The big thermos flask in a microwave

First thing to note is that what we call 'light' is part of a spectrum which includes not only light but other waves like radio waves microwaves ultraviolet and infrared waves. Each of these waves has different wavelengths like waves on water or sound waves gave different pitches.
Things get their temperature in three ways - conduction, convection (circulating), and radiation. Turns out only convection and radiation are relevant to gases like air.

Light comes from the sun which is awfully hot, that means it is mostly visible with some uv and a little infra red. It hits the surface and some if it is absorbed. That surface then remits light at a different frequency- more like infra red (think night vision).

So the key question is what should the temperature of the earth be, given the amount that is absorbed and reflected. Turns out roughly -15C, when the actual temperature is +15C. So what's going on.

Some of that mostly infra red 'light' that gets remitted is again absorbed by molecules that 'bend' - ie those with three atoms in them CO2, H2O. That bending has its own frequency just like a pendulum on a clock has its own frequency- that can make it vibrate. Turns out we can onserve that frequency in the lab - it's not conjecture. It's in the infra red. So it turns out that the earth's surface emits this radiation and we know that co2 and h2o will absorb it.

So then once they absorb and re-emit some of that stuff is sent back to the surface. So the surface is trying to send infra red into space but the atmosphere is sending some of that  stuff back to earth level. That back radiation acts a bit like a blanket around the earth.

So why does air get cooler as it rises? Because the pressure goes down because there is less air above pushing it down.

Eventually it actually gets warmer - higher than Everest the temperature starts to go up again because the Air is then so thin it never bumps into each other.

So how does the 'earth' get its temperature?? Turns out its all about radiation. The surface of the earth is in a radiative equilibrium with the sun, influenced by the greenhouse gas blanket. As the air gets thinner it gets cooler (due to reduced pressure) (and then hotter again). But it's the surface that matters. The law of pressure is relevant in regard to looking at how hot and cold Everest is relative to the surface but the question makes only limited sense because it's the surface of the earth which is the interface between our planet and the rest of the world through radiative (light) absorption. The top of the atmosphere is surrounded by a vacuum. It's like putting a thermos flask in the microwave - the earth can get heated up even though surrounded by a vacuum because there's radiation that can pass through the vacuum.

Dimensions of Economic Management

I was thinking about the following main dimensions of macroeconomic management (taken to include monetary and fiscal policy).
  1. The difference between state spending and state revenues influencing the level (debt) and rate of change (deficit or surplus) of the 'national debt'*.[*I mean by 'national debt' (quotes are intentional) both the bonds issued by the state, including any bought by the central bank, plus any reserves or banknotes directly issued by the state or central bank (i.e. people's QE)
  2. The composition of how that national debt is financed (bonds and/or reserves), and the interest rate charged on it - i.e. on bonds or reserves (positive, zero or negative)
  3. The quantity and rate of change of private credit in the economy (influenced by capital ratios and capital levels, in the past and in  China reserve ratios and reserve levels, controls on non-bank lending and credit guidance; also influenced by whether banks are permitted to issue deposits usable in the payment system)
  4. The composition of tax revenue, in particular the expected tax rate and thus the rate of return on marketable non-debt monopolistic assets (e.g. land and land value tax).
  5. The composition of state spending (including spending on 'people's QE')
  6. The composition of private credit (both deposit-creating credit, if permitted, and other credit such as bonds or P2P lending) between investment, consumption and asset purchase (influenced by financial system structures and government incentives)

Here are some possible strategies:
  • An 'increased deficit' strategy changes 1 in a stimulative direction
  • A QE strategy changes 2 in a stimulative direction
  • A 'people's QE strategy changes 1 and 2 in a stimulative direction (and also may change 5)
  • A 'financial repression' strategy ('e,g. monetisation of debt, without interest paid on reserves, mandatory reserve ratios for banks and repression of shadow and overseas banking) changes 2 in a stimulative direction (e.g. lower returns on bonds) and 3 in a depressive direction (restrictions on private credit) 
  • A bank recapitalisation strategy changes 3 in a stimulative direction (more bank capital means more lending)
  • A land value tax strategy changes 4 in a depressive direction (lower returns for monopoly assets)
  • A wealth tax strategy changes 2 in a stimulative direction (lower returns on government debt) and 4 in a depressive direction (land tax)
  • A reduced debt/GDP ratio focused strategy might combine financial repression (2 and 3) with investment focused credit (6)
Institutionally, it may or may not be useful to limit the room for manoeuvre of one or more of the state actors. But that's another story. We need to know the options before choosing institutional design.

Global Heating (continued)

The energy imbalance (see last post ) is about 0.5W/m2 on average over the last 30 years.

Here are my calculations.
Net radiative imbalance = (Energy imbalance in J/year)/(Area of Earth * Seconds per year) = 8e21 / (5e14 * 3.1e7) = 0.5W/m2

I'm not sure the exact extent to which they are comparable, but it seems lower than the estimates of radiative forcing now (2.3 +/- 1), even accounting for the fact that RF will be higher now than in the average of the 1970-now period.

So either RF and heat imbalance can't be directly compared like this, or sulphates are shielding more than we think, or the basic processes of heating aren't as bad as the IPCC say.

The exponential growth in RF factors sort of cancels out the log scale on which they have an effect.

That's not to invalidate the other points in other parts of the picture which may favour the other sides of the debate (e.g. the slow feedbacks and the systemic picture once carbon cycle and oceans are considered); but it seems that the ocean heat flow on the face of it support the contention that there is such a thing as global warming, but it's less serious (from the point of view of the basic heat imbalance) than the IPCC says it is.

Global Heating

Happy New Year!

Here's an interesting factoid: the average amount of extra energy (300ZJ/40 years ~=8ZJ) gained per year by the world due to global warming between 1970 and 2012 is similar to the total energy contained in the world's remaining oil reserves.

[1] My calculations based on diagram from David Mackay Talk
[2]  7.9×10^21 J estimated energy contained in the world's petroleum reserves as of 2010 (Wikipedia

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Banks and Money


Should commercial banks be prevented from creating money? Ben Dyson and Drew Jackson of Positive Money and Martin Wolf of the Financial Times argue that they should.

Here i argue that in board terms they are right but for the wrong reasons; there should be more government money created rather than bank credit money but the terms used often confusing and the reasons for using government money are some what different from those argued for. Furthermore, there are dangers both in the implementation of such a ban if the nature of money is not fully understood.

The Nature of Money
There are two main types of money as seen in modern economies: government created money and bank created money. Government created money includes banknotes and the reserves of commercial banks held at the central bank. The banknotes are used for small transactions, individuals whereas, reserves are used for settling transactions between commercial banks. Bank created money on the other hand is the money seen in individual and company bank accounts. This money is essentially a promise to pay, issued by the bank to the individual, and entitling the individual to demand government money (banknotes) on demand (demand deposits) or after some specified time period (time deposits).

In very simple terms there is very little government money in the bank backing up your commercial bank money. This leads to phenomena such as a “run on a bank” where depositors together demand to withdraw government money to the value of their bank account level. Unfortunately, a commercial bank does not hold government money to cover all the bank deposits and so banks typically have to close their doors and refuse to reimburse people.

Positive money, and the ‘Chicago plan’ before them proposes that bank accounts used for transactions should be 100% backed by government money. in this way, they would function like most people believe bank accounts function anyway: in other words, the government creates the money in individual bank accounts and they can withdraw it at any time.

There are a number of advantages of this plan, both real and perceived. Firstly, it will allow people’s bank accounts to be substantially less risky. Government money does not need to be backed by anything as it is the fundamental component of the system. So there is no need for detailed bank regulation as the security of individuals’ money would be guaranteed by design. On the other hand, there would be proper market discipline around the actions of banks because if they would need to borrow, they would also need to attract that money from investors. At present banks can simply issue money to fund their loans; in future they would need to issue bonds or attract investment funds in some other way.

This advantage also leads on to another namely that government would need to issue fewer bonds because a larger portion of their financing would be achieved with money issuance. Since money does not necessarily pay an interest rate this can be seen as eliminating the national debt (or a part of it). Indeed, the scale of private bank money issuance is currently similar to that of government debt issuance. It would be a welcome simplification if the government no longer needed to issue bonds, suffering occasional sovereign debt crises, and banks no longer needed to issue money, suffering occasional banking crises.

Lastly, its a simpler system in that money is created by the government in the way that most people believe it already is. Having control over the money supply, it is argued would lead to greater macroeconomic stability. In particular, money could be created in a counter cyclical way and could be directed to those sectors of the economy in need of expansion.

The problem with the way these proposals are expressed is that money is considered a simple and unitary concept. This is how it is perceived by the general public admittedly; money in a bank account can be used for purchasing goods and services in just the same way that bank notes can. However, the nature of that money is very different: One is an IOU from your bank, the other token or IOU (depending on your theory) from the Govt. But what is money and what isn’t money is not clear and is not easily legislated. In fact , current bank money was created to get around regulations banning commercial banks from issuing bank notes. If the emphasis of the proposal is on explicitly banning certain types of bank deposits, it is likely that banks will find other ways of getting around such legislation. This does not invalidate the advantage of the proposal but it does mean that you have to be very careful how legislation is framed. Furthermore, we can expect any legislation to provoke avoidance tactics which will mean the legislation has to be updated at a later date.

A related point is that what is important in bank money creation from a macroeconomic perspective is not the creation of money per se but rather the creation of credit. Just banning commercial (credit) bank money creation would leave untouched the question of the total amount of credit in the economy. Furthermore, it might not prevent the need for government intervention because very same dynamic processes associated with bank money creation (credit and asset price bubbles) can be financed by other financial instruments. In simple terms, current bank lending is often financed by the issuance of bank deposits but if this was banned it could be financed by issuance of securities which avoid being classified as money according to the regulations but in fact are fully liquid and redeemable at par (you get all your money back guaranteed). So macroeconomic policy would need to consider the total supply of credit not just the strict money supply according to some definition.

Correctional Economics

Correctional Economics is a course in economics with an emphasis on correcting the parts missing from conventional economics.
The course has three main parts:
Part 1: Money, Credit, Debt.
- The nature of the money and debt, including government debt and the banking system
- History of money and credit
- Keynes
- Minsky
- Discount Rates
Part 2: Taxation, Land, Monopolies, Economic Rent
- The theory of optimal taxation
- Land as a factor of production
- Economic incidence of taxes
- History of economic thought.
Part 3: Institutions and collective action problems
- What is a collective action problem?
- How are collective action problems solved?
- Examples of success and failure

Towards a Better Tax System

What is an ideal tax system? Perhaps one that lies in the background, raising revenue fairly in a way that cannot be avoided, that discourages no behaviour except undesirable behaviour, avoids unsustainable booms whilst stimulating productive activity. Such a tax system can be designed. The sort of things that could be taxed include:

  • Rents 
    • Land 
    • Oil (road duty) 
    • Radio spectrum 
    • Natural Monopolies
  • Bads 
    • Existing Ones (Alcohol, Tobacco) 
    • Any additional legalised drugs 
    • Sugar 
    • Congestion (road duty + refund) 
    • Carbon
  • Debt & Catastrophic Risk
    • Government Debt and Money
    • Risk 
    • Shadow banks, Pseudo-money and Bank Balance Sheets 
    • State lending 
    • Infrastructure development