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The ideology of Warren Mosler: work more to fund consumption



Warren Mosler is arguably the founder and undoubtedly the main research financier of today’s hottest new economic theory: Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). A lot of what Warren, and thus MMT has to say is a breath of fresh air. But MMT is surrounded by thick smog of ideology that sees humans of fundamentally lazy and that sees production as a good in and of itself.

The ideological foundations of MMT that Mosler proposes are inconsistent

Mosler spells them out explicitly in talks and debates. The foundational assumptions Mosler has about government, are, in order of the proposed logic:

  • 1. That government is inevitable and a product of basic group coordination
  • 2. That grown adults would rather sit on their butt than do menial tasks
  • 3. That the government uses brute force to get people off their butt (taxes of government printed money), and there is no known good alternative

Warren alludes to basic group coordination instead of brute force creating government in a debate with Austrian Economist Bob Murphy. Particularly when Warren says, paraphrased, that, “anarchists working to get rid of government accidentally form governments by simple group coordination”. However, Mosler tends to also contradict himself by also insinuating there is no known good alternative to non-voluntary tax-based government. Warren says more often that the only known way to get people to work for the public good is, paraphrased, “hitting people over the head with a beer bottle”, or “threatening jail time over a currency that people do not own”. This isn’t just cynicism about human nature, which I share, but it is a complete negation of quite functional voluntary cooperatives that have arisen without the threat of force. Clearly humans are capable of organising a government to override ugly human nature cooperatively without threatening each other. Warren does not believe so.

The reason Warren does not believe humans can form a government without threat of force is because he believes:

“Everyone is fundamentally lazy”

Paraphrased. Warren Mosler does not believe that humans will volunteer for menial tasks in any group situation without force. He clearly illustrated that in his debate with Murphy when he asked if people wanted to volunteer to clean the room of the debate hall afterward. After no one volunteered, he asserted the *only* way to get people to volunteer was to have armed gunmen outside to *force* the debate viewership to clean up afterward. This ignores the fact that there would probably be volunteers to do so if there weren’t already societally arranged maids for the debate hall like there is for any private building. Warren’s assertions about human laziness have an origin in religious dogma and Puritanism more than anything else. The assumption that we are born with an original sin (laziness) and it takes an external force to motivate us to suffer (“work”) in the pursuit of some artificial goal which is not honestly concerned with utilitarianism (employment). It would be good to see justification for this point of view that is not just, “underemployed people become drug addicts”, type stuff that MMT promoter Stephanie Kelton used to tweet. This type of drug addiction could also be blamed on societal responses to “underemployment” instead of the “underemployment” itself.

MMT’s main weakness is it’s worship of work

So, to Warren, taxation by force is necessary because, paraphrased, “people do not want to work”. This ideology, that people are all fundamentally lazy , is also why modern monetary theorists focus so much on a job guarantee, and why the intellectual antecedents of modern monetary theory did not like cash handout programs. MMT’s weakness is it’s worship of work. It sees people as naturally lazy, and it sees work itself as the solution to poverty.

It’s true, US federal government debt is not an issue in and of itself

Now there are things the MMT gets right that almost no other economic schools get right. The MMT folks are right that government printed money is spent first before it is collected, and therefore the debt is not a problem in and of itself. This revelation MMT gives is huge, and is a reason to give MMT a look. However, the insistence of MMTers that no good alternatives exist because “people do not want to work”, and it’s disinterest in non-government-printed-money trading is quite limiting for people who want to say… reduce working hours of Americans. Keynes famously said that we’d all be working 15 hour work weeks. Well what he didn’t know was that an entire system built around tasing the US dollar would build consumption expectations based on work provoked by threat of force. And so by reducing working hours, you get inflation because of people’s consumption habits. This basic fact is the reason we are not working less hours. It’s not evil corporations.

We should move away from Stalinism, with the exception of consumption limits

It’s the fact that people need to decrease their consumption habits if we want to move away from MMTs Stalinist “everyone should have a 40+ hour a week job to decrease taxes, curb inflation, and manage sickness”. What’s better is “people should decrease their consumption habits, focus on prevention, AND stop working bullshit jobs”.

Now to be fair, MMT proponents like L. Randall Wray emphasize that we need to focus on prevention in health care for example. The way he presents the issue seems like a solution in search of a problem however. In his case, reducing work, so that we can work elsewhere. Wray will immediately launch into a spiel about how we need “WW2 mobilization” to get a bunch of poor Americans in hot rural American building a buncha wind turbines in ten years to meet people’s consumption habits. If this isn’t ridiculous I don’t know what is. Set electricity quotas, that way we won’t have to build so many turbines and we don’t produce so much BS.

If the government spends money on restructuring work to care for people rather than hiring people to care for people, we wouldn’t have to worry about inflation and people could work less. MMT however wants everyone working a ton always, for no good reason. Instead of hiring people to combat excess, we should restructure work through the government to decrease the consumption of food, decrease the demand for services, and also decrease our work hours.

If one is someone who believes in government without taxation, we could also try that too once people learn to decrease their consumption patterns.

Image credits:
Image supercomposed of other images, original image authors do not necessarily endorse usage.
1. The beer and wine aisle of a supermarket. Originally contributed by User:Huguenau on the English Wikipedia under the GFDL license
, transformed by Ronline~commonswiki, licensed under
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
LA traffic jam, daily occurence, image author: Prayitno from Los Angeles, USA, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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