TED Talk: The Big Myth of Government Deficits

This is a TED Talk by Stephanie Kelton, TED: The big myth of government deficits.

“Instead of trying to keep the deficit in check, Congress should be trying to keep inflation in check.”

“Instead of asking how will we pay for it, Congress should be asking, “How will we resource it.”

The #FightFor15 Minimum Wage WAS The Compromise. #FightFor24!

The minimum wage should be $24 if it had kept up with the gains in the economy.

Instead all those gains went to a top few.

CEPR: This is What Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace with Productivity

While the national minimum wage did rise roughly in step with productivity growth from its inception in 1938 until 1968, in the more than five decades since then, it has not even kept pace with inflation. However, if the minimum wage did rise in step with productivity growth since 1968 it would be over $24 an hour today, as shown in the Figure below.

$15 WAS the compromise!

$15 is a compromise already. If the minimum wages had kept pace with the gains in the economy it would be $24 or so per hour now, which is around $96K per year for a couple. What this means is that if labor’s share of the economy had stayed the same the minimum lifestyle equivalent would be what a $96K lifestyle today is. The house you’d be able to buy, etc. That would be our minimum.

#FightFor24

If they kill the $15 compromise there is no reason to keep fighting for $15. It should be $24 and we should all rightfully be fighting for that. It just gets us back to where we were before the great financialization, the great separation of labor wages from the economy, the great inequalizer.

So fuck 15, #FightFor24

Protectionism, Trade and Democracy

This post originated at Imagine Democracy

“Protectionism” literally means we, as a nation, protect our national interests. It is one more word that has been twisted to make people think it’s a bad thing, like “entitlement” (the things we are entitled to as citizens in a democracy) or “welfare” (people in a democracy making each others’ lives better.)

“Trade” is about competitive advantages. It used to mean one region can grow bananas and another can grow corn, and by trading they each end up with both bananas and corn in their kitchens. (Good.) Today, though, it means authoritarian governments have the “competitive advantage” of allowing slavery and pollution so their factories can make things for less. So (the executives of) big corporations move production there, then squeeze the remaining workforce here with threats to move their jobs as well if they won’t lower their standard of living. (Bad.) All the gains of that “trade” are passed to a few already-wealthy owners and managers of that means of production. They use some of the gains to influence our laws to allow them to do this.

A democracy obviously would consider its people’s standard of living an interest worth “protecting” and would never allow businesses to influence lawmaking.

Trade can be done a different way but that requires democratic governance. Economists (used to) tell us that society gained from trade because making the economy more “efficient” by moving production to lower-cost regions frees up resources, providing increased investment and general prosperity; better infrastructure, higher pay and more free time for everyone in the society. And the production moved to the lower pay area means jobs and investment there, so they also move up that same ladder to increased investment and prosperity. That assumption depended on viewing society as liberal democracies capable of making and enforcing rules that would pass these gains on to everyone.

The failure of our country to maintain itself as a democracy has resulted in the allowance of trade with slavers and polluters, resulting in the extreme inequality we see. Thereby enabling further squeezing of workers and environment here. It also incentivizes authoritarian governments to allow slavery and pollution.

The solution to this, and so many other problems, is, of course, to remove the influence of money from our political system.

Trade and Jobs and A Better Life

Breitbart used some of my stuff about trade in 2016, quoting it out of context, and got it wrong. Trumpers think that China and other trade partners “outnegotiated” the US. But they didn’t. The trade deals were exactly what the corporate-controlled US negotiators wanted.

But it wasn’t the bad trade deals themselves that hurt us so much as the way they were used by American businesses to hurt us.

Here is what I mean. “Trade” is when places that can grow bananas exchange them for things that come from places that can grow corn, etc. But we call it “trade” when we close a factory here and open it in China, making the same things to sell in the same stores, because they get paid less there.

The thing is, that can be a good thing for all of us IF it is done in a way that benefits all of us. And it can be. If you take the resulting gains (the difference between what people here were paid vs what they’re paid there) and use those gains to give everyone here better jobs or a better life, then we all benefit. If you invest that money in better infrastructure here, a more efficient economy, etc, then we are all climbing a ladder. And also the Chinese (or other trade partners) benefit from getting the jobs. Then over time they can do the same thing to climb the same ladder. That’s a win-win.

But instead of doing it that way, what happened was a few already-wealthy people just pocketed those gains instead of sharing them by. They didn’t invest in better jobs, or in better infrastructure or education, etc. They just pocketed it.

Even worse, they used the lower-paid jobs there as leverage to force people here to accept lower wage jobs, “or else your job goes, too.” They intentionally created unemployment. Unions were busted.

How did this happen? You’d think in a democracy the government would work to ensure that We the People would benefit from deals our government made. Our government should have made sure the trade deals were used to help us. But it did the opposite.

This happened because our government was “captured.” Instead of doing things for all of us the government started only doing things that benefited the financial types at the expense of the rest of us. This problem was always around. But the real change happened starting in the 1970s, and the effect hit us in the 1980 election. “Free trade” and “tax cuts for the rich” and “cutting government” (which means cutting spending on infrastructure and education etc, as well as cutting the regulatory protections that kept big business from controlling everything) and the rest happened, and we are reaping the whirlwind since.

Trade can be used for good or bad. It isn’t “trade” that’s the problem.

MMT Explains What Governments Can Do. It Is Not A Proposal.

This post originally appeared at We CAN Have Nice Things.

At Business Insider, Jim Edwards and Theron Mohamed do a good job explaining MMT in, “MMT: Here’s a plain-English guide to ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ and why it’s interesting.”

They begin with these bullet points:

  • MMT is a big departure from conventional economic theory. It proposes governments that control their own currency can spend freely, as they can always create more money to pay off debts in their own currency.
  • The theory suggests government spending can grow the economy to its full capacity, enrich the private sector, eliminate unemployment, and finance major programs such as universal healthcare, free college tuition, and green energy.
  • If the spending generates a government deficit, this isn’t a problem either. The government’s deficit is by definition the private sector’s surplus.
  • Increased government spending will not generate inflation as long as there is unused economic capacity or unemployed labour, MMT proposes. It is only when an economy hits physical or natural constraints on its productivity — such as full employment — that inflation happens because that is when supply fails to meet demand, jacking up prices.
  • MMT proponents argue governments can control inflation by spending less or withdrawing money from the economy through taxes.
  • Needless to say, traditional economists have some issues with all this.

Just ONE quibble with that, where they write, “It proposes governments that control their own currency can spend freely.” They should have written It EXPLAINS, not that it “proposes.” Big difference.

MMT EXPLAINS that governments that control their own currency can do a lot of things.

Imagine Economic Democracy

This post first appeared at the Imagine Democracy blog.

We don’t have to “bring back jobs from China.” Economists explain that exporting low-level jobs and automating free up resources so “we” can have more $ and free time. And places climbing the jobs ladder get jobs.

The problem is how “we” are distributing the gains. Right now a company ships jobs away or automates and a few already-wealthy people in charge of the company get all of the gains. The workers a shit out of luck. They lose homes, etc.

AND on top of that the owners of companies use those job losses to break unions, etc, forcing wages down. “Shut up and accept the pay cut or we’ll fire you.”

Imagine Democracy

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Imagine if “we” all shared the gains, and received more $ and free time. And as those other countries automate, etc., they also get more $ and free time.

What we need is democracy (aka “socialism”,) so we can GET that $ and free time.

Imagine if we had an economic system designed to be of, by and for We the People, where we require that automation and job exports mean those economic gains go to US – We the people – instead of an already-wealthy few.

A company improves efficiency by automating, etc., and the gains go into a fund. As all the companies do this, the fund provides income to working people. People get the same pay and reduced hours because the efficiencies mean there is less work to do. Or they can move up the ladder to more-skilled jobs for more pay.

In other words, imagine democracy

On Trump’s Steel/Aluminum Tariffs And So-Called “Trade” Generally

I agree with the tariffs, but not the way it is being done. It should have been planned, phased in, coordinated with US industry and, most important, part of a comprehensive US economic/trade/industrial policy. The latter just isn’t going to happen under Trump nor under a Wall Street dominated economy even with Democrats running things.

Trump’s tariff doesn’t come out of nowhere. This is the result of an actual process. It comes after our Commerce Department ruled on a case that started under Obama that China is dumping steel.

Here is an example of the problem. China increased its capacity dramatically during their infrastructure boom (which is how they got through the recession). Then internal demand dropped as the infrastructure projects wrapped up, but the steelmaking capacity continued because they don’t want to lay a lot of people off. So they are selling the steel wherever they can at prices lower than cost. The rest of the world suffers. Esecially the US “rust belt” workers. But also our country’s ability to make steel as needed. Imagine a conflict with China and they cut off steel to us, after this “dumping” has closed what’s left of our production capacity.

From April 2016’s CAF post, The Big Fight Over Chinese Steel,

When China’s growth was very high, and China was building tall buildings and high-speed rail all over the place they needed a lot of steel. Then their economy slowed. Now China is making more steel than they need.

Meanwhile countries around the world are fighting their own slow growth with austerity policies that literally take money out of their economies – like cutting back on infrastructure maintenance and modernization. And their slowing economies mean less steel use.

… So there is less demand for steel in China and around the world. Current global overcapacity is estimated at 700 million tons – more than seven times what U.S. steelmakers can produce. This is expected to get worse.

But Wait, There’s More – Cheap Labor

OK, now the bigger picture. Economists will tell you about the benefits of trade. I should have said Wall Street economists.

“Trade” is supposed to be about “comparative advantage.” This means a region that grows bananas has an advantage doing that compared to Iowa. But Iowa is great at crowing corn. Iowa trades corn for bananas, etc.

However currently discussion of “trade” really just means using “trade” deals for moving American production out of the country to low-wage places. The “comparative advantage” involved is cheap labor. (The factories aren’t even already there, they are moved there.) Wall Street likes to argue the benefits of lower prices resulting from using what amounts to slave labor outside the US but the real benefit they get from this and the rest of the trade regime is pressure on US wages, which means people have to take what they can get (or drive for Uber) and labor cannot demand a larger slice of the pie.

When they say trade agreements “increase trade” remember that moving a factory across a border and bringing the same goods back here “increases trade” because now they cross a border. “Trade”?

Even More – “Expanding Markets”

There is another part of what we call “trade.” They say trade “opens up markets for US goods and services.” As if those markets are not already being served? What it does is open up “markets” for exploitation by the largest, ost powerful competitors, wiping out whatever has developed locally. There AND here. Look at how “trade’ has wiped out OUR textile, electronics, etc producers. And OUR giant monopolies like to use their power to wipe out local industries elsewhere.

So “trade’ is currently being used by giant multinationals to consolidate their power.

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way. Imagine Democracy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Imagine if the US had full-employment policies, so everyone who wants a job has one. This is in fact easily done.

Imagine a democracy with rule of law and sensible coherent structures for determining policy. (Those policies would include breaking up monopolies and reducing the power of big companies.)

Imagine a government that offers a job to anyone who wants one, with reasonable above-poverty pay and benefits. There is so much that needs doing, like child care, elder care, retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, fixing up parks, teaching — you know, the list of things that a democracy would put resources into to make people’s lives better.

So imagine a system where everyone has the ability to get by, and the opportunity to do work that does good. Imagine how jobs would change if employers had to compete to get people to do the jobs they need done. That competition would involve offering jobs that actually do make the world a better place, because people would be able to choose to do that.

This Creates A New Economic Problem – A NEED To Outsource Production

Never mind the societal reckoning full employment policies would bring, with its higher wages, increases in labor’s power, etc. (That’s another discussion…) There would be a new economic problem: Our economy would have trouble finding enough labor to get things done. In other words, the economy would be prevented from running at full capacity by a demand for labor. What to do?

THEN it makes economic sense to move production elsewhere. But then it could be done non-exploitively, bringing higher pay and prosperity to the places we outsource to as well as here. Then trade becomes the benefit it is supposed to be, benefitting everyone. This is how democracies would do it.

And immigration. (But that’s also another discussion.)

In an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People outsourcing production could be good for everyone.

Imagine an economy designed to be of, by and for We the People. Wow.

Republican Deficit Fear Strategy

Driving up deficits and then using deficit fear to stop spending on things that We the People want and need has been open Republican strategy since Reagan. Google “strategic deficits.”

Tom Wicker explained in the NY Times in 1985, in IN THE NATION; A Deliberate Deficit,

To hear Larry Speakes tell it, President Reagan emerged from anesthesia righteously demanding action on the budget deficit ”this week.” That sounds fine – except that it now appears that the deficit was deliberately created by Mr. Reagan in order to do away with Democratic social programs dating back to the New Deal.

Who says so? David Stockman, the departing Budget Director, at second hand, and Friedrich von Hayek directly. He’s the Nobel Prize-winning economist who’s been a guru of Reaganomics.

… After the Budget Director’s resignation last week, Senator Moynihan of New York said Mr. Stockman had told him that even in 1981 Mr. Reagan knew the tax cuts would mean loss of revenue, but that the President had accepted the resulting rise in the deficit in order to bring pressure on Congress to cut spending.

That sharply contradicts what Mr. Reagan then publicly argued – that cutting taxes would expand the economic base and increase revenues. In his 1980 campaign, he even contended that the increase in revenues resulting from the tax cut would pay for the military buildup he also planned.

But Mr. Moynihan said Mr. Stockman had told him that in 1981, ”the plan was to have a strategic deficit that would give you an argument for cutting back the programs that weren’t desired. It got out of hand.”

Reagan used tax cuts and spending increases to goose the economy. A good economy gets votes. Then under Dems the entire Republican media machine blasted us with deficit/debt fear to force cuts in the things government does to make people’s lives better. Cuts are bad for the economy (and people), so voters not happy with Dems.

So everything people think they uderstand about deficits and debt is just the result of decades Republican “family budget around kitchen table” propaganda.

REPUBLICANS understand this and use it. The Federal budet is NOT like a family budget.

Republicans understand our government issues its own currency. It CAN NOT go “bankrupt” because it can just issue more currency. It CAN NOT “go broke.” We can issue currency to pay for the things We the People want and need. The additional currency is money in the economy.

If we issue too much currency (too much money in the economy) we end up with inflation. So taxes soak up the excess.

Taxes are not “revenue” that is used to “pay for” spending. Taxes are useful to redistribute, rebalance the economy.

Taxes redistribute and rebalance. Is inequality rising? Raise taxes on the rich. Are billionaires and corporations exerting influence on government? Tax them back down to size. Etc.

Deficit fear is just a tool to move votes to Republicans, make the rich richer and keep We the People down.

This post is based on this Twitter thread.