Saturday, October 24, 2015

Demand Creates its Own Supply

I have been teaching basic Keynesian economics this week to my undergraduate class and I have just completed a new book manuscript with the working title of Prosperity for All, that will be coming soon to a book
store near you. I am thus highly attuned to the debate over the connection between savings and investment. That debate resurfaced with a vengeance this morning on Twitter when Noah Smith and Jo Michell, among others, engaged in a sometimes testy exchange on the role of the State in promoting investment. Since that debate is at the core of Keynesian economics, and since my class is prepping for Monday’s midterm, this seems like a great opportunity to enlighten readers of all varieties on what Jo and Noah were on about.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Bridge Too Far?

There is much current angst on the difficult problem of how to escape a liquidity trap. Paul Krugman points out that in Japan, the ratio of debt to GDP is growing, leaving little room for a further tame fiscal expansion. He favors something more aggressive.

Tony Yates argues instead for a helicopter drop. Print money and give it to Japanese citizens. The benefit of that approach is that it does not leave the government with an increase in interest bearing debt. 
Simon Wren Lewis looks more closely at the technical aspects of this idea.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Give me a One Armed Economist

I'm glad to see that Olivier Blanchard and Yanis Varoufakis have come out in favor of my plan for People's QE.

The following passage is from How the Economy Works, (HTEW) page 151.

Economists are famous for hedging their bets. A typical response to the question of how to run fiscal policy might be: “On the one hand we should raise taxes but on the other we should balance the budget”. President Harry Truman who instituted the Council of Economic Advisors famously quipped; “give me a one-armed economist.”
Here's what I said about fiscal stimulus in HTEW. 
A large fiscal stimulus may or may not be an important component of a recovery plan. My own view is that there is a better alternative to fiscal policy that I explain in [How the Economy Works, Chaper 11]. But if a fiscal policy is used it should take the form of a transfer payment to every domestic resident; not an increase in government expenditure.
Well ok, I didn't call it peoples QE. "Peoples QE", was coined by a speech writer for Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in the UK and its one of the less crazy parts of the Corbyn platform.  Why do I believe that? Because I also believe something that may seem contradictory. Its time to get interest rates into positive territory. SOON. Quoting again from an impeccable source (HTEW page 152).
Here are my views on monetary policy. Short term interest rates should be increased as soon as feasible, because a positive interest rate is needed if a national central bank is effectively to control inflation. In future, central banks should use the interest rate for this purpose and not to prevent recessions.
Why do I favor a fiscal transfer, rather than currently popular bandwagon of infrastructure expenditure? Two reasons.

  • Because the work of Christina and David Romer suggests that tax multipliers (and by implication, transfer multipliers) are big. 
  • Because I trust markets to decide how to allocate a fiscal stimulus more than I trust the government.

So: Raising interest rates is necessary to eventually raise inflation. I'm with the "neo-Fisherians" here. But an interest rate hike must be offset by some other expansionary policy to prevent the normalization of rates from creating a new recession. Here's what I said about that in HTEW.
But if a central bank raises the domestic interest rate without independently managing confidence, the result will be a drop in the value of the national stock market and a further deterioration in the real economy. To prevent this from happening, central banks need a second instrument.
So: Janet, Mark, Mario: yes: raise rates. Please. But give us QE too.