Understanding MMT

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I’ve mostly completed my study of MMT, although I have a few more papers to read. But I feel like I know enough to draw a few conclusions about how MMT relates to the broader field of economics.

When reading the Macroeconomics textbook by Mitchell, Wray and Watts, I was frequently struck by how MMT is almost the exact opposite of Chicago school economics, particularly the monetarist version I studied in the 1970s. On a wide range of issues, MMT is on one end of the spectrum, the Chicago school is on the other end, and the mainstream is somewhere in between.

Here on some examples:

1. Chicago economists believe that the supply and demand model is extremely useful for a wide range of markets, even markets that don’t meet the classical definition of “perfect competition”. Mainstream economists believe the S&D model is quite useful, but worry more about imperfect competition. MMTers are highly skeptical of S&D models, viewing the model as only useful in a very limited number of cases.

2. Chicago school economists believe that free market policies are almost always the best. Mainstream economists believe that free market policies are often optimal. MMTers are highly skeptical of what they call “neoliberalism”, viewing it as almost a religion.

3. Chicago school economists don’t believe there is much value in talking to bankers when trying to understand how monetary policy works. MMTers believe that knowledge of the nuts and bolts of the banking industry is highly important when trying to understand monetary policy.

4.  Chicago school economists believe that the concept of opportunity cost is extremely important, and applies to almost all policy debates.  That’s a bit less true of Keynesians, whereas MMTers assume that in many if not most cases the economy is well below full employment, and there is no opportunity cost to additional government expenditure.

5.  Modern Chicago economists are extremely skeptical of the “Phillips curve” approach to macroeconomics.  Earlier monetarists such as Milton Friedman thought there was a short run tradeoff between inflation and unemployment, but no long run trade-off.  Mainstream economists sort of agree with Friedman, but also argue that there might be some long run trade-off due to hysteresis.  MMTers seem to be most enthusiastic about the claim that boosting aggregate demand can boost employment over the long run, highly skeptical of natural rate models that say that AD doesn’t matter in the long run because money is neutral once inflation expectations adjust.

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