Supra-Meltdown perspectives of Aussie economist Steve Keen (link from Yves' blog).
* Interestingly, seems to me its non-yankee economists who're coming out bold and clear with statements about the realities emnating frm the meltdown (Keen, Buiter, Keating to name just a few I've recorded on this thread). Either the yank conomists are unwilling to speak out likewise (too much D&G to handle professionally) or unable to (again, too much risk of D&G going mainstream to handle in an orderly fashion).The roving cavaliers of credit
Long but very worthwhile read, IMHO.
I'll attempt a short summary with excerpts:
1. The movers and shakers or shovelers of credit in the industrial economy weild power way disproportionate to their means, morals or brains.
“Talk about centralisation! The credit system, which has its focus in the so-called national banks and the big money-lenders and usurers surrounding them, constitutes enormous centralisation, and gives this class of parasites the fabulous power, not only to periodically despoil industrial capitalists, but also to interfere in actual production in a most dangerous manner— and this gang knows nothing about production and has nothing to do with it.” -Karl Marx, 1857.
[Marx] got it wrong on some other issues, but his analysis of money and credit, and how the credit system can bring an otherwise well-functioning market economy to its knees, was spot on. His observations on the financial crisis of 1857 still ring true today:
“A high rate of interest can also indicate, as it did in 1857, that the country is undermined by the roving cavaliers of credit who can afford to pay a high interest because they pay it out of other people’s pockets (whereby, however, they help to determine the rate of interest for all), and meanwhile they live in grand style on anticipated profits.
Simultaneously, precisely this can incidentally provide a very profitable business for manufacturers and others. Returns become wholly deceptive as a result of the loan system…”
One and a half centuries after Marx falsely predicted the demise of capitalism, the people most likely to bring it about are not working class revolutionaries, but the “Roving Cavaliers of Credit”, against whom Marx quite justly railed.
2. The conventional model of how money and credit are created is demonstrably wrong. Its been the tail (credit creation) wagging the dog (money supply) all along rather than the other way round and that lays to rest fancy hopes that central bankers control money supply finely indeed.
Two hypotheses about the nature of money can be derived from the money multiplier model:
1. The creation of credit money should happen after the creation of government money. In the model, the banking system can’t create credit until it receives new deposits from the public (that in turn originate from the government) and therefore finds itself with excess reserves that it can lend out. Since the lending, depositing and relending process takes time, there should be a substantial time lag between an injection of new government-created money and the growth of credit money.
2. The amount of money in the economy should exceed the amount of debt, with the difference representing the government’s initial creation of money. In the example above, the total of all bank deposits tapers towards $10,000, the total of loans converges to $9,000, and the difference is $1,000, which is the amount of initial government money injected into the system. Therefore the ratio of Debt to Money should be less than one, and close to (1-Reserve Ratio): in the example above, D/M=0.9, which is 1 minus the reserve ratio of 10% or 0.1.
Both these hypotheses are strongly contradicted by the data.
Their empirical conclusion was just the opposite: rather than fiat money being created first and credit money following with a lag, the sequence was reversed: credit money was created first, and fiat money was then created about a year later:
“There is no evidence that either the monetary base or M1 leads the cycle, although some economists still believe this monetary myth. Both the monetary base and M1 series are generally procyclical and, if anything, the monetary base lags the cycle slightly. (p. 11)
The difference in the behavior of M1 and M2 suggests that the difference of these aggregates (M2 minus M1) should be considered… The difference of M2 - M1 leads the cycle by even more than M2, with the lead being about three quarters.” (p. 12)
Thus rather than credit money being created with a lag after government money, the data shows that credit money is created first, up to a year before there are changes in base money. This contradicts the money multiplier model of how credit and debt are created: rather than fiat money being needed to “seed” the credit creation process, credit is created first and then after that, base money changes.
Academic economics responded to these empirical challenges to its accepted
theory in the time-honoured way: it ignored them.
I know. At first glance, its shocking. Can the tail really be wagging the dog? Well, here's a simpler explanation:
If a firm accesses its line of credit to, for example, buy a new piece of machinery, then its debt to the bank rises by the price of the machine, and the deposit account of the machine’s manufacturer rises by the same amount. If the bank that issued the line of credit was already at its own limit in terms of its reserve requirements, then it will borrow that amount, either from the Federal Reserve or from other sources.
If the entire banking system is at its reserve requirement limit, then the Federal Reserve has three choices:
refuse to issue new reserves and cause a credit crunch;
create new reserves; or
relax the reserve ratio.
Since the main role of the Federal Reserve is to try to ensure the smooth functioning of the credit system, option one is out—so it either adds Base Money to the system, or relaxes the reserve requirements, or both.
Thus causation in money creation runs in the opposite direction to that of the money multiplier model: the credit money dog wags the fiat money tail. Both the actual level of money in the system, and the component of it that is created by the government, are controlled by the commercial system itself, and not by the Federal Reserve.
And do central banks know about this? You bet.
Central Banks around the world learnt this lesson the hard way in the 1970s and 1980s when they attempted to control the money supply, following neoclassical economist Milton Friedman’s theory of “monetarism” that blamed inflation on increases in the money supply. Friedman argued that Central Banks should keep the reserve requirement constant, and increase Base Money at about 5% per annum; this would, he asserted cause inflation to fall as people’s expectations adjusted, with only a minor (if any) impact on real economic activity.
Though inflation was ultimately suppressed by a severe recession, the monetarist experiment overall was an abject failure. Central Banks would set targets for the growth in the money supply and miss them completely—the money supply would grow two to three times faster than the targets they set.
Ultimately, Central Banks abandoned monetary targetting, and moved on to the modern approach of targetting the overnight interest rate as a way to control inflation.[
And where does that bring us to w.r.t. current situation? Seems the Fed is trying to inflate its way out of deflation back to a mildly inflationary biz as usual mode. Tough luck this time with that working, though
However, neoclassical economic theory never caught up with either the data, or the actual practices of Central Banks—and Ben Bernanke, a leading neoclassical theoretician, and unabashed fan of Milton Friedman, is now in control of the Federal Reserve. He is therefore trying to resolve the financial crisis and prevent deflation in a neoclassical manner: by increasing the Base Money supply.
Give Bernanke credit for trying here: the rate at which he is increasing Base Money is unprecedented. Base Money doubled between 1994 and 2008; Bernanke has doubled it again in just the last 4 months.
If neoclassical theory was correct, this increase in the money supply would cause a bout of inflation, which would end bring the current deflationary period to a halt, and we could all go back to “business as usual”. That is clearly what Bernanke is banking on.
However, from the point of view of the empirical record, and the rival theory of endogenous money, this will fail on at least four fronts:
1. Banks won’t create more credit money as a result of the injections of Base Money. Instead, inactive reserves will rise;
2. Creating more credit money requires a matching increase in debt—even if the money multiplier model were correct, what would the odds be of the private sector taking on an additional US$7 trillion in debt in addition to the current US$42 trillion it already owes?;
3. Deflation will continue because the motive force behind it will still be there—distress selling by retailers and wholesalers who are desperately trying to avoid going bankrupt; and
4. The macroeconomic process of deleveraging will reduce real demand no matter what is done.
Steve Ballmer put it best, apparently:
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently noted: “We’re certainly in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime set of economic conditions. The perspective I would bring is not one of recession. Rather, the economy is resetting to lower level of business and consumer spending based largely on the reduced leverage in economy”.
So bottomline is that:
The only way that Bernanke’s “printing press example” would work to cause inflation in our current debt-laden would be if simply Zimbabwean levels of money were printed—so that fiat money could substantially repay outstanding debt and effectively supplant credit-based money.
Measured on this scale, Bernanke’s increase in Base Money goes from being heroic to trivial. Not only does the scale of credit-created money greatly exceed government-created money, but debt in turn greatly exceeds even the broadest measure of the money stock—the M3 series that the Fed some years ago decided to discontinue.
And here's another view of how deep the hole really is:
Bernanke’s expansion of M0 in the last four months of 2008 has merely reduced the debt to M0 ratio from 47:1 to 36:1 (the debt data is quarterly whole money stock data is monthly, so the fall in the ratio is more than shown here given the lag in reporting of debt).
To make a serious dent in debt levels, and thus enable the increase in base money to affect the aggregate money stock and hence cause inflation, Bernanke would need to not merely double M0, but to increase it by a factor of, say, 25 from pre-intervention levels. That US$20 trillion truckload of greenbacks might enable Americans to repay, say, one quarter of outstanding debt with one half—thus reducing the debt to GDP ratio about 200% (roughly what it was during the DotCom bubble and, coincidentally, 1931)—and get back to some serious inflationary spending with the other (of course, in the context of a seriously depreciating currency). But with anything less than that, his attempts to reflate the American economy will sink in the ocean of debt created by America’s modern-day “Roving Cavaliers of Credit”.
To cut short a long story - point is we live not in a fiat money by govt system but in a credit money system. What does that mean? well, here's something to chew on.
If this market produces too much money (which it can do in a fractional banking system because the government determines the supply of base money and the reserve requirement) then there can be inflation of the money prices of commodities. Equally if the money market suddenly contracts, then there can be deflation. It’s fairly easy to situate Bernanke’s dramatic increase in Base Money within this view of the world.
If only it were the world in which we live. Instead, we live in a credit economy, in which intrinsically useless pieces of paper—or even simple transfers of electronic records of numbers—are happily accepted in return for real, hard commodities. This in itself is not incompatible with a fractional banking model, but the empirical data tells us that credit money is created independently of fiat money: credit money rules the roost. So our fundamental understanding of a monetary economy should proceed from a model in which credit is intrinsic, and government money is tacked on later—and not the other way round.
Our starting point for analysing the economy should therefore be a “pure credit” economy, in which there are privately issued bank notes, but no government sector and no fiat money. Yet this has to be an economy in which intrinsically useless items are accepted as payment for intrinsically useful ones—you can’t eat a bank note, but you can eat a pig.
So how can that be done without corrupting the entire system. Someone has to have the right to produce the bank notes; how can this system be the basis of exchange, without the person who has that right abusing it?
And from this point on, things get wacky to weird onlee.
Would welcome perspectives from gurus and garus on what this means now...