Steve Grumbine: This is Steve with Macro N Cheese. I have Bill Mitchell who has come onto the show many times with me. Bill is one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, one of the founding developers of the school of thought known as Modern Monetary Theory. Bill co-authored a book with Tom Fazi called Reclaiming the State. It’s an incredible book; I highly recommend it. The book came out over a year ago has taken on more meaning given the most recent electoral fiasco in the UK. Boris and the Tories bum-rushed Labour and it looks like the UK is staring down the barrel of 6 years of austerity. And with that let me bring on my guest Bill Mitchell. Welcome to the show, sir
Bill Mitchell: Thanks, Steve. Thanks for having me.
Steve: How in the world.. You would think that all the time people have invested trying to explain the interactions not only within the European Union and the Eurozone but understanding the complaints that led to a massive majority for Brexit. It means more than just surface-level critique of xenophobia and bigotry. There may have been a deeper story at play here.
As I said in the intro your book Reclaiming the State is absolutely visionary. can you explain the thinking behind Reclaiming the State and help guide us through the current events?
Bill: Yes. By the way, it’s a 5-year electoral term in Britain, rather than 6. In 2015 I wrote a book on the eurozone. For many years I’ve been going back to the early 90s, when the Maastricht process was going on, to define and then ratify the treaty of Maastricht which set in train the processes to set up the common currency. I was involved in early discussions about that in the 90s in Europe.
As a young academic, I was puzzled by how it came to pass that social democratic parties — you call them the Democrats in the US, here and in Britain we call them Labour Party, Socialists, SPD, whatever — how these parties who are meant to represent the progressive side of the workers’ struggle within capitalism could possibly agree to terms that set in place – and in the legal structure of the Eurozone common currency — set in place the repressive characteristics of neoliberalism.
In 2015 as the culmination of that research I wrote a book called Eurozone Dystopia, which was my 500-odd page journey through how this had occurred. It became apparent to me that we needed to explore further the role in which the progressive side of politics – not just politicians, but the apparatchiks, academics, social media, etc — had somehow justified this position; that all we need to do is reform the EU. Remember that the Eurozone is just the most advanced expression of the neoliberalism that’s embedded in the treaties that established the EU.
I talked with Thomas Fazi, an Italian journalist who had invited me to a major conference in Florence where these issues were discussed. He was representing a press party that was setting up the workshop I was invited to. Tom was puzzled by it all too. At that stage, he was “Pro Europe” — a reformer rather than a dissolver.
We tried to track through history the turning points where the left social democratic movements became neoliberal. What happened? How could these progressive forces – meant to be for the working class – historically that has been men in blue-collar manual jobs and women in rather menial (meaning low-paying) – looked down upon – service sector jobs like cleaning (which is the most important job there is because it stops us getting the worst infections.) We set about examining why these representatives of the workers were actually leading the charge to implement neoliberal regimes.
So the first part of Reclaiming the State traces these turning points. In the mid-70s in Britain, the Labour party adopted monetarism; Denis Healey and James Callahan were monetarists and austerians before Maggie Thatcher. Then we looked at Francois Mitterand’s government in 1993 where there was this huge austerity turn by the socialists, which led Jacques Delors, who was an economy minister under Mitterand, and then president of the European Commission, to later become head of the committee that established the Masterich process. They turned to neoliberalism. On and on it went.
In the second half of Reclaiming the State, we ask “what are we going to do about this?” How does a progressive narrative get through all the despondence on the left? That globalization has meant that “the state is powerless now.” That the role of macro policy has to be to appease the amorphous foreign exchange markets and investment bankers. That had become the left’s perception of what government is about. That resonates today.
The right meanwhile had worked it out. unless it mounted an army and took over a country like the US and its allies did with Iraq, that the normal way of getting what you want is A) to work with the regulative & legislative structure and B) you then have to reconfigure the state in your own image for your own aspirations.
The right promoted this idea – that the state was impotent and national sovereignty was a thing of the past. Meanwhile back at the ranch, they were working flat out, using lobbying and their influence throughout the regulative and legislative processes to get what they want – privatization and deregulation and all the rest of it
When you confront the left with the simple question – if the nation-state is now irrelevant and powerless against the strength of global capital, then why does capital, through various organs, spend billions a year lobbying governments? Why do they do that if the legislative processes of governments are irrelevant and powerless?
Reclaiming the State was about that and what we can do about it.
Steve: I see in the United States that neoliberalism is so interwoven in society that I don’t think we recognize that we’re being destroyed by it. But in Europe, it seems like they had the best of things. They had good social infrastructure, good quality safety nets, they had a robust citizens benefits packages that absolutely is the envy. But little by little this monster that’s going across the globe is just devouring it. What is the allure of neoliberalism? Why does it have a place in society? what is the gotcha?
Bill: If you think about the way in which nations developed after the 2nd world war, which was the big phase of peacetime nation-building, many of the advanced nations published white papers — grand visions of how the peace would play out. What we learned during the 1930s and then the prosecution of WW2, is that governments were good at stimulating economic growth and that fiscal deficits could be an essential part of national building. At the end of the war we established that by buying all this stuff to shoot each other to smithereens — what were we going to do in peacetime to maintain that effective use of fiscal policy?
That was the big full employment era and the beginnings of welfare states, citizens’ rights, and strong intervention in our economy. The government was really the mediator between the conflictual ambitions of labor and capital. The government wasn’t pro-labor and wasn’t entirely pro-capital — at various times it served the interests of both to try to maintain some sort of industrial stability and used its fiscal policy to maintain full employment.
The way that all played out and the patterns that manifested in our various nations depended upon the preexisting institutional structure and cultural attitudes to the role of government per se. America clearly had a much lighter touch welfare system; it had much less public enterprise — I think the postal service is your only commercial public enterprise (I might be wrong on that).
Certainly other countries, Europe, Australia, Britain, Canada, they had much more extensive public sectors and a population that were much more attuned to the idea that governments were essential parts of service delivery, of the redistribution process and would be a much more pervasive influence in regulating and attenuating the markets so it didn’t go crazy and walk over the rights of citizens — particularly workers.
The consequence of the various ways in which that post-war consensus played out in each of our nations ultimately led to a redistribution of income towards workers. It ultimately increased costs to employers, in terms of occupational health & safety, in terms of entitlements for workers in various forms depending on what country we’re talking about. Holiday pay, sick pay, pension entitlements, all of these things.
We had reached a position where there was some civility to capitalism in a way. Mass consumerism meant that workers were locked into working, earning incomes, and they weren’t about to tear the place down. The regulative structure, the redistributive structure — tax systems, etc. — locked capital into being civilized to some extent.
By the end of the 60s, there was a huge discord among capital. In Australia for example, it started to play out with attacks on trade union power. We’ve got these 50-year archives, with letters sent by major industrial leaders in Australia to the cabinet, to the treasurer, urging the treasurer to use policy to create some unemployment. That would discipline the “bolshie” workers and allow capital to resist what the society considered to be reasonable demands for wage growth in proportion to productivity growth.
Capital became very organized. The expression. at the time was “profit squeeze”.. “we’ve got to eliminate the profit squeeze.” Around the world, there were papers being written about the profit squeeze.
The way it played out in the US was the famous Lewis Powell manifesto in 1971. Lewis Powell was a lawyer hired by the major industrial interests to come up with a strategy to wrest back industrial power from the workers towards capital. His manifesto laid out a whole series of things like the development of think tanks. That’s the era when all those Wall St financed think tanks started to develop. Take over the media, like Fox News. Infiltrate the education system, so you get conditional funding to tertiary institutions to do “research” that’s really just serving the special interests of capital. That sort of process occurred in all our nations.
There’s evidence now the CIA was promoting the continental Marxists in Europe, funding presentations and workshops, because they ascertained that these guys were interpreting Marx to the point of being ridiculous. So if they promoted them would lead to dissatisfaction with Marxists and therefore attenuate the power of that as a left-wing organizing idea.
All of these things were happening through the 70s as the academy was turning away from Keynesian thinking towards monetarism. You put all those things together and you’ve got a really well-funded highly strategic, well-marketed campaign to wrest control back from governments. Under the guise of globalization, we conflated the increasingly global nature of supply chains with what we call neoliberalism — that we needed to have the neoliberal policy regimes inflicted on us as a necessary consequence of these global capital movements.
Now that conflation was an error; it was a ruse. The global supply chains were welcome developments and could have been easily regulated. To say that they needed all this deregulation and “freedom of movement” to maximize wellbeing, to maximize wealth creation, was just a lie. And the problem was that we all bought it.
We were bombarded with these massive marketing campaigns — divide and conquer campaigns — different manifestations in different countries. So in America, “socialism” was the hot-button word. In Australia, we had massive campaigns to vilify the unemployed — that they were lazy. There was a nomenclature invented to divide us into thinking we are individuals and our well being would be determined by our individual endeavor.
All of these things combined to give legitimacy to this increasing attack on the state and the reconfiguration of the state’s capacities to serve the interests — the state was no longer a mediator between labor & capital but became an agent for capital.
Steve: So what happened here with this recent election? Obviously, Labour was absolutely decimated. But the exit polling showed that Labour’s issues were still largely popular. They didn’t lose because of the issues, but because of their stance on Brexit.
Can you walk us through the Brexit scenario and tell us what it’s all about?
Bill: Hopefully. It wasn’t all to do with Brexit but Brexit was the game-changer in my view. There has been tension on both sides of politics at various times about the membership of Britain in the European Union. Both conservative and left-wing perspectives have always been conflicted by that issue. And the Labour Party historically has waxed and wained on that, but mostly has been (in my view) to avoid going into the EU. And really the accession into the EU was pushed through as a consequence of the rising concepts of globalization and monetarism.
So that’s the first point.
Then we fast track to the 2000s. In 2010 David Cameron was elected in the midst of the mess of the global financial crisis — the Conservative Party, the Tories, were elected. Then they inflicted shameful austerity on the nation; the hollowing out of the state, the de-funding of local governments which provide the really important human-to-human services in Britain. You saw local libraries closing down just for lack of money. Really important services were being compromised — and gone in some cases.
So from 2010 onwards, there was this really harsh austerity inflicted on Britain by a government that had become obsessed with deficits, which arose as a consequence of trying to respond to the collapse of non-government spending during the crisis.
My view has always been that the crisis was really just an inconvenient interruption (in all countries) to the conservative desire to push that neoliberal policy agenda through to its logical conclusion — where we’d have no occupational safeguards, wages freely floating, and all the rest of it. The GFC was just an inconvenient interruption. Austerity was presented to the people as a matter of solvency of the government, using all of the myths that the mainstream economists parade out.
It was also a resumption of the agenda that Labour under Blair — and prior to that the Tories — were pushing through in Britain. That austerity and the damage it caused particularly in the Labour heartlands – the old industrial areas in the North and the Midlands, the old manufacturing areas, the old mining areas. The less educated, more manual trade occupations were dominant income generators in those areas. They really lost out by the increase in free trade, by deregulation, and by the destruction of the manufacturing sector.
Meanwhile in the cities like London, with the increased financialization of the economy — Margaret Thatcher’s big contribution to Britain was to turn the city of London into a casino, making it a huge international financial hub. That really benefited the better educated, urban folk, who enjoyed the access to freedom of travel, freedom of movement, high pay, relatively interesting jobs, etc.
So you see this dichotomy emerging in all of our countries, but in Britain, it was really accentuated because of sharp division in the distribution of jobs between the non-urban areas and the urban areas. By 2015 that manifested in the rise of these populist parties like UKIP, which was really rightwing rabble. It was eating into the conservative vote outside of London and outside of the university towns like Oxford & Cambridge.
David Cameron thought he could arrest the political fallout to these populist rightwing parties by promising a referendum on EU membership. It was a diversion tactic because the EU had become an expression of the worst of globalization, the worst of neoliberalism. He expected the referendum to be lost.
But what they all misunderstood — and certainly Labour misunderstood it — was that there was a seething discontent for membership in the EU. Because It was seen as being part of these global elites. And it was presenting the working class — the manual workers — with nothing. They were losing out. They’d lost prosperity, opportunity. Their services had been hired out by the competitive process being forced onto Britain by membership in the EU. The trains were expensive and unreliable. Energy under all the deregulation had become very expensive.
So Brexit – the referendum in June 2016 – 52% voted in favor, a relatively high turnout, above 70%.
Now, both of the major parties, Labour and the Tories, had promised that they would implement whatever the results of the referendum were. The referendum was a simple binary choice: exit or remain. No high-faluting conditions. “Do you want to leave or do you want to stay?” The majority of voters voted to leave. That vote was heavily, regionally, segregated. The urban educated in London and the University towns were strong “remainers,” because the EU and the competitive open forces were benefiting them and their idea of cosmopolitanism. Yet the workers in the North and the Midlands knew that they were getting nothing from membership in the EU, and they wanted out. They wanted the ability through the national parliament to reverse some of the deregulations, reverse the privatization, make the trains run properly and cheaply like they used to, make electricity reliable & cheap, and stop the profits from draining out into these corporate monoliths.
You also need to know that even though the majority of Labour voters voted “remain” in the referendum, the majority of Labour MPs in the parliament represented “leave” constituencies. How does that work out? Well, it works out because the distribution of votes is not equal across all the constituencies. You get the very intensive constituencies in London — very strongly “remain” — and that distorts the overall picture. But the essential point is that the majority of Labour MPs in the House of Commons after the June 2016 referendum, were representing constituencies who had voted to leave.
At the time I was writing and talking to Labour Party people about “what do you think will happen if the Labour Party reneges on its promise to support the referendum vote when the majority of its MPs are representing constituencies that wanted to leave?” It was quite obvious that if they reneged on that guarantee and frustrated the process of “exit” that there would be electoral penalties – that they would suffer at the next national election.
We reached the point by this year that the tension within the British Labour Party between the urban cosmopolitan members, who were “remainers,” and the rest of the Labour Party members and voters in the Midlands and up in the northern industrial and mining areas — the tension had become so great within the actual parliamentary Labour Party that the party reneged.
We had this confusing situation where they were saying “Okay, we’ll have a people’s vote” — as if the people hadn’t already voted in the referendum. Then they said if they won office (last week) they would have another vote and support the “remain” side of the debate.
What we saw last Thursday is that in effect we’ve had a 2nd referendum that overwhelmingly indicates that “leave” is still the preference. The Labour Party lost the ability to form a government because the traditional industrial voters in the North and the Midlands, who had been Labour voters forever, have turned on them. Some didn’t turn up, others voted Tory for the first time in their lives. Now you have old Labour areas representing the Tories, the Conservatives. Because the Tories kept the message very simple — “get Brexit done.” They were much more attuned to the sentiments of the British people than the Labour party whose view had become distorted by the advisors and the echo chambers that they listen to by these leftwing city types.
The other element was that when the referendum was held in 2016 the “remainers” — particularly on the progressive side of the debate — turned on the voters who wanted to leave, calling them stupid, racist, and other insults.
Then they started running this line of Bre-gret. “As soon as these idiots up in the North who voted to leave — these dumb racists — as soon as they realize it’s going to turn on them, they’ll regret it.” Bre-gret, as in Brexit regret. “And there will be another referendum where they’ll change their minds.” As if they’re stupid.
The leavers understood they had nothing left to lose. They wanted sovereignty restored for Britain; they wanted to leave the EU. And the urban “remainers” — there’s an article in the Australian press this morning; the title is They Hate the Workers. It’s about these urban elites on the left who have got such disdain for the less educated, poorer, manual workers in the North and the Midlands, that they just didn’t understand that by reneging on the guarantee to support “leave” which the referendum delivered, that there would be electoral consequences and that’s what you saw last Thursday.
Steve: Interestingly, you and Tom Fazi wrote an article for Jacobin magazine, going back to April of 2018, titled Why the Left Should Embrace Brexit. To me, this is almost akin to predicting the global financial crisis, which MMT was able to do. You guys were able to see through this Brexit thing as well. It seems to be a uniquely MMT thing. This MMT lens, the people who are informed by the MMT lens, appear to be able to see things in a much clearer way. How does it feel looking back? Does it feel good to have seen it? Does it validate the work? Or is it a sad moment, where you wish they would have heard you.
Bill (laughing): There were non-MMTers who had the same view about what was going to happen. So it’s not just the genius of the MMTers.
The whole thing is deeply frustrating. In 1996 I was a guest of the European Commission at a workshop in Florence. They were working out how to structure the operational aspects of the Maastricht treaty – the framework in which the common currency, the euro, would operate. They had a couple of outsiders from federations and I was an outsider of course. My contribution was that this whole house of cards.. the first major recession will expose the dysfunction that’s inherent in the architecture of the Eurozone, because they had deliberately decided not to have a fiscal capacity at the federal level, even though it wasn’t a formal federation like the US, say, or Australia or Canada. At the time it was very obvious that it was going to be a dysfunctional system that would ultimately be austerity-prone.
At the time the officials of the European commission that were at that workshop, European academics, just laughed at me and said “you’re an outsider; you don’t really understand. We know better about Europe than you do.” It was very frustrating. And I think it’s the same sort of thing in recent times with the Brexit process and the evolution of British Labour Party policy.
You’ll have seen some of it on Twitter — the vilification of the views that Thomas & I have — from the urban left. I call them the Europhile left in Britain. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re stupid.” I’ve been called delusional by very key progressive people in Britain, influential in the debate, some of them either current or ex-Labour Party advisors at a certain level.
So yes, I got it right, but it doesn’t give me any warm feelings. It makes me ill to think that the neoliberalism and the inability to see through your own prejudices has led to policy choices and policy decisions that have got such a fundamental political consequence that you’ve got one of the worst conservative governments ever in Britain, as given their track record over the last 9 years. And the Labour Party can’t win an election. Thursday was a very sad day.. and I don’t even live there.
People of my ilk who have these views have been trying to impress them through various formats. I go to Britain often, I’ve met with John McDonnell last year, I write emails. I know activists who are promoting these lines. But the blindness and groupthink are not just rightwing phenomena, it pervades all organizations if they’re not careful and not open to new ideas.
So it’s a really sad moment and demonstrates just how far our social-democratic political forces have deteriorated and lost a connection with their support base. The British Labour Party is now in crisis and the way ahead is clear but I doubt that they’ll take it.
Steve: Jeremy Corbyn seemed to be a transcendent figure, similar to Bernie Sanders. He had charisma, people were drawn to him, people around the world thought of him in a heroic sense. And yet as resounding as his message was, he literally was run out of government. Is this just the power of neoliberalism? Is this the fact that he didn’t understand the situation and took the wrong stance? Was he a neoliberal accidental like so many are? What happened here? What happened to Jeremy Corbyn?
Bill: I think Jeremy Corbyn is a thoroughly decent person. He has a track record of enunciating progressive causes, great sympathy and alignment with disadvantaged people. He’s an old-style left-winger. But I think that he inherited an untenable situation. Remember that the way in which a leader is elected in the British Labour Party is not by garnering a majority of support within the parliamentary wing of the party — that is, the MPs — but through a combination of their vote and also the vote of the grassroots members. Jeremy Corbyn was not the choice of his colleagues in Parliament. They didn’t want him as the leader. He came through grassroots and members’ support.
Remember that the British Labour Party is completely torn because it’s got the strong component of the parliamentary team are still New Labour Blairites, who are neoliberal, Tony Blair supporters, who helped contribute to the financial crisis by its approach to regulating the banks — or not, as the case may be — who had supported the invasion of Iraq based on the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction.
So Jeremy Corbyn had to deal with a significant number of Blairites within the parliamentary party that hated him, didn’t want him there, and would do anything to undermine him. The proposition has been made regularly that they would rather lose the national election than have Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister. You’re dealing a split party where your immediate colleagues, who you’re really relying on for policy development and political support, actually have got the knife ready to shove it in or cheer when it is shoved in the back.
In that environment you’re going to get leaking to the press and all sorts of divisive statements being made. They worked out that the way to get him was through allegations of antisemitism. And as a matter of disgrace the progressive press, like the Guardian, Novara Media, and other places, pushed this line that the Labour Party was a harbinger of antisemitism and Corbyn was doing nothing about it.
This was just a dirty tactic. I thought it reached the depths of filth to use such an important concept as antisemitism in a purely opportunistic manner. Corbyn is in no way an anti-semite, and some of the people that they fingered as being antisemitic, who they ultimately drove out of the Labour Party, were not anti-semites either. Criticizing the extremes of Zionism and expressing sympathy for the Palestinian people is not being antisemitic. It’s being a humanitarian.
They really. stitched Jeremy Corbyn up to the point where his electoral appeal faded — quite apart from the Brexit issues. They were then able to demonize him as being an extremist, and that his program was going to be a socialist program which would destroy individual enterprises. These were contributing factors.
The Guardian newspaper ran a relentless antisemitism campaign against Corbyn. It was unfounded, unfair, but very effective. I’m sort of seeing the same thing emerging in the US at the moment.
Steve: Oh yes the most recent attacks by centrist Democrats on Bernie Sanders being an anti-semite for having pro-Palestinian members of his team and within his campaign. It’s just preposterous.
The funny thing is that there some are saying, ”I’m ready for the first Jewish-American president” — being Bernie Sanders. Hilarious on one level and absolutely appalling on the other.
You think “nobody would fall for this would they?”
Bill: Yeah, but they will. They will fall for it. In our western cultures, as a consequence of what happened during the 1940s, and our memories of that, it’s such a massive tarnishing to say someone is an anti-semite. It’s almost impossible to defend yourself against it. The media is so organized now, that you’ve got no defense against it. It “hits the fan,” as the expression goes, and it’s very hard to get it off once it does. So in the same way those allegations destroyed Corbyn’s image, I suspect the same sort of tactics will be used to undermine Bernie Sanders’ image. There’s no reality, it’s just that the taint is impossible to get rid of.
Steve: It’s absolutely amazing. You see someone like Joe Biden in the United States. The only thing separating him from a very highly conservative and offensive right-winger, is the fact that they’ve got this veil of legitimacy by having a “D” in front of their name. And if you hear Joe Biden — we played a clip the other day — comparing Joe Biden’s push for conservative “whatever happened to conservative values and fiscal values? When I said to put a cut to stop spending I wasn’t just talking about social spending, I was talking about social security as well.” I just listened to it and thought, wow, minorities in this country are lining up in droves behind Joe Biden. We got people trading off the old Obama years — the king neoliberal — they’re lining up behind Joe Biden.
Just recently Bernie Sanders has started surging as Elizabeth Warren has started dropping down. I suspect the establishment neoliberals in this country will continue putting up all these candidates to see which one will stick. But Joe Biden has name recognition, spent 8 years behind Obama as his vice president. This is the guy who wrote the crime bill. We’re talking about a guy — every possible thing you could point the finger at, he’s done.
We’ve got Bernie Sanders who’s been a model of consistency. Mind you I’m sure Bernie’s got his own warts here and there but 40 plus years of consistently fighting for the little people and something like a smear of antisemitism for a guy who’s Jewish? It’s shocking to me. Especially given that Bernie lost family in the holocaust.
Bill: It’s the same sort of smear that has been so effective with Corbyn and the media and think tanks — they must be trolling around for ruses which will press the most buttons. The one they used in Britain was the anti-semitism. It may not work as. well in the US election. The US situation is a little bit harder to understand than the British, but the parallels are really strong. You have to ask yourself — all of us have to ask this question — how come a guy like Donald Trump can rise to become president of the largest economy, and the one with the most nukes? In my view, that’s got to reflect a deeply dysfunctional political system.
In that sort of system the likes of Biden who’s got the old Democratic money, and that money’s going to be completely confident that if Biden gets the gig then all of the old largesse that’s flowing to the lobbyists will continue to flow. I think that they’re deeply fearful that if Bernie gets the nod he might be able to beat Trump, if Trump survives the current process. Business-as-usual would be disturbed and disrupted if Bernie was the boss, the same as in Britain. If Jeremy Corbyn would have won and become Prime Minister, business-as-usual would have been over. The parasites who live on government procurement contracts — or benefit from all the deregulation — they would have been losing out. They aren’t going to let that happen any time soon.
What I don’t understand in the American situation is that all of these polls seem to be pointing to a surge by Bernie, certainly at the expense of Elizabeth Warren, but they become irrelevant, don’t they, when these super-PACs come out and reflect the Democratic elites. Isn’t that the case?
Steve: In the Democratic Party they’ve got something called superdelegates. What happens — and this speaks to what happened in the UK — where you’ve got these areas that voted heavily for Bernie in the last primary, and then superdelegates of those areas weighed in and said, yeah but I’ve already pledged myself to Hillary. I’m throwing my vote — which counts more than your votes — to Hillary.
Bill: Yes that’s what I understood.
Steve: They’ve made some very minor modifications. It’s interesting that what’s happened in the US is they’ve flooded the Democratic field with some 28 candidates originally — which is ridiculous. It’s whittled its way down, and continues to whittle its way down. I don’t remember all the details but If you don’t have a plurality – or a significant majority for one person, it immediately kicks in the superdelegates. So they try to say they’re going to let the vote take care of it but if we don’t hit this threshold then they’ll bring in the superdelegates. So they’ve muddied the water by flooding it so no one can reach that number. It was rigged with the veil of legitimacy.
Bill: If the last primary campaign is anything to go by, the Democratic machine is not going to allow Bernie Sanders to represent them. That would be my understanding.
Steve: I’ve often said, outside of the Macro & Cheese podcast, that I believe for progressives to ever make meaningful gains, they need to take a.page out of the early 70s when environmentalists pushed and pushed. And without really having an electoral mandate — and with Nixon in office, they were still able to get the EPA passed. So that may. have been throwing crumbs at the people just to sedate them — to keep them off his back, maybe. But I believe it takes outside the party structure because the party is so rigged it doesn’t even hear its own membership. I believe it’s going to require a populist movement outside the party structure to either force the parties to listen to their will and bend to their will or find out what pitchforks & torches feel like. I don’t see any way around this. We’ve tried to do very gentlemanly approaches. We’ve seen people shake hands and say “it’s just a difference of opinion.”
Now there’s evidence of suicide, rising from neoliberalism. You can’t deny it. And all the returning vets with PTSD from all the wars we’ve fought to open markets for neoliberalism, you can’t deny it. All the stagnating wages — there’s no way to deny it. We’ve seen the suffering. And now the people are finally (and it’s a shame it takes this) but in the US the white middle class is feeling the pinch. They haven’t let enough people be happy. We may be seeing that the seeds of change are brewing here. Will it happen? I hope so but I’ve got to say that my fear is it won’t and that it will require something more drastic. My hope is that they’ll listen. They’ll hear us, and they’ll allow our will to be done as opposed to what they’ve chosen in the past, which is to say “Oh we know better than you, we’re smarter than you.”
Bill: Yeah, I doubt that they’ll listen. Louisa and I were talking this morning on this theme – as you do when you’re preparing to go to work in the morning. We were talking about the British election – the role of capital, the role of corporations. When you think about it, the strongest, probably the most effective way we can express our voice is to mount organized and large scale boycotts of their products. Because ultimately their aim is to manipulate governments and get regulations in their favor. What they’re aiming to do is make it much easier to realize profit. They can only really realize profit through selling stuff. And we’ve got the networking skills and technology now to organize global boycotts. My view is that we should start moving in that direction to organize these sorts of consumer boycotts. Target firms and not buy stuff. That will force them to listen I think. When there’s huge consumer discontent for a particular product the corporations typically respond. When there’s not, they don’t. So that’s one thing I’ve been thinking about working on. Work out the viability of that sort of mass action.
Steve: What do you think about a general strike? We keep hearing talk about that. While it would be great to see such a mass movement I don’t know how many people could partake. They’ve made everyone so frail by austerity, people aren’t in a position to do these things for fear of losing their jobs.
Bill: It’s not going to work. You can’t get enough people in solidarity. It punishes the striker with lost income. There are too many marginal workers that wouldn’t eat if they went on strike. They’ll. bring in strikebreakers and if it’s a significant industry they’ll bring in the military. So I think a more passive response is the way to go because if you and I and millions of others independently stop buying product A, nobody can be targeted because they won’t know. They can know what we’re buying through electronic systems, but they can’t turn around and force us to buy something. Whereas if you go on strike – in Australia it’s illegal to go on strike under most circumstances because of the legislation that the neoliberals have brought in to attack trade unions. So in many situations, the trade union can be made bankrupt by the scale of the fines and union leaders can be put in jail.
Industrial action was the old way of doing it but I don’t think that’s going to work anymore. We should get smart and hit them straight on. Leave their products on the shelves and force them to hear.
Steve: Given that the economics behind this, what would be the net impact for the macroeconomy of these kinds of targeted actions. Are we talking about reducing consumption in general or just shifting it to other companies? What are we talking about here? Obviously the economy thrives on buyers and sellers. How does it play out?
Bill: It was just an idea we were talking about over a cup of tea this morning but I think you would do it on a strategic basis — take them out one by one, so as not to create a recession, which always damages the lowest paid, most precarious workers. Just have organized campaigns, targeted to particular corporations and then take them out one by one. I’m going to give it some thought as to how it might work out. Otherwise we’re powerless. They’ve got us. Every time a progressive leader sticks their heads up they get rid of them. With these smears like we’ve just seen on Jeremy Corbyn.
What’s going to happen – this is the crazy part of it all – Boris Johnson is a really clever guy. The progressives really underestimated him. They thought it would be sufficient just to call him a liar. A week before the election there were all these stories about him hiding in a fridge to avoid being interrogated by the press. But Boris Johnson outsmarted them. He’s a clever man. What the Tories will do now is they’ll abandon all that austerity stuff, I believe, in the next year or two years. They’ll pump money into the national health service and to restore services in the North and the Midlands, which are the seats that have turned away from traditional Labour to Tories. They’ll put infrastructure projects into those regions to generate better-paid work and more secure work. In that process, they’ll completely turn from all of that austerity mindset and become much more acceptable in their use of their fiscal capacity. That way they’ll consolidate those voters that turned, maybe just temporarily as a protest against Labour, convert them into working-class Tories, and that’s the end of the Labour Party. That will be it for generations. I think that’s going to happen. It’s a tragic thing for progressive forces in the UK. You see that now some of the progressive voices are saying “we don’t want to abandon our economic agenda but we’ve got to become socially conservative now.” How that plays out in different countries varies, but it’s a really regressive tendency if the progressive forces start becoming right-wingers on social policy.
Steve: It’s terrifying.
Steve: Well Bill, I want to thank you for joining us today. I always learn so much from you. I hope we can have you back on again. The entire Real Progressives team has been messaging me to wish you a Merry Christmas and thank you so much for all you do for us and that they love you. And of course I love you and Louisa very much.
Bill: Thanks Steve. Thanks to all your supporters. I wish you a happy new year too. Keep up the sterling work that you guys do (“guys” being generic). I think in the new year we’re going to try to launch some things from my end under the MMT Ed banner that I hope we can dovetail into your operation.
Since we started the MMT project, the message has been that this is an educational challenge. We need to continue the educational process over a generation or more. Nothing changes quickly when you’re up against such a massively powerful mainstream orthodoxy. I’m committed to keeping that educational process going and be patient and work through this.
I hope we can do that together. Thanks very much to your team for being such wonderful activists; and all the best for 2020.