Understanding central bank operations

I have arrived in Washington now and it is late Monday. I am staying on local Newcastle time because for a short-trip it is easier to avoid jet lag that way. So I started work today at around 20:00 Washington time and will finish close to dawn. I think I will play Night Shift on You Tube to keep me company through the night … err day (Australian time). On the plane coming over, among other things, I read a paper written a couple of years ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York about the way in which monetary policy can be “divorced” from bank reserves. It is a useful paper at the operational level because it brings out a number of important points about bank reserves and the way central banks can manipulate them or ignore them. That is what this blog is about.

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Saturday Quiz – April 24, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.

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What the hell is a government solvency constraint?

Today my RSS feed was full of all sorts of information and it took me some time to get through it all. The reason? I just purchased an Amazon Kindle DX and it arrived this morning. As a frequent traveller I seem to carry too many books and papers given I read a lot and so the Kindle is my proposed solution – everything is going to being stored on it – novels, travel documents, bus timetables, academic papers, mp3s, you name it. My bags will now be lighter and that continual shuffling of papers to access the right one at the right time is going to be a thing of the past. So I got to know it a bit today! Anyway, one paper I did read today was from the European Central Bank (ECB) entitled – The Impact of Numerical Expenditure Rules on Budgetary Discipline over the Cycle. It is so bad you would gasp for air reading it. It is replete with statements that just appear without scrutiny and are taken for granted but, which in fact, are at the basis of the whole argument about fiscal rules and are hardly acceptable.

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Same old arguments = lack of leadership

You realise how misguided the economic debate is in the West when you read that the British Opposition has been telling the British people that governance is about to break down and the IMF are poised to take over the country – that is, unless they vote for their austerity plans – and on the same day the UK Office for National Statistics releases the latest unemployment data which shows that unemployment has risen to a 15-year high. And while the British election debate appears to be all about who can cut public net spending the most, the IMF releases its latest World Economic Outlook (WEO), which is far from optimistic about the future and is warning against withdrawing the fiscal support for the very fragile demand conditions around the world. Then you read the Financial Times and see that former Clinton deputy treasury secretary Roger Altman is predicting a debt explosion. The general conclusion: our education systems have failed – and have been pumping out a population that mindlessly believes all this stuff while the elites run us over in their rush to bank the wealth they are harvesting.

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The Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In and Counter-Conference

In Washington D.C. next Wednesday (April 28, 2010) there will be two separate events where the focus will be on fiscal sustainability. The first event sponsored by a billionaire former Wall Street mogul under the aegis of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF) promises to bring the Top leaders to Washington. It will feature a big cast well-known US entities (former central bank bosses; former treasury officials and more). It will be well-publicised and a glossy affair – full of self-importance. It will categorically fail to address any meaningful notion of fiscal sustainability. Instead it will be rehearse a mish-mash of neo-liberal and religious-moral constructions dressed up as economic reasoning. It will provide a disservice to the citizens of the US and beyond. The other event will be smaller and run on a shoe-string. The grass roots The Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In and Counter-Conference is open to all and will actually involve researchers who understand how the monetary system operates. Like all grass roots movements it requires support. I hope you can provide support commensurate with your circumstances.

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When a huge pack of lies is barely enough

Today I read another appalling beat-up from the researchers at Société Générale. The fabrications and poor analysis contained in the Report should instigate class actions from their subscribers for grossly misleading them in their investment decisions. But the real problem is that the financial journalists seem content to function as meagre mouthpieces for this hysteria – to use their columns to spread it widely without the slightest introspection or critical scrutiny. The result is that the public are continually confronted with outrageous propositions – which carry not even a skerrick of truth. They then form fallacious perspectives about public policy that ultimately undermine their own welfare. The lies are all presented as being “iron clad laws” and “inevitabilities” and “fundamental truths”. But as I learned as a youngster – lies are lies.

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Taxpayers do not fund anything

At times some document from the past is discovered that no-one much has read or paid any attention to but which offers fundamental insights into the options facing governments operating a monetary system based on a fiat currency. We have available now one such document which I will discuss in some detail. The essential insight can be summarised by the title of the blog – taxpayers do not fund anything. So when you hear commentators and politicians and the like use terms like “taxpayers’ funds are being mis-spent” etc, you can immediately conclude they do not understand how the monetary system functions. At that point, it is advisable to ignore what they have to say – given it is likely to be erroneous as a result of the initial false premises. The problem is that the public policy debate is largely based on these false premises. As a result, the policy positions that emerge are typically inferior and in many cases extremely damaging to the fortunes of the disadvantaged.

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Saturday Quiz – April 17, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.

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A mining boom will not reduce the need for public deficits

Australia is becoming caught up again by the rhetoric flowing from the minerals lobby that we are about to enter the “mother of all mining booms”. Almost every day now, the politicians, business spokespersons and the media are beating up this story. The minerals lobby has achieved spectucular success over the years in inflating its importance such that people genuinely believe our prosperity comes from this sector. Somehow we believe that this sector is our vehicle to Shangri La. Corresponding to all this hype is a growing push for significant cuts in public spending to “make room” for the mining boom. The debate is interesting because, like the intergenerational (ageing population) debate, it demonstrates how erroneous understandings about the monetary system and the role of the government within it lead to spurious conclusions. And all the while – labour underutilisation rates remain high.

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Deficits are here to stay … get used to it

Today I am writing about the sectoral balances which are derived from the national accounts. A recent article in the Financial Times uses these balances to demonstrate that attempts to reduce the UK public deficit can only be successfully achieved by engineering growth in non-government spending. That is an insight that is core to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) but typically escapes the understanding of most commentators. The article is interesting because it shows how the sectoral balances – which are accounting statements and thus true by definition – can be interpreted in different ways and influence different policy strategies. But the fundamental understanding you gain from knowledge of these balances is that at present public deficits are here to stay … and if you don’t like them … you better get used to it!

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Japan … just wait … your days are numbered

I was reading this IMF working paper today – The Outlook for Financing Japan’s Public Debt – which was released in January and was on my pile of things to catch up on. The paper is now being used by journalists to predict doom in the coming years for the Land of the Rising Sun. As I note, the stark deviation of the Japanese experience with the predictions of the mainstream macroeconomics models has given the conservatives a headache. As an attempt to reassert their relevance to the debate, the mainstream commentators are inventing new ploys so that they can say – yes we agree that the facts in the short-run don’t accord with our models but brothers and sisters just wait for what is around the corner. My assessment is that they have been saying this for 20 years already. In 5 more years, they will still be disappointed and still prophesying doom. They are pathetic!

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Free speech is an extremely well-paid occupation

Today I was reading the The Ohio Funds’ Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant Rating Agencies’ Motion to Dismiss, which is the legal document prepared by the Attorney General for the State of Ohio on behalf of the Ohio Police & Fire Pension fund, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, School Employees Retirement System of Ohio, and the Ohio Public Employees Deferred Compensation program. It is interesting in its own right but also raises questions of the tyranny of bond markets and the need to conduct fundamental (not window-dressing) reform of the way our financial institutions and governments operate. These thoughts then took me back to Europe and the proposed bailout of Greece by its Eurozone colleagues. All these topics are interwoven and reflect the sheer stupidity of the way we constrain our monetary systems. Rather than being vehicles that can liberate us from poverty they have been designed to invoke harshness and disadvantage for most and untold wealth for a small minority.

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Saturday Quiz – April 10, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.

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US federal reserve governor is part of the problem

The Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a speech entitled – Economic Challenges: Past, Present, and Future – on April 7, 2010 in Texas. It emphatically demonstrated why he should never have been appointed to the position he is in and why his reappointment just compounds that initial mistake. While he has been largely quiet on fiscal matters over the last few years this speech outlines without doubt that he doesn’t really understand the monetary system he supervises and has an understanding that is seemingly limited to that found in any erroneous mainstream macroeconomics text book. The only other interpretation is that he does understand the system yet chooses to deliberately deceive the wider public so as he can support ideological attacks on government activity. Either way, he is part of the problem we face.

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The Australian labour market remains tepid

Today the ABS released the Labour Force data for March 2010 and the data reveals that employment growth is very tentative and unemployment is rising. Unemployment rates in the populous states have risen. Further, labour force participation fell which makes the situation even more sombre. The bank economists have claimed that this is a picture of a near booming economy with wage inflation and skills shortages becoming the main focus. I consider their judgement to be seriously impaired and biased. Amidst all the talk about strong employment growth and wage breakouts about to happen – conditions in the Australian labour market are, in fact, very tepid as the impact of the fiscal stimulus wanes. With the declining fiscal stimulus and private spending remaining subdued – today’s data doesn’t represent a place we would want to be in for very long.

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I just found out – state kleptocracy is the problem

Today’s blog is a little different to most, although don’t worry, I will get onto familiar themes soon enough. Today I am considering the latest broadside from controversial German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who Jurgen Habermas referred to as a fascist. Sloterdijk responded to that criticism by labelling Habermas, in turn, a fascist. That debate was about bi-genetics and Sloterdijk’s implicit support for a “master race”. It was an interesting debate in itself and goes to the fundamental discomfort that exists in Germany about their past. But today I am considering his views on freedom and governments who he labels fiscal thieves and suggests that modern democracies have conspired to allow ever increasing numbers to live of the toil of others courtesy of state intervention.

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Rates go up again down here

This time last month I was trying out the mobile office concept up the coast (see blog). The experiment was a success but the blog I wrote that day coincided with the decision of the Reserve Bank (RBA) to hike short-term interest rates again, which I considered to be a mistake. Exactly, one month later, the RBA is at it again however I am in Newcastle and there is no surf! The RBA announced today, quite predictably, that the policy rate will rise by 0.25 per cent which will push mortgage rates above 7 per cent. Our greedy private banks get another free ride out of this and the decision confirms that the crisis has not really changed the neo-liberal economic policy dominance. Inflation targeting which uses labour underutilisation as a policy weapon and fiscal surpluses which further drag the economy down – are well and truly entrenched. Spare the thought.

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Saturday Quiz – April 3, 2010 – answers and discussion

Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’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.

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When you’ve got friends like this … Part 3

Today is a continuation of the theme developed in these past blogs – The enemies from within and When you’ve got friends like this … Part 1 and When you’ve got friends like this … Part 2 – which focuses on how limiting the so-called progressive policy input has become. One could characterise it as submissive and defeatist. But the main thing I find problematic is that its compliance is based on faulty understandings of the way the monetary system operates and the opportunities that a sovereign government has to advance well-being. Progressives today seem to be falling for the myth that the financial markets are now the de facto governments of our nations and what they want they should get. It becomes a self-reinforcing perspective and will only deepen the malaise facing the world.

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Robin Hood was a thief not a saviour

I quite liked Robin Hood on TV when I was young. After each episode, there were famous sword duals in backyards, with usually some oppressive older brother playing the role of the sheriff and the youngest least defenceless kids were “his men”. The rest of us were the outlaws and we hid in bushes and sharpened dangerous bits of wood and fired them from powerful home made bows at the oppressors. Mothers had first-aid kits constantly in use. Neighbourhood girls were usually attracted to the outlaws which was always a useful by-product that the sheriff and his “men” seemed to overlook, although most of the “men” were too young to gauge the significance of this. Yes, 1960s suburban Australia. Anyway, Robin is back in town but this time some do-gooders are invoking his name to solve the problems of the world. However, none of their “solutions” are viable and are based on faulty understandings of the way monetary systems operate.

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