Research Programs

Economic Policy for the 21st Century

Economic Policy for the 21st Century

Nearly all Levy Institute research focuses not only on economic analysis, but also on the creation of possible strategies through which policymakers may solve the issue at hand. This program includes research on those macroeconomic policy areas most closely associated with public sector activities: monetary policy and financial institutions, federal budget policy, and the labor market. Examples of studies on monetary policy and financial institutions include explorations of the repercussions the euro’s introduction has had on monetary and fiscal policies and monetary institutions within the European Community; the effectiveness of monetary policy; and Minskyan analyses of the current economic problems in the United States, Japan, and Brazil. Examinations of federal budget policies cover such topics as the effects of budget surpluses on the economy, the need for fiscal expansion to combat economic torpor, and analyses of the Social Security and health care systems.

Associated Programs

Federal Budget Policy
Explorations in Theory and Empirical Analysis
INET–Levy Institute Project

Program Publications

  • Policy Note 2017/3 | July 2017
    Because Healthcare Is Not Insurable
    The growing political momentum for a universal single-payer healthcare program in the United States is due in part to Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However, according to Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, it is Obamacare’s successes and its failures that have boosted support for a single-payer system. Even after Obamacare, the US healthcare system still has significant gaps in coverage—all while facing the highest healthcare bill in the world. In this policy note, Wray argues that the underlying challenge for a system based on private, for-profit insurance is that basic healthcare is not an insurable expense. It is time to abandon the current, overly complex and expensive payments system and reconsider single payer for all. Social Security and Medicare provide a model for reform.

  • Working Paper No. 891 | May 2017
    A Survey

    The stock-flow consistent (SFC) modeling approach, grounded in the pioneering work of Wynne Godley and James Tobin in the 1970s, has been adopted by a growing number of researchers in macroeconomics, especially after the publication of Godley and Lavoie (2007), which provided a general framework for the analysis of whole economic systems, and the recognition that macroeconomic models integrating real markets with flow-of-funds analysis had been particularly successful in predicting the Great Recession of 2007–9. We introduce the general features of the SFC approach for a closed economy, showing how the core model has been extended to address issues such as financialization and income distribution. We next discuss the implications of the approach for models of open economies and compare the methodologies adopted in developing SFC empirical models for whole countries. We review the contributions where the SFC approach is being adopted as the macroeconomic closure of microeconomic agent-based models, and how the SFC approach is at the core of new research in ecological macroeconomics. Finally, we discuss the appropriateness of the name “stock-flow consistent” for the class of models we survey.

  • Working Paper No. 883 | February 2017
    An Empirical Analysis of G20 Countries

    This paper analyzes the effectiveness of public expenditures on economic growth within the analytical framework of comprehensive Neo-Schumpeterian economics. Using a fixed-effects model for G20 countries, the paper investigates the links between the specific categories of public expenditures and economic growth, captured in human capital formation, defense, infrastructure development, and technological innovation. The results reveal that the impact of innovation-related spending on economic growth is much higher than that of the other macro variables. Data for the study was drawn from the International Monetary Fund’s Government Finance Statistics database, infrastructure reports for the G20 countries, and the World Development Indicators issued by the World Bank.

  • Working Paper No. 878 | December 2016
    A Post-Keynesian/Evolutionist Critique

    This paper provides a critical analysis of expansionary austerity theory (EAT). The focus is on the theoretical weaknesses of EAT—the extreme circumstances and fragile assumptions under which expansionary consolidations might actually take place. The paper presents a simple theoretical model that takes inspiration from both the post-Keynesian and evolutionary/institutionalist traditions. First, it demonstrates that well-designed austerity measures hardly trigger short-run economic expansions in the context of expected long-lasting consolidation plans (i.e., when adjustment plans deal with remarkably high debt-to-GDP ratios), when the so-called “financial channel” is not operative (i.e., in the context of monetarily sovereign economies), or when the degree of export responsiveness to internal devaluation is low. Even in the context of non–monetarily sovereign countries (e.g., members of the eurozone), austerity’s effectiveness crucially depends on its highly disputable capacity to immediately stabilize fiscal variables.

    The paper then analyzes some possible long-run economic dynamics, emphasizing the high degree of instability that characterizes austerity-based adjustments plans. Path-dependency and cumulativeness make the short-run impulse effects of fiscal consolidation of paramount importance to (hopefully) obtaining any appreciable medium-to-long-run benefit. Should these effects be contractionary at the onset, the short-run costs of austerity measures can breed an endless spiral of recession and ballooning debt in the long run. If so, in the case of non–monetarily sovereign countries debt forgiveness may emerge as the ultimate solution to restore economic soundness. Alternatively, institutional innovations like those adopted since mid-2012 by the European Central Bank are required to stabilize the economy, even though they are unlikely to restore rapid growth in the absence of more active fiscal stimuli.

  • Working Paper No. 876 | October 2016
    The Fed’s Unjustified Rationale

    In December 2015, the Federal Reserve Board (FRB) initiated the process of “normalization,” with the objective of gradually raising the federal funds rate back to “normal”—i.e., levels that are “neither expansionary nor contrary” and are consistent with the established 2 percent longer-run goal for the annual Personal Consumption Expenditures index and the estimated natural rate of unemployment. This paper argues that the urgency and rationale behind the rate hikes are not theoretically sound or empirically justified. Despite policymakers’ celebration of “substantial” labor market progress, we are still short some 20 million jobs. Further, there is no reason to believe that the current exceptionally low inflation rates are transitory. Quite the contrary: without significant fiscal efforts to restore the bargaining power of labor, inflation rates are expected to remain below the Federal Open Market Committee’s long-term goal for years to come. Also, there is little empirical evidence or theoretical support for the FRB’s suggestion that higher interest rates are necessary to counter “excessive” risk-taking or provide a more stable financial environment.

  • Working Paper No. 875 | September 2016
    A Global Cap to Build an Effective Postcrisis Banking Supervision Framework

    The global financial crisis shattered the conventional wisdom about how financial markets work and how to regulate them. Authorities intervened to stop the panic—short-term pragmatism that spoke volumes about the robustness of mainstream economics. However, their very success in taming the collapse reduced efforts to radically change the “big bank” business model and lessened the possibility of serious banking reform—meaning that a strong and possibly even bigger financial crisis is inevitable in the future. We think an overall alternative is needed and at hand: Minsky’s theories on investment, financial stability, the growing weight of the financial sector, and the role of the state. Building on this legacy, it is possible to analyze which aspects of the post-2008 reforms actually work. In this respect, we argue that the only effective solution is to impose a global cap on the absolute size of banks.

    Associated Program(s):
    Giuseppe Mastromatteo Lorenzo Esposito
    Related Topic(s):

  • Working Paper No. 874 | September 2016
    Is There a Case for Gender-sensitive Horizontal Fiscal Equalization?

    This paper seeks to evaluate whether a gender-sensitive formula for the inter se devolution of union taxes to the states makes the process more progressive. We have used the state-specific child sex ratio (the number of females per thousand males in the age group 0–6 years) as one of the criteria for the tax devolution. The composite devolution formula as constructed provides maximum rewards to the state with the most favorable child-sex ratio, and the rewards progressively decline along with the declining sex ratio. In this formulation, the state with the most unfavorable child-sex ratio is penalized the most in terms of its share in the horizontal devolution. It is observed that the inclusion of gender criteria makes the intergovernmental fiscal transfers formula more equitable across states. This is not surprising given the monotonic decline in the sex ratio in some of the most high-income states in India.

  • Working Paper No. 872 | August 2016
    Do Fiscal Rules Impose Hard Budget Constraints?

    The primary objective of rule-based fiscal legislation at the subnational level in India is to achieve debt sustainability by placing a ceiling on borrowing and the use of borrowed resources for public capital investment by phasing out deficits in the budget revenue account. This paper examines whether the application of fiscal rules has contributed to an increase in fiscal space for public capital investment spending in major Indian states. Our analysis shows that, controlling for other factors, there is a negative relationship between fiscal rules and public capital investment spending at the state level under the rule-based fiscal regime.

  • Working Paper No. 868 | June 2016
    The ECB’s Belated Conversion?

    This paper investigates the European Central Bank’s (ECB) monetary policies. It identifies an antigrowth bias in the bank’s monetary policy approach: the ECB is quick to hike, but slow to ease. Similarly, while other players and institutional deficiencies share responsibility for the euro’s failure, the bank has generally done “too little, too late” with regard to managing the euro crisis, preventing protracted stagnation, and containing deflation threats. The bank remains attached to the euro area’s official competitive wage–repression strategy, which is in conflict with the ECB’s price stability mandate and undermines its more recent, unconventional monetary policy initiatives designed to restore price stability. The ECB needs a “Euro Treasury” partner to overcome the euro regime’s most serious flaw: the divorce between central bank and treasury institutions.

  • Working Paper No. 867 | May 2016

    This paper examines the issue of the Greek public debt from different perspectives. We provide a historical discussion of the accumulation of Greece’s public debt since the 1960s and the role of public debt in the recent crisis. We show that the austerity imposed since 2010 has been unsuccessful in stabilizing the debt while at the same time taking a heavy toll on the Greek economy and society. The experience of the last six years shows that the country’s public debt is clearly unsustainable, and therefore a bold restructuring is needed. An insistence on the current policies is not justifiable either on pragmatic or on moral or any other grounds. The experience of Germany in the early post–World War II period provides some useful hints for the way forward. A solution to the Greek public debt problem is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the solution of the Greek and wider European crisis. A broader agenda that deals with the malaises of the Greek economy and the structural imbalances of the eurozone is of vital importance.