Modern Monetary Theory
Real Fiscal Responsibility, Vol. II: The Peterson Network, Inequality, and the Failure of Neoliberalism
This is how the mission of the President’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform was defined by the White House on February 18, 2010:
The Commission is charged with identifying policies to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run. Specifically, the Commission shall propose recommendations designed to balance the budget, excluding interest payments on the debt, by 2015. This result is projected to stabilize the debt-to-GDP ratio at an acceptable level once the economy recovers. The magnitude and timing of the policy measures necessary to achieve this goal are subject to considerable uncertainty and will depend on the evolution of the economy. In addition, the Commission shall propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.
And here is what President Obama’s web site had to say about deficit reduction in 2012:
Right now, President Obama is working with leaders of both parties in Washington to reduce the deficit in a balanced way so we can lay the foundation for long-term middle-class job growth and prevent your taxes from going up.
There are two words that describe the Republicans' Senate Budget Committee's proposed budget: “dishonesty” and “austerity” for most Americans. Let's deal with the dishonesty part first. In due course, the austerity will be apparent. Read more about When Will the Senate Budget Committee Majority Ever Learn About Sector Financial Balances?
In addition to the House Budget Committee and OMB budget plans and 2016 – 2025 projections fiscal policy followers have also recently been graced with the effort of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) proposing their budget plan and 20 Read more about When Will Congressional Progressive Caucus Ever Learn About Sector Financial Balances?
In my last post I asked this same question about the House Budget Committee. As my readers saw in that one, the attempts at deficit reduction leading to budget balance were so severe that they implied that if the House budget were followed, and if the economy did not collapse before the decade projection period ended due to a collapse of aggregate demand, then private sector deficits would be produced in every year from 2017 – 2025. In addition, since the budget provided for severe cuts to federal spending designed to benefit poor people and the middle class, it was likely that the private losses from this budget would be concentrated on the people who can least well absorb them.
In this post, I'll review the sectoral financial balances implications of the White House/OMB projections to see how they compare to those of the House Budget Committee. I'll begin by repeating the explanation of sectoral financial balances basics I included in my earlier post. Read more about When Will the White House and OMB Ever Learn About Sector Financial Balances?
It never ceases to amaze me that those who offer budget plans and projections never take into account the reality that their projections must be consistent with implications of trends in sector financial balances for their projections. This is a simple lesson that those playing the fiscal responsibility game never seem to learn. Certainly this is true of the Republican House Budget Committee, as we'll see.
The Sector Financial Balances (SFB) model is an accounting identity, and these are always true by definition alone. The SFB model says:
Domestic Private Balance + Domestic Government Balance + Foreign Balance = 0.
The terms refer to balances of flows of financial assets among the three sectors of the economy in any specified period of time. Why must there be flows? Because the three sectors trade financial assets with one another. So, the equation says that the sum of all the balances of flows for the three sectors of the economy is zero, because, since there's only so much in assets traded in any time period, the positive balance(s) of one or more sectors relative to the others must be matched by the negative balance(s) of the other two sectors. Read more about When Will CBO and the House Budget Committee Ever Learn About Sector Financial Balances?
The public debt-to-GDP ratio is, perhaps, the most important measure used in discussions of the relative fiscal sustainability of nations. Nations with high levels of debt-to-GDP are viewed as having more serious fiscal problems than nations with lower levels. Nations having increasing ratios over time are viewed as becoming less fiscally sustainable, while those with decreasing ratios are viewed as more fiscally sustainable.
But is the public debt-to-GDP ratio really a valid measure of fiscal sustainability, or is it a measure that incorporates a neoliberal theoretical bias in its fundamental assumptions? In the United States, the total value of public debt subject to the limit at any point, is the total principal value of all the outstanding debt instruments sold by the Treasury Department. The GDP is the aggregate value of the production of goods and services in the United States within a particular period of time, adjusted for price changes.
So, the public debt is a variable measuring a cumulated stock, while GDP is a flow variable measuring economic activity within a particular period of time. Why compute a ratio of a cumulated stock to a flow within a circumscribed period of time?
Well, in this case of the debt-to-GDP ratio, neoliberal economists reason that the stock, the debt, can only be reduced if the government takes away part of the flow each year to repay a portion of the stock, the debt, leaving less of the flow to add financial savings to the private sector. After all, what other sources of government revenue are there except taxation? Read more about The Value of the Right Ratio Is Zero
Just as every Spring we can count on the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF) to do a supportive press release when the CBO issues one of its budget outlook 10 year projection reports, we can also count on being treated to public statements by Maya MacGuineas joining in the Peterson Army choir, warning about the coming debt crisis, and singing about the glories of deficit and debt reduction. And this while completely ignoring the real and sad consequences of deficit and debt reduction policies throughout the world since the crash of 2008, as well as previous applications to Latin American, Asian, and the nations of the disintegrated soviet empire, most notably Russia itself. Let's look at Maya MacGuineas latest effort; her testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. Read more about Maya MacGuineas: The Profound Fiscal Irresponsibility of Resistance to Facts
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF) always does a press release when the CBO issues one of its budget outlook 10 year projection reports. The PGPF did another in January quoting its President and COO, Michael A. Peterson. Let's go through that press release and see how many troublesome or false statements we can find. Here's a breakdown of the press release quotation from Michael Peterson.
Today's CBO report reminds us once again that our nation has significant fiscal challenges that have yet to be solved.
It certainly does, but I doubt that Peterson and I would agree on what those challenges are. He thinks they have to do with bringing the national debt under control. I think they have to do with creating full employment with a federal job guarantee program, price stability, a robust economy, a great public and free educational system through graduate school, stopping and reversing climate change, providing everybody in, nobody out, no co-pays and no deductibles health care for all, a first class infrastructure, and a greatly expanded social safety net including a doubling of SS benefits.
He thinks the debt is a long-term problem that we have to start to solve now. I think there is, literally, no public finance-related debt problem for a fiat sovereign like the U.S., and that the problem that exists is not a debt problem, but a political problem created by Peterson and his allies across the political spectrum who have propagandized the view that there is a debt crisis since the mid-1970s, with increasing success since the 1990s. Read more about The Peterson Foundation Sings the Same Old Song
This is the last post in my analysis and commentary on Bruce Bartlett's testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. There's one very significant issue left to discuss, and that is the issue of fiscal gap and generational accounting and whether it should be institutionalized in legislation. I'll begin this post with that discussion and then end the series with my overall evaluation of his effort.
Fiscal Gap and Generational Accounting
15. Generational accounting exaggerates the burden of debt. Intergenerational accounting attempts to assess financial burdens through time, especially with a view to claiming that financial decisions taken in one generation can impose burdens on another. But this argument refuses to count as real assets the infrastructure and other national assets that the current generation will leave for future generations, and it does not understand that federal government debt never needs to be retired. In real terms, there obviously are no intergenerational transfers, except for the knowledge, the physical assets and the larger environment, which the present leaves to the future. The real goods produced in 2050 will be distributed to those alive in 2050, regardless of the public debt in existence at that time. Meanwhile, the U.S. government can always meet its payments when they come due. . . .
This is the fourth in a series of commentaries on Bruce Bartlett's recent testimony to the Senate Budget Committee. I appreciated his testimony and his critical evaluation of the idea that there is a public “debt crisis” in the United States. I also agree that there is no debt crisis. However, I was disappointed that his views, for the most part, did not show the across the board relevance to most aspects of the “debt crisis” of the fact that the United States is a fiat currency sovereign.
In the previous three posts, I've outlined the many contexts in which the fiat currency sovereignty of the United States is relevant to showing that the idea that the United States has or can have a debt crisis is just bunk. In this post, I'll continue my discussion of Bruce Bartlett's testimony in the same way. Read more about The “Debt Crisis” According to Bruce Bartlett: Debt Thresholds, and Wars
In the first two parts of this series of commentaries on Bruce Bartlett's testimony to the Senate Budget Committee, I've reviewed the first 8 paragraphs in his statement. These points debunked various concerns of those who think the United States has a serious “debt crisis” it must handle before it takes on trivial problems such as its unprecedentedly high level of wealth inequality, lack of true full employment at a living wage, roughly 30 million people still lacking health insurance, one of the worst infrastructure systems in the developed world, transitioning from fossil fuels and ending climate change, creating a first class public educational system from pre-K through graduate school, ending the student loan crisis, creating a single standard of law for all, including the various categories of violators categorized as too big to prosecute by recent Administrations, and ending the student loan debt crisis, just to name a few.
However, what was noticeably missing from the variety of arguments given in his eight paragraphs was a recognition that the United States is a fiat sovereign nation and that this fact has serious implications for most of the subject matter Bruce Bartlett covers in his statement. In this post I'll continue my analysis of his statement to explore the extent to which his views correspond to Modern Money Theory (MMT). Read more about The “Debt Crisis” According to Bruce Bartlett: Household Analogy, Inflation, Savings, and Taxes
We can see the positioning and the messaging on the Democratic side beginning to take shape for the 2016 elections. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren with nods to Thomas Piketty and various economists have stepped forward to offer the themes of salvation for the middle class, moderating the extremes of inequality in American society, and doing something real about jobs and wages.
Clinton World seems to be responding, not yet with forthright statements from Hillary Clinton, but recently with articles by stalwarts of neoliberal Clintonism (and veterans of the Obama Administration) such as Larry Summers and Peter Orszag, expressing concerns about inequality and proposing measures to alleviate it, even including increased taxation on the wealthy. Read more about Will We Ever Get Change if We Keep Electing People Who Represent Special Interests?
The last few weeks have seen at least two posts calling attention to the potential use of the platinum coin in America's political economy. The first to appear was Rob Urie's piece in Counterpunch provocatively titled: “The Trillion Dollar Catshit Coin” And the second was Mike Sandler's post in The Huffington Post called “Greece and the U.S. Senate: Economics for the 99%.
Let's begin looking at these with Sandler's effort. He reports on two challenges to austerity. The first is from Syriza's victory in Greece and its promise to Greek voters that it will end austerity. The second:
The austerity mindset faces a new foe in the U.S. Senate as well. The re-shuffle of the last U.S. election that put austerity-minded Republicans in power has ironically resulted in a new anti-austerity economist being hired by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in the Senate Budget Committee -- Professor Stephanie Kelton of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Professor Kelton is a proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a very pro-stimulus economic approach. Her hiring represents the biggest step forward for MMT, since the PR coup of the Trillion Dollar Platinum Coin in 2013. At that time, Kelton reportedly created the #mintthecoin hashtag that was featured in columns by Paul Krugman and others.
Sanders' hiring of Kelton is a break from the more conciliatory "balanced budgeting" approach of some Democrats, such as former treasury secretaries with ties to Wall Street and fiscally-conservative "deficit hawks." Kelton and her MMT colleagues go beyond the traditional Keynesian stimulus of short-term deficit spending. They seek to unleash the power of monetary policy to circumvent the scarcity mindset imposed on government action, perhaps even bringing the Trillion Dollar Coin back into the discussion.
Of course, Sandler means to say fiscal policy in the above, since MMT economics greatly favors reliance on fiscal, rather than monetary policy, in spite of the “monetary” in its name. But apart from that, he projects that we may see the platinum coin come back into prominence soon. Read more about Return of the Coin?
(Cross-posted with permission of the author from New Economic Perspectives)
Here’s a summary of the plan Bernie Sanders has set out, along with my comments (in italics).
1.) We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. $1 trillion investment to create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive.
Agreed, but let’s not settle for a mere 13 million jobs. We need twice that. And, of course, the “price tag” is irrelevant—so long as we create useful jobs that pay living wages, we can “always afford” to pay for them. By creating jobs we are not just investing in infrastructure, but we are also investing in our people, enhancing their participation in our society and providing them with the means to support their families. We can always afford that. Read more about A TWELVE STEP PROGRAM TO RESTORE PROSPERITY: THE BERNIE SANDERS PLAN
Can the Federal Reserve Really Refuse To Accept and To Credit A Platinum Coin Deposited By the US Mint?
The issue of whether the Fed can really refuse to accept and credit a deposit of a platinum coin with its face value, is being raised frequently on blog posts about Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) and the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC). In the past, I've argued that the Fed cannot; and the final decision on taking the TDC off the table was actually made by the President, and not by Chairman Bernanke.
Ellen Brown, the well-known author of The Web of Debt, and also of this recent post on fiat money, direct financing of federal spending, and using platinum coin seigniorage made this comment in a discussion thread at Monetary Realism: Read more about Can the Federal Reserve Really Refuse To Accept and To Credit A Platinum Coin Deposited By the US Mint?