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Printing Prosperity and other strawman arguments against MMT

Peter Cooper writes a long argument, more in sorrow than anger, about critics of MMT who invent strawmen to attack instead of engaging with what Modern Monetary Theory actually says.  This is only a short extract.  Hat tip Warren Mosler.

A Comment on MMT Internet Discussions

There is one particular straw man that is repeatedly erected by critics of MMT. I’m sure most foot soldiers reading this will have noticed it. It is one that I find especially grating. The best (i.e. most irritating) phrase I’ve seen to encapsulate the nuances of this particular straw man is the refrain:

MMT claims we can print prosperity.

The phrase “print prosperity” is shorthand for the common message board accusation that MMT ignores real resources and gets bamboozled by money as if it is magic. The accusation is very common. The term “print prosperity” was coined, to the best of my knowledge, by a Math Professor, no less, who happens to be keen on the kind of “fiscal conservatism” advocated by the Concord Coalition.

I consider it a perverse injustice that, in online discussions, MMT sympathizers are frequently reproached for imagining that “we can print prosperity” when in fact it is us who constantly stress as a fundamental point that the only true constraints are resource based, not financial or monetary in nature. We are the ones insisting that if we have the resources, we can put them to use. It is the neoclassical orthodoxy and others who try to make out that we can’t use resources, even if they are available, because of some magical, mysterious monetary or financial constraint. Just who is it that believes in magic here?

MMT shows clearly that if we have the resources, money is no obstacle to a government that issues its own flexible exchange-rate fiat currency. It is not saying that creating money magically creates goods and services. It is saying that it is nonsense – superstitious nonsense – to think affordability for such a government could be about money rather than resources.

Obviously, anyone is entitled to disagree with the MMT position. But they are not entitled purposefully to misrepresent MMT as suggesting that it is oblivious to real resource constraints when it is alternative theories that attempt to obfuscate matters by conjuring up fictitious “financial constraints” (e.g. the neoclassical “government budget constraint” framework).

Take the debate over how to address the aging population for example. It should be obvious – and is obvious in MMT – that the only way to address this issue is to increase future productive capacity. This involves the application of real resources now to research, infrastructure development, education (including in areas relevant to servicing an aging population), etc.

Clearly, MMT is not, as many internet critics claim, saying that creating money solves the problem. It is really the MMT critics who are falling into the trap of thinking money rather than the application of real resources is the solution, despite their frequent protestations to the contrary. They are the ones who think that if the government “saves” money now, this will somehow help to address the needs of the aging population in, let’s say, twenty years time.

Yet, these same people also stress that you can’t “print prosperity”. Well, if you can’t “print prosperity” – and we all agree on that – what good is that money the government supposedly should stash away going to be twenty years from now? It won’t help to provide the infrastructure and technological knowledge that was not developed in the preceding twenty years because governments preferred to “save” money for the future rather than apply resources to the real task of raising productive capacity.

Oh well. We shrug and move on. Such are the trials and tribulations of an internet foot soldier. (link to full article)

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