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.

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