Modern Money Theory
Today, I'll offer the first of five commentary posts on Bruce Bartlett's recent testimony before the Senate Budget Committee. Bruce Bartlett is a long-time veteran of the fiscal policy wars. He initially became known as a supply-side free market economist working for Ron Paul and then Jack Kemp in the 1970s. Later, he served as a senior policy analyst in the Reagan Administration, and then in the Bush 41 Administration as the deputy assistant secretary for economic policy at the Treasury Department. Since then he's worked at conservative think tanks and as a well-known writer on economic policy and politics, becoming increasingly critical, first of the Bush 43 Administration and then of the increasingly rightward trend of the Republican Party. Today I think Bruce Bartlett is best characterized as a fiercely independent voice still respected in conservative circles, and also, among progressives such as Jamie Galbraith and Stephanie Kelton, but never afraid to call balls and strikes on any Administration or Congress as he sees them.
With that brief introduction completed, I'd like to turn now to a commentary on his testimony to the Senate Budget Committee from my own, individual, but Modern Money Theory -informed point of view. This post will discuss the first four points covered in Bruce Bartlett's testimony. Read more about The “Debt Crisis” According to Bruce Bartlett: Fiat Sovereignty
Senator Bernie Sanders just released his “Economic Agenda for America.” While that agenda is certainly more progressive than the talk we hear from Democrats, and certainly is progressive in its expression of generalities. It is not nearly sufficiently progressive in its specifics.
Here's a commentary on it.
1. We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. . . . A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. . .
We certainly do need to re-invent our infrastructure. But a $1 Trillion program would only begin to scratch the surface, and won't solve the problem. The estimates of how much we have to spend to do that are roughly $3.6 Trillion. So, why isn't Senator Sanders proposing that? Read more about The Economic Agenda for America: A Commentary
Today I received an e-mail from the Friends of (the very popular with progressives) Senator Bernie Sanders. In it the Senator says:
I'm joining with the members of Progressives United to send a clear message to President Obama that we will stand with him when he vetoes Republican legislation that attacks the well-being of the struggling middle class.
Join me and members of Progressives United to urge the president to VETO any Republican legislation that attacks working families.
In her recent post-election piece “It's Time to Work on America's Agenda” Elizabeth Warren points out that the changes in Washington and in various States aren't changing the fact that
The stock market and gross domestic product keep going up, while families are getting squeezed hard by an economy that isn’t working for them.
Let's get this out of the way. I agree with Piketty's overall conclusion in Capital about inequality, that: the distribution of wealth in many industrial nations is highly unequal, wealth concentration has been increasing; and there is a high likelihood that the extent of wealth inequality will continue to grow unless appropriate fiscal policy is used to reverse current trends. However, I don't agree with:
-- the framework he uses to define and specify “capital”;
-- the way he looks at Government finance and net worth; and
-- the fiscal policy proposals he offers to reduce Inequality and put a stop to current trends of growth in the capital to income ratio. Read more about Piketty's Neoliberal Capital
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF) and its allied army of associated deficit hawks want the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the General Accountability Office (GAO), and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to do fiscal gap accounting and generational accounting on an annual basis and, upon request by Congress, to use these accounting methods to evaluate major proposed changes in fiscal legislation. Generational Accounting is an invalid long-range projection method that doesn't take into account inflation, the projected value of the Government's capability to issue fiat currency and reserves in the amounts needed to fulfill Congressional appropriations, and re-pay its debts, the projected non-Government assets corresponding to government liabilities, the likely economic impacts of Government spending, surpluses, and deficits, the impact of accumulating errors on projections, and the biases inherent in pessimistic AND contradictory assumptions. It is a green eye shade method that ignores both economic and political reality.
If you want America to end deficit terrorism and austerity, and to have the fiscal policy space it needs to begin to restore the American Dream, then you need to defeat proposed policies or legislation which puts building blocks in place to bias fiscal policy towards austerity and the economic decline it will surely produce for ourselves, our children, and for their children. Proposed policies and legislation of this kind must be defeated for the following seven reasons. Read more about Beware of Policies and Legislation Based on the Generational Accounting Scam
The deficit is now down to under 3% of GDP, and in contemplating that fact, Paul Krugman asks why the deficit hawks aren't celebrating the precipitous fall from nearly 10% of GDP a few years ago. He then explains that:
Far from celebrating the deficit’s decline, the usual suspects — fiscal-scold think tanks, inside-the-Beltway pundits — seem annoyed by the news. It’s a “false victory,” they declare. “Trillion dollar deficits are coming back,” they warn. And they’re furious with President Obama for saying that it’s time to get past “mindless austerity” and “manufactured crises.” He’s declaring mission accomplished, they say, when he should be making another push for entitlement reform.
All of which demonstrates a truth that has been apparent for a while, if you have been paying close attention: Deficit scolds actually love big budget deficits, and hate it when those deficits get smaller. Why? Because fears of a fiscal crisis — fears that they feed assiduously — are their best hope of getting what they really want: big cuts in social programs.
Some time ago, in the pages of USA Today, Duncan Black, better known to some as Atrios voiced the immediate need for increased Social Security benefits of 20% or more even if it means raising taxes on high incomes, or removing the payroll tax cap on salaries.
Black is right about the need for increased benefits; but legislating that increase doesn't require increasing taxes. In fact, Congress should both increase benefits and remove the payroll tax entirely.
But how is that possible without greatly increasing “the national debt”? The answer to that one is easy. Don't tax or borrow to pay for it. Just mint a single one oz. platinum coin at the beginning of each fiscal year with a face value large enough to cover expected the cost of SS payments. Doing it that way will both take care of retirement needs and also provide a huge shot in the arm for employment, since the increase in Social Security benefit payments and the ending of the payroll tax won’t be offset by tax increases elsewhere that will depress aggregate demand. Read more about Yes We Can Pay for Increasing Social Security Benefits
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 more about The Re-invent Democracy Platform and MMT
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 more about A Bottom-Up Solution to the Global Democracy Crisis
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:
— All In w/Chris Hayes (@allinwithchris) March 1, 2014
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 more about Real Fiscal Responsibility: What Chris Hayes Said
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 more about Real Fiscal Responsibility 5; Carter: Environmental Degradation
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 more about Real Fiscal Responsibility 4; Carter: Education Reform