Publications on Modern Money Theory (MMT)
Working Paper No. 985 | February 2021
No! And Yes.Modern Money Theory (MMT) economists have used Japan as an example of a country that demonstrates that high deficits and debt do not lead to insolvency, high interest rates, or inflation. MMT insists that governments that issue their own sovereign currency cannot be forced into insolvency, that they can make all payments as they come due, and that they do not really spend tax revenue or borrow in their own currency—with Japan serving as an example of a country that does not face financial budget constraints as normally defined. In this paper we evaluate whether Japan is the poster child of MMT and argue that policy-wise Japan is not following MMT recommendations; in fact, it is generally adopting policies that are precisely the opposite of those proposed by MMT, consistently adopting the path of stop-go fiscal measures and engaging in inadequate and temporary fiscal stimuli in the face of recessions, followed by austerity whenever the economy has seemed to recover.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 979 | November 2020As the nation is experiencing the need for ever-increasing government expenditures to address COVID-19 disruptions, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and many other worthy causes, conventional thinking calls for restoring at least a portion corporate taxes eliminated by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, especially from progressive circles. In this working paper, Edward Lane and L. Randall Wray examine who really pays the corporate income tax and argue that it does not serve the purposes most people believe.
The authors provide an overview of the true purposes and incidence of corporate taxation and argue that it is inefficient and largely borne by consumers and employees, not shareholders. While the authors would prefer the elimination of the corporate profits tax, they understand the conventional thinking that taxes are necessary to help finance government expenditures—even if they disagree. Accordingly, the authors present alternatives to the corporate tax that shift the burden from consumers and employees to those who benefit the most from corporate success.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):Edward Lane L. Randall Wray
Working Paper No. 973 | October 2020
An Open Economy PerspectiveThis paper is focused on Modern Monetary Theory’s (MMT) treatment of inflation from an open economy perspective. It analyzes how the inflation process is explained within the MMT framework and provides empirical evidence in support of this vision. However, it also makes use of a stock-flow consistent (open economy) model to underline some limits of the theory when it is applied in the context of a non-US (relatively) open economy with a flexible exchange rate regime. The model challenges the contention made by MMTers that measures such as the job guarantee program can achieve full employment without facing an inflation-unemployment trade-off.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Emilio Carnevali Matteo Deleidi
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):
One-Pager No. 63 | April 2020As governments around the world explore ambitious approaches to fiscal and monetary policy in their responses to the COVID-19 crisis, Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been thrust into the spotlight once again. Unfortunately, many of those invoking the theory have misrepresented its central tenets, according Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray.
MMT provides an analysis of fiscal and monetary policy applicable to national governments with sovereign, nonconvertible currencies. In the context of articulating the elements of that analysis, Nersisyan and Wray draw out one of the lessons to be learned from the pandemic and its policy responses: that the government’s ability to run deficits is not limited to times of crisis; that we must build up our supplies, infrastructure, and institutions in normal times, and not wait for the next crisis to live up to our means.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Public Policy Brief No. 148, 2020 | January 2020In this policy brief, Yeva Nersisyan and Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray argue that assessing the “affordability” of the Green New Deal is a question of whether there are suitable and sufficient real resources than can be mobilized to implement this ambitious approach to climate policy. Only after a careful resource accounting can we address the question of whether taxes and other means might be needed to reduce private spending to avoid inflation as the Green New Deal is phased in.
Nersisyan and Wray provide a first attempt at resource budgeting for the Green New Deal, weighing available resources—including potential excess capacity and resources that can be shifted away from existing production—against what will be needed to implement the major elements of this plan to fight climate change and ensure a just transition to a more sustainable economic model.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Statement of Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray to the House Budget Committee, US House of Representatives
Testimony, November 20, 2019 | November 2019
Reexamining the Economic Costs of DebtOn November 20, 2019, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray testified before the House Committee on the Budget on the topic of reexamining the economic costs of debt:
"In recent months a new approach to national government budgets, deficits, and debts—Modern Money Theory (MMT)—has been the subject of discussion and controversy. [. . .]
In this testimony I do not want to rehash the theoretical foundations of MMT. Instead I will highlight empirical facts with the goal of explaining the causes and consequences of the intransigent federal budget deficits and the growing national government debt. I hope that developing an understanding of the dynamics involved will make the topic of deficits and debt less daunting. I will conclude by summarizing the MMT views on this topic, hoping to set the record straight."
Update 1/7/2020: In an appendix, L. Randall Wray responds to a Question for the Record submitted by Rep. Ilhan OmarDownload:Associated Programs:Author(s):L. Randall Wray Yeva Nersisyan
Working Paper No. 936 | September 2019
The Modern Money Theory ApproachThis paper will present the Modern Money Theory approach to government finance. In short, a national government that chooses its own money of account, imposes a tax in that money of account, and issues currency in that money of account cannot face a financial constraint. It can make all payments as they come due. It cannot be forced into insolvency. While this was well understood in the early postwar period, it was gradually “forgotten” as the neoclassical theory of the household budget constraint was applied to government finance. Matters were made worse by the development of “generational accounting” that calculated hundreds of trillions of dollars of government red ink through eternity due to “entitlements.” As austerity measures were increasingly adopted at the national level, fiscal responsibility was shifted to state and local governments through “devolution.” A “stakeholder” approach to government finance helped fuel white flight to suburbs and produced “doughnut holes” in the cities. To reverse these trends, we need to redevelop our understanding of the fiscal space open to the currency issuer—expanding its responsibility not only for national social spending but also for helping to fund state and local government spending. This is no longer just an academic debate, given the challenges posed by climate change, growing inequality, secular stagnation, and the rise of Trumpism.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 932 | June 2019Local government debt in China is increasing and presents a great threat to China’s financial stability. In China’s fiscal system, the central government often prioritizes reducing its fiscal deficit and can determine to a great extent the distribution of revenue and expenditure between itself and local governments. There is therefore a tendency for the fiscal burden to be shifted from the central government to the local governments. Resolving China’s local government debt problem requires not only strengthening regulation, but also abandoning the central government’s fiscal balance target, because this target may make regulation hard to sustain in times of economic downturn. This paper discusses central-local fiscal relations in the framework of Modern Money Theory, suggesting that, because a government with currency sovereignty can always afford any spending denominated in its own currency, China’s central government should bear a greater fiscal burden.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Zengping He Genliang Jia
Working Paper No. 931 | May 2019This paper follows the methodology developed by J. M. Keynes in his How to Pay for the War pamphlet to estimate the “costs” of the Green New Deal (GND) in terms of resource requirements. Instead of simply adding up estimates of the government spending that would be required, we assess resource availability that can be devoted to implementing GND projects. This includes mobilizing unutilized and underutilized resources, as well as shifting resources from current destructive and inefficient uses to GND projects. We argue that financial affordability cannot be an issue for the sovereign US government. Rather, the problem will be inflation if sufficient resources cannot be diverted to the GND. And if inflation is likely, we need to put in place anti-inflationary measures, such as well-targeted taxes, wage and price controls, rationing, and voluntary saving. Following Keynes, we recommend deferred consumption as our first choice should inflation pressures arise. We conclude that it is likely that the GND can be phased in without inflation, but if price pressures do appear, deferring a small amount of consumption will be sufficient to attenuate them.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Book Series, February 2019 | February 2019This groundbreaking new core textbook encourages students to take a more critical approach to the prevalent assumptions around the subject of macroeconomics, by comparing and contrasting heterodox and orthodox approaches to theory and policy. The first such textbook to develop a heterodox model from the ground up, it is based on the principles of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) as derived from the theories of Keynes, Kalecki, Veblen, Marx, and Minsky, amongst others. The internationally-respected author team offer appropriate fiscal and monetary policy recommendations, explaining how the poor economic performance of most of the wealthy capitalist countries over recent decades could have been avoided, and delivering a well-reasoned practical and philosophical argument for the heterodox MMT approach being advocated.
Published by: Red Globe Press
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):
Book Series, September 2015 | September 2015
By L. Randall Wray
In a completely revised second edition, Senior Scholar L. Randall Wray presents the key principles of Modern Money Theory, exploring macro accounting, monetary and fiscal policy, currency regimes, and exchange rates in developed and developing nations. Wray examines how misunderstandings about the nature of money caused the recent global financial meltdown, and provides fresh ideas about how leaders should approach economic policy. This updated edition also includes new chapters on tax policies and inflation.
Published by: Palgrave Macmillan
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. 839 | June 2015
The Unit of Account, Inflation, Leverage, and Financial Fragility
We hope to model financial fragility and money in a way that captures much of what is crucial in Hyman Minsky’s financial fragility hypothesis. This approach to modeling Minsky may be unique in the formal Minskyan literature. Namely, we adopt a model in which a psychological variable we call financial prudence (P) declines over time following a financial crash, driving a cyclical buildup of leverage in household balance sheets. High leverage or a low safe-asset ratio in turn induces high financial fragility (FF). In turn, the pathways of FF and capacity utilization (u) determine the probabilistic risk of a crash in any time interval. When they occur, these crashes entail discrete downward jumps in stock prices and financial sector assets and liabilities. To the endogenous government liabilities in Hannsgen (2014), we add common stock and bank loans and deposits. In two alternative versions of the wage-price module in the model (wage–Phillips curve and chartalist, respectively), the rate of wage inflation depends on either unemployment or the wage-setting policies of the government sector. At any given time t, goods prices also depend on endogenous markup and labor productivity variables. Goods inflation affects aggregate demand through its impact on the value of assets and debts. Bank rates depend on an endogenous markup of their own. Furthermore, in light of the limited carbon budget of humankind over a 50-year horizon, goods production in this model consumes fossil fuels and generates greenhouse gases.
The government produces at a rate given by a reaction function that pulls government activity toward levels prescribed by a fiscal policy rule. Subcategories of government spending affect the pace of technical progress and prudence in lending practices. The intended ultimate purpose of the model is to examine the effects of fiscal policy reaction functions, including one with dual unemployment rate and public production targets, testing their effects on numerically computed solution pathways. Analytical results in the penultimate section show that (1) the model has no equilibrium (steady state) for reasons related to Minsky’s argument that modern capitalist economies possess a property that he called “the instability of stability,” and (2) solution pathways exist and are unique, given vectors of initial conditions and parameter values and realizations of the Poisson model of financial crises.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 832 | February 2015
The Contributions of John F. HenryThis paper explores the rise of money and class society in ancient Greece, drawing historical and theoretical parallels to the case of ancient Egypt. In doing so, the paper examines the historical applicability of the chartalist and metallist theories of money. It will be shown that the origins and the evolution of money were closely intertwined with the rise and consolidation of class society and inequality. Money, class society, and inequality came into being simultaneously, so it seems, mutually reinforcing the development of one another. Rather than a medium of exchange in commerce, money emerged as an “egalitarian token” at the time when the substance of social relations was undergoing a fundamental transformation from egalitarian to class societies. In this context, money served to preserve the façade of social and economic harmony and equality, while inequality was growing and solidifying. Rather than “invented” by private traders, money was first issued by ancient Greek states and proto-states as they aimed to establish and consolidate their political and economic power. Rather than a medium of exchange in commerce, money first served as a “means of recompense” administered by the Greek city-states as they strived to implement the civic conception of social justice. While the origins of money are to be found in the origins of inequality, a well-functioning democratic society has the power to subvert the inequality-inducing characteristic of money via the use of money for public purpose, following the principles of Modern Money Theory (MMT). When used according to the principles of MMT, the inequality-inducing characteristic of money could be undermined, while the current trends in rising income and wealth disparities could be contained and reversed.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Alla Semenova L. Randall Wray
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. 792 | March 2014
An Alternative to Economic Orthodoxy
This paper explores the intellectual history of the state, or chartalist, approach to money, from the early developers (Georg Friedrich Knapp and A. Mitchell Innes) through Joseph Schumpeter, John Maynard Keynes, and Abba Lerner, and on to modern exponents Hyman Minsky, Charles Goodhart, and Geoffrey Ingham. This literature became the foundation for Modern Money Theory (MMT). In the MMT approach, the state (or any other authority able to impose an obligation) imposes a liability in the form of a generalized, social, legal unit of account—a money—used for measuring the obligation. This approach does not require the preexistence of markets; indeed, it almost certainly predates them. Once the authorities can levy such obligations, they can name what fulfills any obligation by denominating those things that can be delivered; in other words, by pricing them. MMT thus links obligatory payments like taxes to the money of account as well as the currency. This leads to a revised view of money and sovereign finance. The paper concludes with an analysis of the policy options available to a modern government that issues its own currency.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 791 | March 2014
Myth and Misunderstanding
It is commonplace to speak of central bank “independence” as if it were both a reality and a necessity. While the Federal Reserve is subject to the “dual mandate,” it has substantial discretion in its interpretation of the vague call for high employment and low inflation. Most important, the Fed’s independence is supposed to insulate it from political pressures coming from Congress and the US Treasury to “print money” to finance budget deficits. As in many developed nations, this prohibition was written into US law from the founding of the Fed in 1913. In practice, the prohibition is easy to evade, as we found during World War II, when budget deficits ran up to a quarter of US GDP. If a central bank stands ready to buy government bonds in the secondary market to peg an interest rate, then private banks will buy bonds in the new-issue market and sell them to the central bank at a virtually guaranteed price. Since central bank purchases of securities supply the reserves needed by banks to buy government debt, a virtuous circle is created, so that the treasury faces no financing constraint. That is what the 1951 Accord was supposedly all about: ending the cheap source of US Treasury finance. Since the global financial crisis hit in 2007, these matters have come to the fore in both the United States and the European Monetary Union, with those worried about inflation warning that the central banks are essentially “printing money” to keep sovereign-government borrowing costs low.
This paper argues that the Fed is not, and should not be, independent, at least in the sense in which that term is normally used. The Fed is a “creature of Congress,” created by public law that has evolved since 1913 in a way that not only increased the Fed’s assigned responsibilities but also strengthened congressional oversight. The paper addresses governance issues, which, a century after the founding of the Fed, remain somewhat unsettled. While the Fed should be, and appears to be, insulated from day-to-day political pressures, it is subject to the will of Congress. Further, the Fed cannot really be independent from the Treasury, because the Fed is the federal government’s bank, with almost all payments made by and to the government running through the Fed. As such, there is no “operational independence” that would allow the Fed to refuse to allow the Treasury to spend appropriated funds. Finally, the paper addresses troubling issues raised by the Fed’s response to the global financial crisis; namely, questions about transparency, accountability, and democratic governance.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 788 | March 2014
The Case of the United States
One of the main contributions of Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been to explain why monetarily sovereign governments have a very flexible policy space that is unconstrained by hard financial limits. Not only can they issue their own currency to pay public debt denominated in their own currency, but they can also easily bypass any self-imposed constraint on budgetary operations. Through a detailed analysis of the institutions and practices surrounding the fiscal and monetary operations of the treasury and central bank of the United States, the eurozone, and Australia, MMT has provided institutional and theoretical insights into the inner workings of economies with monetarily sovereign and nonsovereign governments. The paper shows that the previous theoretical conclusions of MMT can be illustrated by providing further evidence of the interconnectedness of the treasury and the central bank in the United States.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 783 | January 2014
A Sovereign Currency ApproachThis paper examines the fiscal and monetary policy options available to China as a sovereign currency-issuing nation operating in a dollar standard world. We first summarize a number of issues facing China, including the possibility of slower growth, global imbalances, and a number of domestic imbalances. We then analyze current monetary and fiscal policy formation and examine some policy recommendations that have been advanced to deal with current areas of concern. We next outline the sovereign currency approach and use it to analyze those concerns. We conclude with policy recommendations consistent with the policy space open to China.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
One-Pager No. 44 | December 2013
Reorienting Fiscal Policy to Reduce Financial FragilitySince adopting a policy of gradually opening its economy more than three decades ago, China has enjoyed rapid economic growth and rising living standards for much of its population. While some argue that China might fall into the middle-income “trap,” they are underestimating the country’s ability to continue to grow at a rapid pace. It is likely that China’s growth will eventually slow, but the nation will continue on its path to join the developed high-income group—so long as the central government recognizes and uses the policy space available to it.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 778 | November 2013
A Reply to Critics
One of the main contributions of Modern Money Theory (MMT) has been to explain why monetarily sovereign governments have a very flexible policy space that is unencumbered by hard financial constraints. Through a detailed analysis of the institutions and practices surrounding the fiscal and monetary operations of the treasury and central bank of many nations, MMT has provided institutional and theoretical insights about the inner workings of economies with monetarily sovereign and nonsovereign governments. MMT has also provided policy insights with respect to financial stability, price stability, and full employment. As one may expect, several authors have been quite critical of MMT. Critiques of MMT can be grouped into five categories: views about the origins of money and the role of taxes in the acceptance of government currency, views about fiscal policy, views about monetary policy, the relevance of MMT conclusions for developing economies, and the validity of the policy recommendations of MMT. This paper addresses the critiques raised using the circuit approach and national accounting identities, and by progressively adding additional economic sectors.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 745 | January 2013
The aim of the paper is to provide an overview of the current stock-flow consistent (SFC) literature. Indeed, we feel the SFC approach has recently led to a blossoming literature, requiring a new summary after the work of Dos Santos (2006) and, above all, after the publication of the main reference work on the methodology, Godley and Lavoie’s Monetary Economics: An Integrated Approach to Credit, Money, Income, Production and Wealth (2007). The paper is developed along the following lines. First, a brief historical analysis investigates the roots of this class of models that can be traced as far back as 1949 and the work of Copeland. Second, the competing points of view regarding some of its main controversial aspects are underlined and used to classify the different methodological approaches followed in using these models. Namely, we discuss (1) how the models are solved, (2) the treatment of time and its implication, and (3) the need—or not—of microfoundations. These results are then used in the third section of the paper to develop a bifocal perspective, which allows us to divide the literature reviewed according to both its subject and the methodology. We explore various topics such as financialization, exchange rate modeling, policy implication, the need for a common framework within the post-Keynesian literature, and the empirical use of SFC models. Finally, the conclusions present some hypotheses (and wishes) over the possible lines of development of the stock-flow consistent models.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Eugenio Caverzasi Antoine Godin
Working Paper No. 740 | December 2012
Austerity’s Myopic Logic and the Need for a European Federal Union in a Post-Keynesian Eurozone Center–Periphery Model
In this paper, we analyze the role of the current institutional setup of the eurozone in fostering the ongoing peripheral euro countries’ sovereign debt crisis. In line with Modern Money Theory, we stress that the lack of a federal European government running anticyclical fiscal policy, the loss of euro member-states’ monetary sovereignty, and the lack of a lender-of-last-resort central bank have significantly contributed to the generation, amplification, and protraction of the present crisis. In particular, we present a Post-Keynesian eurozone center–periphery model through which we show how, due to the incomplete nature of eurozone institutions with respect to a full-fledged federal union, diverging trends and conflicting claims have emerged between central and peripheral euro countries in the aftermath of the 2007–08 financial meltdown. We emphasize two points. (1) Diverging trends and conflicting claims among euro countries may represent decisive obstacles to the reform of the eurozone toward a complete federal entity. However, they may prove to be self-defeating in the long run should financial turbulences seriously deepen in large peripheral countries. (2) Austerity packages alone do not address the core problems of the eurozone. These packages would make sense only if they were included in a much wider reform agenda whose final purpose was the creation of a government banker and a federal European government that could run expansionary fiscal stances. In this sense, the unlimited bond-buying program recently launched by the European Central Bank is interpreted as a positive, albeit mild step in the right direction out of the extreme monetarism that has thus far shaped eurozone institutions.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):Alberto Botta
Working Paper No. 736 | November 2012
This paper argues that the usual framing of discussions of money, monetary policy, and fiscal policy plays into the hands of conservatives.That framing is also largely consistent with the conventional view of the economy and of society more generally. To put it the way that economists usually do, money “lubricates” the market mechanism—a good thing, because the conventional view of the market itself is overwhelmingly positive. Acknowledging the work of George Lakoff, this paper takes the position that we need an alternative meme, one that provides a frame that is consistent with a progressive social view if we are to be more successful in policy debates. In most cases, the progressives adopt the conservative framing and so have no chance. The paper advances an alternative framing for money and shows how it can be used to reshape discussion. The paper shows that the Modern Money Theory approach is particularly useful as a starting point for framing that emphasizes use of the monetary system as a tool to accomplish the public purpose.
It is not so much the accuracy of the conventional view of money that we need to question, but rather the framing. We need a new meme for money, one that would emphasize the social, not the individual. It would focus on the positive role played by the state, not only in the creation and evolution of money, but also in ensuring social control over money. It would explain how money helps to promote a positive relation between citizens and the state, simultaneously promoting shared values such as liberty, democracy, and responsibility. It would explain why social control over money can promote nurturing activities over the destructive impulses of our “undertakers” (Smith’s evocative term for capitalists).Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Policy Note 2012/8 | July 2012From the very start, the European Monetary Union (EMU) was set up to fail. The host of problems we are now witnessing, from the solvency crises on the periphery to the bank runs in Spain, Greece, and Italy, were built into the very structure of the EMU and its banking system. Policymakers have admittedly responded to these various emergencies with an uninspiring mix of delaying tactics and self-destructive policy blunders, but the most fundamental mistake of all occurred well before the buildup to the current crisis. What we are witnessing today are the results of a design flaw. When individual nations like Greece or Italy joined the EMU, they essentially adopted a foreign currency—the euro—but retained responsibility for their nation’s fiscal policy. This attempted separation of fiscal policy from a sovereign currency is the fatal defect that is tearing the eurozone apart.
Working Paper No. 717 | May 2012
This paper integrates the various strands of an alternative, heterodox view on the origins of money and the development of the modern financial system in a manner that is consistent with the findings of historians and anthropologists. As is well known, the orthodox story of money’s origins and evolution begins with the creation of a medium of exchange to reduce the costs of barter. To be sure, the history of money is “lost in the mists of time,” as money’s invention probably predates writing. Further, the history of money is contentious. And, finally, even orthodox economists would reject the Robinson Crusoe story and the evolution from a commodity money through to modern fiat money as historically accurate. Rather, the story told about the origins and evolution of money is designed to shed light on the “nature” of money. The orthodox story draws attention to money as a transactions-cost-minimizing medium of exchange.
Heterodox economists reject the formalist methodology adopted by orthodox economists in favor of a substantivist methodology. In the formalist methodology, the economist begins with the “rational” economic agent facing scarce resources and unlimited wants. Since the formalist methodology abstracts from historical and institutional detail, it must be applicable to all human societies. Heterodoxy argues that economics has to do with a study of the institutionalized interactions among humans and between humans and nature. The economy is a component of culture; or, more specifically, of the material life process of society. As such, substantivist economics cannot abstract from the institutions that help to shape economic processes; and the substantivistproblem is not the formal one of choice, but a problem concerning production and distribution.
A powerful critique of the orthodox story regarding money can be developed using the findings of comparative anthropology, comparative history, and comparative economics. Given the embedded nature of economic phenomenon in prior societies, an understanding of what money is and what it does in capitalist societies is essential to this approach. This can then be contrasted with the functioning of precapitalist societies in order to allow identification of which types of precapitalist societies would use money and what money would be used for in these societies. This understanding is essential for informed speculation on the origins of money. The comparative approach used by heterodox economists begins with an understanding of the role money plays in capitalist economies, which shares essential features with analyses developed by a wide range of Institutionalist, Keynesian, Post Keynesian, and Marxist macroeconomists. This paper uses the understanding developed by comparative anthropology and comparative history of precapitalist societies in order to logically reconstruct the origins of 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. 700 | December 2011
This paper takes off from Jan Kregel’s paper “Shylock and Hamlet, or Are There Bulls and Bears in the Circuit?” (1986), which aimed to remedy shortcomings in most expositions of the “circuit approach.” While some “circuitistes” have rejected John Maynard Keynes’s liquidity preference theory, Kregel argued that such rejection leaves the relation between money and capital asset prices, and thus investment theory, hanging. This paper extends Kregel’s analysis to an examination of the role that banks play in the circuit, and argues that banks should be modeled as active rather than passive players. This also requires an extension of the circuit theory of money, along the lines of the credit and state money approaches of modern Chartalists who follow A. Mitchell Innes. Further, we need to take Charles Goodhart’s argument about default seriously: agents in the circuit are heterogeneous credit risks. The paper concludes with links to the work of French circuitist Alain Parguez.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 681 | August 2011
This paper begins by recounting the causes and consequences of the global financial crisis (GFC). The triggering event, of course, was the unfolding of the subprime crisis; however, the paper argues that the financial system was already so fragile that just about anything could have caused the collapse. It then moves on to an assessment of the lessons we should have learned. Briefly, these include: (a) the GFC was not a liquidity crisis, (b) underwriting matters, (c) unregulated and unsupervised financial institutions naturally evolve into control frauds, and (d) the worst part is the cover-up of the crimes. The paper argues that we cannot resolve the crisis until we begin going after the fraud, and concludes by outlining an agenda for reform, along the lines suggested by the work of Hyman P. Minsky.Download:Associated Programs:Author(s):
Working Paper No. 603 | June 2010
A Critique of This Time Is Different, by Reinhart and Rogoff
The worst global downturn since the Great Depression has caused ballooning budget deficits in most nations, as tax revenues collapse and governments bail out financial institutions and attempt countercyclical fiscal policy. With notable exceptions, most economists accept the desirability of expansion of deficits over the short term but fear possible long-term effects. There are a number of theoretical arguments that lead to the conclusion that higher government debt ratios might depress growth. There are other arguments related to more immediate effects of debt on inflation and national solvency. Research conducted by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff is frequently cited to demonstrate the negative impacts of public debt on economic growth and financial stability. In this paper we critically examine their work. We distinguish between a nation that operates with its own floating exchange rate and nonconvertible (sovereign) currency, and a nation that does not. We argue that Reinhart and Rogoff’s results are not relevant to the case of the United States.Download:Associated Program:Author(s):