Hello Humans: The world can move or not by changing some words

Words matter.

They literally shape the world we live in.

My colleague John Birmingham recently highlighted an instance where the fucking Oxford Comma was all that stood between workers and their overtime pay. (He too has a subscription newsletter, Alien Side Boob, which I recommend subscribing to. After you subscribe to Hello Humans, obviously. Don’t you dare choose between us).

In the words of Aaron Sorkin via Toby Zeigler via Richard Schiff, ala The West Wing: “By changing some words, the world can move or not by changing some words.” 

Words shape our laws. They shape what is taught in schools, or what we see on TV. They shape religion. They shape conversations. Words are everything. They are all we have.

So you’ll excuse me when I say I nearly fell off my fucking chair when I heard Donald Trump talk more sense about how the economy works than any President to date.

Watch this video:

“We can buy back government debt at a discount. In other words if interest rates go up and we can buy bonds back at a discount, if we are liquid enough as a country we should do that. In other words, we can buy back debt at a discount…. you never have to default because we print the money.”

Well blow me down and call me Shirley.

Donald Trump just explained how the economy works. His comments also bear a striking similarity to those of Professor Stephanie Kelton, economic advisor to a one Bernie Sanders. (Though obviously, Professor Kelton’s and Sanders’ statements on the economy are fare more researched and presented far more eloquently than we could ever hope for the president).

That isn’t to say Trump is right about the economy all the time, or even that he speaks particularly eloquently about it. Phrases like “I love debt” does not endear one to trust his fiscal management, but it is interesting that on this one occasion, he gave the game away. He undercut what even his own party has been saying about how the economy works and how government spending works.

Too often we are misled by phrases like ‘we must live within our means‘, or ‘how are we going to pay for it’, or worse ‘spending on essential services will create a budget blackhole’, when in fact, federal budgets are seldom balanced, and history has shown us that governments run deficits most of the time.

America, like Australia, is a monetary sovereign. That is just a fancy way of saying it prints its own currency, and it lends in its own currency. It also repays its debt in its own currency. If you or I tried to print our own money, we would go to jail for counterfeiting. The reason for this law is to ensure that only the US – or Australia – Or England (or any monetary sovereign) can issue its own currency.  You can begin to understand, knowing this, why the Euro has suffered: Though it is issued by the EU, there was no central bank to regulate it, and most everyone using it was participating in austerity measures, no wonder Europe failed. But I digress…

So! Counterfeiting  law ensures the government is the monetary sovereign. That means every dollar that is spent by the government is in fact new money and not borrowed off your taxes like most governments would have us believe.

As for the fears of inflation that generally follow claims like this, that is what taxation is for. Contrary to popular opinion, our taxes do not fund anything at a federal level. Federal taxation exists to balance inflation.

So long as sufficient goods and services are being produced to meet the needs of the local population, fears for inflation are unfounded.

So, really, the arguments we are having over the economy have more to do with the ideological role of the government. The words they use to talk about the economy reflect not the truth of how the system works but how people want it to work in their ideology.

Now when Sanders, and Professor Kelton and Trump all speak the same language on the economy, and that language differs greatly to anything that we have heard on the economy for, well, ever, really, it’s got to make you stop and wonder: What have we missed until now?

Well, it is becoming clear that the way we thought the economy operates is wrong. When even The Wall Street Journal admits we don’t even know what inflation really is, or how it works, it’s time for us all to go somewhere quiet and think about what we have done.

The words we use about the economy matter. The words that we use literally decide the level of economic freedom, and opportunity we are all entitled to.

Here is an example: Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton fronted up to the cameras recently, claiming free speech was under attack by corporations that had the audacity to throw their support behind gay marriage. That claim of free speech came with a giant invisible caveat: Australians have no enshrined and documented right to free speech. The right to free speech Dutton actually refers to is the right to Parliamentary Privilege, that is, the thing in law that enables politicians to lie so long as they are inside Parliament when they’re doing it.

The reason former Prime Minister Tony Abbott could get away with saying Julia Gillard’s father died of shame without being sued for defamation is because he was protected by privilege. Had he made those same comments on the steps of Parliament, he would have opened himself up to a potentially sizeable legal battle. So when politicians cry free speech, remember it’s not your free speech they’re after, it’s their own.

Though it is interesting, and somewhat contradictory, that the Australian Federal Government is pushing ahead to create freedom of speech – and of publication – for a fairly vile individual who isn’t even alive anymore, but who is being granted extraordinary posthumous powers to offend while the rest of us have none. I refer of course to Bill Leak, the cartoonist who made a career out of tired, racist stereotypes of Muslims and Indigenous Australians, and who in death, became a martyr for the cause of white, rich, men to continue the grand old tradition of demonising the poor, Muslims, brown people, women and the LGBTIQ like you could in the good old days.

Ironically, in their fervor, the 18C brigade, (a group of far-right MPs and Senators pushing to amend the Racial Discrimination Act), might have overlooked the possibility of inadvertently taking steps towards enshrining freedom of speech that would empower the kind of journalism poor old Malcolm wishes wouldn’t exist. And we can’t have that.

Empowering journalists with the right to publish dirt on politicians without fear of legal reprisals so long as there is evidence? Tell me this: why has the government been pushing to release private information on individuals and veterans to “correct the record” when claims they disagree with are published, while pushing for freedom of speech for a cartoonist at the same time?

They can’t even maintain ideological consistency.

Australia’s Attorney General refused to release his diaries for three years, delaying for as long as possible his involvement in the Bell Affair  – the longest running, most expensive litigation in Australian history – on the grounds of privacy and not being in the public interest. But that same right to privacy isn’t extended to citizens who inconvenience the government.

Unless you live in America, which is a whole other kettle of fish. For a country so committed to the First Amendment, it is interesting that it elected a government seemingly determined to weaken it, or simply have it removed from The Constitution entirely.

Can you see the contradictions here?

It is important we not let ourselves be tripped up by these rhetorical red flags.

The sooner I can get this book out, the better.

Claire Connelly is working on her first book, How The World Really Works, a guide to recognising rhetorical red flags and immunising yourself against bullshit. You should definitely buy it when it comes out. A podcast of the same name will also be launching in the coming months. Stay tuned!

Support independent journalism. Subscribe to the Hello Humans Newsletter for $4.50 a month via Patreon.