Book Review: “Let There Be Money” by Scott Santens
For years, I’ve taken a strong interest in the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI). In turn, I’ve followed Scott Santens — a vocal UBI supporter and news source — on X. Yet, it was only a few weeks ago that I realized he had a book out: Let There Be Money: Understanding Modern Monetary Theory and Basic Income. What’s more, on Amazon, a paperback copy of the book was only $5.95 compared to the $4.99 Kindle edition. Thus, I ordered one and had a chance to read through it in a single session.
Breaking from my normal format here, let me start with the negatives. First, calling this a “book” is a bit generous as the paperback comes in at 67 pages. Speaking of the paperback, it feels as though the formatting is a bit off, including a gutter that’s on the small side (meaning that you’ll need to spread the book a little extra to read everything) and a font color that seems light to me. Furthermore, there are certain words or phrases that are underlined and in a different text color, leading me to believe they were links. Actually, adding a ton of fuel to that theory is the fact that, on page 5, there’s even an instruction to “bookmark this” — and I don’t think they mean physically.
Sure enough, it looks as though all of this can be explained by this work’s origins. According to a post I found from Santens, the material was originally a long essay published online. However, he apparently felt that it better lent itself to another medium. I don’t happen to disagree (even if it does make for a short book), but I do wish that more care was taken in the conversion process. While I suspect that some of the links included are still active in the e-book version of Let There Be Money, that’s obviously not the case for the physical copy. Still, I do enjoy having a paperback copy at a cost only slightly higher than the Kindle, so I suppose I shouldn’t complain too much.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the book’s actual material. While Let There Be Money is about UBI, it’s also an explanation of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) — which Santens argues is necessary in order to implement a UBI. Thus, readers are treated to an extended metaphor about a “Magical Bathtub” that represents our economy, in which taxes act as a drain and government spending is the flowing water. Setting that visual aside, as Satens explains, the basic concept of MMT is that governments don’t spend tax money but, instead, the taxes are a means of removing money from circulation after governments have spent it. If my TL;DR confused you more than it helped, luckily Satens does a much better job of illustrating this concept than I do.
Making Santens’s argument more compelling is its setting in time. Penned in 2021, Let There Be Money of course references the financial aid provided to Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, lest you worry that Santens would simply ignore the inflation the economy has experienced since, he actually takes a closer look at it (at least up until the point in which he wrote the material), explains some of the reasons for it, and shares how some issues could be avoided in the future.
Later in the book, Santens also compares UBI to another three-letter initiative also popular in MMT circles: Federal Job Guarantee (or FJG). Although it’d be a mischaracterization to say that Santens is wholly against FJG, he does explain why UBI should be prioritized over such a plan. Additionally, he questions the way most people think about jobs and employment, even repeatedly mentioning the value of volunteering.
While Let There By Money is an optimistic and idealistic book on the whole, it does delve into reality as it comes both down to Earth and to an end. Concluding his essay, Santens acknowledges the current political climate and numerous challenges that prevent any of these big ideas from going into effect. Nevertheless, after reading, I was left dreaming about what could be and was taken with Santens’ overarching idea of looking at things through a different lens.
Overall, while Let There Be Money: Understanding Modern Monetary Theory and Basic Income may not have originally been meant as a book, I believe the material contained in this short read is worth your time. This isn’t to say that everyone will agree with it (plus I don’t claim to be a fact-checker or economist), but I’d say it presents some intriguing ideas and arguments. So, if the topics contained interest you, I’d pair Let There Be Money with Rutger Bregman’s Utopia for Realists and see what you think.