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Dialogues with Jamie Galbraith and the MMT Job Guarantee

A few days ago my friend Beowulf decided to exercise his wry sense of humor with this title of a post he offered for our consideration: “(MMT ? JG) + Medicare for All = MMT.” Beo then goes on to talk about some details of a comment exchange with Jamie Galbraith at one of FiredogLake’s Book Salon’s featuring Jamie’s new book Inequality and Instability: A Study of the World Economy Just Before the Great Crisis.

Dialogue 1, Jamie Galbraith/TomThumb

Beo points out that Jamie has been closely associated with the approach to economics called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), most recently in a pretty good Washington Post article by Dylan Matthews, someone who clearly has little familiarity with who’s who in MMT world. After setting the stage by pointing out that association, Beo goes on to quote part of Jamie’s comment giving his reply to a previous question about what he thinks of the MMT Job Guarantee (JG) proposal.

Here’s that reply:

“. . . To come back to the job-guarantee approach, I think asking the government to create jobs directly is not a robust solution. The problem is that the program goes right into the budget firing line, where it will get chopped up. That was the experience with CETA, the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, back in the 1970s.

“So I prefer to think in terms of how to get decentralized institutions doing useful things, with their own funding streams, so that you can create jobs that endure. Education, health care, social services, home care, neighborhood conservation.”

Later FDL commenter TomThumb replied this way to Jamie:

“I worked under CETA as a Social Worker Assistant and then went right to Social Work graduate school when that ended in 1977. CETA works!

“Seems like you are giving up without a fight.”

To which Jamie replied:

“Good for you. I was on the congressional staff at that time so I still have some scars from the previous fight.

“But I think there are ways to get jobs funded — you just have to put a few degrees of separation between the program and the budget-cutters.”

TT quickly shot back:

“No. I disagree. I enjoyed it when you used to call for a direct frontal attack on their weasel words about creating jobs. Anything else is caving. In my opinion. Call them out for being do nothings. That is better than watching people get hurt every day and not making any changes.”

To which Jamie replied:

“Point taken. It’s a tactical issue and there are mornings when I agree with you.”

This exchange with TomThumb shows that Jamie is of two minds about direct Government job creation, and suggests the possibility that he might well prefer it if a Job Guarantee program could be structured as “. . . . a robust solution.”

I think it can be, but that discussion will have to wait for later in the post.

Dialogue 2, Jamie Galbraith/Beowulf

At this point Beowulf entered the discussion asking Jamie what he meant by the idea of getting jobs funded by putting “. . . a few degrees of separation between the program and the budget-cutters.”

To which Jamie replied:

“Well, I like the non-profit sector in this country a lot. Health care, education — these are useful things. Paul Samuelson once said to me “Health care is 15 percent of GDP, and it’s the best 15 percent of GDP.

“The thing about these sectors is, they have multiple funding streams. Higher ed has state money, federal money, tuition, philanthropy… This buffers the institution from cuts.

“If you go to (say) France, and look at what happens when you rely entirely on state funding for universities, you’ll see what I mean.

“That said, the federal government handles *insurance* extremely well. Social Security and Medicare are functional, efficient programs. That is why they are so hated by some people – and prized by others.”

To which Beo replies:

“That’s an interesting point, from a political standpoint, multiple sources of funding makes it more difficult to starve the beast (to say nothing of the politically powerful stakeholders in education and healthcare who won’t take losing their funding lightly).”

This dialogue is really interesting from an MMT point of view. Here’s Jamie Galbraith and Beowulf, both of whom have more than a passing familiarity with MMT, talking about job creation in the non-profit sector through funding that doesn’t derive from Government deficit spending.

Now, that kind of job creation isn’t impossible provided the fiscal multiplier trades involved are favorable, but both Jamie and Beowulf know very well that, assuming multiplier trade-offs are equal, without deficit spending by the Government sector, or the non-Government sector decreasing its total savings and perhaps increasing its debt, raising funding for non-profit sector jobs is likely to cost jobs elsewhere in the non-Government sector. They also both know that from a purely economic/fiscal point of view there’s no problem in funding a JG program. The problem with it is political. Namely, that in the current political climate a JG program, however structured, is very difficult to legislate (a point all three of us agree on).

Apart from that shared judgment of political difficulty, Jamie and Beowulf appear to diverge. Jamie says that not proposing a JG program is the best tactical choice right now. But Beowulf, who now favors the Modern Monetary Realism (MMR) approach, is opposed to the JG on strategic grounds because the MMR position is that the JG will not work as advertised by MMT, specifically, MMR believes that it will not produce full employment at a living wage with price stability, even if implemented as part of a broader MMT-like program including full payroll tax holidays and State revenue sharing.

The Upshot of the Dialogues

So, the upshot of these two contrasting dialogues is that both Jamie and Beowulf are talking outside of the MMT paradigm. And they are not acknowledging, or evaluating the implied MMT view that more “robust” job creation done in the non-profit sector without Federal deficit spending backing it, will in the end, either not be robust at all, or, alternatively will decrease the robustness of other non-Government sector employment.

Put another way, the lack of robustness critique of the JG policy idea based on the notion that JG funding will always be in the line of fire from deficit hawks and Republicans applies equally well to funding job creation in the non-profit sector, because ultimately that funding too, just like JG funding, can only be based on Federal deficit spending if it is to create new jobs, at least if we assume that imports will exceed exports, and that the non-Government sector will want to increase total savings during the period when new jobs are to be created.

Also, it looks like TomThumb, has it right. Jamie is giving up on the Job Guarantee idea too fast, because his view of its ultimate political fragility applies equally well to his proposal that the non-profit sector ought to do the job creation with non-Federal deficit funding. So, where do we go from here with the Job Guarantee proposal for direct job creation? Here are a few comments that contrast with Jamie’s doubts and his views on the lack of robustness of JG job creation.

First, from my point of view, none of the MMT recovery proposals are likely to be accepted in today’s political climate. So, the political feasibility criticism of MMT’s JG proposal isn’t any more weighty right now than similar criticisms of its payroll tax cut, and State revenue sharing proposals.

If any of them are to be passed, it will be necessary to overcome the ideology of austerity and get people in Washington to accept the fact that the American Government can’t have solvency problems. Doing that is job no. 1.

When and if that is done, and people really believe that the Federal Government can afford the social safety net and all sorts of other spending too, then we can consider whether the whole MMT program including the JG is politically feasible or not. My last post outlines some things the President can do to take austerity off the table and bring the day when we can do this with a real feel for feasibility closer.

But these are not to the point here. The point, instead, is that when it is off the table, then there will be no compelling reason why permanent automatic annual Federal funding of FDR’s right to a full-time job offer at a living wage, for every person if she/he wants to work, could not be funded through Federal spending, whether deficit or otherwise.

Second, Jamie says he prefers that the non-profit sector create the new jobs. However, the current MMT JG proposals are formulated so that even though the Government is the funder JG jobs, the work itself is actually defined, structured and supervised by the non-profit sector with the participation of local stakeholders who would define jobs that produce societally valued outcomes. Pavlina Tcherneva has been doing a lot of writing about this lately, (See also recent posts) as has Randy Wray. (See posts 38, 42-45 and also the response posts following each one.)

So, even though, the funding for an MMT JG program would come from the Federal Government, the non-profit sector would be heavily involved in specifying the jobs for the JG program. The result should be a program incorporating many of Jamie’s ideas about non-profit capabilities, based on Federal funding that might have no robustness problems at all, provided that the ideology of fiscal austerity is politically defeated by the time the MMT program, including the JG passed.

Third, Golfer1John, a commenter on one of Randy Wray’s recent JG posts suggested that the JG be renamed as The “Employment Insurance” program. I think this is a good name for it, because it describes what it offers to individuals who have been caught up by economic forces beyond their control, and it can also be marketed as part of an economic bill of rights.

In an environment where austerity has been defeated and the government is revealed as being able to fund anything that isn’t so expansive that it will cause inflation, it ought to be no problem to justify both an employment insurance program to guarantee a job offer to people who want to work, and also a universal health care program based on the idea of Medicare for All. So, we can have recovery, Job Guarantees, Universal Health Care, and Reconstruction of our severely damaged economy and society without having to worry about “running of of money.”

Beowulf’s Proposal

After highlighting Jamie’s view on the JG, but failing to review Jamie’s exchange with TomThumb, Beowulf goes on to offer a proposal of his own about Medicare for All, playing off Jamie’s remark that the Federal Government “handles ‘insurance’ very well. I’ll discuss that brilliant, but ultimately undesirable, proposal in a future post. And that’s when we’ll get into the humor reflected in the title: “(MMT ? JG) + Medicare for All = MMT.”

(Cross-posted from Correntewire.com)

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Joseph M. Firestone, Ph.D. is Managing Director, CEO of the Knowledge Management Consortium International (KMCI), and Director and co-Instructor of KMCI’s CKIM Certificate program, as well as Director of KMCI’s synchronous, real-time Distance Learning Program. He is also CKO of Executive Information Systems, Inc. a Knowledge and Information Management Consultancy.

Joe is author or co-author of more than 150 articles, white papers, and reports, as well as the following book-length publications: Knowledge Management and Risk Management; A Business Fable, UK: Ark Group, 2008, Risk Intelligence Metrics: An Adaptive Metrics Center Industry Report, Wilmington, DE: KMCI Online Press, 2006, “Has Knowledge management been Done,” Special Issue of The Learning Organization: An International Journal, 12, no. 2, April, 2005, Enterprise Information Portals and Knowledge Management, Burlington, MA: KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003; Key Issues in The New Knowledge Management, Burlington, MA: KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2003, and Excerpt # 1 from The Open Enterprise, Wilmington, DE: KMCI Online Press, 2003.

Joe is also developer of the web sites www.dkms.com, www.kmci.org, www.adaptivemetricscenter.com, and the blog “All Life is Problem Solving” at http://radio.weblogs.com/0135950, and http://www.kmci.org/alllifeisproblemsolving. He has taught Political Science at the Graduate and Undergraduate Levels, and has a BA from Cornell University in Government, and MA and Ph.D. degrees in Comparative Politics and International Relations from Michigan State University.

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