(Roughly) Daily

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination”*…

 

Modern Monetary Theory’s basic principle seems blindingly obvious: Under a fiat currency system, a government can print as much money as it likes. As long as country can mobilize the necessary real resources of labor, machinery, and raw materials, it can provide public services. Our fear of deficits, according to MMT, comes from a profound misunderstanding of the nature of money.

Every five-year-old understands money. It’s what you give the nice lady before she hands you the ice cream cone—an object with intrinsic value that can be redeemed for goods or services. Through the lens of Modern Monetary Theory, however, a dollar is nothing but a liability issued by the US government, which promises to accept it back in payment of taxes. The dollar in your pocket represents a debt owed you by the federal government. Money isn’t a lump of gold but rather an IOU.

This mildly metaphysical distinction ends up having huge practical consequences. It means the federal government, unlike you and me, can’t run out of cash. It can run out of things money can buy—which will drive up their price and be manifest in inflation—but it can’t run out of money. As Sam Levey, a graduate student in economics who tweets under the name Deficit Owls told me, “Macy’s can’t run out of Macy’s gift certificates.”

Especially for those who want the government to provide more services to citizens, this is a convincing argument, and one that can be understood by non-economists…

Everyone knows governments need to tax before they can spend. What Modern Monetary Theory presupposes is, maybe they don’t.  Offered for interest (and with no endorsement): “The Radical Theory That the Government Has Unlimited Money.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we crank up the printing press, we might recall that it was on this date in 2009, several months into the Great Recession, President Barack Obama met with the CEOs of America’s 13 largest financial institutions to discuss a path out of the economic trough onto which the U.S. had descended.  Finding them suspicious of his new (Democratic) administration and worried that he would be less generous to their companies than President Bush and his administration had been, Obama opened by suggesting…

My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks… But you need to show that you get that this is a crisis and that everyone has to make some sacrifices…I’m not out there to go after you. I’m protecting you. But if I’m going to shield you from public and congressional anger, you have to give me something to work with on these issues of compensation. Help me help you Everybody has to pitch in. We’re all in this together.

The result was a series of compromises that survived the Obama Administration, but that are now being systematically undone under the Trump Administration.

See also “13 Bankers.”

Kenneth D. Lewis, the chief executive of Bank of America, with other bank executives outside the White House after the meeting with President Obama

source

 

Written by LW

March 27, 2018 at 1:01 am

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