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The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

The Pseudo-Psychology Behind Monetary Policy

In his various writings, the champion of the monetarist school, Milton Friedman, argued that there is a variable time lag between changes in money supply and its effect on real output and prices. Friedman holds that in the short run changes in money supply will be followed by changes in real output.

However, in the long-run changes in money will only have an effect on prices. All this means that changes in money with respect to real economic activity tend to be neutral in the long-run and non-neutral in the short-run. Thus according to Friedman,

In the short-run, which may be as much as five or ten years, monetary changes affect primarily output. Over decades, on the other hand, the rate of monetary growth affects primarily prices.1

According to Friedman because of the difference in the time lag, the effect of the change in money supply shows up first in output and hardly at all in prices. It is only after a longer time lag that changes in money start to have an effect on prices. This is the reason according to Friedman why in the short-run money can grow the economy, while in the long run it has no effect on the real output.

According to Friedman, the main reason for the non-neutrality of money in the short-run is the variability in the time lag between money and the economy.

Consequently, he believes that if the central bank were to follow a constant money growth rate rule this would eliminate fluctuations caused by variable changes in the money supply growth rate. The constant money growth rate rule could also make money neutral in the short-run and the only effect that money would have is on general prices in the long run.

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This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s (1960s) Inflation Scare

This Isn’t Your Grandfather’s (1960s) Inflation Scare

inflation image 1

“This reminds me of the late 1960s when we experimented with low rates and fiscal stimulus to keep the economy at full employment and fund the Vietnam War. Today we don’t have a recession, let alone a war. We are setting the stage for accelerating inflation, just as we did in the late ‘60s.”
Paul Tudor Jones

As soon as the GOP followed its long-promised tax cuts with damn-the-deficit spending increases (who cares about the kids, right?), you knew to be ready for the Lyndon B. Johnson reminders.

And it’s worth remembering that LBJ pushed federal spending higher, pushed his central bank chairman against the wall (figuratively and, by several accounts, also literally) and eventually pushed inflation to post–Korean War highs.

Inflation kept climbing into Richard Nixon’s presidency, pausing for breath only during a brief 1970 recession (although without falling as Keynesian economists predicted) and then again during an attempt at wage and price controls that ended badly. Nixon’s controls disrupted commerce, angered businesses and consumers, and helped clear a path for the spiraling inflation of the mid- and late-1970s.

So naturally, when Donald Trump and the Republicans pulled off the biggest stimulus years into an expansion since LBJ’s guns, butter and batter the Fed chief, it should make us think twice about inflation risks—I’m not saying we shouldn’t do that.

But do the 1960s really tell us much about the inflation outlook today, or should that outlook reflect a different world, different economy and different conclusions?

I would say it’s more the latter, and I’ll give five reasons why.

1—Technology

I’ll make my first reason brief, because the deflationary effects of technology are both transparent and widely discussed, even if model-wielding economists often ignore them. When some of your country’s largest and most impactful companies are set up to help consumers pay lower prices, that should help to, well, contain prices.

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An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 3

“During the 1980s and 1990s, most industrial-country central banks were able to cage, if not entirely tame, the inflation dragon.”
—Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke began his oft-cited “helicopter speech” in 2002 with a few kind words about his peers, including the excerpt above. Speaking for central bankers, he took a large share of the credit for the low inflation of the 1980s and 1990s. Central bankers had gained a “heightened understanding” of inflation, he said, and he expected the future to bring even more inflation-taming success.

Of course, Bernanke’s cohorts took a few knocks in the boom–bust cycle that followed his speech, but their reputations as masters of inflation (and deflation) only grew. Today, the picture he painted seems even more firmly planted in the public mind than it was in 2002, notwithstanding recent data showing inflation creeping higher.

Public perceptions aren’t always accurate, though, and public figures aren’t the most reliable arbiters of credit and blame. In this 3-part article, I’m proposing a theory that challenges Bernanke’s narrative, and I’ll back the theory with data in Part 3. I’ll show that it leads to an inflation indicator with an excellent historical record.

But first, let’s recap a few points I’ve already discussed.

The Endless Tug-of-War

In Part 2, I said inflation depends on a tug-of-war between purchasing power (on the demand side) and capacity (on the supply side), and the war takes place within the circular flow, in which spending flows into income and income flows back to spending. Two circular-flow patterns and their causes demand particular attention:

  1. When banks inject money into the circular flow in the process of making loans, they can boost spending above the prior period’s income, thereby fattening the flow (or the opposite in the case of a deleveraging).

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An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

An Inflation Indicator to Watch, Part 1

“Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.”
—Milton Friedman

Have you ever questioned Milton Friedman’s famous claim about inflation?

Ever heard anyone else question it?

Unless you read obscure stuff written for the academic community, you’re probably not used to Friedman’s quote being challenged. And that’s despite a lousy forecasting record by economists who bought into his Monetarist methods.

Consider the following:

  • When Friedman’s strict Monetarism fizzled in the 1980s, it was doomed partly by his own forecasts. Instead of the disinflation the decade delivered, he expected inflation to reach 1970s levels, publicizingthat prediction in 1983 and then again in 1984, 1985 and 1986. Of course, years earlier he foresaw the 1970s jump in inflation, but the errant forecasts that came later left him wide open to a “clock twice a day” dismissal.
  • Monetarists suffered an even harsher blow in 2012, when the Conference Board finally threw in the towel on Friedman’s favorite indicator, removing M2 from its Leading Economic Index (LEI). Generally speaking, forecasters who put M2 in their models are like bachelors who put “live with mom” in their dating profiles—they haven’t been successful.
  • The many economists who expected quantitative easing (QE) to wreak havoc on inflation are, of course, on the defensive. Nine years after QE began, core inflation remains below the Fed’s 2% target, defying their Monetarist beliefs.

When it comes to explaining inflation, Monetarism hasn’t exactly nailed it. Then again, neither has Keynesianism, whose Phillips Curve confounds those who rely on it. You can toss inflation onto the bonfire of major events that mainstream theories fail to explain.

But I’ll argue there might be a better way.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

We Need the Pain that Comes with More Saving

We Need the Pain that Comes with More Saving We Need the Pain that Comes with More Saving

The endgame of monetary side manipulations is upon us. Since 2008, central banks have done what they thought was needed to bring the markets back from the pain they experienced during the crash. The problem, of course, is that these Keynesians and Monetarists placed the high level of stock markets as the goal of “policy” and confused booming asset levels with economic growth.

The enemy of prosperity, in the eyes of global economic policymakers, is the desire of the consumer to save and  businesses to refrain — even in the short term — from investment. As such, their “solution” was the very poison that has infected the Western world over the decades: more credit, lower costs of money, more push for “consumer demand.”

The Current Orthodoxy Is Failing

But “easy” monetary policy has merely led to debt-ridden economies and a bubble that is increasingly being exposed as a complete farce. January saw a market pullback tease that reminded investors that what was pushed up artificially can’t be sustained forever. Monetary policy, even if it goes to negative interest rate territory with a vengeance, isn’t going to be the miracle drug needed to provide a better economic foundation. Austrians have long known this. The mainstream is just starting to publicly admit it.

The Savings-Glut Myth

However, the right lessons are not being learned by either the economic policymakers or the financial pundits. In fact, the most dangerous economic fallacies still underlie their entire financial worldview. For instance, there is the ever-constant theme that there is a “glut of savings” and that low consumer demand is the chief villain that stands opposed to economic stabilization. Martin Wolf, writes in The Financial Times:

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We Know How This Ends, Part 2

We Know How This Ends, Part 2

In March 1969, while Buba was busy in the quicksand of its swaps and forward dollar interventions, Netherlands Bank (the Dutch central bank) had instructed commercial banks in Holland to pull back funds from the eurodollar market in order to bring up their liquidity positions which had dwindled dangerously during this increasing currency chaos.  At the start of April that year, the Swiss National Bank (Swiss central bank) was suddenly refusing its own banks dollar swaps in order that they would have to unwind foreign funds positions in the eurodollar market.  The Bank of Italy (the Italian central bank) had ordered some Italian banks to repatriate $800 million by the end of the second quarter of 1969.  It also raised the premium on forward lire at which it offered dollar swaps to 4% from 2%, discouraging Italian banks from engaging in covered eurodollar placements.

The “rising dollar” of 1969 had somehow become anathema to global banking liquidity even in local terms.

The FOMC, which had perhaps the best vantage point with which to view the unfolding events, documented the whole affair though stubbornly and maddeningly refusing to understand it all in greater context of radical paradigm banking and money alterations.  In other words, the FOMC meeting MOD’s for 1968 and 1969 give you an almost exact window into what was occurring as it occurred, but then, during the discussions that followed, degenerating into confusion and mystification as these economists struggled to only frame everything in their own traditional monetary understanding – a religious-like tendency that we can also appreciate very well at this moment.

At the April 1969 FOMC meeting, Charles A. Coombs, Special Manager of the System Open Market Account, reported that the bank liquidity issue then seemingly focused on Germany was indeed replicated in far more countries.

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We Know How This Ends, Part 1

We Know How This Ends, Part 1

The finance ministers and representatives of central banks from the world’s ten largest “capitalist” economies gathered in Bonn, West Germany on November 20, 1968. The global financial system was then enthralled by a third major currency crisis of the past year or so and there was great angst and disagreement as to what to do about it. While sterling had become something of a recurring devaluation tendency and francs perpetually, it seemed, in disarray, this time it was the Deutsche mark that was the great object of conjecture and anger. What happened at that meeting, a discussion that lasted thirty-two hours, depends upon which source material you choose to dissect it. From the point of view of the Germans, it was a convivial exchange of ideas from among partners; the Americans and British, a sometimes testy and perhaps heated debate about clearly divergent merits; the French were just outraged.

The communique issued at the end of the “conference” only said, “The ministers and governors had a comprehensive and thorough exchange of views on the basic problems of balance-of-payments disequilibria and on the recent speculative capital movements.” In reality, none of them truly cared about the former except as may be controlled by the latter. These “speculative capital movements” became the target of focused energy which would not restore balance and stability but ultimately see the end of the global monetary system.

Some background is needed before jumping into West Germany’s financial energy. The gold exchange standard under the Bretton Woods framework had appeared to have lasted as far as this monetary conference, but it had ended in practicality long before. In the late 1950’s, central banks, the Federal Reserve primary among them, had rendered gold especially and increasingly irrelevant in settling the world’s trade finance.

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