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Revisiting the Budget Plague

10:08 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Deficit spending by the government is merely the counterpart of private sector saving. What government deficit spending does is to permit the private sector to achieve its level of desired saving. When the latter changes, government spending ought to be adjusting in the opposite direction to offset it (unless the current account balance happens to do the job).

This very simple statement by Marshall Auerback reflects the Sector Financial Balances (SFB) Model I discussed in “A Plague On All Your Budgets.” The Sector Financial Balances Model:

Domestic Private Balance + Domestic Government Balance + Foreign Balance = 0;

once again, is an accounting identity that provides a focus for macroeconomic analysis, explanation, and prediction by economists applying the Modern Money Theory (MMT) approach. The terms refer to flows among the three sectors of the economy in any defined period of time. Since we’re dealing with an accounting identity, the equation must always be valid.

So, for example, when the domestic private sector balance is positive that means that more financial wealth is flowing to that sector taken as a whole than it is sending to the other two sectors. Similarly when the foreign sector balance is positive that means that more financial wealth is being sent to that sector than it is sending to the other two sectors. When the private sector balance is negative that means that the private sector is sending more to the other two sectors and so on.

In “A Plague On All Your Budgets,” I used the SFB model to show that all four sets of projections of budget deficits then current by: the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), the CBO, the House, and the Senate; all implied austerity over a 10 year period assuming that the foreign balance (the US trade deficit ) would remain at 3% of GDP or greater. Why?

Simple. Look at the equation. If the foreign balance is greater than or equal to 3% of GDP in any year, then unless the Government runs a deficit of 3% or greater, the domestic private balance must be negative. That doesn’t mean every private sector person or organization would lose nominal financial wealth over that year, but it would mean that other than temporary and illusory financial gains due to credit bubbles and accompanying excessive evaluation of assets, the accumulation of financial wealth in the private sector would be a zero sum game, with some people and organizations winning and some losing every year the private sector balance was negative because the foreign balance was at +3% and the government balance was greater than -3%. If the Government ran a surplus of say 2% of GDP in any year, then private sector wealth would decline by 5% of GDP in that year. Of course, three years of that would be an economic catastrophe

Over a period of years, and again, neglecting the effect of credit bubbles, the result sooner or later has to be constriction in aggregate demand, economic stagnation, and recession or depression. In my previous post, I concluded that even under the most “liberal” 10 year projection planned by the CPC we could expect domestic private sector savings losses from 2016 on, and even perhaps in 2015 if there were a slight deviation in the projection. We could not have too many years of those losses without hitting another great recession.

So, the CPC budget may be better than others for a couple of years, but the danger in it is that if the CPC plan were taken seriously and the budget course projected was actually implemented, then it would be deterred eventually only by the inevitable crash. Hopefully this crash would occur in very short order, rather than being postponed by another credit bubble, only to be even more severe later on.

Since my earlier post, the White House has weighed in with its budget and 10 year projection. One item in the President’s budget has received an enormous amount of attention, and that is the chained CPI proposal. I’ve written rather trenchantly about that immoral proposal here and here. But, the overall implications of his austerity budget from a macroeconomic point of view haven’t been widely discussed. The Table below includes these new projections.

2013 Budget Projection Comparison

You can see that the White House budget has increasingly serious austerity implications as the years go by. In my previous post, I said that all four of the budget projections in the earlier table, if implemented, could only correspond to a bleak, stagnating economic future for the United States, with the House Budget producing the worst result by far. The addition of the White House budget as a fifth alternative doesn’t change that conclusion at all.

You can see that, with the exception of the CPC “back to work” budget, the President’s budget is the most expansive of all of them in 2013 – 2015. Still, it doesn’t allow for much private sector savings in a nation still recovering from the crash of 2008, and the CPC budget is quite a bit more expansive in these early years of the projections than the President’s plan. Beginning in 2016, however, the White House budget implies that private savings must be increasingly negative with greater and greater losses of private financial wealth to 2023. Its implications for negative savings in these years are less serious than the CPC budget, but, nevertheless, the fact that the White House either can’t or won’t recognize that its budget condemns the country to a recession within “the long depression” we are experiencing now, only makes the prognosis for the economy that much more serious, because it means that, like the Europeans, the White House is likely to double down on its austerity budget in the future if its deficit/debt projections are wrong. Like Herbert Hoover, and the Eurozone oligarchs, it will believe that “prosperity is just around the corner,” if only it stays the austerity course it has been increasingly setting.

Also, apart from the SFB model’s macroeconomic considerations and their significance for declining domestic private sector wealth over time, the situation looks even worse when we take economic and political power considerations and their likely effect on the economy into account. The history of the US since 1970 shows clearly that when the private sector gets a cold, the household sector gets pneumonia.

Big businesses, the financial sector, and wealthy oligarchs will use their economic and political power to see to it that their nominal financial wealth will continue to increase even as the private sector as a whole is losing 20% – 30% of its financial wealth, over the period of a decade. That will exacerbate the already ridiculous level of inequality we see in American society, and accelerate the movement toward plutocracy in America if we allow any of these austerity plans, or any variations between the “liberal” CPC proposal and the “right-wing” House proposal to be passed and implemented.

I’ll repeat what I said in my previous post with some small changes. All of these budgets are illustrations in fiscal fantasy, or perhaps I should say, in fiscal science fiction using bad fiscal science. In taking a fiscal approach based on reducing budget deficits, all the budgets are doing the wrong thing for the economy and the wrong thing for America. They are all fiscally unsustainable and fiscally irresponsible over a decade unless a credit bubble temporarily “bails out” the Government from experiencing the ultimate effects of its actions, allowing it to run unconscionably small deficits and pretend that everything is hunky-dory until the inevitable collapse of demand forces it to face reality.

The right approach to take to fiscal policy is to design and implement programs that will guarantee full employment at a living wage for everyone who wants to work full time and is able to do so. It is not to try to force small deficits or surpluses onto an economy that is not producing them out of its own robust activity.

The government needs to let the domestic private sector determine what both the foreign balance and the domestic private sector balance should be. If it does that, then these sector balances would drive the government balance. That balance could be a surplus or a deficit of a particular size, though in the case of the United States it would probably be a large deficit, or, as I prefer to call it, a large Government addition, to domestic private sector wealth, for some years to come. But it would be determined by the wishes of people in the domestic private sector, with the Government’s role being one of accommodating the surpluses or deficits.

Seeing this conclusion, I’m sure that some readers will ask: how the United States can afford to run deficit after deficit while continuing to accumulate its national debt? Well, first, it doesn’t have to accumulate and can even pay off its national debt without inflation. I’ve explained how it can do that in my new e-book on Fixing the Debt without Breaking America.

But second, even if the US does the politically unwise thing of continuing to accumulate a larger and larger national debt, when it can avoid doing that by taking advantage of its coin seigniorage authority, it can follow that debt accumulation course without either solvency or inflation problems. Scott Fullwiler has done a very good job of explaining how that can happen in a recent series of his, which concludes here.

Scott shows that deficits can be run indefinitely by nations with non-convertible, fiat currencies, with floating exchange rates, and no external debts in currencies not their own, without either solvency or inflation problems as long as the Government doesn’t deficit spend beyond full employment. That’s the kind of fiscal policy we should be making, not fiscal policy deliberately aimed at deficit reduction. So, to all the fiscal budgeteers in Washington looking to implement long-term plans for deficit reduction, including the President: a plague on all your budgets. You’re ending America, as we’ve known it!

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Letter to the President: If Social Security Solvency’s Really a Problem Then Why Not Do This?

7:17 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Social Security card

Joseph M. Firestone suggests another course for social security.

Dear Mr. President,

Over the past 3 years you’ve returned again and again to the idea that Social Security has a long-term solvency problem, and therefore needs “reform,” even though, as of the end of 2012, the “Trust Fund” had nearly $2.7 Trillion in it. In spite of this healthy trust fund asset balance, SS Trustee projections, say that the trust fund will be down to zero by 2033 and that thereafter, until 2086, SS will be able to pay roughly only 75% of scheduled benefits without either cuts or increased sources of revenue.

As time has passed, your favorite entitlement reform proposal continues to be the “chained CPI”, which, you claim, is a better measure of cost of living changes than currently used, but which would cut SS benefits by using a new COLA formula which makes SS cost-of-living adjustments smaller and smaller over time, as seniors adjust to price increases in commodities they buy by shifting to less pricey goods. Smaller cost of living adjustments translate to lower benefits paid out and to more years of projected “solvency” for the SS program. The objective for achieving projected “solvency” is 75 years.

Critics have replied to this proposal by pointing out that “Chained CPI” is a less accurate measure of the real cost of living for seniors than the current COLA. As many have remarked, the chained CPI will say that the cost of living for seniors has decreased when they try to protect themselves from price increases in salmon by shifting to catfood instead. So, this measure makes attempts by seniors to adjust to inflation by lowering their standard of living work against them by ensuring that they will get less money in the future to cope with inflation.

I’m sure you will agree, when you think about it, that this chained CPI measure is blatantly unfair to seniors. It is not an accurate measure of actual cost of living increases, as you and others in your Administration and in the media have contended. What makes this proposal to “reform” SS even more unfair is that many think that there is no impending SS solvency problem at all, and we wonder why you claim that there is.

Indeed, if you think that lack of full Social Security solvency after 2032 is really a problem, and you also really want to “strengthen Social Security,” then we wonder why you don’t just do this?

– Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to open a separate spending account at the New York Federal Reserve Bank on behalf of the Social Security Administration.

– Direct the Secretary of the Treasury to use his authority under 31 USC 5112(k) to have the US Mint create a $3 Trillion proof platinum coin, and deposit that coin in the Mint’s Public Enterprise Fund (PEF) account.

– Once the Fed credits the PEF with that deposit of legal tender, sweep the Mint’s account for the nearly $3 Trillion in seigniorage reserves resulting from the deposit and crediting by the Fed of the Mint’s account, into the Treasury General Account (TGA), the primary spending account of the Federal Government.

– Then transfer the $3 Trillion into the new Treasury spending account established on behalf of the SSA, giving it a balance of $3 Trillion, and direct the Secretary to invest the money in Treasury Securities, in such a way that the redemption of these beginning in 2033 will cover the projected spending beyond projected revenue.

– If projections continue to show a lack of full 75 year solvency as the years go by, then a future President can once again use a platinum coin to extend the solvency period.

This proposal has the following advantages:

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A Plague on All Your Budgets

8:39 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The Sector Financial Balances Model:

Domestic Private Balance + Domestic Government Balance + Foreign Balance = 0

is an accounting identity that provides a focus for macroeconomic analysis, explanation, and prediction by economists applying the Modern Money Theory (MMT) approach. It leads to a very critical line of thinking about the budget deficit projections produced for our consumption by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the House, and the Senate. The US has recently had a sharp decline in its balance of trade deficit. It now stands at about 3% of GDP; which means that the rest of the world has a surplus, a balance of +3% of US GDP in its annual trade with the United States.

Assuming that surplus is unlikely to shrink anymore, we can see from the equation that unless the Government balance is less than -3% of GDP, the Domestic Private Balance in the United States economy will not be positive (a surplus, and addition to nominal financial wealth) and is very likely to be negative (a deficit, a subtraction from nominal financial wealth). So, the private sector taken as a whole will be losing rather than gaining Net Financial Assets (NFAs), every year for as long as the situation lasts.

The Table below presents the CPC, CBO, House and Senate budget projections through 2023.

2013 Budget Projection Comparison
The table shows that any space for the Domestic Private Sector to accumulate Net Financial Assets would quickly disappear if any of these deficit projection plans were actually adopted and worked as advertised. The CPC projections are OK for 2013 and 2014. They provide some space for continuing repair of private sector, including household, balance sheets after the crash of 2008. But by 2015, the space for savings in the private sector would be nearly gone, and from 2016 – 2023, we see nothing but deficits small enough that the domestic government balance doesn’t even cover the aggregate demand leakage due to the foreign sector balance, much less any demand leakage that the private sector desires in the form of savings. Sooner or later a budget course like that projected by the CPC would, in the absence of the banking system blowing a big credit bubble the way it did during the Clinton and Bush 43 Administrations, result in a new crash.

The CBO projections are worse than CPC’s from 2013 – 2015; but thereafter, its larger deficits are less damaging to aggregate demand than the CPC’s deficits. But they are not large enough to provide for anything but economic stagnation, unless, again, there’s a credit bubble, which would then mean a crash from mere stagnation somewhere down the line.

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Is It Really About “Dysfunctional” Partisanship?

5:09 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

The popular narrative in Washington, DC these days among the MSM pundits is that the Congress is “dysfunctional” in the sense that it is very difficult for it to pass a budget and rise above periodic “fiscal” “debt” and “deficit” crises. This difficulty is attributed to the failure of our representatives to rise above their party interests and to accept compromises proposed by “adults” such as the President, which would, it’s claimed, resolve our long term “fiscal sustainability”/”fiscal responsibility” problem through a “balanced” long-term $4 Trillion deficit reduction plan.

It’s also said that our representatives can’t rise above those party interests because of extreme partisanship exacerbated by gerrymandering of Congressional Districts so that most are now one party districts, in which only strong partisans embodying the extremes of each party can win primaries and then get elected. I think this story is wrong, or at least, very superficial. Here are some of the reasons why.

First, it’s clear that part of the reason for the dysfunction we see is the existence of the filibuster and various procedures related to it, that now prevent the Senate from passing legislation unless 60 Senators will support a cloture vote. In itself, the maintenance of this rule has nothing to do with partisan commitments and much more to do with the individual wish of every Senator to be able to block legislation they are opposed to.

The power to say no, is a very important one for each Senator, allowing them to get special concessions when their vote is needed to get legislation through. Senators fear being in the minority and not having the power to say no. When they are in the majority they worry that some day, perhaps soon, they will be in the minority, and will need that ability to say no to extract concessions. They also worry that removal of the filibuster, would give campaign contributors much less reason to donate to the campaigns of individual Senators and even more reason then they have now to focus donations on Congressional leaders.

This desire to protect their own privilege has trumped party interests in the Senate for a long time. The Senate’s inability to pass a large enough stimulus was due to the need for 60 votes to get a cloture vote on the legislation. The Administration believed that a stimulus bill of $1.2 to $1.8 Trillion just couldn’t be passed and that it needed one that was less than $1 Trillion in size. It had advice that the bill should be much larger from economists in the Administration and vocal and influential economists outside; but the perceived political imperative imposed by the 60 vote rule was to much to get by.

In health care reform, the situation was similar. The need for 60 votes required a health care bill that would be more solicitous of the health insurance industry. Republicans and some key Democrats were in the pocket of the industry. Their influence would have been much less if only 50 + 1 (the VP) votes were needed to pass a bill. But, as it was, Democrats like Ben Nelson, Joe Lieberman, Evan Bayh, and Max Baucus had an inordinate amount of influence on the legislation eventually passed.

In the House, there was no similar problem in getting legislation through. Nancy Pelosi would have been able to deliver Democratic votes for most anything the Administration decided to pursue, other than straight up coverage of abortion. And, on the stimulus front, a much larger one, much more heavily weighted toward spending, rather than tax cuts, could easily have been passed if the Administration had proposed one.

Second, another reason why Washington is so “dysfunctional” is because of the role of big money in campaign financing. Large corporate contributors, including banks, oil and energy companies, the pharmaceutical industry, the health insurance industry, wealthy individuals, some well-funded voluntary associations, like the Chamber of Commerce and the NRA want either to block legislation regulating their interests, or to write legislation giving them subsidies or tax cuts. So, they block or subvert public outcries for real reform to serve themselves. Because of their campaign contributions to key House Members and many, many, Senators and the opportunities the officeholders they’ve bought have to delay and block legislation in both Houses, but especially in the Senate, it is always difficult to get new legislation passed that hurts the these interests and benefits broader constituencies.

Third, partisanship isn’t by itself enough to create dysfunction. It’s also necessary to have different parties in control of each House of Congress. If the Democrats hadn’t lost the election of 2010 decisively across the country, at every level of government, due to unhappiness over the continuing recession, and the failure of the stimulus to end it, disapproval of the Affordable Care Act, and the sense of widespread injustice associated with bailing out the banks, but not the people, then both the House and the Senate would have been in control of the Democrats in 2011 and 2012. The gerrymandering we saw in 2011, which preserved the Republican majority in the House for the present term would not have occurred, and the deadlock in Congress with its “shock doctrine” applied to the budget process would never have occurred. Excessive partisanship didn’t cause the Democrats’ defeat in 2010. Rather it was their poor performance in 2009 and 2010 that made the voters want to either punish them or stay home that led to that defeat.

Which brings us to my fourth reason for doubting the view that extreme partisanship is in back of the “dysfunction” we are seeing. And that is that partisanship can sometimes create effective government, where lesser degrees of partisanship are ineffective. What are the elements of partisanship?

Well, ideology, is certainly one, and no doubt many of the Republicans are more strongly committed to a right-wing form of randian libertarianism, than any comparable proportion of Democrats are to any coherent ideology. Nearly all Republicans are really ideological on the issue of raising taxes, while the majority of Democrats resist the idea that entitlement spending ought to be cut.

But, it’s also true that many Republican officeholders are fairly non-ideological, as well. In addition, all Democrats and Republicans these days seem to adhere to an overall neoliberal philosophy with its faith in free markets, and commitment to limit regulation of markets. Democrats, of course, are less committed to these things. But looked at objectively, the differences are a matter of degree, and I doubt that they account for the deadlocks we are seeing.

Another element of partisanship is party discipline. Here Republicans seem to be more disciplined than Democrats in delivering votes for their leaders, though members of both parties seem more likely to line up behind leadership than they were, say, from the 1970s, until Newt Gingrich took over the House Republicans in the 1990s.

Now, however, we come to the third and really decisive element of partisanship. That element is the sheer desire of party members to do whatever is likely to win elections. If extreme partisanship, in the sense of wanting one’s party to win were really the explanation for dysfunction in the Government, then why don’t the party members in Congress unite behind actions that are sure to get them elected?

Look at the Republicans, they refuse to do things in Congress that would reduce the hold the Democrats have on hispanic voters. They do things all the time that are opposed to the interests of the seniors who now provide them with majority support in their demographic, and if they succeed in cutting Social Security and Medicare, why would their senior constituency vote for them again? Yes, I know they’ll try to blame the Democrats for such cuts, and perhaps they’ll partly succeed; but isn’t it easier for them, if they really want to win above all, to just not risk earning the enmity of their older constituents by striking at their vital interests?

And what about women? The Republicans seem to have a compulsion to propose and pass legislation that will clearly have the effect of hurting women. And they exercise that compulsion in most states where they have control of the legislature, and again and again in the US House. And members of their party continuously speak about women in clearly unacceptable ways, while stating their support for hostile legislation. It’s like a nervous tic with them. They can’t even speak respectfully while they’re moving to pass their negative legislation, but must offer offensive homilies while they’re passing ridiculously oppressive legislation.

And then there’s the African American vote. Across the country, Republicans are trying to disenfranchise blacks and hispanics. In addition to having policies opposed to the economic interests of many black voters; they’re trying to make second class citizens of them and other minorities. Are they trying to drive the Democrats percentage of the Black vote from between 90 to 95% to nearly 100%? Are they trying to drive the hispanic support of Democrats up to 85%? Is there a demographic group in the nation that the Republicans will avoid ticking off?

And what about their primary nominations. The Republicans are into nominating people for the Senate who can’t possibly win general elections. We’ve seen this pattern in both 2010 and 2012. They could have won the Senate in both elections if they’d nominated people who were remotely acceptable to anyone but Republicans. As for the House, they can win there now, but only because of the gerrymandering after the Democrats gave away the 2010 elections.

Which brings us back to the Democrats. Look at that vaunted “progressive” partisan politician Nancy Pelosi do in 2009 – 2010. She followed her leader, President Obama, down the line in whatever he wanted to do, and her troops followed her, regardless of the consequences for their party.

She must have known that the stimulus bill, the ACA, the Credit Card Reform Act, and the Finreg legislation (Dodd-Frank) were all dogs. So why support the compromises? Didn’t she know by the Summer of 2009 that her majority would be threatened by the ineffective stimulus and exceedingly complex and easily demonized ACA bills she had passed or was in the process of passing? Couldn’t she gauge the reactions of people across the country to “too big to fail”? Didn’t she see the outrage over the bonuses? If she really cared so much for the well-being of her party, then why didn’t she pass a second stimulus during the Summer of 2009 and challenge the President and the Senate to follow along? Why didn’t she pass the Conyers-Kucinich HR 676 Medicare for All Bill in early 2009 and then let the Senate and the Administration work on that? It wouldn’t have passed as is, but she would have headed off the tea party by doing that, and the final health care reform bill would have been a much better one than the ACA.

If partisanship is really the dominant factor in the dysfunctionality of Washington, then why hasn’t Harry Reid acted like the strong partisan he’s supposed to be by getting rid of the filibuster on the first day of the 2009, 2011, or 2013 Senate sessions or on any day in between or since? Had he done that, then the Democrats would have had their way with the Republicans for the last four years and for the present session as well. Instead, he makes informal deals with the Republicans which they instantly break, and still he hesitates to take the power which the majority is entitled to in the Senate. Some partisan he is! He’s the most non-partisan partisan in Senate history!

Finally, if partisanship is really such an important factor in dysfunction, then why is it that the Democrats are letting themselves get set up again for a stinging defeat in the 2014 election. At some level, everyone in Washington, including the Democrats knows at this point that cutting deficit spending will surely cost jobs and harm the economy. Nor can they easily predict the amount of harm that will result. The cuts being produced by the continuing budgetary crises are likely to kick the economy into another recession, absent another credit bubble, and this will be a disaster for Democrats.

President Obama is done with elections. If he gets his “grand bargain,” then he can and probably will crow about his legacy. But the Democrats in Congress will be left to pick up the pieces. They will, of course, blame the Republicans. But with Obama supporting the “Grand Bargain,” and the Democratic Leadership going along with their President because they’re “the adults” in Washington, Democratic candidates won’t be able to run against the recession and say the GB was a mistake. They will try to defend the GB, as will many Republicans. But that means that the voters, in their misery, will respond with “a plague on both your houses” and stay home.

But we know what happens when people stay home in mid-term elections after Democrats have gone against the perceived interests of their constituents. More Democrats lose their intensity and stay home than Republicans, and the result is Republican victory. The “Grand Bargain” (the Grand Betrayal, if you like) will result in Democratic defeat in the House in 2014, and probably a defeat for them in the Senate as well unless the Republicans throw victory away again, by nominating yet more ridiculous candidates to run against vulnerable Democrats. If that happens you will then see real dysfunction in Washington as the Republicans make an all out attempt to gut the social safety net, while the budget crisis politics intensifies in the lat two years of the President’s term in office.

So, I don’t agree that the problem in Washington is excessive partisanship and that what we need is some more “adults in the room.” I think the problem is too little party identification by Democrats, and too little willingness to insist on the priorities of Democratic voters. From a political point of view Democrats must not agree to any “compromise” that will cast them as being responsible for spending cuts to core Democratic programs. They must choose government shutdown before that. They must be seen as defending core programs of the people they represent; and they must wait for the Republicans to break under the pressure of being charged with shutting down the Government rather than getting new revenues from the wealthy to avoid cutting Medicare and Social Security.

For the Democrats, trading cuts in defense for entitlement cuts is a bad trade. They should never agree to that. If the Republicans want their defense spending, then they should be forced to agree to deficit spending, or to higher taxes on the wealthy.

From my point of view it’s better for the economy if the Republicans get off the deficit hawk kick and agree to fund defense spending through deficits. Then the Democrats should back off running on “fiscal responsibility” in 2014 and let the Republicans off the hook for their deficit spending on defense, while pushing for more deficit spending on jobs programs. Whatever Democrats do, however, if they want to win in 2014, they must not agree to any “Grand Betrayal” that is neither in the interest of their party; nor most of the country.

Here are the realistic choices coming up, absent a “big move” by the President to change the political backdrop of fiscal policy.

– The Government could be shut down awaiting the Republicans to back off their spending cut stance;
– The Republicans and Democrats could agree on some compromise involving increased revenue and decreased Government spending including entitlement spending, using a 3 – 1 ratio;
– Both parties could back off the sequester cuts, and the Republicans could back off the upcoming continuing resolution and debt ceiling crises.

The third of these choices is the best of the three for the economy, the country and the Democratic Party. To get there however, the Democrats in the Senate will have to refuse to agree to the Grand Betrayal, and no doubt will have to endure a Government shutdown over the debt ceiling. Unless they do that, the election of 2014 will be a Republican victory.

Just above, I mentioned a “big move” by the President. That move, of course, is using High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS), to provide enough reserves in the Treasury’s spending account to pay off “the national debt” as it falls due, and to avoid issuing new debt for at least 15 – 25 years. The President has so far resisted doing that. But if he were to use HVPCS, he could take future debt ceiling crises off the table, and also remove any plausible rationale based on deficits/debts for any further spending cuts at this time. The normal rationale for tax increases, that “the Government needs the money” would also be gone.

So, politics in Washington would shift away from discussion of deficit spending and debts and towards the kinds of policies that would be good for America in both the short and long runs. That kind of change would increase the chances for Democratic Party victory in 2010, and would also be the beginning of a decent legacy for the President. It would also be far better for the United States than austerity politics has been. So, in this case, partisanship, in the form of a change in the fiscal foundations of the United States, which surely favors the Democrats, would also be what is best for the country. So much for the dysfunction of “partisanship”!

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: A Working Document

8:31 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

Jack Foster proposed a framing document for High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage, in a recent comment he made on one of my posts. In response, I posted a six-part blog series to accommodate readers who prefer the blog format.

Some, however, will want to read or reference a single framing document, rather than six separate posts, and I prefer it in that form myself because it facilitates seeing the whole picture provided by the many and diverse objections to PCS and HVPCS. So I’ve provided one here. I think the full picture provided by the many objections is that of opposition grounded in a fierce unwillingness to change familiar ways of performing Federal deficit spending requiring debt issuance, even though many of those offering objections know very well that the Government is perfectly capable of creating its own high-powered money without selling debt instruments, and even know that all money creation in our financial system is ultimately, if most often indirectly, based on the constitutional authority of the Congress, and its delegation of that authority to other parties.

What can one say about this except that it is mere conservatism and grounded in fear of the unknown at best, or worse, grounded in a desire to continue to benefit from the financial system in one’s own, rather than the public interest? I’m not saying that conservatism is never rational, or that it is unjustified in all cases. But I think my evaluation in the series, and the full framing document indicates that many, and perhaps all of the objections that have been offered to HVPCS reflect a transparent bias to preserve the present system and are relatively easy to turn aside, because they are a stretch reflecting the bias of the people offering the objections.

In any event, that’s my view of the matter, and I leave it to others to read the framing document and to evaluate for themselves, whether the pattern I’m drawing out of the objections makes sense to them. In doing that I hope others will join me in continuing to gather objections to HVPCS I haven’t covered here, and to record these in comments, so that the document may be kept up to date and may become the primary reference for objections and replies to HVPCS. Let’s try to transform this into a crowd-sourced document, so that it becomes a true community document. I’ll be looking forward to your comments and your contributions!

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part Six, More Political/Economic Objections

8:31 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

This series provides a framing document for Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS). In the five previous parts of the series, I pointed out that there are three classes of opponents of High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS, $30 T and above). The first and largest group opposes all Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) of whatever type. The second, opposes HVPCS, but favors using the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) for the limited purpose of avoiding the debt ceiling. The third, opposes HVPCS, and doesn’t really favor using the TDC either, except, perhaps, as a last resort to avoid the debt ceiling. It favors an incremental approach to PCS beginning perhaps in the millions or billions in face value, and over a long period of time, after giving people years to adjust to Treasury using platinum coins with unusual, and unprecedented, face values, eventually building up to a TDC.

Parts two, three, four, five and this post (Part Six), considers further objections to HVPCS brought forward by people in one or more of these categories, and my replies to them. As you’re seeing, if you’re following the series, the opponents of HVPCS are throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at it. In this concluding post, I’ll consider some further political/economic objections to PCS and HVPCS.

Destroys confidence in the dollar, here and abroad because it reveals the reality that our fiat money isn’t “backed” by anything

This one really makes me see red because it reflects 1) the arrogance of the complainer who thinks he or she is fit to know the reality of the fiat money and our present financial system, while the average citizen is not; 2) the attitude of the complainer that it is OK to maintain the platonic “noble lie” that the operation of our fiat money system is different from the way it really works; 3) the very questionable judgment that if everyone knew that US fiat money was just that, then that would destroy confidence in the dollar, even though it’s well-known that all the world’s currencies, including our own are fiat currencies; and 4) the attitudes of the globalizing elites that average citizens shouldn’t know what they’re about. In a word, the anti-democratic character of this objection to HVPCS really creeps me out.

But recognizing that this objection is profoundly anti-democratic also makes it very clear that HVPCS is very much about the larger process of turning back from the evolution toward global plutocracy we see all around us. And it is also about turning back towards both political and social democracy and a decent life for all.

Destroys budgetary discipline

This is another rich one. The idea here is that as long we think we are short of public money, then we will be more disciplined in our spending, and will make sure that the government deficit spending we do approve is only that spending that is necessary for public purpose. On the other hand, if we use HVPCS, then it will be clear that we can have as much money as we choose to have, and so we will lose our fiscal discipline and responsibility, and just spend willy-nilly on foolish things.

Too bad the world and our public spending habits aren’t as simple as this picture suggests. But, they’re just not.

We now have more than 35 years of experience with austerity politics in the sense that powerful groups in the political system have warned about our deficit and debt problems all that time, and have emphasized the importance of evaluating fiscal policy based on its impact on reducing deficits and balancing budgets, rather than the larger economic and social benefits and costs of those policies.

The record during this time shows that the US has increasingly suffered from a profound fiscal irresponsibility in the sense that we have failed to spend what was necessary to achieve larger public purposes like full employment, decreasing inequality, widely distributed gains in standard of living that keep up with productivity, developing a first class educational system, developing alternatives to fossil energy to serve as the new basis of our economy, developing programs to meet the challenges of environmental sustainability and climate change, increasing family integration, and providing first class universal health care to all Americans as a right. So, for more than 35 years now, our politicians have poor mouthed about not being able to afford expanding our domestic social safety net and discretionary programs, while proceeding to spend lavishly on defense industries, and insisting that we can afford that, all while our country more and more develops the social and economic characteristics of a third world nation.

In short, the last 35 years show that placing artificial constraints on the amount of public deficit spending we will do hasn’t worked to produce responsible fiscal policy that fulfills public purpose. I think that’s because when politicians and people focus on indicators like the debt and deficit to guide fiscal policy, instead of focusing on the real impacts of fiscal policy, that opens the way for well-funded elites to obscure issues about those real impacts and focus instead on narrow financial details that the elites understand, because they employ armies of analysts to understand them, while the public has no hope of understanding them, and so is in a very bad position to defend its interests.

So, when we look at the history of politics since Jimmy Carter decided we ought to try to balance the budget, and Alice Rivlin assumed a dominant position in DC thinking about fiscal policy, we can see that practicing artificial scarcity in fiat money creation hasn’t resulted in our becoming more fiscally responsible, but precisely the opposite. We have to acknowledge that we’ve been focusing on the wrong things, and we have to stop using them as a way of evaluating fiscal policy and government spending.

The national debt and reducing deficit spending should have no part in our evaluation of our fiscal responsibility. All that ought to matter is evaluating the real effects of Government spending on the economy, politics, society, culture, our resources, and the environment. That’s the sort of evaluation that should define budgetary discipline.

Budgetary discipline in that sense is unrelated to HVPCS. It has nothing to do with whether we have, or do not have $60 T in the TGA. It has to do instead, with whether we can mobilize ourselves to make Congress and the Executive accountable to our views about public purpose. Right now they are not.

Instead, they are using their austerity narrative as an excuse to weaken rather than strengthen the safety net. They are using it to refuse to legislate Medicare for All, even though polls have shown for many years that 2/3 of the population wants Medicare for All. They are using it to refuse to enable full employment, including a Job Guarantee for everyone who wants to work full time. They are using it to refuse to make available the funding we need to create a first class educational system. They are using it to refuse to fund sorely needed infrastructure repair and modernization. I can go on and on. But the main point is that the present system of funding Federal deficit spending isn’t working to fulfill our public purposes.

It’s time to change that system and to have the change reflect the truth that there can be no shortage of money in our system, only shortages of resources, labor, skills, know how, and well-being. The budgetary discipline we ought to pursue is the discipline of ending the real shortages we have, by using the money we can generate in whatever quantity we need to implement government programs that will help us end these other, real, shortages.

Causes the Government bureaucracy to expand and crowd out private sector activities

HVPCS is itself unrelated to the size of government compared to the size of the private sector. We can have HVPCS, use it to pay off the national debt, use it to cover deficits for many years to come, and still choose to have a lower percentage of economic activity performed by government rather than the private sector. Even if we run large deficits, covered by HVPCS, those deficits can be devoted to shoring up private sector growth rather than government growth. Whether we do this or not is our choice, and either shrinking the Government, or growing the Government is compatible with HVPCS.

Having said the above, that doesn’t mean that we should decrease the relative size of the government compared to the private economy. In recent years, we have shrunk the government bureaucracy substantially as a percentage of employment. That shrinkage has not led to good times or private sector growth. It has led to the opposite.

The privatization of a lot of government work since the 1970s hasn’t led to a reduction in the costs of funding the activities that used to be performed by civil servants. Instead, it’s clearly increased those costs. Contracting out was supposed to be cheaper, because the government would avoid expensive fringe benefits, including retirement costs, and supposedly would reduce the cost of services through competition. However, this theory has proven to be incorrect. Civil servants are cheaper than contractors, and they perform as well or better than contract workers, perhaps, because they have little incentive to drag out and prolong work to ensure that they will be employed in the future.

In addition, there is no correlation over time in the United States between prosperity, economic growth, and a smaller Federal government. If anything the correlation is negative. There were better times, lower unemployment, and faster growth from the end of WWII through 1980 when the Government’s percentage of the economy was higher than it has been during the period from 1981 to the present. So, maybe we could benefit from some more “crowding out” of the private sector by Government than we now have; but whether we would benefit from this or not, the issue of relative size of the government isn’t directly related to whether HVPCS is used or not.


Here are my conclusions based on this six part examination of HVPCS, including all the current objections I could find to the Executive Branch using it to fill the public purse.

  • Using HVPCS would demonstrate to the public that: the Federal Government’s budget isn’t like their budget; the Federal Government can never run out of money if it doesn’t choose to; there is no need to cut either revenue or spending because we must reduce the deficit; we can use revenues from HVPCS to pay off the national debt as it falls due, and there isn’t any need to pursue the current agenda of austerity and “shared sacrifice.” There is just no need for austerity and we ought to quit wasting time and causing harm by either discussing it or implementing it. Take it off the table!
  • So, HVPCS-based elimination of debt can end the whole austerity mind set that provides our current budgetary process with its constraining conservative cast, focused on narrow monetary cost considerations, rather than on a broader progressive framework that weighs the real costs and benefits of proposed fiscal activities of the Federal Government. Congress and the Executive would then evaluate the substance of legislative proposals based on their likely direct impacts and side effects on the lives of Americans, rather than their impact on Federal deficits and surpluses. Then the issues will be about what people need, and what improvements we can make by working together through the Federal Government. That would be the fulcrum of a new, game-changing politics, not debt, deficits, and debt-to-GDP ratios.
  • HVPCS strikes at the domination of the global financial and political system by Wall Street and the big banks. They will do everything they can to remove the power to use it from the President and the Treasury. That is why HVPCS must be used by the President ASAP! He has the main chance to bring change now. He should take it!
  • Progressives need to fight for retaining the Executive’s capability to use PCS, because that is the quickest road to ending austerity politics and preparing the way for Modern Money Theory-based policies to deliver sustainable economic prosperity, full employment, low inflation, and fiscal policy devoted to the public purpose.
  • High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage using coins having $30 Trillion or greater value is most probably a legal alternative for the Treasury to use to fill the public purse. I say most probably, because no one can tell what will happen in response to a Court challenge. However, the likelihood is that the court will not grant standing to any challenger. Even it does, the odds are with the Executive Branch due to the clear language of the coin seigniorage legislation, the relationships between the Fed and the Treasury specified in the Federal Reserve Act, and the unitary executive doctrine.
  • There are a host of other economic, political, institutional, and political/economic objections to using HVPCS, they range from dismissing it as “weird,” “crazy,” etc. scary to most people, characterizing it as “printing money” and “inflationary,” projecting a political firestorm and projecting political paralysis in Congress if PCS is used at all, worrying about letting the Republicans off the hook for their irresponsible behavior in causing repeated fiscal crises, worrying about appearing to act like a “banana republic,” worrying about the possibility that HVPCS will elicit “black swans” with terrible unanticipated consequences, warning that using HVPCS will violate “a social norm,” projecting a collapse of investor confidence in the US and its currency and loss of reserve currency status, projecting rising interest rates from the bond traders, warning that HVPCS shouldn’t be used because of the maxim “first do no harm,” warning that minting a platinum coin is the first cousin of defaulting on the debt, because the act will convince financial markets that we can’t manage our affairs, warning that using HVPCS will compromise the independence of the Federal Reserve, and the related objection that it would destroy the institutional structure of the financial system. warning that it would destroy confidence in the dollar because it will reveal the reality that our money is “unbacked” fiat, warning that it would destroy budgetary discipline, and that it would cause “crowding out” of the private sector by the government bureaucracy.

    Looking at this list of objections and the replies I’ve offered in this series, I suggest that every one them, with the possible exception of the inflation objection is insignificant compared to the likely benefits of using HVPCS in place of debt issuance to pay off old debt and perform deficit spending without issuing any new debt instruments.

    Even the relatively light austerity being practiced thus far is costing the United States $3.4 Trillion per year in GDP and is leaving more than 30 million dis-employed. If the coming round of austerity from the Congress and the President materializes in the next few months, and we experience another recession, we may end up losing another $1 Trillion off GDP, along with another few million dis-employed.

    So, lifting the burden of austerity politics on the 99%, and ending debt ceiling crises, sequesters, and ideological budgetary conflicts, and their attendant effects on economic activity and unemployment, far outweighs the likely negative consequences of any or all of the rest of the objections against HVPCS, apart from demand-pull inflation, which, I’ve argued, is a very unlikely outcome of HVPCS.

    In this series, I’ve tried to show that there isn’t a good reason in the world not to use HVPCS. Of course, one can’t prove a negative, so I really haven’t shown that. But I hope I’ve shown that it’s costing far too much to continue down the road of debt issuance, in the context of the many objections I’ve reviewed.

    The important cost of doing what we have been doing, is not really the interest on the debt itself; that’s only fiat currency which the Government can always make. it’s the political consequences of the national debt, which are bipartisan action to practice austerity and “shared sacrifice,” that really count. We need to get rid of this before it destroys everything we hold dear. The way to do that is to use HVPCS to get of rid of debt and cover government deficits for many years. HVPCS is a way out of the trap we’ve built for ourselves. We need to get on with it, now!

(Author’s Note: h/t to Jack Foster for proposing a framing document for HVPCS. This is the sixth and concluding part of that document. I’ll make available the whole document shortly.)

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part Five, Institutional Objections

7:50 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

This series provides a framing document for Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS). In the four previous parts of the series, I pointed out that there are three classes of opponents of High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS, $30 T and above). The first and largest group opposes all Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) of whatever type. The second, opposes HVPCS, but favors using the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) for the limited purpose of avoiding the debt ceiling. The third, opposes HVPCS, and doesn’t really favor using the TDC either, except, perhaps, as a last resort to avoid the debt ceiling. It favors an incremental approach to PCS beginning perhaps in the millions or billions in face value, and over a long period of time, after giving people years to adjust to Treasury using platinum coins with unusual, and unprecedented, face values, eventually building up to a TDC.

Parts two, three, and four, and this post (Part Five), and the remaining post in this series considers further objections to HVPCS brought forward by people in one or more of these categories, and my replies to them. As you’re seeing, if you’re following the series, the opponents of HVPCS are throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at it. In this post, I’ll consider some objections to PCS and HVPCS based on their predicted institutional impact.

The platinum coin is “the first cousin of defaulting on our debt”

This objection is from Ezra Klein; he says:

. . . It is a breakdown in the American system of governance, a symbol that we have become a banana republic. And perhaps we have. But the platinum coin is not the first cousin of cleanly raising the debt ceiling. It is the first cousin of defaulting on our debts. As with true default, it proves to the financial markets that we can no longer be trusted to manage our economic affairs predictably and rationally. It’s evidence that American politics has transitioned from dysfunctional to broken and that all manner of once-ludicrous outcomes have muscled their way into the realm of possibility. As with default, it will mean our borrowing costs rise and financial markets gradually lose trust in our system, though perhaps not with the disruptive panic that default would bring.

The “banana republic” stuff is just name-calling. What does using HVPCS, which is authorized by legislation passed in 1996, have to do with being a banana republic? Sure, we’ve never used HVPCS before to pay down debt and cover deficit spending, but why is it not a superior way to do these things than issuing debt instruments, which require us to deal with bond markets and to provide risk-free interest payments mostly to wealthy elites and foreign nations? It seems to me that it is that method of financing that is much more consistent with the methods used by the Latin American banana republics in the 20th century than HVPCS would be.

And why is the platinum coin the first cousin of defaulting on the debt? Ezra Klein says that it proves to the financial markets that we can’t be trusted to manage our economic affairs in a rational and predictable way. But why would it prove that?

It would prove that we’ve changed our way of paying off debt instruments and deficit spending alright; but that doesn’t mean that our new way of doing things wouldn’t be predictable and rational, and that financial markets wouldn’t know exactly what we were going to do. They’d know, for example, that the US wouldn’t be rolling any more debt by issuing new debt instruments, even though they may not like that as well as they like what we’re doing right now. They’d also know that with austerity off the table; we’d be likely to deficit spend a lot more to create full employment here, which they might guess would also be good for their flagging export-based economies.

As for our borrowing costs rising; just how does Ezra Klein suppose that would happen since 1) we’d use HVPCS to end sales of debt instruments altogether; and 2) our interest rates on still outstanding debt are mostly fixed, except for the relatively small volume of bonds that are inflation-protected?

This last notion of Ezra Klein’s makes two things clear. First, he’s fixated on using Trillion Dollar Coins or less; and has never thought through the implications of using a $60 T coin, having freaked out over the small-ball TDC proposal. And second, he hasn’t yet figured out that our bond interest rates can only go up if the Federal Reserve raises the Federal Funds Rate which it, and it alone, controls. He still thinks that the bond vigilantes and their “confidence” in US bonds determines our interest rates.

Compromises the independence of the Federal Reserve

That’s true. But, the vaunted independence of the Fed has not served us well over the years. What it has amounted to is that the Fed has not been accountable to the public. Its independence has meant independence from the Treasury and, largely, from Congress. But it has not meant independence from the big banks and Wall Street, which the Fed fails to regulate to any visible extent to protect the economy and the public, and whose interests the Fed has served ahead of the interests of the public at large. I am all for the President ordering the Secretary of the Treasury to use HVPCS, because I think the constraints imposed by that upon the Fed, and also the filling of the public purse to such an extent that it will be clear to people that the US can never run out of the currency it alone has the authority to issue, will make the Congress, the Fed, and the Executive Branch all much more accountable to the wishes of the American people.

Destroying the institutional structure of the financial system

I don’t know about its destroying the institutional structure of the system; but I will point to a few critical impacts I think HVPCS is likely to have. First, as Warren Mosler has pointed out in his characteristically pithy way,

“And all the coin does is shift interest expense from the Treasury to the Fed. . . “

This is Warren’s assessment of the financial system impact. But, second, an HVPCS coin would have a critical impact politically, because as I have pointed out time and again, it would end austerity politics for good, because it would end the debate over the national debt.

Third, it would make Treasury financing operations much more transparent than they are now. “The secrets of the temple” would be much more out in the open. That’s important, because right now the Federal Reserve and the banks escape accountability, since the American people don’t understand their role.

Fourth, the Federal Reserve Banks would have to pay IOR to maintain their target Federal Funds Rate. From the viewpoint of the public, that kind of operation would look like the bank savings accounts that people are familiar with. The Fed holds reserves and pays depositors an interest rate. Right now, when the Treasury pays interest on securities, that looks like debt to the public, not like the savings accounts that security accounts are like functionally. So, IOR replacing securities in response to HVPCS would greatly improve the political optics of government financing deficit spending.

And fifth, John Lounsbury makes this important point:

The reason Mosler’s one-liner is so significant is that, once discovered that it is no longer necessary for private banking to create the credit to pay for government appropriations when they exceed tax revenues, the banks have lost their umbilical cord to the federal government. The government will have demonstrated that private banking is not necessary to fund government operations.

A primal fear of private banking: The government might discover that public finance and private finance can be divorced. An entitlement can be ended: the need for government to pay interest to private institutions to finance operations would be no more.

That might well be beginning of the end for today’s institutional structure of the financial system. And I have to confess that after the many banking fiascos of the past 30 years, I can’t view that as a bad thing for either this country, or the rest of the world.

But that’s just me; maybe Ezra Klein has a different opinion?

(Author’s Note: h/t to Jack Foster for proposing a framing document for HVPCS. This is it; but divided into 6 parts for blogging convenience. The rest of the series will continue with objections made to HVPCS and my answers to them.)

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part Four, Political/Economic Objections

7:46 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

This series provides a framing document for Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS). In the three previous parts of the series, I pointed out that there are three classes of opponents of High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS, $30 T and above). The first and largest group opposes all Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) of whatever type. The second, opposes HVPCS, but favors using the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) for the limited purpose of avoiding the debt ceiling. The third, opposes HVPCS, and doesn’t really favor using the TDC either, except, perhaps, as a last resort to avoid the debt ceiling. It favors an incremental approach to PCS beginning perhaps in the millions or billions in face value, and over a long period of time, after giving people years to adjust to Treasury using platinum coins with unusual, and unprecedented, face values, eventually building up to a TDC.

Parts two, and three, this post (Part Four), and the two remaining posts in this series consider still more objections brought forward by people in one or more of these categories, and my replies to them. As you’re seeing, if you’re following the series, the opponents of HVPCS are throwing everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at it. In this post, I’ll consider some political/economic objections to PCS.

An HVPCS coin is a less acceptable option than a TDC or HVCS coin

Less acceptable to who? Certainly, HVPCS would be less acceptable to the FIRE sector than other PCS options. But the truth is that all PCS options would be unacceptable to them. They will scream hysterically if any PCS option is used; and then will raise huge amounts of money, and work as hard as they can to repeal PCS legislation. So, what’s the difference whether an HVPCS, TDC, or HVCS approach to PCS is used? Why do we care about how they will react?

The important question is how most people will react; not how special interests will. And people will react much more favorably to PCS, if enough money is minted to fill the public purse, change the game, and solve their perceived debt/deficit problem, than will react if only enough is minted to avoid the debt ceiling, or to fund specific programs with relatively small amounts of seigniorage. That’s why HVPCS is actually a much more acceptable option than either of the other two.

An HVPCS coin would bring on “Black Swans”

The argument here is that any new significant thing that we do, will have unintended consequences; and that some of them will be “black swans.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb says (pp. xvii – xviii) that a “Black Swan” is an event with three attributes:

It is an outlier . . .” in the sense that it is “outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. . . it carries an extreme impact . . . human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

Keeping this definition in mind, perhaps beowulf’s formulation of the PCS option might be considered a black swan; though Ellen Brown had envisioned the possibility of a TDC in her 2007 book, before beowulf advocated it, but without framing it in the context of existing legislation. That might make PCS more a “white swan,” an unexpected event we might have been able to anticipate. However, even if PCS itself is a black, white or “gray swan,” it’s much harder to contend, even with the most open-minded thinking about it, that it’s potential consequences are likely to include events “. . . outside the realm of regular expectations.”

Looking at the various objections we’re surveying here, they include a wide range of unintended consequences, and we are anticipating them, discussing them, evaluating the likelihood of the various possibilities. Black Swans can always arise, and we need to prepare for them as best we can. But that preparation can’t include avoiding new innovations that promise to help us solve serious problems that are visiting very heave social and economic costs on much of out population. But, instead, it ought to include measures we can take to adjust and correct for risks that are known and even unknown.

I think that deficit spending using HVPCS, comes with various fail-safes we can use if things begin to develop chaotically. One of them, perhaps the most fundamental, is that we can simply stop using the seigniorage in the TGA, and start issuing securities again. Even if we did that, by then we’d be a better position relative to the perceived threat from the debt, we’ve been hearing about everyday. Another, is that the Federal Reserve can pay Interest on Reserves (IOR), as it is doing now.

Yet another, is that we can monitor the effects of seigniorage spending carefully, to track the changes occurring in the financial institutional structure caused by seigniorage in itself. Finally, we can use taxation to cool off any overheating of the economy due to seigniorage spending.

In short, with the various alternatives for adjustment we have available, if necessary, and very careful monitoring of effects, I think that fear of the inevitable unintended consequences of using seigniorage should not deter us from using it to attempt to solve the political problem of the national debt and end austerity. To suggest otherwise, is to mistake the “black swan” for a conservative bogeyman. But then again, perhaps that’s what Nassim Nicholas Taleb intended all along.


Won’t creating all this money by using PCS to repay debt and perform deficit spending without issuing any new debt be inflationary? In a word, no!

The credits in the Treasury General Account (TGA) ultimately resulting from using $60 T PCS aren’t immediately spent. So, they don’t all enter the economy immediately, but over a very long period of time from 15 – 25 years in duration. To gauge the inflationary impact, you have to analyze when and how the credits would be entering the economy.

Roughly $6.5 Trillion in debt subject to the limit was owed by the Treasury to other agencies or to the Fed itself. That debt could be redeemed in the same week after minting a $60 T coin. But the payments wouldn’t be inflationary because they would not enter the non-government economy. Nevertheless, these payments would cut back debt subject to the limit by close to 40%, because of the ridiculous quirk in the law that counts intra-governmental debt toward the debt ceiling.

Next, the 10 T or so of debt held by private corporations, individuals, and foreign governments would only be paid as it falls due. Much of it would be paid over the first three years. But, the additional reserves placed in the system by paying the debt, and not issuing new debt instruments would be less inflationary than rolling over bonds would be.

Also, their presence in the banking system, would clearly flood it with reserves and drive overnight interest rates down to zero, rather than raising them. For the Fed to hit any non-zero rate targets it would have to support them by paying IOR, to drain the excess reserves. So, there’s no inflationary impact from repaying debt instruments as they fall due by adding reserves to the banking system.

That leaves deficit spending. In the case of a $60 T coin, and a national debt of $16.4 Trillion, we’ll assume that $43.6 Trillion would be left in the TGA for future deficit spending. However, the fact that the credits are in the TGA doesn’t mean that the Treasury could spend them. In fact, it can only spend them if Congress appropriates deficit spending. So, the bottom line is that the $43.6 T doesn’t go into the economy until it’s appropriated. Then some portion of it can be inflationary if Congress deficit spends past the point of full employment; but if it doesn’t, then there won’t be demand-pull inflation. And, if it does, then the inflation will be due to unwise Congressional appropriations and not to using PCS.

In short, there’s no way that PCS in itself can have an inflationary impact, no matter how high the value of the platinum coin is. That’s because repayment of already held debt is less inflationary than continuous rollover, and gradual increase, of debt. Repayment of debt to government agencies including the Fed doesn’t enter the economy, and using PCS-generated funds to cover deficits is not in itself inflationary, unless deficit spending is so large that it continues past the point of full employment.

”First Do No Harm”

“First, Do No Harm,” is a great maxim; but when excessive caution and delay have the very high costs we see in our economy; then we have to weigh those already experienced and continuing costs of not minting a $60 T or other HVPC, and also the risk that the capability to use HVPCS may be repealed, against the potential cost and very low likelihood of inflation resulting from using it to fill the public purse, and then only to pay down the national debt and cover Congressional deficit appropriations. As I’ve already argued, there’s no causal transmission mechanism directly from PCS-based spending to demand-pull inflation. And demand-pull inflation is by far the consequence of HVPCS that people fear most.

It would shake investor confidence in the US

Some skeptics warn that using a $60 T coin would shake investor confidence in the United States lead to the dollar’s replacement as the reserve currency, and might and cause the de-evaluation of the dollar in international exchanges. I’m very skeptical about this possible scenario. First, the $60 T coin proceeds would first be used to pay off intragovernmental and Fed debt. This can have little effect on the non-government economy because nothing goes into it as a result of this pay off. Also, the outstanding public debt would suddenly be down by 40%, guaranteeing that would be no more debt ceiling crises in the US for some time. I can’t see how this would do anything but increase confidence.

Second, when the seigniorage is used for deficit spending, the immediate effect of that would be to supply no more securities to the market and to create the expectation that supply would be limited in the future. That can only increase demand for the securities still outstanding, increasing their desirability.

Third, during the first year after HVPCS is used another $1.7 T in short-term debt would be paid off, at least. That too, would increase demand for the remaining securities in the market place. As for the swap of $1.7 T in reserves for the securities, I’ve already argued earlier, that the reserves may be less inflationary than securities, which means that the swap might well be mildly deflationary. But whether it is, or is just a swap with little inflationary impact; it’s hard to see why this would effect the value of USD in international trade.

On the reserve currency business, I don’t think there will be any impact on that status as a result of using the coin, because, again, there will be no inflation resulting from it. But let’s say people panicked and replaced USD as the reserve currency. Then 1) our exports would increase and unemployment here would decline; and 2) our military interventionism in foreign policy would take a hit; because fighting wars overseas would be much more expensive due to the decreased value of USDs. Seems to me both of those things are good for us.

If we mint the $60 T then we will “freak out” bond traders since we’re “flipping them the bird.”

Well, all I have to say about this one, is that it’s probably true. After all, anyone would “freak out” if the primary source of supply for their business was threatened. But what I don’t understand about this complaint is why the President and the rest of us ought to worry about it. After all, the bond traders don’t worry about us, or the 31 million people who are now dis-employed, do they?

So, if the bond traders are mad at the US, then can they do about it? They can’t drive up the interest rates on bonds already sold, and they can’t force the United States to sell any more debt instruments if the Treasury doesn’t want to. Maybe they can get the Fed to pay a higher IOR rate. But that will have minimal effects on our politics.

In my next post, I’ll discuss objections to HVPCS based on institutional impacts

(Author’s Note: h/t to Jack Foster for proposing a framing document for HVPCS. This is it; but divided into 6 parts for blogging convenience. The rest of the series will continue with objections made to HVPCS and my answers to them.)

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part Three, Political Objections

10:57 am in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

As I pointed out in Part Two of this series, there are three classes of opponents of High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS, $30 T and above). The first and largest group opposes all Platinum Coin Seigniorage (PCS) of whatever type. The second, opposes HVPCS, but favors using the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) for the limited purpose of avoiding the debt ceiling. The third, opposes HVPCS, and doesn’t really favor using the TDC either, except, perhaps, as a last resort. It favors an incremental approach to PCS beginning perhaps in the millions or billions in face value, and over a long period of time eventually building up to a TDC.

Part two, this post (Part Three), and the three remaining posts in this series consider the many objections brought forward by people in one or more of these categories, and my replies to them. As you’re seeing, if you’re following the series, the opponents of HVPCS have already thrown everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at it. In this post, I’ll consider some political objections to PCS.

The Executive will never do it because it’s too crazy, weird, bizarre, or outré for words and is beneath the dignity of the United States. Also, it’s too big to be practical.

Mostly, this kind of characterization is just name-calling and labeling and is really beneath contempt. A big problem exists. That problem is austerity politics and it is blocking the emergence of progressive economic policy during a time when the presence of nearly 31 million dis-employed people, unprecedented inequality, a stagnating economy, and many other serious challenges requiring an activist Federal government to enable solutions. This is what is too crazy, weird, bizarre, or outré for words and is beneath the dignity of the United States. This is what is profoundly impractical; not minting an HVPC of whatever face value to fill the public purse so we can pay off the debt and cover deficit spending for years to come.

HVPCS can provide the fiscal background that will open the way to constructive economic policies. HVPCS is a novel solution in the sense that it has never been used before. But that doesn’t make it crazy, weird, bizarre, or outré. It just makes it “new.”

Fearful, or conservative people will frequently characterize new initiatives in uncomplimentary ways; but their real objection is that the new proposal is outside of their comfort zone; and they believe in as little change as possible because they think that change is most often bad and rarely, if ever, a good thing. From their point of view, this is the best of all possible worlds, however evil it may be for the majority of people.

There’s no point to creating a Strategic Petroleum Reserve-like buffer stock of something the govt has the ability to create at will, especially if it’s just going to scare the hell out of people

This is an objection offered by those who prefer an incremental approach to PCS, rather than HVPCS with its consequence that enough seigniorage would be generated to pay off the national debt and cover deficit spending for many years to come. They emphasize the importance of making people comfortable with the idea of PCS before we use it to really change the situation of fiscal politics and move it away from austerity.

Making people comfortable and moving toward consensus is a laudable goal. But PCS will immediately be perceived as a threat to powerful vested interests (as I’ll explain below). These interests won’t allow the Treasury Department to have the power to create electronic credits in the Treasury’s spending account for very long. They will vigorously pursue repeal of the 1996 law to constrain Treasury once again to taxing or borrowing in order to fill the public purse. That’s why we do need a buffer stock of funds in the Treasury General Account (TGA) whether or not it scares people.

In addition, just what does “scaring people” people mean? Scaring bond traders? Scaring Wall Street? Scaring the big banks? Scaring the media who have gotten in bed with these interests? Scaring the people who have devoted their lives to propagandizing for austerity? Or does it mean scaring “average” Americans?

I don’t think it means scaring most people, because I think they will be comforted to know that the Treasury has enough funds to pay off the public debt as it comes due; and to cover deficit spending appropriated by Congress for many years to come. They will also be comforted to know that there’s no need to cut major popular safety net or discretionary programs, or to raise taxes on them.

Let’s get real! Using HVPCS may scare elites here in the United States and in other nations around the world. But it won’t scare the American people once they understand how it will impact their own lives.

It’s the same as “printing money”!

“Printing money” is an epithet from gold standard days used to characterize paper money that wasn’t convertible to, and thus “backed by” gold. When the US and other nations ended the gold standard in 1971, all money became fiat money, unbacked by convertibility into any commodity. So, today, when people refer to “printing money” they usually mean the Government issuing currency or bank reserves while deficit spending, without also issuing debt instruments of equal face value to withdraw an equal amount of money from the economy. When debt is sold along with new money created in deficit spending, this is often viewed as “debt-backed” money, and is also thought to be less inflationary than deficit spending unaccompanied by new government debt.

The objection to using PCS then, is precisely that it would provide the credits needed to add new money into the economy without issuing debt, and the basis of the objection is that this is more inflationary than adding the same money into the economy after subtracting an equal amount from it by selling debt. In turn, the idea that PCS-based deficit spending and debt pay off would be more inflationary than debt-based spending is based on the Quantity Theory of Money (QTM). The problem is that the QTM is false, and that both logical analysis of the theory and the empirical evidence available to us refute it.

I’ll discuss this a little more below under the inflation objection. But the main point here is that there’s no reason to believe that PCS-based deficit spending or debt repayment would be more inflationary than deficit spending or debt repayment accompanied by debt issuance. So, there’s nothing to the “printing money” objection. The US isn’t either Zimbabwe, or Weimar. It doesn’t have crippling external debts in currencies it does not create; or wholesale destruction or appropriation of its productive capacities to contend with. So, PCS won’t lead to our becoming like either of those historical basket cases.

The political blowback will be fierce, and minting the coin will strengthen the extremist faction in the Republican Party and lead to paralysis in the Congress.

Minting a platinum coin with any appreciable face value over $1 Billion Dollars will create a political firestorm. It doesn’t matter if the face value is $100 Billion or $100 Trillion, the act of using PCS, including HVPCS, will be met with outrage, propaganda, labeling, name-calling, and predictions about the decline and fall of the United States. The extremist faction of the Republican Party will have a field day and will be fully supported in their outrage by Wall Street, the big banks, and the financial and political MSM.

However, it won’t lead to political paralysis in Congress, provided HVPCS is used rather than “moderate” PCS options. If $60 T gets credited to the TGA, and the President pays down $6.5 T in intragovernmental debt, during the first week after minting the coin, then the Congress will be faced with a game-changing fiscal backdrop to deal with. The President can advocate for action on a variety of measures that will meet national problems with no questions about the fiscal capacity to accomplish these things. If the Republicans simply refuse to pass them, or to work through compromises without having the excuse that we must balance the budget, reduce the deficit, or repay debt because we are running out of money; then they will suffer severe losses in 2014, and the President will get what he wants in 2015.

It really is as simple as that. Without being able to “poor mouth” the country, the Republicans will have no rationalization for their obstructive fiscal politics, and the President will have no excuse for cutting programs people need and want. If the extremist Republicans continue on with their normal economic nonsense, then they will be dead men/women walking as we approach the next election. The 80 CEOs and their “fix the debt” stuff, as well as Peter G. Peterson will also be gone, as political factors. And both parties will have to get about the business of solving our nation’s problems, or suffer the consequences in 2014.

The platinum coin will only delay a reckoning we need to have

The “reckoning” here is over the Republicans’ “reckless threat to force the United States into default.” Using either the TDC or HVPCS, lets the Republicans off the hook on this issue and makes the new hot issue the President’s irresponsible action in minting a platinum coin. I think whether this happens or not depends on the face value of the platinum coins involved. If the platinum coin is a $60 T or some other HVPCS alternative, then I think the political system will quickly begin frying bigger fish than either of those issues.

The issue of whether to let Republicans off the hook is small potatoes compared to the issue of whether HVPCS should be used in place of debt issuance to pay off old debt and perform deficit spending without issuing any new debt instruments. Both this issue and the issue of whether we should end austerity politics when there’s no longer any need to worry about solvency or debt when deficit spending, are far bigger issues than whether the Republicans were “reckless” or the President “irresponsible.” In addition, the issue of the President’s “irresponsibility” will be gone in a week once he pays off that first $6.5 T in debt subject to the limit.

We can’t mint a platinum coin because this would violate a social norm!

Social and cultural norms are properties of social systems, and there are many levels of social systems ranging from families and small friendship groupings to international social systems. You can certainly say that there’s a norm against using HVPCS as a plausible solution to the national debt, and claim that this is not how our society pays its bills. And, it’s certainly true that we haven’t done it in the past; and that people working for, or identifying with, the FIRE sector are opposed to using PCS as a solution to the debt problem and take refuge in ridiculing us and trying to activate a social norm and frame that they think is dominant.

But these things don’t show that there really is a social norm preventing this in the United States when viewed as a large-scale political/economic system. Or that President Obama has to move incrementally to change “the social norm” because he would have a problem with implementing High Value PCS with a bold lightening strike minting a $60 T coin, since the country as a whole would rise up in opposition to such a move due to the strength of the social norm that we shouldn’t use HVPCS. There’s no evidence at all to suggest that this would be the case, and every reason to believe that most people don’t care how the national debt is paid off; so long as it’s paid off, and is not there to burden themselves, and “their grandchildren.”

After all, most people are completely unaware of how deficit spending and debt instruments work, and completely unaware that “debt is not debt” as we MMTers like to say. What they do know is that the United States has more than $16.4 T in debt instruments out there. That scares them, because they’ve been made to believe that it’s their debt, and I think they really don’t care if this “debt” is paid off by taxing more than we spend, or through using platinum coins to get the Federal Reserve to create money out of thin air for Treasury to use in a way that has no obvious short-term effects on them.

In part four, I’ll discuss more political as well as some economic objections.

(Author’s Note: h/t to Jack Foster for proposing a framing document for HVPCS. This is it; but divided into 6 parts for blogging convenience. The rest of the series will continue with objections made to HVPCS and my answers to them.)

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)

Framing Platinum Coin Seigniorage: Part Two, Legal Objections

4:30 pm in Uncategorized by letsgetitdone

There are three classes of opponents of High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS, $30 T and above). The first and largest group opposes all PCS of whatever type. The second, opposes HVPCS, but favors using the Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) for the limited purpose of avoiding the debt ceiling. The third, opposes HVPCS, and doesn’t really favor using the TDC either, except, perhaps, as a last resort.

It favors an incremental approach to PCS beginning perhaps in the millions or billions in face value, and over a long period of time eventually building up to a TDC. The remaining posts in this series consider the many objections brought forward by people in one or more of these categories, and my replies to them. As you will see, the opponents of HVPCS have already thrown everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at it. In this post, I’ll consider some legal objections.

PCS violates the intent of the 1996 legislation, and is an unconstitutional exercise of executive authority, or is an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to the executive.

The Courts generally don’t try to interpret laws based on theories about Congressional intent, in the face of the plain language of a law. The language of section (k) of the 1996 legislation is particularly plain in providing for platinum coin seigniorage and leaving face values and other coin attributes up to the Secretary. It is not just that section (k) is plain its meaning; but also that other sections of the law constrain what the secretary can do in various ways. The plain implication of the section (k) textual context is that Congress intended to delegate broad powers of platinum coin seigniorage to the Secretary. There is no contrary evidence to the plain meaning of the text of section (k) in the law.

Some have contended that the purpose of the statute was to legislate about commemorative coins, rather than coins intended as a a source of revenue for the Treasury. Philip Diehl, Director of the US Mint at the time of the legislation drafted the language of the law. He flatly denies that the intent of the law was to authorize more commemorative coins, and says it was to provide new coins that would produce profits for the US Mint. Such coins are unambiguously legal tender. There’s no further evidence that Congress intended anything else in passing the law he drafted.

The Justices aren’t collective psychologists who are expert at divining the intent of the Congress. They are expert, however, at interpreting what the text of a law says, and so that is what they stick to almost all the time. A challenge to PCS based on intent isn’t something any Court is likely to take up, in the face of the language of the 1996 legislation, and Congress’s plain ability to repeal one or more of countless laws that allow unintended consequences.

What if a $60 trillion dollar coin is used to avoid the debt ceiling, and this saves the United States from defaulting on its debts, and the world financial system from collapsing? Is it then likely that the Supreme Court will entertain any challenges to the plain language of the law based on an interpretation of intent, unsupported in the text of the law, which would then place the Treasury in the position of having to return that trillion dollars in Fed credits, and again look default in the face? Can you see John Roberts ever voting for this?

John Carney, a CNBC blogger, has suggested that the 1996 legislation is unconstitutional because it specified an impermissible delegation of the Congressional authority to coin money to the Executive Branch. He argues that there’s no “intelligible principle” behind the language in section (k) limiting the Secretary’s powers.

However, Congress delegated to the Treasury the power to mint platinum bullion and proof coins having a variety of properties to be specified by the Secretary; but it did not delegate to the Secretary that power with respect to coins made out of other materials; or even with respect to platinum coins that are neither bullion or proof coins. So, Congress did limit the authority of the Treasury to mint platinum coins according to intelligible principles. Just not the intelligible principle that the coins involved had to be limited to a specific face value. Or, to put it another way, in the area of platinum coins what Congress has done is to delegate its authority according to “the intelligible principle” that the Secretary is to mint such coins with face values he/she deems necessary and proper.

PCS really doesn’t avoid breaching the debt ceiling

It’s also been suggested that PCS doesn’t solve the debt ceiling problem, because in substance, if not in form, using the platinum coin is just a way of Treasury getting a loan from the Fed until the debt ceiling can be raised and it can go back to issuing debt. This argument assumes, however, that Treasury would have an obligation, at some point, to redeem the coin from the Fed with revenue raised from taxes or debt issuance. However, none of the proponents of using PCS, until very recently, when this idea crept into the writing of Paul Krugman, ever proposed restoring the status quo by buying the coin back from the Fed.

Instead, our main idea has always been that any platinum coins deposited at the Fed would remain in its vault as a Fed asset in perpetuity, and that the Fed would credit the US Mint’s account with the face values of the coins. In our view the Fed would have the legal duty to provide such credits in response to a deposit of a platinum coin or coins because the coins are legal tender, and the NY Fed, as the fiduciary banking agent of the Treasury Department, cannot refuse to accept and credit a legal tender coin. The Treasury would incur no obligation to the Fed in using PCS, any more than any one of us would incur any obligation to our bank in giving them a coin with $100 in total face value, and expecting the bank to credit our account with that $100.

The Fed can’t be forced by Treasury to accept and credit an HVPC it mints

Oh, yes it can. Treasury may choose not to force the Fed to do this, as it just did, but one of the powers vested in the Secretary of the Treasury before creation of the Federal Reserve system was certainly to spend its legal tender into the economy. To do that under an arrangement where the Fed is its fiduciary bank/agent, requires that the Fed deposit and credit its legal tender into its spending account, the TGA. So, I think it follows that under 12 USC 246, the Secretary has the authority to order the Federal Reserve to credit that coin so Federal spending can proceed. If the Fed Chair still refuses, then the President can remove the Fed Chair for cause (12 USC 242). See this more detailed argument for further development. In Part Three, I’ll consider political objections to using HVPCS.

(Author’s Note: h/t to Jack Foster for proposing a framing document for HVPCS. This is it; but divided into 6 parts for blogging convenience. The rest of the series will continue with objections made to HVPCS and my answers to them.)

(Cross-posted from New Economic Perspectives.)