Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis: A High-Tech Coronavirus Dystopia – Technology and Surveillance Meet the Shock Doctrine


Rob talks to activist and author Naomi Klein and to documentarian Avi Lewis about how the pandemic has spurred the “shock doctrine”: the sudden imposition of neoliberalism and austerity in response to a crisis. They also discuss the possibilities of a new international solidarity around a global Green New Deal.

Transcript

Rob Johnson:

I’m here today with Naomi Klein, who is the Gloria Steinem chair of media culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University and the author of many prominent books including Shock Doctrine, This Changes Everything, No Logo, and many, many more. Avi Lewis is a documentary film maker. He’s been very involved in Canadian politics and he’s the strategic director of the Leap, something that they found together. Thank you both for joining me today.

Avi Lewis:

Nice to be with you, Rob.

Naomi Klein:

Great to be with you, Rob. We should admit that we’re in the same house, for transparency. Avi and I are at different microphones in the same house in isolation because we are married.

Rob Johnson:

That’s right, husband and wife.

Avi Lewis:

Yeah, and a long term sharing of germ biomes.

Rob Johnson:

Very good. We’re talking now here in early May at the time where the pandemic related to COVID-19 is all around us. I’m curious, how do you see what’s unfolding and what is the call to action that we should do? What should we do about it and what do you see not going well that you would like to criticize at various places around the world?

Naomi Klein:

You know, Rob, Avi and I have been working together officially. We’ve always collaborated. Avi called me his shadow producer when he was doing TV shows in Canada. He’s always been my first editor. When I wrote This Changes Everything, the book about climate change, we decided to formalize the collaboration. Avi made a documentary film alongside the book. Ever since we did that, ever since we both immersed ourselves in the climate crisis, we have been thinking together and collaborating on how we move the needle to the point that we get the structural change at scale that we need. That’s why we confounded the group The Leap where Avi works full time which is really about how we win a green new deal.

I would say in the midst of the pandemic, that we have a division of labor in our home right now where Avi has been focusing on the good stuff, like how we actually win the transition that will keep us safe in the long term. I have unfortunately been dragged back into Shock Doctrine disaster capitalism territory because I feel like if we don’t win the battles against the corporate predators who are moving in this moment to push a really dark future, whether it’s a techno surveillance state or doubling down on fossil fuels or both, then we blow our chance of winning a greener deal. I have you covered on the bad stuff and Avi has been working on the good stuff, if that helps.

Avi Lewis:

We can ping pong on the hope and despair-

Rob Johnson:

Yeah.

Naomi Klein:

How depressed do you want to get, I guess? I’m down in the basement here.

Rob Johnson:

My inclination is to get very depressed and then have Avi come to the rescue and have us send off our listeners in a joyous and with great conviction that we’re going to get over this at some point.

Avi Lewis:

It’s a classic art, Rob, and I think your movie background is showing. I think you can execute a-

Rob Johnson:

Right.

Avi Lewis:

… I just want to say at the beginning that, Rob, you’re an important interlocutor for both of us. It was in 2009 I believe, if I recall correctly, that I convinced you to get on the Coney Island roller coaster with me for a B-roll sequence for an Al Jazeera documentary that I was writing and hosting on what happened in the debt bomb crash of 2008, 2009.

Rob Johnson:

That’s right.

Avi Lewis:

Diagnosing the extraordinary profitability of prices for the masters of the universe, the people who inhabit the upper reaches of the global economy, is even more important now than it was then. We’ve had an even more monumental and global and simultaneous change in the material conditions of life for humanity in 2020 than we ever had in 2008. What happens next I think is going to be more dramatic. That’s also in support of some of Naomi’s really important new research on the different players in the corporate world who are perfectly poised to reshape the policy environment and the economy of the world in the phase that follows this crisis. I think our responses and the openings and opportunities have to be correctly calibrated for the crisis, as well. Let’s get into disaster capitalism 2020.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah, yeah. Naomi, where do you see the fault lines, the structural impediments? In the Shock Doctrine since, who’s got an evil plan that needs to be thwarted?

Naomi Klein:

Oh, okay. Great question, Rob. Look, I mean, I think that we’ve got some overlapping plans. Some of them are really dusty and moldy and have been around for a long time but are nonetheless being advanced in this moment. These are very familiar, pretty much hackneyed plans to deregulate, to starve the public’s fear, to attack social security, to save big businesses from their own failings and package it as a COVID bailout. We see this particularly with fossil fuel companies right now. Look, the Trump administration is doing all of it.

I like to remind people that I began and ended the Shock Doctrine by talking about what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina as kind of a gruesome case study of what I mean by the Shock Doctrine. I tell the story of this meeting at the Heritage Foundation where all of the so called free market think tanks gathered together under the auspices of the Republican study group to come up with what they called free market solutions to hurricane Katrina and high oil prices. There were, I think 32 of them in all. It was everything from don’t reopen the public schools, give parents vouchers that they can use in private schools to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to unrestricted drilling to create a tax free free enterprise zone, et cetera, et cetera.

The reason why this is relevant is that the name at the bottom of that list was Mike Pence because he was chair of the Republican Study Group. Here he is once again heading up the Trump administration’s COVID response. We are seeing all of those old bad ideas re immerge. We’re seeing a suspending of EPA regulations. We’re seeing a bailout for every dirty business. We are seeing a deliberate starving of the public’s fear at the state level. In the midst of this public health crisis, we have doctors and nurses being laid off. I mean, it just makes absolutely no sense. The plan that I am even more worried about and that is related to this plan because of that starving of the public’s fear is what I’m calling the screen new deal. That is-

Avi Lewis:

I’m still not sure how I feel about the reverse appropriation of our treasured-

Naomi Klein:

… It’s entertaining to me.

Okay. Well, what this is is a vision of the world that predates the pandemic, that was being pushed by Silicon Valley, that is a future that delivers everything to us on app through exploited gig work. A future of endless streaming entertainment and everything delivered to our doorsteps, every human interaction on eminently surveillable and data minable platforms. Our streets filled with driverless cars, our skies with drones delivering us Amazon packages.

This is a vision of the world that was receiving a lot of push back before the pandemic because of concerns about safety and the ethics of these companies, the working conditions of gig work. You know, you had accidents with driverless cars that kind of put that whole experiment on hold. You had Google pushing what they called their sidewalks lab project in Toronto, this sort of privatized city within a city, that was receiving a lot of push back because of the surveillance and the bad deal that the public was getting. You had push backs on telehealth and remote learning for concerns about the quality of the services there.

I guess what I’m saying is that all of this is now being repackaged as a way to keep ourselves safe in the midst of the pandemic, or a no touch future which sees humans as a bio hazard. Driverless cars and drones and remote teaching and telehealth and remote work as the solution. You know, folks like Eric Schmidt and Jeff Bezos are very much at the center of pushing this right now. They see the pandemic as their way of overcoming democracy and resistance that they were encountering before with people like Elizabeth Warren promising to break them up if she got the chance and all kinds of questions being raised about surveillance capitalism by people like Shoshana Zubof.

They are very excited that they are the ones keeping us alive right now with delivery and streaming and keeping us going. They expect a lot of power in return. That’s what I’m really worried about because I don’t think we get a green new deal if they get their screen new deal because that vision is very, very expensive. It’ll drain our public resources. It’s, frankly, a really bleak future. Now Avi can try to get us out of that hole.

Rob Johnson:

I just want to interrupt for a second and say that of all of my Canadian friends, I thought that Margaret Atwood painted the most vivid dystopian portraits but you’re now in the running, Naomi. This is very competitive.

Naomi Klein:

Listen, I am just repeating Eric Schmidt’s talking points.

Rob Johnson:

I’m not saying you’re wrong. I’m saying I’m scared. Margaret knew how to get me scared and you do too, now.

Avi Lewis:

Google is what we’re looking at.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. I think you’re reporting with vision and insight into process in a way that illuminates something that’s genuinely scary.

Naomi Klein:

And genuinely happening. You know, I was keeping an eye on this and seeing the communications change from these tech companies. I’ve been teaching a course on surveillance capitalism at Rutgers so I was following it already with my research assistant. I don’t know when this will air but just yesterday, and that yesterday being May 6, Andrew Cuomo announced a partnership with Eric Schmidt. He put him in charge of the blue ribbon commission that will decide how New York is going to reopen. Basically, Cuomo offered up New York as the laboratory for the future that I described. They talked about telehealth and remote learning and remote work. Believe me, you’ll be hearing a lot about smart cities. This is the plan. It isn’t a secret.

Rob Johnson:

Wow, wow. Avi, I was going to wait till the end to get cheered up a little bit but I got to invoke you sooner, now.

Avi Lewis:

I think ping pong-ing is smarter, otherwise by the time Naomi is done, we will just be on the floor in fetal position. I mean, I think it’s obvious to everyone that we are in an unprecedented moment of both peril and promise. I’m getting all the cliche’s out of the way. There are cracks of possibility that we have never seen in our lifetimes. They owe a huge amount to the political movements and the opening of political possibility in the policy space and in the political imagination, particularly in North America but also in Europe and to some extent other parts of the world that was happening before the pandemic.

We were calling for a green new deal in North America and the corresponding movements in Europe, as well. I think it looks different in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia. The terminology doesn’t work, as well. The intergovernmental analog climate change and the scientists who advise the world’s governance on the climate crisis, had already said a couple of years ago now that the only way we can keep temperatures to a safe level, and this was the famous report that made clear the necessity of a 1.5 degree temperature rise as the safe limit for humanity, would require rapid and unprecedented changes in every aspect of society. That’s what the science was telling us two years before this crisis descended.

That means we already knew we needed transformative policies to change the way we live in cities, where we house ourselves and how we get our food and how we move around and our transit systems. Also, global supply chains and resource extraction that was happening at a level that exhibit the caring capacity of the earth many times over. We already knew all that. We were having a real momentum in popular movements. You know as an economist, Rob, that the overtone window, the window of the range of policy proposings, was opening. We had transformative political figures on the left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and of course Bernie Sanders and his whole campaign, as well as Elizabeth Warren and a much, much, much bolder policy proposals that were being floated.

They were hitting the usual walls. The walls of we can’t afford it, the walls of people aren’t going to change their lives that rapidly in response to a slow moving crisis like the climate crisis, which of course was untrue for the large populations around the world, usually the most vulnerable. People of the coastal areas, people in marginalized communities who are already suffering under environmental racism of all kinds and the location of fossil fuel industries.

It was already a crisis for a huge part of humanity but we were hearing the usual reasons why we couldn’t move so fast and so big. Then we had this movement that we’ve had in the past couple of months. It recalls the moments in 2009. When you think on the 780 billion dollar bailout that was engineered in the transition into the Obama era, it was dwarfed. It’s been dwarfed six times over, seven, eight times over. The money is still going to be pouring. More than six trillion and counting in the United States. Even a country like Canada is approaching a trillion dollars in commitments of public spending. Nobody thinks we’re anywhere near the end.

Obviously, what the heterodox economists have been saying is just self evident for everyone now that which indoctrinalized countries have immense capacity to spend, to save people’s lives, to float the economy through a period of hibernation and pause and crisis, and to reignite the economy again on the other side. Those limits are not set by deficit hysteria or by the hoarding of the hoarding class who collect their profits in corporate tax cuts and shelter them offshore. Those capacities just in rich countries, they’re based on the industrial infrastructure of centuries of fossil fuel driven capitalism and colonialism. We are rich countries and we can spend.

Nobody can deny that anymore. If we can spend unprecedented money to pay people not to work, to bail out corporations, to hand out money to a multi hundred billion dollar slush fund for Steve Mnunchin, we can absolutely guarantee shelter for people who need to shelter in place, homes for all, an education system that is not done by computers but is done safely in smaller class sizes, in public education for all, in public healthcare for all. Even in a country like Canada that has a universal system of paying for healthcare. If healthcare doesn’t cost people money, there are many populations that are included, like people who have uncertain status, migrant farm workers if they get sick, they can set home in Canada and many parts of the healthcare system like drugs and eye care and dental care are not included in our universal health system and our public health systems that have to track and warn and test, as well as treat people in something like the COVID-19 crisis are vastly diminished by these decades of austerity.

We know now that the capacity is there and we know what we need to do to keep ourselves safe. Now the environment is much more open for people pushing for what used to be much more radical demands and are now also a matter of life and death like housing for all. I think that’s a tremendously hopeful development.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. You talked about our roller coaster ride. I remember at the time the phrase I was using is it might be the mother of all moral hazards. The polluters got paid and the victims were left to fend for themselves. It created a tremendous demoralization in the Untied States where the energy that the candidate Barack Obama had created about hope and change seemed to dissipate. The Republicans took over the house, then the Senate. Then Donald Trump was elected. A number of people have brought to my attention the I guess what I would call the commodification of social design, meaning laws, regulations, their enforcement, appointments, has become so ferocious as the concentration wealth and size and big monopolies and corporations has narrowed who can influence or control the politicians.

I don’t think it was the mother of all moral hazards. That was an intermediate stage. Like you said, six times bigger and a lot crazier now is really demoralizing. The question I want to ask you is what kind of systemic response to this wide spread corruption and this callousness can we mount to turn this super tanker around?

Avi Lewis:

Naomi, I feel like this could be a place to think a little bit about the global nature, too, of the response. We’re so hemmed in by these nation programs.

Naomi Klein:

Yeah, I agree. I think that Avi has been doing work with some colleagues around the world. We were working on this before but bringing together a convening to talk about a global green new deal. We aren’t just talking about it in our individual nation states when we know that what we do in our nation states has huge impacts on people on the other side of the planet and the north, south injustices built in to the climate crisis. Too much of the talk had been in the north without input from the South and had been overly nationalist.

I think one of the hopeful things about it, there’s a few things that I’m taking hope from right now in this moment, which as you say, there’s lots to be terrified about. One is that unlike in 2009, we are not just saying no to the Shock Doctrine. We are not just saying no to the austerity that was being imposed on working people and laid off people and pensioners and students in the aftermath of the 2008 meltdown. The cries went up around the world we will not pay for your crisis. What we didn’t have in those key years was our own plan for how to get out of crisis. You had individual intellectuals putting forward ideas but you didn’t have mass movements championing those ideas.

I remember Avi and I were in Greece in 2010. We both met with Alexis Tsipras and actually interviewed him for the documentary, for This Changes Everything. I had an argument with him privately where I was asking him, why aren’t you proposing a pathway out of crisis that is also a solution to the climate crisis? That brings together the ecological and the economic crisis? Why are you just saying no to the austerity? He said to me literally, “In this moment, we believe that no is enough.” That’s why I called my book No Is Not Enough because I really do believe that it isn’t enough.

I can’t tell you how many groups we are collaborating with who are all running different iterations of a people’s bailout, of understanding we have to have our own pathway out of crisis. I think that that’s a big, big shift. The other piece of it is Avi says is the international one because I think what makes this crisis extraordinary is the extent to which we are simultaneously experiencing the same thing in different ways. We are all of us trying to figure out what to do about this incredibly contagious, often lethal virus. All of us are trying to figure this out. The solutions we’re coming up with are not the same. That can be really radicalizing.

I had a conversation yesterday with a climate minister of New Zealand, the climate change minister. You know, I asked him, I said, “Do you guys still have this pandemic under control? The last I heard, there were only 19 deaths even though the virus is there but 19 people had died.” He said, “Well, unfortunately, the number is now up to 21.” I said, “That’s too bad. That’s not good but I’m speaking to you from New Jersey and more people than that died before 10 AM today.” Right? We’re up against the same thing but our institutions are different, our collective values are different. That is leading to very different measurable outcomes.

Some countries are just stepping in and saying, “We’re going to pay for 80% of everybody’s salaries.” Some people are saying nobody has to pay rent. Some countries are saying we’re going to forgive student debt, we’re going to erase student debt. Some cities are saying, “You know what? When we reopen, we don’t want the cars to come back. We want to take the streets back for pedestrians and café patios and bicycles.” I think we need to life that up because I think even in an insular a country as the United States, which is very resistant to believing it has anything to learn from anyone else, because this virus is a shared experience, I feel like this might be a moment of common receptivity, of particular receptivity to these different stories.

Avi Lewis:

I think it’s not just the policies and the responses that could move more freely. I think there’s actually some of the fundamental doctrines of our economic age are being exploded in this moment. I think if we can name it, it could be massively useful particularly to countries in the global south. For instance, I think this crisis has revealed the tragedy of the doctrine of competitive advantage.

I actually think that what this crisis is showing every country on earth is that China producing the vast majority of personal protective equipment on planet earth is an incredibly vulnerable, inefficient system designed to give the richest countries, like the United States, who are bundling the response to the crisis first call on the vast majority of the lifesaving equipment needed. This is an omen. Every country on earth should be able to manufacture ventilators, masks, gloves, and other necessary life saving devices in the midst of a healthcare of the likes with which we’ve never seen.

Supply chains that are global can allow Jeff Bezos to amass 26 billion dollars more of personal fortune in the first couple of months in the pandemic serves no one but Jeff Bezos. That needs to be shortened. This doesn’t mean we have to reverse the globalization of everything. It does mean that local economies are safer and stronger and can preserve life if every economy is free from the shackles of debt, from the IMFN world bank policy stretching decade, from the trade agreements that specifically prevent a country from investing in their domestic manufacturing capacity and preferring smaller, shorter supply chains to longer ones.

We need to start… Like, this crisis is actually giving us an opportunity to pull down the pillars of the neo liberal age going all the way back to classical economics in some of those doctrines that are not serving humanity in this moment and that are actually preventing national economies from doing what they need to do to save lives. That strikes me as a huge opening and I hope that there are countries that are going to take advantage of it in organizations like the World Trade Organization.

Rob Johnson:

I remember Andrew Haldane who’s a very creative research director at the Bank of England and I took a walk a few years ago. We were talking about how odd the notion in orthodox, what you’ll call neo liberal economics was that if you unshackled everything and everything is mobile and it can be more efficiently deployed, he said, “Have economists never studied biology where instead of everything being a good, some things are bad and need to be compartmentalized and you endanger the system?”

What we were really talking about was the intertwine nature of large, too big to fail financial institution and how they would propagate like dominoes and make everybody insolvent and everybody’s system fragile by allowing them to have too much what I’ll call cross holdings of one another. It’s even more evident now. What I find fascinating and I’ll turn this into a question. When we talk about the nation state and we talk about globalization. I heard you say earlier, Avi, that people can keep their money off shore. It used to be called tax evasion. Then they made it legal. Now you get all these sermons about how we can’t afford it because we don’t have the tax revenue because we let the most powerful people hide it wherever they want on the planet. The Panama papers were a nice unmasking of that little dimension.

Then there’s the other side and, Naomi, I’m sure you’re quite tuned to this which is we need collaboration across national governments vis a vis climate deterioration because, how would I say, it’s not within the domain even though the large country like the United States or Germany or the EU to be able to control their outcomes. Then we were talking about the deterioration of US-China relations right now that’s rather fierce and ugly dynamic. That’s not going to help with climate change.

At one level is the nation state, the treaty of Westphalia dead? All kinds of factors like technology and finance can fly all over. At another level, how can we put together the kind of governance that starts to protect us all through collaboration coordination and recognition that each nation has the potential to do great damage to others through neglect.

Naomi Klein:

Well, there’s no doubt that the biggest crisis we face, we can only confront together. A pandemic is among them. There was a brief moment where it seemed like there was a renewed appreciation for multi literalism, that there was suddenly people were talking about the World Health Organization as if it mattered in the United States. Then in no time, you have this outrageous attack on the World Health Organization by the Trump administration.

I mean, the same thing goes for closing down tax havens. Individual countries really can’t… We have to do this in a coordinated way. We’ve seen some examples, you know, some of the bright spots in the way government have responded to the pandemic include some governments including Canada’s. I don’t know how much we should trust them on this but Canada and even Poland has said that they’re not going to give bailouts to companies that don’t pay taxes. If they hide their money in tax havens, they’re not going to get a public bailout. If this were truly coordinated internationally, I could see some progress coming out of it.

When it comes to the climate crisis, we can’t be overly romantic about what we were doing before the Trump era where there was a high level of international cooperation, the much celebrated Paris Accord. The fact is is that what that deal represented was the biggest polluters coming together and agreeing to keep polluting and to set targets far off into the future that their predecessors would have to deal with while they were able to continue with pretty minor tweaks in the status quo, which were in no way aligned with science.

I mean, the Paris Accord, the best thing that we can say about it is it had temperature targets in it that said that countries were going to try to keep temperatures warming below two degrees celsius and make best efforts to keep it below 1.5 degrees celsius. If you add it up what every country committed to in Paris in terms of their own emission reduction targets, which were voluntary, it put us on a course of three to four degrees of warming. There was never a plan, a multi lateral plan to keep us safe. I think the lesson of that is that these deals that don’t have enforcement built into them are not going to keep us safe. Right? It was too easy for Trump to walk away from that deal without penalty.

I think that we will see some countries coming together, kinds of coalitions of the willing. We also need international cooperation from below. That’s what this green new deal gathering is about. Avi, maybe you can talk a little bit about it because you’ve been the one on all the calls.

Avi Lewis:

Well, there’s no question that this very exciting vision of pre-crisis vision of making a shift away from fossil fuels in a way that guarantees a full employment economy and a massive redistribution of wealth and better universal public services for all, which is my best short way of describing a green new deal. There’s tremendous excitement around that vision. Now I have to include things like health and local manufacturing of all kinds of goods, an emphasis on the food system. All the things that have come to light in the COVID-19 crisis generate a vision of a future economy very available, with the resources we now know available that genuinely guarantees basic rights for all.

The conversation we were starting to have as the green new deal emerged in the last two years in the North American and European conversation was, “Okay, sure. We’re going to build 12 million units of public housing,” like some of the legislative proposals in the United States have and really, really attack the housing crisis and make homes for all, a homes guaranteed, a meaningful thing in the United States. That’s a shit ton of building materials. That is a huge amount of finite resources.

How are we going to do those things without sparking an extraction boom in the sites where resources are extracted in the global south, in the third world within the first world what we used to say in those communities, resource communities in every country where extraction is already devastating communities who live next to it without seeing? There’s this question of, like, where the exciting transition in that economic sense? All the economic track be implied by unprecedented changes to every factor of society, where that actually meets the customer planetary methods.

There’s this extremely important debate emerging around how we can transition for a safe future for everyone on the planet without sparking this extraction mud ball, which is particularly felt in the continent of Africa and Asia and where so many of the raw resources come from, where earth minerals, construction materials. You can fill it out in your mind. Now, the truth is right now we have an extremely chaotic market based global system for the extraction and manufacture of resources in a consumption based economy. Nobody is really at the wheel, well Jeff Bezos is at the wheel, for deciding what gets produced where and for whom. It’s all based on the premise that the only way we can add prosperity for all is maximum consumption, over consumption in the former, or maximum end production and in the global south. That just can’t sustain.

This crisis is telling us that the climate crisis before it was already seen. The truth is that if we had public procurement, if we had services and programs like a home for all guaranteed in the United States run on a public basis, you actually can have supply chains which are right now fueled by consumption and fossil fuel use, which could be redirected in a sustainable way using more sustainable methods, guaranteeing better work and safety protections at the site of extraction, more local benefits in the countries with which finite resources are extracted.

You can have a public procurement process with governments speaking to each other and working out a rational way to use those resources. You can have a massive transition on planet earth. That also starts to guarantee homes for all in the global south at the same time as it does for the vast majority of people in the global north who will face a housing crisis of a different nature, housing bubbles and speculation bubbles in countries like Canada and United States. It can be done. We are already consuming finite resources at a furious rate on planet earth. We could lower the extraction and consumption of those resources if they were rationally allocated.

The market and the principle of maximum profit has been doing an extremely irrational job of allocating those resources. We have to assert public control over the entire process of them. What gets built, where, and with what, and by whom, and benefiting whom, and harming whom? Once we start to get that stuff in focus, we can have a transition to a 100% carbon free economy in a rapid fashion that doesn’t have to exhaust the caring capacity of the earth. It’s going to have to be done on a non profit basis. It’s going to have to be done with public [inaudible 00:40:57] of these essential services.

I think a health crisis like the one that we’re in actually gives us a much better map and model for how countries can work together on best practices, on sharing the finite protective equipment, for instance. I know that’s not happening right now. What’s happening right now is US officials go to China and buy pallets of stuff at airports and half of the countries are being told it’ll be at least 18 months before you get a single ventilator, saying that to countries who currently have four or six for an entire nations of population.

There is a model in a health crisis that allows people to think of the rational allocation of resources. That’s precisely the way we can have agreement deal, a global agreement deal that benefits countries in the global south. It’s perfectly possible but it’s going to actually take governments sitting down. That’s going to take pressure from below and organizing our demands and our proposals so that the principles are clear and the people who need to benefit, benefit. Right now, Rob, as you know the masters of the universe who are fashioning their I’ll gotten games in various corners of the global economy are going to have to be confronted. We need our money back.

Naomi Klein:

Yeah. I mean, I think one of the things that’s really great about the work you do at INET is that you are developing those international pathways and sharing ideas and expertise across nation state borders. The truth is that there has been a return to insularity among a lot of progressive social movements. I was part of the so called anti globalization movement. The irony is that was a far more international movement than the movements that I’ve been a part of since. I think really since September 11 and the Bush era of endless wars, we’ve been focused on our own governments here in North America. It’s come at the expense of those relationships from below.

One of our key partner in designing this green new deal convening is War on Want in the UK. It’s executive director Asad Rehman. In a call that we did, he just casually noted that right now the far right, the Trumps and the Bolsonaros and the Dutertes and the [Artegons 00:43:45], they are more coordinated than we are. They are doing a better job thanks to Steve Bannon et al in sharing their own worst practices than we progressives are doing in sharing our success stories and our strategies. That needs to change.

Rob Johnson:

I find many of the things that you’ve explored over the course of this conversation fascinating. Particularly when you were talking early on how the notion of scarcity. You couldn’t pay women’s pension in healthcare after they worked 45 years in the city of Detroit. Their pensions had to be restructured because “We can’t afford it.” We can do these bailouts like you see. Perhaps that creates a window of opportunity and possibility for the green new deal, which how they say, the transformation of energy is so imperative to life on earth that this challenge and this unmasking will help us move along.

I find that it’s fascinating when you study the history of central banks. Central banks were not founded to stabilize macro economies. They were not even founded to manage financial crisis. The original founding of central banks was to be able to mobilize resources for preparation for war. We’re just now, the war might be an alien called the COVID pandemic in this instance, but the marshaling of social resources for very important purpose is something that central banks can do.

In our conversation, I don’t know, I always am harking back the first time that you and I met, Naomi, we had lunch. You had just finished an article. I think it was called Baghdad year zero in Harpers magazine. You were about to receive an award for it. I remember William Greider, the late William Greider, the brilliant man, had introduced us. He had introduced us and we had lunch. I was absolutely spell bound at the intensity of your insight and your courage. We did dinners together related to Shock Doctrine.

Avi, you and I got to know each other watching the work you did on the Take and other film projects that, how I say, add extra dimensions. I guess I kind of see you illuminating the darkness. I’m reminded I’m going to use a musical verse that came into my mind as we were talking. It’s from Bob Dillon’s song The Masters of War. He says, “Let me ask you one question. Is your money that good? Will it buy you forgiveness? Do you think that it could. I think you will find when your death takes its toll, all the money you made will never buy back your soul.”

The side of you each and together, I’m jealous of Tommy, he gets to stay home from school and hear the dialogue of these two brilliant people every day. I think he just upgraded his education tremendously.

Avi Lewis:

If only that were what it was like.

Rob Johnson:

The place where I’m always invigorating, whether it’s David Burn playing piano in celebration of your speeches at the Cooper Union, or seeing you at marches or what have you reminds me of the work and the song by Natalie Merchant in 10000 Maniacs. The second verse, given that we’re in the month of May, says, “These are days that you’ll remember. When May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour, you’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky. It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you.” They go on to say, “These are days you might fill with laughter until you break. You might feel a shaft of light across your face, make its way across your face. When you do, you’ll know it was meant to be. You’ll see the signs and know their meaning. It’s true. You’ll know what was meant to be and hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you.”

The two of you, in many ways, feel to me like a miracle. You have been touched by something and the things that you illuminate are the basis of hope. I know, Naomi, I teased you a little bit about Margaret Atwood. Between the two of you today, I’m more hopeful because you’re taking off the mask and you’re relentless and you’re moving forward. I think we should all take heart. Like they say, hear the signs and know they’re speaking to us. Those signs come from you. Thank you both for joining me. I hope we can get together in a couple of months and revisit these issues. Please keep us informed about the Leap, your films. I have 11000 members that are quite active in our young scholars initiative. We’d love to introduce them more and more not only to your work but to the example of your two careers. Thank you.

Naomi Klein:

Thank you so much, Rob. It was such a pleasure to have this visit with you. I just want to say that the work of hetero docs, economists, of progressive economists, of people who got into this field because they wanted to build a better world and give people the tools, we have never needed you more to use your expertise to expand our sense of the possible and to keep that window that you talked about open for as wide as possible. My God, there are people who want to slam it shut now that they just raided the bank.

Avi Lewis:

I think we’ve all been thinking about what’s essential. What is an essential worker? What is most important? What do we need to live? Rob with those beautiful quotes from great songs and, as Naomi said, the work that you’ve been doing in economics, why is the point of the economy not to give everyone what is essential for life? I think we have some real, moral clarity in this moment and conversations like this really spill the light all over it. Thank you.

Rob Johnson:

Well, Martin Luther King once said, “We call came in on different ships.” He was referring to slavery, “But we’re in the same boat now.” It’s my viewing that while we might not be in exactly the same boat now, there’s still a lot of inequality in relation to the dreadful pandemic playing out. We have a common challenge and perhaps that can help us weave society into that awareness and start using the economy again as a means to an end, not as a deity to be worshiped and to defend by suborning people and their needs and create a broader prosperity.

Avi Lewis:

Amen to that.

Naomi Klein:

Thank you, Rob.

Rob Johnson:

Very good. Thank you both. We’ll talk again soon. Bye-bye.

Naomi Klein:

Yeah, thank you so much.

About the Host

ROB JOHNSON serves as President of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Johnson is an international investor and consultant to investment funds on issues of portfolio strategy. He recently served on the United Nations Commission of Experts on International Monetary Reform under the Chairmanship of Joseph Stiglitz.

More

About the Guests

NAOMI KLEIN is an award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author. She is Senior Correspondent for The Intercept, a Puffin Writing Fellow at Type Media Center and is the inaugural Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University.

AVI LEWIS is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, and lecturer in Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University