Publications on Debt
Working Paper No. 901 | March 2018
A Critical AssessmentDuring 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.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):J. W. Mason
Working Paper No. 855 | November 2015
Debt, Central Banks, and Functional Finance
The scientific reassessment of the economic role of the state after the crisis has renewed interest in Abba Lerner’s theory of functional finance (FF). A thorough discussion of this concept is helpful in reconsidering the debate on the nature of money and the origin of the business cycle and crises. It also allows a reevaluation of many policy issues, such as the Barro–Ricardo equivalence, the cause of inflation, and the role of monetary policy.
FF, throwing a different light on these issues, can provide a sound foundation for discussing income, fiscal, and monetary policy rules in the right context of flexibility in the management of national budgets, assessing what kind of policies should be awarded priority, and the effectiveness of tackling the crisis with the different part of public budget. It also allows us to understand ways of increasing efficiency through public investment while reducing the total operational costs of firms. In the specific context of the eurozone, FF is useful for assessing the institutional framework of the euro and how to improve it in the face of protracted low growth, deflation, and weak public finances.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Giuseppe Mastromatteo Lorenzo Esposito
Working Paper No. 848 | October 2015
A Case Study of the Canadian Economy, 1935–75
Historically high levels of private and public debt coupled with already very low short-term interest rates appear to limit the options for stimulative monetary policy in many advanced economies today. One option that has not yet been considered is monetary financing by central banks to boost demand and/or relieve debt burdens. We find little empirical evidence to support the standard objection to such policies: that they will lead to uncontrollable inflation. Theoretical models of inflationary monetary financing rest upon inaccurate conceptions of the modern endogenous money creation process. This paper presents a counter-example in the activities of the Bank of Canada during the period 1935–75, when, working with the government, it engaged in significant direct or indirect monetary financing to support fiscal expansion, economic growth, and industrialization. An institutional case study of the period, complemented by a general-to-specific econometric analysis, finds no support for a relationship between monetary financing and inflation. The findings lend support to recent calls for explicit monetary financing to boost highly indebted economies and a more general rethink of the dominant New Macroeconomic Consensus policy framework that prohibits monetary financing.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Josh Ryan-Collins
One-Pager No. 24 | February 2012
It’s a mistake to interpret the unfolding disaster in Europe as primarily a “sovereign debt crisis.” The underlying problem is not periphery profligacy, but rather the very setup of the European Monetary Union (EMU)—a setup that even now prevents a satisfactory resolution to this crisis. The central weakness of the EMU is that it separates nations from their currencies without providing them with adequate overarching fiscal or monetary policy structures—it’s like a United States without a Treasury or a fully functioning Federal Reserve. Without addressing this basic structural weakness, Euroland will continue to stumble toward the cliff—and threaten to pull a tottering US financial system over the edge with it.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 647 | December 2010
This paper advances three fundamental propositions regarding money:
(1) As R. W. Clower (1965) famously put it, money buys goods and goods buy money, but goods do not buy goods.
(2) Money is always debt; it cannot be a commodity from the first proposition because, if it were, that would mean that a particular good is buying goods.
(3) Default on debt is possible.
These three propositions are used to build a theory of money that is linked to common themes in the heterodox literature on money. The approach taken here is integrated with Hyman Minsky’s (1986) work (which relies heavily on the work of his dissertation adviser, Joseph Schumpeter ); the endogenous money approach of Basil Moore; the French-Italian circuit approach; Paul Davidson’s (1978) interpretation of John Maynard Keynes, which relies on uncertainty; Wynne Godley’s approach, which relies on accounting identities; the “K” distribution theory of Keynes, Michal Kalecki, Nicholas Kaldor, and Kenneth Boulding; the sociological approach of Ingham; and the chartalist, or state money, approach (A. M. Innes, G. F. Knapp, and Charles Goodhart). Hence, this paper takes a somewhat different route to develop the more typical heterodox conclusions about money.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):