There is an interesting discussion taking place at Mike Norman Economics that touches on tactical aspects of promoting an understanding of modern monetary theory (MMT). I want to comment briefly on a couple of points raised in that discussion. One aspect concerns the value of explaining the basics of economic theory to a wider audience. The other aspect concerns the effectiveness of targeting regular voters rather than leading politicians and policymakers.
In one thread addressing the dissemination of MMT, Dan Kervick argues:
I think it’s not really about framing, and it’s not about elevator pitches, and its not about catchy hooks for MMT as such.
The issue is that MMT is a kind of economic theory. And most voters do not care much about economic theories and never will care much about economic theories.
What the public wants is an agenda. They want an action plan that will paint a picture of the future and point them on the road to it.
I think Dan makes a good point about the importance of a well defined agenda, but disagree with the suggestion that voters don’t care about economic theory. They have embraced wholeheartedly neoliberal economic theory for decades now. They might not know what it is – most of them wouldn’t have a clue – but they have bought it big time!
Many in the public believe that a currency sovereign can go broke, that budget deficits mean high interest rates, that quantitative easing spells hyperinflation, that public debt will be a burden on their kids and grandkids, along with an array of other nonsense, and cling to these beliefs tenaciously, against all evidence.
In all likelihood, repetition of catchy hooks (“TINA”) and elevator pitches have had quite a bit to do with selling these ideas to the public.
Although people may be open to a new agenda, they will not accept it without answers to the questions, “How is this affordable?” and “How is this sustainable?” That is where an understanding of currency sovereignty comes in.
Fortunately, the basics of currency sovereignty are at least as easy to comprehend as the neoliberal superstitions many have internalized as their own, and so should be teachable. No doubt, some catchy hooks and elevator pitches would not go astray in helping to drum these ideas into public consciousness.
In a different thread, another commenter, SchittReport, argues that regular voters are the wrong audience to convince because the movers and shakers in policy and politics are the ones who get things done:
[T]he key is not to convince some internet or real life peasants – why is everyone targeting this audience? – the key is to convince those with the authority, power and resources to change the monetary system – and in that regard, you not only need a well structured and concise presentation (PP, visual or otherwise) – you need to outline the economic impact of the changes and in particular, with respect to the key decision makers and stakeholders.
[W]hy would the decision makers in the govt, at the fed, banks et al. have any desire for change if you can’t outline what’s in it for everyone after MMT policies are implemented?
My view is that policy will never be formulated in the interests of the public unless regular voters exert concerted pressure from below. It may not even be possible for a sympathetic government to introduce policies beneficial to the 99 percent unless it is compelled by strong political and industrial pressure, expressed through protests, strikes (preferably general strikes), and other forms of nonviolent struggle. Under any other circumstances, the 1 percent will not stand for it.
However, even pressure from below is useless if the public is merely pushing for solutions derived – albeit unknowingly – from neoliberal economic theories. The neoliberal mythology needs to be dispelled, to make transparent the options that are actually available to the community. There are, of course, plenty of alternatives, both affordable and sustainable, whether within or beyond capitalism. But much of the public evidently remains unconvinced.
In a nutshell, I think that regular voters are very much a legitimate target audience, and that their brainwashing in neoliberal economic theory is exactly what needs to be undone.
None of this is to suggest that politicians and policymakers are not also a relevant audience. But if we want more than the same old neoliberal solutions, merely targeting the 1 percent’s enablers will never be enough.