Paul Krugman, Steve Keen and the mysticism of Keynesian economics

As promised, let me return to the debate within Keynesianism between Paul Krugman, Nobel prize winner and guru of orthodox Keynesianism and Steve Keen, the upstart radical ‘Minsky-Keynesian’, over what are the key processes of modern capitalism and the cause of the Great Recession.

Steve Keen has recently revised and expanded his excellent book, Debunking Economics (http://debunkingeconomics.com/) and his attacks on mainstream economics, the nature of capitalist crisis and what to do about it provoked the great columnist of the New York Times and scourge of the Republicans, Paul Krugman, to respond.  Krugman wasted no time in dismissing Keen’s ideas in his daily blog as “mysticism”(http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/banking-mysticism/).  Keen responded sharply and then a long debate ensued with loads of other economists with their blogs entering the fray. You can follow the twists and turns in the debate at http://unlearningeconomics.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/the-keenkrugman-debate-a-summary/.

So I suppose it’s my turn.  But first is this debate important and interesting? Well, I think it is, because the differences expressed help to show the struggle that mainstream economics has in trying to explain the slump that world capitalism has just been through and why the recovery is so weak.  This particular debate is not between Keynesians and the Austerians (see my recent post, The debate on austerity, 14 April 2012) for that).  It is between what I call orthodox Keynesianism and a more radical variety that considers most Keynesians still locked in many neoclassical theorems that do not allow them to understand modern finance capital and the banking system. If the orthodox Keynesians did understand, say the unorthodox, then they would see more clearly why capitalism gets into crisis and what to do about it.  Steve Keen leans on the ideas of these radical Keynesians, as a follower of Hyman Minsky and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which tries to explain the key role of banking in capitalism as the major cause of economic crises.

So what are the issues at debate?  Well, after perusing thousands of thousand of words from participants in the debate, I think there are three issues.  The first is whether, in a modern capitalist economy, money is created endogenously i.e. demand for money drives its supply, rather than exogenously, namely by the printing or absorption of money by a central bank.  The second is whether the expansion of debt, particularly private credit, adds to demand in an economy, such that it can get way out of sync with the expansion of the production of things and services; and whether this is key to the capitalist crisis.  And third, whether it is the inherent instability of the financial system that is the kernel of crisis and not just the lack of ‘effective demand’ as orthodox Keynesians argue.

Let’s start with the first issue: endogenous money; namely, the need to borrow by corporations, households, financial institutions and government drives bank lending, not vice versa.  The MMT says that banks lend first and that generates deposits, a simple double bookkeeping process.  So banks can create money out of nothing.  Banks do not wait for deposits from customers and central bank cash before lending.  Orthodox Keynesians like Krugman fail to recognise this, says the MMT guys (and Keen).  Banks may drive loan quantity, or create money by lending, but they are restricted in how much by three factors: interest rates (the cost of their own borrowing, partly set by the central bank), required reserves of cash they must hold (as enforced by a central bank regulation) and the amount of equity capital they must hold (again a matter of regulation).  But these restrictions on lending affect the profitability of loans for the banks, not the quantity they can make.

The issue in the debate here is whether central banks have any real control over the money supply and credit in an economy.  In effect, the MMT guys suggest that it is little and the orthodox Keynesians are kidding themselves that the capitalist economy can be controlled by central banks by trying to manipulate the money supply exogenously or even by changing interest rates.  The MMT guys are stating the authorities cannot control the ‘business cycle’,  the cycle of boom and slump, by monetary policy because money is created endogenously.  The orthodox Keynesians like to think that they can and so their policy of lowering interest rates or squeezing bank reserves will work in regulating capitalism.

What does Marx say about this?  Although Marx did not spell out his theory of money and credit clearly in one book (as usual!), it is clear from his writings that he reckoned that money supply is endogenous to the capitalist system and that the banks can create credit as demanded by capitalist production without waiting for some exogenous agent to provide it.  As he put it: “The credit given by a banker may assume various forms, such as bills of exchange on other banks, cheques on them, credit accounts of the same kind, and finally, if the bank is entitled to issue notes – bank-notes of the bank itself. A bank-note is nothing but a draft upon the banker, payable at any time to the bearer, and given by the banker in place of private drafts. This last form of credit appears particular important and striking to the layman, first because this form of credit-money breaks out of the confines of mere commercial circulation into general circulation, and serves there as money; and because in most countries the principal banks issuing notes, being a particular mixture of national and private banks, actually have the national credit to back them, and their notes are more or less legal tender; because it is apparent here that the banker deals in credit itself, a bank-note being merely a circulating token of credit. (Marx, 1894, pp.403-404).  What drives bank lending is not the supply of money but the demands of capitalist production: “The quantity of circulation notes is regulated by the turnover requirements (of capital accumulation – MR)), and every superfluous note wends its way back immediately to the issuer.” (Marx, 1894, p. 524).  Credit creates deposits.

But the Marxist theory of money makes an important distinction from the MMT guys.  Capitalism is a monetary economy.  Capitalists start with money capital to invest in production and commodity capital, which in turn, through the expending of labor power, eventually delivers new value that is realised in more money capital.  Thus the demand for money capital drives the demand for credit.  Banks create money or credit as part of this process of capitalist accumulation, not as something that makes finance capital separate from capitalist production.

But both Marx and the MMT guys agree that the so-called quantity theory of money as expounded in the past by Chicago economist Milton Friedman and others, which dominated the policy of governments in the early 1980s, is wrong.  Governments and central banks cannot ameliorate the booms and slumps in capitalism by trying to control the money supply.   The dismal record of the current quantitative easing (QE) programmes adopted by major central banks to try and boost the economy confirms that.   Central bank balance sheets have rocketed since the crisis in 2008, but bank credit growth has not.

And over the same period, the so-called money multiplier (ratio of broad money in the economy to central bank money), upon which quantity theorists rely to judge whether the quantity of money is right, has just dived (M3/M1).  In other words, central banks have tried to boost the money supply by ‘printing’ money, but it has had minimal or no effect on the real economy because the demand for borrowing has dropped away.

The orthodox Keynesians like Krugman would say that the collapse of the money multiplier proves the phenomenon of the ‘liquidity trap’.  This is when aggregate demand in an economy is so weak that people hoard their money and banks stop lending, so even if interest rates are lowered to zero (as they more or less are now), it does not spark an economic recovery. Then we need exogenous policies to kick-start it.  The MMT guys would say because money creation is endogenous, purely monetary policies like quantitative easing will never work.  Marxists would agree, as long as it is recognised that while banks may be able to create money out thin air, they won’t do so if capital accumulation has slumped.  Credit growth depends on capital accumulation, even if it is never in line (so money is never neutral).

That brings me to the second issue: excessive credit or debt.  One of the key arguments of the Austrian school of economics is that credit can become excessive because it is artificially driven up by central banks.  If there were no central banks, then the ‘free market’ would eventually bring credit into line with production through a move to an equilibrium rate of interest.  Money would have a neutral effect on production and there could be no monetary crises, if it were not for central bank interference.

Steve Keen also argues that the key to crises under capitalism is excessive credit or private debt. But it is not the Austrian explanation.  Instead, he leans on the ideas of Hyman Minsky, the radical Keynesian of the 1980s.  Keen-Minsky argues that the modern financial system is inherently trying to expand credit to gain higher returns.  This leads to a Minsky-type of financial speculation (for more detail on Minsky’s speculation view of banking, see my paper, The causes of the Great Recession).  Private credit rockets as banks speculate in ever riskier forms of assets (stocks, bonds, property).  This creates extra demand in an economy that cannot eventually be satisfied. Increasingly, borrowing is raised just to cover previous borrowing in a Ponzi-like scheme.  Eventually, the whole pack of cards collapses in a ‘Minsky moment’ and capitalism has a slump.

Keen says the best way to look at Keynesian-style ‘aggregate demand’ in a modern capitalist economy is to add to national income the amount of private debt or borrowing.  If you amend Keynes like this, you get a better indicator of when a crisis is coming.  Keen won the Real Economics Review prize for forecasting the credit crunch. He says that this came to him as a revelation because he suddenly realised how the rise in US private debt was preparing a crisis.  Keen said the graphic on US private debt to GDP looked like the ‘hockey stick’ graphic for global warming.

The orthodox Keynesians did not consider this and Krugman dismisses the idea in his debate with Keen.  For them, the crisis, namely a collapse in aggregate or ‘effective demand’, is due to the ending of what Keynes called ‘animal spirits’, a loss of business confidence that feeds through to a collapse in investment and a willingness to spend.  It is not due to excessive private debt.  A slump ensues and can stay for a long time if the economy is locked into a liquidity trap.  It needs government intervention to break out.

What does Marx say?  Marxist theory agrees with Keen that private credit can become excessive.  Indeed, this flows from the Marxist view that money is not neutral in the capitalist economy but central to it.  Credit can and will get out of line with the capitalist production.  Credit is really fictitious capital i.e. money capital advanced for the titles of ownership of productive and unproductive capital i.e. shares, bonds, derivatives etc.  The prices of such assets anticipate future returns on investment in real and financial assets.  But the realisation of these returns ultimately depends on the creation of new value and surplus value in the productive capitalist sector.  So much of this money capital can easily turn out to be fictitious.

The key point for Marxists here is profit.  The huge rise in private debt (measured against GDP) is clearly a very good indicator that a credit bubble is developing.  But it alone is not good indicator of when it will burst.  Some economists in the Austrian school have tried to gauge when the tipping point might be by measuring the divergence between the growth in credit and GDP growth (see Borio and White, Asset prices, financial and monetary stability, BIS 2002).  But Marxist theory provides a much better guide.  It is when the rate of profit starts to to fall; then more immediately, when the mass of profits turns down.  Then the huge expansion of credit designed to keep profitability up can no longer deliver.

It is this model of crisis that I adopted back in 2006 for my book, The Great Recession.  It led me to predict a major slump for 2009-10 (I was wrong as it came a year earlier).  The evidence was there for the US, where  the global slump was triggered.  The US rate of profit peaked in 1997.  At the beginning of 2006, the mass of profits began to fall and the housing market turned down.  Within 18 months, the credit crunch happened and the rest is history.

One way of showing how the fall in the rate of profit combined with excessive debt to bring US capitalism down is to measure the rate of profit not just conventionally against tangible corporate assets but also against financial assets (fictitious capital), which had risen so much.  I have done this in several places (including my paper, The profit cycle and economic recession and various posts).  Here is the graph again to emphasise the point.

It shows that the US corporate rate of profit as measured against all assets, was lower in 2002 than it was in 1982, while it was higher against just physical assets. Once conventional profitability also turned down in 2006, the crisis began and the impact was much bigger because of the size of fictitious capital.  Now, everywhere capitalism continues to try and ‘deleverage’ to cleanse not just dead capital out of the ‘real’ economy, but also to get rid of fictitious capital.

That brings me to the final issue: the cause of crisis.  For the orthodox Keynesians, it is due to the collapse in aggregate or effective demand in the economy (as expressed in a fall of investment and consumption).  This fall in investment leads to a fall in employment and thus to less income.  Effective demand is the independent variable and incomes and employment are the dependent variables.  There is no mention of profit or profitability in this schema.  Investment creates profits not vice versa.  This is the view of Keynes: “Nothing obviously, can restore employment which does not first restore business profits. Yet nothing, in my judgement, can restore business profits that does not first restore the volume of investment.”  (Collected Writing Vol 13, p343.

As I have argued before (see my post, Double dips, deficits and debt, 24 August 2011), these schemas are ‘back to front’ in explaining the laws of motion of capitalism.  Marx’s schema is the opposite.  A change in profits produces a change in investment, which in turn, affects employment and incomes and thus effective demand.

But if investment is the independent variable, according to Keynes, Krugman and Minsky-Keen, what causes a fall in investment? It is an ending of ‘animal spirits’ among entrepreneurs or a ‘lack of confidence’.  As Minsky put it, investment is dependent on “the subjective nature of expectations about the future course of investment, as well as the subjective determination of bankers and their business clients of the appropriate liability structure for the financing of positions in different types of capital assets”.  So profits depend on expectations and crises are the result of changed expectations by financial speculators.   Investment and credit grow as long as there is confidence: what others have called ‘magic Tinkerbell fairy dust’, a belief that things will only get better.

This is the real mysticism of Keynesian economics.  For Keen and the Minsky followers, the orthodox Keynesian/Kalecki identities still apply (see my post, op cit).  Instability in finance and/or excessive credit leads to a collapse of investment or ‘effective demand’ and then onto employment and incomes/profits.  For Marxists, instability in the financial sector would not be enough to cause a major crisis if profitability is rising. The Keynes/Minsky approach is subjective, based on ‘expectations’.  The Marxist approach is objective and based on the law of value.

Depending on your view, the policies for economic recovery are also different.  Keen advocates controlling the level of private debt as the main solution. Krugman advocates regulation of finance and easy money. Failing that, he wants fiscal intervention to stimulate the private sector.  Marxists look to replace the profit system.

The Marxist explanation is the most comprehensive as it integrates money and credit into the capitalist mode of production, it recognises that money and credit are not neutral as the Austrians believe; and argues that money may be a key factor in instability and crisis, as the Keynesians believe, but also shows that it is not the decisive flaw in the capitalist mode of production and that sorting out finance is not enough.  Thus it can explain why the Keynesian solutions do not work either.

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31 Responses to “Paul Krugman, Steve Keen and the mysticism of Keynesian economics”

  1. plerudulier Says:

    Reblogged this on Things I grab, motley collection .

  2. D R Says:

    “The second is whether the expansion of debt, particularly private credit, adds to demand in an economy, such that it can get way out of sync with the expansion of the production of things and services.”

    We know precisely by how much demand exceeds production– that’s the trade deficit. The question then is how such a deficit is financed. The answer is net borrowing from abroad. This is purely accounting– I don’t see how you make the connection to gross debt.

  3. Dr_Tad Says:

    Haven’t had a chance to read your post yet, but here’s Keen’s latest foray: http://www.businessinsider.com/economist-steve-keen-goes-after-paul-krugman-with-a-new-presentation-2012-4#

    Keen is a significant figure here in Australia, although quite hostile to the Left in some ways. Always great when he humiliates the silliness of the vulgar economists, however.

  4. Dr_Tad Says:

    Michael, that was excellent! The debate to date was so filled with technical details that the main issues at stake often got lost. Thanks for putting it into perspective.

  5. Edgar Says:

    I remember reading Engels saying you could have a crisis caused by finance. He said you could have a purely financial crisis.

  6. Shane H Says:

    Thanks for that. Its nice for someone to make the connections and differences clear.

    Maybe I am a bit naive but you mean that the journalist carrying on about ‘business confidence’ being behind the system is actually written into the theory – and they call this a science. Who’d have thought?

  7. Charles Says:

    Thank you for a very clear explanation of money, cycles, and Keynesianism – one of the best ever written.

    “… the policies for economic recovery are also different. Keen advocates controlling the level of private debt as the main solution. Krugman advocates regulation of finance and easy money. Failing that, he wants fiscal intervention to stimulate the private sector. Marxists look to replace the profit system.”

    The first two suggested remedies are policies; the last one is not really a policy. It seems one Marxist policy within capitalism would be to speed up the destruction of capital values, but is there any constituency for that?

    Fiscal measures need not be for stimulation of the private sector. They can be public relief and work. The U.S. New Deal did that to get through several years, but it is a fantasy today.

    Otherwise, it is class struggle against attempts to boost the rate of profit by raising the exploitation of workers.

  8. Barbara Dias Says:

    The question for the orthodox Keynesian is: what causes the lack of confidence? I would say, because there had been rise in private debt against a decline in profit rates, and from this comes the signs that maybe the agents will sooner be no longer able to pay for their debt, consequently appears the doubt and so the fall in ‘efective demand’. Here lays the crucial problem: there isn’t only one right answer, both the lack of confidence and the raising public debt are the cause of the slump. Thus, a policy should not underestimate the influence of any those factors.

  9. Dan Says:

    Thanks, Michael, for an interesting update. The comparisons with Marx shed light on Keen/Krugman. But i’m not sure it’s right to characterise the likes of Krugman as an ‘orthodox’ Keynesian. He himself says he’s not. Post-Keynesians consider themselves the true inheritors of Keynes (for good or ill), and i’d say they’re right to do so. New Keynesians like Krugman reject some central tenets of Keynesian thinking, like the centrality of uncertainty and its importance for the level of the interest rate, as well as Keynes’s suspicions about econometrics. ISLM isn’t Keynesian; it was invented afterwards. Sticky prices and wage rigidity do not make a model Keynesian.

    I also doubt that the distinction between what Marx and what you call ‘radical’ Keynesianism is quite as sharp as you suggest. I can see why you do so: Keynesians want to save capitalism; Marxists want to supersede it. But in this particular debate the contrast just isn’t really there. Keen draws on Marx: see ‘The Roving Cavaliers of Credit’ on his site. In fact the Minksyan idea that stability creates instability — that even from a position of relative economic calm, companies are led to build up more and more fictitious debt to an unsustainable point when the bubble bursts — can be accommodated within a broadly Marxist framework. Seeds of destruction, anyone?

    Finally, overall profitability per se isn’t the only issue. The evidence on profits in the US is ambiguous, and profitability didn’t actually fall until the crisis happened. US corporate profits hit a peak of about 13% of GDP just before the crisis began in 2007/8, the highest rate in 50 years. US and UK companies have actually profited very well out of the crisis. So it’s wrong to suggest that: “instability in the financial sector would not be enough to cause a major crisis if profitability is rising”, because profitability was rising and yet a crisis still happened. Confidence must matter.

    The point is that companies try to drive profit rates higher against a backdrop of a growing mass of capital, eventually precipitating a crisis. And it’s important, as i’m sure you’re aware, to pinpoint the specific areas in which a crisis of profitability did occur — such as among non-financial firms, as well as the increase in US profits earned abroad.

    • michael roberts Says:

      Dan

      Yes, you are right about the subtle distinctions within those who consider themselves followers of Keynes. It happens in Marxist economics too! Krugman is less concerned with animal spirits than say Farmer of Shiller. He looks to consumption for his indicator of crisis, I think. The key point for me is that Keynesian macro identities tell you nothing about causality: is it the lack of ‘effective demand’ that leads to a collapse in profits or vice versa? And if it is aggregate demand that is the cause: why does it suddenly fall? Marxists can make a fist of explaining why profitability and profits fall, creating the conditions for a financial crisis, a ‘loss of confidence’ and a collapse in investment, leading to a loss of employment and a slump. I don’t think Keynesians (in whatever version) can. Keynes himself at certain points seemed to move towards profitability as the ultimate cause with his neoclassically termed ‘marginal efficiency of capital’, but as JMK changed his views nearly as often as his shirts, it is sometimes difficult to know what he thought.

      Yes, Steve Keen does draw om Marx’s theory of money and his notion of fictitious capital but as far as I am aware he dismisses or ignores Marx’s law of profitability as being relevant and I would maintain that law is key, even though as you say, it is not the only issue. There are other laws of motion of capitalism that must be considered.

      There is a big debate over the US rate of profit, as you know. I dont agree that measuring the rate of profit as % of GDP provides the best indicator of what is happening. I prefer a measure a la Marx based on the fixed stock of capital and employee compensation. Such a measure did indicate a downturn before the crisis, as I have argued in numerous posts and papers.

      I agree with your last point.

  10. Dimitris Says:

    You have to admit that Keynes was on to something that Marx did not predict. Marx thought that all profits are automatically re-invested. Keynes’ argument is that whether they are or not depends on average optimism. I think the 1929 crisis proved Keynes to be right in this matter only: the restoration of profits, together with a reduction in wages and prices (including the price of capital through the destructive action of the crisis) is not a sufficient condition for the restoration of capitalist growth.The collapse of demand could lead to a downward spiral that produces reduced investment which leads to lower demand etc. What I want to say is that the Great Depression showed that demand (or the perception of future demand or the lack of it) plays an important role in the restoration of growth. Capitalism is an unplanned system, the individual capitalist may choose to not invest her increased profits if she thinks that demand is to weak to absorb her increased production.

    • michael roberts Says:

      Dimitris
      Marx did not think all profits were re-invested. Capitalist consumption did exist – otherwise what is the point of being the ruling class. Of course, the nature of the capitalist mode of production is: to accumulate! accumulate! Thus anything that interferes with accumulation of capital ie. the lack of sufficient surplus value, is bad news for capitalism and for capitalist consumption, as that comes from profits. But I agree that, once the process of accumulation is interrupted, then the collapse of investment leads to a downward spiral that feeds into ‘effective demand’ and also into confidence about future demand. Keynes was onto that for sure. I think his key theoretical contribution was to drag mainstream economics away from microeconomic analysis of subjective marginal utilities and relative prices to the macro aggregates of the economy. That was a big step forward. But the question at debate here is what kicks off a crisis: does it just happen accidentally because of the unplanned nature of capitalist production, “the anarchy of production”, or can we diagnose a more objective and measurable cause(s) and indicators of impending crisis?

  11. Dimitris Says:

    michael

    You are right of course on the matter of capitalist consumption I should have said the bigger part of profits goes to investment because of the pressure to accumulate. I also agree on what kicks off a crisis but I wanted to show that the restoration of the profits is not a sufficient condition for the resuming of accumulation and growth, and many Marxists seem to ignore this fact. There is most of the times the need for the state: the political expression of the total social capital in a social formation to intervene not only to restore profits by cutting wages, social benefits and laying off workers but to create effective demand to kick start the accumulation when that is done. This introduces a more political and dynamic element in the capitalist economy that cannot be reduced to a determinism and “laws” of strictly economic character.

    • Bue Says:

      I think Dimistris points out something very important here, which you don’t consider in your otherwise excellent article: the role of state investment in welfare and infrastructure (as opposed to simply lowering the interest rate).

      On the one hand though the printing of money, as a way to stimulate consumption, investment, confidence (as Keynes would have it). On the other hand, through taxation, as a way to destroy value by investing it in something unproductive (e.g. military spending)…

      I think these points are crucial if we are to develop an analysis of the crisis which does not reproduce the bourgeois separation between politics and economics.

  12. Mike B) Says:

    If there is more money in the economy than can be reflected in ongoing sales of assets with real values e.g. oil, cars, travel, then won’t that extra money in the vaults of finance capital become devalued, unless or until it is invested in some M’ making industry? And won’t this devaluation have an effect on the assets workers own in their retirement assets, not to mention their already decades long endurance of stagnating real wages?

    Also, won’t these lowered real wages produce an investment tonic for the fall in the rate of profit? Despite there being no real wage increase, don’t workers as a class become more productive every year by a little more than one percent? Won’t that help cheapen the commodities being produced for sale so that even stagnating real wages (the core issue of ‘insufficient demand’) can buy them maybe even more of them?

    BTW, excellent blog post. I learned a lot and now questions like the ones above are bouncing around inside my mind.

  13. Cameron Says:

    Excellent! The cacophony of noises emanating from the mainstream media and government monetary and fiscal policies is sorted by articles like this. Thank you.

    Animal spirit = super natural mumbo jumbo. Keynesianism is idealism whereas Marxism is materialism. Keynesian economics finds subjective forces as the driving force of capital accumulation.

    Do you consider the current state fiat money as non-commodity form of money? If so, I’m wondering about the implications to Marx’s theory of money if any.

    In your previous posts you have referred to “credit-fuelled boom of 2002-07”. What’s the role of the expansion of credit and stimulating fiscal and monetary policies?

  14. matthewrusso9 Says:

    Yes, good job in exposing the common theoretical roots of Keynes-Minsky-Keen in neo-classical and marginalist assumptions.

  15. Rick Bruner Says:

    You’ve misinterpreted Milton Friedman. He’d advocate an initial copious injection of money into the economy to avert bank runs and keep confidence up. Shortly thereafter he’d say leave well enough alone. No QE 2,3,4 and certainly no fiscal stimulus.

  16. Gavin Says:

    Michael. Thanks for the interesting article, will take a while to digest. I have a question about bank lending. Is there any proof of the MMT claim that “banks lend first and that generates deposits, a simple double bookkeeping process”

    It doesn’t make sense to me. I can see the book entry in that a loan is generated before the cash is withdrawn so the cash must be placed on deposit. But that looks to be just a timing issue for accounting purposes. Journal entries require a debit to be matched with a credit for the books to balance and I can’t see how that generates deposits or prints money. When the cash (loan) is withdrawn by the borrower the deposit will be cancelled and cash reserves reduced by the same amount. Surely?

    How does this process of generating deposits work please and how do they maintain reserve ratios if they’re lending 100% of deposits? Thanks.

    • michael roberts Says:

      Gavin

      When the money is withdrawn from that bank, it must go into another bank, so the money does not disappear. The bank where the money has been withdrawn sees its balance sheet shrink but another one sees it rise. Sure, if the monetary authorities insist on reserves, then not all the money ‘created’ can be used to lend. So 100% of deposits are not available to lend. But banks can also borrow from other banks to lend more. This wholesale lending can lead to a credit crunch if banks stop lending to each other, as happened in 2007.

      • Gavin Says:

        Thanks for the reply Michael. The process of money creation I understand, it’s the practice I’m having trouble getting to grips with. There’s a growing trend for people to claim that banks print money and while that could be construed as technically correct it also appears as bad terminology insofar as it seems to paint the wrong picture. It implies that a bank can create a loan out of nothing and my own understanding is that bank lending is deposit driven. By that I mean the deposit may be newly created money but the bank can’t just create a new deposit themselves to lend out. That would really be printing money.

        I can grasp the concept of endogenous lending with interbank lending in that banks are making loans off a line of credit (the deposits of another bank) but surely they’d still need to borrow in as a new deposit the full cash amount of the loan (plus reserve). That would reduce the cash reserves of the lending bank & not be construed as printing money… surely?

        I tried researching endogenous & exogenous lending and rather irritatingly all I find is them referred to as theories. It’s the practice I’m interested in, do the banks actually practice endogenous lending? Thanks.

      • michael roberts Says:

        Gavin
        I agree. The MMT boys and girls argue that credit in demand-led. That ‘s fine. But they also seem to suggest (imply?) that banks can ‘print money’ or create credit at will without any consequences for their balance sheets. That’s clearly wrong. The banks face risk with their loans and restrictins from their ability to attract deposits or borrow on reasonable terms (plus government restrictions). The ‘practice’ of lending first and borrowing second seems less interesting to me that the conclusion that monetary authorities cannot boost credit by ‘printing money’ and depositing it at banks. Banks wont lend just because they have more deposits provided by the authorities – the Friedman/Keynes argument.

  17. Gavin Says:

    Thanks again Michael. I won’t hog your blog but I will make one last comment on a Krugman statement;

    “Banks don’t create demand out of thin air any more than anyone does by choosing to spend more;”

    I question that, they do seem to create demand out of thin air. We had this in my country (NZ). A decade or so ago our trading banks began borrowing from the offshore money markets which effectively gave them a virtually unlimited supply of money to lend.

    In order to lend all this extra cash they created demand for more credit by changing their lending criteria; extended mortgages from 20 to 25 & 30 years, offered no-deposit loans on housing and as a last resort reducing interest rates. All of those actions created more demand for borrowed money and they were supply driven. (house prices doubled in that decade too)

    I don’t really understand their arguments about demand. My thinking is the demand for (free) credit is unlimited and it’s only price & supply that suppresses it (?).

  18. Dr_Tad Says:

    We’ve just put up a guest post on our blog, Left Flank, replying to Keen’s critique of Marx’s value theory. Thought you might be interested.

    http://left-flank.org/2012/07/04/steve-keens-critique-of-marxs-theory-of-value-a-rejoinder/

  19. phw Says:

    Hi Michael, I came across this wonderful post recently. First intended to reply here, but I rather wrote a short post on my long sleeping blog. http://ppphhw.blogspot.com/2013/04/marx-and-minsky-on-michael-roberts.html

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