Friday, August 5, 2011

Understanding Modern Money

If you want a quick review of the background and history of Modern Money Theory, as well as a quick synopsis of its key elements there is none better than this post from Johnsville via Mosler:

Modern Money in a Nutshell


A rampaging mutant macroeconomic theory called Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT for short, is kicking keisters and smacking down conventional wisdom in economic circles these days. This is because an energized group of MMT economists, bloggers, and their loyal foot soldiers, lead by economists Warren Mosler, Bill Michell, and L. Randall Wray are swarming on the internet. New MMT disciples are hatching out everywhere. They are like a school of fresh-faced paramedics surrounding a gasping heart attack victim. They seek to present their economic worldview as the definitive first aid for understanding and dealing with the critical issues of growth, unemployment, inflation, budget deficits, and national debt.

MMT is a reformulated blend of some older macroeconomic theories called Chartalism and Functional finance. But, it also adds a fresh dose of monetary accounting for intellectual muscle mass. Chartalism is a school of economic thought that was developed between 1901 and 1905 by German economist Georg F. Knapp with important contributions (1913-1914) from Alfred Mitchell-Innes. Functional finance is an extension of Chartalism, which was developed by economist Abba Lerner in the 1940’s.

MMT is a broad combination of fiscal, monetary and accounting principles that describe an economy with a floating rate fiat currency administered by a sovereign government. The foundation of MMT is its recognition of the importance of the government’s power to tax, thereby creating a demand for its money, and its monopoly power to print money.

There is really not that much “theory” in Modern Monetary Theory. MMT is more concerned with explaining the operational realities of modern fiat money. It is the financial X’s and O’s, the ledger or playbook, of how a sovereign government’s fiscal policies and financial relationships drive an economy. It clarifies the options and outcomes that policy makers face when they are running a tax-driven money monopoly. Proponents of MMT say that its greatest strength is that it is apolitical.

The lifeblood of MMT doctrine is a government’s fiscal policy (taxing and spending). Taxes are only needed to regulate consumer demand and control inflation, not for revenue. A sovereign government that issues its own floating rate fiat currency is not revenue constrained. In other words, taxes are not needed to fund the government.

MMT also asserts that the federal government should net spend, again usually in deficit, to the point where it meets the aggregate savings desire of its population. This is because government budget deficits add to savings.

In the U.S., MMTers see the contentious issue of a mounting national debt and continuing budget deficits as a pseudo-problem, or an “accounting mirage.” The quaint notion of the need for a balanced budget is another ancient relic from the old gold standard days, when the supply of money was actually limited. In fact, under MMT, running a federal budget surplus is usually a bad thing and will often lead to a recession.

MMT is not easy for many people, including trained economists, to understand. This is probably because of its heavy reliance on accounting principles (debts and credits). Some critics consider MMT nothing more than a twisted Ponzi scheme that is simply “printing prosperity.” Calling MMT a “printing prosperity” scheme, by the way, is the quickest way to send MMTers into spasms of outrage. MMT does not “print prosperty” according to its proponents. The MMT counter argument is: it [is] a perverse injustice that, in online discussions, MMT sympathizers are frequently reproached for imagining that “we can print prosperity” when in fact it is us who constantly stress as a fundamental point that the only true constraints are resource based, not financial or monetary in nature. We are the ones insisting that if we have the resources, we can put them to use. It is the neoclassical orthodoxy and others who try to make out that we can’t use resources, even if they are available, because of some magical, mysterious monetary or financial constraint. Just who is it that believes in magic here?

A heavyweight Keynesian economist, like Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, has felt the sting of MMT. But the quantity and quality of his criticism of MMT, so far, has been featherweight. He could not land a solid glove on the contender, Kid MMT. Krugman only proved that he does not understand MMT, so his criticism was weak (see MMT comments) and his follow-up even weaker. MMT economist James Galbraith did a succinct breakdown of Krugman’s major errors.

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