There's a lot of people wandering around the internet who are very confused about Investment = Saving. Maybe they have been mistaught, or maybe they have mislearned? I don't know. But I'm doing this as a public service, even though it's a thoroughly boring job for me. Someone's got to do it. And since I've done it almost every year for the last 33 years, it might as well be me. "Ours the task eternal" is Carleton's motto.
Let's get the arithmetic out of the way first, then I'm going to simplify, back up, and explain what it all means.
Start with the standard national income accounting identity:
1. Y = C + I + G + X - M
On the left hand side of we've got sales of (Canadian) newly-produced final goods (and services) Y. On the right hand side we've got purchases of (Canadian) newly-produced final goods (and services), divided up into various categories. Consumption, Investment, Government expenditure, eXports, and iMports.
2. S = Y - T - C
This is a definition of Saving as income from the sale of newly-produced goods minus Taxes (net of transfers, which are like negative taxes because the government gives you money instead of taking it away) minus Consumption.
Substitute equation 1 into 2 to eliminate Y and you get:
3. S = C + I + G + X - M - T - C
You can eliminate C in 3, and rearrange terms to get:
4. I - S + G - T + X - M = 0
If you simplify, by assuming a closed economy with no exports or imports, you get:
5. I - S = T - G
If you simplify further, by assuming no government spending or taxes, you get:
6. I = S
(Or, if you like, you could define S as "national saving" to include both private saving plus government saving, which is defined as T-G.)
Now let's talk about what it means.
Equation 1 is an accounting identity. It is just like saying "the number of apples sold = the number of apples bought". You can't sell an apple without somebody else buying it. That's what the words "buy" and "sell" mean. If we add up all the apples sold, and add up all the apples bought, we should get exactly the same answer. If we didn't, it means we miscounted, or had a different definition of "apple" in the two counts, or did the two counts over different time periods, or made some other screw-up. And National Income Accounting is the art of checking all the possible screw-ups we might make, and trying to make them as small as possible, so we can get as accurate a picture as possible of economic data.
For example, if you are counting apples sold by the Canadians who produced them, and counting apples bought by Canadians, you have to remember that some Canadian apples get sold to foreigners, and some apples bought by Canadians weren't produced in Canada. That's why you have to add exports and subtract imports in equation 1 to make it add up right.
Since apples sold = apples bought, and bananas sold = bananas bought, then apples and bananas sold = apples and bananas bought. If it adds up for each good, it also has to add up across all the goods. So it really doesn't matter if we add up the physical number of apples and bananas, or add up the market values of apples and bananas, or add up the market values adjusted for inflation, or what. A+B=A+B. A+2B=A+2B. 24A+32B=24A+32B. Whatever. Equation 1 is true in nominal terms, without any inflation adjustment. Equation 1 is true in real terms, adjusted for inflation. Equation 1 is even true if we adjust for inflation in some totally daft manner, just as long as we are consistent in our daftness on both sides of the equation. Of course, we get a different number for Y depending on which we choose, and some of those numbers will be more useful than others, but we should (unless we screw up) get the exact same number on both sides.
(There are lots more potential screw-ups we could make: like how exactly we define and count "Canadian" "newly-produced" "final" goods. But go read any intro economics textbook if you are interested, because it's not the main topic of this post.)
Now, I have defined Y as goods sold. Normally, we think of Y as "income", or "production". And you can think of cases where these don't seem to be the same.
For example, suppose you produce 100 apples and you don't sell them? If we want Y to measure the production of apples, and not just sales of apples, we have to remember to include apples that the grower consumes himself, or adds to his inventory of apples. "He sold them to himself, either for Consumption or for inventory Investment". That's a fudge, of course, but it's a fudge we need to make if we want Y to mean "production" as well as "sales".
Here's a second example. Suppose you have 100 apples in inventory, that were produced last year, and the price of apples suddenly goes up $1. You have just made a capital gain of $100. Shouldn't that capital gain be included in your income? Well perhaps it should, or perhaps it shouldn't. But if you want Y to mean "income", you had better not include it. Y has to be restricted to mean "income from newly-produced goods".
All the above was accounting. It wasn't really economics at all. "Apples sold = apples bought" is always true. But it tells us nothing whatsoever about what determines the number of apples traded. It is totally silent on what causes the number of apples bought-and-sold to increase or decrease. Or why it is bigger in some countries than in others. Is it the weather? Is it people's preferences for apples? Is it government rationing? Is it the rotation of the planets? There are 1,001 different theories of what determines the quantity of apples traded, and all of those theories are consistent with the accounting identity of apples sold = apples bought. Because "apples sold" and "apples bought" are just two different ways of describing the exact same number.
One of those 1,001 theories is the simple economic theory taught in Intro Economics. Supply and demand. Quantity demanded is the quantity of apples people would like to buy, given the price of apples, their income, etc.. Quantity supplied is the quantity of apples people would like to sell, given the price of apples, their productive abilities, etc.. The demand curve shows how quantity demanded varies with price, holding other things like income etc. constant. The supply curve shows how quantity supplied varies with price, holding other things like productive capacity etc. constant. And, according to this theory, the price of apples adjusts to make quantity demanded equal to quantity supplied, where the demand and supply curves cross. At that equilibrium price, and only at that equilibrium price, all 3 quantities are equal. Quantity demanded = quantity bought-and-sold = quantity supplied. According to this theory it is the supply and demand curves that determine quantity bought-and-sold.
That theory could be wrong. That's one of the dangers of having a theory that actually attempts to explain what causes or determines the facts. It could be wrong. But if we want to explain the world, that's the risk we have to take. One can easily think of examples where this theory would be wrong. For example, if the government imposes a binding price floor on apples it will be wrong. In that case, Intro Economics would replace it with a slightly modified theory: the quantity of apples traded is determined by the demand curve and the price the government sets; the supply curve plays no role. With the price fixed above where supply and demand curves cross, quantity demanded = quantity bought-and-sold < quantity supplied. In that "semi-equilibrium" actual purchases will be equal to and determined by the quantity of apples people want to buy (demand) at the fixed price. But the actual quantity sold will not be equal to nor determined by the quantity people want to sell (supply).
And if the government instead sets a binding price ceiling on apples the original supply and demand theory will also be wrong, but in a different way. In this case, according to the Intro Economics textbook, it's the supply curve and price that determine quantity bought-and-sold. In "semi-equilibrium", quantity demanded > quantity bought-and-sold = quantity supplied. Actual purchases will be equal to and determined by the the quantity people want to sell (supply) at the fixed price.
(The key assumption in all three of the above theories is that trade is voluntary. You can't force people to buy more than they want to buy; and you can't force people to sell more than they want to sell. So quantity actually bought-and-sold will equal whichver is less: quantity demanded; or quantity supplied. Only in full equilibrium, at exactly the right price, are all three quantities equal. Otherwise we are in what i call "semi-equilibrium", where only two of the three quantities are equal, and the third is bigger than the other two.)
"Apples sold = apples bought" is an accounting identity that is always true, but tells us nothing about what determines that quantity.
"Apples demanded = apples supplied" is an equilibrium condition. It might not be true. It is part of a theory that does try to explain what determines the quantity of apples bought-and-sold. That theory might be true, or might be false. But it is a theory about the world, and the risk of being false is an unavoidable occupational hazard of trying to explain the world.
Now, that was microeconomic theory. Let's switch back to macroeconomic theory. What's that got to do with I=S?
Look back at equation 1, and assume a closed economy with no government. You get Y = C + I. That equation is exactly the same as I = S. The two are mathematically equivalent. Just different ways of saying the same thing. But Y = C + I is a lot easier to compare to the microeconomic equilibrium condition "supply = demand". So I'm going to do that first, then come back to I = S.
For an economy that produced only apples, "Y = C + I" tells us that apples sold equals apples bought (some for consumption, some to be added to stocks as an inventory investment). But that accounting identity tells us absolutely nothing about what determines the quantity of newly-produced goods bought-and-sold. It does not explain why it changes over time, or is higher in some countries than in others. There are 1,001 different theories, all compatible with that accounting identity, that do try to explain what determines Y.
Here is just one of those 1,001 theories. This theory will be found in most Intro Economics textbooks. It's the simple "Keynesian Cross" theory. This theory is very similar to the microeconomic theory above of a market for apples with a binding price floor, where quantity supplied exceeds quantity demanded. This theory says that the quantity of goods bought-and-sold will be equal to and determined by the quantity demanded, and will be less than the quantity supplied. But there's a clever macro twist. The macro twist is that the quantity of goods demanded depends on income, and income is equal to the quantity of goods bought-and sold.
This theory can be described by three equations:
7. Y = Cd + Id
Cd means "desired consumption". It's the quantity of consumption goods people would like to buy, given their income etc. Some economists call Cd "ex ante consumption". But a simpler name would be "quantity of consumption goods demanded", just like in micro. And Id is just the same, except it's "desired investment", or the quantity of investment goods demanded. And equation 7 is a "semi-equilibrium condition". It says that actual quantity of goods bought-and-sold (Y) will equal quantity of goods demanded (Cd+Id).
8. Cd = a + bY (where a>0 and 0<b<1)
9. Id = Ibar
Equations 8 and 9 are the behavioural equations. They tell us what determine desired consumption and desired investment. Desired consumption is an increasing function of actual income, and desired investment is fixed at some exogenous number, called Ibar. (That's supposed to be a bar over the I, but I can't write it).
Substitute 8 and 9 into the equilibrium condition 7, to get:
10. Y = a + bY + Ibar
Solving for Y we get:
11. Y = [1/(1-b)][a+Ibar]
Now that's a theory of the world. It might be false. But if true, it explains what determines the quantity of goods bought-and-sold. It says Y is determined by desired investment (and by the parameters a and b in the consumption demand function).
And it is a simple matter of math to relate that back to I=S. Simply define "desired saving" Sd as:
12. Sd = Y - Cd
So "desired saving" means "that part of income that people do not desire to spend on (newly-produced) consumption goods". What do they want to do with it instead? It could be anything, except spend on (newly-produced) consumption goods. They might want to spend it on newly-produced investment goods, they might want to buy government bonds, or corporate bonds or shares, or buy antique furniture, or add to their stocks of currency under the mattress. You name it, and if it's something you can want to do with your income (after taxes), other than spend it on newly-produced consumption goods, it's "desired saving".
We can re-write the old semi-equilibrium condition 7 as:
13. Y - Cd = Id
And substitute the definition for Sd into the left hand side to get:
14. Sd = Id
We can read 14 as "desired saving equals desired investment". Or "ex ante saving equals ex ante investment". It is mathematically equivalent to the semi-equilibrium condition 7. It's just another way of saying "quantity of goods bought-and-sold equals quantity of goods demanded". Only now it gets rearranged to become "quantity of goods bought-and-sold minus quantity of consumption goods demanded equals quantity of investment goods demanded". Which is a bit of a mouthful.
Substitute 8 into 12 to derive the desired saving function from the desired consumption function:
15. Sd = -a + (1-b)Y
Desired saving is an increasing function of income.
Substitute the desired investment and desired savings functions 9 and 15 into the "semi-equilibrium condition" 14 to get:
16. -a + (1-b)Y = Ibar
Rearrange 15 to get
17. Y = [1/(1-b)][a+Ibar]
Which, you will notice, is exactly the same as 11. You get exactly the same results whether you start from Y=Cd+Id or Id=Sd. And of course you should, They are exactly the same semi-equilibrium condition, just re-written.
But if you start with the same semi-equilibrium condition and add different behavioural functions you will get a very different theory of the world. For example another macroeconomist would say that desired investment and desired saving also depend on the rate of interest, and that the central bank will adjust the interest rate so that desired saving equals desired investment at potential output. In which case you cannot say that desired investment determines desired saving (or vice versa) because they are both endogenous variables, and it is the central bank that determines the equilibrium level of income. And yet another macroeconomist would say that that's not quite right either, because if the central bank tries to set the interest rate too high or too low the result will be accelerating deflation or inflation, so in the long run, if it doesn't want to destroy the monetary system, the central bank can only set it at some "natural rate" where desired saving equals desired investment at the level of income determined by the long-run supply of output.
In other words, the semi-equilibrium condition Sd=Id leaves open the question of what variable(s) adjust (or is adjusted) to bring the two sides into equality. It might be Y, as the Keynesian Cross model assumes. But it might be the rate of interest. Or the price level. Or anything else.
Let me sum up the main lessons.
First, you can't get anywhere with just accounting identities, if you want to explain the world. Convert that accounting identity into an equilibrium condition, and add some assumptions about people's behaviour, and what adjusts to what, and you might have a theory.
Second. The I=S approach is exactly equivalent to the Y=C+I approach. The latter is more easily re-interpreted as the semi-equilibrium condition Y=Cd+Id, which is the macroeconomic version of "apples bought-and-sold = quantity of apples demanded", but Id=Sd is saying the exactly the same thing. (I was taught both these methods of representing the old Keynesian Cross model back in high school).
Third. The key question is not just the equilibrium condition you assume, but what variable or variables you assume adjust to make that equilibrium condition hold. What are the behavioural functions? Different behavioural functions will give you a very different theory.
Fourth. A lot of economists wasted an awful lot of time and ink getting this stuff straight 50 years ago. If you start your theory with I=S as an accounting identity, it really is your responsibility to try to explain to anyone reading the difference between I=S as an accounting identity, and Id=Sd as some sort of equilibrium condition, and why that difference matters. Because, as I said at the beginning, there's an awful lot of poor lost souls wandering around the internet who have just discovered the marvellous truth of I=S as an accounting identity, and think they have found some magical philosopher's stone that "mainstream" economists have never heard about, and that this blinding flash of divine truth will lead them to the Promised Land. It's a bit like being accosted at airport terminals by people with a glow in their eyes repeating "apples sold equals apples bought". Because that's exactly what they are saying.