Publications

Yeva Nersisyan

  • Public Policy Brief No. 157 | April 2022
    The Fed Cannot Engineer a Soft Landing but Risks Stagflation by Trying
    Roughly two years into the economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the topic of elevated inflation dominates the economic policy discourse in the United States. And the aggressive use of fiscal policy to support demand and incomes has commonly been singled out as the culprit. Equally as prevalent is the clamor for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to relieve inflationary pressures. According to Research Scholar Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, this narrative is flawed in a number of ways. The problem with the US economy is not one of excess of demand in their view, and the Federal Reserve will not be able to engineer a “soft landing” in the way many seem to be expecting. The authors also deliver a warning: excessive tightening, combined with headwinds in 2022, could lead to stagflation. Moreover, while this recovery looks robust in comparison to the jobless recoveries and secular stagnation that have typified the last few decades, in Nersisyan and Wray’s estimation there are few signs of an overheating economy to be found in the macro data. In their view, this inflation is not centrally demand driven; rather dynamics at the micro-level are playing a much more central role in driving the price increases in question, while significant supply chain problems have curtailed productive capacity by disrupting the availability of critical inputs.

    The authors suggest there is a better way to conduct policy—one oriented around targeted investments that would increase our real resource space. This will serve not only to address inflationary pressures, according to Nersisyan and Wray, but also the far more pressing climate emergency.

  • Working Paper No. 1003 | March 2022
    Pandemic or Policy Response?
    This paper examines the recent increase of the measured inflation rate to assess the degree to which the acceleration is due to problems created (largely on the supply side) by the pandemic versus pressures created on the demand side by pandemic relief. Some have attributed the inflation to excess demand, most notably Larry Summers, who had warned that the pandemic relief spending was too great. As evidence, one could point to the quick recovery of GDP and to reportedly tight labor markets. Others have variously blamed supply chain disruptions, shortages of certain inputs, OPEC’s oil price increases, labor market disruptions because of COVID, and rising profit margins obtained through exercise of pricing power. We conclude that there is little evidence that excess demand is the problem, although we agree that in the absence of the relief checks, recovery would have been sufficiently slow to minimize inflation pressure. We closely examine the main contributors to rising overall prices and conclude that tighter monetary policy would not be an effective way to reduce price pressures. We also cast doubt on the expectations theory of inflation control. We present evidence that suggests there is currently little danger that higher inflation will become entrenched. If anything, rate hikes now will make it harder for the economy to adjust to current realities. The potential for lots of pain with little gain is great. The best course of action is to tackle problems on the supply side.

  • One-Pager No. 69 | February 2022
    A recent article in the New York Times asks whether Modern Money Theory (MMT) can declare victory after its policies were (supposedly) implemented during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article suggests yes, but for the high inflation it sparked. In the view of Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray, the federal government’s response largely validated MMT’s claims regarding public debt and deficits and questions of sovereign government solvency—it did not, however, represent MMT policy.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 155 | June 2021
    Yes, If He Abandons Fiscal “Pay Fors"
    President Biden’s proposals for investing in social and physical infrastructure signal a return to a budget-neutral policymaking framework that has largely been set aside since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis. According Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray, this focus on ensuring revenues keep pace with spending increases can undermine the goals internal to both the public investment and tax components of the administration’s plans: the “pay for” approach limits our spending on progressive policy to what we can raise through taxes, and we will only tax the amount we need to spend.

    Nersisyan and Wray propose an alternative approach to budgeting for large-scale public expenditure programs. In their view, policymakers should evaluate spending and tax proposals on their own terms, according to the goals each is intended to meet. If the purpose of taxing corporations and wealthy individuals is to reduce inequality, then the tax changes should be formulated to accomplish that—not to “raise funds” to finance proposed spending. And while it is possible that general tax hikes might be needed to prevent public investment programs from fueling inflation, they argue that the kinds of taxes proposed by the administration would do little to relieve inflationary pressures should they arise. Under current economic circumstances, however, the president’s proposed infrastructure spending should not require budgetary offsets or other measures to control inflation in their estimation.

  • One-Pager No. 65 | February 2021
    With the unveiling of President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion proposal for addressing the COVID-19 crisis, Democrats appear keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Great Recession—most notably the inadequate fiscal response.

    Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray observe that while Democrats are not falling for the “deficit bogeyman” this time, critics have pushed the idea that the increase in government spending will cause inflation. Nersisyan and Wray argue that the current fiscal package should be evaluated as a set of relief measures, not stimulus, and that the objections of the inflation worriers should not stand in the way of taking needed action.
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  • Working Paper No. 985 | February 2021
    No! And Yes.
    Modern Money Theory (MMT) economists have used Japan as an example of a country that demonstrates that high deficits and debt do not lead to insolvency, high interest rates, or inflation. MMT insists that governments that issue their own sovereign currency cannot be forced into insolvency, that they can make all payments as they come due, and that they do not really spend tax revenue or borrow in their own currency—with Japan serving as an example of a country that does not face financial budget constraints as normally defined. In this paper we evaluate whether Japan is the poster child of MMT and argue that policy-wise Japan is not following MMT recommendations; in fact, it is generally adopting policies that are precisely the opposite of those proposed by MMT, consistently adopting the path of stop-go fiscal measures and engaging in inadequate and temporary fiscal stimuli in the face of recessions, followed by austerity whenever the economy has seemed to recover.

  • One-Pager No. 63 | April 2020
    As governments around the world explore ambitious approaches to fiscal and monetary policy in their responses to the COVID-19 crisis, Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been thrust into the spotlight once again. Unfortunately, many of those invoking the theory have misrepresented its central tenets, according Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray.

    MMT provides an analysis of fiscal and monetary policy applicable to national governments with sovereign, nonconvertible currencies. In the context of articulating the elements of that analysis, Nersisyan and Wray draw out one of the lessons to be learned from the pandemic and its policy responses: that the government’s ability to run deficits is not limited to times of crisis; that we must build up our supplies, infrastructure, and institutions in normal times, and not wait for the next crisis to live up to our means.

  • One-Pager No. 62 | March 2020
    As the coronavirus (COVID-19) spreads across the United States, it has become clear that, in addition to the public health response (which has been far less than adequate), an economic response is needed. Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray identify four steps that require immediate attention: (1) full coverage of medical costs associated with testing and treatment of COVID-19; (2) mandated paid sick leave and full coverage of associated costs; (3) debt relief for families; and (4) swift deployment of testing and treatment facilities to underserved communities.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 148 | January 2020
    In this policy brief, Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that assessing the “affordability” of the Green New Deal is a question of whether there are suitable and sufficient real resources than can be mobilized to implement this ambitious approach to climate policy. Only after a careful resource accounting can we address the question of whether taxes and other means might be needed to reduce private spending to avoid inflation as the Green New Deal is phased in.
     
    Nersisyan and Wray provide a first attempt at resource budgeting for the Green New Deal, weighing available resources—including potential excess capacity and resources that can be shifted away from existing production—against what will be needed to implement the major elements of this plan to fight climate change and ensure a just transition to a more sustainable economic model.

  • Testimony | November 2019
    Reexamining the Economic Costs of Debt
    On November 20, 2019, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray testified before the House Committee on the Budget on the topic of reexamining the economic costs of debt:

    "In recent months a new approach to national government budgets, deficits, and debts—Modern Money Theory (MMT)—has been the subject of discussion and controversy. [. . .]

    In this testimony I do not want to rehash the theoretical foundations of MMT. Instead I will highlight empirical facts with the goal of explaining the causes and consequences of the intransigent federal budget deficits and the growing national government debt. I hope that developing an understanding of the dynamics involved will make the topic of deficits and debt less daunting. I will conclude by summarizing the MMT views on this topic, hoping to set the record straight."

    Update 1/7/2020: In an appendix, L. Randall Wray responds to a Question for the Record submitted by Rep. Ilhan Omar

  • Working Paper No. 931 | May 2019
    This paper follows the methodology developed by J. M. Keynes in his How to Pay for the War pamphlet to estimate the “costs” of the Green New Deal (GND) in terms of resource requirements. Instead of simply adding up estimates of the government spending that would be required, we assess resource availability that can be devoted to implementing GND projects. This includes mobilizing unutilized and underutilized resources, as well as shifting resources from current destructive and inefficient uses to GND projects. We argue that financial affordability cannot be an issue for the sovereign US government. Rather, the problem will be inflation if sufficient resources cannot be diverted to the GND. And if inflation is likely, we need to put in place anti-inflationary measures, such as well-targeted taxes, wage and price controls, rationing, and voluntary saving. Following Keynes, we recommend deferred consumption as our first choice should inflation pressures arise. We conclude that it is likely that the GND can be phased in without inflation, but if price pressures do appear, deferring a small amount of consumption will be sufficient to attenuate them.

  • 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.

  • One-Pager No. 4 | November 2010
    The Rescue Plan Cannot Address the Central Problem

    The trillion-dollar rescue package European leaders aimed at the continent’s growing debt crisis in May might well have been code-named Panacea. Stocks rose throughout the region, but the reprieve was short-lived: markets fell on the realization that the bailout would not improve government finances going forward. The entire rescue plan rests on the assumption that the eurozone’s “problem children” can eventually get their fiscal houses in order. But no rescue plan can address the central problem: that countries with very different economies are yoked to the same currency.

  • Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 113A | September 2010
    Without Major Restructuring, the Eurozone is Doomed

    Critics argue that the current crisis has exposed the profligacy of the Greek government and its citizens, who are stubbornly fighting proposed social spending cuts and refusing to live within their means. Yet Greece has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the European Union (EU), and its social safety net is modest compared to the rest of Europe. Since implementing its austerity program in January, it has reduced its budget deficit by 40 percent, largely through spending cuts. But slower growth is causing revenues to come in below targets, and fuel-tax increases have contributed to growing inflation. As the larger troubled economies like Spain and Italy also adopt austerity measures, the entire continent could find government revenues collapsing.

    No rescue plan can address the central problem: that countries with very different economies are yoked to the same currency. Lacking a sovereign currency and unable to devalue their way out of trouble, they are left with few viable options—and voters in Germany and France will soon tire of paying the bill. A more far-reaching solution is needed.

  • Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 111A | August 2010
    Why We Should Stop Worrying About U.S. Government Deficits
    This brief by Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argues that deficits do not burden future generations with debt, nor do they crowd out private spending. The authors base their conclusions on the premise that a sovereign nation with its own currency cannot become insolvent, and that government financing is unlike that of a household or firm. Moreover, they observe that automatic stabilizers, not government bailouts and the stimulus package, have prevented the US economic contraction from devolving into another Great Depression. The authors dispense with unsubstantiated concerns about deficits and debts, noting that they mask the real issue: the unwillingness of deficit hawks to allow government to work for the good of the people.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 113 | July 2010
    Without Major Restructuring, the Eurozone Is Doomed

    Critics argue that the current crisis has exposed the profligacy of the Greek government and its citizens, who are stubbornly fighting proposed social spending cuts and refusing to live within their means. Yet Greece has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the European Union (EU), and its social safety net is modest compared to the rest of Europe. Since implementing its austerity program in January, it has reduced its budget deficit by 40 percent, largely through spending cuts. But slower growth is causing revenues to come in below targets, and fuel-tax increases have contributed to growing inflation. As the larger troubled economies like Spain and Italy also adopt austerity measures, the entire continent could find government revenues collapsing.

    No rescue plan can address the central problem: that countries with very different economies are yoked to the same currency. Lacking a sovereign currency and unable to devalue their way out of trouble, they are left with few viable options—and voters in Germany and France will soon tire of paying the bill. A more far-reaching solution is needed.

  • Working Paper No. 603 | June 2010
    A Critique of This Time Is Different, by Reinhart and Rogoff

    The worst global downturn since the Great Depression has caused ballooning budget deficits in most nations, as tax revenues collapse and governments bail out financial institutions and attempt countercyclical fiscal policy. With notable exceptions, most economists accept the desirability of expansion of deficits over the short term but fear possible long-term effects. There are a number of theoretical arguments that lead to the conclusion that higher government debt ratios might depress growth. There are other arguments related to more immediate effects of debt on inflation and national solvency. Research conducted by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff is frequently cited to demonstrate the negative impacts of public debt on economic growth and financial stability. In this paper we critically examine their work. We distinguish between a nation that operates with its own floating exchange rate and nonconvertible (sovereign) currency, and a nation that does not. We argue that Reinhart and Rogoff’s results are not relevant to the case of the United States.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 111 | May 2010
    Why We Should Stop Worrying About U.S. Government Deficits
    This brief by Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argues that deficits do not burden future generations with debt, nor do they crowd out private spending. The authors base their conclusions on the premise that a sovereign nation with its own currency cannot become insolvent, and that government financing is unlike that of a household or firm. Moreover, they observe that automatic stabilizers, not government bailouts and the stimulus package, have prevented the US economic contraction from devolving into another Great Depression. The authors dispense with unsubstantiated concerns about deficits and debts, noting that they mask the real issue: the unwillingness of deficit hawks to allow government to work for the good of the people.

  • Public Policy Brief Highlights No. 109A | April 2010
    Toward an Alternative Public Policy to Support Retirement

    Pension funds have taken a big hit during the current financial crisis, with losses in the trillions of dollars. In addition, both private and public pensions are experiencing significant funding shortfalls, as is the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit pension plans of private American companies. Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the employment-based pension system is highly problematic, since the strategy for managing pension funds leads to excessive cost and risk in an effort to achieve above-average returns. The average fund manager, however, will only achieve the risk-free return. The authors therefore advocate expanding Social Security and encouraging private and public pensions to invest only in safe (risk-free) Treasury bonds—which, on average, will beat the net returns on risky assets.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 109 | March 2010
    Toward an Alternative Public Policy to Support Retirement

    Pension funds have taken a big hit during the current financial crisis, with losses in the trillions of dollars. In addition, both private and public pensions are experiencing significant funding shortfalls, as is the government-run Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, which insures the defined-benefit pension plans of private American companies. Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that the employment-based pension system is highly problematic, since the strategy for managing pension funds leads to excessive cost and risk in an effort to achieve above-average returns. The average fund manager, however, will only achieve the risk-free return. The authors therefore advocate expanding Social Security and encouraging private and public pensions to invest only in safe (risk-free) Treasury bonds—which, on average, will beat the net returns on risky assets.

  • Working Paper No. 587 | February 2010

    While most economists agree that the world is facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, there is little agreement as to what caused it. Some have argued that the financial instability we are witnessing is due to irrational exuberance of market participants, fraud, greed, too much regulation, et cetera. However, some Post Keynesian economists following Hyman P. Minsky have argued that this is a systemic problem, a result of internal market processes that allowed fragility to build over time. In this paper we focus on the shift to the “shadow banking system” and the creation of what Minsky called the money manager phase of capitalism. In this system, rapid growth of leverage and financial layering allowed the financial sector to claim an ever-rising proportion of national income—what is sometimes called “financialization”—as the financial system evolved from hedge to speculative and, finally, to a Ponzi scheme.

    The policy response to the financial crisis in the United States and elsewhere has largely been an attempt to rescue money manager capitalism. Moreover, in the case of the United States. the bailout policy has contributed to further concentration of the financial sector, increasing dangers. We believe that the policies directed at saving the system are doomed to fail—and that alternative policies should be adopted. The effective solution should come in the way of downsizing the financial sector by two-thirds or more, and effecting fundamental modifications.

Publication Highlight

Public Policy Brief No. 157
Is It Time for Rate Hikes?
The Fed Cannot Engineer a Soft Landing but Risks Stagflation by Trying
Author(s): Yeva Nersisyan, L. Randall Wray
April 2022

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