Sep 19, 2021
Welcome to episode 91 of Activist #MMT. Today I talk with Fadhel Kaboub about his personal story: his childhood in Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, being a parent, his love of music, and how music has become part of his parenting. Fadhel is an economics professor at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, and the president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, an interdisciplinary public policy think tank. The focus of his academic work is on how the lens of MMT can inform developing nations, which we talk about in the second half of part two. I've written a post filled with links to Fadhel's papers, posts, and appearances, a link to which you can find in the show notes.
(Here's a link to part two with Fadhel.)
Today's story begins with a nine-year-old Fadhel at the center of a political drama between his two home countries of Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. When his grandparents in Tunisia fell ill, his father rushed home from his job in Saudi Arabia to take care of them. Saudi Arabia's immigration laws require foreign workers to give their employers not only their own passport, but also the passports of all their children. Unfortunately, when Fadhel's father left for Tunisia, the employer decided not to release Fadhel's passport, essentially holding the nine-year-old hostage. His family leveraged the media to shame Saudi Arabia into allowing the little boy to be reunited with his family. To this day, Fadhel has never seen his original passport.
We then turn to the story of how Fadhel joined the fifth grade in Tunisia, with children who had a 3.5-year head start in learning French. This is the language spoken during half of the instruction time in the country.
The overriding theme of Fadhel's story, however, is how there is no place on Earth where he is not considered an outsider or immigrant. Babies born in Saudi Arabia are only considered citizens if their father is a Saudi citizen. Fadhel's mother was a citizen but his father was Tunisian. When he moved to Tunisia, he had a Saudi accent and was unable to speak French. And now, even though a US citizen, he remains an immigrant. The experience, plus witnessing the experience of his parents and home countries, has greatly influenced and inspired not only his academic work but also his decisions as the parent of three little boys.
This podcast, Activist #MMT, is dedicated half to academic concepts and half to the personal stories of how people, both laypeople and academics, came to MMT and how it changed them. The reason I believe these personal stories are so important is because it's not possible to separate the academic concepts from those who develop and promote them. This includes their personal stories: what they care about, and how they choose to use the power they have, or don't have. The idea was primarily inspired by Fred Lee in his 2009 book, A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the mainstream in the twentieth century, which was recommended to me by Nathan Tankus.
Neoclassical economics would have you focus on only their maths and models, and not the discriminatory behavior of universities and journals, and those that back those universities, journals – and their economists. They would prefer you not look at any other discipline, such as history, culture, sociology, institutions, and especially politics. The entire neoliberal project would have you focus only on the how-are-you-gonna-to-pay-for-it question, and not the minor inconvenience of having to change the very foundation of human society, if we are not to go extinct in the coming decades. I talk much more about this concept of interdisciplinarity, in my introduction to episode 81 with Richard Tye.
But for now, onto my conversation with Fadhel Kaboub. This is part one of a two-part conversation. Enjoy.
(By the way, my 12-year-old keeps asking to hear the story in the above highlight, over and over again. :) )
By the way number two: At the (very) end of every interview, the introduction is repeated in full but without the theme music. I started this long ago on listener request, for those who find the music irritating or distracting from what I'm saying.