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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A subject and a verb walk into a bar. They have a disagreement. They walks out

November 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

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To put things crudely, there are two ways to get the increase in total spending that we call “economic growth.” One way is for government to spend. The other is for banks to lend. Leaving aside short-term adjustments like increased net exports or financial innovation, that’s basically all there is. Governments and banks are the two entities with the power to create something from nothing. If total spending power is to grow, one or the other of these two great financial motors–public deficits or private loans–has to be in action.

For ordinary people, public budget deficits, despite their bad reputation, are much better than private loans. Deficits put money in private pockets. Private households get more cash. They own that cash free and clear, and they can spend it as they like. If they wish, they can also convert it into interest-earning government bonds or they can repay their debts. This is called an increase in “net financial wealth.” Ordinary people benefit, but there is nothing in it for banks.

And this, in the simplest terms, explains the deficit phobia of Wall Street, the corporate media and the right-wing economists. Bankers don’t like budget deficits because they compete with bank loans as a source of growth. When a bank makes a loan, cash balances in private hands also go up. But now the cash is not owned free and clear. There is a contractual obligation to pay interest and to repay principal. If the enterprise defaults, there may be an asset left over–a house or factory or company–that will then become the property of the bank. It’s easy to see why bankers love private credit but hate public deficits.

All of this should be painfully obvious, but it is deeply obscure. It is obscure because legions of Wall Streeters–led notably in our time by Peter Peterson and his front man, former comptroller general David Walker, and including the Robert Rubin wing of the Democratic Party and numerous “bipartisan” enterprises like the Concord Coalition and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget–have labored mightily to confuse the issues. These spirits never uttered a single word of warning about the financial crisis, which originated on Wall Street under the noses of their bag men. But they constantly warn, quite falsely, that the government is a “super subprime” “Ponzi scheme,” which it is not.

We also hear, from the same people, about the impending “bankruptcy” of Social Security, Medicare–even the United States itself. Or of the burden that public debts will “impose on our grandchildren.” Or about “unfunded liabilities” supposedly facing us all. All of this forms part of one of the great misinformation campaigns of all time.

The misinformation is rooted in what many consider to be plain common sense. It may seem like homely wisdom, especially, to say that “just like the family, the government can’t live beyond its means.” But it’s not. In these matters the public and private sectors differ on a very basic point. Your family needs income in order to pay its debts. Your government does not.

Private borrowers can and do default. They go bankrupt (a protection civilized societies afford them instead of debtors’ prisons). Or if they have a mortgage, in most states they can simply walk away from their house if they can no longer continue to make payments on it.

With government, the risk of nonpayment does not exist. Government spends money (and pays interest) simply by typing numbers into a computer. Unlike private debtors, government does not need to have cash on hand. As the inspired amateur economist Warren Mosler likes to say, the person who writes Social Security checks at the Treasury does not have the phone number of the tax collector at the IRS. If you choose to pay taxes in cash, the government will give you a receipt–and shred the bills. Since it is the source of money, government can’t run out.

It’s true that government can spend imprudently. Too much spending, net of taxes, may lead to inflation, often via currency depreciation–though with the world in recession, that’s not an immediate risk. Wasteful spending–on unnecessary military adventures, say–burns real resources. But no government can ever be forced to default on debts in a currency it controls. Public defaults happen only when governments don’t control the currency in which they owe debts–as Argentina owed dollars or as Greece now (it hasn’t defaulted yet) owes euros. But for true sovereigns, bankruptcy is an irrelevant concept. When Obama says, even offhand, that the United States is “out of money,” he’s talking nonsense–dangerous nonsense. One wonders if he believes it.

Nor is public debt a burden on future generations. It does not have to be repaid, and in practice it will never be repaid. Personal debts are generally settled during the lifetime of the debtor or at death, because one person cannot easily encumber another. But public debt does not ever have to be repaid. Governments do not die–except in war or revolution, and when that happens, their debts are generally moot anyway.

So the public debt simply increases from one year to the next. In the entire history of the United States it has done so, with budget deficits and increased public debt on all but about six very short occasions–with each surplus followed by a recession.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Michael Wolf

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]

reading it carelessly as if to tell you your fears were justified

November 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

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Governments are not households.  watch

PHOTOGRAPH: Dara Scully

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