The Neoliberal Blockbuster: Toy Story Part 2 (Full Episode)

This Money on the Left/Superstructure episode is the eleventh premium release from Scott Ferguson’s “Neoliberal Blockbuster” course for Patreon subscribers.  Typically reserved for Patreon subscribers, this special two-part episode about Toy Story is available to the general public in full. 

For access to the rest of the course, subscribe to our Patreon here:  

If you are interested in premium offerings but presently unable to afford a subscription, please send a direct message to @moneyontheleft or @Superstruc on Twitter & we will happily provide you with membership access.  

Course Description

This course examines the neoliberal Blockbuster from the 1970s to the present. It focuses, in particular, on the social significance of the blockbuster’s constitutive technologies: both those made visible in narratives and the off-screen tools that drive production and reception. Linking aesthetic shifts in American moving images to broader transformations in political economy, the course traces the historical transformation of screen action from the ethereal “dream factory” of pre-1960s cinema to the impact-driven “thrill ride” of the post-1970s blockbuster. In doing so, we attend to the blockbuster’s technological forms and study how they have variously contributed to social, economic, and political transformations over the past 40 years. We critically engage blockbusters as “reflexive allegories” of their own technosocial processes and pleasures. Above all, we think through the blockbuster’s shifting relationship to monetary abstraction and the myriad additional abstractions monetary mediation entails.


2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018)

The Last House on the Left

CW: trauma, abuse

Will Beaman draws on personal experiences to reflect on how the problematic reduction of “deradicalization” to dialogues between fascists and anti-fascists resembles other forms of emotional and relational abuse. When the imperatives of “coalition-building” require victims of right wing violence to double down on dialogues with hostile interlocutors, the supposedly public realm of ideas resembles an abusive household, in which leaving is not an option. After a cold open from Briahna Joy Gray’s recent interview with Talia Lavin on the “Bad Faith” podcast, Will suggests that distinctly non-carceral and non-“paid for” modes of institutional mediation are necessary for deradicalization to be something more than the emotional blackmail of victims via toxic social norms.

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

Superstructure Cancels the Pope (New Transcript!)

We are thrilled to present our very first Superstructure transcript, brought to you by the generous effort of friend-of-the-show, Mike Lewis.

“Superstructure Cancels the Pope” represents a pivotal episode from the Superstructure archive. Contra leftist praise for today’s seemingly anti-capitalist papacy, co-hosts Naty Smith, Maxx Seijo, & Will Beaman offer a critical close reading of “Fratelli Tutti,” Pope Francis’ third and most recent encyclical. Unearthing the austere logics that inhere in Bergoglio’s ideas of encounter, charity, and reconciliation, Naty, Maxx, and Will take on the pope’s not-so-lefty Jesuit career and Peronist history, as well as the Franciscan ideology and history that inspired his Covid-era message to the world. Framed by readings of Scott Ferguson’s work on the symptomatic search for solidity in the modern and neoliberal moments, the gang exposes the deeply toxic nationalistic impulses behind the Pope’s metaphysical, theological, and political exhortations. Superstructure, in other words, cancels the pope.

Transcript: Mike Lewis

Link to our Patreon:

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


Will Beaman  00:15

So, hey everybody. This is another episode of Superstructure. This is Will Beaman and I have my co-hosts Natalie Smith.

Naty Smith  00:24

Hello! What’s going on?

Will Beaman  00:25

That is Natalie Smith, and I also have Maxximilian Seijo.

Maxx Seijo  00:29

Ciao bello. Oh wait, wrong site.

Will Beaman  00:33

I wasn’t ready for the language bit. Okay, so this is an episode that I have really really been looking forward to for like a while. Mostly because we’ve been teasing the shit out of it forever, but ever since I started kind of going down the historical rabbit hole of Franciscanism, which is the theme that we covered between Superstructure and Money on the Left in several of our latest content over the last couple of weeks.

Naty Smith  01:05


Will Beaman  01:06

We’ve been wanting to go over review I guess this is a media review of the Papal Encyclical from last year.

Naty Smith  01:16

Zero stars. The reason we’ve been teasing it so long is that it was Natalie’s job to read the Encyclical, and it was pretty boring. So it took me some time until I just like was like alright, I got to read this motherfucker. Not literally, but yeah. I think.

Will Beaman  01:32

If you were transcribing people performing the rosary for an hour, it would have been less repetitive than the Encyclical. Yeah. Not a great writer. But um, yeah. So Naty, do you want to tell us a little bit about the Encyclical? Like, what is the Encyclical?

Naty Smith  01:52

The Encyclical is an exciting bedtime story about how we have to love our neighbors. No.

Will Beaman  02:00

I mean, yes.

Naty Smith  02:04

I think it’s interesting because a lot of people sort of have been excited about Pope Francis, sort of some of his nods to economic populism, or immigration reform, or the UN, or poor people’s movements ish. But it’s interesting that Encyclical is his third Encyclical. He released it in October 2020 at a memorial ceremony for St. Francis of Assisi in Assisi, Italy. It was the first trip outside Rome since COVID had started. The title Fratelli tutti is like “we’re all brothers” and comes from some quote of Francis. And it’s interesting, like, did you want me to get into his bio a little bit?

Will Beaman  02:51

Yeah, well, um, one thing that I want to say kind of adding on to this before you go into some biographical details. So as we’re recording this, the big COVID relief bill finally passed. So hopefully should be seeing that $1400 pretty soon, although I haven’t yet. I digress. This is a very, like future-facing document that is very much like grounded in politics. And there are a lot of I think that a lot of these ideas will end up inflecting a response to Trumpism or, you know, any of these people.

Naty Smith  03:29

Well, and Biden is interested in Catholic liberalism, I mean…

Will Beaman  03:35

Yeah, he’s very Catholic.

Naty Smith  03:35

Yeah. And also, I mean, this is drenched in the past too, and a lot of the history of Argentine complications of political economy and all different things that have kind of gone between statist and corporatist and Peronist and neoliberalism and dictatorship and then the Pink Wave and just a lot of currents go through it.

Will Beaman  03:57

Absolutely, yeah. So as we talk about this, I guess the question that I want to have in our mind, and like, you know, a criteria for like, how are we evaluating the actual content of this text is, you know, it lays out a global political vision. Is this a global political vision that we can see adequately responding to this moment? Because it’s not like the Pope is nobody, you know. This is already an extremely influential document.

Naty Smith  04:27

And I also think we want to kind of push the left in that we understand where there’s good things you can see and “oh, this is good, like, international institutions are like caring about people who are in poverty”, but like pushing to be like, okay, but like, let’s look deeper. Let’s look at the details. Let’s look at what is he really saying like at a deeper level, and what are the real implications and backwards and forwards in history of like this way of looking at it. Like instead of just seeing the “Oh, he said a few things that sound good”, you know?

Maxx Seijo  05:04

Also, I think, to an earlier point, things are shifting right now. And I think that’s also what the Biden administration represents. Even, you know, in probably the most ambivalent terms that you could imagine and in ways that we still don’t quite understand, but…

Naty Smith  05:23

I love him. He’s cute.

Maxx Seijo  05:28

But when things shift, you know, it’s important to look at what powerful thinkers and and authorities are offering as a vision to not just respond but shape the way the political ground and the way we envision a political future is changing. And so, unpacking not just the historical lineage of the Pope himself, but the way that these ideas tap into a history that we’ve tapped into various times on this podcast: the history of a Franciscan rejection of money. I think it’s important to put it in those terms.

Naty Smith  06:12

You liberal!

Will Beaman  06:14

Well, you know, ever since I saw Pope Francis go on the Joe Rogan Experience, I knew that he was going to become a really influential thought leader.

Naty Smith  06:24

What was your favorite joke he made?

Will Beaman  06:27

Well, I thought it was really cool when they smoked a blunt together because it was just so unique for the podcast.

Naty Smith  06:35

Then he sucked Joe Rogan’s toes…To wash them! to wash them!

Will Beaman  06:42

Anyway. So perhaps, perhaps now, we can get into some of the biographical details about Pope Francis and set up the political context that he came from. I know Naty did a lot of research on this.

Naty Smith  06:57

I did a lot of research.

Maxx Seijo  06:59

She taught herself how to read for this podcast.

Naty Smith  07:03

I read an entire article. It was pretty long. Yeah, it’s interesting, because he doesn’t come out of some leftist Catholic tradition by any means. You know, he wasn’t a liberation theologist. I mean, within the Jesuits, he was known as a conservative disciplinarian, and not just to the lefty Jesuits. And, you know, there’s a lot of crazy politics going on in Argentina in the 70s. And I mean, you have sort of after the major Peronist split in 73, you have kind of a left and right Peronism. You have lefty Jesuit terrorists, the Montoneros, but then you also have people like on the right of Peronism that are Jesuits. The Pope was associated with Bergoglio at the time. The Iron Guard, right. And he was pretty much silent during the dictatorship, you know, he was sort of just doing his Jesuit thing and being a right wing Jesuit. But there’s certainly some shady implications. I mean, one of the biggest ones involved like some more lefty Jesuit priests, who he kind of helps probably get arrested, but maybe not, you know. And then I don’t know, do you want me to go through his whole career?

Maxx Seijo  08:23

I heard he was pretty hot.

Naty Smith  08:25

No, no, he wasn’t. But in the 90s, he actually got disciplined with the Jesuits for being too difficult. In the 90s, he starts kind of becoming a rising star. He like hitches his wagon to this guy, who was at the time like the Archbishop in Buenos Aires, or something, Quarracino who was just like a raging homophobe. He said on TV that gay people should be locked in ghettos, and was living in opulent luxury. This is sort of when in the late 90s, the Pope starts to make more gestures of reconciliation, like “the Church should not have said nothing during the dictatorship”

Maxx Seijo  09:11

If I had a nickel every time I heard that.

Naty Smith  09:14

Yeah, right. No, totally. And then he was also associated with this neoliberal Peronist in the 90s, Carlos Menem. It’s interesting, though, that some of these contradictions because like, at a party with the or like an event in the late 90s, is one of the first times he spoke out against (for Menem) he spoke out against economic injustice, you know, and the oligarchs who preside over the few. This is sort of one of these fascinating Peronist contradictions where this right wing Bishop and this right wing Neolib are like “yeah, talk about some economic populism and make some apologies”. And this is when he starts washing more people’s feet and poor people and people with AIDS and you know, starts bringing photographers to the washing up the feet and so forth. All the while that this Quarracino is the one basically making his career as far as getting him to the Vatican and so forth.

Will Beaman  10:13

The washing of the feet is really interesting. On the one hand, that’s just biblical, right? Like that’s what Jesus does. But in the Franciscan tradition, there’s a preoccupation with touching and with experiencing firsthand, whether it’s experiencing poverty firsthand or experiencing, you know, nature or suffering. There’s a way in which the touching of the feet very much fits into this kind of visiting of the poor that I think we wanted to dig into.

Naty Smith  10:54

It’s worth noting, again, the two priests that there’s the most questions around—him and his associations with them getting in prison—I mean, he like withdrew their right to give mass because they were lefty Jesuits who were living in the slums with poor people in non-hierarchical living situations. You know, he’s not like some friend of the poor. I mean, the first time he speaks about the poor is the late 90s with a neoliberal guy like next to him, and he’s like, “let’s bring some photographers to wash feet. Also this guy who’s the bishop, who’s gonna make my career is living in luxury, but I take the bus.”

Maxx Seijo  11:31

But I think even if..

Naty Smith  11:33

I know, but it’s worth noting the hypocricy. I get it, but it’s worth saying that’s not actually who he is, anyway, because that’s true of the Franciscans in many ways as well. Right?

Maxx Seijo  11:45

Yeah, yeah. So that’s what I wanted to sort of break into a little bit. The contradiction is baked into the Franciscan project, right? It’s both the need to be like casting people off for being too radical, but also sort of doubling in through the mediation of like, you know, thinking of our Money on the Left episode, like, they would have helpers carry their purses filled with money, right?

Will Beaman  12:14

Because they weren’t supposed to touch money.

Maxx Seijo  12:16

Right. So the contradictions are baked in. Right? So it’s not like he’s some impure, necessarily, Franciscan. Right? And he’s just like, you know, pretending to be a Franciscan necessarily. I think that’s important to say as well.

Will Beaman  12:32

Yeah. And also it’s, it’s worth noting, Francis himself, while he certainly I don’t think can be accused of cynicism. I mean, he was kind of nuts. And he was really like, he was really serious about it when he went to visit the lepers and you know, go live in nature and he got sick and almost died from that like several times. There is something really interesting that Francis and his followers come from like a really affluent background as well.

Naty Smith  13:05

Like my hero, the Buddah.

Will Beaman  13:09

Oh my gosh, I thought that Dasha blocked all of us on Twitter, but…

Naty Smith  13:14

I don’t believe in blocking. That prevents encounter.

Will Beaman  13:19

She’s more into ghosting is what I’ve heard.

Naty Smith  13:22

Ghosts have a lot to teach us.

Maxx Seijo  13:24

So yeah, I think having like, you know, started there’s so much to talk about with this. But I think we can really focus on this point about touching, right? About this need to touch right, and this sort of sense of material and embodied relationship that is not mediated.

Naty Smith  13:46

He’s trying to torture me because I’m currently in isolation because my partner has COVID. But yes, touching. I hate it.

Maxx Seijo  13:56

Well, you’re not valid, then.

Will Beaman  14:00

Naty has retreated to something even more basic and unmediated than touch.

Maxx Seijo  14:07

More radical, yeah.

Will Beaman  14:09

Pure isolation. She’s visiting herself right now, which is extremely radical and Franciscan.

Naty Smith  14:16

Super radical.

Maxx Seijo  14:17

So I kind of wanted to get into that and touching like, problematic in the context of, you know, where historically this encyclical is situated. Right? Very interesting that it came out during COVID, which I think is not something that we necessarily have the full range to discuss. We’ll leave that for Agamben to discuss.

Naty Smith  14:44

I think you just did.

Will Beaman  14:48

He’ll knock it out of the park.

Maxx Seijo  14:49

I guess he will. But I think it’s interesting the way we can think about neoliberalism as this further accelerating a sort of ongoing liberal precarity at the political economic level, and the way we all relate to the production process, and the way that caretaking goes on and these sorts of things. Which is not to say, of course, that prior to neoliberalism, things were perfect in any way. Like, that’s not what’s being articulated here, but there’s an acceleration associated with it that also speaks to I think, a sort of broader horizon of political economic relations specifically when we’re thinking about touch and when we’re thinking about political, economic dare one say metaphysics, and how these things are all interlocking,

Naty Smith  15:49

I want to touch the soil and my neighbor, and I will hug my neighbor and wash their feet, and that will be the economic exchange, and then we kiss the ground together, and that will be a good system.

Will Beaman  16:02

The whole point of when Maxx says this problematic of touching, right, the impulse behind all of these touches, and these encounters, and, you know, hugging the poor, and all of these things, that impulse is an impulse to care, which is why these stories are so powerful, right? Because under neoliberalism, there’s this contraction in the fiscal sphere. Nothing is being organized to take care of people at any kind of big or abstract scale.

Naty Smith  16:39

You know why? Don’t put this in, but it’s because women’s pussies are too tight. So nobody’s getting laid. That’s the contraction.

Maxx Seijo  16:46

No, we’re putting that in, we’re putting that in.

Naty Smith  16:49


Will Beaman  16:49

I have to edit these fucking things Naty, so yes, anything that you say is fair game to put in.

Maxx Seijo  16:54

That’s its own Dasha file. We’re just gonna release 10 seconds of that.

Will Beaman  17:01

Just to set up, the reading that Maxx is about to do. The impulse to touch is an expression of an impulse to care, right, and to take care of people, but it’s very historically specific that aesthetic representations of care focus so much on this imagery of touching and encountering and visiting and all of these things that are you making contact with the other in a kind of a charitable way. And, of course, you know, this should also make you think about, you know, the not-so-charitable forms of, you know, the touch or the encounter, right? It’s like economics is all built on the exchange, right? The barter, or you have vulgar political theorists who will reduce everything to this immediate proximate act of violence. But in this particular case, I think that we want to talk about the touch as grasping toward possibilities for taking care, but taking care of oneself and taking care of the other who’s importantly an other.

Naty Smith  18:15

Right, and what the left sort of identifies with, I think, is that impulse, and what we want to draw out is the way in which these gestures at that care are a fundamentally impoverished vision, and not in a good way.

Will Beaman  18:31

Right. And on that note, I think, Maxx has a reading that hopefully we’ve set up like two thirds of the way.

Maxx Seijo  18:39

Yeah, so I’m going to start by framing this discussion of the encyclical through reading Mommy, and by that I mean, Scott Ferguson, who you might know as

Naty Smith  18:51

Scotia, let’s make it feminine.

Maxx Seijo  18:53

Yes. Right. Scotia. Scotia or of the famed you know, Money on the Left podcast. I think he’s been on Superstructure before.

Naty Smith  19:02

World famous.

Will Beaman  19:03

Yeah, I met him once.

Maxx Seijo  19:04

Yeah. In his book Dec…

Will Beaman  19:06

He was fine.

Naty Smith  19:06

Is he a slut?

Maxx Seijo  19:08

Yes. In his book Declarations…

Will Beaman  19:11

Strong handshake, though. A lot of care.

Maxx Seijo  19:16

He does not have a strong handshake. Anyway.

Naty Smith  19:18

We love you, Mommy.

Will Beaman  19:23

Strong hugs. Strong hugs.

Maxx Seijo  19:24

Strong hugs. So in his book, Declarations of Dependence: Money, Aesthetics and the Politics of Care, he does, you know, obviously a lot of work in the MMT Humanities space, one might say founds MMT Humanities. Definitively I would say that.

Will Beaman  19:42

He’s the Steve Jobs of Left MMT. I think is how he likes to be described.

Maxx Seijo  19:48

That is right.

Naty Smith  19:49

Or even the Mother Teresa.

Will Beaman  19:55

Who are we kidding? He’s the Francis of MMT.

Maxx Seijo  20:00

So, in the book, he obviously does the work thinking about the aesthetic experience of not just neoliberalism, but modernity, sort of writ large. And I’m going to read a little bit so we can start to get into in relationship to this idea of touching the poor and touching the impoverished that Pope Francis offer. Some of the underlying assumptions that create the necessity for that aesthetic experience. So in discussing a bunch of aesthetic forms, though, he talks about this aesthetic experience as “an intimate indexicality and all encompassing gravity.”

Will Beaman  20:44

Scott Ferguson is a film and media studies professor, but for those who aren’t in the know about indexicality…Yeah, Maxx’s pantomiming two things touching. In film, in media theory, people use it to kind of describe the sort of unmediated imprint of light on to celluloid in a camera. And the idea is that an indexical, like identical one to one impression of at least a surface of the world. And, and this is not to say that people who use indexicality think that the photo is like, all of reality, but the point is that it captures something that really is part of reality, that is an imprint. Anyway, which again, ties in with touching.

Maxx Seijo  21:33

Yeah, yeah, full story. It’s touching. In talking about this sort of aesthetic experience that we’re, we’re discussing with this Franciscan of touching the poor, Scott is referring to it as a sort of intimate indexicality, which ends up becoming an “all encompassing gravity.” And this touching is meant to “transmute sensations of loss, falling and disintegration into assuring affections and rhythms.”

Will Beaman  22:09

So, you know, I’m tapping my finger on the table right now because I’m just perennially anxious. That is me finding and assuring an affectionate rhythm to the touch.

Maxx Seijo  22:23

Right? A sort of ground, dare one say a base that you can rely on because we’ve been evacuated, and we’re precarious, right? And so this, as Scott says, what it does is “miming a convulsive and dangerously misallocated fiscal apparatus. These affections and rhythms repeatedly register the feeling that there’s no there there under neoliberalism” but at the same time, “an ardent there there answers monies evacuation from neoliberal existence.” So it’s this act of trying to find ground, because you’re falling, and the registering of that ground is the act that both reinforces the fact that there is a ground but also that we were evacuated of a sort of collective existence that could ground us in safety.

Will Beaman  23:24

And we talked about this in talking about the kind of fetish of a difficult and almost unwinnable class struggle, right? That is kind of perversely comforting and self soothing because at least you know how difficult it is. So it becomes a familiar surface that you have mastery over rather than the precarity and uncertainty of just kind of falling and not even knowing where to grab.

Naty Smith  23:54

Right. It’s trying to accept precarity by making precarity like inevitable as opposed to politics is hard, and it is precarious and precisely it’s precarious emotionally to try to transform something, but that sense of there not being a there there is not a call to nihilism, it’s a call to embracing the openness of contingency.

Will Beaman  24:18

Yeah, and the last thing before Maxx continues reading this quote it’s, as Dan Berger noted on a previous episode, we have a tendency to make not finishing the readings into like a bit that we all perform. But the last comment before

Naty Smith  24:34

Mostly my fault.

Will Beaman  24:36

I mean, I’m doing it right now, but the idea but there there, this is a double entendre, right? This is also like, imagine comforting a child, right? Like “there there.” Like we’re all looking for our there there.

Naty Smith  24:53

That’s a good point. I never thought of that before with that.

Maxx Seijo  24:55

And so Scott making these arguments on the terms of like sensory experience is suggesting that this touching, this grounding, “it furnishes a nervous sensoria with disastrously insufficient forms of collective care,” right? So lacking collective care, “the contingent immediate ground and touch and rhythm and in this sort of assuring affect of the repeated touch, of the repeated knock is what one might call a symptom of carelessness, right? This need to ground and reduce. We could think about looking for the base looking for the base, where’s the real where’s the real? Where am I grounded? Right? And so, he says “in the care symptoms, sensations of loss incoherence and disintegration index environmental precarity at the threshold of worldly disclosure.” So I want to take a second to elaborate on what this means.

Naty Smith  25:57

Scott is a master of a high end language.

Maxx Seijo  26:00

He absolutely is. It’s total superstructure.

Will Beaman  26:04

These aren’t even real words.

Naty Smith  26:07

A disintegration index? Like I thought I was stuck on intimate indexicality and like the various wink wink implications, and now of my index is disintegrating.

Maxx Seijo  26:17

All indexes disintegrate. That’s the point.

Naty Smith  26:19

Oh, so frustrating.

Will Beaman  26:21

This really ruffles my index.

Maxx Seijo  26:25

I think we can think about this, and you know, the environmental precarity at the threshold of worldly disclosure. Environmental precarity is precarity amidst a neoliberal hellscape of evacuated care, right? That’s pretty clear. And so then at the threshold of worldly disclosure, can mean multiple things. And I think in one instance, it’s the touche is the threshold of your disclosure of yourself, right? And so the touch grounds the self in a world where the money cradle has been evacuated, right? It’s not present. But also we could think about thresholds here, when we’re thinking at the register of touch, we can’t have distance, right? Touch is predicated on the reduction of distance, and so we now have thresholds as as a sort of sensory matter. And so we can start to think about the borders of existence. And the way touching at the borders is implicated in the care symptom of this sense of loss. And so we’re gonna play more with that later when we think about borders and nations

Naty Smith  27:38

And immigration, and…

Maxx Seijo  27:39

And immigration. Exactly. And so what Scott says is symptoms of this sort of function as attempts at self care, and as opaque messages to the other. And so, this touching is the opaque message to the other which then grounds the self.

Naty Smith  28:02

The real encounter. The handshake. The Trump, I can smell your sweat as we shake hands, right?

Maxx Seijo  28:08

I pick up the thing. I dig the commodity out of the ground, right? There’s this encounter, there’s this touching there’s this…

Naty Smith  28:15

Then I get it from a Argentine. I’m having some Malbec right now, and living in Chile, it’s like, oh, this is from Argentina. Like,

Maxx Seijo  28:24

That’s self care, because you’re touching the other.

Naty Smith  28:26

That’s true. It’s a cute accent, the Buenos Aires accent. Not you bitch.

Maxx Seijo  28:38

And so, you know, in this sort of singular encounter relation of touching is then positive for Scott against relations of macro interdependence and the political economic process that we talked about on this show constantly, right? This relationship of structural provisioning that enables our existence as nodes that aren’t the totality of the production process.

Naty Smith  29:06

And interestingly, sorry, just to jump in, but the Pope, I think, if you don’t look deeply you would think well, yeah, he totally looks at the macro, global scale. He talks about the UN constantly, and that is one of his, like, decent things. But like, he’s very stuck in this dialectical movement of global to local, particular to universal. And he very much does kind of have the sense of the UN or even of regional blocs of oppressed countries that what you see more often coming from him is an obsession with the particular identity of the national and he makes gestures to encounter into the global and the macro, but it never escapes from this sense of that need for the touching, original, particular.

Maxx Seijo  29:54

Right. And so specifically to this point, I’m going to jump to another moment in Scott where he’s actually talking about Franciscans. But he’s talking about Franciscans on precisely these terms that we’ve just discussed with the touching. So he says “this thinning of experience”, and he means thinning, as in, contracting to the touch, not thinking with macro structure.

Naty Smith  30:14

Not about the hair.

Maxx Seijo  30:16

Right, not about the hair.

Will Beaman  30:17

This is the threshold of what the world can disclose to you is what you can touch. That’s what I know is real.

Maxx Seijo  30:23

Exactly. So this “thinning of experience promises a stronger and more abundant ground for being that lies beyond the excesses of papal mediation and the anxieties of political economy.” Right? And so this is where we’re starting…

Naty Smith  30:40

Papal mediation…

Will Beaman  30:41

Papal Mediation is like the globalist, you know…

Maxx Seijo  30:47

Transnational capital, right? I mean.

Will Beaman  30:50

Right, yeah, transnational, woke capital conspiracy cabal. You know.

Maxx Seijo  30:55


Will Beaman  30:55

It’s like, in the early modern period, there’s this sense that, you know, the pope is off over there. And he’s, you know, controlling everything, and we’ve lost our local sovereignty, because, you know, because of the Pope. And then the Reformation happens kind of as a sort of a right wing populist reaction to what is something more like, and dare I say, neoliberal, Holy Roman Empire, that is lost all credibility.

Naty Smith  31:21

And to be super clear, we’re not some sort of papal revisionists or defenders. I mean, it’s interesting you can really see in this encyclical some of the particular history that you can see through some of the book with the Crusades and with like, East-West encounters. He’s constantly like, talking about this Imam that he knows, and they’ve like worked together to like synthesize the scientific West and the spiritual east, you know? But there is like, I lost my train of thought a little bit, but my point is that it can be true that there’s a conspiracy and that also we’re not defending something.

Maxx Seijo  32:00

Yeah, we kind of hate all Popes, I would say.

Naty Smith  32:02

Yeah, Yeah.

Will Beaman  32:02

We hate them in different ways, right? Like we can criticize Trump and Joe Biden, right?

Maxx Seijo  32:08

I don’t know about that. That’s a step too far.

Naty Smith  32:10

Joe is pretty cute. I mean, you’re pushing me.

Maxx Seijo  32:17

But, but right, so the idea of that the abundant ground like in this sense of touching and grasping and contracting to the touch, as a sort of epistemology of knowledge, right of what I can touch is meant to lie beyond the excesses of this papal mediation, ie globalism, and then the anxieties of political economy which are associated with that. So then I’m going to continue right. So Scott says, “But in truth, the incessant phenomenological diminishment not only hardens the sensorium against disintegrating effects, but also deepens the poisonous contraction of metaphysics that arises from” you know, thinking of the early modern period “from the era’s impoverishment of worldly existence.” And there, we can start to see poverty being posited here, as well as, again, this sense of disintegration. So, if the care problem, right, if the care symptom, reckons with being abandoned, through needing to touch the other, then what Scott is arguing is that the touching only reinforces the disintegrating effects of a sort of metaphysical structure that can’t allow for a sort of action that’s macro, right? A sort of political, economic, macro provisioning coordination or, you know, a cradling, a caring that is collective. And so this gets hardened. And I mean, that’s for Scott, what the sort of modern, again, not to dilute any sense of the difference that’s associated, but that this carelessness in this modern problem of touching and force and how we can reconcile the dialectics of the particular and the universal. This is what plays out, and Pope Francis, importantly, is participating in this problem. And so I think we’ve pretty much set up finally, where we can really read from Pope Francis, in a way that really takes on precisely what this problematic, lays bare, and then we’ll can get into all of our critiques of him. Pope Francis writes, “At a time when everything seems to disintegrate and lose consistency. It is good for us to appeal to the solidarity born of the consciousness that we are responsible for the fragility of others, as we strive to build a common future. Solidarity finds concrete expression in service which can take a variety of forms in an effort to care for others. And service, in great part means caring for vulnerability. For the vulnerable members of our families, our society, and our people.” Note the order there. “In offering such service, individuals learn to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power before the concrete gaze of those who are most vulnerable.”

Naty Smith  35:27

I don’t like when the concrete…yeah.

Will Beaman  35:29

Yeah, I hate when they look at me.

Maxx Seijo  35:33

So and this is, you know, we get into some of the real juicy touching bits, right? “Service always looks to their faces, touches their flesh, senses their closeness, and even in some cases, suffers that closeness, and tries to help them. Service is never ideological.”

Naty Smith  35:53


Maxx Seijo  35:54

“For we do not serve ideas. We serve people.”

Will Beaman  35:58

Yeah, which is also a rejected McDonald’s slogan.

Maxx Seijo  36:07

So we might say that this is on the nose, and like we’ve we’ve chopped off the nose and like touched it and juggled it.

Will Beaman  36:15

We’re passing it. Yeah, I’m gonna pass the nose to Naty.

Naty Smith  36:19

Well, it’s interesting because I’ve been exploring a bit of the some of the ideas of Martha Fineman legal theory talks about vulnerability and an attempt and Martha McCluskey tries to actually frame this in an MMT light, sort of. Instead of seeing things from this sort of place of individual Lockean wills that are all equal, it’s trying to say, okay, well, how is actually vulnerability at a macro scale systematically baked in. But it’s interesting the ways in which he really sort of highlights the ways this is sometimes one critique could be sometimes still thought, especially in Francis, in a kind of individuality. I mean, Maxx pointed out how the order with which says “vulnerable members of our families, society, people”, and it’s like, there’s always the sense again, like we brought up of encounter before that you have a unified family that’s one thing. That you have a unified people, that’s one thing, and that all these one things have their essence, which is their fucking essence, and they come into cod

Maxx Seijo  37:26

You can touch it.

Naty Smith  37:26

Yeah. And they come into contact, and they touch. And that that can’t be coordinated beyond the level of encounter. It can’t be that like, there’s a, I don’t know if we like the word web, but there’s like this complicated form that entails in different ways bringing things in. No, it’s like each thing, you have to go, you have to suffer with them, you have to wash their feet on the bus, you know, and that that’s, it’s not surprising that that might have a sort of self serving element, you know, where the Pope’s having photographers come, because like, everybody knows that washing people’s feet on buses is not the global solution. And he’s like washing feet on buses, but also the UN like to cover his bases, you know, but there’s still a sense of…

Will Beaman  38:13

Micro and macro.  And that it’s a sacrifice. That you’re losing something.

Naty Smith  38:14

Yeah. And it’s just, it’s like this sense of this meeting this concrete gaze in the sense that also the sense that service is apolitical. That’s like a super liberal point of view, like, “oh, charities and NGOs just arise in nature, and like, we just all try to donate our money for the common good. That’s not ideological at all or…”  Yeah. Right.

Maxx Seijo  38:42

You have to tax yourself to touch. Right?

Will Beaman  38:45

Yeah. And so there’s, there’s the sense of, you know, like, it’s the unpleasant thing that, you know, sometimes you have to just deal with the concrete gaze of the poor, while you, you know, wash their feet once a week.

Maxx Seijo  38:57

And then the reason why for him it’s apolitical is because it’s literally objective. It’s an object, right? There’s nothing for him that’s political about that. Because for Pope Francis and his metaphysical tradition that he’s drawing on, touching is the only way you actually know something right? It’s the only epistemological ground you can have for existence.

Naty Smith  39:18

That must explain why he claimed that he didn’t know about all the disappearances during the dirty war until…First he said till 20 years later, and then he revised that to “No, I only found out at the 1985 trials.”

Maxx Seijo  39:35

That’s because he didn’t touch the bodies.

Naty Smith  39:39

The same way he dismissed in Chile, and this is like in the last five years where he’s dismissed victims of like, right wing, Pinochet, Pinochetista, like priests of sexual abuse, and he says, “Well, I need evidence.” Because somebody’s testimony is not evidence. He had to be there.

Will Beaman  39:56

Yeah, my fingerprints aren’t on those people. So…

Maxx Seijo  40:00

Right. And just to reiterate too, because I think it’s important as we move forward, right? For us in our vision, how we correct for this reductive base, touching and grasping in this sort of assuring rhythmatic-like grounding is, of course, through the money as a sort of what Scott calls a boundless public utility, right? Because it’s boundless, because it’s abstract, because abstraction is the locus of caretaking at a macro level of our political economic ongoing…

Will Beaman  40:32

It’s conditioning all of the touching.

Maxx Seijo  40:34

Exactly. It precedes, right? It’s an a priori in the fancy speak.

Naty Smith  40:40

That means before.

Maxx Seijo  40:45

So there’s this sense of mediation, right? The mediation of our world and of the way we are continuing to reproduce it and transform it at various nodes of political and economic agency, as well as administrative agency and legal agency and all of these, all of these points, right? We could push you back to all of our Fred Lee talk from other episodes. But the reason why we say this is because it’s the causal locus of existence is not touch, right? That’s not the causal locus. Because if it was just immediate, contracted encounters, we could not coordinate, it would not be possible.

Naty Smith  41:24

And that’s where you can reclaim. I mean, that’s where the vulnerability…that’s why it’s so crucial McCluskey’s use of Fineman, because that’s precisely the point with MMT is that you’re not falsely saying that, like some part of society has to, not that taxes are bad, but because of democracy, but that in order to provision, you can provision publicly beyond like taking from somebody else to provision for the vulnerable.

Maxx Seijo  41:50

And touching is importantly, zero sum, right? You have to go, you know, whether it’s relationally, you know, in that sense, or you have to go literally grab the money scramble across town, right, or scramble from New York down to Washington, and then deposit it at the Treasury. And then you can then send out a bunch of checks, right, and they hit people’s accounts. We can even think of the ways our metaphors are operating here, too. But importantly, right, what MMT shows and then the Left MMT, Left Humanities project shows is not just that taxes don’t fund spending, but zero-sum relations of contiguity

Will Beaman  42:30

Of touching.

Maxx Seijo  42:31

Of touching…aren’t the causal mechanism by which reproduction is afforded. And so now, it might be useful to get into the way he thinks about the nation-state.

Naty Smith  42:43

He loves it. Loves it.

Will Beaman  42:45

Really quickly. First, I think that there’s something really interesting here, and this will tie into the nation-state because as we see, the way that he thinks about the nation-state is sort of a rounded-up version of how the ideal human should behave. The ideal collective should behave that way too. And this sort of selfish in order to then be selfless, right? And

Maxx Seijo  43:05

Like a taxpayer!

Will Beaman  43:06

Yeah, right. There is something like rhythmic and self assuring, like in the Franciscan tradition, I think about visiting the poor, right? Because in a certain sense, what you’re visiting, right, you’re having encounters with what it would be like, if you gave up money, right? If you gave up your entanglements with forms of abstraction, and just kind of, you know, we’re just roughing it with the indigenous and with the poor. And you can think about missionary work, right? Which ties in directly to the early modern nation-state.

Naty Smith  43:43

And what is this is maybe something we don’t always lay out, but what is the use of money? Why, outside of like, in negative relief of the Franciscans? What is it that people don’t understand that money when organized a certain way can do?

Will Beaman  43:57

Well, so what I would say is that, like, fundamentally, if you think that touch and immediacy is always prior to abstraction, then money cannot be a properly abstract potential for everybody to be cared for. Because in order for money to exist, there has to be a cabal of people controlling it, right? Like it had to have come from somewhere. It has to come from a nation state or a capitalist class or any of these things. And then also, you know, you have this ontology of everything as bounded and limited and finite, because abstraction has just been kind of banished, and it’s unthinkable. So they also can’t imagine that money could be anything other than privational. Other than something that you’re going to run out of it and then you’re going to be sorry that you were so focused on it. We can’t think about money from any perspective other than this kind of pre-abstract self fumbling for reassurance from the rest of the world and for, you know, when you’re just this kind of disembodied subject, right? Or you’re a household, right? An individual, right? Who then gets thrown into a social contract. You’re thinking from the perspective of an individual, and if you’re an individual, right, this is the MMT 101 stuff, right? A currency user, it’s finite for you. A currency issuer, it’s not finite. But I think the twist that we want to add onto that is that currency issuance is actually much more of an ongoing negotiation across many overlapping institutions that, you know, we have the unique proposal that people can look into with universities issuing their own forms of credit and forcing from the “outside” of the monetary issuing, like fiscal institutions. Forcing some recognition of monetary answerability, for all of us, and all of our different swap lines.

Maxx Seijo  46:05

“You get a swap line, you get a swap line.” But yeah, and also, I think, importantly, just as a simple like, from a simple analytical perspective, if an encounter with a thing and the touching of it precedes money, then the horizon of possible futures, if you’re trying to get rid of money, will always come back to that encounter. Because it’s the Eden that then leads to heaven. Right. And so it’s that movement. And so what we want to do is submerge in a sort of ongoing problem, as Will said. That takes the circle and doesn’t see primal unity on one side and then fallenness, and then primal unity at the end, right? But the whole premise here being that of touching as the ground of like, I can’t touch stimulus packages into being, right? It requires an infrastructure that is mediated abstractly. And so, you know, we’re living the ongoing not touching, and that’s the relation.

Naty Smith  47:19

Is that like the internet?

Maxx Seijo  47:21

Yeah, it’s like you right now in your isolation.

Naty Smith  47:26

Ugghhh because right now I feel like, I’m recording with you guys on the internet, but it feels like…

Maxx Seijo  47:32

I’m not touching the flesh of your face.

Naty Smith  47:35

No, like, what do I smell? Like? You don’t know.

Maxx Seijo  47:37

I don’t know. That’s right.

Naty Smith  47:39

So what do you know, do you know?

Maxx Seijo  47:41


Will Beaman  47:42

I know, but I’m not gonna say.

Maxx Seijo  47:46

So I think it’s now important to get into what, you know, I think I put down in my notes on Naty’s notes, because now we’re getting meta. The contradiction between the global and the national that Pope Francis articulates. And he wants to make sure that like when he’s talking about this sort of being open to the stranger or being open to the other, or like being open to a migrant coming, and like asking and you going and touching them, and seeing how you feel about it.

Will Beaman  48:18

As you do. Yeah.

Naty Smith  48:21

You can learn from their local flavor.

Will Beaman  48:24

Uh huh. What’s so funny is what he’s really describing is just like customs at the airport.

Maxx Seijo  48:29

Yep. Not really, what he’s describing is pat downs. But priests at the airport.

Will Beaman  48:35


Maxx Seijo  48:35

Which gets us into some fuzzy territory.

Naty Smith  48:40

It’s not fuzzy which side he’s on.

Maxx Seijo  48:42


Naty Smith  48:43

He’s on the side of the molesters.

Maxx Seijo  48:46

We can say it we can be that provocative.

Naty Smith  48:47

Yeah. The Pinochetista molesters? He’s like “I need some more evidence.”

Maxx Seijo  48:53

I haven’t touched those particular instances.

Naty Smith  48:57

Not sure. 12 out of 50 Chilean bishops came to this ceremony of a Pinochetista molester priest that I am promoting, but I need more evidence.

Will Beaman  49:09

Well, I’ve never touched that boy. Ergo, he has never touched that boy.

Naty Smith  49:13

Yeah, exactly. How could we know anything? I haven’t even touched him.

Will Beaman  49:19

Any way. So contradiction between the global and national, what reading do you want to kick em off with?

Maxx Seijo  49:24

Yes. So in 139, he wants to make sure that when he’s talking about like his openness to migrants that it’s not on the terms of like a utilitarian approach. Like he’s not Matt Yglesias who is like, “immigrations is great for the economy. We need a billion Americans.” So the pope wants to make sure that everyone knows he doesn’t have a substack. Though, you know, maybe one day.

Naty Smith  49:52

Well, that sounds like that’s in the pipes.

Maxx Seijo  49:56

Yeah. If he ever gets canceled…

Will Beaman  49:58

Yeah. The only options are fluffy papal mediation and grounding yourself in a substack.

Maxx Seijo  50:06

So he wants to make sure everyone knows there’s always a sense of like it’s a gift that    he’s bestowing by patting down migrants. And so he writes, “there is always the factor of gratuitousness; the ability to do something simply because they are good in themselves. Without concern for personal gain, or Recompense. Gratuitousness makes it possible for us to welcome the stranger, even though this brings us no immediate tangible benefit. And so, so I can’t like…

Naty Smith  50:37

Sounds like a great guy.

Will Beaman  50:38

Yeah, you’re really making me feel welcome, Francis, thank you. Yeah.

Naty Smith  50:42

You have nothing.

Will Beaman  50:44

You don’t even mind that I’m a parasite. That’s so nice of you.

Naty Smith  50:47

You have nothing to offer, which is why I’m being so kind to let you come on in.

Maxx Seijo  50:52

And so we can continue from the next paragraph, “Life without fraternal gratuitousness becomes a form of frenetic commerce, in which we are constantly weighing up what we give and what we get back in return. God, on the other hand, gives a freely to the point of helping even those who are unfaithful. He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good.”

Naty Smith  51:16

This is like when Liz Bruenig let’s Matt Bruenig have an extra hour on the computer.

Maxx Seijo  51:24

So importantly here…

Will Beaman  51:26

Even though it has never helped her to do that.

Naty Smith  51:30


Maxx Seijo  51:31

And she knows that she knows that. So the migrants are evil, they’re unfaithful. But God gives us freely. And so while we have to sacrifice here and now and touch these people who are coming over our borders, because God is giving us and so we sacrifice for God. That’s why we’re taxpayers.

Naty Smith  51:58

And he’s very into this idea of like, you know, there’s this constant dialectics within but you know, I mentioned before, but yeah, he has good policies about giving migrants full citizenship, but even says at one point, like, it is not ideal, like, the best would be for us to not have to migrate, like for you to be able to kiss the blood and soil of your lands.

Will Beaman  52:21


Naty Smith  52:22

When your original identity, that is a real thing.

Maxx Seijo  52:26

Look, I mean, but we got to blame the Medicis for that. Going back, you know, so what he writes is, “all of us are able to give without expecting anything in return. To do good to others without demanding they treat us well in return.” And so Mexican migrants might debase our blood and soil, but we can’t expect them to treat us well. But we have to treat them well in return. It reminds me exactly of the Liz Breunig reading we did in the last episode, right? Look, I forgive you Black Lives Matter. Because I forgive everyone.

Naty Smith  53:04

Yeah, well, and he does say like, you know, the indigenous people do have their own culture and different ideas of progress. But like, also, mixing has been good in many ways.

Maxx Seijo  53:14

Thanks, Pope!

Will Beaman  53:15

I mean, I think that, you know, to kind of put a finer point on this, I think we’re starting to tease out how built into the premises is like, it’s not in your self interest to be kind to the other, right? But you should do it anyway. And I think a really good example of where that led to in the past is with the original Francis of Assisi, right? Who certainly throughout his lifetime did nothing but you know, like, yeah, maybe was sort of fetishizing the poor a little bit in kind of a weird way, and kind of flattened them into being like, I’m going to visit the animals today, then I’m going to visit the poor on Wednesday, you know. 

Maxx Seijo  53:59

To be fair, he thought he himself was a horse. He saw himself as a horse a little bit eating grain.

Will Beaman  54:04

Yeah. A horse on Wednesday, a worm on Thursday. Yeah. And that’s Francis and the first generation of his followers, right? But then Franciscan metaphysics are then the basis of what a lot of the early modern, late medieval, early modern European jurists are drawing on when they are first coming up with what will become the social contract in the nation-state. Right? And all of these things that are from a surface level reading are like, Oh, this is the exact opposite of Franciscan-ism. But that’s kind of the point, right? Is that he set it up to say, gravity will lead you towards acting in your own self interest, but you have a moral obligation to resist and be selfless. Eventually, people are going to come along and say, well, that’s stupid. We should just act in our self interest because I have family and I have a country and I have all these people who are counting on me, and I don’t even know a stranger.

Maxx Seijo  55:05

Yeah, it’s built to dialectically fail.

Will Beaman  55:08


Naty Smith  55:08

It’s like how Ian said last episode that Matt Bruenig, just like kind of like, has all these implications to eugenics, and then like one paragraph is supposed to suffice that’s basically like, “but don’t do that.”

Maxx Seijo  55:19


Will Beaman  55:19

Right. So it’s this kind of weird, historic irony where like, he’s saying, “No, I’m saying don’t be selfish. I’m saying that you should selflessly help the other.” But in doing so, right? He’s saying that you’re actually like losing something tangible, by visiting the poor, but this is why you should do it.

Naty Smith  55:35

You’re giving freely. There’s no blackmail in the Catholic Church giving freely.

Maxx Seijo  55:51

And so, if this wasn’t clear enough, I’m just going to keep reading from the next paragraph. In the encyclical where he writes, “Just as there can be no dialogue with others without a sense of our own identity, so there can be no openness between peoples except on the basis of love for one’s own land, one’s own people, one’s own cultural roots.”

Naty Smith  56:13

Bam, love that. So good.

Will Beaman  56:15

One’s own blood, one’s own soil.

Naty Smith  56:19

Some of the fascist countries work together. You know, you had Germany with Italy with Japan, you know.

Will Beaman  56:27

Yeah. Remember, when Hitler visited Mussolini?

Maxx Seijo  56:30

Like a multi headed snake? “I cannot truly encounter another unless I stand on firm foundations. For it is on the basis of these that I can accept the gift the other brings and in turn offer an authentic gift of my own. I can welcome others who are different and value the unique contribution they have to make.” Just a quick note for the Deleuze fans, notice the univocal difference right there in that sentence. “I can welcome others who are different and value that a unique contribution they have to make.”

Naty Smith  57:04

That’s like Regina George, just a line. I didn’t just feel her in Mean Girls being like, “that’s a really unique contribution you have to make.”

Will Beaman  57:14

Yeah, there’s a sense, right? Like they can visit, but they shouldn’t really stay. Or maybe they should stay right now. But we should be aiming towards the system where we’re all with our own kind visiting each other.

Maxx Seijo  57:27

Also with univocal difference, they are univocally different than I.

Will Beaman  57:30


Maxx Seijo  57:30

Right, we have no commonalities. There’s no analogies between us. Right?

Naty Smith  57:35

That’s how you make really nicely seasoned food.

Maxx Seijo  57:37

Yeah, that’s right. And so “only if I am firmly rooted in my own people and culture can that welcoming occur” And so I’m just going to keep going. “Everyone loves and cares for his or her native land and village just as they love and care for their home and are personally responsible for its upkeep.” Heimat. You know, famous.

Will Beaman  57:59

Yeah, I’m personally responsible.

Maxx Seijo  58:01

That’s right.

Will Beaman  58:01

No one’s gonna help you.

Maxx Seijo  58:03

That’s right.

Naty Smith  58:03

Paging Jordan Peterson.

Will Beaman  58:06

Yeah, I mean, you know, maybe if you help with the Pope’s book sales, then someone will visit you and help you a few years from now but uh, you know, don’t count on it.

Maxx Seijo  58:15

And, you know, what this reminds me of is I’m gonna keep right reading, and it’s reminds me, weirdly, of Judith Butler’s work on Hegel and ethics, but we’ll get there more, but…

Naty Smith  58:24

So many things are constantly reminding me of that.

Maxx Seijo  58:30

Pope Francis writes, “the common good likewise requires that we protect and love our native land. Otherwise, the consequences of a disaster in one country will end up affecting the entire planet. All this brings out the positive meaning of the right to property. I care for and cultivate something that I possess in such a way that I can contribute to the good of all.” So, here we have, you know, the Franciscan invention of private property, right? The sense of possession of a thing as the ground of private property which sits before relations of legal endowment, and legal naming of that which you have property over. And this is again, this is antithetical to a sort of legal history that thinks about the way property becomes and is relational rather than proximate about touching a thing.

Naty Smith  59:25

Interdependence comes first.

Maxx Seijo  59:27

Right and so, but what we have here is like quite clearly an articulation of: unless I know who I am absolutely different from you. Know my roots, know my land, have my home that I am personally self-subsistent for as a Lockean homo economicus.

Naty Smith  59:46

Who cleans my room.

Maxx Seijo  59:48

I cannot be open to someone that is absolutely other to me. But what he’s saying is as Will suggested, it’s like, “okay, yes. The world is kind of fascist. But what you should do is just say no to fascism.”

Will Beaman  1:00:05

Yeah, just resist it for as long as you can.

Maxx Seijo  1:00:07

Just say no to fascism, just like saying no to sucking those dicks. Men, you know, women too. And just say no to drugs as well, because, you know, we all heard that as a kid. But the idea is like, you set up the world in which fascism makes sense to then just say, “not for me.” And then you’re surprised when, on the other hand, it’s like as we just said, with the early Franciscans, it’s dialectically meant to fail, right? Its contradiction is then: I have my native land, but I don’t want to accept the other. But the built in premise that there’s an other and then there’s me.

Naty Smith  1:00:15

And the Pope is pretty Argentine nationalist.

Maxx Seijo  1:00:35

Well, of course. Exactly.

Naty Smith  1:00:44

I mean, he likes to kiss the fatherland and, you know, I know that we’re anti-Thatcher, but the Malvinas or Falklands War was like the last gasp of the dictatorship. I mean, and he’s all about that shit.

Maxx Seijo  1:01:17

Yeah, I mean, well, right. That’s the point.

Naty Smith  1:01:18

Yeah, yeah.

Maxx Seijo  1:01:19

He’s both calling for openness to the other while participating in the ongoing historical, you know, pseudo-fascism, post-fascisms that were around in his oeuvre, during his career.

Naty Smith  1:01:35


Will Beaman  1:01:36

Yeah. And the point also is, like, where, because that’s not possible, right? Because we’re ontologically entangled with each other, it will always be possible to say, “Well, I haven’t yet secured myself, so I’m not ready to accept the other.” Right? And we’re not even talking about somebody actively choosing to do the wrong thing. The point is that the proof of when it’s okay to accept the other is impossible to reach because it is this complete nation that is absolutely, like sure of its own identity and sure of its own self, but really that’s just gonna keep contracting. Right? Like that’s a death drive.

Naty Smith  1:02:21


Will Beaman  1:02:21

That’s what fascism is.

Naty Smith  1:02:22

You’ve set the search for the there, there as prior.

Maxx Seijo  1:02:25


Naty Smith  1:02:26

So that’s going to repeat itself.

Maxx Seijo  1:02:28

Exactly. I mean, what did Scott call it, right? It’s compulsive. It has this compulsive element to it. And so once you’ve designated the other, then you have to first achieve self subsistence. Which means now we first have to kill all of the others who are here and send them out.

Naty Smith  1:02:35

So you can charitably give gifts.

Maxx Seijo  1:02:48


Naty Smith  1:02:49

Once you’re self-subsistent, you can gift the other.

Maxx Seijo  1:02:50

Exactly. So first, we kick out all the Jews, and then we can have relations with Israel, right? That’s the the logic.

Will Beaman  1:03:02

Yeah. And while he does say he does say elsewhere, “oh, we should accept migrants with open arms until we can get to a point where unnecessary migration doesn’t happen.” Right? And he actually uses the phrase “unnecessary migration”, which, you know, I’m not really sure who decides that. Except Pope Francis.

Maxx Seijo  1:03:22

Socially unnecessary migration time. And so he keep goes on. And as Naty said at the beginning, it’s so repetitive. And, “the experience of being raised in a particular place and sharing in a particular culture gives us insight into aspects of reality that others cannot so easily perceive.” And he, you know, critiques a sort of sense of the universal that is uniform, standardized, bland.

Naty Smith  1:03:51

Right. This is like when he makes like a precept before he goes into encounter talking about the indigenous versus the colonial, you know, the East versus the West. He’s like, I don’t want to say that I’m, like, gonna use a universal that’s like some dominations. Like, sure. Whatever.

Will Beaman  1:04:09

I remember what he was going to say also, it was basically like, “in the meantime, until we can get to that point where unnecessary migration is limited. We should accept them and allow them to assimilate.” Right? So there’s this sense that, well, you know, the compromises…they’re going to be subsumed by our national identity, and their kids are going to be Argentinian.

Naty Smith  1:04:33

But not too much. Because you need a rich palate. You need some seasoning on that food. You need a little flavor.

Maxx Seijo  1:04:38

I was just about to read that phrase, right? And so what he’s saying is, you know, a universal that’s bland and standardized, right, we could think about a perhaps borderlessness in his sense, right, will ultimately lead to a loss of a rich palette of shades and colors and result in utter monotony.

Naty Smith  1:04:53

Borders maintain flavor.

Maxx Seijo  1:05:06

Literally, right? So there’s this sense of color, too. I mean, the reification of race and all of these social constructions is at play here. And it’s because we have this material touch, and touch, and touch and this emphasis on the material otherness by which one’s identity comes into being, which, you know, I’m just going to say is, is Hegel’s phenomenology. That’s just, that’s the whole thing, right?

Naty Smith  1:05:37

Little bitch Hegel.

Maxx Seijo  1:05:40

So he’s saying, “there can be no false openness, born of the shallowness of those lacking insight into the genius of their native land, or harboring unresolved resentment towards their own people.” This is just kind of disgusting and blatant on its face, right?

Will Beaman  1:06:00

Don’t be a self-hating blank.

Maxx Seijo  1:06:02

Exactly. Right?

Naty Smith  1:06:04

Very Zizekian.

Maxx Seijo  1:06:05

Yeah, right. Yeah. And so this sort of openness has to be quoting here, “done without evasion or uprooting, we need to sink, root our roots deeper into the fertile soil and history of our native place, which is a gift of God. We can only work on a small scale in our own neighborhood, but with a large perspective.” And there you have precisely the political economic problematic at stake in cultivating the sense of a localized encounter with material that you touch, right?

Will Beaman  1:06:38


Maxx Seijo  1:06:38

A kinetic world of causality.

Will Beaman  1:06:41

And we importantly, right, like, just to say this: we don’t believe that we can only work at a small scale.

Maxx Seijo  1:06:48


Will Beaman  1:06:48

Right? Like the point of money and abstraction being prior is, one, everything is already interdependent, right? And what we’re doing right now is related to other things. And like far off distances and like this kind of transcendent way.

Naty Smith  1:07:08

I hate the internet. Ugh.

Will Beaman  1:07:10

The answerability of monetary coordination, it’s at an infinitely large scale, potentially.

Naty Smith  1:07:17

What, just like infinite spending?

Maxx Seijo  1:07:20

Well, I mean, we could think about COVID, right? And this leads right back to the whole second episode of this podcast, and Agamben being like “COVID is not real, because that means that we need social relations.” Right?

Naty Smith  1:07:34


Maxx Seijo  1:07:36

The virus is a classic example where touch is not the locus of causality that can actually deal with this problem. We can’t just work at the level of our neighborhood or our native land, right?

Naty Smith  1:07:50

Although I wish my mother-in-law had touched less of everything.

Maxx Seijo  1:07:55

Well, exactly. Right? We need to coordinate non-touched provisioning. I mean, that’s the whole thing, right? That’s the whole COVID process.

Will Beaman  1:08:04

A kind of a small analog of this from today, right? Is this fetishization of—I hope that we do have a lot of listeners who are members of DSA—there’s a certain kind of Twitter DSA person who says that the answer to every single complaint or issue or anything, is to simply keep your head down and go to your local DSA chapter and be a rank and file person. We can affirm that, but to contract politics around this sort of fetishized local organization without acknowledging also, DSA dues paid with dollars, right? It’s nested within public infrastructures. It’s not truly local, because being truly local is not possible.

Maxx Seijo  1:08:53

And knocking on doors, right? We could think of the rhythmic assurance of knocking on a door.

Will Beaman  1:08:59

I was wondering why you’re pantomiming knocking while I was talking.

Maxx Seijo  1:09:02

Yeah, it’s a classic example of like, you know, there are people who say, “go knock on doors, go canvass, go do these things,” right?

Will Beaman  1:09:09

Go visit the voter.

Maxx Seijo  1:09:11

Right! Well, let’s go encounter voters, go encounter people, go encounter workers where it’s like, we need to talk to people. Of course, right? We’re not negating that. But to contract causality only down to doing the activism work on the ground, right?

Naty Smith  1:09:28

Love the ground. The ground is so good.

Maxx Seijo  1:09:28

On the ground. That’s the same metaphysical contraction, right? We need all of it, right? We can’t be reductionist, and that’s a part of this podcast: superstructure, base. We want to obliterate that entire reductionism like an eliminationist method that seeks to bracket things and say “that’s not real. That’s not the real causal locus,” right? “We need to look on the factory floor where the worker hits this commodity over and over and over again. And he hits it, and it’s rhythmic, and we watch it. And then it’s all of a sudden it’s an Eisenstein film, and we’re watching the rhythm in the circle and Oh, sorry. Anyway.

Naty Smith  1:10:04

All right, you just made an Eisenstein reference. Officially jumped the shark. I’m just kidding.

Maxx Seijo  1:10:16

That’s a metaphor. It’s disgusting. And so we can only produce on the ground in our local neighborhood. We can only knock on the doors of our self-subsisting Heimat. So what does that mean? What is his political economic program? Well, everyone, if you had any doubt, he writes later on in paragraph 172, “The 21st century is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation-states.” Is that Thomas Fazi? Oh, sorry.

Naty Smith  1:10:47

We have a problem. Houston, we have a problem.

Maxx Seijo  1:10:49

Sorry. I didn’t know I was reading from another Italian, Thomas Fazi, but we can keep going. “Chiefly because the economic and financial sectors being transnational capital,” right, “tend to prevail over the political” meaning the legal, right? So Matt Karp just wrote an awful take about this in Jacobin, but there’s this sense that capital can’t be beholden by the nation state. It exists out there in the global world of circulation, and of transnational circulation. It’s an other, right, but it’s not a good other. It’s a bad other.

Will Beaman  1:11:28

No, we don’t want it to visit us.

Maxx Seijo  1:11:30

We don’t want it to visit. Stay away!

Naty Smith  1:11:32

To be clear, the idea is not that we have tax breaks to have foreign capital visit our developing country. The point is that it’s a wrong framing.

Maxx Seijo  1:11:45

Capital is not a thing.

Will Beaman  1:11:47

Yeah, that’s not what’s happening.

Naty Smith  1:11:49


Will Beaman  1:11:50

What’s happening is that public functions are being carried out through public institutions that…

Maxx Seijo  1:11:59

Through the political.

Will Beaman  1:12:00

Right. Through the political which are designed with the aesthetics of private capital.

Maxx Seijo  1:12:05


Will Beaman  1:12:05

Right. But you know, there’s no institution that’s not publicly chartered somewhere. And, not even just to reify, you know, like, the nation-state charters its own institutions or something, because politics transcends that as well. What were you going to say Maxx?

Maxx Seijo  1:12:20

So I was just gonna say, absolutely. And so where he goes with this is we have all of these atomized nation-states, which are sovereign, essentially, he hopes. We probably have to deport a bunch of people to make them other first before then we can open up our borders to them…

Naty Smith  1:12:21

Just like not write off our sovereign debt, but pay it more slowly.

Maxx Seijo  1:12:43

Pay it more slowly. Exactly. He’s Argentinian after all.

Naty Smith  1:12:47


Maxx Seijo  1:12:49

As a joke, I think we should have asked Felix Salmon to record something for this podcast about the Argentinian debt crisis.

Naty Smith  1:12:56

I don’t know who that is.

Maxx Seijo  1:12:57

That’s like a early Obama-era Bloomberg joke that no one’s gonna get, but…

Will Beaman  1:13:03

Leaving it in. Continue.

Maxx Seijo  1:13:04

Yeah. So “given this situation,” he says, “is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions.” Seems good, right?

Naty Smith  1:13:13

Right. This is supposed macro, right?

Maxx Seijo  1:13:15

Right. “With functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments and empowered to impose sanctions.”

Will Beaman  1:13:22

If you clean your room, then after school, you can do Model UN.

Maxx Seijo  1:13:26

Literally, right?

Naty Smith  1:13:27

And it’s interesting, because there are like historians, or scholars who’ve kind of looked at more lefty inflections of the history of the UN, like Adom Getachew and her book about African post-colonial movements. But I mean, it’s very clear in his writing some of the limits.

Maxx Seijo  1:13:47

Yes, and it’s importantly phrased too that this is a sacrifice. We have to sacrifice to enter into this global relation of the sovereign head that then get to argue it out in the marketplace of national ideas.

Will Beaman  1:14:00

It’s a social contract for nation-states.

Maxx Seijo  1:14:03

Yes, exactly. Right.

Will Beaman  1:14:04

Like nation states are giving up their sovereignty in order to become part of an even bigger sovereign.

Maxx Seijo  1:14:09

And it’s almost like this touching, as Scott would say, is this mimetic compulsion to reground. And we keep re-grounding. And we have to build a sort of pyramid, because gravity has to hold it up of an international institution.

Naty Smith  1:14:25

A pyramid scheme.

Maxx Seijo  1:14:26

That represents the collective will of each national, hardened, solid snake.

Will Beaman  1:14:34


Maxx Seijo  1:14:34

People. Yeah, ground, right? And all of these things. And so this leads to, I think the sort of culmination of his political economic vision, which is moving to paragraph 190: “Political charity is also expressed in a spirit of openness to everyone. Government leaders should be the first to make the sacrifices that foster encounter and see converge on at least some issues. They should be ready to listen to other points of view and make room for everyone. Through sacrifice and patience, they can help to create a beautiful polyhedral reality in which everyone has a place. Here economic negotiations do not work, something else is required. An exchange of gifts for the common good. It may seem naive and utopian, yet we cannot renounce this lofty aim.”

Naty Smith  1:15:24

I want to jump in quickly, which is like as the reader of Encyclical. This is embedded in the context of him going into forgiveness, and this is very clearly about, in many ways, his own silence, and the churches own silence, and his continued silence during the dirty war and his continuing silence regarding Catholic abuse, the massive feminist movement for abortion in Argentina, which was successful. I think that’s interesting to think in terms of political metaphors, because he’s like, “Well all the leaders…it’s a gift of all the leaders if they can sort of swallow their pride and come together and see all sides and everybody has their place.” And you know, he says, “I can’t oblige you to forgive but it would be good” you know. I don’t know if it’s like this context of convergence and sort of “if I can be sacrificial and patient. I can see that the right wing Pinochetista molester priests also have a point of view, and I don’t have to forgive them. But I could” and I think you guys can kind of articulate how that connects to political economy.

Will Beaman  1:16:38

Yeah. And connects to Liz Bruenig’s thing that we read in a previous episode.

Naty Smith  1:16:43

Yeah, but the sense of the gift and the sense of economic negot- It’s fascinating because he says economic negotiations don’t work. But it’s fascinating because he’s precisely talking about, “Well, we need to have like regional blocs. We need to have the UN.” And you know, he precisely opposed these kind of left wing Peronists during the aughts, the Kirchner’s in Argentina who were engaging in this Pink Wave project for regional associations like this left wing trade bloc, the Mercosur. And he was the head of the opposition to the Kirchner’s because he was a supporter of right wing Peronists, not left wing Peronists. But this and this is also tied up in the sense of Franciscanism, right? The sense of charity, the sense of the gift, the sense that I want to reject the economic in order to find the true economic, which is like the self-sacrificing love of a handshake.

Will Beaman  1:17:37

Foreign aid instead of loans.

Maxx Seijo  1:17:39

And I want to be a little cheeky here and do a nice analog. And because I think what this reminded me of, believe it or not, was Marx. And so I wanted to read from this because this idea of a polyhedral reality in which we don’t do economics across borders anymore. We exchange gifts. We barter, right? Is precisely how Marx describes world money in Capital Volume One. Because the the reconciliation people try and make with Marx and MMT is like: Marx describes credit money in the domestic sphere. And so that’s true. Marx does do that. Right? And that’s perfectly true. But once we leave the domestic…right? Now, we’re reifying this. What does that mean, right? Once we leave that home soil, that proximate ground that we can touch, then we go back into the world of commodity money, right? And so here we have the very beginning of Marx’s section on world money. And this is on page 240 of my Penguin version of Capital.

Naty Smith  1:17:40

Yeah. Let me open up my version.

Maxx Seijo  1:18:38

Yeah. “When money leaves the domestic sphere of circulation, it loses the local functions it has acquired there as a standard of prices, coin and small change and as a symbol of value, and falls back into its original form as precious metal in the shape of Boolean. In world trade, commodities develop their value universally. Their independent value form, thus confronts them hereto as world money.” And so there’s this sense here that barter holds, because the moment we leave the domestic sphere, which, you know, we have all this trust. We can do all sorts of credit because we’re the same. You and I, we’re the same, we look the same, we have the same, we’re already on

Will Beaman  1:19:43

Yeah, we’re already commensurable as opposed to being forced to be commensurable by global capital.

Maxx Seijo  1:19:48

Right. We’re already a people. Right.

Naty Smith  1:19:50

Alright, Angela, is that you Angela Nagle. Global capital made me believe in gay rights.

Maxx Seijo  1:19:58

And so the thickness of this people this ethnoi, as I’ve heard some call it, but on an international scale it falls apart because I am univocally different from you, right? You migrant. You trader. And so what do we have to rely on? Right? Okay, because we need a material ground. What is that ground for Marx? It’s the commodity again. We go back to the commodity theory of money. The melted silver, right? The value form as evoked in the universally commensurable commodity that is money, gold, silver, right? And so this is why we argue that MMT and Marx, perhaps on one side, could be imagined if you believe ardently in monetary sovereignty as a sort of commensurable, to be funny…

Naty Smith  1:20:28

The melted silver. Because also most people when…In my opinion, is that when most people like say Marxist and get defensive Marxists they just mean like economic justice.

Maxx Seijo  1:21:04

Well, right. And we affirm, and there are components of the Marxist tradition that we affirm. Absolutely.

Naty Smith  1:21:09

But I’m just saying that’s why I think people get so defensive.

Maxx Seijo  1:21:12

Yes, I agree.

Naty Smith  1:21:12

They don’t necessarily mean all these details.

Maxx Seijo  1:21:16

Marx is their thing.

Naty Smith  1:21:17

Oh, yeah. It’s like their way of saying economic justice against economic injustice. You know?

Maxx Seijo  1:21:23

Yeah, it’s a reassuring mechanism that we have on the left.

Will Beaman  1:21:28

There’s a there, there. Right?

Maxx Seijo  1:21:29

There’s a there, there.

Naty Smith  1:21:29

Yeah, and so if you go against it, you’re going against justice.

Maxx Seijo  1:21:35

Right. But here we see the analog by which Marx and Pope Francis have a similar view of the domestic as it’s coming into the relationship with the global world, right? Of transnational capital. And this is a huge problem, because it reifies what the domestic is: a sense of trust in relation as a people as proximate. Right? And this is why we say Marx relies on a barter, because he does at the global scale, right? It’s not just his phenomenology.

Naty Smith  1:22:09

He’s an Hegalian theorist of encounter.

Maxx Seijo  1:22:11


Will Beaman  1:22:12

I think that there’s something really interesting here in the way that going back to our “the virus is the virus” episode where we kind of dug into the “nature is healing” meme. This idea of nature, healing, right? That happens through people on the outskirt of society. Instead of bartering with the other, selflessly giving gifts to the other. Right? But it’s still this figure of an encounter, right? And of standing in what is this kind of void, where you can either establish economic relations, or you can give to charity.

Naty Smith  1:22:56

Charity is just the ethical version of establishing economic relations.

Will Beaman  1:23:02

Right! If you’re a good person, instead of exchanging where you get something in return, you just give. But the exchange where you get something in return, for Marx, ends up on the outskirts of civilization and on the outskirts of your immediate homogenous unit where you all trust each other. On the outskirts of that, you barter, and then that ends up…

Maxx Seijo  1:23:30

That starts capitalism.

Will Beaman  1:23:31

Yep, fast forward, the dialectic.

Maxx Seijo  1:23:33

It’s an encounter.

Will Beaman  1:23:34

Right? And capitalism. It spreads, right? Geographically, through touching, right.

Maxx Seijo  1:23:39


Will Beaman  1:23:40

Through exchanges, in the same way that this healing is supposed to spread.

Maxx Seijo  1:23:45

And I want to also, because I think it’s so honestly kind of haunting the way that this Encyclical comes out during COVID. Right? And famously like, some of the important and crucial historical periods that just precede the early modern one, which we can then locate as the sort of rise of this. This Franciscan tradition is preceded by the Black Death. And so there’s this violent sense of…

Naty Smith  1:24:14

But Maxx, Maxx, the Black Death was good for labor unions.

Maxx Seijo  1:24:19

It raised a raise the cost of labor, actually.

Will Beaman  1:24:22

A huge opportunity for ending capitalism.

Maxx Seijo  1:24:25

They squandered. Yeah, but there’s this sense of this violent…

Naty Smith  1:24:28

But we can learn from…

Maxx Seijo  1:24:30

Right. There’s this shock of interdependence, right? That confronts us. And, we have to say, it’s not necessarily something we love. Like we all feel the stress and anxiety associated when we all have our mechanism.

Naty Smith  1:24:44

You’ve heard me with Dasha…Like, I don’t love my neighbor, except one of them.

Maxx Seijo  1:24:50

But it’s hard. Dependence is hard. Solving the problem of COVID at macro scale is hard and complicated. It is really hard. But you can’t avoid the macro provisioning pressure.

Naty Smith  1:25:04

It’s not as hard as Agamben made it, though.

Maxx Seijo  1:25:07

Well, no, of course not. It’s not hard in the sense of…

Will Beaman  1:25:12

In the sense of a sacrifice, right?

Maxx Seijo  1:25:14

Exactly. It’s not a sacrifice.

Naty Smith  1:25:16

Yeah. As if those deaths were a gift.

Maxx Seijo  1:25:20


Naty Smith  1:25:20

A charity gift? Because you can’t macro provision.

Maxx Seijo  1:25:24

It’s hard because existence is hard. Right? There’s pain and suffering and joy and beauty. And we all share in these different problems. And we don’t have to have suffering, right? And we don’t have to have all these things like there are problems we can solve in certain ways. Right? There are ways to deal with things like COVID.

Naty Smith  1:25:45

As you can see in the countries that like actually dealt with it.

Maxx Seijo  1:25:48

Right, and that have done a better job than the United States and Chile and others.

Naty Smith  1:25:53

Probably because of their sort of natural identity with the soil.

Maxx Seijo  1:25:58

Yeah, certainly with New Zealand.

Naty Smith  1:26:00

It’s typical of the Chinese you know, because that’s very typical of them to sort of make a virus that they handle because they planned ahead for their own…

Maxx Seijo  1:26:10

Are you Matt Bruenig? You’re Matt Bruenig.

Naty Smith  1:26:12

Or Matt Stoller.

Maxx Seijo  1:26:13

Matt Stoller, too. You’re both of them, okay.

Naty Smith  1:26:15

Yeah, but they sent it on everyone else, because they had already planned ahead. Little communist bitches. Yeah, well, they are actually pretty right wing communists.

Will Beaman  1:26:25

Unified Matt theory.

Maxx Seijo  1:26:29

So we can think about these moments… I don’t necessarily want to take on the sort of quest for historical meaning necessarily, but there is something, I listened to a Bloomberg podcast about the Black Death. Like, there’s something hovering here in the way we have interdependence crises in a way that are ongoing, and they’re always ongoing. It’s unemployment, it’s suffering in countries in the global south. It’s suffering all over. I mean, we can look to all sorts of different types of suffering. And the response that we get by Pope Francis is we need polyhedral nationalism. But the reason why we come so hard at people like Marx is because built in to his schema of capitalism, and…

Naty Smith  1:27:20

Because he’s too daddy for us.

Maxx Seijo  1:27:22

That’s right, we just can’t handle how much of a daddy he is. Is this domestic fetish, right? This domestic reification, this reification of the thickness of the proximate. And that’s his reassuring sort of rhythmic care symptom.

Naty Smith  1:27:40

Oh, and, and it’s interesting because Marx, I’m, like, honestly, not a Marx expert, but I’m sure that like, at some point, in his writing, he said shit against the national and whatever, whatever. But, like, it’s not nothing that Lenin is, like, his most famous sort of progenitor, but also like, change some things. But I mean, Lenin is like the ultimate nationalist in many ways. I mean, the sense of like,

Will Beaman  1:28:04

Yeah, completely.

Naty Smith  1:28:05

Imperialism and anti imperialism and his sense of the nation. You know, there is like a convergence between these rivals of Woodrow Wilson and Lenin, right?

Will Beaman  1:28:17

Yeah, you start with taking over the univocal will of the nation-state.

Naty Smith  1:28:22


Will Beaman  1:28:23

And univocal meaning, right, when we talk about my will…My will, my name is Will. When we talk about my will as a person and we talk about a country’s will, the word will means the same thing, right? And that’s univocal is being speaking through one voice. So words mean the same exact thing regardless of how they’re being used, and in this case, right? Everything comes down to univocal will, and univocal difference, right? Everything is different in the same…there are two sides of the same coin. Yeah.

Naty Smith  1:29:04


Maxx Seijo  1:29:05

That produces the encounter.

Naty Smith  1:29:07

 And the ability to create the UN! Sorry.

Will Beaman  1:29:10

It’s an encounter between two wills, and the two wills can encounter because their wills in the same way.

Naty Smith  1:29:17

No, totally.

Maxx Seijo  1:29:18

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing most of the meat, you know, the fleshy, touchy meat of this Encyclical.

Naty Smith  1:29:27

The bony part of the episode.

Maxx Seijo  1:29:29

We would be remiss if we didn’t talk about his cancel culture critiques, because this just feels

Naty Smith  1:29:34

Oh, god.

Maxx Seijo  1:29:35

This feels so connected to our podcast in a way that I think it just makes me laugh.

Will Beaman  1:29:40


Maxx Seijo  1:29:40

Pope Francis hates cancel culture.

Naty Smith  1:29:44

He’s like, you gotta listen like you got some, you know, like, there’s different sides. The internet is like chaos, you know? You can’t smell people’s sweat.

Maxx Seijo  1:29:54

He signed the Harper’s letter with Samuel Moyn, I think.

Naty Smith  1:29:58

Oh my god. 100%. Like if he knew enough about the internet to know that existed, he would have 100% like scientists, he would have like, written his name over everybody else’s name and meant like not in a dominant way!

Maxx Seijo  1:30:10

No, no, just an enthusiastic way. Barry Weiss would’ve even got to sign her name. But it’s important, I think, actually, we could like think about media theory for a second.

Naty Smith  1:30:23

I think it’s interesting to think through. Yeah. Like how this does connect to his theories.

Maxx Seijo  1:30:28

It totally does. And it connects to like our conversation with Matt Chrisman about media and spectacle and all of these things. So we take then the globalized world of capitalism, of spectacle of all of these exchanges that ping pong touching each other until they created

Naty Smith  1:30:43

A global Jewish internet.

Maxx Seijo  1:30:46

I mean, you’re not that wrong, basically, with what he’s saying. But he says…

Will Beaman  1:30:50

You heard it here first, folks.

Maxx Seijo  1:30:53

I can’t wait for someone to quote that only and then put it on Twitter.

Naty Smith  1:30:58

Yeah, that’s like, as I said the words. Exactly the thought process I had.

Maxx Seijo  1:31:01

Yeah, exactly. So right, he talks about “in today’s globalized world…”

Naty Smith  1:31:08


Maxx Seijo  1:31:09

Right. So we start from that premise. “The media can help us feel closer to one another, creating a sense of unity of the human family, which in turn can inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all.”

Naty Smith  1:31:22

This is what we call the opening caveat before saying the radical opposite.

Will Beaman  1:31:29

We can touch people who are far away now.

Maxx Seijo  1:31:32

Right. “We need constantly to ensure that present day forms of communication are in fact guiding us to generous encounter with others, to honest pursuit of the whole truth, to service, to closeness, to the underprivileged, and to the promotion of the common good.” Right?

Naty Smith  1:31:47

So like, the internet introduced me to Liz Bruenig.

Maxx Seijo  1:31:52

Right. “So we cannot accept the digital world designed to exploit our weaknesses and bring out the worst in people.” Right. So it’s like love thy neighbor on the internet. This is the whole introduction to that, right? But then elsewhere… Elsewhere, he critiques “digital campaigns of hatred and destruction,” and says that they are not as some would us believe, “a positive form of mutual support. But simply…”

Naty Smith  1:32:18

Sorry, I want to go back to the the digital world designed for our weakness, because this is an interesting thing, because I think some people see us as just these sort of like, “we love the internet, we’re not aware of algorithms.” And there’s a very strong strain of left critique, whether it’s with Richard Seymour, or Jody Dean or all different. I mean, honestly, like throughout left internet, there’s a very strong sense of self. And there’s truth to that, right? Like the way profit is designed, the way algorithms are designed, the way it’s designed to be addictive that it does try to like capitalize on certain things. But people’s critique of this very much gets into this sort of Franciscan rejection of money, like touching the internet itself, is like kind of debasing myself, devaluing currency of true encounter and affection of knocking on doors, right. And I think it’s hurtful to most people, even though it’s like, very common, like, self exculpating thing, I think, especially during COVID. I think it hurts most people’s feelings a little bit, and that’s why they participate in it when you talk about being “too online,” and yada, yada. Because most of us are in this modern time, like, obviously, extremely online, because that type of abstraction is how you care for each other. Like, everyone I know does not live in my apartment.

Maxx Seijo  1:33:45

Right. Which is not to negate the work of people like Cathy O’Neil. And you know, there are others too, who talk about algorithmic bias.

Naty Smith  1:33:56

Like Frank Pasquale.

Maxx Seijo  1:33:57

Yes. Exactly, exactly. Frank Pasquale. I just finished TA’ing for a digital theory course, where we basically talked about this for 10 weeks in a row, right. And so it’s important to differentiate critiques of form as relates to the form of abstraction, and how that is being constructed and designed from critiques from, of abstraction as such, right? It’s critiquing the internet as such, versus the way it’s designed.

Naty Smith  1:34:24

And that collapsibility happens really fast. Just as you guys point out, like in “the virus is the virus”. Like “capitalism is the virus” collapses really quickly into “people are the virus.”

Maxx Seijo  1:34:36

Exactly, exactly.

Naty Smith  1:34:39

Not to say we’re not anti-capitalist again, you know what I mean?

Maxx Seijo  1:34:41

Right. Well, exactly. And we’re not anti-exploitation, like we obviously are, right?

Naty Smith  1:34:45


Maxx Seijo  1:34:45

It’s the entire framing of the structure.

Naty Smith  1:34:49


Maxx Seijo  1:34:49

And so we set up this sort of thing where it’s like, “we live in a globalized world we can reach out and touch someone,” right? This is like actually quite neoliberal when it comes to media theory.

Naty Smith  1:34:58

“Reach out and touch…” This is like part of the slippage of Peronism right? Like the slippage Peronism from this sort of like workers Red-Brown movement into like, inevitably, neoliberalism…

Maxx Seijo  1:35:16

It’s like this is a 1980s AT&T ad that’s like, “Reach out and touch someone.”

Naty Smith  1:35:20


Maxx Seijo  1:35:22

By the way, I stole that from Scott Ferguson’s class. So, anyway, but…

Naty Smith  1:35:27

This is typical of the problematic of having to have a mommy.

Maxx Seijo  1:35:30

Right I know, interdependent.

Naty Smith  1:35:33

I, though, am totally different from my mother.

Will Beaman  1:35:37

I always check the breast for new jokes.

Naty Smith  1:35:43

I wish I could express to the listeners like the facial expressions I made with some of Will’s jokes. Just this face of like dread and joy, just like, ooo, that was a brutal one. Love it. Ooo.

Will Beaman  1:36:00

Yeah. Well, it’s the same face Francis makes when he’s visiting the poor.

Naty Smith  1:36:06

Oooo, I love you.

Maxx Seijo  1:36:08

So, at the same time, when Pope Francis says we need to reject transnational capital and blah, blah, blah. He also says that “these digital campaigns of hatred and destruction,” i.e. cancel culture, “are not a positive form of mutual support, but simply an association of individuals united against a perceived common enemy.”

Naty Smith  1:36:31

It’s hard to know was that me was that Will? Was that you? Like, who were the Marxists mad at?  Who were the Marx- Right, exactly. I think it was all of the above.

Will Beaman  1:36:42

And the way that I find that a lot of Marx-inflected, or Marxist critiques of nationalism, sort of fall apart is they’re like, “Well, they’re just looking for a common enemy, when they should be looking…” And then they describe looking for a common enemy, but it’s global capital.

Naty Smith  1:37:01

Right. Right.

Will Beaman  1:37:02

And they exculpate with, “well, this is just an objective materialist analysis.”

Naty Smith  1:37:06

Which is isn’t. Like the…

Will Beaman  1:37:09


Naty Smith  1:37:10

The how do we name him Alex Williams Substack, who was talking about post-Keynesianism recently and discussed how, you know, like, economically speaking, if you look at post-Keynesian theory, like there is not a unified logic to capitalism, like profit seeking does not end up reducing to one single logic. That’s just like, not empirically the case.

Maxx Seijo  1:37:32

What? It’s not determinist? No.

Naty Smith  1:37:34

He was like, shocked. He was like, nobody, like got mad at my post with a line that there’s no unified logic under capital…

Will Beaman  1:37:41

Well, it was because he sounded really depressed, so the Marxists were like, Oh, okay he’s one of us.

Naty Smith  1:37:47

Or they just didn’t read that far.

Maxx Seijo  1:37:49

Okay, so I’m gonna continue now.

Naty Smith  1:37:51


Maxx Seijo  1:37:52

So the Pope writes, you know, so basically, what we’ve just articulated, too, is this Schmittian, and like reading Schmitt from the left, right? Common enemy, right? It’s…

Naty Smith  1:38:02


Maxx Seijo  1:38:03

Pope is like, “Wait, no, no common enemy.” But then he has his own Schmittian enemy. And we could think about our interview with Daniel Bessner and his insistence on being Schmittian. And…

Naty Smith  1:38:15

While also at the same time accusing us of being Schmittian.

Maxx Seijo  1:38:18

Well, this is the exact cancel culture, right?

Naty Smith  1:38:21


Maxx Seijo  1:38:21

They just want to cancel capital? And that’s the whole thing.

Naty Smith  1:38:23


Maxx Seijo  1:38:24

So we want to cancel fascists, they want to cancel capital. So I think this gets into the connection between that sort of double movement of this bad faith critique of cancel culture, because the Pope writes…

Naty Smith  1:38:38

Pretty personal. Yeah.

Maxx Seijo  1:38:40

“Digital media can also expose people to the risk of addiction, isolation, and a gradual loss of contact with concrete reality.” And there we have the touching and alienation.

Naty Smith  1:38:50

Concrete. That was the only thing I liked about Trump was his story of association with the concrete mafia.

Maxx Seijo  1:38:57

And this one’s really gonna hurt you, Naty. So this gradual loss of contact with concrete reality ends up “blocking the development of authentic interpersonal relationships.” So these so called non-authentic interpersonal relationships, which is hilarious, because now I’m thinking of like Heideggerian inauthenticity, and like how he brackets media theory.

Naty Smith  1:39:23

Oh, so I know, Marxists who are sleeping around on apps, but also like, my friend will be making a new app…My friend who grew up lower middle class, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t want to add another new app to my phone.”

Maxx Seijo  1:39:40

That’s ironic.

Naty Smith  1:39:42

“Isn’t the real life always…isn’t meatspace always better than real encounters?” Like, Oh, is that how you meet girls in meatspace? Like really? Nobody? Not nobody. Like I’m not typically a huge online dater, but the idea that like there’s some space of meatspace in real encounters is just like fucking queer-phobic horseshit.

Maxx Seijo  1:40:04

Naty, I’ve never touched you, though.

Naty Smith  1:40:07

But like, honestly, I want to underline that

Maxx Seijo  1:40:09

Yeah, it’s so fucked up.

Naty Smith  1:40:10

Like queer-phobic horseshit.

Maxx Seijo  1:40:12


Naty Smith  1:40:13

Like oh, you’re not like in an alleyway in the Castro in 1978, so go fuck yourself. Are you serious? Like oh, and literally that in the 90s Quarracino said, the bishop who made the Pope’s career, that gays should be locked in ghettos, and that’s what some of this materialism is saying is like, don’t we miss when there was like a gayborhood that was like where you had to go to have like a physical encounter before the internet?

Maxx Seijo  1:40:39

And even further to the point, he goes on to list the things that these physical encounters lack, right? These these online encounters, sorry.

Naty Smith  1:40:47

This is my favorite part. I’m not gonna lie. This is pretty funny.

Maxx Seijo  1:40:49

“They lack the physical gestures, facial expressions, moments of silence, body language, and even the smells, the trembling of hands, the blushes and perspiration that speak to us and are part of human connection.”

Will Beaman  1:41:03

And that kind of make him cringe when it’s a poor person.

Naty Smith  1:41:06

This is just so fucking rude during COVID. So many people can’t like, apart from dating, like so many people can’t see their family for like, several years.

Maxx Seijo  1:41:14

They can’t hug their family.

Naty Smith  1:41:16

Yeah, and I live abroad and it’s like what, my family just like means nothing to me now because I can’t smell their fucking sweat?

Maxx Seijo  1:41:23

And that’s exactly what Agamben was saying when he said that Pope Francis should be out there hugging and touching the the poor, because that is what St. Francis of Assisi did. And that COVID wasn’t real, because the existence of COVID denies the validity of this metaphysical tradition. Because it foregrounds interdependence as a problem that is ongoing that we must wrestle with. It’s not a problem of one that’s created by money, right? It’s not money creates interdependence what then money has to solve. This is an ongoing problem of existence. And we don’t even have to look to political economy…

Naty Smith  1:42:01

The riddle of care.

Maxx Seijo  1:42:02

The riddle of care, it’s also biological.

Will Beaman  1:42:04

What’s really funny about this, too, is like, of all the people to be complaining about “fake relationships” because they’re not like in person. For it to be the Pope, who like people have pictures of him in their house and like, I want to see like, a bitchy Red Scare style Pope podcast where he’s like really shitty to all of his fans, because like their relationship with him is parasocial.

Maxx Seijo  1:42:34

r/Catholic That’s the subreddit for the Pope.

Naty Smith  1:42:38

That’s the next Dasha.

Maxx Seijo  1:42:40

Yeah, and right. But that’s built into the contradiction of the metaphysics because you can’t premise it on this sort of touching relation of reassurance and proximity, while also having a social order, and that’s what happened to the Franciscans.

Naty Smith  1:42:55

I did post on Twitter and someone commented something like that, like Will once said that he was like, everything’s become a kind of spectacle. And I posted, “is this the Pope or every hack, Marxist theorist?” My friends like, yeah, the Pope is a really good person to be like, criticizing spectacle, wearing a giant hat and like walking around with the staff as he broadcasts himself to a worldwide Catholic Church, Catholic, meaning universal.

Maxx Seijo  1:43:19

If I can’t smell the Pope, this shit is invalid.

Naty Smith  1:43:24

Smelling shit. One of my oldest couple evidence gathering techniques.

Maxx Seijo  1:43:29

And like what this leads is the reason why we’re so harsh on Hegel on the show is because…

Naty Smith  1:43:34

By we, we mean Maxx

Maxx Seijo  1:43:36

The Hegelian sense of contradiction is premised on a metaphysics that can’t be explained by that proximate relation, right.? That’s why you need world spirit.

Naty Smith  1:43:46

The Holy Spirit.

Maxx Seijo  1:43:47

Right. To account for all of this order, all of this existence, all of this interdependence and build this phenomenological Rube Goldberg machine that gets you to the state, which then gets you to the UN as world spirit. I mean, we we’re all there in this, and the problem is the premise. Right? The problem is the premise.

Naty Smith  1:44:06

And this premise of encounter, as this quote continues here in 43…his media theory really reveals the liberal nationalism baked into his idea of encounter because he kind of encapsulates this idea of illusion and fake news and that you’re in this like self-selected echo chamber. Which is like totally, all the shit all these supposed leftists were like dissing about centrist liberals whose entire reading of the media sphere was like, “there’s two sides. There’s the side that knows the truth. There’s the side that believes what Trump says. And like if you’re just in an echo chamber only listening to your own people, coastal liberals, and not with like the real workers in the real workers who are racist cunts in Montana, then you can’t…”

Will Beaman  1:44:54

In your local, grounded echo chamber.

Naty Smith  1:44:58

Yeah, totally.

Will Beaman  1:44:59

The problem is that we’ve all lost our based echo chamber, and now we’re in virtual echo chambers.

Maxx Seijo  1:45:08

As Richard Wolff said, “I think the assault on the Capitol really reflected the alienation of the working class.”

Comforted & Chastened : A Liz Bruenig Special

In this special episode, hosts Natalie Smith and @moltopopulare take on the austere sexual politics promulgated by cultural critic and commentator Elizabeth or “Liz” Bruenig. Mirroring the tacit zero-sum logics built into her spouse Matt Bruenig’s analyses of political economy, Liz regularly weaponizes social conservatism and conformity in cruel efforts to shore up a problematic vision of a proper social democratic populace. Natalie and Charlotte lay bare the sadistic violation of sexual freedom and identity that forms the core of Liz’s project by examining a wide range of articles on topics such as queer celibacy, the politics of pornography, and 50 Shades of Gray.

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

27 – Sunrise or DSA?

Co-hosts Will Beaman, Natalie Smith, and Maxximilian Seijo discuss recent critiques of the Sunrise Movement by influential members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) on social media and in the pages of Jacobin Magazine. Problematizing the DSAers destructive zero-sum rhetoric regarding the allegedly correct “theory of change,” the gang suggests an alternative mode for organizational provisioning, rooted in neither the sovereignty of a dues-paying membership structure nor the sovereignty of “outside” donors. It is impossible to take part in an interdependent social organization that knows no externality because everyone is responsible to everyone else, whether inside or outside a particular organization. Misunderstanding inter-organizational dependence, the Superstructure co-hosts argue, has led these writers to accuse Sunrise of “social disembeddedness,” a reactionary charge with little basis in reality. In contrast, the Superstructure team proffers a self-consciously generative and analogical model of social coordination that opens organizational activity to diversity and difference.

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

The Philosophy of Money with Graham Hubbs

Graham Hubbs speaks with Scott Ferguson and Andrés Bernal about the relationship between Modern Monetary Theory and philosophy. Associate Professor & Chair of the Department of Politics & Philosophy at the University of Idaho, Hubbs convened a conference panel on Modern Monetary Theory at the annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association in January 2021. He invited Editorial Collective members Bernal and Ferguson to join him on the panel, where they shared and discussed his original paper, titled “The Promises & Challenges of Modern Monetary Theory.” In this episode, we present the full audio of Professor Hubbs’ presentation, as well as Scott Ferguson’s response and reflections. A very engaged question and answer period follows, rounding out this special episode. 

Thank you to the American Philosophical Association for sharing this audio with us, and to the Philosophy, Politics, & Economics Society for creating space for this important panel at the meeting.

Theme music is “Swirl Song” by Nahneen Kula:

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The following was transcribed by Richard Farrell and has been lightly edited for clarity.

Andrés Bernal: I’m an adjunct professor at CUNY, Queens College in the Department of Urban Studies, and a PhD student at the New School in Public Policy. I have been a policy and political advisor for the last two years with several campaigns, which brings us to the topic of today’s panel. I had no idea when I started to join policy campaigns that one tricky little question was going to have such a huge impact on the political debates, the possibilities, and the limits, and that question has been: how are you going to pay for it? In the winter of 2017, I was working on an outsider campaign for a young woman from the Bronx named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and she asked me to find innovative and interesting perspectives on how to advance her progressive policy agenda. That was when I came across the world of Modern Monetary Theory. Today, it seems like MMT is everywhere in the discourse. Some say that it’s a paradigm changing lens. Some say it’s alchemy. And that’s what we’re going to discuss today. What we do know is that policies such as the Green New Deal, the Federal Job Guarantee, a Housing For All plan, a Green New Deal for Housing, and so many other ambitious policies are now being debated within the lens of Modern Monetary Theory. And increasingly, the group of elected officials known as “The Squad” are turning to this lens and perspective.

So we have a very, very interesting and fantastic panel today. We have Professor Graham Hubbs, who’s an associate professor and the chair of the Department of Politics and Philosophy at the University of Idaho. Professor Hubbs uses ontological methods to study topics that lie at the intersection of philosophy, politics, and economics. He’s given a number of presentations on the social ontology of money, and works on a neo-Aristotelian framework, both to analyze money’s ontology and to systematize the various positions and debates about money’s ontologies over centuries. In addition, we also have Professor Scott Ferguson, who is an associate professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida. He is co-director of the Humanities Division of the Modern Money Network. His research includes the history of aesthetics, digital animation, and visual effects in action-adventure blockbusters and video games, as well as bringing the political economic insights of Modern Monetary Theory into generative dialogues with humanities scholarship, continental philosophy, and media theory. So without further ado, we can begin with Professor Hubbs.

Graham Hubbs: Thank you, Andrés. I appreciate you being here to lead this. Scott, I’m glad that you’re joining us on this panel. A special thanks to the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Society for allowing us to have this session, and to Geoff Sayre-McCord for his leadership in the society creating an open space for dialogues on all manners of PPE topics, including MMT. So I’m going to share my screen. I have a PowerPoint presentation to run. Is everybody seeing that? Can I get a nod from Andrés or Scott? Great, okay. I call my presentation, “The Promises and Challenges of Modern Monetary Theory.” I’m going to provide an overview sketch of what I take to be the basics of MMT, and in particular, its ontological underpinnings, because that seems like the kind of topic that’s appropriate for an APA meeting. In particular, the ontology of money will be our focus here. And then I’m going to raise some challenges at the end of the presentation, which I’ll then hand off to Scott to address. So let’s get into it by saying what is Modern Monetary Theory?

For anyone who is unfamiliar with it, the book that I think will be the go-to for the years to come is Stephanie Kelton’s The Deficit Myth, which came out last summer. It presents, in readable form for the unfamiliar person, the basics of Modern Monetary Theory. Modern Monetary Theorists present their work as a descriptive project, which is to explain how money is created in modern states and what the creation of money entails for macroeconomics. Randy Wray jokingly says that “modern” means the way that money has been created for the last 4000 years, and that what is being discovered at the ontological level about money creation is true for as long as humans have been making money to organize the activities of distributing the goods that they produce. But the real focus on “modern,” here, is in a more familiar sense, which is focusing on states that issue sovereign currencies. So a sovereign currency is, roughly, a currency that is not pegged either to the currency of another state, or to a precious metal commodity. So when states went off of the gold standard over the course of the 20th century, several of them became sovereign with respect to their currencies by producing fiat currencies whose value floated on the open market. The United States and the dollar is the example that will concern us here when we’re talking about a state with a sovereign currency.

How does Modern Monetary Theory relate to progressive proposals like the Green New Deal that Andrés spoke about at the beginning? Well, a Green New Deal would involve a massive federal jobs program. And if MMT is right, funding it is not a problem. We can just “print the money.” Of course, this doesn’t actually involve printers churning out dollar bills. But the metaphor suffices for getting the idea that the state can just create it seemingly ex nihilo. And if MMT is right, the effects of this on the deficit are not necessarily a worry. That’s hence the title of Kelton’s book, The Deficit Myth. How have people reacted to MMT? Well, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which is chaired by Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue and who used to be the Governor of Indiana, has not reacted, let’s say, approvingly of the introduction of MMT into public discourse in the last couple years.

The quote here: “A fringe economic philosophy known as Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has recently gained traction and is being used to justify massive new borrowing. While MMT is a complicated theory and is in many ways a moving target, at its core, MMT argues that there is little or no cost to running a large budget deficit unless the economy is experiencing high inflation. Many iterations of that theory also suggest a new paradigm whereby the federal government essentially prints money to fund its borrowing, and politicians–rather than the Federal Reserve–are charged with preventing runaway inflation. Fortunately, mainstream economists on both the left and the right have pushed back against this misguided theory.” And the committee recommends these as the top five readings to get clear on what’s wrong with MMT. You’ll see names there on the right, including Michael Strain and James Pethokoukis. These are folks at the AEI. Then, there is Larry Summers, Kenneth Rogoff, and of course, Paul Krugman. Summers and Krugman definitely further to the left.

But wait, there’s more. And reading some of these titles will give you the sense of how people have reacted to MMT. It’s a threat, it’s upside down, it’s not new, and it’s not helpful. The emperor has no clothes. So you get this sense that MMT is simultaneously very spooky, very mystical, very magical and very, very dangerous. Now, I return to the original quote here from the committee’s report. And I want to highlight this bit, because this will be the focus of our talk: “Many iterations of the theory suggest a new paradigm whereby the federal government essentially prints new money to fund its borrowing.” They’re talking about this guy here. Modern Monetary Theory argues that this is not new, but rather simply a description of how money is created, and that what we want to do is properly understand money’s creation, and then harness that power in an effort to do things like improve the conditions of society by ending unemployment, and saving the planet through something like a Green New Deal. Opponents argue that this is, again, simultaneously crazy and dangerous. Behind all of these are philosophical assumptions and views on the ontology of money.

So for the next 10-15 minutes, I’m going to go into that aspect of the ontological underpinnings of MMT to focus our discussion. So the basic ontological question that one confronts when thinking about money is: what is money? That’s arguably the basic ontological question that one confronts when thinking about any kind of thing–what is it? This is a $100 bill. Well, it’s a picture of a $100 bill. And if we were to probe the physical features of this $100 bill in an attempt to find its moneyness, we would come up short. There’s nothing about its color, its shape, the images printed on it, anything like that, that makes this a bit of money. And in fact, as we move further and further away from using cash, we arrive at a point where money has almost no tangible existence. It can’t be completely gone. There have to be electrons in computers somewhere keeping track of the debits and credits in your bank account. But in practical terms, money becomes invisible and intangible to us as we use our phones and credit cards to scan and pay for things. So if there’s nothing in the materiality of money that confers its moneyness, on to that thing, where does it get it?

I think that the right way to think through this, and as Andrés said, I approach this in a neo-Aristotelian way, is to ask about the kinds of things that Aristotle describes as the four causes of artifacts. So we might ask about its telos, or its final cause. What is the purpose or function of money? If we can answer that question, then we will get some clarity on what its ontology is. What properties does money have that allow for it to perform these functions? And how does money get these properties? The second question, I argue, can be likened to the kind of thing that Aristotle is interested in and talking about: formal causality. And the third question, straightforwardly, is a matter of efficient causality. So if we can answer those kinds of questions, we can get some clarity overall on the ontology of money. So we might start by giving a functionalist account of money. I think that this is a nice place to start because the two predominant views on money’s nature. Schumpeter said, “The only two views worthy of the name, ‘a theory of money,’ are in rough agreement about what money’s functions are.”

So the first of these functions is as a means of payment. And let me pause before I go any further and say, I’m presenting this as three textbook functions. If you read 19th century economics textbooks, you’ll see these listed as four functions. I’m going to combine, in line with what many textbooks today do, two of the functions under one heading. And the two functions that I’m going to combine under one heading will be the means of payment function and the medium of exchange function, both of which involve using money to pay for stuff or to settle debts. So the means of payment function makes it easier, or perhaps even possible, to pay for things, or again, we can add to settle debts. An example of this idea is the use of coins and banknotes as a medium of market exchange. The second textbook function of money is as a unit of account or a measure of value. This is the use to which we put money when we specify the payment for the amounts of goods or obligations, for example, prices, fees, fines, or taxes. 

Now, it’s worth noting here, and I don’t think that this is often presented as cautiously as it should be, this function is provided by the concept of money and not concrete instances of money. If you’re trying to sell your house to me and want to sell it for half a million dollars, and I want to determine whether or not it’s worth a half a million dollars, we don’t get out a giant value scale and stick your house on one side of it and then dump a half a million dollars of notes or coins or something on the other side and see if that value balances out. We assess the value simply using the concept of money, attach a price to it, and negotiate it without having any money in hand. When we settle on the amount that it’s worth, all these things take place, we might say, at a conceptual level and not at a concrete level. So the pricing function of money does not depend on, in any given instance, the use of any material instance of money. Rather, it’s the concept of money that allows us to set prices.

Finally, the third function of money that we’ll put on the list is as a store of value. The function is there in the name. It’s to store value. Some theorists would leave this off of the list of functions. The economist John Smithin says that money is a notoriously bad store of value, and so it ought not be included on the list of functions. But I think that it’s a useful function to include and to maintain in our investigation because it allows us to ask the question: what is this primary sort of value that money stores? Simply saying that money stores value begs the question, if we’re trying to understand its ontology, we need to know what monetary value is in the first place if we’re going to make any sense of what it is that it stores. And that gives us an entry into the two different theories of money, that again, Schumpeter says are the only two deserving of the name.

So the first, the orthodox account, says that the value of money is the value that it has in market exchange. So here’s a market. There’s people presumably using money. It looks like they’re buying cheese and sausages and so forth. Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek called theories of market exchange, “catallactic.” So following them, I use the word catallactic as the descriptor for this theory of money and call it the catallactic approach, or the catallactic theory of money. You’ll commonly see it labeled the commodity theory of money. But I think that that’s misleading, because the theory is not committed to the idea that money itself is a commodity. Rather, it’s committed to the idea that its value comes out in the pricing of commodities, and then the use to purchase and sell commodities. So as to flag that money itself need not be a commodity, I call this the catallactic theory, or the catallactic approach. So here are the basics. In barter, goods have a value that differs from what they are used for. Call the former the exchange value and the latter use value. For anyone who’s ever read Adam Smith or Karl Marx, these terms will be eminently familiar and so will the following story.

If I go to the market with something that no one wants, no matter what the use value of the thing I have is, it will have no exchange value within that market, and I won’t be able to use that thing for trade. If only I had something that always had exchange value, because people always wanted it, I would never face this problem of not being able to buy the stuff that I want in the market. And if everyone had this magic stuff, then everyone would be able to buy the things in the market that they want. Marx gives us a really nice phrase for what happens at this point. In the creation of the money kind, he says that in gold–it needn’t be gold–but historically, he thinks “gold crystallizes out of the process of exchange.” And when gold is used to price all other commodities, it has then taken on the money form. Let’s take this account, the catallactic account of money and run it back against the three questions that I introduced as the sub-questions for studying the ontology of money. So what according to the catallactic account is the purpose or function of money? It is to ameliorate the inconveniences of market exchange. It’s a pain in the butt to buy stuff when you don’t have money in a market. If money doesn’t exist in the market, once you’ve got a market with money, it’s a lot easier to buy things.

What properties does money have that allow it to perform this function? Well, the basic property is the general willingness of market participants to accept it for payment. So the ontology here is social more than it is material. People need to be generally willing to accept gold if gold is the thing that is being used as our money stuff in the market in order to buy things. However, on most of these accounts, you’ll see an enumeration of some of the physical properties that precious metal has that made it especially good in the good old days of coin to serve the various functions of money that we outlined at the beginning. Schumpeter derisively finds these listed in Aristotle and says that they’re repeated in some of the tritest passages of 19th century economics textbooks. We won’t concern ourselves with this aspect of thinking about money’s materiality here. The important part for how money gets its use, according to the catallactic theory, is that people are willing to accept it for payment. And how does money get these properties? Well, the key parts of the story for the catallactic theory is that it emerges out of market activity. First, there are markets. It’s a pain in the butt to trade without money. Money crystallizes out, using Marx’s language.

The alternative view, the heterodox account of the ontology of money, the second of Schumpeter’s two accounts deserving of the name, claims the following: the value of money is its value to claim or to discharge debt. In the state theory of money, Georg Friedrich Knapp labeled this view, chartalism, or cartalism, after the Latin root, charta or carta, meaning token or ticket. Now, chartalism does not require that the tokens or tickets or debts that are emitted and need to be repaid be determined, set out, and set by the state. But as you can tell from the title of Knapp’s book, The State Theory of Money, he’s most interested in debts that get determined, announced, and then collected by the state. Those are the kinds of debts, and so the kind of chartalism, that’s going to be most interesting to Modern Monetary Theory. It will be the chartalist theory that will concern us here. Here are the basics of this theory. When large-scale civilization came into existence, namely Mesopotamia, there were many modes of collective provisioning. Bartering was not particularly significant. Other forms of collective provisioning included lending, neighborly gifting, and central management at the temple. As far as the latter is concerned, this required complex accounting and bookkeeping. But that’s not the only thing that the temple bureaucrats and temple priests did. They also needed to develop a system for assessing fines and punishments.

So for example, if I accidentally kill your cow, and I don’t have a cow to give you in return, and we’re going to keep peace in our state, I need to give you something in return for the cow that I have killed. How do we make the incommensurable commensurable? We need to come up with something that I can give you for repayment of your cow. This is a legal matter. This is a matter of justice, and retributive justice in a sense, repaying you for the wrong that I have done you. How do we determine how that’s going to go? That’s something that the central authorities are going to have to decide as well. The claim then is that these pressures lead to the need for a universal unit of account making all things incommensurable commensurable. And that once this universal unit of account was defined, the unit could then be used for private, that is, market transactions. Sorry, the last bullet point is important here. According to the state theory version of chartalism, both the state and money are prior to the existence of markets with prices. Money does not emerge out of market activity, but rather enables market activity in the first place.

So on the heterodox account, what is the purpose or function of money? Primarily, it is to denominate debts with the concept of money and then represent specific obligations with physical manifestations of the money. The concept is prior to the physical manifestations on this account. So this is one way in which the chartalist theory inverts the story that one finds in the orthodox account. And the state theory says specifically that the kinds of debts that we’re interested in here are state denominated debts. So that money exists in order to aid the state in managing economic and legal activity. What properties does money have that allow it to perform this function?

According to the state theory, it’s the power of the state to demand taxes, fees, and fine payments in its own currency. It’s this legal authority that is the source from which monetary value arises. And how does money get these properties? Well, by however the state obtains and enforces the power of the law, specifically, the power to tax, charge fees, and to fine. So according to this theory, the ontological account that we want to give of money is actually something that follows from our more general account that we give of the power and authority of the state to coercively get its members to do anything, or maybe non-coercively get its members to do anything. But the power that money has is ultimately an expression of the power of the state. So we do our political philosophy first and understand the nature of government and its power, and that will tell us where the power of money comes from, and not the other way around. So let’s compare these two accounts on one specific phenomenon that is particularly relevant to MMT, and that is on the nature of taxes.

So the orthodox view of taxes proceeds as follows. First, when we’re thinking about taxes, we think about what money is for in the first place. And money, in the first place, is used to pay for stuff in markets. The government has to pay for stuff just like the rest of us, so the government has to get money just like the rest of us. Now, one of the basic ways that the government goes about getting the money it needs to pay for stuff, just like the rest of us, is taxes. So the function of taxes is to collect the money that the government needs in order to finance the activities that it wants to perform. I’ll go ahead and flag here that this story, I think, is the story that you find in Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government.” If you watch the way that he proceeds in explaining the creation of property through his labor theory at the beginning of chapter five, money comes out at the end of chapter five for the reasons that Smith and Marx flag. It makes commerce easier than it would be without it. The creation of property and the creation of money come before the creation of government. Locke famously argues that the whole point of government is for us to protect our property rights better than we can in the state of nature. So if property and money are prior to the existence of government, then governments are going to need to get money in order to get the property that they need to do the stuff that they want to do just like the rest of us. So the kind of account that I’ve given right here, I think, is one that comes naturally out of a pretty straightforward reading of Locke’s second treatise.

MMT tells a different story. As a matter of ontology, no government has to get money like the rest of us as a matter of law. So let me backup for a second there. It is a choice according to MMT that a government makes as to whether or not it will provision itself in ways similar to the way that we provision ourselves when we go out and work for money or steal for money or do whatever we end up doing in order to get our money. The government can choose to hamstring itself this way through the laws that it creates, but it’s up to itself to rewrite those laws, and if it wants give itself a sovereign currency. So as a matter of law, a government that does give itself a sovereign currency, that government does not in fact have to go out and get money like the rest of us. A government with a sovereign currency does not use taxes for financial purposes in order to provision itself to perform the tasks that it wants to perform. It uses taxes to destroy money in the private sector, rather than to collect it for use. When this sets in, and I think that this is the part that in my experience in talking with people about post-Keynesian theories in general, of which Modern Monetary Theory is a species, or Modern Monetary Theory specifically, where people really kind of step back and say, “Whoa.” Because this is, I believe, a “Copernican Turn.”

For states with a sovereign currency, the function of taxes is not, and moreover, cannot be, as an ontological matter, to finance its activities. Whatever taxes are for, it’s something else. This new paradigm on taxes is in fact not new at all. Beardsley Ruml, the chair of the New York Fed in the middle of the 1950s, as the world was beginning to go off the gold standard, realized this and said that, “Final freedom from the domestic money market exists for every sovereign national state where there exists an institution which functions in the manner of a modern central bank, and whose currency is not convertible into gold or for some other commodity.” Ruml then goes on to talk about the sorts of things that you use taxes for, but none of those functions are the function that the orthodox theory would have us believe, which is to finance government activities. And it turns out that this was recognized back in colonial America as well. Farley Grubb has written extensively on the ways in which Virginia’s paper money in the middle of the 18th century was burned when it was collected for taxes. Many other colonies had this policy and it wasn’t always followed. But nevertheless, they realized that their paper money, after it had served its function of getting the kind of economic activity that the state governors wanted, or prior to states, that the colonial governors wanted done, it might as well be burned, it doesn’t have any sort of intrinsic value. I think the argumentative upshot of these examples is that what chartalism says is true as a matter of theory is in fact borne out by history itself.

Okay, so that is what I want to say to orient us on the chartalist theory of money that underpins MMT, or the social ontological account of money that rests at the bottom of Modern Monetary Theory. Now, I want to go through some complaints against MMT, which will set the stage for Scott’s presentation. So can we do it? Here’s the first complaint. Why think that history is relevant? You’ll note that the account of money that I gave on behalf of the chartalists, and in fact, the account of money that I gave on behalf of the orthodox catallactic theory, was presented as a history. First, there was this problem under certain social settings. Then, this technology money arose to solve this problem, and forevermore we were better because we had created this technology. Thomas Palley, a persistent critic of MMT, has said that the appeal to the history of money that MMT makes, and one could level discharge against other versions of post-Keynesianism that rest on chartalism, say that the history of money is a red herring and is essentially rhetorical. All of this fussing about money’s history and what money really is, is of no relevance to the kinds of contemporary policy debates that Andrés was talking about at the beginning.

So one complaint is that MMTers, and again, I think post-Keynesians more generally, make a big deal about the history of money, but it simply doesn’t matter one way or the other. Second complaint, and if this is the first time you’ve heard about Modern Monetary Theory, I imagine this has crept into your mind at some point along the way when you saw the poor guy just cranking out the money machines, veins popping out of his head, is that won’t this cause runaway inflation? A simplistic version of this worry is simply: won’t creating all this new currency cause runaway inflation? I call this simplistic because the historical record shows that under some conditions there’s a correlation between an uptick of currency creation and inflation. And in other conditions, there’s not. On the orthodox theory itself, the creation of a whole bunch of new currency, money is supposed to be an invisible veil to the real economy. So prices should eventually settle out and match the amount of money in the economy. Thinking that simply creating a whole bunch more money is going to lead to runaway inflation presupposes that the value of money is determined by its scarcity. And that simply begs the question against the chartalist view.

So there’s a lot of things that one can say immediately pointing at economic history and thinking just a little bit about the ontological presuppositions about money to ward off this charge. But there are real concerns that one ought to have about the possibility of inflation under MMT specific policies. And these complaints come even from within post-Keynesian circles. So there’s an internecine debate. Smithin argues, for example, that raising the overall tax rate is going to be necessarily inflationary. So if part of the MMT solution for controlling inflation through the creation of quite a bit of currency is to use taxes to vacuum money back out of the economy if it’s getting too hot, Smithin argues it can be easily demonstrated that that’s going to lead to inflationary pressures on themselves. I bring this up to note that there are complaints about the inflationary consequences of MMT, both inside and outside of post-Keynesianism. A third complaint against MMT is that it’s too socialist. So when you hear about something like a jobs guarantee, that the government is going to guarantee a job to every person who wants one in a given state, if you don’t like the sound of governments employing people for any number of reasons, this is clearly going to strike you as too socialist of a proposal.

That complaint is straightforward. I’m not going to go into it in any detail. It has struck people on the left that MMT, on the other hand, is too capitalist. Modern Monetary Theory, it’s complained, works only for the most powerful, developed capitalist states. It’s hard to see, some people complain, how MMT could work for developing nations, and so it favors the rich. MMT also does leave an awful lot of economic activity up to the markets. And in fact, it sets up the job guarantee in such a way to encourage entrepreneurs to find more innovative ways to use the labor force that exists in a given state. So if that all sounds too capitalistic for your taste, then you might have a problem with MMT. And finally, the last complaint that I want to raise, and this is the one that I would invite us to be most concerned about here, since this is a philosophy conference as opposed, to say, an economics conference, is that the central priority claim of MMT is simply false. The central priority claim that I have in mind is the idea that governments, government activity, and governmental authority is prior to markets.

So the Lockean view that I presented earlier, of markets and property as being prior to governments and that the function of government is to protect property rights, the complaint that I’m imagining here takes a Lockean or a neo-Lockean position and simply says that’s wrong. That’s just backwards. Look, there’s international trade out there and international trade isn’t governed by any external authority. It takes place using money. So if international trade is possible, and not only possible, but makes use of money, why think that governments need to exist in order for money to exist. You might point to the historical record and say that precious metal itself, before the advent of coin, was used in interstate trade. Merchants got by with precious metal prior to the existence of coins in order to trade between states. That too makes it look like one could point at the historical record and say that market activities have been outside of, and so were, analytically, logically, or definitionally, depending on how you want to characterize it, prior to the activity and authority of states.

There are black markets. They go on, they make use of money outside of the authority of the state. Doesn’t that count as a counterexample to the idea that states are necessary and the creation of state money is necessary for market activity to take place? What about markets involving private cryptocurrencies? The markets that use Bitcoin that have specifically been designed to avoid the, from their point of view, intrusive reach of the state. Those markets go on. Bitcoin is used as a unit of account to price goods and to pay for things. Doesn’t that demonstrate that money can exist outside of the authority of the state and be used in accordance with all the functions that were listed earlier. What about prison camp markets in World War Two? The famous 1945 paper by R.A. Radford shows how cigarettes were used as a unit of account, as a medium of exchange, and that emerged out of a non-governmental setting. Doesn’t that show that markets can come up, and a money-like commodity can come into existence that doesn’t presuppose the authority of government? When we take all these examples into consideration, and the ways that they seem to provide for markets using money or something money like outside of the authority of a central government, why should we believe in MMT? Scott, I’ll hand it to you.

Scott Ferguson: Great, thanks so much. That was a really helpful presentation. Andrés, thank you for chairing this panel, and Graham, for putting this together and inviting us. And thanks to everybody for showing up on this last day of the conference. So I think what I’d like to do is offer a few quick responses to those critical claims that Graham concluded with, that are much more, I would say, in the wheelhouse of kind of your basic MMT 101 discourse, and then pivot from the last, “This is false, markets are first,” question to take on some broader conceptual problems that are coming out of my own work.

So first of all, the charge that history is irrelevant I find shocking. History, I would argue, is always a contested ground that’s always caught up in contemporary epistemological, ontological, and political economic debates. And the way that we approach history, the way we imagine history, and the assumptions we bring to history, can never be wished away. You look at the major canonical contributors to political economy and economics and many of them have written histories. I mean, Milton and Rose Friedman wrote a gigantic monetary history, and it is a way of shoring up their own politics, their own ontology, and their own epistemology. So I would say that it feels nonsensical, to me, this claim that somehow history isn’t relevant. Everyone uses history to make sense of the present and future politics and policy. The second claim about hyperinflation, first of all, an MMT economist will tell you that the mainstream, or the neoclassical interpretation of inflation, and specifically hyperinflation, has the causality precisely backwards. Hyperinflation is a function of political catastrophe and the collapse of a productive infrastructure. A government can create all kinds of credit and try to circulate it in an economy. But if it does so in the face of, say, decades and decades and decades of colonial rule and exploitation and export led production, or after a major world war in which your country happens to be paying massive reparations payments and the majority of your productive infrastructure has been destroyed or confiscated by your opponents, you’re likely going to see hyperinflation. 

So the MMT point of view rejects the so-called quantity theory of money, which imagines this kind of equilibrium that commodities, or goods and services, come first in a marketplace. And that money is this kind of neutral, passive reflection, or veil, that needs to be somehow in tune with those ontologically primary goods and services. MMT would argue that, no, credit actually comes first–money as credit–and you need money as credit to generate these goods and services in the first place. And for that, you need massive macro- and mesoscale governance projects, infrastructures, and institutions. Also, there’s a kind of mythos around the MMT community about how we argue inflation should be controlled. This simplistic version is, well, we’ll just use taxes, and congress will be in charge of, essentially, extinguishing debts, or pulling money out of the economy, in order to check runaway inflation. This is a gross simplification of what the MMT community has worked on and has argued. We argue for thoroughgoing macroprudential regulation, which includes the private sector, and runaway inflation in the financial sector, on Wall Street and in all kinds of capitalist enterprises that are producing far more speculative bubbles than any measly congressional appropriation might be doing.

So our argument is to have certain kinds of automatic stabilizers and certain legal and institutional structures that are keeping inflation in check. Basically, what that means is making sure that public and private investment is going toward productive, socially and ecologically valuable enterprises, rather than speculative leveraging, essentially. To the charge that MMT is too socialist, I would say that some MMTers are socialist, and I would include myself in there, but I think that the MMT project really does, as Graham says, bill itself as a description. We say in the MMT community, there’s no such thing as “doing MMT.” It’s a way of understanding the way that money works, the way that political economy works, and the way the world works. It’s not “doing socialism” or “not doing socialism.” If we’re going to talk about doing MMT, we would just simply say, “Well, everyone does MMT all the time. It’s just they don’t think that they’re doing that.”

The charge that MMT is too capitalist, especially from the left, to me MMT is not capitalist. And certainly, as a tool, as a framework, as a foundation, as a set of assumptions for understanding the world, sure, you can mobilize this framework in so-called capitalistic ways, for private enterprise, for private profit, in exclusionary ways that exclude women and brown people from major centers of participation and power. You can do that. But you can do that according to the status quo as well–the neoclassical understanding of money as well. Then, there’s this notion from some in the progressive and leftist critiques of MMT, that geopolitically, MMT is too capitalistic in the sense that it is too America-first and neo-imperialist, and that it requires the United States to be the world reserve currency. To this, we would say, no, this is not the case at all. We would say that it reframes postcolonial political economy and geopolitics according to another framework that is more capacious and more insightful. We don’t say MMT solves colonialism, postcolonialism, or neocolonialism. We don’t say that MMT solves everything. We don’t say that domestically and we don’t say that internationally. We say it opens up the problems–and sometimes they’re really hard and very, very intractable problems–but it opens up the problems in new ways that allow for different ways of engaging, different ways of politicizing, different ways of proposing policy solutions, and different ways of mobilizing political movements.

Now, the last claim that it’s simply false, that markets must be ontologically prior because they exist outside of nation-states, maybe I’ll say a little bit about this before I then come back to some work that is more particular to me. What I would say is, just like there’s a kind of deliberate and even somewhat cheeky looseness about the way Modern Monetary Theory defines “modern,” which is actually a quote from Keynes in his A Treatise on Money, where he says that modern money, for the last 4000 years, has worked in this chartalist way. I think we would say the same thing about states. And not all MMT economists are as concerned with clarifying this, but I think there’s a number of them, and then the fellow travelers, like myself, Andrés, and Graham, we would say that we shouldn’t narrowly understand this as the modern nation-state. Instead, we should be understanding this claim, the chartalist claim, that money is a systemic form of social obligation of settling debts, that it is a public project, and that it is a governance project that requires macro- and meso-level institutions rather than a micro-project that bubbles up from barter, that bubbles up from exchange. So you can have all kinds of macro- and meso-governance projects that don’t look like a modern nation-state.

Graham, I think, mentioned a Mesopotamian temple provisioning structure. One could talk about the high medieval Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Both of them were centers of tax receivability, and actually didn’t even issue their own credits, their own money, but they were central governance projects with massive reach. That local meso-level, and even micro-level activity, were embedded within. So that would be my first response to this charge that, well, there’s micro-markets out there or in prison camps or black markets or Bitcoin. The narrow definition of the state seems to make the argument crumble. Instead, I would want to focus on a nested, interdependent understanding of the way that these governance projects work together in these very complicated hierarchies. I’ll just say, in passing, that I don’t think it’s any accident that Bitcoin gets priced, usually, in dollars. It demonstrates the way that Bitcoin is embedded in a much broader, you could say, American payment system, with its vast infrastructure, its legal infrastructure, and its banking system, etc–for all of its fantasies about wanting to be outside. 

Now, I want to turn to some of my work, in particular. I’m a media studies scholar. I think a lot about media as shaping and organizing our world. And one of the key arguments we make in media studies is that media is never a neutral veil, media is never a transparent window, to use a famous metaphor from the Florentine Renaissance talking about Renaissance perspective. It is always generative. It is always constitutive. It is always actively organizing the world. When I came to MMT around, let’s say 2012 or so, as a media theorist, I immediately thought to myself, “Oh, wow, this is a major contribution to media theory.” Because I had been working, even though I’m so keen on seeing the constitutive nature of mediation, in, especially, motion pictures, because that’s my expertise, and in visual culture, I kind of just took for granted that, well, money is just an expression or reflection or neutral veil, and that what’s really going on is this content, this exchange, this private, micro-exchange. And money isn’t constitutive in that way. Money is sort of a problem. So that, from my own training and my own project, has really shifted things for me. And I felt like it opened up all kinds of new questions.

Now, full disclosure, I come out of the the tradition of critical theory, continental philosophy, from the German Idealists to the Frankfurt School, Marxism, poststructuralism, and beyond. And what I found is, this understanding of money as a constitutive, generative organizer of political economy, of social production, of participation, and of distribution, it radically opened up a lot of the questions that are asked by the traditions that I had become something of an expert in, in new ways, and in ways that, to be honest, I don’t feel like I’m a card carrying member of those traditions anymore. They’re in my bones, so to speak, but I really found myself not applying MMT to them, but taking MMTs provocations, which, as Graham is pointing out here, are actually ontological. I mean, they’re pretty radically unmooring provocations, and opening up what I would call problem spaces based on teasing out the threads that these questions are opening up.

So one of them is media and mediation. Coming out of critical theory, I have an acute sense of the way that political economy and money as a medium acts as a kind of meta-medium for all other media. And one cannot have, let’s say, motion pictures in the 20th and 21st centuries without the medium of money. It’s somehow always there, but we treat it in a very particular way in critical theory as an exchange instrument that is necessarily alienating, or at least ambivalent, and highly problematic. And it frames the way we take on the history of any given media with a set of given presuppositions that I’ve begun to challenge. Now, there is the question here, which Graham has been really good on, about the ontology of money, and I’m saying that it’s also a media question, a question of the ontology of medium, of media as such, as constitutive, but also the money medium.

But in my own work, I’ve gone back in the history of modern Western philosophy, and I feel like I’ve been pushed there by these problems. I’m a modernist. I studied the 20th and 21st centuries. But I felt like, as I was following these threads, I was pushed back further and further and further, at first, to the kind of classical Liberalism of John Locke, Ricardo, and these sorts of authors. But then even further back, because what I think MMT does, but doesn’t actually have the philosophical equipment to fully flesh out–and to no fault of their own, they’re economists. They’re lovely, they’re my colleagues, but they’re economists. They can do things I can’t do and I can do things they can’t do. They don’t have the philosophical equipment to think through the underlying ontological suppositions of the claims that they are making. And I don’t just mean about the ontology of money. I mean about ontology as such. I mean at least about social ontology.

So I’ve gone back to the late scholastic debates between the Thomist tradition and the Franciscan tradition. And these are notoriously fraught and messy debates, but just to very quickly gloss, they were debates about ontology, the structure of being, the nature of being, and the nature of knowing being. And to simplify, I think that the Thomistic vision of being is that being is a holistic, interdependent, and hierarchical system in which there is no outside to it. And being is irreducible to individuated being. So what this means is that relationality, or mediation, the organizing of relations, can never, from a Thomist point of view, be just simply a micro-ontological question. It’s never a question of fundamentally, ontologically dissociated beings–creatures, God, angels–somehow meeting up in micro-ways, in micro-contingent encounters or contracts or agreement, and then going on their merry way. So this is very much a rebuke of avant la lettre, of social contract theory–even the most sophisticated social contract theory.

Whereas, the Franciscan understanding of being is that being must be individuated. It must be externally individuated such that there can only, essentially, be beings, and God must be understood univocally as one being among beings, such that the encounter with God can be a contingent one, and a contingent one of two or more wills meeting or going on their merry ways. And this, I would argue, as many have, but not thinking about money at all, created the conditions for the private exchange approach to money that we see arising through Franciscan political economy, through the Florentine Renaissance, and the internationalization, or you could call it a globalization, of Renaissance thinking, and Renaissance political and economic practices, and then eventually to the physiocrats in classical political economy. So I locate the origins of this von Mises-Hayek approach to money as really having origins in this much older debate about social ontology. I’m not a Catholic. I have no stakes in shoring up the church. I approached this as a critical theorist, as a philosopher, and as a leftist. And I’ve been pulled toward these questions in new ways.

So what I would say in response to these questions about markets existing outside of states so markets must be first, I would say, well, a philosophically informed MMT point of view would respond that macro comes before micro. Now, it’s not a zero-sum situation. Micro is embedded in macro and participates in macro, but it can’t ever be outside of it, and it certainly can’t be prior to it. So that would be my ontological argument in a very breezy form. The last thing I want to say, just to give a little taste of my work, here’s a little plug, this is a book I published a couple years ago, Declarations of Dependence: Money, Aesthetics, and the Politics of Care. One of the claims I make in this book is about the modern philosophical and then cultural and artistic project of what comes to be called the aesthetic. As most of us probably know here, the term aesthesis was used to mean sensation by the ancient Greeks. What we call aesthetics today was understood according to different categories, like poetics and other terms. With the rise of certain British philosophies, empiricisms, and sentimentalisms, but then, of course, specifically German Idealism, Kant, Schiller, Hegel, and beyond, the study of the aesthetic and the problem of the aesthetic comes into being and is constituted as an historically new domain, and an historically new set of possibilities and limits and problems.

And the way that the story often gets narrated, especially from a critical theory point of view, is that it arose as a bourgeois project in continental Europe, and the UK to a certain extent, and it was implicitly and explicitly variously pitted against, essentially, the domain of political economy. These were antinomies. And the aesthetic project was meant to be a kind of antidote to, or a refuge from, the ambivalences, alienations, and violations of private commerce understood through this kind of contracted, micro, and private monetary imagination. And this starts to orient art practice and cultural practice, especially once we get into the 19th century. It also gets radicalized by various socialists and artists and modernists and avant-gardists. And that strain of aesthetics starts making the argument that we should not have the aesthetic project, which promises social and sensual fullness and communion as opposed to the alienation of the marketplace. We should not just treat this as a refuge. Instead, we should get rid of it, we should we should sublate it, or whatever term we want to use, we should move beyond the private money economy and money as such, and we should have an abundant, communal, sensuous, socialist or communist society.

And then, the way that this plays out is essentially a kind of tragedy, or a fall story, where the forces of capital through commercial culture and the society of the spectacle, or simulacra and simulation, pick your critical author, basically, subsumes the aesthetic project and enlists it on the side of capitalist alienation, exploitation, and domination. And what we have by the postmodern, or late 20th century period, is this collapse of what is often imagined as a dialectic. And my claim in my book is that, well, first of all, most of my colleagues know that there’s something too simplistic and actually false about this whole story. But what they don’t have is a way of refiguring the story, or getting out of it. Most of my colleagues suffer from the symptoms of the structure of this story, even if they’re able to say of course that’s not the case, or, of course, money and art, or money and aesthetics, were not antithetical to one another. That’s absurd.

But my claim in the book is to say, if we start from an MMT, chartalist, public money, governance, macro- and meso-project framework, then we can see that, actually, this whole antinomy was false to begin with. That, in fact, the aesthetic project is a symptom of the reduction and contraction of money from a public utility into a seemingly private, micro, for-profit extractive enterprise. And that, instead of a bourgeois philosopher feeling ambivalent about money, or as a radical philosopher wanting to transcend money in order to install some kind of sensuous abundance on the model of the aesthetic project, these things should have never been opposed in the first place. And that, actually, money is what I call a proto-aesthetic instrument. It’s required for any kind of social and sensuous cultivation and communion, or any kind of project, and that we have to reckon with money as not a necessary evil that I’m ambivalent about, or the root of all evil, but as a public utility that is political and that can always be organized in another way. So with that, I think I’ll stop and we can maybe open it up for questions, comments, and thoughts.

Andrés Bernal: Great, thank you, Scott. And thank you, Graham. Excellent presentations. Let’s take some questions.

Graham Hubbs: Andrés, it looks like people are putting their names in the chat. So maybe you’ll call people out of the chat to ask questions.

Andrés Bernal: Yes, sounds perfect. Justin.

Justin Holt: Thank you. This is very interesting. Thank you for the presentations. Really fascinating. I come at MMT from reading it for many years and looking at it from more of an Anglo-American, Rawlsian perspective. That’s what my work has been mainly on in relation to MMT. But I have a question about thinking about the place of ontology. It’s very productive, but this is really addressing the question of thinking about Locke. And we could think about, perhaps, the labor theory of property coming out of Locke. But one thing that’s always troubled me about this is, the Lockean project, even in Locke’s second treatise, it falls apart in the sense that Locke wants to say, “Okay, we’re going to establish states in order to preserve property.” But then, Locke goes on, and this is the great thing about Zoom, because you can be at home with your books, and in paragraph 140, he says, “Still, it must be with his own consent, the consent of the majority, basically, to levy a tax.” See, everybody’s at home with their Locke, right? So this is great. So in paragraph 140, he basically says, “Okay, we can levy taxes if the majority wants to levy taxes.” Now, Locke doesn’t push all the way and doesn’t realize you can set the tax rate at anything then. So you can basically set confiscation rates if the majority says so. And, of course, the notion is, in the previous paragraph, he says, “You can’t take people’s property away unless they say so.” He doesn’t say majority there. But then he goes on to say that the majority can tax.

So the Lockean project seems to fall into the institutional theory of property, that property is instituted and regulated and created by the state. And that’s what we need the state for in the first place. Property doesn’t exist without the state. It’s the only way to arbitrate claims and to say who owns which side of the river. You can’t do that on your own, you may have forgotten your agreements. So the consideration here is that the state creates rights and fabricates claims. It creates property claims. So when it comes down to money and thinking about this, and thinking about many of the examples that Graham gave, yes, market interactions exist between people, or interactions exist all the time. And some of these are rather unformalized, like “Well, I’m going to help my friend fix his car, and then he’s going to do something nice for me, like baking me a cake.” All these things exist. Now, when it comes to MMT and thinking about this, they have the interesting example of saying, “Okay, colonial governments were able to basically get natives to do work by putting a tax on them.” This is the example that they utilize. Of course, these indigenous populations had their own networks, their own economies, and their own interactions, but a tax was imposed. Thus, the state was able to get something built like a road. So there’s this notion that states are able to create and fabricate property. So I feel that property ultimately gets subsumed into some type of state apparatus.

I’m going to add just one last thing. I can’t remember who says this. I think it’s Randy Wray. Randy Wray would say anybody can make money, but the key is getting it accepted. With this notion, I think there’s a chimera here. There’s a falsity about a natural theory of property. There’s a falsity that markets occur first before all of this, but seemingly, the state subsumes and encompasses and creates and regulates all forms of property. Yes, we can make anything that we want, but can we turn a Bitcoin into $1, because, ultimately, we have to turn it into $1 to actually make anything work for us in a lot of different ways. And ultimately, of course, to pay our taxes. So this is more of an example, but I’m really skeptical of Locke’s chapter five version of property, because I think Locke kind of undoes it all when he talks about taxation and majorities in states. I’m sorry, I wish it was a more clear cut question. But it’s more about saying, perhaps, that the labor theory of property is just false. It falls apart, and the institutional version structures it. Thank you very much.

Andrés Bernal: Great. Let’s take one question before we start answering. And I believe the comment by Wray is from his former professor, Hyman Minsky, about anyone can create money, the problem is getting it accepted. Mitchell.

Mitchell Silver: Hi, first of all, I want to thank both presenters. I thought they were interesting and clear. My question will probably be quite naive. I’m new to this discussion. But I’m wondering, the market approach versus the state understanding of money, while they’re clearly alternative accounts, they both struck me as compelling and it was not obvious to me that there wasn’t a reconciliation possible. So the first part of my question is have there been attempts to reconcile them, or is there a story that can be told that incorporates both of them? Because they were not in obvious conflict, or what seems to make them in conflict was claiming that there was an ontological truth here, that there was a correct ontology. And that you had to get the ontology correct to understand money correctly. But it’s also not clear to me that there is an ontology that’s independent of pragmatic considerations, in general, let alone in this particular case. So might we approach this by trying to think of it pragmatically, such as, what are our goals here? What problems are we trying to solve in thinking about money? And to what extent does one theory or another theory allow us to successfully approach those goals so that ontology then becomes just a practical consideration or inquiry in terms of what do we need to quantify over to make the kind of statements that we want to make? With the kinds of statements we want to make, ultimately, their truth really depends on where they get us in relation to where we want to go.

Andrés Bernal: Great, thank you. So let’s pick it up from there. Responses?

Graham Hubbs: I have quite a bit to say in response to Mitchell’s question. Scott, do you want to say anything in response to Justin’s first?

Scott Ferguson: Okay, I’ll speak to Justin’s. I strongly agree. The Lockean account of property is, I would agree, false. To put it one way, it deconstructs itself. I will say that this is all predicated on the state of nature story, which gets retold in many, many different ways during the Enlightenment, and it imagines an immediate encounter between a laboring, industrious individual and the natural world without the mediation of governance or law. I think what Justin was pointing out is that, it might not be a modern nation-state, it might be something more messy and complicated that we’re not used to thinking with that doesn’t conform to so-called “Westphalian” political theory. Property is never prior to law, it is constituted in law. Sure, a state can constitute that property. Sure, property can come about informally, at first in informal interactions, but I would always argue that those informal interactions and coordinations are always embedded in and dependent upon larger systems. They are not flatly determined by those systems, but they are participating in them and embedded in them and in a dependent way.

I’ll use this to pivot to my own very brief response to Mitchell’s question, or at least part of it. I don’t read the two versions of the story, the market based story and the state based story, as actually arguing according to the same assumptions. It’s the exchange story that wants to exclude the state as ontologically coeval. The state story wants to say, “No, the state is constitutively and actively involved. And yes, of course, there’s private markets. Of course, there are all kinds of hierarchical degrees of money’s moneyness, or acceptability and enforceability. And that’s always caught up in contestation and crises and forces outside of people’s control. Sure. But I would say that MMT reconciles the two. It doesn’t say the market doesn’t matter or that it doesn’t count. It just says that, “Well, actually, where the private marketplace gets the credit in order to produce goods and services and sell at a profit comes from a legally licensed banking system that has been endowed with federal and state power to create credit on behalf of the public.” So that’s how I would respond to that.

Graham Hubbs: Well, my answer dovetails with Scott’s and picks up from there. The idea that for many people, the orthodox account, the catallactic account, has a political purpose, is true. It may not be true of everybody, but certainly when Menger writes his theory of money, it has the purpose of establishing what we described earlier as the Lockean order of things, where first there’s property and markets and then government comes along later, and is meant to be constrained somehow by natural property rights. So there’s a political purpose to the account. It may not be true of all market theorists, but it is at least true for some of the catallactic theorists. To your question, are there accounts out there that seek to resolve both of them? Since we can do show and tell here, there’s a debate between Geoffrey Ingham and Tony Lawson in the 2018 Cambridge Journal of Economics on precisely that question. I’ve learned more from Ingham about this stuff about money than anybody else. And as a bit of intellectual history, Stephanie Kelton, who is one of the foremost economists in MMT, studied at Cambridge with both Ingham and Lawson. Part of where MMT has historically gotten its understanding about the ontology of money was Kelton’s time at Cambridge, studying with Lawson and Ingham, and then bringing it back to the States.

Ingham is a neo-chartalist. Lawson believes he’s got a way to reconcile the two and has a middle path through chartalism and market theory. In that 2018 exchange in the Cambridge Journal of Economics, Ingham says that Lawson, in spite of his best efforts, ends up being what I call a catallactic theorist, or what other folks would call a commodity theorist. I think Ingham’s got it right. But to your broader point, Mitchell, of why do we even need to see these theories as competing in the first place, one reason is the fact that each gives its explanation of money’s ontology as a history. Each is keen to tell an origin story. And something that I’ve been working on is asking the question: why is that necessary anyway to understanding the ontological order of the various functions of money? Can we dispense of the historical account itself as a history, and re-understand it as giving an order of priority for the functions of money? I think that that’s the best way to do it. And there, you actually do get two accounts that can be brought into opposition with one another. But I think the real conclusion that we should derive from this is pragmatist in a way.

I don’t know if Quine would be my hero as much as Sellars, but we all got brought up in 20th century American philosophy here. I think that what we should do away with is the idea that money would have an essence in the first place. Asking what money is presupposes that we’re trying to uncover an essence. Well, do away with that assumption. Instead, look at the various accounts of money and locate money-ish features, characteristic features of money, or something like that. Then, we can say, is Bitcoin money? Well, that’s a stupid question that presupposes that there would be an essence to money to determine whether it is or isn’t one. Bitcoin has some money-ish features. It’s used as a unit of account. It doesn’t work very well, because its value fluctuates wildly against the basis of the dollar. It’s used as a medium of exchange. Those are money-ish features. Is it money? Legal theorists, courts, and the government need to decide that for regulatory purposes. So there needs to be some legal definition of money that then decides whether we treat Bitcoin as a commodity or something else. So somebody has to get an answer to the question, but thinking that behind that there is a ontological essence that answers the question, that’s a mistake. But that doesn’t mean that we should just dispense of theorizing altogether. Digging into the theories lets us think more clearly about these issues.

Scott Ferguson: Can I just quickly follow up? I both kind of agree and would want to complicate what you’re saying. I’m sitting here saying we need to ask ontological questions, and that those are social ontology questions, not just money ontology questions, and so I feel implicated in this critique. But so, what I would say is, going back to the Thomist and Franciscan debates, I would reject, in line with what I think you’re saying here, a univocal essence that can be positively articulated. I would say ontological questions are important if approached in what Thomas would call an analogical way. Which is, you still have to theorize, you still have to use the evidence, figure out what’s going on, and have pragmatic considerations of what you want to get done. And you can analogically approach a way of getting a handle on the ontology without creating some kind of rigid, and thus brittle, ontology that you’re then going to put out in the world and have everybody show you all the examples of the ways your univocal ontology falls apart. So I would say, I think we agree, but we use different terms, and I’m willing to use that word ontology in an analogical way.

Graham Hubbs: You’re hanging out at an analytical philosophy conference, Scott, you’ve got to talk about ontology.

Andrés Bernal: Great, Martha.

Martha Beck: Okay, so I’m actually trained in ancient philosophy, so now everybody’s gonna have to switch. I just want to throw out a whole lot of stuff back to the four causes. I mean, obviously, money is the material cause, but that’s not the main cause for Aristotle. It’s the formal and final cause. So it sounds like these big disagreements are more about what Aristotle would call the efficient cause, which came first. But that’s not the main cause. The main cause is human nature, which is flourishing. So he goes on this switch from the family, mere survival, to the village, which is economic exchange. Then, he says, there was this sudden shift in consciousness, where we realize we live for the sake of a high quality of life. So I would say that everyone in the world functions at some theoretical level, at that higher level. People want a middle class. People understand the need for things like education and healthcare. It’s not just a village. Does that make sense to people?

Because, honest to God, Charles Koch and these guys want to make the world into a village. They really want to believe that capitalism will solve every problem. And I’ve been reading about Koch. I mean, he has an ideology that he brainwashes his employees with–market-based management–he really believes in that. That’s the power of ideas. First of all, philosophy matters. Second of all, they’ve got the wrong idea. Because, the individual profit maximization, that is not the way people live. If you want to understand why there is all this animosity, so many parents are willing to give up so much so their children can have a better life. And if you can’t convince people that one monetary policy rather than another is going to give their kids a better life…the monetary is the tale. It’s not what’s driving human behavior. But I did want to go back to the two main issues that I was aware of 55 years ago, environmentalism, and the need for culture to integrate with nature. And that goes back to Scott’s thing.

Actually, what made St. Thomas Aquinas different was Aristotle. All that holistic stuff, that came from the Aristotelian side, because Augustine was another one that emphasizes just free will. There’s God and I, and I just achieve salvation in relation to the world. Then, Locke took that into economic calculation. So Locke’s view of reasoning is what the Greeks would call calculation, which, greed, if someone who desires money or power only has that kind of reasoning, you’re in big trouble. So the big mistakes in enlightenment were that we could look at nature as an endless source of wealth, basically, money. And we just use our reason to exploit it ad infinitum. And that was wrong. So that has to do with your money issue also, because knowledge is power and power is wealth. The other thing was that human psychology was a blank slate. If only we could just manipulate it enough, but we can’t. So now all we have is a huge chunk of our economy dedicated to stoking pleasure and fear, fantasies and phobias, at the basic, instinctual level. So does that make sense to you that all of this stuff has to come in within the context of these two monetary policies? Because what people really are underneath…anyway, just take whatever you want to. But I think all that stuff has to be taken into account.

Andrés Bernal: If I could also add a bit to Martha’s comments, a big part of what we do in policy debates through the MMT lens is engaging in matters over perceived ontological scarcity. While the way we’ve designed the system and monetary economy keeps exploiting and accumulating, the people that participate in it are operating under this village lens that, at any moment now, they’re not going to have enough. So if we invest into the immigrant community, if we provide healthcare for everybody, for those that fall outside of the conventional, patriarchal, white, middle class model, then they’re going to lose what they have. So it’s a zero-sum game of, how do I make sure my little village is accounted for and not the people that I see outside of that? Scott and Graham, I don’t know if you all want to touch a little bit on that as well?

Scott Ferguson: Graham, do you have thoughts?

Graham Hubbs: I was gonna say some things about Aristotle, in particular. They might be a little bit tangential. So Scott, if you want to pick up the thread, go for it.

Scott Ferguson: I thoroughly agree with the thrust of Martha’s comments. I would say I have quibbles with certain things I heard. But in the service of the overall sentiment, one is that, we in the MMT community, would insist that money is not equal to wealth. Those are not synonyms. Money is a governance project. And it’s also a care project that we could argue, right now, is careless and not working well. But it is a cultivation and generative care project, and it has to be politicized as such. So if we want to take care of our ecosystem, if we want to take care of the oceans, if we want to take care of our climate change catastrophe, then we need money. We need a lot of money. And we need to tap into our public capacities to not just create money, but to mobilize our imaginations and our skills and our capacities to change what’s going on. So I really want to get past the idea that money is just simply power–private power and private wealth–and to really shift the frame to say that, actually, it starts with the public, and it’s been privatized. So to not naturalize those things. The other thing I will say…

Martha Beck: It’s the material cause. The modern world emphasizes the efficient and the material, whereas the ancient world emphasizes the final and the formal. So to say it’s the material cause is to say it’s secondary, that’s all. Does that make sense?

Scott Ferguson: I guess, I would say that money, as a public utility, is irreducible to material and efficient cause.

Martha Beck: Okay, but it’s driven by values, or ontology.

Scott Ferguson: Of course.

Martha Beck: Yeah, that’s all I mean.

Scott Ferguson: Oh, no, no, same page. Absolutely. I think I’ll just stop there. I’ll let Graham respond.

Graham Hubbs: Yeah, invoking Aristotle on these issues, specifically, there’s a nice paper by Stefan Eich that points out two famous passages where Aristotle talks about money. It gets into the weeds of Aristotle on money. That’s what we’re talking about, and I think it’s interesting. In Politics Book I, Aristotle gives an account that sounds an awful lot like what I’ve called the catallactic theory, what’s commonly called a commodity theory. Oh, there’s trading and it’s inconvenient. Wouldn’t it be handy if there was some precious metal that everybody could use to trade properly. And what Stefan points out in that paper is that, in those passages, Aristotle’s using the term chrēmata to talk about money. But there’s another term for money in the Aristotelian corpus, which is nomisma. That’s the term that he uses in Nicomachean Ethics Book V, which is dead center of the discussion of justice. And there, money isn’t the same as, but it looks a lot more like, what the chartalists think money is. So in Aristotle himself, if we’re reading him carefully and are attuned to these differences in the Greek, and the first time I read Aristotle until I read Stefan’s paper, I was blind to that, because translators over the centuries in English washed it out just by calling both of those terms indistinguishably money, which really makes Nicomachean Ethics kind of mind bending to read on its own terms. The richness of some of these distinctions and debates is already present within the Aristotelian corpus itself.

Scott Ferguson: And if you understand Aristotle as having what I like to call a “nested ontology,” where any kind of micro-situation is embedded in a larger polis, I think these two are reconcilable in a chartalist way.

Martha Beck: The goal is for your mind to be a microcosm of the macrocosm. So the way in which you run your household and your economy is you meet necessary needs, not excess needs.

Andrés Bernal: Let’s move to Vasfi.

Vasfi O. Özen: Can you hear me now? Okay, great. I have a couple of questions for the presenters, and anyone should feel free to jump in. First of all, I find these presentations quite interesting. I have a question about the problem of inflation. So monetarists believe that just simply printing money would always, or most of the time, generate inflation. And I’m interested in, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, the MMT perspective. They suggest that the government can increase taxes anytime they think it’s appropriate to remove money. This brought to my mind, perhaps you’re familiar with the works of Silvio Gesell. Silvio Gesell was an economist and social activist. He wrote a book called The Natural Economic Order. I’ll introduce his ideas, and if you’re not familiar with him, I think you may find him interesting, because Scott told us that he is incorporating continental approaches. I just thought that he might be interesting and contribute to your project. So Gesell has the idea of a negative interest rate policy. He has this idea of free money reforms or free land reforms. And the free money reform of Gesell is to make it impossible for people to hoard money, because the face value of money is depreciated regularly. So money is losing value if you don’t spend it. So I’m just curious whether that kind of approach can be incorporated within the MMT perspective? That’s one question I have.

The second question is about COVID. So during the COVID period, I’m just curious what kind of implications the MMT perspective can have? Because we’re talking about stimulus checks. So I’m just curious about both Graham’s perspective on that and Scott’s perspective on that. I’m just curious what MMT implies during the COVID era. And the third question is about how Scott introduced the curious idea of money as a proto-aesthetic instrument. Without being too critical, because he told us that he wrote a book and I haven’t read that book, but this idea tends to be overly optimistic and loses sight of potential risks to me. I understand that money has all these creative potentials, but at the end of the day, it depends on how you are using the money, right? So I have a hard time understanding the idea of money as a proto-aesthetic instrument. Maybe you can elaborate on that a little bit? And for my last question, both presenters talk about the criticism that MMT is too socialist or too capitalist. It seems to me that MMT is a neutral perspective. So, and correct me if I’m mistaken about this, it seems to me that the money generated by adopting MMT policy can be used to spend on hospitals and infrastructure, as well as nuclear weapons, right? I mean, I might be absolutely wrong about that. I just wanted to have some clarification on it. But once again, this was really quite interesting. Thank you.

Graham Hubbs: Thanks, Vasfi. Can you put the name of that text in the chat? The Natural Economic Order? The author’s name, I didn’t know how to spell, so if you would type that in that would be great. I just have a few quick things to say. And then I’ll hand it off to Scott. I think one thing when looking at the COVID stimulus is an MMTer might say, “See, yeah, we told you.” This has always been possible, and put under conditions of the duress, we realize the potential to harness the power of money creation to try to help people survive. So that would be a quick straightforward thing to say about that. Something I’m going to echo that Scott said earlier is that MMT, at its base, is a descriptive project and not a normative project with the question of is it too capitalist, is it too socialist, etc. I think that MMTers would do themselves a bit of service to be a bit more careful about when they’ve got their descriptive hats on and when they’ve got their normative hats on, because many MMT folks are not merely interested in describing money creation and how macroeconomics works, but more in getting involved in the sort of stuff that Andrés does. So the fact that it all gets lumped together under one heading creates understandable confusion. But yeah, I don’t know if it’s Kelton who says it, but the US has MMT for the military. There’s always enough money to buy more bombs. I think that addresses that point.

On the point of interest rates, this is another one of those spots where you get internecine battles between post-Keynesians. So MMTers call for a 0% nominal rate of interest. John Smithin, who I mentioned earlier, who’s another one of these post-Keynesians, and who doesn’t go all the way with some of the MMT proposals, thinks that that’s necessarily going to create speculation, that we should be guided by the principles of Islamic banking that are anti-usurious, and that do not create conditions under which financial speculation is possible. But then, to achieve that, you need a real rate at 0% interest, and not a nominal rate. And the real rate is simply the nominal rate minus the rate of interest. Don’t let “real” and “natural” confuse you. Nobody believes that there’s a natural rate out there. But the real rate does take into consideration inflation. And if you set the real rate at 0%, then you achieve what MMT wants to achieve in blocking the speculative possibilities, whereas if you drop the nominal rate to 0%, we should all just be taking out as much money as possible and buying houses and stuff like that. So those are the debates within post-Keynesianism about those kinds of things.

Scott Ferguson: Thank you for the kind words and the thoughtful provocations. Yeah, I feel as though I have many things to say in response. Maybe just starting with a COVID response, there are actually active projects and proposals out there that my colleagues and I have been working on. Probably the most visible is Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s ABC, Automatic BOOST for Communities Act, which calls upon the Treasury to mint $2 trillion coins, and to do so as needed in order to provide all Americans, that means non-citizens as well, with $2,000. And then, I think it’s something like $1,000 a month until a year after the crisis. It also sneaks in a public banking function that would distribute cards and apps, and would suddenly bank every single person that could get their hands on this. And essentially, it would create the infrastructure for a massive federal public banking system. And then, along with that, in the Act, they’re calling upon various teams employed to go out in the community and make sure people are doing okay, and making sure they’re healthy and getting access to this financial infrastructure and the payments themselves, rather than routing them through other private situations. And employing people in a moment of under- or even mass unemployment. So a colleague of mine is behind that ABC Act. 

I am more directly involved in a proposal that hasn’t been put out by a politician, Congressperson, or anything like that, which would enable public universities in the United States to issue credit on behalf of the Fed. And our argument is that we have a financial system that is actually inefficient, unequal, and destructive given that it is through the private banking and financial sector. It is atrocious. As imperfect as the neoliberal University is, I would much rather empower those public systems to create credit, to finance themselves and community projects and research led investment in their communities in ways that are plugged into the needs of communities, rather than to keep giving legal licenses to private banks. So we’re working on that project as a kind of emergency measure to shore up the funding of public universities, which is going into the pooper right now. Although, things are changing because of the election.

Another thing I’ll say about it is, from the MMT world point of view, we would say that there’s this whole nonsense choice between opening up the economy and shutting down and experiencing recession or depression, which I call the Jaws meme. It’s the mayor from Jaws who has to decide whether he wants capitalism to keep going or he wants to protect the safety and health of the people visiting the beach. This is total nonsense. As they have in the UK and elsewhere, you can pay people and it’s their job to stay home. That’s one thing you can do and that’s still part of the economy. In the United States, we don’t have enough people who are trained to deliver vaccinations. Back in spring, we should have taken all the service workers who suddenly didn’t have jobs at Starbucks or wherever, and trained them to be part of this massive health and caretaking project. So the whole idea that you have to choose between employing people or economic production versus health and safety is absolutely nonsense.

I just want to say something about inflation. It’s important to note that inflation, as my very brilliant colleague, Nathan Tankus, would point out, is not a natural phenomenon that we just go out and look at with our eyes. It is a function of the way that we elect to record various processes and phenomena in our economic activity. So inflation is based on price indices, and these price indices have changed over time. And those choices of what goes in the price indices are political, and they matter. And they skew things. So we could talk about hyperinflation on Wall Street right now or for the last 40 years, but nobody talks about that. Nobody says there’s Weimar Germany on Wall Street, because our indicators are not set up to reveal that sort of thing. You could talk about hyperinflation in health care, in education, in almost everything but media, technology, and media consumption. Everything is hyperinflated over the last 40 years, at least in the United States, but nobody talks about it in that way.

So I would just say that, and also that printing money or creating money is not an exception, it’s the rule. It is not in excess of a natural system that is finding equilibrium in its own natural way. We are constantly printing money. This is what banks do. Every day, they issue credit to somebody. They don’t recycle money from one place to another. They have a license to create money. So I would say, Wall Street is printing way too much money. It’s Weimar hyperinflation. Let’s put away the wheelbarrows filled with digital money that are skewing all of our values, and start printing money toward productive communal and ecological purposes. I will say, I am happy to look at the Gesell argument. I’ve had vague encounters with that discourse. But I’d like to look at it more and I appreciate the nudge.

And lastly, with the proto-aesthetic, so here’s the thing, I’m coming from the left. The left throughout at least the modern Western world, as far as I can see, the dominant tendency has been to radicalize bourgeois ambivalence about money, which I think is already ill founded, and to turn it into Satan, to turn it into the worst technology ever and and to suggest that we cannot have justice, we cannot have collective caretaking as long as this medium mediates our political economy. So my move is not to say money is happy and rosy and always the best! Neat-o! Let’s treat it as a purely good, wonderful, rosy thing. No, no, no. I’m pushing hard in the other direction to remind us that it has these capacities to push back against all this Liberal, radical, Marxist, and anarchist ambivalence and rejection of money in order to open up money as a problem of collective cultivation, as a difficult problem. It is not all rosy.

What I would suggest is, if we want aesthetic production, we have to recognize the way that aesthetic production is financed in the first place, and radically change the way aesthetic production is financed. And also recognize that, I’m sitting here in my house in Tampa, Florida, and I’m having a sensory experience that involves this room, the fan whizzing around me. I’m talking to you all, mediated through this technology, and this is all a sensuous experience that has been variously conditioned by money. So it’s not rosy, but it is the ground that I would argue we need to start from.

Andrés Bernal: Thank you. So we’ve hit our time boundary. We’ve even gone a couple minutes over. So I want to thank everybody for participating with us here today. It was an absolute pleasure. Graham and Scott, thank you so much. If anybody else has any other comments or questions, please reach out to us. We’re on Twitter, or email us, anything like that. And the last thing I will say is, I have a special appreciation for philosophy as a discipline and philosophers as a philosophy undergrad. One of the major reasons I even gravitated to MMT was because of these questions that I was trained in during my philosophy education, which absolutely changed my life. So thank you all. We need to appreciate our philosophers more in this country and society. So with that said, thank you for coming here and keep it up.

* Thanks to the Money on the Left production team: Thomas Chaplin (audio editor), Richard Farrell (transcription), & Meghan Saas (graphic art)

26 – Mutual Aid By Any Other Name

Cohosts Natalie Smith and Will Beaman discuss mutual aid, highlighting the potentials of its often neglected monetary and linguistic dimensions. 

Reading against Dean Spade’s interpretation of mutual aid as fully internal or external to money and the state, Natalie and Will recast mutual aid practices as active and vital forms of contestation over the “monetary naming” of other fiscal authorities that naturalize austerity and unemployment. Viewing mutual aid this way, they argue, opens up possibilities for its expansion through monetary creation.

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

The Neoliberal Blockbuster: Toy Story Part 1 (Full Episode)

This Money on the Left/Superstructure episode is the tenth premium release from Scott Ferguson’s “Neoliberal Blockbuster” course. Typically reserved for Patreon subscribers, this special two-part episode about Toy Story is available to the general public in full. Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon to your favorite podcast streaming service.

For access to the rest of the course, subscribe to our Patreon here:  

If you are interested in premium offerings but presently unable to afford a subscription, please send a direct message to @moneyontheleft or @Superstruc on Twitter & we will happily provide you with membership access.  

Course Description

This course examines the neoliberal Blockbuster from the 1970s to the present. It focuses, in particular, on the social significance of the blockbuster’s constitutive technologies: both those made visible in narratives and the off-screen tools that drive production and reception. Linking aesthetic shifts in American moving images to broader transformations in political economy, the course traces the historical transformation of screen action from the ethereal “dream factory” of pre-1960s cinema to the impact-driven “thrill ride” of the post-1970s blockbuster. In doing so, we attend to the blockbuster’s technological forms and study how they have variously contributed to social, economic, and political transformations over the past 40 years. We critically engage blockbusters as “reflexive allegories” of their own technosocial processes and pleasures. Above all, we think through the blockbuster’s shifting relationship to monetary abstraction and the myriad additional abstractions monetary mediation entails.


2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018)

The Neoliberal Blockbuster: Robocop (Preview)

This Money on the Left/Superstructure teaser previews both our eight and ninth premium releases from Scott Ferguson’s “Neoliberal Blockbuster” course for Patreon subscribers.

For access to the full lecture, subscribe to our Patreon here:  

If you are interested in premium offerings but presently unable to afford a subscription, please send a direct message to @moneyontheleft or @Superstruc on Twitter & we will happily provide you with membership access.  

Course Description

This course examines the neoliberal Blockbuster from the 1970s to the present. It focuses, in particular, on the social significance of the blockbuster’s constitutive technologies: both those made visible in narratives and the off-screen tools that drive production and reception. Linking aesthetic shifts in American moving images to broader transformations in political economy, the course traces the historical transformation of screen action from the ethereal “dream factory” of pre-1960s cinema to the impact-driven “thrill ride” of the post-1970s blockbuster. In doing so, we attend to the blockbuster’s technological forms and study how they have variously contributed to social, economic, and political transformations over the past 40 years. We critically engage blockbusters as “reflexive allegories” of their own technosocial processes and pleasures. Above all, we think through the blockbuster’s shifting relationship to monetary abstraction and the myriad additional abstractions monetary mediation entails.


2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

RoboCop (Paul Verhoeven, 1987)

Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995)

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

The Matrix (Wachowskis, 1999)

Avengers: Infinity War (Joe & Anthony Russo, 2018

Left Conversion Therapy w/ Ian from Twitter

Ian (@ian_as_portrait) joins Natalie Smith to discuss the hyper-normative left rhetoric of philosophy instructor and frequent Jacobin contributor Ben Burgis. Emblematic of a certain deadpan logical sobriety seen in certain left circles, Burgis’s debate style downplays heterogeneity, pleasure, and generativity in an effort to convert libertarians and right-wingers to an incrementalist tax-to-spend vision of democratic socialism. Calling out the austerian and deeply fatalist assumptions of Burgis’s reactionary approach, Ian and Naty instead affirm the potentials of an inclusive, heterogenous, and emotionally wide-ranging left discourse.

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