Progressives — That’s Not How Money Works!

This post originally appeared at Imagine Democracy. Written by Dave Johnson.

There is a NYTimes Guest Essay, What Kind of Country Do You Want? Start With Taxes.. Supposedly a progressive answer to Republican tax cuts for the rich & their corporations nonsense, it actually reinforces conservative arguments about government spending.

The essay amplifies conservative propaganda about the “price tag” of government tax cuts and spending. It uses conservative terminology like “revenue,” “borrowing” and “fiscal crisis.” This wording keeps people trapped in a medieval/conservative “gold standard” thought system about money that limits what governments can do to make people’s lives better.

The US dropped the gold standard some time ago. In a modern economy the government issues currency, period. The US government is not “funded” and certainly doesn’t have to round up or borrow gold before it can do things. It is not “in debt.” Think about what “bankrupt” means to a country that prints its own currency. It certainly doesn’t mean we can’t find enough gold to hand over and have to sell off the Washington Monument or the US Capitol. (Actually Congress has already sold itself but that’s another post.)

Taxes Are Not Revenue

Taxes do not “raise revenue.” Taxes balance income and wealth distribution and bring fairness. They incentivize desired behaviours. But they do not “fund” the federal government. The US government is not a family around a kitchen table scraping together a few dollars to pay for food, it manages a modern economy.

Instead of the current medieval-based system of superstitiously limiting spending “in case” doing so might “trigger” inflation, governments must do actual work to plan spending according to production capacities, available labor, available resources, etc in order to keep inflation at bay.

Free Your Minds

Understanding how modern money and budgeting works frees progressives to be able to get things done to make people’s lives better. Why can’t government guarantee a well-paying job with benefits to people who want to help solve society’s problems. For example teacher’s aides, elder or child care, insulating homes, etc? Why can’t government do what is needed to fight the climate crisis and transform to a green economy? Once you understand how money works the possibilities reveal themselves.

However

However, the public is not caught up with an understanding of modern budgeting, and these concepts could scare people and leave them vulnerable to conservative fear-mongering about “government spending” and “debt.” Wall Street and conservatives do everything they can to scare the public into thinking progressives will “bankrupt” the country. For now please just stop reinforcing old fashioned terms that limit what we can do while we wait for people to catch up with understanding how money really works. Do not use terms like “funding” and “revenue” and “borrowing” and “deficits” and “debt” in your discussions of budgets and taxes. We can say the same things without reinforcing those harmful concepts.

The Word Is Spreading – DownWithTyranny

At DownWithTyranny, Happy New Year– So How Do We Pay For All The Stuff Bernie Is Campaigning On?

You’ll need to understand this stuff when you argue with your brother-in-law next Thanksgiving. By then, even he may be admitting he likes, for example, Medicare For All, but is worried how we’ll pay for it. Unless he’s already a student of Stephanie Kelton’s economic work, he probably has no idea.

The DownWithTyranny post links to TruthOut’s somewhat hard-to-read “But How Will We Pay for It?”: Modern Monetary Theory and Democratic Socialism, by Sean Keith and Alexander Kolokotronis.

Whoa, Cowboy!

Take a look at the op-ed by Stephanie Kelton in today’s LA Times, Congress can give every American a pony (if it breeds enough ponies).

Kelton introduces the idea that a government that issues its own currency can create money from nowhere, writing,

“Whoa, cowboy! Are you telling me that the government can just make money appear out of nowhere, like magic? Absolutely. Congress has special powers: It’s the patent-holder on the U.S. dollar. No one else is legally allowed to create it. This means that Congress can always afford the pony because it can always create the money to pay for it.

Now, that doesn’t mean the government can buy absolutely anything it wants in absolutely any quantity at absolutely any speed. (Say, a pony for each of the 320 million men, women and children in the United States, by tomorrow.) That’s because our economy has internal limits. If the government tries to buy too much of something, it will drive up prices as the economy struggles to keep up with the demand. Inflation can spiral out of control. There are plenty of ways for the government to get a handle on inflation, though. For example, it can take money out of the economy through taxation.”