Episode 89 – Juxtapositions with Bill Mitchell
Bill Mitchell joins us this week to discuss a plethora of American misconceptions… perceived exceptionalism, obvious neoliberalism, and a dysfunctional electoral system, as we approach the culmination of perhaps the most absurd and disheartening presidential election in history.
The interview covers the consequences of neoliberalism in Europe, the UK, Australia, and the US, both in the rightward march of political parties and the ticking clock of catastrophic climate change. They discuss the attraction to the Universal Basic Income by some on the left who can’t see its underlying agenda and the perils of turning us all into consumption units.
Bill Mitchell is the guest we need to hear from as the ugly campaign season winds down. Our Australian friend’s vantage point, as well as his astute grasp of political economy, combine with his level-headedness to bring a message of understated optimism. When Steve gives in to a rare bout of despair about the future, Bill talks about the early days of the MMT movement, when Warren Mosler and the others would count the number of MMTers on their fingers.
MMT is becoming mainstream. Everybody’s hearing about it in the Australian press as regular articles now. I write op-eds in the Murdoch press about MMT. Critics or supporters are getting articles published regularly. Central bankers are talking about it. They’re giving evidence before government committees about it. The financial markets are increasingly getting me to run workshops to teach them MMT – all around the world, not just in Australia – because they want to know about it, and they also now have finally worked out that an adherence to mainstream economics has cost them money. So I wouldn’t be as despairing about the spread of the ideas just yet.
Bill sees a cautionary tale in the subversion of Keynes’s ideas during the Great Depression. The mainstream economists hijacked his substantial insights into what’s called the neoclassical synthesis, which essentially watered his ideas down to only be applied in a special case. He sees today’s orthodoxy normalizing MMT within their own skillset when, in fact, the work of MMT economists has demonstrated the catastrophic failure of mainstream macroeconomics. He refers to the German physicist Max Planck, who said “Science advances one funeral at a time.” Bill adds that paradigms shift the same way.
As for navigating through these final weeks of the US presidential election, Bill suggests we focus on and accelerate the education process and the organization of grassroots resistance. He says our challenge is to start rebuilding the sense of collective responsibility to society.
… And hope to hell that we’ve got some climate space that we can do that education, and that organization, and we can save the planet. But I’d focus on the positive and wouldn’t get tied up too much in the dilemma you’re facing with Biden and Trump. I mean, it’s a no-win, isn’t it? So try to move beyond that sort of angst, not tear yourselves apart about that, but move beyond it. And basically, I’m an optimist. I just, every day, get up and pursue the education agenda in hopes that little bit each day moves us in a positive way.
It’s clear that with either electoral outcome we’re not going to get a fantastic response to the climate emergency, new public infrastructure investments, and we’re certainly not going to fix our dysfunctional healthcare system, so if we’re not going to get anything we want from either of these two, it’s time to move on.
Macro N Cheese – Episode 89
Juxtapositions with Bill Mitchell
Bill Mitchell [intro/music] (00:02):
When Americans realize after enduring all of this inequality and breakdown of systems and that America itself is losing out in the rest of the world, it’s no longer the big voice and maybe all it’s got is an army that can still wreak havoc. Then I think you’ve got the climate to make changes. There’s a real push and shove tug of war going on now about the purity of our paradigm and the way in which the mainstream paradigm is trying to recapture it so they can maintain the edge in the profession.
Geoff Ginter [intro/music] (01:26):
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 (01:34):
All right. And this is Steve with Macro N Cheese. Today, we have Professor Bill Mitchell. Bill Mitchell has been with us many, many, many times. And Bill is a friend of mine. I’ve known him for a number of years. Bill is probably one of the very beginning founders of the school of thought called Modern Monetary Theory. And as many of you all know, most of our audience who follow the MMT scholars, they know that Bill has a tremendously large body of work.
Bill is the Chair in Economics and is Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, CofFEE, an official research center at the University of Newcastle [NSW, Australia] He is also a Visiting Professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and is on the management board of CofFEE-Europe, a sister center located at that university. Bill has recently written a MMT textbook called “Macroeconomics.” And he’s written one of my all-time favorite books, which is “Reclaiming the State,” which he wrote with Thomas Fazi. With that, Bill, welcome back, man. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked.
Bill Mitchell (02:44):
Hello, how are you going?
Hey. Good. So this COVID-19 thing has really changed everything, has it not? It’s a brand new world, not necessarily for the better.
It’s a brand new world. That’s for sure. It’s definitely not for the better. We’ve now got a disease amongst us that is a killer. It’s got the potential to wreak havoc in our society and it is already doing that. And I think interestingly, that it’s really, from my work’s perspective, it’s bringing out the massive contradictions in the way in which we’ve thought about economic policy and the capacities of our governments. And it’s really exposed a lot of the fictional world that I talk about, this fictional world that my mainstream colleagues in economics have created to further class interests. It’s really exposed that fictional world like nothing else before. It’s really crazy times.
In a pandemic, you would think that state governments would be doing all they could, because governments are supposed to be representative of the people. And you would think they would be doing everything they could to make everyone healthy, whole, and not create more hazardous conditions by putting people in harm’s way. And in the United States, for example, we’ve got a huge push to reopen, folks are resisting masks, they’re resisting any kind of stay-at-home orders.
And yet at the same time the freedom, and the absolute feeling of claustrophobia, being trapped in your home, bottled up like this, it’s very unhealthy. There’s some good things have come from it with remote work and probably save the environment a couple of minutes. Not much when you look at California, I guess, burning up, but you look around and I know for a fact that in the United States, we have done absolutely nothing, zero, to help the unemployed.
Zero to help the environment. Zero to help families that are struggling. And zero to keep people from losing their homes. And I know in the United States, we are in the middle of maybe the worst election, since 2016, anyway. With Donald Trump, who is an absolutely barbaric buffoon, and Joe Biden, who probably forgot what he had for breakfast this morning, who has Kamala Harris, who is just about as nasty a person as you can get. [She] celebrated locking up parents for kids being truant in school.
Just a horrible situation. And you look around the world and the only thing we’re leading in is looking like idiots in terms of how we’ve dealt with this pandemic, in terms of how we’ve treated our people. I wonder Bill with the work that you’ve done around the world, what is your assessment? Not only of the US but in general, the pandemic response globally? How have you seen governments reacting to taking care of their people?
Well, as an outside observer of the US I think that regularly the US exemplifies the sort of contradictions of neoliberalism. I think that the US suffers, and I’m not talking about specific people here, I’m just talking about a culture that’s observed from the outside, this sort of exceptionalism view that it’s the greatest country in the world. And I think even before the pandemic, the US produces economic and social performances that consistently fail. And I think that situation has been advancing.
The failures have been becoming larger and more frequent. You know, I’m old enough to remember – just – as a young boy, the freedom type movement for the African American population, and, you know, America didn’t show very much quality in that debate. You know, all of the busing and all of that stuff. And you just look at the way in which history has evolved since that time and it just goes from bad to worse. And I think at the moment, you’re in an absolutely unwinnable bind.
You’ve got a very dangerous president. And initially I wasn’t sure how dangerous Trump would be, in the sense of what he would be able to get away with. But I mean, you can see a lot of what he’s done has been extremely damaging for the fabric of your society and not to mention the fabric of the world’s society. I think that pushing China into this situation has been potentially a very damaging thing for world peace.
And the response to the crisis has been, in America, from my standpoint has been a disaster. You’ve got massive death rates. You’ve already got impoverished communities, high crime rates, and you’ve just abandoned people who are losing their jobs. I just find that incomprehensible. And then, you know, you’ve got the Democrats, and from the way I view them is that they’re really not much better than Trump. They’re slightly more sophisticated in their Twitter messaging, but that doesn’t sound much does it?
Now, I think you’ve just got almost the worst example of the sort of problem that nations around the world have been facing increasingly for several years, where the progressive voice in politics, and labour parties in Australia and Britain, socialist parties in France and Spain, social democratic parties in other countries like Germany and the Scandinavian countries – these parties have abandoned their base and they are looking more and more like the conservative parties on key things, on economic matters, particularly.
And, you know, you’ve got an anti-establishment revolt going on in response to that. And Trump’s an example of that. The Brexit vote in Britain, which is now causing chaos in that part of the world, was an abandonment in the Labour Party of its traditional working class voters. And what happens out of that? The progressive parties become unelectable and the conservatives’ parties steal their traditional voting base. I don’t know how it’s all gonna end. We’re in a real state where these progressive parties can’t win elections. And the people that do win them are conservatives who are buffoons, corrupt, dishonest, warmongers, cheats, you name it. I think we’re in a real bad state.
Yeah. We watched Bernie Sanders run through Iowa. Some tricksters in Iowa made it look like Buttigieg won, but really Bernie won the most votes, and you went to New Hampshire and Bernie won, and you went to Las Vegas slash Nevada, Bernie won big. And all of a sudden, every media pundit in the United States literally started screaming, “socialism.” Even the quote unquote “left-leaning media” screamed, “socialism.” They panicked.
One guy named Chris Matthews said that Bernie was going to be lining people up in New York Times Square and lining people up in Brownshirts and killing people. It was horrible. I mean like, this is the level of propaganda that they’ll stoop to, to knock a progressive. We would have easily dusted this out because everybody wanted Bernie and the Democratic Party literally did everything it could.
Bill Clinton actually celebrated stopping him at John Lewis’s funeral. At his funeral they talked about how they rallied to stop this crazy socialism coming through, basically. And you’ve got Obama, who has done more harm to the progressive movement, doing the exact same thing. And then on top of that, you’ve got Nancy Pelosi doing all kinds of histrionics with tearing up papers and doing kente masks to pretend like she’s down with the Black folk. And in fairness, these people are just really rich evildoers.
They’re not on our side and you feel it every second of the day. And it’s a terrifying feeling because where do you go? You’re looking around as somebody who’s a progressive and as an MMT-informed progressive, I lose my mind. It is the most terrifying thing. And you watch friends within the movement begin to gaslight you to make you feel like somehow or another this Biden presidency is a good thing. Somehow or another Kamala Harris is a good thing. And you look at everything they’ve done and they’ve got a track record and it is horrendous. There’s not a war that Biden didn’t want to support. It’s just awful.
The irony from my remote perspective – and this is repeated around the world, this type of thing – as I understand it, the African American vote wouldn’t particularly go near Bernie. They fell behind Biden because they saw him as a minor Barack Obama. And that irony of the progressive voters, the least well off progressive voters, voting for politicians that will reinforce the economic plight, that’s a characteristic of neoliberalism that’s around the world.
It’s terrifying. I was able to interview Glen Ford, who is one of the cofounders of the Black Agenda Report. And he talks about the Black vote in general. And he says that what happens is that Black people look to see who the white people are going to line up behind that is not part of the white nationalist party. Because in the United States, the white nationalists go back and forth between the Democrats, the Dixiecrats, and then back over to the Republicans.
Back during Reconstruction, when they were bringing the slaves, it was the radical Republicans in the United States that actually fought to free the slaves, and fought to provide them with rights, and so forth. So it’s never a party; it’s always which way the racists – the KKK types – go. And right now the KKK types are lined up clean right behind Donald Trump. So they’re looking to see who the white people are going to line up behind in the Democratic Party.
And when Clyburn down in South Carolina said, it’s Biden, all the other candidates dropped out, everyone lined up, and that was the end of it. And Bernie dropped out five minutes later and it was over. And it’s a very unsatisfying feeling. Glen Ford said, quite frankly, that Black people in general are very progressive. The issue is, is that they have been abused and beaten down so severely that they’re afraid to be left to the mercies of the radical right wing in this country, the white nationals, the Trumps.
And so that fear is a fear that has played out over a long period of time. Unfortunately, the quote/unquote “saviors” end up doing very real damage in the form of neoliberal policies. Joe Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill. Joe Biden wrote the Patriot Act. Joe Biden was head and shoulders involved in redefining government and re reforming welfare. He has been on the wrong side of every issue since he started. He signed on to Clarence Thomas. He signed on to Antonin Scalia. He signed on to fighting busing.
Every step along the way, he has been on the wrong side of the issue. And so as someone fighting for progressive policies and for someone fighting for progressive MMT-informed economics… Listening to his team right now even, talking about “where are we going to find the money?” “We’re not going to be able to find the money.” “They’ve already spent all the money; we’re going to have to reduce the deficit.” Already talking about it. It’s mind blowing.
America at this stage is in a no-win situation. That’s very clear. And what do you do in that case? And I’m not a political science expert. And I wouldn’t know what I would do myself if I was a voter in America. Because you can’t vote for Trump, if you’re a progressive person, but you also, you know, you really can’t vote for Biden either, I don’t think. Because while the style is different and Biden speaks differently, he’s not as brash, he doesn’t Tweet out in the middle of the night.
There are style matters that you can get over, but the substance of a Democrat presidency, the martial-type behavior to the rest of the world, the approach to helping the most disadvantaged minorities in your country, that won’t alter substantially. You’re not going to get a fantastic response to the climate emergency. You’re not going to get a big new set of public infrastructure investments. And you’re certainly not going to cure or resolve your ridiculous – that’s the only word for it – healthcare system.
You’re just a laughingstock in the world with respect to how you run your health system. You spend massive amounts more than any other country per capita, yet you get massively deficient outcomes per capita. And everybody knows, you know, it’s obvious, health insurance companies, they’re making a motser, your healthcare professionals, the top end of them, are extracting huge rents, and the big pharmaceutical companies are extracting huge rents.
And it’s a joke, and you’re not going to alter that. Certain things that have to change in America for you to have a high quality society, those things, healthcare, environmental care, and employment care. Biden’s not going to do very much about any of those. So what do you do? I don’t know. I don’t think you can vote for either of them.
It is tragic. I want to ask you, as you look around and you remember that physics isn’t political; physics isn’t political at all. Physics doesn’t negotiate. And Bill McKibben was quite clear many, many moons ago, saying that the climate is fast slipping to a point of just beyond fixing. We may already be well past beyond fixing. And the idea that we are acting as if this is something that is to debate. We haven’t done anything to mitigate it. Biden’s got some proposal out there, but it’s still a neoliberal answer.
It’s still a market-based answer. It’s not adequate in any way, shape or form, and everyone is sleeping behind the wheel. Beyond the election, this is maddening to me. How can we make this any clearer? You see the pictures of California. It looks like you’re on Mars. It’s on fire. Smoke from California has reached around the world. We have a pandemic. It hasn’t made any dent in these people’s thinking. We have massive climate action and hurricanes and forest fires and drought, and we still see no action. Is there any prayer?
Well, on the bushfire front, you don’t have to tell me about bushfires. We had them last summer, if you remember.. The whole East coast of Australia was on fire. And I wore a mask in public long before the pandemic came about because of the smoke and the damage to our lungs from the smog. And the reviews are still under way, but everybody knows that the austerity-prone governments here have been cutting back.
The conservatives say, “Oh yeah, this just demonstrates how the environmental movement has caused us to stop burn backs and forest clearing, and look what happens. You know, those Greens.. Forget them.” But the reality is that the austerity prone governments have cut back expenditure on firefighting capacity, on planning. Before our major bushfires last year, a group of ex-state government fire chiefs – these are the people who run the fire services – they went to Canberra, that’s the federal capital, pleading with the federal government to stop cutting back fire services because the combination of climate change, the drying out, and also the fact that Australia has had 10 years of drought, was a massive fire problem emerging.
And the federal government didn’t give them a cent. We have to run a surplus next year; that was their whole obsession. So the fire situation in California and Australia are very similar: similar problems, similar outcomes, devastation. And meanwhile, back at the ranch, you’ve got governments obsessing about surpluses, or penny-pinching when they’ve got to be dragged out to run fiscal deficits when the health system’s in danger of being totally overrun.
I mean, it’s part of the whole problem that we’ve observed over the last three or four decades of governments abandoning their remit and focusing on things that don’t matter, like a fiscal balance. And the rest of us are held in this fictional world that the mainstream economists have created, and we don’t know any better. And we go along with it. And I guess my only hope for the future is to go back in history and wonder, well, at the turn of the 20th century, why did trade unions form and become more powerful? And why did the political debate turn to creating welfare states?
And the answer was because the citizens got too sick of the consequences of unfettered capitalism, and they demanded, from the political voices, that they support unions and support welfare states. And I think the neoliberal period has unwound a lot of that; attacked trade unions, attacked welfare states. And we’re now going to see at some point, the citizens will rise up again. You can only keep them down for so long, I think. And when that occurs, there’ll be political voices to emerge that reflect that sentiment.
Recently, an article by David Sirota came out. David had worked in Business Insider and had also worked on the Sanders campaign, but he recently showed that the core Democratic inner Party had spent $15 million to keep progressives out of races, to defeat progressives throughout the country. And the backup candidate, the garbage candidate, the neoliberal candidate, the stooge, ended up losing to the Republican as well.
So the progressive had the run of it all because they have crossover appeal. The establishment Democrat did not. They would rather lose to the GOP than win with a progressive, and this is shown over and over and over again. And people try to gaslight you to make you think that that’s not really happening, but it’s right there in front of you. And you have to ask, what do you suppose the reason for that is, Bill? Why do you suppose they would do that? And I’m kind of being cheeky here a little bit, but in truth, what do you think is the reason for that?
Well, it’s not just an American problem. Think about the British election…
Last December. I mean, for several years, the parliamentary Labour Party didn’t want Jeremy Corbyn, but the membership wanted him, and that’s why he became the leader. And the Blairites – they’re the neoliberals in the British Labour Party – hated Jeremy Corbyn. There’s no doubt about it. And he nearly won the election in 2017. And from then on the Blairites and the other careerists who wanted to get rid of Corbyn just systematically undermined him.
And towards the end, the whole antisemitism ruse and destroyed political careers, including one of my friends in Britain, who was an MP, Chris Williamson. But destroyed Corbyn. And while they were doing it, they were undermining the electability of their own party. And they basically guaranteed that Boris Johnson would become elected. And so, same syndrome. I mean, I don’t know what the latest trends in America – I know what they are, but I don’t know whether Trump’s going to win or not. I mean, it’s really difficult to read at the moment.
I think it’s in this Supreme court thing; who knows how that’s going to impact it. And, you know, the Democrats also thought Hillary would win in the 2016 election, and the polls were dramatically wrong, so you just don’t know. But I mean, it’s looking to me as if Trump’s still got a pretty good chance. And it’s also probably… My estimate from abroad is that Bernie Sanders would have probably had a better chance than Biden. So, go figure.
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I have been doing a lot of reading lately on folks like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. And Malcolm X was very blunt. And he wrote an article in the New York Times, an op-ed, where he spoke about the Goldwater campaign in the sixties. And he said, I think that it would be better to have Goldwater. Not because Goldwater’s going to do anything. He’s evil, he said, but Black people will finally see for themselves what it really looks like.
Because the Democrats, the white liberals, the moderates, are more steeped in law and order than they are in justice. And basically he would rather see the wolf coming straight for him than have someone hug him and shove a knife in his back nine inches. And he said, “Look, if you put a knife in my back nine inches, then pull it out six, don’t tell me that’s progress. I’m still dead.” And that’s what we’re being sold.
Good friends, friends that I’ve known for years, friends that know MMT, friends trying to sell me that we have to do this. We must do this. We must vote Biden, we must. And I’m saying to myself, I see both of them as my enemy. So if I see both of them as my enemy, which one am I going to have a larger army to fight with? Am I going to have a larger army to fight against Biden? No.
75% of “vote blue, no matter who’s,” which is what they say in the United States, will simply go back to sleep, go to brunch, check their 401ks and enjoy the rising Wall Street, speculative dollars. However, if Trump is in there, the sad thing is, is that you’ll see all of these very well to do bougie type people, staying engaged because they are rabidly activated against Donald Trump. So if you’re not going to get anything you want from either of these two, the best I see is have an enemy that we all unite against.
I’m terrified of what it would be like to install 12 years of neoliberalism, when the clock is ticking for climate change. I don’t even know what to do. And there is no AOC. There is no progressive going to go into the White House because the Democratic Party has no reason to allow a primary challenge. They’ve already shown in court that they don’t have to. They have already shown two times in a row that if they think a progressive’s going to win, they’re going to tip the scales.
They are not going to let that happen. So when you have a situation like that, you don’t even know what to do. You’ve already said you have no idea what to do. I’m telling you as a person in the United States who feels tremendous pressure to have an answer for this question. Not only because I do media, but because I’m an activist, I want to have a clear path forward. And really at the end of the day, I recognize that our pathway is through resistance.
And it’s probably not through the electoral process. It’s probably just through people in the streets, and labor unions organizing, and people organizing and making sure, regardless of who wins, that we’re prepared. But unfortunately the voices that are actively leading those organizational efforts are mostly not MMT-informed. So we are going to rebuild neoliberalism back in, thinking that we’re escaping neoliberalism and it’s really disappointing.
I’m curious. What are your thoughts about MMT entering into these resistance movements? What do you see the adoption? I mean, we’ve talked about Kelton’s book offline. It’s clearly made a lot of waves. It’s clearly gotten a lot of notoriety. Your textbook, “Reclaiming the State,” Warren [Mosler], everybody. We’ve been doing so much work as a movement. Do you see any hope of this taking off in such a way that we actually make a difference or do you see it being watered down by the neoliberal establishment?
Well, just before I answer that question, I think one of the things that is going to play out over time is that, whether Americans see this themselves, it’s quite obvious that America is slipping as a world power. Its previous dominance in the world is in decline in terms of geopolitical power plays. The Chinese are very clever – their “Belt and Road” [Initiative] program. While the Americans are mean-spirited in their attitude to world aid, largely, China has been stitching up deals, infrastructure deals, health systems, education systems, all around the world through the Pacific, into Africa, into Asia.
And you know, as a world power America is in decline. That’s the point. And so when the American people finally work that out: their cities are crumbling, the inequalities rising, the banksters are making off with, by proportions of the income produced… Your real wages haven’t grown very much at all, your health system is in tatters, and with the pandemic that’s exemplified. The youth of America are increasingly facing a local environment that’s in real bad shape and a jobs market that’s not going to give them very much prosperity or even what their parents might have enjoyed.
And the point that the baby boomers are the first generation in history to leave their children poorer, both in material terms and also in qualitative terms, that’s exemplified in the United States. So those two forces, when Americans realize – after enduring all of this inequality and breakdown of systems and what have you – that America itself is losing out in the rest of the world, it’s no longer the big voice, and maybe all it’s got is an army that can still wreak havoc, then I think you’ve got the climate to make changes.
And that goes back to what I said earlier about there was a reason why trade unions and welfare states were promoted; citizens can only take so much. And I think a lot of Americans – and excuse me for saying this – are sort of living in this delusion that America is still great. And when viewed from the outside, America looks like a very silly country, a failed state. And I think in substantial terms, that view is playing out.
Now to tackle the question about education, Warren and I and Randy, when we first started out on the MMT path in the mid-nineties, we used to laugh that you could count the MMTers on one hand, three or four of us. And then we got terribly excited when we spilled over onto the second hand, more than five. And if you then think about where we are now, even though you’re feeling despair and frustration, MMT is becoming mainstream. Everybody’s hearing about it in the Australian press as regular articles now. I write op-eds in the Murdoch press about MMT.
Critics or supporters are getting articles published regularly. Central bankers are talking about it. They’re giving evidence before government committees about it. The financial markets are increasingly getting me to run workshops to teach them MMT – all around the world, not just in Australia – because they want to know about it and they also now have finally worked out that an adherence to mainstream economics has cost them money. So I wouldn’t be as despairing about the spread of the ideas just yet.
The real danger I’m seeing – and it comes from both within and from without – is the same thing that sort of happened to Keynes’s ideas in the Great Depression: that the mainstream economists sort of hijacked his substantial insights into what we call the neoclassical synthesis, which essentially watered his ideas down to a special case. And we don’t need to go into the technicalities, but the point is that I’m now seeing increasingly mainstream economists, not the rabid ones right out on the extreme, but the sort of more centrist mainstream macroeconomists who were running this old “we knew it all along” line, and that “there’s nothing new here, you know, we knew all this.”
In other words, normalizing MMT within their own skillset, when our work has, in my view, demonstrated the catastrophic failure of mainstream macroeconomics. And so there’s a real push and shove, you know, tug-of-war going on now about the purity of our paradigm and the way in which the mainstream paradigm is trying to recapture it so they can maintain their hegemony in the profession. Now, Max Planck – he was a German physicist – said, you know, “paradigms change one funeral at a time.”
And what he was really meaning was that the senior professors have to retire and die off and all the younger people within the profession in the Academy, who wouldn’t say “Boo” to senior professors while they were in power because of the culture in academic society, that’s the way it operates. Those young people are liberated once their older masters retire and go. And they’ve been reading all this stuff. And as an example, I was talking to a senior political advisor the other day, who was seeking my help to develop a program, a job guarantee proposition to the government.
And he was saying that the political representatives of the party are all neoliberals and won’t budge at all. They’re vested too much in that. But the younger apparatchiks, the advisors, the activists who are out there handing out “how to vote” cards and who are doing the research for the political parties. He said to me, “They’re increasingly becoming MMTers.” So that gives me great hope that eventually they’re the trainee political representatives. And so if that sort of thing is going on in Australia, and I know it’s going on in other countries, it might be going on in the US too. And that should give you hope.
I see folks, especially like Fadhel Kaboub, who has been very active with specific candidates. In fact, recently, Scott Ferguson had brought a lady named Cindy Banyai, who released a podcast just this past week. And Cindy is just a real dynamo. She knows MMT and I was blown away. And it was a great talk. One of the few candidates that I’ve spoken to that had that depth of knowledge, as she understood the Social Security scenario, she understood the sovereign spending.
She understood the whole enchilada and really, it was, it was shocking. So yeah, I guess I do see a little hope there. But we’re running against a buzzsaw of nature and converging timelines. You know, we’re trying to educate over here. Education has to then be followed with action. It can’t just be, “Hey, I know all this stuff.” Now you got to see policy that represents it. And that’s my concern.
That’s the problem. I mean, I gave talks last year about green transition and the despairing conclusion was that if the climate scientists are right, well, then we’re cooked. And what I meant by that was that the educative process – you go to primary school for five or six years, and then you go to secondary school for another six, and then you’re qualified to go to university. That’s a 12 or 15 year gestation period before you’re considered to be educated.
And what we’re trying to do is take people that have been miseducated for years, and a false economic paradigm embedded in their DNA almost – by very skillful marketing, by very skillful framing and language – and reversing all of that is a long gestation period. And we’ve been at this for a long time, and we’re just starting to see the efforts of that education process that we’ve been engaged in spreading a bit and taking a little bit of traction in the debate.
But then, as you say, to then mobilize grassroots activists movements, who are informed by that new understanding and knowledge – that’s another thing again. And that’s outside my skillset but I understand that it’s not an easy thing to do. And so if the climate scientists are correct that we’ve got maybe 10 years maximum, well then we’re in real peril. And I think that’s what we really need to focus on and somehow accelerate the education process and accelerate the organization of grassroots resistance.
And I think that’s got to be our challenge rather than becoming obsessed with the November election in the US and tearing ourselves apart, whether we vote for Biden or not as progressives and feeling absolutely sick if you decide to do that, or feeling totally disenfranchised if you choose not to – rather than that sort of focus and chewing up all of your energy and mental health, I think focus on accelerating that education campaign. And I think the Real Progressives do a fantastic job there and, you know, exploiting the skill sets of Fadhel Kaboub, for example. He’s a wonderful person. Really has a great feel for the interface between the education and the activism on a daily basis, I think.
And people like Scott Ferguson are similar in that way. I think accelerate the education and accelerate your activism and build coalitions. I think that’s where progressive action should be. And that’s what we’re trying to do in Australia. We’ve just 2030. We’re trying to accelerate a education effort and build coalitions of interest that can really bypass the corruption of the traditional political parties who are so inertia-prone in their history and their institutional inertia.
They’re never going to change because there’s winners in that for them, you know, there’s big corporate donors and whether they’re in government or not, they still swan around with largesse and rent; and they’re winners. And so we’ve got to bypass all of that and create new political voices and movements. That’s the way I think.
I absolutely agree with you. I’ll tell you one of the biggest challenges – because I’ve come from that side now – and one of the biggest challenges are gatekeepers. There are all these self-appointed gatekeepers that kind of keep people at bay, make sure that they keep them away from making an impact, keep them at an arm’s distance to keep them under thumb, and it’s rampant. And it’s terrifying because the voices that are playing the role of gatekeeper are not necessarily people who are in dire straights.
They are people who have means and are not going to be impacted whether Medicare for All is actually enacted or not. Their lives will be just fine. And the people that are fighting tooth and nail for their lives are marginalized, even within the progressive community. And joining groups, there’s still an incredible amount of ego, an incredible amount of power plays.
And it’s terrifying that at this late hour, such behavior would continue, but there is a tremendous amount of gatekeeping and power-brokering, even within activist, non-elected circles. I see it in academia. I see it in the streets. It’s going to be the death of us, I’m afraid. That’s the biggest fear is watching groups unwilling to work together because – power, some perceived power. I don’t get it.
You read “Reclaiming the State” and in “Reclaiming the State,” we traced the way in which the left political forces, the progressive political forces, had become basically co-opted. And you know, you go back to the seventies where postmodernism became a thing in the academic humanities, and it completely distorted the way in which the traditional progressive political forces had focused on economic class as an organizing framework.
And instead focused on all sorts of identity locations, as a way of understanding people’s positions in society. And in the current debate, we talk about the “woke,” who seem to dominate progressive political parties these days. And I don’t study Democratic politics very closely in America, I follow it daily, but… I do understand British politics very well. And I had quite a lot of input into that debate.
And the Brexit debate was a classic case where the urban left – who hadn’t really lost out to globalization, to the neoliberalism, hadn’t really lost out – had such disdain for the working class in the North and the Midlands of Britain who had really lost everything, their job security, their government services, their community integrity, the integrity of their community, you know, lost services, cutbacks to local governments from the national government, from the Tories. And, you know, the urban progressives were lecturing them continually, “Oh, if we leave the European union, there’ll be costs.”
And the problem is that they didn’t understand that the people in the North and the Midlands basically incurred all these costs anyway, as a consequence of going along with this whole EU neoliberal thing. And the Tories within Britain being an advanced form of neoliberalism. And, you know, you can go to France and think about the yellow vests, their regional revolt, basically, against the urban elites in Paris and the major French cities like Lyon, or whatever.
And these urban elites have no feel for the working lives and the community lives of those who are being left behind. And then they become, as you used the term, gatekeepers. Well then the urban elites turn on these workers and, “Oh, they did a vote in the June, 2016 referendum to leave the EU. Oh, they must be either racists or idiots, because we know better.”
And it’s that sort of constancy of attack on working class people from educated elites that is really making progressive political parties, the traditional parties of labor parties, and socialist parties aren’t electable now, because the life’s experience and cultural attitudes of the disadvantaged low-pay working class is so remote from those of the lived experience of the educated urban elites, who are very progressive in their socialist thinking, but they’ve lost that ability to communicate with the more disadvantaged workers.
And I’ve been doing some research lately on “duty to work” and “right to work” type issues because there’s a lot of people in the progressive side of politics who really are starting to lean towards UBI, basic income, because even if they support a simultaneous introduction of a job guarantee, because they argue that nobody should be forced to work. Even if they are able to work, a person should be allowed to get a sinecure from the state into perpetuity.
Now you trace through the traditional historical attitude to those issues, and it’s an overwhelming working class sentiment that they want governments to guarantee a right to work. And the government should have that responsibility because they’ve got the fiscal capacity to ensure there are sufficient jobs. But equally the working class have typically, always believed that it’s a reciprocal thing as part of being in society, that everybody should do what they can by way of their capacities to work and take advantage of those job opportunities that the government has a responsibility to provide.
And what you’re seeing in progressive quarters now, among the “woke,” in inverted commas, increasingly a break with that idea that they don’t think people should have a duty to work in society and reciprocate and add to society as a collective. They are seeing the world in individualistic terms, which is really neoliberal terms, and not in terms of socialist terms, or collective terms, where you have a responsibility to each other to do what you can. And so I think that those tensions are what are making our progressive political parties unelectable, because the traditional workers won’t support that sort of disdain towards the traditional attitudes.
It’s interesting. There is a growing movement – it’s not a party yet, but there’s a growing movement called Movement for a People’s Party – and they’re calling it People’s Party now. And it had folks like Chris Hedges, Nina Turner, Cornel West, Danny Glover, Marianne Williamson, and they all kind of signed onto this, but they brought Scott Santens, of all people, into the mix. And they brought the Yang gang into the mix. And now it’s UBI, UBI, UBI. Guys, this is pure unadulterated, neoliberalism. It doesn’t change the working conditions of the people. It doesn’t fix inequality. It has no price anchor. It has so many things that are non-transformative.
That if you don’t take a step back and take a look at this, we’re going to be leaving the frying pan, jumping right into the fire with yet again, another neoliberal party, instead of having a real, genuine, progressive MMT-informed party, you’ve got a Silicon Valley approved neoliberal party. And it’s tragic. And it’s happening again. And so now not only are you watching the Democrats pull neoliberalism through Joe Biden and Kamala, but you’re watching the third parties do it as well.
It is really enough to make you throw your hands in the air. And then you look at the fires burning and you look at the hurricanes coming and you look at the drought and then you say, Nope, I can’t throw my hands up in the air. I’ve got to keep fighting. If I die, at least I die fighting, right? That’s the best I can come up with, but it’s very depressing. It’s extremely depressing, Bill.
For several decades, we’ve promoted the idea of the individual. And we’ve seen that when there’s systemic failure to create enough jobs, that’s how we get mass unemployment. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that that’s somehow a problem of the individuals who haven’t got the jobs that they’re lazy, or they’re being subsidized by income support from governments of various levels of generosity – very low in your country – and what have you, you know, and that’s gonna take a long time.
The framing and language to construct us as individuals, rather than members of society and members of the collective that can enjoy individual freedom, but also a responsibility to the collective, that took a long time to break down and it’s going to take a long time to build back up again. Because these sort of social changes, these socio-cultural type changes don’t occur overnight. They’re the product of years of conditioning and media reinforcement. And where activism has to be focused, in my view, it’s breaking down that emphasis that we’re just all individuals and, you know, Maggie Thatchers.
There’s no such thing as society. And where the progressive voice has to resume is to promote society, promote the collective, promote individual responsibility. And not see individuals as just consumption units and if they don’t have any work, they can be kept alive to consume a small amount of consumption goods and services with a dollop of UBI and forget about all the rest of the things, the advantages that come from being connected to a workplace.
We’ve got to break down that thinking and not see it as progressive at all. And take the working class with us. And there’s lots of things that the working class citizens have that I want to see change: attitudes to race, attitudes to gender, attitudes to sexuality, and those sort of traditional prejudices. I want to see them broken down, too, through education. But I also applaud the traditional working class values of solidarity and collective spirit, and that we’re all in this together and we’ve got to fight for each other.
And that means we’ve got to fight for jobs because that’s what people want. Not to use our progressive voice to get governments to hand out a few bob – so in your context, a few cents – to keep a person able to consume a minimum amount until we work out ways in which we can eliminate their spending power altogether. That’s the way I see it.
Bill, what would be your parting words to progressive activists who are MMT-informed as we wade through these dark days?
Well, stay with the agenda. As I said, education’s a process. And we’re only going to change all of that neoliberal framing – the way we think, the way we construct our realities – and we’ve been conditioned to construct them in a particular way. And the work I’ve done with Louisa Connors shows you that there’s this thing called construal, that we can look at a world and construe it in a totally different way. We reframe the way in which we present that world to people. And that’s the role of education and the role of skillful marketing and media, and what have you – to reframe the whole discussion.
And meanwhile, to start rebuilding that sense of collective, start rebuilding that sense of responsibility to society among activists, and to see each other as being part of a broad society, rather than just individuals out there to make a name for ourselves in one way or another. And hope to hell that we’ve got some climate space that we can do that education and that organization and we can save the planet.
But I’d focus on the positive and wouldn’t get tied up too much in the dilemma you’re facing with Biden and Trump. I mean, it’s a no win, isn’t it? So try to move beyond that sort of angst, not tear yourselves apart about that, but move beyond it. And basically I’m an optimist. I just, every day get up and pursue the education agenda in hopes that that little bit each day moves us in a positive way.
That’s great. I’m going to take that and I’m going to go to sleep. I’m going to keep that in my head and my heart, and I’m going to wake up and try and stay positive because it’s such a challenge. Bill, thank you so much for joining me again. I really appreciate it. And please tell Louisa I said hello. I really miss you guys. And I really appreciate all the work you guys do.
You’re tireless, and I don’t think you get enough respect or praise or just credit for the work you’ve done. And I just want to say you’ve been a tremendous ambassador and a dear friend, and I just really thank you so much for everything you do.
Thank you. And it’s not about getting credit. It’s about making changes and we’re all doing our little bit, I hope. So, take care and we’ll talk again, huh?
Thank you so much. We’ll talk soon. This is Steve Grumbine and Bill Mitchell, Macro N Cheese. We’re out of here. Thanks.
End credits [music] (57:42):
Macro N Cheese is produced by Andy Kennedy, descriptive writing by Virginia Cotts, and promotional artwork by Mindy Donham. Macro N Cheese is publicly funded by our Real Progressives Patreon account. If you would like to donate to Macro N Cheese, please visit patreon.com/realprogressives.
Euskal Herri osoan, mutatis mutandis, ez dugu ezer egitekorik PNV edo eta EH Bildu-rekin.
“… try to move beyond that sort of angst, not tear yourselves apart about that, but move beyond it.”
“… we’re not going to get anything we want from either of these two, it’s time to move on.”