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When the left became lost – Part 1

I read a book a long time ago (1994) called “The Principle of Duty: An Essay on the Foundations of Civic Order”. I note it was republished in 2009. The book by David Selbourne – who is a British philosopher and these days writes regularly for the British Magazine New Statesman. His latest article (July 24, 2014) – How the left was lost: the need to relearn what true progress means – reprises the argument made in his book. He has been making the argument for a long time, which, in itself is not a bad thing if it a reflection of a good idea being ignored. At the time I read the book the Dark Age of neo-liberalism that we are within was forming but its internal contradictions had not yet manifested fully. But the left had certainly lost direction by then, getting caught up in a Post Modernist haze with career politicians and their union buddies abandoning progressive principles and, instead, adopting neo-liberal economic stances to prove that they were ‘responsible’. The aim – to get power. That was the end game. Selbourne’s book and current article captures a lot of that but, I think, also misses some vital parts of the story.

The main argument is this. The idea of progress has no “fixed meaning”. If the left is to challenge the “pro-competition and pro-enterprise agenda” then “what is the alternative?”

He rules out “socialism” as an idea whose “time has come and gone” – whatever form it might take. He believes the
“working class has never been further from dethroning capital, and has itself been near consumed by market forces”.

Utopian visions of communism are illusions and “the productive ‘proletarian’ has turned into a mere shopper, poor as may be”.

He argues that the failures of state socialism has allowed the neo-liberal agenda – “privatisation (or theft) of public goods” etc – appear as “a virtue and the common good appear synonymous with the good of the market”.

Any moderate attempts to regulate the market are vilified as “socialist”, whereas “the freedom to exploit others is seen as an expression of freedom as such”.

Socialists will not save the “collapsing liberal democracies” – “They had their chances and blew them”.

Who is to blame?

1. Trade unions – “have been harmed by their Tammany practices, falling memberships and overpaid leaders”.

2. Academics – Selbourne takes aim squarely at my broad profession – academia. He talks of an “Incomprehensible scholasticism, emanating from the nether darkness of academia where nothing grows, has contributed with its jargon to the left’s failure.”

He chooses to characterise us as “fluttering over bookes”, which is a quote from from the first part of Thomas Hobbes epic analysis of the legitimacy of government and the role of individuals within social contracts – Leviathan published in 1651.

At university, I studied Thomas Hobbes’ works. The first part of that book analyses human nature and characterises Scholasticism, which is the dominant theology at the time he was writing as thrives on confused definitions of everyday words, such as incorporeal substance, which for Hobbes is a contradiction in terms.

The full ‘fluttering quote’ in contained in this paragraph:

By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true knowledge to examine the definitions of former authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down, or to make them himself. For the errors of definitions multiply themselves, according as the reckoning proceeds, and lead men into absurdities, which at last they see, but cannot avoid, without reckoning anew from the beginning; in which lies the foundation of their errors. From whence it happens that they which trust to books do as they that cast up many little sums into a greater, without considering whether those little sums were rightly cast up or not; and at last finding the error visible, and not mistrusting their first grounds, know not which way to clear themselves, spend time in fluttering over their books; as birds that entering by the chimney, and finding themselves enclosed in a chamber, flutter at the false light of a glass window, for want of wit to consider which way they came in.

There is truth in what Selbourne says about the left in academic institutions. He says that clear talk about “class struggle”:

gave way to the mystifying nonsenses of structuralism and semiotics, with their ‘narratives’, ‘discourses’ and ‘tropes’, their ‘moments’, ‘shifts’ and ‘ruptures’: the language of political and moral paralysis.

When the left started obsessing about – Michel Foucault – and became lost in Post Modernism and deconstructed themselves out of reality, the wheels fell off for the left.

As academics became fractured by this ‘crypto-normativist’ dead-end (as Jurgen Habermas called it) – they spent theire time “fluttering in their books”. I have been to many heterodox conferences where the speaking list is dominated by studies about hermeneutics, gender identification, ontological viewpoints, and the rest of it. I have been lectured on claims that economists are bad because they were weaned too early by their mothers. A discursive narrative tells us that I am reliably informed. And all the rest of it.

Selbourne says that:

… the ‘left’ now lacks a coherent sense of what progress is. It has only a ragbag of causes and issues, rational and irrational, urgent and idle: a politics of personal rights and ‘lifestyle choices’, of anti-racism and environmental protection, of multicultural separatism, individual identity and gender, and much else besides.

So far, there is nothing contentious in any of this in my view.

He also merges the liberatarian trends in the left with the same concept of freedom that you will find in Milton Friedman’s classic 1980 book “Free to Choose, which outlined why he considered the free market was the best way to deliver maximum prosperity and wealth for all.

Friedman’s vision should be the anathema of what the left stand for and that is Selbourne’s point.

He believes the left have embraced a sense of freedom that is far removed from what the “19th-century emancipationists and the suffragettes struggled” for (as an example). Now the left wants to have “freedom to do what one wants and the devil take the hindmost” – a “pseudo-left libertarianism”.

The progressives push against any restraints on moral or social activities – arguing that it is “authoritarian”. Selbourne points out that it is hard to fathom why one can then “logically object to the rights of Capital to do whatever it wants also. The rapacious equity trader has as much right to be free as you or me”.

He claims, that the elevation of individual freedom destroys a free society.

I found that part interesting. I am from the hippy generation. We fought hard to regain individual freedoms from an archaic male-oriented conservative, post-war generation of parents.

As part of that struggle many of the left developed strong libertarian perspectives. Just to check where I was on the – Political Compass, I redid the test this afternoon.

Here is the result. Hard left on economics, very libertarian. I know why I didn’t hit the edge of the libertarian boundary but I will keep the reasons to myself.

So in Selbourne’s hypothesis I guess I fit squarely in the movement among the left to the libertarian edge of the world.

And I understand that many of the left have followed this pattern but where I disagree with Selbourne is in his characterisation that libertarianism is equivalent to Friedman’s free choice.

I don’t believe in free choice. I am on the hard left in economic terms, which means I elevate the state to the top and the market to the bottom.

This is the basis of my criticisms of the so-called progressives who talk economics as if they were reciting neo-liberal doctrine.

When these so-called leftists start raving on about the need to “be focused on maintaining government solvency” and talk as if “Low and stable long run debt to GDP ratios or Deficit to GDP ratios are two better measures of prudent fiscal management than surpluses or zero net debt” then you know that the progressive movement is down Selbourne’s dead-end.

When left parties talk about “taxpayer funds” being used on government spending, you know the wheels have fallen off.

When they spend more time arguing about gender than they do about class then you know the wheels have fallen off.

Sure enough, I want the freedom to read and watch what I like but only if it is not at the expense of anyone else.

But I accept private coercion if it means that the state is fulfilling its responsibilities to give work opportunities for all.

The meaning of this coercion – is the idea that the state has to have real resources at its disposal to run non-inflationary deficits. In a world where private ownership is institutionalised in the legal structure, then the government can only get those resources by depriving private individuals of their use.

They can do it by guns and violence, which is not sustainable. Or they can do it by using their currency-issuing monopoly to impose a tax on us so we have to accept their spending in order to relinquish our legal liabilities to the state.

That is, coercion and as long as the state is using that currency-issuing monopoly to advance the welfare of all of us then I accept that notwithstanding my individual libertarian leaning.

Selbourne sais that there have to be:

… restraints on some forms of liberty are essential to both individual and public well-being, and therefore essential to a new definition of what is truly progressive.

A strong state is the only way that the anti-people tendencies of capitalism can be fettered.

When the politicians on the left claim they want (in Selbourne’s words in the UK setting) “to make Labour the party of enterprise” this is ideologically no different to the right. The UK analogy extends throughout the advanced world.

‘Enterprise’ is code for deregulation, ‘business-friendly’, constraints on the unemployed and all the other terrible policy structures that ‘Labour-type’ governments have introduced in Australia, the UK, Canada, the US, and throughout Europe and beyond.

How can we tolerate millions of people unemployed and still argue for surpluses or low deficit to GDP ratios?

How can we tolerate people not eating enough and then handing out billions of public money to private schools which consolidate the inequality?

How can a Labor government in Australia lock children up in prisons on harsh Pacific islands when all their parents did was pay a crooked boat owner some money to take them to our shores in search of something better? And further, when they were escaping the torment, oppression and chaos that our own armed forces in tandem with other martial states created when they invaded the lands of these refugees.

Incredible.

As Selbourne says “All that remains for Labour to do, it seems, is to work on its “brand” – but it has no “brand” – and give its leader a cosmetic makeover. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of trade unionists are said no longer to vote Labour, and rootless consumption rules.”

And when the trade unions continue to support the Labor political machines they want to tie the party down to neo-liberal economic rules that destroy prosperity, reinforce inequality and undermine any sense of progressive agenda.

They do not admit to that – but that is the delusion they are living with.

Selbourne also takes aim at “political correctness” which “is a creed as rigid as any religious dogma”, which he considers to be a “a form of reactionary self-censorship driven by cowardice”.

Reason is thwarted by “with repressive taboos about what may be said and (almost) about what should be thought”. So if you criticise the current neo-liberal macroeconomics, the left trade unions will dismiss the critic as a loony, fringe dweller.

Political correctness becomes mob rule and extends into a stand-off, which Selbourne calls the ” pseudo-progressive’s non-judgementalism”. Why have we tolerated disgusting regimes? Why does anyone vote for parties that allow the nation to trade and enrich these awful regimes? Why does the dollar come before our judgement of principle?

The state can always create work, so why tolerate trading with unfair, vicious, despotic nations? Well, the left no longer believe that the state should create jobs because that might require a large deficit and who is ever going to argue for that?

Remember for them the focus has to be on government solvency. A progressive would close down the vast majority of speculative financial market transactions. But the modern so-called progressive wants a Robin Hood tax instead.

Why? To help pay for government spending and to make the rich pay. That sort of logic is just lost in the deepest darkest forest sort of stuff. And in that sense I agree with Selbourne.

His examples are about Islam. He rails against dishonest “pseudo-progressives, letting down the secular cause, keep quiet about aspects of the morality of Islam that they would not tolerate for themselves”.

His prescription is to restore what he calls civic society. He eschews the “Wishy-washy centrists” who “need to recognise that a market-driven liberal democracy such as ours, with a few human rights protections thrown into the mix, does not stand at the summit of political evolution.”

Citizenship is not defined by market freedom – enterprise – low deficits to GDP ratios and restore the sense of collective will, which has all but disappeared in this market “free-for-all”.

I am running out of time and will come back to this topic because I am starting to map out a book project (to join my current queue) on the topic of where the left got lost.

Selbourne claims that “civic consciousness” should replace “class consciousness”. I disagree with that view, which is one of the reasons I am out there on the economic left.

Capitalism hasn’t gone away no matter how it has morphed into some international global morass. The dynamics of capital drive the show. Industrial capital has given way to financial capital.

But every day, there is something happening that tells us how the struggle is ongoing.

The desire for individual freedom to do what we want does not undermine the centrality of the state being our vehicle to discipline capital and prepare for some sort of post-capitalism evolution.

That desire does not also give an imprimatur, as Selbourne claims, for capital to do what it wants. Corporations are not citizens. In some cases, single corporations are bigger than the state.

But the currency-monopoly is extremely powerful and we have reduced that power by buying the neo-liberal myths.

Conclusion

There will be more on this theme as I collect my thoughts.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2014 Bill Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    This Post Has 38 Comments
    1. Socialism has had way more successes than failures. I think it has almost been a victim of these.
      It produced houses, health services, education, employment, infrastructure and industry that were good enough to find very willing buyers.
      It even created the safety nets which would cushion, even enable, the impacts of the neo-liberal counter-reformation until its work was done. Now they now feel confident enough to start burning the fields behind them.

    2. Another strong article, Bill, that concentrates many of the thoughts that are held less clearly in my mind and the people I speak to. Have had a big afternoon reading your work and some of Randall Wray’s on the folly of a tax based solution to inequality. I am sure you know his work but I have been reading and following the work of Philip Mirowski. He was on the ABC’s Big Ideas about a year ago and pointed out the only growth area in universities is the patent department where they rush to make a dollar out of ideas that are still bouncing round synapses. In August last year, he was at UTS and spoke about how effectively the right has captured the debate. The link is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7ewn29w-9I.

      I also intend to attend a conference that he is speaking at, the Polanyi – Hayek workshop at Syd Uni on 15th and 16th of this month: http://adamdavidmorton.com/2014/06/update-polanyi-hayek-workshop/. Thought some of the people on this blog might be interested.

    3. Bill, when you get around to writing this book, do have a look at the late Ferdinand Lundberg’s The Rich and the Super Rich and his The Treason of the People, and do not neglect the footnotes, as they are sometimes super-informative.

    4. Dear Bill

      You forgot to mention that the left became politically correct. Political correctness replaces class politics by identity politics and the promotion of equality by the pursuit of diversity. Political correcties don’t ask how many times the income of a CEO exceeds that of an average employee, but they want to know what percentage of CEOs are women or non-white.

      The best illustration of this is Elizabeth Warren, former Harvard professor and now US Senator. When she was at Harvard, she proudly proclaimed that she was the first female native professor. Now, she was indeed unusual at Harvard because she is the daughter of a blue-collar worker, but that was not what she emphasized. She stressed the racial part. She also illustrates the mind-boggling absurdity of American racial definitions because Ms Warren is very blond and blue-eyed, but one of her great-great-great-grandparents is an Amerindian. It is of course according to the same perverse logic that the half-white Obama is called the first black President of the US.

      As long as political correctness remains alive and well, we can be sure that identity politics will continue to drive out class politics. The best illustration of that is Mississippi, the poorest state in the US, but where about 90% of the whites vote for the plutocratic Republicans. Another illustration is Le Front National, which has become the favorite party of French blue-collar workers. Since the left would like to flood France with immigrants, mainly because so many of them are non-white and will make France racially diverse, and since most of these immigrants will compete with Frenchmen in the 3 lowest quintiles, it isn’t surprising that so many French blue-collar workers turn away from the left.

      Regards. James

    5. Another odd aspect of the political left has to do with the full versus fractional reserve banking argument. You’d think full reserve would be tailor made for the political left because it involves nationalising the money creation process (though not necessarily nationalising banks). Also full reserve disposes of taxpayer funded subsidies of private banks.

      But the political left shows little interest in full reserve banking. In my neighborhood, the supporters of full reserve are anything but left of centre: like me, they’re middle aged to elderly and politically on the right. Plus they tend to have experience of running businesses.

    6. paul, you make a great point. What’s more, socialism is a great way to control population growth. A hundred million or so people that died under some or other socialist guise can’t be wrong. Sometimes the line between violence and starvation can become very blurred :(

    7. Bill,

      “By this it appears how necessary it is for any man that aspires to true knowledge to examine the definitions of former authors; and either to correct them, where they are negligently set down, or to make them himself.” [Hobbes]

      Ironically we need to make sure we have a proper definition of “political correctness”.

      Some people deplore the fact they are “not allowed” to use the “N-word” to describe a black person, and they blame political correctness for this. I call it common courtesy not to deliberately offend a person when it achieves no useful purpose.

      On the other hand, risking offending a person simply by disagreeing with them is acceptable. When we feel we are not allowed to disagree, then that is the “political correctness” that is wrong.

      Either way, the term “political correctness” has become an over-used term which I think should be replaced by something with a clear definition.

      Kind Regards

    8. Bill,

      A strong state is the only way that the anti-people tendencies of capitalism can be fettered.

      Agreed, but I would say that a strong state is a necessary prerequisite, but is often insufficient by itself. Concentrations of wealth, and therefore power, can disrupt the ability of the state to achieve its aims of regulating capitalism, by undermining democracy.

    9. Bill,

      The state can always create work, so why tolerate trading with unfair, vicious, despotic nations?

      Unless it’s part of a large coordinated international effort, failing to trade with them won’t make them any less unfair, vicious or despotic. And even when it is part of a large coordinated international effort, failing to trade tends to hurt the people far more than the despot.

      Well, the left no longer believe that the state should create jobs because that might require a large deficit and who is ever going to argue for that? Remember for them the focus has to be on government solvency.

      Even where there’s no danger of government insolvency, reducing trade opportunities will reduce total wealth.

      A progressive would close down the vast majority of speculative financial market transactions. But the modern so-called progressive wants a Robin Hood tax instead.

      Why should a progressive support either? Once people have paid their taxes, shouldn’t they be free to do what they like with their own money?

    10. ?? Why is anyone at all surprised by any of this?

      Doesn’t anyone take biology 101 in high school or college anymore?

      There’s value in the most basic fundamentals of a liberal education. If one has ever read even a page on the evolution of social species, then their ability to usefully place ANY other profession in context is improved.

      Data is meaningless without context, and how much context can one appreciate if we don’t know the 1st things about our own biology?

      As just one of countless examples, please review the dynamics of one of the most ancient social species, the “social-amoeba” Dictyostelia

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dictyostelium_discoideum

      http://dictybase.org/tutorial/

      ps: there’s no inter-temporal exchange of nominal score-keeping units across dictyostelia generations. ‘Nuff said. :(
      That example alone ought to tell citizens that NeoClassical and NeoLiberal varieties of cultural baggage are just another example of dead-end, phenotypic persistence.

      It’s not just the finance industry that is more trouble than it’s worth, it’s the entire, isolated field of economics as well.

      If no other plans survive contact with reality intact, why treat economic theories with any greater regard?

    11. Ralph,
      Please explain how either “full” or “fractional” reserves of fiat (aka, public initiative) carry any logical meaning whatsoever?

      There IS no fractional reserve banking in a fiat currency system, since there is nothing but public initiative to hold in reserve. And we already know that it’s lunacy to confuse current fiat with future options.

      http://mikenormaneconomics.blogspot.com/2013/12/conflating-current-fiat-with-future.html

    12. Espia Gaia
      “What’s more, socialism is a great way to control population growth. A hundred million or so people that died under some or other socialist guise can’t be wrong.”

      Actually, many people have died under governments with a socialist “disguise”. Stalin and Hitler were not socialists, though they often wore its robes.

      Kind Regards

    13. Aidan
      “Even where there’s no danger of government insolvency, reducing trade opportunities will reduce total wealth.”

      No, government can offset any loss of income by running a larger fiscal deficit.

    14. Ralph,
      “But the political left shows little interest in full reserve banking.”

      Moving to full reserve banking does not fundamentally alter anything as far as I can see. With a 100% reserve requirement, the central bank will still lend out to the banks any shortfall in reserves to prevent the payment system from failing.

      Reserve requirements are there to support the payment system, not bank lending.

    15. Esp Ghia:

      The crimes committed under some or other socialist guise were quite real. But the point of considering only one “guise” – often enough exaggerating the crimes for political purposes – and never its alternatives and ancestors escapes me.

      Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood — one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.
      THERE were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror, so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe, compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty, and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror—that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.

      A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Chapter 13 – Freemen

    16. Overall this is a rational article.But,as usual,rationality has been forgotten when illegal immigrants are mentioned and emotions rule.

      I do not support the current or previous governments methods of dealing with illegals. Not because I think their methods are particularly inhumane but because they are inefficient,extremely costly and offensive to our Pacific island neighbours who are being dragooned into accommodating the illegals.

      These successive governments have tied themselves in knots trying to accommodate the UN Refugee Convention whilst maintaining the duty of a government to secure borders and prevent illegal entry. This can’t work.

      The Convention was signed in the early 1950s when global population was about 30% of its present 7 billion which is well in excess of a sustainable level.Australia’s population at that time was also about 30% of the present 25 million. Obviously the era of mass migration is well and truly over. But with excessive populations in many nations creating the usual Malthusian effects then mass migration is going to be what we are looking at.

      Australia is a target for 2 main reasons – we have had many years of very high legal immigration levels which encourages illegal immigrants and the perception in those circles that Australia can be pressured to accept them because of the Convention as mentioned above.

      Australia has a major problem relative to immigration – POPULATION.
      We are an arid continent with poor soils and unreliable rainfall over the greater part.There has been massive environmental damage in many areas due to various mismanagement factors over many years. A lot of this damage is not repairable in a useful time frame. Anthropogenic climate change will inevitably exacerbate these problems.
      In short,we have exceeded our sustainable population.

      Two policy changes are needed urgently – A moratorium on immigration and withdrawal from the UN Refugee Convention.

    17. I am not quite as far left nor as libertarian as Bill. Not far off though.

      Economic Left/Right: -8.88
      Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -5.90

      Marxism is still the best analytical tool for diagnosing capitalism and predicting where it is heading. In terms of Marxist prescriptions, I now agree with Professor Richard D. Wolff.

      Workplace democracy is the only way forward. That is to say, workers must work, own and manage their own productive enterprises. The separate owning and managerial classes need to be abolished. They serve no useful purpose. They are entirely parasitic and do nothing that workers cannot do for themselves.

      A society cannot be democratic while workplaces are autocratic. People spend a lot of time at work and are very often strongly defined by their work. To democratise society we must democratise the workplace. Capitalist ownership and management must be replaced by workplaces run by worker cooperatives. It’s the only way forward.

    18. Hi Bill, Rudolf Steiner had some interesting things to say about your topic. Steiner spoke about the need for humanity to create a three-fold social order: the realm of culture (the arts, religion and education), the realm of law and politics and the realm of economic activities. And he discussed where the 3 values of liberty, equality and fraternity should fall in relation to these “realms” or areas of human life. In the area of human culture, there should be liberty. People should be free to choose what they believe in, what they write, paint, sexual preference, etc. In the area of law and politics the value of equality should preside. And finally in the area of economics and commerce, the value of fraternity or brotherhood should dominate. Steiner never equated liberty with commerce; but that the fruits of economic endeavour should be shared. Nowadays we have the exact opposite, as you and Selbourne have pointed out – people want the freedom to ‘screw’ their neighbour.

    19. Workplace democracy doubtless has a place,and a valuable place.
      Marx has some valuable economic insights. Social insights,not so much. The fact that two of the most toxic regimes in the history of the 20th century paid deference to Marx is significant. I refer to the USSR and China – lest we forget.

      One single fact should stand out – there are no single solutions. No ideology or religion has a solution.
      There are a host of solutions of varying potency. it is the task of the rational mind to arrive at those solutions. it is the task of the citizens,acting together,to put those solutions into effect.

      Sentiment,ideology,religion etc ad nauseum are part of the problem,not the solution.

    20. CharlesJ, totally agree – after all, fascism looks a lot like socialism with the addition of notional private property rights.

    21. CharlesJ
      “No, government can offset any loss of income by running a larger fiscal deficit.”
      I referred to weatlh not income. Running a larger fiscal could offset the loss of income, but would reduce the comparative value of the currency, so there would still be a loss of wealth.

      And if that wasn’t so, trade sanctions would not cause any economic damage to the despotic regime.

    22. Podargus, what about the fact that another toxic regime, the USA, pays deference to Adam Smith? In the last 50 years, the United States has promoted, financed and participated in over 200 incursions and 20 separate wars, killing over 8,000,000 people. Is this all Adam Smith’s fault? On this basis do we condemn Adam Smith? Of course not. Thus it is equally absurd to blame Marx for regimes that perverted, distorted and mis-used his work whilst following their own very different agendas.

    23. Podargus

      Obviously the era of mass migration is well and truly over. But with excessive populations in many nations creating the usual Malthusian effects then mass migration is going to be what we are looking at.

      The era of mass migration has barely started, but it’s mainly a two way thing so tends to go unnoticed.
      And what you see as “the usual Malthusian effects” are really nothing of the sort.

      Australia has a major problem relative to immigration – POPULATION.
      We are an arid continent with poor soils and unreliable rainfall over the greater part.There has been massive environmental damage in many areas due to various mismanagement factors over many years. A lot of this damage is not repairable in a useful time frame. Anthropogenic climate change will inevitably exacerbate these problems.
      In short,we have exceeded our sustainable population.

      The truth is rather different:
      Australia has a trivial problem relative to immigration – POPULATION.
      We are a partly arid continent with poor soils and unreliable rainfall over the greater part, but the potential of most of our arable land is being ignored. There has been massive environmental damage in many areas due to various mismanagement factors over many years. A lot of this damage is not repairable in a useful time frame but most of it is. Anthropogenic climate change will inevitably exacerbate these problems but does not threaten our status as a major food exporter.

      In short, we can sustain a population several times what it currently is without major difficulty. The barriers are economic not technical.

    24. “Moreover, phoney progressives make their own pick’n’mix selection of ills on which to focus and ignore others, or oppose measures to deal with them.”

      After reading Selbourne’s article, I trust the irony of his statement above will not be lost on his readers.

    25. I guess the point I was trying to make was that a large number of people have died under regimes that have in some way tried to impose socialist values. Whether they were truly “socialism” is of course another matter. And they died over a very short period of history. It is a system that might work but usually doesn’t. It is a system that has served to starve people on a grand scale, and has almost invariably brought misery. Capitalism has its failings. Crony-capitalism is a poor outcome for the masses. Crony-socialism has been far worse.

    26. One thing that is interesting is the decline not only of democratic equality as an aim, but also the decline of Red Toryism. Neo-liberalism has been as much as threat to one as to the other. And the hippies’ main attack was on the social and establishment-communitarian values of Red Toryism. Now one may rightly prefer self-reliance and individualism to certain of the noblesse-oblige-like responses of the Red Tories, but ultimately, the logic of MMT brings one back into recognition of the importance of a strong central state, especially in a federal system. And one that is relatively depoliticized. So, where possible, MMT-ers should be for parliamentary monarchies, and against presidential republicanism.

    27. The term freedom is problematic in the extreme.
      One way of escaping the conundrum is to separate two distinct freedoms.
      Freedom to and freedom from.
      The problem is freedom to is essentially an illusion.I think the only rigorous
      definition of freedom is unbound.To be free is to be like the neutrino passing
      through us all now without any impact.
      The philosophical maze of free will is only to be solved by seeing through
      the oxymoron .Yes humans have will make choices ( and the other animals)
      but such will is not unbound it cannot be free( even in a strict neurological sense).
      In terms of human interactions ” freedom to ” reduces to power.
      libertarians of left and right want to exercise their power and why not if it doesn’t bind
      others .
      That is why it is greater equality which distinguishes the progressive from the reactionary
      not least because freedom as the exercise of power especially spending power
      is only fair in a more equal context.
      The spirit level is a great statistical analysis of the advantages of more egalitarian soceities

    28. Esp Ghia, a huge number of people have died under capitalism. You just don’t notice or count them outside of the major wars because they die and have died in other countries (colonies), not in the heartland of capitalism. Further, you fail to see what is obvious about the major wars. For example, WW1 and WW2 were crony capitalist wars; fought mostly by capitalist imperialists fighting each other for empire.

      British Empire – capitalist.
      Third Reich – capitalist.
      Imperial Japan – capitalist.
      USA – capitalist.
      Soviet Russia (after 1917) – state capitalist (not socialist as erroneously claimed).

      So, in fact, capitalism has killed far more people than any other modern system.

    29. I think it stretches credulity to claim “Third Reich – capitalist”, but you’re entitled to think however you like. I understand the difference between communism and socialism and capitalism…enough said.

    30. Socialists are hyper capitalists as they strive to make the post enclosure society work via the forced redistribution of tokens while maintaining the concentration of power. (capital)

      Again the real distributionists voice is not heard above the screaming mob.
      Instead we have leftists with their full employment schemes creating further
      capitalist overproduction disasters.
      MMT is yet another top down neo liberal scheme.
      Don’t give them a job – give them access to a equal share of capital.

    31. OK Esp Ghia what was the economic system of Germany circa 1935 – 1945 if it was not capitalist? Did not the large capitalist industrialists (Krupps and IG Farben for example) thrive under the Nazis? Capitalist profits soared under the Nazis as is shown in this example.

      http://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/04/capitalism-and-nazism/

      Fact is the empirical record completely refutes your revisionist and ideologically coloured version of history.

    32. Dear Aidan, so technology is now passé,economics is now the barrier to growth (at any cost).
      Get a life ,boy.
      Even better, get a brain.

    33. Ikonoclast – I won’t deny that the USA is a toxic regime. Just how toxic in relation to other regimes is debatable.
      I’m not sure where Adam Smith comes into this. It does seem that dear old Adam has got himself quoted in all sorts of odd places,including the loony right of US politics.The perils of being a dead philosopher I guess.
      I’m not blaming Karl Marx for the likes of Lenin, Stalin and Mao however Marx and Engels did promote some sort of social upheaval in their Communist Manifesto. Rather utopian sort of stuff. Something like the numerous virgins in the Islamic heaven.

    34. If we understand that “freedom to” is in essence “power to” we gain insights into
      economic libertarianism.As MMT points out the state is not financially constrained,
      it has unlimited spending power in its own currency.
      For neo liberals ,idealogues of an illusionary “free” market this is an impingement
      on individual freedom.Of course rich peoples economic freedom/power is an
      impingement on poor people.Rich people rightly fear the state using its economic power
      on behalf of the poor.All people rightly fear the state using its economic power .
      Power currupts.The history of socialist and fascist tyranny is plain.
      This is the challenge of progressive economics wielding state economic power
      for the benefit of its citizens .Enabling rather than restricting.
      The states power it’s “freedom to ” spend used to make all citizens free from poverty.
      Progressives believe giving all the chance to be economically active increases aggregate
      wealth / well being and MMT sees that our current monetary system gives the state
      the freedom or power to achieve these ends ,neo liberals are mortified by this and seek to
      limit the freedom / power of the state.
      This is one of the reasons I am a strong advocate of a universal citizens dividend.This is
      government handing over some economic freedom to the citizens it represents.
      A proportion of all spending power in its currency equally distributed.I still believe the state
      needs to take resources into the public domain -security, education, mass transportation,
      sustainable energy production and for me decent health provision .(and the labour of those who
      private employers have no use for)

    35. With all due respect, while I agree that a “left” that talks more about gender than about class has a problem, a “left” that doesn’t talk about gender at all is not a left either.

      In the same way I agree that political correctness has been both abused and made into its own fetish but language matters immensely. Making it “not normal” to refer to women, homosexuals, or people with Afircan ancestry, to name just a few, by derogatory terms changes the perception of them.

      In the same way, btw, as changing the language on government “debt” and “deficits”, on unemployment “benefits” and climate change “costs” would give support to actually affecting changes.

    36. Dear Aidan, so technology is now passé,economics is now the barrier to growth (at any cost).
      Get a life ,boy.
      Even better, get a brain.

      Dear Podargus, I said nothing of the sort, so I suggest you start using your brain to consider what people actually say instead of wasting your brainpower on wilfully misinterpreting anyone whose argument doesn’t conform to your prejudices!

      Far from being passé, technology is moving ahead extremely rapidly. But what’s profitable to do isn’t advancing as quickly as what’s possible to do. That’s why the barriers to sustainable population growth are economic not technical.

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