Archive for the ‘Blogs to Read’ Category

What is Dictionary Money? When Governments can change value of unit of account almost at will..

July 24, 2017

Most books on monetary economics tell you there are three functions of money:

  • Store of value
  • Unit of account
  • Medium of exchange

All these are taught really mechanically and one is always struggling to figure the differences and meanings of the three terms. What we and our textbooks forget is that all these ideas have evolved historically and the story is hardly as linear.

The superb JP Koning in his new blogpost takes us through the history of unit of account idea. Earlier, we hardly had a fixed unit of account as today. Kings were free to announce and change value of the coins as and when. This was in a way like dictionary money where the meaning of money changed everyday:

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Who Would Be Affected by More Banking Deserts (branchless banking)?

July 18, 2017

Learnt about this new term from St Louis Fed blog: banking deserts:

Although technology has made it easy to bank from almost anywhere, personal and public benefits are still derived from bank branches. In areas without branches—commonly referred to as “banking deserts”—the costs and inconveniences of cashing checks, establishing deposit accounts, obtaining loans and maintaining banking relationships are exacerbated.

As expected, the deserts ill impact the poor:

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Tibet’s really colorful currency notes (which were demonetised in 1959)…

July 14, 2017

JP Koning points to this interesting article on history of Tibet currency notes in 1912-59. The article has pictures of many notes during the period but they are not clear. Seperately, Koning puts the picture of one of the notes:

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Was Neoliberal Overreach Inevitable?

July 7, 2017

Prof Simon Wren-Lewis has a post  on neoliberal overreach:

I’m not going to speculate whether and by how much this neoliberal overreach will prove fatal: whether Corbyn’s ‘glorious defeat’ marks the ‘death throes of neoliberalism’ or something more modest. Instead I want to ask whether overreach was inevitable, and if so why. Many in the centre ground of politics would argue that it would have been perfectly feasible, after the financial crisis, to change neoliberalism in some areas but maintain it in others. It is conceivable that this is where we will end up. But when you add up what ‘some areas’ would amount to, it becomes clear that it would be hard to label the subsequent regime neoliberal.
I think it is quite possible to imagine reforming finance in a way that allows neoliberalism to function elsewhere. Whether it is politically possible without additional reforms I will come to. If we think about populism, one key economic force behind its rise has been globalisation (see Dani Rodrik here for example). If we want to retain the benefits of globalisation, then counteracting its negative impact on some groups or communities becomes essential. Whether that involves the state directly, or indirectly through an industrial strategy, neither of those solutions is neoliberal.
Then consider inequality. I would argue that inequality, and more specifically the extreme wealth of a small number of individuals, has played an important role in both neoliberal overreach (in the US, the obsession within the Republican party with tax cuts for the wealthy) and populism (the financing of the Brexit campaign, Trump himself). More generally, extreme wealth disparities fuel political corruption. Yet ‘freeing’ ‘wealth creators’ of the ‘burden’ of taxation is central to neoliberalism: just look at how the loaded language in this sentence has become commonplace.
Indeed it could well be that gross inequality at the very top is an important dynamic created by neoliberalism. Piketty, Saez and Stantcheva have shown (paper) how reductions in top rates of tax – a hallmark of neoliberalism in the 1980s – may itself have encouraged rent seeking by CEOs which makes inequality even worse. Rent extractors naturally seek political defences to preserve their wealth, and the mechanisms that sets in place may not embody any sense of morality, leading to the grotesque spectacle of Republican lawmakers depriving huge numbers of health insurance to be able to cut taxes for those at the top. It may also explain why the controls on finance actually implemented have been so modest, and in the US so fragile.
The other key dynamic in neoliberal overreach has to be the ideology itself. In the UK surveys suggest that fewer than 10% of the population favour cutting taxes and government spending to achieve a smaller state (see my next post). There is equally no appetite to privatise key state functions: indeed renationalisation of some industries is quite popular. Yet the need to reduce the size and scope of the state has become embedded in the political right. Given that, it is not hard to understand the motivation behind the twin deceits of austerity and immigration control by Conservative led governments.
The dynamic consequences of extreme inequality and an unpopular ideology both suggest that neoliberal overreach may not be a bug but a feature.

Hmm..

How Bank of England used its balance sheet in earlier crises? And should it issue shares to fight future crises?

July 5, 2017

Interesting post by BoE’s Bloggers James Barker, David Bholat and Ryland Thomas.

They point how BoE used its balance sheet in the earlier crises as well:

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Could Industrial Revolution have happened in Mysore and Gujarat?

June 29, 2017

This looks like a fabulous book by Kaveh Yazdani of University of the Witwatersrand: India, Modernity and the Great Divergence Mysore and Gujarat (17th to 19th C.).  Industrial Revolution studies are mainly Eurocentric and this book looks at two regions from India – Gujarat and Mysore. These were two relatively advanced regions in India and so could they have their own industrial revolution as well?

Yazdani has a blogpost on the Economic Sociology blog:

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Thinking about speculation, markets, securities and laws…

June 29, 2017

Fascinating post by Elaine which talks about multiple things forcing one to think.

First she points how the Metro train in Boston decided to increase price of its ticket/token. The hike was effective next month. This led to hoarding of the older tickets to sell them for a cool profit later. Unfortunately, she was not the only ne thinking on those lines. This led to many buying the old tokens to sell later. However, as there was no market for the same the profit remained just a dream:

In 2003, I had the best business idea ever. The MBTA had recently announced an upcoming increase in the price of Boston transit tokens, from a dollar to $1.25. The change would not be effective until the following January, which meant that any T tokens acquired before then would be guaranteed a 25% return. I had just over a month to hoard as many tokens as possible.

I wasn’t the only one with this strategy; many of my classmates did the same. But after a month-long buying spree, it became clear that realizing those profits would be a pain in the ass.

We could never use all those tokens ourselves, and there was no secondary market because all our friends had made the same brilliant investment. If only T tokens were tradeable on the blockchain!

She then wonders why we don’t fund projects using similar tokens. The answer is the tokens could be used as security to finance something else. After all these tokenshave been issued against some value. This is how financial instruments like shares and bonds work as well. But then as law permits only few things as securities, these tokens remain unused:

Why don’t we finance all our infrastructure projects with token sales? Is Trump still looking for ways to pay for that wall? Issue a Wall Token and put it on the blockchain! Each Wall Token confers the right to one border crossing.

But it turns out such Tokens might constitute a security.

Here’s a 1977 paper about property developers who finance their facilities by selling usage licenses before construction. Two fun examples:

In the case of Holloway v. Thompson , a landowner raised money for a cemetery by selling certificates entitling the holder to a future burial spot. After the cemetery was constructed, an elderly couple sued the developer because they were unable to resell their unused spots. They had purchased 31 spaces, hoping to flip ‘em for a quick profit. The court determined that the burial rights were  unregistered securities , and buyers were refunded.

In Forman v. Community Services, Inc, a property developer sold “shares” of a low-income housing project, which could be exchanged for a three-year lease on a future apartment. After construction, the lease agreements were less valuable than expected, and the shareholders sued. The Supreme Court determined that the housing shares, despite being explicitly sold as “shares”, were not securities. The case was dismissed. It helped that the defendant was a non-profit housing co-op trying to do a civic good.

There are many more cases, and every shade of grey in between. In the 1970s, a spate of country clubs raised money through initial membership offerings, at which point the SEC directed its staff to stop issuing no-action letters in this area and advised that past letters should not be relied upon: “The Commission is concerned that inferences may be drawn from the issuance of no-action letters in this rapidly-evolving area.”

Simple post but worth many ideas.

What do we mean by legal tender? Currency? Are they the same?

June 19, 2017

How many monetary economics students bother with these terms?

JP Koning’s another terrific post takes you through absolute basics of money. First legal tender:

David Birch recently grumbled about people’s sloppy use of the term legal tender, and I agree with him. As Birch points out, what many of us don’t realize is that shopkeepers have every right to refuse to accept legal tender such as coins and notes. This is because legal tender laws only apply to debts, not to day-to-day transactions. If someone has borrowed some money from you, for instance, then legal tender laws dictate a certain set of media that you cannot refuse to accept to settle that debt. These laws have been designed to protect your debtor from a situation in which you demand payment in a rare medium of exchange, say dinosaur bones, effectively driving them into bankruptcy.

Conversely, they also protect you the lender from being paid in an inconvenient settlement medium. In Canada, for instance, a five cent coin is legal tender, but only up to $5. If your debtor wants to pay off a $10,000 debt using a truckload of nickels, you can invoke legal tender laws and tell them to screw off—give me something more convenient.

Not sure what the laws are in India. I would strongly recommend reading Birch’s post for more clarity.

On currency:

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Mixing behavioral economics with ethnography…

June 15, 2017

Interesting post by UK’s Behavioral Insights Team. I am also wondering what took so long for behavioral studies to use insights from ethnography.

BIT is  trying to streamline the procurement system in Government hospitals. While engaging in the study, they used ethnography to study behaviors more deeply:

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Why do economists who advocate a monetary policy oppose the gold standard?

June 14, 2017

Prof. Larry White wonders about the question.

He says the reason is economists (macro ones) see central banks as their main recruiters. The central banking jobs also come with quite a few privileges and reputation. Moreover, economists see themselves as social engineers whose designed policies/rules can benefit society. In a way it double standards of sorts as same economists talk about markets as well.

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Mostly Economics maintains its top 100 rankings!

June 14, 2017

Intelligenteconomist.com ranked Mostly Economics last year amidst top 100 blogs. It continues to rank the blog this year as well.

Thanks to all the visitors and good wishers. Keep spreading the word..:-)

State Bank of Pakistan continues to include IOUs from India during Partition on its balance sheet!

June 9, 2017

The superb JP Koning looks at Indian monetary history during partition in his recent post. I had blogged a similar piece earlier as well.

During Partition, there were differences between India and Pakistan over distribution of assets and liabilities of RBI. The RBI was to give share of assets equivalent to notes which circulated in Pakistan. However, there were more notes than RBI imagined leading to differences. All the details are there in RBI history (1935-51).

What is even more interesting is that these assets continue to be recorded by Pakistan central bank (State Bank of Pakistan)! Being a history buff, I should have checked this.

Koning notes:

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An interesting chronology of evolution of US Dollar

May 23, 2017

Nice bit from Visual Capitalist Blog. True to its name, it has superb pictures showing how US Dollar came into being…

Should Walmart be allowed to get into banking?

May 17, 2017

Prof Lawrence White of Stern School has a piece on Walmart entry into banking. He says we should actually ask the following question: Why shouldn’t Walmart get into banking?

By the way I also learnt from the article that the retail giant entered banking in Canada and Mexico. In Mexico it sold off its banking business in 2014. The one in Canada continues. The issue is whether it should be allowed in America as well.

Prof White says:

One question to ask might be, “Why should Walmart be allowed to enter banking?” But a more relevant question would be, “Why shouldn’t Walmart be allowed to enter banking?” 

After all, the U.S. economy is generally market-oriented, and entry is generally recognized as potentially beneficial for consumers, as entrants can bring new ideas, innovations, and efficiencies to the market. Of course, incumbents usually don’t like the idea of entrants’ disrupting the status quo; and often those incumbents lobby for regulation and/or legislation that creates barriers to entry. But, for most markets, the presumption in broad U.S. economic policy is that entry should be encouraged—or at least, that policy should be neutral between incumbents and entrants—so that the benefits of entry can be enjoyed by consumers.

Of course, banking is special—as the regular readers of this blog are well aware. And how the specialness of banking and the presence of Walmart in banking can be reconciled must be addressed, and will be addressed below.

But first, consider what the entry of Walmart into banking might well achieve: Walmart is well known for providing reasonably priced goods to low- and moderate-income households. Its position as the largest company in the United States—as measured by sales and by employment—is a testament to that reputation.

But it is exactly this demographic group—low- and moderate-income households—that is most in need of reasonably priced financial services. The percentage of U.S. households that are unbanked (i.e., do not have a bank account) or underbanked (i.e., have an account but rely on non-bank providers for some financial services and products) has been a longstanding policy concern. The most recent data (from a FDIC report that covers 2015) in this regard—based on a survey of more than 36,000 households nationwide—show that 7% of all households were unbanked and an additional 20% of all households were underbanked. Unsurprisingly, the percentages are substantially larger for low- and moderate-income households (see table)

Hmmm.

The post also has a interesting discussion on the complex financial regulation setup in US:

So, how would the entry of Walmart—and, presumably, other non-financial companies that are interested in entering banking—fit into that system of prudential regulation?

The crucial concept is that the “Walmart Bank” that would provide banking services to the public would be organized as a separate subsidiary of the parent Walmart company. In essence, the parent Walmart company would be a bank holding company (BHC), which is a common ownership structure for U.S. banks. The Walmart Bank subsidiary would be expected to abide by all prudential regulations—including adequate net worth (capital) requirements—that apply to banks.

…..

However, because it is relatively easy for the owners (including BHCs) of a bank to drain the bank of its assets—for example, by paying excessive dividends to its owners, or by making loans to the owners that are not repaid, or even by paying excessive prices for any materials that it buys from the owners—it is essential that any transactions between the bank and its owners be on arm’s-length terms. U.S. bank regulators have long been aware of this danger of the draining of a bank by its owners and have rules in place (which are embodied in Sections 23A and 23B of the Federal Reserve Act) that insist on this arm’s-length standard.

Current U.S. banking policy has much of this story right.  But where policy has gone “off the rails” is the insistence that a BHC cannot be engaged in commerce—that is, in non-financial services activities. This restriction on scope was embodied in the Bank Holding Company Acts of 1956 and 1970 and remains established policy for banks and banking in 2017. Its persistence as policy is more a testament to the lobbying strength of the incumbent bankers (who clearly prefer less competition) rather than to a concern about the economic welfare of consumers. It also yields the economically absurd result that it is okay for a local car dealer to own a bank (so long as the dealer doesn’t form a BHC that involves the car dealership); but it is not okay for AutoNation (a publicly traded company that operates hundreds of car dealerships) to own a bank.

Until 1999 there was a potential way around this no-commerce restriction on the activities of a holding company: the holding company of a savings and loan (S&L or thrift) institution faced no such restriction, and at various times companies such as the Ford Motor Company, Fuqua Industries, Weyerhaeuser, ITT, Gulf & Western, Household International, and Sears, Roebuck have owned S&Ls via the formation of thrift holding companies.

In the middle of the 1990s, Walmart decided to try to enter banking by becoming a thrift holding company. However, before Walmart was able to become a thrift holding company, the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 (which was primarily focused on allowing commercial banks—via BHCs—to enter investment banking) forbade the creation of any new thrift holding companies that could engage in commerce. It also restricted the sale of an existing thrift holding company to a non-financial company, such as Walmart.

There was a second, more limited way around the “no commercial owner” restriction: a few states—most notably Utah—offered “industrial loan company” (ILC) charters that allowed a commercial firm to own a financial institution that could issue deposits and make loans and thus could function as a bank. But in order to operate, the ILC would need to obtain deposit insurance from the FDIC.

Walmart duly obtained a Utah ILC charter and in 2005 applied for FDIC deposit insurance. In 2007 Walmart withdrew its application after it was clear that the FDIC would not grant it deposit insurance. Further, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010 placed a three-year moratorium on the granting of deposit insurance to any new (or newly acquired) ILC. Although the moratorium expired in 2013, bank regulators appear to have “gotten the message” that the commerce-finance barrier should remain intact.

Another example of how despite best intentions, regulations leave many gaps to be filled.

But overall a good discussion about many aspects of economics and finance..

Is modern central banking an elaborate waste of time?

May 5, 2017

Anantha Nageshwaran is one of those rare columnists who hits hard through his columns. (His Mint column is titled as Bare Talk but should be Bold Talk).

He points me to his recent post which hits modern central banks out of the park (in response to my post):

With all their self-importance, modern central banking (has been in the service of financial markets. It takes care of their post-central banking career, speaking engagements and book contracts.

In reality, they should be ensuring financial stability and hence, economic stability. If they do, they would be hurting the financial services industry and its short-term fortunes, profits and executive compensation. Buddies would not be buddies anymore. Friendships formed in Universities would be in vain.  They won’t help to secure chunky speaking fees.

So, in the name of the economy, of labour, central bankers of advanced nations (with Federal Reserve being the principal villain) continue to serve the most unproductive and predatory capitalists – the financial markets and the financial services industry!

This blog had labelled this coterie with central bank at its head as Finocracy a few months ago.

It is incredible how deep the nexus of elites of financial world.

500th anniversary of Protestant reformation

May 1, 2017

Bruno Gonçalves Rosi writes on a very important milestone in political and economic history:

This year we celebrate 500 years of the Protestant Reformation. On October 31, 1517, the then Augustinian monk, priest, and teacher Martin Luther nailed at the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, a document with 95 theses on salvation, that is, basically the way people are led by the Christian God to Heaven. Luther was scandalized by the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic Church, believing that this practice did not correspond to the biblical teaching. Luther understood that salvation was given only by faith. The Catholic Church understood that salvation was a combination of faith and works.

The practice of nailing a document at the door of the church was not uncommon, and Luther’s intention was to hold an academic debate on the subject. However, Luther’s ideas found many sympathizers and a wide-spread protestant movement within the Roman Catholic Church was quickly initiated. Over the years, other leaders such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin joined Luther. However, the main leaders of the Roman Catholic Church did not agree with the Reformers’ point of view, and so the Christian church in the West was divided into several groups: Lutherans, Anglicans, Reformed, Anabaptists, later followed by Methodists, Pentecostals and many others. In short, the Christian church in the West has never been the same.

The Protestant Reformation was obviously a movement of great importance in world religious history. I also believe that few would disagree with its importance in the broader context of history, especially Western history. To mention just one example, Max Weber’s thesis that Protestantism (especially Calvinism, and more precisely Puritanism) was a key factor in the development of what he called modern capitalism is very accepted, or at least enthusiastically debated. But I would like to briefly address here another impact of the Protestant Reformation on world history: the development of freedom of conscience.

 

On doing economic history (and its importance!)

May 1, 2017

Thanks to Clark medal 2017 , it is one of those rare moments when people are excited about economic history. Though the field is in precarious state  but still atleast there is some discussion. The question is whether it will meet the same fate as the 1993 prize when economic history was honored but again was ignored after some initial excitement.

This post by Vincent Geloso on Notesonliberty blog is a nice read on doing economic history:

And there is economic history properly done. It tries to answer which theory is relevant to the question asked. The purpose of economic history is thus to find which theories matter the most.

Take the case, again, of asymetric information. The seminal work of Akerlof on the market for lemons made a consistent theory, but subsequent waves of research (notably my favorite here by Eric Bond) have showed that the stylized predictions of this theory rarely materialize. Why? Because the theory of signaling suggests that individuals will find ways to invest in a “signal” to solve the problem. These are two competing theories (signaling versus asymetric information) and one seems to win over the other.  An economic historian tries to sort out what mattered to a particular event.

Now, take these last few paragraphs and drop the words “economic historians” and replace them by “economists”.  I believe that no economist would disagree with the definition of the tasks of the economist that I offered. So why would an economic historian be different? Everything that has happened is history and everything question with regards to it must be answered through sifting for the theories that is relevant to the event studied (under the constraint that the theory be consistent). Every economist is an economic historian.

As such, the economic historian/economist must use advanced tools related to econometrics: synthetic controls, instrumental variables, proper identification strategies, vector auto-regressions, cointegration, variance analysis and everything you can think of. He needs to do so in order to answer the question he tries to answer. The only difference with the economic historian is that he looks further back in the past.

The problem with this systematic approach is the efforts needed by practitioners.  There is a need to understand – intuitively – a wide body of literature on price theory, statistical theories and tools, accounting (for understanding national accounts) and political economy. This takes many years of training and I can take my case as an example. I force myself to read one scientific article that is outside my main fields of interest every week in order to create a mental repository of theoretical insights I can exploit. Since I entered university in 2006, I have been forcing myself to read theoretical books that were on the margin of my comfort zone. For example, University Economics by Allen and Alchian was one of my favorite discoveries as it introduced me to the UCLA approach to price theory. It changed my way of understanding firms and the decisions they made. Then reading some works on Keynesian theory (I will confess that I have never been able to finish the General Theory) which made me more respectful of some core insights of that body of literature. In the process of reading those, I created lists of theoretical key points like one would accumulate kitchen equipment.

This takes a lot of time, patience and modesty towards one’s accumulated stock of knowledge. But these theories never meant anything to me without any application to deeper questions. After all, debating about the theory of price stickiness without actually asking if it mattered is akin to debating with theologians about the gender of angels (I vote that they are angels and since these are fictitious, I don’t give a flying hoot’nanny). This is because I really buy in the claim made by Douglass North that theory is brought to life by history (and that history is explained by theory).

Indeed!

The global history of tea (and much more)..

April 25, 2017

A superb post by Maddy’s Ramblings blog. We take tea so much for granted in India, that we hardly pay any attention on how it became such an important drink for us.

Tea became a drink favored by all the Indian classes only in the 20th century and was at times associated with the working classes or certain religions. For example in Tamil Nadu, tea was considered a Mussalman’s drink while Coffee was popularized by the Brahmins according to Chalapathy’s research. What is of course interesting is that tea became a commonplace drink in India only after the arrival of the British. The routes that this simple leaf took to become a perennially favorite drink of the masses presents a remarkable story of ingenuity and single mindedness of the Englishman, perhaps in pursuit of refinements to his otherwise unsatisfactory life back in the blighty and the hope of minting more sterling. This leaf as you may recall, went on to become the symbol of national resistance back here in America when in 1773, Bostonians destroyed a good amount of British tea laden in three ships when rebelling against the tea act.

Trying to find out when and how tea drinking originated is quite difficult and there are quite a few conclusions, but most agree that it all started in South Eastern regions of today’s China, many eons ago, in any case before the advent of the Common Era. Legends and lore have also crept in such as the sprouting of the tea plant from the eyelids of the south Indian monk Bodhidharma, at Shaolin. Tea preparation and its drinking became a ritual, an art so to speak in various Chinese regions and it is rumored that the Manchurian method was what popularized the so called ‘builders cup’ or concoction with milk and sugar. It is also said that one Mme de La Sabliére, a French hostess of an influential literary salon during the 17th century, is among the first to add milk to tea.

Some others opine that milk was added to stop porcelain from cracking, or there is this story that unscrupulous employers added milk to cool down tea quickly and therefore reduce the time taken for tea breaks. Tea cups, saucers and the pots of course originated in China, so also the fine porcelain medium or bone china in their manufacture. And as time went by, the Chinese and British spent time sipping it daintily from ornate chinaware or brassware and perfecting the art of serving and drinking tea in elaborate sessions, the people of Kerala perfected the art of slurping tea from the omnipresent standard ribbed tea glass! You won’t miss it, for that is what they serve it in at any Chayakada, to date!

From those Chinese regions, tea traveled to the Middle East and the Mediterranean lands to become somewhat popular with the Arabs though coffee was their forte, till all of a sudden, they turned in the 19th century to embrace tea. The first to port tea to Europe was either the Portuguese or the Dutch, a matter still hotly debated, not really the British, but they quickly caught on, as we shall soon see. Back here in India, the EIC had by then firmly entrenched themselves in the various regions and went on to enrich themselves and Britain with trade of various goods from and to India. 

There is much more in the post and is fascinating throughout.

Global history becomes really fascinating when you track it via commodities like say cotton, coffee or tea. There are just so mnay factors, planned and unplanned which go into making these commodities the key to global affairs..

Will Reserve Bank of New Zealand have dual objective like Fed? Inflation and employment?

April 18, 2017

How tides keep turning. Reserve Bank of NZ was the first bank to start inflation targeting formally in 1989. Since then, inflation targeting has become a huge buzzword across central banking circles with more and more central banks taking up targeting inflation.

Now the pioneer of inflation targeting could be made to reconsider and change its single mandate. If the Labour government comes to power in NZ, there are high chances that the RBNZ Act will be changed and employment will be added to the single objective.

The superb blog on NZ economy – Croaking Cassandra blog reports:

I’ve already written a bit about Labour proposals on monetary policy (here and here) and, for now at least, I don’t want to write anything more about the proposed changes to the decision-making process or the plan to require the Monetary Policy Committee to publish its minutes.  If there are all sorts of issues around the details of how, I haven’t seen anyone objecting to the notion of moving from a single decisionmaker model to a a legislated committee, or objecting to proposals to enhance the transparency of the Bank’s monetary policy.    The Bank was once a leader in some aspects of monetary policy transparency, but is now much more of a laggard.

Where there has been more sceptical comment is around Labour’s proposal to add full employment to the statutory monetary policy objective.    At present, section 8 of the Reserve Bank Act reads as follows:

The primary function of the Bank is to formulate and implement monetary policy directed to the economic objective of achieving and maintaining stability in the general level of prices.

Responding to this aspect of Labour’s announcement hasn’t been made easier by the lack of any specificity: we don’t know (and they may not either) how Labour plans to phrase this statutory amendment.    There are some possible formulations that could really be quite damaging.  But there are others that would probably make little real difference to monetary policy decisionmaking quarter-to-quarter.  Probably each of us would prefer to know in advance what, specifically, Labour plans.  But this is politics, and I’m guessing that there is a range of interests Labour feels the need to manage.  In that climate, specificity might not serve their pre-election ends.  One could get rather precious on this point, but it is worth remembering that there are plenty of other things that may matter at least as much that we currently know little about.  Under current legislation, who becomes the Governor of the Reserve Bank matters quite a lot to shorter-term economic outcomes, and we have no idea who that will be.   The details of the PTA can matter too, and under the governments of both stripes the process leading up to the signing of new PTAs has been highly secretive (often even after the event).  For the moment, we probably just have to be content with the “direction of travel” Labour has outlined.

In some quarters, Labour’s plans for adding a full employment objective have been described as “cosmetic”, as if to describe them thus is to dismiss them.    That is probably a mistake.  When I went hunting, I found that cosmetics have been around for perhaps 5000 years (rather longer than central banks).   People keep spending scarce resources on them for, apparently, good reasons.     Why?  They can, as it were, accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative –  highlighting features the wearer wants to draw attention to, or covering up the unsightly or unwanted marks of ageing.    They (apparently) accomplish things for the wearer.

🙂

Further, in all NZ elections central bank objective has been a focal point:

What is the relevance of all this to monetary policy?  Well, there has been a long-running discontent with monetary policy in New Zealand, especially (but not exclusively) on the left.  In the 28 years since the Act was passed there has not yet been an election in which some reasonably significant party was not campaigning to change either the Act or the PTA.  We haven’t seen anything like it in other advanced countries.   Personally, I think much of the discontent has been wrongheaded or misplaced –  the real medium-term economic performance problems of New Zealand have little or nothing to do with the Reserve Bank –  and many of the solutions haven’t been much better (in the 1990s, eg, Labour was campaigning to change the target to a range of -1 to 3 per cent and NZ First wanted to target the inflation rates of our trading partners, whatever they were).     But that doesn’t change the fact that there has been discontent –  and more than is really desirable.

But what about the trade-off?

I’m quite clear that there is no long-run trade-off adverse trade-off between achieving and maintaining a moderate inflation rate (the sorts of inflation rates we’ve targeted since 1990) and unemployment.  And since something akin to general price stability generally helps the economy function better (clearer signals, fewer tax distortions etc) there is at least the possibility that maintaining stable price might help keep unemployment a little lower than otherwise.  Milton Friedman argued for that possibility.

But I don’t think that is really the issue here.

Because it is not as if there are no other possible connections between monetary policy and unemployment.   Pretty much every analyst and policymaker recognises that there can be short-term trade-offs between inflation and unemployment (or excesss capacity more generally –  but here I’m focusing on unemployment).   Those trade-offs aren’t always stable, even in the short-term, or predictable, but they are there.    Thus, getting inflation down in the 1980s and early 1990s involved a sharp, but temporary, increase in the unemployment rate.  That was all but inescapable.  And when the unemployment rate was extremely low in the years just prior to 2008, that went hand in hand with core inflation rising quite a bit.  Monetary policy decisions will typically have unemployment consequences.    Unelected technocrats are messing, pretty seriously, with the lives of ordinary people.   It is all in a good cause (and I mean that totally seriously with not a hint of irony intended) but the costs, and disruptions, are real –  and typically don’t fall on the policymaker (or his/her advisers).

And it isn’t as if monetary policymakers are typically oblivious to the pain.   There was plenty of gallows humour around the Reserve Bank in the disinflation years, a reflection of that unease.  And yet often the official rhetoric is all about inflation –  as if, in some sense, what look like relatively small fluctuations around a relatively low rate of inflation, matter more than lives disrupted by the scourge of unemployment.

So perhaps that is why cosmetics can matter, and serve useful ends even in areas like monetary policy.

Hmm..age old debates once again come to the surface when we were told they have been addressed. Inflation targeting was seen as the only thing that worked given NZ’s experiences. Now with pioneer considering changes, will it lead to change in thinking in other countries too?

There is little doubt that central banks though may just be targeting inflation but their actions have wide ramifications on the entire economy. This is particularly tricky in case of growth/employment issues which have to be answered by politicians. Thus, central banking is far more politicised than we imagine.

Interesting times. Who knows we could be going back to old central bank debates if we see so called cosmetic changes in RBNZ…

How did the DSGE name begin and become so important in world of macro/monetary economics ?

April 4, 2017

Beatrice Cherrier has a post on the topic.

According to JSTOR, it was Robert King and Charles Plosser who, in  their famous 1984 paper titled Real Business Cycles, used the term DSGE for the first time, though with a coma (their 1982 NBER draft did not contain the term): “Analysis of dynamic, stochastic general equilibrium models is a difficult task. One strategy for characterizing equilibrium prices and quantities is to study the planning problem for a representative agent,” they explained upon deriving equilibrium prices and quantities.

There is lot more in the post.

The profession is really poor with naming such terms/models. Most of the time these names just scare/intimidate you. One does not know whether that is the intended purpose as well.