Monday, January 30, 2023

A common currency for the Mercosur

 Actual proposal by Haddad and Galípolo at Folha de São Paulo

Lula's visit to Argentina, during the  Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting, brought about a brief discussion of the possibility of a common currency. I have discussed here (as well as many guest bloggers) both currency unions, in particular the euro, and it's consequences. Note that the FT piece linked suggested that the common currency was the first step in a long process. I doubt it, in part because, if the end goal is a real currency union, it would be a terrible idea. The actual proposal by the current finance minister, Fernando Haddad, and one of his collaborators, Gabriel Galípolo, falls short of a common currency area. It is still a bad idea.

The idea is to reduce the use of the dollar for bilateral transactions, and Haddad and Galípolo, in their piece for Folha de São Paulo last year, suggested that this would stimulate integration and trade. It is unclear that even that is correct. And there are other experiences with that kind of instrument in the region (e.g. the SUCRE in Ecuador, not the old currency, but the compensation mechanism).

The question about the proposal, which includes the creation of a digital currency and a central bank of the south, is what purpose does it serve. Haddad and Galípolo had suggested that it would further integration. That seems unlikely. Most of the integration has been done with Mercosur, and the most important way to integrate the countries in the region would be productively. The common currency won’t solve the Argentine external problems associated to the lack of dollar reserves either. And it won’t solve the Brazilian issue of how to deal with the political problem of the self-imposed fiscal ceiling limit, which make no sense, and constrains the ability of the government to promote growth and reduce inequality.

It is also unclear that anything beyond some general discussions would take place, and not just because the conditions are very different, and Argentina does not have dollar reserves, and hence the peso would depreciate considerably more with respect to the sur (the tentative currency) than the real would (note that the peso has depreciated way more than the real with respect to the dollar, and that to some extent explains the inflation differentials).

More importantly, Argentina has presidential elections this year, and it has to avoid a default on external obligations, something that is not the case in Brazil, obviously. In my view, the point of this announcement was purely political, and to suggest that the integration between the two countries, one with a threatened economy, the other with a threatened democracy, is a priority. Both left of center presidents stand together. Of course, the right place for this is UNASUR, not the Mercosur, and talks should be explicitly political. There is no circumstance in which a movement in the direction of a common currency makes any sense.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Alternative approaches to the history of economic ideas

Teaching two history of thought classes this semester. One more traditional, focusing on the evolution of the theories of value and distribution, and another one, my regular senior seminar, on the co-evolution of ideas and policy in the United States. For the former I used a short piece by Peter Boettke on the reasons for reading the original sources (and they do read a fair amount in my class). The blackboard (pictured above) is based on his discussion. I changed the titles and the definition of the logic a little bit.

The archeological approach tries to understand the analytical views of authors in their own historical context, while the theoretical reconstruction tries to understand its relevance for modern theory. BTW, the divide between archeological and theoretical reconstruction was basically what students came up by themselves when asked why one would read the original contributions. The second one corresponds to the Whig version of the history of economic thought, and the contrarian or radical view, with the former seeing linear progress in the development of the discipline (a history of mistakes), and the latter presuming that there are important contributions that have "been submerged and forgotten" and that should be recovered for a critique of economic theory.

I would put Donald Winch as a representative of the Archeological/Whig view, and Blaug as the Theoretical/Whig one, even though I put there Stigler and Schumpeter (in part because Boettke talks about Stigler; it is not clear where he would put him, at least to me). My suggestions for the Radicals are Ronald Meek and Piero Sraffa (the former a student of the latter), respectively, for the Archeological and Theoretical.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

The 1920-21 recession


Calvin Coolidge and Andrew Mellon

A new paper by Ahmad Borazan on the 1920-21 recession, often seen in libertarian and Austrian circles as an example of a laissez-faire recovery. From the abstract:

The US recovery from the 1920–21 recession has been presented as a triumph of laissez-faire policies and a serious challenge to Keynesian economics. This study interrogates this claim by using previously unutilised data and examines the historical development of the early 1920s recession and recovery. The study refutes the laissez-faire view and shows that the recovery indeed fits Keynes’s perspective. The deflationary recession was largely engineered by the Federal Reserve a la 1980s Volker disinflation. The recovery closely followed the reversal of tight monetary policy and was propelled by exceptionally long pent-up private consumption and residential spending. The recovery initiated the Roaring Twenties boom of weakened organised labour, rising income inequality and mounting private debt. This private debt-led boom proved unsustainable and was fraught with risks that contributed to the severity of the Great Depression. Although the recovery was not driven by fiscal policy, it cannot be seen as driven by price flexibility either.

Full paper here.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

New book on the crisis of economics and teaching in Latin America


The book (in Spanish) titled "Economía en crisis : la enseñanza de la economía en Latinoamérica y los límites de la teoría ortodoxa" [Economy in Crisis: The teaching of economics in Latin America and the limits of orthodox theory] is edited Andrés Jose Maria Lambertini; Ignacio Silva Neira. The introductory chapter on the role of neoliberalism and its resilience in the region is by Esteban Pérez and myself. There's a webinar with Carolina Alves and Gabriel Porcile, besides the editors.

It will be in Spanish with English subtitles. You can register here.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Cycles: empirics and the supermultiplier theory


New paper on the empirical evidence of the relevance of the supermultiplier for explaining economic cycles by Ricardo Summa, Gabriel Petrini, and Lucas Teixeira. From the abstract:

The demand-led supermultiplier growth model proposes that business investment is induced by income while autonomous expenditures determine economic growth. The most known versions of the model are presented at high levels of abstraction, focusing on general analytical properties and dynamic stability conditions. Based on those versions, Nikiforos et al. (2021) argue that the supermultiplier model cannot generate business cycles compatible with the empirical observation. In this paper, we show that this conclusion is a consequence of the misspecification of the variable chosen to represent the investment share, which includes business and residential investment. As the separation of those expenditures is a central point in the supermultiplier theory, we estimate a VAR model for the US economy (1967-2020) using only the data on business investment share instead. This procedure re-establishes an important feature to the supermultiplier theory, the mechanism of capital stock adjustment, as the empirical results points to the business investment share generally lagging the cycle. Finally, we make some remarks on how to discuss the business cycle from the supermultiplier perspective. We argue that for the supermultiplier, the business cycle depends less on the mechanism of capital stock adjustment than on the behavior of the autonomous components of demand and changes in the multiplier components. As the latter two are influenced by political, social and institutional factors, each business cycle has its own narrative.

Download here.

Podcast with about the never ending crisis in Argentina

Podcast with about the never ending crisis in Argentina with Fabián Amico, and myself and interview by Carlos Pinkusfeld Bastos and Caio Be...