The debates about MMT are expanding. There are weird offerings springing up each day. I read something yesterday about how MMT is really just Marxism in disguise and therefore a plot to overthrow entrepreneurship. Well in a socialist society there will still be a monetary system! Most of the critiques just get to their point quickly – MMT is about wild printing presses undermining the value of the currency! That should summarise 25 years of our work nicely. But there are also other developments on a global scale. A few weeks ago there was a lengthy debate in the Japanese parliament during a House of Representatives Committee hearing considering whether the October sales tax hikes should continue. The Finance Minister, Taro Aso was confronted by Committee members who indicated that it was useless denying that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) was some abstract theory that was wrong because the Japanese are already “doing it”. The Minister told the hearing that MMT was dangerous and would undermine financial markets if anyone said otherwise. An interesting discussion took place. It highlighted some key features of MMT. It also indicates that progress is being made in the process of education aimed at giving people a better understanding of how the monetary system that we live within operates.
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.
The way in which Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has become politicised and misrepresented is quite something. The critics have all fallen into the same pattern. They rehearse a few statements that they claim represents what MMT is about, and, which they know will shock people who read and/or listen to them, into concluding that the proponents of MMT understandings are crazy. A whole host of wannabees are now jumping on the bandwagon. And last week, 5 Republican Senators in the US Congress tabled a bill which claims it is “the duty of the Senate to condemn Modern Monetary Theory and recognizing that the implementation of Modern Monetary Theory would lead to higher deficits and higher inflation”. For a start, these goons haven’t even cottoned on to the fact that one cannot implement Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) – they are surrounded by it, every day of their lives. But then if they had got that far, they would have also realised that the rest of their arguments in the draft legislation is equally ridiculous. We are making progress though – and the more they come out of the woodwork the better. So far not a blow has stuck.
Its Wednesday and so only a discursive type blog post (that is, very little actual research to report). I have been thinking about the so-called Marxist-inspired critiques of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and just the other day another one popped up in the form of the long article by Paul Mason. One of the things that I have noted about these critiques is that they deploy the same sort of attack against MMT that mainstream economics has traditionally deployed against Marxist economics. One would think they would at least be consistent. It won’t take me all that long to explain that.
I was sent two papers by Thomas Palley the other day. I have known him for decades. He continually disappoints. He has become one of those self-styled Post Keynesians who are trying to destroy the credibility of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) for reasons that are not entirely clear although I know things I won’t write here. He thinks that if he drops a reference to Michał Kalecki, the Polish Marxist economist, into a paper, it qualifies one as being Post Keynesian. But, the reality is that his work (what limited academic work that he has published) sits squarely in the Neoclassical IS-LM synthesis tradition, which is not Post Keynesian nor heterodox at all. It is the antithesis of Post Keynesian. So I have never understood how he wants to appear Post Keynesian. Anyway whatever the answer to that little puzzle is, he definitely has a set on MMT and regularly recycles the same sorts of attacks, which, continue to have the same problems. In other words, he does not seem to (or does not want to) learn. He also accuses those who respond of dishonesty – playing the pure is me card – although his own work on MMT fails, in part, because he deliberately (or not) refuses to acknowledge the extant MMT literature, which addresses the issues he claims are missing in the MMT approach. Go figure!
While many mainstream economists have been coming out to defend their reputations against the growing awareness that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) presents a direct challenge to their hegemony, some of the mainstream haven’t responded at all and continue to confirm what the standard mainstream macroeconomics is about and how far removed from MMT it really is. The MMT critics claim that there is nothing new in MMT (‘we knew it all along’) in one breathe, and then ‘MMT is crazy dangerous’ in another, without seemingly realising how conflicted that juxtaposition is. But when leading mainstreamers, who are not engaging with the public MMT discussion going on, publish their Op Ed pieces, we gain an insight into what the mainstream is really about despite all the attempts by other mainstreamers to co-opt as much of MMT as they can while still claiming it is crazy. A recent Op Ed article in the Wall Street Journal (March 20, 2019) – The Debt Crisis Is Coming Soon – by Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein – is a great demonstration of the DNA of mainstream macroeconomics. MMT presents a diametrically opposed view to this standard mainstream analysis. There is no correspondence possible between the two positions.
I am travelling across Europe today and so am just writing this in between various commitments. I will soon be back home in Australia and have received a lot of E-mails about the way the Australian media has been treating the recent upsurge in attention about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). The short description is appalling – one-sided, no balance and hardly about MMT at all, despite dismissing our work as garbage. So par for the course really. While most of the articles have just been syndicated hashes of the foreign criticisms that have been published elsewhere from Krugman, Rogoff, Summers and others. But there was one article by a local journalist who tried to predict which side of history would end up looking good in all this and chose, wrongly I think, to throw his cap in with the New Keynesians. More alarmingly though is that this local effort clearly followed the international trend by setting out a fiction and then tearing into that fiction claiming to his readers that this was about MMT. He missed the mark and ended up totally confusing himself. So par for the course.
The US-based Eastern Economic Association, which aims to promote “educational and scholarly exchange on economic affairs”, held its annual conference in New York over the weekend just gone. One of the panels focused on “New Views of Money” and I am reliably told turned into a bash MMT session as yet another disaffected economist, feeling a little attention deficit, sought to demolish our work. The technique is becoming rather standardised: construct MMT as something that it is not; refer to hardly any primary sources and only those that can be twisted with word ploys to fit into the argument; use this false construction to accuse MMT authors that are not cited of a range of sins; conclude that MMT is useless – either because the things it has right were known anyway and the novelties are wrong, proceed as normal. In denial. Afraid to admit you are part of a degenerative paradigm that has lost credibility. Bluster your way forward muttering something about optimising transversality conditions that need to be met. Feel happy to be part of the conga line. Well that conga line is heading for oblivion I hope. Where it belongs. On the scrap heap of anti-knowledge.
On February 21, 2019, the British Office of National Statistics (ONS) released the latest fiscal data for the British government – Public sector finances, UK: January 2019. There was a lot of press reaction applauding the result and even progressive writers found it possible to misrepresent what the data actually is telling us has been happening. The fact that the British government recorded a fiscal surplus of £14.9 billion in January 2019 was touted in terms of creating a ‘war chest’ that the Government will be able to delve into when the next crisis arrives (which might be soon if the current Brexit mishaps continue). The reality, is, of course, totally different. There is no stored up spending capacity (stock) created when a government runs a surplus. What is actually happening is that the net flows out of the economy to the government squeeze an already over-indebted non-government sector for liquidity and destroy that much of its wealth portfolio. Moreover, while all and sundry, including the Euro-leaning Left are frothing at the mouth over Brexit, new data now allows us to compute the losses arising from the deliberate strategy of fiscal austerity that the Government has pursued. Guess what? They appear to dwarf all the Project Fear estimates of losses arising from Brexit (notwithstanding the flaky nature of those estimates). Where is the Guardian’s column Austerity Watch to match its hapless Brexit Watch column? Where is the relentless stream of articles from Guardian journalists and Op Writers about austerity? Sorry, that would take up space which is occupied by the relentless stream of articles about Brexit?
There is a campaign on the Internet calling itself CANOO (the Campaign against nonsense output gaps) which one Robin Brooks, economist at the Institute of International Finance and former Goldman Sachs and IMF employee, is pursuing. You cannot easily access his written memos on this because the IIF forces you to pay for them. However, there is nothing novel about his claims and the points he is making are well-known. However, they are points that are worthwhile repeating at loud volume because the implications of the ‘nonsense’ are devastating to the well-being of workers, particularly those most vulnerable to precarious work and unemployment. So while the CANOO is just dredging up old issues I am very glad that it is. The concept of biased estimates of output gaps and so-called ‘full employment unemployment rates’ goes to the heart of the way the neoliberal economists, who dominate policy making units in government and places like the IMF, the OECD and the European Commission, create technical smokescreens to justify their dirty work. The more people find out about the basis of the scam the better. I have been working on this issue (estimating, writing and publishing) since the late 1970s as a graduate student. So welcome Robin Brooks, and make a lot of noise.