Andrés Bernal Change Maker Chat

Andrés Bernal Change Maker Chat

 

Curious about the remarkable rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and policies like the Green New Deal? We talk to Andrés Bernal about both.

Andrés Bernal is an Advisor to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. His PhD research focuses on the political economy and policy design of the Green New Deal.   Andrés is a proponent of the heterodox school of economic thought known as Modern Monetary Theory. He is a Research Fellow at the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity. See: https://www.andres-bernal.com/about

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Transcript

Amanda:

Welcome to the show Andrés.

Andrés:

Happy to be here.

Amanda:

Great. Well we’re very excited to have you in Australia teaching us all about interesting things that are going on in America first time here.  So to begin, I’m wanting you to explain to our audience as much as anything else. You’ve done so many things. You’re an academic, you’re also an activist. You support political candidates, you’re an intellectual. Tell us about you do that makes you a change maker?

Andrés:

Well I travel around the United States and now internationally as well. And I try to speak to people that are becoming interested in creating change. Both those that have been involved in these efforts for a while now. And maybe those that are just now coming around because they see, they look around and they see that something needs to happen. And I tried to explain ideas that are oftentimes considered complicated or kind of marginalized to academic spaces or just to exclusive political circles, and have these conversations with everyday average working people. And organize around that as well. And as a researcher, I try to contribute to this process of doing this work with that kind of critical thinking tradition of trying to find the ideas that are gonna help us break through to a, to another way forward.

Amanda:

And we’re going to get to it. But in particular around the economy?

Andrés:

Yes, absolutely. In particular around the economy. I’m very interdisciplinary, so that kind of speaks to my, my training. As an undergraduate in college I studied philosophy, then I started organizational leadership studies and then I kind of tried to, in my own crazy way, put it all together by studying public and urban policy. So I come from different methodological traditions, kind of different ways of seeing and understanding the world. Also in terms of the economy, thinking about how the economy and the environment don’t have to be in opposition and how we have to think about this as a two very interdependent parts of our lives and our experiences as well as the area of public finance and kind of the macro economy in particular.

Amanda:

Excellent. Now you’ve already mentioned, it’s sort of teaser of your background, but one of the things that I’m really interested in is, why have you got yourself into such an interesting place trying to interpret how a new economy can work for this new climate change age for instance? I’m interested in the long story, if you don’t mind, like all the way back, what are some of the key influences on you that have helped, I guess, turn you into the person you are today?

Andrés:

Yeah. I think it all starts when, when I touched base in the United States for the very first time, I was three years old. And I had come from Bogota, Colombia where I was born and my father left for the United States first, a couple of months before my mom and I did.

And so some of my earliest memories are knowing that somebody was somewhere else and is sending us kind of these messages and whatnot. And then we, we made our way over there too. So very early on I had this perspective of to have family there in another country and I’m here and there’s something about how I understand myself and I make meaning of my own life in this way. Managing and thinking about kind of these two perspectives, of having dual and multiple identities and whatnot.

As I was growing up my parents invested a lot in kind of a critical education at home. And so the way that I made sense of being an immigrant in another country, knowing that I was different because I spent my childhood in Chicago and I was one of the only Latin American people there, certainly maybe the only person that spoke a different language and all these kinds of things.

So making sense of that. It helped that my parents spoke to me a lot about inequality and power and history. My father loves history a lot. So I received a lot of that education very early on. And so when I was introduced to something like the civil rights movement in elementary school and the work that somebody like Martin Luther King jr did, it all kind of started to connect. So I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of of efforts just in general, even as a kid that contributed to fighting things that maybe at that time I didn’t understand that well, but that seemed unjust and unfair. And, you know, experiencing racism also, I think is a big part of that too. And knowing that it’s a reality or why when we used to visit Columbia, you know, why was there so much more poverty over there?

Why did you see certain things over there and not here? And trying to make that connection in some sort of a systemic way, played a huge role. As I got older, I started to realize that my mother, my mother’s story is also really influential too in that she was kind of discouraged by several forces in her life, as she was growing up from getting an education or pursuing an independent life of her own because she was a woman. There was an expectation of you’re just going to do what we say or something like that. And she kind of like on her own, decided to rebel against all of that and get an education, go to college, study, do things she wanted. She always wanted to travel the world, things like that, that didn’t have any support for.

And so as I’m getting older that part of my mother’s story has also influenced me a lot. And thinking about gender and thinking about these kinds of inequalities that I think many men still take for granted sometimes, is so important too.

Amanda:

So I’m hearing there was this sort of interpretive side from your father and this sort of capacity to rise above the pressures, as difficult as that is, like that is not easy from your mom. So your home life was a really important political space for you, intersecting with your school life and then your visits back to Columbia.

Andrés:

Yeah, absolutely. But both of my parents struggle to leave their home and face these very difficult conditions in the United States. Were very, very influential. Like that story of, of struggling and trying to make something of yourself.

And I think the kind of key component there was, I wasn’t seeing that as just like everybody can just be wealthy and make it and that kind of story. I was understanding and making sense of it as these are the forces that separate people in the world and create different class distinctions and create different kinds of places in society and that people are very much encouraged to just know your place and stay in your place. So that’s what stuck to me the most. So perhaps as a teenager, and I think this is really interesting too, because when I entered high school, my father and my parents, my family was doing a lot better for themselves.

My father is a paediatrician, he’s a physician, so he was doing quite well. But the alienation that one feels as one enters the middle class, whatever that that’s supposed to mean, in an environment where you’re being pressured to adapt and kind of conform to a certain lifestyle of consumerism and like a shallowness, that I think a shallow dimension to that where it’s just about what you have and your possessions and, and the way that young people are indoctrinated to be that way. I think was a big part of the struggles I had as an adolescent and the frustrations and anxiety that I developed at that time where I didn’t feel, I didn’t know like where I fit in. I didn’t know how to make sense of my life at that time.

And later I started to make sense of that through thinking about the world politically on different sides. You know, not just why in high school there was a cafeteria, there were two cafeterias and it seemed like, although it wasn’t formally separated, it was informally separated as to all the more working class poor kids or those that came from more Mexican or immigrant descendancy sat in one area that was called the pit. And then there was like this other cafeteria, which looked a lot nicer and all the much more upper middle class or wealthier students hung around there, and so this was actually Texas. So I moved, I ended up moving when I was 10 to South Texas, which is a whole other journey in and of itself, but that was really the beginning of an awakening for me to sit with that just very powerful firsthand experience with cultural and political differences in power.

Amanda:

It sounds like you are describing it as class and race.

Andrés:

All together Yeah. I mean in today’s era, we have trouble making sense of how those things, are intersecting. And, and a part of it I think is because neoliberal governments and forces have really taken advantage of things like identity and social groups and use that in a rather superficial way. And taking away the whole purpose of something like intersectionality, which was always about class and always about structural power and the way that there are both real material differences amongst people in the way, like culture and language and ideology. All these things are used to justify these material differences. And so yes.

Thinking about how those things connected was big. In South Texas, the population is like 90% Latino or Hispanic. So identity-wise people share Spanish last names. But if you kind of go in deeper and you see the differences amongst who’s wealthy, who has the power, who has control, whose families do what in the city, whose families come from, what countries or what areas and how does the whole global geopolitics of that makes sense. So that forced me also I think to think about things on that intersecting level.

Amanda:

Yeah. Wow. So you went to university. How did those experiences inform your choices there?

Andrés:

I went from just really, really frustrated and I think this speaks to a lot of young people’s experiences today. A lot of anxiety, you know, depression, alienation and certain struggles and kind of difficulties within family life as well.

Andrés:

And in university I took a philosophy class because I always wanted to study philosophy, but I never felt like I had the opportunity to do so. So I took a philosophy class and that started me on this pathway of trying to get to the core of things and trying to deconstruct my own experiences and what I was seeing in the world. And I kind of just really fell into it. And it started this dialectical tension between, on one hand, making sense of the meaning of my life and like the meaning of death to like all of these things are all these existential questions, really into existentialism.

Amanda:

Do you want to explain it for our audience?

Andrés:

By some I know, just, just kind of how we make sense of how we exist and the fact that we have like a consciousness. So we’re these thinking beings that know we’re alive for some reason, and we’re very aware of that. And of course, like language and culture and all these other things are part of that as well. What do we do with that? What do we do with the fact that we know that at the end of this story, we all die. How do we make a sense and, and how we make meaning out of our life while we’re here. Right. So those questions are always very important to me. Different existentialists have different answers for that. But I was always really, really compelled by the idea that we have to create the meaning in our lives. We have be a part of something big. It’s not all just about being happy, but it’s about being a part of something and affirming your life in that way.

So thinkers everywhere from Sartre to Nietzsche to all these other people that were very much a part of that, as well. Political philosophy. So the big systems of the world and the big debates around what kind of society should we strive for. Those two tensions in those two questions. Very much from the beginning set the terms for how I see the world and experience my life.

Amanda:

Wow. That’s the extraordinary opportunity when people get to go to university in a sense is that there are some dedicated years where people can explore these big questions in a way that you rarely get in your life. Some people find it through religious practice, others find it through an intellectual practice that you were describing where they can search and interpret and understand meaning.

Andrés:

Yeah. And it’s a real shame that today we’re trying to turn higher education into something that’s going to produce little workers that are going to go out. And the whole point of getting education now is just to see how you can fit get into a job or whatnot. And I think that’s a real tragedy because I always saw the purpose of higher education as this process that helped develop me as a human being and as a member of the society. And that is getting really lost in the debate right now.

Amanda:

I had exactly the same experience by the by. So how does that deep thinking, and I know you then did a whole bunch of deep thinking, over the years coming, how did that then connect to political life for you to actually being connected to campaigns and action and so forth? How did that, how did that transition happen?

Andrés:

There’s two factors I think that that led me in that direction. Right before university, when I was around 17 years old, I attended this leadership development Institute that was organizing these experiences for young Latinos all across the United States. And what this did was, it organized a youth legislative session. So I went, I was like 17 years old and I get there and they kinda just like bombard you with like this experience that you’re not expecting. You’re 17 and you’re what is going on? And you have to elect your own government, you have to run for offices and make, give speeches and all these things, form a Senate, a house and all these things that 16 and 17 year old’s kind of never do. And the whole point of it is to give you that sense of agency and put it in your hands and give you experience with power. And so the rationale for this was from the founder was to provide experiences that were going to construct the infrastructure for a future Latino leadership in the country.

Given that the experience of the civil rights movement was kind of dying off. Those leaders were getting older, they were retiring, and that base for Latino leadership and the country was kind of evaporating. And so he really believed that in order to do that, you had to give young people these experiences very, very early on. So that had an impacting experience on my life. I remember I gave a speech, I ran for the Supreme court or something and I spoke to my peers, like 200 people were there and I was freaking out and I went off and I spoke about justice and law and all of these kinds of things. And I won. And when I won, when I remember, they called me up. You change after that moment. You realize like, I want to be a part of this larger purpose that’s based on ideals.

It’s based on a purpose and it’s not just my purpose as an individual, but something that is collective in nature. So that was really, really important. And I came back to these programs and these different leadership camps as a counselor. And then later in my twenties because this is all run, also by young people too. They’re the ones that staff the program, mostly young people. So I was coming back in my twenties, eventually as an educational director with these programs, and around that time I kept hearing about this other superstar who was from the Bronx in New York.

Amanda:

I wonder who that could be? I’m scratching my head

Andrés:

Everybody kept hearing about her. And in fact, the founder of this organization, National Hispanic Institute, had written a book and she wrote like the introduction to it or something like that. And she was like 19. I was like, who the hell is this person? It’s fascinating. And so because I was in Texas, I didn’t meet this person for a long time, but finally at an event that brought a lot of people together. I met her and her name is of course Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. So we just became friends. We became good buddies and we had a lot in common and we were part of these experiences and these organizations. So that was very important for me on one hand. And on the other hand, I finished my undergrad later in life and I’m trying to make sense of how can I apply this, all these lessons that I’ve learned into some kind of political future.

There were moments where I felt like I was going to end up having to go into the private sector or something like that. And I just, it wasn’t for me. I felt like I have to continue to either be an organizer or be an academic – that was always kind of the tension. So I ended up deciding to go to New York city to start a PhD program because I wanted to do a case study or a dissertation on worker owned businesses and democratic control of workplaces. And in New York city in 2014, an initiative is started by the city council to start financing these efforts and start organizing people in communities, particularly low income working class predominantly women communities, predominantly people of color to form these democratic businesses. So I moved there for that and it just so happens that one of my few friends in New York when I moved there is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

So we’re just like hanging out, every now and then grabbing a drink, talking about life, talking about our future plans. She had experienced some tragedies in her life with the passing of her father around a little bit earlier than that too. So we were kind of just making sense of where we go into the future and all of that then gets disrupted when Donald Trump is elected president in 2016. So that kind of like, it’s like a big boom.

Amanda:

How did it impact?

Andrés:

Well it’s a bit of a crisis. It’s a bit of a crisis of meaning, but at the same time, I know many of us saw that coming because a big part of my education was trying to trace this history of neoliberalism and as I’m getting older, figuring out that the options that I was given in middle school and in high school of Bill Clinton and John Kerry, and Al Gore, that sort of thing, which at the time when I was really young, I was like, yeah, that’s right.

Like when you’re, when you’re 16 in Texas and everybody wants to go to war with Iraq, everybody around you thinks is like, that’s a brilliant idea. George Bush, George W. Bush himself is from Texas. The war on terror is in its height. 9/11 just happens, right? So like, it’s, it’s everywhere. The only thing you’re given is, is John Kerry and Bill Maher in the media, you think that’s resistance, right? And then I’m getting older. I’m like, wait a second. Like those were the options we had man. So tracing that history of how this narrative of the end of history, this one book that’s written in the early nineties about how the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of this one vision that I think the United States with Reagan, Margaret Thatcher in the UK put forward as the only alternative there is no alternative – history has ended.

This is it, this is the best we can do as humanity. This kind of system. Inherently, you know what they call it, a free market capitalist economy and society is the best we can do. We can just kind of maybe tinker around the edges a little bit or if we’re trying to reform it, let’s try to use market incentives and market logic so that entrepreneurs could arise from the ashes.

Amanda:

And don’t use the state,

Andrés:

Don’t use the state at all. Because that’s inefficient, ineffective. It’s all about incentivizing entrepreneurs to take care of all aspects of society. So tracing that history, learning about the late nineties and the protest against the WTO, learn about a very particular kind of globalization, you know, neoliberal globalization being inspired by the Obama campaign and then being disillusioned by the results of that presidency, being a part of Occupy.

All of these things are kind of influencing me and I’m starting to realize this system can’t hold on much longer. Something is going to crack because the consensus between center left and center right is not doing anything. And history is coming back and it’s coming back strong. And so when Trump announces that he’s running for president, I’m kinda thinking at first I’m like, this is a reflection of who we are as a culture. I mean, the reality television obsessed culture has put forward their icon and he’s also using this, this xenophobic proto fascist rhetoric. He’s got these like neofascists around him. He’s being very careful, very strategic in how he is speaking to working class Americans and blaming immigrants and migrants and Mexicans who he just sees all Latin Americans as Mexicans. Right?

I do feel like all Latin Americans are Mexican in the sense like we’re all part of that struggle at the border. And of course Central American increasingly too, it starts to like really solidify in a strategic agenda that it doesn’t seem anybody else has. It’s new. And then the primary is going on and he’s just destroying the Republican establishment one by one. He’s using humor, he’s like, he’s a master at manipulation and communications. And I’m like, this guy can win. And everybody’s kind of making fun of it. And I know the Clinton campaign wanted him to win because they were convinced there would be a blowout if he got the nomination. And I was getting increasingly tense, but I went into that general election, somewhat optimistic, and it was just a terrible night.

I remember I was sitting there in a little room at my university, and just watching those results come in, you’re like, Holy crap, what is it? What’s going to happen? What is the, what’s the future of the world? I mean, he and I knew that he was gonna have a very particular stance on climate change. Get us out of the Paris Accords. We were just going to lose those four years at least. So that was a very scary time. And I feel like we all have the responsibility then to figure out what are we going to do. Because if we learned anything, if I learned anything from these leadership development experiences, it’s like not wait for those with authority or the adults to just solve everything. Sometimes you got to take initiative to be a part of something and make something happen. And AOC that December, December of 2016 decides to go to Standing Rock in North Dakota where they were forcing a pipeline and they wanted to start doing fracking through indigenous land.

So she just goes, she gets on a road trip and the other day I, I went on Facebook and I went back to her Facebook to find exactly what date this was. So it was December of 2016 she starts doing these videos and creates a GoFundme and drives to Standing Rock,

Amanda:

Which is really early on. We did a story on it and it really didn’t heat up until towards the middle of 2017 so her jumping on so early is interesting, right? It is right at the beginning.

Andrés:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So she’s driving to Standing Rock and she makes a pit stop in Flint, Michigan. Oh wow. Yes. She speaks to some people there, then goes to Standing Rock, hangs out with the many of the elders and the protesters and whatnot.

She has these stories of randomly in the middle of the night, these people, would like guns and this military shows up and nobody’s sure if they’re paramilitary, if they’re private mercenaries, it was serious business over there. And being from Columbia, I’m very mindful of this history of paramilitary forces and which is something that I would have never thought would start happening to US. But with all of this border politics and border rhetoric and the increasing, what’s the fascistification with the authoritarianism? Yes. authoritarianism that’s kind of growing in organizations like ice, like the border patrol, like the police, we have the black seats all connected, right? Cause we have like the Black Lives Matter movement happening around this time too. And it’s like they’re deploying paramilitary forces.

Amanda:

Like it’s the new system of a new mode of accumulation. Trump represents, Trump’s not, it’s not about Trump, it’s about this application of a new mode of accumulation, almost this nationalism.

Andrés:

Right.

Amanda:

And authoritarianism is so nasty,

Andrés:

Right It is. Absolutely. So Nazi and Steve Bannon had like this big agenda and he’s traveling around the world talking to other people like Trump too. So it’s like this is happening everywhere. So she talks about that. She comes back and we go to a training for one of these leadership development programs and we’re in this like ranch in Texas and she’s just like you know, I got a little announcement and there’s like a small group of us. She’s like, I’m going to run for Congress. And you know, it was just like, I really admired her for just making that bold move.

Amanda:

It’s a bold move to make. Huge. Bold. How old was she?

Andrés:

She’s 28.

Amanda:

I love it.

Andrés:

She was 28, she had been working as a bartender for some time now, while in New York we weretalking about potentially creating a podcast and stuff like that. And then Trump wins. So that kinda like screwed up our plans for a lot of things and she goes up to Standing Rock. So then she makes this bold move, like I’m going to run for Congress. She starts filling us in a little bit about Justice Democrats and these people who were in the Bernie Sanders campaign who had inspired all of us because if one kind of good thing came from that tragedy, was how much support the Bernie Sanders campaign got and he came out of nowhere.

Andrés:

So the, the antidote to this hateful authoritarianism was there as well. At least I believe so.

Amanda:

Well, I think the two things are still in contest. It’s still fighting and it’s not clear which one will win, but it’s tricky to fight authoritarian nationalism. In the United States we can very clearly see the alternative.

Andrés:

Yes, I think so as well. And he doing the Sanders campaign and that movement, which, and that’s the thing, it’s a movement. And the thing I love about the U S and having to force myself to have some pride in something is this a history of social movement building that I see coming out of the civil rights movement and learning how to connect that with the good things of the New Deal and the organizing in and throughout the 30’s and the 40’s.

And to see how the inadequacies and the failures of the New Deal, the ways that that excluded certain people, the white supremacy of it. You know, that even though we’re doing these great things, these projects, it was still kind of embedded in this other toxic history that we have this, white supremacist, settler colonialism, that we have in the United States. That then we see the civil rights movement be like, okay, these did happen. We do have kind of social security. We have all these public goods now, but we’re being excluded. We’ve been excluded since the beginning. The promise of reconstruction after abolition was never met. And, so the civil rights movement happens. The women’s rights movement,happens and evolves, unfolds as well. Gay liberation, all these kinds of things.

Kind of leading up to the environmental movement. The seventies, I think the Bernie movement was the spark that in AOC’s campaign starts to materialize these intersecting forces of the spirit of MLK and that civil rights movement with some of the policy visions of that time period itself, the 60s, but also of what we accomplished in thirties and forties with a very strong labor movement there. And you had very active socialist parties in the United States at that time as well. So trying to bring all these things together, I think over that year and a half, the AOC campaign, her own thinking was evolving and she as a person was evolving and her vision was forming.

Amanda:

So let’s, I want to explore this. The green new deal.

So were you like, when was it first conceived as, when was it first used/identified? When did people start to think we could pull these together for this frame?

Andrés:

So the thing that happened, like the green new deal comes out of this social movement, organizing and social movement based campaign that AOC and the community around her. I mean really you got to thank Sunrise. Which is a youth movement in the United States working around climate change, for people who don’t know. Yes. So at the very beginning of AOC, his campaign to somebody I had met at at like a conference messages me on Facebook and they’re like, Hey, I’m starting this organization called Sunrise and can you like publish this? I was like, yeah, sure. It’s like bizarre. A lot of weird things are happening in New York at that time. Explosive, creative, amazing things. It’s sort of inspiring. Like for anyone listening to this show, it shows what anyone can do.

So AOC is kind of working with her community district 14 in New York. And I’m witnessing all of these amazing people coming out for her, knocking on doors, calling people, volunteering, creating an event, organizing events. Like it’s a whole thing around what she’s representing and what she’s talking about. And increasingly as it looks as though maybe she can pull this off, which kind also came out of nowhere and really starts to solidify in the first debate with her opponent, with Joe Crowley, where it was so obvious how outmatched he was by this like significantly younger woman just on every level, charisma wise, intellectually, everything, everything. So I was on, it’s like, Holy crap, she can pull this off. So it’s, it’s like, all right, well what do we do if we win? And climate change starts to become that central thing because what many of us were, were understanding and what she was understanding was that climate change, the crisis, the environmental crisis was the opportunity to have an intersectional politics to bring together the economy, social issues and environmental issues as part of one thing as opposed to like this history of fragmenting everything and being like, well, that’s this and that.

This issue, this issue over here, this issue over there. So as soon as she wins and also it just so happens that climate change, that the sunrise movement is growing in popularity as well. That kind of unites, right when she wins, she, when she gets elected officially and she’s going to go to for her training in Congress, she tells a story that I think in Philadelphia on the way to DC there, there were these kids hanging out that invited her to talk and they were part of Sunrise and they said, look, we’re going to, we’re going to occupy Nancy Pelosi’s office, are you with us? And she was just like, Holy, you know, pink pinned by 18 year olds. What decision do I make? I just got elected. I’m already upsetting a bunch of these establishment people.

What do I do? And so she made the call to join them and to try to do it in the most graceful way possible to try to balance that tension between pressuring but not being belligerent. And she pulled it off beautifully.

So gracefully and, and I think, boom, the green new deal is born. And we just took down 50 years of failed environmental policy, at least as a paradigm, as an agenda , as the way we frame the entire thing goes from, because,neo-liberals were talking about a green new deal. Very, like in 2008, Thomas Friedman wrote a column and he’s, you know, one of these thought leaders in the United States, right?

He writes, he writes this article about a green new deal, but he’s talking about these cap and trade systems, the carbon tax.

Amanda:

All market based.

Andrés:

Yeah. All market-based kind of stuff. Then later you know, the Obama administration with, with Van Jones who gets hired to be this environmental leader, it’s still based on, incentivizing entrepreneurs to come up with the green businesses that are going to save us all. And he has an article where he explicitly says that only the private sector has the resources to address climate change. And that was what everybody was thinking back then. So then flash forward, AOC wins. Sunrise is on the rise. And this green new deal is being proposed. You got to give credit to the green party as well because they were fighting that fight on very, very similar grounds before.

We put forward this different idea that’s drawing inspiration from the new deal obviously, but more than anything from the mass public mobilization and the responsibility that the government took to make sure that certain goals were being met to revitalize the economy, to direct the economy, and to provide a new deal for American society. And that’s kind of where I come into play in that movement. I was advising AOC in different areas. But at the end it was increasingly in a policy role and my PhD was in public policy as I was like, Whoa, man, contribute something here. I got some ideas. So at that time, it just so happened that I had been researching this thing called modern monetary theory for about a year because I was so disillusioned with the answers and the debate on the macro economy.

Because anytime we propose anything that’s progressive, the establishment and centrists are like, Oh, that’s nice, but it’s too expensive. How are you going to pay for it?

Andrés:

And so we go into.

Amanda:

A loaded gun, it’s like, you gotta pay for it. He’s like, yeah, that’s it. That’s over. Like let’s call it a day. Yeah.

Andrés:

So, so we, we had been getting into these debates that rested on like, where are we going to pick the money from dollar for dollar. Are we going to find a little bit here, a little bit there, whose Taxes are going to.

I always felt like we were arguing on the right’s terms and on, on neoliberal terms,

Amanda:

It’s cause you were,

Andrés:

Because we were, and something seemed wrong about all of that.

Andrés:

It, the move always was to make what, we call it the middle class, working class people feel like their taxes were going to go up and as wages are stagnating, as people are struggling and they’re like, you’re gonna raise my taxes. You know, so people, their animosity towards those that are doing a little worse than them or those that may be not as privileged as them is also being exploited at that time. So it all collapses. So I had heard about this other idea called modern monetary theory. The first year I was in New York and then I didn’t pay any attention to it for like four years. And I’m like, all right, I’m going to give these people a chance. They have a cool logo and the name sounds kind of interesting.

Amanda:

Yeah, that’s always what matters.

Andrés:

So I started looking into it and like, it was blowing my mind because it was always the intuition. I had that, wait, how did we get out of the great depression? How do we accomplish all these things? Did we like find money in place? There wasn’t. Everything had collapsed. And there’s the very notion of money itself, given my influences in critical theory and in philosophy. I was very skeptical that that money was this like finite thing, but rather that it was a, it was kind of like a social construction. It was a legal social construction that helped organize society. So I start learning about MMT modern monetary theory, and it starts to make a lot of sense on how, you know there’s an end, there has to be an entity that chooses the, what’s called the unit of account that we use or the dollar, and that’s the United States.

And they invented that thing. They didn’t, they didn’t grow out of the ground. The U S government formed and said, we’re going to, through a lot of political, legal debates, they said we’re gonna choose a dollar and it’s going to come from the federal government and we have authority over it and we’ll give charters to banks so they can do lending and all that stuff too. But at the end of the day, it comes from the United States government. And so they issue this currency and they can’t run out of that thing because they issue it. It’s like Delta or, or a Qantas airlines is never going to run out of frequent flyer miles because they just made it up. It’s like their thing, right? So it’s this question that moves away the conversation from this notion, like the particular number on a balance sheet or an account. And the real important question, which is the resources, that’s what’s there.

That’s what’s real. If you overspend, it’s because you’ve run out of resources and that’s causes all kinds of problems, right? And so, you know, Stephanie Kelton likes to talk about this, that during world war two John Maynard Keynes wrote this book called, or a little pamphlet called how to pay for the war. And it wasn’t about where we find the money, it’s about how do we resource this thing, how do we mobilize and how do we take account or evaluate what we have available and what we need to produce to meet this goal. So similarly, we have this, this rhetoric and this discourse that emerges around climate change, of mobilizing for war at the scale of a world war. Except it’s not to kill one another. It’s to save the planet and it’s to transform society in its entirety transformed the way that we produce things, what we produce the laws around how we produce guarantee clean air, clean water justice.

Amanda:

I guess. You know, I, and I’m, I’m no expert on MMT and I would encourage people want to look into it more that Stephanie Kelton’s book and there are other, there are other, you can Google it and there’s lots of stuff out there. But if, if not now, when would we explore new and interesting ways to look at how our economy works and it’s a pretty sound.

Andrés:

Yeah. And it’s this notion that what would you do be thinking about at the level of our government is how do we resource and mobilizing that the planet humanity’s life.

Amanda:

Big important questions. Right?

Andrés:

It’s huge. And so it kind of brings to attention the fact that this question of how to use public budgets is a political question as well. It’s not, it’s not governed by independent laws of supply and demand. No. This is a political question around how do we want to use our resources.

Amanda:

And it’s, I guess it’s, and then it comes back to the original thing about the AOC campaign, which is that it requires this intersection or this confined, powerful, enormous movement to make it happen. We need good thinking about how to run the economy and it needs to be endorsed and supported by the biggest social movement possible. I guess.

Andrés:

And as you mentioned a little earlier, nobody asks this question, how are you going to pay for it when we’re going to go to war or assassinate other people’s leaders or whatnot or drop drones, right?

So it’s just Congress appropriates a budget. Boom. That’s it. That’s it. That’s literally it. There’s other questions there about, you know, developing, developing countries with quotation marks or the global South.

Amanda:

The global South has been printing money before and it hasn’t worked out so well, but certainly time for exploring new ideas right now.

Andrés:

And you know, there’s an imperialist relationship there that’s central to that conversation. This is the time to explore new ideas, to explore why certain countries don’t have that kind of authority and power, what are the real structural dynamics there.

Amanda:

So I want us to sort of draw back, this has been such a fantastic story about the hope that sits inside the US that some people who listen to this may have known and had glimpses of, some may not have even known. And I guess the story is that there is the capacity to achieve major change. Many of our countries around the planet have difficult leaders. We’ve got some difficult leadership in Australia at the moment, challenging leadership in the United Kingdom. There’s difficult leadership around Europe and in many global South countries like Brazil and the Philippines. We’ve got, and let’s not ignore, China and what’s going on across, across China with Taiwan and Hong Kong. I want to you draw you back and just ask you, okay. You’ve, you’ve had an extraordinary experience, particularly over the last three or four years, but obviously over the course of your political life

What’s the biggest lesson that you have to share? You know, our audience at keen and eager to pick up on how to do things differently. If there was one thing that you could suggest to them that they could think about doing differently. What would it be particularly around social change?

Andrés:

Well, what a question, right? I think, I think we’re in a moment where we need to not be afraid to be bold and ambitious and we need to lead with that. And when you lead with that in a way that creates space for other people to join our movement and build those coalitions, and nobody’s perfect because we’ve been living in a very unjust, oppressive, screwed up world our entire lives. And so part of that process is to help one another grow as people too and become better, better organizers, better members of, of, of all our different societies, more international in the sense that we see one another as united for this causes, against these oligarchs who are also united internationally as well. So to be unapologetic and being bold, to not be turned away or intimidated by these technical things that are thrown at us. To understand that if we have the political will, then we can overcome this climate crisis. And in the process we could also just create a society that is grounded on well-being and quality of life as opposed to this kind of race that we have, this madness that we have now where everybody is being pressured to you in a way be perfect and be extremely wealthy and powerful and have status.

And that is making us incredibly depressed and anxious and alienated. It’s in the United States. It’s part of what I believe to be a mental health crisis, an addiction crisis which is all grounded in this idea of well-being, quality of life, and not value, not investing in that. And so organize to be bold, to transform the world and in the process, create the spaces that are gonna help us all evolve together,

Amanda:

Change the world, and in doing so, change ourselves. So thank you so much for joining us on Changemakers.

Andrés:

It’s been a real pleasure. Thank you for having me. That was awesome.


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