Anybody who’s anybody feels obliged to lambast modern monetary theory in 2019.
In case you haven’t noticed, a veritable parade of “household names” have fallen in line over the past six months to lampoon MMT and cast aspersions on those who champion the theory.
Virtually none of the criticism is couched in rational terms – MMT’s detractors (outside of economic circles, anyway) generally avoid serious engagement with the theoretical underpinnings on the excuse that the idea itself isn’t worth serious discussion. Of course that logic fails – it’s self-referential.
What the cacophony of criticism lacks in veracity, it tries to make up for with hyperbole, ad hominem and allusions to the Weimar Republic. In other words, critics have simply resorted to fearmongering, in part because the theory has found an audience with the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who, along with other progressives, are threatening to upend capitalism, a system that works for virtually nobody and is injurious to many, but which is nevertheless worshipped uncritically by almost everyone (capitalism is a lot like religion in that regard).
MMT has been castigated by Jerome Powell, Warren Buffett and Christine Lagarde, for instance. Earlier this year, Jeff Gundlach called the theory a “crackpot” idea and last week, Lacy Hunt made the laughably bombastic claim that if we went down the road towards allowing the Fed to print money (in a literal sense), “in very short order nearly 100% of our people would be miserable, absolutely miserable.”
Wall Street has adopted a more academic approach to things, eschewing doomsday prophecies for, you know, actual debate and intelligent analysis.
“Without endorsing MMT in its entirety, we think its proponents make a couple of points that are both correct and important”, Goldman’s Jan Hatzius wrote last month, for example.
“This is essentially what the US did in response to the Great Recession, combining large budget deficits with large Quantitative Easing programs”, BofA’s Ethan Harris said the same day, adding that while “critics argued that this ‘debasing the currency’ could trigger runaway inflation we strongly disagreed.” BofA did express reservations about MMT in the same note.
Well, on Tuesday, Carl Icahn went ahead and tossed out a couple of meaningless soundbites, apparently just so he’d be on record as coming out against MMT. Here’s what he told Bloomberg in an interview:
You can print money up to a point, but after that point, it could become very dangerous. We don’t want to hit a wall that you can’t recover from. Once you get into an inflationary spiral, it’s very difficult to get out of it — and therein lies the danger.
That is so laughably short on specifics and so bereft of anything that even approximates analysis that one wonders why Carl even bothered.
I’ll tell you what – I’m just going to go ahead and cherry pick a quote from a 2016 CNBC interview with Icahn in the interest of making a larger point about why you should be skeptical when it comes to MMT fearmongering.
Listen below as Carl calmly explains to Joe Kernen how “ridiculous” it is for anyone to obsess over the deficit in a country that prints the world’s reserve currency:
Got that? Here it is again:
We need fiscal stimulus. And this whole obsession with the deficit is ridiculous, I mean the right wing of the Republican party, if you talk to them, you ask them what’s so bad about the deficit at this time, and really there is no answer. They just can’t answer it. I – would tell you that – uhh – in an economy like ours, where you have a reserve currency, this fear of the deficit is completely overdone.
We’ll pause for laughter as you compare that to what Icahn said Tuesday about MMT’s potential to cause an “inflationary spiral”.
Now please, 2019 Carl, tell us again how “very dangerous” MMT is – because it doesn’t sound like 2016 Carl agrees.