There are supporters of the idea close to the Labour leadership. The governor of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, recently weighed in on the debate. So what does MMT say, exactly?
That is far from straightforward to answer. On the other side there is a small number of academics backed by an internet mob of fanatic adherents who have worked on the theory for years. Central to MMT is the fact that it is governments that designate the one official currency for a country by accepting only that currency for the payment of taxes.
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They do not need to tax or borrow — they can just issue more money. Monetarily sovereign governments do not, it is obvious from this analysis, face constraints on their ability to create money and spend it. Rather, the danger is that if they do too much of that then they will spark inflation.
Does Modern Monetary Theory Have Any Scholarly Validity?
The government, then, should not worry about how it raises money or about balancing budgets, but should keep an eye on inflation instead and clamp down on it if it looks like it might be getting out of hand. As Henwood says, the idea is that governments should be trusted to print and spend as much money as they see fit, on projects of their own choosing, and then cause a recession by, say, raising taxes, if things start to get a bit too hot.
It might be hard to believe that the same people currently fumbling over Brexit, or rumbling over whether to fund the building of a massive wall on the border to keep out immigrants, could be trusted with such decisions. Or indeed whether the holiest philosopher-kings and technocratic experts could reasonably be expected to have access to sufficient knowledge, or to act on it in a timely enough manner, for this to possibly work, or whether we would be happy for them to flirt with hyperinflation and societal collapse in the name of trying out some progressive new theories.
A budget constraint would be replaced by an inflation constraint, but taxes are not the only way to restrain inflation, they say. For MMTers, inflation is not just caused by excess demand, or printing too much money, but by a range of factors including businesses raising profit margins or passing on costs, or financial interests speculating on asset price rises. New price indices would be created to keep an eye on inflationary pressures.
Administrative agencies responsible for regulating business pricing power should be constructed, who would work with other agencies to tighten financial and credit regulations to reduce bank lending, market finance, speculation and fraud.
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An MMT-informed budgetary agency would produce detailed reports of how specific spending or lending proposals would increase demand and which sectors or regions would be most affected, and would monitor inflationary pressures closely to determine the appropriate policy response. It goes on. The Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world had learnt how to judicially fine-tune the economy by raising and lowering interest rates to smooth out the bumps in the cycle.
People trapped in such thinking put too much faith in their simplified models and so could not see the crisis coming, or even believe that one was possible. The MMTers are making the same mistake.
Those models tell them that we can be intensely relaxed about such old-fashioned notions as the need to balance budgets and be wary of deficits. The second debt will soon follow and then the next. You build momentum, and that changes your behavior and helps you get out of debt for good. To keep up your energy and motivation, sometimes you just need to see how quickly you could become debt-free.
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