Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dollarization in Argentina?

So I have no insider knowledge on what the Argentinean government plans to do. And the White House is a mess; they don't have any knowledge on what they plan to do. But Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council, said that the Treasury is deeply involved in a plan to dollarize the Argentinean economy (Guillermo Calvo, an influential conservative economist, has also spoken in favor of dollarization; see here in Spanish).
He supports a Currency Board to solve the run on the currency, and the long-term external problems. That worked well in the 1990s, he said, without a hint of irony. The notion is that the problem, again difficult to believe this type of stuff is still around, is a fiscal problem. So, no fiscal deficits, no printing of money, no inflation, and no depreciation of the currency as the proportion of pesos to dollars increases. The logic of full employment (neoclassical theory), monetarism (Quantity Theory of Money), and a version of Purchasing Power Parity for the determination of exchange rates. It is all very simplistic.

Of course Macri's government promised to do a fiscal adjustment, and to block the central bank to lend to the treasury. But the real problem is external. There is a long-run problem of sustainability of the current account (as I noted earlier). But the real problem now, in the short-run, is the lack of reserves and the forthcoming obligations in dollars (not in pesos). My take on currency crises as being related to external problems here (and the paper here; note that this is about the long-term or fundamental causes, not necessarily the short-run crisis like the one in course now).

I should also say that the fiscal problems that exist have been caused by the government, and not only have nothing to do with the external crisis, they are instrumental, in some sense, in promoting the austerity cuts that allow for the reduction in social spending. As I noted even before the Macri governments started in 2015 (when I wrote it, but published in January 2016)*:
"the coming larger fiscal deficits will most likely be used to try to cut social welfare expenditures, which increased significantly during the administration of the outgoing president Cristina Fernández and her predecessor (and husband) Néstor Kirchner. It would not be surprising if Macri tries to privatize social security once again, something that Menem accomplished in the 1990s, and which had to be reversed in the 2000s as a result of the private system’s complete failure to provide a decent retirement for seniors."
And that is essentially what dollarization would be there to do. Tie the government's hands and help promote an even more brutal fiscal adjustment than the one the IMF (that, yes, has changed a lot, has it not?) can help impose. Why go to the US Treasury, you ask; because it can provide enough dollars to guarantee the stabilization of the currency, and perhaps some lower inflation (by stoping the pass-through to domestic prices), giving Macri or a right wing candidate a fighting chance next year in the presidential elections.

However, dollarization would not solve the long-term current account problems, it will intensify them in fact, and a new collapse like the one from 2001-02 would be inevitable. Argentinean elites, you might think, keep committing the same mistake over and over again. But there again, from their perspective this is fine. The crisis only hits the poor (and the middle classes that are still somehow afraid about the devil of populism). Macri complains about the Kirchner legacy (three years into his government), but dollarization would be truly a terrible legacy. Oh well.

PS: The government has denied plans to dollarize. There again he said in 2015 he would not devalue the currency.

* I also predicted the contraction and the devaluation, which Macri firmly denied back then.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Godley-Tobin Lecture

Tobin and Godley

The Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) created of the Godley-Tobin Lectures, an annual lecture to be delivered at the Eastern Economic Association meetings. James Galbraith provided the first lecture, to be published in the first issue of 2019.

Wynne Godley and James Tobin represent the best among Keynesian economists. Both scholars insisted they were non-hyphenated Keynesians, meaning Keynesianism transcends the political disputes that often accompany economics. There is a deeper scientific validity to Keynesianism, something we reaffirmed in our inaugural statement of purpose for ROKE [see Palley, Rochon, and Vernengo, 2012].

Wynne Godley was an Oxford-trained economist, influenced by Philip Andrews and the views of the Oxford Economic Research Group on full-cost pricing. He was also a Treasury economist and Head of the Department of Applied Economics, University of Cambridge. He is remembered for the sophistication of his stock-flow consistent macroeconomic models that gave him a prescient sense of the unsustainability of the and housing bubbles in the 1990s and 2000s. Godley died in May, 2010.

James Tobin was educated at Harvard University and spent most of his career at Yale University. He was also a member of the celebrated Council of Economic Advisers (1961-62), during the Kennedy administration. His accomplishments and contributions to the profession are too many to cite, but it is specifically worth mentioning that he won both the John Bates Clark Medal (1955) and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1981). Tobin died in March, 2002.

Tobin and Godley shared an interest in stock–flow consistent macroeconomic modelling, a belief in the appropriateness of macroeconomic modelling based on aggregate functions rather than microeconomic parable models, and a belief in the importance and feasibility of full employment.

The Godley-Tobin lectures are intended to celebrate the intellectual achievements of Wynne Godley and James Tobin. We also hope the lectures will contribute to advancing their macroeconomic approach and interests, and help rescue macroeconomics from the narrow theoretical frame within which it is currently trapped.

The editors of ROKE [Tom Palley and yours truly] are pleased to announce that Robert Rowthorn has accepted to give the second annual Godley-Tobin lecture at the 2019 meetings of the Eastern Economic Association, in New York City. Professor Rowthorn is Emeritus Professor of Economics at Cambridge University and a life Fellow of King’s College.

He was also a long-time colleague of Wynne Godley at Cambridge University.

Job Guarantee Programs: Careful What You Wish For

Thomas Palley (guest blogger)

Some progressive economists are now arguing for the idea of a Job Guarantee Program (JGP), and their advocacy has begun to gain political traction. For instance, in the US, Bernie Sanders and some other leading Democrats have recently signaled a willingness to embrace the idea.

In a recent research paper I have examined the macroeconomics of such a program. Whereas a JGP would deliver real macroeconomic benefits, it also raises some significant troubling economic and political economy concerns. Those concerns should be fully digested before a JGP is politically embraced.

The real benefits of a JGP

The starting point for discussion should be recognition that a JGP delivers multiple benefits. First, it ensures full employment by making available a job to all who want one on the terms specified by the program. Second, it substitutes wages for welfare benefits to workers who accept such jobs and would otherwise be on welfare. Third, it may deliver supply-side benefits to the extent that it helps unemployed workers retain job skills and avoid becoming detached from the labor force during periods of unemployment. Fourth, society benefits from the services produced by workers holding guaranteed employment jobs. Fifth, it has significant desirable counter-cyclical stabilization properties.

Read rest here.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Prebisch manuscripts for his classes on economic dynamics

There is a trend in the history of economic thought field to depend more on archival research. It is certainly nothing new, since some of the best research in the history of ideas, e.g. Sraffa's reconstruction of Ricardian theory, was essentially dependent on archives. The publication of Keynes collected papers have also sparked a wealth of interpretations about his theories, not all worth reading. I have done some research in Marriner Eccles archives at the University of Utah.

In part, this trend results from the fact that there is increasingly more archival material for modern economists that are closer in time to us. Letters, unpublished papers, class notes and so on. That might be useful sometimes, but it can also lead to lamppost driven research or the streetlight effect, where researchers just look at where it is easier to find results, rather than to what really matters.

At any rate, Prebisch's 1948 classes at the University of Buenos Aires, from a few years after he was let go from the Argentinian Central Bank, and before he went to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA, later ECLAC), on Economic Dynamics are (in our view) relevant because they do shed some light on how he thought about economic dynamics, a theme that was central for the theories and the policy action of ECLAC which did have a significant impact on how government in the region managed their economies in the 1950s and 60s.

They have now been published by CEPAL Review with an intro with Esteban Pérez. Link here. With Esteban we have this paper in English on Prebisch and his views on economic dynamics.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Economic and technological determinism

Mind blowing stuff

A while ago now I discussed technological determinism, and the existence of economic laws, even if not in the same sense that in the so-called hard sciences. This semester I'm teaching a class for first year students (non Econ majors, to clarify for those outside the US) titled somewhat facetiously 'From Fire to Uber.' In fact, the first reading is Heilbroner's 1967 paper discussed in the first link provided above, on whether machines make history.

Bob was on the side of technological determinism. The epigraph was Marx's famous dictum according to which: "the hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist." And he essentially argued that the computer (he also discussed atomic energy technology, but not biotechnology. The computer, the bomb, and DNA were all part of the immediate techno-scientific developments of the post-war period) would essentially gives us the society with the technician. In fact, reading recently David Graeber's new book (original discussion here), on bullshit jobs, I was reminded of Bob's prediction. Bullshit jobs are essentially the result of the 'computer mill,' that gives society with the bureaucrat.*

Heilbroner and almost anybody else that uses that particular citation of Marx seems to suggest that historical materialism, or Marx's conception of history, requires technological determinism. While it is clear that the idea that the economic structure determines the cultural, political and social superstructure of society is a type of economic determinism, it is less clear to me that Marx accepted technological determinism. And as I noted in a previous post, Marx's conception of history, even if permeated by some economicism (I seem to recall that John Kenneth Galbraith suggested that he agreed on that point with Marx, the prominence of economics, but cannot find the quote anywhere), does not imply historical determinism. Not only he has very little to say about the future of society (including communism), but also all his laws of tendency allowed for countervailing forces that could reverse the original course of events.

In that sense, Marx's economic determinism is a sort of soft determinism, which allows for sociopolitical factors to affect economic developments. Here I'm echoing Nathan Rosenberg (pp. 61-62) who suggested long ago that "Marx's position... cannot be reduced to a crude technological determinism." So one may very well ask why I think that Marx's (or Heilbroner's) soft economic determinism does not imply technological determinism. Ultimately the reply hinges on what drives technology, which is a component of the supply side of the economy, and what drives the economy, supply side forces or demand side factors.

In my view, as stated too many times in this blog, the process of growth is demand driven. The adoption of machines (investment) in general results from the needs to adapt productive capacity to demand. In that sense, the computer and the society with the bureaucrat that it created are the result of growing economy and for the most part, as much as in the case of the society with the steam-mill, the one with the computer has been heavily dependent on the role of the state. In fact, there are few sectors in which the role of the state in the development of a technology are more evident than in the case of the computer (see here, for example), the internet and the derived technologies. Sure, I'm probably, like Bob a soft determinist, but with reverse causality.

Probably population growth (which was the main, or only, source of growing demand in pre-modern societies) and the State, and more importantly inter-State warfare, have been the driving forces for socioeconomic change, and technological developments have been the result. Of course, if the Military-Industrial Complex gives you the computer, then the computer may require the bureaucrat. So there are feedback mechanisms. It's the proverbial chicken and egg story. But in my view, demand driven stories of growth break with the technological determinism of the mainstream (neoclassical) and certain Marxist interpretations of history.

* In Graeber's view is not really information technology though. Bullshitization is a development of financialized or neoliberal capitalism (I'll discuss my views on that in another post). I should add that Graeber thinks that the computer has led to a new economic mode of production that he refers to as Managerial Feudalism.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Economic Development in the XXIst century Webinar Series

This seminar series focuses on the analysis of Economic Development in the XXIst century. The notions of distribution, industrial policy and balance of payments constraints will be profoundly analyzed during these four sessions. As there is much disagreement about what drives economic development - and at the same time it is a central objective for developing economies - this question merits deep reflection. Through these seminars there will be a particular focus on the external constraints that developing economies face that make economic development challenging. Although the seminars will deal with small open economies, given that the balance of payment constraint will be part of the discussion, scholars working on the Eurozone may also find the discussion on interesting for their work.

Webinar 1 (Wednesday 09/12): Value and Distribution in a small open economy

By Guido Ianni, Ph.D. candidate at the University of Buenos Aires.

Guido will discuss what determines income distribution in these economies, and how the alternative "closures" can lead to different economic productive structures.

Webinar 2 (Friday 09/21): Income distribution and the balance of payments - Some Latin American structuralist contributions

By Ariel Dvoskin and Germán Feldman. Ariel Dvoskin is Professor of Microeconomics at the National University of Buenos Aires and Germán Feldman is Professor of Macroeconomics at the National University of San Martín.

Drawing on Latin American structuralist analysis, Dvoskin and Feldman will explain not only Value and Distribution, but also their relationship with the Balance of Payments. In this lecture, notions related to balance of payments constraints will appear so it could be interesting for those working on or worried about the Eurozone.

Webinar 3 (Thursday 09/27): Industrial policies and growth in the XXIst century

By Margarita Olivera, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro

This webinar will deal with the role of industrial policies in development in the current age. Margarita is studying the impact of international institutions, such as the WTO and free trade agreements, on the possibilities of economic development.

Webinar 4 (Wednesday 10/03): The role of Central Banks in Economic Development.

By Matías Vernengo, is full professor of economics at Bucknell University. He is co-editor of the Review of Keynesian Economics and co-editor in chief of the New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.

The final webinar will be focus on the relationship between Central banks, inflation and growth from an historical perspective. Were Central banks instruments of the state to promote economic development once? When did everything change? Matías will try to answer some of this questions under an economic development long-run perspective.

11.00 US East Coast (gmt-4)
12.00 ARG/BRA (gmt-3)
16.00 UK bst (gmt+1)
17.00 ITA cet (gmt+2)

Register to attend: Here.

Questions can be directed to webinar-organiser, Santiago J. Gahn, YSI Economic Development Working Group

Thursday, August 23, 2018

International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE) Call for Papers

From Geoff Schneider ICAPE's Executive Director:

Proposals for papers, workshops and panels at ICAPE are due Tuesday, September 4th. I hope you can join us for this conference that brings together all of the heterodox perspectives.Information below.

International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics (ICAPE)
Call for Papers, Panels and Workshops
Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, GA
January 3, 2019, 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM

Gender, Race, Class and Crises:
Pluralistic Approaches to the Economic Issues of our Time

ICAPE was founded 25 years ago (in 1993) by a group of heterodox economists committed to the idea of pluralism in economics. ICAPE’s founding occurred in the wake of a plea for a “pluralistic and rigorous economics" which was published as a paid advertisement in the American Economic Review and signed by many leading economists. Today, we find the mainstream as monolithic as ever in its domination of journals and degree programs, but there are small signs of progress. Analysis of institutions and actual human behavior is displacing some of the emphasis on rational optimizing behavior of individual actors. Institutions in the U.K. are calling for new approaches to economics. Nonetheless, much remains to be done. This is particularly true when it comes to issues of Gender, Race, Class and Crises, where heterodox economists have much to say while much mainstream analysis is inadequate.
The 2019 ICAPE conference will explore the following themes:
·         Given the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, the ongoing domination of the economics profession by white men, and the inadequacies of mainstream economic analysis of gender and race, what can pluralistic economists offer as an alternative?
·         Inequality continues to be a major issue of our time, and one that is central to much pluralistic analysis while being absent from much mainstream analysis. What can pluralistic economists add to the analysis of this crucial topic? How can a contemporary analysis of class, race and gender contribute to our understanding?
·         Contemporary capitalism faces recurrent macroeconomic crises and looming environmental crises. How can pluralistic economists shed light on the dynamics and possible solutions to these crises?
·         What are the major problems confronting today’s communities, and how can pluralistic approaches to economics address those problems?
·         To what extent is it possible to combine and integrate different heterodox approaches into a unified, pluralistic approach?
·         What are the best methods for teaching and conducting research in pluralistic economics?
·         How should we cope with the exclusion of pluralistic ideas from economics journals, textbooks and curricula? What strategies should we adopt?
·         What should younger scholars know about each pluralistic tradition? What are the cutting edge approaches to teaching and scholarship in each tradition?
It has never been more important for pluralistic economists to discuss robust alternatives to mainstream economics and to bolster pluralistic approaches to teaching and research.
This ICAPE conference will occur on the day before the 2018 ASSA meetings from 7AM to 5PM at Agnes Scott College in suburban Atlanta. Agnes Scott is located within a short cab or train ride from the convention hotels. The conference registration fee is $120 ($60 for graduate students/low income), which includes breakfast and lunch, along with coffee and refreshments throughout the day.
One of the purposes of the conference is to bring together economists from a variety of heterodox perspectives. There will be multiple opportunities for people to come together, including breakfast, coffee breaks, and a lunch plenary. Please plan on spending the entire day at the conference. In general, requests to schedule sessions at particular times of the day cannot be granted.
We welcome work from all strands of heterodox economic theory, including evolutionary, ecological, complexity, institutional, feminist, Austrian, Marxian, Sraffian, Post-Keynesian, behavioral/psychological, social, radical political economy, critical realism, agent-based modeling, and general heterodox. We are particularly interested in material from graduate students, sessions on pluralistic teaching, and material on the state of pluralism in economics. And, we are interested in research from any of the perspectives listed above.
The deadline for submitting proposals is Tuesday, September 4, 2018. We welcome proposals for individual papers, full sessions, teaching workshops, research workshops and roundtables. Proposals for complete sessions or workshops with a coherent theme are encouraged, especially those that are pluralistic in nature, reflecting multiple perspectives in the discipline. Those who make a submission will be informed whether their proposal has been accepted by the 10th of September 2018.
Anyone needing an early decision on their submission to secure travel funding should indicate the need for an early decision as part of their submission. Submissions will be evaluated for acceptance on a rolling basis.
ICAPE member associations are encouraged to submit entire sessions or workshops. Current dues-paying ICAPE member associations include: AFEE, AFIT, ASE, IAFFE, and URPE.
For individual papers, please include your (1) name, (2) title, (3) affiliation, (4) abstract of up to 300 words or less, (5) three keywords, (6) short abstract of 40 words, and (7) contact information (address, phone, email). For full sessions consisting of papers, roundtables, workshops, and other formats, please include the above for each contribution, as well as a title for the session, the names of the chair and discussants (if any), and the name and contact information of the session organizer.
All proposals should be submitted by email to as a Word or RTF document. Your email subject should be titled using the corresponding author’s last name, “ICAPE,” and a brief title in the subject line (e.g., “Schneider.ICAPE.Teaching Roundtable”). Please also title the Word or RTF document containing your submission in a similar fashion.
Authors who present at the ICAPE conference are encouraged to submit their papers to the American Review of Political Economy (, edited by Michael Murray and Nikolaos Karagiannis. Papers from the conference will be published in a special issue of the ARPE.
Note that ICAPE does not arrange lodging for this conference. Participants should make their own arrangements.
Please address your questions to Geoff Schneider (, Executive Director of ICAPE.
ICAPE is looking for locations for future conferences in San Diego on January 5-6, 2020. If you know of a potential location in any of these cities, please contact us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Income distribution and the balance of payments: a formal reconstruction of some Argentinian structuralist contributions

A two part paper by Ariel Dvoskin and Germán David Feldman. From the abstract:

In this two-part paper, we explore the interaction between income distribution and the balance of payments, by assessing the contributions of three Argentinian exponents of the Latin American Structuralist School: Oscar Braun, Marcelo Diamand and Adolfo Canitrot. With this aim, we introduce a two-sector model inspired by the classical tradition. Part I of the article examines the implications for prices and quantities of the phenomenon of ‘technical dependency’. That is, the inelastic demand for imported inputs observed in peripheral economies, a true constraint to growth during the Bretton Woods era. We leave until Part II of the paper the assessment of the implications of ‘financial dependency’, namely the influence exerted on the profit rate of peripheral economies by the international profit rate.

Links here and here.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Distribution and Conflict Inflation in Brazil under Inflation Targeting

I can't watch this either

For those interested in the Brazilian situation I highly recommend the recently published paper by Franklin Serrano and Ricardo Summa (Review of Radical Political Economics page here). From the abstract:
In this paper, we analyze Brazilian inflation under the inflation-targeting system from a conflict inflation perspective and show how the inflation target system only worked well when there was a trend of exchange rate appreciation. Later, the strengthening of the bargaining power of workers and rising real wages since 2006, combined with continuous nominal exchange rate depreciation after mid-2011, increased distributive conflicts and are ultimately behind the recent shift toward austerity.
 A preliminary version is available here.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Tale of Two Currency Crises: A Short Comment

So the Turkish foreign exchange crisis is all over the news. But the Argentine one is less conspicuous in the international media. Turkey's economy has had many similarities with Latin American economies over the years, in terms of the incomplete process of industrialization, and the types of crises associated with neoliberal reforms over the last three decades. Note, however, that the Argentine nominal depreciation has been larger than the Turkish (the same is true if you go back to the previous big crisis in both countries in the late 1990s and early 2000s, respectively) and one should expect more coverage (perhaps Erdogan has worse press than Macri, but the authoritarian credentials of the latter should not be dismissed; neither the neoliberal ones of the former, I might add).
In all fairness the NYTimes does cite Argentina (and other emerging markets; not a fan of the term, as I think I discussed before on a post about... wait for it... an external crisis in Argentina and Turkey four years ago) in the piece about it today, saying that:
"For nearly 10 years now, the flood of cash from global central banks has financed shopping malls in Istanbul, booming cities in China and 100-year bonds in Argentina. Today, many of the malls are empty, property developers in China are riddled with debt, and Argentina has just submitted to a bailout from the International Monetary Fund."
That seems to suggests that the reason for the crisis is to some extent that central banks created too much liquidity (printed too much money), allowing too much spending (perhaps by the government, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more: it's a fiscal problem), and that's why we are having these problems. However, the NYTimes does get the external problem, the current account, which I always suggest is the way you should go if you are looking for fundamentals (here another discussion from 4 years ago on currency crisis, this one more theoretical). The NYTimes says:
"A country runs a current account deficit if it takes in more money — in investments and trade — from foreigners than it sends to other countries. That leaves the country at the mercy of international investors to keep it afloat financially, and those investors could find other markets more enticing — particularly when emerging markets see their currencies lose value. That is precisely what forced Argentina to go to the I.M.F., the first major emerging market to take such a step during this period of uncertainty."
However, as I noted on my earlier post on the Argentine situation, while I do think that current account positions are the relevant fundamental (the other would be international reserves) for a currency crisis (and that fiscal positions are the result not the cause of a crisis, since they are in domestic currency for the most part), it worth noting that the Turkish situation is not, at least looking at recent data, particularly bad.
Note that there is a secondary axis for the Turkish current account as a share of exports (the right hand side one), and that Turkey has a much larger deficit with respect to exports than Argentina, but not one that is deterioration drastically (these are based on IMF estimates, btw). This suggests that the current account, even though it is crucial in the long run, is probably not driving the crisis (as I noted in May, I still don't the current account is the cause of the crisis; same post as above, btw).

The fact that this is a global phenomenon (the depreciation of currencies of developing countries) suggests that the hike of the interest rate in the US plays a role. It seems also that the financial deregulation and the financial position of some developing countries explain why they are having more trouble than others (e.g. Brazil, which is in the middle of a serious economic and political crisis, but sitting on top of US$ 380 billion in reserves). I haven't found more recent data (this from the World Bank goes only to 2016), but the graph below shows the short-term debt to international reserves ratio; the reverse of the Guidotti-Greenspan rule).
Clearly the ratio has been growing in both countries (mildly in Turkey) and is higher in Argentina. Argentina has also increased its debt exposure in dollars, and somewhat incredibly the central bank has announced that it will retire debt in pesos, and will use precious reserves in dollars for that (apparently with support from the IMF). This suggests that they are clueless about the causes of the crisis. The only solution at this point is higher interest rates (and in domestic currency to reduce demand for dollars) and significant restrictions on the foreign exchange market.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Nancy MacLean on constitutional economics and the conservative movement

Author of a great book on James Buchanan, that is certainly worth reading. The whole thing is related to Buchanan's constitutional economics and how it underpins the Koch's strategy to take over the country (and Pence is their guy, btw). The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that has been so influential in the far- right conservative movement take over of US politics at the State and local level (see this old piece in The Atlantic, or this in The Nation) has a plan for a constitutional convention and for 10 Libertarian Amendments that she discusses in the video (towards the end, 3:30 minutes into it), that has for the most part gone unnoticed (NYTimes had a piece on it a couple of years ago here). In all fairness, I didn't pay much attention until she said balanced budget amendment. I always thought that the best shot conservatives had at entitlement reform (read privatization of social security) was with a neoliberal democrat as president (in the mold of Clinton and Obama). But it seems that they are pushing for other ways too.

PS: The book she refers to is by Mark Levin and the 11 amendments are these (according to Wikipedia, I haven't read the book, but will try to):
  1. Impose Congressional term limits
  2. Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment, returning the election of Senators to state legislatures;
  3. Impose term limits for Supreme Court Justices and restrict judicial review;
  4. Require a balanced budget and limit federal spending and taxation;
  5. Define a deadline to file taxes (one day before the next federal election);
  6. Subject federal departments and bureaucratic regulations to periodic reauthorization and review;
  7. Create a more specific definition of the Commerce Clause;
  8. Limit eminent domain powers;
  9. Allow states to more easily amend the Constitution by bypassing Congress;
  10. Create a process where two-thirds of the states can nullify federal laws;
  11. Require photo ID to vote and limit early voting.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Institutions and Economic Development in Latin America

Almost a decade ago, The Economist had a cover story about the Brazilian economy taking off. Everything seemed fine, with the Brazilian economy on the verge of surpassing Britain and France, and on its way to economic development. Among the reasons given for the Brazilian success was the fact that the country had “established some strong political institutions.” But many other factors were cited, like fiscal restraint, an independent central bank, openness to foreign direct investment, and the rise of local transnational corporations. The Economist essentially reproduced a few of the policies of the so-called Washington Consensus as the main driver of the Brazilian success. And institutions played a central role, in particular the institutions that allowed for the market economy to thrive.

Read rest here.

PS: This was a short blog post for the UC Press and LASA blogs that I forgot to link to before.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Leo Panitch on Obama and Globalization

From the Real News Network:

This Real News segment with Professor Leo Panitch is worth watching for those that miss Obama (perhaps should be seen together with the reading of this piece on Mike Pence, for those that think that he would be much better than the orange one). At any rate, besides the fact that Obama was not even for more than a very moderate reform of the system, and that he still justifies globalization in neoliberal terms, it seems to me that Panitch (and Paul Jay) miss the main reference for Obama's speech (at least concerning the reduction in violence) which seems to be the work of Steven Pinker (his famous book on that was The Better Angels of Our Nature), and probably his new work, Enlightenment Now. And that says a lot about Obama intellectually.

It seems that Obama now embodies the famous phrase by Upton Sinclair according to which: "it is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Or his paid Wall Street gigs and fancy vacations with the global jet set.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Three Globalizations, Not Two: Rethinking the History and Economics of Trade and Globalization

 By Thomas Palley (Guest blogger)

The conventional wisdom is there have been two globalizations in the modern era. The first began around 1870 and ended in 1914. The second began in 1945 and is still underway. This paper challenges that view and argues there have been three globalizations, not two. The first half of the paper provides empirical evidence for the three globalizations hypothesis. The second half discusses its analytical implications. The Victorian first globalization and Keynesian era second globalization were driven by gains from trade, and those gains increased industrialized country real wages. The neoliberal third globalization has been driven by industrial reorganization motivated by distributional conflict. Trade theory does not explain the third globalization; capital’s share has increased at the expense of labor’s; and there can be no presumption of mutually beneficial country gains from the third globalization.

Read rest here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Globalization Checkmated? Political and Geopolitical Contradictions Coming Home to Roost

By Thomas Palley (Guest blogger)

The deepening of economic globalization appears to have ground to a halt and the process may even unravel a little. The sudden stop has surprised economists, whose belief in globalization has strong parallels with Fukuyama’s (1989) flawed end of history hypothesis. The paper presents a simple analytic model that shows how economic globalization has triggered political and geopolitical contradictions. For the system to work, politics within countries and geopolitics across blocs must be supportive of the system. That is missing. The model is applied to a global economic core consisting of the US, China, and the European Union. It is revealing of multiple tensions, fracture lines, and contradictions. Within the US, globalization has delivered economic outcomes that have estranged the electoral bases of both major political parties. It has also delivered outcomes that are inconsistent with the US neocon geopolitical inclination. President Trump is a product of those forces, and he will likely prove to be a historically significant figure. That is because he has surfaced geopolitical contradictions that cannot be swept back under the rug. Ironically, his biggest impact may be on the European Union, particularly Germany, which is being compelled to recognize the neocon nature of the US and the vulnerabilities of dependence on US exports and technology. China was already aware of its vulnerabilities in those regards.

Read rest here.

Monday, July 23, 2018

What is the Central Bank of Argentina Actually Doing?

Brief note in Spanish (no translation, sorry) on the long history of central banks and the current policies of the Argentinean central bank (BCRA). The gist of the argument is that while central banks where created to finance developmental states in the nascent merchant capitalist societies, in the periphery they tended to follow the Victorian model (implemented later) emphasizing inflation control as the main official goal. However, often, as in the recent case of the BCRA, they are used to accelerate inflation and fuel speculation, if that allows for lower real wages, which was Macri's administration not so hidden goal (from an old, but revealing interview).

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

IMF Programs: Past and Present

A roundtable with Daniela Gabor, Roberto Lampa and Pablo Bortz, on the IMF and its Programs this Thursday in Buenos Aires, organized by the Masters in Economic Development at the Universidad de San Martín (UNSAM).

Saturday, July 7, 2018

A crisis gone to waste

My interview with INET from January 2017 at the ASSA meetings in Chicago. From the INET link:

After the Great Depression, global capitalism underwent serious reform. Why didn’t that happen after 2008?

Matias Vernengo, Professor of Economics at Bucknell University, explains how a crisis can reveal that the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy is in fact based on a shaky theoretical foundation. But for new economic thinkers to capitalize on that requires a clearly articulated alternative—one that existed during the Cold War, but is just coming into public discourse now.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Classical Political Economy and the Evolution of Central Banks

Casa di San Giorgio, an early central bank?

Paper presented twice is now published in the RRPE. It tries to bring the surplus approach tradition ideas to discuss the historical origins and the definition of what a central bank is and should do.

From the abstract:
The paper analyzes briefly the changing ideas on the role of money and banks from William Petty to Thomas Tooke, including the works of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. It analyzes the role of ideas in shaping the evolution of central bank regulation. Particular importance is given to the Bank of England’s inconvertibility period, from 1797 to 1821, and the ensuing debate in shaping Robert Peel’s Bank Act of 1844, which is often seen as the birth of modern central banking. The importance of the Say’s Law, and the inexistence of an alternative theory of the determination of output, is shown to play an essential role in the policy prescriptions of the so-called Bullionist authors, who won the debates that shaped central banking practices in the nineteenth century. The paper concludes with a brief analysis of what is a central bank according to the dominant (marginalist) mainstream of the profession, and what an alternative conception based on what may be termed classical-Keynesian political economy would be.
Full paper available here

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Path Dependency and Football

So now that we are to the round of 16, I think my reply to Sanjay Reddy's question can be evaluated. Note that from the 16, 5 are from Latin America (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay), one from Asia (Japan) and 10 from Europe (Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, England, France, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland). Of those 6 have already won a World Cup (Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Spain and Uruguay) and 1 played at least a final (Sweden, lost against Brazil in 1958). Note that no countries from the Middle East or Africa passed the initial phase.

There is a good chance that the winner will be a previous champion. I wouldn't discount the possibility of a new champion, but in that case the likelihood is that it would be another European team (my bets would be on Portugal if CR7 plays incredibly for te rest of the tournament, or Russia being at home). Probably less likely, a Latin American one could also win (if Mexico plays like it did with Germany). But the best bet would be a previous champion.

Path dependency is really strong, and that suggests that games have been close not because the skills are more or less the same, but because it's relatively easy to play a defensive game and make it very hard for the good teams to move forward.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Why Manufacturing Still Matters

I've been reading in the spare time (not as much as I would like, and worse with the World Cup) Louis Uchitelle's Making It: Why Manufacturing Still Matters. I tend to agree with the general idea of the book and with many of the policy conclusions, even though I have some problems with minor points (for another post). As a result of this I went to check manufacturing output. There are many different statistics to check in the FRED database. Below a measure of industrial output.
And yes, it is below the peak from the previous recession. We were talking about this with Tom Palley, and it is clear to me that this statistics played an important role in the rise of left (Bernie) and right-wing (Trump) populism in the US. The failure of the Obama recovery to lift manufacturing, not just jobs, but output too is central to any political economy story about the last election.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Raúl Prebisch: Peripheral Development

Our book is out (in Spanish). You can buy it here. We have written a few papers in English if you are interested available here, and here, for example. my review of Dosman's biography is available here.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Football (soccer) and Capitalism

Not The Economist's field of expertise

The World Cup is about to start. The Economist has run a piece suggesting that "the World Cup [is] the fulfillment of some of our most cherished values." And yes the cherished values are essentially free trade, the raison d'être for the creation of the magazine (that has a problem of self-image and refers to itself as a newspaper), and more generally laissez-faire capitalism, of which the publication is one of the most important cheerleaders.

There are many of these, pardon the directness, garbage pieces that suggest that football (soccer for the gringos) explains the working of capitalism (see, for example, this popular book). And, yes, the most obvious explanation for the confusion is that football does not explain the market or globalization, or how the world works, or any other way of expressing modern capitalism. It's the other way round, capitalism explains football.

In the magazine's view, the reasons for why football explains economic success is that it is somewhat like a decentralized market, and provides, like an invisible hand, when not curtailed by State intervention, one would guess, for the best to win. A no less Darwinian (or Spencerian) survival of the fittest than often advocated for economies. In their words:
Football can also teach countries how to spot and hone human capital. The best performers not only have systems for finding gifted children, but also ways of spotting late developers who failed to make the first cut. Their academies turn out intelligent, creative players rather than dribbling automatons. Then, if they are clever, they drop their best footballers into a competitive market.
The idea is that in places where there are free market like mechanisms to find the best players you end up with the best teams that go on to win the World Cup. There are too many problems with this view, both with the view of how the economy and capitalism work, but also about football. I will tackle just a few.

Think about the notion that markets select the winners, which are the best players, as an analogy of markets selecting the best firms, the best economic practices. Development is just a question of open and free (unregulated) markets. Yet, the actual record for that is thin at best. It is well known now that even the English experience that led to the Industrial Revolution (IR) in the 19th century was far from being a laissez-faire story. Not only the boom was related to a huge increase in the size of public debt, and the financing of a vast Fiscal-Military State, but also the size of the bureaucracy increased significantly.

"British bureaucracy doubled in size during the 18th century. At the beginning of the century, state employees were estimated at 12,000, a number that had grown to 16,267 by 1797, and 24,598 by 1815," according to Roger Morriss. In other words, the state size doubled during the IR. Markets themselves require a significant amount of regulation. And here the example used by Ha-Joon Chang regarding child labor is always illustrative. Note that during the IR children were exploited working long hours in inhuman conditions (Hamilton suggested in his Report on Manufactures the positive effects of factories, since they would put idle children and women to work). Eventually, after a lot of social pressure (Marx and Engel's Manifesto demands the abolition of child labor) the freedom of firms to hire free willing children was curtailed. Markets are by definition a set of norms and regulations, and the very notion of a completely unregulated market is a bit of a ruse.

Now let's think about football. What country has won the most, you ask. Brazil, with 5 wins in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002, and 2 final losses in 1950 and 1998. Note that Brazil is not a developed country. Nor the US, or Sweden (advanced economies, even if very disimilar in many ways) have ever won a (male) World Cup. The link between development, and the quality of the football played is not particularly strong. Also, I might add, World Cups are tournaments, with elimination games, subjected to chance and luck, and not championships in which every team plays against the other, and the winner is the one that won more points overall. Hungary in 1954, the Netherlands in 1974, Brazil in 1982, and Argentina in 2014 (that's my view, some might have different candidates) were, arguably, the best teams, but did not win the World Cup.

The Economist tries to suggest that authoritarian regimes, with more closed societies, and one would assume markets, would do worse in the World Cup. They do say that "dictatorships are rubbish at football." And they note that Argentina in 1978, under General Videla, was the last time a country ruled by a dictatorship has won. The list should also include Italy in 1934 and 1938 under Mussolini, and Brazil in 1970 under General Medici. The argument is a bit hollow. Brazil, again, has won with both dictatorships and democratic governments (and so did Argentina in 1986 with Maradona and the return of democracy, which sadly doesn't win games). In all fairness, football has nothing to say about capitalism or why nations fail (or not).

The development of capitalism, on the other hand, does say quite a bit about football. Football, or the rules set by the British in Victorian times, that have changed little, I might add, emerged during the first era of globalization. The game spread with the spread of English manufacturing products, and the trade routes. Teams often appeared in ports, like Boca and River in Buenos Aires, or Santos in Brazil. Also, the elites in developing countries copied not only the patterns of consumption of the wealthy in developed economies, but also their hobbies, and football spread to the posh clubs of developing countries. In that high class environment, black players were often discriminated. In Rio de Janeiro followers of Fluminense still are referred to as 'pó de arroz' (baby powder), since players of African descent tried to camouflage the color of their skin to be able to play (Vasco da Gama was the first team to field black players, in the 1920s).

Football developed in places connected by trade with the British, and where patterns of consumption were being imitated, which explains why some parts of Latin America were early developers. Arguably, in many parts of Asia and Africa, income levels were too low for the patterns of consumption of the British upper classes to spread. Or in the United States the patterns of consumption followed their own trajectories, since at this point, the US was becoming the center of global consumption and imposing its own patterns of consumption on the globe. Accident, and history play a role. But it says a lot that the American version of football did not take off as the British one, meaning that institutions are path-dependent. By the way, that path-dependency also explains why more or less the same national teams keep winning. Tradition is a very strong predictor of who would win the cup. Kids don't play football (soccer) in the US, since their sports icons are in other fields.

By the 1920s football started to professionalize, and the markets, cherished by The Economist, for ball players became relevant. The professionalization of sports started in the 1920s, but the crisis of of capitalism in the 1930s, reduced the impetus of free market forces. Teams were not all powerful, and given the structure of clubs in many countries, football was not yet a business like the others. The backlash against capitalism meant that sports, and football were used by nationalist and populist (mostly right wing) regimes to promote national pride. Hitler, that was invested in the success of the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, wanted to win the World Cup in France in 1938, but Mussolini's Italy thwarted his plans.

It is with the end of World War II and the victory of the allies, and the with the rise of American hegemony, that football slowly becomes a business like any other. The fundamental impulse for the changes came after the collapse of Bretton Woods, and the Neoliberal turn in the global economy. Increasing market integration and financial deregulation, facilitated the rise of modern football. Clubs became business, with the rise of the European super leagues, imitating the US market. Note that this is the period of the rise of American football (with the creation of the Super Bowl in 1967) and the professionalization of tennis (the 1970s). Even the US tried to develop a market in the 1970s, with Pelé joining the New York Cosmos.

Players were bought and sold in markets, and still are. In the early times, rarely a player would become even moderately wealthy. Several players that would put to shame even the great of these days ended in poverty (Mané Garrincha comes to mind). Very few players are unionized, and most of them do not make the huge amounts of a Messi or a Neymar. Not only, free markets are not a solution for the wealth of nations, but the free market model for football has been detrimental for players and for the sport. Something similar could be said about other sports (I'm thinking about the NBA finals, and the overwhelming dominance of the Warriors). At any rate, The Economist should stick closer to their field of expertise.

PS: I'll probably blog a bit more about football during the World Cup.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Financialization in Latin America

New book edited by Martín Abeles, Esteban Pérez Caldentey and Sebastían Valdecantos. From the description:
The chapters in the book analyze the logic and effects of financialization in developing economies, peripheral financialization so to speak, in particular in Latin America. The first chapters look at the topic from a historical and conceptual angles, and then the latter chapters concentrate on specific manifestations like the influence of financialization on productive investment, spending on Research and Development (R&D), the characteristics of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), monetary policy management, and the composition of foreign debt. The variety of approaches utilized in this volume reflect ECLAC's historical preoccupation of analyzing the condition that would make possible a macroeconomics at the service of economic development.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Venezuela is about to explode

A leftist candidate won a close election in a South American country, threatening US interests in the region. The US president asked the CIA to "make the economy scream" to undermine governance and bring regime change, even if by violent means.

I am referring, of course, to Salvador Allende's election in Chile, and Richard Nixon's reaction, which eventually led to Augusto Pinochet's coup, one of the most bloody in the troubled history of the region.

The reelection of Nicolas Maduro last Sunday has led to the denunciation of the election in the US, with Vice President Mike Pence calling the elections "a sham", and suggesting the imposition of more economic sanctions.

Read rest here.

Lula da Silva is a political prisoner. Free Lula!

Three hundred academics and public intellectuals joined to launch a manifesto denouncing the detention of the former Brazilian president and current Presidential candidate Lula da Silva. The petition discusses in detail the arbitrary nature of the trial conducted by Judge Sergio Moro against Lula da Silva, stating that he is nothing less than a political prisoner. The document asserts that the international community should treat him as such and demands his immediate release.

Read more here (your truly signed too).

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Integration, spurious convergence, and financial fragility: a post-Keynesian interpretation of the Spanish crisis

Here is to another crisis like this one!

Paper co-authored with Esteban Pérez that was a Levy Institute working paper is published. From the abstract:

The Spanish crisis is generally portrayed as resulting from excessive spending
by households associated to a housing bubble and/or an excessive welfare spending beyond
the economic possibilities of the country. We put forward a different hypothesis. We argue
that the Spanish crisis resulted, in the main, from a widening deficit position in the non-
financial corporate sector and a declining trend in profitability under a regime of financial
liberalization and loose and unregulated lending practices.

Full paper available here.

Monday, May 21, 2018

On the URPE Blog - The Video Edition

Pedagogy and Heterodox Economics
This round-table discusses a range of topics on teaching heterodox economics, including MMT.

The Dynamics of Capitalism: Money and Financialization
Greta Krippner – The Power of Abstraction: Marx on Money and Credit
Aaron Sahr – From Pen Strokes to Keystrokes: the Production of Money in Early and Contemporary Capitalism

Michael Löwy: Marxism and Romantic Anticapitalism
Michael Löwy is Emeritus Research Director at the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) Lecturer, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.

Immanuel Wallerstein: The Contemporary Relevance of Marx
Immanuel Wallerstein – Marx’s Capital ​after 150 Years: Critique and Alternative to Capitalism (York University, Canada)

Richard D. Wolff: Linking Trump and Marx’s Critique of Capitalism
Richard D. Wolff Professor of Economics Emeritus, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and currently a Visiting Professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School in New York.

Yanis Varoufakis: Is Capitalism Devouring Democracy?
Economist and fierce EU critic Yanis Varoufakis considers the need for a radically new way of thinking about the economy, finance and capitalism.

Das Kapital after 150 years – a lecture by Riccardo Bellofiore
Riccardo Bellofiore is professor of Political Economy at the University of Bergamo (Italy), where he teaches Macroeconomics, Monetary Economics, History of Economic thought and International Monetary Economics.

Robert Paul Wolff on Karl Marx – Lecture Series
A series of lectures by Robert Paul Wolff on the thought of Karl Marx:

Nancy Fraser: Marx and Feminism
Nancy Fraser on Marx’ and Engels’ view of social reproduction, the tension between class, gender, and race, and the need for a “Feminism for the 99%”.

Capitalism and the Expropriation of Nature: The Strategic Discourse of Ecosocialism
John Bellamy Foster on nature, capitalism, Marx, and the discourse of Ecosocialism.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Fernando Cardim de Carvalho - RIP

Fernando, Cardim for most in Brazil, and Carvalho in the US and abroad, has sadly passed away. I took his macro class back in 1992 at the Federal University in Rio, before he actually moved there definitely as full professor two years later. We used his book Mr. Keynes and the Post Keynesians (still somewhere here in my bookshelf) as a textbook, even though most of the course was based on several papers.

From that period I remember reading his papers on time and expectations, which were two of his main concerns within post-Keynesian economics. Although much of his course was theoretical, most of his later work seemed to be related to the workings of international financial institutions, and real world macro issues. He wrote extensively, and there are papers on the role of the IMF, and critiques of the idea of central bank independence, besides discussions of the Brazilian economy. My favorite paper is based on his discussion of Keynes' political views, and to what extent his policy proposals can be seen as close to social democracy. A great loss for the profession, for his students, and for his friends.

Dollarization in Argentina?

So I have no insider knowledge on what the Argentinean government plans to do. And the White House is a mess; they don't have any knowl...