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The Weekend Quiz – June 23-24, 2018 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for this Weekend’s Quiz. The information provided should help you work out why you missed a question or three! If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.

Question 1:

A rising household saving ratio combined with a rising external deficit that drains aggregate spending, doesn’t necessarily mean that the government deficit has to rise to maintain current output growth.

The answer is True.

This question tests one’s basic understanding of the sectoral balances that can be derived from the National Accounts. The secret to getting the correct answer is to realise that the household saving ratio is not the overall sectoral balance for the private domestic sector.

In other words, if you just compared the household saving ratio with the external deficit and the fiscal balance you would be leaving an essential component of the private domestic balance out – private capital formation (investment).

To refresh your memory the sectoral balances are derived as follows. The basic income-expenditure model in macroeconomics can be viewed in (at least) two ways: (a) from the perspective of the sources of spending; and (b) from the perspective of the uses of the income produced. Bringing these two perspectives (of the same thing) together generates the sectoral balances.

From the sources perspective we write:

GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

which says that total national income (GDP) is the sum of total final consumption spending (C), total private investment (I), total government spending (G) and net exports (X – M).

Expression (1) tells us that total income in the economy per period will be exactly equal to total spending from all sources of expenditure.

We also have to acknowledge that financial balances of the sectors are impacted by net government taxes (T) which includes all taxes and transfer and interest payments (the latter are not counted independently in the expenditure Expression (1)).

Further, as noted above the trade account is only one aspect of the financial flows between the domestic economy and the external sector. we have to include net external income flows (FNI).

Adding in the net external income flows (FNI) to Expression (2) for GDP we get the familiar gross national product or gross national income measure (GNP):

(2) GNP = C + I + G + (X – M) + FNI

To render this approach into the sectoral balances form, we subtract total taxes and transfers (T) from both sides of Expression (3) to get:

(3) GNP – T = C + I + G + (X – M) + FNI – T

Now we can collect the terms by arranging them according to the three sectoral balances:

(4) (GNP – C – T) – I = (G – T) + (X – M + FNI)

The the terms in Expression (4) are relatively easy to understand now.

The term (GNP – C – T) represents total income less the amount consumed less the amount paid to government in taxes (taking into account transfers coming the other way). In other words, it represents private domestic saving.

The left-hand side of Equation (4), (GNP – C – T) – I, thus is the overall saving of the private domestic sector, which is distinct from total household saving denoted by the term (GNP – C – T).

In other words, the left-hand side of Equation (4) is the private domestic financial balance and if it is positive then the sector is spending less than its total income and if it is negative the sector is spending more than it total income.

The term (G – T) is the government financial balance and is in deficit if government spending (G) is greater than government tax revenue minus transfers (T), and in surplus if the balance is negative.

Finally, the other right-hand side term (X – M + FNI) is the external financial balance, commonly known as the current account balance (CAD). It is in surplus if positive and deficit if negative.

In English we could say that:

The private financial balance equals the sum of the government financial balance plus the current account balance.

We can re-write Expression (6) in this way to get the sectoral balances equation:

(5) (S – I) = (G – T) + CAD

which is interpreted as meaning that government sector deficits (G – T > 0) and current account surpluses (CAD > 0) generate national income and net financial assets for the private domestic sector.

Conversely, government surpluses (G – T < 0) and current account deficits (CAD < 0) reduce national income and undermine the capacity of the private domestic sector to add financial assets.

Expression (5) can also be written as:

(6) [(S – I) – CAD] = (G – T)

where the term on the left-hand side [(S – I) – CAD] is the non-government sector financial balance and is of equal and opposite sign to the government financial balance.

This is the familiar MMT statement that a government sector deficit (surplus) is equal dollar-for-dollar to the non-government sector surplus (deficit).

The sectoral balances equation says that total private savings (S) minus private investment (I) has to equal the public deficit (spending, G minus taxes, T) plus net exports (exports (X) minus imports (M)) plus net income transfers.

All these relationships (equations) hold as a matter of accounting and not matters of opinion.

You can then manipulate these balances to tell stories about what is going on in a country.

For example, when an external deficit (X – M < 0) and a public surplus (G – T < 0) coincide, there must be a private deficit. So if X = 10 and M = 20, X – M = -10 (a current account deficit). Also if G = 20 and T = 30, G – T = -10 (a fiscal surplus). So the right-hand side of the sectoral balances equation will equal (20 – 30) + (10 – 20) = -20.

As a matter of accounting then (S – I) = -20 which means that the domestic private sector is spending more than they are earning because I > S by 20 (whatever $ units we like). So the fiscal drag from the public sector is coinciding with an influx of net savings from the external sector. While private spending can persist for a time under these conditions using the net savings of the external sector, the private sector becomes increasingly indebted in the process. It is an unsustainable growth path.

So if a nation usually has a current account deficit (X – M < 0) then if the private domestic sector is to net save (S – I) > 0, then the public fiscal deficit has to be large enough to offset the current account deficit. Say, (X – M) = -20 (as above). Then a balanced fiscal position (G – T = 0) will force the domestic private sector to spend more than they are earning (S – I) = -20. But a government deficit of 25 (for example, G = 55 and T = 30) will give a right-hand solution of (55 – 30) + (10 – 20) = 15. The domestic private sector can net save.

So by only focusing on the household saving ratio in the question, I was only referring to one component of the private domestic balance. Clearly in the case of the question, if private investment is strong enough to offset the household desire to increase saving (and withdraw from consumption) then no spending gap arises.

In the present situation in most countries, households have reduced the growth in consumption (as they have tried to repair overindebted balance sheets) at the same time that private investment has fallen dramatically.

As a consequence a major spending gap emerged that could only be filled in the short- to medium-term by government deficits if output growth was to remain intact. The reality is that the fiscal deficits were not large enough and so income adjustments (negative) occurred and this brought the sectoral balances in line at lower levels of economic activity.

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

Question 2:
If the European Commission relaxed the fiscal rules restricting Member State governments under the Stability and Growth Pact (3 per cent deficit to GDP ratios and 60 per cent public debt to GDP ratios) then the solvency risk that several EMU members faced during the GFC would have been resolved.

The answer is False.

Linking of solvency risk and the Stability and Growth Pact is false.

The Stability and Growth Pact which is summarised as imposing a rule on EMU member countries that their fiscal deficits cannot exceed 3 per cent of GDP rule and their public debt to GDP ratio cannot exceed 60 per cent. In the links provided below you will find extensive analysis of the nonsensical nature of these rules.

The SGP was designed to place nationally-determined fiscal policy in a straitjacket to avoid the problems that would arise if some runaway member states might follow a reckless spending policy, which in its turn would force the ECB to increase its interest rates. Germany, in particular, wanted fiscal constraints put on countries like Italy and Spain to prevent reckless government spending which could damage compliant countries through higher ECB interest rates.

In a 2006 book I published with Joan Muysken and Tom Van Veen – Growth and cohesion in the European Union: The Impact of Macroeconomic Policy – we showed that it is widely recognised that these figures were highly arbitrary and were without any solid theoretical foundation or internal consistency.

The current crisis is just the last straw in the myth that the SGP would provide a platform for stability and growth in the EMU. In my 2008 book (published just before the crisis) with Joan Muysken – Full Employment abandoned – we provided evidence to support the thesis that the SGP failed on both counts – it had provided neither stability nor growth. The crisis has echoed that claim very loudly.

The rationale of controlling government debt and fiscal deficits were consistent with the rising neo-liberal orthodoxy that promoted inflation control as the macroeconomic policy priority and asserted the primacy of monetary policy (a narrow conception notwithstanding) over fiscal policy. Fiscal policy was forced by this inflation first ideology to become a passive actor on the macroeconomic stage.

But these rules, while ensuring that the EMU countries will have to live with high unemployment and depressed living standards (overall) for years to come, given the magnitude of the crisis and the austerity plans that have to be pursued to get the public ratios back in line with the SGP dictates, are not the reason that the EMU countries risk insolvency.

That risk arises from the fact that when they entered the EMU system, they ceded their currency sovereignty to the European Central Bank (ECB) which had several consequences. First, EMU member states now share a common monetary stance and cannot set interest rates independently. The former central banks – now called National Central Banks are completely embedded into the ECB-NCB system that defines the EMU.

Second, they no longer have separate exchange rates which means that trade imbalances have to be dealt with in monetary terms not in relative price changes.

Third, and most importantly, the member governments cannot create their own currency and as a consequence can run out of Euros! So imagine there was a bank run occuring in Australia, while the situation would signal mass frenzy, the Australian government has the infinite capacity to guarantee all deposits denominated in $AUD should it choose to do so. If the superannuation industry collapsed in Australia, the Australian government could just guarantee all retirement incomes denominated in $AUD should it choose to do so. The same goes for any sovereign government (including the US and the UK).

But an EMU member government could not do this and their banking or public pension systems could become insolvent.

Further, it could reach a situation where it did not have enough Euros available (via taxation revenue or borrowing) to repay its debt commitments (either retire existing debt on maturity or service interest payments). In that sense, the government itself would become insolvent.

A sovereign government such as Australia or the US could never find itself in that sort of situation – they are never in risk of insolvency.

So the source of the solvency risk problem is not the fiscal rules that the EMU nations have placed on themselves but the fact they have ceded currency sovereignty and are forced to borrow in a foreign currency (the euro).

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

Question 3:

Mainstream economists have argued that the large scale quantitative easing conducted by central banks in recent years – so-called printing money – would be inflationary. They based their predictions on the Classical Quantity Theory of Money which links the growth of the money stock to the inflation rate (too much money chasing too few goods). The fact that inflation has not accelerated sharply indicates that this mainstream economic theory should be discarded.

The answer is False.

The question requires you to: (a) understand the Quantity Theory of Money; and (b) understand the impact of quantitative easing in relation to Quantity Theory of Money (QTM).

The short reason the answer is false is that quantitative easing has not significantly increased the aggregates that drive the alleged causality in the QTM – that is, the various estimates of the “money supply”.

So the point is that the period we are discussing is not a true test of the QTM, which for other reasons is largely inapplicable as a theory of inflation in a modern economy.

The QTM which in symbols is MV = PQ says that the money stock times the turnover per period (V) is equal to the price level (P) times real output (Q).

The QTM assumes that V is fixed (despite empirically it moving all over the place) and Q is always at full employment as a result of market adjustments.

In applying this theory mainstream economists and commentators are thus denying the existence of unemployment. The more reasonable mainstream economists admit that short-run deviations in the predictions of the Quantity Theory of Money can occur but in the long-run all the frictions causing unemployment will disappear and the theory will apply.

If V and Q fixed, then changes in M are associated with changes in P by construction – which is the basic Monetarist claim that expanding the money supply is inflationary. The causality the Monetarists invoke is to say that monetary growth (with no further capacity in the economy to expand output) creates a situation where too much money is chasing too few goods and the only adjustment that is possible is nominal (that is, inflation).

One of the contributions of Keynes was to show the Quantity Theory of Money could not be universally correct. He observed price level changes independent of monetary supply movements (and vice versa) which changed his own perception of the way the monetary system operated. In other words, something else was driving these price movements.

Further, with high rates of capacity and labour underutilisation at various times (including now) one can hardly seriously maintain the view that Q is fixed.

There is usually scope for real adjustments (that is, increasing output) to match nominal growth in aggregate demand. So if increased credit became available and borrowers used the deposits that were created by the loans to purchase goods and services, it is likely that firms with excess capacity will respond by increasing output, in order to maintain market share.

The mainstream have related the recent non-standard monetary policy efforts – the so-called quantitative easing (QE) – to the Quantity Theory of Money and predicted hyperinflation will arise.

They have to invoke the mainstream concept of the money multiplier to link the QE to inflation through the Quantity Theory of Money. In other words they think that increasing the level of bank reserves (QE) has to be inflationary because they think the increased reserves will flood the economy with money (spending).

Mainstream economics courses mislead their students into believing that there is a direct relationship between the monetary base (including reserves) and the money supply.

Students are familiar with textbook explanations a bank is alleged to “loan out some of its reserves and create money”. As I have indicated several times the depiction of the fractional reserve-money multiplier process in these mainstream textbooks exemplifies the mainstream misunderstanding of banking operations. Please read my blog – Money multiplier and other myths – for more discussion on this point.

The idea that the monetary base (the sum of bank reserves and currency) leads to a change in the money supply via some multiple is not a valid representation of the way the monetary system operates.

The reality is that the central bank does not have the capacity to control the money supply. We have regularly traversed this point. In the world we live in, bank loans create deposits and are largely made without reference to the reserve positions of the banks. The bank then ensures its reserve positions are legally compliant as a separate process knowing that it can always get the reserves from the central bank if other sources fail.

The only way that the central bank can influence credit creation in this setting is via the price of the reserves it provides on demand to the commercial banks.

QE involves the central bank buying assets from the private sector – government bonds and high quality corporate debt. So what the central bank is doing is swapping financial assets with the banks – they sell their financial assets and receive back in return extra reserves.

The net financial assets in the private sector are in fact unchanged although the portfolio composition of those assets is altered (maturity substitution) which changes yields and returns.

In terms of changing portfolio compositions, quantitative easing increases central bank demand for “long maturity” assets held in the private sector which reduces interest rates at the longer end of the yield curve. These are traditionally thought of as the investment rates.

This might increase aggregate demand given the cost of investment funds is likely to drop. But on the other hand, the lower rates reduce the interest-income of savers who will reduce consumption (demand) accordingly.

How these opposing effects balance out is unclear but the evidence suggests there is not very much impact at all.

But this increased lending (if it happened) would not be the result of banks having more reserves. Rather it was because lending rates had fallen and more credit-worthy borrowers were willing to seek credit. In times of recession, confidence among prospective borrowers is low and so the demand for loans is weak, irrespective of the price of credit.

However, mainstream economists think that the demand for loans is weak in recession because the banks lack reserves and assert that by providing those reserves, QE increases the capacity of the banks to make loans. That is a major misrepresentation of the way the banking system actually operates.

Banks do not operate like this. Bank lending is not ‘reserve constrained’. Banks lend to any credit worthy customer they can find and then worry about their reserve positions afterwards. If they are short of reserves (their reserve accounts have to be in positive balance each day and in some countries central banks require certain ratios to be maintained) then they borrow from each other in the interbank market or, ultimately, they will borrow from the central bank through the so-called discount window. They are reluctant to use the latter facility because it carries a penalty (higher interest cost).

The point is that building bank reserves will not increase the bank’s capacity to lend. Loans create deposits which generate reserves.

So in saying that the answer to the question is false, we are not giving a green light to the validity of the QTM, which should be abandoned as theory of inflation in a modern economy.

The fact that large scale quantitative easing conducted by central banks has not caused inflation does not provide a strong refutation of the mainstream QTM largely because QE has not impacted on the broader monetary aggregates.

In other words, the ‘test’ of the QTM wasn’t properly constructed.

The QTM is unreliable for other reasons. Even if the money supply rises, firms will likely respond to the rising nominal spending by increasing output. And that is separate from the shifts in velocity (V) that also occur.

A properly constructed validation of the QTM would require inflation to accelerate every time the money supply increased. That doesn’t happen.

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I agree with all you say except I think maybe you meant ‘true’ rather than ‘false’?

    Question 3:
    Mainstream economists have argued that the large scale quantitative easing conducted by central banks in recent years – so-called printing money – would be inflationary. They based their predictions on the Classical Quantity Theory of Money which links the growth of the money stock to the inflation rate (too much money chasing too few goods). The fact that inflation has not accelerated sharply indicates that this mainstream economic theory should be discarded.
    The answer is False.

  2. About Question 3 answer, part of it is missing- There is always scope for real adjustments (that is, increasing output) to match nominal growth in aggregate demand. So if increased credit became available and borrowers used the deposits that were created by the loans to purchase goods and services, it is likely that firms with excess capacity will re”

    Guessing something like ‘firms with excess capacity will ‘react by increasing production rather than increasing prices’.

    I’m getting used to being told my answers are wrong on this quiz, but it would be nice if sometimes it made sense. This question asks whether ” this mainstream economic theory should be discarded”. The explanation/answer shows that the ‘mainstream’ understanding of the theory is very wrong yet the correct answer is supposedly ‘False’ so we shouldn’t discard the ‘mainstream’ theory? Which is it? Can’t discard the mainstream theory even though it is wrong? The mainstream theory is that Mv=PQ and velocity doesn’t change much and it assumes full employment. That is wrong- that theory should be discarded. If you ask about a ‘mainstream’ theory and then you show it is all wrong why would we not discard it and substitute different assumptions about how the variables in Mv=PQ will react?

  3. Oh my, didn’t see Warren Mosler’s comments before I wrote mine. He seems to have the same complaint so I’m hoping I’m not completely ‘out there’. Maybe this is the time I get partial credit for an answer…

    Love the quiz. I love to hate it but still love it. Thanks Bill.

  4. I was also caught out on question 3. here was my thinking:

    Mainstream economists have argued that the large scale quantitative easing conducted by central banks in recent years – so-called printing money – would be inflationary.”

    I knew that, QT and price inflation by relationship, was FALSE.

    Therefore to refute their argument using their own assumptions, I reasoned that the following was certainly enough, even with no other reason, to show why the theory should be discarded:

    The fact that inflation has not accelerated sharply indicates that this mainstream economic theory should be discarded.

    I answered TRUE to the question which in truth, was false. So much for interpretation……

  5. “So the fact that large scale quantitative easing conducted by central banks in Japan in 2001 and now in the UK and the USA has not caused inflation does not provide a strong refutation of the mainstream Quantity Theory of Money because it has not impacted on the monetary aggregates.”

    I think the point is that while QE increased base money reserves, it didn’t increase money supply in the forms that affect inflation and spending, cause the banks didn’t go on a lending spree due to lack of demand. So you can’t use that lack of inflationary effect of QE as a refutation of MV+PQ.

    But I have been known to be wrong πŸ˜‰

  6. CS, I don’t think anyone is disagreeing with MV=PQ, but rather just disagreeing with the assumptions that might go along with the ‘Classical Quantity Theory of Money’. As far as I can see, MV=PQ is pretty much an identity of sorts. Or as Wikipedia calls it, a tautology. But I have also been wrong before, especially on quiz answers it seems :). And just to correct my previous comment- when I have been wrong on the quiz, the quiz answers almost always make sense, and they do show that it was I who was incorrect. Except for this time I hope.

  7. Dear Warren

    No, I meant ‘false’. I have rewritten the answer to make it more clear. QE has increased the base but there hasn’t been the same increase in the broader aggregates, which in the QTM is the M of the MV = PQ. So there hasn’t been a true test of the QTM as a result. For the QTM to be tested, M has to rise and P follow. We know that there are many cases where inflation does not accelerate when the growth in broad money increases and it is that reality which invalidates the QTM not the lack of inflation after QE.

    In other words, we should discard the QTM but not because QE doesn’t cause inflation. The latter outcome is largely because the idea of the money multiplier is false.

    best wishes

  8. Q3
    The confusion seems to arise because there are two alleged mainstream economic theories:
    Theory 1. QE causes inflation. This is the theory referred to in the question.
    Theory 2. The Quantity Theory of Money. This is the theory discussed in Prof. Mitchell’s explanation.
    Theory 1 is obviously refuted by the fact that QE did not lead to inflation. So this theory should be discarded and the answer to Q3 is TRUE, as commented by Warren Mosler and Jerry Brown.

    But Theory 2, the Quantity Theory of Money, is not refuted by the fact that QE did not lead to inflation.
    QE has zero or little effect on the Money supply relevant to the Quantity Theory , i.e. cash in circulation and demand deposits. Therefore QE and its effects have no bearing on the validity or falsity of Quantity Theory of Money. So it is FALSE to suggest that the Quantity theory should be discarded due to this evidence.

  9. Jerry Brown,

    “Except for this time I hope.”

    Hope was springing eternal until Bill responded, eh. πŸ™‚

    I had question 3 OK and for the reasons Bill outlined.

    So any time you need help with this stuff, just holler.

    (Just kidding Jerry – felt the urge to return one of your many wind ups. πŸ™‚ )

  10. Henry, I enjoy arguing with you and probably deserve your comment. The hope you refer to has been crushed at this point. Not happy about it and don’t agree with it but that is what is what apparently. But the explanation Bill supplies to Warren Mosler states that QTM should be discarded. That was my point I think and that is about the closest Bill ever came to saying I was ever right that I can recall. So if I was very optimistic, maybe I would say there was essential agreement or something :).

    But I am not. And I am very disappointed with this quiz question and the explanations of the answer to it.

  11. Question 3 is poorly defined. Which QT are we talking about. The QT exists in many forms so without specifying which theory is to be disproved we can’t really reach a conclusion.

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