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  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "People can argue over what constitutes inflation ..."
    Are you saying that inflation can be something else than money debasement? I guess I thought Friedman's assertion that 'inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon' was definitive.

    "... is better than the things you are using."
    How are you defining 'better' here? I suppose it depends on what the definition of inflation is, as well. To be specific, what does a GDP deflator do 'better' than defined money, in terms of managing inflation?

    "... MMT, by introducing supply, is an improvement ..."
    I've asked you about this elsewhere.

    "... prefer to demand proof of concept ..."
    Yes, this is exactly it. These new ideas should be tested in small, sophisticated countries, where the damage can be contained if they don't work. Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Baltic nations, Ireland, all would work as test beds for new monetary ideas. To use the lynch pin of the world economy as a test bed is irresponsible.

    "... as if the world worked only in ways that can be empirically demonstrated. "
    It better work in ways that can be empirically demonstrated. That's the basis of physical reality, and last time I checked the economy still resided within those confines. Yes, people can make decisions, and that changes things at the human system level, but it doesn't change physical constraints. Every time I drop a ball above the surface of the planet while standing on the planet, it falls. Congress can pass laws, economists can come up with new economic theories, but that ball will still fall. And all those laws, and new theories, are still constrained by that fact.

    I think we agree at some level. There are better and worse ways to do things, better and worse being value judgements. First we agree on what better means, then we can agree whether a change leads to better outcomes. That's empirical demonstration.

    What I hear you, and MMT, saying is 'This *should* be better', not 'this *will* be better'. And you're willing to gamble the economic well being of 315 million people based on your confidence in your opinion.
    Dec 2 12:07 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "... but sometimes hamstring themselves by self-imposed limitations ..."

    Or creating more money than is justified by their economic output, a very common occurrence if we look at the developed nations on the planet today.

    "... controlled inflation, for which solvency is a necessary condition, is a necessary AND sufficient condition for sustainability and, therefore, inflation is the only constraint on monetary and fiscal policy ..."

    I agree with you as long as you, additionally, require that inflation be less than growth in economic output. For some definition of economic output, I prefer net rather than gross. If this requirement is not met, eventually inflation goes exponential. Simple application of limit theory. You mentioned this with your comment about Mrs. Lincoln, which was well done. :-)

    "... functional difference between MMT and its absence is the assumption regarding supply of goods and services. MMT assumes that supply is an important variable; ..."

    Can you elaborate on this? I didn't notice this when I was reading the MMT I've read. So I either didn't recognize it, or missed it.
    Dec 2 11:37 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "We really should have full employment blah blah, so let's create as many dollars as we need to fund the best employment programs we can design for our present needs, and when inflation is at the point of showing up, dial back on spending, maybe increase taxes, raise interest rates, use the tools that have worked before."

    I think we agree that we want an economy where anyone who wants to work has a job, and we are so productive and prosperous that even those who can't or won't work can be supported at a reasonable standard of living. I don't see how your plan accomplishes this. It isn't really a plan, it is more like something a politician would say on campaign, babies smiling, dogs wagging their tails, a chicken in every pot, motherhood, apple pie, etc.

    It needs a cost benefit analysis. How much money? How many people will be trained? What will they be trained to do? Will there be private employment available for them when they finish their training? Will the output of those private companies be globally competitive? Will taxes on the new employees and the companies pay for the program, or is it just a subsidized make work program?

    The only time a job training program like you are talking about worked in the US was the GI bill after the second world war. And conditions then were *completely* different than now, domestically and internationally.

    What the US is facing is the rise of global competition along with more costly energy. The only solution I see is a drop in the US standard of living till we become globally competitive again. That's what the Fed is currently doing with its policies, slowly lowering our standard of living. Is the US finished? No! It's still the pre-eminent nation on the planet, and there are many positive things going for it. But reality is reality, and we have to face it.

    You can denigrate opposition to malinvestment, but if we spend all the money you want to spend and it produces nothing, we're left with a huge bill and no way of paying it. I want more than vague hand waving, I want a detailed plan with a price tag, and some reasonable chance of success.
    Dec 2 11:18 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    After reading Lawrence's excellent descriptions of how the current banking system works, I realized that this post was incorrect due to my lack of understanding. However, a simple change to banking rules will ensure that the central bank is the only entity in the financial system that creates money. The change is that reserve requirements are removed for deposits but that all loans have to be 100% reserved after 30 days.

    What this does is allow the bank to make only the first loan. When the money it has created with that loan comes back to it, it has to hold that money until the loan is paid off. The 30 day requirement means that credit card loans are not required to be reserved unless the borrower carries a balance.

    Banks become almost like public utilities, boring and stable. And banks also have to become national to compete. If a small town bank makes a loan to someone to buy a car, and they buy the car in a nearby city where the small town bank doesn't have a presence, they don't get the money from the loan back and have to borrow to cover it. This puts them at such a competitive disadvantage, they won't be able to survive. For this price, we get an absolutely stable banking system, with the central bank the only creator of money. Worth it, for my money. :-)

    Once the Fed is the only creator of money, they can actually control the system for inflation, and yes, even sustainability.

    In the current system, they can control for inflation by managing to keep a ratio of money created to production constant. It could probably be done using ratio of money created to the current measure industrial production, but that would be inaccurate. Better than current methods, but not as good as it could be if they used a defined quantity of energy for a dollar, and determining the amount of energy used in producing net production. That ratio, if adhered to, would ensure no inflation. And by restricting the amount of money available to actual output, they would automatically ensure sustainability. No one, including government, could spend what they don't have.

    Anyhow, with that correction, the Lehman Brothers example works.
    Dec 2 10:55 AM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    " MMT recognizes inflation as the constraint on money creation. "

    But how do they determine inflation? I mean real inflation, money misaligned with the goods it represents. Prices can change because of supply, demand, technology, and inflation. So prices are a very imperfect measure of inflation. Ultimately, if money supply is related to goods, prices reflect reality. They are constrained from doing anything else.

    I assume you are referring to price increases as inflation. But take oil. Some of the increase in price is due to currency debasement, but some is due to supply constraints and has nothing to do with inflation. I would argue that because MMT doesn't tie money creation to actual production, they can't even measure inflation, let alone control based upon it.

    And do they really recognize inflation as a constraint? That seems to be in direct contradiction to their belief that asovereign can never default. Do they have any feedback mechanism in place reflecting that when debt crosses the threshold to printing to prevent default, there is going to be horrendous inflation from all the printing? That is, do they recognize
    potential inflation, in the sense of 'We're creating money that will be impossible to pay back without major inflation. We better not do that.' My take is that they are like the grasshopper, not the ant.

    " Mitchell says full employment. Other MMTers may recognize some other inflationary indicator. "
    But is there any theoretical or empirical justification for their beliefs? Or are they just advocating experiments with the economy to test their beliefs, their hunches, their gut feelings? 'I, too, can call monsters from the vasty deeps. The question is, do they answer when thou doth call?'
    And to extend Shakespeare's metaphor, is there any evidence that they have ever answered? Again, my take is no, there isn't.
    Dec 1 03:31 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "The point is not that they use the correct measure according to a preconceived idea, but that they choose according to a goal, one supported by a political consensus like economic growth, ..."

    Then it shouldn't be called a theory. That just lends it authenticity it doesn't have. Call it MME, for Modern Money Empiricism, or MMO, for Modern Money Observations.

    " If something works theories have to adjust. "
    We agree on this. I think we disagree on what 'works' means. :-) My opinion is that the last 20 years have demonstrated that what passes for current economic best practices doesn't work. It's very difficult when discussing a system as complex as an economy to determine if another course of action would have yielded a better result. Even defining what 'better' means can be controversial. So it is difficult to demonstrate that there was a better course of action. But that is what I'm arguing. I'm saying that the current economic system is flawed, flawed because the premises it is based on are flawed, and that there is a system that would have yielded superior results over the last 20 years. Is there any way to prove that? Of course not. And the establishment will take a lot of convincing, if it ever will be.

    "This gives a big advantage to economic theorists who are by inclination empiricists,"
    But theorists and empiricists are different things. Theorists are people who explain why things work based on an understanding of the underlying system, empiricists are people who observe what happens and derive rules of thumb to guide them. Rules of thumb are not theory. In fluid dynamics, there is a property called a Reynold's number that captures properties of fluid flowing in a pipe. When it is in the range from 2000 to 2500, flow transitions from laminar to turbulent. That is an empirical measure, not theory.

    I empirically observe that the economy cycles between booms and busts, the so-called business cycle. I'm not alone in this. Economists also observe this. But control theory, and an investigation of the system being controlled, allows me to see that the reasons these occur are not a mystery. They are because the design of the financial system, from a control standpoint, is flawed. They are controlling the wrong variable, and they aren't controlling it properly. I'm saying that if the financial system is altered in specific ways, booms and busts will not occur any more.

    And why do I care? Because I live in the system being so mismanaged by economists, in their ignorance. If what they were doing was 'working', I would be happy to let them go on their way.

    " They love the beauty of their ideas too much to risk changing them just because they don't describe anything very well."

    I've come to realize that my understanding of Austrian economics is incomplete, so I can't comment either way on how well this criticism applies to it. But I think it applies very well to current mainstream economic thought. It fails, and fails, and fails, and isn't questioned.

    Take 'Minsky moments', the end point of his observation that the longer the economy is stable, the more likely a disruption will occur. The point when the economy that is in a boom realizes it has run over the cliff.

    Minsky moments just don't occur in well designed control systems. If a commercial jet is maintained properly mechanically, it will never have a Minsky moment. It will fly and fly and fly, and the control system won't fail. Do I hear any economist questioning their assumptions because the economy has Minsky moments? Never. Their ideas of how the financial system works, and should work, are carved in stone. They recognize Minsky moments since they named them, but does that reflect in their actions? No.

    Thanks for your comments.
    Dec 1 02:19 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "Everyone wants to know how the bank could create money out of thin air."

    Or are you saying that if I put a deposit in a bank, there are no restrictions on what it does with my money, other than reserve ratio? I deposit $100 in a bank. The Fed tells the bank, you have to keep $10 on deposit as a reserve ratio, and you are responsible for the return of the money if it is called, but you can do whatever you like with the other $90. The bank can lend 10 times that $90, or 100 times, and as long as they can cover it via borrowing, and the payments keep flowing, it is perfect legit?

    Of course that is money creation, since the money they lend comes back to them, as I argued elsewhere.

    Thanks for taking the time for your explanations.

    There seems to be something wrong with posting, so this might end up in the wrong place.
    Dec 1 01:35 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    Thanks, it's been a long time since I read any Austrian texts, I'll have to take another look.
    Dec 1 12:48 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    Thanks for your explanation. However, let's expand your example. Suppose the borrower takes his money out immediately as cash. This is the worst case scenario for a fractional reserve bank, since it has to cover the withdrawal immediately with real resources. He then goes into the community and spends his money at businesses there. What do those businesses then do? They deposit the money in a bank! Imagine that this occurs across the whole community, at every bank. And let's say that the bank of the original borrower had 15% of the banking market, and thus likely 15% of the loans, in this community. We could run a markov model to confirm, but reasoning tells us that 15% of all the loans made are going to come back to our original bank as deposits. Or, in other words, all our loans that were created with the stroke of a key are now legitimate money, deposits by individuals. We can pay back $80 of the temporary loan we took to pretend that we had the money to make the original loan, and collect our interest on the $100. We keep $10 as reserves on the original $100, and $10 as reserves on the new $100 in deposits that were created by that loan. Or we can continue to carry the entire temporary loan and lend out 10 times the amount of the new deposits, deposits that we actually created, if indirectly. Sweet!

    By the by, this seems to illustrate a possible way for a population to bring a fractional reserve banking system to its knees. Withdraw all deposits as cash and sit on them. The banking system freezes up. Difficult to carry off, but not impossible, especially in these days of social media. This is probably the main reason that the Federal Reserve encourages transactions with money through theft of value, rather than your argument that society deems it correct. Actually, the reason I've read for inflation is that the Fed is so poor at controlling the system they need the slop to correct for their inadequacy.

    Incidentally, nothing you've said here implies that fractional reserve banking is necessary, or even beneficial. We know what happened to our fractional reserve banking system when Lehman Brothers went under. What would have happened in a fully reserved banking system, even under the current unlimited debt based money system? Minor crisis.. Basically nothing. Business as usual. The institutions that Lehman owed money to would have taken a hit, but there would have been no systemic crisis, since all debt in the system is fully backed. No need to borrow to cover runs, no crisis. In fact, if there even is an interbank market in a fully reserved system, it will be *much* smaller. Remember, in my fully reserved system, banks create no money. All money is created by the central bank. If it doesn't have reserves to cover a loan, the bank borrows the entire amount from the central bank.
    Dec 1 12:44 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    "If the government does it, though, to provide for the needs of an expanding economy, or to lift the economy out of a slump, it's not stealing."

    I don't know you, so I can't know if this accurately represents you, but if it does I hope I never live under a government run by you, where the rights of individuals are so blithely trampled in the name of the greater good. Anyhow, the point I was making is that there is no need for the fed to counterfeit if they know what they are doing. The booms and busts that economists point to as the business cycle, and the Minsky moments they sagely toss around, are just the evidence that the financial system is unstable because of bad design. Fix that, and there is no need for fed counterfeiting. In fact, such counterfeiting is counter-productive because of the biases it introduces into the economy.

    " Anyway, some things are illegal because they are done by someone not authorized to do it"

    I agree with you that some things are illegal only because someone in government doesn't like them. Say, smoking marijuana or taking a hit of LSD. But I think you missed my point. I was arguing that under the premises of MMT, there is no reason for counterfeiting to be a crime.
    Yet, if you asked a believer in MMT, they would probably respond as you and I, that it should be illegal. But if there is no economic harm caused by counterfeiting under their assumptions, why do they believe that? It's hitting the weak point of MMT, that they have no means of arriving at the correct amount of money to produce to keep the economy stable. Well, other than judgement. Which amounts to saying, "I make it up as I go along." Or, more pedantically, "Our money creation policy is determined by inchoate gut feelings backed by pseudo scientific rationalizations."
    Nov 30 12:48 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    Hmmm. My understanding of the process is different than yours. I've read what I say below in several places, yet it seems to differ fundamentally.

    Someone comes into the bank asking for a loan of $100. The bank credits their account with $100 and puts a credit on their books for the amount of the loan. They then borrow, from the Fed or interbank, $10 and put it on the debit side of their books as $100, balancing their books. They are then fully reserved. They charge interest on $100 and pay interest on $10.

    The bank thus creates $90 of new money with a loan of $100. I would call your description a fully reserved loan, and not fractional reserve banking.

    Of course, if they have a run on deposits, they have to borrow from the Fed or interbank to fund the withdrawals because they don't really have the money (at least until the loan is paid off). This is what I referred to as the 'cheating' in the system, because they are pretending they have money they don't. And during a crisis this bites them when liquidity dries up while people are trying to withdraw their money
    Nov 30 12:19 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    We will have to disagree. When I read the Austrians, I find much I agree with. However, their insistence on gold is a deal breaker for me. It implies that gold is mined in just the right amounts to represent the production of the economy. Year after year! That seemed to work reasonably well until the industrial revolution really kicked into gear. Then, to use gold as a currency requires massive deflation as the amount of output represented by a unit of gold sky-rockets.

    My opinion is that they were trying to use gold as a surrogate for energy investment as I described above, but didn't have the background in the physical sciences to understand that. That is, a unit of gold is a defined amount of energy, the amount that went into the process that created it. It can't be counterfeited, it always represents that, with some quibbles about source, etc. The weakness of gold as money is not that it is hard, it is that it is tangible and thus wastes resources in its creation, resources that are better spent on other things. And that there isn't enough of it.
    Nov 30 12:00 PM | Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • The Gravity Of The European Situation [View article]
    Let's see.

    Suppose I'm a German worker. I work really hard, and produce lots of valuable output. Unfortunately, there isn't anyone who can afford my output in the European periphery, because they don't have jobs. So, I tax myself heavily (printing money is just another form of tax), and give the money to my disadvantaged brethren in the periphery, so they can purchase my output.

    Hmmm. I think if I really was a German worker, I would question that model.

    In the end, it all comes down to how willing the producers are to share their production with those who consume. Of course, it is a given that it only works if production in total is more than consumption in total. My recollection is that there are no countries in the Euro zone that aren't growing their deficits. So, at least currently, production in total is less than consumption in total. Which is what precipitated the crisis.

    I think what we see in Europe is a temporary reprieve via the threat of money printing. They have a window to get their production and consumption aligned. If they don't, bad things will happen. i.e. what if, to use your 'who cares if it takes 10 years to pay back?' , they can never pay it back?

    But maybe you're right. Differences of opinion are what makes markets, after all.
    Nov 29 01:02 PM | 5 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • What Does It Mean For Fiscal Policy To Be 'Sustainable'? MMT And Other Perspectives [View article]
    Let me start with a question that MMT, and by implication mainstream economic thought, can't answer. Why is counterfeiting a crime? If, as MMT maintains, a sovereign can never default because it can create as many dollars as it wants, and the last dollar created has the same value as the first dollar created, why does it matter who creates the dollars?

    I'll now answer this, and the sustainability question also, since they are related.

    FIrst, what is wealth? Wealth is capital, whether it is physical capital such as ports and roads and factories, or institutional or organizational capital, such as rule of law, or experience and training capital, such as tradesmen or professionals. What all forms of capital have in common is that they represent order, and thus negative entropy, or energy given form.

    Suppose you own a gas to liquids plant. It takes in methane as feedstock, and yields long chain hydrocarbons as output. Let's say that it is 30% efficient, so that 70% of the input goes up the stack as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and heat. At the end of every month, what do you count as product? Only the long chain hydrocarbons.

    Suppose instead you have an economy, very like the US economy. It takes in multiple inputs, and yields multiple outputs. Let's say that it is 30% efficient, and that 70% of the inputs are consumed during production. At the end of every month, what do you count as product? Only the net output, right? Wait, no! In economics, they count the waste that went up the stack as product, too, and they call it GDP. And how much money do they create to represent that GDP? While the internal transactions that correspond to waste are important to the people engaging in those transactions, they have no relevance for monetary theory. They are evanescent, and money is used only as a unit of exchange, and there is no lasting value. With current economic orthodoxy, the fed can only guess how much money to create, and manage the process only indirectly, because of how they understand the system.

    Any rational economic system would understand that the amount of money created is a function of the amount of net production. If the net production required 300 MJoules, and a dollar is defined as 1 MJoule, then there was 300 dollars worth of production.

    And this is why counterfeiting is illegal. If I produce an additional 100 dollars privately to represent that same 300 MJoules of output, I am effectively stealing from everyone else.

    It also explains why debt based money is stupid, an unnecessary complexity and cost. The output exists, the dollars represent that output, and therefore the dollars should exist. There is no need to pay interest, or lend to create them. They are just a marker for the existing capital, and should be created and destroyed with the capital they represent.

    Which brings us to the sustainability question. From this perspective it is very straight forward to answer it. To talk about only fiscal sustainability is a red herring, irrelevant. What matters is that we don't consume more than we produce. Take the US as our system. If the amount of capital consumed is less than or equal to the amount of capital produced, the system is sustainable. Capital consumed, though, also has to include all the human capital with its experience and training that retires or dies, the infrastructure that is worn out, the equipment that wears out or becomes obsolete, etc.

    How should the government get the money it requires to provide the services it provides? The central bank just gives it the money. The numbers I've seen show the federal ratio stable at around 20% of GDP, or about 2/3 of net production. The income tax system disappears. If congress wants to do social engineering, they have to allocate spending directly in the budget. Here is an example. During the health care bill debate, there was a lot of controversy over the individual mandate. The amount it raises is around $30 billion a year. But there is a direct tax writeoff to corporations for health care that amounts to over $160 billion dollars a year. So if you're a minimum wage worker and you pay any income tax, you are subsidizing health care for affluent workers at Fortune 500 corporations. How long do you think that would last if congress had to allocate dollars directly in the budget to make payments to corporations for health care?

    Does this give government carte blanche to spend limitlessly? No, of course not. Only the net production of the economy is available for spending at all, and if all of that is consumed by government, then there is no innovation, no maintenance, no productivity increases to provide for future consumption.

    Your question really highlights the dysfunction of our current monetary system. The financial system should answer this question as a matter of course, explicitly, and by design. Why does a democratic country have a financial system in place that was designed for cheating? Is it a coincidence that the financial sector has grown to be such a large part of the economy under such a system? Given the number of really smart people in economics, how can they not have seen this? Of course, no economist is going to get ahead by questioning orthodoxy. They aren't going to get tenure, they aren't going to become chairman of the economics department, and they aren't going to become chairman of the federal reserve. But still, they are a lot of smart people, how could they miss something so obvious?

    One conclusion I've come to is that no economist of influence has ever understood thermodynamics. If they had, economics theory wouldn't be so confused about money and its nature. Another is that no economist of influence has ever had even a nodding understanding of control theory. No one who did would tolerate a monetary / financial system such as we have, a system guaranteed to be unstable by its very design.

    Even if economists weren't willing to move to a more rational system immediately, they could implement changes that would allow this question of sustainability to be addressed with more clarity.

    First, eliminate fractional reserve banking. If a bank can borrow/create money from the fed at 3%, and lend out 10 times as much, their effective rate is .3%. Just have them borrow directly/create at .3% with full reserves. What is gained? The fed has a handle on the actual amount of money that exists.

    Second, do discrete models of the economy. Given current computing power, it is possible to model every human being on earth, every business on earth, including subsystem farmers and hunter gatherers. Input policy decisions, input weather events, input catastrophes. Such a model gives a reasonable estimate of the actual net production of the economy on a monthly or even daily basis.

    Use these two to create a relationship between net production and money created. We can then know in real time if we are sustainable or not. And there is no need for inflation, or managing interest rates. The economy will automatically adjust through market mechanisms as long as the money - production relationship is kept constant.

    What I see instead of this is economists putting huge effort into maintaining a false perception of reality, a false perception that causes harm through the incorrect outputs it yields. Ptolemy would be proud.
    Nov 29 10:46 AM | 3 Likes Like |Link to Comment
  • The Chinese Steel Plunge Is Resuming And Steepening [View article]
    "... population has not declined, so demand for resources isn't gonna abruptly crash while population figures grow exponentially. More people = more resources ..."

    population != demand,
    population + income == demand

    Population growth is irrelevant if that population hasn't got the income to live beyond the subsistence level, which is where almost all the population growth is. Do they want to consume? Yep. Do they have the means to do so? Nope.

    And if existing population with the means to pay has consumed all the resource they want for the time being? Hmmm, no demand growth there either.

    I do subscribe to the thesis that in the long term the developing world will aspire to developed status, and they will have to consume resources to get there. But it isn't as straight-forward as 'I want, I get'. There's the little matter of 'I pay' in the middle.
    Nov 28 11:38 AM | 1 Like Like |Link to Comment