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(Check out  Chris Reed’s movie review of Finding the Money. The film is in theaters and on VOD now. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

What makes the world tick? Is it something divine, such as God or perhaps just manna from heaven? Based on the lives we endure in this late-stage capitalist environment, the economy seems like a strong driver of everyday experiences. And at the heart of that is money. But where does money come from?

In her directorial debut, Finding the Money, filmmaker Maren Poitras provides the answer to the question you perhaps have never asked, so engrained in our society is the notion of currency. More importantly, she explores the very nature of the global marketplace, training her lens on a group of economists who believe in Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT. Foremost among them is Stephanie Kelton, a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. But she is not alone.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” So speaks Kelton of her detractors. We appear to be at the start of the third stage. Don your battle gear. The stakes are high.

What Kelton and others here—such as fellow economists Mathew Fortstater, Fadhel Kaboub, Pavlina Tcherneva, L. Randall Wray, and Lua K. Yuille—believe is that we need a major paradigm shift. According to them, everything we have ever thought about government budgets and the deficit is dead wrong. There is nothing scary about the national debt. Stop using that as an excuse to avoid ambitious spending programs (such as the Green New Deal) and let’s get down to the business of improving our planet.

If the above gives you pause, you are not alone. Fortunately, Poitras and Kelton break it all down in clear, easy-to-understand sections. You may, like many members of the economic establishment right now, walk away thinking the MMT folks are idiots (then again, if Larry Summers dismisses you, then that, to me, is an actual endorsement), but you will do so having heard a cogent set of explanatory arguments. I admit to some surprise at the notion that macroeconomics can prove so gripping. In this film, it certainly is

So, down to the nitty-gritty: MMT provides a new framework to describe how economic systems actually work. As its adherents say, it’s less theory and more simple explanation. And what it boils down to is that currency issuers (aka, governments) are supposed to hold deficits vis-à-vis the rest of us. It’s baked into who they are. The supplying of money, in and of itself, creates an IOU that is necessary for the economy to work. Taxation was created as a way to justify the use of money, not to earn it for the powers that be. Besides, what really matters is resources. That, and managing inflation (these folks are not fantasists, after all).

There’s no way to do full justice to each facet of MMT in a short review, but the documentary finds a way to make a potentially abstract subject beautifully (and cinematically) concrete. Peppy music, well-designed graphics, and the winning personalities of Kelton and company make for a highly engaging 95 minutes. Embrace a new way of thinking, learn where that dollar bill in your pocket (or in your online bank) came from, and focus on the future. Let’s change the universe, one budget at a time.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

Giant Pictures; Maren Poitras; Finding the Money documentary movie review

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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