Minsky a good economist but missed Henry George and Silvio Gesell

Why Minsky matters : An Introduction to the Work of a Maverick Economist by Randall Wray.

My thoughts after reading this nice clear book are that Hyman Minsky, with his yearning for full employment, more equality and a stable financial system, would have revelled in the books of two non-economists – Henry George 1879 and Silvio Gesell 1906. Henry George’s writings would have given him answers to the eternal social justice conundrum and satisfied his curiosity about why Keynesian solutions tend to be inflationary. The route to full employment and more equality would then be staring him in the face. He wouldn’t  have had to struggle round arguing against a payroll tax when George had argued for a logical tax system so well. Minsky doesn’t quite get there. Wray merely implies he approached it when he said Minsky ‘did not see public purpose in discouraging work.’  And while he knew that boom and bust were inevitable, with exposure to Fred Harrison’s writings or those of Bernard Lietaer he would have understood the underlying causes.

Nor did Minsky get currency design, though he did say, ‘Anyone can create a currency. The problem is to get it accepted.’ Silvio Gesell would have provided a fundamental understanding of the importance of currency design. The idea that people can design currencies for different purposes is new to most people and, given Minsky’s mainstream education, he was probably never exposed to that. I think he would have been excited to read Gesell as it would have turned his knowledge of capital formation, interest rates, risk and banking upside down. But Minsky had to earn a living and couldn’t afford to stray this far from orthodox economic thinking. It was enough to argue against mainstream beliefs of macroeconomics like that the economy is naturally stable because the market moves it back to equilibrium. That was a life’s work.

Minsky is a clever mainstream economist, educated in universities that didn’t expose their students to Henry George or Silvio Gesell or even Bernard Lietaer. But within those limitations Minsky in 1987 predicted the explosion of home mortgage securitisation that eventually led to the Global Financial Crisis. He leaves us with a legacy of sentences and phrases like ‘Stability is destabilising’, ‘that which can be securitised will be securitised’, ’money manager capitalism’ and prescribes clear methods of reintroducing bank regulation. He explained debt on debt on debt layering, leveraged buyouts and many other otherwise obscure terms.

Well done Randall Wray for explaining the work of Hyman Minsky to the general public in such readable form. I am conscious that I have not read the original Minsky so hope I will not have been mistaken.

Derivatives for Dummies

This I found on the web. Sorry I can't acknowedge the writer. Others seem to have put it on their websites too. I asked a meeting of 35 people in New Plymouth the other day how many people know what a derivative is and only one person put up her hand. It is worrying that the shadow economy of at least $700 trillion is at least ten times as big as the real economy yet so few understand the shadow economy. A financial reporter in Australia said in 2009 all banks are exposed to toxic derivatives. If 1% of these contracts default because third parties get into trouble, the whole shareholder wealth would be wiped out and the banks could be broke. So here is the derivatives for dummies piece. Nice and easy. Derivatives for Dummies An Easily Understandable Explanation of Derivative Markets Heidi is the proprietor of a bar in Detroit . She realizes that virtually all of her customers are unemployed alcoholics and, as such, can no longer afford to patronize her bar. To solve this problem, she comes up with new marketing plan that allows her customers to drink now, but pay later. She keeps track of the drinks consumed on a ledger (thereby granting the customers loans). Word gets around about Heidi's "drink now pay later" marketing strategy and, as a result, increasing numbers of customers flood into Heidi's bar. Soon she has the largest sales volume for any bar in Detroit . By providing her customers' freedom from immediate payment demands, Heidi gets no resistance when, at regular intervals, she substantially increases her prices for whiskey and beer, the most consumed beverages. Consequently, Heidi's gross sales volume increases massively. A young and dynamic vice-president at the local bank recognizes that these customer debts constitute valuable future assets and increases Heidi's borrowing limit. He sees no reason for any undue concern, since he has the debts of the unemployed alcoholics as collateral. At the bank's corporate headquarters, expert traders transform these customer loans into DRINKBONDS, ALCOBONDS and PUKEBONDS. These securities are then bundled and traded on international security markets. Naive investors don't really understand that the securities being sold to them as AAA secured bonds are really the debts of unemployed alcoholics. Nevertheless, the bond prices continuously climb, and the securities soon become the hottest-selling items for some of the nation's leading brokerage houses. One day, even though the bond prices are still climbing, a risk manager at the original local bank decides that the time has come to demand payment on the debts incurred by the drinkers at Heidi's bar. He so informs Heidi. Heidi then demands payment from her alcoholic patrons, but being unemployed alcoholics they cannot pay back their drinking debts. Since, Heidi cannot fulfill her loan obligations she is forced into bankruptcy. The bar closes and the eleven employees lose their jobs. Overnight, DRINKBONDS, ALCOBONDS and PUKEBONDS drop in price by 90%. The collapsed bond asset value destroys the banks' liquidity and prevents it from issuing new loans, thus freezing credit and economic activity in the community. The suppliers of Heidi's bar had granted her generous payment extensions and had invested their firms' pension funds in the various BOND securities. They find they are now faced with having to write off her bad debt and with losing over 90% of the presumed value of the bonds. Her whiskey supplier also claims bankruptcy, closing the doors on a family business that had endured for three generations. Her beer supplier is taken over by a competitor, who immediately closes the local plant and lays off 150 workers. Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from the Government. The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-alcoholics.