The Bright Shiny Object of Change

By Joel David Palmer

Did you feel it? The earth moved under our feet a little bit over the past week. I’m feeling quite grateful to beowolf and Joe Firestone and everyone else who laid the foundation for Mint The Coin, and to Stephanie Kelton (for creating) and Joe Weisenthal (for popularizing) the #MintTheCoin hashtag and circulating the White House petition.

For the past year and a half that I have been on this journey of MMT activism, it has been obvious, and many others have recognized, that the velocity and extent to which these ideas spread will have a great deal to do with language. Beyond establishing common definitions that allow discussion with, rather than talking past, practitioners of other schools, MMT needs cognitive frames – metaphors – and rhetoric that are attractive, meaningful, and persuasive.

#MintTheCoin has proven an exceptionally successful metaphor, useful in the way Randy Wray recently explored in detail: the need to reframe socio-politico-economic perspectives on a universal scale, and to establish a rhetorical high ground in the war of words that is neo-liberal sophistry and demagoguery.

The #MintTheCoin gestalt is successful at once on many levels. First, the coin, were it to be minted, would be, literally, money. The “enough platinum to sink the Titanic” objection was so absurd that every thinking person with a dog in the fight was compelled to refute it, and thereby implicitly admit that money is what we say it is; that money is an idea and not a thing. Second, as many acknowledged with their comparisons to Tolkien’s One Ring, the coin would forge will, intention, and latent power into a concentrated object, an instrument, through which profound effects on the world can be made. Third, the coin is, literally, a “bright shiny object” that has proven able to immediately attract the attention of the media, the punditocracy, and large swaths of all the chattering classes from everything else they were doing, and change the terms of the debate. Finally and most importantly moving forward, the coin is a fiction, a creation of pure human imagination; it is a consensual hallucination. If we can imagine the coin and the good that might flow from it, perhaps we can imagine other good things into existence.

The coin produced exactly the kind of cognitive dissonance (see, for example, Jay Carney’s press briefing) that is symptomatic of paradigm shifts. On public display was the scorn, anger, denial, and then, for many, acceptance of ideas that are foundational to an understanding of MMT. For a great many others, seeds have been planted; in those minds, more attention will be caught by future references and situations, and more and larger cracks will appear in the neo-liberal worldview.

I suspect that when Stephanie Kelton invented #MintTheCoin, she didn’t know it would be a fantastically successful metaphor. But as the Twitter discussion unfolded ten days ago, it was very quickly obvious that the phrase itself lit fires in the imagination, that it opened up a space where new thoughts could occur. Until the MMT community includes explicit contributions from psycholinguistics and Frank Luntz-type focus group research, we will have to keep making this stuff up ourselves – analogies, allegories, metaphorical approaches of all kinds – and pay close attention to what we say and how we say it that others find particularly appealing and persuasive.

These things are usually hard to see except through the retrospectascope, but it may be that, with Mint the Coin, we have tipped already. Politics and public opinion are nonlinear dynamical systems; they have chaotic qualities that enable fast and difficult-to-predict changes in state. Eventually, the addition of energy to a chaotic system leads to re-organization. I appreciate MMT for its elegance, and for its explanatory and predictive power, but I am an activist because of MMT’s potential for helping to achieve universal prosperity and well-being. The success of #MintTheCoin should encourage us to apply our best creative and imaginative energies to the effort.

28 Responses to The Bright Shiny Object of Change

  1. It was obvious from the start that the Federal Reserve Bank and the US Treasury under Geithner would reject the idea of a platinum coin, since they both have vested interests in the banking industry. The coin would have allowed the US Treasury to create debt free money and that would never do, since it would render the Federal Reserve obsolete.

  2. My local paper, about as informed as a roll of Charmin, carried a small article in which Anthony Coley, a spokesman for the Treasury Department, was reported to have said that neither the Treasury nor the Federal Reserve believe the law can or should be used to produce a TDC. There appears to be at least a ripple in the fabric of the Universe.

  3. Not a bad “opening salvo” … got Dr. Kelton on MSNBC. More to come!

  4. Tim Duy has an interesting article explaining why the Obama Administration and the Federal Reserve rejected the Platinum Coin Solution to the Debt Ceiling Crisis:-

    http://economistsview.typepad.com/timduy/2013/01/on-the-disruptiveness-of-the-platinum-coin.html

    His argument is basically the kleptocracy doesn’t like the idea of Treasury bonds not making them lots of free and “relatively safe” money whilst they sleep. If a Platinum Coin is used it’s getting very close to the American public understanding the Treasury can simply mark up its account at the Fed electronically and to hell with giving free rides to the rich with bond issues! ( Maybe retirees up to a maximum value Yes but the very rich Hell No! ) How much the kleptocracy will realize that the Republican Party blackmail strategy could seriously undermine the “relatively safe” factor of US bonds long term is something we don’t yet know. When the government quits paying out the interest on bonds because the Debt Ceiling doesn’t get raised and everybody gets fed up of Hell freezing over with no domestic and international flight services and nobody able to get money out of their bank accounts maybe then we’ll know.

    Meanwhile for MMTer’s it doesn’t hurt to understand that Tim Duy’s argument carries some emotional charge from a “framing” point of view:-

    http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/01/you-idiot-course-trolls-comments-make-you-believe-science-less

  5. The TDC would guarantee Obama’s impeachment in the House — a protracted Drama via which to neuter his 2nd term.

    Not gonna happen.

    • Perhaps. But what it the moral, legal, economic, or financial difference between the platinum trillion dollar coin and the copper .01 dollar penny? Make the pennies small enough, mint enough of them and you have the same thing. So by the same reasoning, every previous preznit should have been impeached.

  6. John Rosenfield

    One of the quotes attributed to Albert Einstein is “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

  7. In a nutshell the whole Platinum Coin controversy highlights and challenges the degree of commonsense in continuing to believe in the old historical reasoning that the creation of the whole of the National Credit has to be outsourced to the non-government sector and the accompanying fallacy involved in believing that can actually and satisfactorily be so.

  8. In my humble opinion, every movement needs a rallying cry. For MMT I submit that cry should be #MintTheCoin.

    As Joel so eloquently writes, its metaphorical simplicity brings the dialog on fiscal and monetary policy down from the rarified air of academia and politics to the ground level where most of the rest of us live. In our world of 15 second sound bites and 5 word headline teasers, #MintTheCoin sliced through to and connected many more people to the passion and diligent work of those involved in the global MMT dialog. It connected us all in a way that no other 3 words run-together could have. Thanks to all those associated with this blog, the blogroll to the right, and MMT truth seekers everywhere for what you do!

    If any one is interested, the permanent link to the first mention of #MintTheCoin on Twitter by @deficitowl is here: https://twitter.com/deficitowl/status/276728446011449344

    Go ahead, click to retweet it. Continue to make it resonate and be a referendum of sorts voted on by and for We The People!

  9. Good point! Joel.
    More average Americans are exposed to how US dollars can be created, more they will begin to question main stream media insistence that US government is running out of money. Most media figures like Chris Hayes at MSNBC get frighten when they are told how easy US can create its own dollars. One of Chris’s responses to Stephanie was “why don’t we just create a ten trillion dollar coin and zero out deficit” He needed to ridicule the idea of a coin creation leading to US dollars in Treasury bank acct.

    When most people hear that US government creates its own dollars, it doesn’t compute in their brain. Hey! I have to earn a paycheck or borrow money to get dollars (they have too). Maybe we are always given myth about “running out of money/where will it come from” by our politicians and media because the truth is too frightening. Monetary truth = US creates its own dollar. But having responsibility of creation, no no … that’s a task only for Gods.

  10. The beauty of #MintTheCoin is it was a literary device. Its face value was not its subtext. Like an iceberg the MMT beneath was vast. My takeaway is there is a lot of pent-up energy both negative and positive. Against Congress, and For the Rest of Us, as Stephanie frames it.

    There is already evidence of supermajority support for rebuilding our infrastructure. There is even a bipartisan effort stalled in Congress for funds to be given to the States to manage. So, why not continue through another side door? #RebuildIt

    There is little case to be made against recapitalizing our crumbling infrastructure. I’m sure MMTers could publish on various aspects here, if it doesn’t already exist. So then us activists can link back to “proof.” Allies may be easy to find, engineers, scientists, small business groups, mayors, NoLabels, etc. Another aspect of the campaign could be to name “It” what you want Rebuilt.

    MMTers can continue to refute the trolls, engage in conversations with the curious, be grist in the mill for the sympathetic members of the press.

    Also, I might suggest that everyone follow each other on Twitter.

    If y’all are interested I have some time to research the bill and such.

    Cheers,
    Jon Denn
    aGREATER.US
    @jmdenn

  11. Influence and control are reflective of the ability to control events. Washington needs an answer to the recession and continued slow growth. Logically we have the edge but people of influence don’t usually just give up. We need MMT advocates to continue to push and speak out.

    Thank you all for great work.

    10 or 12 hours, on Saturday reading economic theory is invigorating.

  12. ummm i grew up “knowing” that we could print money and thats bad because it causes inflation. So how exactly is this paradigm shifting?

    • Industrial utilization is at 79%. T-bonds are yielding nil. Inflation is a relatively subordinate concern. We’re experiencing a lot of very real DEflation.

      The losers would be those already extremely wealthy. They’re increasing their share of assets at extreme
      distress sale prices. Why would they want the economy to get “better”?

  13. BobbyG

    You’re ever so naughty doing all this trolling!

  14. And so it begins. Who will hold back the sea, the sea of ideas whose time has come?

  15. I’m a rabbit that blogs. It’s a long story and you aren’t interested but I am staffed by several people one of whom is a physicist (and my secretary.) She owns a manufacturing company that sucks up between 60 and 70 hours a week of her time and her interest in economics has been fairly average…until she heard an interview with Stephanie Kelton, on The Majority Report, on 20 November 2012. She made me listen. I was annoyed but then I got interested. I bought books. I read blogs and articles. I got more and more fascinated. And then I started blogging about MMT (at the Daily Kos and on my usual blog at ArlissBunny.Wordpress.com). Then Dr. Kelton’s #MintTheCoin caught fire. The point of all of this is that if someone as busy as I and as buried in another industry as is my secretary is, if we can bite down hard on MMT and Mint the Coin then THE CONVERSATION REALLY HAS CHANGED and the value of that is not to be under estimated. Thump!

  16. “Second, as many acknowledged with their comparisons to Tolkien’s One Ring, the coin would forge will, intention, and latent power into a concentrated object, an instrument, through which profound effects on the world can be made.”

    Great words here Joel (imo)… but I think these types of words will not resonate right away with libertarians, perhaps never with the extreme form … imo there is a whole libertarian/authoritarian “thing” underlying this coin issue… libertarians don’t like the coin… rsp,

    • Joel David Palmer

      I cannot, and I think MMT ought not, be concerned with trying to persuade libertarians per se; libertarians are by and large convicted by ideology, and ideology is the enemy of common sense. The vast majority of others however, as the #MintTheCoin campaign has made abundantly clear, have either no idea what money is and how it works and how it can work, or have very fuzzy ideas based on the neoliberal framework that is the dominant paradigm in policy-making circles. This vast majority is our audience. A rhetorical and metaphorical framework for MMT will be successful only as far as it reaches; we have to take a much broader approach than battling with blog commenters or refuting financial elites or appealing for attention to captured media figures. We cannot take a brute force approach, bludgeoning the opposition with facts – it is unpersuasive. Facts alone cannot overcome a superior rhetoric, and the neo-liberals have been taking a scientific approach to persuasion since the 1950s; their rhetoric is so successful that even their opponents have largely been captured by it. If MMT is to fulfill its promise of improving the lives of our fellow citizens rather than setting us against one another, we’ll have to cast our net widely in developing and testing metaphors, slogans, symbols, figures of speech, and every other persuasive device to communicate and teach what we believe MMT has to offer.

  17. The TDC is finally a recognition that the Central Banking system is a criminal enterprise since the Bank of England was formed under the Calvinist rule of “King Billy” , William lll of Orange. It also has shades of Lincoln’s Greenbacks. But I have two concerns at first glance.
    Firstly, those knowledgeable in government backed fiat currency understand that debt free money issued by our government MUST be “spent” into our society for IMPROVEMENTS which benefit society in ways that will result in a higher level of economic function that can be returned to the government via the increased tax revenues from the resulting prosperity to finance the next round of improvements. This creates a virtuous feedback loop while eliminating the parasitic interest payments which currently plague us. Just minting this coin may do NONE of this.
    Secondly, as the death (murder) of Mr. Swartz illustrates, “The Fed” may be yesterdays news already. Though Swartz was involved in anti-Fed activities his elimination was required because of his internet activities. Information may be the new form of enslavement, replacing interest and monetary manipulation. This may be the future battleground as the central banking system is abandoned as archaic.

  18. Looking forward to the day when we actually have something to celebrate.

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