From Minsky’s earliest work, he adopted what became known as the “endogenous money” approach that was revived by Post Keynesians in the 1980s. It is useful to return to Krugman’s critique of Minsky to compare Minsky’s early view of banking with the current view held by many macroeconomists. Minsky’s views over half a century ago are far more advanced than those held today by Krugman.
Author: Randall Wray
Finally, a prominent “mainstreamer” Keynesian gets MMT. Over the past couple of years, Paul Krugman has got close, but he keeps claiming that MMT believes “deficits don’t matter”. He refuses to cite any MMTer who has ever said such a silly thing. One doubts he’s actually read any serious piece by any proponent of MMT. I suspect he is just reacting to comments made on his blog—likely by anonymous supporters of MMT who might not have got it quite right.
The continuing attempts to rescue the financial sector (especially in the United States) have laid bare the tremendous social costs created by the way finance dominates the economy. If anything, the various bailouts have actually strengthened the hands of the financial sector, increasing concentration in a small number of behemoth institutions that appear to control government policy. Meanwhile the “real” economy suffers, as unemployment, poverty, and homelessness rise, but policymakers claim we cannot afford to deal with these problems. Their only hope is to gently prod Wall Street to lend more—in other words, to bury the rest of the economy under even more debt. The rescue of Wall Street displaces other fiscal policy that would lead to recovery.
What I am arguing is that the financial sector has not been operating like a neoclassical market. In spite of the rhetoric that deregulation improved efficiencies by replacing government rules with market discipline, markets have not and cannot discipline financial institutions.
The Platinum coin has been all over the blogosphere as well as the media. Some have been arguing it will cause hyperinflation. How can issuing a coin to be held at the Fed to allow the Treasury to spend up to budgeted amount lead to hyperinflation? It’s technically a viable solution to the debt ceiling. Proof that when you look at the mechanics of our Monetary System you discover that the Fed ALWAYS ‘monetizes’ the deficit. QE is just a duration trade.
After 1990 we removed what was left of financial regulations following the flurry of deregulation of the early 1980s that had freed the thrifts so that they could self-destruct. And we are shocked, SHOCKED!, that thieves took over the financial system.
Nay, they took over the whole economy and the political system lock, stock, and barrel. They didn’t just blow up finance, they oversaw the swiftest transfer of wealth to the very top the world has ever seen. They screwed workers out of their jobs, they screwed homeowners out of their houses, they screwed retirees out of their pensions, and they screwed municipalities out of their revenues and assets.
Many orthodox economists ironically adopt something close to a “loan pusher” argument: the excess global saving pushed interest rates down, leading to excessive borrowing by debtor nations that consumed beyond their means. Although the framework is somewhat different from the current account imbalance story, the conclusion is the same: too many imports flowing to heavily indebted profligate consumers. This can be supplemented with the mercantilist story—Germany is also guilty because it pushed cheap exports onto the importers. As I have tried to make clear, there is something to that but it is far too simple. The EMU could easily have self-destructed even with no current account deficits anywhere. And the US does not self-destruct in spite of current account deficits everywhere (internally and externally).
The problem cannot simply be a problem of current account imbalances—we’ve got them all across the US states. And the US, itself, runs a chronic current account deficit. But the US federal government is sovereign, it issues its own currency. It helps to offset current account deficits among states through fiscal transfers; and it can never run out of its own currency no matter how big its budget deficit. It can set its overnight interest rate target wherever it wants—at zero if desired—and hold it there forever, if it wants. That lowers short term treasury rates, and Uncle Sam can—if he wants—issue only short term treasuries. All of these options are fully within the federal government’s sovereign power, although it can choose to do something else. Individual EMU nations are in a wholly different pickle.
In his publications in the 1950s through the mid 1960s, Minsky gradually developed his analysis of the cycles. First, he argued that institutions, and in particular financial institutions, matter. This was a reaction against the growing dominance of a particular version of Keynesian economics best represented in the ISLM model. At the same time, he examined financial innovation, arguing that normal profit seeking by financial institutions continually subverted attempts by the authorities to constrain money supply growth. This is one of the main reasons why he rejected the LM curve’s presumption of a fixed money supply. With his 1975 book, Minsky provided an alternative analysis of Keynes’s theory. This provides his most detailed presentation of the “financial theory of investment and investment theory of the cycle”. Minsky continually developed his financial instability hypothesis to incorporate the extensions made to his investment theory over the course of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The Kalecki equation was added; the two-price system was incorporated; and a more complex treatment of sectoral balances was included. Minsky also continued to improve his approach to banks, recognizing the futility of Fed attempts to control the money supply.
In Paul Krugman’s view, banks are not very important since all they do is to intermediate between savers and investors, taking in deposits and packaging them into loans. Now, I know that Krugman’s own specialty is not money and banking, so one would not expect him to have a deep understanding of all the technical details. However, he is an important columnist and textbook writer, so if he is going to expound upon “what banks do”, he should at least have the basics more-or-less correct. But he doesn’t. we need Minsky—whose views even from the 1950s are far more relevant to today’s real world banks than are Krugman’s.
My friend Steve Keen recently presented a “primer” on Hyman Minsky. In his piece, Steve criticized the methodology used by Paul Krugman and argued that Krugman could learn a lot from Minsky. In particular Krugman’s equilibrium approach and primitive dynamics was contrasted to Minsky’s rich analysis. Finally, Krugman’s model of debt deflation dynamics left out banks–while banks always played an important role in Minsky’s approach. This post is to help explain why Hyman Minsky matters by quickly summarizing Minsky’s main areas of research. Next week I will post up more on Minsky’s view of “money and banking”.
Appraisers are pursuing class action suits against banks, asserting they were blacklisted if they refused to engage in fraudulent appraisals. The problem is that if they win, they are then subject to suit by homeowners (who are losing their homes) since they overpaid, and got mortgage loans that were far too high relative to “fundamentals”.
We (also) do not want black helicopters flying around dropping bags of cash; and we (also) oppose government “pump-priming” demand stimulus—the libertarians and Austrians and even Milton Friedman are correct in their argument that this would generate inflation. Come to think of it, MMTers have more in common with Austerians than with “military Keynesianism” that supposes that high enough spending on the defence sector will cause full employment to “trickle down”. Most MMTers believe we’d get intolerable inflation before the jobs trickle down to Harlem. But can we “afford” full employment?