Monetary Policy and Financial StructureThis program explores the structure of markets and institutions operating in the financial sector. Research builds on the work of the late Distinguished Scholar Hyman P. Minsky—notably, his financial instability hypothesis—and explores the institutional, regulatory, and market arrangements that contribute to financial instability. Research also examines policies—such as changes to the regulatory structure and the development of new types of institutions—necessary to contain instability.
Recent research has concentrated on the structure of financial markets and institutions, with the aim of determining whether financial systems are still subject to the risk of failing. Issues explored include the extent to which domestic and global economic events (such as the crises in Asia and Latin America) coincide with the types of instabilities Minsky describes, and involve analyses of his policy recommendations for alleviating instability and other economic problems.
Other subjects covered include the distributional effects of monetary policy, central banking and structural issues related to the European Monetary Union, and the role of finance in small business investment.
Working Paper No. 778 | November 2013
A Reply to Critics
One of the main contributions of Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been to explain why monetarily sovereign governments have a very flexible policy space that is unencumbered by hard financial constraints. Through a detailed analysis of the institutions and practices surrounding the fiscal and monetary operations of the treasury and central bank of many nations, MMT has provided institutional and theoretical insights about the inner workings of economies with monetarily sovereign and nonsovereign governments. MMT has also provided policy insights with respect to financial stability, price stability, and full employment. As one may expect, several authors have been quite critical of MMT. Critiques of MMT can be grouped into five categories: views about the origins of money and the role of taxes in the acceptance of government currency, views about fiscal policy, views about monetary policy, the relevance of MMT conclusions for developing economies, and the validity of the policy recommendations of MMT. This paper addresses the critiques raised using the circuit approach and national accounting identities, and by progressively adding additional economic sectors.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Press Releases | September 2013
One-Pager No. 42 | September 2013Perhaps the most indictable offense that mainstream economists committed, from 1988 through 2008, was to retrace Keynes’s path of discovery from 1924 (A Tract on Monetary Reform) through 1936 (The General Theory). Wholesale deregulation of finance and categorical confidence in a reductionist role for central banks came into being as the conventional wisdom embraced the 1924 view that free markets and stable prices alone give us the best chance for economic stability. In the aftermath of the grand asset market boom-and-bust cycle of 2008–9, we are jettisoning Keynes circa 1924 for the Keynes of 1936. In effect, we study business cycles but seem incapable of extricating the economics profession from reciting its assigned lines as the play unfolds.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. BarberaRelated Topic(s):
One-Pager No. 40 | September 2013Nicola Matthews, University of Missouri–Kansas City, presents the main findings of her research on the Fed’s lending practices following the global financial crisis of 2008. Applying Walter Bagehot’s principles, she finds that the Fed departed from the traditional lender-of-last-resort function of a central bank by lending to insolvent banks without good collateral--and below penalty rates. Most of the Fed’s emergency facilities lent at rates that were, on average, at or below market rates, with the big banks the primary beneficiaries. The Fed went beyond aiding markets to effectively making markets. Reform, Matthews concludes, is the only solution.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Nicola MatthewsRelated Topic(s):
Policy Note 2013/8 | August 2013Though it is not widely understood, the Federal Reserve has enormous untapped power to directly stimulate or influence the flows of lending and spending that generate jobs. Doing so would fulfill the Fed’s often neglected “dual mandate”: to strive for maximum employment as well as stable money. Fed technocrats often plead that legal or technical barriers won’t allow them to do this, but their objections reflect an institutional bias that favors finance over industry, capital over labor. The central bank has abundant precedent from its own history for taking more direct actions to aid the economy. And it has ample legal authority to lend to all kinds of businesses that are not banks. This policy note was originally published, in slightly different form, as “Can the Federal Reserve Help Prevent a Second Recession?,” The Nation, November 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):William GreiderRelated Topic(s):
Policy Note 2013/7 | August 2013Monetary policy is running out of gas. Six years ago, in the heat of crisis, the Federal Reserve’s response was awesome. The Fed created trillions of dollars and flooded the system with easy money—enough to stabilize financial markets and rescue wounded banks. It brought short-term interest rates down to near zero and long-term mortgage rates to bargain-basement levels. It provided a huge backstop for the dysfunctional housing sector, buying $1.25 trillion in mortgage-backed securities, nearly one-fourth of the market.
Flooding Wall Street with money saved the banks, but it didn’t work for the real economy, where most Americans live and toil. And official Washington now appears to have opted for an unspoken policy of complacency.
The Fed knows, even if politicians do not, the danger of sliding into a liquidity trap, which would utterly disarm its monetary tools. So the Fed wants Congress and the White House to borrow and spend more because, when the private sector is stalled and afraid to act, only the federal government can step in and provide the needed jump start. The country needs a stronger Fed—a central bank not afraid to use its awesome powers to help the real economy more directly. One of the ways it can do this is by revisiting—and extending—its bold ideas on debt relief. By harnessing the power of money creation, the Fed can help clear away the overhang of mortgage and student debt holding back the economic recovery. This policy note draws from articles originally published in The Nation. Portions are republished with permission.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):William GreiderRelated Topic(s):
Conference Proceedings | July 2013
Building a Financial Structure for a More Stable and Equitable EconomyA conference organized by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College with support from the Ford Foundation The 2013 Minsky Conference addressed both financial reform and poverty in the context of Minsky’s work on financial instability and his proposal for a public job guarantee. Panels focused on the design of a new, more robust, and stable financial architecture; fiscal austerity and the sustainability of the US economic recovery; central bank independence and financial reform; the larger implications of the eurozone debt crisis for the global economic system; improving governance of the social safety net; the institutional shape of the future financial system; strategies for promoting poverty eradication and an inclusive economy; sustainable development and market transformation; time poverty and the gender pay gap; and policy and regulatory challenges for emerging-market economies. The proceedings include the conference program, transcripts of keynote speakers’ remarks, synopses of the panel sessions, and biographies of the participants.Download:Associated Program(s):Author(s):Barbara Ross Michael StephensRegion(s):United States
In the Media | June 2013
By Dimitri B. PapadimitriouThe Huffington Post, June 18, 2013. Copyright © 2013 TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Remember last summer? The London Whale, that blockbuster adventure thriller, triggered one chill after another as the high-risk action at JPMorgan Chase was revealed. Today, the threats posed by megabanks remain just below the surface—no crisis at the moment—but they’re equally dangerous. A major sequel this year cannot be ruled out.
Dodd-Frank, the law designed to reform the financial system, had already been on the books for two years when JPMorgan’s troubles surfaced. In an effort to figure out how it failed to prevent massive losses by one of the world’s largest banks, a Senate subcommittee investigated. This spring, it issued its report on the outsize positions taken by the bank’s Chief Investment Office (CIO)—with a lead trader known as ‘the London Whale’—and the department’s subsequent six billion dollar crash.
The committee detailed a list of concealed high-risk activities, and determined that the CIO’s so-called ‘hedging’ activities were really just disguised propriety trading, that is, volatile, high-profit trades on behalf of the bank itself, rather than on behalf of its customers in return for commissions.
Levy Economics Institute Senior Scholar Jan Kregel has taken these conclusions a step further, after analyzing the evidence. In a new research paper he makes the case that the primary cause of the bank’s difficulties was not that it engaged in proprietary trading: It was the concealment of this activity through the creation of a ‘shadow bank’, with the express purpose of this hardly-visible bank-within-the-bank being to create profits. What began as a unit to hedge risks—a safeguard—no longer served that purpose. He argues that when megabanks operate across all aspects of finance, this expansion of propriety trading becomes inevitable.
The solution, Kregel says, is not to prevent hedging, but rather to recognize that it can never be consistently profitable. A true hedging unit only generates profits when a bank’s bets on its primary investments are unexpectedly wrong. The legitimate hedge is expected to run losses most of the time, if the bank’s strategy and credit assessments are accurate. And for this reason, hedging activity should never be funded from customer deposits.
Did the London Whale revelations result in protections for bank customers—and their federal insurers—from this kind of gambling?
Dodd-Frank will reach its third anniversary in July. It mandated that Congress write 398 rules. About two-thirds of the deadlines for those rules have been missed. In addition, the hiring of regulators has been stalled in Washington, further undermining implementation of the law.
One rule that limited trading on derivatives contracts, the kind of activity that led to the London Whale debacle, was successfully challenged in the courts by a finance trade group. Another, the “Volcker Rule,” would require banks to separate consumer lending from speculative trading. It was Dodd-Frank’s most ambitious provision. Bank lobbyists have successfully kept regulators way behind schedule on finalizing it. Last week, an anti-regulatory bill to roll back other restrictions on derivatives trading passed in the House (the same bill was shelved last summer while the spotlight was on the London Whale). These are only a few examples. Attempts to reign in the recklessness are relentlessly dismantled as soon as they’re proposed.
A new bill to increase capital standards for the biggest banks has also recently surfaced. The requirement that these institutions hold less debt and more assets, sponsored by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and David Vitter (R-Louisiana), would, in addition, limit the federal safety net to only cover traditional banking activities. It faces tough opposition.
I’ve written before about the limits of Dodd-Frank’s scope, and the fundamental changes we need to make in how we approach financial regulation if it is going to succeed. Kregel’s analysis pinpoints some of the key abuses that urgently need to be addressed. Despite all the obstacles, the responsibility remains to reform banks that are too big to fail, and even, apparently, to regulate.
Meanwhile, the Senate subcommittee’s report has been forwarded to the Justice Department, where no particular indictments are anticipated. Until our increasingly fragile system is strengthened, expect a remake of the London Whale story. Only the cast and crew will change.
One-Pager No. 38 | June 2013The recent report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on the operations of JPMorgan Chase’s Synthetic Credit Portfolio unit—aka the London Whale—has brought renewed attention to the risks of proprietary trading for insured banks, and provides depth to the larger risks inherent in the financial system after Dodd-Frank.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Related Topic(s):
Press Releases | May 2013