MMT and Social Movements

By Tadit Anderson*

The probability of demonstrating the democratic functionality of MMT/ff economic and fiscal policies in an academic or literate fashion to persuade politicians toward a conversion experience is unlikely. Even with our best communicators speaking in a mass media context or other public forums there are various other factors that need to be examined, such as learning styles and self-interest. Even if the analysis is right and validated by history the politicians will act upon the net amount of political influence supporting one set of policy priorities over another set of interests. When it comes to the influence of campaign contributions, thanks to the delusional decision that money is a form of free speech, the many will be usually outweighed by the few who have the money to buy political influence. While that is the unfortunate law of the land, the advocacy for democratic functionality will usually end up in second place.  However, the actual history of socializing movements suggests that an alternative path is not just possible, but also necessary. Given that the public discourse is also largely occupied by corporate interests, we have to also find different ways to grow a socializing movement other than relying upon public spectacles, such as mass demonstrations of protest and resistance.

Bluntly put, politicians tend to “lead” from the trailing margin, not at the leading edge. The same observation is contrary to the expectation that with enough persuasive rhetoric and criticism from itinerant bloggers and the electronic versions of wooden soap boxes favoring economic and fiscal reform and the public good a socializing movement would rise up. I was also told at one point by one of the early advocates of MMT that the CRX “…would never amount to much.” I was surprised at the blanket nature of the statement and the apparent faith based adhesion to a particularly “conservative” political ideology and its historicist narrative. It would be equally slanted if the importance of MMT was reduced to ” it would never amount to much,” but then I read in multiple areas including philosophy, economics, and social history, not the Gallup polls.

Politicians, as speculators in self-interest, will always lead from the rear most point of a socializing movement to reduce their perceived personal exposure to what seems to be the unknown. I can only explain the dismissive response as a surrender to the capture of the institutions of “democracy” by the Madison and Hamilton legacy of political elites as the “owners” of Wall Street, and thereby the sovereign economy. Truth is that while such public displays of political affection are possible and even productive in certain situations, there are several steps that have to happen prior to this level of demonstration. The common historicist concept of social movements features imagined charismatic figures speaking to the assembled faithful. The celebrity version of the history of social movements is more ideological than historical, though the narrative seems to make the interpretation of historical social movements easier to narrate though it is a fiction. As an ideological narrative it aids in diminishing how non-celebrity people can substantially contribute in the making of socializing movements and of history.

The historicist political narrative serves to oppress the majority of the citizens from participating in the making of history and recruits the same people as oppressors within a supposed “just” society. Where once there was a community we have essentially a variety of class warfare that is accepted as part of the cultural and economic process. Sometimes this is because the victims of this inter-communal warfare are hidden from the video cameras and peripheral vision by being in a whole different country or zip code, or by justifying a whole series of rationalizations, beginning with racism and class. The ideology of a “just society,” also adds to the rationalization of oppression and injustice as if those who are struggling to survive must deserve their position in life because they failed to conform to the uber culture.

The good news is that the social history of social movements tells a different story. Academia in its conventionality tends to be invested in the posited divisions of academic labors, because that is the basis upon which higher degrees are granted and how tenure is ordinarily received. Yet, even so, being in the social world remains multi-disciplinary. In this context the objective is to condition behavior in a viral fashion to expect the management of sovereign fiscal capacities of a fiat sovereign currency in support of a democratic functionality by a growing mass social movement.  This how the innovators can multiply to include the early majority adopters of new technologies.

The well-funded propaganda pressing austerity as the appropriate response is compliant with the false analogy of how household finances are ordinarily expected to be managed under even conditions of massive fraud and fictitious circumstances. The corporate mass media will sustain the oppression of neo-liberalism exactly because it is profitable, even as we are being dragged and bloodied into another dark span of economic collapse based upon economic fictions. Their unearned profits and positions of pretense require this level of loyalty and self-interest. The biggest problem about our ideological blindness is our blindness to the political ideology, which sustains it. This is not “ideology” as in an overt political doctrine as such, but closer to the basic notion of a world view and how our social realities are constructed by individuals and by groups, including institutions as a basis of cultural capture.

The Nature of Social Movements

Since relying upon the historicist political ideology is a core source of oppression, pausing to examine the actual dynamics of progressive social movements is worth their description. When I researched this process, for historical examples, for theoretical statements which seem to satisfy adequacy, applicability, validity, and reliability relative to my direct experience doing community organizing, the best summation I found was in “Beyond Revolution,” by Daniel A. Foss and Ralph Larkin (1986). The core statement they made was in a somewhat dense paragraph, found on page 143:

“The difference between a social movement and episodic dissidence is that it builds upon itself in a process of intensification, wherein the hegemonic (dominating) ideology (world view) is rendered problematic (challenged) by dissidents. This “reinterpretation of reality” provides the subjective basis for further- and more drastic- action. As social reality is reinterpreted in the struggle, movement participants attempt to reclaim those aspects of human subjectivity that have been alienated from themselves as part of their socialization to positions of social subordination. So long as these three aspects of a social movement are a mutually reinforcing totality – intensification of a conflict, reinterpretation of social reality, and the redefinition of the self and its capacities – a social movement is ongoing. Their fragmentation signals the point of the incipient decline has been reached, Such phenomena must be viewed as a whole, since there are often temporary defeats and retreats within the process of intensification of a social movement, as well as phases of overt conflict alternating with cultural (or subjective) intensification” from Foss and Larkin, Beyond Revolution (1986).

The most effective social movement of the 20th century at least in the US was the US Civil Rights movement. It is also offered as a historical model worth emulating, though its interpretation most often focuses upon the oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. The actual back-story closely fits Foss and Larkin’s description in “Beyond Revolution” of a social movement. Martin Luther King Jr. was himself a participant in training for community organizers that was offered by the Highlander Folk School, later known as the Highlander Research Center. The training offered there was led by Myles Horton and Septima Clark. Prior to the establishing of the national significance of the US Civil Rights movement the Highlander Folk school “trained” some 40,000 people who were distributed mostly across the southern states.

What made the training at the Highlander Folk School particularly different is that Horton and Clark served as resources and by example, not by lectures. The people who attended these training sessions learned how to organize themselves as groups by operating as groups. In essence they learned by organizing.  Martin Luther King Jr. also attended one of these multiple week training seminars before he went to Birmingham, Alabama. This is the context that Martin Luther King stepped into as an orator and organizer. The fragmentation of the US Civil Right movement also occurred through the participation of people who did not use the Highlander model of community organization. The strength of MLK’s oratory and the concentration of the media upon him as a personality also became a weakness of that movement. Others also sought to serve in similar positions as orators though they lacked the Highlander training and a regard for that model. In Foss and Larkin’s model of social movements this is described as fragmentation. It can also be described as the confluence of functional socializing effects and anti-social dynamics.

The most important point from Foss and Larkin is “… As social reality is reinterpreted in the struggle, movement participants attempt to reclaim those aspects of human subjectivity that have been alienated from themselves as part of their socialization to positions of social subordination.” When social reality is in support of democratic economic functionality, how do participants reclaim their social capacities? Here Hannah Arendt’s concept of “conditioning” supports Foss and Larkin in revealing the basis for reclaiming social capacities. She described this process in two of her books, On Revolution and in The Human Condition. The capacity to re-interpret social reality is also gained through conditioning. People of even an academic investment require more than a re-interpretation of a slim slice of social reality. What is necessary beyond narrow band of dissidence and innovators is the reversal of social subordination.

Put another way, ordinary people can and do participate in the making of history. Possibly a majority of people in most modern societies learn some thing new most easily by doing, rather than by reading.  To limit advocacy of the MMT economic and fiscal capacities to persuasion by reading, listening or writing makes its advocacy limited to a certain narrowed influence. The capacity to co-produce socializing movements under the historicist narrative is usually assigned to the white knights galloping past. This reproduces the subordination process in favor of the exploitation of social and public relationships for self-interest and the extraction of wealth from the community. People need to re-imagine themselves and their capacities by participating in the redefinition of their communities. Until this happens the capacity to co-produce history generally remains captured. A piece of wisdom from Myles Horton and Paulo Freire is in the title of a book they jointly wrote from a series of conversations, “You Make The Road By Walking.”

Neo-liberal Demolition of the Commons and Commoning

The vile nature of the neo-liberal banking, trade “reforms,” and environmental degradation are only out done by its welfare reforms. It shares its genetic code with the dismantling of the Glass Steagal Acts and the deregulation of the finance sector based upon the declaration of preposterous economic theory dressed in ivy and pomp. The Clinton era Welfare Act of 1996 is still being phased in, with its full contempt for the public, and particularly those currently devastated by the implosion by banking fraud and by the effects of NAFTA also signed by Clinton in 1994. There are a number of stipulations in the Welfare Reform Act which are only now being applied, some due to a change in the party ideology controlling the various state legislatures and governorships, and some by the phasing in process presuming to reform the institutions of public assistance exactly as the need for public assistance is at its highest level in 75 years. The Clintonian, aka the Democratic Leadership Council version, of the Democratic Party is still in power, by both in the repudiation of the social legacy of the US Democratic Party and by the DLC occupation of the corporate neo-liberal agenda.

Under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act applicants for public assistance including SNAP food stamps are required to be part time employed or commit to volunteering 20 hours per week through a community service organization. The neo-liberal ideology is delusional and arrogant beyond measure. The premise is that applicants serve as conscripted volunteers for what will amount to $2.50 per hour of “volunteered” servitude. This also lacks any sense of reality in terms of the capacity of local community service organizations to accommodate the inevitable expectation that they have the staffing to administer such an onslaught of people in need of public assistance. Either masses of people will be denied public assistance, or there will be for a time massive fraud to circumvent this requirement. The problems will be particularly massive in states where tea-party Republican Governors are in office. Very obviously no one thought this reform process through, leaving the population experiencing hardship due to the also engineered economic collapse also due to the sociopathic level of self-righteous political ideology.

Yes, it is also true that the fiscal capacities recognized by MMT, which are a historical economic fact are is being utterly ignored largely in favor of a one sided form of class warfare. One possible result from these reforms at this particular time will be mass protests and probable looting. Currently when I visit the local grocery chain store, half of the time I am incidentally witness someone being arrested for shop-lifting food items. It is rather clear that the politicians and most of the present millionaires and billionaires are exploiting the situation for political or economic profits. There are also estimates as well that from a third to half of the people currently incarcerated are there due to issues related to poverty or undiagnosed mental illness. It is time for a new strategy, perhaps congruent with the development of socializing social movements. At the minimum the possibility that the political leadership to certify their humanity seems steadfastly remote, issues of fiscal and historical literacy seem to have been dropped into a bottomless pit.

Community Currencies and Kindred Examples

The Buckaroos system at the Univ. of Missouri at Kansas City is at one level is an interesting simulation of economic principles in an academic context. It serves both to educate economics students about the principles favored by the faculty, and put them in contact with various community organizations for a larger view of the world. Thanks to Dr. F. Kaboub the Denison University economics department has reproduced the Buckaroos as the Denison Volunteer Dollars (DVD) process serving both an educational and a worldview objective as well. The DVD people have hopes that their system can be expanded to also serve the local community.

The Twin Oaks Intentional Community has used a very similar cooperative labor credit system for about thirty years where residents and visitors allocate themselves to both productive activities, such as building, office administration, maintenance, farming, tofu making and more, and to activities that sustain the community internally, including child care, meal preparation, and similar activities. Yes, they also have a history of small-scale industry and services to bring in US dollars. Josiah Warren, one of the leaders of the New Harmony community, established an “Equity Store” also known as “The Hours Store” as a proof of concept demonstration and which was also similar to the CRX/MMT model.

The Community Reserve Exchange (CRX) was formulated as an educational utility based upon MMT principles and borrowed a piece from the Buck-a-roos concept. Under the current public assistance related demand for community service hours the CRX would be one way to satisfy that requirement, and the value of the Community Reserve Notes/CRN units in trade would increase the value of the community service hours to public assistance applicants. Along the way people of different income brackets would gain an education about how a sovereign fiat currency works and how it could serve both their local communities and the national economy. Relative to the 1996 Welfare “Reform” requirements economic and fiscal literacy would be an unintended out come, and it would reshape people’s understanding of economic and fiscal capacities. This is an additional way in which a movement for socializing change can be cultivated.

Currently in my state alone there are 10 Time Bank associations in operation and there are about 400 locations in the US with 17,895 members recorded, 86.5% of the membership is concentrated in 74 locations. The Time Bank and the LETS 1.0 models are debt-based systems, which are crude and empty of much economic or fiscal educational value, beyond the repetition of various slogans, such as “building community” and “buying local.” The primary barrier to establishing the CRX as a functional local exchange system is the software programming necessary to operate such a package of utilities. If the cost of the expertise and labor could be funded by a crowd sourcing process, this utility would then be made available as open source software with appropriate encryption. After that there are more ordinary needs that can be established locally.

This utility could be offered to the Time Bank groups interested in converting to the CRX model and any other group interested in commons centered economics such as the Transition Town network. Sure the concept won’t support large capital loans, but it could support revolving micro-loan funds. The advocacy for publicly owned state banks is self limiting in that it reproduces the key monetary practices which makes capitalism, Capital-ism. Thrift cooperatives (aka “credit unions”) are similarly positive as far as they go in reducing the possibility of fraud and in favoring local investment, and they are also limited by the scale and liquidity of the “equity” nature of the national deficit (note well, it is NOT a “national debt”).

Framing the CRX/MMT as a demonstration of the economics and fiscal objectives of the New Deal era will add to political pressure upon politicians to produce a New “New Deal” including a jobs guarantee program, in place of the current self righteous scamming and abuse by maximizing profits by the suppression of wages, which then is transferred into corporate management compensation in service to control fraud. The requirement of community service to validate public assistance can be turned into a form of a Jobs Guarantee program.  People across the class spectrum also need to understand the conceptual and economic fraud that is being perpetrated, including the posited “necessity” of austerity. Yes, I would prefer a mass contagion of informed progressive political will, but there’s no reason to wait for the corporatist elites and their wholly owned politicians to receive brain and heart transplants or decide that their political careers would be better served by serving the actual public.

I was told at one point by one of the early advocates of MMT that the CRX “…would never amount to much.” I was surprised at the blanket nature of the statement and the apparent faith based adhesion to a particularly conservative political ideology and its historicist narrative. It would be equally slanted if the importance of MMT was reduced to ” it would never amount to much,” but then I read in multiple areas including philosophy, economics, and social history, not the Gallup polls. Politicians, as usually speculators in self-interest, will always lead from the rear most point of a socializing movement to reduce their perceived personal exposure to what seems to be the unknown. I can only explain the dismissive response as a surrender to the capture of the institutions of “democracy” by the Madison and Hamilton legacy of the “owners” of Wall Street, and thereby the sovereign economy.

So really, how is the current campaign for economic and fiscal literacy going?  The small gains in visibility in the media might never galvanize a social movement and may never be enough alone to establish a thoroughly socializing movement. Is it even reasonable to not use every form of advocacy and public education possible? What is at risk is another age of darkness, sustained by the blindness to the present political ideology, which itself sustains a certain hierarchy of greed and the diminishing illusion of class participation by any except the .1 %.

There is a dark irony here in recalling Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where the point becomes how to confront the related issues of financial literacy of those who both oppress and who are also oppressed by their own blindness. A primary means would be the immersion within a framework that demonstrates the implications of the proposed reformation of social and economic reality, when well-informed words and opinion are not enough. To paraphrase Foss and Larkin, ‘We must re-interpret economic reality in the development of this social movement such that participants can reclaim those aspects of human subjectivity and community that they have been alienated from as part of their conformity to positions of social and economic subordination.’ One of the next steps in this process is a crowd sourced funding process.

*Tadit Anderson is a long time economic literacy advocate and community activist. He holds an MSc in Sociology from the University of Pittsburgh.  His forthcoming book is Being in the Economic World. 


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