A good friend arrived on my virtual doorstep (Facebook) waving Stephanie Kelton’s “The Deficit Myth,” like it was the Book of Mormon. He insisted he would give me a free copy if I promised to read it and take its message to heart. I could almost hear the ancient warning bells clanging.
I have developed a finely-tuned system against indoctrination, cults, blind faith and true belief. Some might say it is “twitchy, over-responsive, post-traumatic.” Tomato/Tomahto.
I gained this “spidey-sense,” ironically, by allowing myself to consider ideas that I had been taught in my youth were heretical. “What?! Are you kidding me? The Bible may NOT actually be God’s stenographically dictated will, but was written by multiple men across centuries, edited translated, re-translated, abridged and shaped into a canon by early Christians? Tell me more.”
As a formerly devout, ex-Catholic Seminarian, — who grew up in a predominantly Mormon community, I’ve always been surrounded by believers. At the same time, my German-born Father (he spent his first 9 years living through WWII in Nazi Germany) regularly cautioned against too much credulity. He touted Eric Hoffer’s “True Believer” as the seminal text for avoiding falling prey to mass psychosis.
As a result I am cautiously resistant to solicitations that promise to align my chakras, secure me a seat on the mothership behind the comet, or imbue me with revolutionary insights about America’s capitalist system.
But four months deep into pandemic isolation, with the GDP down 32.9%, riots in the streets, and a President/Congress spending money they “poofed” into existence, I thought this might be the right time to accept my friend’s offer, and give Kelton’s New York Times best-selling book about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) a thorough, critical reading.
That’s how they start: they come when you’re vulnerable.
I hesitated over a month before taking Joe up on the offer. It wasn’t just my skepticism that THIS TIME someone has written the one true, final and unadulterated Testament, or economic treatise. I had also been warned by another friend (with a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago Booth business school) that Kelton was bad. Why?
“Because there’s no free lunch, Rob!”
I began to sense religious resistance in my U of Chicago friend’s dislike for Kelton. Perhaps he is Papist and Kelton is Galileo? Mike’s tone approximated a priest/overseer in my Seminaryexperience, who told me I SHOULD act from an informed conscience… but also that I should inform it only with books approved by the Catholic Church.
What are they afraid of me learning? Again I set out to read a heretical text.
Thankfully, by page 37 of Chapter 1 Kelton assuages Mike’s objection: “Can we just print our way to prosperity? Absolutely not! MMT is not a free lunch. There are very real limits, and failing to identify — and respect — those limits could bring great harm.”
See Mike? Relax! She’s not pitching free lunch, or consequence-free sex, or a great real-estate opportunity in the Everglades. Surely the author of a heretical text wouldn’t falsely tempt me to lower my guard? Maybe I DO need to read this, because anything taboo to a Booth School economist must include a few spells and/or dirty pictures?
Kelton is CLEARLY embarking on a book that will muck with orthodoxy.
I ignore what I must consider his hidebound, U of C Friedman orthodoxy, for now, diving into this occult literature, pursuing insight. I plan to take notes and write a post on each chapter. It’s as much a writing exercise as a way to force myself to fully engage with difficult, uncomfortable ideas.
Advance warning: I can’t guarantee I will write with enough context for those who have not read the book. I take real-time notes on passages that strike me; passages that either shed light or deserve scrutiny, or – as with the initial offer – trigger my cult-detecting seismograph. While I will try to make sense, this is a quick compendium of main themes, reshuffled from my notes.
I can’t guarantee I’ll make sense, either. Chapter 1 cometh soon, sayeth the Lord.