Near the start of this episode, Jason Hickel raises Noam Chomsky’s position that the urgency of the climate crisis is so dire it will have to be dealt with under capitalism. There isn’t time to transition to socialism. Hickel disagrees. Capitalism is incapable of handling the problem.
Hickel, an economic anthropologist, begins the interview pointing out the mistaken notion that we have no climate policy, no action, when in fact this is exactly what climate policy action under capitalism looks like: systematic denial and nonstop investment in fossil fuel expansion. It is not due to ignorance. We have the knowledge. We have the science. It boils down to class; the interests of the ruling class are anti-environmental and anti-poor. Capitalism is anti-democratic.
“The status quo is not just a failure, it's a death march. Our governments are failing us and failing all of life on Earth. We have to face up to that.”
In less than an hour, Hickel lays out the political and economic history of the ecological effects of neocolonialism. He explains why mainstream solutions (if you can call them solutions) to the climate crisis cannot work, despite UN climate resolutions, annual COP conferences, and IPCC reports.
As an MMT-informed ecosocialist, Hickel has powerful suggestions for radical systemic change, including a job guarantee and universal public services. The single most important step would be to nationalize the fossil fuel industry. We talk about capping and shrinking emissions, which are caused by burning fossil fuels, so why are we not targeting the industry itself? The environmental movement constantly faces fossil capital, with its grip on politicians and the media (and unethical scientists). Fossil fuel companies are a dangerous foe. They must be treated as such.
In addition to policy, Hickel also addresses strategy. He urges us to look to the civil rights movement and the anti-colonial national liberation movements of the mid-20th century. A crisis on the scale we are facing requires all hands on deck. We need a working class as well as a global perspective.
“We have a global economy where growth and accumulation in the global North depends on a net appropriation and drain from the global South through unequal exchange, which is an effect basically, of the out-sized geopolitical and commercial power of northern firms ... An ecosocialist transition that is not also anti-imperialist, not also organized around global justice, is not an ecosocialism worth having.”
We’ll let you in on a little secret: Jason Hickel is one of our favorite interview guests of all time. This little description is woefully inadequate. Listen to it and tell us what you think. There is a transcript and “Extras” page for this and every episode at realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast/
Jason Hickel is an economic anthropologist. His research focuses on global inequality, political economy, post-development, and ecological economics, which are the subjects of his two most recent books: "The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and Its Solutions" and "Less Is More: How De-Growth Will Save the World".
Find his work at jasonhickel.org
@jasonhickel on Twitter
We often talk about climate change on this podcast. The IPCC deadline is hanging over our heads like the sword of Damocles. This week Steve talks to David Keith, a professor of both Applied Physics and Applied Policy at Harvard, and author of A Case for Climate Engineering.
Climate engineering, a term for solar geoengineering or solar radiation modification, would enable us to alter the Earth's reflectivity and reduce some of the climate risks that come from accumulated carbon dioxide. Keith is quick to point out that this is not a silver bullet but should be considered as part of a multi-pronged strategy.
Managing climate risk involves four basic actions:
Cut emissions by decarbonizing the energy system
Remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
Solar radiation modification, or solar geoengineering
Adaption to reduce the harms of climate change on crops, people, and ecosystems
While there’s no way to address climate change without replacing our energy system, it’s not the entire solution. If we stop all CO2 emissions today, the climate problem won’t improve, it will merely stop getting worse. We won’t have reduced the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Thus the case for climate engineering.
The discussion includes the different roles for scientists and activists. They look at limitations, or flaws, in the IPCC report, and consider the importance of separating science from strategy.
David Keith has worked near the interface between climate science, energy, technology, and public policy for 25 years. He took first prize in Canada's National Physics Prize exam, won MIT's Prize for Excellence in Experimental Physics, and is one of Time Magazine's heroes of the environment. He's a professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and founder of Carbon Engineering, a company developing technology to capture CO2 from the ambient air to make carbon neutral hydrocarbon fuels. He is author of “A Case for Climate Engineering.”
@DKeithClimate on Twitter
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In a recent episode of Macro N Cheese, Steve spoke with a guest about the MMT view of exports as a benefit and imports as a cost. There ensued some disagreement on social media (where else?) This week Steve invited Bill Mitchell to weigh in on the topic. As their discussion develops, this becomes an episode we’d recommend to anyone who is still unclear on the meaning and consequences of foreign trade deficits.
“Exports have to be a cost because you're foregoing real resources that you could use yourself. And imports have to be a benefit because you're getting real resources from other countries that you didn't previously have which allow you to expand your consumption possibilities. The question then is: does that mean that exports are bad and imports are good? Well, not really. That's where people get tripped up.” (Mitchell)
MMT isn’t a theory of everything. It doesn’t pass judgment or recommend policy.
“To me, it's an interesting intersection... MMT allows us to understand what we can and can't do and our theory of politics and the commons will inform what we do with that knowledge.” (Grumbine)
They discuss national debt, both before and after Bretton Woods. As a bonus, Bill dispels fears of Big Bad China holding too many US dollars. “They're not funding the US government. They've got US dollars because they sold more stuff to you than you sold to them.” The government can always restrict or regulate foreign direct investment. Who should be able to own a country’s natural resources?
Bill and Steve talk about imperialism, globalization, the pandemic, and climate disaster. Bill suggests we start thinking in terms of poly crises. If every crisis is connected to multiple others, does it make sense to take them on one by one?
Bill’s visits usually review some core MMT principles and provide answers to some of the critics. This episode is no exception. Every topic of discussion loops back to the fact that money is not the issue – real resources are. Understanding MMT flushes out political motivation. There’s nowhere left to hide.
Bill Mitchell is a Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity (CofFEE), at the University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia.
He is also a professional musician and plays guitar with the Melbourne Reggae-Dub band, Pressure Drop. The band was popular around the live music scene in Melbourne in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band re-formed in late 2010.
@billy_blog on Twitter
Robert Hockett joins Steve to talk about his latest book, The Citizens’ Ledger: Digitizing Our Money, Democratizing Our Future. The episode is right at home in our archive of interviews around the topics of fintech, digital wallets, cryptocurrency, CBDCs, and privacy. We urge our listeners to look up past episodes featuring https://realprogressives.org/podcast_episode/episode-181-cloudmoney-with-brett-scott/ (Brett Scott) and https://realprogressives.org/podcast_episode/episode-123-defining-the-world-of-crypto-and-the-digital-commons-with-rohan-grey/ (Rohan Grey).
Just about everyone acknowledges that digital payment systems offer enormous convenience, but we’re equally aware they come with a cost – we lose all claim to privacy. Bob presents sound arguments for halting the private takeover of the public commons.
“If we think in terms of the commons ... you might say that what the private sector fintech industry is trying to do, and what the private sector crypto industry seems to be trying to do, is to displace actual physical cash; in effect to take away that commons and replace it with a bunch of proprietary fiefdoms.”
Cryptopians, as Bob calls them, are touting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as creating some kind of democratic new world of sovereign selfhood. This is patently absurd. Bob makes the case that we could develop a digital system – a digital wallet – with all the attractive attributes of cash, including privacy and universal accessibility.
Bob describes a way for individuals to pay, receive, and save, while completely bypassing private banks and financial institutions. He says it could be run by the Fed, the Treasury, or both. The Fed would have new monetary tools that directly benefit people instead of banks.
Steve and Bob discuss concerns about government overreach and consider the kinds of regulatory laws that would need to be in place.
As for privacy, well, do you have a smartphone with GPS? Are you making purchases online? Or with a credit card? It’s already too easy to peer into our lives. Unlike private entities, neither the Fed nor the Treasury are profiting from our transactions.
“Obviously it's like a never-ending quest to get our data protected and to prevent overreach by federal agencies ... But all I mean to say is that I don't think that introducing the system introduces new vulnerabilities that aren't already there.”
Bob usually has a rosier view than we do at Macro N Cheese, but he always gives us something to chew on. This episode will have you thinking about history, policy, and possibilities.
Robert C. Hockett is an American lawyer, law professor, and policy advocate. He holds two positions at Cornell University and is senior counsel at investment firm Westwood Capital, LLC. His latest book is The Citizens’ Ledger: Digitizing Our Money, Democratizing Our Future.
@rch371 on Twitter
At first glance, HBO’s new documentary series The Anarchists looks like fun. It’s got the sexy circle-A symbol in the title and… Well, at second glance, that’s all it has going for it. The title. If you’re hoping to find the intellectual heirs of Emma Goldman and Bakunin, you’ll be disappointed. These aren’t even the scrappy anarchists of punk rock or the raucous groups waving black banners at demonstrations. HBO’s Anarchists are the one percent. They are tech billionaires and cryptocurrency hucksters. This is the 21st century, where left-wing rhetoric is gobbled up and regurgitated, having been scrubbed clean of its urgency.
Brett Scott is the perfect guest for someone confused by The Anarchists. He doesn’t refer to that show but, in a way, he’s been preparing us for it since his first appearance on this podcast in 2019. He has taken us through the history of fintech, explained the uses of blockchain, and dispelled the myths about cryptocurrency. He makes the case that the war on cash is a war on class.
This week, Brett talks about his new book, Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto, and the War for Our Wallets. Just like the so-called anarchists of HBO’s series, in the unholy marriage of big finance and big tech the state is the enemy.
Digital financial transactions are being sold to us as liberating and convenient. Steve and Brett question the assumption that high speed “frictionlessness” is a virtue. They ask whose interests are served through these and other mainstream narratives.
“We'll see these news stories that say something like, cashless society is an inevitability. We will all be moving towards this ever more digital future, and so on. Whenever I see that, all I see is the commercial interests of large corporations being presented as the general interest of all people.”
Brett brings his background in anthropology to look at some of the less obvious consequences of replacing state money - a public utility - with a massive global system that is almost impossible to track or understand. What happens when we have no interaction with the people we depend upon?
Brett Scott is an author, journalist, and activist, who explores the intersections between money systems, finance, and digital technology. He's the author of The Heretics Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money. His latest book is Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto, and the War for Our Wallets. Find more of his work on brettscott.substack.com
@suitpossum on Twitter
**A transcript is available for this and every episode of the podcast at https://realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast/ (realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast/) where you will also find an Extras page with links to resources related to the episode.**
In one of the most exciting pairings we’ve had on this podcast, Michael Hudson and Steve Keen join Steve Grumbine to talk about geopolitics, international production and trade, the climate crisis, and a bit of MMT.
Grumbine begins by asking them to address Warren Mosler’s position that imports are a benefit and exports are a cost. Keen and Hudson have a different take on this question, and we’ll be interested to hear how our listeners respond.
“Well, America is going to make a killing on oil exports because the United States controls the world oil trade. The US is also a major agricultural exporter, and it'll make a killing because NATO has imposed sanctions on Russia, preventing Russia from exporting oil and food. It's the largest grain exporter into the economy. So you're going to have South America, Africa, and the global South countries all of a sudden running big deficits.” (Hudson)
In a previous interview, Steve Keen spoke of broken supply chains resulting from the COVID pandemic. Spreading production across the globe results in a fragile system, easily disrupted by war, famine, or other catastrophic events. From another angle, around 20% of our carbon production comes from the mechanics of shipping goods around the world. He also asks if imports are a benefit for nations without monetary sovereignty.
Hudson is deft at painting a vivid picture of the current international political economy. US attempts to isolate Russia have backfired, evidenced by BRICS and the strengthening alliances among non-NATO nations. He describes a world being split into two different economic zones.
“China doesn't have a financial oligarchy because it treats money and credit as a public utility through the Bank of China. And so the Bank of China, as we said, makes loans to actually develop the economy. And that's what Russia says it's going to begin doing, not to create a financial class to make money at the expense of the 99%. So we're dealing with a civilizational problem. And the question is, which form of civilization? Can you rescue Western civilization from the wrong track? Well, only by creating an alternative on the right track and leaving Western civilization and say, well, you're missing out on the development. Do you want to continue in poverty or are you going to have a revolution?”
Keen and Hudson are two old friends, each with their own distinct but overlapping focus. Between them they bring colorful insights and information to the conversation. In this episode they touch on the American Constitution, the stranglehold of the FIRE sector, and the history of debt jubilees. They talk about the European Green Parties (spoiler alert: they are cheerleaders for neoliberalism). They contrast and compare the World Bank to the Bank of China, and their respective roles vis-à-vis humanity. They discuss de-development and possibilities for the future of the planet.
Steve Keen is a Distinguished Research Fellow at UCL and the author of “Debunking Economics,” “Can We Avoid Another Financial Crisis?” and his latest “The New Economics: A Manifesto.” His main research interests are developing the complex systems approach to macroeconomics, and the economics of climate change. @ProfSteveKeen on Twitter
Michael Hudson is President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. He recently published “The Destiny of Civilization – Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism.” For access to his many books, articles, and interviews, go to michael-hudson.com
Listeners who came of age in the US since 2008 don’t remember a time when “class” was a term only used by politicians - and always with the modifier “middle.” Candidates of both parties assured us of their deep affection for and connection to the middle class. They left it up to us to define what exactly that meant. Unless you associated with leftists, you were more likely to hear “capitalism” spoken of by conservatives again with a modifier: “free market.” For many, the global financial crisis was an undeniable wakeup call and Occupy Wall Street drew attention away from Washington, DC, and pointed it toward the financial industry. At last. Steve’s guest, Joe Burns, is a union negotiator and labor lawyer. In the year and a half since he was last on this podcast, he completed and published his third book, Class Struggle Unionism. As we saw in his previous episode, Joe is a student of labor history, and he talks us through the historical division in the movement. Unsurprisingly, it coincides with the spread of neoliberalism. Joe contrasts class struggle unionism to business unionism – or pragmatic unionism - that developed after the relatively strong labor movement that lasted into the 1970s. Business unionism by its nature is extremely conservative. It is pragmatic and bureaucratic. But the problem is, as they say, capital is a relentless force, right? So society and the economy is constantly changing and employers, as I've noted, used their influence to change the rules of the game over the decades and the stable bargaining that might have existed 40, 50 years ago is gone now. Throughout the episode, Joe and Steve return to the question of power. Joe defines the real powers in society as the big institutional investors and multi-billionaires who have used their resources and influence for the past century to shape the laws and transform the entire economy. ...
This week, Harvey J. Kaye and Alan Minsky stop by the Macro N Cheese clubhouse to talk to Steve about the 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights. Kaye, a historian, brings stories of FDR’s four freedoms and the impetus for what he called the 2nd Bill of Rights – an Economic Bill of Rights. Minsky brings his experience in progressive politics, both as a journalist and with Progressive Democrats of America. Of course, the Minsky name holds a special place in our MMT hearts – our own Randy Wray studied under Alan’s dad, Hyman. When listening to Alan, one might suspect he’s also related to friend-of-the-podcast Robert Hockett, who coined the term “metabolic optimism.”
Whether or not we share Alan’s optimism, we agree with his insistence that “our winning political hand is our economic message.” The economy is central to everyone’s life and should be central to our agenda. He believes the 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights is the avenue to achieve that centrality in the left progressive program.
As Harvey takes us through it, he adds historical details; many of these points can be traced back to FDR.
1. The right to a useful job that pays a living wage.
2. The right to a voice in the workplace through a union and collective bargaining.
3. The right to comprehensive quality health care.
4. The right to a complete, cost-free public education and access to broadband Internet.
5. The right to decent, safe, affordable housing.
6. The right to a clean environment and a healthy planet.
7. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources at birth and a secure retirement.
8. The right to sound banking and financial services.
9. The right to an equitable and economically fair justice system.
10. The right to recreation and participation in civic and democratic life.
Roosevelt believed the American promise of “the pursuit of happiness” is not possible without economic security. FDR’s agenda lived on after his presidency – though without much success. Harvey names Jimmy Carter as the president who dealt the death blow to the New Deal:
“Let me make it clear, ever since the 1970's the Democratic Party has not simply turned its back on the FDR legacy – the Jimmy Carter presidency was the launching pad of neoliberalism in the United States. People like to talk about Reagan. They like to talk about Clinton in the 1990s. Jimmy Carter was the first neoliberal president. The deregulation of finance, the deregulation of transportation, it all stems from Carter's determination ... It's Carter who first used the term austerity to promote the neoliberal agenda.”
Alan adds: “the truth is, as every listener to Macro N Cheese certainly knows, that one party has been willing to run up deficits, the other party generally has not.” Democrats have wrapped themselves in a mantle of fiscal austerity and would sooner lose elections than change.
This episode gives you history, it gives you economics, it gives you policy, and it engages in ever-popular political speculation. Did we mention Bernie? Yeah, his name comes up a few times.
Harvey J. Kaye is Professor Emeritus of Democracy and Justice Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the author of the newly published "The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great," "Take Hold of Our History: Make America Radical Again," and "FDR on Democracy."
Alan Minsky is the Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America. Alan worked as a progressive journalist for the fifteen years before joining PDA. He was the Program Director at KPFK Radio in Los Angeles, and the coordinator of Pacifica Radio's national broadcasts. He was the creator and original producer for the Ralph Nader Radio Hour, as well as the political podcasts for The Nation and Jacobin Magazine. His many articles can be found at Common Dreams, The Nation, Truthdig and other platforms. Alan is the son of the late economist Hyman Minsky....
This episode of Macro N Cheese introduces us to Dr. Carey King of the University of Texas at Austin where he performs research and modeling of energy systems interaction with the economy past, present and future. He has published a book, https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-030-50295-9 (The Economic Superorganism) describing his research extrapolating the results into policy suggestions.
Steve opens the episode describing the term “real resources” and asks Dr. King to explain the approach he took in his book. The explanation reaches back into history to the 14th century all the way to the present. Through that time span, he discovered that energy costs can reliably correlate to GDP (gross domestic product). This formed the basis for his research work and, subsequently, his book.
Much of the discussion, then, centered around two significant points; the efficiency of energy consumption or output in terms of cost and an examination of the first point in terms of the book’s title that connects economics to an organism.
The input or output of energy discussion details how a supply chain functions and how energy is consumed at every link in the chain. The result shows that actual efficiency of production has diminished since the onset of the 1970’s.
Examining energy and the economy as an organism requires a view that details the multiple connections that any organism has to survive. Steve draws the parallel to a “system” of any sort, and current events. Dr. King builds on Steve’s points with further emphasis on the choices made and their impact on current economic issues.
Other topics discussed were Dr. King’s next steps in adding environmental variables into his models that could possibly expose some options for coping with climate change. Also talked about was the post production variable of energy costs of handling production waste which builds further on the environmental variables.
Lastly, both Dr. King and Steve exchanged views on the expansion of China’s economy, macroeconomic issues, and even how Dr. King’s work intersects with evolution itself.
Dr. Carey W. King is Assistant Director of the Energy Institute at University of Texas at Austin, where he has been a Research Scientist since 2016. He is author of The Economic Superorganism: Beyond the Competing Narratives on Energy, Growth, and Policy (2021).
Find his work at careyking.com
@CoreyWKing on Twitter
Dr. Daniel Negreiros Conceição developed an interest in economics at a young age, having experienced the consequences of inflationary crises during his formative years. After being entranced by the writings of MMT economists as an undergrad studying economics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, he came to the US to do his graduate studies at UMKC where he became a friend and colleague of so many of our favorite guests on this podcast. He left determined to use what he learned to help his own country achieve its potential.
He spoke with us about the recent political and historical context for background into the broader political economic situation and the stances of the major political actors towards it. He pointed out the closely matching parallel track with our own political developments in the US and the economic underpinnings. He also discussed many similarities in the state of the discourse and misinformation in discussions of finance and government budgets.
He then explained the mechanics of the Brazilian currency, the real, and discussed how the central bank manages it. He discussed balance of payment and foreign exchange situations, and explained why the issue of “monetary sovereignty” is part of the story, but not the end of it. He spoke of a country with monetary sovereignty and abundant natural resources. A country whose government accidentally proved with a massive pandemic economic bailout of the financial sector that the government can indeed do big things and better the lives of its people, if it really wants to.
Daniel Negreiros Conceição is an associate professor at the Unicamp Institute of Economics. A professor at the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning (IPPUR) at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). He is one of the authors of the book “Modern Monetary Theory: The Key to an Economy at the Service of People”. He is president of the executive board of Institute of Functional Finance for Development Brasil.
Follow Prof. Daniel Conceição on twitter @stopthelunacy
Our listeners know that Steve is a perpetual student -- his YouTube show is called The Rogue Scholar. He makes no apologies for past incomplete or erroneous thinking; he just soldiers on, deepening his understanding of the issues and course-correcting his analysis. He is a voracious reader and we can identify at least three books that led to this week’s episode: https://bookshop.org/a/82803/9780393651362 (The Divide), by Jason Hickel, https://bookshop.org/a/82803/9780872863293 (Blackshirts and Reds), by Michael Parenti, and https://bookshop.org/a/82803/9781913026028 (Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism), by Vladimir Lenin.* They have all fed into his obsession with neocolonialism and the unholy trinity of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. The problem predates the modern neoliberal era:
“Lenin talks extensively about taking out these loans. Now, mind you, the IMF wasn't around ... But this whole concept of global finance capital was already being talked about at the turn of the century. And what he showed was that these countries that took on these big loans, they would be fine for a year. And then by the next year, they were already losing money, deeply in debt, and by the third year, they had to take out another loan.”
Steve summoned our old friend Fadhel Kaboub to take us through the history of the unholy trinity, connect it to monetary sovereignty, and untangle the cat’s cradle of international power and oppression. Who better than Fadhel, whose superpower is his ability to explain complicated systems in words anyone can understand?
Fadhel begins with the currency wars in the period between the first and second World Wars. After WWII the allies gathered to establish a means of preventing currency wars in the future. You’ve heard of Bretton Woods? Well, did you know two competing plans were presented? Keynesian and... not Keynesian. Keynes’s plan was designed to promote full employment globally. The universe ended up with the non-Keynesian International Monetary Fund, or IMF, and the World Bank.
“The World Bank was initially designed to be the bank for the reconstruction of Europe, essentially. And eventually after Europe was rebuilt, it was reinvented as an economic development bank for the global south, because in 1945, when the World Bank was designed, there were no developing countries, there were just colonies. So by the mid 1960s, all of those colonies are now developing countries, and the world needed a World Bank for economic development ... it's designed for long-term infrastructure, major projects, as opposed to the IMF, which was designed as the emergency room for financial crises.”
The third leg of the unholy trinity is the World Trade Organization. Fadhel guides us through its origins and evolution. It turns out the entity committed to free trade limits itself to “free trade in everything but arms and farms.” Once the former colonies became independent, the former colonizers looked around and said, “Uh-oh, where are we getting our food?" With food now an issue of national security, powerful nations are subsidizing agricultural staples; farmers in the developing world cannot compete.
Throughout the episode, Fadhel illustrates how these three institutions are able to ham-string the global south. He talks about the three main structural traps – food, energy, and low-tech manufacturing. The further the developing world is pushed into desperation, the greater the benefits to the global elite.
Can the post-colonial nations cast off the chains of economic oppression and poverty? Fadhel provides answers, showing how the MMT analysis not only brings the problems into focus, but provides solutions. The final twenty minutes of this episode are perhaps the most important.
*When you purchase these books through RP Bookshelf on our website, we make a small percentage on the sale. We are an affiliate of bookshop.org, not that online megamonster whose name shall not be spoken.
** Be sure to check out the transcript for each episode of this podcast on our website, where you will also find an “Extras” page with links to related resources. https://realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast/ (realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast) **
Robert Hockett drops into the Macro N Cheese clubhouse to talk to Steve about the usual stuff: inflation, monopoly capitalism, the massive scale of global inequality, and the climate crisis barreling down on us at an ever-faster speed. It is our ninth episode with Bob, this one spurred by his recent article, the alliterative “Prices, Preclusive Purchases, and Production: Some Forgotten Solutions to Forgotten Inflation Problems” (Forbes, 13 May 2022), which diagnoses the current inflation as three supply side dysfunctions – short, medium, and long term.
Folks like Larry Summers focus on labor costs, in hopes of encouraging a further clampdown on labor, while executives are boasting record profits and chortling about marking up prices under cover of inflation.
Isn’t this just the reality of capitalism? Can it be tamed – and if so, what would that look like? If we can’t yet get rid of capitalism, are there workarounds? Bob suggests identifying those products and services that are essential to leading decent, peaceful lives and removing them from the profit-maximizing system altogether. He goes into the history of public involvement in healthcare and home finance. Another area is food:
“Here's a case where we allow the private sector beneficiaries of that socialization, namely big agriculture, to profit enormously … The agricultural sector is subject, of course, to the vagaries of weather, meteorological conditions, and so forth. Furthermore, it's subject to the potential for overproduction of exactly the kind that Marx and some other political economists in the 19th century predicted. And the only way, it turned out, to keep them in business and keep them producing was for the federal government to promise to buy any of the surplus.”
There has been a lot of talk about supply chains, which Bob welcomes, ironically, for including the word “supply,” because it has been missing from American economic discourse for quite some time.
“But one problem with that phrase is, it lumps together two distinct things, right? On the one hand, you have to have the production of that which is to be supplied, and then on the other hand, you have to have the delivery of the supplies. And the phrase ‘supply chain’ seems to lump those two things together.”
Steve brings up the fact that exporting production means exporting pollution. In addition to exploiting cheap labor abroad, outsourcing production has allowed companies to evade US environmental regulations. The discussion leads to the need for a Green New Deal and the possibilities therein. They also talk about the IMF and World Bank and ask if the US is held to different standards. (It is.)
A Bob Hockett episode is as much a conversation as an interview. These two old friends don’t just look at problems, they peer down the path to solutions – some possible, some not. Whether you agree with either of them, it’s worth a listen. Tell us what you think.
Robert Hockett is the Edward Cornell Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, Adjunct Professor of Finance at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, and Senior Counsel at Westwood Capital, LLC.
Real Progressives and Macro N Cheese are committed to bringing MMT to activists and folks with no background in economics. Many of us were only interested in learning how MMT disrupts the concept of taxes funding federal programs, but the more we know, the more we want to understand. MMT is funny that way.
If you’re new to MMT, this week’s interview with L. Randall Wray might appear to be wonky and intimidating. But we urge you to listen and promise it will be worth it. We’ve had a few episodes dealing with inflation in recent weeks because that’s where we are at this particular time in history. We believe it can’t be talked about often enough because we’re surrounded by misinformation in the mainstream media and lies from the mouths of so-called experts.
Steve invited Randy to talk about the recent paper he co-authored with Yeva Nersisyan, another friend of this podcast. The title speaks volumes: Is It Time for Rate Hikes? The Fed Cannot Engineer a Soft Landing but Risks Stagflation by Trying. To put it bluntly, confronting inflation by raising interest rates is dangerous. Randy describes the catastrophic chain reaction – causing bankruptcies at home and tanking the economies of developing nations. He explains in detail how this happens, both to individuals and nations.
The ‘experts’ love to blame government spending for today’s inflation – especially the paltry stimulus checks disbursed during the pandemic. Wages are another favorite culprit. Listeners to this podcast know these are not the causes. (How long ago were those damn checks?) However, both the pandemic and the current war have brought us supply chain disruptions. We can also look to corporate manipulation of prices and markups:
“And they're very open about this. When they have their meetings with shareholders and others, they say, look, our customers are not going to blame us if we hike up the markups and take more profits, because they realize that inflation is creeping up. So, they're not going to blame us. So, let's do it. And they are.”
Randy defines stagflation and its causes. He compares today’s inflation to that of the 1970s along with the actions of the infamous Paul Volcker. He explains why the Fed’s “tools” for fighting inflation are no tools at all. He suggests a legitimate role for a central bank includes protecting the public from banking fraud. He replies to Steve’s question about eliminating the interest rate altogether:
“This was actually Keynes's proposal to have a zero overnight interest rate. His proposal was to euthanize the entire rentier class. You all know what euthanize means. Mercy killing of the rentier. That is the class of people that live off collective interest. He saw them as functionless in the economy. They don't serve any useful function. So, let's euthanize them now. Keynes didn't really mean kill.”
Steve talks of people’s desperation as they look for solutions to the real-life problems that are not on the Fed’s radar. Inflation could be addressed with targeted spending on behalf of the public using the fiscal power of Congress. Expecting the Federal Reserve to fix it with interest rate adjustments is like giving a child a fake steering wheel in the back seat and expecting them to drive the car.
L. Randall Wray is a Professor of Economics at Bard College and Senior Scholar at the Levy Economics Institute.
A false dawn is a promising situation which comes to nothing. This is how Aqdas Afzal describes the situation in his native Pakistan and India at the end of the Raj.
“The point to remember here, Steve, is that the British were in India not to govern. They were in India to extract surplus and to maintain what they called law and order. And so the British left without giving the local people any taste or mechanism for bringing about accountability or democracy. But they did leave behind these two very, almost draconian institutions for keeping law and order. And because of these two institutions - these two state institutions that the British left behind - in the case of Pakistan, the first 25 years of Pakistan's history was complete chaos.”
Aqdas talks to Steve about the chaos of partition – a humanitarian crisis. Remember, Pakistan was not only separated from India, but it was also cleaved from its own Eastern wing, now known as Bangladesh. The generation that sacrificed and struggled to gain independence was hoping for a bright future. That was the false dawn.
Pakistan fell into the lap of neoliberal thinking because of the Cold War, as Aqdas explains it. When the Soviets entered Afghanistan, the military government took over in Pakistan, cozying up with the US defense establishment. Pakistani policy makers began to sound like the godparents of the neoliberal project, Thatcher and Reagan.
The interview covers the destructive role of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO – what Steve refers to as the evil trinity. No matter how many of our guests talk about them, there is always more outrage to be uncovered in their manipulation of the economies of the global South.
Steve and Aqdas discuss Francis Fukuyama’s concept of “the end of history.” With the collapse of the USSR, liberal democracy and capitalism were expected to be the final stage of human evolution, leaving no other pathway for developing nations. Aqdas counters with the notion that history is not linear.
“Russia is a country that went through shock therapy, that was undertaken by experts coming from the World Bank and the IMF. These experts are basically telling Russia how to open its economy, how to change over from socialism to a market-based economy. The same Russia today is challenging the might of capitalist countries like Britain, United States, Germany.”
He calls this the beginning of history.
Aqdas Afzal finished his undergraduate and first master's degree in Political Science from Ohio State University, then returned to his native Pakistan. After working there for five years he won the Fulbright scholarship for his second master’s and PhD in Economics from UMKC. He teaches at Habib University in Karachi and writes https://www.dawn.com/authors/8439/aqdas-afzal (a monthly op-ed in Dawn), a leading English language newspaper there.
@AqdasAfzal on Twitter
**Transcripts and extras for this episode can be found at realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast.**
Iceland’s economy is an example of MMT working the way MMT economists say it works. It is the second smallest free-floating currency in the world. However, despite its size, conditions are dramatically different than in a country like Greece, shackled to a currency outside its control. For better or worse, Iceland has a bit of monetary sovereignty.
“When you have your own currency, you can develop your economy by very smart economic decisions, domestic investments that build up the production capacity of the economy. Or you can use that currency to basically create a credit bubble, which then runs the economy to the ground.”
Steve’s guest, Ólafur Margeirsson, has written more than 250 articles on the Icelandic economy over the past decade and, until recently, had a unique vantage point as an alternate member of the Central Bank of Iceland’s Supervisory Board. Despite Icelandic society’s Nordic influences, in this episode you’ll hear echoes of our past interviews with Fadhel Kaboub on the global South. With those countries it shares obstacles that arise from not producing all that they need. Its currency isn’t internationally accepted, so exports must generate income in foreign currencies to pay for imported goods.
Iceland relies on three main exports - aluminum, fishing, and tourism – each about a third of the gross exports. These are vulnerable to all the problems of modern economies. The aluminum smelters are owned by foreign companies, so the profits do not benefit Iceland. Poorly managing their resources resulted in over-fishing, a blight on both the environment and the livelihoods of a sector of the population. Tourism, which helped Iceland recover from the 2008 global financial crisis, is dependent on the economic health of other countries.
Like the US, shadow banking has been a huge problem, but unlike the US, it’s not a problem anymore. Not since 2008. There are other differences. Unlike the US, Iceland has a strong social welfare system. By saying no to austerity, it recovered from the GFC more rapidly. Instead of a standing military, Iceland has a SWAT team (of maybe 20 people?) which is the only weaponized force in Iceland. Imagine that.
One more thing - shortly after the 2008 crisis they had a Debt Jubilee.
“...proving the point that an economy that has its own currency can finance whatever it wants to. If it wants to finance a Debt Jubilee for the people, it can finance a Debt Jubilee for the people. Will it have economic consequences? Obviously.”
“So it goes back to the point that MMT always hammers on. If the problem is money, it's not a problem. If the problem is inflation, it is a problem. and that's something that actually I think Iceland has proven as well. Repeatedly.”
Iceland is not a socialist paradise, but its story is instructive. With the clarity of his MMT perspective, Ólafur is an ideal tour guide.
Ólafur Margeirsson writes about the Icelandic economy and specializes in financial instability, foreign direct investment, MMT, and real estate. Until recently he sat on the Supervisory Board of the Central Bank of Iceland as an alternate member. Currently, he is head of Global Real Estate Research at Credit Suisse.
@icelandicecon on Twitter
Welcome to the third and final chapter in our series with Carl Zha on Mao and the Chinese Revolution. This one covers the sticky wicket of the Cultural Revolution, and the most controversial part of Mao’s legacy. It exposes the danger of a leader being out of touch with the base.
The episode also looks at the complex political history of Tibet, an issue of concern to a few American celebrity Buddhists. (Spoiler alert: the story was rife with class conflict. Isn’t that always the case? What history books and media present as religious persecution turns out to be about money and power.) Tibetan monasteries wanted to maintain their serfs while the communists were into abolishing feudal relations of production. (Second spoiler alert: if you put your money on CIA involvement, you made a wise wager.)
Carl brings the series to life with anecdotes from his own family. This episode is jam-packed with stories of his parents who grew up in the thick of these events. Some of their experiences were specific to their class and status, but they are a colorful illustration of this dramatic and significant period.
Ultimately judgment of Mao’s legacy is mixed. It can be seen as both inspiring and concerning. According to Carl, the official assessment is that “he did 70% good, 30% bad.” He embodies the contradictions of China at the time. Mao should be given credit for massive improvements in the lives of the Chinese people - increasing life expectancy, abolishing illiteracy, raising the status of women, and lifting millions out of poverty.
Carl Zha hosts Silk and Steel, a weekly podcast discussing history, culture, and current events of China and the Silk Road. Support him at patreon.com/silknsteel
@CarlZha and @SteelSilkn on Twitter
**Every episode of Macro N Cheese has a full transcript at https://realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast/ (realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast). While you’re there, check out the extras page, with links to further information related to the week’s topic.
The first part of this three-part series talked about China from Mao’s birth in 1893 through the Sino-Japanese war to the eve of the Chinese Civil War in 1945. This week, Carl discusses the civil war and the ultimate success of the Chinese Communist forces, despite being vastly outnumbered – 1.2 million against the KMT’s 4.5 million.
The US looked to China to be its junior partner in East Asia, much like Japan is today. They backed Chiang Kai-shek with military training, weapons, and other resources. A government led by the KMT would preclude a strong China-Soviet alliance.
Most leftists are familiar with the historic revolutionary form of warfare developed by Mao and the People’s Liberation Army. Lacking the numbers and equipment for a traditional, positional war, the Communists applied the tactics of what would come to be called guerrilla warfare, which has since been used successfully in wars of liberation around the world, including Vietnam, Angola, and Cuba.
The episode takes a detour to look at the history of Chinese paper money. Carl also describes how Mao won the support of local populations through land redistribution, then looks at some of the mistakes in the Great Leap Forward. Carl brings history to life with anecdotes from his own family.
Come back next week for the conclusion of this three-part series.
Carl Zha hosts Silk and Steel, a weekly podcast discussing history, culture and current events of China and Silk Road. Support him at patreon.com/silknsteel
@CarlZha and @SteelSilkn on Twitter
In the first of a three-part series about Mao Zedong and the Chinese revolution, Carl Zha sets the stage with its pre-revolutionary history. Carl, host of the Silk and Steel podcast, was born in China in 1976, one month after the death of Mao, placing him squarely in the first post-cultural, post-Mao generation.
The episode opens with Japan’s imperial expansion into China. After its defeat by Japan, there was a scramble to carve up China among the major world powers – France, Britain, Russia, Japan, and Germany. The US was a latecomer to the imperialist game. Fearing there would be nothing left...
“The US actually proposed a so-called open-door policy, which means all the imperialist powers should enjoy equal access to the Chinese market. And in the US textbooks, that is presented as some kind of heroic effort on the US side to save China's territorial integrity.”
This is the China Mao Zedong was born into, around 50 years after the first opium war, when Britain forced China to legalize opium in order to create a market for the product from British India.
Carl tells the story of a nation teeming with predictable conflicts, odd alliances, and new conflicts. In the 1700s China had a quarter of the world’s GDP. By the time of the Chinese revolution, the country was desperately poor. From the Qing Dynasty to international imperialism, from the KMT/Guomindang to the Soviet Union and Chinese Communist Party, Carl paints a picture of China in conflict.
Carl Zha hosts Silk and Steel, a weekly podcast discussing history, culture and current events of China and Silk Road. Support him at patreon.com/silknsteel
@CarlZha and @SteelSilkn on Twitter
“In one sense, it's a state initiative, but in the other sense it's actually preserving rights of individuals against the state.”Rohan Grey is back with us for the seventh time. In this episode, he talks to Steve about the ECASH Act, which he helped craft as a step toward creating public digital dollars with the privacy and anonymity of physical cash.
To explain the features this future currency requires, and the problems to be solved, Rohan takes us on a tour of the history of money, early record-keeping devices for the tax collector, and the development of banking. Tally sticks, which were broken in half (to be matched later) were primitive encryption keys. Further noteworthy events include the invention of the telegraph in the mid-1800s, the codebreaking and Navajo language speakers during World War II, and the cyberpunks of the 1980s.
Rohan is an evocative storyteller, piquing our imagination with vivid references. By the end of the episode, he has mentioned five movies, plus Scrooge McDuck, Seinfeld, Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. Oh, and Emma Goldman.
Steve and Rohan sort through objections to the privacy we should demand of public digital currency. Arguments come from right, left, and libertarian factions, each believing their bogeymen will be free to do nefarious things under cover of anonymity. They put their faith in private entities.
Digital public money would address the needs of populations who cannot or will not use banks. It can be accessed without an internet connection, and it is easy to see the benefits assured privacy provides to political dissidents, sex workers... and everyone else living under the gaze of surveillance capitalism. We have learned about the war on cash from our friend Bret Scott. It is time to fight back.
Rohan Grey is an Assistant Professor of Law at Willamette Professor of Law at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, and the founder and president of the Modern Money Network.
@rohangrey on Twitter
** If you haven’t checked out the transcripts and extra resources for all 166 episodes of Macro N Cheese, what are you waiting for? Go to realprogressives.org/macro-n-cheese-podcast **
Steve opens this episode with the MMT observation of the government’s ability to purchase anything for sale in US dollars if the real sources are available – and if we have the political will. When it comes to getting things done, this is of fundamental importance. Steve's guest, Paul Herman, agrees and looks beyond the government:
“...because we have five crises of our time, and those crises are going to require a multi-sector approach. So, the five crises include a health crisis: COVID and its lingering effects ... and the impacts on our existing health care system and healthcare workers. We have a wealth crisis with inequality among many different geographies and income levels. We have an Earth crisis requiring climate action as fast as possible. That also requires equitable climate action because we have gaps in equality and inequality by race, by gender, by age. And then we have a trust crisis.”
We met Paul Herman through the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, where he is a Research Fellow. He is also the founder and CEO of HIP Investors. In this episode you will hear areas of agreement between Steve, an unabashed anti-capitalist, and Paul, a portfolio manager and Chief Investment Officer: “Government's job is to ensure a better quality of life, a higher well-being, access to health, wealth, earth, equality, and trust.”
As an activist and independent media content producer, Steve’s message sometimes leans toward the aspirational. Paul delves into complex problems in the here and now. Throughout the interview, he takes us through examples of consulting with private corporations or municipalities and using a multi-sector approach – primarily government, NGO, and private capital – to address complex issues of sustainability, environmental action, fair pay, or other social and governance factors.
These are new waters for some of our listeners to navigate. There is always something to learn on Macro N Cheese, don’t you agree?
R. Paul Herman is a Research Fellow at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, and founder and CEO of HIP (Human Impact + Profit) Investor. He is a globally recognized leader and author in sustainable finance, impact, ESG, and SDG measurement — and investing to pursue positive impact and profit. HIP manages diversified, fossil-fuel-free portfolios for investors. Herman is the author of The HIP Investor book (Wiley, 2010) and co-editor and co-author of the Global Handbook of Impact Investing (Wiley, 2021).
@HIPinvestor on Twitter