Jun 27, 2021
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:
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 States would lose a valuable barometer with which to monitor the behavior of most other nations. It would not change all that much in a financial sense.)
Along with many other fields, such as science, sociology, and politics, history also illuminates connections that would otherwise remain hidden. As Richard says in today's episode, knowing something new and unknown happened to occur at around the era of another important event, provides valuable context and reveals a new avenue to pursue. History also provides a convenient method of organization, allowing one to confidently place a puzzle piece down in the correct spot and orientation, despite not yet knowing the location of any surrounding piece. In other words, it provides an anchor of sorts, making it clear in some contexts if we are being led astray.
The fact that Modern Money Theory or MMT, and Post Keynesianism in general, are explicitly interdisciplinary, is a reflection of their attempts to ensure their theories apply to the real world. By imposing its money onto all other disciplines, neoclassical economics resists the idea of interdisciplinarity, which is yet a reflection of their decision to grasp onto assumptions that benefit an ideology, at the expense of empirical truth and caring for others. It is little more than further entrenching their power at all costs.
Finally, being interdisciplinary is essentially a decision to have balance and to be aware of the world around you. It's not possible to care about the world if you refuse to recognize its existence. What this means to me personally, as out there as it may seem, is how our emotions and thoughts are considered separate from our physical existence. It's not unlike how "the economy" is considered separate from people. We're essentially told we can't help people if the economy is unstable. The news tells us that because the stock market is at an all-time high, "the economy is doing great!" And yet at the same time, millions of actual human beings are suffering in the real world, homeless and hungry, not to mention we're on the brink of global societal collapse. The truth is that the economy is us. It's all of us. We are the economy. So if the economy’s doing well while millions are suffering, it can only be true by taking those who suffer, and defining them out of the economy.
It's just as true that our mental and emotional existence cannot be separated from our physical existence. Our emotions and thoughts are greatly influenced by our physical condition and vice versa. If we are in physical pain, it can be minimized as much as is possible by managing our emotions. If we are an anguish, it can be minimized by taking care of our body, such as through nutrition, activity, and exercise (and by being lucky enough to have a home whose water supply isn't poisoned!).
We're also not alone. We can't separate ourselves from our family, community, and society. By caring for ourselves, we help others. By caring for others, we help ourselves. It's up to us to find the proper balance between all these things, and to resist those who try and stop us. And yet, we as MMTers know more than most, that we exist in a world in which many believe wholeheartedly in these false dichotomies and ideas. We must rage against the system and be kind to individuals.
My next interview is with co-author Andrew Berkeley and then after that, Neil Wilson, and then the joint interview. Now, onto my conversation with Richard Tye.