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Marx and MMT – Part 1

I gave a talk at the Resist Event in Brighton UK last Sunday evening. On the panel was a person who dismissed Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as irrelevant to the real challenges that arose under Capitalism and he invoked Marx a lot. It was not a very illuminating interchange because not only did he misrepresent what MMT was but, in my view, he also seemed to think that we could extrapolate Marx’s scant ideas of money directly into the situation faced by nations today. Marx considered money to be a commodity (gold) and he did not present any meaningful analysis of the role played by the modern consolidated central bank-treasury function (aka government). Last Sunday’s critic claimed that MMT is wrong to assume that unemployment is a monetary phenomenon (insufficient spending) and that government spending can do anything about it. Apparently, Marx thought that capitalist firms have some unique logic that if they decide not to produce no amount of sales orders will induce them to expand production even if they have massive excess capacity (‘machines lying idle’) and a huge pool of idle labour to draw upon. Marx would never have agreed with that idea. Marx’s writings are not the Bible. They are insights gleaned at specific points in history with specific institutional arrangements, some of which remain relevant today, some which do not. Modern Marxist-oriented scholars are aware of that point. A deterministic application of his thinking is not very likely to yield insights when the context is very different. In this two-part series, I seek to lay out a clear reason why MMT is not a violation of a correctly interpreted Marx.

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