A Fiscal Sustainability "Teach-in" Counter-Conference?
On April 28, 2010, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is sponsoring a “Fiscal Summit” in Washington, DC. The purpose of the Conference, which is scheduled for the day after the first meeting of the President's recently constituted National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (btw, where the Conference is happening is a mystery not cleared up on the PGPF web site) is:
”. . . to further a national dialogue on solving America's fiscal challenges through several moderated discussions with leaders on the issue from across the political spectrum. In addition to President Bill Clinton, who will be interviewed by George Stephanopoulos, we will hear from a range of experts, including Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, Former Chairmen of the Federal Reserve; Bob Rubin, Former Secretary of the Treasury; Alice Rivlin, former OMB Director and Member, National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform; Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Member, National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform; John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress; John Castellani, President of Business Roundtable, and others."
Robert Kuttner's comment on the Conference is very apropos:
”This is billed as a "national dialogue on solving America's fiscal challenges," but spare me. This is a propaganda event. For the most part, the featured speakers follow the Peterson line. John Podesta, the closest thing to a liberal playing a headliner role, accepts that there is a serious deficit problem, but would entertain a value-added tax as part of the remedy. But the speakers' list is clearly stacked and there is no one to Podesta's left.”
And for good measure, the left-right paradigm is not even very applicable here at all, because everyone listed above whether “liberal” or conservative, shares the neo-liberal assumption that Government spending in the United States is operationally constrained by the ability to tax or to borrow money from non-Government sources. Given this false assumption, all the participants in this so-called “national dialogue” will share the assumption that fiscal sustainability has something to with Government deficits, debts, and the ratio of debt held by the public to GDP. There will be disagreements among them about how long the Government has over time to bring deficits down, or to moderate the trend toward increasing debt, or about what a “responsible” ratio of debt held by the public to GDP ought to be. But none will entertain or discuss the idea that deficits, debts, and debt to GDP ratios are inappropriate tests of fiscal sustainability, irrelevant measures of the degree of fiscal challenges we face, and, in fact, nothing more than a by-product of the real fiscal challenges facing us, namely achieving renewed economic growth and full employment.So, this Conference will take “off the table” any ideas about what fiscal sustainability, that don't center around Ben Bernanke's neo-liberal definition of the idea as:
“… as achieving a stable ratio of government debt and interest payments to gross domestic product, and setting tax rates at levels that don’t impede economic growth."
It will also, by virtue of this definition “take off the table” any “solutions” that address other goals than the ones mentioned in Bernanke's very limited idea of fiscal sustainability, and, also, it will begin to set up a public debate over public sustainability analogous to the one we've just been through on health care, a debate that constrains and leaves out the best alternative solutions to the fiscal sustainability problem, because these solutions are literally “unthinkable” in the neo-liberal paradigm of economics.
The Fiscal Summit Conference is meant to call attention to and magnify the significance of the first meeting of the President's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and to propagandize the line of thinking and the course of action that the Peterson Foundation thinks the Commission should take. The Peterson Foundation, in other words, means to create a reality in which the President's Commission would become popularly known as “The Steal Our Retirement Commission.” We need to do what we can to stop that. It will be a long fight, and it will dog our efforts at progressive change, because everything we want to do will be subject to the false tests of “fiscal responsibility,” and “fiscal sustainability” put forward by the deficit hawks, unless we can carry out a campaign of our own that persuades the public of our view that the neo-liberals idea of fiscal sustainability are a fantasy, and that if we continue to give them credence, they will only exacerbate our economic situation ad create a dark future for our children and grandchildren.
I know that time is short between now and April 28th. But nevertheless, I propose that we organize a counter Fiscal Summit "Teach-in" Conference in Washington DC, on that day. Such a "teach-in," depending on how many people we could get to attend, could steal media attention from the Peterson-sponsored event, and introduce an opposing narrative to the ones coming out of the deficit hawk events on the 27th and 28th. To have such a Conference would take money. Speaker expenses would have to paid, as would hotel expenses if it were possible to get a hotel site at this late date. On the other hand, it would not be hard to think of high-level speakers for such a Summit. Here's my list of speakers who could do a really good job delivering a Modern Monetary Theory counter to the neo-liberal paradigm: L. Randall Wray, William K. Black, James K. Galbraith, Warren Mosler, Marshall Auerback, Bill Mitchell, Rob Parenteau, Yeva Nersisyan, Scott Fullwiler, and some other very good top-level participants who would question the neo-liberal paradigm to at least some degree are: Yves Smith, Simon Johnson, Joseph Stiglitz, Robert Johnson, Robert Reich, Robert Kuttner, and Dean Baker. Finally, someone who ought to be invited, since he's expressed frequent and very explicit criticism of the neo-liberal paradigm is George Soros. It would be valuable to get him into direct discussions with others on the relationships between hedge fund traders and nations with unencumbered fiat monetary systems.
Who should hold this counter-conference? I propose that Firedog Lake, The Huffington Post, New Deal 2.0, and The American Prospect jointly sponsor and provide financial backing for this Conference. If the Conference could be planned and implemented over the next three weeks, it could go a long way toward beginning to blunt the impact of the Peterson Foundation Event and the first meeting of the President's Commission. We need to blunt that impact if we expect to have any material success in getting progressive legislation on a host of issues in the coming decade. “We must make this commission politically radioactive.”