Origins of Modern Monetary Theory
Posted by WARREN MOSLER on August 4th, 2011
A rampaging mutant macroeconomic theory called Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT for short, is kicking keisters and smacking down conventional wisdom in economic circles these days. This is because an energized group of MMT economists, bloggers, and their loyal foot soldiers, lead by economists Warren Mosler, Bill Mitchell, and L. Randall Wray are swarming on the internet. New MMT disciples are hatching out everywhere. They are like a school of fresh-faced paramedics surrounding a gasping heart attack victim. They seek to present their economic worldview as the definitive first aid for understanding and dealing with the critical issues of growth, unemployment, inflation, budget deficits, and national debt.
MMT is a reformulated blend of some older macroeconomic theories called Chartalism and Functional finance. But, it also adds a fresh dose of monetary accounting for intellectual muscle mass. Chartalism is a school of economic thought that was developed between 1901 and 1905 by German economist Georg F. Knapp with important contributions (1913-1914) from Alfred Mitchell-Innes. Functional finance is an extension of Chartalism, which was developed by economist Abba Lerner in the 1940′s.
However, Chartalism and Functional finance did not directly spawn this new mutant monetary theory. Rather, Modern Monetary Theory had a hot, steamy, Rummy induced, immaculate conception as its creator, Warren Mosler, has stated: The origin of MMT is ‘Soft Currency Economics‘  at www.moslereconomics.com which I wrote after spending an hour in the steam room with Don Rumsfeld at the Racquet Club in Chicago, who sent me to Art Laffer, who assigned Mark McNary to work with me to write it. The story is in ‘The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy’ [pg 98].
I had never read or even heard of Lerner, Knapp, Inness, Chartalism, and only knew Keynes by reading his quotes published by others. I ‘created’ what became know as ‘MMT’ entirely independently of prior economic thought. It came from my direct experience in actual monetary operations, much of which is also described in the book.
The main takeaways are simply that with the $US and our current monetary arrangements, federal taxes function to regulate demand, and federal borrowing functions to support interest rates, with neither functioning to raise revenue per se. In other words, operationally, federal spending is not revenue constrained. All constraints are necessarily self imposed and political. And everyone in Fed operations knows it.
The name Modern Monetary Theory was reportedly coined (pun unintended) by Australian economist Bill Mitchell. Mitchell has an MMT blog that gives tough weekly tests in order to make sure that the faithful are paying attention and learning their MMT ABC’s. MMT is not easy to fully comprehend unless you spend some time studying it.
MMT is a broad combination of fiscal, monetary and accounting principles that describe an economy with a floating rate fiat currency administered by a sovereign government. The foundation of MMT is its recognition of the importance of the government’s power to tax, thereby creating a demand for its money, and its monopoly power to print money. MMT’s full potential and its massive monetary fire power were not locked and loaded until President Nixon took the U.S. off the gold standard on August 15, 1971.
There is really not that much “theory” in Modern Monetary Theory. MMT is more concerned with explaining the operational realities of modern fiat money. It is the financial X’s and O’s, the ledger or playbook, of how a sovereign government’s fiscal policies and financial relationships drive an economy. It clarifies the options and outcomes that policy makers face when they are running a tax-driven money monopoly. Proponents of MMT say that its greatest strength is that it is apolitical.
The lifeblood of MMT doctrine is a government’s fiscal policy (taxing and spending). Taxes are only needed to regulate consumer demand and control inflation, not for revenue.