We are joined by Andrés Bernal, policy advisor to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and doctoral student at the New School for Public Engagement, Division of Policy Management and Environment. We speak with Bernal about his history with political organizing and the critical role he has come to play in the Modern Money movement, including the struggle for a Green New Deal. He also sketches out his dissertation project, which focuses on the Green New Deal as a site of collective action, political communication, and policy analysis.
Additionally, Bernal is a research fellow with the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, and lecturer Urban Studies at CUNY Queens College. For more from Bernal, check out the article “We Can Pay for a Green New Deal,” which he coauthored with Stephanie Kelton and Greg Carlock.
The following was transcribed by Richard Farrell and has been lightly edited for clarity
William Saas: Andrés Bernal, welcome to “Money on the Left.”
Andrés Bernal: Pleasure to be here.
William Saas: Let’s start. Can you tell our listeners a bit about your personal background and scholarly training?
Andrés Bernal: Yeah, sure. I was born in Bogota, Colombia and immigrated to the U.S. when I was four years old. I spent my childhood in the suburbs of Chicago and, at around 10 or 11, moved to south Texas to the Rio Grande Valley. That’s where I have spent most of my life and it has been my home since college. During my undergrad, I studied philosophy, which has informed [many of] my ideas and intellectual curiosities. Mostly, I was interested in two themes, which keep coming back to my life in different ways. One of them surrounds questions about the meaning of life and existentialism, experience and phenomenology, and psychology and psychoanalysis. The other is a deep interest in questions of politics, social theory, and political philosophy. [Such as], why is the world the way it is? Why are hierarchies the way they are? What are political and social structures? What are social systems? That sort of thing. Those two themes are kind of the foundation of my life.
After my undergrad, I did a Masters in Leadership Studies at the University of San Diego. That’s an interesting part of my journey because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. Since I was 17, I had been very influenced by this nonprofit institute called the National Hispanic Institute. They run these leadership development programs for high school Latinos and Latinas across the country. We would build our own government, participate in debate tournaments, and develop skills around understanding systems, logistics, government processes, and institutions. It really left a mark on me and contributed to this whole narrative around who I am versus why is the world this way. Yet, I wasn’t exactly sure where to take that. I don’t know if I was as confident with myself as a thinker or writer at that time in my life.
At USD, I found this very interesting program in Leadership Studies, which focused a lot on organizations and group life–the way that people construct authority relationships and identities within groups and organizations. [The program] had this one practitioner side to it where we would learn a lot of coaching skills and consulting skills. And then it also had this other dimension, where you could study policy and nonprofit management skills. It had this one particular class that, ultimately, made me decide to go to the program. It was a summer class that you could take in Spain at the Mondragon Cooperative. For listeners, Mondragon is a worker-owned firm in Spain. It makes several billion dollars in profit per year with thousands of employees democratically owning and managing [the firm]. We went over there, spent some time at Mondragon, listened to the worker-owners, got toured, and heard a lot of presentations. It was a great experience. Overall, I spent two years in San Diego. After that, I took a year off. I lived in Austin, Texas. I did independent contract work with an organization that no longer exists called Cooperation Texas. They helped expand worker-owned businesses in central Texas. I interned and did research for them as I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I also did an internship for a startup that was putting together leadership development experiences for employees and staff of various nonprofits and hospitals [in the area]..
Then, I found this program at The New School in Public and Urban Policy. In that department, they have an organizational change management program, an environmental sustainability program, and a policy program, to name a few. I was like, “Wow, this is really interesting. This is everything I’ve been doing.” Both [in terms of] my practitioner’s side and also those theoretical questions. Because, at that point, I felt the best path forward towards systemic change involved democratizing economic life. [This path] became very important to me because I wanted to explore why so many big social movements, or attempts to systemically transform society, didn’t reach their full potential. I felt that, while maintaining a lot of the same ideals from progressive democratic socialist movements and social democracy itself, introducing another layer of economic democracy, worker ownership, and a cooperative sector would be an important thing.
So that’s where I was going into my doctorate. I applied to the doctoral program at The New School. It was the only program I applied to and got in. I decided to go. At the start, I studied an initiative in New York City that was being led by the city council to use discretionary funding to expand worker ownership in New York. That’s what led me there and began that journey.
Maxximilian Seijo: Over the past few years, you’ve been swept up into this whirlwind at the heart of contemporary politics and economics. How did this happen? How do you see your role in contemporary political struggles and intellectual debates because of it?
Andrés Bernal: Yeah, it’s been a wild ride. I spent three to four years doing this work getting to know the people and organizations that were building and expanding economic democracy in New York City. I began to learn more about initiatives, like participatory budgeting, community land trust, and other direct actions at the local level meant to empower communities. Then, of course, the 2016 presidential election came. I had been pretty disappointed with what we had achieved before. I was in early in college when Obama ran for the first time, which was very exciting for me because of everything [his campaign] represented. Yet, as soon as [his] policies and appointments came in, I was pretty disappointed. So there was a layer of pessimism as the  election approached. But when Bernie Sanders announced, all of a sudden, it became a huge phenomenon and it was incredible. I started believing there may be a chance to introduce systemic change initiatives into the mainstream political discussion.
At that time too, I became very interested in de-naturalizing the way that we speak about economics. I’m deeply influenced by people like Karl Polanyi and the field of economic sociology. I gravitated toward [critically] looking at the history of markets and capitalism. Many in the mainstream discourse, economic orthodoxy, and even people on the left, speak about these market dynamics as if they’re these forces that have this natural logic and movement. But that logic is not shaped legally. Thus, I started looking at the way economies are shaped–the way that government and the state are heavily involved in creating markets within capitalism. This notion that governments simply just intervene into markets was completely nonsense. It completely misunderstood the way that these institutions are [legally] structured. I was very interested in Bernie’s run because it disrupted a lot of what mainstream political discourse was at that time. I felt it might be an opportunity to start to have these conversations and expand the level of debate.
Of course, in the end, Bernie doesn’t make it. Nevertheless, that experience was so influential to my friends and I. One of my good friends in New York City, who had also participated in the National Hispanic Institute, was very moved by and participated in the Sanders campaign organized in the Bronx. Around the time of the campaign, she decided to go to Standing Rock and joined those protests and had this deeply transformative experience meeting with indigenous elders. The energy at the time was kind of crazy. Her name is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When she came back from Standing Rock, she was super calm and motivated. I remember we had conversations before any of this about what our larger purpose was? She would always tell me things like, “I feel like I’m meant to do something. I don’t know what that is yet, but it is something big.” So she decides to run for Congress.
For the first year, it was like, “I’m so happy that you’re making this decision and I want to support you in any way.” But, deep down, we all understood it was a very difficult thing to accomplish and tried to be realistic about it. As things unfolded, little by little, even though some moments in that campaign seemed so difficult, we still found the resilience to keep organizing, keep speaking at events, keep talking with people, and keep believing that this could produce important results. We stayed at it. Everybody was contributing in whatever way they could. Then, all of a sudden, by late spring in 2018, a couple of months before her primary, she starts to get more and more popular. She does this interview on The Intercept where she spoke about abolishing ICE and the history of our immigration practices in a way that most Democrats don’t even dare going. I was like, “Wow, what a spectacular interview.” Then, her campaign video drops and goes viral. At that point, I’m like, ‘She could pull this off. She’s going to pull off this upset.”
The story also gets interesting around that time because I had been spending about a year getting to know the body of work called Modern Monetary Theory. I was so frustrated with the way that we were talking about everything that had to do with these bold ideas. I’m a big fan of non-reformist reform, or reforms that are not just trying to tweak the system and make it a little bit more humane, but that are going in a direction that could have more substantive and transformational effects. I was incredibly frustrated because anytime that we proposed any major idea to de-commodify aspects of our lives that shouldn’t be commodified in the first place, we were met with this answer like, “How are you going to pay for it?” Many [people] on the center left and even progressives on the left, still answer that question on neoclassical and neoliberal-conservative terms. We debate on their terms and end up having the same arguments. Where are we going to find the money to fund these programs and how are we going to keep that money going? Then, when we do win, it’s this barrage from the right about whatever program going broke. I just felt it can’t quite be like that.
And I was skeptical for two reasons. One, because from what I knew about the New Deal, I was like, “I don’t think that’s how it works.” I knew that taxes were heavily increased on the wealthiest people. But a lot of them also found huge loopholes at that time. Secondly, given that I was involved in economic sociology and trying to understand the social embeddedness of economic institutions, I thought to myself, there’s another layer here. I had recalled when I first got to New York, there was this wacky group called the Modern Money Network. They stayed in the back of my mind for the next four years. Then, after a while, I was like, “You know what? I’m going to give these guys a look again.” So I started researching and went down the rabbit hole. It took me a little while to really start to grasp the ideas behind some of the surface layer assumptions that Modern Monetary Theory was saying about money, federal finance, monetary sovereignty, and resources.
Of course, in the end, I became a supporter and advocate for the Job Guarantee because of Modern Monetary Theory. I learned about the role of the Job Guarantee as a central component of full employment, as an inflation stabilizer, and as a challenge to the notion that we have to keep a natural rate of unemployment in order to keep inflation at desirable levels. I ended up at this conference and had conversations with some of AOC’s volunteers and staffers from that time. We were talking about UBI (Universal Basic Income) and what can be proposed to keep pushing. Because, what’s always been at the core of AOC’s political project is to keep pushing with what’s possible in a way that is also accessible to people and that doesn’t feel intimidating. And so, I’m like, “You all need to look into this Job Guarantee thing because it’s really powerful and grounded in this framework that, I think, is going to revolutionize the way that we understand policy and politics.”
There was also a conference at The New School in memory of the New Deal, where many Modern Monetary Theory scholars were on panels. Darrick Hamilton, who was at my program, was there. Pavlina Tcherneva, Stephanie Kelton, and Randy Ray were there–a lot of the big names. I invited Alexandria to come and watch some of the presentations. She got there right in time for Derek and Stephanie’s presentation on the Job Guarantee and was taking notes in the back. Soon after, the Job Guarantee gets announced on her platform and it becomes this big deal. Then, all of a sudden, you have the Washington Post and other major media outlets talking about Job Guarantee programs. Bernie comes out in favor of it. Gillibrand comes out in favor of it. I think Booker starts talking about it. It re-enters the public consciousness. And so, some of these friends that I was making at the time, we started having more conversations, because there was this question of how did this get to this rock star candidate in New York? We saw an opportunity to contribute to how Alexandria could connect intellectually to a movement that was challenging an establishment in policy and economics. I saw this tremendous opportunity to begin to craft relationships and have conversations that could contribute to this process.
From there, once she won the primary and once we got over–well, I don’t know if we’ll ever be over the euphoria of that victory–but we realized very quickly: holy shit. This is serious. She won. We’re legit gonna have this crazy opportunity. I knew from the beginning she was very interested in the Green New Deal. AOC herself, and so many people in that ecosystem, understand the urgency of climate change. It’s something that brings a lot of anxiety to people in and around our generation. So, right away, AOC was talking about a Green New Deal. Around that time as well, I was introduced to Robert Hocket, who’s been on the show, and things just kept unfolding. At that point, I decided to pivot from what I was doing with economic democracy and worker ownership and really go all in on the Green New Deal. I feel like what I was studying hasn’t become irrelevant. Instead, it plays a huge role conceptually. I shifted and I decided to really look into this aspect of what are we really talking about when we say “Green New Deal”? What are the implications for this policy-wise? What does that mean about the kinds of debates and conversations that we need to have about federal finance, macroeconomic policy, full employment, sustainability, and growth? Who’s driving these conversations? How is it getting articulated in the media? What are the naysayers saying? All of these things became incredibly important.
So, yeah. That’s where we are now–that’s how we get to the present day. I’ve always admired activists and organizers. I’ve always had tremendous respect for people in that field. I just found myself with this blessed opportunity to travel to different places and talk about a Green New Deal and other questions that have become relevant. It’s been incredibly rewarding.
Scott Ferguson: This brings us to your dissertation, which seems to put questions of democratic organization, institution building, political communication, and discourse at the center of movement building and policy making. Can you outline or sketch out your dissertation project? How are you conceiving of it and how does it intersect with, and potentially inform, your more political activist work?
Andrés Bernal: Sure. Here is a starting point: how do we traditionally think about policy and what are the mainstream views on it? It’s very similar to the field of economics where there is a very formalistic and rational actor based conception of how government functions and how that is what constructs policy and government action. That point of framing is often used in the mainstream to explain how these rational actors try to find ways to incentivize market forces or fix market failures. Historically, it has informed a lot of the approach to environmental policy, at least in the U.S. So I’m trying to problematize the notion that that’s the best way to study policy and that’s actually how policy happens. I’m interested in looking at policy as a number of things. It’s this process that involves organizational components and political struggles. It is also mediated by language–by the way that we communicate and construct narratives or discourses about our goals, the society that we live in, and the people and categories within that society. How we frame and talk about all of this stuff plays a huge role in what we think is possible in what we do and how we do it. Recognizing all of that is incredibly important for me.
On top of that, there are issues of political economy. For the last 40 to 50 years, or what we would call the “neoliberal era,” we’ve stopped caring about political economy and assumed that the system that we have today is as good as it gets. Taking all of that into consideration, I’m interested in examining what is this Green New Deal that we’re talking about? Who are the actors that have made it politically relevant? How have they done this? Are there social movements involved? What institutional, organizational, or network relationships are being constructed? What challenges are they facing? On one end, the Green New Deal is a nonbinding resolution. But it’s also so much more than that. It got to that place. It didn’t just appear there because somebody thought it was a good idea. There was a whole backstory to how we were able to get to that place–a whole story that’s unfolding about where it goes from here. There’s the question of the organizational and political aspect. And there’s the question of how are we talking about it? How is the public imagination being shaped and informed? That’s what I’m really interested in. It’s a qualitative research project. I’m reading, analyzing, and deconstructing a lot of the documents that are coming out about the Green New Deal. And then I’m also going in and observing these things–documenting the experiences I’ve had thus far in that space.
Scott Ferguson: Have you thought much about the dual roles that you seem to be taking on for your dissertation? On the one hand, you’re kind of doing ethnographic observation analysis, but you’re also a participant. And, at least from my perspective, a pretty major participant. I mean, you’re not AOC, but you are playing constitutive roles in this project. And so, I’m curious if how you’re thinking about that has brought up any weird questions or problems for you?
Andrés Bernal: Yeah. I’ve always been a fan of participatory action research (PAR). It’s important to open up that space for knowledge building in general, because of the way information and knowledge are produced. [Knowledge] is not this static, totally neutral thing, but actually the production of deeply ingrained political processes. I’ve always been a fan of the idea that we are collecting knowledge and information, but we’re also shaping it and having that awareness and situating ourselves in that experience too. It is quite difficult and it requires an ongoing reflective process about what’s happening and what I’m doing. I think it can be difficult in the sense that, as an activist and an organizer, there’s so many things that I want to do. I don’t like to say no to things. I have a lot of big ambitions. But also, I do want to finish my dissertation and graduate. It’s important to stay focused and be able to keep that discipline and get through things, but then also find some time to engage in bigger issues and think about things on a larger level.
The way you framed it, Scott, makes me think about Mariana Mazzucato’s approach to industrial policy, where she critiques using cost benefit analyses for everything and [advocates] for an ongoing evaluation of our projects and the different kinds of social returns and results that they can produce. It strikes me as similar to participatory action research, but [it is] actually used productively by the government, rather than relying on these ridiculous reductive methods that we traditionally do.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah. And I think that there’s a sense in there that there really is no outside observational position, even if there are different modes that lean toward reflexivity, contemplation, and analysis, on the one hand, and action, decision making, and coalition building, on the other.
Andrés Bernal: Absolutely. For me personally, that’s a lot of my philosophy background coming to the fore. Particularly, my interests in continental philosophy, social theory, critical theory, and the poststructuralist movement. A lot of people can dismiss that tradition as just being classroom, ivory tower stuff. But I think it’s really important to bring these insights to actual levels of political and institutional life to help us rethink how we manage a society in real terms.
William Saas: From your avowedly and inescapably insider perspective, where you’re both researching and participating in this discourse, I wonder if you might offer us some preliminary conclusions or observations, at the level of political communication and discourse, about the Green New Deal? What has been especially and maybe surprisingly effective? We talked with Robert Hockett about some of the metaphors that have been mobilized to frame and promote the Green New Deal. Could you comment on what’s working well rhetorically and what might benefit from additional thought and meditation?
Andrés Bernal: Given some of the insights of Modern Monetary Theory and its introduction to a lot of mainstream audiences, the way that we’re responding to these questions about federal finance and how to pay for things is a big step forward. It’s really interesting to see the nuances of what people make of this new insight that maybe the federal government doesn’t need to find “the money” somewhere because they issue money. Maybe the question is different? Maybe the terms and criteria for how we should spend money should change? It’s very interesting to see the different ways that people are thinking about that. It’s also very interesting to see people just react and criticize Modern Monetary Theory. That in and of itself is pointing to very interesting data. On what terms are people criticizing [MMT]? What strategies are people using to dismiss it altogether? What alternatives are being proposed for or against a Green New Deal?
You hear a lot about public banks. There have been some pieces written about creating a network of public banks to finance a Green New Deal. You also hear about establishing new institutions or leveraging private capital in different ways. That’s very interesting to observe. From my perspective, contributing to that conversation by saying, “I don’t think that’s the best way forward and this is why,” is really important. The way that conversations are moving has definitely been an improvement, because we’re not stuck on whose taxes we are going to raise. Instead, we’re having more holistic and robust conversations about what it would mean to finance and mobilize a Green New Deal.
Also, considering the fact that we’re on a clock and running out of time, the last thing you want to do about something to the level of going to the moon or winning a war is give people loans and extend credit. Because, while I support public banks, I don’t think that you should be grounding your entire project in something that’s going to require debt issuance, financial return, and repayment. There’s just too much that we have to do too quickly. I do see things like credit unions, public banks, and other experiments as complementary [to a Green New Deal]. But given what we’re facing, my position is we need the MMT insight of direct federal spending [to address] what’s most urgent about a Green New Deal.
Maxximilian Seijo: That’s so interesting. Given the last metaphor [of a clock] you used, and one AOC has used as well to talk about climate change, it raises the question of the way we can properly communicate the urgency, and all of the contouring factors, of this potential mobilization. I was wondering, could you perhaps reflect upon the ways in which our embeddedness in this policy structure–yours, AOC’s, and the Green New Deal itself–start to turn into a sort of propagandizing vehicle for this intersectional justice that we talk about? If we’re thinking about war or the moon landing, could you reflect on the ways in which the role of governance, the state, and its manifold apparatuses of communication, are influencing the ways in which we talk about the Green New Deal?
Andrés Bernal: Yes, that’s a great question. Donald Trump really did some weird stuff to culture and society. He exposed and exaggerated the way that media and political structures shape our imaginations to the level of absurdity. In a way, Donald Trump also unveiled a lot about who we are–especially our darker side. We built this sensationalist spectacle culture throughout the 90s. Then, as social media came into the picture in the 2000s, it got taken to new levels. I feel like Donald Trump is a reflection of everything wrong with this uncontrolled, unhinged spectacle society.[There are people] like AOC, [however], coming in with the knowledge that millennials have of Twitter, social media, and meme culture and bringing with them a genuine desire to connect with people. And, it can sound funny, but I think memes are one of the most important facets of contemporary life, whether it’s through the humor, the delivery, or even the medium itself. Yet there’s also this culture of biting satire. There are a lot of criticisms about hipster culture and stuff based in too much irony, where instead of getting involved in politics, people are becoming overly cynical and ironic. It’s like everybody’s got some cynical hot take about everything. But here is where I think there is a step in a better direction. AOC represents this bold attempt to use [this media] so that people in the world can better connect with one another and heal from the trauma of our history as human beings and from political life. I love her to death. She does this brilliantly. But it’s not just her. There is this [collective] desire to merge the struggle, critique, and anger that comes with injustice with the desire to care for one another and heal and mobilize politically. And so, those messages and those metaphors have the potential to emerge through the apparatuses of the state in different ways–in ways that will change the state itself.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah. Agreed. And certainly the public provisioning of media and pushing back through a Job Guarantee and other efforts against this intensely privatized, corporatized media spectacle machine is, I think, where all of this is pointing.
Andrés Bernal: Yeah. It’s just so transactional and atomizing. There are these contradictions that exist where we feel like we need a lot of likes and stuff like that. These are the struggles that contemporary people, especially young people, deal with. We are driven to think we need this to be happy and content, even though there is this overwhelming emptiness. The Job Guarantee and Green New Deal have huge potential to challenge these structures that are atomizing us and supplement them with other opportunities. They have the capacity to mobilize people to save the planet. Mobilizing people to go to war is one thing. World War II defeated the Nazis. Going to the moon and the curiosity that we had to leave this planet–we still have that curiosity. The Green New Deal offers this opportunity to take a lot of that same energy and repurpose it for something that’s qualitatively distinct–saving the planet. Not by killing one another or by intimidating our enemies, but by learning to live in harmony. I mean, what a concept.
Maxximilian Seijo: To make a connection that I think is implicit in what you’re saying, similar to your methodology as this sort of embedded participant-observer, there’s this embedded praxis mode within the spectacle itself that is vital to the very structures of change making and movement building that we are undertaking through this podcast and also collectively on the “left.”
Andrés Bernal: Definitely. So much about society today is being mediated through these co-production mechanisms. There are these attempts to keep these systems private and monopolized, whether it’s Facebook, Google, or the NSA. Yet, at the same time, we’re called upon to participate in making and remaking ourselves. So, at this level too, we are in the process of observing politics. We are making and remaking ourselves.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, there seems to be a dialectical potential built into the present media and social, political, and economic system.
Andrés Bernal: Yeah. For example, our colleague, Rohan Grey, talks a lot about the importance of privacy rights and establishing good digital fiat payment systems for public purpose. That’s so important, because we hear all of this stuff about bitcoin and blockchain. They become these huge fads that have a large cultural identity aspect to them, where people feel like, “Yeah, I bought Bitcoin, I’m gonna change the world.” And there’s this aspect to that that’s often missing a foundational political dimension. Can we go beyond this privation where we have deprived ourselves of the capacity to act in a way of public purpose? I definitely think that potential is there.
William Saas: When hearing you talk about AOC and how she seems like the perfect political actor for our times, by engaging with our modes of communication and understanding the irony of the situation, but then toggling back to this affirmative, “Here’s what we now need to do, given how bad things are,” I’m also thinking about her original campaign ad, which was produced by Means TV, who then came alongside and started their own thing. Then, MMT started to converge with AOC. If you were looking at all of this for the first time, these last couple of years, you might think that this was a sort of cosmic alignment. Like, how could this have happened? And there’s a degree of truth to that, but if you take a longer view, you’ll see, at least with regard to MMT, there’s been an expanding coalition over the past several years. Could you sketch out for us what you understand that MMT coalition to be? Who are the key players? Where do they come from? Who do they represent? Who’s onboard and who’s not? What are the key challenges ahead? And what does the MMT coalition in relation to the Green New Deal look like to you?
Andrés Bernal: Oh, man. What a question. I feel like you could write a dissertation about that question. Somebody listening should do that.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, somebody do that . . .
Andrés Bernal: Yeah, there’s different pieces of it. The key now is for that coalition to figure out how everybody can do their role and work in harmony towards the same purpose. On one hand, there are the figures that are in politics proper, like Stephanie Kelton who has worked as a senior advisor to Bernie Sanders. She’s flying all around the world talking about these issues, demystifying the fear that people have about deficits and money, and making it very clear and accessible for people. I also think of Pavlina Tcherneva and her commitment to the Job Guarantee and unemployment. Pavlina and Fadhel Kaboub continue to work on this part of MMT that is about [ending] suffering from unemployment and austerity through government action.
Mathew Forstater at UMKC is keeping the breadth of work alive and expanding it by inspiring a new generation of students to use this tradition and paradigm about modern money. He’s helped reveal MMT’s applicability to interdisciplinary concerns on race, gender, and class. Being able to formulate the importance of that interdisciplinary perspective is key. It’s what brought me to MMT in the first place. I came here because I recognized that we’re talking about legal perspectives. We’re talking about the history and anthropology of money. We’re talking about accounting. We’re talking about macroeconomics. I was like, “Yeah, this makes a lot more sense than these ridiculous models neoclassical economists are talking about.”
Then, there are these rogue warriors in the “Modern Money Network,” like Rohan Grey, Nathan Tankus, and Raúl Carrillo, who are grinding out all of this great work. We held [a conference called] “How To Pay For The Green New Deal” at Harvard Law School. That was an amazing experience because it got organized so quickly and effectively. Everybody wanted to do it, so one day Rohan was like, “We’re going to do this. This is everybody’s thing. Here are the people who are gonna speak. Let’s make it happen.” And it was just like boom, boom, boom. We talked about an overview of the Green New Deal and modern money. What about inflation? We talked about inflation. What about investment? We talked about investment.
And, of course, bringing in Sara Nelson as an ally to Modern Monetary Theory and the Green New Deal has been incredibly important. She’s doing amazing work bringing back the labor movement and showing how important it is to not forget the critical role unions play in this struggle to build a better world. Expanding the number of unions, introducing the idea of a general strike again, and communicating the role that the Federal Reserve has on labor and unemployment–we just can’t forget that. People talk about the minimum wage, but when you have unemployment, minimum wage is nothing. Minimum wage is unemployment. So we have to think about how that shapes the politics of the labor movement. There’s also this question of how to communicate that the Green New Deal is not trying to screw over working people even when they’re working in the fossil fuel industry. Because the problem is the industry and the owners of the wealth. Getting the labor movement on board by showing that we’re serious about a transition to good paying, better jobs that will not destroy the environment [is vital].
Also, the work that you all are doing in asking questions about Modern Monetary Theory, modern money, and federal finance at an epistemological and methodological level [is really important]. The implications for critical theory and political economy in relation to what MMT is saying [is boundless]. And [you’re] having these debates in good faith when a lot of people out there don’t have these debates in good faith. [We need to] have these debates with other traditions and orthodoxies on the left and try to get to a deeper level of understanding and see where we can align–see where there are convergences and divergences.
Then, you have people in the legal world, like Robert Hockett, coming at everything from law, finance, and banking. The relationships that we’re building with the Sunrise Movement is absolutely key. Within DSA, there is an environmental socialist working group that has been very important as well. Their vision very much aligns with what a Green New Deal through MMT is advocating for. People that do participatory economics and economic democracy work are also talking about the capacity to use public money and public policy in ways that are better–to empower the federal government to use fiscal policy, to use functional finance, to meet certain goals, and to create real social returns. Let’s also incorporate new forms of democratic ownership to manage and administer these projects and shift the [traditional] relationship between people and the state. Michael Menser has some really good stuff on the social public and new ways that we can relate with our government, so that it’s not always this bureaucratic, top-down administered system, but something more collaborative and democratic. I can think of so many people!
William Saas: Haha, yeah. There’s no way to fit it all in. However, we might shout out the Real Progressives . . .
Andrés Bernal: That’s right. The work they’re doing online connecting with people who are not in academia is critical.
Maxximilian Seijo: As a short aside, there’s also work being done by the financial press to really cover the question of money and politics–Joe Weisenthal and Alexandra Scaggs to name a couple figures.
Andrés Bernal: There is Kate Aronoff at The Intercept. She is doing really important stuff. We also can’t forget about everything happening internationally. So many different countries around the world are talking about a Green New Deal even though, at this moment, it’s this U.S. centered resolution. The concept, at least, is very popular in Latin America and Europe. There was an Austrian candidate for European Parliament, Julia Herr, who was onboard with a European Green New Deal. People in Mexico are very interested in this work. Because of my dual identity as a Colombian born immigrant, I feel a responsibility to also be engaged with Latin America and have a global perspective. I’m in conversation with people in Mexico and Colombia about what MMT can offer when you are not in a country like the United States–a country that does not have the same flexibility and fiscal space that the United States has with its currency. What kinds of movements and reforms and changes can be productive and desirable [given these circumstances]? I think that is a big part of the future of MMT scholarship: to go to that realm of development economics and political economy.
William Saas: What’s interesting too about the Green New Deal conversation in other countries, and the excitement that underscores it, is the way that the task ahead of all of us exceeds the nation centered metaphors that we like to use. It’s vital that it becomes an international, non-competitive, and “let’s do this together” type of action.
Andrés Bernal: Yes. These questions are super important. For example, I know some MMTers and myself were critical of the way Elizabeth Warren framed her industrial policy around producing green technology here in the United States [by saying] “sell it to the rest of the world.” I think that is problematic in the sense that it sounds like green technology is held away from the developing world. Like, “Nobody else has it, we have it. If you all want to survive climate change, you’re going to have to pay up.” That means something very different for a country in Latin America than it does for the United States. Many of us have been talking about how to reform intellectual property rights so that some of these technologies that are vital for countries to become green and sustainable are accessible without economic dependencies. And, if you take a crude MMT perspective on imports and exports, you might miss that. These are the nuances that are arising about power at the international level.
Scott Ferguson: Yeah, and the international solidarity point overlaps with the fiscal capacity point, right? I mean, this open relationship for intellectual property is good for social justice, but it also makes sense when you recognize that the U.S. government doesn’t need revenue from other countries around the world. It can generate as many dollars as it needs to serve public and ecological purposes.
Andrés Bernal: Absolutely. I mean, especially for the very idea of currency itself in the context of the developing world. Many of these country’s currencies don’t have the same ability that the U.S. dollar has. So, can we use the U.S. dollar in productive ways? Can we come up with better regional types of currencies to be distributed? Can we repurpose the World Bank for actual productive goals? All of these questions come into play.
Maxximilian Seijo: Well, Andrés, this has been such a great conversation. Thank you so much for coming on “Money on the Left.”
Andrés Bernal: Thank you all. It was my pleasure to be here.
Scott Ferguson: Now, what I liked about that conversation was that Andrés really pushed back on some of the popular opinions on the left, and maybe in certain Marxist circles, that MMT and the money perspective is just a technocratic analysis that’s really not about politics or organizing or history or media and communication. I think our conversation was really important for showing that the MMT movement is so much more than MMT memes and a few technocratic tricks.
William Saas: And, along those lines, most of the people who come to MMT come from different places and from different perspectives. Andrés talking about his involvement with the co-op movements and how he came to take the MMN conference seriously and think back on his experience [speaks to this]. I think that that’s another assumption a lot of people have–that MMT advocates are all doctrinaire and ahistorically so. People come to MMT and to Neo-Chartalism with their own questions and histories. And that usually generates, especially in this case, some really amazing things.
Maxximilian Seijo: Bringing that together with a real sense of interdisciplinary solidarity, really speaks to what we’re trying to do with this podcast and the ways in which background and methodology can change the shape of what MMT teaches us. I think that came out in this conversation and it’s really important for the way we continue to look at it–not only doing this podcast, but also while conducting a leftist political project along MMT’s terms.