Tuesday, September 17, 2019

MMT and hyperinflation

Greg Curtis gives us the third installment of his hysterical and almost completely uninformed condemnation of MMT: A Few Disastrous Examples of Government Overspending.

Curtis employs an all-too-common trope: Look at these bad events! They were really bad! And they were bad — the author asserts without evidencebecause of this thing I don't like. Don't do that thing! (For rhetoric nerds, this is (at best) a cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.)

For example, Hitler and Stalin killed a lot of people! That's bad! They were atheists! Therefore,tThey killed those people because they were atheists! Don't be atheists! Leaving aside whether they really did "wrongly" (whatever that means) kill a lot of people (Hitler probably, I'm not that sure about Stalin) and whether they actually were atheists (Stalin probably, Hitler not so much), how do we know that it was the atheism specifically that caused the killings? They both had mustaches; how do we know that wasn't the cause? Almost all (male) politicians in Murrica (fuck yeah!) are clean-shaven. Coincidence? Wake up, sheeple!

Curtis invokes Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Zimbabwe, and Weimar Germany! Look at those bad events! They all had something nebulous in common with MMT!

But should we trust his judgment? Let's look at a couple of specific claims. First,
Consider Venezuela, where staggering overspending by the Chávez regime has led to hyperinflation currently running at 10 million per cent per annum and a failed state.
Really? Chávez died in 2013. All right; we'll consider his successor, Nicolás Maduro Moros part of the "Chávez regime". More importantly, hyperinflation in Venezuela starts in 2012, fourteen years after Chávez took office in 1998 (and just a year or so before his death).

Curtis puts the blame for the Holocaust on MMT: in the Weimar republic,
Colossal money-​printing led, naturally, to hyperinflation: the mark, which had traded at 4.2 to the dollar in 1919, traded at 1 million to the dollar in 1923.

The resultant social instability hollowed out the political middle in the country, and power shifted to the radical extremes: the National Socialists on the right and the Communists on the left. By 1933 the Nazis had won and a few years later Germany launched World War II.

Sixty million people died in that war, including six million Jews, homosexuals and gypsies who were murdered by the Third Reich. When MMT goes bad, as it inevitably does, it goes very bad.

Again, was they hyperinflation the cause of Weimar republic's economic problems or a symptom of something else? It's not like Germany had to pay crushing war reparations or anything. Again more importantly, the Weimar hyperinflation was stabilized in the middle of the 1920s, some years before the Second Imperialist War. Perpaps Curtis is right: clearly there are no other systemic economic crises between the mid-1920s and 1933 </sarcasm>.

It is true that if a government only prints a metric assload of money, and literally does nothing else to manage the currency, then that country will experience hyperinflation. Doctor! It hurts when I do this! Well, don't do that.

Do MMT scholars advise that governments should just print a metric assload of money? No. Do they also advocate governments should do nothing else to manage the currency? Of course not. Curtis knows this, since he does admit that spending can be managed by (ugh!) raising taxes. But Curtis ain't buying: "[T]he notion that a Progressive government would raise taxes on the middle class merely to make up for its own foolishness is outright silly." Because, of course, no progressive government ever has raised taxes on the middle class </sarcasm>.

Look, the world has had a completely fiat global monetary system since 1971. Governments have been creating money since, well, the beginning of recorded history. It can certainly be done poorly: anything can be done poorly with catastrophic consequences. Furnaces catch fire or release carbon monoxide into the house, killing everyone. Airplanes crash. Automobiles crash. But we still heat our houses, fly around the globe, and drive to work. We need more than Curtis's hysterical, incompetent oversimplifications to keep us safe.

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