- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: McGraw-Hill Education; 1 edition (May 5, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0071592997
- ISBN-13: 978-0071592994
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 29 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,755 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Stabilizing an Unstable Economy 1st Edition
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From the Back Cover
Praise for the prescient work of Hyman P. Minsky
“Twenty-five years ago, when most economists were extolling the virtues of financial deregulation and innovation, a maverick named Hyman P. Minsky maintained a more negative view of Wall Street; in fact, he noted that bankers, traders, and other financiers periodically played the role of arsonists, setting the entire economy ablaze.”
--John Cassidy, The New Yorker
“The journey from subprime mortgages to a major credit crisis, a weak economy and broken business models in finance could all have been foreseen through Hyman Minsky’s perspectives. His work remains essential to understanding the ground beneath us and the path ahead.”
―-George Magnus, Senior Economic Adviser, UBS Investment Bank
“It is time to revive an old issue: Just how inherently unstable are economies? But instead of getting much guidance these days from contemporary economists, we need to turn to some of the giants from the past. The work of Hyman Minsky . . . is especially on the mark.”
--Jeff Madrick, The New York Times
“Hyman Minsky's work has never been more valuable. His financial instability hypothesis, complete with hedge, speculative and ponzi units, has played out to a T in the U.S. property and mortgage markets over the last half decade.”
--Paul McCulley, Managing Director, PIMCO
“As it happens, Minsky is enjoying something of a revival. Two of his books, John Maynard Keynes, and Stabilizing an Unstable Economy were just republished by McGraw-Hill, and his contention that stability is inherently unstable seems more relevant than ever in the aftermath of the period of low market volatility that ended in the current crisis.
"In the latter of those books, published in 1986, Minsky wrote, 'If the institutions responsible for the lender-of-last resort function stand aside and allow market forces to operate, then the decline in asset values relative to current output prices will be larger than with intervention; investment and debt financed consumption will fall by larger amounts; and the decline in income, employment and profits will be greater.' In other words, without government bailouts, there can be a downward spiral.”
--The New York Times
About the Author
Hyman P. Minsky, Ph.D., was an American economist who studied under Joseph Schumpeter and Wassily Leontief. He taught economics at Washington University, University of California--Berkeley, Brown University, and Harvard University. Minsky joined the Jerome Levy Economics Institute of Bard College as a distinguished scholar in 1990, where he continued his research and writing until a few months before his death in October, 1996. His two seminal books were Stabilizing an Unstable Economy and John Maynard Keynes.
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More valuable to you are his comments than mine, so I will quote Minsky as much as possible in this review and highly suggest its reading to fill in the gaps he so well articulates on his own. I decided to read this book because I'm not an economist and heard how his theories may better apply today than ever.
Many years later, the preface to this edition provides an excellent summary of Minsky's work. You do not need to be an expert to follow along. In the Introduction (8), Minsky points out that the institutional arrangements we have today in response to the Great Depression were set up pre-Keynes and with a pre-Keynesian understanding of the economy. ¨The evidence from 1975 indicates that, although the simple Keynesian model in which a large government deficit stabilizes and the helps the economy to expand is valid in a rough and ready way, the relevant economic relations are more complicated than the simple model allows. In particular, because what happens in our economy is so largely determined by financial considerations, economic theory can be relevant only if finance is integrated in the structure of the theory.¨
Minsky discusses Big Government and lender-of-last-resort (Federal Reserve or Fed) which is enlightening is and of itself. The balance of Chapters two and three are devoted to how these two interventions may work in theory. ¨To understand how Big Government stopped the economy's free fall, it is necessary to delve into the different impacts of government deficits on our economy ...¨ (24) He proceeds to define and then discuss three impacts: income and employment effect; budget effect; and portfolio effect. The standard view only incorporates one impact while Minsky argues and expanded view must incorporate all three views. ¨As a result of the 1975 experience, the issues in economic theory and policy that we should have to face are not about the ability of prodigious government deficit spending to halt even a very sharp recession but about the relative efficiency of specific measures and the side and after effects associated with particular policy strategies.¨ (24-25) I would suggest this has not been done effectively in response to the 2007 recession (started in Dec 2007 and has not been declared over as of this review writing (google "nber recession dates" for start and finish dates for this recession) which to date has had a more blind application of Keynesian without much thought as Minsky suggested long ago. Of interest is his discussion how Big Government entitlement programs impart an inflationary bias into the economy. (29)
Minsky's lender-of-last-resort includes a discussion on the lack of understanding of the inflationary side effects affects of intervention (51) and explosive growth of speculative liability structures (52) are as applicable today as to then. ¨Unless a theory can define the conditions in which a phenomenon occurs, it offers no guide to the control or elimination of the phenomenon.¨ He discusses the open market and discount window functions of the Fed and is instructive as to how the FOMC loses its power to affect member bank behavior, thus the Fed is not acting on intimate knowledge of banking practices. (54) Wow! Wasn't that also true this time! Minsky points out five causes of concern that the 1974 Chairman of the Federal Reserve System had appear as relevant today as to then as well: ¨first, the attenuation of the banking systems' base of equity capital; second, greater reliance on funds of a potentially volatile character; third, heavy loan commitments in relation to resources; fourth, some deterioration in the quality of assets; fifth, increased exposure to the larger banks to risks entailed in foreign exchange transactions and other foreign operations.¨
Minsky foresees how regulators (and politicians it seems) in imputing ¨...the difficulties he sees to either a laxness of regulatory zeal or, perhaps, some rather trivial mistake in how the regulatory bodies were organized, rather than to a fundamental behavioral characteristic of our economy.¨ (58) Even today, we see more shuffling of regulatory responsibilities and body creation rather than understand the behavior that causes the problems first in order to develop solutions.
He also points out how real estate was a problem back then as well, as result from explosive speculation. ¨The need for lender-of-last-resort intervention follows from an explosive growth in speculative finance and the way in which speculative finance leads to a crisis-prone situation.¨ (59) ¨Inasmuch as the successful execution of lender-of-last-resort functions extends the domain of the Federal Reserve guarantees to new markets and to new instruments there is an inherent inflationary bias to these operations; by validating the past use of an instrument, an implicit guarantee of its future is extended.¨ (58-59)
¨It is important to emphasize that ... any constraint placed on the Federal Reserve flexibility (e.g. by mandating mechanical rules of behavior) attenuates its power to act. Rules cannot substitute for lender-of-last-resort discretion.¨ Recall, the call by many to constrain the Fed? Minsky suggests otherwise. He also states ¨Certainly the bank examination aspects of the FDIC and the Federal Reserve should be integrated, especially if inputs from bank examinations are to become part of an early warning system for problem banks.¨ (64) This ties in with the idea above where the Fed has lost intimate knowledge of the banking practices.
Minsky discusses how the behavior of many actors need to be considered in a cohesive theory when he states ¨The dynamics of the financial system that lead to institutional change result from profit-seeking activities by businesses, financial institutions, and households as they manage their affairs.¨ (77) The problems that exist in the hierarchical financial system between mainstream banks and fringe banks is also noticed by Minsky years ago where a potential domino effect can cause serious disruptions as a result of the lender-of-last-resort guarantee to the mainstream banks as discussed on page 58. (97)
So far Minsky has laid the groundwork for actor interactions and issues. He then proceeds to theory. ¨In all disciplines theory plays a double role: it is both a lens and a blinder.¨ "It is ironic that an economic theory that purports to be based on Keynes fails because it cannot explain instability. ... Identifying a phenomenon is not enough: we need a theory that makes instability a normal result in our economy and gives us handles to control it." (111) "In what lies ahead, we will develop a theory explaining why our economy fluctuates, showing that the instability and incoherence exhibited from time to time is related to the development of fragile financial structures that occur normally within capitalist economies in the course of financing capital asset ownership and investment. We thus start with a bias in favor of using the market mechanism to the fullest extent possible to achieve social goals, but with recognition that market capitalism is both intrinsically unstable and can lead to distasteful distributions of wealth and power." (112) "The elements of Keynes that are ignored in the neoclassical synthesis deal with the pricing of capital assets and the special properties of economies with capitalistic financial institutions." (114) Minsky goes on to deconstruct both pre-Keynesian and and after-Keynesian constructs and synthesis. Minsky's "financial instability hypothesis" (127) addresses weaknesses he views in the neoclassical model. "In the neoclassical view, speculation, financing conditions, inherited financial obligations, and the fluctuating behavior of aggregate demand have nothing whatsoever to do with savings, investment, and the interest rate determination." (123) "In neoclassical theory, money does not have any significant relation to finance and the financing activity." (124) Minsky addresses the point that Keynes thoughts came out after government programs for reform and recovery were put into place, not the other way around and many may think today. (134) Minsky then develops how cause and effect to lay the ground work for his hypothesis throughout chapters 6 through 9 as he discusses in turn price relations allowing for government, foreign trade, consuming out of profits and saving out of wages, supply prices, taxes and government spending, financing of business spending, investment and finance, capital asset prices, investment, cash flows, and three kinds of financing (hedge, speculative and Ponzi: "The mixture of hedge, speculative, and Ponzi finance in an economy is a major determinant of its stability. (232)). "The main reason why our economy behaves in different ways at different times is that financial practices and structure of financial commitments change." (219) He calls the economy existing always in a transitory state.
Minsky then builds a larger model by discussion Institutional dynamics in Part 4. "Business cycles are `natural' in a investing capitalist economy, but to understand why this is so it is necessary to deal with the financing of investment and positions in capital assets explicitly." (249) He also recognized the distinction between commercial banks and investment banks and that the distinction between the two were breaking down even back in the 80's. (249) "In a capitalist economy money is tied up with the process of creating and controlling capital assets." (250) "Money is created as bankers go about their business of arranging for the financing of trade, investment, and positions in capital assets." (250).
Deposit (commercial banks) are emphasized in Chapter 10. Minsky's observation in the 80's rings as true today as it did then when he says "The narrow view that banking affects the economy only through the money supply led economists and policymakers to virtually ignore the composition of bank portfolios." (252) The rest of Chapter 10 explains how bank portfolio composition works and the economic effect this has.
Chapter 11 in about inflation. "My theory emphasizes the composition of financed demand and the spending of incomes that are allocations of profits as the determinants of the prices of consumption goods. It is compatible with the multiplier analysis in orthodox Keynesian theory" (254) "The determination of employment, wages, and prices starts with the profit calculations of businessmen and bankers. This proposition is in sharp contrast to the views of neoclassical monetarist theory." (255) Milton Friedman is a monetarist that he discusses next with this weakness in that theory in mind. Minsky develops his inflation theory by discussing money wages, price-deflated wages, government as an inflation engine, and trade union roles in inflation.
Part 5 is the culmination of his work where he discusses possible policy implications of his theory through the lens of his financial instability hypothesis. "Even if a program of reform is successful, the success will be transitory." (319) He continually reminds us that a dynamic system will need continual monitoring, adjustment and trade offs in the attempt to keep instability within reasonable bounds. An overarching agenda and approach should be developed to do this. An employment strategy should be developed, financial reform should be carefully crafted so as to not make matter worse.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I am not an economist. Minsky's description of the economy as developed through his instability model appears to describe much of how the interactions work, the inherent instability of a capitalist system, and his proposals to manage the instability appear to have merit for consideration. Especially in light of the 2007 recession.
Minsky appears to be an interesting combination of Keynesians who look to mitigate busts, and Austrians who look to prevent artificial booms.
For an easy read which builds a hypothetical economy, using an example of an island and fish on up, to describe economic history through the lens of the Austrian economic model: How an Economy Grows and Why it Crashes by Peter D Schiff and Andrew J Schiff.
For more on Keynes, this work by Hunter Lewis describes what Keynes said and what he didn't say side by side. Where Keynes Went Wrong: And Why World Governments Keep Creating Inflation, Bubbles, and Busts
Review by Larry Frank, author of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map For Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying To Go With Money?
To me his insights as to the dynamics of what drives asset bubbles, in particular, banks propensity to lend as well as agents propensity to borrow against assets as a function of recent history was so spot on it makes you smile were it not so sad that it just happened. Minsky has identified a particularly dangerous form of the animal spirits that Keynes and more recently Schiller have written about, especially in a fiat currency environment in which we are separated from the pricing of money mechanism that the central bank is empowered to control. This book is worth reading for a multitude of reasons. Not only does it make one think about the worlds inherent instability, for which no obvious solution exists, it reminds us that we need to work on policy that tries to generate negative feedback to counteract the positive feedback to take us from hedge finance, to speculative finance, to ponzi finance.
After reading this book, one is not an expert able to give a solution to endogenous money and asset price shock risks, but one can understand the problem much more deeply. Given the dynamics driving the instability isnt stationary and central bank measures often take a long time to filter through (obviousy example being raising rates yet continuation of property speculation) more time needs to be spent on what policy might induce counterbalancing feedback. After reading Minsky one can read policy recommendations and get a more complete sense of the influence and the merit in things like bank capital cushions being used to dampen multiyear volatility. This has always been a must read, but the recent and ongoing crisis is another re-affirmation to add this to ones cart.
1. Capitalist market mechanism cannot lead to a sustained, stable-price, full-employment equilibrium.
2. Serious business cycles are due to financial attributes that are essential to capitalism"
Minsky includes a good overview of the neoclassical synthesis and how the Walrasian 'village fair' economy is incompatible with Keynes' General Theory. He also sharply criticizes Hicks and Patinkin for 'bastardizing' Keynes.
Minsky's assertions sound so convincing I'm struck wondering why he was ignored. Whether it was from some serious flaw in his theory that I'm ignorant of or if it was merely political (Minsky is not afraid to point the blame at Monetarists and Reagan). However, Minsky's solutions in section 5 would be considered highly controversial today. In an age of neoliberalism I highly doubt too many politicians would campaign for a new CCC or WPA. Let alone the socialization of key capital intensive industries.
Be warned: Minsky often throws in long chains of causality that a layperson probably would not truely grasp. I recently finished a course in intermediate macroeconomics, basically teaching only the neoclassical theory, and sections 3&4 were still difficult. This is by no means a passive book.
Hopefully the next generation of economists may learn from the current crisis, with the help of men like Minsky, and successfully stabilize an unstable economy.
Most recent customer reviews
But for me (I'm not an economist) some parts were really deep, and It took me some time to understand it.
enormous debt, only to have a Ponzi like bubble to...Read more
those years.Read more