Month: August 2019

CEOs Have The Whole System Gamed

Average CEO pay at big corporations topped 14.5 million dollars in 2018. That’s after an increase of 5.2 million dollars per CEO over the past decade, while the average worker’s pay has increased just 7,858 dollars over the decade.

Just to catch up to what their CEO made in 2018 alone, it would take the typical worker 158 years.

This explosion in CEO pay relative to the pay of average workers isn’t because CEOs have become so much more valuable than before. It’s not due to the so-called “free market.”

It’s due to CEOs gaming the stock market and playing politics.

How did CEOs pull this off? They followed these five steps:

First: They made sure their companies began paying their executives in shares of stock.

Second: They directed their companies to lobby Congress for giant corporate tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks.

Third: They used most of the savings from these tax cuts and rollbacks not to raise worker pay or to invest in the future, but to buy back the corporation’s outstanding shares of stock.

Fourth: This automatically drove up the price of the remaining shares of stock.

Fifth and finally: Since CEOs are paid mainly in shares of stock, CEO pay soared while typical workers were left in the dust.

How to stop this scandal? Five ways:

  1. Ban stock buybacks. They were banned before 1982 when the Securities and Exchange Commission viewed them as vehicles for stock manipulation and fraud. Then Ronald Reagan’s SEC removed the restrictions. We should ban buybacks again.
  2. Stop corporations from deducting executive pay in excess of 1 million dollars from their taxable income – even if the pay is tied to so-called company performance. There’s no reason other taxpayers ought to be subsidizing humongous CEO pay.
  3. Stop corporations from receiving any tax deduction for executive pay unless the percent raise received by top executives matches the percent raise received by average employees.
  4. Increase taxes on corporations whose CEOs make more than 100 times their average employees.
  5. Finally, and most basically: Stop CEOs from corrupting American politics with big money. Get big money out of our democracy. Fight for campaign finance reform.

Grossly widening inequalities of income and wealth cannot be separated from grossly widening inequalities of political power in America. This corruption must end.

CEOs Are Finally Admitting To Shortchanging Society

On Monday, 181 of the nation’s leading CEOs issued a statement pledging that, above all else, corporations must have a commitment to all their stakeholders, including customers, workers, suppliers and the communities where they operate.

It’s about time. For more than two decades, this group — known as the Business Roundtable — had asserted that the principle purpose of a corporation was to “generate economic returns to its owners.” This previous assertion of “shareholder primacy” was self-serving and enormously destructive. Leading CEOs, including many who signed the new statement, have caused grave damage to the American economy and society. And that damage continues.

For decades, many of America’s top CEOs have pushed for unaffordable personal and corporate tax cuts, a rollback of environmental protections, sky-high salaries for themselves and stagnant wages for their workers, abusive financial practices, unaffordable drug prices and unhealthy food products. These actions have contributed to a massive rise in inequality of wealth and income, environmental destruction, huge budget deficits, financial crises, and death and despair due to the egregious failures of the corporate health care and food industries.

Things have gotten wildly out of hand since the late 1970s. That’s when US Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell Jr. opened the floodgates of corporate money in politics. In his opinion in the case First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, Powell held that political spending by corporations is protected by the First Amendment. Then, in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan became president and proceeded to slash top personal and corporate tax rates, deregulate industry and attack the unions.

In 1978, CEO salaries were 23.1 times the average wage of workers in the same industry. In 2018, they were estimated to be an astounding 221 times the average wage. Corporate profits after tax have also soared, from an average of 6.9% of GDP during the 1970s to 9.9% of GDP during this decade. In the meantime, average hourly earnings, adjusted for consumer price inflation, stagnated between 1978 and today.

The chairman of the Business Roundtable, JPMorgan Chase & Co CEO Jamie Dimon, declares that “major employers are investing in their workers and communities.” But the most conspicuous recent corporate “investment” after the 2017 tax cuts has been share buybacks — a move that aims to boost stock prices and the value of stock options held by the CEOs.

Major companies have also used their market power to get away with abusing the public interest. JPMorgan Chase has been fined at least $13 billion from the 2008 financial crisis alone, and has been fined since. And according to a recent analysis by several non-governmental groups, JPMorgan ranked as the largest bank financier of fossil fuel investments since the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015.

Pervasive corporate abuses include financial violations across Wall Street, indictments for massive fraud (Wells Fargo), a settlement over privacy violations (Facebook) and an opioid epidemic allegedly spurred by corporate greed (Purdue Pharma). And fast-food and soda beverage companies may say they are offering healthy options and providing the necessary nutrition info, but the truth is they are stoking obesity and metabolic diseases.

The idea that the corporate purpose should focus on profits alone was promoted by free-market academic economists, such as Milton Friedman, who wrote that if a corporate CEO did not aim to maximize profits, the CEO in effect was squandering the owners’ money. Yet Friedman ignored the great harms that CEOs cause when they abuse their company’s market power or meddle in politics through corporate lobbying and campaign funding.

In the real world, not Friedman’s idealized one, CEOs use corporate influence and money to curry Congressional support for tax cuts, deregulation and bailouts. They exploit their monopoly power in the marketplace, deploy legions of corporate law firms to evade prosecutions, hide taxes in offshore havens and often cheat when the expected costs of fines are less than expected profits. When the abuses pile up to the extent of inciting a financial crisis, they turn back to the government for bailouts. Through it all, they enjoy impunity: sky-high CEO salaries and little responsibility for harms done to customers, workers and communities.

Monday’s statement won’t necessarily change the behavior of these companies, but it should definitely change society’s attitude toward the corporate sector. The game is up. The CEOs are admitting it. Corporations have not been representing the stakeholders. They’ve been representing the managers and owners. Consumers and workers have been paying the price of corporate abuses, and citizens have been footing the fiscal bills of bank bailouts, unaffordable corporate tax cuts and tax evasion.

The 2020 elections should be the reckoning. The US political system is in the hands of the corporate lobbies, including Wall Street, private health care, the military armaments and gun industries, privately owned prisons and Big Oil. These lobbies have used market power and political influence to write their own ticket to wealth. We need to elect candidates who will stand up to the corporate sector rather than take money from it.

Companies must have a public purpose beyond greed. Wresting our democracy back from corporate power will take years but should be at the forefront of American politics. It’s a vital task that certainly can’t be left to some soothing new words from the CEOs.

Niki Ashton Calls For Hospital In Island Lake Region, Inquiry Into First Nations Access To Health Care

Residents of the Island Lake region in northern Manitoba are desperate for better health care services.

On Wednesday residents from the region–about 600 kilometres north east of Winnipeg–demonstrated in front of one of the city’s hospitals, demanding better access to health care in the region’s four First Nation communities of Theresa Point, Garden Hill, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake.

There is one health facility in the region, but it’s overwhelmed and often inaccessible.

On Friday the area’s member of parliament delivered the demonstrators’ message in Ottawa.

“Those who gathered in Winnipeg this week come from some of the most remote communities in our country,” said Churchill—Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton.

“Some of those who took part are sick or have loved ones who are fighting for their lives, and yet they took the time to find their strength and have their voices heard,” she continued. “They took a stand and have taken a stand on the behalf of many. They and I and many others are calling for the justice of the people of Island Lake.”

Ashton said Island Lake residents currently travel about 600 kilometres to Winnipeg in order to access health care services.

“Even to this day this federal government is continuing policies of colonization aimed at the First Nations, and now where is that more evident than when it comes to health care,” she said.

Ashton called on the Liberals to address the situation immediately by funding a new hospital in the region and calling an inquiry into the health care that First Nations receive.

The Amazon Rainforest Is Burning

The world is reacting in fear and outrage right now at the sight of what’s happening in the Amazon. NASA satellites show huge plumes of smoke drifting up from the burning forest; in Sao Paulo, the biggest city in the western hemisphere, night fell at 2 p.m. earlier this week when the smoke blotted out the sun.

Presiding over this debacle is the South American equivalent of Donald Trump, a blighted man named Jair Bolsonaro who won the presidency last year amidst rampant corruption and nationalism. He’s encouraged ranchers and loggers to “open up” the Amazon, and the flames are the natural result, as they burn the forest to create new pasture land for cattle or fields to grow soy. When challenged, he’s insisted that environmentalists must be setting the fires to make him look bad.

But of course he must be challenged, and by all of us — the Amazon is one of the most important physical features on the planet, as key to our continued survival as the polar ice caps or the great oceans. Its vast sea of trees breathes in carbon dioxide and breathes out oxygen, creating as much as a fifth of the planet’s supply. Read that again — it accounts for every fifth breath you take. If you burn down the forest, you make it impossible to deal with climate change.

And so it’s good news that around the world (with the obvious exception of the White House), national leaders are demanding action. They should; what happens in the Amazon travels fast, affecting every place on Earth.

Of course — and here’s the rub — the same could be said for lots of things. Think about the great carbon deposits of North America — the Powder River Basin coal of the Dakotas, the massive Permian or Marcellus oil and gas deposits, the tarsands of Alberta. If we dig these up and burn them, we make it impossible to deal with climate change. And that’s just what we’re doing, of course — the U.S. has now become the largest producer of hydrocarbons on planet earth, passing Russia and Saudi Arabia, a strategy that President Obama called “energy independence” and that Trump, a far cruder man, calls “energy dominance.”

Call it what you will, it does damage on the same kind of scale as those fires in the rainforest. If you burned all the economically recoverable oil in Canada’s tar sands, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere would go from its already much too high 410 parts per million to over 540 parts per million. From one patch of ground in one province. That’s why people have worked so hard to block the Keystone XL pipeline, and Line 3 and Line 5 in the upper Midwest, and the TMX pipeline across western Canada. It’s why so many of us have been to jail. Because we understand physics and chemistry enough to know that everything’s connected. What happens in the Amazon matters to Americans. What happens in Alberta sets fires in California. What happens in Texas floods people in India.

All of this explains why, on Sept. 20, the largest day of climate action yet will take place on every corner of the planet. Following the lead of Greta Thunberg and innumerable other youth climate leaders, adults will join for a day in the climate strikes that have galvanized the world this past year. Athletes and chefs, bus drivers and college professors — millions of people will be taking part of the day off to join in this worldwide protest, organized at globalclimatestrike.net.

The worldwide part is critical. The climate crisis is the ultimate reminder that, like it or not, we’re all hitched together. When you cut down the Amazon or dig up the coalfields of Montana, you’re messing with the future of the entire planet. And it’s time for the entire planet to say no.

Stephanie Kelton Is The Economist Who Believes The Government Should Just Print More Money

Stephanie Kelton, a senior economic adviser to Bernie Sanders and a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University, is popular in a way that economists, almost definitionally, are not. Filmmakers trail her with cameras; she goes on international speaking tours and once sold out a basketball arena in Italy.

Kelton is the foremost evangelist of a fringe economic movement called Modern Monetary Theory, which, in part, argues that the government should pay for programs requiring big spending, such as the Green New Deal, by simply printing more money. This is a polarizing idea. This spring, Kelton spoke at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival, held in a converted warehouse in Tribeca, where earnest networkers milled around taking notes. On the dais, a Journal staffer introduced Kelton as an economist with an idea “that will either solve the world’s problems or send it into ruin!” She made a face, and then walked onstage.

I’d been stewing for a few months in the melange of blogs and YouTube videos and white papers that make up much of the M.M.T. world. Some intricacies lay beyond me—a hazy blur of literature about floating exchange rates and reserve currencies addled my brain. But the basic principle of M.M.T. is seductively simple: governments don’t have to budget like households, worrying about debt, because, unlike households, they can simply print their own money. So M.M.T. proposes that the constraint on government spending shouldn’t be debt but inflation: How much new money can you pump into the economy before prices rise?

Among a certain crowd—mostly online, and mostly on the left—M.M.T. has ignited a revolutionary fervor. On M.M.T. blogs and on M.M.T. Twitter, adherents imagine a world built on M.M.T. principles, in which the government provides guaranteed jobs, health care, and affordable college, and launches clean infrastructure projects to replace our crumbling highways, airports, and bridges. Kelton, who does at least five interviews per week, plus lectures, speaking gigs, and conferences, is, more than anyone, responsible for building M.M.T.’s digital army. She has written regular columns for Bloomberg; started the movement’s most influential blog, New Economic Perspectives; and is working on a book, “The Deficit Myth,” which will come out next year. “It’s pretty obvious she has become the most visible face of M.M.T.,” Randall Wray, one of the economists who first developed the theory, said. “She perfected the way to present these ideas to the public.”

An introduction to M.M.T. can provoke strong reactions. Maybe it’s not for you, and you find it ridiculous or even a little scary, or maybe it blows your mind—like your first time trying marmite or dropping acid. Kelton acts as a spirit guide. When she began her talk at the Wall Street Journal festival, I found a seat in the second row of the theatre, behind a woman in a white sweater with an eager, expressive face. She said her name was Ann. Ann had never heard of M.M.T.

Onstage, Kelton lamented, “There’s so much pressure on candidates to pay for everything. I don’t see anyone—I mean, I’ll just be honest, I don’t really see any Presidential candidates putting forward ambitious agendas and saying, ‘We’re not going to try to pay for any of this.’ ”

I saw Ann’s face register various states of shock. She mouthed, “What?!”

“It’s a tough sound bite,” the moderator, the Journal’s financial editor, Charles Forelle, said.

Kelton replied, “It is, right?” She went on, “What we’ve done to ourselves is to just leave trillions of dollars, literally, on the table, by not taking advantage of the fiscal space that we have, by running our economies below potential, by living below our means as a nation, year after year after year.”

The session wound down. “O.K.!” Forelle said. “Hands up if anybody’s got a question.” He peered out at the audience. “Oh! We’ve got a lot of questions!”

Kelton often hears the same concerns about M.M.T., and most are about inflation. How soon will we become Zimbabwe, which printed so many Zimbabwean dollars that inflation peaked, in 2008, at an annual rate of ninety sextillion per cent? Never according to Kelton; under M.M.T., the focus is sustainable inflation, whereas fiscal traditionalists worry about the deficit and don’t consider inflation at all. Doesn’t M.M.T. then require accurate forecasting of inflation risk? Yes, and, Kelton conceded at the festival, the models aren’t perfect, “but we can do a pretty good job.” And, anyway, government spending, she believes, is responsible for just a small part of inflation.

Ann raised her hand but didn’t get called. When it was over, I caught up with her. “Did you hear me just say ‘Holy cow’?” she said. “It just seems like it’s exactly backward. But she did it so well that I can’t figure out why.”

I asked Ann whether she found Kelton convincing. “I mean, kind of!” she said. “I know what she said was brilliant; I just can’t believe her. She’s gotta be wrong.”

Kelton believes that, though M.M.T. is a new framework, it builds on old ideas found buried and forgotten in the work of foundational economists. The first person to begin assembling the pieces was a hedge-fund executive named Warren Mosler. A polymath with an iconoclastic streak, Mosler shopped around his ideas about money creation and the deficit in the early nineties, looking for allies and finding none. Working some connections, he eventually, in 1993, scored a meeting with Donald Rumsfeld, who was then working as an executive in the private sector. Rumsfeld said he could spare an hour at the Racquet Club of Chicago, in the steam room. Both men wore towels. When they emerged from the muggy haze, Mosler had won an ally.

Rumsfeld agreed to set up Mosler with a few economist friends. Most helpful was Art Laffer, the architect of supply-side economics, whose lifework, arguing for reducing taxes on the rich, recently earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Donald Trump. Laffer had popularized the contentious notion that reducing taxes can actually increase tax revenues. Mosler, by contrast, wanted to prove that tax revenues were irrelevant to government spending. But Laffer helped Mosler workshop his ideas and directed him to a group of post-Keynesian economists who ran a boisterous Listserv—a Reddit for the dial-up age. Mosler logged on and found the economists who became M.M.T.’s founding thinkers.

Today, Mosler lives in St. Croix, a U.S. territory where he can avoid paying ninety per cent of his federal income tax. (“This is an actual U.S., federally sponsored program,” he told me. “I’m doing my patriotic duty.”) Mosler estimated that he has contributed about three million dollars to the M.M.T. movement in the course of a couple of decades, and, “if anything, I get kind of defensive about not having spent more.” The money has subsidized academic posts, conferences, and scholarships and has helped turn institutions like the Levy Institute, at Bard College, and the University of Missouri–Kansas City into fertile grounds for M.M.T. thought.

Kelton first encountered M.M.T. in the mid nineteen-nineties, when, as a graduate student at Cambridge University, she came across Mosler’s online agitating. Kelton applied for a fellowship at the Levy Institute, where many of the early M.M.T. thinkers had gathered. There, in 1998, she authored one of M.M.T.’s foundational texts, a paper titled “Can Taxes and Bonds Finance Government Spending?” The paper concludes that taxes don’t actually pay for anything—that the federal government spends first, then taxes some of that money back later. Kelton went on to get her Ph.D. from the New School, then was hired by U.M.K.C. In 2013, she became the chair of its economics department. Soon, she became the preferred interlocutor of hedge-fund managers and politicians who had questions about M.M.T. She held meetings with members of Congress. Larry Summers, who had recently stepped down as the director of the National Economic Council under Barack Obama, solicited M.M.T. literature.

While at U.M.K.C., in 2008, Kelton unsuccessfully challenged a Republican incumbent for a seat in the Kansas legislature. She campaigned on economic issues and pitched her “commitment to fiscal discipline.” (M.M.T. spending theories don’t apply at the state level, because states can’t create more currency.) She offered tepid support for abortion and said that she believed “that marriage is defined as a bond between a man and a woman.” (Kelton now says she has supported gay marriage from her earliest thinking on the issue.) She told me that she’s been asked about running for the U.S. Senate, from Kansas, but doesn’t want to relocate her two school-age children. Since 2017, Kelton has been a professor at Stony Brook, and she has a visiting appointment at the New School.

Several of Kelton’s colleagues told me that she can be playfully funny, but, when we met, in a New School conference room overlooking Fifth Avenue, she spoke with the intense focus and faith of a crusader. For Kelton, M.M.T. would form the basis of a new approach to policymaking, in which our political imagination is broadened. The important question, she said, shouldn’t be “How will you pay for it?” but “How will you resource it?” She uses the mobilization for the Second World War as an example; the country focused on maximizing its resources to make planes and guns and food. The deficit was not a concern.

In the economy that Kelton envisions, spending would rise and fall with the economic cycle. Sometimes, if the economy were overheating, the government might call for a budgetary surplus. This is, basically, standard Keynesianism: spending during downturns, which then tapers as the economy reaches full employment. Kelton and others add a federal jobs-guarantee program—she calls it an “automatic stabilizer.” When the economy tanks, more people enter the program, and spending increases. When the economy improves, people move on to better, private jobs, and spending shrinks.

“Winning, for me, looks like prioritizing human outcomes over budget outcomes,” she told me. “Winning looks like handing the Congressional Budget Office a piece of legislation and saying, ‘This legislation is designed to lift ten million kids out of poverty. Tell me, will it be successful? Tell me, does it carry inflation risk? Do I have the offsets right?’ And then we vote.”

The current economic conditions look pretty good for M.M.T. In Japan, where deficits are high and the interest rate is set at less than zero, the economy has met with no calamity. When Congress passed a tax cut in 2017, the C.B.O. predicted that there would be a jump in interest rates caused by the deficit. This hasn’t happened. Still, most mainstream economists view M.M.T. as the Cult of the Magic Money Tree, deriding what they see as its theorists’ preference for analogy over mathematical modeling or empirical evidence. “What most concerns me is I can’t actually quite figure out what it is,” Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist and Times columnist, told me. Krugman is a political progressive, and he agrees with many of the spending programs that M.M.T. proponents support. But, he said, “I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is exactly that they think.”

The rhetorical simplicity that frustrates professional economists is, for a layman, part of M.M.T.’s appeal. A framework called sectoral balances undergirds much of the theory. Kelton, in her speeches and writing, likes to explain it this way: the government and the private sector are on two sides of a balance sheet. If the government has a deficit, the private sector must have a surplus. “Their red ink is our black ink,” Kelton said. This is a useful model, but, in the real world, the math isn’t as clean. When the government spends, most of the money ends up in the hands of the people, but there are leakages on the way—to international markets, most significantly. (Also, to corruption.) Interest rates, too, are heavily influenced by the global economy. If the American government has a deficit, the private sector has a surplus. But whose private sector?

One frequent critique of M.M.T. is that it’s basically Keynesianism with some social-media-influencer branding. This elides a few important differences between the two schools of thought, including how each handles the interest rate. According to most mainline economists, the bigger the deficit the more the government has to borrow, which means that, past a certain point in the economic cycle, the interest rate may have to go up. This stifles private investment and chokes off growth. Kelton argues that the Fed can, and should, set the interest rate near zero—problem solved. Abstract economic questions being what they are, this debate is not likely to kill at parties. But the interest-rate question is perhaps the key difference between M.M.T. and Keynesianism. Under an M.M.T. framework, with the interest rate set near zero, Congress would take on the Fed’s dual mandate to control inflation and reduce unemployment. If inflation is expected to rise, this could present Congress with tough decisions on spending and taxing that neither political party wants to make. “It’s helpful advice for some political universe that I’ve never visited,” Krugman said.

At the moment, interest rates remain stubbornly low. Krugman told me that, in this environment, he actually agrees that the deficit isn’t much of an issue. He just finds M.M.T. inscrutable and its policies unrealistic. The jobs guarantee, he said, would offer a fine economic stabilizer, but it would never get passed. “Were people like me arguing, frantically, for more government spending of one sort or another to prop up the economy when interest rates hit zero? The answer is yes!” Krugman told me. “I don’t know how much more vehement we could’ve gotten. But we didn’t get it. To say, ‘Ah, but this wouldn’t be a problem if we had a federal jobs guarantee’ is true but not really helpful.”

These fundamental criticisms extend across the political spectrum. Glenn Hubbard, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under George W. Bush, told me that M.M.T. raised a few interesting questions, but that “it has no coherent framework at all.” Like Krugman, he thought that expecting Congress to fulfill the Fed’s role demonstrated “breathtaking naïveté.” Hubbard, who has warned consistently about the dangers of debt, was also an architect of George W. Bush’s tax cuts, which added an estimated three hundred billion dollars per year to the deficit. But Hubbard argued that the private-sector gains from the cuts would be worth the added deficit, and he said he never denied that the country would have to pay off that debt in one of two ways: taxes or inflation. “I think the country can have more debt than it has now. I view that as an open and interesting question that we can talk about,” Hubbard said. “But the free lunch is just silly. No serious person believes this.”

For several years, Kelton’s most prominent supporter has been Bernie Sanders. But even he has used M.M.T. as more of a provocation than a prescription. In December, 2014, Sanders, then the incoming ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee, was looking for a chief economist. He called Kelton. Kelton recalled that Sanders asked what she would do if she were him. “I said, ‘What do you mean? If I were you, Senator Sanders? Or if I were you, maybe I’m going to run for President?’ ” Both, he suggested. “My instinct was that this was more than just taking a position for the Senate Budget Committee,” she told me. “This had the potential to be part of something more exciting.” Kelton worked for the Democrats throughout the 2015 budget negotiations and became an adviser to Sanders’s Presidential campaign that spring.

Sanders, however, has never offered an endorsement of M.M.T. When asked, in February, how he planned to pay for his policies, Sanders responded, “Am I going to demand that the wealthy and large corporations start paying their fair share of taxes? Damn right, I will!”

Kelton and Mosler believe that taxing the wealthy does nothing for a big program like the Green New Deal: taxes don’t fund spending, after all, and wealth taxes won’t control inflation. “If you did an ambitious Green New Deal, two to three trillion a year over ten years, and you tried to pay for it with a wealth tax, you’d get massive inflationary pressures,” Kelton told me. “You’ve removed all the income from people who aren’t going to spend it.” To remove cash from the monetary base, and thereby offset inflation, you have to tax the people who spend most of their income—the poor or middle classes. (According to M.M.T., the converse is also true—if you want to spur growth, tax cuts should target the poor and middle class.)

Mosler told me that he has met with Sanders’s staffers, and many of them expressed a familiarity with M.M.T. “The staff read my book. They’re all really good with this stuff,” he said. “But Bernie doesn’t go there. They kind of roll their eyes and say, ‘Look, we try.’ ” Mosler has his own remedy for inequality, “but it’s so counterintuitive that it catches people out,” he said. Part of it “is to eliminate the federal income tax entirely, corporate and individual. And replace it with just a property tax.”

When I mentioned the idea to Kelton, she said that Mosler’s proposal would make sense, in theory, if the country’s tax system could be redesigned from scratch, but that it’s not realistic. “If you say, ‘Eliminate the corporate income tax,’ Bernie’s head would explode,” she said.

Warren Gunnels, Sanders’s staff director, told me that Sanders hired Kelton because they agree on the policies that form Sanders’s platform. “She’s one of the leading economists who’s trying to create an economy for all,” he said. “We need more economists like her.” But, he said, “M.M.T. never really crossed our mind, to be honest. We never looked at M.M.T. as a theory that we should adopt.”

After my call with Gunnels, Kelton e-mailed me to say that portraying Sanders as opposed to M.M.T. “would be a mistake.” She went on, “Senator Sanders knows that Congress needs to be able to spend without that artificial constraint. Presidential candidate Sanders, like every other presidential candidate, is trying not to get called out by literally everyone for proposing stuff he ‘can’t pay for.’ You have to know this is how the game is played.”

Kelton is mostly alone among the M.M.T. crowd in this view of Sanders. James Galbraith, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an M.M.T. supporter, was an economic adviser to the Sanders campaign in 2016, but he told me that he considered himself more of a fan than a counsellor. “The fact is that Bernie Sanders doesn’t need a lot of advice from people like me. He knows exactly what he wants to do,” Galbraith said. “And those views are fiscally more traditional than the M.M.T. perspective.”

Kelton is perhaps more pragmatic than most academics. Randall Wray, the economist who helped develop M.M.T., traced Kelton’s moves: scholarship to blog to Twitter to Washington. “These are all things normal academic-type people don’t want to do at all,” he said. “And then getting involved more directly with Bernie. Even though he has never come out with a strong endorsement of M.M.T., it really doesn’t matter. It gave the access, for her, to the media. He’s going to have the right policy proposals.” Whether Sanders endorses M.M.T., he said, “is sort of irrelevant.”

For the moment, most of the major M.M.T. thinkers are staunch progressives. But M.M.T.’s politics are difficult to categorize. “It can lead you to the left or the right,” Kelton told me. “You could use it to say we should have tax cuts to lower unemployment.” Mosler, who used to identify as a “Tea Party Democrat,” told me that he speaks to Tea Party groups about M.M.T. and is received warmly. Kelton often exchanges ideas with John Carney, an economics columnist at Breitbart, who considers himself a “fellow-traveller” of the M.M.T. movement. “I think, functionally, Donald Trump has a lot of M.M.T. in him,” Carney told me. “He doesn’t think we need to cut Social Security. He doesn’t think that the deficit is a problem for the United States government right now. He thinks that if you can borrow cheaply you should and that interest rates should be low. Those are all positions that the M.M.T. people would agree with.” The idea for the job guarantee, he added, is “very close to what Make America Great is. We don’t want welfare, we don’t want handouts, we want good jobs for the American people.” Carney predicted more support for M.M.T. from the right once politicians realize that it can justify deep tax cuts.

This shift, if it is to occur, seems far off. Earlier this year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez publicly expressed interest in M.M.T. Subsequently, five Republican senators, led by David Perdue, of Georgia, introduced a resolution that sought to offer an official condemnation of M.M.T. The resolution demonstrated M.M.T.’s growing clout, but it also underscored the fact that Kelton’s battle is over M.M.T.’s legitimacy, not its politics. Allies are valuable. “Maybe just the fact that she’s e-mailing with a Breitbart editor is a sign that she wants a broad evangelism for M.M.T. and not just to be a darling of the left,” Carney said. But he noted that there are fraught political decisions to be made. “The way I put it is, can the government build a gun range? Is that an O.K. job-guarantee job? Can the job guarantee be used to build a border wall?”

I asked Kelton if she worries at all about these fights, further over the horizon. “At the end of the day, what I really hope for is just a better debate,” she told me. “Let both sides put forward their best ideas.”

This is the ultimate dream of M.M.T.: freed from false financial shackles, we could debate, on honest terms, the most fundamental political questions. If money weren’t an issue, would we want to scrub carbon from the atmosphere? Pay for reparations? Expand ice? Maybe we just want to be left alone, with our tax money in our pockets and some Social Security checks when we age. M.M.T.’s architects describe their vision as encompassing not just a better economy but a better, healthier body politic—a goal that is, given the state of things, almost certainly doomed, but is admirable nonetheless. Deficits do matter—not just the financial ones.

Bounty Hunters Are A Lethal Weapon In A Justice System Corrupted By Money

Today, I live in Brooklyn, but I didn’t grow up in New York. I’m country. I grew up in a small Kentucky town and was a part of a church that taught us a verse from the Bible that says “the love of money is the root of all evil.” For my whole life, even as my faith has struggled, I’ve held on to that verse and have believed that wherever we find evil, we’ll always find a money trail somewhere nearby.

And I have long since believed that profit, jobs, and wealth are at the center of the explosive growth of America’s mass incarceration crisis – and not just with jails, prisons, and police, but with the offshoot industries that survive and thrive on the back of our crooked legal system. One of these crooked industries involves bounty hunters, and there’s been an incredible injustice with a group of them killing an innocent man in Tennessee and avoiding any real punishment for it.

Jalen Johnson Milan was a beloved 24-year-old father of three young children in Clarksville, Tennessee, about an hour north of Nashville. Two years ago, on a spring evening in April of 2017, Jalen and some buddies, including his cousin, Jaden Hogan, who was driving, took a trip to the local Walmart where they ended up parking next to a car that had a drug informant inside named Kirsten Mahon.

When I say “drug informant,” am I right that your first assumption is that this is about to be a story on a police sting gone awry? You’d think so, but this was something altogether different.

According to surveillance video from the Walmart, within seconds of pulling into that parking spot, their car was surrounded by seven men who frantically yelled from every side, telling Jalen and his friends to get out of their car. The seven men had guns drawn. One of the men who surrounded the vehicle smashed open a window. Freaking out, Jaden Hogan, the driver, backed out of the parking spot, and then mashed the gas to the floor, so that he could get them all away from these men with guns.

They didn’t know if it was a gang, robbers, or police surrounding them, but it was clear their lives were in danger. Put yourself in that position, and imagine your car being surrounded by seven rough-looking dudes with guns drawn who did not identify themselves as

When Jaden sped away, two of the seven men who surrounded the car, Joshua Young and Roger West Jr., unloaded their guns, firing shot after shot. Jaden, the driver, was hit in the neck, and Jalen was mortally wounded, with a bullet ripping through his heart and lungs. Investigators later tested every bullet at the scene and determined that they all appeared to have been fired by Young and West, according to reporting by The Leaf Chronicle, a newspaper in Clarksville that has provided consistent coverage of the case.

Those seven men got into their car, and for nearly seven miles they chased their prey through Clarksville. Jaden Hogan, the wounded driver, frantically called 911 from the parking lot before the chase was even fully underway, telling the operator that they had been surrounded and shot by a group of men, and that they were fleeing for their lives, speeding down a local road. But here’s the weird thing: The shooters also called 911 saying that they were in an emergency situation as they claimed to be chasing down a local drug dealer named William Ellis.

With both parties on the phone with 911, one of the dispatch operators advised the injured men to pull their car over and surrender to the men who just shot them. But remember this: The shooters weren’t police officers. They weren’t FBI officials or from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They hadn’t been to anybody’s police academy, and they damn sure weren’t supervised by any serious government agency.

They were a ragtag group of bounty hunters and bail bondsmen who were searching for a man named William Ellis who owed them a lot of money because he had skipped bail on two different occasions — leaving debts of thousands of dollars to the bail bondsmen. They had paid a desperate local sex worker, Kirsten Mahon, who struggled with drug addiction, to set up a fake drug deal with Ellis so that they could perform what they called a routine “snatch and grab,” possibly squeeze some money out of him, and then turn him over to authorities. This is routine work for bail bondsmen and bounty hunters.

Except William Ellis wasn’t in the car they had shot and chased; Kirsten Mahon later testified that she tipped Ellis off in advance that people were looking for him. By the time Jaden Hogan finally pulled his car over, his cousin Jalen was already dead. The bullets recklessly fired at the car seven miles prior had ripped his insides all up. The bounty hunters and bail bondsmen would eventually swear under oath that the men in the car shot at them too, but not a single gun was found on their prey, not a single shell casing found in their car, and investigators determined that every bullet fired appeared to be fired at the victims — not from them.

Nine days later, county prosecutors threw the book at the bounty hunters and bail bondsmen — charging them with a slew of crimes ranging from first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated kidnapping, reckless endangerment, and damn near every other charge you can think of. It took two years for the case to finally come to trial. It was complicated as hell with 50 different witnesses, hundreds of pieces of evidence — and two of the seven defendants had flipped, agreeing to testify against the other five. Altogether, the five remaining men faced a combined 80 charges.

In the end, earlier this month, a jury found the five men not guilty on 79 different charges — only convicting one man, Joshua Young, with recklessly firing his gun in the Walmart parking lot. He might not even go to jail.

Listen, I’m a prison abolitionist. I’d like to see the whole legal system torn down and rebuilt from scratch. But how in hell a group of pissed off bounty hunters and bail bondsmen can kill an innocent man, in what at very best has to be described as a case of mistaken identity, and get away with it, is beyond me. Defense attorneys basically suggested 101 conspiracy theories, effectively planting doubts in the mind of the jury, that William Ellis really was in that car and disappeared somewhere — even though nobody ever saw any such thing happen. The attorneys also suggested that the victims really did have guns and fired them, even though no evidence whatsoever showed such a thing. Their ploy worked — in great part, I believe, because the jurors treated the bail bondsmen and bounty hunters like they would have treated law enforcement officers, giving them respect and deferring to their storyline.

In the end, it’s gun violence run amok. Jalen Milan was one of the nearly 40,000 people shot and killed that year in our country – which more and more resembles the Wild West. And at the center of these past few years, which have been some of the deadliest years ever measured for gun violence, with almost no progress whatsoever on substantive gun reform, is money. It’s always money. Money for campaigns from the NRA. Profits for the firearms industry. Money for lobbyists. And again, right at the center of the shooting death of an innocent young father, were bounty hunters and bail bondsmen so determined to get back their money from a man that they shot a stranger, thinking it was him. Guns are a problem, but dammit, the money trail is never far behind.