By Ryan Mathis (@rmathis995 on Twitter)
Copy-edited by (the non-pedophile, non-billionaire, non-dead) Jeff Epstein (@citizensmediatv)
I will never forget the first time I read the words “Modern Monetary Theory.” Exposure to this curious thing, otherwise known as “MMT,” irreversibly changed the course of my academic, professional, and personal lives. On a quasi-anonymous social media app for college students, I was told the equivalent of “everything you’ve ever been taught has been a lie.” I approached this claim with… a lot of skepticism. Being the empiricist I am, however (or, at least, the one I desire to be), I couldn’t resist investigating with an open mind.
What I found has changed the way I look at literally everything, from the highly politically contentious, such as debates over healthcare systems, to even routine interpersonal interactions. MMT and, more broadly, leftist political thought in general, will teach you that even the ostensibly non-political is sometimes highly political.
So, what the hell am I talking about? Well, MMT teaches you to think about money, law, and politics differently than you have been before. Like, Opposite World differently. To explain, consider that an insight of MMT is that taxes and bond sales do not, as is commonly assumed and claimed, “fund government spending” (expressed most directly and cogently in this piece by Stephanie Kelton). Contrary to its name (Modern Monetary Theory), MMT is not theoretical in the colloquial sense. It is an empirical description of money that can be litigated on the facts; one we can find a definitive answer for. As a description of the world around us, it is either accurate or not accurate. Either taxes fund spending or they do not. (They don’t.)
This radical insistence on fact-finding and truth-seeking excited me immediately. I had found kindred spirits and was exposed to the fascinating implications of this new (though, not really new) view.
Unfortunately, even the most rational-minded human beings have that one, annoying characteristic: being human. Our biases are undiscardable and always “there”. As such, it took me a long time to fully accept many of the factual and logically-derivative MMT claims. This is because, in so doing, I had to implicitly cast off the pseudo-knowledge I thought was unquestionably true.
I don’t remember precisely what “flipped the switch” for me, but one day I woke up and “got it.” I saw clearly through, and could finally let go of the veil of pseudo-knowledge that I have acquired throughout my education. To peer over this ledge into the depths of new scholarship was liberating and exciting, but also daunting. I knew, however, that if I wanted to be a serious scholar of political economy, it was necessary to consider these foreign arguments carefully and honestly.
I was faced with the choice that all of us are at some times in our lives faced with: explore the Dangerous New or retreat to the Safe Old. I chose to leave Plato’s cave and take a look around. I unplugged from the Matrix, walked out into the sun, and rubbed my eyes. For the first time, I looked not at a shadow of the tree, but directly at the tree itself.
This decision has made my life more difficult in some ways. It’s made human suffering, already a repulsive and devastating feature of the human condition, far more acutely so. This is because MMT makes it clear that it is almost entirely unnecessary and preventable. MMT shows that a government like that of the United States, although limited by many things, one of those things is not, and cannot be, money. And really, how can it be limited by something it creates out of thin air and at its own discretion? If you have sole authority over when and how much of X to create, you cannot run out of X. Again, taxes and bond sales do not fund government spending. In other words, the government can always financially afford whatever it wants to buy.
Such an insight obliterates the justifications offered for the status quo treatment of homelessness, healthcare inaccessibility, food and water insecurity, inadequate legal representation, environmental (un)safety, racial and gender injustice, and other horrifying malconditions of the human species. Claims that “we just can’t afford” X and Y investment in our fellow citizens, or recognize the human right to a dignified existence, are demonstrated to be plainly false.
On the other hand, my political analysis has been tremendously deepened through my self-guided research. It has prepared me for my current academic endeavor – law school – in ways I can’t fully describe. It has made me a more serious and effectual thinker, something I’ve always thought important and something I’ve long wanted to be. MMT has given me the analytical tools that I do not believe I would – or could – have attained otherwise. My life has been enriched incalculably by this education, and, I hope soon, through the development of personal-collegial relationships with MMT-knowledgeable scholars of law and political economy.
This post is my way of both:
- expressing my sheer, unbridled excitement to be attending the 3rd International MMT Conference in New York at the end of September, and
- encouraging all readers (particularly those who would ascribe to themselves the label of “leftist,” “liberal,” “progressive,” “Democrat,” “Democratic Socialist” or the like) to consider exploring for themselves this area of scholarship and making the same choice I did.
Be forewarned, however: one does not simply “forget” MMT. Like skydiving, once the plane has taken off, there is no going back. You’re jumping.
My advice? Jump!
(For those interested in “jumping” right now, read my pieces (also copy-edited by Jeff) analyzing the American healthcare system through the MMT lens.)