Archive for the ‘Blogs to Read’ Category

The truth about the Indian economy…

September 19, 2017

The GoldStandard blog by Anantha Nageshwaran has 4 posts on truth/state of Indian economy. In the process, he links to several articles/pieces on Indian economy (which is also the trademark of his blog).


What is also interesting to note is how quickly the narrative changes. All this while, we were saying things are stable in Indian economy and so on. Demon is a blip. GST is a blip etc etc.

Now, one is reading quite a few pieces on the need to pass fiscal stimulus to shore Indian economy! For instance see this, this and this. Once the government bites the fiscal bullet and things go haywire (as they usually do with most governments), the same articles will start criticising the Government! Some will say eased too much, some will say too soon and some will suggest that instead of easing this component, that component should have eased..

So much so for all the macro analysis which keeps going in circles….


Did Free Banking Stabilize Canadian NGDP?

September 15, 2017

Interesting post by Prof George Selgin. Selgin counters view of a blogger who says that Free banking between 1867-1935 in Canada did not stabilize its GDP.

About a month ago, a Facebook post drew my attention to an attempt, by Casey Pender of Prague’s CEVRO Institute, to test my thesis that free banking contributes to NGDP stability using statistical evidence from Canada, which had a relatively free banking system between 1867, the year of Canada’s confederation, and 1935, when the Bank of Canada was established.

In “Some Odd Data on Free Banking in Canada,” a blog post discussing his preliminary findings, Pender reports that he had hoped to

be able to show that Canada, from 1867-1935, had a more stable NGDP percent change from year to year than the U.S. And I thought this would be an easy and quick historical example that I could use to bolster my underlying theory. But things seem like they just ain’t so.

Instead, in comparing the fluctuations of Canadian and U.S. NGDP using data from the Macrohistory database, Pender found that Canadian NGDP was not less but more volatile. Moreover that conclusion held not just for the full 1870-1935 sample period, but also for the sub-period 1870-1914, which omits various extraordinary Canadian government interventions during WWI and the Great Depression.

Here is Pender’s chart showing his results from the full sample period:









Having now been made privy to these findings, I suppose that you are looking forward to seeing ol’ Doc Selgin eat humble pie. Well, you can quit holding your breath ’cause that won’t be happening anytime soon. In fact, for the moment at least, I remain thoroughly impenitent.

He says one must not just look at changes in NGDP but look at the relationship between those fluctuations and underlying changes in Canada’s monetary base. He shows that this relationship is much stronger in Canada than US…

In the end:

In brief, both our Canadian regression results themselves, and a comparison of those results with results using U.S. data, seem fully consistent with the theory that free banking helps to stabilize the relationship between NGDP and the monetary base.

Does that mean they confirm the theory? Alas, it doesn’t. Freedom in banking is but one of many differences between the pre-WWI Canadian system and its U.S. counterpart. Furthermore, even if Canada’s more stable NGDP-M0 relationship were in fact due to its having had a relatively free banking system, it wouldn’t follow that my theory is correct. Free banking could well have contributed to the stable relationship in question for reasons apart from the one my theory points to. We know, for example, that branch banking — itself an element of free banking — made Canada’s system less fragile, and therefore less vulnerable to financial crises, than the U.S. system. We also know that financial crises tend to involve a collapse in bank credit and spending. So the relative stability of the Canadian NGDP-M0 relationship, instead of reflecting a tendency for changes in M to offset opposite changes in V, may instead simply have reflected a relative lack of banking crises and associated increases in the ratio of bank reserves to bank credit.  Although all this is still good news for fans of free banking, it leaves my particular hypothesis unproven.

In short, while my theory has yet to be discredited, it also has yet to be confirmed. I hope that either Mr. Pender or some other enterprising econometrician will eventually settle the matter, one way or the other.


Importance of understanding legal aspects of central banks: Case of appointment at Reserve Bank of New Zealand…

September 11, 2017

The role of economics and law especially in central banking is becoming an increasingly an important topic. But as economic students, we hardly study law and whatever little is mostly for contracts etc.

Given how central banks are basically a legal entity and what is broadly does is defined under law, there should be much more attention on central bank act, its governance and highly crucial appointment rules.  Things like appointment rules immediately raise the question of how and why central bank statutes differ across countries? The answers lie in political economy and other aspects which we just miss.

Croaking Cassandra blog has been writing on how the appointments of chief of New Zealand are not as per law. The crux of the matter is the currenct Gpvernor term is getting over and NZ is facing elections. The Government has decided to appoint an interim Governor and appoint a full-term one only after elections. But the central bank law does not allow this.

In its recent post, Cassandra again raises the issue:


If Fiscal councils are just advisers to Governments, should central banks/MPC also do the same?

September 5, 2017

Interesting piece by Prof Simon Wren-Lewis on his blog.

He says Fiscal councils are just advisory bodies but monetary policy is a delegated control body. Why can’t we have monetary policy committee/central banks do the same?

With fiscal councils (or Independent Fiscal Institutions) now commonplace in advanced economies, a natural question arises. Why are all these councils advisory, while independent central banks have control over monetary policy? For fiscal policy we seem to have delegated advice [1], while for monetary policy we have delegated control. In this post I want to focus on control over how policy instruments are changed, and not control of the goals of policy. For clarity assume that governments still control the ultimate goals of monetary policy (e.g. an inflation target) and fiscal policy (e.g. a target for the deficit in 5 years time).
As fiscal councils are the less familiar, it is natural to try and answer this question by asking why fiscal councils are not given control over fiscal policy. I am, of course, not talking about controlling the detail of government spending or taxes, but instead setting a target for the projected deficit which governments should aim to achieve in a budget. There are lots of potential answers to that question, which I have written about elsewhere.
However we could ask the question the other way around, and I cannot remember anyone asking it this way. Why are there no independent advisory central banks? In the UK, for example, imagine having the MPC meeting, and then immediately advising (in secret for a short time) the Chancellor of their recommendation for interest rates. The Chancellor would very quickly (within an hour or day?) decide whether to accept that recommendation or do something different. After that, the decision and the MPC’s recommendation would be announced.
He says this could happen in US but much more difficult in other countries:
Two straightforward points. First, a system of that kind could only work in the US if Congress gave the President the power to accept the Fed’s recommendation or impose the President’s own decision: perhaps not something we would want to contemplate right now. In the Eurozone the ECB would have to give recommendations to Ecofin, which might make it both impractical and perhaps undesirable. Second, this form of delegation is obviously weaker than giving complete control to the central bank, and that in itself may be a reason why it is not adopted.
Nevertheless, for a country like the UK, it would be a mistake to underestimate the political pressure the Chancellor would be under to accept the central bank’s public advice. The Chancellor or Treasury minister would be entirely responsible from deviating from the recommendation given to them, and if it went wrong they would incur a considerable political cost. In these circumstances, it would be understandable for governments to reason that there was little to be gained from having the power to overrule central bank advice. They would get it in the neck if they overruled this advice and turned out to be wrong, but equally if the MPC make mistakes they would also have ultimate responsibility for accepting this advice. If in practice nearly all of the time they are going to accept the central bank’s recommendations, why not give them complete control so that at least you are not implicated when things go wrong.
Of course many governments used to be happy to control monetary policy, as long as the advice they were getting was secret. But if that advice is public, as surely we all agree it should be, would even formally advisory central banks start to in effect control monetary policy because governments would never incur the risk of going against their advice? In which case, why so much fuss about independent central banks that do control monetary policy being undemocratic?
I stress again that I’m talking about control of month to month interest rate changes, and not the goals of monetary policy (inflation targets or NGDP targets). I think those should be democratically decided (as in the UK, but not the US or EZ), and that central banks should be accountable in a meaningful way if they do not achieve these goals. But for the day to day business of setting rates, I cannot see that much would be gained by putting those under democratic control. 
I think secrecy is the key. India is an interesting example here as well. History of RBI tells you how government pretty much controlled monetary policy till 1991. Some might say it was till 1997 when the Government stopped automatic financing of deficits via the adhoc Treasury bills.
The Government could pretty much run the monetary policy with RBI just playing an advisory role as there was much secrecy. Once we moved towards sharing more details with financial media and so on, the previous model broke down. RBI was now given a delegated control role…
Lots to think about in the post. Political economy of central banking…

Blogging on a break..

August 24, 2017

This blog is on a short break. I will try and blog but unlikely to happen.

Hope to resume next Tuesday. Keep sending your comments and suggestions..

Thanks for visiting and motivating to keep the blog going..


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:


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:


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:


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.


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:


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:


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:


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:


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.


Mostly Economics maintains its top 100 rankings!

June 14, 2017 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:


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)


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.

%d bloggers like this: