End of Bretton Woods with Barry Eichengreen, myself and Lilia Costabile, organized by L-P. Rochon and the Review of Political Economy.
The paper analyzes the relation between premature deindustrialization in Latin America with what is termed premature financialization. Premature financialization is defined as a turn to finance, organized as an industrial concern, which is a vehicle for accumulation before the process of industrialization has reached maturity. This contrasts with developed countries where financialization occurs after an advanced stage of economic and social development is reached, and where the growth of the financial sector, beyond a certain threshold, can be detrimental to economic activity. The paper examines the consequences of premature financialization for investment, growth, and financial stability.
New IDEAS Working Paper on the alternative views of the collapse of Bretton Woods. From the abstract:
Contrary to conventional views which suggest that the collapse of Bretton Woods represented the beginning of the end of the global hegemonic position of the dollar, the collapse of the system liberated American policy from convertibility to gold, and imposed a global fiat system still dominated by the floating dollar. The end of Bretton Woods and the set of regulations that imposed capital controls were part of the agenda of many powerful groups within the US, and led to the creation of a more dollarized world. The challenge to the dollar might arise, eventually, from the decline in the United States’power to determine the pricing of key commodities in global markets; but it is premature to think about the demise of the dollar. The limitations of the dominant views about Bretton Woods are ultimately tied to mainstream economics.
Each era gets its own version of Keynes. The post-war era got the sanitized biography by his disciple and friend Roy Harrod. It emphasized the somewhat late Victorian values of what he called the presuppositions of Harvey Road, Keynes’ birth place at Cambridge, representing the ethical principles that he received from his parents. Not only it avoided any discussion of Keynes' sexuality, that was verboten at that time, and not just because Keynes’ mother was still alive, but also it was well suited to the moderate Neoclassical Synthesis version of Keynesianism that came dominate American academia and the profession with its emphasis on wage rigidities and imperfections. Lord Robert Skidelsky famously argued that Harrod’s biography was “an exercise in covering up and planting false trails” (Skidelsky, 1983: xxv).
Skidelsky had the advantage of time, and his biography – the three volumes that came out after the publication of Keynes’ Collected Writings, one might add – was more direct and truthful about his subject. Yet, the biography was published between the 1980s and the early 2000s, the period in which the crisis of Keynesian economics was complete, and his ideas forgotten, or worse, as famously noted by Robert Lucas Jr., simply ridiculed. In many ways, Skidelsky’s biography, which broke new ground on the personal life of Keynes, was defensive and did not challenge the notion that his theory relied on imperfections.
Zachary D. Carter’s book is not quite a biography in the same way that the two cited above, or the one by Donald Moggridge, one of the co-editors of Keynes’ Collected Writings. There is little need for another detailed speculative analysis of the lesser known aspects of Keynes’ life and how these affected his economic views. Carter does something better. He provides a lively discussion of the rise and fall of Keynesian ideas, beginning with how Keynes’ developed his analytical framework, from his theoretical struggles of the 1920s, with some retrospective analysis of his previous life and work, to his premature death in 1946. He also discusses the apogee and the fall of Keynesian economics after Keynes’ death, and the rise to dominance of neoliberal ideas, at least until the last crisis. In that respect, the book has two parts. The first twelve chapters that discuss Keynes’ life and the intricate dance between economic policy debates and rapidly changing economic ideas that eventually propelled the Keynesian Revolution, and a second part from chapter thirteen to seventeen, where John Kenneth Galbraith and Joan Robinson pick up Keynes’ mantle as the proselytizers of the true Keynesian gospel. They battled not only with avowed neoliberals and anti-Keynesians like Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, but also against the brand of Keynesianism that came to dominate academia, and the “greatest prophet of this ‘New Economics,’ as it would come to be known in the John F. Kennedy years, … Paul Samuelson” (p. 399).
Read rest here.
The Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) Clarivate impact factor has gone up again. The five year one is a bit higher at 1.397. For a critical discussion of the role of impact factors and journal rankings see this old post from when ROKE was just 3 years old and was ranked for the first time. Next year it will be the 10th anniversary of the journal.
I haven't written about bitcoin in a long while, in part because it is somewhat irrelevant, like all notions of a future dominance of private currencies (another of Hayek's incredible blunders; more problems with Hayek here and here). Note that nation states are fine and well, and not going anywhere, and hence national currencies will remain dominant. Only a weak state without its own currency (El Salvador is dollarized; on that see here and here) would make bitcoins legal tender. But more on that later.
Even though it's discussed in my old post, let me first explain why bitcoin makes little sense as a currency. The first thing to note about bitcoiners is that they think that the state management of the currency is prone to abuse, and that the value of money, and, hence the price level (or its change, i.e. inflation) suffers as a result. The slow and persistent mining of bitcoins, in this view, is what leads to a stable price level. The value of money depends on its scarcity, according to some version of the Quantity Theory of Money (or if they were more sophisticated some notion of a natural rate, and that would work at full employment). Of course, that notion breaks down pretty fast, since inflation is seldom related to excess printing of money by the central bank.
Note that the value of bitcoins has recently collapsed from about 60,000 to around 33,000. It's closer to 34,000 or so now. At any rate, to make things simpler, and rounding things up, the price has been halved, in dollars. In other words, if you bought with one bitcoin something that costed US$60,000 now you need approximately 2 bitcoins rather than one to buy the same thing. Prices doubled in bitcoins in just a few days. That's a doubling of the price level, an increase of 100%, or very high inflation in bitcoins. So inflation in bitcoins (and in any currency really) has little relation with the amount of money. Exchange rate depreciation is crucial, as well as other costs (on alternative theories of inflation see here).
In other words, bitcoin is simply an asset, as gold since it was demonetized almost 50 years ago by Nixon, with the closing of the gold window (or 1968, if you take the link to Fed notes). It is something that is purely relevant for speculation, contrary to some other financial assets that might be relevant for other uses, even industrial uses like gold. Don't get me wrong, block chain technology and digital currencies might become relevant, but that would be once national governments and central banks, which are moving slowly in that direction, decide to adopt them.
I haven't read much on Bukele's decision to make bitcoin legal tender. But the notion that this would be good for the population is crazy. Notice that if you send one bitcoin, and the value collapses before its collected and changed back to dollars, in a period in which the price is reduced by half, then the person receives half the amount of dollars. The fluctuations of asset prices could be wild, and the losses staggering. And El Salvador depends heavily on remittances from the US; something around 20 percent of GDP. The only possible relevant use for bitcoins is for illegal transactions, other than speculation in which someone can win huge amounts, while many lose their pants. Other than that, this is a decision that compounds other terrible decisions taken by previous administrations, like dollarization and entering the free trade agreement with the US.
The talk I gave for Rethinking Economics Peru (in Spanish). Go check their website and materials here or if you don't speak Spanish there's a lot of interesting material in the general (in many languages) Rethinking Economics here. An older post, in English, that discusses essentially the same thing.
Zachary Carter, of Price of Peace fame (a good book that I recommend, btw), wrote an interesting piece on Milton Friedman's legacy, which I think is, as Hyman Minsky said of Joan Robinson's work, wrong in incisive ways. But even before we get to his main point, that the era of Friedmanomics is gone, it is worth thinking a bit about the way he approaches the history of ideas. This is clearly a moral tale for Carter, with good guys and bad guys. Gunfight at high noon. It is more about vision than analysis, in the terminology of Schumpeter.He starts, like Nancy MacLean in her Democracy in Chains -- I discussed only tangentially
A shorter version at the ISET conference of my Will Lyons Lecture at Franklin & Marshall. And yes, I think Harrod and Skidelsky were right (not Crotty and O'Donnell). He was definitely an Asquith Liberal.
My talk at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia last Friday, in Spanish of course. Part of the argument is that Prebisch, contrary to what is often assumed, moved from an argument that emphasized the role of the external constraint in leading to underdevelopment during his United Nations years, to one that put the emphasis on the patterns of domestic consumption, and its negative impact on the surplus, following the literature on stagnation, in his last book on peripheral capitalism. I suggest that the change is problematic.
By Thomas Palley (Guest blogger)Almost fifty years ago, the Swedish econographer Axel Leijonhufvud (1973) wrote a seminal study on the Econ tribe titled “Life among the Econ”. This study revisits the Econ and reports on their current state. Life has gotten more complicated since those bygone days. The cult of math modl-ing has spread far and wide, so that even lay Econs practice it. Fifty years ago the Econ used to say “Modl-ing is everything”. Now they say “Modl-ing is the only thing”. The math priesthood has been joined by a priesthood of economagicians. The fundamental social divide between Micro and Macro sub-tribes persists, but it has been diluted by a new doctrine of micro foundations. The Econ remain a fractious and argumentative tribe.
Video of the lecture by Michael Lazzara and Esteban Pérez Caldentey, part of the seminar on Memories of Neoliberalism at Bucknell University.
This piece shows very clearly the limits to deregulation in the case of energy markets. Jamie's oped was published in Project Syndicate, and a slightly different version is available here at INET, in which we find out that radical free market policies ended up in what he termed 'selective socialism.' The relevant paragraph:
the price mechanism failed completely. Wholesale prices rose a hundred-fold – but retail prices, under contract, did not, except for the unlucky customers of Griddy, who got socked with bills for thousands of dollars each day. ERCOT was therefore forced to cut power, which might have been tolerable, had it happened on a rolling basis across neighborhoods throughout the state. But this was impossible: you can’t cut power to hospitals, fire stations, and other critical facilities, or for that matter to high-rise downtown apartments reliant on elevators. So lights stayed on in some areas, and they stayed off – for days on end – in others. Selective socialism, one might call it.
There is a short video here too.
New textbook by Alex M. Thomas, from Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, India. From the back cover:
Macroeconomics: An Introduction provides a lucid and novel introduction to macroeconomic issues. It introduces the reader to an alternative approach of understanding macroeconomics, which is inspired by the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and Piero Sraffa. It also presents a critical account of mainstream marginalist macroeconomics. The book begins with a brief history of economic theories and then takes the reader through three different ways of conceptualizing the macroeconomy. Subsequently, the theories of money and interest rates, output and employment levels, and economic growth are discussed. It ends by providing a policy template for addressing the macroeconomic concerns of unemployment and inflation. The conceptual discussion in Macroeconomics is situated within the context of the Indian economy. Besides using publicly available data, the contextual description is instantiated using excerpts from works of fiction by Indian authors.
Buy it here.
New Working Paper with Esteban Pérez at the networkideas. From the abstract:
The name and work of Raúl Prebisch are often associated with the problem of long-term economic development in Latin America. Less well known and explored is Prebisch’s contribution to the study of the monetary and financial problems of the countries of the periphery in relation to those of the center. Prebisch analyzed the post-WW-II monetary plans of John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White from the perspective of their compatibility with his national autonomous monetary policy proposal. He thought that both plans had important shortcomings that would prevent the achievement of their intended objective, international equilibrium in the balance-of-payments. The plans ignored the differences in the levels of development between center and periphery. These differences implied that economic and monetary phenomena could not be viewed through the same lens and that all countries could not be subject to the same norms in monetary policy. Prebisch’s concerns were shared by John H. Williams and also, by Michal Kalecki.
By Thomas PalleyThis paper presents a macroeconomics-friendly Post Keynesian model of the firm describing both an inventory theoretic approach and an entry deterrence approach to choice of excess capacity. The model explains why firms may rationally choose to have excess capacity. It also shows the two approaches are complementary and reinforcing of each other. Analytically, the paper makes three principal contributions. First, it provides a simple framework for understanding the microeconomics of capacity utilization choice. Second, it reframes the Post Keynesian discussion of capacity utilization by making excess capacity choice the key to understanding normal capacity utilization. Third, it implicitly challenges Neo-Kaleckian wage-led growth theory as the model shows choice of the optimal excess capacity rate is independent of the level of demand.
The rise of the regulatory state during the Gilded Age was closely associated with the development of Institutionalist ideas in American academia. In their analysis of the emergent regulatory environment, Institutionalists like John Commons operated with a fundamentally marginalist theory of value and distribution. This engagement is a central explanation for the ultimate ascendancy of neoclassical economics, and the limitations of the regulatory environment that emerged in the Progressive Era. The eventual rise of the Chicago School and its deregulatory ambitions did constitute a rupture, but one achieved without rejecting preceding conceptions of competition and value. The substantial compatibility of the view of markets underlying both the regulatory and deregulatory periods is stressed, casting doubt about the transformative potential of the resurgent regulatory impulse in the New Gilded Age.
Download full paper here.
A few weeks ago I bought the little book on top (a new edition of a previously published one, I think). Sadly not long after I learnt of Leo Panitch's untimely death (obit by Chibber here). The book tries to account for three recent defeats of the democratic socialist left in recent times, even though it was written before the ultimate defeat of Bernie Sanders by the establishment candidate earlier this year. He and his co-authors discuss the rise of democratic socialism, and the consequences of the defeat, or one might say the caving, suffered by Syriza, which they point out was "the only party to the left of traditional social democracy in Europe that succeeded in winning a national election"* (p. 29), and what they call "the devastating defeat Corbyn suffered at the hand of Boris Johnson in December 2019" (p. 67).
The main lesson about the Syriza failure, even before the somewhat expected electoral defeat in 2019, was the absence of a Plan B. It could not back it's challenge to the Troika's austerity plans, since there was no plan for exiting the Euro, and they assume that would have led to leaving the European Union too. They say: "There was a marked lack of seriousness, if not dishonesty, behind the tendency to treat the referendum as proving, not just the massive public support for resisting further Troika-imposed draconian austerity (which was the question actually posed) but that the same support would have existed for leaving the eurozone, and most likely the EU, in light of the capital and import controls that this inevitably would have led to." In a sense, the notion is that there was support (from the middle class?) for pushing against the Troika, but not really for leaving the Euro. On Syriza's betrayal of the No Referendum see the old post by Stavros Mavroudeas here.
The lessons in the Corbyn case are less clear to me. They praise the Labour Party's 2019 Manifesto as being "more coherent and progressive [than the 2017 one], especially in making the environmental crisis rather than the need for export competitiveness, the overarching framework for the radical industrial strategy" (pp. 67-68). But they seem concerned fundamentally with how markets would punish a more radical government, and with the absence of "plans to deal with capital flight or a run on the pound" and the silence on "how and when to introduce controls over the movement of capital" (p. 65; although that seems more about the 2017 Manifesto). That notion of the dangers of capital blackmailing left of center governments seems to be part of their general view. They also tell us (p. 82), regarding the Meidner Plan in Sweden to socialize the ownership of the means of production, that it was "resisted by Palme's Social Democratic government... [because] it had a fatal flaw: why would owners, knowing there is a timetable for their expropriation, continue to invest?"
Of course, a left of center governments could use monetary policy tools to avoid capital flight (including higher rates, and not just controls), and investment depends considerably more on whether the economy is growing or not. But my main problem with the discussion on Corbyn's defeat is their unwillingness to deal with the issue of Brexit and the role it played in his defeat more explicitly. My views on Brexit have not changed much since this post, so I'll avoid getting into it. But it seems clear that, like in the United States, in order to discuss the economic grievances of the working class, the left of center parties must be willing to discuss more directly the problems of economic integration.
Sanders has been doing that, and yet, he lost a second time. The book cannot discuss that, since it was written, it seems, before April and the victory of Biden in the primary. Here the issues of the inability to win, to a great extent because the party machine makes it impossible, opens the discussion of whether fighting inside the Democratic Party is the correct strategy. Like Michael Harrington, I believe that there is little alternative. I'm not sure that's their view in the book. At any rate, they do praise Bernie for having "a class-focused campaign" (p. 71) and spend a good amount of ink (pp. 74-86) criticizing Elizabeth Warren's firm based rather than class-based struggle for democracy (p. 87). It seems that a reform both of the primary system within the Democratic Party and an elimination of the electoral college are needed for a democratic (lower case) society in the US.
If there is a lesson, although it's not expelled out explicitly in the book, is that the forces of neoliberalism are incredibly strong, and resilient. Perhaps, that's a lesson that could have been seen in the several defeats of the left in Latin America with the end of the pink tide a few years ago. In the case of Latin America, lawfare, the use of the media, and the international institutions, and more recently even military force (in the case of Bolivia)+ were central to defeat left of center governments. In the case of Chile, it's worth remembering the role of the Constitution in tying the hands of left of center administrations, and how a referendum was needed to overturn Pinochet's charter. And the book suggests correctly in my view that "democratization can't occur without changing the context within which economic units, and thus workers, relate to each other" (p. 85). At any rate, Panitch always forced us to reflect, and this last book continues to do so.
* Podemos in Spain is part of the government coalition, of course.
+ Although international organizations like the Organization of American States were crucial too, and the coup was eventually defeated by the democratic forces on the left.
End of Bretton Woods with Barry Eichengreen, myself and Lilia Costabile, organized by L-P. Rochon and the Review of Political Economy.