Never Forget

As a person who was first socially identified as white while a sophomore in college in the ’60s (for more on that, see Karen Brodkin, author of “How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America”) I was struck by Raúl Carrillo’s recent Facebook post:

“With just one month until the MMT conference, I want to share some personal notes with people of color (and people of flavor ;)) interested in participating, but anxious about the typical bullshit. Perhaps, especially, I’m speaking to Black, Latinx, and Native folks from the U.S., because that’s most of my personal friends, and I have an embedded sense of how our time and energy are precious. So…I want to humbly encourage everyone to join us in NYC, but also let you know….why.

With so much going down, why should we give a shit about learning about *money,* specifically, as opposed to, say, economics, broadly? How does the struggle against racial capitalism — and other modes of oppression — benefit from monetary analysis (and specifically MMT)?

To put it bluntly: money is a central feature of society, but one of the least understood features. Plenty of folks study taxation, banking, finance, and macro, but few study money itself. I happen to think this is a mistake: Money must be a fundamental unit of power analysis. To borrow a crude analogy, studying economics with a bad grasp of money is like studying biology with a bad grasp of physics. Really understanding money deepens us and helps us protect ourselves from getting swindled.

The Modern Money paradigm views money as a relationship between each of us and the state. It’s a technology at the interface between us and raw power. It’s an almost unspeakably important site of both despair and hope, so, strategically, we need to wrap our heads around it.

It does help to have a sense of the history and anthropology, here. To briefly summarize: money did not “froth up” from barter or peaceful exchange. That myth masks the deeper, darker origins of our economic system. In contrast to the usual story — which literally features two peaceful white dudes swapping surplus goods on an island — the value and use of money is driven by legal coercion. Throughout world history, governments (and other powerful entities, like priesthoods and guilds) have issued specific currencies to coordinate social activity. They ensure some level of value for that currency by demanding payment from each of us in specific contexts and specific times. In the U.S., comfortable white folks might only really think about that in April. For most everyday people, this is all day, every day, throughout history, in obvious ways. Don’t have the money to pay court fines for literally being Black in Ferguson? Go to jail. Don’t have the paper to pay your way out of the draft? Go to war. Don’t have the dollars to pay damages for “loitering” or “trespassing”? Give us what you have, then starve, and maybe got to jail or war anyway.

Some people want money to thrive. But we all need it to survive. And so the world goes ’round. The omnipresent threat of monetized, standardized punishment stabilizes the currency, and drives its usage among private citizens (who are encouraged to hoard and pillage from each other).

In the context of imperialism, this is all quite explicit. Throughout Africa, colonial administrators issued currency & demanded it back in taxes in order to compel entire societies to grow cash crops, rather than subsistence crops. In German East Africa, if you didn’t do the kind of work that got you the right kind of legal tender, they burned your home and took your livestock. In New England, colonists took advantage of confusion about money and debt to dispossess indigenous peoples of their lands and pave the way for expansion through the mortgage system. The list goes on. Even today, the most powerful countries in the world unsubtly hold the Global South hostage, demanding payment specifically in the currencies they control, in exchange for food, energy, and arms.

So, money is regularly used as a tool of state power. But governments also delegate the money power. In the modern U.S., this is a particularly chronic problem. Uncle Sam charters, licenses, and regulates banks as franchises that invoke the government’s power to lend, invest, and grow the economy. But in reality, banks operate as exploitative public utilities. When they’re not excluding people of color outright, they’re surveilling us, speculating on our ability to hold onto property, and stripping wealth from our neighborhoods. When they get bailed out, we get austerity. And to add insult to injury, the government watches this all go down without guaranteeing any of us can even work, can even participate within the system, to start getting money again, to pay the piper. The elimination of the material conditions of self-sufficiency rolls the fuck on.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Because money – the foundational tool of the economy, is a creature of public law, not private markets — we have some hope for transformation. By demanding the state fulfill its duties, and use public money for public purpose – as well as creating alternative institutions within civil society — we can break the cycle of crisis, austerity, and extraction. We can break the cycle that is currently wheeling us into fascism and climate cataclysm.

MMT is not a utopian project. Although I’m a Job Guarantee champion, the JG is not a “silver bullet.” It needs to be part of a suite of social changes. As my friend Angela Harris has quite rightfully pointed out, the MMT community, like most other camps of economic discourse, has not always done the necessary work of incorporating analyses attuned to race, gender, and identity. (https://lpeblog.org/…/09/modern-money-and-historical-trauma/)

But we are improving. I can confidently claim that we are improving drastically, quickly. More broadly, we are constantly evolving from a small crew focused on interventions rooted in a narrow set of (crucial) policy theses and becoming a deep social and institutional ecosystem. A truly vibrant community. With that in mind, we’ve moved this year’s conference from Kansas City to NYC. With that in mind, this year’s theme is “Public Money, Public Purpose, Public Power”, signalling our efforts to build bridges between social justice movements and inspire broad-based participation.

I firmly believe that the MMT community’s future lies in incorporating and advancing diversity and equity in our organizing and in our pedagogy. (http://www.mmtconference.org/diversity.html)

I already know MMTers have a lot to learn from friends in parallel struggles, from other folks helping everyday people better understand other features of the world and grapple with them. Reciprocally, I hope that folks involved in other struggles see value in the Modern Money community, and together, we can continue building, growing, and nurturing a better world.

Hope to see you at the New School!

http://www.mmtconference.org/

Love and solidarity,

Ra”

Remembering FDR

We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics. Out of the collapse of a prosperity whose builders boasted their practicality has come the conviction that in the long run economic morality pays. We are beginning to wipe out the line that divides the practical from the ideal; and in so doing we are fashioning an instrument of unimagined power for the establishment of a morally better world.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Second Inaugural Address,” January 11, 1944

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

● The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

● The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

● The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

● The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

● The right of every family to a decent home;

● The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

● The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

● The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”
– Franklin D. Roosevelt, “Second Bill of Rights,” January 11, 1944

Why Health Care Matters and the Current Debt Does Not

After taking note of a slide in this 2012 Randy Wray video, I chased down the source for this much quoted statement from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, from Why Health Care Matters and the Current Debt Does Not Oct, 2011

As the sole manufacturer of dollars, whose debt is denominated in dollars, the U.S. government can never become insolvent, i.e., unable to pay its bill. In this sense, the government is not dependent on credit markets to remain operational. Moreover, there will always be a market for U.S. government debt at home because the U.S. government has the only means of creating risk-free dollar denominated assets.

After a lifetime of feeling vaguely gaslighted, it’s a relief when economists help me understand how things work. In looking for the source, I came across a group of interesting quotes in this post from economist John Harvey (@John_T_Harvey):

“The United States can pay any debt it has because we can always print money to do that. So there is zero probability of default.”
— Alan Greenspan

“In the case of United States, default is absolutely impossible. All U.S. government debt is denominated in U.S. dollar assets.”
— Peter Zeihan, Vice President of Analysis for STRATFOR

“In the case of governments boasting monetary sovereignty and debt denominated in its own currency, like the United States (but also Japan and the UK), it is technically impossible to fall into debt default.”
— Erwan Mahe, European asset allocation and options strategies adviser

“There is never a risk of default for a sovereign nation that issues its own free-floating currency and where its debts are denominated in that currency.”
— Mike Norman, Chief Economist for John Thomas Financial

“There is no inherent limit on federal expenses and therefore on federal spending…When the U.S. government decides to spend fiat money, it adds to its banking reserve system and when it taxes or borrows (issues Treasury securities) it drains reserves from its banking system. These reserve operations are done solely to maintain the target Federal Funds rate.”
— Monty Agarwal , managing partner and chief investment officer of MA Managed Futures Fund

Our growing collection of quotes are here.