Publications on John Maynard Keynes
Working Paper No. 886 | March 2017
This paper investigates the (lack of any lasting) impact of John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory on economic policymaking in Germany. The analysis highlights the interplay between economic history and the history of ideas in shaping policymaking in postwar (West) Germany. The paper argues that Germany learned the wrong lessons from its own history and misread the true sources of its postwar success. Monetary mythology and the Bundesbank, with its distinctive anti-inflationary bias, feature prominently in this collective odyssey. The analysis shows that the crisis of the euro today is largely the consequence of Germany’s peculiar anti-Keynesianism.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 48 | February 2015The 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.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 139, 2015 | February 2015
Back to the FutureEmerging 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.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 833 | February 2015
A Blueprint for ReformIf 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.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 821 | December 2014
The Advantages of Owning the Magic Porridge Pot
Over the past two decades there has been a revival of Georg Friedrich Knapp’s “state money” approach, also known as chartalism. The modern version has come to be called Modern Money Theory. Much of the recent research has delved into three main areas: mining previous work, applying the theory to analysis of current sovereign monetary operations, and exploring the policy space open to sovereign currency issuers. This paper focuses on “outside” money—the currency issued by the sovereign—and the advantages that accrue to nations that make full use of the policy space provided by outside money.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2014/5 | November 2014
The Fed’s zero interest policy rate (ZIRP) and quantitative easing (QE) policies failed to restore growth to the US economy as expected (i.e., increased investment spending à la John Maynard Keynes or from an expanded money supply à la Ben Bernanke / Milton Friedman). Senior Scholar Jan Kregel analyzes some of the arguments as to why these policies failed to deliver economic recovery. He notes a common misunderstanding of Keynes’s liquidity preference theory in the debate, whereby it is incorrectly linked to the recent implementation of ZIRP. Kregel also argues that Keynes’s would have implemented QE policies quite differently, by setting the bid and ask rate and letting the market determine the volume of transactions. This policy note both clarifies Keynes’s theoretical insights regarding unconventional monetary policies and provides a substantive analysis of some of the reasons why central bank policies have failed to achieve their stated goals.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 792 | March 2014
An Alternative to Economic Orthodoxy
This paper explores the intellectual history of the state, or chartalist, approach to money, from the early developers (Georg Friedrich Knapp and A. Mitchell Innes) through Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes, and Abba Lerner, and on to modern exponents Hyman Minsky, Charles Goodhart, and Geoffrey Ingham. This literature became the foundation for Modern Money Theory (MMT). In the MMT approach, the state (or any other authority able to impose an obligation) imposes a liability in the form of a generalized, social, legal unit of account—a money—used for measuring the obligation. This approach does not require the preexistence of markets; indeed, it almost certainly predates them. Once the authorities can levy such obligations, they can name what fulfills any obligation by denominating those things that can be delivered; in other words, by pricing them. MMT thus links obligatory payments like taxes to the money of account as well as the currency. This leads to a revised view of money and sovereign finance. The paper concludes with an analysis of the policy options available to a modern government that issues its own currency.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 789 | March 2014
The Road Not Taken
It is common knowledge that John Maynard Keynes advocated bold government action to deal with recessions and unemployment. What is not commonly known is that modern “Keynesian policies” bear little, if any, resemblance to the policy measures Keynes himself believed would guarantee true full employment over the long run. This paper corrects this misconception and outlines “the road not taken”; that is, the long-term program for full employment found in Keynes’s writings and elaborated on by others in works that are missing from mainstream textbooks and policy initiatives. The analysis herein focuses on why the private sector ordinarily fails to produce full employment, even during strong expansions and in the presence of strong government action. It articulates the reasons why the job of the policymaker is, not to “nudge” private firms to create jobs for all, but to do so itself directly as a matter of last resort. This paper discusses various designs of direct job creation policies that answer Keynes’s call for long-run full employment policies.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 42 | September 2013Perhaps the most indictable offense that mainstream economists committed, from 1988 through 2008, was to retrace Keynes’s path of discovery from 1924 (A Tract on Monetary Reform) through 1936 (The General Theory). Wholesale deregulation of finance and categorical confidence in a reductionist role for central banks came into being as the conventional wisdom embraced the 1924 view that free markets and stable prices alone give us the best chance for economic stability. In the aftermath of the grand asset market boom-and-bust cycle of 2008–9, we are jettisoning Keynes circa 1924 for the Keynes of 1936. In effect, we study business cycles but seem incapable of extricating the economics profession from reciting its assigned lines as the play unfolds.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Robert J. Barbera
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):
Working Paper No. 695 | November 2011
Explosion in the 1990s versus Implosion in the 2000s
Orthodox and heterodox theories of financial crises are hereby compared from a theoretical viewpoint, with emphasis on their genesis. The former view (represented by the fourth-generation models of Paul Krugman) reflects the neoclassical vision whereby turbulence is an exception; the latter insight (represented by the theories of Hyman P. Minsky) validates and extends John Maynard Keynes’s vision, since it is related to a modern financial world. The result of this theoretical exercise is that Minsky’s vision represents a superior explanation of financial crises and current events in financial systems because it considers the causes of financial crises as endogenous to the system. Crucial facts in relevant financial crises are mentioned in section 1, as an introduction; the orthodox models of financial crises are described in section 2; the heterodox models of financial crises are outlined in section 3; the main similarities and differences between orthodox and heterodox models of financial crises are identified in section 4; and conclusions based on the information provided by the previous section are outlined in section 5. References are listed at the end of the paper.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Jesús Muñoz
Was Keynes’s Monetary Policy, à Outrance in the Treatise, a Forerunnner of ZIRP and QE? Did He Change His Mind in the General Theory?
Policy Note 2011/4 | May 2011
At the end of 1930, as the 1929 US stock market crash was starting to have an impact on the real economy in the form of falling commodity prices, falling output, and rising unemployment, John Maynard Keynes, in the concluding chapters of his Treatise on Money, launched a challenge to monetary authorities to take “deliberate and vigorous action” to reduce interest rates and reverse the crisis. He argues that until “extraordinary,” “unorthodox” monetary policy action “has been taken along such lines as these and has failed, need we, in the light of the argument of this treatise, admit that the banking system can not, on this occasion, control the rate of investment, and, therefore, the level of prices.”
The “unorthodox” policies that Keynes recommends are a near-perfect description of the Japanese central bank’s experiment with a zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) in the 1990s and the Federal Reserve’s experiment with ZIRP, accompanied by quantitative easing (QE1 and QE2), during the recent crisis. These experiments may be considered a response to Keynes’s challenge, and to provide a clear test of his belief in the power of monetary policy to counter financial crisis. That response would appear to be an unequivocal No.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 661 | March 2011
The world’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s is now well into its third year. All sorts of explanations have been proffered for the causes of the crisis, from lax regulation and oversight to excessive global liquidity. Unfortunately, these narratives do not take into account the systemic nature of the global crisis. This is why so many observers are misled into pronouncing that recovery is on the way—or even under way already. I believe they are incorrect. We are, perhaps, in round three of a nine-round bout. It is still conceivable that Minsky’s “it”—a full-fledged debt deflation with failure of most of the largest financial institutions—could happen again.
Indeed, Minsky’s work has enjoyed unprecedented interest, with many calling this a “Minsky moment” or “Minsky crisis.” However, most of those who channel Minsky locate the beginnings of the crisis in the 2000s. I argue that we should not view this as a “moment” that can be traced to recent developments. Rather, as Minsky argued for nearly 50 years, we have seen a slow realignment of the global financial system toward “money manager capitalism.” Minsky’s analysis correctly links postwar developments with the prewar “finance capitalism” analyzed by Rudolf Hilferding, Thorstein Veblen, and John Maynard Keynes—and later by John Kenneth Galbraith. In an important sense, over the past quarter century we created conditions similar to those that existed in the run-up to the Great Depression, with a similar outcome. Getting out of this mess will require radical policy changes no less significant than those adopted in the New Deal.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 658 | March 2011
Rethinking Money as a Public Monopoly
In this paper I first provide an overview of alternative approaches to money, contrasting the orthodox approach, in which money is neutral, at least in the long run; and the Marx-Veblen-Keynes approach, or the monetary theory of production. I then focus in more detail on two main categories: the orthodox approach that views money as an efficiency-enhancing innovation of markets, and the Chartalist approach that defines money as a creature of the state. As the state’s “creature,” money should be seen as a public monopoly. I then move on to the implications of viewing money as a public monopoly and link that view back to Keynes, arguing that extending Keynes along these lines would bring his theory up to date.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 653 | March 2011
In this paper I will follow Hyman Minsky in arguing that the postwar period has seen a slow transformation of the economy from a structure that could be characterized as “robust” to one that is “fragile.” While many economists and policymakers have argued that “no one saw it coming,” Minsky and his followers certainly did! While some of the details might have surprised Minsky, certainly the general contours of this crisis were foreseen by him a half century ago. I will focus on two main points: first, the past four decades have seen the return of “finance capitalism”; and second, the collapse that began two years ago is a classic “Fisher-Minsky” debt deflation. The appropriate way to analyze this transformation and collapse is from the perspective of what Minsky called “financial Keynesianism”—a label he preferred over Post Keynesian because it emphasized the financial nature of the capitalist economy he analyzed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 652 | March 2011
The Queen of England famously asked her economic advisers why none of them had seen “it” (the global financial crisis) coming. Obviously, the answer is complex, but it must include reference to the evolution of macroeconomic theory over the postwar period—from the “Age of Keynes,” through the Friedmanian era and the return of Neoclassical economics in a particularly extreme form, and, finally, on to the New Monetary Consensus, with a new version of fine-tuning. The story cannot leave out the parallel developments in finance theory—with its efficient markets hypothesis—and in approaches to regulation and supervision of financial institutions.
This paper critically examines these developments and returns to the earlier Keynesian tradition to see what was left out of postwar macro. For example, the synthesis version of Keynes never incorporated true uncertainty or “unknowledge,” and thus deviated substantially from Keynes’s treatment of expectations in chapters 12 and 17 of the General Theory. It essentially reduced Keynes to sticky wages and prices, with nonneutral money only in the case of fooling. The stagflation of the 1970s ended the great debate between “Keynesians” and “Monetarists” in favor of Milton Friedman’s rules, and set the stage for the rise of a succession of increasingly silly theories rooted in pre-Keynesian thought. As Lord Robert Skidelsky (Keynes’s biographer) argues, “Rarely in history can such powerful minds have devoted themselves to such strange ideas.” By returning to Keynes, this paper attempts to provide a new direction forward.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
The “Keynesian Moment” in Policymaking, the Perils Ahead, and a Flow-of-funds Interpretation of Fiscal Policy
Working Paper No. 614 | August 2010
With the global crisis, the policy stance around the world has been shaken by massive government and central bank efforts to prevent the meltdown of markets, banks, and the economy. Fiscal packages, in varied sizes, have been adopted throughout the world after years of proclaimed fiscal containment. This change in policy regime, though dubbed the “Keynesian moment,” is a “short-run fix” that reflects temporary acceptance of fiscal deficits at a time of political emergency, and contrasts with John Maynard Keynes’s long-run policy propositions. More important, it is doomed to be ineffective if the degree of tolerance of fiscal deficits is too low for full employment.
Keynes’s view that outside the gold standard fiscal policies face real, not financial, constraints is illustrated by means of a simple flow-of-funds model. This shows that government deficits do not take financial resources from the private sector, and that demand for net financial savings by the private sector can be met by a rising trade surplus at the cost of reduced consumption, or by a rising government deficit financed by the monopoly supply of central bank credit. Fiscal deficits can thus be considered functional to the objective of supplying the private sector with a provision of financial wealth sufficient to restore demand. By contrast, tax hikes and/or spending cuts aimed at reducing the public deficit lower the available savings of the private sector, and, if adopted too soon, will force the adjustment by way of a reduction of demand and standard of living.
This notion, however, is not applicable to the euro area, where constraints have been deliberately created that limit public deficits and the supply of central bank credit, thus introducing national solvency risks. This is a crucial flaw in the institutional structure of Euroland, where monetary sovereignty has been removed from all existing fiscal authorities. Absent a reassessment of its design, the euro area is facing a deflationary tendency that may further erode the economic welfare of the region.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 595 | May 2010The recycling problem is general, and is not confined to a multicurrency setting: whenever there are surplus and deficit units—that is, everywhere—adjustment in real terms can be either upward or downward. The question is, Which? An attempt is made to formulate the problem in terms of the European Monetary Union. While the problem seems clear, the resolution is not. It is proposed to engage the issue through a detour consistent with the Maastricht rules. Inadequate as this is, it highlights the limits of technical arrangements when governments are confronted with political economy—namely, the inability to set the rules of the larger game from within a set of axiomatically predetermined rules dependent on the fact and practice of sovereignty. Even so, an attempt at persuasion through clarification of the issues—in particular, by highlighting the distinction between recycling and transfers—may be a useful preliminary. Some of the paper’s evocations, notably on oligopoly, may be taken as merely heuristic.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):G. E. Krimpas