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Articles by peterc

A Currency’s Command over Real Output in a Nutshell

5 days ago

In principle, a currency’s command over any category of real input or output can be considered in terms of a suitably defined price index. The present focus is on the aggregate level and, in particular, a currency’s command over real final output. Earlier posts explore the topic in greater depth (links below). This is a crib notes version.
A currency’s command over real final output – loosely, the amount of real stuff a currency unit can purchase – will remain stable so long as the average level of prices remains stable. Partly for this reason, price stability is generally regarded as a desirable property of well-functioning economies.
For a given distribution between wage and profit income, price stability requires nominal wages to rise in line with productivity. This maintains a

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MMT Applies to Both Growth and Degrowth

7 days ago

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

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A Brief Q&A on Three Aspects of MMT

11 days ago

First acquaintance with MMT can bring clarity on key aspects of the monetary system that may previously have seemed unclear, yet likely also calls other questions to mind. For instance, if taxes do not finance a currency issuer, why are they necessary? And if banks create deposits ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), how is it that (other than the central bank) they are financially constrained and subject to risk? Or, considering that issuance of the currency is essentially costless to the issuer, how can the currency nonetheless have value to its users? MMT has clear answers to each of these questions.
Q1. If taxes do not provide the initial finance for the spending of a currency-issuing government, why do we need taxation?
A1. Taxes drive money. The most fundamental reason for taxation is

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Markets are Creatures of Government

13 days ago

This is not just a matter of markets requiring a system of enforced property rights, which presupposes government, at least in rudimentary form. In monetary economies, functioning markets also require a viable currency, one that is generally accepted in exchange. Government ensures a currency’s acceptance when it imposes and effectively enforces taxes that are payable only in that particular currency. This is true not only of exogenous taxes but of taxes on consumption, income and wealth so long as these are assessed in the government’s chosen unit of account.
In this sense, it is perhaps ironic that the most ardent supporters of markets tend to be the least enthusiastic about taxes while the least enthusiastic about markets tend to be the most ardent supporters of taxation. The former

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Persistent Demand-Pull Inflation is Unlikely in Demand-Led Economies

June 27, 2021

Capitalist economies are demand led in the sense that both output and growth tend to reflect the behavior of autonomous demand, especially in the long run. Prices, in contrast, tend to be supply determined, reflecting cost. Supply shocks can temporarily dominate demand effects on output (for instance, as the result of war, a pandemic, or an oil shock), just as variations in demand, especially if supply is constricted, can temporarily dominate cost effects on prices. But the normal situation for a capitalist economy is demand-determined output and supply-determined prices.
There are two main factors that make persistent or long-lasting demand-pull inflation unlikely in demand-led economies. The first is that firms have reason to adapt productive capacity (including planned margins of

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Currency Value, Productivity, and a Currency’s Command over Use-Values

April 11, 2021

In general terms, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) defines the value of the currency as “what must be done to obtain it”. As MMT authors have noted, this general definition can be interpreted in terms of labor time. A Marxist interpretation, consistent with MMT’s general definition, is to define currency value in terms of socially necessary labor time. Two interpretations seem particularly suitable. A first approach is to define currency value as the reciprocal of the average money wage. This measure indicates the amount of labor-power that must be supplied in exchange for a unit of the currency and, on average, the amount of socially necessary labor that is performed in exchange for the currency unit. A second approach is to define currency value as the reciprocal of the monetary

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MARX & MMT – Currency Value and its Relationship to Price Stability

March 25, 2021

The marxian labor-time values of individual commodities fall as productivity improves. This means that if a currency unit is to command a stable quantity of use-values (i.e. physical goods and services) over time, the value of the currency must likewise fall as productivity improves. For a given distribution between wage and profit income, and a given share of value added in total value, a currency unit’s command over use-values will remain stable when money wages rise in line with average productivity. This also promotes price stability.

To be clear, for given employment, rising productivity always means that all the currency in existence can purchase more use-values than before. But a single unit of the currency will command more or less use-values according to whether the value of

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Cost-Push Inflation

March 10, 2021

Inflationary pressures can originate from the demand side or the supply side of the economy. Demand-side inflation, known as demand-pull inflation, becomes increasingly likely as the economy nears full capacity. Inflation driven from the supply side, referred to as cost-push inflation, is possible in the absence of any excess demand for goods and services.

A supply shock can cause one-off price hikes, independently of demand conditions, but for the one-off effect to act as a catalyst for cost-push inflation there needs to be a socioeconomic process capable of reinforcing the initial effect and a pliant institutional setting. The most likely candidate is ongoing conflict over the distribution of income, expressed through workers’ wage demands and/or firms’ price-making behavior, with

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Currency Value Interpreted as the Reciprocal of the MELT

February 23, 2021

In an earlier post it is suggested that when value is conceived as socially necessary labor time, it makes sense to define currency value in one of two ways, either as the reciprocal of the average money wage paid for an hour of simple labor or, alternatively, as the reciprocal of the ‘monetary expression of labor time’ (MELT). Under the first definition, currency value is the amount of simple labor-power commanded by a unit of the currency and, on average, the amount of simple labor that will be performed in exchange for a unit of the currency when advanced as wages. Under the second definition, currency value is the amount of simple labor represented in a unit of the currency; that is, the labor-time equivalent of a currency unit.

 Currency value in terms of socially necessary

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The Core Significance of Taxation and Currency Sovereignty in a Nutshell

January 19, 2021

A government with the authority to tax can ensure acceptance of a particular currency. By nominating a currency in which income and wealth are to be assessed, and imposing taxes that can only be paid in the nominated currency, the government establishes a demand for the currency.
This is true whether the government issues its own currency or instead adopts a currency issued by some other entity.
But a government that adopts somebody else’s currency is reduced to the status of mere currency user and, as a consequence, faces financial constraints similar to those that bind private households and firms.

In times of economic crisis, a currency-using government is dependent for assistance on the currency issuer and so subjects itself to whatever terms and conditions the currency issuer

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Government Spending Comes First in a Sovereign Currency System

May 31, 2020

Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) makes clear that the spending of a currency-issuing government necessarily precedes tax payments and bond sales to non-government. This has important implications. It means that a currency-issuing government does not – and cannot – require revenue prior to spending. It means that it is government spending that makes possible the payment of taxes and non-government purchase of bonds, not the other way round. And it means that when a government requires itself to match deficits with bond sales to non-government, it does so voluntarily, and on terms that are entirely at its discretion. In short, the constraints on a currency-issuing government are not financial in nature. The constraints on the spending of a currency-issuing government are properly understood

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The Unlimited Financial Capacity of Currency-Issuing Governments

May 6, 2020

Policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, much like policy responses to the global financial crisis and Great Recession of a decade ago, carry a couple of clear macroeconomic lessons for anyone who cares to learn them:
1. A currency-issuing government faces no revenue constraint.2. A currency-issuing government dictates the terms on which it issues debt.
It is not only electorates that, understandably, have been slow to appreciate these aspects of reality. Plenty of economists, perhaps with less excuse, also exhibit little understanding. The lessons had better be learned fast, or austerity will be applied once the situation attenuates on the spurious grounds of “paying for” the fiscal deficits of the present period. While fiscal restraint, in some measure, may turn out to be

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State Money and Markets

April 8, 2020

A national government with the authority to tax gets to nominate a money of account along with the ‘money things’ that will be accepted in fulfillment of the tax obligations it imposes. In doing so, the government creates a demand for a particular money – a ‘state money’. This motivates the formation of markets for goods and services whose prices are denominated specifically in the money of account. This is true whether the national government with the authority to tax is a monetary sovereign (a currency issuer) or a monetary non-sovereign (a currency user), though a monetary sovereign will have greater autonomy in shaping the economy according to democratically expressed preferences as well as the werewithal to underwrite the economy.

 Markets in a sovereign currency system
In the

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Introductory Macroeconomics with a Job Guarantee

March 21, 2020

In some earlier posts, a job guarantee is added to an otherwise condensed income-expenditure model. This enables comparisons of steady states under different scenarios akin to the typical exercises conducted in introductory macroeconomics courses. What follows is a summary of the model, bringing together aspects that are dealt with in greater depth – but disparately – elsewhere on the blog, along with brief indications of how the model can be extended to include simple dynamics and short-run price behavior. Links to fuller explanations of various concepts are provided along the way.

 Simplifying assumptions
The model composes the economy into sector b and sector j. Sector j is the job guarantee sector. Its operations are confined to the activity of workers employed in the job guarantee

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Politicians Who Want Us to Live Beyond Our Means

February 13, 2020

Politicians often tell us that we should live within our means. Quite right. Unfortunately, many of them do not appear to understand what this actually entails when it comes to fiscal policy. So far as most economists are concerned, the events of the last decade have thoroughly discredited advocates of austerity. Yet, it remains quite common to hear politicians from across the political spectrum calling for reductions in fiscal deficits or even fiscal surpluses. There appears to be little awareness that, in most countries, a call for a fiscal surplus is, literally, a call for the society to live beyond its means.
A basic accounting identity
Here is a simple accounting relationship. It is an identity, true by definition:
Government Balance + Domestic Private Sector Balance + Foreign

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Three Economic Ideas Threatening to Defenders of the Status Quo

January 31, 2020

Neoclassical economics, which remains the prevailing orthodoxy, emerged in the late nineteenth century in the context of rising working-class opposition to capitalism. The theory’s appeal in certain circles as an apologetic for the status quo probably assisted its rise to prominence, which is not to imply that this was necessarily a motivation of the neoclassical economists themselves. The rise of any theory requires a receptive audience. Classical political economy had not provided defenders of the system with a comparable apologetic. Not only had it informed Marx’s analysis of capitalism but there were socialist movements drawing on interpretations of Ricardo’s labor theory of value. Class was central to the understanding of capitalism in both classical political economy and Marx, and

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Productivity, Labor Complexity, and Wage Determination Procedures

January 24, 2020

This post concerns an implication of Marx’s treatment of productivity and labor complexity for the appropriateness of alternative processes of wage determination. For simplicity, it is assumed that all activity is productive in Marx’s sense (that is, productive of surplus value) and that conditions are competitive in the Marxian (and classical) sense that investment is free to flow in and out of sectors in search of the highest return. Introducing unproductive labor, including a substantial role for public sector and not-for-profit activity, and non-competitive elements would considerably complicate the analysis. The point of the exercise is to consider the incentive effects of alternative wage-determination procedures, from the perspective of Marx’s theory. It is suggested that Marx’s

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Politically Motivated Attempts to Own or Disown China as “Capitalist”

January 17, 2020

There are often attempts in the west to depict China as capitalist rather than socialist. After decades of China going from strength to strength on macroeconomic criteria – and in view of its undeniable achievement in reducing poverty at a rate unmatched in recorded human history – some on the right wish to deny that this could have been accomplished through socialism and so instead claim China to be capitalist. At the same time, there are those on the left who wish to distance notions of socialism from China’s economic system and especially its record on human rights.

I view the question in terms of Marx’s ‘law of value’. If the law of value were universally applied to an economy, production would only occur when expected to be profitable for private owners of the means of production.

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 6: Price Stabilization

December 17, 2019

The previous part of the series introduced a short-run relationship between prices and output, P(Y), that is in keeping with a Kaleckian or Keynesian understanding of demand-led economies. According to this view, within the economy’s capacity limits, output reflects demand while prices reflect cost. So long as supply conditions remain unaltered, variations in demand are met with variations in production at stable prices. But when spending goes beyond the economy’s current capacity to respond in quantity terms, price pressures emerge from the demand side.

These considerations suggest a shape for P(Y) that is approximately horizontal over a ‘normal’ range of output centered on Yn but that is sharply increasing for output close to the maximum possible, Ymax. A policy implication is that

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 5: Price Level

November 22, 2019

So far, in considering a simplified economy with a job guarantee, the focus has been on the demand-determined behavior of output and employment. Prices, in this exercise, have simply been taken as given on the grounds that they are not causally significant in the process. This approach does not require prices to remain constant, though, for given supply conditions, they may well do so over a fairly wide range of output for reasons to be discussed. Nor does it require that prices are necessarily unrelated to output; only that the direction of causation in any aggregate relationship between the two mostly runs from output to prices rather than the other way round. But once attention turns to the issue of price stability, which is of considerable interest to job-guarantee proponents, it

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 4: Dynamic Stability

October 13, 2019

The model, in its present form, is short run in nature. It concerns an economy for which total employment, within-sector productivity and productive capacity are all taken as given. Variations in total output are achieved by workers transferring between two broad sectors that have differing productivity. In considering this economy, discussion has touched on aspects of a steady state and system behavior outside the steady state. It has been supposed, in the event of exogenous shocks, that the broader economy (sector b) drives the adjustment process through its reactions to excess demand or excess supply, with the job-guarantee program (sector j) absorbing or releasing workers as appropriate to maintain total employment at its given level. A tendency for the economy to move toward the

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 3: Adjustment Process

October 2, 2019

The model as outlined so far implies particular dynamics. These dynamics are driven by the quantity response of the broader economy (sector b) to mismatches in supply and demand. With the size of the labor force, level of total employment, within-sector productivity and the economy’s productive capacity all taken as exogenously given, the quantity response of sector b requires a change in the sector’s level of employment. The response of sector b induces an inverse response from the job-guarantee sector (sector j), which adjusts as required to maintain full employment at all times. The resulting variations in the composition of employment between higher-productivity sector b and lower-productivity sector j enable the adjustment of total output to total demand.

Levels and

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 2: Keynesian Cross Diagram

August 29, 2019

As a preliminary exercise, it may be instructive to modify the familiar Keynesian cross diagram to include the effects of a job guarantee within a simple short-run framework. The diagram includes two key schedules. The first is a 45-degree line showing all points for which actual expenditure equals actual income. The second is a line with lesser slope depicting the level of planned expenditure (total demand) at each level of income. Under appropriate conditions, the two schedules intersect at a steady-state level of income.
 Simplifying assumptions
Some assumptions are made for simplicity. In particular, the following variables and parameters are taken as exogenously given:
The size of the labor force.
The total level of employment.
Within-sector productivity.
Total productive

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Macro Dynamics with a Job Guarantee – Part 1: Overview

August 11, 2019

The job guarantee as proposed by Modern Monetary Theorists would provide a publicly funded job with defined wage and benefits to anyone who desired one, with public spending on the program varying automatically and countercyclically in response to take-up of positions. In a downturn, workers who lost their jobs would have the option of accepting the job-guarantee offer. As the economy recovered, some workers would receive better offers elsewhere. By design, the job-guarantee provider would not compete on wages in an attempt to retain such workers. Rather, the program would provide a stable wage floor, serving as a nominal price anchor for the economy. Periodically it would be appropriate to revise the program wage, but these wage adjustments would reflect factors such as trend

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Labor Power as the ‘Money Commodity’

July 17, 2019

For Marx and many Marxists, money is based in a commodity; in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), it is not, being based instead in a social relationship that holds more generally than just to commodity production and exchange. Even so, to the extent that commodity production and exchange are given sway within ‘modern money’ economies, operation of the Marxian ‘law of value’ appears to be compatible with MMT. It is just that, from an MMT perspective, private for-profit market-based activity will be embedded within, and delimited by, a broader social and legal framework that is – or at least can be – decisively shaped by currency-issuing government. Therefore, even though in MMT money is not regarded as a commodity, it seems that a commodity theory of money can be reconciled with MMT provided,

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Labor Complexity in Relation to Aggregate Marxian Value

June 21, 2019

Value, in Marxist theory, is an amount of abstract labor that is measured in hours of simple labor or a monetary equivalent. Marx argued that complex labor is reducible, for the purposes of commodity production and exchange, to amounts of simple labor. Qualitatively, complex and simple labor are the same. Both count as abstract labor, and so create value. But, quantitatively, complex labor creates value at a faster rate than simple labor.

This distinction between simple and complex labor complicates Marxian analysis. It remains open to debate whether the complications extend to the macro level. Marxian macro analysis – especially empirical analysis – would be made considerably easier if the value implications of labor complexity could be treated at the aggregate level in much the same

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Currency Acceptance, Currency Value, and Transcending Capitalism

May 13, 2019

While revisiting earlier discussions on Marx and modern monetary theory (MMT), I came across an interesting comments thread. In it, a commenter raised an argument that seems worth addressing (the full comment can be found here). The commenter writes:
MMT treats money as a public utility, while Marxism treats it as an expression of value. And I think that no matter the engagement between these two schools of thought, one has to choose either one or another. Either money is an abstract public utility (grounded only in people’s accepting it, through the force of taxation or whatever), which can then be used quite unproblematically for public goods within any context whatsoever … or one realises that money is not an abstract public utility, but is concretely rooted in material processes,

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Currency Value in Terms of Socially Necessary Labor

May 5, 2019

An economy’s minimum wage equates a unit of the currency to an amount of labor time. For instance, in marxist terms, a minimum wage of $15/hour sets a dollar equal to 4 minutes of simple labor power. At a macro level, this enables currency value to be defined in terms of simple labor. There are, however, at least two ways in which this connection between currency value and labor could be drawn. One way would be to adopt a labor command theory of currency value. In effect, modern monetary theory (MMT) takes this approach. A second way would be to link the value of the currency to the commodity labor power. Adopting the second approach leads to a definition of currency value that is distinct from the MMT definition but closely (and simply) related to it. So far as policy implications go,

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Banks are Capital Constrained, Not Reserve Constrained

March 3, 2019

Generations of economics students have been misled into believing that banks are reserve constrained. Even today, though most specialist monetary economists would likely cringe at the idea, there are widely used textbooks that teach this mistaken view to a new generation of students. Usually the story is framed in terms of a ‘money multiplier’ model in which an addition of reserves into the monetary system by the central bank will supposedly cause a multiplied increase in bank lending and in doing so expand the ‘money supply’ (in this context meaning currency plus deposits). In reality, banks create deposits (add to the money supply) in the act of lending. If they subsequently find themselves short of reserves, they can obtain them from other banks or, in the event of a system-wide

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Fiscal Policy and the Inflation Constraint

February 27, 2019

Modern monetary theory (MMT) makes clear that, for currency-issuing governments, the macroeconomic constraint on fiscal policy is resource availability, not revenue. This is sometimes summarized as “the constraint on fiscal policy is inflation” in recognition of the link between resource availability and the macro impacts of spending. So long as there are available workers, materials, plant and equipment, it is possible to produce more. Under these circumstances, extra spending on goods and services can initiate or encourage production without necessarily affecting prices. Although this point is elementary, recent public debate suggests that it is not obvious to everyone. Some appear to believe that inflation will result whenever there is: (i) money creation; (ii) spending; or (iii)

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