Hawtrey’s Good and Bad Trade: Part II

Here I am again back at you finally with another installment in my series on Hawtrey’s Good and Bad Trade. In my first installment I provided some background on Hawtrey and a quick overview of the book, including a mention of the interesting fact (brought to my attention by David Laidler) that Hawtrey used the term “effective demand” in pretty much the same way that Keynes, some 20 years later, would use it in the General Theory.

In this post, I want to discuss what I consider the highlights of the first six chapters. The first chapter is a general introduction to the entire volume laying out the basic premise of the book, which is that the business cycle, understood as recurring fluctuations in the level of employment, is the result of monetary disturbances that lead to alternating phases of expansion and contraction. It is relatively easy for workers to find employment in expansions, but more difficult to do so in contractions. From the standpoint of the theory of economic equilibrium, the close correlation between employment and nominal income over the business cycle is somewhat paradoxical, because, according to the equilibrium theory, the allocation of resources is governed by relative, not absolute, prices. In the theory of equilibrium, a proportional increase or decrease in all prices should have no effect on employment. To explain the paradox, Hawtrey relies on the rigidity of some prices, and especially wages, an empirical fact that, Hawtrey believed, was an essential aspect of any economic system, and a necessary condition for the cyclicality of output and employment.

In Hawtrey’s view, economic expansions and contractions are caused by variations in effective demand, which he defines as total money income. (For reasons I discussed about a year and a half ago, I prefer to define “effective demand” as total money expenditure.) What determines effective demand, according to Hawtrey, is the relationship between the amount of money people are holding and the amount that they would, on average over time, like to hold. The way to think about the amount of money that people would like to hold is to imagine that there is some proportion of their annual income that people aim to hold in the form of cash.

The relationship between the amount of cash being held and the amount that people would like to hold depends on the nature of the monetary system. Hawtrey considers two types of monetary system: one type (discussed in chapter 2) is a pure fiat money system in which all money is issued by government; the other (discussed in chapter 3) is a credit system in which money is also created by banks by promising to redeem, on demand, their obligations (either deposits or negotiable banknotes) for fiat money. Credit money is issued by banks in exchange for a variety of assets, usually the untraded IOUs of borrowers.

In a pure fiat money system, effective demand depends chiefly on the amount of fiat money that people want to hold and on the amount of fiat money created by the government, fiat money being the only money available. A pure fiat money system, Hawtrey understood, was just the sort of system in which the propositions of the quantity theory of money would obtain at least in the medium to long run.

[I]f the adjustment [to a reduction in the quantity of money] could be made entirely by a suitable diminution of wages and salaries, accompanied by a corresponding diminution of prices, the commercial community could be placed forthwith in a new position of equilibrium, in which the output would continue unchanged, and distribution would only be modified by the apportionment of a somewhat larger share of the national product to the possessors of interest, rent, and other kinds of fixed incomes. In fact, the change in the circulating medium is merely a change in the machinery of distribution, and a change, moreover, which, once made, does not impair the effectiveness of that machinery. If the habits of the community are adapted without delay to the change, the production of wealth will continue unabated. If customary prices resist the change, the adjustment, which is bound to come sooner or later, will only be forced upon the people by the pressure of distress. (p. 41)

In a fiat money system, if the public have less money than they would like to hold their only recourse is to attempt to reduce their expenditures relative to their receipts, either offering more in exchange, which tends to depress prices or reducing their purchases, making it that much more difficult for anyone to increase sales except by reducing prices. The problem is that in a fiat system the amount of money is what it is, so that if one person manages to increase his holdings of money by increasing sales relative to purchases, his increase in cash balances must have be gained at the expense of someone else. With a fixed amount of fiat money in existence, the public as a whole cannot increase their holdings of cash, so equilibrium can be restored only by reducing the quantity of money demanded. But the reduction in the amount of money that people want to hold cannot occur unless income in money terms goes down. Money income can go down only if total output in real terms, or if the price level, falls. With nominal income down, people, wanting to hold some particular share of their nominal income in the form of money, will be content with a smaller cash balance than they were before, and will stop trying to increase their cash balances by cutting their expenditure. Because some prices — and especially wages — tend to be sticky, Hawtrey felt that it was inevitable that the adjustment to reduction in the amount of fiat money would cause both real income and prices to fall.

Although Hawtrey correctly perceived that the simple quantity theory would not, even in theory, hold precisely for a credit system, his analysis of the credit system was incomplete inasmuch as he did not fully take into account the factors governing the public’s choice between holding credit money as opposed to fiat money or the incentives of the banking system to create credit money. That theory was not worked out till James Tobin did so 50 years later (another important anniversary worthy of note), though John Fullarton made an impressive start in his great work on the subject in 1844, a work Hawtrey must have been familiar with, but, to my knowledge, never discussed in detail.

In such a banking system there is no necessary connexion between the total of the deposits and the amount of coin which has been paid to the banks. A banker may at any time grant a customer a loan by simply adding to the balance standing to the customer’s credit in the books of the bank. No cash passes, but the customer acquires the right, during the currency of the loan, to draw cheques on the bank up to the amount lent. When the period of the loan expires, if the customer has a large enough balance to his credit, the loan can be repaid without any cash being employed, the amount of the loan being simply deducted from the balance. So long as the loan is outstanding it represents a clear addition to the available stock of “money,” in the sense of purchasing power. It is “money” in the the sense which will play, in a community possessing banks, the same part as money in the stricter sense of legal tender currency would play in the fictitious bankless community whose commercial conditions we previously have been considering. This is the most distinctive feature of the banking system, that between the stock of legal tender currency and the trading community there is interposed an intermediary, the banker, who can, if he wishes, create money out of nothing. (PP. 56-57)

This formulation is incomplete, inasmuch as it leaves the decision of the banker about how much money to create unconstrained by the usual forces of marginal revenue and marginal cost that supposedly determine the decisions of other profit-seeking businessmen. Hawtrey is not oblivious to the problem, but does not advance the analysis as far as he might have.

We have now to find out how this functionary uses his power and under what limitations he works. Something has already been said of the contingencies for which he must provide. Whenever he grants a loan and thereby creates money, he must expect a certain portion of this money to be applied sooner or later, to purposes for which legal tender currency is necessary. Sums will be drawn out from time to time to be spent either in wages or in small purchases, and the currency so applied will take a little time to find its way back to the banks. Large purchases will be paid for by cheque, involving a mere transfer of credit from one banking account to another, but the recipient of the cheque may wish to apply it ot the payment of wages, etc. Thus the principal limitation upon the banker’s freedom to create money is that he must have a reserve to meet the fresh demands for cash to which the creation of new money may lead. (Id.)

This is a very narrow view, apparently assuming that there is but one banker and that the only drain on the reserves of the banker is the withdrawal of currency by depositors. The possibility that recipients of cheques drawn on one bank may prefer to hold those funds in a different bank so that the bank must pay a competitive rate of interest on its deposits to induce its deposits to be held rather than those of another bank is not considered.

In trade a seller encourages or discourages buyers by lowering or raising his prices. So a banker encourages or discourages borrowers by lowering or raising the rate of interest. (p.58)

Again, Hawtrey only saw half the picture. The banker is setting two rates: the rate that he charges borrowers and the rate that he pays to depositors. It is the spread between those two rates that determines the marginal revenue from creating another dollar of deposits. Given that marginal revenue, the banker must form some estimate of the likely cost associated with creating another dollar of deposits (an estimate that depends to a large degree on expectations that may or may not be turn out to be correct), and it is the comparison between the marginal revenue from creating additional deposits with the expected cost of creating additional deposits that determines whether a bank wants to expand or contract its deposits.

Of course, the incomplete analysis of the decision making of the banker is not just Hawtrey’s, it is characteristic of all Wicksellian natural-rate theories. However, in contrast to other versions of the natural-rate genre, Hawtrey managed to avoid the logical gap in those theories: the failure to see that it is the spread between the lending and the deposit rates, not the difference between the lending rate and the natural rate, that determines whether banks are trying to expand or contract. But that is a point that I will have to come back to in the next installment in this series in which I will try to follow through the main steps of Hawtrey’s argument about how a banking system adjusts to a reduction in the quantity of fiat money (aka legal tender currency or base money) is reduced. That analysis, which hinges on the role of merchants and traders whose holding of inventories of goods is financed by borrowing from the banks, was a critical intellectual innovation of Hawtrey’s and was the key to his avoidance of the Wicksellian explanatory gap.

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21 Responses to “Hawtrey’s Good and Bad Trade: Part II”


  1. 1 Ray Newton September 25, 2013 at 1:56 am

    Hi David, May I compliment you an another excellent piece of economic ‘hogwash’. ( ‘Hogwash’ – a 15th century English word for pig swill, and today applied to meaningless drivel)

    One only need read the ‘basic premise’ quoted. (‘Basic’ premise? Surely the premise should be the very basis of a theory, or plot, but juggle a few offshoot premises in with the mix could help the ‘blind with science’ strategy).

    As you appear so well read on Hawtrey, David, I would love to hear your opinion of how he would address, which to my mind is the greatest economic and social challenge facing mankind today, and which no government cares to talk about. They would rather divert us with ‘climate change.

    The challenge being – how do we provide a sound economic climate in a world where the population is growing at an accelerating rate, yet, at the same time we have an accelerating expansion in technology that is making physical labour redundant. This happening NOW, and each day the condition deteriorates.

    Social deprivation breeds crime. Today the US has the largest incarcerated population in the world. Collage graduates are out of work, or taking jobs in low paid service industries. It is spreading world wide.

    The only provisions that are stopping armed people on the streets ( though we are seeing more of that) are welfare payments and food stamps, etc., vast prisons, new ones being built, and people recruited for the military with
    dwindling areas where conflict can be organised to provide for their use.

    Yes, money creation is easy in a digital age, where trillions can be be made to appear at the touch of a few fingers – no raw materials required. It can flash around the globe in seconds.

    Two centuries ago, before Wellington could meet and defeat Napoleon at Waterloo, they had to borrow the gold to pay for it. It took time to raise, and ship it. It had to be repaid in gold, or value thereof. Today, we have virtual gold (derivatives) yes, even digital gold. People trade it daily, not even knowing whether the ‘actual’ real stuff is there – they don’t even care.

    One phrase Washington does not like to use or hear is – ‘this time it is different’.

    People cling to hope, day by day, but eventually that hope wears thin. Inflations eats away at the earnings of those in employment and the gap closes between them and those on benefit/welfare. Something has to give.

    I won’t go on, there is much more to the growing very serious problem, and one that cannot, this time, be resolved by a world war.

    “… Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man….” (Friederich Nietzsche)

  2. 2 Ray Newton September 25, 2013 at 2:13 am

    That should be ‘college graduates’ but you provide no facility to edit. There are one or two other small errors’ which, if such a provision had been provided I would correct. I must, therefore, apologise, even though I noticed errors in yours, consequently perhaps you should look at the possibility of providing this facility. Merely a ‘feedback’ suggestion.

  3. 3 Roman P. September 25, 2013 at 3:43 am

    So, Hawtrey was a Pre-Post-Keynesian, eh? Cool stuff. I must say that before reading your blog I didn’t consider Hawtrey to be on par with Keynes and Kalecki.

    Re: “…it is the comparison between the marginal revenue from creating additional deposits with the expected cost of creating additional deposits that determines whether a bank wants to expand or contract its deposits.”
    I am not sure it is right to frame the problem in this way. A lot of people affiliated with banking stress that banks aren’t constrained by the costs of reserves (and the amounts of money people want to deposit in banks). Francis Coppola, for example, states that the bank officers who make loans rarely, if ever interact with officers who obtain reserves since it is unneeded; reserves could always be obtained later at some cost and the spread is always positive.

    Inasmuch as amount of loans hinges on decisions of both banks to lend and their clients to borrow, pessimism of the either side leads to the fall in amount of credit money. So it mostly hinges on considerations of credit-worthiness – I don’t think it is easy or fruitful to work that into explicit MR=MC framework.

  4. 4 Ray Newton September 25, 2013 at 6:00 am

    Roman P. “….Inasmuch as amount of loans hinges on decisions of both banks to lend and their clients to borrow, pessimism of the either side leads to the fall in amount of credit money. So it mostly hinges on considerations of credit-worthiness …..”

    How on earth do you arrive at this conclusion? Is most of the world not currently suffering (and will continue to do so for a long time to come) from exactly the opposite – a fair period in which NO CONSIDERATION was given
    to credit worthiness. This, not by one bank, or one nation’s bank, but just about all the international western banking fraternity per se.

    Have you just arrived from another planet? If so, you are partly excused.

    When I read this stuff here, you convince me that it will never be an academically nurtured economist who will help save our planet.

    Incidentally, international banks are only ‘constrained’ by orders filtering down from the ‘central bank’ governing all – the Federal Reserve, and, at present, to some extent, by growing mass public awareness, and their anger when voicing their long pent up opinion. How do I know? They have blatantly shown us.

    They would certainly have nothing to fear from you, to ‘curtail them’ or, as it seems, any ‘economist’ posting here.

  5. 5 Roman P. September 25, 2013 at 6:33 am

    And here I hoped the comments counter was increased by an answer from our gracious host, or maybe some other (sane) visitor.

  6. 6 Ray Newton September 25, 2013 at 7:10 am

    And you feel your contribution represents an example of ‘sanity’?

    At least we have an exisiting condition to support my comment. I could provide more. I asked you how do you arrive at yours, and hopefully provide an example to support. I am always ready to learn.

  7. 7 Blue Aurora September 26, 2013 at 12:58 am

    Your series has been going so far, so good, David Glasner.

    Keynes and Hawtrey definitely agreed on the importance of the non-neutrality of money as a phenomenon with genuine practical implications in reality, despite them disagreeing over The General Theory.

    That stated, I’d like to ask a few questions that recently popped into my mind:

    1.) How different would things be for R.G. Hawtrey had he, like J.M. Keynes, went to study under Alfred Marshall after finishing his undergraduate education? (Although J.M. Keynes never sat for the Economics Tripos in the end, it is quite clear that he was a diligent student with a solid grasp of Alfred Marshall’s teachings. I have the feeling that R.G. Hawtrey would definitely have mastered Alfred Marshall’s teachings, even if he also decided against sitting for the Economics Tripos in the end like J.M. Keynes did.)

    2.) Does Ralph G. Hawtrey ever mention the “Real Bills Doctrine” or the “Law of Reflux” in the entire corpus of his work? If so, what did he make of those concepts?

  8. 8 JP Koning September 26, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Hi David, good post.

    If it wasn’t Hawtrey’s face gracing the page of your blog, which economist would it be? Tobin? He gets an awful lot of mentions on your blog.

    You once mentioned that Tobin never properly explained what determined the price level in his 1963 paper. Did Hawtrey have a better idea for what determined the price level?

  9. 9 lorenzofromoz September 27, 2013 at 6:09 am

    Another enlightening post. I very much enjoy the running education you provide on the history of economic thought.

  10. 10 Ray Newton September 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    A ‘history’ of economic thought that covers barely a hundred years, out of a very significant – at least a good 3000 years, is surely somewhat lacking in ‘enlightenment’ for those with a desire for real vision and understanding.

    This is particularly so when one discovers that the groundwork of our present system was set in place in the very early days, long before ‘academia’ became even an idea, and most people in our world could neither read nor write. They arrived at it from observation, and a profound understanding of human behaviour – the underlying keystone of economics.

  11. 11 Mike Sproul September 29, 2013 at 11:26 am

    “it leaves the decision of the banker about how much money to create unconstrained by the usual forces of marginal revenue and marginal cost”

    It’s easy to imagine a world where the rate of interest, or the borrowing/lending spread, has nothing to do with how much money gets created. For example, if people want more silver coins, then someone will find it profitable to stamp silver into coins, regardless of the rate of interest. If people want fewer coins, people will find it profitable to melt the coins and they will reflux to bullion. The issuers of coins might get smart and simply hold the silver in a vault while issuing circulating paper or electronic claims to the coins, but the issuance/reflux process still works the same way. The issuers might get still smarter and issue money to anyone who brings in an equal value of silver, wheat, land, etc., and still the interest rate would play no role in the issuance/reflux process. The interest rate only starts to matter when money is issued in exchange for interest-bearing securities, but even then it seems like a minor issue compared to the requirement that the bank should get assets of adequate value in exchange for the money issued.

  12. 12 David Glasner September 29, 2013 at 11:30 am

    Ray, I don’t think that Hawtrey would have a very different answer to the “challenge” you refer to from the answer given by most other economists, which is that adjustments in relative prices will alter the incentives for employers to choose among various more or less labor-intensive production processes. I am not exactly sure where it is that population is growing at an accelerating rate. Certainly not in the US, Europe or East Asia.

    Roman P. I take your point that bank officers who make loans are necessarily in touch with those that obtain reserves. However, similar observations might be made about marketing and production sectors of corporations. We (economists) don’t dismiss the marginal cost/marginal revenue paradigm because the decision making in the modern corporation does not seem oriented to such decision-making.

    Ray, Your comments really are getting out of hand. If you want to keep posting comments, you might want to tone it down several decibels.

    Blue Aurora, Good questions, but, sorry to say, I have no real answer for either. The first seems so speculative, I would hardly even know how to begin to answer it. The second is pretty straightforward, and probably has a straightforward answer, but I just don’t know what it is. I will try to look through some of the material I have and see if I can come up with anything for you later.

    JP, Interesting question; don’t really know. I love one paper by Tobin, but I am a big fan of his other work. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just that his work, apart from that one paper, has not been very influential in my thinking. The difference between Tobin and Hawtrey on the price level is that Tobin seemed in much of his work to have some sort of non-monetary theory of the price level, while Hawtrey was very clear that the price level was mainly determined by monetary forces.

    Lorenzo, Thanks.

    Ray, Perhaps, in spare moments when you are not posting comments on this or any other blogs, you would like to write your own “history” of economic thought. I have no doubt that there are lots of readers eager to read your take on the first 3000 years of economics.

  13. 13 Ray Newton September 30, 2013 at 7:38 am

    David,

    You will find I have addressed your responses to my other comments you added at the close of the other two previous ‘updates’.

    Now for this one. You write: “..I don’t think that Hawtrey would have a very different answer to the “challenge” you refer to from the answer given by most other economists, which is that adjustments in relative prices will alter the incentives for employers to choose among various more or less labor-intensive production processes….”

    I am not quite certain of your point here. Are you saying that if Hawtrey’s, and you add, and most other economist’s ‘theory,’ were taken seriously, and adopted, that employers (of their own accord) would choose various more or less production processes that would need more labour (for which even current technological advances can eliminate – this, ignoring what is coming down the road?)

    Employers, history shows, under the current US capitalist system, will always seek, first, whatever provides to produce, satisfactorily, at the lowest possible cost, and as, up until now, one of the highest elements of production costs, direct, and indirect, has been labour cost.

    To continually shift production around the world, to wherever a nation’s economy has been beaten to the ground by this and other practices, may, for a time, alleviate one nation’s problem, but is hardly going to resolve the over all problem of a world that draws closer by the day, by, travel, media, and shared experience.

    The growing population question, I will treat in my next comment. This gives you time to think over your ‘answer by question’ to me, and re-adjust if you note its apparent lack of logic, reason, and fact.

    Incidentally,I have worked on lowering what you see as metaphorical decibels, and hope they now attune to the ear.

  14. 14 Ray Newton September 30, 2013 at 7:40 am

    May I add that the words set in parenthesis in your quotes above are mine

  15. 15 Ray Newton October 1, 2013 at 2:46 am

    I make no apologies for again bringing forth the words of a great visionary, writer who uses his chosen genre to bring enlightenment to what many, though not I, see as an ever darkening world. It is how we use light and dark that counts, as any artist will confirm.

    “….It is changes, continuing changes, inevitable changes that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be….” (Isaac Asimov)

    In tune, I believe, with the current topic, I raised what I saw as the greatest challenge facing human existence – that of an ever growing world population, and an ever growing technology that replaces the need for labour. The mass, as we know, require the need for their labour, to exchange for the means of their survival, even if aspirations for acquiring the creature comforts of modern life were not a growing integral part of the equation.

    Now, along comes, what at first seemed fantasy – 3D printers. I have seen this heralded as ‘Goodbye Dear China, your days are numbered’. Meaning, of course, that we will no longer need to seek nations providing cheap labour to satisfy our needs. So it will be once again, ‘America rules’. Of this last item, nothing could be further from truth.

    The short sightedness of some pseudo economists is hard to take in. I wonder how Hawtrey et al would have viewed this? Would they have had the foresight to see the impact on economics – macro and micro, and social order? As with all technology, these printers will get cheaper, as they now are. They will become more sophisticated, as they now are. There already appears little or no limit on what they can produce.

    They are, we have been informed, to be transported to the space stations to make them almost self sufficient. As it now appears, one installed in every one’s garage, could make them virtually, self sufficient. This is not dream stuff, it exists, and is growing.

    What a new world is unfolding, as the old order is collapsing. The greatest survival technique is to adapt to change. And that means adapting our thinking. Move over Hawtrey, Keynes, Friedman, and even Adam Smith, and let some aspiring new blood out there take up the torch and run with it.
    This is not just the future, it is now. We are in the transition period, and it will be a long one.

    Can we expect government to highlight this? Of course not for obvious reasons, one of them being that as yet they do not have the answers Far better to keep us occupied with ‘National Security’, and ‘Climate Change’. Unfortunately for them, a wild tiger was unleashed with information technology and stimulating growing enquiring minds.

    Answers will be found, and the world will adjust, over time. It is within the process that the problems will occur, especially for those who find profound change too much to handle for both mind and body.

  16. 16 David Glasner October 3, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Mike, There are two ways of equilibrating the market for the medium of exchange. One is quantity adjustment, the other is price adjustment. Depending on the circumstances, and the cost to the issuer of altering the cost of holding its liabilities via the payment of interest, one or the other method of equilibration may be more important. In a modern money environment, it seems to me that the payment of interest and the adjustment of those rates would become an increasingly important method of equilibration.

  17. 17 Blue Aurora October 5, 2013 at 12:45 am

    David Glasner: Well yes, I suppose it is too speculative to answer properly. But is there any evidence suggesting that R.G. Hawtrey eventually read any work by Alfred Marshall, even if he was an autodidact in economics?

  18. 18 David Glasner October 5, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    Blue Aurora, I would be very surprised, actually shocked, if Hawtrey did not read Marshall. He was an autodidact, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t read a lot.

  19. 19 Blue Aurora October 6, 2013 at 8:46 am

    David Glasner: True, you don’t have to be a bookworm to be an autodidact, or the other way way around. But have you come across anything in any of R.G. Hawtrey’s books which suggest that he did read anything by Alfred Marshall at some point in his life? (I am aware that they were distant relatives.)

  20. 20 David Glasner October 9, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Blue Aurora, I checked the indexes of the books by Hawtrey in my possession. I found Marshall mentioned in Capital and Employment, and A Century of Bank Rate. In Capital and Employment he is mentioned in two contexts, one on the theory of capital and investment, the other Marshall’s idea that bank lending rates operate primarily by encouraging or discouraging speculation which Hawtrey strongly disagrees. In a Century of Bank Rate, Hawtrey mentions Marshall in connection with the idea that speculation is sensitive to bank lending rates and also credits Marshall for having anticipated Fisher’s distinction between the real and nominal rates of interest. Hawtrey does not mention Marshall in either Good and Bad Trade or Currency and Credit, his chief works of monetary theory, or in his book The Economic Problem which was a general treatise on economics written in 1925.


  1. 1 Hawtrey’s Good and Bad Trade, Part III: Banking and Interest Rates | Uneasy Money Trackback on October 1, 2013 at 8:49 pm

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About Me

David Glasner
Washington, DC

I am an economist at the Federal Trade Commission. Nothing that you read on this blog necessarily reflects the views of the FTC or the individual commissioners. Although I work at the FTC as an antitrust economist, most of my research and writing has been on monetary economics and policy and the history of monetary theory. In my book Free Banking and Monetary Reform, I argued for a non-Monetarist non-Keynesian approach to monetary policy, based on a theory of a competitive supply of money. Over the years, I have become increasingly impressed by the similarities between my approach and that of R. G. Hawtrey and hope to bring Hawtrey's unduly neglected contributions to the attention of a wider audience.

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