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.
I’ve been thinking about the job guarantee as it is envisaged by proponents of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). My focus has been on various quantity effects of the policy that can be considered using the standard income-expenditure model as a base (for preliminary posts along these lines, see here and here.) Since the income-expenditure model takes the general price level as given, it does not directly shed light on the aspects of a job guarantee that would pertain to price stability. To provide some context for a possible future discussion of quantity effects, it is perhaps worth summarizing how the job guarantee would moderate price pressures. Clear statements of the MMT position on the topic can be found in a billy blog post (here) and closely related academic articles by Bill Mitchell (here) and Warren Mosler (here).
At one time or another many of us have probably pondered questions such as: Where does a national currency come from? How does a currency system basically work? Why might people agree to accept a national currency in the first place? How can we be confident that a national currency won’t collapse and that people will continue to accept it in economic transactions? Can a government ever go broke and leave citizens footing the bill? Can financial affordability even be an issue for government?
An alternative title to this post could have been, ‘The Interest Rate on Public Debt is at the Discretion of Government’. This remains true even though, in the neoliberal era, governments usually require themselves to follow various unnecessary rules on how their spending is to be conducted. These rules are voluntary and can be removed at a later time. But even while these rules are in place, they do not prevent government from dictating the terms on which it spends.
An earlier post discussed some of the dynamics of output and demand implicit in the income-expenditure model. Attention was confined to a simplified economy that was stationary other than when adjusting to one-off exogenous changes in demand. The present post considers a continually growing economy in which autonomous demand changes over time. The discussion is kept simple by treating all demand other than private consumption as exogenous. The model can be extended to include additional endogenous demand components – such as investment or job-guarantee spending – but this is left for another time.
Whenever the topic of economic growth is broached, there is a common and understandable reaction along the lines that growth is ecologically unsustainable or socially harmful. Since one of the preoccupations of this blog is demand-led growth, it is perhaps worth pausing to reflect on the appropriateness of the topic. This can be broken down into two parts. Why consider growth as such? And why emphasize the possibility that growth is demand led?