Tag Archives: Modern Monetary Theory

An MMT View of the Twin Deficits Debate

Invited Presentation by L. Randall Wray at the UBS European Conference, London, Tuesday 13 November 2018

Q: These questions about deficits are usually cast as problems to be solved. You come from a different way of framing the issue, often referred to as MMT, which—at the risk of oversimplifying—says that we worry far too much about debt issuance. Can you help us understand where fears may be misplaced?

Wray: First let me say that I think the twin deficits argument is based on flawed logic.

It runs something like this: the government decides to spend too much, causing a budget deficit that competes with private borrowers, driving interest rates up. That appreciates the currency and causes a trade deficit.

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In recent essays I’ve made reference to a new framing of what is actually happening when the U.S. treasury issues a bond. It seems to me, this new framing goes to the heart of MMT and might well hold the key to a practical implementation of MMT principles in real world applications. The framing is this:

A U.S. treasury bond is a certificate of issuance of future dollars.

I will expand on this in a moment, but first it is important to say what this framing says a treasury bond is NOT:

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MODERN MONEY THEORY: How I came to MMT and what I include in MMT

My remarks for the 2018 MMT Conference September 28-30, NYC


I was asked to give a short presentation at the MMT conference. What follows is the text version of my remarks, some of which I had to skip over in the interests of time. Many readers might want to skip to the bullet points near the end, which summarize what I include in MMT.

I’d also like to quickly respond to some comments that were made at the very last session of the conference—having to do with “approachability” of the “original” creators of MMT. Like Bill Mitchell, I am uncomfortable with any discussion of “rockstars” or “heroes”. I find this quite embarrassing. As Bill said, we’re just doing our job. We are happy (or, more accurately pleasantly surprised) that so many people have found our work interesting and useful. I’m happy (even if uncomfortable) to sign books and to answer questions at such events. I don’t mind emailed questions, however please understand that I receive hundreds of emails every day, and the vast majority of the questions I get have been answered hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of times by the developers of MMT. A quick reading of my Primer or search of NEP (and Bill’s blog and Warren’s blogs) will reveal answers to most questions. So please do some homework first. I receive a lot of “questions” that are really just a thinly disguised pretense to argue with MMT—I don’t have much patience with those. Almost every day I also receive a 2000+ word email laying out the writer’s original thesis on how the economy works and asking me to defend MMT against that alternative vision. I am not going to engage in a debate via email. If you have an alternative, gather together a small group and work for 25 years to produce scholarly articles, popular blogs, and media attention—as we have done for MMT—and then I’ll pay attention. That said, here you go: [email protected].


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Paying for Hurricanes


What you believe America can build—or rebuild—as a collective society hinges on how you answer one fundamental question: When the U.S. government issues a treasury bond, is it “borrowing” money that must be repaid with future tax-dollars—or is it “creating” money that can be spent to accomplish big and important collective goals?

Getting the right answer to this question could be existentially important. As I’m writing, for example, Hurricane Florence is unleashing historical damage to the U.S. Atlantic coast and inland areas. Over the next weeks and months, the inevitable debate will unfold over how much America can afford to “pay” to make the lives of tens of thousands of families and thousands of local communities whole and functional again. This time, perhaps, the debate will go even further: it might begin to earnestly ask the bigger questions about the future of our coastal cities and infrastructures in an unfolding era of climate change. These bigger questions will not involve billion-dollar budgets, but trillions of dollars of federal expenditures.

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Miscalculating Medicare-for-all


A report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University calculating the “cost” of Medicare-for-all has received much attention recently—first, because Bernie Sanders claimed the report concluded that Medicare-for-all would save the American people $2 trillion over a 10-year period. That claim was still warm when the report’s author, Charles Blahous, told the Washington Post that Bernie’s interpretation of the report’s conclusions were blatantly false. In fact, Blahous told the Post, he posited that savings scenario based on a set of assumptions which he subsequently proved were so highly unlikely as to be impossible.

The real conclusion of his report, Blahous said, was that Medicare-for-all will “raise government expenditures by $32.6 trillion” in the first decade—or, about $3.3 trillion per year. Blahous went on to say this: “For perspective on these figures, consider that doubling all currently projected federal individual and corporate income tax collections would be insufficient to finance the added federal costs of the plan.”

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How big does the fire need to be?


I have written about this before, but it bears repeating now—and perhaps it bears repeating every week until somebody with more leverage than me picks the message up and carries it a step further: America (and the rest of the world, for that matter) has the resources needed to limit and mitigate the enormous damage and dislocations that climate-change is now beginning to impose. The “resources” I’m referring to are not dollars. They are materiel, labor, and human ingenuity. The only question is how and when we’ll stop simply raising warning flags and marshal those resources to take real action against the growing challenges.

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The Explicable Mystery of the National Debt


America’s current “national debt” is tallied to be $21.5 trillion. When politicians and economic pundits talk (worry, fret, wring their hands, gnash their teeth) about this “debt” they implicitly assume—along with their listeners, readers, and potential voters—that this fantastic sum will eventually have to be paid back. That’s what happens with debts, right? Someone calls them due! Everyone also assumes the American tax-payer will have to do the paying. (Quick calculation to save you the trouble: Each one of us is in hock for $65,950!)

Depending on which political football is being tossed around, this “national debt” is either a crisis that must be addressed first (before anything else can be paid for!) or it’s something we can simply ignore for the time being—until the promised “economic growth” comes along that will somehow enable the federal government to collect that extra $65K from each of us. So long as we promise that Yes! someday we’ll pay it off, we can feel okay about going one more day, or month, or year without even starting to do so. In the meantime, of course, the “national debt” somehow keeps growing! At least that must stop, we declare! Our government must stop borrowing even more!

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The Five Stages of Money (and why we’re stuck at stage 4)


Like everything else, money has evolved. It began in a primitive form and morphed into something more sophisticated, more successful. Then, probing and testing for an even better form, it morphed again. A simplified history of money’s evolution can be outlined in five stages:

STAGE 1: Money is a tangible thing of value—e.g. a gold coin.

At some point in the pre-history of humankind, the “invention” of money solved a time-gap problem in cooperative trade: I’ll give you my baby goat in exchange for your flint-knife—but you have not yet made the knife, so the exchange is stymied. To solve the impasse, you give me a token of gold to temporarily stand in place of the flint-knife, so you can take my baby goat. The gold token is a promise that the knife will be delivered, and that promise is secured by the fact that the gold itself is deemed equally valuable as the knife. In the meantime, I may find someone else with a flint-knife already made who will exchange it for the gold, thus completing the trade. The invention of this place-holder transformed the cooperative trade interactions of human society.

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Cenk and Young Turks Team: Your Deficit Hawkery is Unrealistic and Stands in the Way of Progressive Change

By Michael Hoexter, Ph.D.

[The Young Turks (TYTNetwork) is an online news network that has a wide reach among mostly progressives and independents in the United States with viewership in the hundreds of thousands of unique visitors per day and over 2 million views per day.  Cenk Uygur is its founder, CEO, and leading on-camera commentator.]

Dear Cenk, John Iadarola, Ana Kasparian, and the Young Turks Team,

I’m a Young Turks subscriber, member, and a longtime fan of your coverage of politics.  I think you have provided a consistent and detailed perspective on the failures of our political system, consistent criticism of both US major political parties as well as the alarming emergence of Trump and Trumpist/GOP neo-authoritarianism.  I think your instincts for analyzing political personalities is grounded in keen and accurate observation of people and political forces.  You also rarely shy away from criticizing both the Democratic and Republican Establishments, which distinguishes you from the “liberal” mainstream media.  You have been also very good at analyzing some of the biases of mainstream media against progressives and against change that most Americans want.  You are a consistent, principled, and very much needed independent voice that I often wish was heard more widely.

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Framing a Job Guarantee


Note: This essay was first posted on realprogressivesusa.com

Now that progressive leaders (Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Corey Booker) have placed a proposed “Job Guarantee” program onto the mainstream political stage, it is essential they begin explaining the proposal’s underpinning macro-economic logic. Otherwise they lay themselves, and the proposal itself, wide open to scathing public ridicule—as exemplified by a recent Megan McArdle op-ed in the Washington Post (“A federal job for everyone?” April 25, 2018). But what should they be saying by way of explaining?

Perhaps a point-by-point response to Ms. McArdle’s arguments is a way to begin. First, her title itself is an intentionally misleading—and pejorative—portrayal of the proposal. The Job Guarantee (JG) program will use federal dollars to pay wages, but few (if any) of the wage earners would become part of a federal bureaucracy that most Americans believe is already over-bloated and inefficient. Think instead of all the private doctors and nurses paid federal dollars to provide health-care services to Medicaid and Medicare patients; think of all the private enterprise farmers, food-processors and distributors who are paid federal dollars to implement the SNAP (food-stamp) program; think of the millions of private defense contractor employees who build ships, planes, and missiles. Ms. McArdle is being disingenuous in planting the idea that everyone who is paid with federal dollars is a federal employee; it’s an idea that immediately discredits the JG program, and it should be proactively discredited itself.

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