Archive for the 'Monetary Policy' Category

Nov 06 2012

To continue stimulus or to pursue austerity, that is the question

Note: This post was originally published in August of 2010. It is being reposted today to support a lesson on fiscal policy in my year 2 IB Economics class.

In the seemingly endless and currently ongoing debate over the role of the government in the macroeconomy, there are two main camps: Those who think the governments of the developed economies have not done enough to get their economies out of recession, and those who think they have already done too much, and therefore need to start rolling back stimulus and reducing deficits.

At the heart of this debate are the two macroeconomic schools of thought, the  Keynesian demand-side theories and the classical, supply-side theories. Two intellectuals have emerged in the last several years representing the two sides of the macroeconomic debate. On the demand-side, representing the Keynesian school of thought, is 2008 Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman. Representing the classical, supply-side school of thought is Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson. These two have squared off in many forums over the last three years, Krugman arguing for more and continued fiscal stimulus to prop up and increase demand in the economy, Ferguson arguing for smaller deficits, lower taxes and less government spending to increase private sector confidence and thereby supply in the economy.

During our long summer break the two squared off once again in the aftermath of a G20 meeting in which the governments of several major economies from Europe and North America announced plans to begin rolling back the stimulus spending they embarked on throughout 2008 and 2009. The reason for increased “austerity measures” (policies that reduce the budget deficit and slow the growth of national debt), argue global leaders, is to reduce the chances of more countries experiencing debt crises like that experienced in Greece this spring.

International investors realized earlier this year that Greece’s budget deficits were a much larger percentage of its GDP than previously thought, and very quickly decided that Greek government bonds were an unsafe investment. Almost overnight the cost of borrowing in Greece shot up above 20%, bringing investment in the economy to a halt and forcing the government to cut its budget, leading to higher unemployment and reduced social benefits for the people of Greece.  If investors were to look at the growing budget deficits in other developed countries and  then suddenly lose faith in other government’s ability to pay back their debts, then a similar crisis could occur in much larger economies, including the UK, Germany and the United States. Hence these country’s apparent desire to begin reducing deficits and rolling back stimulus spending; measures that may just plunge these economies into an even deeper recession than that which they have experienced over the last two years.

The videos below show the leading intellectuals on both sides of the stimulus/austerity debate presenting their arguments. Below each video are discussion questions to help guide your understanding of their views. Watch the videos and respond to the discussion questions in the comment section below.

Video 1 - Krugman argues for continued stimulus:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-pndXGafUg&feature=related[/youtube]

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the two “profoundly different views of economics” that are being tested as governments begin rolling back the fiscal stimulus packages of the last two years?
  2. What are three characteristics of an economy in a “depression” according to Krugman?
  3. What is “budget austerity” and why does Krugman think this should not be the first priority of policymakers in the G20 nations?
  4. Why is deflation dangerous according to Krugman?
  5. What is the additional annual cost to the US government of borrowing and spending an additional trillion dollars now? What is the potential additional benefit of more stimulus?

Video 2 - Ferguson argues for austerity and “fiscal regime change”:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03CB8pVJkI8&feature=related[/youtube]

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why might the US have to pass spending cuts and tax increases to maintain its “credibility in international bond markets”?
  2. Why would fiscal tightening “choke off the recovery”?
  3. How is the financial crisis in Europe a warning to the US?
  4. How could the “costs” exceed the “benefits” of deficit financed expansionary fiscal policy.
  5. Ferguson proposes a new type of policy that “boosts confidence”. Why will expansionary fiscal and monetary policies fail if private sector confidence remains depressed?

6 responses so far

Sep 27 2012

Deflation: why lower prices spell doom for any economy!

The Fed should focus on deflation | The greater of two evils | The Economist

Deflation: a decrease in the general price level of goods and services of an economy. Sounds great, right? Lower prices mean the purchasing power of our income increases, making the “average” person richer! On the surface, it could be concluded that deflation may actually be a good thing. And in some cases, it is!

If prices of goods are falling because of major technological advances (think of the price of cell phones and laptop computers over the last 20 years) or because of massive improvements in the productivity of labor and capital (think of the price of manufactured consumer goods during the Industrial Revolution), then deflation could be considered a sign of healthy economic growth. Put in terms an IB or AP Economics student should understand, a fall in prices caused by an increase in a nation’s aggregate supply is good, since it is accompanied by greater levels of employment and higher real incomes. But if the fall in prices is caused by a decline in spending in the economy (in other words, by a decrease in aggregate demand), the consequences can be catastrophic.

It just so happens that the United States, Great Britain, and my own home of Switzerland are all faced with demand-deficient deflation at this very moment. I’ll allow the Economist to elaborate:

…With unemployment nearing 9% (in the United States), economic output is further below the economy’s potential than at any time since 1982. This gap is likely to widen. House prices are not part of America’s inflation index but their decline is forcing households to reduce debt , which could subdue economic growth for years. As workers compete for scarce jobs and firms underbid each other for sales, wages and prices will come under pressure.

So far, expectations of inflation remain stable: that sentiment is itself a welcome bulwark against deflation. But pay freezes and wage cuts may soon change people’s minds. In one poll, more than a third of respondents said they or someone in their household had suffered a cut in pay or hours…

Does this matter? If prices are falling because of advancing productivity, as at the end of the 19th century, it is a sign of progress, not economic collapse. Today, though, deflation is more likely to resemble the malign 1930s sort than that earlier benign variety, because demand is weak and households and firms are burdened by debt. In deflation the nominal value of debts remains fixed even as nominal wages, prices and profits fall. Real debt burdens therefore rise, causing borrowers to cut spending to service their debts or to default. That undermines the financial system and deepens the recession.

From 1929 to 1933 prices fell by 27%. This time central banks are on the case. In America, Britain, Japan and Switzerland they have pushed short-term interest rates to, or close to, zero…

…inflation is easier to put right than deflation. A central bank can raise interest rates as high as it wants to suppress inflation, but it cannot cut nominal rates below zero… In the worst case, rising debts and defaults depress growth, poisoning the economy by deepening deflation and pressing real interest rates higher….Given the choice, erring on the side of inflation would be less catastrophic than erring on the side of deflation.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Deflation poses several threats to an economy that is otherwise fundamentally healthy, such as the United States’. What are some the threats posed by deflation?
  2. The expectation of future deflation can have as equally devastating effect. Why is this?
  3. What evidence does the article put forth that an economy experiencing deflation may eventually “self-correct”, meaning return to the full employment level of output in the long-run?
  4. Why don’t governments and central banks just sit back and let the economy self-correct? In other words, why are fiscal and monetary policies being used so aggressively by the US, Great Britain and Switzerland during this economic crisis?

Deflation or Inflation:Watch the video below, see if gives you any clues as to the causes and effects of deflation. What do you think John Maynard Keynes would say in response to the deflationary fears expressed in the Economist article?

60 responses so far

May 08 2012

Loanable Funds vs. Money Market: what’s the difference?

Update: Once again I have updated this post with a few minor changes. Notably, I have added to graphs illustrating a separate shift in supply and demand for loanable funds. Based on discussions with readers via email, it appears that my previous graph illustrating in one diagram the shifts of both supply and demand was confusing and could be considered double counting the effect of an increase in deficit spending. Thanks again to Professor Chuck Orvis for his valuable input.

*Click on a graph to see the full-sized version

Two markets for money, right? Yes… so do they show the same thing? NO! You must know the distinction between these two markets. First let’s talk about the MoneyMoney Market Market diagram.

This market refers to the Money Supply (M1 and M2). The Money Supply curve is vertical because it is determined by the Fed’s (or central bank’s) particular monetary policy. On the X axis is the Quantity of money supplied and demanded, and on the Y axis is the nominal interest rate. A tight monetary policy (selling of bonds by the Fed) will shift Money Supply in, raising the federal funds rate, and subsequently the interest rates commercial banks charge their best customers (prime interest rate). On the other hand, an easy money policy (buying of bonds by the Fed) shifts Sm out, lowering the Federal Funds rate and thus the prime interest rate.

You should also know why a tight money policy is considered contractionary and why an easy money policy is considered expansionary monetary policy. Higher nominal interest rates resulting from tight money policy will discourage investment and consumption, contracting aggregate demand. On the other hand, an easy money policy will encourage more investment and consumption as nominal rates fall, expanding aggregate demand.

First watch this video lesson, which defines and introduces the money market diagram (skip ahead to 0:43 to hear the definition and explanation of the money market):

[youtube]http://youtu.be/BoDjLCKov9I?t=43s[/youtube]

Government deficit spending and the money market: Does an increase in government spending without a corresponding increase in taxes affect the money market? You may be inclined to say yes, since the Treasury must issue new bonds to finance deficit spending. After all, when the Fed sells bonds, money is taken out of circulation and held by the Fed, thus it’s no longer part of the money supply.

When the Treasury issues and sells new bonds, however, the money the public uses to buy the bonds is put back into circulation as the government spending is increased. Therefore, any leftward shift of the money supply curve caused by the buying of bonds by the public is offset by the injection of cash in the economy initiated the government’s fiscal stimulus package takes effect (be it a tax rebate or an increase in spending). Therefore, money supply should remain stable when the government deficit spends.

However, since the money demand curve depends on the level of transactions going on in a nation’s economy in a particular period of time, an increase in government spending on infrastructure, defense, corporate subsidies, tax rebates or other fiscal policy initiatives will increase the demand for money, shifting the Dm curve rightward and driving up interest rates. The higher interest rates resulting from the greater demand for money reduces the quantity of private investment; in this way the crowding-out effect can be illustrated in the money market.

Now to the loanable funds market. Loanable funds represents the money in commercial banks and lending institutions that is available to lend out to firms and households to finance expenditures (investment or consumption). The Y-axis represents the real interest rate; the loanable funds market therefore recognizes the relationships between real returns on savings and real price of borrowing with the public’s willingness to save and borrow.

Watch this video for a clear explanation of the loanable funds market and how it can be used to illustrate the crowding-out effect (skip ahead to 3:18 for a definition and explanation of the loanable funds market):

[youtube]http://youtu.be/mwjvutjDhOw?t=3m25s[/youtube]

Since an increase in the real interest rate makes households and firms want to place more money in the bank (and more money in the bank means more money to loan out), there is a direct relationship between real interest rate and Supply of Loanable Funds. On the other hand, since at lower real interest rates households and firms will be less inclined to save and more inclined to borrow and spend, the Demand for loanable funds reflects an inverse relationship. At higher interest rates, households prefer to delay their spending and put their money in savings, since the opportunity cost of spending now rises with the real interest rate.

Government deficit spending and the loanable funds market: We learned above that only the Fed can shift the money supply curve, but what factors can affect the Supply and Demand curves for loanable funds? Here’s a few key points to know about the loanable funds market.

  • When the government deficit spends (G>tax revenue), it must borrow from the public by issuing bonds.
  • The Treasury issues new bonds, which shifts the supply of bonds out, lowering their prices and raising the interest rates on bonds.
  • In response to higher interest rates on bonds, investors will transfer their money out of banks and other lending institutions and into the bond market. Banks will also lend out fewer of their excess reserves, and put some of those reserves into the bond market as well, where it is secure and now earns relatively higher interest.
  • As households, firms and banks buy the newly issued Treasury securities (which represents the public’s lending to the government), the supply of private funds available for lending to households and firms shifts in. With fewer funds for private lending banks must raise their interest rates, leading to a movement along the demand curve for loanable funds.
  • This causes crowding out of private investment.

Another, simpler way to understand the effect of government deficit spending on real interest rates is to look at it from the demand side.

  • Deficit spending by the government requires the government to borrow from the public, increasing the demand for loanable funds. In essence, the government becomes a borrower in the country’s financial sector, demanding new funds for investment, driving up real interest rates.
  • Increased demand from the government pushes interest rates up, causing banks to supply a greater quanity of funds for lending. The private, however, now has fewer funds available to borrow as the government soaks up some of the funds that previously would have gone to private borrowers.
  • This leads to the crowding out of private investment, in which private borrowers face higher real interest rates due to increased deficit spending by the government.

What could shift the supply of loanable funds to the right? Easy, anything that increases savings by households and firms, known as the determinants of consumption and saving. These include increases in wealth, expectations of future income and price levels, and lower taxes. If savings increases, supply of loanable funds shifts outward, increasing the reserves in banks, lowering real interest rates, encouraging firms to undertake new investments. This is why many economists say that “savings is investment”. What they mean is increased increased savings leads to an increase in the supply of loanable funds, which leads to lower interest rates and increased investment.

On the other hand, an increase in demand for investment funds by firms will shift demand for loanable funds out, driving up real interest rates. The determinants of investment include business taxes, technological change, expectations of future business opportunities, and so on (follow link to our wiki page on Investment).

It is important to be able to distinguish between the money market and the market for loanable funds, as both the AP and IB syllabi xpect students to understand and explain the difference between these concepts.

69 responses so far

Dec 13 2011

Podcast: Time is Money

Over the weekend I watched the new Justin Timberlake movie, In Time. In this edition of Welker’s Wikinomics Podcast I analyze the movie’s basic premise from a macroeconomic viewpoint.

Listen to the podcast, and then answer the discussion questions at the bottom of this post.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does increasing the supply of money cause the demand for goods and services to rise?
  2. Why does increasing the supply of money ultimately cause the supply of goods and services to fall?
  3. When would an increase in the money supply be most inflationary, when an economy is producing close to its full employment level or when an economy is experiencing a recession? Explain.
  4. With the help of a money market diagram and an aggregate demand / aggregate supply diagram, illustrate the effects of Will and Silvia’s re-distribution of time on the Ghetto’s economy.
  5. According to Friedman, expansionary monetary policy cannot contribute to a nation’s long-run economic growth. What types of government policies can be implemented to promote economic growth in a nation?

Podcast Credits: 

  • Intro song: The Rolling Stones – Time is On My Side
  • Ending song: Pink Floyd – Money
  • Milton Friedman quotes – Donahue, 1980

No responses yet

Sep 13 2011

Sample IB Economics Internal Assessment Commentary – Understanding the ECB’s bond-purchasing program

Once again, my IB Economics students are working on yet another Internal Assessment Commentary, this time on syllabus section 3, Macroeconomics. Since they found my sample Microeconomics commentary so helpful, I thought I’d punch out a quick sample of a macro commentary for them and for anyone else who is working on their IB Economcis Internal Assessment.

The commentary below (not including the selection from the article) is 749 words in length. This does NOT include words in the graphs, so let’s not have that debate in the comment section. The new IB economics internal assessment model (first examinations 2013) will not count words on graphs, so this sample commentary is perfectly suited for the new assessment model. If you’re a 2012 student, you would be wise to count words in graphs as part of your word count.

If you like what you see, or have any quesitons, please leave your comments below the post.

Article highlights:

An Impeccable Disaster – NYTimes.com

Paul Krugman clearly explains the problems faced by two or Europe’s largest economies today:

So why is Spain — along with Italy, which has higher debt but smaller deficits — in so much trouble? The answer is that these countries are facing something very much like a bank run, except that the run is on their governments rather than, or more accurately as well as, their financial institutions.

Here’s how such a run works: Investors, for whatever reason, fear that a country will default on its debt. This makes them unwilling to buy the country’s bonds, or at least not unless offered a very high interest rate. And the fact that the country must roll its debt over at high interest rates worsens its fiscal prospects, making default more likely, so that the crisis of confidence becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And as it does, it becomes a banking crisis as well, since a country’s banks are normally heavily invested in government debt.

Now, a country with its own currency, like Britain, can short-circuit this process: if necessary, the Bank of England can step in to buy government debt with newly created money. This might lead to inflation (although even that is doubtful when the economy is depressed), but inflation poses a much smaller threat to investors than outright default. Spain and Italy, however, have adopted the euro and no longer have their own currencies. As a result, the threat of a self-fulfilling crisis is very real — and interest rates on Spanish and Italian debt are more than twice the rate on British debt.

Commentary:

The European Central Bank (ECB) is engaging in a new form of monetary policy in which it buys government bonds directly from the Spanish and Italian governments. Essentially, the goal is to bring down the interest rates on Italian and Spanish government bonds, which should reassure private investors that Italy and Spain will be able to pay them back and thus reduce the upward pressure on interest rates in the Eurozone, a situation which threatens to reverse the already sluggish recovery from the recessions of 2008 and 2009.

Monetary policy refers to a central bank’s manipulation of the money supply and interest rates, aimed at either increasing interest rates (contractionary monetary policy) or reducing interest rates (expansionary monetary policy). The ECB is currently buying government bonds from European governments, effectively increasing the supply of money in Europe with the hope that more government and private sector spending will move the Eurozone economy closer to its full employment level of output, at which workers, land and capital resources are fully employed towards the production of goods and services.

If successful, the ECB’s “quantitative easing”, as the new type of monetary policy is known, should bring down interest rates on government bonds and thereby reallocate loanable funds towards Italy and Spain’s public and private sectors.  The increase in supply of loanable funds should bring down the private interest rates available to borrows (businesses and households), making private investment more attractive.

The ECB’s bond purchases make it cheaper for Italy and Spain to borrow, lowering the interest rates on their bonds, restoring confidence among international investors, who may be more willing to save their money in Italy in Spain. The inflow of loanable funds into these economies (seen as an increase in the supply of loanable funds from S1 to S2) should bring down private borrowing costs (the real interest rate), encouraging more firms to invest in capital and more households to finance the consumption of durable goods, increasing aggregate demand and moving the Eurozone economy back towards its full employment level of output, from AD1 to AD2 in the graph on the right.

In certain circumstances, monetary easing like this could be inflationary, but in reality inflation is unlikely to occur given the large output gap in Europe at present (represented above as the distance between Y1 and the dotted line, signifying the full employment level of output). Any increase in aggregate demand will lead to economic growth (an increase in output), but little or no inflation due to the excess capacity of unemployed labor, land and capital resources in the European economy today.

With private sector borrowing costs increasing due to growing uncertainty over their deficits and debts, the Italian and Spanish governments will find expansionary fiscal policies (tax cuts and increased government expenditures) are unrealistic options for achieving the goal of full employment. The ECB, however, as Krugman argues, should continue to play an increasing role in the expansion of credit to cash strapped European governments, with the aim of keeping interest rates low to prevent the crowding-out of private spending that often occurs in the face of large budget deficits. Inflation, always a concern for central bankers, should be a low priority in Europe’s current recessionary environment. Only when consumer and investor confidence is restored, a condition that requires low borrowing costs, will private sector spending resume and the Euro economies can begin creating jobs and increasing their output again.

In the short-term, Italy and Spain should take advantage of the ECB’s bond-buying initiative, and make meaningful, productivity-enhancing investments in infrastructure, education and job training. If their economies are to grow in the future, Eurozone countries must become more competitive with the rapidly expanding economies of Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere in the developing world.

In the medium-term, the Eurozone countries must demonstrate a commitment to fiscal restraint and more balanced budgets. Eliminating loopholes that allow businesses and wealthy individuals to avoid paying taxes, for example, is of utmost importance. Also, increasing the retirement age, downsizing some of the more generous social welfare programs and increasing marginal tax rates on the highest income earners would all send the message to investors that these countries are commited to fiscal discipline. Then, in time, their dependence on ECB lending will decline and private lenders will once again be willing to buy Eurozone government bonds at lower interest rates, allowing for continued growth in the private sector.

12 responses so far

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