A (very) oblique history of MMT, Part III: (Blogs, Mitchell etc.)

“What happened to get the ideas out was the development of blogs.
So Bill developed a blog…This is how the ideas got out.
It wasn’t through academics.
It wasn’t through the conferences—those are almost a complete bust.
It was the blogs.

L. Randall Wray (11 min mark generally, 14 min mark for these qts)
A (Very) Oblique History of MMT (Wray, Institutional Econ, & other ramblings): Part I
A (very) oblique history of MMT, Part II: (Co-Authors, Mosler etc)

(Note elsewhere Mosler and others discuss how much slower reality-based macro [MMT] gained influence than they [especially Mosler] thought it would from conferences etc. Not only were the founders not impacting the mainstream, they were often getting “attacked” by other heterodox economists [even from, for example, heterodox scholars who had been invited to UMKC]. The two great MMT successes were 1) the long-term strategy of turning out their own excellent future scholars from several grad programs and 2) blogs, Wray emphasizing the latter above).

Bill Mitchell has of course nothing less than heroically contributed to macroeconomics at every level across every macro-topic, with a vast body of formal papers, technical papers, teaching and PhD supervising, conferences, government consulting, and of course the invaluable textbook.

But it is not an exaggeration to say that Bill Mitchell’s blog especially—and at first virtually single-handedly— helped MMT finally grow in visibility and influence.

Starting at the relatively early (for blogging in general) date of 2004, Mitchell relentlessly, almost daily for many many years, covered topic after topic, and in an unusually long and detailed way (for blog) posts, from a reality-based macro perspective. (Note that the equivalent of “proto-blogs” – i.e., 90’s listservs, are also key to the MMT story from the mid 90’s. Mosler, Wray, Mitchell, and Forstater all emphasize in interviews on the history of MMT. Note: 1) that this anticipates the role that blogs would come to have and 2) that it is on Mitchell’s very blog where that history is being preserved. See also his Post Keynesian Thought Archive.

If you have a specific MMT-related question on almost any topic, a google search will turn up a Billy Blog post (as they are long, sometimes just a few paragraphs from a longer post will suffice to answer some obscure question) that will provide a definitive (from an MMT founder that is) explanation of a topic.

Other key blogs

I am partly focusing on things revolving around Mitchell in this post, but at least three other blogs became central to the spread of MMT. As we will see below, there were also a number of other blogs that in one way or another began to spread MMT in various ways (sometimes by being critical, sometimes through epic comment threads, etc).

The other earliest blog, also by a founder of course, is Mosler’s humbly named Center of the Universe blog. The first post was November, 2007 a “Second Look at Kohn Speech”.

As I discuss below, I believe blogs and blog comment-threads in academics in general, and especially in the case of MMT, were key in disseminating ideas, and at times, even helping MMT scholars refine some ideas or at least refine how they discuss them with the public/other scholars.

Mosler’s blog comment sections began to have this effect from 2007 in addition to Mitchell’s blog. Another key purpose the Center of the Universe blog fulfilled was allowing Mosler to quickly and directly disseminate such things as his policy proposals and later Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy, foregoing the agonizingly slow, and highly politicized (and essentially corrupt within economics at least), academic publishing dead-end.

So now we have Mitchell’s blog from 2004 and Mosler’s from 2007.

[UPDATE- comment from FB by Mosler: Jan 14, 2021]…

https://web.archive.org/web/20020609150426/http://www.mosler.org/index.html


The next directly MMT—and hugely important—blogs were New Economic Perspectives from June 2009, started by Stephanie Kelton at UMKC. First post? Meet the Bloggers: | New Economic Perspectives Posted on June 4, 2009.

New Economic Perspectives was hugely influential in part because it had such a wide range of MMT & MMT-adjacent scholars. This meant it had numerous posts and covered an especially wide range of ideas in a wide range of styles. It would also be the primary place (since Mosler and Mitchell had their own blogs) that Wray (and Kelton, among many others) would blog.

This was followed by The Multiplier Effect blog in April of 2010 (from the Levy Institute at Bard College). First post? “What Would Minsky Say?” by Dimitri Papadimitriou, April 30, 2010.

Note The Levy Institute Working Papers repository, although of course not a blog per se, would also prove to be immensely useful. At first it worked almost like a “retrospective blog” with (some) relevant working papers dating all the way back to November of 1987. (as far as I can tell, the Levy Publications page from Bard college went online in April of 2010) and from 2010, serving somewhat like a blog for more formal MMT and MMT-adjacent works, allowing for their widespread and rapid dissemination. As an example of relevance: Minsky 1992 “The Financial Instability Hypothesis” as well as papers by Minsky with Wray already in 1992.

I believe the first Levy papers released in “real time” (and thus beginning to almost work like a blog) were “The Global Financial Crisis and the Shift to Shadow Banking” by Yeva Nersisyan and L. Randall Wray and in February 2010 “Is This the Minsky Moment for Reform of Financial Regulation?” by Jan Kregel (Kregel is closely associated with one of my favorite heterodox scholars on trade, Erik Reinert, btw; I discuss Reinert’s work here.)

Getting back to Bill Mitchell and his blog: I think it is worth noting, considering the large “literature” online about “who predicted the financial crash of 2007” that Mitchell’s very first post (after 1 introductory post), on Friday, December 24, 2004, was [private] “Debt Worsens” and warns of the rising amount of private debt in the economy.

I’d say besides being the beginning of the blog that would be instrumental in bringing MMT to the wider world over the next 16 years, it also gives Mitchell a good claim on being one of the people predicting the 2007 crash 3 years before it happened and for the right reasons (not a “broken clock prediction” in other words, but a causal one).

Recently released ABS Statistics show that household debt has hit a record $815 billion but the growth is slowing as the property slowdown deepens.
There is some evidence that households are attempting to reconstruct their precarious balance sheets by saving more. The slowdown in borrowing is a portent of a broader slowdown in aggregate spending and the fiscal drag coming from the flawed macroeconomic policy (running budget surpluses) will start to bite.”

Bill Mitchell, 2004

Here is a list of the earliest blogs (2004-2006) on Mitchell’s site (system changes mean the current version doesn’t go back so far I believe).

Anyway, besides the many many well recognized achievements regarding macroeconomics and MMT Bill Mitchell has fostered, I thought I would highlight his overall role in MMT gaining a worldwide following. Note this is also in part due to his international, Australian and UK interests and work with other countries as well.

As an example of UK related writing – one of Mitchell’s enlightening and one of my favorite blog “series” by him is his work on the various 1970s UK crises, such as his series on the British IMF loan 1976 – Part 5 (I put the last link so one can click back to parts 1-4.) See also The 1976 Sterling currency crisis.

It is important that there was and is a non-USA MMT founder, both to bring in some different perspectives (from Manchester University, for example, and Marx and Kalecki). And some in the UK and some other countries may find Mitchell’s writing more to their liking (not at all to disparage Mosler and Wray and the many other students, who include Tymoigne (France), Kaboub (Tunisia) and on and on. Just pointing out the value of the geographical and intellectual diversity Mitchell brought to the original trio.)

Other Blogs: The Ultimate Cage Fights of MMT

First the good

And now for some fun. Many other economic blogs of course sprouted up in the “noughties.” A few of them became renown for epic comment threads revolving around MMT, ranging from erudite and useful to complete mudslinging.

Even the latter at least helped bring attention to the topic. When you are little known, as the saying goes, “any attention is good attention.”

For sheer earliness, and for some long and useful comment threads (a topic discussed below) already by June of 2008, before NEP and The Multiplier Effect, Mike Norman Economics began. It has served as a valuable and prolific repository of links and comments with a wide audience. I’ve enjoyed the period when Tom Hickey has largely curated the site in recent years, doing an excellent job. Personal example: Scott Fullwiler’s thoughtful comment regarding MMT and bank regulation on my post (linked at the MikeNorman site) .

[Note – other very early and prolific economists who adopted blogging were Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong. I learned a lot of mainstream econ from their blogs for free in the late 90s/early 2000s. I genuinely believe part of the reason they gained fame was that they got into the blogging game very early and prolifically; we will see another example concerning De Long below]

And interesting things came out of these discussions at times. For example, the now famous Beowolf put forward the idea of the platinum coin in a comment on Brad DeLong’s relatively early blog. The platinum coin idea, regardless of its practicality, is a useful tool in teaching how treasury “spending” actually works or can work. This is the very original comment from July, 2010 . [PS: Coin is not important, but accounting is; speaking of blog comments and how to think about treasury accounting, this may be of interest)

I have often used this 2011 post from Interfluidity as an example of how blog comment sections have been constructive and educational, at times perhaps even for MMT scholars. MMT stabilization policy — some comments & critiques. There are 209 comments, some of them long-ish, from the likes of Scott Fullwiler, Tom Hickey, Steve Roth, Nick Rowe, Philip Pilkington etc. Casual readers surely learned a lot from reading the comment section, and ideas and explanations were surely worked out and refined.

Steve Keen’s influential and excellent Debt-Deflation blog was also highly useful in itself, and furthermore had long, educational comment threads.

I should also mention the work of Neil Wilson, who besides his own blogging, to me also always had a way of straightening out comment sections that were going off the rails (and seemed to pop up on every serious comment thread somehow). Rare is the comment by Wilson that wasn’t sternly on the mark; if I saw a comment by him I always carefully read it.

Some other notable good blogs:

Bond Economics (Excellent Blog, Brian Romanchuk understands MMT and his work supports it greatly).

Peter Cooper at heteconomist. e.g., Exercising Currency Sovereignty Under Self-Imposed Constraints | heteconomist

And the “bad”

Now – more off the rails and controversial? Perhaps the slug-fest between Cullen Roche and MMT at some point in the early 2010’s, on both his and other blogs. But even that was educational I thought. It surely drew people in – like it or not, everyone likes controversy. I know some of those early long argumentative threads are where I became aware of MMT. This is an example on Winterspeak. (Note Rohan Grey makes an early appearance here; and here is, on Marginal Revolution with Tyler Cowen, Nathan Tankus in 2012)

Also at Interfluidity “MMT streetfighting” (2019)

Names – Beowolf, RSJ, JKH, Kaivey, Musgrave, Senexx, Sri Thiruvadanthai, Neil Wilson, Vimothy, Ramanan etc etc – there is a long list of commenters that seemed to appear everywhere. At least it all kept the conversation flowing.

I cannot remember all of the blogs that had at least a few MMT discussions with long threads, seems like Worthwhile Canadian Initiative comes to mind, and

naked capitalism

Asymptosis

Moneyness

Tax Research UK

Coppola Comment

Critical Macro Finance: I find Jo Michell generally disagreeable online (sorry), and I know Kelton is 100% correct and Krugman 100% wrong here, but I found this discussion of their debate useful for understanding the confusion around IS-LM at Critical Macro Finance, and especially interesting ” the diagram used by Victoria Chick in 1973, in The Theory of Monetary Policy, to describe what she calls the “extreme Keynesian model”” [I do find his colleague Bruno Bonizzi a super nice person and thought this paper is important to respond to; I think much of the correct response lies in the concept of the “demi-quadrilemma” in this paper by Kalim Siddiqui and Phil Armstrong.)

And all of this is not even to mention the mainstream blogs from Bloomberg, Business Insider, Forbes, Financial Times, etc etc that all increasingly began to discuss MMT.

And the weird 2019 wave of “left” attacks on MMT (once again – still useful in a way).

Notes

-[Note: I think I should also mention the blog Mythfighter/ Monetary Sovereignty, bc it started before NEP and The Multiplier Effect, in 2009, and has many posts/readers, by MMT-adjacent blogger Rodger Malcolm Mitchell. Although he is not “MMT,” he surely has helped many laypersons understand government spending etc. in a way similar to MMT, some of whom likely later turned fully to MMT. Overall, a great service I’d say.]

-One thing that has always impressed me about the core group of MMT people is how close they all are. In the original trio – Mosler of course worked closely with Wray regarding UMKC etc; (and Forstater helped set Tcherneva up with Mosler, and Kelton was always involved (and Bard, the New School, etc etc).
All the while, Mosler was also flying to Australia and spending time face to face with Mitchell (and Wray also).

And Mitchell and Wray (and Watts) closely collaborating for years on the textbook.

It truly seems like a friendly and honest meeting of minds. I like that.

Anyway, mentioning they are all truly friends is bc I also love the very informative give-and-take when they have some slight different views. I love the interplay on Minsky between Wray (whose advisor was Minsky at Washington University in St. Louis) and Mitchell in these two posts:

Mitchell: Hyman Minsky was not a guiding light for MMT
Wray: MINSKY AND MODERN MONEY THEORY: Was Minsky a “forefather”?

I’m not trying to stir up controversy. Quite the opposite. Wray and Mitchell (and Mosler) obviously are on the same page all the time on almost everything. I am merely pointing out how interesting and informative discussion between them can be. I enjoyed reading these articles together.

PS: I recently heard Forstater (I believe) mention that Wray likes the term (Bell/Kelton used as well I believe) “High Powered Money” (HPM) (for reserves/true gov “money”) because HPM is also Hyman P. Minsky’s initials.
No idea if that is true or not 🙂

PS I haven’t even mentioned (although I did in the last post) all of the many colleagues of Mitchell and ppl in Australia generally that have done so much – Juniper, Watts, Lawn, Steven Hail, Lachlan McCall etc, and various MMT websites- Modern Money Australia,  GIMMS, The Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, The Modern Money Network, the many podcasts/youtube etc. (I listen to the Patricia Pino/Christian Reilly podcast, Macro n Cheese, and Jeff Epstein, but I know there are others that I am not really familiar with (Joe Firestone, Rocco Millon, Savage Joy etc.)
Speaking of Hail – I especially like this paper on why government bonds related to spending are stupid.

Debt worsens

3 thoughts on “A (very) oblique history of MMT, Part III: (Blogs, Mitchell etc.)

  1. For the record, Warren Mosler just commented on FB and I’d love to see if anyone can find this Bulletin Board history:
    Warren Mosler
    I had been using a ‘Bulletin Board’ internet format where I posted comments and readers replied and I responded for many years before the ‘blog’ format was popularized which Bill picked up in 2004. I didn’t switch over until 2007. The old bulletin board posts are still out there somewhere.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/MMTDeficitOwlCommittee/permalink/5031768690229575/?comment_id=5032741410132303&__cft__%5B0%5D=AZX2P-mmQsa0aDC4rwgjBKEgp4esdooA-5QptGszQC3a-MH6DsxQZwVtM3aA1hWp03MMYtstu5j84QtYJXgJdcl8ryCCPE6PnR_NlXcvzSHQPgScUV49wJVrk3UbpN5Tlo14s08V8UesIjoktppDiV9I&__tn__=R%5D-R

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply to Clint Ballinger Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s