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

  • This monograph is part of the Levy Institute’s Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, a two-year project funded by the Ford Foundation.

    This is the fourth in a series of reports summarizing the findings of the Research and Policy Dialogue Project on Improving Governance of the Government Safety Net in Financial Crisis, directed by Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray. This project explores alternative methods of providing a government safety net in times of crisis. In the global financial crisis that began in 2007, the United States used two primary responses: a stimulus package approved and budgeted by Congress, and a complex and unprecedented response by the Federal Reserve. The project examines the benefits and drawbacks of each method, focusing on questions of accountability, democratic governance and transparency, and mission consistency.

    The project has also explored the possibility of reform that might place more responsibility for provision of a safety net on Congress, with a smaller role to be played by the Fed, enhancing accountability while allowing the Fed to focus more closely on its proper mission. Given the rise of shadow banking—a financial system that operates largely outside the reach of bank regulators and supervisors—the Fed faces a complicated problem. It might be necessary to reform finance, through downsizing and a return to what Hyman Minsky called “prudent banking,” before we can reform the Fed.

    This report describes the overall scope of the project and summarizes key findings from the three previous reports, as well as additional research undertaken in 2014.  

  • Working Paper No. 834 | March 2015

    John Maynard Keynes held that the central bank’s actions determine long-term interest rates through short-term interest rates and various monetary policy measures. His conjectures about the determinants of long-term interest rates were made in the context of advanced capitalist economies, and were based on his views on ontological uncertainty and the formation of investors’ expectations. Are these conjectures valid in emerging markets, such as India? This paper empirically investigates the determinants of changes in Indian government bonds’ nominal yields. Changes in short-term interest rates, after controlling for other crucial variables such as changes in the rates of inflation and economic activity, take a lead role in driving changes in the nominal yields of Indian government bonds. This vindicates Keynes’s theories, and suggests that his views on long-term interest rates are also applicable to emerging markets. Higher fiscal deficits do not appear to raise government bond yields in India. It is further argued that Keynes’s conjectures about investors’ outlooks, views, and expectations are fairly robust in a world of ontological uncertainty.

    Associated Program(s):
    Tanweer Akram Anupam Das
    Related Topic(s):

  • Policy Note 2015/1 | February 2015
    Financial Fragility and the Survival of the Single Currency
    Given the continuing divergence between progress in the monetary field and political integration in the euro area, the German interest in imposing austerity may be seen as representing an attempt to achieve, de facto, accelerated progress toward political union; progress that has long been regarded by Germany as a precondition for the success of monetary unification in the form of the common currency. Yet no matter how necessary these austerity policies may appear in the context of the slow and incomplete political integration in Europe, they are ultimately unsustainable. In the absence of further progress in political unification, writes Senior Scholar Jan Kregel, the survival and stability of the euro paradoxically require either sustained economic stagnation or the maintenance of what Hyman Minsky would have recognized as a Ponzi scheme. Neither of these alternatives is economically or politically sustainable. 

  • One-Pager No. 48 | February 2015
    The developed world’s policy response to the recent financial crisis has produced complaints from Brazil of “currency wars” and calls from India for increased policy coordination and cooperation. Chinese officials have echoed the “exorbitant privilege” noted by de Gaulle in the 1960s, and Russia has joined China as a proponent of replacing the dollar with Special Drawing Rights. However, none of the proposed remedies are adequate to achieve the emerging market economies’ objective of joining the ranks of industrialized, developed countries. 

  • Public Policy Brief No. 139 | February 2015
    Back to the Future
    Emerging market economies are taking an ill-targeted and far too limited approach to addressing their ongoing problems with the international financial system, according to Senior Scholar Jan Kregel. In this policy brief, he explains why only a wholesale reform of the international financial architecture can adequately address these countries’ concerns. As a blueprint for reform, Kregel recommends a radical proposal advanced in the 1940s, most notably by John Maynard Keynes.   Keynes was among those who were developing proposals for shaping the international financial system in the immediate postwar period. His clearing union plan, itself inspired by Hjalmar Schacht’s system of bilateral clearing agreements, would have effectively eliminated the need for an international reserve currency. Under Keynes’s clearing union, trade and other international payments would be automatically facilitated through a global clearinghouse, using debits and credits denominated in a notional unit of account. The unit of account would have a fixed conversion rate to national currencies and could not be bought, sold, or traded—meaning no market for foreign currency would be required. Clearinghouse credits could only be used to offset debits by buying imports, and if not used within a specified period of time, the credits would be extinguished, giving export surplus countries an incentive to spend them. As Kregel points out, this would help support global demand and enable a shared adjustment burden.   Though Keynes’s proposal was not specifically designed for emerging market economies, Kregel recommends combining this plan with current ideas for regionally governed institutions—to create, in other words, “regional clearing unions,” building on existing swaps arrangements. Under such a system, emerging market economies would be able to pursue their development needs without reliance on the prevailing international financial architecture, in which their concerns are, at best, diluted. 

  • Working Paper No. 833 | February 2015
    A Blueprint for Reform
    If emerging markets are to achieve their objective of joining the ranks of industrialized, developed countries, they must use their economic and political influence to support radical change in the international financial system. This working paper recommends John Maynard Keynes’s “clearing union” as a blueprint for reform of the international financial architecture that could address emerging market grievances more effectively than current approaches.
      Keynes’s proposal for the postwar international system sought to remedy some of the same problems currently facing emerging market economies. It was based on the idea that financial stability was predicated on a balance between imports and exports over time, with any divergence from balance providing automatic financing of the debit countries by the creditor countries via a global clearinghouse or settlement system for trade and payments on current account. This eliminated national currency payments for imports and exports; countries received credits or debits in a notional unit of account fixed to national currency. Since the unit of account could not be traded, bought, or sold, it would not be an international reserve currency. The credits with the clearinghouse could only be used to offset debits by buying imports, and if not used for this purpose they would eventually be extinguished; hence the burden of adjustment would be shared equally—credit generated by surpluses would have to be used to buy imports from the countries with debit balances. Emerging market economies could improve upon current schemes for regionally governed financial institutions by using this proposal as a template for the creation of regional clearing unions using a notional unit of account. 

  • Working Paper No. 832 | February 2015
    The Contributions of John F. Henry
    This paper explores the rise of money and class society in ancient Greece, drawing historical and theoretical parallels to the case of ancient Egypt. In doing so, the paper examines the historical applicability of the chartalist and metallist theories of money. It will be shown that the origins and the evolution of money were closely intertwined with the rise and consolidation of class society and inequality. Money, class society, and inequality came into being simultaneously, so it seems, mutually reinforcing the development of one another. Rather than a medium of exchange in commerce, money emerged as an “egalitarian token” at the time when the substance of social relations was undergoing a fundamental transformation from egalitarian to class societies. In this context, money served to preserve the façade of social and economic harmony and equality, while inequality was growing and solidifying. Rather than “invented” by private traders, money was first issued by ancient Greek states and proto-states as they aimed to establish and consolidate their political and economic power. Rather than a medium of exchange in commerce, money first served as a “means of recompense” administered by the Greek city-states as they strived to implement the civic conception of social justice. While the origins of money are to be found in the origins of inequality, a well-functioning democratic society has the power to subvert the inequality-inducing characteristic of money via the use of money for public purpose, following the principles of Modern Money Theory (MMT). When used according to the principles of MMT, the inequality-inducing characteristic of money could be undermined, while the current trends in rising income and wealth disparities could be contained and reversed. 

  • Working Paper No. 831 | January 2015
    The Market Creating and Shaping Roles of State Investment Banks

    Recent decades witnessed a trend whereby private markets retreated from financing the real economy, while, simultaneously, the real economy itself became increasingly financialized. This trend resulted in public finance becoming more important for investments in capital development, technical change, and innovation. Within this context, this paper focuses on the roles played by a particular source of public finance: state investment banks (SIBs). It develops a conceptual typology of the different roles that SIBs play in the economy, which together show the market creation/shaping process of SIBs rather than their mere “market fixing” roles. This paper discusses four types of investments, both theoretically and empirically: countercyclical, developmental, venture capitalist, and challenge led. To develop the typology, we first discuss how standard market failure theory justifies the roles of SIBs, the diagnostics and evaluation toolbox associated with it, and resulting criticisms centered on notions of “government failures.” We then show the limitations of this approach based on insights from Keynes, Schumpeter, Minsky, and Polanyi, as well as other authors from the evolutionary economics tradition, which help us move toward a framework for public investments that is more about market creating/shaping than market fixing. As frameworks lead to evaluation tools, we use this new lens to discuss the increasingly targeted investments that SIBs are making, and to shed new light on the usual criticisms that are made about such directed activity (e.g., crowding out and picking winners). The paper ends with a proposal of directions for future research.

    Associated Program:
    Mariana Mazzucato Caetano C.R. Penna
    Related Topic(s):

  • Working Paper No. 829 | January 2015

    Before the global financial crisis, the assistance of a lender of last resort was traditionally thought to be limited to commercial banks. During the crisis, however, the Federal Reserve created a number of facilities to support brokers and dealers, money market mutual funds, the commercial paper market, the mortgage-backed securities market, the triparty repo market, et cetera. In this paper, we argue that the elimination of specialized banking through the eventual repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (GSA) has played an important role in the leakage of the public subsidy intended for commercial banks to nonbank financial institutions. In a specialized financial system, which the GSA had helped create, the use of the lender-of-last-resort safety net could be more comfortably limited to commercial banks.

    However, the elimination of GSA restrictions on bank-permissible activities has contributed to the rise of a financial system where the lines between regulated and protected banks and the so-called shadow banking system have become blurred. The existence of the shadow banking universe, which is directly or indirectly guaranteed by banks, has made it practically impossible to confine the safety to the regulated banking system. In this context, reforming the lender-of-last-resort institution requires fundamental changes within the financial system itself.

  • Working Paper No. 828 | January 2015
    The Indian Case

    Financialization creates space for the financial sector in economies, and in doing so helps to raise the share of financial assets in the portfolios held by market participants. Largely driven by deregulation, the process works to make financial assets relatively attractive as compared to other assets, by offering both better returns and potential capital gains. Both the trend toward a more financialized economy and the expected returns on financial investments have provided incentives to corporate managers to invest larger sums in financial assets, resulting in growth of the share of financial assets relative to other assets held in portfolios. Assets held in the financial sector, however, failed to generate asset growth for the corporates. The need to obtain resources by borrowing in order to meet current liabilities reflects a pattern of Ponzi finance on their part. This paper traces the above pattern in corporate holdings of assets and its implications, with emphasis on the Indian economy.