Emma’s post from earlier today, which featured a recent radio interview with Steve Keen, brought Joe forward in the comment section, ;-).
Listening to Keen, and then, reading from Joe, in turn, prompted me to listen again to an interview Steve Keen gave when he was invited to speak at the AMI’s gathering back in 2010. (AMI, by the way, stands for American Monetary Institute. It’s the ideas that this group puts forward that Joe has been advocating for over three years now - do I have that right, Joe?) Finally, that interview with Steve Keen, in turn, prompted me to listen again to Joe’s rebuttal of Keen’s criticism, in his “Coffee with Joe” video blog shortly thereafter.
I’ll post both below.
(I had listened to these several months ago, when I was just starting out on my journey into this monetary stuff, but it was helpful for me to go back to them at this time.)
I think one very important thing that this exchange highlighted for me this go around is the fact that Keen has two key concerns, one of which does not necessarily include borrowing (or debt).
This exchange brought to the fore for me that Keen is first and foremost concerned about speculation, or, as he puts it, ”ponzi investment” vs. “productive investment,” whether that involves trading in the stock market (for shares of a company in which the initial investment, providing for the financial needs of the company, has already been made) or involves housing (with the idea of selling a home for more later – and, in its extreme form, becomes the practice of “flipping houses”). Those are the two areas of speculative investing that his policy prescriptions specifically tackle. (I can’t quite tell if he explicitly includes speculation in commodities, but that works in much the same way).
But as this exchange involving Keen and Joe makes clear to me – speculation in and of itself is a subject that is distinct from the issue of debt. To be sure, borrowing can exacerbate the nature of the “ponzi” bubble/burst scenario. And the hugely leveraged, inadequately regulated borrowing currently in the system… well, that makes an underlying “ponzi” scheme the stuff of apocalyptic nightmares.
For even if borrowing is completely taken out of the scenario, which Joe makes clear happens with the AMI Reform solution - at least at the aggregate level, when borrowing from the govt. is taken out of the scenario - Keen clearly remains concerned about the ponzi capacity (the speculation capacity) available within that system too.
Even with absolutely no debt in the system (even if borrowing was not only no longer available from the govt., but also if individuals were not allowed to borrow funds from one another, which the AMI solution does not, I believe, prohibit – is that correct, Joe?), the “ponzi capacity” is still there. And, after this exchange, that’s starting to become clear to me.
In fact, I myself have a few shares in a few different companies, for which I wasn’t an initial investor, nor did I borrow money to invest in those shares. And yep, I did so with the hope for a capital gain down the line. I am, in essence, absolutely speculating on an existing asset, and doing so without having borrowed any money. This way of investing counts on there being a buyer down the line, willing to pay more for shares in this company than I did, and, in turn, doing so with the hope that there will be another buyer down the line when the share price becomes, hopefully, still higher, and so on.
On the other hand, there’s another stock I own mainly for the quarterly dividend I receive from it. A capital appreciaton would be nice, and I’d surely rather it didn’t *depreciate*, but that’s a separate issue. My main interest in that stock is that it gives me a steady dividend. And, as Keen points out, that’s an important distinction. I’m benefitting from this other stock, due to its dividend, whether or not the share price rises.
I can see why Keen holds that as his primary concern. In thinking more about it, I can see that speculation diverts money, and, therefore, energy, and interest – “where your heart is, there will your money be also… (or something like that, ;-))” - away from the arena of productive investing. As such, even if no borrowing of any kind is involved, speculative investing can (and *will*, if it occurs) still feed into the booms and busts of any pyramid scheme.
I can definitely see that taking away the option of borrowing from the govt. would certainly help – so as to not greatly augment an underlying problem. But, as this exchange has helped to highlight, if you tackle the realm of ponzi scheme/pyramid scheme investing itself, then that resolves the problem of what absolutely leads to the booms and busts that any ponzi scheme leads to.
So, once again, for me, this exchange highlights the fact that Keen sees two major problems in the current system: ponzi scheme investing, which can occur with or without borrowing, and then, on top of that, the addition of borrowing to that way of investing, which, in our current system, is virtually unconstrained.
As Keen’s models make clear (not to mention the real-world shockwaves making their way through the globe that we all experienced in 2008/2009)… debt, or borrowing, especially poorly regulated and virtually unconstrained borrowing (from a truly unlimited source of borrowing, which the central bank within the U.S. provides), adds tremendous amounts of fuel to the fire, so to speak, making for a number of vast and towering *mountains* out of underlying pyramid schemes that could have been built up without debt, but not nearly to the scale that occurs within our present system. For when these mountains fall – something that, by definition, all pyramid schemes (ponzi schemes) must do – the damage can be far more devastating.
Still, clearly, restricting debt in the system (no borrowing from beyond the system, as occurs now, from the govt. as an unlimited source for borrowing money), would take away a great deal of the energy that currently goes into speculative investing (to put it mildly).
Joe, correct me if I’m wrong, but within the system of full reserve banking, individuals could still borrow from other individuals within the system, yes? So that they could still speculate “with other people’s money,” could they not? – as long as other people, I suppose, expressly made their money available for that, such as in pooling it together in order to speculate?
So both individuals and collections of individuals could still speculate within the AMI proposal, they just wouldn’t have any further funds added to the system upon demand from outside of the system, as occurs now, when the Central Bank adds further funds into the system upon demand, which is still a very important distinction.
So… the AMIs solution is something I am becoming more and more interested in, for there is important protections in it (at least one of *degree* in terms of speculative investing, even if not one of *kind* - significant speculation can still occur, including by way of a number of people pooling their money to speculate; however, even that pales in comparison to the “pooling” that can happen when the govt. can be turned to repeatedly for further sources of funds for speculating).
Yet I also remain interested in Keen’s focus on structuring a system that tackles ponzi (or speculative) investing directly. For as he describes it, that would then free up a lot of the money that might otherwise go into speculative investing to then flow into the arena of productive investing. That, of course, still has risks, very important ones, but of a different nature. It doesn’t *necessarily* end in a bust, which ponzi scheme investing, by its very nature, does.
I think that COMBINATION would be particularly potent – of Keen’s direct focus on reforming speculative activity itself in important sectors AND the AMI’s reforms, which include far more than just what I’ve discussed here.
For just one example, within the AMI’s proposed reforms – I think I’ve got this right – is that in which the U.S. Treasury would create and manage the nation’s money DIRECTLY, which would forego the step of the Treasury borrowing from the Central Bank, which is how things are currently structured.
In this way, the Treasury’s money wouldn’t be debt (as it is now)… That’s a step I particularly like for the clarity it provides… But there are many other elements that the AMI puts forward in their reform proposals, which I am also eager to learn more about now.
As I mentioned above, I especially like how the AMI makes government money creation and management CLEAR. It distinguishes it – finally! – from household/business debt, which, I believe, could make a tremendous difference in and of itself… because with clarity (and transparency) about the system we do have, people are more likely to become better informed, and, therefore, better able to participate in what happens… in particular with the people’s collective creation and use of money.
Money may not be the resources themselves of a nation, but it does play a very important part in how we make use of those resources, including how we make use of the intangible resources of human ingenuity. For example, do we direct money towards education, towards research and development, etc.?
And I think that via a govt. as our collective way to create and manage money - a govt. that is fairly well accountable to its people, especially people that are more, rather than less, informed - we’ve got at least a SHOT at considering the COMMON GOOD as a primary goal, rather than a trailing one (if we keep it in mind as a goal at all).
A govt.’s primary objective is not to make a profit for its shareholders, not in terms of more money, at least. And yet that is the explicit primary objective of a corporation. And I’m not knocking that aspect of a corporation. But I’m sure not going to look to a corporation for making the common good a primary goal, nor a goal at all - “It’s just business; nothing personal.”
That’s actually OK with me, but not if there isn’t something else (and preferably something of a higher order within our overall system) that DOES see the common good as its primary goal… such that that is BUILT INTO it as an entity (just as financial profits for a business itself and for its shareholders as its primary objective is BUILT INTO the structure of a corporation).
In that sense, I am leaning more and more towards the creation of money being primarily (and CLEARLY) in the hands of a common body, and secondarily in the hands of any of its individual citizens or corporations. I want to keep learning about this, but that’s the direction I am leaning, which the AMI’s reform proposals address very well, I believe, ALONG WITH a strong dose of Keen’s primary concern – how to best manage speculative investing vs. productive investing.
(The scales are beginning to tip for me).
AMI interviews Keen and asks for his critique of their Reform ideas (from 2010):
Joe’s rebuttal of Keen’s critique: