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.