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Reflections on a visit to New Zealand

Last Friday, I gave a public lecture organised by the strategy group Strategy2040 and the full presentation is available on YouTube – Thinking in a Modern Monetary Theory Way (I made it available in yesterday’s blog). After that presentation I was invited to a ‘Roundtable’ meeting (although the layout was rectangular) which comprised about 30 or so people (mostly economists as I gather) being given the opportunity for 90 minutes to question me about the presentation etc – to tear me apart really. There was a call from an former senior central banker in the audience to have Chatham House rules governing the meeting. I declined acceptance of that constraint. Opinions should be owned. But what the meeting taught me was that, despite the GFC and the failure of the mainstream macroeconomics to predict it, deal with it when it arrived and then change its approach in the aftermath, very little has changed within the mainstream narrative. The same myths are being propagated and academic and senior policy economists seem blithe to reality.

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Being lectured about the problem by those who created the problem

There are many examples of high profile players in the political arena trying to revise history and reinvent themselves to suit the new climate they are operating in. Tony Blair is a notable example in recent months where he sought to influence the upcoming British election by casting aspersions on the current Labour Party leadership. His past record is so abysmal that anyone in their right mind would just go away and stay silent. But this sort of person – the revisionist reinventers – have a thick hide and a sense of entitlement that most of us couldn’t imagine. I read an article in the American Prospect Magazine last week (June 1, 2017) – The Democrats’ ‘Working-Class Problem’ – written by Stanley B. Greenberg, an American pollster who “works with center-left political parties in the United States and abroad” and so claims to have insights into why people vote the way they do. This was a classic example of being lectured about a problem when the lecturer is himself part of the problem but, seemingly, fails to see that.

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World Bankspeak – how to hide the failure of a mission!

As the title of my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale – indicates, I am interested in both economics and patterned behaviour within groups and the way groups erect edifices (such as, denial) to defend positions. I am also interested in the way groups use language. In an upcoming edition of the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, I have an article written with Dr Louisa Connors entitled – Framing Modern Monetary Theory, which discusses this topic. Framing and language is a tool that reinforces Groupthink and allows group (organisations) to engage in denial even though the facts convey a different message. A 2015 analysis of World Bank Annual Reports from 1946 to 2012 is illustrative of the way in which framing, grammar and word usage can be used to clothe reality. The analysis published by the Stanford Literary Lab – Bankspeak: The Language of World Bank Reports, 1946–2012 – documents the shift in language by the World Bank between the first two decades of Annual Reports to the second two decades. They show how the Bank shifts from a language that is readily understood and considers a concrete world and offers very little prescriptive input to a narrative that becomes so opaque and filled with financial buzz words that comprehension is lost. They document the emergence of what they refer to as “Bankspeak”. Groupthink requires a certain language to reinforce the increasingly unsustainable reality that the group lives within. That is the role of the World Bankspeak! The Literary Lab analysis is worth reading because it provides a coherent analysis of the way words and sentence structures (grammar) are manipulated to shift focus, allay concern and basically, undermine accountability mechanisms that were established to ensure an institutional mission was being faithfully pursued.

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