Democrats are flirting with a dangerous economic theory

Alex Wong/Getty Images

More Democrats are willing to throw out payment plans for expensive programs due to a dangerous, fringe economic idea: modern monetary theory (MMT). Several Democrats have consulted with economist and former Bernie Sanders campaign advisor Stephanie Kelton, who's largely responsible for popularizing MMT and deficit spending. And February has already seen Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez justify the exorbitantly-priced Green New Deal by pointing to MMT.

But to know why it won't work, we have to understand what it is.

Put simply, MMT turns traditional fiscal policy on its head. We usually think Washington uses American tax money to fund programs like Medicare and national defense. But MMT adherents argue that because the U.S. government creates that money in the first place, it actually doesn't need tax revenue to fund programs, pay entitlements, or settle debts. The federal government has the power to simply issue its own money to whoever needs it. And since the U.S. government has this power, according to Kelton, expensive policies like college-for-all, military expansion, and national infrastructure development are all naturally affordable.

But much of the popular discussion around MMT stops here—perhaps because this is where it gets complicated. Some hear MMT's claim that governments can afford anything they want and deficits are irrelevant, and, thus, spending can be practically limitless. But MMT recognizes governments still have to deal with inflation. More dollars floating around translates into more people demanding scarce resources, causing prices to rise. The way MMT fights demand-fed inflation is not through "printing" less money, but rather by taking money back out of the economy through taxation. Contrary to popular media's discussion of MMT, the theory still sees taxation as a necessary policy tool.

While some disagreements between MMT economists and orthodox economists are relatively semantic, MMT really just has far too many problems in practice.

Balancing fiscal policy to control inflation requires a much less politicized budgetary process than the one we have. For MMT to work, we would first need something like a Federal Reserve for fiscal policy—which we don't have. And advocating MMT requires an unreasonably optimistic view of interest rates. So long as the growth rate exceeds the interest rate, we should always have enough cash to pay our debts. But even as progressive economist Paul Krugman notes, deficits tend to raise interest rates, slowing investment and growth.

That's where MMT faces a crisis. If debt accelerated to, say, 300 percent of GDP–– which would be sooner rather than later if something like the Green New Deal were passed and funded through deficits––and interest rates were 1.5 percentage points higher than growth, Washington would have to run a budget surplus equal to 4.5 percent of its GDP. If the U.S. had to do that today, we would have to run an $872 billion surplus. That's nearly a trillion dollars doing nothing for Americans outside of holding off an economic disaster. So when Democrats like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez use MMT to dismiss concerns about their programs causing massive deficits, they fundamentally misunderstand its principles.

Selling MMT to the public is a way to endorse popular, expensive programs without admitting tradeoffs.

Most economists aren't persuaded by MMT. No significant academic journals have published MMT papers. But ambitious Democrats don't need to worry about winning over economists. Selling MMT to the public is a way to endorse popular, expensive programs without admitting tradeoffs.

This strategy will backfire economically —but it could politically, too. Back in the 2018 primary elections, candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democratic caucus won 86 percent of their races, while only 40 percent of the candidates endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-esque Our Revolution organization won nominations. In the November general elections, 23 New Democrats flipped seats from red to blue, while the Revolution progressives flipped zero.

Moderates found more success than progressives because the vast majority of Americans don't feel represented by the right-populist Republicans or progressive Democrats. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez may be setting the tone for the rest of her party, but when we step out of our social media bubbles, we find most Americans want more civil leadership and fewer war cries from Washington. And given 71 percent of Americans now think addressing the debt should be among the federal government's top three priorities, Democrats should rise above provocative "sloganeering" and champion fiscal responsibility in the 2020 campaigns, formerly a standard GOP platform, and potentially win over disillusioned Republican voters.

There are plenty of plans for pursuing progressive goals like better healthcare coverage and environmental sustainability that don't rely on a widely-dismissed calculus or require America to risk a serious economic crisis. Democrats would be smart to chase after one of those instead.

John Kristof is a research fellow at the Sagamore Institute and a contributor for Young Voices, writing frequently on fiscal policy and other economic issues. Follow him on Twitter.

Would Glenn make a better bounty hunter or a Jedi? You'll have to find out in a new episode of the Beltway Banthas Podcast, where Glenn goes deep on Star Wars with host Stephen Kent. In this 45 minute discussion, Stephen and Glenn explore the political themes of the Star Wars franchise, Darth Vader's redemption from Return of the Jedi, Glenn's earliest memories of seeing the films and even debate elements of the latest Star Wars films.

If you enjoy the pop culture and nerdy discussions that Glenn, Pat and Stu get into on the radio show, you'll love this! After you're through, you can also check out Stu Burguiere's appearance on Beltway Banthas to talk Star Wars. You can find that here.


It's never too early to start your Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa shopping. Or even birthday gift shopping. Especially if that special someone in your life is a Democrat. Because at last count, pretty much all the Democrats are now running for president. And that means there has never been a wider selection of official candidate merchandise to choose from. Whether you're into environmentalism, feminism, classism, socialism, or just plain love, there is a smorgasbord of classy items that you and yours will treasure forever... or at least until the next presidential election.

We have browsed each of the candidates' online stores, so you don't have to (it only took us three months). We have curated only the finest items from each of the Democrats running for president of the United States of America. Without further ado, here is your handy progressive gift guide – or maybe your what-not-to-gift guide.

First, the bargain basement options. Hurry! Time is running out to grab your Beto bandana, or your Delaney pack of golf balls, because at this point Stu has as much of a chance as these guys of getting the nomination.

Tom Steyer, for example – is he still in the race?


https://shop.tomsteyer.com/collections/frontpage/products/tom-2020-pattern-tee


There's way too much Tom here. That shirt's got more Toms than a Caucasian dentists' convention.

For the slightly more moderate Democrat in your life, perhaps they'd like to join the "Yang Gang"…

https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/bumper-stickers/products/yanggang-decal


Andrew Yang is a lock for Math Club president…


https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/apparel/products/math-hat


But for actual president? Well, I wouldn't make plans for how you're going to spend your $1,000-per-month Yang allowance just yet.

If you happen to be shopping for your dog, may I suggest this lovely "Dogs for Delaney" dog collar…


https://store.johndelaney.com/products/dogs-for-delaney-collar


John Delaney's definitely going to secure the canine vote with this kind of outreach. As for any human votes, that's another question entirely.

How 'bout this tastefully understated "Natural Canvas" Michael Bennet tote to remind you he's also still here?...


https://store.michaelbennet.com/michael-bennet-for-america-natural-canvas-tote/


Then again, it's a tote. So, it'll end up on the floor of your closet and you won't have it with you until that one random moment when you're out somewhere and you really need a tote bag. Just like Democrats will really wish they had a moderate when we're in the middle of the socialist nightmare of their creation.

Captain Planet himself, Jay Inslee recently dropped out of the race, but don't let that stop you from picking up what may be the greatest single item sold by anyone in this race…


https://store.jayinslee.com/elvis-the-elves-the-mystery-of-the-melting-snow-by-jay-inslee/


A children's book called Elvis & the Elves: the Mystery of the Melting Snow. Written and illustrated by Governor Jay Inslee. Talk about a whodunnit – how could that snow possibly be melting? Spoiler alert: it's because of evil, white, patriarchal capitalism. And Donald Trump.

Then there's the candidate who thinks you're a moron that can't pronounce his last name: Steve Bullock...


https://shop.stevebullock.com/collections/apparel/products/emoji-t-shirt


Get it? Bull. Lock. Oh, so that's how you say the name that sounds exactly how it's spelled.

There's another candidate who also thinks you need help pronouncing his last name…


https://store.peteforamerica.com/collections/apparel/products/boot-edge-edge-t-shirt


And he is definitely right about that. So, thank you, Pete "Boot Edge Edge." That helps.

Just outside the bargain bin section, but just barely, are candidates like Julian Castro and his "El Presidente" t-shirt…


https://store.julianforthefuture.com/julian-castro-loteria-card-white-tee/


When your last name's Castro, do you really want to go with a weird drawing of yourself as if you're a classic Latin American dictator on a postage stamp?

If you prefer a little "dark psychic forces" battling in your candidates, you'll love Marianne Williamson's "Turn Love Into a Political Force" rally sign…


https://store.marianne2020.com/collections/signs/products/love-rally-sign


"Turn Love Into a Political Force" would be an even better title for a Marianne Williamson album of 80s cover songs. And if you think I'm joking, then you haven't heard Bernie Sanders' classic 1987 folk album, We Shall Overcome. That's not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it's also a very real thing.

Now, just a quick pause to consider the peculiar baby-wear that way too many candidates are selling…

…including Elizabeth Warren's trans-pride flag onesie. Let me get this straight – we can't force any gender on a child, because that's just cruel. But we can force a political advertisement on a baby? How do we know that baby is actually a Biden or Warren fan? The child may not even be a Democrat or a Socialist at all. That baby might self-identify as a Libertarian, or Republican, or even worse – a moderate Democrat.

Now to the premium items from the premium candidates. Elizabeth Warren – the candidate with the most honesty in her advertising…


https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/apparel/products/impolite-arrogant-women-make-history-unisex-t-shirt

-AND-

https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/drinkware/products/strong-american-unions-mug


Warren's merchandise reflects the woman herself – cold and humorless (watch her "This isn't funny" clip from the last debate here at the 4:27 mark). I'm sure she's really fun once you get to know her. Then again, maybe not.

Speaking of serious women, Kamala Harris wants to be president very badly for you, the people, as you can tell from her "For the People" poster…


https://store.kamalaharris.org/poster-for-the-people/


At $29.99 though, she's sure not charging "people's" prices. Of course, she might be having to pay royalties to a certain someone for riffing on their poster. Just saying.

For the race's number one socialist, there's a whole lot of capitalism going on in Bernie Sanders' campaign. He sells so many delightful items that it's hard to choose. But we did anyway. The most random item is this hundred-dollar, black, "Art of a Political Revolution – Artists for Bernie Sanders Coaches Jacket"…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/artists-for-bernie-coaches-jacket


Coaches across the land will be clamoring for this one. You know, since coaches are such a strong Bernie-socialist demographic.

If that's a little over your budget you might consider a "Feel the Bern" fanny pack, to help store all those government freebies you'll get from Bernie…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/feel-the-bern-fanny-pack


This is the only context in which you'll ever want to hear "feel the burn" and "fanny" in the same sentence.

And finally, from front-runner Joe Biden, we have this fine "Women's Fitted Biden Polo." Which is just about the best polo description ever…


https://store.joebiden.com/collections/apparel/products/biden-polo-womens-fit


It promises the kind of snug approach that Biden loves to provide women. Even when they don't ask.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.