Beppe Grillo on the Money System: Stand-up show, 1998

By lambert strether, who blogs at Corrente.

The following YouTube of Beppe Grillo’s 1998 show, in Italian, is captioned in English by d574 and German — Hi Angela! [waves] — by johndoe3k5. I turned the English captions into a complete transcript, tweaking the prose occasionally, and adding some annotations. (See here and here for background on Grillo, the most interesting political figure in Europe today.)

Note the date: 1998, before the Euro, which was introduced on January 1, 1999. I think that makes the show all that much more interesting, because as we shall see, there are more targets for Grillo’s japery. (I was in Paris that New Year’s Eve, and the French were projecting a big blue on the Pont d’Arcole. They seemed so happy!)

Frankly, I’m not quite sure what to make of it all. My knowledge of the Italian political and cultural scene isn’t even rudimentary, and I can’t imagine I’m getting very many of the jokes, so I’m going to annotate with a very light touch. But boy, can Grillo sure pull in a crowd! (No wonder the MMTers were able to fill a large hall.)

At least in the beginning, though, the atmosphere, and Grillo’s demeanor and hoarse voice, hardly seem comedic; were things truly that Serious back in 1998? If so, the Italian body politic must have been inordinately stressed for a much longer time than we in this United States imagine. Perhaps, readers, you can help with interpretation (see the bibliographical note at the end).

Oh, I did bowdlerize the language a little; as a foul-mouthed blogger of the left, I hated to do that, but I don’t want NC banned from the workplace, either.

* * *

To the transcript:

GRILLO: These people count for little.

“Count for little” seems like a multi-dimensional pun, but since I know so little of the context, I’m not going there, or anywhere near there, here or below.

GRILLO: We’re actually in the hands of things that we can’t even imagine… IMF, World Bank… People who will be deciding, far away from us, what f*cking kind of water we will be allowed to drink in the next decades. We will never be able to know who they are. Why? [Because] we think that [the rulers] are these ones [the politicians]. Yet the powers are going to wake up. We are getting to the big turning point. This is it! The end of the second millenium and the beginning of the third one, they are waking up… Just as in 999 A.D. everyone was prepared to die before the coming end of the world, they are waking up for the second time. Who knows if we’ll be faring better, who knows… The hour horsemen of the Apocalypse are waking up! Waking up is the Great Dragon!

[Thunder and lightning sounds. Jumbotron displays a dragon with four human heads.]

Here are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you can’t even identify them! Be honest, do you know them? No, you can not…. We have never seen them either. Yet, look at them well. They’re four bankers. Once there used to be “gangster,” [English], today we have “banksters” [English]. [laughter] The first on the right…. Please, look at their faces, let’s go back to our instincts… Look at this face…. Greenspan, American Fed’s Chairman. Look at him! Is the one over there a man or a sled dog? That one is a dog! Yet, the difference between a dog and a banker is that if you throw something, the dog will bring it back to you, no f*cking way the banker will do it! [applause]

That “bankster” and “gangster” are in English is, I will venture to say, significant, because English is the language of neo-liberalism, the Washington Consensus, etc.

GRILLO: Second one… The big bank of our Heaven, Tietmeyer, from the BUNDESBANK! [thunder] What are you laughing for? [To audience member] Excuse me, what is your bank? What Bank?…. Banco Ambrosiano? Sh*t, the parish recreation place! [laughter] I mean… Do you realize that your bank is the Banco Ambrosiano? And you travel around Europe with the Banco Ambrosiano? What the f*ck? That one over there is the BUNDESBANK! But he laughs, he has the Banco Ambrosiano! This one is Tietmeyer! Tietmeyer has already been appointed, on the payroll with our money! Duisenberg as Chairman of the Frankfurt-based European Central Bank. A man who will be deciding if your house is worth something, if your son can join a university, or if you can make your hair grow! It will be decided by one man appointed by this kind of rotten würstel, Tietmeyer!

Third banker… Matsush*ta. Involved in some mess, Governor of the Bank of Japan, the first bank in the world. Look at his face!

And then, let’s go on… Over there… Out of the dragon’s *** comes this sort of human hemorrhoid… who is our governor of Bank of Italy… Fazio, the “great” Fazio…

Somehow, I’m not able to imagine Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or the SNL scriptwriters calling Lloyd Blankfein a human hemorrhoid. American political humor is very deferential.

GRILLO: Well, these four share one amazing thing. They are Chairmen of four banks which issue money and lend it out. They issue money and lend… Issue and lend… We can’t any longer perceive what truth is, we can no longer realize if a medicine is good or bad for us, if a piece of news is true or not, we can no longer tell a debt from a credit, can we?

Cf. Ezra Pound, Canto XLV: “With usura hath no man a house of good stone…”

GRILLO: Is it true that we’re endlessly told that our national debt is about 2.5 million billion lire? If there’s a borrower, there’s supposed to be a lender, right? Who the f*ck do we owe this money to? [laughter] I mean… To whom the f*ck do we owe this money for which they have been pissing me off for ten years? To us ourselves? Fine then, I owe it to myself, I claim a f*cking nothing any more, we’re square and go to hell! Right? It’s a debt system, this is an awful system. [applause]

Or lend money, thereby issuing it, some would say. Sequence counts!

GRILLO: We can no longer perceive… Should I now ask someone “What is gold?” They have changed all the standards by revaluing gold! Weigel has done it… We’ve revalued gold by 3,000 billions in name only. What is gold? Is it a resource? We’re all convinced that it is a resource, aren’t we? It is, let’s be honest, c’mon… So, what is gold? We take gold by making a hole in South Africa, Turkey, or Amazonia… The ones over there are gold diggers… Gold is a resource, these are… OK, stop the video here… These ones are 40,000 persons who dig a hole to find gold. Two pounds of gold are equal to 700,000 pounds of waste. Waste made of cyanide and mercury. In nature, the thing with the highest environmental impact is gold. OK, but gold is a resource, fine.

It’s interesting that during a complex and lengthy sketch, Grillo is simultaneously in the midst of the crowd with a mike, on camera, and working a video (at one point, he also cues some thunder). I never bought into the teleprompter riffs a lot of people were running, but… Just saying. These are mad skillz.

We dig and we take gold from a hole, and after taking it from a hole, we take and put it in a hole under a bank. I mean… From a hole to another hole. Holy sh*t, let’s build the bank upon the first hole and f*ck off! [laughter] What’s the point of doing all this? Gold is not a resource if you take it from a hole and hide it under a bank. It is only a huge cost! It would represent a esource if you gave it to dentists to get some f*cking crowns from it, or to goldsmiths to manufacture it, or to electricians. But if you put it in a safety vault instead?

I think it’s safe to say that Grillo is not an Austrian. I mean, if he were, he’d be projecting the 800-number for his bullion site on the Jumbotron, eh? Kidding!

GRILLO: These people get revaluing. But they revalue a mere nothing. In the banks there is nothing anymore, not even your savings. Today money stems out of thin air, banks create it with a few keystrokes on a PC… Beep! One thousand billions to Mexico, Mexico goes bankrupt; beep! One thousand billions to Thailand, Thailand goes bankrupt; South Korea gone bankrupt; in Indonesia people are “eating” their rupees; in Yugoslavia there’s an inflation as there was in the Germany of the 30’s, when people used to buy cigarettes by carrying money in wheelbarrows.

Keystroke money, eh? In 1998….

GRILLO: All this might happen also here, tomorrow. In the banks there is nothing anymore. A Ligurian farmer had put aside savings during his lifetime, it’s nres from ten days ago,. He had everything put on his savings book, about 600 million lire, his lifelong savings. He went to the bank, he hadn’t even ever been there and they didn’t even know him, he had put aside everything on his savings book. He resolutely entered the bank and took out his savings book, the bank manager looked at him ans asked: “What can I do for you? Do you want to withdraw, by chance? To deposit, maybe?”

“No! Just let me see my money!” [laughter, applause] “But… What do you mean? Do you want to withdraw some of it?” “No! I just want to see all my money before my eyes.”

What a mess! Huge panic. They had nothing, they had to call in the Carabinieri to arrange security vans, to raoe up the 600 millions at the branch offices. They put all the money in front of him, he remained there to see it, to stare at it, then he said “Fine, now that I have seen my money, I can go home!” And he went back home. [laughter, applause]

Here’s where I start getting a bit worried, since Grillo’s Ligurian farmer just rendered fiat money absurd. Which is fine for a comedian, but not perhaps for a policy maker. And Grillo keeps shooting down theory after theory. (Making me wonder if he has some expert and/or guru and/or crank on call for later.)

GRILLO: Amazing! Holy sh*t… Once we used to issue money only when there was gold in the lock boxes, we used to issue money only when there were our savings to back the f*cking checks or credit cards. There’s nothing there anymore! They issue money and lend it to us.

Now, let me ask you one thing: Who does money belong to? Who does its ownership belong to? To the State, fine [well, not with the anarchists] …. Then to us, we are the State. You know the State doesn’t exist, it is only a legal entity. WE are the state, then the money is ours…. Fine. Do you agree? Yes? Fine. Then, let me know one thing. If the money belongs to us… Why… do they lend it to us?


Asking does the the ownership of money (as opposed to mere money) belong to sounds a little meta, and it is, but it’s the key question. MMT answers that money should be created for public purpose, and so does Grillo. Can you imagine any legacy party politician in America asking this question?

There’s something not adding up, right? Once we used to have gold coins, they were ours, we had some gold and it was ours, fine… Now we have a piece of paper bearing the writing “100 thousand lire.” So, let’s check now who the money belongs to. I took the liberty of checking the obvious, as nobody ever checks self-evident things. And whoever could check what money is and what is written on it but a Genoese in great trouble? [laughter] Well then… On the 100 and 200 lire coins, there’s written Republic of Italy. That’s us, we are the Republic of Italy, do we all agree? On the 100 thousand lire banknote instead… Well, there’s no longer the writing “Republic of Italy,” but there’s “Bank of Italy,” the Governor’s signature, and then there’s the writing “payable to the bearer on demand.” If there’s that “payable to the bearer on demand,” it is supposed to mean something. So I take my banknote and go to the bank… I demand the payment, “I’m the bearer, can you pay me please? Heck, it’s you who wrote that writing!” No f*cking way will they pay you, they will give you nothing!

Arrighi, in The Long Twentieth Century, shows how Genoa was the origin of modern finance capitalism. Wray, in Modern Money Theory, remarks if you take a British five pound note to the Bank of England and ask for five pounds, they will give you a British five pound note. That’s what the writing says! Notice also that the United States has the same dual system that pre-Euro Italy did: Paper money is issued by the Fed; metal money is issued by the Treasury.

GRILLO: So why do they write such a thing? Yet, one might question: “Grillo, what the f*ck are you saying? The Bank of Italy is the Bank of the Italian State!” No way! The Bank of Italy is a private joint-stock company, whose ownership comprises ten insurance companies, ten foundations, and ten banks that are all joint stock companies, and whose owners are always the same… We will never know who they are, yet they are always the same ones… and whose seats are based in the Cayman islands. They issue money, out of thin air, and then lend it to us. It’s the state that is supposed to issue it, we need money to work, the State should say: “There’s a scarcity of money? I’ll issue some and put it into circulation.” Money is plentiful? I’ll withdraw and burn some of it.”

“Burning it” or shredding it is in fact the operational reality of what happens to “your tax dollars” as MMT teaches.

More importantly, Grillo is questioning the legitimacy of money printed by the Bank of Italy, because the Bank of Italy is private. Whatever the European Community may be, it is not democratic; one wonders whether Grillo will question the legitimacy of the bureaucrats and banksters managing the Euro, and for the same reasons raised here.

GRILLO: All this to keep money circulation stable, to keep prices stable. Money is needed to keep prices stable and to let us work, it’s about mere pieces of paper. Yet, money is issued by a joint stock company. Money shouldn’t look like that — “Bank of Italy, Governor, payable to the bearer on demand.” Money, in a civilized society, should look like this: “Republic of Italy,” rather than “Bank of Italy.” “Ownership of the bearer” and in the place of the f*cking Governor’s signature, “The President of the Republic.” It’s him that should sign. He would do something, for once, that would bring satisfaction to us all. [laughter, applause.]

Indeed. Fiat money created for public purpose: That, Grillo seems to get, and that could be seen as encouraging.*

* * *

NOTE * I know that MMT has no theory of the state, and that a tyrant could use fiat money for ill ends. Nobody said the politics were easy, mkay?

BIBLIOGRAPHICAL NOTE This video now seems to be making the rounds. A quick Google search yields Financial Armageddon, Liberty Blitzkreig (!), The Daily Paul, and Mike Norman Economics. These are, however, all quick hits. The redoubtable Ellen Brown has a long form post on Grillo’s policy proposals here, but doesn’t address the theory of money, if any, that informs those proposals. So, I could be wrong, but Googling random bits of the show, I can’t come up with hits, so this post could actually be the first resource on Grillo’s theory of money, if any, in English. The following article on Grillo in the Italian political context is interesting too (hat tip reader Krasna). Grillo’s nearly nihilistic attitude toward all theories of money, as seen above, could be seen as a form of “confusionism,” destined to end badly.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. be'emet

    redoubtable (wazzat?)Ellen Brown goes so far to remind that Grillo’s ideas go back Social Credit & Major Douglas – first out of the blocks with debt free money. Ezra Pound went nuts (really, he did!) trying to get attention for Social Credit. Maybe without all the good reasoning of R Wray, still Social Credit had a moment in the sun in New Zealand and Australia, and had been a political force in Canada. All its adherents were certified as political nut cases, dunno, maybe they were, or maybe not, I haven’t found convincing sources. Could be some NC’ers know something?

    1. JEHR

      It’s strange how things are forgotten (how money works) and when another Depression or Recession comes along, and we remember them again. I heard about “funny money” when I was a kid but did not understand what it meant and probably laughed at the theory like a lot of other people.

      Here’s a quotation from The Globe and Mail (in Canada )

      “Back in Alberta, in the worst days of the Great Depression, Bible Bill Aberhart couldn’t implement his Social Credit creed. (Among the expert European advisers he hired as consultants was Gessel, the most radical of Keynes’s “brave heretics.”) The Supreme Court, quite properly, disallowed all of the Social Credit legislation, which sought to place national banks under provincial control – and which also sought to imprison people who might subvert the Socred revolution. (Further still, Social Credit was notoriously anti-Semitic – but then, some historians say, so was Keynes.) Yet, the Supreme Court had no problem when the federal government effectively put the national banks under federal control for the same “social credit” objective.

      “Graham Towers, first governor of the Bank of Canada, conceded the point when he appeared before a parliamentary committee in 1939: “The primary function of a central bank is the control of the commercial banks’ cash reserves.” For all practical purposes, government control of cash reserves is government control of credit. Raise the percentage of people’s deposits that banks are required to hold as reserves, and the banks get to create less new money; lower the percentage, and the banks get to create more new money. (In the 1990s, the Bank of Canada lowered the percentage to zero.)”

      Too bad we keep forgetting what we need to know.

      1. lidia

        Anti-Semitism followed Pound, too. I may have mentioned earlier that there’s a far-right skinhead movement in Italy which calls itself “Casa Pound”.

        I’ve also mentioned Massimo Fini, who had a movement of a handful of folks, with a manifesto which clearly addresses the need for peoples to reclaim local/national/monetary sovreignty.

        Such calls seem destined to be tagged as “anti-Semitism”. I’ve just heard this too frequently to believe that everyone who has issues with the banking system is a true anti-Semite. I think these accusations are whipped up, to some extent, in order to make people fearful of investigating the principles being discussed, just as the waters are expertly muddied around “conspiracy theories”: intentionally mixing crazy claims with valid ones in order to derail serious examination.

        Fini’s book is called “Denaro: Lo Sterco del Demonio” (“Money: The Devil’s Excrement”; is that nihilistic enough for you, Lambert?) :-)

  2. please

    I found it amusing… He reminds me of Carlin.

    Truth is in the US if you were to point out stuff like this, you’re often labelled a conspiracy theorist as though that meant anything.

    Comedians on the other hand get free reign to point out such things. It’s like the child pointing out that the king has no clothes. The adults would rather remain in a fantasy.

    1. KnotRP

      Carlin indeed. Look at this, for example:

      > Paper money is issued by the Fed;
      > metal money is issued by the Treasury.

      That’s only because the coin metal content
      is increasingly more valuable than the face
      value (even with the race to substitute cheaper
      metals), such that coin stamping is not profitable.
      Why would anyone expect the Fed to do the unprofitable
      parts?…that’s a loss-making burden they happily
      leave to the public treasury.

  3. Syzygy

    The Wu Ming Foundation say ‘Grillismo: Yet another right-wing cult coming from Italy’

    (They describe themselves – “We are the Wu Ming Foundation. We are a collective of novelists based in Italy, a country that’s living its darkest period since the old days of fascist dictatorship (1922-1945).”)

    This is what Paul Mason described in his book on horizontal movements .. a danger of a tendency to move towards fascism. ‘Why its kicking off everywhere’

    Beppe Grillo’s populism is very seductive but given the history of Italy and Europe, the broad left needs to take great care in what compromises they make!

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That Think Left piece is good. I think this is the money quote

      In short: they understand that the 5SM is a confusionist movement with a dominant right-wing approach to many key issues, but the movement’s success and the fact that some proposals have Left-wing origins make them hope this is a good opportunity to «do something».
      To us, «doing something» is not necessarily a good line of conduct. It depends on what you do. Sometimes it’s better not to do anything than doing something stupid. Mistaking a right-wing movement for a left-leaning one is definitely stupid.

    2. Krampus

      Reading that article on Grillo, I was reminded of John Michael Greer’s opinion (sorry, couldn’t find cite) that fascism is an extremist form of political centrism, not an extreme of the right. Rejecting both left and right when the entire political class has demonstrated its incompetence seems refreshing, but with no intermediary between the mob and the autocrat, things rapidly spiral out of control.

      Not to Godwin, but after all isn’t the “national socialist” moniker an implicit rejection of each of its components?

      1. lidia

        You might find this post interesting, where Grillo features Fini (who I mentioned before):

        There is an appeal, not exactly to centrism, but to something different:
        One thing that is essential in my view is for us to go back to our pre-political values, such as honesty, loyalty and above all dignity. … they get paid some pretty huge salaries and then they are quite prepared to sell their souls in exchange for a dinner in a great restaurant or a free holiday, even a tramp would be too embarrassed to behave like that! These guys instead do so because they have lost something in particular, namely all sense of dignity.

        Of course, “pre-political values” has overtones of a return to a more (nostalgically-viewed-as) chivalrous era and a sort of feudalism (from which Italy never was released, anyway, imo).

  4. from Mexico

    GRILLO: We’re actually in the hands of things that we can’t even imagine… IMF, World Bank… People who will be deciding, far away from us, what f*cking kind of water we will be allowed to drink in the next decades.

    INTERPRETATION: We are ruled by what the Bolsheviks called “scientific managers,” Reinhold Niebuhr called “scientist kings,” and Hannah Arendt called “an intricate system of bureaus,” in what Daniel Yankelovich called “the culture of technical control.” So in addition to the traditional forms of government as the rule of man over man – monarchy, oligarchy, aristocracy and democracy – we can add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such domination: bureaucracy or technocracy.

    GRILLO: We will never be able to know who they are. Why? [Because] we think that [the rulers] are these ones [the politicians].

    INTERPRETATION: We think our elected politicians are the rulers. They are not. The real rulers are the technocrats who operate within the culture of technical control. This, according to Arendt, is rule “in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called rule by Nobody,” which is “clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done.” As Arendt goes on to explain: “It is this state of affairs, making it impossible to localize responsibility and to identify the enemy, that is among the most potent causes of the current world-wide rebellious unrest, its chaotic nature, and its dangerous tendency to get out of control and to run amuck.”

    GRILLO: Yet the powers are going to wake up. We are getting to the big turning point. This is it!

    INTERPRETATION: The people are finally waking up to the fact as to who the real powers behind the throne are. Who are the real powers? A film that was mentioned in one of yesterday’s posts makes this easily understandable:

    The American Ruling Class

    The subtext of the film is that not only are our elected politicians, but more importantly the scientific managers, are recruited and owe their existence to the ruling class, an extremely small oligarchy that owns the United States.

    GRILLO: The end of the second millenium and the beginning of the third one, they are waking up… Just as in 999 A.D. everyone was prepared to die before the coming end of the world, they are waking up for the second time.

    INTERPRETATION: This is the theology of millenarianism, from Latin millēnārius “containing a thousand.” It is the belief by a religious, social, or political group or movement in a coming major transformation of society, after which all things will be changed, based on a one-thousand-year cycle.

    GRILLO: Who knows if we’ll be faring better, who knows…

    INTERPRETATION: Is this Wallerstein, as Wallerstein explains in this video, where we can’t predict the outcome as chaos theory doesn’t allow such predictions, but nevertheless each and every one of us can and do impact the outcome by our actions?

    Or is it some cosmic determinism – divine or materialistic — which we are not privy to?

    Revolutionary movements are built upon a healthy dose of the former, but the latter would dampen revolutionary spirit, since revolutionary leaders hold out the promise of a better world. Here, for instance, is how Martin Luther King put it:

    Finally, the method of nonviolence is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice. It is this deep faith in the future of the universe that causes the nonviolent protester to accept suffering without retaliation. He knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship. This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith.

    — MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., “Nonviolence and racial justice,” Christian Century, February 6, 1957

    GRILLO: The hour horsemen of the Apocalypse are waking up! Waking up is the Great Dragon! [Thunder and lightning sounds. Jumbotron displays a dragon with four human heads.]

    INTERPRETATION: The four horsemen of the Apocalypse are from the book of Revelation and are conquest, war, famine and death. The most famous portrayal of them is that of Albrecht Dürer, which can be seen here:

    GRILLO: Here are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you can’t even identify them! Be honest, do you know them? No, you can not…. We have never seen them either. Yet, look at them well. They’re four bankers.




    …. Fazio….

    STRETHER: That “bankster” and “gangster” are in English is, I will venture to say, significant, because English is the language of neo-liberalism, the Washington Consensus, etc.
    INTERPRETATION: Neo-liberalism and its current manifesto — The Washington Consensus — are merely the most recent reincarnations of something that’s been around for a long time. Neo-liberalism was articulated in its original form in the late 18th century, and in its former life was known as liberal internationalism or liberal imperialism. As Jonathan Schell explains, it has a purely British pedigree, being the brainchild, and the ruling mythology, of Britain’s bourgeoisie oligarchy:

    The early champions of the free market, most of them British, had in fact looked to industry mainly to create the wealth of nations, as the title of Adam Smith’s classic book had it, not the power of nations, which had been the preoccupation of their mercantilist predecessors. The advocates of laissez-faire declared the independence of economics from state power. (The eventual coining of the word “economics,” identifying a distinct realm of human activity subject to its own laws, was one sign of their faith in that independence.) The market worked best, the worldly philosophers of the late eighteenth century believed, when the government kept its hands off it. Classical economics, in fact, “had not place for the nation, or any other collectivity larger than the firm.”

    Smith’s successors proceeded even further in this line of thinking. In the early nineteenth century, the most prominent champions of the market, including the British champions of laissez-faire Richard Cobden and John Bright, contended that free trade, by breaking down or ignoring national boundaries, naturally tended to foster world peace. The market, they ardently believed, was a solvent of national units and a pacifier of national conflicts. “I see in the Free Trade principle,” Richard Cobden said in a speech in 1846, “that which shall act on the moral world as the principle of gravitation in the universe, drawing men together, thrusting aside the antagonism of race, and creed, and language, and uniting us in the bonds of eternal peace.” In the United States, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that “trade was the principle of Liberty; that trade planted America and destroyed Feudalism; that it makes peace and keeps peace; and it will abolish slavery.” An unbroken thread of faith in free trade as an abettor of peace runs through the entire tradition of liberal internationalism, surviving many disappointments and continuing, if in attenuated form, to this day.

    JONATHAN SCHELL, The Unconquerable World

    GRILLO: A man who will be deciding if your house is worth something, if your son can join a university, or if you can make your hair grow! It will be decided by one man appointed…

    INTERPRETATION: Again, Grillo is alluding to the unelected and tyrannical dictatorship of the technocrats.

    STRETHER: Somehow, I’m not able to imagine Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or the SNL scriptwriters calling Lloyd Blankfein a human hemorrhoid. American political humor is very deferential.

    INTERPRETATION: Americans are hopelessly brainwashed and compliant, having fully bought into the myth of American exceptionalism.

    GRILLO: We can’t any longer perceive what truth is, we can no longer realize if a medicine is good or bad for us, if a piece of news is true or not, we can no longer tell a debt from a credit, can we?

    The Spanish arbitristas were perhaps the first ones to grapple with the contradiciton between real capital and fictitious capital, something that was of course later taken up in much greater detail by Marx. J.H. Elliott wrote this, for instance, about Martín González de Cellorigo:

    “Money is not wealth,” he wrote, and his concern was to increase the national wealth by increasing the nation’s productive capacity rather than its stock of precious metals. This could only be achieved by investing more money in agricultural and industrial development. At present, surplus wealth was being unproductively invested — “dissipated on thin air — on papers, contracts, censos, and letters of exchange, on cash, and silver, and gold — instead of being expended on things that yield profits and attract riches from outside to augment the riches within. And thus there is no money, gold, or silver in Spain because there is so much; and it is not rich, because of all its riches…”
    J.H. ELLIOTT, Imperial Spain: 1469-1716

    “It was in this atmosphere of desengaño, of national disillusionment, that Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote,” Elliott explains. “The events of the 1590s had suddenly brought home to more thoughful Castilians the harsh truth about their native land — its poverty in the midst of riches, its power that had shown itself impotent,” Elliott continues. “It was under the influence of the arbitristas that early seventeenth-century Castile surrendered itself to an orgy of national introspection, desperately attempting to discover at what point reality had been exchanged for illusion.”

    STRETHER: Grillo’s nearly nihilistic attitude toward all theories of money, as seen above, could be seen as a form of “confusionism,” destined to end badly.

    I suppose it depends on one’s outlook, and what one means by “end badly.”

    For the lords of capital, certainly anything that brings down the status quo “ends badly.”

    John Gray is a pessimist, so believes that when the “ruling mythology hits the buffers,” that it will end badly.

    Wallerstein, on the other hand, is more optimistic. He believes it could end badly or end well, depending on a vast array of factors. (see link to his interview above)

    Martin Luther King was an optimist and believed the universe was on the side of truth and justice, and therefore believed things would end well.

    When feudalism and its ruling mythology – Medieval Christianity — hit the buffers, did it end badly? The interregnum before a new ruling mythology could become dominant was certainly “bad.” Between 1546 and 1641 we managed to kill off large chunks of the populations of Northern Europe and England, fighting over what the new mythology would look like. But was the end product, Modernism and capitalism, “better” than what it replaced, Medieval Christianity and feudalism?

    When the first crisis of Modernism occurred between 1914 and 1945, did it “end badly”?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      By “end badly,” I was thinking Berlusconi II except a lot worse. Italy does have a fascist tradition; that’s why I quoted Pound[‘s lovely poem….]

      1. from Mexico

        “When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgments until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of the troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before venture publicly to congratulate men on a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with the solidity for property; with peace in order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things to; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit while it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please: we ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risk congratulations, which may soon be turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate insulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principals, tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers. . . .”

        EDMUND BURKE, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

  5. Hans Suter

    I’m looking forward to go thru old Saturday Night and Colbert Shows when the ticket Stewart/Colbert rans for President.

    1. 1 Kings

      Reverse it-Colbert has eclipsed Stewart. In fact, Stewart with his way too light touch on Obama is now off the ticket!

      Imagine Colbert, even in character, running for President like Grillo. We’ll give him term-limited former governor Brian Schweitcher as VP to be his writer/policy expert.

      Be the funniest and most honest Presidency in any lifetime.

  6. Lambert Strether Post author

    To sharpen the point: If Grillo doesn’t have a coherent theory of money, then what are his policy proposals based on? What integrates them? There’s always the possibility that Grillo is “confused”; then again, there’s also the possibility that Grillo is a confusionist.

    Adding… The text is 1998, even if its circulating everywhere. That’s a long time ago, way pre-crisis. People get to educate themselves and change their views. I wonder what Grillo’s views are today?

    1. lidia

      People get to educate themselves and change their views. I wonder what Grillo’s views are today?

      Are you joking? Seems you’re implying that Grillo should be re-educating himself, no doubt due to his “confusion”.

      We should all be so confused!

  7. TC

    “Indeed. Fiat money created for public purpose: That, Grillo seems to get, and that could be seen as encouraging.”

    But to what “public purpose” will Ron Paul’s hippie brother, Beppe, put “Republic of Italy” notes? Windmills? solar panels? Squirrels on a treadmill? The man is anti-development and he also has vowed to smash unions. Sounds like a fascist, no? You’d think the Google search yields identified here–these prasing Grillo–would offer ample clue to positively answer in the affirmative. Yet as this rotten cake evidently needs icing, we find Goldman Sachs expressing “excitement” over Grillo’s 5-star movement. How can this be! Simple: Imperial finance LOVES fascists.

    Grillo’s trash talk sounds so familiar to anyone paying attention to either the U.S. Tea Party or Britain’s Ukip. Yet another “color revolution” proceeding from Anglo-American intelligence operations intersecting imperial finance. Nothing to see here, kids. Move along…

    1. JEHR

      Grillo has more in common with Colbert than the fascists. I think he is saying what has to be said and we need more people saying it everywhere!

      However, if Goldman Sachs endorses Grillo, run for cover!

  8. J Sterling

    I think you’re over-analyzing, and it’s just that “banker+gangster=bankster” would not work as a pun in Italian.

    “Banker” is, I think, “banchiere”, and “gangster” is “gangster” the world over, a word other languages borrowed from English when Prohibition in the 20s inspired Hollywood movies in the 30s and 40s, which were then sold worldwide.

    We don’t say “glasnost” because Russian is the language of openness, we say it because Russians were saying it.

  9. OpenThePodBayDoorHAL

    In our complicated world we’re conditioned to overcomplicate things, and mistrust things that seem too simple. I think Grillo, for all his faults, understands this. We want to overcomplicate money, for example. I mean has history not shown us time and time and time and again that “sound money” is the answer? That politicians always want to be re-elected; that bankers give them the way to do that (give away free money); and that the way to get “free money” is to print up a whole lot of it?
    Money that cannot be re-leveraged, re-po’d, and re-hypothecated into the stratosphere is the answer. Money that represents and stays attached to real things: real commerce, real assets. Money that can’t become a phantom ephemeral grotesquerie of lies…

  10. steve from virginia

    Grillo is a tour-de-force and an antagonist of the status quo because it puts noodles on his table (gives him a massive audience). Good for him!

    Should Five Star Movement by happenstance gain some form of authority over Italy, it will embrace the euro and demand austerity.

    Why? Simple: euro = gasoline. Nobody is going to rock the boat.

  11. Kurt Sperry

    The conflations of M5S and fascism or right wing extremist movements I’m reading here strike me as not only fundamentally ill informed but suspiciously ad hoc. Moreover there’s really nothing unambiguous or concrete behind them. He or one of his M5S compatriots once said something unspecified nice about Ron Paul (whom I would have nice things to say about on any number of policies) or how he has allegedly refused to respond to some pop quiz litmus test question on antifascism to a particular person’s subjective liking. Even the Wu Ming piece which should do better, really doesn’t. Strip away the aggressive reading into the negative policy spaces or the guilt by (tenuous) association and there’s damned little left.

    Look at TC’s comment above, ludicrous comparisons to the UKIP and the American Tea Party, an obligatory insinuation with absolutely nothing to bolster it of some whiff of conspiracy involving shadowy intelligence operatives. I think M5S has gotten under some people’s skins. And until those people can make actual cogent sense on why, I think I’ll just keep a wary eye on the sources of the ongoing smears.

    I remain in near equal measure skeptical and excited by M5S, their political agenda will have to come out of hiding now as they will form a significant component of whatever the next government of Italy will turn out to be. Once we see the policy course they chart, all will more or less be revealed. At this juncture, speculation seems pointless–and some more pointless than others.

    1. Bernard Marszalek

      Labeling M5S now is fruitless. We’ll see the beef, or not, when the elected ‘novices’ need to deal with policy. Will they take their marching orders from Grillo, will they buckle and comprimise w/the devil or will they decide for themselves (as a bloc, as a kind of parliamentary party of sorts) on the main issues of media control and electoral corruption, and maybe, hopefully, use their position to agitate for Basic Income? Tune in a month from now.

  12. Jim

    “ Nobody said the politics was easy…”

    A great tragedy of contemporary American politics is that there appears to be no current political tendency within the United States which has been able to accurately categorize our modern structures of power which are today cultural and political as well as economic—and to use such categorizations to help mobilize the general public to defend its interests.

    Since the turn of the 20th century (and a dynamic even more accelerated in the early 21st century) significant proportions of upper-middle class professionals, intellectuals, and experts of various sorts are running Big State(using their cultural capital–knowledge–to secure a privileged position for themselves and then– colluding with Big Capital and Big Bank– with the end result being a continuing clientization in both the public and private sectors of the general population—who are increasingly alienated and lacking in any democratic representation whatsoever.

    It is exciting to see a significant proportion of the Italian population beginning to make a stab at overcoming this democratic deficit in their own country.

  13. Pelham

    Thank you for this. Once again, I learn more about Beppe Grillo in one item on Naked Capitalism than in all my reading of The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and The New York Times. I suppose by know, though, I shouldn’t be surprised at this.

  14. lidia

    @Lambert: Grillo’s nearly nihilistic attitude toward all theories of money, as seen above, could be seen as a form of “confusionism,” destined to end badly.

    Trying to parse this sentencec… Do you mean end badly for Grillo? (No worse than for anyone else, I reckon.)

    The nihilistic attitude is the only appropriate one. It seems here that you are blaming the victim: Grillo suffers from “confusionism” (interesting coinage!) because he is subject, as we all are, to a system which actively endeavors to confound us in order to steal from us and to rape the planet with impunity.

    And it will end badly, for all of us. In the meantime, it’s quite frustrating to see intelligent minds at NC tiptoe just up to the edge of the precipice and refuse to see what Grillo is pointing out, that there’s no there there, just a bottomless pit.

    1. skippy

      Sigh… yes…

      Skippy… the politics of ologys and isms or an eye to the environment… seems the rancorous shouting from the pundit pit… always blinds and deafens all those that can’t pull away…. from that siren song…

  15. lidia

    Somehow, I’m not able to imagine Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, or the SNL scriptwriters calling Lloyd Blankfein a human hemorrhoid. American political humor is very deferential.
    Italian MSM humor is much more deferential than Jon Stewart, believe me. This, however, is a private venue. It’s not stuff that ever gets shown on TV.

    It is, however, interesting to contrast how far Stewart (who can be slightly pungent on The Daily Show set) stuck his neck out when he had his own live show for the masses, the maudlin mess that was the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Far from taking on the banks or any other vested interest, Stewart at his most brutal beat up on Tucker Carlson, the man most likely to solicit a wedgie. It was refreshing, but only because we are so unused to seeing anybody actually talk back to a pundit.

  16. PauW

    I saw that show :-) (hehe I was young) Let’s remember the context – back then he was just a comedian turned “free thinker / agitator” and M5S didn’t exist yet.
    Grillo just loved to rant – rightfully so – against what he saw as the great idiocies of capitalism. Everyone here remembers the famous gag about the damn danish biscuits which are made of canadian flour which is shipped to DK, packaged and reshipped to US…why don’t they just buy the effing recipe?
    Or his histrionic presentation of the hydrogen powered car (a.d. 1995!!…

    Obviously after being on the stage all those years (just like ehr…young Berlusconi, ahem…) made him a powerful figure, just waiting for the right kind of political crisis in order to make his entry on a more important stage…

    1. Bill

      Grillo, Farage . We need some like them . Like Jon Stewart , funny stuff educates the “masses” , where no blog will work .
      They sit long enough to hear it . I like Jons’ angle on things . I have watched Brillos 98 video , sort of surprised .

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