As the public scrutiny of the body of work we now refer to as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) widens there is a lot of misinformation abroad that distorts or otherwise undermines what has been done to date. Most, but not all the misinformation or emphasis comes from those who attack our work. Their criticisms usually disclose an incomplete understanding of where MMT came from and what the core propositions and logic are. They stylise, usually using terms and constructs that are present in mainstream thinking, but inapplicable to an MMT way of thinking, and end up spitting out things like ‘printing money’ etc, which they think represents a devastating rejection of our work. As part of my own work, and I do this in liaison with Warren Mosler, I am interested in documenting the train of events that led to what we now call MMT. I love history and think it is very important in helping us understand things. So today I am continuing to examine archives to trace the provenance of key MMT concepts. And I am continuing to document the idea of a Job Guarantee, which is central to the MMT framework, despite many who claim to be MMTers thinking otherwise. I have noted in the recent press, claims that the origins of the buffer stock employment approach that became the Job Guarantee was the work of Hyman Minsky. Nothing could be further from the truth as you will see. It is important, in my view, to make the provenance very clear and that is what this blog post is about.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has been gaining more attention in Australia in recent weeks. I have been shifting my face-to-face speaking commitments slowly to on-line presentations. I will be announcing more systematic MMTed classes beginning via the Internet soon. And I will do some Live Youtube presentations as well. Last week, the well-known financial market journalist Alan Kohler used his weekly column in The Australian newspaper to discuss MMT – It’s Modern Monetary Theory time as the state steps in (March 23, 2020 – subscription required). Apart from his private corporate work in the financial markets (he writes a regular briefing and does an inflight business report for Qantas), Alan presents the finance report on the national broadcaster ABC nightly news program. He is also a regular columnist in the business pages. So he has high profile. I discussed my concerns with Alan’s representation of MMT in this blog post – It’s Modern Monetary Theory time! No, it always has been! (March 23, 2020). We made contact soon after that – I E-mailed him to tell him I had written a response to his column and he rang me and we arranged to talk further. On Wednesday last week (March 25, 2020), we spoke as part of Alan’s regular podcast – published at Eureka Report (which is a subscription business service). The 48-odd minute is also published here with some additional commentary.
The world is changing that is for sure. Governments around the world are promising to spend billions to address the coronavirus crisis and no-one (other than a few so-called progressives – see below) are talking about how governments will pay for the interventions. Everybody knows how. They have always known. The shams about governments not having enough money to provide adequate housing, schooling, health care, employment, other services, and a sustainable response to climate change are now exposed for all to see. The game is well and truly up. Everybody can now see that governments just have to announce billions of intervention and it will happen. Forget all the ‘complexity’ about accounting arrangements. Forget all the stuff that we will also drown under massive tax burdens if the government dares to help some disadvantaged person get a leg up in life. Forget all the stuff about bond markets punishing profligate governments with insolvency. Everybody can now see that the bond markets are the beggars and the government rules. Even in the Eurozone, it is obvious that the ECB is able to fund fiscal deficits of any size – ‘there is no limit’. Only the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) economists have consistently outlined the rationale for what is going on at present. And that point is increasingly being recognised although not always in ways I think does our work justice.
I have two days of teaching left in Helsinki and my next stop on Friday is Dublin where I will be discussing unification and exit. Should be a fun topic. Its Wednesday back home already and today I consider a matter that came up in one of my classes that I am taking in macroeconomics at the moment at the University of Helsinki. Students really struggle when first introduced to the idea of a stock and a flow. They can easily be led into defining a flow as a stock. Getting this absolutely right is one of the key building blocks in understanding basic macroeconomics and the links between the expenditure system and financial accumulation. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) builds heavily on the difference between stocks and flows and is also what we call stock-flow consistent. So all flows that inform stocks are accounted for in a consistent way. So, for example, we know that when households save, which is the residual of disposable income that is not consumed and a flow, this accumulates into a stock of financial wealth. Today, I am seeking to clarify the issue in my class that we did not have sufficient time to deal with in detail last week. And after that, some music to restore sanity.
One of my presentations at the January Sustainability Conference in Adelaide focused on the basics of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I was asked by the organisers to provide some clarity on the basics of MMT and to demarcate where MMT starts and finishes. I started the first of two talks I gave at that conference by stating that MMT was macroeconomics. It is within that discipline. It is not within the discipline of law, sociology, psychology, cultural and media studies etc. Macro is macro. I subsequently received a lot of correspondence about this and have had subsequent follow-up conversations with some MMT activists about the meaning of the ‘categories’ I introduced. I thought it would be useful to write an extended account of what I was thinking when I said those things. It will help clarify what I see as the difference between MMT and the MMT Project. You can see exactly what I said if you want to watch the video of the presentation. But, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will ‘know’ what I meant. So this blog post seeks to clarify some of those comments so that everyone explicitly understands what I was talking about. This is Part 2 of a two-part series where I discuss what I call the MMT Project and other issues that seem to cause confusion and/or concern.
One of my presentations are the January Sustainability Conference in Adelaide focused on the basics of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). I was asked by the organisers to provide some clarity on the basics of MMT and to demarcate where MMT starts and finishes. I started the first of two talks I gave at that conference by stating that MMT was macroeconomics. It is within that discipline. It is not within the discipline of law, sociology, psychology, cultural and media studies etc. Macro is macro. I subsequently received a lot of correspondence about this and have had subsequent follow-up conversations with some MMT activists about the meaning of the ‘categories’ I introduced. I thought it would be useful to write an extended account of what I was thinking when I said those things. It will help clarify what I see as the difference between MMT and the MMT Project. You can see exactly what I said if you want to watch the video of the presentation. But, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will ‘know’ what I meant. So this blog post seeks to clarify some of those comments so that everyone explicitly understands what I was talking about. This is Part 1 of a two-part series (split because of length). In Part 1, I discuss the idea that MMT is macro. In Part 2, I discuss what I call the MMT Project and other issues that seem to cause confusion and/or concern.
A different blog post today. On November 29, 2019, I sat down with my friend Warren Mosler in Newcastle, Australia while he was on his more or less annual visit to see us. We decided to film a conversation we had about the origins of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), how we came to it, the current state of MMT and future trends, including being part of the narrative surrounding the Green Transition. You will hear our concern about how the work we put in place at the outset is now being used in popular debates as well as other anecdotes. We consider the recent YouTube debate that Warren participated in in Italy and clear up the misunderstandings that followed that episode. We provide our own perspective on the way the GND debate is unfolding. I hope you find the 38 minute video that follows interesting.
Before Xmas, I published a two-part reply to Gregory Mankiw’s paper on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – A Skeptic’s Guide to Modern Monetary Theory (December 12, 2019). I was trying to get the response finished before the break and Part 2 had already become too long. So I decided to leave one issue that I didn’t get to address for a shorter third response once service resumed. I think this part of the response is necessary to set right on the public record. It exemplifies how critics need to work harder to actually understand what MMT is about. And while they try to claim that MMT is opaque and difficult to get to terms with, thereby sheeting the blame for their misguided renditions of our work back onto us, the issue I discuss today is very easy to come to terms with. It is front and centre and there have been many scholarly and other articles written about it. I refer, of course, to the Job Guarantee as MMTs response to the mainstream Phillips curve. The failure to appreciate where this sits in the MMT framework is not confined to mainstream economists. But this group know all about the Phillips curve literature and the place it holds in their macroeconomics. So there is no excuse not to understand it within a buffer stock framework and how MMT responds.
In – A response to Greg Mankiw – Part 1 (December 23, 2019) – I provided the E-mail correspondence that preceded the publication of – A Skeptic’s Guide to Modern Monetary Theory (December 12, 2019) – by Greg Mankiw. In this blog post, I provide a response to the specific points made in that paper and conclude that if it aims to be a fair ‘guide’ to MMT (even from a critical perspective) then it fails badly. So let me explain why I hold that view. Today’s post is long and will take some reading. It could have been a lot longer. But I intend to take a break from writing the blog until next week (the Quiz will appear as usual though), so you have plenty of time to read this longer than usual post. Normally, I would have spread it out over 3 or 4 parts.
On October 2, 2019, I received an E-mail from Gregory Mankiw. It was sent to me, Randy Wray and Martin Watts and asked us some questions about our textbook – Macroeconomics – which had been published by leading textbook publisher Macmillan in March 2019. The book has been selling strongly with a third printing already in the pipeline and a second edition coming, hopefully, later next year. Macmillan also publish Greg Mankiw’s macroeconomics textbook, which has been the dominant teaching book in undergraduate programs. I will take you through the E-mail correspondence that followed because it puts in context what Greg Mankiw decided to do next. Instead of continuing the correspondence on academic terms, which was a reasonable expectation at the time, given the initial approach and our replies, he decided to submit a paper – A Skeptic’s Guide to Modern Monetary Theory (December 12, 2019) – to the American Economic Association meeting in early January, which purports to be a ‘guide’ (meaning in English – a framework to convey an appreciation of something) to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). After his initial entreaty and our responses in good faith, Greg Mankiw clearly decided that engaging with us on the terms he initially set out was not going to be in his interests and thus took another tack, without any further consultation or reference to his initial contact with us. I wasn’t impressed with that strategy. I was less impressed with the ‘guide’ that emerged. It says very little about MMT. It demonstrates how hard it is for someone deeply locked into a dominant but failing paradigm to think outside the ‘box’ for a while and try to understand that the ideas of a new and emerging paradigm cannot be meaningfully reduced back into the conceptual framework of the failing paradigm that the contender is seeking to usurp. I guess his strategy is understandable – after all – our book is now a direct competitor for his textbook and offers a new approach that has much stronger empirical correspondence. In that context, it is in Greg Mankiw’s self interest to attack our book in any way he can. The problem is that attacks have to have some foundation to resonate. Greg Mankiw’s attack is so lateral that he would have been better to have remained silent. Sure, he is playing to the mainstream groupthink echo chamber. But the echoes will die eventually as more and more people realise the mainstream is in its last death throes. This is Part 1 of a two-part response to Greg Mankiw’s paper. In Part 1, we review the E-mail trail that started all this. In Part 2, I will discuss his response.