Most people know me as that nice, accessible economist fellow with a beard who spends his free time on Twitter answering the public’s questions and railing incessantly against the mainstream. Yeah, that’s me. Unapologetically so concerning the latter part. I’m a bit unusual in my approach, I’ll admit it. I have a bizarre sense of humour which favours the absurd and the non-sequitur. My favorite practitioners of my brand of humour are Groucho Marx, Michael Palin, Dudley Moore, Peter Sellers, Robin Williams, Chevy Chase, Steve Martin and especially the late, great Mitch Hedberg. Mitch is the litmus test. It takes a certain sense of humour to laugh at Mitch, so if you find him funny, then you and I are entirely on the same wave length. This is not to say that if you do not find him funny that we can’t get along or share a laugh, but rather, to demonstrate just how unorthodox my sense of humour can be. I would have mentioned Buster Keaton and Harpo Marx too, but they never said anything. Anyway, the list doesn’t represent the only people that make me laugh. There are many more, from George Carlin to Jim Carrey, Cheech and Chong and, God bless him, Chris Farley. I simply have a penchant for the absurd.
Then there’s the slight “attitude problem” that I possess. If you get me started on orthodoxy, the sense of humour and the “attitude problem” mix together and I can be quite a disagreeable fellow towards mainstream economists. To borrow a phrase from economics, it’s not who I am “in normal times”. 99.2% of the time, I am a warm, kind, outgoing person who enjoys helping others and making people laugh. But, there are times when the real intelligence rate of some people drops causing aggregate asshattery to rise and my patience enters the zero lower bound. Once in the zero lower bound, I automatically maintain a negative interest rate policy concerning professionalism. And it’s my former career from which I retired that causes the little, shall we say, “edginess” to my personality when I discuss errant orthodox religious viewpoints or interact with mainstream wizards… I mean, “economists”.
You see, when you work around people such as these for an extended length of time, especially within a federal agency, your tolerance level for their mysticism and defense tactics that they employ to preserve that mysticism grows quite short. And when I say quite short, I mean roughly three or four milliseconds of tolerance and then it’s all used up. At year one, I could still hold a conversation. At year five, sentence fragments were becoming commonplace. Around year eight, I finally found a practical application for my knowledge of the Klingon language. And in the tenth year I pretended that I was deaf and frequently spoke using a sign language composed of obscene finger gestures. But, in the twelfth year, outward anger disappeared entirely and my sense of humour was deployed along with a sarcastic tone and that combination became my standard behavior that you see today. I’ll give you a few examples from actual events that have occurred.
I was sitting in a meeting and one of these cretins came in late and said “Hi” to me. My patience was used up long before he finished the sound that the letter “h” makes. By the time the vowel “i” came out of his mouth, I was already in the process of saying to him, “I didn’t think you would ever shut up.”
There was another memorable occasion when a mystic was giving a presentation and just before he was about to make what he considered to be an important point of the introduction, I suddenly interrupted him at exceptional volume. It went a bit like this:
Him: “It is possible, then, for the country to realize a…”
Me: “That’s really interesting!”
Him: “realize a.. a.. Excuse me. What is interesting?”
Me: “Time dilation.”
Him: “I don’t follow.”
Me: “To you, you’ve only been talking for five minutes. But to me, it seems like it has been hours.”
Afterwards, I was lectured for what also seemed to be hours on the subject of my attitude and during that lecture, I did put my feet up on “the boss’s” desk. No biggie. He was a friend, so, bonus. Welcome to federal service. Anyway, in the end, I was asked to “bottle it up” next time until I was in a more private setting. Apparently, it was okay to a certain extent to entertain heated arguments in meetings, but during a presentation, we were to be “respectful”. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s hard for me. If the guy was discussing anything close to resembling reality, I wouldn’t have done what I did. To me, there is nothing professional about standing up in front of a group of people, turning on an overhead projector and discussing the tooth fairy’s impact on South American economies.
This is something that I feel some academics do not understand about me when it comes to expectations of professionalism. Then again, maybe they do understand and they’re able to smile as these mainstream snake oil salesmen drone on while thinking, “God, you are a vicious little jackwagon!” I can’t do that anymore. If I think it, my mouth begins running before I can stop it. That career did it to me and its effects remain with me to this day. My wife attempts to keep me in line, reminding me constantly to watch how I say things and I am trying. “Trying”, being the key word here. For now, it’s part of me, but slowly I am getting better at restraining my attitude. And so, that’s how I’m familiar to most people. However, there’s another side of me, unrelated to economics, that many people on Twitter and social networks do not know about and one which I’d like to share with you.
I am 49 years old.
I am five-foot three and one half inches tall…
and I am a Native American – Cherokee, to be specific.
Not 100%, though. If I were to let my hair grow really long, then in the summer months it would be more than obvious that I’m not entirely Caucasian. Even with short hair, it’s easily noticeable to other Native Americans. For non-natives, when I have short hair it is not always the case. At any given point in the year my skin does have a certain hue, but it becomes a little less perceptible in winter months, especially if I’m wrapped up in a coat and stocking cap with sun glasses on. I’m just enough Caucasian to where in the winter months, you could say that I am a Native American with stealth capability. That capability, more than once, has caused teabagger-types to put the proverbial foot into the mouth.
Around Christmas time at Walmart a few years ago, I was standing in line behind an older man about 60 years old, I’d say, and he had on a cowboy hat and these snake skin boots. In front of him was a lady with children using WIC coupons to pay for some of her groceries. I guess when he saw the WIC he felt the need to say something stupid to the woman about his hard-earned tax dollars and her laziness that one would usually hear idiots like Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity say. I don’t remember precisely what was said, but it was so idiotic as to at once demonstrate that he possessed a PhD in Economics from Fox News University and that checkout lanes were apparently his classrooms. I put my forehead down on the handle of my shopping cart and shook my head. And I kept my head there while a slightly heated discussion ensued between he and the lady.
I remember that I was watching my son looking at the candy bars when I felt a tap on my shoulder and the guy spoke to me:
“Hey, buddy. Hey. Don’t these people just piss ya off?”
“I wasn’t paying attention to be honest. Not my business.”
“Notch’er business? Hell, it’s the business of every decent American. Yer’s an’ mine – goddamn right it is. Can’t keep thir legs closed, then they want people like us ta’ pay’fer thir damn kids’ food. I tell ya, I’m tard of it.”
Stealth mode activated. Targeting stubby jackwagon wearing far too much English Leather at one o’clock:
“Define ‘decent American’.”
“People like you an’ me. Not these damned, lazy minorities.”
Target locked. Firing:
“I am a Cherokee.”
“Yer an Indian?”
“Native American. Cherokee, to be exact.”
“Don’t look like no Indian.”
“That’s because I’m not from India. I’m a Native American.”
“Don’t sound like one neither.”
Target in denial. Attempting to pull faux snake skin shit kicker out of mouth.
“Well, I am.”
“Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. I’m talkin’ ‘bout these lazy ones.”
“As I said, it wasn’t my business.”
“Yessir, I’m tellin’ ya’ that it is yer business. You should be joinin’ up with us an’ takin’ this country back.”
“Sorry, but I can’t do that.”
“My people have reservations.”
Yes, the above is a true story. Events like these do occur from time to time, but thankfully, they are quite rare. While it is also entirely true that I am not 100% Native American, a man of his intellectual level has no need for such information nor did he deserve to know such information. I am Native American and proud of it, so, that’s the other side of me.
Speaking of reservations, in keeping with the subject of economics and Native Americans, I could discuss Andrew Jackson’s inability to understand public debt as well as his inability to recognize human beings when he saw them, resulting in his “Indian Removal Policy” and the Trail of Tears. But since this is personal commentary and not a discussion, I’ll save both for another time and instead highlight the damage government policy, both social and economic, has had on the Native American populace.
What’s wrong with reservations? Gee, I dunno – what’s wrong with malnutrition, unacceptable infant mortality rates, poverty, alcohol, gambling and drug abuse? Apparently, nothing is wrong with such a thing to the US government. Now, some people will point out that tribes have direct control over the rez and policies like putting in casinos and such, but I don’t look at the micro nonsense that tells me jack squat about the real problem. I look at the macro and when I do, I see human beings left to suffer and die needlessly. Tribes, like any other entity in the non-government sector, use US Dollars as a currency. If they do not, then explain the casinos please, because unless the slot machines spit out wampum or gold dust, I have a problem with your “Listen here, tribal governments are in charge, buddy” argument.
If you segregate human beings into an area of land, the first thing you might notice, if you think for just a second, is that economic possibilities in such isolation are quite limited. Ask yourself: what are the real resources on these reservations?
Secondly, is the US Dollar the currency demanded on these reservations? Yes, it is. So, is it possible that the tribe can produce enough US Dollars to access those real resources in such a way that the reservation will one day resemble New York City?
The answer to the first question, “What are the real resources on these reservations?” in many cases is they do not have the means to utilize them, and the answer to the second question is, hell no. Given these two facts and the reality that the US government alone is the currency issuer, it is clear that the US government both creates the problem on reservations and it is the only entity that can eliminate the problem on reservations, which it accomplishes through net spending. In other words, Congress has to finally realize that Native Americans are both Americans and human beings, then simply approve spending for the purpose of eliminating the problem. How it will be “paid for” is not the question here. It is clear that building hospitals, schools, roads, sewer, water treatment plants, electricity and other infrastructure projects on reservations are not impossible for the US as long as those resources can be accessed (purchased) with US Dollars.
Employment is needed here badly, precisely because tribes are users of the government’s currency. Because a monetary economy exists, there is unemployment. That reality extends to Native American tribes whether tribal government’s are in charge of things on the “rez” or not. Tribal government’s are no different than any local government in this context. They require dollars to function properly and if they do not have enough, then conditions will quickly become undesirable. Studies show that the effects of long-term unemployment are alcohol and drug abuse, mental and physical illness, a rise in crime rates and social collapse. Look at many of these reservations and then tell me what you see. Exactly that. By deficit spending for full employment and the dignity of Native Americans on reservations, jobs at decent wages will be created, building infrastructure and so, prosperity will be guaranteed from the tribal use of that infrastructure. And like any other local government does, tribal government’s engage in maintaining commerce with private entities.
Native Americans tend to worry about the environment. This also is not a problem, for the US itself needs to move output towards sustainability to begin with. Current economic growth, which reflects an early 20th Century mode of operation, cannot be maintained. Harold Lloyd is not making silent films, Skimmers are not fashionable and airplanes aren’t exactly “new contraptions” to marvel at. The year is not 1922. Workers should be shifted from oil platforms to safe, good paying jobs on rooftops installing solar panels and to assembly lines building electric-powered cars. The same shift to sustainability can be applied to Native American employment and the reservation. A federal Job Guarantee would allow tribal governments to decide what areas need to be addressed in their communities that are important economically and socially as well as culturally. Natural habitats can be preserved, nature trails can be built. If the tribal government feels that a public gathering place for purposes related to its culture and heritage would be nice to have, then they would create the jobs, hire their people and simply build it to their satisfaction and maintain it. The dollars would automatically be available. There are literally endless ways that the Job Guarantee would allow tribal governments to build a prosperous economy with a society based entirely on their cultural heritage. A basic income guarantee combined with the Job Guarantee would serve as a safety net underneath a safety net, breaking the neck of poverty. In short, if a non-native entered the reservation, they would immediately know that they were on Native American soil and it would also be a beautiful, clean, healthy and prosperous environment.
If Native Americans have dollars to spend, business will be drawn to it like flies. In conjunction with proper fiscal policy that targets full employment and the public purpose for the entire US, this in turn guarantees permanent, decent-paying jobs for Native Americans while allowing them to preserve their culture. It does not require the erasure of Native American governance nor does it require forced assimilation into American culture in order to achieve prosperity. Look at the Cherokee Nation as an example. Native American governance and culture can remain quite intact and yet, there can be human dignity and prosperity.
Lastly, the term and the concept of a “reservation” preserves the status of Native Americans as a stigmatized cohort. In addition to deficit spending for Native American prosperity and dignity, the term and concept should be dropped entirely and be replaced with a “nation”. It is a nation of dignified human beings within a nation. And so, from the economic perspective, if you want to know how the US government can rectify past injustices to my people, the aforementioned is an excellent beginning and would go a very long way to finally engendering a sense of Native American trust for the US government. Treating my people as sub-human by continuing the US government’s policies and also allowing private entities to turn attack dogs on them when they protest pipelines running through their property wont help matters.
On a lighter note, some people still subscribe to the 19th Century version of Native Americans concerning how we look, dress on a regular basis, where we live, how we get around, how we don’t go to college, etc. In other words, what they see in a TV western is how they see us. In order to dispel the Hollywood version of Native Americans, here are a few personal pictures of mine that are more in keeping with reality:
Fig. 1: A Cherokee economist’s great grandmother.
Fig. 2: A Cherokee economist standing in a kitchen.
Fig. 3: Feathers hanging in a Cherokee economist’s kitchen.
Fig. 4: A Cherokee economist on a family outing.
Fig. 5: A Cherokee economist walking with his daughter and son.
Fig. 6: A Cherokee economist with family member and kickball partner, Nichelle.
Fig. 7: A Cherokee economist and his wife.
John Wayne enthusiasts and liberal elites for that matter, please note: I’m not on horseback, wearing warpaint or carrying a tomahawk in any of these pictures, ok?
In closing, I have a song to share with you. It is called “Wah Jhi Le Yihm” by Ulali. Below I have provided two versions. It doesn’t matter which you choose. You can listen to both or just one. The first is a recorded version and the second is from a live performance by Ulali at the River People festival in 2014.
There is a certain point in the song, which I will not say, that will elicit a deep, inner emotional response if you are Native American. The ancestors call out to you. They know their own and they do not discriminate. However much or little blood there is within you matters not to them. What matters is that it is there.
If such was your experience, aho, brother. Aho, sister. Mitakuye Oyasin.