Forget about the “Credit Channel”

One thing that has always frustrated me about the Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) is that it is assumes that “new money” is injected into the economy via the banking sector and many of the results in the model is dependent this assumption. Something Ludwig von Mises by the way acknowledges openly in for example “Human Action”.

If instead it had been assumed that money is injected into economy via a “helicopter drop” directly to households and companies then the lag structure in the ABCT model completely changes (I know because I many years ago wrote my master thesis on ABCT).

In this sense the Austrians are “Creditist” exactly like Ben Bernanke.

But hold on – so are the Keynesian proponents of the liquidity trap hypothesis. Those who argue that we are in a liquidity trap argues that an increase in the money base will not increase the money supply because there is a banking crisis so banks will to hold on the extra liquidity they get from the central bank and not lend it out. I know that this is not the exactly the “correct” theoretical interpretation of the liquidity trap, but nonetheless the “popular” description of the why there is a liquidity trap (there of course is no liquidity trap).

The assumption that “new money” is injected into the economy via the banking sector (through a “Credit Channel”) hence is critical for the results in all these models and this is highly problematic for the policy recommendations from these models.

The “New Keynesian” (the vulgar sort – not people like Lars E. O. Svensson) argues that monetary policy don’t work so we need to loosen fiscal policy, while the Creditist like Bernanke says that we need to “fix” the problems in the banking sector to make monetary policy work and hence become preoccupied with banking sector rescue rather than with the expansion of the broader money supply. (“fix” in Bernanke’s thinking is something like TARP etc.). The Austrians are just preoccupied with the risk of boom-bust (could we only get that…).

What I and other Market Monetarist are arguing is that there is no liquidity trap and money can be injected into the economy in many ways. Lars E. O. Svensson of course suggested a foolproof way out of the liquidity trap and is for the central bank to engage in currency market intervention. The central bank can always increase the money supply by printing its own currency and using it to buy foreign currency.

At the core of many of today’s misunderstandings of monetary policy is that people mix up “credit” and “money” and they think that the interest rate is the price of money. Market Monetarists of course full well know that that is not the case. (See my Working Paper on the Market Monetarism for a discussion of the difference between “credit” and “money”)

As long as policy makers continue to think that the only way that money can enter into the economy is via the “credit channel” and by manipulating the price of credit (not the price of money) we will be trapped – not in a liquidity trap, but in a mental trap that hinders the right policy response to the crisis. It might therefore be beneficial that Market Monetarists other than just arguing for NGDP level targeting also explain how this practically be done in terms of policy instruments. I have for example argued that small open economies (and large open economies for that matter) could introduce “exchange rate based NGDP targeting” (a variation of Irving Fisher’s Compensated dollar plan).

The Fisher-Friedman-Sumner-Svensson axis

Here is Scott Sumner in 2009:

“People like Irving Fisher had a perfectly good macro model.  Indeed, except for Ratex it’s basically the model that I use in all my research.  But the problem is that these pre-1936 models didn’t use Keynesian language.  And they didn’t obsess about trying to develop a general equilibrium framework. A GE framework is not able to predict any better than Fisher’s models, and is not able to offer more cogent policy advice than Fisher’s model.  Indeed in many ways Fisher’s “compensated dollar plan” was far superior to the monetary policy the Fed actually implemented last October.  (Although I would prefer CPI futures target to a flexible gold price, at least Fisher’s plan had a nominal anchor.)”

I used to think of that Scott mostly was influenced by his old teacher Milton Friedman, but I increasingly think that Scott is mostly influenced by Irving Fisher.

Well of course this is not really important and Friedman undoubtedly was hugely influenced by Irving Fisher. Fisher’s influence on Friedman is excellently explained in a paper by Bordo and Rockoff from earlier this year,

Here is the abstract:

“This paper examines the influence of Irving Fisher’s writings on Milton Friedman’s work in monetary economics. We focus first on Fisher’s influences in monetary theory (the quantity theory of money, the Fisher effect, Gibson’s Paradox, the monetary theory of business cycles, and the Phillips Curve, and empirics, e.g. distributed lags.). Then we discuss Fisher and Friedman’s views on monetary policy and various schemes for monetary reform (the k% rule, freezing the monetary base, the compensated dollar, a mandate for price stability, 100% reserve money, and stamped money.) Assessing the influence of an earlier economist’s writings on that of later scholars is a challenge. As a science progresses the views of its earlier pioneers are absorbed in the weltanschauung. Fisher’s Purchasing Power of Money as well as the work of Pigou and Marshall were the basic building blocks for later students of monetary economics. Thus, the Chicago School of the 1930s absorbed Fisher’s approach, and Friedman learned from them. However, in some salient aspects of Friedman’s work we can clearly detect a major direct influence of Fisher’s writings on Friedman’s. Thus, for example with the buildup of inflation in the 1960s Friedman adopted the Fisher effect and Fisher’s empirical approach to inflationary expectations into his analysis. Thus, Fisher’s influence on Friedman was both indirect through the Chicago School and direct. Regardless of the weight attached to the two influences, Fisher’ impact on Friedman was profound.”

I wonder if Bordo and Rockoff would ever write a paper about Fisher’s influence on Sumner…or maybe Scott will write it himself? I especially find Scott’s “link” to the compensated dollar plan intriguing as I fundamentally think that Scott’s intellectual love affair with “Market Keynesian” Lars E. O. Svensson has to be tracked back to exactly this plan.

PS I am intrigued by the compensated dollar plan (CDP) and I increasingly think that variations of the CDP could be a fitting monetary policy set-up for Emerging Markets and small open economies with underdeveloped financial markets. One day I might get my act together and write a post on that topic.




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