The holiday of exchange value

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/04/2020 - 8:23pm in

Many markets are on hold, as societies such as ours fight the pandemic. But how else might things be valued, and how much of that alternative could survive when economic normality returns?


The primary economic fact about the coronavirus crisis is how it has brought existing class divisions into much sharper light. The New York Times expressed things most succinctly:

A kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.

For those of us who find themselves in the middle of these three categories, there is a mixture of deep frustration with the monotony of the situation, with relief and gratitude that we do not find ourselves confronting the hazards of those in the third of them. None of what I write here discounts how many people remain locked into capitalist markets (especially in the United States), only now with their health on the line. But it remains worth reflecting on how the world looks once market-based exchange is no longer the primary yardstick of value, as many people have been doing from across the political spectrum.

The starting point of the ‘new’ economic sociology that developed out of social network analysis in the United States during the 1980s, around the example of Harrison White and the landmark papers of Mark Granovetter, was that markets aren’t ’embedded’ in society (as Polanyians like to argue), but that markets are social institutions. Granovetter showed this most famously with labour markets, but any market is amenable to this approach, and the emergence of ‘social studies of finance’ in the late 1990s was also indebted to the ‘new’ economic sociology, via Michel Callon.

The social character of markets has become visceral and undeniable in 2020. The physical act of buying groceries has become fraught with risk of contagion between buyer and seller, and amongst themselves; the social nature of markets for entertainment, food and drink has meant that entire small business and cultural sectors have had to be closed down, at least temporarily; anyone who can avoid ‘going to work’ now does so. The crisis has made it impossible to ignore that the exchange of goods for money, and of labour for money, bring people into often sustained social contact with one another. For this reason, it has had to be cancelled, limited or digitised wherever possible. As a result, we have been shown quite how far things were from 1990s  predictions of ‘virtualism’ and ‘the death of distance’, though are also now belatedly hastening their advance.

Because markets are social, and not as neo-classical economics imagines, they have had to be ‘furloughed’. With the caveat of where I started, this has created the surreal experience and spectacle of exchange value – the value represented by the price system – going on holiday for a while. Marx argued that commodities (things which are produced solely to be sold) exert a kind of mystical hold on our consciousness, resulting in a situation where we come to believe that material things possess greater autonomy than human beings. But with many spheres of exchange suspended, this spell is briefly broken: things and humans are now on an equal footing, albeit equally trapped. This is witnessed both in consumption and production, with some undeniably positive effects.

Beyond exchange

For those middle classes “marooned at home with restless children”, the overwhelming question is what to do with all this time, when it can’t be used on going out, consuming and forms of social exchange. Streaming and video games pick up a lot of the slack. But other alternatives to consumerism have had to be found, which often morph into production: cycling, baking, gardening, creative activities. During this exchange value holiday, in amongst the tedium and the stress, I occasionally find myself feeling unexpectedly moved by or grateful for something ordinary and free but nevertheless valuable: a piece of music on the radio, good weather, the new blossom on the trees. The environmentalist demand that we abandon consumerism for post-materialist or ecological values is being heard more widely. The tragedy of being unable to use public parks fully is especially hard to bear at this time.

Then there is the question of how to value work, once the labour market is no longer the main basis for the distribution of social recognition, and the state has effectively nationalised much of it. Capitalist societies are now virtually united in recognition of the fact that workers in essential services, such as supermarkets, postal, care work, utilities mainteance and above all health, have been taken for granted and underpaid for too long. The distinction between these jobs and many of the ‘bullshit’ ones that David Graeber criticises now appears plain. Pay differentials can be debated and criticised more openly and widely under these circumstances, and it seems a uniquely good opportunity to raise the question of progressive tax increases on income and wealth, as Thomas Piketty has sought to do over the past few years. For the time being, there is a palpable sense of solidarity between public and ‘essential’ workers, and it is worth trying to remember how it feels.

It’s not just markets that have lost their grip on society, but instruments of neoliberal modernisation as well. The most significant of these is clearly the ideology of welfare reform, which since the 1980s has assumed that the key problem facing the welfare state is ‘dependency’ and fraud. Where the typical claimant is morally framed as lazy and deceitful, that shapes the entire architecture of the benefit system, and was pivotal to the justification of austerity from 2010 onwards. But with that moral imaginary destroyed (at least for the time being), other ways of conceiving mutual dependence and vulnerability come to the fore, as witnessed in the widespread demand for a universal basic income. Once ‘dependency’ and fraud cease to be non-negotiable problems to be solved (because dependency is universal, and fraud vanishingly rare), new vistas open up for policy reform.

In addition to this, it has also struck me how parents have responded to primary school closures (I think secondary schools may be a different issue for various reasons). Amongst the considerable difficulties of being stuck at home with small children, finding them things to do, supporting them emotionally and so on, nobody I know has expressed any real concern about their educational progress. This is partly a middle class privilege, of feeling confident that one has enough time and informal ‘cultural capital’ to sustain one’s child, but it also reveals that a great deal of the ‘progress’ established in primary schools under neoliberalism is of relative value, not absolute value. It is all about measuring children relative to their classmates and measuring schools relative to other schools – i.e. it’s about competition, not flourishing. When the competition ceases for a time, there is no intrinsic concern for a child’s well-being, indeed there may be opportunities to expand a child’s horizons beyond the demands of SATs.

But this exchange value holiday still leaves two questions unresolved. Firstly, what will be the valuation scheme that fills the void? And secondly, how much of that valuation scheme will survive, when the holiday ends?

Capturing use value

Many have made the analogy between the present crisis and wartime economies, where market values (prices) are subordinated to use values. The example of the First World War indicated to the Austrian philosopher Otto Neurath that ‘calculation in kind’ (focused on the qualitative of things) could be more efficient than monetary calculation, spawning the ‘socialist calculation debate’ that later inspired the development of new, neoliberal defences of the free market. A similar precedent is being set today, where medical equipment needs producing at a rate that the market will not support. It places huge strains on state capacity to manage aspects of production and distribution that it has spent much of the past fifty years trying to distance itself from.

Alternatively, James Meadway has suggested that the problem is the opposite of that presented by war. War required an escalation of overall economic production (leading to new interest in GDP, as an indicator of collective potential), whereas the difficulty now is to de-escalate or de-mobilise people. It’s the switching off of most of the economy that is the central policy challenge. But even so, this still casts a critical perspective on the problem of what and who do we need, while the hiatus is underway. Some version of ‘socialist calculation’ is required, whether we are trying to put far more people to work in the national interest, or far fewer.

For the time being, the definition of ‘essential’ services and work has emerged fairly haphazardly, as one would expect. We all recognise we need to eat and be kept alive. Children and the infirm need to be cared for. From this kernel of instinct, a clumsy sort of new political economy has emerged. What’s happening is the fleshing out of a Polanyian vision that many on the Left (such as Nancy Fraser) have been asserting with increasing vigor since the Global Financial Crisis. See, for example, CRESC’s 2013 Manifesto for the Foundational Economy, which sought to build outwards from those services (in public and private sector) which we cannot do without and cannot be off-shored.

Alongside this, there really ought to be a yet more vigorous challenge to the levels of inequality in a society such as Britain. It’s now well-known that, once their needs are met, people start to care more about status (a relative measure) than absolute welfare, and that life satisfaction ceases to correlate to income above around £70,000. It’s also known that comparatively rich people can feel just as aggrieved (and Brexit would suggest even more so!) by the relative gains of those above them, as poor people can. For these various reasons, a smaller spread of income inequality produces less resentment overall. Instead, inequality should be sufficient to reflect some differentials in social status. This issue was confronted by Robin Blackburn when considering the future of socialism after communism, where he argued that entrepreneurship is entirely conceivable in a society organised around social need: “In a generally egalitarian socialist society quite small differences of pay could be quite highly valued by certain individuals.”

Then there is the rediscovery of Adam Smith’s basic insight, later abandoned by economics, that if markets are social institutions, then they must also be moral institutions. Once one’s attachment to a local pub, sole-trader or shop is represented in social terms, then it also comes to appear like one of mutual dependency and sympathy. Everything that economists consigned as ‘externalities’ to the price system is suddenly essential to our economy. For the time being, the obligation to keep paying people where possible, regardless of such crude concepts as ‘consumer satisfaction’ or ‘value for money’, has become a moral norm. Sympathy for the check-out assistant or the bin collector has become normalised. Amongst everything else, we are witnessing the boundary between charity and the market, the gift and the exchange, dissolving in all the ways that economic anthropologists have long tried to point out.

There is, however, a rival system, that one shouldn’t bet against. This is provided by a combination of the platform economy with the generalised forms of credit rating, that Michel Feher sees as the accidental achievement of neoliberalism. The new architecture of digital surveillance that has been built over the past 15 years means that it is technically possible to quantify the ‘value’ of individuals, independently of their market value as wage laborers. The dystopian statist version of this is the Chinese ‘social credit score’; the dystopian capitalist version of it is extreme financialisation, in which all social behaviour is judged in terms of what it reflects of an individual’s ‘credit-worthiness’. Either way, moral reputation (honesty, industry, citizenship, you name it) can be rendered calculable, once data is being scraped from all manner of interfaces without limit.

In practice, we can already see how dependent we are on platforms such as Amazon, Whatsapp and Facebook, and how much more dependent we become once non-digital markets and spaces are restricted. These are truly social utilities, which ought in principle to make them targets for collective ownership. But with their unprecedented calculative and surveillance capacities, they also offer a corporate-led alternative to neoliberalism (as I discuss in this paper), which renders ‘social value’ calculable in the ways that Neurath hoped socialism would do in the 1920s, but which free marketeers have always denied is possible. Platform social-ism is an entirely viable future model for our economy, which may alleviate a social crisis but exacerbate a democratic one.

When the holiday’s over

We probably all recognise the feeling of being on holiday and planning a new start upon returning. I’m going to write a novel! I’m going to get into avant-garde music! I’m going to start volunteering! Unlike many holidays, the current crisis will not leave everything as it is, but we should be wary of trusting our present affective states, hopes and critiques as a guide to the world that will emerge in due course. One of the only certainties is that it will be collectively poorer, at least financially, for most liberal democracies. The fact that the state becomes more active during an emergency tells us nothing about whether that activity is desirable or how it will behave afterwards.

But there are small sources of hope nevertheless. Firstly, this talk of ‘essential workers’, clapping the NHS and new way of seeing low-wage service sector employees will leave some kind of residue. One of the more useful insights provided by behaviour change experts is that behaviours often drive norms, not the other way around – if you ban smoking in public places, people then become more anti-smoking in their attitudes. The present emergency has forced a vast behaviour change programme upon the country, through closing schools, restaurants and public events. Any change of norms is happening in its wake. This means that the difference between the bus-driver (risking their life for £10.20/hour) and the advertising exec (producing fake needs for twenty times that) is writ large in actions, and not merely being spoken of.

The fact that elite liberal institutions, such as The Financial Times, are now expressing views that border on socialism will also be significant. Unlike the stream of nonsense that emanates from Donald Trump, these sorts of statements can’t be so easily denied or reversed in the future. At the very least, they (alongside the current emergency labour market policies) will become markers or data-points that can be used in the future, making it impossible to argue that certain policies are ‘nice but unrealistic’. Ideologies work by presenting themselves as non-negotiable. Once they’ve been shown to be malleable, the logic of ‘no alternative’ ceases to work rhetorically.

Equally, a vast number of people suddenly understand more about their own dependency and vulnerability, in ways that will have been stressful and therefore unforgettable. This isn’t to say that this is ‘good for people’, far from it, but simply that attitudes towards things like the welfare state and taxation could conceivably shift in a way that is more forgiving of people’s weaknesses. The visceral and local dimensions of this crisis mean that it isn’t merely a matter of ‘ideas’ and ‘policy’, and the way out of it won’t be found through some shift in intellectual hegemony (of the sort that led to the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s). Nor is the pain easily contained in specific groups (such as students and benefit claimants, as George Osborne sought to do after 2010). The market will eventually return as one of the central ways in which people engage in public space and public life, but the monopoly of exchange value over social values may be a little harder to restore.

The post The holiday of exchange value appeared first on Political Economy Research Centre.

Keir Starmer Now Leader of the Labour Party and the Omens Are Not Good

Saturday was Jeremy Corbyn’s last day as the leader of the Labour Party. He stepped down with good grace, sending Labour members a letter thanking them for their support and looking back on his achievements. Although he never won an election, they were considerable. In 2017 he came within a cat’s whisker of achieving power. Decades of Thatcherite neoliberal dogma were vociferously challenged by a leader who believed in its ordinary members, and in actually doing something for the working class. He put renationalisation back on the table, as well as restoring union power, better working conditions and employment rights, and a properly funded NHS. And he gave people hope. Hundreds of thousands of people, who had left or perhaps never been members, flocked to join Labour under his leadership so that it became the biggest socialist party in Europe. And the situation with the Tories was reversed. Previously the Tories had been easily the biggest political party in terms of membership. But they’ve been hemorrhaging members due to their leadership’s absolute refusal to listen to them, rather than the corporate donors that are actually keeping the party afloat. Tory membership dwindled as Labour expanded.

This terrified the Tories, and the Blairites in the Labour party, who could feel their hold in power slipping away. So they began a campaign of vicious personal vilification and smearing. Corbyn, a man of peace and fervent anti-racist, was misrepresented as an anti-Semite and friend of terrorists. Corbyn’s own programme was pretty much the Old Labour centre ground, but he was presented as an extremist, a Trotskyite, or Stalinist Commie. He frightened the corrupt Jewish establishment through his support for the Palestinians, and so they fell back on their old tactic of smearing any and all critics of Israel as anti-Semites. He was repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism and his supporters purged from the party on charges that would not stand up in a formal court of law. The Blairites fully participated in this. Whenever the Beeb or the rest of the Tory media needed someone to attack Corbyn, a Blairite could be found to scream and shout baseless accusations. They tried to split the party, overthrow him in coups, but the mass walkout they tried to engineer never happened. One of their coup attempts was so shambolic it was derisively called ‘the chicken coup’. The new, centrist party they tried to set up was a joke from the start. It gathered little more than a few members, before fizzling out.

But these campaigns had their effect. Labour lost heavily at the last election. The key issue was Brexit, with people in the north and midlands voting for the Tories because of Boris’ promise to get Brexit done. Labour’s policies of welfare improvement and renationalisation were still immensely popular,  but the abuse, lies and personal attacks had done their work. The public hated Corbyn, but if you asked them why, they couldn’t tell you. Which shows the malignant power of a mendacious, corrupt and despicable mass media.

Corbyn and his deputy, John McDonnell, have stepped down, and the party has instead replaced him with Keir Starmer as leader and Angela Rayner as deputy. It’s a lurch to the right, back to the Blairite status quo ante. Starmer has many admirable qualities. He is known for his pro bono work as a human rights lawyer, in which he took on cases for nothing. One of his clients was Doreen Lawrence, who gave him her support for his efforts on her and her former husband’s behalf trying to get their son’s killer to face justice. Starmer’s victory was almost a foregone conclusion. The press made much of the fact that he was the favourite from the first round of voting, with the support of many of the trade unions and local constituency parties.

But Starmer is a Blairite. He has promised to keep to the manifesto promises drawn up by Corbyn’s team, but it’s doubtful whether this can be trusted. As a Blairite, his instinct will be to pull the party further right – to what is mistakenly called ‘the centre ground’. He will probably jettison the promises about nationalisation, workers’ rights, a welfare state that actually gives people enough to live on, and a properly funded NHS in order to return to Blair’s tactics of triangulation. That meant finding out what the Tories were doing, then copy it. He will most likely purge the party of left-wingers, leaving it the much smaller, Tory-lite party created by Blair. And like Blair he will grovel to Murdoch and the rest of the press. Mike put up an article voicing these predictions a few days ago, and I’m very much afraid that it does look as if that’s what he’s going to do. And he won’t win back the voters Labour lost in the midlands and north. They wanted Brexit, and they turned against Labour when Starmer and his supporters insisted that it should be Labour’s policy to hold another referendum about Brexit.

There are already indications that this is the way he will go. He’s appointed to a cabinet place the odious Rachel Reeves, who has declared that Labour shouldn’t be a party for the unemployed. She announced that Labour was founded by working people, for working people, and so in power would be harder on the unemployed than the Conservatives. Well, when Labour had that attitude before the War, back in the last century, it set up what were basically forced Labour camps for the unemployed. Does she want a return to that? Or just have more people starve, as they are under the Tories.

He has also made the disastrous decision to kowtow to the Zionist organisations promoting the anti-Semitism smears. All of the candidates signed up to the demands by the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the immediate mass expulsion, with no right to any proper defence or representation, and excommunication from current members for those accused of anti-Semitism. Starmer has announced he’s determined to root out anti-Semitism in party, and has gone to meet organisations like the Board, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, and the Zionist Jewish Labour Movement. This meeting pointedly does not include the Jewish groups, that genuinely stand for socialism and which have supported Labour and Corbyn throughout – Jewdas, Jewish Voice for Labour, the Jewish Socialist Group. Starmer no doubt feels that he is clearing up the issue of anti-Semitism once and for all, but he’s just played into their hands. The loathsome Campaign Against Anti-Semitism has welcomed the move, but demanded that he now censure or expel Corbyn for anti-Semitism. Which shows you just how mean-spirited and vengeful Falter and his ghastly crew are. Starmer is now placed in the unenviable position of either attacking the party’s former leader, which will anger his supporters and lead to mass resignations, or else the CAA, Board and the rest of the scumbuckets will accuse him of being soft on anti-Semitism and kick up another round of abuse and accusations.

And this is not to mention his decision to take up Johnson’s offer and work with him and the Tories in a constructive relationship to combat the Coronavirus. I understand the logic on which it’s based. He wants to be seen as the good guy, putting the needs of the country above party in a show of national unity during the emergency. He’s not the only one who wanted to do this. So did Lisa Nandy. But what will probably happen is that he will share the blame for Boris’ failings, while Boris will take any credit for any positive actions suggested by Labour. That is how the SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour Party – lost when they went into coalition with Merkel’s Christian Democrats. Merkel and her party moved left. They took credit for improvements to Germany’s welfare system, like greater benefit payments, which were actually the work of the SPD. But they let the SPD take the blame for their failings. And people will be discouraged to see him and Johnson working together. They will feel that Labour has once again let them down to become another Tory party.

I hope this is not the case, and that Starmer keeps his promises to Labour’s members. And I hope that enough of the left remains in the party to hold him to these promises, and make matters extremely difficult for him if he tries to reject them. But the evidence so far is not good.


Starmer’s first decision as Labour leader: agreement to work WITH the Tories

Starmer’s first purge: anybody in Labour tainted with accusations of anti-Semitism

Outcry as Starmer promotes anti-Semite supporter Rachel Reeves into Shadow Cabinet


The Probable Implications of the Coronavirus Crisis — Costas Lapavitsas, Katharina Pistor, David Runciman

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 1:17pm in



> Costas Lapavitsas: “This Crisis has exposed the absurdities of Neoliberalism. That doesn’t mean it’ll destroy it… The nation-state has always been at the heart of neoliberal capitalism, guaranteeing the class rule of the dominant corporate and financial bloc through … Continue reading →

Debt is control

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/04/2020 - 6:45am in

Nick Macpherson, former Permanent Secretary to the Treasury has tweeted: Writing off NHS trust debt only justifiable if correlated with high pressure areas, eg London. Otherwise an inefficient way of addressing resource constraints. Of course, it adds another 0.7% to national debt/national income ratio. This crisis is becoming expensive. #soundmoney Which comment is, as many... Read more

“Success is not measured in how inspired we are” – Reassessing artist-academic collaborations under neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/03/2020 - 9:00pm in

Funding bodies and universities prize collaboration with non-academic partners. But do they create the conditions for equitable relationships? Sara de Jong and Alena Pfoser argue that however inspiring and innovative artist-academic collaborations can be, it is necessary to critically interrogate the conditions under which such collaborations take place. Highlighting the effects of, different remuneration structures, … Continued

Coverging Crises Part I.1: Covid Encouragement from University of Washington Modeling (Updated throgh April 5th))

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 8:29am in

This prepublication paper (March 25th) uses newer data than that of the Ferguson et al. paper (March 16th) that I drilled into last week.  It also focuses on the U.S. situation, broken out by state. And the executive branch seems to be using it to design shutdown policy. The headlines:

The University of Washington paper projects 81,114 deaths, with a very large Uncertainty Interval (UI) belying the precision of those numbers (at left).  (UPDATE: This number was revised to 93,765 on April 2nd). This is in the ballpark of the lower bound of Anthony Fauci's estimate of 100,000-200,000 deaths. These are high numbers.  The bottom is about  3 times typical death counts from influenza.  But they are 20 times lower than the "doing nothing" estimate in the Ferguson et al. paper. The two papers agree on the scale of reduction that suppression measures achieve.

The authors also modeled health care capacity, estimating demand for hospital beds peaking at 7 percent above the national bed count, and Intensive Care Unit demand peaking at 25 percent above the national ceiling.  This means that suppression measures do not eliminate the health system crisis (this looked better in the Ferguson et al's projections for the UK).

The  UW team couldn't estimate ventilator shortages because they couldn't find reliable counts for these. Bed and ICU shortfalls are expected to vary greatly by state, with "peak excess demand" for beds being particularly bad in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Michigan, and excess demand for ICUs being more widely spread across the country.  California is in comparatively decent shape on both fronts, though that isn't saying much.  Excess ICU demand is figured below.

All the estimates (reduced deaths, very serious but perhaps non-catastrophic excess hospital demand) assume social distancing that approximates Ferguson et al.'s suppression regime.  I find this to be the least convincing aspect of this paper.

For states that have not implemented 3 of 4 measures (school closures, closing non-essential services, shelter-in-place, and major travel restrictions), we have assumed that they will be implemented within 7 days, given the rapid adoption of these measures in nearly all states. At this point in the epidemic, we have had to make arbitrary assumptions in our model on the equivalency between implementing 1, 2, or 3 measures – and we have implicitly assumed that implementing 3 of 4 measures will be enough to follow a trajectory similar to Wuhan – but it is plausible that it requires all 4 measures. (8) 

I see two obvious problems with this. First, we are not seeing "the rapid adoption of [suppression] measures in nearly all states."  Duringthis past week, many Republicans politicized social distancing as anti-business.  Although some Republican governors have not followed this line, Covid suppression has now been polluted by the country's toxic political discourse. POTUS is angling for ways to pin an extended shutdown (anything past Easter Sunday on April 12) on the libs, and his proposal for a NY-NJ-CT quarantine didn't have to be implemented to tar the country's leading Democrat stronghold as a disease-carrying Gommorah. Florida governor Ron de Santis has set up border checkpoints partly aimed at excluding New Yorkers; at the same time, Rhode Island's Democrat governor is proposing door-to-door searches for infected New Yorkers.  The American political system may not be good at public health, but it is world-class at finger-pointing. This does not bode well for a national suppression regime and its 20x reduction in mortality.

Second, I see no reason to assume, as the authors do, that "implementing 3 of 4 measures will be enough to follow a trajectory similar to Wuhan."  That is the best-case trajectory, in which full shutdown in  Wuhan on January 23rd led to no new cases by March 15th.  (That included a peak rate of daily deaths 27 days after that shutdown date.)  Wuhan implemented all 4 of 4 measures and then some--Wuhan authorities also instituted an app that used personal data to restrict movement for people rated "red" or "yellow," and broke disease clusters through family separations, in which some members were sent to medical dormitories for isolation.

In other words, the UW model may be way too optimistic--landing us back in a mitigation model which halves deaths (to about a million in the U.S.) while overwhelming the medical system.

This study notes but, as far as I can tell, ignores two other major differences between Wuhan (and South Korea) on the one hand and the U.S. on the other.  One is our lack of mass testing, including testing of people without Covid-19 symptoms.  Testing allows the health care system to identify people who need total isolation and/or treatment, making social distancing much more efficient.  The U.S. seems to have missed the crucial testing window (the New York Times' investigation of the serious failure of Trump's executive branch is worth reading in full). The other is China's massive mobilization of equipment and facilities--the new hospital constructed in two weeks and the like.  In stark contrast, the U.S. story is of shortages--of ventilators, of masks and gowns, of swabs, and, soon, of trained and healthy medical personnel.  All this also casts doubt on our powers of suppression. We will have to fall back on brute isolation, which is of course is the longest and the most costly mode economically--and educationally.

The paper ends on this note:

Our estimate of 81 thousand deaths in the US over the next 4 months is an alarming number, but this number could be substantially higher if excess demand for health system resources is not addressed and if social distancing policies are not vigorously implemented and enforced across all states.

We are thus encouraged to continue the most stringent version of a difficult lockdown with the clear possibility that the disease itself will be much less lethal than we have been assuming.

I do take this as encouragement.  We could start seeing a real ebbing of fatalities and infections in the Wuhan 60-day period: by mid-May in the New York region, and not too much later elsewhere. (See Bryan Alexander's Three Scenarios for other possibilities.)
Stay strong--indoors.

April  3rd.   The Washington Post has a big piece entitled, "Experts and Trump's advisers doubt White House's 240,000 coronavirus deaths estimate."  There's nothing new that we haven't covered here, but it's interesting to note the ongoing refusal of the White House "to explain how they generated the figure" of 100,000-240,000 national Covid-19 deaths, beyond the mashup of the two studies we've analyzed here - Ferguson et al. at Imperial College and the UW model discussed here, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, with its user-friendly projections, one of which appeared in Deborah Brix's briefing.   "But what remains unclear and alarming to many modelers is whether the White House is using their data to create a coordinated, coherent long-term strategy." The answer is no they're not, for example, implementing a national stay-at-home order called for by Anthony Fauci.

April 5th Covid-19 continues to receive saturation coverage, but the single most interesting piece to me was NYT coverage of the German response to the virus. So far, Germany's case-mortality rate is 1.4 percent, nearly a tenth that of Italy and about half that of the United States. Some reasons why: the German infections "started as an epidemic of skiiers" coming back from Italy and Austria, so younger people were infected first. Second, Germany has run many more tests, so they capture a higher share of infections than Italy or the U.S. (their denominator is bigger). The piece goes through other crucial factors:"early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed."  The U.S. can't really draw on any of these. 

I thought ruefully of UC Health when I read this passage:

Before the coronavirus pandemic swept across Germany, University Hospital in Giessen had 173 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators. In recent weeks, the hospital scrambled to create an additional 40 beds and increased the staff that was on standby to work in intensive care by as much as 50 percent.

“We have so much capacity now we are accepting patients from Italy, Spain and France,” said Prof. Susanne Herold, the head of infectiology and a lung specialist at the hospital who has overseen the restructuring. “We are very strong in the intensive care area.”All across Germany, hospitals have expanded their intensive care capacities. And they started from a high level. In January, Germany had some 28,000 intensive care beds equipped with ventilators, or 34 per 100,000 people. By comparison, that rate is 12 in Italy and 7 in the Netherlands. By now, there are 40,000 intensive care beds available in Germany.

Separate item: People say the infection numbers are bad but the death counts are good.  A WaPo piece reminds us that they're bad too.  Covid-19  caused deaths are likely undercounted worldwide, perhaps by a lot.

Rishi Sunak is wrong. ‘Righting the ship’ won’t require any taxpayers to ‘chip in’ to cover the cost of his spending plans – not now, in the future, or ever. 

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 29/03/2020 - 4:37am in

Scientists wearing masks holding sign with the slogan "Together we do it"Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman, lawyer and academic sceptic philosopher. He wrote ‘The Safety of the People shall be the Highest Law.’

This week, it was reported that the former health secretary Jeremy Hunt was in charge when medical advice to stockpile protective equipment in event of a flu pandemic was rejected on the grounds that stockpiling would be too expensive. By this decision, it would seem that this government chose deliberately to put cost over the health of its citizens, thus perpetuating the myths about the unaffordability of public services. The health and safety of the nation has been in the hands of a government which thought saving money was more important than keeping people protected. Jeremy Hunt claimed a while back, that public services depended on a healthy economy. That falsity will come to haunt him as we find out the hard way that it is, in fact, the other way around. A healthy economy depends on a healthy nation.

The neoliberal order which has dominated the global corridors of power for more than 40 years, combined with monetarist policies and more recently austerity following the global financial crash, has led to the destruction of public and social infrastructure not just here but in many developed nations around the world including the EU trading bloc. It lies at the heart of this crisis.

The horrors we are seeing in Spain, France, Italy, the US and other countries as the COVID-19 coronavirus compromises the ability of health and other public services to cope underline painfully the consequences of government decisions. Governments which rejected the power of the state to serve its citizens, promoting the god of the markets – the invisible hand – instead, have appeased it at every turn to favour the global corporations which have dictated the rules.

In the UK, despite the early advice from other experts in countries where coronavirus had already struck, government prevarication and failure to act expeditiously has allowed the disease to spread through the nation affecting many, not just those who are elderly with underlying health conditions. All human life is precious and yet this government has treated some as expendable and put the lives of those in the front line in the health service at risk.

As GIMMS noted in a previous MMT Lens, we will pay a heavy price for the ‘just in time’ approach to our health and public services and the lie that they were only affordable if the economy was doing well.  The media, having done little to hold the government to account for decades and especially in the last 10 years, has left us without sufficient nurses, doctors and health workers, beds, ventilators, ICUs and other equipment. Our health professionals are still crying out for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and are selflessly putting their own health at risk for others.  They are crying out for ventilators to keep people alive. They are crying out to be tested to keep themselves and their patients safe.

A healthy economy relies on public infrastructure, which is in short supply as a result of government choice. Ramping up the much-needed supplies is proving slow and difficult, not to mention demonstrating government incompetence. A good government delivering public purpose would have meant that we would have been better able to deal with this emergency and we might not be witnessing its current trajectory.

Our public infrastructure has been the victim of government cuts and we are now paying the price for the breakdown which is occurring as a result of limited or non-existent emergency planning, deregulation to suit market demands and privatisation – which have all been justified by the lie that the state had no money of its own and public services were a luxury determined by the health of the economy.

When the Chancellor got up to announce his spending plans and the measures to help those now unable to work, people cheered. If nothing else, this should have demonstrated quite clearly that the government was not constrained by tax or borrowing in order to spend, despite the charade that successive governments have played out about how its spending is paid for.

With big business queuing up for handouts (reminiscent of those banks that were too big to fail who were bailed out with public money) for others, it has been like squeezing blood from a stone. The very people who form the backbone of society, who keep it functioning and contribute to the economy through their work – the self-employed in particular – are being asked to jump through hoops to get any money at all, leaving them struggling and worrying about the future. People who for a decade have been living hand to mouth with scarce or no savings, working in zero-hours employment, the gig economy or in part-time work, will have to wait months for the government to pay up. Those in desperate need without employment are being asked to apply for Universal Credit for a measly £94.50 a week hanging on in telephone queues which can be as long as 90,000. It will not be long before those who congratulated the Chancellor for his largesse will have to think again, as bills go unpaid and people go hungry. People need support now, not later. The breakdown of society is in the offing if the government fails to act as it could now simply by authorising the central bank to make payments through HMRC who hold our data.

Alongside the tragedy which is playing out, the household budget narrative is never far behind, even in the words of Rishi Sunak who during his announcement of measures for the self-employed claimed that when this emergency was over we’d have ‘to chip in to right the ship’ promoting yet again that at some time in the future there will be a cost to taxpayers. Which in short there will not, since the government does not need to collect tax before it can spend!

Next, an ITV newsreader asked, ‘can the public finances take the strain?’ And this was followed by Robert Peston telling the TV audience that we’ll be ‘paying off the national debt for years’. To be clear – for the UK government, which is the currency issuer, there is no strain on the public finances and there will be no future burden on the taxpayer.

The Tax-Payers Alliance then announced that in future there would have to be ‘growth-enhancing’ measures and spending restraint’ both mutually exclusive positions which hark back to a false claim that cutting public spending could lift growth. The evidence is before us right now that this is not true.

Finally, the journalist Philip Inman suggested that Sunak’s budget spending spree could come at a high price, ‘fighting a war with borrowed money.’ Except that the government, as the currency issuer, does not need to borrow to cover its deficits; nor does it need to issue bonds in order to spend.

Our public and social infrastructure is under severe pressure and cracking under the strain, and people are suffering and dying. And yet they are still arguing about the financial cost of the Chancellor’s spending as if deficits and borrowing were the devil, balanced budgets the epitome of a government’s economic success or that there will be a price to pay if fiscal prudence is abandoned.

The ONLY cost in the future is the human cost we will face if the government fails to act in a manner that secures the lives of citizens, ensures they can pay their bills and eat during this emergency.  Fiscal prudence is the least of our worries!

We must today, tomorrow and in the future, keep holding to account government, politicians and all those who peddle the economic orthodoxy that there is no money. The Chancellor has shown that there is the possibility to spend without checking the public purse first. It is a political choice. So much is now at stake and we need as nations to keep pushing with more persistence until change happens. The battle lines are being drawn as we speak. The coronavirus, hard as it is, may be our societal wake-up call. Let’s hope so.



Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here









Viber icon

The post Rishi Sunak is wrong. ‘Righting the ship’ won’t require any taxpayers to ‘chip in’ to cover the cost of his spending plans – not now, in the future, or ever.  appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

The Probable Implications of the Coronavirus Crisis — David Harvey, William Davies, Ivan Krastev

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 7:31am in



> David Harvey: “Forty years of neoliberalism… had left the public totally exposed and ill-prepared to face a public health crisis of this sort… In many parts of the supposed “civilized” world, local governments and state authorities, which invariably form … Continue reading →

‘Push’Em All’: Corroding the Rule of Law

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 8:47pm in

We are no longer an open society

At first glance, the combination of neoliberalism and authoritarianism might be puzzling. Wasn’t the economic prosperity that neoliberalism promised premised precisely on a small state and individual freedom? Well, not exactly. The question of freedom must always be answered by another question—freedom for whom? Way back in 1978 and shortly before his untimely death, Nicos Poulantzas described the rise of an ‘authoritarian statism’1 featuring untrammelled executive power, a weakening in the rule of law, the loss of democratic legitimacy and a growing concentration of economic interests. According to Ian Bruff, neoliberalism has always been concerned not only to advance certain economic and political values but to ‘insulate [them] from social and political dissent’,2 in particular from the democratic forces that might challenge them.

A brief look at the work of Friedrich Hayek, one of the founders of the neoliberal project, helps clarify the point. For Hayek, totalitarianism inheres in any governmental and social efforts to improve the ‘standard of life’ or ‘welfare’ of individuals and groups. Anything that advances ‘social security’ or ‘equality’—implying economic redistribution—is fundamentally antithetical to ‘freedom’. In short, as Jessica Whyte documents, neoliberal thinkers are and always were in favour of inequality and opposed to any and all forms of redistribution.3 The underlying distrust of democracy stems from its essentially egalitarian and collective nature, and its tendency towards the expansion of social welfare, undermining the protections against redistributive forces provided by property rights and market freedom. Hayek frankly avowed that he would prefer a ‘liberal dictator’ to a ‘democratic government lacking in liberalism’.4 A strong state, far from being antithetical to the neoliberal dream, was essential to it, for the limited idea of market freedom that the movement defended had to be actively constructed.5

Wendy Brown, following Foucault, holds neoliberal policies responsible for weakening democratic institutions and narrowing public space around the world.6 She connects this with the conceptual bases of neoliberalism. Specifically, by creating a hegemonic discourse of ‘neoliberal reason’ in which all human and social interactions must be understood exclusively in terms of individual and economic goals, the basis of social and collective action is removed. The language of ‘society’ becomes unthinkable, ‘common good’ and ‘non-economic value’ oxymorons. But this does not go far enough. The fundamental problem for which neoliberalism sought a solution was in fact politics and public life as such. The destruction of the public sphere is not a consequence of but central to neoliberalism’s entire political agenda: it weakens dissent, undermines democracy and makes authoritarian interventions designed to shore up the established distribution of power and wealth more likely. Understood in this way, the language of emergency provides a tailor-made ideological cover that legitimates a strong state, circumvents democratic processes and undermines political discourse and dissent.7

So the central features of a neoliberal government would include efforts to narrow the public sphere and intensify the instruments of authoritarian rule. It would reduce legislative oversight, expand executive power and weaken parliamentary authority. It would be less transparent and more secret. It would use the discourse of emergency to repress political dissent. My goal in this essay is to attempt to provide an overview of the laws and policies pursued by the Australian federal government since 2013 in these terms, and to highlight its implications for the rule of law and for Australian public life. According to the latest report by respected global monitor Civicus, released in December 2019, Australia is no longer an open society but rather one in which civil society has ‘narrowed’.8 Australia is by no means the only country in the world to suffer such a fate. Civicus places the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, the United States and South Africa in the same category. In many countries, of course, including Brazil, Hungary and India, the situation has deteriorated still further. Nonetheless, this assessment contrasts with the position in, for example, Canada and New Zealand—not to mention northern Europe, Suriname and Taiwan. The report provides external confirmation of the growing alarm felt by many scholars in the fields of human rights and law in Australia.9 Australian society is not as open as it was: not as free, not as fair, not as equal. Our self-image, our lived reality, and our reputation are rapidly coming apart.

An exemplary policy

In its own way, the so-called robodebt scandal encapsulates the federal government’s approach.10 Centrelink used data matching to compare individual welfare payments against tax-office data and, where a discrepancy was detected, demanded that ‘clients’ prove that they had not been overpaid or else repay the amount in question. These debt letters were sent out by an automated system to hundreds of thousands of recipients, who were given little time to respond. Proof required many hours of labour and access to employment and other records going back several years. Many recipients did not have adequate resources or information to respond. Ultimately, private debt-recovery agencies were involved. At that point, wages could legally be garnisheed out of people’s bank accounts whether or not an actual debt was owed. Many people felt outgunned and bullied into paying up simply in order to make the problem go away.

The government’s data-matching technology had in fact been available for a decade or more. But the number of staff needed to determine whether so-called ‘income averaging’ actually revealed a genuine debt rendered the process too expensive to implement. The beauty of the new system, from the government’s point of view, was not just that the process was fully automated—a delightful efficiency that Centrelink’s clients have enjoyed for some time now—but that it simply assumed that a debt was owing and reversed the onus of proof. The government outsourced the prohibitive costs of managing the program onto its own clients. Andrew Whelan convincingly refers to this as a ‘chrono-politics’ that intentionally extracts hundreds of hours and high levels of emotional stress from welfare recipients as part of a set of highly invasive policies.11 This is not a bug; it is a feature. Neoliberalism was only designed to get the state off the backs of some of us—let us call them the deserving rich. For the rest of us, the undeserving poor, increased precarity is highly productive.12 The Newstart allowance has not increased in real terms for twenty-five years. As the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) has just reported, it now covers barely 75 per cent of the basic living costs of a single unemployed person, while in the past five years the average period spent on benefits has risen by over 35 per cent to 155 weeks.13

ACOSS describes this as ‘senseless cruelty’, but there is nothing senseless about it.14 It is an economic strategy that coerces many people into accepting lower wages and worse working conditions. It is also an effective political strategy, undoubtedly creating levels of anxiety and powerlessness that reduce the appetite for political participation, not only in those who are already in the welfare system but in all those who fear descending into it. It is politically strategic in another way, too. Loïc Wacquant points out that what he describes as ‘punitive common sense’ is a necessary response to the dangerous insecurity and therefore volatility of those on the bottom rungs of the ladder.15 Finally, welfare policies like these are of ideological significance. As William Rappard, a founding member of the Mont Pèlerin Societé, noted, neoliberalism’s greatest fear was the insidious expansion of the state, driven by the popular desire ‘for social security and equality much more than for economic progress and freedom’.16 Stripping the poor of dignity and undermining the notion of equality itself are therefore central planks in the long-term sustainability of any neoliberal agenda. Reducing welfare payments, invasive surveillance, drug tests and cashless welfare cards all decrease the autonomy of recipients and increase their humiliation.

The robodebt scandal reveals the logic of neoliberal governance in Australia not only in policy but in process. As Terry Carney argued, and as is now widely accepted, Centrelink had no legal basis to impose a debt merely on the basis of statistical coincidence, and no right to pursue remedial action unless the existence of a debt had been properly established. Yet to paraphrase Holmes—Sherlock, not Oliver—what made the incident so curious were the watchdogs that didn’t bark. To understand why Centrelink managed to get away with its outrageous extortion racket for so long requires us to look more broadly at the gutting of Australian public and political life. As Carney argues, these factors include the politicisation of the public service, the increasing power of executive authority, the growing influence of political advisers in the development and implementation of policy, a lack of transparency in administrative review processes, declining support and funding for legal aid and community legal centres, and a growing indifference in much of the Australian media to the rule of law or the language of rights.17 The government has promised to do little more than tweak the system. There has been no adequate inquiry into how and why the process went so badly wrong. The government has not apologised for its illegal activity. It has not given back the vast majority of the $500 million it may have taken from impoverished Australians. It has not cancelled all the so-called ‘debt notices’ that it now seems were improperly issued. In fact, the amount of money that Centrelink has clawed back from welfare recipients under the scheme has exploded over the past two years.

Security and terror

The most obvious area in which we have witnessed the expansion of executive power and the narrowing of the rule of law has been in the field of security legislation. In the wake of 9/11, a review by the head of the Attorney-General’s Department, which in retrospect seems somewhat hasty, opened the door to a panoply of new anti-terrorism laws. This legislation expanded law-enforcement powers, limited citizens’ rights, expanded offences into new areas and increased government surveillance powers. In particular, the new laws have focused not on acts of terrorism—which, of course, were always criminal—but on broadly construed preparatory acts, and on aggressively pursuing ‘terrorist organisations’, as designated by the executive.18 Yet even consistent critics of these laws, such as George Williams, have been guilty of adopting uncritically the need to ‘re-balance’ the supposedly countervailing values of ‘security’ and ‘liberty’.19 It is difficult to know how such a balance is being struck when there is little evidence that the previous laws were ineffective or that the new laws have increased our security. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that they have decreased the security of many Australians—and not just that of would-be terrorists—as well as decreasing our liberty. But the legal process is far from transparent. The executive is able to limit the information available to the court, to provide judgements that courts are not at liberty to interrogate, and to shroud the proceedings in a veil of secrecy. Intentions can be and are being imputed not on the basis of evidence but of ‘intelligence’: in other words, inferences, rumours, gossip and guilt by association.20 As Jude McCulloch has said, terrorism offences are proved ‘essentially through a focus on suspicious identity that casts a pall of suspicion over equivocal, innocuous acts and otherwise legal acts’.21

In the aftermath of 9/11, ASIO was given sweeping new powers, including the imposition of ‘control orders’ and ‘preventive detention orders’, which authorise the detention of persons for extended periods of time despite their not being prosecuted for or convicted of any offence.22 ASIO officers are authorised to interrogate and detain persons who are not suspected of involvement in any offence at all, simply because in the minister’s opinion the intelligence thus to be gained is ‘important’. It is an offence even to disclose the existence of such warrants for two years. There is no right to silence; a failure to answer questions is a criminal offence. Those detained are given very limited rights even to let their family or friends know where they are. The right to legal representation has been removed. Lawyers can only be contacted by those being questioned with the approval of the officer in charge. If their presence is permitted, they can be removed or replaced at any time if they ‘unduly disrupt’ the interrogation.23

The list of laws relating to terrorism is now exceptionally long; in a recent audit, Williams identified no fewer than sixty-six separate pieces of legislation.24 This is not the place for a detailed analysis of a highly complex area of law. It is enough for present purposes to focus on legislative changes and developments since the election of the Coalition government in 2013. The Foreign Fighters Act created strict-liability offences for any Australian citizen caught in conflict zones declared by the government to be off-limits.25 The Allegiance to Australia Act, with proposed amendments currently before parliament, empowers the minister to strip Australians of their citizenship in a variety of circumstances, for example if they have been convicted of a range of terrorism-related offences, or have fought for or are involved with a proscribed terrorist organisation, and are ‘opposed to Australia, or to Australia’s interests, values, democratic beliefs, rights or liberties’. Any Australian can be stripped of their citizenship in this way, even if they were born in this country, unless ‘the Minister is satisfied’ that the person will be made stateless as a result.26

ASIO has been granted ‘special operations’ powers that now allow agents to undertake illegal actions and keep them secret. Some limits are placed on these extralegal powers; ASIO cannot, apparently, go around murdering people, which is a comfort, to be sure. But there are no obligations to report wrongful conduct. On the contrary, these laws prevent the disclosure of anything related to special intelligence operations, even if the conduct goes beyond the immunities provided by the law. In short, it is a crime to reveal criminal behaviour by ASIO.27 There is no public-interest defence. The National Security Information Act further removes security processes from scrutiny in the course of legal proceedings and makes their disclosure in the media an offence. As former High Court justice Michael McHugh notes, these provisions may well make a fair trial impossible.28

Using the secrecy of the state to override public or democratic oversight is a fundamental strategy of neoliberal governance. The provisions now protecting ASIO’s actions are only part of the picture. The Witness J case in the ACT Supreme Court demonstrated, if nothing else, that people are being tried, convicted and imprisoned under blanket suppression orders.29 In the case of Witness X and Bernard Collaery, the federal government appears hell-bent on punishing a whistle-blower and his lawyer. The former revealed outrageous, unethical and criminal behaviour by the Australian government during economic negotiations with Timor Leste, one of the poorest countries in the world and our nearest neighbour; the latter was simply trying to do his job as a lawyer. Yet this trial too is taking place under conditions of secrecy, which makes mounting an adequate defence almost impossible. As Collaery has observed, the prosecution amounts to ‘a very determined push to hide dirty political linen…under the guise of national security imperatives’.30

A culture of repression is taking root. In June 2019 the Australian Federal Police raided the offices of the ABC and the home of senior News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst, who had been reporting on possible human rights abuses by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2013. Invoking national-security legislation appears to be simply a way of saving the army’s blushes. In July, Queensland police arrested a French film crew who were filming protesters at Adani’s Abbot Point coal terminal.31 Meanwhile, the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act granted the executive new powers to apply for the issuing of ‘journalist information warrants’, which can compel the surrender of journalists’ metadata in order to identify their source.32 The Assistance and Access Act authorises the government to co-opt technology companies, device manufacturers and service providers into ‘removing one or more forms of electronic protection, providing technical information, facilitating access to services and equipment, installing software, modifying technology, and concealing that the company has done any of the above’.33 The law allows ASIO and others to coerce companies to secretly install backdoors and disable security defences in order to allow intelligence services to access encrypted communications. Ironically, it would not just be Australian intelligence agencies but also other state and non-state actors that would benefit from the dilution of Australia’s cybersecurity.34

Recent amendments to the Criminal Code Act have established new offences of ‘advocating terrorism’ and modified the definition of a terrorist organisation to include any organisation that ‘counsels, promotes, encourages or urges’ or ‘praises’ a terrorist act.35 ‘Terrorist organisations’ proscribed by the minister have little chance of meaningful judicial review. They include organisations that are involved in financing terrorist acts, again according to the minister’s determination, whether or not there is any actual connection between the organisation’s activities in Australia and what it finances elsewhere, and where the donation itself has no connection at all to any act of terrorism.

The terrorists to come

The political implications of these laws run deep. Both ‘terrorism’ itself and ‘advocacy’ or ‘praise’ are essentially political terms that are deployed selectively on the basis of underlying ideological assumptions.36 Crimes that prohibit certain identities or membership of groups, and that purposely blur the line between charitable, political and social associations, are necessarily prey to our current prejudices. Unsurprisingly, the ‘terrorist organisations’ banned by the government have been, with one exception, Muslim organisations. The ongoing threat of prosecution or prescription has undoubtedly chilled political and human rights activism by Muslims in Australia.37 The sole exception is equally illuminating. The PKK, a militant political organisation that seeks Kurdish independence, was listed by the Australian government during the visit of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Australia.38 It is hard to resist the conclusion that the prohibition was a way of currying Erdogan’s favour for political or diplomatic purposes. No doubt the Australian government will come under pressure from other countries in the future; who would doubt that a trade agreement with China, for example, might be made contingent on curtailing the activities of Uighur human rights groups, or Falun Gong, or perhaps Hong Kong student organisations? Certainly, according to the Chinese government, these groups are already tarred with the brush of terrorism.39

The judgement as to what is or is not terrorism as opposed to political struggle is a partisan judgement. Crimes of advocacy, praise and encouragement need have nothing to do with acts of violence on Australian soil. Australia’s terrorism laws are certainly wide enough to have prohibited, for example, organisations that supported the ANC when it was outlawed in South Africa. Anti-apartheid activists in Australia were surely not far from ‘praising’ or ‘encouraging’ or ‘advocating’ terrorist acts. These laws could be used now to prohibit organisations calling for a new intifada in the occupied Palestinian territories. This example merely serves to clarify how readily our laws enable the government to clamp down on whatever species of political dissent it wishes.

The expansion of the discourse of terrorism to encompass other forms of domestic political dissent is already well under way. Queensland legislation aimed at breaking up ‘bikie gangs’ made liberal use of the language of emergency and did not hesitate to describe its targets as domestic terrorists, instituting restraints on organisations that are clearly derived from terrorism law. It likewise provides for control orders and preventive detention.40 Meanwhile, laws directed against environmental activists have already been passed in Queensland and have been proposed in Tasmania after previous legislation was struck down by the High Court.41 The language of ‘eco-terrorism’ is gaining currency. There is no reason that the federal government, so resolutely opposed to action on climate change, would not wish to get in on the act. Anti-terrorism legislation is already in place. The language that would legitimise its use against environmental activists is already being deployed.

A climate strike seems a harmless thing. But it is not far-fetched to ask if children and young people holding placards in support of Extinction Rebellion might be considered guilty of advocating, or praising, or encouraging terrorism. Admittedly, the legislative definition of ‘terrorist acts’ does not extend to ‘advocacy, protest, dissent, or industrial action’ so long as there is no intention ‘to create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public’.42 But who will determine what constitutes a serious risk to the safety of a section of the public? And laws criminalising terrorist organisations involved in ‘advocating terrorism’ are broader still. At what point will ASIO undertake ‘special intelligence operations’ in the course of which the brothers and sisters of environmental activists might have ‘important’ information and be detained without charge and coerced into providing intelligence to be used in secret trials in relation to which the minister determines whether ‘national security’ is at risk, and a ‘fair trial’ is not a consideration? Under what circumstances will environmental activists be convicted of terrorist acts or of advocating terrorism? At what point will young Australians find themselves stripped of their citizenship and deported because the minister has decided that although they may have been born and raised in this country they are opposed to ‘Australia’s interests, values, democratic beliefs, rights or liberties’? Above all—what effect will the very threat of these possibilities have on political activity?

This is what Jenny Hocking means by the ‘criminalisation of politics’. Neoliberal ideology, and equally its practices in government, actively undermine the capacity of civil society to respond to creeping authoritarianism. As Hocking concludes, ‘what is needed as part of the struggle against terrorism is not further constraint on effective political participation but a more inclusive politics, not less democracy but more’.43 Marginalising democracy, not to mention any political movement that shows a less than rapt love of fossil-fuelled capitalism, produces the very conditions of terrorism that it then gleefully exploits in order to further increase the reach of unaccountable power in this country.

A legal web is beginning to ensnare the political activity of more and more people. Under the guise of ‘foreign interference’ and ‘national security’ the Espionage and Foreign Interference Act requires the registration of activists and human rights groups involved with international organisations. It imposes on them burdensome reporting requirements detailing their involvement with overseas groups. It prevents them from accepting donations from non-Australian citizens. Revised offences of ‘espionage’ and ‘foreign interference’ cover any conduct ‘on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal’—not just a government but equally ‘foreign political organisations’ and ‘public international organisations’—intended to ‘influence a political or governmental process’ or ‘influence the exercise’ of an ‘Australian democratic or political right or duty’.44 Admittedly, the conduct in question must be ‘covert’ or ‘deceptive’, but this extends to ‘any conduct that is hidden or secret, or lacking transparency’, for example ‘if a person takes steps to conceal their communications with the foreign principal’.45

In general, the Act grants sweeping exemptions to mainstream religious, media and commercial organisations, whose right to secrecy is of course sacrosanct. Much more limited protection is given to journalists. Charities, activists and human rights groups are given no protection at all.46 International campaigns and boycotts will become almost impossible. As Michael Head outlines, the new laws will have far-reaching implications for many charities with links to international organisations, including Amnesty International. Even reporting information to the United Nations, for example concerning the Australian government’s violation of its international obligations, might become illegal. Activities by organisations such as Greenpeace will be monitored and may well be illegal. Certainly, campaigns by Sea Shepherd or Extinction Rebellion would comprise ‘covert or deceptive conduct’ intended to ‘influence a political or governmental process’ or ‘influence the exercise’ of an ‘Australian democratic or political right or duty’ ‘in collaboration with’ ‘public international organisations’. Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull characterised the Act as directed at political interference by China and Russia, but its real effects will largely be felt by environmentalists and human rights activists. Again, the strategies of a neoliberal government marginalise these concerns, reduce the ability of civil society to make its voice heard, and ultimately turn critics into criminals. The space of legitimate political action is narrowing.

The Act provides penalties of up to twenty years’ imprisonment for dealing with ‘inherently harmful information’ or information that ‘is likely to cause harm to Australia’s interests’, if the information was made or obtained by a Commonwealth officer.47 The Act provides some limited protection for professional journalists acting ‘in the public interest’, but would not protect, for example, activists or public campaigners or whistle-blowers. The exposure by a public servant of abusive practices on Nauru or Manus Island would be ‘likely to cause harm to Australia’s interests’ and could lead to imprisonment for twenty years. So too would leaking government information as part of an international coal-divestment campaign.48

The government has already canvassed new legislation to insulate economic interests from political dissent. The government uses the language of ‘lawfare’ to delegitimise the interests of environmental groups and proposes amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act that will remove the special standing recognised by courts for thirty years.49 By branding such groups’ concerns as ‘ideology’ and seeking to shelter ‘economic projects’ such as the Adani coal mine from the scrutiny of ‘radical activists’—all wrapped up in the language of ‘national interest’—the government reflects neoliberal assumptions that political and social values are inherently suspect. Former attorney general George Brandis condemned environmentalists for using the law as ‘political weapons’ and contrasted them with those who have ‘legitimate legal interests’.50 The argument draws a sharp line between private property, which the law is meant to protect, and the public interest, which it is not. In a similar vein, Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently sounded the possibility of legislation to prevent consumers from engaging in ‘secondary boycotts’ of Australian companies on environmental or ethical grounds, which he characterises as ‘indulgent and selfish’.51 The neoliberal distinction between economic and political concerns insists that the Australian consumer, as Homo economicus, is expected to care about nothing but profit. At stake is the very idea of ‘neoliberal reason’, and the stunningly limited role the citizen is to be allowed in its operation.

Weakened institutions

These legal changes accomplish several interlinked purposes. They have undermined our democracy and reduced parliament to a sideshow that merely distracts our attention from real governance, strengthened executive power and the security state, and weakened civil society. The recent restructuring of the public service is a small but largely unacknowledged part of the same effort to weaken public institutions. The creation of the Department of Home Affairs was an important step towards consolidating power under the control of a single minister and ensuring that security issues dominated a range of erstwhile independent areas that previously had distinct norms and cultures, such as the former Department of Immigration. But the mega-department model has now been rolled out in many areas, for example the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. No doubt restructuring signals the government’s priorities: Education is to be merged with Employment and Small Business, and Arts is now a minor adjunct to ‘Communication’ and ‘Cyber safety’. But there is more at stake than this. Creating unwieldy departments across multiple policy areas places a premium on strong, centralised decision-making, increases ministerial power and therefore magnifies the influence of those who have the minister’s ear—in other words, politically appointed ministerial advisers. It reflects the government’s view, familiar in neoliberal circles, that the role of the public service should not be to evaluate or develop policy but merely to administer it.52

It is increasingly common for the government to act as if its executive authority trumps the constraints of law and custom. The granting of over $400 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, a previously minor charity, via a process that hardly merits the name, comes to mind. So does the $80-million purchase of water rights by the minister for agriculture from a company founded by the minister for energy, without any tendering process and at a rate almost twice as generous as that rejected by the Commonwealth on three previous occasions as ‘not value for money’.53 The report by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) on the manner in which Bridget McKenzie, the minister for sport, administered the $100-million Community Sport Infrastructure Grants program was especially damning. The minister and her political staffers ignored the guidelines and criteria publicly established by Sport Australia, created a set of shadow rankings and recommendations, substituted explicitly political considerations, and allowed favoured applicants to submit and revise their applications in a manner that did not accord natural justice to other applicants.54

In the lead-up to an election, this might be considered common or garden-variety pork barrelling; that has certainly been the tenor of most newspaper reporting on the subject. But it is much more serious than that. Sport Australia is an independent corporate Commonwealth entity. It has legal responsibilities, including the ability to enter into contracts and award grants, that are specifically designed to ensure its independence from ministerial fiat. Unless the minister invoked the power under section 11 of the legislation to give the authority a legal direction as to its policies and procedures—not the case here—she simply did not have the legal authority to substitute her own judgement and award the money as she and her office saw fit. Sport Australia warned the minister that further legal advice and legislative amendment would be necessary if she were to assume authority for approving the grants herself.55The minister simply ignored these concerns. Indeed, her actions may well have been unconstitutional. Without a specific head of federal power under the Australian Constitution, the Commonwealth government cannot just give money away.56

Yet these fundamental legal issues do not appear to have crossed the minister’s mind. She assumed that her executive authority entitled her to do exactly what she wanted. A brief inquiry into the affair by Phil Gaetjens, the hand-picked secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, only raises further questions. Announcing McKenzie’s belated resignation at a press conference, the prime minister also sidestepped the legal and constitutional issues involved. But he did say this:

[Gaetjens] refers to the finding in the [ANAO] report that in the absence of a Section 11 declaration, there was no legal authority evident to the ANAO under which the Minister was able to approve the CSIG program grants to be paid from the money of Sports Australia. Having consulted with the AGS and in the preparation of this advice, he considers that the Auditor-General…is, as he notes with respect, not correct.57 

The prime minister refused to release the secretary’s report or the advice provided by the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS), or that provided to the attorney general by his department the previous day. But on the snippets of information available, the conclusion is bewildering. The ANAO’s reading of the Act was straightforward and clear. Section 11 would hardly be necessary if the minister had some magic power to override Sport Australia’s decisions. Now the prime minister’s former chief of staff comes to the opposite conclusion—an extraordinary turn of events with no evidence or legal argument to back it up. The prime minister’s response and that of the attorney general raise questions about transparency in decision-making at least as serious as those raised by McKenzie’s original conduct. The minister, the prime minister, the attorney general and Australia’s most senior public servant all seem utterly incapable of understanding the basic distinction between what the program guidelines may or may not have said and what the law in fact allowed. Questions might also be raised about whether senior public servants are still capable of fulfilling their legal obligation to provide the government with honest advice ‘based on the best available evidence’.58 In all this we can see how the growth of executive power corrodes the rule of law and cultivates a culture of impunity. Further revelations that the government dispensed an additional $150 million in sport-infrastructure grants in the middle of the election campaign and without even the fig leaf of an application process59 only adds insult to the serious injury to Australia’s legal system. The news keeps coming out on almost a daily basis: the drip, drip, drip of ministerial and executive lawlessness.

We should not assume that that system itself will act as an effective brake on the decline of legal protections, the abrogation of human rights, and the undermining of democratic checks and balances. The High Court over the past twenty years has shown little appetite either to engage with the normative values of the rule of law or to muzzle executive power. As Canadian constitutional theorist David Dyzenhaus has noted, the court’s exaggerated deference to executive power ‘brings the Australian legal order uncomfortably close to authoritarian understandings of the role of law’.60 Those are very strong words from a highly regarded international expert. In the Banerji case, decided in 2019, the High Court provided very few limits on the power of the executive to limit the political-communication rights of 200,000 public servants. The court insisted that its decision protected ‘an apolitical and professional public service’, but the minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, soon made it clear that the decision will reduce the public service’s independence and hasten its politicisation.61 The High Court did not seem to think that the public service might need to be protected from executive power in order to preserve its apolitical and professional nature.

The court, as Dyzenhaus predicted, has ‘reverted to deference when national security concerns were alleged by the Executive, even outside the context of wartime emergency’.62 Thomas v. Mowbray affords a particularly clear instance. At stake was the control-order regime of the terrorist offences in the Criminal Code. It was left to the dissents of Justices Kirby and Hayne to resist the majority’s glib deference. They pointed out that in issuing sweeping control orders at the urging of the government of the day, courts will have ‘little practical choice except to act upon a view proffered by the Executive’.63 Only Kirby expressed any concern for the effect of the broad provisions on social and political protest in Australia. Having cautioned the court that its decision would some day be viewed with ‘regret and embarrassment’, he urged his colleagues and parliament to ‘reject legal and constitutional exceptionalism’.64 His warning has not been heeded.

Normalising precarity

Where in all this can we locate Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers? The policy is by now well known and has been analysed in depth. Obviously, its evil genius is not to be credited to the current government alone. There is plenty of moral obloquy to go around. Little has changed on this front since 2013. The government spent much of 2019 attempting to repeal the ‘medevac law’, passed by parliament over the government’s own objections the year before.65 The legislation wrested some semblance of control for the treatment of desperately sick or dying inmates from the bottomless pit of the minister’s discretion. The government’s determination to undo the legislation looked like nothing more than the revenge of bruised egos.

What has happened to migration policy since 2013 has been the extension of the vulnerability of asylum seekers to onshore residents. As we have seen, the Citizenship Amendment Act allows for cancellation of the citizenship even of those born in this country. Changes to the Migration Act will mean that even long-term residents may have their visa cancelled if they are deemed, as determined by the minister, to have failed a ‘character test’.66 Asylum seekers in Australia live under conditions of ‘manufactured precarity’; the decrease in the grant of humanitarian protection visas and the corresponding increase in temporary or bridging visas have led to endemic insecurity and unstable and exploitative work.67 Constantly vulnerable to visa cancellation, asylum seekers are encouraged to ‘stay low and keep quiet’, refusing initiative, promotion or even educational advancement because of the uncertainty surrounding their long-term future.

The treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is not only the proving ground for broader strategies of discipline and surveillance, now steadily being expanded to encompass immigrants, welfare recipients, Aboriginal people, minority groups, political activists and dissenters. It also normalises the threat of repression and violence. Many writers, beginning with Michel Foucault, have emphasised the closeness of neoliberal strategies of governance to Carl Schmitt’s thinking.68 Sovereignty is about the exercise of the power to exclude, to marginalise and to discipline. It is most readily exercised under conditions of emergency and exception. It is most completely employed in the reduction to bare life or to a state of abject dependence of all those deemed to be useless subjects. Together with terrorism laws, which, as we have seen, extend their tentacles into whole communities, Australian society is being slowly fractured into classes of differential vulnerability, to whom different laws and rights apply. Such distinctions do not just affect immigrants. They undermine social trust and community solidarity more generally, entrenching the discourse of individual isolation and self-interest at the heart of the neoliberal creed, and foreshadowing a culture of precarious work, constant surveillance and executive terror that is starting to seep into Australian life more generally.

Playing games

Slavoj Žižek argues that societies—like families, like mafias—are bound together not just by their manifest values but also by the dirty little secrets that they can never openly address.69 Ideology is the mask of guilt. A conspiracy of silence surrounds the history of Indigenous people in this country and, more recently, the well-hidden suffering of asylum seekers. Guilt and shame create a kind of complicity in which we might find it perilous to expose the workings of the state, for fear that we would have to accept some of the blame. The workings of the carbostate suggests the same sort of logic. Everyone knows that our current economic practices, particularly in energy and agriculture, are hastening the destruction of the country and the planet. But for many of us silence is a pact with the devil. We continue to enjoy our current prosperity so long as no one admits the costs, both to Australia and to the world at large. Australia is in the grip of omertà, the unwritten law of shameful privilege that underwrites Australia’s social contract.

The result has been the ‘desublimation of the will to power’, sending pulses of nihilism and destruction unchecked through the social fabric. Writes Wendy Brown, ‘the subject of repressive desublimation in advanced capitalist society is not just libidinally unbound, released to enjoy more pleasure, but released from more general expectations of social conscience and social comprehension.70 Play, power and right become indistinguishable. Where it is indulged, it produces growing inequality and a selfish disregard for others. Where it is thwarted, it produces an utterly disinhibited ressentiment. In the summer of 2020, as the real implications of climate change on Australia’s ecosystems and society became all too clear in ways that touched and shattered so many of us, nihilism emerged as by far the most dangerous and far-reaching legacy of neoliberalism. It explains the ludicrously tenacious hold of climate denialism over members of the Coal-ition government, even now. We are getting used to our own extinction, our own ignorance, and our own impotence. We are embracing an economy committed to the collapse of our own society. Our political leaders are working on a heady mix of short-term economic hedonism combined with a pattern of gaslighting the nation. This is the tragic endgame of neoliberalism—politics, the public and the social have been intentionally set alight.

This scorched-earth policy was perhaps not what neoliberalism originally had in mind. Its architects and theorists did not trust governments or the people. They put their faith instead in the stabilising forces of traditions, morals and markets.71 It turns out, however, that you cannot have one without the other. Hayek to the contrary, there’s nothing ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ about these traditional social structures. They are themselves dependent on a well-defended public space, a vibrant culture of democratic discourse and some sense of a life lived with and for others. Their demise has thus had far-reaching consequences. Not that these changes have taken place without a struggle. That public square isn’t going to empty itself. Ironically, in one last turn of the screw, the final casualty of all this destruction is the aura of the legitimacy of the state itself, leaving little but naked power on display. Neoliberalism is finally sawing off the branch it is sitting on.

Just last week I stumbled across a video game that strikingly depicts this. Many games are now multimillion-dollar spectaculars that cost as much as a blockbuster movie to produce. This is not one of them. It is very cheaply made, of the sort that you can get free online and that make their pennies from the ads they force you to watch. It is owned by the game company Voodoo, the number-one publisher on App Store by downloads. Voodoo specialises in low-end games and has been accused of stealing or copying content from independent creators.72 Push’em all is currently one of its biggest sellers. It was downloaded six million times in its first month of release and in November 2019 was briefly ranked the fourth most popular free app across all categories. It features a single figure pushing a large log. There are masses of other figures in front of it, all the same colour and indistinguishable from one another. By pushing them with the log the player can clear the site of these contaminants, scattering them and sending them plummeting over the edge of the play area to their doom.

Public gatherings in Hong Kong, Beijing, Brisbane: push’em all. ‘Push them hard’, adds the App Store encouragingly. It is hard not to see the game as a legitimation of authoritarian violence. This is what neoliberal governance looks like: the cleansing of the public space of all dissent, of all populations, by violent police action. The game embodies a fantasy of the perfect placid emptiness of public space and of the nihilistic satisfactions of the will to power. The city emptied, cleansed and controlled has been an authoritarian dream for some time. Rab’a Square 2013; Tiananmen Square 1989; Tlatelolco 1968; Amritsar 1919. Just as I write this paragraph, the government has announced plans to quarantine several hundred Australian citizens, evacuated from Wuhan because of novel coronavirus, on Christmas Island or in isolated mining camps. (A solution, perhaps, to those under-utilised coal mines.) This authoritarian overreaction only further demonstrates Foucault’s and Giorgio Agamben’s claims about the nature and disciplinary reach of contemporary bio-politics, in which human beings are treated not as citizens with rights but as bodies to be herded. In such a world, public space is not imagined as the heart of the body politic but as a breeding ground for illicit contamination. It is all there in the frontispiece to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan, if only you look closely enough: soldiers and plague doctors own the empty city streets, waiting to stamp out the next outbreak, be it medical or political.

Push’em all is training us to see the world this way, to accept its constraints and its violence, and to applaud its cleanliness and discipline. It demonstrates how far neoliberal common sense has reshaped our art and our play as well as our law and our work. The game speaks clearly to the need to repress political dissent in the name of political order, while at the same time it illuminates the role of contemporary media in legitimation. I have no evidence that a state actor would stoop to funding the production of video games. But why wouldn’t they? Then again, why single out foreign states when corporate interests already benefit disproportionately from neoliberal authoritarianism?

The game offers the following piece of advice: ‘If you throw somebody overboard, you’re legally skilled’. It would be a mistake of course to overthink something probably made and designed in an afternoon and a text that is not even grammatical. Yet the word ‘overboard’ is surely no accident. It feels as though we are sending protesters or refugees to their death, whether off Lampedusa or off Christmas Island. We should push’em all—away, away, driving them into the sea. Even more, we should not just push them but ‘throw somebody’; in other words, we should actively expel human beings from our sovereign jurisdiction. In taking these actions, the game does not merely encourage us to enjoy our desublimated will to power; it insists that it is right to do so. The law is on our side. Violent acts that might be undertaken by riot police or by border security do not simply demonstrate a technological mastery. They are a tribute to our ‘legal skill’.

The Australian government is currently honing these legal skills to perfection, in anticipation of the need to ‘push’em all’ in the not-too-distant future. The government is setting in place legal structures that will enable it to fight the neoliberal endgame. Welfare laws, terrorism laws and border security are vivid manifestations of its desublimated nihilism, and simultaneously the measures needed to smash any resistance to it. This is surely the perfect ideology. Law is the fusion of pleasure and duty; violence both the symbol and instrument of its power.

If there is the slightest glimmer of hope, it lies in the very reliance on state and law to impose these terms. It suggests that neoliberal ideology is not adequate to maintain its economic and social power. Increasing force and the shrillness of political rhetoric suggest a growing resistance. I cannot help but think that the game, in real life or on the screen, would be more challenging—and far more interesting—if played from the point of view of those on the other side of the log. What opportunities for resistance would present themselves? For collaboration? For transformation? This would be a much harder game to play and certainly a harder game to win. But it would be more rewarding, too. As playing the game soon reminds you, ‘push’em all’ is a boring, Sisyphean exercise. Push’em back is where the action is.

Desmond Manderson is Professor of Law at the Centre for Law, Arts and the Humanities, Australian National University.


1 Nicos Poulantzas, State, Power, Socialism, London: Verso, 2000, p.247.

2 Ian Bruff, ‘The Rise of Authoritarian Neoliberalism’, Rethinking Marxism, vol. 26, no. 1, 2014.

3 See Jessica Whyte, The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism, London: Verso, 2019, p. 154.

4 Quoted in Philip Mirowski and Dieter Pluhwe, eds, The Road from Mont Pelerin, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015, p. 328; Friedrich Hayek, Studies in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967, p 161.

5 Hayek, Studies in Philosophy, p. 434; Loïc Wacquant, ‘Crafting the Neoliberal State’, Sociological Forum, vol. 25, no. 2, 2010, pp 197–220.

6 Wendy Brown, Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism’s Stealth Revolution, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015; Wendy Brown, ‘Neoliberalism’s Scorpion Tail’, in William Callison and Zachary Manfredi, eds, Mutant Liberalism, New York: Fordham Press, pp 39–60; Wendy Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, New York: Columbia University Press, 2019. See Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, and Stephen Sawyer and Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, Foucault, Neoliberalism and Beyond, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield International, 2019.

7 Ugo Mattei, ‘Emergency Based Predatory Capitalism’, Contemporary States of Emergency, Didier Fassin, ed., New York: Zone Books, 2010. Also Mirowski, ‘Defining Neoliberalism’, p. 446.

8 See Civicus Monitor, ‘Australia’s Civic Space Rating Downgraded as Freedom of Speech Threatened’, 4 December 2019; and Ben Doherty, ‘Australia’s Civil Rights Rating Downgraded as Report Finds World Becoming Less Free’, The Guardian, 8 December 2019.

9 Gillian Triggs, ‘Overreach of Executive and Ministerial Discretion: A Threat to Australian Democracy’, Victoria University Law and Justice Journal, vol. 7, no. 1, 2017, pp 8–10.

10 Terry Carney, ‘Robo-debt Illegality: The Seven Veils of Failed Guarantees of the Rule of Law’, Alternative Law Journal, vol. 44, no. 1, 2019, pp 4–10.

11 Andrew Whelan, ‘“Ask for More Time”: Big Data Chrono-Politics in the Australian Welfare Bureaucracy’, Critical Sociology, DOI: 10.1177/0896920519866004, 2019, pp 1–14.

12 John van Kooy and Dina Bowman, ‘“Surrounded by so much uncertainty”: Asylum Seekers and Manufactured Precarity in Australia’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, vol. 45, no. 5, 2019, pp 693–710.

13 Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), ‘Raise the Rate of Newstart and Other Allowances’, Briefing Note, January 2020.

14 ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie quoted in The Guardian, 30 January 2020.

15 Loïc Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009; Loïc Wacquant, Prisons of Poverty, Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

16 William Rappard quoted in Jessica Whyte, The Morals of the Market: Human Rights and the Rise of Neoliberalism, London: Verso, 2019, p. 45.

17 Carney, ‘Robo-debt Illegality’, pp 5–8.

18 ASIO Legislative Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003; Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) ss. 100–102.

19 See Andrew Lynch and George Williams, What Price Security?, Sydney: UNSW Press, 2006. For criticism of the ‘balancing’ approach, see Jenny Hocking, ‘Counter-Terrorism and the Criminalisation of Politics’, Australian Journal of Politics and History, vol. 49, no. 3, 2003, pp 355–71; and Christopher Michaelsen, ‘Balancing Civil Liberties Against National Security?’ University of NSW Law Journal, vol. 29, no. 2, 2006, pp 1–3.

20 Hocking, ‘Counter‐Terrorism’, pp 364–5. See also Lisa Burton, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams, ‘The Extraordinary Questioning and Detention Powers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation’, Melbourne University Law Review, vol. 36, no. 2, 2012, p. 415.

21 Jude McCulloch, ‘Human Rights and Terror Laws’, Precedent, 128, 2015, p 29.

22 Criminal Code 1995 ss. 104, 105.

23 ASIO Legislation Amendment Act 2003; Burton, McGarrity and Williams, ‘Extraordinary Questioning and Detention Powers’.

24 George Williams, ‘A Decade of Australian Anti-terror Laws’, Melbourne University Law Review, vol. 35, no. 3, 2011, p. 1136.

25 Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014; Kieran Hardy and George Williams, ‘Australian Legal Responses to Foreign Fighters’, Criminal Law Journal, vol. 40, no. 4, 2016, p. 196.

26 Australian Citizenship Amendment (Allegiance to Australia) Act 2015 (Cth); Australian Citizenship Amendment (Citizenship Cessation) Bill 2019 (Cth) Schedule 1, s. 9, proposed s. 36B–D;  Leslie Esbrook, ‘Citizenship Unmoored: Expatriation as a Counter-terrorism Tool’, University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, vol. 37, no. 4, 2015, p. 1273.

27 Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (Cth) ss. 4, 35K, 35P, s. 34ZS (2); National Security Legislation Amendment Act (No. 1) 2014 (Cth); George Williams, ‘The Legal Assault on Australian Democracy’, QUT Law Review, 2016, vol. 16, no. 2, pp 28–29; Kieran Hardy and George Williams, ‘Special Intelligence Operations and Freedom of the Press’, Alternative Law Journal, vol. 41, no. 3, 2016, pp 160–64.

28 Michael McHugh, ‘Constitutional Implications of Terrorism Legislation’, Judicial Review, vol. 8, no. 2, 2007, p. 189.

29 Julian Burnside, ‘The Secret Trial of Witness J’, The Saturday Paper, no. 284, 21 December 2019–24 January 2020.

30 Bernard Collaery quoted in Alexandra Back, ‘It’s Dirty Political Linen’, Sydney Morning Herald, 6 August 2019; Christopher Knaus, ‘Witness K and the “Outrageous” Spy Scandal that Failed to Shame Australia’, The Guardian, 10 August 2019.

31 Civicus Monitor, ‘Freedoms at Risk in Australia with Media Raids, Silencing of Whistleblowers and Arrest of Protestors’, 29 August 2019.

32 Telecommunications (Interception & Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015 (Cth) Division 4C.

33 Telecommunications & Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance & Access) Act 2018 amending Telecommunications Act 1997 (Cth) Part 15, s. 317.

34 ABC Science, ‘Encryption Bill Could Have “Catastrophic” Outcomes for Australian Business, Industry Leaders Warn’, 30 November 2018; Josh Taylor, ‘Australia’s anti-encryption laws being used to bypass  journalist protections’, The Guardian, 8 July 2019.

35 CounterTerrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Act 2014 (Cth), ss. 60-67, amending Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) ss. 80.2C, 102.1 (1A), 102.1AA.

36 Jenny Hocking, Beyond Terrorism, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1993, chapter 1.

37 Tufyal Choudhury and Helen Fenwick, ‘The Impact of Counter-terrorism Measures on Muslim Communities’, International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 25, no. 3, 2011, pp 151–81.

38 Nicola McGarritty and George Williams, ‘The Proscription of Terrorist Organisations in Australia’, Terrorism and Political Violence, vol. 30, no. 2, 2018, pp 223–4.

39 Matthew Wilson, ‘Chinese Uyghurs: International Terrorists or a Terrorised Minority?’ Australian Institute for International Affairs/Australian Outlook, 23 December 2019; Sean Roberts, The War on the Uyghurs, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

40 Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act 2013 (Qld); Serious and Organised Crime Legislation Amendment Act 2016 (Qld), Part 19 inserting Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 (Qld), Part 9D, esp. Division 3; Rebecca Ananian-Welsh and George Williams, ‘The New Terrorists: The Normalisation and Spread of Anti-Terror Laws in Australia’, Melbourne University Law Review, 2014, vol. 38, no. 1, p 362.

41 Summary Offences and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2019 (Qld), ss. 2–6, amending Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld) ss. 30 and 32 and inserting s. 53AA; Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Amendment Bill 2019 (Tas.); Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014 (Tas); Brown v Tasmania [2017] HCA 43.

42 Criminal Code 1995 (Cth), s. 100.1 (3).

43 Hocking, ‘Counter‐Terrorism’, pp 355, 371.

44 National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 (Cth) Schedule 5 (Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme); Schedule 1 amending Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) ss. 80, 90.1 (1), Subdivision B – Foreign interference, ss. 92.2, 92.3.

45 National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill, Explanatory Memorandum 174.

46 The examples discussed here are drawn from Michael Head, ‘Australia’s Anti-democratic “Foreign Interference” Bills’, Alternative Law Journal, vol. 43, no. 3, 2018, pp 161–63.

47 National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act 2018 (Cth), s. 6 amending Criminal Code (Cth), s. 122.2.

48 Head, ‘Australia’s Anti-democratic “Foreign Interference” Bills’, p. 162.

49 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 199 (Cth), s. 487 (2).

50 Terry Woronov, ‘Waging Lawfare: Law, Environment and Depoliticization in Neoliberal Australia’, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 2019, vol. 30, no. 3, p. 111.

51 David Crowe, ‘Morrison’s Boycott Plan Sparks Free Speech Furore’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 2019.

52 Guy Peters, ‘Politicisation: What Is It and Why Should We Care?’ in Civil Servants and Politics, C. Neuhold, S. Vanhoonacker and Luc Verhey, eds, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, pp 12–24. See also Guy Peters and Jon Pierre, eds, The Politicization of the Civil Service in Comparative Perspective, London: Routledge, 2004.

53 Anne Davies, ‘Government Rejected Several Offers on Water Rights before Reaching $80 Million Deal’, The Guardian, 20 January 2020.

54 Australian National Audit Office, Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program (Auditor-General Report No. 23 of 2019–20).

55Australian National Audit Office, Award of Funding under the Community Sport Infrastructure Program (Auditor-General Report No. 23 of 2019–20), 23–25 at [2.14–2.17].

56 Anne Twomey, ‘Why McKenzie’s Sports Rorts Defence Is Wrong’, Australian Financial Review, 20 January 2020. The Commonwealth power to give grants to the states does not apply: Constitution s. 96.

57 Prime Minister’s Press Conference, 2 February 2020: see transcript,

58 Public Service Act 1999, s. 10(5).

59 Sarah Martin, ‘Coalition Quietly Spent Another $150m Sports Grant Fund during Election Campaign’, The Guardian, 7 February 2020.

60 David Dyzenhaus, ‘Cycles of Legality in Emergency Times’, Public Law Review, 18, 2007, pp 165, 179.

61 Comcare v Banerji [2019] HCA 23, e.g. at [30–36], [70–76]. Kirsten Lawson, ‘Michaela Banerji High Court Decision a Lesson for Public Servants Who Want to be Sneaky and Cute: Dutton’, Canberra Times, 8 August 2019.

62 David Dyzenhaus and Rayner Thwaites, ‘Legality and Emergency: The judiciary in a time of terror’, in Law and Liberty in the War on Terror, Andrew Lynch, Edwina Macdonald and George Williams, eds, Sydney: Federation Press, 2007, p 9.

63 Thomas v Mowbray (2007) 233 CLR 307 (High Court of Australia), Hayne J [511].

64 Thomas v Mowbray (2007) 233 CLR 307 (High Court of Australia), Kirby J [387–88].

65 Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Act 2019 (Cth); Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Act 2019 (Cth).

66 Migration Act 1958 (Cth) s. 501; Migration Amendment (Strengthening the Character Test) Bill 2019 (Cth).

67 Van Kooy and Bowman, ‘Surrounded with So Much Uncertainty’; Catriona Stevens, ‘Temporary Work, Permanent Visas and Circular Dreams: Temporal Disjunctures and Precarity among Chinese Migrants to Australia’, Current Sociology, 2019, vol. 67, no. 2, pp 294–314.

68 Philip Mirowski, ‘Defining Neoliberalism’, p. 446; Brown, Undoing the Demos; Sawyer and Steinmetz-Jenkins, Foucault, Neoliberalism and Beyond. In particular, see Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, George  Schwab, trans., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1986; Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, Ellen Kennedy, trans., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1988; Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, Kevin Attell, trans., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005; Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006; and Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

69 Slavoj Žižek, ‘Superego by Default’, Cardozo Law Review, 1994, vol. 16, p. 925; Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 1989.

70 Brown, In the Ruins of Neoliberalism, p. 167.

71 Whyte, Morals of the Market, pp 1–34.

72 Jess Conditt, ‘Mobile Gaming Titans Keep Ripping Off Indies’, Engadget, 7 November 2018,

Beyond the Economic Chaos of Coronavirus Is a Global War Economy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 6:16am in













Members of the Wayuu ethnic group watch as a U.S. army helicopter arrives for a joint exercise in the “Tres Bocas” area in northern Colombia on March 13, 2020. JUAN BARRETO / AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

By William I. Robinson

March 23, 2020 – What does a virus have to do with war and repression? The coronavirus has disrupted global supply networks and spread panic throughout the world’s stock markets. The pandemic will pass, not without a heavy toll. But in the larger picture, the fallout from the virus exposes the fragility of a global economy that never fully recovered from the 2008 financial collapse and has been teetering on the brink of renewed crisis for years.

The crisis of global capitalism is as much structural as it is political. Politically, the system faces a crisis of capitalist hegemony and state legitimacy. As is now well-known, the level of global social polarization and inequality is unprecedented. In 2018, the richest 1 percent of humanity controlled more than half of the world’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent of this wealth. Such stark global inequalities are politically explosive, and to the extent that the system is simply unable to reverse them, it turns to ever more violent forms of containment to manage immiserated populations.

Structurally, the system faces a crisis of what is known as overaccumulation. As inequalities escalate, the system churns out more and more wealth that the mass of working people cannot actually consume. As a result, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy. Overaccumulation refers to a situation in which enormous amounts of capital (profits) are accumulated, yet this capital cannot be reinvested profitably and becomes stagnant.

Indeed, corporations enjoyed record profits during the 2010s at the same time that corporate investment declined. Worldwide corporate cash reserves topped $12 trillion in 2017, more than the foreign exchange reserves of the world’s central governments, yet transnational corporations cannot find enough opportunities to profitably reinvest their profits. As this uninvested capital accumulates, enormous pressures build up to find outlets for unloading the surplus. By the 21st century, the transnational capitalist class turned to several mechanisms in order to sustain global accumulation in the face of overaccumulation, above all, financial speculation in the global casino, along with the plunder of public finances, debt-driven growth and state-organized militarized accumulation.

Militarized Accumulation

It is the last of these mechanisms, what I have termed militarized accumulation, that I want to focus on here. The crisis is pushing us toward a veritable global police state. The global economy is becoming ever more dependent on the development and deployment of systems of warfare, social control and repression, apart from political considerations, simply as a means of making profit and continuing to accumulate capital in the face of stagnation. The so-called wars on drugs and terrorism; the undeclared wars on immigrants, refugees, gangs, and poor, dark-skinned and working-class youth more generally; the construction of border walls, immigrant jails, prison-industrial complexes, systems of mass surveillance, and the spread of private security guard and mercenary companies, have all become major sources of profit-making.

The events of September 11, 2001, marked the start of an era of a permanent global war in which logistics, warfare, intelligence, repression, surveillance, and even military personnel are more and more the privatized domain of transnational capital. Criminalization of surplus humanity activates state-sanctioned repression that opens up new profit-making opportunities for the transnational capitalist class. Permanent war involves endless cycles of destruction and reconstruction, each phase in the cycle fueling new rounds and accumulation, and also results in the ongoing enclosure of resources that become available to the capitalist class.

Criminalization of surplus humanity activates state-sanctioned repression that opens up new profit-making opportunities for the transnational capitalist class.

The Pentagon budget increased 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011, while worldwide, total defense outlays grew by 50 percent from 2006 to 2015, from $1.4 trillion to $2.03 trillion, although this figure does not take into account secret budgets, contingency operations and “homeland security” spending. The global market in homeland security reached $431 billion in 2018 and was expected to climb to $606 billion by 2024. In the decade from 2001 to 2011, military industry profits nearly quadrupled. In total, the United States spent a mind-boggling nearly $6 trillion from 2001 to 2018 on its Middle East wars alone.

Led by the United States as the predominant world power, military expansion in different countries has taken place through parallel (and often conflictive) processes, yet all show the same relationship between state militarization and global capital accumulation. In 2015, for instance, the Chinese government announced that it was setting out to develop its own military-industrial complex modeled after the United States, in which private capital would assume the leading role. Worldwide, official state military outlays in 2015 represented about 3 percent of the gross world product of $75 trillion (this does not include state military spending not made public).

But militarized accumulation involves vastly more than activities generated by state military budgets. There are immense sums involved in state spending and private corporate accumulation through militarization and other forms of generating profit through repressive social control that do not involve militarization per se, such as structural controls over the poor through debt collection enforcement mechanisms or accumulation opportunities opened up by criminalization.

The Privatization of War and Repression
The various wars, conflicts, and campaigns of social control and repression around the world involve the fusion of private accumulation with state militarization. In this relationship, the state facilitates the expansion of opportunities for private capital to accumulate through militarization. The most obvious way that the state opens up these opportunities is to facilitate global weapons sales by military-industrial-security firms, the amounts of which have reached unprecedented levels. Between 2003 and 2010 alone, the Global South bought nearly half a trillion dollars in weapons from global arms dealers. Global weapons sales by the top 100 weapons manufacturers and military service companies increased by 38 percent between 2002 and 2016.

Global weapons sales by the top 100 weapons manufacturers and military service companies increased by 38 percent between 2002 and 2016.

The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan precipitated the explosion in private military and security contractors around the world deployed to protect the transnational capitalist class. Private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of those wars exceeded the number of U.S. combat troops in both countries, and outnumbered U.S. troops in Afghanistan by a three-to-one margin. Beyond the United States, private military and security firms have proliferated worldwide and their deployment is not limited to the major conflict zones in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa. In his study, Corporate Warriors, P.W. Singer documents how privatized military forces (PMFs) have come to play an ever more central role in military conflicts and wars. “A new global industry has emerged,” he noted. “It is outsourcing and privatization of a twenty-first century variety, and it changes many of the old rules of international politics and warfare. It has become global in both its scope and activity.” Beyond the many based in the United States, PMFs come from numerous countries around the world, including Russia, South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, India, the EU countries and Israel, among others.

Beyond wars, PMFs open up access to economic resources and corporate investment opportunities — deployed, for instance, to mining areas and oil fields — leading Singer to term PMFs “investment enablers.” PMF clients include states, corporations, landowners, nongovernmental organizations, even the Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. From 2005 to 2010, the Pentagon contracted some 150 firms from around the world for support and security operations in Iraq alone. By 2018, private military companies employed some 15 million people around the world, deploying forces to guard corporate property; provide personal security for corporate executives and their families; collect data; conduct police, paramilitary, counterinsurgency and surveillance operations; carry out mass crowd control and repression of protesters; manage prisons; run private detention and interrogation facilities; and participate in outright warfare.

Meanwhile, the private security (policing) business is one of the fastest growing economic sectors in many countries and has come to overshadow public security around the world. According to Singer, the amount spent on private security in 2003, the year of the invasion of Iraq, was 73 percent higher than that spent in the public sphere, and three times as many persons were employed in private forces as in official law enforcement agencies. In parts of Asia, the private security industry grew at 20 percent to 30 percent per year. Perhaps the biggest explosion of private security was the near complete breakdown of public agencies in post-Soviet Russia, with over 10,000 new security firms opening since 1989. There were an outstanding 20 million private security workers worldwide in 2017, and the industry was expected to be worth over $240 billion by 2020. In half of the world’s countries, private security agents outnumber police officers.

As all of global society becomes a highly surveilled and controlled and wildly profitable battlespace, we must not forget that the technologies of the global police state are driven as much, or more, by the campaign to open up new outlets for accumulation as they are by strategic or political considerations. The rise of the digital economy and the blurring of the boundaries between military and civilian sectors fuse several fractions of capital — especially finance, military-industrial and tech companies — around a combined process of financial speculation and militarized accumulation. The market for new social control systems made possible by digital technology runs into the hundreds of billions. The global biometrics market, for instance, was expected to jump from its $15 billion value in 2015 to $35 billion by 2020.

Criminalization of the poor, racially oppressed, immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable communities is the most clear-cut method of accumulation by repression.

As the tech industry emerged in the 1990s, it was from its inception tied to the military-industrial-security complex and the global police state. Over the years, for instance, Google has supplied mapping technology used by the U.S. Army in Iraq, hosted data for the Central Intelligence Agency, indexed the National Security Agency’s vast intelligence databases, built military robots, co-launched a spy satellite with the Pentagon, and leased its cloud computing platform to help police departments predict crime. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and the other tech giants are thoroughly intertwined with the military-industrial and security complex.

Criminalization and the War on Immigrants and Refugees

Criminalization of the poor, racially oppressed, immigrants, refugees and other vulnerable communities is the most clear-cut method of accumulation by repression. This type of criminalization activates “legitimate” state repression to enforce the accumulation of capital, whereby the state turns to private capital to carry out repression against those criminalized.

There has been a rapid increase in imprisonment in countries around the world, led by the United States, which has been exporting its own system of mass incarceration. In 2019, it was involved in the prison systems of at least 33 different countries, while the global prison population grew by 24 percent from 2000 to 2018. This carceral state opens up enormous opportunities at multiple levels for militarized accumulation. Worldwide, there were in the early 21st century some 200 privately operated prisons on all continents and many more “public-private partnerships” that involved privatized prison services and other forms of for-profit custodial services such as privatized electronic monitoring programs. The countries that were developing private prisons ranged from most member states of the European Union, to Israel, Russia, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Africa, New Zealand, Ecuador, Australia, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Canada.

Those criminalized include millions of migrants and refugees around the world. Repressive state controls over the migrant and refugee population and criminalization of non-citizen workers makes this sector of the global working class vulnerable to super-exploitation and hyper-surveillance. In turn, this self-same repression in and of itself becomes an ever more important source of accumulation for transnational capital. Every phase in the war on migrants and refugees has become a wellspring of profit making, from private, for-profit migrant jails and the provision of services inside them such as health care, food, phone systems, to other ancillary activities of the deportation regime, such as government contracting of private charter flights to ferry deportees back home, and the equipping of armies of border agents.

Undocumented immigrants constitute the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. prison population and are detained in private migrant jails and deported by private companies contracted out by the U.S. state. As of 2010, there were 270 immigration jails in the U.S. that caged on any given day over 30,000 immigrants and annually locked up some 400,000 individuals, compared to just a few dozen people in immigrant detention each day prior to the 1980s. From 2010 to 2018, federal spending on these detentions jumped from $1.8 billion to $3.1 billion. Given that such for-profit prison companies as CoreCivic and GEO Group are traded on the Wall Street stock exchange, investors from anywhere around the world may buy and sell their stock, and in this way, develop a stake in immigrant repression quite removed from, if not entirely independent, of the more pointed political and ideological objectives of this repression.

Every phase in the war on migrants and refugees has become a wellspring of profit making.

In the United States, the border security industry was set to double in value from $305 billion in 2011 to some $740 billion in 2023. Mexican researcher Juan Manuel Sandoval traces how the U.S.-Mexico border region has been reconfigured into a “global space for the expansion of transnational capital.” This “global space” is centered on the U.S. side around high-tech military and aerospace related industries, military bases, and the deploying of other civilian and military forces for combating “immigration, drug trafficking, and terrorism through a strategy of low-intensity warfare.” On the Mexican side, it involves the expansion of maquiladoras (sweatshops), mining and industry in the framework of capitalist globalization and North American integration.

The tech sector in the United States has become heavily involved in the war on immigrants as Silicon Valley plays an increasingly central role in the expansion and acceleration of arrests, detentions and deportations. As their profits rise from participation in this war, leading tech companies have in turn pushed for an expansion of incarceration and deportation of immigrants, and lobbied the state to use their innovative social control and surveillance technologies in anti-immigrant campaigns.

In Europe, the refugee crisis and EU’s program to “secure borders” has provided a bonanza to military and security companies providing equipment to border military forces, surveillance systems and information technology infrastructure. The budget for the EU public-private border security agency, Frontex, increased a whopping 3,688 percent between 2005 and 2016, while the European border security market was expected to nearly double, from some $18 billion in 2015 to approximately $34 billion in 2022.

The Coronavirus Is Not to Blame

When the pandemic comes to an end, we will be left with a global economy even more dependent on militarized accumulation than before the virus hit.
As stock markets around the world began to plummet starting in late February, mainstream commentators blamed the coronavirus for the mounting crisis. But the virus was only the spark that ignited the financial implosion. The plunge in stock markets suggests that for some time to come, financial speculation will be less able to serve as an outlet for over-accumulated capital. When the pandemic comes to an end, we will be left with a global economy even more dependent on militarized accumulation than before the virus hit.

We must remember that accumulation by war, social control and repression is driven by a dual logic of providing outlets for over-accumulated capital in the face of stagnation, and of social control and repression as capitalist hegemony breaks down. The more the global economy comes to depend on militarization and conflict, the greater the drive to war and the higher the stakes for humanity. There is a built-in war drive to the current course of capitalist globalization. Historically, wars have pulled the capitalist system out of crisis while they have also served to deflect attention from political tensions and problems of legitimacy. Whether or not a global police state driven by the twin imperatives of social control and militarized accumulation becomes entrenched is contingent on the outcome of the struggles raging around the world among social and class forces and their competing political projects.

William I. Robinson is professor of sociology, global studies and Latin American studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His most recent book is Global Capitalism and the Crisis of Humanity. This article draws on the author’s forthcoming book, The Global Police State, which will be released by Pluto Press in July 2020.