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Modern Money Theory

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The Re-invent Democracy Platform and MMT

The MMT Uptake Problem

Proponents of the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) approach to macroeconomics have had many successes since the approach was first synthesized in coherent form by Warren Mosler. There have been successful predictions of economic conditions: much work showing that the historical record accords with the MMT point of view, rather than the views of other approaches and paradigms, and also many instances where representatives of other approaches to economics have suddenly begun to use economic views first put forward by MMT economists.

So, it's surely true that MMT has been making progress in its quest to become the dominant economic paradigm guiding macroeconomic and fiscal policy in nations. But for some of us writing about issues relating to MMT progress seems painfully slow. A big part of the reason for slow progress is the difficulty of getting MMT views into the mass media consistently, which is seen as a necessary step in getting them popular currency. Read below the fold...

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A Bottom-Up Solution to the Global Democracy Crisis

Before the “no” vote on Scotland's independence, The New York Times, carried a post by Neil Irwin in the Upshot making the point that the then upcoming vote “shows a global crisis of the elites.” He argues that the independence drive reflects “. . . a conviction — one not ungrounded in reality — that the British ruling class has blundered through the last couple of decades.” He also thinks that this applies to the Eurozone and the United States to varying degrees, and is “. . . a defining feature of our time.”

Irwin then updated his first post last night, expanding it and recognizing the victory of the “no” votes in the referendum. His new post did not add anything essential to his “global crisis of the elites” diagnosis, so the references and quotations below come solely from his pre-vote post. But the points made apply equally well to his update.

To summarize his argument, for decades now, the elites in major modern, industrial nations have committed leadership blunders and created great discontent among the citizens of their nations, to the point where their polices have contributed to damaging their economies seriously, and the rise of popular resistance embodied in extremist parties and independence movements. Elites have had vast power, but have not lived up to their responsibilities to serve the people of their nations. Discontent with their actions and results is so high that many are questioning the legitimacy of the very governing institutions that claim to serve them, and are exhibiting a greater and greater willingness to do something about these institutions and the policies that they and the elites are generating. Scotland is but one example of that, and his implication is that more examples are in the offing.

It's significant, some might say even remarkable, that Irwin's article appeared in The New York Times, since it is a flat out criticism of elite leadership over a number of decades and a warning to elites to improve their performance or deal with the consequences. But I think it still misses the most important question. That question is whether there is a global crisis of elites or a global crisis of democracies? I'm afraid I think that the crisis of elite leadership is only a symptom of the underlying cause of a broader global crisis of democracy. Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility: What Chris Hayes Said

I'm interrupting my series on Government Real Fiscal Responsibility to being you this special post, on something Chris Hayes said relating to Real Fiscal Responsibility. Back in February of 2014, he tweeted:

Recently, that tweet along with an image has been making the rounds on Facebook as an Alternet photo. The sound bite in the tweet looks great, after the manner of a logical truism.

But, logically, it doesn't follow, because one can easily say that as long as the Government implicit in the statement isn't a currency issuer, but a currency user who must acquire its funds by taxing or borrowing alone, that Government can involuntarily run out of funds. And it is conceivable that funds might be raised to fund a war, while that same Government might not have the funds available to take care of the people who fought for the nation, without defaulting on its obligations. Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility 5; Carter: Environmental Degradation

This, the fifth post in a series evaluating the fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility of the Governments of the United States (mostly the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Reserve) by Administration periods, beginning in 1977 to 1981 with the Jimmy Carter period, will cover the performance of the Government on the environment and climate change aspect of “public purpose.” Posts 1, 2, 3, and 4, discussed some basic definitions and assumptions of the series and evaluated Government performance relating to economic stagnation, living wage full employment, price stability/inflation, implementing universal health care, and educational reform.

I've explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, in this post prior to beginning the series. You'll want to read it, if you want to know what I mean by “public purpose,” and see what else that pregnant term includes, apart from enhancing the environment.

In the first post, I also claimed that the Government of the United States has been fiscally irresponsible in every Administration period since 1977, because its fiscal policies have largely worked against key aspects of public purpose. The first 4 posts supported that claim across 5 aspects of public purpose, as will this one. Future posts in this series will attempt to document it across additional aspects of public purpose. Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility 4; Carter: Education Reform

If you're reading this you've landed near but not at the beginning of my very lengthy series evaluating the fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility of the Governments of the United States (mostly the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Reserve) by Administration periods, beginning in 1977 - 1981 with the Jimmy Carter period. My first post explained why I chose to start my evaluation with the Carter period, and also laid out my related definitions of fiscal sustainability, and fiscal responsibility.

It explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, which I laid out in this post prior to beginning the series. You may want to consult that post, if you want to know what I mean by “public purpose.” I also claimed that the Government of the United States has been fiscally irresponsible in every Administration period since 1977.

In my second post, I began by examining the problems of ending economic stagnation, and providing full employment at a living wage, and, I hope, by showing that the Government, during the Carter period, failed to solve either problem because of its commitment to deficit reduction, and budget balancing, in the service of hoped for inflation moderation. The third post in the series, examined how the US Government failed in its efforts to create and maintain price stability, and also failed to provide a solution to the problem of providing the right of receiving health care to every American in need. So, thus far in the first three posts in the series we've seen how the Government during the Carter period failed to 1) end economic stagnation; 2) failed to create and maintain full employment; 3) failed to maintain price stability; and 4) failed to maintain price stability. It did not fail however, to reduce the Federal deficit, which is not in itself an aspect of public purpose, but a presumed means of preserving government solvency, and avoiding inflation. So, I suppose congratulations are due the Government for solving a faux problem and failing to directly address the real ones.

So, from 1977 – 1981, the Government of the United States is thus far 0 for 4 when it comes to achieving real fiscal responsibility through fiscal policy in accordance with key aspects of public purpose. The remaining posts in this series will continue to document the claim that all the US Governments since 1977 have been fiscally irresponsible. In this, the fourth post in the series, I'll evaluate the Government's efforts at educational reform during the Carter period. Will the Government go 0 for 5? We'll see! Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility 3; Carter: Inflation and Health Care

Here's the third post in my series evaluating the fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility of the Governments of the United States (mostly the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Reserve) by Administration periods beginning in 1977 with the Jimmy Carter period. My first post explained why I chose to start my evaluation with the Carter period, and also laid out my related definitions of fiscal sustainability, and fiscal responsibility.

It explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, which I've laid out here. I also claimed that the Government of the United States has been fiscally irresponsible in every Administration period since 1977.

In my second post, I began by examining the problems of ending economic stagnation, and providing full employment at a living wage, and, I hope, by showing that the Government, during the Carter period, failed to solve either problem because of its commitment to deficit reduction, and budget balancing, in the service of hoped for inflation moderation. The remaining posts in this series will continue to document the claim that all the US Governments since 1977 have been fiscally irresponsible. This, one, the third in the series, will examine how the US Government failed in its efforts to create and maintain price stability, and also failed to provide a solution to the problem of providing the right of receiving health care to every American in need. Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility 2; Carter: Stagnation and Unemployment

This post continues my series evaluating the fiscal responsibility/irresponsibility of the Governments of the United States (mostly the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the Federal Reserve) by Administration periods beginning in 1977 with the Jimmy Carter period. My first post explained why I chose to start my evaluation with the Carter period, and also laid out my related definitions of fiscal sustainability, and fiscal responsibility.

It explained why fiscal responsibility is closely connected to the idea of public purpose, which I've laid out here. I also claimed that the Government of the United States has been fiscally irresponsible in every Administration period since 1977. The remaining posts in this series, and they will be many, will document that claim with analysis.

In this second post, I begin my evaluation of the extent of fiscal responsibility or irresponsibility of the Federal Government during the Carter Administration by covering two of the primary problems reflecting public purpose, and what the Federal Government did or did not do about them with its fiscal and monetary policies. The two are: ending economic stagnation, and creating full employment at a living wage. Read below the fold...

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Real Fiscal Responsibility 1: Preliminaries

This is the first in a lengthy blog series that will evaluate the US Government's record on Real Fiscal Responsibility, Administration period by Administration period, since the Administration of Jimmy Carter in 1977. In evaluating the US Government's record, it’s important to state clearly that I will be evaluating more than just each Administration and its activities.

The record of fiscal responsibility is not the product of the Executive Branch alone. It is the outcome of the interaction of the Executive with the two Houses of Congress and the Federal Reserve System, even on occasion the interaction of one or more of these with the Supreme Court. All bear joint, though not equal responsibility for the record of Government fiscal responsibility or fiscal irresponsibility, as the case may be, during each Administration period. Read below the fold...

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The Real Fiscal Responsibility Today Pilot Project

This pilot project and the radio/video shows it will produce and place on the web is for everyone tired of hearing economic commentary from those who got everything wrong. For decades, the doctrine of "Fiscal Responsibility" interpreted as long-term deficit reduction and Government austerity has had a secure place in American politics. This doctrine is the economic equivalent of the medieval notion that patients must be bled to cure them of disease. And this truth is reflected in the economic history of the United States at least since 1976, when we first began to practice ideology-based austerity in its modern form by planning for deficit reduction and balanced budgets in order to decrease the debt-to-GDP ratio.

Yes, there were short periods of expansive GDP growth during the Reagan and Clinton Administrations, but when one compares job creation and growth rates across the decades, one can see from Table One, that new job creation and GDP growth during the 70s, 80s, 90s, and the first 10 years of this century don't compare to the 40s, 50s, and 60s of the 20th century. By comparison we've been experiencing a stagnant economy in varying degrees for more than 40 years now. Read below the fold...

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Still Not Over: CPC Update

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) recently issued its “Better Off Budget” document as an alternative to the White House/OMB document, and the coming House budget document, a Republican/conservative alternative. The “Better Off Budget” has received enthusiastic evaluations from writers affiliated with the DC progressive community. Richard Eskow's recent treatment is typical and provides other reviews that are laudatory. These “progressives” clearly see the CPC budget as anything but an austerity budget. But is it, or is it not? Read below the fold...

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No, Virginia, the Austerity Era Is Not Over

If the President's budget were enacted by Congress, and OMB's projections over the next decade hold, it would almost certainly mean economic stagnation punctuated by recession over the next decade. Would it also mean austerity, however? Let's see.

The Sector Financial Balances (SFB) model is an accounting identity, and these are always true by definition alone. The SFB model says: Read below the fold...

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How to Restore the Good Name Of Government

Why is it that Washington village “progressives,” and their associates in other parts of the country who are nevertheless part of the Washington village culture, often ask useful questions, but, almost always deliver, underwhelming answers? Here's an example from Richard Eskow, probably the best writer at Campaign for the American Future. Read below the fold...

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The New Populism Needs to Get This Straight

Let's look again at the new populism through the lens provided by Robert Borosage in his recent attempt to tell us what it is about. He says:

The apostles of the new inequality have unrelenting sought to starve the public sector. President Reagan opened the offensive against domestic investments. Perhaps the hinge moment was in the final years of the Clinton administration when the budget went into surplus, and Clinton, the finest public educator of his time, pushed for paying down the national debt rather than making the case for public investment. He left the field open for George W. Bush to give the projected surpluses away in tax cuts skewed to the top end.

The hinge moment wasn't then. It was when he decided, either early in his first term, or even before he took office, to rely on deficit reduction coupled with low interest rates from Alan Greenspan, on the advice of Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, rather than on deficit spending on human capital investments as advocated by Robert Eisner and Robert Reich. Rubin's victory in the internal debates within the Administration was well-known at the time (1993), and set the deficit reduction course that played along with the Fed's bubbles to create the private sector debt-fueled “goldilocks” prosperity, and surpluses of his second term. By the time Clinton faced the choice Borosage refers to, the die had already been cast. It was very unlikely that Clinton would turn away from further Government austerity policy, and turn instead toward investments in infrastructure, public facilities and “human capital.”

But this is a side point, the real focus of this passage is the notion that the Clinton surpluses were good because they created an opportunity for public investment by using those surpluses. The trouble with this, is that it is a point purely about politics and communications which neglects the economic fact that the surpluses of the Clinton's term, as well as his deficit reduction policies, were bad for the US because they reduced or eliminated private sector surpluses causing a growth in private sector debt in Clinton's “goldilocks” economy. Read below the fold...

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Who Needs a Balanced Trade Policy?

It's easy to recognize that after many years of trade deficits accompanying implementation of trade agreements beginning with NAFTA the US needs to change what it's doing. Many, including Robert Borosage of the Campaign for the American Future (CAF), advocate for balanced trade and they contrast that with the so-called “free trade” policies we have now. The case for balance trade policy is summarized by Borosage this way during his discussion of the policies favored by the New Populism:

Our global trade policies have been defined by and for multinational banks and companies. They have shipped good jobs abroad and driven wages down at home, while racking up unprecedented and unsustainable trade deficits. Those imbalances, as the International Monetary Fund and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke have noted, contributed directly to blowing up the global economy.

The new populists demand balanced trade policies. . . .

So, we need “a balanced trade policy” meaning one that reduces trade deficits because it will support lower unemployment by keeping “good jobs” here, drive wages up rather than down, be more sustainable, and won't contribute to a collapse of the global economy. But, is that the only or the best way to get these outcomes? Read below the fold...

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Bernie Sanders: Self-shackled Champion of the People

I gotta love Bernie Sanders, because he seems so much like people I grew up with and like myself too, and he also seems to have that passion for equality and democracy that is so important for the future of America. Sometimes I think Bernie is one of the few champions of the people left in Congress. But I also think that along with other progressives he has constructed chains for himself that prevent him from being as effective a champion of the people as he otherwise might be.

His chains are the chains of either false beliefs or a decision not to speak the truth about fiscal matters for fear that the “very serious people” in the Washington village will marginalize him even more than they do right now. I can't say which of these is true, but I think whichever reason is operative, his self-shackling reduces his effectiveness. Read below the fold...

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