Modern Monetary Theory part 3 – underutilized resources

Continuing this critique of Modern Monetary Theory, I now come to the standard explanation of the MMTers as to why inflation will not break out when the Government prints money – they refer to the excess capacity in the economy. According to the theory, if an economy is suffering unemployment, then there is not enough demand to fully use the resources. Printing money is a costless way to increase demand, get the unemployed into work and increase wealth. Inflation will be a risk only if there is no excess capacity, no underutilized resources in the economy.

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Modern Monetary Theory Part 2: inflationary experience

In Part 1 of my criticism of Modern Monetary Theory, I explained currency debasement was a fundamental part of it. In this Part 2, I will explain why the whataboutery that is used by the MMTers can be dismissed.

Whataboutery. A useful noun. It is frequently heard coming from MMTers when a critic of MMT says printing money will lead to inflation – but what about Japan? they say. Over the last 25 years, Japan’s money supply has more than doubled. Yet inflation has not broken out much at all. See?

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Modern Monetary Theory part 1: currency debasement

MMT advocates currency debasement. Proof of this is given by the MMT proponents (the ‘MMTers’) themselves by their proposing the use of taxation to then control inflation.

That is the very first point about MMT that should be grasped. Currency debasement occurs by ‘printing money’. The MMTers say that the Government monopoly on the currency issue means it can print money to finance its own expenditure. Then tax can be used to control inflation.

You may have seen this written as the breakthrough idea – that Governments actually are not bound by the need to finance expenditure via borrowing and/or taxation. The deficit doesn’t matter, they say. This is meant to be the whole new (hence ‘modern’ nomenclature) understanding. I hate to pour cold water on the naming of the theory, but currency debasement is not new or modern. It is as old as currency itself. From shaving off the outer thin layer of the coinage in Roman times to melt down the silver while the coin retained its face value, to printing counterfeit bank notes, to quantitative easing – currency debasement has been a problem ever since day 1.

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