Millennial Agenda― (and how to pay for it!)


What follows is a to-do list for the next political power generation―the Millennials in whose hands the operation of America will begin soon, thankfully, to be grasped. The Boomer and GenX generations have succeeded in guiding America to the brink of social chaos and environmental disaster. Thankfully, the Millennials actually have the critical tool necessary to build anew what the 1% power-structures of the Boomer/GenXers have so greedily destroyed. All that is required is for the Millennials to step into their political power, grasp the tool, and begin the work.

The Millennial Agenda, as I think of it, encompasses a broad scope of specific, concrete, public and collective goods and services. Underlying each of the specific agenda items is the same essential proposition―the “tool” I just made reference to. This tool is already in place and operational, though it has been willfully misunderstood, misused and gummed up by the Boomer and GenX logic of economic power. The tool is “sovereign fiat-money.” And the proposition which will underpin each of the Millennial Agenda items is this: public and collective goods in America are to be purchased from American businesses and citizens with sovereign fiat-money―rather than U.S. tax dollars.

This is a critically important proposition for two reasons: First, it means that what the Millennial Agenda can undertake to achieve is not limited by some theoretical finite number of U.S. dollars, but instead is limited by the actual resources―labor, materials, technology, and natural assets―which are sustainably available within America’s borders. To give a specific example, the first Millennial To-Do―providing a “free” college or technical education for every American high-school graduate―does not beg the question of how many federal tax dollars will have to be collected to pay for the educational facilities and services. The question, instead, is how many teachers and education administrators are actually available to provide the services? How many classroom facilities and technical learning labs are available to house the education processes? And, if more are needed, are there enough carpenters, electricians, plumbers, steel fabricators and masons to do the work? It is precisely the same framework of questions that America used to put itself to work to wage World War 2—and the success of that effort (or how it was “paid” for) is not something that can ever be questioned.

The second reason the proposition is important is because it means the calculation the Agenda item requires is not how many tax dollars the education services will cost the federal government, but rather how many sovereign fiat-dollars the teachers, administrators, and facility builders will get paid to provide the education services. These paychecks will then represent new dollars those educators and builders will spend to buy the consumer goods and services for sale in the private sector economy—a calculation that for-profit American businesses will certainly take heed of.

Obviously, the calculations just described are dramatically different from the calculations currently being made by a Republican congress and administration in their chaotic attempt to rationalize America’s tax code. But we don’t need to worry about any of that nonsense―except to the extent that we’ll have to wait (with as much nurturing patience as possible) until the Millennials begin to grasp their political power. In the meantime, that optimistic, inclusive, perhaps too fun-loving but cooperative generation can begin contemplating their agenda—which I am presumptuously now going to outline. The Millennials (and anyone else, of course) are invited to suggest modifications. What is not allowed, however, is to suggest that none of it is possible “because we can’t collect enough tax dollars to pay for it.”

A Millennial Agenda To-Do List:

  1. Free college or technical school education for every American high school graduate.
  2. Immediate forgiveness/pay-off of all student loans in America.
  3. Free pre-school day-care available in every American neighborhood and community.
  4. Free medical and pharmacy clinics in every American neighborhood and community.
  5. Free universal health-care for all American citizens.
  6. A national housing COOP to enable the creation of affordable, workforce and retirement co-housing.
  7. A national “higher-ground” relocation and rebuilding program for coastal communities.
  8. A guaranteed living wage in exchange for useful community service.
  9. A national workforce program with the following specific targets:
    1. Coal-mine reclamation and watershed restoration
    2. Nuclear and chemical toxic clean-up
    3. Local water and sewage treatment systems
    4. Local renewable energy micro-grids
    5. Desert rain-harvesting and reforestation
    6. Coastal wetland reclamation
    7. Wildlife and fisheries habitat restoration

It is worth noting a pattern in this to-do list. Each item is a public or collective good that cannot be effectively or adequately provided by a profit-motivated market economy. The first items have to do with non-discretionary human needs—education, health, and housing—which a healthy and successful human society, by definition, will provide its members, profit or not. The rest of the items are public or collective goods which profit-oriented enterprise has no interest in providing because they do not generate financial profits—or because their profit horizon is beyond conventional financial time-frames. Broadly speaking, the overall pattern of the list is this: (1) Take care of ourselves in order that we might (2) begin the long task of taking care of—and restoring—the natural ecosystems which we’ve brought to the brink of disaster, within which we’re embedded biologically, psychologically, and culturally—and upon which we depend for our very survival.

16 Responses to Millennial Agenda― (and how to pay for it!)

  1. I find your opening sentence awkward . I offer the following as an alternative rewrite, which you are free to use or adapt without attribution.
    The Millennial generation will soon grasp the levers of operation of American government. The following is a to-do list for the next political power generation.

  2. Susan Mercurio

    This is great! I have shared it to my email, hoping I can send it to Randy Bryce, currently running against Paul Ryan in Wisconsin.

    I hope #IronStache wins, and I am trying to arm him with MMT knowledge so that he knows what he’s doing when he gets to Congress.

  3. Absolutely outstanding. *****

  4. All good, J. D. Alt. I might add that we have a precedence for the process you have described. The RFC, started late in Hoover’s administration, produced the great economy we had in the 40s and 50s. Eisenhauer closed it in the 50s leaving as remnants the Export/Import Bank, Fannie Mae and the Small business Administration. In the 40s the RFC was the largest bank in the world. China copied us and have three RFC type national banks and they are the three largest banks in the world now and have enabled the economic growth we have seen in China. We need to copy the Chinese who copied us!

  5. One slight problem with blaming this on the Boomers and Gen-Xers: Reaganomics was the accelerator for all this and he was part of the “Greatest Generation” (the GI generation that won WWII), as was JFK. To blame systemic failure on a whole generation when it was due to the concentration of wealth and power to a select rich few is disingenuous at best. This is a failure of CAPITALISM, which is nothing but corporate feudalism.

    • There is much more to this proposal than blame. The thought to defend that never crossed my mind. Your whole take on this defeats the purpose.

    • Richard Lockwood

      I agree that previous ‘generations’ should not be blamed for today’s social, political and economic ills. Nevertheless, It will be the Millennials who will need to collectively recognize, organize and follow a path forward which works for them, their extended families, their community, and their sovereign nation. And of course our nation’s government must provide the money that buys all of the labor and resources required to make it happen.

      • Robert Lavergne

        Yes, the opening paragraph and the title gets it wrong – it can only be regarded as divisive. Pitting one generation against the other only serves one purpose. Where’s the class analysis? How can one build a movement on such a divisive foundation? The ruling class is laughing all the way to the bank with “analysis” based on generational or cultural distinctions. How to pay or finance what society needs is solely a political question. All political questions begin with “in which class’s interest is it?” – not “which generation’s interest is it?”

  6. This will be shared with all contacts I can reach. Thank you. Nice work.

  7. Excellent “To-Do” List!

  8. I cannot make the leap. While I understand what you are saying about “fiat dollars” not everything can be “free”. To provide college, technical education, pre-school day care, medical care and medicine, real resources must be expended by someone or something. Things just don’t automatically appear. There has to be some incentive to teach or study medicine or to watch my kids. Your concept is great (utopia?) but there is a missing link. I simply cannot buy into the concept that everything is “free.” If there was a nuclear war and most of us were dead, no one would care about fiat money.All we would want are real resources. But even then a system would have to follow for someone to have the incentive to supply me with clean water. So, are we then back to primitive barter?

  9. I believe what you are saying is “free” means government provided, meaning government can create as much fiat money as necessary to pay for all the “free” stuff. But MMT says that government can create fiat money with the only limitation being inflation. So, what happens if the government begins providing all of the free stuff you propose and there is inflation? What do we do then? What is the limitation to “free” stuff. Some people may be happy to study for ten years to become a physician to provide me free health care out of their love of medicine. But while he is studying for ten years, who is going to provide him with food, water, shelter, textbooks, light, heat, clothes, teachers, his iPhone and toilet paper? Are we just going to print so much fiat money that it is essentially useless except to light our fireplaces?

    • John Wilkins,
      Thanks for raising these issues. As to the question of things being “free,” you are correct when you say that real labor and real resources must be employed to provide them. But that is the whole point: the incentive for someone to provide that real labor and those real resources is that they will get paid fiat dollars―by the federal government―for doing so. At some point, of course, this becomes inflationary if, at the same time, something isn’t draining fiat dollars out of the system and destroying them. There are two “somethings” that do that: taxes and treasury bonds. As the essay alludes to, this is exactly how inflation was kept under control during World War II when U.S. citizens were earning huge sums of fiat dollars building the collective goods of the war machine, but had virtually nothing to spend those dollars on: they couldn’t buy cars, they couldn’t by silk stockings or rubber tires, they couldn’t buy butter or gasoline. The solution: taxes were raised and workers were required to take some of their pay in the form of war bonds that could only be turned into spendable money many years later. It worked. Not only that, but all those fiat dollars the government issued between 1941 and 1945 built not only the largest organization of collective goods ever created by human society, but also what is essentially the modern U.S. economy we have today. Now the millennials have to do the same thing―except instead of a war machine they need to build a modern “peace machine!”

    • Let us suppose that the additional money will be well invested, and will ultimately result in additional production. That is quite a supposition with regard to higher education when we already have college graduates flipping burgers. Still, for the sake of making a wholly different point, let us quash that particular objection. Instead, let us suppose that all of our college grads will be terribly productive soon after they graduate, and that this increased production will offset the increased supply of money.

      But what is to happen in the intervening four years, when all this additional money is not resulting in any new production of value. (I doubt that there is much market value in undergraduate term papers.) So, you would still have inflation equal to the new money printed for free higher education for the next four years.

      Similarly, one might use that money to build a new airport, and we can again suppose that the new airport will bolster economic activity by far more than its cost – ultimately. But new airports also take years and years to complete, and the increased productivity will not be fully realized for several years after that.

      For that reason and others, I agree with John Wilkins. You can’t issue money against your chickens before they’re hatched, so to speak, without getting inflation. It certainly is worthwhile for government to issue all the new money that the system requires today, (or this month) but you can’t issue all the money the system will require in 48 months without creating inflation in the meantime.

      I see this notion of “borrowing from the future” in many contexts, but money is merely a device for claiming access to wealth and services in the present. The more units of money there is, the less each unit can claim. Issuing more money is appropriate when there is deflation due to constrictions of credit, or when there is increased production that is not matched by increased credit. (The latter does not actually occur, though.) In any case, increasing the money supply is increasing the number of claims to wealth. Unless the wealth is already increasing as fast as the claims to wealth, increasing the money supply is necessarily inflationary.

      This was well articulated by economist Henry George, in an essay titled “Public Debts and Indirect Taxation.” Here is a key passage:

      “If it were possible for the present to borrow of the future, for those now living to draw upon wealth to be created by those who are yet to come, there could be no more dangerous power, none more certain to be abused; and none that would involve in its exercise a more flagrant contempt for the natural and unalienable rights of man. But we have no such power, and there is no possible invention by which we can obtain it. When we talk about calling upon future generations to bear their part in the costs and burdens of the present, about imposing upon them a share in expenditures we take the liberty of assuming they will consider to have been made for their benefit as well as for ours, we are carrying metaphor into absurdity. Public debts are not a device for borrowing from the future, for compelling those yet to be to bear a share in expenses which a present generation may choose to incur. That is, of course, a physical impossibility. They are merely a device for obtaining control of wealth in the present by promising that a certain distribution of wealth in the future shall be made — a device by which the owners of existing wealth are induced to give it up under promise, not merely that other people shall be taxed to pay them, but that other people’s children shall be taxed for the benefit of their children or the children of their assigns. Those who get control of governments are thus enabled to get sums which they could not get by immediate taxation without arousing the indignation and resistance of those who could make the most effective resistance.”

      The over-issue of money at least doesn’t deceive people like the over-issue of bonded debt. That is, it makes no difference whether there is an immediate tax of 4% on the holders of money (and a 4% subsidy to those in debt) or a 4% rate of inflation, and the people who lose that 4% will recognize that immediately whether they lose it in the form of inflation or of a tax. Thus I think we can trust governments to be far more judicious about increasing the supply of money than they have been about increasing our bonded debt.

      I just think that MMT advocates need to be judicious as well, and be careful not to over-promise all this new money.

      Of course, they can lend an additional dollar of currency for every dollar of bank credit they curtail, and that would indeed allow for greater expenditures. However, it would also require standing up to banks.

      • Dan Sullivan,
        Your arguments are based on the Quantity Theory of Money explanation of inflation which is effectively replaced by Eric Tymoigne here at NEP with a cost-push and demand-pull explanation of inflation. Also, the system is way more dynamic than you suggest. Virtually everything on my Millennial’s To-Do list can be managed and achieved within a sovereign Job Guarantee Program—which is much discussed and explained here on the NEP website. It is not necessary for a fiat-dollar thus paid in wages to produce a dollar’s worth of something to buy. What’s important—in addition the fact that something useful for collective society is accomplished—is that a fiat-dollar thus paid in wages now becomes a dollar that will seek to buy goods and services in the private sector economy. Given the profit-motive of the private sector, this increase in demand for products and services will cause businesses to take out new loans to expand their production, with the goal of expanding their profits. The quantity of things to buy is thus increased, keeping inflationary pressures under control. It is not necessary (or even desirable?) to destroy a dollar’s worth of “bank money” for every fiat-dollar the government spends. This is interesting stuff to try to think through. I appreciate your pushing the topic.