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

  • Working Paper No. 996 | December 2021
    Modern Money Theory (MMT) has generated considerable scrutiny and discussions over the past decade. While it has gained some acceptance in the financial sector and among some politicians, it has come under strong criticisms from all sides of the academic spectrum and from conservative political circles. MMT has been argued to be both fascist and communist, orthodox and heterodox, dangerous and benign, unworkable and obvious, and unrealistic and clearly nothing new. The contradictory aspects of the range of criticisms suggest that there is at best a superficial understanding of the MMT framework. MMT relies on a well-established theoretical framework and is not inherently about changing the economic system; it is about changing the policymaking praxis to implement a given public purpose. That public purpose can be small or large and can be conservative or progressive; it ought not to be narrowly determined but rather should be set as democratically as possible. While MMT proponents tend to favor a public purpose that deals with what they see as major drawbacks of capitalist economies (persistent nonfrictional unemployment, unfair inequalities, and financial instability), their policy proposals do not lead to a major shift of domestic resources to the public purpose. If a major increase in government spending is implemented, MMT provides some guidance on how to do that in the least disruptive manner by drawing on past economic experiences. The point is to implement the public purpose at a pace that recognizes the potential constraint that comes from domestic resource availability and potential inflationary pressures from bottlenecks, rising import prices, and exchange rate depreciation, among others. In most cases, economies have more flexibility than what is admitted. In all cases, when monetary sovereignty prevails, the fiscal position and the public debt are poor metrics for judging the viability of a public purpose and its pace of implementation.

    As such, applying MMT to policymaking does not mean that a government ought to be encouraged to record fiscal deficits or that the relation between the central bank and the treasury ought to be radically changed to allow direct financing. The fiscal balance is not a proper policy goal because it leads to irrelevant or incorrect policymaking and because it is largely outside the control of policymakers. The financial praxis of monetarily sovereign governments already conforms to MMT. Central banks and treasuries routinely coordinate their financial operations. Some governments have allowed direct financing of the treasury by the central bank; others have not but have developed equivalent ways to coordinate their fiscal and monetary operations that work around existing political constraints. Such routine coordination ensures an elastic financing of government operations that at least deals with domestic resources and is not intrinsically inflationary.

  • Public Policy Brief No. 156 | December 2021
    The Federal Reserve’s Continuing Experiments with Unobservables
    Institute President Dimitri B. Papadimitriou and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray contend that the prevailing approach to monetary policy and inflation is influenced by a set of concepts that are a poor guide to action. In this policy brief, they examine two previous cases in which the Federal Reserve misread the data and raised rates too soon, as well as the evolution of the Fed’s thought and practice over the past three decades—a period in which the central bank has increasingly turned to unobservable indicators that are supposed to predict inflation. Noting that their criticisms have now been raised by the Fed’s own members and research staff, the authors highlight the ways in which we need to rethink our overall framework for monetary and fiscal policy. The Fed has far less control over inflation than is presumed, they argue, and, at worst, might have the whole inflation-fighting strategy backwards. Managing inflation, they conclude, should not be left entirely in the hands of central banks.

  • Working Paper No. 992 | August 2021
    Government as the Source of the Price Level and Unemployment
    Many of the claims put forth by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) center around the state’s monopoly over its own currency. In this paper I interrogate the plausibility of two claims: 1) MMT’s theory of the price level—that the price level is a function of prices paid by government when it spends—and 2) the claim that the cause of deficient effective demand is the state’s failure to supply government liabilities so as to meet the demand for net financial assets. I do so by building a model of “monopoly money” capable of producing these two outcomes.

  • e-pamphlets | August 2021
    Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been frequently mentioned in recent media—first as “crazy talk” that if followed would bankrupt the nation and then, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as a way to finance an emergency response. In recent months, however, Washington seems to have returned to the old view that government spending must be “paid for” with new taxes. This raises the question: Has MMT really made headway with policymakers? This e-pamphlet examines the extraordinary interview given recently by Representative John Yarmuth’s (D, KY-03), Chair of the House Budget Committee, in which he explicitly adopts an MMT approach to budgeting. Chairman Yarmuth also lays out a path for realizing the major elements of President Biden’s proposals. Finally, Wray summarizes a recent presentation he gave to the Congressional Budget Office’s Macroeconomic Analysis section that urged reconsideration of the way that fiscal policy impacts are assessed.

  • Working Paper No. 991 | July 2021
    This paper presents multifactor Keynesian models of the long-term interest rate. In recent years there have been a proliferation of empirical studies based on the Keynesian approach to interest rate modeling. However, standard multifactor models of the long-term interest rate in quantitative finance have not been yet incorporated Keynes’s insights about interest rate dynamics. Keynes’s insights about the influence of the current short-term interest rate are introduced in two different multifactor models of the long-term interest rate to illustrate how the long-term interest rate relates to the short-term interest rate, the central bank’s policy rate, inflation expectations, the central bank’s inflation target, volatility in financial markets, and Wiener processes.

  • Working Paper No. 988 | June 2021
    There are several widely used benchmark models of the long-term interest rate in quantitative finance. However, these models have yet to incorporate Keynes’s valuable insights about interest rate dynamics. The Keynesian approach to interest rate dynamics can be readily incorporated in the benchmark models of the long-term interest rate. This paper modifies several benchmark interest rate models. In these modified models the long-term interest rate is related to the short-term interest rate and a Wiener process. The Keynesian approach to interest rate dynamics can be useful in addressing theoretical and policy issues.

  • One-Pager No. 66 | April 2021
    According to Frank Veneroso, a broad subset of today’s US stock market has become what he calls a “pure price-chasing bubble.” Examination of the history of comparable pure price-chasing bubbles shows there has been a set of key causal factors that contributed to these rare market events. The most extreme such case was an over-the-counter market in Kuwait called the “Souk al-Manakh.” This exemplar of a pure price-chasing phenomenon may shed light—albeit unflattering—on the current US equity market, Veneroso contends.
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    Author(s):
    Frank Veneroso
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  • Working Paper No. 987 | March 2021
    The Anatomy of a Pure Price-Chasing Bubble
    It is widely agreed that the Nasdaq during the dot-com era 20 years ago was a full-fledged stock market bubble. Recently, the US stock market according to many metrics has become significantly more speculative and overvalued than it was at the dot-com peak 20 years ago. In both instances, a very broad subset of stocks became so highly valued that speculation in them had to be untethered from all fundamentals: the essence of what we call a “pure price-chasing bubble.”
     
    This paper, drawn from a book in progress, examines the history of stock markets for comparable pure price-chasing bubbles, finding nine or so which have ever reached such a speculative extreme, with an over-the-counter market in Kuwait in the early 1980s called the “Souk al-Manakh” representing the most extreme example. Based on personal exposure to this Souk al-Manakh almost 40 years ago, we describe this anatomy and thereby make transparent the recurrent dynamics—on the way up and on the way down—of these greatest asset bubbles in human history. When one applies this framework to the current US stock market, one sees that the stock market in the US today will likely follow the disastrous path of the dot-com market.
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    Associated Program:
    Author(s):
    Frank Veneroso Mark Pasquali
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  • Working Paper No. 986 | March 2021
    Evolution and Contemporary Relevance
    This paper traces the evolution of John Maynard Keynes’s theory of the business cycle from his early writings in 1913 to his policy prescriptions for the control of fluctuations in the early 1940s. The paper identifies six different “theories” of business fluctuations. With different theoretical frameworks in a 30-year span, the driver of fluctuations—namely cyclical changes in expectations about future returns—remained substantially the same. The banking system also played a pivotal role throughout the different versions, by financing and influencing the behavior of return expectations. There are four major changes in the evolution of Keynes’s business cycle theories: a) the saving–investment framework to understand changes in economic fluctuations; b) the capabilities of the banking system to moderate the business cycle; c) the effectiveness of monetary policy to fine tune the business cycle through the control of the short-term interest rate or credit conditions; and d) the role of a comprehensive fiscal policy and investment policy to attenuate fluctuations. Finally, some conclusions are drawn about the present relevance of the policy mix Keynes promoted for ensuring macroeconomic stability.

  • 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.