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