Category Archives: Money & Banking

The Origins of the Modern Concept of Money

French economists and the purchasing power of money

by Alain Béraud (alain.beraud@u-cergy.fr), THéorie Economique, Modélisation et Applications (THEMA), Université de Cergy-Pontoise (France)

Abstract

When French economists read The Purchasing Power of Money, they were primarily interested in the equation of exchange and the reformulation that Fisher proposed regarding the quantity theory of money. This reading led them to ponder the meaning that should be given to this theory and to study its empirical significance. Some of them, namely Rueff and Divisia, went further still and considered Fisher’s work as a starting point for their own analyses, which were related in particular to the monetary index, the integration of money into general equilibrium theory and the analysis of monetary phenomena in an open economy.

Keywords: quantity theory of money; price index; theory of purchasing power parity; marginal utility of money; integration of money into general equilibrium.

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/emaworpap/2013-10.htm

Review by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo

This paper was circulated by NEP-HIS on 2013-03-30. Alain Béraud, its author, offers a detailed account of how many French economist criticised Irving Fisher’s (1867–1947) quantity theory of money while others supported it. In particular, he explores the extent to which Firsher’s ideas appear within the work of two great French economists, namely François Divisia (1889-1964) and Jacques Rueff (1896-1978).

Alain Béraud – Professeur de Sciences Économiques
(Université de Cergy-Pontoise)

Fisher’s formulation of the equation of exchange (where the total price of commodities sold equals the total value of the money that was given in exchange) is now part and parcel of every undergraduate programme in economics. It is integral and fundamental to the current understanding of macroeconomic management. Given this plus the rise of digital payments, mobile-phone wallets and crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, it is important to remember and indeed timely, to have an in depth discussion about how our conception of money – then measured as notes and coins – came to be and how it was shaped by dissenting views. In this regard says Béraud:

From the time of its publication through to the 1930s, The Purchasing Power of Money was the reference work for French economists who interpreted it as the modern, rigorous version of quantity theory. But this theory was hardly popular. It is therefore not surprising that many French economists, while recognising its merits, fiercely criticised it. It was only in the 1920s that Rueff and Divisia, both graduates of the École Polytechnique where they had been students of Clément Colson, used this book to develop their own analyses of monetary phenomena. Here, I have defended the idea that their contributions were certainly original but were nonetheless based on ideas that Fisher had supported.

Front of French frank coin (1996), commemorating the life of Jacques Rueff

As noted above, through his narrative Béraud compares and contrasts how the work of Fisher was incorporated into the ideas of French economists. He also offers a rich discussion of the reasons why there was dissent and why many took exception and actively criticised Fisher’s work.

The picture that emerges from Béraud’s work allows us to see how economist of the early 20th century on both sides of the Atlantic are engaging in a type of debate that now dominates the discipline, namely highly quantitative and empirically based. Something that, I thought, only took place after World War II – and thus, happy to be set straight. Moreover, this sort of debate was something that, according to Walter Friedman’s brief biography of Fisher, characterised Fisher’s early contributions to our understanding of macroeconomic phenomena. However, we are not provided by Béraud with enough detail to ascertain if a debate with such characteristics was widespread in France or whether it is Béraud’s reconfiguration of the debate between monetary factors and prices, that which leads us to emphasise its quantitative, formal, empirical aspects.

It was also interesting to know that the contemporary discussion of Fisher’s ideas was hampered by lack of available data. For instance, Béraud notes that at this point in time: “data on bank deposits [was unavialble]. Only some establishments published monthly statements.” Here, in my view, some more context as to how and when such measures came to be mainstream and a brief reference to the overall construction of macroeconomic statistics in France would have given a bit more sense of perspective to the discussion.

In the same vein, I would have liked, as a manner of introduction, some context as to why, how relevant and how widespread the debate of Fisher’s ideas was in France during the interwar period. It seems French economists are very concerned with determining exchange rates and the future of the Gold Standard at the end of the First World War. But this is only mentioned in passing. For the international reader it would have also been helpful to have an introduction as to the broad configuration of French economists groups or lines of work at this point in time.

But for all my comments and on balance, this paper makes an interesting read.

François Divisia (1889-1964) – a founding member of the “Econometric Society”

Knowing the Who: Identifying the effect of entrepreneurs on firms

Do entrepreneurs matter?

Sascha O. Becker (s.o.becker@warwick.ac.uk), CAGE University of Warwick

Hans K. Hvide (hans.hvide@econ.uib.no), University of Bergen, CEPR and University of Aberdeen

Abstract

Within the broad literature on firm performance, economists have given little attention to entrepreneurs. We use deaths of more than 500 entrepreneurs as a source of exogenous variation, and ask whether this variation can explain shifts in firm performance. Using longitudinal data, we …find large and sustained effects of entrepreneurs at all levels of the performance distribution. Entrepreneurs strongly affect firm growth patterns of both very young firms and for firms that have begun to mature. We do not find significant differences between small and larger firms, family and non-family firms, nor between firms located in urban and rural areas, but we do find stronger effects for founders with high human capital. Overall, the results suggest that an often overlooked factor –individual entrepreneurs plays a large role in affecting firm performance.

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:wrk:warwec:1002&r=his
Review by Beatriz Rodriguez-Satizabal

Promoting entrepreneurship has been fashionable since the 1980s and there are no signs of it going away. Messages about the importance of becoming your own boss, giving something back to the society, and be an active agent of the economy are there to be seen everywhere on a daily basis. Governments around the world are constantly discussing new ways to increase the number of entrepreneurs and we also see on a regular basis articles within broadsheet newspapers and the popular media trying to identify and challenge those who see themselves grow by creating firms and markets.

In this paper, distributed by NEP-HIS on 2013-01-28, Hvide and Becker question the outcomes of investments to promote entrepreneurship during the last 20 years: Do the entrepreneurs really deliver technological change? Is it sustainable for an emerging country to allow a growing number of entrepreneurs? Is the longevity of the firm related to the characteristics of the founder? Should entrepreneurs be employees in their firms?

The idea of the entrepreneur as an important agent is not entirely new. But studying the role of the entrepreneur within the firm and its effect over its performance has been neglected. In this regard evidence documented in this paper is a step towards a better understanding of the effect of the entrepreneur over the performance of the firm.

Picture1

Based on the assumption that the death of an entrepreneur has an immediate effect on the firm due to the changes in corporate governance that it implies, Becker and Hvide constructed a database of Norwegian firms consisting of incorporated, limited liability companies for the period 1999 to 2007. The authors identified a total of 500 firms where the founding entrepreneurs died, providing an opportunity to quantify whether entrepreneurs have a causal effect on firm performance or not.

As a result of a thorough statistical analysis, the authors find that the effects are large and strong. The entrepreneur shapes the firm and affects its growth patterns. Entrepreneurs matter because of the loss of human capital (but, interestingly, the effect could be also negative as higher performance takes place after death of the founder). Surprisingly, Becker and Hvide do not find any difference between small and large firms, family and non-family owned, nor between firms located in rural or urban areas. This last result is certainly, in my view, an open call to bring the individual characteristics of the entrepreneur to the study of the firm, which is a unit that needs the human capital factor to success.

This paper is a valuable contribution to those studying entrepreneurship because it positions the role of the individual deep into the nature of firm performance rather than having it as a separate unit. It calls our attention over the widely spread assumption that entrepreneurs also innovate within the organization (Schumpeter) and have effects in and out of it (Baumol). If entrepreneurs matter, then knowing the who, why and how must be part of the discussion on public policy to promote entrepreneurship. Moreover, when in emergent countries the close relationship between the successful entrepreneurs and the government still persists.

Do banks facilitate economic growth? If so, what type?

Banks, free banks, and U.S. economic growth

Matthew Jaremski (Colgate University)
Peter Rousseau (Vanderbilt University)

Abstract

The “Federalist financial revolution” may have jump-started the U.S. economy into modern growth, but the Free Banking System (1837-1862) did not play a direct role in sustaining it. Despite lowering entry barriers and extending banking into developing regions, we find in county-level data that free banks had little or no effect on growth. The result is not just a symptom of the era, as state-chartered banks seem to have strong and positive effects on manufacturing and urbanization.

URL: http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/vanwpaper/vuecon-12-00012.htm
Review by Chris Colvin

Do banks facilitate economic growth, and if so, what type of banks do so best? Matthew Jaremski and Peter Rousseau attempt to answer this question by looking at the economic impact of the entry of “free banks” to the US market for banking services in the mid-nineteenth century.

Free banks, so called because they required no charter, were an early form of financial liberalisation which in the long-run proved to be unsuccessful; by 1863, one third of all the free banks ever created had closed.

The advent of free banking laws lowered entry barriers because any group of individuals could establish a bank, as long as they fulfilled certain requirements set down by the state in which they operated. The incumbent charter banks, by contrast, required significant political lobbying before they were permitted to open.

Jaremski and Rousseau look at a period of US history in which both types of bank operated side-by-side. Using county-level social, financial and economic data, they are able to track the impact, if any, of a bank opening on its locality.

Jaremski and Roussasu find that free banking had little effect on growth

Jaremski and Roussasu find that free banking had little effect on growth

Overall, they find that banks of any kind had a strong effect on local growth, especially in manufacturing. But when differentiating the impact by bank type (charter versus free), charter banks had a positive effect while free banks had little or no effect on growth.

So in conclusion, banks appear to facilitate economic growth, but free banks not so much. Why? The authors reckon it has something to do with: (1) what they were investing in (agriculture rather than manufacture); (2) what backed their note issues (some states required very little stable collateral); and (3) new banking legislation in the 1860s (which saw the advent of national banking).

The Open Access Debate and Economic History

This paper, which was distributed by NEP-HIS 2013-02-03, is an example of an alternative use of working paper series: the distribution of soon-to-be-published journal articles that have already gone through peer review. Jaremski and Rousseau are about to have this article published in Economic Inquiry; it is already available there on Early View.

Why do authors use working paper series for this purpose? Well, probably to improve the access to their work.

Improving access to academic work is a very live political issue here in the UK. There is much talk about ways to make academic research available to the general public. The UK government seems to be in favour of something called Gold Access, where researchers pay to have their work published in journals (see here). This strikes me as a way to prop up the status quo, to support publishers’ existing business models, which in my opinion have come under incredible pressure from digital paper archiving and distribution services like RePEc.

An alternative mooted by others has been dubbed Green Access, and is very much the spirit of what Jaremski and Rousseau do here: in addition to publishing work in the standard way, through an established journal with peer review, academics make a version of their article available free-of-charge through their own website or their institution’s online archive, perhaps after some time delay. Many publishers seem dead against this route, perhaps because it threatens their business model more than Gold Access would. But I think putting pressure on their business is a good idea; I reckon that the likes of Elsevier need this pressure in order to curb their market power.

The Economic History Society has recently sent at letter to the UK government committee tasked with looking into the issue of Open Access (see here). It is written from the perspective of not-for-profit academic publisher, and has a different assessment of the situation than me. I urge economic historians to read it and debate its implications, also those located outside of the UK.

Must we question corporate rule?

Financialization of the U.S. corporation: what has been lost, and how it can be regained

William Lazonick (University of Massachusetts-Lowell)

Abstract
The employment problems that the United States now faces are largely structural. The structural problem is not, however, as many economists have argued, a labor-market mismatch between the skills that prospective employers want and the skills that potential workers have. Rather the employment problem is rooted in changes in the ways that U.S. corporations employ workers as a result of “rationalization”, “marketization”, and “globalization”. From the early 1980s rationalization, characterized by plant closings, eliminated the jobs of unionized blue-collar workers. From the early 1990s marketization, characterized by the end of a career with one company as an employment norm, placed the job security of middle-aged and older white-collar workers in jeopardy. From the early 2000s globalization, characterized by the movement of employment offshore, left all members of the U.S. labor force, even those with advanced educational credentials and substantial work experience, vulnerable to displacement. Nevertheless, the disappearance of these existing middle-class jobs does not explain why, in a world of technological change, U.S. business corporations have failed to use their substantial profits to invest in new rounds of innovation that can create enough new high value-added jobs to replace those that have been lost. I attribute that organizational failure to the financialization of the U.S. corporation. The most obvious manifestation of financialization is the phenomenon of the stock buyback, with which major U.S. corporations seek to manipulate the market prices of their own shares. For the decade 2001-2010 the companies in the S&P 500 Index expended about $3 trillion on stock repurchases. The prime motivation for stock buybacks is the stock-based pay of the corporate executives who make these allocation decisions. The justification for stock buybacks is the erroneous ideology, inherited from the conventional theory of the market economy, that, for superior economic performance, companies should be run to “maximize shareholder value”. In this essay I summarize the damage that this ideology is doing to the U.S. economy, and I lay out a policy agenda for restoring equitable and stable economic growth.

URL http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/pramprapa/42307.htm.

Review by Bernardo Bátiz-Lazo

As I have noted before (see Bátiz-Lazo and Reese, 2010), financialisation has been coined to encompass greater involvement of countries, business and people with financial markets and in particular increasing levels of debt (i.e. leverage). For instance, Manning (2000) has used the term to describe micro-phenomena such as the growth of personal leverage amongst US consumers.

In their path breaking study, Froud et al. (2006) use the term to describe how large, non-financial, multinational organisations come to rely on financial services rather than their core business for sustained profitability. They document a pattern of accumulation in which profit making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production.

Instead, in the preface to his edited book, Epstein (2005) notes the use of the term as the ascendancy of “shareholder value” as a mode of corporate governance; or the growing dominance of capital market financial systems over bank-based financial systems.

Alternative view is offered by American writer and commentator Kevin Phillips, who coined a sociological and political interpretation of financialisation as “a process whereby financial services, broadly construed, take over the dominant economic, cultural, and political role in a national economy.” (Phillips 2006, 268). The rather narrow point I am making here and which I fail to elaborate for space concerns, is that ascertaining the essential nature of financialisation is highly contested and is in need of attention.

Sidestepping conceptual issues (and indeed ignoring a large number of contributors to the area), in this paper William Lazonick adopts a view of financialization cum corporate governance and offers broad-base arguments (many based on his own previous research) to explore a relatively recent phenomenon: the demise of the middle class in the US in the late 20th century. In this sense, the abstract is spot on and the paper “does what it says on the can”. Yet purist would consider this too recent to be history. Indeed, the paper was distributed by nep-hme (heterodox microeconomics) on 2012-11-11 rather than NEP-HIS. This out of neglect rather than design but goes on to show that the keywords and abstract were initially not on my radar.

William Lazonick

Others may find easy to poke the broad-stroke arguments that support Lazonick’s argument. Yet the article was honoured with the 2010 Henrietta Larson Article Award for the best paper in the Business History Review and was part of a conference organised by Lazonick at the Ford Foundation in New York City on December 6-7, 2012 (see program at the Financial Institutions for Innovation and Development website).

Lazonick points to the erotion of middle class jobs in a period of rapid technological change. This at a time when others question whether the rate of innovation can continue (see for instance The great innovation debate). Lazonick implicitly considers our age as the most innovative ever. But his argument is that the way in which the latest wave of innovation was financed is at the hear of the accompanying ever-growing economic inequality.

So for all its short comings, Lazonick offers a though provoking paper. One that challenges business historians to link with discussions elsewhere and in particular corporate governance, political economy and the sociology of finance. It can, potentially, launch a more critical stream of literature in business history.

References

Bátiz-Lazo, B. and Reese, C. (2010) ‘Is the future of the ATM past?’ in Alexandros-Andreas Kyrtsis (ed.) Financial Markets and Organizational Technologies: System Architectures, Practices and Risks in the Era of Deregulation, Basignstoke: Palgrave-Macmillan, pp. 137-65.

Epstein, G. A. (2005). Financialization and The World Economy. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar Publishing.

Froud, J., S. Johal, A. Leaver and K. Williams (2006). Financialization and Strategy: Narrative and Numbers. London, Routledge.

Manning, R. D. (2000). Credit Card Nation. New York, Basic Books.

Phillips, K. (2006). American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. London, Penguin.

Money for Nothing? Banking Failure and Public Funds in Michigan in the early 1930s

The Effects of Reconstruction Finance Corporation Assistance of Michigan’s Bank’s Survival in the 1930s

Charles W. Calomiris (cc374@columbia.edu), Joseph R. Mason (joseph.r.mason@gmail.com ), Marc Weidenmier (marc_weidenmier@claremontmckenna.edu), Katherine Bobroff (klbobroff@gmail.com)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18427&r=his

Abstract

This paper examines the effects of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation’s (RFC) loan and preferred stock programs on bank failure rates in Michigan during the period 1932-1934, which includes the important Michigan banking crisis of early 1933 and its aftermath. Using a new database on Michigan banks, we employ probit and survival duration analysis to examine the effectiveness of the RFC’s loan program (the policy tool employed before March 1933) and the RFC’s preferred stock purchases (the policy tool employed after March 1933) on bank failure rates. Our estimates treat the receipt of RFC assistance as an endogenous variable. We are able to identify apparently valid and powerful instruments (predictors of RFC assistance that are not directly related to failure risk) for analyzing the effects of RFC assistance on bank survival. We find that the loan program had no statistically significant effect on the failure rates of banks during the crisis; point estimates are sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and never estimated precisely. This finding is consistent with the view that the effectiveness of debt assistance was undermined by some combination of increasing the indebtedness of financial institutions and subordinating bank depositors. We find that RFC’s purchases of preferred stock – which did not increase indebtedness or subordinate depositors – increased the chances that a bank would survive the financial crisis. We also perform a parallel analysis of the effects of RFC preferred stock assistance on the loan supply of surviving banks. We find that RFC assistance not only contributed to loan supply by reducing failure risk; conditional on bank survival, RFC assistance is associated with significantly higher lending by recipient banks from 1931 to 1935.

Review by Sebastian Fleitas

The systemic risk of bank failures, and its macroeconomic consequences, led the Fed to take action when some banks started to fail in 2008. How much money did the Fed give to the banks in 2008? And even more important, was this money helpful to avoid banking failures? The latter question seems to be a key question every time that the government is implementing a program to try to stem bank failures and to reduce the economic cost of financial disintermediation.

Detroit skyline, circa 1930

The paper by Calomiris, Mason, Weidenmier and Bobroff, distributed by NEP-HIS on October 6th,2012, assess the success of a public support program aimed at banks in financial distress. This through assistance provided by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), ,a government-sponsored enterprise, to Michigan’s banks in the  1930’s.

Calomiris and friends offer a very interesting description of the timing of the crisis and a regression analysis of the impact of the RFC assistance. The period of analysis, from January 1932 through December 1934, covers two sub-periods: the first in which bank failures occurred sporadically; and a second sub-period in which the failures were concentrated and coincided with regional and national panics.

The banking crisis of 1933 in Michigan is situated in the middle of the period of analysis. This is a very important episode as it can be seen as a prelude to the national banking disaster as well as the Michigan hosting the automobile industry, an industry on the raise and of future importance for the national economy.

The role of the RFC changed between the two sub-periods. During the first period, the RFC main action was to help banks advance money on loan. The risk involved in these loans was mitigated through their short duration, strict collateralization rules and high interest rates. Although these rules protected the RFC from losses, they also limited the effectiveness of the RFC lending policy. However, on March 9, 1933 the Congress passed an act altering the original mandate, allowing the RFC to purchase preferred stock in some financial institutions that were considered as likely to survive. This opened the possibility for the RFC assistance to be more effective in the second sub-period than in the first one.

1940 Reconstruction Finance Corporation RFC Cartoon

Econometric estimates then try to identify the effect of RFC assistance. Specifically whether in light of an increasing rate of bank failures, the federal government had decided offer support to banks with greater risk of failure. In this sense, the dummy variable of RFC assistance is an endogenous variable, and this problem has to be addressed in order to consistently estimate the effect. To deal with this problem, the authors use two different estimation techniques and they use two sets of instruments. First, they use a set of instruments that indicate the correspondent relationships of each bank, that indicate the extent to which the bank was important within the national network of banking and also the correspondent relationships with Chicago and New York. Second, they included county specific characteristics that might have affected RFC assistance without affecting bank failure risk.

The authors conclude that the loans from the RFC did mitigate the risk of bank failure  but rather, that recapitalization (in the form of the purchase of preferred stocks) increased the likelihood of bank survival. Reasons why preferred stocks assistance was more effective included: a) because unlike loans, it neither increases the debt of the bank nor the liquidity risk or collateral requirements, b) the RFC was selective when choosing who was included in the program, and c) the RFC was able to prevent abuse from assisted banks. In general, they conclude that these results suggest that during a banking crisis, effective assistance requires that the government takes a significant part of the risk of the bank failure.

January 1931, Chester Garde

Emprical estimates in this paper concur with previous results in the literature. But by incorporating Michigan this papers offered added granularity and also improves in the use of econometric techniques used to address the issue of the effect of the RFC in banks failure. However, I think the paper could be improved by a more thorough discussion of the instruments used, in terms of why they can be assumed to be related to the RFC assistance and not directly related to bank failure. This is especially important because the results of the first stage estimations cast some doubt about the suitability of some of the instruments selected. Regarding the first set of instruments, one variable indicates the connections of a bank within the national network of banking and another one the relationships with Chicago and New York. However, in the first stage the effect of these two variables over the RFC assistant have different signs and their statistical significance depend on the period and specification of the model. A second concern is that they use the variable “Net due to banks over total assets” but this instrument is not significant in any first stage estimate. Banks with more creditors or debtors could be more important to save, but it could also be the case that these banks are more indebted with other banks because they are facing problems and thus they have more risk of failure. Regarding the second set of instruments, these variables generally fail to be consistently significant and the mechanisms through which they affect the decisions of the RFC without affecting the hazard of failure are not completely clear. Was the main proportion of the business of the banks concentrated at the county level at those times? Does the political importance of the county matter to allocate the assistance, even when the authors say that the manipulation of the RFC by Congress or the Administration was mitigated? Is the unemployment rate in the county in 1930 unrelated with the risk of failure of the banks during the crisis? A more deep consideration of these issues could help to understand why these variables are good instruments and why the results of the first stage estimations look like they do.

To sum up, this paper provides new evidence about the role of the RFC during the important period of 1932-1934. Furthermore, this paper addresses an issue that is relevant today: the efficiency of public funds to avoid bank failures. The general conclusion the authors achieve is that an effective assistance involves that the government assumes a significant share of the risk of bank failure. As in the thirties, in the present the government has spent lots of money trying to avoid the systemic risks related with the failures of some banks. This and other related papers in the literature can help us to understand the effects of a banking crisis in the real sector and the efficiency of public policies that try to reduce its negative impacts. This particular historical experience can not only shed light about what happened in that opportunity but also give us insights to approach these situations when they appear again, in particular to design better economic policies.