skip to Main Content

The Weekend Quiz – February 18-19, 2017 – answers and discussion

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

Question 1:

Central banks provide reserves to the commercial banking system usually at some penalty rate. However, this compromises their capacity to target a given monetary policy rate.

The answer is True.

The facts are as follows. First, central banks will always provide enough reserve balances to the commercial banks at a price it sets using a combination of overdraft/discounting facilities and open market operations.

Second, if the central bank didn’t provide the reserves necessary to match the growth in deposits in the commercial banking system then the payments system could be impaired and there would be significant hikes in the interbank rate of interest and a wedge between it and the policy (target) rate – meaning the central bank’s policy stance becomes compromised.

Third, any reserve requirements within this context while legally enforceable (via fines etc) do not constrain the commercial bank credit creation capacity. Central bank reserves (the accounts the commercial banks keep with the central bank) are not used to make loans. They only function to facilitate the payments system (apart from satisfying any reserve requirements that might be in place).

Fourth, banks make loans to credit-worthy borrowers and these loans create deposits. If the commercial bank in question is unable to get the reserves necessary to meet the clearing requirements from other sources (other banks etc) then the central bank has to provide them. But the process of gaining the necessary reserves is a separate and subsequent bank operation to that involved in the deposit creation (via the loan).

Fifth, if there were too many reserves in the system (relative to the banks’ desired levels to facilitate the payments system and the required reserves then competition in the interbank (overnight) market would drive the interest rate down. This competition would be driven by banks holding surplus reserves (to their requirements) trying to lend them overnight. The opposite would happen if there were too few reserves supplied by the central bank. Then the chase for overnight funds would drive rates up.

In both cases the central bank would lose control of its current policy rate as the divergence between it and the interbank rate widened. This divergence can snake between the rate that the central bank pays on excess reserves (this rate varies between countries and overtime but before the crisis was zero in Japan and the US) and the penalty rate that the central bank seeks for providing the commercial banks access to the overdraft/discount facility.

So the aim of the central bank is to issue just as many reserves that are required for the law and to meet the banks’ own desires.

Now the question seeks to link the penalty rate that the central bank charges for providing reserves to the banks and the central bank’s target rate. The wider the spread between these rates the more difficult does it become for the central bank to ensure the quantity of reserves is appropriate for maintaining its target (policy) rate.

Where this spread is narrow, central banks “hit” their target rate each day more precisely than when the spread is wider.

So if the central bank really wanted to put the screws on commercial bank lending via increasing the penalty rate, it would have to be prepared to lift its target rate in close correspondence. In other words, its monetary policy stance becomes beholden to the discount window settings.

The best answer was True because the central bank cannot operate with wide divergences between the penalty rate and the target rate and it is likely that the former would have to rise significantly to choke private bank credit creation.

You might like to read this blogs for further information:

Question 2:

If inflation is stable and the central bank holds the nominal interest rate constant, then a currency-isuing government, which matches its net spending $-for-$ with debt issuance, could double its fiscal deficit without pushing up the public debt ratio.

The answer is True.

Again, this question requires a careful reading and a careful association of concepts to make sure they are commensurate. There are two concepts that are central to the question: (a) a rising fiscal deficit – which is a flow and not scaled by GDP in this case; and (b) a rising public debt ratio which by construction (as a ratio) is scaled by GDP.

So the two concepts are not commensurate although they are related in some way.

A rising fiscal deficit does not necessary lead to a rising public debt ratio. You might like to refresh your understanding of these concepts by reading this blog – Saturday Quiz – March 6, 2010 – answers and discussion.

While the mainstream macroeconomics thinks that a sovereign government is revenue-constrained and is subject to the government fiscal constraint, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) places no particular importance in the public debt to GDP ratio for a sovereign government, given that insolvency is not an issue.

The mainstream framework for analysing the so-called “financing” choices faced by a government (taxation, debt-issuance, money creation) – the ‘government budget constraint’ – is written as:
gbc

Which you can read in English as saying that Fiscal deficit = Government spending + Government interest payments – Tax receipts must equal (be “financed” by) a change in Bonds (B) and/or a change in high powered money (H). The triangle sign (delta) is just shorthand for the change in a variable.

Remember, this is merely an accounting statement. In a stock-flow consistent macroeconomics, this statement will always hold. That is, it has to be true if all the transactions between the government and non-government sector have been corrected added and subtracted.

So from the perspective of MMT, the previous equation is just an ex post accounting identity that has to be true by definition and has not real economic importance.

For the mainstream economist, the equation represents an ex ante (before the fact) financial constraint that the government is bound by. The difference between these two conceptions is very significant and the second (mainstream) interpretation cannot be correct if governments issue fiat currency (unless they place voluntary constraints on themselves to act as if it is).

That interpretation is inapplicable (and wrong) when applied to a sovereign government that issues its own currency.

But the accounting relationship can be manipulated to provide an expression linking deficits and changes in the public debt ratio.

The following equation expresses the relationships above as proportions of GDP:

debt_gdp_ratio

So the change in the debt ratio is the sum of two terms on the right-hand side: (a) the difference between the real interest rate (r) and the GDP growth rate (g) times the initial debt ratio; and (b) the ratio of the primary deficit (G-T) to GDP. A primary fiscal balance is the difference between government spending (excluding interest rate servicing) and taxation revenue.

The real interest rate is the difference between the nominal interest rate and the inflation rate. If inflation is maintained at a rate equal to the interest rate then the real interest rate is constant.

A growing economy can absorb more debt and keep the debt ratio constant or falling. From the formula above, if the primary fiscal balance is zero, public debt increases at a rate r but the public debt ratio increases at rg.

So if r = 0, and g = 2, the primary deficit ratio could equal 2 per cent (of GDP) and the public debt ratio would be unchanged. Doubling the primary deficit to 4 per cent would require g to rise to 4 for the public debt ratio to remain unchanged. That is entirely possible.

So a nation running a primary deficit can obviously reduce its public debt ratio over time or hold them constant if growth is stimulated. Further, you can see that even with a rising primary deficit, if output growth (g) is sufficiently greater than the real interest rate (r) then the debt ratio can fall from its value last period.

Furthermore, depending on contributions from the external sector, a nation running a deficit will more likely create the conditions for a reduction in the public debt ratio than a nation that introduces an austerity plan aimed at running primary surpluses.

Clearly, the real growth rate has limits and that would limit the ability of a government (that voluntarily issues debt) to hold the debt ratio constant while expanding its fiscal deficit as a proportion of GDP.

The following blog may be of further interest to you:

Question 3:

If Greece could achieve positive net exports (the strategy of the Troika), then it could could push for a primary fiscal surplus knowing it will not compromise growth.

The answer is False.

This question requires an understanding of the sectoral balances that can be derived from the National Accounts. But it also requires some understanding of the behavioural relationships within and between these sectors which generate the outcomes that are captured in the National Accounts and summarised by the sectoral balances.

From an accounting sense, if the external sector goes into surplus (positive net exports) there is scope for the government balance to move into surplus without compromising growth as long as the external position more than offsets any actual private domestic sector net saving.

In that sense, the Troika’s strategy requires more than positive net exports.

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

From the sources perspective we write:

(1) GDP = C + I + G + (X – M)

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

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

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

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

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

(2) GNP = C + I + G + (X – M) + FNI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In English we could say that:

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

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

(5) (S – I) = (G – T) + CAD

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

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

Expression (5) can also be written as:

(6) [(S – I) – CAD] = (G – T)

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

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

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

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

So what economic behaviour might lead to the outcome specified in the question?

If the nation is running an external surplus it means that the contribution to aggregate demand from the external sector is positive – that is net spending injection – providing a boost to domestic production and income generation.

The extent to which this allows the government to run a surplus depends on the private domestic sector’s spending decisions (overall). If the private domestic sector runs a deficit, then the Troika’s strategy will work – inasmuch as the goal is to reduce the fiscal deficit without compromising growth.

But this strategy would be unsustainable as it would require the private domestic sector overall to continually increase its indebtedness.

Assume, now that the private domestic sector (households and firms) seeks to increase its overall saving and is successful in doing so. With the government contracting (and going into surplus), the only way the private domestic sector could successfully net save is if the injection from the external sector offsett the drain from the domestic sector (public and private). Otherwise, income will decline and both the government and private domestic sector will find it difficult to reduce their net spending positions.

Take a balanced fiscal position, then income will decline unless the private domestic sector’s saving overall is just equal to the external surplus. If the private domestic sector tried to push its position further into surplus then the following story might unfold.

Consistent with this aspiration, households may cut back on consumption spending and save more out of disposable income. The immediate impact is that aggregate demand will fall and inventories will start to increase beyond the desired level of the firms.

The firms will soon react to the increased inventory holding costs and will start to cut back production. How quickly this happens depends on a number of factors including the pace and magnitude of the initial demand contraction. But if the households persist in trying to save more and consumption continues to lag, then soon enough the economy starts to contract – output, employment and income all fall.

The initial contraction in consumption multiplies through the expenditure system as workers who are laid off also lose income and their spending declines. This leads to further contractions.

The declining income leads to a number of consequences. Net exports improve as imports fall (less income) but the question clearly assumes that the external sector remains in deficit. Total saving actually starts to decline as income falls as does induced consumption.

So the initial discretionary decline in consumption is supplemented by the induced consumption falls driven by the multiplier process.

The decline in income then stifles firms’ investment plans – they become pessimistic of the chances of realising the output derived from augmented capacity and so aggregate demand plunges further. Both these effects push the private domestic balance further towards and eventually into surplus

With the economy in decline, tax revenue falls and welfare payments rise which push the public fiscal balance towards and eventually into deficit via the automatic stabilisers.

If the private sector persists in trying to increase its saving ratio then the contracting income will clearly push the fiscal outcome into deficit.

So the external position has to be sufficiently strong enough to offset the domestic drains on expenditure. For Greece at present that is clearly not the case and demonstrates why the Troika’s strategy is failing.

The following blogs may be of further interest to you:

Spread the word ...
    This Post Has 9 Comments
    1. With respect to Q1, isn’t the penalty rate one of the tools used to hit the policy target rate? If that is the case, then the penalty rate does not ‘compromise’ central banks’ abilities, but rather facilitates.

      Where is the flaw in my logic or otherwise mistaken thinking?

      Thanks!

    2. Bill. I read this today from Warren Mosler: ‘Imports (real benefits) flat and exports (real costs) growing reduces ‘real terms of trade’ and thereby the real standard of living:’ Am I misunderstanding something? I though net exports were a positive, whereas trade deficits were not. Mosler seems to be saying the opposite.

    3. Chris Hebert, this is the one area I tend to disagree with MMT.

      MMT points out that imports are actually a benefit for the importing country. This is mostly true- we give them paper fiat money produced at no cost in exchange for real goods that obviously do have costs. We get something for free if we run a trade deficit with a fiat currency, according to MMT.

      However, I would say that until we actually got a Job Guarantee up and running, trade deficits that reduced labor demand and caused unemployment in the importing country are not at all a net positive for that country. Bill Mitchell has softened his view fairly recently I believe. I will try to find that post of his and put up the link.

    4. When you get past the neo-liberal, export-driving, propaganda, it does seem like an amazingly good deal to import real stuff that poor deluded foreigners have slaved over, in exchange for (in my country’s case) little pictures of Her Majesty, that, like the mirrors and glass beads of old, cost bugger-all effort to produce.

      But where that comes home to bite us, especially here in the UK, is when those foreign exporters, with only a few choices of what to do with those loverly miniature portraits of QE2 (exchange them, save them, or spend them in the Sterling area), decide to snap up half of London, and then leave those apartments and houses completely empty, whilst at the same time a housing crisis worsens, and property in the capital – whether to rent or to buy – becomes more and more unaffordable to its more normal residents as a result.

      So, in this particular case, I think there can also be quite a down side to a large current account deficit, most especially when accompanied by austerity.

    5. Society does have a responsibility to manage resources. We saw Vancouver get desperate and put a tax on house sales to non-residents. Maybe we’ll have to divide each of our problems up into an economic aspect for the parts that can be handled with arithmetic, and a political aspect for the parts that can’t.

    6. However, I would say that until we actually got a Job Guarantee up and running, trade deficits that reduced labor demand and caused unemployment in the importing country are not at all a net positive for that country.

      But how would you go about reducing that trade deficit? You have 2 choices: export more or import less.
      The first of which may be the result (or not) of employing your unused capacity which you wanted to anyways and thus reducing the trade deficit can not be an end goal.

      The second option, tariffs, is sort of an austerity measure, it deprives your domestic sector of those imports forcing them to maybe start producing them for themselves (or even hoping that the foreign sector drives your demand). this seems to have some risks and drawbacks attached to it.
      You’d therefore probably only want to apply tariffs to control the type of goods imported.

    7. Mr. Hog, reducing the trade deficit is not the goal, full employment is. But if the government is unwilling to deficit spend then that goal might be unattainable while running trade deficits.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Back To Top