Debt, Deficits, and Modern Monetary Theory

Bill Mitchell is the Research Professor in Economics and the Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity at the University of Newcastle, Australia. The following is an edited transcript of the interview, conducted August 15, 2011.


Thanks for joining us, Professor Mitchell. I wanted to talk with you today about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT)—the theoretical approach you’ve been integral in developing—and its relevance to current debates over public finances. I know you’ve been quite scathing of mainstream economic discourse. For example, you wrote in your blog recently that “the economics media is dominated with financial issues – too much public debt; debt ceilings; fiscal sustainability; sovereign risk; and all the rest of the non-issues that have taken center-stage.” Could you take a moment to explain why MMT renders these things non-issues?

The most important misperception is that MMT is in some way outlining an ideal or a new regime that could be introduced. The reality is that MMT just describes the system that most countries in the world live under and have lived under since 1971, when the US president at the time, Richard Nixon, suspended the convertibility of the US dollar into gold. At that point, the system of fixed exchange rates—in which all countries agreed to fix their currencies against the US dollar, which was in turn benchmarked in price against gold—was abandoned. So since that day, most of us have been living in what we call a fiat currency system.

In a fiat currency system, the currency has legitimacy because of legislative fiat: the government tells us that’s the currency and

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