A perennial question for Marxists is how to overturn capitalism. Will institutional changes that improve the lot of workers but fall short of ending capitalism immediately help or harm this cause? To the extent that social struggle is a learning-by-doing process, it may be that the securing of small gains can whet the appetite for more significant gains and that institutional reforms of a transformational nature can place revolution on a more secure footing if and when it does occur. But there is also the possibility of complacency in which workers come to tolerate capitalism so long as their own situation is not so dire.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) offers an understanding of sovereign (and non-sovereign) currencies that is applicable to a wide range of economic systems, including capitalist and socialist ones. Irrespective of the personal political preferences of its proponents, the theoretical framework in itself is neutral on the appropriate balance between public sector and private sector activity, or the relative merits of capitalism and socialism. In contrast to neoclassical theory, which starts from a general presumption in favor of private market-based activity except where the existence of market failure in excess of government failure can be explicitly established, MMT as a theory characterizes the appropriate mix of public and private activity as a social (or political) choice.
With Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) making inroads in the public policy debate, some New Keynesians have transitioned from ignoring or dismissing the approach to engaging with it. This is healthy for both sides. There has been a tendency, though, to make “we’ve known it all along” type statements. A comprehensive response to the “nothing new” claims is provided by Bill Mitchell in a recent three-part series of posts (part 1, part 2 and part 3). My focus here is narrower and concerns a view (for example, expressed in a considered response here) along the lines that MMT has nothing new to say when the economy is at full employment.
Of the various criticisms leveled at a combined ‘job or income guarantee‘, ones appealing to fairness usually go along the lines that it would be unfair for healthy individuals outside the workforce to receive an income while others are occupied in jobs. In considering this objection, a number of points come to mind:
Things have been pretty quiet around here this year. The temptation to embed music videos or insert other snippets of creativity has been resisted because, well, heteconomist has not really paid its way with the requisite quota of economics posts to justify it. Increasingly economics seems to be not only a lost cause but rather beside the point. In any case, with remarkable self-discipline any straying off topic has been put on hold until the Christmas/New Year period, which has now arrived. Hopefully all are well and enjoying a nice break.
As is well known, Marx and the classical political economists before him made a distinction between productive and unproductive labor. Marx’s distinction somewhat differed from Smith’s. For Marx, labor is productive when it is: (i) directly productive of surplus value; and (ii) exchanged directly against capital. I remain unsure how applicable the distinction is to a state money system. Some of my misgivings are explained in an earlier post. The uncertainty has held back an attempt to explore connections between Marx and Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). To get around this, here I proceed on an as if basis by assuming for the sake of argument that the distinction is meaningful.
In some recent posts, a job guarantee has been considered within the income-expenditure framework. One post in particular suggested a possible conceptualization of the dynamics of the model. It was shown that these dynamics are consistent with the model’s steady state requirements. Demonstrating this took a fair bit of algebra, which may have obscured for some readers the simplicity of the actual model. Much of the algebra was only needed for the specific purpose of verifying that the suggested dynamics are valid. At least for the version of the model presently under consideration, this task has now been accomplished. It is justifiable just to focus on the basic model which is really quite simple while still allowing for somewhat complicated behavior. Below, an example of this behavior is provided. First, though, it seems worth putting things into context with a quick summary of the key variables and parameters.
The first section of the previous post outlined basic steady state relationships in a simplified economy with a job guarantee. There are various ways of expressing the same relationships that shed light on what is going on in the model. Here, a few ways of thinking about the levels of total income and job guarantee spending are noted.
A job guarantee would be a standing offer of a publicly funded job, with spending on the program adjusting automatically and countercyclically in response to take-up of positions. The likely feedback between spending on the program and activity in general is interesting and can be considered within the income-expenditure framework. In what follows, the standard model is modified to find the steady state levels and compositions of income and employment and other key variables. Attention then turns to how the system might behave outside a steady state. A way of conceptualizing the dynamics of the system is suggested and formulas developed to describe that behavior. The suggested dynamics are shown to be consistent with steady state requirements.
The following is mostly intended as background for a possible post (or posts) on quantity effects of a job guarantee in which the standard income-expenditure model is taken as a base. It is desirable to work from as simple a starting point as possible as the exercise can complicate pretty quickly. To minimize unnecessary complications, the base model will be presented in highly abbreviated form. This will not cause anything important to be lost because it is always possible to switch back to the more detailed version of the model when desired. The abbreviation has already appeared here and there in earlier posts, but to avert possible confusion it seems advisable to spell out exactly how it corresponds to the more familiar version of the model.