Memes are a strange thing. One never can really predict what will catch on and what will die with a mingy wimper. Still, economist Stephanie Kelton has to be pretty thrilled that #MintTheCoin has gained traction. She, and the entire rest of the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) community of economists, have certainly been waiting long enough. #MintTheCoin is Dr. Kelton’s (@deficitowl) current contribution to Twitter and it’s an important one but I’ll bet you don’t know why.
Hint: the answer isn’t “debt ceiling.”
The meme has caught fire and is being promoted by the likes of both Paul Krugman and Salon (…’nuff said) as a solution to the debt ceiling via the hastily lashed together vehicles of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and Title 31 of the United States Code Subtitle IV, Chapter 51, Subchapter II, Section 5112. I am not going to repeat the basics of the meme because they are splashed all over the web. If you have been dead for the last couple of weeks and somehow missed them you can catch up here, here, and here. There is also, of course, the idiotic GOP response codified, for the moment, in the bill being introduced by Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR) to prevent the President and Secretary of the Treasury from taking the option of the now infamous platinum coin. My favorite part of this legislation is that it tacitly acknowledges that the Secretary of the Treasury really does have the right to mint the coin making any argument to the contrary just that much more difficult. Derp. The part of this legislation that makes me want to put my face through glass is when the Congressman drops his pail down into the my-small-business-can’t-print-money-well to which I respond,
Listen up, Dimwit, the US Federal Government is NOT a business or family and it CAN and SHOULD print money.
Now, I’ll grant you that the world is a big place and some of you thought you had better things to do than to read my post on Modern Monetary Theory vs the Fiscal Cliff (this link is to the Daily Kos cross-post because the discussion thread was excellent there) but if you do not understand the statement above, stop now and read the older post. I’m not kidding. Stop. Now. Thump!
For everyone who did not stop I am going to go forward with the assumption that you fully understand the following things:
- The budget of the Federal government is in no way, shape or form like that of your family or of any business and likening the Federal budget to the budget of a small business is the same as likening kittens to helicopters. (Ok, both look pretty funny when they are flying through the air but other than that….)
- The Federal government is not balancing a budget, it is balancing an economy and the delimiters of that balance are unemployment, exchange rates and inflation. Period. End of story.
- Deficits mean NOTHING. Debt means very, VERY little.
- The US economy has nothing what-so-ever in common with any country which uses the Euro so comparisons to Spain or Greece or Italy are, again, kittens to helicopters.
Again, if there are any of the above which are unclear to you, go back to the older post. I mean it. *glare*
What has to be thrilling the MMT community to the tips of their pointy little heads is the fact that the platinum coin is breaking into consciousness at all because they have been talking about it for a long time for a whole different reason.
Zeroing Out the US Debt
News Flash: the platinum coin could be used to zero out the entire US debt held by the Fed. Done. Gone. I’m going to nibble on some hay while you think about that. … … … … … … Done? I didn’t think so but no one has ever credited me with patience.
There are, of course, two things to know about this approach and the most important is that it is totally unnecessary because given the current (stronger than you realize) position of the US economy and the fact that we have a fiat currency, debt actually means very, VERY little. It is, essentially, a matter of an internal balance sheet adjustment and if someone wants to make a pretty little coin or two or fifty to make it more real, well isn’t that just precious. What this would do instead is allow the funds which are being spent in service of our current debt to be pumped back into the private sector, in a controlled fashion, until we have reached full employment, at which point the spigot would be reduced to a normal flow.
What’s that? I can hear the anguished screams all the way from here. No, inflation is not a factor. Inflation is caused when demand exceeds supply and our economy is no where close to that margin. There is huge room for growth and capacity utilization rates remain exceedingly low. There, there. *pat, pat* I know. It’s a shock because those GOP bullies have been pushing the Debt-bad/Inflation-nigh meme for so long and you actually had started to believe it. If you need more solace on this issue, go to Bill Mitchell’s Billy Blog, for an excellent explanation.
The real truth is that debt isn’t bad. At least, not at our current levels and in our current financial position. Still, we have listened to the GOP and the Tea-baggers rail on it for so long that it is as if we, as a nation, have been on a snipe hunt and we actually believe there are real snipes out there. Let me do you this favor and smack you upside the head, *SMACK!* Wake up!!!
There are not now and there never were actual snipes and because it does not serve our nation and economy for the private sector (all US individuals and businesses) to be in the red and because we will absolutely have a trade deficit for the foreseeable future (which is the international sector), the laws of accounting (if confused, refer to both my previous post on MMT and my previous *glare*) say that the public sector (the Federal budget) MUST be running a deficit . If we just can’t make ourselves comfortable with that than let’s pretend otherwise by zeroing out the debt with a magical coin. Here’s the bottom line. The debt means NOTHING and the coin means NOTHING and using them to cancel each other out so that we feel better is silly but not necessarily a bad thing. Plus, of course, it frees up all the money necessary to get everyone who wants to work back to work… oh, and to invest in the changes necessary to address climate change, invest in education, rebuild our national infrastructure, solve the long-term healthcare crisis…among a few other little things.
The IMF’s Giant Facepalm
…and then there’s the International Monetary Fund (IMF.) These genius’ have been at the head of the austerity bandwagon for years as they have dutifully strong-armed (and worse) economy after economy into the ground with their iron-clad commitment to austerity. …except they were wrong. Totally and completely, absolutely and irrevocably (in some cases) wrong. Now, it’s one thing for me to say this. What is one rabbit against the all-powerful genius of the IMF? So I had to laugh (and cry a little) when they finally acknowledged that they have been wrong all along. As it turns out, when an economy is struggling and it implements austerity, things get worse. Conversely, when countries, like Germany, Austria and the US (thank you, President Obama), use stimulus, they experience improvement. Why? Because (and here I apologize for repeating myself) a country is not balancing a budget, it is balancing an economy. WHO CARES what a ledger says! What matters is that people are working, the temperature of inflation is cold and the exchange rate is reasonable. Those are the only three things that matter. Everything else is just a snipe no matter what the Tea Party or the GOP or the IMF has to say.
The Giant Platinum Coin IS an interesting concept. It IS worth thinking about but it is wasted on an imaginary “problem” like the debt ceiling. Oh, it’s not that it can’t or shouldn’t be used there. It’s just that if we really want to get the GOP to shut the thump up and we really want to change the future of our country and the lives of our citizens, we won’t just stop there. But that is, of course, just one rabbit’s opinion.