Modern Monetary Theory is all the rage these days. Slightly unfortunately it’s usually referred to as MMT which can and does also stand for Magic Money Tree. And that’s what the proponents think they have found. This Peoples’ Quantitative Easing that is talked about is only a variation of the basic idea.
Which is, simply, government just prints all the money that it wants to spend and goes and spends it. Don’t worry about taxation, that’s not important. But, wait! say the monetarists. Won’t this cause inflation? To which the :
Kelton disagrees with Romer and Mankiw on economic theory. In fact, she disagrees with just about every economist Bush or Obama ever hired about economic theory. Kelton is among the most influential advocates of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), a heterodox left-leaning movement within economics that rejects New Keynesianism and other mainstream macroeconomic theories.
MMT emphasizes the fact that countries that print their own money can never really “run out of money.” They can just print more. The reason we have taxes, then, is not to pay for stuff, but to keep people using the government’s preferred currency rather than, say, Bitcoin. In some rare cases, consumer demand gets too high, so sellers raise prices and inflation ensues. Then, you need to raise taxes to cool the economy down. But the theory holds that this eventuality is pretty rare. James Galbraith, another MMT-influenced economist, once told me that the last time it happened was in World War I. The main takeaway from this is that you really don’t need to balance the budget over any time horizon, and attempts to do so will hurt the economy.
So, in order to reduce the inflation brought about by government spending the newly printed money with gay abandon all you’ve got to do is raise taxes.
At which point it’s very difficult to see what’s so new about the idea really. We can raise government spending by raising the tax level without the magic money tree. And if we do use the magic money tree then we’re going to have to raise taxes once the politicians apply MMT (of either kind) to their pet projects. So, what’s the difference? An expansion of government spending is accompanied by an increase in the tax level.
So, what’s new about this?
Presumably what’s different is that it’s a different argument to raise taxes and have more government spending. But perhaps a difference without much meaning and certainly one that we shouldn’t be stupid enough to swallow.