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Fiscal Sustainability

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A Counter Narrative to Peterson's

Stephanie Kelton writes:

The US is broke. Government deficits are de facto evidence of a government gone wild. We’re careening toward Greece. Entitlements are the root cause of our fiscal woes, and the Chinese are coming for our grandchildren. How many Americans believe this garbage? My guess? Most of them.

Read below the fold...
letsgetitdone's picture

Defending Entitlements Against the Debt Terrorists

Dean Baker recently posted on the closed door meetings some prominent CEOs are having on shaping austerity budgets to be used after the election to pressure Congress to arrive at a bi-partisan compromise that will cut spending much more than it raises taxes and “put us on the road to fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility.” Dean rightly points out that these concerns are greatly overblown since the most important problem we are facing now is growing the economy and providing for full or near-full employment. In particular, he's very opposed to entitlement cuts and is opposed to the current bipartisan impulse to sacrifice entitlements on the altar of fiscal sustainability/responsibility. He then says:

”The question is how to make it so that popular sentiment overrides the big bucks of the corporate chieftains. The obvious answer would be to make the protection of these programs central issues in the election. Members of Congress and candidates for seats should be pressed to indicate where they stand on the proposed cuts to these programs.

“That means getting them to answer specific questions, like whether they support reducing the annual cost-of-living adjustment or raising the normal retirement age for Social Security or the age of eligibility for Medicare. These are among the most important issues in people's lives and voters should not have to go to the polls not knowing where the candidates for the House, the Senate or the presidency stand on them.

“People should also be aware that politicians are true masters of evasion on these questions. A response like, "I support Social Security and Medicare," should be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts for these programs. All of the people running for office are smart enough to know how to say that they oppose the cuts being put on the table, and they undoubtedly would say that they oppose the cuts, if it is true.

“Similarly, a statement like, "I oppose the privatization of Social Security and Medicare" should also be taken to mean that they are prepared to support cuts to these programs. Again, they are not being asked about privatization, it's not immediately on the table, why would they give an answer about privatization except to avoid admitting their support for cuts?

“The news media should also be pressed into service in this effort. It is their job to tell us the candidates' positions on important issues and there are few issues more important to voters than Social Security and Medicare. People should harangue their local newspapers and television stations to ask candidates their positions on cuts to these programs. This is far more important than most of the gossip about the campaigns that dominates news coverage.

“The whole effort here must be focused on smoking out politicians on where they stand on cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The CEOs want to do this behind closed doors because they know that politicians who have to answer to their constituencies will never be able to get away with these cuts. The key is to force the debate into the sunlight.”

While I very much agree with the idea that we must force this debate into the sunlight and should focus on getting our Representatives, Senators, and even Presidential candidates to take a “no entitlement cuts under any circumstances position,” I also think that the methods outlined above by Dean are unlikely to be enough to carry the day. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Eight, Narrative and Counter-Narrative For Fiscal Sustainability

I started this lengthy series by saying:

Well, it's Springtime in DC. Time for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's annual event. The Fiscal Summit, to be held on May 15, better named the Fiscal Cesspool of distortions, half-truths and lies, is a propaganda extravaganza designed to maintain and strengthen the Washington and national elite consensuses on the existence of a debt crisis, the long-term ravages of entitlement spending on America's fiscal well-being, and the need for long-term deficit reductions plans to combat this truly phantom menace. The purpose of maintaining that consensus is to keep an impenetrable screen of fantasy intact in order to justify policies of economic austerity. that have been impoverishing people and transferring financial and real wealth to the globalizing elite comprised of the 1% or far less of the population, depending on which nation one is talking about.

I then pointed to the first two Fiscal Summit Conferences in 2010 and 2011, identified some of the featured participants in both of these, and the then pending 2012 conference, and identified the primary myths used to form the neoliberal-based deficit hawk/austerian “fiscal sustainability”/”fiscal responsibility” narrative driving the politics of fiscal policy towards debate, discussion and passage of a long-term fiscal policy plan focused primarily on deficit reduction and long-term “fiscal responsibility” and “fiscal sustainability.” I then set out to present a detailed account of the five sessions of the April 2010 Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In Counter-Conference along with comments and references (links) to posts appearing since the Teach-In. The five sessions and accompanying Q & A, covered in posts 2-7 of this series, supplemented by additional post-conference work provide a fiscal sustainability/fiscal responsibility counter-narrative based on the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to economics.

In this final post of the series, I'll juxtapose the primary claims underlying the neoliberal austerian fiscal sustainability/fiscal responsibility narrative, and the MMT answers to them. The austerian claims all link to MMT-based posts that critique them. The paragraphs following each austerian claim summarize the MMT answers, and the counter-narrative. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Six, Policy Proposals for Fiscal Sustainability

The way we designed the program of the Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In Counter-Conference, was to introduce the fundamental ideas of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) in the first three presentations on defining fiscal sustainability, whether or not there are spending constraints on governments sovereign in their currency, and whether deficits, debts, and debt-to-GDP ratios are really a problem for entitlement programs and our grandchildren. Then Presentation Four, by Marshall Auerback, was given to consider the main critique of MMT's stance on deficit spending, the possibility of inflation or hyperinflation.

Finally, Presentation Five, which we'll cover in this post was designed to highlight the proposals for full recovery favored by the MMT economists. These proposals are the counter to the austerity proposals of Paul Ryan, Pete Peterson, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, David Walker, Barack Obama, and the rest of those convinced that the US Government has solvency/debt/deficit problems that must be solved by some combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Five, Inflation and Hyper-inflation

One of the raps on deficit spending in neoliberal circles is that it will trigger substantial inflation or hyper-inflation. Even when mainstream economists grant the MMT point about the impossibility of the US becoming involuntarily insolvent, they will still insist that sustained deficit spending is a bad idea because it will inevitably lead to unmanageable inflation. A variant of their critique is that especially “pure deficit spending,” I.e. deficit spending without issuing debt instruments to absorb the increase in the money supply created by deficit spending, will be an inflation trigger. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Four, The Deficit, the Debt, the Debt-To-GDP Ratio, the Grandchildren, & Fiscal Policy

The neoliberal austerian ideology often emphasizes the consequences of excessive deficit levels, a high national debt, and a debt-to-GDP ratio. Among those supposed consequences are rapidly increasing and high interest rates in the bond markets, inability to “borrow” to pay for imports, inability to maintain spending levels on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, and Unemployment Insurance, an increasing threat to government solvency, and a growing national debt burden that will have to someday be repaid by heavily taxed children and grandchildren. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Three, Are There Spending Constraints On Governments Sovereign in Their Currencies?

[This is an important series of posts. As the elite tees up for Grand Bargain™-brand catfood, it's important to understand that the entire ZOMG!!!!! Teh debt!!!! narrative is not merely fakery, but fakery that's funded by those who will benefit from the looting, and that's not you. --lambert]

An issue at the core of all the fuss about fiscal sustainability is Government solvency. The deficit hawks and doves believe that Governments sovereign in their own currency can run out of money if they keep deficit spending, and keep borrowing to do it. They believe that if deficit/debt levels are high enough, then Government insolvency can occur, because eventually the burden of interest on the public debt will crowd out all other public spending and investments. So, they are for working towards debt/deficit reduction, “reforming” (i.e. cutting) entitlement spending, and raising taxes, though not necessarily on the rich. Read below the fold...

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The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part Two, Defining Fiscal Sustainability

One of the most irritating things about the deficit hawk/austerity literature, is that it uses the ideas of “fiscal sustainability” and “fiscal responsibility” in an ideological way, without ever really analyzing or explaining these labels. It's almost as if the austerians know that if they clearly and directly stated what they meant by these terms, and how their meanings were actually related to the ideas of “sustainability” and “responsibility”, then flaws in their whole ideological and policy framework would be very clear to everyone else.

Of course, if you read any of the austerian literature you soon learn that they think fiscal sustainability and responsibility both relate to the impact of government spending on the federal deficit, the public debt subject to the limit, and the debt-to-GDP ratio, and to no other impacts of fiscal policy.” But the austerians never really explain why these three numbers are relevant for fiscal sustainability and responsibility. Instead, they take the relationship as obvious to all, and start evaluating fiscal policies on the basis of past and projected deficit, debt, and debt-to-GDP ratios. Invariably, regardless of the nation in which you find them, they end up advocating for lower taxes for the wealthy, less regulation for corporations, and sacrifices of Government programs and the social safety net; all this based on the ideas of fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility that they've never even explained to an incurious and uncritical media, but very bought media, or to the public.

Because of the very great importance of the fiscal sustainability/fiscal responsibility/fiscal crisis/solvency rhetoric, the first session of the Fiscal Sustainability Teach-In Counter-Conference covered the topic “What Is Fiscal Sustainability?” and the primary speaker was Professor Bill Mitchell of the University of Newcastle. Audios, videos, presentation slides, and transcripts for the presentation are available at selise's site and a slightly different version of the transcripts is available from Corrente as well. Read below the fold...

letsgetitdone's picture

The Fiscal Summit Counter-Narrative: Part One

[I'm leaving this sticky because our enemies don't sleep. If you end up eating Grand Bargain™ cat food because Robama concocts some sleazy deal in the lame duck session due to a Shock Doctrine-style manufactured crisis, the people who engineered the crisis will be the same people who organized this shindig. Know them, and know their lies! --lambert]

Well, it's Springtime in DC. Time for the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's annual event. The Fiscal Summit, to be held on May 15, better named the Fiscal Cesspool of distortions, half-truths and lies, is a propaganda extravaganza designed to maintain and strengthen the Washington and national elite consensuses on the existence of a debt crisis, the long-term ravages of entitlement spending on America's fiscal well-being, and the need for long-term deficit reductions plans to combat this truly phantom menace. The purpose of maintaining that consensus is to keep an impenetrable screen of fantasy intact in order to justify policies of economic austerity. that have been impoverishing people and transferring financial and real wealth to the globalizing elite comprised of the 1% or far less of the population, depending on which nation one is talking about.

The 2010 Fiscal Summit

The first “Fiscal Summit” was held in Washington, DC on April 28, 2010. It was lavishly funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, and included many “big names” associated with “fiscal sustainability” and “fiscal responsibility,” including Bill Clinton, who appeared along with personalities from Peterson's stable of deficit hawks such as David Walker, Alice Rivlin. Robert Rubin, Alan Simpson, Erskine Bowles, and Paul Ryan. Its purpose was to spread the deficit hawk message of Peter G. Peterson, including various myths of the world-wide austerity movement: Read below the fold...

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The Insanity Isn't the Deficit Spending; It's Claiming That the Government's Budget Is Like A Household Budget!

It's a trope with our politicians, including the President, his likely Republican opponent Mitt Romney, and an emerging third party candidate over at Americans Elect and NoLabels, Pete Peterson's long-time Sancho Panza, David Walker. The trope says that the Government is just a family, even though it's a very big one, and that, like any family, it has a “household” budget, called the Government budget. Read below the fold...

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Keynesian Deficit Doves vs. MMT Deficit Owls

In a comment on another post of mine, Kelly Canfield, a blogger and commenter at FDL, asked me for the following.

What I would appreciate is a simple, 3,4 bullet point method as to why I should support, and more importantly, tell others that MMT is superior to the Keynes theories which I have pointed out and illustrated to others before this current situation.

I can easily explain that the private sector is not providing demand, and that the Fed sector should, and people would be better off with demand stimulus.

Explain to me how I EXPLAIN that MMT is superior to that basic premise, if it is?

Not sure I want to do that in three or 4 bullet points. But what I will do is to state what I think are some differences that are very significant for policy activism between a Keynesian approach employed by people like Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong, and Robert Reich and a Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach employed by people like Warren Mosler, L. Randall Wray, Bill Mitchell, Jamie Galbraith, Stephanie Kelton, Marshall Auerback, Scott Fullwiler, and Pavlina Tcherneva. So, here are some contrasts between the two approaches on seven important issues. Out of these contrasts, there should be much material for short explanations about why MMT is superior to Keynesian approaches. [Readers? -- lambert] Read below the fold...

letsgetitdone's picture

Spare Me the “Middle Ground” Please!

In a debate at FiredogLake about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) perspectives on the so-called deficit/debt crisis and the idea that there is no long-run deficit problem, powwow, a perspicacious commenter and occasional blogger at MyFDL, suggests that while MMT offers useful perspectives on how the monetary system works, and he also agrees that more deficit spending in the present employment crisis will not lead to forced, as op Read below the fold...

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Why Do “They” Want To Limit Our Sovereignty In Our Own Currency?

One of the most emotional issues in American politics is the sovereignty of the United States itself, and its independence from foreign powers, interests, other nations and their ruling elites, and emerging globalizing elites who place their own interests against the nation interest of America and its people. The issues of fiscal sustainability and fiscal responsibility should be discussed from the viewpoint of our national interest, not from the viewpoint of abstract financial ratios, or supposedly critical indicators that generate a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Read below the fold...

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