No Time for Defeatism

Last night I was watching an old episode of The Larry Sanders Show, which is one of my favorite shows of all time, along with Seinfeld and Arrested Development. The head writer up to that point, Jerry, is sacked and reacts quite violently – or, at least, erratically – to his misfortune. Prior to that he had been a good humored worker cooperating with the powers that be. It was only once sacked that his attitude changed.

Being in one of my more pessimistic moods, I brooded that too many of us are like that. We are happy enough to go along with the system, it seems, as long as the worst effects do not impact on us. When others are unemployed or in poverty, it doesn’t seem to bother us, or perhaps we rationalize it as the victims somehow deserving their fate for whatever imagined reason. Some may even derive a sadistic pleasure from others’ misfortune. It is only if the brown stuff hits our fans that we care. And, even then, maybe we only care for as long as we are negatively affected. If things pick up again, maybe we just resume our previous attitude.

But then I snapped out of the self-indulgent stupor, because I don’t feel that way at all, and none of the people I come into contact with seem to feel that way either. And if that line of thinking is not reflective of my own attitude, or that of the people I come into contact with, why would I presume it to be true of the majority of people with whom I don’t come into direct contact?

The alleged all-pervasiveness of human selfishness and egoism is part of the false narrative we’re sold every day by the mainstream media and other establishment institutions. The narrative helps to reinforce the feelings of helplessness that “there is no alternative”, or the thought that anyone who opposes the neo-liberal agenda must be part of the tiniest of minorities.

But maybe many are thinking there needs to be a change. Actually, I don’t think it’s a “maybe”, I think it’s a “definitely”. I think the time is ripe for meaningful change, and the desire for it is palpable.

At the same time, though, I think it is only a minority who currently understand that meaningful progressive change is easily within our grasp if only we act in a coherent fashion to bring it about. It is this knowledge that turns the feelings of helplessness that “there is no alternative” into a conviction that things can easily be better.

But the knowledge also brings responsibility. Those of us who have become aware of the truth of the current economic situation and the policy options available have a responsibility to impart our understanding to those who are currently in the dark, bamboozled by all the contradictions and lies served up by defenders of the status quo.

Truth has many facets. Economic truth is only one of its facets and far from its most important if set alongside deeper scientific, philosophical or spiritual truths. Nevertheless, the current economic predicament is a pressing matter for many people in the world, and needs to be addressed before we can all be in a position to appreciate deeper truths.

I was reminded of these considerations in a terrific passage from a recent post by Randall Wray. I have been busy and might have missed it if regular contributor and good friend Ryan had not drawn my attention to it. The passage is a good reminder of why helping to disseminate the ideas of the modern monetary theorists to a wider audience is certainly worth the time and effort:

Science is not value-free. Cannot be. Science—including economics—is inherently progressive. Why do you think that the far right wing wants to reject science in the areas of evolution, ecology, and female reproductive health? Because they well-understand that science is a progressive endeavor. And that includes the economics that is behind policy-making. So they must deny science in order to stop progress.

All of you now understand that sovereign government cannot “run out of its own money”; financial affordability is not the issue. That is a major scientific advance; it is inherently progressive. We’ve moved beyond the “magic” or “superstition” that Samuelson referred to. It’s all keystrokes and we can have as many as we want. We can use government to achieve the public purpose, and that is necessarily a progressive advance.

Many of us here share in a small part of truth. We understand that a sovereign currency issuer cannot run out of its own money. Unfortunately, many others in the general community still do not comprehend this. And who could blame them given the unrelenting stream of contradictions and lies being pumped out daily by “credible” and “respectable” mainstream media organizations? Yet, understanding this elementary point that the only true constraint is set by real resources, not “money” – or that the only risk of deficit expenditure is inflation, not government insolvency – makes crystal clear, in an instant, that so much of the ruling class narrative we are sold about the economy and the social possibilities open to us is sheer bunkum. (For newer readers, introductory posts on these basic points can be found in Posts to Read First.)

Much good can come from conveying this simple point to as many people as possible. I think that is why so many feel driven to help in the dissemination of the insights of modern monetary theory and related macroeconomic approaches through conferences, articles, interviews, talks, blogs, comments, the occupy movement, word of mouth and other means. With just an elementary understanding of currency sovereignty, it becomes immediately apparent that the calls for austerity amidst mass underemployment and poverty are not only class interested, vicious and immoral, but, even from a narrow economic perspective, the opposite of what should be done. Draconian policies such as these are also very far from being the only alternative.

33 thoughts on “No Time for Defeatism

  1. Great post. I think many people realize that things are bad, and that a more progressive system would be superior. But there is an assumption that activism is something you do when you are young and have lots of free time and few responsibilities. Once you get a job and get married you are supposed to concentrate on maximizing your household’s economic standing via private initiative, no matter what you think about the system as a whole.

    We can liken the situation to a game that people feel they must play and win, even if they think the game is horrible and unjust. Of course, we know that plenty of responsible people were engaged in progressive activity in the past, so none of these excuses are really adequate, but I do believe they have a lot of power over people, and I understand why people do not really agitate much for a better society.

  2. Just want to tease out the point you have made peter: prior to “act(ing) in a coherent fashion” the individual must understand (“conveying this simple point to as many people as possible”). It is a shared responsibility between those who have the vision, those who can explain the vision, and those who can enact it. It’s a human thing!

    One of the best parables of our human condition is scripted by Yama in the Katha Upanishad. The parable depicts:

    ‘Self’ – Passenger
    Consciousness – Charioteer
    Mind – Reins
    Body – Chariot
    Senses – Horses
    Objects – Path

    Yogananada (could have been anyone) explains this analogy here: [www_omjai_org/Chariot+Analogy]

    As mentioned a while back, the short cut is to plug the Consciousness aspect into the ‘Self’ – then the rest of it falls into place.

    In the mean time Mind (Ego) holds the Reins (Itself) and having little control over the chariot, horses and path, steers the chariot off a cliff.

    The world from this point of view, will be a ‘better place’, as each Consciousness masters his/her vehicles and education (physical, emotional, mental) plays a huge role in that; as does stable economic (material) living. But so too, do the Arts and misdirected ‘religious’ aspiration (which I believe is the dharma of Philosophy to straighten out)! In Creativity, the Consciousness becomes conscious of what is above and below. From Consciousness, the ‘rainbow’ bridge spans both realms.

    Just thought you might like the old world version!!

  3. Peter, I’m pleased to see you highlight your ‘Posts to Read First’ series. An absolute necessity to neutralize us ‘Loose Cannon Heteconomists’ who come here and after reading a few posts demand to know why you support massive amounts of income inequality. Don’t feel singled out though, I initially accused Mosler of hating my cat and have referred to Wray as “The Riddler”.

    But when you say “I’ve been busy…”, don’t expect me to take that seriously. Because…riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. Put down that Etch-A-Sketch, k?

    #BoondogglersUnite

  4. Peter,

    I have issues with the statement “Science is not value-free.”

    Is that statement for all sciences or social sciences?

    For example, I can’t think of Neoliberal General Relativity and Conservative Feynman Diagrams!

  5. Do a search on “value-free science.” This is controversial issue, with philosophers of science lining up on both sides of the debate. It’s basically a variation on the epistemic issue of the degree to which objectivity is possible given the subjectivity of knowledge and even observation, which are always from a point of view.

    Based on my studies in this area ranging over a number of disciplines, I do not think that objectivity is possible, especially wrt anything of any complexity. What human beings can achieve, which they often mistake for objectivity, is more or less universal agreement.

    This leaves the question of the claims of mystics that there are more comprehensive levels of awareness at which subjectivity and objectivity progressively converge, which they have set forth hierarchically, culminating in the state of non-duality of subject and object. This is now the subject of research in transpersonal psychology. But even if this can be shown, it is applicable only to a very small group, it seems.

    As Aquinas wrote, “Knowledge is in accordance with the mode of knowing of the knower.” Maharishi Mahesh Yogi translated a richa of the Rig Veda — richo akshare parame vyoman — as “knowledge is structured in consciousness.” This implies that knowledge is different in different states of consciousness, and since reality is determined by knowledge, reality appears differently in different states of consciousness.

    The hot new field is now consciousness studies, which now has its own journal.

  6. “The hot new field is now consciousness studies, which now has its own journal”.

    Is the journal online Tom?

  7. It seems to me, Wray’s article, which PeterC was referring to, was clear that it was science in general.

    Wray’s article also suggests a simple answer to the question of whether science in general can be value-free or not.

    Science is about adding knowledge: knowledge about an entirely separate and new field, or about an already existing one. In other words, science accepts as valuable (note the word: valuable) that knowledge changes.

    At times, by adding new knowledge to that already existing; at times, by replacing older, less accurate knowledge, with newer, more accurate one.

    In that sense, science is progressive: it adapts its content to a changing reality.

    And with knowledge, technique, social relations etc, also change.

    So, if no other value was relevant for science, at least change is easy to argue for.

    Conservatism is to value the maintenance of what already exists, unchanged. It values constancy.

    That’s why in science, conservatism is the notion that one can attain (and often has attained already) some higher immutable truth, for ever and ever: the best example I can think of are the a priori “theorems” of Austrians, describing human behaviour in a forest in South America or Papua, in Ancient Rome, in Australia now or in a future yet to come.

    I am sure others could easily come up with examples in other fields. But, at least as described above, that’s not science.

  8. ‘”For example, I can’t think of Neoliberal General Relativity and Conservative Feynman Diagrams!”‘

    Can you imagine the political wrangling over the Higgs Boson, or Quantum Mechanics, or nuclear physics?

    Or over climate change?

    Academic science is inherently political because it is a battle of ideas and theories for resources to study them.

    Settled science comes out of a maelstrom.

  9. Thanks for the responses. Don’t wish to digress from the main discussion. Yes agree – though the “value” is of different kind but nonetheless value. Also realize the best value based approach was Albert Einstein himself (determinism etc) when he couldn’t accept quantum mechanics, (even though he contributed to it), saying “God does not play dice”.

    Btw Tom, here’s a recommendation: The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind by Roger Penrose.

  10. Ramanan, Stuart Harmeroff has developed a model on top of Penrose’s theory summarized in What is Consciousness?

    Theoretical physicist John Hagelin has also developed a theory of quantum consciousness based on the Vedic tradition, hypothesizing that the unified field of physics is identical with pure consciousness (Sanskrit turiya). IN 1972 Robert Keith Wallace co-authored an article with Herbert Benson in Scientific American, showing physiologically that turiya is a fourth major state of consciousness in addition to waking, dreaming and sleep. Other scientists have put forth similar explanations in terms of other mystical traditions. The Wikipedia article onJack Sarfatti traces the development of this avant-garde push in the Seventies, involving many theoretical physicists that were instrumental in popularizing the idea, which has gone viral in the US.

    This research seems to be cutting edge right now, and its growing prominence is shown by abundant evidence that it is no longer being ignored but attacked by reductionists, and it is beginning to enter the academic mainstream, catching up with the Maslow revolution in psych.

  11. Thanks, Ramanan, that’s one of my favorite. Not too many people now know of that side of Einstein.

  12. It still seems to me that the world is waiting for some real intellectual and political leadership capable of articulating a clear and achievable progressive alternative to the current neoliberal system.

    Occupy is a start, but they seem to be going in a 100 different directions at once, without a great deal of coherence. A loose oppositional critique is not an alternative – it’s just a start. There needs to be a better-defined prize upon which people can fix their eyes. I hope the historical moment doesn’t pass by.

    MMT can play a constructive role but it is only one element.

  13. “I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat.”

    ~Will Rogers

  14. Good discussion, everyone. I appreciate all the interesting comments and links. And thanks for the great parable, jrbarch. It is very helpful.

    Ramanan, I like Einstein’s essay. I was aware of it only because I check out Monthly Review from time to time. I started following that publication in hard-copy form when I was a student because the person (Joe Halevi) who introduced me to Kalecki’s work at the same time made me aware of Baran and Sweezy and Monthly Review.

    I know Trixie won’t believe me, but I have been rather busy [note to Trixie: not really :-)]. Hopefully my posting activity will pick up again in the not-too-distant future.

    By the way, for those who haven’t seen it, Dan has a new series of articles (always highly recommended):

    The Public Money Monopoly (Pt. I)

    The Public Money Monopoly (Pt. II)

  15. @Dan, Graeber seems to be at least a bit out of paradigm, getting him in paradigm may help with the OWS people…. Resp,

  16. Matt,

    Yes, I agree. But it’s a tough issue because there is more than just a debate about conflicting economic paradigms here. As an anarchist, Graeber is ultimately critiquing the whole political foundation of modern economies: contracts, debts, exchange and the rule of law.

    MMT describes a world with governments that maintain a legal monopoly on the issue of a currency, and that give a good part of the value to their monopolized currency by creating legally binding tax obligations.

    All of these institutions – governments, legal systems, taxes – are morally problematic from the anarchist point of view as I understand it.

  17. I love the fact that Graeber raises the questions he does. We should understand how we got where we are and not take it for granted that the way things are are the only way they can be.

    The process of imagining the kinds of relations people would engage in absent the threat of violence is a useful one.

    However, even he makes pragmatic concessions when he talks about the approach of small-a anarchy as building the new society within the shell of the old one.

    A shell of government protects the same way a lightning rod does. The capacity for and propensity towards violence exists in people. We can’t wish it away. The best we can do is to establish a good, participatory form of government and use it to channel away violence the way a lightning rod keeps a building from burning down.

  18. The problem with extreme anarchy is that it obviates the rule of law, which puts enforcement in the hands of one authority in order to resolves the issues that arise from private debt resolution. In any large and complex society is its difficult to get around vigilantism and feuding without some kind of legal process, including enforcement that that restricts violence to some publicly sanctioned authority. And as soon as this is put in place, then there is a jostling for political control. There is no clear means of achieving peaceful conflict resolution in a society without raising the general level of consciousness, which as yet is not very high. Humanity is still in its adolescence in this regard.

  19. Neil, “anarchy” has many nuances. Most left libertarians that are anarcho-communitarians recognize a rule of law. They hold that the basis of the rule is consensus and it’s application should be through the community rather than an authoritarian system that has effectively been separated from the community.

    Paul Goodman was influential in the Sixties and Seventies, and his writings still are, is an example. David Graeber is rising to prominence now as an anarchist strategist and activist.

    The anarcho-communitarian orientation of Occupy is similar to that of the Sixties and Seventies.

  20. I recall one lawyer I spoke to saying that he preferred ‘anarchy under the rule of law’.

    Maybe he means he prefers a world with a rule of law, but where all his clients go free. :)

  21. Re Tom Hickey 14Mar 3:47 AM:

    Thankyou for those links and others Tom.

    A study of consciousness as it appears in every human being, in every land, in every time is great – really interesting stuff: a lot better approach than Tim O’Leary and mushrooms!! But then again, it could well turn out that one has to be conscious to study consciousness. Else clouds of thought eclipse the somewhat more immediate experience and ‘light’ of understanding ….

    There are the elements of perspective and elevation. Being down in a pit somewhere and looking up into the hot motor of my car, oil dripping and greasy wires and tubes everywhere – is one perspective of my car at one elevation. Flying high overhead in a chopper watching holiday traffic returning to a city, and realising that there is an accident up ahead in which every motorist (including me) is going to get caught for hours – is another perspective at another elevation.

    If the constitution of man is anything like that explained by the Tibetan, then the persona of man is in the dark (the pit) until it discovers Buddhi! The mental body gropes towards Buddhi. The emotional body has a more direct connection. [In this sense, perverse as it may be to academics, feeling is more important than thought]. Both bodies need the translated light of Buddhi to become what they are. Consciousness is limited by the material sheaths of the mental, emotional and physical~etheric bodies – in particular until the time that the persona awakens. Then evolution proceeds at a heightend pace.

    The world is a different entity ….. that would be interesting too!!

  22. jrbrach, Meher Baba lays consciousness out in detail in God Speaks. Free download in PDF at the Meher Baba Trust ArchiveMeher Baba Trust Archive. Much more available at this link.

    God Speaks was co-edited by Don Stevens, who also wrote the introduction. He was my good friend and most recent mentor until he passed away at 92 in April of last year. He was VP in charge of oil purchases for Standard Oil of CA (now Chevron) at the time he was working with Meher Baba on editing God Speaks and getting the first edition published in the US (Dodd Meade, 1955).

    BTW, my favorite Alice Bailey/DK book is Serving Humanity. My first mentor turned me on to that one decades ago.

  23. Sorry, Trixie. I’ve been a bit slack, haven’t I? There are several boondoggles I am procrastinating over – yes, it is possible (for me) to procrastinate over a boondoggle – and it is resulting in little activity in any sphere of operation.

    On the heteconomist front, I am thinking about possible posts on Marx’s theory of value. Mostly, I want to discuss a connection between, on the one hand, the “temporal single-system interpretation” (TSSI) of Marx’s theory of value and, on the other hand, MMT. The former makes use of a particular conception of what is called the “monetary expression of labor time” (MELT), which is actually the reciprocal of the amount of socially necessary labor time commanded by 1 unit of currency, or, looked at the other way, the amount of labor time required to obtain 1 unit of the currency. This latter conception corresponds to the “value of the currency” as defined in MMT.

    I think the implications of this connection may be quite interesting, although I haven’t thought them through as yet. However, before posting on that topic, I feel I really need to provide an introductory post on Marx’s theory of value according to the TSSI (which differs from the so-called dual-system simultaneist interpretation traditionally adopted both by many Marxists and critics of Marx’s theory). Without such an introductory post, I think discussing connections between TSSI and MMT would just confuse any readers who are not familiar with Marx’s theory.

    Once the basics of Marx’s theory of value are understood from the macroeconomic perspective, it should be possible to post accessibly on connections between the TSSI and MMT.

  24. I think we are in need for a MMT for Idiots (I am one). Actually, a US Monetary System for Idiots would be useful too. The problem is, I have no more than 1/2 hour a night to learn this stuff; it just gets placed too far back on the priority queue for all the other things I have to do.

    Any NetLogo or Repast simulations for this stuff, btw?

  25. Let me add something. Every time I mention this stuff, they say, but what about inflation? And every time I see that complaint at some MMT blog, I hear inflation worries pooh poohed as something that MMT has already dealt with, and that these worries are basically ignorance. I’ll accept that. The problem is that I haven’t heard a low-intelligence 30-second sound-bite that I can repeat to answer that worry when I’m out and about. And really, if MMT is to become part of the mainstream dialog, then there has to be a low-intelligence model or analogy that non-experts with no time can relate to and say, “oh yeah”. Because, without it, well, the cultural models underlying most people’s conceptions (or misconceptions) of the economy are quite strong attractors…

    Adding to that, let me just finally say one of the fascinating things about MMT as I understand it is that it seems to cut across the standard partitions of ideological space. For example, it seems to say that the feds are doing the right thing: spend a lot, tax a little. But it seems to say that the states need to run a really tight budgetary ship. And more, too. anyway…

  26. “Every time I mention this stuff, they say, but what about inflation?”

    Inflation is the modern politicians ‘burn in hell’. “Do that and you cause inflation”.

    so when they say “what about inflation”, ask how “inflation is going to come about”.

    You’ll generally get some guff about money chasing too few goods or other such nonsense.

    The riposte is then to ask whether they have ever been into a hairdressers and told that they couldn’t possibly cut another head of hair without putting up their prices, or found a baker who couldn’t possibly bake another loaf of bread, etc.

    Economies quantity expand first – particularly when severely depressed as they are now.

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