Publications on Functional finance
e-pamphlet, August 2021 | August 2021Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been frequently mentioned in recent media—first as “crazy talk” that if followed would bankrupt the nation and then, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, as a way to finance an emergency response. In recent months, however, Washington seems to have returned to the old view that government spending must be “paid for” with new taxes. This raises the question: Has MMT really made headway with policymakers? This e-pamphlet examines the extraordinary interview given recently by Representative John Yarmuth’s (D, KY-03), Chair of the House Budget Committee, in which he explicitly adopts an MMT approach to budgeting. Chairman Yarmuth also lays out a path for realizing the major elements of President Biden’s proposals. Finally, Wray summarizes a recent presentation he gave to the Congressional Budget Office’s Macroeconomic Analysis section that urged reconsideration of the way that fiscal policy impacts are assessed.Download:Associated Programs:Monetary Policy and Financial Structure Economic Policy for the 21st Century The State of the US and World EconomiesAuthor(s):
Working Paper No. 961 | July 2020Modern money theory (MMT) synthesizes several traditions from heterodox economics. Its focus is on describing monetary and fiscal operations in nations that issue a sovereign currency. As such, it applies Georg Friedrich Knapp’s state money approach (chartalism), also adopted by John Maynard Keynes in his Treatise on Money. MMT emphasizes the difference between a sovereign currency issuer and a sovereign currency user with respect to issues such as fiscal and monetary policy space, ability to make all payments as they come due, credit worthiness, and insolvency. Following A. Mitchell Innes, however, MMT acknowledges some similarities between sovereign and nonsovereign issues of liabilities, and hence integrates a credit theory of money (or, “endogenous money theory,” as it is usually termed by post-Keynesians) with state money theory. MMT uses this integration in policy analysis to address issues such as exchange rate regimes, full employment policy, financial and economic stability, and the current challenges facing modern economies: rising inequality, climate change, aging of the population, tendency toward secular stagnation, and uneven development. This paper will focus on the development of the “Kansas City” approach to MMT at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) and the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 900 | January 2018
A Comparison of the Evolution of the Positions of Hyman Minsky and Abba LernerThis paper examines the views of Hyman Minsky and Abba Lerner on the functional finance approach to fiscal policy. It argues that the main principles of functional finance were relatively widely held in the immediate postwar period. However, with the rise of the Phillips curve, the return of the Quantity Theory, the development of the notion of a government budget constraint, and accelerating inflation at the end of the 1960s, functional finance fell out of favor. The paper compares and contrasts the evolution of the views of Minsky and Lerner over the postwar period, arguing that Lerner’s transition went further, as he embraced a version of Monetarism that emphasized the use of monetary policy over fiscal policy. Minsky’s views of functional finance became more nuanced, in line with his Institutionalist approach to the economy. However, Minsky never rejected his early beliefs that countercyclical government budgets must play a significant role in stabilizing the economy. Thus, in spite of some claims that Minsky should not be counted as one of the “forefathers” of Modern Money Theory (MMT), this paper argues that it is Minsky, not Lerner, whose work remains essential for the further development of MMT.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 855 | November 2015
Debt, Central Banks, and Functional Finance
The scientific reassessment of the economic role of the state after the crisis has renewed interest in Abba Lerner’s theory of functional finance (FF). A thorough discussion of this concept is helpful in reconsidering the debate on the nature of money and the origin of the business cycle and crises. It also allows a reevaluation of many policy issues, such as the Barro–Ricardo equivalence, the cause of inflation, and the role of monetary policy.
FF, throwing a different light on these issues, can provide a sound foundation for discussing income, fiscal, and monetary policy rules in the right context of flexibility in the management of national budgets, assessing what kind of policies should be awarded priority, and the effectiveness of tackling the crisis with the different part of public budget. It also allows us to understand ways of increasing efficiency through public investment while reducing the total operational costs of firms. In the specific context of the eurozone, FF is useful for assessing the institutional framework of the euro and how to improve it in the face of protracted low growth, deflation, and weak public finances.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Giuseppe Mastromatteo Lorenzo Esposito
Working Paper No. 843 | July 2015
This paper has two main objectives. The first is to propose a policy architecture that can prevent a very high public debt from resulting in a high tax burden, a government default, or inflation. The second objective is to show that government deficits do not face a financing problem. After these deficits are initially financed through the net creation of base money, the private sector necessarily realizes savings, in the form of either government bond purchases or, if a default is feared, “acquisitions” of new money.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Pedro Leao
Working Paper No. 821 | December 2014
The Advantages of Owning the Magic Porridge Pot
Over the past two decades there has been a revival of Georg Friedrich Knapp’s “state money” approach, also known as chartalism. The modern version has come to be called Modern Money Theory. Much of the recent research has delved into three main areas: mining previous work, applying the theory to analysis of current sovereign monetary operations, and exploring the policy space open to sovereign currency issuers. This paper focuses on “outside” money—the currency issued by the sovereign—and the advantages that accrue to nations that make full use of the policy space provided by outside money.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 705 | February 2012
Lessons from Argentina
The literature on public employment policies such as the job guarantee (JG) and the employer of last resort (ELR) often emphasizes their macroeconomic stabilization effects. But carefully designed and implemented policies like these can also have profound social transformative effects. In particular, they can help address enduring economic problems such as poverty and gender disparity. To examine how, this paper will look at the reform of Argentina’s Plan Jefes into Plan Familias. Plan Jefes was the hallmark stabilization policy of the Argentine government after the 2001 crisis. It guaranteed a public sector job in a community project to unemployed male and female heads of households. The vast majority of beneficiaries, however, turned out to be poor women. For a number of reasons that are explored below, the program was later reformed into a cash transfer policy, known as Plan Familias, that still exists today. The paper examines this reform in order to evaluate the relative impact of such policies on some of the most vulnerable members of society; namely, poor women. An examination of the Argentine experience based on survey evidence and fieldwork reveals that poor women overwhelmingly want paid work opportunities, and that a policy such as the JG or the ELR cannot only guarantees full employment and macroeconomic stabilization, but it can also serve as an institutional vehicle that begins to transform some of the structures and norms that produce and reproduce gender disparities. These transformative features of public employment policies are elucidated by turning to the capabilities approach developed by Amartya Sen and elaborated by Martha Nussbaum—an approach commonly invoked in the feminist literature. This paper examines how the access to paid employment can enhance what Sen defines as an individual’s “substantive freedom.” Any policy that fosters genuine freedom begins with an understanding of what the targeted population (in this case, poor women) wants. It then devises a strategy that guarantees that such opportunities exist and removes the obstacles to accessing these opportunities.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 704 | January 2012
A Dissenting View
It is commonplace to link neoclassical economics to 18th- or 19th-century physics and its notion of equilibrium, of a pendulum once disturbed eventually coming to rest. Likewise, an economy subjected to an exogenous shock seeks equilibrium through the stabilizing market forces unleashed by the invisible hand. The metaphor can be applied to virtually every sphere of economics: from micro markets for fish that are traded spot, to macro markets for something called labor, and on to complex financial markets in synthetic collateralized debt obligations—CDOs. Guided by invisible hands, supplies balance demands and markets clear. Armed with metaphors from physics, the economist has no problem at all extending the analysis across international borders to traded commodities, to what are euphemistically called capital flows, and on to currencies themselves. Certainly there is a price, somewhere, somehow, that will balance supply and demand. The orthodox economist is sure that if we just get the government out of the way, the market will do the dirty work. The heterodox economist? Well, she is less sure. The market might not work. It needs a bit of coaxing. Imbalances can persist. Market forces can be rather impotent. The visible hand of government can hasten the move toward balance.
Orthodox economists as well as most heterodox economists see the Global Financial Crisis as a consequence of domestic and global imbalances. The most common story blames the US Federal Reserve for excessive monetary ease that spurred borrowing, and the US fiscal and trade imbalances for a surplus of liquidity sloshing around global financial markets. Looking to the specific problems in Euroland, the imbalances are attributed to profligate Mediterraneans. The solution is to restore global balance, which requires some combination of higher exchange rates for the Chinese, reduction of US trade deficits, and Teutonic fiscal discipline in the United States, the UK, and Japan, as well as on the periphery of Europe.
This paper takes an alternative view, following the sectoral balances approach of Wynne Godley, combined with the modern money theory (MMT) approach derived from the work of Innes, Knapp, Keynes, Lerner, and Minsky. The problem is not one of financial imbalance, but rather one of an imbalance of power. There is too much power in the hands of the financial sector, money managers, the predator state, and Europe’s center. There is too much privatization and pursuit of the private purpose, and too little use of government to serve the public interest. In short, there is too much neoliberalism and too little democracy, transparency, and accountability of government.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 685 | September 2011
The main purpose of this study is to explore the potential expansionary effect stemming from the monetization of debt. We develop a simple macroeconomic model with Keynesian features and four sectors: creditor households, debtor households, businesses, and the public sector. We show that such expansionary effect stems mainly from a reduction in the financial cost of servicing the public debt. The efficacy of the channel that allegedly operates through the compression of the risk/term premium on securities is found to be ambiguous. Finally, we show that a country that issues its own currency can avoid becoming stuck in a structural “liquidity trap,” provided its central bank is willing to monetize the debt created by a strong enough fiscal expansion.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Alfonso Palacio-Vera