A breakthrough in France as a Jazz Freedom Fighter dies

My Wednesday commitment not to write a detailed blog remains. But given the sad news yesterday from South Africa I thought some nice music should be shared and some news from the French press. So not really a blog but some music to listen to while I work today.

MMT gets traction in the French press

There was an interesting article in the French press (January 19, 2018) – Et si l’Etat créait lui-même les emplois pour combattre le chômage?.

The title says “And if the state create jobs itself to combat unemployment?”.

Romaric Godin, the journalist works for Mediapart, which is an independent news journal in France that has uncovered several scandals since its inception in 2008. The founder was the former editor-in-chief of Le Monde.

Godin is an influential journalist in France.

The original article is behind a paywall. Mediapart has no advertising and relies on small subscriptions.

The article was republished (January 21, 2018) by On n’est pas des moutons (We are not sheep), which is the magazine produced by the supporters of La France Insoumise, the breakaway Left party which is forming into a true Oppositional Left to replace the void left by the neoliberal Socialist Party.

There is no paywall here.

The link is – Et si l’Etat créait lui-même les emplois pour combattre le chômage?.

On n’est pas des moutons, reprises the statement from leader of the French Left party Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon (April 1, 2012) while he was speaking at an impoversished housing estate (La Grande Borne) which straddles the communes of Grigny and Viry-Châtillon, on the southern periphery of Paris.

Mélenchon was reflecting on the very high abstention rate of the area in the 2007 Presidential elections and said:

Si vous faites les moutons, vous serez tondus … si vous ne faites pas de politique, la politique s’occupera de vous, vous pouvez en être assurés

“If you act like sheep, you will be shorn … if you do not participate in politics, then policy will take care of you, you can be assured”.

And the care he was referring to was not of the beneficial variety!

The point is that the article is a thorough and sympathetic treatment of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and the Job Guarantee, one of the first major expositions to appear in the mainstream French press.

It discusses in depth our new book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017).

This is some sort of breakthrough for MMT.

The article is in French.

A Jazz Freedom Fighter dies

One of my favourite jazz musicians, Hugh Masekela died yesterday (January 23, 2018) in Johannesburg.

Music is a voice in struggle. And Hugh Masekela exemplified the way in which art can become a force for change. He was a powerful anti-Apartheid activist.

He first played with Dollar Brand in the Jazz Epistles which formed in 1959.

Here is the UK Guardian Obituary (January 23, 2018) – Hugh Masekela obituary: South African jazz pioneer who fought the evil of apartheid.

And an interesting but short video biography of Hugh Masekela – Hugh Masekela: six decades of sounds from the father of South African jazz – video

This song – Soweto Blues – was written by Hugh Masekela (1977) – and was at the forefront of the Anti-Apartheid movement. It is sung by his former wife Miriam Makeba.

It was live from Wembley Stadium, London and the concert was in 1988, before the breakdown of the Apartheid system. The concert was to mark Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday and it was broadcast to 67 countries.

The song was a mourning of the deaths of up to 700 school children that police murdered while the children were protesting against Apartheid at the Soweto Uprising on June 16, 1976.

Over a thousand people were wounded when the police set their automatic rifles to work.

The massacre was a turning point in the struggle. But it still took another 14 years for the hideous system of oppression to be eliminated.

Here are the lyrics – if you remember the incident they will remind of that awful day in history:

The children got a letter from the master
It said: no more Xhosa, Sotho, no more Zulu.
Refusing to comply they sent an answer
That’s when the policemen came to the rescue
Children were flying bullets dying
The mothers screaming and crying
The fathers were working in the cities
The evening news brought out all the publicity:

Just a little atrocity, deep in the city

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues

Benikuphi ma madoda (where were the men)
Abantwana beshaywa (when the children were throwing stones)
Ngezimbokodo Mabedubula abantwana (when the children were being shot)
Benikhupi na (where were you?)

There was a full moon on the golden city
Looking at the door was the man without pity
Accusing everyone of conspiracy
Tightening the curfew charging people with walking
Yes, the border is where he was awaiting
Waiting for the children, frightened and running
A handful got away but all the others
Hurried their chain without any publicity

Just a little atrocity, deep in the city

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues

Benikuphi ma madoda (where were the men)
Abantwana beshaywa (when the children were throwing stones)
Ngezimbokodo Mabedubula abantwana (when the children were being shot)
Benikhupi na (where were you?)

Soweto blues
Soweto blues
Soweto blues – abu yethu a mama
Soweto blues – they are killing all the children
Soweto blues – without any publicity
Soweto blues – oh, they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues – while calling it black on black
Soweto blues – but everybody knows they are behind it
Soweto Blues – without any publicity
Soweto blues – they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues – god, somebody, help!
Soweto blues – (abu yethu a mama)
Soweto blues

As an aside, when Miriam Makeba, who was exiled from South Africa and living in the US, married a Black activist there in 1968, the “White American audiences stopped supporting her” and the CIA started hounding her.

They eventually cancelled her visa and she moved to Guinea and was a supporter of the first President of Guinea Ahmed Sékou Touré after that nation broke free from its French colonial yoke.

The UK Guardian article (May 16, 2008) – The long goodbye – tells us that:

President Sékou Touré was determined to create a new African style by using Western instruments to modernise traditional songs. To promote his policy of authenticité, musicians were given a regular wage, like civil servants, “so their job was to rehearse every day from nine until three”. Makeba joined in, working alongside local stars like Bembeya Jazz, “and when the President’s visitors came to Guinea, we were all called on to go and entertain them. I’ve never seen a country that did what Sékou Touré did for artists.”

This was a sort of Job Guarantee program where artists were paid the mininum wage but were required as part of that commitment from the state to reciprocate with meaningful work.

If you are familiar with authenticité (which was widely practiced in Africa as the colonies tried to remove the foreign influence from their affairs and elevate their own cultures, which had been suppressed during the colonial years), then you will know how many great musicians emerged from that process.

In Guinea’s case, it would have been better had it not been accompanied by Touré’s repression of his political opposition.

And here is my favourite Hugh Masekela Album – Tomorrow – which was released in 1987 (recorded in London in 1986).

If you can get hold of it, it is one of his best.

The title of the Album was embedded in the first song Bring Him Back Home:

Bring back Nelson Mandela
Bring him back home to Soweto
I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa, Tomorrow!

Here is a link to the full album – Tomorrow, although the final track on this list was not on the original release.

Here is the first track – Bring Him Back Home:

Upcoming event – Melbourne, February 16, 2018

I will be talking about our latest book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017) – in Melbourne on February 16, 2018.

More details:

Here is the flyer. The Bookshop tells me that they are happy for this to be circulated widely.

Upcoming event – Helsinki, February 27, 2018

I will be giving 6 lectures on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) at the University of Helsinki in late February and early March as part of a new international studies program.

The first lecture will be a public event and will be held on Tuesday, February 27, 2018.

I will circulate more details soon.

If you are around or close by then it would be great to see you at the event.

Upcoming events – Barcelona, March 2-3, 2018

I will speaking at some events in Barcelona in early March on Reclaiming the State and its implications. My co-author, Thomas Fazi will also be appearing.

The events are being organised by the Catalonian-based Ekona coop, which aims to promote innovation in the public and community sphere to move towards a new democracy. It is particularly focused in influencing the European Left to abandon their neoliberal ideas about economics.

I will circulate more details soon.

You see, that was not really a blog was it?

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Flagellation letter in Canada’s National Post

    Appraising fiscal health
    Jan 17, 2018

    Re: Feds plan to reduce deficit in long term, Morneau says, Jan. 13

    A monetarily sovereign government is not like a firm or household and can never run out of its own “money” – its own IOUs. The only meaningful way to appraise the fiscal position of the Canadian government is to assess the state of the economy in real terms: do we have full employment, environmental stewardship, and first-class education and health infrastructure?

    History demonstrates that government deficits and debt ratios alone tell us little. For example, as a result of substantial WWII deficit spending, our peak federal debt-to-GNP ratio of 106 per cent occurred in 1946, yet the postwar era was the golden age of capitalism when the Canadian economy expanded dramatically and many social programs were introduced.

    So-called “fiscal anchors” instituted in peacetime are simply ideological vehicles intended to limit government spending, much as medieval monks recommended flagellation as a means of curbing unwanted desires.
    Footnotes to Editor:

    1. The Deficit: Hysteria and the Current Crisis

    During the war years 1942 to 1945 the annual consolidated government deficit averaged 16.9 percent of GNP. The debt to GNP ratio peaked in 1946 when it reached 106 percent of the GNP!

    2. New IMF Paper Shows Yet Again that Reinhart and Rogoff Results Are Erroneous

    “If you’ve got your own sovereign currency, and you do not peg, and you do not issue debt denominated in a foreign currency, then there is no reason to suppose that higher debt ratios cause lower economic growth. Yes, budget deficits can be too high-causing inflation. They can be too low-causing slumps. Debt ratios can be high for “good reasons” and they can be high for “bad reasons”. Focusing on government debt ratios, alone, tells you nothing about the health of the economy in such cases.”

    3. William Mitchell, Professor in Economics and Director of the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, University of Newcastle, NSW, Australia

    “Forget the deficit. Forget the fiscal balance. Focus on what matters – employment, equity, environmental sustainability. And as we would soon see – the fiscal balance will just be whatever it is – a relatively uninteresting and irrelevant statistical artifact.”

  2. Jared Bernstein has a column in the Washington Post about “fiscal space” that (at least I like to think) shows he has understood a lot of what you explained in your three part reply to his questions about MMT. Good for him and great job answering his questions Professor.

    Somewhat relatedly, my favorite not explicitly-MMT economist, Dean Baker, has written this in a recent post explaining why Larry Summers doesn’t quite understand the economy- “The limit [on fiscal expansion] for countries like the United States, which have their own currency, is the point at which spending overheats the economy and leads to inflation”.


    And also this very MMT statement- “The reason the government taxes is to reduce demand in the economy. The purpose is to prevent the economy from overheating and experiencing inflation. When the economy is near full employment we face the standard story where we have to tax to finance spending. In other words, if we want additional spending we have to pull demand out of the economy to open the space. However, when we are below full employment, the government is not constrained by its tax revenue.” He should have replaced “finance spending” with something like “avoid inflation” though.


    Of course it would have been nice if either of them had prefaced their articles with “As MMT has argued” or “As Bill Mitchell learned me” or something similar. But anyways, it is apparent to me at least, that you and MMT have been changing the economic dialogue from where it was even 3 or 4 years ago.

  3. Although mentioning the letters M, M, and T together will provoke hurricanes of rage in most on-line forums. Whereas late last year, in the Wolf Street blog, somebody named Kent presented all our points on banking and money creation (without Those Letters) and the commentariat lapped it up, gentle as lambs.
    Two days ago, Counterpunch presented a good article on MMT, Automatic Earth linked to it, and an A.E. contributor erupted in a screaming fit in the comments; the same screaming fit we’ve seen from so many others in so many other places.
    Under such conditions we can count it a win when governments work to benefit their people without whining that they can’t tax that much money, and when the U.S. has stopped shutting down every month over the Debt Limit.

  4. Mel, yes- you are right. But a lot of those ‘hurricanes of rage’ occur because they can’t refute the facts or the logic of MMT. It must be terribly frustrating for many economically “learned” people 🙂

  5. Since we seem to have a little slack today, the comic wondermark.com has also given MMT a shoutout. Look for the article 2017 Errata. The erratum was in comic #1285; In Which Tax is a Team Sport. The error in the comic lies in not mentioning the real purpose of taxation. We may be in trouble if the readers think it’s a joke, which it is, but not that kind of joke.

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