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Happy 25th birthday, Modern Money Theory!

A guest post by Dirk Ehnts, originally published in German here

 

Warren Mosler with 2 Porche carsOn Monday, January 29, 1996, Warren B. Mosler, Director of Economic Analysis at III Finance, wrote a message on a message board in which he asks academics for references and help regarding his model. The model was spelled out in his text “Soft Currency Economics” (SCE), which Warren Mosler worked on in the early 1990s. The following collaboration of Warren Mosler with academics like Randall Wray, Bill Mitchell and many others led to the (further) development of an empirical theory of money now know as Modern Money Theory. In this article, I quote some juicy passages from SCE to highlight the early foundations of MMT.

Warren starts his text by stating that current policy would be a disaster:

When a member of Congress reviews a list of legislative proposals, he currently determines affordability based on how much revenue the federal government wishes to raise, either through taxes or spending cuts.  Money is considered an economic resource. Budget deficits and the federal debt have been the focal point of fiscal policy, not real economic costs and benefits. The view of federal spending as reckless, disastrous and irresponsible, simply because it increases the deficit, prevails.

 

He outlines why he wrote this text:

The purpose of this work is to clearly demonstrate, through pure force of logic, that much of the public debate on many of today’s economic issues is invalid, often going so far as to confuse costs with benefits. This is not an effort to change the financial system.  It is an effort to provide insight into the fiat monetary system, a very effective system that is currently in place.

 

Then, Warren Mosler focuses on these seven points, which I will comment on briefly:

  1. Monetary policy sets the price of money, which only indirectly determines the quantity. It will be shown that the overnight interest rate is the primary tool of monetary policy. The Federal Reserve sets the overnight interest rate, the price of money, by adding and draining reserves. Government spending, taxation, and borrowing can also add and drain reserves from the banking system and, therefore, are part of that process.

This makes clear from the very first sentence that Warren’s ideas (which went into MMT) are not based on monetarist ideas. The central bank controls the price of money (interest rates at different maturities), not directly the quantity, as the monetarists claimed. The other big innovation contained in this paragraph is the view that fiscal operations (government spending, taxation, and borrowing) are monetary operations because the “can also add and drain reserves from the banking system”. Remember that almost all macroeconomics textbooks divide economic policy into fiscal and monetary policy. The line between the two is artificial, Warren says. This perfectly fits reality where central banks are not only the bank (or clearing house) of the banks, but also the bank of the federal government. The Fed describes itself as “Fiscal Agents and Depositories of the United States”.

  1. The money multiplier concept is backwards. Changes in the money supply cause changes in bank reserves and the monetary base, not vice versa.

Again, Warren puts SCE in opposition to monetarism. Whereas monetarism says that central banks lend reserves to banks which these then lend on to the private sector, SCE says that changes in the money supply (including deposits created by bank loans to households and firms) cause changes in bank reserves and the monetary base.

  1. Debt monetization cannot and does not take place.

This is very important: there is no such thing as “debt monetization”. The reason is the following. If the central bank sets an interest rate target, its purchases of Treasury securities are not discretionary any more. If the interbank rate goes down, the central bank has to sell Treasury securities in order to mop up “excess” liquidity and thus stabilize the interbank market interest rate. If the interbank market rate goes up, the Fed does buy Treasury securities, but only to maintain its interest rate target. As Warren explains later in the text: “The Fed is unable to monetize the federal debt by purchasing government securities at will because to do so would cause the funds rate to fall to zero.” Today, with the Fed Funds Current Target Rate set at 0.00-0.25 the Fed can buy all the Treasury securities it wants because the funds rate is supposed to be at zero or above. That has nothing to do with “debt monetization” and everything with bringing the interest rate down.

  1. The imperative behind federal borrowing is to drain excess reserves from the banking system, to support the overnight interest rate. It is not to fund untaxed spending. Untaxed government spending (deficit spending), as a matter of course, creates an equal amount of excess reserves in the banking system. Government borrowing is a reserve drain, which functions to support the fed funds rate mandated by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

So, government does not borrow to “finance” itself. It sells Treasury securities to “drain excess reserves from the banking system.” Borrowing does not “fund untaxed spending”. These are essential insights of MMT. Even today, many academics and commentators seem to believe that there are different ways a government can “finance” itself. That is not true. Government does not and cannot finance its spending.

  1. The federal debt is actually an interest rate maintenance account (IRMA).

By the way: Treasury notes only exist electronically, according to Treasury Direct. It is all just digital numbers in accounts at the Fed, owned by the Treasury. On January 21, 2021, the Fed holds $4,732,690 million worth of US Treasury securities. If it would be forced to sell them into the market, bond prices would collapse and yields shoot upwards. If it would buy up all federal debt (all Treasury securities), the interest rate would be zero permanently.

  1. Fiscal policy determines the amount of new money directly created by the federal government. Briefly, deficit spending is the direct creation of new money.  When the federal government spends and then borrows, a deposit in the form of a treasury security is created. The national debt is essentially equal to all of the new money directly created by fiscal policy.

The last sentence is worth repeating: “The national debt is essentially equal to all of the new money directly created by fiscal policy.” When government spends more than it taxes, it creates new (additional) money. That’s all there is to it. The implication is that if you want to reduce the national debt, you have to destroy money by fiscal policy. This only happens when tax revenues are higher than government spending. Since this reduces private wealth, it will collapse aggregate demand eventually. The Clinton surpluses and the collapse of the dot-com boom are a case in point.

  1. The amount and nature of federal spending, as well as the structure of the tax code and interest rate maintenance (borrowing), have major economic ramifications. Options over spending, taxation, and borrowing, however, are not limited by the process itself but by the desirability of the economic outcomes.  The decision of how much money to borrow and how much to tax can be based on the economic effect of varying the mix, and need not focus solely on the mix itself (such as balancing the budget).

Warren discards the idea that the mix of tax revenues and borrowing (issuing Treasury securities) should be driven by “balance the budget”. Instead, the “desirability of the economic outcomes” should be the guide to fiscal policy. This is Warren’s version of Lerner’s Functional Finance.

Summing up, the ideas contained in Warren Mosler’s SCE at the beginning of the 1990s already contained a lot of ideas that by now are accepted by large numbers of academics, policy-makers, bankers, journalists and the wider public. Expanding these ideas into MMT added more flesh and led to the formation of a proper macroeconomic school. At 25 years of age, MMT is now at the verge of becoming mainstream macroeconomic theory. This is well worth celebrating!

 

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The post Happy 25th birthday, Modern Money Theory! appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The need is to fix the system, not just to provide ‘sticking plasters’

Food Bank Cupboard stocked with tinned and packet foodImage by Staffs Live (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

It feels lately that we, like Lewis Carrol’s Alice, have fallen down a rabbit hole into an immensely troubling surreal situation with seemingly no idea how we are going to extricate ourselves.

Whether it is the distressing daily reports of Covid-19 deaths, the disturbing video accounts of the huge pressures on our NHS or care services, the political upheavals taking place across the Atlantic and elsewhere or the most serious challenge of all, climate change, it seems ever clearer that we are in Antonio Gramsci’s ‘time of monsters’ in which ‘the old world is dying and the new world struggles to be born’.

What that world will look like remains to be seen, but recent political events would seem to suggest that we still have some way to go before the ‘old world’ breathes its last. The pandemic, combined with the consequences of forty and more years of Neoliberalism Central which has infected every aspect of our lives and dominates political decision making, has created not only public disillusionment, but also petrification as our institutions sit in their blinkered bunkers holding on for dear life to all they knew.

Whether it’s the existing and growing union between government and global corporations, policy decisions which have increased inequality and poverty and encouraged charity, volunteering and philanthropy to take up the reins of public provision, or the promotion of sound finance as a vital component of good governance, the old structures are embedded in our consciousness.

It wasn’t always like this.

During the second world war, William Beveridge was appointed to investigate social security in Britain and his report, published in 1942, identified five major problems which prevented people from improving their lives. These were:

Want (caused by poverty)

Ignorance (caused by a lack of education)

Squalor (caused by poor housing

Idleness (caused by the lack of jobs or the ability to gain employment)

Disease (caused by inadequate health care provision)

It was recognised that government had a role to play in addressing those five ‘evils’ and as a result of the Beveridge report, the post-war government set up the social security system and pursued policies which aimed to address them including full employment. It may not have been perfect, but it changed people’s lives for the better.

Over recent decades, that connection between the state and publicly paid-for provision, management and delivery of services has been broken. Responsibility for such provision is increasingly being shifted into the charitable/voluntary sector, whilst at the same time, the dominant orthodoxy of individual responsibility has led to shaming and blaming people for their situation as the government takes a back-seat role.

Food banks have become a normalised feature of Britain, as Therese Coffey, the Tory minister for the Department for Work and Pensions, indicated last year when she referred to people using food banks as ‘customers’ and suggested they were a ‘perfect way to help the poor’. It implies that government has no role at all in ensuring the economic well-being of its citizens, and worse, that the 14 million Britons who do not have enough to live on are there through their own lack of moral fibre!

When charities buy into this picture and act as mitigators for a rotten economic system (which drives the poverty and inequality, that drive, in turn, the consequences including hunger, homelessness, and illness), they are not aiming to fix the system, but to provide sticking plasters. As such, it demonstrates how they, too, have been captured by an ideology and accept it without question.

This was made shockingly clear in a paid-for content article in this week’s Guardian. The CEO of the Bethany Christian Trust, when talking about tackling the problem of food insecurity said: ‘if by giving someone a meal we’re sitting them down with people they can talk to about debt counselling, mental health issues, addiction, domestic abuse, or whatever help they might need, then that plate of food can work so much harder’.

Rather than starting with the political roots of these problems, charities increasingly view them as issues to be solved through improving the capacity of the individuals themselves to manage the challenges they face.

Quite simply, this facilitates the shifting of blame onto people, rather than highlighting the failure of the government to make provision for its citizens and is classic neoliberal text. As Neil Valley suggests in his article in the New Internationalist ‘The Self-Help Myth’.

‘The pervasive rhetoric of personal responsibility has transformed the role of government and society in the neoliberal era. Where once the role of government was to safeguard the general happiness of the majority of citizens, albeit to varying degrees, its primary role now is to facilitate the conditions where each citizen can take on more and more individual responsibility, absolving the state from its responsibility towards its citizens.’

Then step in charities to fill the gap in service provision and provide the mitigating support for the rotten toxic system which has created the need in the first place and designates those in receipt of such support as customers rather than victims.

The increasingly pervasive narrative, which is being driven further by the pandemic crisis, is that charities and the voluntary sector should be at the heart of our local communities to ensure that vulnerable people don’t fall between the cracks, rather than publicly paid for, managed and delivered state provision.

It was, therefore, all the more disconcerting this week to read the proposal in the left-wing publication The Tribune that a National Food Service should be set up. Whilst its aims to serve the public good rather than private profit are indeed laudable, one has to question the logic.

Of course, one could not object to the removal of private companies delivering public services, given that the tentacles of private profit are growing exponentially as government distributes contracts to its friends and large corporations with few strings attached, whilst at the same time the coffers remain largely bare to serve the needs of those who have for decades been at the sharp end of government policies. The resulting poverty and inequality have been highlighted during this crisis.

The proposal, however, seems to suggest that we mitigate for the crisis of capitalism being played out in the growth of hunger through mutual on the ground action, rather than dealing with its root causes – government policy driven by ideology. We don’t need a plan to ‘respond’ to this fundamental crisis of capitalism, we need a plan to change it; to put public purpose and the interests of citizens, not to mention the planet, at the heart of all government policy.

Over the last few decades, working people have borne the consequences of a toxic economic ideology underpinned by the notion of monetary scarcity, which has led to the reduction in their share of their productivity, which has translated into lower wages, insecure employment and underemployment and a decline in living standards. Poverty is the direct result. The constant repetition of these ideas via politicians, think tanks, economists and the media has led us to believe that this is the inescapable default.

Government, far from serving its citizens, has overseen through its employment and other policies, huge disparities in wealth and access to resources, allowing, for example, chief executives of big corporations to earn many more times that of their employees, not to mention garner political influence as a result.

To add to this picture is the decimation of our post-war public and social security infrastructure, which existed to provide health and social care through various publicly paid for institutions, to ensure that those in need had access to shelter, food and warmth, in times of personal tragedy, sickness, unemployment or economic collapse. When this infrastructure was built, the profiteers had no place in this model and nor should they today.

Whilst the human suffering continues to play out across the nation, the government cynically continues with its U-turns on policy in the vain attempt to keep its MPs and the public on side. Last week, as noted in the MMT Lens, Boris Johnson told MPs that ‘most people would rather see a focus on jobs and growth in wages than…welfare.’ This week, with his signature tune U-Turn, he has indicated a potential rethink of ending the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift, saying he wanted to ensure that ‘people don’t suffer as a result of the economic consequences of the pandemic’. You couldn’t make it up.

Yes, indeed, to more jobs through the implementation of a Job Guarantee, to drive better wages overall and restore the government’s role as the price setter and rebuilding public service provision. But in the meantime, let’s ensure while the consequences of the pandemic continue to cause economic and social pain, that all people have enough to pay their bills and keep food on the table without worry, stress or having to get into debt to keep their heads above water. We have witnessed the power of the public purse, let us not allow that knowledge to be polluted by the restoration of household budget politics.

It is regrettable that politicians, journalists, institutions and think tanks, in their weekly forecasts of doom and gloom, continue to build up the narrative of money scarcity and a future price to pay for this massive round of government monetary intervention. A narrative that will be used to justify eventual hard decisions or another round of austerity in some form or another.

Whilst the livelihoods of many people lie in the balance, not just for now but in a rapidly changing world, we still have to endure the false notions of tax rises to pay for government spending and the penchant for sound finance. Such narratives suggest, not only that people must suffer, but also that the cost of saving our planet from climactic destruction will be too high.

The fact that the government continues to find huge sums of money to support businesses and yet quibbles over a few pounds to working people, suggesting that it is unaffordable should surely be a public conversation starter!

As the chancellor opines that there are some hard choices ahead, one of his treasury ministers clearly of the deficit dove variety, softens the blow by suggesting that the need for tax rises to tackle the record levels of government borrowing could be delayed at least until the economy ‘bounces back’. As if somehow increased tax revenues equate to the capacity to spend or pay down the national debt.

The experts at the Institute of Fiscal Studies and other think tanks then put the fear of God into the public that £40bn in tax rises might be necessary to put the public finances back onto a sustainable footing. Thus, making that public even more cautious about the government’s future spending plans. Self-fulfilling prophecies come to mind.

And then, just this week, when people thought that the vast round of government spending signified a change of approach to managing the economy, Rishi Sunak told Conservative MPs that he will be using his March budget to begin the process of restoring ‘order’ to the public finances through implementing higher taxes.

To those Tories who would like to see the Universal Credit uplift continue beyond April, he gave a reminder of its high cost which represents, according to his calculations, an equivalent of 1p on income tax plus 5p per litre on fuel duty. Thus, further reinforcing the idea that the provision of higher welfare benefits means collecting tax from elsewhere to cover it.

The ‘someone, somewhere will have to pay for it’ model of the state finances will no doubt be used cynically to drive further wedges between the haves and the have nots and justify the further decimation of the already inadequate social security safety net.

According to this narrative, the magic porridge pot is running on empty and needs replenishing in order to pay down debt and avoid a giant burden for future generations.

This tale of supposed coming woe serves to keep people in their place while reinforcing the old myths about how governments spend. It displays both economic illiteracy and a disregard for the lives of those who will lose out as a result, not to mention addressing the biggest challenge of all – climate change.

And then at the ‘left’ end of the household budget scale, we have economists, opposition politicians, unions and other so-called experts, urging the Chancellor to take advantage of low borrowing rates of interest to avoid tax rises until the economy gets back on its feet and restores tax revenues, or reinforcing the false narratives about taxing the rich to pay for the pandemic. The household budget model is endemic and those on the political left keep shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly.

A paper published by the LSE’s International Inequalities Institute last December, using data from 18 OECD countries over the last five decades, concluded unsurprisingly enough that tax cuts for the rich didn’t trickle down; that they contributed to inequality and did little to stimulate business investment.

The authors then went on to suggest that it was time to tax the rich more to repair the public finances. This was backed up in the same month when the Wealth Tax Commission, founded in April of last year, concluded that a one-off wealth tax would raise significant revenue and be fairer and more efficient than other alternatives. To be exact, it suggested that a ‘one-off wealth tax on millionaire couples would raise £260 billion’ The implication being yet again that such a tax could be used to repair the public finances.

Whilst we can’t avoid these false tropes, which lead the public astray and reinforce the messages that government spends like a household, we can challenge them. When Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, bleats on as he did this week about the NHS Pay review body taking ‘account of the extremely challenging fiscal and economic context’ in its decision about future pay rises, we can show the public that such decisions have no connection, either with the current state of the public finances or the future monetary affordability of those pay rises.

We can reinforce the message that curtailing public sector pay won’t increase the ability of the government to ‘set the public finances straight’, any more than the decade of austerity did. It could actually have a negative, indeed disastrous, effect on the economy at a time when it will, without doubt, need continuing government support.

Aside from the fact that public sector and, indeed, other key workers have seen their pay dwindle in real terms as a result of a decade of pay freezes or inadequate employment legislation, and that the pandemic has revealed the vital nature of their contribution to society, all increasing taxation will do is leave less money for working people to spend into both the national and local economies. Also, should that increased taxation fall on corporations, (as is being suggested) who will likely pass that additional cost on through higher prices to working people anyway, it will create a double whammy effect.

Whilst a pay rise will increase tax revenues, it will not increase the government’s capacity to spend. But we see the false narrative again in a study published this week by the London Economic Consultancy. The report claimed that the government would recover 81% of the cost of any pay rise in additional taxes, which would, in turn, have significant ‘knock-on’ benefits for the Treasury. Clearly suggesting that tax funds its spending.

Whether from the left or right of the political spectrum, the public is treated daily to a mishmash of false information dictated by the dominant economic paradigm which masquerades as truth. It’s no wonder that people are confused and feel disempowered or turned off by politics and economics, which they feel do not relate to their lives at all, even though, in reality, these things have everything to do with them.

While politicians, journalists and economists argue about monetary affordability and who should pay for government spending, people are dying and will continue to die for the want of a government that puts their interests first.

What happens next will depend on a successful challenge through raising public awareness that there is indeed an alternative to the vast disparities in wealth, the rise of poverty and inequality, the whittling down of democracy and increased corporate dominance in our lives. And it starts with understanding how government really spends.

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Pavlina Tcherneva – Online

January 24th 2021 @ 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm GMT

GIMMS is delighted to present another in its series ‘In Conversation’.

Phil Armstrong, author of ‘Can Heterodox Economics Make a Difference’ published in November 2020, will be talking to Pavlina Tcherneva.

Pavlina is program director and associate professor of economics at Bard College and a research associate at the Levy Economics Institute. She conducts research in the fields of modern monetary theory and public policy and has collaborated with policymakers from around the world on developing and evaluating various job-creation programmes. Her work on the Job Guarantee spans over 20 years.

Author of the recently published book ‘The Case for a Job Guarantee’, she challenges us to imagine a world where the phantom of unemployment is banished and anyone who seeks decent living-wage work can find it – guaranteed. It will be of particular relevance as we begin to grapple with the economic fall-out of the Covid-19 pandemic but for anyone passionate about social justice and building a fairer economy it should be essential reading.

We invite you to join us for this informal event which we are sure will be both stimulating and insightful.

Tickets via Eventbrite

 

Past Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Fadhel Kaboub – Online

Author and MMT Scholar Phil Armstrong talks to professor of economics and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity Fadhel Kaboub about how MMT insights apply to the global south, colonial reparations, the MMT Job Guarantee contrasted with Universal Basic Income, and much more.

 

 

Audio via the MMT Podcast here

 

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Just getting by is not enough

Woman shopping in a supermarketPhoto by Kevin Laminto on Unsplash

“The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few. Democratic politics, which purports to enrich the many, is actually in the pocket of those bankers, media barons and other moguls who run and own everything.”

Charles Moore

In the light of the possible wage freeze for 5 million public workers, the economist Grace Blakely explained on Double Down News this week why billionaires should pay, ‘not working people who sacrificed their lives to keep our economy going.’ Whilst the sentiment is right that working people should not pay for the crisis, her suggestion that the billionaires should step into the breach and pay what they owe instead is just more neoliberally inspired claptrap. The implication that the very rich are stealing from the public purse and that we should bring back John McDonnell’s magic money tree from the Cayman Islands is a shameful and false narrative being peddled by a supposed left-wing economist who clearly is still caught in the headlights of false household budget accounting. By such shifting of blame elsewhere, Blakeley fails to acknowledge the real power of the public purse to spend, should the government choose to, on public purpose and also the power of the state to legislate to ensure that the rich pay what they owe. In this fairy tale narrative of taxes fund spending, she ignores the fact that, amongst other things such as redistributing wealth through progressive taxes, taxation is the mechanism to reduce the influence of the wealthy in the corridors of political power. That should surely be the left-wing argument for ensuring the billionaires pay their dues.

Blakely’s appeal came in response to the proposal by the Centre for Policy Studies for a three-year public sector pay freeze, which it claimed could save the government cumulatively £23m. It also suggested in its newly published report that the pain had not been shared equally and that private sector workers had suffered more than those in the public sector. The CPS put forward that NHS workers could be exempt from the freeze to account for their hard work and sacrifices during the pandemic giving an albeit reduced saving.

Robert Colville, the Director of the CPS, suggested that the public finances had been decimated and that it would be difficult to justify generous pay rises in the public sector when private sector wages were falling, given that there was a need to control public spending and reduce the structural deficit which the pandemic was likely to have opened up.

Once again not only do we see the powers that be aiming to drive further wedges of envy between the public and private sector, but also a reinforcement of household budget accounting in terms of how the government spends.

Over the last six months and more, the public sector has stepped up to the plate in response to Covid-19. The Prime Minister and his Chancellor have stood in Downing Street to clap for the NHS and social care workers and the nation responded. The public sector – the NHS, education, social care, and services provided by local government – has, along with other key workers in the private sector, ensured that services were kept going. That care for the elderly continued to be provided in difficult circumstances, that the food and other vital supply delivery networks continued to function, that supermarkets and other shops were stocked and able to provision the nation.

The pandemic has demonstrated, as no other event perhaps could, how interdependent society is and that key workers in the public and private sectors, many of whom are low paid, underpin the foundations of society so that it can function effectively. The world of Mrs Thatcher’s ‘there is no society’ has been well and truly discredited.

And yet after all the clapping and talk of levelling up, the government might be on the brink not only of creating more societal division in a cynical sleight of hand to distract attention away from government actions, but also of freezing the pay of public sector workers who have already suffered the consequences of a decade of Tory austerity. It is time to question who the government is serving. The markets and exploitative corporations or its citizens?

We have been brainwashed into believing that the government is at the mercy of the market and must serve it. The public has accepted the lie that government spending is constrained and dependent on private businesses generating the wealth which in turn generates the taxes that we are told fund government spending.

And yet the reverse is true. It is the government which sets the economic bar. It is the government which spends to tax, which sets the price for labour and legislates for protective employment law. It has been a political choice to cede responsibility for ensuring that people both in the public and private sector are paid wages commensurate with a good standard of living, that would put paid to continuing poverty and inequality.

At the other end of the scale, the power of the public purse has been shown to work perfectly when it is a question of pouring vast sums into private profit, in many cases with little accountability. The term ‘chumocracy’ has also been applied to how many of these contracts have been awarded.

Only this week, we have seen yet another demonstration of how the use of the public purse is a matter of political choice as the government agreed a four-year £16.5bn increase in defence spending. Boris Johnson called it ‘a once-in-a-generation modernisation of the armed forces … [required] to extend British influence and protect the public’ and restore Britain as “the foremost naval power in Europe”. We seem to be going back in time!

Labour unsurprisingly has supported these plans, but did ask how they would be paid for. Patrick Butler from the Guardian questioned how such a vast amount of money was justified when the ‘public finances have been stretched by the pandemic’.

The vision of stretched finances appeals to household budget explanations of how governments spend and is designed to reinforce the narrative of scarcity of money. Over the last few months, it surely must start to dawn on the public that there is no scarcity of money. The public finances have not been stretched, indeed they have been positively overflowing. The government simply made a political decision to spend money on defence, just as it did to support furlough or after public pressure to feed hungry children in schools.

In terms of how the government spends, it does not have to choose one expenditure over another. It does not have to match its spending to tax revenue or worry whether it can borrow money. It is just a decision based on political priorities. Feeding hungry children wasn’t a priority until it became politically expedient for it to be.

It is disheartening that time and time again mainstream journalists persist in toeing the establishment line that money is scarce and there will be a future price to pay. In an article in the Financial Times this week, it was suggested that that the Exchequer was running on empty and that the Tories in the wealthy south will soon be asked to support tax increases to help left-behind regions.

Let’s reiterate yet again that the state of the public finances is not dire, the Exchequer is not running on empty and, since tax does not fund government spending, increases will not help left-behind regions. In fact, taxing more in a period of economic decline or as a country was coming out of one would be positively harmful.

When it is suggested that drivers could be charged for using roads to help Rishi Sunak cover a tax shortfall of £40bn caused by the rising popularity of electric cars, one is tempted to point out that there is no hole in the finances to plug. Whilst we might want to use taxation to encourage people to use public transport, the only holes to plug are the potholes caused by cuts to spending on our road network.

It cannot now be any clearer that the UK government, which has the power of the public purse to authorise spending through its central bank, is not hindered by scarce monetary resources. That it just spends. The clear political priority is to spend on defence to ‘extend British influence’ rather than invest in a public and social infrastructure that serves the interests of the nation or addresses the rising poverty and inequality which has arisen as a result of government policies over the past 10 years.

The question of affordability has been used by successive governments to justify their spending policies. And yet, whilst successive governments have always found money for defence or prosecuting wars, whether it can be found to pay public sector workers decent wages is quite another matter.

In the same vein this week, the Treasury was reported to have been reluctant to commit more money to delivering the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for moving to a low-carbon economy. Aside from the usual puff and rhetoric from politicians on a practical level, there are still questions as to whether words will be translated into real, firm actions. In an open letter to the government, it was reported this week that the UK would not be able to deliver on its zero-carbon commitments unless it intervened in the energy from waste sector and that recycling rates have reached a standstill. Ministers have also been accused of using the pandemic to justify further delay on promised action on food waste reporting until 2021. While the planet’s biodiversity continues to decline as the planet warms and valuable resources go up in smoke with few constraints, the government continues to prevaricate.

In saying that hard choices exist in relation to public sector pay or suggesting that we haven’t enough money to address climate issues, the Treasury ignores the elephant in the room. That the real human and planetary cost of not spending on these vital things will be immeasurable.

Over eight years ago George Osborne criticised green policies as a ‘burden’ and a ‘ridiculous cost’ to British businesses. Since then the environmental landscape has changed irrevocably as the climate tsunami bears down upon us with ever greater urgency. Governments have become masters at making promises or giving speeches with hat tips to change, but which result in very little. To suggest that there is a monetary constraint reveals much about the ideology which governs the government’s policies and the constituency it serves, but in the end, the burden of not acting will not be monetary, it will affect every aspect of our lives – economic and societal.

This is an opportunity not to be wasted. We have allowed an economic system to exploit working people. Businesses have justified low wages and poor employment conditions as prerequisites to competitiveness. Government having abandoned full employment policies in the 1970s has rolled over instead of assuming its considerable powers.

A recent report published by the Social Equality Commission quoted a female supermarket worker who said ‘when you dig really deep, I think it is about happiness and stability, and feeling valued … because money is secondary to all that. As long as you can get by, you shouldn’t worry about it.’

Happiness and stability are, without doubt, important but how such happiness and stability can occur when people are struggling to make ends meet is debatable. Just getting by is not enough and nor is it fair. Good wages and secure employment allow people to have a good standard of living, to be able to plan for the unexpected or indeed to save for the future. People are being brainwashed into accepting their lot on the lie of there being no alternative when there is such imaginable wealth in the hands of few people whose power and influence dictate its distribution.

From a macroeconomic perspective, the bottom line is that people with good wages and employment security spend their money in their local communities and the wider economy which in turn support local and national businesses. It seems the Chancellor, by suggesting he has to plug the hole in the finances either by higher taxes or public sector pay freezes, is displaying a deliberate ignorance, dictated by ideology, of the macroeconomic importance of people having money in their pockets. Let’s remember that one person’s spending is another’s income. It is fundamental!

To conclude this week’s lens, it is only right that we bring our readers’ attention to an editorial in the Guardian which highlighted that:

Coronavirus has thrown into sharp relief the inequalities in Britain. The bottom fifth of the working population have seen incomes cut sharply and their savings reduced to nothing. For the poor, there’s little or no cash to furnish even the barest of Christmases, while those at the top have seen cash pile up in bank accounts.

And then went on to criticise Sunak by saying that:

‘he continues to peddle the myth that the extra government borrowing during the pandemic means that he has to make “hard choices” to “balance the books”. The chancellor is softening the ground for austerity policies. Mr Sunak is making an ideological choice by using the wrong model of the economy. If he does not relent then he will be responsible for unnecessary unemployment and poverty.

It then urged Sunak to rethink his future policies by recognising that:

‘the government can take responsibility for maintaining the total level of spending in the economy at level that keeps the country as close to full employment as possible where a working week is at a reasonable length and paid at a reasonable wage.’

This is a moment of great change. A moment of great opportunity to create a fairer society for all. The economist Herman Minsky wrote: “a necessary ingredient of any war against poverty is a program of job creation; and it has never been shown that a thorough program of job creation, taking people as they are, will not, by itself, eliminate a large part of the poverty that exists”.

Unemployment and its associated economic and social ills could be mitigated by the introduction of a government-backed Job Guarantee, not only to deal with the economic fall out from the pandemic which will continue for some time to come but also act as a just transition mechanism as we address climate change. As a macroeconomic tool, it offers a cyclical approach to unemployment that would create a more stable economic environment to deal with the ups and downs of the economy with the added advantage that working people are not left to perish when times get tough.

Instead of talking about monetary scarcity and unaffordability, an argument which dominated the narrative for decades, the debate must now move to how we can create a more sustainable and equitable future in the context of the distribution of finite real resources and who gets them.

Society, through its elected government, has to decide its priorities. Real and sustainable human and planetary well-being delivered by powerful states with the power of the public purse governing in the interests of their citizens? Or a rehash of the current economic model which has at its heart a greenwashed control by global corporations.

 

Event Recording

GIMMS’ event “Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Neil Wilson” is now available as a podcast via the MMT Podcast. Our thanks to Christian Reilly for publishing it.

 

The MMT Podcast #75 Neil Wilson & Phil Armstrong: In Conversation

 

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The post Just getting by is not enough appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) White Paper – UK

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/10/2020 - 6:37am in

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Published online 24th October 2020

 

Full Document

 

Introduction

The purpose of this white paper is to outline the fundamentals of MMT and its application to the United Kingdom

What is MMT?

MMT began largely as a description of Central Bank monetary operations, which are best thought of as debits and credits to accounts as kept by banks, businesses, and individuals.

Warren Mosler independently originated what has been popularised as MMT in 1992.  And while subsequent research has revealed writings of authors who had similar thoughts on some of MMT’s monetary understandings and insights, including Abba Lerner, George Knapp, Mitchell Innes, Adam Smith, Wynne Godley, and former NY Fed chief Beardsley Ruml, MMT is unique in its analysis of monetary economies, and therefore best considered as its own school of thought.

 

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The post Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) White Paper – UK appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations?

Instead of more political rhetoric and more of the same orthodox solutions dressed up as change, we need radical progressive action to pave the way for a kinder, more equable and sustainable future.

 

Planet Earth in handsImage by Anja from Pixabay

After this crisis, if anybody dares mention a ‘need’ for austerity or tax cuts for ‘wealth creators’ aka useless parasites, or calls for pointless fiscal retrenchment, then ridicule their rank stupidity, economic illiteracy, immorality and their inability to learn simple lessons.’

Phil Armstrong, GIMMS Associate.

 

The debt warriors are continuing their rear-guard action. In the hope that all is not lost in the battle for minds as people get wiser; the battle to keep people believing that the vital extra spending, which has in effect kept the economy afloat, is going to have to be paid for. Sustaining the illusion is vital for their purpose and the people need reminders and nudges to keep them in the dark and demonstrate that the government is fiscally responsible. Where have we heard this before? And look how that ended up. Ten years of punishing austerity and the killing off of our public services in the name of balanced books.

This week, the Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin said on BBC Politics Live.

‘It’s the right time to talk about [balancing the books] because we have to maintain the confidence of the bond market.’ We have a plan to bring the public finances under control’

This little gem suggesting that government is beholden to the bond markets (when it is not) followed Rishi Sunak who said in his conference speech earlier in the week that he had ‘a sacred duty’ to ‘leave the public finances strong’ hinting that there might be tax rises ahead. He continued by saying that ‘If… we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?’

Hard choices would have to be made as he pledged to ‘balance the books’. He posited that the public would accept that taxes would have to rise given the size of public spending during the crisis and suggested that the government might have to break some of its manifesto pledges. Wait for it…it’s coming.

The implication is that those billions of pounds borrowed to keep the economy afloat and functioning will have to be paid for and that the burden, if not addressed, will pass to future generations in the form of higher taxes. Keeping the illusion going was further emphasised at the weekend when the government rejected extra support for workers in lockdown areas because ‘the national debt is rising’ and it would cost too much.

So deeply is the ‘tax pays for spending’ narrative embedded in the public consciousness that research published this week by Ipsos Mori suggested that of those responding almost half favoured raising taxes to fund public services in the context of Covid-19 with the most favoured option being a wealth tax for people earning over £500,000.

Still resolutely stuck in the ‘taxes fund spending’ mode, people implicitly understand that somewhere along the line they have lost out, not just personally but in terms of a public infrastructure which Covid has demonstrated is no longer fit for purpose due to cuts. And, quite rightly they want redress, as long as perhaps it’s not them that have to pay. Whilst there is a big difference in approving a concept and actually accepting it as the reality for one’s own pocket, the government is relying on that false narrative for it to get away yet again with murder.

In the light of monetary realities, knowledge of which is increasingly coming into the spotlight and challenging the status quo orthodoxy, in searching for answers the better questions to ask the public might have been:

Do you want the government to spend more on improving our public services in the interests of the nation?  

Do you want to restore those public services to publicly paid, managed and delivered provision?

For the truth is, that these decisions are political ones, not linked to taxes or borrowing or the state of the public finances.

At the other end of the political spectrum, this week on Double Down News Grace Blakely exposed, quite rightly, the increasing horrendous gap in wealth distribution and its damaging effects on society. However, she then went on to suggest that the billionaires should pay the costs.

At a time when the Swiss Bank UBS reported this week that billionaires increased their wealth by more than a quarter at the peak of the crisis when at the same time millions of people were losing their jobs or struggling to get by on furlough schemes and Universal Credit it might seem a just call to ask the extremely wealthy not only to pay what they owe but pay more. After all, over decades, working people have seen their living standards fall, as their share of productivity has ended up in the hands of ever fewer people so it is infuriating to see that the gap between the haves and have nots which was already huge, growing even more rapidly as billionaire’s wealth hits new highs. An increase in the pay of politicians announced late this week (the Tories having already rejected a pay increase for nurses) shows little solidarity with people’s struggles and it must surely start crossing people’s minds that something is seriously awry not just in terms of wealth distribution but also in the way they understand how power works and who pulls the strings.

But it is equally disheartening to note that we have left-wing economists and commentators reinforcing the mantra of ‘tax pays for government spending’ in the daily smoke of mirrors that suggests that state spending is like a household budget and that the solution is to get the filthy rich to pay more.

While our public infrastructure continues to crumble before our eyes and people suffer it’s time for the left to stop talking about getting the rich to pay for it, however much that appeals to a sense of fairness. Only by recognising how government really spends and using that knowledge to propose an alternative vision for the future can we win that battle. If it does not, then any plans that future progressive governments propose will always be constrained by this false narrative.

In the words of Deborah Harrington, who sits on GIMMS advisory board:

‘Billionaires can’t ‘pay for’ the coronavirus crisis. Only governments can. The left should stop promoting the neoliberal theory that we are all dependent on and beholden to the rich for our public services. They are cheering their support for Thatcher, May and all the others who claim the government has ‘no money, only taxpayers’ money’. Tax the rich because they are too rich. Tax the rich because inequality is damaging to a healthy society. Tax the rich because they use their disproportionately accumulated wealth to buy government policy that makes them even richer. Have the courage to say that the extremely wealthy are a drain, not a gain, for society. Stop trying to push the idea that if you could only persuade them to pay their taxes willingly everything would be just fine. Even better, have pre-distribution mechanisms that stop them accumulating so much in the first place.’

The question some might ask is have politicians on any side learned anything? Forty years of economic orthodoxy have left many economies around the world in poor shape and unable to address the crisis. And yet whilst Rishi Sunak considers disingenuously and publicly how he is going to ‘pay for‘ his fiscal injection (to keep the right narrative alive in the public mind) it most certainly will not stop money pouring into the bank balances of private corporations.

And given the Chancellor’s Conference speech it will on the other hand most likely mean that the public sector will once again be squeezed. It is a guise for delivering what they have always intended – to destroy the public sector as publicly funded, managed and delivered infrastructure that serves the public good with no profit motive, through the toxic ideology that business is more efficient. The lie of a so-called small state is smashed by the realities that it increasingly exists to serve global corporate interests.

Whilst government ministers laud their actions and monetary largesse, anyone following media reporting or previous GIMMS blogs will know that the real beneficiaries of public money have been large corporations who have failed to deliver the promised efficiency and worse without public accountability. The prospect of Westminster Plc draws ever nearer.

And the promised levelling up? It will likely be just one more casualty of a wretched economic system, and just more of the typical political rhetoric which politicians are so good at – on both sides.

In the wake of the Chancellor’s speech, the Guardian in its unexpected and timely editorial this week noted ‘it makes no sense to compare personal experience with the economics of a nation’. Quoting the late Labour MP Roy Jenkins who observed correctly that a family budget was not the same as a national budget and said that Margaret Thatcher had traded in ‘lousy economics’, it noted how much of the political economy had been conceded to the right and that the present Labour shadow chancellor still in orthodox mode could not match his ‘unapologetic Keynesianism’.

Sunak’s speech seems indicative of what to expect in the future. Yet more penny-pinching when it comes to our public infrastructure. It suits a carefully crafted narrative to suggest that such spending would bankrupt the economy or burden future taxpayers. A narrative the public continues to buy for now, at least as a reflection of how it believes that government spends.

While our imaginations are still stuck in Mikawber mode, the real threats to the future are being cynically put on the back burner when those threats are the ones that we need to be addressing urgently. It seems that, in political terms, ultimately the quest to balance the books is being made to appear a far more important objective than addressing climate change and politically created and unnecessary inequality. Our planet is to be sacrificed on the pyre of balanced budgets and big business gets to create a greenwashed world in its image – that of profit and greed.

As we watch the fires in South America continue to burn as a result of deforestation to make way for cattle pasture and soy plantations, and the tropical wetlands continue to burn in the Pantanal, a combination of a man-made arson and drought caused by the climate crisis, we need urgently to shift the narrative to one of sustainability and human and planetary health.

This year of environmental disasters – fires, drought, floods and Covid-19 – is a reflection of our failure to act and should be the wakeup call we need. Our leaders, for all their fine words, are complicit in this destruction. Some wilfully and openly ignore the threats, others indulge in ‘environmentally friendly’, rhetoric whilst doing very little, and at the same time global corporations some of the biggest polluters sell us their greenwashing propaganda.

Along with climate change, poverty and inequality continue to rise. It was reported this week by the charity Save the Children that living standards for the UK’s poorest had plunged during the pandemic. It noted that over a third of families on Universal Credit and Child Tax Credits have had to rely on help from charities for food or children’s clothes over the past two months and two-thirds had incurred debt to get by. Half of those surveyed said that they were in rent arrears or behind on household bills. Earlier research carried out by Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in June revealed that 70% of people had cut back on food and other essentials when the pandemic began and the charity warned that the winter will be more difficult for many families as heating and other household costs rise and the prospect of further job losses increase the pressure on overstretched household budgets. With the threat of a cut in Universal Credit next April, the future is looking even more uncertain for some of the poorest people in our communities.

And we cannot ignore the global situation. Save the Children also noted last month in a jointly authored report with UNICEF that the number of children living in multidimensional poverty (access education, healthcare, housing, nutrition, sanitation and water) across the world had soared to around 1.2 billion due to Covid. To put it starkly, an additional 150 million since the pandemic began in early 2020. It also noted that around 45% of children were severely deprived of one of the critical needs mentioned above before the pandemic and that the picture is likely to worsen in the months to come.

While the arguments rage about the size of government, its colossal spending and future tax burdens, the cost of such arguments on human lives and the planet seem of secondary concern as the government continues to pursue its market-driven dogma which is neither free nor fair.

The promised V-shape recovery has not materialised and left prospects bleak for the Covid generation whose employment prospects are quickly vanishing into the mist and threatening their future health, security and livelihoods.

Instead of real jobs with good pay and conditions, Rishi Sunak is offering people ‘job coaches’ to beef up their CVs or training to improve their future job prospects. Never mind that without government intervention in the form of adequate spending and other targeted measures to improve the economic outlook, those jobs will never materialise. Relying on business to find solutions will lead us to a dead end.

Or as earlier this week the Conservative MP Robert Jenrick called for ‘grassroots volunteering and ‘togetherness’. Where was the government when it was telling us austerity was necessary to get the public finances straight as it dismantled our infrastructure and other vital public services? A government that also promoted individualism, greed and selfishness, has overseen huge wealth inequalities and divided our communities. The word ‘togetherness’ doesn’t seem to fit the bill.

Instead of real solutions, the government is offering the usual toxic rhetoric painted as positive proposals for a so-called new normal which aims to consolidate the toxicity, not address it.

At a time when jobs are being lost, GIMMS repeats its question. Why not rebuild our public sector offering good wages and secure employment? Why not introduce a Job Guarantee that provides a living wage, training and good employment conditions to bridge the gap when times get tough and provide a transitional staging post into private sector employment when the economy improves?

Rethinking the sort of society, we would like to live in will be of paramount importance in the coming months. The old model is not fit for purpose and we and the planet deserve something better.

 

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Warren Mosler – Online

October 17 @ 17:00 pm – 18:30 pm

GIMMS is delighted to present its second ‘in conversation’ event.

GIMMS’ Associate Member Phil Armstrong whose new book will be published in November (details below) will be talking to Warren Mosler. Warren, who is one of the founding proponents of MMT, has dedicated the last 25 years to bringing that knowledge to a wider audience across the world and authored ‘The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, published in 2010. He also sits on GIMMS advisory board.

Register via Eventbrite

Event recording

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Bill Mitchell

Bill Mitchell spoke to Bill Mitchell for GIMMS on 27th September 2020.

 

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If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

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The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

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The post What is the real burden that the government’s “hard choices” will pass on to future generations? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Time to worry less (or better not at all) about the national debt and challenge the government’s economic record instead.

£1 coin and £10 Bank of England banknoteImage by bluebudgie from pixabay

The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.

Antonio Gramsci

In the week that the Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced his latest Job Support Scheme, everywhere you look the TV journalists and other media pundits are bewailing the rising cost in terms of “borrowing” and government debt. TV presenters can’t help themselves. ‘We’ll be paying for it for years to come’, is the on-going mantra being drummed into the public consciousness, just in case we forget. It was even suggested on this week’s BBC’s Money Box programme that it would take 3000 years to repay the national debt! An astounding calculation made on the basis of current borrowing levels and the annual tax take. However, given that a sovereign currency-issuing government like the UK’s doesn’t even have to borrow to spend, it’s just another example of household budget accounting.

Whilst those of us with a better understanding of how money works shout at the TV with incredulity that the same falsities are being repeated endlessly, many of those same journalists and presenters fail to make the very real connections between government spending, the state of the economy and the lives of its citizens.

Whilst the implication of unaffordability and a future tax burden prevails as a reason to curtail spending eventually, the real price has been and remains a human one; economic instability and uncertainty for people and the prospect of more damage to the environment. We can’t afford to improve people’s lives or even save the planet! Apparently.

Whilst we read endless articles reporting on the declining state of our public services and local government, the injustice of a social security system which is failing too many people the elephant in the room largely goes unacknowledged; the role that government plays in the welfare of its citizens through its spending decisions. While we see huge sums of money being poured into private profit, our public and social infrastructure is in a state of decay. Their choice is clear.

At the same time, the left-wing social media pages continue to shoot themselves in the foot by posting articles and memes with language designed to increase the public’s fear of too much spending and its consequences on future generations; ‘UK national debt soars to record levels as Covid pushes up borrowing’ is one such posted this week.

Whilst such pages are clearly and quite rightly aimed at holding the government to account for their abysmal management of the economy and its consequences for some of the poorest people in our communities, they do so within the context of a household budget narrative. Such a narrative will, without doubt, constrain a future progressive government, not liberate it!

Instead of focusing on deficits as if they were a measure of good or bad stewardship of the public finances, we might better and more correctly point out the government’s economic record. How did it respond to the on-going crisis and the economic fallout? Had it, through its spending policies, ensured a well-functioning public infrastructure able to rise to the current challenges? Did it spend sufficiently to secure the financial stability of its citizens during this uncertain time? Or not?

In an unstable and uncertain environment, the job of the Chancellor is to mitigate those losses with sound policies and sufficient spending to keep the economic boat afloat as long as is necessary, whilst also ploughing additional investment into the public and social infrastructure to support the economy. Instead, government spending policies over the last 10 years have left the country’s infrastructure in a perilous state and unable to respond effectively. The price in human lives, poverty and rising wealth inequality is to be added to the devastating effects of the pandemic.

And yet, still in mainstream reporting, it’s as if people’s lives matter less than digits on a computer. And all this despite the growing understanding of the sovereign powers of a currency-issuing government. Whilst politicians, think tanks and journalists still have their heads firmly stuck in the sand like ostriches, people are led to believe that there will be no alternative to a future reckoning if the country is not to be bankrupted or future generations of taxpayers burdened with huge debt.

The role of the media and indeed the political opposition, if we did but know it, is to challenge government. Not to uphold and reinforce its power. Their role is to make the government accountable for its political and spending decisions and to bring to public notice when it abuses its sovereign powers in favour of other estates. Its job is to ask questions. Instead, whilst they approve of government intervention at this serious time they still prefer to talk about the state of the public accounts, rising public debt and the consequences for future generations. Thus, they continue to reinforce the myths about how sovereign governments really spend. The neoliberal economic orthodoxy rules.

The Chancellor’s plans sit very much within the neoliberal economic orthodoxy, despite the vast sums of essential government spending to prop up the economy and secure people’s financial security. He has already let it be known that he is considering a freeze of benefits and public sector pay and abandoning the pension ‘triple lock’. It will no doubt be presented as a necessity to get public spending under control and pay back the vast sums of money it has supposedly ‘borrowed’.

However, the truth is that it will be more to do with the government’s long term aim which had its origins in the actions of successive governments since Thatcher to transfer public provision to the private sector whilst ensuring the state’s role as a cash cow to the corporate sector.

Whilst Sunak’s increased spending was and remains vital, there has been valid criticism of his plans both early on and now with the proposed job support scheme which was referred to more correctly as an ‘unemployment creation scheme’ by the tax campaigner Richard Murphy. Sunak has failed on all levels and the promised V-shaped recovery is looking less and less likely.

Apart from being a short-term solution to a problem which is likely to persist for some time, it will require employers to share the cost of paying wages with damaging consequences. This will, without doubt, provide a significant motivation to make staff redundant, not preserve jobs. It fails to support those working in the hospitality industry whose businesses have been put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions and furthermore the 3 million self-employed often working in creative industries have also once again lost out and will not benefit from these new measures. Far from being the party of the entrepreneur (unless of course, you happen to be rich one like Dyson and likely to contribute to your party funds), Sunak has shown complete disregard for the army of self-employed and small business entrepreneurs who make valuable contributions to the economy.

As the furlough scheme draws to a close, many thousands of people have already lost their employment and found themselves on Universal Credit. And yet many, despite the increased benefits now being paid, find themselves with insufficient income to manage their finances. Many hundreds of thousands will be added to that number over the next few months as the prospect of further restrictions resulting from the coming second wave of Coronavirus and the government’s inadequate plans.

The Resolution Foundation has suggested that it will be a significant mistake to end the £20 a week boost to tax credits and Universal Credit now being proposed by the Chancellor, the cut to come into effect next April. This the Resolution Foundation suggests rightly would clearly affect income and spending.

It has said that the rise in unemployment, combined with planned benefit cuts, means a ‘grim outlook for living-standards’. It has also noted that ‘The £20 a week boost can be seen as a reflection of the fact that out-of-work support was not adequate when we entered the crisis and – without the boost – certainly won’t be adequate in future. […] Ending the boost would mean withdrawing perhaps £8 billion from disposable incomes in 2021-22, precisely from those groups and places that need it most to support spending and the economic recovery in 2021-22.’ Removing that boost will have a huge negative impact on disposable incomes.

And here we come to the crux of the matter and one which the Chancellor cannot ignore. And that is, quite simply, that one person’s spending is another’s income. Rises in unemployment and proposals for public sector wage caps will drive the economy even further down the slippery slope.

On the one hand, Sunak says, ‘we must learn to live without fear’ and then counters that by saying ‘I cannot save every business. I cannot save every job’.

Whilst he implies he has no power to do otherwise and that people will have to bear the burden, he fails to mention that the government is in control. That it alone has the means, as a sovereign currency issuer, to mitigate the worst effects on the economy of the pandemic and indeed has the ability to use it to address the next great survival challenge bearing down on us like a tsunami – that of climate change (which seems strangely to have been put on the back burner).

The government, by dint of being the sovereign currency issuer, can spend what it needs to, within the limitations of real resources. It could rebuild a publicly-provided and paid-for infrastructure, both locally and nationally, thus providing more socially useful jobs paid at a living wage and could implement a permanent Job Guarantee to act as the economic stabilising mechanism to see us through this difficult time and most importantly to ensure a just transition towards an environmentally sustainable economy.

With such serious issues at stake, we must challenge the notion that the government cannot afford to deal with mass unemployment, poverty or climate change. We must challenge the notion that the government has to impose higher taxes or debt on the nation which limit what can be achieved to improve people’s lives.

Quite simply, the idea that there aren’t sufficient numeric digits available to make a better world is a fraud of the highest order. The future depends on our understanding it and challenging those that tout those lies either wilfully or unknowingly.

 

Further Reading:

National Debt https://gimms.org.uk/faq/what-is-the-national-debt/

Government Borrowing https://gimms.org.uk/faq/doesnt-the-government-have-to-borrow-when-it-spends-more-than-it-taxes/

The Job Guarantee https://gimms.org.uk/job-guarantee/

 

 

Upcoming Event

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Warren Mosler – Online

October 17 @ 17:00 pm – 18:30 pm

GIMMS is delighted to present its second ‘in conversation’ event.

GIMMS’ Associate Member Phil Armstrong whose new book will be published in November (details below) will be talking to Warren Mosler. Warren, who is one of the founding proponents of MMT, has dedicated the last 25 years to bringing that knowledge to a wider audience across the world and authored ‘The Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, published in 2010. He also sits on GIMMS advisory board.

Register via Eventbrite

 

Event recording

Phil Armstrong in Conversation with Bill Mitchell – Online

An audio recording of the event is now available via the MMT Podcast here

 

Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here

 

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The post Time to worry less (or better not at all) about the national debt and challenge the government’s economic record instead. appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

What’s the choice?

Do we accept there is no alternative to our rotten economic system or demand something different? Let’s re-examine our values and use our imaginations to redefine how we work and live.

Sign that says "imagine" fixed to a stone wallImage by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

“We shall deal first with the reluctance of the ‘captains of industry’ to accept government intervention in the matter of employment. Every widening of state activity is looked upon by business with suspicion, but the creation of employment by government spending has a special aspect which makes the opposition particularly intense. Under a laissez-faire system, the level of employment depends to a great extent on the so-called state of confidence. If this deteriorates, private investment declines, which results in a fall of output and employment (both directly and through the secondary effect of the fall in incomes upon consumption and investment).
This gives the capitalists a powerful indirect control over government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence must be carefully avoided because it would cause an economic crisis. But once the government learns the trick of increasing employment by its own purchases, this powerful controlling device loses its effectiveness. Hence budget deficits necessary to carry out government intervention must be regarded as perilous. The social function of the doctrine of ‘sound finance’ is to make the level of employment dependent on the state of confidence”.

(Michał Kalecki, 1943)

In 2010 Professor Michael Marmot published his independent review (commissioned in 2008 by the then Labour government) ‘Fair Society, Healthy Lives’ in which it was concluded that reducing health inequalities was a ‘matter of fairness and social justice’ and that ‘tackling social inequalities and tackling climate change must go together’. It recommended that reducing them would require action on six policy objectives:

  1. Give every child the best start in life
  2. Enable all children, young people and adults to maximise their capabilities and have control over their lives
  3. Create fair employment and good work for all
  4. Ensure healthy standard of living for all
  5. Create and develop healthy and sustainable places and communities
  6. Strengthen the role and impact of ill-health prevention.

The general election which the Conservatives won was premised on the illusion that Labour had spent too much and that it was necessary to restore the public finances to health. This, we were told, would necessitate a programme of austerity to cut public spending and balance the books. The government spent the next decade doing just that but at huge social cost as, a decade later, the evidence shows.

In February, just before Covid-19 began to take its toll both in lives and on the economy, The Institute of Health Equity published an update to mark 10 years from the 2010 report in which it highlighted the following:

  • People can expect to spend more of their lives in poor health
  • Improvements to life expectancy have stalled and declined for the poorest 10% of women
  • The health gap has grown between wealthy and deprived areas
  • Place matters – living in a deprived area of the North East is worse for your health than living in a similarly deprived area in London, to the extent that life expectancy is nearly five years less.

The comparison between the objectives in the original report and the current situation is stark. As Professor Marmot who is a director of the UCL Institute of Health noted:

‘This damage to the nation’s health need not, have happened … Austerity has taken a significant toll on equity and health, and it is likely to continue to do so. If you ask me if that is the reason for the worsening health picture, I’d say it is highly likely that is responsible for life expectancy flat-lining, people’s health deteriorating and the widening of health inequalities. Poverty has a grip on our nation’s health – it limits the options families have available to live a healthy life. Government health policies that focus on individual behaviours are not effective. Something has gone badly wrong.’

Addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and its on-going consequences has been made much more difficult as a result of the pursuit of unnecessary austerity driven by political aims and not financial necessity. Not only has our public and social infrastructure been devastated, but government policies have wrecked people’s lives – either through punishing social security reforms or wage policies designed to favour the interests of employers over employees. All being enabled by the lie that there was no money

Instead of prioritising the existing health inequalities that the original report revealed, the newly elected government chose, through its spending and employment policies, to purposefully ignore them. It pursued quite a different agenda which has proved to be more about reducing state intervention (with the incorrect narrative of unaffordability) whilst at the same time endlessly promoting the idea of personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Responsibility for the social determinants of health which should lie within the purview of government through its policies to ensure a healthy nation and economy, has thus been shifted downwards to citizens. The social and economic conditions in which people live determine both individual and national health and we have lost sight of the fact that the health of the nation is one of its most important assets. Poverty, poor wages and working conditions, the scourge of unemployment, a social security system unfit for purpose, poor housing, poor food, and a deficient education system are disturbing indicators that something is very wrong and demonstrate very clearly the toxic nature of market-driven policies deriving from neoliberal ideology.

At the same time, as a report published in February for the ONS (Office for National Statistics) ‘Social Capital 2020’ revealed, we are becoming an increasingly fragmented and divided society as trust in government has fallen and our sense of isolation and lack of community belonging has increased having a significantly deleterious effect on social cohesion.

So, when Boris Johnson and his cohorts began talking about levelling up, people began to feel hopeful that the government was beginning to take responsibility as a potential architect for restoring social cohesion through its spending and policy decisions to improve the lives of its citizens and create a society which understands collective obligation.

And yet to date, there has been little sign of government intervention on that score. In fact, the words ‘levelling up’ have yet to go beyond mere words. And indeed, as the debate about how the government’s vast fiscal injection will be paid for only this week, a Conservative MP suggested that the pandemic will make levelling up even harder, once again implying that scarcity of money will, in the end, put the brakes on further government action. It plays to our false understanding of how governments spend and allows the narrative of more taxes or perhaps another round of austerity to be justified.

The plain truth is that as we are increasingly learning government has become the agent of big business rather than the driver of social cohesion and well-being whilst at the same time acting as a cash cow for businesses, all without public accountability. Contracts being dished out left right and centre!

As has been noted in previous blogs the price we are paying is a heavy one. As voluntary organisations step in to bridge the gap whether it is university law students providing legal advice to plug the gap in access to justice, volunteers in the health service to support an overstretched NHS, or indeed those involved in food banks to keep hunger from the door of its many recipients we are being primed by an appeal to our goodwill to accept the idea that there is no alternative since public funds are we are told unavailable.

We are moving towards such goodwill actions becoming indispensable and the societal norm. Only last year the co-founder of Probonoeconomics Andy Haldane suggested that volunteering could help society and provide the NHS with skills which would otherwise cost ‘hundreds of pounds per hour’. At the same time, we have private residential care providers suggesting that robots could take the place of human contact in reducing loneliness amongst residents. When cutting costs and profit becomes the sole driver for human activity it is time to challenge such notions before it is too late.

Volunteering cannot become the default to plug those deliberately created gaps in health and social provision to serve a toxic market-driven ideology. Indeed, it could not fill those gaps adequately in the long term.

The implication that the government is financially embarrassed must be challenged. At every turn, we are treated to household budget narratives to defend government spending policy. And yet whilst the government can find billions for a test and trace service for Covid-19 (outsourced to private companies – Deloitte, Serco and G4S) it cannot find the money for publicly funded and delivered public service provision both at national and local level, a state-backed job guarantee or a basic living wage income to ensure that those who cannot work for any reason can live decently and without fear.

One of the key objectives of the 2010 report from the Institute of Health Equity mentioned at the beginning of this blog was to create fair employment and good work for all.

Good, well-paid employment either in the private or public sector is one of the vital ingredients for overall economic stability and a healthy society. The role of government therefore should be to ensure full employment as a policy objective to create stability both in normal and abnormal economic times such as these.

And yet whilst government continues to grapple with the economic fallout from Covid-19, which is not over by any means, its Chancellor seems to be sticking to his guns on closing the furlough scheme regardless of its implications and is supported by the Bank of England’s chief economist Andy Haldane who has warned against its extension on the basis that such a move would prevent a ‘necessary process of adjustment’ taking place.

On that basis, it would seem that rising unemployment will be in their eyes an acceptable price to pay for this shakeout whilst ignoring its damaging consequences on the economy and the knock-on effects on people’s financial stability and their health. Can we also suppose that it will likely be used to drive a further extension of a low wage, insecure employment economy?

The former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown at the same time has attacked the Bank of England for failing to place sufficient emphasis on job creation. As the architect of the supposed central bank independence he claimed would give it the freedom to control monetary policy. But this was, in reality, a convenient sham – a mechanism to sidestep government’s responsibility as an elected body to deliver economic stability. As Professor Bill Mitchell wrote in 2017 ‘The point is that central banks can never be independent of treasury departments and claims to the contrary were just part of the depoliticization of policy that accompanied neoliberalism’. The central bank is the servant, not the master.

Economic stability is in the hands of government through the policy choices it makes and its spending decisions. It alone has the power, through its currency sovereignty, to ensure full employment. Given the dire predictions for the economy in this obvious time of great change related to the pandemic and also the need to address climate change, we need a government committed to price stability through the implementation of a centrally funded and locally organised job guarantee to guide us through these difficult times. Whilst magic bullets don’t exist, it will be important to avoid a 1930s scenario of mass unemployment and ensure a just transition whilst the great climate change shakeout progresses. We need radical solutions, not next week, next month or next year we need them now.

And yet while Rishi Sunak talks about tax increases to pay for the coronavirus bailouts and the Treasury Committee suggests laying out a road map for the autumn budget for repairing the ‘hole in the public finances’ with a proposal for a temporary abandonment of the triple lock on pensions, the public are once again being primed for bad news. Whilst tax reform should be on the agenda, raising taxes at this juncture would be a foolish path to take which would do nothing to support the economy. And instead of repairing the ‘hole in the public finances’ a monetarily savvy government would be looking to repair the very real holes in the public and social infrastructure it alone has been responsible for over the last 10 years.

With the government we currently have in place, we might be whistling in the wind as it clearly has other objectives and other estates to serve. However, that does not mean that we, as an increasingly informed public through the power of civil movements, cannot force the sort of reset that would benefit ordinary people by redefining the role of government as a servant of the people rather than the rich and powerful global interests which currently influence policy and economic direction.

 

 

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The post What’s the choice? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Is the public purse empty?

The government wants you to believe that the public purse is empty and needs replenishing to set the finances straight. It’s not and it doesn’t. Time to challenge the lie or accept the inevitable economic consequences

 

Word cloud with the words tax, Challenge the lie, taxpayer, deficit, debt, government, prosperity, austerity, ideology, pandemic, Covid-19, coronavirus, treasury, money, spend, wealth,burden and recoveryOver the last few months, GIMMS has focused on the on-going impact of both politically derived austerity and the Covid-19 pandemic on the nation, along with the prospects for the economy in the future. Every week, we have aimed to build a picture of a nation where Covid-19 has revealed the stark nature of the consequences of economic ideology, government policies and spending decisions which have shaped our society over decades which has not only deprived many of economic stability in terms of employment and standards of living, but also skewed the distribution of wealth and resources towards an ever-smaller group of people. At the same time, we have continued to challenge the all-pervasive narrative that government spending is just like our own household budgets.

The two are intimately connected as political ideas and the usual explanation for why the government has to pull in its horns and reduce its spending. And yet in recent months as Rishi Sunak did what was necessary to keep the economy ticking over, bills paid and food on the table, people must surely be asking some difficult questions about why, if there was no money for public services in the 10 years leading up to the pandemic, that suddenly there is no shortage of it. How to explain this to the public? It seems contradictory to what we have been led to believe.

It has been encouraging to see that finally people are beginning to ask questions and that modern monetary realities are being discussed in the public domain. However, it would seem that as soon as a flicker of light at the end of the fiscal tunnel appears, the fiscal hawks get back onto their ideological saddles to keep the lie going that there will, in the end, be a price to pay.

Indeed, this week Philip Booth from the right-wing think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs claimed in an astonishing article in The Telegraph that young people should be just as concerned about rising public debt as climate change. He asked how can a young person be concerned about climate change and then complain about austerity but not be worried about increasing government debt that future generations will have to service?

Aside from the prospect of environmental decay and its human consequences – which surely must be a more pressing problem in terms of humanity’s future – in making an incorrect connection between an ageing population and a reduction in tax revenue, his words are aimed at creating more fear and preparing people in an endless repetition to accept there will be no alternative to tax increases to pay for it. While Mr Booth gets all hot and bothered at the thought of a £2 trillion debt noose which is more than 100% of GDP, he clearly missed the economic history lesson that after the second world war the debt to GDP ratio stood at 248% and yet we managed to build a successful economy alongside the public and social infrastructure that has provided a stable and secure framework for the nation’s overall health, until more recently that is.

Combining this fact with the monetary realities that sovereign currency-issuing governments like the UK’s have to spend first in order to collect any tax at all (which is exactly what the government has been doing even if it hides its action in the smoke and mirrors of ‘borrowing’) it is difficult to understand how in a sluggish or depressed economy such as will be likely maybe for years yet that the IEA would suggest increasing taxation. In an environment where demand is already suppressed as a result of Covid-19, that would be the most irresponsible action depriving working people of more of their income and forcing difficult decisions about their spending priorities – rent, bills, food or indeed discretionary items.

At the same time and in the same article, Paul Johnson from another right-wing think tank the IFS (Institute of Fiscal Studies) warned that the UK will have to compete for scarce finance as other countries run up ever-increasing deficits to fund their own Covid-19 recovery packages. The suggestion that money is scarce is just another distortion of monetary reality and fails to focus on the real challenge that all governments face – that of balancing the economy by matching their spending to available resources. There is no shortage of money, but it suits politicians and institutions to persuade us that there is.

The implication that rising debt poses a long-term threat to prosperity by imposing a debt burden on future taxpayers, or indeed that there is a scarcity of money, is just another irresponsible fear-inducing narrative aimed at restoring the household budget status quo which has suited and served the political, financial and corporate classes for too long. It suggests fear on their part that they are losing their grip and consequently a good time for a continuing challenge!

However, whilst the right-wing are preparing the ground to reinforce their political power, not just monetarily but through continuing with their long-held aim to destroy the last vestiges of democracy and our welfare state, the left-wing and other constituencies continue to shoot themselves in the foot, thus helping the right-wing to maintain the household budget illusions to serve their own interests.

The campaigning body 38 degrees sent a petition email to its supporters this week in which it said:

‘Rumours are swirling that [Rishi Sunak] is considering raising corporation tax to help pay for vital public services. It means companies will have to pay a little bit more tax, to help fund our schools and NHS and get out of this crisis.’

As already noted, this would be exactly the wrong time to increase taxes, but implying that such an action is needed to fund public services is just another example of how the household budget model reigns – not just in the minds of those in the political arena (even though one might question that they know perfectly well how the public money system operates) but also more broadly in the public consciousness, campaign groups included.

Let’s be clear at the risk of repetition: spending precedes taxation, therefore a sovereign, currency-issuing government neither needs to tax to spend or to borrow to cover its deficit. Once the monetary framework is understood, then it becomes clear that all spending decisions are political ones deriving from a political agenda. Who wins or loses out and how we want as a nation to see real resources distributed are the real question we should be asking; not mithering about the state of the public finances – that’s just part of the smoke and mirrors being perpetrated by government to serve their own agenda.

In this week’s Times, it was suggested that Treasury officials were planning to plug the ‘hole’ in the nation’s finances by raising corporation tax. At the same time, the left argues to increase it to pay for public services! As Professor L Randall Wray notes, ‘they compound their confusion – not only do they insist on being wrong about the purpose of taxes, but they also embrace one of the worst ones’. The stakes are high now in terms of the future of the economy so either argument is entirely based on the wrong premise that raising taxes will perform a specific function. However, the left wing’s focus on making the rich pay is as erroneous an argument as raising tax to get the finances back into balance is.

However, returning to the subject of corporation tax for a moment, whilst the government does not need tax to spend, it does need to implement tax reform within the context of creating a fairer distribution of wealth and resources – that being one of the real purposes of taxation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the already existing inequalities which have deepened over the last few months. Moreover, the economy over decades has been skewed towards benefiting those who are already some of the wealthiest at the expense of working people in terms of standards of living, well-paid employment and good terms and conditions.

George Osborne cut the corporation tax rate to one of the lowest in the world in the belief that wealth trickles down. Lower taxes mean businesses will invest more, employ more staff, increase wages or pass benefits onto customers in lower prices, or so the trickle-down mantra goes. What it does, in reality, is increase profits and any benefits that are accrued are passed directly onto shareholders, thus reinforcing the already existing inequalities.

However, it is important to note that tax reform will be but one of the ways of rebalancing these inequalities and should be combined with:

  • direct government action in the form of increased spending on the public and social infrastructure which supports a healthy economy and
  • a Job Guarantee to bring about a rebalancing of the power structures towards working people whose standards of living have been eroded by decades of wilfully created unemployment to suit the corporations.

In conclusion and with the question hanging in the air as to how this huge injection of public money will be paid for being raised daily, we point to Ari Rabin-Havt’s article in the Jacobin in which he notes that the ‘The government’s pantry isn’t bare – the people’s pantry is bare’ As he concludes:

We cannot simply be satisfied with making policy arguments against austerity and the serial exaggerations of fiscal warriors. We need to wipe from our lexicon their ignorant metaphors that equate government financing with household financing. When they are wielded as part of our policy debate it should be met with pure derision.”

 

 

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The post Is the public purse empty? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.