Q&A with General Wesley Clark on his New Film, ‘Hot Money’
Retired General Wesley Clark, along with his son, Wes Clark Jr., has a new film out, Hot Money. I had the pleasure of interviewing Wesley Clark which you can find below. The film was directed by Susan Kucera and produced by actor Jeff Bridges.
The official synopsis for Hot Money is as follows: “Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark and his son Wes Clark Jr. take us on a journey through the complicated realities of our financial system and its profound exposure to climate change. Hot Money outs the whole game, the whole charade, the whole crapshoot of the money system with all the humor and intelligence of a New Yorker cartoon. Combined with the wisdom of international business experts and academics, Hot Money is rich with historical context. It severs the knot of economic and political forces that may lead to societal collapse.”
What was the impetus behind Hot Money?
It was a follow-on from Jeff Bridges’ previous documentary, Living in the Future’s Past – we wanted to show how everyone is connected to the risks of climate change through the financial system.
Your film paints a dire picture for America unless the ship is righted. Is it all doom and gloom?
It is only doom and gloom if we deny what is happening and continue with our present reliance on hydrocarbon energy. We have to change the energy foundation of modern society – or we have to find a way to prevent the emitted greenhouse gases from polluting the atmosphere. It is a matter of technology, finances, and the incentive structure to have the marketplace recognize the “eternalities,” the costs to the world as a whole, of present activities.
Hot Money highlights Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuela as a real-world example of what awaits America unless it changes course. Is this a fair reading?
It is an example of the breakdown of an economy – and yes, something terrible could happen even to us, if we fail to heed the scientific evidence, fail to adapt to meet the environmental impacts of climate change, and just ride on continuing accumulation of debt until our finances and budgets simply become unsustainable.
Many hold the belief that America is an extremely wealthy country. Considering the debt held by Americans and the U.S. government, what is your view?
We are an extremely wealthy country, but the wealth is inequitably held. Debt is the means by which ordinary Americans, those who are not extremely wealthy, are able to pay for immediate consumption – like cars, college tuition, homes, and everyday purchases – but it is also the means by which businesses leverage their own funds invest and grow. Debt is like rocket fuel – it is borrowing from the future to do more in the present. And it works until it doesn’t – when someone credible questions the ability to repay…then there is a risk of panic and financial “contagion” which could rapidly collapse the economy. The Federal Reserve of course works to prevent this kind of a panic.
Do Americans need to think about wealth differently?
Americans should look at wealth more as a means to accomplish more, rather than simply as a store of value. The American economy has become “financialized” over the last forty years, with money chasing money, rather than money being used to produce more goods and services. As a result, both income and wealth have become less equitably distributed. “Trickle down economics” says the wealthy will use their money to create jobs for the rest of us, but actually that formulation is a good rationale for cutting taxes but not for creating jobs! Wealth needs to be used to advance the public good!
Is there an ideal economic model that supports sustainability? Conservatives will often paint their opponents who even mention sustainability as “socialists.”
The best ways to move toward a more sustainable economy is to put a price on carbon. This can be accompanied by other measures like U.S. government incentives for battery manufacturers, charging stations, and EV purchases. But we must use the market to establish value – we just have to have the market incorporate the full “external costs” of hydrocarbons. This is what we mean by putting a price on carbon.
Much of your film focuses on climate change. Why are many Americans averse to acknowledging its reality? And even if Americans do accept climate change, why won’t they take the steps necessary to curb its effects?
Millions of dollars have been spent attempting to cast doubt on climate change; one political party has been funded by industries whose profits depend on not recognizing climate change, and so profits, politics, and misinformation have confused the public. Climate change is actually a by-product of the energy we used for the industrial revolution and all subsequent economic development. So, it has taken several hundred years for its effects to become apparent, and addressing it is a problem that whole societies – not just individuals – must undertake. There are no quick or single, silver-bullet solutions. We need government to help us organize and sustain a long-term set of programs to slow down, halt and perhaps reverse climate change.
How many Americans are one natural disaster away from ruin? In the decades to come, if climate change isn’t addressed many coastal communities will cease to exist.
More than half of American families are on the brink of financial catastrophe – a chronic illness, an accident, or something like that. And yes, as sea levels rise, coastal communities will simply be inundated, and eventually become uninhabitable.
Hot Money goes to great lengths to show the plight of American farmers. Does the future hold any promise for American farming?
Food security is a key national security issue that most Americans take for granted. The government is heavily involved in promoting agriculture, including such things as crop insurance, water and wetlands management, and conservation resource programs. But as the climate changes, farming methods, and crops will change – the growing seasons will shift northwards for certain row crops, new pests will emerge, and farmers will be working to use new techniques such as “no-till” farming to prevent carbon release into the atmosphere. We simply must sustain our farmers.
Is there a risk that farming just won’t keep up with America’s growing population? What remedies are there to address food insecurity?
Our U.S. Department of Agriculture keeps a close eye on the productivity of American farmers. There is tremendous innovation today in farming techniques and technologies. It is essential that we provide farmers some insulation from extreme market volatility – crop insurance – but also that we let the market forces of supply and demand continue to drive our agriculture production.
During your time in the U.S. Army, how much time was given to discussing climate change?
Climate change has been increasingly recognized as a national security threat, beginning in the mid-2000s and through today. The U.S. Department of Defense is organizing itself to provide greater “resilience” to face these new challenges.
Did you approach your son about making this film or vice versa?
He approached me.
How did Jeff Bridges become involved?
Jeff and Susan Kucera sponsored the film and produced it. It was a follow-on from his previous film, Living in the Future’s Past.
What is the one thing you want viewers to take away after watching Hot Money?
Climate change is an urgent problem that affects each of us! Just ask those folks in Texas today!