Political Economy of ‘The Rehearsal’ (New Transcript!)

Cohosts Charlotte Tavan (@moltopopulare) and Will Beaman (@agoingaccount) discuss the reflexive and imaginative political economy of Nathan Fielder’s HBO series, The Rehearsal. The show points towards an apophatic ethics of social provisioning, presenting an ambiguous portrait of care, production, and human agency. This portrait remains irreducibly and collective, in excess of the powers and intentions that constitute social belonging.

Transcript: Mike Lewis

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Transcript

Will Beaman  00:00

Hey everyone, this is Will Beaman from Superstructure podcast and Money On The Left Editorial Collective. And I have with me my Money On The Left collaborator Charlotte Tavan.

Charlotte Tavan  00:24

Hi! Hi Will, good morning.

Will Beaman  00:27

Good morning. Yeah, it is. That’s very nice of you. Because it is morning for me, and I think it’s almost midnight for you.

Charlotte Tavan  00:37

Yeah, but I had a nice nap. So I’m letting you have priority because I feel worse for you.

Will Beaman  00:43

There’s like a sliver of the day that we’re both awake. And yet somehow we do find a lot of time to talk.

Charlotte Tavan  00:52

Yeah, we’ve attempted this recording a lot of times.

Will Beaman  00:58

So for listeners who are wondering why this is going so well, that’s actually no accident because we have rehearsed this exact Zoom call 13 times.

Charlotte Tavan  01:14

In different rooms of the house…

Will Beaman  01:17

With actors playing both of us. And the reason for this joke is that we’re talking about The Rehearsal.

Charlotte Tavan  01:30

Yeah. Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal.

Will Beaman  01:33

It’s a fascinating show, and several people have reached out to us since the show started, being like, “I hope that you’re going to do something about this, because this is like the most Money On The Left show ever.”

Charlotte Tavan  01:49

Oh, I didn’t know that. That’s so cool. That makes sense.

Will Beaman  01:51

Yeah. I exaggerated a little bit. I’ve had it twice. Two people have reached out. Okay.

Charlotte Tavan  01:58

That’s awesome.

Will Beaman  01:59

Yeah. And that’s half of the people that I know really. So.

Charlotte Tavan  02:03

Yeah.

Will Beaman  02:05

Yeah. And everyone else on Twitter is just a part of my rehearsal, like an unwilling member.

Charlotte Tavan  02:13

Yeah.

Will Beaman  02:15

But anyway…

Charlotte Tavan  02:16

You’re just things to me. You’re just little things in the computer.

Will Beaman  02:21

Yeah, exactly.

Charlotte Tavan  02:23

Part of my master plan.

Will Beaman  02:24

You’re all extras in my show. So let’s back up and talk about what this show is. I guess. Yeah. Like to contextualize it. Start with maybe like, who is Nathan Fielder? And what is Nathan For You? Which is the show that kind of comes before this? Because I think that in a lot of ways, The Rehearsal is commenting on Nathan For You. And I’ve seen a bunch of Nathan For You. But I think that you’re the resident Nathan Fielder scholar here.

Charlotte Tavan  03:06

Thank you.

Will Beaman  03:08

And I say that because I hope that he hears this and reaches out to you.

Charlotte Tavan  03:15

That would shake me to my core.

Will Beaman  03:22

I wasn’t sure if when Nathan reached out to me…

Charlotte Tavan  03:29

Yeah, exactly. I do love Nathan Fielder, though.

Will Beaman  03:35

Yeah, so who is Nathan Fielder?

Charlotte Tavan  03:37

So I actually had practice explaining this to somebody at a pub last night. So I think it’s gonna go well. So he’s a comedian from Toronto, Canada, who…I think he started off doing a lot of — he’s one of those people who, if you look on his YouTube channel, he’s kind of just kept everything up there for the past 15 years. And you can see that he’s been actually quite prolific and hard working for a long time. But he has this drive to make content constantly. Although he did have a bit of a break. But yeah, so his first show that he kind of hit it big with was called Nathan For You, which was a comedy program that was essentially a reality TV show format in which he gives advice to failing businesses, in and around LA, on how to succeed. As this character is him but like an exaggerated version of his own certain characteristics. He has an awkwardness and, you know, people are always wondering, like, “is he acting?” but yeah, it’s like a version of him. And he gives these businesses ridiculous advice, playing this straight man the whole time, and they think it’s a real reality TV show. They go along with it, and they end up doing and saying stupid things. And it’s really, really, really funny. But yeah, that show went for about four seasons and got bigger and bigger, and the budget just kept on getting bigger and bigger. And he just kept on attempting more and more ridiculous stunts, including commenting on the media itself and experimenting in ways that he could manipulate the media for business. Stuff like that.

Will Beaman  05:36

Yeah, so he’s very, I guess we could say, reflexive and perhaps neurotic about the medium itself, that he is kind of acting within.  And I think that there’s a parallel that we could draw here between something that happened earlier in the 20th century, with reference to, I mean, really, with a lot of experimental genres of film. But I think that what this borrows from, particularly, in the kind of category of experimentation is a documentary form that was responding to the kind of mainstream documentary forms of its day, which is Cinéma vérité. French for “cinema truth.” Basically, the idea of Cinéma vérité was the fact that a documentary was being created and wasn’t hidden from the characters or from the audience. Everything was above board and self aware. And, in a way, all of the paradoxical questions of that self awareness were like very heavy themes in it. So these questions that Nathan will bring up about “what is a reality show?”, basically are, I think, going to interact with the reality show form in a similar way. And a lot of the signatures of the reality show form, in particular the confessionals, actually do come from this longer history of vérité documentaries where people will stare directly into the camera, and the camera is supposed to be us. And that kind of implicates or raises the question of, how do we relate to the characters? Right, and how do we relate to this show as a production?

Charlotte Tavan  05:51

Yeah. Yeah. And Nathan is super aware of this, about how the medium forms the themes and experience of the viewer and how we see everything. It’s not just the content he’s creating, but how he’s just super, super aware of that and reflexive about that. And he’s always talking about it…Nathan For You is supposed to be like a sillier show than The Rehearsal, which we’ll go on to discuss, but yeah he’s super in tune with that, I feel.

Will Beaman  08:35

Yeah, absolutely. And so like you said, Nathan For You gets more self-reflective and more meta commentary on its own forms. The problems and paradoxes and questions of what it means to be making a show like that, because I think a lot of people responded by saying that the show is exploitative or…

Charlotte Tavan  09:05

Mean.

Will Beaman  09:05

Yeah, that it’s mean.

Charlotte Tavan  09:08

Which it kind of is. I love it but, yeah.

Will Beaman  09:09

Yeah, I mean, there is some of that for sure. And I think that one of his responses in Nathan For You that then also gets picked up in The Rehearsal and kind of different ways: in Nathan For You, he plays a very cringy version of himself where I think he’s at least implicating himself in whatever kind of embarrassment there is. But it’s an open question of does that cancel out the kind of dickish-ness of the form, right? And I think that, yeah, that kind of increasing self-reflexiveness, it sort of hits its peak at this episode, the last episode of Nathan For You: Finding Frances, which you’ve seen a bunch of times. So, maybe we can…how does that go and how does it end? Because I think that that actually provides some continuity, then, for where The Rehearsal picks up.

Charlotte Tavan  10:03

So, “Finding Frances” was like a feature length special that was the final episode of Nathan For You in which one of the actors from–and this is really interesting, because it’s not a new guy–he takes one of the actors that he took the piss out of, in an earlier episode, who played like a Bill Gates impersonator that was meant to drum up popularity for a business. And he was really, really funny. So basically, Nathan got him back on the show, and apparently the premise is that he and Bill were recording, like DVD commentary, and then Bill Heath, the subject of “Finding Frances” has started talking about his high school sweetheart, who he has always been in love with and has never, ever forgotten about and swore that she’d loved him till she like till her grave, I think was the line. So Nathan is like, you know, maybe I should like, give a little back. How about like, I take this, like, nice old man Bill and I use all of the money and resources that I have at my disposal, which he specifically says, to help him find his high school sweetheart. Like, what better use of my money and time. And so they kind of go on this journey together, “Finding Frances”, his high school sweetheart, and in typical Nathan Fielder fashion, he complicates everything. And there’s just layers upon layers of tricks and lies. And he has to pretend that they’re filming a sequel to the film “Mud” in a high school to get access to their archives. Yeah, he makes Bill Heath pretend he’s from the town of Dumas, and puts on a fake high school reunion and stuff like that. As the show goes on, Nathan starts to realize that he’s being lied to, do you know what I mean?

Will Beaman  12:48

Mhm.

Charlotte Tavan  12:49

It’s almost like he, being continually accused of manipulation and lying and exploitation, but then it starts to become apparent that Bill Heath is not being completely honest with him. And Nathan doesn’t have full control over where this project is going. And there are points where he’s just like, “I literally don’t know what I’m doing here. We’ve just been filming random things for a week. Like zoos and trees and stuff.”

Will Beaman  13:21

Yeah, and this is so interesting because I feel like one of these complications here is that Bill has his own life and his own agenda. And yet at the same time, he is and everybody is being enlisted into this TV show. Right? For Nathan. And there’s a kind of an interesting, I guess what you could call, there’s a kind of meta continuity here, across all of these kinds of different worlds, that people have that sort of deviate and then come back to each other, right? Where even thinking about who Bill is and what he discovers that his wife, he finds out, has been married. Or not his wife, sorry, his…

Charlotte Tavan  14:26

His fantasy wife. He did want to propose to her, they do rehearse that.

Will Beaman  14:31

Yeah. And so this fantasy is part of Bill’s interior world, but it can actually be blown up to huge significance in this medium. But, yeah, he finds that his fantasy wife, high school sweetheart, has been married, has had a bunch of kids, has kind of been out living her own life, and then the whole time she’s also been a character in his story. Right? And he’s a character in Nathan’s story. But I think, as we’re getting at with Nathan not having full control over this, it’s not just like a Russian nesting doll with Nathan’s story at the peak of it.

Charlotte Tavan  15:23

Yeah.

Will Beaman  15:24

Where, ultimately, there’s one master director. I think that part of how this is working in conjunction with that vérité style of implicating yourself in the world, is that the director of Nathan For You, and these kinds of problems and paradoxes of control and controlling people and exploiting people, aren’t inherently one directional. Right? They go across all of these different directions.

Charlotte Tavan  16:02

And like Bill Heath is an actor. I think that’s significant as well.

Will Beaman  16:06

Yeah, totally. So with this continuity across–and The Rehearsal will call these, basically, rehearsals. Right? But we could say in the case of Nathan For You, these continuities and discontinuities across episodes as to who is a character and who is not. You have these characters who come back. There’s a sense with Nathan situating himself, and all of these characters in our world, where he’s a documentary or a TV show maker, right. It’s sort of like, what is continuing if it’s not an episode, per se, but it is nevertheless something that is very social, right? And he continues to be caught up in these people’s lives, even when he’s not working.

Charlotte Tavan  17:12

Yeah, like Macy is a good example of that in that show, as well, in “Finding Frances.” Initially, he hires an escort to help Bill rehearse for meeting his fantasy high school sweetheart, but Nathan just ends up like, that becomes a relationship and dynamic in and of itself. It also has that like, she’s working, she’s an escort, he’s paying in cash, but at the same time, she’s part of the story on the show, but then she has her own other dynamics going on. And then like, why is this even part of the show? Like, yeah, it’s interesting.

Will Beaman  17:58

It’s really interesting. And I think that that is, one of the most, that part especially feels a lot like The Rehearsal. And so, maybe then jumping from Nathan For You to The Rehearsal. I think like Nathan For You, The Rehearsal, he sort of is starting from the same character, right? Where he is somebody who has a budget and a TV show to help people with real life problems. But instead of struggling businesses, the scope is just kind of life in general. Which is quite interesting. So I mean, how would you contrast Nathan For You with The Rehearsal? Or maybe how does The Rehearsal go further?

Charlotte Tavan  18:58

Well, I mean, the character Nathan is changed in The Rehearsal. I feel like that starts happening in “Finding Frances”: he kind of presents himself as like, Okay, now this is me being earnest. Like he’s still the same Nathan, but he’s being earnest and being more vulnerable, I guess.

Will Beaman  19:21

Yeah. There’s such an earnestness about it. And part of it, I think, is that there’s a kind of behind the scenes deconstruction of how the show is even being made in the first place where it almost at times feels like a documentary about its own making. A little bit where he’s like, you see him with all these computer monitors watching things that have been recorded or watching things that are being acted out at the same time. Part of the nature of this is that his character is a little bit more voyeuristic than, at least at first, there’s a separation between him and his clients, I guess where his clients are all preparing for difficult conversations or difficult life events. And the premise, basically, is that he, with his unlimited HBO budget, will create down to the detail, like absolute models and replicas of that situation and stage endless, what he calls rehearsals for that moment, with an actor playing whoever the characters need to talk to. And all along the way, he sort of is like the voice in the characters’ ears a little bit during the rehearsals. He’s not supposed to be part of The Rehearsal in the way that a director is not supposed to be part of a film, necessarily, but then of course, what we’re watching, he is a part of.

Charlotte Tavan  21:16

Yeah, he’s like a part of it. But again, he’s constantly reflexive about how he is part of it.

Will Beaman  21:24

Right

Charlotte Tavan  21:24

And constantly fucking up and then like saying, “Oh, I fucked up.” Which is something he kind of started doing in Nathan For You, as well. The example I always think about is the dumb Starbucks episode where he tries to help a failing coffee shop by saying, “let’s just imitate Starbucks.” And then he just ends up running a fake Starbucks for no reason. And then at the end, he’s kind of like, “Oh, I just realized that I got a bit caught up in myself here.” And like, “I’m sorry, bye.”

Will Beaman  22:05

Yeah, and that’s spoiler alert, I guess, for anybody who’s listening. Sorry, this came a little bit late into the episode, but, there will be spoilers. Because that sort of is the arc of The Rehearsal, in a way, where all of these rehearsals kind of continue and they compound on each other. And at one point, I think it’s episode three, they start to overlap with each other where he has multiple rehearsals going on at once. One of them is for this woman, Angela, whose original purpose was she wanted to see what it’s like to be a mother, and so they planned for over the course of several months to simulate a fake house and do child rearing. At first with an actor, but then the actor leaves. And then it ends. So Nathan steps in to play the father role, as well as the director role.

Charlotte Tavan  23:25

Although, was that guy an actor?

Will Beaman  23:30

Are any of them actors?

Charlotte Tavan  23:32

Yeah we don’t know. But he was enlisted via a dating app.

Will Beaman  23:37

No, you’re right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, totally. These are linguistic ambiguities, I say, covering my ass.

Charlotte Tavan  23:48

Yeah. They’re all actors.

Will Beaman  23:52

Because yeah, in the context of the show, they’re all actors. But then also, part of what’s going on here is that there’s some way where this kind of social anxiety and nervousness about your performance doesn’t have a starting and stopping point that’s clear, right? Like where Nathan will sometimes be director or sometimes an actor in the, like, relative to the show and the scene that he’s performing, he’ll insert himself in the scene sometimes as an actor, but regardless, his acting never stops. And it becomes very interesting when there’s multiple rehearsals, and he’s acting in one of them, because that sort of begins to resemble a work life balance, where he has his day job, which is this rehearsal that he’s not acting in, and then his home life. What’s the difference between being at home and being at work? While at home, it’s your own rehearsal versus when you’re at work it’s someone else’s rehearsal. Right? It’s this idea, and I think we’ll get into this: it sort of is playing with the boundaries between work and leisure in a way that I think is familiarizing these as being as hard and set as we think of them being. Anyway, we’ll get into that, because I think that acting is like a very interesting figure for this. But first, I guess, I want to take a step back and just talk about what’s been written about The Rehearsal so far. Because in preparing for this episode, obviously, one of the places to start besides watching the show is sampling all of the articles that have been written about it. And there have been a whole bunch, and I think we only really want to talk about a few, but I think that these are emblematic of the range that we saw. Yeah. So do you want to start with the first one?

Charlotte Tavan  26:21

Okay, so this is kind of on the super, super critical, shitty end of the…

Will Beaman  26:32

Yeah, this guy hates the show.

Charlotte Tavan  26:34

This guy really hates the show, and we’re not entirely sure that he watched the whole show, either.

Will Beaman  26:40

It definitely seems at points like, the first few episodes were viewed, and then there’s a kind of a hand wavy thing at the end that’s like, and for the rest of the show. And it’s after Episode Two, and it’s one sentence at the end.

Charlotte Tavan  26:57

Totally. So the title is, Richard Brody: “The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze of Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal,” which I think you know, that gives you an idea of like…

Will Beaman  27:12

The entire thesis…

Charlotte Tavan  27:16

And that’s like, basically what it says. “As a filmmaker, Fielder displays interest, not in any physical process unfolding over time…

Will Beaman  27:25

Which is exactly what TV is supposed to be about: capturing a physical process unfolding in time. That’s actually like a funny…that sounds like a very experimental documentary form.

Charlotte Tavan  27:41

Yeah, I know. Just real time, like a CCTV camera.

Will Beaman  27:47

Like city symphonies or something. Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  27:50

But yeah…

Will Beaman  27:51

You wrote in parentheses “what does this mean?”

Charlotte Tavan  27:56

That was my main comment. Yeah, “he revels in his own thoughts as he tailors the conditions of his subjects’ lives to fit his storytelling.” Which again, did you watch the show? Like, that’s just the opposite of what is happening in the show, I feel. Can I read another?

Will Beaman  28:17

Yeah, please, let’s jump around and get a real sampling.

Charlotte Tavan  28:25

This is my favorite bit. So this guy seems to have like, a.) an idea that this TV show is supposed to be a documentary. Like an actual very serious inquiry. Which it is, but like…

Will Beaman  28:45

It definitely can be read as a documentary, but I think he means it in like, he’s looking at like…

Charlotte Tavan  28:52

David Attenborough, right?

Will Beaman  28:52

Like, the most expository mode of documentary.

Charlotte Tavan  28:56

Yeah.

Will Beaman  28:56

And then being like, “this show is messing up at being a documentary.”

Charlotte Tavan  29:03

Yeah, exactly. My really specific and strange idea of what a documentary should be and how I want to be made to think about things. This is an example of that, “Angela presents herself as a devout Christian. She displays an obsession with the dangers of satanic cults and gives voice to some remarkable conspiracy theories regarding the power of the devil in daily life. Yet his gimlet-eyed dubiousness about these ideas remains retentive and incurious, without any probing of causes and sources, and without the scathing political satire of Borat and subsequent movie films.”

Will Beaman  29:49

I’ll admit this is no Borat.

Charlotte Tavan  29:55

It’s definitely no Borat 2.

Will Beaman  30:03

Jesus Christ. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know, he’s seething. Like he hates it so much.

Charlotte Tavan  30:10

Really angry.

Will Beaman  30:11

Gimlet-eyed dubiousness. Well, I just looked up what gimlet means, and it’s an eye with a piercing stare. So that sounded less like, I don’t know…

Charlotte Tavan  30:26

Gimlet sounds like a goblin. Like a little Goblin.

Will Beaman  30:31

His beady little eyes.

Charlotte Tavan  30:36

But it’s still, yeah, it’s not very nice anyway.

Will Beaman  30:41

Yeah. And, you know, we should say that, I think, at a very superficial level, he’s drawing on a theme in film studies which is the potential violence and sadism of the camera. And not just of the camera, but of the voice of the film. And this is a problem that cinéma vérité documentaries are very concerned with. You can contrast it at the extreme end with like a Ken Burns documentary where you have this kind of voice of God narration that it’s very clear what the preferred reading of the film is. And really, I think that there’s a way to talk about cinema history in general that is sort of wrestling with, you know, not to be precious or exaggerate about it, but like, the trauma of being hit over the head again, and again, with like a very codified way of making films where it’s supposed to be very, very clear and unambiguous what you’re supposed to think. So in the documentary form, that’s, you know, Ken Burns “In the Civil War…” But also, you can think back to classical Hollywood, right? Where what kind of forms is the kind of best practices in Hollywood that are then enforced by codes and regulations, and the kind of monopolistic structure of the industry that kind of gets broken in the 60s when people have handheld cameras, and they can kind of go off on their own and do, well, cinéma vérité documentaries, among other things. But all of these conventions were about, they would say, hand holding and making it legible and accessible to the audience, right? Audiences aren’t supposed to be confused by what they’re watching. It’s supposed to be very clear who’s a good guy, who’s a bad guy. The voice of the film is very unambiguous.

Charlotte Tavan  33:11

By leaving it ambiguous, you open it up to the devil or something.

Will Beaman  33:16

Well, right. And it’s so funny that you say that, because this really becomes kind of codified and kind of stuck this way during the Prohibition era. So there really is a moralistic and like Christian language around. Yeah, like, especially thinking of these city centers where, what are these lower and middle class people watching? There’s an anxiety that they’re going to be corrupted or something like that.

Charlotte Tavan  33:51

We were talking about criticisms of Euphoria before as being like that.

Will Beaman  34:00

Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  34:03

“Gimlet-eyed dubiousness.”

Will Beaman  34:08

That gimlet-eyed bitch! But, yeah, right. There was a New Yorker review. It’s always The New Yorker. This is also The New Yorker that we’re reading from. I don’t think it was…this one is Richard Brody. But I think the last one was Naomi Fry who also has a Nathan For You review that we’re not going to read because this one is just kind of more cartoonish-ly mean. But, yeah. I mean, she takes issue with Euphoria being like, “I can’t tell what the motivations of these characters are, so they messed up. So I hate that.” There is kind of that impulse here a little bit like, “I don’t know, he’s just letting things unfold rather than telling you.”

Charlotte Tavan  35:11

Yeah, but then he also complains that he’s telling you what to think via the voiceover

Will Beaman  35:16

Yeah that in doing so, it is the ultimate in exploitation.

Charlotte Tavan  35:23

Yeah. Yeah. Just like taking issue with him not like trying to explore Angela’s Christian fundamentalist beliefs in a serious way. And that is just so funny.

Will Beaman  35:39

Yeah, I mean, it really does become such a theme. And actually, like, I think that she has one of the best lines in the series, which you see this at the beginning of one of the days in the house, where she’s praying, and she says something like, “God, you are guiding this rehearsal. It’s not Nathan. It’s not any of us, it’s you.”

Charlotte Tavan  36:13

“And let Nathan know that no matter what happens, it’s you in the end that’s guiding this,” and like, yeah.

Will Beaman  36:19

Yeah. And, obviously, I’m sure she means this in the kind of Christian fundamentalist way. But I do think that there’s kind of a, I think, from the point of view of Nathan, including it in the show, there is like a mystical borderline theological argument that is being made here about no rehearsal, or no action or no camera can fully dictate everything in the world.

Charlotte Tavan  36:59

Yeah.

Will Beaman  37:00

Or you could think of this with, I mean, this language of Nathan’s cruel and arrogant gaze. The spectatorial gaze is like superficially drawing on this idea of the cinematic male gaze.

Charlotte Tavan  37:18

As opposed to Borat.

Will Beaman  37:22

Yeah, Borat, which is the people’s gaze. Oh, my God, actually Borat as like shitty faux populism in contrast to this is really funny to think about. That he would say that Borat is, it’s being directly subversive in some way where this is like, “what is Nathan doing?”  “It’s not even clear who he hates.” That’s the main question. Yeah so this history of thinking about and criticizing the dominant preferred reading in a film, and how different elements of film form conspire to foist that on you, the viewer, is like a long running theme in film theory. In a past episode, even, we’ve talked about an article about the cinematic male gaze by Laura Mulvey, and this gets picked up by bell hooks. Sort of the argument, also, is that this is reinforcing a kind of spectatorial gaze that’s biased in the favor of the cinematic gaze, which is a patriarchal gaze, right? So the spectatorial position is male coded. And in a certain way, it’s meant to shore up an anxious masculinity, that in order to feel the full degrees of its freedom and independence and ability to do whatever it wants, needs to make a show of manipulating and punishing and objectifying whatever’s on screen. And certainly, I would say that that’s being taken up as an anxiety in the show. But I do think that this article is drawing on it very superficially. It seemed very much in danger of saying the essence of a camera and the essence of a gaze, is this, like, phallic penetration or something. And I don’t think that that’s, you know, I mean, both Mulvey and especially bell hooks, also write about counter gazes, and other viewing positions. And these can be articulated as being like a counter phallic gaze, or something, and there definitely is…I feel like that’s a very RadFem reading of it. But there also is just a kind of a re-situating the gaze in a world of gazes, right? And these don’t have to, you know, maybe there’s a different relationship to viewing than mastery in the first place.

Charlotte Tavan  37:47

Yeah, yeah. It’s one of those shows where once you finish the whole thing, and then you realize that you didn’t even have mastery over how you were even spectating it in the first place, I feel. I rewatched it, and there were moments in it that I feel like have to be intentional, or regardless, there were moments in it where I was, like, having seen the last episode, now rewatching this I have so many different feelings about it. I mean, you kind of get that with a lot of that kind of media, but like, yeah. Spoiler alert, the final episode about this kid who didn’t have a dad or a father figure in his life ends up like forming a real bond with him and doesn’t really seem to actually understand the concept of acting or realness, or fakeness. And gets upset and feels abandoned. And Nathan kind of has to reject this child, in a way, or in the way that the child wants, and they’re just like…

Will Beaman  41:33

Right, yeah, that’s really well put.

Charlotte Tavan  41:35

When you really watch it after having seen what it’s like, you watch scenes and you see that child before he becomes more of a serious subject in the final episode. Because this child is one of the child actors that is hired to play Angela’s son.

Will Beaman  41:55

Yeah, there’s like a rotating cast of 12 child actors throughout this whole arc.

Charlotte Tavan  42:00

There are like hundreds. Well, there’s like dozens. There’s babies to teenagers to adults.

Will Beaman  42:13

There’s a funny parallel there with the dumb Starbucks episode where the premise of the dumb Starbucks episode of Nathan For You that you know, “we couldn’t copy Starbucks, unless this was categorized as a parody. So technically, this is a museum.” And I feel like there’s a similar, playful, like, Huh, that’s a legal problem that’s getting in the way of life. And in this case, it’s literally child labor laws. Allowing a child actor to perform in four hour increments, which means that for every single day, he has to have like six kid actors.

Charlotte Tavan  43:01

Yeah, he’s got like, a fake baby, like a robot baby that goes from a certain time that babies can’t work past that he controls the robot baby. And then he hires a guy to sit up all night and press a button to make the baby cry that would mirror the crying of a real baby, I think, that they’re also observing. It’s crazy. It’s so good. But yeah.

Will Beaman  43:29

Yeah, and this is a different temporality and like a different rhythm, but it almost does kind of remind me of, I mean, Nathan, literally is an employer, or at least he’s questioning whether he’s an employer, right? He’s like, what does it mean to be an employer in the same way? Like, what does it mean to be a director? What does it mean to be an actor? But employers, if you zoom out, maybe not, maybe they don’t switch actors or, you know, switch employees, like three times a day. But, you know, obviously, people move around from job to job. And institutions nevertheless continue to continue to last, right? So, if you were to look at any other business, which I think is a central theme here, is the production of a TV show is kind of analogized to all forms of production, and kind of all societal forms. And so, in the context of something that’s not a TV show, we kind of expect that all institutions are run in an ongoing way by a whole host of people who come and go. This is another example of, like, it’s sped up and that makes it funny. But there are a lot of these kinds of uncanny semblances that I think are really interesting. Yeah. It’s like the fake bar that he builds in the first episode, he actually just opens and runs as a bar in the end.  Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  44:24

In a building and then creates a little tunnel and puts signage out, and the public just walk in and start drinking in this bar that is just running now like.

Will Beaman  45:27

Yeah, so I think we wanted to take kind of a Goldilocks approach here where, you know, this article  was too mean. And we’ll get to the one that was just right. Not really just right. But like, to the edge of, then, where I think we want to step in.

Charlotte Tavan  45:45

Pretty good.

Will Beaman  45:46

Step in pretty good, yeah. To use another HBO phrase. I’m sorry to the listeners for us. Yeah. So this next article, this was in Vulture, and it’s titled, “Nathan Fielder’s Dazzling, Horrifying Trial Run of Reality” is by Kathryn VanArendonk. So this review, unlike the last one, at least sees that something self reflective is going on here that’s not just a kind of enlisting other people in his own kind of cruel gaze, or whatever. But still, this is like a pretty negative review where she writes “By episode four, when Fielder turns the whole thing into an unending spiral of self consciousness,  The Rehearsal starts to look like a stunning display of narcissism more than anything else. It is solipsism disguised as its opposite. How could that not be repellent?” And then later, she says, “but there is at least one level on which The Rehearsal is unquestionably commenting on something beyond the strange recesses of Fielder’s mind. Everything Fielder does is an unadorned version of how all reality TV works. We’re uncomfortable because we can see the mechanics of it, but nothing is actually different. People consent to play along with the production, often built as a social experiment for their possible game. Participants of Love is Blind, don’t know how they’ll be edited. Real Housewives give their consent, but how much power do they have to say no once their lives are warped by the franchise? People on The Circle sign up knowing they’ll be manipulated. Does that make the manipulation okay?” And I think that this is already miles ahead of the last article in a lot of ways. Because I do think that this resemblance is really important. And she’s definitely picking up on something in the show.

Charlotte Tavan  48:11

And yeah, and that was even the same in Nathan For You, he’s trying to expose the real mechanics behind television all the time. That’s part of what’s so fun about it to watch, as well.

Will Beaman  48:27

Yeah, and I think that your description of the “Finding Frances” episode, I think, gets this across really well that these problems of power and control over how this will go and consent and like all of these things, they don’t just start and stop in a very clean way with the director. Right? Because in that show, Nathan realizes that he’s being lied to.

Charlotte Tavan  49:06

Totally, Yeah.

Will Beaman  49:08

And he feels manipulated in some way. But I don’t think that the point is to just flatten and level it and say that, “Well, we’re all manipulating each other. So everyone’s a sinner,” you know, our infinite Liz Brunig rejoinder.

Charlotte Tavan  49:27

No, and Nathan never says that either. He doesn’t really pose himself as a victim either in these sins. Not that I really like that language. But yeah, he’s just saying this is happening. And he’s always making a point of showing people calling him a liar. And you know how he responds to that.

Will Beaman  49:53

Yeah, he’s fixated on how inescapable that danger feels.

Charlotte Tavan  49:58

Yeah.

Will Beaman  49:58

I think. And that is sort of the structure of the show, a little bit, is trying out every possible variation or way that something could go and then realizing that even then, you really don’t know.

Charlotte Tavan  50:17

I find that sentence like…”Real Housewives give their consent, but how much power do they have to say no once their lives are warped by the franchise?” It’s like, I see what they’re saying, and some reality TV shows are quite harmful to people. But what does that mean? Like no one has the power to say no when their lives are warped by anything in that way.

Will Beaman  50:44

Right. Exactly. Exactly. And that is sort of, I think, why this goes beyond just reality TV. And I think that he’s showing us not only how all reality TV works, but also I think how all institutions and life work.

Charlotte Tavan  51:09

Yeah. He’s literally going like, Oh my God, did I permanently emotionally damage a child?

Will Beaman  51:20

Yeah. Which then is him basically being a parent? Right?

Charlotte Tavan  51:26

Yeah, exactly.

Will Beaman  51:27

Concerned about whether or not, you know, did I just mess up?

Charlotte Tavan  51:33

I think that’s what the Real Housewives thing reminds me of. That’s like, as a parent, I’d find sentences like that chillin like shit happens, basically.

Will Beaman  51:48

Yeah, and I mean, God knows, it’s easy for parents to wring their hands about, you know, did I make the right choice? And life choices, if you’re a parent, become charged with people depending on you directly. But I think that there’s a way where that is being sort of extended, in all these kinds of heterogeneous ways to not just being a parent, but being a friend. Being an employee. Being like, both in and out of what we normally think of as this kind of hard distinction between work and leisure, where you are either on your own time, so it’s self care, right, and everything originates from you. Or, you’re alienated from that, and instead, you exist solely for your boss, instead. And I don’t think that in this show…I think that that’s being complicated, rather than refuted fully, right. Because, in a certain way, there’s nothing but anxiety about these power disparities, so it’s sort of the opposite of saying that they don’t matter. It’s like, actually, it’s the only thing that matters, it’s all we can think about. But it goes so much in that direction, that this awareness of power disparities and responsibility for how you will warp other people’s lives or impact other people, continues well beyond any one rehearsal, right? Even when you’re alone, and you’re reflecting, there’s a way where that reflection is a social reflection, right? You’re reflecting on how you are in your life with other people, right? I don’t think that we have a form of going through life that’s not minimally self aware, and self reflexive.

Charlotte Tavan  54:17

Which is acting, as well. I feel like.

Will Beaman  54:22

Yeah, totally.

Charlotte Tavan  54:25

Socially aware of what you’re doing, and in relation to the context and scenario, like that’s everything that we do, really.

Will Beaman  54:36

Yeah, totally. Yeah. And so like, is acting just anxiety? Or at least it’s an anxious action. Right? We can…like it’s interesting even though these words are so kind of similar, but one is more open ended and the other is more narrow.

Charlotte Tavan  54:57

Yeah, it’s just like having concern.

Will Beaman  54:59

Yeah, yeah, having concern, and there’s a sense of like, obviously, we resent having concerns that were not given to us in a fair way. You know, I used to have a job that I hated. I resented being concerned about all the stupid shit that I had to be concerned about throughout the day. But that’s different, I think, from resenting the fact of having to be concerned with things in the first place. But I do think that, certainly within like, a lot of leftist political traditions, you know, we’re Money On The Left, so we think about these kinds of things there. There certainly is a tradition of seeing that dependence and that concern as if it comes before individual consent in some way, then that means it’s reducible to violence. And that means that it’s bad, right? Or at least the benchmark, the ideal situation, is no one has to be concerned about anyone else unless they decide, oh, it would be fun to care about others. Whereas, I think that what you’re articulating about acting here, as this kind of ongoing reflection of yourself in the world, precedes caring about any particular thing, right? It precedes any one rehearsal.

Charlotte Tavan  56:44

I just like the quote in this article, which is like, “The Rehearsal starts to look like a stunning display of narcissism more than anything else. It is solipsism disguised as its opposite.” Like, I just think that that’s so the wrong way around.

Will Beaman  57:02

Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  57:03

Like, it’s completely the flip of that. It’s like a reflection disguised as narcissistic solipsism. Do you know what I mean? For comedic effect, occasionally, because it is also, you know, designed to make you laugh and be self-deprecating.

Will Beaman  57:23

Yeah, it’s not just that this is the inside of Nathan’s mind. It also, by analogy, is the inside of a lot of people’s minds, or at least these are kind of the problems.

Charlotte Tavan  57:35

Alright, so, the next article, and this is the not-just-right, but like pretty good.

Will Beaman  57:43

Yeah. Right. Which is as good as we can get from rehearsing.

Charlotte Tavan  57:47

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And this is by Alissa Wilkinson, and it’s called “What Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal Says About Us.” And so this article, kind of drawing on the work of Jewish philosopher called Martin Buber who worked with these concepts called “I-it” and “I-Thou”. Basically getting to the heart of subjectivities, how we experience the world versus like our relationship with things in the world. What can the media do with that? She’s kind of making the argument. Do you want to explain the concepts of I-it and I-Thou?

Will Beaman  58:32

Yeah, well, we can read the paragraph. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Charlotte Tavan  58:41

Yeah, thank you.

Will Beaman  58:43

Okay, now we’re recording. Yeah, so Alissa Wilkinson writes, “Buber — a not-so-incidentally Jewish philosopher” just as Nathan is also a Jewish philosopher, on our reading, too. “is probably best known for his work I and Thou, which has exerted tremendous influence on 20th-century thinkers and which marries existentialism and theology. I have to oversimplify to a fault here, but in essence, Buber says human experience is embodied in two pairs of words: “I-it” and “I-Thou.” These distinguish between the way we experience the world and the way we enter into relationships in it. (In his framework, this all eventually points toward God.)” Which is, I think, also hinted at in this show.

Charlotte Tavan  59:36

Yeah, this is something I’m only thinking about now that we’re recording this, but yeah, the show is very theological.

Will Beaman  59:44

Yeah. And it’s theological in a way that’s very, like multiple religions. I think that he’s, and not in a way that is like flattening, that is like so materializing theology that the questions don’t even matter and it’s all just like a completely horizontal plane of like cultures or something. Because I think that he’s also teasing out how these different, you could say, religious voices are kind of, you know, that are in dialogue and like a fraught dialogue are kind of approaching similar questions. But yeah, so she writes, “A layer of human existence takes place in what he terms “I-it,” which is how I experience everything that I can observe and describe and put into a category in the world: the aforementioned tree, the aforementioned barista, and quite possibly people in my life as well. They are objects that I experience as a means to my own end. I look at it. I project onto it my feelings, my assumptions, the things I am sure I know about them. I am, literally, objectifying them.” In some ways, I think, this is just the same argument as that first article, right? The I-it thing, which is “The Cruel and Arrogant Gaze of Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal.” Where just the act of putting a camera on something is this kind of looking, and…

Charlotte Tavan  1:01:31

Pure exploitation and…

Will Beaman  1:01:34

Yeah, objectification. But she seems to kind of distinguish between that and another way of relating which, according to this philosopher is I-thou, and she seems to associate that with in person relationships that have the complexity of intimacy, and all of these things that a camera can’t possibly capture. So she writes, “Then there is the “I-Thou” layer, which is when I have a relationship with not an object, but another subject — an entity that isn’t there to fulfill my objectives and goals, but into whom I am asked to invest myself. This requires intimacy, mutuality, openness, and, yes, empathy. To put it in Jamison’s terms, it is where the border between you and I may be crossed, where we can no longer project onto one another because our relationship is dynamic, allowing for each of us to defy categorization and be who we are. You are whatever category you identify with, but that is not all you are.” And, I mean, on on the one hand, this sounds a lot better, and I think what we want to say, but it strikes me as a bit odd that, as we’ll see, she kind of goes through and basically identifies the show as just showing a bunch of I-it relationships that fail to meet that kind of higher level of I-thou. And I guess it’s odd to me, because it’s not like when you’re hanging out with somebody in person, you have that kind of full mastery or identification with them as a subject, either, right?

Charlotte Tavan  1:03:29

No, or even the people that you know the best, people project onto you and yeah.

Will Beaman  1:03:36

So I think what we want to get at here, and I think our reading of the show, is that that kind of projection, on the one hand, is unavoidable. But on the other hand, it doesn’t necessarily lead to this kind of stupid objectification. And you would think that she was getting here because at the end, she says, “you are whatever category you identify with, but that is not all you are.” Right? That there can be multiple layers of projected meanings and categories and things like that. But I think that she’s thinking in terms of some kind of absolute immediate subjectivity. That is not abstract because it’s a little bit like it’s an agreement between two parties. You know, that’s like, doesn’t involve a camera or like a third party infrastructure or anything like that. Doesn’t involve a pre existing system of categories and languages and stuff. It’s just two people who see and understand each other kind of perfectly. And it’s just odd to me, because I don’t think that that really…

Charlotte Tavan  1:04:59

Oh, yeah. I’ve got so many relationships like that. I’m next level, we don’t even talk anymore. We just like to look into each other’s eyes.

Will Beaman  1:05:13

Yeah, well to avoid that, we close our eyes and just touch our brains. It’s a little bit like AirDrop, except it’s purely from the base biological.

Charlotte Tavan  1:05:32

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:05:33

Yeah. So to substantiate that characterization of the rest of the article, she writes about Nathan’s attempts to try to understand people’s emotions and what makes them tick, she writes, “But all he manages to do is look at them as fitting into categories that he can relate to through another category. Director and actor. Co-parent and co-parent. Teacher and student. Daddy and Adam. Mommy and Remy.” And it’s especially odd to me that mommy and Remy is the last one because I know a lot of parent-child relationships in person that are Mommy and Remy.

Charlotte Tavan  1:06:18

Yeah, the thing is everyone’s like, “Oh, he tries to do this, but he fails.” But I think the point is that to achieve I-thou and stuff, all it is, is trying. Do you know what I mean?

Will Beaman  1:06:33

Yes, exactly.

Charlotte Tavan  1:06:34

All it is, is like what we’ve discussed about what is the definition of acting: it’s just being conscious about and having concern for another person’s subjectivities. Do you know what I mean? It’s not something you achieve. It’s not something that you can achieve. It’s just something that you try to achieve because that is how we make human social connections?

Will Beaman  1:07:01

Yeah, it’s something you take responsibility for trying to do, right, which is what I version is not doing, right. That’s not taking responsibility for trying, that’s just kind of the illusion of complete mastery. Right, which then needs to be violently shored up through the male gaze and blah, blah, blah. And so getting to the end of the article, then she writes: “I hate to say the thesis of The Rehearsal is to escape screens and touch grass a little more, but I don’t think it’s not. Nathan looks at us in the poster, but he isn’t looking at us; he’s looking at a camera. And we’re looking at a picture on a screen. He can’t see us; we can’t see him. It’s when the I-it transmutes to I-Thou that real emotions start to flow. “Could it be,” he says aloud in the finale, “that the path to forgiveness lies in someone else’s eyes?” And it just is odd. Again, it’s odd, because I feel like she clearly is getting an I-Thou identification out of the show. This is absolutely like she’s speaking to what his kind of complicated intentions might be, but then also beyond what the intentions are, whether or not they’re failing or succeeding, right, which is exactly what I-It doesn’t do. Right. It’s that, like you said, trying, right, that kind of contemplation.

Charlotte Tavan  1:08:44

And that’s all he does in the show. That’s like, the entire point of the show. It’s like, he’s constantly changing his mind, changing categorizations, learning new things about himself that he impacts, you know, learning new things by himself that he realizes are changing. Like the way he does his projects.

Will Beaman  1:09:06

Yeah, and she’s right how she focuses on it being very negative, right? Like, he is showing, in a way, a process of failure in the sense of ruling out, you know, “well, that didn’t work. I’m gonna try this. Oh, but then I thought of this other thing that created a problem. So we had to hire another actor.” And this kind of increasingly complicated provisioning structure that has to keep being elaborated. But I think one of our central theses about the show is that maybe we can move now from the reviews to really get into, is that that negative approach isn’t just like a nihilistic like everything is meaningless kind of thing. Because, I mean, just, I feel like this can even, in some sense, just be empirical. Right? Like a lot of people derived a lot of meaning from this. Right? Like, it’s not really like a process of failure. Or if it is, it’s that failure fails. Right?

Charlotte Tavan  1:10:25

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:10:27

People talk about language failing. But the thing is it also fails to fail completely. Right? Like there always is still an effort there that’s part of the world, right? And is additive in some way.

Charlotte Tavan  1:10:45

Yeah. And even if he fails an original goal, he creates a new goal. So it’s like…

Will Beaman  1:10:49

Yeah, right. Which in a certain way, I think is this kind of complicated relationship to infrastructures and rehearsals and this ambiguous question of who are the rehearsals for, right? Because we have, on the one hand, a replica of a restaurant or something where he will replay the same night over and over and over again, towards the specific end. But what does the restaurant do? Right, a restaurant opens at the same time every day, has the same peak hours, and kind of rehearses the same night over and over again. But it’s not towards a specific end. Or you could say it mediates a lot of people bringing their own specific ends into it. Which is this kind of idea of infrastructure without a kind of a positive object necessarily, that it exists solely for. Sometimes care is just an open ended question of infrastructure.

Charlotte Tavan  1:12:01

Yeah. And then it fills itself in a way like people came into the bar.

Will Beaman  1:12:08

Right, exactly. And they all came from different places, right. And they’re coming and going to do different things. And, yeah, and all of that.

Charlotte Tavan  1:12:18

If you build them, they will come.

Will Beaman  1:12:20

I mean, it is sort of, like…

Charlotte Tavan  1:12:22

That’s not great business advice, but like, you know…

Will Beaman  1:12:25

Well, he doesn’t make a lot of Craigslist ads, doesn’t he? Isn’t that sort of what the show is doing? Yeah, and the show itself is an invitation for us, I think, to watch it a certain way. We can watch it in the I-it way and be like, “oh, this is just pure sadism watching people be objectified by a camera” and “this is just like watching Jackass” or something, but we also are invited to take the show seriously, at the same time, right? Like, if you build something ambiguous with a lot of different layers of meaning, people will kind of play around in that.

Charlotte Tavan  1:13:19

Oh, yeah, and I’ve definitely seen some responses on Twitter that I feel are enjoying it on a different level. I’m not saying it’s lower, I’m just saying it’s different.

Will Beaman  1:13:32

“Oh, look at that one. She’s so stupid. Oh, wow look at that. She’s doesn’t even know she’s on a TV show.” That’s my gawking onlooker voice. But yeah, so maybe to frame the kind of different themes that we want to get into. I think I really want to just spell out this negative approach of ruling out a bunch of things without positing a specific point. Right, which I think is where that article kind of falls short, in my opinion. Because there’s not a specific thing that the rehearsals are for, or there’s not a specific read on a character or there’s not like a specific object, that must mean that the rehearsals are showing that no matter how much you try, it’s meaningless.

Charlotte Tavan  1:14:45

Yeah, like he didn’t go in with some idea of what TV should be or what relationships should be. He just went with it and decided to find out. Which is not nihilistic. It’s like exploratory.

Will Beaman  1:15:08

Right, that’s such a good word. Yeah. And so tying this to an earlier Money On The Left content, especially from our collaborator, Scott Ferguson, has talked a lot about the negative or apophatic mode. Apophatic being kind of a theological corollary of negative as he’s using it. But so basically, this idea of a negative or apophatic mode of criticism is, you know, this gets contrasted with basically a positive or theological kind of corollary of this is cataphatic tradition, which is about basically stating positive truths. Right. So the show is about this. Whereas the negative method is more just about showing what it’s not over and over again, and sort of, in philosophy, I mean, the kind of very classic example of somebody who performs a negative methodology would be Socrates, right? Who likes to have these long conversations with people where he pretends that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he just asks them questions that show that they don’t know what they’re talking about.

Charlotte Tavan  1:16:29

Like Nathan

Will Beaman  1:16:30

Literally like Nathan.

Charlotte Tavan  1:16:31

Like he literally does that in his early shows. Do you know what I mean?

Will Beaman  1:16:35

Totally.

Charlotte Tavan  1:16:35

He’s just like, “oh, so like, you drink your grandson’s piss? Okay.”

Will Beaman  1:16:41

Yeah, that’s so funny. Because probably there was like a half hour of build up to where that would make sense in the show to like, ask somebody.

Charlotte Tavan  1:16:52

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:16:56

But like, that’s what Socrates does, though. Like, 30 minutes into a dialogue, people are like, “I guess fish do live in the water.” And it’s like, “but do not ducks also live in water?” Whatever. But yeah, so like one reading of what Socrates is doing, which some of his contemporaries found really annoying, and they actually put him to death because he was so annoying. So there’s something to this probably. But he gets parodied by Aristophanes in this dialogue, The Clouds, as like, basically just this nihilistic troll who is just asking a bunch of dumb questions and coming up with increasingly stupid answers for no reason other than just basically because he’s a grifter. That actually is what the argument against him is that he’s corrupting the young men of Athens. Right?

Charlotte Tavan  1:18:04

He’s a huckster!

Will Beaman  1:18:04

Yeah, he has followers that he’s fooling with his non-positive dialogues.

Charlotte Tavan  1:18:05

He’s like a 4chan Moderator.

Will Beaman  1:18:05

Jesus Christ. But yeah, whereas I think the idea for us, and certainly, without getting into Socrates, because that really was just like a throwaway example, but there’s a lot of different traditions that read different things into him. But for us, I think we want to say that, okay, yes, there’s not some kind of positive truth that the dialogues are leading to, but there is a sort of truth that he’s kind of playing out by showing that it can’t be named directly, right? Or maybe, if you can point to it, it can only be by analogy. And I think that one of the things that we want to say, which is going to come out in a lot of the different themes that we talk about in this show is that Nathan’s constant undermining his own premises, and adding things, and stuff like that, is building towards and especially as we get to Episode Six, it really does build towards some really deep truths. I’m thinking of this conversation that he has with this child’s mother because the child actor was in the show, and he worries that the child was taking the show too seriously, and he’s asking the mom “but how do you know that the kid will be okay?” And she kind of gives us sort of a negative or like, not positive answer. Right? Which is just a kind of a “I just know,” and it’s sort of like “I have to know,” right? Because that’s what being a parent is.

Charlotte Tavan  1:20:15

I just find anyone who feels that show is nihilistic, I just find it hard to believe that they watched the final episode to be honest. It really becomes so earnest and he does state some positives, like, because he does, he says, “forgiveness is in the eyes of somebody else.”

Will Beaman  1:20:33

Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  1:20:33

Like, he is trying to find meaning. That’s like, really obvious to me. I don’t know.

Will Beaman  1:20:39

Yeah. And interestingly, “forgiveness is in the eyes of somebody else” is like him saying, “I don’t know what forgiveness is.”

Charlotte Tavan  1:20:47

Exactly, yeah. It’s in the eyes of everyone.

Will Beaman  1:20:51

Like, he’s positing something that’s not positive. Right? It’s a risk, right? It’s like a risk that you have to take, because, ultimately, it’s not fully in your hands, right? Whether you’ll be forgiven, whether the kid will turn out okay, whether the rehearsal will go well.

Charlotte Tavan  1:21:12

Whether the claw takes your pants off and exposes you to a bunch of children…

Will Beaman  1:21:17

While a police officer stands by ready to arrest you, making you officially a child molester. But yeah, let’s talk about that kind of arc, maybe? Yeah. So the first thing that I think I wanted to talk about is this distinction between work and leisure that is kind of blurred in the show. And in The Rehearsal, it’s kind of interesting, also, going back to this idea of acting as being a sort of, like, middle position between working and not working. Right? You see in the show that Nathan’s internal monologue and his, I guess, external acting continues across all these different settings, and across all these different roles. So it’ll be, “cut. the scene is over.” And then we follow Nathan into the editing room, where he walks into a room that’s full of a bunch of people, and he’s all anxious, and he’s trying to manage a social situation, right?

Charlotte Tavan  1:22:33

He’s got that laptop in the sling thing that everyone seems to be kind of just like…in a lot of the articles I’ve seen, they’ve used the image of him standing in a busy room full of people with the laptop strapped to his chest thing, you know what I mean? Like, so they’re trying to like, I think visually, they’re making the argument like he’s the puppet master kind of guy. That’s something they’ve really focused on rather than like the other people. Do you know what I mean?

Will Beaman  1:23:12

Yeah, totally.

Charlotte Tavan  1:23:15

They’re ignoring the agent…all of the articles just are ignoring them, he’s trying to draw attention to the infrastructure of the show and the production and stuff. And I feel like a lot of the reviews just kind of ignore that. And they’re thinking about TV the wrong way. I don’t know.

Will Beaman  1:23:30

Yeah, well, and walking around like a group of people with a laptop strapped to your chest, it is a little bit like a parody exaggeration of how we use our phones a little bit too. Right? Where it sort of is this halfway position between, it’s not quite a phone, because it’s bigger than that. And we’re associating it with him working. And it also is a little bit like what’s he working on? He’s working on these like neurotic flowcharts that he’s scrolling through during the conversation and stuff like that. But, yeah, so I don’t know, I think it’s on the one hand, it’s taking the phone more seriously, as an…

Charlotte Tavan  1:24:17

Yeah, thinking about that, like, if that was just him with a phone it would look completely different. Different vibe.

Will Beaman  1:24:21

Right. Yeah. Which I think in a certain way, this is getting us a little bit at like, you could look at this a different way and see, like a very common critique of neoliberalism, right, which is that you’re always on. You’re always having to, you know, monitor social media, monitor your LinkedIn, gather credentials, and use apps 24/7. And so you’re kind of being controlled that way. And in a way that’s true. Obviously, like there is something to that. But I also think that this is an extension of his kind of neurotic process of self reflection, which is a social process, right? There’s no just full interiority in this show. Interiority is always, how should I act? Right? Or how did that go? It’s not even grounded in anything particular, it just is kind of engaged in the world.

Charlotte Tavan  1:25:28

This bit of the article that’s like “Nathan (if not Fielder himself) spends almost all of The Rehearsal flopping around trying to feel and experience the world in a real way.” That’s like, what all of us are doing.

Will Beaman  1:25:40

Yeah, right.

Charlotte Tavan  1:25:41

Like that’s literally the best you can do.

Will Beaman  1:25:46

Yeah, in a certain way, right. Like he is showing a kind of feeling of falseness, or an authenticity that we can all relate to.

Charlotte Tavan  1:26:00

Yeah, it doesn’t feel like we’re not experiencing the world in the right way. Like, with enough joy or emotion.

Will Beaman  1:26:08

And whatever that phrase that you read, like, flopping around the world aimlessly or whatever, like, that’s me, like, I think I totally am, yeah. Like a fish on the deck of a boat constantly.

Charlotte Tavan  1:26:21

Like a goldfish Pokemon.

Will Beaman  1:26:26

Seaking. No, Magikarp!

Charlotte Tavan  1:26:28

Magikarp, yeah! bloop bloop Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:26:37

So yeah, Nathan has this internal monologue. And kind of external acting that the monologue is related to, and that is never off, right? And that’s a common criticism of neoliberalism. And in some way, I think that what neoliberalism gets critiqued for, I think that that also is kind of like he is being critical of it, right? Like, he’s showing that this kind of need to manage everything, even though it is sort of what we’re all always doing all the time. It doesn’t need to be anxious.  Like, it doesn’t need to be as anxious as it is. I don’t know, I feel like a part of this, that we haven’t talked about, is that there’s a coming of age theme here. The show, as it goes on, of course, is like passing all these milestones in his own kind of development. And, at one point, he has his parents come, and he’s practicing being a parent, and he’s learning and he’s learning acting from kids. And he’s learning parenting from other people, right. From other actors.

Charlotte Tavan  1:28:06

He’s reflecting on his previous serious relationship as well.

Will Beaman  1:28:11

Yeah. And I think it’s interesting that scene in the last episode, or that problem in the last episode, where it’s unclear whether the child fully understands that this is a performance and that Nathan is not really his dad, and Nathan worries that that’s going to be exploitative. Right? Like, that’s a coming of age moment for the child. But also what that coming of age moment is, is teaching the child what acting is. In a certain way, that’s what adulthood is, right? Is acting. And this kind of neurotic, like, I feel like there must have been times, also, where people told Nathan that like, you need to grow up or something. Right. When he gets ringed out by that actress who plays his rehearsal co parent or something. And she’s like, you know, “you’re never gonna feel anything that’s real…This is just what you do all day?”

Charlotte Tavan  1:29:15

The one who pretended to be Angela, yeah, yeah. That was harsh, yeah.

Will Beaman  1:29:25

So there’s this ambiguous question of work and leisure, and is he really acting? Is he not acting? But then there’s also these ambiguities as to, whether or not he’s acting, who is he acting for? Right, like, is he the director? Or is he in someone else’s rehearsal when he’s in his own rehearsal? There’s like a, I’m trying to think of some kind of examples of like, I do think it’s not fully clear exactly like, it’s not like there’s just a director at the top of everything where he is the puppet master or something. Because he is also like the client of the show.

Charlotte Tavan  1:30:21

Totally. I think the “Finding Frances” episode kind of brings that up because he’s kind of like going along with somebody else’s project.

Will Beaman  1:30:33

Yeah, that’s the perfect example. Yeah.

Charlotte Tavan  1:30:36

Yeah, he wasn’t like pulling the strings there. I mean, it was obviously to a degree, but a lot of it was just like being passive.

Will Beaman  1:30:46

To the degree that we all are, and maybe this can get us into this question of money, and just kind of how the show treats money, right? Because at first glance, it doesn’t seem like it’s really a show about money, except kind of implicitly, I would argue in a lot of ways. But one of them is that a lot of memes that you see online about the show are like me if I had Nathan Fielder’s budget…

Charlotte Tavan  1:31:15

Oh, yeah. And he knows. He comments, he makes jokes about his huge budget. Like it’s a thing.

Will Beaman  1:31:25

I’m reminded, also, of that plotline in the first episode where he has like a fake blog called thrifty boy that’s all about “here are free things that you can do in the city,” and there actually is a whole team behind that blog, right? But the blog also ends up organizing a free meeting that happens in a park between two characters. A meeting that happens at a bar. Basically not totally free activities. But like, as he says, thrifty, right? And activities that are paid for by somebody, in the sense of like, if you meet somebody at a park, there are people who are paid to maintain the park.

Charlotte Tavan  1:32:20

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:32:22

If you meet somebody at a bar, that bar was built. And it costs a lot more money to build it than your drinks cost. And so there’s this kind of interesting way in which, on the one hand, to be thrifty is to be using infrastructures that cost a lot of money to do right, but they’re infrastructures that didn’t cost you money, specifically.

Charlotte Tavan  1:32:53

Well, that’s like the whole joke about Nathan For You, as well. Do you know what I mean? He’s like, “Oh, we’re gonna make your business money.” But then all of his solutions actually cost like a shit ton of somebody else’s money. Like usually sometimes his or do you know what I mean? You know what’s a really funny example of that? So an episode in Nathan For You is probably like one of my favorite ones, which is the tax rebate collection scheme episode, which is where he has this idea to make this this independent petrol station money by saying “oh, we’re the lowest gas prices in America, but like put after rebate in the fine print.”

Will Beaman  1:33:41

Right.

Charlotte Tavan  1:33:42

And then, to collect the rebate, you have to go through this insane process where you have to mail it, and the only mailbox is at the top of this nearby mountain, and you have to hike up it, and it’s like an overnight trip, and he tells all these riddles and stuff. And then it’s like, he expects nobody to take the rebate, but then like, I think like four people end up staying overnight. And he keeps on having interviews with them, like reality shows style, where it has a confessional, but then underneath will have their name and then “rebate collection amount,” and they’re all like spending 24 hours of their lives trying to get back like $11 or something. But what happens is like, it kind of turns into like a divorce counseling session. Do you know what I mean? Like, he’s created this infrastructure. And it just got filled…it’s these people just talking about their relationships and bonding, and then the next day he’s like, “there never was a rebate. This was just like bonding.” And they were all like, “yeah, that’s what we thought.” We were just in it for lifelong friendships, but there’s something to that. All of this money created this infrastructure that looks useless. The joke is like, obviously this is not saving money in that sense, because they’re all like, spending 24 hours of their lives trying to get back like 14 or 11 dollars or whatever. It’s not like going to work for the business, obviously, because nobody’s going to facilitate that on a constant basis. But it still ended up serving a purpose for people that isn’t usually, formally accounted for in that way.

Will Beaman  1:35:49

Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, even just taking that back to just the MMT kind of main point that gets made, right, is that money, in its most bare form, just as credit that’s created out of nothing: it’s not profitable. Right? Like, it’s not actually about making a profit. Credit is a gift, right? You just mark something on the paper, and you say, “here you go.” And so in a way, even though we do have all of these neoliberal governments that want to push austerity, and so they insist that every piece of infrastructure has to somehow make money in order to justify existing or something like that. I mean, when you take a wider view, it’s so kind of, I mean, that’s just like the misanthropic person that you know, who’s like trying to nickel and dime arbitrarily about, “well, I, you know, I’m not gonna help clean this, because, you know, an hour ago, I did this other thing.” That, like, maybe is true, but it’s also there’s a way in which it’s subjective, right, and it’s missing a lot of ongoing social dependence anyway that it’s already nested within. So you can have infrastructure that’s made not particularly to make money, right, it just costs money. And it just costs money in order to be funny. But then, also, you don’t know what it’s being used for, necessarily, right. So like, there’s an intention, but then you can’t actually police what people talk about in your cafe, or like, what role it plays in people’s lives.

Charlotte Tavan  1:37:58

Totally. Like, for example, this is like a public square around where I live, well in like a more gentrified neighborhood. And it’s like, supposed to be like a piazza style square, but like, all these young people use it for skateboarding. And then some people are angry about that, they’re like, “this is public money. I don’t want it to be used for skateboarding.” But it’s like, that is what it’s being used for, right? And “that doesn’t help our property prices, that doesn’t help our, like, you know…”

Will Beaman  1:38:32

Yeah. And it becomes a little bit similar to copyright sorts of arguments that people make. That’s like, “well, that’s so similar to something that I did where my intention wasn’t for it to be used or for it to inspire you to do something derivative of it, or something like that,” But, actually, to use something or consume something or whatever, right. Like, that’s no straightforward thing, right? There’s an element of kind of creative imitation of what you’re supposed to do with it, that is also a little bit freestyling and what you want to do with it, as well. Which, if we’re talking about political economy, right, like, it’s the whole issue with “use values” for things is that these are, just in terms of the semiotics and stuff, these things have multiple purposes and meanings and the sign can be interpreted in a lot of different ways and go into a lot of different things. And then on the other hand, you can have, like in the first episode of The Rehearsal, Nathan wants to get…what’s the name of the character in that first episode, the trivia guy?

Charlotte Tavan  1:40:05

Kor. Like K-O-R.

Will Beaman  1:40:09

Right, right. I remember that. Yeah. Or yeah, like in the first episode, Nathan is trying to teach Kor, his client, the answers in this trivia game without Kor knowing that that’s what he’s doing. And so there’s this whole thing where Nathan is arranging these hangouts and walks in the park and using all this mix between infrastructure, and then also paid actors who are like plants around who will feed him information, you know, randomly tell him where the world’s tallest building is. And like that kind of thing. It’s this ambiguous thing where Nathan has multiple intentions for the outing. Right? And Kor doesn’t necessarily know any of them. And he certainly doesn’t know that he’s being fed answers, right. And Nathan is taking a little bit of a risk there. But that’s also a risk that is kind of an unavoidable risk, right? Like, in the sense that you never know what someone else’s wants or intentions are when you go to hang out with them. Or like there’s all kinds of ways in which that ambiguity of like, if we’re hanging out and there’s two people and one of them is like, “Oh, is this a date?” And the other person isn’t sure that that’s a date, right? Like, that’s a similar kind of anxiety?

Charlotte Tavan  1:41:44

Yeah, totally.

Will Beaman  1:41:48

And it’s not like dishonesty isn’t implicated as a potential problem there, right? Like, it could be that this was supposed to be a date, and one person is gaslighting the other person. Or it could be that this was very clearly not a date. And one person is trying to project that onto the situation. Should probably have named that one first so I don’t sound like an incel. And then yes, sometimes it’s not a date.

Charlotte Tavan  1:42:23

Mostly, you get friend-zoned.

Will Beaman  1:42:33

But yeah, there’s this kind of constant question of is Kor able to fully consent to being in Nathan’s show? Is he in Nathan’s show when they’re just going on these walks? Is he in Nathan’s show when they’re off the clock or whatever? And ultimately, who’s paying for it? Right? Who’s footing the bill? And all of these are questions that have a lot of different answers, depending on how you look at them. Right? Like, the money is coming from a lot of different places. There’s something that people are trying to get out of being on the show that will kind of give them what money can give them. Right, which is kind of access to the world in a certain way. Yeah. So like, there’s all these moments where it’s not clear exactly like whose production is this necessarily?

Charlotte Tavan  1:43:35

Yeah, the word production, it’s interesting in this and it’s like a big theme. I think it’s a big theme in all of his shows, like, just in the obvious way, which is that he’s always talking about behind the scenes or not so behind the scenes, like production, right? It’s being played, who is doing what we’re, what infrastructure is there, but then also like, yeah, like, who is producing the show?

Will Beaman  1:44:03

Right there political economy questions of production, too.

Charlotte Tavan  1:44:07

Like production, as kind of creative or monetary provisioning, which is like not being done by Nathan, necessarily.

Will Beaman  1:44:20

Right? It’s including Nathan, but it’s also including all these other infrastructures that like, if acting as a middle position between working and just kind of free time or interior reflection or something like that. I feel like this broader sense of production that includes both paid actors and people who are walking by and parks that just happens to be created and like all of these things, we’re getting at something that’s a little, again, less positive and more apophatic society as production. Right? And like as a kind of a microcosm of just heterogeneity, right? Like, you know, different jobs and non jobs and actors and directors and you know, everybody walking around being a director and an actor and some people not knowing each other. And it’s in that context, with all of these different registers of production, that that experience of acting continues. Right, like Nathan is acting as a director, and he’s acting as an actor, and he’s acting as the editor.

Charlotte Tavan  1:45:48

He’s taking actions and making decisions.

Will Beaman  1:45:53

Yeah, and that acting versus actions is so kind of interesting, too, because I feel like when we talk about actions, we’re thinking about, like, doing a thing, right? In like, such a specific, it’s like a physics metaphor.

Charlotte Tavan  1:46:08

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:46:09

Like a force pushing something. Like that metaphor for a will being exercised. But when we talk about acting, instead of taking action, acting is much more passive and ambiguous than that.

Charlotte Tavan  1:46:26

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:46:27

Like, it’s not just reducible to somebody exerting their will. Right?

Charlotte Tavan  1:46:33

“Action this memo!”

Will Beaman  1:46:38

Yeah, because there’s a bigger question that acting involves, which is, how am I going to exert my will? If we even do want to stick with that language of exerting a will. That still has to be decided and given form and…

Charlotte Tavan  1:46:57

And usually by other people, as well.

Will Beaman  1:46:59

Yeah, by a whole production, right. Like, that’s a collective effort.]

Charlotte Tavan  1:47:03

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:47:05

In all these ways, yeah. And so similarly, I think that there’s a narrow political economy definition of production that’s like what happens in the workplace. And then we kind of expand that more with like, okay, and then we also talk about social reproduction, although often social reproduction is framed as kind of what happens at home to reproduce the workplace.

Charlotte Tavan  1:47:35

Exactly.

Will Beaman  1:47:36

Where everything is still kind of centering primary production, and then kind of the secondary appendages or something like that.

Charlotte Tavan  1:47:43

Yeah. Or concepts like unproductive labor, which is, again, it’s so reductive.

Will Beaman  1:47:48

Yeah, right. It’s that question of: productive towards what? And in this show, it’s unclear what things are being productive towards because everybody has different goals, and they don’t know where it’s gonna go. And so I think that maybe the richer definitions of production, you already brought up audio and video production, which I think is really important here because the timing isn’t clear. Like when you’re watching a TV show, you don’t know when it was edited. The acting you do see, but you don’t see the process of what was cut out, when it was cut, what’s on the B-roll. There’s all this stuff that happens off screen, and not just off screen, but you don’t even know when it happens. I feel like the temporal ambiguity and murkiness of “when did things happen?” Just as it unfolds, it implicates more and more things from longer and longer times ago, and like for more and more distant places, and it’s dizzying, and it’s overwhelming, right? But again, following this negative kind of apophatic method, the point is not to come to a positive answer of when was this produced?

Charlotte Tavan  1:49:22

Yeah, like in the last episode of Nathan For You “Finding Frances”, it opens with him doing the DVD commentary for the previous episodes of the show, in this like, behind the scenes way. Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:49:38

Right. Totally. Yeah. And he’s always keeping that layer alive and ambiguous in the show where that layer of editing and of him being a showrunner talking about the show that he’s making right now. Where it’s not really clear. Like in film studies, we’ll say what is the diegesis of the film, like the world of the film that the characters live in, as opposed to the world that we live in. So a diegetic soundtrack would be a soundtrack that actually is playing from a radio in the frame, whereas an actual soundtrack that we hear would not be that. And so he’s implicating the show in our world by talking to us in the world that is not of the show, right? Like he’s talking to us during the production process. And I mean, maybe one definition of what the diegesis of a show is it’s like, the diegesis is not the production process in its fullest sense, I guess. But even then it’s kind of an unstable term, right? Because acting is also part of a production process, even if it’s like, the real thing, or whatever. Anyway, TV shows aren’t our real life, that’s not an interesting thing for me to come to, I guess.

Charlotte Tavan  1:51:20

Lots of people are very interested in that with Nathan For You, though, like, if you go on message boards, everyone is very concerned about how real elements of it were, who is acting, who is not acting, and stuff. l think that does speak to how open he leaves those questions.

Will Beaman  1:51:43

Totally, yeah. And then I guess another meaning of production is like a theater, right? Like, there’s a theater meaning of production that is, I would say, a little bit like that audio video thing, in the sense that a theatrical production includes what’s on stage and what’s off stage. Right? Like, if you say, I saw the production of something, you’re not just talking about, like, I saw a bunch of scenes. You’re talking about “I saw an orchestration of this play,” right? And there’s also a way where in theater, and certainly there are theater genres and traditions…you think of like, The Rocky Horror Picture Show where the audience is part of the production in a way that they really kind of call attention to, right? Where there’s kind of calling and response and that kind of thing. But here also, I feel like there’s all kinds of ways where we, as an audience, are part of the show, too, a little bit. Because certainly in this reality show form, the characters are anxious about how they will look to us?

Charlotte Tavan  1:53:16

Yeah. And he’s anxious about, yeah, how he looks to us. He’s constantly, it’s like he’s defending himself to the audience, or like, trying to explain his motivations to the audience constantly.

Will Beaman  1:53:31

Yeah, it’s like a long confessional. It’s like production in this very broad sense of the word that’s irreducible to the will of the director or the will of a boss, right? Because it kind of refers to everything a little bit. Even if it’s not referring to everything in a flat way, like we’re all on the clock, and we can never leave or something like that. In a certain way, it’s like nothing but everybody not being quite on the clock. Right? Where he’s anxious is, you know, “I wasn’t sure if she was really here for the show, or just to be on vacation.” Right? There’s an anxiety that people can never actually fully be at work. And maybe that’s a good thing, right? Yeah, these are all really kind of open questions.

Charlotte Tavan  1:54:32

Yeah. Like, he’s like attempting to survey her at certain points, but, you know, realizes that it’s kind of pointless.

Will Beaman  1:54:41

Right. Which is then of course ironic because all that we’re doing as audience members is surveilling her.

Charlotte Tavan  1:54:48

Yeah.

Will Beaman  1:54:49

And surveilling him and surveilling everything. And he’s in the world surveilling people too, right? I think it’s interesting that he’s a spectator in the frame a lot of times, watching a conversation play out and then interjecting. Yeah, I feel like we’ve said a lot and this might be a good place to start wrapping up. I’m not sure how we want to like…

Charlotte Tavan  1:55:17

Well, I think we can just leave it open a la Nathan Fielder.

Will Beaman  1:55:21

Ooo, I like that. Yeah. Let’s leave this open. That concludes today’s rehearsal.

Charlotte Tavan  1:55:28

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Will Beaman  1:55:31

Thank you.

Charlotte Tavan  1:55:32

This has been such a fun project. And also we love you Nathan, if you ever hear this.

Austin Credits with Jonathan Wilson (White Paper and Podcast Interview)

For this special episode of Superstructure,  cohosts Will Beaman (@agoingaccount) and Andrés Bernal (@andresintheory) are joined by Jonathan Wilson (@DeficitOwl24601) to discuss his new white paper, “Proposal for a Local Currency Issued by the City of Austin,” which proposes a complementary currency for the city of Austin called Austin Credits.

Jonathan’s proposal contributes to a developing conversation in the Austin City Council, which was tasked by recent legislation with exploring possibilities for new public banking and payments structures by a resolution. The conversation delves into the proposal’s legal design and implementation strategy, while also contextualizing its political meaning and stakes for progressive politics. 

Proposal for a Local Currency Issued by the City of Austin: A White Paper by Jonathan Wilson

In 2022, the need and desire for alternative visions of economic organization is higher than it has ever been. Undemocratic national governments and international crises have taken agency and power away from local communities and diminished their ability to protect and nurture their citizens as they see fit. In the United States, the prevailing economic ideology at the national level has committed to trading quality of life for nominal price stability, pursuing policies which deliberately exacerbate unemployment and refusing to make robust use of programs to provide liquidity to local governments. The time to develop local alternatives to this system is now, and this white paper will explain one such vision. In addition to providing a basic means of funding and payments for local governments and their citizens, this proposal aims to provide a new lens for how people view cooperation and interdependence. By illustrating how valuable assets can originate from negotiated credit relationships, this white paper shows how communities can express their values among themselves and between each other, opening up new possibilities for local and global solidarity.

Resolution 20220324-057, passed by the Austin City Council on March 24, 2022, directs the City Manager to explore how financial innovations can improve government processes and better serve Austinites, through (among other things) public payments platforms, public banks, and local complementary currencies. This proposal outlines how  the City can (i) increase income and employment for Austinites, (ii) increase financial inclusion by providing a privacy respecting method of electronic payment for the unbanked and maintaining an affordable means of financing and emergency liquidity for low income Austinites, and (iii) allow the City to fund public works. One way to accomplish these goals is to issue a valuable electronic financial instrument called the Austin Credit or “AC”. In order for Austin Credits to be valuable enough to supplement incomes, allow the City to create employment, and serve as a vehicle for financial inclusion, the City must ensure that they are in demand and marketable. To ensure that Austin Credits increase financial privacy, the City will provide an option to load Austin Credits onto an anonymous stored value card. Finally, in order for Austin Credits to serve as a source of financing and emergency liquidity, the City itself will serve as a lender of first resort for Austin Credits.

Of all these requirements, the most important is that Austin Credits are demanded by members of the public. The primary demand for Austin Credits will stem from the fact that the city will accept Austin Credits for all payments to the city, including utilities, public transport, local taxes, fines, and fees for any city-sponsored events on a one-to-one basis with the dollar (moving forward, I will use the term “City Bills” to refer to these payments and “City Services” to refer to actions by the City that people are paying for). To further encourage use and widespread acceptability of the Austin Credit, the city will offer a small discount of 5% for paying City Bills in Austin Credits rather than in dollars. Historically, there is precedent for a credit towards taxes or government services at a local level retaining its value so as to become a fungible, money-like object. In the 1930s, American cities which were  short on dollars circulated tax anticipation scrip which could be used to make any payment to the city. Additionally, during the Civil War, until the government stopped them, individuals used United States Postal Service stamps as a replacement currency, knowing the stamps would always have some real value so long as the post office accepted them.

To give Austin Credits value beyond paying for City Bills, the City needs to encourage acceptability of Austin Credits by businesses. The easiest way to do that is by offering businesses which agree to accept Austin Credits a small discount on their City Bills. For example, a grocery store that agreed to accept Austin Credits as payment would register with the city and receive a 5% discount on their City Bills. Additionally, businesses that agree to pass any part of this savings onto their customers would receive an additional discount on their City Bills. For example, a store that offered its customers a 2.5% discount when they pay in Austin Credits would receive an additional 2.5% discount, for a total discount on City Bills of 7.5%. Additionally, Austin Credits would be free to transfer within the Austin Credit system, meaning stores would save money whenever someone paid in Austin Credits instead of credit or debit cards. This not only gives the grocery store an incentive to accept Austin Credits but it gives their customers an incentive to acquire Austin Credits and save them.

To respond to this incentive for Austin Credits, residents would be able to buy Austin Credits directly from the City, but Austin Credits would also exist on a web and app based platform that would allow users to request and transfer from one another, similar to pre-existing payment apps, like Venmo, Paypal, and Square. Users would have the option of connecting their bank accounts or credit cards, and there would also be a market function in the app and website called the Austin Credit Online Marketplace where users could buy and sell Austin Credits with dollars, similar to a foreign exchange market. Just like with Venmo and Paypal, users would pay no fees for transfers within the AC system, and if users wanted to take money out of the AC system by transferring it back to their bank accounts, they could do so for free if they the standard option which goes uses the Automated Clearing House and settles in three days, or they could make instant transfers for a small fee. The purpose of this market is to give the recipients of Austin Credit a way to convert to dollars if they need to, which enhances the liquidity and desirability of the Austin Credit. Additionally, several public buildings in the City would have indoor and outdoor machines that dispensed stored value cards carrying Austin Credits in various denominations.

Once Austin Credits become widely accepted in the City and their demand and value is established, the City can begin offering personal loans in Austin Credit, providing an affordable source of financing for Austinites. Because the purpose of these loans would be to enhance the purchasing power of Austinites, the terms of these loans do not need to be structured with the goal of maximizing revenue. Rather, the terms should be geared towards encouraging Austinites to demand and save Austin Credits. To those ends, Austin Credit loans should have three essential features. First, the rate of interest should be zero. Keeping this rate at zero ensures that consumers will prefer to borrow Austin Credit. Because legal tender laws would require the City to accept dollars in payment for public debt, to incentivize people to pay loans in AC, the zero-interest rule would be contingent on people paying the loans back in AC. Second, instead of charging interest, to encourage frugal use of this credit facility, the City can simply charge small late fees for missed payments. Third, all loans in Austin Credit issued by the City must be collateralized by surrendering Austin Credit in an amount equal to 10% of the loan value prior to the loan being issued.

For example, if someone wanted to borrow 200 AC, he would have to surrender collateral of 20 AC and would receive the loan at 0% interest. Because the loan would carry no interest, he would prefer this loan over a payday loan, and because he needs to keep at least 20 AC on hand to qualify for the loan, he is encouraged to save at least some of the Austin Credits he receives. This feature of Austin Credit loans capitalizes on people’s natural tendency towards precautionary saving. To prevent the potential for abusing this loan facility, each resident would only be allowed to have one of these loans outstanding at any given time. In this way, residents who take out these loans will be encouraged to pay them off, not only to receive their collateral back, but also so they can qualify for another loan. Additionally, although anyone would be able to set up an AC account, only permanent residents of Austin would be able to access these loan facilities.

The value of personal loans would be capped at 5,000 AC, but eventually, the goal should be for the City to offer secured loans to allow residents to finance the purchase of large items, such as cars and homes. For these consumer loans, there would be a much higher maximum loan value, but there would be a minimum down payment amount of 35%, and the loan would be secured by the asset being purchased. Because saving for large purchases is empirically the second most important reason people save money, incentivizing Austinites to save Austins Credit by offering them a 0% loan in exchange for a large down payment will be a very powerful way to bolster demand for Austin Credits.

Once this system of acceptability, transferability, and loans has been established, leading a private sector demand to hold and save Austin Credits, the City can start using Austin Credits to supplement income and create employment. The City should establish a system that allows residents to vote on new public works projects which will pay workers in Austin Credits. As the Austin Credit system gains adoption, the City can gradually increase the amount of projects offered until it can guarantee a job paying in Austin Credits for all Austinites who want such a job. The revolutionary potential of allowing local residents to vote on spending projects that are not tied to direct and immediate taxation or borrowing cannot be understated. As long as there is idle labor and the demand for AC is not exceeded, such a program would create a means for residents to democratically participate in non-zero-sum development, motivated by the needs of communities and not merely the profit motive, strengthening the City’s economic environment and its sense of community. Moreover, the Austin Credit can be used to recognize work that is already being done but is currently undervalued or uncompensated by issuing AC to community service organizations. Additionally, the City can issue Austin Credits to the elderly, the disabled, and parents of minor children to supplement their income.

The structure of the Austin Credit system should allow people who receive income from the City in Austin Credits (either from public works jobs or from supplemental payments) to sell them for dollars if they wish. Because Austin Credits grant residents a discount on their City Bills of 5% and a discount at participating businesses of 2.5%, if enough people are using Austin Credits, they should trade in the Austin Credit Online Marketplace for around $1.00. The logic here is that if I have 100 Austin Credits, I should be able to use it to buy products valued at $105 from the City and at $102.50 from participating businesses. If I want to buy something from outside Austin, I may want to sell my Austin Credits for dollars, but unless there is an emergency, I will avoid selling my Austin Credits for significantly less than the value I transferred to pay (either in dollars or in labor) for them. Let us assume that I offer to sell 100 AC for $101. If Austin Credits have not been over-issued, other Austinites who want to buy something from the City or from a business who accepts AC should accept the offer to buy 100 AC for $101 for two reasons. First, 100 AC will allow them to buy products valued at $102.50, so they have essentially gained $1.50 in value simply by doing the transaction if they spend their Austin Credits in Austin. Second, the $101 price I offered is less than the $102 ($100 plus $2 transaction fee) they would have to pay the City if they purchased the 100 AC directly from the City. The only people who will insist on paying less than $1.00 to buy 1 AC in the secondary market will be people who do not have an immediate need to buy something from the City or from a business  that accepts AC. For this reason, encouraging private sector adoption is key because the more places people have to spend AC, the less need there will be to sell AC at a discount. 

The promise of redemption from the city will guarantee that Austin Credits have some value, but to protect this value, the City must avoid issuing too many Austin Credits. If the private sector has a net desire to save 1,000 AC, and the City net issues 1,200 (net issuance being the remaining outstanding Austin Credits after redemption), then residents will begin selling Austin Credits at a discount for dollars. If this happens, the first person to sell his Austin Credit–the person who receives the 1,001st AC–will receive a good price for it, but the last person to sell his Austin Credit–the person who received the 1,200st AC–will suffer a significant loss. That first seller might be able to sell his Austin Credit for 99 cents, but the last seller might only get 80 cents. Consequently, if the private sector has a net desire to redeem and save 1,000 AC, and the City Issues no more than 1,000 AC, each recipient of an Austin Credit will have a financial asset valued at approximately one dollar. However, if the City issues more than this net redemption and savings desire, then at least some recipients of Austin Credits will find themselves holding a financial asset valued at less than what they exchanged for it. Either they will have bought Austin Credits directly from the City that are now worth significantly less than one dollar, or they will have provided labor to the city that is now worth less than the value they placed on that labor. For example, if the City pays workers 20 AC per hour but issues too many AC, causing the value of the AC to drop by 25%, those workers might have valued their labor at around $20 per hour, but they now hold a financial asset worth only $16.

Similarly, in order for this value creation not be a net loss for the City or an indirect transfer from some citizens of the City to others, the private sector must save a number of Austin Credits that is greater than the discount given to those who pay City Bills in Austin Credits. For example, imagine the citizens in total have a City Bill of $100, and the city issues 95 AC in exchange for $95 of goods and services and offers a 5% discount on City Bill payments. If the citizens redeem all 95 of their Austin Credits to pay their $100 City Bill, then the City has essentially foregone $5 in value. In this scenario, if the city had simply never issued the Austin Credits, they could have simply accepted $100 to pay off the $100 City Bill, paid the same $95 for the goods and services, and had $5 left over. Avoiding the problem of foregone revenue is important for the City because it still has bills and liabilities denominated in USD (for example, it must pay payroll tax to the US Federal Government, and it must purchase garbage trucks from Waste Management, Inc., which is headquartered in Houston, Texas and will likely not accept AC in payment). On the other hand, if the City issues 100 AC, and the private sector redeems only 90 AC at the standard 5% discount, then the City has effectively gained about $5 in value. A City Bill of about $95 would require 90 AC to pay at a 5% discount. If the City pays for $100 of goods and services with Austin Credits, then provides $95 of City Services, which the private sector purchases using 90 AC, then the difference between the value received by the City (the $100 of goods and services) and the value given by the City (the $95 of City Services) results in a net gain by the City of $5. Because the City and its citizens benefit if not all of the Austin Credits are redeemed, some of the value from the Austin Credit System can be thought of as partially analogous to breakage revenue, the profits businesses recognize when their gift cards are purchased but not redeemed.

Therefore, to protect the financial health of the City and to maximize the value of the financial assets given to Austin residents, the City must structure the economy of the Austin Credit  to maximize the desire to save Austin Credits. As stated above, there will be a basic underlying precautionary motive to save Austin Credits because they will allow residents to benefit from a small discount on their City Bills. Additionally, residents who want to take out loans in Austin Credits will be incentivized to save Austin Credits to surrender as collateral to allow them to qualify for larger loans. In addition to these precautionary and financing motives, the City should encourage saving Austin Credits by only selling Austin Credits in predetermined amounts with a small, fixed transaction fee of $2. At any point, a member of the public should be able to buy Austin Credits at the price of one Austin Credit per dollar, but if they can always buy the exact number of Austin Credits they need for every transaction, they will never need to save any. To remedy this, the City should only sell Austin Credits through its online platform or at its stored-value card dispensing machines in moderate but equitably sized lots. To illustrate, let’s assume the lot size is 50 Austin Credits for the sake of simplicity. In that case, if a person has a monthly City Bill of $25, they will have to purchase 50 Austin Credits at once by spending $52 dollars. After paying 23.75 AC to extinguish their City Bill (leaving them with 26.25 AC), this person will have about 1.25 more Austin Credits than they need to pay their next City Bill. They could spend those AC on something else, but this would mean that the following month they would need to purchase additional Austin Credits and pay another $2 fee. 

Additionally, any one person or common enterprise will only be able to use USD to purchase a maximum of 1,000 AC directly from the City using its online platform in any given month. This minimizes arbitrage opportunities and limits people’s ability to buy AC immediately before redeeming them in payment of City Bills, which would otherwise diminish any need to save AC. Together, these elements form a structure that incentivizes residents to save at least some of their Austin Credits or to seek Austin Credits from sources other than the City, which means they will request Austin Credits in payment from other members of the public, further fueling the demand for Austin Credits.

The aforementioned fixed-lot issuance, loan policy, AC purchase limit and transaction fees are best described as non-interest monetary policy, meaning they influence the volume of Austin Credit financial transactions without primarily relying on charging interest to borrow money or paying interest to those who already have money. However, the City must also have rules for fiscal policy, meaning it must have a rigorous system to decide how many net Austin Credits it will issue in any given period. Because the measurement of value created by the City and held by its residents will be the residents’ desire to save Austin Credits and value them at or near the price paid for them, the City will know that it has issued too many Austin Credits if the number of Net Austin Credits Saved, or “NACS”, does not increase from one period to the next. NACS will be defined as the number of Austin Credits issued by the City minus the amount of Austin Credits accepted in payment by the City, and if this number is positive, it is multiplied by the fair market value of the Austin Credit as a percentage of a USD, as determined by sales on the Austin Credit Online Marketplace.

Now that I have defined what I mean by Net Austin Credits Saved, I will explain how the city will adjust its number of Net Austin Credits issued (Austin Credits issued excluding loans given) in response. The process is very simple: in any given period, the City may issue an additional number of Net Austin Credits equal to the change in Net Austin Credits Saved in the previous period. To illustrate, consider the following example. In Year Zero, before any Austin Credits exist, NACS is zero by definition. If in Year 1 (the first year of the Austin Credit program) the City issues 400 AC, people spend 300 AC and AC are traded on the Austin Credit Online Marketplace for $.95 each, then the NACS for Year 1 is 95 (400 minus 300, all multiplied by .95). The difference between NACS for Year 1 (95) and NACS for Year Zero (0) is 95; this means that the City can safely increase the number of Austin Credits it issued by 95 in Year 2. If in Year 2, the City follows this advice and issues 495 AC, and the NACS for Year 2 is 180, then the net change in NACS will be 75 (180 minus 95 equals 75), and the City can increase spending by 75 in Year 3. If the City issues an additional 75 AC in Year 3 (for a total of 575), but NACS for Year 3 remains at 175, then the net change in NACS is zero, and the City should not increase the rate of Austin Credit issuance in Year 4. 

The purpose of adjusting the total issuance of Austin Credits in this way is to ensure that issuance of AC increases when the citizens desire to save AC increases and that issuance of AC decreases when the desire to save AC decreases. It is impossible to perfectly predict the net desire to save Austin Credits going into each new year, but aligning the additional issuance with the actual saving desire of the previous period should be an acceptable proxy. Initially, the net issuance of AC needs to reflect the availability of real resources which can be purchased with AC and grow gradually. The City should start by limiting AC issuance to some small fraction—perhaps 5%—of the combined revenue of the City and the businesses that agree to accept AC. This would ensure that even if no one wanted to save AC at the outset, the supply of AC would not exceed the supply of things one can buy with AC, so people can become accustomed to viewing the AC as a stable unit of account. As the use of AC grows among the population, this formula will allow the supply of AC to naturally grow around the same pace as the people’s desire to hold it.

Because the goal of this project is to increase income for Austinites, if the change in NACS is ever negative from one period to the next, the City should not immediately reduce the number of Austin Credits it issues in the next period. It should first adjust non-interest monetary policy for at least 1 year. For example, if in Year 4, NACS declines from 175 to 140, instead of reducing Austin Credit Issuance by 35 in Year 5, the City should increase the collateral requirement for Austin Credit Personal Loans and the down payment requirement for Austin Credit Consumer Loans to encourage more saving. These increases should be proportionate to the negative change in NACS. For example, if NACS declines from 175 to 140 from Year 3 to Year 4, this reflects a decrease of 20%. Consequently, in Year 5, the City should increase the collateral requirement and the down payment requirement by 20%. For example, the collateral requirement might rise from 10% to 12%, and the down payment requirement might rise from 35% to 42% (each a 20% increase from baseline). Only if this does not work in Year 5 should the City be allowed to reduce the number of Austin Credits it issues in Year 6. Once the change in NACS resumed being positive, the down payment and collateral requirements would revert to their original values.

In addition to protecting the value of the Austin Credit, the City must ensure that the AC system benefits low income people and increases financial inclusion by giving access to financial services to those who do not already have it. The primary reason people are unbanked is a lack of income; public jobs programs and supplemental income paid in AC will help address this concern. Another reason some people remain unbanked is the combined effect of having no permanent addresses and no identifying documents. To address this concern, the City should partner with shelters and other facilities that service the unhoused to verify resident-status for people who want to open AC accounts with permanent resident privileges. Another reason that people are unbanked is physical distance from a bank, and a distrust of traditional financial institutions. To address this concern, the City should maintain manned or automated kiosks where people can purchase AC stored value cards and troubleshoot problems with their AC account at every City building that is open to the public.

As well as increasing financial inclusion at the local level, the City can use the Austin Credit to create economic solidarity with other cities or organizations. As this form of local complementary currency becomes more popular, the City can make agreements with other currency issuers. These could come in the form of swap lines, some form of reciprocal receivability of their currencies, direct exchange of surplus resources, or other forms of cooperation. Such agreements between two local communities could strengthen both and emphasize the interdependence of their residents.

If the City takes these steps in the correct order (establishing the value of the AC, protecting the demand for it, then slowly expanding issuance to meet that demand), it can create a financial instrument that enriches the population of Austin and increases financial inclusion. The combined result of all these measures will be an economy where use, exchange, and value of the Austin Credit gradually increases over time, allowing the City to increase income, employment, and credit access for Austinites while reducing its own costs, fulfilling the vision set out by the City Council when they passed Resolution 20220324-057.

Appendix: Is any of this legal?

Federal Constitutional Issues

Article I, Section 10, Clause 1 of the U.S. Constitution forbids states from issuing “bills of credit.” This is sometimes referred to as the clause which prevents states and localities from issuing their own money. However, the term bill of credit does not simply refer to any note or debt-like instrument, or indeed any instrument which circulates between individuals. The Supreme Court, in Briscoe v. The Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 36 U.S. (11 Pet.) 257, 314 (1837), held that a bill of credit is “a paper issued by the sovereign power, containing a pledge of its faith, and designed to circulate as money.” This definition contains three parts, (a) issued by the state, (b) containing a pledge of the state’s faith, and (c) designed to circulate as money, and an instrument must meet all three to be considered a bill of credit. The simplest way for the Austin Credit to be constitutional will be if it avoids meeting the second and third part of the definition.

We will begin by examining part (b) of the definition; Briscoe goes into great detail on what is meant by a pledge of the state’s faith. Id. at 320. One issue before the court was whether the notes issued by the Bank of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, of which the state of Kentucky was the sole shareholder and provider of capital, were issued on the faith of the state. Id. The Court held that the capital of the bank, even though it was in part derived from the state, had its own income stream, and together with the contributions of the state “constituted a fund to which holders of the notes could look for payment, and which could be made legally responsible” for redemption of the notes. Id. The fund was in possession of the bank and under the control of its president and directors, not under the control of the state. Id. Most importantly for the purposes of the Austin Credit, the Court held that “whether the fund was adequate to the redemption of the notes issued, or not; is immaterial to the present inquiry. It is enough that the fund existed, independent of the state, and was sufficient to give some degree of credit to the paper of the bank” (emphasis added). Id. at 321. Additionally, every holder of the bank’s notes had the legal right to sue the bank to enforce payment. Id. For these reasons, even though the state of Kentucky accepted the notes of the bank in payment of taxes, and in discharge of all debt to the state, the notes were not bills of credit. Id.

From Briscoe, we can derive the general rule that an instrument is not a pledge of a state’s faith if there exists some fund which is legally distinct from the state, which has any source of income independent of the state, and which holders of the instrument can sue to redeem the notes. To conform to the requirements of Briscoe, the City, through statute, will establish a permanent, charitable trust called the Austin Credit Trust whose stated purpose is to aid in the economic development of the City of Austin by redeeming Austin Credits for U.S. Dollars forty years after the date of their issuance. In Texas, under Brazos County Appraisal Dist. v. Bryan-College Station Reg’l Ass’n of Realtors, 419 S.W.3d 462 465, “providing services to aid in economic development for a local community” is that a valid purpose for a charitable trust. The trustee will not be authorized to make payments to the City. The terms of the trust will also state that holders of Austin Credit are persons with a special interest in the enforcement of the charitable trust and will have the right to bring suit to enforce the trust by redeeming the notes. The City, in a separate statute, will be required to place money in the trust every year, but, the trustee will be directed to invest the money in the trust in U.S. Treasury Bonds, so that the trust will have its own stream of income, independent of the City. Because the trust will be a separate legal entity with its own stream of income from investments which cannot be sued and from which the City cannot withdraw funds, the Austin Credit will not be a pledge of the faith of the City of Austin. Instead, it will be a pledge of the faith of the Austin Credit Trust.

We now turn to part (c) of the definition, which requires that an alleged bill of credit be designed to circulate as money. The case preceding Briscoe, Craig v. Missouri, 29 U.S. 4 Pet. 410, 432 (1830), which Briscoe relied upon without overruling, explained that an instrument which circulates as money is one which is “intended to circulate between individuals, and between government and individuals, for the ordinary purposes of society” (emphasis added). Additionally, a later case, Houston & Texas Central Railroad. Company. v. Texas, 177 U.S. 66, 89 (1900), holding that a warrant issued by the state of Texas was not designed to circulate as money, relied partially on the fact that “when the warrants once came back to the treasurer of the state, they were not to be reissued.” From these two cases, we can derive the general rule that an instrument cannot be described as intending to circulate as money if there is no circulation between government and individuals because the instrument is redeemed without being reissued. Austin Credits will be extinguished once used for payment, therefore they cannot be reissued and will consequently not circulate between government and individuals. Thus, Austin Credits are not designed to circulate as money.

Because the Austin Credit will neither be a pledge of the city’s faith nor designed to circulate as money in the specific context of the constitutional prohibition on bills of credit, the Austin Credit will not violate the United States Constitution. Requiring the existence of a separate fund which will pay out in dollars will require the Austin Credit Trust to have some dollars on hand, but this will not eliminate spending flexibility for two reasons. First, Austin Credits are designed with various incentives to save them built-in. Second, the City could make the face value of AC significantly below the purchase price for AC. For example, the City could sell AC for $1 that had a cash redemption value of $0.05 while still accepting AC at $1.05 when tendered in payment of City Bills. Because they would be accepted by the City at the $1.05 price in payment of City Bills, AC would trade with a fair market value much higher than $0.05, but the chance of a cash-run on AC would be virtually eliminated.

State Constitutional Issues

The City of Austin is a “home rule” city, meaning it is authorized by the State of Texas to do anything which Texas law does not prevent it from doing. Because Austin Credits will carry some legal obligation by the state, they will be classified as “public securities,” which are defined by Texas Government Code § 1201.002 as “an instrument, including a bond, certificate, note, or other type of obligation authorized to be issued by an issuer under a statute, a municipal home-rule charter, or the constitution of this state.” Because they are public securities, Austin Credits must conform to the requirements of the Texas Government Code.

There are certain types of public security which the Texas Government Code authorizes all local governments–even ones that do not have home rule powers– to issue, under certain limitations. For example, Section 1431.002 of the Texas Government Code authorizes municipalities to issue anticipation notes. However, this statute places restrictions on anticipation notes that make it not the best means of issuing the Austin Credit. Fortunately, because Austin is a home-rule city, it does not have to rely on Section 1431.002’s anticipation note authorization. Instead, it can rely on Section 1201.002’s authorization to grant an instrument authorized under a municipal home-rule charter. Article I, Section 3 of the Austin City Charter is incredibly broad and grants it the ability to “pass ordinances and enact such regulations as may be expedient for the maintenance of the good government, order, and peace of the city and the welfare, health, morals, comfort, safety, and convenience of its inhabitants.” The Austin City Charter regulates the issuance of bonds, but nothing within it governs the issuance of notes, so there are no city-level prohibitions on the Austin Credit in the Austin City Charter. If there were, the charter would need to be amended by a majority vote before the Austin Credit program could be established.

At the Texas State level, the relevant statute is Texas Government Code § 1202.003, which requires the issuer of a public security to submit a proposal to the Texas Attorney General, who must confirm that the public security was issued in conformity with the law before it can be issued. Many of the legal requirements surrounding public securities govern the calculation of interest. However, since Austin Credits will not pay interest, these regulations are inapplicable. The one that is applicable is Texas Government Code § 1202.021, which requires that the public security authorization designate a registrar who will keep records of the public security. This statute states that “a home-rule municipality with a population of more than 100,000” can be the registrar of its own security, so this will not be an issue. The City merely has to designate itself as registrar for the Austin Credit.

Texas State Law grants immense discretion as to the terms of a public security. Tex. Gov’t Code § 1201.021 and 1201.022 read as follows:

§ 1201.021

“A public security may:

(1) be issued in any denomination;

(2) bear no interest or bear interest at one or more specified rates;

(3) be issued with one or more interest coupons or without a coupon;

(4) be issued as redeemable before maturity at one or more specified times; and

(5) be payable:

(A) at one or more times;

(B) in installments or a specified amount or amounts;

(C) at a specified place or places;

(D) under specified terms; and

(E) in a specified form or manner.

§ 1201.022

(a) A public security may be:

(1) issued singly or in a series;

(2) made payable in a specified amount or amounts or installments to:

(A) the bearer;

(B) a registered or named person;

(C) the order of a registered or named person; or

(D) a successor or assign of a registered or named person;

(3) issued to be sold:

(A) at a public or private sale; and

(B) under the terms determined by the governing body of the issuer to be in the issuer’s best interests; and

(4) issued with other specified characteristics, on additional specified terms, or in a specified manner.

(b) The governing body of a county or municipality that issues bonds that are to be paid from ad valorem taxes may provide that the bonds are to mature serially over a specified number of years, not to exceed 40.”

These sections grant a great deal of flexibility to the issuer of a public security. Particularly, the fact that public securities may be payable under specified terms and in a specified form or manner necessarily means that the city can limit their redemption to credits against City Bills. This section also implies that a public security must have some maturity period and redemption, which out of an abundance of caution, we interpret to mean that there must be some way for holders of the public security to get cash, but there is no maximum statutory maturity period that applies to all forms of public security. At the longer end, maturity dates for bonds tend to be 40 years, which is why 40 years is the period at which Austin Credits may be redeemed for cash from the Austin Credit Trust. Although the Austin Credit is not a bond, the 40 year maturity provides a failsafe in the event that the Texas Attorney General does decide that Austin Credits are a type of bond secured by the ad valorem taxes of the municipality. However, because Austin Credits are ultimately payable from the Austin Credit Trust, it’s not clear that the regulations surrounding bonds apply. Most likely, because Austin Credits are not direct promises by the City to pay money, they are public securities which do not fall into any statutorily defined subcategory, but the 40-year maturity is intended as a show of good faith that should bring them into general compliance without causing them to be restricted by provisions which are more specific to certain types of public security. In the worst-case scenario, we would use the authorization to issue Anticipation Notes. However, since Austin Credits would be used for general operating expenses, under Tex. Gov’t Code § 1431.009, they would need to mature within one year of receiving approval by the Texas Attorney General. This would limit flexibility, but would not be fatal. As described in the section above, dealing with Federal Constitutional issues, Austin Credits are designed with various incentives to save them built-in, and the City could make the cash redemption value of AC significantly the City Bill redemption value. For example, people could buy 1 AC for $1, but the cash value would be $0.05, although the City would accept them at $1.05 when people paid their City Bills. This would effectively make them anticipation notes with a negative 95% base interest rate and a conditional 5% interest rate; the relevant statutes only define a maximum interest rate, not a minimum one. Because they would be accepted by the City at the $1.05 price in payment of City Bills, AC would trade with a fair market value higher than $0.05, but neither the City nor the Austin Credit Trust would ever need to worry about a cash run on AC, and the AC would qualify under the anticipation note provision.

Food, Money & Democracy

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

ISSN 2833-051X

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

Abstract

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

Click here for PDF.

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

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

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

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

Varn Vlog with Scott Ferguson

Scott Ferguson joins Varn Vlog to discuss his approach to critical theory, aesthetics and politics. Special thanks to C. Derick Varn for permitting Money on the Left to re-publish the interview here.

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The Unfathomable Cruelty of Biden’s Latest Afghanistan Executive Order

By Mitch Green

Originally published to Substack

Biden has decided to steal raid $7 billion of Da Afghanistan Bank reserves currently frozen by US financial institutions. The motivation for this guileless heist is two fold:

  1. Set aside $3.5 billion for humanitarian aid in Afghanistan
  2. Make available $3.5 billion for claimants in ongoing 9/11 survivor’s lawsuits

The grotesqueness of this Executive Order has layers that I’d like to unpack. I’m tempted to use the Matryoshka Doll as a metaphor here, but the layers of horror are not cleanly nested so much as they are woven in and out of the policy situation. Let’s examine some of them in turn.

Horror #1: Raiding Da Afghanistan Bank’s reserves undermines the entire Afghan economy

Despite the title, Executive Order on Protecting Certain Property of Da Afghanistan Bank for the Benefit of the People of Afghanistan, dispossessing the central bank of these reserves is a direct threat to Afghan welfare. As Dr. Shah Mohammad Mehrabi, economist and former central banker for Afghanistan explains, freezing these reserves has undermined the payments system in Afghanistan as well as the very ability for the central bank to fulfill its institutional obligations of providing liquidity and price stability.

Effects of Freezing Foreign Exchange Reserves

Billington: The main subject that you have been dealing with, as have we, is that the U.S. Federal Reserve and several European banks have $9.5 billion in reserves which belong to the Afghan Central Bank. This money does not belong to the banks that are holding it, but it’s being frozen for political reasons and disagreements with the new government in Kabul, which makes it essentially a form of illegal economic warfare. Could you describe the impact of this on the people of Afghanistan and what actions you have taken to attempt to free these funds?
Dr. Mehrabi: Here is an important point about freezing Afghan foreign exchange reserves. It has contributed to economic instability which I predicted back in September. I predicted a number of things would occur, and they have all come into being, because now there is data to substantiate what I had already predicted in September. At that time, I predicted the currency would depreciate—it has depreciated by more than 14% since August. I also predicted that food prices would increase to double digits—and double digit has occurred. The Price of wheat has gone up by more than 20%, flour has gone up by over 30%, cooking oil has gone up by 60%, and gasoline has gone up by 74%. 
In the banking sector, I also said at that time that it needs liquidity, and to bring liquidity, it is very important that the reserves must be released, I said, to stabilize prices and to prevent a further collapse of the afghani, which is the national currency. 
The 14% currency depreciation hits mostly consumer purchasing power. It puts people in a position where they cannot buy the basic necessities of life. Also, the asset prices of all these goods have gone up.
 Also, I said that imports would decline, and that has occurred. There was a reduction in demand for these imported goods, and consumption has declined significantly because people have no access to their own money in the bank. On the top of that, they don’t have jobs. Many lost their jobs; they did not earn any income and then higher prices further suppressed the demand for buying goods and services.
So that’s what you see: hunger and starvation has come into being.

I have emphasized key parts of the transcript above to drive home the effects of removing significant sums of reserves from the central bank’s toolkit. This interview was recorded last December, before Biden decided to loot these funds, thereby permanently removing them from play. So, it follows that the conditions will only deteriorate further. Hunger and starvation has come into being, but not spontaneously. No, this was caused by the policy of freezing those assets and the new move threatens to turn the screws further.

Whither the women and children?

Last summer when the withdrawal was underway, most narratives went something like this: “Sure, the war was long and costly, but we told the woman and children of Afghanistan we had their backs. Now we’re leaving them to die.” The implication was that to withdraw was to abandon them, and so if we want to honor that promise we need to stay in perpetuity. In one sense, there’s some truth to this: the withdrawal did leave a gaping whole of demand in the economy and the desire to kneecap the central bank was not on the table while present in occupation. This fact reveals an aspect of this horror: the threat of permanent occupation as the only means by which vulnerable Afghans, of which woman and children serve as an evocative proxy, can have a meaningful chance at life. Not life and liberty. Just life, partly.

Now, rather than take measures to aid in the viability of the Afghan economy to function, the Biden Administration is decided to harm it further. Again, here is Dr. Mehrabi capturing this hypocrisy.

“We talk about the issue of women and so on—women and children are the first people suffering from this. They are not able to buy goods and services. On the one hand, if we argue, that we want to provide humanitarian aid, but we are going to choke off the economy as well—those are two opposite arguments. The arguments do not really make sense. On the one hand, you say, I want to help with humanitarian aid, but I’m going to choke off the economy so that the ordinary Afghans will not be able to have access to food and basic necessities.”

This hypocrisy should be brought to the fore in any serious policy discussion on Afghan welfare. Modern human practices no longer recommend holding a dog’s snout in their own excrement to show them how they’ve misbehaved, but the jury is still out on how to train The Blob. NB: Dogs are lovable and incapable of cold malice.

But, the Executive Order aims to use half of the loot for humanitarian aid for the benefit of the people. It says so right in the name!

This would be funny were it not so disastrous and misguided. You cannot address the immiseration of Afghans resulting from, in part, the temporary restraint of its central bank, by hobbling it to do a one-shot aid package. This is absurd and anyone advising the President on the economic soundness of this concept should be stripped of their credentials and floated out to sea. $3.5 billion is a tiny number for an aid package appropriate for the need. And anyway, what is of crucial importance is the swift return of the central bank’s ability to manage its banking system, exchange rate and afghani liquidity. That’s the plumbing, folks. Imagine ripping the plumbing out of a thirsty person’s house, then handing them a length of the resultant copper scrap and saying, “Drink up! There’s some water left in this pipe. And you’re welcome ;)” That’s what this is like. Or if you prefer less hyperbole, here again is Dr. Mehrabi:

Belsky: […] The World Bank, as you know, is now planning to restore about $230 million in aid. But even this small amount, they’re saying, has to go through UNICEF and the World Health Organization instead of going through the Afghan banking system. What is your view of this?
Dr. Mehrabi: I don’t know where UNICEF is going to use it, for what purposes. I said that before. Or WHO, and even the World Food Program. If they are for the purpose of purchasing grains and other basic necessities, that is good. But humanitarian aid is not a solution to rekindling the activities of the economy. Humanitarian aid, as I have said all along, while it is necessary, it’s a stop gap measure, it’s not a complete measure to get the economy overall to move to a point where they could get an increase in aggregate demand, which is very essential if the economy is going to function and generate enough revenue for daily economic activity.

Horror #2: Robbing Afghans to compensate 9/11 Survivor Claimants with suits outstanding

I’m not a legal expert and will not opine on the standing or other circumstances of the 9/11 Survivors lawsuits. And this one might make a lot people very angry with me. But, I will say that it’s grotesque political theater to seize reserves of a central bank in one country to use as a basis for paying people in another country under the pretense of compensating them for damages caused by individuals from a third country. Even if you could establish a direct connection to some Afghans for that crime, it would not follow that you should punish an entire society of people who have no causal relationship to the event as a mechanism for making financial restitution to a restricted class of beneficiaries in another society. I leave the legality of the whole proposition to the lawyers, which seems to this lay person rather dubious.

And you don’t need to pilfer the central bank reserves of Afghanistan to make 9/11 Survivors whole! A fact that brings me to the last horror I’d like address.

Horror #3: We see once again the deleterious effects of treating money as a quantum of value that needs to be shuffled around

I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. I did put MMT into this reaction piece. Here’s why: this Executive Order, top to bottom and side to side, represents the sound money scarcity logics that prevail consensus policy views. It’s right there in the notion that you can seize some treasure to move from the plumbing of the Afghanistan banking system to the “humanitarian aid” sector of the Afghanistan economy. Elsewhere, you have the notion that you can seize some of the treasure and push it across the playing board to third parties who are hoping for payments to originate from the legal – economic apparatus of the US system. And yet you still see it in the foolish notion that you can do any part of this in such a way that sanitizes the operations from hitting Taliban balance sheets. Only a sound finance mind can dream up such a fantasy.

It’s the opposite case that draws this last horror out. The idea that economic endeavors may proceed on their own terms (by envisioning the outcome you want and then legislating for the funds to finance it), in non zero sum fashion, illustrates the needless cruelty, waste and punitive character of this Executive Order. It is volitional to destroy the Afghan financial system. It is volitional to starve Afghans so that you may clear a path for resolution for the 9/11 Survivors. It is grotesque and horrific and will be Biden’s legacy.

Read more from Mitch Green’s Substack

Response to People’s Policy Project on Alaska’s Oil Fund (Parody)

[This is a Guest Post from the Neoclassical Marxism Think Tank]

I apologize for the lateness of this post. I would have finished it sooner, but since taking my kids out of school to learn directly from market experiences, I’ve had to figure out ways to get them to leave me alone. This is a response to the People’s Policy Project on Alaska’s bold cuts to their public university system.

There was a time, probably hundreds of years ago, when public education was important. Before income became automated with the invention of passive income, humans had to be augmented with different kinds of knowledge in order to earn money and become truly free. Today, the average worker is far less productive than the average index fund in real terms. And by real terms, I mean dollars. In our technologically advanced society, the income of an “educated citizen” is equal to the income of an adult who receives the same amount in the form of an oil dividend.

From a material point of view, “public schools” are little more than unemployment insurance with a homework requirement.

So it’s a breath of fresh air to see that the brave government of Alaska, following Marx, cut the state’s public university budget by 40% to pay for their oil-powered Sovereign Wealth Fund. Alaskans have been liberated from workfare at a rate of $3,000/year. But the real benefits can’t be so easily measured. Beyond just $3,000/year, Alaska’s former students have gained something truly invaluable. Approximately $2,400 per year of extra consumption, by my intern’s calculations.

But as usual, some Leftists care more about gate-keeping their cushy think tank positions and virtue-signalling to tenured professors than actually winning. In a disgusting attempt to prop up the Workfare Industrial Complex, some “comrades” at the People’s Policy Project are saying that Alaska can close the university-sized hole in its budget with a move as simple as eliminating the $1.2 billion in deductible tax credits that will be lost to oil companies this year.

This is of course a ridiculous lie. Every oil fund thinker I know says dividend amounts will go down if they don’t get their tax credits. The idea that we can separate public spending from oil revenue when they’re sourced from the same place is a dangerous political fantasy.

And the truth is, Matt Bruenig knows better. I expect he’ll tell me as much when we meet this September to record podcasts in my wife’s spare room while our kids homeschool themselves. Matt knows that the yield for public education is low compared to other investment strategies the state could pursue with those tax revenues. He knows he is misleading citizen-shareholders across Alaska, but he doesn’t care. It’s worth it for him to keep Neoclassical Marxism from eating into his market share.

This is a plea for solidarity from leftists who share my dream of turning all public services into passive income streams. These flirtations with workfare are pure opportunism, and the average think tank reader is disgusted by them. Instead, we should be speaking the language of universalism. It doesn’t matter if a child is smart or dumb, productive or an objective waste of space. They shouldn’t be forced into a “school” to “learn things”. They should be at home, shopping online. Universalism means recognizing that all social problems can be solved with cash.

That’s what separates Socialists from other think tanks.

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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