In 1975, Tony Benn, a Left Labour member in the British Parliament and Secretary for Industry, proposed an alternative industrial plan to revitalise British industry. At the time, the Prime Minister and Chancellor were becoming attracted to Monetarism and started framing and implementing the austerity-type fiscal strategies that are common today. Benn opposed this approach, and, instead proposed a far-reaching alternative economic strategy that involved increased industrial planning to revitalise British industry. The growing ‘free market’ orthodoxy at the time, spearheaded by the IMF and the World Bank, which had transformed into neoliberal enforcement agencies, were vehemently opposed to any form of industry policies or state intervention. As a result, Benn was basically shut out of the debate and this helped transform social democratic politics into the mess it is today. Ironically, now the IMF is changing its tune. It has recently rediscovered how effective industry policies of the type Benn was proposed actually can be if supported by coherent policy structures. Irony two is that these supportive policy structures are the opposite to those typically proposed by the IMF. At the time, there were economists (such as yours truly) who knew that the descent into neoliberalism would be a disaster and hamper growth and more equal distributions of wealth and income. But that view was also shut out. Now, without shame, the IMF are basically admitting the decades of insufferable neoliberal policies that they forced onto nations may have been wrong. Industry policy is back in focus. Imagine if they never had seduced the world with their snake oil. British politics, for one, would have been quite different. Brexit could very well happened in 1975 under a Labour government. And more. This is Part 1 of a two-part series which will finish tomorrow.
The 1975 song – The People United Will Never Be Defeated – which was written in sympathy with the Chileans after the brutal Pinochet coup and other national struggles (for example, in Italy and Germany) raises the question: Who are ‘The People’. Relatedly, in Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) we talk about a currency-issuing government being able to pursue public purpose which advances the well-being of the people. Who is the public and the people in that context? I ask these questions because they are germane to research on cosmopolitanism and the Left view of the European Union and similar arrangements that reflect an antipathy towards the concept of the ‘nation state’ and the belief that progressive advance can only be organised at a supra-national level in order to be effective. Today’s blog post just continues that theme based on current research.
I have just finished reading a recently published book – The European Illusion – written by academics associated with Attac Austria and it demonstrates the dilemma that European progressives have created for themselves. The 348-page book is freely available in – PDF – for download. The dilemma slowly reveals itself as the various chapters unfold. The format of the book is odd – conventional prose, interviews between the contributors, and opinion pieces. As we transit through the book we learn that the European Union is neoliberal central. Okay, that is a helpful start to a progressive vision. Then we read that, as such, it is impossible to reform. We learn that movements such as DiEM 25 are dreamers. Getting better! But then we read that Lexit strategies are unhelpful and a sort of Project Fear rationale is proffered – risky, uncertain and the rest. So, on the one hand, the EU is a disaster that has deliberately set out to destroy the working class and that that cannot be reformed. But, on the other hand – TINA – it is counterproductive to dismantle it. Solution – a grassroots campaign of rebellion – “strategic disobedience”. It beggars belief actually. Apparently, we can democratise neoliberal central by disobeying the EU rules, even though the EU cannot be reformed. Yes, and pigs might fly!
The increasing uprising against Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) in the media is salutory because it means our ideas are now considered to be a threat to the mainstream economics (for example, Paul Krugman now buying into the carping) and to the heterodox tradition (for example, the British economists who self-identify with that tradition). The high profile debate around the Green New Deal has been associated with MMT and this has brought all sort of crazy attacks on MMT from those who think they are ‘green’ but haven’t traversed out of ‘Monetarist-type’ economics thinking. And then I note that apparently the Green New Deal is being expropriated by Europhiles to wedge those who consider Lexit and Brexit to be the only way to re-establish progressive society and politics. Apparently, the Europhiles are arguing that you cannot be both Lexit/Brexit and support the Green New Deal. Curious logic. And, of course, a desperate attempt by the Europhiles to grasp at anything to discredit both Brexit and MMT, given that there is a high proportion of MMTers who prefer Britain leave the EU and that the EU disappears in its current form. And so it goes. Wolfgang Streek recently published an interesting academic article that bears on this discussion. That is what this blog post is about.
Transparency International EU, is part of TIs “anti-corruption movement” focused on happenings in the European Union. It gets around 40 per cent of its funding from the European Commission, itself, although they claim this does not compromise their “institutional integrity and independence”. Let’s hope not! They have just released a report – Vanishing Act: The Eurogroup’s Accountability (February 5, 2019) – which confirms, in case one wasn’t already aware (looking at the Europhile Left here) that the core decision-making body in the European Union – the so-called Eurogroup – (the Finance Ministers of the Eurozone), which “exercises political control over the currency and … the Stability and Growth Pact” – is inherently shady and anti-democratic. The Report finds that the EU’s democratic deficit is intrinsic to its design and resistance to any effective reform. While the Report proposes some changes to the structure and operations of the Eurogroup it maintains the line that the growing lack of democratic oversight in key EU decision-making can be improved. I disagree. The problems are endemic. The DNA of the Eurozone architecture is neoliberal to the core. That ideology has permeated all the major EU institutions and has left the EU citizens without an effective voice in the decision-making process. To resolve that alienation, people are donning yellow vests and taking to the streets. Progressives should encourage these anti-EU protests and support those who desire to abandon these neoliberal institutions. The reformers cannot seem to grasp that the basic structure is the problem. Any steps in the right direction require that basic structure (the Single Market, SGP, etc) to be abandoned. And doing that means the whole house of cards falls down. And it cannot come quickly enough.
In the blog post earlier this week – The conflicting concepts of cosmopolitan within Europe – Part 1 (January 29, 2019) – I juxtaposed two concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ which appeared to be part of the early moves to achieve European integration. On the one hand, there was a Kantian-style desire to create, through cooperation between previously warring states, a peaceful and prosperous future for a ‘one’ Europe. This construct would be welcoming to outsiders, progressive, and celebrate ethnic and cultural diversity. It was a rights-based conception of citizenship and democracy, which closely aligned with the growing popularity of the social democratic polity. On the other hand, the early moves to overcome the resistance to creating a supranational entity that would increasingly compromise national sovereignty – the so-called “functionalist” approach of Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, created a pragmatic, free market-based cosmopolitanism, which set the Member States against each other as competitors. As I demonstrated, over time, the economic cosmopolitanism channeled the burgeoning neoliberalism of the 1980s and compromised the rights-based, political cosmopolitanism, to the end that we now talk about democratic deficits as the European Commission and its unelected allies such as the IMF trample over the rights of citizens across the geographic spread of Europe. Europhile progressives hanker for the first conception of European cosmopolitanism and proffer various reform proposals, which they claim will tame the economic dimensions and restore the ‘European Project’ as a progressive force in the world. In this second part of the series I will argue that from the outset the cosmopolitanism embedded in the ‘Project’ was deeply flawed and it is no surprise that democracy is now compromised in the European Union. I argue that reform is not possible such is the extent of the failures.
In the past week, the UK Guardian readers were confronted with the on-going scandal of wealthy British politicians and ‘peers’ receiving massive European Union subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The article (January 27, 2019) – Peers and MPs receiving millions in EU farm subsidies – recounted the familiar tale –
“Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies”. The story is not new and this scandal is just a reflection of the way in which the development of the European Union has contradicted the idealism that the Europhile Left associate with ‘Europe’. As an aside, it would be telling, one imagines to map the EU payments (and well-paid job holdings) with Brexit support – one would conjecture a strong negative correlation. This is a two-or-three part mini-series on the evolution of concepts of ‘cosmopolitanism’ in the European context. It is part of work I am doing for the next book Thomas Fazi and I hope to publish by the end of the year. In this blog post, I introduce the conflict that is inherent in the European Union, and the way the Europhile Left has been seduced by a concept of cosmopolitanism that bears not relevance in the reality of modern Europe.
Thomas Fazi and I have been discussing the shape of our next book and I think it will be an interesting and worthwhile followup to Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017). We hope it will be published some time late in 2019. One of the angles that will be delved into is the way in which neoliberal narratives and constructs have permeated individual consciousness. Yes, sounds a bit psychological doesn’t it. But there is a strong literature going back to well before the recent period of neoliberalism that allows us to draw some fairly strong conclusions on how the process has worked. It also allows us to make some coherent statements about the dis-junctures that are going on across the world between the people and their polities, which have spawned the support for Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the popularity of far-right movements, the electoral demolition of the traditional social democratic political parties, the election of the new Italian government, and the on-going trouble that the Gilets Jaunes are causing the mainstream political processes in France (and Brussels). The literature also provides a guide as to how the Left might break out of their current malaise based on their tepid yearning for cosmopolitanism, identity and their fear of financial markets to reestablish themselves as the progressive voice of the people. That is what I am writing about at present and here is a snippet.
A short blog post as per my usual Wednesday behaviour these days. Fiscal austerity manifests in many ways, all of them unpleasant, destructive and unnecessary. Here is one of the more insidious ways that mindless cuts in government programs have long-term damaging impacts. In 2013, the Queensland State Government was taken over by a conservative extremist as Premier who thought it was a good idea to hack into sexual health programs targetted at indigenous communities. Over a few short years, this was just one of a huge number of social and health cuts that were made by that particular state government. More than 14,000 public service jobs were cut (a huge relative number). The State government fiscal deficit fell from a predicted $A6 billion in 2013-14 to $A2.58 billion. But like all these austerity cuts which deliver short-run reductions in public spending, the longer-term effects of the cuts lead to much higher amounts of public spending. Neoliberalism is not only mindless but myopic. I have made this point often in regard to infrastructure cuts. In the end, the government has to spend much more fixing the crisis the initial cuts create. Not a sensible strategy at all. The ‘chickens’ (manifestation) of those cuts in Queensland a few years ago are now coming home to roost. As predicted at the time, there is now a health crisis in the form of a STD epidemic moving across the north of Australia from east to west, purely because this idiot wanted to ‘save’ a few pennies. Now serious public cash is being required to put a brake on the health crisis he created. There are countless examples across the world over this neoliberal era of this same phenomena. Myopic and mindless.
Everywhere I read it seems, the ‘Green New Deal’ appears. I wrote a bit about it last week in my evaluation of the latest US job numbers – US labour market moderated in November and considerable slack remains (December 11, 2018). The point I made there was that a shift to a green economy would possibly generate around 21 million jobs (14 per cent of total US employment), which given reasonable estimates of excess capacity would require a huge shift in the employment structure and multiples of the available idle labour supply. Of course, that is the objective – to shift workers from fossil fuel, carbon intensive industries into sustainable activities. That is no easy task and would require a fundamental shift in the government-market balance in terms of resource allocation. The market alone will not accomplish that shift in a desirable manner. Cue – more regional and occupation planning. I have also been seeing an increasing number of Tweets talking about a ‘Just Transition’ framework, something I have written about in the past. And there are now Tweets out there equating that with a Job Guarantee. At that point, we get ahead of ourselves. We must see the Job Guarantee in perspective and not ask it to do too much. That is what this blog post is about.