Money and Money-Like Instruments: Part I

There’s been a few articles about how some assets are very much like money lately. Greg Ip had a good one in the Economist. vimothy points out Caballero and Gorton have been spouting something like MMR for a long time. Delong points out we need more safe assets and the market is screaming at us to borrow more. (Update: How did I forget David Beckworth on this? Here is his take. I’ll have more on his take in Part II)

Wray wrote a Levy Institute article about Money, and Rochon wrote a paper about money too.

They are missing something massively important from their analysis of money – the existence of money-like securities and instruments which are widely used in the financial world. They miss an important finance technology which makes these money like instruments all the more important and dangerous – the repo market.

It’s not just the fact these securities or equities exist. Rather, it’s the fact the repo market exists, and that it’s become very common to use stocks in transactions. What this does is take asset – which in the past were clearly not money and rather part of the Saving/Investment relationship and make them far more liquid, and therefore closer to money.

The statement by Minsky about money “anyone can create money, the problem is getting someone else to accept it” takes on a slightly different aspect when you think about the relative ease of monetizing financial assets today. The repo market has taken securities which in the past were illiquid and not able to be used as money and transformed them into something which is almost money.

It’s hard to understand why we think MMR has something important to add to the discussion until you recognize we’re able to shift between money and the instruments of saving and investment far easier today than we were 20 years ago.

Our last two recessions have been financial sector related recessions. In 2001, the internet  bubble popped and our economy shut off. And we should always remember the crisis in 2008 triggered when the repo market stopped dead and forced Lehman into bankruptcy.

Money-like Instruments

Gary Gorton has been talking about the repo market for the last several years, but I don’t think it has pierced the consciousness of most people who think about money. Here is a quote from Slapped in the Face by the Invisible Hand: Banking and the Panic of 2007:

“Creation of informationally-insensitive debt is the function of the banking system. In the regulated bank sector this corresponds to insured demand deposits. The characteristics of demand deposits are: (1) demand deposits have no fixed maturity; they can be exchanged for cash at par on demand; (2) they are senior claims; (3) they are claims on a portfolio; (4) they can be used in transactions. This form of debt is created by depository institutions and by money market mutual funds that offer checking.Shadow banking combines repo with securitization (or other forms of informationally-insensitive debt) to accomplish the same function for firms. Senior tranches of securitized debt and commercial paper (not discussed here) are also quite informationally-insensitive. The shadow banking system, the combination of repo and securitized debt, is a kind of bank, as follows: (1) repo has a short maturity; it is typically overnight and can be withdrawn (not rolled over) on demand; (2) it is senior in that the collateral is senior, but also senior in the sense that there may be a haircut on the collateral (this is discussed below); (3) repo collateral is backed by a portfolio if the collateral is securitization-based debt; (4) the collateral can be used in other transactions, i.e., it can be rehypothecated. Repo is discussed further below.”

Back in the old days of 1985, if you held bonds or stocks, the major way to translate those instruments into money for yourself was to sell them.

Today, this is no longer the case. Today, it’s much easier to get money from your investments, and you don’t even have to sell them. You can repo them out, and get money short term (or if you do it every day for an extended period, long term) for those assets.

Modern bonds and securitized assets have been designed to make them easy to use in the repo market. I do recommend reading a several Gorton papers to get a full view of what he thinks is happening with the repo market and banking.

Using Equity to Purchase Equity 

It’s become vastly more common for firms to use equity of their company to purchase other companies. This is what happened in the late 1990’s. Firms used their recently issued equity as money to purchase other firms.  There was little or no debt involved in that crisis. The crash wasn’t caused by there being too much debt in the system.

But the end result was recession – and it was a horrible recession. As far as I can tell, the economy just stopped.

S – I + (S-I)

We’ve been talking a ton about our seemingly simple equation S = I + (S-I), and showing the importance of private sector S and I. But it hasn’t been clear to people why we’re doing this and sometimes, they entirely disagree with our assessment of the importance of this equation.

The presence of the repo market and utilization of equity as money makes this equation central to our understanding of the economy.

As Minsky said “Anyone can create money – the problem is getting it accepted”. We’ve created a system where there are at least two huge ways to create money outside of the “traditional” horizontal and vertical money creation channels.

The repo market can take private sector financial assets and translate them into money for individuals for people very quickly. It’s entirely possible to take securitized assets, existing bonds or even stocks and go and get them repo’ed out for short term money.

The usage of equity to purchase other firms makes equity into a form of money entirely outside of the realm of what we consider horizontal or vertical money. The equity of a firm is simply what others will accept for that equity.

In the past, the money creation process was pretty slow moving – getting a loan from a bank was a lengthy and time consuming process. Using equity to buy another firm wasn’t common enough to be a problem.

This is no longer the case at all. It’s entirely possible to get money from an asset without selling it, and without what most people would consider borrowing. Using equity to buy other firms is very common.

Repos as a Glance

Let’s look at a repo and see how they work.

A repo is a trade where you get money for an asset, with a promise to repay that money plus some interest at a future date. The lender takes possession of the asset as collateral, but ownership does not shift unless the borrower does not repay the loan.

There are two important terms to know when talking about repos: haircut and repo rate.

The haircut is the amount of discount the lender gives the asset before they allow the borrower to post it as collateral. Let’s say you have a bond worth 100. The lender might say “I’ll only let you borrow 80 for it.”  That 20% is the haircut on the asset.

The haircut is there to give the borrower an incentive to pay back the loan.

The repo rate is the amount of interest paid on the loan for the duration. The lender might say “I’ll let you borrow 80, and you owe me 88 when you pay me back.” The repo rate would be 10% for this instrument.

The haircut also determines how much money is “allowed” to be borrowed against the asset. As the haircut goes up, the amount of borrowing allowed goes down. This became important in the crisis of 2008, when the system raised haircuts on nearly every asset in the world, and the system found itself short roughly $3t in cash.

Low borrowing rates for good assets

Something even more important is you can borrow money against good assets for very low amounts. If you have high quality debt, the repo rates were and are very low.

Essentially, this becomes something close to free money. You have an asset, plus cash whenever you want it. For example, repo rates right now on U.S. government debt is 19bps.  That’s .19% per year in interest payments. Free money any time you need it.

Equity

Also, it’s good to remember the problems in 2001 had nothing to do with debt, but rather happened because the prices of some equities fell dramatically. There wasn’t a debt overhang which froze the worlds markets. Rather, the ability of companies to purchase other firms and real world assets with their equity as collateral fell dramatically.

Summary for Part I

All of this points to something interesting and even profound. We have taken some assets allowed them to be translated to money through financial techniques. I argue the widespread awareness of these techniques makes those assets far more “money-like” than they had been even 30 years ago.

 

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Госбанк
4 years 4 months ago

Repo is nothing more but a collaterized(secured) loan of a very short tenor.

I’d not call it free money, though, because 1) its cheapness is due to extremely short tenor: 19bps yearly is for cash loaned for only *one* day; 2) the repo market is unavailable to an individual player/household. 3) it is not final settlement money but just a means to get cash to settle despite its semblance of being cash.

Legal ownership, by the way, does shift to the cash lender for the duration of the repo loan.

Guest
paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Free money any time you need it.

But you still have to pay it back…

…by means of extraction from others.

btw cool commenting software you guys are using.

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

When do all of these loans get paid back? It’s like claiming that the govt “pays back” its debts. No. That doesn’t happen. The debts have all been growing in perpetuity since the beginning of time. At the micro, yes, you pay back your loan. But in the aggregate the amount of loans outstanding aren’t being “paid back”. They’re growing….FOREVER. MMT loves to obscure this point by saying that bank money gets “destroyed” when it’s repaid because the loan results in a markdown of the asset and liability. But that’s not what really happens. What really happens is this:

Private debt doesn’t get “paid back” any more so than govt debt does. MMT totally misconstrues this point with the tautology about “net financial assets” and an attempt to bring the power back to the govt always. Meanwhile, out here in the real world the banks are swinging their loan books around at businesses who are helping grow the real economy. And they’re doing it without a care in the world for what the govt says or does.

Also, I noticed Lavoie’s excellent point about language in MMT and their use of the word “leverage” when discussing horizontal money. This is another error on their part. There is no “leveraging” of govt money. But MMT tries to have it both ways by saying there is no money multiplier, but by also creating a 1:1 relationship between banks and govt that doesn’t exist under the current framework!

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago
Here goes – hope it doesn’t view as a big mess… … Cullen… When do all of these loans get paid back?… …No. That doesn’t happen. The debts have all been growing in perpetuity since the beginning of time. At the micro, yes, you pay back your loan. But in the aggregate the amount of loans outstanding aren’t being “paid back”. They’re growing….FOREVER. MMT loves to obscure this point by saying that bank money gets “destroyed” when it’s repaid because the loan results in a markdown of the asset and liability. But that’s not what really happens. What really happens is this: [LOANS] graphic Private debt doesn’t get “paid back” any more so than govt debt does. MMT totally misconstrues this point with the tautology about “net financial assets” and an attempt to bring the power back to the govt always. Dan M… Well if the market can “extract” the value of real (non-financial: Houses, factories) assets and insert them into stable claims on those assets, then this “extraction” can simply result in more investment in productive non-financial assets. Monetization of real assets is the ultimate crux of private money … … Undermining the role of private money to extract real value out of the economy is what turns off so many people to MMT. …I think it’s really telling when you hear MMT’ers discuss 2008 and say that “the lack of NFA’s forced households to borrow more” … and that’s why we had a housing bubble. …People shouldn’t have borrowed so much not because they didn’t own enough T-Bills, but because rents, salaries, and their job stability DIDN’T WARRANT the price of housing at the time. What is more T-Bills on the balance sheet going to do? Well, simply, help the economy heal itself after the crash of housing…… Read more »
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Greg
4 years 4 months ago
I dont think its even correct to say that credit has been growing in perpetuity. In a sense its true, most every generation takes out credit (there is no alternative ususally) but banks have not been like govts in that they simply roll over and reaccumulate debts. As Nassim Taleb has pointed out, banks, over the history of their existence, are net money losers. This is if you measure them the same way you measure losses in a private sector currency user type framework. They have consistently gotten bailed out by govts/HPM/fiat issuers though so their losses can also be measured in the way we measure a govts losses. No one would (no one here with the knowledge of MMT/MMR anyway) would ever suggest that a govt like the US “lost money” on an endeavor. Wasted money? Sure. But not lost as in negative equity. I think the way I look at banking, as a private sector govt with two sets of rules one for lenders and one for borrowers, is most helpful. It works ok most of the time because borrowers have income and can support the loan levels but when a crisis arises (almost always in the private sector….. leading to income losses) The banking sector via a CB covers the banks losses with unlimited liquidity to keep payments flowing but then plays a zero sum game with borrowers and expects them to work harder to pay back their loans, which is all well and good but one must then support policies which make jobs available for people to make the income to pay back their loans. How can one work to pay back a loan when your job has just been determined “unnecessary”. The inner logic of the private credit system cannot support itself in times of… Read more »
Admin
4 years 4 months ago

The data on loan creation speaks for itself. There is no such thing as “destroying” aggregate debt except in the very near-term. It grows perpetually as long as the economy grows….MMT obscures this point with vague language about net financials assets.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Cullen…

It isn’t obscure to me. This is a strawman argument. The closed-system characteristics of economies is counter-intuitive, mainly because we have been taught a fantasy about how finances work.

Most people are confused and many are unable to grasp it. Not because they aren’t smart but because their brains just aren’t wired to “see” the abstraction in real-world terms.

No loans would be satisfied if we didn’t pay them back. If one doesn’t satify initial loans there won’t be any loan growth down the road. If there are financial roadblocks to loan servicing the system ceases to function.

How you can blame this on MMT is puzzling.

Your argument is not very convincing.

A suggestion. Be more like an engineer. Define a problem before you attempt to solve it.

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

Okay, then explain how all that debt is being “destroyed” as MMT describes it. Because it’s clearly not being “destroyed”. It’s essentially rolling over in perpetuity and has been for a hundred years.

While you’re at it, explain why MMT says the banks “leverage” govt money because that’s clearly wrong also. MMTers don’t believe the money multiplier. There’s no leveraging of anything going on there.

While you’re doing that you might as well try to explain why MMT says the govt has a “money monopoly”. MMT says credit is money. MMT also says monopoly power is always about controlling price. But credit, which is money, is not price controlled by the govt so the whole money monopoly argument is dead wrong also. But MMT uses vague words like “leverage” or the hierarchy to create a 1:1 relationship where one doesn’t exist….Talk about obscure!!!!

These are obscure points to most other people whether you think you understand them or not.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago
Cullen Roche March 16, 2012 at 11:37 am Okay, then explain how all that debt is being “destroyed” as MMT describes it. Because it’s clearly not being “destroyed”. It’s essentially rolling over in perpetuity and has been for a hundred years. While you’re at it, explain why MMT says the banks “leverage” govt money because that’s clearly wrong also. MMTers don’t believe the money multiplier. There’s no leveraging of anything going on there. While you’re doing that you might as well try to explain why MMT says the govt has a “money monopoly”. MMT says credit is money. MMT also says monopoly power is always about controlling price. But credit, which is money, is not price controlled by the govt so the whole money monopoly argument is dead wrong also. But MMT uses vague words like “leverage” or the hierarchy to create a 1:1 relationship where one doesn’t exist….Talk about obscure!!!! These are obscure points to most other people whether you think you understand them or not. Cullen (I assume your comment is addressed to me) I do not speak for MMT. I will try to answer some of your questions however. “…explain how all that debt is being “destroyed” as MMT describes it. Because it’s clearly not being “destroyed”. It’s essentially rolling over in perpetuity and has been for a hundred years…” Every time a payment is made those dollars are destroyed. They cease to exist, just as they didn’t exist before the loan was made. “…While you’re at it, explain why MMT says the banks “leverage” govt money because that’s clearly wrong also. MMTers don’t believe the money multiplier. There’s no leveraging of anything going on there…” Banks leverage money they don’t have into money-making loans. If there is no reserve requirement the leverage is infinite. If there… Read more »
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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

btw

I figured out you can preview comments in you web browser. Write your comment in a text editor using standard html tags and open the file from your browser. Make changes, then refresh. In my browser (Safari) the blockquote bar doesn’t show up but it will when you post.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

Is it really a closed system in the truest sense when private-sector non-financial real assets (a variable amount) can be contractually attached to horizontal money, thereby not only strengthening the money through collateral, but strengthen the non-financial asset through a system of monetization.

If a vibrant horizontal sector with collateralization can help the following come about:

+$1 Million Financial Asset: Mortgage on Factory
-$1 Million Financial Liability: Loan to Bank
+$1 Million Factory: Contractually Connected to Loan

Total +$1 Million.

This factory would likely not have been built if not for horizontal money. It’s also contractually attached to the horizontal money.

A healthy value-producing private sector can significantly increase the strength of the horizontal money. That means that real changes can occur for decades in the real economy before NFA’s (or the lack thereof) take the steering wheel.

Guest
paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Dan M. March 16, 2012 at 11:50 am
Is it really a closed system in the truest sense when private-sector
non-financial real assets (a variable amount) can be contractually
attached to horizontal money, thereby not only strengthening the money
through collateral, but strengthen the non-financial asset through a
system of monetization.

Yes Dan it really is a (monetary/nominal) closed system in the truest sense. Changed only when the government net spends. The monetary closed system is separate but parallel to the non-financial closed system. The linkage is soft, marked to balance sheets (real and virtual) for all transactions between the real and monetary economies.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

So much for my html skills. We need a delete comment function added here as well as a preview.

Guest
paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Cullen

I plan to respond to this post very carefully but I need to think about it for awhile.

My response as always will be based on the properties of closed systems, not MMT, thus will not involve any MMT/MMR sparring 🙂

My response should cover Dan M.’s and Michael S.’ comments also.

Any claim one makes that violates closed system properties will be pushed back on (if it suits me) no matter who makes them (and I have had these discussions in the past with MMT proponents, Austrians and anyone else that doesn’t get it). Most engineers and physicists should but some may not see the parallels with monetary systems.

“Any method involving the notion of entropy, the very existence of which depends on the second law of thermodynamics, will doubtless seem to many far-fetched, and may repel beginners as obscure and difficult of comprehension.”—Willard Gibbs, Graphical Methods in the Thermodynamics of Fluids (1873)

Are we allowed (encouraged) to insert inline graphics here? I see you have done it but you’re special 🙂

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Sergei
4 years 4 months ago

Paulie the closed systems to which refer to in your vertical/horizontal are not closed. Our Sun constantly injects “assets” into our system which allows it to move.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Sergei March 17, 2012 at 12:15 pm
Paulie the closed systems to which refer to in your vertical/horizontal are not closed. Our Sun constantly injects “assets” into our system which allows it to move.

Our thinking is converging. In our economic system dollars are the only “energy” (assets) being injected into the monetary economy. Balancing the budget “closes” the system as far as net financial assets are concerned.

Horizontal money isn’t readily analogous to anything in the physical world I can think of. Maybe we would look at it as a”wave” propagating through the system that eventually dissipates as the energy is lost as heat.

Horizontal money (spending) boosts demand quickly, but demand dissipates as it slowly decreases spending (dis-spending). Annihilation of dollars. One can continue borrowing to keep the demand going but there is a functional limit. I think we are past it.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Michael Sankowski March 21, 2012 at 12:20 am
Hi paulie,

The word functional is….wrong somehow …

Michael you are one of the most reasonable and practical posters here so I’m only responding here to make a point. I can be a pedant too. 🙂

functional (adjective); practical, useful

Credit can technically be “created forever”, but practically speaking it can’t because there is a limit to an agents ability to borrow.

The borrower is limited by his ability to service debt (income) and by the limited existence of dollars he must obtain to repay.

One can’t depend on others to borrow dollars into existence in order to service one’s own debt. Practically the definition of unsustainable.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Paul gets out his Thesaurus… 🙂

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Sergei,

I neglected to mention that as the Sun injects energy into our local system, the Earth is simultaneously losing energy to space. The earth environment itself remains in equilibrium.

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Sergei
4 years 4 months ago

Paulie: the Earth is simultaneously losing energy to space

Looks like you have not heard of global warming 🙂

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Sergei March 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm
Paulie: the Earth is simultaneously losing energy to space

Looks like you have not heard of global warming.

A closed-system phenomenon but I’m sure you already know that.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

“In our economic system dollars are the only “energy” (assets) being injected into the monetary economy.”

Careful with that. IOU’s are money. If you don’t pay your mortgage the bank can take your house (as clumsy and unpleasant as that is, it strengthens their loan). This is quasi-private money built on a non-financial asset, and attached thereto via collateral contract. The expansion of credit is one with the asset. There’s a new asset there.

If the monetary economy is strengthened by the assets that get assembled as a result of the horizontal money, then there is in effect adding other “energy” to the money that you’re not accounting for.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Dan M.

“…There’s a new asset there.…”

There’s also a new liability there equal to the asset created.

Other than that I’m not quite following your line of argument.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

I’m saying the home, factory, or production that exists as a result of, AND secures the horizontal loan is a NEW asset, and it’s boueying the value of the financial asset it’s attached to. This is in effect quasi-private currency (though it must be serviced by US dollars).

For instance, if you were to immediately de-securitize every loan in existence and make all secured creditors unsecured overnight, you’d see a huge collapse of the structure that the horizontal system is built on. This structure of collateralized production allows horizontal money function for years and years with what would otherwise appear to be too few NFA’s in the system.

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paulie46
4 years 4 months ago

Dan M.

If one buys an existing home there is no NEW asset unless the seller realizes a profit.

At the micro level this is inconsequential but in the aggregate the net change in cash on ALL balance sheets must increase by the amount of the gain, or the difference will have to come from another agent dis-saving. Horizontal money (credit) can’t perform this function.

If we are talking about a new home then the only asset created is the labor component plus profit, and those must be monetized. Again, credit only makes the transaction (home sale) possible it doesn’t provide the dollars necessary to realize the gain. The dollars come from another agents pocket. Credit dollars are forever destined to return to the ether, that’s what liability means. Liabilities are monetized (returned to zero) when thet are satisfied.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

CR,

Yeah. And there’s some of this and the market and that is fine, but (and I’m not sure you’re disagreeing with me) the market can sustain only so many loans like that. If you desecuritized all loans overnight our system of credit would likely collapse.

So there’s more than NFA’s giving private credit structural clout. There’s non-financial assets attached to these loans. Money like this can go on for a long, long time before “not enough NFA’s” rears its head. This is why the MMT claim that more savings would have fixed the housing crash is very incomplete.

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

I am not disagreeing at all!

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

Here’s a good example of this. So, I am starting a new RIA. It’s formed in Deleware, but a shell of a company right now. Nothing exists. It’s just ideas in my head right now. But I’ve already been allocated a sizable loan from the bank. Technically, the company is worth zero. Nada. It doesn’t even really exist in any form. But the loan is very real to me and the bank. Even though there’s nothing really backing it up right now except a bunch of ideas in my head.

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

You can give it a try! I don’t know if users can insert images or not, but I presume the standard HTML code would work.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

CR,

Beautiful… then the next question is “what bouey’s all that credit?” Answer: Production. All the mortgages that attach the money to real assets via credit allow a mostly private system of money to be sustained with a few requests from government:

1) Enforce our contracts.
2) Supply enough NFA’s that society demands at the time to keep a stable economy at full capacity.
3) Create an environment conducive to production of real wealth.

Notice, only when the underlying productive asset (a home “produces” shelter) price was decidedly over-rated, and eventually declined, did the private money system break down. Yes, we suffered later as a result of having too few NFA’s, but the fundamentals of the problem were the non-financial assets, and the financial assets/liabilities attached to them. This means that the driver of the horizontal money is just as much non-financial assets as it is Net Financial Assets.

Saying that those horizontal assets net to zero and then forgetting about it is like saying all the energy in the universe (matter v. anti-matter) nets to zero so we don’t really exist so why study anything! I realize this analogy is a bit of a stretch, but looking back, MMT very much undersells horizontal money & production.

Admin
4 years 4 months ago

YES! I think people are finally starting to see the pieces come together on this whole MMR thing we’ve started. We didn’t start it based on a disagreement about political ideology or the silly job guarantee. It’s SO much more than that. Thanks Dan.

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

Glad I’m on the right track.

While I think the “surpluses & recessions” correlation should be shouted from the mountain tops, there’s more to it than NFA’s, especially in 2008. I think it’s really telling when you hear MMT’ers discuss 2008 and say that “the lack of NFA’s forced households to borrow more” (I dont’ think I’m overly misuoting here) and that’s why we had a housing bubble. The housing market was simply not moving on fundamentals. People shouldn’t have borrowed so much not because they didn’t own enough T-Bills, but because rents, salaries, and their job stability DIDN’T WARRANT the price of housing at the time. What is more T-Bills on the balance sheet going to do? Well, simply, help the economy heal itself after the crash of housing, and subsequent poisoning of a set of debt instruments called MBS’s.

While the lack of NFA’s hurt in 2008, their claim of NFA’s keeping us grounded is just utterly ridiculous. It’s like saying that all the life boats on a ship will help keep the ship from hitting an ice berg. Next thing you know NFA’s will cure cancer and keep our daughters from getting pregnant (If Rick Santorum doesn’t do the latter for us first ;).

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Dan M.
4 years 4 months ago

Well if the market can “extract” the value of real (non-financial: Houses, factories) assets and insert them into stable claims on those assets, then this “extraction” can simply result in more investment in productive non-financial assets.

Monetization of real assets is the ultimate crux of private money. It made up a lot of the IOU’s that made up money in the 1800’s. Undermining the role of private money to extract real value out of the economy is what turns off so many people to MMT.

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