For both Marx and MMTers, money is a social relationship. For Marx, the social relationship is fetishized in a commodity for reasons that stem from the nature of commodity production. Money only becomes necessary, for Marx, when it is impossible for a currency to represent social labor time directly, which is the case under commodity production in which concrete labors are converted into abstract labor (i.e. marxian value) only indirectly through the workings of the ‘law’ of value. For MMTers, money is a social relationship that originates in debt. Debt relations can apply whether labor is directly social or only indirectly social (as in commodity production). Money, in MMT, is therefore a broader notion than in Marx. If Marx and MMTers meant the same thing by the word ‘money’, Marx’s view of the origins of money – as arising out of commodity production – would be irreconcilable with MMT. But Marx and MMTers do not mean the same thing by the word ‘money’. In MMT’s use of the term, the currency functions as money under commodity and non-commodity production alike, whereas in Marx’s terminology, the currency is a representative of money under commodity production but simply currency under non-commodity production. So far as economic implications go, these naming differences are not important so long as we keep them in mind.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) can be applied to growing economies. Equally, as Jason Hickel rightly observes, MMT is also an appropriate macroeconomic framework for proponents of degrowth. The theory makes clear that a currency-issuing government always has the capacity to maintain full employment through implementation of a job guarantee, irrespective of the overall level of aggregate demand or rate of economic growth. As currency issuer, the government faces no financial barrier, nor has any need of profit. Whereas employment in an economy left to the whims of for-profit firms slumps whenever demand slumps – not least because private firms as currency users are financially constrained and subject to the profit criterion – currency-issuing governments have the capacity to maintain full employment at all times.
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.
A while back on Facebook, or maybe it was twitter, someone asked what would be left for our own lives if artificial intelligence ever came to exceed our own.
What is the most appropriate entry point to the study of a monetary economy in which government is currency issuer? Is it “the market”? Is it the definition: total spending equals total income? Is it real exchange? Real production? Is it total output? Total employment? Total value? Distribution of income? The origin of profit? Price formation? Competition?
In any society, of whatever configuration, production at a given point in time is limited by certain ‘real’ (meaning non-monetary) factors. Notably, a society’s productive activity will always be limited by access to natural resources, the current state of its technology, and the skill, strength, size and imagination of its people. These and similar factors determine the absolute productive potential of a society. At a given point in time, these factors would apply even if, hypothetically, a society happened to be organized in a completely different way to its current form of existence.
If we were to believe most politicians, we’d be under the mistaken impression that government not investing today does future generations a favor. Leaving communications systems underdeveloped, road and transport networks crumbling, education and public health systems deteriorating, our cultural institutions eroding, developments in science and technology stagnating, and so on, will supposedly free future generations of any burden that might otherwise be imposed upon them.
Viewed from a certain vantage point, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a very general framework that offers insight into how we might go about making genuine social progress. It does not simply facilitate an understanding of capitalism, but points to a way of transcending the present system. It enables insight into the opportunities available to any society that forms for itself a government and operates a monetary economy.
When it comes to the means of production, society can be considered as falling into two basic groups – ‘owners’ and ‘non-owners’. Acceptance of a tax-driven currency can be achieved through the exertion of pressure on one or other of these groups, or both. In a low-tech, labor-intensive economy, the state essentially compels non-owners to supply labor services to owners. In a high-tech, capital-intensive economy, there is less need for such compulsion. It will become increasingly viable to place the initiative on owners to supply final output in exchange for the currency as technology continues to advance.
In the chartalist view, taxes drive acceptance of state money. Through one channel, taxes induce labor services. The need to obtain state money to pay taxes ensures a willingness of some individuals to accept employment in the public sector in exchange for the state money. There is another channel that exists under a broader range of conditions. It is the power of government to induce supply of real output from private enterprise. Not only does government induce a private supply of real output to itself (a transfer of resources from the private to public sector), but it also induces a supply of real output to private consumers. Unlike the inducement of labor services, the inducement of private-sector output would apply equally to a pure labor economy or a purely mechanized economy, as well as to intermediate cases.