Secular Stagnation: Short-term Fixes for Long-term Problems

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The concept of secular stagnation, first propounded by Alvin Hansen in the 1930s, has enjoyed an academic – and mainstream – resurrection thanks to Lawrence Summers (2014, 2016), who first advanced the theory as an explanation for the subdued recovery and anaemic growth prospects of advanced economies. A surprising criticism recently came from Joseph Stiglitz (August, 2018), who believes that the theory offers a convenient escape away from assuming responsibility for failed policy during the crisis.  An acrimonious debate between Summers and Stiglitz followed.  

On the face of it, Summers – and Gauti Eggertson – are right: the modern theory of secular stagnation does see a central and substantial role for fiscal policy. The problem, however, lies in the fact that a short-term fix for aggregate demand shortfalls – fiscal policy – is being advanced as a long-term solution of the problem of reduced growth prospects. The central question of what drives investment in a capitalist economy is not addressed.Read More »

Keynes or New-Keynesian: Why Not Teach Both?

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For economists, the Great Recession, the worst crisis the world economy has seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s, has highlighted the need for plurality in macroeconomics education. Ironically, however, there is a move towards greater insularity from alternative or contrasting points of view. Where as, what is required for vibrant policy making is an open-minded academic engagement between contesting viewpoints. In fact, there does not even exist a textbook which contrasts these contesting ideas in a tractable manner. This blog post is as an attempt to provide certain pointers towards developing macroeconomics in a unified framework.

Macroeconomics as a subject proper came into existence with the writings of John Maynard Keynes[i]. There were debates during his time about how to characterise a capitalist economy, most of which are still a part of the discussion among economists. Keynes argued that capitalism is a fundamentally unstable system so the state needs to intervene to control this instability.Read More »

The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria: European and Latin American Experiences

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Book review of N. Levy-Orlik & E Ortiz (2016), The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria: European and Latin American Experiences, Edward Elgar Publishing: Cheltenham UK

Levy and Ortiz’s The Financialization Response to Economic Disequilibria is a timely book. It critiques mainstream economic theory and its limitations in explaining how economic conditions change or the transition from one state of equilibrium to another. Its analyses rely on Keynes, Kalecki, Kaldor, Minsky, Prebish, Furtado, and Marxists such as Luxemburg, Marini and Lapavitsas. Macroeconomic teachers interested in a heterodox approach may benefit from Levy and Ortiz’s book as complementary material with experiences showing the dysfunctionality of the global economy from the specific prism of financial disequilibria.

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Using Minsky to Better Understand Economic Development – Part 2

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The work of Hyman Minsky highlighted the essential role of finance in the capital development of an economy. The greater a nation’s reliance on debt relative to internal funds, the more “fragile” the economy becomes. The first part of this post used these insights to uncover the weaknesses of today’s global economy. This part will discuss an alternative international structure that could address these issues.Read More »

Using Minsky to Better Understand Economic Development – Part 1

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This year the global system has seen two major shocks: Brexit, and Trump. What these events have in common is their populist rhetoric that promised to bring back jobs, while also making xenophobic statements. These elections have tapped into growing anxiety over job security, which has not been addressed by most governments and has given room for demagogues to tap into the anger of the people. They reflect a problem that transcends the boundaries of any single nation: the global economy has been in a slump for almost a decade. Governments need to create jobs, and public fiscal stimulus is the way to do so. To allow it, we must rethink that system.

To understand why we have to consider the international system in which nation states currently operate in. Its current characteristics present challenges for developed and developing economies alike. There are two important features to consider: first, the system creates a deflationary bias by requiring recessionary adjustments and hoarding of the international mean of payment (i.e. dollars). Second, it lacks mechanisms to offset the chronic surpluses and deficits between nations, thus breeding financial instability. In a nutshell, it leads to poor creation and distribution of demand that is managed through capital flows. Instead of propping up demand, the global economic system props up debt.

This post will be split into two parts. This first part will employ the theories of Hyman Minsky to explain the features of our current global economy. Next week, we will follow up to discuss  an alternative system that would allow for a better distribution of demand among countries and would support emerging economies’ development by freeing them from the swings of international markets.

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