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The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and…
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The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the…

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"Any ambitious proposal - ranging from fixing crumbling infrastructure to Medicare for all or preventing the coming climate apocalypse - inevitably sparks questions: how can we afford it? How can we pay for it? Stephanie Kelton points out how misguided those questions really are by using the bold ideas of modern monetary theory (MMT), a fundamentally different approach to using our resources to maximize our potential as a society. We've been thinking about government spending in the wrong ways, Kelton argues, on both sides of the political aisle. Everything that both liberal/progressives and conservatives believe about deficits and the role of money and government spending in the economy is wrong, especially the fear that deficits will endanger long-term prosperity. Through illuminating insights about government debt, deficits, inflation, taxes, the financial system, and financial constraints on the federal budget, Kelton dramatically changes our understanding of how to best deal with important issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs and building infrastructure. Rather than asking the self-defeating question of how to pay for the crucial improvements our society needs, Kelton guides us to ask: which deficits actually matter? What is the best way to balance the risk of inflation against the benefits of a society that is more broadly prosperous, safer, cleaner, and secure? With its important new ways of understanding money, taxes, and the critical role of deficit spending, MMT busts myths that prevent us from taking action because we can't get beyond the question of how to pay for it"--… (lisätietoja)
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The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy (tekijä: Stephanie Kelton)

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An outstanding explanation of modern monetary theory. After reading this, you will no longer be able to listen to discussions of the national debt in the same way. ( )
  M_Clark | Mar 15, 2021 |
This book is a fascinating look into whether or not it is possible, responsible, or wise to have a government deficit. Perhaps you've been raised to think it's a bad thing, that it means we're in debt to countries like China, or just shows our country as being irresponsible spenders. The economic theory, MMT, outlined in this book demonstrates that because the United States issues currency, we literally cannot run out of it. While the book does list the repercussions of printing too much money (see: the Weimar Republic), it balances that discussion with other benefits of using our deficit wisely.

I found the book to be an interesting economics primer; the last time I took an economics class was about 17 years ago in college because I needed a social science credit. I found all of the basics (rational, informed spenders) to be complete BS, so I've probably shied away from economics talk since then. However, I would have appreciated I guess a more objective view of MMT... because my economics background is so weak I worry that a book like this might sway my opinion largely just because I don't have enough knowledge to counterbalance any of the points given in the book.

However, I think that even if we could convince the entire U.S. that MMT is solid and sound, a certain political party will still obstruct its use as much as possible. Yes this country needs a sound economic policy that benefits the population, environment, and our neighboring countries. But we more importantly need to solve the problem of close to 50% of the voting population believing that human beings aren't entitled to things like healthcare, a guaranteed income, retirement pensions, or even food. ( )
1 ääni lemontwist | Dec 31, 2020 |
A fascinating topic, maybe even an important topic. I'm not quite sure how much I accept the ideas and arguments, but they are certainly interesting. Love the idea of national guaranteed service work as an alternative to unemployment insurance, an effective minimum wage, and as a form of basic universal income. ( )
1 ääni RandyRasa | Oct 25, 2020 |
Monetary theory, the study of money, is a key aspect of economics. It enables economists to analyze money and consider its function. As an economic theory, the technical literature on the subject generally concerns itself with traditional economic indicators: jobs, inflation, etc. However, these sometimes fail to adequately address the primary purpose of economics: people.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a specific branch of monetary theory that evolved as a result of a century-old inquiry into chartalism, functional finance, and the medium-of-exchange nature of money. It is characterized by a view that currency is a public monopoly, and should be managed for the public benefit. Although MMT has been around for generations, it is recently gaining prominence in mainstream economic discourse as a compelling approach for retooling our currently-ailing economic system.

This article is part of a body of larger work being developed by The Regenerative Economy Collaborative to demonstrate the application of the Seven First Principles of Regeneration (as articulated by regenerative paradigm educator Carol Sanford) to the domain of economics. Taken as a whole, this effort is directed toward answering the question, “How can the economy metamorphose into a system that optimizes for human development rather than one that depends upon exploitation of people and nature?” The thesis of this article is that MMT, if reconceptualized within a framework of regenerative principles, is well-suited to helping bring about this transformation.

This piece is structured around three pillars: money (section III), people (section VI), and the emergence of a regenerative economy (section IX). These pillars are linked with interstitial segments expounding on the thesis of this piece: I) grounding our discussion of money within the context of personal and national sovereignty, II) introducing MMT and linking it to human development, IV) considering the spectrum of participatory governance of money, V) interrogating the aims of work and livelihood, VII) dispelling the myth that fiat funds are created through debt, and VIII) interrogating the phase shift between employment and vocation.

I. SOVEREIGNTY
What is it to be sovereign? When used to describe a national currency, the descriptor means that a country has independent control over its monetary supply. Countries with a high degree of monetary sovereignty include countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan. Countries with a low degree of monetary sovereignty include countries like Niger, Venezuela, and Greece. If a country has the ability to “borrow” exclusively with its own currency, and it has the ability to control the supply of that currency, it is sovereign.

Who or what directs this control? What in the nature of money changes in accordance with degree of sovereignty?

On the personal end of the sovereignty spectrum, agency is the key term. Agency refers to the will of an entity to exercise its participation in a larger system. This is relevant because unleashing the creative contributions of every member of society is what activates a regenerative economy. Just as at the national level, increased sovereignty builds the ability for a country to fully participate in the active evolution of society and the planet, so at the individual level, increased agency builds the capacity to engage in dynamic community- and movement-based development.

II. CAPACITY DEVELOPMENT
From a regenerative perspective, economies are a means by which communities and nations become increasingly wealth-generating. In this context, wealth is a dynamic term relating to the ability of living systems to sustain and grow their own vitality, viability, and readiness to evolve. In this way they become able to respond to emergent needs, not only for themselves but for a larger world.

This description of economies will naturally prompt us to ask, “What is money for? Can it serve to actualize society rather than inhibit it?” For insight into these questions, the work of economist Stephanie Kelton is helpful, especially as outlined in her 2020 book, The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy. She posits that using the dysphemism “national debt” to describe the net balance between federal expenditures and federal taxes confuses economists, policymakers, and the public to busy them with anxiety over irrelevant indicators.

There is another option; that of MMT.

III. MONEY
What is money? Unlike the material universe, which operates according to the laws of physics, money is a social construct, and is therefore limitlessly plastic. Money wears an extensive wardrobe of metaphoric cloaks: water, energy, gold. And yet, as with any metaphor, money is not actually any of these things.

Increasingly, money is how we mediate our relationship with each other and the more-than-human world. On an individual level, money pays for most of our food, most of our housing, most of our transportation, and a substantial portion of our education and medical care. Nevertheless, it should be noted that a large chunk of the economy lives outside of the financial economy—we generally don’t get paid to parent, to learn an artform, to clean up a stream, or to run a marathon.

Money isn’t an indicator of meaning. Corporate lawyers may make more money than school teachers, but does that mean they lead more meaningful lives?

Money is traditionally defined as a medium of exchange, unit of account, and store of value. These qualities are in tension with one another; low levels of inflation enhance the medium-of-exchange nature while degrading its utility as a store of value, and vice versa. For example, the Federal Reserve targets an inflation rate of 2%, so that the dollar is used rather than held. Conversely, gold has gone up in price in comparison to dominant currencies, making it a good store of value but a poor medium of exchange.

The value of money is collectively generated. To take an extreme example, if only one person held all of a specific currency, it would be entirely worthless. Conversely, the more people find use for a currency, the more valuable it becomes.

On a societal scale, budgetary allocations reflect a certain subset of moral priorities. In fiscal year 2020, the federal budget has authorized $636 billion for defense, and $162.5 million for the arts, a roughly 4,000-fold differential. In considering how such large discrepancies in allocations occur, we can now turn our attention to the question of oversight.

IV. OVERSIGHT
What is the process used to allocate funding? In the United States, we’ve vested fiscal authority to Congress and monetary authority to the Federal Reserve. In other words, both entities have the ability to create and destroy money, each in their own way. Congress has the ability to create money through federal spending and destroy money through federal taxes. The Federal Reserve has the ability to issue treasury bonds, set interest rates on these bonds and other reserves, and purchase securities as a form of debt relief.

Within this breakdown, some fiscal programs overseen by Congress are mandatory while others are discretionary. Social Security, Medicare, and student loans are mandatory (issuance has some degree of automation). Defense and bailout packages, on the other hand, are discretionary. One advantage of mandatory spending is that it generally doesn’t require authorization and therefore can be more responsive to emerging needs than discretionary spending, which is frequently held up in lengthy deliberations.

Neither of these institutions could appropriately be described as “democratic,” and would be better classified as plutocracies because they are characterized, on the whole, by the seat of governance being occupied by a wealthy elite. There are other ways of controlling fiscal authority, one example being that of participatory budgeting, where an informed citizenry engages in a facilitated budgetary process together, a method that fosters the development of citizens.

V. JOBBING TO VOCATION
While systems of oversight operate at a macro-economic level, their influence is felt in multiple micro-economic ways with regard to the lives of people and their work. Although the term work can be used to describe both a job and a vocation, the latter implies meaning while the former only requires livelihood.

As currently configured, the economy assumes that provisioning occurs through jobbing. In other words, if you don’t have a job, you won’t be able to provide for yourself or your family. This arrangement overlooks the facet of livelihood associated with meaning; even if you have the good fortune to procure a position, there is a good chance it won’t be meaningful. As anthropologist David Graeber documents in his 2018 book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, a large portion of employees and contractors self-identify their positions as meaningless.

What can work be? What would it be like if people were able to spend a majority of their waking hours dedicated to meaningful work? What capacities would be required in the populations to fulfill such potential? What capacity would be required in the economy?

There are many real limits in the economy: natural resources, human hours, the wellbeing of humans and their environments, the technology available, the education available. Unlike these natural limits, the money supply of sovereign nations and its distribution is within the realm of human agency. Its rules are contrived and can be regenerated.

In The One-Straw Revolution, agroecologist Masanobu Fukuoka states, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings.” By its nature, economics regularly points us to the functional results of work: food, housing, healthcare, etc. At this point in our inquiry, it is worth calling out a second result of work: the effect it has on the worker. Overall, low-skill work does not require much of the worker. As living beings, without a context that demands dynamism, our psyches can atrophy. Conversely, when each of us find our calling or vocation (which, necessarily is non-generic, and which arises uniquely out of the relationship between our essence and our context) we enter into a process where we ourselves are being developed.

In some places, it seems as though there’s an assumption that the jobs an economy creates of its own volition are the right jobs, jobs that are good for people. But this is self-evidently false. MMT separates the ideas of money and debt and opens the space for a different conceptualization of work. Regenerative thinkers employing MMT return agency to workers by introducing the idea that the quality and variety of jobs that are available can be determined by a living economic system that builds human agency rather than a mechanical economic automatism. What would it be like if all jobs could be developmental?

VI. PEOPLE
We often use idioms of speech that suggest that money exists independently and that there is some kind of inherent relationship between money and the things it can be used to acquire, e.g. “the price of oil”. However, money is a purely social construct. People are the only place to which money flows, and the only place from which it originates. Although we have accounting methods that list items such as land, resources, infrastructure, food, machinery, etc.—all of these things only cost money because people were involved in their identification, processing, distribution, and celebration.

More importantly, people, and the development of their potential, are the purpose of an economy and therefore of money. Yes, the economy has massive impacts on the more-than-human sphere. Yet we mislead ourselves if we pretend that the economy has a primary focus other than us. If this is the case, why does the economy fail so many people? What would an economy look like if it were in service to all? For one thing, it would shift its focus to enabling capacity development.

VII. DEBT TO MONEY
What are the hurdles blocking this evolution in the purpose of the economy? The myth of the fiat sovereign debt crisis is one. When we use terms like “the national debt” and “taxpayer money” to reference money created by the federal budget, we obscure the reality that, without federal government “debt,” there would be no money. All dominant currencies today are self-sovereign and fait-issued. Although it is true that the vast majority of the quantity of money is created through bank debt, banks are able to extend this credit based on their relationship with the federal government, which is the ultimate source of these funds.

Another way to think of it is that the economy is composed of two money circuits, the private money circuit (which ultimately has public origins), and the public money circuit. When the economy has a recession, the “supply” of private money shrinks (through a lower velocity, through defaults, etc.). For the economy to stay the same size, this difference must be made up by the public money circuit. We call this rebalancing a “federal deficit.”

From the perspective of MMT, sovereign money moves from being a liability (a debt) to an asset (a tool we can use to further develop the capacity of our people). What could we do, what could we build, what could we become, if only we chose to recognize that we have the money? How would this shift in perspective change the ways people spend their time and attention?

VIII. FULL EMPLOYMENT & VOCATION
Unemployment hit historic lows in December 2019, with U-3 (people actively seeking jobs) at 3.5% and U-6 (U-3 plus underemployed people and people that don’t have a job and have given up looking for one) at 6.7%, and historic highs in April of 2020 at 14.7% and 22.8% respectively. With a 2019 labor force of 166 million according to the World Bank, during the period in which we supposedly had arrived at the Non-Accelerating Inflation Rate of Unemployment (NAIRU—the Fed’s metric for “full employment), we still had 5.8 million American in U-3, and 11.1 million American in U-6. In other words, under the conventional approach to managing our currency supply, it is taken for granted that there will be a chronically unemployed class of millions of Americans. To use an oft-cited metaphor, it is a game of musical chairs; mathematically, if you’re one of those in over the NAIRU limit, it is literally impossible for you to find a job, because they don’t exist. If that’s the best we can do, isn’t it time to consider other monetary and fiscal instruments rather than sacrificing a significant proportion of the population?

The intention of a perpetually unemployed class doesn’t just affect the segment of the population in the unemployed demographic—a large portion of the remaining population is in constant fear of falling into the bottom class, and this focuses their attention on survival earning. Conversely, if we were to eliminate this class, that segment of the population could refocus their attention from jobs that give them the purchasing power to fund their survival to endeavors from which they can derive meaning. This would also result in an evolution of the economic paradigm, moving from an accounting based on jobs to one based on potential.

IX. CAPACITY TO ADDRESS TRUE PROBLEMS
MMT is an instrument that can refocus the economy away from a zero-sum game where chronic employment is a given towards an economy refocused on the development of people towards the aim of an evolving and dynamic society. Through a shift from monetary to fiscal measures, from discretionary to mandatory spending, and from financial development to human development, MMT better equips nations with the appropriate instruments to build a regenerative economy.

* * *

In conclusion, given the convergent crises of wealth inequality, climate change, and joblessness due to Covid-19, there is a growing need for fundamental shifts in how we think about and design our economic systems. In setting out on this path, economists and policymakers would do well to consider the purpose of the economy, and the way in which it can provide not just jobs, but meaningful work that develops the people performing this work. By opening up space in our thinking about how money works and how it might be used, Modern Monetary Theory provides a compelling and pragmatic alternative to the status quo. ( )
3 ääni willszal | Aug 18, 2020 |
I mostly agree with Kelton's MMT economics, and with her liberal politics. Yet I found the combination to be wholly unconvincing, and by the end I was becoming convinced that both need rethinking.

The presentation of MMT here is far oversimplified, to the extent of being almost a caricature of MMT. It is also very repetitive. I read through the first superficial chapters quickly, looking forward to where she would delve into the details. Instead, she pivots completely to politics. Unlike on economics, on politics, she doesn't really have anything novel to say. It is completely derivative of hundreds of other books, articles, op-eds and speeches. I really don't need Kelton giving me cheesy anecdotes of a man she met in Ohio who needed Obamacare. Kelton is an economist, not a politician, and I want the economic perspective.

Her solution to every problem is to have the government either manage it or throw money at it. Perhaps we have the money to do anything (ignoring inflation, like she does throughout the book), but devoting real resources to efforts will still always involve tradeoffs. Except not in this book. (Even for health care, for which she notes that the US pays much more, for less, than other developed countries, her solution is to spend even more: "more primary care doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons, medical equipment, hospital beds, and so on".)

She doesn't even properly explain inflation:

> economists worry because when there's little or no inflation, it's usually considered a reflection of weakness in the broader economy.

> There was a time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when many central banks, including the Federal Reserve, claimed that by directly controlling the growth of the money supply, they could control inflation. Today, virtually all central banks have adopted a different approach, targeting a key interest rate that is supposed to help them indirectly manage inflationary pressures.

> The federal government announces a wage (and benefit) package for anyone who is looking for work but unable to find suitable employment in the economy. Several MMT economists have recommended that the jobs be oriented around building a care economy.

> In November 2008, the Fed launched the first of three rounds of a massive bond-buying program called quantitative easing. Among other things, the Fed hoped its program would help stimulate the US economy by lowering long-term interest rates. By the time it was over, the Fed had gobbled up some $4.5 trillion in bonds, including nearly $3 trillion in US Treasuries. In addition to using quantitative easing to push longer-term interest rates lower, the Fed also changed the way it managed its short-term interest rate. Instead of buying and selling Treasuries to add and subtract reserves, the Fed switched to a "more direct and more efficient method of interest rate support." It simply started paying interest on reserve balances. Today, the Fed can adjust the short-term interest rate any time it chooses, simply by announcing that it will pay a new rate.

> The government is letting $100 dollars flow into our bucket and only siphoning $90 down the drain. The flow of red ink lamented by Jason Furman fills our bucket with dollars. Fiscal deficits don’t eat up our savings; they enlarge them!

> Some nations have weakened their monetary sovereignty, either by pegging their exchange rates (e.g., Bermuda, Venezuela, Niger), abandoning their national currencies (e.g., all nineteen countries in the eurozone, Ecuador, Panama), or by borrowing heavily in US dollars or other foreign currencies (e.g., Ukraine, Argentina, Turkey, Brazil).

> money, as MMT notes, is the one resource the federal government can't run out of. There's no reason every job—all the way down to retail clerk or fast food worker or janitor in a luxury Chicago hotel—can't be a good job, with dignified pay, hours, security, and benefits.

> the average borrower from the class of 2017 now owes $28,650. For Americans attending private not-for-profit colleges and universities, the average amount of debt is $32,300; for those attending for-profit institutions, the average is $39,950

> It's been called the forgotten leg of the New Deal. FDR had hoped that Congress would enshrine a job guarantee in the form of an Economic Bill of Rights, but his party never carried through with a formal commitment after his death

Way oversimplified:

> MMT teaches us that if we have the real resources we need—that is, if we have the building materials to fix our infrastructure, if we have people who want to become doctors, nurses, and teachers, if we can grow all the food we need—then the money can always be made available to accomplish our goals.

> Budgeting through an MMT lens would have us replace the artificial budget constraint that tells us to live within our financial means with inflation constraint that tells us to live within our biological and material means. ( )
  breic | Jul 31, 2020 |
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"Any ambitious proposal - ranging from fixing crumbling infrastructure to Medicare for all or preventing the coming climate apocalypse - inevitably sparks questions: how can we afford it? How can we pay for it? Stephanie Kelton points out how misguided those questions really are by using the bold ideas of modern monetary theory (MMT), a fundamentally different approach to using our resources to maximize our potential as a society. We've been thinking about government spending in the wrong ways, Kelton argues, on both sides of the political aisle. Everything that both liberal/progressives and conservatives believe about deficits and the role of money and government spending in the economy is wrong, especially the fear that deficits will endanger long-term prosperity. Through illuminating insights about government debt, deficits, inflation, taxes, the financial system, and financial constraints on the federal budget, Kelton dramatically changes our understanding of how to best deal with important issues ranging from poverty and inequality to creating jobs and building infrastructure. Rather than asking the self-defeating question of how to pay for the crucial improvements our society needs, Kelton guides us to ask: which deficits actually matter? What is the best way to balance the risk of inflation against the benefits of a society that is more broadly prosperous, safer, cleaner, and secure? With its important new ways of understanding money, taxes, and the critical role of deficit spending, MMT busts myths that prevent us from taking action because we can't get beyond the question of how to pay for it"--

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