Tag Archives: Crowding out

Introductory Macroeconomics: On Crowding Out

Macroeconomics textbooks and journalists write in earnest about the crowding out effects of fiscal policy. Government expenditure is widely believed to displace private investment by raising interest rates which increases entrepreneurs’ borrowing costs. On this basis, governments have been ordered to cut down expenditure. Government deficits are identified as the cause of decreasing private investment as well as for creating inflationary pressures in the economy. This blog post argues that crowding out occurs under special circumstances – (1) when the economy is at full employment and (2) money supply is exogenous. In fact, when the economy operates at less than full employment and money supply is endogenous (that is, the central bank conducts monetary policy by adjusting the interest rates and the quantity of money endogenously adjusts to the demand for money at that set interest rate) government expenditure results in crowding in.

The crowding out argument can be represented with the help of the IS-LM diagram. IS refers to equilibrium in the goods market (quantity demanded = quantity supplied). LM refers to equilibrium in the money market (money demand = money supply). The intersection of the IS and LM curves gives us the equilibrium output and interest.

When government expenditure increases, IS curve shifts outwards. Both output and interest rates increase in an exogenous money model (upward sloping LM curve). The automatic increase in interest rate because of government expenditure is then said to result in crowding out of private investment.

Next, we look at interest setting monetary policy (with endogenous money) using the framework of IS-LM. In this case, LM is horizontal because the interest rates are set by the monetary authorities keeping in mind their inflationary target. This scheme is more realistic given the role played by Central Banks today. Interest setting monetary policy can be represented in an IS-LM framework as follows.

The goods market is also referred to as the real sector and the money market as the financial sector. We additionally assume (as is the case with not only the Indian economy but many other economies) the economy to be in a less than full employment position. If the economy operates at full-employment, increase in government expenditure will undoubtedly lead to inflation. In fact, an increase in private expenditure will also create inflation in a full employment set-up. In this realistic model, let us see what happens when there is an increase in government expenditure.

The diagram above clearly shows that an increase in government expenditure, represented as a shift in the IS curve does not raise the interest rates. The entire increase of government expenditure translates into increase in equilibrium income. That is, there is zero crowding out in this case as the economy operates at less than full employment. The increase in demand for money is met by endogenous increase in the supply of money through credit creation. In short, fiscal policy has no systematic effect on interest rates in a setting wherein the interest rates are set by monetary policy.

Therefore, it is clear that the basis of crowding out argument rests on the unrealistic assumptions of (1) full-employment positions and/or (2) exogenous money. Ordering the Indian government or other governments to cut back their expenditure by the IMF or by the ‘top’ economists therefore lacks a sound basis. The role of the government in aiding an economy towards its full-employment levels therefore can never be reiterated enough. Moreover, it is an argument which is based on sound economic principles.

Reference

Smith, Matthew (2012), ‘ECOS 2002: Intermediate Macroeconomics’, Lecture Notes, University of Sydney.

 

Employment: The Neglected Variable

Today, the issue of employment receives attention in public discussion mainly because of NREGA. It is economic growth or GDP growth which is given prominence in most policy documents. In economics, employment generation and related aspects form a part of macroeconomics alone. Financial economics, international trade, monetary economics, etc hardly comment on the issue of employment. Increasingly, the question of employment is getting less attention in most academic and policy oriented discussions. This post attempts to revive certain issues pertaining to employment. For this purpose, we revisit the 1943 paper of a neglected macroeconomist – Michal Kalecki. His paper straddles the fields of industrial economics, financial economics, public economics and macroeconomics, and provides insights regarding employment generation.

The generation of more employment, rather full employment, according to Kalecki, is beneficial to both government and capitalists. In addition, it also benefits the class of workers. Employment can be generated by capitalists or by the government. However, the government is restricted from generating employment because apparently government investment crowds out private or capitalist investment. In Kalecki’s words:

“The economic principles of Government intervention require that public investment should be confined to objects which do not compete with the equipment of private business, e.g. hospitals, schools, highways, etc. Otherwise the profitability of private investment might be impaired and the positive effect of public investment upon employment offset by the negative effect of the decline in private investment.”

It is for this purpose that we have Acts such as the FRBM Act to ensure sound finance. This Act regulates and limits the employment generation capacity of the government. As for the corporate sector, they never support public investment. Hence, the employment generating capacity gets solely determined by the corporate sector/capitalists.

Kalecki questions this stance of the capitalists. For, full employment, as noted above, clearly benefits the capitalists by providing them greater profits. He argues that it is the “political realities” associated with the maintenance of full employment which prevents the government and big business or capitalists from doing so. Given that the Government has to adhere to sound finance, largely, the capitalists determine the volume of employment in an economy. The capitalists tend to increase employment and output if they expect a good economic and political environment to be forthcoming. This environment is a dynamic and complex function of government policies, international events, political outcomes, etc. In economics, we call it state of confidence. Today, one factor which reflects this state of confidence is the bullish trend seen the stock markets. It is for this reason that, in India, SENSEX occupies such an important place in everyday news. Hence, the state of confidence assumes such an important role only in an economy where the government is supposed to maintain sound finance. As Kalecki points out:

“The social function of the doctrine of ‘sound finance’ is to make the level of employment dependent on the ‘state of confidence’.”

Similarly, on the politics involved in capitalists pressing for sound finance, Kalecki powerfully notes that:

“Under a laisser-faire system the level of employment depends to a great extent on the so-called level of confidence. If this deteriorates, private investment declines, which results in a fall of output and employment (both directly and through the secondary effect of the fall in incomes upon consumption and investment). This gives to the capitalists a powerful indirect control over Government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence must be carefully avoided because it would cause an economic crisis.”

Thus, regardless of whether we agree with Kalecki or not, he provides an interesting way to examine the issue of employment creation; especially for the Indian economy where FRBM Act is taken seriously and because of the growing significance of SENSEX. Such an analysis also calls for greater interdependence between macroeconomics, public economics, industrial economics and financial economics on one hand and between economics, political science, sociology and culture studies on the other. The latter sort of interdisciplinary inquiry will provide descriptions of actual processes by which such “politics” take place. This analysis by Kalecki also revives the classical notion of “political economy” which understands that economics cannot be divorced from politics. For practical purposes, it is of utmost importance that we pay more attention to the variable – employment, in our economics curricula and debates, especially in a country like India.

References

Kalecki, Michal (1971), ‘Political Aspects of Full Employment’, in Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy 1933-1970, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (full text available at Monthly Review)

Further reading

Bhaduri, Amit (2006), ‘The Politics of Sound Finance’, Economic and Political Weekly, 4 November.

 

Economic Survey of India 2010-11: A Critical Look

The Union Budget is presented based on the Economic Survey conclusions and recommendations. Therefore, the Economic Survey becomes a crucial document to examine and interpret. This time as well, the hands of its architect remain quite visible. Like the previous attempt, there is an increased use of economic theory – game theory, mechanism design, rational choice theories, etc – which provide support to various policy recommendations. According to this economic architect, all solutions are to be found in incentives. If the right incentives are provided, then economic and political governance will be smooth like that of the most competitive market. Agreed! What commonsense and insights from various social processes tell us is that individuals have heterogeneous preferences and what is an incentive for one might be poison for another. This blog post will examine some of these suggestions in detail (from Chapters 1 and 2 of Economic Survey 2010-11). In particular, the suggestions examined below will be those which have been favoured or disregarded based on arguments drawn from (neoclassical) economic theory.

Fiscal policy

Economic Survey 2010-11 assures the reader that India has recovered from the global financial crisis because of the high growth rates. For all practical purposes, this information indicates that we can now call for fiscal consolidation or lowering of the fiscal deficit. The usefulness of the government is over; let market forces function peacefully now without any government intervention!

“With clear evidence of economic recovery in 2009-10 as indicated by the Advance Estimates of the GDP, the Budget for 2010-11 resumed the path of fiscal consolidation with a partial exit from the stimulus measures.”

It is at the same time interesting and worrying to see this sort of rhetoric. Such rhetoric rests on the following premise: the opportunities for investment are limited (read: scarce) and the entry of the government will crowd out private investment. Surprisingly, this neoclassical idea, which is much promoted in our academic textbooks, fail to point out the fallacy of composition on which this argument is based. This argument does not recognise the interdependence in an economy. Wages generated from government jobs are not only used to purchase goods and services from the government sector. In fact, the wages and salaries generated by the government sector are spent in consuming goods and services produced by the private sector. It is certainly time policy makers understood the benefits of crowding in effects of government intervention. The expenditure, one should look for, is mainly in social services – education, health and employment.

Agriculture

Agriculture has been identified to be critical for macroeconomic stability and growth; although services sector is our potential growth engine. This can be read as: agriculture needs to grow at a level which will enable (the favourite word of the economic architect) the service sector to grow. Agriculture is carried out by majority of our fellow Indians (around 60 %) and it provides us food and raw materials. Our economic architect argues:

“The rise in prices of agricultural produce would in part help incentivize production; the moot question remains what proportion of the rise accrues to the producer and what proportion gets appropriated by middlemen. The creation of more direct farm-to-fork supply chains in food items across the country would be critical in incentivizing the farmer with higher producer prices and at the same time would lower the prices for end-consumers.”

Why are middlemen always blamed? Are they not the ones who aid production? Who exactly are these middlemen? Be that as it may, what is clear is that the middlemen have often more power (economic and social) than the actual producers. Majority of the farmers are forced to sell their product immediately after harvest owing to debt obligations. In addition, the (small) farmers do not benefit from the price rise because they do not have adequate storage facilities. As a matter of fact, even the Government only stores certain food grains in its godowns. Vegetable and fruits are not procured by the government. The undue emphasis placed on incentives by our economic architect is of concern. For one, production can only be carried out if the farmers have sufficient capital to purchase inputs. In India, the phenomenon of inter-linked markets is common in agriculture. That is, the same person provides credit as well as inputs to the farmers, thereby enjoying a very strong bargaining position over the farmer. Now, when our economic architect recommends FDI in retail food because they incentivise production, he is being blind to the production conditions of Indian agriculture. This can exacerbate the plight of the Indian farmer by making him/her subject to the contracts of the foreign firms. In this scenario as well, the farmer, owing to his/her weak bargaining power will never be able to enjoy higher prices. But yes, this could mean a lowering of prices for our urban consumers!

Inflation & employment

The subject of inflation has been dealt with in great detail in Chapter 2 of the Economic Survey 2010-11. In recent times, inflation has affected both the rural and urban consumers. However, as we know, the effect of inflation on the consumers are not equal in magnitude. Consumers who have very less income will be deeply affected by inflation. For instance, the small and marginal farmers are severely impacted when prices rise. Given this plight, the following statement by our economic architect is indeed baffling:

“It may be mentioned that food price inflation during the last financial year was mainly driven by high inflation in pulses, cereals, and sugar due to bad monsoon. The rise in the purchasing power owing to the rapid growth of the economy and inclusive programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) partly might have contributed to the upward trend in inflation.”

First of all, the above statement indicates an inadequate understanding of inflation. Secondly, what about the rising purchasing power of the urban consumers or the employees of BPOs. What makes our economic architect point fingers at those who barely manage a living? If the beneficiaries of NREGA were surviving by barely subsisting before NREGA, their purchasing power would not have risen so much post-NREGA to contrbute, as our economic architect suggests, to inflation. In fact, such statements indicate a gross misunderstanding of inflation, a lack of knowledge of how rural India operates and a insensitivity towards subsistence and livelihood in general.

Conclusion

It is high time that we seriously examined some of the tenets of conventional (neoclassical) economic theory. Today, a lot of students and professors of economics world over are questioning the premises and logic of neoclassical economics. However, we find neoclassical economics still domination in various forms, such as new institutional economics, mechanism design, law and economics, microeconomics etc. Given that some of the foundations of economic theory are in question, it is surprising to see how much our economic architect bases the policy recommendations on such apparent scientific and objective truths!