Nearly all of human life has always passed far from hot baths

January 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

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We are now in a position to demonstrate our proposition: the natural rate of interest is zero. First, to reiterate the argument thus far: Under a state money system with flexible exchange rates, the monetary system is tax driven. The federal government, as issuer of the currency, is not revenue constrained. Taxes do not finance spending, but taxation serves to create a notional demand for state money. Spending logically precedes tax collection, and total spending will normally exceed tax revenues. The government budget, from inception, will therefore normally be in deficit, which also allows the nongovernment sector to “net save” state money (this in fact has been observed in all state currencies).

The Natural Rate of Interest Is Zero
If spending is not revenue constrained, why does the government (conceived here as a consolidated Treasury and Central Bank) borrow (sell securities)? As spending logically precedes tax collection, the government must likewise spend sufficiently before it can borrow. Thus, government spending must also, as a point of logic, precede security sales. To cite a “real world” example, market participants recognize that when Treasury securities are paid for, increasing Treasury balances at the Fed, the Fed does “repos” on the same day; the Fed must “add” so the Treasury can get paid.

Since the currency issuer does not need to borrow its own money to spend, security sales, like taxes, must have some other purpose. That purpose in a typical state money system is to manage aggregate bank reserves and control short-term interest rates (over night interbank lending rate, or Fed funds rate in the United States).

In the contemporary economy, government “money” includes currency and central bank accounts known as member bank reserves. Government spending and lending adds reserves to the banking system. Government taxing and security sales drain (subtract) reserves from the banking system. When the government realizes a budget deficit, there is a net reserve add to the banking system. That is, government deficit spending results in net credits to member bank reserve accounts. If these net credits lead to excess reserve positions, overnight interest rates will be bid down by the member banks with excess reserves to the interest rate paid on reserves by the central bank (zero percent in the case of the USA and Japan, for example). If the central bank has a positive target for the overnight lending rate, either the central bank must pay interest on reserves or otherwise provide an interest-bearing alternative to non-interest-bearing reserve accounts. This is typically done by offering securities for sale in the open market to drain the excess reserves. Central Bank officials and traders recognize this as “offsetting operating factors,” since the sales are intended to offset the impact of the likes of fiscal policy, float, and so forth on reserves that would cause the Fed funds rate to move away from the Fed’s target rate.

Our main point is, in nations that include the USA, Japan, and others where interest is not paid on central bank reserves, the “penalty” for deficit spending and not issuing securities is not (apart from various self-imposed constraints) “bounced” government checks but a zero percent interbank rate, as in Japan today.

The overnight lending rate is the most important benchmark interest rate for many other important rates, including banks’ prime rates, mortgage rates, and consumer loan rates, and therefore the Fed funds rate serves as the “base rate” of interest in the economy. In a state money system with flexible exchange rates running a budget deficit—in other words, under the “normal” conditions or operations of the specified institutional context—without government intervention either to pay interest on reserves or to offer securities to drain excess reserves to actively support a nonzero, positive interest rate, thenatural or normal rate of interest of such a system is zero.

This analysis is supported by both recent research and experience.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Pixy Yijun Liao

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‘She reads at such a pace,’ she complained, ‘and when I asked her where she had learnt to read so quickly, she replied “On the screens at Cinemas.”’

May 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

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This morning I saw a very nice quiz concocted by a financial markets guy. I don’t want to get him in trouble so will borrow heavily from him but without attribution. If you can get this right, then you know why Quantitative Easing One, Two, and Three is a big bunch of baloney.

Consider the following thought experiment. These are the scenarios; what is the expected result of each?

A. The Treasury decides that it will fund itself 30% more in Overnight Bills and reduce bond issuance across the curve.

B. The Fed announces it will increase QE by 30% (it will remit the net income of this activity back to the Treasury).

C. Congress announces a new tax on all passive income from USTreasuries, to holders both at home and abroad (ie Central Banks), for all new-issue USTreasuries. The tax will be equal to 30% of the return in excess of the fed funds rate.

D. Treas Secty Lew pre-announces that we will ‘selectively default’ and apply a haircut of 30% on all future Treasury coupon payments of new issues in excess of fed funds rate.

What will be the likely effects of each policy? Don’t peek!

OK here is what the markets guy (rightly) says:

Here’s what’s funny. Most intelligent market participants will say things like:

A. Stocks down a few percent on fear of US debt downgrade. Economy slightly weaker or unchanged.

B. Stocks up 5-10% and economy grows another 1% for 1-2 yrs; monetary stimulus.

C. Stocks down 5-10% on tax hike (like last year) that maybe corrects. Economy slows 1-2% for a year or so because it’s a tax hike (ie fiscal consolidation).

D. Stocks down 80% and we go into a great depression on steroids. All investment dollars flee the US. I can’t tell you what happens next because my Bloomberg account gets shut down. They might even declare an Internet Holiday.

Here’s what’s craziest: THESE ARE ALL THE SAME THING. The name and the processes are different, the OPTICS are different, but the net is the same. There’s the government and there’s everyone else. The government either pays more out – in interest payments or transfer payments or vendor payments, or it takes back more in taxes or default or interest ‘savings.’ Everything the government net gets in ‘revenue’ the rest of the world loses in income. Everything the government dissaves (deficits) the rest of the world saves. Equal and opposite.  read more

COPY: Matt Bloom

Ain’t got no time for Western medicine

April 10, 2013 § Leave a comment

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So back to the 70′s, and continuous oil price hikes by a foreign monopolist. All nations experienced pretty much the same inflation. And it all ended at about the same time as well when the price of crude fell. The ‘heroes’ were coincidental. In fact, my take is they actually made it worse than it needed to be, but it did ‘get better’ and they of course were in the right place at the right time to get credit for that.

With the price of oil being hiked by a foreign monopolist, I see two choices. The first is to try to let there be a relative value shift (as the Fed tries to do today) and not let those price hikes spill into the rest of the price level, which means wages, for the most part. This is another name for a decline in real terms of trade. It would have meant the Saudis would get more real goods and services for the oil. The other choice is to let all other price adjust upward to keep relative value the same, and try to keep real terms of trade from deteriorating. Interestingly, I never heard this argument then and I still don’t hear it now. But that’s how it is none the less. And, ultimately, the answer fell somewhere in between. Some price adjustment and some real terms of trade deterioration. But it all got very ugly along the way.

It was decided the inflation was caused by unions trying to keep up or stay ahead of things for their members, for example. It was forgotten that the power of unions was a derivative of price power of their companies, and as companies lost pricing power to foreign competition, unions lost bargaining power just as fast. And somehow a recession and high unemployment/lost output was the medicine needed for a foreign monopolist to stop hiking prices??? And there was Ford’s ‘whip inflation now’ buttons for his inflation fighting proposal, and Carter with his hostage thing adding to the feeling of vulnerability. And the nat gas dereg of 1978, the thing that actually did break the inflation two years later, hardly got a notice, before or after, and to this day.

As today, the problem back then was no one of political consequence understood the monetary system, including the mainstream Keynesians who had been the intellectual leadership for a long time. The monetarists came into vogue for real only after the failure of the Keynesians, who never did recover, and to this day I’ve heard those still alive push for price and wage controls, fixed exchange rates, etc. etc. in the name of price stability.

So in this context the rise of Thatcher types, including Reagan, makes perfect sense. And even today, those critical of Thatcher type policies have yet to propose any kind of comprehensive proposals that make any sense to me. They now all agree we have a long term deficit problem, and so put forth proposals accordingly, etc. as they are all destroying our civilization with their abject ignorance of the monetary system. Or, for some unknown reason, they are just plain subversive.

Thatcher? It was the blind leading the blind then and it’s the same now.  read more

COVER: [unattributed]

Now hold on. I can hear you counting. One two three four. I know you’re coming around me. What I propose is that we move out together. Count it out together. That was always the plan

February 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

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So what would happen if a sovereign, currency-issuing government (with a flexible exchange rate) ran a budget deficit without issuing debt?

Like all government spending, the Treasury would credit the reserve accounts held by the commercial bank at the central bank. The commercial bank in question would be where the target of the spending had an account. So the commercial bank’s assets rise and its liabilities also increase because a deposit would be made.

The transactions are clear: The commercial bank’s assets rise and its liabilities also increase because a new deposit has been made. Further, the target of the fiscal initiative enjoys increased assets (bank deposit) and net worth (a liability/equity entry on their balance sheet).

Taxation does the opposite and so a deficit (spending greater than taxation) means that reserves increase and private net worth increases.

This means that there are likely to be excess reserves in the “cash system” which then raises issues for the central bank about its liquidity management. The aim of the central bank is to “hit” a target interest rate and so it has to ensure that competitive forces in the interbank market do not compromise that target.

When there are excess reserves there is downward pressure on the overnight interest rate (as banks scurry to seek interest-earning opportunities), the central bank then has to sell government bonds to the banks to soak the excess up and maintain liquidity at a level consistent with the target. Some central banks offer a return on overnight reserves which reduces the need to sell debt as a liquidity management operation.

There is no sense that these debt sales have anything to do with “financing” government net spending. The sales are a monetary operation aimed at interest-rate maintenance. So M1 (deposits in the non-government sector) rise as a result of the deficit without a corresponding increase in liabilities. It is this result that leads to the conclusion that that deficits increase net financial assets in the non-government sector.

What happens when there are bond sales? All that happens is that the bank reserves are reduced by the bond sales but this does not reduce the deposits created by the net spending. So net worth is not altered. What is changed is the composition of the asset portfolio held in the non-government sector.

The only difference between the Treasury “borrowing from the central bank” and issuing debt to the private sector is that the central bank has to use different operations to pursue its policy interest rate target. If it debt is not issued to match the deficit then it has to either pay interest on excess reserves (which most central banks are doing now anyway) or let the target rate fall to zero (the Japan solution).

There is no difference to the impact of the deficits on net worth in the non-government sector.

Mainstream economists would say that by draining the reserves, the central bank has reduced the ability of banks to lend which then, via the money multiplier, expands the money supply.

However, the reality is that:

• Building bank reserves does not increase the ability of the banks to lend.
• The money multiplier process so loved by the mainstream does not describe the way in which banks make loans.
• Inflation is caused by aggregate demand growing faster than real output capacity. The reserve position of the banks is not functionally related with that process.

So the banks are able to create as much credit as they can find credit-worthy customers to hold irrespective of the operations that accompany government net spending.

This doesn’t lead to the conclusion that deficits do not carry an inflation risk. All components of aggregate demand carry an inflation risk if they become excessive, which can only be defined in terms of the relation between spending and productive capacity.

But it is totally fallacious to think that private placement of debt reduces the inflation risk. It does not.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Inès

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