What is to be Done? 21st Century Edition with Ryan Mathis
Editor’s note: This is part 1 of a two-part edition. Listen to part two on Activist #MMT podcast.
Because of the Covid-19 crisis, our guest, Ryan Mathis' university has abandoned in-person instruction as of Friday, March 13th. My own Burlington County in New Jersey closed all schools for a month, not to open again until at least April 20th. Since my wife and I both work in two different schools, and my two little boys attend two others, I am greatly relieved. (As I record this introduction on March 28th, with the number of confirmed infected in New York and New Jersey now at nearly 50,000 and increasing exponentially, this date is very likely to be extended by several months.)
In the heart of our conversation, Ryan lays out his plan of what must happen in order to fix and replace our corrupt government, media, and educational institutions. In his estimation, it is becoming increasingly clear that the electoral process in the United States is a profoundly unfair one. Bourgeois liberal parties are becoming increasingly hostile towards both the social democratic agenda they pretend to champion, and to those desperate for that agenda to be enacted.
During the March 15 Democratic Debate, we watched presidential candidate Joe Biden, profusely lie – and not once challenged by its corporate media moderators, ostensibly journalists whose supposed job is to transmit “truth” to their audience . It is obvious that legacy media has no intention of functioning as fair arbiters. In other words, it is clear that the system as it has existed will do everything it can to prevent those who want to even modestly reign in corporate power from ever achieving office. In this context, even a comparative moderate such as Bernie Sanders is torn down, smeared and faces opposition in the media.
Given this reality, it is a fool’s errand to attempt to enact change exclusively through electoral politics. Ryan says we must urgently create new institutions at a local level that are friendly to the left-wing project. This begins with rebuilding trade unions and creating alternative media projects such as MeansTV, Historic.ly, and my own Citizens’ Media TV and Activist #MMT. It will require “playing the long game,” designing and building these institutions from the ground up. Simultaneously, we can use our existing electoral politics to elect progressives at all levels of government, from the most local positions all the way to federal.
In part two, Ryan and I transition to Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT. First, we discuss the relationship between MMT and Marxism, from our viewpoints as two laypeople learning the subject as we go. In particular, we compare Marx‘s formulation of the labor theory of value to chartalism’s state theory of money, the latter of which serves as part of MMT’s foundation.
The fundamental value of money is explained well by MMT and chartalism’s assertion that “taxes drive money.” MMT further describes money as a legal institution or charter, which is a tool used by the state to control socioeconomic activity. On the other hand, the labor theory of value describes how human labor imparts financial value onto the real goods and services it produces, which are then bought and sold. In other words, the two concepts, the state theory of money and the labor theory of value, are in fact largely complementary.
Finally, Ryan and I end with an in-depth, if not complete, discussion of the so-called classical economic theories that govern our society, centering around the concept of land ownership. As our current health crisis has revealed, the laws, rules, and social mores that were rigid and incontrovertible only weeks ago, are suddenly being cast aside at high speed by those in power, in order to stave off its worst consequences. This is especially true of the “how are you going to pay for it?” question, which is being ignored for unprecedented spending by both Congress and the Federal Reserve. We the people should also take advantage of this situation in order to do what We feel is best for our society.
Podcast by Jeff Epstein for Historic.ly