Last updated on January 5, 2021
M-i-c-k-e-y, Why because we like it. M-M-MMT. “We collectively decide just what counts as a resource, economic base, or productive work.” OTOH, it could all be trippin’ on bong hits.
The superlative science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, The Ministry For The Future, is essentially about using MMT to create a “carbon coin” that incentivizes keeping fossil fuels in the ground and wetlands preserved.
At the close of 2020, it’s hard to think of another year in living memory that has forced such a radical rethinking of our politics and social life. The Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered as a dire time in American life, but its disruption may yet open us up to new ideas and social possibilities, especially when it comes to the power of the government to spend. Modern Monetary Theory posits that a governing body like the United States federal government, which borrows and spends in the same currency it issues, can never run out of money and that taxes serve to take excess money out of circulation rather than to fund the government. MMT was considered fringe a few short years ago. It’s edged closer to a bipartisan centrist policy in the wake of the Cares Act and the Federal Reserve’s swift action to buoy securities markets; everyone but the most reactionary cranks wanted to turn on the money hose to prevent the spring Covid-19 shock from turning into a Great Depression.
Though the core concepts about currency-issuing governments have existed in certain academic pockets since the early twentieth century, the theory gained significant public visibility in June when economist Stephanie Kelton released her book The Deficit Myth, the first attempt to bring MMT to a general audience. Kelton isn’t a household name like Milton Friedman, but her book reached The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Beyond this new lay audience, MMT has gained a growing network of adherents. A smaller coterie of thinkers has started to develop these unorthodox economic ideas into something much broader than a mere explanation as to why we shouldn’t sweat government deficits. There’s a vibrant subculture being spawned around MMT that reminds one of the old adage about the seminal underground band The Velvet Underground: Not many people saw them play live, but everyone who did started a band of their own.
The players in this next wave of MMT enthusiasm include an interdisciplinary group of economists, legal scholars, and humanities Ph.D.s convened by the Modern Money Network project. The Modern Money Network is staking out a more capacious leftist, social, political, and cultural theory centered on money and its governance. They are explicitly competing with Marxism’s focus on class struggle and the strictly Marxist-socialist left associated with Jacobin magazine, which rose to prominence with Bernie Sanders’s presidential runs. The network has put together conferences and scholarly volumes under the title Money On The Left, along with an interdisciplinary interview podcast of the same name. The Modern Money Network’s “Humanities Division” puts out the Money On The Left podcast as well as a more conversational offering called Superstructure, which operates in the same freewheeling, Extremely Online register as scores of popular left-wing podcasts such as Chapo Trap House.[…]As one listener put it on Twitter, their podcasts have “just enough Heidegger to confuse the economists. just enough economics to confuse philosophers. all of it not specific enough to even be wrong. an interdisciplinary mish mash making even the film theorists blush.” Likewise, another wrote, “*MMT humanities bro rips bong* MMT bro: the ontologic historical problematic mediates and reifies through the univocal application of a transhistoric monetary epistemology that mediates the primordial ooze that is ‘your hand’ and ‘toothpaste.’”And even the more strictly defined theory of government spending power has its ardent left wing critics: Doug Henwood, a longtime left-wing commentator on economics and finance, wrote in Jacobin that MMT amounted to little more than magical thinking: “A few computer keystrokes and everyone gets health insurance, student debt disappears, and we can save the climate too, without all that messy class conflict.” This one neat trick solves society!
The impression may be a fair one. On one episode of Superstructure, host Natalie Smith audibly hit a bong before asking, “What is value?” (She maintains this was a bit, but she did actually hit that bong.) The discussions can be difficult to follow for listeners who haven’t spent time in a graduate humanities classroom or graduate students’ parties. The episode that brought them the widest attention, a debate with Chapo’s Matt Christman over whether or not politics is a zero-sum game, was littered with a frustrating cascade of misread rhetoric and a healthy helping of half-baked (or perhaps extremely baked) gotchas as these rival schools struggled through the fog of their differences.
— Climate Reality (@ClimateReality) January 1, 2021
— RAND Corporation (@RANDCorporation) January 1, 2021
— PCMag (@PCMag) January 2, 2021
— Climate Reality (@ClimateReality) January 1, 2021
— Scientific American (@sciam) January 1, 2021
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