Jul 18, 2021
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.
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 than our current rent, and a really world asset that will become even more valuable after everything’s done.
Especially in this crazy market, we hit the jackpot. It’s basically been a fairytale so far. We are so lucky. We are so privileged. (If you’d like to see it, you can find some pictures in the show notes.)
After part two of my interview with Jane Ball, however (episode 71), I’m feeling very conflicted about the whole thing. There is so much suffering all around us, and it’s soon to increase by orders of magnitude as the climate crisis starts to changes all our lives dramatically, whether we like it or not, whether we do a lot or a little. Something very big is going to be happening in the not-so-distant future. It’s either going to be controlled or it’s not going to be controlled. Given how perfectly and elegantly the grip on every lever of power the elite now have, I am really not seeing how it’s going to be controlled.
And yet here I am, suddenly having achieved the so-called American Dream. I now have a sense of security and, at least for a time, a real-world asset with a worth that’s very likely to get a lot higher. Who am I to have this? The color of my skin is obviously a very big factor. So I continue to care about the powerless (like those with skin color different than my own), but now I get to do it from a perch of privilege. A perch that how many black and brown people have been kept away from and knocked off of?
My accepting this home makes the world a worse place, and yet at the same time, I’m doing exactly what’s best for my family.