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Fiscal space is a real, not a financial concept

Japanese economist Richard Koo recently (July 9, 2013) published his latest report on the world economy – Japan, US, and Europe face different issues – which updates some of the latest data available from the economies listed in the title. I am sorry that I cannot link to the Report as it is a subscription service (thanks to Antoine for my copy). I discussed some of Richard Koo’s ideas and how they sat with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) concepts in this 2009 blog – Balance sheet recessions and democracy. While the basic concept of a balance sheet recession is important to grasp and the policy prescriptions that flow from it clearly point to the need for more fiscal stimulus, once you dig a little deeper into Koo’s conceptual framework you realise that he is very mainstream – more insightful than the average mainstream economist, who typically fails to even grasp the reality of the current situation, but mainstream nonetheless. And that means there are some things in his theoretical framework that are plain wrong when applied to a modern monetary economy

The background blogs, which provide the essentials to understand the argument summarised today are as follows:

In my discussion of Richard Koo’s (RK) Report I will not highlight areas of agreement but just focus on the areas of disagreement. That is a time-saving strategy but you should not conclude from the resulting negativity that there is nothing in the Report that I agree with.

RK discusses the problems that might arise if “private loan demand” recovers too quickly and concludes that “Central banks would prefer gradual recovery” because a “(g)radual pick-up in loan demand would allow Fed to mop up excess reserves over time”.

The logic presented is as follows:

Under ordinary circumstances, an economic recovery cannot come too soon. But authorities that have engaged in QE … An abrupt rebound in demand for funds could prompt US banks—which hold excess reserves equal to 16 times statutory reserves—to increase lending suddenly. The Fed would then have to mop up excess reserves quickly out of concern for inflation and asset price bubbles.

Doing so at a time when the private sector was seeking to borrow could cause interest rates to rise sharply, with negative implications for the economic recovery.

The situation is made worse since the assets the Fed would have to sell are mainly longer-term bonds. Unloading those on the market could push long-term interest rates dramatically higher and harm the housing sector, the engine for the ongoing recovery.

A more gradual pickup, according to RK will allow the central bank to more slowly absorb excess reserves with less impact on interest rates.

This discussion implies that there is a huge stockpile of money that the banks have available (the reserves) which they might just lend out quickly. That impression is false.

First, banks do not need reserves to lend? The mainstream view is that reserves are deposits that haven’t yet been loaned.

But the reality is that banks do not lend reserves generally – that is, to customers. They might loan them to other banks in the system, which have accounts with the relevant central bank and who are short of the funds required to cover their obligations to the clearing system. But they certainly do not loan out funds from these reserve accounts at the central bank to you and me.

This is an area of considerable misunderstanding. What actually is the role of bank reserves?

Commercial banks are required to keep reserve accounts at the central bank. These reserves are liabilities of the central bank and function to ensure the payments (or settlements) system functions smoothly. That system relates to the millions of transactions that occur daily between banks as cheques are tendered by citizens and firms and more.

Without a coherent system of reserves, banks could easily find themselves unable to fund another bank’s demands relating to cheques drawn on customer accounts, for example.

Depending on the institutional arrangements (which relate to timing), all central banks stand by to provide any reserves that are required by the system to ensure that all the payments settle. The central bank charges a rate on their lending in this case which may penalise banks that continually draw on the so-called “discount window”.

Commercial banks thus will have a reserve management area within their organisations to monitor on a daily basis their status and to seek ways to minimise the costs of maintaining the reserves that are necessary to ensure a smooth payments system.

The interbank market (say the federal funds market in the US) functions to shuffle the reserve balances that the member (private) banks keep with the central bank to ensure that each of these banks can meet their reserve targets which might be simply zero balances at the end of the “day”.

I have put “day” in inverted commas because we should think that the central bank polices its reserve requirements per day. They requirements are usually expressed over some period of weeks rather than days and are averages. But that is a complication we can avoid here.

So banks can trade the balances in these reserve accounts between themselves on a commercial basis but in doing so cannot increase or reduce the volume of reserves in the system. Only government to non-government transactions (which in MMT are termed vertical transactions) can change the net reserve position.

The point is that all transactions between non-government entities net to zero (and so cannot alter the volume of overall reserves). I explain that in more detail including the implications of that point in the trilogy of blogs – Deficit spending 101 – Part 1Deficit spending 101 – Part 2Deficit spending 101 – Part 3.

It is in this context that RK talks about mopping up the reserves in the system. What he is referring to is that under quantitative easing, the central bank swapped financial assets for reserves and if it wants to eliminate the reserves that were created it can reverse that transaction.

In the same way that the bond purchases that were made on a significant scale reduced interest rates in the maturity segment of the yield curve that the bonds existed (for example, 10-year bonds), it is argued that the sale of them again will depress bond prices and push up yields accordingly.

Fixed-interest assets such as government bonds can trade freely on secondary bond markets after being issued by the authorities in the primary market but their yields then vary inversely with their prices, which, in turn, depends on the relative demand for them.

His fear is that the banks might hurry the central bank into conducting this reversal if they lend these reserves out too quickly.

The flaw in his argument is that the banks do not lend the reserves out. It doesn’t matter how large the balances are there is no increased capacity to lend on behalf of the banks.

Once we realise that point then we can separate the two strands of his argument. An “abrupt rebound in demand for funds” would only occur if there was an abrupt increase in the number of credit-worthy customers willing to borrow.

If that was to manifest, it wouldn’t matter if there were huge reserve balances or zero reserve balances. The banks would start to lend rapidly and the reserves would be found to cover the requirements of the payments system defined above.

The important point is that when a bank originates a loan to a firm or a household it is not lending reserves. Bank lending is not easier if there are more reserves just as it is not harder if there are less. Bank reserves do not fund money creation in the way that mainstream monetary economics theory, which places the money multiplier and fractional-reserve deposits at the centre of the analysis, has it.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) notes that bank loans create deposits not the other way around. Reserve balances have nothing to do with this – they are part of the banking system that ensure financial stability.

These loans are made independent of their reserve positions. So while the bank organisation will include a reserve management division it also will have a loan division. The two are functionally separate and the latter will not correspond with the former prior to making loans to appropriate credit-worthy customers.

Depending on the way the central bank accounts for commercial bank reserves, the banks will seek funds to ensure they have the required reserves in the relevant accounting period.

They can borrow from each other in the interbank market but if the system overall is short of reserves these “horizontal” transactions will not add the required reserves. In these cases, the bank will sell bonds back to the central bank or borrow outright through the device called the “discount window”. There is typically a penalty for using this source of funds.

At the individual bank level, certainly the “price of reserves” will play some role in the credit department’s decision to loan funds. But the reserve position per se will not matter. So as long as the margin between the return on the loan and the rate they would have to borrow from the central bank through the discount window is sufficient, the bank will lend.

At present, there are large reserve balances, which alter the price of reserves. But the idea that reserve balances are required initially to “finance” bank balance sheet expansion via rising excess reserves is inapplicable.

To summarise, a bank’s ability to expand its balance sheet is not constrained by the quantity of reserves it holds or any fractional reserve requirements. The bank expands its balance sheet by lending. Loans create deposits which are then backed by reserves after the fact.

The process of extending loans (credit) which creates new bank liabilities is unrelated to the reserve position of the bank.

The major insight is that any balance sheet expansion which leaves a bank short of the required reserves may affect the return it can expect on the loan as a consequence of the “penalty” rate the central bank might exact through the discount window. But it will never impede the bank’s capacity to effect the loan in the first place.

So it is quite wrong to assume that the central bank can influence the capacity of banks to expand credit by adding or draining reserves to or from the system. Please read the following blogs – Building bank reserves will not expand credit – for further discussion on this point.

RK then concludes that it is very likely that there will only be a “gradual recovery in private loan demand” in Japan, if historical experience is anything to go by.

But then he says that:

When corporate demand for funds finally turned positive in 2006, the BOJ mopped up all the excess reserves, which at the time were equal to about six times statutory reserves.

Had the Bank allowed these reserves to remain in the system, Japan’s money supply could have expanded six-fold, sparking unprecedented inflation. However, such concerns were not realized since the subsequent growth in private loan demand was so gradual.

Once again there is confusion here. Whether the central bank “mopped up all the excess reserves” was moot. The private banks might have still expanded the “money supply” 6-times if loan demand was very strong. The BOJ would have had to wear that or drive up interest rates in an attempt to choke of the demand for loans.

Its liquidity operations (draining reserves) was a quite separate act.

RK considers that US private-sector balance sheets are still being repaired (households and firms are still paying down debt and taking advantage of the near-zero interest rates), which means there is unlikely to be a renewed outbreak of borrowing, of the type that led to the crisis.

Later in the Report he considers the issue of balance sheet recessions and the concept of “fiscal space”. Once again, it is not all plain sailing.

RK considers in relation to the UK and the Eurozone that:

… there is a growing awareness among the authorities that fiscal stimulus is essential during a balance sheet recession. Yet many of them still believe that fiscal stimulus is possible only in countries that have “fiscal space,” and that for countries without it fiscal consolidation is the only option.

“Fiscal space” is meant to describe a country with substantial fiscal leeway that is capable of issuing debt without incident. But many eurozone officials have yet to recognize that this term has very different connotations for countries inside and outside the eurozone.

Which is totally consistent with core MMT.

A balance sheet recession emerges via this sequence of events.

  • The private sector builds up massive debt levels to buy property and speculative assets.
  • The asset prices rise as demand rises but then eventually the bubble bursts and the private sector is left with declining wealth but huge debt.
  • The private sector then start restructuring their balance sheets – and stop borrowing – no matter how low interest rates go.
  • All effort is devoted to paying back debt (de-leveraging) and households increase their saving and reduced spending because they become pessimistic about the future.
  • A credit crunch emerges – not because there is enough funds but because banks cannot find credit-worthy borrowers to lend to.
  • Attempts at pumping liquidity into the banks will fail because they are not reserve-constrained. They are not lending because no-one worthy wants to borrow.
  • The faltering spending causes recession and rising unemployment which reinforces the negative outlook.
  • With this private contraction (reducing debt, saving) the only way out of the “balance sheet recession” is via public sector deficit spending.
  • This deficit support has to be provided for long periods of time while the deleveraging process is occurring.

This is describing a recession that is sourced in the financial markets rather than a more typical real downturn that emerges when firms become negative about future demand and reduce investment. These downturns also require deficit support from government but generally non-government spending rebounds more quickly as there are not legacy issues relating to unsustainable balance sheets.

But digging deeper into RKs argument we find an underlying narrative that is very orthodox.

RK thinks that in the case of a currency-issuing government:

A balance sheet recession requiring fiscal stimulus occurs when there are unborrowed private-sector savings in spite of near zero interest rates. This means the funding for fiscal stimulus to prevent a deflationary spiral already exists in the form of that nation’s unborrowed savings.

Investors faced with the need to invest these unborrowed savings must ultimately buy bonds issued by the government, the sole remaining borrower in a balance sheet recession. That is what provides the necessary “fiscal space” during such a recession.

RK thinks there is some finite pool of private sector savings that can provide the funds for government to spend if no-one else is borrowing them. If these funds are being borrowed by firms, then there is no fiscal space!

However, in reality, rather than in the textbooks, the concept of fiscal space is real, not financial. What does that mean?

Remember the discussion in the blog from last week – The spurious distinction between the short- and long-run.

I noted that the great Polish economist, Michal Kalecki (in his 1943 article Political Aspects of Full Employment Page 348) wrote that:

It may be asked where the public will get the money to lend to the government if they do not curtail their investment and consumption. To understand this process it is best, I think, to imagine for a moment that the government pays its suppliers in government securities. The suppliers will, in general, not retain these securities but put them into circulation while buying other goods and services, and so on, until finally these securities will reach persons or firms which retain them as interest-yielding assets. In any period of time the total increase in government securities in the possession (transitory or final) of persons and firms will be equal to the goods and services sold to the government. Thus what the economy lends to the government are goods and services whose production is ‘financed’ by government securities. In reality the government pays for the services, not in securities, but in cash, but it simultaneously issues securities and so drains the cash off; and this is equivalent to the imaginary process described above.

Kalecki understood this in 1943! Yet, economists still fail to understand it some 70 years later. All the sham institutional frameworks that disguise the essentials, the government just borrows what it has spend in the past.

Kalecki said that a “budget deficit always finances itself”, which is a specific version of the notion that spending brings forth its own saving via income changes.

The loanable funds doctrine considered saving to be finite at any point in time and various users of these funds would compete against each other for access. The interest rate mediated this access and determined who got the funds. In this static environment it is easy to see why they would claim private investment lost out if government attracted the finite saving by offering debt instruments.

However, Keynes formally broke with this view by noting that saving is a function of national income (non-consumption). As income grows so does the pool of saving.

Spending drives income growth, and in doing so, also produces the leakages (savings) from the expenditure stream that provide the room for investment spending, for example.

In this context, fiscal space – which I consider to be the current room that the government has for prudent spending – is defined by the real output gap. A currency-issuing government can always buy what is available for sale in its own currency, including labour that is unemployed.

It can thus spend according to the idle capacity without impinging on the private demand for resources and igniting an inflationary spiral. It is not an exact science because the induced private spending impacts that follow an injection of government spending are variable. But none of that relates to the available savings in the private sector at any point in time.

RK then considered the concept of fiscal space in the Eurozone.

He wrote:

In the eurozone, however, there are numerous government bond markets all using the same currency. There are also free capital flows between these markets. Consequently, countries that would have ample “fiscal space” if they were located outside the eurozone sometimes see their unborrowed savings flee to the government bond markets of other eurozone nations.

A rise in domestic bond yields triggered by capital outflow forces these countries to engage in fiscal consolidation because they no longer have any “fiscal space.”

The problem has nothing to do with where the savings are going. The problem is squarely that the Eurozone governments do not issue their own currency and thus can only get it from taxation or borrowing.

But even within that constraint, if the ECB had played a constructive, rather than its destructive role over the last 5 or so years, there would not have been a bond market crisis.

We know from experience that as soon as the ECB started buying bonds on the secondary markets the yields dropped rapidly and the bond markets were effectively dealt out of the game.

Had the ECB funded fiscal stimulus the Eurozone would have come out of the crisis relatively quickly and the nations would have been able to deploy all the fiscal space available in the form of idle productive capacity and idle labour.

The surrendering of the currency-issuing capacity by Euro nations combined with the recalcitrance of the ECB has caused the crisis. It has nothing to do with what the bond markets did after the crisis emerged.

RK claims that “Spain would have had ample ‘fiscal space’ were it not in eurozone”:

In Spain, for example, private-sector savings are currently running at 10% of GDP, which would be more than enough to finance the nation’s fiscal deficits. This means the country would have ample “fiscal space” were it not a member of the eurozone.

In reality, however, much of this money has flowed overseas, and the fear that the remainder will eventually leave as well has caused Spanish government bond yields to remain at elevated levels relative to yields in Japan, the US, and the UK. The high bond yield, in turn, forced the government into fiscal consolidation with devastating consequences.

You can now all finish of this blog without me using the logic developed previously. Spain would have more capacity to utilise the fiscal space it has – the massive unemployment and idle productive capacity – if it was outside the Eurozone and restored its currency-issuing capacity. That is clear given the ECB’s role.

But it has nothing to with where private savings are or have gone. It relates purely to the fact that it could spend its own currency to bring those wasted resources back into productive use. In doing so, it would create new savings as it stimulated national income.

And if the private bond markets didn’t want to buy any Spanish government debt, the government could just legislate to have the central bank buy it all. Of-course, it could just stop issuing debt altogether (the preferred option) and release all the officials currently engaged in “public sector debt management” into more productive jobs – for example, managing a Job Guarantee program.

Conclusion

RKs work at times reads as if it is core MMT.

But when you appreciate what lies beneath his analysis you realise that like Paul Krugman, he is still operating in a defunct orthodox framework characterised by a failure to realise that the so-called government budget constraint is just an ex post accounting entity rather than a causal, a priori, financial constraint.

That is enough for today!

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    This Post Has 18 Comments
    1. I have observed that many mainstream economists seem to have great difficulty in distinguishing between a commercial bank’s retail lending operations and its wholesale lending operations. That is probably because they imagine, in their general state of ignorance, that reserves are loaned out to everyone. The point about reserves which seems to elude their grasp is that reserves are a form of money which is inaccessible to non–bank entities.

      In an Australian context, the word “reserves” is now rarely used by the RBA; they prefer to use the term “exchange settlement funds” when labeling the creditary deposits of banks in their RBA accounts.

    2. I have two questions. The first is do the banks keep the interest from their reserves in their cash accounts? Next, I would like to know if the banks can hypothecate their reserves to other institutions and move the money to the shadow banking system.
      I ask this because I have read that the hypothecation of reserves is the real problem with QE. I have asked the question at several sites with no results. I suspect that either people are ignorant of the practice or that it doesn’t exist. Here is an example of what I have read.

      “Traditionally the Fed has limited their open market actions to treasuries. In more recent times, they have included mortgage backed securities in the mix. Whether you like the term “manipulate” or not it is what the Fed does and they have no problem admitting as much although they don’t come right out and call it manipulation.
      What’s different in the last few years is the Fed’s indirect participation in the stock market. I have asserted that the Fed – through their surrogates – has been directly involved in manipulating stock prices. According to my thesis, the Fed’s surrogates are primary dealer banks. It is my opinion that JPMorgan (JPM) has been a major player in this process.
      Here is how the manipulation occurs. The Fed makes an asset purchase – a treasury bond for example – through a primary dealer – let’s say JPMorgan. The book entry to the Fed is a debit to the Fed’s bond account and a credit to excess reserves in favor of JPMorgan. On JPMorgan’s books, the entry is a debit entry to the cash or reserves account and a credit to the bond account.
      If JPMorgan then chooses to replace that bond by making a purchase in the secondary market, that purchase tends to support bond prices. In addition JPMorgan could then generate additional cash through the hypothecation of the bond to a third party. The bond remains an asset on JPMorgan’s books so the cash is then available to acquire other assets in off balance sheet transactions.
      My thesis is that these off balance sheet asset purchases have been stock purchases for the bank’s own account.”
      It seems that if this man is correct the problem with ending QE is not with the central bank but with the shadow banks having to end their hypothecation because of rising interest rates. Is that possible?

    3. Letter in Toronto Star (Canada’s largest paper by circulation)

      http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2013/08/18/a_new_deal_for_canadas_workers.html

      A new deal for Canada’s workers
      Published on Sun Aug 18 2013

      Re: Canada’s job numbers don’t tell the real story, Opinion Aug. 17

      The answer to unemployment is a job guarantee whereby the federal government would act as an employer of last resort, buying the unused labour (at minimum wages with benefits) of anyone willing and able to work. These jobs could be delivered locally and might include provisions for care of the elderly and disabled, education and activity for young people, arts and cultural performances and projects, and initiatives for environmental clean-up and protection.

      This job pool would rise and fall counter-cyclically to the needs of the private business sector, and would anchor prices and inflation with an economic tool less brutal than forcing people to lose their jobs through austerity.

      There are many precedents for public service employment. In 1944, the Canadian unemployment rate dropped below 1 per cent because one out of every three adult males was in government service. Far from destroying the economy, deficit spending led to post-war years of growth and prosperity.

      As John Maynard Keynes once put it: “The Conservative belief that there is some law of nature which prevents men from being employed, that it is ‘rash’ to employ men, and that it is financially ‘sound’ to maintain a tenth of the population in idleness for an indefinite period, is crazily improbable — the sort of thing which no man could believe who had not had his head fuddled with nonsense for years and years.”

      Larry Kazdan, Vancouver

      Footnotes to original Letter to Editor:

      1.What is a Job Guarantee?
      http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=23719

      > But in general, there cannot be inflationary pressures arising from a policy that sees the Government offering a fixed wage to any labour that is unwanted by other employers. The JG involves the Government “buying labour off the bottom” rather than competing in the market for labour. By definition, the unemployed have no market price because there is no market demand for their services. So the JG just offers a wage to anyone who wants it.

      2. Public service employment programs – what really have we got to fear?
      http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?p=20679

      3. What was Canada’s main contribution to World War 2?
      http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_was_Canada%27s_main_contribution_to_World_War_2

      > By the end of the second world war, Canada had ONE MILLION, ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND MEN IN UNIFORM. That is one out of every three adult males.

      4. Keynes quote:
      http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/12/wray-on-krugman-and-currency-sovereignty.html

    4. There is the skin of the earth and its resources: and human values. $money, obviously, is just a plugin (we program our own objects – can rewrite the code any which way we like). I just don’t understand how anybody could lose sight of that ….! (Like tying yourself up in your own strait-jacket).

    5. Dear Bill,

      I wonder about the differences in the conduct of monetary policy between the Fed and the ECB. The Fed creates bank reserves by crediting and debiting the accounts with member banks and these reserve have no specific maturity. But this is not the case with the ECB, take for example the MRO or LTRO operations, these are loans with specific maturities – they need to be repaid to the ECB at some stage – and hence can cause a shortfall of funding at some banks when they need to pay the money back. If the bank borrows the funds from other banks these may not lend to them or add a risk premium for perceived or real lack of creditworthiness, geographical concentration, etc.

      It seems to me that there are operational differences that matter between the Fed/BoE/BoJ and ECB because of the different nature of bank reserves and that the availability of funding (and specifically the level of reserves) may restrict credit creation in the Eurozone banks.

      I haven’t found good comparisons between the operations of the ECB vs.other central banks, the publications of the ECB or for example Bindseil’s “Monetary Policy Implementation” does not deal with this issue either. I would appreciate to read your comment about this.

      Best regards

      Javier

    6. John Hermann,

      You say, reserves are “a form of money which is inaccessible to non–bank entities”. It could be argued that they ARE ACCESSIBLE for the following reason.

      Suppose I sell some government debt as part of a QE operation. The central bank would give me central bank created money (i.e. “reserves”) which I’d deposit at my commercial bank, which in turn would get it’s account at the central bank credited. But that money is in a sense “accessible” to me, isn’t it? I.e. I can spend it whenever I want.

      On the other hand you could argue, I suppose, that having deposited my “QE money”, the only money that I can touch, is commercial bank money (assuming we’re talking about cheque or plastic card transactions).

      But then again, if anyone withdraws physical cash from their bank, that’s central bank money or “reserves”.

      Complicated stuff this, which is why I enjoy it.

      Re your point about retail and wholesale lending, I don’t see the connection between that and your point about reserves.

    7. Hi Javier,

      since I might know you (JLB?) I take up your question.

      “It seems to me that there are operational differences that matter between the Fed/BoE/BoJ and ECB because of the different nature of bank reserves and that the availability of funding (and specifically the level of reserves) may restrict credit creation in the Eurozone banks.”

      I don’t see any “different nature of bank reserves”. The ECB provides reserves to its banks at the given interest rate as long as banks have acceptable assets. At any moment, the ECB or any other CB can theoretically decrease or increase the amount of reserves (practically, the reserves should be enough to allow for clearing). Why should it matter that these differ in maturity? (And by the way: the whole point of the post by Bill Mitchell was to show that reserves do not restrict credit creation.)

      “But this is not the case with the ECB, take for example the MRO or LTRO operations, these are loans with specific maturities – they need to be repaid to the ECB at some stage – and hence can cause a shortfall of funding at some banks when they need to pay the money back.”

      What the ECB does is to provide reserves to a bank while taking away another asset. This is purely a transaction on the asset side of the commercial banks. Since it is mostly repo, after some time the assets will be switched back: reserves decrease, illiquid assets increases in the bank’s balance sheet. What “shortfall of funding” can arise there? Actually, there is no “need to pay money back” because of the nature of the transaction. It is a switch of assets. And banks do not lend out reserves to households so they must be there in the banking system.

      best,
      Dirk

    8. Small comment re reserves:
      The Canadian system has no reserve requirement for banks. To the extent there are ‘reserves’ in the interbank market they are called ‘settlement balances’ which well illustrates their actual role, to settle the differences in balances that occur between the banks and between the banks and the federal government. I believe the Bank of Canada does actually leave some excess settlement balances in the system ($25 million?).
      During the financial crisis it allowed the excess balances to rise to $3 billion to ensure the overnight interest rate remained at the floor rate which for that period also became the target overnight rate.

      Perhaps the Canadian banking system which has only a dozen financial institutions with access to the interbank market, is too small to apply to the US or ECB. Still, I do recall some discussion in the US of going to the zero reserve system as well. It was met with much ‘out of paradigm’ criticism if I remember correctly.

    9. How do mainstream economist explain lending in countries that have no reserve requirements? The banks in those countries could lend without bound; so why don’t they? This is not rocket science.

    10. just a question
      what can banks do with reserves? i know they can loan them to other banks or use them to buy public bonds. but can they buy equities? can they buy private bonds? whatever private asset?

    11. Dear Bill,

      I wonder whether the distinction between “primary” and “secondary” market for treasuries has the same value inside and outside a fiat money system.
      Whereas to my understanding the interest paid by the US-government for treasuries it issues is a function of the interest paid by the Fed on reserves (the interest paid by the government for treasuries has to be higher than these in order to cause a “drain” of the reserves towards treasuries) and therefore doesn’t depend on yield-rates in the secondary market, the interdependance of the secondary and primary market within the Eurozone seems far more important. (For the US with the absence of “financing” in the strict sense you might well question the notion of a primary “market” for treasuries anyway).
      As you repeat in this article bolder intervention of the ECB on the secondary market would have held down yields on the secondary market and thus interest-rates on the primary market also which two markets therefore seem to be strongly interconnected. The secondary and the primary market practically seem to be but one (which doesn’t predict well for the ruling in the case against the ECB pending at the German constitutional court).

      Erik

    12. Hi Dirk,

      I’m not sure I know you but thanks for your reply. You’re right, I just got myself confused by the accounting of the repo transaction.

      Best regards

      Javier

    13. Thanks for your comments and queries Ralph. Here are my responses:

      ” Suppose I sell some government debt as part of a QE operation. The central bank would give me central bank created money (i.e. “reserves”) which I’d deposit at my commercial bank, which in turn would get it’s account at the central bank credited. But that money is in a sense “accessible” to me, isn’t it? I.e. I can spend it whenever I want. ”

      No, that is not what happens, unless you are a commercial bank selling part of its stock of securities to the central bank. If you are a non-bank bond dealer, then you do not personally receive any reserves, you receive a cheque drawn on the central bank which you may deposit in your bank account, and you are then allocated an equal quantity of freshly created bank credit money in that account. The associated reserves are created in the account of your depository with the central bank. You do not at any stage come into contact with those reserves. In this respect we have a dual monetary system, with reserves and bank credit money tagging along with each other.

      ” On the other hand you could argue, I suppose, that having deposited my “QE money”, the only money that I can touch, is commercial bank money (assuming we’re talking about cheque or plastic card transactions). ”

      Correct!

      ” But then again, if anyone withdraws physical cash from their bank, that’s central bank money or “reserves”. ”

      Withdrawal of currency (cash, or legal tender) is not borrowing. Moreover, although the cash you have withdrawn is base money, it is not reserves. Reserves are a subset of base money (the monetary base), but the two are not identical. When you withdraw cash, you are exchanging part of your deposited bank credit money for cash, and at the same time the bank’s stock of reserves (in the broad sense) is temporarily reduced by the same amount.

      If you make a bank deposit with cash, what happens is that upon receipt by the bank teller that cash is immediately transformed from being part of the money supply into being part of the bank’s stock of reserves. I am defining “reserves” in the broad sense to mean the conjunction of cash held by the bank and its creditary deposits in its central bank account (and the two are basically interchangeable). At the same time you hand the cash over, the teller creates a deposit of bank credit money in your bank account. The net result of these operations is that the money supply remains unaffected, and total of reserves within the banking system are temporarily reduced. Not permanently reduced however, owing to the ongoing open market operations of the central bank (as part of the pursuit of its monetary policy objectives).

      ” Re your point about retail and wholesale lending, I don’t see the connection between that and your point about reserves. ”

      In retail lending there is no actual lending of reserves, they merely tag along with any transactions which happen to occur. Retail lending entails the borrowing of bank credit money by the bank’s retail (non-bank) customers. Those customers never come into contact with reserves.

      With wholesale lending (e.g., lending between banking institutions), there is indeed actual lending of reserves. In fact, commercial banks do not handle bank credit money in their interbank lending practices. That is because, as the creators and destroyers of bank credit money, banks have no need of the stuff themselves.

    14. Hi Bill,

      Kalecki here: “In any period of time the total increase in government securities in the possession (transitory or final) of persons and firms will be equal to the goods and services sold to the government.”

      Would not Transfer Payments also increase the total govt securities in possession of persons and firms in a period of time?

      rsp,

    15. Dear Bill,

      I found this an extraordinary clear and helpful article from you. Thank you so much.

      I have found it always difficult to come to terms with economic positions and analyses that seems to be largely right and correct with its assertions but faulty in some of the arguments … which then always leeds to some recommendations that are also plain wrong.

      You helped me out a lot to understand how the strange idea that you need savings first in order to invest (and I always, even as a teenager, found this idea strange) is at the basis of some core lines of argumentation of the even the most enlightened orthodoc economists (such as – arguably – Koo and Krugman).
      Thanks!

    16. Oops! My mistake. In my example of making a deposit with cash, I meant to say that when the cash is handed over to the teller the bank’s stock of reserves is temporarily INCREASED. (not reduced). The bank’s stock of reserves would temporarily reduced if someone makes a withdrawal as cash.

      Irrespective of whether cash is being handed over or being withdrawn, the net result of these operations is that the money supply remains unaffected, and the total of reserves within the banking system is temporarily increased or reduced accordingly. Not permanently reduced however, owing to the ongoing open market operations of the central bank (as part of the pursuit of its monetary policy objectives).

    17. if governments did not issue bonds then the monetary power of the state would be laid bare
      mainstream economics would be seen as a lobbying group for the very wealthy
      and the political implications would be unavoidable

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