neoliberalism

Chunky Mark on the Ex-MI6 Chief Richard Dearlove and the Resignation of Ian McNicol

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 25/02/2018 - 9:38pm in

Here’s another great piece from Chunky Mark the Artist Taxi Driver, which he posted yesterday. He comments on the remarks in the Torygraph from the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove. Dearlove was speaking about Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with a Czech spy, and declared that the Labour leader ‘has questions to answer’. This is part of the continuing attempt to create a ‘Red Scare’ about the Labour party and its leader, comparable to the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ that lost Labour an election in the 1920. The Zinoviev letter was an MI5 forgery, and this is a complete non-story and Tory libel.

Mike’s pointed out that the spy in question was a diplomat. Corbyn met him, just as he met other diplomats and no secrets were passed on. The Czechs, and the academic in charge of their Secret Services library has said they have categorically no evidence that Corbyn ever worked for them, or passed on any secrets at all. And in the week Andrew Neill, who is the former editor of the Sunday Times and the Economist, told his viewers precisely what a load of rubbish it this story is on the Daily Politics.

Corbyn is threatening to sue for libel. Gavin Williamson, the Tory apparatchik who repeated in a Tweet, is trying to backtrack without giving Corbyn the apology or money to charity that he demanded.

But the bug-eyed slander-merchants of the Torygraph are still carrying on with it.

Chunky Mark makes the point that Dearlove himself is hardly reliable, because he was involved in the concoction of the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ that served to bring us into Blair’s illegal and murderous war in Iraq. And he’s repeating the libel that Corbyn handed secrets over to a Commie spy, simply because he hates and fears him.

He also comments on the resignation of Ian McNicol, the Labour Party chief, who presided over the massively unjust suspension and expulsion of tens of thousands of Labour members, because they had the audacity to vote for Corbyn rather than endorse the preferred Blairite Thatcherite entryists. Chunky Mark says that we shouldn’t celebrate his departure, because this is a man who poured his life and blood into the Labour party. Before going on to say precisely why we should. One of those he expelled was a trade unionist. She committed the terrible offence of saying that she ‘f***ing loved Dave Grohl’ in a post she put up about the Foo Fighters. This apparently brought her union and the Labour party into disrespect. Actually, considering the fruity language on the internet, I’m surprised anyone even noticed, let along took offence.

So McNicol’s walked, and hopefully we’ll get a better, fairer person in to do his job. Hopefully.

The redoubtable Tony Greenstein, anti-racist, anti-Fascist and very definitely not an anti-Semite, put up a post yesterday commenting on McNicol’s departure, with the restrained title ‘Rejoice – The Witch is Dead – Crooked McNicol Rides No More’. He gives further information on McNicol’s resignation. Apparently he was given his marching orders on Tuesday. Greenstein also points out that this is just the beginning of making the Labour party’s bureaucracy more just.

But this does give up to everyone libelled, smeared and unfairly expelled, simply for their opposition to the Blairites and their wretched neoliberalism.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/rejoice-witch-is-dead-crooked-mcnicol.html

A Critique of the Critique of Finance: Critics of neoliberal capitalism rarely recognize the productive power of speculation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/02/2018 - 12:46am in

by Martijn Konings

If there is one theme that unites the various critiques of contemporary finance, it is the emphasis on its speculative character. Financial growth is said to be driven not by the logic of efficient markets, but rather by irrational sentiment, “animal spirits” that do not respect fundamental values.
Emphasizing the role of volatility in contemporary capitalism (evident at the time of writing, as the stock market is experiencing a downturn) is important as an antidote to notions of market efficiency and equilibrium. But it is a mistake to think that it provides a sufficient basis for effective critique. Predictions regarding the limits or collapse of neoliberal finance have simply not enjoyed a good track record. Over and over, the contemporary financial system has proven capable of sustaining higher levels of speculative activity than anticipated. This has certainly been true of the past decade. Capital and Time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason is my attempt to make sense of this—that is, to understand what might be wrong or missing in the existing heterodox critique of speculation, and to advance a more accurate understanding of the role of uncertainty, risk, and speculation in contemporary capitalism.
Capital and Time For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason KONINGSAt the heart of the critique of speculation we find a distinction between real and fictitious forms of value. Although “essentialist” (or “foundationalist”) modes of explanation have been under fire across the social sciences for several decades now, when it comes to the critique of finance they have had considerable staying-power: without a notion of real value, it often seems, we lose any objective standard against which to assess the speculative gyrations of capitalist markets.
Capital and Time asks what kind of critical theory we might develop if we bracket the anxious attachment to a notion of fundamental value. To that end, it turns to the work of economist Hyman Minsky. Although Minsky has been popularized precisely as a critic of speculation, he in fact insisted that almost all value judgments and investments were to some degree speculative—their success or failure would be determined in an unknown future. For him, the key economic question is how order emerges in a world that offers no guarantees, how more or less stable standards and norms arise amidst uncertainty.
Of course, the “endogenous” origin of financial standards is a well-rehearsed theme in heterodox economics—indeed, it is a staple of the “post-Keynesian” literature that claims Minsky’s legacy. But such perspectives have never been able to break with the idea that financial stability is at its core dependent on external interventions that suppress speculative impulses. For Minsky, however, this is to miss the point about endogeneity. To his mind, there was no clear dividing line between financial practices and their governance: central banks and other public authorities are no more able to see into the future and to transcend uncertainty than private investors are.
Minsky was therefore highly skeptical about official claims of discretionary precision management: financial governance is always embroiled in the very risk logic that it is charged with managing. That also means that financial policy can appear quite ordinary, even banal: at the heart of capitalist financial management is a logic of backstopping and bailout that responds to the possibility that the failure of an institution may take down wider financial structures.
The stability of the post-New Deal financial system is often attributed to the Glass-Steagall separation of the stock market and commercial banking. But Minsky tended to view Glass-Steagall as one of several measures to direct bank credit away from the stock market towards other, no less speculative ends, notably consumer and mortgage financing. To his mind, the stability of the post-war period derived rather from the creation of an extensive financial safety net (which included, for instance, deposit insurance, which removed the rationale behind bank runs) that served to socialize risk.
This institutional arrangement turned out to have a significant drawback: a pattern of chronic inflation emerged that, by the late 1970s, was widely perceived as a major problem. Minsky’s lack of faith in the possibility of cleanly staged external interventions led him to feel that that there was no real way out of this predicament. Monetarist doctrines, ascendant during the 1970s under the influence of Milton Friedman, relied on exactly the belief in an arbitrarily defined monetary standard that Minsky rejected as naïve. Muddling through, it seemed, was the price of avoiding another financial crash and depression.
The Volcker shock of 1979 changed this dynamic in a way that Minsky had not foreseen but that is comprehensible when seen through the lens he provided us with. Paul Volcker looked to monetarism not as a means to enforce an external limit or standard on the financial system, but as a politically expedient way to break with accommodating policies and to proactively engage the endogenous dynamics of finance. The consequences of the Volcker shock were predictable (which is exactly why the Federal Reserve had been reluctant to pursue similar policies in previous years): inflation gave way to instability and crisis. Inflation was conquered as jobs were lost and wages stagnated. And, far from money being returned to its neutral exchange function, opportunities for speculation multiplied.
The American state was never going to sit idly by as the financial system returned to dynamics of boom and bust: when instability took the form of systemic threats, authorities would bail out the institutions that had overextended themselves. Of course, Volcker would not have been able to predict the specific features of the too-big-to-fail regime as it emerged during the 1980s and evolved subsequently; but the very point of the neoliberal turn in financial management that he had overseen was to create a context where risk could be socialized in ways that were more selective and therefore did not entail generalized inflation.
The inflation of asset values that has been such a marked feature of the past four decades has always been premised centrally on the willingness of authorities to view the “moral hazard” of the too-big-to-fail logic as a policy instrument—even if they may have decried it officially as a regrettable corruption of market principles. Spectacular bailouts, mundane policies to protect the key nodes of the payment systems, the “Greenspan put”, the different iterations of quantitative easing—these are all variations on that basic too-important-to-fail logic.
Existing critical perspectives tend to view crisis and the need for bank bailouts as manifesting the essential incoherence of neoliberal finance, its lack of solid foundations and the irrationality of speculation. Capital and Time breaks with such moralistic assessments. The way deepening inequality and the speculative growth of asset values continue to feed off each other is troubling for any number of reasons, but there is nothing inherently “unsustainable” about it—the process does not have a natural or objective limit.
At this point in time, the critique of speculation does little more than lend credibility to official discourses that present crises as preventable and bailouts as one-off, never-to-be-repeated interventions. In that way, it prevents us from critically relating to a neoliberal reality that has been shaped to its core by the speculative exploitation of risk and uncertainty, and in which regressive risk socialization serves as the everyday logic of financial governance.
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* Martijn Konings is Associate Professor of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of The Emotional Logic of Capitalism and Capital and time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason. This post originally appeared on the Stanford University Press blog

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Mental Health & Neoliberalism event video

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/02/2018 - 9:29pm in

Can today’s crisis in mental health be seen as the result of neoliberalism? We asked the panelists to reflect on the aftermath of the 2007/08 financial crisis and the austerity policies which followed, but then to engage with how the slashing of expenditure on public services and increase in private debt has been met with questions around whether these factors are exacerbating mental health problems.

This event titled, ‘Mental Health and Neoliberalism’, sought to situate the growing awareness of psychological distress in relation to such exogenous cultural and economic structures of oppression, but also examine how new technologies may be amplifying certain self-obsessive psychological states, such as attention and feedback addiction from social media and mobile devices.

Each speaker gave a presentation of their research on this topic, before engaging in a Q&A with the audience.

Event chair: Lucy Crimmens

Panel: Dr William Davies Co-director of Political Economy Research Centre, Goldsmiths University, Author of The Happiness Industry: How the Government sold us well-being

Dr Ruth Cain Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Kent Medical Ethics and Law, Mental Health Law

Dr Jay Watts Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Writer and Activist

Video director & editor: Conor Hinds Flyer & graphic design: Tyler Parry

The post Mental Health & Neoliberalism event video appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Social Media, Authoritarian Capitalism, and Donald Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/02/2018 - 4:13am in

by Christian Fuchs*

In the years from 1986 until 1999, the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party Jörg Haider with the help of anti-immigration slogans, politics as entertainment, a juvenile and dynamic habitus, as well as ridicule of opponents led his party from a voting share of 9.7% in 1986 to a share of 26.9% in 1999. The media helped making Haider and Haider helped the media attracting audiences and sales. Haider was the prototype of the new right’s authoritarian leaders. Twenty years later, Haider is dead and right-wing authoritarianism has awoken to new life. What Ruth Wodak termed “Haiderization” has become a governing political model.
Neoliberal capitalism has brought about its own negative dialectic: Increasing inequalities have backfired and have not just advanced economic crisis, but also the emergence of new nationalisms and the politics of scapegoating immigrants, refugees and other minorities for social problems.
Digital Demagogue Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and TwitterThe result of the combination of authoritarian capitalism and capitalist “social” media is the decline of the public sphere and democracy. The book Digital Demagogue: Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter explains the rise of authoritarian capitalism, nationalism and right-wing ideology in the context of Trump and Twitter. Inspired by the works of Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, it re-invigorates the works on authoritarianism of Franz L. Neumann, Theodor W. Adorno, Erich Fromm, Herbert Marcuse, Max Horkheimer, Wilhelm Reich, Leo Löwenthal, and Klaus Theweleit in the social media age.
Capitalism as a societal formation – shaped by the accumulation by money capital, political power, reputation and attention – is an antagonistic system with immanent crisis potentials. These antagonisms exist between capital and multiple forms of paid and unpaid labour, global flows and localised identities, the invisibility and intransparency of power and the surveillant visibility of citizens and consumers, social insecurities and the securitisation of minorities after 9/11, neoliberal political elites/bureaucrats and citizens, party politics and social movements politics, universalism and particularism, unification and fragmentation, class politics and identity politics, collectivism and individualism, public/common goods and the marketization of everything. We experience a multidimensional economic, political, ideological and environmental crisis. Authoritarian capitalism is emerging out of these complex crises and creates new antagonisms. The communication of nationalism has taken on new forms. The age of authoritarian capitalism is the age of social media, big data and fake news.
During the early days of the World Wide Web, many progressive observers assumed that representatives of the far-right are bad at using new technologies and that they hate the Internet. This assumption has been proven wrong. The Nazis had the Volksempfänger. Today’s far-right leaders are masters of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Propaganda back then was Hitler- and Goebbels-generated content. Today, propaganda is party-generated nationalism from above that inspires user-generated ideology from below.
Far-right demagogues can be found all over the world – offline and online. Let us consider some examples:
The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte, who says ‘Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now, there’s three million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them’, has 4.3 million followers on Facebook. Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, says he’ll ‘eradicate Twitter’, while having more than 12.5 million followers there. India’s nationalist President Narendra Modi is with 43 million followers on Facebook and 40 million on Twitter one of the world’s most visible politicians on social media.
In a country with just nine million inhabitants, Austria’s far-right Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache has around 800,000 Facebook-followers. Hungary’s far-right President Viktor Orbán announces to his 600,000 Facebook-followers the fight against the ‘flood of illegal and law violating migrants’. In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders tweets to 950,000 followers that ‘less Islam is more freedom’. Marine Le Pen tells her 2 million Twitter followers that ‘immigration has weighed down wages’.
The Alternative for Germany tweets: ‘All three minutes a burglary in Germany! Time to act: Control of the nation’s borders and deportation of criminal migrants!’. UKIP’s Nigel Farage has 1.1 million followers on Twitter that he uses for posting messages such as the one that ‘EU migrant policies’ have created ‘the rape capital of Europe’ in Malmö.
Authoritarian capitalism has emerged in different parts of the world. But in these different contexts, it is neither the same nor completely different. Just like there are many capitalisms that are united by capital’s universalising tendency of commodification and exploitation, there is a unity in diversity of authoritarian capitalism. Vivek Chibber speaks of capitalism’s two universalisms that have emerged in the West and the Global South – ‘the universal logic of capital […] and social agents’ universal interest in their well-being, which impels them to resist capital’s expansionary drive. These forces impinge on both East and West, even if they do so with different intensities and in different registers’. Authoritarianism is capitalism’s third universalism, an ever-present potential that emerges at specific points as reaction to the first universalism’s economic, political and cultural contradictions and to the negation of the second universalism. Capitalism’s universalism turns out to be particularistic and shows its ugly face in the form of new nationalisms.
it is a much bigger and more powerful one than his, and my Button worksDonald Trump is not just the world’s most powerful capitalist-turned-president, but with 48 million followers also the most visible far-right Twitter-politician. In addition, 24 million users follow him on Facebook, and 8.4 million on Instagram. Twitter is the capitalist universe of the individualist self: It is a me-centred medium that lives through the accumulation of followers, likes and re-tweets. The custom of liking and re-tweeting on Twitter appeals to Trump’s narcissism. Trump makes use of Twitter for broadcasting 140-character sound bites about what he likes, dislikes, loves, and hates. Reality TV (“The Apprentice”) and Twitter are Trump’s preferred two contemporary formats of public communication. Twitter supports narcissism and Trump’s “first person singular”-politics. Trump constructs himself as the great little man on Twitter.
Trump is a fake news machine. Fake news is as old as tabloid media and capitalist media. What is new about it is that on social media, we find user-generated fake news that are compressed into short tweets, messages, memes, images and videos and circulate at high speed through the globally networked communication environment of social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Automated politics in the form of social media bots creates fake attention so that it becomes difficult to discern what is communicated by humans and what by machines.
For changing the world, we need a New Left. But a New Left also needs frameworks for understanding the world. For changing the world, we therefore need to also interpret it. My book Digital Demagogue takes an approach that combines critical political economy, ideology critique and political psychology for explaining the emergence of authoritarian capitalism and its ideology, organisations, movements and individuals.
There is no automatic connection between one’s economic position and political consciousness. The support of authoritarian movements is not just a matter of class structures and ideological efforts, but also has to do with the history of an individual’s personal, economic, political and cultural socialisation that makes him or her more or less affectually prone to far-right propaganda. Right-wing authoritarianism often intensifies in and after political-economic crises, but also involves conscious ideological projects that try to speak to human’s hopes, fears, desires, and aggressions. A critical theory of authoritarianism and nationalism needs to combine political economy, ideology critique, and political psychology. This was the approach taken by thinkers such as Franz L. Neumann, whose works remain highly topical in the age of Trump and have influenced the approach taken in writing Digital Demagogue.  
The only alternative and way of fighting back is the renewal of the Left under the premise of socialist humanism. Such politics require social reforms and media reforms. We need a socialist-humanist media politics that works towards introducing a participatory media fee, slow media, Club 2.0, the taxation of online advertising and transnational media corporations, outlawing targeted and behavioural political online advertising, the substitution of algorithmic activity by paid human work, the creation of an alternative Internet and a public service Internet, etc.
Authoritarian capitalism serves the few by selling nationalist and racist ideology to the many. And it does so with the help of online tools. We need an Internet and a world that serve the many, not the few. We need socialism and humanism. A new socialist humanism.
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Christian Fuchs is a professor at the University of Westminster and co-editor of the journal tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. He is author of books such as Critical Theory of Communication, Reading Marx in the Information Age, Social Media: A Critical Introduction, OccupyMedia!, Digital Labour and Karl Marx, Foundations of Critical Media and Information Studies, and Internet and Society.
Digital Demagogue: Authoritarian Capitalism in the Age of Trump and Twitter is available in English from Pluto Press [distributed in North America by University of Chicago Press] and in German from VSA Verlag. On March 1, it will be launched at an event in London. 

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Book Review: A Research Agenda for Neoliberalism by Kean Birch

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 14/02/2018 - 10:43pm in

In A Research Agenda for Neoliberalism, Kean Birch seeks to bring clarity to the ubiquitous use of ‘neoliberalism’ as a term in academic and popular discourse, looking at how analysts from across the political spectrum have understood this concept. The book does a valuable job of establishing the contours of existing discussions of neoliberalism, finds Christopher May, and would be an excellent resource for readers within and beyond the academy. 

A Research Agenda for Neoliberalism. Kean Birch. Edward Elgar Publishing. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

Neoliberalism has become a term that is more often used than fully understood in academic discussions, popular writings on the economy and/or the news media. There is a large and growing library of books on the subject, yet still students from undergraduate to PhD level, as well as academics and other commentators, use the term as if we all knew what it meant, and as a catch-all prejudicial accusation levelled at any aspect of the contemporary political economy they find unacceptable or malign.

In this new book, A Research Agenda for Neoliberalism, Kean Birch seeks to do something about this situation. Across three sections, Birch seeks to define neoliberalism, survey the current debates that problematise such attempts at definition and set out three strands for future research. As Birch notes immediately, the book is not intended to be about neoliberalism, but rather how we – by which he means analysts from across the political spectrum – understand neoliberalism. Self-avowedly approaching the subject as someone who is ambivalent about the concept and sceptical of its analytical utility, Birch sets himself the challenge of trying to rescue something of interest from debates about neoliberalism.

Birch first attempts to assemble a history of the idea of neoliberalism. This is made all the harder because those now most often identified by their critics as neoliberals (such as the attendees of the World Economic Forum last month, or Birch argues, economists like Robert Frank or Steven Levitt) generally avoid the term altogether. Birch’s survey of a range of various attempts to establish a – or the – history of neoliberalism leads him to identify eight interweaving strands: the Austrian; British; Chicago (I); Chicago (II); French; Italian/Bocconi; Ordoliberal/Freiburg; and Virginia strands. While some might disagree as to which ‘schools’ really are neoliberal – for instance, there is considerable debate about the fit between ordoliberal approaches and other neoliberalisms – equally this mapping is unlikely to find anyone complaining that a particular element has been omitted. Birch then takes the reader through his explanation of different ways of ‘thinking like a neoliberal’ by exploring how the market is conceived (and facilitated/supported) in various approaches. Central to his account is the neoliberal argument that far from being natural, the market as an economic allocation mechanism needs to be constructed and supported by state actions and, most obviously, legal institutions.

Image Credit: Hong Kong Stock Exchange, 2013 (See-ming Lee CC BY 2.0)

Having established the historical contours of neoliberalism, Birch then moves to examine analyses of neoliberalism. Noting that there is a common tendency (especially in more journalistic accounts) to criticise a neoliberal straw man, he again sorts through the academic literature to find seven main perspectival clusters: Michel Foucault and governmentality; Marxism and class analysis; ideational analysis; the history and philosophy of economics; institutional analysis; state theory and the regulation school; and neoliberalisation, human geography and the processual perspective. Although quite short sub-sections, each contains a useful guide to representative literature and a thumbnail sketch of the analytical commitments shared by those collected together in each cluster. As will be clear from this summary of its first half, the text is certainly an excellent resource, and will provide those with a wide range of books and articles on their shelves with some useful taxonomical hints and tips. However, for the neophyte arriving at neoliberalism having perhaps been mystified by the term’s use, this will have been a swirl of information that may merely cause such a reader to put their head in their hands.

Possibly anticipating this response, Birch’s next chapter discusses the ambiguities and tensions within these debates to try and explain why the field looks how it does. However, as Birch concludes, if you are going to use the term in your writing, it is not now possible to merely shrug and ignore these issues: rather, what is required, as he consistently argues, is a clear understanding of one’s own definition of neoliberalism. At this point, if you have developed a good idea about what you think neoliberalism is and are comfortable with its complexity, you might be wondering what you can do with your newfound appreciation. Therefore, the final section of the book asks what new areas of research into neoliberalism might prove most fruitful and constructive.

Firstly, Birch argues that neoliberalism has a problem with the corporation (and specifically corporate monopolies). While early neoliberals had regarded all monopolies as suspect be they corporate- or labour-based, later neoliberals have focused mainly on the monopoly effects in labour (i.e. unionisation), and have been relatively relaxed about market distortions flowing from monopolistic or oligopolistic corporate control of markets. Rather than lead political economic developments like the rise of the finance sector or the dismantling of anti-trust regulations, neoliberals have actually merely followed a corporate-led agenda of social transformation. Thus, what is required is a much more nuanced and detailed account of how neoliberalism has both been facilitated by the rise of big business, but also how it has legitimated and supported such developments (for instance, via business schools), and why.

Using a similar logic, Birch’s second research theme asks a related set of questions about the normative triumph of entrepreneurship and the (re-)establishment of a rentier economy. Finally, he argues, too often accounts of neoliberalism and the law have focused on the centrality of property rights, when actually what is required is a much more detailed understanding of the role of contract law in modern capitalism and how neoliberals have sought to use contracts as a tool for the depoliticalisation of economic relations.

Overall then, Birch’s book is full of valuable detail and insight: it is hardly a substitute for many of the works he cites, but it does an important job of establishing the contours of the discussion of neoliberalism in such a way that anyone reading it will be unlikely to lapse into the lazy straw man forms of commentary which remain all too evident both within and beyond the academy. While as yet there is no paperback, the (cheaper) e- book would be an excellent purchase for any students on degrees or postgraduate programmes with substantial elements of political economy. As it is, if you are teaching political economy, you would likely find this a remarkably useful book to have on your desk (even at the current hardback price).

Christopher May is Professor of Political Economy at Lancaster University, UK. His most recent book is Global Corporations in Global Governance (Routledge 2015) and he is currently editing The Edward Elgar Research Handbook on The Rule of Law (2017). He has published widely on the interaction between law and political economy, and wrote the first independently authored study of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Read more by Christopher May.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Amendment: The review was amended on 17 February 2018. The original post did not acknowledge the existence of an e-book version; this was changed. 


May’s Speech to Rich Tory Donors: This Is What the Lollards Warned You About

Sunday is the Christian holy day, so I thought I’d include here a particularly relevant piece of radical Christian polemic against the rich and powerful and their neglect and oppression of the poor from the 15th century.

A few days ago Mike put up a piece reporting Theresa May’s speech at a fundraising banquet for rich Tory donors. To get in, you had to pay £15,000 for a ticket. The long reign of Thatcherite neoliberalism in this country has led to a massive transfer of wealth from the poorer sections of society – the working and lower middle classes – upwards to the extremely rich. Thatcher, and her fanboys and -girls – have cut and privatised benefits and services to the poor, with the specific intention of making the bloated rich even richer, though tax cuts, massive subsidies, and exploiting the very state industries, that they have privatised and sold to them.

The Lollards were a proto-Protestant sect of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, who followed the teachings of the Yorkshire priest and reformer, John Wycliffe. Wycliffe was disgusted by the corruption of the church and society in his day. He advocated the Bible in English, holy scripture as the only source for religious authority, clerical marriage and proper concern for the poor. And he and his followers were bitterly critical of the friars, as they were generally perceived to have neglected their vocation of teaching and preaching Christianity to focus on serving the rich for their own material gain.

The text here is ‘The Perversion of the Works of Mercy’, which inveighs against the way Christ’s commandment to feed, give drink, and clothe poor people, and visit those in prison, as well as other holy works, have been so corrupted so that those, who feign moral rectitude and Christian charity now spend their time doing this for the rich and powerful instead. Here’s an extract. You should be able to understand the late medieval spelling and vocabulary.

Hou Sathanas [Satan] and his children turnen werkis of mercy upsodoun and discyven men therinne and in here five wyttis.

First Crist comaundith men of power to fede hungry pore men. The fiend and his techen to make costy festis and waste many goodis on lordis and riche men and so suffer pore men sterve and perishe for hunger and other myschevys. Ye, men that feynen hem [them] ful of charite and religion gadren proper goodis to hemselven and festen dlicatly lordis and laides and riche men and suffer here pore brethren begge for meschef and fare ful harde.

Crist comaundith to yeve drynk to thrusty [thirsty] [men] and wymmen. The fiend and his techen to puveye high wyn and spised ale and strong for riche men and lordis to make hem drunken and chide and fighte and foryete God and his lawe, and to suffer pore, that han nought of hore owene and may not labore for febilnesse or sikenesse and blyndenesse drynke water and falle in feveris or ellis perische.

Crist comaundith to clothe nakyd men and wymmen whanne thei han noght of here owene. Thereto the fend and his techen to yeve costly clothis and manye to riche men and mynstralis and shavaldours {Northern slang for robbers] for worldly name and suffer pore men have nakid sidis and schakynge lippis and hondis for cold that woo is hemwith the lif. Ye, prelatis and men singular religion, that taken the charge to ben procuratouris and dispenderis of pore mennus liflode, clothen fatte horsis with gaie sadlies and bridles and mytris and croceris with gold and silver and precious stonys, and suffren pore men and children perische for cold. And yit these prelatis and newe religious comen in staat of Cristis povert and his apostlis, and techen and crien that whatever thei han is pore mennus goode. Yit riche men closen dede stockis and stonys with precious clothis, with gold and silver and perlis and gaynesse to the world, and suffren pore men goo sore acold and at moche meschefe.

Crist trechith to herberwe [harbour, accommodate] pore men that han non houses ne penby to peye for here innys [inns, lodging]. The fend and his techen to herberwe riche men and lordis with grete cost and deyitte for worldly worschipe and suffer pore men wander in stormys and slepe with the swyn and many tymes suffer not hem come withinne here yatis, and so to fynde many excusacions and coloure this doynge, Ye, ypocritis of privat religion maken grete houses and costy and gaily peyntid more than kyngis and lordis bi sotil beggynge and confessions and trentalise and mayntenynge of synne, and herberwe lordis and riche men, and namely ladies, and suffer more men lie withouten or geten houslewth at pore men or ellis perische for wedris and cold.

Crist techeth to visite sike men and counforte hem and helpe hem of sustenaunce. The fend and his techen to visiten riche me, lordis and ladies in here prosperite and lykynge to be holden kynde [high born] and curteis, and to comforte eche other in synne and to have lustis of glottonye, lecherie and other schrewidnessis; but of pore men that ben beddrede and couchen in muk or dust is litel thought on or noght. Yit ypocritis of feyned religion vistien not fadirles children and modirles [motherless] and widewise in here tribulacion, and kepe not hemself unbleckid fro this world as Seynt James techith; but visite off riche men and wymmen and namely riche widewis [widows] for to gete world muk by false deceitis and carien it home to Caymes’ {Cain’s] castelis and Anticristis covent [convents] and Sathanas children and marteris [martyrs] of glotonye.

Crist techith to visit men in prison and helpe to delyvere hem in good manere and counforte hem bi almes-yevinge. The fend and his prresonen pore men for dette whanne thi ben not at power to paie and traveil night and day and liven ful harde and toylen with trewthe and susteynen wif and children…

From Middle English Religious Prose, edited by N.F. Blake (London: Edward Arnold 1972) pp. 239-41.

Clearly, this is a piece of sectarian polemic, and isn’t entirely fair. Historians have pointed out that the church was suffering serious poverty and neglect the time, which affected many of the lower clergy and monastic institutions, so that they simply weren’t in any position to perform their Christian duties of aiding the poor themselves.

And my point here is not to attack the Roman Catholic church, as I know many ordinary Catholics and Roman Catholic clergy are deeply involved in caring for the poor. But simply to make the point that the issues the Lollards inveighed against are still present and embodied in the Tory party and people like Tweezer. In the Middle Ages, it was the church that had the function of providing whatever welfare services there were to the poor, as well as the personal charity of great lords. But since Thatcher, public institutions and the welfare state – the modern, secular equivalents of these religious institutions, have been run down for the profit of the rich.

And there’s also a distinct religious parallel here too, though it’s with the evangelical Christian Right and their prosperity gospel. Tweezer is a vicar’s daughter, who claims that when she was a child she was a ‘goody two-shoes’. Lobster has pointed out just how many right-wing Christians gathered around IDS and now Damian Greene in the DWP. The evangelical Right in America believe that God doesn’t want you to be poor, for whom they have nothing but contempt. One particularly self-righteous Republican politico – it might have been Ted Cruz – even declared that the poor should be taxed more. ‘Because it’s what Christ would have wanted’. No, and this moron should read the Gospels before opening his mouth.

And I’m still furious at the way a large number of right-wing pastors made it clear that they didn’t care if one Republican candidate was guilty of molesting underage girls. He stood for their values, which were for the rich, and against the poor. And, of course, gays. Which shows how selective their concern over changes and violation of traditional sexual morality is.

These hypocrites have done as much harm to Christianity as Dawkins and the militant atheists. Many of the atheist polemicists are socially conscious people, whose rejection of religion is partly based on the way the religious don’t live up to their ideals. And as history has shown, and these pratts continue to show, all too often the atheists have been right in this criticism.

And in there moral condemnation of the fawning over the rich at the expense of the poor, the Lollards were right. And this text from six hundred years ago shows up the Tory party and its hypocritical supporters in the Christian religious right as it is today.

Lobster 75 Is Up With My Book Review on British Pro-Nazis and Nazis during World War II

I put up a post this morning about a book I’ve reviewed for Lobster, the conspiracy/parapolitics magazine, of Richard Griffiths ‘What Did You Do in the War?’ on the activities of the British Fascist and pro-Nazi right from 1940 to 1945. This has been rather late being posted, as the webmaster is very busy with work. I am very pleased to say that it has now gone up, along with the first parts of Lobster 75, the new issue of the magazine for summer 2018. The magazine comes out twice yearly.

Apart from my article, there is editor Robin Ramsay’s own column and roundup of news of interest to parapolitics watchers, ‘The View from the Bridge’, Garrick Alder on how Richard Nixon also tried to steal documents covering his lies and crimes in Vietnam, and his sabotage of the 1968 peace talks years before the Watergate scandal. Part II of Nick Must’s article on using the UK Foia. There is also a review of Jeffrey M. Bale’s book The Darkest Parts of Politics, which is an extensive examination of corruption, violence, terror committed by governments and political organisations around the world; And John Newsinger’s devastating review of Gordon Brown’s My Life, Our Times. Brown’s book is intended to present him as some kind of lefty, but Newsinger shows that instead Brown was a consistent supporter of Blair’s neoliberalism, who had no qualms about sucking up to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre, with whom he is still friends. He also wanted to impose a graduate tax following Blair’s imposition of student fees. He also argues that Brown’s protestations of innocence about the claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction is similarly unconvincing. Brown claimed that MI6 lied to them. Newsinger argues instead that either Brown’s very naïve, or he’s also lying. And he shows how the humiliation the British army has suffered in Basra in Iraq and Afghanistan was due to cuts imposed by New Labour. Oh yes, and Brown’s also a close friend of Benjamin Netanyahu, the right-wing maniac now running the Israeli government and ethnically cleansing the Palestinians.

He also argues that if Brown had won the 2010 election, austerity would now be imposed by a New Labour government, there would be a state visit arranged for Donald Trump – Brown recently went over there to give a very sycophantic speech to Congress, as well as more privatisation, more cuts to welfare services, and the graduate tax.

Lobster 75 is at https://www.lobster-magazine.co.uk/issue75.php.

Please read, if you’re interested in knowing what’s really going on behind the lies of the lamestream press.

Calling for Resistance: the Electronic Panopticon of Call Centers and the Neoliberal Future of Work

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 06/02/2018 - 2:45am in

by Jamie Woodcock*

For Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres, I spent six months working undercover in a call centre in the UK. Taking inspiration from workers’ inquiry – a Marxist method of co-research that combines knowledge production with organising – the aim was to understand how work is organised in call centres and how workers resist in this context.
A major difficulty with this kind of critical research on work is gaining access. The only way to do so was by going undercover, experiencing the call centre from the perspective of the labour process itself. Over the six months of ethnography, the book details the day-to-day experience of the work, the management techniques, the different moments of resistance, along with attempts to organise. It also includes the serendipitous discovery of finding another researcher in the workplace, although in this case a consultant hired for a very different purpose. This poses important questions about the politics of research, particularly within contexts like workplaces with antagonistic social and economic relationships.
Working the Phones control and resistance in call centersThe call centre that is the focus of the book was an outbound sales call centre. It shared the same conditions found in many call centres, a sector in which it is estimated around one million workers are employed in the UK. Most of the work at this call centre involved calling large numbers of people to try and sell life insurance. Although given the sales encounters were scripted, the product being sold really could have been anything. However, despite the scripting, the process of selling over the phone requires workers add emotions and humour to convince people to buy. This form of affective labour places new kinds of demands on workers to perform.
These demands are experienced in a context of control and surveillance. Call centres in general have become synonymous with technological forms of management. This specific call centre was target driven, with digitally recorded all phone calls, timed each part of the work to the second (including breaks), TV screens with real-time comparisons of worker performance, while backing these up with weekly one-to-one meetings with supervisors. The book returns to the analogy of the electronic Panopticon – the application of Bentham and Foucault’s writing on the architectural prison model – and its usefulness for analysing discipline and control in the call centre. The model remains useful for drawing attention to different processes of surveillance, although they are articulated through the exploitative relationships of work.
The risk of focusing on the methods of technological surveillance and control, along with the precarious contracts that offered almost no employment protection, is that the agency of the workers themselves can be greatly understated. The popular understanding of call centres – and one shared by many trade unionists – is that these are workplaces with particularly bad conditions, structural barriers to collectively organising, and remarkably high levels of turnover. These features were shared in the call centre, but over the six months a range of different moments of resistance emerged. These would have been difficult to notice without working undercover. These points of contestation were relatively closed acts of resistance, but provided the building blocks for collective organising.
In addition to these different moments of resistance, the problem of high turnover is reconsidered. Rather than seeing this feature as a structural barrier to organising, it is reconceived as an active expression of the refusal of work. After all, leaving work without permission is the first part of a strike – the difference here is that most workers do not see any value in setting demands that would have to be met before they returned. The later parts of the book discuss an attempt at organising alongside other workers, considering how forms of successful precarious organisation can emerge from the labour process in this kind of work.
The book focuses on a specific kind of work, albeit one that has become symptomatic of the shift from industrial labour to service work. For call centres, particularly outside of London in the UK, this often involves the setting up of operations in the shells of old industrial or mining warehouses. The high stress, low pay, and precarious contracts found in call centres are becoming increasingly common across different types of work. Similarly, the spread of technological methods of surveillance and control in call centres took place comparatively early because of the integration of telephones and computers, but are increasingly being applied in new contexts.
The call centre is therefore both a product of neoliberalism, but also an early testing ground for new managerial techniques. Analysing how these methods were introduced in call centres, along with the ways they have been resisted, is an important part of understanding the future of work. These methods are being utilised extensively in the so-called “gig economy”, with GPS-enabled technologies of control allowing companies like Uber and Deliveroo to manage dispersed and precarious workforces. Working the Phones provides a snapshot of the conditions of a call centre and the ways workers can resist, but it also attempts to pose a broader argument: there is a pressing need for more critical research on work. This kind of research needs to start from the point, as Marx argued in his call for A Workers’ Inquiry, that:

“workers… alone can describe with full knowledge the misfortunes form which they suffer and that only they, and not saviors sent by providence, can energetically apply the healing remedies for the social ills which they are prey.”

———————————-
* Dr. Jamie Woodcock is a fellow at the LSE. He is the author of Working The Phones, a study of a call centre in the UK inspired by the workers’ inquiry. His current research involves developing this method in co-research projects with Deliveroo drivers and other digital workers in the so-called gig economy. He is on the editorial board of Historical Materialism.

***
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Fabian Pamphlet From the 1980s: What Women Want are Left-Wing Policies

For a very brief period in the 1980s I was a member of the Fabian Society. The other day I managed to dig out of my collection of old Fabian pamphlets one by Patricia Hewitt and Deborah Mattinson, entitled Women’s Votes: the Key to Winning, published in 1989.

I haven’t read it yet, but the first page, in the introduction, astonished me by completely challenging the received wisdom about women’s voting preferences. As Hewitt and Mattinson point out, women have been considered far more Conservative politically than men. But at the last general election (1987), they supported the Labour party and left-wing policies just as much as men. The Introduction runs

The Labour Party needs women’s votes in order to win the next election. The evidence suggests that these votes can be won but the Party must persuade women that it will not only stand by it values but also carry out its policies when in government.

Until quite recently, it was accepted political wisdom tht women were more conservative than men. Within the labour movement, women voters were widely blamed for electing Mrs Thatcher and it was believed that a future Labour victory would depend more on men than on women.

Before the 1987 general election, the Conservatives generally did better amongst women than amongst men. The reverse was true for Labour. There was a ‘gender gap’, and it worked in the Tories’ favour.

That has now changed. In 1987 Labour closed the gender gap for the first time. There is good evidence for believing that, in future, Labour will do better amongst women voters than amongst men.

We start by looking at the 1987 and 1983 voting patterns to analyse Labour’s relative strength amongst women and men, and amongst different groups of women. We then look in more detail at women’s and men’s values and attitudes, drawing on recent opinion polling and qualitative research, including a series of small discussion groups undertaken especially for the Fabian Society and reported in this pamphlet.

Next we examine attitudes to issues and suggest the policy areas on which Labour should concentrate, before turning to proposals for how Labour can become more representative of women. Finally, we briefly consider unplublished and published material from Australia and the USA, where the Australian Labor Party and the American Democrats are reaching similar conclusions to our own.

The evidence strongly suggests that women voters are more likely to share and respond to Labour’s values than men. They are more likely to vote for an ‘enabling’ state which intervenes to protect the environment, regulate business and industry, redistribute income and wealth, provide a high level of social and welfare services, and promote greater equality between women and men. Increasingly, women are Labour’s natural constituency. (Emphasis mine.)

This bears out the ideology behind much of the right-wing, Conservative, and Libertarian misogyny in the US. The Libertarians, right-wing Republicans like Anne Coulter, and the Fascists in the Alt-Right, would like to deprive women of the vote partly because they see them as more left-wing than men, and more willing to expand the power of the state. Which challenges their notion of freedom under classical liberal economics, in which the ideal state is that of the mid-19th century.

It also shows why millions of women did not vote for Killary. For all Clinton’s promotion of herself as a feminist representing women, she signally did not. She was a bog-standard, corporatist politician and foreign policy hawk. Her gender made absolutely no difference whatsoever to the policies she promoted and espoused. She was far too right-wing for many American women, who voted with their feet. And they did so not because they were told to by their husbands and boyfriends, as Killary later claimed, or because of misogyny by nonexistent ‘Bernie Bros’.

The same goes for the female Blairites in the Labour party. They’re simply a continuation of Blair’s pro-corporate, neoliberal programme, which was basically just reheated Thatcherism with sickly grin. The comments by some of these female faux ‘moderates’ that they will be even harder on the unemployed than the Tories is not going to impress ordinary working women, already doing the worst paid jobs and, like working men, suffering from precarious unemployment conditions.

And this shows how desperate and threadbare the corporate, mainstream media has been in pushing the narrative that the Labour party under Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders’ supporters in the Democrats in America, are misogynists. Because they aren’t, and the neoliberal entryists know it. Hence too the portrayal by some of these corporatist women to draw a difference between themselves, representing the glorious middle-class, pro-woman future, and male-dominated, working class Old Labour.

The truth is, women seem to be more left-wing than corporatist, neoliberal shills like Hillary Clinton, Angela Eagle and the rest of the post-Blair faction in the Labour party. And its frightening them, and the rest of the Right-wing establishment. And so we’re left with stupid lies about misogyny and intimidation from them and the corporate media.

Alan Blinder on Fiscal Adjustment

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 03/02/2018 - 5:29am in

Alan Blinder published recently two columns on the WSJ (here and here) on the need to exercise fiscal restraint. In both cases he complains that the fiscal deficit is too large. Note that he is not saying that this is always the case, he emphasizes that in the second and most recent piece. The reason, as always, is that we are close to full employment. In his words:

"... today we are back at full employment, or perhaps beyond it, ad economic growth kooks solid. The economy doesn't need fiscal stimulus."

Blinder one must note was strongly for hiking rates in the mid to late 1990s, when he was the vice chairperson at the Fed, exactly for the same reasons (see this old piece in The American Prospect).  So at least he is coherent. We cannot grow too fast, since that would cause inflation. And we have a tendency to be at full employment (note that a few years back almost everybody said full employment, the natural rate, was about 6%, not the 4% or so we have). But if he is coherent, he has also been almost always wrong.

And we are not at full employment. The employment-population ratio (seen below) has finally started to recover in the last three years, but it is still well below the peak before the recession, and the participation rate (not shown but available here) has been stagnant.
That means that too many people remain discouraged about the situation in the labor market, and that when we look at broader measures of unemployment that look at those marginally attached to the labor market the level of unemployment is closer to 8% (see here). And let's not forget that the last two decades saw an impressive decline in manufacturing jobs that reduced the availability of good jobs. So the issue is not just the number of jobs, but the quality of those. It should NOT be a surprise that Trump won in some Rust Belt states.

Dems, and their economists (like Blinder), should be more sensible about the need to create more jobs, and particularly good jobs if they want to regain the White House and Congress. I would suggest that austerity is a terrible strategy. This is what you should expect from the Progressive-Neoliberal branch of the party, as it was aptly called by Nancy Fraser.

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