Here is Part 2 of my analysis of the claim that Japan is not a good demonstration of what happens when macroeconomic policies are pushed beyond their usual limits. I have long argued that trying to apply a mainstream macroeconomics (New Keynesian) framework to the Japanese situation yields nonsensical predictions about rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and government insolvency. Nothing like that scenario has emerged since Japan has introduced economic policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus since the 1990s. Japan demonstrates key Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) principles and those that seek to deny that are really forced to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case. That version is meaningless. In Part 2, we extend that analysis to consider trade transactions, the fear of inflation, and the argument that the current generation are selfishly leaving their children higher tax burdens while we party on.
Well, it’s 2022 already and we enter the 18th year of this blog. Regular readers will know that I have studied the Japanese economy in considerable detail over the course of my career and when it experienced one of the largest commercial asset price bubble busts in history in early 1992, the questions I was asking and the data I was looking out were important in framing the way I have done macroeconomics since. I consider Japan to be one of the nations that was early to embrace the madness of neoliberalism – credit binge, wild property speculation then crash – and the first nation to abandon it in favour of more responsible fiscal policy – which given the circumstances required on-going fiscal deficits exceeding 10 per cent of GDP at times. Its policy approach – including the relatively high deficits, the zero interest rate policy of the Bank of Japan, and then the massive bond-buying program by the same, became the target for various New Keynesian macroeconomists (including Krugman) to prophesise doom. Their textbook models predicted the worst – rising interest rates, accelerating inflation, rising bond yields and then government insolvency as bond markets bailed out and the currency plummetted. Nothing like that scenario emerged. Japan was playing out policies that ran counter to the mainstream consensus in the 1990s and beyond and I learned so much from understanding why things happened there as a consequence. This is Part 1 of a two-part discussion about why Japan demonstrates key MMT principles and how those who wish to deny that reality have to invent a parallel-universe version of MMT to make their case.
I have noticed a lot of Internet traffic about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the situation in Turkey at present. Apparently, as the narrative goes, MMT is finally being revealed as a fraud because Turkey’s economy is going backwards and its currency is depreciating rapidly. The logic, it seems, is that if a nation enters rough economic waters and the financial markets sell its currency (although remember someone has to be buying it simultaneously) then that proves MMT is false. An extraordinarily naive viewpoint if you think about it. This viewpoint has somehow missed the train on understanding what MMT actually is and seems to think that MMT economists have seen Turkey as a policy model. In this blog post, I consider some aspects of this naivety. It won’t silence the critiques, but it, hopefully will educate those who are interested in the topic and are learning about MMT.
One of the recurring criticisms that mainstream economists make of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is that does not follow the rules of formalism that have become the norm in the economics profession. The implication is that by not following these conventions, MMT economists are unable to say anything precise and scientific. Apparently, a literary discourse cannot convey anything that is sound. Pity that some of the greatest contributions to human knowledge have come from those who could write properly. But this criticism of MMT is about something else again. Dominant academic communities develop their own rules of enquiry, which encompass perspectives of the field to be studied, procedures to be followed, methods and techniques to be used and the end goals of the analysis. If those communities become riddled with Groupthink, then a degree of uniformity in practice becomes expected and enforced either subtly through peer group pressure or more coercively through publication, grant and promotional practices, which effectively determine whether a person will advance or be cast aside. The criticism waged against MMT economists that we don’t follow the normal rules of exposition is really an attempt to enforce the discipline of the mainstream (New Keynesian) community and avoid discussion of substantive issues, such as empirical congruence or extent of anomaly. If the dominant paradigm can convince young scholars and the public that its techniques and methods are the only sound way in which to conduct scientific enquiry and highlight an emerging threat as not being up to speed then it can avoid the scrutiny.
Many social media commentators that have become interested in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) regularly cite sections of the article written by businessman and former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Beardsley Ruml – Taxes for Revenue Are Obsolete – which appeared in the January 1946 edition of the American Affairs journal. The article was actually a speech that he made “before the American Bar Association during the last year of the war”. Some claim that the content provides an early underpinning for Chartalism, upon with MMT is, in part, derived. I disagree. If you read his work carefully, rather than selectively quoting convenient sentences, and, that work includes his more substantial book that was published in 1945 and from which the article cited above was derived, you would get no MMT succour. He was basically lobbying for zero corporate taxation and he expressed rather orthodox views about fiscal policy at the time, which are very non-MMT in substance.
This is Part 2 of a series that is developing here on the topic of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and power. I often read that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is defective because it has no theory of power relations. Some critics link this in their narrative to their claim that MMT also has no theory of inflation. They then proceed to attack concepts such as employment buffers, on the grounds, that MMT cannot propose a solution to inflation if it has no understanding of how power relations cause inflation. These criticisms don’t come from the conservative side of the policy debate but rather from the so-called Left, although I wonder just how ‘left’ some of the commentators who cast these aspersions actually are. The problem with these criticisms is that they have clearly adopted a partial approach to their understanding of what MMT is, presumably through not reading the literature widely enough, but also because of the way, some MMT proponents choose to represent our work. In Part 1, I examined how the economics discipline evolved from political economy to a narrow focus on the ‘economy’ as if it existed in a void of power. I also disabused readers of the notion that MMT ignores the link between money and the real econoy, which is a regular claim offered by critics from the Left. I also questioned critics who seem to want MMT to be a theory of everything. As I regularly point out MMT cannot predict who wins the football this week, but that isn’t a criticism. In Part 2, I am going to complicate things a little by expanding on the MMT is the MMT is a lens narrative as if we can neatly separate values from facts. I will also explain how power enters into the dominant theory of inflation in MMT.
I often read that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is defective because it has no theory of power relations. Some critics link this in their narrative to their claim that MMT also has no theory of inflation. They then proceed to attack concepts such as employment buffers, on the grounds, that MMT cannot propose a solution to inflation if it has no understanding of how power relations cause inflation. These criticisms don’t come from the conservative side of the policy debate but rather from the so-called Left, although I wonder just how ‘left’ some of the commentators who cast these aspersions actually are. The problem with these criticisms is that they have clearly adopted a partial approach to their understanding of what MMT is, presumably through not reading the literature widely enough, but also because of the way, some MMT proponents choose to represent our work. In this two part series, I propose to interrogate this issue and demonstrate that power and class is central to any contribution I have made to the development of the MMT literature. Part 1 sets the context and illustrates why some people might be confused.
This is Part 2 in a two part series that deals with the importance of the = Cambridge capital controversy – which saw economists associated with Cambridge University in England and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts argue about the validity of neoclassical distribution theory. Most recently, in response to a New York Times article about Joan Robinson, one of the key protagonists in that controversy, Paul Krugman declared the Controversy “a huge intellectual muddle” which was really unimportant in the scheme of things. That just revealed his ignorance and/or his part in an on-going denial that the basis of the framework he operates in is deeply flawed and has no scientific legitimacy. In this Part, we get down to the complexity (as best I can without becoming too technical) of the debates. The import though is clear – orthodox economics, which is still taught on a daily basis in our universities and which people like Krugman use to make money by writing textbooks about is based on a series of myths that cannot be sustained, both logically, in terms of their own internal consistency, and, in relation to saying anything about the real world we live in.
Some years ago, I promised to write about the – Cambridge capital controversy – which saw economists associated with Cambridge University in England and MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts argue about the validity of neoclassical distribution theory. I never wrote the blog posts because I considered the material was a little difficult for a blog audience. Also, while of great interest to me, the topic was not necessarily compulsory reading for those trying to come to terms with Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). But today, I relent. For two reasons. First, I think my readership has reached much higher levels of economic literacy over the last 15 years and can handle a challenge. But, more importantly, there are times when the mainstream characters, who have been claiming that there is nothing new in MMT and that they knew it all along and all the important results can be explained within an orthodox New Keynesian approach, reveal their true colours. Their hubris sees them get ahead of themselves and they show they never really understood the basics that undermine their own approach. Such was the case this week when Paul Krugman declared the Controversy “a huge intellectual muddle” and “a tortured debate that illuminated nothing much”. Well, that just goes to show how the mainstream denial functions. A body of work comes along and blows the dominant paradigm out of the water, and the response is to ignore it as a meaningless muddle. Their current attacks on MMT are just another application of that approach, which I first encountered as a student while studying the capital debates. Given the complexity of this issue and the amount of material, this will be a two-part series. Today, we learn the historical context, which will convince you that this was not idle or arcane discussion. This was a debate that went to the heart of the existence of capitalism and the defenders of that system – the mainstream economists did everything they could to defend the myths that they had erected to make the system look fair. They failed but went on anyway. Here is Part 1.
This is the second and final part of my discussion of the – Economic Affairs Commitee (House of Lords) – hearings into – Quantitative Easing: Committee to examine whether inflationary fears justified, the future of QE, and the merits of ‘helicopter money’ approaches. In Part 1 we learned that statements made by notable central bank governors (or equivalent) to the public about what they are doing are highly questionable given the evidence given by two prominent witnesses to the House of Lords enquiry. The evidence doesn’t just refer to matters pertaining to the UK. We learned that it is obvious that large-scale government bond buying programs by central banks are funding fiscal deficits despite the denial from the central bank officials. In this Part, we find more revealing statements by the witnesses further suggest that the central bank officials, including those from the Reserve Bank of Australia governor, are, at best misleading. At worst – use your own words.