Category Archives: Economics

IS-LM and Making Sense of MMT


IS-LM and MMT
The core issue at the heart of debates between the heterodox Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach and more mainstream macroeconomics is how the financial economy and the real economy interact. As a consequence we see Keynesians of various hues attempting to illustrate their response to MMT with the standard orthodox Keynesian IS-LM model of the economy, which attempts to illustrate this interaction graphically.

The IS-LM model, as elaborated by various economists after Keynes, consists of upward and downward sloping curves in income (Y) and interest (r) space. (See Figure 1) The downward-sloping IS curve illustrates the inverse relationship between the cost of physical capital (summarised by r) and GDP (Y) where investment is assumed to be the major variable in the latter. The upward-sloping LM curve is a somewhat more complex concept but essentially proposes that given a fixed supply of money, a higher Y leads to a higher interest rate on bank deposits. This interest rate is assumed to feed through to the price demanded for financial capital in such a way that it can be considered as variable r for the purposes of the model.[1] The model is thus somewhat vague in what r is really standing for. Further criticism is that a fixed supply of money is an unrealistic concept; the quantity of money supplied in a modern monetary economy being endogenous to its demand. It is also pointed out that the model mixes up stocks (of money) and flows (of income). Despite these criticisms, the IS-LM structure has been used to characterise MMT ideas in terms of the slopes of the two curves – in its extreme a vertical IS curve (implying investment as independent from any rate of interest) and a horizontal LM curve (implying a technically unlimited supply of money).

Figure 1: The IS-LM Diagram?
Figure 1: The IS-LM Diagram


A Matching Flows Approach
A better way of approaching the real/money interaction might be to work from the viewpoint of two linked flows – that of money and that of its exchange counterparts. We start off with the economy in a steady state, with constant flows of money on one side and of real goods and services and speculative assets on the other. (See Figure 2) There is no distinction between consumer goods and services and productive capital goods in this model, since this is regarded as an arbitrary distinction between goods that have a spectrum of durability and of the timing of flows of utility and/or monetary return. What we will distinguish are goods purchased for use, and those (speculative assets) purchased for resale at (expected) higher prices.[2]

Continue reading IS-LM and Making Sense of MMT

The New Scientist on Economics

Economy Boat
Economy Ahoy (Photo by Kerstin)

Last year a strange bit of ‘neoliberal’ propaganda surfaced in the New Scientist of all places. In what purported to be a report of recent research, Washington University psychologist Pascal Boyer has written of how the ‘human mind is designed to misunderstand the mass-market economies we have created’.

He says ‘evidence from psychology and anthropology…reveals that people have an intuitive mental template for how exchange…should occur’, and that these are evolutionary in origin. This template has arisen because, Boyer argues,

humans evolved to be highly co-operative…[a]nd our ancestors shared resources, especially when it came to goods with highly variable availability… Trade mostly took place between people who knew each other, or between groups that shared repeated exchanges. Technology was simple enough that they could track how much effort was involved in making most things, and verbal communication…was used to select the most co-operative partners with whom to do business. As a consequence, ‘we have a strong sense of fairness, and intuitively expect and prefer that the proceeds of a joint effort be shared in proportion to each participant’s contribution’. Moreover ‘we intuitively consider it beneficial to extend small favours to trading partners rather than exploiting their weak positions, because of expectations of long-term interactions.

Continue reading The New Scientist on Economics

David Andolfatto on Money and Banking

David Andolfatto recently constructed a model intended to ‘reconcile’ (or I think more accurately to distinguish between) ‘mainstream’ and ‘heterodox’ views of the macroeconomic importance of money and banking. More specifically, he wants to answer the question: does the ability of banks to ‘create money’ when they issue loans give bank lending a greater impact on aggregate demand than other forms of leverage? His conclusion is that in general it does not. I believe his model is wrongly specified to determine this question – it essentially pre-decides by its structure. To demonstrate this, I have identified the features that he omits from his model and attempted to incorporate them within the structure of the model he himself uses. My full response is in the form of a downloadable pdf. Continue reading David Andolfatto on Money and Banking

The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers – by Ann Pettifor

New York City Financial District ©www.diarmidweirphotography.co.uk
New York City Financial District ©www.diarmidweirphotography.co.uk

Ann Pettifor is a director of Prime Economics, which advocates for a more Keynesian view of macroeconomics, and has been involved in development and environmental economics for many years. In The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of the Bankers (Verso, 2017) she correctly identifies that ‘money enables us to do what we can within our limited natural and human resources’, and so ‘creates economic activity’ rather than being a result of it. It does this by creating the finance needed for productive employment and investment. Bank finance ensures that there is never a ‘shortage of money’ and so we are only limited by humanity’s capacity and the physical ecosystem. Yet when 95% of the money in existence has been created by the commercial banking system, whose aim (quoting Michael Hudson) ‘is not to minimise the cost of roads, electric power, transportation, water or education, but to maximise what can be charged as monopoly rent’, this power must be rigorously regulated. So much should be uncontroversial today and I have written about this here. Continue reading The Production of Money: How to Break the Power of Bankers – by Ann Pettifor

Socialism, Free Markets, Capitalism and Christopher Snowdon

Bustling market in Xi'an, China. <a href='http://www.diarmidweirphotography.co.uk'>www.diarmidweirphotography.co.uk</a>
Bustling market in Xi’an, China. www.diarmidweirphotography.co.uk

Why do I consider myself to be of the ‘left’ rather than the ‘right’, despite the tendency for each term to be converted to a straw-man for all the pet hates of those attaching to the opposing label? For me, to be of the left designates a prioritisation of co-operation over competition. It is to believe that human satisfaction and happiness depends more on the former than on the latter and it is to believe that co-operation comes logically and practically before competition. Co-operation should therefore be actively promoted. How much competitive superstructure is to be placed on the co-operative base is then entirely up for debate, much of it empirical in nature.

Free exchange of goods, services and labour is the essence of co-operation, and as such genuinely free markets, which being an expression of ‘the propensity [in human nature] to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another’ (Adam Smith) are completely compatible with maximum co-operation and thus, I would argue, with any viable conception of socialism. The competition that arises from free exchange, to provide better quality goods at lower cost, is on the face of it, also pure social benefit. This can be misleading, however, if reliance is placed on the abstract economic concept of perfect competition – where all market participants are equal in access and power, fully informed, infinitely lived and have perfect foresight. This concept requires isolation of the market from the human, the social and the physical world. To harness markets for benefit therefore requires a huge degree of co-operation in terms of setting up the infrastructure and regulation of market institutions. Continue reading Socialism, Free Markets, Capitalism and Christopher Snowdon

The Fragility of Bitcoin

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/BitCoin_Logo_With_US_Dollar.png
By Web-dev-chris (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Launched in 2009, and of wider interest since 2013, the ‘cryptocurrency’ Bitcoin has seen both a rise in its value in relation to existing national and supranational currencies, and in the discussion of its forming a partial or even complete replacement to those currencies. This article outlines the nature of Bitcoin and of traditional currencies and how they differ, and so examines the case for Bitcoin’s future acceptance and valuation.

The urtext of Bitcoin – the so called ‘White Paper’ by Satoshi Nakamoto – focuses on the reversibility of traditional electronic money transfers and how this necessitates banks as trusted third-parties in these transactions.[1] The ‘cryptographic proof’ method of transferring bitcoins was devised initially to lock-in successive electronic transactions as part of a ‘blockchain’ of data, so as to eliminate the role of banks in preventing reversibility and double spending. In essence the collaborative use of computing power is used to verify the chronological order of transactions. The security and anonymity aspects of conducting transactions in this way is not the subject of this piece. The transactions thus carried out and recorded could be actually be denominated in any existing currency. Chains of such transactions would need to be closed by the transfer of that currency (physical or electronic) from the initial donor to the final recipient. Continue reading The Fragility of Bitcoin

The Role of Capital in Inequality

Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century”, published in 2014, played an important role in directing attention to the issue of inequality in the developed economies of the 21st century. The book was both praised and criticised from many parts of the political and economic spectrum. Least controversial was his laying out of the evidence that inequality of both income and wealth has increased markedly since the 1970s, particularly in the US and the UK. A little more controversial is the suggestion that this increasing inequality is harmful to the societies of those countries. Most controversial, and more technical, was Piketty’s espousal of a ‘fundamental law of capitalism’ that when the return on capital (r) exceeds the rate of economic growth (g) inequality will increase.

The chart below shows the change in the fraction of total income going to the top 10% of the distribution for 1900 – 2010.

The Top Decile Income Share, Europ and the US, 1900 - 2010
Source: Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century

Continue reading The Role of Capital in Inequality

If ‘Neoliberalism’ Is So Great, Why Lie About It?

What is it about ideological free marketeers and their shaky relationship with the facts? Everyone likes markets and free exchange is one of the best manifestations of human co-operation there is – so why tell lies about their limitations and the infrastructure required to make them work for our benefit?

Sam Bowman of the Adam Smith Institute is keen to adapt the often pejorative label of ‘neoliberalism’ to his cheery brand of paid-for market propaganda, and promotes it under this banner in an article in the online i newspaper. He defines a neoliberal as

someone who thinks that lightly-regulated markets, free trade and free movement are the best way to create wealth and innovation domestically and globally, but that the state does have a role to play in redistributing some of the proceeds to the least well-off. Continue reading If ‘Neoliberalism’ Is So Great, Why Lie About It?

Bad Targets for Policy 2: Immigration

Passengers Queuing at a Railway Station in China
Passengers Queuing at a Railway Station in China.

For most of us, it’s a great boon to live in a world in which travel between even distant parts is relatively cheap and takes hours rather than days, weeks or months. We can visit, explore and learn about places and people we never could have done only 40 years ago. More than that, if things are difficult for us at home this gives us the option to try our fortune elsewhere where resources, attitudes and the style of governance may suit us better.

Is there are approaches which are systematically superior to others then it is entirely to be expected that people finding themselves where these are sub-optimal will, if they are courageous and determined enough, seek to move to those where things are better. In Western Europe and North America we regard ourselves as fortunate in having considerable freedom to say, do and trade what we wish. We think of these as rights to which most global citizens aspire. If we are right about this we must expect the arrival of people from abroad at our ports and airports who would like to live and work in our countries. Continue reading Bad Targets for Policy 2: Immigration

Bad Targets for Policy 1: Government Debt

This is the first blog in a two-part series on ‘Bad Targets for Policy’. The second in the series will be on immigration.

We’ve seen a lot of focus on the ‘costing’ of policies in the parties’ manifestos for the forthcoming UK election. But we must remember that money is only a means of keeping account. Accounts are important but they are not reality. An account of debt is important, but it is not a physical reality. When a government has a debt in its own currency which only it (or its institutions) can issue, its obligations are important but not physically binding. They are not even legally binding, since the debt can be devalued virtually to zero by inflation. It follows that the real implications of government debt are not simply consequences of current government spending and taxation and the gap between them. Indeed these may be among the least important causes.

The real consequences of government debt result from the physical burden implied by the future obligation to transfer some control over a portion of real goods and services from the state to holders of the issued debt, either as interest or in repayment of capital. That debt in the nominal quantity of the national currency (the total amount in pounds or dollars say) is only a starting point. Inflation changes the relationship between that number and the obligation in real goods and services; the changing size of the national economy alters the ability to fulfill a fixed obligation. Continue reading Bad Targets for Policy 1: Government Debt