Liquidity trap

Liquidity trap

A liquidity trap is a situation described in Keynesian economics in which injections of cash into an economy by a central bank fail to lower interest rates and hence to stimulate economic growth. A liquidity trap is caused when people hoard cash because they expect an adverse event such as deflation, insufficient aggregate demand, or war. Signature characteristics of a liquidity trap are short-term interest rates that are near zero and fluctuations in the monetary base that fail to translate into fluctuations in general price levels.


Conceptual evolution

In its original conception, a liquidity trap refers to the phenomenon when further injections of money into the economy will not serve to further lower interest rates. This can be visualized through a demand curve. Demand for money becomes perfectly elastic (i.e. where the demand curve for money is horizontal). Under the narrow version of Keynesian theory in which this arises, it is specified that monetary policy affects the economy only through its effect on interest rates. Thus, if an economy enters a liquidity trap, further increases in the money stock will fail to further lower interest rates and, therefore, fail to stimulate.

In the wake of the Keynesian revolution in the 1930s and 1940s, various neoclassical economists sought to minimize the concept of a liquidity trap by specifying conditions in which expansive monetary policy would affect the economy even if interest rates failed to decline. Don Patinkin and Lloyd Metzler specified the existence of a "Pigou effect," named after English economist Arthur Cecil Pigou, in which the stock of real money balances is an element of the aggregate demand function for goods, so that the money stock would directly affect the "investment saving" curve in an IS/LM analysis, and monetary policy would thus be able to stimulate the economy even during the existence of a liquidity trap. While many economists had serious doubts about the existence or significance of this Pigou Effect, by the 1960s academic economists gave little credence to the concept of a liquidity trap.

The neoclassical economists asserted that, even in a liquidity trap, expansive monetary policy could still stimulate the economy via the direct effects of increased money stocks on aggregate demand. This was essentially the hope of the Bank of Japan in the 1990s, when it embarked upon quantitative easing. Similarly it was the hope of the central banks of the United States and Europe in 2008–2009, with their foray into quantitative easing. These policy initiatives tried to stimulate the economy through methods other than the reduction of short-term interest rates.

When the Japanese economy fell into a period of prolonged stagnation despite near-zero interest rates, the concept of a liquidity trap returned to prominence.[1] However, while Keynes's formulation of a liquidity trap refers to the existence of a horizontal demand curve for money at some positive level of interest rates, the liquidity trap invoked in the 1990s referred merely to the presence of zero interest rates (ZIRP), the assertion being that since interest rates could not fall below zero, monetary policy would prove impotent in those conditions, just as it was asserted to be in a proper exposition of a liquidity trap.

While this later conception differed from that asserted by Keynes, both views have in common first the assertion that monetary policy affects the economy only via interest rates, and second the conclusion that monetary policy cannot stimulate an economy in a liquidity trap. Declines in monetary velocity offset injections of short term liquidity.

Much the same furor has emerged in the United States and Europe in 2008–2010, as short-term policy rates for the various central banks have moved close to zero. Paul Krugman argued repeatedly in 2008-11 that much of the developed world, including the United States, Europe, and Japan, was in a liquidity trap.[2] He noted that tripling of the U.S. monetary base between 2008 and 2011 failed to produce any significant effect on U.S. domestic price indices or dollar-denominated commodity prices. [3]

In October 2010, Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz explained how the U.S. Federal Reserve was implementing another monetary policy—creating currency—to combat the liquidity trap.[4] Stiglitz noted that the Federal Reserve intended, by creating $600 billion and inserting this directly into banks, to spur banks to finance more domestic loans and refinance mortgages. However, Stiglitz pointed out that banks were instead spending the money in more profitable areas by investing internationally in commodities and the emerging markets. Banks were also investing in foreign currencies which, Stiglitz and others[5] point out, may lead to currency wars while China redirects its currency holdings away from the United States.[6]

Economist Scott Sumner has criticized the idea that Japan unsuccessfully attempted expansionary monetary policy during the Lost Decade. Indeed, he claims Japan's monetary policy was far too tight. [7] [8] [9] [10]


Austrian School economists generally argue that a lack of investment during periods of low interest rates are the result of malinvestment and time preference instead of liquidity preference.[11][12] Most Austrian economists have rejected Keynes' theory of liquidity preference altogether. In his book America's Great Depression, Murray Rothbard argued that interest rates are determined by time preference. Says Rothbard, "Increased hoarding can either come from funds formerly consumed, from funds formerly invested, or from a mixture of both that leaves the old consumption-investment proportion unchanged. Unless time preferences change, the last alternative will be the one adopted. Thus, the rate of interest depends solely on time preference, and not at all on "liquidity preference." In fact, if the increased hoards come mainly out of consumption, an increased demand for money will cause interest rates to fall—because time preferences have fallen."[13]

See also


  1. ^ Sophia N. Antonopoulou, "The Global Financial Crisis," The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 4 / Vol. 6, No. 1 (Autumn 2009 / Winter 2010).
  2. ^ Krugman, Paul (17 March 2010). "How much of the world is in a liquidity trap?". The New York Times.
  3. ^ "Way Off Base". 
  4. ^ Stiglitz, Joseph (5 November 2010). "New $600B Fed Stimulus Fuels Fears of US Currency War". Democracy Now. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Wheatley, Jonathan; Peter Garnham (5 November 2010). "Brazil in 'currency war' alert". Financial Times. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Sumner, Scott. "Why Japan's QE didn't "work"". The Money Illusion. Retrieved 6/3/2011. 
  8. ^ Sumner, Scott. "More evidence that the BOJ is not trying to create inflation". The Money Illusion. Retrieved 6/3/2011. 
  9. ^ Sumner, Scott. "Rooseveltian Resolve". The Money Illusion. 
  10. ^ Sumner, Scott. "The other money illusion". The Money Illusion. Retrieved 6/3/2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^

Further reading

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