When the conservative fight back against the social democratic era following the Second World War began in earnest with the publication of the Powell Manifesto on August 23, 1971. The US Chamber of Commerce commissioned lawyer, Lewis Powell, to craft a strategy to restore the dominant position of corporate America, which had felt diminished by the gains made by workers and citizens from social democratic policies. The memo was published as the – Attack on American Free Enterprise System. The agenda spelt out by Powell in the memo was wide-ranging and was subsequently implemented with spectacular success. It formed the basis of the neoliberal thrust against the gains made by workers and citizens, in general during the full employment era, which was supplemented by the welfare state of varying coverage and generosity depending on which country we consider. The Powell memo aimed to ensure that corporate interests were dominant in public decision making. The blue print developed by Powell is continually recycled and developments during this pandemic are no different.
It is Wednesday and despite being on the other side of the Planet than usual (in Helsinki at present) I am still not intending to write a detailed blog post today. I am quite busy here – teaching MMT to graduate students and other things. But I wanted to follow up on a few details I didn’t have time to write about yesterday concerning the role that NAIRU estimates play in maintaining the ideological dominance of neoliberalism. And some more details about the Textbook launch in London on Friday, and then some beautiful music, as is my practice (these days) on Wednesdays. As you will see, my ‘short’ blog post didn’t quite turn out that way. Such is the tendency of an inveterate writer.
Regular readers will know that I place great value in the disciplines we broadly describe as the Humanities. An understanding of knowledge that history, language, philosophy, geography, politics, sociology, anthropology, music, drama, classical studies and the like is essential if we are to advance societies and avoid the mindless descent into tribalism and authoritarianism. Last month, two things were revealed. First, the Federal Minister for Education vetoed successful grant applications for funding under the Australian Research Council processes, effectively politicising the process. He took exception to the topics. His decision was only revealed months later through interrogations during a Senate Estimates hearing. Second, an Australian university released a research report it had commissioned – The Value of the Humanities – which sought to articulate “the value of the Humanities to students thinking about their education and career options and to businesses faced with hiring choices”. It shows the immense value that teaching and research in the Humanities brings to employers, individuals and society in general. It makes the Federal minister look like a fool, although that was not its intent. A fool and one who is deeply insecure about allowing knowledge to proliferate. The latter is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.
Its my Friday lay day blog where I just wander around in the time I allocate to writing this blog. The venality of neo-liberal governments is never far from the surface. The more successful ones manage to mostly hide the nasty stuff they get up to from the general public or assuage public concern via their spin doctors. Sometimes, an outrageous decision breaks out of the cocoon of spin and demonstrates the sheer bastardry of the political elites. That happened in Australia over the last week when it was announced that the Australian government was providing $A4 million to the University of Western Australia to set up a new think tank under the influence of a Dane Bjørn Lomborg – who has been described as a “sceptical environmentalist” (Source). Our Prime Minister has favourably quoted Lomborg’s work in his own work and is the Australian leader who abandoned the carbon tax and thinks continued use of “coal is good for humanity” (Source).
There was an interesting article this morning in the Fairfax press (September 29, 2014) – OECD figures show public benefits more than individuals from tertiary education – which used the recently released – Education at a Glance 2014 – to compare private and public (social) returns from tertiary education. The results are that private net returns outweigh social returns in the majority of nations but not for the UK, Australia, Japan and Korea. The results have implications for the debate about who should fund tertiary education – the private individuals (or families) of those undertaking it or the government. They also highlight that one should be somewhat protean in outlook and avoid falling into Groupthink.
Regular readers will know that I consider promotion of the humanities and social sciences in a university systems to be of paramount importance in preserving an informed citizenry, which is a precondition for democracy. These areas of our education system have been under constant attack by the neo-liberal bean counters in government education bureaucracies and management positions within universities. While I regularly write about the impacts of poor fiscal management, in particular, in the current context – fiscal austerity – on unemployment and low income workers, one of the other casualties of neo-liberalism has been a university systems. The damage to our university systems go well beyond the squeeze of funding and a user pays mentality that I’ve written about in the past. Last night, on our national broadcaster’s prime evening current affairs programme – 7.30 – we were confronted with a classic example of how compromised our universities have become in Australia. The – 14th Dalai Lama – was banned from visiting a campus. Why? Guess!
Today I made a big change which will likely affect the future of this blog. If you are interested read on …
I was reading the recently published (June 11, 2012) – CBI Education and Skills Survey 2012 – from the Confederation of British Industry today. A day after the Report was published, the British Office of National Statistics released the latest (April 2012) – Index of Production – data which shows that “the seasonally adjusted Index of Production fell by 1.0 per cent” over the 12 months to April 2012 and that in the last month the “seasonally adjusted Index of Manufacturing fell by 0.7 per cent”. That is a large collapse. Since 2008, British production has slumped by 10 per cent overall even though the currency has depreciated by around 20 per cent against the Euro over the last 5 years. Earlier today I saw news footage of ignorant males (mostly) beating each other up over a soccer game in Warsaw. And in recent national elections, polarisation towards the extremes is evident. And all the while, technocrats that dominate organisations such as the IMF and the ECB are, inexorably, pushing economies into even more dire situations that we could have imagined four years ago, when the neo-liberal bubble burst. And in my own sector (higher education) the buzz is STEM and technocrats are using that buzz agenda to pursue strategies that will diminish our futures irrevocably. All these events, outcomes, strategies etc are related and cry out for a major shift in thinking by governments and educational institutions.
Yesterday I wrote, in part, about the way in which the term long-run is mis-used by the mainstream economists to assert “natural rate” theories, which essentially deny a role for government macroeconomic policy in stabilising the business cycle and reducing mass unemployment. I also get asked by readers (several times now) to provide some discussion of what were known as the Cambridge capital controversies in the 1960s and 1970s. They are related in fact to the notion of the long-run. These were rather esoteric debates which are now largely ignored by the mainstream despite the fact that the results of the debate showed, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the whole body of neo-classical distribution theory (that is, marginal productivity theory) is plain wrong. MPT was developed to justify the claim that capitalism delivers “fair” income distributions because everybody gets back what they put in. The Cambridge debates killed the legitimacy of those claims. But my profession continued oblivious because the results would have meant that a major part of the mainstream apology to capitalism would have to be jettisoned. Who understood the debates anyway? It was easy to just sweep the results under the carpet. I still plan to provide some commentary in this regard as I used to teach a course in capital theory covering these debates. But in thinking about them I started thinking of prior questions which also feed into a policy debate in Australia at present. It relates to educational outcomes and class.
Today’s blog might appear to be something different but in fact is more of the same. There was an article in the New York Times recently (October 10, 2010) – The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives – by US academic Stanley Fish, which discussed the growing demise of the humanities in our universities. While the debate is about the role of the humanities specifically, the points Fish makes about how we appraise the value in education resonates more broadly to a consideration of the role of educational institutions and human activity in general. One of the vehicles the neo-liberals use to promote their anti-intellectual agenda is the false claims that governments are financially constrained. By appealing to this myth lots of questions about motivation are avoided. They promote the myth that some activity is “too expensive” or “not productive enough” and we are thus shoe-horned into that way of thinking. But I feel good knowing there are libraries full of books of poems and plays and stories and I know that sovereign government are not financially constrained. I might not be able to defend the quality of a poem but I can certainly explain how the monetary system works. So you poets and playwrights under threat – come aboard and learn about fiscal policy and the monetary system and spread the word.