Finding the Money movie poster

Finding the Money: A Review

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On a sunny day in late October, I had the opportunity to attend the 2023 Boston Globe Documentary Film Festival screening of the film Finding the Money, directed by Maren Poitras. It discusses how the Federal government can finance ambitious programs such as Medicare 4 All, free college education, and the Green New Deal. Dr. Stephanie Kelton takes center stage in this narrative. She previously served as the lead economist on Senator Bernie Sanders’ Budget Committee and played a key role in both of his presidential campaigns. 

The film unfolds with a central theme; the notion that funding these policies and more is within our grasp. It explores the foundation of this perspective, rooted in a change in basic assumptions about macroeconomics through a set of observations, known as “Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).” The documentary meticulously introduces the audience to the theory, with a simple explanation of how money works. Later, the film introduces us to the beginning of MMT in the 1980s and the realization that macroeconomics had been misunderstood.  

Unfortunately, the film falls short of explicitly defining the term Modern Monetary Theory. As a decade-long supporter of MMT, I’ve found that misinterpretations of the name often lead people to make incorrect assumptions. 

 “Modern” does not refer to this century. In fact, MMT considers the inception of money to coincide with the dawn of civilization, or close. The film provides an insightful exploration of early money forms to establish a solid foundation for its subsequent discussions. 

  “Monetary” in MMT pertains to economic policy, encompassing macroeconomics applicable to all economic systems, including but not limited to capitalism and socialism. MMT, unlike conventional approaches, incorporates fiscal policy, adding spending and taxation to the policy toolkit. The term “Theory” in MMT denotes academic rigor, signifying proven ideas rather than a speculative concept. Furthermore, MMT is portrayed not as a prescription but as a diagnostic tool or lens for policymakers. 

 The documentary unfolds like a jigsaw puzzle, with Professor Kelton introducing key pieces into brief segments, preceding presentations to diverse audiences. The film maintains a delicate balance by incorporating graphics and visual aids and short informative snippets from many of the leading MMT economists expanding on Prof. Kelton’s introduction, illustrating money flows and concepts without overwhelming the audience. Notably, the director and editors ensure a consistent and engaging presentation, allowing time for comprehension.  

 Departing from the standard format, the film introduces a section on Warren Mosler, a key founder of MMT. These sections help challenge preconceived ideas, as Dr. Kelton shares her journey from doubting Mosler’s observations to confirming their accuracy in her Ph.D. thesis. As we examine MMT in more detail, many prominent economists and political advisors are asked their thoughts on why they don’t subscribe to MMT. Their responses will both entertain and surprise you. 

As the documentary progresses, it reveals a key revelation; finding money is not a hindrance. Crucial sections shed light on finding resources (raw materials, land, transportation, and people with appropriate skills) as the constraint on where money is spent rather than finding money for policy implementation. Finally, to close the loop of finding money, the film dedicates attention to taxation, exploring its purpose, post-payment process, and the factors influencing currency value.  

I encourage skeptics, irrespective of their place on the ideological spectrum, to watch the film. I say this not as an MMT advocate, but as someone initially drawn to MMT by my cynicism. Finding the Money will challenge your preconceptions about the government’s ability to fund and provide healthcare, education, and decent jobs for all.  

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