Leland Yeager at 90 – happy birthday

Today Leland Yeager is turning 90. Happy birthday!

Leland Yeager is an amazing scholar. My friend Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard put it very well in a comment on Facebook:

Such a good scholar and a very nice man. Who speaks Danish. And 10-20 other languages.”

Yes, Pete is right – Yeager speaks an incredible number of languages – but I of course mostly appreciates Yeager’s contribution to monetary thinking.

Leland_Yeager

I consider Yeager (with Clark Warburton) to have been one of the founding father of what we could call Disequilibrium Monetarism and I think that Yeager has written the best ever monetarist “textbook”. As I have put it earlier:

One could of course think I would pick something by Friedman and I certainly would recommend reading anything he wrote on monetary matters, but in fact my pick for the best monetarist book would probably be Leland Yeager’s “Fluttering Veil”.

In terms of something that is very readable I would clearly choose Friedman’s “Money Mischief”, but that is of course a collection of articles and not a textbook style book. Come to think of it – we miss a textbook style monetarist book.

I actually think that one of the most important things about a monetarist (text)book should be a description of the monetary transmission mechanism. The description of the transmission mechanism is very good in (Keynes’) Tract, but Yeager is even better on this point.

Friedman on the other hand had a bit of a problem explaining the monetary transmission mechanism. I think his problem was that he tried to explain things basically within a IS/LM style framework and that he was so focused on empirical work. One would have expected him to do that in “Milton Friedman’s Monetary Framework: A Debate with His Critics”, but I think he failed to do that. In fact that book is is probably the worst of all of Friedman’s books. It generally comes across as being rather unconvincing.

Yeager not only provides very good insight into understanding the monetary transmission mechanism, but he also in my view provides a key insight to understanding what happened in 2008. This is from The Fluttering Veil: (David Beckworth has earlier used the same quote)

Say’s law, or a crude version of it, rules out general overproduction: an excess supply of some things in relation to the demand for them necessarily constitutes an excess demand for some other things in relation to their supply…

The catch is this: while an excess supply of some things necessarily mean an excess demand for others, those other things may, unhappily, be money. If so, depression in some industries no longer entails boom in others…

[T]the quantity of money people desire to hold does not always just equal the quantity they possess. Equality of the two is an equilibrium condition, not an identity. Only in… monetary equilibrium are they equal. Only then are the total value of goods and labor supplied and demanded equal, so that a deficient demand for some kinds entails and excess demand for others.

Say’s law overlooks monetary disequilibrium. If people on the whole are trying to add more money to their total cash balances than is being added to the total money stock (or are trying to maintain their cash balances when the money stock is shrinking), they are trying to sell more goods and labor than are being bought. If people on the whole are unwilling to add as much money to their total cash balances as is being added to the total money stock (or are trying to reduce their cash balances when the money stock is not shrinking), they are trying to buy more goods and labor than are being offered.

The most striking characteristic of depression is not overproduction of some things and underproduction of others, but rather, a general “buyers’ market,” in which sellers have special trouble finding people willing to pay more for goods and labor. Even a slight depression shows itself in the price and output statistics of a wide range of consumer-goods and investment-goods industries. Clearly some very general imbalance must exist, involving the one thing–money–traded on all markets. In inflation, an opposite kind of monetary imbalance is even more obvious.

This is exactly what happened in 2008 – dollar demand rose sharply, but the Federal Reserve failed to ensure monetary equilibrium by not sufficiently increasing the supply of base money. That caused the Great Recession.

Finally I would also note that Yeager in his article (with Robert Greenfield)  Money and Credit confused: An Appraisal of Economic Doctrine and Federal Reserve Procedure explained the very crucial difference between money and credit. 

In a great tribute (published yesterday) to Yeager Bill Woolsey - Market Monetarist and student of Yeager – explains:

Yeager was certainly aware that a banking system might respond to depressed economic conditions by reducing the quantity of money rather than holding it steady.    This points to an additional major emphasis of his work–the distinction between money and credit.   For Yeager, money is the medium of exchange.   The quantity is the amount that exists and the demand is the amount that people would like to hold.   Credit, on the other hand, involves borrowing and lending.   Banks can lend money into existence, expanding the quantity of money even if there is no one who wants to hold the additional balances.   And those wishing to hold additional money balances have no directly reason to show up at a bank seeking to borrow.   The interest rate that clears credit markets does not necessarily keep the quantity of money equal to the demand to hold it.    It is the price level for goods and services, along with the prices of resources, including nominal wages, that must adjust to keep the real quantity  of money equal to the demand to hold it.

One could only hope that the central bankers in Frankfurt would study Yeager (and Woolsey!) to understand this crucial difference between money and credit and then we might get monetary easing – to ensure monetary equilibrium rather than the numerous odd credit policies we have seen in recent years. The problem is not a “broken transmission mechanism”, but monetary disequilibrium. No one explains that better than Leland Yeager.

I could – and should – write a lot more on Leland Yeager (for example on his contribution to international trade and international monetary theory), but I will leave it for that for now.

But you shouldn’t stop reading yet. Kurt Schuler over at freebanking.org has collected a number of excellent tributes to Leland Yeager from a number of his friends, colleagues and former students. Here is the impressive list:

Thomas D. Willett
David Tuerck
Roger Koppl
Warren Coats
Kenneth Elzinga
Jim Dorn
Robert Greenfield
Kurt Schuler

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George Selgin on Free Banking and NGDP targeting

I should really be sleeping but George Selign just put out a blog post on Free Banking and NGDP Targeting.

This is how George kicks off:

“Kurt’s recent post on NGDP targeting just happens to come right on time to introduce one I’d been contemplating concerning the connection between such targeting and free banking. While many readers may suppose the two things to represent entirely distinct, if not antagonistic, approaches to monetary reform, I have always regarded them as complementary. Yet I also agree with Kurt in regarding NGDP targeting as “a form of central economic planning.”

Am I contradicting myself? Much as I’d like to quote Walt Whitman, I don’t think I am. Instead, I think that it is those who would insist on the incompatibility of free banking and NGDP targeting whose reasoning is faulty. They fall victim, I believe, to a category error, namely, that of conflating banking regimes with base money regimes.”

Read the rest here.

Bedtime for me…

PS please read this as well.

Kurt Schuler endorses NGDP targeting

Long time free banking advocate Kurt Schuler has a new piece at freebanking.org in which he endorses NGDP targeting.

This is Kurt:

Given that I do not expect to see free banking in the immediate future, I would like to see one, or preferably more, central banks that now target inflation try targeting nominal GDP targeting instead. Targeting nominal GDP has some prospective advantages over inflation targeting. One is that nominal GDP targeting allows what seems to be a more appropriate behavior for prices over the business cycle, allowing “good” (productivity- rather than money supply-driven) deflation during the boom and “good” inflation during the bust.

I agree very much with Kurt on this and it is in fact one of the key reasons why I support NGDP targeting. Central banks should indeed allow ‘good deflation’ as well as ‘good inflation’. Hence, to the extent the present drop in inflation in for example the US reflects a positive supply shock the Federal Reserve should not react to that by easing monetary policy. I have discussed that topic in among others this recent post.

Back to Kurt:

Another is that inflation targeting as it has been both most widely proposed and as it has always been adopted has been a “bygones are bygones” version, with no later compensation for past misses of the target. During the Great Recession, many central banks undershot their targets, even allowing deflation to occur. They never corrected their mistakes. Nominal GDP targeting in the form that Scott Sumner and others have advocated it requires the central bank to undo its past mistakes.

Note here that Kurt comes out in favour of the Market Monetarist explanation of the Great Recession. It was the Federal Reserve and other central  banks’ failure to keep NGDP ‘on track’ – and even their failure to just hit their inflation targets – that caused the crisis.

And I think it is notable that Kurt notes that “(i)f it (the central bank) undershot last year’s target, it has to increase the growth rate of the monetary base, other things being equal, to meet this year’s target, which is last year’s target plus several percentage points.” 

That of course indirectly support for monetary easing to get the NGDP level back on track. I am sure that will enrage some Austrian School readers of freebanking.org in the same way as they recently got very upset by George Selgin apparent defense of quantitative easing in 2008/9. See for example Joe Salerno’s angry response to George Selgin here. See George’s reply to Joe (and Pete Boettke) here.

I am, however, not at all surprised by Kurt’s views on this issues – I knew them already – but I am happy to once again be reminded that Free Banking thinkers like Kurt and George and Market Monetarists think very alike. In fact I personally have a hard time disagreeing with anything Kurt and George has to say about monetary theory. And I would also note that Kurt has been an advocate of the market based approach to monetary policy analysis advocated particularly by Manley Johnson and Bob Keleher in their book “Monetary Policy, A Market Price Approach”. The Johnson-Keleher view of markets and money of course comes very close to being Market Monetarism. For more on this topic see Kurt on Keleher here.

However, I would also use this occasion to stress that Market Monetarists should learn from people like George and Kurt and we should particularly listen to their more cautious approach to central banks as hugely imperfect institutions. This is Kurt:

With nominal GDP targeting it may well also happen that there will be flaws that only become apparent through experience. My reason for thinking that flaws are likely is that, like inflation targeting, nominal GDP targeting is an imposed monetary arrangement. It is not a fully competitive one that that people are at liberty to cease using at will, individually, the way they can cease buying Coca-Coca and start buying Pepsi or apple juice instead. Nominal GDP targeting when carried out by a central bank, which has monopoly powers, is a form of central economic planning subject to the same criticisms that apply to all forms of central planning. In particular, it does not allow for the occurrence of the type of discovery of knowledge that comes from being able to replace one arrangement with another through competition.

I agree with Kurt here. Even if NGDP targeting is preferable to other “targets” central banks are still to a large extent very flared institutions. Therefore, it is in my opinion not enough just to advocate NGDP targeting – or even worse just advocating monetary easing in the present situation – we also need to fundamentally reform of monetary institutions.

Finally, advocating NGDP targeting is not just a plain argument for more monetary easing – not even in the present situation. Hence, it is for example notable that the recent drop in inflation in for example the US to a very large extent seems to have been caused by a positive supply shock. This has caused some to call for the fed to step up monetary easing. However, to the extent that what we are seeing is a positive supply this of course is “good deflation”. So yes, there are numerous reasons to argue for a continued expansion of the US money base, but lower inflation is not necessarily such reason.

Wrap-up: My Free Banking related posts

Over at freebanking.org Kurt Schuler has been asking his readers for references to blogs on Free Banking. I know Kurt is a reader of my blog so he obviously knows that I from time to time write about Free Banking and Free Banking related issues. However, I thought this would be a good oppurtunity to make a list of some my Free Banking related blog posts.  You will find the list below.

There is no doubt that I think it is highly relevant to continue to discuss Free Banking – both on its own term and why it might be a alternative to central banking and as a way to in general understand monetary matters better. I would, however, hope that we in the future will see more forward-looking research on Free Banking than we have seen in the past. Hence, in the past a lot of the research on Free Banking has been focused historical examples of Free Banking, but there has been much less research done on how Free Banking systems could develop in the further. What reforms are for example necessary to promote Free Banking in the future?

My posts on especially monetary reform in Africa has to some extent been an attempt to start a debate about the possibility of monetary reform in Africa to promote Free Banking solutions. In my view with the right reforms we could see Free Banking solutions develop fast in Africa. What we need now is research to help policy makers to pass the right reforms. The expirience for example M-pesa in Kenya in my view clearly shows that African will be very happy to embrace free money as an alternative to monopolized money.

Concluding, my blog is not primarily about Free Banking, but certainly I think that Free Banking is a valid alternative to central banking that needs to be discussed much more seriously and I think that there is a real opportunity that we could Free Banking develop as a serious alternative central banking – particularly in Africa.

Earlier Free Banking related posts:

Selgin interview on Free Banking

Free Banking theorists should study Argentina’s experience with parallel currencies

M-pesa – Free Banking in Africa?

NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative (we try again)

NGDP level targeting – the true Free Market alternative

When central banking becomes central planning

“Good E-money” can solve Zimbabwe’s ‘coin problem’

The (mobile) market just solved Zimbabwe’s “coin problem”

Forget about East African Monetary Union – let the M-pesa do the job

Time to try WIR in Greece or Ireland? (I know you are puzzled)

The spike in Kenyan inflation and why it might offer a (partial) solution to the euro crisis

Atlas Sound Money Project Interview with George Selgin

Counterfeiting, nazis and monetary separation

L Street – Selgin’s prescription for Money Market reform

George Selgin outlines strategy for the privatisation of the money supply

http://marketmonetarist.com/2012/01/13/dont-forget-the-market-in-market-monetarism/

Scott Sumner and the Case against Currency Monopoly…or how to privatize the Fed

Selgin just punched the 100-percent wasp’s nest again

Selgin on Quasi-Commodity Money (Part 1)

Patri Friedman on Market Monetarism

Here is Patri Friedman on his blog “Patri’s Peripatetic Peregrinations”:

“I sent a friend an intro to market monetarism (a modern, blogosphere-inspired adjustment to the traditional monetarism my grandfather helped create). He was surprised I believed that printing money could be good, rather than agreeing with the Austrians.”

I am happy to see that Patri has read my paper on Market Monetarism.

There is of course nothing wrong in thinking that “printing money could be good” (under certain circumstances). In fact this is completely in line with what Patri’s grandfather Milton Friedman argued in terms of the Great Depression and the Japanese crisis.

Patri in his post also discusses how a “helicopter drop” could happen in a world of digital cash. Interestingly enough this discussion is similar to a recent internal Market Monetarist debate between Nick Rowe, Bill Woolsey and Scott Sumner about whether money is a medium of exchange or a medium of account. See for example here, here and here. Kurt Schuler also has contributed to the discussion. Finally Miles Kimball similarly has a very interesting post on the case for electronic money.

Patri’s discussion of digital cash to some extent also relates to my own discussion of monetary reform in Africa and the development of mobile based money (See for example here, herehere and here).

Anyway, I am happy to Patri seems to be showing some sympathy for Market Monetarism.

HT Lasse Birk Olesen

Friedman, Schuler and Hanke on exchange rates – a minor and friendly disagreement

Before Arthur Laffer got me very upset on Monday I had read an excellent piece by Kurt Schuler on Freebanking.org about Milton Friedman’s position on floating exchange rates versus fixed exchange rates.

Kurt kindly refers to my post on differences between the Swedish and Danish exchange regimes in which I argue that even though Milton Friedman as a general rule prefered floating exchange rates to fixed exchange rates he did not argue that floating exchange rates was always preferable to pegged exchange rates.

Kurt’s comments at length on the same topic and forcefully makes the case that Friedman is not the floating exchange rate proponent that he is sometimes made up to be. Kurt also notes that Steve Hanke a couple of years ago made a similar point. By complete coincidence Steve had actually a couple of days ago sent me his article on the topic (not knowing that I actually had just read it recently and wanted to do a post on it).

Both Kurt and Steve are proponents of currency boards – and I certainly think currency boards under some circumstances have some merit – so it is not surprising they both stress Friedman’s “open-mindeness” on fixed exchange rates. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in arguing that Friedman was pragmatic on the exchange rate issue rather than dogmatic. That said, I think that both Kurt and Steve “overdo” it a bit.

I certainly think that Friedman’s first choice on exchange rate regime was floating exchange rates. In fact I think he even preffered “dirty floats” and “managed floats” to pegged exchange rates. When I recently reread his memories (“Two Lucky People”) I noted how often he writes about how he advised governments and central bank officials around the world to implement a floating exchange rate regime.

In “Two Lucky People” (page 221) Friedman quotes from his book “Money Mischief”:

“…making me far more skeptical that a system of freely floating exchange rates is politically feasible. Central banks will meddle – always, of corse, with the best of intentions. Nevertheless, even dirty floating exchange rates seem to me preferable to pegged rates, though not necessarily to a unified currency”

I think this quote pretty well illustrates Friedman’s general position: Floating exchange rates is the first choice, but under some circumstances pegged exchange rates or currency unions (an “unified currency”) is preferable.

On this issue I find myself closer to Friedman than to Kurt’s and Steve’s view. Kurt and Steve are both long time advocates of currency boards and hence tend to believe that fixed exchange rates regimes are preferable to floating exchange rates. To me this is not a theoretical discussion, but rather an empirical and practical position.

Finally, lately I have lashed out at some US free market oriented economists who I think have been intellectually dishonest for partisan reasons. Kurt and Steve are certainly not examples of this and contrary to many of the “partisan economists” Kurt and Steve have great knowledge of monetary theory and history. In that regard I am happy to recommend to my readers to read Steve’s recent piece on global monetary policy. See here and here. You should not be surprised to find that Steve’s position is that the main problem today is too tight rather than too easy monetary policy – particularly in the euro zone.

PS I should of course note that Kurt is a Free Banking advocate so he ideally prefers Free Banking rather anything else. I have no disagreement with Kurt on this issue.

PPS Phew… it was much nicer to write this post than my recent “anger posts”.

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Related post:
Schuler on money demand – and a bit of Lithuanian memories…

Schuler on money demand – and a bit of Lithuanian memories…

Here is Kurt Schuler over at freebanking.org:

“During the financial crisis of 2008-09, many central banks expanded the monetary base. In some countries, the base remains high; in the United States, for instance it is roughly triple its pre-crisis level. Such an expansion, unprecedented in peacetime, has convinced many observers that a bout of high inflation will occur in the near future. That leads us to the lesson of the day:

To talk intelligently about the money supply, you must also consider the demand for money. Starting from a situation where supply and demand are in balance, the supply can triple, but if demand quadruples, money is tight. Similarly, the supply can fall in half, but if demand is only one-quarter its previous level, money is loose.

In normal times, it is a fairly safe assumption that demand is roughly constant or changing predictably, but in abnormal times, it is a dangerous assumption. No high inflation occurred in any country that expanded the monetary base rapidly during the financial crisis. Evidently, demand expanded along with supply. In fact, Scott Sumner and other “market monetarists” think supply did not keep up with demand. Similarly, nobody should be perplexed if a case arises where the monetary base is constant or even falling but inflation is rising sharply. Absent a natural disaster or some other nonmonetary event, it is evidence that demand for the monetary base is falling but supply is not keeping pace.”

Kurt is of course very right – the way to see whether monetary policy is tight or loose is to look at the money supply relative to the money demand. Since, we can not observe the difference between the money supply and the money demand directly Market Monetarists recommend to look at asset prices. We know that tight money (stronger money demand growth than the money supply growth) leads to a drop in equity prices, lower bond yields (due to lower inflation expectations), a stronger currency and for large economies like the US or China lower commodity prices.

One thing Kurt did not mention – and I a bit puzzled about that as it is a very important argument for Free Banking – is that in a world with Free Banking the total privatisation of the money supply means that the money supply (ideally?) is perfectly elastic and that any increase in money demand is meet by a equally large increase in the money supply. The same will be the case in a world with central banks targeting the NGDP level. With a perfectly elastic money supply crisis like the Great Depression and the Great Recession is likely to be much more unlikely.

PS I am writing this while I am in Lithuania – a country where Kurt’s (and George Selgin’s) work played a key role nearly 20 years ago in the introduction of the country’s currency board system. See more on this here.

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