Tag Archives: QE

Hamilton Holden Hutley Hound MMT

In April 2020 the Economic Society of Australia (ESA) held a webinar about the Australian Government’s fiscal response to the COVID Crisis. It included economists Steven Hamilton, Richard Holden, and Nicki Hutley facilitated by Shane Wright. Towards the end of the webinar, there was a Q&A, and questions were asked about Modern Monetary Theory.

As you will see we get the usual misinformation that its printing money; that QE is printing money; that it is printing money indefinitely and; there’s a Debt to GDP ratio limit (per Reinhart & Rogoff); as well as worry about the credit rating agencies; and the hyperinflation argument.


Nicki Hutley

Stephen and Richard will answer this question far far more theoretically than I will.
You know I’m following the debate interestingly and I love reading Krugman who’s just so into this and he’s very animated at the moment.

I like to call it magical monetary thinking. There are certain assumptions that you need to have for MMT to hold true; and one of them, obviously, if you look at Japan you could say well 200 percent Debt to GDP you know not not harming them.

There are a few things and there’s the Rogoff and Reinhardt study that sort of says when you get to a certain level of Debt to GDP it has an impact on your long-term growth for a start.

There’s also this assumption that everybody will that there won’t be some confidence effect, that rating agencies won’t come in and increase the price of your debt – that you can just keep wearing down the debt through growth and because growth is higher than the level of the interest rate and that is not always true. It might hold true for a while but it won’t hold true permanently. It’s a bit magical thinking to believe that we could suddenly, suddenly the world is completely different from everything that economic theorists have have held true for a long time.

[I’m] not saying that these theories don’t change over time but I’m certainly not convinced.

Steve Hamilton

Here’s all I’ll say as far as I can tell I had to ask someone what MMT was not that long ago.
to be honest with you as far as I can tell it’s a combination of two things. A set of things that almost every economist agrees with and then a set of things that almost every economist thinks are totally insane.

Right! So if we deal with the first group first it’s not news that there’s a thing called the inflation tax; like yeah of course we can fund anything we want by printing money that’s not news; you could do that but you’ll pay for it in inflation.

I think there is a set of MMT proponents that sort of it’s have it’s essentially an empirical question there’s a set of MMT proponents that think you can do it without an inflationary consequence and I think to me at some point inflation has to bind right otherwise you just print in infinite, infinite amounts of money and and we have to agree that some point inflation is going to bite.

So I kind of think we don’t need to think about MMT so much we can just say yes it makes sense the Reserve Bank uh is is is is doing its darnedest to keep buying bonds through QE right and in the short run we can get away with this printing money to pay for these kinds of assets without sparking inflation and I 100 per cent agree we should do that; but to do that infinitely and forever, I don’t know. I suspect Richard has a similar view.

Richard Holden

Let’s be clear QE is not MMT. And you know Phil (Lowe) was at pains to make that point yesterday that they’re buying on the secondary market they’re not just printing money they’re buying bonds. Right Japan issues bonds okay. The MMT folks say you don’t need to issue bonds you can just print money.

I think the way to think about that is the government’s balance sheets got a balance. What’s on the asset side the present discounted value of all future tax revenue that they can collect. What’s on the liability side? There’s bonds and there’s money. Okay now you can always issue more liabilities to cover liabilities but what happens if people think the market thinks you’re not being able to cover that at some point on the asset side with future tax revenues?

Well, the price of money falls – so what does that mean, it means inflation goes up right!? So that’s what’s sometimes known as the fiscal theory of the price level.


And the empirical evidence none of these MMT folks like it when you say Weimar Germany or Venezuela or Zimbabwe but you know try try France in 1981 under the Mitterand government that try
to put their feet their sort of toe in the water on this and inflation started getting out of control very quickly and had to reverse course or Germany under Gerhard Schroeder in 1998 same sort of thing

so um I think as Steve said the idea that
deficits that we can’t have like you know 80 per cent or 90 to use the Reinhardt Rogoff number Net Debt to GDP and some; there’s some magic number in which case it all falls apart that’s clearly wrong the idea that we can’t have a strong fiscal response is silly.

The idea that we can print money not issue bonds um and get away with it indefinitely that really is silly


Holden improves from his piece at The Conversation called “Printing Money is not the solution to all economic ills” and that is a genuine positive as it shows an evolution in his thought. I say he improves because unlike others he recognises that QE is not MMT. Unfortunately they all seem to be a little obsessed with seigniorage.

Please follow the links throughout this post as they correct the misunderstandings these economists have.

In fact, nothing described by any of these economists even resembles MMT. They would all do well to read the Explainer: What is Modern Monetary Theory?

Is Public Debt a Real Issue?

OK I just couldn’t help myself. I have to take issue with one of my favourite Australian economists yet again. A terribly nice guy.

This is a repost of a comment philosopher Tom Hickey wrote at the Economist in 2012.

First some abbreviations that are in use in the comment

NGDP = nominal GDP
MBS = Mortgage Backed Securities
QE = Quantitative Easing
ZIRP = Zero Interest Rate Policy

MMT proponents argue is that there is a difference between money created by fiscal deficits and money created by bank lending. When the government issues currency into non-government it does so through the Treasury directing its bank, the Fed, to credit non-government deposit accounts, e. g., to pay for fighter planes or to pay grannie’s social security. The transmission from reserves to bank deposits is direct and does not depend on bank lending. Moreover, since there is no liability corresponding to the assets created in non-government in crediting these bank accounts, deficit disbursements inject net financial assets into non-government. Conversely, bank lending nets to zero since each asset has a corresponding liability, so non-government net financial assets remain unchanged no matter how much banks lend.

The reason that NGDP targeting will not work is the flawed notion of the transmission mechanism from reserves to spendable bank deposits. When the Fed buys financial assets of whatever type, it simply increases bank reserves. The erroneous presumption about transmission is that that banks lend against reserves or lend out reserves. Neither is the case, as MMT points out. Rather, bank lend against capital based on demand from creditworthy borrowers willing to pay a rate that is profitable enough for the bank to risk it’s capital against. Increasing bank reserves does not spur banking lending and it does not affect the factors banks take into consideration in lending.

From this is simple to see why NGDP through increasing bank reserves, e.g., via QE, will not increase effective demand and spur increased investment to meet it. The transmission mechanism is bank lending, which is in abeyance, and increasing reserves will not increase it as the failure of QE has shown. Unless the Fed would buy real assets like houses instead of financial assets like MBS, it cannot not inject net financial assets into non-government, and there is no reason to expect an increase in effective demand due to increased bank reserves.The US is already at ZIRP and has been for some time. That has done nothing either. MMT predicted the failure of monetary policy — QE1 and QE2, as well as ZIRP, and QE3 will also fail unless the Fed would purchase real assets, which it is not permitted to do under current statute even under emergency powers, at least as I understand it. Time for fiscal policy to step up to the plate.

Now, John Quiggin calls himself an Old Keynesian but I find he is closer to a left-wing New Keynesian

As he said on RT:

…the only difference between the market monetarists and ordinary old keynesians as I see it is that they precisely treat nominal GDP as if it is a policy instrument when of course it is the target.

As we can see there is an immediate contradiction between Hickey’s second paragraph and Quiggin’s view. Perhaps that’s not the transmission mechanism he had in mind. So I asked:

Whilst we could agree with fiscal policy as indicated by Hickey above, how exactly would the monetary policy part work?

Remember the goal of monetary policy is to get you to change your behaviour with existing income contra fiscal policy which does it with additional income.

What we end up with is that monetary policy as conventionally defined cannot do nGDP targeting but fiscal policy can. That raises the question of why you would target nGDP when there are many better targets to use.

Or we could invoke the colloquial version of Goodhart’s Law:

When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure

We could continue to discuss how government debt is functionally the net money supply and how debt management is the mechanism by which we adjust rates and more but I feel that avoids the most provocative and productive question.

Would it not be better to target real outcomes & real supports with fiscal policy? Some examples could be any of the Australian Real Progressives goals.

MODERN MONETARY THEORY ENHANCES DEMOCRATIC ACCOUNTABILITY

MODERN MONETARY THEORY (MMT) is a description or if you prefer, a systemic analysis of currency as it presently exists.

It reveals that taxation is important in driving demand for currency among other things, including the creation of unemployment. After all, there is no unemployment in a non-monetary economy.

Adam Triggs, a research fellow at the Brookings Institution and Crawford School of Public Policy at Australian National University (ANU) wrote back in 2019 that MMT ‘looks like a solution in search of a problem’. That is not the case. MMT shows that the new economic consensus on the monetary system is false and it also shows what tools are available in the modern money toolkit.

Triggs proceeds:

‘If its [MMT’s] stated objective is to achieve full employment, then it appears unnecessary.’ 

This simple sentence is misleading in the extreme. MMT is just what exists. It has a preference for sovereign currencies but can explain any monetary system.

The preference for sovereign currency is because it makes available more independent policy space, enhancing democracy. Triggs then defines full employment as an unemployment rate of five per cent. Oh, the horror! This relies on the mythical “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment” (NAIRU), which is sometimes transposed with the phrase “natural rate of unemployment”.

MMT defines full employment (as do all good economists) as frictional unemployment which is somewhere between one and three per cent with zero or next to zero underemployment. These are the people that are switching jobs or are ill. After all, there is no natural rate of unemployment, just as there is no natural rate of homelessness, no natural rate of poverty and no natural rate of illiteracy.

MMT shows that all spending is new spending and is effectively financed by “printing” money. However, the term “printing money” is pretty misleading in economic circles.

What economists usually mean, in fancy terms, is quantitative easing (QE) — the swapping of government bonds for cash. A plain and simple financial asset swap. Bonds are first bought with cash and when QE is implemented the bonds are swapped back for cash. The cash comes first. What MMT means is that all spending is new spending whether done electronically with keystrokes or with physical cash. So, no, QE is not MMT and nor did QE produce inflation anywhere as predicted.

Quantitative Easing explained simply.

MMT argues for control of inflation through progressive tax rates, the job guarantee and other new automatic stabilisers. It also explains inflation is a resource distribution issue, not a monetary issue.

Triggs talks about the world lending us our own currency which is just nonsensical. For that to be even plausible, lenders would have to get it from us first — the word “sovereign” does the heavy lifting here. Even then, unless in physical cash, it stays on accounts at the central bank. So how on earth is foreign savings in Australian dollars going to finance anything?

Triggs also delves into some new economic consensus falsehoods about rising inflation, interest rates and depreciating exchange rates — as if we do not have the tools to manage these. We do.

The closest thing to a genuine critique or critical analysis of MMT Triggs offers is an appeal to the authority of some “eminent” new economic consensus economists, including Olivier Blanchard, who is moving closer and closer to MMT.

Triggs tries again in 2020 to say MMT is just a rebranding of orthodox economics — what I have previously called the new economic consensus. This is simple to disprove as orthodox economics believes taxes and/or bonds finance government spending.

Stephanie Kelton, author of the bestseller The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and How to Build a Better Economy, wrote a detailed operational paper that disproved that. The great irony is she was attempting to prove it.

In his 2020 article Triggs said:

For Kelton, the core propositions of MMT are that government budgets are fundamentally different from household budgets, that budget deficits are not necessarily bad, that governments should spend more when the economy is weak, and that governments should focus more on unemployment than budget deficits. She believes that the main constraint on government spending is inflation, that increasing the deficit need not make future generations poorer and that governments can’t run out of money if they have their own central bank, their own currency and no foreign debt.

If that all sounds right and logical to you, that’s because it is. Most mainstream economists have been making these points for close to one hundred years.

If Triggs accepts all this, he is approaching acceptance of MMT. However, to say most mainstream economists have been making these points for years is mistaken.

To quote the Australian developer of MMT, Bill Mitchell:

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 etcetera, etcetera that appear to not accept or understand the basic MMT claims?

Again, Triggs tries to counter with the inflation and/or hyperinflation argument against MMT — to which I repeat, MMT argues for control of inflation through progressive tax rates, the job guarantee and other new automatic stabilisers. It also explains inflation is a resource distribution issue, not a monetary issue.

Kelton herself reflects on this on Twitter in response to U.S. Senator Mike Braun:

‘If you get hyperinflation, then you didn’t follow the recipe. The recipe clearly defines the limits on spending.’

Kelton’s comment is a great counterpoint to relying on politicians to use the monetary system for anything beyond the public purpose. That is the reason we have democratic accountability and vote every electoral cycle.

This article was originally posted on Independent Australia on the 18th July 2021.
I improved the final paragraph.

A Rational Debate on Spending?

Twitter is full of comments around MMT being something you do – rather than something that is, We have articles like ‘Don’t let the Reserve Bank just give the Government money’ and articles that the leader of the opposition tells shadow cabinet to find cuts and spending offsets ahead of campaign.

How Governments Actually Spend

The foundations of MMT are quite simple. Currency issuing governments spend via appropriation bills, the spending is authorised and the relevant account at the central bank is marked up. That bank then credits the appropriate customer. Irrespective of past fiscal positions or the balance the government runs or the bonds they choose to issue, this process doesn’t change. There should be nothing controversial about that. That is the way government spending operates.

The idea that somehow our treasury departments are at the mercy of central bankers or bond market traders is ridiculous. We have seen the Australian government spend some $200bn over COVID and central banks around the world have been purchasing debt on what is called the secondary market. (referred to as Quantitative Easing)

I won’t walk through the whole process here you can read this post and this post. The crux of it is the Australian government creates the dollars via appropriation bills. The finance.gov.au website says there are two types of appropriations:

annual appropriations—a provision within an annual appropriation Act or a supply Act, that provides annual funding to entities and Commonwealth companies to undertake ongoing government activities and programs

special appropriations—a provision within an Act (that is not an annual appropriation Act or a supply Act) that provides authority to spend money for particular purposes (e.g. to finance a particular project or to make social security payments). Special accounts are a subset of special appropriations.

And continues with ‘While appropriation Acts authorise the drawing of money from the CRF [consolidated revenue fund]*, they do not authorise the spending of that money. Legislative authority is required for the Commonwealth to enter into arrangements to spend relevant money for a particular purpose.’

*The CRF is a ‘conceptual’ account created under the Australian constitution. All ‘money’ irrespective of where it is, exists within the CRF. A group of accounts the Australian government holds at the Reserve Bank are known as the offical public accounts (OPA) The numbers in these accounts do not form part of the money supply.

Think of the CRF as a transactional account that records what has been spent and what has been taxed. The numbers in it aren’t what can be spent. The authorisation of spending that comes after the appropriation is found in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013. It has its genesis in the Audit Act 1901. I am working through understanding and detailing the changes. Today the PGPA Act of 2013 under section 51 says

(1) If an amount is appropriated by the Parliament in relation to a Commonwealth entity, then the Finance Minister may, on behalf of the Commonwealth, make the appropriated amount available to the entity in such instalments, and at such times, as the Finance Minister considers appropriate.
(2)  However, the Finance Minister must make an amount available if:
(a)  a law requires the payment of the amount; and
(b)  the Finance Minister is satisfied that there is an available appropriation.

The UK for example has its origins in the Exchequer and Audit Departments Act 1866 where the first three subsections state:

(1) This section applies in respect of sums which Parliament has authorised, by Act or resolution of the House of Commons, to be issued out of the Consolidated Fund.
(2) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall, on receipt of a requisition from the Treasury, grant the Treasury a credit on the Exchequer account at the Bank of England (or on its growing balance).
(3)Where a credit has been granted under subsection (2) issues shall be made to principal accountants from time to time on orders given to the Bank by the Treasury.

If you want further evidence that bond issuance or taxes are irrelevant to government spending the UK Government used what they call the Ways and Means facility. They describe it ‘as the government’s overdraft account with the Bank of England (the Bank), i.e. the facility which enables sterling cash advances from the Bank to the government.’

The UK Treasury scrapped the issuance of bonds entirely.

“HM Treasury and the Bank of England (the Bank) have agreed to extend temporarily the use of the government’s long-established Ways and Means (W&M) facility.”

As a temporary measure, this will provide a short-term source of additional liquidity to the government if needed to smooth its cashflows and support the orderly functioning of markets, through the period of disruption from Covid-19.

It is coaxed in language to give readers the idea bonds are used to fund spending in ‘normal’ circumstances.

‘The government will continue to use the markets as its primary source of financing, and its response to Covid-19 will be fully funded by additional borrowing through normal debt management operations.’

The markets never ‘fund’ treasury operations. The appropriation bills do that. The authorisation of the spending marks up an account at the central bank and this is what gives the banks the ability to purchase bonds. It doesn’t matter what the past fiscal positions are. What matters is spending today and whether there are available real resources.

What has been happening with QE is that the debt management departments of treasury have been issuing bonds, having financial institutes buy them and the central banks have been buying them a week or so later. The UK stopped with this whole charade for a while on April 9 2020

So when stuff.co.nz writes

Purchasing debt (issued in the form of bonds) on the primary market means that instead of purchasing bonds from third parties like banks and investors, the Reserve Bank would buy the bonds directly from Treasury itself. One part of the Government would buy bonds issued by another part of the Government, cutting out the middleman. It’s a big move.

They have no clue what they’re talking about. Bond issuance funds nothing. Bond issuance switches currency in reserves to securities accounts. The latter is interest bearing. Though now the interest is paid from the treasury arm to the central banking arm of the government and the central banking arm then credits the treasury. Apparently ending this will be a great cause of concern.

But Treasury’s biggest concern was that skipping the secondary market would give New Zealand a bad reputation as it would look like the Reserve Bank was simply printing money for the Government to spend.

What is so difficult for financial journalist Thomas Coughlan to grasp. Financial institutes in New Zealand obtain NZD in their reserve accounts at the Bank of New Zealand via the NZ Treasury marking up the account. The dollars come from the appropriation bills. There are no printers, just keystrokes.

All this reminds me of when the Australian Government introduced its own notes.

In 1910 when the Australian Government banned private bank note issuance and issued its own via treasury there were objections. The hansards record the member for Wentworth, Mr Kelly ‘We ought further to be informed what guarantees the public will have that this particular method is not being adopted for the purpose of raising money without paying interest thereon by a Government which refuses to borrow. (House of Representative Hansard No.30, p.690, 1910)

There you have it, the same old arguments because some capitalist lose their free lunch. They’d rather keep the way spending works in the dark to demonise public expenditure, collect their interest bearing assets (bonds), watch governments cut public expenditure, privatise public assets, and maintain a desperate pool of workers that work for desperate wages.

And Australia’s opposition party plays into the narrative. The second article quotes that “Two shadow cabinet members, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Age and the Herald emphasising budget repair at a time when the Coalition government was prepared to spend billions sent “mixed messages” and “lacked imagination”.

And whoever those mysterious shadow ministers are, are correct. We have witnessed the largest government spending since World War Two and much of the arguments that demonise public spending are the same now as they were for the last century. It is getting tiresome.

But the status quo in the ALP remains. Richard Marles writes

“As Anthony has made clear, all policy proposals should consider options to minimise the fiscal impact and/or be fully offset by savings within respective portfolios,”

That is all from me!

This is an edited post originally by Jengis Osman originally published on Fighting Fish

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.