an institutional construct, not a theoretical model: making currency a fully exogenous variable changes all societal outcomes
[Thoroughly revised and updated on February 9, 2023.]
The basic idea herein is to create money (as currency) as needed — without involving debt or taxes — to fund a (sufficient) guaranteed minimum income for adult citizens and to fund (all) government from now on at the current per capita rate of total government spending. Such a flow of money into a nation’s economy necessitates some means of returning money to the source of that torrent, the central bank. Unlike a tax, no money is returned to the central bank before it can be used for purchases/investment (the only really tricky part of the paradigm to construct, but necessary to avoid normative issues).
The results provided by this finished product are so astonishing that to enumerate them is to risk being shunted off to Kookville. In making the economy stably self-regulating this paradigm eliminates unemployment and poverty for adult citizens — at any level of GDP — while, as suggested in the preceding paragraph, providing the means to eliminate taxes and public debt for funding government, from central to local (as long as public spending does not exceed anywhere the amount allotted for it). Means are thereby provided to increase sustainability systemically — with no limit imposed on income/wealth.
References to stability and sustainability perhaps bring to mind the ‘steady state economy’, but here the perspective is actually old-fashioned (non-mathematical) institutional economics — but without the social commentary. Rather, there is a rigorous explication of a different approach to supplying the economy with money (as currency) within the existing institutional structure. The effects of that change in approach range from the microeconomic (both individuals and businesses) to the macroeconomic (e.g. GDP, employment) to the more broadly societal (e.g. poverty, sustainability).
The presence of normative elements is acknowledged, but normative arguments are not used to justify the paradigm. Even so, it does provide options for going further into what some people consider to be economic justice. The ‘allotted income’ could be expanded (and doubtlessly increased in amount) to be paid to all employees of any business or government. Unlimited benefits as compensation for different positions could continue to exist or not — still with no limit on income/wealth in either case.
A standard set of institutions forming national economic systems can now be said to exist. It consists of money, a banking system that includes a central bank, and the offices of government, with their mandated functions that include providing public goods and services as well as establishing the laws, rules, and regulations governing participation in the economy: the production/acquisition of goods/services. Money is included as a separate element in that set of institutions because it transcends both the banking system and government, considered singly.
Central governments (CGs) and central banks (CBs), to a greater or lesser extent, with different forms and levels of sharing power, act within national economies with the intention of achieving particular national goals. Constraints on those penultimate economic actors, internal and external, vary from nation to nation, but one goal all have in common is to seek to maximize GDP — consistent with an ‘acceptable’ level of price inflation — in order to maximize total income, employment, and the collection of taxes at extant rates. Today, the environmental implications of that ‘universal political imperative’ are immediately obvious.
At the same time, there is a universal economic imperative for every nation’s penultimate economic actors to initiate actions pertaining to its economy. That imperative follows from the intrinsic instability of every nation’s economy.
That instability is a demonstration of some of the most basic economic knowledge that has been gleaned in the history of the discipline: the macroeconomic variables in the economy are too interdependent. Anyone who has ever constructed a macroeconomic model knows the result of such a model: it will not tend towards an equilibrium position, but will spiral towards economic incoherence, i.e. the utter dissolution of the system.
Within their given constraints in their inherently chaotic national economies, then, CGs and CBs seek to counteract macroeconomic trends that are moving towards unacceptable outcomes (however those might be defined) and the economic incoherence that lies beyond that. This article proposes a functional institutional change within the standard national economic system, leaving its structure intact, that would make the economy stably self-regulating while providing additional means to increase sustainability systemically.
The proposed solution is to make the supply of money (as currency) a fully exogenous variable. That is, the amount of money (as currency) supplied to the economy is determined by a variable that is wholly outside the economic system: demographics. The supply of it is sufficiently large in size and vast in scope to govern the economy macroeconomically, passively but effectively.
In the specific paradigm related herein money (as currency) is created as needed by the CB — without involving debt or taxes — to fund a minimum guaranteed income for adult citizens and to fund government (all government, from central to local), using the current per capita rate of total government spending as its determiner. The amount of currency issued by the CB is thereby always determined by the number of citizens eligible for (and receiving) that minimum income and the numeric population of the nation.
To preclude economic incoherence, a necessary part of the paradigm is to close the monetary loop, i.e., return money to the CB. Unlike a tax, no money is collected for that purpose before it can be used for purchases/investment. The money supply and (thus, given the design of this paradigm) the economy as a whole become stably self-regulating.
This paradigm inevitably involves further implications for the internal functioning of the economy and generates further outcomes for the nation related to the economy. For the nation, there is currently a reflexive relationship between the economy as a system of variables with functional relationships (which can be reflexive) and the societal outcomes for a nation related to the performance of the economy. Here, reflexivity is reduced and functional relationships replaced with mechanical relationships.
For the economy, regarding that ‘allotted (minimum) income’ in this paradigm the reflexively functional relationship that exists between GDP and income is replaced with a relationship in which the former is strictly dependent on the latter. The functional dependence of employment on GDP is reduced.
[As will be seen, in this paradigm the allotted income could be expanded to include all employees of any business or government (and doubtlessly increased in the process); if that were undertaken the dependence of GDP on that given income would be expanded and the dependence of employment on GDP all but dissolved.]
For the nation, given the choices related to eligibility for the minimum income and its amount in this paradigm (below), unemployment and poverty are eliminated for adult citizens — independently of GDP. It is obvious that if public expenditures do not exceed anywhere the allotted funding for government, using taxes/public debt for that purpose is also eliminated. The only rationale left for CGs and CBs to initiate actions to stimulate GDP is to increase total income as an end in itself. The means available to those penultimate economic actors for accomplishing that end are diminished. To the extent that efforts by CGs and CBs to stimulate GDP are reduced, sustainability is systemically increased.
[With the aforementioned expansion of the allotted income GDP would be more strongly governed by demographics, strengthening sustainability.]
Current monetary practice
No widely recognized change in theory or practice for supplying an economy with money has emerged since money’s ties to metals were severed. That includes prescriptive modern monetary theory (MMT) and quantitative easing (QE).
[In “prescriptive” MMT a descriptive explanation of the functioning of the monetary system of the U.S. after it was decoupled from metals is invoked to make de jure the — according to MMT — de facto state of things: any nation with a ‘sovereign’ currency is formally freed to seek virtually any set of goals through the CG, with the CG/CB partnership managing the resultant economic consequences of those fiscal actions via their combined fiscal and monetary functions.]
Currently, supplying the economy with money takes two forms: when banks create deposits as a result of issuing loans and when money is created (with a shuffling of assets for accounting purposes involved) for the CB to purchase newly issued debt of the CG or, in QE, other assets. For present purposes, only the latter is referred to as ‘currency’. Those two forms of money comingle to form a nation’s money supply.
The CB can take actions to influence the amount of debt being issued by banks and it directly determines the amount of currency to be created. Some argue that such authority makes the money supply a sufficiently independent variable.
In making its monetary determinations, however, the CB is influenced by the CG’s fiscal operations, which (however ideologically driven) are influenced by macroeconomic considerations. Also, even apart from legal mandates, the CB takes into account its own sets of macroeconomic considerations as well as its own financial situation, which is influenced by and has implications for the national economy. Prima facie, those influences on the CB’s determinations regarding the creation of money make the supply of it less than a fully independent variable — much less exogenous.
Another consideration is that in current practice currency, once created, remains in the economy forever. When a bank issues a loan an equivalent amount of money is returned to the bank over time, to be ‘written off its books’. That is not the case when money is created for use by the CB. Even if the CB held to maturity securities it had purchased with newly created currency and all money paid to the CB in redeeming the securities were retained forever by the CB that money would still exist as reserves of the CB, with particular implications for the economy that need not be detailed. Moreover, if the amount of currency being created for the CB to purchase securities of any kind is exceeding the payments from the CG to the CB on CG securities the CB is holding, then the net result is an increase in the amount of money circulating in the economy.
The CB can take measures for removing money from circulation and the CG can in theory run a budget surplus to remove money from circulation. The historical record of such efforts (and their lack) is available for scrutiny.
It can be argued at this point that as a result of the actions that CBs and CGs have taken to prevent unacceptable outcomes at least some national economies are at least bordering on economic incoherence — with the entire global economy moving in that general direction. Whether that is a valid statement or not, a more coherent monetary paradigm is surely possible.
A fully exogenous supply of currency
A fully exogenous supply of currency would be wholly determined by a variable outside the economic system. In this proposed paradigm the supply of currency is determined by demographics. The supply of currency takes two forms: money supplied to fund government (at all levels, from central to local) and money paid to individuals (the “allotted income”). In both cases it is straightforwardly created as needed, without creating debt or any shifting of assets. Herein, the administrator of the currency is the CB. (To be clear, the creation of money as credit continues as at present; the CB continues to oversee the viability of the banking system.)
In this paradigm the amount of money supplied for funding government is determined by the current per capita level of total government spending for the year at the time the proposed paradigm is implemented. The money supplied to fund government every subsequent year is that ratio multiplied by the numeric population of the nation. The apportionment of that money, as well as all matters related to possible taxation/public debt for revenue beyond that amount, are TBD for any nation. (Deciding the authority for determining the ‘official’ size of the population for any geopolitical unit is an issue.)
The allotted income
In this paradigm the allotted income is not a universal income, but any adult citizen can become eligible for it: it is a guaranteed minimum income. It is paid to all citizens of retirement age and adult citizens who are (legitimately) unable to work as well as being the minimum pay for any citizen employed in any business or government. (People employed in not-for-profit organizations are compensated in whole out of the money collected by those organizations.)
The amount of the income is set at some level above the existing ‘poverty line’ for an individual, such as relating it to the current median or average income. (Involuntary) poverty is thereby eliminated for the adult citizenry.
[Since the raison d’être of all governmental ‘anti-poverty’ programs/bodies is eliminated, such an existing entity, e.g., in the U.S. the Social Security Administration, could be extracted from government to become a Monetary Agency to administer a nation’s currency.]
Employees in minimum-pay (hourly or salaried) positions receive the allotted income. Employees earning more than that amount of money continue to receive their compensation in full from their employers.
Employers use benefits to compete for minimum-pay employees. That is not a governmental edict; it follows from the existence of the allotted income for all minimum-pay positions in a free market for labor. The only restriction on benefits is that they must be in-kind, not in the form of money or financial instruments. (Individuals continue to compete for positions that pay more than the minimum income.)
Employers are free to designate any position as a minimum-pay position. An individual is free to work in that position for that pay plus negotiated benefits or not.
The rate of pay is the same for everyone paid the allotted income. Benefits reflect conditions in particular labor markets.
In this paradigm, to eliminate unemployment and poverty completely government is an employer of last resort. It supplies jobs that pay the allotted income without benefits, jobs that are essentially cost-free. Without benefits, such jobs do not represent competition for employers seeking to fill minimum-pay positions — though their existence does reinforce the condition that all other minimum-pay positions in the economy will include benefits.
Bonuses in the form of money or financial instruments, such as stocks, are not allowed as compensation for any employee. Other than being paid via commissions (or perhaps royalties in the case of intellectual properties), all compensation of employees must be in the form of regular pay and (in-kind) benefits.
It can be noted that it would be as easy as not to pay the allotted income to one parent or legal guardian in a household with at least one dependent child living there.
Closing the monetary loop
In this paradigm two threats to the integrity of the money emerge. One is price inflation. The other is such an accumulation of unspent money that economic incoherence would result. Inflation is addressed below. Economic incoherence is prevented by limiting the hoarding of money. (It is assumed that government and not-for-profits are not accumulators of money.)
Holding money is a hedge against uncertainty and risk. This proposed paradigm all but eliminates both from the economy and established businesses of all kinds within it.
For purposes of this paradigm a business is defined as an enterprise having employees and selling the good(s)/services(s) it produces to generate revenue. The earnings of a proprietorship, business partnership, or closely held corporation that are not retained by the business are the personal income of the owner(s) of the business. The only other form a business can take is to be a publicly traded corporation (PTC).
There are other ways for people to generate income via sales of goods/services. Artists, inventors (both possibly receiving royalties), and artisans come to mind, but any good or service produced by an individual working alone or in a partnership with no employees can be a way of generating income. Given the absence of employees, those means of making money are labeled ‘singularly self-employed individuals’ and ‘non-business partnerships’, respectively, with all earnings from such efforts being counted as personal income.
Limiting the accumulation of money in the economy is straightforward: limiting how much money can be retained by individuals and businesses. For any nation, further details are TBD. For individuals, the limit might be some percentage of the annualized amount of a ‘typical’ month’s income (say, the average monthly income over the preceding twelve months — sans windfalls: below); for businesses, it might be the annualized amount of the most earnings in a quarter that the business has ever had. (A ‘cashless’ economic system in which all money is always in an account at a bank facilitates closing the monetary loop; the existence of ‘crypto currencies’ is not addressed herein.)
Only the earnings of a business are subject to collection for return to the CB. Earnings are ‘final profits’: revenue minus all costs and charges.
Individuals can avoid having money collected by disbursing any potential ‘excess’ money via consumption or investment (purchasing assets, e.g. stocks, bonds, real estate, rare objects, etc.) or giving it away, such as contributions to not-for-profit organizations. Any money flowing into an account of any individual, however, to include gifts and inheritances, contributes to being over the limit — though temporary accommodations can be made for windfalls.
Businesses can also take measures to disburse money to avoid having it collected, but for all businesses other than PTCs that their earnings are potential personal income for the owners dominates that calculation. For PTCs, money cannot be disbursed to people in any ad hoc way (below), though regular compensation of employees can be increased by any amount at any time. To be clear, no business can make any contribution to any not-for-profit organization.
As long as any ‘excess’ money beyond the allowed limit can be used for investment (including purchases of fixed assets for storing value) rather than its being collected for return to the CB, having such a limit cannot limit the accumulation of wealth. On the other hand, unrestricted purchases of assets would tend to prevent the return of (sufficient) money to the CB. In this paradigm, to ensure a sufficient return of money to the CB without placing arbitrary limits on income or wealth for people while collecting no money from any person or business to be returned to the CB before it can be used for purchases/investment, the interests of human beings are separated from those of businesses. The general idea is for money being returned to the CB to come from businesses — without impinging on earnings, compensation of employees, or a business’s investment in plant/equipment.
Again, for people any ‘excess’ money above the allowed limit can be converted to an asset of any kind. The only restriction people face is that selling assets is limited to other people; to be clear assets can still be purchased from any entity.
If assets could pass back and forth between individuals and businesses the effect could be to have an insufficient amount of money returned to the central bank. Instead, the money used in those exchanges would be passed back and forth via those exchanges indefinitely — in ever higher amounts over time.
In this paradigm there is no limit on investment in the business by any business: human capital (including pay and benefits to its employees), plant, and equipment. For all businesses the purchase of assets unrelated to the business is limited in amount (to, say, some multiple of the maximum cash it can hold). Further details are TBD for any nation. [Those other forms of investing could be limited to purchasing stocks and bonds (private and, if they exist anywhere in the world, public); allowing a business to purchase real estate as a form of investment separate from — immediately — adding to its plant contributes to driving the cost of real estate higher, to the detriment of all economic actors with a need for real estate, including all businesses in that position.]
It is perhaps appropriate to emphasize that this paradigm would not effectively diminish any business’s capacity to invest in its capacity to produce. (The absence of taxes of all kinds — at least temporarily — would in fact increase that capacity.) Having money collected to be returned to the central bank would not in any way affect a business’s revenue for the following quarter, or any quarter after that. The full revenue of the business would still be there — or at least would not be diminished because of a limit on hoarding money. In short, a limit on hoarding money in the form of earnings and the given restrictions on investment cannot harm a business’s ability to produce its good(s)/service(s) or grow or improve — or increase the remuneration of any of the people employed in it. (It can be noted that restricting investment by businesses can make more money available that could be spent to lessen any business’s deleterious environmental impacts.)
As previously noted, in this paradigm remuneration of employees cannot take the form of bonuses of any kind. Bonuses could circumvent limiting the accumulation of money in the economy, which would lead to economic incoherence. That and the restrictions concerning investment mean that PTCs are limited to (unlimited) regular pay and benefits to compensate any and all employees of those businesses.
Money in an account beyond the limit at the end of the relevant period is collected by individual banks to be returned to the CB. Banks can be allowed to lend — but only lend — the money they collect for the CB for one quarter, in which case an amount of money collected in the present quarter must be remitted to the CB at the end of the following quarter.
The returned money is currency comingled with money as credit. It will re-enter the economy as currency in funding government and the allotted income. Any shortfalls of money for those purposes are remedied by creating currency. If the amount of money returned to the CB is greater than current requirements for those purposes the excess is retained for future disbursements of currency.
The amount of money returned to the CB is wholly determined by the actions of individual entities within the economy. Combined with the way currency enters the economy, the money supply is self-regulating. Given the scope of the flow of currency into the economy, the economy as a whole is self-regulating.
A regular flow of money into the economy on a significant scale via incomes to individuals and funding for government provides stability in the production/acquisition of goods/services. With no unemployment at any level of GDP, price inflation (PI) is the only possible source of macroeconomic instability (and the only possible source of renewed poverty).
The greatest threat of PI comes in the transition period. To prevent it, the new minimum income must be gradually achieved to allow supply to adjust.
Once the proposed monetary paradigm is fully established, there are built-in protections against PI. The regular, steady operation of the economy is itself a defense against it.
The first formal line of defense against PI is the absolute limit on how much currency is flowing into the economy in a given period. No person, committee, or organization can change the amount of currency entering the economy.
Allowing for money to accumulate in accounts is another protection against PI. Money accumulating in accounts cannot contribute to inflation. Though the choice to either disburse ‘excess’ money or have it collected is an incentive immediate consumption, it is at the same time an incentive for investment and (for people) giving that would mute immediate consumption.
Another defense against PI is the sheer number of people being paid the (fixed) allotted income. That in itself helps to control prices, especially in more commonly consumed goods and services.
The CB would still have a macroeconomic role to play in the economy within its mandate to oversee the integrity of the banking system. It could take measures to stem PI — without generating unemployment or increasing poverty (short-term or not) in the process.
Finally, the historical tendency of a ‘capitalistic’ economy (i.e., a significant proportion of GDP is produced by businesses engaged in mass production of goods/services for sales in geographically extended markets) has been towards deflation, not PI. Since the Great Depression the fundamental task of CGs and CBs has been to offset that tendency without generating ‘excessive’ PI. In this proposed paradigm the exogenous supply of currency is unaffected by that tendency: GDP would be supported in the face of falling prices. Increasing the number of positions designated as minimum pay positions could offset for employers falling revenue resulting from falling prices (organically expanding the allotted income).
If employers do experience rising costs, additional positions can also be designated as minimum-pay positions to counteract that circumstance. Increases in benefits can offset reductions in pay, increasing an employee’s total compensation while still decreasing the employer’s total labor bill. (An example, using the U.S.: the annual compensation for a position is $90k in pay plus benefits costing the employer $10k. As a minimum-pay position the employee would receive the allotted income — say, 30k — plus benefits costing the employer, say, 85k — the new total cost for the employer, with total compensation now worth $115k.)
Other than the last of them, those safeguards are limited in their effects to domestically generated PI. Imported PI, coming from the global economy, particularly PI stemming from competition for raw materials and natural resources, especially those controlled by a single nation or a cartel, is another matter. No nation acting singly can prevent imported PI. The allotted income and the funding of government could be adjusted to account for imported PI without inducing a domestic inflationary spiral or impinging on the revenue of businesses.
In this paradigm there is no unemployment or poverty at any level of GDP. A CB’s mandate to maximize employment is superseded. Government is funded at the current per capita level of total government spending without taxes/public debt. Those contributions to the political imperative to maximize GDP no longer exist. Only stimulating GDP to increase total income as an end in itself still exists as part of that imperative. The means of accomplishing that end are diminished. To the extent that end is abandoned, sustainability is systemically increased.
This proposal can be implemented in any nation. It could be adopted by any group of nations, to include all nations (without compromising national sovereignty), sharing a common currency with a common Monetary Agency that would interface with CBs of the nations in the group. All nations sharing a common currency with a common Monetary Agency would solve the problem of PI at the global scale. To be clear, a group of nations could implement the paradigm with differing expanses of the allotted income.
Expanding the allotted income
The allotted income could be expanded to be paid to all employees of all businesses and government. (All people employed in not-for-profit organizations would still be paid out of the money collected by them.) If that were done the income would doubtlessly be increased in amount. The effects of an expansion of that income have already been noted; the ensuing explication of the paradigm hopefully makes clear the validity of those stated effects. Benefits accruing to different positions in differing, unlimited amounts could be retained as a form of compensation or not. Expanding the allotted income while doing away with benefits would maximize those effects. The only changes to the paradigm that would be necessary would be to strengthen the divide between the revenue of businesses and people. It can be noted that an expansion of the allotted income without individuated benefits would eliminate exploitation in the Marxist sense — still without limits on income/wealth or requiring people to act any particular way.
This paradigm is intended to illustrate the economic feasibility of using demographics to create a fully exogenous supply of currency. Still, anyone addressing any macroeconomic matter must acknowledge that normative issues cannot be avoided: all macroeconomic options, to include maintaining the status quo, have implications for material outcomes for people.
The outcomes enumerated above follow from the design of this paradigm. That design is therefore the locus of pertinent normative considerations. There are five specific elements of its design in which normative issues are present.
Two of those elements are choices internal to the paradigm. They can vary from nation to nation.
One of those choices is deciding on the criteria for eligibility for the allotted income. That is taken to be determined by national cultural norms.
The other such choice is deciding on an amount for the allotted income. Whatever its level, it does not involve tradeoffs; it does not impinge on the income or wealth of any other economic actors. It therefore is not normative in the way redistribution is. Still, choosing an amount for a minimum income is people determining the material well-being of other people.
[Within this paradigm that issue that would be resolved at the macroeconomic level if the allotted income were expanded beyond being a minimum income, as related above.]
The other normative elements are integral to the framework of this paradigm. They are related to the return of sufficient money to the CB. The impetus for them is economic, not moral. Still, they are normative because they are restrictions on the choices available to economic actors.
One of those is the restriction on bonuses of any kind as a form of remuneration for any employee of any business. The other two restrictions involve investment. To reiterate, no money is collected to be returned to the CB before it can be used for purchases/investment, so there is no limit on the amount of investment for people or businesses. As has been seen, however, there is one restriction concerning investment that affects people and businesses and there is one other restriction that applies only to businesses — and does include in it a limit on investment as purchases of assets unrelated to a business (such as stocks and bonds of other businesses) to serve as stores of value.
It can be noted that those normative elements entail the only necessary requirements concerning the laws, rules, and regulations governing participation in the private sector of the economy for any nation to implement this paradigm. That is to say, the production/acquisition of goods/services in the private sector could otherwise proceed as they do currently. It is specifically noteworthy that this paradigm does not impose any particular monetary commitments on any economic actors (other than the creation of currency by the CB); does not involve redistributing anything — though the distribution of incomes is changed, which (along with the restrictions regarding investments, though this is not their purpose) will inevitably affect the future distribution of wealth via markets for assets; does not impose any limit on income/wealth; and does not require people to act out of either altruism or self-interest, cooperation or competition.
[To be clear, all of that would apply as well to this paradigm with an expanded allotted income.]
Finally, it can be noted that this paradigm does not preclude seeking any other outcomes for a nation, normative or material, pertaining to the economy or not, via the political process. The paradigm does establish a stable baseline of outcomes related to the economy for a nation. Beyond those outcomes, all possibilities remain. One would be to expand the allotted income.
Within the standard national economic system a fully exogenous supply of money (as currency) determined by demographics is possible. It can be used to establish a guaranteed minimum income, an expanded allotted income paid to all employees of any business or government with differing benefits for different positions in the economy, or an expanded allotted income without individuated benefits — in all cases, via a single legislative Act. In all cases the paradigm can eliminate unemployment and poverty for adult citizens (independent of GDP) as well as using taxes/public debt to fund government. It does not impose in any case any particular monetary commitments on any economic actors (other than the creation of currency by the CB); does not involve redistributing anything — though the distribution of incomes is changed, which (along with the restrictions in investments, though this is not their purpose) will inevitably affect the future distribution of wealth via markets for assets; does not impose any limit on income/wealth; and does not require people to act out of either altruism or self-interest, cooperation or competition. In any case the standard national economic system becomes stably self-regulating and sustainability is systemically increased. It can be implemented at the national, international, or global scale. All further details, to include transitioning to the paradigm — in whatever form — are possible subjects for study, research, and discussion.