Episode 151: How Economic Jargon and Cliches Make Cruel, Anti-Poor Policies Sound Sterile and…

Citations Needed | December 8, 2021 | Transcript

Former president Donald Trump with Reagan-appointed health policy adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci in April of 2020. (AP file / Alex Brandon)


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of the show through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we do not read ads on the show, we do not have corporate sponsors, and we are 100 percent listener funded.

Adam: Yes, and as always, please, if you can, rate and subscribe to us and support us on Patreon. We appreciate all the support there, it helps keep the episodes themselves free. We have AMA’s, little mini episodes, newsletter, and other little goodies, things for our patrons there, and if you can swing it, if you’ve got the coinage, you got the scratch, if you’ve got a little folding money, please help us out.

Nima: If the economy is doing well for you.

Adam: If you’re poor, feel free to steal from us on Reddit.

Nima: Yes, please do that.

On the last episode of Citations Needed, we took a look at five terms related to the economy, economic related terms that we see pop up in the media and, of course, political speech all the time. Stuff like “most economists agree” or “hey, this is just econ 101.” We talked about how “crony capitalism” is a canard when really people just mean “capitalism,” and how “wage inflation” is often weaponized in order to talk about how, I don’t know, poor people seem to be making too much money these days. The biggest one we talked about, Adam, was the term itself, the catch all phrase “the economy.”

Adam: On today’s episode, we’re going to discuss five more quote-unquote “economic terms.” We’ll examine jargon, these cliches, and rhetorical thingamajigs that economists, economic adjacent reporters and pundits use to sanitize, obscure, and provide a thin gloss of Science-ism to what is little more than what we argue is power flattering, oftentimes racist, cruel, austerity ideology.

Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be joined again by Hadas Thier, an activist based in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics.

[Begin Clip]

Hadas Thier: It’s important also for the Left to inhabit these spaces, and to actually analyze the economy and to go further and be able to talk about not just investment and wages, but also to talk about, you know, to bring back into the discussion, something that both conservatives and liberal takes on the economy kind of leave out, which is that the entire edifice of the economy is based on exploitation that that underpins all these questions.

[End Clip]

Adam: Yeah. So again, one qualifier for this episode, it is not meant to be a broadside against the broader field of economics, we do not want it to seem anti-intellectual, we are not opposed to economics as a discipline, this is economics with the sort of capital “E” that’s used in media, how it’s using kind of pop media.

Nima: We’re afraid of the ghost of Adam Smith.

Adam: He’s gonna visit me for Christmas. What we try to do in the show is we don’t deal with how things exist in theory or in academia, not that those things are not terribly important, because obviously, there’s downstream effects, we try to deal with what is manifestly true, what CNN, New York Times, what people talk about, and then work backwards from there when we sort of do these criticisms. So today, we’re gonna talk about terms, jargons, cliches, euphemisms that are very popular in American media discourse, that are done under the auspices of the economy or economics. And so the first one we have is a very popular one, which is the euphemism of “deregulation.”

Nima: Such a good one.

Adam: The term serves as a euphemism, 99 times out of 99, for privatization, and to do so appealing to kind of anti bureaucracy sentiment, red tape, you know, sort of like how on cop shows in the ’70s and ’80s and even today, how they say, ‘So and so got off on a technicality, son of a bitch got off on a technicality.’ Technicality is cop show for the Constitution, what that almost always means is that they were not read their rights, or they had their place illegally searched or their car illegally searched or they were beaten by the, that’s a technicality. So like how technicality is, you know, the Bill of Rights.

Nima: A speed limit.

Adam: Regulation, you know, the thing that keeps Junior from, you know, choking on a toy, or the thing that keeps acid rain from washing over our faces, that’s seen as sort of being red tape, it’s regulation.

Nima: Can’t give plastic bags and rubber bands out on Halloween anymore.

Adam: I know, Goddamn liberals ruined it for everybody.

Nima: Come on. So for instance, you know, just recently, November 17, 2021, The New York Post had an article with this headline, “To solve NYC’s growing housing crunch, deregulate the market.” So, what is this about? This is about rent stabilization and rent control and how, you know, the poors are able to stay in their apartments for far too long and deregulation, meaning just let landlords do whatever the fuck they want, have no rules, let them charge what they want to tenants and the markets will sort it out. That is the kind of argument where you see deregulation talked about a lot. Now, deregulation as a concept really caught on back in the 1970s with the advancement of ultra conservative economic policies, spearheaded by quote-unquote “free market economists” who are given high-profile appointments in presidential administrations. It was also the time when economic think tanks, conservative economic think tanks exploded. Consequently, you saw through the Reagan years, through the Clinton years in the ’90s, deregulation was talked about a lot, right? That was going to solve all of the dips, all of the problems with the economy, that if you deregulate the market, if you privatize more, things will get better. And that brings us to 2010. In a New York Times obituary for Cornell economist and Carter Administration member Alfred Kahn, responsible actually for much of the privatization of the airline industry. And this obit states that Kahn, quote, “helped spur a broad movement beginning in the mid-1970s toward freer markets in rail and automotive transportation, telecommunications, utilities and the securities markets.” End quote. Now, the obit has only one mention of how airline quote-unquote “deregulation” affected unionized workers in the airline industry as kind of a throwaway, despite the fact that deregulating that industry meant layoffs, massive wage reductions, and the formation of new airlines with wholly non-unionized staff.

Alfred Kahn (left), a chief architect of airline “deregulation,” with former president Jimmy Carter. (AP)

Adam: Yeah, so deregulation was a really useful term in the 2000s, when, just from personal experience, when the University of Texas, where I went to school at the time, they were talking about deregulating tuition because the state, the legislator of Texas set tuition rates for decades since the 1840s, and this was sort of seen as burdensome, we needed to deregulate tuition costs. So they handed it over to the Board of Regents, which is appointed just by the governor, and needless to say, tuition rates skyrocketed immediately after, they even privatized the University of Texas and Texas A&M public fund that was basically a bunch of land out west, West Texas that they set aside, they privatized that under the auspices of deregulation, deregulation was extremely in vogue in ’90s and ‘2000s, and again, it has this very if you say privatize it sounds bad, right? Because private is contrary to public.

Nima: Right.

Adam: “Public” sounds good. But deregulating government bureaucracy sounds better than privatizing public goods.

Nima: Right. “Public” sounds good, “government” sounds bad, “private” sounds maybe okay? But when put against public, seems a little dubious. So what do you have to call for? You have to call for deregulation, which really just sounds like the freeing up of things, right? Cutting red tape, making things more open, and this idea of freedom is so embedded in American myth making, in the propaganda that is used all the time, the idea of freedom, the idea of independence, you get to do what you want to do, ‘No one can tell me what to fucking do, get off my back,’ that is, I think, why there’s a power in calling for deregulation. It seems like it’s getting rid of stuff that’s super square and burdensome and allowing things to just run their course and who doesn’t want that?

Adam: Yes.

Nima: Let’s move to our next term. One of my favorites, and I think probably because it also surfaces and kind of links to very imperial kind of language, is the “deficit fiscal hawk.” This isn’t just the immutable laws of economics, these are now the people themselves who act in a certain way that have the conservatism of understanding how the economy really works. This term in theory denotes a policymaker who is intent on minimizing — what else? — the federal budget, the “deficit fiscal hawk.” It’s usually reserved for policymakers who want to cut taxes on the rich, slash social spending and, of course, shift fiscal burdens further and further on to the poor. It thereby erases the human, often life or death stakes, of gutting social programs in order to characterize right-wing policymakers as tough, resolute, and what else, Adam? Willing to make the hard choices.

Adam: They’re just the doctor giving you the tough medicine, and you’re just a little baby child who needs to swallow the medicine that the doctor has given you because it’s for your own good. They are just the rational fucking adults in the room and everyone else is just an emotional toddler who wants a pony.

Nima: And that everyone else is just a tree-hugging dove, right? That you just think everything is going to be just fine. You’re not the one who’s like really hard-nosed, right?

Adam: Yeah, the Margaret Thatcher magical money tree. Yeah, you’re just a fiscal hawk. You just keep, you’re just making tough choices.

Nima: And you’re hardcore, right?

Adam: You’re like Jack Bauer, tough choices, you have no choice.

Nima: That’s right, and so this term really appears to have first surfaced in news media as recently as the 1990s. It’s not particularly that old. During the transition between the first Bush presidency to the Clinton presidency, we really saw this term emerge. This from June 7, 1992, in the News Tribune out of Tacoma, Washington, it’s a story about Congress considering a constitutional amendment that quote-unquote “requires a balanced budget.” Here’s an excerpt:

Carol Cox Waite, president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget and a leading deficit hawk, favors a four- to five-year reduction program, believing it’s best to swallow bitter medicine in one quick gulp.

‘The longer you wait, the more precipitous is the slope you have to get on to get from here to there,’ Waite said.

From the same year, later that year, you have in the Miami Herald, this is December of ’92, this headline, “Clinton selects old hands to lead new economic team.” This is after the election. So, Clinton is coming in in the new year, in early ’93, and so you have this article, which includes a paragraph referring to Leon Panetta, then the director of the Office of Management and Budget under Clinton, later his chief of staff — Leon Panetta would years later become the director of the CIA and then eventually defense secretary under Obama — but the article, this again from December of ’92, says this:

Panetta, 54, is renowned as a ‘deficit hawk’ as chairman of the House Budget Committee. He combines deep knowledge of budget details and processes with the political courage to fight for higher taxes and lower spending on popular programs, including those providing pension and medical benefits, as unavoidable ways to tame federal deficits.

“Unavoidable ways.” Let’s lower spending on popular programs, like making sure people can survive, and maybe, you know, have healthcare. Unavoidable, unavoidable, Adam.

Adam: Unavoidable, you have no choice. It’s tough choices. Probably the most popular avatar of this thing, a thing we talked about before, so we won’t beat it to death, but Paul Ryan was routinely referred to as a “deficit hawk.” The Economist in August of 2012, when Paul Ryan was running for vice president with Mitt Romney — that seems like a lifetime ago doesn’t it? — wrote:

There is much to like about the personable Mr Ryan. He is a brave man: he was the first politician to produce a budget with a plausible plan for closing the deficit, which he did in April last year. He constantly reminds America that deficit reduction is a necessity not a luxury; and since Barack Obama has failed to do this, his persistence is especially welcome. He has said publicly and clearly that Medicare, the government-run health-insurance scheme for the elderly, is unaffordable and will, if left unreformed, go bankrupt; and persuaded his party to accept this. He has devised a plausible alternative to the current open-ended, state-financed system: government-funded vouchers toward buying insurance. He has already shown that he can work on this issue in a pragmatic and bipartisan way, refining his proposal by melding it with the ideas of Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat.

So, even if one takes these alleged deficit threats, which are all obviously bullshit anyway, aside, Paul Ryan’s policies, even at that point in 2012, were absolutely the opposite of deficit hawks as the Economic Policy Institute notes, Ryan voted and staunchly advocated for the deficit-financed 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts, which added over an estimated $6 trillion to the national debt. Paul Ryan voted for 10 deficit-financed supplemental appropriations bills overwhelmingly financing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars between 2001 and 2010, totaling $736 billion in current dollars, adjusted for inflation. And, again according to EPI:

Ryan’s 2004 plan to privatize Social Security would have required general revenue transfers to the program more than twice as large as the 75-year shortfall it faced at the time.

So I mean, Paul Ryan’s sort of an object lesson, he’s the biggest hypocrite of them all. But Paul Ryan voted on policies that wanted to add $7–8 trillion to the deficit, and yet throughout the campaign in 2012, people kept referring to him as this “deficit hawk.”

Nima: “Deficit hawk,” only because he wanted to gut social programs like fucking Medicare, right? So that made him super hard-nosed, just like, you know, again, making the tough choices. This is a plan, you know, it’s going to be tough but if we tighten our belts we can do it because we can’t have this kind of deficit. But obviously, it’s all fucking bullshit. It’s only in service of privatizing welfare programs that actually help people in service of just making corporations richer, because when it comes to funding wars, when it comes to putting more money in the pockets of firms that would privatize Social Security, for example, he was all about adding to the deficit, and we see that time and time again, Ryan’s just like a really good avatar for that, but obviously, this is tons and tons of politicians.

Paul Ryan, “deficit hawk.” (Getty / Win McNamee)

Adam: So in December of 2017, when the Trump tax cuts were passed, which added a predicted $1.4 trillion to the CBO scores, so it was probably more, $1.4 trillion to the federal budget. I went back and I looked at the remaining quote-unquote “Tea Party” caucus that came to power in 2010, all of whom are referred to at some point as “fiscal hawks” or “deficit hawks,” And I wanted to see how many of the 30 that remained in 2017 voted for the Trump tax cuts. Nima, as we like to say on the show very often, you’ll be surprised to learn 30 out of 30 supported the tax cuts, which added $1.4 trillion to the deficit. So I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the “deficit hawk” is really just a person who hates poor people, but that’s kind of unfashionable, or a little bit hostile to say, so you come up with this great euphemism, this great sort of slick term, which is “deficit hawk” because “deficit hawk” sounds so much more sanitized. It sounds so much nicer than saying, ‘Look, guy just wants to further starve poor people and enrich the wealthy.’ That doesn’t sound so good.

Nima: But the term also “deficit hawk,” means that, you know, again, you’re really hard nosed, you’re going to do what it takes, you’re not doing things like willy nilly, free floating like those peaceniks, those deficit peaceniks, right? But rather, you’re going to, you know, “this is fucking war, this is war,” and so, you’re going to do what it takes to bring that deficit down to make sure poor people starve.

Adam: There’s nothing the Washington press loves more, David Gregory, Chuck Todd, Dave Brody, they all did this sort of like, there’s a bunch of spend happy, corrupt Washington politicians who just love to spend. These are programs that have human faces to them, they’re just these like liberal wishlists, progressive wishlists, and then they love nothing more than the tough as nails, hard nosed “deficit hawk” who comes in and forces you to make tough choices.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Next up on our list is “entitlements” or “entitlement programs.” I know that some have tried to make entitlements not a pejorative, but it very much is associated with moochy, fixed kind of long term financial burdens. The term refers to publicly funded social benefits broadly speaking that are guaranteed to people — you’re entitled to it, that’s what the term means, right? — as long as you meet the eligibility requirements. Entitlements, when covered in media, are almost uniformly placed in the context of federal spending and how much they cost, and almost never in the context of the material benefits they provide or what the human faces for the services they actually provide poor people and vulnerable people. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first use of “entitlements” in the sense of government social programs to the 1944 G.I. Bill, which established a set of services and benefits reserved for US veterans. The bill, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, didn’t assign a negative connotation to the term — that happened in the following decades — as lawmakers and media racialized and stigmatized the use of government assistance with Welfare Queen narratives. Soon, media began to portray “entitlements” as a costly scourge on the federal budget.

Nima: Much in the way that regulation is seen as the government being annoying, right, and having too many rules and putting too much burden on people, “entitlements” have this thing where it’s much more individualized, it’s the people expect too much, and the government feels obligated to do these things. So again, what is the opposite of all of this? What is contrary to all of this? Free Market ideals, no social programs, and privatize everything.

Adam: Yeah. So in the ’70s, for example, you started to see this emerging association with entitlements as a pejorative, which I think is fair to say is how it currently reads — we’ll explain more on that later — this is from The Sun from January 5, 1978, headline reads, “18th deficit in 19 years.” Quote:

There will be less than $10 billion in ‘new money’ for new initiatives. And in spite of the relative austerity, the budget anticipates the 18th deficit in 19 years, and the deficit will be about $50 billion, after the tax cuts.

The causes of the budget tightness are not obscure. They include a decade of high inflation, the (related) growth of entitlement programs, and the (related) slow growth of the economy. The political consequences of this kind of budget are less clear.

So here you have this idea that entitlements are driving up inflation and affecting the growth of the economy, debt and deficit, affects the growth of the economy. A syndicated New York Times columnist Tom Wicker, January 1, 1980, made six proposals to control inflation.

Nima: That’s right. At the top of the decade, day one of the new decade.

Adam: He said, quote:

3. A federal spending limit. Proposals to set spending totals as a percentage of gross national product — probably at about 20 percent — are now attracting much attention on Capitol Hill. This idea seems worth trying, both to cope with automatically expanding ‘entitlement’ programs and to signal to the world that even the Congress can get serious about fighting inflation.

So here you have this associating government programs for poor people with inflation.

Nima: And the slow growth of the economy. If we had a little more time, we could add the term “stagflation” to this list.

Adam: Right.

Nima: Yeah. This kind of whining about entitlements in financial news continued. Five years after that article you have The Washington Post, this is also January 1, but now 1985, with this article on, “Budgets/Not always as they seem,” and here’s how it starts:

In the last 22 years, prices have grown 246 percent, the population has grown 27.5 percent and the federal budget has grown about 1,000 percent.

But like much of what happens in government, part of the budget’s growth is real and part is illusory.

The tremendous increase in federal spending since the budget passed the $100 billion mark in 1962 primarily is due to the creation or expansion of such entitlement programs as food stamps, Medicare and Social Security.

The article would go on to say this:

In 1962, the Medicare, Medicaid and food stamp programs did not exist. By 1986, those programs will cost more than $110 billion, a figure greater than the 1962 budget, and 11 percent of the 1986 budget.

The largest transfer program, Social Security, will represent about 20 percent of the 1986 budget. It was 14 percent in 1962. President Reagan, who during the campaign said future Social Security benefits should not be reduced or restrained, has put the program off limits to his budget cutters.

Adam: So in the subsequent decades, economists policymakers, they continue to finger wag “entitlements,” again, has a very sort of pejorative stench to it, conflating the idea of entitlement or the psychological condition of an entire quote-unquote entitlement mentality with this idea, they have a country of kind of takers, right? Who sort of need, who are just sitting around expecting to have certain things taken care of them. One such economist, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, the industry lobbying group for American commerce, is the author of the 2012 book A Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic. Eberstadt has been published and cited numerous times in The New York Times, chiefly on quote-unquote “Korean politics,” which translates to a bunch of saber rattling about North Korea. Eberstadt authored this 2012 piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled, quote, “Are Entitlements Corrupting Us? Yes, American Character Is at Stake.”

Nima: We’re such mooches, man.

Adam: Yeah, and Paul Ryan talked a lot about this. Donald Trump was a little bit of an anomaly. He didn’t really speak in those terms, but since then, others such as Mitch McConnell, have talked about the idea that “entitlements” is a pejorative and this conflation of entitlements with an “entitlement mentality,” which again, is an actual sort of psychological designation, you can have an entitlement mentality, there’s a whole section on WebMD about what an entitlement mentality is, you can go read it. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, when he was opposing Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ Build Back Better Bill, specifically the Reconciliation Bill with various social programs, he somewhat infamously said, “I cannot accept our economy or basically our society moving towards an entitlement mentality.” So more spending to meet the needs of the poor and the working class is seen as an entitlement. Whereas Joe Manchin’s tax breaks for coal companies, from which he directly benefits, not entitlement, not an entitlement.

WATCH LIVE: Sen. Joe Manchin holds news conference on spending negotiations — YouTube

Nima: No, oh, no, of course not. Bold freedom moves.

Adam: Yeah. So basically, “entitlements” is sort of a great way of taking positive rights, which is effectively what they are, and framing them as a petulant toddler kind of sitting around and waiting to have his diaper changed, and mommy to bring him food.

Nima: I think our next term actually drafts off of this quite well, and it is this idea of “tradeoffs” or “sacrifices” for the economy.

Adam: Now, to be clear, tradeoffs are a thing that is real in many contexts. There are many instances in life where we live in a world of limited resources, and you do have to have tradeoffs, there are difficult choices to be made. The problem is that many commentators, economists and ideologues assert a false scarcity in situations where there isn’t one and the sacrifice is only really going one way, which is towards progressive policy goals. It is extremely rare to see tradeoffs ever being asked of Elon Musk or the US Chamber of Commerce.

Nima: Right.

Adam: Tradeoffs and the evocation of tradeoffs by reporters and pundits, there’s almost always a way of saying, ‘Sorry, we got to shoot Bambi. We got to do something unpopular and somewhat cruel, but, hey, it’s tradeoffs. Sorry, you have to sleep on the street tonight and starve.’

Nima: Right, you have to tighten your belt, and by tightening your belt, we mean choking poor people. So economic tradeoffs and sacrifices are these terms, right, that are often used to reinforce the notions we’ve been saying that improved economic conditions are at odds with the interests of the poor and working people and the environment and that, especially in times of economic hardship, or downturn, those poor and working people will simply have to risk losing or compromising something, be it a potential wage increase, or even more importantly, their health. Some of the earliest uses of the term tradeoffs in this sense come from the late 1960s and early ’70s. So you have in the Associated Press, October 13, 1969, this article, “Jobless Rate Rise Predicted: Hike to Over 4% Is Possible, Economist Says.” And starts this way:

Former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s top economic advisor predicted today that unemployment will probably rise somewhat above 4 percent during the coming winter and spring.

Arthur W. Okun, who was chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Johnson administration, gave this opinion to the Senate House Economic Committee.

The article continues this way:

Tradeoff Cited: ‘No economist enjoys conveying the message that there is a tradeoff between employment and price stability,’ he said. ‘But surely the Congress and the American public should be told the facts of life.’

Adam: Cold hard reality, Nima.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: The Times Colonist, British Columbia in 1971:

Discussions over pipelines in the North illustrate the concern of Canadians over the ‘economic trade-off’ between growth and the environment.

‘In Canada extensive preparation on the part of both industries and government are under way to ensure that, when the time comes to build oil and gas pipelines in the North, engineering, environmental and economic knowledge will be on hand to meet industry and public requirements.’

So again, the idea that what’s good for the environment is somehow bad for the quote-unquote “economy.”

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: And that there are tradeoffs.

Nima: If you want growth.

Adam: Growth, then the answer is “tradeoff.”

Nima: Then you have to murder the planet. That quote incidentally, Adam, that you just read was by the Minister of Energy in Canada, Joe Greene, at the time, 50 years ago.

Adam: The Dayton Daily News in Ohio 1975, “Cure for Slump Pinned On Economic Trade-offs.”

With President Ford and Congress grappling with a national economy and a world economy pulling in opposite directions, economists seem to agree on only one thing: economic trade-offs have to be made.

To an economist, a trade-off means narrowing problems to their contradictory elements and making a choice. The President made it clear on signing the tax-cut bill totaling $22.8 billion — he wanted only $16 billion — that he made just such a decision.

The article would go on to say that:

Many economists acknowledge that “hard choices have to be made now,” and quote multiple right-wing economists. One of whom said:

‘I couldn’t agree more that you have to face the trade-offs, you have to make choices,’ said Dr. Paul W. McCracken, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Nixon.

‘There are various aspects to the trade-offs,’ says Dr. Raymond J. Saulnier, also a conservative economist, chairman of the CEA under President Eisenhower. ‘For example, you may argue that a big tax cut is good for recovery. Since it would leave people with more income to spend, it would mean larger demand than would otherwise be the case… A deficit may, because of the (government) borrowing, abort the usefulness of the tax cuts.’

Nima: Now, those are from the ’70s. This has changed very little over the years. A decade ago, especially in the wake of the Great Recession, you saw, you know, what used to be called tradeoffs, has now shifted a bit, it means the same thing except the term of the day was “sacrifice,” and so you have November 14, 2010, Washington Post columnist David Broder, writing this: “Everyone and every institution will have to contribute — no, genuinely, sacrifice — if we are to repair the damage to our economic health.” Now, incidentally, he wrote this just two weeks after suggesting in a different column that a US military invasion of Iran could be just the economic stimulus scheme Obama would need in order to guarantee his reelection by 2012.

The following month, December 2010, Senator Tom Coburn insisted that the country would face quote-unquote “apocalyptic pain” if it didn’t rein in spending. And he said this, quote, “There will not be one American that will not be called to sacrifice.”

Little over a year later after that, in February 2012, presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed the Detroit Economic Club and declared to them, “My plan for America requires real leadership — and it calls for sacrifice. It does not require a leader to promise bigger and bigger benefits and something for nothing. It requires a leader to call for sacrifice.” And later that very year, Tom Coburn was back this time talking to Judy Woodruff on PBS about what needed to happen to stave off what he was then calling not apocalyptic pain, that was two years earlier, now it was the quote-unquote “debt bomb,” and he said this quote, “The only way to do this is to make sure it is seen as everybody sharing in the sacrifice to get our country back where it needs to be.”

Sen. Tom Coburn’ on ‘Debt Bomb’: Everybody Must Sacrifice — YouTube

Adam: Much more recently, during COVID, we’ve heard a lot about tradeoffs and sacrifices. Larry Kudlow, who was economic advisor for Donald Trump and Fox News personality, went on Fox in March of 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic said, “The president is right. The cure can’t be worse than the disease. And we’re going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs.” Now those tradeoffs, of course, meant sending poor people back to die.

Nima: Right. I don’t think it was Larry Kudlow making a tradeoff.

Adam: Yeah, so the quote-unquote “economy” could stay afloat. The World Bank, during the debate over quote-unquote “reopening” and “not reopening,” we had several public conversations about tradeoffs. Now, I think in some abstract sense, that’s true. There are of course tradeoffs with extreme lockdowns versus economic activity, the problem was that there was a way around these tradeoffs, which was to pay people to stay home and have a meaningful lockdown rather than doing these half-assed lockdowns and then quote-unquote “reopening,” while sending the poorest and most vulnerable people back to die. One way you could offset tradeoffs by sending low wage workers off to risk their lives, was to pay them more, to have a national pool where you basically pay people 2, 3, 4 times what they are, provide more robust benefits, there is a debate about basically giving everyone $2,000, $3,000 a month and a cash card. There are ways of offsetting the tradeoffs of the risk of coronavirus, something that of course is not inherently political. But when people talked about tradeoffs, that’s not really what they meant. What they meant is, ‘Look, we need to acknowledge that a certain percentage of people are going to die, disproportionately elderly, disproportionately black people, they’re going to die. Those are the tradeoffs.’

Nima: Sacrificed on the altar of quote-unquote “the economy.”

Adam: One example is a Times UK article from March 24, 2020, again, beginning of the pandemic when this kind of tradeoff language was used to kind of prime the public. The article said, “Economic crash could cost more life than coronavirus, says expert.”

If the coronavirus lockdown leads to a fall in GDP of more than 6.4 per cent more years of life will be lost due to recession than will be gained through beating the virus, a study suggests.

Philip Thomas, professor of risk management at Bristol University, said that keeping the economy going in the next year was crucial, otherwise the measures would ‘do more harm than good.’

Philip Thomas, the expert being sourced here in the article, loudly predicted that there wouldn’t be any quote-unquote “third wave” of COVID in the UK, and was featured and published in multiple British media outlets making this prediction in April of 2021. This proved to be false by the month of May, but Thomas didn’t let it bring him down. In June of 2021, he penned a piece and entitled, “The third wave: it’s here — but it shouldn’t delay our reopening.” He wrote that for The Spectator. There were many of these kinds of tradeoff discussions around COVID, and again, this is a classic example where in an abstract sense, it is true there can be tradeoffs, you know, we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We can’t have a functioning, robust, healthy economy and lockdown, tell everyone to stay home and not go spend money. That’s just the way the economy is set up. That is absolutely true. The problem is when people say “tradeoffs,” they’re always priming you for something really cruel, because what they really mean manifestly, again, not in theory, not in some book, but in how public discourse works and has worked, what they really mean is, I’m sorry, some set amount of people who are not wealthy enough to have good healthcare, and don’t have access to whatever that exotic shit they pumped Donald Trump when he got COVID, those people are gonna have to die because we’ve sort of accepted the premise that we’re not going to have a real lockdown where we really pay people to stay home.

Nima: And the economy is this kind of overlord that must be appeased all the time. It’s not a system of choices that are actually made by people.

Adam: Because the idea of robust welfare was just not on the table, which beautifully segues to our fifth of the day and our tenth total, our tenth and final economic term, which is “recovery” and “reopening.” Sarah Lazare, contributor to the show, wrote an article in May of 2020, entitled, “Trump’s ‘Reopening’ Is a Red Herring,” where basically she made the argument that the media kept referring to Trump as reopening the economy, but he wasn’t really reopening the economy, he was forcing poor people back to work, knowing we were going to have to lock down again, which is exactly what ended up happening. She wrote:

There is public will to do what’s needed to prevent people from being sacrificed, yet the Right is pushing a fake reopening that will only kill people and invite more shutdowns. As long as Democrats and the Left cede the ground of what ​’reopening’ should look like, the messaging war is being lost. Everyone urgently wants to see a genuine reopening. We must show that we have a real, workable plan to do so — and that people’s present sacrifices are towards this ultimate goal — not treat a rushed, far-right campaign as something remotely resembling what a real ‘reopening’ would look like. It’s not, and we need to make sure the public knows this.

A point I’ve tried to make over and over again during these fake reopenings is that these were not really reopenings, these were rushed half-assed attempts at getting people who were viewed as being quote-unquote “essential,” everybody from people at Mars Candy Factory to Uber drivers, to people who worked at restaurants, retail, and even weapons contractors to get them back to work because we need to have some economic activity. And this phrase “reopening” was sort of the sanitized phrase, just like the recovery in 2010, or the recovery of the 2000 recession or the recovery of the 2020 recession, if you don’t follow up with “for whom?” these terms don’t mean anything, they necessarily obscure class distinctions.

Nima: Similarly, the term “recovery” has this idea that, you know, the economy again, quote-unquote, “the economy,” this thing is in dire shape that needs to come back, that needs to be nursed back to health, it is sick, it is being harmed, it is in trouble, it needs to recover, and that this kind of is something that just happens as a law of nature, right? Choices have to be made, as we’ve said sacrifices have to be made, in service of ultimate recovery and the regaining of a healthy economy. So, according to an October 2021 Gallup poll, three-quarters of people surveyed in the US rated the current economic conditions in the country as only fair or poor, 75 percent combined, and 68 percent of those responded say the economy was currently getting worse. That was just October of this year. By the next month, November of 2021, multiple articles started to surface stating that the economy was actually on the upswing, it was actually recovering, but that shockingly, the majority of people in the US didn’t perceive it that way. Perhaps this is because the success of the economy is never defined in terms of how well all people’s needs are being met. So when they say the economy is recovering, what is really meant by that, who is recovering when it said the economy is recovering, right? Maybe stocks are rebounding, but do working people, do poor people, do most people actually feel those effects of recovery themselves?

Adam: So, to measure the quote-unquote “American recovery” post pandemic — even though we’re not post pandemic, but as they phrase it, post pandemic — CNN published a quote-unquote “Tracking America’s Recovery” metric, where they had metrics for how they’re tracking the recovery. This included three broad categories: daily, weekly, and monthly. Under the daily they had an indicator of high frequency GDP model, seated restaurant diners, workplace mobility, as in how many people were going back to work, airline checkpoint travelers, how many people are traveling in airlines, hours worked for small businesses in new home postings. Weekly was US petroleum products provided, as in oil, railroad traffic, unemployment insurance, continuing claims, as in if they went down that was considered good, which seems reasonable, mortgage banker association surveys, as in how many people are applying for mortgages, business confidence index, which is a survey of businesses to see how confident they are in the economy and the Johnson Redbook index. And monthly they looked at employment from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which turns out, by the way, reported on November 16th, the Bureau of Labor Statistics job report for May to September was totally wrong. They missed about 650,000 jobs and they had to revise it. Now, notice how data points related to say food, housing, and housing security, wages, job benefits, unionization, hospital capacity, which of course is related to COVID, these are excluded. How many COVID deaths are excluded from this metric? Yet the number of people sitting at restaurants and flying on planes is deemed very important to the economic viability and thanks to using these metrics seen and confidently reported, the economy is operating at 95 percent of where we were in early March, and this is kind of typical of how you see, you know, even though, again, numbers are ticking up, again, you know, I don’t want, I know that vaccines change the dynamic a lot, but the amount of hospitalizations and deaths are still up, but the hospitalizations and deaths are not even included in a metric about quote-unquote “post COVID recovery,” because basically everyone sort of agreed that we’re just going to go back to how things were before, and things that actually matter to workers and vulnerable populations just sort of are deemed not important because it’s going to be rah, rah, the economy’s got to recover. These terms like “recovery” and “reopening,” deliberately flatten any kind of distinction that it’s better for some and not for others. Last week’s episode, we listed off the $2.1 trillion in gains the top billionaires in the United States made without talking about the fact that more and more people are being evicted now that the housing moratoriums are ending, that if you’re not centering or deliberately making an effort to center the needs of the working class, or the poor, or even the middle class such that it is, then you’re unnecessarily using metrics that are about the broad exchange of capital, in some abstract sense, that is just assumed to be trickling down to the poor and working class and I think in many key ways that hasn’t been the case.

Graphic from CNN’s “Tracking America’s Recovery” index, rating how the US is returning to “normal.”

Nima: To talk about this some more, we’re again going to be joined by Hadas Thier, an activist based in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics. Hadas will join us in just a moment. Stay with us.

[Begin Clip]

Nima: We are joined now by Hadas Thier. Thank you so much for joining us today, again, on Citations Needed.

Hadas Thier: I’m really glad to be here.

Nima: I really want to explore this idea of how language is used, how certain words are defined, used, weaponized, often, you know, I think the kind of mother of all of them right now for this topic is the quote-unquote “economy.” That term itself, you know, we hear that polls show, you know, the economy is what is most important to perspective voters, right? Or to people on the street, what’s the number one, you know, bread and butter issue, right? “The economy.” It’s a thing that is just assumed to exist rather than being created, defined, maintained, you know, enforced by humans as a choice. It can mean stuff like gas prices or the stock market or, you know, someone’s personal experience trying to get a job, you know, is the economy good or bad? Is it strong or weak? I think, you know, we were just talking about news media, the idea that, does the economy just serve as a synonym for like, the NASDAQ numbers or Dow Jones, you know, ticker? Can we talk about this idea, the kind of popular notions of quote-unquote “the economy,” and how these concepts are used again and again by our pundit class, by reporters, and what this concept, “the economy,” deliberately omits, I think, from our analysis, and even our understanding of what we’re talking about when we use that term.

Hadas Thier

Hadas Thier: Right. So it goes back to this idea of separating out economics from politics, that these aren’t deliberate decisions, that the way that things are set up right now, that the fact that we have historic inequality, that these aren’t political decisions and the outcome of policy, the outcome of things like the minimum wage not being raised for umpteen years, or any number of other things, it divorces it from politics and says there’s just economics. Yeah, usually, right, the way that it’s talked about in the mainstream is a preoccupation with the sort of surface level machinations of the economy. So prices, stocks, currencies, maybe monetary policy, and it really separates not only economics from politics, but also economics from regular people’s lives. There’s the stock market over there, technocratic arguments about the GDP, and then we have our lives over here, as though economics is not fundamental to every aspect of our lives, and I think that’s broken down somewhat recently, in part just stretching back a little bit further to the last 10 years, that just the last decade since the Great Recession and Occupy Wall Street, putting ideas of class and economics back into regular language and discussions that we live in a world dominated by the 1 percent, at the expense of the 99 percent, that we have record breaking inequality, all of these things, has come back into a sort of more mainstream discussion, not necessarily in terms of what we hear from the pundit class, but in terms of the kinds of conversations that have, you know, begun to take place. And so I think there’s also more of a sense than there used to be that the stock market is unhinged from reality, that actually, we do need to concern ourselves with economic issues like minimum wage, talking about essential workers during the pandemic, that safety and compensation for essential workers or investment in clean energy versus fossil fuels, right? These are not just economic issues, these are life or death questions for our planet. But I think even with that beginning to break down, there is still this assumption that the experts know best, the experts have ideological biases that favor the status quo, and I think that that really speaks to why it’s important also for the Left to inhabit these spaces, and to actually analyze the economy, and to go further and be able to talk about not just investment and wages, but also to talk about, you know, to bring back into the discussion something that both conservatives and liberal takes on the economy kind of leave out, which is that the entire edifice of the economy is based on exploitation that that underpins all these questions. So that when you look at just as one example, right, the labor market, right now everyone’s talking about how there’s increased leverage for workers in a tight labor market, and that’s true, and that’s a good thing, and it’s relative, but it’s all very relative, and so, the assumption of mainstream economics is, you know, you have two equal players meeting each other on a level playing field. Workers sell their ability to work to the highest bidder and so now you have a slightly tighter labor market, etcetera. But one of these players, the worker, is compelled through economic compulsion to work or starve, you know, to accept whatever terms they can get in order to survive. So, you know, if you think about the debate around unemployment benefits, the Republicans were screaming bloody murder because having substantial unemployment benefits means that workers didn’t have as much of incentive to go back to work, but what that really means is that they weren’t compelled upon the right of starvation to work at unsafe minimum wage jobs in the middle of a pandemic, and so the whole basis of the discussion assumes that you need these economic incentives to work, which is really another way of seeing economic coercion. So, I don’t know, those are some of the ways that I think questioning the framework of the discussion is really important.

Adam: Yeah, that was a fascinating few months during the whole made up labor shortage panic and the Republicans, and then of course, eventually, Democrats supported the sunsetting of the UI extensions, because it was one of the rare examples where people were overtly saying, I think Lindsey Graham even said this explicitly, that people are not going to work if they are worried that they’re not going to have destitution and starvation as a result, all the sort of veneer went away, and you had these lobbying groups — National Retail Association, National Restaurant Association, Chambers of Commerce, etcetera — explicitly saying, ‘Look, our industries can’t survive unless it’s bare bottom low rung wages,’ which are literally the only alternative to complete destitution, Uber as well. And so, I don’t know, that was, because sometimes you’ll say like, okay, the, you know, the economy needs a certain, the quote-unquote “economy,” the American economy, because so much of our industries require precarity, it needs to have a certain amount of poverty really, basically as a threat, and then people say, ‘Well, that’s a little paranoid or conspiratorial,’ and then you sort of see that explicitly being advocated by these kinds of industry trade groups and politicians, you say, well, okay, well, there it is. I mean, you mean, you know, it’s like, if tomorrow Joe Biden, totally fake, not the real version of Joe Biden said, um, you know, ‘We’re going to give $500 billion to solve homelessness, that housing as of today is a right.’ I mean, I don’t think people can imagine how much of a meltdown there would be from not only the Chambers of Commerce and the retail, you know, associations and the restaurant associations and all the trade groups for low wage jobs, though Silicon Valley lobbyists for gig workers, but imagine, you know, the real estate industry, I mean, it would be a meltdown, because, again, the fear of homelessness is like why people will permit, you know, sexual harassment and abuse from their manager at Subway. Otherwise, why would I?

Hadas Thier: Exactly.

Adam: So yeah, I think the idea of coercion is such a fascinating topic, but it’s, again, it’s sanitized through this language of economics, you know, it’s better than the alternatives. When Nick Kristof lobbies for sweatshops for 20 years, says it is better than the alternative. Well, what if there’s a third option, Nick? Net’s think about that for a second. We can do a whole episode on the fake dichotomies that we’re constantly being proffered. But we wanted to do is we want you to comment specifically on the words we’ve been talking about, if you don’t mind indulging us, I know this is a little bit, you know, Jimmy Fallon ish, but we’re gonna give you some of the words we discussed at the top of show. I want you to tell me what your favorite is —

Nima: Like drum rolls before all of these.

Adam: Yeah, this is a little hacky but whatever. We’re not above listicles. So we’ve talked about “the economy,” which we’ve already discussed, we have number two, “most economists agree,” three. “it’s just the Econ 101” are the kind of fake Science-ism, it’s just logic and reason, four wage inflation, five crony capitalism as opposed to the non-crony capitalism that is said to exist mysteriously, “deregulation,” “deficit/fiscal Hawk,” number eight, “entitlements,” number nine “tradeoffs,” number 10, “recovery” or “reopening.” Which of those are your favorite?

Nima: (Laughing.)

Hadas Thier: (Chuckles.) It’s hard to pick.

Nima: You’re allowed to pick more than one. Don’t worry.

Adam: But you don’t have to.

Hadas Thier: Well, those are all very good ones. I could start with saying a couple of the ones that I think are most upsetting and nauseating to me at the moment, just because they’re being discussed ad nauseum right now. One is, you know, wage inflation, and the other is just a question of the recovery and reopening. I think those are a couple of central ones that are being talked about a lot, and so with wage inflation, right, it’s connected to what we were just talking about, you know, the idea of a tight labor market, and how that’s discussed. So I find it hilarious that on the one hand free market ideologues love nothing more than to celebrate competition between economic actors, and that leads to the best outcomes, but then when companies actually have to compete with each other to provide higher wages, because jobs are opening up, you know, at a rate higher than workers are willing to fill them in some sectors, then suddenly, that’s, you know, a national disaster where the fact that wages have been stagnant for decades is not news at all is a problem to nobody, apparently, but as soon as you see, even slight wage increases in some sectors, then that’s, you know, a national disaster, blame stimulus spending, blame unemployment benefits, and, you know, there’s some element of truth to the fact that generous unemployment benefits and stimulus spending have given workers more leverage. That’s a good thing, in my opinion.

Nima: Right.

Hadas Thier: But, you know, when neoliberal policies for four decades help bosses get the upper hand, you know, through union busting, that’s totally fine.

Nima: Well, I think there’s this super weird thing where, you know, as we were previously discussing “the economy,” or you know, economics is oftentimes deemed to be the cold, hard, non-human science, and yet, “the economy,” is always like a living, breathing thing that has to be treated very carefully, right? Because all of these things you’re saying, Hadas, like, ‘Oh, if you do that, what will it do?’ Right? What do we always hear? It’s gonna hurt the economy, right? If you improve people’s lives, if you give them more money, it’s gonna scare the markets, right?

Adam: Yeah, it’s the markets, which is this sort of kind of insatiable beast that we have to feed.

Hadas Thier: Yeah.

Nima: Exactly.

Adam: It’s capricious and angry, moving in to calm the markets and we have to, so we’re all sort of subject to this wild animal for which we have, we have at best modest control.

Nima: Exactly.

Adam: And this is the system, you know, it’s a law of nature. God handed down tablets to Moses and gave him the, you know, the 11th rule was, you have to have this thing called the market, there’s nothing to do about it, it’s this thing, it’s really pissed off all the time.

Nima: Right. But you have to throw the bodies of poor people at it.

Adam: You have to throw burnt offerings of poor Uber employees every now and then to satiate it.

Hadas Thier: Yeah. But what’s bizarre too, is that on the one hand, you know, the market needs to be tended to and, you know, sacrificed too, and all the rest of it.

Nima: Exactly. Lest it become nervous.

Hadas Thier: Exactly. And then, you know, we don’t want the investors to get nervous, and then on the other hand, when you talk to, you know, some of these ‘free market’ experts, ideologues, commentators, et cetera, the free market is also this benign, voluntary, free concept, as opposed to the coercive state, and so anytime you try to talk about regulation, any curbs on inequality, then you’re bringing in the coercive state, and God forbid, we should give the state more power because the free market, on the other hand, is this benign voluntary space or what have you, which is sort of a weird thing, because then, you know, if you’re on the Left, as I am, you know, it seems strange to suddenly be the one defending the state. I too think the state is coercive, but it’s actually coercive on the side of private property actually.

Nima: Right, it’s not that way.

Hadas Thier: Exactly.

Nima: Right, right.

Hadas Thier: And any time that we’re able to utilize policy and utilize arms of the state for the sake of good through regulation, that’s because labor movements and social movements have fought for those things. So it’s this really bizarre combination of the free market that just must be tended to and tame, you know, given sacrifices to, and so on, but it’s also free, that’s why we call it the free market. It’s wonderful and voluntary.

Nima: Yeah. The other one that you mentioned, though, one of your favorite of these tropes was the idea of “recovery” and “reopening,” and so I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t skip over that one, especially because we hear that so often now, especially during this time of economic crisis, of health crisis, obviously, domestically, but also globally, and so much of what we hear now and have been hearing is the reopening of, quote-unquote “the economy,” how the economy, how markets sometimes, but oftentimes just “the economy” can recover, as if that is synonymous with human beings having jobs or being able to do certain things or get certain things or live a certain way. Those are often, I think there’s a way to kind of head fake to that when it’s being discussed, but that’s not actually what reopening the economy is meant to mean when it comes to the actual kind of fundamentals of the discussions that are being had about “recovery” and “reopening.” So I’d love to kind of hear your thoughts on why that is one of your favorite of our terrible, terrible tropes.

Hadas Thier: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s the thing that has been bothering me to no end every day for months now, is that the whole concept of recovery is like you’re saying, a recovery of what exactly? It’s a recovery of profits. It’s not a recovery of humanity from a traumatic pandemic, you know, it’s not a recovery of our health, capitalism and the market in particular, have no means of actually seeing health outcomes as the benchmarks that they can rise to. That’s not what the market is set up to do, right? So everything about this, quote-unquote “recovery,” instead of it being a recovery from the pandemic, of our mental, physical, emotional, and so on, well being, but a recovery of profit, you know, if we had been kept at home, for as long as was necessary, but given enough money to subsist on, you know, we would have seen a very different kind of recovery. But the political, economic choice that we were offered was either go back to work and go back to quote-unquote “normal,” or stay at home until it’s safe, but don’t have enough money to subsist on, and you know, live your life. And so people became kind of a political culture war of sorts of science versus the economy, instead of actually a sound policy that is looking out for the long term health and economic health of regular people, and, you know, I’m a parent of a public school kid, and so around the question of reopening our schools, this was like, I just felt like, completely manipulated, and turned into a political football around this whole thing, where it’s ostensibly was talked about in the sense of we care about children, and it’s all about pedagogy or whatever. But in reality, it was about getting parents to be productive members of society, again, to get to work and work effectively, not the kind of working from home where your kids are on your lap, and, you know, you’re pulled in many different directions, but making parents productive parts of society and getting, you know, our state economies churning, getting revenue back into state budgets, and so on, no matter what. So there was, you know, right, and the Republican and the Democrat versions of it, you know, the Republican version was just send them off to school without masks and hope for the best. But the Democrat version of it —

Nima: I don’t think they were saying hope for the best.

Hadas Thier: Right, that’s true. That’s true. That’s giving them too much credit.

Adam: No, they’re actually evil. They wanted them to die.

Nima: Yeah.

Adam: They’re Bond villains, but seriously.

Hadas Thier: Too much credit, you’re right.

Adam: Yeah, the Democrats kind of didn’t want them to die, but they didn’t really they, yeah, pretty much every plan, but they added mask mandates to it.

Hadas Thier: Yeah, exactly.

Adam: We’re gonna open everything up and then have mask mandates. Oh, okay, mask mandates. All right. Well, never mind, then, as you were.

Hadas Thier: Yeah. So in the New York Public Schools it started out with all right, well, they’re in masks, and then if there’s any cases of COVID, of course, like it’s voluntary testing. So how will we know? Unclear. But if there are any cases of COVID then the class shuts down for two weeks, but then they quietly just got rid of that altogether. So now, if there’s a COVID case in my child’s class, I will not even be notified. The teachers have to deem that my child was in close contact with a person that has —

Nima: Right, right.

Hadas Thier: What does that even mean among five-year-olds? So you think this teacher who has 25 five-year-olds running around their classroom has kept track of like, who’s sitting next to who at what time and who’s pulling on whose hair? You know, it’s just and the DOE just sort of quietly got rid of that, and so basically, it’s like, yeah, just, you know, we’ll see what happens.

Adam: They needed you to be a productive member of society, which, you know, with Nima and I as podcasters we’re definitely not.

Hadas Thier: Somebody has to be,

Adam: We’re sticking it to the man.

Nima: Thank you so much for laying out so much of these things. I feel like I’m kind of tempted to go, you know, one through ten with these awful, awful phrases, tropes, themes, thingamajigs with you, but I will spare you that. But in lieu of that, Hadas, can you please tell us what you’re up to lately, how, you know, especially now that we have reached the — I can’t actually believe it — 10-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, I remember being down at Zuccotti Park a lot at that time, but you know, kind of where is your focus now and how can folks hopefully get involved with what you’re up to?

Hadas Thier: Yeah, I too, am very old. Occupy Wall Street was a long time ago now. Mostly what I’m doing I’m, you know, I’m in DSA here in New York, I’m excited to kind of get behind a number of campaigns that are going on for City Council folks and for State Assembly and Senate. That’s been exciting to watch and to see unfold. I’m writing, I write for Jacobin, a number of other publications, and I’m going to be starting my next book project soon as well. So you can stay in touch with me and through both my writing and activism, you can find me on Twitter @HadasThier.

Nima: All good things. I think that’s a great place to leave it. We’ve been speaking with Hadas Thier, an activist based in Brooklyn, New York, and author of the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics. Hadas, thank you so much, again, for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Hadas Thier: Thank you so much. It was my pleasure.


Adam: Yeah, I think her point about, you know, this, of course, is not an invitation for lefties to not be fluent in economics, which of course, is important in myriad of ways, what I think is interesting is the way in which the language with which we speak about these things has so many varied ideological assumptions. Indeed, familiarity with economics can help one unpack those ideological assumptions.

Nima: Well, right, because you kind of see through all of the bullshit.

Adam: Well, right, because this is all about pop economics, not so much the field itself, which in the abstract has no necessarily ideological bent. It’s kind of what is presented as this cold, hard science.

Nima: That all economists agree on.

Adam: Yeah and what’s weird is that I think most economists would agree that it’s not a science. I mean, even I think some right-wing economists would concede that. They joke about it all the time, that it has no real, it’s not, you know, predictive, it can’t be duplicated. It’s a bunch of fucking models and a bunch of theories that have their ideological priors and those ideological priors are really useful to know and I think oftentimes to disclose or financial conflicts of interest, which are never disclosed. So again, these things are not biology, it’s not physiology, even though, of course, those fields themselves have their own forms of Science-ism, which we can go into, it is a bunch of ideological assumptions and assertions that will necessarily center certain groups over others and it’s important to know which those are.

Nima: Well I think that’s a good place to leave this two part episode on economic terms. We went over the top ten. So hopefully that will help folks — I don’t know — suss this shit out when they see these terms inevitably pop up in media moving forward all day fucking every day. But that will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Thank you for listening. Of course you can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. And as always, a very special shout-out goes to our critic-level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. We’ll catch you next time, everyone, thanks again.


This Citations Needed episode was released on Wednesday, December 8, 2021.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.

Website | + posts