“Dunbar-Ortiz demonstrates that the violence sanctioned by the Second Amendment was a key factor in transforming America into a ‘militaristic-capitalist’ powerhouse. . . . Dunbar-Ortiz’s unhealthy relationship with guns ended after about two years. America’s has lasted a lot longer, but in the wake of Stoneman Douglas, there might be reason, at last, for some very cautious optimism.”–Kevin Canfield, San Francisco Chronicle
“There’s a new book that just came out that lays out a provocative argument for getting rid of the Second Amendment in its entirety, and the book asserts that the NRA has become a white nationalist organization.”–Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept
“Dunbar-Ortiz’s subtle deconstructions of the various works which contributed to our misunderstandings of the Second Amendment’s roots are vitally required reading, especially in our current era of daily mass shootings and political inaction toward better gun control. The white supremacy that Dunbar-Ortiz exposes with surgical exactness is the true foundation of the America we know today.”—Sezin Koehler, Wear Your Voice Magazine
“Loaded recognizes the central truth about our ‘gun culture’: that the privileged place of guns in American law and society is the by-product of the racial and class violence that has marked our history from its beginnings.”—Richard Slotkin, author of Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America
“From an eminent scholar comes this timely and urgent intervention on U.S. gun culture. Loaded is a high-impact assault on the idea that Second Amendment rights were ever intended for all Americans. A timely antidote to our national amnesia about the white supremacist and settler colonialist roots of the Second Amendment.”—Caroline Light, author of Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense
“Loaded unleashes a sweeping and unsettling history of gun laws in the United States, beginning with anti-Native militias and anti-Black slave patrols. From the roots of white men armed to forge the settler state, the Second Amendment evolved as a tool for protecting white, male property owners. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to uncover the long fetch of contemporary Second Amendment battles.”—Kelly Lytle Hernandez, City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965
“Now, in Loaded, she widens her lens to propose that the addiction to violence characteristic of American domestic institutions also derives from the frontiersman’s belief in solving problems by killing. Whether expressed in individual cruelty like the collection of scalps or group barbarism by settler colonialists calling themselves ‘militias,’ violence has become an ever-widening theme of life in the United States.”—Staughton Lynd, author of Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution
“For anyone who believes we need more than ‘thoughts and prayers’ to address our national gun crisis, Loaded is required reading. Beyond the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz presents essential arguments missing from public debate. She forces readers to confront hard truths about the history of gun ownership, linking it to ongoing structures of settler colonialism, white supremacy, and racial capitalism. These are the open secrets of North American history. It is our anxious denial as much as our public policies that perpetrate violence. Only by coming to peace with our history can we ever be at peace with ourselves. This, for me, is the great lesson of Loaded.”—Christina Heatherton, co-editor of Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter
“Roxanne Dunbar-Oritz’s Loaded argues U.S. history is quintessential gun history, and gun history is a history of racial terror and genocide. In other words, gun culture has never been about hunting. From crushing slave rebellions to Indigenous resistance, arming individual white settler men has always been the strategy for maintaining racial and class rule and for taking Indigenous land from the founding of the settler nation to the present. With clarity and urgency, Dunbar-Ortiz asks us not to think of our current moment as an exceptional era of mass-shootings. Instead, the very essence of the Second Amendment and the very project of U.S. ‘settler democracy’ has required immense violence that began with Indigenous genocide and has expanded to endless war-making across the globe. This is a must read for any student of U.S. history.”—Nick Estes, author of the forthcoming book Our History is the Future: Mni Wiconi and Native Liberation
“With her usual unassailable rigor for detail and deep perspective, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has potentially changed the debate about gun control in the United States. She meticulously and convincingly argues that U.S. gun culture—and the domestic and global massacres that have flowed from it—must be linked to an understanding of the ideological, historical, and practical role of guns in seizing Native American lands, black enslavement, and global imperialism. This is an essential work for policy-makers, street activists, and educators who are concerned with Second Amendment debates, #blacklivematters campaigns, global peace, and community-based security.”—Clarence Lusane, Chairman and Professor of Political Science at Howard University and author of The Black History of the White House
“Just what did the founding fathers intend the Second Amendment to do? Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s answer to that question will unsettle liberal gun control advocates and open-carry aficionados alike. She follows the bloodstains of today’s mass shootings back to the slave patrols and Indian Wars. There are no easy answers here, just the tough reckoning with history needed to navigate ourselves away from a future filled with more tragedies.“—James Tracy, co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times
“Gun violence, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz compellingly shows, is as U.S. American as apple pie. This important book peels back the painful and bloody layers of gun culture in the United States, and exposes their deep roots in the killing and dispossession of Native peoples, slavery and its aftermath, and U.S. empire-making. They are roots with which all who are concerned with matters of justice, basic decency, and the enduring tragedy of the U.S. love affair with guns must grapple.”—Joseph Nevins, author of Dying to Live: A Story of U.S. Immigration in an Age of Global Apartheid
“Loaded is a masterful synthesis of the historical origins of violence and militarism in the US. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz reminds us of what we’ve chosen to forget at our own peril: that from mass shootings to the routine deployment of violence against civilians by the US military, American violence flows from the normalization of racialized violence in our country’s founding history.”—Johanna Fernández, Assistant Professor of History at Baruch College of the City University, and author of the forthcoming book, When the World Was Their Stage: A History of the Young Lords Party, 1968–1976
“More than a history of the Second Amendment, this is a powerful history of the forging of white nationalism and empire through racist and naked violence. Explosively, it also shows how even liberal—and some leftist—pop culture icons have been complicit in the myth-making that has shrouded this potent historical truth.”—Gerarld Horne, author of The Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the USA
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz has done an outstanding job of resituating the so-called gun debate into the context of race and settler colonialism. The result is that the discussion about individual gun ownership is no longer viewed as an abstract moral question and instead understood as standing at the very foundation of U.S. capitalism. My attention was captured from the first page.”—Bill Fletcher, Jr., former president of TransAfrica Forum and syndicated writer
“Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz provides a brilliant decolonization of the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. She describes how
- the ‘savage wars’ against Indigenous Peoples,
- slave patrols (which policing in the U.S. originates from),
- today’s mass shootings, and
- the rise in white Nationalism
are connected to the Second Amendment. This is a critically important work for all social science disciplines.”—Michael Yellow Bird, professor and director of Tribal and Indigenous Peoples Studies at North Dakota State University
“This explosive, ground-breaking book dispels the confusion and shatters the sanctimony that surrounds the Second Amendment, revealing the colonial, racist core of the right to bear arms. You simply cannot understand the United States and its disastrous gun-mania without the brilliant Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz as a guide.”—Astra Taylor, author of The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age
“There is no more interesting historian of the United States than Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. And with Loaded she has done it again, taking a topic about which so much has already been written, distilling it down, turning it inside out, and allowing us to see American history anew.”—Walter Johnson, author of River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Mississippi Valley’s Cotton Kingdom
“Loaded is a compelling antidote to historical amnesia about the brutal origins of the United States’ unique ‘gun culture.’ Dunbar-Ortiz draws on decades of historical scholarship to illuminate the practice of Native genocide while framing the Second Amendment as the grounds for a violence-based nationalism.”—Caroline E. Light, “Public Books”
About the AuthorRoxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farmer and part-Indian mother. She has been active in the international Indigenous movement for more than four decades and is known for her lifelong commitment to national and international social justice issues. After receiving her PhD in history at the University of California at Los Angeles, she taught in the newly established Native American Studies Program at California State University, Hayward, and helped found the Departments of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies. Her 1977 book The Great Sioux Nation was the fundamental document at the first international conference on Indigenous peoples of the Americas, held at the United Nations’ headquarters in Geneva. Dunbar-Ortiz is the author or editor of many books, including her acclaimed An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. She is the recipient of the Cultural Freedom Prize for Lifetime Achievement by the Lannan Foundation, and she lives in San Francisco, CA.
Yves here. Get a cup of coffee. Another meaty chat with Michael Hudson, who focuses here on the role of finance in rent extraction.
An important theme here that Hudson has stressed before is the mistaken perception of home “ownership”. Only about 1/3 of homes in America are owned free and clear. For the rest, the banks, or mortgage trusts, hold a senior position as mortgage lenders. And over the decades, they have become far less accommodating when homeowners are late even on a single payment. Even worse, insiders have reported that mortgage servicers will even hold payments to assure that they are late, which typically leads to compounding charges that virtually assure a foreclosure. Borrowers also face Kafkaesque obstacles to clearing up errors when they unquestionably paid on time.
To put it another way, as Josh Rosner put it in the early 2000s. “A home with no equity is a rental with debt.” That can be generalized to homes with little equity.
Radical Imagination host Jim Vrettos interviews Professor Michael Hudson, Economist, Wall St. Analyst, Political Consultant, Commentator and Journalist; who offers his views in the way finance works
Welcome, welcome once again to the Radical imagination. I’m your host, Jim Vrettos. I’m a sociologist who’s talked at John Jay College of Criminal justice and Yeshiva University here in New York. Our guest today, on the Radical Imagination, is one of only eight economists named by the Financial Times who foresaw the credit crisis and ensuing great recession erupting in 2008. It was conventional wisdom at the time to say that no one saw the gravity of the crisis coming, including almost every leading economist and financier in the world.
In fact, many had seen it coming. It was seen by everyone except economists from Wall Street; as our guest put it. They were ignored by an establishment according to then, the Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan that watched with innocent quote-unquote shock disbelief as its whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of 2007.
Official models missed the crisis not because the conditions were so shockingly unusual, they missed it by design because the world they lived in was not a world of how finance really works. They missed it because their mathematical models made it impossible to warn against a debt-deflation recession.
Their innocent model worlds were worlds where debt simply did not exist. It’s a world that most of our economic policymakers still live in, and it’s no wonder that everyday people see most economists far removed from their practical economic concerns and interests their everyday concrete reality. Our guest today is an internationally renowned economist who’s followed a much different path of interest and concern.
Michael Hudson is a distinguished research professor of economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, a researcher at the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, a former Wall Street analyst; political consultant to governments on finance and tax policy, a popular commentator sought after speaker and journalist.
He identifies himself as a Marxist economist. But his interpretation of Karl Marx that differs in most other major Marxists. He believes parasitical forms of finance have warped the political economy of modern capitalism. History has regressed back to a neo- feudal system. He’s also a contributor to the Hudson report, a weekly economic and financial news podcast produced by Left Out.
His many books include Killing the Host, J is for Junk Economics,The Bubble and Beyond, Super Imperialism, and “… and Forgive Them Their Debts.” Michael has devoted his entire scientific career to the study of debt —both domestic and foreign, loans and mortgages, and interest payments.
In 2006 he argued that debt deflation would shrink the real economy, drive down real wages and push our debt-ridden economy into a Japan-style stagnation or worse. And just for reference, the typical American household now carries an average debt of over $137,000 up from $50,000 or so in 2000. The average American has about $38,000 in personal debt, excluding home mortgages.
The average credit card debt per U.S. household is $8,500, and outstanding student loans are at an all-time high, in 2019, of $1.41 trillion, a 33 percent spike since 2014, and a 6 percent increase from 2018. Only 23 percent of the population say they carry no debt. As Hudson presciently puts it, debts grow and grow, and the more they grow, the more they shrink the economy.
When you shrink the economy, you shrink the ability to pay the debts. So, it’s an illusion that the system can be saved. The question is, how long are people going to be willing to live in this illusion? Every day people have to face reality. Our economic policymakers urgently need to get it too.
So welcome Michael to The Radical Imagination. Thank you very, very much for coming here and being with us. Your work is so interesting; it’s so new and different. You’re a Marxist economist and yet…
[Michael] I’m a classical economist…
[Jim] You are classical, ok.
[Michael] Marx was the last great classical economist. Classical economics basically runs from the French Physiocrats through Adam Smith via John Stuart Mill to Marx.
[Jim] Along with Ricardo.
[Michael] Yes, they were all talking about the rentiers. In their time the landed aristocracy were the main rent recipients. But Adam Smith also talked about monopoly rent. And finance was the major monopoly. And today, the role of the landlords played in the 19th century of stifling industrial capitalism is being played by the banks and the rest of the financial sector. Right now the collectors of land rent, which was the main focus of the labor theory of value to isolate what was unnecessary, is being paid to the banks as mortgage interest.
[Michael] So, we no longer have a small privileged private landlord class when you have 80 percent of the European population and two thirds of the American population being homeowners. However, they have to pay the equivalent of the rental value of their housing to the bank, in the form of mortgage interest.
[Jim] To the banks, right!
[Michael] My analysis follows from classical economics, as did Marx’s analysis. So Marx is simply the last great classical economist. They were all talking about how industrial capitalism sought to free itself from unnecessary costs of production, and hence how its political fight was against the landlord class and other rent extractors. Where Marx went beyond his predecessors was in looking at the laws of motion of industrial capitalism. He saw these as leading toward socialism. Later, Rosa Luxemburg said that if it’s not towards socialism, it will be toward barbarism.
[Jim] So capitalism would evolve into the possibility of socialism.
[Jim] Did he foresee the sort of predatory financial system that you worked out?
[Michael] No one described it better in his time than Marx, in Volume III of Capital.
[Jim] Volume III. Ok!
[Michael] Marx analyzed the “real” economy’s circular flow between employers and wage labor buying the products they produced. But then, in Volume III, he said that rentier debt claims by the financial sector was a separate dynamic, independent from the economy of production and consumption. This industrial capitalist economy is wrapped in a financial sector composed of debt and property claims. These are external to the economy. They slow it and ultimately cause a crash. Marx was one of the first to talk about business cycles of about 11 years and the internal contradictions that led to a market collapse. He pointed out that the financial sector had different mathematics of growth – the mathematics of compound interest. These are exponential and inherently unsustainable. In Volume III of Capital and also of his Theories of Surplus Value– which was Marx’s history of economic thought and the theories leading up to him – he collected everything from Martin Luther to other analyses pointing out that debts grew so rapidly at compound interest that it is impossible to pay them.
[Jim] You have a great chart where you talk about compound interest, a penny that was invested at 5% interest from Christ’s time to 1776.
[Michael] Richard Price was an actuarial accountant. He calculated that a penny saved that at the time of Jesus’s birth at 5% interest would become a solid sphere of gold extending from the sun out to the planet of Jupiter.
[Michael] Obviously, many people did save pennies at the time of Christ, and the annual interest rate then in Rome was 8 1/3%, one twelfth per year. But of course nobody has a sphere of gold extending out to Jupiter. That’s because debts that can’t be paid, won’t be.
That’s basically my motto: Debts, that can’t be paid, won’t be paid, because there’s no way of paying out of current income that grows much more slowly, tapering off.
[Michael] So debts have to be written down. It usually takes the form of a financial crash. Nobody before Marx explained crashes in terms of the financial claims growing and causing a break in the chain of payments. The actual break could be a result of fraud or embezzlement, or a bad crop, because crashes happened in the autumn when the crops were moved and there was a drain of money from the banks to pay for moving the crop and paying the harvesters. But at least a crash wiped out debts, and then the debt buildup could begin all over again.
[Jim] But in pre-industrial civilizations that didn’t occur did it? We want to play a short little clip from your book, “… and Forgive Them Their Debts,” in which you talk about the debt phenomenon in primitive or pre-industrial civilizations, very different than what we’ve experiencing today, correct?
[Michael] That’s right. You mentioned the Financial Times report of the economists who did see the crash coming. I was the only one who actually made a chart showing why the break had to come. The Financial Time review was by Dirk Bezemer, who showed the chart that I published in a Harper’s magazine, based on an earlier paper I’d given at the University of Missouri at Kansas City for one of our Minsky Conferences.
[Jim] Let’s play this. It’s a two-minute clip on what you talking about, and debt within pre-industrial societies.
[Michael] Economists don’t talk much about religion or society, or how these concerns shape markets. Theologians for their part act as if religion is all about heaven and sex, so debt is left out. Yet it used to be at the core of Judaism, Christianity, and earlier Near Eastern religion.
[Host] Why is that? If religious leaders are interested in social justice, as Jesus was, it you have to talk about economics.
[Michael] I think part of the reason is that when they translated the Bible into English, German and the vernacular, they didn’t know what many of the words originally meant, like deror (for the Jubilee Year), or how to distinguish between “sin” and “debt” as originally a reparations payment for sin. They didn’t understand that most of the Bible was redacted by the returnees from the Babylonian captivity, who brought back this concept of debt cancellation, “andurarum” – Clean Slate. The Hebrew word was “deror.” In the Bible, you’ll have other words or terms for the Clean Slate, the Jubilee year of Leviticus 25, such as “Year of the Lord” in Jesus’s first sermon.
They didn’t realize that the word “gospel” was the “good news.” That good news was that there was going to be a debt cancellation. They didn’t realize that the Ten Commandments were very largely about debt; that “one shall not covet the neighbor’s wife,” that means you don’t make a loan to the guy so he has to pledge his wife as a debt slave to her so that you can have your way with her.
[Jim] But ordinarily that just gets translated as adultery.
[Michael] Yes, but they didn’t realize that the vehicle for this immorality was largely debt bondage. “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain” meant that a creditor couldn’t swear that so-and-so owes you money if he didn’t. All of this had to do with fact that the great destabilizing factor in society in the first millennium BC was debt beyond the ability to be paid, leading to bondage of the debtor, and ultimately forfeiture of land to wealthy creditors eager to grab it and do as Isaiah accused, join plot to plot and house to house until there were no more people left in the land.
[Jim] “No more people left in the land.” This is an incredible narrative. Please flesh out the narrative so that we can understand what was going on at that time.
[Michael] In order to explain the dynamics of debt in early times, you have to explain how the overall economic system worked as part of the social system. Most people ran into debt not by borrowing, but simply by not being able to pay the taxes or other payment obligations that accrued. These debts weren’t the result of loans. Most personal debts in Sumer and Babylonia were owed to the palace, so when the crops failed or there was a military fighting they couldn’t pay what they owed to the bureaucracy of tax collectors or for public services.
[Jim] Who were working for the palace.
[Michael] Yes. The rulers had a choice at this point: Either they could let the debtor fall into bondage when he couldn’t pay the tax collectors or the palace. If that happened, he’d owe the crop surplus to the creditor, not the palace.
He owed his payment in labor. That was the scarce resource in antiquity. He’d owe his labor to the creditor, so he couldn’t serve in the army, or do corvee work to build infrastructure or palace walls.
So rulers canceled these personal debts to regain control over agrarian labor and its crop surplus. Every new ruler who took the throne in Sumer and Babylonia started the reign with an amnesty, a Clean Slate to start from a position of balance in Year One. During their subsequent reign, if the crops failed or if there was a military conflict, the ruler would cancel consumer debts (but not commercial debts among businessmen for foreign trade or similar enterprise). That’s in the laws of Hammurabi, cancelled Babylonian debts four times. It’s obvious that if you’re at war or if the crops are hurt, cultivators can’t pay the loans.
What early modern scholars could not believe, until our Harvard group began to compile the economic history of antiquity, that canceling such debts actually was what maintained stability. We began our Harvard group in the 1990’s , and we’ve published five colloquia volumes of the origins of economic enterprise in the ancient Near East, on land tenure, urbanization, debt, and debt cancellation.
Our researches showed that as soon as you had interest-bearing debts (mainly in the commercial sphere), you had debt cancellation for the personal agrarian debts. Business debts were not canceled because the merchants were also citizens, so no matter what, all citizens had their designated self-support land. So only the barley debts were canceled; not the personal debts. We showed that rulers canceled the debts because number one, they were canceling debts owed to themselves. It’s politically easy to forgive a debt if it’s owed to you. But it’s more difficult if there is an oligarchy and debts are owed to private creditors.
Canceling crop debts was what maintained economic stability without mass bankruptcy, which would have meant that a lot of debtors would have ended up as bond servants to their creditors. It also maintained demographic staility, because otherwise, debtors would have run away and joined another community. Many did run away after Babylonia fell in 1600 BC. Four centuries later we find them joining the hapiru, which many people connected to the Hebrews. They were sort of gangs of laborers who also would do a little bit of piracy or serve as mercenaries. Their own groups were very egalitarian, just as pirates were egalitarian in their own ranks in the 18thcentury West.
With the hapiru you find for the first time an ideology saying that they were not going to let themselves fall into debt to the rich or to landlords. Their ranks were joined by fugitives walking out. Of course, that’s how Rome came to be settled under its “kings,” and what the Roman commoners did 594 BC after the kings were overthrown. The oligarchy took over, and tried to reduce the Roman population to bondage. You had numerous Secessions of the Plebs, for instance, again when the oligarchy broke its word by 449 BC.
[Jim] the aim was to forgive all the debts, just as in the Bible, right?
[Michael] When the Bible really was edited and put together by the Jews who were coming back from Babylonia, they brought back with them many Babylonian practices.
[Jim] So, they had learned from that experience . . .
[Michael] At that time all the Near Eastern kingdoms, even the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires had rulers who continued to proclaim Clean Slates.
[Jim] The Persians and so on. But that tradition didn’t survive into modern times, although it became a tradition within the old Judaism.
[Michael] And also the original preachings of Jesus. Leviticus 25 projected the practice all the way back to the commandments of Moses. But there’s not very much documentation of Judaism after the compilation of the Jewish Bible, because the Judeans didn’t write on clay tablets, they wrote on perishable materials that haven’t survived. The little that did survive was the sacred library of Jerusalem, which became the Dead Sea Scrolls. When the Romans came, they took the library and they put it in pots. We now have many of these scrolls. One was a midrash, a collection of all of the biblical passages about debt cancellation, including those of the prophets.
[Michael] So we know that by the time of Jesus, there was an active popular demand for another Jubilee. But meanwhile, within Judaism itself, the wealthiest families became the rabbinical school. Luke’s description of Jesus in the New Testament said that the Pharisees loved money. They became the rabbinical school of Hillel. Luke said that Jesus went back to the temple in his hometown to give a sermon, and unrolled the scroll of Isaiah to read the passage about the Year of the Lord – meaning the Jubilee Year – and said, that he had come to proclaim this year. That was his destiny.
Early translators of the Bible just read “the Year of the Lord” without realizing that this meant the Jubilee Year, deror, a debt cancellation. Luke immediately says a lot of families got very angry and chased Jesus out of town. They didn’t like his message. The Pharisees in particular got upset, and complained to the Roman that Jesus wanted to be King. Well, the reason they said was that they knew that Rome hated kingship. Roman tradition as written by Livy and by Dionysius and Halicarnassus described Servius as cancelling the debts, and most other kings of trying to keep the oligarchy in its place. Rome grew by making itself a haven for immigrants, whom they attracted precisely by keeping the oligarchy in its place.
[Jim] But they also had an empire. . .
[Michael] We are talking before the eighth to sixth centuries BC. But then the oligarchs took over and throughout the rest of Roman history down to the empire, the great fear was that somebody would do what the kings did: cancel the debts and redistribute the land to the poor. Julius Caesar was killed for “seeking kingship,” meaning that the Senate worried that he was going to cancel the debts after decades of civil warfare over this issue and the assassination of Catiline and other advocates of debt cancellation.
[Jim] And people will be free from their economic bondage
[Michael] Yes. Even many rich people were behind Catiline, who led the revolt a generation before Caesar, who actually seems to have been an early sponsor of Catiline. We’re talking about 62 to 64 BC; Caesar was killed in 44 BC.
So to make a long story short, what made the West “Western” was that it was the first society notto cancel the debts. It was to prevent this that oligarchies opposed a central authority. We don’t find any sign of debt in Greece and Rome until about 750 B.C. It was brought by near Eastern traders, along with standardized calendrically based weights and measures, ritual and religious practices. They set up temples as trading vehicles. For thousands of years, traders had set up local temples to act as a sort of Chamber of Commerce, to negotiate trade. In Greece, and Rome at that time there were chieftainships, which began to adopt the patronage practices of extending loans to the population, and then taking the payment and labor.
These dependency relationships are what made Western civilization different from what went before. There was no palatial economy, no state authority to override the oligarchy, cancel debts, redistribute land or liberate citizens who had been reduced to bondage as a result of their debt.
[Jim] You’re talking about the Middle Ages as well, feudalism?
[Michael] No, I’m talking about Greece and Rome in contrast to the Near Eastern mixed economies that were palatial as well as private. There was much private mercantile enterprise in Sumer. Its foreign trade was largely left to private enterprise (with the palace being a major customer, to be sure), so, these were mixed economies, as the five volumes that our Harvard group published have shown.
[Jim] This is all contained in your book “… and Forgive Their Debts.”
[Jim] So this is what is crucial to understanding lending, foreclosure and redemption from the Bronze Age finance to the Jubilee.
[Jim] This is a fascinating history. Can we bring it up to date, including issues of militarization and empire and imperialism in the 20thcentury, World Wars I and II? What are some of the things that occurred, the inception of the World Bank and the IMF? How did America control and attempt to defend its empire by using debt leverage?
[Michael] Already in Greece and Rome there was a linkage between debt and militarization. A Greek general, Tacticus in the third century BC, wrote a book of military tactics. He said that if you want to conquer a town, the way to take it over is to promise to cancel the debts. The population will come over to your side. And conversely, he said, if you’re defending a town, cancel the debts and they’ll support you against the attacker. So that was one of the reasons that debts tended to be canceled by one group or another. It’s what Coriolanus did, and then he went back on his word in Rome. That’s what Zedekiah did in Judea. Well, today it’s different. Here you have the imposition of a military force – really NATO – to enforce debt collection, not only from individuals but on debt entire countries. The job of the World Bank and IMF is to impose such heavy debt service on countries, and indeed to impose it in dollars, that countries have to earn these dollars to pay their debts. They can’t simply print the money to pay these debts like America can do. They have to obtain dollars by steadily lowering the price of their labor. But as yet there is no debt revolt.
[Jim] Because, when we went off the gold standard the American dollar became all powerful.
[Jim] And we control 75% of the gold reserves?
[Michael] By the end of World War II, we controlled 75%, right.
[Jim] These are tremendous transformations in the world economy. The IMF and World Bank have supposedly developed through the UN for development, but as you argue, it’s more to create dependency.
[Michael] The World Bank is effectively part of the Defense Department. Their heads are usually former Secretaries of Defense, from John J McCloy, the first president, to McNamara and subsequent heads. What the United States discovered is that you don’t need to go to war to control other countries. If you can have them accept the assumption that all debts should be paid, they will voluntarily submit to austerity, which is class warfare against their own labor force. They will continue to devalue their currency …
[Jim] And create puppet governments that will support that as surrogates.
[Michael] Yes. What the free market boys at the University of Chicago discovered is that you can’t have a pro-financial free market – free of government regulation and its own public infrastructure and credit system – unless you’re prepared to assassinate everyone who wants a strong government. When they went to Chile and supported Pinochet, U.S. officials provided a list of who had to be killed –
- land reformers,
- labor leaders,
- socialists, and
- especially economics professors.
They closed down every Economics Department in the country, except for the one at Catholic University, the right wing economics department teaching Chicago School neoliberalism. So, you have to be totalitarian in order to impose a free market pro-financial style – which, under today’s circumstances, means pro-US.
[Jim] It’s occurring across Latin America, right?
[Michael] Yes. A free market means libertarianism and totalitarian government. What the Chicago boys and the so-called New Institutional Economics school calls the rule of contracts. You have the history of Western civilization now being taught almost everywhere as if what created civilization was the rule of contracts, not canceling the debts. So, you’ve created an inside-out view of history. Its aim is to deny the fact that the only way that you can prevent the kind of economic slowdown that we’re having in America now is to write down the debts. If you don’t write down the debts, you’re internal market will shrink and you’re going to end up looking like Greece, or like France with all the riots that they are having there, or like the other countries that are rioting because they don’t want to be turned into a Neo-feudal society.
[Jim] This seems to be occurring in Puerto Rico as well. So what becomes more profitable for American economy is the military and the armaments that we ship and use in all these adventurers wars that we have in the 800 hundred US military bases around the world.
[Michael] The difference is that in the past when you had militarism, you actually had to fight a war. Soldiers had to go in. You know the old joke about wine that’s being sold in an auction. It’s a hundred-year-old bottle and is very, very expensive. A rich guy buys it and pours it out to impress his friends, but it tastes like vinegar. He complains to the auction house, but is told, “Oh, that’s not wine for drinking! That’s for trading!” That’s what most U.S. arms are for: not really to use. You’re never again going to get Americans to be drafted and go into the army to actually, use them. These arms are not for fighting; they’re for making profits. Seymour Melman explained that in Pentagon Capitalism.
[Jim] The permanent war economy.
[Michael] That’s right. Meaning more profits for the military industrial complex. You don’t actually use the arms. You just pay to produce them and throw them away. It’s like what Keynes talked about, building pyramids in order to create domestic purchasing power.
[Jim] And you can’t, as Melman tried to do, use economic conversion to more civilian uses. That never happened.
[Michael] Seymour Melman explained that the U.S. government decided to make a different kind of a contract with the arms manufacturers. It’s called cost-plus. As he summarized it, the government guarantees them a profit, but to prevent monopoly rents, they determined the prices to be paid at, say, ten percent over the actual cost of production. This led the arms-makers to see that if their profits were going to rise in keeping with the cost of production, they wanted as high of a cost of production as possible.
So, the engineers working on the American military industrial complex aimed at maximizing costs. That’s how we got toilet seats that cost $650.
Countries that don’t have Pentagon capitalism, like Russia or China, are able to produce weaponry that outshines America. Even broke Iran, can make missiles that apparently get right through the U.S. defenses in Syria and Iraq, because they don’t have cost-plus. They’re trying to be efficient, not just to have an excuse for making money via a cost-plus contract.
[Jim] How do we turn this around? You’ve made the connections to show that everyday people and their lives are profoundly impacted by the unreal world that the financial predators are creating.
[Michael] Reality isn’t the aim of their economic models. For instance, just today I saw Paul Krugman on Democracy Now. He said that the reason we’re in a depression is because President Obama did not run a large enough budget deficit! He’s a Keynesian, but goes so far as to insist that debt has no role to play in deflating the economy. That’s largely because Krugman serves in effect as a bank lobbyist – not only here, but in Iceland and other countries. To me, the current economic squeeze is that Obama didn’t let the banks collapse. He kept the bad he debts on the books instead of treating them as bad loans to be absorbed by the banks that wrote the junk mortgages and lost in their speculative gambles.
[Jim] And ate the homeowners!
[Michael] Yes. He kept their bad, outrageously priced loans on the books and evicted 10 million families. He called them “the mob with pitchforks,” and Hillary called them “deplorables.” That shows you where the Democratic Party is at, and why it was so easy for Donald Trump to make a left wing run around the Democratic Party. That is how right wing Obama was. His legacy was Donald Trump, via Hillary Clinton.
[Jim] Krugman is the most well-known so-called Keynesian economist in the country, right?
[Michael] The reason he’s so well-popularized by the pro-financial class is precisely because he doesn’t understand money. So bank lobbyists love him and he’s popularized by the right-wing New York Times. He had a wonderful debate with Steve Keen that anybody can see on Google, where he says that it’s impossible for banks to create money and credit. He thinks that banks are savings banks, and they’re just relending deposits. Steve Keen explained what endogenous money is. That’s what we talk about in Modern Monetary Theory.
[Jim] And the Wall Street Journal.
[Michael] And the Washington Post. They go together. They don’t want economists to be popular who talk about debt and why the debts can’t be paid or the need for a debt write down. Krugman attacks Bernie Sanders as if he is an unbelievable radical for backing public medical care.
[Jim] On February 17, Krugman wrote a column “Have Zombies eaten Bloomberg’s and Buttigieg Brains?” He said “My book is arguing with zombies.” And one of the zombies is his obsession with public debt and the belief that we should be terribly scared of government debt, can’t do anything because of deficits. Eeek! And that’s the way Buttigieg talks. The very moment when mainstream economics, if you like centrist economics, has concluded that these debt worries, were way overblown. The president of American Economic Association gave this presidential address saying that debt is not nearly the problem people think it is. It’s not a constraint, and of course, Republicans have pulled off one of the greatest acts of policy hypocrisy in history – you know, the existential deficit threat. I don’t want to see a democratic centrist bring us into this deficit scaremongering. That would be a really bad thing that would block any kind of initiative.
So, what does the everyday person make of this debate? And what’s the attraction of Trump his message to people who feel that their real-world needs are being addressed?
[Michael] I think the reason people voted for Trump’s was mainly Hillary. She said that voters should vote for the lesser evil. There was no question who the “lesser evil” was. It was Donald Trump. Did you want World War III, or Donald Trump? It’s not a very nice choice, but Hillary’s viciously right-wing, especially where Russia is concerned. The Democratic National Committee and deep state are all about Russia, Russia, Russia! And calling Trump Putin’s puppet.
Then finally the Mueller report came out and found nothing there! So you can view the Democratic Party as the political arm of the military industrial complex and the banking complex.
[Jim] And Obama totally propped them up. But now, Bernie! What about him? The Democratic establishment is against him, and so is the Republican establishment.
[Michael] If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, then Bernie’s enemies are the Democratic Party establishment and the Democratic National Committee. So of course a lot of people are going to love him.
[Jim] Yup. He wants to cancel student debt! He is talking your language!
[Michael] If the student debt is not canceled, you’re going to have a generation of graduates unable to get the mortgage loans to buy homes, because they’re already paying their income to the banks.
[Jim] They’re living at home!
[Michael] That means that you’re going to have a shrinking economy. So of course you have to write down student debt, and also other forms of debt – credit card debt and other debt. The economy cannot recover if you don’t write down the debt overhead.
The good thing about writing down the debts is that you wipe out the savings on the other side of the balance sheet. Some 90 percent of the debts in America are owed to the wealthiest 10 Percent. So the problem is not only the debt; it’s all these savings of the One Percent! The world is awash in their wealth. If you don’t wipe out their financial claims – which are the basis of their wealth – they’re going to take you over and become the new financial Lords, just like the feudal landlords. The banks are the equivalent of the Norman invasion. and the conquering landlords that reduce the economy to a peonage!
[Jim] But the moral argument is made that they’re the best. They’ve survived, right? I’m playing devil’s advocate here. So they serve a purpose, don’’ they? Their wealth is a sign that the system is working.
[Michael] That’s not what Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill said, or Ricardo and the entire 19th century classical economic school. They said that economic rent is unearned income. So the aristocracy (“the best”) doesn’t earn it. It is a result of privilege, which almost always is inherited wealth or monopoly privilege, that is, the right to appropriate something that really should be public. Land ownership and mining should be public wealth, as are mineral resources in much of the world. Education should be public. People shouldn’t have to pay for it. The idea initially in the United States was that education should be free as a human right. Medical care is also, as Bernie says, a human right, as it is in a lot of the world. So America, which people used to think was the most progressive capitalist country, suddenly becoming the most neo-feudal economy.
[Jim] How about Max Weber and the Protestant ethic as the spirit of capitalism? The argument is made that those who are productive are rewarded by heaven, while those who are poor deserve it. Wealth was a sign that God had bestowed his grace on its owner.
[Michael] That sort of the patter talk a century ago hasn’t stood up very well. The wealthy claim to be wealthy because God loves them. If they can convince other people that God loves them and hates the rest of the people, they make God into the devil. They make him hate the working class, and make them dependent on this unnecessary class of parasites. That’s crazy! But that’s what happens if you let the wealthy take over religion. Of course, they’re going to say that religion justifies their wealth.
That’s what makes modern religion the opposite of the religion that I described in the Bronze Age. Upon taking the throne, rulers took a pledge to the gods to restore equity and cancel the debts. That included restoring lands that had been forfeited, giving it back to the defaulting debtors to re-establish order. That was the idea of religion back then. But today’s religion has become a handmaiden of wealth and privilege, and of “personal responsibility” to make people pay for education, health care, access to housing and other basic things that should be a public right.
[Jim] Which is what preoccupies the average American, when seventy percent of their earnings are going to these sorts of things, and for taxes and rent. I have a brief quote here from Martin Luther King, who I think represents the sort of religious tradition you’re advocating. He had been deeply influenced by the theologian, Walter Rauschenbusch and his 1907 book, Christianity and the Social Crisis.
[Michael] Read it, so that so they can hear it.
[Jim] Here’s the main quote: “The gospel at its best deals with the whole man; not only his soul, but his body; not only the spiritual well-being, but his material well-being.” King wrote in an inspired passage, “any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damned them, the economic conditions that strangled them and the social conditions that crippled them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”
[Michael] That’s right. Religion was about the whole economy. Not just a part of the economy. Today they’ve separated religion, as if only spiritual and has nothing to do with the economic organization of society. Religion used to be all about the economic organization of society. So, you’ve had a decontextualization of religion, taking away from analyzing society to justify the status quo by teaching that if things are the way they are, it’s because God wants it this way. That’s saying that God wants the wealthy and privileged to exploit you, especially by getting you into debt. And that’s just crap!
[Jim] And that gets us away from the classical tradition, which does try to see this as social.
[Michael] And that’s why Christian evangelicals hate Jesus so much.
[Jim] There you go! But we love Bernie! Can he win? We’ve only got about a minute to go …
[Michael] Of course he can.
[Jim] You think he will be able to withstand the onslaught that he’s going to get?
[Michael] A year ago I was pretty sure that the Democratic National Committee was going to put the super delegates in to sabotage any attempt that he was going to make to get the nomination. Now it’s clear that the Democratic Party will be torn apart, and this means the end of it if he’s not the nominee.
[Jim] All right! Well, from your mouth to God’s ears! Thank you, Michael. This has been so enlightening.
[Michael] Thank you.
[Jim] I’m so blessed that we are in the audience here too on the Radical Imagination. So happy to have had you here. I hope you’ll come back again. This is your most recent book, “… and Forgive Them Their Debts.” Thank you very much! This is Jim Vrettos for the Radical Imagination. See you next week. Thank you, Michael!
It’s the racism.
The British press has succeeded in its apparent project of hounding Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, out of Britain. The part it perhaps didn’t bargain for, however, is the loss of Prince Harry — a much loved Royal and a key part of the family’s global brand — along with her.
In a statement released this week, the couple said they want to “carve out a progressive new role” within the royal family and will “step back as ‘senior’ members, and work to become financially independent.”
If the media paid more attention to Britain’s communities of color, perhaps it would find the announcement far less surprising. With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving.
From the very first headline about her being
the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee. Then there was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists.
Those who claim frequent attacks against the duchess have nothing to do with her race have a hard time explaining these attempts to link her with particularly racialized forms of crime — terrorism and gang activity — as well as the fact that she has been most venomously attacked for acts that attracted praise when other royals did them. Her decision to guest-edit British Vogue, for example, was roundly condemned by large parts of the British media, in stark contrast to Prince Charles’s two-time guest editorship of Country Life magazine, Prince Harry’s of a BBC program and Kate Middleton’s at Huffington Post, all of which were quietly praised at the time.
Her treatment has proved what many of us have always known: No matter how beautiful you are, whom you marry, what palaces you occupy, charities you support, how faithful you are, how much money you accumulate or what good deeds you perform, in this society racism will still follow you.
In Britain’s rigid class society, there is still a deep correlation between privilege and race. The relatively few people of color — and even fewer if you count only those who have African heritage — who rise to prominent success and prosperity in Britain are often told we should be “grateful” or told to leave if we don’t like it here.
The legacy of Britain’s history of empire — a global construct based on a doctrine of white supremacy — its pioneering role in the slave trade and ideologies of racism that enabled it, and policies of recruiting people from the Caribbean and Africa into low-paid work and then discriminating against them in education and housing, is with us today: The scandal surrounding the wrongful deportation of black British people in recent
Meghan’s decision to join the family that is the symbolic heart of the establishment responsible for this troubled history was perplexing to many black British people, as we wondered whether she fully appreciated the institution she had entered.
Both she and Harry appear to have gained crystal clear vision as to their reality. It’s no wonder the couple want to leave and — as the coded statement that they want to raise their son Archie “with the space to focus on the next chapter” seems to suggest — protect him from the bile to which they’ve been exposed.
The British press, having attacked the couple continuously, now reacts with shock at this move. But the clues have been there for some time for anyone willing to read them.
There was the decision not to give Archie a title from birth — something that is expected among royal children of this rank but which Meghan and Harry appear to have chosen to avoid. Then there were the rumors last spring that they might relocate to a country in southern Africa.
In recent months, the couple have begun bypassing official royal channels and communicating with the press directly — most notably when the Duchess said in a television documentary that she found adjusting to royal life “hard,” and Harry revealed that the tragic experience of the death of his mother, Princess Diana, made him want to “protect” his wife and family.
All were signs that the couple would not abide by royal business as usual, to the extent that even announcing this decision to step down from their roles as senior royals appears to have taken Buckingham Palace by surprise.
I am not at all surprised. This was the bitter shadow of their sunny May 2018 wedding. How many of us suspected — hoping but doubting we were wrong — that what would really initiate Meghan into her new role as a Briton with African heritage would be her experience of British racism. And ironically, by taking matters into their own hands, Harry and Meghan’s act of leaving — two fingers up at the racism of the British establishment — might be the most meaningful act of royal leadership I’m ever likely to see.
Chris Hedges is appeal at surprise
winning journalist who over the past
decade and a half has made his name as a
columnist activist and author he’s been
a vociferous public critic of presidents
on both sides of the American political
spectrum and his latest book America the
farewell tour is nothing short of a
full-throated throttling of the
political social and cultural state of
his country and with that we welcome
Chris Hedges back to TV oh it’s so nice
to see you in that chair thank you you
know I sort of jokingly said to you in
the green room before we started having
read your book I don’t know whether to
kill myself today or wait till tomorrow
right what I said you’re Canadian so so
we don’t have in being an American this
is the most depressing look at your
country I think I’ve ever read and if I
can just be permitted sort of an
observation on the top and then you tell
me if I’m totally out to lunch here
after reading this I thought Chris
Hedges sees the same problems in America
that I heard from Donald Trump at the
Republican convention where he described
widespread carnage and mass unemployment
and drug problems and so many things bad
with America your prescriptions
obviously for fixing all that are
different but do you – do you –
essentially see the country the same way
in that regard no because he you know
it’s important that he while he will run
down some of the pathologies that have
gripped huge sections of the country he
blames them on undocumented workers on
liberals on Muslims on Mexicans you know
so he’s a classic con artist or a
demagogue but you do raise an important
point he tapped into the deep despair
and rage that large segments in
particular the white working-class feels
that having been betrayed by both of the
major parties well let’s get into with
you call this a farewell tour a farewell
to what a farewell to the American
Empire to America as we know it and is
that a good thing because I’ve heard
some people say you know the farewell to
American Empire will be a good thing for
this world it depends how the Empire
dissolves it depends what our reaction
it yeah I mean Empire when it contracts
and it will contract very quickly once
the dollar is no longer the world’s
reserve currency can express itself in
some very frightening forms so for
instance the British Empire in essence
it was a slow collapse from the end of
World War one culminating with the Suez
Crisis right the abortive attempt to
retake the Suez Canal after was
nationalized they had to retreat in
humiliation largely because of
Eisenhower’s opposition and then the
pound sterling was dropped as though and
so they fell into a pretty significant
depression but they handled it in a
different way what happens in the United
States we’re not prepared at all our
democratic social and cultural
institutions are deeply decayed we are
also a very violent society in a way
that for instance Canada is not or the
in the way that Great Britain is not we
are wash in weapons and not just weapons
but these are in essence these a k14 and
a take a the AR 14 s that are used in
these mass shootings and schools and
concert venues and malls and our assault
weapons there’s not they’re not for
hunting and they’re easily accessible so
I worry that the disintegration of
Empire will exacerbate the kinds of dark
pathologies that I spend a lot of time
in the book writing about the UK
farewell tour as you’ve described it
took about 40 years how long is the
American farewell tour been going for
well there’s been a steady decline I
would say since the early 70s when we
shifted in the words of the Harvard
historian Charles Mayer from an empire
of production to an empire of
consumption so we began to borrow to
maintain both an empire and a lifestyle
we could no longer afford those began
the distortions accelerated under Reagan
the cannibalizing that’s when the
cannibalizing of the federal government
began on behalf of corporations at the
expense of the citizenry you know the
famous phrase government is not the
solution government is the problem
well that’s true if you’re Goldman Sachs
or ExxonMobil but it’s not true if
you’re a single mother trying to raise
children on a substandard wage or no
wage so all of the mechanisms by which
democracy was supported by which
opportunity was offered to the have been
slowly erased and of course we’ve been
de-industrialized as has large parts of
Canada with all of the attendant
consequences that come from collapsed
communities the loss of good-paying
unionized jobs I’m gonna play devil’s
advocate for a second here because of
course Donald Trump would say the growth
rate that America is experiencing right
now the economic growth rate hasn’t been
this high in decades
the unemployment rate hasn’t been this
low in decades he sees other signs of a
country that is economically quite
dynamic right now well it’s all about
measurement so yes it’s true the stock
market is on a run but why well largely
first of all because of the Donald
Donald Trump’s tax cuts which will
remove an estimated 1.5 trillion dollars
from the US budget over a 10-year period
that money has not been used to bolster
manufacturing or create jobs it’s either
been hoarded or it’s been used to buy
back stock and that has inflated the
stock market because the senior managers
and CEOs of large corporations their
compensation packages are tied to the
value of stock presumably some of it’s
gone to creating new jobs not much
that’s how unemployment gets below 4%
yes but the unemployment figures are
completely fixed if you if you look at
how they measure unemployment so for
instance if you work one hour a week
you’re counted as employed the average
worker at Walmart works 28 hours a week
which puts them below the poverty line
they’re counted as employed
if you have stopped looking for work
after four weeks you are magically
erased from the unemployment rolls and
it doesn’t count large sectors of the
population students retired people who
are many of whom are now riding around
in RV vans work doing temp work for
Amazon at Christmas for 12 hours a day
in warehouses prisoners so real
unemployment the LA Times a couple years
ago said you know real unemployment is
pushing probably 17% if we’re teen if
we’re talking and we’re if we removed
people or if we look at people who are
considered the working poor ie those
people who have jobs but are the below
the poverty line as in essence
unemployed are certainly not receiving
an income that can sustain in any way a
lifestyle yeah I know you’re not a
massive fan of heartless capitalism as I
just read in 308 pages of the book
however comma private companies create
most of the jobs that most Americans
have so what do we do about that well I
would argue that there are different
types of capitalism so I grew up in a
farm town in upstate New York and I saw
the penny capitalism of farmers farmers
produced brought their produce in for
sale you had regional capitalism so a
local factory owner who lived in the
community sat on the school board paid
taxes and then you have corporate
capitalism which is another animal
altogether so when you talk about
producing jobs let’s look at Apple where
are the manufacturing jobs for Apple
overseas they’re in China and what are
the working conditions for the people
who they’re subcontractors who make
Apple products not great it’s kind of
it’s huge suicide rates wage theft when
they don’t make quotas they’re not paid
people climbing up on the living in
these horrific dormitories so corporate
capitalism is an enemy of penny and
regional capitalism and it is global
it’s supranational it has no loyalty to
the nation-state and it is corporate
capitalism that has
started and and kind of hollowed the
American economy out from the inside
when I read your book
I see an America at war with itself
between white supremacists and neo-nazis
who are trying to make their claim for
the end of the world I see you described
widespread sexual abuse in a hardcore
poor industry that is completely
frightening opioid and drug abuse and
heroin abuse that is off the charts
addictive gambling run amuck widespread
as you’ve described already here tonight
inadequate employment and
underemployment and unemployment far too
much general suffering I understand
you’re trying to tell a story here but
is that genuinely truly reflective of
America today yes and and I think that
what and I you know I traveled all over
the country as you know for this and
spent two years so I was in Anderson
Indiana where all the old GM plants were
I wrote my gambling chapter out of the
Trump Taj Mahal before Trump ever even
announced he was running for president
it’s in Atlantic City in Atlantic City
it’s now closed it was when I was
writing it was in deep decay I mean most
of the rooms were mothballed rats mice
all yes mice were fighting on the floor
and people shooting up in the elevators
so I think what was so disturbing for me
writing the book was how many people
have been affected especially in the
opioid crisis I don’t think the numbers
begin to reflect the numbers of people
who are addicted to powerful narcotics
depressants and I mean I list
statistically we’re talking about big
big numbers big large sectors of the
American populous that in essence has
found ways to check out the
proliferation of hate groups is III used
for the book Emile Durkheim’s
great study of suicide where he went
back and tried to look the sociologists
at what were the factors of causes that
led people to kill themselves and he
talks where he coins this term anomie
and I think that that that’s what I’m
trying to do is explain that anomie that
has gripped I would argue at least half
the country and the dark pathologies
that that anomie produces and that
fundamentally if we don’t address that
alienation that dislocation and that
despair if we don’t we integrate these
people economically politically and
socially back into a system that no
longer responds in any way to their
rights and their grievances then these
pathologies will only grow we spoke
earlier about the decline of American
Empire as the pressure becomes worse as
the economic situation deteriorates if
these conditions go unaddressed then
these pathologies will explode and I
cover the war in the former Yugoslavia
and so I know what disintegrating
societies that resort to violence can
look like I watched as after the
economic collapse of Yugoslavia in late
1980s from a failed self-identified
liberal elite that couldn’t respond I
watched these figure these distortions
like Radovan Karadzic and Franjo Tudjman
essentially be vomited up out of the
decay in the way that Trump has been
vomited up out of a very diseased
country well that was what I was gonna
ask you is is how much of what you’re
describing here is a feature of the
person who happens to sit in the Oval
Office today versus if anybody else were
in that chair I think Trump is the
symptom not the disease he’s a con
artist he’s a demagogue and he he he was
astute enough to tap into the zeitgeist
the tragedy for me you know there were
insurgencies in both of the major
political parties Bernie Sanders the
Demerol and the Democratic Party
establishment was just more astute in
terms of blocking the nomination to
Sanders and I would argue that they
effectively blocked it the Republican
Party establishment was not able to
block Trump and if Sanders had gotten
the nomination I think he would have
beaten Trump how would America be
different if that it happened
not terribly because with a
republican-controlled Congress it would
have been paralysis but you wouldn’t
have Sanders pushing forth the kinds of
agendas nor making the kinds of
appointments to the EPA to education
Supreme Court Supreme Court that the
Trump is made and and that that for me
is is quite frightening and and I think
we we have to pin some of the blame on
the Clinton campaign when you go back
and read the Podesta emails they push
Trump as a candidate because they
thought he would be the easiest
candidate to defeat so both Sanders and
Trump responded in to to the the reality
of the grotesque social inequality in
the United States which is greater than
the Gilded Age greater than it was a
century ago the difference being that of
course Trump is is dishonest I mean
Trump is is only fueled the kleptocracy
well let me pick up on that because and
you mentioned a bunch of important
institutions in American society in the
midst of that answer and I want to pull
a quote from the book here that deals
with that Sheldon if you would bring
this graphic up the most ominous danger
we face comes from the marginalization
and destruction of institutions
including the courts academia
legislative bodies cultural
organizations and the press that once
ensured that civil discourse was rooted
in reality and fact helped us
distinguish lies from truth and
facilitated justice I saw a poll
recently I bet you saw it too in which
Republicans were surveyed and 93% said
if Donald Trump says it I believe it
yeah I think the same poll showed those
same people saying if someone in my
family says it only 63% of people
believe that they believe the president
more than they believe their own family
80% of Republicans think that what’s in
the Wall Street Journal is not credible
80% of Republicans don’t believe the
Wall Street Journal even
in that America what hope do empirically
provable facts have well you pinpointed
something that’s very ominous when
national and political discourse is no
longer rooted and verifiable fact then
facts are interchangeable with opinions
truth is whatever you want it to be and
I write in the book about the nature of
the permanent lie that that all
politicians lie all governments lies I
have stone said but they live for
expediency so for instance Bill Clinton
argues that bypassing NAFTA there will
be many more American jobs good jobs
Bill Clinton doesn’t make that argument
anymore because it’s false and who knows
whether he knew or didn’t know but it’s
false with the permanent lie reality
facts doesn’t matter
- Trump wins by a landslide
- Trump has
the largest inauguration crowd in the
history of you know if we rent
- first guy to win Wisconsin in 50 years
endless Andrew right it’s endless
endlessly but it doesn’t have it doesn’t
matter and then you have media platforms
that like Fox News that will propagate
or disseminate these lies uncritically
and and that has eroded discourse in the
United States the the institutions in it
functioning democracy you have
institutions and you cited them the
courts academia the press that their job
is to make sure that people speak about
a verifiable reality those institutions
have become corrupted weakened destroyed
or replaced with systems masks you know
Fox Breitbart all of these right-wing
propaganda outlets masquerading as news
the court system has been taken over and
is is now being finished off with
appointments by the from the Federalist
Society which is this ideological right
wing so and that it creates a kind of
schizophrenia where you whatever you
know you may see reality in front of you
but reality is denied by the power
elites and by the organs the media
platforms that disseminate the opinions
of the power leads and that that really
begins to sound like descriptions of
totalitarianism someone like Hannah
Aaron would write about I don’t want to
let the clock get too far away from this
year without being without giving you an
opportunity to speak to what you see as
the prescription for getting America out
of this farewell tour and here’s just a
few of the ideas that you advance in the
book a $15 minimum wage a ban on
for-profit health care a dismantling of
nuclear weapons ending trade agreements
giving citizenship to undocumented
workers what do you think implementing
that menu of policies would change I
think that it’s about reintegration so
it’s about taking this dispossessed huge
dispossessed segment of the American
population and reintegrating them into
the country and of course the opposite
is happening through programs of
austerity slashing welfare you know the
original welfare program which was cut
by Clinton 70% of the recipients were
I mean it’s called AFDC yeah I see
standing for children yeah well and the
children were sold out and there’s been
now a further slashing of availability
of food stamps and so you’re taking a
population in distress and you were
exacerbating that distress so I wrote a
book about the Christian Right called
American fascists and I came to the
conclusion after two years of writing
that book that the only way to battle
the Christian Right which I see as a
kind of Christianized fascist force and
I speak as a Seminary graduate I should
point that out
you’re a reference yes I am yeah you are
the dr. Reverend that’s right so
Christopher Lynn hedges the
the importance I believe to countering
the magical thinking of the Christian
Right was rooted in the economy in
reintegrating them into the economy
giving them the kinds of jobs the
unionized jobs that were once available
where you had job security job safety a
pension plan medical benefits and a
salary that could sustain a family
that’s all gone and by making it worse
we are pushing larger and larger parts
of the population into the embrace of
demagogues hate groups or seeing them
engage in behaviors that are wilfully
I mean suicide for instance the highest
rate of suicide in the United States are
middle-aged white men who realized that
there’s no place for them anymore and as
and I quote Pope Pope John Paul in his
encyclical on work work is not just
about the exchange of labor for wages it
is about status dignity self-respect
the ability to find a meaningful place
in society and we’re not doing it and
the longer we don’t do it the worse it’s
going to get here’s another quote from
the book politics is a game of fear
those who do not have the ability to
frighten power elites do not succeed the
platitudes about justice equality and
democracy are just that only when ruling
elites become worried about survival do
they react appealing to the better
nature of the powerful is useless they
don’t have one I guess I need to ask you
whether you are actually advocating the
violent overthrow of the United States
government No I’m strongly opposed to
violence as okay let’s take the violent
out of that sentence are you advocating
the overthrow of the United Scott vaque
ting the overthrow of a corporate
government I’m advocating the reversal
of the corporate coup d’etat in slow
motion how does that happen it happens
the same way it happened in Eastern
Europe I covered the revolutions in East
Romania it happens when people have
enough and how is it not I mean if the
Great Recession 2008 till whenever if
that didn’t and all of the corporate
kleptocracy that Wall Street got away
with there and how Main Street had to
pay for it if that didn’t propel people
to rise up what will the next crash and
we’re getting one I don’t know when but
it’s coming and this time around the
elites don’t have a plan B so what’s the
thing they can’t lower interest rates
anymore and they’ve already lower them
we’re already at virtually zero so what
does that look like that rising up that
you see coming
well we’ve seen glimpses of it you know
the put a most movement in Spain where
they surrounded the Parliament I mean
large numbers of people taking to the
streets obstructing the system I saw it
in vanilla square in Prague 500,000
Czechs I saw it in East Germany in
Leipzig and that was the most efficient
security and surveillance state in human
history until our own okay but I’m gonna
take a quote if I remember it correctly
from your book which was now that we’ve
got all those communists out of Eastern
Europe we can go back to the form of
government we used to have fascism is
that it’s coming well America is already
a failed democracy and Trump has no
ideology it’s an ideological vacuum
which is very rapidly being filled by
the Christian Right
we saw it he just had a big White House
dinner or with evangelicals he has 81%
support among evangelicals I that that
the ennis Noam Chomsky says you may want
Trump out but believe me Mike Michael
Pence will be worse the Christian Right
is organized they have their own
universities they have their own media
platforms and systems of indoctrination
they have huge amounts of money behind
them including the most retrograde
capitalists in the United States that
what’s coming to replace whatever this
is I’m a reporter and I and I and I
learned a long time ago that’s you know
trying to predict the future is a very
but unless there is sustained mass civil
disobedience to put pressure on two
political parties and a system that is
completely captured by corporate power
then what’s coming I can do I can assure
you will not not look nice and not be
good you’ve called this America the
farewell tour but I wonder if this is
exclusively in your view an American
story no and we know from you know
what’s happening in Europe brexit
Hungary Poland which are kind of quasi
fascist states now Canada is not immune
to this you you also not to the extent
that we have but you’ve had your
experiences with mass shootings populist
politic populist politics but it’s far
more virulent and pronounced within the
United States because empires are always
fragile in this sense that they depend
on the control of foreign labour foreign
resources we have 17 years of warfare
now in the Middle East futile endless
you know meanwhile our infrastructure is
collapsing crumbling public libraries
are closing schools our teachers have to
buy basic supplies for students and you
know now we have this insane idea that
we’re gonna train teachers and public
schools to carry concealed weapons I
mean these are all examples of a society
that is completely on board so it is not
hardly unique to the United States and
and it will have a ripple effect in
countries like Canada but it will never
reach the extent of chaos and potential
violence because but but never forget
that that within American society we are
a deeply violent culture awash in
weapons we believe in the regeneration
through violence this myth that violence
is a form of purification and that comes
out of our long history of
side and slavery he started with a
revolution yeah we did not you did well
we also killed 90% of indigenous peoples
in the United States and slave 4 million
Africans and and we’ve never really
confronted that you know that dark
aspect you know in American history we
we cling to our national myth and and so
that does make us different and more
dangerous than Canada this is if you
don’t mind my saying a depressing book
but it is well reported and a very
important read America the farewell tour
Chris Hedges really good of you to come
into TV oats and I thank you thanks for
the agenda with Steve Paikin is brought
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“How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States.” That’s the title of a new book examining a part of the U.S. that is often overlooked: the nation’s overseas territories from Puerto Rico to Guam, former territories like the Philippines, and its hundreds of military bases scattered across the globe. We speak with the book’s author, Daniel Immerwahr, who writes, “At various times, the inhabitants of the U.S. Empire have been shot, shelled, starved, interned, dispossessed, tortured and experimented on. What they haven’t been, by and large, is seen.” Immerwahr is an associate professor of history at Northwestern University.
When the Christian tradition chose an imperial Christ, living inside the world of static and mythic proclamations, it framed belief and understanding in a very small box. The Christ of the creeds is not tethered to earth—to the real, historical, flesh-and-blood Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, this image is mostly mental abstraction with little heart, all spirit, and almost no flesh or soul. Sometimes it seems like Christianity’s only mission is to keep announcing its vision and philosophy. This is what happens when power and empire take over the message.
Did you know that the first seven Councils of the Church, agreed upon by both East and West, were all either convened or formally presided over by emperors? This is no small point. Emperors and governments do not tend to be interested in an ethic of love, service, or nonviolence (God forbid!), and surely not forgiveness unless it somehow helps them stay in power.
Mere information is rarely helpful unless it also enlightens and transforms your life. In Franciscan theology, truth is always for the sake of love—not an absolute end in itself, which too often becomes the worship of an ideology. In other words, any good idea that does not engage the body, the heart, the physical world, and the people around us will tend to be more theological problem solving and theory than any real healing of people and institutions. Ironically, healing is what Jesus was all about!
The word “healing” did not return to mainline Christian vocabulary until the 1970’s, and even then it was widely resisted, which I know from my own experience.  In the Catholic tradition, we had pushed healing off to the very last hour of life and called the sacrament “Extreme Unction,” apparently unaware that Jesus provided free health care in the middle of life for people who were suffering, and it was not just an “extreme” measure to get them into the next world.
You wouldn’t guess this from the official creeds but, after all is said and done, doing is more important than believing. Jesus was clearly more concerned with what Buddhists call “right action” (“orthopraxy” in Christianity) than with right saying or right thinking. You can hear this message very clearly in his parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-31: One son says he won’t work in the vineyard, but then does, while the other says he will go, but in fact doesn’t. Jesus told his listeners that he preferred the one who actually goes, although saying the wrong words, over the one who says the right words but does not act. How did we miss that?
Humanity now needs a Jesus who is historical, relevant for real life, physical and concrete, like we are. A Jesus whose life can save us even more than his death does. A Jesus we can imitate in practical ways and who sets the bar for what it means to be fully human.