The Unlimited Financial Capacity of Currency-Issuing Governments

Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, much like policy responses to the global financial crisis and Great Recession of a decade ago, carry a couple of clear macroeconomic lessons for anyone who cares to learn them:

1. A currency-issuing government faces no revenue constraint.
2. A currency-issuing government dictates the terms on which it issues debt.

It is not only electorates that, understandably, have been slow to appreciate these aspects of reality. Plenty of economists, perhaps with less excuse, also exhibit little understanding. The lessons had better be learned fast, or austerity will be applied once the situation attenuates on the spurious grounds of “paying for” the fiscal deficits of the present period. While fiscal restraint, in some measure, may turn out to be appropriate, depending on the presence or absence of inflationary pressures, “paying for” past deficits can never be a legitimate justification for a tightening of fiscal policy.

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