Reclaiming The Brexit with Bill Mitchell
In April of 2018, Jacobin Magazine published “Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit1,” which made the case for this radical break from neoliberalism. To gain perspective on Labour’s trouncing in the recent elections, we called upon our friend, Bill Mitchell, one of the co-authors.
Bill has been writing and speaking about the UK’s entry into the Eurozone since the 1990s2. As an outside economist, his warnings about the dangers of ceding fiscal control fell upon deaf ears. He addressed these issues in two books, Reclaiming the State — co-authored with Thomas Fazi — and Eurozone Dystopia. He recalls that as a young academic he was puzzled by the fact that social democratic political parties in the UK, Europe, and the US were supporting anti-labor policies and enabling the advance of the neoliberal agenda.
Reclaiming the State traces the turning points — those historical moments in the 1970s and 90s when Labour adopted monetarism, threw their support behind austerity politics and became apologists for globalization. Western governments were no longer mediators between workers and capital. The ruling elites created alternate media and think tanks while revamping the legislative structure. They reshaped the state in their own image, reflecting and serving their own needs — and in the process the people lost the gains made in previous decades.
In order to understand the recent UK elections and the significant role played by Brexit, it’s necessary to look back at the post-World War 2 era of nation-building and economic growth, the gains that were made by working people, and the point at which capital had had enough.
Compared to the US, the UK maintained a fairly robust social safety network in spite of the capitulation by “New Labour” in the 1990s. When it comes to the question of British membership in the European Union, both Labour and the Tories have been conflicted. Ultimately, accession into the EU was pushed through as a consequence of the rising concepts of globalization and monetarism.
After the great financial crisis, the hollowing out of the state proceeded apace in the UK. The Tories inflicted harsh austerity by de-funding local governments, thus shutting down the most basic services that people relied upon.
Traditional Labour constituencies in the mining and industrial regions in the North and the Midlands were hard hit by the free trade treaties, deregulation, and the destruction of the manufacturing sector. Meanwhile, the increased financialization of the economy had turned London into a huge international hub which benefited the urban residents who enjoyed access to freedom of travel and relatively high paying jobs.
If you’ve forgotten the history of the Brexit vote, Bill sums it up for us here. Both British parties underestimated the seething discontent brought about by membership in the European Union, but the divide within Labour turned out to be fatal.
In the latter portion of the episode, Steve and Bill bring it around to the US presidential race, comparing the treatment of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders — not only by the mainstream media but by their own political parties. They speculate on Sanders’ chances for success and talk through potential strategies for future action. Are there lessons to be learned from what we’re seeing in the UK?
Bill Mitchell is Professor of Economics at University of Newcastle, Melbourne, Australia, and creator of the first blog devoted to MMT. He is the co-author of Macroeconomics and Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World, and author of Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale.
Entzun Bill Mitchell-ek esaten duena atxikitako podcast-ean.
Macro N Cheese – Episode 48
Reclaiming The Brexit with Bill Mitchell
December 28, 2019
Bill Mitchell [intro/music] (00:00:03):
They just didn’t understand that by reneging on the guarantee to support to leave, the radical left that there would refereeing there would be electoral consequence and that’s what we saw last Thursday. If you and I and millions of others, independently, stopped buying product “I”, nobody can be targeted because I don’t know who, you know, I mean, I do know what we buy for the electronic systems, but I can’t turn around and say, well, you’ve got to buy this mate.
I have said is that this campaign is not just about electing a president. It is about making a political revolution. Taking money from our children and borrowing from China. Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it. And if not, I’ll get rid of it.
Geoff Ginter [intro/music] (00:00:34):
Now let’s see if we can avoid the apocalypse altogether. Here’s another episode of Macro N Cheese with your host, Steve Grumbine.
Steve Grumbine (00:01:32):
All right, and this is Steve with Macro N Cheese. I have Bill Mitchell. Bill Mitchell has come onto the show many times with me, and it’s always a pleasure. Bill is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, and he is one of the founding developers of the school of thought that is known as Modern Modern Theory.
Bill wrote a book, or co-authored, a book with Tom Fazi, called “Reclaiming the State.” The book “Reclaiming the State,” first of all, this came out over a year ago, and it was an incredible book, I highly recommend it, but it has taken on even more meaning, given the most recent electoral fiasco in the UK, as Boris and the Tories, just completely bum-rushed labor and it looks like the UK is staring down the barrel of six years of austerity.
With that, let me bring on my guest Bill Mitchell. Welcome to the show, sir.
Bill Mitchell (00:02:36):
Thanks Steve. Thanks for having me.
Steve Grumbine (00:02:39):
How in the world, I mean, you would think after all the time that people have invested in trying to explain the interactions, not only within the European Union and the Eurozone, but that understanding the complaints that led to a Brexit, massive majority, that there would have been more than just the surface level critique of xenophobia and bigotry, that there may have been a deeper story at play here.
Your book “Reclaiming the State,” as I said in the intro is just absolutely visionary when you look at this. Can you explain to us the thinking behind your book, “Reclaiming the State,” and then kind of help guide us into the current events that just happened?
Bill Mitchell (00:03:29):
Yeah, by the way, it’s five year electoral terms in Britain rather than six, but small point. In 2015, I wrote a book on the Eurozone, and for many years I’ve been going right back to the early 1990s, when the Maastricht process was going on to define and then ratify the Treaty of Maastricht, which really set in train the processes to set up the common currency.
I was involved in early discussions in the 1990s in Europe about that. As a young academic, I was really puzzled by how it came to pass that social democratic parties, you call them the Democrats in the US, we call them the Labor Party, here and in Britain, for example, and then there are various other names, socialists, SPD, whatever, had these parties who were meant to be representing the progressive side of the worker’s struggle within capitalism, could possibly agree to terms that set in place, but not only in place in the legal structure of the common currency, the Eurozone, set in place the repressive characteristics of neoliberalism.
So in 2015, the culmination of that research came, I published a book called “Eurozone Dystopia,” and that was my 500-odd page journey through how this had occurred. Now, it became apparent to me that we needed to explore further the role in which the progressive side of politics, and that’s not just the politicians, that’s all the apparatchiks and the academics and all the rest of it, by now, social media, et cetera, had somehow justified this position that all we need to do is reform the EU, and remember that the Eurozone is just the most advanced expression of the neoliberalism that is embedded in the treaties that established the European Union.
And so I got to talking with Thomas Fazi, who I’d met, he’s an Italian journalist. He had actually invited me to a major conference in Florence where these issues were discussed, and he was representative of a press body that was setting up this workshop that I was invited to. Tom and I got talking and he was puzzled by it all, too.
At that stage, he was what we call pro-Europe. He thought that he was a reformer rather than a dissolver. I’m a get rid of it all. And we set about trying to track through history, the turning points where the left, the social democratic movements became neoliberal. What happened? How come these meant to be progressive forces for the working class, and historically that has been men in blue collar manual type jobs and women in rather menial, by which I mean low pay and looked down upon service sector jobs like cleaning, et cetera, which by the way is the most important job there is because it stops us from getting the worst of the infections; but we set about working out how come these representatives of the workers were actually leading the charge on implementing neoliberal regimes.
So the first part of “Reclaiming the State” traces these turning points from mid-1970s in Britain, the British Labor Party adopting monetarism with Denis Healey and James Callaghan, they were monetarists and austerians before Maggie Thatcher. Then we looked at Francois Mitterrand’s government in 1993, where there was this huge austerity turn by the socialist, which led Jacques Delors, who is an economy minister with Mitterand, and later became President of the European Commission, and later became the head of the committee that established the Maastricht process.
They turned to neoliberalism and on and on it went. The second half of “Reclaiming the State” is, well, what are we going to do about this? How does a progressive narrative get through all of that despondence on the left that globalization has meant that the state is powerless now, and that the role of macro policy has to be to appease the amorphous foreign exchange markets and the investment bankers, and that had become the left’s perception of what government was about, and that resonates today and the right meanwhile had worked out that unless it mounted an army and took over a country like the US and its Allies did with Iraq, that the normal way of getting what you want is that: A) You have to work for the legislative and regulative structure; and B) You then have to reconfigure the state in your own image for your own aspirations.
The right promoted this idea that the state was impotent, an national sovereignty was a thing of the past. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, they were working flat out using the lobbying and the influences through the legislative and regulative processes of various nations to basically get what they wanted, you know, privatization, deregulation and all the rest of it.
And when you confront the Left with a simple question, “If the nation state is now irrelevant and powerless against the strength of global capital, then why does capital, through various organs, spend billions a year lobbying governments?” Why do they do that if the legislative processes that the governments have are irrelevant and powerless? And, so “Reclaiming the State” was about that and what we can do about it.
Steve Grumbine (00:10:39):
You know, I see in the United States, obviously, that neoliberalism is just so interwoven in society that I don’t even think we recognize when we’re being destroyed by it here in the States. But in Europe it seems like, you know, they had the best of things. They had good social infrastructure, they had good, quality safety nets.
They had a robust citizens’ benefits package that absolutely is the envy to me. And little by little, it appears that somehow or another, this monster that’s going across the globe is just devouring. What is the allure of neoliberalism? Why does it even have a place in society? What is the gotcha?
Bill Mitchell (00:11:27):
Well, if you think about the way in which nations developed after the Second World War, which was the big phase in peace-time nation building, so many of the advanced nations published what we call White Papers, which is sort of grand visions of how the peace was going to play out and what we had learned during the 1930s, and then the prosecution of the Second World War was that governments were very effective at stimulating economic growth and fiscal deficits could be an essential part of nation building.
The question at the end of the war, we established that by buying all of this stuff to shoot each other to smithereens, what were we going to do in the peacetime to maintain that effective use of fiscal policy. And, so that was the full employment era and the beginnings of the welfare states and citizens’ rights and strong intervention in our economy.
I think of it as the government was really the mediator between the conflictual ambitions of labor and capital, that the government wasn’t pro-Labor, and it wasn’t completely pro-Capital. At various times, it served the interests of both to try to maintain some sort of industrial stability and used its fiscal policy to maintain full employment.
Now, the way that all played out and the patterns that manifest in our various nations depended upon the preexisting institutional structure and the cultural attitudes to the role of government per se; and, you know, America clearly had a much lighter touch welfare system. It had much less public enterprise that, you know, I think the postal service is really your only commercial public enterprise.
I might be wrong on that, but certainly other countries, Europe, Australia, Britain, Canada, they had much more extensive public sectors and a population that were much more attuned to the idea that governments were essential parts of the service delivery of the redistribution process and would be a much more pervasive influence in regulating and attenuating the market so that it didn’t go crazy and walk over the rights of citizens, particularly workers.
Now, the consequence of the various ways in which that postwar consensus played out in each of our nations ultimately led to a redistribution of income towards workers; ultimately increased costs to employers in terms of occupational health and safety, in terms of entitlements for workers in various forms, depending on what country we’re talking about, holiday pay, sick pay, pension entitlements, all of these things.
We have reached a position where there was some civility to capitalism in a way that mass consumerism had meant that workers were locked into working, earning incomes, and they weren’t about to tear the place down, and the regulative structure, the redistributive structure, the tax systems, et cetera, locked capital down to being civilized as well to some extent.
Now, by the end of the 1960s, there was huge discord among capital. In Australia, for example, that started to play out with attacks on trade union power and now we’ve got these 50 year archives. We have letters sent by major industrial leaders in Australia to the cabinet, to the Treasurer, urging the Treasurer to use policy to create some unemployment, so that, that would discipline the Bolshie workers and allow capital to resist what the society considered to be reasonable demands for wages growth in proportion to productivity growth and all the rest of it.
And, of course, capital became very organized. The expression at the time was ‘profit squeeze.’ We’ve got to eliminate the ‘profit squeeze.’ That was around the world, there were papers being written about the ‘profit squeeze,’ and the way that played out, say in the United States, was the famous Lewis Powell Manifesto in 1971.
And, if your listeners are unaware, Lewis Powell was a lawyer hired by the major industrial interests to come up with a strategy to wrest back industrial power from the workers towards capital. And his manifesto laid out a whole series of things like development of think tanks, that’s the areas, all of those Wall Street finance think tank started to develop, take over the media, Fox News, infiltrate education systems so you get conditional funding to tertiary institutions – example just do research that’s paraded as research, but really is just serving the special interests of capital and more and more.
And that sort of process occurred in all of our nations. You know, you have evidence now, the CIA was promoting the continental Marxists in Europe, because they . . . funding presentations and workshops with these continental Marxists because they had ascertained that these guys were interpreting Marx to the point of being ridiculous, and, if they promoted them, it would lead to dissatisfaction with the Marxists and therefore attenuate the sort of power of that as a left-wing organizing idea.
And all of these things were happening through the 1970s, as the Academy was turning away from Keynesian thinking towards monetarism. And you put all those things together and you’ve got a really well funded, highly strategic, well-marketed campaign to wrest control back from governments. And under the guise of globalization, we conflated the increasing global nature of supply chains with the what we call now liberalism, that we needed to have the neoliberal policy regimes inflicted on us as a necessary consequence of these global capital movements.
Now that conflation was an error. It was a ruse. The global supply chains were welcome developments and could have been easily regulated to say that then you needed all of this deregulation and freedom of movement and whatever to maximize wellbeing, to maximize wealth creation, was just a lie. And the problem was that we all bought it.
We were all bombarded with these massive marketing campaigns. They were divide and conquer campaigns, different manifestations in different countries. So in America, the sort of socialism word was the press button word. In Australia, we had massive campaigns to vilify the unemployed, that they were bludgers, lazy, and there was a nomenclature invented to divide us into thinking that we were individuals and our wellbeing would be determined by our individual endeavor, and all of those things combined to give a sort of legitimacy to this increasing attack on the State and the reconfiguration of the State’s capacities to serve the interests .
. . so the State and was no longer a mediator between labor and capital, but became an agent for capital.
Steve Grumbine (00:20:10):
So what happened here with this most recent election? You know, obviously Labor just absolutely decimated, but after the exit polling, it appears that Labor’s issues were still largely popular. So they didn’t lose because of the issues, this was a loss because of their stance on Brexit. Can you walk us through the Brexit scenario and kind of tell us what it’s all about?
Bill Mitchell (00:20:40):
Hopefully. It wasn’t all to do with Brexit, but Brexit was the game changer in my view. I mean, effectively, there’s been tension on both sides of politics at various times about the membership of Britain in the European Union, and both conservative and left-wing perspectives have always been conflicted by that issue.
And the Labor Party, historically, has waxed and waned on that, but, mostly, in my view, has been avoiding going into the European Union. Really the accession into the European Union was pushed through as a consequence of the rising concepts of globalization and monetarism. So that’s the first point.
Now then you see, we fast track to the 2000s and in 2010 David Cameron was elected in the midst of the sort of mess of the global financial crisis and the Conservative Party, the Tories were elected. Then they inflicted shameful austerity on a nation and the hollowing out of the State, the defunding of local governments, which provide really important human to human services in Britain.
You know, you saw libraries closing down in local government areas because of just lack of money and really important services being compromised and gone in some cases. So, from 2010 onwards, there was a really harsh austerity inflicted on Britain by a government who had become obsessed with the deficit, et cetera, which arose as a consequence of trying to respond to the collapse of non-government spending during the crisis.
Now, my view has always been that the crisis was really just an inconvenient interruption to the Conservative (this is in all countries) to the Conservative desire to push that neoliberal policy agenda through to its logical conclusion, where we’d have no occupational safeguards, our wages are freely floating and all the rest of it.
The JFC was just an inconvenient interruption. So the austerity was presented to the people as being a matter of solvency of the government, using all of the sort of myths that the mainstream economists parade out, but it was also a resumption of the agenda that the Labor under Blair and prior to that, the Tories, were pushing through in Britain.
Now, that austerity and the damage it caused, particularly the Heartlands, you know, the Labor Heartlands, the old industrial areas in the North and the Midlands, the old manufacturing areas, the old mining areas, these are the areas of less educated, more manual trade type occupations, which were dominant income generators in those areas.
They really lost out by increasing free trade type arrangements by deregulation, by the destruction of the manufacturing sector; and meanwhile in the cities like London with the increased financialization of the economy. You know, Margaret Thatcher’s big contribution to Britain was to basically turn it into a casino and the city of London was making it a huge international financial hub.
And, that really benefited the better educated, urban folk who enjoyed a lot of, you know, access to free travel, freedom of travel, freedom of movement and high pay, relatively interesting jobs, et cetera. So you are seeing a sort of dichotomy emerging in all of our countries, and in Britain it was really accentuated because of the sharp division in the distribution of jobs between the non-urban areas and the urban areas.
And by 2015, that manifested in the rise of these populous parties like UKIP, which was a really right-wing rabble, but it was eating into the Conservative vote outside of London and outside of the university towns like Oxford and Cambridge, and David Cameron decided that he would arrest the political fallout to these populist right wing parties by promising a referendum on the EU membership.
It was a sort of diversion tactic, because the EU had become an expression of the sort of worst of the globalization, the worst of the neoliberalism. I think he expected the referendum to be lost, but, of course, what they all misunderstood and certainly labor misunderstood was that there was a seething discontent for membership of the EU, because that was seen as being part of these global elites, and it was presenting the workers, the working class, the manual workers with nothing.
They were losing out and had lost prosperity, opportunity, and their services had been hired out by the competitive processes forced onto Britain by membership of the EU. The trains were expensive and unreliable. Energy, under the law of deregulation had become very expensive. And so, Brexit, the referendum in June 2016, 52% voted in favor, a relatively high turnout about 70%.
Now, both of the major parties, Labor and the Tories, had promised that they would implement whatever the results of the referendum were. And the referendum was a simple binary choice, in exit or remain. There were no highfaluting conditions. It was “Do you want to leave or do you want to stay?” And, the majority of voters voted to leave.
Now that vote was heavily regionally segregated. The urban educated in London and the university towns were strong remainders because the EU and the competitive open sort of forces were benefiting them, and they had this idea of cosmopolitanism and all of the rest of it, yet the workers in the North and the Midlands knew that they were getting nothing from membership of the EU and they wanted out, and they wanted the ability to, through their national parliament, to reverse some of the deregulation, reverse the privatization, make trains run properly and cheaply as they used to, make electricity reliable and cheap and stop the profits sort of draining out into these corporate monoliths.
And, you also need to remember, or know, that even though the majority of Labor voters voted to remain in the June 2016 referendum, the majority of Labor MPs in the Parliament represented ‘leave’ constituencies. Now, how does that work out? Well, it works out because the distribution of votes are not equal across all the constituencies.
And you get the very intensive constituencies in London, very strongly ‘remain,’ and that distorts the overall picture. But the essential point is that the majority of Labor MPS in the House of Commons after the June 2016 referendum were representing constituencies who had voted in the referendum to leave.
At the time I was writing and talking to Labor Party people that, “what do you think will happen if the Labor Party renegs on its promise to support the referendum vote when the majority of its elected MPs (Members of Parliament) are representing electorates (constituencies that wanted to leave)?” And it was quite obvious that if they reneged on that guarantee and frustrated the process of exit, that there would be electoral penalties, that they would suffer at the next national election. We reached the point by this year that the tension within the British Labor Party between the educated urban cosmopolitans who were ‘Remainers’ and the rest of the Labor Party members and voters in the Midlands and up in the Northern industrial areas and the mining areas potentially become so great within the actual parliamentary Labor Party that the party reneged.
And we had this confusing situation where they were saying, “okay, we’ll have a people’s vote,” as if the people already hadn’t voted in the referendum. And the thing they said that they would present, if they won office last week, they would have another vote and they would support the ‘Remain’ side of the debate.
Well, what we saw last Thursday was that, in effect, we’ve had a second referendum and that overwhelmingly indicates that ‘Leave’ is still the preference because the Labor Party lost the ability to form government because its traditional industrial voters in the North and the Midlands, who have been rusted on Labor voters forever, have turned on them.
Some didn’t turn up, but others voted for the Tories for the first time, probably in their whole lives. And now you’ve got all Labor areas representing the Tories, the Conservatives, because the Tories kept the message, very simple: “get Brexit done.” And they were much more attuned to the sentiment of the British people than the Labor Party whose view had become distorted by the advisors and the echo chambers that they listened to from these left-wing city types.
The other element to that was when the referendum was held in 2016, the ‘Remainers,’ particularly on the progressive side of the debate, turned on the voters who had voted to leave, calling them stupid, racists and all the rest of these insults; and then they started running this line of there’ll be this concept of regret that as soon as these idiots up in the North, who voted to leave, these dumb racists, as soon as they realize that it’s going to turn on them, they’ll regret it, “Bregret,” as in Brexit Regret, and they will then have another referendum and they’ll change their minds, as if they’re stupid and dumb.
The ‘Leavers’ understood that they had nothing much further to lose. They wanted sovereignty restored for Britain, and that they wanted to leave the EU, and the urban ‘Remainers,’ really . . . There was an article in the Australian press this morning about how the title of the article is something like, “They Hated the Workers,” – “They Hate the Workers” -and it is about these urban elites on the Left, who have got such disdain for the less educated, poorer, more manual workers up in the North and the Midlands that they just didn’t understand that by reneging on the guarantee to support the ‘Leave,’ that whatever the referendum delivered, that there would be electoral consequences, and that is what still mattered.
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Steve Grumbine (00:34:51):
You know, interestingly, you and Tom Fazi also wrote an article for Jacobin magazine, going back into April of 2018, titled, “Why the Left should embrace Brexit.” Yeah. To me, I want to just say, this is almost akin to predicting the global financial crisis that MMT was able to do in advance. You guys were able to see through this Brexit thing as well. And this seems to be a uniquely MMT thing. The MMT lens, those people that are informed by MMT, that are informed by the comings and goings as it’s related through the lens of MMT appear to be able to see things in a much clearer way.
I mean, looking back on it now, how do you see that? Does it feel good to see it? Does it validate the work or is this a little bit of a sad moment that you kind of wish they would have heard you?
Bill Mitchell (00:35:52):
Well, the first point I make is that there were non-MMTers who had the same view about what was going to happen. So such as the genius of the MMTer, and I’m laughing here. No, look to me, the whole thing is deeply frustrating. I remember in 1996, I was guest of the European Commission at a workshop in Florence where the topic was, they were working out how to structure the operational aspects of the Treaty of Masstrict.
You know, in other words, the framework in which the common currency, the Euro would operate within the Stability and Growth Pact and things like that. They had a couple of outsiders from federations, and, so I was an outsider, of course; and my contribution was that this whole house of cards, the first major recession will expose the dysfunction that’s inherent in the architecture of the Eurozone, because they had deliberately decided not to have a fiscal capacity at the federal level, even though it wasn’t a formal Federation, like say the United States or Australia or Canada.
And at the time, you know, it was very obvious that there was going to be a dysfunctional system that would ultimately be austerity prone. At the time, the officials on the European Commission that were at that workshop and European academics just laughed at me, really, and said, “You’re an outsider.
You don’t really understand,” you know. “We know better about Europe than you do.” And yeah, it was very frustrating. And I think the same sort of thing in more recent times was the Brexit process and evolution of British Labor Party policy, the same thing, and you will have seen some of it on Twitter, the vilification of the views that say, Thomas and I had, from the Urban Left, I call them the Europhile Left in Britain.
You don’t know what you’re talking about. You know, you’re stupid. I was called delusional by very key progressive people who were in Britain and influential in the debate and within the, some of them either current or ex-Labor Party advisors at a senior level. So yeah, I mean, I got it right. There’s no doubt, but it doesn’t give me any warm feelings.
It makes me ill to think that the neoliberalism and the inability to see through your own prejudices has led to policy choices and policy decisions that have got such a fundamental political consequence, that you’ve got one of the worst conservative governments ever in Britain, as given their track record over the last nine years; and the Labor Party can’t win an election.
And that’s a deeply sad moment, I think. Thursday was a very sad day, and I don’t even live there. And people of my ilk, who’ve had these views have been trying to impress them through various formats. I go to Britain often. I met with John McDonald last year. I write emails and what have you. I’ve got activists who are pushing these lines, and the blindness and the group thing, it is not just a right wing thing, it pervades all organizations, if they’re not careful and not open to new ideas.
And, so it’s a really sad moment I think, and demonstrates just how far our social democratic political forces have deteriorated and lost a connection with their support base. So the British Labor Party is now in crisis. And the way ahead is clear, but I doubt whether they’ll take it.
Steve Grumbine (00:39:55):
Let me ask you, Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be a transcendent figure, similar to Bernie Sanders. He had charisma, people really, really were drawn to him, people around the world, thought of him in a heroic sort of sense. And yet his message, as resounding as it was, he literally was run out of government.
Is this just the power of neoliberalism? Is this the fact that he didn’t understand the situation as it were and took the wrong stance? Was he a neoliberal accidental, like so many are? What happened here? What happened to Jeremy Corbyn?
Bill Mitchell (00:40:30):
Look, I think Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent person. He has a track record, in my view, of annunciating progressive causes of great sympathy and alignment with the disadvantaged people, an old style left winger; but I think that he inherited an untenable situation. So, remember that the way in which a leader is elected in the British Labor Party is not by garnering a majority of support within the parliamentary wing of the party, that is the MPs, but through a combination of their vote and also the vote of the grassroots members.
Now, Jeremy Corbyn was not the choice of his colleagues in parliament. They didn’t want him as leader. He came through on the grassroots of the member’s support. And remember that the British Labor Party is completely torn because it’s got the strong component of the parliamentary team are still new Labor Blairites, who were neoliberals, Tony Blair’s supporters, who helped contribute to the financial crisis by its approach to regulating the banks or not, as the case may be, who had supported the invasion of Iraq based upon the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction and all of that.
So, Jeremy Corbyn had to deal with a significant number of Blairites within the Parliamentary Party that hated him, didn’t want him there, and would do anything to undermine him. The proposition has been made regularly that they would rather lose the national election than have Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.
So you’re dealing with a split party where your immediate colleagues who you’re really relying on for policy development and political support, actually have got the knife ready to shove it in or cheer when it is shoved in the back. And in that environment, you’re going to get a leaking environment to the press, all sorts of divisive statements being made, and in the way in which they got that manifested, of course, was this anti-semitism.
They worked out that the way to get him was through allegations of anti-semitism. As a matter of disgrace, the progressive press, like The Guardian and Novara Media and other places, pushed this line that the Labor Party was a harbinger of anti-semitism and Corbyn was doing nothing about it. Now this was just a dirty tactic.
And I thought it was sort of reaching the depths of filth to use such an important concept of anti-semitism in a purely opportunistic manner. Now Corbin’s no way is he an anti-semite, and some of the people that they fingered as being anti-semites and ultimately drove out of the Labor Party were not anti-semites either.
And criticizing Zionists, the extremes of Zionism, and expressing sympathy for the Palestinian people is not being an anti-semite: it’s being a humanitarian. And so they really stitched Jeremy Corbyn up to the point where his electoral appeal quite apart from the Brexit issue and other issues, his electoral appeal faded, and they were then able to demonize him as being an extremist and that his program was going to be a socialist program, which would destroy individual enterprise and all the rest of the stuff that then follows from that.
And these were contributing factors and, you know, The Guardian newspaper, for example, ran a relentless antisemitism campaign against Corbyn. It was unfounded, unfair, but very effective. And I’m sort of seeing the same thing emerging in the US at the moment.
Steve Grumbine (00:45:02):
Oh, yes. The most recent attacks by Centrist Dems on Bernie Sanders being an anti-Semite because of having pro-Palestinian members on his team, within his campaign, is just preposterous. The funniest thing is, is that, you know, there’s a going saying that, “Hey, I’m ready for the first Jewish American president, you know, being Bernie Sanders.”
It’s kind of hilarious on one level and absolutely appalling on another, because you think nobody could fall for this, could they?
Bill Mitchell (00:45:34):
Yeah. But they will. No, they will fall for it. In our Western cultures, as a consequence of what happened during the 1940s and our memories of that. It’s such a massive tarnishing assertion to say someone’s an anti-semite, and it’s almost impossible to defend yourself against it. The media are so organized.
We’ve seen that in Britain now, that you’ve got no defense against it, “it hits the fan” is the expression. It’s very hard to get it up once it does hit the fan, get it away. So, in the same way that those sorts of allegations destroyed Corbyn’s image, I suspect the same sort of tactics will be used to undermine Bernie Sanders’ image. There’s no reality. It’s just, the taint is impossible to get rid of.
Steve Grumbine (00:46:36):
It’s absolutely amazing. Cause you see guys like Joe Biden in the United States, the only thing separating them from a very, very highly conservative and offensive right-winger is the fact that they’ve got this veil of legitimacy by having a “D” in front of their name. And if you hear Joe Biden, we played a clip the other day, comparing Joe Biden’s push for conservative, “Whatever happened to conservative values and fiscal values?
And, when I said put a cut to stopping spending, I wasn’t just talking about social spending. I was talking about social security as well,” and I just listened to it. And I was like, wow, minorities in this country are lining up in droves behind Joe Biden. You’ve got people all over the place that are trading off the old Obama years, the King Neoliberal, and they’re lining up behind Joe Biden.
Just recently though, Bernie Sanders has started surging as Elizabeth Warren has started dropping down and I suspect the establishment neoliberals in this country will continue throwing up these candidates to see which one will stick. But Joe Biden hs name recognition, had spent eight years behind Obama as his vice president.
This is the guy who wrote the crime bill, who just every possible thing that you really could point the finger at, he’s done. And over here you’ve got Bernie Sanders who has been a model of consistency and, mind you, I’m sure Bernie’s got his own warts here and there, but literally 40 plus years of consistently fighting for the little people and something like a smear of anti-semitism for a guy who’s Jewish.
It’s shocking to me, especially given that Bernie lost family in the Holocaust.
Bill Mitchell (00:48:24):
Yeah. I mean, it’s the same sort of smears that have been so effective of Corbyn, and the media and the think tanks and what have you they must be sort of trolling around all the time for ruses, which will press the most buttons, and the one they found in Britain was the anti-semitism. It may not work as well in the US election.
The US situation is a little bit harder to even understand than the British, to tell you the truth, but the parallels are really strong. And you know, you have to ask yourselves and all of us have to ask this question, “How come a guy like Donald Trump can rise to become the president of the largest economy and the one with the most nukes.
How come that happens?” That’s got to, in my view, reflect a deeply dysfunctional political system. And in that sort of system, the likes of Biden, who’s got the old Democratic money and that money is going to be completely confident that if Biden gets the gig, then all of the old large assets flowing to the lobbyists and what have you will continue to flow.
I think they are deeply fearful that if Bernie gets the nod, he may well be able to beat Trump, if Trump survives the current process and the business as usual will be so disturbed and disrupted, if Bernie was the boss. The same as in Britain, if Jeremy Corbyn had won and became prime minister and business as usual would have been over, and the parasites that live on government procurement contracts and benefit from all of the deregulation and what have you, they would have been losing out.
They’re not going to allow that to happen anytime soon, I don’t think. What I don’t understand, in the American situation is all of these polls seem to be pointing to some surge by Bernie and certainly at the expense of Elizabeth Warren, but they become irrelevant, don’t they, when these Super PACs come out and reflect the sort of democratic elites. Isn’t that the case?
Steve Grumbine (00:50:42):
Well, you know, in the Democratic Party, they’ve got something called superdelegates. And what happens in this kind of, interesting this speaks sort of to what happened in the UK, where you’ve got these areas that, you know, voted heavily for Bernie in the last primary, and then the superdelegates of those areas weighed in and said, yeah, you know, I hear you voters, but guess what?
I’ve already pledged myself to Hillary, so I’m throwing my vote, which counts more than your votes to Hillary.
Bill Mitchell (00:51:12):
Yeah, that’s what I understood.
Steve Grumbine (00:51:14):
They have made some very, very minor modifications. And it’s interesting because what’s happened in the US as they flooded the democratic field. There were some 20 some-odd candidates originally, which is just ridiculous. It’s whittled its way down and it continues to whittle its way down. But what happens is that if you don’t have a plurality, if there’s not a significant majority to one person, I can’t remember all the details right off hand, but the fact is that it immediately kicks in the superdelegates.
So they try to say, we’re going to let the vote take care of it, but, if they don’t hit this threshold, then we’re going to bring the superdelegates in. So they’ve muddled the water by flooding it, so no one can reach that number. So it’s kind of rigged before it was rigged with the veil of legitimacy.
Bill Mitchell (00:52:05):
Yeah. So if the last primary campaign, same thing, you’d go by, basically the Democratic machine is not going to allow Bernie Sanders to represent them. That’d be my understanding,
Steve Grumbine (00:52:17):
You know, it’s my hope. And as somebody who is an activist, I have oftentimes in other talks outside of the Macro N Cheese podcast, spoken that I believe that for Progressives to ever make meaningful gains, you have to take a page out of the early 1970s, when the environmentalist’s pushed and pushed and pushed, and without any kind of real electoral mandate and having Nixon in office, of all people, they were able to still get the EPA passed.
And so you think to yourself, you know, that may have been throwing crumbs at the people just to sedate them, to keep them off his back, maybe, but it takes, I believe, outside the party structure because the party is so rigged that it doesn’t even hear its own membership, I believe that it’s going to require a populist movement outside of this party structure to force the parties to either listen to their will and bend to their will, or find out what pitchforks and torches feel like.
I don’t see any way around this. We’ve tried to do very gentlemanly approaches. We’ve seen people do a lot of handshaking and “well it’s just a difference of opinion,” we’re at a point now where the evidence of suicide rising from neoliberalism, you can’t deny it.
Bill Mitchell (00:53:37):
Steve Grumbine (00:53:37):
And all the returning vets with PTSD, from all of the Wars, we’ve fought for opening markets for neoliberalism, you can’t deny it. And you’ve seen the stagnating wages. There’s no way to deny it. You’ve seen the suffering. There’s just no way to deny it. And now that people are finally, and it’s a shame that it takes this, but you’re seeing a pinch of the white middle class in the United States and they haven’t let enough people be happy and good to go, but I really do believe that the seeds of change are brewing.
Will it happen? I hope so. But I got to say that my fear is that it won’t, and that it will require something more drastic. But my hope is that they’ll listen, they’ll hear us and they’ll allow our will to be done as opposed to what they’ve chosen in the past, which is to thumb us and just say, we know better than you. We’re smarter than you. We’re going to do our thing.
Bill Mitchell (00:54:29):
Yeah, I doubt they’ll listen. Louisa and I were talking this morning, come to think on this theme, as you do, as you’re preparing to go to work in the morning, and we were talking about the British election, et cetera, and the role of capital and the role of corporations. And when you think about it, the strongest, probably the most effective way we can express our voice, is to mount organized and large scale boycotts of their products.
Because ultimately what their aim is to manipulate governments and get regulations in their favor and all the rest of that. What they’re aiming to do is make it much easier to realize profit. And they can only really realize profits through selling stuff. And we’ve got the networking skills and technologies now to organize global boycotts.
And my view is that we should start moving in that direction to organize these sorts of consumption boycotts and just stop buying stuff, target firms and not buy stuff. And that will force them to listen, I think. When there’s huge consumer discontent for a particular product, the corporations typically respond.
When there’s not, they don’t. So that’s one thing I’ve been thinking about doing some work on to work out the viability of that sort of class action.
Steve Grumbine (00:56:00):
What do you think about a general strike? We keep hearing people talk about that. I think that, you know, while it would be great to see such a mass movement, I don’t know how many people could partake. They’ve made everyone so frail by austerity.
Bill Mitchell (00:56:15):
It’s not going to work.
Steve Grumbine (00:56:15):
People are just not in a position to these sorts of things, for fear of losing their jobs.
Bill Mitchell (00:56:20):
It’s not going to work because: A) You won’t get enough people in solidarity. B) It punishers the striker because of lost income. C) There’s too many marginal workers that wouldn’t eat if they went on strike; and D) They’ll bring in strike breakers, and if it is a significant industry, they’ll bring in the military.
So a more passive response, I think, is the way to go, because if you and I and millions of others independently stopped buying product “A,” nobody can be targeted because they don’t know, I mean they do know what we buy through electronic systems, but they cannot turn around and say, “you’ve got to buy this, mate.” Whereas, if you go on strike in Australia, for example, it’s illegal to go on strike under most circumstances now, because of the legislation that the neolibs have brought in to attack trade unions. And, so under many situations, the trade union can be sent bankrupt by the scale of the fines and union leaders can be put in jail.
So I think Industrial action was the old way of doing it, but I don’t think that’s going to work anymore. I think we should get smarter and hit them straight on in what they sell leaving their products on the shelf and force them to heal that way.
Steve Grumbine (00:57:45):
Well, let me ask you a question, given the economics behind this, what would be the net impact to the macroeconomy for these kinds of target things? I mean, are we talking about reducing consumption, in general, or just shifting it to other companies or what are we talking about here? Because obviously the economy thrives on buyers and sellers and so forth. How does that play out?
Bill Mitchell (00:58:10):
Well, look, it was just an idea we were talking about over a cup of tea this morning, but I think you would do it on a strategic basis. Take them out one by one. So as not to create a recession, which always damages the lowest paid, more precarious workers. Just have organized campaigns targeted to particular corporations and then take them out one by one.
That’d be, I haven’t thought it through very well yet, but I’m going to give it some thought about how it might work out, but that’s just one. Otherwise we’re powerless. They’ve got us. And any time a progressive leader sticks their heads up, they get rid of them via the smears that we’ve just seen on Jeremy Corbyn.
And what’s going to happen, and this is the crazy part of it all, is that Boris Johnson’s a really clever guy. Now, the Progressive’s really underestimated him. They thought it would be sufficient just to call him a liar, to get the press just to, the week before the election there were all these progressive stories about how he had hidden in a fridge to avoid being interrogated by the press.
Yeah, all of this stuff. But Boris Johnson outsmarted them, and he is a very clever man. And what the Tories will do now, is that they will abandon all of that austerity stuff, I believe, in the next year, if not two years, they will pump money into the National Health Service. They will pump money into restoring services, particularly in the North and Midlands, which are the seats that have turned away from the traditional Labor to Tories.
They’ll put infrastructure projects into those regions to generate better paid work and more secure work, and what they’ll do in that process, they’ll completely turn on all of their austerity mindset. They’ll become much more acceptable in their use of their fiscal capacity, and what they will do that way is to consolidate those voters that turned, maybe just temporarily, as a protest against Labor, they’ll convert them into working class Tories.
And that’s the end of the Labor Party. There’ll be out for a generation or more. And I think that’s what’s going to happen. And that’s a really tragic thing for progressive forces in the UK. And you’re seeing it now that some of the progressive voices are saying, well, what, we don’t really want to abandon our economic agenda, but we’ve got to become socially conservative now; and how that plays out in different countries varies.
But that’s a really regressive tendency. If the progressive forces start becoming sort of right wingers in terms of social policy, et cetera,
Steve Grumbine (01:01:06):
Yeah, it’s terrifying. Well, Bill, I want to thank you very, very much for joining us today. I have always learned so much from you. I hope we can have you back on again and just so you know, the entire Real Progressive’s team has been messaging me the whole time through, making me tell you Merry Christmas, thank you so much for all you do for us and that they love you.
We love you. And, of course, I love you and Louisa very much so thank you so much for joining me.
Bill Mitchell (01:01:32):
Well, thanks Steve. And thanks to all your supporters. I wish you a Happy New Year. I’ll put an X in front of the “mas” and wish you a happy one of those too. And keep up the sterling work that you guys, guys being generic, do, and I think in the new year, we’re going to try to launch some things from my end under the MMT Ed banner that I hope we can dovetail into your operation.
The message is, I think, and it’s what I’ve believed since we started the MMT project was that this is an educational challenge. We need to continue the educational process over a generation or more. Nothing changes quickly when you’re up against such a massively powerful mainstream orthodoxy. And so I’m just committed that we keep that educational process going and be patient and work through all of this.
And I hope we can do that together. And thanks very much to your team for being such wonderful activists, and all the best for 2020.
Steve Grumbine (01:02:45):
Look forward to it. I can’t wait. All right, sir. Have a great one. We’re outta here.
Bill Mitchell (01:02:49):
Take care. See you later.
End Credits (00:01:35.280)
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