Explaining what is wrong with Magic Money Theory [MMT]

This was from Beachcomber in the comments:

Hi Steve, I just read a fascinating essay by Peter Smith at Quadrant: Money printing in the age of Covid

In the essay it states:

In the age of COVID-19, bonds sold to finance deficit spending are being largely or wholly bought up by respective central banks. This is manifest in banks’ holdings of deposits with their central bank and of treasury notes or bills.

In comments the question is asked as to from where the “central bank” garners the money to buy the bonds.

To which Peter Smith answers:

It creates it out of thin air cos it can.

The central bank simply issues a cheque or like instrument, drawn on the central bank, which allows the holder of the bond (assume it is a non-bank – the process is short-circuited if the holder is a bank) to lodge the cheque in its bank account. The bank correspondingly lodges the cheque with the central bank and sees its deposts with the central bank increase accordingly. The central bank now has an asset – the bond – and a corresponding liability – the bank’s deposit. It can go on doing this till the cows come home. Or, practically speaking, until inflation rears its ugly head.

Is this true? Can this continue forever? With shrinking incomes and the associated shortage of money supply, inflation seems unlikely. Peter Smith makes a distinction from Modern Monetary Theory without explaining how it is different. Can the creation of money from nothing by the Government continue forever? If so, then Andrews can reign forever!

First, if there is an authority on the banking system in Australia outside and beyond the reach of government, it is Peter Smith. He was, when I first met him, the economist for the Australian Bankers’ Association, then became the Chief Economist for the State Bank of Victoria and finally was the first Chief Executive for the Australian Payments Clearance Association. No one gets this stuff better than he does.

But let me buy into this because this is part of my expertise as well. And to follow this with any understanding you have to divide the economy into two halves. On one side is production, the actual goods and services produced, which also includes the production of inputs into the production process, such as iron ore and natural gas.

And on the other side there is the monetary side of the economy which is completely distinct. This comprises:

  • money as a medium of exchange, say a $100 note, but represents the value of goods and services so that we can sell what we produce to buy what others produce
  • money which we set aside as a store of value, such as bank accounts or superannuation savings, and
  • money which we use as a unit of account so that businesses can calculate how much things cost to produce so that they can determine what to charge so that they can calculate whether they are making a profit.

And it should be emphasised that only profit-making businesses create more value than they use up in production. Loss-making enterprises – which include virtually every activity run by governments – slow the economy, using up more value than they create. Loss-making enterprises cause the economy to contract. Only if there are other enterprises making profits – almost always private sector enterprises – can the economy expand. Without understanding that, you cannot understand the first thing about how an economy works.

Creating more money does NOT create productive resources. Giving more money to governments, or allowing them to print more money out of thin air, lets governments spend on non-productive activities which they inevitably do. Spending more on non-productive activities means less is spent on productive activities.

And adding to the problems, when the government expands the volume of money by just printing the stuff up, they undermine each of the uses money has: as a medium of exchange, as a store of value and as a unit of account. The economy can no longer be run as productively as it might have been and often even leads to a fall in real income across the entire community.

Virtually no politician I have ever met has understood this. Virtually no political leader I see in the news today understands this. All of the others are Keynesians now, who believe the mere spending of money creates jobs, growth and higher real earnings. On this they could not be more wrong.

We will be paying for this ignorance for a very long time to come.

2 thoughts on “Explaining what is wrong with Magic Money Theory [MMT]

  1. It is true Central Banks (CB) create $ from thin air. It is why, as Vera Smith concludes, CB were formed – it was for political reasons not economic reasons. The governments (G) can increase their spending – win votes – without raising taxes.
    One could read Kates newest book, re pg. 104-108. As G spends money it falsely increases GDP but decreases real GDP. Thus, prices do not rise. It appears there is no harmful effects (from CB $ printing) but in real terms there is much harm.

  2. Pingback: Explaining what is wrong with Magic Money Theory [MMT] - The Rabbit Hole

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