There is a pragmatic (but not a libertarian) case for a “Basic Income Guarantee”

When I first read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose when I was in my teens two things particularly impressed me. First of course Friedman’s monetarist ideas and second his strategies for moving from a Welfare State to a classical liberal society.

My blog is mostly committed to monetarist ideas. However, in this blog post I will write a bit about the strategies to move towards a classical liberal society. Two of such strategies that Milton Friedman suggested in Free to Choose (and in Capitalism and Freedom for that matter) are education vouchers and the so-called Negative Income Tax.

I have always had considerable sympathy for these ideas and still find both ideas much preferable to most of the welfare schemes we know from today’s Western societies. Not because I think of these ideas as ideal, but because I think there are good pragmatic reasons to advocate these ideas. After all I consider myself a pragmatic revolutionary.

Recently the idea of a Negative Income Tax has gotten some attention among libertarian bloggers. Or rather the more generalized form of a Basic Income Guarantee.

What is a Basic Income Guarantee?

In a recent blog post my friend Sam Bowman who is Research Director at the Adam Smith Institute in London makes the case for a Basic Income and explains the basic idea. This is Sam:

The British government spends more on welfare than it does on anything else apart from healthcare. The benefits system is arcane and unwieldy, a mish-mash of disparate attempts to address different social problems in a piecemeal fashion. It creates perverse incentives for those on it, such as people stuck in a ‘benefits trap’ where they lose almost as much money in benefits by working as they are earning, and distorts entire markets by inflating prices, as housing benefit does to the housing market.

…The ideal welfare system is a basic income, replacing the existing anti-poverty programmes the government carries out (tax credits and most of what the Department for Work and Pensions does besides pensions and child benefit). This would guarantee a certain income to people who have no earnings from work at all, and would gradually be tapered out according to earnings for people who do have an income until the tax-free allowance point, at which point they would begin to be taxed.

For example, we could set a basic income of £10,000/year by using a cut-off point of £20,000/year, and withdrawal rate of 50%. The basic income supplement would be equal to 50% of the difference between someone’s earnings from work and the £20,000 cut-off point. A person with no earnings would get a basic income of £10,000/year; a person who earned £10,000/year would get a supplementary income of £5,000; a person on £15,000/year would get a supplementary income of £2,500; and a person on £20,000 would get nothing (and begin paying tax on the next pound they earned).

These numbers are representative: no need to tell me that £10,000 is too low or too high. What matters is the mechanism.

What Sam here suggests is basically a system similar to the Negative Income Tax, which Friedman suggested in Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose.

Matt Zwolinski’s libertarian case for redistribution

Sam is not the only libertarian to recently having made the case a Basic Income Guarantee. Hence, in a recent post on libertarianism.org Matt Zwolinski spells out The Libertarian Case for a Basic Income.

I must admit that when I read Matt’s blog post I was not totally convinced by his arguments – despite my general sympathy for the idea – and I felt like writing a blog post refuting some of Matt’s arguments for a Basic Income.

David Friedman, however, beat me to it and in a new blog post he discusses Matt’s arguments.

I find myself generally agreeing with David’s objections to Matt’s position on a Basic Income Guarantee. Or maybe I should say David’s objections to Matt’s libertarian case for income redistribution. That, however, does not mean that I agree with all of David’s objections as you will see below.

Matt makes three overall arguments for a Basic Income.

1) A Basic Income Guarantee would be much better than the current welfare state

This is Matt:

Current federal social welfare programs in the United States are an expensive, complicated mess. According to Michael Tanner, the federal government spent more than $668 billion on over one hundred and twenty-six anti-poverty programs in 2012. When you add in the $284 billion spent by state and local governments, that amounts to $20,610 for every poor person in America.

Wouldn’t it be better just to write the poor a check?

Each one of those anti-poverty programs comes with its own bureaucracy and its own Byzantine set of rules. If you want to shrink the size and scope of government, eliminating those departments and replacing them with a program so simple it could virtually be administered by a computer seems like a good place to start. Eliminating bloated bureaucracies means more money in the hands of the poor and lower costs to the taxpayer. Win/Win.

A Basic Income Guarantee would also be considerably less paternalistic then the current welfare state, which is the bastard child of “conservative judgment and progressive condescension” toward the poor, in Andrea Castillo’s choice wordsConservatives want to help the poor, but only if they can demonstrate that they deserve it by jumping through a series of hoops meant to demonstrate their willingness to work, to stay off drugs, and preferably to settle down into a nice, stable, bourgeois family life. And while progressives generally reject this attempt to impose traditional values on the poor, they have almost always preferred in-kind grants to cash precisely as a way of making sure the poor get the help they “really” need. Shouldn’t we trust poor people to know what they need better than the federal government?

I think Matt has a point here – and it is very similar to the kind of argument Milton Friedman made for the Negative Income Taxif you are going to redistribute income anyway then why not do it in the least paternalistic way and at the lowest possible economic cost?

This is not a particularly strict libertarian argument, but from a purely pragmatic perspective it makes a lot of sense. And it is surely much less statist and interventionist than most of the present day welfare schemes in the Western world.

However, David Friedman explains why this might be less simple than his dad (and Matt and I) seemed to think. This is David:

That is probably true (that the Basic Income would be an improvement compared to the present welfare system), especially if you imagine it replacing not only welfare but all policies, such as the farm program, that are defended as helping poor people. The problem, as Matt appears to realize, is that if a guaranteed minimum income is introduced it will almost certainly be an addition to, not a substitute for, current programs.

David clearly also has a point, but I am afraid that this is an argument basically against any free market reforms that is not 100% denationalization and I can certainly easily see welfare reforms inspired by the Negative Income Tax/Basic Income Guarantee that will improve that present welfare system.

Hence, in the case of for example the Danish wide-ranging welfare system I could easily imagine a number different welfare schemes being “merged” into a Negative Income Tax style system – for example a NIT for all able-bodied persons between the age of 18 and 35 years. That surely would be an improvement over the present system. Would it be political realistic? Probably not, but realistic enough to being discussed and to generate ideas for genuine welfare reform.

2) A Basic Income Guarantee might be required on libertarian grounds as reparation for past injustice

Back to Matt’s second argument for a Basic Income:

One of libertarianism’s most distinctive commitments is its belief in the near-inviolability of private property rights. But it does not follow from this commitment that the existing distribution of property rights ought to be regarded as inviolable, because the existing distribution is in many ways the product of past acts of uncompensated theft and violence. However attractive libertarianism might be in theory, “Libertarianism…Starting Now!” has the ring of special pleading, especially when it comes from the mouths of people who have by and large emerged at the top of the bloody and murderous mess that is our collective history.

Radical libertarians have proposed several approaches to dealing with past injustice. But one suggestion that a lot of people seem to forget about comes from an unlikely source. Most people remember Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia as a fairly uncompromising defense of natural-rights libertarianism. And most people remember that Nozick wrote that any state that goes beyond the minimal functions of protecting its citizens’ negative rights would be itself rights-violating and therefore unjust.

But Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice is a historical one, and an important component of that theory is a “principle of rectification” to deal with past injustice. Nozick himself provided almost no details at all regarding the nature or proper application of this principle (though others have speculated). But in one fascinating passage, Nozick suggests that we might regard patterned principles of justice (like Rawls’ Difference Principle) as “rough rules of thumb” for approximating the result of a detailed application of the principle of rectification. Here’s what Nozick has to say:

“Perhaps it is best to view some patterned principles of distributive justice as rough rules of thumb meant to approximate the general results of applying the principle of rectification of injustice. For example, lacking much historical information, and assuming (1) that victims of injustice generally do worse than they otherwise would and (2) that those from the least well-off group in the society have the highest probabilities of being the (descendants of) victims of the most serious injustice who are owed compensation by those who benefited from the injustices (assumed to be those better off, though sometimes the perpetrators will be others in the worst-off group), then a rough rule of thumb for rectifying injustices might seem to be the following: organize society so as to maximize the position of whatever group ends up least well-off in the society (p. 231).”

In a world in which all property was acquired by peaceful processes of labor-mixing and voluntary trade, a tax-funded Basic Income Guarantee might plausibly be held to violate libertarian rights. But our world is not that world. And since we do not have the information that would be necessary to engage in a precise rectification of past injustices, and since simplyignoring those injustices seems unfair, perhaps something like a Basic Income Guarantee can be justified as an approximate rectification?

I must admit that I don’t find Matt’s arguments particularly convincing – as I didn’t find Nozick’s arguments convincing (when I long ago read Anarchy, State and Utopia). The problem in my view is that Matt is trying to make a libertarian argument in favour of redistribution (rather than just in favour of a Basic Income Guarantee). I generally don’t think you can make such an argument. David seems to agree:

As he (Matt) points out, the existing state of the world is in part a result of past rights violations. Land claims in libertarian theory may be based on a series of voluntary transfers beginning with the person who first mixed his labor with the land, but many land claims in the real world run back to an initial seizure by force. Similarly, claims to other forms of wealth must be justified, in libertarian moral theory, by a chain of voluntary transactions back to a first creator.

In at least some cases that chain is interrupted by involuntary transactions. Consider a house built by slave labor. Is the legitimate owner the person with the present title to it or the heir of the slaves forced to build it, or is it perhaps partly the legitimate property of one and partly of the other? What about property in other forms inherited through a chain that leads back to a slave holding or slave trading ancestor who owed, but never paid, compensation to his victims?

Most libertarians would recognize this as a legitimate problem, although many might point at the practical difficulty of establishing just ownership in such cases as justifying some sort of statute of limitations with regard to wrongs in the distant past. Matt’s alternative, suggested by a passage he quotes from Nozick, is to argue that the descendants of those who gained by past rights violations are on average better off than the descendants of those who lost, hence redistribution from richer to poorer in the form of a guaranteed minimum income represents an approximate rectification for past injustice.

While the argument suggests that transfers from richer to poorer might do a better job of rectification of past injustices than random transfers, it does not imply that such transfers do a better job than doing nothing, that they on net reduce injustice rather than increasing it. Some present wealth may be due to causes that are, from the standpoint of libertarian moral theory, unjust, but not all. If I justly owe you forty cents, taking a dollar from me and giving it to you makes the resulting distribution less just, not more. Unless most inequalities are inherited from past rights violations, a claim I think few libertarians would support, the logic of the argument breaks down.

3. A Basic Income Guarantee might be required to meet the basic needs of the poor

Again back to Matt and his third argument:

The previous two arguments both view a basic income as a kind of “second-best” policy, desirable not for its own sake but either as less-bad than what we’ve currently got or a necessary corrective to past injustice. But can libertarians go further than this? Could there be a libertarian case for the basic income not as a compromise but as an ideal?

There can and there has.

Both Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek advocated for something like a Basic Income Guarantee as a proper function of government, though on somewhat different grounds. Friedman’s argument comes in chapter 9 of his Capitalism and Freedomand is based on the idea that private attempts at relieving poverty involve what he called “neighborhood effects” or positive externalities. Such externalities, Friedman argues, mean that private charity will be undersupplied by voluntary action.

“[W]e might all of us be willing to contribute to the relief of poverty, provided everyone else did. We might not be willing to contribute the same amount without such assurance.”

And so, Friedman concludes, some “governmental action to alleviate poverty” is justified. Specifically, government is justified in setting “a floor under the standard of life of every person in the community,” a floor that takes the form of his famous “Negative Income Tax” proposal.

I must admit when I first read Friedman’s argument (or maybe later…) I found it a quite weak argument for redistribution and I don’t find it any stronger today. Here again I agree with David:

One version of that is to point out that private charity faces a public good problem, hence that we are on net better off if government taxes us to provide the charity that each of us wants provided but would prefer that other people pay for. This is not a particularly libertarian argument, but it is  essentially the same as one that many libertarians accept in the context of national defense.

One problem with the argument here is that we do not have any way of setting up mechanisms for income transfer that can only work in the way we would want them to. Once those mechanisms exist, individuals will try to game or alter them in order to be transferred to rather than from. That will impose real costs—resources spent gaming existing rules and lobbying to change them. And we may end up, as we often have in the past, with transfers that go up the income ladder rather than down or in all directions at once.

I totally agree – in fact I mostly tend to find collective goods arguments for government intervention to be quite weak as there are other mechanisms than government intervention to solve collective goods problems and furthermore Public Choice theory teaches us that there is no guarantee that government intervention will solve collective goods problems.

The Basic Income Guarantee should inspire welfare reform (but there is no libertarian case for redistribution)

Concluding, so while I have a lot of sympathy for Matt’s suggestion for a Basic Income Guarantee I have major problems with his arguments for income redistribution. Hence, I continue to think a Basic Income Guarantee or a Negative Income Tax is a good idea as a denationalization strategy that could bring us (a little) closer to the ideal of a non-paternalitic classical liberal society.

In that sense even though I agree with Matt’s policy suggestion (for a Basic Income Guarantee) I do not agree with his overall arguments for this suggestion. Overall, it seems to me that Matt’s Bleeding Heart Libertarian project in general is to find libertarian (sounding) arguments for income redistribution and even though I generally find this discussion interesting and an inspiring I seldom find myself convinced by the arguments. That is unfortunately also the case this time around.

PS Even though I do not consider myself to be a Bleeding Heart Libertarian (or a “left-libertarian”) I have quite a bit of sympathy for their general focus on “social justice” and their general arguments that classical liberal societies should not serve certain “class interests”. Capitalism is not an ideal to benefit the capitalists.

PPS don’t expect me to venture into a lot of political-philosophical posts in the future. I am an economist and I am obsessed with monetary matters. That will also be the case in the future and I do not for one second try to pretend to be more clever than people like Matt when it comes to political philosophy. I am not.

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The Peltzman effect and banking regulation

I like to tell people that I prefer taxis where the driver is not wearing a seatbelt. This mostly confuses people – at least non-economists – because the general perception is that people who do not wear seatbelts are more “irresponsible”.

However, if you know about the so-called Peltzman effect you would not be surprised by my preference of “irresponsible” taxi drivers. The Peltzman effect is named after Chicago economist Sam Peltzman.

In a very controversial article - “The Effects of Automobile Safety Regulation” - in the Journal of Political Economy from 1975 Peltzman showed that contrary to what should have expected the introduction of seat belt laws in the US did not reduce the total number death accidents in traffic.

Here Russ Robert (in a blog post from 2006) explains Peltzman’s results:

“Peltzman argued that mandatory safety devices such as seat belts reduced the probability of harm to the driver if the car crashed. That in turn would encourage people to drive more recklessly. The effect on the number of deaths was an empirical question. Which effect would be larger—the harm from the increase in the number of accidents or the reduction in harm when an accident occurred?

Holding other factors constant that might change the number of accidents (and this is never easy but he did the best he could with the data at hand), Sam found that mandatory seat belts did indeed cause more accidents. But this effect was roughly the same as the effect in the opposite direction, that accidents were less harmful. So the net number of fatalities of drivers was unaffected by the law. Sam found some evidence that the effect of the law might be to reduce driver fatalities. Unfortunately, because drivers were more reckless, there were more accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists. So their death rate due to cars increased. Total deaths were unchanged.”

It is obviously that such considerations are not only relevant for road safety. In fact we should be aware of Peltzman effects in all forms of regulation. And that particularly seems to be the case for financial regulation.

Hence, what does it for example mean when we introduce deposit insurance schemes to reduce to reduce “risks” in the financial sector. Well, following the logic of the Peltzman effect deposit insurance might reduce of bank runs (“drivers being killed”), but it will also make both bank owners and depositors take bigger risks. In fact depositors would tend to prefer more risky banks because the downside is limited by the deposit insurance if the bank collapses while banks, which take larger risks will be able to pay higher interest rates on deposits.

This would also mean that the introduction of deposit insurance schemes is likely to lower the amount of capital banks chose to hold. This is exactly what Sam Peltzman is arguing a great lecture from 2011, which I stumbled upon while searching YouTube for stuff on the Peltzman effect. Take a look here. Peltzman’s account of the development in banking regulation in the US since the Great Depression is fascinating stuff.

Peltzman spelled out similar argues in his 1970 article “Capital Investment in Commercial Banking and Its Relation to Portfolio Regulation” (also from the Journal of Political Economy), in which he also demonstrates that capital ratio did indeed drop significantly in the US after the introduction of deposit insurance.

Anybody who doubt that such a Peltzman effect exists in financial regulation should study how the Icelandic banks prior to the Icelandic collapse in 2008 set-up internet based bank in countries with generous deposit insurance schemes.

PS Gordon Tulluck came up with what I believe is the best safety device for cars – a spike attached to the steering wheel (I got this example from David Friedman’s fantastic book “Hidden Order”.)

PPS I should stress that just because deposit insurance likely leads to more risk taking and lower capital ratio it still could be desirable regulation and proponents of deposit insurance will undoubtedly point to the fact that deposit insurance led to sharp drop in bank run episodes in the US after it was introduced in 1930s. Hence, it is a trade-off, which policy makers have to be aware of.

HT Blake Johnson

David Friedman speaking in London

Earlier this week I was in London. Luckily it coincided with David Friedman speaking at the National Liberal Club in London. So I attended David’s presentation. The event was arranged by the Adam Smith Institute.

I am a great fan of David and since David is so nice to drop my blog from time to time I think it is fitting to post a link to David’s presentation here (even though it is certainly not about monetary theory or policy).

Take a look at David’s presentation “Law without the state” here.

You might recognise these two gentlemen (thanks to Brian Micklethwait for taking the picture).

David Friedman Lars Christensen

You might know the words, but do you get the music?

Back in March I wrote this:

“Some of the most clever economists I have encountered are actually not formally educated economists. In fact a number of Nobel Prize winners in Economics are not formally educated economists. One of my big heroes David Friedman is not formally educated as an economist, but to me he is certainly an economist – one of the greatest around. Another example is Gordon Tullock who was trained as a lawyer, but he is certainly an economist – in fact to me Gordon Tullock is one of the most clever economists of his generation and it is a complete mystery to me that he has not yet been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. The way I perceive people’s skills as economists has nothing to do with their formal education. To me Economics is not an education. Economics is a state of mind.

Therefore, you can easily be an economist without having a formal education as an economist. As a consequence there are also people who have been able to attain a formal title as an economist without reaching that higher state of mind that a real economist has. I have unfortunately also encountered many of this kind of “economists” – economists by title, but not in mind. Many of these people are unfortunately high ranking policy makers.”

For years I have been running around telling people that “Economics is not an education. Economics is a state of mind” and I have always believed that I have come up with a great saying. However, it turned out – as with most of my views – that I in some way got it from Milton Friedman. Over the weekend I was re-reading a couple of chapters in Milton’s and Rose’s  memoirs “Two Lucky People”. On page 543 I stumbled on this quote from Milton:

“I have long believed that a feeling for economics is something people are born with rather acquire through education. Many highly intelligent and even highly trained professional economists knows the words but don’t get the music. On the other hand, people with little or no training in economics may have an intuitive feeling for it.”

It be frank I don’t remember ever reading that before, but it is very close to what I said in March. But it is getting even more interesting when you have a look at some comments David Friedman was so kind to make on my post back in March:

“My father’s standard example of your point was Leo Szilard, a physicist who was also at Chicago. Apparently Szilard would come into my father’s office with ideas in economics. Generally they were things economists had worked out much earlier–but they were right….I don’t know of anything my father wrote about Szilard–I’m going by memory, but I’m almost certain I have the right physicist.”

Well David, your father did indeed write about Szilard. This is the footnote (7) to the Milton quote above:

“Another example is my former University of Chicago colleague Leo Szilard, the great physicist and chemist who first discovered the principle of the  chain reaction, and indeed, patented it. He was repeatedly reinventing economic theorems, and getting them right” 

I think this is a very good example of why I have in my book on Friedman called him a “pragmatic revolutionary”. Friedman makes you think. He so to speak installs a certain way of thinking in your brain once you get exposed  to him. It happened to me back in the mid-1980s. Obvious David got the exposure from birth.

Economics is not an education. Economics is a state of the mind!

Some of the most clever economists I have encountered are actually not formally educated economists. In fact a number of Nobel Prize winners in Economics are not formally educated economists. One of my big heroes David Friedman is not formally educated as an economist, but to me he is certainly an economist – one of the greatest around. Another example is Gordon Tullock  who was trained as a lawyer, but he is certainly an economist – in fact to me Gordon Tullock is one of the most clever economists of his generation and it is a complete mystery to me that he has not yet been awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics. The way I perceive people’s skills as economists has nothing to do with their formal education. To me Economics is not an education. Economics is a state of mind.

Therefore, you can easily be an economist without having a formal education as an economist. As a consequence there are also people who have been able to attain a formal title as an economist without reaching that higher state of mind that a real economist has. I have unfortunately also encountered many of this kind of “economists” – economists by title, but not in mind. Many of these people are unfortunately high ranking policy makers.

Unfortunately many universities around the world today do not educate economists to be economists. They primarily educate them in technical skills – math and econometrics. And they educate them in “soft” skills and on different applied issues. A shocking amount of formally educated economists would not be able to explain comparative advantages or marginal utility to you (don’t get me stated on monetary theory). But they might be able to tell you about VAR, ARCH or GARCH – at best. Many – especially in Europe – are just educated to become government bureaucrats.

So what is the state of mind of an real economist? If you need to have that explained you are not yet an economist, but you might still become one by trying to figuring out what Gordon Tullock and David Friedman have in common. You might also read my favourite book on the topic – James Buchanan’s What Should Economists Do? 

PS This post is dedicated to all economists without formal education in economics (I miraculously became a formally educated economist in 1995, but it was not the official curriculum at the University of Copenhagen that made me an real economist – I became that by reading Gordon Tullock and David Friedman and other real economists)

PPS Yes, it is fair enough if you call me a sectarian or a cultist when it comes to Economics as a science.

David Friedman on the price of money

I always considered David Friedman to be very special. I have read all his books and I seldom find myself disagreeing with him (we even have a odd interest in Iceland in common). However, I have a slightly controversial interpretation of David Friedman’s thinking – I think his views really is a reflection of what Milton Friedman really would have liked to say if he had been truly free to express his views. Milton Friedman was the one who with his writings both turned me into a monetarist and a libertarian, but David Friedman’s views in many ways are probably closer to what I think about most things. David Friedman as his father of course also is a fantastic writer and thinker.

David’s thinking in my view is the best illustration of what I in my book on his father called the pragmatic revolutionary. His views might on the surface not be all that radical, but once you understand the logic of his thinking you yourself become a radical. David is the best example of this and I hope I am as well.

David, however, has been carefully not writing or speaking too much about monetary issues – his dad’s speciality. However, his latest post on his blog is exactly about that.

David comments on a very import topic – the general misunderstanding that interest rates is the price of money. This is a key monetarist insight that Market Monetarists often also would put forward. Unfortunately David’s comments in Tim Congdon’s new book “Money in a Free Society”. David seems to think that Tim does not understand that money is the price of money. Contrary to this I think that Tim is very much aware that it is a fallacy to say to low interest rates is the same as easy money. I think the misunderstanding is due to Tim’s discussion of the institutional difference between UK and US monetary policies in the 1980s, but I don’t want to be the judge on that. Therefore, I will just concentrate on David’s argument, while I don’t think Tim should be held accountable for a fallacy that he obviously don’t believe in.

Here is David:

It is said that “interest rate” is “the price of money.”

“This is a very common error, and one that is not only wrong but dangerously wrong…If the price of an apple is fifty cents, that means that if I give a seller fifty cents he will give me an apple in exchange. If the interest rate is five percent and that is the price of money, I ought to be able to buy money for five cents on the dollar. I doubt … anyone else, will be willing to sell it to me at that price…The price of money is what you have to give up to get it—the inverse of the price level. If the price of an apple is fifty cents, the price of a dollar is two apples. The interest rate is the rent on money, measured in money. A change in the price of money affects both the money you are renting and the money you are paying as rent, leaving the ratio of the two unchanged…Suppose that at midnight tonight every dollar bill in the world twins, along with a similar change in the accounting entries for bank deposits, other forms of money, and all obligations denominated in money. By morning, there is twice as much money as before—and nothing else has changed…I would ask Congdon (it should be Mr. X!) whether, under those circumstances, he would expect the interest rate to drop. If his answer is yes, my next question is whether he would expect a much more extreme drop if we relabeled pennies as dollars and dollars as hundred dollar bills, thus increasing the money supply, measured in “dollars,” a hundredfold…The reason the description of the interest rate as the price of money is not only wrong but dangerously wrong is that it implies a simple relation between money and the interest rate—in the extreme (but not uncommon) version, the belief that interest rates are set by central banks, with high interest rates the result of a tight monetary policy…A central bank can create money and lend it out, increasing the supply of loans (which reduces the interest rate) and increasing the money supply. That is the one element of truth to the relationship. But what is affecting the interest rate is not the amount of money but the amount of loans; the government could get the same effect by collecting more in taxes than it spends and lending out the difference…The interest rate is a market price—the price paid for the use of capital—and the central bank controls it only in the same sense in which the government can control the price of wheat by choosing to buy or sell some of it. The central bank does not have an unlimited amount of capital from money creation to lend and so has only a limited ability to shift interest rates from what they would otherwise be. Furthermore, a continued expansion of the money supply creates the expectation of future price rises, which pushes the nominal interest rate up, not down.”

I wish more people would understand this, but most of all I would hope that David would write much more about monetary theory.

For those interested I have a discussion of the price for money and interest rates in my paper on Market Monetarism.

——

Update: I was a bit too fast – I did not read David’s none-economic books like Harald and Salamander.

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