It isn’t just a theory. We’re in one. Have been since ’07.
From a comment I made over at NC, but here on my own blog I can provide links, which improve the explanation somewhat:
Personally, I think the liquidity trap is a real thing and that we’ve been in one since the subprime problems in ’07. And you could see it coming before that, too.
Keynes and MMT are the ones who fundamentally misunderstand the government’s relation to money. The proper role of government wrt to money is to define a monetary unit of account and adminstrate it through bureaus of weights and measures.
The liquidity trap occurs when all that has been disregarded, the unit of account becomes fiat, and the bulk of a nation’s money is created through lending to individuals and businesses. Without a reference point at the bottom of it all, new money issuance is deemed satisfactory so long as loans are being repaid on schedule. In fact this is the only criterion for monetary balance in such a monetary system. When that changes, and loans are no longer being repaid on schedule, lending constricts, and it cannot be otherwise. It doesn’t matter how much liquidity you supply to lenders, they can’t make loans because the borrowing capacity of the populace has dried up. They are debt saturated.
The only answer for this that Keynsians have come up with is for the government to act as borrower of last resort. But in that case government deficits explode and you wind up with Greece and the EU. With the UK and US not far behind.
In the system that we have, the fact that new money is loaned into existence is not discretionary. There is no other option. Thus if lending isn’t possible, no new money is possible either, and the money supply will stagnate or contract, which of course makes the repayment of existing outstanding loans more and more difficult.
This is why the “helicopter drop” remarks are intended to be funny. New money cannot be distributed that way. All newly created money must be owed back into the system; that is, someone must borrow it into existence and owe it back. It is the only way in a fiat system to regulate money issuance.
The subprime “crisis” signaled that the lending saturation point had been reached in the US. Since the country had largely run out of qualified borrowers, loans were made to UNqualified borrowers. There is no one to blame for this except the people who instituted the monetary system in the first place, and they’re all long since dead. The system will always wind up in this spot after a few generations.
The WaPo article discusses the common MMT inspired idea that taxes are the method for managing the government deficits that occur as the government becomes the borrower of last resort in a liquidity trap, which is just what is happening now. The idea being that the government takes back more and more of the new money that has been issued to ameliorate the deficit issue.
This is a frighteningly stupid assertion. It seems to contemplate a monetary circle jerk where new money is created through a loan to the government, paid out to whomever as salary or pursuant to a contract, and then the recipient is heavily taxed so as to get most of the money back. At that point, the monetary system is not reflecting or facilitating or serving the real economy, rather it’s the reverse: the real economy is serving the monetary system. To say that this is pointless and perverse is an understatement.
No theory of money and credit is worth a largely hungry and homeless populace, yet this is what is happening all over the globe: the theory is more precious than reality to those who get to make the decisions. We have government by so-called “technocrats” who are devoted to an idea rather than their subjects. And the idea itself is ridiculous.
The answer to all this is redeemable money that can exist and be newly issued apart from being loaned. But to get there from where we are will require a jubilee, because all the debt that has piled up cannot be paid back.
And it will take a constitutional amendment.
But this is a good thing. People need to recover their sense of self-government.
Update: With apologies to my British friends (see comments below) whose exchanges have really classed up the joint, if you know what I mean, I’m going to blame any confusion over what is meant by the term “liquidity trap” on Paul Krugman, like this guy does. And I’ll cite this guy, too.
And I do like the Queen.