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.
One of the themes that has emerged in the discussions of the British Labour Party Fiscal Credibility Rule (which should be renamed the Fiscal Incredulous Rule) is when is the right time for a political party to show leadership and start educating the public on new ideas. The Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) project has been, in part, about educating people even if our ideas have been strongly resisted by the mainstream. The mainstream (New Keynesian) paradigm in economics is degenerative (meaning it has little empirical validation) and eventually it will fade into historical obscurity. For many of us that cannot come quickly enough. The defenders of the Rule argue that progressive politicians have to tread carefully or else the amorphous financial markets will turn on them and destroy their initiatives. The problem is that by kowtowing to the City or Wall Street, the progressive political forces become captured and redundant. Witness the electoral demise of social democratic parties over the last several decades. The conditions are ripe (see below) for a courageous head-on attack on these financial market elites and educate the public so that they allow elected governments to legislate for all rather than serving the interests of the elites, which has become the norm over the last several decades. The problem is that progressive political forces are also taking advice from mainstream economists who use the tools of neoliberalism. The upshot is that progressive political leadership is absent but desperately required.
The weekend before last I was in Germany (and Bavaria) at the same time as the – Bavarian state election. The results for the SPD (Social Democratic Party) were disastrous losing 20 seats (down from 42) and gaining only 9.7 per cent of the vote (down from 20.6 per cent). The Greens came second, winning 20 extra seats (to 38) and 17.5 per cent of the vote (8.6 per cent last election), while the neo-fascist AfD party, which did not contest the last election, came in fourth, gaining 22 seats (10.2 per cent of the vote). There is a growing fear that the AfD and its counterparts across Europe will grow further and push Europe back into its dark fascist days. One would not conclude that from the Bavarian voting patterns. Further, to construct what is going on in Europe as a right-wing counter to a ‘social democratised’ Europe, which is a common narrative among the Europhile Left is seriously missing the point. The social democratisation of Europe has been in retreat for decades under the onslaught of a very sophisticated campaign from the elites on the Right and often it has been the traditional Left political parties that have pushed the neoliberal agenda more vigorously than the conservatives. The AfD is a sideshow in this deeper take over of our democracies by capital. Root and branch change is needed not a few ‘reforms’ around the edges to make the Eurozone less of a disaster for workers than it currently is.
It is Wednesday and I am reverting to my plan to keep my blog posts short on this day to give me more time for other things. Today, I will briefly outline what happened last Thursday when I met with Shadow British Chancellor John McDonnell in London. As I noted yesterday, I was not going to comment publicly on this meeting. I have a lot of meetings and interactions with people in ‘high’ office which remain private due to the topics discussed etc. But given that John McDonnell told an audience in London later that evening that he had met with me and that I thought the proposed fiscal rule that Labour has adopted was “fine”, I thought it only reasonable that I disclose what happened at that meeting. I did not think the rule was fine and I urged them to scrap it and stop using neoliberal constructs.
It is Wednesday and only a short blog post. I am also ailing with the flu and my head hurts. As I noted in Monday’s blog post – The conservative polity is fracturing – an opportunity for the Left (August 27, 2108) – Australia now has a new prime minister, the former Treasurer. His elevation has been celebrated as a victory for the ‘moderates’, given that his main contender, the guy who attempted the coup in the first place and succeeded in getting rid of the incumbent PM, was rather obviously extreme right in his views. Some are saying we have been saved by the fact that he didn’t succeed. But to call the new PM ‘moderate’ is to lose all sense of meaning to our language. He is a dangerous neoliberal ideologue who has inflicted untold pain on many people as he has made his way to the top.
One of the principle ways in which so-called progressive political parties (particularly those in the social democratic tradition) seek to differentiate themselves from conservatives is to advocate large-scale public infrastructure investment as a way of advancing public good. You can see evidence of that in most nations. Nation-building initiatives tend to be popular and also are less sensitive to the usual attacks that are made on public spending when income support and other welfare-type programs are debated. Capital worked out long ago that public spending on infrastructure provided untold benefits by way of profits and influence. In the neoliberal era, the bias towards ‘competitive tendering’ and public-private partnerships has meant that private profit tends to dictate where and what public infrastructure is built. The problem is that large-scale projects tend to become objects of capture for the top-end-of-town. Research shows that these ‘megaprojects’ typically deliver massive cost overruns and significantly lower benefits than are first estimated when decisions are being made about what large projects to fund. Further, evidence suggests that this is due to corrupt and incompetent behaviour by private project managers (representing their companies) and empire-building public officials. They lie about the costs and benefits so as to distort the decision-making processes in their favour. Any progressive government thus must be mindful of these tendencies and behaviours. A progressive policy agenda needs to be more than just outlining a whole lot of nice sounding public infrastructure projects that the government will pursue. The whole machinery of public procurement that has emerged in this neoliberal era needs to be abandoned and replaced with decision-making processes and rules that privilege the advancement of public well-being over profit.
It is Wednesday and so a short blog. I am working on a number of things at present but getting the material sorted for my next book with Thomas Fazi is a priority at the moment. My snippet today though is about a study that has just come out in the American Political Science Review – Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion among Political Elites – by two US academics. The title is indicative. They explore what they argue is a disjuncture between what the politicians think voters want and what the voters actually want. This lack of congruence is also biased towards right-wing views. So, the politicians “believed that much more of the public in their constituencies preferred conservative policies than actually did”. They trace this bias to biases in the way the politicians get their information. The takeaway is that the progressive side of the debate has to be more active in framing distinctive messages and using multiple ways and avenues to communicate those messages to the candidates seeking election and the politicians that have been elected. And it must refrain from using conservative frames which advisors think neutralise difficult concepts etc. I think this sort of research provides some hope. I will be writing more about this in the weeks to come. And after that listen to some really classic minimalism from the C19th, which you might suspect on listening is very contemporary such was the genius of the composer.
Its Wednesday, so just a few short snippets that came to my attention, some comedy and some great music that has kept me company today while I have been working today. The first snippet concerns my revelation that fiscal policy in Australia is undermining the future of our grandchildren. Yes, an out-of-control government is spending our way to a future oblivion. The second snippet is my analysis of the latest INSA/YouGov German poll which shows that the euphoria if you can call it that which followed the formation of the GroKo has now dissipated and the AfD have overtaken the SPD in popularity. Which tells you that the progressive movements in Germany are failing. Why? Because they decided not to be progressive and, instead, decided to ape the conservatives. Not a good idea. The polls are showing why.
Tomorrow, I will consider the furore that has arisen in the last few days after the US Congressional Budget Office released its latest forecasts, which showed the US deficit will rise, and, because they still insist in matching the deficit with bond-issuance to feed the corporate welfare machine, public debt will also expand. With an on-going jobs gap and depressed labour force participation rate, the rising deficit if properly targetted would be desirable. The rising public debt is a negative but only as a result of its unnecessary corporate welfare dimension rather than any concerns about capacity to pay etc. But today, given it is Wednesday and a ‘blog light’ day for me now I have only one related observation to make, which will contextualise tomorrow’s more detailed discussion. For today though I am mostly engaged in revising the final manuscript of our new, upcoming Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) textbook after receiving edits from the publishers, Macmillan.
I have now escaped the near-Arctic chill and back to warmer climes for a little while. While I was in Finland though, the Finnish news media was agape over the – Joint Statement – released by 8 Finance Ministers from the smaller Northern EU Member States (March 6, 2018). The statement released by the finance ministers of Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden aired their views on how the Eurozone (EMU) might develop. Nobody should be under any delusion that significant reforms are going to come soon. These characters are locked into the austerity mindset and any claims that a new Macron-Merkel partnership will take the EMU into more progressive territory should be viewed as blind hope rather than bedded down in any realistic understanding of what is likely or possible.