Today, I celebrate – my home town of Melbourne has recorded zero new infections for the second time since June 9, 2020 and zero deaths. A consecutive day of double zero. My Melbourne band Pressure Drop is planning a live streamed gig soon – our first time playing since March. Details will come when we know more about when we can do it. Something to celebrate in a bleak year. Today I am writing about the underside of neoliberalism though. Nothing to celebrate about this at all. Revolving doors, corporatisation of public service and introducing the excesses and corruption that is endemic in that private sector, more on that, and a federal government that is refusing to introduce a federal corruption body despite the evidence of widespread malpractice at that level. Why this matters is because to build a better world we need to reverse the demolition of the traditional public service by the neoliberals over several decades, which has turned a once wonderful bureaucracy (departmental structure) from a public service delivery capacity into a contract brokerage for outsourced and deregulated service delivery units, chasing profits in the private sector and cutting as many corners as they can get away with. With lax oversight these days, they can get away with a lot. And when public agencies start behaving as if they are corporations then things really come unstuck. And then we see the alarming necrosis that exists at the top levels of Australian corporations. No wonder we have just had Royal Commissions into the banking and finance sector and into the (privatised) aged care sector which have delivered such shocking results. Nothing to celebrate at all.
Today, on my blog-light day, I have a video of a recent event where I spoke (with other speakers being John Quiggin and Noel Pearson). The event was in conjunction with the Public Health Association of Australia’s annual conference and we are discussing the interface between health and the economy and the right to work and income security. It was an interesting and very civilised discussion. And when you are through watching that, we also have a ‘provocation’ to consider and then some jazz. All the interests of advancing humanity!
This is Part 6 of my on-going examination of the concept of ‘duty to work’ and how it was associated with the related idea of a ‘right to work’. Neoliberalism has broken the nexus between the ‘right to work’ responsibilities that the state assumed in the social democratic period and the ‘duty to work’ responsibilities that are imposed on workers in return for income support. That break abandons the binding reciprocity that enriched our societies and has spawned a solid argument for a basic income. But the solution to the problem is to reinstate the link between opportunity to work and the societal benefits of work, especially as it enhances the material well-being of the least advantaged. In this part, I explore that theme.
This is Part 4 of my on-going examination of the concept of ‘duty to work’ and how it was associated with the related idea of a ‘right to work’. In Part 3, I extended the analysis to the Western democracies of the Post World War 2 period and found that progressive political parties and movements firmly considered the two concepts to be fundamental elements of a progressive society. In this part, I extend that analysis and consider ways in which the ‘duty to work’ has been justified, drawing on the idea of reciprocity and social obligation. I also show how the emergence of neoliberalism has broken the nexus between the ‘right to work’ responsibilities that the state assumed in the social democratic period and the ‘duty to work’ responsibilities that are imposed on workers in return for income support. That break abandons the binding reciprocity that enriched our societies.
This is the third part in my historical excursion tracing where progressive forces adopted the idea that it was fair and reasonable for individuals who sought income support from the state to contribute to the collective well-being through work if they could. As I noted in Part 1, the series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Somewhere along the way in history, elements of the Left have departed from the collective vision that bound social classes with different interests and education levels into a ‘working class’ force. In this Part, we disabuse readers of the notion that the ‘duty to work’ concept was somehow an artifact of authoritarian regimes like the USSR. In fact, we find well articulated statements in official documents in most Western democracies.
This is the second part in my historical excursion tracing where progressive forces adopted the idea that it was fair and reasonable for individuals who sought income support from the state to contribute to the collective well-being through work if they could. As I noted in Part 1, the series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Somewhere along the way in history, elements of the Left have departed from the collective vision that bound social classes with different interests and education levels into a ‘working class’ force. As identity politics has become a preoccupation of what were traditional working class parties, even the concept of the working class has been subjugated into a ‘social’ class (lowly educated with racist predilections if we consider the Brexit debate, for example) rather than an economic class. And that is why the Left is split and the traditional social democratic parties have become increasingly unable to win elections even though the conservative alternative have been terrible. And part of that new divide is over work – the lack of it, the duty to do it, the vast variations in quality, and all the rest. In Part 2, we see how the duty of work concept permeated progressive elements in the West and allowed the different social classes (in the C. Wright Mills meaning) on the progressive side to bind into a coherent political force. That coherence is now gone and the lower-income workers are in revolt.
This will be a multi-part series and is part of the new book that Thomas Fazi and I are finalising. The series could have easily been sub-titled: How the middle-class Left abandoned the class fundamentals, became obsessed with individualism, and steadily descended into political obscurity, so much so, that the parties they now dominate, are largely unelectable! Because the discussion largely covers that problem. I have been thinking about why a modern so-called ‘progressive’ position draws a line in the sand about retaining a pernicious unemployment benefits system, which provides below poverty rate payments coupled with a harsh system of work tests, despite there never being enough jobs, and think that a guaranteed employment commitment from government with benefits that allow for a decent life, is somehow offensive. The corollary is that somehow the educated Left think that a duty to contribute to society through work is also offensive and they would rather people who can work be able to have the right to output when they are not prepared to contribute to the production of that output. None of these people would approve of a person walking into their homes and raiding their fridge for food. None would approve of some person taking their expensive racing bike parked outside some cafe while they were inside sipping latte! And yet, they do not seem to seem to appreciate the contradiction, when they also rail against capitalists who access the distribution system without contributing to the generation of output. It is no wonder that the traditional working class find the modern ‘Left manifesto’ repugnant and vote accordingly. This is Part 1 of an extended discussion that is the product of some months of research (work!).
Tonight (May 1, 2020), I am presenting a live YouTube show outlining how an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) helps inform a fiscal intervention designed to minimise the damage from the coronavirus, but also to position a nation favourably for other long-term challenges such as those presented by climate change.
I have long disagreed with Guy Standing about the solutions to unemployment. 20 years ago we crossed paths on panels and in the literature where he would argue that UBI was the way forward and I would argue that it was a neoliberal plot and that, instead, we needed to push for job creation. My view has always been that to surrender to the neoliberals on their claim that governments cannot generate sufficient jobs to satisfy the desires for work of the unemployed was a slippery slope. Standing continues to publish his fiction. In his latest Social Europe article (January 15, 2020) – Building a progressive alliance in Britain – he seeks to integrate UBI proposals with a recovery plan for British Labour. My view is that would not help Labour recover from the shots they fired into their own feet in the period before the December election by listening to the likes of Standing and those who advocated the Fiscal Credibility Rule and the reneging on the Brexit commitment. Standing’s aversion to job creation is in contradistinction with a recommendation from the Wetenschappelijke Raad Voor Het Regeringsbeleid (WRR or in English, The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy) to the Dutch government to deal with the challenges of achieving “good work”, in part, by introducing a ‘basic job’ which in my parlance means by introducing a Job Guarantee. They are motivated by a deep vein of social science and medical research that extols the virtues of work beyond its obvious income generation qualities. Pushing a UBI in the light of that research is just a pitiful bailout.
One of the stark facts about the academic economics discipline is its insularity and capacity to deliver influential prognoses on issues that affect the well-being of millions with scant regard to the actual consequences of their opinions and with little attention to what other social scientists have to say. The mainstream economists continually get things wrong but take no responsibility for the damage they cause to the well-being of the people. A 2015 paper – The Superiority of Economists – published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives (Vol 29, No. 1) by Marion Fourcade, Etienne Ollion and Yann Algan is scathing in its assessment of the economics discipline. They say that mainstream economists largely ignore contributions by other social scientists and consider them inferior in technological sophistication, have a “predilection for methodological and theoretical precision over real-world accuracy”, largely ignore”the basic premise of much of the human sciences, namely that social processes shape individual preferences”, and parade an arrogance and superiority that masks the sterility of their analysis. In this context, I thought the 2015 Report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation – Sociological perspectives poverty – was a breath of fresh air in its approach to understanding poverty. The empirical base it presents refutes most of the major assumptions and conclusions of economists who work in the field of poverty. A mainstream professor who was supervising my economics graduate program once said to me: “Bill you are a bright boy but you should be doing sociology”, which was an example of the negative control mechanism designed to weed out dissidents (like me). It didn’t work. But I always considered the disciplines of sociology and anthropology (not to mention psychology, political science, social welfare etc) to be important in my journey to become ‘well read’. Most economists, however, do not think that. Perhaps that is why I was able to be part of the development of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).