Tag Archives: Stephanie Kelton

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.

Progressives should not be apprehensive about MMT. Here’s Why!

Often we hear about how Modern Monetary Theory is neither modern nor monetary – I think this is a simplistic view.

We heard it from RBA Governor Phillip Lowe and similar from the former RBA Governor Ian MacFarlane.  MacFarlane certainly has a better grasp of MMT than Phillip Lowe.

I said the following on John Quiggin’s review of the Mitchell, Wray, Watts textbook:

MMT uses the word ‘Modern’ in a polysemic way.  ‘Modern’ is intended as Keynes used the word in A Treatise on Money and since the closing of the gold standard window in 1971.

It is monetary as in it is about how money instruments (currency) shifts real resources (not to be confused with monetary policy) and it is a theory in the scientific use of the word – an evidence-based framework.

Economists often seem unable to break free of jargon or the specialised definitions of their profession. The average person is likely to hear the everyday meaning of words like “government debt”, rather than the economic definition, which in this case would be “net money supply”. We need economists to communicate more directly if they are to enhance our education of economic topics that are constantly misrepresented in the media. For example, people probably think of all the following as “monetary stuff”: my bank deposit; the government securities in my superannuation portfolio (bonds); the (“fiscal”) spending by the government of the day. Yet economists would want to point out important distinctions between these phenomenon. We need simple, clear language to understand these distinctions.

Currently, the Modern Money view is being challenged by other progressives as noted here and parried and riposted here.

It has also been targeted as having an “anti-tax” agenda by some progressives.  Sure they add a minor nuance to it as “movement MMT” but once again I think this is a misunderstanding which once again I hope I have clarified above.

To repeat what I have said previously. Governments can increase spending as much as they like with no need for an offsetting increase in tax revenue or non-fiscal offsets if there is little to no risk of politically unacceptable inflation. This is what these people mean and is perfectly compatible with ‘academic’ MMT and is neither anti-tax nor about weakening workers power, it is about courage, compassion, connection, hope, optimism and empowerment of workers – those currently working and those that are involuntarily not working that desire to do so.

It is a little US-centric but you can see it demonstrated quite successfully by Stephanie Kelton here:

From about the 26th minute

We only need to be better than today’s unemployment policy choice.

There are also many that seem obsessed with taxation revenue instead of building capacity.

“…so it’s usual to speak of public expenditure being paid for by taxes (or, better, tax revenues)…”

To say this is completely misleading to all except but perhaps well-heeled economists. Even as Quiggin wrote and intended to mean “…Taxes are the primary instrument by which resources are transferred from private to public expenditure…” or any other economist that uses a similar phrase.

Saying it is paid by tax revenues gives the wrong impression.

Reframing from money’s ‘how will you pay for it?’ to ‘how will you resource it?’ makes it much clearer and shows money itself is no object [also the title of a Stephanie Kelton presentation].

This itself exposes it is not about an increase in tax revenues but about access to resources and thus resource constraints (inflation) which is detailed informatively by Scott Fullwiler, Nathan Tankus and Rohan Grey at the Financial Times.

Again to repeat myself. MMT’s foundational point is taxes drive the currency. The point about not increasing taxes or tax rates from proponents is that it may not be required to raise them to use particular resources, especially if they are currently idle.

We constantly get comments about revenue/tax revenue as well but revenue raised is  like a budget outcome is determined within the economic system.  We use the fancy word ‘endogenous’ for that.   As Beardsley Ruml wrote many years ago Taxes for Revenue are Obsolete and Tax Policies for Prosperity and he makes a very persuasive case.

Revenue raising evokes false frames for ways thinking about the Australian economy.

 

 

Australian Progressive Economists are at it Again!

As Kate Raworth says in Doughnut Economics, economics is the mother tongue of public policy.  So it is vitally important to understand the operational interactions of economics correctly to formulate public policy.

Nominal Progressive Economists like John Quiggin, Andrew Leigh, Richard Holden and others are at it again.  Andrew Leigh and his colleagues have an issue with Modern Monetary Theory but have not done their most cursory research about the constituent parts of MMT.

Real Progressive Economists should have a real connection with Keynes and Kalecki and other economists done correctly and not what Joan Robinson called “Bastard Keynesianism”.

Every Modern Money Theorist and other MMT proponents would agree that MMT and “conventional economic thinking” can arrive at the same or similar conclusions.

What follows is an adaptation of the work of the Swiss MMTist Andrea Terzi.

Modern Monetary Theory has historical precedents.

First, the notion—developed by Adam Smith—that the wealth of a nation is measured not by monetary values, but by its capacity to produce goods and services.

Second, the notion of money—developed by John Maynard Keynes—that any modern state claims the right to declare what money is.

While Smith’s concept hints to full employment as the primary policy objective, Keynes’s concept hints to the management of money as instrumental to reach such objective. Furthermore, MMT explicitly recognises that the currency itself is a public monopoly.

This leads to an appreciation of the monetary system fundamentally different from the conventional economic thinking / bastard keynesianism paradigm.

What follows is a summary of eight key differences between these two models:  the Bastard-Keynesian paradigm (BK) and the Modern Money View (or MMT).

1.
BK – The central bank controls the money supply indirectly through its power to control the monetary base.

MMT – The private sector uses bank deposits as money, and bank deposits are not directly controlled by the central bank: they get created by government spending and bank loans.

2.
BK – Because the central bank controls the money supply, it also controls the nominal interest rate in the money market.

MMT – Because it is the monopolist of money, the central bank controls the interest rate.

3.
BK – The long-term nominal interest rate is determined by private preferences about real saving and investment, as well as by inflation expectations.

MMT – The central bank has the power to control the interest rate at any maturity: the interest rate is a purely monetary phenomenon.

4.
BK – A monetary expansion can expand output and employment temporarily and yet, at some point, it generates inflation.

MMT – Any operation by which the central bank buys or sells financial assets does not make the private sector any richer and has little or no consequence on private spending decisions.

5.
BK – Government decisions are largely driven by short-term personal goals of politicians, and thus the management of money should be the responsibility of an independent institution with a long-run horizon.

MMT – While monetary policy can only set interest rates, fiscal policy is much more powerful, since any deficit of the public sector generates an equivalent financial surplus of the private sector, and thus affects spending decisions.

6.
MK – Taxes serve the purpose of financing government spending.

MMT – Because government spending takes resources off the private sector and simultaneously generates income and wealth in the private sector, it will cause inflation from excess demand unless a sufficient amount of taxes is levied on the private sector.

7.
BK – If the government spends more than its tax revenue, it must borrow funds from the private sector, and this reduces funding to the private sector.

MMT – Unless it loses its power to define what money is, the government is the currency issuer: It faces no funding constraint, and it must spend or lend first, before the economy has the funds needed to pay taxes and buy government debt.

8.
BK – Price stability is a precondition for economic growth and job creation.

MMT – A government deficit of a size that matches the private sector’s desire to accumulate financial savings is a precondition for full employment.

Modern Money takes many strands of classical economists, Keynesian economists and Post-Keynesian economists and weaves a consistent coherent synthesis of the many strands to describe the operationally correct procedures of the macroeconomy.

Once these are understood and not mythologised into deadly innocent frauds, noble lies or rules of thumb heuristics it opens up policy space.

So then you can argue for your public policy goals, whatever they may be, not just on their own terms but in a holistic complete way without any misunderstandings.

John Quiggin’s Modern Money Evidence Based Framework Review

John Quiggin has very kindly reviewed Macroeconomics by William Mitchell, Randall Wray and Martin Watts, an undergraduate textbook based on Modern Money Theory (or Modern Monetary Theory).  It is a very good review.

Quiggin begins with the headline ‘Modern Monetary Theory: Neither modern, nor monetary, nor (mainly) theoretical?

Perhaps such a headline was designed to be clickbait, as the headline has a more negative tone than the review itself.

MMT uses the word ‘Modern’ in a polysemic way.  ‘Modern’ is intended as Keynes used the word in A Treatise on Money and since the closing of the gold standard window in 1971.

It is monetary as in it is about how money instruments (currency) shifts real resources (not to be confused with monetary policy) and it is a theory in the scientific use of the word – an evidence-based framework.

There are a few minor disputes I have with the review.  The review is very good up until this point:

“The second, which might be called ‘popular MMT’, or, more pejoratively, ‘vulgar MMT’, is a movement in which the statement ‘taxes don’t finance public expenditure’ is interpreted to mean that governments can increase spending as much as they like, with no need for an offsetting increase in tax revenue. This view was presented by pastor Delman Coates, speaking at the Third Modern Monetary Theory conference at Stony Brook University”

I think this is a misunderstanding. Governments can increase spending as much as they like with no need for an offsetting increase in tax revenue or non-fiscal offsets if there is little to no risk of politically unacceptable inflation. This is what these people mean and is perfectly compatible with ‘academic’ MMT.

Which brings us to “Anyone looking for a defence of the claim that we can have a Green New Deal, or some other large-scale expansion of public spending, without any increase in taxation, will be disappointed,” which is fairly reasonable but it depends on what we include in the GND, what we don’t spend on, the use and access to resources we already have. It is a little US-centric but you can see it demonstrated quite successfully by Stephanie Kelton here:

From about the 26th minute

Overall, John Quiggin has presented what I would consider a satisfactory review of the Macroeconomics textbook. As Quiggin suggests some of the positions presented by the text are perfectly aligned within various existing Keynesian paradigms.  However, an issue with mainstream Keynesianism is that it never provides the clarity that MMT has. Even from John Quiggin himself, on MMT and Russia he wrote:

“…so it’s usual to speak of public expenditure being paid for by taxes (or, better, tax revenues)…”

To say this is completely misleading to all except but perhaps well-heeled economists. Even as Quiggin wrote and intended to mean “…Taxes are the primary instrument by which resources are transferred from private to public expenditure…” or any other economist that uses a similar phrase.

Saying it is paid by tax revenues gives the wrong impression.

Reframing from money’s ‘how will you pay for it?’ to ‘how will you resource it?’ makes it much clearer and shows money itself is no object [also the title of a Stephanie Kelton presentation].

This itself exposes it is not about an increase in tax revenues but about access to resources and thus resource constraints (inflation) which is detailed informatively by Scott Fullwiler, Nathan Tankus and Rohan Grey at the Financial Times.

Anyone a little MMT literate will not deny the use of taxes in an MMT frame, its foundational point is taxes drive the currency. The point about not increasing taxes or tax rates from proponents is that it may not be required to raise them to use particular resources, especially if they are currently idle.

I hope this has reconciled the differences between pop-MMT and Academic MMT.  Those that follow Modern Monetary Theory share a view with Joan Robinson about mainstream Keynesianism which she called ‘bastard Keynesianism’.  Modern Money Theory is a coherent attempt at reconciling Keynes view and other ‘modern’ views in the operational macroeconomic paradigm we work in today.