October 7, 2011

One Simple Demand: Abolish Debt. Abolish Wall Street.


In the comment thread for my last post we discussed the possibility of some educational pamphleteering at the occupations. One idea was a few bullet points summing up the facts about debt, along with a recommendation to read David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years
So what might those points be? Here’s a few thoughts:
*Are you in debt?
*Are you forced into debt in order to live like a human being? It hasn’t always been this way.
*Humanity has flourished without formalized debt for most of its history.
*Formalized debt has always gone hand in hand with scarcity, tyranny, slavery, and war.
*Formalized debt is the mode of control of despotic structures like big government and big corporations.
*These structures, too, have only recently come into existence, and only along with tyranny, slavery, and war. Humanity has always done better without them. [Maybe those latter two are better to leave implicit for now? Maybe it’s better to isolate the formal debt issue, leading up to saying Wall Street and financialization shouldn’t exist.]
*Cash money is the vehicle of formalized debt.
*Wall Street exists only to preside over this unnecessary and destructive debt machine. It serves no legitimate or constructive purpose.
*History proves that we can undertake all human endeavors more fairly and efficiently without Wall Street and its debt burdens. Humanity is cooperation.
*We must redeem our human economy by building alternatives to cash and debt.
*We shall flourish again only with the abolition of Wall Street, the domination of finance, and the tyranny of money debt.
So there’s One Simple Demand right there. Abolish the debt system, abolish the finance sector, abolish Wall Street.


  1. Russ,

    This video (approximately 6 minutes) has the occupiers in Zucotti Park explaining in some detail how their movement is organized with respect to food “we’re feeding everyone” (thanks to donations from around the country), dish-washing, first aid, etc. It’s pretty impressive:


    Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 7, 2011 @ 8:38 am

    • That’s great, Frank.

      They ought to hold up signs saying, “We’re the Real Law Enforcers Here”, “Whose Police?”, etc.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  2. While I am aware of Russ’ knee-jerk reaction when I mention MMT, I continue to believe that Prof Bill Mitchell has thoughtfully considered all (most, anyway) objections and continues his educational efforts. While I empathise with Russ’ emphases with respect to initiatives which might be undertaken to avoid the world we live in and the foibles of human behavioral characteristics (whether related to debt-based economics/financial system or other considerations), I am not sure where his proposals might lead. On the other hand, Dr Mitchell attempts to make a living as an economist who trys to explain how a sovereign nation ‘could’ run its government in order to minimize unemployment while allowing the responsible citizens (an oxymoronic concept?) to run the economy in a rational/responsible fashion:

    Some further thoughts on the OWS movement Posted on Friday, October 7, 2011 by bill


    Bill also includes a listing of future blogs which will allow fleshing out of his concepts:

    “1. Fiat monetary systems are the best way to ensure there is full employment and price stability – and economic development. Convertible currency systems with fixed exchange rates undermine the capacity of governments to pursue public purpose. They bias all adjustment onto external deficit nations which means they become prone to stagnation.

    2. Allowing private banks to create credit is not inflationary per se. Banks need to be tightly regulated by government. Banks have to become banks again. Please read the following blogs – Operational design arising from modern monetary theory and Asset bubbles and the conduct of banks for further discussion.

    3. Governments are not corrupt by definition and so we have to trust them to issue the currency under monopoly conditions. We then have to create pressure groups to ensure our representatives do not get captured by those who would undermine the economic development process. Governments have to advance public purpose as their primary goal and we have to hold them to account on that.

    4. The central bank is really part of government and should be brought within the accountability structures of the elected government. They play an essential role in maintaining financial stability and maintaining the payments system. They should not be allowed to use unemployment as a policy tool to maintain price stability. They would be better placed managing an employment buffer stock system (a Job Guarantee) in that regard. Please read my blog – The consolidated government – treasury and central bank – for more discussion on this point.

    5. Flexible exchange rates free government to pursue domestic policy. Severe fluctuations in parities are typically generated by unproductive speculative activity instigated by the investment banks/hedge funds. A truly progressive vision would render all that behaviour illegal. That should be the focus of the OWS movement not the flexibility of exchange rates.

    6. We have to have a government sector as the centrepiece of the monetary system whichever way we want to organise the productive economy. The issue is to ensure governments work for us and not the top 1 per cent. Building those accountability structures is what the OWS movement should work towards rather than assuming that we can do away with evil government.”

    As I mentioned in a prior comment, Bill and L Randall Wray are two of the leading educators who are attempting to explain that, as of 1971, the USA has the potential to completely control the process of money creation and of facilitating full employment.
    (The Federal Reserve could be dissolved by an act of Congress, then the Treasury Department could replace that private bank with a central bank within the Treasury Dept; One of the several roles such a central bank could assume is related to maintainence of full employment.)

    Of course, what could be is unrelated to the current oligarchy/kleptocracy/whatever. In any event, I am not assuming that such will happen in my lifetime, if ever. Only the perversity of the current system of government control by incompetents/crooks/etc allows the current situation. We can wait and see (or join in some way) in order to find out the responses of the elites to events such as OWS and related events.

    Comment by William Wilson — October 7, 2011 @ 9:39 am

    • William, I still don’t understand your quibble with anything I ever said about MMT, since you’ve insisted on being vague.

      While I am aware of Russ’ knee-jerk reaction when I mention MMT

      I’d say my reaction to MMT was among the least “knee-jerk” I’ve ever had. I spent the over a year thinking about it before arriving at my final position, which I can sum up thus:

      Formalized debt money is a tool of oppression. History proves we don’t need it, and humanity has done much better without it. It’s never been anything but the weapon of states and banks.

      MMT doesn’t want to remove the tyranny of money, but merely wants to take it out of the hands of private banks and repose it with the State, which will allegedly be less predatory in issuing that money and presiding over the debt regime. (And yet its advocates are often downright lascivious in tone when they contemplate how they’ll impose social control through taxation.)

      But there’s no reason to believe this is possible at all. Like all reformism, it’s a way of zombifying faith in kleptocracy. Even if it were possible, there’s no reason to believe the State would be less tyrannical than private banks. Haven’t we already been through something similar with statist communism? Finally, even if this were possible and plausible, it still wouldn’t be necessary or desirable. Are we ever going to grow up and assume adult responsibilities as full human beings? Or are we to remain permanently infantile, the wards of elite regents, our economic and political “betters”.

      It still amazes me that so many who hold such a reactionary position, advocates of permanent stagnation and retardation, call themselves “progressives”. How conservative can one get?

      But having said that, I do think MMT can be a useful educational tool to fight propertarianism and deficit terrorism.

      initiatives which might be undertaken to avoid the world we live in

      That’s funny. Beg the question much?

      responsible citizens (an oxymoronic concept?)

      No, technically a redundant term. One who fails to take full democratic responsibility for himself, perhaps at most engaging in the phony ritual of “voting” in kangaroo “elections”, is no citizen.

      To reply briefly to the first two items in the list,

      1. “Full employment”. But why should we have “employment” at all? Even if permanent mass unemployment weren’t policy (but it is), even if it were possible to temporarily establish full employment, that would just restore a version of the predatory status quo ante. But humanity should never have been defined as “employed/unemployed” in the first place. More deep conservatism. Indeed we ought to call this kind of thing progressive nostalgia.

      2. And now he’s abdicating the one basic principle of MMT, state money? I think I’ll leave off there.

      But just from the title of my post, it’s clear what I think of any “credit-creating” entity, let alone a private loanshark. It looks like the establishment MMTers aren’t going to surprise us skeptics, except on the side of our having been too optimistic about them.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 10:11 am

      • You make some excellent points, Russ.

        I have been far more “knee-jerk” about MMT than you have, but my knee is jerking because MMT, if adopted, would merely be the new orthodoxy until it fails like Chicago School monetarism (what we have now) and so-called “Keynesianism” (what we had before that). Unless and until we criminalize debt-leveraged speculation, the speculators will always find away to defeat monetarist theories.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — October 8, 2011 @ 12:45 am

    • Hi Russ,

      In the context of a government which I suspect most people (not only the citizens of the US) recognize to be corrupt to the core, my impression is that the clever controllers of that institution can and will do whatever it takes to retain control; the average citizen has no way to imagine how completely he/she is essentially controlled. Without going into details, it seems as if control of the banks/money/MSM/intelligence/military/etc has essentially resulted in dictatorship wrapped in secrecy,slogans and sophistry so effectively that many millions of US citizens are overwhelmed to the point where the only way they may try to protest is to conduct demonstrations such as the OWS and numerous other sparsely attended ‘events’ of somewhat similar nature around this country.

      Yves Smith obviously understands some of the fundamentals of MMT as indicated in the following remarks at the introductory paragraph related to the following Oct 9, 2011 article:

      Satyajit Das: Economic Dystopia – The “Stick Shaker Moment”

      “Yves here. Note I beg to differ with Das in his comments on government debt levels for countries that control their own currency. As we’ve noted, a country can always repay debts in its own currency, and the funding of federal deficits by borrowing is a political constraint and a holdover from the gold standard era. Moreover, there is a great deal of evidence that the solution implicit in that view, of cutting government spending in the aftermath of a demand-depressing, private balance sheet wrecking global financial crisis only makes matters worse. This is a case where you need to steer into the skid to get the car back on course.”
      It strikes me as obvious that, were the majority of corrupt/ignorant/toady economists who promote the currently prominent concepts sometimes called ‘neoliberal’ or mainstream ‘conservative’ economics were not allied with the elite, the ideas related to MMT might become recognized as rational and consistent with current laws in the USA as opposed to the essentially faith-based concepts which prevail. Should that occur, it would become obvious that the current finance/economics would be largely modified/discarded and the policy makers might get on with important matters including those related to unemployment. However, in the world as it currently exists, the power groups in the USA and Western Europe have largely managed to facilitate significant/severe impoverishment of the essentially powerless 90-99% (with massive aid from the private Federal Reserve Bank). [As an aside, I recently read that 5000 finance/banking executives had received annual bonuses of $1 mil or more; obviously, that sort of perfromance alone suggests the whole system is a criminal enterprise.]

      My point in posting at Volatility the other day is that educators who try to understand/ enlighten others with respect to how the system might work are also aware that even though the system might be more-or-less rationalized in the context of their understanding of finance, economics, existing laws, etc, they are perfectly aware that should the elite (or even a more nearly representative, democratic governing group) elect to misuse that information, that is not something that those educators would be able to control. People, as imperfect beings, are well known to do stupid things. My impression is that people who control ‘time banks’ or other idealized social/economic systems are/may eventually occasionally become lax/greedy/stupid/deliberately evil/etc. If you wish to negatively criticize the educators, it would appear that the onus is on you to explain how you might control for the involvement of potential criminals; my simplistic assumption is that such control would present a real challange worthy of input from someone more qualified than I.

      Comment by William Wilson — October 9, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

      • William, you recognize that the whole thing is a criminal enterprise, so why would you expect those same “policy-makers” to turn around and reform themselves, from then on exercising a benevolent despotism including the proper use of MMT?

        Plus, as I said, I wouldn’t regard this benevolent despotism, even if it could exist, as anything other than unnecessary, demeaning, and unacceptable. Despotism is despotism, benevolent or not. Why should people who actually work accept the “employment” framework from those who do nothing but steal, even if they were more “benevolent” and actually wanted to “create jobs”? We the productive people can create our own work directly, and far better, without the mediation of parasites, “benevolent” or not.

        As for time banks, how does someone control a time bank? Participation is voluntary, the participants democratically manage their transactions, what’s there to control? I’m a coordinator for an online time bank, which basically means some maintenance stuff and fretting about whether or not we’re on the right track as far as the level of exchange activity for this point of our development. I’m not sure how I could abuse my “power” even if I wanted to. But if I figured out a way to do so and then did so, people would simply stop using the network.

        Comment by Russ — October 9, 2011 @ 3:22 pm

  3. Does MMT address bank “created” interest? If not, they’ll still be sending you out in the world to battle everyone else to find that 10% of some other poor bastard’s principal on your original loan. It’ll still be a game of scarcity musical chairs and a never ending need for “growth” running up against limited ecological carrying capacities. Sounds like a band-aid.

    Comment by Pete — October 7, 2011 @ 4:17 pm

    • According to the excerpt William provides, it sounds like Bill Mitchell, at least, is willing to support bank debt.

      I suppose MMT doesn’t necessarily mean growth capitalism. It means keeping the money supply in line with the productive capacity of the economy. As for how slippery they get with what’s productive, I don’t know.

      But in practice I don’t recall seeing any MMT writing which didn’t at least assume capitalism.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

  4. I think I’d probably bring in the mesopotamian/jubilee examples.. something about how for most of recorded history, it’s always and everywhere been recognised that debt is just an agreement between people that can be annulled at any time. I might also throw in some stuff about the “imaginary money” of the middle ages- that both debt and money have always been recognised as political entities, contracts and social arrangements rather than Things. I think the stuff about formalised debt obscures that a bit.

    Comment by paper mac — October 7, 2011 @ 4:36 pm

    • Maybe “formalized debt” isn’t intuitively clear. Maybe something like “money debt” including those historical examples.

      And you;re right that I just mentioned negatively that we’ve done without debt, without affirming what we did use, and what was so much better for so much longer.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

  5. Hey Russ, saw this today for your food freedom files: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/health/fl-raw-milk-20111007,0,7597300.story

    Comment by antiks72 — October 7, 2011 @ 5:31 pm

    • Well, I’ve said we’re all lumpenproles, and we’re all peasants, and we’re all 99ers. I don’t think I’ll say we’re all pets now. But I still like what I hear there.

      It’s odd, too. If accurate, Florida’s the first state I’ve heard of which isn’t actively hostile.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 6:06 pm

  6. Lest We Forget! Many of the protests occuring would not have happened without WikiLeaks and WikiLeaks might have happened without Bradley Manning!

    R U One in 300 for Justice?

    It was moving to see tens of thousands of Americans adding their names to petitions in support of Mr. Davis because of incomplete evidence of his guilt.
    Why don’t these same people even dare to talk about the illegal imprisonment and possible death of Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning the accused leaker, of the Baghdad Helicopter Massacre video, actually stands accused of having a higher moral standard than the government and the US army. For this he is punished by imprisonment in solitary confinement and various tortures.
    Why does nobody stand up for Justice in Manning’s case? Is it because he is gay? Is it because they are afraid of the government? Or is it really because his courage makes us look bad?

    Here is your chance to prove that YOU believe in Justice and the Rule of Law.
    1)Mr. Bradley Manning has been charged based on circumstantial and hearsay evidence.
    2)Mr. Manning has not been convicted of any crime.
    3)Mr. Manning has been held in prison without proper access to legal council for over one year without being convicted of any crime.
    4)Mr. Manning has for no obvious reason been abused and miss-treated while in prison contrary to the law.
    5)Mr. Manning is an American citizen and entitled to all the protections and provisions of the Constitution of The United States of America.
    6)Due to the illegal declaration by the President of the United States, that Mr. Manning was “guilty”, it is now impossible for Bradley Manning to have a fair trial within the United States.

    Are there not at least one million Americans who believe enough in the Law and the Constitution to sign this petition?

    If there is not one in three hundred Americans who will stand to witness that the government has and is abusing Mr. Bradley Manning, then the outpouring of support for Mr. Troy Davis was no more than cheap theater.

    Whether you think Bradley Manning is guilty or not, Justice must be fair to be called Justice. This petition cannot force the president to release Mr. Manning, but it will force him to say why he refuses to obey the laws of the United States. In spite of recent events, Mr. Obama is not God!

    For any who have not seen the Baghdad video too many times, Ask yourselves, “Should this have been kept secret?” Would your fellow citizens do this?

    Paul Repstock

    Comment by repstock1 — October 7, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

    • I hope that gets a good response. Manning’s a true citizen.

      Comment by Russ — October 7, 2011 @ 6:08 pm

  7. Russ,

    I came to your blog via Damon (who I hope has been uplifted by recent events) via Tao Jonesing (who is simply brilliant).
    As a rube/artist I wanted to thank you for the time and effort you put into sharing your thoughts. They are impressive to say the least. I went down to the MN based movement today. It was not the largest crowd, but it was a moving experience. I look forward to going back. We must be in for the long haul.

    I’m trying to arm myself with as much knowledge as I can. I have a lot of catching up to do and much deep digging. BTW, thank you for recommending the book by Graeber. It’s wonderful that he is providing further enlightenment by engaging his critics in the Amazon review section.

    To everyone else: may we continue to share ideas as none of us are looking for followers, just friends.

    Comment by Sanjarias — October 7, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  8. Great account from San Francisco of protestors resisting and repelling a thug assault.


    It implies that certain would-be “leaders” tried to demoralize the group, and partially as a result there was no resistance plan in place, but the people spontaneously rose to the occasion in the moment of crisis.

    I wonder what’s up with these DPW workers. Are they cowards or willful collaborators? (Don’t try telling me they have to think of their jobs. I’m sure I can accurately imagine what’s been happening to their budget and jobs as it is. Hang together or hang separately.) The article tries to say they were “forced” into this, but leaves unclear how that’s possible.

    Comment by Russ — October 8, 2011 @ 5:39 am

    • “As the police came in this timidity, instability and disparity disappeared as all collectively participated in activity that reflected the needs of the immediate situation. No longer was the conversation dominated, but all voices flourished in the streets…”

      I may be overly optimistic or reading too much into OWS, but I’m starting to see this movement in terms that, in Badiou’s philosophy, might be called an “Event”, as defined below on the khukuri theory website:

      Event (this term has a specialized meaning in Badiou). A Badiouian event is a momentary break in the ruling or hegemonic structure of things, an opening out of which a new truth process may be born. To quote Badiou from his recent Communist Hypothesis, it is “a rupture in the normal order of bodies and languages as it exists for any particular situation….What is important to note here is that an event is not the realization of a possibility that resides within the situation or that is dependent on the transcendental laws of the world. An event is the creation of new possibilities. It is located not merely at the level of objective possibilities but at the level of the possibility of possibilities.” (242-3.)

      Not the realization of an already existing possibility but the creation of new possibilities.

      As you’ve already mentioned, OWS is not something static, but a still-evolving subject or project. The question now is can it resist being co-opted by some organization such as moveon.org, in which case the occupiers might end up choosing reformism over revolution?

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 8, 2011 @ 9:40 am

      • PS – Reading “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” makes it clear that the occupiers (or at least the General Assembly) understand this is a global issue. And comments on the occupywallstreet website are very interesting, such as the following by aaronparr at 11:30 AM today:

        “…This is a world movement facing very similar problems everywhere – predation by the 1% and the use of neo-liberal economic policy to disrupt public services so private interests can take their place.

        Both North America and Europe are being forced into austerity and economic restructuring for the same reason. Its no mystery that calls for austerity in the “first world” followed success in much of Latin America at removing the same pattern of austerity and economic restructuring forced upon them by financial institutions. The wealthy can only maintain their position through exploitation. If Europe and America refuse to play along we could all be doing quite well and have more say in our own societies about our future.

        The revolution in Egypt could be seen in the same light. As Mubarak was allied with these same global economic interests whereas Egypt’s military has domestically focused economic interests which were historically unallied with say Goldman Sachs or UBS. Here’s to hoping that their worker’s movement continues to force the Egyptian military to share power as well. Otherwise I suspect that revolution will be short lived.

        In our case we first need to threaten the status quo. It hasn’t been done yet. But as we resist the resent crisis of police brutality and through that open up more of a dialog with local governments to work with us… the threat will be well underway. The 99% after all are an overwhelming majority. Get your local governments and businesses on your side (most of whom are the 99%), and we will begin to control resources and decision making over what is done with those resources. Eventually Washington will have to start listenting to the public as well.

        Thats the point that y ou can start worrying about organizing demands etc… ITs a long way off at this point.”

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — October 8, 2011 @ 1:38 pm

      • Most in the movement (I refer to both this early visible manifestation as well as those involved in the longer arcs) are still seeking “reform”, but little by little their vector is changing in a transformational direction.

        Astroturfers like Moveon, on the other hand, want to keep everyone mired in the Democrat cesspool. If that’s one (very) strange attractor, the establishment liberals are trying to keep citizen energy from leaping to another. Our task is to help ensure it does.

        Comment by Russ — October 8, 2011 @ 6:41 pm

  9. […] and the personal reasons that brought out many of the Occupiers.   I’ve already written it: Abolish Debt. Abolish Wall Street.   By this debt I mean all system debt, to banks, to corporations, to central government, to the […]

    Pingback by This Is An Abolition Movement « Volatility — December 4, 2011 @ 5:39 am

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