Thursday, December 26, 2013

What is “MMT”?

In some of my posts on Facebook, Progressive Policy Digest, The Soap Blog, or in my emails I have referred to "MMT". I usually get no questions or inquiries about it, which seems to reflect a lack of knowledge of the subject. Basically, MMT prescribes a path that would have had us at full employment long ago, and from a federal debt perspective, is the exact opposite of the austerity currently being pushed by both political parties, so it's very important. In spite of it's name, it's not modern, not exclusively monetary, and certainly not theory. It's an explanation of how economics and banking works in a country with it's own currency. It's understood by all good economists at the Fed and think tanks around the country that are not wedded to an ideological agenda. But, it can't seem to penetrate the Washington Consensus, the mainstream media, or the lay public, who continue to think the federal government must operate like an individual or a state that only uses the currency, which is the exact opposite of the way it works.

The macroeconomic literature provides the evidence for the validity of MMT, but is beyond the understanding of lay people. "What is Modern Monetary Theory, or “MMT”? by Dale Pierce is a lay explanation by a non-economist of the basics of MMT. For background and an historical perspective explore the three part series on MMT at New Economic Perspectives by the same author.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Here’s where I stand. Where are you?

Have you noticed that the MMTers (Mosler, Wray, Kelton, etal) are getting more exposure in interviews on the internet and some main stream media? By the time the next election rolls around the jig will be up for the austerity dummies. I've digested all the MMT (Modern Money Theory) stuff and am convinced that most of the other economists are in a time warp, or just being outright political to maintain their research funding. It's so simple, we just need the government to get a jobs program enacted and start spending again on infrastructure, education, and research like we did in the fifties. 

In the long run we should have government health insurance, public financing of infrastructure, education and basic research, and publicly funded retirement programs for all, so people don't have to worry about these things and can spend their income to maintain demand and enjoy life. That is a legitimate role for government as demonstrated by most enlightened developed countries around the world. We need to catch up.

We also need to harness the corporations and the few that own and run them, so they can do what they do well, and not run the country into the ground to satisfy their own greed. But, it's very hard to do when all the politicians and the electorate are acting like we're still on the gold standard. Guys like Pete Peterson, Simpson, and Bowles are engaging in false advertising. They're totally in the pockets of the oligarchy.

Beyond that we need to stop the warring, snooping, and international belligerence and join the community of nations instead of trying to sanction or rule them, while agitating for another cold war. And, that includes dissolving the dependent relationships with the Saudis and Israelis and their lobbyists in Washington.

It will be up to the Democrats to do all this, because the Republicans are at present a hopeless cause. They are trapped in the Ayn Rand propaganda. Democrats will have to start discovering what is important and what is not and re-prioritize their objectives and actions. Rehashing Republican ills is just free advertising for Fox News. Keeping issues in the limelight is what gets the public started thinking about them. And, in my opinion, the important issues are the ones I've just enumerated. The Dems won't be successful until they ditch the alliance with Wall Street and corporate America. We already have one party that is totally dedicated to that bunch. We don't need two. We need one party that is smart and is the champion of the people, so the people have a voice in what legislation gets enacted. It may take a couple election cycles to accomplish it, buts it has to be done to get the country back on the right track.

The one thing individuals you can do is keep these talking points alive in the circles they travel in, and vote for what is right, not what is expedient or compromising to win elections. That will only maintain the status quo.

And, this is not being negative! It's positive. Being negative is going along to get along, while half the country suffers in poverty or near poverty.

Do your part and tell your family and friends to do the same!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reconciling MMT and the Current Legal Finance System

Modern Money Theory (MMT) explains the way finance works in a country with its own currency, when many self imposed legal constraints are removed. Currently existing legal constraints in the United States include the following:

1) a national debt limit

2) the Treasury can only mint coin

3) the Federal Reserve bank (Fed) can issue paper money and credit Treasury and private reserve accounts in payment for notes, bills and other Treasury and privately issued financial assets it buys in the open market. The Fed cannot buy Treasury securities directly from the Treasury.

3) the income earned on assets the Fed purchases is paid to the Treasury

4) the members of the Fed Board of Governors are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.

In these legal constraints we see and attempt to make the Treasury and Fed somewhat independent, but also subject to government action in the final analysis. This is probably due to the time period when these laws were enacted, when the country was on the gold standard. We are no longer on the gold standard now,  so some no longer apply, as we are now a country with a fiat currency. If held strictly to the current legal constraints, the country is treated like an individual or state which must use tax collections or borrow in it’s own currency to finance its operations.

The contention between MMT advocates and its critics largely revolves around the independence of the Fed from the Treasury. In practice, over the years the Fed and Treasury have acted jointly on the vast majority of matters, for example, in Fed provided loans to bring reserve accounts up to the required level and in purchasing Treasury notes and bills from member banks to lower the interest rate the Treasury needs to pay on them. MMT economists tend to treat the Treasury and Fed as a consolidated unit. Critics sometimes do not. Both have a point and the difference is not likely to be resolved any time soon.

The downside of the current stalemate serves to reinforce the commonly held premise that the federal government needs to be treated like and individual or state that is a user of the currency and not like the issuer to the currency that it is, which leads to policies that are the exact opposite of what is needed when the country is in a recession or near depression and unemployment is high. The current emphasis on cutting spending and limiting debt, when fiscal stimulus or reduced taxes are needed to increase demand is an example of this case. When the country is prospering and at full employment taxes need to be increased or federal debt repaid to avoid inflation. These necessities, and the need for changes in the law to accommodate them, are obscured by the lack of understanding of the underlying principles that MMT  seeks to reveal .

Monday, December 09, 2013

Government has a Role in the Economy–Get Over It!

The mindset of the right is wrong. The federal government is not like an individual or a state. It is the issuer of the currency. Individuals and states are just users. They must borrow to spend beyond their means. The government doesn’t. When the private sector saves, but the savings are not invested, the government must run deficits to provide the vehicle to absorb the savings, i. e. government bills and bonds. It’s a mathematical identity that many economists, politicians, and think tanks don’t understand.

The public must understand that the federal government has a major role to play in providing infrastructure, in the form of roads, bridges, power grids, research, education,  health insurance, retirement benefits, and a living wage job guarantee to eliminate unemployment.  Worker skills and attitudes deteriorate when workers are unemployed. When the individuals and private businesses have to provide for these benefits through savings, it reduces spending, which sustains demand and maintains a healthy economy.

To harness the capitalistic drive for innovation, entrepreneurship, and monetary success reasonable government regulations are required to prevent an unequal distribution of the rewards of productivity growth, maintain a healthy middle class, and keep people from falling into poverty and becoming a drag on the economy.

If we continue to think that capitalism is a self regulating wonder and people are self sustaining individuals that don’t need to cooperate in their endeavors we will continue to be a society struggling for answers and living with cycles of economic bubbles that destroy the spirit and will of the country.