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James K. Galbraith: The Final Death (and Next Life) of Maynard Keynes

By: selise Monday August 1, 2011 4:26 am

"John Maynard Keynes"

"John Maynard Keynes" by Steve Hunnisett on flickr

Posted below, with kind permission of the author, is the transcript (see note below) of James K. Galbraith’s keynote lecture to the 5th annual “Dijon” conference on Post Keynesian economics, meeting at Roskilde University near Copenhagen, Denmark on May 13, 2011. Please see the source link at UTIP for the audio, which I highly recommend. — selise

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It’s of course a great privilege for me to be here in this role and especially on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the publication of the General Theory.

Two years ago, as you may recall, our profession enjoyed a moment of ferment. Economists who had built their careers on inflation targeting, rational expectations, representative agents, the efficient markets hypothesis, dynamic stochastic general equilibrium models, the virtues of deregulation and privatization and the Great Moderation were forced by events momentarily to shut up. The fact that they had been absurdly, conspicuously and even in some cases admittedly wrong imposed even a little humility on a few. One senior American legal policy intellectual, a fellow traveler of the Chicago School, announced his conversion to Keynesianism as though it were news.

 

Dear CPC Co-Chair Rep. Keith Ellison: Progressive Values need a Progressive Economic Policy

By: selise Friday July 29, 2011 9:12 pm

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road political progressives are on may be very well paved, but it’s still heading in the wrong direction.

Prof. Stephanie Kelton explains why in her response to CPC Co-Chair Representative Keith Ellison:

Maddening! The Clinton surpluses were driven by the dot.com bubble and unsustainable private sector deficits. When the bubble burst, stocks crashed, the economy went into recession, and the surplus quickly reversed itself. It was only AFTER the government’s budget moved sharply into deficit that the private sector was able to get out of the red. All of this would happened even without 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the subprime crisis, etc. We cannot keep relying on asset bubbles (stocks, housing, whatever) to drive economic growth.

The simple fact is this: A GOVERNMENT SURPLUS IMPLIES A DEFICIT IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR. And the private sector, unlike the public sector, cannot survive when it’s running a deficit. Anyone who does not recognize this simple fact (intuitively or empirically) should not offer commentary on matters of such significance.

Government Deficits allow the private sector to net save financial assets. Balance the budget, and the private sector loses financial assets. Run a government surplus, and you drive the private sector into deficit.

Someone in Washington better figure this out pretty damn quick, or our children and grandchildren are going to be burdened like never before.

The Ph.D. Economists who blog here understand:

http://neweconomicperspectives.blogspot.com

Excerpts from This Is Our Moment by Representative Keith Ellison:

America has an historic opportunity. We have the chance to address our budget deficit in a manner not seen since President Bill Clinton created a budget surplus in 1999. And if we do it right, we could pave the way for a vibrant American economy based not on gimmicks like giveaways for special interests, but on job creation for working Americans. As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I urge us to avoid a default on the faith and credit of the United States while protecting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus stands with the American people. Long before Republicans took our economy hostage, we introduced the People’s Budget, the most fiscally responsible deficit plan introduced this year. The People’s Budget would eliminate the deficit in 10 years. Economists across the political spectrum have called it courageous and responsible. Introducing this budget was one of my proudest moments as a Member of Congress, because it shows the power of Progressive policies and values. Creating an economy that reduces deficits and creates jobs is a progressive value, not just a slogan as it is for the Tea Party.

As the People’s Budget has proposed, and the president has affirmed, our solution must reflect the same values that have motivated us historically. We believe in a fiscally healthy America because it leads to an economically healthy America. A balanced budget is critical precisely because it allows us to maintain the services that the middle class depends on. Any deficit deal that takes money away from seniors and American workers who rely on Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid undermines the original goal of deficit reduction. Any deficit deal that cuts food stamps but pampers the wealthy is not only bad for the most vulnerable Americans, but damages our fiscal health.

See Warren Mosler for more: Kelton responds to the Progressive Caucus Co-chair

James K. Galbraith: Without the rule of law, the financial sector is no use to anyone except those who own it and the politicians they own

By: selise Tuesday July 26, 2011 8:37 am

"Law Books"

"Law Books" by seychelles88 on flickr

Posted below, with kind permission of the author, is the transcript (see note below) of James K. Galbraith’s talk on financial fraud at the 20th annual Levy Institute Hyman Minsky conference at the Ford Foundation in New York City on April 15, 2011.

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In the past month I’ve attended two meetings as a non-speaker: one at the IMF and the other last weekend at Bretton Woods.

At both I asked the same question, from the floor. How is it possible to have these somber and well-informed discussions of financial supervision, replete with experts and high officials, and not one mention of the word “fraud?”

I received no real answer on either occasion. I trust, in fact that the issue already has been aired at this conference but I wasn’t able to be here before today so I don’t know for sure.

What is fraud?

Marshall Auerback: Worse than Hoover

By: selise Monday July 25, 2011 10:25 pm

[x-posted with permission from New Economic Perspectives -- selise]

Worse than Hoover
By Marshall Auerback

It’s actually a bit over the top and unfair to compare Barack Obama with Herbert Hoover – unfair that is, to the memory of Herbert Hoover.  The received image of the latter is the dour, technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces.  This is actually an exaggeration.  As Kevin Baker convincingly argued in his Harper’s Magazine piece, “Barack Hoover Obama”, President Hoover did try to organize national, voluntary efforts to hire the unemployed, provide charity, and sought to create a private banking pool. When these efforts collapsed or fell short, he started a dozen Home Loan Discount Banks to help individuals refinance their mortgages and save their homes.  Indeed, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which became famous for its exploits under FDR and Jesse Jones, was actually created by Hoover.  Often tarred with the liquidationist philosophy of his Treasury Secretary, the establishment of the RFC was, as Baker suggested, “a direct rebuttal to Andrew Mellon’s prescription of creative destruction. Rather than liquidating banks, railroads, and agricultural cooperatives, the RFC would lend them money to stay afloat.”

Hoover’s tragedy lay in the fact that whilst he recognized the deficiencies of the prevailing neo-classical laissez-faire nostrums of his day, he could not ultimately break with them and accept that the economic tenets which he had grown up with were deficient in terms of dealing with the huge unemployment challenges posed by the Great Depression.  By contrast, Roosevelt was himself instinctively a fiscal conservative throughout much of the early stages of his political career (and campaigned as a gold standard man during the election of 1932), but ultimately had the vision (or, at least, excellent political instincts) to recognize the need to cut himself off from the dogma of the past and try something new in a persistent spirit of experimentation. Not everything FDR did worked, but his lack of rigid ideology and his bold spirit of economic experimentation ultimately did much to reduce the scourge of unemployment, even though such policies brought him into significant conflict with the economic royalists of his day.

Barack Obama’s style of governing largely reflects an acceptance of the status quo. His “economic experts” also reflects this preference.  As Baker argued, “it’s as if, after winning election in 1932, FDR had brought Andrew Mellon back to the Treasury.”

To the extent that he displays any kind of radicalism, it is to roll back the frontiers of the New Deal and Great Society, in effect gutting the Democratic Party of its core social legacy.  This assertion will no doubt inflame the diminishing Obama supporters, who insist the president would never cut Social Security or Medicare, that he’s merely been exploring every possible route to a deal with the GOP.  But the evidence increasingly suggests otherwise.

Perhaps, as Salon.com’s Joan Walsh suggests, the president sincerely believes that the intense polarization of American politics isn’t merely a symptom of our problems but a problem in itself – “and thus compromise is not just a means to an end but an end in itself, to try to create a safe harbor for people to reach some new common ground”.   One finds further support for this view within Barack Obama’s own writings. A major theme of his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope is impatience with “the smallness of our politics” and its “partisanship and acrimony.” He expresses frustration at how “the tumult of the sixties and the subsequent backlash continues to drive our political discourse.”

There appears little question, then, that the President values compromise, indeed appears to enshrine it as the apex of all great Presidencies (ironically citing Lincoln’s compromise on slavery as a perfect illustration of this ideal).  But the problem with Walsh’s supposition is that the President’s accommodation with his political enemies, his apparent infatuation with a “third way”, suggests that he is being forced to compromise on a particular set of ideals and principles which he has hitherto embraced dearly.

But what is this President’s ideal? The only time in our national discussions where Mr. Obama has evinced any kind of passion has been during the debt ceiling negotiations.  He has, since the inception of his presidency, elevated budget deficit reductions and the “reform” of entitlements as major transformational goals of his Presidency (rather than seeing deficit reduction as a by-product of economic growth).  As early as January 2009, before his inauguration (but after the election, of course), then President-elect Obama pledged to shape a new Social Security and Medicare “bargain” with the American people, saying that the nation’s long-term economic recovery could not be attained unless the government finally got control over its most costly entitlement programs (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/15/AR2009011504114.html)

In other words, Obama has been on about this since the inception of his Presidency.  Recall that it was Barack Obama, NOT the GOP, who first raised the issue of cutting entitlements via the Simpson-Bowles Commission.  The President has also parroted the line of most Wall Street economists as he has persistently characterized our budget deficits and government spending as “fiscally unsustainable” without ever seeking to define what that meant.  One of his earliest pledges was to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term, in effect paying no heed to the economic context when he made that ridiculous assertion.

In essence, the debt ceiling dispute is not forcing a compromise on this President, but is instead is viewed by him as a golden opportunity to do what he’s always wanted to do. That also explains why he won’t ask for a clean vote on the debt ceiling, why he has ignored the coin seignorage option, and why he has persistently avoided the gambit of challenging its constitutionality via the 14th amendment, even though his Democrat predecessor has already suggested that this is precisely what he would do: Bill Clinton asserted last week that he would use the constitutional option to raise the debt ceiling and dare Congress to stop him (http://www.nationalmemo.com/article/exclusive-former-president-bill-clinton-says-he-would-use-constitutional-option-raise-debt).

It also explains why President Obama remains infatuated by bigger and bigger “grand bargains”, which seem to take us further away from averting the immediate economic catastrophe potentially at hand, which is to say national default.  The Administration, then, is not going for a bipartisan compromise, but going for broke on something which the President apparent holds sacrosanct.  In reality, true compromise would start with the notion of a clean vote on the debt ceiling or, at the very least, a minimal series of spending cuts that would avert the immediate risk of a default, whilst creating less deflationary pressures.

Have you actually seen the President ever get angrier than he was at his press conference announcing the collapse of the negotiations on the debt ceiling extension? Not even on health care “reform” can we ever recall seeing Obama this engaged, and manifesting something close to real emotion as he has here.  That does suggest something beyond mere political calculation; it hints at core beliefs.

And to what end? Neither he, nor the Congress appear to recognize the downward acceleration in GDP triggered when the spending limits are reached if the automatic stabilizers are disabled because they are no longer funded as a consequence of the debt ceiling limitations (again, a LEGAL, rather than operational constraint – the debt ceiling reflects an UNWILLINGNESS to pay, rather than an INABILITY to pay).

So spending will be further cut, debt deflation dynamics will intensify, sales will go down more, more jobs will be lost, and tax revenues will collapse even further. Which will set the whole process off again:  more spending is cut, sales go down more, more jobs are lost, and tax revenues fall more, etc. etc. etc. until no one is left working. All are radically underestimating the speed and extent of the subsequent damage.

Unlike President Hoover, who inherited the foundations of a huge credit bubble from the 1920s and found himself overwhelmed by it, this President is worse.  He is, through his actions, creating the conditions for a second Great Depression because of his misconceived belief that too much government spending “crowds out” private investment, and takes dollars out of the economy when it borrows. And therefore, goes the perverse logic, when the government stops borrowing to spend, the economy will have those dollars to replace the lost federal spending.

And so after the initial fall, Obama believes, it will all come back that much stronger.

Except, that as my friend Warren Mosler insists, he is dead wrong, and therefore we are all dead ducks.

As Warren notes, have you ever heard anybody say ‘I wish they’d pay off those Tsy bonds so I could get my money back and go buy something.’

Of course not! Notes Warren:

“Treasury borrowing gives dollars people have already decided to save a place to go. Dollars that came from deficit spending- dollars spent but not taxed. If they were spent and taxed, they’d be gone, not saved.

Treasury bonds provide a resting place for voluntary savings. They are bought voluntarily. They don’t ‘take’ anything away from anyone.

For example, imaging two people, each with $1 million. One pays a $1 million tax. The other doesn’t get taxed and decides to buy $1 million in Treasury bonds.  Pretty obvious who’s better off, and who’s still solvent and consuming.”

Someone please explain this basic economic tenet to the President so that he can effect a genuine compromise, not a destructive “grand bargain” which will suck trillions of demand out of a still fragile economy. The predictable result is of his current stance is that, even as he claims to recognize the interlocking nature of the problems facing us and vows to “solve the problem” once and for all via a “grand bargain”, Obama is in fact tearing apart most of the foundations which were tentatively initiated under Hoover, but which came to full fruition under FDR. If he continues down this ruinous path, $150 billion/month in spending will be cut. Such economic thinking isn’t worthy of Mellon, let alone Herbert Hoover.

Dear Representative McGovern [Update: Message & Book Delivered]

By: selise Tuesday July 19, 2011 9:03 pm

Please see update below. — selise

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The Honorable James P. McGovern
438 Cannon House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Representative McGovern,

My name is xxxx xxxx. I am writing to ask you to take a leadership role in resolving the unnecessary federal budget debt limit crisis.

Thank you for your statement, “any cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid should be taken off the table” and also for recognizing the grave risk an unnecessary default poses for our Country.(1)

However, it is past time for you to do more. An unnecessary crisis has been allowed to develop that threatens not only Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but also the economic well being of our entire Nation.

The current debt limit crisis is unnecessary because the Administration has the power to prevent a default. There are at least two mechanisms by which the debt limit deadline can be circumvented: President Obama can invoke the 14th Amendment, a method former President Bill Clinton has endorsed(2), or President Obama can instruct the Treasury to mint a $1 Trillion dollar platinum coin to be deposited at the Federal Reserve.(3)

The current debt limit crisis is based upon false premises about the nature of Federal Government deficits. Many innocently false statements have been made and these statements must immediately be corrected in order to properly and accurately inform both your Colleagues in Congress and the American People of the basic economic facts.

Warren Mosler: MMT to President Obama and Members of Congress

By: selise Sunday July 17, 2011 1:30 pm

The following is x-posted from The Center of the Universe, with the kind permission of the author. Please see note below. — selise

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By WARREN MOSLER

MMT to President Obama and Members of Congress:

Deficit Reduction Takes Away Our Savings

SO PLEASE DON’T TAKE AWAY OUR SAVINGS!

Yes, it’s called the national debt, but US Treasury securities are nothing more than savings accounts at the Federal Reserve Bank.

The Federal debt IS the world’s dollars savings- to the penny!

The US deficit clock is also the world dollar savings clock- to the penny!

And therefore, deficit reduction takes away our savings.

SO PLEASE DON’T TAKE AWAY OUR SAVINGS!

Furthermore:

There is NO SUCH THING as a long term Federal deficit problem.

The US Government CAN’T run out of dollars.

US Government spending is NOT dependent on foreign lenders.

The US Government can’t EVER have a funding crisis like Greece — there is no such thing for ANY issuer of its own currency.

US Government interest rates are under the control of our Federal Reserve Bank, and not market forces.

The risk of too much spending when we get to full employment is higher prices, and NOT insolvency or a funding crisis.

Therefore, given our sky high unemployment, and depressed economy,

An informed Congress would be in heated debate over whether to increase federal spending, or decrease taxes.

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NOTE: Please read Warren Mosler’s book, The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, with forward by James K. Galbraith. — selise

also x-posted at my blog — selise

Stephanie Kelton: What Happens When the Government Tightens its Belt?

By: selise Monday June 6, 2011 12:28 pm

The following two-part series is x-posted from New Economic Perspectives, with the kind permission of the author. — selise

UPDATE: At the Peterson Foundation Fiscal Summit, no one challenged the underlying premise: that to be Fiscally Responsible, we have to be concerned about balancing the Federal Government Budget. But that premise is both false and incompatible with progressive policy! I hope these posts will help show why that is so. — selise

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What Happens When the Government Tightens its Belt? (Part I)
by Stephanie Kelton

Imagine two people sitting on opposite ends of a 15-foot teeter-totter. The laws of physics dictate that the seesaw will balance if the product of the first mass (w1) and its distance (d1) from the fulcrum (i.e. the balancing point) is equal to the product of the other mass (w2) and its distance (d2) from the fulcrum. Thus, the physicist can show that the teeter-totter will be in balance when the fulcrum is placed 6 feet from the end holding a 150lb person and 9 feet from the end holding a 100lb person. Moreover, the laws of physics ensure that an imbalance will arise if the mass or the relative position of one of the people is changed.

graph1

The laws of accounting allow us to demonstrate that similarly powerful concepts apply to the science of economics. Beginning with the simple identity for GDP in a closed economy, we have:

[1]   Y = C + I + G, where:

Y = GDP = National Income
C = Aggregate Consumption Expenditure
I = Aggregate Investment Expenditure
G = Aggregate Government Expenditure

For economists, this is as obvious as stating that a linear foot is the sum of 12 sequential inches. It simply recognizes that the total amount of money spent buying newly produced goods and services will yield an equivalent income to the sellers of these products. Thus, it demonstrates that expenditures are a source of income.

Once earned, income can be allocated in one of three ways. At the end of the day, all income (Y) will be spent (C), saved (S) or used in payment of taxes (T):

[2]   Y = C + S + T

Since they are equivalent expressions for Y, we can set equation [1] equal to equation [2], giving us:

C + I + G = C + S + T

Or, after canceling (C) from both sides and moving terms around:

[3]   (S – I) = (G – T)

Equation [3] shows that there is a direct relationship between what’s happening in the private sector (S – I) and what’s happening in the public sector (G – T). But it is not the one that Pete Peterson, Erskin Bowles, or President Obama would have you believe. And I want you to understand why they are wrong.

To understand the argument, imagine that you and Uncle Sam are sitting on opposite ends of a teeter-totter. You represent the private sector, and your financial status is given by (S – I). Your budget can be in balance (S = I), in deficit (S < I) or in surplus (S > I). When your financial status is positive (S > I), you are net saving. When your financial status is negative (S < I), you are net borrowing. Uncle Sam’s financial status is equal to (G – T), and, like yours, his budget may be balanced (G = T), in deficit (G > T) or in surplus (G < T). When you interact, only three outcomes are possible.

First, it is conceivable that (S = I) and (G = T) so that (S – I) = 0 and (G – T) = 0. When this condition holds, the teeter-totter will level off with each of you experiencing a balanced budget.

graph2

In the above scenario, the government is balancing its receipts (T) and expenditures (G), and you are balancing your savings and investment spending. There is no net gain/loss.

But suppose the government begins to spend more than it collects in taxes (i.e. G > T). How will Uncle Sam’s deficit affect your position on the teeter-totter? The answer is as straightforward as increasing the mass of the person on the right-hand side of the seesaw. As Uncle Sam’s financial position turns negative, your financial position turns positive.

graph3

This should make intuitive as well as mathematical sense, because when Uncle Sam runs a deficit, you receive more financial assets than you lose through taxation. Put simply, Uncle Sam’s deficit lifts you into a surplus position. Moreover, bigger deficits mean bigger surpluses for you.

Finally, let’s see what happens when Uncle Sam tightens his belt. Suppose, for example, that we were able to duplicate the much-coveted surpluses of 1999-2001. What would (and did!) happen to the private sector’s financial position?

graph4

Because the economy’s financial flows are a closed system – every payment must come from somewhere and end up somewhere – one sector’s surplus is always the other sector’s deficit. As the government “tightens” its belt, it “lightens” its load on the teeter-totter, shifting the relative burden onto you.

This is not rocket science, but it appears to befuddle scores of educated people, including President Obama, who said, “small businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should, too.” This kind of rhetoric may temporarily boost his approval ratings, but the policy itself will undermine the efforts of the very families and small businesses that are trying to improve their financial positions.

* I’ll be back with a second installment that shows what happens when we ‘open’ the economy to take into account the foreign sector (and the relevant financial flows). Many of us have been working with financial balance equations for years (see here for references), so the current effort is nothing new. I am merely trying to make the arguments more accessible by changing the way they are presented.

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What Happens When the Government Tightens its Belt? (Part II)
by Stephanie Kelton

In a recent post, I used a simple teeter-totter diagram to show how the government’s financial balance is related to the private sector’s financial balance in a closed economy. With only two sectors – government and non-government – I showed that a government deficit necessarily implies a surplus in the private sector.

figure1

As expected, this accounting truism ruffled the feathers of a flock of readers who have been programmed to launch into an anti-government tirade at the mere mention of the public sector and to regard the dangers of deficit spending as an unimpeachable fact. And while you’re certainly entitled to your own political views, you are not, as Senator Moynihan famously said, entitled to your own facts.

Other, less impenetrable minds, agreed that the private sector’s financial position must improve as the government’s deficit increases in a closed economy, but they argued that I had not demonstrated anything meaningful because I ignored the financial flows that occur in an open economy.

I still hope to convince both groups that they are acting against their own economic interests when they support policies to balance the budget or reduce the deficit, either by raising taxes or cutting government expenditures. So let’s continue the exercise and, as promised, extend the argument to the more realistic open-economy in which we actually live.

In an open economy, income flows into and out of the domestic economy as residents and foreigners buy goods and services (exports minus imports), make and receive payments such as interest and dividends (factor income) and make net transfer payments (such as foreign aid). Each country keeps track of these payments using a balance of payments (BOP) account, which summarizes the international monetary transactions that take place between the home country and the rest of the world. The BOP has two primary components – the current account and the capital account – and we can use either one to show whether, on balance, money is flowing into or out of a country.

When we incorporate these international flows, we transform the closed-economy accounting identity I used in my previous post:

[1] Domestic Private Surplus = Government Deficit

into the open-economy accounting identity shown below:

[2] Domestic Private   =  Government  +   Current Account
          Surplus                      Deficit                  Balance

or, equivalently,

[3] Domestic Private =   Government   +  Capital Account
         Surplus                       Surplus                Balance

When the current account balance is positive, it means that we in the private sector (households and domestic firms) are accumulating net financial claims on foreigners. When it is negative, they are accumulating net financial claims on us. Thus, a positive current account implies a negative capital account and vice versa.

To see this in the context of the teeter-totter model, let’s initially hold the public sector’s balance constant at zero (i.e. let’s assume the government is balancing its budget so that G = T). With the government budget in balance, Uncle Sam is a “weightless” entity on the teeter-totter, so that the private sector’s financial position will simply reflect the “weight” of the capital account. Suppose, first, that the current account is in surplus (i.e. the capital account shows an equivalent deficit):

figure2

The image above depicts the benefit (to the private sector) of a current account surplus (a.k.a a capital account deficit), and it is the outcome that many of you accused me of sidestepping in my previous post. Of course, the U.S. does not have a current account surplus, so let’s address that point before moving on. (And lest anyone begin to hyperventilate, I’ll also address the fact that G ≠ T). First, the current account.

Sticking with (G = T) for the moment, we can show how a current account deficit impacts the private sector’s financial position. As the capital account moves from deficit (diagram above) into surplus (diagram below), we see that the private sector’s financial position moves from surplus into deficit.

figure3

But does this all of this hold true in the real world, or is it some kind of economic chicanery? Let’s check the facts.

Equations [2] and [3] above are not based on economic theory. They are accounting identities that always “add up” in the real world. So let’s firm up the discussion about the implications of government “belt tightening” by running through some examples using the real world data found in the table below (Hat tip to Scott Fullwilir for sharing the file. All of the data comes from the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) and the Flow of Funds.)

[ Click here for Sectoral Balances Data (.xlsx format) ]

Let’s begin with the data from 1998 (Q3), when the public sector deficit was just 0.01% of GDP and the current account deficit was 2.56% of GDP. Plugging these numbers into equation [2] above, the identity tells us (and the data in the table confirm) that the private sector’s balance must have been:

[2] Domestic Private Sector’s Balance = 0.01% + (-2.56% )= -2.55%

figure4

Here, we can see that the private sector’s financial position was deteriorating because it was making large (net) payments to foreigners. Because this loss of financial resources was not offset by the public sector, the private sector’s financial position deteriorated.

To see how a bigger government deficit would have improved the private sector’s financial position, let’s look at the data from 1988 (Q1). As a percent of GDP, the current account balance was 2.59%, nearly the same as before, while the government’s deficit came in at a much higher 4.2% of GDP. We can use Equation [2] to see effect of the larger budget deficit:

[2] Domestic Private Sector’s Balance = 4.2% + (-2.59%) = 1.61%

In this period, the private sector ends up with a surplus because the government’s deficit was large enough to more than offset the negative effect of the current account deficit.

figure5

Again, this is simply a property of the sectoral balance sheet identities. Whenever the government’s deficit is too small to offset a deficit in the current account, the private sector will experience a net loss. The result my ruffle your feathers, but it is an unimpeachable fact.

So let’s go back to President Obama’s comment and the reason I wrote this blog in the first place. The President said:

“[S]mall businesses and families are tightening their belts. Their government should, too.”

Wrong! When we tighten our belts, it means that we are trying to build up our savings. We do this by spending less. But spending drives our economy. Sales create jobs. So unless Obama has a secret plan to reverse three decades of current account deficits, the Government needs to loosen its belt when we tighten ours. If it doesn’t, then millions of us will lose our shirts.

** An aside: I am aware that I have said nothing about the usefulness of the spending projects, the waste and inefficiency that exists with many government programs, cronyism, inequality, etc., etc. These are legitimate and important questions, but they are not the focus of this analysis. I wrote this series of blogs to try to get people to understand the interplay between the private, public and foreign sectors’ balance sheets. Criticizing me for not addressing a myriad of other issues is like reading Old Yeller and complaining, “What about the cat? You’ve completely ignored the genus Felis!”

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Note: also x-posted at my blog – selise

Peterson Foundation 2011 Fiscal Summit Today: Watch Live!

By: selise Wednesday May 25, 2011 2:21 pm

A bipartisan gathering of deficit terrorists and deficit errorists is convening in D.C. today to discuss how best to continue trashing of American’s middle class, and the economy generally (h/t PrestoVivace). Livestream is available, although I strongly recommend a quick vaccination against the bat-shit-crazy before viewing.

From the Peter G. Peterson Foundation website: Nation’s Lawmakers, Policy Experts and Thought Leaders to Come Together in Washington on May 25 to Discuss Bipartisan Solutions to America’s Long-Term Debt and Deficits:

On Wednesday, May 25, 2011, senior Administration officials, policy experts and Democratic and Republican elected leaders will come together in Washington to discuss solutions to the nation’s fiscal challenges at the 2011 Fiscal Summit: Solutions for America’s Future, convened by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. As the nation confronts critical choices about how to address our long-term debt and deficits, the Foundation’s second annual Summit will bring together hundreds of stakeholders from across the ideological spectrum to discuss proposals to be presented by leading policy organizations and explore concrete, bipartisan solutions.

Participants include keynote speaker President Bill Clinton; Members of the Congress working on fiscal issues including Senators Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mark Warner (D-VA) and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI); National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Governor Mitch Daniels, Co-Chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Alan Simpson, and Foundation Chairman Pete Peterson and Vice Chairman Michael Peterson.

At last year’s Summit, participants agreed on the need to take action on the nation’s long-term debt and deficits. With increased consensus that our country’s fiscal situation is unsustainable, this year’s Summit will bring together stakeholders from across the political spectrum to discuss a range of concrete, comprehensive solutions.

The American Enterprise Institute, Bipartisan Policy Center, Center for American Progress, Economic Policy Institute, Heritage Foundation and Roosevelt Institute Campus Network will present and discuss their own proposed packages of solutions for achieving long-term fiscal sustainability at the Summit. These leading policy organizations, representing diverse perspectives, received grants from the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to develop comprehensive plans to address the nation’s projected long-term debt and deficits.

If any sane voices are to be heard, the only group I hold out any hope for is the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network. Will anyone do what is actually needed and challenge the underlying premise? All it would take is for some brave soul to ask the question, “Is The Federal Debt Unsustainable?” as James K. Galbraith did in his May 5, 2011 Policy Note at the Levy Economics Institute (pdf). Here are a few bits to assist in watching the Peterson freak show:

By general agreement, the federal budget is on an “unsustainable path.” Try typing the phrase into Google News. When I did it, 19 of the first 20 hits referred to the federal debt.

But what does this mean? The phrase is often stated, but rarely defined clearly. One is led to suspect that some who use the phrase are guided by vague fears, or even that they do not quite know what to be afraid of. After a brief discussion of the major worries, this note will attempt to clarify one, and only one, critical issue: the actual behavior of the public-debt-to-GDP ratio under differing economic assumptions through time.

Some people fear that there may come a moment when the government’s bond markets would close, forcing a default or “bankruptcy.” But this betrays nonunderstanding of both public finances and debt markets. The government controls the legal-tender currency in which its bonds are issued and can always pay its bills with cash. Apart (possibly) from the self-imposed politics of debt ceilings, a US government default on dollar bonds is impossible, and the word “bankruptcy”—which is a court proceeding to protect privatedebtors from their creditors—also does not apply.

Conclusion: It’s the Interest Rate, Stupid