Sunday, April 27, 2014

Economic Reform?

These articles are getting some circulation. Are these a sign that people are starting to see the need for economic reform? We'll see.
The vast majority of us were able to get degrees in economics without ever reading a single paper on environmental economics or encountering natural capital as an argument in the production functions we studied. We did hear about Pigouvian taxes of course – and so figured the problem had been solved…

Environmental economists have long modified growth models to account for the role of the environment, thus revisiting the conditions that ensure growth, whether sustainable or sustained....As a result, environmental economists tend not to talk about economic growth per se, but about sustainable economic growth. When macroeconomists refer to sustainable growth, however, they usually mean sustained growth. When growth economists study the role of externalities in the growth process they almost exclusively refer to technological and knowledge externalities, and generally ignore environmental ones, even though the latter are likely to become largely more relevant in the coming decades. Even social capital, a relative newcomer in economics, appears better integrated into the growth literature.

Why such disregard for an issue that epitomises market failures from externalities, common property issues, and whose importance in both growth processes and human well-being is well documented? Sheer ignorance, likely – or a vague notion that innovation will come to the rescue. But why would markets generate the technology to solve a problem that combines both knowledge and environmental externalities?
Here is a plea then for an urgent change in the economics curriculum, at both introductory and advanced levels. Growth chapters in today’s macroeconomics textbooks make no reference to the environment – whether as an input into the production function or as a limiting factor affecting the productivity of human or physical capital.

What is needed is not simply that more environmental economics be offered, but rather that the macroeconomics courses teach that natural capital is a key input into production processes, and that the environment – through massive mismanagement and a chronic failure to apply the basic principles of economics – has now become a serious macroeconomic problem, one that requires a profound and dramatic change in our model of growth. The development model of the industrial revolution (‘grow now and clean up later’) partly worked for a world of 1.5 million people; it simply won’t do for a global population approaching 9 billion.
Greening Economics: It is time (VoxEU)
So both John Cochrane and Martin Wolf are advocating 100% reserve banking. If these two agree on anything, it’s worth taking seriously! (It’s pretty amazing how advocates for narrow banking come from across the political spectrum.) We have some thoughts on banking and private money creation, but you’ll have to read our book to figure out what they are.

Instead, we wanted to provide some history behind the idea. One of the greatest economists of the 20th century (indeed, in our view, perhaps the greatest), Irving Fisher was a strong supporter of the so-called Chicago Plan which would implement 100% reserve banking. Here is a link to the one of the original documents from 1939. The Chicago Plan economists were living in the shadow of the Great Depression, and it had a very strong influence on their thinking.

Some of the document is a bit hard to get through, but we recommend starting on page 14 where the section entitled “The Fractional Reserve System” begins. The economists pulled no punches:

“A chief loose screw in our present American money and banking system is the requirement of only fractional reserves behind demand deposits. Fractional reserves give our thousands of commercial banks power to increase or decrease the volume of our circulating medium by increasing or decreasing bank loans and investments. The banks thus exercise what has always, and justly, been considered a prerogative of sovereign power. As each bank exercises this power independently without any centralized control, the resulting changes in the volume of the circulating medium are largely haphazard. This situation is a most important factor in booms and depressions.
100% Reserve Banking — The History (House of Debt)

1 comment:

  1. When there were fewer humans and resources were more plentiful, economics didn't have to consider the environment. And so the "science" of economics was developed under temporary conditions and the results were assumed to be universal. And now- environmentalism is too political, and science is too hard. And this would mean that they would have to change too many of their laws and assumptions. So I think it will be a while before we see economists trained in something as simple as the laws of thermodynamics.


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