Stephanie Kelton explains MMT

9 March, 2019 at 16:40 | Posted in Economics | 2 Comments


As has become abundantly clear during the last couple of weeks, it is obvious that most mainstream economists seem to think the ideas that Kelton explains so well here is something new that some wild heterodox economic cranks have come up with. That is actually very telling about the total lack of knowledge of their own discipline’s history these modern mainstream guys like Summers, Rogoff and Krugman have.

New? Cranks? Reading one of the founders of neoclassical economics, Knut Wicksell, and what he writes in 1898 on ‘pure credit systems’ in Interest and Prices (Geldzins und Güterpreise) soon makes the delusion go away:

It is possible to go even further. There is no real need for any money at all if a payment between two customers can be accomplished by simply transferring the appropriate sum of money in the books of the bank

A pure credit system has not yet … been completely developed in this form. But here and there it is to be found in the somewhat different guise of the banknote system

We intend therefore​, as a basis for the following discussion, to imagine a state of affairs in which money does not actually circulate at all, neither in the form of coin … nor in the form of notes, but where all domestic payments are effected by means of the Giro system and bookkeeping transfers. A thorough analysis of this purely imaginary case seems to me to beworthwhile​e, for it provides a precise antithesis to the equally imaginary​ case of a pure cash system, in which credit plays no part whatever [the exact equivalent of the often used neoclassical model assumption of ‘cash in advance’ – LPS] …

For the sake of simplicity, let us then assume that the whole monetary system of a country is in the hands of a single credit institution, provided with an adequate number of branches, at which each independent economic individual keeps an account on which he can draw cheques.

What Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) basically does is exactly what Wicksell tried to do more than a hundred years ago. The difference is that today the ‘pure credit economy’ is a reality and not just a theoretical curiosity — MMT describes a fiat currency system that almost every country in the world is operating under.

In modern times legal currencies are totally based on fiat. Currencies no longer have intrinsic value (as gold and silver). What gives them value is basically the simple fact that you have to pay your taxes with them. That also enables governments to run a kind of monopoly business where it never can run out of money. A fortiori, spending becomes the prime mover and taxing and borrowing is degraded to following acts. If we have a depression, the solution, then, is not austerity. It is spending. Budget deficits are not the major problem since fiat money means that governments can always make more of them.​

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  1. Re Knut Wicksell: It looks like Walter Bagehot was telling a similar story in _Lombard Street_, concerning extensive use of cheques in British business:

    “If we look to the private deposits of the Bank of England, at first sight we may think that the result is the same. By far the most important of these are the ‘Bankers’ deposits’; and, for the most part, these deposits as a whole are likely to vary very little. Each banker, we will suppose, keeps as little as he can, but in all domestic transactions payment from one is really payment to the other. All the most important transactions in the country are settled by cheques; these cheques are paid in to the ‘clearing-house,’ and the balances resulting from them are settled by transfers from the account of one banker to another at the Bank of England. Payments out of the bankers’ balances, therefore, correspond with payments in. As a whole, the deposit of the bankers’ balances at the Bank of England would at first sight seem to be a deposit singularly stable.”

    Bagehot contrasted this with practices on the Continent:

    “If you take a country town in France, even now, you will not find any such system of banking as ours. Cheque-books are unknown, and money kept on running account by bankers is rare. People store their money in a caisse at their houses. Steady savings, which are waiting for investment, and which are sure not to be soon wanted, may be lodged with bankers; but the common floating cash of the community is kept by the community themselves at home.”

    So there again is the idea that with a trustworthy bookkeeper maintaining the accounts, the physical tokens for money ownership aren’t required.

  2. “Currencies no longer have intrinsic value (as gold and silver). What gives them value is basically the simple fact that you have to pay your taxes with them.”
    .
    Most dollars in the world will never be used to pay US taxes.


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