The way forward for progressives

Today’s blog represents the notes that make up the conclusion of my upcoming book with Italian journalist Thomas Fazi which will be entitled – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World – and is due to be launched by Pluto Press in London on September 26, 2017. More details of that event and the promotion tour that will follow in due course. We have just about finalised the events through Europe and hope to see as many of you as is possible. As previously noted, this work traces the way the Left fell prey to what we call the globalisation myth and formed the view that the state has become powerless (or severely constrained) in the face of the transnational movements of goods and services and capital flows. Social democratic politicians frequently opine that national economic policy must be acceptable to the global financial markets and, as a result, champion right-wing policies that compromise the well-being of their citizens. The book traces both the history of this decline into neo-liberalism by the Left and also presents what might be called a ‘Progressive Manifesto’ to guide policy design and policy choices for progressive governments. We hope that the ‘Manifesto’ will empower community groups by demonstrating that the TINA mantra, where these alleged goals of the amorphous global financial markets are prioritised over real goals like full employment, renewable energy and revitalised manufacturing sectors is bereft and a range of policy options, now taboo in this neo-liberal world are available. In today’s blog I present some notes that will form the conclusion of the book. The manuscript is now at the publishers and it will be available for purchase in a few months.

Conclusion et la voie à suivre

La voie à suivre – the path forward. In Part 2 of this book, we outline what we call a progressive, emancipatory vision of national sovereignty radically alternative to that of both the right and the neo-liberals.

This agenda is based on popular sovereignty, democratic control over the economy, full employment, social justice, redistribution from the rich to the poor, inclusivity and more.

In general, we advocate the socioecological transformation of production and society and present key areas of change that are required to make that possible.

Further, we consider that it is politically possible to achieve that path forward.

Furthermore, we argue that the struggle to defend the democratic sovereign from the onslaught of neoliberal globalisation is the only basis on which the Left can be refounded (and the nationalist right challenged).

However, this is not enough. The Left also needs to abandon its obsession for identity politics and retrieve the ‘more expansive, anti-hierarchical, egalitarian, class-sensitive, anti-capitalist understandings of emancipation’ that used to be its trademark (which, of course, is not in contradiction with the struggle against racism, patriarchy, xenophobia and all other forms of oppression and discrimination).

Fully embracing a progressive vision of sovereignty also means abandoning the many false macroeconomic myths that plague left-wing and progressive thinkers.

One of the most pervasive and persistent myths is the assumption that governments are revenue-constrained, that is, that they need to ‘fund’ their expenses through taxes or debt.

This leads to the corollary that governments have to ‘live within their means’, since ongoing deficits will inevitably result in an ‘excessive’ accumulation of debt, which in turn is assumed to be ‘unsustainable’ in the long run.

In reality, monetarily sovereign (or currency-issuing) governments – which nowadays include most governments – are never revenue-constrained because they issue their own currency by legislative fiat and always have the means to achieve and sustain full employment.

We need to understand that government’s choose the unemployment rate in their nations, not some amorphous ‘market’.

Finally, even though our book focuses mainly on the economic and technical aspects of a progressive national strategy, it is clear that having a compelling socioeconomic program is not enough to win over the hearts and minds of the people.

Beyond the centrality of the state from a political-economic point of view, the Left has to come to terms with the fact that for the vast majority of people that don’t belong – and never will belong – to the globe-trotting international elite, their sense of citizenship, collective identity and common good is intrinsically and intimately tied to nationhood.

Ultimately, being a citizen means to deliberate with other citizens in a shared political community and hold decision-makers accountable.

I have been reading a new book – Rules for Revolutionaries: How Big Organizing Can Change Everything – which is written by Becky Bond and Zack Exley, who were leading organisers for the Bernie Sanders’ Presidential nomination campaign in 2016.

Together they demonstrated how so-called ‘distributed organising’ through use of social media and smart use of large data sets can turn traditional political campaigning on its head.

Relevant to the discussion today is Rule 1:

You Won’t Get a Revolution If You Don’t Ask for One.

The narrative follows as such:

What set Bernie apart from the start of his campaign was his message and his authenticity as a messenger. Then he unleashed the makings of a real political revolution – he asked for one.

He outlined radical solutions our moment calls for, not the tepid incrementalist compromises that most politicians think of all that is feasible.

Bernie didn’t talk about education tax credits or even debt-free college. He demanded free college tuition.

He didn’t advocate for complicated health insurance schemes, he said “healthcare is a human right.”

Bernie called for an end to mass incarceration, not incremental changes in sentencing laws.

He had no 10-point plan to regulate fracking to the point that it wouldn’t be feasible in most places in the United States. He simply said we should ban fracking.

The problem with the mainstream Left politics is that it has become so cautious and focus-group oriented that it has lost the capacity to outline a radical solution.

Instead of telling the people that governments cannot run out of money, these Left politicians demand we ‘tax the rich’ more to pay for essential services.

They opt for austerity-lite solutions – where they tell the people that while ‘budget repair’ is necessary to ensure AAA ratings are not lost, they will make the fiscal cuts fairer and the adjustment path less painful.

Why don’t they educate the people to help them understand that the only constraints on government spending are the availability of real resources for sale in the currency that the government issues? This includes, of course, all idle labour resources that are seeking paid work.

Such a government can always employ these labour resources and turn their efforts to improving community and environmental well-being. There is never a reasonable excuse to have any state less than full employment.

Why don’t these politicians educate the people about the irrelevance of these AAA-ratings that are given by corrupt capitalist rating agencies who sell their ratings for money as we learned in the wash-up from the GFC?

Why don’t they tell the people that the whole concept of ‘budget repair’ is nonsensical and a neo-liberal ploy to cut government assistance to the least advantaged without impeding the ongoing public assistance to the most advantaged – the characteristic of the neo-liberal era?

The answer lies in the fact that the core neo-liberal ideas and mantras have so infested the political Left that it has become unable to articulate anything like a ‘radical’ line.

Outsiders such as Bernie Sanders have shown the attraction of breaking out of the normal ‘safe’ political discourse. He has shown that if you want a revolution then you have to step outside the ‘conventional’ dialogue and actually propose radical solutions.

In our book, we preface the radical manifesto that comprises Part 2 by offering a coherent account of how the Left took the wrong pathway and now faces political oblivion in most advanced nations.

We argue that the advanced Western nations are currently in the midst of an anti-establishment revolt of historic proportions.

The Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the rejection of Matteo Renzi’s neoliberal constitutional reform in Italy, the EU’s unprecedented crisis of legitimation – although these interrelated phenomena differ in ideology and goals – they are all rejections the (neo)liberal order that has dominated the world – and in particular the West – for the past thirty years.

Even though the system has thus proven capable (for the most) of absorbing and neutralising these electoral uprisings, there is no indication that this anti-establishment revolt is going to abate any time soon.

Au contraire.

Support for anti-establishment parties in the developed world is at the highest level since the 1930s – and growing. The reasons for this backlash are rather obvious.

The financial crisis of 2007-9 laid bare the scorched earth left behind by neoliberalism, which the elites had gone to great lengths to conceal, in both material (financialisation) and ideological (‘the end of history’) terms.

The response of governments to the crisis exacerbated the private debt-driven collapse. Post-crisis policies of fiscal austerity and wage deflation pursued by a number of Western governments, particularly in Europe, have ensured the damage has endured and deepened.

Many conservatives saw the financial crisis as an opportunity to impose an even more radical neoliberal regime and to push through policies designed to suit the financial sector and the wealthy, at the expense of everyone else.

It was as if there was an unfinished agenda of privatisation, deregulation and welfare state retrenchment that was interrupted, inconveniantly by the GFC, that had to be reinstated as soon as the threats from the crisis to the riches and positions of the elites had passed.

Amidst growing popular dissatisfaction, social unrest and mass unemployment (in a number of European countries), political elites on both sides of the Atlantic responded with business-as-usual policies and discourses.

As a result, the social contract binding citizens to traditional ruling is more strained today than at any other time since World War II – and in some countries has arguably already snapped.

But the traditional Left is being steadily wiped out by these developments. It has been a long-time coming and our book traces the roots and explains the decline of the Left.

We see the decline not only in electoral terms, which is now becoming obvious (see below). Rather, we emphasise and trace the decline of core Left values within those parties and within society more in general.

Why has the well-organised traditional Left establishment proven unable to step up to the challenge of neo-liberalism. The answer is that these parties have become standard bearers for neo-liberalism themselves.

In the book we explain how and why the Left has come to count so little in global politics. We further provide a path with detailed policy agenda where the Left, both culturally and politically, can once again become a hegemonic force in our societies.

We argue that a renewed focus on national sovereignty has to be at the centre of this resurgence, for it is the centre of attention of the neo-liberal forces, despite their smokescreens about ‘free markets’, globalisation and international capital.

The book demonstrates how the hollowing out of national sovereignty and curtailment of popular-democratic mechanisms – the so-called ‘depoliticisation’ process – has been an essential element of the neoliberal project, aimed at insulating macroeconomic policies from popular contestation and removing any obstacles put in the way of economic exchanges and financial flows.

Given the nefarious effects of depoliticisation, it is only natural that the revolt against neoliberalism should first and foremost take the form of demands for a repoliticisation of national decision-making processes.

While the Left has succumbed to erroneous notions such as the nation-state is ‘dead’ or has been rendered ‘powerless’ by the
forces of international capital, and have thus concentrated political efforts on pan-national or post-national narratives, the Right has known all along that they had to coopt the state for their own purposes because the legislative fiat remains powerful.

The Right fed the line that the global capital now dominates the capacity of the nation-state to the Left, who fell for it – hook, line and sinker!

It is no surprise that in the recent major political events – Brexit, Trump, Dutch election, French Presidential election – the vision of national sovereignty was front and centre.

However, the Left was largely silent. Instead, this thirst for national sovereignty was rehearsed along ethnic, exclusivist and isolationist lines, which aimed at ensuring the security and protection of the ‘national community’ against the threat posed by a variety of external internal and external enemies and based on an even more exploitative and authoritarian form of capitalism.

The tendency of the traditional Left to equate these movements with a quest for national sovereignty has derailed their political voice.

The fact that Marie Le Pen challenges the French people to restore the sovereignty of France by vilifying disadvantaged immigrants and refugees should not be seen as an indictment of national sovereignty as such.

History attests to the fact that national sovereignty and national self-determination are not intrinsically reactionary or jingoistic concepts – in fact, they were the rallying cries of countless nineteenth- and twentieth-century socialist and left-wing liberation movements.

Even if we limit our analysis to core capitalist countries, it is patently obvious that virtually all the major social, economic and political advancements of the past centuries were achieved through the institutions of the democratic nation-state, not through international, multilateral or supranational institutions, which in a number of ways have, in fact, been used to roll back those very achievements.

The problem, in short, is not national sovereignty as such, but the fact that the concept in recent years has been largely monopolised by the right and extreme right, which understandably sees it as a way to push through its xenophobic and identitarian agenda.

It would therefore be a grave mistake to explain away the seduction of the ‘Trumpenproletariat’ by the far right as a case of false consciousness; the working classes are simply turning to the only (so far) movements and parties that promise them some protection from the brutal currents of neoliberal globalisation (whether they can or truly intend to deliver on that promise is a different matter).

The obvious question is why has the traditional Left not been able to offer the working classes and increasingly proletarianised middle classes a credible alternative to neoliberalism and to neoliberal globalisation?

More to the point, why has it not been able to develop a progressive view of national sovereignty?

We argue in the book, that the reasons are numerous and overlapping and have to be traced back in history as far back as the 1960s.

Part 1 of the book provides a forensic analysis of the ‘deep’ historical roots of the current existential crisis of the Left.

We document several key ‘turning points’ which saw the Left progressively abandon its traditional values and political positions.

Accordingly, we consider the rise and fall of Keynesianism; the conflation of globalisation (internationalisation of supply chains etc) with the neo-liberal free market agenda; the Monetarist corruption of the British Labour Party in the early 1970s; the ‘Germanification’ of the French socialists under François Mitterrand in 1983 (the so-called ‘tournant de la rigueur’ or ‘turn to austerity); the corruption of the major international economic institutions such as the World Bank, the OECD, the IMF; the push by capital to retrench full employment (for example, the Powell Manifesto in 1971), and the role of the academy in fomenting the growth of neo-liberal economics and the promotion of identity by Left academics as the terrain upon which struggle should proceed.

The historical analysis is essential if we are to arrive at an understanding of where things are at today. It helps us understand why the Left is now either implementing harsh neo-liberal policy regimes (for example, in Greece) or being wiped out in recent elections (for example, the Netherlands, France, Spain).

We also provide a coherent analysis of how the idea of the ‘death of the state’ came to be so engrained in our collective consciousness.

Underlying this post-national view of the world was (is) a failure to understand – and in some cases an explicit attempt to conceal – on behalf of left-wing intellectuals and policymakers that ‘globalisation’ was (is) not the result of inexorable economic and technological changes but was (is) largely the product of state-driven processes.

All the elements that we associate with neoliberal globalisation – delocalisation, deindustrialisation, the free movement of goods and capital, etc. – were (are), in most cases, the result of choices made by governments.

Moreover, states continue to play a crucial role in promoting, enforcing and sustaining a (neo)liberal international framework.

The traditional Left is now defined by the idea of the waning nation-state. We consider this to be of the main reasons of the Left’s decline and acquiescence to neoliberalism.

To make matters worse, most leftists have bought into the macroeconomic myths that the establishment uses to discourage any alternative use of state fiscal capacities. For example, they have accepted without question the so-called household budget analogy, which suggests that currency-issuing governments, like households, are financially constrained, and that fiscal deficits impose crippling debt burdens on future generations.

Take the current response by the US Democratic Party to the recent Trump tax cuts announcement as an example. There have been tweets with links to ‘debt clocks’ and tirades from Democrat sympathisers claiming the tax cuts are undesirable because they will “lead to trillions of dollars in added debt, not a balanced budget” and

Similarly, in the UK, tweets proclaiming “Incompetent Tories have trashed the economy” accompanying figures showing that public debt ratio has risen. The leader of the Opposition in the UK berating the Conservative government because they “they promised to eradicate the deficit by 2015” and they haven’t.

Please read my blog – British labour lost in a neo-liberal haze – for more discussion on this point.

Countless examples of this sort of neo-liberal capture of the once progressive sides of politics can be provided.

So when it comes to providing a distinctive voice in the political landscape – a critical narrative against the neo-liberal onslaught – these traditional Left parties offer rather wan variations on the same.

Voters become frustrated because they are increasingly forced to differentiate between one side of politics that is in the call of the banksters and wants to use the unemployed as a tool to ensure more income and resources are made available to the higher income groups, and, the other side of politics, which offers more or less the same future, but with some softer edges.

The Left intelligentsia has also become co-opted.

Waylaid by post-modernist and post-structuralist theories, left intellectuals slowly abandoned Marxian class categories to focus, instead, on elements of political power and the use of language and narratives as a way of gleaning meaning.

This also defined new arenas of political struggle that were diametrically opposed to those defined by Marx.

Over the past three decades, the Left focus on ‘capitalism’ has given way to a focus on issues such as racism, gender, homophobia, multiculturalism, etc.

Marginality is no longer described in terms of class but rather in terms of identity. The struggle against the illegitimate hegemony of the capitalist class has given way to the struggles of a variety of (more or less) oppressed and marginalised groups and minorities: women, blacks, LGBTs, etc. As a result, Marxian class struggle has ceased to be seen as the path to liberation.

In this new post-modernist world, only categories that transcend Marxian class boundaries are considered meaningful.

Moreover, the institutions that evolved to defend workers against capital – such as trade unions and social-democratic political parties – have become subjugated to these non-class struggle foci.

What has emerged in practically all Western countries as a result, as Nancy Fraser notes, is a perverse political alignment between ‘mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end “symbolic” and service-based business sectors (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood), on the other’.

The result is a progressive neoliberalism ‘that mixe[s] together truncated ideals of emancipation and lethal forms of financialization’, with the former unwittingly lending their charisma to the latter.

The working class has fragmented into factions where the well educated, highly mobile, highly skilled, socially progressive cosmopolitan urbanites no longer have any common purpose with the lower skilled and less educated peripherals who rarely work abroad and face competition for jobs from immigrants.

The mainstream political Left has aligned itself mostly with the former cohort and, in part, helps us understand why the right-wing revolt currently engulfing the West is gathering steam.

The problem is that the more the working classes turn to right-wing populism and nationalism, the more the intellectual-cultural Left doubles down on its liberal-cosmopolitan fantasies, further radicalising the ethnocentrism of the proletariat.

An understanding of why things have turned out this way is one thing. But to make real change requires more than just an understanding of the past.

In Part 2 of the book, we provide a coherent and radical agenda based on the central idea that sovereign, currency-issuing states, far from being helpless against the power of global capital, still have the capacity to deliver full employment and social justice to their citizens.

We argue that a progressive vision of national sovereignty should aim to reconstruct and redefine the national state as a place where citizens can seek refuge ‘in democratic protection, popular rule, local autonomy, collective goods and egalitarian traditions’, as Wolfgang Streeck argues, rather than a culturally and ethnically homogenised society.

This is also the necessary prerequisite for the construction of a new international(ist) world order, based on interdependent but independent sovereign states.

This is the vision that we present in our book.

We provide a detailed account of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) which provides the basis for our confidence in the capacity of the nation-state.

We redefine what we mean by productivity and efficiency to emphasise the social aspects, ignored by neo-liberal visions, which concentrate on how some activity impacts on the private profit bottom line.

We address the issues surround the external sector and debunk the notion that the Balance of Payments effectively constrains the capacity of a sovereign government to maximise domestic well-being. We demonstrate how the aspirations of global finance can be brought into line with the demands of a government intent on advancing the well-being of its citizens.

We revisit debates about protection and nation planning, including outlining a case for bank nationalisation and serious reform of the financial sector.

We avoid the tepid, coopted solutions often proposed by progressives such as ‘Robin Hood’ taxes. If global speculation is mostly destructive and governments do not need to tax in order to spend why not take the radical solution – declare these transactions illegal.

We provide a detailed framework for restoring the purpose of international institutions such as the IMF. We propose institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank be scrapped and a new body created which serves the purpose of aiding the poorest nations in the world rather than delivering returns to global capital.

Finally, we address the issue of unemployment front on. A typical response from progressive forces these days is to ensure there is an operational unemployment insurance system available (viz, the debate in the Eurozone) and then to introduce a basic income guarantee.

Neither is the radical option that is needed as a response to the problem. The problem is that there is not enough jobs being created to match the desires of the available workforce.

These typical progressive policy approaches just reinforce the neo-liberal regimes that have deliberately constrained the obvious capacity of the nation-state to step in and create the necessary work.

They effectively concede that the state should not use this clear capacity and thus play into the hands of the neo-liberals.

We choose the radical path. If there are people wanting work and the non-government sector will not for whatever reason satisfy those desires, then it is clear that the government sector can fill the breach.

Forget arcane discussions about the NAIRU, or disincentives to seek work provided by welfare systems, or all the other ploys that are used to justify preventing true full employment from being sustained.

Just create the work and make sure it advances community and environmental well-being.

Remember Rule 1 – “You won’t get a revolution if you don’t ask for one”.

The national elections in Greece, Spain, the US, Britain and, more recently, in the Netherlands and France are interesting in the way they talk to our arguments.

In Greece, the Left gained control of government only to succumb to the crushing oppression of the neo-liberal forces within Europe. The Syriza politicians did not seek a revolution and naively believed that the ‘democratic’ voice of the people would help them modify the worst ravages of Troika austerity.

Syriza did not obey Rule 1.

In Spain, the progressive parties such as Podemos lost ground in the last national elections precisely because they adopted the tepid, non-revolutionary approach to the problems at hand. It is obvious that Spain’s problems, initially, stem from its membership of the Eurozone.

Once a progressive voice decides to work within that straitjacket, its capacity to articulate meaningful change is lost.

In the US election, the progressive voice was assumed to be the Democrats. But they lost traction because the voters could not differentiate them from the Wall Street cabal that has dominated legislators in that nation for several decades.

Trump for all his shortcomings presented an anti-establishment voice, which was radical and compelling. Clearly, the reality of his Presidency will turn out to be different but he at least understood that an anti-establishment frame was essential.

A similar argument can be made for the Brexit campaign. Both Trump and the Leave case appealed to the appeal of restoring the nation-state against the global forces that have co-opted it and use its capacities to advance their narrow interests at the expense of the multitudes.

More recently, the Dutch and French elections have effectively wiped out the traditional Left voice. The Dutch Labour Party experienced a crushing rejection by the voters, sick to death of the platitudes and austerity-lite mantras of the party of the workers.

Similarly, in the recent Presidential election in France, the Socialists were wiped out for the same reasons.

They no longer present a compelling voice to the disaffected workers who are more attracted to extreme right-wing views.

The Right voice is attractive to the disenfranchised workers because it has woven powerful narratives of collective identity in which national sovereignty is defined in nativist, nationalist or even racist terms.

Progressives thus must be able to provide equally powerful narratives, which recognise the human need for belonging and connectedness. They must do that without resorting to the venal attacks on refugees and migrants that define the Right approach.

But there are two interesting elements of the Dutch and French election outcomes.

While the attention has been given to the growth of the Right-wing vote, in part, because the leadership of those movements have adopted sound organisational and promotional principles and targetted the emotional longings of the disenfranchised, the Dutch and French elections demonstrated a growing influence of an oppositional Left, which is no longer situated in the mainstream progressive parties.

So the growing influence of the Groen Links (Green Left) Party under the inspirational leadership of Jesse Klavier became obvious in the March 2017 national election where it won 9.1 per cent of the vote (a gain of 6.8 per cent on the previous election), while the Labour Party (PvdA) won only 5.7 per cent of the vote (down from 19.1 per cent).

Groen Links now has 14 seats in the House of Representative (Tweede Kamer) while the PvdA has only 9 seats (down from 38).

The French Presidential election demonstrated more categorically that an oppositional Left back was back in town and that it was in the form of a new political voice – la France insoumise (Untamed France) – under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The traditional Left PS (Socialist Party) candidate won only 6.36 per cent of the first round vote, whereas Mélenchon won 19.58 per cent.

The Right-wing FN (National Front) candidate Marie Le Pen only won 21.30 per cent and Emmanual Macron, the eventual winner came in with just 24.01 per cent of the first-round vote.

But if you dig further you learn some interesting things.

An IFOP Survey of the first-round voting patterns (Source) showed that Jean-Luc Mélenchon achieved 29 per cent of the 18 to 24 year old vote with Le Pen gaining 21 per cent of that cohort and Macron only 23 per cent.

Mélenchon also dominated the Under 35 vote and the student vote.

While Le Pen appealed to those with less education who lived in rural areas and worked in the lower paid occupations and Macron broadly appealed to the opposites, Mélenchon had broad appeal across regional space, occupations and educational levels.

He was able to bring together the traditional lower end of the working class as well as the young, well-educated workers who are facing a dismal future, especially in the context of the Loi travail otherwise known as the “El Khomri Law”, which is a pernicious legislative attack on the rights of workers introduced by the Socialist government under Manuel Valls.

Mélenchon clearly demonstrated what the Socialists have failed to articulate – a progressive vision with radical options (Plan B).

Instead of siding with capital to undermine the rights and welfare of French workers, Mélenchon articulated a vision for restoring worker rights, a radical redistribution of wealth, a free national health system, full employment and other policies that in the context of the current orthodoxy appear ‘radical’.

Of course, they are just traditional Left values.

While Mélenchon did not get to the second round, the point is that there is now an oppositional Left force in France to fill the void left by the insipid, neo-liberal Socialists, which can provide a basis for further progressive political action.

Conclusion

I will provide more details in due course when the book is to be published (in September).

This blog is just some background notes that will form the conclusion.

The series so far

This is a further part of a series I am writing as background to my next book on globalisation and the capacities of the nation-state. More instalments will come as the research process unfolds.

The series so far:

1. Friday lay day – The Stability Pact didn’t mean much anyway, did it?

2. European Left face a Dystopia of their own making

3. The Eurozone Groupthink and Denial continues …

4. Mitterrand’s turn to austerity was an ideological choice not an inevitability

5. The origins of the ‘leftist’ failure to oppose austerity

6. The European Project is dead

7. The Italian left should hang their heads in shame

8. On the trail of inflation and the fears of the same ….

9. Globalisation and currency arrangements

10. The co-option of government by transnational organisations

11. The Modigliani controversy – the break with Keynesian thinking

12. The capacity of the state and the open economy – Part 1

13. Is exchange rate depreciation inflationary?

14. Balance of payments constraints

15. Ultimately, real resource availability constrains prosperity

16. The impossibility theorem that beguiles the Left.

17. The British Monetarist infestation.

18. The Monetarism Trap snares the second Wilson Labour Government.

19. The Heath government was not Monetarist – that was left to the Labour Party.

20. Britain and the 1970s oil shocks – the failure of Monetarism.

21. The right-wing counter attack – 1971.

22. British trade unions in the early 1970s.

23. Distributional conflict and inflation – Britain in the early 1970s.

24. Rising urban inequality and segregation and the role of the state.

25. The British Labour Party path to Monetarism.

26. Britain approaches the 1976 currency crisis.

27. The 1976 currency crisis.

28. The Left confuses globalisation with neo-liberalism and gets lost.

29. The metamorphosis of the IMF as a neo-liberal attack dog.

30. The Wall Street-US Treasury Complex.

31. The Bacon-Eltis intervention – Britain 1976.

32. British Left reject fiscal strategy – speculation mounts, March 1976.

33. The US government view of the 1976 sterling crisis.

34. Iceland proves the nation state is alive and well.

35. The British Cabinet divides over the IMF negotiations in 1976.

36. The conspiracy to bring British Labour to heel 1976.

37. The 1976 British austerity shift – a triumph of perception over reality.

38. The British Left is usurped and IMF austerity begins 1976.

39. Why capital controls should be part of a progressive policy.

40. Brexit signals that a new policy paradigm is required including re-nationalisation.

41. Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 1.

42. Towards a progressive concept of efficiency – Part 2.

43. The case for re-nationalisation – Part 2.

44. Brainbelts – only a part of a progressive future.

45. Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 1.

46. Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 2.

47. Reducing income inequality.

48. The struggle to establish a coherent progressive position continues.

49. Work is important for human well-being.

50. Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 1.

51. Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 2.

52. Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 3.

53. Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 4 – robot edition.

54. Is there a case for a basic income guarantee – Part 5.

55. An optimistic view of worker power.

56. Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 3.

57. Reforming the international institutional framework – Part 4.

58. Ending food price speculation – Part 1.

59. Ending food price speculation – Part 2.

60. Rising inequality and underconsumption.

61. The case against free trade – Part 1.

62. The case against free trade – Part 2.

63. The case against free trade – Part 3.

64. The case against free trade – Part 4.

65. Moving on from the post-modernist derailment of the Left.

The blogs in these series should be considered working notes rather than self-contained topics. Ultimately, they will be edited into the final manuscript of my next book due in 2017. The book will be published by Pluto Books in London.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2017 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    25 Responses to The way forward for progressives

    1. Wayne McMillan says:

      Bill,
      This is one of your best blogs yet. Some great ideas for fledgling progressive political parties or new socio-political movements. Looking forward to the publication of your book in September this year. You never cease to amaze me!
      Regards
      Wayne

    2. Wayne McMillan says:

      Bill,
      Do you think your next book on globalisation and the capacities of the nation-state will be finished by 2018?
      Wayne

    3. larry says:

      Bill, your au contraire sentence does not quite fit with the preceding sentence.

    4. Willem says:

      In the Netherlands the PvdD (translated: party for the animals) more than doubled its seats in parliament (Tweede Kamer) with an anti-neoliberal programme that acknowledges the failure of the euro, a stance lacking with all other leftist parties ranging from the hip GroenLinks to the socialist-marxist SP. GroenLinks it seems will now be co-opted in the same neoliberal pro-euro straightjacket it fails to understand which will make the True alternative PvdD more appealing in the next election.

    5. anonymous says:

      Would it be correct to say that under current government circumstances, with Governments issuing bonds to fund its expenditures, in order for there to be a transition to a situation where government spends to maintain full employment and price stability (without raising bonds – which is what MMT advocates and I broadly agree with) it would need to figure out how to pay off those outstanding debts first. In other words, you couldn’t just print out money to pay off existing government debt because that actually would be inflationary. How would you deal with the existing debt that is currently owned by the Government?

      Is there a transition discussion that you have that would address this point?

    6. larry says:

      Bill, with respect to your key turning points, those you mention could be viewed as political. What about those forces that are only tangentially political, like Lewis turning points? I am thinking of Richard Koo’s reaction to Piketty’s Capital, “Piketty’s inequality and local versus global Lewis turning points”, published in Real-World Economics Review in 2014, though he has written on China’s Lewis turning points since. Lewis turning points from Arthur Lewis’s perspective “turned” on the relationship between surplus labor and economic development/evolution and the resultant economic inequality. This seems to me to be a different kind of turning point than those you mentioned. Even the IMF has gotten into the Lewis turning point act, to wit, Das and N’Daiye, “Chronicle of a Decline Foretold: Has China Reached the Lewis Turning Point?” (IMF WP1326).

    7. Podargus says:

      Some sense in this article but also some nonsense and that stems from a political bias.

      The only necessary bias is towards reality. That is sadly lacking across the whole political and social spectrum.

    8. Matt B says:

      Podargus, a bias to reality is a bias to the status quo. Political and social realities are never based in the status quo. When have you ever seen a ‘Keep Everything The Same’ party? Or a society that looks at the class system and everyone agrees that it’s fair?

    9. Philip Ritson says:

      Most of the commentary I’m reading on Labour’s UK election manifesto is along the lines of “well its very nice but how will you/they/we pay for it?”

      The manifesto itself reflects a misapprehension that the answer has to be either with more tax or debt. At the end of the day, its a fairly moderate document calling for a re-engagement with the concept of a mixed economy. I know your talking to the Labour Party this year Bill. I do hope they’re listening when you tell them how they can pay for it.

    10. Andreas Bimba says:

      Thanks Bill for your wise words, concern for humanity and incredible dedication. You have detailed the correct roadmap, all the progressive left needs to do is inform themselves and their supporters and make some breakthroughs.

    11. Neil Wilson says:

      Most of the commentary I’m reading on Labour’s UK election manifesto is along the lines of “well its very nice but how will you/they/we pay for it?”

      To which the response should be “by spending the money”

      *and nothing else*.

      Otherwise you fall into wrong frame of discussion.

      Economics is about the allocation of physical and intellectual resources, not money. The counter challenge should be to get the other party to explain what they propose to do with the doctor/teacher/nurse that is so much more important than working for the public good.

    12. Kevin Harding says:

      Excellent stuff but I am afraid the evidence of the Dutch and French elections is a weakening
      of a national approach and strengthening of the internationalist understandably when the
      nationalist were from the right.
      The U.K. election is bringing home the impossibility of developing any kind of alternative platform
      without confronting the concept of monetary sonerignty.
      How are you going to fund that? Same way as government’s fund everything instructing the
      central bank to tap the keyboard!

    13. Nigel Hargreaves says:

      Neil Wilson

      “…what they propose to do with the doctor/teacher/nurse…”

      How right you are. Jeremy Hunt has been eulogising about how there are 15,000 more nurses since he took over as Health Secretary, but he doesn’t mention anything about what the government is doing about training more doctors/nurses/teachers, etc. Or, for that matter, attracting more from abroad. Furthermore, the 15,000 (if it is right – you need to establish how many more man hours are being worked now, not the actual head count) is failing to keep up with demand.

      And I like your statement “Economics is about the allocation of physical and intellectual resources, not money.” Similarly the economy itself is about the production and consumption of resources, not money. Money is only a measure of that activity.

    14. Nigel Hargreaves says:

      To be fair, I have looked at NHS statistics, and there is a useful report that gives what they call a “Full Time Equivalent” headcount that takes into account the number of hours worked per employee. Over a 12 month period from 2016 – 2017, the increase was 2.1 per cent. The actual headcount increased by 2.0 per cent, 54.1 per cent of whom were professionally qualified. To work out what was the FTE increase since Mr Hunt took over would take a lot more digging, but he might want to do that as if the result is similar it would actually strengthen his case.

      If any reader wants to look for themselves it is at http://content.digital.nhs.uk/searchcatalogue?productid=24876&topics=1%2fWorkforce%2fStaff+numbers&sort=Relevance&size=10&page=1#top

    15. Simon Cohen says:

      Neil and Nigel,
      This is in the Labour Manifesto:

      ‘We know the importance of managing public finances, so our manifesto is fully costed, with all
      current spending paid for out of taxation or redirected revenue streams. This means Labour will
      eliminate the current budget deficit within five years.’

      I don’t mind them saying this just to propitiate the myth-god and allow them to get on with the job but I’m not sure they are consciously doing that!

    16. Podargus says:

      Matt B, Since when did the current status quo,which is unsustainable,have any relationship to reality?
      It appears that you have a herd mentality and are mired in fashionable incoherent thinking. You are far from alone and that is one of the main reasons why the current status quo will collapse. That will be a reality not foreseen by you or your cohort.

    17. Xanti says:

      “anonymous
      Would it be correct to say that under current government circumstances, with Governments issuing bonds to fund its expenditures, in order for there to be a transition to a situation where government spends to maintain full employment and price stability (without raising bonds – which is what MMT advocates and I broadly agree with) it would need to figure out how to pay off those outstanding debts first. In other words, you couldn’t just print out money to pay off existing government debt because that actually would be inflationary. How would you deal with the existing debt that is currently owned by the Government?”

      I can’t see why that would be inflationary.

      Would you say that issuing a 10 year t-bond is more inflationary than issuing a 30 year t-bond? Or that issuing a 1 year t-bond is more inflationary than issuing a 5 year t-bond? Or that issuing a 1 month t-bill is more inflationary than issuing a 3 month t-bill? No economist says so as far as I am concerned.
      Reserve balances are overnight debt by the government, which either do or do not pay interest (in many countries they do now). So, why would having 1 day t-bills (aka overnight debt) be more inflationary than having t-bills and t-bonds of longer maturities?

      Also, a bond is nothing else than someone’s unspent money in the form of a less liquid asset (which pays higher interest). This means that an agent in the private sector who does not want to spend more and decides to save (a voluntary decision) simply shifts the funds from the reserves account to the securities account at the CB (banks and non-banks using the banks). The quantity of financial assets remains unaltered. The “money”, in a broad sense, remains unchanged. So, paying off the outstanding government debt means to shift the funds back from the securities account to the reserves account (plus any due interest). Why would having numbers in one specific account instead of having them in another account be more inflationary? Unless this changes spending behaviours, it shouldn’t be more inflationary. And for it to change spending behaviours implies either that having liquid assets somehow makes people want to spend more, as if the previous deliberate decision of converting liquid assets into less liquid assets (use “money” to buy bonds) no longer had any validity; or that receiving the principal plus interest is going to make people want to spend more due to some wealth effect, but the increase in wealth preexisted the switch from the securities account to the reserves account, so this leads us back to the liquid vs less liquid assets argument.

      I can’t see why paying off the outstanding government debt would create inflation.

      But perhaps a much simpler solution might be not to pay off the debt until it matures gradually.

    18. Sam says:

      Brilliant stuff, Bill, and I don’t disagree with any of it. Though I have to point out that Bernie Sanders is not as far along the MMT path as one might think. He wanted a punishing tax increase to keep universal health care revenue neutral. Mosler pointed out that universal coverage would be a significant deflationary event due to the bloated admin costs of private health insurance, and that raising taxes would exacerbate the contraction. Sanders apparently thought that larger deficits were politically untenable.

      I’m wary of aligning MMT with the left, for the simple strategic reason that it allows its opponents to more easily marginalize it by conflating it with the radical left and so divert the issue.

    19. Kathy Heyne says:

      Great blog, Bill. Looking forward to the book.
      ” The problem is that the more the working classes turn to right-wing populism and nationalism, the more the intellectual-cultural Left doubles down on its liberal-cosmopolitan fantasies, further radicalising the ethnocentrism of the proletariat. ” The problem is the intellectual-cultural Left aren’t the Left at all, they’re liberals. It follows their liberalism flows onto their economic ideas, too. The tragedy is they call themselves the Left, the working class took them at their word and now despise the Left.

    20. bill says:

      Dear Sam (2017/05/13 at 8:41 pm)

      The reference to Bernie Sanders had nothing to do with whether he was embracing MMT. It was about his ‘radical’ positions in relation to the mainstream. He gave people a real choice by demanding a ‘revolution’ rather than some insipid version of the same.

      Whether we liked the shape of his ‘revolution’ is quite another matter.

      best wishes
      bill

    21. Kevin Harding says:

      Just a few comments.
      Signs of a retreat from internationalism is wishful thinking.
      Yes macron headed a new party but it was the same old internationalism.
      Even Trumps America first has quickly evaporated striking up new trades and not
      abandoning old ones.
      Marine Le pen despite not all her beaten first round rivals encouraging a vote for her opponent
      did no better than her father(the holocaust was just a minor detail of WW2)
      As for those who regard themselves progressive today that are still instinctively drawn to
      internationalism just as Marxists were in the past (sung passionately in their anthem) Lenin
      even adopted to my mind the craziest position of revolutionary defeatism in war.
      I do not disagree that monetary soveirgnty leads to the conclusion that radical change has to come
      at a national level but for many radicals that is against all their gut instincts.

    22. mahaish says:

      @anonymous,

      its a liquidity swap anon. swapping one asset for another .

      whats more inflationary , cash, deposit /reserves or treasury debt.

      its a false dichotomy.

      the conventional wisdom is treasury debt is less inflationary . well we would beg to differ given the marginal liquidity differences.

      its not the liquidity composition of a deficit that’s inflationary in the final instance, but the level of net spending that may be inflationary

    23. C. says:

      it looks like we could have been wrong about Macron, since he got Schauble to jump on board with his economic reform proposals: http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN1882FK

      Whether this is the real schauble or just a facade is to be seen.

    24. Ryan Buckner says:

      I don’t really see anything wrong with taxing wall street, the rich, and speculation, along with ending tax exemptions for non-profits like the nfl, the church(es)(and their properties), and all the subsidies corporations and big oil get. Also, if we are going to have any kind of ‘progressive manifesto’ it needs to be one well thought out on many issues. There are those who assert they’re progressive, while screeching conspiracy nonsense as well as anti-science immoral views. Like being anti-vaccine and bashing the autistic community. Like Cabin talk’s Claudia, who is also against voting, rallying, and Bernie or anyone else who is progressive and running for office. I don’t think I even need to bring up Debbie of Sane progressives with her ‘Gotham Shield’ craziness either.

    25. Neil Wilson says:

      “Or, for that matter, attracting more from abroad.”

      Why do you think it is OK to steal skilled nurses and doctors from other countries? Where on earth do they have surplus medical staff?

      Don’t you think it is a bit of a colonial attitude to treat the human resources of another sovereign nation as something you can just ‘attract’ without considering the consequences on the remaining population of that other nation. How is that any different from the British attitude to India in the Victorian era?

      You can exchange resources with countries, but to ‘attract’ them from places where they have endemic rickets and malaria is nothing more than Imperialism and colonial extraction. Not at all progressive.

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