David Eagle’s framework and the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism

Over the last couple of days I have done a couple of posts on the work of David Eagle (and Dale Domian). I guess that there still are a few posts that could be written on this topic. This is the next one.

Even though David Eagle’s work has been focusing on what he and Dale Domian have termed Quasi-Real Indexing I believe that his work is highly relevant for Market Monetarists. In this post I will try to draw up some lessons we can learn from David Eagle’s work and how it could be relevant to formulating a more consistent micro-foundation for Market Monetarism.

There are a no recessions in a world without money

The starting point in most of Eagle’s research is an Arrow-Debreu model of the world. Similarly the starting point for Market Monetarists like Nick Rowe and Bill Woolsey is Say’s Law – that supply creates its own demand. (See for example Nick on Say’s Law here).

This starting point is a world without money and both in the A-D model and under Say’s Law there can not be recessions in the sense of general glut in the product and labour markets.

However, once money and sticky prices and wages are introduced – both by Market Monetarists and by David Eagle – then we can have recessions. Hence, for Market Monetarists and David Eagle recessions are always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.

N=PY – the simple way to illustrate some MM positions

In a number of his papers David Eagle introduces a simplified version of the equation of exchange where he re-writes MV=PY to N=PY. Hence, Eagle sees MV not some two variables, but rather as one variable – nominal spending (N), which is under the control the central bank. This is in fact quite similar to Market Monetarists thinking. While “old” monetarists traditional have assumed that V is constant (or is “stationary”) Market Monetarists acknowledges that this position no longer can be empirically supported. That is the reason why Market Monetarists have focused on the right hand side of the equation of exchange rather than on the left hand side like “old” monetarists like Milton Friedman used to do.

I, however, think that Eagle’s simplified equation of exchange has some merit in terms of clarifying some key Market Monetarist positions.

First of all N=PY gets us from micro to macro. Hence, PY is not one price and one output, but numerous prices and outputs. If N is kept constant that is basically the Arrow-Debreu world. That illustrates the point that we need changes in N to get recessions.

Second, N=PY can be a rearranged to P=N/Y. Hence, inflation is the “outcome” of the relationship between nominal spending (N) and real GDP (Y). In terms of causality this also illustrates (but it does not necessary prove) another key Market Monetarist point, which often has been put forward by especially Scott Sumner that nominal income (N) causes P and Y and not the other way around (See here and here). This is contrary to the New Keynesian formulation of the Phillips curve, where “excessive” growth in real GDP relative to “trend” GDP increases “price pressures”.

Third, P=N/Y also illustrates that there are two sources of price changes – nominal spending (N) and supply shocks. This lead us to another key Market Monetarist position – also stressed strongly by David Eagle – that there is good and bad inflation/deflation. This is a point stressed often by David Beckworth (See here and here). David Eagle of course uses this insight to argue that normal inflation indexing is sub-optimal to what he has termed Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI). This of course is similar to why Market Monetarists prefer NGDP targeting to Price Level Targeting (and inflation targeting).

The welfare economic arguments for NGDP targeting

In an Arrow-Debreu world the allocation is Pareto optimal and with fully flexible prices and wages changes in N will have no impact on allocation and an increase or a drop in N will have no impact on economic welfare. However, if we introduce sticky prices and wages in the model then unexpected changes in N will reduce welfare in the traditional neo-classical sense. Hence, to ensure Pareto optimality we have two options.

1)   The monetary institutional set-up should ensure a stable and predictable N. We can do that with a central bank that targets the NGDP level or with a Free Banking set-up (that ensures a stable N in a perfect competition Free Banking system). Hence, while Market Monetarists mostly argue in favour of NGDP from a macroeconomic perspective David Eagle’s framework also gives a strong welfare theoretical argument for NGDP targeting.

2)   (Full) Quasi-Real Indexing (QRI) will also ensure a Pareto optimal outcome – even with stick prices and wages and changes in N. David Eagle and Dale Domian have argued that QRI could be used to “immunise” the economy from recessions. Market Monetarists (other than myself) have so far as I know now directly addressed the usefulness of QRI.

Remaining with in the simplified version of the equation of exchange (N=PY) NGDP targeting focuses on left hand side of the equation, which can be determined by monetary policy, while QRI is focused on the right hand side of the equation. Obviously with one of the two in place the other would not be needed.

In my view the main problem with QRI is that the right hand side of the equation is not just one price and one output but millions of prices and outputs and the price system plays a extremely important role in the allocation of resources in the economy. It is therefore also impossible to expect some kind of “centralised” QRI (god forbid anybody would get such an idea…). I am pretty sure that my fellow Market Monetarist bloggers feel the same way. That said, I think that QRI can useful in understanding why the drop in nominal spending (N) has had such a negative impact on RGDP in the US and other places.

Furthermore, as I stressed in an earlier post QRI might be useful in housing funding reform in the US – as suggested by David Eagle. Furthermore, it is obviously QRI based government bonds could be used in the conduct of NGDP targeting – as in line with what Scott Sumner for example has suggested and as in fact also suggested by David Eagle.

David Eagle should inspire Market Monetarists

In conclusion I think that David Eagle’s and Dale Damion’s on work on both NGDP targeting and QRI will be a useful input to the further development of the Market Monetarist paradigm and I especially think it will be helpful in a more precise description of the micro-foundation of Market Monetarism.

PS David Eagle has also done work on interest rates targeting and is highly critical of Michael Woodford’s New Keynesian perspective on monetary policy. This research is relatively technical and not easily assessable, but should surely be of interest to Market Monetarists as well.

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See my other posts on David Eagle and Dale Domian:
Quasi-Real indexing – indexing for Market Monetarists
A simple housing rescue package – QRI Mortgages and NGDP targeting
David Eagle on “Nominal Income Targeting for a Speedier Economic Recovery”

Guest post: Why we need the European Central Bank as Lender and Owner of Last Resort

THIS IS A GUEST POST By Arash Molavi Vasséi

Why we need the European Central Bank as Lender and Owner of Last Resort

This post summarizes a short policy note where I argue that the only feasible as well as incentive-compatible solution to the current sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone involves the European Central Bank (ECB)

  • as a Lender of Last Resort to the Eurozone’s core countries like France, Austria, Finland, and The Netherlands, and
  • as the Owner of Last Resort to the European banking system, thereby setting the stage for haircuts on the debt of potentially insolvent peripheral Member States like Greece, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

The arguments for a credible commitment of the ECB to an unlimited swap line, promising to swap central bank liabilities for sovereign bonds with the aim to reduce liquidity premia, are well-known. So I won’t repeat them here. I will rather focus on the second part of my argument, on the ECB as an Owner of Last Resort. As far as I am aware of, the idea is new. I guess the idea is fundamentally flawed in a way that I cannot see. This is the reason I wrote it down and why I thank Lars for making it available to a wider audience. Note, however, that I am full aware that the implementation of the idea is neither politically feasible, not is it legal (see the conclusion). My arguments are just concerned with economic admissibility.

The ECB as Owner of Last Resort

There are few economist who would deny that a haircut on sovereign debt is an incentive-compatible solution; the extremely serious downside is the risk of a breakdown of the European banking sector and global contagion.

But there is a solution. First, the European Banking Authority (EBA) should come up with serious stress tests, that is, predicting the impact of realistic haircuts on peripheral sovereign debt and of a Europe-wide recession on each Systemically Important Financial Institution (SIFI) in Europe. In a next step, the ECB should step in as the Owner of Last Resort and recapitalize each such SIFI according to the EBA’s projections. In contrast to its role as Lender of Last Resort, the ECB would swap central bank liabilities for preferred stocks, i.e., senior equity securities that carry no voting rights and, thus, prohibits the ECB from getting involved in the SIFI’s business models.

There are clear advantages of the ECB engaging as the Owner of Last Resort:

1. The most important reason why the ECB should engage in the recapitalization of the European banking sector is the same as usual: it can create unlimited amounts of central bank liabilities and, thus, unlimited amounts of premium-quality capital. The ECB as an Owner of Last Resort thereby avoids the vicious circle that any other realistic recapitalization scheme would trigger: if Member States like France and Germany are supposed to finance heavy haircuts on peripheral sovereign debt, their own solvency could be endangered, respectively; this would suggest even higher default probabilities and potentially higher haircuts on sovereign debt. In turn, Member States would have to get involved in a second recapitalization-scheme, which would endanger their solvency and credit ratings even further; the feedback loop would continue until the entire Eurozone eventually collapses.

The same is true for any other limited fund like the EFSF, which is eventually backed by France and Germany (IMF-financed recapitalization would in addition endanger U.S. ratings; neither the Obama administration, nor the Republican presidential candidates show any interest in increasing IMF-funds; also China refuses to support the EFSF). By contrast, the ECB cannot become insolvent. That such a situation is considered in its constitutions is only due to the fact that it is designed by lawyers, obviously unaware of the basics of central banking: what makes a central bank so special is that the unit of account in a at system is defined in terms of its liabilities, and that its liabilities are the used to redeem contracts. The monopoly producer of the means of final settlement just cannot get bankrupt, for bankruptcy happens if you lack the means to settle your obligations. Unconstrained by its constitution, any central bank can shield its equity capital against losses.

2. The approach is incentive compatible: it rescues banks, but punishes their owners. Given the increased quantity of SIFI-stocks, the share of profits generated by such financial entities that could be distributed to the private sector diminishes. In short, recapitalization is a blow to the return on capital invested, reducing the value of each stock in circulation as well as the value of newly issued stocks. This is why banks hate it, and why they negotiate insufficient haircuts. Thus, recapitalization by the ECB must be mandatory to avoid resistance by the SIFI’s managements – who are obliged by law to protect the interests of private shareholders.

3. The approach avoids deleveraging processes that otherwise will accompany the revision of the the EU’s Capital Requirement Directive (CRD IV), which implements Basel III (in fact, CRD IV goes beyond Basel III). By cutting well-established credit lines to profitable companies, banks increase their capital ratio, respectively, by reducing the denominator. By contrast, the ECB as Owner of Last Resort would increase the numerator, leaving no rationale to deleverage. The consolidated balance sheet of the European banking system would lengthen instead. This ensures that (1) bank lending to the so-called “real economy” and (2) the transmission mechanisms of monetary policy remain intact.

4. Finally, and closely related to point 3, the ECB as Owner of Last Resort would back the possibility to implement significantly higher capital requirement over a horizon of ten to fifteen years. Research shows that high capital requirements are not detrimental to economic growth (See for example here). Instead, they ensure that systemically relevant institutions climb down the “Efficient Frontier” such that a lower return on capital invested is compensated by reduced risk. Ask yourself: Of all possible investments possibilities, why should systemically relevant institutions be the hotbed of relatively less risk averse or even risk-loving investors? All it needs is that the ECB injects more capital than projected by the EBA such as to ensure capital ratios around twenty or even thirty percent. In the aftermath of the crisis, the ECB would sell its  preferred stocks during a period of ten to fifteen years, while commercial banks are prohibited to buy back these papers.

Conclusions

To contain the crisis, the ECB should act as a Lender of Last Resort, that is, it should credibly commit itself to an unlimited swap line as described above. However, to resolve the crisis the ECB should also act as an Owner of Last Resort with respect to the European banking sector and, thereby, set the stage for haircuts on the debt of potentially insolvent peripheral members of the Eurozone.

Of course, there is little hope that Germany will ever support such unconventional measures. It already brought France and Italy into line: they all announced not to seek for ECB intervention to rescue the Eurozone from a deepening sovereign debt crisis. But the problems with my proposal root deeper: it seems not only politically infeasible, but is clearly illegal. As an adherent to the Rule of Law, I feel highly uncomfortable with my own suggestions. Yet, I am not aware of an economically admissible solution to the sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone that also conforms to law, including those measures I am opposed to. Given that the current legal framework does not support any feasible solution, and given that we do not have the time to adjust the legal framework, we will break the law anyway. Actually, we broke it already.

Perhaps is this the major lesson of the political project to impose a common currency on a non-optimal currency area: any attempt to implement a political vision in contradiction to economic regularities is not only doomed to fail, but also undermines the fundamental ingredient to a free and prosperous society: the Rule of Law.

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Note:
I am grateful to Arash for this very insightful comment on crisis resolution for the euro zone. We are facing an extremely challenging situation in Europe at the moment and if we do not move swiftly to resolve the crisis we could be heading for a disastrous outcome. I therefore welcome any discussion of this is issue and I would happily accept guest posts from other economists with an input to how to solve the crisis (please mail me at lacsen@gmail.com)

Finally I should say that I think that Arash’s ideas are very helpful in the terms of solving this crisis. That does not mean I agree with everything, but on the other hand there is certainly a lot of what Arash is saying that I agree 100% with. Furthermore, there is no doubt that the concept of Owner of Last Resort is theoretically very interesting and in my view the idea deserves more attention by other researchers.

Lars Christensen

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