Previously, I discussed the features which distinguish money from other goods (Money as a good), why you should view most money as a branded product, and how that affects the perspective you should take on central bank actions (Money as a product). I showed that it makes sense to talk about the best quantity of a particular money in the economy. Now I want to discuss one important process that affects what the best quantity of money is.

This process is called “monetary disequilibrium”, “excess cash balances mechanism” and probably some other things as well. The Keynesian concept of the “Paradox Of Thrift” is related, though less well developed. I will first describe the process informally. In later posts I will describe it more formally. My intent here is to give an intuitive explanation of the basics of monetary disequilibrium.

The real quantity of money that people would like to hold in equilibrium can change over time. Because prices are sticky this can have real effects in the economy. To see how, consider an economy initially at equilibrium with a fixed quantity of money and prices that adjust to changes only after some time (sticky prices). Some people in the economy decide they want to hold higher money balances than they had in the past:

When people hold less money than they would like, they try to increase their holdings of money in two ways: 1) try to reduce their spending 2) try to increase their income. The quantity of money is fixed, so if one person holds a higher nominal quantity of money than before, all others must hold a lower quantity of money than before in aggregate. Prices are fixed, so this is also true for the real quantity of money. When one person reduces their spending, they reduce the income of all others in aggregate. Unless those others desire to hold less money than before, they now hold less money than they would like. Now those others also try to increase their money holdings by the same means. This is a vicious circle and aggregate spending and incomes decline. The circle ends when people no longer want to cut their their spending to achieve higher money balances.

There are two effects which determine how far this process proceeds. 1) The quantity that people want to hold is positively related to the quantity people expect to spend, so as people expect to spend less they will need to hold somewhat less money. 2) As people reduce their spending, those reductions become more painful, so will be more reluctant to trade off consumption for increased money balances.

This process reduces the real quantity of market transactions below it’s equilibrium level. The real quantity of market transactions can only return to normal when prices have adjusted to the new equilibrium, so that people can hold higher real money balances given the fixed nominal quantity of money.

This is the foundational insight of money-based macroeconomics. For some reason this process is not explained in introductory macroeconomics classes, nor commonly discussed by mainstream macro-economists. I believe understanding this logic is critical for understanding the effect of money in the economy and for understanding macroeconomic fluctuations.