Welcome to Activist #MMT. A podcast for non-violent, direct MMT activism, sharing Modern Money Theory with the world – and conversations about learning MMT, together.
Ep85 [1/2, 4/7]: How Neil Wilson came to MMT (and Reddit).
Welcome to episode 85 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with systems consultant and GIMMS associate, Neil Wilson. Neil is also the co-author of the 2020 paper, An Accounting Model of the U.K. Exchequer, which is published by The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies (or GIMMS). This is part one of a two-part episode, but it's also part four of a larger seven-part series with all three co-authors, first individually and personally, and ending with a joint interview with all three, where we discuss the paper in depth.
(Here’s a link to __PART_TWO__ with Neil. A link to all seven parts can be found here.)
Like my previous guests Patricia Pino [parts one and two], Andrew Chirgwin [parts one and two], and others, Neil discovered Modern Money Theory, or MMT, by stumbling onto Bill Mitchell’s blog. A precursor to discovering and understanding MMT was a lawsuit Neil led against the U.K. government in 1999, in the defense of tens of thousands. At the time, U.K. law allowed (and unfortunately still allows) for workers to be treated such that they can be taxed as if they’re an official employee, but treated in other ways as if they’re not. In the era before Brexit, the lawsuit was an attempt to override British law with EU law. Although unsuccessful, it led him to question more deeply the government and how it really works.
Neil also talks about his job as a systems consultant. Companies and the government choose to bring him in, they pay him to come in, to evaluate and improve their computer systems. Only sometimes, however, do they give him the power to actually make his recommended changes. So it seems to me that some of these organizations want the appearance of doing their best, without actually having to do their best. Rather than eliminating what’s bad and replacing it with good, the very idea of eliminating anything at all becomes simply and seemingly an impossibility.
It results in the system becoming overly complex – paint on top of paint on top of paint – and for new pieces to now have to overcompensate for the ones that really shouldn’t be there at all. This is a parallel for the final three episodes in this seven-part series, which is all about the over-complexity of the UK economy, or Exchequer, and its 800 years of redundant paint jobs.
Neil and I end with a conversation of MMT on the only social media platform Neil is active on: Reddit. We also talk about the questionable practices of the decidedly mainstream group, r/AskEconomics. (I am happy to announce that both Neil and I are now moderators of r/mmt_economics/.)
Finally, I have some thoughts about the very first thing Neil and I talk about, which is unrelated to MMT, Neil, and his paper. To avoid distracting from the heart of our conversation, you will find these thoughts after the closing music, at the very end of today’s episode.
(Note Neil is always available for discussion and questions on his Discord server.)
But for now, onto my conversation with Neil Wilson.
At the very beginning of today’s episode, I tell Neil that my wife and I are under contract to purchase our first home. As I write these words, it was inspected two days ago. Yesterday, we submitted our rather modest list of repair requests, and are now waiting for the sellers’ response. This is the final major hurdle before the likeliness of the home becoming our own gets pretty close to 100%.
I tell Neil that the home is enormous. At least, to me it is. The backyard is about the size of half a football field. The house itself is 700 ft.² larger than our current rental – 1900 versus 1200 ft.². There are a whole lot of critical small to moderate things it needs, but structurally, the home and all its major systems are in great shape. So although the first several years will be a very expensive struggle, overall, we now have a mortgage that’s $400 cheaper a month th
Ep84 [2/2, 3/7]: Andy Berkeley: Confirming the theory applies to the real world.
Welcome to episode 84 of Activist #MMT. Today’s part two of my two-part conversation with 10th-year MMT activist, Andy Berkeley. Andy has a PhD in marine sedimentology, and is a marine scientist and oceanographer by trade. He's also the co-author of the 2020 paper, An Accounting Model of the U.K. Exchequer, which is published by The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies (or GIMMS). This episode is also part three of a larger seven-part series on the paper and it's three co-authors. The first five are with each individual author, in the final two with all three, jointly, where we discuss the paper in depth.
(A link to all seven parts can be found here.)
Last week, in part one of my conversation with Andy, we spoke about two very non-economic topics: the first half dedicated to the fifty-year-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the second half, to the drastically different and lighter subject of music.
Today in part two, Andy describes his life and thinking before knowing about MMT. He tells the story about how he discovered it from an actual stranger on a train, who he now knows as Chris Cook. While talking with a friend, the person sitting across from him, Chris, interrupted and interjected the fateful words: "Banks don't lend deposits, and governments don't spend taxes." Confirming the former came rather quickly for Andy. The latter, however, that governments don't spend taxes, took years to fully grasp. After learning more about the concept, it made the entire puzzle appear to make sense. However, only after completing his 2020 paper many years later, did he finally confirm that what was mere economic theory – to him, toning more than a thought experiment – actually applies to the world in which we live.
Two important events that Andy believes prepared him to accept MMT years later, were, first, the 2003 invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and the subsequent invasion of Iraq by the US and its allies. The second was a brief and largely out-of-place montage in the Michael Moore documentary, Bowling for Columbine. The montage shows how the United States’s invasion of Iraq was merely the tip of an iceberg demonstrating its decades-long imperialism, and the U.K.’s support of it. These two things called into question the idea of the US and UK as being 100% forces for good and made him realize that what we are told may in fact be contrary with reality, with the goal of keeping the powerful powerful and everyone else in the dark.
(As an aside, It’s both shocking and not shocking that YouTube will not allow you to share that montage at all. It won’t even allow you to copy the link.)
Finally, a minor correction: the UK is 800 years old.
And now, let's get right back to my conversation with Andy Berkeley.
Resources Books by John Kenneth Galbraith 2007 book by Eric D. Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What it Means for Business and Society
Ep83 [1/2, 2/7]: Andy Berkeley: Palestine and piano [NOT MMT]
Welcome to episode 83 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with 10th-year MMT activist, Andy Berkeley. Andy has a PhD in marine sedimentology, and is a marine scientist and oceanographer by trade. He's also the co-author of the 2020 paper, An Accounting Model of the U.K. Exchequer, which is published by The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies (or GIMMS). This is part one of a two-part episode, but it's also part two of a larger seven-part series with all three co-authors, first individually and on a personal level, and then ending with a joint interview with all three, where we discuss the paper in depth. In today's episode, Andy and I discuss some decidedly non-economic topics. For the first half of part one, we talk about the now half-century long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
(Here’s a link to part two with Andy. A link to all seven parts can be found here.)
Since the 1970s, the UN General Assembly has regularly and overwhelmingly voted to affirm the fact that Israel is illegally occupying Palestine. This, in addition to the fact that Israel is clearly the stronger party by orders of magnitude, calls into question the popular notion and official narrative, that Israel is nothing more than a passive and long-suffering, dainty-little-flower of a victim. On the other side of this narrative is Palestine, serving the role of the melodramatic supervillain, seemingly doing nothing but perpetually alternating between launching missiles at Israel and twirling their overly-long mustache.
I’m a Jew but not religious. I grew up in a family, however, that subscribed strongly to exactly these ideas – that Israel is 100% the victim and Palestine 100% the bad guy. Questioning Israel and its leaders in any way is essentially treated by some as an act of betrayal. My speculation is that Israel is seen by many Jews as the only home on earth for the Jewish people. This is such a powerful thing that it justifies excusing the behavior of the Israeli leadership and ignoring the suffering caused in service of preserving that home. In any relationship, the idea that that one party is 100% in the right, and the other 100% in the wrong, is the stuff of cartoons, not reality. Further, the assertion that the by-far stronger party is the victim, when that so-called victim has been occupying the territory of its so-called aggressor for 50 years, is a highly suspect one in my view.
In the second half of part one, Andy and I greatly lighten the mood with another non-economic topic, this time, music. I'm a classically trained singer, and for the past six months, I've been learning guitar. Andy has played piano and bass guitar for most of his life, and we have a fun and kind-of-exciting conversation about lots of varied topics: how to sight read and learning about music theory, how we were trained, the styles in which we were trained versus those we choose to listen to, the many YouTube teachers who have influenced us, and more.
You'll find a few samples of our playing in today's episode, and we both thank you for your forgiving and understanding while listening. At the very beginning of today's episode, you heard a brief sample of Andy's piano and bass playing. You'll find the entire piece, along with another, after today's closing music. You'll also find links to the several musicians and songs we mention, in the show notes.
Although this episode has little-to-nothing to do with MMT, it provides important context for learning and better understanding MMT. The academic concepts cannot be separated from those who promote them. Today is about those who promote them, and what interests them.
Next week in part two, Andy describes his life before knowing about MMT and how he discovered it from an actual stranger on a train. Someone he now knows well, Chris Cook, overheard Andy's conversation and interrupted and interjected the fateful words: "B
Ep82 [1/1, 1/7]: Richard Tye: The history of the U.K. Exchequer (and interdisciplinarity)
Welcome to episode 82 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with 10th-year MMT activist, Richard Tye (Twitter/@widespreadhaze). Richard is the co-author of – and historian for – the 2020 paper called An Accounting Model of the U.K. Exchequer, which is published by The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies (or GIMMS). This is the first of a seven-part series on the paper and its three authors. It starts with an individual and personal interview with each of the authors and ends with a two-part episode with all three jointly, where we discuss the paper in depth.
Here are links to all other episodes in this larger series, in order:
Part 2: Andy Berkeley, part one: Palestine and piano [NOT MMT] Part 3: Andy Berkeley, part two: Confirming the theory applies to the real world. Part 4: How Neil Wilson discovered MMT (and Reddit) Part 5: Neil Wilson: Real-world economics requires understanding dynamics. Parts 6 and 7: An Accounting Model of the U.K. Exchequer [parts __ONE__ and __TWO__] For the past 20 years, Richard has flown a helicopter for Search and Rescue, under perilous conditions on both land and sea, serving millions of U.K. citizens. For the U.K. Exchequer paper, he became a historian, placing today's economic and political systems into proper historical context. Using only the internet, he and his co-authors discovered original government documents from all the way back to the 11th century. Because of the COVID health crisis, writing the paper would have been an impossible task without the internet.
Richard describes several historical concepts and events related to the U.K. economy, including the use of wood tally sticks as a primitive form of money, and the so-called "stop of the exchequer". We also discuss how history moves at a pace that's impossible to directly observe in a human lifetime. We consider this final concept especially in the context of the MMT project.
(Before attempting to read the paper, I strongly recommend first listening to their @MMTpodcast interview, and watching co-author Andy Berkeley's forty-minute presentation [as organized by my previous guest, Asker Voldsgaard].)
Before we begin, I have several observations to make about history. First, in part one of my previous episode with Andrew Chirgwin, and as inspired by Steven Hail, we discussed how neoclassical economists don't "stay in their lane". Those in power and the economists who advise them, have declared that "finding the money" (and preventing the boogeyman of inflation) is the primary prerequisite for doing anything and everything. If one can't find the money in a way that satisfies these economists, then they get to veto the entire project – sight unseen, and very likely, without understanding its intricacies or consequences at even a basic level. In other words, those in power and their economists have made themselves gatekeepers over every aspect of our lives, pretending that without money – their money – it's impossible to accomplish anything. (Note that this also implies that everything in life must have a precise financial cost applied to it.)
In reality, the only reason it's impossible to accomplish anything without money is because we choose for it to be impossible. Knowing this, the resistance to the idea of making education and healthcare free at point-of-service (and therefore free of debt!), now becomes clear: without a price tag, it takes away the ability of those in power to gate-keep and veto. (Not to mention the cherry on top, of profit baby!) Providing education and healthcare for all is not just about making people smarter and healthier, it's about power.
(Another related example is the reserve currency or "petrodollar". Nations must transact for oil in the US dollar, simply because the US has muscled its way into the OPEC cartel in order to make that the case. Without the reserve currency, the United
Ep81 [2/2] Andrew Chirgwin: The end of the world (economics that stays in its lane)
Welcome to episode 81 of Activist #MMT. Today is the end of the world. Wait. Let me try that again. Today is part two of my conversation with sixth-year MMT activist Andrew Chirgwin. It's a dark episode. Just letting you know. Today Andrew and I continue our conversation about how neoclassical economists don't "stay in their lane", and have essentially given themselves, and those who advise them, veto power over every facet of our lives. Most relevant to today's episode is mitigating, or more precisely, not mitigating the climate crisis.
Andrew and I hit the issue head on, and it's not pretty. The depth of what we face as a species is stark, it's coming in the not-so-distant future, and is becoming more likely by the day. Andrew and I come to terms with this reality, and also wrestle what it means to choose to bring up young children in this context. Mine 11- and 14-year-old boys, his 6- and 8-year old little girls.
I want to mention that the first hint of this severity was made aware to me by Australian economics professor Steven Hail, whose 2020 Facebook post was also the inspiration for our conversation in part one. I spoke with Steven at length at the 2018 MMT conference in New York City. Before talking with him, I was certain that climate change was a very serious issue. After speaking with him, I started understanding that it may actually be a climate crisis.
A much fuller introduction can be found before part one, but for now, let's get right back to my conversation with Andrew Chirgwin.
Ep80 [1/2] Andrew Chirgwin: Economics that stays in its lane (and the end of the world)
Welcome to episode 80 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with sixth-year MMT activist Andrew Chirgwin. Andrew graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelors of Science in Chemistry and Pure Mathematics, and a masters in secondary teaching. Andrew's introduction to Modern Money Theory, or MMT, was in 2015 when he stumbled on the blog of University of Newcastle economics professor and original MMT developer, Bill Mitchell. Andrew spent the next nine months reading five years of Bill's blog posts. Those who are familiar with the blog will understand how this is no small feat.
(Here's a link to __PART_TWO__.)
The heart of our conversation, however, was influenced by a February 2021 Facebook post by Steven Hail (the text of which can be found below). Steven is an economics professor at the University of Adelaide and the author of the 2018 book Economics for Sustainable Prosperity, which is a good introduction to MMT. In the post, Steven discusses how neoclassical economists don't "stay in their lane". What this means is that economists impose themselves onto and dominate conversations about healthcare, when they should be led by healthcare professionals and their patients. They dominate conversations about education that should be led by educators and their students. And to bring it back to today's episode, neoclassical economists dominate conversations about mitigating the climate crisis that should be led by true experts in the field, such as climate scientists, energy specialists, chemists, and so on.
This domination is in the form of forcing all conversation and concepts to be expressed in financial terms, as exemplified by the "how're you gonna pay for it?" question. This essentially gives those in power and their economists veto power over every facet of our lives, subjecting us to their biases, ignorance, and ideology. It prevents the true experts from ever being able to complete their highly-complex and critical conversations, and it also keeps the public unaware of the depths of the problems they face.
Finance is a purely-human-created concept. Therefore, purely-financial crises are also purely-human-created concepts. This means we can prevent and mitigate financial crises merely by choosing to do so. It also implies that the Great Depression and the Great Financial Crisis are largely man-made disasters, caused and exacerbated by the actions and inactions of those in power and their economists. And yet this is who we allow to dominate highly complex conversations on topics that are largely outside of human control, such as mitigating the climate crisis. In other words, if neoclassical economists can't get their own house in order, then why do we allow them to be in charge of every house?! And of course, when problems are framed in financial terms, then problems that face the rich are always more profitable to solve than those that face the poor.
An analogy I keep coming back to is viewing a child only through their report card. Doing this will do nothing to help the student if she is hungry and homeless, and suffering from abuse. It is very unlikely the problems will even be seen. In the same way, forcing the climate crisis and other real-world problems to be seen through a financial lens basically guarantees that these problems will never be acknowledged, let alone properly and fully dealt with.
Part two of our conversation turns decidedly dark, as we consider our fate as a species and our choices as parents of young children, if we continue to leave the climate crisis in the hands of neoclassical economists. There's no solving a problem if you don't understand its depth. So buckle up.
But that's next week. For now, let's start part one of my conversation with Andrew Chirgwin.
Resources Steven Hail's Facebook post (that inspired much of our conversation) and Andrew's Twitter debate with John Hearn can be fo
I just love the musical intro, as well as the content, it is so inspiring. Thanks for your work Jeff.
Excellent resource for MMT activists or just MMT-curious
Jeff is an MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) activist on his own journey of learning the down and dirty, nutty-gritty operational realities of money in a digital fiat currency system. He works tirelessly to educate himself as well as his peers, bringing experts and fellow activists to the table week after week to keep MMT at the front of our minds. He is a passionate, tireless advocate for economic justice in the same vein as Steve Grumbine and Geoff Ginter. He is also a dedicated organizer, and volunteered for the Bernie Sanders 2016 and 2020 campaigns, and is now helping other progressives find a way forward after Bernie’s latest capitulation to the Democratic Party establishment. I highly recommend that all MMT activists (and experts!) listen to this podcast and support Jeff’s efforts to bring this information to progressive organizers all over the world. -@valleygeist, 2-year MMT student and activist