Most economies around the world have been in the doldrums since the Global Financial Crisis of 2007/8 and the Great Recession that followed. Unemployment in some European nations has been at levels not seen since the Great Depression. Although the situation is not as dire in all nations, economic activity remains well below potential virtually everywhere. The result is needless human suffering.
In a nutshell, the economy comes down to this: we have available labor time and natural resources with which we can produce some stuff and distribute it. Unemployment now means lost production now that can never be recovered in the future.
I very much enjoyed this talk in Adelaide by Steven Hail (first hour) and Q&A session with Steven and Phil Lawn moderated by Anna Milhaylov (following half hour). The talk was organized by the Mayo Branch of the Australian Greens.
It was suggested in the previous post that the notion of ‘value of the currency’ adopted in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) seems compatible with Marx’s theoretical framework, provided it is acceptable in that framework to consider a state currency, and not only gold or some other commodity, as “true” money. As was explained in the post, currency value in MMT can be defined as the amount of labor time a worker must perform in order to obtain a unit of the currency. An advantage of this definition, if applied in Marx’s framework, is that it offers an explanation for the value of fiat currency that can be expressed in terms of socially necessary labor time.
In Marx’s theory, formulated in terms of the gold standard of his day, the value of commodity money is taken to be the amount of simple, socially necessary labor time required to produce gold. This treatment of the value of commodity money is consistent with Marx’s treatment of commodity value in general, which always represents amounts of socially necessary labor time. Since the value of the currency under a gold standard depends not only on the labor time required to produce gold but the rate at which gold is exchanged for currency, the question arises as to whether it is gold that is actually “real money” in such a system, or, rather, state currency, issued and exchanged at a fixed rate for gold, that is real money. If it is gold that is real money, Marx’s theory would seem to suggest that there is no value underlying fiat currency, since fiat currency takes zero (or negligible) labor time to produce. If, instead, state currency can be real money in Marx’s framework, then fiat currency can be conceived as having value in much the same way as currency under the gold standard. In either system, the currency is produced with zero (or negligible) labor, but obtaining a unit of the currency requires a definite amount of simple, socially necessary labor time to be performed by the non-government. From the non-government’s perspective, it is as if that amount of labor is required to “produce” a unit of the currency. There is no suggestion, here, that this would necessarily have been Marx’s view, or that there is necessarily strong textual evidence for it. But it is suggested that taking this interpretation enables Marx’s notion of the value of money as an amount of socially necessary labor time to be extended to fiat money.
Private and public exogenous expenditures have different impacts on the sectoral balances. The same rate of growth in income has varying implications for the domestic private sector’s financial balance (saving minus investment or, equivalently, income minus private spending) depending on the composition of the demand driving that growth. An increase in private investment pushes the private sector toward deficit. Even though the investment boosts income, saving will not rise as much as investment because of leakage to taxes and imports. In contrast, government spending adds income and saving for a given level of investment. An implication is that growth driven by private expenditure that occurs without compensating growth in government spending pushes the private sector into deficit except to the extent that net exports counter the effect.
Like many, I embrace the liberal motto “live and let live”. Individuals should be free to think, say and do as they please provided it doesn’t infringe on the liberty of others to do likewise. But living up to this motto does not necessarily call for small or minimal government, especially in the economic sphere. Until individuals are, of their own volition, ready to make use of real resources in a cooperative and harmonious fashion, promotion of liberty requires government.
Another entertaining, incisive video by Donna D’Souza. This one compares the growth and distributive outcomes under the immediate postwar and neoliberal policy regimes.
In our present-day societies, which neglect to guarantee either full employment or an unconditional income, unemployment benefits are a necessary safety net. Having evolved an economic system in which most of us must offer to work for a wage or salary to get by, majorities routinely vote for politicians who promise to make this impossible for a sizable portion of the workforce at any given time. Despite the current necessity for unemployment benefits, prevailing attitudes toward the policy seem largely hostile. Opposition does not solely – or even mainly – come from the powerful and wealthy. Many members of the working class (who, at least until recently, have deluded themselves into imagining they are “middle class”) appear to be hostile to benefit payments as well. They are hostile, that is, until they themselves need them, in which case their new-found altruism lasts for about as long as their jobless episode. A recent study* indicating that winning the lottery significantly influences winners’ political views, with one-fifth converting to conservatism pronto, may partly explain the prevalence of what is clearly intended to be self-interested behavior. The operative word is “intended”. Such people are trying to look out for number one, yet are mostly too clueless even to pull that off.
A recent post introduced the income-expenditure model, a staple of introductory courses in macroeconomics. In this post, a closely related model of the sectoral financial balances is considered at a similarly introductory level. The ‘sectoral financial balances model’, or ‘SFB model’ for short, has been discussed in the blogosphere by a number of Modern Monetary Theorists, including Bill Mitchell, Robert Parenteau, Eric Tymoigne, Daniel Conceicao and Scott Fullwiler, prompted by a post of Paul Krugman’s which contained a useful diagram. Analysis of the sectoral financial balances proved insightful in understanding both the lead up to the global financial crisis and its aftermath. This claim will be substantiated once the basic model has been outlined.