By L.Randall Wray
The attacks on MMT continue full steam ahead. Janet Yellen (former Fed chair, but clueless on money and banking)—a centrist–has joined the fray. Jerry Epstein—on the official left–has ramped up his ridiculous claims, now associating MMT with “America First” and fascism (you knew that was coming—it has always been the refuge of critics who couldn’t come up with valid critiques).
But there are some rays of light. Bloomberg published a more balanced assessment (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-03-21/modern-monetary-theory-beginner-s-guide). The authors of that piece actually took the time to go through our new textbook (Macroeconomics, by Mitchell, Wray and Watts—now available for purchase in the USA : And in Australia).
However, here is the best response to the critics I’ve seen:
Not only does he take down prominent critics like Summers and Rogoff, he also provides a very useful 400 word summary of MMT. Some of you have asked for a concise statement, and this is as good as you’re likely to find.
- Money is a creature of the state. Money is effectively an IOU. Anyone can issue money; the trouble is getting it accepted. The ability to impose taxes (or other obligations) makes a country’s ‘money’ valuable.
- Understanding the monetary environment is vital. The monetary regime under which a country operates matters. Any country that issues debt only in its own currency and has a floating currency can be thought of as being monetarily sovereign. This means it cannot be forced to default on its debt (i.e. the U.S., Japan, and the UK, but not the Eurozone or most emerging markets).
- An operational description of the monetary system is critical. Understanding that loans create deposits (which in turn create reserves, aka endogenous deposits create loans. For example, knowing that government deficit spending creates reserves and drives down interest rates is vital to understanding Japan’s bond market.
- Functional finance, not sound finance. Fiscal policy is much more potent than monetary policy. Fiscal policy should be aimed at generating full employment while maintaining low inflation (rather than, say, achieving a balanced budget position). A Job Guarantee scheme is an example of a useful policy option to effect this outcome (acting like a buffer stock in a commodity market) in the eyes of MMT.
- Limits are real resource and ecological limits. If any sector of the economy pushes it beyond the limits of capacity, then inflation will result. If a government spends too much or taxes too little, it can create inflation, but there is nothing unique about the government sector in this regard. These are the limits that matter – people, machines, factories – not ‘financing’ constraints.
- Private debt matters. Even in a monetarily sovereign state, private debt matters. The private sector cannot print money to repay its debts. As such, it has the potential to create a systemic vulnerability. Think Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis: stability begets instability.
- Macro accounting (Godley style) keeps us honest. One sector’s debt is another’s asset. So, the government’s debt is the private sector’s asset. Understanding how one sector relates to another using a sectoral balance framework is very helpful, as is understanding the Kalecki profits equation, or the way reserves work in a financial system. Accounting isn’t glamourous and identities shouldn’t be taken as behaviours, but they can help us spot unsustainable situations.
I urge you to read the rest of his piece. It is spot-on.