Studies in Austrian Macroeconomics: Volume 20

Cover of Studies in Austrian Macroeconomics
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Table of contents

(18 chapters)

List of Contributors

Pages vii-viii
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Abstract

This introduction summarizes each of the papers in Studies in Austrian Macroeconomics. It begins with a brief overview of the core ideas and development of modern Austrian macroeconomics, focusing on its theory of the business cycle. The papers are then discussed by parts, starting with the papers on Austrian monetary and business cycle theory, followed by those addressing the relationship between the US and Canadian economic performance, and concluding with the three papers on the political economy of regulation and crisis.

Part I: Austrian Monetary and Business Cycle Theory

Abstract

In this paper, we study financial foundations of Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT). By doing this, we (1) clarify ambiguous and controversial concepts like roundaboutness and average period of production, (2) we show that the ABCT has strong financial foundations (consistent with its microeconomic foundations), and (3) we offer examples of how to use the flexibility of this approach to apply ABCT to different contexts and scenarios.

Abstract

Since Hayek’s pioneering work in the 1930s, the Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) has been presented as a disequilibrium theory populated by less-than-perfectly rational agents. In contrast, we maintain that (1) the Austrian business cycle theory is consistent with rational expectations and (2) the post-boom adjustment process can be understood in an equilibrium framework. Hence, we offer a new interpretation of the existing theory. In doing so, we also address concerns raised with Garrison’s (2001) diagrammatic approach, wherein the economy moves beyond the production possibilities frontier. Our interpretation might accurately be described as a monetary disequilibrium approach grounded in an implicit general equilibrium framework with positive costs of reallocation.

Abstract

The concept of “neutral money” has a long history in monetary theory and macroeconomics. Like a number of other macro concepts, its meaning has been subject to a variety of interpretations over the decades. I explore the way in which Hayek used this term in his monetary writings in the 1930s and argue that “neutrality” for Hayek was best understood as the idea that monetary institutions were ideal if money, and changes in its supply, did not independently affect the process of price formation and thereby create false signals leading to economic discoordination, and especially of the intertemporal variety. This view was rooted in his work on money and the trade cycle in the late 1920s and early 1930s and also bound up with his understanding of “equilibrium theory.” The importance of his concept of neutrality was that it served as a benchmark for judging the comparative effectiveness of different monetary regimes and policies. That use is still relevant today.

Abstract

Lester and Wolff (2013) find little empirical support for the Austrian business cycle theory. According to their analysis, an unexpected monetary shock does not alter the structure of production in a way consistent with the Austrian view. Rather than increasing production in early and late stages relative to middle stages, they find the opposite – a positive monetary shock typically decreases production in early and late stages relative to middle stages. We argue that the measures of production and prices employed by Lester and Wolff (2013) are constructed in such a way that makes them inappropriate for assessing the empirical relevance of the Austrian business cycle theory’s unique features. After describing how these measures are constructed and why using ratios of stages is problematic, we use a structural vector autoregression to consider the effects of a monetary shock on each stage of the production process. We show that, with a clearer understanding of what is actually being measured by the stage of process data, the results are consistent with (but not exclusive to) the Austrian view.

Abstract

This paper analyzes the two main divergent interpretations of Federal Reserve monetary policy in the 1920s, the expansionary view described by Rothbard (2008a [1963]) and earlier “Austrian” writers, and the contractionary view most notably held by Friedman and Schwartz (1993 [1963]) and later monetary historians. This paper argues in line with the former that the Federal Reserve engaged in expansionary monetary policy during the 1920s, as opposed to the gold sterilization view of the latter. The main rationale for this argument is that the increase in the money supply was driven by the increase in the money multiplier and total bank reserves, both of which were caused primarily by Fed policy (i.e., a decrease in reserve requirements and an increase in controlled reserves, respectively). Showing that this expansion did in fact occur provides the first step in supporting an Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) interpretation of the 1920s, namely that the Federal Reserve created a credit fueled boom that led to the Great Depression, although this is not pursued in the paper.

Part II: The US and Canadian Experience Compared

Abstract

Austrian Business Cycle theory (ABCT) has lately drawn increased attention as a result of its ability to explain the US financial crisis of 2007–2009. However, its explanatory power is questioned by the Canadian experience of the crisis, where a similarly loose monetary policy to the United States did not give rise to a similarly calamitous outcome. Accounting for this difference points to the necessity of elaborating the political element already contained in ABCT. This task of political science is most fruitfully done by focusing on the regime, that is, the distribution of the state’s offices and powers. These shape the incentives and ideals that move political action toward the financial sector. Though both Canada and the United States have democratic regimes, their origins and historical development have caused these to vary in significant ways. These variances largely clarify why the negative consequences of easy money predicted by ABCT were less pronounced in Canada than the United States.

Abstract

Monthly 1980–2014 data are examined to determine how employment responds to money supply shocks in Canada and the United States. The focus of the analysis is a comparison of the real economies’ responses to the financial crisis and the great recession. Employment is used as a proxy for real output, though it may respond to monetary shocks with a longer lag. Vector autoregression models are specified, estimated, and interpreted. Impulse response functions are examined to assess the impact of innovations in monetary policy. A comparison of the response of employment to monetary innovations allows for evaluation of alternative business cycle theories and of the relative efficacy of Canadian v. U.S. monetary policy. Cross-border impacts are also assessed. Granger causality tests are used to examine whether money supply growth causes unemployment, whether monetary shocks cause higher or lower employment, and distinguish between short-run and long-run effects.

Abstract

Why did the United States experience a housing and mortgage market boom and bust in the 2000s, while analogous Canadian markets were relatively stable? Both US and Canadian markets are replete with government interventions. In this paper, I account for the US and Canada’s different experiences by arguing that government interventions are not created equal. Some government interventions prevent market participants from pursuing actions that ex ante are reckoned beneficial. Alternatively, other interventions lead to the pursuit of actions that turn out to be costly ex post. It is the latter type that we expect to manifest in crises. The US case is one where government interventions in the mortgage markets led to actions that appeared ex ante beneficial but were revealed to be costly ex post. Alternatively, Canada’s mortgage market was and remains essentially a regulated oligopoly. Regulatory capture makes for a sclerotic market that likely imposes costs on Canadian borrowers in the forms of limited financing options and higher interest rates. However, this sclerosis also lends itself to stability. This market structure made the Canadian mortgage market relatively insusceptible to a bubble.

Part III: The Political Economy of Regulation and Crisis

Abstract

The Federal Reserve regulates U.S. commercial banks using a system of risk-based capital (RBC) regulations based on the Basel Accords. Unfortunately, the Fed’s mis-rating of several assets such as mortgage-backed securities encouraged the build-up of these assets in the banking system and was a major contributing factor to the 2008 financial crisis. The Basel system of RBC regulation is a prime example of a Hayekian knowledge problem. The contextual, tacit, and subjective knowledge required to properly assess asset risk cannot be aggregated and utilized by regulators. An effective system of banking regulation must acknowledge man’s limited knowledge and place greater value on individual decisions than on top-down planning.

Abstract

During times of economic crises, the public policy response is to abandon basic economic thinking and engage in “emergency economic” policies. We explore how the current financial crisis was in part caused by previous emergency economic measures. We then investigate the theoretical limitations of emergency economic responses. We argue that these responses fail to take into consideration the practical conditions of politics, thereby making them unsuitable to remedy the problems of a crisis. Lastly, we provide a preliminary analysis of the consequences resulting from emergency economic policies initiated in response to the 2008 financial crisis.

Abstract

We repeat the mistakes of history because of the neglect of history, the imperfections of memory, and the complexity of social situations. I begin with a discussion of the first two and then turn to the third. After discussing the meaning and significance of complexity, I discuss the causal ambiguity surrounding economic policies and what this implies for the burden of proof in policy espousal and design. I consider the role of social institutions, their function and origins, and how they are able to facilitate human action in an economic environment of accelerating change. Institutions like markets, monetary systems, systems of common law, languages are all networks. So are groups of believers in the efficacy of certain kinds of economic policy. I consider the role of networks in general and in regard to economic cycles in particular. In the concluding section, I suggest that the implications of complexity for the occurrence of cycles, and the adoption of discretionary policies to deal with them, are likely not only to exacerbate the effects of the cycles, but also, more fundamentally, to subvert the fundamental institutional structure of our economy, what we may think of as our embedded constitutions, to the great long-term detriment of our economic health.

Cover of Studies in Austrian Macroeconomics
DOI
10.1108/S1529-2134201620
Publication date
2016-04-28
Book series
Advances in Austrian Economics
Editor
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
ISBN
978-1-78635-274-3
eISBN
978-1-78635-273-6
Book series ISSN
1529-2134