A critique of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)

February 6th, 2013

This paper excavates the set of ideas known as modern monetary theory (MMT). The principal conclusion is that the macroeconomics of MMT is a restatement of elementary well-understood Keynesian macroeconomics. There is nothing new in MMT’s construction of monetary macroeconomics that warrants the distinct nomenclature of MMT. Moreover, MMT over-simplifies the challenges of attaining non-inflationary full employment by ignoring the dilemmas posed by Phillips curve analysis; the dilemmas associated with maintaining real and financial sector stability; and the dilemmas confronting open economies. Its policy recommendations also rest on over-simplistic analysis that takes little account of political economy difficulties, and its interest rate policy recommendation would likely generate instability. At this time of high unemployment, when too many policymakers are being drawn toward mistaken fiscal austerity, MMT’s polemic on behalf of expansionary fiscal policy is useful. However, that does not justify turning a blind eye to MMT’s oversimplifications of macroeconomic theory and policy (Read full paper here).

New book from Thomas Palley “The Economic Crisis: Notes from the Underground”

August 9th, 2012

The Economic Crisis: Notes from the Underground

The Economic Crisis: Notes from the Underground
by Thomas I. Palley, Createspace, 2012

This book provides a collection of short essays detailing the causes of the economic crisis and the failure of the economics profession to foresee and explain it. An old adage is “The winners get to write history” and that is proving true in the current moment. Open any major newspaper and the op-ed page contains articles by the same economists and policymakers as before the financial crash of 2008. One myth the winners are looking to promulgate is the crisis was not predicted and not predictable. This claim has a purpose as it excuses the economics profession from its catastrophic intellectual failure. The book challenges this “winners’ version of history” by showing the crisis was predictable and foreseen. The articles provide easy access to both theoretical and policy controversies that continue to be important, and they also show little has been done to fix the root problems. The academy is a club and it resists change because club members benefit from their intellectual monopoly. This monopoly means politicians are all fed roughly the same policy diet. Politicians are also subject to the pull of money and money likes the existing mainstream economic paradigm. Together, this constitutes a powerful sociological system that is hard to crack. Part of cracking it is exposing the failure of economists by showing the crisis was foretold and predicted.

Buy this book. List price $9.99

A Keynesian Theory of Hegemonic Currencies – Or Why the World Pays Dollar Tribute

August 9th, 2012

Several years ago (June 2006) I wrote an article advancing a new theory of why the dollar is the world’s dominant currency and why it is likely to remain so. The article was published in the midst of the last boom and sank like a stone. But now debate about the cause of the dollar’s hegemony has been revived in an interesting paper by Fields and Vernengo titled “Hegemonic currencies during the crisis: The dollar versus the euro in a Cartelist perspective” (also here). Their paper provides an opportunity to revive discussion, so I am posting the article again. Here it is (subject to a couple of word edits):

The U.S. dollar is much in the news these days and there is a sense that the world economy may have become excessively reliant on the dollar. This reliance smacks of dysfunctional co-dependence whereby the U.S. and the rest of the world both rely on the dollar’s strength, but neither is well served by it.

The U.S. dollar is the world’s premiere currency, with approximately two-thirds of world official foreign exchange holdings being dollars. Moreover, many countries appear willing to run sustained trade surpluses with the U.S., supplying everything from t-shirts to Porsches in return for additional dollar holdings. This willingness to exchange valuable resources for paper IOUs represents a form of dollar tribute. Read the rest of this entry »

The Fed’s 2% Inflation Target Trap

August 1st, 2012

The Federal Reserve has now openly adopted a two percent inflation target, with both Chairman Bernanke and the Federal Open Market Committee publicly committing to holding inflation at that level. Though not a problem today, this two percent target represents a policy trap that will undercut the possibility of future wage increases despite on-going productivity growth. That promises to aggravate existing problems of income inequality and demand shortage.

The Fed’s new policy is tactically and analytically flawed. Tactically, at this time of global economic weakness, the Federal Reserve should be advocating policies that promote rising wages rather than focusing on inflation targets. Analytically, its inflation target is too low and will inflict significant future economic harm. Read the rest of this entry »

ELR Comes to the UK

July 30th, 2012

ELR Comes to the UK

The following story, which appeared in The Guardian on Sunday 29 July, was forwarded to me by Malcolm Sawyer:

“Million jobless may face six months’ unpaid work or have unemployment benefits stopped”

In a sense, the UK, under Conservative Prime Minister Cameron, is looking to adopt a quasi-employer of last resort (ELR) scheme in which the ELR wage is set equal to existing unemployment benefits (Note: the Conservative scheme involves compulsory labor for benefits). Read the rest of this entry »

MMT/ELR: A Mix of Old and Unsubstantiated New Ideas

July 27th, 2012

Randy Wray and Mat Forstater, two leading contributors to the MMT School, have replied to my recent blog on the MMT controversy. Their replies warrant a brief response.

I agree that it does not matter very much who first identified the euro’s potential for failure. Along with other Keynesians, MMT-ers were early to identify the euro’s structural flaw – namely, its conversion of the financial status of national government into provincial government status via removal of government’s power to access money creation through a government controlled central bank. In many ways Warren Mosler (1995) is the godfather of interest in this issue. Read the rest of this entry »

More on the spurious victory claims of MMT

July 25th, 2012

Led by Randy Wray (see this and this), supporters of so-called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) are declaring that they were the first to identify the problems of the euro and that MMT has now proved itself to be the correct approach to monetary theory.

As regards these two claims, permit me to quote the following:

“5.3 Will capital still be able to veto policy?
…First, financial capital may still be able to discipline governments through the bond market. Thus, if financial capital dislikes the stance of national fiscal policy, there could be a sell-off of government bonds and a shift into bonds of other countries. This would drive up the cost of government borrowing, thereby putting a break on fiscal policy (Palley, 1997, p.155-156).” Read the rest of this entry »

From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: The Destruction of Shared Prosperity and the Role of Economics

May 9th, 2012

Many countries are now debating the causes of the global economic crisis and what should be done. That debate is critical for how we explain the crisis will influence what we do.

Broadly speaking, there exist three different perspectives. Perspective # 1 is the hardcore neoliberal position, which can be labeled the “government failure hypothesis”. In the U.S. it is identified with the Republican Party and the Chicago school of economics. Perspective # 2 is the softcore neoliberal position, which can be labeled the “market failure hypothesis”. It is identified with the Obama administration, half of the Democratic Party, and the MIT economics departments. In Europe it is identified with Third Way politics. Perspective # 3 is the progressive position which can be labeled the “destruction of shared prosperity hypothesis”. It is identified with the other half of the Democratic Party and the labor movement, but it has no standing within major economics departments owing to their suppression of alternatives to orthodox theory. Read the rest of this entry »

From Financial Crisis to Stagnation: An Interview with Thomas Palley

April 18th, 2012

Conducted by Philip Pilkington and posted on Naked Capitalism on April 18, 2012.

His latest book, From Financial Crisis to Stagnation, was recently published by Cambridge University Press, 2012.

A 20% discount is available when you purchase using this discount code.

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Philip Pilkington: At the beginning of your book From Financial Crisis to Stagnation you refer to the 2008 crisis as a ‘crisis of bad ideas’. Could you please briefly explain why you refer to the crisis in this way?

Thomas Palley: A central and critical element of my book is its emphasis on the role of economic ideas in generating the crisis. This feature fundamentally distinguishes it from mainstream explanations that tend to represent the crisis in terms of surprise events and economic shocks (e.g. black swans).

My book starts with the fundamental idea that economies are made, not found. The way economies are organized and function is significantly the product of social choices, not the product of nature. Over the past thirty years we (society) have embraced a set of economic ideas that shaped economic arrangements – including the pattern of income distribution, the power of corporations and finance relative to labor, and the way in which the economy generates demand.
Read the rest of this entry »

The euro lacks a government banker, not a lender of last resort

December 19th, 2011

In his novel, The Jungle, the American muckraking author Upton Sinclair wrote about the horrendous work and sanitary conditions in the Chicago meat packing industry of the early 20th century. It is sometimes said Sinclair aimed for the heart but hit the stomach. That is because he aimed for progressive social and economic change but instead prompted the founding of the Food and Drug Administration. Read the rest of this entry »