Tuesday, October 08, 2019

MMT Misconceptions part 2

Let's push on looking at the misconceptions Doug Henwood's essay, Modern Monetary Theory Isn’t Helping.

Note: For clarity, I've added the label "Misconception:" to the boldfaced titles.

Misconception: MMT is about American Exceptionalism
Another serious problem with MMT is its embeddedness in a rich-country perspective, and in particular American exceptionalism. . . . MMT’s unacknowledged dependence on the exorbitant privilege of the United States —Mitchell is about the only high-profile MMTer from abroad — is almost completely unaddressed by its proponents.

American economists study the American economy. Quelle surprise. Granted, the US is indeed an exceptional economy. So what? How much does MMT rely on American exceptionalism, which really is singular, rather than its monetary sovereignty, which is not universal but more broadly shared? As Henwood later mentions, other countries such as "Canada, Japan, and Britain, though to a lesser degree" have monetary sovereignty. Henwood does not, however, compare how MMT applies to those countries which do have monetary sovereignty but not the United States' singular privilege. Instead, he jumps right to Allende and Chavez:
But less privileged countries have to worry about foreign investors dumping their bonds and driving down the value of their currency, which would jack up interest rates and inflation. Salvador Allende’s government greatly increased spending and raised the incomes of the poorest in Chile in the early 1970s; that worked nicely for a while, but then inflation took off. Allende wasn’t operating from the MMT playbook, merely resorting to policies pursued by many progressive governments facing political opposition and resource constraints. But such experiments rarely end well, and similar problems would face a poor country trying to stimulate its way to prosperity today, as we see in Venezuela now.
Wait, what!? Am I reading Jacobin or The Economist? Such experiments rarely end well not because they are economically inept but because the United States sends the CIA or the Marines to put a stop to it.

Misconception: MMT should address International Trade and International Political Economy
Those countries need, for example, to import things priced in dollars, like oil, and the value of their currency has a direct effect on living standards that Americans are insulated from because we can print the currency in which that oil is priced. Brazil, in turn, has even less freedom; it needs harder currencies like dollars and euros to import commodities and advanced manufactured goods; and poorer countries like Bolivia or Ghana have even less. To buy essential imports, these countries often have to borrow in those hard currencies. To pay off the loans, they need to earn foreign currency through exports.

MMT has little helpful to say about that situation.

I will note that not only do MMT scholars say little about IPE, they say nothing whatsoever about the heartbreak of psoriasis. So what? MMT is a theory about domestic monetary and fiscal macroeconomics.

Misconception: Advocates present MMT as a socialist panacea
MMTers show a strange lack of interest in the specificity of capitalism — how production and distribution are organized, how demand for credit arises in the course of commerce, how people earn their living and under what conditions . . . Through the fantasy of effortless keystroke money, all those relations of necessity and power supposedly get wiped away.

Supposedly? Supposed by whom? I've never seen any MMT scholar say that MMT will wipe away capitalist economic relations.

I will grant Henwood that a socialist will not find a complete plan for socialism in MMT. Anyone who thinks MMT is a socialist theory is both dumb and not a legitimate MMT scholar. But Henwood hardly needs however many thousands of words to get there. Just call L. Randall Wray and ask him, Is MMT a socialist theory? To which I imagine Wray would reply, What, are you high or just stupid? MMT is about how to run a capitalist economy. Boom! I could have saved Jacobin however much money they paid Thomas Friedman Doug Henwood. (Sorry, I keep getting those two confused.)

That's enough singing for today, lads. More on the weekend.

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