All posts by Senexx

Can We Trust Politicians?

We are currently hearing the storyline – MMT is correct (although they don’t express it that way) but god save us if anyone finds out.

An MMT understanding allows us to appreciate that most choices that are couched in terms of ‘budgets’ and ‘financial constraints’ are, in fact, just political choices.

Given there are no intrinsic financial constraints on a currency-issuing government, we understand that mass unemployment is a political choice.

Imagine if citizens understood that!!

An MMT understanding lifts the ideological veil imposed by mainstream economics that relies on the false analogy between an income-constrained household and the currency-issuing government.

Households always have to finance their spending choices, through earned income, savings, asset sales or through borrowing. A currency-issuing government spends by instructing its central bank to type numbers electronically into relevant bank accounts.

All the elaborate accounting structures and institutional processes that are put in place to make it look as though tax revenue and/or debt sales fund spending are voluntary smokescreens, which serve the purpose of imposing political discipline on government spending.

Insiders know this, but actively decline to share that knowledge with the public.

There is also a growing claim that there is nothing new about MMT – that everything we write about is “well-understood” or “widely understood and acknowledged”. Further, apparently “everybody knows” and New Keynesians are “fully aware” that the government is not financially constrained.

It is very strange – if all the major features of MMT were so widely shared and understood – how do we explain statements from politicians, central bankers, private executives, lobbyists, media commentators etc, etc that appear to not accept or understand the basic MMT claims?

    • Where in the vast body of macroeconomic literature – mainstream or otherwise – do we see regular acknowledgement that there is no financial constraint, for example?

    • Why is there mass unemployment if government officials understood all our claims?
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    • It would be the ultimate example of venal dysfunctional politics to hold that that everybody knows all this stuff but are deliberately disregarding it – for what?
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    • Why do economists still claim that banks lend out their reserves?
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    • Why do they think that an asset swap (liquid for near liquid) engineered by the central bank will provide banks with more funds to lend as if banks wait around for deposits before they make loans?
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    • Why don’t papers on banking indicate that loans create deposits rather than engage in the fiction that it is the other way around?
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    • Why do economists still claim there is a monetary multiplier operating when bank reserves respond to broad monetary movements?

I could pose hundreds of like questions. I am not naive. I couldn’t answer any of these questions if the claim that everything MMT has proposed is passe in the extreme.

These sorts of claims then lead to statements that there is “nothing new” about MMT – is designed to discredit us and to suggest we are just a bunch of misguided, politically naive intellectual minions.

Please note that MMT does not include the word “new” in its descriptor. Also, if some person out there can find any literature written by one of the major MMT academics or authors where there is a claim that the theoretical structure proposed and integrated by the writers is “new” please let me know. (I wouldn’t waste my time by the way.)

The descriptor of import is “Modern” which like all descriptors can be interpreted in a number of ways. The way the MMT literature discusses the economy and integrates components from banking, the national account accounts, a deep understanding of the way bond, currency and labour markets work – is certainly modern.

It is clear that MMT writers borrow, absorb, integrate strands of theory dating back to Marx and before. There has never been a denial of that. But there are truly novel aspects of our approach that the vast majority of economists progressive or otherwise – who are slaves of the textbook framework – still do not understand despite the claims that everything is understood.

As we said at the beginning there is now a line of critics who acknowledge the validity of core MMT principles but think they are too dangerous for people to broadly share in that knowledge.

Why?

Because we apparently have reached a point in history where we hate dictators and eulogise the benefits of democracy (à la Churchill in the Commons on November 11, 1947 – “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”), but don’t want the politicians we elect to have the flexibility to advance our well-being.

Or in simpler language – “because we don’t trust politicians”.

This has been a long-standing view.

Remember the famous quote from American economist Paul Samuelson in the interview he did for the film – John Maynard Keynes: Life, Ideas, Legacy – where at the 52:50 mark into the film, he said:

I think there is an element of truth in the view that the … the superstition that the budget must be balanced at all times … aah … Once it is debunked … takes away one of the bulwarks that every society must have against expenditure out of control. There must be discipline in the allocation of resources or you will have … aah … anarchistic chaos and inefficiency. And one of the functions of old fashioned religion was to scare people by … aah … sometimes what might be regarded as myths into behaving in a way that long-run civilised life requires. We have taken away a belief in the intrinsic necessity of balancing the budget if not in every year … in every short period of time. If Prime Minister Gladstone came back to life he would say ‘oh, oh what you have done’ and James Buchanan argues in those terms. I have to say that I see merit in that view.

This amounts to a world where the elites can manipulate the fiscal capacity of the state to advance their own interests (procurement contracts at will, bailouts when they mess up, etc) but if we want to do something about unemployment or poverty then the rest of us has to be held in this fictional world that appeals to our instincts of fear and uncertainty.

And, of course, we then are encouraged to distrust politicians and so it goes.

My view is that once we expose these myths, more sensible political discourse can take place.

And if we do not like our government – that is they go crazy with their spending capacity – then we throw them out of office (in Australia, every three years or so).

I also think that if the standard of political dialogue was improved, higher-quality candidates would seek election and push out the time-serving careerists who dominate all political parties.

It is an extraordinary world where we accept a deception because knowing the truth might require us to act differently.

I don’t accept that proposition. I believe that the truth will set us free and we will become more politically engaged and demand quality political behaviour.

So, can we trust politicians?  We can trust ourselves!!


This has been a remix of three of Bill Mitchell’s blogs for the State of Modern Monetary Theory today.

MMT Does Not Advocate (or mean) “Monetisation”

Modern Monetary Theory in no way endorses “monetisation.” To the extent monetization is simply a name for quantitative easing (roughly, RBA purchases of long-term bonds), we either oppose it or find it only mildly effective and sometimes propose alternatives.

Whether it comes from Catallaxy, Rabobank or Saul Eslake, these ideas run rampant amongst the economics community.  Allow me to repeat, Modern Monetary Theory in no way endorses “monetisation.” At best we only find it mildly effective and have proposed other ways of achieving the same goal.

An example of an early MMT work that specifically criticizes even the use of the word monetisation is Warren Mosler’s Soft Currency Economics II, a paperback that is not too expensive at used book sites.

First, we believe that entities other than Canberra choose the form of Australian government liabilities through their investment, saving, financial-trading, and other choices.

Regardless of the public’s choice of assets, our central bank, the RBA, buys and sells assets to get its chosen interest rate(s). Of course, interest rates other than the cash rate are determined by other actors. The action of “the markets” (including huge banks) for bonds and other debt securities most closely approximate an uncoordinated supply-demand process. Unless, of course, market manipulation dominates there.

Critics across the spectrum have been gathering that the unique idea of MMT (perhaps because of its name) involves attempts to “pump money” into the system. This process would then likely generate inflation but would allow higher federal spending without tax increases.

In fact, as former Bernie Sanders aide and MMTer Stephanie Kelton puts it in her terrific new popular book (for example, on p. 36), you might as well think of bonds and money as “yellow dollars” or “green dollars”—more or less the same, except one pays interest.

Another place to find a good critique of the idea that deficits “pump money” into the economy is The Scourge of Monetarism by Nicholas Kaldor. In the writings in that 1980s book, Kaldor sought to dissuade British policymakers from an earlier round of fiscal austerity.

What MMT does is explain how the federal spending process works always. It does not call for a change in a method of financing. Moreover, the always-existing method of increasing spending does not require tax increases unless there is a macroeconomic need for them—say to dampen aggregate spending and cool down the economy. Hence, there is nothing magical about the number zero for the federal deficit or deficit increases. The federal government indeed never “pays for” new spending the way households or Australian States or local councils do. Hence, worries about higher deficits as such should not slow our crises responses ever.

This is a remix of Greg Hannsgen, Ph. D, UMKC graduate, Levy Economics Institute Research Associate post.  The original can be seen here.

ICYMI: Alan Kohler Embraces Modern Money

Alan Kohler has been a financial journalist for 46 years. He began as a cadet on The Australian covering the Poseidon boom and bust; has been a columnist for Chanticleer in the Australian Financial Review and editor of the AFR, and columnist for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Alan has also served as editor of The Age and for the past 21 years, he has been working for the ABC, first as business editor of the 7.30 Report and then host of Inside Business and finance presenter on ABC News (The Kohler Report).