Noam Chomsky. Still Got It!

Rarely a day goes by when I‘m not grateful for the teachings of Noam Chomsky.

Just before I go into that, here’s a half-remembered half-joke…

A man from the USSR travels to the USA. He says: “This place is amazing. Everybody here thinks the same way. Where I’m from, to get the same result we have to pull fingernails, use secret police, The Gulag…” *

The thing that always springs to mind when I think about Noam Chomsky is that at political talks people often ask him: “This is all well and good, but what can we do?”, and he often says something like: “It’s interesting. I get this question a lot in privileged societies. When I travel to less privileged places they don’t ask me ‘what can we do?’ – they tell me what they’re doing. There’s a feeling of helplessness that goes along with being in relatively free societies. Truth is, we can do just about anything we want.” **

Then why don’t we?

In totalitarian states, it doesn’t matter what people think, they can hate the government all they want, they can think anything they want, all day long. Violence and the threat of violence is what keeps people in line.

In more free societies this is inverted.

Maybe, if you’re reading this, you might be lucky enough to be living in a society made a bit freer by the struggle and sacrifice of organised, disobedient, nameless, faceless people in mass movements. Abolitionists, suffragettes, freedom riders, unions… people who had a vision and maybe gave up life and limb. Yes, there’s a long way to go, but I think the thing about civilisation not living up to its name is not to get down-hearted, but to see how far the powerless have come and pick up where brave people left off.

Chomsky often underlines that in societies which are relatively free from state violence, it becomes more important to regiment what people think – that’s what replaces physical coercion.

So for me, the gift Noam Chomsky gave us, which I am constantly grateful for, is a very practical way to understand the mass media. I think it should be taught in primary school.

Here’s an overview of what I’m talking about, it takes five minutes to read, but if you’re in a rush, I’ll boil it down like this…

These days, when we’re using Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc and getting angry about them selling our personal data, I’m sure we’ve all got a clever friend who will remind us: “If you don’t pay for a product, *you’re* the product”.

Well, Noam (and Ed Herman) said that in 1988.

Another favourite Chomsky quote:

“Changes and progress very rarely are gifts from above. They come out of struggles from below.”

What can we do? Just about anything.

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*this is a half-remembered joke. Apologies for almost certainly getting it wrong!

**this is a paraphrase. Couldn’t find an exact quote in print, but this is something like it.

Oh, and of course – happy (belated) 90th, Noam!

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Universal Credit Coverage Is As Lethal As Universal Credit Itself

If you want to fight universal credit (and austerity), you need to know why the “taxpayers’ money” framing is factually flawed and dangerous.

Reducing benefits payments cannot ever, ever, ever “save taxpayers money”. It’s *literally* impossible, because the pounds you pay in tax don’t get piled up and subsequently spent anywhere. They get deleted from existence. The central government does not need your taxed pounds to spend. Going along with the fiction that it does is deadly for the most vulnerable people in society.

Reducing the government’s budget deficit, by whatever means, reduces the non-government sector’s budget surplus, as a matter of accounting identity. The non-government surplus is *our* money.

To be compassionate, effective participants in our democracy, we need to be working with macroeconomic fact, or we’re going to get more lethal policies, more right-wing demagoguery and further dismantling of our country’s most hard-won and precious assets.

The “taxpayers’ money” line of attack will never work.

Me and my friend Patricia made this podcast, because we think it’s vital to demystify economics. Hope you get time to have a listen!

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South Park-ism & West Wing-ism

Sorry, I know nobody asked, just writing this in case anybody else feels the same way.

I think our political culture is in arrested development, somewhere between:

South Park-ism

(“Having an ideology is stupid and not cool. I transcend this by ridiculing all sides, ignoring any power imbalance.)

and

West Wing-ism

(“The problem with our political and media systems is that we fail to appoint good and special people to office. It’s our fault things are bad, because we’re stupid in this respect. Our problems are not systemic, so no need to change systems. Rather, let’s dream about what a magical president/news anchor/rugged individualist would do. If we‘re humble in our stupidity, maybe clever people will save us.”)

Just trying to diagnose the patient here.

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An Open Letter To Non-Modern Monetary Theory Economists

Hi guys, this might not make much sense unless you’ve been following my adventures in economics (including my podcast), but hopefully, if you have the time, you might pick up the context as you read.

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An open letter to non-Modern Monetary Theory economists.

Dear non-MMT economists,

I’m sorry that your feelings are getting hurt lately.

I know you think all MMT advocates act and speak as one, so here, let me treat you all as one entity and tell you on behalf of all of us, why sometimes we might come across a bit testy.

We study, we learn, the clock is ticking. We lose our jobs, our standard of living declines, our public services are deliberately underfunded to the point of collapse and those least able to fend for themselves in our communities suffer and die. Year on year. Because of some numbers on a spreadsheet at a central bank, and the way you talk about them.

No-one is paying us to learn. No one is paying us a nice salary to unquestioningly repeat orthodoxies, or we’d all be calm like you.

Some of us aren’t getting paid for anything anymore, no matter what we do. (And you know that’s a policy choice, right? There’s no unemployment in nature? Monetary systems create unemployment. Of course you know that. You guys are smart. You know everything.)

We study, we learn, we search for answers. While one group of politicians destroys our society, another group of politicians waits in opposition (armed with the same economic framework as our antagonists – the one you keep handing them) to do the same thing in a “kinder” way. They are ripping out the backbone of our civilisation. Because debt. Because insolvency. Because inflation. Because Phillips curve. Because “the government is like a household and has to balance its books”. When politicians do these destructive things, they do it because you gave them permission.

Then we discover the work of Warren Mosler, Bill Mitchell, L. Randall Wray, Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina Tcherneva, Steven Hail, Ellis Winningham… Economists who are actually bothered about changing public consciousness around economics.

Because it’s a matter of life and death.

We learn MMT. We learn that monetarily sovereign governments can never “run out of money” – the very fallacy that policies of austerity were founded on, which persist to this day.

We come to you and call you out on your complicity with orthodoxy. Your response to MMT: “Oh yeah, what you’re saying is nothing new, we knew this all along…”

Oh did you? Our response to you is:

Where.

The.

Fuck.

Were.

You?

Because we looked, and we found bullshit, and then we found MMT. You guys must’ve been writing your MMT columns so they looked like bullshit. Sorry for not picking up on that.

Our political systems are falling prey to right-wing demagogues who promise a new way forward, women and minorities suffer and die in this new political climate – in large part because all you have for the would-be progressive community is TINA.

Anyway, if you’re insulted, get used to it. Welcome to the world of people noticing what you do and the effect it has, and holding you accountable.

Thanks for everything, but if the accountability and emotion is getting to you, and you don’t feel like you can write another word ever again, never mind, I guarantee the world will do just fine.

Yours,

All Of MMT xx

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My podcast http://pileusmmt.libsyn.com

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Say hi on Twitter https://mobile.twitter.com/christreilly

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“Every time you pay a pound in taxes, that pound is destroyed” MMT Podcast Episode 7

“Every time you pay a pound in taxes, then that pound is destroyed, it’s not part of the money supply anymore. Any time the government spends a pound, a pound is created, the money supply goes up – that’s absolutely true.” — Dr. Steven Hail

Hi, economics-curious friends, here’s episode 7 of The Modern Monetary Theory Podcast!

Me and my co-host Patricia Pino talk with economist and author of “Economics For Sustainable Prosperity” Dr. Steven Hail, about price shocks (which are often misunderstood as inflation) and the irrationality of orthodox economists. Hope you get time to listen!

http://pileusmmt.libsyn.com/7-steven-hail-inflation-price-shocks-and-other-misunderstandings

All episodes of The MMT Podcast are on iTunes/Spotify/Overcast. If you want to demystify economics for yourself, subscribe and let us help. New episodes always on the way!

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-pileus-hosts-the-mmt-podcast/id1375093518?mt=2

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Institutionalised Racism

When I watch a film like “Mississippi Burning” or “12 Years A Slave”, sometimes, to my shame, I completely flatter myself, by identifying with the one or two white people in the film who are different to all the other white people in the film, that rare white person who is trying to help the oppressed person in the story achieve freedom and justice. I think, “yeah, if I was white in the segregated South, I’d be on the right side of that struggle.”

I don’t think these films are designed to make white people think, “I guess, statistically, it’s more likely I’d have been part of the vast majority of people upholding the racism of this time and place. It was culturally normal and common to be racist, after all.”

We look at how the racist characters in films behave – their rage, their brutality – and our consciences are pricked at how humans and their institutions could’ve ever been this barbaric. Slavery, for Christ’s sake! Separate but equal, for the love of God! We shake our heads. How was society ever like that?

But then you look at the racist settler colonial project that is taking place in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

You see how it’s being justified by the most privileged people and institutions in the world. You see how the oppressed who non-violently fight back (and get killed doing it) are called terrorists, and the people who stand in solidarity with them are called terrorist sympathisers.

You see how this racist settler colonial project strictly limits the number of calories coming in through their blockade of the people it is deliberately malnourishing (largely children) – and calls it “putting the people of Gaza on a diet”.

You see how this settler colonial project, right in front of our so-called enlightened consciences, goes on killing sprees among the people it is occupying, and the army that conducts these massacres calls it “mowing the lawn” and gets referred to as “the most moral army in the world.”

You see how the oppressors and their enablers are even trying to curtail mere speech against their project.

When you take all that in, I think it’s possible to know exactly how institutionalised racism happens.

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