MMT and Tactics

There is an interesting discussion taking place at Mike Norman Economics that touches on tactical aspects of promoting an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT). I want to comment briefly on a couple of points raised in that discussion. One aspect concerns the value of explaining the basics of economic theory to a wider audience. The other aspect concerns the effectiveness of targeting regular voters rather than leading politicians and policymakers.

In one thread addressing the dissemination of MMT, Dan Kervick argues:

I think it’s not really about framing, and it’s not about elevator pitches, and its not about catchy hooks for MMT as such.

The issue is that MMT is a kind of economic theory. And most voters do not care much about economic theories and never will care much about economic theories.

What the public wants is an agenda. They want an action plan that will paint a picture of the future and point them on the road to it.

I think Dan makes a good point about the importance of a well defined agenda, but disagree with the suggestion that voters don’t care about economic theory. They have embraced wholeheartedly neoliberal economic theory for decades now. They might not know what it is – most of them wouldn’t have a clue – but they have bought it big time!

Many in the public believe that a currency sovereign can go broke, that budget deficits mean high interest rates, that quantitative easing spells hyperinflation, that public debt will be a burden on their kids and grandkids, along with an array of other nonsense, and cling to these beliefs tenaciously, against all evidence.

In all likelihood, repetition of catchy hooks (“TINA”) and elevator pitches have had quite a bit to do with selling these ideas to the public.

Although people may be open to a new agenda, they will not accept it without answers to the questions, “How is this affordable?” and “How is this sustainable?” That is where an understanding of currency sovereignty comes in.

Fortunately, the basics of currency sovereignty are at least as easy to comprehend as the neoliberal superstitions many have internalized as their own, and so should be teachable. No doubt, some catchy hooks and elevator pitches would not go astray in helping to drum these ideas into public consciousness.

In a different thread, another commenter, SchittReport, argues that regular voters are the wrong audience to convince because the movers and shakers in policy and politics are the ones who get things done:

[T]he key is not to convince some internet or real life peasants – why is everyone targeting this audience? – the key is to convince those with the authority, power and resources to change the monetary system – and in that regard, you not only need a well structured and concise presentation (PP, visual or otherwise) – you need to outline the economic impact of the changes and in particular, with respect to the key decision makers and stakeholders.

[W]hy would the decision makers in the govt, at the fed, banks et al. have any desire for change if you can’t outline what’s in it for everyone after MMT policies are implemented?

My view is that policy will never be formulated in the interests of the public unless regular voters exert concerted pressure from below. It may not even be possible for a sympathetic government to introduce policies beneficial to the 99 percent unless it is compelled by strong political and industrial pressure, expressed through protests, strikes (preferably general strikes), and other forms of nonviolent struggle. Under any other circumstances, the 1 percent will not stand for it.

However, even pressure from below is useless if the public is merely pushing for solutions derived – albeit unknowingly – from neoliberal economic theories. The neoliberal mythology needs to be dispelled, to make transparent the options that are actually available to the community. There are, of course, plenty of alternatives, both affordable and sustainable, whether within or beyond capitalism. But much of the public evidently remains unconvinced.

In a nutshell, I think that regular voters are very much a legitimate target audience, and that their brainwashing in neoliberal economic theory is exactly what needs to be undone.

None of this is to suggest that politicians and policymakers are not also a relevant audience. But if we want more than the same old neoliberal solutions, merely targeting the 1 percent’s enablers will never be enough.

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28 thoughts on “MMT and Tactics

  1. On the outside people learn:
    – automatically through the senses
    – dis’cretionally through society and egoistic pursuits.

    They learn by:
    – rote (easily discarded)
    – fear (easily abandoned once the threat is removed)
    – comprehension (the most lasting and enjoyable).

    Neoliberalism and fear go hand in hand.

    So, on the above logic – involve peoples’ egoistic pursuit, dispel fear and offer learning through enjoyment and comprehension?

    Anyways, bottom line – understand thoroughly how people learn?

    Ask the educators ….?

    Marketers turn everything into hype. Politicians habitually lie.

    True communication is simple, direct. From one human being to another, touching each person’s humanity. Thought and feeling combine to make a message understandable, clear, recognisable – persistence and conviction help to carry it through.

    People actually need to know: they don’t realise just how much $$ is such a burden.

  2. There seem to be different levels at which we need to operate. To the extent economics blogs reach non-economists, at the moment they are probably mainly connecting with people who are fairly motivated to think through — or at least find out about — different economic theories and policy approaches.

    On MMT blogs specifically, those who find the ideas compelling may then be trying to explain the basics to friends, family and colleagues. For this, theoretical background is helpful, partly as a bridge to the academic literature, but also by covering various questions that might arise when explaining the ideas to others.

    At the same time, as Mike Norman has argued in this video (h/t Alice Marshall), and Randall Wray addressed in a recent series of posts, maybe there are ways of communicating the ideas to the public in simpler and more direct terms, not because they will bother to read economics blogs, but as assistance to anyone trying to explain the ideas to people they come into contact with in everyday life.

    Personally, I do think catchy hooks have a role to play, and are fine if they accurately convey basic points. I wish I could think of some…

  3. “Although people may be open to a new agenda, they will not accept it without answers to the questions, “How is this affordable?” and “How is this sustainable?” That is where an understanding of currency sovereignty comes in.”

    Since you’re clearly on the left, what about introducing and popularizing the concept of Fiscally Conservative / “Responsible” Socialism?

    First, think of all the windfall profits, operating profits, and financial assets throughout the economy. Levy a special tax on those.

    Second, think about the problem of tax avoidance using terminology in tax law, and think of public policy incentives based on said jargon. A combination of cash proceeds, non-retroactive tax credits, and retroactive tax credits (for discouraging earlier tax avoidance) would be disbursed.

    Third, think beyond the narrow stigma associated with eminent domain and compulsory purchase. In local “politics” it’s within the context of development vs. Not In My Backyard, but there is progressive potential. It can be realized by exercising this in the act of disbursement as mentioned above.

    That’s how to take the relevant ownership stakes into public ownership: it’s perfectly legal and it’s very much expropriation without effective compensation, especially debt financing that can choke economies.

  4. “Personally, I do think catchy hooks have a role to play, and are fine if they accurately convey basic points.

    In the US, the counter has to be to “small government, low taxes, strong military, and traditional family values.” This sums up the conservative, neoliberal position that has framed the debate for decades, along with Reagan’s claim that government can’t give anyone anything that it hasn’t taken from someone else, i.e., “redistribution.” The key word is “freedom,” as in free markets, free trade, and free capital flows. The Achilles heel to freedom is freedom to choose, whereas conservatives are generally against freedom of choice and want to impose a social control extending right into the bedroom, and women’s private parts and how they are used.

    The opposition is always reacting within this frame, which reinforces it. What is required is an alternative vision that establishes a new frame.

  5. @ Jacob Richter

    I agree that when it comes to framing, social and political stance needs to be considered in addition to economic, since this is the framing that most people are familiar with and relate themselves to.

    Expressing this is tricky, since the neoliberal propaganda is thick. For example, most American lean more toward socialism than to capitalism, but “socialism” is a four letter word rhetorically, as is liberal. However, when neoliberals attempt to cut social benefits they are soundly rebuffed. Everyone recalls the famous Tea Party signs, “Tell the government to stay away from my Social Security and Medicare.” Most American’s are also traditional liberals rather than traditional conservatives, since American ideals are based on liberalism — “all people are created equal.”

    It’s really about changing the framing.

  6. For me the approach is a more fundamental one. You have to appeal to people’s feelings. To what they aspire to. You have to address their fears.

    Christianity didn’t take over the Roman world by chance. It took over because it offered something to the ordinary people. Christianity promised eternal life for all, whereas the old Roman Gods had been co-opted by the elite for their own power plays.

    In a short brutal life, that promise was worth something and the movement grew from that.

    So I don’t think you have to answer the questions. You can just take the ‘good book’ approach. Modern Money Theory highlights the Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds and shows the path to salvation. Go read if you want to know how.

    But what you really want to know is that our new Social Libertarianism will ensure that you are guaranteed a job and an income throughout your life, that you are guaranteed that your health is taken care off from cradle to grave and that you are guaranteed that your children will be educated to the highest standard possible. And all without making anybody in society any poorer

    If that idea appeals, then join us. It is there for the taking. Only together can we can make it so.

  7. Neil For me the approach is a more fundamental one. You have to appeal to people’s feelings. To what they aspire to. You have to address their fears.

    That’s framing. This is the point that Lakoff et al make as cognitive scientists. Lead with feeling in framing. Let feeling carry the message rather than reason.

  8. Hey. It’s 5 am here. I am exceptionally well primed to believe in the concept of a currency sovereign, because at this point I could very well be led to believe in the Leprechaun, if he would just give me a solid, rational concept with which to fight the underlying assumptions of austerity that had been forced upon my country.

    The country in question is Slovenia. It is part of the EU and EMU. We have a pretty solid public health system, a pretty solid public education system (grad-school is free, for now) and all in all a large public sector. Some say it’s too large – but is that only neo-lib speak of non-government trying to gain access to resource allocation? Our current prime minister (rightwing) says our public debt is unsustainable and that money has run out. Davos guys say we are not competitive enough. We are in now our fourth (fifth?) year of austerity, but since our public sector unions are pretty strong (a remnant of our not so distant socialist past) the workers in the private sector got the worst of it, and the government is putting a squeeze on lower income earners with higher taxes.

    I’m trying to be constructive in my arguments. If austerity would really help our economy in the long run, if we are really, as a public, living beyond our means, then I agree that something has to be done about it. It pains me to see the degradation of civic life as a direct result of it, but if public debt is really such a problem, then we simply have to fix it.
    But then I read some articles on this blog and I feel a glimmer of hope. Could it really all be just class warfare, with rightwingers and industry simply hacking and slashing at the state so they would be less constrained in the future? And if it is, where does that leave tiny Slovenia – which is most assuredly not a currency sovereign. It has the Euro and that means the currency sovereign in our case would be the ECB? But isn’t it forbidden from acting like one? Does that leave us trapped in German ordoliberalism?

    If anybody could shed some light on this situation for me, I would greatly appreciate it. I have stumbled upon this blog via comments on a reddit thread, and am not acquainted with your culture and proper etiquette, so I apologise in advance for any breach of conduct or display of lack of taste. I am also not an economist (writer, of all things) so most any explanations that would employ too complex a terminology would elude my understanding. I would gladly read some relevant links, though.

    Thank you. Great blog.
    jbf

  9. Am absolutely untutored in all of this, but have been thinking about the way a ‘society’ learns. ‘Without vision the people perish’ seems to be reasonably true; without grace also. People seem to be very clear about what they don’t want, but are not always so articulate about what they do want. Somebody has a vision for the society and the intelligentsia get a-hold of it and translate it into ideals and ideas, knit them into a plan and communicate it to the people – who if accepting will work towards its fulfilment. I think this is how the Egyptian pyramids (tombs) were built – a whole society focused on a concept of the afterlife (even the workers had a humble little tomb of their own). Am not so sure about the elevation of their vision and personal horizons??

    Anyway, the creative sequence has always been vision (purpose) plan and action.

    The vision of our current Western society seems to me incredibly impoverished; inchoate! And it’s coercive. We may have been better off sticking to tombs rather than skyscrapers? If Western society is considered in Toto as a corporation then our main product seems to be fiasco, miasma and confusion; liberally spiced with death and destruction. So I would be very much in favour of articulating a simple achievable vision that MMT could help sustain. For me, in the context of MMT it is simply – money is not an obstacle – we humans can create it in any amount necessary, to achieve environmental and social success. And we would enjoy that!

    But any vision needs to be kept very firmly and prominently in focus!

    In a world full of uncertainty people fear for self-preservation: which in turn threatens their self-efforts, self-worth and self-accomplishments. To reverse a corrupt vision is no small feat as change threatens everybody’s efforts, worth and accomplishments – hence the desire for self-preservation within the extant paradigm. The energy of self-interest can both hasten and delay.

    In communicating a new vision it would be a huge mistake to think once something is said, it is understood. There are layers and layers of complexity that need to come off (veils) from peoples’ eyes before a new vision can be seen in its simple essence and evaluated for what it is. There has to be consistent, thoughtful, humane targeting; room for a lot of purging before some small matter of acceptance appears, let alone enthusiasm or a desire to help. Warm heartedness is a wonderful agent of change.

    To me, Main Street is our humanity – the widest road that any real truth might travel on. ‘Wall’ Street is a barrier. The messengers can be anyone who understands, communicating through any medium. Word of mouth is the hands and feet of any message. It is through the people that the vision of any society is built: the intelligentsia are the engineers; the vision rests with the architects (who really need to focus)! These mediums are already in place – people need to start talking. They really do need good materials – that articulate a vision and show how it is possible.

    Especially about what kind of humanity we want; what kind of planet we want. What is our vision for this earth of ours and our own kind? What are our priorities? This is the only planet of its kind for light years around in our universe; it is absolutely unique – we are on our own (so far). We need to get it together.

    For too long we have been led by Religion, Empire, State and $$ (kind of a gravelly descent there)? Maybe now it is time human beings decided instead of the phantasy role players. Science has given us a good knowledge base about ourselves and our environment to help make informed decisions. Art has given us our creativity. Peace has a role to play. True peace will give us back our human dignity and human prosperity.

    A plan always involves who, does what, with what, to whom … feedback etc.

    Anyways, I think vision~plan~action has a role to play.

    Besides, are not we totally sick of short-sighted idiots? In Australia our bloody Prime Minister has just gifted us more than 200 days to sit through (electioneering) whilst they hustle to get their face in the media – sorry about throwing up on heteconomist but am voting for the drover’s dog!

  10. Hi JBF. Happy to have you here. Your sleeping habits seem as all-over-the-place as my own. :-)

    You are correct that member nations of the EMU have imposed upon themselves additional constraints on fiscal policy by joining it. The decision to join, and the basic design of the EMU, is essentially a form of class warfare, in my opinion. It is a pity that European electorates — to the extent they did — went along with the plan in its current state in the first place.

    The ECB, as currency issuer, could underwrite whatever budget deficits are necessary to establish full employment alongside price stability in the various member nations, but of course has no intention of doing so. What it prefers is to enable the propping up of member nation’s banks on the proviso that austerity is unleashed on general populations. This is class war pure and simple, aimed at breaking organized labor and dissembling welfare states.

    From a left perspective, the battle should ideally be directed in one of two directions : either (i) push for exit from the EMU and resumption of a national currency and sovereign governance; or (ii) push for the creation of a central fiscal authority that is subject to democratic processes in which the member nations are analogous to states in a federal system and the ECB is abolished altogether or at least stripped of its independence.

    Even within the current political setup, the battle should still be directed against austerity and adherence to the Maastricht Criteria, the Stability and Growth Pact, and other undemocratically imposed central edicts. If it can undermine the current setup and force institutional change or, at minimum, a rethink on austerity, it would be a good thing. And the sooner the better.

    If you are new to MMT, you might not yet be aware of Bill Mitchell’s “billy blog”, which has a category devoted to the Eurozone. Bill Mitchell is one of the originators of MMT, along with Warren Mosler and Randall Wray. The billy blog category can be found here:

    billy blog category : Eurozone

    For starters, you might be interested in this post:

    Why would any nation want to join the Eurozone?

    By the way, don’t worry about etiquette around here. It’s pretty informal.

  11. jrbarch: For me, in the context of MMT it is simply – money is not an obstacle – we humans can create it in any amount necessary, to achieve environmental and social success. And we would enjoy that!
    But any vision needs to be kept very firmly and prominently in focus!

    Ditto. The promise of MMT means to me that availability of real resources and the distribution thereof are the sole actual concerns. The rest is distraction.

    There are competing visions of how to approach this. Visions are always “spiritual” in that they are based on ideals held out as achievable. The strongest human motivation is spiritual in the sense of unfolding the inherent potential of human nature individually and collectively. As Aristotle observed, genuine happiness (eudaimonia) versus pleasure (hedone) is a by-product of excellence (arete). Today we would call “excellence” (also rendered as “virtue”) “character” — both individual character and the character of a nation. To bring it home, this is what the TV series Bonanza was about and Ben Cartwright was the role model or “hero.” The hero archetype is extremely powerful emotionally, as evidence in Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces. One of our big problems today is the lack of a hero (heroine) role model wrt character, ideals, and vision. As a result, the culture as lost its way.

    While the goals of neoliberalism and the neoclassical economics on which it is based are material satisfaction (utility, hedone) the distribution of which is through market forces, the spiritual foundation of the vision is “freedom.” This is a captivating vision that allows for all sorts of con games in the name of “freedom,” especially freedom to please oneself (hedonism).

    A compelling competing vision has to, first, meet its opposition by offering a more attractive and achievable vision, and, secondly, it has to garner the means to put the ball across the finish line politically.

    This involves careful framing. Anyone interested in pursuing this seriously needs to read George Lakoff’s works on the political use of cognitive science, as well as Drew Westen, “The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation.” The point they make is that most people are not highly ideological, left or right, but conflicted with respect to values and viewpoint. They can be influenced in different directions based on the pull of the pitch, and the most important force in this is emotion. They emphasize the role of virtue ethics in this over deontological ethics (rules) or consequentialist ethics (utility). Most people are strongly motivated by transcendental values as a spiritual force for good. The ideological battle, so to speak, is over prioritizing virtues.

    The extreme right is bifurcated into those that prefer a religiously determined deontological stance, e.g., “biblical” values selectively interpreted, and those who set one virtue above all others, namely, freedom to exercise possessive individuality. Neither of these alone or combined represent the preferred view of most Americans. In addition, these views must be integrated into the neoliberal view of the elite for the elite to wield power through that venue (GOP in the US). These value systems are not compatible, so there is friction in the GOP over the “big tent” as the conservative option

    Conversely, the Democrats as the liberal option in the US have abandoned their former vision, the New Deal, and have been attempting to meet the dominant conservative frame, known as Reaganism in the US and Thatcherism in the UK. (I’m not up on the politics of countries other than the US, but it should be simple to translate from one situation to others.) That is a losing strategy since it reinforces the frame and serves the interests of the elite. This is indeed the intention of many “centrist” Democrats, who are bidding for donation from the wealthy elite.

    At present there is no other viable vision since the framing is lacking, and progressives by and large have bought into the “lack of affordability” narrative. So a new vision has to be crafted in terms of a new frame based on virtue and a vision of possibilities for America’s future that leads with emotion and inspiration. It also has to be educational in order to be convincing. People have to see how the vision can be accomplished and indeed must be accomplished if America is to sustain itself, let alone move forward together with other countries as globalization accelerates and interdependence grows along with the emerging challenges of increasing complexity.

  12. peterc: “From a left perspective, the battle should ideally be directed in one of two directions : either (i) push for exit from the EMU and resumption of a national currency and sovereign governance; or (ii) push for the creation of a central fiscal authority that is subject to democratic processes in which the member nations are analogous to states in a federal system and the ECB is abolished altogether or at least stripped of its independence.”

    The way it looks to me, the only way forward that Germany will buy into is one that it controls, i.e., a Fourth Reich. I don’t see Europe ready socially and politically for a political union, which is the only way a fiscal union would be able to work democratically. But even then it would be a republic controlled by the elite, and that would be mostly the elite of the core, read mercantilist Germany.

  13. Another aspect of ‘learning’ and ‘messaging’ arises from the three elements of our conscious being: mind, body and soul.

    ‘Soul’ here is used simply; interchangeable with heart on the feeling side and analogous to a movie or camera film on the visual side.

    Everything that we truly commit to always involves these three elements of our being.

    Things may fire up our imagination or entertain the mind for quite some time, ‘stick’ to the film through time and space; the body may have its pursuits (eg. extreme sports). But it is only when these three elements are in unison can there be a true commitment; and only to a high ideal.

    Inner learning is just as relevant as outer learning: especially as in the end, despite everything that happens in human affairs, the soul will accept none other than high ideals. It understands peace and the inner well of peace.

  14. One buzz word we could use more would be “Opportunity.” What it’s really about is that we deny resources and opportunity to those at the bottom of the economic chain, because they’re unable or unwilling to do something about it. When you are in a daily battle for survival, “heteconomist” probably isn’t at the top of the to-do list.

    But where we need to be focusing the attention is on the upper-middle classes, say the 50-90%. Think the over-indebted and over-worked labor class and cubicle bunch in developed nations. It’s undoubtedly in their interest to provide opportunity to those lower classes because the money then flows through them on the way to the top 5%. It’s remarkable that not one single policy maker or established business leader is willing to step up and speak out against austerity (Krugman, for all his faults, the lone exception). It’s like we’ve gone completely lame against their power trip and speaks wonders for the power of propaganda. We need bigger numbers, and bigger numbers of people who are willing to risk their careerism and reputations and be loud about it.

    Even then, and sorry to be fatalistic about it, but the elites still control the game. You can see the financial cycle, and that we are at the bottom of the neoliberal era. Over the course of the next 30 or 60 years, Keynesianism will slowly come back into fashion. Is there any doubt that policy makers will not understand how to control inflation in 40 or 50 years, even though we’ll be screaming it at them even then? And by the time we are able to finally build a social libertarianism 200-300 years from now, that will be the time they pull the rug out from under us and introduce the Friedman (the Fiat?) and we’ll have a global currency which destroys national sovereignty the world over. Am I overly pessimistic, or is incremental progress enough?

  15. The worst thing that Europe could do is to rush into an ill-considered fiscal or political union to escape its ill-considered monetary union. Look at what happened in the US when politically disparate sovereigns united into a sovereign federation — bloody civil war. And now the US is engaged in a cold civil war involving the descendants of the same cohort, with no small segment favoring a hot war against the federal government as they arm to the teeth in preparation for it.

  16. Given the potential of MMT to focus everybody’s’ minds back on sustainable resource distribution, I can never understand why there is not a one-stop ‘MMT Global’ website with an academic, student and public interface, and growing library of materials. And (NPO) people working globally together to promote and distribute them. Minimal amount of organisation and maximal amount of well-planned cooperation and coordination is another aspect of productive successful messaging. But recognising that prosperity is only one aspect of human existence. Many little droplets combining to make a stream and yet still able to act individually.

    Someone once demonstrated this to me by having a few thousand people in an auditorium murmur their name – the result was subdued cacophony. Then they were asked to murmur a few words, together – the result was crystal clear; the message leapt out, instantaneously. The difference startlingly apparent.

    People come together to ‘save the whales’ but they would probably prefer we just ‘save the humans’ and leave them alone? We bother everything …

  17. Thank you for your responses (and the links, especially), even though they haven’t made my life any easier :) I’ll try to channel some of the notions of MMT into our public space, but it will be hard to convince people that Germany is out to get us. Not because they wouldn’t listen, but because they would very much prefer to believe it isn’t true. German elites are scary.
    Still, a school of thought that had the guts to expose austerity as a ludicrous sham from the outset (and is now vindicated even by the IMF) should be well recieved in my country. Because our leaders are still very much intent on it, even though they lost all rational arguments for its defense, and are now beginning to quite openly admit what’s the real purpose behind it. Gross incompetence of our leftist political elite helps, of course. Crazy times …

  18. I agree with jrbach’s reference to some kind of (even minimally organised) MMT. Unfortunately I don’t think it is going to happen unless Bill, Randy and Warren give a collective nod.

    However the ideas of MMT and the work that gave rise to it stand up on their own in my view. I think we just need to carry on doing what we are doing, banging the ideas out in blogs and ridiculing the bizarre logic of much of the mainstream and the financial press.

    There is a segment in a film called Force 10 from Navarone where the heroes have one opportunity to blow up a dam. After the initial explosion the guys that planted the explosives are mad at the explosives genius because his plan appears to have failed. He knows however that it’s not the explosion that will burst the dam. The initial blast merely allows nature to do what it does and given enough time of course, the dam bursts.

    I am however an incurable optimist.

  19. Andy: “I agree with jrbach’s reference to some kind of (even minimally organised) MMT. Unfortunately I don’t think it is going to happen unless Bill, Randy and Warren give a collective nod.”

    MMT is a brand. I think that we are looking at here is quite different. I would say it is on two levels.

    First, developing a utopian theory as a vision for ideal society, regardless of whether it is practically achievable at this point in time or even anytime soon. It really answers questions about what a virtuous society might look like and how it would operate in a virtuous world. Anything short of this would be due to “friction.”

    Secondly, developing a vision and plan for a “good society that is achievable” in the words of John Kenneth Galbraith in The Good Society, which I highly recommend to all. Although it was published in 1996 it is still au courant as far as the US in concerned. Same issues. JKG lays these out in sweeping fashion, but he hits the high points. It’s a good starting point for thinking about this.

    What MMT shows is that the fundamental social issue from the economic standpoint is the availability of real resources and their distribution between public and private purpose at the macro level. While its contributions are extremely significant in alleviating the ignorance that is holding things back, it is only one piece of the puzzle and only one tool in the toolbox, albeit an important one. MMT is not a recipe for either ideal society or even a good society. That is not a project that the MMT economists have set for MMT as a monetary description and macro theory.

    Ii think that the basic issue is addressing the neoliberal claim that the economy is determinant of the social and political system and, therefore, a free society requires a neoliberal approach to economics. This is presently the dominant view of TPTB and the dominant argument for the existing system as optimal. Galbraith addresses the deficiency of this viewpoint and proposes a mixed economy along Keynesian lines but compromising enough to be achievable as a centrist approach.

    Is there a better approach?

  20. “What the public wants is an agenda. They want an action plan …” ~ Dan Kervick

    Action Plan For Ending This Depression

    Step 1. Abolish the debt limit

    Republicans hold the debt limit hostage and say they won’t raise it unless government spending is cut. For this reason alone – the fact that it enables austerity – the debt limit has got to go.

    Step 2. Close our infrastructure deficit

    Our infrastructure is in dire need of repair and over ten million Americans are in dire need of work. Government spending to both make safe our dangerous infrastructure and reduce unemployment is the height of fiscal responsibility.

    Step 3. Abolish the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax

    As James Galbraith has written, “Social Security and Medicare … cannot go bankrupt, and they cannot fail to meet their obligations unless Congress decides … to cut the benefits they provide.”

  21. Tom
    Let’s leave an ideal world for later.
    Description of the monetary system and macroeconomics sounds fine to me providing full employment is part of the latter. To me, that is what the brand should be.

    Now I can either push the brand or I can push the Post Keynesian work over the years, Warren’s insights on central banking and the markets, Bill’s JG and brilliant blog archive, Randy’s all round macroeconomics and fantastic insights on the nature of money …. separately.

    It’s becoming easier to do the latter. When I try to push the brand, I am no longer certain whether I am promoting modern monetary theory, modern money theory or MMT ME.
    .
    Personally I think a definition jointly and explicitly of what MMT is, and what it is not, would allow the soldiers to gather under one banner, however narrow that definition is. There are plenty of capable people all over the world that would sign up and take up the fight (and the donkey work)

    If they don’t want to organise then fine, its ok with me. It doesn’t invalidate any of the ideas or insights. It just means we adopt a different approach but they obviously care about the brand otherwise each of them would not use the acronym as often as they do. My worry is, if they don’t take ownership of it now, they will lose it, or at least control of it. After all the work they, and the rest of us, have put into it, that would be a shame.

  22. Andy, I have seen no moves to organize coming from the founder, Warren Mosler, or the MMT academics. They have not attended to the most basic public outreach, like the MMT entry at Wikipedia or the MMT wiki. So far, this is not their priority and there is no indication that I see to lead me to think this is going to change.

    They have put ideas out there for people to pick up and get active with as they see fit. Warren and the MMT economists are good about providing support, like showing up to give lectures when invited.

    Some of the MMT pros are more politically active than others. Warren, of course, has actually run for office. Randy Wray and Stephanie Kelton are also quite outspoken about a progressive agenda, as is Bill Mitchell in Australia. But I would not call them activists.

  23. “Let’s leave an ideal world for later.
    Description of the monetary system and macroeconomics sounds fine to me providing full employment is part of the latter. To me, that is what the brand should be.”

    That is certainly the MMT focus. I think it is a step forward but only a tiny one. It is set within the larger issue of the neoliberal thrust to increase profit share over labor share and to privilege rent. Without replacing neoliberalism, any tweaks to the system will be 1) met with resistance, and 2) if successful, there will be a strong push to reverse them, as we are seeing now with social programs generally.

    I think that MMT makes some good tweaks to be a bad system, but it doesn’t do much to change the system permanently for the better. Lacking that, it’s a stopgap measure, like putting tape around a leaky hose on the road until it can be replaced at garage.

  24. In summary of what we have above, so far we have talked briefly about:

    + the ways people learn
    + the levels on which different people operate
    + catchy hooks
    + counter-vision to “small government, low taxes, strong military, and traditional family values” and zero option “freedom”
    + framing (role of emotion and thought) – new frame required
    + role of education
    + new vision (creative ‘sequence’ of vision ~plan ~ action) and focus; nature of ‘vision’
    + true vision addresses soul (resonates within), mind and body
    + vision as utopian theory and practical realisation
    + more humane distribution of real resources; money no obstacle
    + the problem of the elite and power(greed)
    + the issue of opportunity (human development)
    + the issue of organisation (founders are supportive of individuals and groups – content to describe the operational realities, policy options, but not activist)
    + the issue of approach and actions

    Am sure the list could be extended. (I should read something of JKG and Good Society).

    In terms of a new frame: am thinking of the architectural analogy here, I guess because of the word ‘frame’. The architects create a vision, plans are drawn up and builders called in – a frame is erected.

    Now the vision, it seems to me, cannot be plucked out of thin air like fiat money. It has to emerge from out of the human being – like the ‘vision’ of the tree emerges from out of the seed. Only then can it provide real shade and shelter. You cannot get a piece of furniture grow from an oak tree seed, or an apple tree.

    One vision that I see humanity has held down throughout the ages has always been to live in peace. I don’t know whether or not science has corroborated that, but this is what I ‘see’ – I hope my sight is not blinkered or filtered in that regard. The people have always longed for a ‘good King, and peace and harmony settled upon the land – the people feel free’. And yet is has never blossomed.

    The reason (?) why is that everybody draws up plans for everything but peace??? So there, I believe despite the planners, is one vision to work with. In a world full of conflict and pain the vision of peace resonates powerfully, as does the word freedom.

    In people’s imagination this vision is realised as ‘looking after their own’. Good education, health, an income, housing, and room for creative expression would be nice modules to plug into the frame.

    But the question remains what is adequate structure and material usage for the frame.

    Well, who hangs out with peace and freedom? Fairness does; being human does; respect and consideration does; real intelligence does; dignity does …. So the question is should the frame be built of human attributes rather than economic, political and social aspirations? Should the frame in fact outline a renaissance of our hu-man-it-y into which the MMT description of our monetary system could fit as a module?

    Looking around the world it does seem the elite power structures are being challenged on many fronts. Maybe ordinary people are losing most of the battles at the moment, but the war will go on and on – because of human nature. I believe very firmly and delight in human potential. By winning back our humanity: our sovereign right to live humanely, in peace; to thrive feeling free as a species of beings that delight to grow, learn, unfold our potential – who resent being tied down and enslaved by idiots – now that I would organise for if that is what it takes! Maybe OWS is one aspect of this? The elites are very tangible and well organised …. ‘giant vampire squid’ is one of those resonant images.

    The real fight I believe is in us. People are in the frame too.

  25. Nice summary, jrbarch. You’ve not only collected the various threads together but given some shape to them.

    I agree that the fight is inside us, not just outside of us. The elites are small in number, and we are legion. Do we really want change or not? And what change? If we do, and we have a strong sense of the way forward, then the elites won’t be able to stop us. And maybe, if they win their own battles within themselves, they won’t even want to. (Ultimately, at least.) For now, we are stopping ourselves, but maybe not for much longer.

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