Money on the Left

Word, Image, Praxis

Conference Schedule:


Location: Patel Center - Room 140

8:15 - 8:30: Coffee Reception

8:30: Welcome & Opening Remarks

9:00 - 10:30: Left Imaginaries

Brendan Cook, “From Greed to Gold: The Personification of Money in Early Modernity”  

Jakob Feinig, “From Occupy D.C. (1932) to Occupy Wall Street (2011): Why Was There No Empowering Popular Understanding of Money after the Crisis of 2007-2009?”

Josefina Li, “Community Currency Powered Job Guarantee”

11:00 - 12:30: Politics of Place

Benjamin Wilson, “The Struggle for Life: A Darwinian Narrative of Surplus Value in the Adirondacks”

Richard Farrell, “MMT for Mass Mobility: A Call for Mass Transit Spending in Lotfy Nathan’s 12 O’Clock Boys”

Walter Greason, “Systems of Abundance: Economic Justice beyond Reparations” (Video Presentation)

12:30—2:00: Lunch (on your own)

2:00 - 3:30: Aesthetics & Abstraction

Rachel Cox, “Not So-OK KO: Neoliberal Anxieties in Current Televised Animation”  

Michael McDowell, “The Neoliberal, Austerity Money-Physics in the Dystopian Survival Game, The Flame in the Flood”

Maxximilian Seijo, “Inglorious Basterds: Nazi Desire Fully Employed”

3:45 - 4:45: Coffee & Conversation (Cooper Hall - Room 355)

5:00 - 6:30: Keynote Address: Mathew Forstater

Location: Cooper Hall - Room 115

For the Children: Toward Sustainable Prosperity and Global Citizenship


Location: Cooper Hall - Room 115

8:30 – 10:00:  Rhetorics & Realities

Alex Douglas,  “What must we be like for money to exist?” (Video Presentation)

Nicola Matthews, “The Difficulty of Understanding Something Apparently Known”

Robert Hockett, TBA

10:30 - 12:00: Governance & Law

Carlos Garcia, “Fiduciary Socialism”

Jean Grosdidier, “Payments Systems Beyond Settlement: Some Legal Realism about Money”

Mario Rendina, "Employment & Training Initiatives: Past, Present and Future"

12:00 - 1:00: Lunch (on your own)

1:00 - 3:00: Digital Arts & Humanities

Rohan Grey & Harriet Gillies, “Cultural Production and the Future of the Humanities”      

Alex Williams,  “Gatekeeping and Popularization: The Cultural Job Guarantee and Cultural Equity”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Beyond Crowdsourcing: hitRECord & the Question of a Digital Commons" (Video Conversation with Scott Ferguson and Rohan Grey)

3:30 - 4:30: Kaniela Ing (Video Conversation with Alex Williams)

5:30 - 7:00: Public Event @ Circa 1949

Location: 6905 N Orleans Ave Tampa, FL 33604

Rohan Grey, Benjamin Wilson & Robert Hockett, “Re-imagining Digital Currency: Connecting Universities to Communities for a New Green Economy”

Conference Abstracts

Left Imaginaries

Brendan Cook, “From Greed to Gold: The Personification of Money in Early Modernity”

The paper traces the origin of an essential aspect of the modern discourse concerning money, one which informs current discussions on the left as well as the right. By the end of the thirteenth century, traditional claims that political corruption in church and civic administration was the result of ‘greed’ had begun to give way to polemics against ‘gold’. The new critics of ‘gold’ endowed money with a sort of agency, an independent power to erode social values. In so doing, they anticipated the later treatment of ‘capital’ as an active force, one operating in accordance with economic laws beyond political control.

Jakob Feinig, “From Occupy D.C. (1932) to Occupy Wall Street (2011): Why Was There No Empowering Popular Understanding of Money after the Crisis of 2007-2009?”

In this paper, I explain the limited character of popular involvement in money politics after the recent financial crisis through historical analysis. In the 1930s, farmers, veterans and other groups—all of whom dominated by lower-class white men—developed a shared understanding of monetary institutions that enabled them to push for an end to the gold standard. In this context, tens of thousands of veterans occupied Washington, D.C. to demand “depression greenbacks.” A detailed analysis of events in FDR’s first months in office shows that pressure from these veterans and allied groups such as farmers enabled the President to suspend the gold standard. Thus, the presence of popular knowledge and public pressure made a real difference in terms of policy. I then discuss institutional changes during and after the New Deal that discouraged a reemergence of empowering popular knowledge more, even in conditions of deep crisis after 2007-2009. To illustrate the difference between the Great Depression and today, I compare Occupy Wall Street (2011) and Occupy D.C. (1932). I show that despite sustained collective efforts to analyze money, no empowering and widely shared institutionalist understanding emerged in the wake of the last financial crisis. This paper is important for MMT scholars and activists because it illustrates the potency of a shared and empowering understanding of money to bring about policy change and explains why such collective knowledge is largely absent today.

Josefina Li, “Community Currency Powered Job Guarantee”

Recognizing that much of the social problems are consequences of unemployment, poverty and lack of meaningful economic opportunities, especially on the Native American Reservation, and both the standard and nation building approaches are inadequate, this paper proposes to the impoverished Indian countries a community currency powered job guarantee scheme. Such currency is theorized and designed based on the literature and experience of many local community currencies as well as the Modern Money Theory (MMT). While MMT literature focuses on sovereign currency of a nation (which in many ways the Indian nations are as well), and its unlimited financial capacity, neo-chartalism does teach us money are essential government IOUs, which derives its value from the nation state’s ability to impose tax obligations. Understanding money as such opens up a possibility that money is not fixed and neutral, but rather part a social technology that could be designed, produced and controlled in a way to work for the people. This paper offers some specific details as to how such a currency could be set up by a tribal government and how such currency could also be the missing piece to realizing a job guarantee scheme on the reservations. The paper concludes by outlining the benefits of such scheme.

Politics of Place

Benjamin Wilson, “The Struggle for Life: A Darwinian Narrative of Surplus Value in the Adirondacks”

The Adirondack Park in Northern New York State is the subject matter of a diverse set of narratives expressed via paintings, photographs, campfire stories, academic texts, and public policy reports.  While the presentations and perspectives of these stories are diverse, Phillip Terrie, Adirondack Historian, identifies two primary questions regarding this Contested Terrain (2008): what are the Adirondacks and what are they good for? Rustication, tuberculosis treatment, lumber, mining, fishing and game, and resort development are all answers pronounced as solutions to the struggle for life in this harsh and surreal landscape.  Woven through these stories are the heroics of the rugged individual and the intrusion of outsiders that steal and regulate the Adirondack way of life.  But if one looks closely, an alternative theme emerges, one in which an intimate relationship with nature and strong bounds created across families and communities becomes the source of a very different Adirondack story.  Traversing from the Physiocrats to classical political economy and converging on Marx, surplus value is applied to examine the history and development of Adirondack life. During this process, close attention is paid to Marx’s biological terms metabolism and metamorphosis. These connections expose insights into value generation and the transformation that takes place as humans interact with nature, not to dominate but in cooperation with the biorhythms of life.  By moving beyond the isolation of the individual, narratives of struggles for life or contested terrains subside as perspectives and expressions of sustainable prosperity for all emerge.

Richard Farrell, “MMT for Mass Mobility: A Call for Mass Transit Spending in Lotfy Nathan’s 12 O’Clock Boys”

In this paper, I will analyze the lack of accessible mass transit systems in Baltimore, Maryland and its relation to income and racial inequality in the city’s eastern and western neighborhoods. I will focus specifically on the ‘Red Line’ railway project, an ‘east-west’ line proposal canceled in 2015 by Governor Larry Hogan. The ‘Red Line’ was designed to revitalize Baltimore’s eastern and western neighborhoods. However, after Hogan took office, he deemed the project a ‘boondoggle’, primarily citing the railway’s high cost and lack of integration into existing city infrastructure. It is exactly this lack that the ‘Red Line’ sought to fix. Using Lotfy Nathan’s 12 O’Clock Boys (2013), I argue the film is symptomatic of the impoverished mass transit development in Baltimore. The film captures city-wide hostility between a group of protesting dirt bike riders and the Baltimore City Police Department. Through multiple forms of moving-image mediation, Nathan situates the central problem fueling this dialectic of marginalization as an ongoing contention between forms of private, atomized transportation mobilities. This community’s reliance on private, atomized mobilities mirrors the orthodox liberal conception of money as a private, finite, and de-centralized exchange instrument. If liberal political economics can adopt Modern Monetary Theory’s (MMT) conception of money as a boundless public utility, then we can properly reorient our community development strategies to focus in on unjust political decisions marked by perceived lack of fiscal availability. Ultimately, this reorientation will prove that we can invest in transportation mobility suitable for all communities.

Walter Greason, “Systems of Abundance: Economic Justice beyond Reparations”

With racial wealth gaps widening, and no sustained systems to create global wealth networks for the most impoverished families and communities around the world,  it has never been more urgent to create local systems committed to economic justice for all people. Based on the model of the UJIMA Collective in Philadelphia, sustained by two decades of research in works like The American Economy and Cities Imagined, wealth praxis structures provide opportunities for small cash investments to generate economic dignity at the local and regional levels. This presentation will also feature the basic principles of asset value analysis, expanding on the work of Partha DasGupta to demonstrate the importance of adopting modern monetary theory as the basis for macroeconomic policy in the twenty-first century.

Aesthetics & Abstraction

Rachel Cox, “Not So-OK KO: Neoliberal Anxieties in Current Televised Animation”

Modern monetary theory, in addition to providing a different approach to understanding economics, explicitly critiques the more traditional, neoliberal worldview. Both views come with different aesthetic implications, as explored in modern monetary aesthetic theory. In general, because neoliberalism has an anxious relationship of denial towards abstraction, aesthetic abstraction is largely suppressed. However, this relationship is further complicated in the medium of children’s animation, wherein abstraction is built into the constructed, animated worlds. In this talk, I will look at one of the ways that abstraction is simultaneously embraced (in the bodies of the characters) and aggressively suppressed (in the worlds that the cartoons take place) in contemporary televised children’s cartoons.

Michael McDowell, “The Neoliberal, Austerity Money-Physics in the Dystopian Survival Game, The Flame in the Flood”

The Flame in the Flood (2017) was released by independent game developer The Molasses Flood. The game sets the player in control of a protagonist on the river of a post- apocalyptic landscape. The player navigates through this landscape but can never actually beat the game: no matter how good the player is, the protagonist always ends up dead. The game, in its visual and musical constructions of place and setting, makes explicit the inherent tensions in Modernity. The game is a digitally-distributed entertainment media that invokes pre-modern folk sensibilities in music and gameplay, the artistic style of the game’s lead artist Scott Sinclair is at once realistic and detailed while also grotesque and gothic, and the game was funded and distributed through crowd sourcing and independent game and music networks while relying on traditionally capitalist ways of selling the game to players. What’s most notable for this conference is the game’s embrace of neoliberal money- physics to create such a dystopian playground: every action in the game, from levels of thirst to the amount of sickness a player is enduring, is quantified and itemized in a way that adheres to a liberal money economic system. The player’s character, we’re told, must die because the developers simply don’t have the mechanics to provide another outcome. Drawing upon scholarship in MMT, particularly Scott Ferguson’s arguments in his recent book, Declarations of Dependence, my paper aims to expand the critical tool kit available to scholars in the humanities by framing the argument not around Birmingham and Frankfurt School-influenced critiques of the commodity. If a player, constrained by the rules of the game constructed rather arbitrarily by the designers, can play in such a dystopian sandbox with austerity, constrained game mechanics, what does that say about the possibilities of play in a system that understands boundless, public ideas of money? If money plays by the will of the market due to natural law, why does a game that creates the ideal liberal austerity landscape look like such an awful place to inhabit?

Maxximilian Seijo, “Inglorious Basterds: Nazi Desire Fully Employed” 

Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film Inglorious Basterds sketches an alternate history for the end of WWII and the defeat of the Nazis. In retelling this history, the film avows specific aesthetic and narrative structures that allude to a desire for the figure of the Nazi. Where other forms of media typically deny this persistent desire, Inglorious Basterds embraces it in a Baroque sensationalism. In this paper, I will argue that this desire emanates from a particular economic moment in American life in which money’s boundlessness was utilized: the WWII mobilization. The mobilization enabled the lowest unemployment rate in the history of the United States, and marked the triumph of the “greatest generation” of Americans serving in the factories or on the front lines. This triumph is predicated on the Nazi enemy. Without Nazism, the mass-unemployment of the depression would have lingered into the future. Hinting at this connection, the film makes specific overtures to the nature of employment “obligations” in relationship to fighting Nazism. Looking closely at the film, I reveal how it expresses an unconscious dependence upon the Nazi villain. What is more, I shall contend that the film makes evident this desire for the Nazi through its braiding of cinema writ large with the existence of Nazism. Without the Nazi villain, we lose the cinema. In our desire for employment, we create Nazis on screen that stimulate our desire for the Nazi enemy. Paradoxically, the Nazi form is a form we create to grasp for employment in a quest for social care. As an evocative depiction of this multi-generational quest, Inglorious Basterds discloses and implicates spectators in this repressed desire and permits us to reorganize our political and aesthetic economies around social provisioning rather than war. As the contemporary left reckons with culture, and its expressions of political consequence, it needs to reckon with this distorted historical entanglement that continues to condition our collection vision of what is economically possible.

Rhetorics & Realities

Alexander Douglas, “What must we be like for money to exist?” 

I argue that the existence of money challenges standard approaches of economic explanation more than most economists have realised. Macroeconomic models, which tend to have representative agents optimising over an infinite time-horizon, are difficult to combine with any recognition of the existence of money as an institution. A version of this problem is known by economists as ‘the Hahn Problem’. Standard solutions based on putting money into the utility functions of agents fail to do justice to the unique nature and role of money. Money can also be treated, as property rights are sometimes treated, as lying between the model and reality: an institution existing in the real world that helps it to work in some way like the model-world. I want to propose something more radical: thinking about how money works allows us to explain the phenomena targeted by the Arrow-Debreu model without appealing to the model at all. Rather than trying to square money with the model, we ought to consider the existence of money as a reason to reject the model.

Nicola Matthews, “The Difficulty of Understanding Something Apparently Known”

Scholarship on Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) has grown over the past three decades.  Throughout, the analysis regarding the definition and role of money in modern economies has continued to be drawn ever more sharply. For MMT scholars, what money is and how it functions has never been clearer. In spite of this, effectively conveying this empirically based theory to the broader public has proven to be more difficult. This paper attempts to identify the problems associated with explaining money’s form and function to an audience already thoroughly familiar with the topic. Links between the rugged individualism narrative (seeking private risk and reward), notions of legal property and contract, public debt fear mongering and the purpose of government, metalists concepts of money, the place of the corporate form within capital intensive economies and the nature of money will be made in order to better understand why the inaccurate but conventional wisdom of modern money as a private asset appears to be largely impenetrable.  The historical transformation from competitive to the monopoly issuance of debt instruments will also be examined. Lastly, an investigation into the process of reification in regards to the perception of money will be made.

Governance & Law

Carlos Garcia, “Fiduciary Socialism”

“Fiduciary Socialism” introduces two new concepts: the Lerner Point and the concept of fiduciary socialism itself.Fiduciary socialism is a new kind of socialism that aims to achieve the goals of socialism through the appliance of modern monetary theory (MMT). Therefore, MMT is presented both as a description of how sovereign monetary systems function and as a method. The MMT-methodology can be applied to achieve any ideological goal pursued. Fiduciary socialism is the appliance of MMT-methodology to achieve the goals aimed by socialism. The Lerner Point is a description of an economic state in which full employment of resources is achieved without generating inflation. This exposes the arising of inflation as a phenomenon subsequent to the full employment of resources. Fiduciary socialism states the possibility of achieving the Lerner Point by any country, which issues its own money and collects taxes in an efficient way.“Fiduciary Socialism” is written in the form of article, since it was published by the Spanish newspaper Mundo Obrero. Nevertheless, the article exposes the main points of fiduciary socialism.The proposal of fiduciary socialism is being studied by the Foundation of Marxist Studies of Spain (Fundación de Investigaciones Marxistas) and the author is writing a more extended document also called “Fiduciary Socialism” which will be published in Spanish under the format of a manifesto in 2018 by Lola Books publishing house.

Jean Grosdidier, “Payments Systems Beyond Settlement: Some Legal Realism about Money”

The common idea that payment systems are the plumbing of our monetary economy is essential in their design. Concepts of liquidity and risk, stability and efficiency, are prominent in the reforms of their legal framework. Settlement pressures in payment systems are then depicted as only mirroring a distribution of financial assets. In a more realist perspective, the operationalization of payment systems generates new financial mechanisms, beyond "risks" of nonpayment of debts (default) and brings about concrete consequences on practices of collective governance. A realist approach of the design of payments systems therefore participates in the re-imagination of social relations via money reform.

Mario Rendina, "Employment & Training Initiatives: Past, Present and Future"

If full employment is a function of government, then government must lead the initiative and be accountable for its properly regulated implementation. A government led employment and training model designed to prevent countercyclical as well as structural unemployment can deliver a successful Job Guarantee initiative. This talk revisits the history of public employment and training services in Hillsborough County, Florida from President Johnson’s War on Poverty to the privatization of such services under neoliberalism. Drawing lessons from past possibilities and failures, this presentation sets forth an alternative model for implementing a future federal Job Guarantee at the county level.

Digital Arts & Humanities

Rohan Grey, “Cultural Production and the Future of the Humanities”

There is a widespread belief amongst politicians and policymakers across the ideological spectrum that the humanities are in ‘crisis’, and that greater emphasis on business and STEM education is necessary in order to adequately prepare young people to participate in the labor market of tomorrow. At the same time, the rise of the digital networking technology has produced an explosion of new modes of cultural and scientific production and distribution that do not rely upon private capital investment and/or ex-post remuneration of creators through the creation, sale, and licensing of exclusionary intellectual property rights. Modern Money Theory (MMT) provides insight into both of these phenomena, by recognizing that money is a boundless public utility, and that the structure of the labor market is a macroeconomic policy variable within the control of the currency-issuing government. Building from these insights, I propose a new narrative of higher education and the future of the humanities, grounded in the centrality of public investment to the labor market, and of cultural and service-oriented labor to the ongoing process of social reproduction.

Alex Williams, “Gatekeeping and Popularization: The Cultural Job Guarantee and Cultural Equity”

It’s just your precious American undergroundAnd it is born of wealth, with not a writer in the lot

- Destroyer, “Rubies”

Among DIY musicians, one often hears support for a Universal Basic Income on the logic that if rent is covered, one could spend more time on music. In some formulations, a cultural Job Guarantee aims at this explicitly: liberation of creative energies by providing guaranteed employment. However, technological innovations that allow the nearly zero cost transmission of recordings and manuscripts have moved gatekeeping downstream to publicity and audience development. To address this, and implicitly to challenge the anti-democratic notion that individual preferences are best expressed through markets, any culturally-focused Federal Job Guarantee must include provision for popularization. Starting from both Michal Kalecki’s proposition of a “political business cycle” and Alan Lomax’s idea of “cultural equity,” I argue that a cultural job guarantee must be a self-consciously left project to restructure the social system of cultural production. I follow Fred Lee’s assertion that consumers cannot make production decisions and thus want what they get. I also affirm Modern Monetary Theory’s vision of money as boundless public utility. With these in mind, I argue that a cultural Job Guarantee should democratize American culture, not provide the private sector culture industry with a labor discipline-reinforcing farm team. Rather than making it possible for anyone to become a Taylor Swift, a cultural Job Guarantee should look to the models of Smithsonian Folkways and John Peel to dismantle the form of Taylor Swift itself.

Circa 1949 - Public Event

Speakers: Benjamin Wilson (Professor of Economics, SUNY  Cortland), Rohan Grey (Doctoral Fellow, Cornell Law) & Robert Hockett (Professor of Law, Cornell University), “Re-imagining Digital Currency: Connecting Universities to Communities for a New Green Economy”

Today, when one hears about digital money, one thinks of so-called “cryptocurrencies” like Bitcoin and the pursuit of private speculation and profit. Challenging this vision, Benjamin Wilson, Rohan Grey, and Robert Hockett call for a university-based digital currency system capable of cultivating a just and sustainable economy well beyond campus boundaries. In their presentation, the speakers outline their proposal for a pilot program at the State University of New York, Cortland. Linking university instruction and infrastructures with local non-profits, farms, and food merchants, SUNY Cortland’s “Distributed Social Finance System” will enlist student and community workers in projects, which not only counter-act unemployment and poverty, but also promote biodiversity and socioecological resilience.

The event is free and open to the public.