The radical anthropologist was that rare figure: a scholar who was also an activist.
In the third edition of the college-level textbook Macroeconomics, the economists Andrew Abel and future Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke blithely assert that “since the earliest times almost all societies … have used money.” They say that money arises from the inefficiency of barter—of trading one good for another—because “finding someone who has the item you want and is willing to exchange that item for something you have is both difficult and time-consuming.”
The evolution from barter to money is an old story in economics, repeated down the centuries in one form or another, to the point that even children are aware of it. It also happens to be only that: a story, and one with precious little evidence to back it up outside the heads of those who tell it.
While some economists imagine primordial villages and basic agricultural systems where birds are exchanged for flowers to illustrate the history of money, Abel and Bernanke come up with something much more immediate: The economist is hungry.
Barter systems would indeed make it difficult for an economist to eat lunch. Would a restaurateur exchange his goods for a lecture on monetary policy? Perhaps not, and the meal goes unsold and the economist goes hungry. Thankfully, the economist has students to whom he can sell his knowledge for dollars, which then function as a medium of exchange with which he can purchase his meal. The restaurateur is paid, the economist is satiated, while the students have learned something worthwhile.
But the only people who pay Ben Bernanke directly for his thoughts are investors. Students do not. Perhaps instead they borrow money to pay for the lecture, along with other lectures, a place to live, and the associated administrative costs of providing lectures to students. The interest on the debt eats up most of the students’ subsequent income from the job market, leaving them with no chance of ever paying off the principal in a reasonable timeframe. The debt will stick with them forever, even shaving off dollars from their Social Security checks, and make the normal mileposts of adult life—marriage, children—difficult or impossible to achieve. Fed up with their narrowed prospects, they join a group of activists who have taken up space, literally, in the shadow of New York’s financial institutions and they start talking about what they have in common: their debt. And they decide to do something about it.
Now this story, like the one the economist tells about the origin of money, is a stylized one used to illustrate broader truths about the world. But unlike what economists have said about money, it largely accords with known facts, and for that we have to thank the radical anthropologist David Graeber, who died earlier this week at the age of 59.
“We owe David so much,” the filmmaker and debt organizer Astra Taylor told me, noting immediately how he would have disapproved of using the language of obligation to encapsulate his life’s work.
Graeber had a long and distinguished career as both an activist and academic when the publication of his magnum opus, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and his work helping organize Occupy Wall Street in 2011 made him that rare thing: a serious scholar and organizer who garnered respectful profiles in Bloomberg Businessweek and the Financial Times. He spent the last decade-plus at Goldsmiths and the London School of Economics after Yale controversially cut him off from tenure, which he suggested was due to his being “quite active in the Global Justice Movement and other anarchist-inspired projects.”
“The thing to understand about David is that he really was someone who equally had a foot in social movements and intellectual scholarly production,” Taylor said. “There are people who are known as leftists through their writing and the internet and never do anything that qualifies as organizing.”
Graeber was a link not just between grassroots movements and the academic world, but between generations of leftist social movements. He was a veteran of the anti-globalization protests in the 1990s who helped start Occupy, one of the facilitators of a debtor movement that would influence the policy agendas of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. He was a supporter of the United Kingdom’s anti–tuition fee protests in 2010, which would be the seed of the Momentum movement and Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendance to the leadership of the Labour Party.
The question Debt sought to ask was one that seemed natural in the wake of a debt crisis that would claim millions of homes and thrust much of the industrialized world into first a sharp economic crisis, then a self-destructive series of austerity measures designed to stem the tide of sovereign debt.
What was debt? What was its history, where did it come from, and how did it take such a central role in our personal and economic lives? Why was our language of obligation and morality the same as the one used to describe our credit card bills? Why does the Lord’s Prayer ask God to “forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”?
To even begin to answer this question, Graeber had to start with money and the bad history used to explain it. Generations of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians had tried to find the origins of money (John Maynard Keynes referred to his own studies of money as his “Babylonian Madness”), but economists, especially in their textbooks, resorted to fancy.
These just-so stories about how money emerged from barter can evoke a kind of childish primitivism (“You have roosters, but you want roses,” one textbook says) or use imaginary historical examples. Even the stalwart progressive Joseph Stiglitz uses “what appears to be an imaginary New England or Midwestern town,” Graeber writes, to explain how money can replace barter, in the form of farmer Henry selling his firewood to “someone else for money” and then buying shoes from Joshua.
Graeber, in contrast, identifies the origin of money as “the most important story ever told” for economists, tracing it back to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and even to Aristotle. This was “the great founding myth of economics,” he writes, that money was not in fact the creation of governments. It followed that economics was its own form of inquiry, separate from other ways of thinking about social life.
Graeber points out this account “has little to do with anything we observe when we examine how economic life is actually conducted, in real communities and marketplaces, almost anywhere—where one is much more likely to discover everyone in debt to everyone else in a dozen different ways, and that most transactions take place without the use of currency.”
Whereas the traditional account puts barter before money and money before debt, Graeber reverses this, noting that barter tends to only emerge in pre-industrialized societies when exchange happens outside of a familiar cultural context.
In the historical record of ancient societies in Mesopotamia, for example, there are prices of things that may be denominated by “money” (what an economist would call the “unit of account”). But merchants “mostly did much of their dealings on credit,” and “ordinary people buying beer from the ‘ale women’ or local innkeepers did so by running up a tab, to be settled at harvest time in barley or anything they had on hand.”
Where debt emerged in Sumeria, so did novel forms of social domination, whose eventual effects were so dire as to necessitate harsh management of its lenders. Those early Sumerian loans to peasants quickly led to peonage, with farmers “forced into perpetual service in the lender’s household.” Fields would go unsown or not be harvested as farmers would leave their homes in order to avoid collection. The result was periodic debt amnesties.
The book covers everything from Neil Bush’s divorce to speculation that the major world religions were responses to the coin-using great empires of the “Axial Age” of 800 B.C.E. to 600 C.E. (“It would be foolish to argue that all Axial Age philosophy was simply a meditation on the nature of coinage, but …” runs one especially expansive passage.) There is a reexamination of Cortez’s conquest of the Aztecs being spurred on by his own debt, and vignettes about the functioning of debt and money in Madagascar, where Graeber did field anthropological research.
Debt’s deep dive into the whole history of civilization had a paradigm-shifting political point. Graeber wanted to show that “war, conquest and slavery … played a central role in converting human economies into market ones,” and that “historically, impersonal, commercial markets originate in theft.”
He wanted to show that not only did money not arise from barter but also that states and markets worked hand in hand in its creation. And more than that, he wanted to interrogate an economic and historical worldview that tried to “reduce all human relations to exchange, as if our ties to society, even to the cosmos itself, can be imagined on the terms of a business deal.”
He ended Debt with a call for “some kind of Biblical-style Jubilee: one that would affect both international debt and consumer debt.” This would not only
relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also … would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all agree to arrange things in a different way.
Thanks to Debt’s almost absurd good timing, as well as his own involvement in Occupy, Graeber became one of the most prominent leaders in the post-Occupy anti-debt movement. Or rather, in the spirit of an anarchist activist, he enabled others to take the lead. Graeber’s efforts in helping start what would later become the Debt Collective were more like being “a facilitator or putting a band together,” Taylor, one of the group’s leaders, said.
The initial group that Graeber helped organize, Strike Debt, instituted a “rolling jubilee,” buying up medical debt and forgiving it. The group evolved to organize challenges to student loan debt incurred at for-profit colleges and has claimed to have helped eliminate over $1 billion of debt. Its efforts garnered the respectful attention of The New Yorker, which described the jubilee as “one of the few Occupy offshoots that has had a tangible effect on people’s lives.”
The ideas in Debt also have been picked up by the Keynes-inspired thinkers that make up the school of Modern Monetary Theory, who see the state as a tool to mobilize the economy’s resources for the common good, unlimited by its ability to tax or take on debts and deficits. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez referenced MMT when it came to funding the Green New Deal, and a leading MMT thinker, Stephanie Kelton, worked with Sanders. One of the brightest stars in the MMT firmament, Nathan Tankus, is an avid reader and admirer of Graeber.
“If we end up winning the fight over debt, money, and deficits and manage to fundamentally reshape this society it will have been in no small part of because of Graeber’s work,” Tankus said.
And while he is credited with coming up with the slogan “We are the 99 percent”—perhaps Occupy’s most enduring rhetorical legacy—he claimed that he could only be held responsible for “the 99 percent,” while “two Spanish indignados and a Greek anarchist” were responsible for “We,” and only later did a “food-not-bombs veteran put the ‘are’ between them.”
This impulse to go beyond himself, to submerge himself in the collective, wasn’t foreign to his scholarly work, either. At the time of his death, Graeber was working with archaeologist David Wengrow on a history of social inequality. It’s supposed to cover the last 42,000 years.
Transcript00:00[Music]00:08alright thanks for staying with us here00:11this is the third one in a row again00:13it’s my pleasure actually it’s the first00:14time that I’ll have Jim Bianco on edge00:16ITV so it’s a real pleasure to have you00:18here Jim thanks for thanks for making00:19the time to do it yeah thank you for00:21having me looking forward to it you have00:23a you have a lot of fans on both Wall00:25Street and on Twitter and I think you’re00:27one of the guys that can can merge the00:29gap you know if you will between the00:31real world and the economy and and what00:33Wall Street would maybe like to see00:35sometimes so I certainly appreciate that00:37there’s been a lot of comments back and00:39forth on free market capitalism a lot of00:41people are kind of concerned that that’s00:43been last year but I know that you have00:45a lot of different thoughts on that and00:46that’s really the first topic that I00:47want to start with was you know the00:49legality of what the Fed has done or00:52purports to be to be doing and just00:55generally how you think about that it is00:59legal what the Fed is doing the 13-301:02provisions that the Fed has that were01:04revised in the dodd-frank bill give them01:06the ability to do this and here’s an01:09important caveat provided that the01:11Treasury secretary approves of it and01:14that’s been what I’ve been trying to01:17hammer along was that what effectively01:19has happened is we’ve merged the Federal01:22Reserve with the Department of Treasury01:24and that what’s effectively happened is01:27is that the Fed is not buying corporatebonds or ETFs or commercial paper or nowmunicipal securities as of last Thursdayit is the Treasury it is the governmentthat’s buying it the Fed is justproviding the financing and when I hearFed officials say to me well we’ll get01:45out of this when the time is appropriate01:46no you have to get the Treasury01:49secretary to approve of you getting out01:51of it and that means you need DonaldTrump to say I think you guys are donemoney printing I think you guys are doneramping markets up higher and I have ahard time believing especially in anelection year that that’s going tohappen anytime soon so getting intothese programs is easy getting out isgoing to be the real tough part I think02:10and that’s to come and the problems02:13associated with that yep oh and we’ll02:15get into like you have an explicit02:16opinion on whether02:17not that this creates a new version of02:19economic gravity or not but just you02:22know is the beginning of that I mean02:23that that isn’t that essentially what atleast phase one its Trump we probablycall it of mmt looks like when you mergethe Treasury fiscal spending with moneyprinting I think that’s exactly rightI’ve been actually causing calling thismmt version 1.0 is what we’re doing lookall in all the stimulus is something02:46along the lines of four or five years of02:47tax receipts and I think a lot of people02:50have asked a question of if the Fed and02:52the Treasury believes that this works02:54that they can print five years worth of02:56tax receipts and not have any02:58consequence then why do we have a tax03:01why do we have a dir S can we just give03:03it the IRS then at that point and just03:04have them print all the money that they03:06need of course not I think that there’s03:08going to probably be somewhere down the03:10line some kind of consequence to all of03:13this money printing what and how we can03:17debate but I have a hard time believing03:19that we could print several trillion03:21dollars for up to a trillion dollars03:23right now and it will have only pleasure03:26and no pain because if it did then we’ll03:29print another a trillion and then we’ll03:31print another a trillion until we go to03:33the point that it becomes too much well03:35isn’t it doesn’t that just mean that03:36your and thanks for simplifying it that03:38by the way not not many people can do03:39that in 30 seconds or less03:41but again you isn’t that just at the03:44pleasure of the people deciding to pay03:46their taxes uh yeah I think that there’s03:50a lot of that right now although tax03:52payment is not at the pleasure of people03:54you know as the great economist Walter03:57Williams says you know if you don’t pay03:58your taxes they’ll kill you what he said04:01go ahead try and barricade yourself in04:02your house and not pay your pay taxes04:04and see how long that works eventually04:05guys what guns will come through the04:06front door looking for their taxes so it04:09isn’t not quite at the pleasure of the04:11people but there will be an argument to04:13be made at some point that if it’s not04:15let’s do away with taxes it would be why04:18do we have to end the money printing why04:20do we have to end this stimulus or the04:22bailouts or whatever we’re calling it04:24this week if there is no consequence to04:27it why is it only in a crisis we can04:2904:31and borrow a trillion dollars to try and04:33get us over the hump but not in a crisis04:35why can’t we keep doing it then – that04:37will be a debate and a discussion we’ll04:39have to have at that point well I mean04:41there’s there are plenty of academics04:43obviously you and I that’s not that’s04:45that’s not where we live day to day it’s04:48certainly not where I want to go I think04:50I’d be pretty bored but I mean people04:51always say hey look can you give me a04:53white paper on why use the base effects04:55– to predict their use your now Cass I’m04:57like here’s the white paper the back04:58test it’s like one piece of white paper05:00have at it go for it but no stephanie05:02kelton for example I mean what do you05:04think about that I mean she obviously05:06feels like she’s got one step in the05:08door on this and maybe Trump or whoever05:10beats Trump or if Trump wins and both05:12would quite like that yeah I think so I05:15think you know to put the Calton in the05:17MMT argument you know – a simple taskthey believe that you can print money orborrow and you know increase governmentspending pay for college pay for healthcare pay for whatever you want to payfor without inflation until you hit theend point of inflation their argument iswe can borrow a lot more before we hitinflation I think my argument would be Idon’t think we’re gonna be borrowednearly as much as you think we canbefore we get to the inflation point theemmab tiers do have a point they saywhen you get to inflation then youyou’ve gone too far and they they’retheir remedy for that by the way is toraise taxes and that’s the way youremove money out of the system good luckwith thatyou know it’s trying to turn over turnover – they want to have tax rates belike the Fed Funds rate where it goes upand down with the right level ofinflation set by a bureaucrat like theFederal Reserve I’m not so sure thatsociety is quite ready for tax rates tokind of go along those lines but to thelarger point I don’t think they’re gonnathey’re gonna find we’re gonna findthey’re printing and borrowing to theextent that we are is going to have aconsequence a lot sooner than we thinkit’s going to be the mmm tears thinksit’s like 10 20 30 trillion dollars wecould do before we hit that level I06:36don’t think it’s gonna be nearly that06:37much before we start seeing problems06:39well what if the consequence is the one06:41that we’ve already seen in o8 and again06:43it’s not a wait I just don’t06:44want to make sure that everybody knows06:45that I don’t think it so late I think06:46it’s 2020 and it’s quite different it06:48could be worse but again you know what06:50if the consequence is that people don’t06:51believe the bullshit and asset prices06:53just go straight back down that is if06:56that is a big consequence I think right06:58now because it’s a flip side of this07:00story is we are going to take you know07:03what the Fed is doing in supporting07:05markets let me go back to my first07:07argument what the Treasury is doing07:09through the Fed is nationalizing the07:10markets right they are basically taking07:13them over and by the way and I’ll giveyou the names to Wall Street is cheeringthis as loud as they can Bob Michael07:21this chief CIO fixed-income of JPMorgan07:23Investment Management he’s thinks they07:26haven’t gone far enough he wants them to07:27set the price of every bond in the07:30country07:31Rick reader at Black’s Black Rock has07:33been cheering this program as well Mike07:36Wilson at Morgan Stanley07:37David constant at Goldman Sachs has07:40abandoned his 2000s a peak all becausemoney printing is good and what the Fedand the Treasury are doing is good well07:50we’re going to put that to a test right07:51now and here’s the simple question you07:53have to ask yourself is the market near07:56fair value is the market somewhere where07:59it would naturally be and I like to say08:02if if a red headline came across my08:04Bloomberg and it said Jay Powell08:06changed his mind cancelled all the08:07programs with the market go down a lot08:10yeah what because we supported it an08:12artificial level I think the Fed can do08:15that for a while support a market at an08:17artificial level but not forever08:19eventually the weight of where the08:22market should be will come to bear on it08:24and it will fall and it will fall down08:26so we’re gonna put this money printing08:29thing to a test the difference in o.908:31was they started it after the market was08:34down 50 percent and two years later so08:37they got if you will lucky or maybe they08:40got smart they started it when the08:42market was somewhere near a fair value08:44level anyway this time around they08:46started it two weeks after the all-time08:49high and then kept ramping it up all the08:51way to last week and continue to ramp it08:55up and the question is if the markets08:57near08:58would have been anyway then this will09:00appear to work if it’s if the market09:02should be severely lower and that’s what09:04my fear is is then it won’t work over09:07the long term and work for a while it’s09:09it’s a it’s amazing thing I mean I was09:11back and forth with Danielle DiMartino09:14booth on this there’s this and and you09:16you probably could empathize with this I09:18think I’m probably barking up the right09:19tree if I’m not then too bad but you09:22know this this whole discussion you and09:24I have discussions with the same types09:25of people don’t forget the JP Morgan09:27gentleman that you that you named he09:29doesn’t quite want to talk to me and I’m09:30not completely surprised why JP Morgan’s09:33a client to be clear in terms of09:35independent research they pay for a lot09:37in independent research but again the09:39whole haha you didn’t get it you didn’t09:42know that you shouldn’t fight the Fed09:43like that discussion tell you Jim that09:46tries to mean bananas like that that09:49tries to be bananas like all you great09:50fundamental investors who only talk to09:52me about how good the cycle is and how09:54it’s different this time as soon as it09:56turns fundamentally you turn tail to09:58that and you tell me I’m the idiot III10:01have a hard time with it you know let me10:04let me jump in and say I agree because10:06what you’re saying is and let’s let’s10:08not mince words here what we’re saying10:10is all this analysis we do is bullshit10:12right because he works it enough where10:14it works in the op but then in the down10:16you can forget everything you’ve learned10:18about how finance works don’t worry10:21the printing press will just bail you10:23out well why don’t we even need analysts10:25why do we even need anything if that’s10:27the way the markets going to work that10:29it always is going to be supported by10:31some artificial force on the way down10:34you know if you believe in free markets10:37free markets is remember what free10:39markets are supposed to be let’s not10:40forget what we were talking about here10:42we have an a finite source of capital we10:45don’t have is all the money in the world10:47you think we did with the Fed and we’re10:49trying to efficiently allocate it we’re10:51trying to give it to good ideas and take10:54it away from bad ideas if we continue to10:56go down this road where I’m going to use10:58an Austrian term we’re gonna create11:00malinvestment we’re gonna just give11:01everybody you know Bob Michael JPMorgan11:04he wants to fix the price of every11:07corporate bond at 2% he said that last11:10week on Bloomberg TV11:12okay if you fix the price of every11:14single corporate bond at 2% there’s no11:16point in doing credit analysis everybody11:18gets the same price whether it’s11:20Carnival Cruise or it’s Amazon whether11:23it’s a disastrous business model or a11:25great business model everybody’s going11:27to get funded and you’re going to create11:29an all kind of dislocations and problems11:32in the economy because you’re not being11:34efficient with getting rid of bad ideas11:36and rewarding good ideas well you’re11:39being you’re being you know completely11:41conflicted and compromised for your own11:43interests I mean you know that Bob11:44Michael I don’t know who that it now I11:46know but his son if he has a son named11:49Billy Bob Michael isn’t gonna work on11:50Wall Street because like he said there’s11:52no job to do right exactly and I think11:55you know you know this is what this is11:58what the the idea is supposed to be I12:00mean in in theory if you believe that12:03the market was overreacting in March12:07because the what’s happening with the12:09virus is not nearly as bad as the market12:12was saying then bring it on give me12:15great opportunities to make money but if12:18you’re going to arrest it before we get12:21to some kind of a settling out in the12:24market you’re just gonna create more12:25problems in the long run I think at that12:27point but you know what if you look at12:29Wall Street and if you look at policy12:31makers no one’s thinking about the long12:33run one of the things I’ve really been12:35railing against is everybody talks about12:38well what’s the second quarter gonna be12:40like and what’s the third quarter gonna12:41be like when’s the restart gonna start12:43and I’ll use some some technical terms12:46for you here the second quarter is gonna12:47be a shit show the third quarter is12:49gonna be less so of a shit show that’s12:51all the analysis you need to know what12:53we really need to discuss is when this12:56is over the virus and it will end what’s12:59the long-term consequences of it are13:02there going to be changes in social13:04behavior are there going to be changes13:06in the way we conduct business is there13:09going to be some kind of de13:10globalization as well and those 1713:14million Americans that have been13:15unemployed in the last three weeks if13:17you believe tomorrow’s numbers supposed13:19to be another five million added to that13:21role 22 million how many millions of13:24those people13:26don’t get their job back or have lost13:28their businesses because of that what13:30kind of anger resentment does that bring13:32up to boy these are questions everybody13:34looks at their shoes and says point13:35let’s just not go there let’s just talk13:37about how bad the second quarter is13:39going to be so we could talk about how13:40much less bad the third quarter is going13:42to be and that seems to be the extent as13:45far as they want to take it right now13:47well I and Wall Street just voted on13:49that I think like if you even if I look13:51at my own client base which is you know13:53hedge funds mutual funds I think we have13:55actually the same client base so you13:57probably had the same feedback there’s13:59this like super super short-term panic14:02obviously the pressure on people to14:03perform on a very short-term basis at14:06the hedge fund level in a quote-unquote14:07neutral environments never been higher14:09so people are just flat-out you know14:11running in fear of their own job but14:13yesterday JP Morgan was quote-unquote up14:15on the bad news and I’m like just chill14:18out I mean let let gravity play out I14:20don’t think that people are gonna14:21actually believe Jamie diamonds loan14:23loss reserves here I don’t think that14:24they’re gonna believe his outlook and by14:26the way I do believe in economic gravity14:28so the credit cycle exists gravity14:30exists and we’re gonna go through it so14:32I agree you’re gonna have to go through14:33the shit show and look at what the14:34financials have done in the last 2414:37hours14:37I mean they’ve led the market lower and14:39they’re the first ones to report their14:41version of reality which I don’t know if14:42you agree or disagree whether you call14:44it a shit show or not they have no idea14:46yeah I know not only that they have no14:49idea but if you look at what they’ve14:51done is they just made a guess as to14:53what their loan loss reserves are gonna14:55be exact yes it’s on those long lost14:58reserves are much larger than the15:00analysts to cover these companies15:01thought that they were going to be as15:03well so there is just a guess so far cuz15:07for the moment no one has really15:10defaulted on a loan if you stop paying15:11at three weeks ago it’s not in default15:13yet it will be soon but it isn’t there15:15just yet and so we have no idea you know15:19where this ultimately is going to go and15:21that’s what we’re what we’re trying to15:23guess and stuff but I ultimately think15:26it really comes down to that long-term15:28question that no one wants to touch15:30right what happens on the back side when15:33this is over do we want to have a more15:36conservative attitude do we want to15:38de-risk15:39we wanted to globalize away from China15:41do we want to reward to use a Mohamed15:44el-erian term do we want to reward15:46resiliency in a company’s business plan15:48/ efficiency in a company’s business15:51plan right now it’s closed everything15:54and send it to China cuz it’s cheaper15:56but now we’re might say in the bet and15:58on the other side we might say how is16:01your company going to respond when we16:03have to close again for three months are16:05you gonna be able to survive and are we16:06going to reward companies that set16:08themselves up like that well that means16:10that we’re going to have a slower growth16:13less aggressive attitude than we did16:16have say in January of this year now16:18Wall Street wants to believe there’s16:20going to be none of that that it were16:23just it’s gonna be right back to January16:242020 as soon as we’re done with the mass16:26graves on Hart island it’s right back to16:282020 and everything’s going to be okay I16:31tend to think that that’s not going to16:33be the case there is gonna be changes in16:35how we do things I may be wrong on what16:37the changes are but what would shocked16:39me is if the answer is nothing changed16:42by the end of the year now we’re just16:45back to the way it used to be less16:4825,000 dead people yeah that’s I say16:51that sarcastically it kind of men you16:53know emphasize my point no it’s it’s16:57it’s classic actually and predictable16:59proactively predictable indeed you know17:01that’s how Wall Street thinks they think17:03linear and on a linear basis they think17:05you go down to one side of the Vienna17:08linear basis you could go right back the17:09other side of the vena Bob can mark all17:11the prices at the top end of the V you17:13never have to worry about having any17:14double use in between so it’s like it’s17:16a that is a shitshow in my mind I mean I17:19wonder what you think about this17:20framework because you know on the fly17:22I’m trying to go from depression to17:24what’s the recovery into some version of17:26a recession to an actual recovery17:28there’s a the work out period you know17:30of unemployment what that means and the17:33credit cycle which is one in the same17:34thing you lose your job if the company17:36loses their cash flows liquidity is not17:38solvency you know so again that’s one17:40two is behaviorally like to your point I17:43don’t know point number three is17:45actually the one we start talking on a17:47research call about a little bit more in17:48the last couple days which which is the17:50regulatory environment like you know17:52what is the new America in terms of how17:54you’re allowed to operate how you’re17:56allowed to have your liberties or civil17:58liberties and your consumption versus18:00the prior like this a whole new world so18:03those three things to me like and that’s18:05that’s starting with a lot you know have18:08I left anything big out that I need to18:10think about from a from a intermediate18:12to longer term cycle perspective no I18:14think that that’s exactly right I mean18:16those are going to be the things and18:17you’re right about the third one which18:19doesn’t get which gets talked least of18:21all is going to be the regulatory18:24environment look what a lot of these18:26states have done has been nothing more18:28than turn their state into a police18:30state now I get it18:31there’s a virus out there and we need18:34the social distance in hand wash and18:36what are we hearing from the White House18:38right now hey it’s not gonna be a18:40hundred to two hundred thousand dead or18:41two million if we did nothing but it18:44might be far less than that because18:46everybody understood and I was like you18:49know you don’t trust people why don’t18:51you just lay out the case here’s a virus18:53this what you need to do stand six feet18:54apart wash your hands wear a mask and18:56McDonald’s you can stay open but figure18:59out how to work within that framework19:01instead of just some merrily closing19:03everything right and then deciding when19:05we’re gonna open or doing like the the19:07governor of Michigan has decided big-box19:10retailers have to close their garden19:12department but can keep their grocery19:13Department open so if you so if you go19:15to Target and you buy groceries it’s19:17okay but if you go to Target and buy a19:19garden hose you’re gonna be arrested I19:20mean they’re coming down to that level19:22of detail right now in terms of what19:25they’re doing with a lot of these19:27companies I don’t think they’re going to19:28give that back so easily and I do think19:31that there’s going to be some anger and19:32resentment as they are very very slow to19:35give that back and they’ll use the19:37argument of reinfection way and when19:40months come one week’s come in two19:42months which come in two quarters of19:44having these restrictions it’s going to19:47weigh not only on the economy but on19:49society in general19:50well that work out period I mean if you19:53only use economic never mind19:55shallow recessions which we had a very19:58long work up19:59of corporate leverage come you know in20:00as you guys could throw up the history20:02of it all guys if you can on slide 3320:05we’re just showing Jim what you know20:06obviously on the back side of your hand20:09what’s happened economically across20:11cycles but you know you can look at some20:13of the the most actually slide 34 the20:16shallowest recession which was again a20:18corporate credit bubble in 2001 you know20:21the work out period was nine months the20:23similarity was that you had an economic20:24shock at precisely the wrong time in the20:26cycle I think a lot of people screw that20:28up too20:28they’re like nobody could see this20:29coming that’s total bullshit just like20:32you know one the economy was slowing in20:332019 and then it just made the virus and20:36in that case 9/11 made it slow faster20:38but again the work out period was at20:40least nine months for the corporate20:41credit cycle you know and in terms of20:44the economy actually bottom Dazz you20:46know in oh one before20:48actually the stock market did and and20:50that’s that was back that took them till20:52Oh – so I don’t even know like where20:54people are going when they think like if20:56they only studied economic history I20:57know it’s never the same but even if you20:59took the 44 months of the depression in21:01the nine months of oh one you know it’s21:02not two months no exactly if you could21:05put that slide back up I’d also point21:07out something else too if you look at21:09the Oh 8 December December December oh21:13seven oh nine period peak to trough21:15decline was five percent right we’re21:18expected in the second quarter to have a21:21decline and a total decline in the US21:24economy is six percent just in the21:26second quarter the second quarter alone21:28will be worse than the entire Great21:32Recession will be and you know I’ve21:35heard people say this without21:36understanding some of these numbers21:38they’ll talk to me about China and21:40they’ll say well China’s 80% of the way21:42back to where it was as if that’s a21:43bullish argument you mean they’re 20%21:45off the top21:46you mean that the Great Recession was21:48five percent off the top dates four21:50times worse that’s it that’s a21:51depression it’s what you’re in if you’re21:5320 percent in the way the time you have21:55to get back to 98 99 percent of what we21:59were in January in order to say that22:02there’s really no impact if we get back22:05to 90 percent of where we were in22:07January it would be devastating for I22:11think a lot of people keep him22:12– at the bottom of the Great Depression22:14in 193422:16we still had 75% of the economic22:19activity we had at the top and we had22:2278% of people still had their jobs that22:25means moving 25 percent off the top we22:27had 22 percent unemployment so I think22:29what you need to understand is it22:32doesn’t take much for this to upset the22:35applecart as well as where we’re gonna22:37go and people are not ready to go there22:40they’re all mean reverting thinkers they22:42all have their model that’s pre virus22:45and they think that the virus is just a22:47temporary interruption so we can go back22:49to that model and we revert back to that22:52mean but what I’m worried is they’re not22:55really understanding that this is a new22:57era and that we need a new model of23:00where we’re gonna go it doesn’t have to23:01be a disaster23:04Madonn handle it right we’re gonna make23:07it a lot worse than it needs to be god23:09I’m a amazing disconnects between what23:12you just said and where our friend Bob23:14wants to mark the price or the valuation23:17ever you want to you know contend it23:19should be there of markets it it’s just23:22that is the disconnect and I guess to me23:24if that’s what you’re saying is if the23:26if there’s a widening disconnect between23:28where the officialdom wants the market23:30to be priced you know again centrally23:32planned in price versus where the actual23:34economic gravity is everything in23:36between last price to where that washes23:40out is the risk I mean that right so23:42like have at it I mean it’s a I don’t I23:46don’t I don’t I don’t know how else to23:48think about that and the answer isn’t23:49buy stocks right you know I’ll give you23:52an giving an example of what we’re23:54talking about with the disconnect if23:57something interesting has been happening23:59in the bond market which has not been24:01appreciated so on march 13th the Fed24:04ended this not QE QE argument by saying24:07okay we’re going to do a QE we’re gonna24:09buy out two 30-year bond and they ramp24:12that up to two weeks ago they were24:14buying six hundred billion dollars a24:16week a week in bonds that since March24:1913th they fought over one and a half24:22trillion dollars worth of bonds now24:24these numbers are hard to understand24:26that you bought a trillion and a half24:28dollars worth of bonds you know if you24:31watch mutual fund flows if you had like24:32a two hundred billion dollar year that24:35would be a big you know this is a24:36trillion and a half in a week so now if24:39you look at yields you go okay24:41but they haven’t moved much in the last24:43two weeks and I’ve argued if this market24:45was anywhere near normal with that kind24:47of borrowing the 10-year yield would24:49have opened at zero and it would have24:50been on its way to negative why hasn’t24:53it moved because if you look at bun24:55flows from ETF’s for mutual funds from24:58households from central banks you can25:00measure six hundred billion plus of25:03selling that has been going on and25:06that’s just from the finite set of25:08measures we have there’s four other25:09metrics that we haven’t seen so when you25:12add it up what is happening is official25:15term has been buying bonds at the rate25:17of trillion plus a month and everybody25:20else has been saying you’re holding it25:22this at the wrong price and if you’re25:24gonna do that I’m selling it to you and25:27they’re selling it to their their25:28massively liquidating to the central25:31banks in a big way they’re making a25:33powerful statement that when all of this25:35is done I think interest rates are going25:37to be a lot higher than they are right25:39now either it’s a combination of25:41inflation is returning or it’s finally25:45that supply is going to crowd out the25:48market I started in the bond market in25:491987 and for 33 years I’ve heard people25:53say to me that we’re gonna have these25:55massive budget deficits that are gonna25:57crowd out and drive up interest rates25:58and for 33 years that wasn’t the thing26:01because we were playing child’s games26:04between a 1 or 2 or 3 percent deficit26:06maybe 4 or 5 in the middle of a26:09recession now we’re talking 15 to 20 is26:11what we’re talking now you’re gonna26:13finally start to see that crowding out26:16so the bond market is trying to tell you26:18that the that the fair value is probably26:22a far lower price or a much higher yield26:26and the only reason you’re not seeing26:28that is you’re getting astronomical26:30types of buying out of the Federal26:32Reserve through their quantitative26:34easing program that’s all holding it up26:36but eventually like I said they can’t do26:39that26:39forever and I think that that will26:41eventually give away to higher interest26:43rates as we move forward from here well26:46if you look at them and when you come on26:47and people like to talk about the other26:49side the other side could also be26:50stagflation a recessionary stagflation26:53and to get that in the way that my model26:56works my 4 quadrant model is that the26:58the faster and deeper you go and what I27:00call call quad for both inflation and27:03growth slowing at the same time quite27:05clearly that’s happening despite27:07president pump on oil you know to the27:10point that you get deep enough you can27:12only reflect from there so it doesn’t27:14take much you know for that switch to27:16turn for you to go from deflation to27:19reflation and you know given the27:21economic conditions I mean that to me27:23every single time I make a call on27:24reflation it’s not like german-style27:26reflate it’s reflation or inflation and27:28i don’t know who knows it could be27:30anything to me I don’t I care but I do27:33more what the markets doing that’s the27:35point27:35and it isn’t it amazing that you know I27:38call net I think just because it’s got27:40some good alliteration and he’s a good27:41marketer so I mean I think that wheat27:43you and I can do some good marketing to27:44president pump did everything that he27:46could he made up quite literally the27:47barrels per day on one day of tweets27:49because he saw that you know he saw he27:51was having some impact in the equity27:52market and look what our oil does today27:54I mean oil the feds not buying oil the27:56feds not buying Jamie Dimon stock you27:58know so they’re free to fall you know28:00and and at some point they’re gonna stop28:03falling I guess right you know oil oil28:06what’s happened when oil by the way I’ll28:09tweet this out for anybody’s watching28:11after I get off this call with you is28:13the DIA the energy and information is28:16association put out there implied28:18gasoline demand numbers lowest ever yeah28:21down 50% in a down 50% in three weeks in28:26other words think a gasoline demand as a28:29metric for economic demand and it’s half28:32it’s half in three weeks yes man that it28:36means it if there is a world of hurt out28:38there but to the inflation argument yes28:41for the next couple of quarters the big28:43story is going to be deflation as we28:45deflate the economy but if you’re gonna28:48print and borrow trillions of dollars in28:50hand 22 million people unemployed28:53an extra 600 bucks a week and maybe28:55paycheck protection loans and try and28:58support these markets you’re gonna28:59support demand as best you can but29:03supply company’s not working going out29:06of business they’re gonna produce less29:07stuff higher demand less supply on your29:10prices more inflation that seems to be29:13where we’re gonna go after we go down29:16because I think what we’re doing when29:18people ask me what letter we’re gonna29:19have I used to say we’re gonna both avi29:21in and out we’re gonna have a V which29:23means we’re gonna have a big sharp to29:24contraction we’re gonna recover some29:26after the ricotta after the virus passes29:29but we’re not gonna go all the way back29:31to the high so that’s your L and if29:33you’re going to artificially support29:35demand even though you don’t have that29:37supply going on you know that we’re29:39making things you’re going to have29:42higher prices at the end of the day29:44you’re going to have some lower prices29:47in the form of commodity prices gasoline29:49and other things are going to be29:51demanded less but people are gonna be29:53out there going well I got some money29:55here I might as well go buy a29:57Playstation or I might as well go buy an29:59iPhone because the government’s been30:01giving me money they’re not gonna be30:02making as many of them because the30:04D’Amico’s the supply constraints are30:06going to be on them as well – you’re30:08gonna have all kind of distortions in30:09the economy of course so yeah you can30:11have both deflation and then inflation30:13be coming out of this both at the same30:16time I think I mean that that’s classic30:18what the market the market stocks and30:21credit which have had you know basically30:23a hundred different w’s in terms of30:25expectations into it since the market30:27crash you know the bond markets got that30:30they had that right deflation that’s30:31when bond yields go down obviously it’s30:33where the Fed panics it’s what the30:34commodities markets told you it’s what30:36the foreign currency markets have told30:37you it’s just this this this this30:39incessant debate about the stock market30:41that can drive can drive human beings30:43mad okay I’m gonna start – if you don’t30:47mind gonna start to knock out some of30:48these questions here in the queue30:49because sure you have a lot of like I30:51said wide following and some there’s30:54some really good questions here on on30:57the first one you know why why why there31:00seems to be no movement or revolution31:02away from the Fed I think that this is31:05like you know why are in bay31:06who the question is why are Americans31:07fine with this I don’t know if they are31:10they’re fun they’re fine with it because31:13they think it’s gonna work31:14they’re like wall street at the end of31:16the day you know Wall Street can say31:19this is how the world works this is what31:21I believe but all they want is they want31:24prices to go up31:25and if they think this is gonna work31:27there’s going to be no pushback on it31:30right now and their argument is going to31:32be has it worked the last time they31:34tried it which was in o8 and so I think31:38the pushback comes at the failure of it31:41to work at the failure of it who to come31:46to pass and I’ll give you if you want a31:48statistic to look at in fact I was just31:50writing this a few minutes ago I think31:53right now the most important economic31:55statistic everybody watches his initial31:57claims how many people lost their jobs31:58this week31:59remember that’s initial how many people32:01filed this week for unemployment32:04insurance there’s another statistic32:05called continuing claims how many people32:07are staying on unemployment next week in32:10the week after the week after that32:12number is expected in the next two weeks32:15to go above 20 million well if the32:17Paycheck protection plan loans and the32:20Fed is going to work that 20 million 2532:24million of people on unemployment claims32:27should start to follow fast because not32:30because the economy is recovering but32:32because the assistance programs are32:34getting them back in their jobs even32:36though they’re getting paid to do32:37nothing I’m a fear it’s not gonna happen32:40that they’re gonna stay unemployed and32:43then at the end of the day all this talk32:46about this program and that program and32:49the Fed did this and the Fed did that32:50I’m gonna look at continuing claims32:52you’re gonna look at continuing claims32:54I’m going to go there’s tens of millions32:56of people that have lost their jobs yeah32:58it nurse that is going to then feed that33:01resentment that we’ll see look we could33:04be wrong and maybe that 20 million of33:06Continuing claims will quickly become 833:10million or 7 million of Continuing33:13claims because remember if a company33:15takes out a personal a paycheck33:17protection a ppthey alone they have to33:19hire bad33:20everybody and then they have to apply at33:22the end of the summer to show that they33:24still are they still have everybody33:26didn’t lay off of anybody and then that33:28loan is forgiven and they get to keep33:30the money so if we see that continuing33:35claims dwindle away to very little33:37numbers then these programs work if we33:40don’t they didn’t work and if they33:42didn’t work then you’re going to see the33:44resentment right now no one’s mad33:46because they think that these things may33:50work they’re waiting to see whether or33:52not they work or not but if they don’t I33:55don’t think you’ll see that resentment33:56well that’s that’s another way to talk33:58about like the short-term panic by both34:00the Fed and the fiscal is that it’s34:02trying to get it all done now in the34:04absence of having the time for it to34:06actually play out and the way that I’ve34:08looked at that is that it finds its way34:10into market volatility so the market34:12volatility shows you that markets are I34:14think there are equity markets and parts34:16of high-yield are uninvested but again34:19until the volatility goes away the34:20volatility goes away when the economic34:21circumstances become clear that34:23generally is a function of cash flows34:25coming back people getting their jobs34:26back but on slide 78 guys just so that34:29people can see what Jim means because34:31III think I said this every meeting that34:33I had for the last year because US34:35economy as you know peaked at the end of34:37q3 of 2018 you know initial claims in a34:40recession is weekly number the number34:42one causal factor to be watching in34:45terms of the pace of the economy this34:46thing is way off the chart like there’s34:49no like if you and I like bean counters34:52like we can’t analyze it I can’t believe34:55that all these people are so certain in34:57their grand central plans that you can34:58knock out essentially don’t forget to do35:00not you’re gonna knock out depending on35:02what this number is on the right side35:03there the cumulative employment gains35:06you’re gonna knock up 90 percent of the35:08cycle that’s a hundred and twenty nine35:09month economic cycle and then35:11everybody’s just gonna magically come35:13back I mean our our you know we’re35:15saying that at least two-thirds of the35:17jobless claims are permanent right and I35:20think that that’s going to be the real35:22fear is that the officialdom is hoping35:25that these plans are going to get35:26everybody back to their job and that35:29their you’re going to get paid to do35:30nothing but you’re going to be there for35:32the restart is what they’re going to35:33want35:34to do right um but if you’re right35:37two-thirds of it is permanent there’s35:40gonna be a big backlash that’s going to35:41be considered a gigantic failure on the35:45part of official demand if that happens35:48and at the same time those markets are35:52perceived to have not fallen apart which35:55is for the moment where the authorial is35:58on this 50% retracement of the decline36:00you’re right back to the anger that you36:02had in late oh nine with the Tea Party36:06movement in Occupy Wall Street that the36:08rich and connected got bailed out36:09through artificially supporting in their36:12their asset prices at high levels but36:14everybody else didn’t get bailed out as36:17well too so that’s going to be a real36:19problem I think you’re right that36:21ultimately the thing that’s going to36:24matter the most is going to be that36:26initial claims which becomes continuing36:28claims yeah how many of those people get36:30their jobs back because if not enough of36:33them get their jobs back then this36:35didn’t work this being these bailout36:37plans and everything else to try and36:39support the economy didn’t work and if36:42the stock market decides to have you36:44know bubble fever again and make a run36:46at 3,000 on the S&P and you’ve got CNBC36:50and Bloomberg and Fox Business telling36:51you the markets are okay but you lost36:54your job you lost your life savings in36:56your restaurant yeah that’s not gonna36:58sit well those two things are not gonna37:00that’s oil and water trying to put those37:02two things together at the same time37:04yeah that’s that’s correct that’s37:06Batsuit crazy I mean to think that37:07that’s all gonna work on a linear basis37:09right the another question here and this37:12is this is an important one as well and37:14and you know Trump being as37:16chameleon-like as he always is as most37:18likely and already has moved towards the37:19new narrative like calling it the Wuhan37:21crisis one of our clients the other day37:23called it the China 19 you could see how37:26people go there on the blame game but as37:28US companies reassess their reliance on37:31China or wanting to do with them at all37:33is there a possibility of another China37:35trade deal follow up before the election37:37oh I think that there’s very little37:40chance of a China trade deal before the37:42election at this point I do think37:46the thing about whether or not you think37:48China was at fault or not the fact of37:51the matter is it started there and it37:52came out of there and so we know that37:54when you start hearing rick scott37:57senator from florida last week on TV38:01getting very emotional and angry and38:03saying something along the lines of38:05anybody that buys a product made in38:07china is immoral now 60 days ago he38:10would have been mocked and laughed at as38:12a kook for saying that today who’s gonna38:15support china who is McCrone gonna38:18support china he’s got 17,000 dead38:20people in his country is italy gonna38:22support China is Boris Johnson go to38:24support China he nearly died himself38:26from this as well so anybody that’s38:29gonna want to push on China and say38:32they’re at fault remember it came out of38:34there and it’s your fault and we need to38:36punish you there’s gonna be no natural38:39constituency that’s gonna push back38:40again is Biden gonna push back against38:43it does he think that that’s going to be38:44a winning strategy to defend China after38:47what everybody has gone through so there38:50is going to be the scapegoating from38:53China now maybe it’s not skipper maybe38:54it is appropriately assigning blame38:56because of the way that they’ve38:58mishandled it as well too and I think39:00Trump opened the door for that yesterday39:03with his I’m not gonna fund who anymore39:06the World Health Organization that is39:09almost by definition saying that who got39:12it wrong because China told them to get39:15it wrong and that’s what we’re gonna go39:17so there’s gonna be a lot of anxiety39:19let’s put it that way with China I don’t39:21know if I I’d be shocked if we’re gonna39:23be looking at more trade deals look over39:26the weekend Larry Kudlow who signed off39:29his shelf for 10 years I believe free39:31market capitalism is the best way to39:33prosperity said the government should39:36pay the moving costs of American39:38companies to relocate back to China39:40that’s not very free-market capitalist39:42but it might be something that will get39:45a lot of play and a lot of understanding39:48in the country as well too so in that39:51environment no there’s gonna be no trade39:53deal Trump I think is you know he keeps39:57saying the Chinese are gonna buy all39:59these soy bean39:59from us and we’ll see whether they do it40:01I think he’s waiting for them to not do40:03it and then he’s gonna unleash on them40:05as well – funny – do it40:09the cuddler thing just cracked me up but40:11I mean I remember going on Kudlow and40:15company for probably as long and not as40:17long as you did you’ve been doing it for40:18longer than I have but I’m 45 years old40:20I was he would start every show with you40:23know like you said free market40:24capitalism King dollar Jim King dog you40:28know right and cash flows are the40:31Mother’s Milk of the stock market now40:35you have cash flows pre virus that it’s40:37loads of 0% growth in the US he doesn’t40:39say jack shit about the dollar at all it40:43got this part which is just like I mean40:46I yeah yeah some of these questions – in40:48the queue and maybe you know I don’t40:50know if you want to address it just40:51generally but people are apoplectic40:54watching like these discussions saying40:57how can these the kinds of discussions41:00that that you and I are having right now41:01how can this not be had in America you41:04know as in the face of the establishment41:07like you have any ideas on that because41:09I’m certainly a game for it if there’s a41:11way to do it right I mean these41:13discussions again I think they really41:15come down to this giant hope that that41:19official term whether it’s the Treasury41:22it’s Washington it’s the Federal Reserve41:24it’s the foreign entities that are the41:27equivalent of them all together can fix41:30this problem and that’s what they’re41:32really hoping for is that they can fix41:35this problem this problem really being41:38that my portfolio has lost a lot of41:41money and that’s really what’s untenable41:43and I need that to go back up they don’t41:46believe in the Schumpeter creative41:48destruction for every decline in every41:51change there’s an opportunity and if you41:53let the if you let the organism of free41:57market capitalism exist it will bend and42:00fold and change itself into something42:02else that’s better we don’t want to42:04change anything right now we want the42:07status quo and that’s what they’re42:09really pushing on is the status quo to42:12hold42:13print all this money hold the market up42:15at these levels as well too if you want42:19to look at a good example is you know42:22the the auto bailouts of ten years ago42:24we couldn’t allow because everybody’s42:27got this perception that when a company42:29goes out of business it goes away it42:32doesn’t go away it restructures is what42:35it does it changes in what it is and42:38that we didn’t allow the auto companies42:40to restructure and change to the point42:44that we allowed a Tesla to become the42:47bubble that it became because everybody42:48looked at Tesla and said they’re leading42:51the way to where autos can go now maybe42:54the evaluations became insane and42:57ridiculous but what we also are saying42:59at the same time is for GM Chrysler and43:01the rest of you you can’t you are43:03incapable of leading us to where we need43:06to go so we look to these messiahs like43:09the Tesla’s of the world and say they’re43:11going to show us where we need to go43:13with these industries because we don’t43:15allow them to change because change43:17means somebody might lose a job but43:20another job might be created along the43:22way so we are really trying to really43:26recreate January 2020 that’s what we’re43:29really what we don’t want anything to43:31change from that but it’s going to43:33change from that and that doesn’t43:35necessarily again that doesn’t mean it43:38has to be a disaster it can just be43:41different but we don’t even want43:43different we want January 2020 and43:46that’s why we’re printing all this money43:48and doing all this stuff to try and go43:50right back to there and you know the43:52political establishment Trump he wants43:54twenty twenty more January twenty twenty43:57more than anybody else43:58remember he famously tweeted in January44:00twenty twenty the stock market’s up44:02ninety percent since I got elected44:04you’re not up for ninety percent what44:05did you do wrong that’s what he wants he44:08based his whole election strategy on the44:10Dow going higher and higher and higher44:13and and so we’ll see right now there’s a44:17big hope especially among the JP44:20Morgan’s of the world and the Goldman44:23Sachs’s of the world that this will work44:25in44:25them back to where they were in January44:28but when the reality comes in that they44:30can’t get us back to January then we44:33have to start asking a hard question44:34okay we don’t have no economy we have a44:38different economy and how is it44:39different and who are the winners and44:41losers in the new economy we’re not44:44ready to go there just yet yeah that’s a44:46that’s a good wind up here man that’s44:49that’s that’s a lot and it’s and it’s44:51the truth and and maybe my last question44:53on that is you go back to January and I44:55mean not withstanding when it was44:58shortly thereafter that Robin hoodie44:59accounts for driving Tesla to 925 bucks45:02I mean there’s you know people couldn’t45:03see any of this coming of course we had45:05we work we had plenty of imbalances the45:06biggest corporate credit credit bubble45:08in US history but I remember and I’ll45:11never forget I live in the great state45:13of Connecticut which sure certainly is45:15in a Republican state I’m not a45:16Republican or a Democrat I’m a Canadian45:17guy I just don’t like politicians45:20generally but my most raging Democrat45:25clients let’s just say in you know45:27institutional money managers they were45:29kind of okay with Trump you know they45:31they’re okay because it was working45:33right they’re getting paid markets going45:35up they’re levered long they say yeah45:37you know he’s clever he’s gonna keep it45:39going you know I don’t know how much of45:40that you’ve got in your neck of the45:43woods but man they’re gonna be quick to45:45turn if that if if what was getting em45:47paid through the lens of dig they were45:49willing to ignore it but now they’re45:52certain ask the questions was he telling45:53the truth it’s just like the words45:56turning pretty quickly here you know45:59everybody that’s listening to this46:00podcast isn’t is interested in the46:02investment markets in one way or another46:04has their in the history of the world46:06ever been anybody to bitch and complain46:08that they made money whether or not it46:11was they made it by luck or they made it46:13by smart or they fell into it or they46:16saw it coming if they bought something46:18and it won up they’re good with it and46:20you know don’t don’t start telling me46:22that I got lucky or I maybe I did and46:24I’m I’m good with the president good46:27with every if this guy keeps tweeting46:29every three days that he’s causing the46:31stock market to go off even though I46:33might believe he didn’t it’s going up46:36and I’m making money and there’s no46:38complaints here46:39and then the minute thought stops going46:41up this one everybody then starts asking46:43the real hard questions yeah that’s a46:45real hard questions it’s getting harder46:47I mean he had a tough trade their46:48president pump on that oil trade right46:53you know it’s it’s it’s an amazing thing46:56that what’s happening with the with the46:58oil trade is Trump has you know he might47:01not be wrong on it but he’s he’s decided47:04that the energy sector is as important47:08as the consumer sector now from an47:10economic standpoint that’s actually47:12right if you look at the amount of GD47:14the energy sector puts out and the47:17amount of GDP would that would be47:19enhanced by an oil price cut it’s about47:2250/50 and so he’s not entirely wrong on47:25that but boy he does really come off as47:28is trying to say that he doesn’t want47:30anybody to have a cut of gasoline prices47:32they should if the economy is gonna go47:34down this hard then that should be the47:36natural consequence of it is one dollar47:38gasoline is what it would be um gasoline47:41is supposed to represent some measure of47:44economic prosperity in the country too47:46because it’s its demand will move up and47:49down with it and if we are unemployed47:52remember the biggest reason you drive is47:54to go to work and if you are unemployed47:57then you get the gasoline demand numbers47:59we got today the lowest ever cuz48:01everybody’s sitting around talking to48:03people on skype like we are right now48:06and we’re not in our car yeah and that’s48:08going to continue to be the case as we48:10move forward yeah if you haven’t looked48:11at it which I’m sure you have maybe48:13others haven’t the mannheim index you48:15know used cars just complete collapse48:18and that that index used cars has been a48:20pretty good leading indicator for a long48:22time but it’s it’s episodic and48:24generally not trending but when it48:25crashes it crashes for for a reason and48:28adjust it again so that’s kind of sad48:30there’s a lot if there’s a lot of about48:31this Jim that’s that’s just set and you48:33know I appreciate that you’ve been open48:37and honest about it I think there’s a48:38there’s an analytical weaponry to that48:40but there’s also a courage48:42you know not everybody to your point on48:44Wall Street’s willing to again we’re not48:47making shit up here this is the truth48:48and you’ve been illuminating suffice to48:51say and48:51educational in terms of laying it out48:53there so thanks for thanks for taking48:55the time to do that with me48:56thank you I appreciate it he’s Jim48:59Bianco you can actually find him on49:01Twitter he’s a great contributor to the49:03debate out there and I think he’ll be on49:04the front lines of it I think you’ve met49:06three people in particular today that49:08that will be I think courage is a big49:10part of leadership and I’m gonna you49:12know it depends on what people wanted to49:13find Americas but that’s how I’m gonna49:15define mine thanks for joining us today49:17we will be right back at it tomorrow for49:19the final day of the investing summit49:21[Music]49:28you
A public debate on macroeconomic theory and policy with leading thinkers from Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the Austrian School. Warren Mosler represents MMT, Robert Murphy, Ph.D, represents the Austrian School, and John Carney moderates.
WARREN MOSLER is an early developer of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), the President of Valance Co, Inc., and Senior Financial Advisor to Senator Ronald E. Russell, President of the 29th Legislature of the U.S. Virgin Islands. He is the founder and current manager of the III Funds, which peaked at over $5 billion AUM in 2007 and currently manages about $1.5 billion, as well as the Founder and President of Mosler Automotive, which manufactures the MT900 sports car in Riviera Beach, Florida. Mr. Mosler has written a number of academic papers on issues relating to macroeconomics and monetary policy, and is the author of Seven Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy (2010). He maintains a personal blog, The Center of the Universe (http://moslereconomics.com), and can be followed on Twitter at http://moslereconomics.com.ROBERT MURPHY, Ph.D, is a Senior Economist with the Institute for Energy Research and an Associated Scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, where he teaches at the Mises Academy. He is also an adjunct scholar at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. From 2003 until 2006, Murphy was Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College in Michigan, U.S. From 2006 until early 2007, he was employed as a research and portfolio analyst with Laffer Associates, an economic and investment consultancy in New York. He runs the blog Free Advice (http://consultingbyrpm.com/blog) and writes a column for Townhall.com and has also written for LewRockwell.com. He is the author of a number of books including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism and Lessons for the Young Economist. MODERATOR JOHN CARNEY is a senior editor at CNBC.com, covering Wall Street, hedge funds, financial regulation and other business news. Prior to joining CNBC.com, Carney was the editor of Business Insider’s Clusterstock.com and DealBreaker.com. He has also written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New York Sun, Page Six Magazine, Gawker, TheAtlantic.com, The Daily Beast, Time Out New York, Fortune and New York magazine. Carney practiced corporate law at firms such as Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Latham & Watkins, primarily representing banks, hedge funds and private equity firms. He received his law degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
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!