As Joe Biden tries to split the difference between the midwestern swing-state voters and the Sanders faithful, he's released an economic plan - a plan that bears the imprimatur of his one-time foe Bernie Sanders - that, in its attempt to be everything to every one, effectively promises everything to every one.
Buy American. Green New Deal. Corporate tax hikes. Trillions of dollars spent on infrastructure to install the latest eco-nonsense with money that should be going to roads, bridges, rails and airports. Docks and highways. Things people actually need and use. And who knows? Depending on his running mate, maybe we'll get a massive student-debt jubilee, too. All on the federal government's tab.
Now that MMT has gone from fringe idea to mainstream, making Stephanie Kelton, a cryptomarxist who believes that the link between value and money can be completely severed, so long as we tax the wealthiest among us enough to keep inflation low. It doesn't take a genius to suspect that an 'economic theory' grounded in the idea that governments can take on unlimited amounts of debt and never stick anybody with the tab sounds absurd - even dangerous.
We say dangerous because Kelton's greatest sin is offering pandering politicians more cover to encourage their spendthrift ways. During a recent interview with Macro Hive, former Central Bank of India Governor and University of Chicago Professor Raghuram Rajan delivered a succinct and insightful explanation of why MMT is so dangerous.
"We talked about sustainability and one of the big topics in markets at least is this whole idea of QE MMT infinity, the ability of sovereigns to borrow. Now in developed countries, they have historical capital they’ve built up and credibility," Rajan's interviewer began. "But you’re starting to also see this idea...you're starting to see more emerging market countries experiment with it, including Indonesia and several others."
But at the same time "yields are very low, and if you look at emerging market spreads, they're very low...so markets are telling you that they aren’t worried. Yet we know debt levels are high, and there’s more talk in debt markets of QE and MMT."
Does the fact that markets seem content with the status quo (at least for now) validate Kelton's argument?
Of course not, Rajan explained. Because while the complexities of the global financial system, and the dollar's role within it, have allowed the Fed to spearhead this great monetary, as the veteran central banker explained, there's no such thing as a free lunch.
"We know that markets can be complacent until a certain point and then they turn on a time. We are at this point in a benign phase supported by an enormous amount of central bank liquidity emanating from the primary reserve currencies, the euro area, the US Fed and to some extent the Bank of Japan and the Bank of England."
"But we must also recognize is that there are no free lunches. If there’s one statement you want to keep to pound into the head of every policy maker, it’s that there are no free lunches. If you borrow today, there is a presumption that it will be repaired at some point, so you are in a sense taking away resources from somebody else in the future."
"Now it may be a generation or two down the line will be on the hook for this...whether they can pass it on to their children is an open question...but you’re definitely taking away their ability to borrow by borrowing today."
.While burdening future generations doesn't seem to come up much in cryptomarxist essays about the moral imperative of expansive fiscal spending - some have gone so far as to argue that the federal government has a moral obligation to forgive student debt - Rajan acknowledges that the idea is "seductive" for all the wrong reasons.
"So the idea that there are free lunches...which certainly is what the lay person takes away from MMT...is very sort of attractive, seductive - but it’s absolute nonsense."
If that’s the message that’s going to be communicated, then that’s wrong.
Asked to elaborate, he continued...
"There are times when you can spend a little bit more, but you are still making a trade off and evaluating this trade off well...I think that’s the right thing to do. If that’s the message from MMT, then I’m fine with that. There are periods where you have more leeway."
"The message can’t be ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ it has to be ‘yes take advantage of periods when you have a little more spending capacity but use it wisely, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch and you will have to repay it at some point...that's what any sensible economic theory will tell you, and I think that’s what we understand now."
"When banks aren’t lending, when inflation is low, it is possible for the central bank to expand its balance sheet somewhat...and finance more activities that the government wants to undertake. That doesn't mean it’s free debt…it's equivalent to debt issued by the government - think of the central bank issuing debt as the same as the government issuing debt: it's the consolidated balance sheet you're looking at."
"Somebody is responsible for payment, it's either the central bank or the government."
"At low interest rates it doesn't really matter who it is, but as inflation picks ups it does matter a little more who it is because the central bank often is financing itself with effectively forced loans from the banking sector, and there’s a limit to how much the banking sector is willing to do that, especially as economic activity picks up."
"So my sense is yes there is some room now but it doesn't mean the debt level doesn't matter and it doesn’t mean that we should just keep spending without thought of who’s going to repay. And I think the big philosophical issues are how much are you going to bail out companies...why should Joe Schmoe...why should his taxes go to bail out a capital owner? After all, neither of them saw the pandemic coming...neither is responsible for the pandemic...so why should one bail out the property rights of another?"
"It strikes me these guys who want to open up the government wallet and spend to protect everybody from the consequences of the pandemic don’t realize that there’s one person who’s bearing the hit: it may not be you, but it might be your children."
"And the question is: Why do they have to pay when they have no part in this?"
Remember: As Rajan explains, we must recognize that our resources are limited and use them wisely. Keep that in mind when Democratic politicians are trying to spend trillions of dollars of public money to outfit private buildings with solar panels or whatever 'Green New Deal' infrastructure travesty AOC & Co come up with.
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Source: Macro Hive