Author Archives: Dan Kervick

Bitcoin’s Evolution toward Self-Destruction

By Dan Kervick

John Gapper, writing in the Financial Times, argues that Bitcoin enthusiasts need to grow up, and that Bitcoin itself needs to grow out of its obsessive adolescence. He writes in the aftermath of last week’s Newsweek story purporting to identify Bitcoin’s creator, and following the recent collapse and bankruptcy filing of the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange. In regard to the first event, which has sparked an outburst of hysterical resentment from the Bitcoin community, Gapper writes:

The hysteria undermines Bitcoin’s chances of graduating from a hobbyists’ obsession to a mainstream technology. You cannot challenge fiat currencies and disrupt the global payments industry while reacting to any uninvited scrutiny like an adolescent whose parent has opened the bedroom door without knocking. It does not work that way.

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Utopia, Dystopia and the Future of Work

By Dan Kervick

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the pace of automation and the impact of technology on the future of work. Many purport to see the dawning of a new robot future in which many, perhaps most, of today’s jobs will be performed by machines. This line of thought tends to spin off into one of two alternative directions, one bright and one dark: The brighter view is a kind of techno-utopianism that looks forward to a future in which formal human employment has become less important to our society, and in which we will all enjoy lives of fulsome leisure based on an equitable sharing of our robot-manufactured abundance. The darker outlook is a species of techno-dystopianism driven by fear of mass unemployment and the growth of a burgeoning and struggling underclass of unemployed former workers, displaced and excluded from the economic mainstream of their societies, and surviving on whatever handouts and pittances the economy’s owners are willing to give them to keep them docile.

Both of these contrasting visions of our robot future, however, share the idea that automation will lead to an overall reduction of formal human employment. While I suppose both futures are possible, we might ask why this shared vision has become so popular. After all, modern economies in the technologically developed world have seen tremendous growth in both wealth and productivity in recent centuries, but have generally managed to create many new forms of employment to replace the older forms as they were reduced, or as they disappeared altogether. Why shouldn’t this process continue indefinitely?

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Public Debt, Public Assets and Public Capacity

By Dan Kervick

Everybody is very excited about Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, whose English translation is due out on March 10th from Harvard University Press. The book studies long term trends in the accumulation and concentration of wealth, and in the evolution of inequality. The argument of the book is intensely data-driven, and has been billed as a game changer since it first appeared in French earlier this year.

Matt Yglesias reproduces a chart from the book, and calls it “the chart the debt alarmists don’t want you to see”. However, if I were a debt alarmist, I don’t think I would be very much moved by the chart, and wouldn’t worry so much about others seeing it. Let me explain. Here is Piketty’s original version of the chart, and here is Yglesias’s colorized reproduction :

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Bank Lending and Bank Reserves

By Dan Kervick

Frances Coppola has a very nice piece in Forbes that takes on some of the continuing confusion over commercial bank reserves, central bank payments of interest on reserves and the relationship of both to commercial bank lending. She concludes with a ringing rejection of the frequently voiced claims that the Fed’s policy of paying interest on reserves inhibits bank lending, and that high excess reserve levels are an indicator of sluggish bank lending or bank hoarding:

The volume of excess reserves in the system is what it is, and banks cannot reduce it by lending. They could reduce excess reserves by converting them to physical cash, but that would simply exchange one safe asset (reserves) for another (cash). It would make no difference whatsoever to their ability to lend. Only the Fed can reduce the amount of base money (cash + reserves) in circulation. While it continues to buy assets from private sector investors, excess reserves will continue to increase and the gap between loans and deposits will continue to widen.

Banks cannot and do not “lend out” reserves – or deposits, for that matter. And excess reserves cannot and do not “crowd out” lending. We are not “paying banks not to lend”. Positive interest on excess reserves exists because the banking system is forced to hold those reserves and pay the insurance fee for the associated deposits. It seems only reasonable that it should be paid to do so.

I wholeheartedly agree with the bottom line moral Coppola draws from the operational mechanics of bank lending, but I do think some additional clarity can be had on the question of whether or not commercial banks lend their reserves. And I also have some reservations about the justification Coppola cites for the policy of paying interest on reserves in the first place.

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Blinder and the Banks

By Dan Kervick

Alan Blinder, writing in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, expresses enthusiasm about some recent hints at a possible change in the Fed’s policy on interest paid on excess reserves. The hints were contained in the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s last policy meeting, which included a passage indicating that most participants in the meeting “thought that a reduction by the Board of Governors in the interest rate paid on excess reserves could be worth considering at some stage.”

Blinder has been a strong proponent of changing the current policy, so he thinks the hinted changes are of the utmost importance. “As perhaps the longest-running promoter of reducing the interest paid on excess reserves, even turning the rate negative,” he says, “I can assure you that those buried words were momentous.”

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Think Bigger, Please!

By Dan Kervick

Paul Krugman has yet another pair of pieces up about real interest rates, inflation rates, monetary policy “tightness” or “looseness”, and the purported theoretical connection between these phenomena and US stagnation: stagnation in US growth, employment and wages. Read them and yawn.

These discussions are a waste of time. The fundamental source of stagnation in the United States is a conservative, corrupt and intellectually deficient US government – infesting both Congress and the White House – that refuses to do its job and is incapable of thinking big.  We need an industrial policy, a detailed and aggressive program of mission-driven public investment for the 21st century, a national commitment to full employment and human development, and a very substantial increase in the federal government role in our economy. And we need our democracy and its citizens to get active in charting and implementing an agenda for our future, and to seize control of that agenda from the corporate profit-seekers and the complacent affluent who are stakeholders in the existing stagnation.

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Dan Kervick Discusses the Banking System with Tom O’Brien on From Alpha to Omega

By Dan Kervick

I recently joined Tom O’Brien as a guest on his terrific podcast From Alpha to Omega, and the interview is now available online. We discuss many of my favorite topics: the central banking system and the role of reserves, fiscal vs. monetary policy, capital requirements, differences between the US and European systems, and the need for healthy deficits and engaged government action to promote full employment and drive transformative change. Here is the link to the podcast:

Oh So Reserved – Dan Kervick on From Alpha to Omega


Cross-posted from Rugged Egalitarianism

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Secular Stagnation and Sacred Neoliberal Dogma

By Dan Kervick

Brad DeLong doesn’t like what Clive Crook is saying about Larry Summers. According to DeLong:

When Larry Summers said:

Even a great bubble [first in high-tech and then in housing] wasn’t enough to produce any excess of aggregate demand…. Even with artificial stimulus to demand, coming from all this financial imprudence, you wouldn’t see any excess…

He wasn’t calling for more bubbles. He was pointing out that an economy that can only attain anything like full employment with stable inflation in a bubble is an economy with something deeply and structurally wrong with it–something that needs to be fixed.

DeLong then proceeds to lambaste Crook for his intellectual dishonesty. But Crook does not actually say Summers advocates bubbles. This is the relevant passage from Crook’s piece.

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The Washington Center for Equitable Growth – Neoliberalism Reloaded?

By Dan Kervick

There is a new Washington think tank on the scene. Well, actually it is just a spinoff and re-branding of an older Washington think tank: the Center for American Progress. The new think tank is called the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Here is the organization’s self-description:

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth is a new research and grantmaking organization founded to accelerate cutting-edge analysis into whether and how structural changes in the U.S. economy, particularly related to economic inequality, affect growth.  Core to our mission is helping to build a stronger bridge between academics and policymakers so that new research is relevant, accessible, and informative to the policymaking process.

And here are the people involved with the project on its steering committee, advisory board and staff. There are a handful of interesting folks in the lineup, including Heather Boushey, Nancy Folbre and Emmanuel Saez, economists who have an authentic, well-established research interest in issues of economic inequality. But the crew also contains a lot of Clinton and Obama administration veterans who, quite frankly, have been a giant part of the problem, and helped lay the foundations for the repulsive and dehumanizing economic order under which we currently live. And the organization is headed by John Podesta, the ultimate beltway insider.

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The Crippling Politics of Public Investment

By Dan Kervick

The Financial Times called attention this weekend to one of my favorite themes: the precipitous collapse of US public investment.

Public investment in the US has hit its lowest level since demobilisation after the second world war because of Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama’s push for more spending on infrastructure, science and education.

Gross capital investment by the public sector has dropped to just 3.6 per cent of US output compared with a postwar average of 5 per cent, according to figures compiled by the Financial Times, as austerity bites in the world’s largest economy.

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