Saving, Asset-Price Inflation, and Debt-Induced Deflation

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Post-Keynesian Conference Kansas City Summary The exponential growth of savings and debt takes the form mainly of loans to finance the purchase of real estate, stocks and bonds. These loans extract interest and amortization charges that divert revenue away from being spent on goods and services. The payment of debt service by the economy’s non-financial sectors interrupts the circular flow that Say’s Law postulates to exist between producers and consumers. Financial institutions re-lend their interest and other financial inflows as new loans to finance asset purchases. The result is that net savings do not increase for the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, lending out savings helps bid up asset prices, but does not necessarily promote new tangible investment and employment or increase real wages and commodity prices. In fact, new tangible investment and employment ...

The Mathematical Economics of Compound Rates of Interest: A Four-Thousand Year Overview Part I

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“Whoever enters here must know mathematics.” That was the motto of Plato’s Academy. Emphasizing such abstract ratios as the Pythagorean proportions of musical temperament and the calendrical regularities of the sun, moon and planets, its philosophy used the mathematics of nature to reveal an underlying harmony and order in the universe and hence, in an ideal society. But there was little quantitative analysis of economic relations. Although the Greek and Roman economies were increasingly wracked by debt, there was no measurement of this phenomenon, or of overall production, distribution and other macroeconomic measures. The education of modern economists still consists largely of higher mathematics whose use remains more metaphysical than empirically measuring the most important trends. Over a century ago John Shield Nicholson (1893:122) remarked that “The traditional method of English ...

The New Economic Archaeology of Debt

Introduction to Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East (ed. with Marc Van De Mieroop) (CDL Press, Baltimore, 2002) Economists, anthropologists and assyriologists have discussed the origins of debt and the setting of interest rates from such different perspectives that there has been remarkably little overlap or mutual discussion. Indeed, when economic theorists have ventured to speculate on the origins of debt, they usually have based their reasoning on a priori market-oriented principles rather than looking at the historical record. One of the aims of this colloquium is therefore to establish a more historically grounded basis for tracing the course of commercial and agrarian debt in Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and the logic that underlay the Clean Slates that annulled agrarian and personal debts (while leaving commercial debts intact). Economists are ...

I Meet the Leading Authority on the Babylonian and Near East Tradition of Debt Cancellation

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Copy of a regular newsletter by Boudewijn Wegerif, Sweden WHAT MATTERS-77 Dear list members, Yesterday I was with an American economist who says of himself that he is a Marxist, whose godfather was Leon Trotsky, whose father was thrown in prison in the US in 1941 for advocating the overthrow of the government, who has worked for the Chase Manhattan Bank as their balance of payments expert, and who is now an authority on the Babylonian and Near East tradition of debt cancellation. I was with someone who in another guise, as musician, once auditioned to conduct the orchestra of the Stockholm Opera Company: - someone whom I had been told I would find extremely rude, with a verbal bite as sharp as his bark, and who I found, in fact, to be ...

The Mathematical Economics of Compound Rates of Interest: A Four-Thousand Year Overview Part II

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2. Why Economies Develop Debt Crises: The Mathematics of Compound Interest The past century’s economic schoolbooks have described a universe running down from entropy. Production is assumed to be plagued by diminishing returns, so that each additional unit of input produces less and less output. Even if technology were recognized to raise the productivity of labor, capital and land over time, neoclassical models hold that each additional unit of consumption or wealth yields diminishing psychological utility. Not only will economies grow less rapidly, they will feel poorer. Large parts of the population in many countries are indeed becoming poorer and forced into debt, but the pessimistic assumptions cited above make no reference to debt. Their seeming independence from finance – and from social policies to deal with debt problems and wealth distribution ...

How Interest Rates Were Set, 2500 BC – 1000 AD

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Originally published in Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient 43 (Spring 2000):132-161 Máš, tokos and fænus as metaphors for interest accruals* * An earlier draft of this paper has benefited from comments by William Hallo, the late W. F. Leemans, Johannes Renger, Piotr Steinkeller, Cornelia Wunsch and Norman Yoffee. For the points on which I was unable to convince them, I take full responsibility. ABSTRACT. The earliest interest rates in Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome were set not economically to reflect profit or productivity rates, but by the dictates of mathematical simplicity of calculation. The interest that was born calendrically did not take the form of young animals, but rather of the unit fraction, the smallest unit fraction in each of the above fractional systems: 1/60th in Mesopotamia, 1/10th in ...

Did the Phoenicians Introduce the Idea of Interest to Greece and Italy – and if so When?

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(from the Temples of Enterprise book in progress) Delivered at a symposium at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, March 15th-16th, 1990, this article was published in Gunter Kopcke and Isabelle Tokumaru, eds, Greece between East and West: 10th – 8th Centuries BC (Mainz: Verlag Phillip von Zabern, 1992). This paper seeks to establish that interest‑bearing debts were introduced to the Mediterranean lands from the Near East, most likely by Syrian (“Phoenician”) merchants in the 8th century BC along with their better known innovations such as alphabetic writing. Contrary to what was believed until quite recently, such debts – and for that matter, commercial and agrarian debts even without interest charges – are by no means a spontaneous and universal innovation. No indications of commercial or agrarian debts have been ...