"Towards a "Libertarian/Austrian" Modern Money Theory" By L. Randall Wray
Readers, perhaps Wray is feigning his confusion. It is really very simple. The so called Austrian Libertarians are primarily a cult which has its well funded pundits, which are a major force behind the entirely uncritical use of the concept of the "Free Market.' It is designed as a public relations campaign with ivy, similar in many ways to the doxology of the neo-classical economistic (ie phony) economists. It is based upon an ideology not reason or on an examination of the facts including history. Hard core conspiracy theory loyalists are never far from someone or some group to villianize. My experience with this people is that they mostly want to argue and be certain that by their own definition they come out right, even if dead wrong. Delusion is a constant companion. There is a bit of attractive window trimming with the repetition of the words "free," "Freedom," "Liberty," as well as a few others. It is a sort of campfire singalong dynamic. The few moderately open-minded Libertarians I really don't have a problem with at all, when I start laying out historical material and descriptions of current practices. That they tend to be devoted to a gold based economic model tends to cause some problems and believe that gold is the only meaningful way to preserve wealth, despite again facts and those difficult details. The now fairly well identified deficit hawks that are demanding austerity for income brakets other than their own, but when it comes to bank bail-outs and "military" "Keynesianism," as in one version of "bastard" Keynesianism they see to look the other way. Their issues really are primarily a matter of illogic bound to the assumption that no matter how much reality gets in the way, they will still end up "right" shoulder to shoulder with their crew against Big government socialism. The article has some redeeming value, apart from the expectation that the hardcore Austrian devotees will ever "get it." This sort of looking under the bed for state communist fascists destroying "Our Freedoms" will likely go on well after most of these people cease kicking. Diverting the conversation to local economics tend to be way more effective in my experience. Too bad that education is not as highly valued as economic reverence for fictions. Tadit Anderson
For reasons that I cannot fathom, the most vehement critics of Modern Money Theory (MMT) are the wingnut libertarians and Austrians (and, please, I use the term wingnut with some affection for our fellow fringe travellers). Any time there is an MMT post on this blog, or over at New Deal, Naked Capitalism, or the Huff, the comments are dominated by conspiracy theorists, haters of government, goldbugs, and victims of alien probings who are certain that MMT-ers are united in their effort to ramp up government until it consumes the entire economy. So let us try to mend fences.
First, on one level, MMT is a description of the way a sovereign currency works. Love it or hate it, our sovereign government spends by crediting bank accounts. Over the past 20 years, MMT has investigated, analyzed, and documented the sordid operational details. We can lecture for hours on the balance sheet manipulations involving the Treasury, the Fed, the primary security dealers, the special depositories, and the regular private banks every time the Treasury buys a notepad from OfficeMax. We did the work, so you do not have to do it. And believe me, you do not want to do it. You can skip directly to the conclusion: “Yes, government spends by crediting bank accounts, taxes by debiting them, and sells bonds to provide an interest-earning substitute to low-earning reserves. Q.E.D.”
A few libertarians and Austrians now get this, although instead of thanking us for a job well done, they immediately attack us for explaining how things work. Now, why would they do that? Because they fear that if we tell policymakers and the general public how things work, democratic processes will inevitably blow up the government’s budget as everyone demands that wine flow freely through the nation’s drinking fountains whilst workers retire from government jobs at age 28 on generous pensions provided at the public trough. And off we go to Zimbabwe land, with hyperinflation that destroys the currency and sucks the precious body fluids from our economy.
Ok, understood. We fear inflation, too. That has always been our message, too. Indeed, “price stability” has always been one of the two key missions of UMKC’s Center for Full Employment and Price Stability (http://www.cfeps.org/). Maybe you do not like our proposed methods of battling inflation. Fine. Show us yours. I realize that many libertarians and Austrians believe that the only foolproof method for avoiding inflation is to go back to gold. Again, fine. But don’t criticize our labor “buffer stock” scheme for its political infeasibility! Going back to the gold standard is less likely than alien abduction. (Oh, sorry, no offence intended.) Anyway, we (also) do not want black helicopters flying around dropping bags of cash; and we (also) oppose government “pump-priming” demand stimulus—the libertarians and Austrians and even Milton Friedman are correct in their argument that this would generate inflation.
So it is true that there is a second level to MMT: we use our understanding of the way money works to bring rational analysis to government policy-making. Since involuntary default is, literally, impossible for a sovereign government, we quickly move beyond fears about government deficits and debt ratios and all the other nonsense that currently grips Washington. Can we “afford” full employment? Yes. Can we “afford” Social Security? Yes. Can we “afford” to put wine in all the drinking fountains? Yes. The problem IS NOT, CANNOT BE about affordability. It is about resources. Unemployment is easy: by definition, someone who is unemployed is available to hire. So government can put them to work. Social Security is a little more difficult: can we move enough resources to the aged (plus their dependents, and people with disabilities) so that they can enjoy a comfortable, American-style, life? On all reasonable projections of demographics and US ability to produce, the answer is yes. The projections could turn out to be wrong. But if they do, affordability still will not be the problem—it will be a resource problem. Finally, wine in drinking fountains? There probably is not enough fine wine, but we could probably fill all the drinking fountains with cheap French wine. Again, it is a resource problem and if we convert the American prairies to wine production we could probably even resolve that one.
Perhaps the most important policy pushed by most MMT-ers is the Job Guarantee/Employer of Last Resort proposal. This provides a federal-government funded job to anyone who wants to work, at a uniform, basic compensation (wages plus benefits). Our libertarian/Austrian fellow travelers seem to hate this program, again for unfathomable reasons. I suspect that they have misinterpreted this to be some kind of Big Government/Big Brother program based on a weird combination of force plus welfare. The claim is simultaneously that it “forces” everyone to work, and that it also pays everyone for not working. Actually, it is a purely voluntary program, only for those who want to work. Those who will not work cannot participate. Libertarians and Austrians ought to love it. It is not Big Brother. It is not even Big Government. The jobs do not have to be provided by government at all. No one has to take a job. It is consistent with, I think, the most cherished norms of freedom-loving libertarians and Austrians.
So to sum up:
1. MMT is consistent with any size of government. It can be a small libertarian government if you like. But it issues a sovereign floating currency. It supports the currency by imposing a tax payable in that currency.
2. Job Guarantee/Employer of Last Resort is also consistent with any size of government. If you want a big private sector and small government sector, keep taxes and government spending low. That frees up resources to be used by the big private sector. But you will need the JG/ELR to take up the labor resources the private sector cannot fully employ.
3. JG/ELR can be as decentralized as you want. I think there are massive incentive problems if you have federal government pay wages of for-profit firms. So I would have federal government pay the wages in the program but have the jobs actually created and managed by: not-for-profits, local government, maybe state government, maybe only as a final last resort the federal government. Argentina experimented with cooperatives and they looked to me to be highly successful.
4. The problem with a monetary economy (you can call it capitalism if you like) is that from inception imposition of taxes creates unemployment (those looking for money to pay taxes). We scale this up to our modern almost fully monetized economy (you need money just to eat, watch TV, play on cell phones, etc) and we get everyone looking for money (and not just to pay taxes). It is sheer folly to then force the private sector to solve the unemployment problem created by the government’s tax. The private sector alone will never (never has) provide full employment. ELR/JG is a logical and empirical necessity to support the private sector. It is a complement not a substitute for private sector employment.
5. How can the belief that all ought to work, and contribute to society, rather than lay about and collect welfare be called socialism?