Tag Archives: Yeva Nersisyan

What MMT Is Not… What MMT is…

Normally at Australian real Progressives we remix for an Australian audience but as this is a recent repost from multiplier-effect from L. Randall Wray and Yeva Nersisyan we did not wish anything to be taken out of context as it refers to specific U.S. events. Just replace Fed with RBA, President with Governor-General and the gist remains. We have dealt with most of these misconceptions  previously.

As MMT has been thrust into the spotlight, misrepresentations and misunderstanding have followed. MMT supposedly calls for cranking up the printing press, engaging in helicopter drops of cash or having the Fed finance government spending by engaging in Quantitative Easing.

None of this is MMT.

Instead, MMT provides an analysis of fiscal and monetary policy applicable to national governments with sovereign, non-convertible currencies. It concludes that the sovereign currency issuer: i) does not face a “budget constraint” (as conventionally defined); ii) cannot “run out of money”; iii) meets its obligations by paying in its own currency; iv) can set the interest rate on any obligations it issues.

Current procedures adopted by the Treasury, the central bank, and private banks allow government to spend up to the budget approved by Congress and signed by the President. No change of procedures, no money printing, no helicopter drops are required.

In the old days, governments just notched tally sticks, minted coins, or printed paper money when they spent, then collected them in redemption taxes and burned or melted down all the revenue. Today all modern governments use central banks to make and receive all payments through private banks. Government spending is still financed by money creation, and taxes destroy money—but in the form of central bank reserves. Instead of wooden sticks, we use electronic keystrokes, which the government cannot run out of. Bond sales merely swap one government liability for another, while paying off bonds reverses the operation.

Critics make a big deal of the separation of the Treasury (the government’s spending arm) and the Central Bank (the issuer of currency), claiming the latter is independent and may refuse to “finance” Treasury spending. The separation of the Treasury and the Fed does not alter government’s ability to spend. The Fed is a creature of Congress and an agency of the U.S. government. Liabilities of the Fed (notes and reserves) are obligations of the United States just like Treasury securities. Yes, different arms of the government issue these, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are liabilities of the United States.

As MMT explains, since bonds can only be purchased with reserves (the government will take only its obligations in payments to itself), the reserves must be supplied first before bonds can be purchased. It demonstrates how the Fed provides the reserves needed to buy the Treasuries even as it never violates the prohibition against “lending” to the Treasury by buying the bonds directly. The Fed has to ensure that funds to buy the bonds are available to safeguard the payments system, to achieve its interest rate targets and for financial stability considerations.

None of this is optional for the Fed. It cannot refuse to clear government checks. It is the government’s bank, after all, and is focused on the stability in the payments system.

Case in point: the Fed engaged in repo operations last September to add reserves to the system when Treasury bond sales and corporate tax payments left the market without its desired level of liquidity, pushing repo rates above the Fed’s desired levels. Any disturbance in the Treasury market will have ripple effects as many financial institutions have sizable holdings of Treasuries. Indeed, the Fed’s very first intervention during the pandemic was in the form of repo operations, citing “disturbances” in the Treasury market.

Government can make all payments as they come due. Bond vigilantes cannot force default. While their portfolio preferences could affect interest rates and exchange rates, the central bank’s interest rate target is the most important determinant of interest rates on the entire structure of bond rates. Bond vigilantes cannot hold the nation hostage—the central bank can always overrule them. In truth, the only bond vigilante we face is the Fed. And in recent years it has demonstrated a firm commitment to keep rates low. In any event, the Fed is a creature of Congress, and Congress can seize control of interest rates any time it wants.

Finally, even if the Fed abandons low rates, the Treasury can “afford” to make all payments on debt as they come due, no matter how high the Fed pushes rates. Affordability is not the issue. The issue will be over the desirability of making big interest payments to bond holders. If that’s seen as undesirable, Congress can always tax away whatever it deems as excessive.


We hope the Coronavirus will teach us that in normal times we must build up our supplies, our infrastructure and institutions to be able to deal with crises, whatever form they may take. We should not wait for the next national crisis to live up to our means.


In conclusion, MMT rejects the analogy that a sovereign government’s budget is just like a household’s. The difference between households and the sovereign holds true in times of crisis and also in normal times, regardless of the level of interest rates and existing levels of outstanding government bonds (i.e. national debt). The sovereign can never run out of finance. Period.

That doesn’t mean MMT advocates policy to ramp up deficits. For MMT a budget deficit is an outcome, not a goal or even a policy tool to be used in recession. There’s no such thing as “deficit spending” to be used in a downturn or even a crisis. Government uses the same procedures when spending no matter what the budgetary outcome turns out to be. We won’t know until the end of the fiscal year as the outcome will depend on the performance of the economy. And the spending will already have occurred before we even know the end-of-the-year budget balance.

MMT recognizes that the constraint faced by government is resource availability. Below full employment government spending creates “free lunches” as it utilizes resources which would otherwise be left idle. Unemployment is evidence that the country is living below its means. A country lives beyond its means only when it goes beyond full employment, when more government spending competes for resources already in use. Full employment means that the nation is living up to its means.

The most important lesson we must learn from this crisis is that the ability of the government to run deficits is not limited to times of crisis. Indeed, it was a policy error to keep the economy below full employment before this crisis hit in the belief that government spending was limited by financial constraints. Ironically, the real limits faced by government before the pandemic hit were far less constraining than the limits faced after the virus had brought a huge part of our productive capacity to a halt!

We hope the Coronavirus will teach us that in normal times we must build up our supplies, our infrastructure and institutions to be able to deal with crises, whatever form they may take. We should not wait for the next national crisis to live up to our means.

Misconceptions about MMT – Part II

This post continues our three-part (I, II, III) series by Rohan Grey that was originally an educational tweetstorm.  Rohan Grey is a Modern Money scholar, founder of the Modern Money Network (MMN)  and Lawyer.

CLAIM 2 (Claim 1)

MMT ignores the actual practical workings of institutions…institutions are presupposed, & even if they are taken into account it’s presuppose they are the same everywhere, & institutional quality is not looked at

Moving to the second claim, that MMT ignores the actual practical workings of institutions and institutional quality. First, MMT has emphasized from the very beginning the importance of a detailed institutional analysis of monetary operations (arguably more than other PKers), including intra-governmental agency dynamics, such as Stephanie’s article exploring how taxes and bond sales work in the context of fiscal deficits here:

http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/can-taxes-and-bonds-finance-government-spending

Or Fullwiler’s article tracing the inter-institutional operational steps involved in fiscal spending in the US context here:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1825303

Or it’s detailed understanding of primary dealer markets, such as Eric Tymoigne’s piece here:

Click to access wp_788.pdf

Indeed, many MMT scholars consider themselves working in the tradition of Hyman Minsky, who always and everywhere emphasized understanding the institutional arrangements and innovations that emerge endogenously from financial systems.

Hence, MMT scholars such as Randy Wray and Yeva Nersisyan highlighting the importance of the shift towards a shadow bank-centric world, here:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1559383

And designing proposals that go into detail in terms of proposing new institutional arrangements for the financial system, such as here:

Click to access ppb_115.pdf

https://digitalcommons.bard.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1159&context=hm_archive

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/proposals-for-the-banking_b_432105

Or understanding corporate taxation and other possible ways of curbing corporate power, such as Nathan and my work here:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3200249

In addition to work looking at the potential for local and complementary currency systems to be integrated with food systems, such as Ben Wilson’s work here:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3411111

Or Mat Forstater and Josefina Li’s work here:

https://books.google.com/books?id=MxVBDwAAQBAJ&pg=PR5&lpg=PR5&dq=josefina+li+complementary+currency&source=bl&ots=R5HqlfokOp&sig=ACfU3U1kWB_MpODsPqkU6dYfpEpP-lBh5Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjvqdnBnMLkAhViS98KHbTGDFQQ6AEwAHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=josefina%20li%20complementary%20currency&f=false

And @RaulACarrillo ’s work tracing out the legal-institutional structures constraining individual freedom here, connecting MMT directly with Hale:

Keeping It Real: Law, Coercion, & The Frontiers of Public Finance

And Pavlina’s research into the evolution of state-legal institutions as a vehicle for power:

http://www.levyinstitute.org/publications/money-power-and-monetary-regimes

As well as Mat Forstater’s work on the chartalism in a colonialist context:

Click to access RiPE%20Forstater.pdf

And possibilities for confederalist governance models of a JG, here:

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137313997_7

In addition, MMTers were some of the first to highlight the potential for the coin seigniorage to overcome specific institutional constraints in the context of the US debt ceiling debate, as evidenced here:

Coin Seignorage and Inflation

And more broadly have engaged with the legal and political science literature around central bank independence, such as here (Randy):

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2407707

And me:

I personally have written a lot on the unique institutional dynamics of financial systems in developing countries with mobile money systems, such as here:

https://www.binzagr-institute.org/working-paper-no-116/

As well as consulted directly with companies and the UN on new digital currency technologies and considerations for countries around the world to implement, as seen here:

Click to access TheMacroeconomicImplicationsOfDigitalFiatCurrencyEVersion.pdf

Click to access DFC-O-006_Report%20on%20Regulatory%20Challenges%20and%20Risks%20for%20Central%20Bank%20Digital%20Currency.pdf

And my advisor Bob Hockett, a MMT ‘fellow traveler’ that has regularly collaborated with MMTers, has written extensively on the legal historical foundations of endogenous money with Saule Omarova:

https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2820176

As well as the corporate law form and its relationship to the modern banking charter:

https://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/facpub/1451/

And this is before we get to the historical research that MMT scholars have undertaken on the origins of money and monetary dynamics in pre-modern societies, which obviously implies different institutional relationships:

Click to access hudson.pdf

Click to access wp_832.pdf

including a broader understanding of ‘the state’ that includes religious authorities:

Click to access SemenovaOriMonEva.pdf

https://econpapers.repec.org/article/blaajecsc/v_3a70_3ay_3a2011_3ai_3a2_3ap_3a376-400.htm

I’m also conducting research specifically on the privacy implications of monetary system design, specifically in the context of emerging digital currency technologies:

https://macromusings.libsyn.com/143-rohan-grey-on-digital-currency-privacy-and-modern-monetary-theory

So the idea that MMT has some ‘one-sized fits all’ understanding of institutions, and ignores actual practical workings of specific state systems, is simply false.