A number of leading progressive US politicians advocate using the Federal Reserve's balance sheet to fund expansive new government programs. Although their arguments have a grain of truth, they also rest on some fundamental misconceptions, and could have unpredictable and potentially serious consequences.

CAMBRIDGE – Just as the US Federal Reserve seems to have beaten back blistering tweets from President Donald Trump, the next battle for central-bank independence is already unfolding. And this one could potentially destabilize the entire global financial system.

A number of leading US progressives, who may well be in power after the 2020 elections, advocate using the Fed’s balance sheet as a cash cow to fund expansive new social programs, especially in view of current low inflation and interest rates. Prominent supporters of this idea, which is often referred to as “Modern Monetary Theory” (or MMT), include one of the Democratic Party’s brightest new stars, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Although their arguments have a grain of truth, they also rest on some fundamental misconceptions.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell could barely contain himself when asked to comment on this new progressive dogma. “The idea that deficits don’t matter for countries that can borrow in their own currency I think is just wrong,” Powell insisted in US Senate testimony last month. He added that US debt is already very high relative to GDP and, worse still, is rising significantly faster than it should.

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