Money Puzzles addresses widespread misunderstanding about money and debt to be found in the media, everyday life and even university economics departments. It questions the myriad forms of money in the twenty-first century and probes the nature of debt, both public and private. And it looks beyond the citadels of finance capitalism to the crisis of neoliberalism in Europe and indeed the world.
With episodes filmed in the capitals of Greece, Belgium and Spain, as well as in the UK, and for a non-European perspective, Argentina (where the banks collapsed at the end of 2001), contributors include the economist Costas Lapavitsas, former Argentine Minister of Economy Axel Kicillof, Molly Scott Cato MEP and the Spanish activist Yago Alvarez Barba, but equal time is given to solidarity volunteers and social activists in Greece, Spain, Belgium and the UK.
The film proceeds by unfolding two parallel strands, one about money, and one about debt. While children play Monopoly and talk about money, a revolt has broken out among economics students. Seven years after the Queen asked a bunch of academics at the London School of Economics why no-one saw the crash of 2008 coming, they are questioning the way their subject is still taught and practiced.
The film shifts to Athens in May 2015, where a seminar is being held on the problems of household debt. It takes place in the Numismatic Museum, where we learn about the earliest of coins, which appeared in the sixth century BCE. The plight of modern Greece, unfolding as we make the film, dramatises the contradictions of the debt crisis which produced the 2008 crash. We learn from Costas Lapavitsas, economist and former Syriza MP (Jan-Sep 2015), that the euro has been a disaster for Greece and the national debt is unpayable; he is an advocate of euro-exit.
To find out what can happen when a country defaults, we go to Argentina, where the national currency collapsed when the country defaulted at the end of 2001. We are taken through the events by two ministers of finance, Aldo Ferrer in the 70s, and Axel Kicillof, who occupied the post from 2013-2015. Both are critical of Europe’s neoliberal response to the crisis that exploded in 2008.
The nature of the crisis is examined in a chapter on banks, bailouts and tax havens, along with the difference between household budgets and government finances.
Back in Greece in the middle of July, in the days following the Greek government’s capitulation to the Brussels, an international conference of the left discusses the events, and we visit a Solidarity food distribution centre on the outskirts of Athens.
We learn about alternative approaches at a conference of debt activists in Brussels in October. In Bristol we discover a local complementary currency in action in the shape of the Bristol Pound. A former trader explains that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are not rooted in the real economy.
In Spain, we learn from a debt activist, Yago Alvarez Barba, about the municipal debt audits taking place across the country, and attend meetings of activists against evictions and a neighbourhood food bank in Madrid, before pulling back again to a global perspective and the worldwide movement for public debt audits. Our guides include Argentina’s Kicillof, and Molly Scott Cato, who explains the international legal concept of odious debt, and along with Alvarez Barba argues for its extension in the recognition of illegitimate debt incurred by governments acting undemocratically.
An epilogue concludes that the infinite debt-fuelled growth required by capitalism cannot continue.
Money Puzzles is in nine chapters:
- Prologue: Questioning Economics
- Greece on the edge
- When Argentina went bust
- On banks, bailouts and tax havens
- Solidarity for all
- ‘It has to be changed from below’
- The Spanish response
- Odious debt and beyond
- Epilogue: The end of growth