Goodbye to a great monetary historian – R.I.P. Anna Schwartz

Yesterday, Anna Schwartz passed away in her New York City home at an age of 96. Anna Schwartz undoubtedly was one of the greatest monetary historians ever and her masterpiece A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960″ , which she co-authored with Milton Friedman was instrumental in changing how economic historians view the causes of the Great Depression.

Anna Schwartz’s analysis lead her to conclude that the Great Depression was caused by monetary policy failure. Or as Ben Bernanke said in 2002:

  “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression, you’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry, but thanks to you we won’t do it again.” 

There is no way around it – Monetary History is one of the greatest works of economics ever produced and surely one of the most important – if not the most important – book on monetary history ever written.

Somewhat unfairly Anna Schwartz never got the full recognition for her work that she deserved. How the Nobel Prize committee never awarded her the Nobel Prize in economics will forever be a puzzle.

It is a testimony to her hard work and intellect that she continued to work with Michael Bordo and Owen Humpage on a project on the history of government intervention in currency markets after breaking a hip in 2009 and having a stroke (See here and here).

While I did not agree with her analysis of the Great Recession – exactly because I agree with her analysis of the Great Depression – I will forever think of Anna Schwartz as one of the greatest monetary historians with an amazing intellect.

Anna Schwartz R.I.P.

——

For an overview of Anna Schwartz work see here.

Update: Read also George Selgin’s tribute to “Anna”

The reason Mario Monti is beginning to sound (very) desperate

When the eurocrat Mario Monti became Prime Minister last year we were told that he was the man to turn around the Italian economy. We were told that technocrats would do the job rotten and incompetent politicians were not able to do. However, the eurocrat Papademos did not last long in Greece and now Mario Monti is beginning to sound rather desperate. On Thursday he told reporters that EU policy makers had one week to save the euro. That is somewhat of a stern warning from somebody who is supposed to be a cool-headed technocrat.

Why this sudden desperation from Monti? Well, it is pretty simple – Italian nominal GDP is declining sharply, while Italian funding costs are increasing sharply day-by-day. With NGDP declining rapidly the public debt-to-GDP ratio obviously is exploding and as investors know that the ECB has not shown any willingness to curb the decline in NGDP then Italian debt as share of GDP is likely to continue to increase no matter how many budget cuts and tax increases the Italian parliament passes. It is very simply – without growth in NGDP the Italian government will fast become insolvent.

Therefore, it is not really Angela Merkel Mario Monti should be asking for help to solve the crisis, but rather his namesake and countryman ECB chief Mario Draghi. The ECB can end this crisis by introducing a determined policy to curb the drop in euro zone NGDP (or rather to increase NGDP markedly). On the other hand if Draghi does not act then it might very well be that Monti is right about his warnings.

PS Meanwhile Monti’s predecessor is having other ideas (remember Italy never defaults – Italy inflates…) and it is not the first time.

Guest post: Why “Integral” is wrong about Price Level Targeting (by J. Pedersen)

I have always said that my blog should be open to debate and I am happy to have guest posts from clever and inlighted economists (and non-economists) about monetary matters. I am therefore delighted that my good friend and colleague Jens Pedersen (I used to be his boss…) has offered to write a reply to “Integral’s” post on price level targeting versus NGDP level targeting. Jens who recently graduated from University of Copenhagen. His master thesis was about Price Level Targeting.

Jens, take it away…

Lars Christensen

Guest post: Why “Integral” is wrong about Price Level Targeting

by Jens Pedersen

The purpose of this comment is two-fold. First, I argue that ”Integral” in his guest post ”Measuring the stance of monetary policy through NGDP and prices” is wrong when he concludes that the Federal Reserve has done a fine job in achieving price level path stability and by this measure does maintain a tight stance on monetary policy. Second, I present a way of evaluating the Fed’s monetary policy stance based on the theory of optimal monetary policy.

“Integral” assumes that the Federal Reserve has targeted an implicit linear path for the price level since the beginning of the Great Moderation. Following Pedersen (2011) using the deviation in the price level from a linear trend (or the deviation in nominal GDP) to evaluate the stance of monetary policy needs to take into account the potential breaks and shifts in the trend following changes in the monetary policy regime. Changes in the monetary policy committee, changes in the mandate, targets etc. may lead to a shift or break in the targeted trend. Hence, the current implicit targeted trend for the price level (or nominal GDP) should correctly be estimated from February 2006 to take into account the change in president of the FOMC, or alternatively take account of this possible shift or break.

Changing the estimation period changes the conclusions of “Integral’s” analysis. Below, I illustrate the deviation in the log core PCE index from the estimated linear trend over the period 2006:2-2006:12. As the figure show Fed has significantly undershoot its implicit price level target and has not achieved price level path stability during the Great Recession. Currently, the price level gap is around 3% and increasing. Hence, looking at the deviation in the price level from the implicit price level trend does indeed suggest that monetary policy should be eased.

Following, Clarida et. al. (1999), Woodford (2003) and Vestin (2006) optimal monetary policy is a dual mandate which requires the central bank to be concerned with the deviation in output from its efficient level and the deviation in the price level from its targeted level. The first-best way of evaluating Fed’s monetary policy stance should be relative to the optimal solution to monetary policy.

However, this method requires a clear reference to the output gap. Common practice has been to calculate the output gap as the deviation in real output from its HP-filtered trend. This practice is by all means a poor consequence of the RBC view of economic fluctuations. Theoretically it fails to take account of the short run fluctuations in the efficient level of output. Empirically it does a poor job at estimating the potential output near the end points of the sample.

Fortunately, Jordi Galí in Galí (2011) shows how to circumvent these problems and derive a theoretical consistent output gap defined as the deviation in real output from its efficient counterpart. The efficient level of output corresponds to the first-best allocation in the economy, i.e. the output achieved when there are no nominal rigidities or imperfections present. Galí further shows how this output gap can be derived using only the observed variables of the unemployment rate and the labour income share.

The chart below depicts the efficiency gap in the US economy. Note, that this definition does not allow positive values. It is clear from the figure that at present there is significant economic slack in the US economy of historic dimension. The US output gap is currently almost 6.5% and undershoots its natural historical mean by more than 1.5%-points.

Hence, the present price level gap and output gap reveal that the Federal Reserve has not conducted optimal monetary policy during the Great Recession. Furthermore, the analysis suggest that Fed can easily increase inflation expectations by committing to closing the price level gap. This should give the desired boost to demand and spending and further close the output gap.

References:

Clarida, et al. (1999), “The Science of Monetary Policy: A New Keynesian Perspective”

Galí (2011), “Unemployment Fluctuations and Stabilization Policies: A New Keynesian Perspective”

Pedersen (2011), “Price Level Targeting: Optimal Anchoring of Expectations in a New Keynesian Model”

Vestin (2006), “Price Level Targeting versus Inflation Targeting

Woodford (2003), “Interest and Prices”

Guest post: Measuring the stance of monetary policy through NGDP and Prices (by “Integral”)

Guest post: Measuring the stance of monetary policy through NGDP and Prices

by “Integral’

In this note I wish to show that the Federal Reserve has actually been quite successful in hitting its inflation target through this recession. I reinforce the need to use NGDP (relative to trend) as a proxy for the stance of monetary policy, not the price level (relative to trend).

Let us look at the Fed’s performance on inflation during the Great Moderation and Great Recession. I show here the log of the Consumer Price Index against its Great Moderation trend; the trend was estimated monthly from 1990:1 through 2006:12. It is clear that the price level has not strayed far from its trend:

One cannot make the argument for expanded monetary policy action based solely on the CPI. Indeed, I will go further: if the Fed’s only goal were to stabilize inflation at a 2.5% level target, then it would have unambiguously done a fine job throughout the crisis.

Using the PCE Price Index shows paints a similar picture; indeed by that metric the price level is slightly above its Great Moderation trend. Again I use 1990:1 through 2006:12 to estimate the trend.

Again the price-level evidence is that monetary policy has been appropriate through the crisis, or even too loose.

However, consider next the behavior of nominal GDP against its 1990-2006 trend:

Nominal GDP seems to be “stuck” on a permanently lower growth path relative to the Great Moderation. If we are to use the deviation of a variable from its trend as a proxy for the stance of monetary policy, the variable to use ought to be NGDP, not prices.

We have had an effective price level target throughout the crisis and received an anemic recovery; perhaps it is time to try an NGDP level target.

The ECB has the model to understand the Great Recession – now use it!

By chance I today found an ECB working paper from 2004 – “The Great Depression and the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis” by Christiano, Motto and Rostagno.

Here is the abstract:

“We evaluate the Friedman-Schwartz hypothesis that a more accommodative monetary policy could have greatly reduced the severity of the Great Depression. To do this, we first estimate a dynamic, general equilibrium model using data from the 1920s and 1930s. Although the model includes eight shocks, the story it tells about the Great Depression turns out to be a simple and familiar one. The contraction phase was primarily a consequence of a shock that induced a shift away from privately intermediated liabilities, such as demand deposits and liabilities that resemble equity, and towards currency. The slowness of the recovery from the Depression was due to a shock that increased the market power of workers. We identify a monetary base rule which responds only to the money demand shocks in the model. We solve the model with this counterfactual monetary policy rule. We then simulate the dynamic response of this model to all the estimated shocks. Based on the model analysis, we conclude that if the counterfactual policy rule had been in place in the 1930s, the Great Depression would have been relatively mild.”

It is interesting stuff and you would imagine that the model developed in the paper could also shed light on the causes and possible cures for the Great Recession as well.

Is it only me who is reminded about 2008-9 when you read this:

“The empirical exercise conducted on the basis of the model ascribes the sharp contraction of 1929-1933 mainly to a sudden shift in investors’ portfolio preferences from risky instruments used to finance business activity to currency (a flight-to-safety explanation). One interpretation of this finding could be that households . in strict analogy with commercial banks holding larger cash reserves against their less liquid assets . might add to their cash holdings when they feel to be overexposed to risk. This explanation seems plausible in the wake of the rush to stocks that occurred in the second half of the 1920.s. The paper also documents how the failure of the Fed in 1929-1933 to provide highpowered money needed to meet the increased demand for a safe asset led to a credit crunch which in turn produced deflation and economic contraction.”

The authors also answer the question about the appropriate policy response.

“We finally conduct a counterfactual policy experiment designed to answer the following questions: could a different monetary policy have avoided the economic collapse of the 1930s? More generally: To what extent does the impossibility for central banks to cut the nominal interest rate to levels below zero stand in the way of a potent counter-deflationary monetary policy? Our answers are that indeed a different monetary policy could have turned the economic collapse of the 1930s into a far more moderate recession and that the central bank can resort to an appropriate management of expectations to circumvent – or at least loosen – the lower bound constraint.

The counterfactual monetary policy that we study temporarily expands the growth rate in the monetary base in the wake of the money demand shocks that we identify. To ensure that this policy does not violate the zero lower-bound constraint on the interest rate, we consider quantitative policies which expand the monetary base in the periods a shock. By injecting an anticipated inflation effect into the interest rate, this delayed-response feature of our policy prevents the zero bound constraint from binding along the equilibrium paths that we consider. At the same time, by activating this channel, the central bank can secure control of the short-term real interest rate and, hence, aggregate spending.

The conclusion that an appropriately designed quantitative policy could have largely insulated the economy from the effects of the major money demand shocks that had manifested themselves in the   late 1920s is in line with the famous conjecture of Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz (1963).”

So what policy rule are the authors talking about? Well, it is basically a feedback rule where the money base is expanded to counteract negative shocks to money-velocity in the previous period. This is not completely a NGDP targeting rule, but it is close – at least in spirit. Under NGDP level targeting the central bank will increase in the money base to counteract shocks to velocity to keep NGDP on a stable growth path. The rule suggested in the paper is a soft version of this. It could obviously be very interesting to see how a real NGDP rule would have done in the model.

Anyway, I can highly recommend the paper – especially to the members of the ECB’s The Governing Council and I see no reason that they should not implement a rule for the euro zone similar to the one suggested in the paper. If the ECB had such a rule in place then Spanish 10-year bond yields probably would not have been above 7% today.

PS Scott Sumner has been looking for a model for some time. Maybe the Christiano-Motto-Rostagno model would be something for Scott…


 

Vince Cable gives me hope

It is very easy to get frustrated about the discussion of monetary policy in today’s world. However, this morning we got something to cheer about as Vince Cable British Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills gave a speech on the UK recovery in the 1930s and the parallels to today’s crisis at the think tank Centre Forum. The entire speech is very uplifting.

Here is Cable:

“you learn far more about our recovery in the 1930s from looking at monetary conditions that you can from examining fiscal policy.”

Yes, yes, yes! We should stop wrangling about fiscal policy. What brought Britain out of the Great Depression was the decision to give up the gold standard in 1931 and what will bring the UK economy out of this crisis is monetary easing. Fiscal policy in that regard is basically irrelevant. Luckily Vince Cable seems to comprehend that – as do Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborn. Bank of England Governor Mervyn King might also (finally) get it.  

Back to Cable’s speech:

“… It is worth recalling just how brutal were the first dozen years after the First World War.  Britain attempted to return to its pre War gold level, which meant chronic deflation to bring us back with world prices (what Southern Europe is attempting today).  As a result, the price index which had risen from 100 in 1914 to 250 in 1920, fell to 180 in a couple of years and continued falling all the way below 150 in 1930.”

Yes again! The British economy was struggling to get out of the crisis because of a misguided commitment to the gold standard. Once the gold standard was given up it was recovery time. And luckily Vince Cable fully well knows that monetary easing also would do the trick today.

And he knows that fiscal easing is not the important thing – monetary policy will do the job:

“without a noticeable relaxation in fiscal policy, the economy surged into strong growth which was becoming apparent mid 1933. As I said earlier the obvious explanation was a sharp loosening of monetary policy”

Can it get much more Market Monetarist than that? Yes in fact it can:

“What tools does the Government have? The first is continued use of monetary policy, and stronger communication of the policy aim it is meant to achieve – robust recovery in money spending and GDP. “

Cable calls for an NGDP targeting regime!

And even better Cable seems to want a Market Monetarist as the next Bank of England Governor – or at least somebody in favour of NGDP targeting:

“I am sure that all the candidates to take over from Mervyn King are thinking very hard about how best to do this [a robust recovery in money spending and GDP].”

In 1931 the British government showed the way. I hope that today’s British government will show the same kind of resolve. Vince Cable gives me a lot of hope to be optimistic about that.

Thank you Vince, you’ve made my day!

Britmouse just came up with the coolest idea of the year

Our good friend and die hard British market monetarist Britmouse has a new post on his excellent blog Uneconomical. I think it might just be the coolest idea of the year. Here is Britmouse:

“Will the ECB will stand by and let Spain go under?  Spain is a nice country with a fairly large economy.  It’d be a… shame, right?   So if the ECB won’t do anything, I think the UK should act instead.

David Cameron should immediately instruct the Bank of England to print Sterling, exchange it for Euros, and start buying up Spanish government debt.  Spain apparently has about €570bn of debt outstanding, so the Bank could buy, say, all of it.

We all know that the Bank of England balance sheet has no possible effect on the UK economy except when it is used to back changes in Bank Rate.  Right?  So these actions by the Bank can make no difference to, say, the Sterling/Euro exchange rate, and hence no impact on the demand for domestically produced goods and services in the UK.  Right?

Sure, the Bank would take on some credit risk and exchange rate risk.  But they can do all this in the Asset Purchase Facility (used for conventional QE), which already has a indemnity from the Treasury against losses.”

Your reaction will probably be that Britmouse is mad. But you are wrong. He is neither mad nor is he wrong. British NGDP is in decline and the Bank of England need to go back to QE as fast as possible and the best way to do this is through the FX market. Print Sterling and buy foreign currency – this is what Lars E. O. Svensson has called the the foolproof way out of a liquidity trap. And while you are at it buy Spanish government debt for the money. That would surely help curb the euro zone crisis and hence reduce the risk of nasty spill-over to the British economy (furthermore it would teach the ECB as badly needed lesson…). And by the way why do the Federal Reserve not do the same thing?

Obviously this discussion would not be necessary if the ECB would take care of it obligation to ensure nominal stability, but unfortunately the ECB has failed and we are now at a risk of a catastrophic outcome and if the ECB continues to refuse to act other central banks sooner or later are likely to step in.

You can think of Britmouse’ suggestion what you want, but think about it and then you will never again say that monetary policy is out of ammunition.

—-

Update – this is from a reply below. To get it completely clear what I think…

“Nickikt, no I certainly do not support bailing out either bank or countries. I should of course have wrote that. The reason why I wrote that this is a “cool idea” is that is a fantastic illustration of how the monetary transmission mechanism works and that monetary policy is far form impotent.

So if you ask me the question what I would do if I was on the MPC of Bank of England then I would clearly have voted no to Britmouse’s suggestion. I but I 100% share the frustration that it reflects. That is why I wrote the comment in the way I did.

So again, no I am strongly against bail outs and I fear the consequences in terms of moral hazard. However, Spain’s problems – both in terms of public finances and the banking sector primarily reflects ECB’s tight monetary policy rather than banking or public finance failure. Has there been mistake made in terms and public finances and in terms of the banking sector? Clearly yes, but the main cause of the problems is a disfunctional monetary union and monetary policy failure.”

Jeff Frankel restates his support for NGDP targeting

It is no secret that I have been fascinated by some of Havard professor Jeff Frankel’s ideas especially his idea for Emerging Markets commodity exporters to peg the currency to the price of their main export (PEP). I have written numerous posts on this (see below) However, Frankel is also a long-time supporter of NGDP target and now he has restated is his views on NGDP targeting.

Here is Jeff:

“In my preceding blogpost, I argued that the developments of the last five years have sharply pointed up the limitations of Inflation Targeting (IT), much as the currency crises of the 1990s dramatized the vulnerability of exchange rate targeting and the velocity shocks of the 1980s killed money supply targeting.   But if IT is dead, what is to take its place as an intermediate target that central banks can use to anchor expectations?

The leading candidate to take the position of preferred nominal anchor is probably Nominal GDP Targeting.  It has gained popularity rather suddenly, over the last year.  But the idea is not new.  It had been a candidate to succeed money targeting in the 1980s, because it did not share the latter’s vulnerability to shifts in money demand.  Under certain conditions, it dominates not only a money target (due to velocity shocks) but also an exchange rate target  (if exchange rate shocks are large) and a price level target (if supply shocks are large).   First proposed by James Meade (1978), it attracted the interest in the 1980s of such eminent economists as Jim Tobin (1983), Charlie Bean(1983), Bob Gordon (1985), Ken West (1986), Martin Feldstein & Jim Stock (1994), Bob Hall & Greg Mankiw (1994), Ben McCallum (1987, 1999), and others.

Nominal GDP targeting was not adopted by any country in the 1980s.  Amazingly, the founders of the European Central Bank in the 1990s never even considered it on their list of possible anchors for euro monetary policy.  (They ended up with a “two pillar approach,” of which one pillar was supposedly the money supply.)” 

So far so good…and here is something, which will make all of us blogging Market Monetarists happy:

“But now nominal GDP targeting is back, thanks to enthusiastic blogging by ScottSumner (at Money Illusion), LarsChristensen (at Market Monetarist), David Beckworth (at Macromarket Musings),Marcus Nunes (at Historinhas) and others.  Indeed, the Economist has held up the successful revival of this idea as an example of the benefits to society of the blogosphere.”

This is a great endorsement of the Market Monetarist “movement” and it is certainly good news that Jeff so clearly recognize the work of the blogging Market Monetarists. Anyway back to the important points Jeff are making.

“Fans of nominal GDP targeting point out that it would not, like Inflation Targeting, have the problem of excessive tightening in response to adverse supply shocks.    Nominal GDP targeting stabilizes demand, which is really all that can be asked of monetary policy.  An adverse supply shock is automatically divided between inflation and real GDP, equally, which is pretty much what a central bank with discretion would do anyway.

In the long term, the advantage of a regime that targets nominal GDP is that it is more robust with respect to shocks than the competitors (gold standard, money target, exchange rate target, or CPI target).   But why has it suddenly gained popularity at this point in history, after two decades of living in obscurity?  Nominal GDP targeting might also have another advantage in the current unfortunate economic situation that afflicts much of the world:  Its proponents see it as a way of achieving a monetary expansion that is much-needed at the current juncture.”

Exactly! The great advantage of NGDP level targeting compared to other monetary policy rules is that it handles both velocity shocks and supply shocks. No other rules (other than maybe Jeff’s own PEP) does that. Furthermore, I would add something, which is tremendously important to me and that is that unlike any other monetary policy rule NGDP level targeting does not distort relative prices. NGDP level targeting as such ensures the optimal and unhampered working of a free market economy.

Back to Jeff:

“Monetary easing in advanced countries since 2008, though strong, has not been strong enough to bring unemployment down rapidly nor to restore output to potential.  It is hard to get the real interest rate down when the nominal interest rate is already close to zero. This has led some, such as Olivier Blanchard and Paul Krugman, to recommend that central banks announce a higher inflation target: 4 or 5 per cent.   (This is what Krugman and Ben Bernanke advised the Bank of Japan to do in the 1990s, to get out of its deflationary trap.)  But most economists, and an even higher percentage of central bankers, are loath to give up the anchoring of expected inflation at 2 per cent which they fought so long and hard to achieve in the 1980s and 1990s.  Of course one could declare that the shift from a 2 % target to 4 % would be temporary.  But it is hard to deny that this would damage the long-run credibility of the sacrosanct 2% number.   An attraction of nominal GDP targeting is that one could set a target for nominal GDP that constituted 4 or 5% increase over the coming year – which for a country teetering on the fence between recovery and recession would in effect supply as much monetary ease as a 4% inflation target – and yet one would not be giving up the hard-won emphasis on 2% inflation as the long-run anchor.”

I completely agree. I have always found the idea of temporary changing the inflation target to be very odd. The problem is not whether to target 2,3 or 4% inflation. The problem is the inflation targeting itself. Inflation targeting tends to create bubbles when the economy is hit by positive supply shocks. It does not fully response to negative velocity shocks and it leads to excessive tightening of monetary policy when the economy is hit by negative supply shocks (just have look at the ECB’s conduct of monetary policy!)
Market Monetarists advocate a clear rule based monetary policy exactly because we think that expectations is tremendously important in the monetary transmission mechanism. A temporary change in the inflation target would completely undermining the effectiveness of the monetary transmission mechanism and we would still be left with a bad monetary policy rule.
Let me give the final word to Jeff:
Thus nominal GDP targeting could help address our current problems as well as a durable monetary regime for the future.
_______
Some of my earlier posts on Jeff’s ideas:

Next stop Moscow
International monetary disorder – how policy mistakes turned the crisis into a global crisis
Fear-of-floating, misallocation and the law of comparative advantages
Exchange rates are not truly floating when we target inflation
“The Bacon Standard” (the PIG PEG) would have saved Denmark from the Great Depression
PEP, NGDPLT and (how to avoid) Russian monetary policy failure
Should small open economies peg the currency to export prices?

Scott Sumner also comments on Jeff’s blogpost.

Remember the last time Greece was kicked out of a monetary union?

Speculation about a Greek exit for the euro zone continues ahead of the weekend’s Greek parliament elections. If Greece leaves the euro (or is kicked out) then it will not be the first time Greece has been forced out of a currency union.

This is from a 2003 working paper from the Greek central bank(!):

“The Latin Monetary Union (LMU) is thought by many to be the 19th predecessor of the recent venture of the European Monetary Union. It was designed for the same reasons that led to the adoption of the euro in the dawn of the new millennium, i.e. “the creation of a lake of monetary stability in the very perturbed ocean of the international monetary system”… The LMU was in essence a metallic monetary system in which the two precious metals, gold and silver, were used as a numeraire, i.e. as a unit for determining the value of all the other currencies. The benefit from the creation of the LMU was the moderation of fluctuations observed in the market prices of gold and silver, caused by the discovery of new supplies of precious metals.

…Although participation in the LMU demanded strict monetary discipline, this was not secured via an institutional framework that would impose firm criteria for fiscal management.

…The need to reform the Greek monetary system became urgent in the mid-1860s when Spain abandoned the monetary system that was based on the distilo. At that time, international trade transactions were made in currency directly convertible into precious metals at a fixed rate, and, therefore, Greece had to adopt a monetary system that would be acceptable by other countries. The Greek governments expected that by joining the LMU the country could enjoy monetary stability. First, Greece would no longer face money scarcity since domestic transactions would also be carried out in French francs; second, tying the drachma to the French franc at a fixed rate would reduce exchange rate fluctuations; and, third, Greece would improve her solvency in the international capital market of Paris.

…Beginning in the mid-1870s, political instability in Greece led to an increase of fiscal deficits. The segmentation of the Parliament into many small political parties and the short-lived governments caused a loss of revenues due to the laxity in tax collection and an increase in expenditure due to the numerous dismissals and transfers of civil servants that accompanied each change of government. None of the 19th century governments dared to undertake a budget reform, namely to improve the tax collection system and raise revenues from income taxes.Public expenditures – overwhelming government consumption – were financed by domestic borrowing contracted on unfavourable terms to the government, resulting in an excessive burdening of the budget during the second half of the 1870s.

In an effort to ensure banknote convertibility, the Greek government tried to avoid inflation as a tax instrument but rather incurred welfare losses in return for income tax revenues. However, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 caused new wartime emergencies and aggravated the position of the budget even further. Considering the rise of its defence expenses as temporary and with the intention to maintain the specie convertibility rule during the war, the government tried – unsuccessfully – to finance them by domestic debt issuance. The loans, however, were only partly covered and, ultimately, the government relied on inflation finance to meet its borrowing requirements.

…However, the new system only lasted nine months, as the government failed to control the fiscal deficits and thus to support the credibility of the system. The high interest payments as well as the economic crisis, which had started out as a commercial crisis near the end of 1884, caused large gold outflows. In addition, the long-lived fiat standard that the country experienced prior to 1885 caused a lack of confidence in the domestic currency, which resulted in a massive de-hoarding of banknotes immediately after the restoration of specie standards.”

And it goes on and on…

“Foreign creditors demanded the presence of foreign experts for the monitoring of the economic policy pursued and, especially, of the tax collection and management systems. This demand was seen as a pre-condition for the government to pursue a monetary and fiscal policy, which would ensure both the regular repayment of the foreign debt, as well as its repayment in drachmas convertible to gold at par value. After her humiliating defeat in the Greco-Turkish war of 1897 and the resulting huge war indemnity she had to pay to Turkey, Greece was forced to accept the presence of the International Committee for Greek debt management. 1898 was the beginning of a period of intensive disinflation. Successive Finance Ministers curtailed expenditures and increased indirect taxes in an effort to balance the budget.

But prudence apparently never lasts for long in Greece and in 1908 the other countries in the currency union had it enough and effectively expelled Greece. However, Greece was allowed back in in 1910, but when first World War broke out in 1914 the Latin Currency Union effectively collapsed.

This is what University of Chicago economist Henry Parker Willis had to say about the whole thing in his 1901 report ‘History of the Latin Monetary Union’ (I got this from Oliver Marc Hartwich):

“It is hard to see why the admission of Greece to the Latin Union should have been desired or allowed by that body. In no sense was she a desirable member of the league. Economically unsound, convulsed by political struggles, and financially rotten, her condition was pitiable. Struggling with a burden of debt, Greece was also endeavouring to maintain in circulation a large amount of inconvertible paper. She was not territorially a desirable adjunct to the Latin Union, and her commercial and financial importance was small. Nevertheless her nominal admission was secured, and we may credit the obscure political influences … with being able to effect what economic and financial considerations could not. Certainly it would be hard to understand on what other grounds her membership was attained.”

Surreal isn’t it?


Bloomberg TV interview with Michael Darda

Here is a nice little interview with Michael Darda. Michael is 100% market monetarist and I find it hard to disagree with anything he is saying.

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