nep-pke New Economics Papers
on Post Keynesian Economics
Issue of 2006‒03‒05
four papers chosen by
Karl Petrick
Leeds Metropolitan University

  1. "The Case for Rate Hikes: Did the Fed Prematurely Raise Rates?" By L. Randall Wray
  2. "The Fed and the New Monetary Consensus: The Case for Rate Hikes, Part Two" By L. Randall Wray
  3. "Breaking out of the Deficit Trap: The Case Against the Fiscal Hawks " By James K. Galbraith
  4. "The Ownership Society: Social Security Is Only the Beginning . . ." By L. Randall Wray

  1. By: L. Randall Wray
    Abstract: From this paper's Preface, by Dr. Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, President: For a time, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) seemed to have learned from the mistakes of the past. Instead of taking good economic performance as a sign of incipient inflation, Chairman Alan Greenspan kept interest rates relatively low in the late 1990s, even as unemployment plummeted.Many commentators worried that the FOMC's unusually easy stance would usher in a period of runaway inflation, but inflation stayed in the 2 to 3 percent range. Now, with scant evidence of an inflationary threat, Greenspan and his committee seem intent on raising interest rates. Greenspan argues that the current anemic expansion is "self-sustaining" and no longer needs the support of low interest rates. In this new brief, Levy Institute Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray evaluates the Fed's concern about a coming inflation and its decision to begin raising interest rates. He begins with an examination of key market developments that might signal inflation.Most economists worry about inflation when labor markets begin to tighten and employees gain the bargaining power necessary to demand pay raises.Wray marshals an array of evidence demonstrating that workers can only wish for such conditions. The economy has created no net new jobs since the beginning of the current presidential term. To match the 64.4 percent proportion of adults who held jobs during the Clinton era, the economy would have to generate four million new positions. It is clear that the job market will not be a source of inflation any more than it was during the Clinton boom.
    Date: 2004–08
  2. By: L. Randall Wray
    Abstract: From this paper's Preface, by Dr. Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, President: In Public Policy Brief No. 79, L. Randall Wray wrote about the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hikes that "the most charitable interpretation of the Fed’s policy change is that it appears to be premature."Wray marshaled a convincing array of data on payrolls, employment-to-population ratios, and other labor market indicators to show "that the current recovery has not yet attained the degree of labor market tightness that was common in previous recoveries," and therefore that the threat of inflation was minimal. Hence, the Fed, in raising rates, was unnecessarily jeopardizing the economy’s weak recovery. In this new brief, we learn about the flaws in the Fed’s thinking that have led to its frequent policy mistakes.Wray traces several strands of current central bank thinking back to their roots in the Fed’s internal discussions in the mid-1990s. Transcripts of these discussions have recently been released, a development that has yielded some disturbing and telling insights about the way in which monetary policy is formed. The situation of 1994 closely parallels that of current times. Unemployment was clearly above its lowest sustainable level, and inflation was low. Still, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) and its chairman, Alan Greenspan, believed that interest rates had to be raised to keep prices in check. As it turned out, inflation stayed low, even as unemployment sank to levels previously believed to be inflationary. The Fed’s interest rate hikes proved to be unnecessary at best and counterproductive at worst. Not only is the current economic environment reminiscent of 1994, but so are contemporary justifications for recessionary policies.Wray lists six tenets of policy making common to both periods: transparency, gradualism, activism, low inflation as the only official goal, surreptitious targeting of distributional variables, and the neutral rate as the policy instrument to achieve these goals. The Fed would not be eager to espouse some of these principles publicly, but they were all discussed in committee meetings, as the recently released transcripts make clear—and there is no reason to think the Fed has changed its philosophy. Wray shows that this philosophy is convoluted. Fed officials claim that they are attempting to reach a neutral interest rate that neither provokes inflation nor causes recession. But they also say that they will not know the level of the neutral rate until they reach it. Little can be gained by pursuing such a chimerical goal. Moreover, even when the interest rate was far below its supposedly neutral level, the economy seemed to be free of inflation. Finally, the Fed seems to have painted itself into a corner by promising in advance a gradual series of interest rate increases. It is small wonder that the press finds the Fed’s public statements to be somewhat confusing and cryptic. The Fed transcripts shed light on the events of 1994 and those of the present day. I think that it is time for a new approach to monetary policy; this brief shows why.
    Date: 2004–12
  3. By: James K. Galbraith
    Abstract: From this paper's Preface, by Dr. Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, President: For some time, Levy Institute scholars have been engaged with issues related to the current account, government, and private sector balances. We have argued that the existing imbalances in these accounts are unsustainable and will ultimately present a serious challenge to the performance of the U.S. economy. Other scholars are also concerned, but for reasons that we do not share. They argue that the interest rate is determined by the supply and demand of saving.When the government reduces its saving, the total supply of saving falls, and the interest rate inevitably rises. The result, they say, is that interest-sensitive spending, and investment in particular, falls. Finally, these scholars say, less investment now necessarily implies less output in the future. In this new brief, Senior Scholar James K. Galbraith evaluates a recent article by William G. Gale and Peter R. Orszag, two economists who regard this view of deficits as plausible. He forwards an alternative, Keynesian view. This alternative suggests that deficits can increase overall output, possibly enabling the government to spend more money without increasing the ratio of the debt to GDP. He casts doubt on the notion that the interest rate is determined by the supply and demand of saving, arguing that monetary policy plays a much larger role than Gale and Orszag allow for. Moreover, he writes, strong demand for goods and services is more important than the supply of capital in determining the pace of technological advance and the rate of growth of output per worker. Though he is skeptical about Gale and OrszagÕs theoretical framework, Galbraith calls attention to some important econometric findings in their paper. Gale and Orszag calculate the effects of deficits on the interest rate. Consistent with GalbraithÕs view, monetary policy turns out to be a major determinant of long-term interest rates. When interest rates are measured as the current cost of funds, Gale and Orszag find that deficits have no significant impact on interest rates. GalbraithÕs theoretical view of interest rate determination, together with Gale and OrszagÕs empirical findings, constitutes a powerful rebuttal of the reflexively antideficit view. Recent economic history suggests that this rebuttal is plausible. The recent increase in the U.S. federal deficit has not yet resulted in high interest rates. Interest rates in Japan, where deficits have been very large, remain at rock-bottom levels. The Levy Institute continues to believe that, together, unsustainable economic imbalances amount to one of the nationÕs most pressing issues, as we believe our Strategic Analysis series has documented. As Galbraith demonstrates, however, some observers are placing an undue emphasis on government deficit reduction, as if the government were the source of all that ails the economy. A more balanced approach would take into account the pernicious effects of excessive private debt and the need to devalue the dollar. We believe that our readers, especially those who follow the Strategic Analysis series, will find this brief to be a helpful look at another facet of the complex and knotty deficits problem.
    Date: 2005–06
  4. By: L. Randall Wray
    Abstract: From this paper's Preface, by Dr. Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, President: As his new term begins, President Bush has been trying to focus his domestic agenda on what he calls the Òownership society,Ó a sweeping vision of an America in which more citizens would hold significant assets and be free to make their own choices about providing for their health care and retirement, and educating their children. L. Randall Wray, who has written for the Levy Institute on many topics, evaluates the premises and logic of this program in this new public policy brief. Wray points out that much of the history of the Western world since the advent of liberalism has been marked by a gradual rise in the power of those who lack property. Some of the milestones in this progression include universal suffrage, regulation of business, and progressive taxation. BushÕs ownership society proposals, according to Wray, would result in a partial reversal of the progress of the last 250 years. The reason is that, while BushÕs plans would undoubtedly increase the choices and power of those who have property, they would fail to democratize ownership. Many gains to the wealthy would come at the expense of the poor, the sick, and the elderly. Consider, for example, the condition of the nationÕs private pension system. Increasingly, firms are switching from defined-benefit to definedcontribution plans. This development would seem on its surface to favor the establishment of a new class of stockholders, empowered and holding a larger stake in the system. But, as Wray demonstrates, retirement accounts and other assets just do not add up to a substantial amount for most Americans. This means that most citizens have much to lose indeed from attacks on Social Security and the erosion of the traditional pension system. Much as the safety net for the poor has largely vanished since the Reagan years, the bread-and-butter benefits and rights of the middle class are now threatened by the ownership-society agenda. To many, the claim made by Republicans that all should take responsibility for their wellbeing rings true. But it is important to keep in mind the real alternative to public benefits for the middle class: a society in which success would depend largely upon luck, inheritances, or charity. A society that forces individuals to read their future in their Microsoft Money files inevitably creates a class of nonowners who are insecure and lack independent means. Ironically, this runs up against the aims of those who sincerely hope for a world in which more have the opportunity to become rich: moving upward often brings some setbacks along the way, which might be fatal in a world of reduced bankruptcy protection, disability and medical benefits, and educational aid.
    Date: 2005–08

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