Tag Archives: Modern Monetary Theory

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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The Ogre & the Cog

By J.D. ALT

Classically, we imagine money being aggregated by an entrepreneur who uses it to build a factory, purchase raw materials, hire labor, and begin manufacturing widgets which are then sold in the marketplace. This same result could be had by the process of an ogre appropriating a factory by intimidation, acquiring raw materials by force, and using slave labor to produce the widgets. The difference is that, in the first case, the process produces customers (the laborers) who can purchase the widgets with their wages, whereas—in the second case—the ogre’s widgets have no paying customers. One model produces an economy, the other model doesn’t.

If we look at the modern global corporation, we see something of the ogre. Yes, they pay to build their factories—but prefer to coerce local communities into footing much of the cost through preferential land and tax deals (as well as, in many cases, the appropriation of local water supplies) in exchange for the “local jobs” the factory promises to create. They also do not outright “steal” their raw materials, but do manage to argue that the minerals existing in the ground of public lands are somehow theirs by right in exchange for a nominal rent. True, as well, they do not employ slave labor, but instead employ strategies that have, in the end, the same result: they minimize the use of local labor (all those jobs they promised to create) by using robotic technologies—and by outsourcing much of the “make-work” of the widget components to a country with cheap (some may even characterize it as “semi-slave”) labor. It is for this reason, of course, the same global corporation is so desperate for global trade agreements which will allow it to favorably access the markets to which it has outsourced its human labor—because that’s where the theoretical paying customers (the wage earners) are that its business model is creating.

In a similar vein, economists puzzle over the lack of inflationary pressure—indeed, the tendency towards deflation—in the modern western economies, even though the financial industries seem to be “creating money” at a historical pace. It might be that there’s something of the Ogre in that financial industry as well: the money it creates is not used to build factories, acquire raw materials, hire labor, and build widgets—it is used, instead, to make bets in the casino of the financial markets themselves. Poker chips are bought and played, but the chips never get redeemed, and they never leave the casino—except when they are used to buy political power and favor to perpetuate the game. (A few chips do get redeemed as spending money for the high-rolling players—and this does, in fact, put inflationary pressure on the prices for mega-yachts and London penthouses, but who really worries about that?) What matters is that the “money” generated by the casino never shows up is in the pockets of wage-earning customers on Main Street. Their pockets, if anything, contain fewer dollars than they did a generation ago—while the store fronts they gaze into contain more and more widgets assembled by robots with make-work parts fabricated by workers in other countries.

There is, in other words, a profound disconnect in the way things are functioning. The American economy has dropped a crucial cog out of its gear-box and, as a consequence, the gears on top are spinning wildly but futilely, while the disconnected gears on the bottom are grinding slowly and ineffectually. What we need to do, somehow, at all costs, is to put that missing cog back in the gear-box. Or—perhaps that is not exactly correct—we need to connect the drive-train directly to the lower gears themselves, and insert a cog let them drive the upper gears as, I believe, the machine was supposed to operate in the first place.

DEBT-FREE MONEY PART 4: AMERICAN COLONIAL CURRENCY

By L. Randall Wray

In Part Three I argued that the government issues currency as its liability and imposes tax liabilities on its subjects/citizens that can be paid in that currency. When taxes are paid, both the government and its taxpayers are “redeemed”. I cited Innes’s argument that the universal law of credit is that the issuer of a debt must take it back. This is the fundamental notion behind redemption of debts.

To be sure, debt is much older than money. No human has ever escaped debt. At birth, you are indebted to your parents, your kin, and your gods. You spend your lifetime incurring new debts and repaying old debts and accumulating credits that are the debts of others. If you earn enough credits, you join the Redeemer and make it to the Promised Land after death; if you don’t you join Satan—the original tax collector–in hell.

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THE VALUE OF REDEMPTION: DEBT-FREE MONEY PART 3

Sorry that it has taken me a while to get back to my multi-part series on debt-free money. This is the third part of the current series, although I had previously written several other blogs on the related topics of debt-free money, positive money, and 100% money. See links at the bottom.

This post will focus on the concept of “redemption” as the most fundamental requirement of indebtedness. This seems to confuse readers. For example, Eric Lonergan calls this a “fantastic linguistic contortion”, a “pure semantic confusion”, a “hidden definition slipped in between dashes”.

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Explaining Why Federal Deficits Are Needed

By Thornton (Tip) Parker

Most MMT advocates probably took months to get comfortable with it.  But like a personal computer, one need not understand its innards to use its power.  The great power of MMT is its lesson that the federal government can create new dollars by running deficits to do things that should be done.  But the lesson is counterintuitive and will be rejected by voters unless it can be explained convincingly in a few minutes.  This paper offers five nuggets for explaining it quickly. NEP readers are asked to suggest ways to make the explanation simpler and better.

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Most Americans believe the federal government is like a family or business that must live within its income.  On the surface, that makes sense and the reasons why it is wrong are complex.  Here are five nuggets, or simple ways to explain why it is wrong to voters who will never be economists.  They show why federal deficits are necessary.  They can be adapted and used as appropriate. Continue reading

Real Fiscal Responsibility, Vol. II: The Peterson Network, Inequality, and the Failure of Neoliberalism

Real Fiscal Responsibility, Vol II Book Cover
This is how the mission of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform was defined by the White House on February 18, 2010:

The Commission is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. Specifically, the Commission shall propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015. This result is projected to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers. The magnitude and timing of the policy measures necessary to achieve this goal are subject to considerable uncertainty and will depend on the evolution of the economy. In addition, the Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.

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Tax Credits and Dollars—Playing Charades with Low-Income Housing

By J.D. Alt

Here is what the HUD.GOV website says about the status of low-income housing in America: “Families who pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation and medical care. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing. A family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.”

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DEBT-FREE MONEY AND BANANA REPUBLICS, PART TWO

By L. Randall Wray

My previous blog sparked a lot of discussion, especially over at Naked Capitalism. I do pity Yves Smith! There’s enough nonsense in the commentary to populate a large nation.

As I have argued, it is very hard to figure out what the debt-free money folks want as they are confused on the accounting, vague on the terminology, and rarely provide details on their proposal. However, a reader has directed me to a fine published article that has mostly got the accounting right, lays out a detailed proposal, and contrasts the proposal against alternatives.

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DEBT-FREE MONEY AND BANANA REPUBLICS

By L. Randall Wray

Some time ago, I labeled the “debt-free money” campaign a non sequitur in search of a policy. (See here.) However, this non sequitur refuses to die. I went on to joke that if they want a debt-free money, they ought to propose that government issue bananas as currency.

I frequently am asked to do interviews and I almost always accept them. However, when I was asked last week to participate in a radio show devoted to debt-free money, I struggled mightily to get out of it. As you’ll see, the program’s producer took my idea of banana republics and ran with it. I thought readers might get a kick out of this exchange (the producer’s emails are in italics, my responses are in bold). After the exchange, I’ll summarize my objections to the notion of debt-free money.

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MMT and Bernie Sanders

L. Randall Wray

Yesterday Senator Bernie Sanders gave an important speech in which he invoked President Roosevelt’s “second bill of rights” in defense of his platform. As Bernie rightly pointed out, all of Roosevelt’s New Deal social programs to which we have become accustomed, were tagged as “socialism”—just as pundits are branding Bernie’s proposals as dangerous socialist ideas. You can see Bernie’s prepared remarks here.

Just before Bernie’s speech, I was asked to do an interview with Alex Jensen, on TBS eFM’s “This Morning” English radio program in Seoul, Korea. I was sent a list of questions and jotted down very brief responses. Unfortunately, in our radio interview we were only able to get through a few of these. You can listen to the interview (uses iTunes) here. My interview is #8, Name: 1119 Issue Today with Professor L.R. Wray

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