Category Archives: J. D. Alt

The People’s Money (Part 4)

Inflation & Consumption

By J.D. ALT

Let’s quickly recap: I outlined, in PART 3, an argument that modern society has evolved in ways that necessitates a dramatic increase in public enterprise—yet, at the same time, we’ve doubled down on an old-world narrative about “money” that makes it mathematically impossible to meet that need. In PARTS 1 & 2 we reconfirmed a “modern money” perspective by simply observing the actual operations of the Federal Reserve—and reconfirmed, as well, how this new perspective holds out the opportunity to actually confront, through the efforts of public enterprise, the new challenges modern society faces.

It was my intention, at this point, to focus on the unfolding reality that climate change will soon prove to be the most dramatic challenge modern society is facing—and will be the challenge that necessitates, by far, the greatest need for goods and services produced by public enterprise. More to the point, climate change will generate the greatest need—by far—for implementing and managing a “modern money” perspective in America’s economy. While I still intend to pursue this argument, comments addressed to PART 3 have led me to change sequence: I realize now it will be ineffective (and perhaps futile) to discuss the extraordinary level of public spending that climate-change will necessitate without, first, attempting to address two related issues: (1) the stridently insistent warnings about “inflation,” and (2) the conundrum of the necessity for increased “consumption.”

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The People’s Money (Part 3)

An Explanation of the Federal Reserve Money system and what it means for the potential accomplishments of American Democracy

By J.D. ALT

The big surprise of our tour of the Federal Reserve system (please see PARTS 1 & 2) is that the FED (America’s central bank)—as it is presently authorized to operate—can create “money,” as necessary, to support not only the undertakings of private enterprise, but the undertakings of public enterprise as well. Please recall that public enterprise produces needed goods and services which private enterprise cannot produce at a profit or, to make its profit, must set prices higher than what most citizens can afford to pay. To accomplish what private enterprise cannot, therefore, the U.S. Treasury, as directed by Congress, pays U.S. citizens and businesses directly to produce the goods and services of public enterprise.

The fact that the Federal Reserve system is able to create the “money” required for this spending is a surprise because we, the American voters, have always been led to believe that public enterprise is “financed” by a different method: namely, some combination of taxing private profits/income and borrowing from the investment capital of private enterprise. What we discovered, instead, is that, yes, taxes do fund some portion of the Treasury’s spending—but the remainder of the funding is derived from operations that have nothing to do with “borrowing” in any meaningful sense of the term.

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The People’s Money (Part 2)

An Explanation of the Federal Reserve Money system and what it means for the potential accomplishments of American Democracy

By J.D. ALT

Let’s begin by restating what I think was the main insight of PART 1: The overarching purpose of the Federal Reserve Act was to enable “money” to be created, as necessary, to support the scale of commerce that American Enterprise decides to undertake and accomplish. If the labor, materials, energy, technology, and ingenuity exist to do something—and it is desirable that it should be done—it is illogical to say it can’t be done because there isn’t enough “money” in the system to pay for the doing of it.

The only questions to be asked, then, are two: (1) Who will create the “money” when it’s needed, and (2) Who will decide when the creation of additional “money” is justified?

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The People’s Money (Part 1)

An Explanation of the Federal Reserve Money system and what it means for the potential accomplishments of American Democracy

By J.D. ALT

 

“Reserves”—that esoteric term in money-talk that postures to explain everything but explains nothing at all—have been much in the news of late. The Wall Street Journal even tried, recently, to explain what they are! They didn’t do such a great job. That’s unfortunate because, properly explained and understood, Reserves hold a big key to the political befuddlement—especially acute in the present election cycle—about what we can “afford” to accomplish as a collective society. This includes “paying for” real solutions to the five, money-intensive, life-defining dilemmas America now confronts: (1) climate change (2) healthcare (3) student debt (4) early child-hood care and development (5) affordable housing. It is therefore well worth the effort, I think, to attempt an explanation of “Reserves” that might actually be grasped by the collective consciousness of our political dialog.

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Two-Cent Message

By J.D. ALT

Elizabeth Warren has succeeded, I think, in framing an argument as close as anyone is going to get (in the present election cycle) to the progressive position of MMT. Warren acknowledges that she’s proposing goals and undertakings that will “cost” a lot of money. She further acknowledges that everyone asks: “How are you going to pay for it?” And she gives a very specific and simple answer: an “ultra-millionaire tax”—which she details as “two-cents on every dollar of income over $50 million.” She then goes on to list what those “two-cents” will accomplish: The cancellation of college debt; free two-year college education; universal pre-school day-care…etc.

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Awakening the Investor-in-Whole-Society

By J.D. ALT

There’s a lot of handwringing now about how central banks have no ammunition to fight a recession. The fact that this is apparently true—and, perhaps, uniquely true in modern history—is all the more reason to explore MMT’s premise that central banks are not just instruments of private commerce, but are, as well, instruments of collective, democratic will. The bankers are in a box of their own making, but that box, in fact, is inside another box which, as MMT makes clear, has lots of ammunition not only to fight a recession, but to pursue the betterment of American society whether an economic downturn unfolds or not.

Let’s consider the central bankers’ basic dilemma: If private enterprise begins to slow, they would love to issue more money to get it back up to speed. But inside their box the only way to do that is by encouraging private enterprise to borrow more money. Private enterprise, in turn, decides to borrow more based on production and spending decisions tied to the making of potential profits. The only lever the central bank has to affect these profit calculations is the manipulation of interest rates—lowering rates to make the profitability of enterprise more feasible (hence, encouraging more borrowing and more money creation) or raising rates to do the opposite. So, if interest rates are already close to zero, the central bankers are out of ammunition if private enterprise, on a large scale, decides to slow down operations and lay-off workers.

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Why Moscow Mitch needs MMT

By J.D. ALT

Mitch McConnell is desperate to find investment funds and businesses that will create jobs for his Kentucky constituents. America, it seems, is mostly incapable of being a source for either. Such is the diminishment of our impoverished private enterprise system that only foreign companies seem interested in bringing U.S. dollars to America to build the factories that will employ us.

America, for example, has not built an aluminum rolling mill in over forty years. It must be easier (read “more profitable”) just to import the stuff. If you want to create jobs, though, in exchange for votes from your constituents, “profitability” takes on new dimensions. And while those additional dimensions don’t seem to appeal much to American enterprise, for some inexplicable reason they are appealing to foreign “investors”—especially ones from Russia. Russia, it seems, has discovered a new form of American “politico-capitalism.”

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A Modern Money Explanation

By J.D. ALT

Since the Democrat’s presidential debates, the attacks on progressive candidates for their “unrealistic” proposals to address the biggest challenges we face as a collective society have intensified dramatically. The primary criticism is the enormous price-tag associated with each of the big-ticket issues they propose to undertake: universal healthcare, mitigating climate-change, eliminating college debt, free pre-school daycare, re-envisioning and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, a job guarantee and a universal basic income for every citizen. The attacks come from both conservative Republicans and centrist Democrats, each of whom are avowed believers in fiscal “responsibility” and balanced federal budgets.

Unfortunately, while there is growing sympathy with the progressive goals themselves, the advocates of those goals still don’t have a convincing explanation or formula for how the federal government will pay for it all. The best they can come up with is that we’ll increase taxes on the super-wealthy and the big corporations—or that it’s simply unacceptable, conceptually, that the world’s richest democracy cannot manage to achieve these goals for a healthy society. So long as these are the progressive narratives—even if they manage to win the upcoming elections—the goals will never be achieved. To create genuine, wide-spread support for undertaking the big-ticket issues we face, it will be necessary to explain to America how its monetary system actually works.

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MMT Carbon Initiative—a modest proposal

By J.D. ALT

With great interest, I’ve been reading about the “Terraton Initiative”—a program designed to enlist farmers to sequester one trillion tons of carbon in their soil using innovative and “regenerative” planting techniques. The initiative was recently rolled out by Indigo AG—a young and rising Boston company recently named by CNBC as “the world’s most innovative company.” Indigo AG’s mark has been the establishment of a sophisticated platform enabling grain-farmers across the country (and around the world) to differentiate the quality-characteristics of their harvest (e.g. organic, non-GMO, heirloom varietal, etc.) and connect directly with buyers seeking those quality-characteristics. What got my attention was the fact that Indigo AG, with its recently announced “Terraton Initiative,” is now proposing to help farmers deploy strategies to maximize carbon sequestration in their fields—and then pay the farmers $15 for each ton of carbon they sequester. (Current agribusiness farming techniques, promoted by Archers Daniels Midland and Monsanto—now Bayer—add 4 billion tons of greenhouse gas to the earth’s atmosphere each year.)

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The Visible Hand we need today

By J.D. ALT

According to the “invisible hand” theory—long celebrated (in America) as the most effective mode of human economics—private commerce should now be busy directing our efforts and resources toward those things we truly need to prosper as a collective society. Instead, the “invisible hand” seems to be willfully guiding us in the opposite direction. How can that be? Has something fundamental shifted, causing the mechanism of the Great American Enterprise to steer not just blindly, but recklessly?

The answer appears to be YES. And what has shifted is that the secret formula of the “invisible hand”—the profit-motive—is no longer capable of ignoring, or hiding, the collateral damages (unpaid “costs”) that have floated from its wake for two centuries. Or, to put it more accurately, while the profit-motive and the “invisible hand” continue to both hide and ignore those damages (most dangerously exemplified by carbon pollution) human society (which supposedly is the beneficiary of the “invisible hand”) can no longer allow it to happen.

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