Automating Eden (Essay)

by Geoff Coventry

[Note for readers: This article contains spoilers]

Shawn Levy’s Free Guy is the latest cinematic attempt to manage social problems through self-conscious artificial intelligence (AI). In doing so, it tumbles right back into fanciful utopian imagery while wishing away the complexities of human care. As this virtual redemption story reaches its climax, the AI-created world resembles a moneyless and bodiless bliss where only the nice get to stay, and no one needs to be responsible for social provisioning. In the parallel reality of planet earth, humanity cheers the downfall of a greedy capitalist while simultaneously looking to a new generation of Silicon Valley heroes and the market-economy to produce a better future within the exact same institutional structures that gave rise to the story’s existential crisis. Rather than imagining the boundless ways AI could support human and planetary care while challenging the zero-sum economics that fuel greed and violence, Free Guy tries to charm its way to hope within the logics and institutions of zero-sum austerity.

Free Guy casts the endearing Ryan Reynolds as a non-player character (NPC) in a video game whose two genius creators (Jodie Comer as Millie and Joe Keery as Keys) originally set out to design a virtual world called Life Itself, where characters would “naturally evolve” in a “real life” environment. The title Life Itself grants an immanence to the game platform that obscures the wider mediation of the virtual world by a whole team of employed staff within a corporation, positing their creation of virtual “life” as a self-standing, self-contained environment, where good things can blossom if only left to itself.

Tragically for the duo, their core artificial intelligence source code was stolen by Antwan (New Zealand actor Taika Waititi), the CEO of game developer Soonami, who uses it to power a violent massively multiplayer online game in the genre of Grand Theft Auto. Soonami portends an unstoppable wave of capitalistic destruction. In doing so, the filmmakers ignore the legal and public mediation that created and continues to support the system being critiqued, refusing any alternative that could restructure markets and the public sphere into a mutually regenerating force. Although deterministically coded as a zero-sum game, the “platform itself” is actually subject to powerful non zero-sum influences, both positive and negative: Millie entering the game to find the lost code and helping Guy “come alive”; Keys coding game enhancements; Antwan rebooting the game and destroying its servers. In reality, both the virtual and non-virtual worlds are locked in a co-dependency and co-determination that is never fully acknowledged, let alone explored for its possibilities. 

As the young AI creators battle to prove the theft of their source code, NPC Guy begins to “come alive,” gaining self-awareness and deviating from his routine as the friendliest bank teller you’ll never meet. Initially programmed to be the handsome nice guy in town who can’t find true love, Guy begins to look for more meaning in life and to participate in the game as the good hero who stops violent criminals and saves his NPC friends. Discovering that their code may have just created the world’s first real artificial intelligence, Millie and Keys must now save Guy and the other NPCs from destruction at the hands of a ruthless capitalist who would rather see everything destroyed than face financial loss and diminution of his ego. Hollywood remains entrenched in the formula of larger-than-life heroic individuals responding to, but never truly reforming, societal and existential threats, providing the conditions for rinse-and-repeat series. This may make entertaining and profitable cinema, but when seeking to take flight as an aspirational future for human potential, it can’t break free from the gravitational pull of its predetermined economic and relational limits.

As the movie reaches its climax, Guy, with the help of Millie and Keys, reaches the original Edenic island world of Life Itself, a garden-city paradise explicitly defined by the absence of banks, jobs and guns, where he is eventually reunited with all his friends. In this new world, and now evolved from their programmed roleplay of menial work and innocent victims of violence, the NPCs are free to “do whatever they want”. No “bad” characters enter this world from outside. Only the nice remain; however, neither do they need to do any work of caring for the world they inhabit or the people they share it with. Life Itself closely resembles a common Christian conception of “heaven” more than anything that might shed light on the real world inhabited by humans: its selectively-limited inhabitants magically “perfected” while the masses of less-than-perfect humanity are kept away. This perfected AI platform codes its idealized life  much like racialized urban planners coded white suburbs: by defining-away most of humanity and ignoring environmental interdependencies.

And herein lies the problem. The hope for a better world as modeled by an innocent artificial intelligence leading us back to Eden fails before it starts. Such a binary worldview filled with coded outcomes has no bearing on reality and ergo provides no guidance for humanity’s struggles and no inspiration for its potential.

Similar to how nostalgia is a killer of truth, niceness is a killer of care. Niceness is an individualistic construct that renders unnecessary the challenging choices needed to reorganize society in ways that provide mutual care. Niceness inverts care’s others-focused accounting structure into transactions of feel-good self interest; each smile, wave or act of kindness recorded to the social credit of the “good” person. Nowhere is this more encapsulated than during a Christmas holiday, where, for a few days, those with means placate the subconscious trauma of participation in a zero-sum game by mutual gift giving and token charity, only to return Monday morning to the brutalization demanded by winning the game. Care in the real world rejects scarcity and exclusion, wrapping all into interdependent, unending, difficult, and imperfect relationships of service. The logic of care is universally inclusive since all are simultaneously providers and recipients. No one is altogether nice or irredeemably bad. Relational, not transactional, care’s accounting seeks to explore the unknown and unmet needs within and beyond every community. The society-wide capacity to care remains unbounded by exclusionary categorizations of people (or other life forms), refusing to accept arbitrary limits of affordability and existing resource availability. When seen in this light, Hollywood’s Guy is the dreamy nice dude who saves the day only because this AI Guy is really not at all like a human nor lives in a human-like world.

Free Guy wants us to believe the world can be changed by nice artificial intelligence produced by nice human intelligence, even as it wishes away the need for any deliberate collective work to bring about structural changes to social, political and economic systems. Niceness is self-centered, privileged, and ultimately protected by violence in order to pretend the “nice” can avoid problematic intrusions into their perception of bliss. Violence in the service of niceness is still violence against other people. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. 

In contrast, care is a conscious social engagement that seeks out and serves the needs and wants of all within an inclusive community, while recognizing and rewarding the provisioning of care in dignifying ways. Care doesn’t preclude unpleasantries, injustices, and human vices, but dives into the complex and unending work of listening, problem-wrestling, healing and building. Such an inclusive logic of care sees the 22 year old gamer Keith, still living with his mother and venting his anger over frustrated desires, societal rejection, and economic exclusion, as a person deserving of meaningful social and economic participation in the community. The exclusionary logic of Hollywood can only mock the gamer, defining him as a villain to be vanquished from the promised land along with all the other “bad guys”, and relegating him to perpetual torment at home. 

Free Guy seeks to contrast greed and care, yet retains a field of limited agency within a dualistic and simplistic vision of humanity and socio-economic possibilities. The fallen-world dystopia of greedy capitalism foments wanton violence on the city streets where innocent victims are killed and workers are trapped in soul-destroying jobs. Redemption of the virgin innocence of this lost paradise comes when the nice people resist their oppressors. This comes in the form of an organized and unanimous strike from their jobs that lasts just long enough to buy time for the caring geniuses, Millie and Keys, to heroically expose the capitalist greed, remove their control, and finally prevent any more “bad guys” from entering paradise. The NPCs’ only agency is to stick it to the boss and walk off the job, and the only qualification to participate in this society is to be one of the “nice people”. The co-dependence of these interconnected worlds is largely ignored, along with the real work being performed by an army of hidden figures who literally build their houses and streets and keep their lights on.

What is so obviously missing from the bliss-filled ending is that the world Guy and his NPCs inhabit was entirely constructed by the code of the earnest protagonists, whose new creation for innocent NPCs remains dependent upon real people who need to work, eat, live, earn wages, and own companies. In Guy’s new Eden, there is no concept of the need to develop and share their world’s resources in ways that will create a cohesive social order to care for the city and land they inhabit. Nor is there any recognition of their existential predicament: how to maintain the energy, money and labor needed to keep their world online. Their entire existence relies on the continued aspiration and organizational skills of its young “gods” from another dimension and remains as precarious as a power outage or corporate bankruptcy, and yet we are expected to view this heavenly virtual locale and the lack of banks and jobs as a picture of human freedom.

Fast forwarding to the future, we see that Millie and Keys have stepped right back into the same Silicon Valley startup world they were just fighting, running a company, relying on banks, investors, and keeping a hopeful watchful eye on their customer and revenue growth in order to keep the dream alive. The NPC Eden now exists, not as an independent and self-sufficient alien planet, but as a Twitch channel dependent upon entertaining its viewers. The only apparent change from the old regime is in the values of the company leadership. Along with the heavenly bliss of nice AI, Silicon Valley wants to sell us on an evangelical worldview for humankind’s master coders. Government regulators and legislators should leave the smart techies alone to invent the future in their image, just so long as they try to have nice people in charge. Of course, Google’s “Don’t be evil” code of conduct falls far short of preventing ongoing systemic concerns. It is telling that the film has no vision for changes to the status quo. There is no hint of public funds being available to help protect and fund this new AI “life form,” no changes to corporate ownership structure or employment relations, and no public engagement in how best to care for either newborn AI or real world human life to ensure extinction is no longer an imminent risk. 

The neoliberal blockbuster has yet to imagine its way out of the corner of zero sum economics and the resulting combination of violent and exclusionary solutions to the imagined inevitability of greed and exploitation. Dualistic metaphysics still dominate: good and evil; Eden and Dystopia; heaven and hell; Life Itself and Soonami.

Major Hollywood studios and Silicon Valley often struggle in portraying human-like artificial intelligence in part because of their flat and cartoonish portrayals of humankind, societal structures, and economic possibilities. Heroic battles and utopian endings do nothing to suggest a path forward for a sustainable world and care-filled creative societal order. In a real way we humans are the AI we wish to create. If we still haven’t found the imagination to care for humankind (all humankind) and the complex life systems we exist within, we should be skeptical of those claiming to have imagined human-like AI and a path to a heavenly future. Until we develop the right framework for human flourishing, our dreams of an Edenic AI future will only serve to immerse our imaginations in an entertainment-induced trance that prevents us from fully seeing and caring for all.

Chaplin’s Modern Times: Pretty Pro-Communist (Essay)

How awful the thought of oneness… One merging into all and all merging into one. Just think of merging into Herbert Hoover.

-Charlie Chaplin

In 1952, facing harassment from J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, Charlie Chaplin left the United States and moved to Switzerland. Chaplin shared personal tragedy with thousands of suspected communists across American society, swept up in the blacklists and persecutions of the McCarthy era. Perhaps more so than many of the “subversives” whose nonidentity with white middle class culture earned them the communist label, Chaplin’s social criticism really did take on the monopoly capitalism of his day. It’s not difficult to read Marxist themes into Chaplin’s slapstick depictions of Taylorism and “scientific management” in Modern Times (1936). But to honor the creativity of Chaplin, it is important not to conflate his respectful willingness to think alongside Marxist problems with a dogmatic commitment to thinking exclusively within them. 

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is an ambiguous meditation on the political economy of his day. Though Modern Times speaks most recognizably through a Marxist lens, it gestures beyond Marx in its ambivalent depictions of the social roles played simultaneously by various institutions. While Chaplin’s “Tramp” is dehumanized by the factory’s reduction of his individuality to an appendage of private profit, his work advances the narrative in ways that outstrip profit.

At points, Modern Times does feel like a dramatization of Marx’s descriptions of capitalist industry in the Communist Manifesto. In the first part of the Manifesto, Marx writes that the modern factory worker “becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him.” Marx describes this enslavement of men to machines as “alienation,” in the sense that their labor becomes directed towards alien ends rather than their own. Chaplin portrays this zero-sum formulation to comic effect in the opening factory sequences, in which The Tramp disastrously switches his attention back and forth between the assembly line and his coworkers, losing track of both.

However, this Marxist formulation is complicated and undermined at the level of narrative. Even as this opening scene manifestly depicts a contradiction between The Tramp’s labor and attention serving his own ends and those of capital, both cohere narratively in maintenance of the society more broadly. Events outside of the factory—on the street, at home, and in prison—work in tandem with those inside the factory to produce a narrative that contains each of these settings. While prison seems to serve the capitalist class structurally as an institution to discipline troublemakers before they are sent back to the factory, The Tramp also finds that within prison he is self-directed. This is played for laughs, but the irony of prison being a place for self-directed behavior belies a paradox of Marx’s critique of alienation: that self-directed collectives require institutional mediation beyond their immanent boundaries.

Of course, Marx would be the first to admit that factories rely on other parts of society for maintenance and reinforcement. “No sooner is the exploitation of the laborer by the manufacturer, so far, at an end, that he received his wages in cash,” Marx writes, “than he is set upon by other portions of the bourgeoisie, the landlord, the shopkeeper, the pawnbroker, etc.” While Marx here is allowing for events beyond the factory to be socially meaningful, the social whole in which they cohere is conflated with the social goals of the bourgeoisie. And to be sure, Modern Times does clearly critique the prison and the factory for working in tandem. But contra Marx, it does not necessarily follow from the film’s critique of wage labor that every institution under capitalism serves capital as its ultimate end.

We see a similar polyvalence in the café that The Tramp and his love interest (“the Gamin”) work at, where management’s discipline of the employees does not fully define the terms by which the café can be engaged. The Tramp’s job in the café is waiting tables, and at first this seems to resemble his stints at the factory, in which he is unable to conform his body to the rhythm and pace of work. This seems to culminate in a diner’s roast duck being thrown across the room, but at the moment that this happens, it is caught by a group of athletes and the scene breaks into a performance of a rugby chase that destabilizes the clear division between diners and servers. The diners are folded into a theatrical production, not as a negation of their respective class positions, but as a social valence that was always there to be read.

Later, when The Tramp loses the lyrics to the song he is supposed to perform, he makes up his own song that wins over the audience. Unlike in the factory, The Tramp’s creativity and deviations here are rewarded. The café offers many analogs of social mediation at once, insofar as its social valuation is figured as multidirectional and polyvalent. Whether The Tramp’s mimetic creativity is allowed is a social decision that implicates more than just management. The diners, wait staff, and management are responsible in different ways for the social meaning of The Tramp’s performance. 

Leftists today who are anxious to unify around a single mass organization or “theory of change” would do well to study Chaplin’s non-identical engagements with the problems and themes of Marxism. At a 1942 dinner held in Chaplin’s honor, Chaplin frustrated an FBI informant in the audience with this exact maneuver. “I am not a Communist,” Chaplin declared, “but I am proud to say that I feel pretty pro-Communist.”

Modern Monetary Theory and The Trans Agenda (Essay)

By Nia Cola

To be trans today is to be treated as a political agent at all times, but afforded no  substantive political agency. Everything you do is scrutinized, as your right to exist remains under constant review. In response, trans liberation means actualizing authentic ways of being, without waiting for the sovereign judgment of cis society. The question of how to achieve this will always be open-ended and multi-faceted. Whatever our focus, however, trans liberation requires a gender framework that expands the present bounds of possibility, in excess of the limited forms of life that have been previously afforded space. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) gives us just that framework. 

MMT allows space for limitless social rearticulation through public spending and employment. In positing money as an infinite public resource, MMT provides a viable counter-narrative to dominant theories of “commodity money,” which account for human differences as economic costs and potential liabilities when it comes to building a mass political base. And while the prevailing economics casts money as an unproductive and symbolic veil over finite resources, MMT’s insistence on money’s active role in directing production allows us to see the affordance of difference as a policy variable. MMT also serves as a powerful analogue for the trans struggle against what could be called “sound gender” ideology—the assertion of a strictly material gender reality that the introduction of new pronouns can only debase. 

Grounded in such materialist reductionism, the stigmatization of trans people is implicit in the hegemonic gender binary system, which is part and parcel of colonial systems of knowledge and control. The patriarchal family, as an “independent” driver of social reproduction, stands in for the Western nation-state’s self image as necessarily profit-seeking and extractive. And Western anxieties about queer and trans forms of life allegedly “replacing” traditional lifestyles are in some ways a projection of the West’s own justification for settler-colonialism, whereby the existence of colonizers required the genocidal “replacement” of indigenous populations.

The sweeping social identities that Western thought derives from the ideology of biological dimorphism, however, are by no means universal. Despite sexual dimorphism, not all cultures have held to a strictly binary view of gender. There are, in fact, many ways for sexual reproduction to be folded into social reproduction, and so the supposedly “practical” and “material” bases of gender identity are in fact socially constructed and essentially contestable. What is more, because the archetypal reproductive household is socially constructed, the very fact of trans existence holds open space for rearticulation and reconfiguration. Trans existence, in other words, belies the falseness of cis society’s claims about itself. If trans existence is so destabilizing, what we’re dealing with are the symptoms of repressed truths about gender—namely, that there are no fixed truths. 

A rigid gender binary restricts individuals from acting outside of a narrow scope of social norms and becomes the basis for social and economic exclusions predicated on one’s performance of gender. While there is nothing evil about trying on binary gender roles, the politics of performance must be self-consciously nested in a contingent and playful non-binary spectrum. This essential space to play and experiment with gender cannot be conceived merely as escaping coercion. It demands ongoing cultivation and maintenance by way of an MMT-based political economic “agenda” that aims to secure trans agency in myriad urgent ways.

The Trans Agenda

As a function of a repressive cis gender binary regime, trans people must daily confront tremendous hardships and challenges. They face extraordinarily high rates of unemployment, for example, often recorded at around three to four times the rate for cis people. Trans persons also suffer from meager wages, lower levels of college attainment on average, and extremely high rates of poverty. Due to social and institutional discrimination, a large proportion of trans people are involved in the Sex Work (SW) industry. The criminalization and stigmatization of this precarious line of work exposes trans people to high degrees of financial and bodily risk, contributing greatly to the high rates of violence perpetrated against the trans community. 

For this reason, decriminalizing SW is an essential part of any trans liberation agenda. It is undeniable, however, that a significant portion of trans participation in SW is tied to discrimination elsewhere, and so justice for trans sex workers cannot be taken in isolation. If trans people are going to achieve liberation, it will mean provisioning lives we want to lead—including those of us who happily participate in SW. 

The issue of discrimination at the point of access to social goods can be viewed as a matter of equal protection under the law, and for this the solution is simple: pass statutes that make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity. While this is of course a long Civil Rights fight, a good start would be passing the Equality Act, which would immediately alleviate explicit discrimination as a concern by making it illegal at the federal level. The Equality Act was passed by the House for the second time on February 25, 2021 and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. 

Still, the trans agenda must go further. A comprehensive policy platform could fill a tome, of course, and it would be good to develop such an agenda in the future. Here, however, I would like to focus on two key policies–a Federal Job Guarantee (FJG) and, below, Medicare for All–which are only realizable if we embrace the radical implications of MMT. 

The MMT lens implores us to look at the world in an expansive and generative way, rejecting binary and zero-sum thinking at the level of fiscal provisioning. The fundamental insight of MMT is that money is not a private commodity that must be taken from the market via taxation in order to fund the public sector. To the contrary, governments create money to finance their operations, and taxation is simply one tool among many to manage the shape and distribution of monetary demand (as well as ensure a common denomination. Money’s role in mediating access to and participation in social provisioning is a limitless public resource, which can be used however we want and across any time horizon. 

For this reason, the monetary agency of the Federal government to name and finance public priorities can be mobilized at any time to create a public option for employment. If designed and fought for as a fully inclusive and trans affirming program, a FJG would not only establish a wage-and-benefits floor for the entire economy and begin to challenge and change the social meaning of work. It would also create an inalienable foundation to both support and further facilitate trans liberation, while buttressing trans resilience against hostile employment authorities. 

Building a trans positive FJG, meanwhile, would build union power by diversifying and expanding the traditional white cis culture of union membership. As a unionized public works system, the FJG will no doubt irreversibly alter the balance of power between unions and employers throughout the economy. Yet while unions have in the past proven to be crucial countervailing forces against employers, traditional unions are far from perfect and insufficient on their own. Indeed, even in their heyday, large unions predominantly shaped and supported a repressive and exclusionary mid-center social order. 

A diversified FJG union, by contrast, will not merely boster trans life. It would also strengthen the bargaining power of public and private unions alike by preventing them from holding minority groups hostage to exclusionary majorities, or even corrupt alliances with management. A FJG union, moreover, would allow workers to refuse to work in striking sectors, providing an expansive foundation for industrial solidarity that transcends the false opposition between living for one’s self and living for one’s class. 

Too Many Pronouns Chasing Too Few Genders?

As with any expansion of government spending, the standard objection leveled against the FJG is that it will cause runaway inflation. Behind this explicit argument looms an implicit and quite violent social implication: If paying everyone to work increases the rate of inflation, as might be alleged by mainstream economists, the implication is that some of those people are being paid above what they’re worth. Or to paraphrase the economists, it is too many dollars chasing too few socially legitimate goods. Setting aside other critiques of mainstream economics, this is a startling statement about the value of the work of women, queer people, and people of color. It’s a declaration that we are not capable of producing work valuable enough to justify a living wage.

If one outright rejects the possibility that marginalized people can make social contributions that justify a living wage, then it follows that they either should live off the goodwill of “the productive” through redistributive policies, or that they don’t deserve to live at all. While few people will state the latter openly, the former view is highly patronizing and built to fail under pressure. Buttressed by such toxic logics, the work of marginalized communities has therefore long been under-valued, and the expectation that their employment will result in inflation reflects this legacy. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the inflation bogeyman is also wielded against trans people through opposition to trans healthcare. Medical interventions allow trans people to assimilate into cis society to the extent that they desire, or equally to challenge the gendered expectations that are hurting them in the first place. We can hear echoes of the inflation panic about illegitimate jobs in objections to trans inclusion in universal healthcare policies such as Medicare for All. According to this reactionary logic, gender affirming care is superfluous and cosmetic rather than “material” in some fundamental sense. The suggestion that there is a tradeoff between trans and universal healthcare implies that provisioning healthcare services for trans people is beyond the capacity of our economy to manage. But this is a demonstrably false statement. The expansion of trans healthcare would likely be a one-off event in terms of increased capacity needs. 

It is reasonable to expect the amount of trans people who would need to be served would increase as stigma falls, more people decide to transition, and healthcare provisions become more available; however, there is scarce evidence that provisioning such a future is somehow beyond our economy’s ability to adapt to these increased needs. It can be hard to shake the feeling that many of these detractors are opposed to trans healthcare not because they genuinely believe in a resource constraint, but simply because they do not wish to see trans people exist in public life. 

Queering Money

To guarantee adequate jobs and healthcare to trans people—and build coalitions around such struggles—we need a fundamental shift in thinking when it comes to government budgeting. When money is imagined as fundamentally scarce, social change is routed through the problematic language of redistribution and replacement rather than creation. This in turn creates an “any port in the storm” mentality when it comes to building coalitions, as the variegated experiences of trans people are reduced to a representative “average” trans person who can be more simplistically advocated for. And as we see, the impulse to reduce and assimilate what is particular into what is imagined as universal for the sake of “widening the coalition” is observable in class reductionist calls to not discuss trans healthcare at all, in favor of supposedly “universal” healthcare services.

MMT, by contrast, provides a different foundation that allows us to articulate a comprehensive trans agenda on generative rather than zero sum terms. In the MMT story, when public money is motivated toward some end, fiscal authorities create it. Because money is created rather than found, spending precedes rather than follows taxation. Creation does not need to be “paid for” by destruction, and the trans agenda does not need to be routed through such zero sum logics. Money creation authorizes public job creation at the same time that it authorizes private purchasing power.

In the dominant economic view, money creation is inflationary because it is imagined as abstract bids on fundamentally scarce goods. In contradistinction to this view, MMT sees public spending, not as subtracting from a fixed pool of public resources, but instead directing its expansion. This is because, as any heterodox economist will tell you, resources are as socially constructed as gender. The flow of inputs at every point of production is linked to the flow of outputs at another. Capacity is therefore created rather than given, and when the government invests properly it can create new capacity over time.

The policies discussed above are possible only with an MMT framework that speaks in the register of rights and guarantees, rather than goals and aspirations. A FJG will require large variations in spending, and any method of ‘paying for’ the program would have to be just as flexible. And while Medicare for All would likely entail more stable spending patterns, it’s too great a budget item to tie to taxation, dollar for dollar. The last thing we need is policy that analogizes gender affirming healthcare services to zero sum redistribution. A proper budget in an MMT framework would deliberately target resource bottlenecks and invest in expanding production where necessary. 

If properly wielded and understood, public money harbors radical potential to reshape society for the better. These two policies would vastly improve life for trans people, but there is no final word in what makes the trans agenda, any more than there is a final word in what makes a trans person. It is imperative, however, to go big. Putting a Federal Job Guarantee and Medicare for All into action for this trans agenda would be a great start.

* “Money” by free pictures of money is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

The Mark of Fascism: Lebensraum for the Left (Essay)

By Maxximilian Seijo & Scott Ferguson

A thought that stands outside subjectivity, setting its limits as though from without, articulating its end, making its dispersion shine forth, taking in only its invincible absence; and that, at the same time, stands at the threshold of all positivity, not in order to grasp its foundation or justification but in order to regain the space of its unfolding, the void serving as its site, the distance in which it is constituted and into which its immediate certainties slip the moment they are glimpsed—a thought that, in relation to the interiority of our philosophical reflection and the positivity of our knowledge, constitutes what in a phrase we might call “the thought of the outside.”

Michel Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside

Anti-fascism has always been central to critical theory. Yet in resisting fascism, critical theorists have too readily taken fascist projects at their word. When fascism asserts itself within a polity, for instance, or imposes order on another community, it posits territorial rule over and against what is tacitly framed as an external and pre-political commons. Crucially, such a commons is imagined to exist beyond any particular territory, somehow belonging to no one and everyone at once. From this initial commons, fascism decides who is permitted to exist inside the ethno-nationalist state and who must be pushed out. The very act of exclusion, then, strategically defines the ethno-nationalist state at the same time as it shores up its legitimacy.

One finds critiques of this formulation in numerous works, including those by the likes of Walter Benjamin, Siegfried Kracauer, Gilles Deleuze, and Giorgio Agamben, and others. All of these authors opt variously to counter fascist territorialization with a version of what Deleuze and Félix Guattari call a logic of “deterritorialization.” Deterritorialization seeks to undo fascism’s expulsive territoriality so as to carve out extra-territorial room for life. Such seemingly critical gestures are right to contest territorialization. We will argue, however, that they err by problematically repeating, even romanticizing, the appeal to a pre-political commons that drives fascist logics in the first instance. In this brief essay, we wish to not only challenge metaphysical appeals to a pre-political commons, but also set forth a far more capacious and anthropologically-grounded critique of fascist territoriality.

It is instructive to return to one of the relatively unknown architects of fascist theory, the Nazi linguist Jost Trier. An important influence on both Martin Heidegger and Carl Schmitt, Trier argued that the origin of politics must be postulated through the question of terrain and the central problem of what he terms the “fence.” As he intones, “The fence marks the beginning. Deep and thoroughly defining, the fence, the border, nurtures [Hegung] the world formed by humans.” For Trier, the fence does more than establish a territory. It demarcates the political as such. And the political, on Trier’s reasoning, is nothing other than the function of an inherently exclusionary care.

Construed as a line of division inscribed on a blank slate, such logics borrow from Rene Descartes’ planar geometry, Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature, and John Locke’s extension of such logics to theorize the origins of the human psyche as a tabula rasa. Reducing the political to a foundational enclosure, Trier relies upon and gives voice to the metaphysical bedrock of modern Liberalism and its justifications for the private seizure of common forests, fields and waters in early modern England. Yet he also radicalizes Liberal metaphysics, carrying their suppositions to their implied logical and political ends. As a result, he reads the relationship between inside and outside through a univocal prism of absolute opposition.

In order to undo this violence, the critics we mention above respond to Liberalism and fascism alike by attempting to reclaim an original, external commons, which supposedly precedes and exceeds enclosure. Critics affirm “lines of flight,” to again borrow from Deleuze and Guattari, which would seem to defy and escape any sovereign interior. Against the univocal violence of enclosure, then, they picture a pre-political commonality or commons, where humanity and nature exist together in open and unbounded relations teeming with repressed social and ecological potential. In place of enclosure, modern critics construct a politics of exteriority and difference, which frequently appears to mirror, or simply invert, the absolutism of their fascist interlocutors. In the face of fascist efforts to secure a passive environment for a chosen people, these critics call upon a pre- and, in certain iterations, post-political commons to accomplish something disturbingly similar. As a consequence, such critics often naturalize the ontological core of fascistic violence and let Liberalism’s comparatively mild operations too easily off the hook. 

We in the Money on the Left Editorial Collective begin from wholly different premises. Rejecting the ontological exclusion of the fence, we regard the political and, with it, money as an originary multi-scale interdependence. In this way, we turn the entire edifice of Western political philosophy outside-in. Proceeding from heterogeneous institutions and forms of decision making that know no absolute exteriority, we refuse the figure of the fence as politically constitutive, as well as the illusory commons upon which it is based. Demarcations of course differentiate social and material relations in meaningful ways. But any demarcation, we contend, remains forever nested within and relative to broader domains of social and ecological mediation. Put another way, demarcation can never be said to intervene in an untrammeled or pre-political field free from integrated social coordinations and meanings. Eschewing an absolute commons or state of nature, we maintain that there is no legible or legitimate outside to the problem of mediating social and ecological dependence, no matter which side of demarcation one considers.

Crucially, such inclusivity is decidedly not spatialized, or at least not in any Cartesian sense that would imply linear partitions over an infinitely extended plane. Inclusion is instead a qualitative relation interior to infinitude, which relies on overlapping and vastly different proximities to particular centers of mediation and indicates no unaffected outside. Particulars necessarily participate in this ubiquitous inside which, despite their irregular differentiations, nevertheless manages to reach all. As such, the “externalities” and “marginalities” that so flummox neoclassical economists and delight continental philosophers endure always-already inside a broader human and ecological condition, even and especially when it comes to apparatuses of expulsion.

For this reason, Liberalism and ultimately, fascism fail in positing as origin the opposition between fence and commons. In contradistinction to Siegfried Kracauer’s self-conception as “extraterritorial,” what we have elsewhere called the inextricable “intraterritoriality” of existence undermines the modern metaphysics of expulsion. The failure of fascist demarcation to fully externalize those who it identifies as enemies does not, to be sure, make such regimes any less brutal. On our reading, it doubles their brutality, secreting away a clandestine ontological violence under cover of the manifest horrors of genocide. Fascism’s overt violence of course owes to its destructive practices, which perpetuate psychic and social terror in the name of an impossible, pure interiority. Yet what has hitherto been overlooked by fascism’s most trenchant critics is Western modernity’s violent externalization of naming, which surreptitiously legitimizes fascism’s spectacular failures. This violence does not derive, as critical theorists regularly argue, from the supposed imposition of nominalization on reality. It arises, instead, from the metaphysical delusion that nominalization penetrates Being from the outside.

Repudiating an absolute inside and outside, our claim is that designation and, specifically, designation through money always involves contestable analogies. Analogies are nothing but patterns of dynamic relation, entailing diverse spheres of obligation and need. On this view, analogies may partake of homology or likeness, but cannot be reduced to isomorphic sameness. Presuming a shared interiority, analogies forge difference within sameness, with sameness in this case understood as the heterogenous background of Being as such. Analogies at once disclose and shape not only power and its ongoing problematics, but also interdependence and the ongoing difficulties of care. They do so, not from some Archimedean point of mastery, but rather through partial and participatory articulations of nested relationality.

We draw regularly on chartalism and related traditions to show that the analogical conditions of moneyness represent a relative constant throughout much of human history, despite great variations in social and material life that comprise said moneyness. Diverse, multiple, and ubiquitously visible, such histories demonstrate that the conditions of moneyness are as generalizable as they are particular. They also harbor endless lessons for anti-fascist politics.

Take historian Robert Gates indispensable insights into Weimar-era struggle over the nature of money and its political capacities. While Germany’s Free Trade Unions supported a program of massive public works funded by direct public money creation, the Marxist leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) such as Rudolf Hilferding rejected the program as unrealistic and “un-Marxist.” Preparing for a nationalization program projected into some indefinite future, SPD Marxists actively worsened the catastrophe by calling on the party to permit the ensuing economic crisis and joblessness to run its allegedly natural course. Although certainly not solely responsible for the subsequent nightmare, they nevertheless unwittingly assisted in hastening fascist scapegoating of Jews and other minorities along with the meteoric rise to power of a once-beleaguered Nazi party.

Unexplored by Gates, SPD’s disastrous incapacity to approach monetary mediation otherwise relies upon a tacit externalization of inscription. According to the SPD’s logic, the capitalist mode of production and its countless contradictions appeared to operate as a univocal imposition of private property onto unbounded nature. In the face of private property’s total imposition, the SPD could only concoct an antithetical, yet equally univocal project of nationalization that would socialize private industry as part of an eventual dialectical movement toward what the young Marx once referred to as “lower-stage communism.” Far from effectively combating fascism, however, the SPD reified the metaphysical exteriority upon which fascism thrives. The result not only deepened a political and economic calamity the Nazis could exploit, but also paved the way for fascism to wield state money as a weapon of exclusionary uplift and mass extermination. 

Hardly isomorphic to present conditions in and beyond The United States, the work of revealing such historical possibilities and blind spots nonetheless offer haunting analogies for the fallout of persistent neoliberal austerity and the resurgent ferocity of ethno-nationalist violence. And yet, there is still so much more work to be done.

We need historians across disciplines and fields to assist us in tracing the possibilities and limits of the many analogous human attempts to thematize our inalienable dependence on monetary mediation in myriad and unpredictable forms. Through this expressly analogical practice, historians can enable us to envision money’s previously untapped potentials, as well as expose reactionary logics and practices we wish to avoid and struggle against. In doing so, the critical historian must prioritize the vast and heterogenous interiority of monetary inscription, while jettisoning the fascist mirage of exteriority that the Nazis notoriously hailed as “living room,” or Lebensraum.

Long held at arms-length by leftists as a noxious fiction belonging to the far right, the lure of Lebensraum in actuality looms as a powerful temptation for critical theorists as well. Echoing Michel Foucault’s meditation on Maurice Blanchot’s “thought from outside” quoted above, contemporary art critic and media theorist Boris Groys, for example, recently published an avowedly leftist ode to Western philosophy’s dream of immanent exteriority in the journal e-flux. Groys aches for the philosopher’s historic “meta-position” in a non-locatable elsewhere, criticizing the “politics of inclusion” as a form of univocal domination that miserably abets “a comfortable life of consumption.”

“[A] politics of inclusion,” Groys explains, “which presupposes the improvement of the living conditions of the excluded, is precisely directed towards the elimination of the meta-position that is occupied by the excluded. The politics of total inclusion aims to get rid of the space outside of society, to eliminate any external, potentially critical position towards society as a whole. This politics calls for everybody to play by the same rules, to obey the same laws, to pursue the same goals, to be seen and treated like everybody else and to see and treat everybody else in the same way.” Later, he surmises, “The truth is always on the side of the excluded. To recognize the excluded means not to include the excluded, but precisely to recognize this truth—to accept the dignity of the slave by rejecting all property and working hard (Christianity), or to accept the dictatorship of the proletariat (communism). It would not make sense to give a saint or a revolutionary a regular income and a comfortable life of consumption.”

Although he would surely bridle at the accusation, Groys in this piece seems to pine for a kind of living space, or Lebensraum, for the left. Such a realm, to Groys’s mind, would align free-thinking philosophers with the dejected. It would also furnish philosophy with a critical vantage point from which to evaluate society in its existing totality.

As enticing and, perhaps, well-intended as these twisted judgements may be, in truth Groys’s conclusions only further entrench the mark of fascism in the guise of its apparent opposite. Equating inclusion with punishing sameness and transformation with capitalist expansion, such reasoning explicitly flattens the path to justice to an impoverished common denominator born of subjugation. Dignifying the externality of slavery, propertylessness, and a dictatorial party, Groys’s left utopia looks just as univocal as his characterization of capitalist dystopia. Implicitly, moreover, Groys belittles, if not outright forecloses, profound political movements that confront money and mediation head on. Abolitionism or the Black Freedom Struggle for full employment, from this contorted purview, are predestined to conformist complicity.

The allure of what we are calling a left Lebensraum is a fascist trap that critical praxis must abjure. There is no place external to interdependence. Politics are never univocal. And neither care nor critique are micro-level affairs. Only by circumventing the false appeals of “thought from outside” can we begin to radically reconstruct the world we actually inhabit.

Superestructura: Latin America Edition

Money on the Left is thrilled to release English and Spanish transcripts from our Superstructure podcast with Daniel Rojas Medellin (@DanielRMed), now Coordinator of newly inaugurated President Gustavo Petro’s transition team (@petrogustavo), and Mexican economist Jesús Reséndiz Silva (@Tlacuachito). In the episode, co-hosts Andrés Bernal (@andresintheory) & Naty Smith (@orangeasm) speak with Medellin and Silva about what it means to think beyond economic orthodoxies in Latin America. 

This episode was published originally in May 2021.

Link to our Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting

Transcript (English–See Spanish Below)

The following was transcribed and translated by Natalie Tabb S. and has been lightly edited for clarity.

Natalie – Hi, I’m Natalie, co-host of Superstructure, or ‘Superestructura’ for today’s purposes, as well as an editor at Money on the Left. We’re going to do something a bit different today and have our first Spanish language episode. We care a lot about centering Latin America in our analysis of international economic and political possibilities.  As an American living in Chile I’m living between a variety of worlds. I’m doing this neochartalist or MMT political education project with a mostly American collective and while we try our best to always take an international viewpoint our main network is still in the US.  So we wanted to expand the conversation a bit and bring in some more international voices. Apologies in advance for my Spanish which is still sometimes all too Gringo  even after all these years. We also have with us today my fellow Money on the Left contributor Andrés Bernal and a couple of great guests. But first, Andrés, handing things off to you; you, tell us about yourself and your story.  

Andrés – Hi everyone, I’m Andres Bernal; I’m an editor at Money on the Left and Superstructure and I’m excited to be here today to help build out this conversation about MMT and Latin America. I teach Urban Studies at CUNY Queens College and I’m finishing my doctorate at the New School with a focus on the Green New Deal. I’m also a political advisor; I worked on Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s initial congressional campaign and I’m currently working with the Diane Morales campaign for New York mayor. Happy to be here today to have this really important conversation. We’ve been wanting to talk about international economic issues that lots of people to try to avoid or ignore, especially in mainstream economics, but you see this blind spot pop up in heterodox and neochartalists circles too. Like Natalie, Spanish isn’t my first language so who knows, maybe we’ll speak some Spanglish and mix it up a little. 

We have a couple of guests with us today; first, from Tampico, Mexico, we have Jesus Resendiz.  Jesus, tell us a bit about yourself. 

Jesús. – Hi Andres, Natalie; thanks so much for the invitation, it’s an honor to be with you all here on Superstructure. I’m an economist and I’m from Mexico; I’m a researcher for the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity where our friend and colleague Fadhel Kaboub is the current president.  I’ve been advocating for MMT informed policies with you and many other MMT friends for a while now, especially in my case in Mexico. That’s my principal work and I’m also a professor at the Autonomous University of Tamaulipas and have worked as a political advisor for a variety of political actors over the years in addition to my work as a social activist. 

Andrés – Thanks Jesús. We also have with us today José Daniel Rojas from Bogotá. Colombians have been glued to current events recently to keep track of what’s happening with the social movements.   Daniel; tell us, who are you, what do you do ? 

Daniel – Pleasure to join you all from Colombia and contribute to this discussion; we’re all trying to fight back in the wake of the latest crises. Now that we’ve made some progress fighting Covid it’s as good a time as any to consider whether there are other ways of managing the global economy. It’s been a contentious conjecture in Colombia. The social movement isn’t just for fun, it’s an existential necessity for us to be able to forge new paths forward. My name, as you said, is Daniel Rojas; I’m an economist and Congressional economic advisor; right now I’m working for senator Wilson Arias and I’m also part of Colombia Humana. We’re supporting the candidacy of Gustavo Petro for a new path for Colombia in 2022. We hope things work out how we hope and we have a lot of faith. The Colombian national anthem says; “The horrible night will end” and that’s what we’re hoping and aiming for. 

Andrés – Thanks Daniel. 

Jesús – I forgot to mention that I’m also on the Money on the Left editorial board. 

Andrés – Thanks ! So to give a bit of context, one of the reasons we wanted to get together was … 

Naty – …That there are indeed MMTers from outside Europe or the US. 

Daniel – Of course ! 

Naty – That’s what we’re going to talk about. 

Daniel – This is how you cross borders. 

Andrés – We want to push some boundaries because not everything happens in the US or Europe. In the MMT world we’re always getting pushback that these ideas are only relevant for countries with more monetary capacity; countries like the US that have, for example, a global reserve currency. There are really a whole series of excuses people are always giving for why the insights and ideas of MMT can be ignored.  

Unfortunately much of the world rejects the lessons of MMT precisely because they are told it’s only relevant in powerful countries like the US. We want to reject that idea and have this conversation to demonstrate how the MMT frame can help structure how we think about public policy in the Global South. We want to ask what we can take from MMT for these countries that have a history of brutal colonization; that have suffered under the thumb of imperialism; that are variously historically and politically disadvantaged.  

Naty – Most of the Spanish language MMT movement is coming out of Spain, so we wanted to expand the MMT framework to Latin America a bit. This way we can get a clearer understanding of the economic situation in countries with less monetary capacity or sovereignty. Contrary to popular belief, these are places there are MMT policies you can implement.  In Argentina for example they had the MMT inspired Job Guarantee “Plan Jefes.” But people will still say, “No, their hands are completely tied  because they’re pegged to the dollar and have foreign denominated debt.” But it’s just not true; there’s still space to spend and implement some social programs. Unfortunately, the only model in Chile for financing public spending is still just to tax the rich; this is an international impulse. I’ve been watching the Chilean elections and everything is about funding the upcoming government with taxes on the ultra wealthy. 

Andrés – As if it’s the only way you can spend. 

Nay – Exactly, and of course, that’s great ! We’re happy for the government to tax the rich. But taxpayer money is not the source of spending. 

Andrés – That’s some of what we’re gonna be talking about today. Like Natalie said, we have some Spanish MMT colleagues with a project called Red MMT, but we wanted to open the conversation up to Latin America as well. Let’s go ahead and start with Colombia, which is going through an intense time right now. Daniel, tell us about what’s going on there and the connections with issues of money, public spending, austerity, and so forth. 

Daniel – The situation in Colombia right now isn’t so different from the situation anywhere else in Latin America. We have a government that gets into power by promising to lower taxes on big corporations, with tax breaks on the wealthiest tax brackets supposedly creating jobs and jumpstarting the economy. When that government gets into office in 2018, their strategy is to get tax revenue so low that according to the dominant international model they all follow, you have to severely restrict public spending. And right in the middle of this discussion; Covid hits. We have an emergency where we need the government to increase public spending in order to meet the demands of the crisis. And they are telling us they don’t have the resources to meet the needs of the crisis;  that they’d need to raise taxes and generate revenue. And not just any tax ! No, it would have to be a tax on working class consumption and income. Unemployment in Colombia has gotten as high as 14 – 17 % in recent years, so this is affecting the middle class, the people who have jobs.  

All these factors help create a situation that leads to an “estallido social”, uprisings where everyone from the most vulnerable classes to the middle class are taking to the streets. We’ve had some really impressive mobilizations, but unfortunately the only response the government knows is repression. Some political currents have come out at this moment, including us at Colombia Humana, to say, “You know what. It’s not really the ideal moment for tax reform. There’s no reason the government needs to handle this crisis by raising taxes; we can just raise the public deficit.” The government could be increasing public spending to do things like implement  the Job Guarantee proposal we’ve brought before Congress. But increasing the public deficit is politically tricky; I assume that’s one of the topics we’ll be addressing today. MMT ideas are absolutely applicable in a Southern Cone or Latin American context. Obviously we are perfectly aware that the Colombian peso is not an international reserve currency. But we are also aware of the fact that there is no other government that emits Colombian pesos so we can increase public spending in Colombian pesos. A public deficit creates a private sector surplus. We can  stimulate demand from Colombian families and businesses. But we’ve been told we are macroeconomically irresponsible for making these kinds of proposals. 

Naty – Populists. 

Daniel – Populists, because we are proposing creating inflation. 

Naty – Venezuela ! 

Daniel – Yes, an example that gets thrown around a lot is that of Venezuela. I think there’s a good debate to be had there. Unfortunately, fights in Colombia such as the latest for tax reform have been consistently met with violence. The state’s response has never been dialogue. We could have a real dialogue, democratic debate, and ask, “ What’s your theory and what’s mine ? What’s your proposal and what’s mine ?”  But there is no debate; they simply believe that other formulas do not exist. It’s the orthodox formula or the bullet. Some of the most orthodox sectors of the Colombian academy recently put out a statement alongside some of the more conservative professional organizations, including the financial guilds, insisting there is only the classic orthodox model.  In response, 11 heterodox economists, mostly from  Colombian National University, the biggest public university in the country, put out a letter insisting that there are indeed other paths; that it simply cannot be the case that the only way forward is with exogenous money. 

The current situation has opened up opportunities for economic discussion and debate on social media. These debates have primarily remained limited to social media, but we have a real opportunity to get more of these ideas out there with the Gustavo Petro campaign.  That’s where we find ourselves in Colombia right now; there’s a brutal repression in the streets, but a really vital intellectual debate has taken root online. This is all great news for Colombia because we’ve been living under the boot of the same repressive vision for the last 30 years. There’s a Job Guarantee bill in congress that the opposition is all supporting; it may not get passed,  but a debate has absolutely taken root in the streets, the academy, and online. I think a new way of economic thinking is making its mark in Colombia. 

Naty – That’s great; they had a lot of signatures on their letter. It’s worth noting as well that MMT got its start in the 90s on social networks. 

Daniel – It’s true !

Naty – The repression reminds me of what we went through in 2019. When  I’m watching videos coming out of Colombia now I’ll notice the dissipated molecular revolutions and think “Ah yes, we have the same phenomenon here in Chile.”

Andrés – Daniel, tell us about that, about your participation in the revolution. 

Naty – It turns out that theory comes from a Chilean Neo- Nazi, by the way. I was like ‘Ah, it all makes sense.’

Daniel – There’s an important articulation between the Chilean and Colombian right.  The repressive forces of Colombia train the repressive forces of Chile; Colombian SWAT teams train the Chilean police. Then Chileans send us their Neo Nazi thinkers to teach the Colombian how to invent nonsense about molecularity. 

Naty – 80s Frenchies.

Daniel – Their goal is to seed Colombian and Chilean society with a popular imaginary where all protestors are enemies,  enemies of democracy and stability. The same way sound finance is the only way to  manage the economy, the only model of governance the regime knows is repression. You must be violent; there is no other way. 

Andrés – I’ve always thought Pinochet’s legacy manifested itself really clearly with Uribismo in Colombia. I think it’s one of the places where Pinochet’s military neoliberal legacy has had the most profound impact.

Naty – There’s people with power in Chile who are going to go out and protest if Judith Butler comes to town. They’ll be like “Oh no, there are criminals and vandals in the streets for gender!”

Daniel – The Chicago Boys would have never been able to enter Latin America the way they did without the use of military force. 

Andrés – And that’s the thing too with these so-called molecular revolutions. To give  listeners a bit more context, ex-president Alvaro Uribe has been spreading a conspiracy theory saying Colombia is in the throes of dangerous dissipated molecular revolutions. This is how deeply they fear the social movements on the streets. Speaking of Judith Butler and feminism, one of the biggest objections people made about the Colombian peace accords in involved “gender politics” as they say there. The Colombian right is terrified of feminism, of movements for LGBTQ rights;  it’s all connected. In a way these movements do share some of the strategies you’ve seen in the US from movements Black Lives Matter where there isn’t one particular leader . . .

Naty – I think a lot of popular momentum in the region was jump-started in recent years with movements like the International Women’s Day marches, in 2018, 2019;  in Argentina, Chile, Peru . . . you have “Not one more” anti-femicide protests, in Mexico too. These movements have given people experience with mobilization . . . There’s lots flowering in Latin America. 

Jesús – A question — why molecular ? 

Naty – Because of Deleuze and Guattari!

Andrés – There’s two French post-structuralists; Felix Guattari, not sure on the pronunciation, and Gilles Deleuze. We disagree with some of their ideas here at Superstructure but it’s a very different disagreement from the one these right wingers and neonazis have, it’s more ontological. Jesús, thinking further with some of these issues; Mexico is a country that’s considered very politically important in Latin America. You had a change of administration with the election of Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador that raised a lot of expectations and hopes. Can you tell us about the experience Mexico has had since those elections ? 

Naty – Mexico was just in the news the other day, too. (with the metro crash in Mexico City)

Andrés – So what’s been going on in Mexico;  what policies have been proposed and /or put into place by Morena; what role have economic debates played ? 

Jesús – Honestly with Mexico I barely know where to begin. 

Naty – It’s a small country where not much goes on. 

Jesús – Like all the countries in the region, Mexico is a complicated place. This has been especially true with our experience of this administration.  It’s really hard to describe the sensation. First, we had so many years of PRI governments, the party of the Mexican Revolution. Then, we have a PAN government and what happens next ? Without going into too much detail, the current president AMLO ran for president in 2006 against the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderón, and lost by a small margin, giving PAN continuity in a transition from Vicente Fox to Calderón. Then, we get to the 2012 elections and AMLO runs again but this time loses to the PRI frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto. 

So what you have now is a president who has been gunning for the job over the course of two presidencies. In 2018, he finally wins overwhelmingly, with very high approval rates in the majority of the country. What we’re seeing now is interesting; for some people it will be surprising and for others less so. We have what Andrés, Natalie and Scott have called in some Milenio columns the “conventional left” in power at a federal level. This conventional left models its political and economic programs on the old-line economic orthodoxy. The economic platform, the macroeconomic spine, is really exactly the same as the one the previous PRI and PAN administrations had. Obviously this has created a lot of problems. The AMLO administration has tried to meet the country’s needs by financing big showcase programs like the Tren Maya or the refinery in Tabasco called Dos Bocas. 

Naty – AMLO looked very happy in that video the other day – “Look at me here with my beautiful refinery!”

Jesús – This also includes the new airport in the state of Hidalgo, Santa Lucia. All of our public economic resources have been channeled towards these projects. But now, as Daniel said, the pandemic is really laying bare some of the shortcomings of the orthodox model AMLO’s government is organized around. This is an austerity program that has explicit Fransiscan overtones, as Scott Ferguson has so often pointed out. The government is tightening its belt as if it were a private firm or household. 

Naty – And money is the devil so the right thing to do is to not spend, but from the left. 

Jesús – You have a discourse where money is literally diabolic; it can only shape and influence society for the worse. So you have to reject spending in favor of austere simplicity. In this vision it’s always important for the government to be humble, simple, and austere.

Andrés – This is the same president, Jesús, who literally gives speeches describing money as demonic. In a way you really end up romanticizing poverty. 

Jesús – Exactly, he’s pretty much adopted the Fransiscan view of money whole cloth.

Naty – Listen to Money on the Left, we’ve had episodes about the history of Latin American colonization with … 

Andrés – Franciscan thought. 

Jesús – This leads to a lot of suffering.  No resources have been put into the education, health, science or technology sectors because according to them, there’s no money !

Naty – For the police, though, I’m sure there’s infinite money. 

Jesús – Indeed,  the armed forces, particularly the army, are actually in charge of the government’s big construction projects like the Santa Lucia airport project, among others. So yea, as Naty says – for this kind of project of course there’s money. 

Naty – There’s always money for oil. 

Jesús – It’s truly wild what’s going on in Mexico right now. Last year they pseudo-raffled off the presidential plane to supposedly pay for the government’s bills. This is a plane that had originally been purchased by Felipe Calderón and then Peña Nieto used it after him. So AMLO said, I’m not going to use the plane, let’s sell it and use the proceeds to purchase medicine and pay our medical personnel’s salaries.  Of course there’s a political dynamic at play here, but the message they’re sending people is that the government doesn’t have money and has to sell off its assets to finance itself. You have people buying five hundred dollar bills to help the government. 

Naty – Perverse. 

Daniel – Unfortunately these ideas that seem funny to us have a lot of purchase in the population; people really believe that the government doesn’t have money !

Jesús – Exactly. 

Daniel – They think there’s just literally no way to pay for anything. Here our Treasury Secretary, the Minister of the Economy, said a month or so ago that Colombia had only 6 weeks left of liquidity ! Obviously, people were completely panicked;  “We’re going to run out of resources, what are we going to do, the government is out of money.”  People really think about the economy this way; as if government accounts were equivalent to a household’s account. 

Naty – In Chile, instead of actually spending public money on some sort of Covid support, they’ve had people withdraw from their private pension funds. Of course people are going to think the government doesn’t have any money if you make it seem like the only way you can get people money is by funneling some from their retirement savings. If you say, “This is the only money left,” obviously people will learn that. 

Andrés – Wait, so what’s this? I haven’t heard about this; they’re recycling or returning money ? 

Naty – Yea and this is in part a left move ! Instead of getting a public payout you have to take out money from your AFP pension fund. AFP is the private pension system that Sebastian Piñera’s brother José helped design in the 80s during the dictatorship. So we’re on the third withdrawal of 10 % of your pension savings . . .

Jesús – But the difference is that Daniel is talking about a right-wing government and in Mexico we’re talking about a left-wing government. It’s one of the worst, most surprising things to go through  what we’re going through right now. Even worse, we have heterodox economists supporting these kinds of measures. 

Naty – Like at the Treasury, right ? There’s a Marxist doing the Doug Henwood sound finance thing ? 

Jesús – They nominated a sociology professor which created a bit of an outcry from the business sector; they wanted to know how you could put a Marxist in charge of the Treasury. But as we all well know, being a Marxist hardly disqualifies you from supporting sound finance socialism. 

Naty – So tragic; such an embarrassment. 

Jesús – In the end they got exactly what they wanted. But I hope Jacobin won’t come after me now for saying that.  

Andrés –We’re in such a crucial political moment; we’re in the middle of a global environmental crisis and we have fascist movements on the ascent working to win power internationally.  But the left is all too often stuck on models that are paralyzing us and preventing us from seeing a way forward; a different path. In my eyes there’s three different formations we’re trapped in. First, there’s the left that thinks our only possibility is to redistribute a bit from the rich and then maybe we also pay for some plan or other by raffling off the presidential plane. Second, there’s the left that thinks nothing is possible without world revolution, only then will we be able to do anything. When the US is no longer the global reserve currency, then we can finally invest. 

Naty – Before that, sorry Latin America, no MMT for you.  ‘Because of colonial finance your hands are tied.’  Some of these detractors will never get the irony. 

Andrés – I think something you see a lot on the US left is people who talk about Latin America like it has no agency, as if the whole region were completely powerless.  So there’s that tendency. The third formation I see is an alliance between austere sound finance and petroleum lefts.

Naty — With resources … state resources … 

Andrés – Exactly. These are people who think the only way you can implement left policy is by getting funds from the oil companies. Under this framework you actually need the petroleum industry to be successful for your country to thrive or have space to maneuver and if prices fall you’re in huge trouble. 

Naty – It’s the same with copper, really with any of these resources. 

Daniel – Commodities ! 

Jesús– You have these generic heterodox economists whose only solution to a lack of funds is to raise taxes on the rich. These are left economists, and they’re out on social media promoting the idea that you can only fund the government with a “Tax the rich” revenue increase agenda. But it seems like there’s been more of a reaction to MMT in Colombia than in Mexico where there is a total silence. 

Naty – Chile is the same;  barely anyone has heard of MMT . . . maybe there’s some people who’ve studied abroad but there’s not really a presence . . .  Maybe when Stephanie Kelton’s book arrives? I’m not really sure. 

Jesús – That’s the elephant in the room. Like Andrés said, there are people supporting the oil sector whose whole plan is to “tax the oil rich”,  that’s literally their whole agenda. 

Naty – Yep, “tax the super-rich”;  they say it every day. 

Andrés – Daniel, what’s your experience been with the Colombian left as far as sound finance debates ? 

Daniel – I don’t think my experience has been too different; the left here tends to be pretty conservative. It’s almost  impossible to get people to imagine revenue not funding spending.  There was even a movement a few years ago that opposed any public debt whatsoever. It still exists; I’ve been to some of their meetings and the culture is just ‘no to debt because no.’

Naty – Money is the devil. 

Daniel – Well, they claim that public debt is bad because it’s a Northern tool of subjugation over the Global South. And there’s not zero truth to this; I don’t think it’s so, so, so far from the truth. But this framing puts you in a position where you have to deny that you can spend on public debt, that you don’t always need new revenue. Sadly the Colombian left is completely convinced by this frame; Jesús  is totally right about that. But you have people doing other things. Take, for example, the economics faculty at the National University, which is a public university; they’ve really made an effort to seek out dialogue with research going on in other parts of the world. This alone is already a way of saying, “Yes, there are other ways.”

Now we have this open letter that’s come out and it’s been signed by 100, 200 economists from all over the country. These are university professors who are in the academy and have been published saying, “There are other ways.” They’re not just saying in other words, “Let’s do a progressive tax reform and tax the rich.” Obviously a progressive tax reform is urgent in Colombia,  but not because we need it to generate resources; it’s more for a kind of leveling. In Colombia the rich don’t really pay taxes at all and that creates a concentration of wealth where the GINI coefficient is literally the same after taxes as before. So there’s an imbalance. But this is not the real  fiscal issue for Colombia. No, the fiscal problem in Colombia is that the state isn’t investing where it ought to be. We are working from a sound finance model that the people in charge don’t really even believe in. I think the presidential candidate Gustavo Petro gets what we’re trying to say or at least or is starting to get it. It’s certainly not immediate, but at least people are starting to be able to say, “We don’t need to fear a fiscal deficit.”

Naty – I wonder if there may be a bit more awareness of MMT once the Job Guarantee proposal gets more publicity . . .  Certainly that hasn’t always happened in the US, whether with the Green New Deal or Job Guarantee proposals. Most people still think those bills would be paid for with tax revenue. But I still think proposals like these can create some space for MMT ideas. 

Daniel – That’s right. The main question you get in debates these days is how you are going to confront the crisis. The answer we should be giving is that the central bank ought to use its power to emit money and finance the government and generate employment and stimulate demand and put some money in people’s pockets. It was like we committed heresy for the Colombian media when we said the central bank can emit money.  So now the first thing you always hear is, “Gustavo Petro prints money,” so that’s just one more thing we have to confront when talking to people. It’s easy for the opposition to distort our proposals. In Colombia they always start by conflating emitting money with printing money and then as you know, they invoke Venezuela. 

Naty – And cocaine. 

Daniel – Last year Colombian banks emitted 40 BILLION pesos via quantitative easing. You have the government basically gifting private banks with liquidity, so we’ve used this fact to say to people, “ Look, emission is not the problem. The problem, rather, is profoundly political.” I think Jesús is right to say that we’ve made some progress on these issues in Colombia. So much so that the director of the doctorate program at Javeriana University had  some choice adjectives for our program; the debate has definitely escalated in Colombia, especially in academic circles. I have faith that this escalation will lead somewhere positive. 

Jesús – You have a dynamic underway in Colombia where people are trying to take the severe adversity really all nations have been facing during this crisis, but especially countries like ours, and use this moment of crisis to challenge the dominant economic framework. The effects of the pandemic have hit Mexico really hard over the past year.  Yet some progressive left economists recommendation was simply for Mexico to take out a line of credit with the Inter American Development Bank; that’s to say, more external debt. There’s really no better illustration of how lost this segment of the left is in this regard. 

Naty – And foreign debt has a very serious history in Latin America. 

Andrés – I think it’s important to clarify some subtleties that are confusing for people, because a lot of people who are afraid of public debt think foreign-dominated debt is the same as domestic debt. And this leads people to implement sound finance policies that just creates an ever stronger dependence on foreign-denominated debt. This is why people always think  they’re dependent on the dollar as a reserve currency. To be honest, the left hasn’t really had an answer to this problem. We haven’t really led on putting forward a strategy to get us out of the trap of foreign-denominated debt or dollar debt. 

Daniel – I think we have to push ourselves to be less reticent in certain areas too. When they ask us about inflation we always say, “Well, hey, we don’t support inflation.” And that’s true. MMT is not advocating outbreaks of inflation. But in practice, for countries like Colombia where we import pretty much everything, up to and including screws,  there are certain issues we have to  be concerned about with the currency. But this is just one more battle we must refuse to be afraid of.  What we really ought to ask ourselves is how much inflation we’re willing to accept. How much unemployment do we think is tolerable ? People act as if the Phillips Curve has died, as if it didn’t exist anymore. But in countries like ours, it absolutely still exists. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t allow for some inflation to bring down unemployment. This is really the core paradox; it’s a fundamentally political question. If we want, we can keep inflation super low and decide we don’t care how high unemployment gets. We can keep unemployment at 15% and inflation at 1%. Sometimes we have DEFLATION in Colombia. It’s important to do some self-criticism sometimes and I think we’re making a mistake if we respond to questions about inflation by insisting we completely oppose inflation. No, we can permit a certain level of inflation if it means bringing unemployment down. But in Colombia the orthodox economists say that inflation is the worst possible tax you could impose on poor people. My answer is to ask whether it’s worse than leaving your population in misery; poor, unemployed and hungry. Like seriously? So what you have here is a moral debate. 

Naty – I wanted to ask you Jesús, since you’ve talked a lot with Fadhel Kaboub  who is I think the most prominent MMT economist on Global South issues; on countries with less monetary capacity that tend to import a lot because they haven’t been able to develop their domestic food or energy capacity and maybe rely heavily on commodities exports, what are some of the challenges or limits when you’re thinking structurally?

Jesús – Ever since the implementation of neolibral policies in the 80s in Mexico, technocrats here say that the best industrial policy is no industrial policy at all. That’s what they say ! So Mexico has had no real industrial policy to speak of in recent decades; no way to build up their internal market and strengthen domestic productive capacity. Instead, they’ve increased our dependence on the exterior. We’re importing goods under the framework of these free trade deals that have Mexico only exporting low value added products. 

Daniel – And petroleum. 

Jesús – Exactly. So Mexico, in terms of industrial manufacturing, is really just an assembly line. It doesn’t have the domestic capacity to produce high value-added products because we don’t invest in science, technology, or innovation. In fact the government eliminated important resources in these areas. So what I’m getting at is we don’t really have an industrial policy; this leaves us with a weak science, technology, and innovation sector, reducing the scope, range and spectrum of economic activity and capacity possible. If we keep depending on the exterior for development, it’s going to continue to cause us problems moving forward.

Andrés – And then the pandemic comes and the infrastructure collapses. 

Jesús – That’s another thing; you have poor planning and corruption in addition to this total shortage of public resources that have been allocated towards maintenance of the public infrastructure. 

Naty – What happened the other day in Mexico City with the metro. 

Jesús – In that case people had been warning the government about problems for quite some time. So of course this is the result. At the federal level the policy is austerity and budget cuts and it’s the same at the state and municipal level. You mention cutbacks on the metro line,  but what’s interesting is recent budget reports that came out show that Mexico City just didn’t spend the funds it had budgeted for the metro. A planned austerity regime creates a whole series of errors and problems. 

Andrés – I think Daniel and Jesus both open up really well some different lessons we can take from MMT. Something I really want to highlight is the way economic orthodoxy tends to conflate inflation with hyperinflation; as if it’s all the same and 1 % inflation means we have hyperinflation. 

Daniel – Disaster !

Andrés – Yes, disaster, like it’s interwar Germany. 

Naty – It always comes back to Weimar. 

Andrés – I think it’s really important to draw out some of the subtleties modern money theory can help illuminate.  For starters, our argument is that Colombia and Mexico not having international reserve currencies is not the most important thing. They will still always be able to emit the domestic currency to mobilize domestic resources, period. This is just logical. The limit isn’t that you can’t find the money;  that you don’t know where you’re going to withdraw money from next; that it’s all running out and  you have to raffle off a plane. The real limit is the question of at what point inflation becomes a real problem.  But this never happens because there is simply too much money in the economy. No, it’s a question of the country’s domestic productive capacity. So that’s one issue. The second question is what a country’s productive capacity is, whether you’re really using the resources you have at your disposal. In Colombia and Mexico both you have people and resources that you aren’t utilizing. So the inflationary pressures in these countries have less to do with public spending than they do with private power. The issue is the power of the private financial system, the monopolies and corporations that have the power to set market prices, that’s where the inflationary pressures are coming from.  So we’re not going to talk about money as if it were a solid thing with actual value like a piece of gold. Money doesn’t just have intrinsic value and we need to locate the rich people to get some of that value. It’s not like those cat memes where the cats are running around trying to escape the red light and get the white light that isn’t real, that doesn’t exist. It’s the same with MMT’s understanding of money; money isn’t like a nugget of solid gold with some intrinsic value. No, money is an institutional infrastructure, a way of organizing debt.  It’s how we mobilize our productive capacity and form our most important governing relationships. So you have that element. The last point I want to make is that, as both Jesus and Daniel mentioned, our countries haven’t invested in domestic productive capacity. Instead, we have depended on foreign investment; we depend on dollars. If we don’t have dollars, we don’t have an economy. This gets us deeper and deeper into a hole where we have to ask the World Bank for a loan or hope some American or European investor comes in from abroad to rescue us before they leave us high and dry the moment they see fit. This is the current system and it makes our currency weak. The failure to invest in public education, a sustainable energy system, just food systems, or public employment makes us more vulnerable to inflationary pressures. Without investment in these vital areas our economies are severely weakened. 

Naty – We need a Latinx Green New Deal. 

Jesús — To add to what Andrés is saying about currencies, one of AMLO’s advisors proposed a few years back that we should go off the peso and adopt the dollar as the Mexican currency.

Daniel – No ! 

Naty – That’s gone really well for Ecuador, great. 

Daniel – But this was someone from Morena ? 

Jesús – No, a businessperson. Another proposal was to anchor the value of the peso to silver. 

Naty – Back to the future, it’s the 70s, great. 

Daniel – It’s funny because you have this debate gaining momentum in Colombia; more and more people are talking about these issues from a variety of different viewpoints. Sometimes it’s a very fair, very enlightened debate; other times people are completely distorting the truth. But at least people are talking. And it’s so funny because we have these orthodox economists who a professor at the National University started calling “The Seventh” economists. This was meant to be a cheeky allusion to the US where people say there are the freshwater economists and the saltwater economists. There’s a similar professional differentiation in Colombia. “Seventh” economists are working in the seventh region of Colombia which is the Bogotá area where all these historically orthodox economic faculties are; the Andes, the Externada, the Javeriana. And when we met with this group of economists they took out Stephanie Kelton’s book and opened it up and said, “look, Stephanie Kelton says right here that in countries like Colombia that rely heavily on imports MMT doesn’t make sense.” 

It’s so ironic because these are the same people who have spent the last 30 years running Colombia’s industrial and productive apparatus into the ground. They have brought us to a point where Colombia is only producing petroleum and cocaine. Yet they are so shameless and spineless that they have the gall to then say “ Sorry, Colombia doesn’t have the right productive system to allow MMT ideas to have a seat at the table.” Really they are confessing how badly they have managed everything. They ran the Colombian productive apparatus into the ground. So of course, I really like the idea of a Latin American Green New Deal because it helps us think about how we can mobilize our society’s productive apparatus. If we don’t do that; if we keep importing everything, we are really going to have problems. Integrating Latin American value chains is really important here to break borders; it could be a really important idea. I think about something like lithium production in Bolivia, or gas and copper . . . and I think about how, of course, we really need to look at things from a climate perspective because we are in the throes of a full-on climate cris. But I think it’s also possible to generate Latin American value chains and allow ourselves to think about a Latin Green New Deal from the South. 

Andrés – Daniel, where do you think the Colombian left is heading; do you think they’ll really be able to internalize this vision we’re putting forward ? 

Naty – Tomorrow. 

Andrés – Literally tomorrow. 

Daniel – I think it’s a process. Look, I’ll tell you right now, the truth is that there are some very conservative ideas on the Colombian left. But I think Petro´s presidential campaign will have an opportunity to get people debating some of these ideas. When you’re in the midst of a crisis  and have debates where suddenly public figures are actually able to say the words “monetary emission”, that is actually a huge step forward for a society as conservative as Colombia’s. And now a lot of people are repeating it! So we need to direct more energy towards theorizing and pushing these ideas. Having the job guarantee bill in the congress can help open up some space for debate. I think we’re heading down an underexplored path, and while progress is slow, taking a step in this direction is already an important advance.  The other thing that makes me optimistic about Colombia is that we are not putting forward some singular isolated proposal. No, this is the platform of the presidential candidate who is leading the polls today. So we know there is popular support and therefore the possibility of pushing  some of these ideas and programs forward. I think the first and maybe most difficult battle is going to be with our own side; we have to defeat some conservative ideas our friends and comrades on the left still harbor.  It’s hard, but I think we can do it. 

Jesús – We are really paying for the errors we’ve made in Mexico, these issues are so important. 

Andrés – These “Seventh” economists seem to me more like, as they say, garage economists. 

Daniel – But they govern Colombia;  they’ve governed the country for 30, 40 years. 

Andrés – Jesús;  expectations for Mexico, how do you see things going ? 

Jesús – I think it’s very unlikely the current administration will change in the next term. They have made their position clear. Nevertheless, we are being observed; the world is watching us. We are being observed and furthermore there is some turn to MMT. I can say that there’s been some timid outreach to our camp. It’s slow but there’s some movement. 

Daniel – That’s great to hear. There’s a part of the Colombian left that really sees AMLO as an important referent. They say, “Wow he doesn’t use the presidential plane” and then their whole big program is to lower the presidential and congressional salaries in order to fund the government. 

Andrés – There was a time when I would see Mujica in Uruguay living in his little house and I’d say “Ah, that’s the left.”

Naty – He smokes weed and has a small house so everything with Uruguay is obviously okay. 

Daniel – It’s like with Petro; they published some photos of him wearing Ferragamo shoes and they said, “See, he’s a fake, a hypocrite;  he wears expensive shoes; how can you be on the left and not be barefoot?”

Andrés – Jesús, before we recorded you were telling me about some social justice initiatives in Mexico, can you talk about these as a vehicle for integrating MMT ideas into a Mexican social justice agenda ? 

Jesús – Absolutely, MMT in a  Latin American context;  especially in Mexico, MUST go hand in hand with a social justice agenda; you have to dialogue deeply with the sectors of the population that are suffering the most right now. It’s critical to integrate and consider the strategies social movements are using to develop the left. In Mexico you really have many different countries; every locality has its own particular problems, whether it be security, the environment, or the lack of job opportunities forcing people to emigrate to the US. For MMT to be relevant it has to take these issues seriously and make social problems integral to its framework. The issue of security is also crucial for a functioning economy; I think in Colombia you’ve had similar issues ? 

Andrés – In the Colombian case, absolutely, a vision for peace is so central. It’s the same as in Mexico where so many people have lived through really serious violence, whether it be caused by narcotrafficking or a general lack of social stability. We aren’t creating public employment opportunities; we aren’t investing in sustainability. Those are the things we need to create a serious, durable peace that is sustainable long- term.  

Naty – That’s how you actually try to get out from under the domination of the empire, right ? To defeat the ‘empire’ you can’t just keep importing more and more forever. 

Andrés – To wrap up, government accounts are not like those of a household, states have constitutional power over their currency, and you don’t need taxes to fund spending. Taxes are important, rather, to keep people from accumulating obscene amounts of wealth. 

Naty – Allowing people to purchase dissipated molecular revolutions. 

Jesus – We need to raffle off planes. 

Daniel – Lower congressional salaries . . . 

Naty – Ok, great conversation, thanks so much everyone for coming to talk with us. 

Daniel – In a world where people are literally dying in the street it’s immoral to continue down our current path. Any state can rescue its citizens and guarantee certain rights if it wants to. The fact they don’t isn’t because they can’t; it’s not because they don’t have the resources. The question is political power. The issue is political, not economic. The economy is honestly almost over-diagnosed. We have so many studies and theories that show that governments can allow themselves to rescue their citizens. So the issue is not really technical. 

Naty – Right, it’s not technical. I think at Superstructure and Money on the Left that’s one of the most important arguments we want to make, that MMT isn’t just some cold technical trick where you say, “Ah, we have the best science,” and that’s all she wrote. These are deep, serious, important social questions for everyone. 

Andrés – For us, technical issues are also social and political issues !

Naty – True, the binary is false.

Daniel – The economics academy teaches you that there is a natural rate of employment, that this is something natural which exists. This is a lie, it’s a total lie. 

Naty – And then you have your little mini-Friedmans on Twitter with their ridiculous little cartoon avatars.

Andrés – According to orthodox economics,  unemployment is like gravity; it exists in nature, just because. This is an idea the left must resoundingly reject. 

Daniel – When the textbook says there is a NATURAL rate of unemployment, you have to naturalize this “natural,” no ? They’re telling you this is something you cannot dispute. It’s a great farce. 

Naty – That’s the idea, no ? They don’t want people actually discussing these topics; they want neoliberalism to continue;  they want the hegemony of the World Bank and IMF and their friends at Harvard Business School to continue.

Andrés – The other one is the natural rate of interest . . . 

Daniel – Everything is nature. When they’re screwing you over, that’s just nature. 

Naty – Ok y’all, great conversation, thanks so much. Excuse my Spanish at times, despite living here for years my Spanish still isn’t nearly as good as I wish it were ! 

Daniel – Really cool to talk with you all. 

Andrés – Listeners, thanks for being here with us for this special episode of Money on the Left and Superstructure.

Naty – Superestructura.

Andrés – Please follow us and listen to our work;  we have a patreon you can support;  I also suggest you follow the work Daniel is doing in Colombia, especially with Colombia Humana and with senator Wilson Arias. Also follow Jesus Resendiz and his work with his column at  Milenio. 

Naty – What are your twitter handles ? 

Daniel – @ DanielRMed, from “Medellin”, but it’s just “Med.” 

Jesús – Mine is @ Tlacuachito. 

Andrés – Perfect, we’ll write those up on twitter too so people can follow you all, thanks so much ! 

Jesús – Thanks so much.

Naty – Thanks.

Daniel – Thank you all, a pleasure. 

Transcripción en Español

Natalie – Hola, yo soy Natalie, co-host de Superstructure  o Superestructura, y una de las editoras de Money on the Left. Hoy día vamos a hacer algo un poco diferente, un episodio en español. Para nosotros, es súper importante incluir a Latinoamérica en nuestro análisis de las posibilidades económicas y políticas en el mundo. Y yo como estadounidense que vive en Chile, de una forma vivo entre varios mundos. Estoy trabajando en este proyecto de educación política con respecto a MMT y aunque vivo en Chile, la mayoría de los miembros o todos los miembros del colectivo viven en EEUU  y mientras el podcast tiene un ámbito internacional, igual su red principal viene de los EEUU  así que igual quisiéramos expandir la conversación un poco. Hay que unir fuerzas y las vías de comunicación. Por cierto, disculpa mi español, que sigue siendo muy gringo después de tantos años aquí. Tenemos con nosotros dos invitados y también Andrés Bernal, que también es parte del colectivo – ¿quien eres Andrés ?  ¿ Cual es tu historia? 

Andrés – Hola, buenas tardes a todos, yo soy Andrés Bernal, editor también de Money on the Left y Superestructura, aquí también para hacer parte de esta conversación sobre MMT y Latinoamérica. ¿Quién soy yo? Bueno, yo soy un profesor en CUNY Queens College de Estudios Urbanos. Estoy terminando mi doctorado también en el New School, con enfoque en el Green New Deal y soy asesor político. Estuve un momento con la campaña de Alexandria Ocasio Cortez; en este momento estoy con la campaña de Diane Morales para la alcaldía de Nueva York. Entonces bueno,  un placer aquí estar con todos Uds. para tener esta conversación que nos parece muy importante, primero, porque para abrir el espacio lingüístico de idioma, y también para hablar de temas que muchas veces evitamos o se ignoran en el mundo del pensamiento económico y también de MMT. Entonces bueno, también, yo; español no es mi primer idioma, entonces quizás qué –we’ll speak some Spanglish– and we’ll mix it up a little. 

**

Andrés – Tenemos dos invitados aquí con nosotros, primero tenemos aquí desde Tampico, México, Jesús Resendiz, Jesús, díganos, ¿ quién eres? 

Jesús – Hola Andrés, Natalie;  muchas gracias por la invitación, es para mi un honor estar aquí en Superstructure. Bueno pues yo soy mexicano, soy economista de profesión, y soy miembro e investigador de Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, donde el presidente de este instituto es nuestro colega y  amigo, Fadhel Kaboub y bueno, ya llevo cierto tiempo impulsando junto con Uds., con mis amigos de la Teoría Monetaria Moderna, esta como le decimos en inglés– la MMT o la TMM en español– impulsándola en mi caso particular de México. Entonces, digamos que en grandes rasgos esto es mi trabajo aquí, y bueno soy profesor en la Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas, he sido asesor de algunos actores políticos, y también activista social. 

Andrés –Gracias Jesús. Y también tenemos con nosotros José Daniel Rojas desde Bogotá, que ahorita, bueno yo también como Colombiano, todos estamos muy pendientes de la situación que está pasando en Colombia– los movimientos sociales que se están viviendo en este momento. Daniel, cuéntanos ¿ quién eres, qué haces?

Daniel – Hola, ¿cómo están? Placer estar aquí con Uds. y desde Colombia integrarnos en esta discusión que emerge en medio de esta crisis ¿no ? Ahora que el mundo global empieza a soportar la crisis de Covid, está bien empezar a pensar si es que existen otras formas de gestionar y de gobernar la economía y desde Colombia también  en medio de este maremagnum de confrontaciones que emerge de la movilización social. Pues para nosotros no solamente es un placer sino una necesidad empezar a encontrar nuevos caminos y nuevas fórmulas para el desarrollo. Mi nombre, bueno como se lo dicen, es Daniel Rojas,  economista de profesión; soy asesor económico en el Congreso de la República;  en este momento trabajo con el senador Wilson Arias y también hago parte de la Colombia Humana, que es el esfuerzo de el candidato presidencial Gustavo Petro para encontrar un nuevo rumbo en Colombia en el 2022. Esperamos que así sea y tenemos muchísima fe en que va a ser así. Esto, como dice el himno nacional; el himno nacional de Colombia , dice –cesará la horrible noche– y vamos a esperar que así sea, vamos por eso. 

**

Andrés – Muchas gracias Daniel. 

Jesús – Se me olvidó decir que también soy miembro del consejo editorial de Money on the Left. 

**

Andrés – Bueno, para un poco de contexto también en esta conversación,  este diálogo y una de las razones . . . 

Naty — . . .  Parece que sí, sí hay gente fuera de Europa y los Estados Unidos; parece . . . de MMT. 

Daniel —- Claro, claro que sí.

Naty – Eso vamos a hablar. 

Daniel — Así asciendan fronteras.  

Andrés — Asciendan fronteras; no todo pasa en EEUU o Europa, exactamente. Entonces pues, en nuestro mundo de MMT o la TMM, como mi amigo Jesús aquí lo dijo, muchas veces escuchamos que solo hay relevancia para  EEUU, que simplemente es porque  EEUU tiene una moneda que es reserva mundial o una cantidad de razones o excusas porque ignorar las ideas, los –insights – que no sé como se dice en español –insights– ? 

**

Jesús –  ¿ Características, no ? 

**

Andrés – ¿ Visión ? 

Naty – Sí, percepciones, entendimientos . . . 

Andrés – Sí;  bueno, el conocimiento;  el conocimiento que nos da MMT es rechazado en muchas partes del mundo porque se dice que solamente funciona o es relevante en los Estados Unidos. Entonces nosotros queremos rechazar esa idea y poner en práctica y tener esta conversación sobre cuáles son los aprendizajes y las cosas importantes de usar  . . .  la TMM o MMT como un marco de referencia, como una estructura para pensar en las políticas públicas y las ideas basadas en el dinero;  en la función del dinero en una economía, específicamente, para países en el sur; para países que han estado en desventaja política;  que tiene una historia de colonización, de imperialismo, etc. ¿ Qué podemos aprender de MMT en esas situaciones? Entonces, bueno, Naty, ¿qué más ?

Naty – Sí, sin embargo, yo creo que hay más movida de TMM en España dentro del español, pero queremos expandir para Latinoamérica y lo que pasa es que el marco de TMM macroeconómico nos puede ayudar dar a entender cómo funcionan las cosas. Incluso cuando no haya tanta soberanía se puede usarla como en Argentina donde tenían Plan Jefes, una garantía de trabajo. Pero sin embargo, igual dicen –No, no puedes hacer nada ahi, porque estan vinculado al dólar y tienen la deuda externa y bla bla bla– pero sí, se puede hacer programas;  se puede gastar. Pero también tienen muy arraigado esta idea de que . . .  en Chile todo el mundo en la izquierda está hablando de –impuestos a los super ricos– cierto? 

Andrés – Como la única manera que hace algo para gastar. 

Naty – Sí y bacán; genial que haya un impuesto a los super ricos, cierto? Pero no es la fuente de gastar. 

Andrés – Exactamente. Esos son los temas que vamos a tocar hoy. Como dice Natalie, tenemos unas camaradas en España que tienen un proyecto de MMT, se llama Red MMT, pero nosotros aquí también queremos abrir esta conversación a Latinoamérica. Bueno, entonces empezando con Colombia;  por el momento que se está viviendo ahorita ¿que está pasando, Daniel ? Cuéntanos un poco sobre ¿qué pasa en Colombia? y ¿cómo se conecta esto con cuestiones de dinero, de gasto público, de austeridad, etc. ?

Daniel – Bueno, ya, es que lo que está pasando en Colombia no es muy distinto a lo que se está pasando en Latinoamérica, sinceramente. Tenemos un gobierno que llega y que gana las elecciones bajo la promesa de que disminuyendo impuestos a las grandes corporaciones y a las personas que están en el nivel más alto de ingresos y de patrimonio podría reactivar la economía, creando puestos de trabajo.  Y en 2018, cuando esa propuesta empieza a gobernar evidentemente, lo que hacen es disminuir los ingresos tributarios para llegar al punto en común en EEUU, en Europa, en todo el mundo: bajo la visión dominante de como hay pocos ingresos tributarios;  hay pocos gastos públicos, ¿ verdad ? Poco gasto público. Y en esa discusión, llega el Covid. Y entonces, en el momento en el que el gobierno requiere aumentar el gasto público para atender la emergencia, lo que eso nos dice es que no hay recursos y que los recursos solo se pueden recaudar vía impuesto. Y no cualquier impuesto, sino que tiene que ser impuestos al consumo y a la rentas laborales de la parte baja. Claro, eso afecta mayoritariamente a las personas que tienen trabajo y las personas que tienen trabajo en Colombia es la clase media porque el desempleo en Colombia ha llegado a unos niveles del 14 a 17 % en el último año. Entonces, en ese escenario se crea todo un estallido social porque es la clase media la clase que está –digamos, esos sectores;  esos segmentos de la sociedad que está en la vulnerabilidad; la que empieza a llenar las calles y a colmar las calles en unas movilizaciones impresionantemente grandes; que solamente tienen como respuesta el gobierno la represión. Ante ese escenario; algunos expresiones políticas hemos dicho, dentro de esas Colombia Humana, de que no es momento de hacer una reforma tributaria. Es decir, de que el gobierno no tendría porqué atender la emergencia imponiendo impuestos, sino que pudiéramos aumentar el déficit público de tal manera que el gobierno responda mediante un proyecto que hemos radicado en el Congreso de Trabajo Garantizado en el cual pudiéramos dar respuesta a la crisis aumentando déficit público. Y aumentar el déficit público tiene muchas aristas y eso creo que lo vamos a hablar en este espacio. Yo creo que, claro, estos tipos de ideas que vienen de la Teoría Monetaria Moderna tienen su grado de aplicación en los países del Cono Sur y en países Latinoamericanos. Somos perfectamente conscientes de que el peso colombiano no es una moneda de reserva; pero también somos perfectamente conscientes de que somos el unico gobierno que emite pesos colombianos y que por lo tanto podemos permitirnos a aumentar el gasto público en pesos colombianos de tal forma que el déficit público sea superávit en el sector privado y que las familias y las empresas colombianas pudieran tener un choque de demanda. Lo que se nos han dicho es que somos unas) de irresponsables, macroeconómicamente hablando . . . 

Naty – Populistas. 

Daniel – Y de populistas, porque lo que estamos proponiendo es crear inflación y ya. 

Naty – ¡Venezuela!  

Daniel – Sí, el ejemplo que sale a flote es el de Venezuela. Bueno, creo que ahí hay un buen debate para dar. Afortunadamente, en este escenario y en el que se impone esa reforma tributaria; los hechos de violencia  en Colombia han sido el pan diario. La respuesta del estado no ha sido al diálogo y miremos –¿ Cuál es su teoría y cuál es la mía ? ; ¿ Cuál es tu propuesta y cuál es la mía ?–  dentro de un marco democratico del debate; sino que simplemente no existe el debate; no existen otras fórmulas. Es el fórmula de la ortodoxia o la bala y ahora mismo salió un comunicado de la academia más ortodoxa colombiana y de los gremios, principalmente gremios financieros, en los que se decían– esta es la única vía que existe y ante eso sale una respuesta que es una carta abierta de once economistas heterodoxos principalmente de la Universidad Nacional Colombiana, que es la universidad pública más grande en Colombia, que dice — No. Hay otras formas. Hay otras formas porque no puede ser que la única manera que tengamos dinero es exógeno.–

**

Daniel – Que existen otras formas, digamos.  Y eso ha puesto que el debate económico en Colombia una muy buena discusión en las redes sociales, principalmente en las redes sociales. Pero la campaña presidencial de Gustavo Petro para el próximo año empieza a escoger estas ideas y en eso nos encontramos en Colombia. Nos encontramos en las calles una represión brutal; pero en las redes y en los escenarios de debate y de pensamiento; ya hay un debate instalado. En este momento hay un debate instalado y eso es muy bueno para lo que pasa en Colombia porque llevamos 30 años con una sola visión- Hay,  con esos términos; hay en el congreso de la República en este momento cruzando un proyecto de ley de Trabajo Garantizado que lo ha afirmado todo la oposición y que quizás no tenga suerte de ser aprobado en el congreso; pero en las discusiones, insisto, que se empieza a dar en las calles y en la academia y en las redes sociales; está ya empezando a instalarse otra manera de pensarse la economía en Colombia. 

Naty – Está buenísimo eso– que tenían hartas firmas y como también– la TMM empezó en los años noventa en las redes sociales.

Daniel – Es cierto. 

Naty – Interesante también como la represión– me acuerdo de Chile;  cuando veo videos, como es en Colombia ahora y veo las revoluciones moleculares disipadas y digo –ah, tenemos el mismo fenómeno!–

Andrés – Sí, Daniel, cuéntanos de eso; cuentanos de tu membresía en la revolución. 

Naty — Esa teoría viene de un neonazi chileno . . . 

Daniel – Aquí hay una articulación entre la derecha chilena y la derecha colombiana; las fuerzas represivas colombianas entrenan a las fuerzas represivas chilenas; los SWAT colombianos entrenan a los carabineros chilenos y los chilenos nos mandan sus pensadores neo nazis para que instruyan a la derecha colombiana y entonces se inventan  de estas cosas de la molecularidad …

**

Daniel -– Tienen como destino crear en la sociedad colombiana y en la sociedad chilena el imaginario de que las personas que están en las protestas son vándalos; son enemigos; son enemigos de la democracia;  de la estabilidad ¿no ?  Así como solamente existen finanzas sanas como única forma de tener la economía;  también solamente una única visión de democracia;  que es entender el régimen como lo demuestran y otra forma tiene que ser represivo;  tiene que ser violentado;  porque no existe; no existe otra forma. 

Naty – Se van juntos.

Daniel – Pero insisto;  aquí hay algo que es valioso y es que hoy ya la gente se está entendiendo que hay otras formas; hay otras formas de entender, tanto la economía como  la política; como el orden social. 

Naty – Sipo.

Andrés – Yo siempre he pensado que el legado de Pinochet se manifiesta en Colombia con el Uribismo como uno de los momentos y los espacios que más profundamente representan lo que fue eso. 

Daniel – Así es. 

Naty –  . . .  Es que hay gente con poder que si viene Judith Butler a hablar van a protestar, como –ahh – están andando vándalos a la calle por el género!–

Daniel – Los Chicago Boys jamás hubieran podido entrar así en Latinoamérica si no hubiera sido por el uso de la fuerza militar. 

**

Andrés – Y también como eso mismo, todo esto de las revoluciones moleculares; que bueno, para los escuchantes– el ex presidente Alvaro Uribe ahorita está hablando de una conspiración de una revolución molecular disipada; que para mi demuestra el miedo que le tienen estos grupos a los movimientos sociales que se están tomando las calles.  Pero hablando de Judith Butler y el feminismo, etc., bueno, uno de los argumentos más fuertes en contra de los acuerdos de paz en Colombia fue la política de género, como lo dicen allá, la derecha en Colombia le tiene mucho miedo al feminismo, al derechos de la comunidad LGBTQ  . . .   Está muy conectado esto. Entonces eso me hizo pensar que es la misma estrategia. O aquí en EEUU – Black Lives Matter, que es un movimiento de protesta que no tiene a un líder en particular, sino que es disipado  . . .  

Naty – Y también con 8 M – 2018, 2019;  empezó mucho en Chile y en muchos lugares– Argentina, Perú  . . . Ni Una Más, en México también– contra el femicidio;  que mucho de la práctica de movilizar viene en los últimos años de esas movilizaciones. . . . en Latinoamérica florece mucho. 

Jesús – Una pregunta … ¿ por qué molecular ? 

Naty – Por Guattari, por… Deleuze y Guattari. 

Andrés – Sí es que hay dos post-estructuralistas franceses; Felix Guattari, no sé cómo pronunciarlo y Gilles Deleuze; que tienen sus ideas y bueno; aquí en Superstructure tenemos un conflicto con ellos, pero un conflicto muy diferente  . . .  Tenemos desacuerdos ontológicos con ellos pero no de la manera que estos derechistas y neonazis están proponiendo. Bueno, Jesús … Hablando de estos temas; México, que es un país que, bueno, se considera extremadamente importante en la política Latinoamericana, vivió un cambio de líder con la elección de Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador . . . Hubo muchas expectativas, pero ¿ qué ha pasado? ¿ Qué hemos vivido desde esas elecciones ? 

Naty – Recientemente estaban en las noticias también;  el otro día, justo.  

Andrés – Exactamente. ¿Qué ha pasado en México? ¿Qué ha sido de estas políticas públicas; ¿Qué ha propuesto Morena y en qué manera los debates de pensamiento económico han tenido su función ? 

Jesés – Bueno, en el caso de México, no sé por dónde empezar. 

Naty – Un país chiquitito, no pasa nada ahí. 

Jesús – Sí. Pues bueno, como los restos de los países latinos, México también es un país complejo. Pero en el caso particular de lo que estamos viviendo ahorita, nosotros pues bueno,  no puedo explicar que – el sentido de que después de tener gobiernos del PRI, del Partido Revolucionario Institucional, el partido de la revolución mexicana. Pues, tuvimos también gobiernos del PAN, del Partido de Acción Nacional. ¿ Qué pasa ? Pues, para no entrar mucho en detalles,  en el 2006 el actual presidente de México, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, compite en las elecciones, en donde gana por un pequeño margen el candidato del Partido de Acción Nacional, Felipe Calderón. Entonces, pues, comienza la continuidad del gobierno Panista, que inició con el ex presidente Vicente Fox. Después, llegan las elecciones del 2012. Vuelve a competir el actual presidente Andres Lopez Manuel Obrador por las elecciones ahora, siendo el candidato más fuerte a vencer Enrique Peña Nieto del PRI y gana Enrique Peña Nieto.

**

Jesús – Bueno, pues, entonces ¿qué pasa? Pues, fueron en términos generales, que serán dos sexenios en donde, un poco más de dos sexenios, en donde la actual presidente empezó a luchar para poder ganar las últimas elecciones. Entonces gana las elecciones en el 2018 de manera masiva; con un nivel de popularidad muy elevado; con una aceptación enorme en la población, la mayor parte de la población. Y lo que vemos ahorita es algo interesante, que puede para muchos sorprenderlos;  pero para otras personas no. Lo que estamos viendo es que el actual gobierno federal, un gobierno de izquierda;  de izquierda convencional como lo hemos llamado Andres, Natalie, y Scott en unas publicaciones que hemos tenido en las columnas de Milenio. Un gobierno convencional en donde lucha o tiene su plataforma económica y política desde la ortodoxia económica. Entonces, plataforma económica que la tuvieron los gobiernos anteriores. Entonces la columna vertebral, en términos macroeconómicos, es exactamente la misma de los gobiernos del PRI y los gobiernos del PAN. Entonces esto ha generado muchos problemas porque el gobierno del presidente Lopez Obrador, para poder hacer frente a ciertas necesidades del país, incluyendo el financiamiento de los proyectos insignia por ejemplo el Tren Maya, la refinería en Tabasco que se llama Dos Bocas . . . 

Naty – Está feliz! Hay ese video ahí el otro dia— ¡Ah, mírame con  mi hermosa refinería!–

Jesús – . . . El nuevo aeropuerto en el estado de Hidalgo, Santa Lucía.  Entonces todos los recursos económicos públicos han sido enfocados en esos proyectos y bueno ahora llega la pandemia y como lo mencionó Daniel; desnuda aún más las deficiencias del enfoque ortodoxo que está inspirado del gobierno del presidente Lopez Obrador. ¿ Entonces qué estamos viendo? Estamos viendo que hay una política de austeridad franciscana, como lo menciona Scott Ferguson, en donde el gobierno está abrochando el cinturón como si fuera una empresa privada o un hogar.

Naty – Y que el dinero es como el diablo . . .  así que hay que no gastar, pero desde la izquierda.

Jesús – Hay una discusión en donde se ve al dinero como algo diabólico, como si fuera un mecanismo que va a influir negativamente en la sociedad y que por lo tanto no hay que hacerle caso y hay que ser austeros y sencillos.  También por lo tanto es importante tener un gobierno sencillo. 

Andrés – Jesús, el mismo presidente en tu discurso también invoca estas imágenes del dinero como  algo demoníaco y como una romantización de la pobreza a veces . . . 

Jesús – Si, exacto.  Básicamente se está pegando lo que es este el enfoque fransiscano del dinero. 

Naty – Escucha Money on the Left . . .  hemos tenido episodios sobre toda esta historia de la colonización de Latinoamérica con . . . 

Andrés – El pensamiento Fransiscano. 

Naty – Sí. 

Jesús – Y eso tiene a la gente en sufrimiento. No hay recursos públicos en el sector educativo; en el sector de salud; en el sector de ciencia, tecnología e innovación ¿Por qué ? Porque no hay dinero, según ellos. 

Naty – Pero para los pacos y la policía; imagino . . .  eterno. 

Jesús – De hecho son las fuerzas armadas, principalmente el ejército, el que administra y está construyendo las grandes obras que tiene el gobierno;  como ese el aeropuerto en Santa Lucía, entre otros proyectos.  Entonces algo bien, como dice Naty—para este tipo de proyecto; sí, hay dinero. 

Naty – Claro, para el petróleo siempre. 

Jesús – Sí . . .  Está tremendo lo que está pasando en México, que el año pasado se dio la –rifa no rifa– del avión presidencial y supuestamente esta rifa del avión presidencial;  que lo compró un avión;  el avión presidencial lo compró Felipe Calderon;  lo usó el presidente Peña Nieto. Entonces el presidente Lopez Obrador dijo –Yo no voy a usar ese avión; vamos a venderlo; vamos a venderlo para pagar los sueldos del personal médico y comprar medicamentos.– Sin duda hay una dinámica política detrás de eso, definitivamente. Pero el mensaje que se le está dando a las poblaciones es que el gobierno no tiene dinero y que está vendiendo sus activos para poder pagar el gasto público; para poder financiar el gasto público.  Entonces tienes a la gente comprando sus billetes de 500 pesos para ayudar al gobierno. Es realmente . . . 

Naty – Qué perverso.

Daniel – Eso que nos parece chistoso a nosotros tiene mucho arraigo en la gente. ¡La gente realmente piensa que el gobierno está sin dinero ! 

Jesús – Exacto. 

Daniel –  . . .  Que no tienen manera, ni forma. Aquí el Ministro de Hacienda, el Ministro de Economía, dijo hace un mes que Colombia tenía seis semanas de liquidez . . .  y la gente entró en pánico; es verdad, la gente entró en pánico –Nos quedamos sin recursos ¿ que vamos a hacer? El gobierno ya no tiene plata.– Y realmente la gente piensa que así como es la economía de su casa, es la economía del gobierno. 

Naty – Y con Covid; ahí Chile, en vez de dar un bono, están dando solo plata de los fondos de pensión.  Obvio que uno va a pensar que no hay dinero si hay que darme mi propia plata de mi fondo de pensión privada y me dicen –Ahí está la única plata que queda.–  Obvio también ahí van a aprender eso. 

Andrés – ¿Cómo es eso? no he escuchado mucho, ¿están reciclando dinero o están devolviendo el dinero? 

Naty – Sí y ¡ eso es la movida de la izquierda !  En vez de dar un bono;  hay que retirar plata de la AFP.  La AFP es el sistema de los años ochenta del hermano de Piñera;  Jose Piñera, Pinochetista. Pero sí, ahora están en el tercer retiro;  tercer retiro de 10 % . . . 

Jesús – Pero la diferencia es que Daniel habla de un gobierno de derecha y aquí estamos en un gobierno de izquierda . . . 

Naty – Claro.  

Jesús – Lo más sorprendente, lo más grave, es lo que estamos viviendo. Y no solamente eso, porque grupos de economistas que se dicen progresistas heterodoxos están apoyando estos tipos de medidas. 

Naty – ¿Como en la tesorería, no ? ¿ Que hay un marxista que está haciéndose igual a Doug Henwood, como finanzas sanas? 

Jesús – Se nombró una persona, una profesora,  que es socióloga . . .  Hubo muchas reacciones de  determinados sectores económicos, principalmente la empresarial, para decir;  en el sentido de que dijeron –¿Cómo va a estar una marxista frente a la Tesorería de la Federación en México? –  Sin embargo; bueno, nosotros sabemos que ese perfil de ser marxista cumple con los requisitos para cuidar el –sound finance socialism–. 

Naty – Qué tragedia. Qué vergüenza. 

Jesús – Entonces realmente era el adecuado, pero espero que con esto no se me echen encima en el Jacobin.

Andrés – Es muy importante el momento político en el que vivimos. Estamos con una crisis ambiental mundial; estamos con el fascismo por todo el mundo, se está  subiendo al poder. Y la misma izquierda está reforzando ciertos principios que nos están paralizando como sociedades mundiales de poder salir, de poder encontrar una salida diferente. Entonces estas izquierdas de las finanzas sanas; las veo yo como paralizadas o encarceladas en tres puntos. Por un camino, ven que lo único que es posible es poder redistribuir un poquito de los más ricos para hacer algún u otro plan o no sé, poner el avión presidencial en una rifa. Por otro lado; el segundo punto, hay una izquierda que no ve que nada es posible sin la excepción de una revolución mundial; sólo en ese entonces podemos hacer algo; si por todo el mundo hay una revolución y ya EEUU deja de ser la moneda de reserva, ahí de pronto podemos tener bienes públicos; ahí podemos invertir.  

Naty – Antes, Latinoamerica cagó; nada de MMT para ellos. –Por la colonización financiera, no pueden hacer nada– . . . no captan la ironía nunca. 

Andrés – Y algo que es muy común es escuchar ese tipo de izquierda; acá siempre es izquierda norteamericana hablando de Latinoamérica, como si Latinoamérica no tuviera ninguna capacidad de actuar, de hacer nada; porque todo está jodido.  Entonces está eso. Y el tercer punto creo yo es la asociación entre las finanzas sanas y este tipo de austeridad por la izquierda y el petróleo . . .  la izquierda del petróleo. 

Naty – Y los recursos . . .  estatales . . .  

Andres – Exactamente. La única manera de hacer políticas de izquierda es si los petróleos, si el sistema petrolero nos da dinero a nosotros. Entonces en ese sentido tiene que ser muy exitoso en la industria del petróleo para que los países puedan hacer cosas y si caen los precios; nos jodemos todos.  

 Naty – Y igual con el cobre, con cualquier recurso. 

Daniel – ¡ Commodities ! 

Jesús – Yo agregaría que, por ejemplo, este grupo de economistas heterodoxos genéricos, para llamarlos así, que ven;  creo que Daniel lo mencionó, que para darle solución al tema de la falta de dinero hay que instrumentar impuestos a los que más tienen, los ricos, Y que solamente así es posible financiar programas sociales. Entonces uno puede ver por ejemplo en las redes sociales este grupo de economistas de izquierda, están promocionando; están impulsando esta agenda- de –tax the rich– para poder financiar el gasto público. Y yo lo que veo es que en Colombia ha habido un poco más de reacción a la TMM, a diferencia en México. En México como que hay un silencio.  

Naty – Chile igual . . . nadie ha escuchado de la TMM . . . creo gente que ha estudiado fuera quizás . . .  es como que no hay nada de arraigo ¿Quizás cuando llegue el libro de Stephanie Kelton? No sé. 

Jesús – Ese es el elefante en la recámara.  Andrés menciona que en la parte de petróleo también está lo que es –los impuestos a los más ricos– y esa es la agenda, definitivamente. 

Naty – Si, 100% – impuestos a los super ricos–; cada día lo dicen. 

Andrés – Daniel, ¿cuál ha sido tu experiencia en la izquierda colombiana con estos puntos de finanzas sanas en el mismo grupo de camaradas ?

Daniel – Yo creo que no nos diferenciamos mucho. Acá, la izquierda suele ser muy conservadora. Y casi que es muy difícil para nosotros comprender algo distinto a que los gastos solo se pueden suplir con ingresos. Incluso, aquí hay un movimiento o hubo un movimiento muy fuerte en contra de la deuda pública. Todavía existe y yo he asistido a algunas de sus reuniones y la cultura de ellos es –No a la deuda, porque no.– 

Naty – Es el diablo. 

Daniel – Claro, es el diablo . . .–La deuda es mala porque es un mecanismo de sometimiento de los países del norte contra los países del sur– y puede ser cierto; yo no creo que sea tan tan tan lejano de la realidad. Pero te pone también en una posición política de que te niegas a que existe la deuda pública y que solamente el gasto público pueda financiarse con impuestos y una izquierda colombiana que está convencidisima de eso, convencida. Pero lo que dice Jesús es cierto, fijate que a través . . .  y esto ha sido muy importante  . . . lo digo así muy sinceramente– la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas de la Universidad Nacional, una universidad pública;  que se ha encontrado, digamos, que ha buscado, ese mecanismo de interlocución con lo que está pasando en otros lugares del mundo.  Es decir, existen otras formas.  Y fijate que esta carta que yo menciono, que hasta ya lleva la firma de algunos ciento o doscientos economistas en todo el país, gente que ha publicado; gente que está en la academia; gente que son profesores universitarios, diciendo – Hay otras maneras.– Y no solamente otras maneras de decir –Cobremos impuestos a los más ricos– o –Hagamos una reforma tributaria progresiva.– Claro, en Colombia es urgente la progresividad tributaria, pero no para encontrar recursos, sino para que haya una redistribución, porque realmente en Colombia los ricos no pagan impuestos. Entonces eso ha generado una concentración . . .  el GINI en Colombia antes de impuestos es igual después de impuestos. Entonces claro, ahí  hay un desbalance. Pero ese no es el problema fiscal en Colombia. El problema fiscal en Colombia es que el estado no está invirtiendo en lo que se debe invertir y que esa teoría de las finanzas sanas,  incluso no la creemos nosotros. Bueno, yo siento que el candidato presidencial Gustavo Petro lo ha entendido. Lo ha entendido a la forma en la que empezamos a entenderlos, los que empezamos a centrarnos en esto ¿verdad ? Que no es de forma inmediata, pero sí por lo menos empieza a decir –No le podemos tener miedo al déficit fiscal.– 

Naty –  Mi pregunta . . .  yo creo que habrá un poco mas de conocimiento quizás con esta propuesta de garantía de trabajo . . . no ha pasado todo el rato con el Green New Deal por ejemplo o Job Guarantee en EEUU . . .  igual hay gente que piensa que el Green New Deal y Job Guarantee van a venir de los impuestos, pero igual tener estas propuestas en la mente pública da un camino para abrir las ideas de TMM. 

Daniel – Así es. Y fijate que la principal pregunta en el debate de hoy es ¿Cómo piensas enfrentar la crisis? Y la respuesta fue que hay que emitir el banco central debe emitir y financiar al gobierno para generar empleo, para generar una renta, para reactivar la economía, un choque de demanda vía emisión. Y eso fue, en los medios de comunicación de Colombia  como si hubiera dicho una herejía. Los medios de comunicación, lo primero es que –Gustavo Petro propone imprimir dinero–  que es otra cosa a la que tenemos que enfrentar cuando hablamos de estas cosas. Porque tergiversar nuestras propuestas es demasiado fácil. Y en Colombia lo primero que hacen es confundir emisión con impresión de billetes. Los memes de Gustavo Petro;  está con impresor imprimiendo billetes; Venezuela, como Uds. ya saben. 

Naty – Cocaína. 

Daniel – Pero fijense en Colombia,  el año pasado el banco de la república emitió 40 billones de pesos; billones, mediante –quantitative easing–. Le dotó de liquidez a los bancos privados. Y entonces, eso lo hemos utilizado dentro del debate para decir a la gente –Fíjese que el problema no es la emisión. El problema no es la emisión. El problema es profundamente político.– Y creo que como decía Jesús, sí hemos avanzado en Colombia en dar ese debate. Tanto así que el director del doctorado de la Universidad Javeriana piensa que tiene que acudir a unos adjetivos;  a adjetivar debate, porque ha escalado en Colombia. Por lo menos en el plano académico, ha escalado. Y yo tengo la fé de que ese escalamiento nos va a llevar a un buen punto. 

Jesús – Para agregar quizás un poco, como que en Colombia se está dando la dinámica de cambiar el marco económico bajo el contexto adverso que todas las naciones estamos viviendo, especialmente las naciones como las nuestras. Aquí en México el año pasado empezaba a sentirse ya los efectos de la pandemia y de la crisis económica que llevaba  méxico arrastrando antes de la pandemia; esos economistas progresistas de la izquierda pedían que México aceptara una línea de crédito del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo, o sea, deuda externa.  Entonces nada más para situar que tan perdida está ese segmento de izquierda en este aspecto. 

Naty – Que la deuda externa tiene una historia tan fuerte en Latinoamérica . 

Andrés – Pienso que es muy importante hacer esta diferencia porque hay mucha gente que con el miedo que le tiene a las deudas públicas, piensa que es lo mismo una deuda externa que una deuda pública doméstica. Y las mismas políticas de las finanzas sanas construyen una dependencia más fuerte de nuestros países en las deudas externas. Es el problema, que la misma izquierda no ha podido proponer una solución. Entonces por eso es que siempre están pensando que dependemos de la reserva de dólar  y que esto y lo otro, porque no hemos construido una estrategia que nos saca de esta mentalidad que el problema es la deuda externa.  El problema es que tenemos deuda en dólares. 

Daniel –  Fijate Andrés que nosotros también tenemos que despojarnos de algunas reticencias, ¿no ? Es decir, a nosotros nos dicen –inflación– y entonces, nosotros decimos –eh no, nosotros tampoco estamos por la inflación.–  Y es verdad. En la teoría  MMT no está proponiendo brotes inflacionarios. Pero en la práctica, los países, países como Colombia; en Colombia importamos hasta un tornillo. Tenemos que preocuparnos por ciertos asuntos.  Sin embargo, es otra batalla a la que no hay que tenerle miedo. Es decir, ¿cuánto inflación podemos permitirnos? o ¿ cuánto desempleo podemos permitirnos ? Es que, pareciera que en el mundo se murió la curva Philips; ya no existe. No, existe; y en los países como el nuestro existe. Pero podemos permitirnos un poco de inflación con tal de reducir el desempleo; esa es la paradoja y esa es la pregunta política porque es fundamentalmente político. O tenemos que tener unas muy pequeñas inflaciones sin importar cual sea la  tasa de desempleo.  En Colombia la tasa de desempleo está en 14,7 % y una inflación del 1 %. Las variaciones mensuales a veces son de cero; a veces hay deflación en Colombia. A veces pienso; y esto es una autocrítica, que de pronto debemos hacernos, qué cuando nos dicen –inflación– y decimos –No, no nos gusta la inflación, no nos gusta para nada la inflación.–  No, permitámonos un nivel de inflación, pero permitámonos también reducir el desempleo. Porque en Colombia los economistas ortodoxos dicen –es que la inflación es el peor impuesto para los pobres–. Y yo les digo –¿es peor que estar desempleado y en la pobreza y con hambre y en la miseria ? En serio?–  Y ahí hay un debate moral. 

Naty – Quería preguntar a Jesús que ha hablado harto con Fadhel Kaboub; que es como yo creo el economista de TMM más famoso en términos del sur, de países  con menos capacidad monetaria o también donde tienen que importar harto; porque no han desarrollado sus recursos de comida, o de energía, o tienen que exportar ¿Podrías hablar un poco de esos desafíos o esos límites de pensamiento estructurales, en términos de ser el ‘sur’ entre comillas?

Jesús – Bueno, desde que se instrumentaron las políticas de corte neoliberal a partir de la década de los ochenta, en México, lo que decían los técnicos es que la mejor política industrial es que no hubiera política industrial. Eso es lo que decían. Entonces, México, a lo largo de estos años, ha carecido de una política industrial que fortalezca el mercado interno, que fortalezca la estructura productiva nacional y por el contrario lo que se ha hecho es depender del exterior, depender de importar las específicas de los tratados de libre comercio en donde lo que México exporta son productos de muy poco valor agregada. 

Daniel – El petróleo también. 

Jesús – Exacto. Entonces México es, en términos de la industria manufacturera, una línea de ensamblaje, no tiene la capacidad para aportar ese valor agregado porque no se invierte en ciencia, en tecnología, innovación. Y a propósito de ciencia y tecnología e innovación, el gobierno eliminó recursos importantes en esas áreas. Entonces eso realmente va . . . si ya no tenemos política industrial y ahora con un débil sector de ciencia, tecnología e innovación, estamos debilitando el espectro de capacidad económica que tiene el país y eso nos va a generar muchos problemas al futuro;  depender del exterior para poder salir adelante. 

Andrés – Y después llega una pandemia y se colapsa toda la infraestructura. 

Jesús – Exactamente, sí; ese es otro tema, en donde además, obviamente de la mala planeación, de la corrupción, está el problema de la falta de recursos públicos para el mantenimiento de la infraestructura pública. 

Naty – Lo que pasó el otro día en DF, con el tren de metro. 

Jesús – Sí y la cuestión aquí fue que ya la gente llevaba tiempo advirtiendo de estos problemas. Entonces, hay resultados,  tanto a nivel federal; si hay recortes, hay austeridad, tanto a nivel estatal y municipal. Ahí se mencionaba que no había recortes a la línea del metro. Sin embargo, en la cuenta pública, de la recién publicada de las cuentas públicas,  ahí se ve que el metro de la Ciudad de México no se gastó lo que al inicio se había presupuestado. Entonces, una serie de errores; una serie de problemas que van desde la corrupción, la planeación, y desde luego; la austeridad, la política económica. 

Andrés – Entonces yo creo que hay dos puntos muy importantes de lo que dice Daniel, tanto como Jesús;   que como que nos conecta con la importancia y el aprendizaje que viene de MMT,  la TMM. Por un lado,  que la ortodoxia confunde la inflación con la hiperinflación y piensa que todo es lo mismo . . . como que si ahí crece la inflación por un por ciento, tenemos hiperinflación como . . . 

Daniel – Desastre.

Andrés – Como el desastre; estamos como Alemania antes de la segunda guerra mundial. 

Naty – Siempre, siempre hay Weimar.

Andrés – Exactamente, y diferenciar eso es muy importante  y ahí la teoría de la moneda moderna nos da enseñanzas para aprender, primero de todo, que nosotros argumentamos que no importa si Colombia o México no son las monedas reservas mundiales; siempre van a tener la capacidad de emitir su moneda en su país a los recursos que tienen domésticos, punto.  Eso es un hecho lógico. Y que los límites no son límites de encontrar el dinero o que vamos a sacar la plata; de donde va a salir, que se nos va a acabar todo, que hay que rifar un avión. Los límites son límites de a qué nivel puede ponerse problemática la inflación; pero eso no es un resultado de que existe mucho dinero en la economía, sino es un resultado de la capacidad productiva de un país, por un lado. Por un lado, la capacidad productiva de un país y si estamos usando más recursos de lo que tenemos. Pero en Colombia, como en México, tenemos una cantidad de gente desempleada y recursos que no estamos usando.  Y por otro lado, en nuestros países hay presiones inflacionarias que no tienen nada que ver con el gasto público y todo que ver con el poder privado, del sistema financiero  y de los monopolios, y las corporaciones que pueden poner precios donde ellos quieran porque tienen mucho poder sobre el mercado. Ahí también hay poderes inflacionarios. Entonces nosotros estamos hablando no del dinero como si fuera una cosa que tiene el valor, un pedacito de oro, que tiene cargado el valor y todos tenemos que ser ricos, como esos memes de gatos que están buscando la luz, que están corriendo, que tiene la luz y el gato está corriendo por todo el piso tratando de escapar la luz roja, y que nunca la puede porque no existe. De esa misma manera, la teoría de la TMM no ve el dinero como un pedacito de oro, como algo que captura el valor, sino que el dinero es una infraestructura institucional. Es una manera de organizar las deudas. Es una manera de movilizar capacidad productiva, es una manera de crear esas relaciones de gobernación;  que son tan importantes. Entonces por ese lado también, y esto es lo último que digo aquí ahora en la conversación,  es que nuestros países,  como decía Jesús y Daniel también, no han invertido en su capacidad productiva;  dependemos de inversión extranjera, dependemos  de dólares; y si no tenemos esos dólares, no tenemos economía. Entonces cada vez nos hundimos más y más en este hueco;  que nos dan préstamos el banco mundial o si un inversionista americano o europeo entra en su país y ellos se van cuando se quieren ir y nos dejan jodidos; eso es el sistema que tenemos ahorita;  eso crea pesos débiles;  eso está resultando en los problemas inflacionarios que podemos tener y el hecho de que no invertimos en la educación pública, en los sistemas de energía sostenible, en los sistemas de producción de comida justa, en estas cosas tan importante, en el empleo público;  eso es lo que nos tiene nostros como economías débiles. 

Naty – Necesitamos un Green New Deal Latino. 

Jesús – Para agregar un comentario, lo que dice Andres sobre la moneda; hace unos años, un ex asesor de la ahora presidente tenía la propuesta de quitar el peso y que adoptáramos el dólar como moneda. 

Daniel – Noo. 

Naty – Se ha ido muy bien para Ecuador, está buenísimo. 

Daniel – ¿ Pero es una persona de Morena ? 

Jesús – No, es un empresario. Otra propuesta era anclar el valor del peso a plata. 

Naty – Volvemos al futuro. Años 70, genial. 

Daniel – Fijate que en Colombia pasa algo curioso, porque como yo les decía, este debate está cogiendo fuerza, hay mucha gente ahora este debate, desde diversas perspectivas. A veces es un debate ilustrado o a veces simplemente se tergiversa sobre el mismo. Pero por lo menos la gente lo está hablando.  Y es muy chistoso que a estos economistas ortodoxos, un profesor de la universidad nacional les llama –economistas de la séptima–,un poco haciendo la alegoría, en EEUU – los economistas de agua dulce y los economistas de agua salada.– Bueno el trabajo ese es símil a la colombiana y les dicen –economistas de la séptima– porque sobre la carrera séptima en Bogotá están las facultades de los Andes, de la externada, de la Javeriana; que han sido muy ortodoxos históricamente. Y entonces decían, escogieron el libro de Stephanie Kelton y nos mostraron la página, – -Mire, aquí dice la señora Stephanie Kelton que en países como Colombia que importan mucho, nos decías no tiene ningún sentido.–  Y es muy chistoso porque son los que 30 años han llevado a Colombia a que el aparato industrial y el aparato productivo se deprima y ya que solamente Colombia produzca petróleo y cocaína, porque lo único que producimos hoy  es petróleo y cocaína y nos trajeron hasta acá. Y son tan descarados y quebraduras que nos dicen –es que fijate, no tenemos un sistema productivo como para que las ideas de MMT tengan un asiento en Colombia.–  En realidad, fijense que es una confesión,  de todo lo malo que han hecho, verdad ? Deprimieron el aparato productivo colombiano y por supuesto;  yo creo que me gusta mucho la idea de un Green New Deal Latinoamericano porque eso nos tiene que poner a pensar en cómo potenciamos el aparato productivo de nuestras sociedades; porque realmente si no lo tenemos, si seguimos importándolo todo, vamos a tener problemas. Y la integración latinoamericana; las cadenas de valor latinoamericanas, romper fronteras en ese sentido, podría ser una muy buena idea. Yo pienso algo así como la producción de litio en Bolivia, del gas, del cobre, de buscar, claro . . . esto tiene que tener una perspectiva climática, porque estamos en en el marco de una crisis climática, pero podemos incluso generar unas cadenas de valor latinoamericanas que nos permitan pensarnos en un Green New Deal Latino desde el sur. 

Andres – Daniel, ¿Ud.  piensa que la izquierda colombiana va en camino para, de verdad internalizar esta visión que aquí nos propone? 

Naty – Mañana. 

Andres – Mañana mismo. 

Daniel – Yo creo que estamos en un proceso. Mira, la verdad, como les decía ahora mismo, en la izquierda colombiana hay unas visiones muy conservadoras, pero siento que la campaña presidencial de Gustavo Petro está poniendo en el debate estas ideas. Y cuando se pone en el debate en el marco de una crisis, de una crisis, que por ejemplo el tipo sea capaz de decir, –emisión monetaria–, eso es un avance impresionante en una sociedad tan conservadora como la colombiana. Y fijate que él lo dice y ya  hay un montón de gente repitiéndolo, ¿no ? Hay un montón de gente diciendolo. A esto hay que ponerle un poquito mas de teoria, un poquito mas de fuerza, a estas ideas. Tenemos en el congreso de la república un proyecto de ley de trabajo garantizado y eso también incentiva el debate. Creo que vamos por un camino que sigue siendo un camino un poco inexplorado, pero empezamos a caminar, empezamos a andarlo, y eso ya es una garantía impresionante. Y lo otro, que a mi me hace ser optimista de lo que pasa en Colombia; es que no es simplemente una propuesta aislada, sino que la del candidato presidencial que hoy está liderando las encuestas, y eso quiere decir que tiene apoyo popular, y si tiene apoyo popular, podemos tener la posibilidad de echarlo adelante. Y de vencer, los primeros que hay que vencer es el conservadurismo de nuestros propios compañeros y amigos de la izquierda, que a veces suele ser los más difícil, pero yo creo que lo podemos lograr.  

Jesús – Y versa en nuestro caso, en el caso Mexicano, o sea los errores que ahora estamos pagando, es muy importante. 

Andrés – Estos economistas de la séptima me parecen más a mí como los economistas de garaje, como dicen por ahí. 

Daniel – Pero son los que gobiernan en Colombia, llevan treinta, cuarenta años gobernando. 

Andres – Jesús, ¿esperanzas para México, como lo ves ? 

Jesús – Yo creo muy difícilmente en el sexenio, en la actual administración, va a haber cambios. El gobierno ya ha claramente fijado su posición. Sin embargo, estamos siendo observados;  el mundo nos vigila. Estamos siendo observados, y bueno, parece ser que están volteando a la TMM. Incluso, me atrevo aquí mencionarlo, se han acercado a nosotros, al equipo de la MMT. De manera un poco tímida, pero se han acercado. 

Daniel – ¡Qué bueno ! En Colombia hay una parte de la izquierda que ve a Andres Manuel como un referente, y dicen, –Mira que no se monta en el avión presidencial–. La gran iniciativa de ellos, es decir, –Propongamos bajarles el sueldo al presidente y bajarles el sueldo a los congresistas, y ahí tendríamos recursos.–

Andrés – Sí, hubo un momento en el que yo veía al presidente Mujica de Uruguay viviendo en su casita y decía –Ah, eso es la izquierda.–

Naty ––¡Fuma marihuana y tiene una casa chica así que con Uruguay, todo está bien.–

Daniel – A Petro le ponían unas fotos porque tenía zapatos ferragamos y entonces era incoherente, una farsa,  usaba zapatos caros, mira, – ¿porque no anda descalzo si es de izquierda ?–

Andrés – Jesús, antes de esta grabación tu me hablabas de las iniciativas de justicia social, temas sociales y cosas así , ¿ves eso como un vehículo para integrar las ideas de la TMM en México con temas de la justicia social y cosas sociales ?   

Jesús – Sin duda, la TMM, en el caso Latinoamericano, específicamente  en el caso de México, tiene que ir de la mano con el aspecto social; en donde se busque platicar, dialogar con los grupos sociales que están viviendo dificultades específicas y considerarlas en las estrategias que se vayan a desarrollar. Entonces en México . . . tiene diferentes . . .   muchos países  y cada localidad tiene sus diferentes problemas; desde el tema de la seguridad, el tema del medioambiente  y el tema obviamente de la falta de oportunidades de empleo en donde las personas tienen que emigrar a EEUU para buscar mejores oportunidades laborales. Entonces la TMM tiene que aterrizarse, considerando esos aspectos y más por ejemplo,  un Green New Deal tendría fuerzas que consideran los aspectos sociales y sobre todo el marco también de seguridad que existe; la dinámica de la seguridad, en la economía, es fundamental. Y obviamente; en el caso de Colombia, definitivamente, sería algo semejante al de México, ¿no ? 

Andrés – Claro, en el caso de Colombia también creo que esta visión es fundamental, para la paz, ¿no ? Como en México, que se está viviendo violencia también; en nuestros países que han vivido tanta violencia con narcotráfico y también con falta de estabilidad social, programas de trabajo;  empleo público, inversión y  sostenibilidad;  todas estas cosas garantizan la paz de manera profunda y de manera que es sostenible ¿no ? a largo plazo. 

Naty – Sí. Y es la manera de salir de ser dominado por el imperio, ¿ cierto ? La manera de ganar al –imperio– entre comillas, no es importar aún más cada vez más. 

Andrés – En fin, amigos, los estados no son hogares; los estados tienen capacidad constitucional sobre sus propias monedas; los impuestos no son necesarios para la capacidad de gastar, son necesarios para otras cosas– para la desigualdad;  para no dejar que la riqueza se acumule de manera obscena. 

Naty – Para comprar revoluciones moleculares disipadas . . . 

Jesús – Necesitamos hacer rifas de los aviones . . . . 

Daniel – Bajar el salario de los congresistas . . . 

Andrés – Exactamente. 

Naty – Ya, muy buena conversación, gracias por venir y hablar. 

Daniel –  . . . Que exista gente muriéndose literalmente de hambre es una inmoralidad. Todos los estados pueden permitirse rescatar a sus ciudadanos y garantizar ciertos derechos. Que no se hagan no es porque no puedan;  por no tener recursos. Es porque hay poderes políticos detrás . . .  eso es simplemente político; eso no es económico. En lo económico;  está sobrediagnosticado, existen todo tipos de estudios y de teorías que demuestran que los estados pueden permitirse rescatar a sus ciudadanos.  Entonces es más moral y política que técnica.

Naty – Si, no es técnica. Yo creo que con Superstructure y Money on the Left es uno de los puntos más importantes; que queremos que TMM no sea solo como algo técnico, como ah –Mira, es solo ciencia.– Estas preguntas sociales son importantes para todo el mundo. 

Andrés – Para nosotros, todo los asuntos técnicos son asuntos sociales y asuntos políticos. 

Naty – Claro, que el binario también no es cierto.

Daniel – Le enseñan en la facultad de economía que existe una tasa natural de desempleo y es natural que exista. Mentira, eso es mentira.   

Naty – Todos los mini Friedmans de twitter – que van con sus monitos.  

Andrés – Según los ortodoxos, el desempleo es como la gravedad. Existe en la naturaleza, porque si. Y eso, como hemos estado hablando,  es algo que tenemos que rechazar profundamente como izquierda. 

Daniel – Es que cuando los libros de texto dicen –tasa NATURAL de desempleo–, ese –natural– hay que naturalizarlo ¿ no? Que es algo sobre lo cual no puedes pelear, no puedes controvertir. Es una gran farsa. 

Naty – Es la idea ¿ no? No quieren que vayan discutiendo estos temas; quieren que siga el neoliberalismo, la hegemonía del Banco Mundial, el FMI y con sus amigos de Harvard Business School . .. 

Andrés – La otra es la tarifa natural del interés; eso es la otra – natural rate of interest–

Daniel – Todo es natural. Cuando te estafan ellos,  es natural. 

Andrés – Si, exactamente. 

Naty – Ya, muy buena conversación, muchas gracias, perdon mi español a veces, llevo acá años y años  pero igual me molesta que no hable mejor. 

Daniel – Que chevere hablar con Uds y compartir. 

Andres – Escuchantes, gracias por estar aquí con nosotros en este episodio especial de Money on the Left and Superstructure. 

Naty –  Superestructura. 

Andrés – Nos veremos pronto, por favor siganos y si quieren escuchar más, tenemos un patreon y también les sugiero el trabajo que hace Daniel en Colombia, en  Colombia Humana, con el senador Wilson Arias y también Jesus Resendiz, en su columna de Milenio . . . 

Naty – ¿ Cómo se llaman en twitter ? 

Daniel – @DanielRMed de – Medellin–, pero –Med–

Jesús – El mio es @Tlacuachito. 

Andres – Perfecto, lo tendremos escrito también en twitter para que los puedan seguir. ¡Bueno, muchas gracias ! 

Jesús – Muchas gracias. 

Naty – Gracias. 

Daniel – Gracias a Uds, que estén bien, un placer. 

Cloudmoney with Brett Scott


Brett Scott joins Money on the Left to discuss his recently published book Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto, and the War for our Wallets (Harper-Collins 2022). A committed advocate for financial heterodoxy, Scott grounds his perspicuous critique of “cloudmoney”–the conjoined efforts and outcomes of Big Finance and Big Tech’s drive to go “cashless”– in his anthropological training and work as financial derivatives trader in the midst of the 2008 financial crisis.

Through our conversation we explore the possibilities and limitations of different metaphoric frameworks for understanding money, paying special attention to the pitfalls of figuring money as blood-like fluidity. Scott’s own comparison of financial operations with the functioning of the central nervous system prompts further discussion of the temporal and physical realities of modern money. We also discuss how awareness of the principles of monetary design clarifies the need for physical cash and the perils of privatized and surveilled forms of digital money.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music by Nahneen Kula: www.nahneenkula.com

Transcript

The following was transcribed by Mercedes Ohlen and has been lightly edited for clarity.

William Saas: Brett Scott, welcome to Money on the Left.

Brett Scott: Good to be here. Thanks for having me on.

William Saas: It’s wonderful to have you. It’s been a long time coming. Last time we saw you was at the first international MMT conference at UMKC in 2017. And before that you worked in finance and had been writing about money and crypto for a while. Could you share a bit about how you ended up at that MMT conference and maybe catch us up on what you’ve been up to since then? 

Brett Scott: Sure thing. It’s actually quite a funny story about how I ended up at the conference. I was invited to another conference in Delft in the Netherlands. It was called Reinventing Money. And it was run by these… I want to say quite libertarian Dutch monetary reformers. And I don’t know how much time you guys have spent in the Netherlands scene, but there’s actually quite a long tradition of this quite conservative monetary reform people there. And I think the Netherlands in general has this vibe, which is… it’s one of the first capitalist trading nations. So it has this long tradition of liberal economic thinkers. 

And anyway, I ended up at this conference, one of these Dutch managed monetary reform people, some of whom were quite right-wing. Quite like “gold bug” types. And I ended up on this stage and I was super jet lagged. I had very low blood sugar, partly because I’d actually been blocked from buying a Coca-Cola from this cashless vending machine that refused to take my card. So I decided to start talking about this on stage. But how this machine had stopped me from engaging in a market transaction. And so I kind of ranted on the stage. And right in the front row was Stephanie Kelton, who had also been invited to this since the first time, I guess, she had seen me and then we spoke over dinner. And then she said, “hey, come to this event that we’re doing”. And that’s how I ended up at the MMT conference. It was great. That’s a really cool event.

William Saas: So how’d you end up in the Netherlands at that conference, talking to the “gold bugs” and sharing your market grievances?

Brett Scott: Yeah, so actually in monetary reform circles, there’s a bunch of different traditions, as I’m sure you guys have come across. A lot of the anti-fractional reserve banking, sometimes an anti-credit creation of money people like that sort of one tradition and monetary reform. And so I think that’s quite a sort of strong tradition in the Netherlands. There’s groups like ons geld, which campaign against banks being able to create money. And so I think that Netherlands scene I was… I had new people in that scene, and also new people in the crypto scene. So there’s also this kind of crossover between the anti-bank creation of money, people with this sort of crypto currency, Bitcoin people. 

So yeah, the guys who got me there are kind of in the middle of that world. And actually, the guys who arranged the conference had tried to start the first full reserve bank in the Netherlands. And we’ve kind of, I think it failed, it hadn’t managed to get a banking license, but there was quite an interesting effort. They were trying to create this fully backed bank. They also made a board game about the evils of bank creation of money. So it’s quite an interesting scene. And actually, I remember actually once going into the MMT conference, and some of those anti-fractional reserve people turned up at the MMT conference as well. And so there’s an interesting political dynamic between the MMT movement and the sort of… what would you call those? What do you call those guys? Like the sort of…

Scott Ferguson: Positive Money?

William Saas: Positive Money? 

Scott Ferguson: Yeah, although they’ve… certain Positive Money groups have really changed, I think in relationship to the MMT movement. 

Brett Scott: Yeah.

Scott Ferguson: So I don’t want to blanket call them all the….

Brett Scott: You know, I knew Ben Dyson, who started Positive Money in the UK. [He] sort of then moved away from it and actually became a central bank digital currency researcher at the Bank of England. But, Positive Money has always had this kind of interesting dynamic in the UK where it actually was trying to position itself as a left-wing monetary reform group, but would often attract these people from the sort of political right. You had these conspiracy theories about the banking sector. And I know Fran, who is still the director of Positive Money has always had this trying to sort of distance herself or distance the organization from the more right-wing elements that often crowd around monetary reform.

 But, that’s what partly what makes monetary reform quite an interesting area politically is it actually does attract these different ideological groups who sense that there’s something in the monetary system that needs to be addressed. Yeah, I guess I kind of span between these. But I’ve noticed over the years, there’s been more sort of Positive Money type of community getting into MMT is getting more on board with it.

Scott Ferguson: Yeah, that we’ve definitely noticed that as well. So we brought you here today, we invited you here to speak with us about your new book, which is titled Cloud Money: Cash Cards, Crypto, and the War for our Wallets, which is just out last month with Harper Collins. But before this book came out, you published a regular newsletter that was called Altered States of Monetary Consciousness. And you, even before that, were blogging about finance. And I guess, just to kind of frame our conversation, we’re wondering if you could talk to us about, really, how did you come to be thinking about money and publishing about money and advocating in these various kinds of circles? And how has your approach or your rhetorical strategies changed over time?

Brett Scott: Sure, there’s a lot I could say there, actually. The kind of broad brushstrokes of my trajectory, as it was, I have a background in Anthropology and History. But also quite left-wing politics. And I decided to do this experiment. Well, let’s say adventure. I like to call it an adventure, where the side I’ll go into the financial sector and sort of explore it. Or perhaps embody it. I like to experience things with my… to feel the emotions of things. And so I went, in the midst of the financial crisis, I went and worked in this derivatives brokerage. And so for a while, I was actually involved in high finance and over the counter swap contracts. So basically exotic derivatives in the midst of the financial crisis. But coming from this left-wing political background, and that made… it was quite an interesting experience, learned a lot of stuff about the high finance world. 

But also realized how little people knew about the monetary system in high finance, often because you don’t actually need to know anything about the monetary system, often when you’re working in very specialized finance. And after that experience, I went and I wrote a book for activists, which is called The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money, which is basically a sort of simple guide to finance for people who had some intuitive concerns. And people, for example, got involved in the “Occupy” movements, I was actually asked to write it in the wake of the “Occupy” movements. And you know, that was kind of published by a small left wing press, Pluto Press, a London based publisher. 

And since then, I worked in lots of financial reform campaigns and these other types of financial activism, you might call it, but also got involved in alternative finance, which is thinking about alternative currencies, alternative banking, and so on. But fast forward, you know, into the present day, I also got heavily involved in looking at the intersection between tech and finance, big tech and finance. And my newsletter, which is what you mentioned, Altered States of Mandatory Consciousness, I actually started that amidst the pandemic. 

And it’s still going on, it’s temporarily been paused. Because my book right now, Cloud Money… my new book is taking up lots of my time. But yeah, Altered States of Monetary Consciousness, the basic idea was, I was tired of writing. I’d written for many journalism outlets, or big media publications and so on, but I always find them quite constrained. And what I can say in those publications, they always want some sort of… you have to attach everything to the news, and you have to spin everything in a certain type of way. And what I was actually more interested in was writing for an audience who was more interested in sort of meditating upon the monetary system without having to have it attached to current events.

 And the newsletter basically enables me to do that. And one of the big things I was trying to do in the newsletter is to help people visualize systems that are invisible. Sometimes by literally trying to draw them. And sometimes by using metaphor, because metaphor is seen as a kind of like visual technique, in a way, it’s like you have an invisible system. So, you create a visible metaphor, that person can picture in their mind as a way to sort of help them to grasp this otherwise intangible type of thing. And the monetary system in the financial sector more generally, often very hard to conceptualize, which often is why people feel so alienated. 

And so I’m very highly motivated to do the newsletter precisely because I’m interested in, how can you kind of de-alienate, help people to sort of feel these systems more, picture them more, and then, from that perspective, be able to perhaps do more effective action on them? But if nothing else, just be able to understand their position in the economy better.

William Saas: Subscriber to your newsletter, here. I’ve appreciated it for multiple reasons, but one in a kind of academic and pedagogical sense as somebody who teaches and thinks about rhetoric, it’s, what you’re describing is a project of teaching, through different and adaptive, rhetorical strategies. And I think that that’s part of what has drawn me in and I think lots of others, to the MMT project, which is the insistence on… there’s almost a kind of resistance to metaphor. I mean, it never really works. 

There’s always metaphors running throughout the financial system, and the way that people are thinking about things, but the creation of concepts and systems that are deliberately resistant to popular understanding, esoteric, and so the process of translating that stuff and making it apparent like that bringing before the eyes making visible the structures and systems.

Brett Scott: And metaphors are quite… I find metaphor very fascinating, because it’s also quite dangerous. There’s limitations to metaphors. And what I’m often doing in the newsletters is experimenting to see how certain metaphors work and where they fail as well. And with the monetary system this always becomes an interesting task. So actually, talking about MMT, I did a piece, which was called MMT is a Language of Ants, Not Squirrels. And I was talking about how you got to understand the worldview of a squirrel is like, you’re racing around trying to find acorns. And this is the kind of like, sort of “money user” mentality. The person who experiences money just manifesting in front of them and trying to grab it.

Scott Ferguson: It’s very Lockean. 

Brett Scott: Versus the experience of the actual oak tree or these ants who issue these acorns, and actually want them to spread. And I like this metaphor, to some extent. It kind of shows us the dynamic between users and issuers, but then it has all these other limitations to it. So, in my book, Cloud Money, I’m using a variety of different metaphors, but it’s always like, trying to sequence metaphors together in the right order and not let them clash with each other, is always an interesting artform.

William Saas: But there can be something telling or instructive or constructive about mixing metaphors in a way that you might mix chemicals and see what happens. Some kind of reaction to it. So you mentioned the squirrels and the ants. Is what we find in Cloud Money, sort of representative of your best efforts and successes in this sort of metaphor, experimentation that you’re doing in the newsletter? Or do you feel like you might have hit upon something new that you could share with us now?

Brett Scott: Well, Cloud Money has a very particular agenda. I’m talking about the politics of the states or government cash system versus the commercial bank, digital money systems, and what it’s focused on and the crypto world. It doesn’t necessarily go super deep into some of the more… just more generalized understanding of money, perhaps. So in my newsletter I want to do is these deep dives. And I know you’ve probably seen these nervous system metaphors I use. So, my editors in Cloud Money, I had these whole sections, but I’m just trying to do this huge, like nervous system metaphors for the monetary system. 

And they cut it down quite a lot. Because it’s an I can go into the metaphors but… I think Cloud Money has some great metaphors, but it doesn’t have my entire repertoire. I think I’d like to do another book where I go way, way deeper into some of the kind of different approaches to understanding monetary systems, and particularly this nervous system metaphor I’d like to build upon.

Scott Ferguson: So maybe we can pause here and give you an opportunity to talk about the key contrast of metaphors that you put in the beginning of the book. And that’s the blood metaphor, which is very, very old. You can find that in Hobbes. And then this nervous system metaphor and understanding that no metaphor is perfect, and that you are always experimenting with metaphor. What is that contrast help you argue and help you make visible for the reader of Cloud Money

Brett Scott: Sure, yeah. So at a deep level for monetary systems, in general, I’m using this metaphor of money as a nervous system, rather than a circulatory system. So in many typical economics discourse, there’s this idea of the financial system as some kind of circulatory system, money is blood. And actually, when I used to work in finance, you’d actually find many financiers had the self image of the financial sector as a kind of heart of the economy. So it’s like then they’ll say things like, “without us, these industries wouldn’t wouldn’t get funding, they wouldn’t get the lifeblood that they need to live as it were”. So there’s lots of this idea that money itself has some kind of substance of value that sort of pumps around, and I’m not claiming to be some expert on the human circulatory system.

 But you have this idea of these little blood cells that carry nutrients or carry things to tissues and you can have the same sort of metaphoric understanding of money. This idea of money is somehow carrying value to people. This is the very typical sort of what I often call a commodity orientation to money, it’s sort of like the imagination of money as some kind of mystical substance of value that flows around. Which he finds very typical in many… basically, I’d say the mainstream economics is very typical. 

Implicitly, it’s the underlying kind of mental model of monetary systems. Then I think that blood metaphor is deeply flawed, because in my worldview, nothing can actually, I would say… in the MMT worldview, as well, but more generally, in people who understand the concept of money as credit. It’s understood the actual underlying value and an economy, the underlying sort of substance, as it were, resides in human beings and the natural ecosystem. This is what all economies are is human beings applying themselves to the earth, and building things. And that’s where your value it.

 And it’s not like, the unit of money is carrying that around somehow. But what units of the monetary system is often doing is activating people and particularly people who are locked into very large scale into interdependent meshes. And so if you sort of zoom out, the nervous system metaphor is much more accurate in the sense that nervous impulses activate tissues. But if I’ve been rock climbing all day, and my arms are exhausted and I’ve basically just totally pumped out my arms, no amount of me sending impulses to my arms is going to make them work. And this is like quite a useful thing to be thinking about sort of monetary systems. If you’ve just maxed out the actual labor and resources, new economy, no amount of like issuing money is going to sort of make them work. 

But if you haven’t, if you have a bunch of sort of excess capacity or the sort of underlying substance, you actually can. I think nervous system as the metaphor is good. And also particularly for the financial sector, when you start to think about large scale financial institutions, what they often are doing is… I kind of think about them as a sort of motor cortex. So again, I’m not like a neuroscience expert, but very crude terms, the motor cortex is the part of your brain that translates thoughts into action. So I think, “I want to move my arm” and the motor cortex will translate that into action. I think the financial sector can often be thought about that. 

We’re doing large scale financing of big projects, you’re kind of activating 1000s of workers into action. And those workers are what creates the thing, but the financial sector is able to sort of coordinate that action. And this sort of turns the financial narrative on its head to some extent. It’s not like those workers are unable to… the source of value comes from those work. That’s not from the financial sector. But certainly in an interdependent economy where you’re dependent on money, the financial sector has the ability to activate them. That’s basically the metaphor. And I don’t know how well I explained it. But that’s kind of it.

William Saas: I think it’s great. And it calls to mind, there’s a particularly grisly metaphor that’s sort of in the ether right now around inflation. And it recalls the actions of Paul Volcker and the Volcker shock in the early 80s, as breaking the back of inflation. I don’t know how considerate that metaphor is, but they talk about it as thinking, will Jay Powell now break the back of inflation, just like Paul Volcker? But in a way I don’t think it’s thoughtful in the way that you’re thinking, but it lines up nicely with what you’re talking about. What are they talking about in breaking the back of inflation? They’re talking about deactivating all these circuits and modes of action.

Brett Scott: I mean, I think this sort of stuff becomes very important. I haven’t necessarily thought huge amounts about inflation metaphor. But, certainly, for example, one of the things you’ll find in the commodity imagination of money, this is where you’re imagining money is somehow metaphorically carrying stuff with it. A lot of the inflation scare mongering stuff imagines it almost evaporating out of space. You have this idea that it’s almost a gas leaking out into the atmosphere, some other money is disappearing, it’s floating away. So again, it carries the implicit underlying idea that somehow something is inside the money itself that’s escaping. And it’s not thinking about the full sort of circuitry of an actual interdependent network, where all the actual value lies in human beings. 

So this is very partial descriptions of complex systems. And this is often how you do scaremongering or misinformation around what’s going on. I mean, you see this all over and monetary systems, it’s a big, big thing. During another completely different example, during Brexit in the UK, there was all this kind of scaremongering with them saying, “now we’re spending all this money on the EU”. It’s almost like they had this idea that money was sort of evaporating away or floating away, like some substance. And this idea is well, what do you get for that thing? These are complex systems with these multi-directional flows. It’s not like you just find these singular… 

Yeah, I haven’t explained it very well. But I think there’s a huge amount of this very partial sighted descriptions of monetary systems. And often what I’m interested in doing is showing people like the interconnections and interdependent nature of monetary systems.

Scott Ferguson: Yeah, the blood metaphor. There’s a version of blood speak here too that sees money as hemorrhaging. Which is such a misleading way of understanding. Like we hemorrhage money and we hemorrhage jobs and free trade contracts or whatever. I think of Ross Perot you know, on the campaign trail, and these are like you know NAFTA might be a problem, but it’s not because of hemorrhaging. It’s not because of this unstoppable outflow. 

Brett Scott: Another fascinating one and monetary speak is when people talk about money going into things, for example, when people say huge amounts of money are going into the crypto market and…

Scott Ferguson: They’re getting pumped.

Brett Scott: They’re getting pumped into the crypto market and I’m like… So what are you saying? Because this is quite bizarre because you’re basically handing money to somebody else to buy a token from them, but now it’s exiting. So, this is a very strange idea that somehow it gets captured inside something rather than it’s within an interdependent system that’s moving around all the time. So we had this very strange partial vision idea, you know modern economics is full of this kind of bizarre sort of partial vision on monetary systems.

Scott Ferguson: Yeah I really appreciate your reflexive experimental approach to metaphors and money because it is so taken for granted and it’s a constant challenge. I think we find and you know we often need to appeal to physical things and physical perceptible entities that we can that we can understand, but they very often run us in all these problematic directions.

William Saas: We start to forget that they are metaphors. That’s part of the reason why you can tell the success of a metaphor, by how few people actually recognize it as one.

Brett Scott: Yeah. I think those machines are made to sort of show a Keynesianism that’ll be like water wheels, and… have you guys seen those machines that they use?

Scott Furguson: Yes.

Brett Scott: Who’s the guy who designed that? But that’s all water metaphors for money and weirdly, the Bank of England has also used water metaphors which isn’t actually that far from the…

William Saas: Filling the tub. 

Brett Scott: Blood metaphors. And again, it’s a useful… it’s an easy kind of one, but it carries with it the oldest dangerous sort of commodity imagery for me.

Scott Ferguson: Yeah it’s so fascinating just to kind of keep going down this path. You’ll find those metaphors even in MMT as a popular explanatory strategy. I believe it’s this guy who writes into the pen name JD Alt. Who created all these diagrams of these bathtubs being filled up with you know fiscal spending. I think there are deep limits to those metaphors, but it just goes to show that you can tweak liquid metaphors and they can have a different valence. Even if I would say that I don’t really like them, they’re certainly a lot better than mainstream economics or the financial sector.

Brett Scott: ​I’ve also used them. Actually that’s my concern about my MMT article that I did about squirrels and ants was precisely… it was somewhat acorns it was just commodity imagery. So I’m dealing with these things that have an actual inherent sort of… and I know that I say this in the article, this is the limitation of this… can show you the difference between an issuer and the person who is a user of money, but it will give you the wrong… give you a commodity metaphor of money at the same time, so that’s that’s a kind of trade off on that metaphor.

William Saas: When you’re also with the ants too, there’s the whole… the rest of the baggage of the narrative of the story…of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit and all that stuff. Okay, so if the ants are… where are they in the cosmos of the Lord of the Rings universe relative to others?

Brett Scott: We should start a mandatory metaphor school or something.

William Saas: I think so! Or at least we have a publishing space on our website, if you want to riff or whatever, but what I like too is that… so talking about breaking it down to there’s a circulatory system which is ultimately a fluid metaphor, that that can be talked about in sort of bathtub terms, as I think JD Alt does, but what we get with the nervous system is another kind of physical system in electricity. And neurons and impulses and things like that, that are coordination at a distance almost simultaneously as possible in a way that the physical water fluid metaphor there’s a slowness to it. One of the things– talking about metaphors– I gotta shout out Scott’s when we’re talking about the central nervous system.

 We were writing about University currency system, and he talked about the Fed as a “choreographer of credit” in one of the things that we wrote together. And it strikes me as like there’s all sorts of modes of performance available if we think about the system as a set, a nervous system there’s clumsy coordination and then there’s fluid coordination, choreography.

Brett Scott: One of the reasons why I call my newsletter Altered States of Monetary Consciousness is that it has multiple meanings. On the one hand, it could just mean helping people think differently about money. But actually, it is sort of deeper meaning when you go into that sort of more nervous system metaphor. I’m actually literally thinking about manifests as a type of planetary level consciousness. An actual sort of… one of the big things many people intuit about, if you have to imagine the economic system as a kind of super organism, that we’re all connected together and an interdependent mass. In a sense we are the body of the economy. And then the sort of monetary systems, are sort of embedded in that as a kind of nervous system. 

And then the financial system, you can almost think about as more a central part of the nervous system is able to activate stuff. And if you think about critiques of the financial sector, often one of the biggest critiques is how sort of numb it is to its body, as it were, if you think about the superorganism concept. During the financial crisis, you’ll find this extreme disconnection between the actions of the financial sector and the reality of what’s happening on the ground. 

So if you sort of think about this metaphor, seriously designed to think about literally, how kind of like disassociated the sort of system is, and then if you think about alternatives, you start with thinking about how do you make the monetary system more responsive to the reality of its actual… the underlying body of the economy as a world terms of resources, and people? Now think, for example, the MMT movement, in listening to the mainstream policy circles, thinks far more about that kind of stuff, saying, “you guys are fixating upon this abstract stuff about how much money there is, or whatever”. But in reality, we should be thinking about what’s the underlying reality of the economy? 

Scott Ferguson: Yeah, and people and employment and suffering and ecological collapse. Yeah. So let’s pivot and really get into the key critical argument that you’re making in Cloud Money. So, you’re positioning your book and yourself against this dominant and largely taken for granted narrative, that’s surprise surprise, coming out of the banking sector. About digital finance, and that we’re moving kind of in this inevitable evolutionary progressive way, from this old bad thing that we call physical cash to this clean, efficient digital payment system? What’s wrong with that narrative? Descriptively, politically, and whatever else you had to say about it, and what are you sort of offering as an alternative or a counterbalance?

Brett Scott: Yeah. So in some ways, what I’m… there’s a few different things I’m trying to do in the book. But, one of the big ones is to cut through the inauthentic narrative about why we’re seeing declines in the cash system around the world. Now, the typical narrative is very much this idea that it’s something that we’ll want, and we’re driving it through our ordinary everyday actions. And it’s also driven from the bottom up. It’s very, very typical, you’ll find this language if you look at a newspaper article, which says something like, “customers move towards digital payments”. There’s all these articles, you’ll see them in the store. Well, they’ll say “banks shutting down ATMs as people move towards digital payments”. 

The agency is always imagined to exist in the sort of small individual. Everyone’s just collectively acting like this and this is why this is happening. And all the big institutions are then following what the everyday person is doing. So the bank is shutting down its ATMs because all of its customers don’t want the ATMs anymore. All right. Now, that’s a very, very typical narrative. Whereas what I’m doing is sort of filling in the other side, the top down part of that story, saying, “actually, if you look at this, what’s been going on, there’s been a huge amount of top down pushes against the cash system”. 

And actually, the move away from cash is frequently far more in the interests of very large tech and finance companies than it is in the interest of everyday people. And if we go back to the more broad points we were making earlier about an economic system being a huge interdependent network of different players. One of the political questions you ask yourself is who has the most power In the economies that we find ourselves in? We’re all dependent upon each other. And we’re also locked in these huge webs with each other. But also, we’re often operating via these sort of huge corporations. And actually, their economic actors as a collective, they often have a lot more power than ordinary people do. 

So if, for example, you got oligopolies or banks and tech companies who are moving in a particular direction, they’re able to actually alter the whole nature of the overarching economic system. What’s called “the War on Cash”, sometimes, about these types of top down actions with these oligopolies of players are all moving against the cash system at the same time, and pulling people along with them. Now, it’s true that there might be some people who willingly go along with that trend or perceive themselves as you know that it’s in their interests. But in the long term, that’s sort of irrelevant.

 What’s most relevant is that these players are going to do it anyway. And their main job is to either initially convince enough people through sort of ideological techniques and marketing techniques. But they don’t need to convince everyone, they just need to convince enough people that they can set in motion the changes that will then force everybody else to make the change. And if you imagine in some sort of hypothetical future state, it wouldn’t… in countries like Sweden right now, where this process has gone far enough ahead, it’s no longer a choice. These companies no longer have to sort of spin stories saying, “oh, people are choosing to do this”, because they know people no longer have a choice.

 So Cloud Money, I’m basically looking at the… cutting through the spin of why these changes happen. And also pointing out that if you zoom out and look at the trajectory of corporate capitalism, what’s happening is, big tech and big finance are fusing together. Increasingly, Amazon, all these players are saying they can’t operate unless they are fusing with transnational digital finance infrastructures. And then the capitalist system, when you try to maximize profit, your overarching sort of impulse is going to be towards increasing scale speed, interconnection, complexity, acceleration. And cash basically is antithetical to that. Cash is a thing that sort of slows stuff down and creates friction. 

So even if individual human beings who are physical and on the ground actually resonate with the cash system, the overarching economic system they find themselves within, those corporate players doesn’t. Alright, so this is why people will often have this the story in their head, that the end of cash is inevitable. And for that matter, the end of anything that’s not automated or not sort of digitized. That’s the sort of the basic overarching thing in the book. And then I’m also looking at then how the cryptocurrency movements perceive themselves in relation to that growing tech finance vortex. That’s the broad brushstrokes.

Scott Ferguson: Can we dig a little bit deeper into what we might say is your defensive cash? Why cash? Why cash at all? What do people resonate with when we are talking about physical cash? Why is the narrative, the mainstream corporate narrative that is destined to be outmoded. Why is that so problematic?

Brett Scott: Sure bear in mind, cash is still the most widely used one payment in the world. Yet the narrative in the sort of public domain imagines that it’s some kind of thing that’s just obviously destined to disappear. So in terms of actual everyday usage around large parts of the world remains the biggest form of payments, but definitely the ideological tide is against it. And so that’s just one sort of meta point to make. But in terms of it’s the appeal of cash, I’m not saying people have some sort of self conscious love of the cash system, often these are unconscious types of systems. 

But either way, I will describe the cash system as a public utility, or I can describe it as the kind of the public bicycle system of payments. It’s got this public utility aspect to it. It doesn’t require any type of interaction with large formalized institutions. It just works, has immediate finality. A lot of people when they are asked on the Central Bank’s surveys about why cash, there’s a kind of hierarchy of reasons why they prefer cash. One of the immediate ones is that you know the transactions done. So this concept of finality, this immediacy to the transaction. Another big one is budgeting purposes. So there’s a very, very big correlation between the use of cash and income levels. So, and there’s lots of interesting studies about this. 

But cash basically slows down spending. And for people who are already on low incomes, this is important. So it’s in terms of… many people will cite it as an important budgeting tool. They know how much they have, they’re not getting into debt. And actually, one of the things that visa will actively market to businesses is that people will spend more with digital money, so they can spend up to 25% more actually, often. So in terms of going to that point about acceleration in economic systems, you spend more digital money systems on digital systems in general. So in terms of the overarching capitalism possible, more profit accumulation, digital systems were just far more ideologically aligned. 

But there’s also a lot of… there are some people, like libertarians, who like the privacy aspect of cash, right. So this idea that you don’t need to watch what I’m doing. But as you know, many people like that. I’m in Germany right now, and Germany has a big historical tradition of valuing privacy. Especially in the context of the Stasi, lacks surveillance by states and sort of valuing financial privacy. So that’s one aspect, but also distrust of institutions. You’ll find very high cash usage in places where institutions are distrusted. So by contrast, in places where institutions are very highly trusted, you will find quite high digital payments. 

So for example, in Sweden and Norway and places where basically everyone finds it massively surprising that you might distrust the banking sector or the state, this is where they sort of find it feel that it’s somehow obvious that you should want to transition and have been absorbed into large institutions. And you’ll see this in the States probably politically, I haven’t done any sort of detailed ethnographic research. But if I was guessing, I’m going to say, kind of like your urban yuppies are going to find digital payment systems, un-problematic because they’re sort of steeped in this institutional mentality. 

You get easy access to credit, you’re basically viewed as a high status member of society. Whereas if you’re not in that demographic, you’re probably much more likely to use cash. And I’m imagining this goes from like your libertarian rancher doing farming through to your kind of ethnic minorities who don’t trust the banking sector who don’t feel that Bank of America represents them. So there’s lots of…

Scott Ferguson: Or they can’t afford the fee. 

Brett Scott: Yeah, there’s also a bunch of these sort of more immediately practical things like the fact that some people can’t get these accounts or actually, they will get them on detrimental terms. But I think that’s fairly well known in some ways. But so in some ways, I push this idea about the sort of cultural dimensions more because it’s less thought about. In much of the debate around cash, you’ll find this idea that, at least in the mainstream, that if only people could get access to the digital systems, they would obviously want to transition to that. But they face barriers, and that’s the only reason why they don’t. Whereas I feel it’s important to push out this idea that actually within many parts of society, there’s an inherent distrust of formal banking institutions and so on. 

And this is actually one of the things that’s going on underneath the surface if you think about gentrification. This is one of the things you immediately noticed with gentrification is gentrified places automatically are the ones that are most prone to being quote unquote “cashless”. AKA being dependent upon using very large corporations for their payments. So yeah, there’s lots of the sort of cultural dimension. I could go into this further, but you know there’s… does that resonate? Does that make sense?

William Saas: Totally. 

Scott Ferguson: Yeah. Resonates.

William Saas: Yeah. And in what you’re describing with the certification, sounds like it’s probably very similar in most countries.

Brett Scott: I was on NPR Wisconsin a few days ago and it was quite interesting taking calls from listeners who called in and they said a lot of the stuff. The idea that the tangibility is important to me, the budgeting. Also fears about the system going down in length. This is one thing that’s seen in the States is quite important for weather events. This is you know, this is kind of the sort of black swan events. But a lot of people intuitively have this realization that offline forms of money are more resilient. And this is why this metaphor, which is a different metaphor now because the cash is the public bicycle system of payments, actually is very effective. 

Because often what people are told when they’re being shamed for using cash is they’re told you’re using the horsecart of payments, you’re using this old stupid form, what’s wrong with it? Where as soon as you switch to this bicycle metaphor, suddenly it’s like, oh, this makes sense. Actually, bicycles are actually a pretty advanced form of transport, even though they’re technologically simpler than, say, the Uber system. And digital payments are very much like the Uber of payments. And I think this is like a great way to get people to think about this. There’s reasons why we value simple system operators because they just work.

William Saas: Do they have public bicycle systems in Wisconsin? I don’t think we have any down here in Louisiana.

Brett Scott: I don’t know. I mean.

William Saas: Sounds great.

Scott Ferguson: We have lots of privatized bikes…

William Saas: Yes, you can rent them. But you have to use a card usually.

Brett Scott:  Yeah. But also what’s interesting about the cash system for me is politically, it actually appeals to a whole bunch of different players. So if you zoom out and look at the current state of global capitalism, there’s actually a sort of weirdly anti-capitalist element to the cash system. And what I mean by that is in an earlier phase of capitalist systems, cash would have been at the leading edge. It would have been the thing being used to expand market systems.

Scott Ferguson: This is why Marxists say they formulate their critique in terms of the Cash Nexus. The cash Nexus is like the cradle of evil.

Brett Scott: Imagine an early pre-capitalist society, and then there’s some kind of sovereigns trying to sort of move in. One of the first frontiers is going to be the issuance of these units of cash. That slowly infiltrate the communities and break down their local networks and integrate them into a larger economy. So it’s one point in time relation, yeah, the cash system would have been this on the frontiers of capitalism. But in the current phase, it’s this thing that slows it down. So in a weird way, it’s become this break upon the system. And in this context, it has a sort of anti-capitalist element, especially because it actually enables all the many sort of marginalized people in the system to participate without getting watched by the main institutions of capitalism.

 So this is what’s called the black economy or whatever, the sort of the margins of the economy. So that’s one. So it has this kind of anti-capitalist part to it, but also from a centrist perspective, you speak to these various sort of like policy wonk types, they realize that the stability of the monetary system kind of depends upon people having access to government money. So this is a very center political argument. And then also on the right, you’ll find all this sort of nationalist type stuff, where it’s like, I want my national money, and I don’t want to, screw the banks, and give me the actual dollar and so on. And it’s quite fascinating from a political spectrum perspective, seeing who resonates.

William Saas: One of the things that I like, and I think it might be the final paragraph or so of your book, you sort of insist on and defend and advocate for cash precisely because it is dirty and inefficient. And you want to maintain the right to that sort of thing. And I love this idea of cash as anti-capitalist. Part of our project is at Money on the Left and Money on the Left Editorial Collective is to sort of recover democratic public potentials of money. And so I guess I want to say that one of the interesting things about reading your book and engaging with your work, is that it seems like you’re into that, too. 

But you’re also– correct me if you think that I’m wrong– like somebody could read Cloud Money and think that you’re sort of after a post money world, you’re partisan for cash, you’re defending it. That’s not necessarily saying money itself is good and could be used and mobilized in an affirmative ways. 

Scott Ferguson:  And just to clarify, we’re not saying money is good. 

William Saas: Oh, yeah. 

Scott Ferguson: Or that the system now is good. But we’re saying that it is certainly not just flatly evil. And that it is a powerful and capacious medium for collective transformation and democratization. 

Brett Scott: Bear in mind, I don’t have a sanctimonious take on monetary systems like many monetary… they’re are parts of the sort of monetary reform community who had this almost visceral sort of puritanical disgust about money and so on. I don’t have this at all. I see the world in contradictions. I understand that we’re stuck in systems that often we don’t quite know how we’ve ended up in these systems. And there’s trade-offs built into these systems. So for example, in large scale monetary systems, one of your trade offs is that you’ve increased the scale of your economy, and thereby actually gives you access to more and more stuff, but simultaneously increases your alienation, your distance from each person. And you can even imagine, the opposite of this is extremely small scale economies, where you might not even have monetary systems where you have very low amounts of stuff, because you’ve got very low labor pools we’ve connected together. But you have a very, very strong idea of who you are and where you are in the economy. If you picture your sort of quintessential hunter-gatherer type of setting you’re under no illusion as to what your position in that economy is and how you survive. Whereas of course, if you go to an extremely large scale economy, held together by large scale monetary systems, you’re in this much more sort of alienated state, and yet, you have access potentially, to incredibly high end things because you’re tapping into gigantic pools of global labor that you can’t see. 

And this is a sort of contradiction we find ourselves in modern economies. And so I’m not really trying to say that we could live without the monetary system at all. But you know, kind of going back to the nervous system metaphor, there’s a part that didn’t actually make it into the book. That was extending the metaphor. Actually, it did make it in a little bit of a conclusion. But what am I arguing in terms of the cash system and the nervous system metaphor, as I say, in the human body, the nervous system is split into a central nervous system, and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is a realm of like the brain and like the spinal cord,  it’s a very conscious part of you. Whereas the peripheral is a sort of well, as the name says, is peripheral, right. 

And I’m kind of arguing that if we’re taking this metaphor, seriously, the financial sector, and all these kind of digital systems that are connected into it, are part of the sort of central system whereas the cash system can be understood as a the peripheral nervous system, is the movement of this money depends on the sort of person to person contact. Now, I don’t have to go deeply into that metaphor, but the basic idea is that if you’re interested in creating a balanced monetary system, you’ve got to think about how all these different parts intersect. 

And if you think about alternative forms of money, like the mutual credit system that you’re mentioning, the sort of rippling credit systems or local currencies, you can almost imagine those as kind of an…I don’t want to go like too deeply into this nervous system metaphor, but part of the autonomous nervous system is kind of like semi autonomous things that like act by themselves, and I kind of like only partially integrated into the central system. And so I’m interested in future… to think about, okay how do you know, because what we call the “cashless society” would essentially be a type of system where you’re completely always plugged into the central system. 

You’re always going by the banking sector, and the sort of big tech companies. And the cash system actually is maintaining this kind of lack the ability to stay out of that central system whilst remaining within the overarching economy. And that’s what’s kind of the political dynamic of it. But then in terms of the actual political message of the book, the main message is to protect the cash system. But there is a part of me that’s maybe this is for a different book, which is arguing for people to build different systems entirely the sort of like alternatives, and you know, I can go into those if you’d like me to.

Scott Ferguson: Well, maybe we’ll have you on again to talk about that future book. But I think we would be doing a disservice to this book if we didn’t ask you to talk about cryptocurrency. But so what’s your… Yes, crypto tokens, not currency. What’s your experience with crypto tokens? What’s your assessment of crypto tokens? And also, what are your thoughts about the recent cascading crashes in those crypto markets?

Brett Scott: Yeah, I mean, crypto, I could say so many things about crypto. Well, the first thing I’ll say is that actually I was involved in early, early Bitcoin back 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, which was quite a different time in the modern world where it was far more innocent in a sense. It hadn’t turned into a giant, grotesque, speculative marketing/grifter scene. It was an interesting moment to be in it. I kind of got involved in that, because I was… I’d written this other book, the other The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance that was coming out back in 2013. But I was interested in general in people’s attempts at building alternative forms of economy. And obviously, crypto was one of these attempts. So my inner anthropologist was really fascinated by this, and as you know, doesn’t have any potential. But what became very, very apparent to me, and that’s the crypto world or the Bitcoin world in particular, was that you had this sort of political problem, which was that the actual underlying technological architecture was quite radical. 

The core technological feat is basically that it enables large networks of people who don’t know each other to coordinate action between themselves without a central player. Now, that politically is interesting. And actually, a lot of groups can agree that that’s interesting. And, in particular, it was about these people being able to issue tokens, or at least for the system to issue tokens. And then for them to be able to move those tokens between themselves. And this is where all the problems started to emerge, because that was a sophisticated technological architecture, but a very, very crude token system implemented on it. But many people who had no training in any kind of like monetary stuff, visually the token sort of like superficially resembled monetary system. 

And actually, in many ways the imagination that Bitcoin is a monetary system was created through linguistic hacks and visual hacks. So the very term cryptocurrency was the first one of those, but the fact people just started calling it crypto currency. And journalists would report on it as if it was this currency. And then all the visual imagery that was pasted over it as being a monetary system, and many people just sort of took it for granted. They’re like “well, this is a new monetary system”. And what was particularly interesting with it, when it started getting $1 price, the thought of getting price, this in a way kind of just confirmed for people somehow that this was a monetary system, which is very, very fascinating. Because many things that have prices, people don’t perceive as money. 

So it’s not like if I have a ceramic vase, and it gets a price on the market, I don’t fully think about it as a monetary system. But if I take that ceramic vase and I paint monetary imagery all over it, and make it very small and sort of like a disc shaped, suddenly you can be like, “well, it’s money, isn’t it?” And this is actually sort of psychologically literally what was happening in the Bitcoin world, you had these digital objects, which were kind of pasted with this monetary branding and which had a price, and which then superficially, kind of started to resemble a monetary system. And since then, I started writing this about how crypto counter trade works. I don’t know if you guys have sort of seen me doing that. 

But it’s basically saying, well, what’s happening in the crypto markets is you basically have these digital objects that are created, that are then traded on speculative markets, and which get a price on those markets. And once I have a price, you can then swap them with other things that are prices. Which is essentially a way of clearing that sort of money priced things against each other which is counter trade. Now, if I did that with two objects that obviously weren’t money… so for example, if I took a $500 vase and I swapped it for a $500 guitar, nobody would say to me, “oh, the vase is a monetary system”. 

What they would say is you’ve swapped something that’s worth $500 for something else that’s worth $500, implicitly, what you’ve done is you’ve sold the vase to the person who has the guitar, and then you’ve given them the money back to buy the guitar from them. So you’ve had these separate monetary transactions that have been superimposed over each other, giving rise to the barter-like scenario. Okay. I don’t know how clear that is. But that’s concentrated and the whole Bitcoin world works like that. And I know this, because I used to do. I used to buy, quote, unquote, “buy things” with Bitcoin. And this is exactly what you do. You take its current dollar price, compare it to the price of the thing you’re trying to, quote unquote, “buy”, and then you would work out the ratio from that. And this is countertrade. 

And I think this is really, really fascinating actually, because what the Bitcoin system effectively is, is a type of parasite. It’s a kind of monetary parasite. And if we, you might want to think about the US dollar system as being like a host, in a sense. It can’t actually survive unless it has this pricing. The ones that have it, it’s able to sort of do the sort of money-like kind of thing within that system. And I actually think that’s an incredibly interesting design and in a way, that’s not even a critique. I’m sort of saying, well, kudos in a sense. You’ve designed a monetary parasite. That’s very interesting.

Scott Ferguson: But you can expand this out and say, from an MMT framework, at least, there are degrees of moneyness that exist in all kinds of credit systems. So we often will refer to airline miles, which have different degrees of receive ability and liquidity. So, to a certain extent, you can kind of de-exotisize size, if that’s even a word. De-exotisize crypto, it’s just sort of another, dependent system that depends on this larger system. And then it becomes a question of, but how does this system work? What are its values? What are its social and ecological consequences?

Brett Scott: In my newsletter, I do a lot of analysis of these different types of… if I’m looking at a voucher, for example, let’s say. Airline miles kind of have a sort of voucher-like vibe because they’re redeemable back for a particular thing. So let’s say I have a voucher for a store for a particular thing. Like, I don’t know, a Starbucks voucher or something. In a sense, it’s tethered into the actual monetary system, right? It’s like you and you kind of like it has an issuer, it has a redemption process. You know what you’re gonna get if you hand the voucher back, so it’s very easy to kind of integrate that, and it’s quite easy to describe how it works. 

Scott Ferguson: And the production system, I think as well. It’s tethered into the production system of coffee and of airline vouchers. 

Brett Scott: Vouchers are a credit system. There’s an issuer, there’s a redemption process, and particularly, maybe be able to transfer them. So all credit type systems or IOU type systems have this sort of three part process as an issuance process, some of the issues and out as a kind of promise, then they might be able to be transferred depending on what the nature is, and then they’re redeemed back for the thing that they can supposedly can get. Vouchers are like that. Bitcoin is nothing like that. There’s no ability to redeem Bitcoin. It doesn’t actually even have an issuer. 

If you look at how it’s structured, what happens is you could sort of argue that the miners and the system are kind of like issuers. But they’re issuing it to themselves, they’re not issuing it as a liability. So what happens, they basically exert energy and then write out a number as an asset for themselves. So they’re basically… it’s literally numbers written out off the exertion of energy, which then are then branded in a particular way. But they’re written out as assets to the person who is successful at maintaining the system. And then it has no redeemability. There is no liability side to a Bitcoin token, it’s just this object. But it superficially has the visual appearance of what you would see in a bank account because it has this number. 

So it kind of looks like a bank account, sort of, but it has no actual liability structure. So this is what’s quite interesting. So really, what it ends up being is it’s kind of like branded collectible. With the monetary price which you can swap for things and that does actually have a certain degree of moneyness in the sense of it’s highly swappable. So it’s actually quite like liquid in the way it moves around in a sense. So this is why Bitcoiners get very angry with me when I say it’s not a monetary system. And I don’t have any problem with that. I’m just like, well, it’s not used for pricing. And it very, very clearly… one of the easiest ways to sort of see this like… El Salvador is currently being used as an example of a place where Bitcoin is used.

 But if you go into an El Salvadorian restaurant right now, I would love to see an El Salvadorian restaurant where they put up a fixed menu on the wall with fixed prices in Bitcoin for things. They won’t do this because actually the stuff there is priced in US dollars to work out the quote unquote “Bitcoin price”, they’re always gonna have to constantly check what the US dollar price of Bitcoin is, and then work out a countertrade ratio. So actually, if you go to eat a meal in this restaurant, the price of a meal, you’ll quote unquote, “Bitcoin price” of this meal will change constantly. Because the actual price is in US dollars and it’s constantly being refracted through Bitcoin. That’s a kind of complicated way of saying it. This is a very good example of… clearly the US dollar system is being used here. But you’re kind of disguising it via Bitcoin transaction.

Scott Ferguson: We actually have an episode of one of our other podcasts coming out that’s going to come out before this interview, actually, where we’re interviewing a professor and journalist named Ricardo Valencia, and he is reporting on this Bitcoin situation in El Salvador. And there are protests against this. The president of El Salvador is becoming increasingly authoritarian and wedding his authoritarian politics to this Bitcoin adoption. Bitcoin is not being adopted well in the country. They’re trying all kinds of things, like offering discounts to make it receivable, and people don’t use it. People don’t want it.

Brett Scott: I mean, he’s obviously heavily invested. And actually, it’s quite interesting. I mean, he’s an interesting character, because he’s clearly working the US libertarian scene to get forms of financing and funding, but, probably is doing it with a sort of… probably my intuition was well, we got nothing to lose, we might as well just try and work this angle. I think, in a sense, him aside, the Bitcoin community has quite a lot to lose from backing him. 

And I think a lot of them sort of threw themselves into this kind of euphoria, it was like, “ah, it’s become a legal tender, it’s now the official money” and ignoring all these… not only the protests, but also the fact that in reality, it’s the US dollar that is being the actual… it’s happening since this countertrade process. But now it’s becoming politically difficult to the Bitcoin community, because the whole sort of rhetoric has always been around this like stateless money and this whole kind of thing. So the reality of backing this increasingly authoritarian leader is an interesting one.

Scott Ferguson: So do you have a read of the most recent failures in the crypto markets?

Brett Scott: Not really. Actually, I’ve kind of got bored about following all the specifics of it. A lot of my focus has been on critiquing the ideology of Bitcoin, because… and so the broader crypto scene is going out, a lot of people are being involved, and I know lots of people in it, but the actual sort of downturns I don’t follow. I used to work in financial markets. The way I often see these crypto tokens is  in typical financial markets, you can do fundamental analysis, and you can do technical analysis. Fundamental analysis, you’re looking at the reality of something or trying to look at the reality of something and saying, “well, this is, this company is overvalued, for XYZ reason, they haven’t actually built the factory that they said they were going to build, nobody’s gonna buy their products”. 

So you actually make these little arguments, but it’s actual prospects in the world. And then work out from the projected income streams, and you can sort of work out a theoretical price for a share. That’s a fundamental analysis. And then there’s technical analysis, which is like you watch what other people do, basically. Abstracted through graphs. But basically, technical analysis is just watching what other people in the market are doing. Now, whereas in the crypto world, often the only thing you can do is technical analysis. There’s no way to do fundamental analysis of these objects because they’re not redeemable for any particular thing. 

They’re not legal claims upon anything. There’s no way to work out if they’re overvalued or undervalued. They’re just floating objects, which makes them highly prone to these breakdowns. So I’m never surprised when there’s like a massive spike in the price or crash in the price either. Precisely because they’re untethered to slack. But in terms of the stable coins that were breaking down recently, I suppose that’s a slightly different situation. But like yeah, I didn’t… What’s your take?

Scott Ferguson: I don’t have one. I appreciate your blase attitude. I think you you have your eye on the structural, larger anthropological, political, ideological, 

Brett Scott: Gets boring.

Scott Ferguson: Yeah, rather than following the roller coaster ride and pretending that that’s actually…

Brett Scott: I think what’s probably the best way to analyze it is probably through religious studies. Or like, yeah, a lot of what’s happening in the crypto markets is you have these… And I think there’s interesting sociological ways of analyzing it that are far more interesting than trying to have some economic analysis of why the price has gone up or down. There’s many, many people who feel sort of forms of existential despair in the world who have come to believe that somehow the crypto thing represents some way to escape that and then engage in this fantasy where you can make returns whilst also bringing down the system somehow. So no, actually I empathize with that to some extent. 

There’s part of me that has a certain degree of empathy for people who are caught up in it. Because I have a lot of friends who are caught up in it and they can see this as hope where you can engage in political activism through speculation.

Scott Ferguson: And there’s also a lot of pain and suffering. There are suicides. There are people losing a lot of state money. 

Brett Scott: Yeah, and the main concern in the crypto world because… look, bear in mind that speculation has been going on for a very long time of the capitalist system, this has nothing particularly new. And so I could do a critique of speculation. But I’m not that interested in doing that. Other people can critique the mentality of speculation, it’s well established as a phenomenon within capitalist societies as people trying to get rich quick and escape their situations and so on, whatever. My main concern is that in the process of marketing the speculative objects, a particular narrative about money is projected into society. So the Bitcoin community, those objects… the Bitcoin tokens are not actually a monetary system. 

They’re this collectible, almost like digital medallions branded as money with a monetary price. But in order to get them to compete upon a market against other assets, like shares, or whatever else you could potentially buy with your disposable income, the proponents of it have to market it as a competing monetary system. So its marketing pitch is that some are competing against the dollar. And in order to market that story, they have to create this conservative story about money where they sort of say, money should be this constrained thing, this commodity that’s held taut and rigid. And so it has a sort of weird, puritanical, hard money ideology that goes along with it, which is very heavily associated with libertarian ideology. 

Which is all about engaging in the fantasy that markets exist independently of states. Which requires this fantasy of apolitical money. But you have to have this… the monetary system is somehow natural. And markets are natural, and the states a parasite upon the market, rather than the thing that actually underpins the market with monetary systems. So a lot of the sort of fantasies in the crypto world are about projecting this conservative notion of money, which my concern is that the debt then becomes a big… that’s become the foundation or mandatory training for young people right now. 

Interestingly, the MMT movement is one of the counter narratives in terms of like trying to create a different narrative around money, but there’s lots of 16 year olds right now who basically sitting on crypto forums because they believe it’s technologically exciting, and so on, who sort of imbibing like Murray Rothbard, and stuff like that. You know, if you think about if you’re a conservative strategist from the 19th century, you will like be like, “wow, this is like a really amazing way of projecting ideas into society without actually having the monetary system disrupted”. So it really empowers the Conservatives within the ordinary monetary system. So that’s my concern. Long answer, sorry. 

William Saas: No, that’s perfect. I love the fundamental versus technical analysis. And I think that that’s… it’s almost like if you have the fundamental mental analysis that I think we all share here, then it sort of makes the technical analysis irrelevant. It’s like okay, this is just going to be a carnival. It’s something to watch. And people are gonna suffer. But they have… there are contending fundamental analyses that do kind of seem to… I don’t know, I guess you can be suspicious here and wonder how many people are actually invested in the fundamental analysis that would enable them to think cryptocurrency is actually a viable alternative to existing monetary systems. What’s your read on how many people are actually sort of wedded to that now versus at the sort of speculation side if we’re not going to speculate about speculation.

Brett Scott: Well, I think it’s contradictory because… actually I actually wrote this piece for CoinDesk, which is one of the big crypto publications, possibly the biggest one, actually. And that CoinDesk actually has… there’s a couple of editors there who actually are quite reasonable, critical and want more critical voices. And I did this piece was just called How to Win a Bitcoin Street Fight. And it was based on the old arcade game Street Fighter. And I basically talked about walking into an arcade, an old arcade game. There’s on the one side, you got Street Fighter on the other side, you have Mortal Kombat now to old school like fighting games, and each one has its own universe. Each one has its own like characters in it. All right, so you know, Street Fighter has… I forget the names of the different people. 

William Saas: Ken, Ryu, Blanka. 

Brett Scott: Yeah, exactly right. And then you know, more you can do Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat got Raiden and all these other characters. But once you pick a game you can’t use a player from one of them in the other game. So they were sort of sitting in separate paradigms, and they’re in their own universes. And I think in the Bitcoin world, you find this a lot of the argumentation is based on this sort of trickery, paradigm switching trickery. Because on the one hand, it’s marketed as being that who it’s competing against is the dollar. So this is like the monetary story. So this is like one arcade game, right? That it’s like somebody’s competing monetary system. On the other hand, it’s marketed as an asset within a monetary system that has a monetary price that you could trade to get more money. And in that sense, it’s actually competing against things like the Gamestop shares, or the world or whatever else. Because if I’m spending my $5,000 in savings on Bitcoin, I’m not spending it on Gamestop shit, right? So they’re in a sense competing each other. 

But what happens in the crypto world is that they often try to blend those two arguments together. They’ll say things like, “well, when the price of the asset is rising, it’s a symbol that in the future, it will sort of invert and become the monetary system”. Which is… I’m like, how did you work that out when other things rise in markets, that doesn’t mean that becomes a monetary system. So there’s lots of this sort of justification. And because the actual object being traded has monetary imagery branded over it, it’s quite easy to actually sit with that cognitive dissonance. And many people in the world constantly sit in the state of cognitive dissonance, where they have a sort of almost millenarian story that at some point, it will invert, and everything will become priced in it. 

But in the meantime, we’re trading it for US dollars, and clearly perceiving it in terms of US dollars. And when I say this will happen, you’ll meet some of the hardcore Bitcoiners will be set will say stuff like, “well, I price everything in Bitcoin”. And I’ll be like, well, it’s interesting, because those prices will be constantly fluctuating, right? And what often will say to them is if I’m sitting by a tornado, and there’s like things flying around the tornado, you know, whatever it is… people’s bits of debris, I can psychologically choose to believe that actually, the tornado is flying around the pieces of debris. 

I could imagine the pieces of debris being like fixed points and then perceiving the tornado flying around. But that’s like a mental illusion. You can choose to believe that everything is priced in Bitcoin, but it’s a total mental illusion, right? It’s actually priced in the dollar. And if you’re just choosing to try and see it in this way. And this is a lot of what’s going on in that community. Just another metaphor there.

Scott Ferguson: Well, I think that’s a really… let’s finish this conversation on that mind whittling metaphor. Where do our listeners find you? Where Where should they look for you?

Brett Scott: Well, my newsletter is BrettScott.substack.com. Altered States of Monetary Consciousness. My book is Cloud Money: Cash, Cards, Crypto, and the War for our Wallets. And my Twitter handle is @SuitPossum: S-U-I-T P-O-S-S-U-M. I always get asked how that one came about.

Scott Ferguson: Are you gonna tell us?

Brett Scott: It’s kind of a weird story. I had a musical act, Apocalyptic Possum and then from that a nickname developed called Soul Possum for me. And then when I went to work in the financial sector, I had this girlfriend at the time who said, “now you’re super awesome”. So that’s how it developed but when people see it nowadays, I have no idea what it is. It’s just weird…

Scott Ferguson: Right. That’s great. Well, now all the Money on the Left listeners who have made it to the end of this interview are all cued in. Well, thanks.

Brett Scott: Thanks a lot. Nice chat.

* Thanks to the Money on the Left production teamWilliam Saas (audio editor), Mercedes Ohlen (transcription), & Meghan Saas (graphic art)


Money on the Left: History, Theory, Practice

In this special episode, Billy Saas, Maxximilian Seijo and Scott Ferguson announce the launch of the collective’s new scholarly journal: Money on the Left: History, Theory, Practice.

Click here for the journal’s inaugural publication, “Food, Money, and Democracy: Cultivating Collective Provisioning for Resilient and Equitable Communities of Work,” co-authored by Benjamin C. Wilson, Taylor Reid, and Max Sussman.

As Billy, Maxx and Scott explain in their conversation, Money on the Left: History, Theory, Practice is a peer-reviewed, open access journal of scholarship in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. The journal places money’s public origins and capacities at the center of left inquiry and action. It cultivates interdisciplinary approaches to past and present, aesthetics and politics. And it advances intersectional forms of research and practice in service of a just transition from social and ecological devastation. During their dialog, Billy, Maxx and Scott discuss the journal’s key aims and publication schedule, while offering advice for prospective authors. 

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music by Nahneen Kula: www.nahneenkula.com

If you are interested in submitting or pitching an essay to the journal, see our Instructions for Authors page.

Food, Money & Democracy

Money on the Left: History, Theory, Practice
Vol. 1, No. 1 (2022)

ISSN 2833-051X

“Food, Money & Democracy: Cultivating Collective Provisioning for Resilient & Equitable Communities of Work”
By Benjamin C. Wilson, Taylor Reid & Max Sussman

Abstract

Coordination rights, or the right to coordinate, is an emerging concept in law and political economy that establishes who is permitted to engage in economic coordination and who does not. Coordination rights are fundamental to the process of building resilient communities and determine whether social provisioning systems are “collective” or “concentrated.” In concentrated provisioning systems, decision-making is consolidated in the hands of a few actors who tend to prioritize profit-seeking over environmental and labor concerns, leading to inequality and ecosystem degradation. Collective provisioning systems instead involve rich human experiences that foster cooperation and a holistic approach to production that improves environmental and social wellbeing. We demonstrate these differences through comparative analysis of industrial agriculture and alternatives such as the La Via Campesina movement for Food Sovereignty, the Black Cooperative Movement in the U.S., and restaurant reactions to the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, what is also displayed is that without reliable access to monetary resources collective provisioning systems are vulnerable to financial crisis and collapse. Alleviating these vulnerabilities requires that monetary systems themselves also adopt collective coordination principles. Accordingly, we present small and medium-scale monetary experiments that use food systems as a way to build community capacity. These experiments challenge the exclusionary nature of the dominant profit-driven mode of financial coordination and illustrate the potential of community-driven and socially beneficial frameworks for increasing resilience, equity, and health in our communities.

Click here for PDF.

Benjamin C. Wilson is associate professor of economics at the State University of New York College at Cortland and Research Scholar for the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.

Taylor Reid is an Associate Professor of Applied Food Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.

Max Sussman has been a chef for over 20 years. He was formerly the chef de cuisine of Roberta’s in Brooklyn, New York. With his brother Eli he has co-authored 4 cookbooks and owns Samesa, a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in New York City. With his wife Kate he founded Bog & Thunder, a regenerative food travel company based in Ireland.

See our Instructions for Authors page, if you are interested in submitting or pitching an essay to the journal.

Medium: Femme – 7 – Abortion (Part 1)

In the first of a three part series following the overturning of Roe v Wade, cohosts Naty (@orangeasm) and Charlotte (@moltopopulare) discuss the ongoing fight for abortion access and rights taking place in both the US and the rest of the world. 

Using the framework of reproductive justice, they contextualize abortion rights within a broader struggle for reproductive autonomy, touching on histories of reproductive control ranging from abortion restrictions to forced sterilisation, colonialism and incarceration. In doing so, they also highlight interconnections with concurrent right wing assaults on trans people, gay parents, drug users, refugees, and others marginalized groups.

Touching on  histories and movements from Australia to Chile, Ireland, Brazil, and the border of Ukraine and Poland, Naty and Charlotte defend the right to free safe and legal abortion without apology, drawing out various trends and intersections to make a positive case for reproductive justice and autonomy.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting



Monetary Modernism

In this special episode of Money on the Left, the MotL Collective shares an audio recording from a conference panel titled, “Monetary Modernism.” Including papers by Scott Ferguson (University of South Florida), Rob Hawkes (Teesside University), and Maxximilian Seijo (University of California, Santa Barbara), the panel was presented at the Hopeful Modernisms conference organized by the British Association for Modernist Studies (BAMS) at University of Bristol, June 22 – 25, 2022. 

The conference sought to revive hopeful and more generative impulses in modernist art and literature, challenging a persistent view of modernism as relentlessly bleak and angst-ridden. It did so, moreover, for a present moment similarly burdened by dead-end accelerationist and pessimist imaginaries. 

The panel begins with Rob Hawkes. He introduces the BAMS audience to the wide-ranging contributions of the Money on the Left Editorial Collective. He also makes the case for reading Georg Friedrich Knapp’s early twentieth-century chartalist approach to money as a modernist project deeply entwined with myriad other aesthetic modernisms. 

In the first presentation, Scott Ferguson explores how Len Lye’s Rainbow Dance (1936), a short experimental promotional film for British public postal banking, embraces the abstractness, publicness, and heterogeneous plentitude of both money mediation and avant-garde cinema. In the second talk, Rob Hawkes uncovers how tensions between fixed and fluid understandings of identity formation and history inform John Maynard Keynes’ chartalist-inspired writings on money as much as Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella Passing and Ford Madox Ford’s 1933 novel The Rash Act. Lastly, Maximilian Seijo’s presentation carefully works through metaphors for money in Virginia Woolf’s book-length feminist essay, A Room of One’s Own (1929), complicating the text’s appeals to monetary substances and fluids by teasing out its experimental approach to imagining non-patriarchal infrastructures for provisioning aesthetic work. 
If you are interested in the texts and images that accompany some of the presentations, see here for Rob Hawkes’ slides and here for Scott Ferguson’s PowerPoint deck.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting

Superstructure 33 – Mediation is the Fourth Estate

Analyzing recent events at The Washington Post, Will Beaman (@agoingaccount), Natalie Tabb (@orangeasm), and Maxximilian Seijo (@maxseijo) develop a theory of media accountability in which heterogeneous institutions and social infrastructures are variously implicated as political participants.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
http://flirtingfullstop.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @actualflirting

Superstructure: Bitcoin in El Salvador

Ricardo Valencia joins co-hosts Andrés Bernal and Scott Ferguson to discuss recent protests against Bitcoin in El Salvador. Adopted as legal tender by the authoritarian President Nayib Bukele in September 2021, Bitcoin has become an emblem in El Salvador for U.S. corporate imperialism, public mismanagement, and anti-democratic rule. Whereas mainstream accounts of cryptocurrency tend to flatten stories in Latin America to matters of success and failure, Ricardo draws upon rich critical approaches in Cultural Studies developed by the likes of Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy to situate current events in El Salvador within histories of global governance, political conflict, and cultural identity. During the conversation, Ricardo weighs the fraught legacy of left politics in and beyond El  Salvador. He analyses the conspicuous convergence of “tech-bro” boosterism coming from the U.S. with right-wing regimes in vulnerable countries across the Global South. He considers tensions between imperial domination and quotidian safety that attend El Salvador’s dollarization in 2001, including the large role that remittances play in the everyday lives of the Salvadoran people. Finally, Ricardo contemplates the future promise of left politics in El Salvador. This promise, he explains, hinges upon feminist, queer and environmental movements, which are now demanding democratic and just uses of public money. 

Dr. Ricardo Valencia is an assistant professor of public relations in the Department of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. Between 2010 and 2014, Dr. Valencia was the head of the communication section at the Embassy of El Salvador to the United States. He has also worked as a reporter covering international and domestic politics for Salvadoran and global media outlets such as La Prensa Gráfica, German Press Agency (DPA), and El Faro. Follow Ricardo on Twitter @ricardovalp.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure

Monetary Austerity as Social Conflict

By David M. Fields

Monetary austerity, like fiscal austerity, is a top-down offensive. A monetary assault on working people is being waged in the name of fighting inflation. In similar fashion to the demagoguery that surrounds government expenditure cuts that lead to significant losses in social provisioning, a political climate of inflation hysteria has engulfed the US Federal Reserve, engendering a reactionary policy stance of protecting the wealthy at the social cost of maintaining a precarious working class.

The Fed has concluded that inflation is now its biggest challenge, but admits having no control over the actual factors underlying the current inflationary surge. Nonetheless, it defends raising interest rates as necessary “preemptive strike” to excessive price distortion, whereby severe “market imperfections” in the long run could undermine the dual mandate of price stability and maximum sustainable employment. In central bank jargon, such so-called forward-looking acumen conveys the message that anchoring inflationary expectations is the primary means to ensure market confidence or “credibility” for effective macroeconomic balancing.

The notion of an independent and knowledgeable technocratic Fed constitutes naïve faith. Monetary policy choices support some interests over–even against–others. So, contrary to what we are told, contractionary monetary policy is NOT a conventional tool to soothe market confidence in light of unpredictable inflationary expectations; it is an embodiment of social conflict, a coordinated attack on the working class to protect and maintain profit extraction. Raising interest rates, thus, is not “sound” policy in the truest sense of the term; it reduces consumer spending and economic activity at the behest of the rentier to insulate this social group from any possible unsavory transgression that may arise from economic uncertainty.

I am sure this seems like heresy to many, but let me try to convince you. The economy, as determined by the need to expand output depends on banking; the capacity for firms to purchase necessary amounts of labor and material inputs necessary for satisfying expectations of profit and for workers to receive wages is assigned by the availability of credit. Without banking, economic growth comes to a halt, since business investment expenditures stem from the need to borrow in excess of any pre-existing amount of financial resources. Credit provides deferred payment, which allows firms to manage sales, and, thus, facilitate long-run operational expansion. If there is a restriction on credit, as a matter of course, any attempts for increased production are futile.

Credit allows firms to pay out money for materials and wages to keep production and distribution going in advance of receiving profits from expected sales of goods. The implication is that firms will have to deduct interest payments from profits, which will be relegated to the banking sector. The cost of available credit from the banking sector is set by the rate of interest, which is determined by the Fed; this, by definition, determines the parameters of firm profit. A high rate of interest, for instance, would induce firms to forgo productive investment because access to credit is expensive. This would encourage firms to suppress wages, e.g. layoffs, which triggers recessionary pressures resulting from decreased production — this raises the level of unemployment, which is antithetical to working-class interests.

The decision by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates by the largest percentage point since 1994 is, therefore, quite treacherous for working people. US Economic growth is well below full employment. The economy confronts headwinds from developments that constitute cost-push-markup inflationary processes, so we are not seeing the manifestations of so-called demand-pull inflation, that is, too much money chasing too goods, or too much wage growth, resulting from an overheating economy or overspending for which monetary austerity is requisite. There is an economically destructive rationale at play, wherein interest rates are hiked to the point that they depress wages to compensate for causes outside of the direct reach of the Federal Reserve, to put a stop to workers from taking advantage of unique historically-specific social circumstances to effectively bargain for receiving their fair share.

***This post is heavily drawn from my entry on ‘Credit Money” in the soon to be published Encyclopedia of Post-Keynesian Economics, edited by Loui-Phillipe Rochon and Sergio Rossi, see here.***

***Republished from the Monetary Policy Institute Blog***

Superstructure: Plato’s Republic (Part 3)

Historian and philologist Brendan Cook joins Scott Ferguson for the final installment of their 3-part mini-series devoted to Plato’s Republic. (See Part 1 and Part 2, if you are new to the series.) In Part 3, Brendan and Scott take up the vexed and largely maligned role of money in Republic. Weighing the fact that there is no linguistic equivalent for the modern English term “money” in Attic Greek, Brendan and Scott nevertheless align the text’s negative treatment of money-related activities with Plato’s impoverished univocal thinking. Next, they consider the limits and potentials of Plato’s well-known taxonomy of political regimes in Book 8 of Republic, noting how unfavorable invocations of “money loving” throughout the text’s latter sections abet a fatalistic and anti-democratic politics. Brendan and Scott then ponder the ironies of Socrates’ second paradoxical argument against poetry. And lastly, they explore the celestial “myth of Er” that closes Plato’s Republic. On their reading, this concluding myth not only implicitly betrays Socrates’ injunction against poetry, but also encapsulates the text’s key contradiction between expansive provisioning and zero-sum trade-offs.

Visit our Patreon page here: https://www.patreon.com/MoLsuperstructure