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The role of literary fiction in perpetuating neo-liberal economic myths – Part 1

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog – Reflections on a visit to New Zealand – which began by summarising some research I am working on which will be presented (with Dr Louisa Connors) at the upcoming MMT conference in Kansas City. This specific paper will be examining the role that fictional literature plays in framing false economic concepts and, thus, promoting neo-liberal biases among the readership, even when the plot of the narrative is ostensibly about something other than economics. We show that fiction is a powerful tool for spreading ideological propaganda, often in a very subliminal or subtle way. The lesson we draw from this work is that to further advance Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas, authors, who introduce economic concepts into their writing, should construct their narratives consistent with the MMT principles. This will help to counter the misconceptions that arise in literary fiction when authors engage with flawed neo-liberal arguments about the monetary system. This blog is in two parts and today is Part 1. Part 2 will come another day (soon).

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Progressives should move on from a reliance on ‘Robin Hood’ taxes

There was an article in the International Politics and Society journal (August 27, 2017) – Robin Hood had the right idea – which continues to demonstrate, how in my view, the Left has gone down a deadend path with respect to financial market reform and re-establishing a credible progressive agenda. The sub-title of the article ‘Why the left needs to deliver on the financial transaction tax’ indicates that the author, Stephany Griffith-Jones, who has long advocated positions I am sympathetic to (particularly with respect to development economics), thinks a financial tax is a viable strategy for the Left to push. The problem is that none of these ‘Robin Hood solutions’ are viable and are based on faulty understandings of the way monetary systems operate.

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The divide-and-conquer strategy of the CIA in France 1985-style

A good friend sent me a document that was released under the US Central Intelligence Agency’s rules about archives. The CIA has established a fabulous ‘Freedom of Information Act Electronic Reading Room’ where all sorts of stuff is released after they deem it benign to current security concerns. The 1985 CIA document – France: Defection of the Leftist Intellectuals – written by CIA operatives, provides an analytical summary of the leading lights in the French left-wing intellectual thought in the 1980s with a view of promoting ….. It is redacted but only marginally. There is no doubt as to what the message is. It helps us understand the forces that were mounted against the progressive Left by right-wing, pro-market forces and how the public was manipulated to reject This is part of the research I am currently doing on the way literature, particularly fiction, is used to advance the neo-liberal ideological position – to make it look as though the ideas about governments running out of money and the like are just extensions of our usual individual experience in families and households. That research will be disseminated in a paper that Louisa Connors and I are giving at the upcoming MMT conference in Kansas City.

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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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