For several years I've been using this blog to bring attention to the work of American economist Hyman Minsky — and watching to see who might be warming up to the work he began and others continue at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College. In brief, the work is Post Keynesian and tracks money and credit flows with an eye toward instability — stability breeds instability and fragility trumps resilience at times. Bubbles need to be dealt with as they emerge, not by papering over them in the aftermath. Now Financial Times' Martin Wolf, building on a paper from Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff deliveris a wake-up call to American bankers: Pay Attention to Minsky!
I will be watching around the blogosphere to see who else, particularly among American economists seems to be warming up to the real causes of great contractions, and who begins to show signs of learning lessons not-yet-learned. I will update this post and add others as I see evidence of economists waking up. Economists have lead the decent to the edge of the Abyss, and are rightfully blamed for their part in the mess. To Wolf:
Asia's revenge, Martin Wolf, October 8, Financial Times: What confronts the world can be seen as the latest in a succession of financial crises that have struck periodically over the last 30 years. The current financial turmoil in the US and Europe affects economies that account for at least half of world output, making this upheaval more significant than all the others. Yet it is also depressingly similar, both in its origins and its results, to earlier shocks. …For more from the Levy Economics Institute see, e.g., Macroeconomics Meets Hyman P. Minsky: The Financial Theory of Investment, L. Randall Wray and Éric Tymoigne, September, 2008:
Carmen Reinhart of the University of Maryland and Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University identify the similarities in a paper published earlier this year.* They focus on previous crises in high-income countries. But they also note characteristics that are shared with financial crises that have occurred in emerging economies.
This time, most emerging economies have been running huge current account surpluses. So a "large chunk of money has effectively been recycled to a developing economy that exists within the United States' own borders", they point out. "Over a trillion dollars was channelled into the subprime mortgage market, which is comprised of the poorest and least creditworthy borrowers within the US. The final claimaint is different, but in many ways the mechanism is the same." …
[L]inks between the financial fragility in the US and previous emerging market crises mean that the current banking and economic traumas should not be seen as just the product of risky monetary policy, lax regulation and irresponsible finance, important though these were. They have roots in the way the global economy has worked in the era of financial deregulation. Any country that receives a huge and sustained inflow of foreign lending runs the risk of a subsequent financial crisis, because external and domestic financial fragility will grow. Precisely such a crisis is now happening to the US and a number of other high-income countries including the UK.
These latest crises are also related to those that preceded them – particularly the Asian crisis of 1997-98. …
The big global macroeconomic story of this decade was, then, the offsetting emergence of the US and a number of other high-income countries as spenders and borrowers of last resort. Debt-fuelled US households went on an unparalleled spending binge – by dipping into their housing "piggy banks".
In explaining what had happened, Ben Bernanke, when still a governor of the Federal Reserve rather than chairman, referred to the emergence of a "savings glut". The description was accurate. After the turn of the millennium, one of the striking features became the low level of long-term nominal and real interest rates at a time of rapid global economic growth. Cheap money encouraged an orgy of financial innovation, borrowing and spending.
That was also one of the initial causes of the surge in house prices across a large part of the high-income world, particularly in the US, the UK and Spain. …
The savings glut had another dimension, related to a second financial shock – the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2000. One consequence was the move of the corporate sectors of most high-income countries into financial surplus. In other words, their retained earnings came to exceed their investments. Instead of borrowing from banks and other suppliers of capital, non-financial corporations became providers of finance.
In this world of massive savings surpluses in a range of important countries and weak demand for capital from non-financial corporations, central banks ran easy monetary policies. They did so because they feared the possibility of a shift into deflation. The Fed, in particular, found itself having to offset the contractionary effects of the vast flow of private and, above all, public capital into the US.
A simple way of thinking about what has happened to the global economy in the 2000s is that high-income countries with elastic credit systems and households willing to take on rising debt levels offset the massive surplus savings in the rest of the world. The lax monetary policies facilitated this excess spending, while the housing bubble was the vehicle through which it worked. …
[L]inked dangers between external and internal imbalances, domestic debt accumulations and financial fragility were foretold by a number of analysts. Foremost among them was Wynne Godley of Cambridge university in his prescient work for the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, which has laid particular stress on the work of the late Hyman Minsky.**
So what might – and should – happen now? The big danger, evidently, is of a financial collapse. The principal offset, in the short run, to the inevitable cuts in spending in the private sector of the crisis-afflicted economies will also be vastly bigger fiscal deficits.
Fortunately, the US and the other afflicted high-income countries have one advantage over the emerging economies: they borrow in their own currencies and have creditworthy governments. Unlike emerging economies, they can therefore slash interest rates and increase fiscal deficits.
Yet the huge fiscal boosts and associated government recapitalisation of shattered financial systems are only a temporary solution. There can be no return to business as usual. It is, above all, neither desirable nor sustainable for global macroeconomic balance to be achieved by recycling huge savings surpluses into the excess consumption of the world’s richest consumers. The former point is self-evident, while the latter has been demonstrated by the recent financial collapse.
So among the most important tasks ahead is to create a system of global finance that allows a more balanced world economy, with excess savings being turned into either high-return investment or consumption by the world’s poor, including in capital- exporting countries such as China. A part of the answer will be the development of local-currency finance in emerging economies, which would make it easier for them to run current account deficits than proved to be the case in the past three decades.
It is essential in any case for countries in a position to do so to expand domestic demand vigorously. Only in this way can the recessionary impulse coming from the corrections in the debt-laden countries be offset.
Yet there is a still bigger challenge ahead. The crisis demonstrates that the world has been unable to combine liberalised capital markets with a reasonable degree of financial stability. A particular problem has been the tendency for large net capital flows and associated current account and domestic financial balances to generate huge crises. This is the biggest of them all.
Lessons must be learnt. But those should not just be about the regulation of the financial sector. Nor should they be only about monetary policy. They must be about how liberalised finance can be made to support the global economy rather than destabilise it.
This is no little local difficulty. It raises the deepest questions about the way forward for our integrated world economy. The learning must start now.
**The US economy: Is there a way out of the woods? November 2008, www.levy.org [concluding hyperlinks empowered by Iverson]
Expanding on an approach developed by financial economist Hyman Minsky, the authors present an alternative to the standard "efficient markets hypothesis—the relevance of which Minsky vehemently denied. Minsky recognized that, in a modern capitalist economy with complex, expensive, and long-lived assets, the method used to finance asset positions is of critical importance, both for theory and for real-world outcomes—one reason his alternate approach has been embraced by Post Keynesian economists and Wall Street practitioners alike.
[Wray and Tymoigne] argue that the current financial crisis, which began with the collapse of the U.S. subprime mortgage market in 2007, provides a compelling reason to show how Minsky’s approach offers us a solid grounding in the workings of financial capitalism. They examine Minsky’s extension to Keynes’s investment theory of the business cycle, which allowed Minsky to analyze the evolution, over time, of the modern capitalist economy toward fragility—what is well known as his financial instability hypothesis. They then update Minsky's approach to finance with a more detailed examination of asset pricing and the evolution of the banking sector, and conclude with a brief review of the insights that such an approach can provide for analysis of the current global financial crisis