Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Randy Wray — A Meme For Money, Part 2: The Conservative Framing

Next installment in the series on framing MMT is up. Comment here, there, or both.

New Economic Perspectives
A Meme For Money, Part 2: The Conservative Framing
L. Randall Wray | Professor of Economics, UMKC
We need a new meme [frame] for money.
That meme would emphasize the social, not the individual. It would focus on the positive role played by the state not only in the creation and evolution of money, but also in ensuring social control over money. It would explain how money helps to promote a positive relation between citizens and the state, simultaneously promoting shared values such as liberty, democracy, and responsibility.
The conservative view emphasizes individual freedom. What's not to like about that. Opposing it is like opposing mom and apple pie. The challenge is to show that it is insufficient as an ordering principle of society which is what government provides. Conservatives are just as committed to "law and order" as they are to "liberty." In fact, when push come to shove, literally, they prefer law and order. The ongoing undermining of constitutional liberties to "fight terrorism" is a good example of this preference.

As George Lakoff observes some people are uni-conceptual but most are bi-conceptual. Uni-conceptuals have a rigid and doctrinaire conceptual framework that is defined by norms.

Lakoff posits that those who are uni-conceptional define the political extremes of right and left, while those who are bi-conceptual define the moderate center right and center left, as well as voters that self-described as independents.

Uni-conceptual people are unlikely to be converted, but they are not dominant in the voter pool on either right or left. Each side needs to capture the center, the bi-conceptuals.

Bi- (and I would say multi) conceptuals hold values belonging to both extremes, sometimes at once — and they are not always clear on which trumps the other. They can be convinced with the right narrative.

Opposing freedom with some other value is a tough sell without resorting to fear. That is not a good choice. Rather, a more nuanced approach may be more suitable, that is, showing how key values are complementary rather than antagonistic.

Most people are not anarchists. They are very suspect of arguments that reduce government beyond a certain point because they know that the likely result is disorder rather than greater freedom. It is only a small percentage of the population that thinks arming individuals is the way to increase freedom and order simultaneously and automatically.

Similarly, most people are aware that the challenge since the Enlightenment and its political manifestation in the American and then French Revolutions has been to harmonize individual freedom, social justice and fairness, and solidarity in community — Libert√©, Egalit√©, et Fraternit√©.

It is not a big step from there to create a social and political narrative based on both freedom and order under the rule of law in a liberal democracy as "the American way," as well the mosts successful social and political "experiment" that humanity has conducted on a vast scale. Most modern people already buy into this in one way or another.

The challenge then becomes creating an economic narrative that not only fits this framework but also is capable of delivering on its promise of distributed prosperity through an economic system that is the material life-support system and means of progress of a free people who are safe and secure in an ordered society that is dedicated to the common good and general welfare.

The basis of this narrative is in the preamble to the U. S. Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It is amplified in the conclusion of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, where he speaks of "government of the people, by the people and for the people."

Government is about management with a view to public purpose. Management is about efficiency and effectiveness. According to Peter F. Drucker, "efficiency is doing things right, and effectiveness is doing the right things." The commonly understood goal of macroeconomic aspiration is the harmony of growth, employment, and price stability. 

Most economically significant political issues concern these goals and how best to achieve them. MMT has an answer that resolves this trifecta harmoniously, showing that the issue is real resources rather than affordability. That should be the basis of the narrative.

"If we can, why not. If not now, when?"


Chewitup said...

Do you think separation of church and state extrapolates out to welfare and entitlements vs. charity?
Almost all of the center-right and center-left majority would have no problem with the concept of helping those less fortunate. Americans are very charitable (especially if they can use it as a tax deduction). But charity is voluntary. And people usually feel good about being charitable. Now compare that feeling to non-voluntary taxes. Hard earned money goes to a government that spends foolishly. Those of a certain age remember Sen. Proxmire's Golden Fleece awards given out regularly to those most inefficient gov't expenditures.
I think government waste is going to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome.
Look at charities that become inefficient and top heavy. United Way has become marginalized now that it's frauds were exposed years ago. The NFL and most employers have dropped them as one of their charities. AIDSRide bikeathon is another after it was exposed that only 50% of the rider raised funds went to the cause. Livestrong will be another.
People want results, not waste when it comes to money.
Few multi-conceptual people have any problems with social justice and the common good. But I do think they have problems with financial and economic inefficiency. I think MMT is going to have to argue strongly against inefficient and wasteful government spending (even though we can afford it).

Tom Hickey said...

The big reason that most people don't want to provide adequate welfare assistance is affordability. They think that government is a currency user and needs to tax or borrow in order to fund expenditure. I am quite sure that if people realized that this is not the case, and that providing for the general welfare is good economic policy that actually improves life for all in addition to good social policy, then it would be a no-brainer.

Matt Franko said...


"the center-right"

I believe IIRC Paul Ryan earlier this year made the appeal that to paraphrase "govt should stay out of these things" and leave it to church/charity.... how far this view extends into the "center right" is probably a good point you bring up...


Matt Franko said...

Wray: "emphasizing the nurturing role that can be played by our government working with our monetary system to support us, to help us to achieve more, and to make us better people."

I dont see it as "govt working to support us".... iow, we (citizens) have to conduct exchange with each other to "support us".... and also govt has no ability to make us "better people"...

Human exchanges are the "real terms".

govt simply needs to set/facilitate the minimum standards and then provide adequate settlement balances at the points in the system where needed... we humans together will do the rest.

right now, there has developed tremendous ignorance among humanity as far as how state currency systems operate and this ignorance is resulting in insufficient flow of settlement balances at critical points within the USD system...

To Tom's point, if the reality of state currency systems was generally understood, minus a few crazies we all on "team human" would take the ball and run with it imo...


David said...

Chewitup's comment is interesting in the context of something posted (I think on this blog) about social welfare spending. Some conservative was saying "the Scandinavian model" made sense for Sweden because they have a more homogenous population, etc. than we do. I was thinking that, from the standpoint of voter's predjudices, of course a more homogenous society would be more likely to vote for social spending than a heterogenous one, but from the standpoint of policy, the "charity model" would be much less effective in the heterogenous society than the more homogenous one. So the paradox seems to be that the more heterogenous the society the less likely it will demand strong secular social insurance, despite the fact that is more critically important to have in that case.