Category Archives: Eric Tymoigne

The Fair Price of a Bitcoin is Zero

By Eric Tymoigne

The virtual currency craze is on a tear, with new virtual currencies emerging every day. The New York Times just ran a series of articles about them last week. “Charles Ponzi would be so proud!” one person appropriately commented at the bottom of this article.

Before going any further, let’s learn a bit more about the bitcoin system (also here and here). There are three components to this system:

–       A unit of account—the Bitcoin (BTC)—in which all transactions are recorded and goods and services are priced.

–       A payment system, supposedly secured and anonymous.

–       A means of payment—bitcoins—that is needed to complete all transactions in the payment system (there are coins of several denominations and the coin with a face value of one BTC is called the “bitcoin”).

Given the craze over bitcoins, their price in US dollars (USD) has soared with a BTC 1 coin going for as much as USD 1200 at one point, leaving Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal saying:

“At this point, I have zero idea what a ‘fair’ price for Bitcoin is.”

I have an answer to that question, but before I reveal it (pretend you did not read the title of this post), let’s spend a bit of time getting to know the Bitcoin, starting with its payment system.

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MMT 101: Response to the Critics Part 2

The Simplest Case: The Circuit with a Consolidated Government

By  Eric Tymoigne and L. Randall Wray

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]

MMT is frequently criticized for consolidating the treasury and the central bank. (Palley 2012; JKH 2012a, 2012b; Lavoie 2013; Fiebiger 2012a, 2012b; Rochon and Vernango 2003; Gnos and Rochon 2002). They note that this hypothesis does not describe the current institutional framework of developed countries, and claim it pushes MMT into unnecessary strong logical claims. In this post, we will address these issues by tackling problems surrounding the nature of money and the role of taxes, and by beginning to deal with the consolidation argument.

The theory of the circuit discussed in Part 1 is a good starting point. Like all theories, it simplifies the existing economic system in order to draw causalities from logical reasoning. From the circuit theory, one can better understand Keynes’s point that spending is what makes saving possible (Keynes 1939), and the importance of distinguishing financing (initial finance) from funding (final finance). Parguez (2002) and Bougrine and Seccareccia (2002) have shown how the circuit theory can be extended to include the state, and reached similar conclusions to MMT.

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MMT 101: A Reply to Critics Part 1

By  Eric Tymoigne and L. Randall Wray

[Part I] [Part II] [Part III] [Part IV] [Part V] [Part VI]

This is Part 1 of a six part series in which we deal with critics of MMT. As readers of this blog know, our critics continually raise the same old tired critiques of MMT. They scapegoat MMT by attributing to us claims we’ve never made. They take our words out of context to build up a strawman that they attempt to destroy. No matter how many times we respond to a particular critique, another critic tries to use it again. Warren Mosler used to use the analogy of the “Bop a Gopher” game at the arcades: you bop one and another pops up.

While we know that it’s a Sisyphean task to disabuse the critics of their cherished and wrong-headed arguments, we thought it would be useful for those who come to MMT with less prejudice to have at hand responses to five categories of critiques. Today we will provide an introduction to the series. Each of the next five posts will deal with one of the critiques. We’ll also append a list of the references used for this entire series.

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Public Debt, Debt Ceiling and Monetary Sovereignty: Some Accounting Realities

By Eric Tymoigne

The public debt is the outstanding U.S. Treasury securities (USTS). It includes both marketable (T-bills, T-notes, T-bonds, TIPSs, and a few others) and non-marketable securities (United States notes, Gold certificates, U.S. savings bonds, Treasury demand deposits issued to States and Local Gov., all sorts of government account series securities held by Deposit Funds). What are the means to reduce the public debt? Continue reading

Unjustified Fears over Sovereign Debt

By Nora Apter

Another great video by a student in Eric Tymgoine’s modern money course.

Sovereign Currency Issuers Are Always Solvent

By Joseph Hykan

Another great video developed for Eric Tymgoine’s modern money course.

After Great Recession: A Bleaker Employment Recovery than after the Great Depression

By Eric Tymoigne

The last employment numbers provide yet another disappointing bit of news for millions of households all around the country. No net employment gain. However, I am afraid that this is only the very tip of the iceberg because a long-term view shows a much bleaker picture.

Figure 1 shows how long it took for the employment level to return to its peak level after a recession, and how much job loss occurred relative to that peak. The employment numbers exclude people that were employed in the WPA, NYA and CCC, and focuses on individuals employed in nonfarm activities.

During the Great Depression, the employment level declined for 4 years and almost 10 million jobs were lost compared to the peak employment level that prevailed in August 1929. It took 136 months (over 11 years) to return to this level of employment, but, without the avoidable 1937 recession, the full recovery would have occurred after 102 months (8.5 years) if one takes the trend of recovery that prevailed from 1933.

The Great Recession led to a loss of almost 9 million jobs compared to the peak employment level of January 2008. The loss of jobs occurred at a faster rate than the Great Depression but employment recovered sooner and started to rise after 2 years. However, once the employment recovery started, it occurred at a slower rate than during the Great Depression. If the recovery continues at the same pace, AND assuming that no recession occurs during the recovery phase, it will take about 9 years to return to the employment level of January 2008. Thus, given everything else, it will take longer for employment to fully recover than during the years prior to the 1937 recessions.

The picture is even bleaker today if one included New Deal employment programs. Figure 2 shows that those programs allowed employment to recover fully after 80 month (less than 7 years) and only three years after the New Deal Programs were implemented. The timid Bush and Obama stimulus have barely made a dent in the employment problem over the past two years.

This, once again, suggest a powerful employment policy to help the economy. Instead of concentrating its efforts on tax rebates and bailing out banks, and waiting for them to lend to businesses, the federal government should directly hire people and involve them in activity that benefited the entire country. We do not need a temporary stimulus; we need a permanent institutionalized and decentralized government program that hires anybody willing to work and unable to find a job in the private sector. By sustaining income and the productivity of workers, a government employment program would tremendously helps to sustain the employability of workers and would improve the confidence of private business, which would in turn improve private employment.

Figure 1. Difference between peak employment level and current employment level. Nonfarm payroll employment, seasonally adjusted, millions of people.


Sources: BLS (Current Employment Survey), Federal Reserve Bulletin (June and September 1941).
Note: People employed in the WPA, NYA and CCC are not included.

Figure 2. Same as Figure 1 with New Deal Federal Employment Programs.

Sources: Federal Reserve Bulletin, Social Security Bulletin.

Where is the “Recovery”? Where Did the “Stimulus” Go?

The new BEA figures about economic activity continue to point to a replay of a Japanese-style lost decade or, even worse, a 1937 scenario. The current expansion has been the weakest on record since World War Two and the trend since the early 1980s does not provide much comfort. Figure 1 shows that each economic expansion since the 1980s has been weaker and weaker and the rate of decline has accelerated.

The current debate in Washington does not provide any comfort for the short run or the long run with both political parties willing to jeopardize whatever economic growth we have left over a fictitious ceiling that serves no economic purpose. All this suffering is supposed to help in the long run because of the good that will come from “reforming” (read “dismantling”) pillars of economic progress like Social Security.

The 2009 Obama “stimulus” is long gone and all levels of government negatively contributing to economic growth. Since the third quarter of 2009, the contribution of the government to economic growth has been nil on average. 

Two Theories of Prices

Last May, John T. Harvey wrote a wonderful post about the quantity theory of money (QTM). This post picks up where John stopped, presenting a different theory of the price level and inflation. It’s a bit technical (so bare with me), but many readers have asked us to elaborate on price theory.
First, a quick recap. The QTM starts with the identity MV ≡ PQ, where M = the money supply, V = the velocity of money, P = the price level, and Q = the quantity of output (Fisher’s version is broader and includes all transactions: T). The identity is a tautology, it just says that the amount of transactions on goods and services (PQ) is equal the to the amount of financial transactions needed to complete those transactions. To get a theory of price (the QTM), one must make some assumptions about each variable. The QTM assumes that:
·         M is constant (or grows at a constant rate) and is controlled by the central bank through a money multiplier
·         V is constant
·         Q is constant at its full employment level (Qfe) or grows at its natural rate (gn)
Given this set of assumptions, we get (note the equality sign to signal causality):
P = MV/Qfe
Or, in terms of the growth rate (V is constant so its growth rate is zero):
gp = gm – gn
This is the QTM, which holds that price changes (inflation and deflation) have monetary origins, i.e. if the money supply grows faster than the natural rate of economic growth, there is some inflation.  For example, if gm = 2% and gn = 1% then gp = 1%.  If the central bank increases the money supply, then inflation rises.

John’s post explains the problems with this theory. M is endogenous, V is not constant, and the economy is rarely at full employment. If you want to know more, you should read John’s post.

Let’s move to an alternative theory of the price level and inflation by starting with another identity based on macroeconomic accounting:
PQ ≡ W + U
This is the income approach to GDP used by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. It says that nominal GDP (PQ) is the sum of all incomes. For simplicity, there are only two incomes: wage bill (W) and gross profit (U). Both are measured before tax.
Let’s divide by Q on each side:
P ≡ W/Q + U/Q
We can go a bit further by noting that W is equal to the product of the average nominal wage rate and the number of hours of labor W = wL (for example, if the wage rate is $5 per hour, and L is equal to 10 hours, then W is equal to $50). Thus:
P ≡ wL/Q + U/Q
Q/L is the quantity of output per labor hour, also called the average productivity of labor (APl) therefore:
P ≡ w/APl + U/Q
w/APl is called the unit cost of labor and data can be found at the BLS. The term U/Q will be interpreted a bit later.
Ok let’s stop a bit here. For the moment all we have done is rearranged terms, we have not proposed a theory (i.e. a causal explanation that provides behavioral assumptions about the variables.)  Here they are:
·         The economy is not at full employment and Q (and economic growth) changes in function of expected aggregate demand (this is Keynes’s theory of effective demand).
·         w is set in a bargaining process that depends on the relative power of workers (the conflict claim theory of distribution underlies this hypothesis)
·         U, the nominal level of aggregate profit, depends on aggregate demand (Kalecki’s theory of profit underlies this hypothesis)
·         APl moves in function of the needs of the economy and the state of the economy.
Thus we have:
P = w/APl + U/Q
Thus the price level changes with changes in the unit cost of labor and the term U/Q. What is this last term? To understand it let’s express the previous equation in terms of growth rate. This is approximately:
gp = (gw – gAPl)sW + (gU – gQ)sU
With sW and sU the shares of wages and profit in national income (sW + sU = 1).
Thus, inflation will move in relation to the growth rate of the unit labor cost of labor, which itself depends on how fast nominal wages grow on average relative to the growth rate of the average productivity of labor. As shown in the following figure, in the United States, a major source of inflation in the late 1960s and 1970s was the rapid growth of the unit cost of labor, with the rate of change between 5 and 10 percent.

Major Sector Productivity and Costs Index (BLS)

Series Id:  PRS85006112
Duration:   % change quarter ago, at annual rate
Measure:    Unit Labor Costs
Sector:     Nonfarm Business
Inflation will also move in relation to the difference between the growth rate of U and the growth rate of the economy (gQ). U follows Kalecki’s equation of profit, which broadly states that that the level of profit in the economy is a function of aggregate demand. Thus the term, (gU – gQ) represents the pressures of aggregate demand on the economy. If gU goes up and gQ is unchanged, then gP rises given everything else. However, to assume that gQ is constant is not acceptable unless the economy is at full employment, so a positive shock on aggregate demand will usually lead to a positive increase in gQ.
Thus, overall, there are two sources of inflation in this approach, a cost-push source (here summarized by the unit labor cost) and a demand-pull source (here summarized by the aggregate demand gap). Note that the money supply is absent from this equation. Money does not directly affect prices. Assuming that a drop of money from the sky leads to inflation, first, does not understand how the money supply is created (it is at least partly created to produce goods and services), second, assumes that people will automatically spend rather than hoard the addition funds obtained (people do hoard for all sorts of reasons and do derive “utility” from hoarding money), third, assumes that the economic output cannot respond to additional demand. If more people suddenly go to the store, producers usually produce more rather than raise prices. Output is not a fixed pie that involves allocation to one group at the expense of another group. The size of the pie increases and decreases with the number of people demanding pie.
A version of this theory has been used in many different models that have endogenous money, liquidity preference, demand-led theory of output and other non-mainstream characteristics. Godley’s and Lavoie’s Monetary Economics as well as Lavoie’s Foundation of Post Keynesian Economics are good books to get more modeling. Of course, modern mainstream monetary economics is rejected in those books; income effect dominates over substitution effect, production is emphasized over allocation, monetary profit affects economic decisions, etc. Be prepared for a change of perspective in which scarcity is not the starting point of economics.

$50 Billion in Infrastructure Spending: A drop in the Bucket

The White House released the following statement regarding its new recovery plan: “The President today laid out a bold vision for renewing and expanding our transportation infrastructure – in a plan that combines a long-term vision for the future with new investments. A significant portion of the new investments would be front-loaded in the first year.”
This front load is worth $50 billion…a lot of money…but an insignificant amount compared to the size of what is needed. It is not a bold vision it is a very timid vision. Don’t believe me? Ask the American Society of Civil Engineers. In its 2009 Infrastructure Report Card, it gave a D average to US infrastructures and recommended $2.2 trillion of dollars of spending over the next 5 years. And that is just to bring current infrastructures back to good condition; trillions more are needed to respond to growing needs.

Money is not a problem for the federal government, all this could be started tomorrow like we have done to finance wars, bail outs the financial sector and other wasteful items. We did it before, when the country had a truly bold vision and was much less wealthy, and we could do it again. Besides current infrastructures, we need to start to use our underused resources (especially labor) to address the future needs of our aging population and our environmental problems: education, infrastructure, social networks, technology, energy, food production, and many others sectors need help.