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The IPCRESS File: The Spectator and the Faux Rebellion of Neoliberal Identity Politics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 11:12am in

The United Kingdom’s ITV television network has just remade The IPCRESS File for global distribution. The new series draws on the source material of the original 1962 novel by Len Deighton about an unnamed every-man spy. The subsequent 1965 film starring Michael Cainehas created marketing space for the contemporary series too. In this version the every man agent became the named working-class cockney spy Harry Palmer, whose ordinary class status was contextualised by reference to day-to-day issues of supermarket shopping and inadequate pay (part of an overall move—including the writings of John le Carré—away from sci-fi gadget-encrusted Bond-like supermen). The development of this central protagonist has been supported by a set of follow-up novels and films, which has created a meta-textual identity for Palmer, culminating in this remake.  What might we read in the changes evident in this new adaptation?

A significant pleasure of the original film for its contemporary audiences was how it dealt with its class-based subtext.  Harry Palmer was less a middle-class Queen-&-Country man than a working-class individual whose quirky talent for questioning, wheeling, and dealing elevated him into a civil service security job instead of a typical 60s state-sector job.  The climax of the film reveals how Palmer’s working-class contrarian anti-authoritarian orientation allows him to break from the orders of a foreign government’s brainwashing. His boss dismisses his complaints about his sacrificial endangerment saying, ‘it’s what I pay you for Palmer.  In this respect, working-class Palmer is a highly representative protagonist of Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s 60s-era Labour government having a foot both inside and outside the system.

The new adaptation is quite a distinct restructuring of the original treatments, and while keeping Palmer’s narrative as an orientation point, moves the audience away from a single-protagonist engagement, offering instead multiple back-stories for characters Paul Maddox (Ashley Thomas), Jean Courtney (Lucy Boynton), and Palmer’s social opposite Major Dalby (Tom Hollander), some of whom appear in the original source material.  Essentially, multiple points of identification are being offered to align with current demands of supposedly multi-cultural, neoliberal niche-marketing. This however subverts genuine representations and generates a number of anachronisms.

One of these is the manufactured character of Black US intelligence agent Paul Maddox, supposedly operating internationally in the early 1960s. Plot reference is made to this being unusual but this doesn’t really cover the taboo-fracturing artificial nature of his presence.  Maddox is seen asked out for drinks by white American colleagues and dances with white-blonde Jean Courtney at a US military site without so much as a surprised racially motivated cough of reproach. While US Military segregation might have officially ended by the 60s,unofficially it persisted violently throughout the Vietnam War era.

If screenwriter/adaptor John Hodge didn’t know his social history, then Hollywood popular culture should have informed this representation. Hidden Figures (2016) revealed that during this era even NASA’s toilets were segregated. Brian’s Song (1970) treated the example of a close US inter-racial friendship during this era as so exceptional as to justify a biopic of the experience. Some years after the period setting of The IPCRESS File, the mixed-marriage drama Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) pointed out that anti-miscegenation laws banning inter-racial relations still existed in seventeen US states more than a third of the country.  Indicative of US racial phobias, a year later British chanteuse and actor Petula Clark sang a duet with Black American Harry Belafonte on her 1968 US television show.  Producers asked for another take of the duet because she’d inadvertently touched his arm. Characteristically for the present era of capitalism, the television series has absented this history of racial oppression, while seeking to elicit Black engagement in its cultural consumption.

This pattern is replicated in how women’s identity and historical marginalisation are similarly downplayed in the series.  Admittedly one character, indicative of the era’s limited contraception options, takes her own life after getting pregnant to a Russian spy.  But in the main, female characters demonstrate a level of agency historically and socially unusual, which is hard to find many equivalents of in popular culture from that period, including the source texts.  In the 1965 Icpress film, the female office veteran was a borderline sexist British ‘battleaxe’ stereotype. By contrast, the new series depicts this character as former lethal Second World War spy Alice (Anastasia Hille).  This affirmative tone runs counter to more authentic representations, found in films such as Plenty (1985) and Charlotte Gray (2001), which suggest that in the post-war era such women were often simply establishment-career dumped. 

In the original 1965 film, the main attributes of the younger character Jean Courtney, as played by Sue Lloyd, was sufficient experience to keep her head down in a potentially career-threatening competitively hostile patriarchal office environment.  As now played by Lucy Boynton, establishment careerist Jean is at least as sexualised as Lloyd’s earlier representation, though now broodingly aggressive about making it in a male-dominated world, which the production has her combat via a Princess Margaret-like accent and an implausibly expensive work wardrobe that seems to have come from Jackie Kennedy. Clearly the production is departing from the realist, anti-Bond, end-of-the-spy genre. Perhaps some viewers watching the dubious sequence in which Major Dalby hands out machine guns—equally implausibly representing basic intelligence-gathering staff as able to function as an off-the-cuff special forces tactical unit—might have wondered how a character, regardless of gender, could cope with heavy automatic weapon recoil while managing the logistics of an impractical Jackie-K hemline, with only the ground purchase provided by stiletto-heeled summer sling-backs.

In The IPCRESS File, the historical problem of invisible career women being reduced to the unofficial status of office ‘tea-ladies’ has, eschewing issues of sexual objectification, apparently been solved by Jean’s intensive use of lipstick. It’s worth recalling, in comparison, that during this depicted period a generation of anti-establishment, subversive revolutionary women, such as Angela Davis, Germaine Greer and Selma James, were coming to maturity. For the purposes of marketed cultural consumption, women are being offered points of identification in this current adaptation, though the fight against sexual objectification, struggles for agency, and the real historical restrictions they experienced at the hands of the patriarchy are like the representation of Black ethnic oppression; that is, largely absented.

Intelligence office boss Major Dalby (Tom Hollander) is Palmer’s class counterpoint in the text.  In accent, iconography and deportment he is overtly of the ruling class. In the source materials he is depicted has corrupted. By contrast, the new series portrays him as tempted into national betrayal by love, the orthodoxies of his position in society having trapped him in an uncommunicative, stagnate marriage. And while it might be true that being a member of the patrician class is bad for your emotional well-being; this representation does have the effect of creating another identity point of narrative entry. In essence, a viewer can now enjoy identification with a narrative, supposedly about Palmer, even from an elevated class position. It is Dalby that also recognises Palmer’s talents and promotes him into intelligence. So, even though for the purposes of demonstrating Palmer’s worldliness he’s shown occasionally quoting Karl Marx, Dalby’s function in the text in relation to Palmer helps undermine the sense that class exists at all as a constraining oppression.  Here class is just part of a set of identities. 

British Screen journal of the 1970s created some of the more important film theories on how in Lacanian psychoanalytic terms, the spectator (viewer) is sown or knitted into a visual text, and therefore potentially into its ideological project.  Stephen Heath’s Notes on Suture (1978) is a prominent source applicable here.  Perhaps more useful for this analysis is feminist Laura Mulvey’s Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975).  Very crudely and inadequately summarised Mulvey suggests spectator engagement is generated by two types of scopophilia – sexual visual pleasure.  One of these is voyeuristic pleasure in sexualised objectified representations of femininity. Mulvey cites the image of Lauran Bacall in To Have, and Have Not (1944), an example we find replicated in Lucy Boynton’s portrayal of Jean Courtney.  The other pleasure offered is male narcissism.  The spectator is Oedipally encouraged to identify with the central male protagonist or his doubles/surrogates within the narrative. The IPCRESS File adaptation, demonstrates that in our era of neoliberal niche-marketing capitalism, the cultural iconographic vocabulary of these narcissistic points of identification have been significantly extended – even to the extent of Jean Courtney functioning as both sexualised object and idealised character.  However in terms of sidelining critical politics or oppressive reality, the service to power has not been changed.

This still leaves two ‘characters’, which are interrelated, in The IPCRESS File.  The first is the 60s itself, here represented in vivid lacquered strategies, using glossily restored London buses, part of an overall fetish for period fashion, and using expressionistic camera angles that invoke the 1965 film, and possibly CGI staging.  This is the 60s as emblematic of Baudrillard’s ‘hyperreality’, – a 60s as theme park ride, with numerous disciplined identities from within capitalism, provided their own special entry gate.  As hyperreality, this is an ideological safe zone where nostalgic and fetishised identities are shorn of the historical and social contexts that could say something about power

Indeed, this relates to the character that in later episodes is revealed as the villain of the piece: US General Cathcart. Potentially in this hyperreal safe zone, there is a postmodern joke inference that this might be the older version of Colonel Cathcart, the antagonist from the Second World War novel, Catch-22. The General is a borderline sociopath obsessed with developing a neutron bomb, and he is finally killed-off when Palmer breaks from his brainwashing. Here in this 60s theme park, the threat is over. In real reality, the ideology that Cathcart represents has continued in the use of napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam, in the imposition of numerous Fascist regimes and their death squads across South America, and in global mass civilian casualties and the use of uranium-based munitions in Iraq and elsewhere, the last producing a generation of Iraqi babies with birth defects.

In the real 1960s, the public protested US imperialism outside US embassies. What are the chances of the global audience as spectators of The IPCRESS File doing the same?  

Johnson may have received Russian money for his leadership campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/05/2022 - 6:42am in

So reveals a recent New York Times article I’m not surprised – Putin must have been delighted that such a self serving Narcissist was likely to take charge of the Tory Party and hence Britain. At least Labour are asking questions – even if the UK Mainstrem media haven’t even mentioned it… Nothing remarkble about... Read more

Reblog – No, MMT Didn’t Wreck Sri Lanka

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 8:37pm in

Debunking Bloomberg with Fadhel Kaboub

Written by Stephanie Kelton

Originally published on Stephanie Kelton’s “The Lens” on 29th April 2022.

Two poor men sitting on a trolley on a street of closed shops. Petta, Colombo, Sri LankaImage by Harshabad on Pixabay

Last week, Bloomberg touted an opinion piece (written by one of its regular columnists) claiming that “Sri Lanka was the first country in the world to try MMT” and that “the experiment has brought the country to ruin.” A few days later, The Washington Post republished the article. So it garnered a fair bit of attention. Unfortunately, the essay offers little insight into what’s really gone wrong in Sri Lanka. But, hey, editors and writers have discovered that MMT drives clicks, so there’s no dearth of efforts to shoehorn MMT into almost anything.

A number of people sent me the link and asked me to respond. I sat down to do just that, but then I remembered that MMT economist Fadhel Kaboub talks about Sri Lanka in some of his presentations and that he’s been studying the country for years.

Fadhel is an Associate Professor of Economics at Denison University and President of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity. He brings deeper knowledge of the Sri Lankan economy and the policy decisions that have paved the way for their current predicament. So I reached out to invite him to respond to Mihir Sharma’s main claims about the so-called MMT experiment in Sri Lanka.

Sharma’s big claim is that “two cherished heterodox theories…became official policy in Sri Lanka and, within two years, they brought the country to the brink of default and ruin.” The government has halted payments of its foreign debt and warned that it may default. Import prices are surging. It’s hard for people to buy food and fuel. There are periodic blackouts and rationing. Inflation is close to 19 per cent and the central bank has recently doubled interest rates. Sharma acknowledges that there are ’structural factors’ at play, and he concedes that the pandemic hammered the nation’s tourism sector while the Russian invasion of Ukraine made everything worse. But he argues that “the deeper problem” is that the ruling elite “turned Sri Lanka’s policymaking over to cranks.” One of the heterodox theories that is supposedly responsible for the crisis is MMT.[1] What follows is a lightly-edited transcript of my Q&A with Professor Kaboub.

KELTON: Sharma claims that “Sri Lanka is the first country in the world to reference MMT officially as a justification for money printing.” He blames former central bank governor, Weligamage Don Lakshman, for listening to monetary cranks who convinced him that “nobody needs to worry about debt sustainability” as long as you “increase the proportion of domestic debt [relative to debt denominated in foreign currency].” Is there anything in MMT that says that as long as you “increase the proportion of domestic debt” you can “print money” without worrying about debt sustainability or inflation?

KABOUB: When I first read the statement of Sri Lanka’s Central Bank governor, Mr Weligamage Don Lakshman, back in 2020, it was very clear to me that he does not understand the basic MMT insights. He was under the impression that what matters in terms of monetary sovereignty is the proportion of foreign currency debt relative to domestic currency debt and that there was no need to rethink the foundation of the economic development model that his country has used since the late 1970s. Governor Lakshman focused on the proportion of debt but never questioned what the external debt was fueling, and never articulated how a higher proportion of domestic debt was going to build economic resilience in Sri Lanka.

MMT economists have been very clear all along that a country’s fiscal spending capacity is constrained by the risk of inflation, which is determined by the level of productive capacity (availability of real resources, productivity, skills, logistics, supply chains, etc.) and the level of abusive market power enjoyed by key players in the economy (cartels, exclusive import license holders, shell companies, cross-border traffickers, speculators, corrupt government procurement systems, etc.). Therefore, increasing a country’s fiscal policy space must be done via strategic investments to boost productive capacity and regulation of abusive market power. Sri Lanka’s economic policy choices (pre-pandemic and Russia-Ukraine war) do not even come close to what MMT economists would have suggested.

As I will explain below, Sri Lanka has three structural economic weaknesses that were systematically reinforced via mainstream economic policies: 1.) lack of food sovereignty, 2.) lack of energy sovereignty, and 3.) low value-added exports. These deficiencies imply that accelerating the country’s economic engines leads to more pressure on its external balance, a weaker exchange rate, higher inflationary pressures (especially food/fuel/medicine and basic necessities), and, as a result, it leads to the classic trap of external debt.

Here is how it all started. Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Global South, began the liberalization of its economy in 1977, and adopted a classic IMF-style economic development model based on exports, foreign direct investment (FDI), tourism, and remittances. This development model remained tamed during the civil war (1983-2009), but it was fully unleashed in 2009, and that is when external debt began to skyrocket, going from $16 billion in 2008 to nearly $56 billion in 2019. The value of the Sri Lankan rupee dropped from 114 to 178 LCU/USD. Thanks to a massive increase in government subsidies and transfers reaching more than 30 per cent of government spending in recent years, Sri Lanka struggled to keep inflation below 5 per cent. Yet, economists celebrated Sri Lanka’s great achievements with an average growth rate exceeding 5 per cent in the decade after the civil war, and a real per capita GDP growth putting the country officially in the upper-middle-income economy category. Sri Lanka was following the mainstream economic development model like a good student. In the decade starting in 2009, exports grew from $9.3 to $19.1 billion, tourism quintupled from 0.5 to 2.5 million visitors annually, FDI inflows quadrupled by 2018 to a record $1.6 billion, and remittances doubled to nearly $7 billion annually. These are the four engines of Sri Lanka’s economic growth, but they are also the engines driving the country deeper into the structural traps of food and energy dependency, and specialization in low value-added exports.

Here is how these engines constitute a trap. An increase in tourism induces more food and energy imports. An increase in remittances means more brain drain. An increase in low value-added exports induces more imports of capital, intermediate goods, fuel etc.; and an increase in low value-added FDI does the same plus the repatriation of profits out of Sri Lanka. On a global scale, these neocolonial economic traps have suctioned $152 trillion from the Global South since 1960.

KELTON: Sharma argues that it was the “printing of money” that caused inflation to hit record highs. He cites the rate of growth of the Sri Lankan money supply and concludes that inflation hit record highs because the central bank expanded the money supply by 42 per cent from December 2019 to August 2021. Why isn’t this a critique of MMT, and how do you think about the current inflationary pressures?

KABOUB: Sharma is wrong on two fronts here. First, he is assuming that the central bank actually controls the money supply, when in fact the money supply is an endogenous variable determined by the private sector (consumers, business, and banks). The central bank simply accommodates the needs of the market in order to keep short-term interest rates at a stable target, otherwise it will cause all kinds of instability across financial markets. Second, Sharma is assuming that inflation is caused by an increase in the money supply, when in reality, Sri Lanka’s inflation, like many developing countries, imports its inflation via food and energy imports. The higher the pressure on the external balance, the weaker the exchange rate, the higher the inflation pressure from imported goods. Sri Lanka struggled with these pressures for a decade, and managed to muddle through by accumulating more external debt, which quickly became unbearable after the pandemic (loss of tourism, remittances, FDI, and export revenues) and the massive increase in global food and energy prices after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The solutions to Sri Lanka’s inflation problems are not in the hands of its central bank. Raising interest rates in Sri Lanka will not end the war in Ukraine, or end the pandemic-induced global supply chain disruptions. The most effective anti-inflation tools fall under fiscal policy. It is the parliament, and the various ministries and commissions that can design strategic investments to boost productive capacity, and have the legal authority to update and enforce antitrust laws. In fact, raising interest rates can often fuel inflation (and inequality) because it is the equivalent of an income subsidy to bond holders, and a tax on actual investors who might be discouraged from increasing productive capacity

KELTON: Sharma appears to know that he has offered a faulty representation of MMT. He anticipates some of the counterpoints that I suspect you and I would both raise. He writes, “proponents of MMT will likely say that this was not real MMT, or that Sri Lanka is not a sovereign country as long as it has any foreign debt.” You have been studying Sri Lanka for a few years now. What, if anything, have policymakers done that suggest that they have been running any kind of “MMT experiment” over the last two years?

KABOUB: Well, this is where Sharma nails it! As I explained above, Sri Lanka’s economic policies don’t even come close to anything informed by MMT insights. Sri Lanka’s government ignored its structural weaknesses, didn’t invest in food/energy and strategic domestic productive capacity, didn’t tax/regulate abusive market power, has a corrupt political system dominated by a single family, and when it was backed into a corner after the pandemic, it doubled down on bad economic decision by claiming that agricultural fertilizers are unhealthy (when they really didn’t have the foreign exchange reserves to pay for the imports), so they destroyed agricultural output, especially rice, in the middle of global food crisis. If the Sri Lankan government was serious about investing in healthy food or a healthy economy, it would have put forward an actual food sovereignty strategy centred on native seeds, it would have discouraged intensive monoculture farming, it would have invested in regenerative farming to undo decades of damage to the soil, and it would have supported farmers to increase yields with well-defined medium and long term strategies. Clearly, this “organic farming” experiment was sloppy at best, but it should not overshadow the fact that the roots of the agricultural vulnerability have been decades in the making.

KELTON: Sharma chides the government for shunning the advice of “mainstream economists” and for “refusing to even consult the IMF.” Let’s assume he’s right about the central bank and other policymakers turning away from mainstream economists and institutions like the IMF. What kind of advice has the IMF given to Sri Lanka in the past, and what kind of economic development strategies would you recommend if officials called on you to advise them?

KABOUB: Sri Lanka has been following the IMF instruction manual for decades. It has received 16 loans from the IMF since the 1960s, and it is currently negotiating another one. Since 1996, Sri Lanka has never been away from the IMF’s negotiating table for more than 3 or 4 years at a time. Despite the political rhetoric of the Sri Lankan government over the last couple of years, the current Sri Lankan administration has abided by the IMF’s terms and conditions of the $1.5 billion Extended Fund Facility (that’s the 16th loan disbursed between 2016-2020). So maybe the Sri Lankan government has come to realize that the IMF instruction manual is actually harmful. The problem is that they don’t fully understand why, and they certainly haven’t identified an alternative strategy to escape from this trap.

In terms of policy advice, Sri Lanka needs emergency assistance with immediate shipments of food, fuel, medicine, and basic necessities. Sri Lanka needs debt relief rather than debt restructuring. For example, UNDP has recently recommended negotiating debt-for-nature swaps. There are other debt swap mechanisms such as debt-for-development, debt-for-equity, and debt-buy backs. The Sri Lankan central bank should be negotiating FX swap line agreements with the central banks of its major trading partners in order to stabilize the value of its currency.

Sri Lanka should also access the IMF’s newly created $45 billion Resilience and Sustainability Trust (RTS), which, unlike other IMF facilities, is actually a program that funds strategic investments to build resilience and promote sustainability. Sri Lanka would qualify for up to $1.4 billion of concessional loans with substantial grace periods. However, to qualify for RTS funds, Sri Lanka must first have an existing agreement with the IMF. It needs to enter these negotiations with its own strategic vision in order to escape the IMF’s austerity and external debt trap.

The IMF wants countries to establish an economic policy framework that leads to external debt sustainability, but its track record has been a miserable failure. Sri Lanka needs to convince the IMF and other lenders and strategic partners, that it can only escape this external debt trap if it tackles the problem at its source — e.g. by investing strategically in food sovereignty (with an actual long-term strategy rather than half-baked organic farming wishful thinking), investing in renewable energy capacity (energy efficiency, public transportation, etc.), investing in education and vocational training in order to climb up the value chain in the manufacturing sector, and becoming more selective in its support for export industries and FDI projects. In other words, ending the race to the bottom policies, and building resilience to external shocks.

These strategic investments must be coupled with an actual democratization of the political as well as the economic system. The government needs to crack down on corruption, cartels, abusive price setters, and entities that enjoy exclusive economic power and have every incentive to object to the strategic investments listed above.

The sad part of this story is that Sri Lanka is only one of many countries in the Global South facing the same structural traps, struggling with unbearable external debt, soaring food and energy prices, shortages, and rising social and political tensions.

 

[1] The other has to do with a shift toward organic farming that has apparently fueled a precipitous drop in crop yields, farming incomes, and export revenues.

 

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The post Reblog – No, MMT Didn’t Wreck Sri Lanka appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

Splendour of the Queen’s Speech brings no relief for hungry people

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 5:47am in

Prince Charles sitting alongside the Imperial State Crown in the House of Lords at the State Opening of ParliamentCopyright House of Lords 2022 / Photography by Annabel Moeller. Creative Commons 2.0 license

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.
Jane Addams, US social reformer and suffragette (1860-1935)

 

How best to describe the state opening of Parliament this week? An anachronism in the 21st Century, bearing no relationship to the reality of people’s lives? Or, as Raphael Behr suggested in a Guardian article, ‘it was a reminder that much of what passes for a British constitution is actually fancy dress’. A King in waiting, dressed up in his military uniform, sporting medals and seated next to his mother’s jewelled crown, delivering a speech not actually written by her at all. You couldn’t make it up.

In terms of the reality of people’s lives, in these difficult and uncertain times, it proved as predicted, to be all show and no substance as the very real hardships being faced by people were scarcely acknowledged. No further solutions were offered to the growing financial insecurity caused by the ongoing fallout from the pandemic, global supply issues and rising inflation, along with the Ukraine war, which are all affecting the global economy with concomitant knock-on effects on individual nations.

The Spring Budget brought forth little relief, and the Queen’s Speech reinforced it. We have to bear the pain now to enjoy jam tomorrow! Michael Gove was adamant in ruling out an emergency budget during a televised interview earlier this week and blamed the current situation on global inflation, as if somehow the government had no tools to alleviate the growing pressures on families across the country.

The cure for this economic mess is, according to Boris Johnson, to ‘revive Britain’s economic growth’, as if that could be achieved by next week. He told parliament on Tuesday that whilst his government would make every effort to help those struggling with rising prices, ‘however great our compassion and ingenuity, we cannot simply spend our way out of this problem, we need to grow out of this problem’.

Aside from the fact that compassion and ingenuity seem to be in very short supply when it comes to the economic strategies and spending policies of Johnson’s government, the focus on repairing the public finances, instead of maintaining sufficient spending (in good times and bad) to keep the wheels of the economy turning, will most likely drive the economy into recession. The signs are already there. Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the UK economy contracted by 0.1% in March, after flatlining in February, with retail sales down, production falling, and spending on cars decreasing by more than 15%. The British Retail Consortium, backed up that data in its latest reporting, noting that retail sales had dipped in April, and figures from Barclaycard also showed credit card spending on entertainment and eating out, slowing. The cost-of-living crisis is beginning, predictably, to crush confidence and put the brakes on people’s spending. And whilst Boris Johnson pledges that the government will, ‘do things in the short term to ease the squeeze on living standards’, (no sign as yet), they will likely go the same way as all the rest, into the wastepaper basket of empty promises. It must be getting pretty full by now.

It beggars belief that The Telegraph published an article this week suggesting that, according to top economists, people should save less and borrow more to save the economy and prevent a recession. Martin Beck, who is the chief economic advisor at the EY Item club claimed that it was, ‘incumbent on households using their strong financial position to keep spending’, and that ‘the pandemic has left households very well prepared for this period of turmoil because they were able to save more and pay down their debts.’

Where do they find the economists who write this drivel? Aside from the fact that it is only government that can enact the spending policies able to stabilise the economy, the truth of the matter is that not everyone was in the fortunate situation of being able to save and pay down debt during lockdown, and in times of economic uncertainty, whether you have the money or not, spending, or borrowing (unless they are driven to the latter) is the last thing that is on people’s minds. Furthermore, an analysis of Bank of England data by the Debt Justice, revealed that the number of UK households struggling with high levels of debt had increased by a third in 2021, even before the rise in energy prices and the removal of the £20 uplift in universal credit payments. And indeed, as mentioned above we are seeing the signs that people are retrenching in the face of that uncertainty. Lack of confidence begets a reluctance to spend.

Furthermore, the mantra of growth, as promoted by Johnson as the route out of this impasse is based presumably on the promotion of the false logic that a healthy economy drives tax revenue and gives government fiscal space to spend on public and social infrastructure. Just more of the same garbage churned out daily by those who know exactly how government really spends, but use the myths of scarcity to serve a purpose and deliver their ideologically-driven narratives. A political choice at the expense of the health of the economy and those who underpin its success – working people.

A healthy economy doesn’t depend on government tax revenues or borrowing capacity, it depends on a government having the political will and the real resources to deliver it.

A healthy economy also depends on the public and social infrastructure being in place, FIRST, to support the people and the businesses who rely on it. That is the job of government and represents the vital components of a functioning economy, and is certainly not dependent on monetary affordability.

It also fails to acknowledge that in the light of the climate crisis, Johnson’s focus on growth per se, without a clear plan or a strategy to deliver a sustainable and fairer, more just society, will just keep the capitalist juggernaut hurtling towards its destruction. And in this respect, we don’t seem to be making much progress in addressing this emergency. COP 26 is but a distant memory, and growth at any cost seemingly the name of the game.

At the same time as Black Rock warned this week that it would not support shareholder resolutions on climate change this year because they were ‘not consistent with their clients’ long term financial interests,’ a new forecast by scientists led by the World Meteorological Association, found that the probability of one of the next five years temporarily exceeding the 1.5 global heating limit was now 50% up, from 20% in 2021.

As the climate crisis warnings become ever more insistent and visible in our daily lives, banks continue to fund investment in fossil fuels and governments allow them to, without censure. The mission to save humanity from planetary degradation is on the rocks, as governments put fighting wars and growth as a top priority, trumping a future for our children.

It is distressing that the idea that government spends like our own household budgets has tainted any public discussion about the way forward, whether it is dealing with the fall-out from the pandemic, the effects of poverty and inequality on economies particularly, but not confined to the Global South, and the affordability of addressing the climate crisis. The tools are there through an understanding of monetary reality to deliver a healthy economy within the context of available resources, which we emphasise again are the real constraints to government spending.

However, the effects of government austerity policies which have dominated the economic narrative for over a decade, and also led to the idea that cuts to the public sector were necessary to get the public finances back into order, have not only created an increasing burden on the working population and their families, but also have driven the process of stripping out the last vestiges of our publicly paid for and delivered public services, on the lie of its unaffordability. The price we are paying today is unacceptable

It fits very nicely with the neoliberal ideology which has prevailed for decades; that the state’s role should be minimal, that it exists solely as a cash cow for the private sector, that the charity and voluntary sector should step into the government’s shoes for the provision of services that are not profitable, and that the individual should be promoted over the now dying concept of collective action.

At the same time, that same government (and others before it) have dedicated themselves to serving their own interests and those of their wealthy and corporate supporters, as well as pouring public money into private profit, from arms dealers to healthcare. And there it is, the vital clue, that money is not a scarce commodity. Public money for the corporate beggars leaching on the state while the public sector begs for adequate funding.

The consequences of this long-standing toxic ideology are before us. The growth of a low wage economy, in hunger, food banks and homelessness, and the widening gap in wealth distribution, are just a few of its damaging manifestations, all the result of government choices.

The Food Foundation released data this week that shows that in the last three months there has been a rapid jump in the proportion of households cutting back on food, or missing meals altogether. It noted that in April, 7.3 million adults live in households that said they had gone without food or could not physically get it in the past month. That compared, it said, with 4.7 million in January. There had also been a sharp increase in the proportion of households with children experiencing food insecurity in the past month, at 17.2%, up from 12.1% in January 2020. That represents, the Food Foundation noted, a total of 2.6 million children under 18 who live in households that do not have access to a healthy and affordable diet, putting them at high risk of suffering from diet-related diseases. It has called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent further escalation of this crisis, to include increasing benefit levels in line with inflation, expanding access to Free School Meals and the Healthy Start Programme.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research, following its analysis for Channel 4 last year, reported this week that more than 250,000 households will ‘slide into destitution’ next year, which will bring the total number in extreme poverty to around 1.2 million. The think tank, echoing the Food Foundation, said that without government action, more than 1.5 million will face a rise in food and energy bills, that will outstrip their disposable income and force them to use savings (if they have any) or borrow to get through.

Professor Adrian Pabst, who is NIESR’s deputy director for Public Policy, commenting in November last year said: ‘Britain’s broken economic model shows no signs of turning into a high-wage, high-productivity, high-growth economy anytime soon.’ Regardless of Johnson’s promises.

While government fails to deliver, people will continue to struggle. It is distressing to note that while people’s lives are being ripped apart by a government that has no solutions but book balancing, Tories remain in their ivory towers sitting in judgement on those who cannot feed themselves or their families adequately. Not because they lack cooking or budgeting skills as a Tory MP suggested this week, but because they don’t have enough money. First up, we had the Ashfield MP, Lee Anderson, speaking in the Commons debate on the government’s Queen’s Speech, claiming that there wasn’t a widespread need for food banks, and that hunger was rather down to the fact that too many people ‘cannot cook’ and ‘cannot budget’. Tell that to the Trussell Trust and the myriad food banks serving their local communities. It was an insult to those who are forced to use food banks through no fault of their own, and to suggest that one can cook a wholesome meal for 30p a day by cooking from scratch. Perhaps he should be issued with a challenge to do so. It shows completely how out of touch some MPs are with the lives of their constituents.

Secondly, the Metro reported this week on Dartford Conservatives tucking into a buffet of cakes and sandwiches, after cutting the ribbon for the opening of a new food bank, as if that were something to celebrate. Whilst, in the same church building, desperate families have to queue there for food.

In 2017, Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg called the support given to food banks ‘rather uplifting’ and ‘shows what a compassionate country we are’. Of course, it is human to feel compassion for others who have fallen on hard times and want to help, but the existence of food banks, whilst not a new phenomenon, is a stain on a government which has the fiscal tools to ensure that people have the dignity of well-paid, secure work, either in the public sector, or in the form of a publicly run Job Guarantee scheme, to support those caught in the inevitable ups and downs of the economic cycle, and extraordinary events such as the pandemic or war, from which now stems an increasing tide of hunger and poverty, to add to that already perpetrated by prior lack of adequate government action.

Nicholas Hair, a Labour council candidate, commenting on the event said,

‘Food banks are not heart-warming. They are evidence of a failure of government and of a society to seek social justice’.

That gets to the heart of the matter. A government which knows it has the tools, as the currency issuer, to support people through this difficult time, but has chosen not to. A government that fails to spend sufficiently to support an economy and its citizens, transfers the burden to those who can least afford it. The human cost of this failure to act now will be devastating for working people and their families.

The solution, however, is not as the Chairman of Tesco has suggested this week, to impose a windfall tax on energy companies, as if collecting that money would give the Treasury the funds to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis. And, in the same vein, neither will a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas operators, ‘rake in’ money for the Treasury to soften the pain of rising energy bills as predictable analysis by the Labour party continues to suggest. Just more of the managed illusions politicians rely on to keep the public on side from the valid point of view of fairness. The government, as the currency issuer, could create that funding tomorrow by authorising its central bank to do so. And it neither needs to tax nor borrow to keep the economy functioning. Again, its only constraint is the availability of real but finite resources, and how they are managed to deliver government priorities and avoid inflationary pressures.

However, on the other hand, a big yes to taxing the energy companies whose profits have gone through the roof, along with executive pay, and whose business is polluting and contributing to the climate crisis. Tax them to force change and drive sustainable energy solutions, or tax them out of existence if they fail to comply, but not because it provides funds for the Treasury to spend. It doesn’t.

On one further point, one could not disagree with the Tesco Chairman’s view that Rishi Sunak should not have raised National Insurance. He gets it! He understands that removing even more of people’s income leaves less for essentials. His remarks may have been driven by clear concern for those who are rationing the amount of food they eat, but also, no doubt, by the effects of that on the business as less money circulates through the economy and into company profits.

On that basis, it also makes a nonsense of Boris Johnson’s announcement this week that the government plans to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, claiming that it will free up cash to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Or as Larry Elliott suggested in an article this week that ‘harder choices will need to be made, and at a time when ageing populations are intensifying pressures for higher spending. What nonsense!

Aside from the fact that government, as the currency issuer, doesn’t have to rob Peter to pay Paul, and paints a picture of scarce monetary resources which have to be divvied out, it demonstrates blinding economic illiteracy. Again, involuntary unemployment is not only harmful to those affected by it, but under current benefit arrangements, people would be left with less money to spend which, ultimately, would also have a knock-on effect on businesses such as Tesco, in an economy already facing serious problems.

If the government can create funds for its wars, or to bail out banks with no problem, then the question we must ask urgently is why can’t it do the same to help people, and why can’t it invest in the vital public and social infrastructure it has destroyed in the last decade?

When a Treasury spokesman claims, as was reported in The Telegraph this week, that since ‘public debt is at its highest levels and rising inflation is pushing up debt interest costs, the government has to manage the public finances sustainably to avoid saddling future generations with further debt’, there is only one response. It is a damaging lie.

And when Steven Millard, an economist at the NIESR think tank commented that, ‘The Chancellor had the chance to help poorer households, to do something about this. But he chose not to. He chose instead to pay for the Covid Assistance, the added fiscal support, by running down the deficit’, he has understood the potentially catastrophic consequences of that political decision, even if he chooses, like many in his profession, to ignore the monetary reality of how government spends.

The crossroad is before us, there is an alternative. But the question is, which direction will we take?

 

 

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The post Splendour of the Queen’s Speech brings no relief for hungry people appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

What is heterodox economics? Some clarifications

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/05/2022 - 1:39am in

Long ago I wrote on the meaning of heterodox economics. I suggested that it should be defined in its own terms, not as a reaction to the mainstream or orthodox approach, and as a unified set of propositions.[1] In other words, heterodox economics would be a set of principles that would be backed by a certain community. Of course, the sociology of that community would lead to some degree of debate and dissent within heterodoxy, as it is in fact the case within the mainstream. There is, one might add, significant confusion about the meaning of marginalist and neoclassical economics, and also there is no monolithic and consensual approach within the orthodoxy. The mainstream is somewhat fragmented, and there are more than a few neoclassical or marginalist schools. Some, like the Austrians, tend to think of themselves as heterodox, and evident confusion.
My preoccupation when I first wrote about this topic had been related to the argument by Colander, Holt and Rosser that heterodox economics should be abandoned, or that the labels orthodox/heterodox themselves meant little or nothing. For them, the mainstream itself was moving on, and that the best within the mainstream, the cutting edge as they called them, were breaking away with traditional neoclassical views. In my reply to them, I suggested that the mainstream was doing fine, and that it was not being abandoned by the best and the brightest. I argued that the mainstream had for a while a dual strategy. It maintained certain principles that purported to show that markets produce efficient outcomes, even if a significant part of the profession does not believe it is true in practice, and then proceeded to discuss a series of imperfections that are better suited for the complexities of the real world.
Read rest here.

As Politics Narrows, Divisions Deepen: A Note of the Election and the Left

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 05/05/2022 - 4:59pm in

Tags 

neoliberalism

When Bob Hawke died in 2019, two days before the federal election, many mainstream commentators took the opportunity to remind the prime ministerial hopefuls that in terms of charisma, persuasiveness and popularity they didn’t exactly measure up to the example of the Silver Bodgie. While the circumstances made direct comparisons difficult, there was no doubt that many of the obituaries had an ‘end of an era’ energy about them (the Keating legacy notwithstanding)—a sense that in point of policy and personality we would not look upon his like again. In an interview with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly went about as far as she could without explicitly calling out his party’s campaign as a dud:

Bob Hawke was also a leader of passion, of big ideas, of vision. Paul Keating said today, Bob Hawke understood imagination was central to policy-making and never lacked the courage to do what it takes to turn that imagination into reality. He won four elections. Does that suggest to you that voters reward those who have vision, who are not afraid to be a big target?

I won’t bother reproducing Frydenberg’s answer. Suffice it to say that it furnished Kelly’s listeners with a good demonstration of her underlying point.

The point was fair enough, in one sense. Compared to the chaos and mendacity of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years, the Hawke government was a study in focus and daring. While Hawke oversaw the introduction of Medicare, the ‘liberalisation’ of the Australian economy, and major industrial-relations changes in the form of the Prices and Incomes Accord, the Coalition had spent the previous six years lurching from one cock-up to another, riven by ideological infighting. As for the Labor leader, Bill Shorten—he too looked pale by comparison with Hawke, not least when appearing before the cameras. Even when deploying his trademark zingers—especially when deploying his trademark zingers—he was as wooden as a cigar-store Indian.

So, yes, the mainstream commentariat was not wrong to point up the narrowness of politics as compared to the Hawke-Keating era. But it was also missing something fundamental about how Australia and the world have changed since Hawke was in his political pomp, an omission all the more ironic for the fact that it was Hawke himself who helped to create the new conditions. For in ‘rationalising’ the Australian economy—that is, in increasing the role of markets, internal and external, in national affairs—the Hawke and Keating governments, in common with governments across ‘the West’, simultaneously shrunk the power of politicians to bring about decisive change. That is the irony of the neoliberal ‘turn’: political skill and force of character were needed in order to effect the transition; but the world that has emerged as a consequence is one in which the global market outruns the attempts of politicians to control it. Governance has become increasingly technocratic as a result, and politics more and more characterised by ‘the narcissism of small differences’.

The UK sociologist Colin Crouch calls this dispensation ‘post-democracy’. Since the economic globalisation that accompanied the neoliberal turn was not attended by any comparable globalisation of democratic oversight, its effect has been to undermine the ability of national governments to act in the interests of their own electorates. This situation is made much worse by the neoliberal policies pursued within the countries in question, in the name of economic rationalism. Neoliberalism is not just laissez-faire economics; it is the injection of economic logic into every area of social life deemed to be in need of greater ‘efficiency’. From the privatisation of state-owned assets to the decline of collective bargaining to the entangling of the public and private spheres under the rubric of New Public Management, whole swathes of life have been cut off from any form of democratic control. Democracy becomes a ‘formal shell’ (as Crouch puts it) and politics itself increasingly professionalised. If the leaders of the main political parties come across as less nimble than their forbears, it is largely because they have less space in which to move.

Despite these unpleasant realities, however, the prospect of a Labor victory in the federal election later this month affords an opportunity for radicals to think through some fundamental positions regarding the deeper social developments that are slowly breaking open the consensus, and may create pressure for more radical change within the system in years to come. Should Labor come to power on 21 May, the Left will have to think carefully about the terms in which it frames its opposition to what is sure to be a disappointing government. In what remains of this note, I’ll sketch what I think is one of the key dilemmas in prospect.

The dilemma is related to the economic developments described in the paragraphs above, and to the question of whom the Left proposes to represent in the struggles to come. For neoliberalism and globalisation have not only undermined democracy, they have also catalysed new divisions that cut across the two main parties, and across the old LeftRight division. Combined with the influence of new technologies, and the abstract life-worlds that accompany them, neoliberalism has given rise to a new emboldened knowledge class whose discursive power and approach to the world—an approach stressing identity and individual rights over questions of material distribution—is the cause of resentment outside its ranks. From the eruption of right-wing populist parties (and a handful of left-populist ones) in the wake of the global financial crisis to the recent anti-lockdown protests, that resentment has taken many forms, but its common thread is a deep antipathy to what conservatives used to call ‘the elites’. Thus the winners, so to speak, in the great transition from a material economy to a largely immaterial one (achieved through the off-shoring of industry and educational ‘meritocracy’) are now squaring off against the losers, represented in the political sphere by various kinds of populism. For the moment, the politics of the former milieu is socially progressive and economically liberal (perhaps mildly social-democratic), while the politics of the latter is a red-hot mess of imported libertarianism, nationalism, white identity politics and (increasingly disordered) conspiracy thinking.

A victory for Labor later this month will no doubt sharpen this divide. The fragile truce between liberals and conservatives within the Coalition is likely to deteriorate, with conservatives increasingly attracted to a populism that will now direct its energies at a government that is broadly progressive in its social outlook and broadly liberal in its economic management—in other words, much closer to the politics exemplified by the knowledge class. The resentment directed at that class is likely to grow as a consequence, the more so as its favoured issues (inclusive language, gender identity, the status and pay of women in work, especially professional women in work) receive a more sympathetic hearing from politicians in the public eye. No doubt the feeling will be reciprocated, as progressives become ever more inclined to dismiss those outside its social milieux as irredeemably racist or misogynistic, or just plain uninformed or stupid.

The problem for the Left is that the knowledge class is quickly becoming the ‘ruling class’ so far as those outside it are concerned, and that its status as such is increasingly hard for even left-progressives to deny. Drawn largely from that class itself and sharing many of its salient concerns around ‘fluid’ identity, rights and so on, the Left is thus in the invidious position of having to explain why the ‘excluded’ classes are throwing in their lot with the Right—a fact it tends to explain (or to discount) with vulgar-Marxist style arguments to the effect that populism is just false ideology, created to keep the masses distracted. Thus (it is claimed) progressive values are really excluded-class values, too, or will become so once the excluded classes recognise that their interests are no different from those of refugees, transgender persons or any of the other marginalised groups that now take the part of the oppressed in progressive left-thinking. Of course, it is those marginalised groups that concern the contemporary Left most fully, but the false ideology/consciousness argument is nevertheless a handy way to keep the old explanations in place. The key division remains where it always was: between the class in control of capital and the class not in control of capital. Since pretty much everyone can be bundled up in the latter subject-class category there is no need to deal with the divisions within it, however disruptive of the model they become.

There is, however, another way of reading these developments, which involves regarding neoliberalism and the left-progressive focus on rights, identity and so forth as co-constitutive—as related expressions of the ‘borderlessness’ and cosmopolitan ethos of late capitalism—and the populist rejection of such as a rejection of the abstract life-worlds, and increasing discursive power, of those in the newly expanded knowledge class. In other words, we might read the rise of populism as a desire, however poisonously expressed, for the social ‘ground’ that was once provided by more settled/traditional communities and a clearer sense of collective identity: for the world that existed before Hawke and Keating brought Australia up to speed, in short. To put it yet another way: What looks to the Left like a contradiction may not be a contradiction at all, but the authentic rejection of a particular class of the highly individualised and abstract world catalysed by (but not reducible to) technocratic neoliberalism. 

None of this is to defend reactionary populism. But the broader rejection of progressive-style politics—a politics that in its mainstream iterations has little regard for social democracy, let alone more materially radical propositions—should not be dismissed as false ideology. The challenge for the Left, it seems to me, is to take that rejection seriously, and as a cue to begin interrogating its own ideas of human flourishing, which may depend to a much greater degree on the bounded, the familiar, the settled, and the grounded than currently assumed.

Or else we could throw our lot in with ‘the elites’ and write our own obituary.


A Light Shining in the Shire

Guy Rundle, Mar 2022

The last decade has seen the failure of the centrist form of neoliberal progressivism that occupied the left parties in the face of an onslaught by right-wing populism, which mobilised forces old and new to present themselves…as a response on behalf of the people against the entire ‘political/media’ class, as represented by those in power.

Understanding the right wing mind: Thatcherisms lacuna

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 04/05/2022 - 6:40am in

I loved @Andrew’s comment earlier that “[Thatcher’s] “living tapestry” is what others might simply call “society”. She sees the threads but others see the fabric”. It set me thinking about what Thatcherite Conservatives actually think government is for. Thatcher famously said: “No-one would remember the Good Samaritan if he’d only had good intentions; he had... Read more

For a Progressive Arts and Cultural Policy Agenda in Australia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 7:00am in

Reset Arts and Culture is a collaboration between cultural sector professionals and researchers from South Australia’s three universities. We aim to combine our practice, research and activist knowledge and experience in a space for new ideas, policy engagement, advocacy and change. This post is a collective effort, building on the Reset Working paper Art, Culture and the Foundational Economy.

ARTS AND CULTURAL POLICY is in a deep crisis in Australia. And it’s not just because of the pandemic or years of cuts. The fundamental basis of this crisis is generally accepted and is not of the arts and cultural sector’s making. For decades governments have imposed a logic of market efficiency and individualism on many areas of our economic, social, and public life; and this has come at great cost to public policy, the provision of fundamental rights and services, and to our collective sense of citizenship.

However while sectors such as health, education, social services, utilities, and public housing, have been privatised and outsourced, they are still viewed as public goods and collective rights. This has not been the case for art and culture. Art and culture has not escaped neoliberalism’s gravitational pull; in fact, arguably, it has been more completely captured than many other areas of public policy. Art and culture’s worth has been substantially reduced in policy terms from collective value and rights to a troublesome concoction of economic growth and non-cultural metrics, industry development language, and individual consumer experience.

So, while progressive and radical ideas are expressed in much artistic and cultural practice by Australian artists, they are far less reflected in the arts and cultural sector’s policy work. Reset Arts and Culture is a policy and advocacy initiative aiming to change this by putting progressive ideas back into arts and cultural policy, and art and culture back into progressive imagination and activism.

EVERYWHERE CAPITALIST REALISM – the idea that capitalism is the only viable economic system – is being challenged by a new generation of economists and activists. Informed by feminist, socialist, ecological and First Nations thinking, there is a resurgence of ideas and proposals around commons, cooperatives, mutual aid, municipalism, and networked localism, that are turning economics on its head. Previously unthinkable policies such as income and job guarantees are now debated by mainstream political parties.

Not only does art and culture have something profound to offer these new movements, as a central component of programs for social change and liberation, in turn these ideas offer so much for a new cultural policy agenda – if as a sector we dare to embrace them. To join this conversation we need to think very differently about the way art and culture is understood as an economy, how it is publicly funded and regulated, how its workers are treated and educated, how its audience-participants are respected, and how it interacts with public and democratic spaces.

Firstly, this requires breaking with the notion of ‘creative industries’, the dominance of which has come at a significant political cost. Not only have governments ignored the shaky and over-inflated claims of the creative industry narrative, the sector has allowed its self-understanding to be colonised by economic rationalism and neoliberalism.

We can see this in the default models for artists and arts organisations. Artists forced to masquerade as small businesses, the ubiquitous language of entrepreneurship and innovation, so-called skills-based governance that infantilises artists and sees non-arts corporates given control of boards, public agencies, and cultural institutions. Creative education that is increasingly hollowed out and given over to Business 101 programs.

The prevailing assumption is that ever-declining government art and culture budgets exist simply to plug gaps left by the market. This deficit model has distorted both the positive public value of art and culture, and the positive role of government. Meanwhile vast global commercial monopolies dominate film, music, games, publishing, streaming, and media. Data extraction intrudes deep into our personal and social lives. Global economies of scale, precarity and the brutal reduction of labour costs, define the lives of workers including artists.

Challenging this current situation and recovering art and culture’s centrality to communal, radical and democratic imagination is a central challenge facing progressive cultural policy advocacy in Australia. This type of policy change project requires divesting from a self-image of a disruptive, competitive, fast-growing industry, and relocating art and culture to the foundational economy, its value in its contribution to a just society rather than GDP growth.

If this proposition is deemed unrealistic, it is no more so than the belief that the status quo will protect art and culture, and its makers. In fact, this approach locates art and culture within a wider set of powerful social change agendas that have gained serious traction in the years of austerity, climate crisis, and now the pandemic.

SO, LET’S GET BACK TO BASICS. Art and culture are as essential to the flourishing of human life and society as health, education, and the material infrastructures of everyday life.

Yes, just like anything else, art and culture can be reduced to a notion of ‘industry’ but this is a deliberate choice not an empirical reality, and it comes with serious consequences and distortions. Like other sectors, art and culture has a mixed economy. It does have a significant economic footprint, and includes production that can be called ‘industrial’, alongside a broad system of public institutions, private firms, not-for-profit corporations, cooperatives, and individual creators and participants.

However, rather than having the resources to provide for expanding cultural and artistic aspiration and practices, art and culture as a public sector in Australia has been hobbled – by funding cuts, political bullying, ministerial power grabs, endless econometrics, lobbying and accountancy firms, boards dominated by corporate representatives, the marginalisation of the skills and institutions required to deliver art and culture as a public good, and landing on the wrong side of a culture war.

Moreover, art and culture, and its own inherent value, has been disappeared in the shift to creative industries, cultural economy, and other assorted instrumentalisms including ‘social impact’. While art and culture may be all around us, as we have been telling ourselves throughout the pandemic, it receives only minimal affirmative mention in progressive public policy. This needs to change. We need to speak about the value of art and culture definitively and forge a new, progressive, public policy agenda.

BUILDING A NEW PUBLIC AGENDA for art and culture in Australia is a big task for a sector fettered by government hostility, its sectoral research resources stripped, resulting in a widening ignorance about itself, its labour force, its dynamics and possibilities.

We need to relearn the language and practice of public value. This requires actively aligning art and culture with other public sectors and their campaigns, and developing new principles for sector planning, regulation, and protection.

A new public agenda must include arguing for a federal arts and cultural policy that ambitiously speaks to and is organised around the value of art and culture. And yes, a well-resourced Ministry for Culture could greatly improve the governance and status of art and culture, and place it back into the centre of future government policy making. However a new progressive agenda can go much further.

In Australia much of arts and cultural advocacy has focused on increasing the grant funding pool. While this continues to be very important, especially after a decade of cuts, we need to more directly address the twin crises of access to dignified working conditions for professional artists and cultural workers, and arts education for all (both of which raise questions of class).

A new policy agenda would valorise art and culture’s labour intensive low productivity. In doing so, and moving away from ‘jobs and growth’ rhetoric, the cultural sector could join the wider debates on the future of work, labour rights, the nature of care work, and decoupling income and work.

We need to bring our attention to establishing fair labour conditions as well as to the multitude of initiatives that could directly support artists and cultural workers such as basic income initiatives, job guarantees, fellowships and public employment schemes.

Winning these reforms, that could dramatically improve artists’ working lives, means connecting to the broader union movement, alongside growing campaigns to combat precarity and poverty.

Similarly, the arts and cultural sector can be central to public education campaigns aiming to reverse the reduction of education to fee-for-service acquisition of employment skills. We can exemplify the value of life-long learning and experimentation, and argue that freely available education, in any field, is a cultural right of all.

If we take culture to be a civil right, essential alongside other rights, then embracing participatory democracy – and opposing threats to democracy – should be central to the work we must do.

A new cultural policy agenda would reclaim a far wider and more radical understanding of democracy, rejecting its cynical cooption by the Right and by free marketeers. And let’s not mince words: monopolies, Murdoch and the undermining of media diversity, and state capture, all heavily impact on art and culture in Australia.

Let’s urgently prioritise creating new governance structures, protecting and remaking our arts statutory authority the Australia Council and Australian public broadcasters, divesting from fossil fuel barons and other billionaires, rethinking data, promoting anti-monopoly legislations, and connecting art and culture with the many global movements for new democratic forms, such as citizens assemblies and worker-run (and artist-run) platforms.

Returning our thinking about art and culture to the foundations of social life – the infrastructures, services and localised everyday economies that account for the majority of Australian employment – brings us into conversation with urban and regional planning, policies that recalibrate work, leisure and income, and new forms of common ownership and community wealth-building.

Let’s advocate for arts and cultural policy that encourages local experimentations and concrete utopias, the communal luxury of public art and cultural institutions small and large, co-ops rather than start-ups, collective responsibility not individual risk, and the radical importance of everyday public infrastructures like libraries, parks and community recreation.

Let’s talk about building communities around care, craft and culture. Let’s relearn the community and union organising traditions that have been central to cultural work and art in everyday life.

A new cultural policy agenda would supercharge important sector work on justice, intersectionality, diversity, and decolonisation, learning from First Nations ontologies, and creating new artist-led and kinship-based leadership models.

The arts and cultural sector can be central to championing justice and liberation, not simply diversity and representation, for the many demanding to be reckoned with. First in the Australian context is centring First Nations leadership and sovereignty, truth-telling and deep listening, treaty and reparation.

A new cultural policy imaginary would centre Caring for Country and Culture, reject Australia’s obsession with an economy built on extraction, and prioritise the global challenges of climate change and a post-growth world. In doing so it would be truly internationalist, not as a means to the ends of trade and diplomacy, but instead by promoting a new social license and purpose for art and culture in a world facing existential environmental and social challenges.

EARLY IN THE PANDEMIC, author Arundhati Roy noted that the crisis had created a portal through which we can reimagine – and fight for – the world anew. Anything is possible again. It was a call to action that resonated with many working for change around the world.

Relooking at arts and cultural advocacy through this kind of transformative lens is a task for all of us in the sector – not only our leaders, researchers, our under-resourced peak bodies, or those with the unenviable task of policy-making in the public sector as it currently stands.

It is a big challenge but we can make a start by looking outside of ourselves to other public sectors and precarious workforces, unions, progressive policy thinkers, new economy networks, and social change movements. It’s here where we will discover new ideas and alliances that could transform our campaigning potential and the power of art and culture in Australia.

Find out more and subscribe to updates at resetartsandculture.com.

The post For a Progressive Arts and Cultural Policy Agenda in Australia appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

‘A way of making the Turkey vote for Christmas’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 03/05/2022 - 6:37am in

There is a really excellent article – well worth reading in full- by Gerhard Schnyder, a Professor at Loughborough University, here on ‘Budapest-on Thames’ outlining the current parlous state of UK democracy. I particularly appreciated this paragraph: This post should not be read as ‘Conservatives bashing.’ I am actually not opposed to conservatives or conservatism... Read more

The social cost of neoliberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 5:48pm in

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neoliberalism

The social cost of neoliberalism Editor Thanks to Elinor Hurst for drawing our attention to an article by Lynn Parramore entitled “Our economic system is making…

The post The social cost of neoliberalism first appeared on Economic Reform Australia.

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