Research Programs

Monetary Policy and Financial Structure

Monetary Policy and Financial Structure

This 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.

 



Program Publications

  • Conference Proceedings | April 2018
    A conference organized by the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College

    The proceedings include the 2017 conference program, transcripts of keynote speakers’ remarks, synopses of the panel sessions, and biographies of the participants.
    Download:
    Associated Program(s):
    Author(s):
    Michael Stephens
    Related Topic(s):
    Region(s):
    United States, Latin America, Europe

  • Working Paper No. 903 | April 2018
    An Abstract of an Excerpt
    The dominant postwar tradition in economics assumes the utility maximization of economic agents drives markets toward stable equilibrium positions. In such a world there should be no endogenous asset bubbles and untenable levels of private indebtedness. But there are.
     
    There is a competing alternative view that assumes an endogenous behavioral propensity for markets to embark on disequilibrium paths. Sometimes these departures are dangerously far reaching. Three great interwar economists set out most of the economic theory that explains this natural tendency for markets to propagate financial fragility: Joseph Schumpeter, Irving Fisher, and John Maynard Keynes. In the postwar period, Hyman Minsky carried this tradition forward.  Early on he set out a “financial instability hypothesis” based on the thinking of these three predecessors. Later on, he introduced two additional dynamic processes that intensify financial market disequilibria: principal–agent distortions and mounting moral hazard. The emergence of a behavioral finance literature has provided empirical support to the theory of endogenous financial instability. Work by Vernon Smith explains further how disequilibrium paths go to asset bubble extremes. 
     
    The following paper provides a compressed account of this tradition of endogenous financial market instability.

  • Working Paper No. 901 | March 2018
    A Critical Assessment
    During the period leading up to the recession of 2007–08, there was a large increase in household debt relative to income, a large increase in measured consumption as a fraction of GDP, and a shift toward more unequal income distribution. It is sometimes claimed that these three developments were closely linked. In these stories, the rise in household debt is largely due to increased borrowing by lower-income households who sought to maintain rising consumption in the face of stagnant incomes; this increased consumption in turn played an important role in maintaining aggregate demand. In this paper, I ask if this story is consistent with the empirical evidence. In particular, I ask five questions: How much household borrowing finances consumption spending? How much has monetary consumption spending by households increased? How much of the rise in household debt-income ratios is attributable to increased borrowing? How is household debt distributed by income? And how has the distribution of consumption spending changed relative to the distribution of income? I conclude that the distribution-debt-demand story may have some validity if limited to the housing boom period of 2002–07, but does not fit the longer-term rise in household debt since 1980.

  • One-Pager No. 54 | February 2018
    The outgoing governor of the People’s Bank of China recently warned of a possible Chinese “Minsky moment”—Paul McCulley’s term, most recently applied to the 2007 US real estate crash that reverberated around the world as a global financial crisis. Although Western commentators have weighed in on both sides of the debate about the likelihood of China’s debt bubble bursting, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argues that too little attention is being paid to the far more probable repeat of a US Minsky moment. US prospects for growth, as well as for successfully handling the next financial meltdown, are dismal, he concludes.
     

  • Policy Note 2018/1 | February 2018
    It is beginning to look a lot like déjà vu in the United States. According to Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, the combination of overvalued stocks, overleveraged banks, an undersupervised financial system, high indebtedness across sectors, and growing inequality together should remind one of the conditions of 1929 and 2007. Comparing the situations of the United States and China, where the outgoing central bank governor recently warned of the fragility of China’s financial sector, Wray makes the case that the United State is far more likely to “win” the race to the next “Minsky moment.” Instead of sustainable growth, we have “bubble-ized” our economy on the back of an overgrown financial sector—and to make matters worse, he concludes, US policymakers are ill-prepared to deal with the coming crisis.

  • Working Paper No. 900 | January 2018
    A Comparison of the Evolution of the Positions of Hyman Minsky and Abba Lerner
    This paper examines the views of Hyman Minsky and Abba Lerner on the functional finance approach to fiscal policy. It argues that the main principles of functional finance were relatively widely held in the immediate postwar period. However, with the rise of the Phillips curve, the return of the Quantity Theory, the development of the notion of a government budget constraint, and accelerating inflation at the end of the 1960s, functional finance fell out of favor. The paper compares and contrasts the evolution of the views of Minsky and Lerner over the postwar period, arguing that Lerner’s transition went further, as he embraced a version of Monetarism that emphasized the use of monetary policy over fiscal policy. Minsky’s views of functional finance became more nuanced, in line with his Institutionalist approach to the economy. However, Minsky never rejected his early beliefs that countercyclical government budgets must play a significant role in stabilizing the economy. Thus, in spite of some claims that Minsky should not be counted as one of the “forefathers” of Modern Money Theory (MMT), this paper argues that it is Minsky, not Lerner, whose work remains essential for the further development of MMT.

  • Working Paper No. 897 | September 2017
    Ever since the Great Recession, central banks have supplemented their traditional policy tool of setting the short-term interest rate with massive buyouts of assets to extend lines of credit and jolt flagging demand. As with many new policies, there have been a range of reactions from economists, with some extolling quantitative easing’s expansionary virtues and others fearing it might invariably lead to overvaluation of assets, instigating economic instability and bubble behavior. To investigate these theories, we combine elements of the models in chapters 5, 10, and 11 of Godley and Lavoie’s (2007) Monetary Economics with equations for quantitative easing and endogenous bubbles in a new model. By running the model under a variety of parameters, we study the causal links between quantitative easing, asset overvaluation, and macroeconomic performance. Preliminary results suggest that rather than being pro- or countercyclical, quantitative easing acts as a sort of phase shift with respect to time.
     

  • Public Policy Brief No. 144 | September 2017
    A Radical Proposal Based on Keynes’s Clearing Union
    In light of the problems besetting the eurozone, this policy brief examines the contributions of John Maynard Keynes and Richard Kahn to early debates over the design of the postwar international financial system. Their critical engagement with the early policy challenges associated with managing international settlements offers a perspective from which to analyze the flaws in the current euro-based financial system, and Keynes’s clearing union proposal offers a template for a better approach. A system of regional federations employing a clearing system in which members either retained their own currency or used a common currency as a unit of account in registering debits and credits for settlement purposes would preserve domestic policy independence and retain regional diversity.
     

  • Working Paper No. 896 | September 2017
    An Empirical Analysis of Electricity Distribution Companies in Brazil (2007–15)
    The present paper applies Hyman P. Minsky’s insights on financial fragility in order to analyze the behavior of electricity distribution companies in Brazil from 2007 to 2015. More specifically, it builds an analytical framework to classify the firms operating in this sector into Minskyan risk categories and assess how financial fragility evolved over time, in each firm and in the sector as a whole. This work adapts Minsky’s financial fragility indicators and taxonomy to the conditions of the electricity distribution sector and applies them to regulatory accounting data for more than 60 firms. This empirical application of Minsky’s theory for analyzing firms engaged in the provision of public goods and services is a novelty. The results show an increase in the financial fragility of those firms (as well as the sector) throughout the period, especially between 2008 and 2013, even though the number of firms operating at the highest level of financial risk hardly changed.
    Download:
    Associated Program:
    Author(s):
    Ernani Teixeira Torres Filho Norberto Montani Martins Caroline Yukari Miaguti
    Related Topic(s):

  • Working Paper No. 894 | August 2017
    This paper undertakes an empirical inquiry concerning the determinants of long-term interest rates on US Treasury securities. It applies the bounds testing procedure to cointegration and error correction models within the autoregressive distributive lag (ARDL) framework, using monthly data and estimating a wide range of Keynesian models of long-term interest rates. While previous studies have mainly relied on quarterly data, the use of monthly data substantially expands the number of observations. This in turn enables the calibration of a wide range of models to test various hypotheses. The short-term interest rate is the key determinant of the long-term interest rate, while the rate of core inflation and the pace of economic activity also influence the long-term interest rate. A rise in the ratio of the federal fiscal balance (government net lending/borrowing as a share of nominal GDP) lowers yields on long-term US Treasury securities. The short- and long-run effects of short-term interest rates, the rate of inflation, the pace of economic activity, and the fiscal balance ratio on long-term interest rates on US Treasury securities are estimated. The findings reinforce Keynes’s prescient insights on the determinants of government bond yields.