Barnett getting it right…

William Barnett has a comment on his blog about the comments from Scott Sumner, Bill Woolsey and myself.

Here is Barnett:

“Regarding the insightful commentaries that just appeared on the three blogs, The Money Illusion, The Market Monetarist, and Monetary Freedom, I just posted the following reply on the Monetary Freedom blog.

All very interesting. The relevant theory is in the appendixes to my new book, Getting It Wrong. The source of the new Divisia data is the program I now direct at the Center for Financial Stability in NY City. The program is called Advances in Monetary and Financial Measurement (AMFM).

AMFM will include a Reports section discussing monetary conditions. Although not yet online, that section will address many of the concerns rightfully appearing in the excellent blogs, The Money Illusion, The Market Monetarist, and Monetary Freedom. The distinction between the AMFM Reports section and the AMFM Library, which is already online, is that the AMFM Library only relates to articles published in peer-reviewed journals and books, while the AMFM Reports section will relate to the public media and online blogs. 

There will be a press release when the full AMFM site is ready to go online.”

I certainly hope to be able to follow up on William’s work in the future. I am particularly interested in the reasons for the sharp drop in Divisia M3 and Divisia M4 in 2008/09. The numbers surely confirms that monetary policy has dramatically tightened in 2008 – as Market Monetarists long has argued – most notable Scott Sumner and Bob Hetzel.

Divisia Money and “A Subjectivist Approach to the Demand for Money”

Recently Scott Sumner have brought up William Barnett’s new book “Getting it Wrong: How Faulty Monetary Statistics Undermine the Fed, the Financial System, and the Economy”. The theme in Barnett’s book is basically that “normal” money supply numbers where subcomponents of the money supply is added up with equal weight give wrong measure of the “real” money supply. Instead Barnett’s recommend using a so-called Divisia Money method of the money supply.

Here is a William Barnett’s discription of divisia money (from the comment section on Scott’s blog):

“Unlike the Fed’s simple-sum monetary aggregates, based on accounting conventions, my Divisia monetary aggregates are based on microeconomic aggregation theory. The accounting distinction between assets and liabilities is irrelevant and is not the same for all economic agents demanding monetary services in the economy. What is relevant is market data not accounting data.”

And here is the official book discription of Barnett’s book:

“Blame for the recent financial crisis and subsequent recession has commonly been assigned to everyone from Wall Street firms to individual homeowners. It has been widely argued that the crisis and recession were caused by “greed” and the failure of mainstream economics. In Getting It Wrong, leading economist William Barnett argues instead that there was too little use of the relevant economics, especially from the literature on economic measurement. Barnett contends that as financial instruments became more complex, the simple-sum monetary aggregation formulas used by central banks, including the U.S. Federal Reserve, became obsolete. Instead, a major increase in public availability of best-practice data was needed. Households, firms, and governments, lacking the requisite information, incorrectly assessed systemic risk and significantly increased their leverage and risk-taking activities. Better financial data, Barnett argues, could have signaled the misperceptions and prevented the erroneous systemic-risk assessments.

When extensive, best-practice information is not available from the central bank, increased regulation can constrain the adverse consequences of ill-informed decisions. Instead, there was deregulation. The result, Barnett argues, was a worst-case toxic mix: increasing complexity of financial instruments, inadequate and poor-quality data, and declining regulation. Following his accessible narrative of the deep causes of the crisis and the long history of private and public errors, Barnett provides technical appendixes, containing the mathematical analysis supporting his arguments.”

Needless to say I have ordered the book at look forward to reading. I am, however, already relatively well-read in the Divisia money literature and I have always intuitively found the Divisia concept interesting and useful and which that more central bank around the world had studied and published Divisia money supply numbers and fundamentally I think Divisia money is a good supplement to studying market data as Market Monetarists recommend. Furthermore, it should be noted that the weight of the different subcomponents in Divisia money is exactly based on market pricing of the return (the transaction service) of different components of the money supply.

My interest in Divisia money goes back more than 20 years (I am getting old…) and is really based on an article by Steven Horwitz from 1990. In the article “A Subjectivist Approach to the Demand for Money” Steve among other thing discusses the concept of “moneyness”. This discussion I think provide a very good background for understanding the concept of Divisia Money. Steve does not discuss Divisia Money in the article, but I fundamentally think he provides a theoretical justification for Divisa Money in his excellent article.

Here is a bit of Steve’s discussion of “moneyness”:

“Hicks argues that money is held because investing in interest-earning assets involves transactions costs ; the act of buying a bond involves sacrificing more real resources than does acquiring money. It is at least possible that the interest return minus the transactions costs could be negative, making money’s zero return preferred.

While this approach is consistent with the observed trade-off between interest rates and the demand for money (see below), it does not offer an explanation of what money does, nor what it provides to its holder, only that other relevant substitutes may be worse choices. By immediately portraying the choice between money and near-moneys as between barrenness and interest, Hicks starts off on the wrong track. When one “objectifies” the returns fro111each choice this way, one is led to both ignore the yield on money held as outlined above and misunderstand the choice between holding financial and non-financial assets. The notion of a subjective yield on money can help to explain better the relationship between money and near-moneys.

One way in which money differs from other goods is that it is much harder to identify any prticular good as money because goods can have aspects of money, yet not be full-blooded moneys. What can be said is that financial assets have degrees of “moneyness” about them, and that different financial assets can be placed along a moneyness continium. Hayek argues that: “it would be more helpful…if “money”were an adjective describing a property which different things could possess to varying degrees. A pure money asset is then defined as the generally accepted medium of exchange. Items which can he used as lnedia of exchange, but are somewhat or very much less accepted are classified as near-moneys.

Nonetheless, money and near-moneys share an important feature Like all other objects of exchange, their desirability is based o n their utility yield. However in the case of near-moneys, that yield is not simply availability. Near-moneys do yield some availability services, but not to the degree of pure money. ‘The explanation is that by definition, near-moneys are not as generally acceptable and therefore cannot he available for all the same contingencies as pure money. For example, as White argues, a passbook savings account is not the same as pure money because, aside from being not directly transferrable (one has to go to the hank and make a withdrawal, unlike a demand deposit), it is not generally acceptable. Even a demand deposit is not quite as available as currency or coin is – some places will not accept checks. These kinds of financial assets have lower availability yields than pure money because they are simply not as marketable.”

If you read Steve’s paper and then have a look at the Divisia numbers – then I am pretty sure that you will think that the concept makes perfect sense.

And now I have written a far too long post – and you should not really have wasted your time on reading my take on this issue as the always insightful Bill Woolsey has a much better discussion of the topic here.

The Economist comments on Market Monetarism

The Economist has an interesting article on Market Monetarists as well as would the magazine calls “Heterodox economics” – Market Monetarism, Austrianism and “Modern Monetary Theory” (MMT).

I am happy to see this:

“Mr Sumner’s blog not only revealed his market monetarism to the world at large (“I cannot go anywhere in the world of economics…without hearing his name,” says Mr Cowen). It also drew together like-minded economists, many of them at small schools some distance from the centre of the economic universe, who did not realise there were other people thinking the same way they did. They had no institutional home, no critical mass. The blogs provided one. Lars Christensen, an economist at a Danish bank who came up with the name “market monetarism”, says it is the first economic school of thought to be born in the blogosphere, with post, counter-post and comment threads replacing the intramural exchanges of more established venues.” (Please have a look at my paper on Market Monetarism)

There is no doubt that Scott is at the centre of the Market Monetarist movement. To me he is the Milton Friedman of the day – a pragmatic revolutionary. Scott does not always realise this but his influence can not be underestimated. Our friend Bill Woolsey is also mentioned in the article. But I miss mentioning of for example David Beckworth.

One thing I would note about the Economist’s article is that the Austrianism presented in the article actually is quite close to Market Monetarism. Hence, Leland Yeager (who calls himself a monetarist) and one of the founders of the Free Banking school Larry White are quoted on Austrianism. Bob Murphy is not mentioned. Thats a little on unfair to Bob I think. I think that both Yeager’s and White’s is pretty close to MM thinking. In fact Larry White endorses NGDP targeting as do other George Mason Austrians like Steven Horwitz. I have written the GMU Austrians about earlier. See here and here.

And see this one:

“Austrians still struggle, however, to get published in the principal economics journals. Most economists do not share their admiration for the gold standard, which did not prevent severe booms and busts even in its heyday. And their theory of the business cycle has won few mainstream converts. According to Leland Yeager, a fellow-traveller of the Austrian school who once held the Mises chair at Auburn, it is “an embarrassing excrescence” that detracts from the Austrians’ other ideas. While it provides insights into booms and their ending, it fails to explain why things must end quite so badly, or how to escape when they do. Low interest rates no doubt helped to inflate America’s housing bubble. But this malinvestment cannot explain why 21.8m Americans remain unemployed or underemployed five years after the housing boom peaked.”

Market Monetarists of course provide that insight – overly tight monetary policy – and it seems like Leland Yeager agrees.

It would of course have been great if the Economist had endorsed Market Monetarism, but it is great to see that Market Monetarism now is getting broad coverage in the financial media and there is no doubt that especially Scott’s advocacy is beginning to have a real impact – now we can only hope that they read the Economist at the Federal Reserve and the ECB.

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See also the comments on the Economists from Scott Sumner, Marcus NunesDavid BeckworthLuis Arroyo (in Spanish) and Tyler Cowen.

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”

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