Tag Archives: Modern Monetary Theory

A Memo From MMT’s Legal Department

By Rohan Grey and Raúl Carrillo

Orthodox economists are often inclined to think of law as an external force that ‘intervenes’ to regulate otherwise naturally occurring economic phenomena. In contrast, Modern Monetary Theory and its antecedent intellectual traditions have long recognized that law in fact constitutes and shapes modern economies and the monetary regimes that underpin them. For example, Knapp argued explicitly that money was a “creature of law.” Similarly, Keynes, in A Treatise on Money, stated:

“The State…comes in first of all as the authority of law which enforces the payment of the thing which corresponds to the name or description in the contracts. But it comes in doubly when, in addition, it claims the right to determine and declare what thing corresponds to the name, and to vary its declaration from time to time-when, that is to say, it claims the right to re-edit the dictionary. This right is claimed by all modern states and has been so claimed for some four thousand years at least.”

Today, many of the core propositions of MMT can be understood as essentially legal arguments. Here are a few examples:

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MINSKY AND MODERN MONEY THEORY: Was Minsky a “forefather”?

By L. Randall Wray

A few weeks ago, a video of a lecture that Hyman Minsky gave at Westminster College on Oct 30, 1991 was made available. Although the Levy Institute has some audio of Minsky, this is the only video I know of. The audio of this one is not great, but you will get some flavor of his style. In truth, it was always a bit hard to follow his presentations as he had a tendency to lower his voice and mumble near the end of sentences as his mind raced ahead to the next point. He usually did not script his talks (he walked into many of his university lectures with nothing more than a copy of the Wall Street Journal), but he would read some brief sections of papers—while riffing the rest–and it appears that this is what he was doing that evening.

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Who will play the Harlequin?

By J.D. ALT

In a recent essay (“A Strategic Thought”) I suggested that right now is an opportune moment for some brave progressive leader to step out and explain what modern fiat money is, why we’ve been using, in fact, it for the past half century, and how it changes the way we imagine our federal government pays for public goods. Whoever takes on this challenge, I suggested, would be treated as a harlequin by mainstream media and economic pundits—and would be marginalized and shunned by other political leaders on both sides of the aisle. No main-stream politician is ready to hear—let alone agree—that the federal government can issue and spend as many dollars as needed to accomplish whatever the nation has the real resources to undertake. No main-stream economic pundit is ready to hear that our federal “deficit” is a necessary aspect of a healthy fiat monetary system. No main-stream Republican or Democrat is ready to acquiesce to the reality that our national “debt” is not something we have to “repay” to anyone but is, in fact, the savings account of our private sector economy. No main-stream anybody who, by definition, depends on their position in the main-stream idea-flow for their livelihood and personal status, is ready or willing to hear, or even seriously listen to, any of those realities. Yet at some point all of it has to be formally presented and argued on the national stage—otherwise, modern fiat money, and the enormous possibilities it creates for human society, will continue to languish forever as a suppressed and poorly understood reality.

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A Walk in the Forest after the Election

By J.D. ALT

On November 8, I happened to be complacently immersed in one of the important books now available to the human species—The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben.  On the morning of November 9, I realized that what I was reading not only offered a perfectly analogous explanation of what “happened” in the U.S. Presidential election, but also laid out instructive insights about what’s to come next.

To provide a highly simplified overview (please bear with me for a moment), forests of trees are highly integrated communities composed basically of three parts: the canopy, the ground, and the root-and-fungi structures below ground. The community grows and evolves very slowly, and once it is established certain inherent dynamics provide a long-term stability that is measured in centuries. One of the most crucial dynamics is the fact that the mature canopy, during the growing season, absorbs something like 97% of the sunlight falling on it. This means at the ground level, new trees—growing from the seeds dropped from above—receive essentially no sunlight for photosynthesis (which they need in order to produce sugars for growth). These baby trees are, in fact, “nursed” by the root systems of the parent trees around them. The nursing trees grow very slowly, biding their time until one of the parent trees dies and collapses. This leaves a gap in the canopy where sunlight suddenly streams through, and those baby trees fortuitously located below the gap begin to produce their own sugar like mad—and grow very rapidly upward toward adolescence. At the same time, in a healthy forest, the mature trees adjacent to the gap extend their own branches and leaves to fill the open space. Before this process is complete, the adolescent trees have several years of rapid growth, but when the canopy is re-closed, they have to stop and bide their time again. Once more, they are fed by the root systems of the parental forest. It isn’t until another parent collapses to the forest floor, that the late adolescent tree finally has the opportunity to rapidly grow into the gap of the canopy and become a mature member of the community.

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Two Loaves

By J.D. ALT

Recently, I’ve been trying to zero in on a peculiar set of ingredients that seem to be baked into our economic pie―and which are depriving that pie of a sustenance we, as a collective society, need it to provide. The peculiar ingredients have to do with our monetary system. Specifically, the fact that we―whether intentionally or by happenstance―have put in place and operate a money system that seamlessly creates dollars, as necessary, for profit-making enterprise, but specifically does NOT create dollars for not-for-profit ventures.

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CROWDSOURCING the COLLECTIVE “WE”

By J.D. ALT

Let’s jump ahead to the day (surely it will come, right?) when we realize a general consensus has actually been established that, yes, it IS possible to sustainably pay for collective goods and services by the direct issuing of sovereign fiat dollars―that our federal government doesn’t have to collect taxes in order to have dollars to spend, that it doesn’t have to issue Treasury bonds to get the dollars it needs but imagines it doesn’t have.

Now that we’re here in this future moment, it’s clear we have an even BIGGER problem than we had before!

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Another Dimension

By Thornton “Tip” Parker

As NEP readers know, the economy consists of  private, government, and foreign sectors.  Financial flows among the sectors always add up to zero; that is, one sector’s deficits must be offset by surpluses in either or both of the others.

If the private sector imports more than it exports, ignoring investment flows, it will run a financial deficit while the foreign sector runs a surplus and the economy will then slow down as money in the private sector becomes scarce.  Unless the trade deficit is reduced, the only way to keep the economy running is for the government to run large deficits, as is it is doing now.  While few people understand the sectoral view of the economy, many are aware of problems that this one-dimensional view does not explain.       Continue reading

A Perfect Example

By J.D. Alt

Recent news reports lament the on-going collapse of America’s coal industry―specifically the spectacular loss of jobs which is devastating not only families but entire local economies and communities. On a PBS news report, a woman who’d worked for a local mining company for thirty years teared up and asked the reporter, “What in the world am I going to do?” At a recent event sponsored by Wyoming Public Radio, attendees were asked to fill out 5X7 cards with suggestions about how to answer that question—how to replace the lost coal industry jobs. Under the banner “How to Diversify Wyoming,” the cards were pinned on a bulletin board for everyone to see and discuss. The suggestions ranged from eco-tourism to pot-growing to space-flight support―all good, healthy, creative ideas, (with the possible exception, I think, of space-flight). What suddenly jumped out at me, however―like a jack-in-the-box on a spring―is that implicit in every suggestion written on those 5X7 cards lies a huge, overpowering, built-in assumption about the way the world has to work:

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Video

By J.D. Alt

I spent the last couple days reading and contemplating “Political Aspects of Full Employment”, the transcript of a lecture―given in 1942!!―to the Marshall Society by economist Michal Kalecki. This was recommended to me by Nat Uerlich in his May 2 comment to my post “False Choice or Real Possibilities.” Many thanks to Mr. Uerlich for taking the time to make the comment. I urgently recommend Professor Kalecki’s lecture to anyone who feels a little fuzzy (as I have lately been feeling myself) about what we are up against as a collective society as we now confront, once again, how collective society itself is structured to inexorably be its own worst enemy.

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The Urgent Need to Save Orthodox Economists from their Crippling Myths

William K. Black
February 29, 2016     Brooklyn, N.Y.

A blogger has trolled all heterodox economists as believers in the “occult.”  More precisely, he is upset about “econ people” (who are likely not economists) and who tweet him or post comments on his blog site.  The blogger further complains that these commenters say that they believe in heterodox economics and “new methodologies [that] are poised to topple mainstream economics.”  He then goes on to say:  “My typical response is to ask what these new methodologies are. But incredibly, I can almost never get an answer.”

The UMKC economics department is chock full of heterodox economists who share the blogger’s experience.  We too get weird blogs and tweets that are long on revolutionary conclusions and short on specifics.  Some of these messages come from folks who say they are heterodox and some from those that write to denounce heterodox economics.  We also get an endless stream of policy nostrums from orthodox economists that promise to transform America (in good ways).  They have, collectively, transformed America in terrible ways.

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