Broken Visualizers have been Fixed (mostly)

I discovered a few days ago that all the EconViz visualizers were broken. I don’t know how long they were down for, but I think I’ve gotten them mostly working again at least for Chrome (and I think other Chromium-based browsers?). Enjoy!

Apologies though that the visualizers still seem badly broken in Firefox — I will try to fix that when I can.

Balance Sheet Visualizer now works with Internet Explorer 10

I recently tried the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer in Internet Explorer 10 (the latest as of earlier this year) and noticed the graphics did not show up at all.

I have now fixed the issue. If you’ve sent it to anyone who told you it didn’t work for them, they should have more success with it now.

Footnote: However, to make this fix I had to remove a library that had allowed it to work with old browsers such as Internet Explorer 8 and before. When I created the visualizer in 2009, supporting these old browsers was important, but browsers have come a long way since then and this should work in the latest version of each of the major desktop browsers (IE, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera). Please report any problems you notice…

Balance Sheet Visualizer in German plus a Video Trailer for EconViz

Thanks to Oskar Fuhlrott for taking the initiative recently on a German translation of the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer, currently hosted with permission on his site:

Makroökonomischer Bilanz-Visualisierer

Also, last year I was remiss in not sharing the link to a nicely done trailer on youtube that fistfullproduction created as a video teaser for the EconViz tutorials:

A Visual Guide to The Economy, by hbl

Thanks to both, and as always thanks to the many others who have shared links to EconViz with others! A secondary benefit of this is that for quite some time, How the Economy Works – A Visual Tutorial has been ranked #2 or #3 on google searches for how the economy works and how economy works!

I also happened to test one of the EconViz narrated tutorials in Firefox and realized that the audio was freezing before it started playing on both Firefox and Internet Explorer! I don’t know for how long and for how many people this has been broken (it used to work), but I’ve put in what I hope is a workaround for the problem (it seems to work for me). If you run into any problems please let me know!

New Tutorial: Why Central Banks Don’t Control the Money Supply…

I’ve decided to share an incomplete copy of the most recent tutorial I’ve been working on:

Why Central Banks Don’t Control the Money Supply: A Visual Tour of the Macroeconomic Dynamics of Bank Loans, Reserve Requirements, Capital Requirements, and Cash Withdrawals

Please note: in case you haven’t seen it, the tutorial How Loans Create Money is a prerequisite.

The new tutorial has three parts, but only one is fleshed out. The first part — on reserve requirements and their implications — is mostly in place as a first draft. The middle part — on capital requirements — is visible only as a rough text outline of the likely content (for those who are curious). The third part — on cash withdrawals — is just a blank placeholder page.

I’ve posted the tutorial now because I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to make significant progress on it, and also because covering this topic has been more difficult than I expected. What I’ve shared now (about eight minutes of audio/visual content) barely scratches the surface of the topic of money, banking, central banks, etc, and may do more to raise questions than provide answers. (There are some links to outside reading listed on the last page for the adventurous — though they will be nothing new to those already versed on these topics).

What was your experience of the draft tutorial, "Why Central Banks Don't Control the Money Supply"?

View Results

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Other feedback is of course welcome also.

Poll Result & Status Update

The last post included a poll asking for votes on which tutorial to focus on next. The clear winner was the one I had already started on, “Why Central Banks Don’t Control the Money Supply: A Visual Tour of the Macroeconomic Dynamics of Bank Loans, Reserve Requirements, Capital Requirements, and Cash Withdrawals.” The results were useful to see, so thanks to those who voted.

Unfortunately I have nothing but excuses to deliver so far. First, competing priorities have meant too little recent EconViz development effort on my part. Second, I underestimated how complex this tutorial would be to create…

There are a lot of variables and moving parts in the banking system, and describing one often calls for mentioning another, which in turn requires mention of another, and so on… But explaining all these pieces visually and letting visitors control things using sliders and buttons practically requires building a custom model (simulator) of the entire system — which is no small undertaking! The “moving parts” include interest rates (target rate, discount rate, support rate), corridor versus floor system, open market operations, repos, etc. It’s helpful to show banks aggregated but also to split the banking sector to show separate banks interacting with each other. It’s helpful to allow instantaneous visualization of response dynamics (e.g., move a slider to increase bank loans and see bank reserves automatically added in response) but it’s also helpful to break things into smaller steps with discrete control over each step (e.g., let you play the banker by issuing loans then let you play the central bank staff member by conducting OMOs, etc). The bottom line is I seem to be discovering a need for an eventual Banking System Visualizer interactive tool (a bit like the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer but with interest rates and other extras integrated).

Another challenge I grapple with is that a thorough description of these dynamics can already be found in blog posts and academic papers, and if I write educational text that isn’t directly related to graphics shown within the tutorial, then I’m just duplicating the effort that went into creating those outside resources without adding anything new and of value. So at the moment I’m leaning toward taking more simplifying shortcuts in how the concepts are presented in this tutorial wherever possible (but still anchoring the concepts to graphical balance sheets etc), and relying on advanced viewers to be willing to supplement using outside resources… with the eventual possibility of a Banking System Visualizer to show all the detailed mechanics.

Poll: Which Tutorial Would You Find Most Helpful?

I have been working on Part 2 of How Loans Create Money, called Why Central Banks Don’t Control the Money Supply: A Visual Tour of the Macroeconomic Dynamics of Bank Loans, Reserve Requirements, Capital Requirements, and Cash Withdrawals.

It would be easy to put on hold, so I’m interested in opinions on which potential tutorials would be most helpful. Which topics are most challenging to learn via text-only MMT blogs, making them good candidates for the EconViz narrated visual format? Or, which topics would most help people who don’t read MMT blogs? Or, what would you personally most like to see, for whatever reason?

Here is a quick poll with some of my top choices:

Which EconViz Tutorial Topic Would You Most Like To See?

View Results

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There is a longer list of potential topics in the yellow box near the bottom of the EconViz Home Page. If any of those (or something not on the list) catch your interest more, feel free to respond in comments. Comments are also welcome on the topics listed above, of course.

Besides creating additional tutorials, I may eventually: (1) add functionality to the Macroeconomic Circular Flow Visualizer (see list here), and (2) find a graphic designer to help make the overall site more professional looking. Think one of those two should top the list? Please let me know (via comments or email to ). Thanks!

Want to Design a Fun Educational Experience about Economics?

Are you a good storyteller? Do you like the idea of creating a fun educational experience so compelling that people can’t help but learn new things about the economy and in turn share the experience with their friends?

If so, let’s talk about collaboration possibilities! Think of the technologies within EconViz’s tutorials as a sort of “palette” that can be reused in new contexts, mixed in with new content and functionality. The palette includes components such as a dynamic circular flow diagram (or any flow animation), programmable balance sheets, and potentially much more.

EconViz FarmerThe existing tutorials do include a little bit of clip art intended to make the content slightly more interesting by way of some concrete examples. But while I’ve had ideas for building upon this to create an unfolding story interleaved with the full length of the educational content, I still haven’t actually done it. And I suspect there are people who would do a much better job of building a compelling (intriguing and/or entertaining) experience than I would. As an example, the How the Economy Works tutorial could have the farmer’s and baker’s appearances extended to span much more of the length of the tutorial, adding in a governor and other characters from a local village and building some fun interactions between them… But those roles are a bit cliched in economic examples and I suspect there are some great alternatives waiting to be conceived of!

With so many content creation tools available, why EconViz as a platform? I think it has two main advantages for educational content:

  • Animated/illustrated video content with high production values such as the RSA Animate series, the Econ4 demo films, and others are fantastic at what they do. However, my experience is that to the extent that they offer a learning experience, it is because you trust what they are saying is true because you trust them as experts, but you don’t actually see in tangible form why what is said is true. One of the motivations behind EconViz was to make the actual mechanics of the economy visible. I’ve seen studies suggesting that this approach has the best chance of helping with “unlearning” of false notions that are at odds with the new concepts being taught. In contrast, studies seem to show that a purely anecdotal or “statement of fact” presentation of ideas that conflict with a person’s existing ideologies offer backfires and triggers a mental reinforcement of the existing ideologies!
  • EconViz provides an opportunity for dynamic interaction, exploration and gamification that isn’t possible with standard video content. The EconViz content is designed to be interacted with — sliders, buttons, and other controls can drive the underlying models and show the results visually and immediately. Custom triggers (event-specific narration, animations, etc) could fire based on user input. Paths or outcomes could diverge based on user input. Some tutorial pages could require answering questions or altering macroeconomic flows (for example “your mission: restore full employment”!) in a certain way before the user could advance to the next page. Points and “badges” could accrue. There are plenty of options that would help reinforce the concepts presented.

Given the above two points about how EconViz is different, linear non-interactive scripts may be better suited to a traditional video format (and EconViz can’t help with that!)

Is this too ambitious? Perhaps, but it can’t hurt to get people thinking. Maybe it leads to something feasible, maybe not, but I’ve long been excited at the possibilities, and it would be great to have collaborator(s). In the case of an ambitious undertaking, Kickstarter would be worth considering (and might help fund a good artist, voice actor, etc as needed). My own specialty is software development — building the “engine” supporting the content and the experience.

Interested? You can comment below this blog post or email me at . And feel free to let the possibilities percolate and reply weeks or months from now… while I can’t promise to be on board with all ideas/scripts or promise that complex ones will be feasible, if you think EconViz might be a promising platform for your vision of compelling educational content, we should at least discuss what would be involved!

Your Feedback Makes a Big Difference!

Creating educational content for complex topics is challenging. EconViz has no staff of usability testers and no formal panel of test subjects that would support a higher quality process of iteratively testing and refining content between initial draft creation and publishing.

That means you and other visitors can have an extra large positive impact any time you submit comments, and there are lots of places to do so (anonymously if you wish) — the comment section under each blog post, comment pages for each tutorial, inline “submit feedback” mini-forms on each tutorial page, surveys at the end of tutorials, and email ().

A number of people did submit the survey for the How the Economy Works tutorial, which was a big help, and I don’t expect anyone to revisit old content (yes, I’ve been way too slow on publishing new tutorials!) so to be clear, this post is about the future more than the past. The top request from past visitors has been more content, so thanks for your patience so far!

Over the last couple years, a few people have very generously emailed me detailed feedback — thank you! The most recent example of this led me to realize that I’d made the How Loans Create Money tutorial TOO short (3 minutes) to be clear enough, so I’ve redone everything after the first page and extended it to around 5 minutes. And it will change again if need be.

Some great past requests/suggestions have also led to new advanced operations on the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer.

And while I like positive feedback (to get a sense whether content is on the right track), I love negative feedback if it’s genuine! It’s important to know when something isn’t working. Based on a couple comments expressing displeasure with the voice narration, I’ve re-recorded the speech for Part 1 of the How the Economy Works tutorial. (Parts 2 and 3 come later). If it’s still not good enough, eventually I’ll look for different narrator(s). I also realize voice tracks are subject to individual preference and most of the time it’s not smart to shift directions based on too small a sample set of feedback, but I work with whatever I can if it seems to make sense 🙂

So if you’re going through a tutorial and thinking “this page doesn’t make any sense, but it’s probably just me, so I won’t say anything” or “the narration is irritating” or “I can’t take the site seriously with these graphics” or anything else — please consider taking 30 seconds to submit the quick embedded feedback form before leaving. I certainly don’t expect it from everyone, but even from just a small percentage of visitors, the feedback can be invaluable.

And as before, I recognize some of the most important feedback will come from those not already familiar with MMT, and EconViz’s quest for the right audience(s) is ongoing.

Macroeconomic Circular Flow Visualizer — Preview Version Available

Have you ever wanted to control the economy’s leakages and injections to see what would happen to the flows of spending and income?
Wanted to see how GDP falls and the government deficit rises if households increase their rate of saving? (The so called “balance sheet recession” effect).
Wanted to see the increased leakage to the import channel (even as GDP rises) if the government cuts taxes?
Wanted to see the “S-I” identity in the context of other flows?

Now you can visualize these things and more with the

Macroeconomic Circular Flow Visualizer (preview version)

It’s the flow-centric sibling to the stock-centric Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer. Make sure to mouse over the deficits and surpluses to see the related deficits and surpluses visually highlighted — since all deficits and surpluses must sum to zero! Other diagram elements (e.g., the orange flow ratios) also show extra information when pointed at — and there’s more dynamic highlighting to come.

Here are some possible future features (these are also listed as part of the “more info” section in the visualizer). Please let me know which you think would be most valuable! (I also very much welcome other feedback and suggestions besides what’s on this list… thanks!)

  • Enhanced Scenario Modeling
    • Built in (but configurable) reaction functions between flows — for example a fall in GDP could trigger a rise in government spending due to safety net payments, a fall in investment due to less optimistic sales outlooks, a precautionary rise in the household savings rate, etc.
    • Built in modeling and visualization of macroeconomic capacity (level of unemployment, idle factories, etc).
    • Visualization of changes in GDP that are nominal versus real — i.e., show how capacity is a constraint and inflation accelerates when demand rises at full capacity.
    • Visualization of changing macroeconomic stocks (quantities) such as government debt, and related ratios such as government debt/GDP.
    • Further decomposition and illustration of dynamics between finer-grained sectors (debtor households, creditor households, businesses, etc) including changes in private sector debt.
  • Real World Data
    • Time-animated visualization of real economic data tracking the US economy (and other countries) during important historic episodes.
    • Drill-down from aggregate flows into component flows (e.g., click on “investment” flow to see fixed investment (residential & non-residential), change in inventories, etc).
  • Enhanced Visualization & Presentation
    • Have the graphical flow animations convey visually the relative sizes of the actual flow quantities in the model.
    • Visualization of flow differentials (e.g., economic growth since last time period), i.e., not just total flows.
    • Graphs floating in the diagram next to the flows to show changes over time.
    • Embellishment like animations showing movement between employment and unemployment.
    • Narrated page overview for newcomers — an annotated step-by-step guide explaining how to use the page.

New Tutorial: How Loans Create Money

Here is the first part of a new narrated visual tutorial:

How Bank Loans Create Money — Explained Visually in 3 Minutes

This part covers the very basics, so you’re not likely to learn anything if you’ve followed this topic recently in the blogosphere or used the Macroeconomic Balance Sheet Visualizer… but I hope it might be helpful to those less familiar with the topic. The format also introduces a little more interactivity — the last page lets you create and repay loans, pay interest, and default on loans. I believe the non-video format has more potential than I’ve used it for so far — for example, it could include built in gamification and quizzes.

Part 2 will show the central bank’s involvement — including how reserve requirements, capital ratios, and cash withdrawals do not limit economy-wide lending — and other related topics that distinguish the Post-Keynesian understanding from the mainstream.

Since the How the Economy Works tutorial turned into a bit of a monster (at half an hour of narrated content plus lots of text-only additional details) I’m going to try making new tutorials as short as I possibly can… 2-5 minutes per tutorial seems to me a good upper limit to attempt, but I am happy to have feedback on this (or anything EconViz related!)