly friendly critics, who suggest that heterodox economics should change its ways in order to be more respectable and to achieve more pre-eminence. The critics include J. Barkley Rosser, David Colander, John B. Davis, Giuseppe Fontana, Robert Garnett, Bill Gerrard and Richard C. Holt.
From the book jacket: Post-Keynesian and heterodox economics challenge the mainstream economics theories that dominate the teaching at universities and government economic policies. And it was these latter theories that helped to cause the great depression the United States and the rest of the world is in. However, most economists and the top 1% do not want mainstream theories challenged—for to do so would mean questioning why and how the 1% got where they are. Therefore, numerous efforts have been and are being made to…

Why is neoclassical economics so resilient?

For non economists the Great Recession proved that economists are not serious. The Queen of England after a visit to the London School of Economics in 2008 asked how it was possible that economists failed to predict the crisis (yes, it is a bit ironic that woman that has only a decorative role essentially asks what is the role of economists if they cannot foresee crises). Her precise words were: "It's awful. Why did nobody see it coming?"

Many answers followed, some really bad, and others more to the point. And yes several economists, fundamentally heterodox ones, saw it coming. But the mainstream has remained, not only one step behind in the understanding of what has happened and why, but very reluctant in catching up with heterodox authors, which is not completely disconnected from the resilience of austerity as a policy to deal with the crisis.

Note that this crisis has been very different than the Great Depression, a period that became known for the revolutionary ch…

Palley on the spurious victory claims of MMT

Thomas I. Palley (orginally posted here)

Led by Randy Wray (see this and this), supporters of so-called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are declaring that they were the first to identify the problems of the euro and that MMT has now proved itself to be the correct approach to monetary theory.

As regards these two claims, permit me to quote the following:
“5.3 Will capital still be able to veto policy?

…First, financial capital may still be able to discipline governments through the bond market. Thus, if financial capital dislikes the stance of national fiscal policy, there could be a sell-off of government bonds and a shift into bonds of other countries. This would drive up the cost of government borrowing, thereby putting a break on fiscal policy (Palley, 1997, p.155-156).” MMT is a mix of old and new. In my view, the old is widely understood by old Keynesians and the new is substantially wrong. The above quote from my 1997 paper shows two things:

(1) MMT'ers were not the first to …

Back to full employment

Robert Pollin has written a short and very important book titled as this post. Bob is correct in pointing out that the main obstacle to full employment has been political, and that there is no technical reason why we are not pursuing policies that would produce lower levels of unemployment. Note that, as I suggested before, the unemployment problem, as bad as it is right now, is actually worse than you might think.

The full employment goal was attacked almost from the beginning, when it was implemented as the result of the Employment Act of 1946 in the United States. Arguably the Fed-Treasury Accord of 1951 was the first bullet shot in the war against full employment policies. Intellectually, the notion of the natural rate of unemployment, developed by Milton Friedman, and still part of the box of tools of mainstream economists (including New Keynesians) gave theoretical respectability to the idea that full employment could not be a sustainable policy goal.

But it was the rise of con…

Global wealth inequality

Credit Suisse publishes a Global Wealth Report, and if you think that income inequality is bad, well you don't know anything about wealth (h/t Jorge Gaggero for the link). According to the report total wealth in 2011 was US$ 210 trillions. Figure below shows the distribution by deciles around the world.

The poor are fundamentally in Africa, India, and Asia-Pacific (mainly Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Vietnam), while the wealthy are in the US, Europe and Asia-Pacific (i.e. Japan). China has more people in the middle section of the wealth distribution than at the extremes. No big surprises there.

The distribution of global wealth is shown below in what the authors of the Report refer to as the Wealth Pyramid.

So 67% of the world's population (around 3 billion people) hold about 3.3% of total wealth at the basis of the pyramid. At the top of the pyramid, 0.5% of the population holds approximately 38% of the wealth. These are the dollars millionaires, which are overwhelming…

Stock-Flow with Consistent Accounting (SFCA) models

Gennaro Zezza, student and co-author of the late Wynne Godley and currently responsible for the Levy Institute macroeconomic model, gave an interesting talk on the usefulness of Stock-Flow with Consistent Accounting (SFCA) approach to macroeconomic modeling. He refers to the models as stock-flow consistent (SFC), but I prefer to emphasize that the consistency is not just about the relation between stocks and flows, but also the fact that these models provide the full set of accounts (website for those interested in this approach here).

SFCA proved to be considerably more successful than conventional, in particular Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium (DSGE) models, in predicting the Great Recession (see here paper by Dirk Bezemer).

As noted by Gennaro, the fundamental principle of SFCA models is that:
"in the economy – and therefore in models representing the economy - everything comes from somewhere and goes somewhere else: 'there are no black holes.' This obvious pri…

Spot the difference

Here are two posts (here and here) that look very similar (same graphs). Both show that private indebtedness was the result of wage stagnation. The first was published the 18th, while the latter the 3rd of July. I'm glad he is reading it.

Toward an Understanding of Crises Episodes in Latin America

Conventional wisdom about the business cycle in Latin America assumes that monetary shocks cause deviations from the optimal path, and that the triggering factor in the cycle is excess credit and liquidity. Further, in this view the origin of the contraction is ultimately related to the excesses during the expansion. For that reason, it follows that avoiding the worst conditions during the bust entails applying restrictive economic policies during the expansion, including restrictive fiscal and monetary policies. In this paper we develop an alternative approach that suggests that fiscal restraint may not have a significant impact in reducing the risks of a crisis, and that excessive fiscal conservatism might actually exacerbate problems. In the case of Central America, the efforts to reduce fiscal imbalances, in conjunction with the persistent current account deficits, implied that financial inflows, with remittances being particularly important in some cases, allowed for an expansion…

The real world vs. the confidence fairy

By Paul Davidson

Recently I went to a well-known restaurant in Evanston, Illinois. This restaurant has a reputation for providing excellent food and service. But the night I was there, it was less than half full. I asked the manager if he would he hire more waiters and chefs if his taxes were reduced and/or government removed the existing regulations controlling the way his restaurant could operate. His answer was that even if his taxes were reduced and regulations eliminated, he would only hire more staff if more customers came in for dinner. On the other hand, if there were twice as many customers for dinners than there were on this night (and there were many more customers before the recession began in 2007) he would gladly double the number of workers he employed even if his taxes were not reduced or regulations changed.

Read the rest here.

Heterodox and Mainstream Economics: The Great Confusion

Simon Wren-Lewis has a post on heterodox versus mainstream macroeconomics in which he seems surprised by what he calls the Great Divide between the two groups. He claims to be sympathetic to the heterodox project, at least along the lines of Steve Keen, but argues that the "rejectionist strategy is of course unlikely to win friends within the mainstream."

Wren-Lewis also suggests that a Minsky model developed by Keen (which according to Keen was rejected by several mainstream journals) is very similar to his ideas, but he fails to note that the Keen's model, as well as Minsky's theory, does not include a crucial characteristic of mainstream models, New Keynesian (NK), New Classical (NC), Real Business Cycle (RBC) and New Neoclassical Synthesis (NNS) alike, namely: Friedman's natural rate hypothesis.*
If you accept that cycles are just a shock (monetary or real) to an optimal trend and that the only thing that prevents the return of the economy to its optimal lev…

Radical reforms at the Argentinean Central Bank

By Rick Rowden

Supporters say the changes will help Argentina address its diminishing fiscal and trade surpluses in the short term. But more importantly, it will allow for greater financial stability and the use of incentives and disincentives to steer investment capital and loans toward businesses and projects that increase jobs and boost domestic production. Critics say the reforms will lead to over-regulation that will constrain finance, and worry that the government will go too far with new spending.

The changes break a host of taboos in the dominant school of monetarism in neoclassical economics and conservative policy circles -- a bold effort to show that central banks can play more proactive roles by providing credit to promote productive investment and job creation, and doing so with an eye to ensuring greater socioeconomic equality.

Read the rest here.

Debt, wages and the fiscal cliff

It is well known that while real wages kept the pace with labor productivity up to the early 1970s in the United States, they have lagged ever since, as shown in Figure 1. The causes of the collapse of the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism that allowed for expanding wages in the advanced economies are complex and diverse, but it is clear that the demise of the Keynesian consensus and full employment policies was at center stage.

One of the important consequences of the stagnation of wages in the United States has been the increasing reliance on debt as a source of funds for spending. Pivetti and Barba (2009) have argued that rising household indebtedness should be seen essentially as a reaction to stagnant real wages and the cutbacks in the welfare state. In other words, financialization has been the counterpart of enduring changes in income distribution. A point that has also been raised by Jamie Galbraith in his new book Inequality and Instability.

Read the rest here.

Heterodox (Development) Bankers

Robert Skidelsky recounts how Victor Urquidi was instrumental in changing the future World Bank from a reconstruction to a development bank. In the words of Urquidi:
"With our chief delegate’s approval, and without any consultation with US delegation… we drafted an amendment to Article III, in order to lend more emphasis to development….Because my English was better than my fellow delegate’s I was asked to read it aloud…Keynes was characteristically quick to realise the ‘political’ significance of our amendment, which was…supported only by Peru and Norway…As he pushed his spectacles to the top of his nose and shuffled the various amendments that were upon the table, he picked out and expressed agreement with ours if we would accept a drafting change. The original text merely stated that ‘The resources and facilities of the Bank shall be used for the benefit of members’. In the amendment we submitted, we wrote a second paragraph as follows: ‘The Bank shall give equal consideratio…

The spurious victory of MMT

Sergio Cesaratto (Guest Blogger)

In a widely read blog aggregator Randy Wray has declared victory of MMT and that we are all MMTs by now. Victory on who? And I personally do not feel MMT, or better I feel MMT, Sraffian, Kaleckian, Marxist and many other things, each taken with a degree of salt. Fanaticism and over-excitement is not part of heterodox Economics, let alone of academic work, and the fact that Wray got so nervous after a initial critical comment by a reader is telling that we might be far away from a cold and equilibrate economic dialogue. MMT has provided a lot of important insights, as other approaches, about the European crisis. Also intellectual adversaries like Werner Sinn have contributed to our understanding of the crisis, in this case over the role of Target 2 (that for the first time or so Wray mentions). MMT has, indeed, missed the main feature of the EZ crisis: its nature of a balance of payment crisis. Anyway, I do not see the MMT explanation as alternative, bu…

Galbraith on the consequences of fiscal austerity

What would a significant fiscal adjustment, as the jumping of the so-called fiscal cliff would require next year, would be you ask? Jamie Galbraith has provided a timely answer in the Nation (here; hat tip Nathan Cedrus Tankus). In short: "a big deficit-reduction program would destroy the economy, or what remains of it, two years into the Great Crisis."

State of the World Economy: A South Centre's Perspective

During last Rio+20 Conference the South Centre organized a session with some local economists on the state of the world economy, which to a great extent reflects the views of their chief economist Yilmaz Akyüz (hat tip to Butch Montes for the link). Their views tend to be very pessimistic about the possibilities of sustained growth in the periphery and the continuity of the so-called double speed recovery, fast in the periphery and slow in the center.

For them the boom in the periphery in the New Millennium was caused by the commodity boom, and that, in turn, was dependent on China's exceptional growth record, which was heavily dependent on exports to developed countries. So the castle of cards is about to fall.

My views are slightly different (see here and here). I tend to think that Chinese growth may very well slow down, but may continue on the basis of domestic demand, and the structural transformation of the economy that will have to incorporate hundred millions in the next …