Both make people’s lives unintentionally difficult and complicated by having changed the system in the 1970s but continuing to insist on following the same old rules.
In 1970, Myanmar General Me Win changed the direction of traffic in the country (literally overnight) from left to right. Such a sudden decision would have been a precarious change even in the best of circumstances, but in the case of Myanmar which, having been a British colony, traffic had been on the left with a right-hand drive steering wheel, it was truly extraordinary given that all the cars continued to be with a right-hand steering wheel!
In 1971, US President Richard Nixon ended the gold standard which had been at the core of most of the world’s monetary systems for centuries. The world truly went on fiat money. That would have been a difficult task in the best of circumstances given the previous history of fiat money. In the case of US, and most other countries, it became an impossible one given that no attempt was made to upgrade the monetary system to the new reality of fiat money.
Every country we have visited so far on our journey is unique on its own, but no country in the world is so truly unique as Myanmar when it comes to driving on the road. We spent almost a month in Myanmar and honestly it took me some time to realize that we were driving on the right side of the road but also the driver is sitting on the right side of the car! Can you imagine how hard and crazy this is? I actually can, having lived in London for two decades and frequently driven to Europe. But even that is not a good comparison as I would generally drive on well-kept highways in Europe, while in Myanmar there are no real highways, all roads are single lane and quite bad by European standards. Try overtaking under these conditions in Myanmar: when the steering wheels of cars didn’t change, people were left with relying on honks and passenger guidance when merging into a lane.
Something similar happened with our monetary system: in 1971 we finally, and for good, threw off the gold shackles but we did not change the gold standard accounting (CB reserves vs. government bonds) and continued to impose imaginary limits on government finances and money supply in general. This is as backward, inconvenient and dangerous as a right-hand drive on the right side of the road.
I started paying attention to this monetary inconsistency only after GFC’08 when it became obvious that there is something ‘not right’ with our money supply: the way the Fed was conducting QE, the way inflation did not budge, and the way no one batted an eyelid when the $700bn financial rescue plan was announced. Then I discovered Mosler, Wray and the rest of the original MMT crew. Finally, I brushed up on financial history going well beyond the Great Depression, when ‘MMT’ was last popular, to Knapp and even beyond (“Debt: the first 5,000 years”). But what convinced me most that our monetary transmission mechanism is far from optimal (just like in Myanmar, I had to spend some time on its roads to even notice the peculiarity) was that I was intimately involved in the plumbing of the financial system by trading and having exposure in the short end of the money markets, especially in the years following GFC’08.
What is extraordinary for me in both cases is that people don’t seem to be bothered and despite the obvious difficulties prefer to just get on with the existing status quo. Speaking to locals in Myanmar, there is neither appetite to change back to the previous driving system, nor to start importing left-hand driving wheel cars (even though some people have mentioned a draft law that would have a cut-off point after which only left-hand drive wheel cars would be allowed to be imported). In the case of gold-standard-monetary-system-not-fitted-to-a-fiat-world, the people in power (central bankers, prominent economists) have ridiculed any attempts to think of possible improvements.