The main reason governments have not tried this approach, say the authors, is the widespread belief that it will trigger hyperinflation. But will it? In a Forbes article titled "Money Growth Does Not Cause Inflation!", John Harvey argues that the rule as taught in economics class is based on some invalid assumptions. The formula is:
MV = Py
When the velocity of money (V) and the quantity of goods sold (y) are constant, adding money (M) must drive up prices (P). But, says Harvey, V and y are not constant. The more money people have to spend (M), the more money that will change hands (V), and the more goods and services that will get sold (y). Only when V and y reach their limits -- only when demand is saturated and productivity is at full capacity -- will consumer prices be driven up. And they are nowhere near their limits yet.
The US output gap -- the difference between actual output (y) and potential output -- is currently estimated at about $1 trillion annually. That means the money supply could be increased by at least $1 trillion without driving up prices.
As for V, the relevant figure for the lower 80% (the target population of Blyth and Lonergan) is the velocity of M1 ---- coins, dollar bills, and checkbook money. Fully 76% of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck. When they get money, they spend it. They don't trade in the forms of investment called "near money" and "near, near money" that make up the bulk of M2 and M3.
The velocity of M1 in 2012 was 7 (down from a high of 10 in 2007). That means M1 changed hands seven times during 2012 -- from housewife to grocer to farmer, etc. Since each recipient owes taxes on this money, increasing M1 by one dollar increases the tax base by seven dollars.
Total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP in 2012 was 24.3%. Extrapolating from those figures, one dollar spent seven times over on goods and services could increase tax revenue to the government by 7 x 24.3% = $1.7. The government could actually get more back in taxes than it paid out! Even with some leakage in those figures, the entire dividend paid out by the Fed might be taxed back to the government, so that the money supply would not increase at all.
Assume a $1 trillion dividend issued in the form of debit cards that could be used only for goods and services. A back-of-the-envelope estimate is that if $1 trillion were shared by all US adults making under $35,000 annually, they could each get about $600 per month. If the total dividend were $2 trillion, they could get $1,200 per month. And in either case it could, at least in theory, all come back in taxes to the government without any net increase in the money supply.
There are also other ways to get money back into the Treasury so that there is no net increase in the money supply. They include closing tax loopholes, taxing the $21 trillion or more hidden in offshore tax havens, raising tax rates on the rich to levels like those seen in the boom years after World War II, and setting up a system of public banks that would return the interest on loans to the government. If bank credit were made a public utility, nearly $1 trillion could be returned annually to the Treasury just in bank profits and savings on interest on the federal debt. Interest collected by U.S. banks in 2011 was $507 billion (down from $725 billion in 2007), and total interest paid on the federal debt was $454 billion.
Thus there are many ways to return the money issued in a national dividend to the government. The same money could be spent and collected back year after year, without creating price inflation or hyperinflating the money supply.
Why It's the Job of the Fed
Why not just stimulate employment through the congressional funding of infrastructure projects, as politicians usually advocate? Blyth and Lonergan write:
The problem with these proposals is that infrastructure spending takes too long to revive an ailing economy. . . . Governments should . . . continue to invest in infrastructure and research, but when facing insufficient demand, they should tackle the spending problem quickly and directly.
Still, getting money into the pockets of the people sounds more like fiscal policy (the business of Congress) than monetary policy (the business of the Fed). But monetary policy means managing the money supply, and that is the point of a dividend. The antidote to deflation -- a shrinking supply of money -- is to add more. The Fed tried adding money to bank balance sheets through its quantitative easing program, but the result was simply to drive up the profits of the 1%. The alternative that hasn't yet been tried is to bypass the profit-siphoning 1% and get the money directly to the consumers who create consumer demand.
There is another reason for handing the job to the Fed. Congress has been eviscerated by a political system that keeps legislators in open battle, deadlocked in inaction. The Fed, however, is "independent." At least, it is independent of government. It marches to the drum of Wall Street, but it does not need to ask permission from voters or legislators before it acts. It is basically a dictatorship. The Fed did not ask permission before it advanced $85 billion to buy an 80% equity stake in an insurance company (AIG), or issued over $24 trillion in very-low-interest credit to bail out the banks, or issued trillions of dollars in those glorified "open market operations" called quantitative easing. As noted in an opinion piece in the Atlantic titled "How Dare the Fed Buy AIG":
It's probable that they don't actually have the legal right to do anything like this. Their authority is this: who's going to stop them? No one wants to take on responsibility for this mess themselves.