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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Economics

Year Degree Awarded

Fall 2014

First Advisor

Robert Pollin

Subject Categories

Economic History | Macroeconomics

Abstract

Following Minsky, an economy can be understood as a set of units linked to each other by flows of money payments and by the commitments to future payments reflected on balance sheets. This dissertation offers three accounts of the historical evolution of the US economy, conceived of a network of balance sheets, over the course of 20th and early 21st century. The first essay looks at changes in the pattern of payment flows between nonfinancial corporations and financial markets associated with the ``shareholder revolution" of the 1980s. It argues that the shift in payouts to shareholders from a quasi-fixed stream of dividends to a claim on every dollar actually or potentially available to the firm, has had important effects on the behavior of aggregate investment; in particular, it has weakened the link between corporate investment, on the one hand, and earnings and credit conditions, on the other. The second essay looks at household debt. It argues that that the evolution of household debt-income ratios must be understood as a monetary phenomenon and not merely the reflection of developments in ``real" expenditure and income. Decomposing the changes in household debt since 1929 using an appropriate accounting framework shows that changes in household behavior account for only a small part of the trajectory of household leverage over the past 80 years. The third essay applies this same broad perspective to the historical evolution of interest rate spreads. It argues that from a Keynesian perspective that regards interest as fundamentally the price of liquidity, there is no conceptual basis for picking out the difference in yield between money and a short-term government bond as``the" interest rate; there are many other pairs of asset yields the difference between which is determined on the same principles, and may have equal macroeconomic significance. This perspective helps make sense of the increasing gap between the policy rate and the interest rates facing most private borrowers.

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