Modern Monetary Theory Meets George Lakoff

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

MMT’s Bill Mitchell narrates a slide presentation of a paper (draft) co-authored with Louisa Connors, Member, Centre for Literary and Linguistic Computing, University of Newcastle. I wish the paper had an abstract, so lazy people like me could just grab it, but here are what I see as the key paragraphs in the introduction:

It is reasonable to expect that professional failure on the scale of the GFC would lead to a re-evaluation of the paradigm with in which these economists work, and major changes in economic curricula and research. Mainstream economists, however, have re-energised their anti-government free-market biases and effectively reconstructed what was a private debt crisis into a sovereign debt crisis, obscuring their role in the crisis and deflecting attention from the flaws in their model. The dynamics that created the crisis (deregulation, reduced financial oversight, etc) continue to be advocated by the mainstream as solutions. The fact that mainstream macroeconomics has retained its hegemonic status in the face of its failure to resonate with reality is [and inability to master simple Excel macros as well they’ve mastered hegemonic status seeking, despite their field’s carefully cultivated reputation for scientific rigor], in no small way, due to the way economic debates are framed in the public discourse. Framing refers to the way an argument is conceptualised and communicated by speakers and listeners. Processes of conceptualisation proceed by way of adaptive reasoning on the basis of models and representations. Research in cognitive philosophy and cognitive linguistics suggests that the models that constrain our thinking operate at a largely unconscious level, and that the abstract concepts we draw on are “largely metaphorical”, “imaginative”, and “emotionally engaged” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999:3-4).

So, light the fire in the woodstove with the Sunday Times, get a cup of coffee, and listen Mitchell’s laconic narration (and charming Australian accent):

Note that neither the paper nor the slide presentation themselves exemplify the Lakoffian approach; Mitchell and Connors do not, as the techies say, eat their own dogfood. Rather, the paper and the slides lay out a research program in political economy; emphasis political (and how not?)

* * *

I don’t know that I have that much to add, except to say that I look forward to the research program, and that the blogosphere (as with The Coin) could provide a useful test platform or (to mix metaphors) crucible. Let me express my doubts about the Lakoffian approach in the form of a picture [WARNING: Put down your coffee!]:

Figure 1


Note the title. (And is the horse Trojan?) Summarizing crudely, one of Lakoff’s big ideas was that the Republicans were “the Daddy Party” and the Democrats were “the Mommy Party.” With results that you see above. Now, I’m not saying that brain bleach-demanding kitsch like that — and if you are one of the readers who didn’t heed my warning, and yet still didn’t lose a keyboard when you spit out your coffee, I’d very much like to know why — like that, I say, is the inevitable outcome of Lakoff’s work with the Democrats, but outcome it was. I can’t bear to dig out the book where Lakoff explained the Mommy Party/Daddy Party metaphors, even though I actually bought it.* Anyhow, this interview from 2003 will serve to expand on Lakoff’s ideas:

Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing?

Because they’ve put billions of dollars into it. Over the last 30 years their think tanks have made a heavy investment in ideas and in language. In 1970, [Supreme Court Justice] Lewis Powell wrote a fateful memo to the National Chamber of Commerce saying that all of our best students are becoming anti-business because of the Vietnam War, and that we needed to do something about it. Powell’s agenda included getting wealthy conservatives to set up professorships, setting up institutes on and off campus where intellectuals would write books from a conservative business perspective, and setting up think tanks…..

Why haven’t progressives done the same thing?

There’s a systematic reason for that. You can see it in the way that conservative foundations and progressive foundations work. Conservative foundations give large block grants year after year to their think tanks. They say, ‘Here’s several million dollars, do what you need to do.’ And basically, they build infrastructure … Why? Because the conservative moral system, which I analyzed in “Moral Politics,” has as its highest value preserving and defending the “strict father” system itself. And that means building infrastructure. As businessmen, they know how to do this very well.

Meanwhile, liberals’ conceptual system of the “nurturant parent” has as its highest value helping individuals who need help. The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, ‘We’re giving you $25,000, but don’t waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don’t use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.’ So there’s actually a structural reason built into the worldviews that explains why conservatives have done better.

Back up for a second and explain what you mean by the strict father and nurturant parent frameworks.

Well, the progressive worldview is modeled on a nurturant parent family. Briefly, it assumes that the world is basically good and can be made better and that one must work toward that… On a larger scale, specific policies follow, such as governmental protection in form of a social safety net …

The conservative worldview, the strict father model, assumes that the world is dangerous and difficult and that children are born bad and must be made good. The strict father is the moral authority who supports and defends the family, tells his wife what to do, and teaches his kids right from wrong…

2003, of course, was a happy innocent time, a bad decade ago. True, Bush (with the help of 308,000 Democratic voters) had stolen election 2000 in Florida, and had just invaded Iraq, but we hadn’t hadn’t lost Iraq yet, or Afghanistan, and hadn’t had the Great Financial crisis or grinding disemployment, and above all, hadn’t seen Obama’s Democrats consolidate and normalize all of Bush’s executive power grabs, or adopt Republican policies. Back in those days, we — the innocent — thought of the Democrats as the natural home for the left, if only we could help them be stronger! (“Grow a spine,” as we put it back in the day of “More and better Democrats.”)

And in those days, Lakoff’s influence was pervasive. For a blogger like me (I started at Eschaton in 2003, playing whack-a-mole with WMD propaganda) Lakoff’s approach seemed tailor made: If I can invent better language, I can help the Democrats be strong! (Hence the invention of all sorts of verbal combat disciplines, including snark.) To people less innocent than me, but still perhaps, at that point, innocent, Lakoff’s approach also seemed tailor made, but with a difference: If I can invent better language and get funding**, I can help the Democrats be strong! (And never mind Lakoff’s weird assumption that nurturing parents don’t build infrastructure. Where did that come from?)

What nobody, I think, realized — though perhaps I was not cynical enough — is that the problem wasn’t that the Democrats were weak, but that the Democrats were Democrats. Time for another picture. [WARNING If you still have coffee in your cup, put it (the cup) down!]

Figure 2


That’s the stuff to give the troops cute little squirrels! Until you remember scams like Race to the Top and privatization, or students loaded down with debt regardless of whatever little the administration has done.

Of course, a consultant is only as good as their client, and just because the Democrats are the Democrats doesn’t mean that Lakoff’s ideas — binary though Mommy Party/Daddy Party now seems, in retrospect — aren’t good. Perhaps the MMTers will have better luck with them. Here is a key slide from Mitchell and Connors’ presentation, from the section where they go into detail on their Lakoffian approach:

Figure 3


Notice the last bullet:

  • Progressives*** have to add the appropriate action

Exactly what’s missing with “Democrats make sure that children can go to [gutted public or corrupt charter] schools, just like Mommy does [after loading herself down with debt to gamble on the horrible job market]. Sure, the book is for kids, but you’d think there’d be some kinda narrative hook to explain how all this good stuff happens, no? Those cute little squirrels will have to pass the education bill to find out what’s in it!

In other words, in Figure 2, we have a classic case of the Underpants Gnomes, to invoke non-gendered, non-binary metaphor:

1) Collect underpants

2) ????? <– The “apppropriate action” is missing!

3) Profit!!!

In Mitchell and Connors’ Figure 3, Step 2 is not “?????”. Appropriate actions must be present! So perhaps there is hope for this MMT research program in political economy; the MMTers are linking metaphor to policy much more directly than Democrats do, which MMT enables them to do. (More hope than simply waiting for all the fresh- and saltwater economists to die off, which is sometimes the only way that a paradigm shift can occur.) We might also take hope from straws in the wind like Warren Mosler publishing in U.S. News, the success of #mintthecoin, and even Obama’s taking The Coin more seriously than people thought at the time. After all, you lose until you win.

So, I can see this research program getting decent traction in our famously free press, but will that translate into traction with policy makers? Time will tell, but the eternal question — Are the elites stupid or evil? — will surely have as great an effect on the outcome as proper framing. And then there’s the public, and their notion of public purpose….

NOTE Why Mommy is a Democrat is a real book, I swear!

NOTE * Lakoff, before he became a Democratic consultant, wrote the really interesting, scholarly, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.

NOTE ** A conundrum never solved, to this day. Yves (and bloggers like her) have one funding model; Kos, another; Greenwald et al. still another. None can be said to rival the “wingnut welfare” network, though all have been making inroads into the discourse.

NOTE *** Apparently, in Australia, it’s still possible to use the word progressive without irony. I envy them.

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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. The Dork of Cork

    “The Scottish political constituent who votes liberal because he is too conservative to change”
    CH Douglas.

    However I don’t buy this full employment meme – we have been on a war footing for 100 years….real resources are declining.
    Post war the neo Keynesians merely used free banking rather then government fiat to mobilize the economy.
    Now Keynes is the only option again ?

    MMT is beginning to show its true nature ..a central bankers wet dream.

    1. Ben Johannson

      Not sure where you’re getting that. Fiscal policy is not a central banker’s dream, and most MMTers want to see central bank roles permanently reduced.

      1. The Dork of Cork

        Central banks were conceived so as to make war.
        To mobilize the nation and all that stuff.

        There was no nation before the Central banks came into existence.
        Traditional Kenynesian pushes create scarcity , neo Keynesian drives in mature banking unions such as the US and UK (they are not Sovereign entities as so often is described) pushes with the free banks and captured fiat in symbiotic unison create scarcity.
        Young banking unions such as the EU (much like the 19th century UK) create scarcity on its periphery so as to concentrate capital in its core.

        MMT strikes me as the last chance saloon for central banking – when the tanks are empty of diesel (Keynesian) or the suburban cars empty of petrol(neo Keynesian) lets mobilize members of the youth movement and fling them against some machine gun nest.

        1. JEHR

          Moyers interviewed Henry Giroux who also mentioned the need for changing the metaphors now being used in the MSM. Giroux calls capitalism in the US a “death machine.” Zombies (politicians and the rich) are driven by the lust for money, according to Giroux.

          The article above in NC suggests ways to write about our present financial crisis that are positive and metaphorically more accurate. My next letter to my MP will be created on that basis and will probably suggest the federal government raise the minimum wage for retail establishments, bars and restaurants where most of the available jobs seem to reside right now. Such an action will be an investment of the deficit and will contribute to the well-being of the people.

        2. Ben Johannson

          Yeah, I get that war only started with central banks. Everyone knows that human history was one of peace until the first world war, but how does that connect with fiscal policy and reducing the powers of CBs? You’re arguing that people who want to disempower monetary policy are secretly aiding monetary fetishists. How does that work, exactly? Is MMT a conspiracy hatched by Alan Greenspan?

          1. The Dork of Cork

            When I speak of war I talk about the modern war of mobilization – if I were to pick some arbitrary date – its when Cromwells new model army(proto redshirts) landed on Irish shores but I am sure you can go back further but I imagine it was just some Lord with a few 100 knights throwing his weight around the gaff.

      2. The Dork of Cork

        “fling them against some machine gun nest”………….to add I am not arguing that Bill wants to throw anybody at a machine gun nest.
        In the post war world of today I imagine he wants people to do pointless jobs in suburbia.

        But what I am saying is that its exactly the same thing at its core.

        “You have got to stopping running away from yourself”….or perhaps your own rational demand based on your real internal well being.

        1. TimR

          Dork- Very interesting! Very condensed though..

          I’m skeptical of the full employment meme too. It doesn’t ask any questions about our social arrangements, the idea of 9 to 5 jobs rather than people just doing what they want to do (the horror!) We still have “enclosure” movements of many kinds surrounding us, preventing people from living decently unless they resort to wage-labor. (Unless you’re one of the rare individuals who can self-educate and establish yourself off the grid in New Mexico or some other zone of relative tolerance for non-conformists.) Many people are going to want to occupy their time doing “work” of some sort, but probably not some make-work program. Or being “buffer stock” until they can be absorbed back into the private sector borg.

          Can you expand on how you see both Keynsian and neo-keynsian creating scarcity (esp. the former)?

          1. Lambert Strether Post author

            1) The “full employment” meme is a policy proposal by some MMTers. It’s based on MMT’s understand of the real operations of the money system, but other policy proposals are possible.

            2) You might feel differently about full unemployment if you were one of the permanently disemployed. Regulating the economy by throwing people out of work is a vile and inhumane system; I’m surprised anyone can support it.

            3) That said, since this really quite centrist, New Dealish proposal has gotten no traction, I think a Basic Income Guarantee is the way to go; up the ante and besides

            4) the critique of “jobs” has a lot of validity.

          2. The Dork of Cork

            @Tim R
            But rather long answer disappeared in the naked Capitalism ether for some reason.

            But War creates scarcity
            Much of the trees cut down in Ireland was for the Royal Navy – later financed by the BoE as it slowly became a fully pro fighting force.

            The Royal Navy was at the vanguard of technological growth for many centuries – the theory goes that technology can beat the capital destruction.

            1. The Dork of Cork

              “My rather long answer”

              Ok – the first truly global war of mobilization occurred over a period of time in the late 18th and early 19th century.

              But during Keynes formative years ( 1914) there was a general collapse of (pointless) global trade as a result of a glut which could not be consumed (as a result of externalties and inertia in the global production distribution and consumption system)

              Well the guys in the inner sanctum found a way of consuming those goods……..

              The production of fiat with interest by the treasury (the 10 shilling notes) reduced the domestic calls on Gold so that England could buy external products.
              chiefly this stuff –
              (For some reason Naked capitalism does not want to accept the UK department of energy oil import data 1890 – 2012 )

              notice the greatest danger for the BoE was during the second round in 1942 when it was losing the Battle of the Atlantic.

        2. Malmo

          “..I imagine he wants people to do pointless jobs in suburbia…”

          Wage labor is slavery by another name. Period. If that be our fate willed to us by our technocratic MMT overlords, then at least let my pay equal that of an esteemed tenured Ivy League eonomics professor.

            1. Malmo

              Under the yoke of a boss the distinction of ownership or being rented is really immaterial. If I work for 20 bosses in my lifetime my fate is essentially determined by each one of them. So I’m owned by committee. My livelihood is in their sovereign hands. I sell my labor to another to survive. Alienation is the product of this arrangement. Social pathologies writ large are soon to follow. But like I said above, if we must work for “the man” under this scheme then at least make the effort worthwhile and mandate the pay and working conditions be dignified with a living wage and the laborer being supreme, not Capital or Free Markets, or Price… A “job” so as I can survive, minus those antecedents, is just more of the same horsecrap shoved down labors collective throats. Give me just working conditions FIRST, then run the job offer by me, otherwise don’t waste my time. MMT has it backwards. The job isn’t paramount to the person, the wages and working conditions are far more importnat to the dignity of the individual. Start there and then we’re talking.

              There are thoughtful alternatives out there to the silliness and backwardness that is wage labor that goes well beyond the MMT meme.:




          1. Dan Kervick

            So you have an idea for a society in which people don’t work for wages and salaries? How does it work?

            1. Malmo

              “So you have an idea for a society in which people don’t work for wages and salaries? How does it work?

              Well it worked for 99% of human history. However, if we must sell our labor to survive, as I stated above, then labor must be the dog and Capital/Capitalism must be the tail in an equitable world. Under the present nonequitable arrangement most people are trapped in a virtual caste system. How, pray tell, can one justify that system? Jobs aren’t enough. Living wages and humane working conditions are prerequsites if we must sell our labor to survive. You disagree with that?

              1. Dan Kervick

                Really? When was this golden age? You would rather be an outright slave or a serf or a subject than be required to trade work for a living?

                1. Malmo

                  “Really? When was this golden age? You would rather be an outright slave or a serf or a subject than be required to trade work for a living?”

                  Slave or a serf? That’s about 1% of human existence historically. However, if you believe trading work for a living( the reality under present conditions) is the way to go then I suppose we are miles apart. All I’m asking for, under present conditions, is a living wage ( what you likely make) and humane working conditions. Apparently you take issue with that arrangement. Do you?

                    1. Mansoor H. Khan


                      I kind of agree with you. Unless the “bare minimum” for survival is guaranteed life is too insecure. In the ages past this “bare minimum” was kind of assured by the all the social connections the villagers or the city dwellers had with each other (extended families, etc). I lived in Pakistan to age 13 and personally know what it means to have the comfort of those strong social connections.

                      Of course, the whole village can starve. But that is different.

                      Mansoor H. Khan

                    2. Malmo

                      “What is the alternative? Servant girls serve you grapes for free?”

                      No, Dan, the alternative is advocating for and implementing an egalitarian system. That will never be achieved under present conditions.

                      You can avoid the question all you want, but I’ll try one more time. Do you support a living wage and humane working conditions? If no, then you are no better than the neoliberals or the conservatives running the asylum we live in. You want what they both want, only you want it for 100% of the population. No thanks.

              2. Calgacus

                Jobs aren’t enough. Living wages and humane working conditions are prerequisites if we must sell our labor to survive. You disagree with that?

                But that IS the MMT JG. You’re claiming the MMT JG has defects it doesn’t have, that another proposal might have, and then presenting the true MMT JG as a superior alternative to the mischaracterized MMT position.

            2. The Dork of Cork

              We were told the entire object of industrial specialization is to save time……….

              If not what is the point of it ?

              If we must toil lets not…….shall we.

              Lets return to pre agricultural hunter gather bushmen which it so happens had a shit load of time to talk shit and do other things such as cave art etc etc.

              The agricultural carbohydrate heavy diet (starting in what is now Turkey) of the ancient world bred the war like caste system which we now feel we must replicate into infinity.

              “The English bow shot like a gun”

            3. Paul Boisvert

              There is of course a simple alternative to capitalist wage/profit relations, which addresses most of the alienating and oppressive consequences of that framework. Developed most fully by political philosopher David Schweickart in his book After Capitalism, it is to require that all businesses function as workers’ cooperatives. Rather than a single boss controlling and owning the product of the workers, and determining what share of the revenues she will give them, they would all collectively own and democratically control the enterprise.

              Remuneration would be voted upon–if the CEO can convince a majority that she should get a share 100 times larger than the rest of the workers, fine. But if not, she has to take what they vote her–she can’t unilaterally fire them, as those decisions are also made by democratic vote. Like other workers, she can try to convince the majority to increase her share, or quit and try to find another cooperative in which they are willing to pay her more.

              Thus, no one is anyone’s wage-slave, or wage-boss–just members of a democratically controlled economic enterprise, with one vote per person (rather than one vote per dollar, as under capitalism.) As in the rest of our lives, in the economic arena, democracy remains a terrible system–but it just happens to be better than all the rest.

              There are many other beneficial aspects of this switch from capitalist ownership to democratically cooperative socialism, including the opportunity of the workers to decide whether they want more work or more leisure (with the latter helping save the planet–capitalist owners always want the former, since they keep more profit from it without doing any more work for it). And without one owner getting to keep all the profits, there is no incentive for irrational growth for growth’s sake–expansion means more workers to share the profits with, so won’t be pursued unless it comes from rational reasons (economies of scale, real unmet demand, etc.) Thus the endless growth imperative of capitalism is curbed, and, again, this helps prevent the destruction of the planet.

              I urge all NC readers to read the book (or google around for online summaries of the arguments.) There is a great deal more to the proposal than my initial intro above, so please don’t bother making objections to it without reading a much fuller version of it. With regard to fiscal and monetary policy, it is fully compatible with MMT, and indeed also offers a Job Guarantee just like MMT’s, should the cooperative sector fail to employ all people. If, after you’ve read it, you still think it doesn’t make sense, at least I tried… :)

            4. Dan Kervick

              I’m not avoiding the question. Any real-world egalitarian system is going to be one in which people have mutual obligations. In exchange for some fair share of society’s output, most people – except the sick or invalid, the very old and the very old – will have to provide some kind of work. What they get for the work constitutes their wages. You seem to acknowledge as much when you call for a living wage.

              1. Malmo


                Let’s face it, how we spend our days laboring–hours, wages, conditions–are not scientifically arrived at. It really is an arbitrary value judgement which governs here. In an evolving industrial and technological world how much time is optimal laboring per week? 20 hours? 25 hours? 35 hours? 80 hours? Is spending the bulk of one’s waking hours engaged in labor away from family, with little latitude, for some 40-50 years, progress? For the overwhelming majority that’s what working life comes down to. How can one not be alienated by that arrangement?

                I understand that wage labor isn’t going away soon, if ever, but that doesn’t mean the nature of how we spend our days laboring can’t be radically altered. What’s magic about the 40 hour work week? Could this complex system be run on the 25 hour work week, and still provide plenty of output along with full employment? Why not? Everything else is managed in the hyper-complex mixed economy. At least under a 25 hour week we’d likely not have to invent mind numbing busy work which I think a JG would largely give us. There would be plenty of meaningful work under the 25 hour week backdrop, with little need for another bloated bureaucratic blackhole that surely a JG would bring.

                1. Dan Kervick

                  All those are perfectly reasonable questions, and good things to have debates about. But what is not very productive discussion, in my opinion, is a debate about whether or not to have wage labor. There is no viable alternative that I can see to a social system in which one earns one’s share of the social fruits by exchanging one’s work for it.

                  Now that doesn’t mean that the wages necessarily have to be paid by private owners of private enterprises who receive a share of the output of the enterprise simply as a privilege of ownership. But in all societies people have to earn their place in the society by contributing some kind of effort, and the rules establishing governing those mutual obligations are enforced. If you were a deadbeat in the past you might get your skull bashed in and be thrown in a bog, or get an arrow in your back.

                  Alienation is inherent in the human condition. It’s a consequence of the fact that humans are social animals, and we are embedded in societies in which we do not work for ourselves alone, but part of what we produce goes to others: in large societies to others whom we do not know personally. And we receive goods that were produced by others whom we also we do not know.

                  I think all we have a right to demand is that the division of both work and output meets some reasonable standard of justice.

                  1. Malmo

                    “Alienation is inherent in the human condition. It’s a consequence of the fact that humans are social animals, and we are embedded in societies in which we do not work for ourselves alone, but part of what we produce goes to others: in large societies to others whom we do not know personally. And we receive goods that were produced by others whom we also we do not know….”

                    So because you say alienation is inherent in the human condition, that somehow makes this laboring arrangement ok just as it stands now? We just need to suck it up and take it like a man? I’m sure there are many out there, especially those not as blessed with cush or relatively secure jobs, who would take you to task quite persuasively regarding your contention. Also, when you say what we produce goes to others I get. But how about the inequitable flow of what we produce as surplus ending up largely with the 1% folks?

                    As for the wage dynamic, I’m inclined to agree that it’s here to stay, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be roundly criticized as an unjust means for ditributing the productive pie fairly.

                    I have no illusions regarding the lack of political will or consensus on these matters. That doesn’t mean critics of the system should be silent and just slink away meekly. I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking on the subject of work. I’ve been a union rep and a teacher rep. I worked as a congressional staffer in the 80’s. Most of the bromides I’ve seen discussed aren’t even half measures, and few lasting reforms have come about in my 35+ years laboring. All I know is that I’ve seen too many broken people; people who are cynical, angry, confused, mentally exhausted and simply disgusted with the rat race. These discussions can at least help folks like I mentioned vent. They are cathartic for me too. If anything my hope is that the Protestant work ethic and it’s offspring, capitalism, can make way for a modern and progressive way of spending one’s day that doesn’t excuse the alienating forces it spawns.

  2. JGordon

    I believe that the conservative vs. Democrat labeling is a bit off the mark. I believe it should be replaced with something a bit more honest, such something like “Fascist Party A” and “Fascist Party B” for example.

    Oh to Skippy since he asked about my life earlier, I have a tiny orchard of very tall moringa oleifera trees growing on my postage stamp-size lot of land as well as various perrenial vegetables, like egyptian spinach and chaya, and several still-small fruit trees. I have also been studying various PUA methods to enhance my social skills. As for what I’ve been reading lately, that would be Robert Greene’s “The 48 Laws of Power” and Neil Strauss’s “Rules of the Game”. Oh,I also signed up for classes in commercial photography in order to get a vocation that will garner me badass social proof. Not sure why you’d be curious about that, but feel free to ask about anything else you like.

    As for MMT, I certain that all complex monetary systems are doomed to certain corruption and failure, regardless of the environmental situation. But considering the dwindling mineral resources and the rapidly deteriorating life-support capacity of the planet’s ecology the coming collapse will be something that few if any people will manage to live through. Mainly because of the threat of nuclear power, although climate change is also worrying, though to a far lesser extent.

    1. skippy

      JGordon – never asked about your life, just where the organic JGordon went – in relationship to your comment at that time.

      Self help books – barf…

      The 48 Laws of Power (1998) is the first book by American author Robert Greene.[1] The book, an international bestseller, is a practical guide for anyone who wants power, observes power, or wants to arm him- or herself against power.[2][3][4] It has sold over 1.2 million copies in the United States alone and is popular with famous rappers, entrepreneurs, celebrities, athletes and actors including 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, DJ Premier, Dov Charney, Brian Grazer, Andrew Bynum, Chris Bosh, Drake, and Will Smith.


      Greene initially formulated some of the ideas in The 48 Laws of Power while working as a writer in Hollywood and observing that today’s power elite shared similar traits with powerful figures throughout history.[4] In 1995, Greene worked as a writer at Fabrica, an art and media school, and met a book packager named Joost Elffers.[6][8] Greene pitched a book about power to Elffers and six months later, Elffers requested that Greene write a treatment.[6]

      Although Greene was unhappy in his current job, he was comfortable and saw the time needed to write a proper book proposal as too risky.[10] However, at the time Greene was rereading his favorite biography about Julius Caesar and took inspiration from Caesar’s decision to cross the Rubicon River and fight Pompey, thus inciting the Great Roman Civil War.[10] Greene would follow Caesar’s example and write the treatment, which later became The 48 Laws of Power.[10] He would note this as the turning point of his life.[10]

      The 48 Laws of Power are a distillation of 3,000 years of the history of power, drawing on the lives of strategists and historical figures like Niccolò Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Kissinger, P.T. Barnum [1] and Baltasar Gracián. The book is intended to show people how to gain power, preserve it, and defend themselves against power manipulators.[4] Each law is its own chapter, complete with a “transgression of the law,” “observation of the law,” and a “reversal.”

      Cultural impact

      The 48 Laws of Power is taught in business management classes and is one of the most requested books in American prison libraries.[4][19][20][21] The book is influential with a wide array of entrepreneurs, musicians, athletes, and movie stars. Dov Charney, founder and CEO of American Apparel, has handed out hundreds of copies of the book to friends and employees and frequently quotes the laws during board meetings (he would also later appoint Greene to American Apparel’s board of directors).[6]

      50 Cent stated that he related to the book “immediately,” and approached Greene with the prospect of a potential collaboration, which would later become The 50th Law, another New York Times bestseller.[15] Busta Rhymes used The 48 Laws of Power to deal with problematic movie producers.[8] DJ Premier has a tattoo inspired from Law #5, “Reputation is the cornerstone of power”, on his arm[5] and DJ Calvin Harris has an “Enter with boldness” arm tattoo based on Law #28.[22] The 48 Laws of Power has also been mentioned in songs by UGK, Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake.[5][23][24] [25] Former Cuban President Fidel Castro is also reported to have read the book. – wiki

      Skip here… why does this feel like the “Atlas Shrugged” for the new millennium… oh yeah… “Greene initially formulated some of the ideas in The 48 Laws of Power while working as a writer in Hollywood”.

      This feature is part of’s HarperCollins Publishers Celebrity Author series.

      In this excerpt from The Game, Neil Strauss discusses the top 10 ways to successfully approach a woman in a crowd and seal the deal.

      My Mystery Method workshop in Los Angeles kicked ass. I’ve decided to teach several impressive ways to demonstrate mind power through magic at my next workshop. After all, some of you need something with which to convey your charming personalities. If you are going in without an edge — like if you say, “Hi, I’m an accountant” — you will not capture your target’s attention and curiosity.

      So, since the workshop, I’ve retired the FMAC model and broken down the approach to 10 detailed steps. Here is the basic format to all approaches –

      Skip here… Dude… I feel like I’m back in Calif in the 80s where self help gurus were selling either “How to pick up Babes” trope, when they used 8balls of coke or how to become rich leveraging RE to the Oort belt, eat the cash flows, and take insurance out on the whole abortion, if you had kids.

      “As for MMT, I certain that all complex monetary systems are doomed to certain corruption and failure, regardless of the environmental situation.- JGordon

      Skip here – its not really complex, its more of an issue of cognitive bias for some, then you have Chris Cooks works. Corruption is a human tool problem, it matter not the system or object.

      Seemingly the simple solution – is – what happens in the first few years of life, but, the majority don’t want to go there because of stuff. The Meta studies are quite conclusive imo, but, Freedoom[!!!].

      FYI all the best planing in the world usually goes right out the window when it meets reality, we like to tell ourselves how clever we are when we achieve goals, when its mostly randomness. Hence the necessity of some very large players in the market always trying to rig stuff in their favor and making sure the back blast – is always pointed – away from them.

      skippy… sister in-law (early 40s) just got the news of level 4 breast cancer (annual check up), Dbl with chemo shortly, then 5 years of what if. Really good community sorts, even with a few bob to their name. One way or another its going to be a bumpy decade JGordan, better to focus the mind than sink capital methinks – be quick and nimble comes to mind.

      PS… me… I watch the kids having fun, quietly help others, learn more, and play where the bush meets the sand… The Money Go Round – Endless Sun –

  3. JohnB

    Great article. An additional factor to this (which you touch on) is: Money.

    Conservatives have and spend the money for maintaining their ideological framework/narrative (and with the added competitive benefit, of not having to restrict themselves to the realms of reality or logic), which I don’t think Liberals/progressives do, to nearly the same extent.

    Add to this, tax-evasion using ‘charities’ (i.e. think-tanks), which is a staple for conservative oligarchs, and even if they can’t regain that money personally, they can put it towards causes that benefit them.

    Part of this (money/resources) is what the progressive/MMT crowd needs, and it also needs more open communities (outside of blog comments – such as Internet forums dedicated to the topic and building a wider supporting community), as a melting pot for testing and debating the framework/narrative (both in a constructive/controlled way, and in some other part of the forum, in an unconstructive/dirty/propaganda/FUD-filled way – because the latter is what conservatives will use and win by).

    1. JohnB

      N.B. I know I’m generalizing with the terms conservative/progressive (the former in a derogatory way); I don’t mean to (certainly, not all conservatives are like I imply), am just simplifying terms (based on the context of the article) for the sake of being succinct.

    2. McMike

      Well, they do get something back: they can use the tax deductible foundations to offer revolving door jobs, consulting contracts, fellowships, and speaking gigs. It’s a conduit for baksheesh.

      They can also find a space for their idiot son in law.

  4. JohnB

    Aaand….I’m not encouraging “unconstructive/dirty/propaganda/FUD-filled” promotion of MMT, but of countering the conservative arguments that are like that (forums also have ‘edit’ buttons, which are nice ;)).

  5. diptherio

    I think Lakoff may be on to something, actually, when he discusses differences in how conservative and liberal foundations spend their money. This bit sounds pretty familiar:

    The progressive foundations and donors give their money to a variety of grassroots organizations. They say, ‘We’re giving you $25,000, but don’t waste a penny of it. Make sure it all goes to the cause, don’t use it for administration, communication, infrastructure, or career development.’

    That’s been my experience working (well, volunteering mostly and working occasionally) on the left. You put a bunch of time into writing grants, trying to piece together enough money to keep things going, and when you get some, each grant comes with particular strings and requirements; ‘use it for this but not for that.’ And pretty much nobody wants to pay for salaries…especially not for the ground troops.

    If you want to work in liberal politics, especially on issue politics (as compared to electoral), you have to be willing to live in penury. It’s ridiculous. The result is that committed people get burnt-out extra fast from having to deal with the stresses of poverty as well as of politics. The not-so-committed people go to work for the other side, because they want to a middle-class lifestyle.

    Full-time engagement in progressive politics therefore becomes the domain of the young. Veterans are few and far between, and are generally either the super-hard-core idealists or the few who scored one of the decent-paying gigs. Most of the people that I worked with at MontPIRG in college have moved into other fields…more than a few have gone to work for the other side.

    Most of us who actually get paid to work on the left (whose ranks I’ve once again joined, thankfully) are members of the precariat, stringing together multiple little projects and tasks from different organizations to make ends meet. I just took over a job from another lefty organizer in NY…she was working six different jobs, now she’s down to five…I’m up to four…and both of us volunteer for the org as well (i.e. we’re hard-core)

    I hope this doesn’t sound like just an “I-don’t-get-paid-enough” rant, it really isn’t (I’m actually PSYCHED to be making $400/mo for doing sh*t I believe in). My point isn’t that I need more money, it’s that foundations would do well (imho) to provide more money for staff salaries and operating expenses, rather than funding one-off projects. You shouldn’t have to consign yourself to living like a Cistercian monk if you want to make a career in politics on the left, which pretty much seems to be the case now.

    1. Watt4Bob

      Progressive organizations, broadly speaking, are either ‘directed’ to be ineffective through the process you describe; small grants with strings attached, or, if they still manage to be effective, big-money co-opts their leadership by providing enough funds to pay them well.

      Of course in order to keep the money flowing, the newly comfortable leadership has to continually demonstrate how ‘reasonable’ they are.

      One way or the other, it seems they’ve managed to pull the teeth from nearly all the progressive watch-dogs.

      1. McMike

        Yup. As soon as the group starts getting stabler funding, it is taken over by “professionals” and careerists.

        They stop waking waves. They start making deals with the devil. And they start tilting right…

        1. McMike

          Wow, there’s actually a few names I recognize from botf here.

          I am using a different nic now. I left my old self in the wreckage of flame wars and infighting during the decline and balkanization phase of the sad botf/geezer era and awful musical editor reigns of terror.

          Is there a secret handshake or something?

          1. Michael Fiorillo

            Being dependent on private foundations, no matter how enlightened they may be – and the overwhelming majority of them are far less so than commonly assumed – is a dead end for any movement that wants to transform society.

            Unions, as self-financed working class institutions, have inherently greater potential to create human-centered change than any grant-dependent organization will ever have.

            That profound structural essence is precisely why unions are axiomatically targets of capital, whether through neutralization, co-optation (as is the case with my union, the American Federation of Teachers) or outright destruction.

            With organized labor in its apparent twilight right now, it may seem preposterous to imagine the unions as a powerful force for economic and political change again, but not nearly as much as thinking that (relative) chump change from the (relative) few righteous foundations out there will do the job.

            1. NotTimothyGeithner

              I think unions need to be smaller. The President of the AFL-CIO works for every union, not the one with a current dispute. Yes, in theory they would work together, but the operation is far too big to take control on a local level or force sympathy strikes which are snow ball efforts. Without independent authority, they aren’t going to be effective.

              Ever since the AFL-CIO formed, union membership has shrunk every year because they represent most of their members most of the time just not the ones in need.

            2. JTFaraday

              The AFT is currently organizing the graduate student employees at the University of Chicago. Apparently, some person or persons on the political science faculty told the students they were “naive”:


              But, in the immortal words of rapper “Positive K,” they’re “not tryin’ to hear that.”


              (Now that’s really “off topic,” (or maybe not)).

    2. Banger

      Great comment and goes with what I’ve observed over time.

      I don’t think there is much chance, any time soon, that the dynamic will change. What the left, whether it is funded by foundations, or not needs to do is to start addressing some common issues to help create a better conceptual foundation for all the issues the foundations and others are interested in. First, that there is such a thing as society and nurturing common interests makes pragmatic sense. Second, that there is a life beyond money and status. Third, that reason ought to dominate public policy questions not just the self-interest of major corporations or religious fanatics.

    3. McMike

      Consider the possibility that the big foundations – who control most of the grant money – don’t want actual substantive change to occur.

      Sure, they want to get food to the homeless, or extend preschool access for poor kids, but they don’t really want to see systemic radical change.

      Even the “liberal” foundations were funded largely by industrial and financial magnates. They are run by boards of trustees drawn almost entirely from the families of elite wealth, or from corporate executives. They are run by old white guys who wear suits.

      Look over the boards of directors lists for the foundations – and see a who’s who of the 1% and their vassals.

      Many of the “liberal” foundations in my region have been backing charter schools as the answer to education “reform.”

    4. Linden

      Very true, and I’ve been there myself. I’ve come to think that one of the big problems with the setup is the fact that organizations have to grovel for money from foundations. Foundations are set up by rich mofos who have too much money, who want a tax shelter for it, and who want to cleanse themselves of how they made the money in the first place. But they are reluctant to simply give the money: they have to retain control, they want to conduct their own brand of social engineering. Hence all the rules and conditions that come attached to it.

      It’s a disgusting dance everyone has to do. Do-gooder organizations usually know better than the foundations how to use the money effectively, but by the terms of the grants they aren’t allowed to. So do-gooder organizations have to take the project they really want to do, and either modify it or lie about it in such a way that the foundations will fund it. In the meantime, the foundations spend probably at least a dollar overseeing and trying to control the organizations for every dollar they actually give them. You’ll notice, if you’ve ever dealt with them, that the people who work for the foundations aren’t working three to four jobs and worrying about how to afford car repairs; they get to live the nice middle-class lifestyle while pinching every penny that goes to the people who actually do the real work, and they still get to feel like their job is “helping the community.” An excellent book on the subject is “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded,” by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.

    5. TimR

      diptherio- I don’t have your direct experience of it, but the replies to your comment (Watt4Bob, Linden, McMike) ring true to me from general reading and just simple logic — it’s a contradiction in terms that Big Money would fund effective, radical left organizations, obviously (except maybe in some rare case of weird machiavellian maneuvering, meddling in the affairs of peripheral or rival countries.)

      I’m surprised you quote the Lakoff remark approvingly, it sounds like BS to me.. Really, the funders just want to get all the money to where it does the most good?? That doesn’t fit what I hear about charitable organizations… They strike me as “stately pleasure domes” for those on the inside, with many many nefarious uses and agendas, probably some we’re all familiar with and others that would sound like the dread “conspiracy theory.”

      1. TimR

        Maybe I’m confusing terms though if there’s some distinction between “foundations” (insiders) and “do-gooder organizations” (more street level) that I’m not aware of.

        1. McMike

          Having just generalized, it is important to point out that it is very hard to generalize. There are all sorts of foundations, some of them certainly are nefarious front groups and tax evasion scams and excuses to throw tax deductible galas.

          Others just fall under what we might call “establishment capture,” wherein corporations and elite fill the boards with careerists, who tend to center-right economicaly even if socially liberal, and know how to not make waves, and are realy just assuaging their guilt and stuffing their resumes anyway. That it tends to self-reinforce the system is a side benefit of natural revese entropy – where organizations become pathological and conservative as they get larger.

          Some of them though, are genuinely willing to be radical and think outside the box. Few of them truly challenge the neoliberal framing though.

      2. McMike

        Woody Tasch put it quite well in his book Slow Money.

        [Paraphrased] the foundations invest their money in tobacco and energy stocks hoping for high yields, then use 5% of the proceeds to mitigate the impact of tobacco and energy companies.

      3. diptherio

        Well…I was specifically referring to the “strings attached to grants” bit and the apparent distaste by funders for paying for things like electricity or front-line staff’s child-care. No one, at least in my experience, wants to see “on-going expenses” or “salaries” on a grant requests.

        But I agree with you and with the other commenters here; the big-money foundations aren’t headed by people who necessarily want to change society in any fundamental way. I don’t have any solutions to offer, necessarily, but I thought Akerloff’s statement about differences in funding philosophies was worth highlighting, since it is apparently something many of us experience.

        1. McMike

          Yes, I’ve written more than a few grant apps.

          Sitting around dreaming up new and new-sounding projects to attract grants – projects that will apparently magically run themselves without wages, capital facilities, or an organization behind it.

          Rather than just saying; look, we’re doing good here, and it costs money.

          God forbid you just quietly do effective work without fanfare day in and day out. Few are the foundations that want to pay for that.

          1. Linden

            Exactly. The buzzword from the foundations is that organizations must make their projects “sustainable,” which simply means eventually they’ll cut off funding and the organization better have another sugar daddy lined up before that happens. If there was money to be made in the provision of social goods, wouldn’t there already be a market for it? There isn’t, which is why we’re coming to you for money, dummies.

        2. bob

          It’s the culture of the customer, and the customer is always right, as everyone knows.

          The balls to write a check to “charity” and then think that you deserve to dictate the use of the money.

          I’d be much more happy of a few of these “charatible” organizations would say – “screw your money, and your strings”, and then make a campaign out of that.

          It’s also just like schools these days. “Everyone” agrees that *something* needs to change. What needs to change, according to TPTB that are pushing for the changes? Removal of any local control over the schools and making everything a CEO board level decision, which, as has been well established, the board and CEO are not beholden to ANYONE, let alone their “customers”.

          But, they will hire a very high priced, well heeled PR firm to explain that what they are doing is in the customers best interest.

          Again, this all relies on the “customer” ethos.

        3. bob

          Paying for lights and electricity-

          There has been a push, buy the mega-large university endowments that says, if you want a building with your name on it, you also have to pay to maintain it for a while too.

          But, that’s a completely different level. As one uni builder said a few years ago- We ran out of students to put into all the new buildings years ago. But, everyone still wants their name on one.

    6. Lambert Strether Post author

      I agree on the internal dysfunction of so many progressive non-profit; been there. However, I just don’t see how that’s an outcome of the “nurturing parent” orientation of progressives. That’s Lakoff’s claim, and so far as I can tell, there’s no justification for it.

      1. McMike

        Well, I have been in all sorts of organizations, and generally, the most highly functional ones defintiely had some overt hierarchy. They also had enlightened features to develop buy in and move feedback uphill. But there was still a distinct hierarchy.

        In some of the dysfucntional liberal organizations I have known, they either lie to themselves that there isn’t a pecking order, when there is, or they get stuck all holding the door open for each other.

    7. H. Alexander Ivey

      My 2¢ about progressive / conservative and money.

      Conservatives are talking to and giving $ to people of their social class, or those who aspire to be in that class. People who give money to progressive causes aren’t giving $ to people of their social strata. The people getting the money are in a lower class. And the givers do not those getting the money to join their class. Class snobbery is easy to fall into. So, no money for wages, they will just spend it on drink or drugs – the usual upper class attitude.

  6. DakotabornKansan

    Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! I did spill my coffee!!

    There’s more from the same author. “Let your kids know you made the right choice in 2008!”

    “Mama Voted for Obama!” This colorful book of rhythm and rhyme is a fun and easy way to let your kids know you made the right choice in 2008!

    “Why Daddy is a Democrat”

    [Such drivel, destroying the power to think, is the route to oblivion.]

    Compare Zilber to the words of Dr. Seuss, who has helped many a child and grownup traverse the complicated road of life:

    “You have brains in your head.
    You have feet in your shoes.
    You can steer yourself
    any direction you choose.
    You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
    And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
    (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)

    “Think left and think right
    and think low and think high.
    Oh, the thinks you can think up
    if only you try!”
    (Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!)

    “I know up on top you are seeing great sights,
    but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.
    And the turtles, of course…all the turtles are free,
    as turtles and, maybe, all creatures should be.”
    (Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories)

    Maria Popova @ Brain Pickings has “a soft spot for beautiful and thoughtful children’s books, especially children’s literature with timeless philosophy for grown-ups.

    [Why Mommy is a Democrat isn’t one of them]

    Popova reviews “Tales for Little Rebels: A Collection of Radical Children’s Literature explores how the political beliefs of famous mid-century American authors shaped their cherished stories, teaching children to question rather than obey authority, to stand up and out rather than conform, to develop critical thinking skills rather than seek redemption through prayer.

    “Featuring 43 mostly out-of-print stories, comic strips, poems, primers, and other illustrated literary ephemera for pre-teen readers, the collection spans work by such icons as Dr. Seuss, Syd Hoff, Norma Klein, Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg, as well as lesser-know authors, many of whom blacklisted at the time. The stories cover everything from civil rights to gender politics to environmental responsibility to dignity of labor…”

    “People interested in changing the world have to be looking towards the future and are therefore interested in children,” writes editor Julia Mickenberg.

    Jack Zipes writes, “The very idea of ‘radical children’s literature’ may be surprising, because we do not commonly think about the connections between children’s literature and politics. But children’s literature has always been ideological…From the Puritans to the present day, the didactic tendency of books for young children suggests that adults have no problem prescribing a moral framework for the young. Yet there is the tendency to fear that ‘political propaganda’ will taint a young child’s ‘innocence.’ […] Teaching children to obey a moral authority can be understood as a moral lesson, but it can also be understood as a political lesson.”

    One of my favorites: A Seuss drawing suggesting that no matter how big, inflated or different the image we try to portray, being ourselves is most important.

  7. Banger

    I agree with Lakoff about framing issues but Lakoff makes the mistake of believing that progressives/liberals actually agree on major issues. We live at a time of quite dramatic political fragmentation that mirrors our culture. We can blame cable TV and the internet for that but that’s the situation we face. The left should try to agree do some common philosophical principles as a broad outline of agreement and emphasize them rather than individual issues. For example, if you don’t make reason, science and dialogue the key element of policy discussions you come up with crap policy. The ACA is a prime example of that. There was no intellectual debate using reason on the bill. Obamacare is an attempt at insurance reform when we needed health-care reform. The discussions were never based on reason or data but only analysis of political forces at work–this was, of course, because the health-care industry threatened unlimited political warfare should real reform even be considered. But the battle should not have been over particular policies but on using reason and fact as a basis for future discussion. Unless you lay that groundwork there can be no good result for society.

    1. Dan Kervick

      I agree with this Banger. There are many different kinds of people who self-identify themselves as people of the left, but no coherent underlying movement or core of ideas. Some want a green steady state world; some want dynamic growth. Some want a much bigger state; some want a much smaller state. Some are optimistic about global economic integration; others are protectionists. Some are enthusiastic about immigration; some want to restrict it. Some are very nationalistic or patriotic; some think the United States is a hideous evil empire. Some think social progress cannot be made without secularization; some are militantly Christian or militantly Jewish, etc. There are Chomskyan lefts, green lefts, labor lefts, liberal lefts, socialist lefts. The idea that there is some coherent movement out there just waiting for the right “framing” is ludicrous.

      1. Andrew Watts

        In modern times people are defined by what they stand against. This phenomenon is common across the entire political spectrum. People didn’t vote for Romney in 2012, the majority were voting against Obama. When all people can do is stand against something they possess zero agency. They’re just along for the ride no matter who wins. Our political media exists to make sure there is no final victory possible. It would no longer distract us all from the financial looting if it were any other way.

        That’s why I’m fairly certain abortion is going to come up sometime before 2016. Those pro-life/pro-choice bas tards! Oops, did it again.

  8. BITFU

    Here’s a review of Lakoff’s Little Blue Book from the very conservative PJ Media:

    The Book’s Actual Purpose

    The Little Blue Book is being marketed as an “Indispensable Handbook for Democrats” to help them communicate their values more clearly. But I think that the marketing is itself a ploy. The Little Blue Book was not written to help liberals communicate; instead, it was designed as a feel-good mantra, a comforting rectangular teddy bear reassuring the left-wing audience that they are good people.

    And this is where it gets downright amusing as Lambert bristles at the Lakoffian approach because Lakoff is treating his Progressive underlings the ways Progressives want to treat everyone else: With a form of Paternalism that masks an underlying contempt. Hell, Lambert and PJ Media are in alignment all the way down to the insulting use of children’s stories to spoon feed a message you evidently can’t figure out on your own.

    Here’s the core of Lakoff’s message straight from Page 43 of Lakoff’s tip of the hat to Chairman Mao in his Little Red-Blue Book:

    *Use your own language; never use your opponent’s language.

    *Be aware of what you believe and repeat it out loud over and over;never repeat ideas that you don’t believe, even if you are arguing against them.

    Of course there is no coincidence that the linguist in Lakoff essentially parroted Orwell’s very own description of Newspeak:

    “The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever.”

    In conclusion you Progressive minions: You are not smart enough to handle the Conservative onslaught on your own. If confronted by a Conservative, stick your fingers in your ears and repeat the approved Progressive mantras louder and louder until an elite member of the Progressive cause can come and rescue you.

  9. Hugh

    “Research in cognitive philosophy and cognitive linguistics suggests that the models that constrain our thinking operate at a largely unconscious level, and that the abstract concepts we draw on are “largely metaphorical”, “imaginative”, and “emotionally engaged””

    I would say that the first rule of the con is never to admit the con. We have to recognize that these wildly unrealistic models economists use just happen to massively benefit their own elite class as well as the rich class for whom they work. Maybe that’s what “emotionally engaged” means in this context.

    Niebuhr also recognized this self-serving element of elites:

    “The moral attitudes of dominant and privileged groups are characterised by universal self-deception and hypocrisy. The unconscious and conscious identification of their special interests with general interests and universal values, which we have noted in analysing national attitudes, is equally obvious in the attitude of classes. The reason why privileged classes are more hypocritical than underprivileged ones is that special privilege can be defended in terms of the rational ideal of equal justice only, by proving that it contributes something to the good of the whole. Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold. The most common form of hypocrisy among the privileged classes is to assume that their privileges are the just payments with which society rewards specially useful or meritorious functions.”

    Moral Man and Immoral Society

    The rich and elites define what is good for them as the common good. So no need to change broken models because as long as those models serve their interests, they serve, by definition, their definition, our interests. Ergo the models are not broken.

  10. Schofield

    “In conclusion you Progressive minions: You are not smart enough to handle the Conservative onslaught on your own. If confronted by a Conservative, stick your fingers in your ears and repeat the approved Progressive mantras louder and louder until an elite member of the Progressive cause can come and rescue you.”

    Well if you belive this you’d better start explaining the growth of Big Government during the last century and its continuance during this century with the bailout of the FIRE sector.

    “The Rise of Big Government in the United States” Walker and Vatter 1997


    “Hierarchy in the Forest” Boehm 1997

    which will give you a clue about why the growth occurred.

  11. Hugh

    Sigh. I can not get a longer comment to post on this thread. We are not talking about honest but mistaken beliefs. We are talking about hypocrisy, about self-interested self-deception for some and cynical clear-eyed lies from others.

    1. ambrit

      Dear Hugh;
      I would tweak it a bit to suggest that the self-deception involved is not self-interest based, but elite-interest based.
      The idea of a mantra has been raised in respect to the subject. This is plainly a religious concept, as the original Mantras, of which the Roman Catholic “Rosary” is a direct emulation, are tools developed to assist self-hypnotism in the furtherance of religious enlightenment. Orwells’ formulation of NewSpeak is exactly in line with this. The conclusion is inescapable; Economics, being mainly Political in nature, partakes of Religion.

  12. Eureka Springs

    So much to say on this I hardly know where to begin. I will say Figure 3 bullet points are guaranteed to drive away all but the mock turtleneck in crowd. And I love a nice warm mock turtleneck, but we need to be far more inclusive in so many ways. Like Lakoff, too many “intellectuals” are really just talking to/selling their own bubble.

    Also, too… the zeitgeist for a long time now holds entirely different values… from rap to some of hip hop and beyond… Mommy is nothing but a *itch and Ho… respect means submit. Art as well as politics is all about screwing oneself when nobody else will do it. It certainly shut up the waning feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s. And it looks like we the people will have to suffer the foolishness of an authoritarian neoliberal woman in charge for the the sake of it before the people learn they can and will be screwed by “their own”. Identity can and will be used against you divisively by the same mindset which fuels racism.

    I’m constantly reminded these days of a terrific discussion in ’06 sparked by John Dean’s book Conservatives Without Conscience. FDL with Glenn Greenwald hosting author John Dean… two weeks worth of book salon/discussions well worth reading now because so many were so wrong.

    I think the major point in retrospect is that ALL prog/dem/left/supposedly impartial observers including the author of the original study Dean based much of his book on were dead wrong as Dem controlled Houses and the Oval (especially the Obots who are as blindly authoritarian followers as Bush bots ever were) have proved without doubt in every year, every waking minute since.

    Our society, if not human nature as an overwhelming whole is clearly based on following authoritarians. Whether from the schoolyard bully or the preppy in crowd leader it’s instilled if not inherent early on.. Certainly our US gov’t structure as well as any top down funded sink tank on either right or left…. is designed and determined to corral followers.

    OWS was the only time in my life where I witnessed a modicum of intent among citizens (oddly initiated from the top such as it was from people like Graeber) to try a different kind of organization. However on the distant local level in my area OWS people simply could not grasp the concept. It would have been easier for most to conduct meetings in Chinese.

    We the people really would have to establish true democracy to have a chance at non authoritarian life. Something like selecting leadership positions much like jurors with strict instructions to inform, determine and enact the will of their constituents. Which would require entirely different means of communication than push-polling pre funded, pre determined outcomes of today. And none of this could possibly work well with government secrets, much less secret law, agencies, courts or secret budgets, etc. All government/public information/action should be 100 percent open source.

    However, with current technology and lots of practice we are capable of doing this, this much needed reorganization. Begin with erasing Lakoff from your consideration as a top down daddy talking point leader. Where are the feminists from days of not so olde who would have loudly slapped the Mommy book down? Lakoff wants to make the mock NPR crowd feel good about themselves… when what we need now is to call out their arrogance, their head in sand neoliberal, war mongering, class divisive, anti health care for all centrism. We need specific issues based platforms, with values imbedded in talking points afterwards, yes… and we need to unapologetically insist upon passage. Mitchell may be trying to get there, but he’s taking the long exclusionary way if this post is a clear indication.

    I don’t have the bandwidth to be able to load a long youtube but I must ask if Mitchell explains in detail or small talking point how MMT would once and for all end this mass FIRE theft neoliberal caste system? Is it even part of his selling point MMT goal?

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      1) The bullet points are meta. They are the research program; they are not the outcome of the research program

      2) You ask:

      If Mitchell explains in detail or small talking point how MMT would once and for all end this mass FIRE theft neoliberal caste system? Is it even part of his selling point MMT goal?

      First, what MMT, as a description of the real operations of the money system shows, definitively, is that there is no reason for the government to need to borrow money from the banks. (There is a statute that requires them to, which the platinum coin concept legally evades, but there’s no systemic requirement that stems from the nature of money.

      This is important for three reasons: A) It shows that the interest on the government debt is a purely rent-seeking endeavor and justifies removing the sucking mandibles of the FIRE sector from that part of the body politic; B) it destroys ANY pretence that the “ZOMG!!!!! Teh debt!!!!!!!!” propaganda emanating from the Peterson foundation and its Flex Network have an validity whatever. Get MMT in there, and all “The government is like a household” yammering ceases instantly; C) Since the government creates money for public purpose (for some definition of “public,” I agree) we can drop the sterile debt debate and turn our attention to what to do about the real economy. Different people will have different ideas about that, which is why we have politics, and political economy.

      * * *

      Think of MMT as an engineering handbook for highway construction, as opposed to money creation. Hitler built the autobahn. Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway system. But I think it’s nonsense to make a statement like “Nazi highway construction” (at least from the engineering standpoint). Hitler and Eisenhower had different notions of public purpose. So when you ask “MMT would once and for all end this mass FIRE theft” I think that’s a category error.

      Now, over the coming year, the research program may make this category error go away. Perhaps the MMTers will coalesce around a particular platform. But that has not happened yet.

      TROLL PROPHYLACTIC This is not the thread for arguing why Eisenhower and Hitler are both really Nazis, or why the highway system is a zombie death machine that will destroy the planet. I actually have a some sympathy for both position, but for the purpose of this thread, they are different and distinct enough as political systems to make my point.

      1. Code Name D

        Never the less, the point is raised regarding just what MMT actually is.

        I can state the theory of evolution easy enough; the change of biological life forms over time. I could then go on with some detail about the how we came to understand evolution, the science and evidence behind it, and how it’s relevant in the world. And I am hardly a biologist.

        I have made several forays into MMT and still can’t say I even have a primitive grasp over what it is. Even Smith’s recent text book (granted is written at the collage level) seemed to muddy the waters far more than it answered questions.

        Perhaps it’s too soon and perhaps researchers still have to craft the answer. But you start to see the issue.

        Is Lakoff being brought on as a consult to explain academic MMT to the lay level? That’s a bad idea.

        1. Yves Smith

          MMT makes a great deal of sense. What makes it hard is you have to unlearn a lot of what you thought you knew. It’s not unlike learning quantum physics.

          The best book is Randy Wray’s Understanding Modern Money. But you have to read it slowly, like a science textbook.

          1. Mansoor H. Khan

            Yves Said:

            “What makes it hard is you have to unlearn a lot of what you thought you knew.”

            Exactly, When I first really thought about Keynes’ “Paradox of Thrift” that is when a light bulb went on in my head.

            And what makes it even harder is that the present day “Catholic Church” (the banking cartel and the usurer/creditor class) are deliberately and consciously and willfully deceiving, lying and misleading humanity with respect to the science of economics with their “no salvation outside their paradigm” edict/teaching.

            But this modern day corrupt “church” (inshallah) will be defeated by the light of knowledge spread by the internet (Gutenburg printing press version II). Just like version I de-throned the church.

            On a more broader view human history does show that humans can learn the “truth” and escape the matrix slowly over time.

            Mansoor H. Khan

  13. TarheelDem

    Lakoff is an expert in liguistics and is flogging his profession. The US “progressive” Democrats read two of his books, took one lesson, framing, and think that is a panacea to their political problems–better communications. A bunch of communication consultants in DC who specialize in Democratic campaigns love this new excitement. It furnishes their NoVa houses.

    MMT faces the communications issues of any new ideas. How to breach the “there is no alternative” wall in the pubic’s thinking. In one sense that is a trivial problem; it is a matter of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In conventional top-down political issue propagation terms (the currently efficient means of production of political policy outcomes), it is a market communications problem, a publicity problem, an advertising problem – a problem of frames and soundbites and talking points and repetition.

    That buys into the frame of political conversation as a “marketplace of ideas”, which perpetuates the current top-down control of political communications and empowers all of the media channels paid to do this top-down communications.

    What if political conversations at the bottom had impact on policy? How would those channels of communications work? In what style would arguments be made? What would be the checks on true and accurate information? How can a network of political conversations be constructed so that the guys with spending the most money are not advantaged by that fact?

    If you live in the midst of conservative Republicans, you know that it is more the total information environment that the specific arguments that are driving their support for policies. Framing is a marginal factor. More important are the “facts”, ideas, and reinforcement that cycle through their personal networks. There are multiple entrepreneurial conservative e-mail mailing houses that exploit chain e-mails to deliver all sorts of information throught these networks. And the major conservative think tanks also have their e-mail lists. The key innovation in those e-mails is the construction of the text to motivate resending and thus rebranding a form letter as something personal from a friend, neighbor, or co-worker. It is marketing by highjacking grassroots political conversation.

    It is curious that some promoter of Democrats decided to buy the Republican frame of Democrats in “Why Mommy is a Democrat”. Exactly what communication network was that supposed to inform? My reading of Lakoff’s purpose in exposing the daddy-mommy frame was to show why Democrats were losing male voters beyond what their policy positions would show. Saying, yep, that’s right seems very stupid to me.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Democrats chose the “mommy” imagery because they are a softer and more cuddly version of the fascism which runs this country. The GOP is a full blown theocracy outside of the traditional elite which tends to the “father” imagery.

      The “mommy party” imagery is so far removed from Jefferson’s vision of independent and equal Yankee-style communities.

      Jefferson founded the University of Virginia because schools should belong to the public and even refused to tolerate professors being called “Doctor” or “Professor.”

      The “mommy” party implies Democrats are wise and should rule above the rabble. Oh yes, they may take us peons in their embrace from time to time, but the imagery is about the little people not being bright enough to participate in need of a firm but gentle hand.

  14. anon y'mouse

    politicizing children is reprehensible. not because they are “pure” and need protection, but because their brains are not capable of understanding the impact of perspective on worldview. they have no choice but to accept everything put before them, especially by a caring and ‘well meaning’ adult.

    it’s rather like taking advantage of someone in a business or other deal who is mentally disabled just enough not to understand what you’re really doing. if people want to do ‘right’ by their kids, they need to teach them morals and values and then later, when their brains are ready, decide those issues (political) for themselves.

    i’m a bit surprised that everyone is blaming Lakoff for this children’s book. does the author credit him or his work specifically, or is everyone conflating the two simply because they are being mislead by the words used? “democrat” “mommy” “daddy” etc.

    I have not read Lakoff’s books but what I have read of him in interviews sounds extremely reasonable, although perhaps needs to be examined by cognitive scientists or other social scientists to get their seal of approval. and he is definitely right about using wording that has been chosen by the opposing party. those phrases have been repeatedly primed to have and bring about in the listener a certain set of connotations. so, as that article that he did in Truthout last week–if you say “but this is not redistribution, this is something else [which sounds a lot like the dreaded ‘redistribution’ but we’re trying to weasel away from that term due to how it is loaded with unappealing references]” then you’ve lost the damn game and might as well go home.

    People here have nattered on about ‘needing a new language’ and perhaps Lakoff is saying exactly that. combine this with exposing the TRUE meaning of the opposing side’s Newspeak, playing up how their memes are false concoctions and bogeymen (“welfare queens”), and you might have something. but please, don’t apply a slick marketing gloss over everything. the last thing we need is people buying a ‘brand’ when they are trying to make rational, mature decisions about important topics.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I was there at the time. It’s not like Lakoff picked up the phone and ordered the guy to write the book. But the book does come out of the flavor of Lakoffian discourse in fashion among Democrats/”progressives”/liberals/the “left,” and for that, Lakoff was most definitely responsible. Those are his metaphors, playing out right there on the page.

      1. Code Name D

        But dose he need to?

        There is something odd I have observed. My dad is defiantly a Democrat. But he is relatively isolated. He doesn’t understand the internet, so he is not familiar with the number of Democratic apologist talking heads, let alone follow then.

        But I constantly see the two producing identical responses… word for word on occasion. Dose Obama have strange mind powers that lets him beam talking points into the heads of true believers? Or could it be that the both produce the same response because both still have similar perspectives built from the same misconceptions produced by the so called “liberal biased” that they share.

        I think Lacoff’s frames and the book are another result of this weird convergence.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          I think you are spot on. There may be an element of cognitive dissonance, but I think Obama and the Democrats are much more like the GOP than they would ever admit.

          There are a number of issues to blame. The lack of mobility means a reporter or newspaper can’t risk rocking the boat without losing jobs or subscribers in the short term, and internet sources are too varied and too easy to dismiss to be a credible source for the population at large.

          The other issue is no one wants to live the self examined life because we might not like what we see. Despite obvious problems with ACA and resulting promises, the Democratic establishment is trying to play this off as a website error because I don’t think they can rationalize that their sloth and greed can be bad because Democrats are wise, caring mommys.

          Sarah Palin is out and about like she is usually, but I turned on MSNBC and saw wall to wall coverage of Palin who will never be elected to any statewide or federal office ever and was only governor because she was the most senior Republican not in the legislature unconnected to a major scandal which rocked Alaska. Despite the various problems in this country, Democrats are blaming Palin because Palin reinforces the notion Democrats are the wise, responsible mommmy party because Palin is mean, stupid, and has a spectacle around her family which Democrats harped on despite claims to being morally superior.

          They say the same things because what else can they say?

  15. Code Name D

    -Face palm-

    Forgive me if my skepticism runs against the grain her, but I have argued in the past that Lakoff is the smartest idiot the Democrats have. And little I read here challenges that position. (All though do keep in mind I have not managed to read the whole thing.)

    Lambert said that this doesn’t forward the Lakoffian approach. That is not what I see here; a pyridine that hasn’t even managed to escape the neo-conservative and neo-liberal frames that he so ably manages to deconstruct.

    The neo-conservative pyridine is the disposition of authority. I say X is true, makes X true by definition. What Lakoff brilliantly observes is the language neo-conservatives use in that statement. X is to be frames in a positive way (using pro instead of con, or using yes instead of no), one that appeals to common sense (also called common knowledge or more accuracy known as common bias), and then frame the opposition that makes them appear negative.

    The Lakoff approach is little more than the art of battling memes, that Democrats need to learn the art of positive framing so that Democrats are in the position that when they state Y as true, that it makes Y true. Thus the people have the choice of choosing weather X is true, or weather Y is true, with little more than which sounds more positive.

    Lakoff’s frames are useful in constructing a narrative so that it can compete with other narratives using a similar tactic. That I shall grant. But where it fails is that there is still no attention given to weather X or Y is even true IE the scientific method, the channels of communication needed to communicate such ideas to the people, or the methods of engagement with the public to educate such ideas as well as methodologies in deconstructing the oppositions position.

    Lakoff’s frames also make dangerous assumptions about the nature of the content that needs to be disseminated, again strictly from a linguistic perspective. Here at least he dose make the argument that MMT is (or claims to be) backed by evidence, where as the neo-liberal models have failed at nearly every opportunity. But he assumes that linguistically the ideas remain equal. What ever X says in 30 seconds, can be successfully be debunked by Y in 30 seconds. As if all that we need to focus on is choosing the right words when we make our TV ads.

    The reality is far from different. Take a look at creation/evolution debates for example. Creationist ideas are simple. For example, “Look at how improbably life is. It’s mathematically impossible to have just come around by random chance.” There is a response of course, but it’s not a short one, requiring the “unpacking” of a number of misconceptions and explaining of complicated ideas. The more time the responder has, the greater the possibility of successfully deconstructing the original narrative.

    In contrast, a Lakoff approach runs the risk of digging the whole deeper. “Evolution isn’t random,” which is completely true. But it’s also the point the creationist is trying to make. It isn’t random; therefore God. QED. A problem that Lakoff continues to struggle with, expressed even in the short video clip.

    Lakoff’s Frames also make false assumptions about the environment in which the debate exists in. Again, it assumes that linguistically speaking, both ideas are equal. It doesn’t take into account that the opponent may be intentionally deceptive, or may make use of censorship to silence or distort the opposition. As if we can go on Fox news and expect a fair hearing for our ideas. Something that he also continues to struggle with when he notes that “progressives are locked into debating certain ideas over and over again.” This is true, it’s also by design. Unable to address this problem, he just leaves it as an open question that need to be worked on later.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I don’t disagree with the framing idea, as such. Like I said, a consultant (Lakoff) is only as good as his client (the Democrats, or MMTers*). What we got from Democrat using Lakoff’s frames is about what we’d expect, no?

      You add deception to what is out of scope for Lakoff, and I’d add power relations. If we get serious about hegemony, we can see that those who have it don’t have it solely through the power of their ideas!

      * Not saying they actually hired the guy; just that Connors and Mitchell are adopting his analytical framework.

  16. Dan Kervick

    It’s not about framing. It’s about policies, vision, and an agenda.

    MMT isn’t a program for social change. It’s a macroeconomic framework, and is only one modest factor in building an agenda for social transformation.

    Somehow this country managed to undertake a whole New Deal, build a middle class, win a world war, do a space program, do a highway program, do a GI bill, dramatically expand higher education, create Social Security, etc. without anybody having heard about MMT – although people like Abba Lerner ha already come to similar conclusions under the label of “functional finance.”

    You can’t build a social movement out of academic macroeconomics. That’s upside down. People need to focus on what kind of society and world they want to build, and let the public finance theory take care of itself. Where there is a will, there is a way.

    1. Code Name D

      Agreed. But as the saying goes, the danger of asking questions is that you may not like the answers.

      I agree that MMT isn’t a program for social change. So I can see the appeal of this particular research project of taking MMT and using it to build a better social philosophy. But I disagree that it’s a small part.

      MMT, or science in general, gives us the foundation of any successful social movement. It determines the boundaries in which our political philosophies may operate. But it also demands that those philosophies must be accountable, and subject to skeptical scrutiny. And I am not convince this will happen.

      1. Dan Kervick

        I don’t think any important social movement has been lead by economic theory. (Maybe the socialist revolutions were, but that’s because Marxism purported to be a comprehensive theory of society, history, and human destiny not just an economic theory.)

        Economic theories are important because conservative and reactionary intellectuals erect them as fortresses around the status quo, and so winning the battle for change among elites and the best-informed citizens requires undermining the hold those theories have on theoretically-inclined minds. But that battle isn’t won by jejune “framing”, but by the usual processes of intellectual struggle and argument.

        A job guarantee would be good. But what kinds of jobs? More drone factories? An army of shoe-shine boys, private chefs and manicurists tending to the needs of untouchable plutocrats? Stores selling gas masks and ammunition for preppers?

        1. Mansoor H. Khan


          The reason we need to talk about MMT so much is because most people implicitly believe in “says law”. Most people focus on currency (money) scarcity and not real resources scarcity (like raw materials, labor, peace, security, rule of law, management skills, technical skills, leadership skills, etc.).

          If people’s thinking is stuck on money/currency scarcity they will not think big in terms of public finance projects.

          We are already doing MMT and social credit. Most of us just don’t realize it.

          In a sense we are much better able to deal with deflation this time around (as opposed to during the Great Depression).

          All kinds of public assistance programs (Welfare, Foodstamps, local programs, Medicaid, etc) and rising number of people applying for and getting social security disability benefits and even more and more baby boomers reaching the social security age and collecting social security benefits counter the deflationary trend in the economy.

          All this additional spending is just “social credit/guaranteed income program” by another name.

          I believe that the deflationary trend will speed-up and the banking system will start “cracking-up” again. Most likely there will be more bailouts. And I expect the markets to crash. Mad-max scenario will not occur (inshallah) if the banking system is able to clear checks.

          This process will probably continue for a very long time (10 years?) as long as people get enough help (i.e., social credit by another name) that they don’t starve or freeze to death or end-up on the streets.

          I expect that eventually deficit spending will lead to inflation as fossil fuels become more and more scarce/expensive in terms of EROEI.

          Then taxes will have to be raised on the rich and upper middle classes to rein in inflation.

          We will probably muddle through as long as “checks clear” and too many people don’t end up on the streets.

          We always have had a distribution problem when the rate of production of goods and services skyrocketed due to the use of fossil fuels (250 years ago?). Specially since the start of the industrial revolution.

          This distribution problem was masked by growth. Growth did provide opportunities for most in society to get enough money to not revolt and get too upset (at least in the industrialized countries).

          We now must solve this distribution problem and we must keep in mind the dwindling fossil fuel supplies which has powered our material production/modernity so far.

          I suggest the following:

          A) we should start a social credit/Social dividend/guaranteed income program and give every U.S. citizen $500 per month regardless of income or regardless of any public assistance they currently receive.

          B) Increase taxation to keep inflation in check. Increased taxation should include stiff consumption tax to discourage too much consumption by the rich and upper middle classes.

          D) Start stringent energy conservation and run a low-grade industrial civilization with less yearly fossil fuel consumption.

          C) This will buy us time to develop another cheap energy source and possibly resume growth or if we don’t find another another cheap energy source we will have time to learn how to live without machines, fertilizers and pesticides.

          more at:

          Mansoor H. Khan

          1. Dan Kervick

            What I think that means is that we need to talk about the real underlying economy: what is produced, who produces it, who decides what is produced, how they are to make those decisions, and how the product is distributed. Focusing too much on the monetary system perpetuates money illusion.

            1. Mansoor H. Khan


              I agree. I have suggested to Rodger Malcolm Mitchell that he do exactly that. True societal change only occurs when a large portion of society understands reality. Otherwise they are too easily duped by the 1%.

              Mansoor H. Khan

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Read Figure 3, bullet 2: “We want jobs for all.” That looks like social change to me.

      Granted, the “We” is not clear. All MMTers? Mitchell and some, but not others? We don’t know. We’ll have to see how it plays out.

      To put this another way, if MMT, as a school, is able to present a properly framed set of concrete material benefits (“appropriate actions”), and that set of policy proposals is adopted by a political figure, then indeed MMT would become a movement for social change.

      Again, nobody knows how this would play out. As of now, I agree with you, but things may not be static.

      1. Dan Kervick

        On most of the major economic challenges facing our society, MMT has no specific proposal on offer. That isn’t a criticism of MMT, but just flows from the fact that MMT is primarily a descriptive macroeconomic framework that is a compatible with a vast range of political choices. In itself, it tells us nothing about what to do about energy policy, environmental policy, education, economic inequality, retirement systems, housing policy, transportation policy, health care policy or trade policy. It can be framed in all sorts of ways, but even if every single adult American grokked MMT fully, that would still leave almost all of the major issues wide open.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          Well, like I said: “Read Figure 3, bullet 2: ‘We want jobs for all.’ That looks like social change to me.” And points following. I’m quite familiar with the argument you make. It’s just that the slide show seems to open the door for a change in focus by MMT practitioner and advocates. I guess we’ll see.

          1. Dan Kervick

            It could be. But as we have seen in this thread, some people on the left seem find the whole idea of paid work “slavery” or “fascism.” They might dream that technology has created a world in which robots raise our food, build our toys, fill our bongs and give us us massages with happy endings.

            And any attempt to sell a job program to the majority of the population as an effort to create a captive minimum wage “buffer stock” that can be manipulated at government will to manage and stabilize prices is doomed to failure.

      2. bob

        “We want jobs for all.”

        This is not “radical”, it’s called slavery.

        With the productive increases in the past 40-50 years, “we want an income for all” would be much more appropriate.

        No one wants a job, even the red-state hicks. They want other to suffer the same hell that they have. Only worse, it’s their turn to be the “boss”. They put the time in….

    3. NotTimothyGeithner

      Senator Glass of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933* was a small town newspaperman, not a banker, tycoon, or “respected expert” who ran for office in Virginia as a non-Southern Democrat. He built his name railing against Southern Democrats and Republicans.

      He didn’t hear about George Lakoff and messaging.

      *There was World War I and Republican majorities, so he was effectively out of power for 20 years.

  17. Code Name D

    Just what is an economy? What is economics?

    You know, it’s a simple question. But getting it answered has proven to be difficult. Lakoff in the power point presentation expresses the dilemma very nicely.

    The neo-liberal view of the economy as being a deity we serve is spot on and very well put.

    His MMT explanation of what an economy is a bit more confusing and compels my skepticism. I think it’s more accurate than the neo-conservative model, but it is truly accurate to say that the economy “serves” us? What happens when we run out of natural resources, will it still be “serving us” at that point?

    My observation about economics is something far more fundamental, economics is the metabolism of the super organism we call human society. When we have abundant resources, then we have abundant options. But the faster we consume those resources, the faster we create waste that will inevitably choke off those options. Likewise, when we have few resources, our options are profoundly limited and present limits on both our options as well as the size of our society.

    It has been noted before that for human civilization to endure for another million years, we have got to get the population under control – or nature will do it for us.

    So I think that an economy can serve society – so long as those limitations are respected.

    1. Ben Johannson

      Currently we serve “the economy” as if it is an entity in its own right. Libertarian socialists like Bill Mitchell demand the economy serve the planet and people. Environmental ethics and sustainability are a necessity and can be realized only if we dispense with the Neo-liberal insistence that everything become a commodity. Our economy is wasteful and destructive because we’ve made it that way, not because there are no alternatives.

  18. rob

    I think any mentioning of the “conservative” moment that is visible after the powell memo of 1971,has had a chance to become reality;is a good thing.
    So simply on the face of who is who,who is connected to whom,who gets funding from where,etc,etc,,is blatant when we look at the last forty years.The movie,”HEIST:who stole the American dream”, does a great job roughly illuminating the point.
    But really to look at the “success” of the right with the infiltration,indoctrination and realization of their propaganda campaigns;misses the point that simultaneously the “left” was running just as roughshod over the natural rights of the people.EVERY step of the way.
    For people to wonder “what is the left not doing”,is ignorance.There is no left.No right.Only monied intrests.
    New foundations, won’t be anything new.
    The reality is that for a century, every side has been either included, or destroyed ; by the corporatocracy.Be they the neo-liberals,or the neo-conservatives;the pro-business over public good faction has dominated, maybe since the civil war.,certainly since WWI.
    The ‘conspiracy theories” of the john birch variety, who had great compilations between members of the eastern elites,on both sides of the atlantic,drew all the lines needed to sho the “left”, already has foundations,schools,money,media,etc…they have all the power they need if “they” wanted to do anything different from what “they” are doing right now.The reece committee investigations along with others in the fifties, all showed the corrupt power of foundations and their academic industrial complex.Nothing has changed except some newer wealth persons have added their names to the buildings at hallowed institutions.
    There is no end to hipocracy.The ties these groups have over time boggles the mind…
    Look at the kochs…these two grandsons david and Charles, inheriting billions and business’s,and enjoying the fruits of the “connections” their family had already forged and were instrumental in “birthing”, the articulation of lewis powell in 1971, by funding and creating think tanks and foundations,and learning centers,etc…they employed the tactics their father, who was a founding member of the john birch society, had railed against these “treasonous” American liberals were doing through their creation of the council on foreign relations and royal institute and the atlantic committee,from the twenties to present.The great irony being that the family fortune of the son who proclaimed that Americas establishment had been infiltrated by communists,was actually created by building an oil refining infrastructure for stalin…
    Without going too far, I just think that all these people saying we need to liten to our “leaders”, are full of crap.Always have been.

    The real agenda here is to create a public money movement.Not a bank money movement.
    From what it seems ,there has been a long forgotten debate from the 19th century between public money creation VS. bank money creation, like we have now around the world.Our federal reserve, is a bank money creator.
    Something like the Kucinich bill HR2990 112th congress, is what we should be thinking about.The Chicago plan of the thirties,these are ideas that really need to be discussed..I’m not sure how MMT addresses the issues of WHO, gets to create money,But Unless it is by the people , for the people, with no debt associated in its creation, then it seems like the bankers money system.

  19. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

    What troubles me about Lakoff is that I don’t believe that every time you mention a word or phrase even in opposition it activates a particular frame and actually strengthens it so that it will be more likely to be activated the next time the word or phrase is mentioned. That can’t be the way it works because words are multi-functional in the sense that they have a predisposition to activate multiple frames and not just one.

    The issues then become which of the multiple frames that might be activated are more likely to be, given a particular narrative? And also what framing communications will activate the frames we want activated and weaken the predispositions to frames we want to negatively reinforce? I don’t think Lakoff has provided good guidance for us to address these issues in specific cases, and I don’t think he’s told us how to relate framing communications to changes in the experiences of people over time.

    For example, the frames supporting neoliberalism are still widely used in the media everyday. But certainly the negative experiences people have had since 2008 have weakened these frames so that people tend more and more to tune them out or get angry when they hear them. So, changing experience matters to people, perhaps more than anything else, and how does that fit into Lakoff’s notions about how to apply the cognitive science notion of framing to real word politics?

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      The issue with neo-liberal framing is that it sucks, and they change their words all the time.

      With Libya, they used “smart war”, and when Syria came around, they tried it again but people had soured.

      Good policies will take care of themselves once you’ve convinced people to try them.

  20. rob

    I have to applaud everytime someone brings up the “powell memo of 1971″, and the context from which it was written. Being the stuff of the movie,”Heist,who stole the American dream”;about the last forty years and the “conservative assault on labor,the environment,and the legal and political structure of this nation and the world.
    I can’t stress enough that I think people seeing only the “republicans” and their deceit and treachery,through their foundations,think tanks and academic alums,are missing the forest through the trees. A half century before the chamber of commerce got powell to articulate the assault on americans,by business…the left (and right,and radical right,and communists,andthe rest) were already firmly under the umbrella of organizations/personalities/monies of groups who were members or contributors of groups like the council on foreign relations,and ford and Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations,and the rest of the establishment.
    The reason the morgan and Rockefeller syndicates kept “a foot in every camp”, be it fascist,communist,republican,democratic,radical right,socialist,etc.. wasn’t because they believed in ANY of them.They wanted to have control, to allow a certain degree of free speech,but not “too much”.

    We ,the monkeys in the cages, have to break out of our taught paradigms, and think for ourselves.

    I see MMT as a useful instruction as to what money could be.along with historical context as to popular(and unknown) thoughts as to the social contract that a monetary system implies.
    Aside from the Idea that MMT offers any real direction forward,It seems more like a useful instruction as to HOW to think about money.But rather than being content in the knowledge of how our fiat money system is really operated,we need to progress to the next grade, and think about how a public money system really ought to be created.

    The whole idea of a public money system,has to be discussed.Right now, MMT, describes a bankers monetary system, that we all use.And as MMT always point out, we use it everyday, whether we know how it works or not.For us to really have a discussion, we need to include the full spectrum of how we got here, and what we are doing. And how what is in place today, doesn’t serve our basic needs.
    I don’t think MMT is enough. There are other views as to our basic predicament like these.
    Does anyone have any thoughts as to these other monetary reformers solutions?

  21. Hugh

    I agree with those who say frames and brands miss the point. Aristotle held that morality was not just having a set of principles about what was right, but acting upon them when confronted by a moral choice. What gets lost in these discussions is the importance of action, and not just any action, but action which expresses the moral values we hold. If a Greek who lived more than 2,000 years ago understood this, why can’t we?

    Have a set of principles, a vision of the society we want to have, and fight for it. It’s that simple. What makes that vision morally compelling is not the vision itself but the action which goes along with it. If Martin Luther King understood this 50 years ago, how have we so quickly forgotten it?

    1. TheCatSaid

      How have we forgotten it?

      There is so little support in the existing infrastructure to support genuinely new ways of looking at these issues. Top business schools and economics departments, government departments and business associations have too much vested interest in the dead-or-dying system.

      Allen Savory of comments on Eric Ashby’s research that it takes 100-200 years or more for institutions to adopt new knowledge. Apparently Ashby’s research shows that data and facts do not result in change. Savory says maybe the internet and social media will shorten that time frame–but in any case only a change in public opinion will lead institutions to embrace new knowledge.

      1. Hugh

        The construction of kleptocracy has been largely accomplished in the last 35 years. It is not institutions but people who take onboard new ideas or simply rediscover old ones. Much that was written about politics and economics 50 to 100 years ago is relevant and speaks to our current situation.

        What we have seen in the last 35 years is a counter-revolution of the rich and elites. The only new ideas these classes are interested in involve ways to loot the rest of us, forestall any revolutionary impulses among us, and keep and defend the loot they have stolen from us.

        Seeing institutional change as some kind of slow historical process, largely divorced from individual action and specific conditions, is just part of the con. Change never happens until people act to change things. Revolutions are always impossible until they happen.

        1. TheCatSaid

          Actually your point is identical to what Allan Savory is saying. Initiatives must be taken by individuals–that is the only way to create change. His point is that there is no point waiting for institutions to change as it is too slow.

          Examples he gives (perhaps from Ashby’s research?) include
          1) the length of time from when scientific research was published proving that washing hands after handling corpses before helping mothers give birth can reduce death rates, until this was actually applied and taught to doctors;
          2)it took over 200 years after the data was published for the British navy to start giving citrus fruit to sailors to prevent scurvy;
          3)relating to Savory’s own work–despite published facts and extensive research data and worldwide case studies on his approach to livestock and land management and successful reclamation / re-grassification of deserts all over the world having been published in mainstream scientific journals and publications over 60 years ago, not one single academic institution or agricultural support service has yet included this body of information in what they teach.

          So there can be no hesitation; creating change depends on individuals taking up the gauntlet by both taking action and by spreading the word to others.

  22. JEHR

    Here’s my attempt to use positive metaphors re deficits to be sent to my MP:

    Raise Minimum Wage for the People

    Right now, Prime Minister Harper is focussing his attention on balancing the budget, that is, getting rid of the deficit. Getting rid of the deficit is good political move but having a deficit is a better investment for the people.

    Harper is focussed on “money things” but perhaps it is for “people things” that we citizens elect our representatives.

    If I were PM, my goal would be the well-being of individual Canadian citizens and the care of communities of people and not whether or not I would be re-elected. However, if the people’s needs are well served, election will follow.

    My government would make sure that people did not suffer from poverty or unemployment or under-employment so I would ensure the well-being of people by helping to raise their standard of living by making sure they earn a living wage.

    As you know, global corporations have found that they can make bigger profits by using foreign workers overseas who will work for lower wages (Joe Fresh and other clothing companies, for instance). That means that those global companies may fire workers just like the BMO in Canada got rid of 1,000 people last quarter so that their profits would rise. As other global companies pursue these policies, good manufacturing jobs have become scarce and wages have stagnated or decreased for Canadian workers. Available jobs tend to be lower paying ones.

    One way to make sure people who work in lower-paying jobs (in retail, fast foods and bars) would be to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. At present, minimum wage in Canada is a provincial affair but the Federal Government could consult with the provinces to bring levels of minimum wages up by creating, for example, partnerships with the provinces where the Fed agrees to top up minimum wages.

    The highest minimum wage in Canada is Nunavut at $11.00 per hour which would amount to a $22,880 yearly wage which is not enough to live a decent life.

    A higher minimum wage would be a wonderful investment for people (and politicians) while we wait for the return to Canada of manufacturing and corporate jobs.

    Federal support for higher minimum wage makes the deficit a good investment as it provides better paying jobs.

    When these workers are paid a living wage they will also be able to pay a larger share of taxes thereby reducing the deficit.

    Having a deficit would thus pay dividends for the government and would provide a higher standard of living for those working for minimum wage.

  23. TheCatSaid

    MMT is still contained within an existing conceptual framework that Mitchell does not yet seem to see or question. For example, Mitchell states that “jobs for all” is a policy goal that everyone would agree with.

    MMT retains too many assumptions of the current economic paradigm, a system which is not sustainable from any perspective. While words and language matter, addressing the language issue to convince people of the values of the MMT, even if 100% successful, would be inadequate to meet the economic / social / political / environmental challenges we face.

    One alternative approach is here:

    Without considering the bigger picture we are just moving deck chairs on the Titanic. What new shores might we aim for? What kinds of lifeboats can we create now from existing resources to get us there? What words most compellingly describe the opportunities, in ways that can create constructive action?

    1. TheCatSaid

      Perhaps the most important point David E. Martin made in a recent talk at BEM Boulder Colorado, was that if we speak and act within the existing framework we are “feeding the beast”. He makes a strong case for creating practical ways to act that circumvent the current paradigm, and has put this into action in many ways all over the world.

  24. Jeff W

    I was glad to see Bill Mitchell grappling with the idea of frames as they pertain to MMT but it felt to me that he like missing a step and also not addressing a different frame that might arise within MMT.

    Adding social purpose to your statements doesn’t address the idea of “fiscal space”—available real resources that the government can utilize—that is alluded to in Mitchell’s talk. That’s the real constraint, not some amount of money—and it’s the missing step in the part about framing, I think, in Mitchell’s talk. Money allows the government to utilize those real resources. I’m not sure what the right metaphor is—it has aspects of “releasing potential” or “filling capacity”—but I think it’s a very important, very basic idea in MMT that would need to be addresses before “social purpose.”

    And, meanwhile, MMT is rebutting the neo-classical mainstream frame of spending being constrained by an amount of money but not paying enough attention to whatever frame arises from its own perspective of the relatively unconstrained nature of money (constrained only by the available resources). (Usually the issue that comes up is hyperinflation [Zimbabwe!] but I’m referring more to the normative MMT scenario.) If the amount of money is constrained only by the available resources, how and in what (new) ways are those printing the money constrained (or not)? If we picture a giant printing press churning out dollars and pausing just as the last available resource (at the moment) is utilized, who decides who gets all that additional cash and how—and why would those decisions be any more rational or aligned with social purpose than the ones we make now? Why not give everyone a Basic Guaranteed Income? Why not, as Steve Keen suggested, give everyone $50,000 each as part of a scheme to help mortgagors pay down their mortgages? (I have no problem with either of those, to be perfectly clear.) Those are political and social questions, not an MMT ones—but I think the implications that the “enlarged fiscal space” that MMT affords us—the frame of being constrained only by the available resources—and to the resistance to questions (such as some of these) need be taken into consideration by the MMT proponents.

    1. Code Name D

      Well said, and quite important.

      The danger with Lakoff I fear is that he will attempt to use MMT in order to push an economic narrative that is no more valid than the neo-conservative one. As it has been said else where, MMT is not a social movement. What if he attempts to use MMT in an attempt to kick-start the “American dream?” and a wasteful consumer economy.

      Peek Oil remains a real problem, one as serious as global warming, but still isn’t talked about. Dealing with it means manually constraining the economy to best stretch the resources that we have remaining, and to best live within our environmental means.

      MMT can be abused just as easily as free market models.

      The role of science such as MMT is to offer a better understanding of the real world we live in, and the constrains it places on our existence. Within those limitations, any thing is possible.

    2. Hugh

      MMT has both descriptive and prescriptive components. It does well at describing how fiat money works. I agree with some of its prescriptivist platform but have found that it still contains neoliberal elements such as a reliance on markets much as they are constituted now, silence on wealth inequality, and a failure to recognize the importance of politics on whether MMT will be used for good or just as a nifty way to loot.

      I personally advocate an economics that begins with the social purpose we wish to use the economy for, that is what kind of a society we wish to build and live in, not just for ourselves but for each other. From there, I move on to resources, recognizing that the greatest resource any society can have is its members, their knowledge, labor, and decency. A society’s resources are not static or closed. Invest in its members increases society’s resources. Disinvest in them lessens these resources.

      Money is just a medium allowing access to society’s resources. Government redistributes resources to help accomplish society’s purposes in four ways: spending, taxing, legislation, and regulation. The descriptive aspects of MMT explain how the first two of these work. By creating money, MMT does not create corresponding resources rather it affects a redistribution of resources which can lead to an increase in society’s resources or destruction of them.

      I have argued with MMTers in the past that the advantage of this approach is that it gives MMT a philosophical grounding which it lacks. It addresses, I think, most of the point you raise, it reunites economics and politics with their social purposes, and it explains why great concentrations of wealth are impossible to justify, i.e. they can not and do not serve any useful social purpose.

      1. skippy

        The way I see it Huge MMT does not want to be the store of value like hard money is to you know who. It does not want to proceed the question by affirming any agency. It is only a tool – subject to – human agency. In this manner it shatters the previous 40 years of dogma with out offering a target to the ideologues, resulting intestine enemy retardation.

        skippy… The you know whos shtick is simple, attack every thing, all the time, in numbers, without end – repeat endlessly. I like the way PP put it “smear you with their filth and point at it”, its very Pathological and Pavlovian imo, is pure conditioning, like humans reduced to consumers stuff.

      2. Calgacus

        Hugh: If I understand you correctly, a big NO! to much of what you say. MMT (Keynesian/Institutional) is mischaracterized and made to seem less revolutionary, less different from the tired old mainstream crap tnan it really is.

        Money is just a medium allowing access to society’s resources.

        NO! This smacks of money is a medium of exchange. No – there is no medium of exchange. There never was. Money, credit is a social relationship which is intricately, implicitly and inextricably involved in the production of almost all wealth in modern economies.

        By creating money, MMT does not create corresponding resources rather it affects a redistribution of resources which can lead to an increase in society’s resources or destruction of them.
        NO, NO, NO! To all intents and purposes, a government, like the USA or most of the world right now, CREATES resources when it prints money / deficit spends. As Wray says, it is NOT about “redistribution”, but about “predistribution”. Thinking it is only about “redistribution” makes dangerous and usually false assumptions: that we are always at full employment, and that there is any possible monetary economy, possible modern economy without a government of some kind setting the overarching conditions, saying what is valuable and what is not by its buying (=spending) & selling (e.g taxation) decisions.

        I am very interested in philosophical grounding. But the place to look for it is in – uhhhh philosophy, classical philosophy. Culminating in the German Idealists & successors like Marx & his Commies. Which I contend has a great deal to do with MMT & good economics.

        Skippy: MMT does not want to be the store of value like hard money is to you know who

        The store of value function is crucial to MMT, to all money. Money is little else. IMHO, “MMT-money” would be the hardest, the least inflationary money the world has ever seen. Mosler has just commented that Japan, following decades of money printing, in part to keep unemployment low – has seen the Yen be the world’s best store of value.

        In modern times, only / mainly Mitchell-Innes (Simmel, Keynes, maybe Sally Frankel too, but not as clearly) was penetrating enough to see that these social relations we call “money” are (usually) much realer than the stuff we call “real.” Only a tool subject to human agency? The agency of all the other humans using such tools is almost always far stronger than any individual or group, their meager possessions and chattels.

        1. Mansoor H. Khan

          Calgcus said:

          “see that these social relations we call “money” ”

          The best definition of money I have come across yet is:

          Money is a social arrangement.

          Also, I think one major aspect of money (which the above definition encompasses) is that money is a strong social motivator since it helps to “keep” score (an accounting) of who has contributed (economically) to society the most.

          It motivates super (economic) producers to produce far more than they consume. Of course, all super producers (i.e., entrepreneurs and super managers) use social capital all around them to do their thing (social capital like infrastructure, humanity’s built up knowledge capital, peace, security, rule of law, etc.).

          That is why I favor no income taxation but only very high consumption taxes. The super producers should be encouraged to produce but not so much encouraged to hugely consume as it is now the case.

          Of course, “unconsumed” production (unconsumed by the super producers) can then be distributed to the rest of society via Social Credit schemes as suggested by the late economist Clifford H. Douglas.

          Mansoor H. Khan

        2. skippy

          My concern with framing it that way is – it could be used as commodity money was i.e. more intrinsic in value than human life or the resources that enable our species to live in another failed narrative.

          Intrinsic in value – meaning by decree and not consensus – by those that shape reality to pour our collective efforts into a thing and not into a sustainable future. This Kantian terminology – end-in-itself – stuff always gets the hairs on my neck at attention, bad track record compounded by axiology its self.

          skippy… you would think after all this time and improved data we would not be using damn near stone tools as descriptions – prescriptives.

  25. steelhead23

    Isn’t MMT self-framed as “good”, because it’s modern? Or is modern a pejorative among our reactionary friends, who far prefer classical, or neo-classical theories to those vulgar modern ones?

    I strongly agree with Lakoff that framing matters, but I will be damned if I would support a Bernaisian approach to identifying good and evil. The global financial system is quite simply evil inasmuch as resources and labor serve it, not vice-versa. Thanks for posting this Lambert.

  26. Phillwv

    Re NOTE*** In Australia, it’s still possible to use the term “socialism” to imply a “commonweal” as opposed to to blindly-evolving capitalism farming its “customers” – and not be a) deliberately misunderstood, b) tarred and C) feathered.

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