“Schuldenbremse — Licht und Schatten (Debt Brake—Merits and Risks),” FuW, 2021

Finanz und Wirtschaft, June 5, 2021. PDF.

  • The debt brake addresses some political economy frictions, but not others.
  • Focusing too narrowly on explicit government debt it provides incentives to accumulate implicit debt, sell assets, or engage in creative accounting.
  • The political pressure to raise SNB profit disbursements is a symptom of these incentives.

Banks’ Response to Reserve Tiering

In a CEPR discussion paper, Andreas Fuster, Tan Schelling, and Pascal Towbin analyze how banks respond to changes in the threshold level above which reserves held at the central bank are charged negative interest:

… exploiting an unexpected decision by the Swiss National Bank in September 2019 to change the threshold calculation without taking any other policy actions. This change led to a large increase in overall exemptions, but with variation across banks. Using a difference-in-differences approach, we find that banks that experience a larger increase in their exemption threshold tend to raise their SNB sight deposit holdings, funded through more interbank borrowing and more customer deposits. The interbank market is important for the funding choice: banks with low collateral holdings (a proxy for market access) use less interbank borrowing and instead grow their customer deposits; they also pass on negative rates on a smaller share of their deposits. Effects on bank lending behavior are moderate; if anything, banks that benefit from a larger increase in the exemption threshold tend to charge higher spreads and take less risk.

Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet”

Goodreads rating 4.22.

Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.

Surely there is no greater gift to a man than that which turns all his aims into parching lips and all life into a fountain. And in this lies my honour and my reward,—That whenever I come to the fountain to drink I find the living water itself thirsty; And it drinks me while I drink it.

If these be vague words, then seek not to clear them. Vague and nebulous is the beginning of all things, but not their end, And I fain would have you remember me as a beginning.

Working from Home in the Future

In an NBER working paper, Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis argue, based on a survey of 30 000 Americans, that

… 20 percent of full workdays will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent before. … better-than-expected WFH experiences, new investments in physical and human capital that enable WFH, greatly diminished stigma associated with WFH, lingering concerns about crowds and contagion risks, and a pandemic-driven surge in technological innovations that support WFH.

They predict:

First, employees will enjoy large benefits from greater remote work, especially those with higher earnings. Second, the shift to WFH will directly reduce spending in major city centers by at least 5-10 percent relative to the pre-pandemic situation. Third, … a 5 percent productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy due to re-optimized working arrangements. Only one-fifth of this productivity gain will show up in conventional productivity measures, because they do not capture the time savings from less commuting.

“Die Schattenseiten von Schuldenbremsen (The Dark Side of Debt Limits),” ifoSD, 2021

ifo Schnelldienst 4/2021, April 14, 2021. PDF.

Was Schuldengrenzen aus politökonomischer Sicht besonders attraktiv erscheinen lässt – ihre vermeintliche Einfachheit und Klarheit – birgt also auch Risiken. Es führt dazu, dass Politiker und ihre Wähler die Solidität der Staatsfinanzen über Gebühr an expliziten Bruttoschulden messen. Was aber zählt, wenn es um unerwünschte Umverteilung zulasten künftiger Generationen geht, ist staatliches Nettovermögen in einer umfassenden Gesamtschau.

“Austerity,” EJ, 2021

Economic Journal, February 2021, with Harris Dellas. PDF.

We study the optimal debt and investment decisions of a sovereign with private information. The separating equilibrium is characterised by a cap on the current account. A sovereign repays debt amount due that exceeds default costs in order to signal creditworthiness and smooth consumption. Accepting funding conditional on investment/reforms relaxes borrowing constraints, even when investment does not create collateral, but it depresses current consumption. The model contains the signalling elements emphasised by creditors in the Greek austerity programmes and is consistent with the reduction in the loans issued by Greece and their interest rate following the 2015 election.

“Fiscal and Monetary Policies,” Bern, Spring 2021

MA course at the University of Bern.

The classes follow selected chapters in the textbook Macroeconomic Analysis (MIT Press, 2019) and build on the material covered in the macro II course which follows the same text. Table of contents of the book. Page with more information about the book and exercises. Uni Bern’s official course page. Zoom link is posted on ILIAS page.

Main contents:

  1. Concepts.
  2. RA model with government spending and taxes.
  3. Government debt in RA model.
  4. Government debt and social security in OLG model.
  5. Neutrality results.
  6. Consolidated government budget constraint.
  7. Fiscal effects on inflation. Game of chicken.
  8. FTPL. Active and passive policies.
  9. Tax smoothing.
  10. Time consistent policy.
  11. Sovereign debt.

“Money Creation, Bank Profits, and CBDC,” VoxEU, 2021

VoxEU, February 5, 2021. HTML.

Based on CEPR DP 15457, I assess possible implications of the introduction of retail CBDC for bank profits. The model implies annual implicit subsidies to U.S. banks of up to 0.8 percent of GDP during the period 1999-2017.

SNB Profit Distributions

The Federal Department of Finance and the SNB have agreed on a new scheme for the distribution of SNB profits. Agreement for the period 2020-2025, Explanations. Some comments in German (also available as PDF):

Profitieren Bund und Kantone finanziell von den höheren SNB-Ausschüttungen?

  • Höhere Gewinnausschüttungen in der Gegenwart bedingen tiefere in der Zukunft.
  • In erster Näherung bleibt das Nettovermögen von Bund und Kantonen unverändert, denn es berücksichtigt auch den Wert der zukünftigen Ansprüche gegenüber der SNB.
  • Siehe z.B. „Die Volkswirtschaft“ 8-9 2020, HTML.

Warum dann die positiven Reaktionen bei Vertretern von Bund und Kantonen?

  • Politiker/Wähler orientieren sich an den ausgewiesenen Schulden des Staates. Höhere Ausschüttungen ermöglichen eine tiefere Schuldenaufnahme. Daher die Reaktionen.
  • Relevanter als ausgewiesene Schulden ist das Nettovermögen. Dieses wird von Ausschüttungen (in erster Näherung) nicht beeinflusst.

Was ist die primäre Wirkung höherer Ausschüttungen?

  • Die Schuldenbremse wird in der Gegenwart gelockert und in der Zukunft angezogen.
  • Falls die Schuldenbremse bindet, erhöhen frühere, höhere Ausschüttungen den Spielraum für staatliche Ausgaben in der Gegenwart, aber nicht in der Zukunft.
  • Hohe Ausschüttungen könnten über ihre Wirkung auf das Eigenkapital der SNB auch deren geldpolitische Entscheide beeinflussen.

Wie ist die neue Gewinnausschüttungsformel ökonomisch zu bewerten?

  • Ausschüttungen sollten die Geldpolitik nicht konterkarieren.
  • Die Geldpolitik setzt Bilanzlänge und -struktur der SNB als Instrumente ein. Ihre Glaubwürdigkeit kann vom Eigenkapital der SNB abhängen.
  • Demnach müssten Ausschüttungen von Bilanzlänge, -struktur und Eigenkapital der SNB abhängen. Nicht vom Gewinn des Vorjahres.

Wie ist die neue Gewinnausschüttungsformel politökonomisch zu bewerten?

  • Problematisch ist, dass der Eindruck entstehen kann, alle paar Jahre würde unter politischem Druck um eine neue Formel gefeilscht. Die Bindung an eine sinnvolle Regel würde diesem Eindruck entgegenwirken.
  • Gleichzeitig reduziert die neue Formel den politischen Druck. Sie signalisiert die Bereitschaft der SNB zur Diskussion.

Wie könnte ein alternatives Ausschüttungsmodell aussehen?

  • Die SNB erklärt periodisch, welche Bilanzlänge und -struktur sie zur Erfüllung ihrer Aufgaben benötigt. Sie stellt sich der Kritik, entscheidet aber eigenverantwortlich.
  • Ausschüttungen sind nicht zweckgebunden. Dadurch wird vermieden, dass sich Interessengruppen bilden, die systematisch auf höhere Ausschüttungen drängen.

Welches Grundproblem bliebe bestehen?

  • Eine ökonomisch begründete Ausschüttungspolitik führt zu fluktuierenden Ausschüttungen. Diese können die Schuldenbremse konterkarieren.
  • Glättet die SNB hingegen ohne geldpolitische Notwendigkeit ihre Ausschüttungen, masst sie sich eine Kontrolle der Fiskalpolitik an, die ausserhalb ihres Aufgabenbereichs liegt.

Peter Bieri’s “Das Handwerk der Freiheit”

Goodreads rating 3.76. An inquiry into language and personal experience.

Bieri analyzes notions of free will, their basis or vacuousness, and their consequences. A powerful dissection of language and experience.

  • Wille ist bedingt durch Historie.
  • Ein unbedingt freier Wille wäre nicht der Wille der Person; er wäre unberechenbar und zufällig — nicht das, nach dem sich Verfechter eines unbedingt freien Willens sehnen. Freier und unfreier Wille sind bedingt.
  • Bedingt freier Wille hat nichts mit Zwang oder Ohnmacht zu tun, denn die Beweggründe liegen nicht aussen; die Person entscheidet.
  • Bedingt freier Wille rechtfertigt daher auch nicht Fatalismus. Nicht Vorherbestimmtheit ist ein Übel, sondern allenfalls das, was vorherbestimmt ist.
  • Verantwortung, Strafe und Moral? “In moralischen Dingen kommt es einzig und allein auf den Inhalt des Denkens an und nicht auf seine Herkunft.” (357) Der moralische Standpunkt ist zumindest eine Konvention, denen Abweichler unterworfen werden. Wir fühlen Reue, daher macht auch Verantwortung intuitiv Sinn.

Some reviews etc.:

  • Sonja Rinofner-Kreidl: Phänomenologische Genauigkeit ist das Ziel, auf das die philosophische Disziplin des Erzählens hinarbeitet (377). Immer wieder findet Bieri prägnante Formulierungen, um die Ergebnisse seiner Überlegungen zu resümieren. Etwa diese: “Ein Wille ist ein Wunsch, der handlungswirksam wird, wenn die Umstände es erlauben und nichts dazwischenkommt.” (41) “Die Freiheit des Willens liegt darin, daß er auf ganz bestimmte Weise bedingt ist: durch unser Denken und Urteilen.” (80) “Wir brauchen kein reines Subjekt, um die Erfahrung von Freiheit und Unfreiheit zu beschreiben.” (272) Bieri betont das Moment der Selbstdistanzierung, welches er zu recht als einen nichtmysteriösen und essentiellen Bestandteil unserer Erfahrung von Freiheit ausweist. Es ist dieses Moment, das die Ausbildung von Wünschen zweiter Ordnung ermöglicht (71, 103f), und uns damit in die Lage versetzt, zu unseren eigenen Wünschen Stellung zu nehmen: nicht Getriebene unseres Wollens zu sein, vielmehr als Urheber und Verantwortliche unserer Handlungen aufzutreten. … Der Wille ist Wille einer bestimmten Person, welche über bestimmte Charakterzüge verfügt und unter bestimmten Umständen denkt und handelt (49ff). Dieser Leitgedanke der Untersuchung ist nicht durch Phänomenbeschreibung gewonnen. Er liegt in der begrifflichen Einsicht, daß ein Wille stets nur bestimmter Wille sein kann (239). Andernfalls wäre er ein leerer Wille, also gar kein Wille. Wer mit diesem Gedanken anfängt, kann nicht dahin gelangen, den Willen als in den Lauf der Welt eingreifend zu denken, ohne diesem selbst unterworfen zu sein, mithin als einen Willen, “der von nichts abhinge: ein vollständig losgelöster, von allen ursächlichen Zusammenhängen freier Wille. Ein solcher Wille wäre ein aberwitziger, abstruser Wille.” (230) … Die Idee eines unbedingten Willens ist, entgegen der Intention ihrer Verfechter, gar keine stimmige Idee. Ein unbedingter Wille, wenn es ihn denn gäbe, wäre ein unfreier Wille — ein sich selbst aufhebender willenloser Wille. … Die Einsicht, daß ein freier Wille nur inmitten von Bedingtheiten wirksam werden kann, eröffnet nach Bieri einen Ausweg aus dem klassischen Dilemma der Willensfreiheitsdebatten: der scheinbaren Unvereinbarkeit von Freiheit und durchgängiger kausaler Bedingtheit alles natürlichen Geschehens (23).
  • Sabine Klomfaß: Bieri zieht mit seinem Konzept des Willens und des Urteilens gegen den Determinismus und einer daraus folgenden Resignation zu Felde. Gebetsmühlenartig legt er dar, dass der Wille “von innen” nur in pathologischen Fällen (wie beim zwanghaften Handeln des Spielers) oder “von außen” erpresst (wie beim Zwang zwischen zwei Übeln zu wählen) wirklich unfrei sei. Im Normalfall aber kommt der zukünftige Wille, so Bieri, “nicht auf dich zu wie eine Lawine. Du führst ihn herbei, du erarbeitest ihn dir, indem du von freier Entscheidung zu freier Entscheidung fortschreitest, bis du bei ihm angekommen bist.” Dabei betont der Philosoph insbesondere die Funktion des Denkvermögens: “In dem Maße, in dem die Aneignung des Willens auf Artikulation und Verstehen beruht, handelt es sich um einen Erkenntnisprozess. Wachsende Erkenntnis bedeutet wachsende Freiheit. So gesehen ist Selbsterkenntnis ein Maß für Willensfreiheit.” Denn erst das Wissen um die Möglichkeiten, die man haben könnte, und dann das Durchdenken und Bewerten dieser Möglichkeiten, formen einen Willen, der wirklich als eigener und verantwortbarer erkannt werden kann.
  • Michael Springer: Freiheit existiert nur als bedingte Freiheit. Unser Wille agiert in einem strukturierten Feld; er hat eine Vorgeschichte. Das enthebt uns nicht der Verantwortung für das, was wir tun – selbst wenn es im Nachhinein aussieht, als ob “alles so kommen musste”.
  • Iris Morad.

See also this on a related book by Julian Baggini.

Comments on Geneva Report 23

Panel with Elga Bartsch, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Giancarlo Corsetti, Olivier Garnier, and Charles Wyplosz. Moderated by Tobias Broer.

Elga Bartsch, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Giancarlo Corsetti, Xavier Debrun: Geneva Report 23 | It’s All in the Mix: How Monetary and Fiscal policies Can Work or Fail Together.

Event at PSE.

My comments on the report.

“Staatsschulden sind keineswegs kostenlos (Free Government Debt?),” NZZ, 2021

NZZ, February 1, 2021. PDF (title changed by NZZ). Related article in Ökonomenstimme. HTML.

Do negative interest rates render government debt costless? No. What about r<g? I discuss Olivier Blanchard’s presidential address and the conclusions that columnists have drawn.

For background: See this post.

“The Pandemic Endgame,” VoxEU, 2021

VoxEU, January 11, 2021, with Martin Gonzalez-Eiras. HTML.

Based on the CEPR discussion paper, we draw conclusions for the pandemic endgame. We explain why Israel will likely impose a harsher lockdown than other countries, especially poor ones. And why we should expect “inverse lockdowns”—measures to stimulate social interaction.

Reading List on ‘Free’ or ‘Not-so-free’ Public Debt

Risk, Discounting, and Dynamic Efficiency

In the presence of risk, a comparison of the risk-free interest rate and the expected growth rate is insufficient to assess whether an economy is dynamically efficient or inefficient. Stochastic discount factors—not risk-free interest rates—enter the government’s budget constraint, even if debt is safe.

These points are made, for example, by Andrew Abel, N. Gregory Mankiw, Lawrence Summers, and Richard Zeckhauser (Assessing Dynamic Efficiency: Theory and Evidence, REStud 56(1), 1989),

the issue of dynamic efficiency can be resolved by comparing the level of investment with the cash flows generated by production after the payment of wages … dynamic efficiency cannot be assessed by comparing the safe rate of interest and the average growth rate of the capital stock, output, or any other accounting aggregate,

or Henning Bohn (The Sustainability of Budget Deficits in a Stochastic Economy, JMCB 27(1), 1995),

discounting at the safe interest rate is usually incorrect. … popular fiscal policy “indicators” like deficit levels or debt-GNP ratios may provide very little information about sustainability. … the intertemporal budget constraint imposes very few restrictions on the average primary balance.

Recent work in which these themes appear include papers by Zhengyang Jiang, Hanno Lustig, Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, and Mindy Xiaolan (Manufacturing Risk-free Government Debt, NBER wp 27786, 2020), Robert Barro (r Minus g, NBER wp 28002, 2020), or Stan Olijslagers, Nander de Vette, and Sweder van Wijnbergen (Debt Sustainability when r−g<0: No Free Lunch after All, CEPR dp 15478, 2020).

Intergenerational Risk Sharing

With overlapping generations the way the government manages its debt has implications for intergenerational risk sharing, see for example Henning Bohn (Risk Sharing in a Stochastic Overlapping Generations Economy, mimeo, 1998), Robert Shiller (Social Security and Institutions for Intergenerational, Intragenerational, and International Risk Sharing, Carnegie-Rochester Conference on Public Policy 50, 1999), or Gabrielle Demange (On Optimality of Intergenerational Risk Sharing, Economic Theory 20(1), 2002).

Long-Run Debt Dynamics and Fiscal Space

Dmitriy Sergeyev and Neil Mehrotra (Debt Sustainability in a Low Interest World, CEPR dp 15282, 2020) offer an analysis of long-run debt dynamics under the assumption that the primary surplus systematically, and strongly responds to the debt-to-GDP ratio such that the government’s intertemporal budget constraint is necessarily satisfied:

Population growth and productivity growth have opposing effects on the debt-to-GDP ratio due to their opposing effects on the real interest rate. Lower population growth leaves the borrowing rate unchanged while directly lowering output growth, shifting the average debt-to-GDP ratio higher. By contrast, when the elasticity of intertemporal substitution is less than one, a decline in productivity growth has a more than a one-for-one effect on the real interest rate, lowering the cost of servicing the debt and thereby reducing the average debt-to-GDP ratio. To the extent that higher uncertainty accounts for low real interest rates, we find that
the variance of the log debt-to-GDP ratio unambiguously increases with higher output
uncertainty. However, uncertainty also has an effect on the mean debt-to-GDP ratio that
depends on the coefficient of relative risk aversion. Higher uncertainty lowers the real
interest rate but this effect may be outweighed by an Ito’s lemma term due to Jensen’s
inequality that works in the opposite direction.

Sergeyev and Mehrotra also consider the effects of rare disasters as well as of a maximum primary surplus which implies that debt becomes defaultable and the interest rate on debt features an endogenous risk premium, generating the possibility of a “tipping point” with a slow moving debt crises as in Guido Lorenzoni and Ivan Werning (Slow Moving Debt Crises, AER 109(9), 2019).

Ricardo Reis (The Constraint on Public Debt when r<g But g<m, mimeo, 2020) analyzes a non-stochastic framework under the assumption that the marginal product of capital, m, exceeds the growth rate, g, which in turn exceeds the risk-free interest rate, r. Reis considers the case where m is the relevant discount rate, for example because r features a liquidity premium:

there is still a meaningful government budget constraint once future surpluses and debt are discounted by the marginal product of capital.

He shows the following:

  • The debt due to a one-time primary deficit can be rolled over indefinitely and disappears asymptotically as long as r<g.
  • With permanent primary deficits that grow at the same rate as debt and output, the government’s intertemporal budget constraint features a bubble component due to r<m. This corresponds to the usual seignorage revenue measure (see p. 173 in Niepelt, Macroeconomic Analysis, 2019).
  • Suppose that from tomorrow on, the primary deficit and debt quotas are given by d and b, respectively. Then, the present value of total net revenues in the government’s budget constraint equals [- d + (m – r)*b] / (m-g). Both m>g and g>r relax the constraint, as does a lower r.
  • Along a balanced growth path, b = [- d + (m – r)*b] / (m-g) and thus, d = (g-r)*b where d is assumed to be positive. Reis argues that b cannot be larger than total assets relative to GDP. Accordingly, the deficit cannot exceed total assets times (g-r).

Reis concludes that most of the bubble component “has already been used.” In addition to developing a model that yields m>g>r in equilibrium he also discusses the role of inflation (stable inflation generates fiscal space because it renders debt safer and thus increases demand for debt) and inequality (more inequality increases fiscal space).

Blanchard’s Presidential Address

In his presidential address, Olivier Blanchard (Public Debt and Low Interest Rates, AER 109(4), 2019) argues that the risk-free interest rate has fallen short of average US growth rate (and similarly, in other countries). Importantly—and implicitly addressing Abel, Mankiw, Summers, Zeckhauser, and Bohn (see above)—he also argues that risk is not that much of an issue as far as the sustainability of public debt is concerned:

Jensen’s inequality is thus not an issue here. In short, if we assume that the future will be like the past (admittedly a big if), debt rollovers appear feasible. While the debt ratio may increase for some time due to adverse shocks to growth or positive shocks to the interest rate, it will eventually decrease over time. In other words, higher debt may not imply a higher fiscal cost.

Most of his formal analysis doesn’t focus on debt though. Instead he analyzes the effects of risk-free social security transfers from young to old in a stochastic OLG economy. (There are close parallels between debt and such transfers to the old that are financed by contemporaneous taxes on the young.) In a steady-state with very low interest rates higher transfers have two effects on welfare, by (i) providing an attractive substitute for savings and by (ii) reducing capital accumulation and thereby lowering wages and raising the interest rate. If the economy initially is dynamically inefficient both effects are welfare improving because (i) capital accumulation with a low return is replaced by higher yielding intergenerational transfers and (ii) lower wages and higher interest rates are attractive, starting from a situation with a low interest rate. In a stochastic economy the first channel yields welfare gains as long as the growth rate exceeds the risk-free rate, and the second channel yields welfare gains (approximately) when the growth rate exceeds the marginal product of capital. Blanchard argues

[b]e this as it may, the analysis suggests that the welfare effects of a transfer may not necessarily be adverse, or, if adverse, may not be very large.

In the corresponding case with debt there is another effect because the intergenerational transfer is not risk-free; the size of this additional effect depends on the path of the risk-free interest rates (Blanchard assumes that the debt level is stabilized which requires net tax payments by the young to reflect the contemporaneous risk-free rate). In the slightly different case where debt is increased once and then rolled over, without adjusting taxes in the future, the sustainability and welfare implications are ambiguous and critically depend on the production function:

In the linear case, debt rollovers typically do not fail [my emphasis] and welfare is increased throughout. For the generation receiving the initial transfer associated with debt issuance, the effect is clearly positive and large. For later generations, while they are, at the margin, indifferent between holding safe debt or risky capital, the inframarginal gains (from a less risky portfolio) imply slightly larger utility. But the welfare gain is small … . In the Cobb-Douglas case however, this positive effect is more than offset by the price effect, and while welfare still goes up for the first generation (by 2 percent), it is typically negative thereafter. In the case of successful debt rollovers, the average adverse welfare cost decreases as debt decreases over time. In the case of unsuccessful rollovers, the adjustment implies a larger welfare loss when it happens. If we take the Cobb-Douglas example to be more representative, are these Ponzi gambles, as Ball, Elmendorf, and Mankiw (1998) have called them, worth it from a welfare viewpoint? This clearly depends on the relative weight the policymaker puts on the utility of different generations [my emphasis].

Blanchard argues that the marginal product of capital may be smaller than commonly assumed, implying that it is more likely that the welfare effects working through (ii) are positive (those working through (i) are very likely positive). Finally, he also presents some additional potential arguments pro and con higher public debt.

Blanchard’s work has attracted substantial criticism, for instance at the January 2020 ASSA meetings (see this previous post). In a short paper presented at the meetings, Johannes Brumm, Laurence Kotlikoff, and Felix Kubler (Leveraging Posterity’s Prosperity?) point out that a negative difference between average interest and growth rates is not necessarily indicative of dynamic inefficiency (see the discussion above) and that Blanchard’s analysis disregards tax distortions as well as the welfare effects from intergenerational risk sharing (again, see above):

To see the distinction between risk-sharing and a Ponzi scheme, modify B’s two-period model to include agents working when old if they don’t randomly become disabled. Now workers face second-period asset income and labor earnings risk. The government has no safe asset in which to invest. If it borrows, invests in capital, and taxes bond holders its excess return, “safe” debt is identical to risky capital. But if the net taxes are only levied on the non-disabled, bonds become a valued risk-mitigating asset and their return can be driven far below zero. This scheme could be, and to some extend it is, implemented through progressive taxation. If, observing this gap between growth and safe rates, the government decides to institute an “efficient” Ponzi scheme with a fixed pension benefit financed on a pay-go basis by taxes on workers, net wages when young will be more variable, raising generation-specific risk and potentially producing an outcome in which no generation is better off and at least one is worse off.

Brumm, Kotlikoff, and Kubler also note that the effective interest rate at which US households are borrowing is much higher than the borrowing rate of the government; this undermines Blanchard’s approach to gauge the welfare implications. And they point out that the scheme suggested by Blanchard could harm other countries by reducing global investment.

Jasmina Hasanhodzic (Simulating the Blanchard Conjecture in a Multi-Period Life-Cycle Model) simulates a richer OLG model and rejects the Blanchard conjecture of Pareto gains due to higher transfers:

It shows that the safe rate on government debt can, on average, be far less than the economy’s growth rate without its implying that ongoing redistribution from the young to the old is Pareto improving. Indeed, in a 10-period, OLG, CGE model, whose average safe rate averages negative 2 percent on an annual basis, welfare losses to future generations resulting from the introduction of pay-go Social Security, financed with a 15 percent payroll tax, are enormous—roughly 20 percent measured as a compensating variation relative to no policy.

Relative to Blanchard’s simulations, her model implies more negative consequences of crowding out on wages, a higher tax burden from the transfer scheme, and more induced old-age consumption risk.

Michael Boskin (How, When and Why Deficits Are Dangerous) offers a broad discussion of potential weaknesses of Blanchard’s analysis. Richard Evens (Public Debt, Interest Rates, and Negative Shocks) questions Blanchard’s simulations on calibration grounds and notes that he couldn’t replicate some of Blanchard’s findings.

On his blog, John Cochrane argues along similar lines as Ricardo Reis: Even if r<g, expected primary deficits are so large that debt quotas will explode nevertheless.

Olivier Blanchard on Markus’ Academy.

Note: This post was updated several times.

John Cochrane about CBDC and Me

Writing about CBDC, John Cochrane makes it clear that he is in favor. He links to my work and writes

Dirk Niepelt has written a lot about CBDC theory, including reserves for all in 2015, a recent Vox-EU summary and papers,  here with Markus Brunnermeier a JME paper “CBDC coupled with central bank pass-through funding need not imply a credit crunch nor undermine financial stability,” a follow up including “The model implies annual implicit subsidies to U.S. banks of up to 0.8 percent of GDP during the period 1999-2017.”  Here  “reserves for all” “does not affect macroeconomic outcomes,”

Notions of Liquidity Trap

On Fazit, Gerald Braunberger reviews the concept of “liquidity trap.”

  • Keynes never used the term but Robertson did.
  • Hicks introduced the common notion (represented, e.g., by a flat LM curve).
  • Krugman talks about a different trap. So does Blanchard and he (incorrectly) attributes it to Keynes. So does Sinn.

Not Much Left of “Modern Monetary Theory”

Alberto Bisin (Journal of Economic Literature, December 2020) reviews Stephanie Kelton’s “The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy:”

Never is its logical structure expressed in a direct, clear way, from head to toe. … Some of these statements are literally correct but used for incorrect or misleading implications—plays on words, effectively. They seem taken directly from the book of tricks of the Greek sophists (the ones Aristophanes makes fun of).

John Cochrane (blog post, July 2020) reviews the same book:

Skeptics have called it “magical monetary theory.” They’re right.

Dirk Niepelt (blog post/Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German), April 2019):

The Macroeconomic Perpetuum Mobile.