skip to Main Content

The divide between mainstream macro and MMT is irreconcilable – Part 3

This is Part 3 (and final) of my series responding to an iNET claim that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and mainstream macroeconomics were essentially at one in the way they understand the economy but differ on matters of which policy instrument (fiscal or monetary) to assign to counter stabilisation duties. In Part 1, I demonstrated how the core mainstream macroeconomic concepts bear no correspondence with the core MMT concepts, so it was surprising that someone would try to run an argument that the practical differences were really about policy assignment. In Part 2, we saw how the iNET authors created a stylised version of mainstream macroeconomics that ignored the fundamental building blocks (how they reach their conclusions about the real world), which means that they ignore important differences in the way MMT economists and mainstream macroeconomists interpret a given economic state. I will elaborate on that in this final part. Further, by reducing the body of work now known as MMT to be just ‘functional finance’, the iNET authors also, effectively, abandon any valid comparison between MMT and the mainstream, although they do not acknowledge that sleight of hand.

Read More

Rising inequality and underconsumption

John Atkinson Hobson was an English economist in the second-half of the C19th and worked well into the C20th, dying at the age of 81 in 1940. I have been reflecting on his work in the context of wage and other labour market developments in recent years. Hobson, individually and with co-authors, provided some excellent insights into how rising income inequality, mass unemployment and increased poverty destabilises the economic system through its impacts on consumption spending. He argued that government should engender what he called a ‘high-wage economy’ which would provide the best basis for prosperity. He was writing as an antagonist to the trends of the day, which considered wage suppression to be good for business and society. In this blog, we consider some of those issues. This is a further instalment to the manuscript I am currently finalising with co-author, Italian journalist Thomas Fazi. The book, which will hopefully be out soon, traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. This segment fits into Part 3 which focuses on ‘what is to be done’.

Read More

Australian Treasurer unqualified to do his job

Australia hosted the recent G20 Meeting in Brisbane and showcased our embarrassing political leadership. Leading into the summit, our Prime Minister had said he would “shirt front” Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Instead he met with the Russian and together they cuddled a native animal (Koala). Then at the opening address, our Prime Minister was humiliating when he told the other 19 world leaders how bad Australians were for rejecting his $7 a visit private contribution to doctor consultations as part of his plan to get the fiscal balance back into surplus. A few days after the US-China signed a major carbon reduction pledge and the rest of G20 nations were working to ensure the final statement of the meetings re-affirmed the World’s desire to address climate change, our Prime Minister was telling the World leaders how tough his government was in getting rid of the Carbon Tax and repeating his mantra that Coal was our future. At least, the Australian government’s insistence that climate change not be on the G20 meeting agenda was ignored by the other nations much to the embarrassment of our leaders. These dorks think they are big time. All the proved was how unsophisticated the political leadership in this country is. The Tea Party Republicans in the US make our lot look like fools! The assessment is that our self-trumpetted ‘macho man’ PM came out with sand kicked in his face looked liked “a coward and a weakling” (Source). And if that wasn’t enough we had the ordeal of watching our Treasurer strutting the world stage with the ‘Finance Ministers’ demonstrating how unqualified he is for that important national job.

Read More

Options for Europe – Part 82

The title is my current working title for a book I am finalising over the next few months on the Eurozone. If all goes well (and it should) it will be published in both Italian and English by very well-known publishers. The publication date for the Italian edition is tentatively late April to early May 2014.

Read More

Cutting US unemployment benefits is cruel and stupid

Once upon a time when I was a postgraduate student and there were around 10 unemployed for every registered vacancy in Australia a professor at my university was waxing lyrical about the lazy unemployed and what they should do to get off the welfare list. His said well “if they really wanted to work they could go down to the municipal tip and scratch together some scrap wood and some old pram wheels and build a cart, then follow the milkman around each morning and collect the horse dung and start a garden fertiliser business”. He wanted the unemployment benefit eliminated to get “these characters off their bums”. I remember the session vividly. That was his cure for the indolence of the unemployed. I put my hand up and said: “Two problems. First, the local council generally will not allow people to scour the tips for rubbish. Second, more importantly, the dairies now have trucks. The horse and cart milkmen were eliminated a few decades ago”. Much laughter followed. My relations with that professor soured a little more after that but the base (sourness) was already large so the percentage change was minimal. The same sort of idiocy is driving policy in the US at present with the US Congress enforcing more than a million unemployed Americans (that is, about 12 per cent of the total official unemployed) will lose their unemployment benefits this coming Saturday because the US politicians have decreed against all available evidence and research that this cohort is lazy and that the dole is standing between them and jobs.

Read More

Unemployment and inflation – Part 2

I am now using Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We expect to complete the text during 2013 (to be ready in draft form for second semester teaching). Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

Keynes and the Classics Part 6

While I usually use Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray, today I am departing from that practice (deadlines looming) and devoting the next two days to textbook writing. We expect to complete the text during 2013 (to be ready in draft form for second semester teaching). Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog approach.

Read More

Keynes and the Classics – Part 5

I am now using Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We expect to complete the text during 2013. Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

Keynes and the Classics – Part 4

I am now using Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We expect to complete the text during 2013. Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

We need more artists and fewer entrepreneurs

When the early neo-liberal governments in Britain, Australia and New Zealand wanted to craft the public debate so that we wouldn’t realise that privatisation was just selling wealth that we already owned collectively to enrich a few of us as well as all the parasitic lawyers and brokers who managed the sales, they pushed the idea that we were all shareholders now. The old idea of capitalists versus workers was dead because we were all basically capitalists and the wealth would grow accordingly. What a disaster that initial experience with the neo-liberal myth has been. Now, that governments are deliberately creating unemployment and undermining paid-work opportunities with fiscal austerity, the public debate is being bombarded with a variation on that same theme. Now we are being told that it is so passe to think in terms of workers and bosses because in reality we are all basically entrepreneurs. Even the most lowly-paid casualised worker who is unfortunate enough to have to eke out an existence via labour hire companies is cast gloriously as a profit-seeking entrepreneur. The rot is seeping into our educational institutions as well.

Read More

Keynes and the Classics – Part 3

I am now using Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We expect to complete the text during 2013. Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

Keynes and the Classics – Part 2

I am departing from regular practice today by taking advantage of a lull in the news reports to advance the draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We are behind schedule at present and so I am concentrating attention on progressing the project to completion. I am also currently avoiding any commentary about the US fiscal cliff resolution farce – I thought Andy Borowitz (January 3, 2012) –
Washington celebrates solving totally unnecessary crisis they created – was about right. Hysterical if it wasn’t so tragic. America – we are all laughing at you – while laughing at our own stupidity as well given the behaviour of our own governments (Europe, UK, Australia etc). Anyway, comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

Investment and profits

I am now using Friday’s blog space to provide draft versions of the Modern Monetary Theory textbook that I am writing with my colleague and friend Randy Wray. We expect to complete the text by the end of this year. Comments are always welcome. Remember this is a textbook aimed at undergraduate students and so the writing will be different from my usual blog free-for-all. Note also that the text I post is just the work I am doing by way of the first draft so the material posted will not represent the complete text. Further it will change once the two of us have edited it.

Read More

Look after the unemployment, and the budget will look after itself

There was a Wall Street Journal article (March 5, 2012) – The High Cost of the Fed’s Cheap Money – which is full of statements like “could eventually lead to an economic calamity” etc. The WSJ article basically rehearses a confused form the old supply-side tradition of the pre-Great Depression era where the claim was that “supply creates its own demand” (so-called Say’s Law) which was shorthand for the proposition that flexible prices and interest rates would ensure that whatever was supplied would be purchased. The same sort of arguments were used in a recent lecture to Harvard EC10 students by the Director of the US Congressional Budget Office. It is extraordinary that these myths, which were part of the body of economic theory that led the world into the current crisis, still have currency. They should start by understanding what Keynes meant when he said “Look after the unemployment, and the budget will look after itself”.

Read More

There is no unemployment in a non-monetary economy

I wrote recently about Eugene Fama, a Chicago economist who basically denied that a breakdown in the financial markets had caused the current crisis. Please see – Yesterday austerity, today growth – but leopards don’t change their spots – for further discussion. Last week (February 17, 2012), one of Fama’s colleagues wrote a Bloomberg Op Ed – How 3 Myths Drive Europe’s Response to Debt Crisis. The article by one Harald Uhlig, from the Department of Economics at the University of Chicago demonstrates the way that the Chicago School likes to obfuscate issues. He develops a model, which purports to show that the imposition of fiscal austerity and zero impact on the standard of living of the population. The only problem is that the model not only makes some false conclusion, within its own logic, but is also inapplicable as a vehicle for explicating problems that might arise in a modern monetary economy. This is typical Chicago economics – a stylised but irrelevant analytical framework.

Read More

A continuum of infinitely lived agents normalized to one – GIGO Part 3

The IMF released a working paper recently (January 2012) – Macroeconomic and Welfare Costs of U.S. Fiscal Imbalances – which purports to estimate the losses that the US economy will incur if the US government delays a major fiscal consolidation. The paper attracted a Bloomberg news headline (February 3, 2012) – How Reducing the Deficit Can Make Us Richer: The Ticker – which, in its own way provides an example of a dishonest piece of reporting. What has the IMF paper have to say about real world issues like real GDP growth, unemployment, underemployment etc? Answer: virtually nothing. It is an example of GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) and confirms that my profession has learned very little (if anything) from its total failure to see the crisis coming or offer valid solutions. It also confirms that while the IMF leadership might be going around lately trying to sound reasonable (warning against austerity) the engine room of the IMF hasn’t changed direction at all. It is still pumping out indefensible rubbish, which then garner headlines and influence the policy debate to the detriment of the unemployed everywhere. The IMF consider humans to be a “continuum of infinitely lived agents normalized to one”. Which means this paper becomes Part 3 of my GIGO series.

Read More

Printing money does not cause inflation

A number of readers have written to me asking me to explain why the US government (and any sovereign government) should not learn the lesson of the inflation that was caused by the spending policies of the Confederacy during the 1860s in the US. They have tied this query variously in with the rising budget deficits, the quantitative easing policies of the Bank of England and the US Federal Reserve Bank, and more recently the “injection of liquidity” by the Bank of Japan as a reaction to their devastating crisis. The proposition presented is simple – the Confederacy funded their War effort increasingly by printing paper notes (and ratifying counterfeit notes from the North) and saw runaway inflation as a result. This blog examines that point. What you will learn is that the experience of the Confederate states during the Civil War does not provide an case against the use of fiscal policy or the proposition that sovereign governments should run deficits without issuing debt. The fact is that “printing paper notes” does not cause inflation per se. It might under certain circumstances. Those circumstances were in evidence in the Civil Wars years in America.

Read More

Money neutrality – another ideological contrivance by the conservatives

I have noted in recent weeks a periodic reference to long-run neutrality of money. Several readers have written to me to explain this evidently jargon-laden concept that has pervaded mainstream economics for two centuries and has been used throughout that history, in different ways, to justify the case against policy-activism by government in the face of mass unemployment. It is once again being invoked by the deficit terrorists to justify fiscal austerity despite the millions of productive workers who remain unemployed. I have been working on a new book over the last few days which includes some of the theoretical debates that accompany the notion of neutrality. There will also be a chapter in the macroeconomics text book that Randy Wray and I are working on at present on this topic. Essentially, it involves an understanding of what has been called the “classical dichotomy”. It is a highly technical literature and that makes it easy to follow if you are good at mathematical reasoning. It is harder to explain it in words but here goes. I have tried to write this as technically low-brow as I can. The bottom line takeaway – the assertion that money is neutral in the long-run is a nonsensical contrivance that the mainstream invoke to advance their ideological agenda against government intervention. It is theoretically bereft and empirical irrelevant. That conclusion should interest you! But be warned – this is just an introduction to a very complex literature that spans 200 years or so.

Read More

Wealth effects – been down that road before

In recent days, there has been some talk here about wealth effects and how they might complicate the interpretation of the multiplier. The claims made about that the multiplier understates the likely expansion as a result of the wealth effects is somewhat misleading but that is another story. The fact is that the inclusion of wealth effects has a long standing in economics. They were initially used as part of the mainstream denial that involuntary unemployment could exist in a market economy with flexible prices. This goes back to the famous Keynes versus Classics debates. In that debate, the mainstream argued that the wealth effects would be sufficient to restore full employment during a recession without any need for government intervention. The problem is that the ideas do not withstand scrutiny – either theoretically and empirically. They certainly do not provide a credible attack on the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) claim that fiscal policy intervention is required to combat a situation where aggregate demand is deficient relative to the productive capacity of the economy. This spending gap manifests as involuntary unemployment in the absence of an appropriate policy response. Given the ideological position that these “wealth effects” have occupied in the literature I am always suspicious when someone proposes we take them seriously. That is what this blog is about.

Read More

Why budget deficits drive private profit

I have been working on the macroeconomics textbook today that Randy Wray and I are hoping to publish sometime next year. We have a publisher and now just have to complete the text which is progressing well. Also today I have been wondering why UK business firms are not horrified at the latest damaging policy announcement by the new conservative British government. My thoughts generalise to any government at present in terms of the obvious need to expand fiscal policy. I brought those two things together today – the practical need for continued fiscal support for private sector activity and the development of our textbook – by considering the macroeconomic origins of profits. It is an interesting story that very few people really understand because they think micro all the time when it comes to the understanding the profits of business firms whereas you have to start thinking from a macroeconomics perspective to really understand this. It also helps you understand the relationship between the government and non-government sector more fully – a relationship which is at the heart of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). So read on and see if you have thought about this before.

Read More
Back To Top