‘What if the Public (really) Understood How Money Works?’ Just think what we could achieve!

Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/menu.inc).
Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 28/06/2020 - 5:54am in

Line graph with downward trend, virus image and word COVID-19Image by iXimus from Pixabay

“There’s something invigorating about people freaking out about modern monetary theory (MMT). They treat MMT as akin to the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie. They are petrified that knowledge of the financial equivalent of the “holy of holies” will be released to normal people because they project their greatest terrors onto the possibility that the public will be transformed and empowered by their knowledge of matters that much of the financial world has understood for at least a century.”

Dr William Black

 

After having previously been ignored and disparaged for decades by mainstream economists and politicians, MMT has been making the headlines and finding its way into a growing public conversation.

Two significant publications over the last few weeks are challenging the very basis upon which government policy is determined; ‘does it fit with our political agenda, is it affordable’ and ‘how can it be paid for?’

The Deficit Myth’ by Stephanie Kelton was described by Professor Hans G Despain in a review in the LSE blog as a ‘triumph’ challenging, as he explained, the false idea that ‘deficits are irresponsible and ruinous towards the productive political activity of deciding which spending programmes should be prioritised’.

Hot on its heels came Pavlina Tcherneva’s book ‘The case for A Job Guarantee’ described by James K Galbraith as the ‘next big, common-sense idea for economic reform’. And in the words of Paul Prescod in the Jacobin Mag, the Job Guarantee ‘offers an inspiring vision of what society would look like if we utilized the various talents and skills working people possess’

Both these publications have stirred an already growing interest in that hitherto boring subject of economics, showing that far from being irrelevant to people’s lives it is critical to them in terms of human and planetary well-being.

Hitherto sceptical economists are now saying things like ‘well we knew it all along really’ and sovereign currency-issuing governments across the world have suddenly discovered the fiscal levers they denied us previously, to keep their economies from foundering as a result of the deleterious effects of Covid-19. Until now, there has been a depressing failure to make the critical connection between government spending and economic and societal well-being which are fundamentally two sides of the same coin. Whilst people may not make the technical connection, they are now beginning to understand the impact that government policies and spending decisions have on their lives. They live them every day.

Whether on the right, where politicians defer to the market as the wealth-maker, claiming that public services depend on a healthy economy to generate sufficient tax revenue, or the left, who scrabble for a limited pot of tax revenue, preferably from the rich, or through borrowing at low interest to deliver their political agenda, the orthodoxy prevails on both sides of the political spectrum.

After decades of being in the wilderness, MMT is happily beginning to make headway and that is very encouraging. However, over recent weeks, the Empire seems to have been striking back! Sensing a challenge to its economic and political hegemony, recent newspaper headlines are reinforcing the orthodox narrative of the public finances being like a household budget. Fake news to keep the population compliant in the false understanding that there are real financial constraints to public spending and to prepare them for the possibility of more austerity to pay back the enormous, eye-boggling sums spent by the government during the Covid-19 crisis.

In an article last month, the FT asserted that the Chancellor would ‘face tough choices’, and that ‘at some point, taxes will have to rise’. While tax increases would be an unpopular move, it said this ‘would send a signal that ministers are getting the deficit under control.’

And just this week, headlines aimed at eliciting a negative public reaction have dominated the news.

‘Britain nearly went bust in March says the Bank of England’.

And:

‘Borrowing cost set ‘set to rise’ as Bank sells off stock of gilts’

On the right, John Major waded in with a call on the government to ‘borrow heavily…to improve living standards’ and claimed that ‘taxes will eventually have to be increased to pay for an extremely expensive programme.’

And on the left, the Shadow Chancellor Annaliese Dodds said again this week that ‘it is only right that those with the broadest shoulders’, should make a bigger contribution as the UK recovers from the economic effects of Covid-19.

Whilst the IFS think tank couldn’t resist the following:

It is clear that the COVID-19 outbreak – and the public health response to it – will dramatically reduce economic activity in the second quarter of 2020. This in turn will depress tax receipts and add to government spending, increasing government borrowing and in turn adding to government debt […] A key issue is how quickly – and how fully – the economy, and with it the public finances, recover over subsequent years.

The economic pundits, institutions and politicians are reinforcing, as a deliberate tactic, that at some unspecified time in the future there will be a price to pay for all this spending. As Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World said; ‘Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth’ the implication being that the more a statement is repeated, the more credible it is seen to be. And certainly, over the last decades in terms of discussion about the public finances, the household budget version rules in the public consciousness – even at the expense of its own well-being.

Just a quick look at recent headlines show the pernicious nature of such repetition on the health of the economy and its citizens, who compare the public accounts with their own finances.

It was reported this week that some of the UK’s largest councils may have to declare bankruptcy unless the government stumps up extra cash to cover the extra expenditure needed to deal with the impact of Covid-19. Nearly 150 authorities have predicted a combined budget shortfall of at least £3.2bn. Having already been struggling to deal with ten years of cuts to central government funding for local government, the chickens are now coming home to roost. Even the government’s proposed additional funding package will struggle with an already slimmed down local government infrastructure which includes people and services. However much money is allocated, local politicians and their officers will not be able to repair those losses to essential services quickly.

Also this week, the IFS reported that families who had become unemployed during the Covid-19 crisis would get £1600 less in benefits, on average, than they would have done without the damaging decade of Tory austerity. It warned that the UK, which had entered the crisis with an already less than generous welfare safety net combined with the worst decade for income gains since the 60s, would not ‘provide a good blueprint for a bounce-back’.

Pascale Bourquin, a research economist at the IFS, said that in the last decade the country had ‘witnessed the slowest growth in household incomes since records began as earnings and productivity stalled and working-age benefits were cut sharply’. And added that ‘we now have the dual challenge of trying to recover the ground people have lost in their careers and employment prospects and addressing the problems we already had’.

The narrative of household budgets is pernicious and yet it pervades the public discourse. On the one hand, the IFS recognises the damage austerity has caused and yet on the other still blathers on about the public finances and the national debt, hinting about the future cost we will all have to bear for this increased spending.

When Helen Barnard at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which funded the research, talks about ‘Finding a lasting solution’ she is demonstrating, just like the IFS, a woeful lack of knowledge about how governments actually spend. The solution is staring them right in the face.

The government has the power of the public purse to find solutions to unemployment, low productivity, poverty and inequality, not to mention the coming threat of climate change. It doesn’t matter which end of the political spectrum you sit on, whether you are on the right or the left, a healthy economy and societal and planetary well-being go hand in hand and should be a top priority for both.

This week the IMF warned of a deep global recession. This will, without doubt, lead to further poverty and inequality which will be worsened by the prospect of a world ravaged by human-induced climate change if we fail to act now. It is time for the public, politicians and institutions to put away childish analogies about how governments spend – that is if we really want to secure a stable future for those that will come after us.

In the words of Dr William Black ‘What if the public understood how money works?

Well, there might just be a revolution!

Share

Tweet

Whatsapp

Messenger

Share

Email

reddit

Viber icon
Viber

The post ‘What if the Public (really) Understood How Money Works?’ Just think what we could achieve! appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.