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The macroeconomics of Robert Solow: A partial view

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 05/05/2020 - 10:09am in

During a hearing before a Congressional Committee on Science and Technology, Robert Solow (MIT) described himself as a "generally quite traditional, mainstream economist".

In my view, either Prof. Solow is unaware of who qualifies as a "traditional, mainstream economist" these days or the definitions of the words "traditional" and "mainstream" need to be completely changed!

Consider, for instance, his views on the notion of "expansionary fiscal consolidation":

[H]ow does a human race with limited with situations in which the short run need for policy are quite different from the long run need for policy? The feeble-minded, it seems to me, attempt to solve this problem [by asserting] that fiscal consolidation is really expansionary in the short run. I have never been able to understand the mental processes that underlie that statement. But I will take it seriously only -- only -- when its protagonists faced with a situation of clear excess demand propose fiscal expansion. Because if fiscal consolidation is expansionary then fiscal expansion must be contractionary. I don't believe that would happen. So I don't take that argument seriously at all. I think it's cooked up to make a real difficulty go away. (The Feasibility of European Monetary and Fiscal Policies: Rethinking Policy from a Transatlantic Perspective)

...on the supposed lack of microfoundations in Keynesian economics:

You know, there is something a little ludicrous in the belief that microfoundations for macroeconomics were invented some time in the 1970s. If you read Keynes's General Theory or Pigou's Employment and Equilibrium (or many lesser works) you will see that they are full of informal microfoundations. Every author tries to make his behavioral assumptions plausible by talking about the way that groups or ordinary economic agents might be expected to act...But you can recall Keynes's argument that the marginal propensity to consume should be between zero and one, or his discussion about whether the marginal efficiency of investment should be sensitive to current output or should depend primarily on "the state of long-term expectations". Those are microfoundations. (2004, p. 659)

...on the claim there is a connection between the money supply and price level:

[T]he financial press sometimes writes as though there is some special direct connection between the money supply and price level. So far as fundamentals are concerned, monetary policy works through its effects on aggregate nominal demand, just like fiscal policy, in the long run, too. The only direct connection I can think of is itself the creation of pop economics. If business people and others become convinced that there is some causal immaculate connection from the money supply to the price level, completely bypassing the real economy, then the news of a monetary-policy action will generate inflationary or disinflationary expectations and induce the sorts of actions that will tend to bring about the expected outcome and thus confirm the expectations and strengthen the underlying beliefs. (1998:4)

...on the problem with Milton Friedman's reliance on correlations between and M and other variables to infer policy conclusions and the assumption of an exogenous money supply (with John Kareken):

The unreliability of this line of argument is suggested by the following reducto ad absurdum. Imagine an economy buffeted by all kinds of cyclical forces, endogenous and exogenous. Suppose that by heroic, and perhaps even cyclical variation in the money stock and its rate of change, the Federal Reserve manages deftly to counter all disturbing impulses and to stabilize the level of economic activity absolutely. Then an observer following the Friedman method would see peaks and troughs in monetary changes accompanied by a steady level of economic activity. He would presumably conclude that monetary policy has no effects at all, which would be precisely the opposite of the truth. (Karaken and Solow, 1963, p. 16)

...on choosing the right model in macroeconomics:

[I] believe rather strongly that the "right" model for an occasion depends on the context --  the institutional context, of course -- but also on the current mix of beliefs, attitudes, norms, and "theories" that inhabits the minds of businessmen, bankers, consumers, and savers. (2004, p.xi)

...on the problems with the DSGE model:

I do not think that the currently popular DSGE models pass the smell test. They take it for granted that the whole economy can be thought about as if it were a single, consistent person or dynasty carrying out a rationally designed, long-term plan, occasionally disturbed by unexpected shocks, but adapting to them in a rational, consistent way. I do not think that this picture passes the smell test. The protagonists of this idea make a claim to respectability by asserting that it is founded on what we know about microeconomic behavior, but I think that this claim is generally phony. The advocates no doubt believe what they say, but they seem to have stopped sniffing or to have lost their sense of smell altogether. (For more, see here and here)

...on the difference between budgetary and real resources costs:

The trouble is that the great world -- including a large part of the intellectual world -- has lost sight of the fundamental difference between budgetary costs and real resource costs. An unemployed worker and an underutilized or idle plant is not something we're saving up for the future. Today's labor can't be used next year or the year after. And the machine time in a plant that's down can't be redone two years from now or three years from now. Three years from now we hope that the plant will be running for current uses. So there's that important sense in which idle resources are almost - and maybe literally - free to the economy. The problem is to get them used in a reasonable way. (see 22:00 here):

...on the importance of fiscal policy for stabilization purposes:

I start from the belief that non-trivial imbalances of aggregate supply and demand do occur in modern industrial capitalist economies, and last long enough that public policy should not ignore them...When such imbalances occur, fiscal policy is a useful tool. The single instrument of monetary policy can not do justice to the multiplicity of policy objectives; and the Ricardian equivalence claim is in practice not nearly enough to convince a realist of the ineffectiveness of fiscal policy. The real obstacles to the rational conduct of fiscal policy are the uncertainties about the proper target for real output and employment, and the tendency for stabilization goals to become inextricably tangled in and distracted by distributional and allocational controversy. (Is fiscal policy possible? Is it desirable?, p. 23)

...on the long run potency of deficit spending financed by bonds vs. deficits financed by money creation, and on the contractionary nature of open market purchases of government bonds (with Alan Blinder):

[N]ot only is deficit spending financed by bonds expansionary in the long run, it is even more expansionary than the same spending financed by the creation of money. [Foonote: An interesting corollary of this is that an open-market purchase, i.e. a swap of B for M by the government with G unchanged, will be contractionary!] (Blinder and Solow: Does Fiscal Policy Matter? 1973)

...on how statements by a central bank can influence how the public translates relative price changes into expectations about the consumer price index:

There are various interest groups in the economy: bankers, investors, savers, lenders, borrowers, buyers and sellers and what not. There is no reason for them to react in the same way. How does one aggregate expectations?

...on the use of "expectations" to explain macro policy outcomes:

[T]o rest the whole argument on expectations -- that all-purpose unobservable -- just stops rational discussion in its tracks. I agree that the expectations, beliefs, theories, and prejudices of market participants are all important determinants of what happens. The trouble is that there is no outcome or behavior pattern that cannot be explained by one or another drama starring expectations. Since none of us can measure expectations (whose?) we have a lot of freedom to write the scenario we happen to like today. Should I writing a different play, starring somewhat different expectations? No thanks, I'd rather look at data. (1998:93)

...on the claim of self-correcting markets and the role of aggregate demand in causing output fluctuations:

Capitalist economies do not behave like well-oiled equilibrium machines. For all sorts of reasons they can stray above or below potential output for meaningful periods of time, though apparently they are sightly more likely to stray below than above. Even apart from considerations of growth, macro policy should lean in the general direction that will nudge aggregate demand toward potential, whenever a noticeable gap occurs. The relevant point is that this strategy is also growth-promoting. Whatever the level of real interest rates, excessively weak aggregate demand -- and the prospect of weak and fluctuating aggregate demand -- works against investment. Few things are as bad for expected return on investment as weak and uncertain future sales...Successful stabilization contributes to growth too. (Role of macroeconomic policy, p. 301)

...on the need for public policy to address the unemployment of unskilled labor:

It needs to be insisted that the root of the problem lies in the enormous range of earning capacities generated by the interaction of modern technology (and other influences on the demand for unskilled labor) with the demographic and educational outcomes on the supply side of the labor market. There is no really good way for a market economy to deal humanely with that spread. (Too Optimistic)

...on the fallacy of self-correcting markets and the limits of monetary policy during deep recessions:

One important lesson that I hope we have learned from the crisis and the deep recession still going on is that economies like ours can experience uncomfortably long intervals of general excess supply or excess demand. Of course, we -- economists and interested civilians -- used to know that. But it was widely forgotten during the Great Moderation and the accompanying optimism among economists and civilians about smoothly self-correcting markets. The general belief than was that monetary policy was an adequate tool for taking care of any minor blip. During long and deep recessions, however, it has become evident that monetary policy may reach its limits without being able to generate enough aggregate demand to close the excess supply gap. (IMF Talk: Macro and Growth Policies)

...on the problems with Ricardian equivalence:

What might interfere with [the claim that it is optimal for households to save a tax reduction]? Any number of things: if households had been unable to consume as much as their optimal plan required because they lacked liquid assets and could not borrow freely, then the added liquidity provided by the tax reduction would enable them to consumer more now. If the Treasury were a more efficient, less risky, borrower than many households, then the appearance of some new public debt would also affect real behavior. And, of course, if consumers do not look ahead very far or very carefully, if they give little weight to the interests of descendants, or if they tend to ignore or underestimate the future implications of current budgetary actions, then Ricardian equivalence will fail, and tax reduction financed by borrowing will indeed be expansionary. All those "if" clauses strike me as very likely to be real and quantitatively important, and that suggests that Ricardian equivalence is not a practically significant limitation on fiscal policy. (Is fiscal policy possible? Is it desirable?, p. 12)

...on the problem with the natural rate of unemployment hypothesis:

Let me try to explain what nags at me in all this...We are left here with a theory whose two central concepts, the natural rate of unemployment or output and the expected rate of inflation have three suspicious characteristics in common. They are not directly observable. They are not very well defined. And, so far as we can tell, they move around too much for comfort -- they are not stable. I suspect this is an intrinsic difficulty. I have no wish to minimize the importance of, say, inflationary expectations. But we are faced with a real problem: here is a concept that seems in our minds to play an important role in macro behavior, and yet it's very difficult to deal with because it escapes observation and it even escapes clear definition. 

On the natural rate of unemployment, I think the behavior of the profession exhibits problems. In order to make sensible use of this kind of theory, you want the natural rate of unemployment to be a fairly stable quantity. It won't do its job if it jumps around violently from one year to the next. But that's what seems to happen. We, the profession, are driven to explaining events by inventing movements of the natural rate, which we have not observed and have not very well defined. The issue came up first in the passage of the big European economies from 2 percent unemployment, on average, to 8 or 9 percent unemployment, on average, within a few years. The only way to explain that within the standard model is to say that the natural rate of unemployment must have increased from something like 2 percent to something like 8 or 9 percent. The actual facts that could account for any such dynamics never seemed to me or to any critical person to be capable of explaining so big a change. So we are left with inventing changes in the natural rate of unemployment to explain the facts, and it is all done in our heads, not in any tested model. I regret to say that you often find this kind of reasoning: the inflation rate is increasing because the unemployment rate is below the natural rate. How do you know that the unemployment rate is below the natural rate? Because the inflation rate is increasing. I think we are all good enough logicians to realize that this is exactly equivalent to saying that the rate of inflation is increasing, and nothing more. 

It seems to me that we ought to be thinking much more about the determinants of whatever you choose to call it. I hate to use the phrase "natural rate" but of course I do. It was a masterpiece of persuasive definition by Milton. Who could ever want an unnatural rate of unemployment? (Fifty years of the Phillips Curve: A Dialogue on what we have learned, p.84)

...and more on the natural rate of unemployment:

There is nothing like an adjustable, unobservable parameter to keep a theory afloat in rough seas...I think the doctrine [of the natural rate of unemployment] to be theoretically and empirically as soft as a grape. To say that in the long run the unemployment rate tends to return to the natural rate of unemployment is to say almost nothing. In the long run the unemployment rate goes where it goes. You can call where it goes the natural rate; but unless you have a more convincing story than I have seen about the length of the long run and the location of the natural rate, you are only giving a tendentious name to a vague concept (1998, pp. 9, 91)

The Keynesian-Monetarist debates and reverse causation (or how Keynesians destroyed monetarism using only logic)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/05/2020 - 11:45am in

Traditional monetarist theory held that changes in the money stock are the best indicator of monetary influence on the economy, and that these influences have a significant impact on the course of economic activity over the business cycle.

The idea that "money matters" in this sense is not new. In many ways, monetarism's basic premise dates back to the beginning of political economy as a discipline. However, in the 1950s, the idea gained prominence when a number of "money supply theorists", as they were called back then, began producing studies and charts that appeared to lend support to the view that changes in the money supply had a predominant role in causing fluctuations in (nominal) income and output.

Initially, (neo-)Keynesian economists -- who as a result of their reading of events of both the onset of and recovery from the Great Depression viewed income (output) as determined largely by aggregate demand or the spending of firms, government and household spending -- were not phased. At first, Keynesians responded by saying that their preferred theoretical approach, the Hicks-Hansen IS-LM model, already recognized the role of money in affecting economic activity via the LM curve.* However, these Keynesians also argued that, while money does have a role in driving economic activity, it was of secondary importance, behind consumer and investment spending.**

Also, while Keynesians admitted that fluctuations in the money supply can affect economic activity, they also argued that the seemingly causal relationship between money and output portrayed in monetarist studies could partly be explained by changes in the public's demand for money, the propensity to hold financial assets in the form of money.

The debate intensified when Milton Friedman and other monetarists produced studies (seemingly) showing the empirical importance of money over spending and investment in explaining output fluctuations. In order to show that fluctuations in the money supply cause fluctuations in output, monetarists had to demonstrate that the demand for money was stable (to support their view regarding the predominant role of the money supply in affecting economic activity), and that fluctuations in aggregate demand were a weak source of fluctuations in income.

With respect to the stability of the demand for money, Keynesians argued that the demand for money was not stable (i.e., as a stable function of interest rates, expected inflation, wealth and other variables), nor predictable (thus countering the monetarist view that the predictability in the demand for money would enable the monetary authority to expand or contract the money supply to offset any predicted changes in money demand). The neo-Keynesian view was later proven right when the stability in money demand collapsed in the 1970s and 1980s in the US.

As for the monetarist claim that money supply fluctuations outperformed the traditional Keynesian drivers such as investment and other forms of spending in explaining output fluctuations, which figured most prominently in Friedman's "A Monetary History of the United States", neo-Keynesians responded in several ways.

First, Keynesian critics proposed that the apparent causal relationship stemming from money to income (and economic activity overall) might be a fallacious case of post hoc ergo propter hoc (i.e., what comes before must therefore be the cause), or at the very least, a statistical illusion caused by the fact that investment is recorded in national income accounts in periods subsequent to monetary aggregates, which capture the same transaction but at an earlier stage when investors first come to the money market.

Also, Keynesians challenged the methodological approach used by Friedman and other monetarists to support their claim that the money supply is the key variable explaining fluctuations in output. Most importantly, Keynesian critics suggested that Friedman's approach in the "Monetary History" of assuming an exogenous money supply under the full control of the monetary authority and completely independent from the influence of other economic variables, was unrealistic and overstated the influence of money on economic activity.

Over 50 years ago, neo-Keynesian economists John Kareken and Robert Solow, using simple logic, pointed out the fatal flaw in the monetarist assumption of the exogeneity of the money supply:

The unrealiability of this line of argument is suggested by the following reducio ad absurdum. Imagine an economy buffeted by all kinds of cyclical forces, endogenous and exogenous. Suppose that by heroic, and perhaps even cyclical variation in the money stock and its rate of change, the Federal Reserve manages deftly to counter all disturbing impulses and to stabilize the level of economic activity absolutely. Then an observer following the Friedman method would see peaks and troughs in monetary changes accompanied by a steady level of economic activity. He would presumably conclude that monetary policy has no effects at all, which would be precisely the opposite of the truth.

Karaken and Solow in this example were not suggesting that the money stock was endogenous in the sense that the money supply was negatively correlated with aggregate spending shocks. Rather, they were suggesting that abstracting from the actual behavior of the central bank as Friedman did could result in flawed conclusions about the magnitude of monetary policy's impact on the economy.***

Also, this line of reasoning suggested that the statistically significant relationship (correlation) between money and output highlighted by the monetarists should not be understood as implying that changes in the supply of money cause changes in income. Instead, this objection suggested the possibility that the observed relationship could just as well be the consequence of reverse causality, that is, that spending shocks, by affecting money demand and generating pressure on the interest rate, led to accommodating changes in the supply of reserves provided by the Fed during that period, and ultimately resulted in changes in the money supply.

Having then demolished the Friedman assumption of an exogenous money supply, neo-Keynesians in the 1960s thus allowed for the possibility that the relationship between money and economic activity could be the result of actions from the public, as they respond to current economic conditions, and that these actions from the public could have such a significant influence on observed movements in the money stock that one could not tell the direction of causality between money and economic activity simply by looking at measurements of monetary aggregates and income.

For a few years later, a lively debate on reverse causation followed between monetarists and the economic staff of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank on one side and neo-Keynesians and staff economists of the Federal Reserve Board on the other. Empirically, a breakthrough in favor of the reverse causation argument occurred in 1973 when two staff economists of the Federal Reserve Board, Raymond Lombra and Raymond Torto, demonstrated in a paper entitled "Federal Reserve Defensive Behavior and the Reverse Causation Argument" that during the 1953-1968 period the supply and demand for money was interdependent and that this interdependence provided an avenue for the reverse influence of the business cycle on money.

In doing so, Lombra and Torto confirmed the endogeneity of the monetary base and money supply resulting from the Fed's offsetting and accommodating actions whenever it sought to stabilize conditions in the money market by pegging the level of short-term interest rates over the short-run:

If the demand for money is, in part, a function of the level of economic activity and the supply of money has been at least partially demand determined, then the money stock is endogenous whether or not the Fed has the power to control it

However, the conclusions by Lombra and Torto were eclipsed by the conclusions of a paper published one year earlier by Christopher Sims utilizing newly developed statistical techniques which contended that the hypothesis of unidirectional causality running from money to income could not be rejected. Of course, monetarists, in their attempt to support their case, cited this work with approval since it appeared to support the monetarist assumption of an exogenous money supply.

In 1982, Sims published another paper recognizing that his earlier work and work based on it was open to serious question. This paper along with Lombra and Torto's paper should have demolished the monetarist case from the start. Unfortunately, such an attack was not enough to stop the monetarist ascendancy that was gathering support within and outside the economics profession (such as the St.Louis Federal Reserve Bank) in the 1970 and 80s.

Today, we know that this monetarist view influenced later New Keynesians (not older New Keynesians like Stiglitz, Akerlof and Blinder). Some Post Keynesians adhere to reverse causation in their monetary economics.

* The LM curve had been relegated to the background (as a supporting role) during the war years and early post-war years when interest rates were pegged as a result of the Treasury-Fed accord

** The main changes through which the real money supply affects the economy are: the real balance effect, the portfolio effect, and money as a medium of exchange effect.

*** More specifically, by assigning total control over the money supply to the central bank in their model, Friedman and other monetarists were effectively dismissing the potential influence of both the banking system and the real economy in influencing the money supply.

On the (ir)relevance of the money multiplier model: The Fed view

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/11/2013 - 1:13am in

It has long been known within the Federal Reserve System -- especially among economists who worked in the FRS in the 1970s and 1980s when much of the research agenda was directed at issues of monetary control -- that the money multiplier model of money stock determination is not the most realistic (or useful) way to understand how central banks conduct monetary policy.

Here is the former Fed Governor, the late Sherman Maisel, during a conference on the theme of 'Controlling Monetary Aggregates' in 1971:

It is clear that, as a matter of fact, the Federal Reserve does not attempt to increase the money supply by a given amount in any period by furnishing a fixed amount of reserves on the assumption that they would be multiplied to result in a given increase in money [...] 

Many unsophisticated comments and theories speak as if the Federal Reserve purchases a given quantity of securities, thereby creating a fixed amount of reserves, which through a multiplier determines a particular expansion in the money supply. Much of modern monetary literature is actually spent trying to dispel this naive elementary textbook view which leads people to talk as if (and perhaps to believe) the central bank determines the money supply exactly or even closely--in the short run-through its open market operations or reserve ratio. This incorrect view, however, seems hard to dislodge. (1971:153, 161)

Briefly, the money multiplier is basically a relationship between deposits (D) and reserves (R), D = mR, (or M = mB) where m is called the money multiplier (or M is money stock and B is the monetary base). According to the model, if banks keep excess reserves to a minimum and reserve requirements are applied to all deposits, then the multiplier can be constant and the central bank -- if it retains control of the volume of reserves -- can control the amount of deposits (Goodfriend and Hargraves, 1983:5). However, if the central bank does not exercise control over the amount of reserves, the multiplier model is inoperable and cannot be exploited for monetary control purposes.

The Classic Fed View

In the US, the Fed's inability to control the quantity of reserves in recent decades (before October 2008) is said to be because of the introduction of lagged reserve requirements in the late 1960s and the Fed's almost continuous use of an interest rate operating procedure.

Former St. Louis Fed economist, R. Alton Gilbert, discussed the impact of lagged reserve accounting on Fed operations in his article "Lagged Reserve Requirements: Implications for Monetary Control and Bank Reserve Management" (1980):

[Lagged reserve accounting] breaks the link between reserves available to the banking system in the current week and the amount of deposit liabilities that banks can create in the current week. If banks increase aggregate demand deposits liabilities in response to an increase in loan demand, they are under no immediate pressure to reduce their deposit liabilities...Under LRA, the Federal Reserve tends to adjust total reserves each week in response to the total deposit liabilities that banks created two weeks earlier. (1980:12)

With lagged reserve requirements in effect the volume of reserves is determined by banking system demand. Reserve demand is simply accommodated and required reserves serve only to enlarge the demand for reserves at any given level of deposits. Under LRA, the change in R occurs as a result of changes in D, the exact opposite of the money multiplier model.

Former Richmond Fed economist, Marvin Goodfriend, discussed the relevance of the money multiplier model when lagged reserve requirements are in effect in his paper "A model of money stock determination with loan demand and a banking system balance sheet constraint" (1982):

...[T]he discussion has shown that the money multiplier is not generally a complete model of money stock determination and is actually irrelevant to money stock determination for some monetary control procedures. Specifically, the money multiplier is irrelevant to determination of the monetary aggregates if lagged reserve requirements are in effect. (1982:15)

As for the other institutional factor relating to the Fed's use of an interest rate operating procedure, Robert Hetzel of the Richmond Fed highlighted the following in his paper "A Critique of Theories of Money Stock Determination" (1986):

Deposits and reserve demand are determined simultaneously with credit creation. As a consequence of defending its rate target, the monetary authority, by creating an infinitely elastic supply of reserves, accommodates whatever reserve demand emerges...In a regime of rate targeting, neither the quantity of reserves nor the desired reserves-deposits ratio of the banking system exercises a causal role in the determination of the money stock (1986:6) [...]

Interest rate smoothing by the monetary authority makes reserves and the money stock endogenous...Since [Chester] Phillips (1921), reserves-money multiplier formulas have been derived from a model of the banking sector summarized in the multiple expansion of deposits produced by an injection of reserves. The existence of markets for bank reserves, however, renders this model untenable. Phillips' model assumes that the individual bank is constrained by the quantity of its reserves and that its asset acquisition and deposit creation are driven by discrepancies between actual and desired reserves. Given the existence of markets for bank reserves, such as the fed funds and CD markets, however, individual banks are constrained by the price, rather than the quantity, of reserves they hold. (1986:20) (emphasis added)

A succinct and detailed discussion of the problems associated with multiplier models of money stock determination is found in the excellent article "Understanding the remarkable survival of multiplier models of money stock determination" (1992) by former Fed economist, Raymond Lombra:

Assuming textbook authors reveal their intellectual and pedagogical preferences and beliefs, a careful survey of the leading intermediate textbooks in money and banking and macroeconomics reveals a uniform and virtually universal consensus – the multiplier model of money stock determination is widely viewed as the most appropriate and presumably most correct approach to the topic...Since such consensus is not, in general, an enduring characteristic of monetary economics, one is tempted to “let sleeping dogs lie”. The problem is that the multiplier model, whether viewed from an analytical or empirical perspective, is at best a misleading and incomplete model and at worst a completely misspecified model. (Lombra, 1992:305) (emphasis added)

Lombra's article is especially useful because it groups together the different critiques of the multiplier approach into two categories (the article discusses a third set of critiques relating to the predictive accuracy of multiplier models but this issue is less relevant for this post). 
The first set of critiques identified by Lombra is that the multiplier model "is not structural but rather is a reduced-form", a point first made in the 1960s by proponents of the "New View" (including James Tobin in "Commercial banks as creators of "money")*. Lombra summarizes this critique as follows:

Succinctly stated, the critique emphasizes that the multiplier approach abstracts from the short-run dynamics of adjustments by banks and the public, leaves the role of interest rates implicit rather than explicit, and proceeds that the movements in the monetary base (or reserves) are orthogonal to fluctuations in the multiplier. The multiplier model, it is argued, implies that deposit expansion is quantity constrained through the Fed's control over the sources of bank reserves (chiefly, the Fed portfolio of securities). One of the most forceful and articulate crafters of the critique, Basil Moore, concludes that "as a result, the money multiplier framework is of no analytical or operational use".

The consensus view of the staff and policymakers within the Federal Reserve, as revealed in numerous publications, embraces much, if not all, of the critique advanced by Moore and others. In particular, the Fed adheres to the view that the system is equilibrated through the movements of interest rates, which through their effects on bank revenues and costs, determine banks' and the public's desired asset and liability positions. In this view, money is controlled by using open market operations to affect interest rates which in turn affect demand and thus the uses of bank reserves (chiefly, required reserves).  (307)

The second set of critiques discussed by Lombra concerns the issue of the endogeneity of reserves, that is, the notion that the quantity of reserves is in practice determined by the banking system:

This contention, which is related to the lagged reserve accounting scheme...and the Fed's interest rate operating procedure in effect for virtually all of the post-Accord period, implies the multiplier model is completely irrelevant for the determination of the money supply. (308)

Lombra's article concludes with a discussion on why, despite these important flaws, the multiplier approach continues to be popular among economists. The reason, he argues, is that when applied to longer term horizons the models track monetary growth reasonably well:

The model lives on with model-builders who are confirmed adherents to the Law of Parsimony and skilled in the use of Occam's Razor. The high correlations and identities so tightly linking reserves (or the base) and money over the longer run provide all the comfort most empiricists need to proceed as if the concerns noted above matter little. (312)

Still irrelevant?

Recently, Fed economists Seth Carpenter and Silva Demiralp concluded in their paper "Money, Reserves, and the Transmission of Monetary Policy: Does the Money Multiplier Exist?" that the money multiplier is not a useful means of assessing the implications of monetary policy for money growth or bank lending in the US.

Not only does their paper discuss the institutional factors that render the money multiplier inoperable (including those discussed above), it also demonstrates empirically that the relationships between reserves and money implied by the money multiplier model do not exist.

These conclusions should, however, be viewed with caution given that the period under investigation in the paper ends in 2008, just prior to the Fed's shift toward the use of unconventional monetary policies.

Interestingly, Robert Hetzel now believes that the money multiplier model has actually gained relevance since the Fed started with its large-scale asset purchases in 2008.

Here is an excerpt from Hetzel's recent book, The Great Recession:

Starting in mid-December 2008 when the FOMC lowered its funds-rate target to near zero with payment of interest on bank reserves, the textbook reserves-money multiplier framework became relevant for the determination of the money stock. The reason is that the Fed's instrument then became its asset portfolio, the left side of its balance sheet, which determined the monetary base, the right side of its balance sheet. As a result, from December 2008 onward, the nominal (dollar) money stock was determined independently of the demand for real money. Although the reserves-money multiplier increased because of the increased demand by banks for excess reserves, the Fed retained control of M2 growth. Even if banks hold onto increases in excess reserves, the money stock increases one-for-one with open market purchases. (2012:237) (emphasis added)

In other words, Hetzel is saying that, as a result of its ability to determine the monetary base (B), the Fed now exercises considerable control over the change in deposits (D). And by doing so, Hetzel is suggesting that the Fed -- in one way or another -- is currently exploiting the money multiplier framework.

Here's a chart that appears to support Hetzel's claim:

The chart shows that since 2008 changes in B -- resulting from Fed asset purchases -- are clearly associated with changes in M**. For the period prior to 2008, there is no such relationship.

Hetzel's claim about the relevance of the multiplier approach could help to explain why some commentators have found causal relationships between changes in the monetary base and other variables for the period since December 2008.

For instance, Market Monetarist proponent Mark Sadowski recently pointed to empirical evidence that changes in the monetary base have had some causal role since December 2008:

I’ve done Granger causality tests on the monetary base over the period since December 2008 and find that the monetary base Granger causes the real broad dollar index, the S&P 500, the DJIA, commercial bank deposits, commercial bank loans and leases, the PCEPI, and 5-year inflation expectations as measured by TIPS.

So what's the bottom line? Does this mean the money multiplier model is now relevant?

On the one hand, I'm not convinced the model is entirely applicable (for instance, the textbook treatment implies that banks keep excess reserves to a minimum, which is obviously not the case today). On the other hand, it's unlikely that Hetzel is somehow wrong here.

Fortunately, I don't think it matters much one way or another, unless perhaps you are a Fed technician or an econometrician. What does matter is that the Fed currently exercises control over the monetary base. This, in itself, is a significant development for understanding the policy options now available to the Fed.

One thing is for sure, this recent development provides an excellent illustration of a crucial point often highlighted in Raymond Lombra's work:

The specific procedures ("policy rule") employed by the Fed and the reserve accounting regulations governing bank reserve management play a crucial role in determining causal relationships and system dynamics. (1992:309)


* The 'New View' focused on the role of assets, both real and financial, and the relative price mechanism in monetary analysis. From an operational standpoint, it contended that the Fed has little control over the money stock and that the money stock plays only a minor role in the transmission mechanism linking Fed actions to the real sectors of the economy.

** It's clear that the monetary base is not pulled upward due to increased deposit creation by banks.


Carpenter, S and S. Demiralp, Money, Reserves, and the Transmission of Monetary Policy: Does the Money Multiplier Exist?", Finance and Economics Discussion Series Divisions of Research & Statistics and Monetary Affairs, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, D.C.2010

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Deficit spending got the US out of the Great Depression: Paul Samuelson on helicopter money

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 07/11/2013 - 11:44am in

Paul Samuelson, circa 2008 (see here at 1:31):

I'm full of sensible heresies. How do you think we got out -- in Roosevelt's time -- got out of that depression? How do you think the pernicious Adolf Hitler -- inheriting about the same, at least one third unemployment -- got out of it? And both of us got out of it in about the same number of years as you are getting to 1939. If you look at Mrs Schwartz's analysis of that, it's completely remote from the truth. 

This is not how it happened, but this is equivalent to how it happened: somebody invented helicopters. And somebody went to the printing press and printed-off millions and billions of legal tender. And then those helicopters flew over the poorer rural regions and the slums of the city. And it wasn't a problem of whether the money was going to be saved or wasn't going to be spent. It had nothing to do with pump-priming...It had nothing to do with jump-starting. [...] It was not a Federal Reserve operation.[...] 

Now, Mrs Schwartz and her collaborator, who's name I forgot at this moment [laughter], would say "well that helped to keep the M up". That's a joke! [The banker] didn't go out and start making new loans. He acquired more Treasury certificates, which had a yield of essentially zero. 

So we never got out of the Great Depression? Yes, we did. We did it essentially by deficit spending [...] 

The rest of this excellent discussion is well worth a careful listen.

Addendum : An ingenious reader has created a direct link to this excerpt on You Tube (see here). 2013-11-07