Will Bitcoin crash and resurrect?

NOT BITCOIN but better.

One use of Bitcoin is for anonymous transactions, i.e., as a substitute for ordinary cash or bank notes.

The problem is that the currently available bitcoins fluctuate in value. The ideal is a bitcoin that is stable for at least a certain determinate or even indefinite time against a major currency, such as the US dollar. In short, we want or need an alternative bitcoin that is like a dollar banknote. We imagine this alternative works better than keeping banknotes under the mattress or in a safe deposit box, because it avoids thievery and the transaction costs of going to the safe deposit box.

It can be done. The easiest is for the US Fed to do it. It would allow anyone to buy something we might call the official bitcoin dollar in exchange for a guarantee that bitcoin dollars are exchangeable into US banknotes. If this works, it will be because it would reduce the costs now paid by the central bank for printing currency and going after counterfeits. In this scenario, the blockchain ensures that counterfeit official bitcoins cannot exist.

Another way is for a major private bank to ‘create’ its bitcoin dollar. Imagine that Chase does it, and calls it the Chase bitcoin dollar. All it is is a special debit card account where Chase guarantees to make the Chase bitcoin dollar exchangeable for cash. The guarantee is in effect a promise that Chase will honor Chase bitcoin dollar liabilities ahead of its any other liabilities. To ensure such a guarantee, Chase would enter into a ‘currency board’ arrangement with the US Fed by maintaining Fed fund balances in a separate special account solely for the purpose of redeeming Chase bitcoin dollars. In short, the fractional nature of the private banking system will not apply to bitcoin dollars.  

The blockchain also allows Chase to ensure that no other entity can create Chase bitcoin dollars. The ‘supply’ of Chase bitcoin dollars will always be the same as the demand for such dollars.

Any other private bank would be allowed to participate in a ‘branded’ bitcoin currency. I can imagine HSBC issuing special debit cards for HSBC bitcoin dollars, HSBC bitcoin euros, or HSBC bitcoin yen. They may be allowed to compete through enhancements on convenience of use, allowing for fee-free global transfers, or even the payment of interest.  

One important enhancement would be US consumer protections against fraud now being given to users of credit cards. Any merchant declining to honor a bitcoin debit card would be presumed to be up to no good.

The similarity with bank notes will have to be carried to an extreme that meets certain anonymity and privacy standards. The issuer of a bitcoin dollar will have to honor the bearer of the account provided that said bearer satisfies identity requirements. 

At the same time, the use of such accounts will have to be protected by bank secrecy rules, but subject to money-laundering limits. For example, bitcoin dollar transactions in a particular account cannot exceed $10,000 per day, and a bank cannot allow a depositor more than one bitcoin dollar account. A maximum-balance limit of, say, $100,000 per account, could be imposed, in parallel with limits now applied under existing deposit insurance schemes.
Central banks could also impose limits on how many bitcoin dollar accounts an individual can have. To protect banks from money-laundering, bitcoin dollar accounts would not be available to corporations.

Will the advent of such official or private bitcoin dollars kill the existing bitcoins? It could, especially if bitcoins continue to be more attractive as speculation vehicles than as means of payment.

But bitcoin exchanges could create ‘hybrid’ bitcoins whose ‘mining’ or supply-side arrangements are fully transparent, and whose value could be stabilized in some fashion desired by the bitcoin holder. In short, there could be different bitcoins for different purposes. Caveat emptor and ‘know your customer’ rules would still be needed. However, such bitcoins would remain without guarantees similar to deposit insurance, and they may still be vehicles for speculation.

My best guess: Bitcoins will evolve, i.e., the fittest will survive. The Dutch tulip variety will become extinct. As of now, they’re pretty much as primitive as Dutch tulips.

Some (maybe strange) economics questions

 

1. Can economics say anything about unforeseeable (uninsurable) disasters? I’m thinking about the idea that a butterfly moving its wings can cause a global tsunami.

2. Will robots cause permanent unemployment? Rephrase this question. In ancient history, the nobility didn’t do the work because they had vassals and slaves. Were the nobles unemployed? Was that a bad thing? Is employment/underemployment/unemployment an issue of quality of life?

3. What exactly is poverty? If stray dogs are poor, and pet dogs are rich, is it good policy to control the population of stray dogs? Or is it better policy to have feeding stations for stray dogs? Or is it an even better policy to mandate that those who have pet dogs also feed the poor and hungry humans nearby? After all, we seem to always say that humans have rights that animals don’t.

HW for EC 11 – Macroeconomics and Unemployment

For readings, please refer to my lecture notes on macroeconomics, and to Mankiw’s chapter on the natural rate of unemployment. For extra-credit questions, you may have to do further research or readings.

Please answer the following questions, and submit your answers by email by March 2, 2016.

  1. What is the most important difference between microeconomics and macroeconomics?
  2. Explain Say’s Law. Why is it important for an understanding of macroeconomics?
  3. How does Mankiw define the natural rate of unemployment?
  4. According to Mankiw, what are the four reasons why the natural rate of unemployment is not zero? Are these reasons important in the context of the Philippine economy?
  5. It is said that macroeconomics is essentially the economics of unemployment and inflation. Why, in your opinion (based on your readings or research), do policy-makers not aim for zero unemployment and zero inflation?
  6. Extra credit: What is the Okun Index of Misery? Can it be improved by including a poverty index?
  7. Even more extra credit: Construct an Okun Misery Index for the Philippine economy. How far back in time could you go? (Hint: data may be available in the websites of BSP and IMF.) Is it affected by the prevailing economic policies of various Presidents? (Anyone – even a group of up to three – answering this question well will be exempted from taking a final exam.)
  8. Extra credit: Explain in your own words the Neoclassical Synthesis (this is from previous studies in EC 12, History of Economic Thought).

How are money and inflation institutions?

The macro textbooks usually say that inflation comes from the supply of money. In a regime of fiat monies, central banks “compete” at providing stable money. However, some central banks’ hands are tied by their governments’ desire to use the inflation tax. If you don’t trust the local money, you can always switch to foreign exchange, gold, or even Bitcoin.

But if money is what folks accept as such, its devaluation must also come from folks collectively thinking that the central bank intends to print more.  Its rise in purchasing power can also come from holders thinking of it as a “safe” money.

Veblen once defined institutions as collective habits of thought (at p.107).  That means that to predict inflation, one must anticipate the price expectations and strategies of buyers and sellers of money. Today, cash is king, so that it makes sense to see low or even negative inflation and interest rates.

This means that the macro textbooks don’t have the full story. Inflation is also a story of institutions in the sense of Veblen.

Forced Saving

Early in the history of the debate between Keynes and Hayek, the two struggled without success to clarify the meaning of something called “forced saving.”

It turns out that they didn’t really disagree; they just didn’t agree on definitions.

The following are notes based on excerpts of an article by Roger Garrison.

EXCERPTS FROM Garrison. http://www.auburn.edu/~garriro/strigl.htm

Hayek and Keynes:
The problem with Hayek’s “forced saving,” then, is that it presents itself syntactically as a kind of saving while referring contextually to a pattern of investment. Hayek himself was certainly alive to this point even as early as his Monetary Theory and the Trade Cycle. In a chapter titled “Unsettled Problems in Trade Cycle Theory,” Hayek ([1928] 1975, p. 220) referred to the term as a “rather unfortunate expression.” He preferred the phrase “artificially induced capital accumulation.” In his subsequent “Note on the Development,” Hayek ([1939] 1975, p. 197) mentions Keynes’s avoidance of the term in his Treatise on Money: “Keynes … rejects this terminology [forced saving] and prefers to speak simply of investment being in excess of saving; and there is much to be said in favor of this.” But despite Hayek’s and others’ dissatisfaction with using the term to refer to a pattern of investment rather than a kind of saving, forced saving (both the term and the concept) has come to be considered the sine qua non of Austrian business cycle theory and particularly of Hayek’s rendition of that theory.

Mises and Hayek:
There is an easy—though only partial—reconciliation between Mises’s and Hayek’s contrasting formulations. It comes from our recognition that Hayek’s “forced saving,” rather than being the antonym of “overconsumption,” is actually a synonym for “malinvestment.” With unduly favorable credit conditions, the business community is investing as if saving has increased when in fact saving has decreased. There is no contradiction here between Mises and Hayek but rather a contradiction recognized by both in the market forces associated with a credit-driven boom. It is this contradiction, if fact, that lies at the root of the boom’s unsustainability. A fuller resolution of the differences between Mises and Hayek requires a closer look at “forced saving” and “overconsumption” as used by each.

MY NOTES
Hayek had a concept of “forced saving” that is equivalent to “malinvestment” or investment in excess of what is optimal (optimal being consistent with maximizing society’s welfare). Indeed, he accepted that he really meant it to mean “artificially induced capital accumulation.”

Keynes tried to wrestle with the idea, and used it, according to Hayek, to mean something else: the excess of (desired) aggregate investment by firms over (actual) saving of households (assuming that only firms invest and only households save). The term would then cover an unwanted and unexpected increase in business inventories (that might signal that producers are producing more than quantity demanded at the prevailing prices). The concept, in the language of Keynes, could easily have been named “forced investment.”

We can then reconcile Keynes with Hayek. In either of these two’s views, forced saving comes at the down-turn of the business cycle. But in Hayek’s views, forced saving also happens at the boom, when there is over-investment by firms who have a too-rosy projection of future demand; the forcing factor here is artificially low interest rates arising from too-easy monetary policy.

Garrison states that the concept of forced saving is central to Austrian business cycle theory.

Econ 12 – Assignment No. 4 due Feb. 10, 2015

Prepare, individually, short written answers to the following questions, and submit them to me by e-mail (oroncesval@gmail.com) on or before February 10, 2015. Most of the answers can be found in Chs. 8, 9, 10, and part of Ch. 13 of the Backhouse textbook. You should also do some independent research using other sources.

1.Summarize the ideas and theories in institutional economics. Include the economic thought of Veblen, Commons, Wesley Mitchell, and Galbraith.
2.What is the Tragedy of the Commons? Explain. (Here, you may consult: http://www.sciencemag.org/site/feature/misc/webfeat/sotp/pdfs/162-3859-1243.pdf.)
3.What is Keynesian economics? What is the role of ‘animal spirits’ in Keynesian economics?
4.What is the so-called neoclassical synthesis between neoclassical economics and Keynesian economics?
5.What is the main difference between the ideas in Keynesian economics and the so-called New Classical Macroeconomics?
6.What is general equilibrium theory, and what’s wrong with it?

Please bring hard copies of your submissions for giving out to me and your classmates when we meet again on February 11.

Where is the Philippine peso going? Up and away? Up and down?

There has been some recent wrangling over the plight of OFW families because the peso has risen. One foreign bank active in local financial markets has predicted a P40 to US$ exchange rate for 2013-14. In an academic paper, Prof. Gerardo Sicat of the University of the Philippines has raised the issue of whether the economic managers, mainly the central bank (the BSP) and the fiscal authorities, should do something about the matter. Sicat’s main beef is that the government has adopted a very conservative fiscal policy that has contributed to the peso appreciation.

The conventional wisdom is that the peso has strengthened because foreigners are optimistic about the domestic economy, and they have been a major factor behind the recent stock market gains. The peso rise has hurt the families receiving dollar remittances as well as our local exporters and the call center-BPO sector, but then at the same time it benefits those who own peso assets. This piece of arithmetic is also a given, although some people seem to focus more on the supposed ill effects of peso appreciation. The latest IMF report considered the peso ‘not overvalued’ in 2011 and early 2012 when the US$ rate was P43.3. Observers like Prof. Sicat are right to ask whether a P40 rate might be overvalued.

Continue reading “Where is the Philippine peso going? Up and away? Up and down?”