Home > Uncategorized > Textbooks — peddling lies about money and finance

Textbooks — peddling lies about money and finance

from Lars Syll

slide_6A couple of years ago — in a debatewith James Galbraith and Willem Buiter — Paul Krugman made it perfectly clear that he was a strong believer of the ‘loanable funds’ theory.

Unfortunately, this is not an exception among ‘New Keynesian’ economists.

Neglecting anything resembling a real-world finance system, Greg Mankiw — in his intermediate textbook Macroeconomics — more or less equates finance to the neoclassical thought-construction of a ‘market for loanable funds.’

On the subject of financial crises, he admits that

perhaps we should view speculative excess and its ramifications as an inherent feature of market economies … but preventing them entirely may be too much to ask given our current knowledge.

This is, of course, self-evident for all of us who understand that genuine uncertainty makes any such hopes totally unfounded. But it’s rather odd to read this in a book that bases its models on assumptions of rational expectations, representative actors and dynamically stochastic general equilibrium – assumptions that convey the view that markets – give or take a few rigidities and menu costs – are efficient! For being one of many neoclassical economists so proud of their consistent models, Mankiw here certainly is flagrantly inconsistent! 

And as if being afraid that all the talk of financial crises might weaken the student’s faith in the financial system, Mankiw, in his concluding remarks, has to add a more Panglossian warning that we

should not lose sight of the great benefits that the system brings … By bringing together those who want to save and those who want to invest, the financial system promotes economic growth and overall prosperity


Finance has its own dimension, and if taken seriously, its effect on an analysis must modify the whole theoretical system and not just be added as an unsystematic appendage. Finance is fundamental to our understanding of modern economies, and acting like the baker’s apprentice who, having forgotten to add yeast to the dough, throws it into the oven afterwards, simply isn’t enough.

I may be too bold, but I’m willing to take the risk, and so recommend Krugman and Mankiw to make the following addition to their reading suggestions in the next editions of their textbooks …

Fallacy 2

Urging or providing incentives for individuals to try to save more is said to stimulate investment and economic growth.

Saving does not create “loanable funds” out of thin air. There is no presumption that the additional bank balance of the saver will increase the ability of his bank to extend credit by more than the credit supplying ability of the vendor’s bank will be reduced. If anything, the vendor is more likely to be active in equities markets or to use credit enhanced by the sale to invest in his business, than a saver responding to inducements such as IRA’s, exemption or deferral of taxes on pension fund accruals, and the like, so that the net effect of the saving inducement is to reduce the overall extension of bank loans. Attempted saving, with corresponding reduction in spending, does nothing to enhance the willingness of banks and other lenders to finance adequately promising investment projects. With unemployed resources available, saving is neither a prerequisite nor a stimulus to, but a consequence of capital formation, as the income generated by capital formation provides a source of additional savings.

William Vickrey Fifteen Fatal Fallacies of Financial Fundamentalism

Or why not recommend the students to read what the Bank of England — hardly an institute we can accuse of being a heterodox MMT peddler — has to say about the loanable funds theory and money multipliers:

Economic models that integrate banking with macroeconomics are clearly of the greatest practical relevance at the present time. The currently dominant intermediation of loanable funds (ILF) model views banks as barter institutions that intermediate deposits of pre-existing real loanable funds between depositors and borrowers. The problem with this view is that, in the real world, there are no pre-existing loanable funds, and ILF-type institutions do not exist. Instead, banks create new funds in the act of lending, through matching loan and deposit entries, both in the name of the same customer, on their balance sheets … In the real world, there is no deposit multiplier mechanism
that imposes quantitative constraints on banks’ ability to create money in this fashion. The main constraint is banks’ expectations concerning their profitability and solvency.

Zoltan Jakab & Michael Kumhof / Bank of England

  1. Vince
    May 11, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Another good article, there is actually no restriction on bank lending other as you say their confidence to lend. As long as they do it in step banks can get away with such behavior for quite some time(decades), until something goes wrong and it all reverses very quickly, as we found in 2008.

  2. May 11, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    It is a very simple fact; banks do not create money, they rent credit.

  3. May 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    I agree. You point out a great strength of heterodox as opposed to (even?) New Keynesian theory. Unfortunately, not all heterodox or anti-orthodox textbooks have great coverage of this issue; it is an area where as a heterodox macroeconomist who likes SFC modeling, I feel there is room for improvement in the various books our movement has to offer. Thanks.

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