Publications on Default
Working Paper No. 933 | July 2019
Making Sense of the Barro-Ricardo Equivalence in a Financialized WorldThe 2008 crisis created a need to rethink many aspects of economic theory, including the role of public intervention in the economy. On this issue, we explore the Barro-Ricardo equivalence, which has played a decisive role in molding the economic policies that fostered the crisis. We analyze the equivalence and its theoretical underpinnings, concluding that: (1) it declares, but then forgets, that it does not matter whether the nature of debt and investment is public or private; (2) its most problematic assumption is the representative agent hypothesis, which does not allow for an explanation of financialization and cannot assess dangers coming from high levels of financial leverage; (3) social wealth cannot be based on any micro-foundation and is linked to the role of the state as provider of financial stability; and (4) default is always the optimal policy for the government, and this remains true even when relaxing many equivalence assumptions. We go on to discuss possible solutions to high levels of public debt in the real world, inferring that no general conclusions are possible and every solution or mix of solutions must be tailored to each specific case. We conclude by connecting different solutions to the political balance of forces in the current era of financialization, using Italy (and, by extension, the eurozone) as a concrete example to better illustrate the discussion.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Lorenzo Esposito Giuseppe Mastromatteo
Policy Note 2012/7 | June 2012
Possible Costs and Likely Outcomes of a GrexitThe European Union’s (EU) handling of the Greek crisis has been an unmitigated disaster. In fact, EU political leadership has been a failure of historic proportions, as its myopic, neoliberal bent and fear-driven policies have brought the eurozone to the brink of collapse. After more than two years of a “kicking the can down the road” policy response, it’s a do-or-die situation for Euroland. Greece has reached the point where an exit looks rather imminent (it’s really a matter of time, regardless of the June 17 election outcome), Portugal is bleeding heavily, Spain is about to go under, and Italy is in a state of despair. This Policy Note examines why the bailout policies failed to rescue Greece and boost the eurozone, and what effects a “Grexit” might possibly have—on Greece and the rest of Euroland.
Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
One-Pager No. 31 | May 2012
On June 17, Greece will hold a second round of elections, the outcome of which might force the European Union to halt all financial assistance to the debt-strapped country. What Greece desperately needs is a leadership with the ability to explore all possible options and to prepare the nation for the tough challenges that may lie ahead—and to make them aware of the opportunities available to a government in charge of its own currency.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
One-Pager No. 25 | February 2012The 2007–08 global financial crisis was the second most disastrous global economic event of the last 80 years. Thanks to severe austerity measures and a fanatical commitment to fiscal consolidation, Europe’s overall economy is now close to stagnation and extremely high levels of unemployment prevail in many countries, especially in the eurozone periphery. In Greece, the situation is completely out of control, with the standard of living rapidly declining to 1960s levels and the number of unemployed having reached one in five. The second bailout plan will do nothing more than buy extra time for the European Union to build firewalls to prevent the spread of Greek contagion—and prepare the ground for Greece’s exit from the euro.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):C. J. Polychroniou
Working Paper No. 700 | December 2011
This paper takes off from Jan Kregel’s paper “Shylock and Hamlet, or Are There Bulls and Bears in the Circuit?” (1986), which aimed to remedy shortcomings in most expositions of the “circuit approach.” While some “circuitistes” have rejected John Maynard Keynes’s liquidity preference theory, Kregel argued that such rejection leaves the relation between money and capital asset prices, and thus investment theory, hanging. This paper extends Kregel’s analysis to an examination of the role that banks play in the circuit, and argues that banks should be modeled as active rather than passive players. This also requires an extension of the circuit theory of money, along the lines of the credit and state money approaches of modern Chartalists who follow A. Mitchell Innes. Further, we need to take Charles Goodhart’s argument about default seriously: agents in the circuit are heterogeneous credit risks. The paper concludes with links to the work of French circuitist Alain Parguez.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 20 | November 2011As the crisis in Europe spreads, policymakers trot out one inadequate proposal after another, all failing to address the core problem. The possibility of dissolution, whether complete or partial, is looking less and less farfetched. Alongside political obstacles to reform, there is a widespread failure to understand the nature of this crisis. And without seeing clearly, policymakers will continue to focus on the wrong solutions.
Policy Note 2011/2 | May 2011
By general agreement, the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path.” Try typing the phrase into Google News: 19 of the first 20 hits refer to the federal debt. But what does this actually mean? One suspects that some who use the phrase are guided by vague fears, or even that they don’t quite know what to be afraid of. Some people fear that there may come a moment when the government’s bond markets would close, forcing a default or “bankruptcy.” But the government controls the legal-tender currency in which its bonds are issued and can always pay its bills with cash. A more plausible worry is inflation—notably, the threat of rising energy prices in an oil-short world—alongside depreciation of the dollar, either of which would reduce the real return on government bonds. But neither oil-price inflation nor dollar devaluation constitutes default, and neither would be intrinsically “unsustainable.”
After a brief discussion of the major worries, Senior Scholar James Galbraith focuses on one, and only one, critical issue: the actual behavior of the public-debt-to-GDP ratio under differing economic assumptions through time. His conclusion? The CBO’s assumption that the United States must offer a real interest rate on the public debt higher than the real growth rate by itself creates an unsustainability that is not otherwise there. Changing that one assumption completely alters the long-term dynamic of the public debt. By the terms of the CBO’s own model, a low interest rate erases the notion that the US debt-to-GDP ratio is on an “unsustainable path.” The prudent policy conclusion? Keep the projected interest rate down. Otherwise, stay cool: don’t change the expected primary deficit abruptly, and allow the economy to recover through time.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):