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funksands On June - 12 - 2014

Our National Private Surplus Clock

This is a continuation of my ongoing series of articles that deal with Modern Monetary Theory

Today we are going to boil down parts 1-4 into a super-easy to understand “elevator pitch” for MMT.  You may know what an elevator pitch/speech is, but for those that don’t here is how it is defined by Wikipedia:

“An elevator pitch, elevator speech, or elevator statement is a short summary used to quickly and simply define a person, profession, product, service, organization or event and its value proposition.

The name “elevator pitch” reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes and is widely credited to Ilene Rosenzweig and Michael Caruso (while he was Editor for Vanity Fair) for its origin. The term itself comes from a scenario of an accidental meeting with someone important in the elevator. If the conversation inside the elevator in those few seconds is interesting and value adding, the conversation will continue after the elevator ride or end in exchange of business card or a scheduled meeting.”

My goal with this particular post is pique your interest and add value to your understanding of money, economics and political policy.  Hopefully you will be interested to keep reading my posts about MMT as well as strike off on your own to learn more about it.

Perhaps you can even use this info to craft your own elevator pitch about MMT.

The following is an actual postcard that Lambert Strether of the blogsite Corrente created for public use.  He encouraged everyone to use it and send it to your Congressperson to stimulate the conversation about MMT and thereby the policies that should come from understanding of MMT.  I couldn’t have picked a better way to boil MMT down to its essence:




1. Does the government need to receive tax revenue before it can spend? – No
2. Does the central bank need to receive reserve deposits before it can lend? – No
3. Do private banks need to receive demand deposits before they can lend? – No

Banks simply keystroke money into your checking account.

The government simply keystrokes money into the bank’s accounts.

For money to exist, the government must first create it and then let it flow into the private sector.

The government must SPEND first, THEN tax


The US federal government can never go broke.  Ever.  EVER.

If it is the sole creator and issuer of money, and that money is keystroked into existence on Treasury computer, then how can it ever “run out”?

Greece is actually broke because it no longer controls its own currency.  It’s debts are in someone else’s money and they want to make sure they get paid.

The amount of money that the government has pumped into the private sector minus the taxes it has collected = The National Debt.


This does not mean the Government SHOULD spend as much as it wants, simply that it CAN.

If Congress passed a bill to re-build every highway, bridge and public school in the US starting next year, it can AFFORD to do so. However, that would take an enormous amount of resources that may be needed elsewhere and could cause damage to the private sector.  It could cause shortages in several key areas and lead to inflation and labor shortages.  Real resources constrain government spending, not affordability.


This also means that Social Security and Medicare are not going broke and never will unless the political decision to starve them is made.


There are 12 million people looking for work for every 4 million job openings.  If the private sector cannot or will not employ them (and why should they be forced to?) then the government must step in to fill the gap.  The deficit needs to rise until full employment has been reached.


The Jobs Guarantee Program is an example of policy that can be crafted once the basics of MMT are understood and implemented.  The details of the plan are discussed in part 4.

If the private sector cannot or will not employ enough of our citizens, then the government must provide a job to everyone that wants one.  Boom and busts will come and go in a capitalist economy, but why not simply eliminate the joblessness that comes along with it?

What can we do with this information?

A) When you see a liberal, moderate, progressive, Democrat regurgitate the well-honed wive’s tale about the US going broke, or bankrupt or the deficit or debt being a “critical concern”, tell them that that isn’t the case.  Start a conversation and get them to think.  When a media person or your Congressperson says it, be a little firmer.  The more its repeated, the more people will start to believe it.

B) Start demanding from our public officials that the government start spending what we need to spend to move the US out of the frigging stone age.  It’s time to fund the things we need to make our country move forward.

Thanks for your eyeballs!

Many thanks to Naked Capitalism, New Economic Perspectives, Lambert Strether, and L. Randall Wray






Written by funksands

There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that, we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns – there are things we do not know we don't know. Additionally there is bacon.

23 Responses so far.

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  1. Nirek says:

    Funk, this is an excerpt from my financial adviser.

    6. Is high government debt a threat?
    We don’t think so, especially if the
    economy continues to grow. Although
    the U.S. government debt has
    increased to record levels, it’s still a
    smaller percent of the economy than
    in the early 1950s. And the federal
    defi cit has shrunk to about 3% of the
    economy in 2014 due to higher tax
    rates and improving economic growth,
    putting it in line with the average since
    1950. Over that time, the stock market
    has generally been rising unrelated to
    the size of the government’s debt.
    Source: Federal Reserve, Department of Treasury, Congressional Budget O ce, Bloomberg. Congressional Budget O ce uses data on federal
    debt from the Department of the Treasury and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Estimates of gross domestic product
    (GDP) come from the Bureau of the Census. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index and
    cannot be invested in directly.
    Net Debt Held by the Public as a % of GDP
    S&P 500
    Debt as a % of GDP
    S&P 500
    7. What’s the longer-term outlook?
    Despite the challenges ahead, the long-term outlook is good. Long-term economic growth depends on
    population growth and productivity growth – and the U.S. is well-positioned for both. Although the population
    is aging worldwide, the U.S. is aging more slowly than China and almost every other developed country. And
    the U.S. continues to be a leader in innovation, especially in patents and trademarks. Innovation helps raise
    productivity growth over time, again contributing to faster economic growth.
    The dramatic increase in oil and natural gas production in North America has lowered energy costs in the U.S.,
    creating a long-term competitive advantage. That’s one reason some businesses are moving some operations
    to the U.S. And as oil production has increased, oil imports have declined, reducing the trade defi cit and
    helping support the value of the dollar over time. Although the U.S. has challenges to face, long-term
    competitive advantages help make them easier to overcome.

    I think this confirms what you have said about the debt. Am I right ?

  2. Mojave Green says:

    I’m not real old, but I’m no longer young. What I’m trying to say is that I’m in my 50s and closer to 60 than 50, and I’m only pointing it out so you can decide what that has to do with anything here. And because, when I was attending a quality State University in one of the New England states, I also held a full time job that paid me a weekly take-home salary of $260. I bought my first brand new car during that time. It was a BMW and the price was $3100. Tuition was $800 a semester and last year I got yet another request for a ‘donation’ to help new students with their $34,000 tuition. Same school and the same BMW company. The lady I was seeing at the time was studying business law and she forced me to read some books that proved to me that quote by……Henry Ford? Or someone. The one about how ‘if people understood ‘their’ banking system they’d be a revolution by morning’. Not exact, but close. And though this is not the best I’ve seen on the subject, all the facts are correct. I’m not sure on the little bit of rhetoric in it and can’t even say if it’s points ‘right’ or ‘left’. The fact is that it doesn’t matter. The facts do, and I’d like opinions on how many people even know this stuff? I have for a long time but find that I’m a minority. It’s not too long and I think it’s important. Pura vida

  3. sillylittleme says:

    OMG. It’s about time someone breaks it down. Money is totally a man-made fabrication. It is humans that give it value. It was designed for ease of trade. PERIOD. We can never run out of something completely contrived.

    I would add that it should be the responsibility of the Fed to annually issue a pre-determined (based on inflation) amount of money for every new citizen/resident that we create.

    It should also be policy, that if you are to remain an American (via passport) and you have a company that is chartered in the US that all of the profit (note profit specific, not expenditures) remain in the US.

    I would add one other item. That if the top 20% have 80% of the wealth, leaving 80% to keep the economy going with 20% of the wealth; that the top 20% pay taxes commensurate with that wealth.

    If you can’t keep it circulating with moderate savings then you don’t get to keep it as it wasn’t yours to begin with. It is all of ours collectively.

    • funksands says:

      Silly, thanks so much for your reply. You have a lot of interesting ideas, each of them workable. I think you’ll like my next installment about taxes and their relation to MMT. Its a little counter-intuitive, but I’ll give you a preview: If we don’t “need” tax revenue to fund government programs, then why do we have them? There are some very good reasons why we do….stay tuned!

      The overseas/outsourcing/offshoring issue is a particular madness that I deplore. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to move operations overseas. Your main customers might be over there for one!

      But our tax code shouldn’t be the reason companies move. We PAY companies to leave via the tax code. No other industrialized nation does this. As a matter of fact, most of these nations levy additional tax on those earnings in order to protect their domestic industries. If I am a US corporation I shouldn’t be able to make more money simply by leaving the nation that I am domiciled in.

      I like your thoughts and look forward to hearing more.

      • sillylittleme says:

        Thanks. I look forward to seeing your discussion on taxes. Just so you know I got a 4.0 in Federal Taxation from a professor who never gave those out. He had been a tax attorney and he was, to be polite, a bit of a stickler. Just know one thing, and that is we have such a complex tax code system that there is no one right answer. Which begs the question as to whether we ever really are raising the appropriate amount of tax revenue.

        You make an excellent point regarding corporations. Although we must be realistic about global production, one thing that I think that is missed in this whole issue is the big picture. If all production is moved, the shipping costs of finished products increases substantially (not to mention the pollution factor), so really how much savings does one really have in producing half-way around the world from your base customers. The answer is not very much. That is why if the Apple products were manufactured in the US for US customers the price of their products may go up 10%, but not much more as the manufacturing costs are offset by the lack of shipping costs. A little food for thought.

  4. MurphTheSurf3 says:

    Well I asked for and you gave it to me.

    Short, simple, fast, pointed and still baffling.

    None of this is home base for me.

    I have now read three articles on MMT and each provides more and more background on the theory.

    Your summary here is a helpful skeletal structure for me to hang the information I am gathering onto. I can’t say that I am comfortable with any of it…..

    I found this http://pragcap.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Critique-of-Modern-Monetary-Theory.pdf

    Do you know it? The author identifies MMT as a “new arm of Post+Keynesian Economics (PKE) That label helped to put MMT into a broader context.

    Could you look at this article and tell me what you think of it?

    So, friend, I am one of those kids who keeps riding up and down in the elevator pushing the buttons all the time and, every now and then, pulling the emergency stop.

    I am going to keep push at this.

    Be patient.

    • funksands says:

      Murph, glad you read it and I will gladly read Cullen’s piece and give you my take on it. At a glance I note that he makes claims about what MMT’ers believe that I haven’t heard before, but I’ll suspend any judgement until I get to the end.

  5. kesmarn says:

    funk, this is so amazing. I’m still not entirely sure that I comprehend the whole MMT theory well enough to apply it to lots of different possible scenarios. But the notion that unacceptable levels of unemployment could conceivably be a thing of the past really seems like a dream come true.

    Just think of the tremendous reduction in overall national levels of anxiety that would result. Even though there doesn’t seem to be a direct connection, don’t you think that even some of this national gun obsession would abate? People who are scared about the future get angry. And angry, scared people seem to be drawn to the “need” to arm themselves. (“I don’t have much, but nobody’s going to take the little bit I have left.”) Don’t you have a sense that this increased feeling of security (especially combined with greater access to health care coverage) could be a real game-changer for the national psyche?

    We all might be able to focus on something besides partisan bickering and finding ways to get entangled in foreign wars to boost the MIC-based economy. Fancy that! We could think about things like the arts, creative ways to reduce energy consumption, scientific research into subjects other than new weapons systems… and maybe even vastly increased production of funny cat videos for YouTube.

    • funksands says:

      God knows America could use some new splatter-painters… 😉

    • funksands says:

      Thanks Kes, don’t worry because policy direction is the hardest to pin down. Many people read about MMT and think that it somehow means that we can print our way to prosperity. That isn’t the case. There are real-life consequences of all of the decisions our government makes with its fiscal and monetary power.

      Right now with our government embracing austerity, the effect is that we have an output gap between what the private sector is able to generate in economic activity and what is needed.
      Government spending needs to grow to fill that gap.

      Too much government spending will trigger inflation, too little triggers flat economic activity like we see now.

      The Job Guarantee simple establishes the government as the employer of last resort. It is intended simply to employ those that the private sector cannot or will not employ at a nominal wage with (perhaps) a nominal benefit or two.

      The public purpose of the government should be to render the Job Guarantee obsolete because the private sector is humming on all cylinders, but natural economic cycles and bubbles often interfere with the private sector being able to do all the lifting.

      I can think of no greater emergency than 10 million Americans unable to find work of any kind. According to many economists, this output gap between what our economy is able to produce and what it is producing has cost us $6 trillion in lost economic production.

      • kesmarn says:

        funk, it seems to me that this would almost approximate the function that the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps served during the Great Depression. And they were literal life savers!

        • funksands says:

          Kes, very similar, the WPA’s goal wasn’t full employment. It simply tried to get a job into the hands of the family breadwinner during the Depression

    • Hey Homie! I would love to realize, in real time, a true Platonic, “ideal plane,” where all of us, regardless of pigmentation, gender or sexuality could really have all the time we need for higher thought. But, Plato did name his plane “Ideal.”

      Unfortunately, Plato’s ideals rested upon the backs of slaves. Oh, if such a world existed where none would shun work and all would take part in the actual, physical labor it takes to make a great society…….oh well, call me a dreamer! As Winston O Boogie once famously said….”I’m not the only one.” 😉

      • kesmarn says:

        Maybe the closest we’ve come to that ideal have been the monasteries (Buddhist ones too) where the monks had certain hours for meditation — but also had to get that laundry done too, Homie! 😀

  6. JumpingJackFlash says:

    You are ignoring the effects of inflation and exchange rates in this analysis. You mentioned it in your 1st article in this series. I think that breaks most of your points. For example point #4 about SS and medicare going broke. That is a huge amount of debt and when we reach the point where we don’t have enough people paying into the system to cover the people receiving benefits, the system will collapse. If the government chose to just print money to meet the burden, we will have massive inflation.

    • funksands says:

      Jack, thanks for your response. Why do you think that we’ll have inflation? Isn’t inflation too much money chasing too few goods? Right now we are awash in goods and people don’t have money to buy them. 10 million people unemployed tells me that we don’t have a problem with inflation right now. I find it interesting that people are worried about inflation that isn’t occurring when we have unemployment destroying lives and communities as we speak.

      Once we have full employment and real competition for limited natural and labor resources, THEN the government will have to ease up on the money it puts into the economy. Until then inflation is just a pipe dream.

      The exchange rate can become an issue if the rest of the world decides that it wants other stuff to invest its ultra-safe money needs in. What are they going to choose? The Euro? A floating exchange rate also provides protection even in this unlikely scenario. The exchange rate is a bogeyman that is far less important than inflation.

      Besides, SS and Medicare don’t actually rely on contributions to make payments. SS sends you your check by crediting your checking account. They don’t wait for more money to come in before they pay you do they? They don’t have to sell more treasury bills to pay grandma do they?

      Medicare credits your doctor’s bank account. It doesn’t sell t-bills to China and THEN pay your doctor does it?

      Again, the only constraints that SS and Medicare faces are political and the constraints of real resources that people are going to buy with their money.

      Thanks again for reading!

      • JumpingJackFlash says:

        Let’s assume your statement on SS and Medicare not relying on contributions is correct. What happens if the payroll tax went away and nobody is paying into that system? The answer is it would become a very real problem quick. It’s easy to think of money as a bunch of electronic transfers but it’s a false argument.

        • funksands says:

          Actually that’s exactly what modern money is. That’s kind of the point. Neither SS nor Medicare rely on FICA taxes to “pay” for anything. Now when we were on the gold standard that was absolutely the case, but not anymore under a fiat monetary system.

          Every cent of our national debt is accounted for as a private surplus. Basic accounting.

          Don’t get me wrong, I was right where you were about a year ago. My initial reaction was “yeah right” or “that sounds like total bullshit”. A year of open-mindedness and study has convinced me otherwise.

          Best stimulus our economy ever had was the temporary reduction of the FICA tax. People had more actual money to spend and the economy did very well. Now that tax relief has been allowed to expire and now people are having their disposable income disappear as taxes to fund something that doesn’t need their taxes to operate.

          Now can we give SS recipients a 200% raise tomorrow? Probably not, because now you’d have twice as much money in the system chasing the same amount of goods. This would/could trigger inflation, but only due to the lack of real resources those dollars were chasing, not lack of affordability.

          • JumpingJackFlash says:

            This type of thinking only works to a point because you can’t have unlimited deficit spending. At some point inflation will overtake the economy.

            • funksands says:

              Jack, you CAN have unlimited deficit spending. However it doesn’t mean we SHOULD. At some point there will be too many dollars chasing too few goods and inflation will indeed kick in.

          • funksands says:

            *Best stimulus in the last few years* is a better description of the FICA repeal

  7. Nirek says:

    Funk, until Obama took office the Republicans understood what you say about MMT. Suddenly they are saying that the debt and deficit are so important.
    I think they are important but for the reasons in your latest and easiest to understand MMT post. Those reasons are resources and distributions of them.

    Excellent explanation of the other MMT posts. You never lost me at all.
    Thanks Funk for clearing the muddy waters on MMT.

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