Author Archives: J.D. Alt

THE SHIFT: Understanding and Using America’s Fiat Money

By J.D. ALT

NOTE: This essay was originally posted at Real Progressives

Before it disappears forever from our experience—which the rapid adoption of smart-phone commerce suggests might happen within the next decade—we should examine, take stock of, and fully understand what this piece of paper is that we call a U.S. dollar. Or maybe a five-dollar bill, which is what I happen to have pulled from my wallet in preparation for writing this essay. It doesn’t matter which bill we choose: they all have the same basic informational clues indelibly printed onto their durably woven, cotton-linen fabric. The point is this: if, and when, we can no longer pull this particular piece of “paper” out of our pocket and actually examine it, we’ll have lost our chance to understand what a U.S. dollar actually is—which is something we very much need to understand if we hope to eventually create a successful, progressive, democratic economy. So, while it is still conveniently in our pockets, let’s take it out and consider what we’re really looking at—and what that means for our modern society going forward.

Continue reading

We Pay versus You Pay

The New Regulatory Regime of Modern Fiat Money

By J.D. ALT

I was momentarily taken aback to read in the Washington Post that a primary reason Donald Trump was elected president of the United States was because of a little swampy area in the middle of an Iowa farmer’s cornfield. The cornfield in question belongs to an Angus beef farmer named Annette Sweeney who was both incredulous and outraged by the Obama administration’s new regulations on Clean Water. The regulations, known as WOTUS (Waters of the United States), established that the 1972 Clean Water Act applied not just to just major bodies of water, but also to their headwaters which, by circuitous routes, feed them. This headwater stipulation, by definition, included a ½ acre swampy place in the middle of the cornfield Annette Sweeney’s family had used to feed their beef cows for over two generations. This meant that the cornfield she thought belonged to her family was now essentially under management of the federal government—which stipulated requirements for new inspections and permitting regimes costing her thousands of dollars and untold hours of strife just to be allowed to plant feed-corn without garnering federal fines. Not only did Annette Sweeney vote for Donald Trump, she became a political activist advocating, successfully, against government regulations of virtually any kind whatsoever.

Continue reading

The New Poverty

By J.D. ALT

We define poverty, I suppose, as that living condition which is unable to acquire enough dollars to purchase some, or most, of the basic necessities of life. It also seems to be an accepted notion that a certain amount of “poverty” is a necessary condition of our modern market economy—that a certain segment of the population will always be “unemployable” by the profit-oriented business community, either because they lack skills or because the business community simply does not need their services in order to generate its profits. Nobody really knows what to do with these “unneeded” people. We talk about “retraining” them—but there is no guarantee the profit-seeking business community will need them even with their newly acquired skills. In the meantime, these “unneeded” people don’t know what do with themselves either. This is, perhaps, the biggest problem of all—though I will not, in this short essay, go into the details of that (except to say that it is contributing to a tragedy that is now disrupting the lives of too many of us). The point is this: It is time to begin imagining specific, concrete solutions to what is becoming a fundamental dilemma of our time.

Continue reading

Defining the Tax Reform Battleground

By J.D. ALT

The Republican tax reform will be criticized on many fronts. It is a battle of criticisms that will likely become as chaotic, ill-informed, and counter-productive as the tax reform process itself has been. This is because it will surely ignore the only strategic battle-front that ultimately matters: the basic premise of what taxes are for and why they’re necessary.

Before the Republican tax reformers even said a word, their arguments and proposals were packaged in the tired and tiresome macro-economic assumptions that misguidingly underpin our entire political discourse. Namely: (a) The federal government collects taxes in order to pay for federal spending; and (b) it cannot collect enough taxes to meet the spending needs of the budget it annually produces. To solve this conundrum some combination of reducing the budget and increasing taxes is therefore required. The magic Republican formula to simultaneously accomplish both of these goals is to dramatically reduce taxes on the wealthiest class of corporate operatives—which is made palatable to the voting masses by attaching to the corporate coat-tails some colorful snippets of tax-relief for lower and middle-class working families.

Continue reading

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

By J.D. ALT

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.

Continue reading

Monetary Mental Illness

By J.D. ALT

It is literally painful to watch our political leaders’ efforts to rethink and restructure how we are going levy taxes on ourselves as a collective society. It is like watching a family member struggling with mental illness: the demons being wrestled with are imaginary—yet they have the palpable force somehow of a granite wall. And as the struggle with this palpable monolith unfolds, even we—the clear observers of reality—forget that it is imaginary; when we do remember, the pain becomes excruciating for the simple reason that we know it is completely unnecessary.

Why does our political system choose to believe and struggle with the imaginary constraint that taxes must pay for sovereign spending? How can we explain to ourselves, in the face of this rock-solid demon, that the simple logic of fiat money demonstrates that sovereign spending must occur first, with taxes collected after? How can we reassure our terrified and confused representatives in congress that if our sovereign government collects back fewer dollars than it issues and spends, the difference is not our collective “debt”—it is, in fact, our collective savings? But the demon will not allow us these explanations.

Continue reading

Wouldn’t it be great if America had a fiat-money system?

By J.D. ALT

Think of how many of our seemingly intractable local and national problems could be solved if only America had its own sovereign fiat-money system! Unfortunately, most Americans can’t even think about that question because they’ve never heard a proper explanation of what “fiat-money” actually is. Here, then, is quick solution to that problem:

Continue reading

Solving the Political Problem

By J.D. ALT

There was recently a breakthrough of sorts in media coverage for MMT. The Huffington Post published a piece covering the “People’s Convergence Conference” in Washington, D.C. on September 8-9. The conference brought together leaders and activists from all corners of the progressive political spectrum—including the “Draft Bernie for a People’s Party” movement. The conference apparently succeeded in creating the roots of a coordinated alliance between the leading progressive parties—including the Green Party, the Progressive Independent Party, and the Justice Party—which agreed, among other things, to the possibility of holding progressive primaries that would then field a single progressive candidate in the general elections. Most notable, however, the Huffington piece concluded with the header:  Progressive Economics: “How do we pay for it?”

Continue reading

The Great Italian Experiment (part 2)

By J.D. ALT

As I said, Italy, is now experimenting with paying for public services with tax credits. Presumably, this is happening because Italy doesn’t possess enough Euros to pay its citizens to provide all the goods and services needed to maintain and run the public sector of its social economy. And Italy can’t “create” the additional Euros it needs because that prerogative is the exclusive right of the EU Central Bank which Italy, even as a sovereign member of the EU, has no control over. But, as the news article explains, Italy still needs to have the grass mowed and the weeds pulled in its public gardens. So it has decided (out of desperation, the article implies) to pay the gardeners with tax-credits. The gardeners are willing to do the work in exchange for the government’s tax-credits, because it means the Euros they earn (in other ways) can then be used to purchase goods and services rather than for paying their taxes. So, in practical terms, it is “just like” getting paid in Euros.

Continue reading

Italy’s Great Experiment

By J.D. ALT

Italy is experimenting with giving tax-cuts to its citizens in exchange for public services―such as pulling weeds and cutting grass. Wow. What an amazing idea! The government issues a tax credit, and uses it to pay a citizen in exchange for the citizen’s services to the government. The government could even make this arrangement more formal by printing the tax credits on pieces of paper called “LIRIES” (or something like that) and paying for the weed-whacking services with this “cash.” That way the citizen who’s earned the “LIRIES” has the option of using them as payment to another citizen (who’d also like a tax-cut) for, say, a bag of potatoes. So, the first citizen pulls some weeds, gets paid in “cash” and then uses the “cash” to buy her dinner. If you thought about it, you could possibly run an entire economy in this fashion. The only thing you’d have to worry about, of course, is that the government might run out of the tax-credits it needs to pay the citizens to do the work! If that happened, where could the government possibly get more tax-credits? Could it collect tax-credits as “taxes”? Could it borrow them from all the street-sweepers and weed-whackers who’ve earned them? (In which case it would have to pay “tax-credit interest”―which just seems to exacerbate the problem!)  Hmmm. I’m going to have to think about that one. But in the meantime, doesn’t this mean that any Eurozone country has the option to stay IN the Eurozone while at the same time operating its own local economy using its own local “sovereign” currency?