Recently (February 22, 2022), I received the latest E-mail update from the IMF blog advertising their new post – Should Monetary Finance Remain Taboo? – which obviously attracted my attention. One of the most deeply entrenched taboos in economics relates to central banks directly facilitating government spending without any other monetary operation. In an important sense, the characterisation of ‘monetary financing’ by the mainstream economists is erroneous and leads to all sorts of fictions that undermine sensible and responsible economic policy making. But, we can work through those fictions to discuss what the IMF is talking about. Importantly, they find that this taboo, which has been broken during the pandemic in many countries (although Japan has been leading the way for decades) does not lead to enduring inflation or a rise in inflationary expectations. Another major plank of mainstream macroeconomics gone. That is something to celebrate.
I am in London today (Monday) and have two events. First, I am doing a ‘Train the Trainers’ workshop for – The Gower Initiative for Modern Monetary Studies – where we will work through some techniques and concepts to help activists educate others about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Second, I am meeting with some Labour Party Members of Parliament who are keen to learn more about MMT and incorporate its insights into their political work. Get the drift? People wanting to learn and setting up pathways where that learning can occur. Which means they take advantage of access to one of the founders of MMT to find out what it is about, rather than adopt a superficial version of our work, which they might have heard about when Joe told Aalia, who had picked it up from Eddie, who had been having a conversation with Robyn about something that Abdul had told Amelia, who had read it in some Tweet that was reporting an article written by Kenneth ‘Mr False Spreadsheet’ Rogoff criticising MMT. That is the way to learn.
It is Wednesday – a blog lite day – sort of. I am travelling a lot today and I have a large report to finish. But I couldn’t resist typing out the term “Keynesianisticists”, which refers to those imbeciles who think Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has any credibility – it hasn’t!. These MMTers types – imbecilic is being kind – are parading around telling people that governments cannot run out of spending power as long as there are things for sale in the currency they issue on a monopoly basis. I have only one word for them – Zimbabwe – well two words – add Venezuela. And Lebanon thrown in! And I should know. I have predicted “9 of the Past 5 Recessions” (a Paul Samuelson quote from 1966). I told people that bond yields would rise sharply, they fell. I told people the share market would collapse, it boomed. I told people the gold price would soar, it fell. But that is nothing compared to what those Imbecilic Keynesianisticists want us to believe. Believe me, I know what I am talking about. They are imbeciles, they are imbeciles, imbecile is too kind a word, they are imbeciles, imbeciles, I am an imbecile … stop the record. Time to catch an aeroplane!
One of the first things that conservatives (and most economists which is typically a highly overlapping set) raise when Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents suggest that increased deficits are essential to reduce mass unemployment is the so-called balance of payments constraint. Accordingly, we are told that the capacity of a nation to increase domestic employment is limited by the external sector. And these constraints have become more severe in this age of multinational firms with their global supply chains and the increased volume of global capital flows. I will address the specific issue of a balance of payments constraint on real GDP growth (that is, the limits of fiscal stimulus) in a future blog. But today I want to consider the so-called Exchange Rate Pass-Through (ERPT) effects of that are part of the balance of payments constraint story. The mainstream narrative goes like this. Higher wage demands associated with full employment and/or stronger imports associated with higher fiscal deficits lead to external imbalances due to rising imports and loss of competitiveness in international markets (eroding export potential). In a system of flexible exchange rates, the currency begins to lose value relative to all other currencies and the rising import prices (in terms of the local currency) are passed-through to the domestic price level – with accelerating inflation being the result. If governments persist in pursuing domestic full employment policies the domestic inflation worsens and the hyperinflation is the result, with a chronically depreciated currency. Real standards of living fall and a general malaise overwhelms the nation and its citizens. I am sure you have heard that narrative before – it is almost a constant noise coming from the deficit phobes. Like most of the conservative economic claims and I include the austerity-lite Leftist parties in this group, it turns out that reality is a bit different. Here is some discussion on that issue.
Adair Turner has just released a new paper – The Case for Monetary Finance – An Essentially Political Issue – which he presented at the 16th Jacques Polak Annual Research Conference, hosted by the IMF in Washington on November 5-6, 2015. The New Yorker columnist John Cassidy decided to weigh into this topic in his recent article (November 23, 2015) – Printing Money. The topic is, of course, what we now call Overt Monetary Financing (OMF), which simply means that all of the unnecessary hoopla of governments matching their deficit spending with bond-issuance to the private bond markets, as if the latter are funding the former, is dispensed with. That artefact from the fixed exchange rate Bretton Woods system is maintained as a voluntary procedure by fiat-currency issuing governments but only provides financial assets to the non-government sector in the form of ‘corporate welfare’. The debt issuance of debt has nothing to do with funding the spending and is used by all and sundry to attack such spending for creating so-called ‘debt mountains’. OMF brings together the central bank and the treasury functions of government into a coherent framework whereby the central bank merely credits private bank accounts on behalf of the government to indicate the spending initiatives implemented by the Treasury.
Zimbabwe is the new Weimar Republic. Not! Zimbabwe is the front-line evidence that shows that government deficits will generate hyper-inflation. Not! Zimbabwe is the demonstration of the folly of a fiat monetary system. Not! Zimbabwe is an African country with a dysfunctional government. Yes!
In the current edition of the German weekly Magazine Der Spiegel (“The Mirror”) there is an article about a “new idea to keep unemployment down” entitled Germany Mulls ‘Parking’ Unwanted Labor in New State-Funded Firms. The thrust of the proposal is that Germany is now examining a proposal to set up government-funded “transfer companies” for workers who lose their jobs as a means of keeping unemployment in check. A reader wrote to me saying that it sounds a bit like the Job Guarantee that I have been advocating for years! Closer examination suggests that while the Germans are starting to come to terms with how bad their economic situation is, they are still a long way off understanding how to get out of it. In that respect, they share the ignorance with most governments. However, being a Euro zone member, the German government has voluntarily lumbered itself with even more constraints that will make it harder to insulate its people from the ravages of the recession.