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Peterson/CBO Beat for Austerity Goes On!

6:53 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Recently, I’ve been writing about oligarchs advocating for entitlement cuts and austerity. I’ve discussed attacks on entitlement benefits for the elderly from Abby Huntsman (of MSNBC’s The Cycle) and Catherine Rampell (a Washington Post columnist), both the children of well-off individuals. These posts have come in the context of the English language release of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and the more recent pre-publication release of a study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page using quantitative methods and empirical data to explore the question of whether the US is an oligarchy or a majoritarian democracy. They conclude:

”What do our findings say about democracy in America? They certainly constitute troubling news for advocates of “populistic” democracy, who want governments to respond primarily or exclusively to the policy preferences of their citizens. In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule — at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

With this as a backdrop, today I want to de-construct a recent statement by Michael A. Peterson, President and COO, of one of the centers of American oligarchy, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation (PGPF), and the son of the multi-billionaire Peter G. Peterson, commenting on the CBO’s Report earlier this month, on its updated budget projections for 2014 – 2024. Read the rest of this entry →

More Misdirection from Rampell in the Service of Generational War

11:28 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In my last post, I took issue with a recent column by Catherine Rampell, who tries to make the case that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. Rampell relies on an Urban Institute study to make her case. Since that post, she’s offered another that replies to some of the questions raised by commenters on her earlier effort. I’ll reply to that new post shortly, but first I want to present key points emerging from my analysis of Federal monetary operations in my reply to her earlier post. See that post for the full argument.

Catherine Rampell sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them.


First, once Congress mandates spending, there is no way that the Treasury can be forced into insolvency or an inability to pay its obligations as long as it is willing to make use of all the ways it can cause the Fed to create reserve credits in Treasury spending accounts which can then be used for its reserve keystroking into private sector account activities that today represent most of the reality of Federal spending. Read the rest of this entry →

Misdirection: Rampell Views Entitlements Through the Generational War Lens

9:28 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Some of the favored children of the economic elite who have a public presence, work hard in their writing and speaking to divert attention from inequality and oligarchy issues by raising the issue of competition between seniors and millennials for “scarce” Federal funds. That’s understandable. If millennials develop full consciousness of who, exactly, has been flushing their prospects for a decent life down the toilet, their anger and activism might bring down the system of wealth and economic and social privilege that benefits both their families and the favored themselves in the new America of oligarchy and plutocracy.

Catherine Rampell sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them.

Here and here, I evaluated Abby Huntsman’s arguments for entitlement “reform,” and, of course, Pete Peterson’s son, Michael fights a continuing generational war against seniors in pushing the austerian line of the Peterson Foundation. Now comes Catherine Rampell, who, in a recent column, sets forth the position that seniors haven’t paid for their Social Security and Medicare because they “generally receive” more in benefits out of these programs than they pay into them. I’ll reply to all of the main points in Rampell’s argument, by quoting liberally and then replying to the points she makes in each quote. She says:

Yes, seniors paid into Social Security and Medicare during the years they worked, if they worked. But they generally receive much more out of the entitlement system than they paid into it.

She continues by citing an Urban Institute study and pointing out that earlier age cohorts received much more in benefits from Social Security than they paid in, and also says:

But let’s consider the average worker who turned 65 in 2010. Generally speaking, the people in this cohort will, more or less, break even on Social Security, according to Eugene Steuerle, an Urban Institute fellow who co-authors the annual report. (Earlier generations made out like bandits; for example, members of an average one-earner couple who turned 65 in 1990 receive twice as much in Social Security benefits as they paid in taxes.)

Medicare, on the other hand, is pretty much a steal no matter when you turned 65.”

After citing some details documenting “what a steal” Medicare is, Rampell concludes the first part of her argument with this:

”It boils down to this: Despite all the “we already paid for it” rhetoric popular among seniors, seniors did not pre-pay for their entitlements. If anything, they paid for their parents’ entitlements, which were more modest than the benefits today’s retirees receive.

This argument of Rampell’s is disingenuous, because it takes the claim that seniors have already paid for their entitlements as saying that they’ve paid dollar-for-dollar, more or less, for what they’re getting in benefits. But seniors who know how SS and medicare works certainly don’t mean this when they say they’ve already paid for it. What they surely mean instead, is that Congress has legislated the SS and Medicare safety nets, and the benefits that currently exist, for the purpose of seeing to it that seniors have a minimum of economic insecurity during the period of their lives when a large proportion of them no longer have the capability to earn a decent living due to illness, other infirmities, or an extreme reluctance of private sector employers to hire them even when they are very skilled.

To draw on the benefits of these programs seniors were required to pay FICA contributions during their working lives. These payments, according to the law, give them the right, in other words, entitle them, to receive the benefits of SS and Medicare that were mandated by Congress.

No one ever said to today’s seniors that there was some rule in the SS and Medicare programs requiring that their payments needed to, or ought to, correspond to the amount of their total benefits, since that was never the deal legislated by Congress. No, the deal was: “You pay your FICA contributions, and you get your benefits at retirement.” Simple as that!

So, people who followed the SS and Medicare rules and made their payments over the years rightly view themselves as having paid for their entitlement benefits, regardless of whether their cumulative FICA payments fall short of or exceed the cumulative sum of those benefits. Why shouldn’t they, and why is Rampell implying that the deal implicit in our major entitlement programs is anything different?

Additionally, I’m afraid that Rampell is also wrong when she says that today’s seniors “paid for” their parents’ entitlements. They certainly paid FICA and Medicare-related contributions, of course; but it is not true that these revenues paid for anything, in spite of Federal reports that appear to link the two, or the accounting that shows that the Social Security Administration has built up a $2.8 Trillion credit against future expenditures, and that Medicare has a much smaller volume of credit to be used for such expenditures. Read the rest of this entry →

The Village Still Ignores the Most Important Point

8:48 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

In recent posts I reviewed two commentaries by Abby Huntsman on Social Security and other entitlements, also noting points made in other critiques of her narratives. Abby’s commentaries are here, and here, and my critiques are here and here. The most important point I emphasized in my two rebuttals is that there are no fiscal solvency or sustainability issues related to Social Security, or other parts of the safety net, but that the issues involve only the willingness of Congress to appropriate entitlement spending, and either the removal of current constraints on Treasury to spend appropriations such as the debt limit, or the willingness of the Executive Branch to use its current legislative authority either to a) generate sufficient seigniorage from platinum coins to spend such appropriations; or b) use a type of debt instrument, such as consols, which aren’t counted toward the debt limit.

The day before I posted my second reply to Abby Huntsman, Richard J. Eskow and WeActRadio posted this video clip from Eskow’s radio broadcast. In his critique, Richard shows that Abby Huntsman’s treatment of Social Security and entitlements is full of misleading information and hews closely to the narrative offered by Alan Simpson, Pete Peterson, and organizations supported by Peterson funding, and he calls for the MSNBC producers of “The Cycle” to issue statements correcting the facts, and to give Abby’s co-hosts on The Cycle a chance to reply to her about social security. Read the rest of this entry →

When You Really Look, Financial Quicksand Turns Into Oligarchical BS

9:09 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Why do you say that the Government will have a solvency problem?

Abby Huntsman’s first rant about entitlements soliciting generational warfare got a lot of pushback from defenders. I reviewed the main points made in defense of entitlements, and then added “the most important point of all” as well. Abby made a second try, however, this time singling out Michael Hiltzik’s reply to her to respond to and adding a few more points, while withdrawing a bit from her claim that life expectancy has changed very much for seniors since the New Deal period. Hiltzik took issue with that one too. Let’s review Huntsman’s reply to Hiltzik by analyzing the MSNBC transcript of her second rant against entitlements.

Abby Huntsman:

. . . the need for entitlement reform. there was a firestorm of reaction. an article in the ” l.a. times” went as far as to say i want to lead my generation into poverty. come on, man. this isn’t about me. it’s about the major problem.

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The Most Important Point of All Was Ignored

8:43 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

On Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant

MSNBC’s right wing representative on The Cycle, Abby Huntsman, got a lot of pushback from Social Security defenders after her rant last week. They made points similar to the following in countering Huntsman:

– SS is not bankrupt now, it has $2.6 Trillion in Treasury IOUs in the SS “trust fund” accumulated because Treasury has used FICA collections to “pay for” other Federal spending since 1983, when the Government began to collect more from workers and employers than was paid out to beneficiaries. The accumulated IOUs, projected interest on them, and future FICA collections are projected as being enough to “cover” 100% of SS benefits until 2033, and then 75% of benefits thereafter. 100% of benefits could be “covered” from 2033 on, if the payroll tax cap on Social Security were to be removed.

– Huntsman’s claim that seniors have longer life expectancies than when SS first was enacted is greatly exaggerated, because life expectancies at birth have improved due to improvements in infant mortality rates. But they haven’t improved nearly as much at age 65 and older, and apart from that, the improvement that exists after age 65 is reached is primarily concentrated among certain social groups, and that the poorest and most needy groups in our population, who need SS the most, have either seen little improvement in life expectancy, or even a decline in life expectancy in recent years.

– Savings of seniors now average very little more than is needed for them to cover Medical expenses due to aging and there is precious little left over for living expenses beyond what SS spending will cover.

– Huntsman is conflating the SS “Trust Fund” running out of money in 2033, with SS running out of money. The first is happening as it was always planned to happen when the Reagan Administration and Congress agreed to raise FICA payments to almost double the amount previously paid, for the boomer generation to cover its retirement benefits; but the second depends on what Congress will do in the future to close the gap between current projected FICA revenues and projected benefits.

These two are different because the Government can do various things to close that gap. Huntsman mentions only cutting benefits or moving the SS retirement age to either 70 or even 75, so that enough will be left in the fund to close the revenue/benefits gap. But there are other ways of doing this easily; most notably removing the payroll tax cap so that the well-off, or those who are prospering, will pay the same share of their income into Social Security as most of the rest of us, and/or there can also be gradual small increases in the employee and employer contributions that will close the projected gaps indefinitely.Other points of less importance, and moral arguments, which from my point of view are among the most important, about the right to a decent secure retirement for the elderly are made, as well.

But, there is one point, the most important one of all, which is not made in all these “progressive” push back arguments against Abby Hunstman’s right wing Petersonian “Fix the Debt” rant. That is the point that there is no entitlement crisis and no emergency, and neither an increase in payroll taxes, nor robbing from “future generations” is necessary to close the projected gap after 2033 because Congress can pass legislation providing for annual automatic funding of expected costs for all SS and Medicare trust funds.

That’s done now for Supplementary Medical Insurance (Medicare Part B), and Prescription Drug Benefits (Medicare Part D), and the same practice using similar legislative language can be extended to the SS Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) and Disability Insurance (DI) trust funds. End of story. Once that is done, no gaps between SS revenue and benefits can be projected by institutions, such as CBO, under current law.

You may doubt this solution by pointing out that legislation like this just pushes off Huntsman’s Social Security solvency problem to the Treasury at large, rather than its being SS’s problem, but it doesn’t solve the real insolvency problem. Only it does, because the Government as a whole has no fiscal solvency problem, since it can always use its authority to create the reserves in the Treasury spending accounts to pay all its bills including all those exceeding its revenues.

The customary way of creating such reserves is to sell Treasury debt instruments, destroying reserves in the private sector, and getting the Fed to place an equal amount of reserves in its accounts. But, there is another way it can be done under current law, and still other ways open to Congress, if they want to pay all the SS benefits they would have guaranteed by the proposed change in the law that would solve this faux problem.

The way any gap appropriated by Congress can be closed under current law, is to use Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) to do it. As many of my readers know, I’ve explained how this would work in my e-book. But, the basic idea is that coin seigniorage can be used by the Treasury to require the Fed to use its reserve creation authority to place reserves in Treasury accounts, without Treasury engaging in any additional taxing or borrowing.

So, this capability coupled with Congress providing for annual automatic funding would end the Huntsman, Peterson, Bowles, Simpson, Ryan, and Obama revenue gap problems with Social Security and all other entitlements, for that matter, without these poor folks having to worry about taxing the rich, like them. And, if Congress doesn’t like that alternative way of placing reserves in Treasury’s accounts so it can spend Congressional appropriations, then it can always just go ahead and place the Fed within the Treasury Department, giving the Secretary the direct authority to order the Fed to fill its accounts with enough reserves to cover any revenue shortfalls, without either raising taxes or issuing more debt instruments.

So, these are the easy ways to end the faux crisis which won’t befall us anyway until 2033. Why won’t the “progressives” pushing back against Abby Huntsman mention solutions like these? Why do they, instead, always propose solutions that will raise taxes on the wealthy? Are they afraid to let the people know that the Government isn’t like a household and doesn’t have the same financial problems they have, just written large? Are they so insistent on solutions that will tax higher income and wealthy people, because they must kill the two birds of full employment and greater equality through taxing with a single stone?

Moving toward greater economic equality is a focus we ought to prioritize very highly, but getting that done is a separate issue from defeating deficit terrorism by taking the deficit reduction and faux entitlement crises off the table so full resources can be devoted to strengthening the safety net and legislating programs essential for getting millions of Americans on their feet again and contemplating the future with hope. That, in itself, will lessen inequality.

And after that is done, we can then turn our attention to programs primarily focused on creating greater economic equality. But until it is done, let us focus on stopping the bleeding of working and middle class Americans and restoring them to the economic health and sense of economic opportunity, that we’ve always thought was so important to American life.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

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Bernie: YOU Stop Caving to Peterson/Obama/#supercommittee

11:42 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Dear Bernie,

Today, you told the “Democrats stop caving in . . . ” to the interests of corporations, the tea party, wealthy individuals, and the Republicans in Congress. The only problem with your fiery statement is that you began it by “caving in” to them yourself. You did this by immediately legitimizing their frame of reference by saying:

“Here is something we all can agree on: Federal deficits are a serious problem.”

I’m sorry Bernie, we can’t all agree on that, because it’s just not true, and it’s what the Republicans, the Blue Dogs, most Democrats and the Administration are all using to try to bully you and us into agreeing to spending cuts in key discretionary programs and programs like Social Security and Medicare, and also into not moving for more spending on jobs, better entitlement programs, including Medicare for All, and better discretionary programs we need to solve our many national problems.

The idea that Federal deficit spending is a serious problem is the idea, that along with the belief that the Federal debt is getting to be some kind of irresolvable problem, is in back of the whole anti-deficit/debt thrust of the deficit terrorists like Pete Peterson, David Walker, Alice Rivlin, and all the others in Washington including the President. In turn, this thrust has led to the Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission, and the current so-called supercommittee that you’ve been fighting so hard ‘lo these past months, and the constant drum beat that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) to deficit cutting.

So, when are you going to learn that the only way for you and us to end this fight and to win it, is to deny their basic premises and particularly their foundational idea that the United States of America, the issuer of its own non-convertible floating fiat currency, with no external debt payable in anyone else’s currency, and the ultimate source of all US Dollars existing in the world, can run out of the money needed to continue to deficit spend, and to pay all its bills including the principal and interest on all its debts, as well as all Congressional appropriations you and your colleagues may choose to legislate?

You say that the deficit is a serious problem. But I think it’s not a real problem at all for at least three reasons that refute TINA.

– First, because nothing bad needs to happen if we continue to run deficits, as long as we don’t do so after our economy is operating at full capacity. But we are very far from that state right now with between 25 – 30 million people wanting full time employment and not being able to get it. So, we can’t have demand-pull inflation now. It’s impossible.

– Second, because it’s the Congress that is constraining the Government from generating money for its debt repayment, or appropriated deficit spending using means other than taxing or borrowing, because Congress prohibits the Treasury from freely issuing Treasury Notes and also requires that it issue debt before it deficit spends, while at the same time imposing debt ceilings that interfere with borrowing to spend appropriations Congress has already made. So, there is no real problem because the constraints were made by Congress and can be lifted by it in a single afternoon, if it wants to.

There Is An Alternative (TIAA). And it is for Congress to stop requiring the Treasury to issue debt when it deficit spends, and to allow it instead to “mark up” its own accounts at the Fed when it needs to spend an already legislated Congressional appropriation, or to repay past debt and interest.

You should be making the truth of TIAA clear to the American people, Bernie, so that everyone knows that any shortage of money to spend is Congress’s own fault, and that there is no debt/deficit problem in the sense of an inability to pay, or a need for China, Japan, or the bankers to lend the Government back the money the Government created in the first place, or a need to cut spending, or a need to raise taxes on anyone, or both, to avoid impending or future solvency.

But instead you’re reinforcing their message that there is a serious deficit problem. Now that’s what I call “loser liberalism,” Bernie.

– And Third, there is no problem because even under current law, with its constraints on the Treasury’s ability to spend what’s required to repay debt or spend Congressional appropriations, it has been legal since 1996 for the Executive Branch to issue 1 oz. proof platinum coins having arbitrary face value in the amount of many Trillions of Dollars, deposit those coins at the Fed, and force the Fed to use its money-creating authority to credit Mint and Treasury Accounts with electronic credits equal to the value of the coin. The money placed in Treasury’s accounts as a result of this action need not be spent. In fact, if the Executive minted a $60 T coin, then it could not all be spent because the authority for spending by the Treasury would not extend further than repayment of debt subject to the ceiling as it falls due, and payment implementing Congressional appropriations approved up to now.

So, even if such a coin were issued, spending by the end of the year would be limited to repayment of all intra-governmental debt, including all debt held by the Fed itself, and the Federal spending appropriated by Congress for the remainder of this calendar year. Most of the $60 Trillion would still remain unspent to be used for future debt repayment as the securities fall due, and payment for future Congressional appropriations that would not be covered by tax revenues.

As long as those appropriations don’t outrun tax revenues more than is necessary to enable a full employment, full capacity utilization economy, no one has to worry about demand-pull inflation resulting from excessive Government spending. It won’t happen. And if there is any inflation from other causes, which is possible, and even probable, if we don’t prevent excessive commodity speculation through appropriate laws and their faithful enforcement, any cost-push inflation, won’t have anything to do with Government spending.

You can find a more detailed explanation of this coin seigniorage idea and its implications here, here, here, and here. Without going into detail in this open letter, I’ll just say that if the President uses coin seigniorage in the way I’ve outlined, he can fill the public purse with such a large volume of USD electronic credits that no one will be able to say, ever again, that the US has a deficit/debt problem because it is running out of money. And, additionally, in a very few years, the Treasury’s payment of the Government’s debts as they fall due, without any further debt issuance, to spend Congressional appropriations not covered by tax revenues or other sales, will result in most of the debt subject to the ceiling, except for long-term debt, being paid. There will be very low levels of debt subject to the ceiling and eventually no debt of this kind at all.

So, to summarize, it is not true that “. . . Federal deficits are a serious problem.” And it is not true that we have to do anything to reduce deficits defined as a gap between Federal spending and Federal tax revenues. The whole exercise in deficit reduction that the president and the other deficit terrorists have put this country through has been an immensely wasteful distraction.

As you say in your HuffPo piece:

“This is a pivotal moment in American history. The rich and large corporations are doing phenomenally well while the middle class is collapsing and poverty is increasing. Now is the time to answer the question that the Woody Guthrie song poignantly asked, “Which side are you on?” The Democrats must answer boldly that they are on the side of working families and the middle class and that they will fight to protect their interests.”

And you, Bernie, must also answer boldly with the truth. People who are on the side of working families and the middle class, like yourself, cannot continue to say that “we can all agree that there is a serious deficit problem”, because that has been the continuing most important element in the case the deficit terrorists are making.

To defend our ground, and the 99%, we need to deny and defeat that false framing. We cannot reinforce it! We need an alternative framing.

And that framing is, the Federal Government needs no money from anyone to pay its debts and to spend what Congress has appropriated. We are a fully sovereign nation, and as long at we retain that full sovereignty, including its fiscal aspects, the Government can spend/create any money it needs in accordance with the authority given to it by the Constitution of the United States. It is up to the Congress and to the Executive to use that authority as necessary to create and maintain full employment AND price stability, as well as all other aspects of the Public Purpose, as that purpose is defined and specified by the people of the United States of America.

Best,

Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D.
(Letsgetitdone)

Scott Fullwiler: QE3, Treasury Style—Go Around, Not Over the Debt Ceiling Limit

9:55 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

By

Scott Fullwiler

(Editor’s Note: This post is being re-published with the permission of the author, Scott Fullwiler)

Cullen Roche’s excellent post at Pragmatic Capitalism explains—via comments from frequent MMT commentator Beowulf and several previous posts by fellow MMT blogger Joe Firestone (see the links at the end of Cullen’s post and also here)—that the debt ceiling debate could be ended right now given that the US Constitution bestows upon the US Treasury the authority to mint coins. Further, this simple change would lift the veil on how current monetary operations work and thereby demonstrate clearly that a currency-issuing government under flexible exchange rates cannot be forced into default against its will and is not beholden to “vigilante” bond markets. As Beowulf explains in a later comment, “The anomaly it addresses is that the US Govt has a debt limit yet an agency of the US Govt (the Federal Reserve) does not have a debt limit. Clearly this is a structural defect.”

The following is a description of how the process would work and the implications for monetary operations:

1. The Treasury mints a $1 trillion coin, or whatever amount is desired.

2. The Treasury deposits the coin into the Treasury’s account at the Fed. The Fed’s assets (coin) and liabilities (Treasury’s account) increase by the same amount. As Beowulf notes later in a comment to the same post from Cullen, were the Fed to resist, the Federal Reserve Act clearly states that “wherever any power vested by this Act in the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System or the Federal reserve agent appears to conflict with the powers of the Secretary of the Treasury, such powers shall be exercised subject to the supervision and control of the Secretary.” The Fed is legally an agency operating at the pleasure of the government, not vice versa. Regardless, the actions I describe here and below by the Treasury in no way interfere with the normal operations of monetary policy (explained in various places below).

3. The Treasury buys back bonds (thereby retiring them) until total market value purchased is equal to the dollar value of the newly minted coin. The result is a decrease in the Treasury’s account at Fed and an increase in bank reserve balances held at the Fed.

4. Total debt service for the Treasury falls, too, as higher interest earning bonds are replaced with reserve balances earning 0.25%. Effective debt service on purchased bonds now is 0.25% since interest on reserve balances reduces the Fed’s profits that are returned to Treasury each year.

5. The retirement of bonds is an asset swap, no different from QE2, except that the Treasury has purchased the bonds instead of the Fed. But since the Treasury’s account is on the Fed’s balance sheet, there is no operational difference. That is, this is effectively “QE3, Treasury Style.” As with QE2, no net financial assets have been created for the non-government sector. The net effect, like QE2, is to reduce the term structure of US debt held by private investors, as bonds have been replaced with reserve balances.

6. The increase in reserve balances is not inflationary, as Credit Easing 1.0, QE 1.0, and QE 2.0 already have shown. Banks can’t “do” anything with all the extra reserve balances. Loans create deposits—reserve balances don’t finance lending or add any “fuel” to the economy. Banks don’t lend reserve balances except in the federal funds market, and in that case the Fed always provides sufficient quantities to keep the federal funds rate at its target—that’s what it means to set an interest rate target. Widespread belief that reserve balances add “fuel” to bank lending is flawed, as I explained here over two years ago.

7. Non-bank sellers of the bonds purchased by the Treasury now have deposits earning essentially 0%. Again, this is not inflationary. There are three points to make in explaining why.

First, sellers of bonds were always able to sell their securities for deposits with or without the Treasury’s intervention given that there are around 20 dealers posting bids at all times. Anyone holding a treasury security and desiring to sell it in order to spend more out of current income can do so easily; holders of Treasury securities are never constrained in spending by the fact that they hold the security instead of a deposit. Further, dealers finance purchases of securities from both the private sector and the Treasury by borrowing in the repo market—that is, via credit creation using securities as collateral. This means there is no “taking money from one person to give it to another” zero sum game when bonds are issued (banks can similarly purchase securities by taking an overdraft in reserve accounts and clearing it at the end of the day in the federal funds market), as what in fact happens is that the existence of the security actually enables more credit creation and are known to regularly facilitate credit creation in money markets that are a multiple of face value. Removing the security from circulation eliminates the ability for it to be leveraged many times over in money markets.

Second, the seller of the security now holding a deposit is earning less interest can convert the deposit to an interest earning balance. Just as one holding a Treasury can easily sell, one holding a deposit can easily find interest earning alternatives. Some make the argument that the security can decline in value and so this is not the same as holding a deposit, but this unwittingly supports my point here that holders of deposits aren’t necessarily doing so to spend. Deposits don’t spend themselves, after all.

Third, these operations by the Treasury create no new net financial assets for the non-government sector (and can in fact reduce its net saving by reducing interest paid on the national debt as bonds are replaced by reserve balances earning 0.25%). Any increase in aggregate spending would thereby require the private sector to spend more out of existing income or dissaving, as opposed to additional spending out of additional income. The commonly held view that “more money” necessarily creates spending confuses “more money” with “more income.” QE—whether “Fed style” or “Treasury style”—creates the former via an asset swap; on the other hand, a true helicopter drop would create the latter as it raises the net financial assets of the private sector. Again, “money” doesn’t spend itself. Further, by definition, spending more out of existing income is a re-leveraging of private sector balance sheets. This is highly unlikely in the current balance-sheet recession and is aside from the fact that QE again does nothing to facilitate more spending or credit creation beyond what is already possible without QE. The exception is that QE may reduce interest rates, particularly if the Fed or (in this case) the Treasury sets a fixed bid and offers to purchase all bonds offered for sale at that price—though this again may not lead to more credit creation in a balance-sheet recession and has the negative effect of reducing the net interest income of the private sector. (As an aside, a key difficulty neoclassical economists are having at the moment is they do not recognize the difference between a balance-sheet recession and their own flawed understanding of Keynes’s liquidity trap.)

8. The debt ceiling crisis is averted, as US debt outstanding has been reduced by the dollar value of the minted coin, and can continue to be reduced as desired. This simple asset swap demonstrates that the self-imposed constraints of the debt-ceiling, counting Treasury securities held by the Fed against the debt ceiling, and forbidding the Fed from “lending” to the Treasury directly are just that—self-imposed—and are not operational constraints at all. The only constraint is in the flawed understanding of the monetary system that is standard today among the macroeconomists writing textbooks and advising policymakers, or acting as policymakers themselves. From points 6 and 7 above, this asset swap is not inflationary—spending without issuing bonds is not any more inflationary than spending with bond sales, as I explained here and here.

9. Fed is the monopoly supplier of reserve balances, the Treasury is the monopoly supplier of coins. Future deficit spending by the federal government could thereby continue to be carried out by minting coins and depositing them in the Treasury’s account at the Fed. It then would be clear to everyone that the Treasury’s spending is not operationally constrained by revenues or its ability to sell bonds. It would be obvious that the Treasury spends by crediting the reserve accounts of banks, who in turn credit the deposit accounts of the spending recipients. Deficits would increase the quantity of reserve balances circulating and currently earning 0.25%. As MMT’ers have explained for years (even decades), the operational purpose of the Treasury’s sale of a bond is merely to aid the Fed’s ability to achieve its overnight target by draining reserve balances created by a deficit. But even selling bonds isn’t operationally necessary if the Fed pays interest on reserve balances at a rate equal to its target rate. On the other hand, if the Fed set the rate on reserve balances below its target and the Treasury no issuing bonds, the Fed could issue its own time deposits (with Congress’ blessing) to drain reserve balances created by a deficit. Whether the Fed’s target rate were set above the rate paid on reserve balances or equal to it, effective interest on the national debt clearly would be a monetary policy variable (as interest paid on reserve balances or on time deposits by the Fed reduces the Fed’s profits returned to the Treasury), as it at the very worst can be even under current operating procedures (see here and here).

10. This approach to dealing with the debt ceiling is far better than the recent proposal by Ron Paul, as again it lifts the veil on current monetary operations and recognizes the currency-issuing status of the US federal government. Instead, Paul proposes that the Fed destroy its holdings of Treasury securities. What’s strange about the proposal is that it shows that Paul either doesn’t understand monetary operations or is trying to have it both ways. Destroying the securities requires reducing the Fed’s capital by the same amount. Given the Fed’s miniscule level of capital (because, again, it has virtually no retained earnings after transferring them all to the Treasury each year), its capital would be way into negative territory. This isn’t a problem operationally, given that the Fed is the monopoly supplier of reserve balances. But recall that Paul was one of those protesting Credit Easing and QE1 the loudest, claiming that these would surely destroy the Fed’s capital and leave it insolvent. (Again, this is only relevant operationally under a gold standard or similar monetary arrangement—Paul and others like him want to analyze the US national debt and the Fed as if a gold standard existed, and then claim that a going on the gold standard is the solution to all of our problems, but I digress.) So, effectively Paul’s proposal would leave the Fed in a state of (in his view) “insolvency”—perhaps he does know what he’s doing and his debt ceiling proposal is just part of his grand plan to “end the Fed.” Otherwise, it would have been simpler to simply propose exempting the Treasury securities held by the Fed from counting toward the debt ceiling.

Lastly, giving credit where it is due, I want to again recognize the efforts of both Joe Firestone and Beowulf in researching and explaining the legal basis for and operational implications of the Treasury’s Constitutional authority to mint its own coin(s). This post benefits significantly from their important, original work.

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.

President Obama: Stop Breaking the Law; Use Coin Seigniorage

9:52 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Yesterday, The United States actually ran over the debt ceiling of $14.294 Trillion by $50 Billion or so, which means that the Treasury has issued $52 Billion more in debt instruments than is allowed by Congress’s debt ceiling, which, in turn, means that the current Administration stands in violation of the Law. In reply to this, some will say that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional so the President doesn’t need to observe it. However, in the present context, I don’t think that’s true. Here’s my argument.

1) Congress mandates a debt ceiling that Treasury has now exceeded by $52 Billion. So Treasury is currently in violation of the law unless the law in question is unconstitutional.

2) Congress also mandates that all deficit spending must occur after bonds are issued to “make room” for the spending.

3) Congress also prohibits the Federal Reserve from letting Treasury run a negative balance in its account, which is probably just a function of 2).

4) The Constitution (14th Amendment section 4) prohibits anyone from questioning the validity of debts of the United States. In Perry v. United States (1935) the Supreme Court ruled, based on section 4, that voiding a United States government bond is beyond the power of Congress.

Yet another argument that might be applied in this case is based on the idea that the Congressional appropriations providing for Treasury’s spending were passed after the current debt ceiling. Since later laws supercede earlier ones, it follows that legislation appropriating Treasury spending supercedes Congress’s earlier passage of the debt ceiling.

5) If only 1-4 applied, then 1) would be either unconstitutional or supercede by later law, and the Executive could ignore 1), continue issuing debt and wait for the Courts to tell Congress that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional or superceded.

6) However, the context includes more than 1) — 4). It also includes the authority for the Executive to employ jumbo coin seigniorage to replenish the Treasury General Account at the Fed and pay all of the obligations of the United States without issuing more debt or even, technically, any more “deficit spending.” As beowulf puts it:

The Secretary has rather broad authority to mint coins, Congress was apparently feeling generous when it authorized platinum coins in 31 USC 5112(k) (“with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe…”). If deficit spending was paid for (eliminated actually) with miscellaneous receipts revenue generated by selling the Fed jumbo denomination coins, and since the Federal Fund Rate can now be pegged with Interest on Reserve payments in lieu selling Treasuries to drain excess reserves, Tsy could fund govt operations indefinitely without ever raising the statutory debt limit.

Beowulf might also have pointed out that national debt can eventually reduced to near zero with the constant use of coin seigniorage. Details of how coin seigniorage would work with citations to legal issues involved are in beowulf’s post; and an outline of steps in a procedure is in my recent post.

7) So, since the Executive has a way of paying all obligations without deficit spending by using coin seigniorage and its Constitutional duty is to uphold both the Constitution and the laws of the United States, it follows that the Executive must immediately end its violation of the law, and use coin seigniorage to replenish the TGA as necessary to implement all the spending appropriations passed by Congress and all the previous obligations of the United States.

What else is there to say? The President has no choice in this matter. Congress has appropriated money for particular purposes. It has also passed a debt ceiling, and passed a law providing the Administration authority to engage in jumbo coin seigniorage to get revenue necessary to spend appropriations in the presence of the debt limit. The President is also bound to uphold the Constitutional prescription that no one may question the validity of the debts of the United States, which certainly also implies, in the context of the debt ceiling, that it is the obligation of the President to remove any basis for such questioning by using the authority granted to him to raise all revenue necessary to spend Congressional appropriations. So, what is he waiting for? He should move back into compliance with the Law by immediately using jumbo coin seigniorage, while ignoring the inevitable teeth gnashing by those holding the nation hostage!

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

Bernie Says: “. . . We’re Tired of Bullying . . .”

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Bernie Sanders is really tired of Republican bullying on the debt ceiling. And he expressed how fed up he is about it on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show. Here’s an open letter to Bernie, telling him what he and anybody else who’s fed up with that can do about it.

An Open Letter to Bernie

Dear Bernie,

If you’re really tired of the bullying then I think you need to stop believing in and start denying the basic premise the Republicans, the Blue Dogs, most Democrats and the Administration are all using to bully you and us into agreeing to spending cuts in key discretionary programs and entitlement programs, and also into not moving for more spending on jobs, better entitlement programs, including Medicare for All, and better discretionary programs we need to solve our many national problems. That premise is that the United States of America, the issuer of its own fiat currency, and the ultimate source of all US Dollars can run out of the money needed to continue to deficit spend and to pay its bills.

Of course, this can’t happen Bernie, as long as the Congress doesn’t constrain its own constitutional authority to spend by committing to legislation that limits its scope. Right now, Congress is doing that, however.

The requirement that Treasury issue debt before it deficit spends is mandated by Congress, and conflicts somewhat with previous Congressional appropriations creating spending authority. The debt ceiling is another mandate of Congress that conflicts with previously passed spending authority in a very direct way. Making the Federal Reserve Board of Governors an independent agency, rather than an agency under the Treasury Department, constrains the spending power of the Treasury beyond the limits provided by Congressional appropriations themselves.

These constraints, however, are political, not economic. If Congress removes even one of them, then the Federal Government can never run out of money already appropriated by Congress. Even with all three limitations, the Federal Government still cannot run out of money, if the Administration is willing to uphold the Constitution and exercise the full authority to coin money that Congress has granted to the Executive. Where the constitution comes in is that Section 4 of the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow the US Government to default on any of its obligations. So, constitutionally, Congress should not be playing games with the full faith and credit of the United States.

Apart from that however, the Executive has sworn to uphold the Constitution, and the Treasury has authority, granted by Congress in the 1990s, to mint platinum jumbo coins with arbitrarily large face values. So, rather than run out of money when it reaches the debt limit the Government can mint however much it needs to implement Congressional appropriations without either taxing or borrowing. You can find a more detailed explanation of this coin seigniorage idea here and here. Without going into detail in this open letter, I’ll just say that if the President uses coin seigniorage to meet the debt ceiling crisis, all the Republican’s power to bully and hold the Government hostage will be gone outside of the context of the appropriations process itself. We would have “an end to bullying.”

So, if you really want to end it, please call the President’s attention to this post and the links I’ve provided, and point out to him and anyone else who will listen, that he can make the bullying stop, anytime he wants to

Best,

Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D.

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).