Andrés Bernal on the Modern Money Movement
Interview and conversation undertaken by by Maxximilian Seijo, Scott Ferguson, and William Saas for the Monthly Review.
The Modern Money Movement with Andrés Bernal
"We are joined by Andrés Bernal, policy advisor to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and doctoral student at the New School for Public Engagement, Division of Policy Management and Environment. We speak with Bernal about his history with political organizing and the critical role he has come to play in the Modern Money movement, including the struggle for a Green New Deal. He also sketches out his dissertation project, which focuses on the Green New Deal as a site of collective action, political communication, and policy analysis.
Additionally, Bernal is a research fellow with the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, and lecturer Urban Studies at CUNY Queens College. For more from Bernal, check out the article “We Can Pay for a Green New Deal,” which he coauthored with Stephanie Kelton and Greg Carlock."
"I had been spending about a year getting to know the body of work called Modern Monetary Theory. I was so frustrated with the way that we were talking about everything that had to do with these bold ideas. I’m a big fan of non-reformist reform, or reforms that are not just trying to tweak the system and make it a little bit more humane, but that are going in a direction that could have more substantive and transformational effects. I was incredibly frustrated because anytime that we proposed any major idea to de-commodify aspects of our lives that shouldn’t be commodified in the first place, we were met with this answer like, “How are you going to pay for it?” Many [people] on the center left and even progressives on the left, still answer that question on neoclassical and neoliberal-conservative terms. We debate on their terms and end up having the same arguments. Where are we going to find the money to fund these programs and how are we going to keep that money going? Then, when we do win, it’s this barrage from the right about whatever program going broke. I just felt it can’t quite be like that.
And I was skeptical for two reasons. One, because from what I knew about the New Deal, I was like, “I don’t think that’s how it works.” I knew that taxes were heavily increased on the wealthiest people. But a lot of them also found huge loopholes at that time. Secondly, given that I was involved in economic sociology and trying to understand the social embeddedness of economic institutions, I thought to myself, there’s another layer here. I had recalled when I first got to New York, there was this wacky group called the Modern Money Network. They stayed in the back of my mind for the next four years. Then, after a while, I was like, “You know what? I’m going to give these guys a look again.” So I started researching and went down the rabbit hole. It took me a little while to really start to grasp the ideas behind some of the surface layer assumptions that Modern Monetary Theory was saying about money, federal finance, monetary sovereignty, and resources.
Of course, in the end, I became a supporter and advocate for the Job Guarantee because of Modern Monetary Theory. I learned about the role of the Job Guarantee as a central component of full employment, as an inflation stabilizer, and as a challenge to the notion that we have to keep a natural rate of unemployment in order to keep inflation at desirable levels. I ended up at this conference and had conversations with some of AOC’s volunteers and staffers from that time. We were talking about UBI (Universal Basic Income) and what can be proposed to keep pushing. Because, what’s always been at the core of AOC’s political project is to keep pushing with what’s possible in a way that is also accessible to people and that doesn’t feel intimidating. And so, I’m like, “You all need to look into this Job Guarantee thing because it’s really powerful and grounded in this framework that, I think, is going to revolutionize the way that we understand policy and politics.”
There was also a conference at The New School in memory of the New Deal, where many Modern Monetary Theory scholars were on panels. Darrick Hamilton, who was at my program, was there. Pavlina Tcherneva, Stephanie Kelton, and Randy Ray were there–a lot of the big names. I invited Alexandria to come and watch some of the presentations. She got there right in time for Derek and Stephanie’s presentation on the Job Guarantee and was taking notes in the back. Soon after, the Job Guarantee gets announced on her platform and it becomes this big deal. Then, all of a sudden, you have the Washington Post and other major media outlets talking about Job Guarantee programs. Bernie comes out in favor of it. Gillibrand comes out in favor of it. I think Booker starts talking about it. It re-enters the public consciousness. And so, some of these friends that I was making at the time, we started having more conversations, because there was this question of how did this get to this rock star candidate in New York? We saw an opportunity to contribute to how Alexandria could connect intellectually to a movement that was challenging an establishment in policy and economics. I saw this tremendous opportunity to begin to craft relationships and have conversations that could contribute to this process.
From there, once she won the primary and once we got over–well, I don’t know if we’ll ever be over the euphoria of that victory–but we realized very quickly: holy shit. This is serious. She won. We’re legit gonna have this crazy opportunity. I knew from the beginning she was very interested in the Green New Deal. AOC herself, and so many people in that ecosystem, understand the urgency of climate change. It’s something that brings a lot of anxiety to people in and around our generation. So, right away, AOC was talking about a Green New Deal. Around that time as well, I was introduced to Robert Hocket, who’s been on the show, and things just kept unfolding. At that point, I decided to pivot from what I was doing with economic democracy and worker ownership and really go all in on the Green New Deal. I feel like what I was studying hasn’t become irrelevant. Instead, it plays a huge role conceptually. I shifted and I decided to really look into this aspect of what are we really talking about when we say “Green New Deal”? What are the implications for this policy-wise? What does that mean about the kinds of debates and conversations that we need to have about federal finance, macroeconomic policy, full employment, sustainability, and growth? Who’s driving these conversations? How is it getting articulated in the media? What are the naysayers saying? All of these things became incredibly important.
So, yeah. That’s where we are now–that’s how we get to the present day. I’ve always admired activists and organizers. I’ve always had tremendous respect for people in that field. I just found myself with this blessed opportunity to travel to different places and talk about a Green New Deal and other questions that have become relevant. It’s been incredibly rewarding." (https://mronline.org/2019/08/15/the-modern-money-movement-with-andres-bernal/)