Links for 22nd March, 2019

You might have been hearing/reading about MMT recently. Today’s set of links is really one place to read a lot of back and forth between two economists about what MMT means in practice – plus an additional bonus link, and a Twitter thread.

You absolutely should read each of these links if you are a student of macro. You probably should read these links if you are interested in the economy – but in this case, feel free to skip some of them. I leave it to your judgment.

  1. “OK, Lerner: His argument was that countries that (a) rely on fiat money they control and (b) don’t borrow in someone else’s currency don’t face any debt constraints, because they can always print money to service their debt. What they face, instead, is an inflation constraint: too much fiscal stimulus will cause an overheating economy. So their budget policies should be entirely focused on getting the level of aggregate demand right: the budget deficit should be big enough to produce full employment, but no so big as to produce inflationary overheating.”
    Paul Krugman gets the ball rolling by explaining what Abba Lerner’s work was all about, why it made sense then, and perhaps doesn’t now.
  2. “Outside of the so-called liquidity trap, Krugman adopts the standard line that budget deficits crowd out private investment because deficits compete with private borrowing for a limited supply of savings.The MMT framework rejects this, since government deficits are shown to be a source (not a use!) of private savings. Some careful studies show that crowding-out can occur, but that it tends to happen in countries where the government is not a currency issuer with its own central bank.”
    Stephanie Kelton responds by pointing out what she sees as the flaws in Krugman’s argument. I have had difficulty in understanding this part myself, which is why I have highlighted it.
  3. “So let’s be clear here: Are MMTers claiming, as Kelton seems to, that there is only one deficit level consistent with full employment, that there is no ability to substitute monetary for fiscal policy? Are they claiming that expansionary fiscal policy actually reduces interest rates? Yes or no answers, please, with explanations of how you got these answers and why the straightforward framework I laid out above is wrong. No more Calvinball.”
    Of the questions that Krugman raises by way of response, it is the second one that strikes me as being at the heart of the issue. Expansionary fiscal policy reducing interest rates boggles the mind – well, my mind, at any rate.
  4. “#3: Does expansionary fiscal policy reduce interest rates? Answer: Yes. Pumping money into the economy increases bank reserves and reduces banks’ bids for federal funds. Any banker will tell you this.”
    I have read Stephanie Kelton’s response, and re-read it, and I find myself confused even then. Expansionary fiscal policy, she says, does reduce the federal funds rate. I found this confusing…
  5. Until I read this twitter thread by Paul Krugman…

    As it turns out, the route taken by the government to conduct expansionary fiscal policy matters. You learn a little more macro every time you read about it.

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Links for 14th February, 2019

  1. “The best guess is that the next downturn will similarly involve a mix of troubles, rather than one big thing. And over the past few months we’ve started to see how it could happen. It’s by no means certain that a recession is looming, but some of our fears are beginning to come true.”
    Looking into the future is pointless, but this blog post is a useful summary of the answer to the question “If a recession were to arrive, what might be the likely causes?”. Paul Krugman lays out the usual suspects: China, America, Europe, and the trade war.
  2. “The purchasing managers’ index for the single currency area — watched closely by European Central Bank policymakers as an early indication of what will happen to GDP — hit 50.7, down from 51.1 in December, according to a flash reading from data firm IHS Markit.The reading was the lowest for 66 months — though it remains above the crucial 50 mark which suggests activity is still expanding and the region is not yet in recession.”
    It’s not bad, but it’s not looking good for Europe is the best way to read this. By the way, if you aren’t already familiar with the PMI, you may want to start keeping a tab on it for various countries. The first link today contains this link, but I found it important enough to mention separately.
  3. “…it’s important to remember that these days the social media tail wags the mainstream media dog. If you want your story to be well placed and if you want to be professionally rewarded, you have to generate page views — you have to incite social media. The way to do that is to reinforce the prejudices of your readers.”
    This is much easier said than done, and I don’t claim to be good at it at all – but I think it is important to train yourself to not have an opinion be formed, or reinforced, by reading anything in the newsA classic example of how things can go awry.
  4. “Most reports now don’t even mention the tweet as an instrumental element in obtaining and confirming the news. And that’s the fundamentally new and interesting thing to me: Twitter has blended in with all of the other infrastructure of the web that we take for granted. It’s the Google search, Google Reader (RIP), and sometimes Wikipedia for journalists and other news addicts. We use tweets as jumping-off points just as we use URLs, following them as conduits en route to the story.”
    Given a choice, I’d consume most of my information (what you might call news) from RSS even today – Google Reader is something I miss dearly. But the role of Twitter is underrated as a place to acquire consistently interesting information. Culling people you no longer want to listen to is much easier on Twitter than anywhere else – and that, to me, is Twitter’s biggest strength.
  5. “Hummingbird behavior is also of interest because they have been shown to be excellent learners. Dr. Clark said there is speculation that because they live on the edge in terms of their energy budget, they may require a great memory for where the food sources are.”
    Being forced to be good at something because of constraints imposed on you ( by others and yourself) is something that could be quite useful for all of us.  There’s other interesting snippets of information throughout this article.

Links for 11th February, 2019

  1. “We probably would not have planes, trains, or automobiles if we had insisted on today’s safety levels during the early days of those technologies’ development—likewise, we should have laxer safety standards for new emerging technologies.”
    Worth reading this for many reasons. Don’t miss the bit about the need to change ideological commitments on the basis of rationally-arrived-at conclusions, for example. But that excerpt above is a great way to understand the concept of, and the importance of, opportunity cost.
  2. “I want to make it clear that although enriched environment dominated the 20th century, IQ gains are not destined to persist like the law of gravity. Factors that were immediate triggers of IQ gains included more adults per child in the home, more and better schooling, more people at university, more cognitively demanding jobs, and better health and conditions of the aged. There are signs that these are beginning to show diminishing returns.”
    The Flynn effect is one of the more interesting things you can learn about – and having learnt about it, it might interest you to know that the Flynn Effect may now be reversing.
  3. “They’re having a fight about the wall except the wall is the English Channel: half of these people want to turn the English Channel into a wall to keep out their version of the Mexicans.”
    An interview with Anand Giridharadas about the perils of philanthropy. Worth reading, not necessarily to agree with everything he has to say, but to think about was in which he may be right.
  4. “So, for example, if people don’t take into account the macro consequences of their borrowing, then they could borrow collectively at the same time, which might be rational from an individual perspective but that collective borrowing leads to future problems such as a foreclosure problem that has spillovers for everyone in the economy. When people borrow individually, they may not take into account those spillovers. And so, again, from a macro perspective, people might over-borrow.For all of these reasons, a possible result conceptually is that if and when credit expands, it is possible for households to over-borrow, to overstretch from a macro kind of social perspective. And that over-borrowing, that overstretching during the boom phase of the credit cycle, can then come back to hurt on the downside and lead to a deeper recession than it would otherwise have been.”
    This much is straightforward for a student of macroeconomics – but the rest of the interview with Atif Mian is worth reading for how he teases out the mechanisms of thinking about the follow-up questions in the context of today’s economy. If you want to learn how to think like a macro-economist, this interview will help.

Paul Krugman on a Roller Coaster

This made my day. Via MR: