Last week (February 8, 2018), we witnessed the US Senate spectacle with Rand Paul embarrassing himself with his lack of economic knowledge but also embarrassing both major parties – the Republicans for their gross hypocrisy and the Democrats for their gross idiocy. The – Congressional Record – of Paul’s speech (starting S817) is a classic. Also, last week, the stables were stirring apparently, as the ‘bond vigilantes’ were strapping on their saddles and getting ready to make the US government suffer for its so-called fiscal ‘ill discipline’. These characters apparently emerge out of the darkness of fiscal profligacy to defend our interests and force the government to run surpluses. Fantasy stuff all round. In fact, Rand Paul should resign and get a job he is more suited for (which would be?) and the bond vigilantes should make sure their Shetland ponies are not to wild for them. These bond traders play this elaborate game of bluff and pretend they have the power over the government. In fact, they are mendicants queuing up for their daily dollop of corporate welfare and the government could play them out of the game anytime it chose to. The problem is that the bluff works because governments are captive to the neoliberal nonsense that my professsion preaches.
One wonders what goes on in the heads of politicians sometimes. Perhaps not much other than a warped sense of their purpose in life – which for some seems to be to advance themselves rather than advance societal well-being. In recent days, fiscal debates have raged on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, there is the Trump tax cut debate. The correct progressive response would be to focus on why these cuts will not advance anybody but the rich and will do very little if anything to create new jobs. Unfortunately, prominent Democrats such as the awful Nancy Pelosi have been spouting stuff about the tax cuts increasing the federal deficit and federal debt. At a time, when the Republicans are abandoning the deficit terrorism to advance their own interests, the Democrats seems to be reinforcing the ‘deficits are bad’ narrative. Instead, they could have seized the opportunity to say to the American people – see deficits are fine but the real issue is what we do with them. Pelosi and her ilk seem incapable of adopting that quality of leadership. In the UK, the reality is dawning on the British government that the austerity harvest is anything but what they had hoped it would be. No surprises there. Austerity undermines growth which can easily increase the fiscal deficit when the goal is the opposite. But the way that reality is being handled in the progressive press is pathetic. The UK Guardian, for example, has headlines about ‘black holes’ and is giving oxygen to reports that talk about the deteriorating fiscal situation in the UK. Readers are left with nothing but neoliberalism reinforcement of the ‘deficits are bad’ myth. A shocking indictment of the progressive debate in the UK.
Next Friday (September 22, 2017), I will be presenting at a panel on developments associated with the proposed MMT University and our new MMT Macroeconomics textbook, which will be published by Macmillan in April 2018. The panel will present during the First International MMT Conference, to be held in Kansas City. In part, my contribution will be to discuss the general pedagogical concerns that we (Randy Wray, Martin Watts and myself) had as we wrote the textbook over what turned out to be several years. We were confronted with the situation that we want our textbook to be used as widely as possible in the first and second years of a typical undergraduate program, but also didn’t want to fall into the trap of compromising what we considered to be a unified body of theory based upon Modern Monetary Theory (MMMT) for what other colleagues (particularly, mainstream academics) would claim to be necessary material to prepare a student for the labour market. We now have what we believe is a very strong two-year sequence in macroeconomics, firmly founded on MMT principles, with a good balance between discursive narrative, historical context, empirical challenge, and formal (mathematical) reasoning. When one compares it to other post-GFC developments in the pedagogy of macroeconomics, some of which have received the headlines in the past week, I think the curriculum embodied in our text is progressive, consistent, and doesn’t fall into the typical neoliberal default regarding governments and the monetary system.
In The role of literary fiction in perpetuating neo-liberal economic myths – Part 1, I noted introduced the idea that fictional literature plays a significant role in framing false economic concepts and, thus, can promotes neo-liberal biases among the readership, even when the plot of the narrative is ostensibly about something other than economics. In other words, what parades as fiction becomes a powerful tool for spreading ideological propaganda, often in a very subliminal or subtle way. In Part 2, I demonstrate that further and provide correct Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) interpretations of popularised economic statements that the characters in the book in focus (The Mandibles) weave into their conversation as if they are accepted facts. The lesson is clear. To further advance Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) ideas, novelists who are sympathetic to the cause should construct their narratives consistent with the MMT principles, where economic matters are touched upon in their work. This will help to counter the misconceptions that arise in literary fiction when authors engage with flawed neo-liberal arguments about the monetary system. It might also help educate book reviewers who often, knowingly or unknowingly, reinforce the myths in the main text.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.