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Left logic – the neoliberal EU cannot be reformed but exit is bad

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!

On Tuesday, March 12, I will be in Vienna giving a talk sponsored by 1 Europa, an organisation which expresses the modern cosmopolitanism that progressives in Europe love.

Its Manifesto includes statements like:

1. They seek a Europe that “commits all its citizens, peoples and states to overcome nationalism, to unite and to form a new European community, without internal borders, in the diversity of its cultures and regions, under a common law, as a free under To live together and peer among peers in inner and outer peace – responsible before the world and future generations.”

2. “We are in favor of a European Union under the sovereignty of its citizens, who are shaping their future in an evolved European democracy and are also deciding on the progress of European integration through European referendums.”

3. “The unification process has to change from a ‘project of the elites’ to a res publica, a matter for all.”

4. The current setup is “a black hole for democracy”.

6. “The European Union, rather than becoming an instrument of the civilization of globalization, is threatening to become a vehicle for the global domination of unleashed financial markets and the ideology of a fundamentalist neoliberalism. That feeds Euroscepticism.”

‘1 Europa’ is thus deeply critical of the way in which the EU evolved and demands that a “social market economy” be created rather a meagre “competitive society”.

Importantly, they claim that it is “the arrogance of the power of national governments” that are hindering European unity.

So it will be an interesting night in Vienna in a few weeks.

We share most of the social and economic goals – such as “full employment and the protection of public services” – but have vastly different constructions on how to get there.

In particular, the ‘1 Europa’ manifesto is largely silent on the macroeconomic shifts that will be required to create their longed for European unity.

Implicit in their statements is the sense that national governments should cede fiscal authority to a European-level body. But the devil would be in the detail and as I have said many times, try getting Germany to agree to that.

The ‘Attac Austria’ analysis of the EU, noted in the introduction, is quite different to the ‘1 Europa’ sentiment but comes to the same conclusion – the EU should continue.

Attac is not a body that understands much about Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), given their advocacy of a Tobin Tax.

I have written about those issues previously in the following blog posts:

1. Progressives should move on from a reliance on ‘Robin Hood’ taxes (September 4, 2017).

2. ATTAC should drop the ATT part! (May 17, 2016).

However, their insights into the way the European Union operates to perpetuate a rigid, neoliberal dogma should be understood by all.

Especially, the Europhile Left.

As Mathew Rose wrote in his review of the book – The European Illusion – Why We Need New Strategies Towards the EU and Beyond by Attac Austria (January 7, 2019):

It takes courage these days to write a book critical of the EU, especially from a leftist perspective: to do so in Austria even more so … As one of the authors explains: “It´s almost impossible to express your opinion on the EU without being backed into a corner. As soon as I question the institutional make-up of the EU, I am deemed a nationalist.” In Germany and Austria, because of their fascist past, being a “nationalist” is tantamount to being a neo-Nazi.

In the opening pages we are confronted with the standard Europhile mantra:

If we want to shape globalisation in line with our goals, we need the EU.

That sets the tone.

Early on, the authors note the way that the mainstream economists have presented the austerity bias in the EU:

Political debates on economic issues are typically not conducted in an open manner. Generally, employers are reticent to argue that the purpose of austerity is to bring about unemployment. Rather, they argue that cut-backs are in the public interest and may even contribute to the reduction of unemployment.

In my class today at the University of Helsinki, I made the point that if we all understood Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) then this sort of neoliberal veil of ideology would be unavailable in the public debate.

No-one would buy it. We would all see through it straightaway.

No politician could get away with the ‘fiscal contraction expansion’ lie.

It has been obvious that the austerity applied in the EU has made matters worse despite the official line being that the austerity was the path to salvation.

And while the austerity was clothed in fiscal terms (need to cut deficits to live within the rules) it was really part of a longer neoliberal agenda aimed at:

… restricting workers’ rights and making cuts to the welfare state.

When we state that the EU is neoliberal central, we get a lot of pushback from the Europhile progressives. They can’t stand the obvious conclusion that they support an institutional structure that is one of the most advanced vehicles for perpetuating and applying the very ideology they despise.

Dissonance to say the least.

So the way they seek to salvage their credibility is to generalise – propose reforms, create grand movements (such as DiEM 25) – rather than facing up to the fact that the EU neoliberalism is core and the product of a long period of institutional building – it is not an ephemeral fancy that will be ‘reformed’ away.

The Attac Austria book makes it clear that within the Europhile narrative:

Each successively higher level of integration is considered as progress …

Whereas, what was really happening was that the architecture of the EU – its very existence was being transformed into one of the most advanced expressions of neoliberalism.

The foundations are rotten and any number of coats of paint to the walls will not alter that.

Chapter 3 provides analysis from a number of academic researchers, in areas such as Agricultural Policy, Economic Policy, Environmental and Climate Policy, Financial Market Policy, Gender Equality Policy, Military Policy, Monetary Policy, Refugee Policy, Social Policy, Tax Policy, Trade Policy and Wage Policy.

In other words, all bases are covered.

Some obvious conclusions were drawn:

1. “Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) lies at the heart of the neoliberal European Union”.

Europhile-types (especially British-based ones) often in the context of the Brexit debate, confront me with the statement that the EU is not the Eurozone – am I so stupid not to realise that Britain is not in the Eurozone.

I would guess I have read more of the primary literature and official documentation and written more words about the Eurozone in my career than most people (and, yes, I am an Australian, so what the hell am I doing meddling in matters that don’t affect me – paraphrasing an insult I often get from European-based characters who can’t bear facing up to the reality of the EU.

Obviously, the EU is not the EMU but the EMU is just the most advanced expression of the neoliberal intent of the EU. If the Commission could get everyone in the EMU is would be most happy.

2. The structure of the EMU:

… establish the basis for the biased unilateral orientation of EU economic policy in favour of business interests (camouflaged by the “open markets” rhetoric), the liberalisation of financial markets, the reduction of social and safety standards (“deregulation”) and increased competition among workers.

This is the institution that the Remainers claim is the only thing standing between decent working conditions in Britain and Dickensian squalor and exploitation.

The EU is an advanced corporatist state. There is no question about that. Such a state doesn’t protect workers’ rights, it constantly seeks to undermine them within the political limits that prevail.

3. While many juxtapose that vision with that of a “social EU” and claim there should be a bit more of the social and a bit less of the ‘single market EU’, the reality is that if democracy prevailed then the erosion of social Europe could be thwarted at the Member State level.

But this:

… is why the EMU concept – whose decision-making mechanisms largely circumvent democratic structures like the European Parliament and national parliaments – is the key instrument in this regard.

And while the ‘European Project’ began as a means of reducing the damaging manifestations of Franco-German rivalry, the reality in 2019 is that the EU has morphed into:

… a conflict between the neoliberal interests of the wealthy and corporate groups on the one side and the interests of the general population (in good public services and high labour, social and environmental standards) on the other.

That is what we are up against.

While the elites claim the EU is about promoting convergence to one Europe, the reality that Attac Austria identifies is the opposite – the EU is about division and divergence.

While the Europhiles think they can reform the EU and tame it to act progressively, this, in fact, represents a denial of what the EU has become – a co-opted agency of capital.

And that co-option has permeated throughout the structure, including down to the Member States – which while holding out that they represent the interests of their peoples, are actually totally co-opted by corporate lobby groups.

I wrote about that last week – The EU is neoliberal to its core and captured by corporate interests (February 18, 2019).

Chapter 4 is entitled “Impications” and has sections:

– What lies behind our images of the EU

– “Fundamental EU reform is impossible”

– “Why the exit debate is not helping”

– “The EU and the rise of the right”

– Where we stand: Positions on the EU

So, when I started reading that section I was fascinated how they were going to resolve all these issues.

I wasn’t impressed at first.

We read, for example, that:

It is clear that many of the issues of today’s capitalist system cannot be resolved at the national level. If we wanted to prevent corporations and financial markets from pressuring social systems and public budgets, we would need cooperation between states, for example in the form of common minimum standards for social services and environmental protection.

This is the classic Left position that has led to the Left ceding authority in the debates to the neoliberals.

This sort of surrender talk started in the 1970s.

We document that surrender in detail in our book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017).

The point is that this view completely ignores the powerful capacity of so-called demonstration effects.

In consumption theory, these effects are important and explain group behaviour – the Keeping up with the Joneses effect.

My conjecture is that, if say, Italy decided to restore national sovereignty, it would be the first domino in a chain, and the result would be a Eurozone (aka mark zone) which might include Benelux/Germany/Austria and not much else, although the Finns and the Baltic states would probably hanker, against their better judgement to be part of it.

The point is that if one state uses its legislative capacity to fight back and achieves better outcomes then the dam walls would break all over the place.

Why did the EU do everything to keep Greece within the EMU? Because it didn’t want any breakaways, rejecting austerity and creating better conditions for their population.

As I read on, things continued to be confused.

We read that the while “reform is impossible” the:

… “leave or remain” is the wrong question … we must focus primarily on building an effective counterpower, regardless of the level on which this occurs.

Which sounds like reform within the current machinery, yet “reform is impossible”.

I found this rather confusing.

The Attac Austria authors are clear in one respect – that the elements of “the European Left and in movements such as Varoufakis’ DiEM25” that want “to rewrite the EU treaties so that they follow social and democratic goals” are dreaming:

… this is impossible to achieve via the current processes. All heads of state and members of the EU Parliament are required to approve a new treaty. After that, it must be ratified by all nation states … one single neoliberal stronghold is enough to block the new treaty.

Which is the very point that Thomas Fazi and I have made continually, in our joint and individual Op Eds, Blog posts and in Reclaiming the State.

And it is not hard to guess which nation might be the “one single neoliberal stronghold”, although many would be vying for the title!

As Attac Austria notes the “lack of potential for social reforms within the treaties is no coincidence, but was planned from the outset.”

In my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia: Groupthink and Denial on a Grand Scale (published May 2015) – I provided chapter and verse about how the EMU architecture evolved to reflect a movement away from social democratic principles.

And it is a one-way street!

But they also reject Lexit and supported the Remain campaign in the British referendum.

And they trot out all the usual claims about the risks being “underestimated”, how would existing debt be denominated, and currency instability.

While there are risks (and costs) involved in Lexit, there are clear paths to follow that can resolve all these issues (denomination, bank balances, currency impacts) in a way that the risks are manageable.

And those risks do not need “coordination between governments”. Currency sovereignty and integrity of the legislative process will be sufficient to ensure Lexit is a better outcome (after the adjustment period) than staying in an EMU (and EU) that will progressively get more corporatist as time passes.

So Attac Austria – doesn’t think “fundamental reform of the EU” is possible, yet they dismiss those who want Member States to exit.

In the final Chapter, Strategies, we read about their hope in grassroots uprisings.

They think, for example, that the food sovereignty movement – is a good model for localised, citizen-based resistance to the neoliberal core of the EU.

But as Mathew Rose’s Review (cited above) notes:

… cultural obstacles begin to appear. Austria is probably the most progressive European nation regarding the quality of its food production …

In other words, a ‘grassroots’ movement in Austria based on food issues is likely to resonate. But the same type of mobilisation will not gather support in poorer nations, such as Britain “where parents go hungry to feed their children”.

All through the book, the tension is rising.

They don’t consider reform is possible yet want to maintain the EU. So what gives?

In the chapter – Strategic Disobedience – we get some answers to where they want to go.

Here they restate their antipathy to groups like DiEM 25 which though fighting for ‘desirable’ outcomes are effectively waiting “for a miracle” – being that all Member States would suddenly have to turn to the Left at the same time in the same way.

That is not going to happen.

But then they also reject a turn to the Left at the Member State level, which could happen, but in their view would not help (for reasons noted above).

And so the way forward is for Member States to adopt what they call “strategic disobedience to implement a range of progressive projects.”

What?

Yes, this is plan to remain:

… in the EU or the euro and, at the same time, deliberately breaking the rules that contradict left-wing policies.

This strategy – either “silent” (“non-compliance to certain EU rules”) or “offensive” (open and high profile rejection of dictates) – would apparently “politicise the neoliberal principles and beliefs enshrined in EU rules” and “gradually build support for radical alternatives requiring stronger ruptures with the EU”.

However, for example, if a Member State was to “openly announce its intention to break the budget rules” it would have to:

… be prepared for possible sanctions and conflicts with the rest of the EU.

And, how might that play out?

Attac Austria doesn’t really tell us.

Well, I have one model already. June 2015 Greece and the ECB. Banks threatened with collapse unless Greece abandoned its ‘mini’ revolt against austerity.

The reason that blackmail worked was because the elites know that the Syriza leadership was pathetic and would back down. Why? Because they were on the record as saying they would not exit.

If a trade union tells all and sundry that they will never strike, then employers take them for a ride.

So this disobedience plan would fall at the first hurdle because the monetary authority would know there was no coherent threat from a bunch of hicks in Austria who wanted to remain in the Eurozone no matter what.

Attac Austria recognises this but, somehow, can’t get their heads around why it negates their strategy.

If there is no exit threat (and genuine Plan B) then the disobedience will be crushed just as quickly as we have seen in Greece, and more recently in Italy.

Conclusion

So the dilemma is laid out bare.

This is the sort of dead-end the progressives get themselves into when they cannot articulate leadership and, instead, adopt caution.

We have the ultimate here – hate the EU, recognise that its core architecture is neoliberal and incapable of being reformed (so distinguishing themselves from the DiEM 25 dreamers), but cannot bring themselves to supporting a breakup or exit.

So, they propose breaking laws as a vehicle to create tension, yet have no credible threat which would make the European Commission in partnership with the ECB, take the breaking laws as a vehicle for fundamental change.

But then they don’t believe fundamental change is possible.

Skewed by their own logic.

That is enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2019 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.

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    This Post Has 42 Comments
    1. Great text. I didn’t read the book but i can’t understand why not brake budget rules if your position is to brake rules. So there are rules of what rules you can brake? And if so, why?
      So hundred million people (or so) will have to wait for years, probably decades, in perpetual worsening working conditions, falling investments and wages (if you are not allowed to adjust your fiscal policies) until the right conditions will be created where (by finally happy intelligent and enlightened “people of EU”) everybody will finally sit at the table and make things right while not taking in consideration all the negative and unforeseen effects that current status quo can have on different states?

    2. People who live in fantasy. No wonder so many conservatives have contempt for Progressives. They don’t make sense and they don’t know how the real world works. Immaturity.

    3. I don’t know how anyone can see what the EU has done to Greece and at the same time proclaim that it is some kind of benevolent force for good in the world.

      It’s a shame the leadership of UK Labour didn’t just go with its (correct) gut instinct about the EU and support Lexit. They could have made the case if they’d started early enough – like they successfully have with nationalisation. Now the equivocation will cost them with millions of voters signalling they are all for peace and love by supporting the EU.

    4. Bill,
      Could you provide the location and time on your March 12 Vienna talk or a link that advertises the event? I’d like to send some friends.
      Thanks.

    5. Hi Bill, I was wondering if you would be kind enough to respond to Doug Henwood’s attack on MMT in Jacobin:

      [Bill note: I deleted the link – not worth promoting]

      There was already a response from Pavlina Tcherneva, but it felt a somewhat rushed, and you’ve always been amazing at breaking down inaccuracies point by point.

    6. Dear Niksa Capelletti (at 2019/02/28 at 8:49 am)

      If you read the book you will see that Attac Austria spend some time in their section on strategic disobedience discussing breaking ‘budget’ rules.

      It just isn’t convincing though as a strategy unless there are massive costs the rule breaker is willing to impose on the rule keeper (Brussels) – that is, exit.

      If you start threatening or actually breaking rules but the rule keeper knows you are not going to go the end-point then a beating will follow.

      That is my concern with the Attac Austria strategy. Their intentions are entirely sound.

      best wishes
      bill

    7. Dear Grigory Graborenko (at 2019/02/28 at 1:33 pm)

      Thanks for your request and interest.

      However, I think the critique you mentioned is in the category of not worth responding to given its nasty personal tone, misrepresentation, consistent errors, and its starting point.

      I have known Doug Henwood for as long as the MMT project has been going (25 odd years). He is a Marxist-type pushing neoliberal sound finance macroeconomics – which is a sort of ridiculous backwater that many progressives have ventured into.

      He also has clear personal enmity for many, if not all, the core US-based MMT developers and vents that bile and bitterness in the article to its discredit.

      I have also faced the criticism from that element that interventions like the Job Guarantee are just delaying the glorious revolution by making Capitalism less unpalatable. Even if that prediction is correct, I still find it offensive that well-paid, middle class intellectuals can wax lyrical about the impending revolution and allow the most disadvantaged workers in our society to be the fodder.

      Life is today and tomorrow and I prefer to advocate interventions that reduce suffering in that time horizon while I wait for that glorious revolution whenever it might poke its head above the ‘croissants and latte’ we are consuming in the cafes talking about it.

      It was a very poor critique and is not worth my time responding.

      best wishes
      bill

    8. Bill

      Yet another fascinating and useful post with which I fully agree.

      As you know we disagree on the specifics of the UK exit strategy. Whilst you did not mention it here, it is still apposite to request what you envision a suitable alternative to the current EU would look like, that is what you mean by what you have stated before as an intergovernmental relationship. I posit that Efta is a suitable starting point (lets leave EEA to one side), what do you envision? In my view, to be pro-Europe requires being anti-EU, since it now enforces the economic conditions it was created to prevent.

      I am thinking in terms of a Lakoff truth sandwhich. Propose what a positive European intergovernmental arrangement would look like, then contrast it with the current extremely deleterious EU, then finish with how we can get from one to the other. I think we would both agree that Lexit per se is a key step, even as we differ on the staging.

      Whilst you are very good at criticizing others dissonant and unpractical visions for a unreformable reformed EU, I am missing your viable alternative, apart from an MMT evidence-based economic policy, or have I missed something already argued for in your books? Either way, surely it is certainly worth (re)stating your position in posts in your blog here?

    9. We have the impression that you have not read the book carefully. For Attac Austria an exit ist not a taboo per se. All we’re saying is that there are different conditions from country to country. An exit debate must also take into account the constellations of political power.

      “In light of experiences of southern european countries, the subject of a potential exit is increasingly being discussed among the left and social movements. (…) If there is no scope for progressive economic policy within the Economic and Monetary Union, withdrawal might be a necessary step. However, exit is not a political aim in itself and does not achieve any of our political goals. At most, it could be a necessary step after having first won hegemony in our societies. (…) In the context of the right-wing hegemony that we are currently witnessing in many European countries, an exit would not open up any scope for emancipatory policy. Is for these reasons that we, with our own political arena of Austria, do not consider an Austrian exit to be a sensible demand at present. ”

      See “4. The question of whether it makes sense to leave the EU or the euro varies from country to country.” https://the-european-illusion.eu/the-book/implications/positions-beyond-eu-reform-exit/

      On Monetary Policy:
      A renewed flare-up of the euro crisis could happen at any time. Because of this, we need a central bank that, where necessary, can shore up the public sector and provide direct funding to create employment. The financing ban for public institutions should be deleted from the EU Treaties. Furthermore, the central bank should support a large-scale, EU-wide investment programme for the socioecological restructuring of the economy, for example by buying up bonds issued by the European Investment Bank. Finally, democratic oversight of the ECB by the parliaments should be strengthened, which could help prevent the central bank misusing its powers in the same way it did during the Greek negotiations. https://the-european-illusion.eu/the-book/analysis/eu-monetary-policy/

      (and of course attac wants to close the financial casino in principle, with many more proposals than a financial transaction tax)

    10. Thank you for your reply Bill.
      After your response i have read the section on strategic disobedience but, like you said, it is unconvincing. I don’t question their intentions, but little dose of reality would not hurt.
      Thanks again,
      Niksa

    11. Brexit is not about the flowering of a new economic era. Exit polls showed people who voted for Brexit were voting against “brown” people with 77% saying that was their first reason. Hilariously the potential new free trade agreement with Turkey includes FOM. Politically neither Tories nor Labour support policy positions that you quite sensibly argue for.
      Booman, Booman Tribune, Sat, Dec3, 2016

      If you want to challenge norms and blow up longstanding ways of doing things. It’s all the more important that you understand exactly why we have done things the way we have and what the implications are of changing them.

    12. The nailed down neoliberalism is one of the main reasons I voted leave and would do so again tomorrow.

      I’ve written to (and have been badgering online) a number of Europhile ‘progressives’ asking them precisely how their proposed reforms could ever be achieved. I’ve asked them for ANY strategies or roadmaps they (or anyone else they know of) has produced that takes into account the electoral landscape across and within the memberstates, the diffuse nature of the EU structures, the corporate capture etc etc. I’ve asked precisely who would be our allies across Europe and how well are they doing in their respective Parliaments. I’ve asked how any of this could be marshalled to ever acheive the unanimity requirements of Article 48.

      So far my targets have included Green & Labour MPs, anyone prominent on twitter using a #RemainAndReform hashtag, Labour Leave, DiEM25 and Another Europe is Possible.

      So far only DiEM25 have replied – by pointing me to their Green Paper which is long on recommendations, but either lacking of, or rather sceptical about, strategy and prospects.

      Another Europe Is Possible have completely blanked me – that a campaign can call itself that, but not actually proposed a ‘how’ is as laughable as it is pitiful.

      You can read my open letters here:
      https://medium.com/@AdrianKent/an-open-letter-to-another-europe-is-possible-4394ffe61b00

      https://medium.com/@AdrianKent/remainandreform-go-on-then-tell-us-how-4ad9944a77f6

    13. @Attac Austria

      First of all, thank you and kudos to you for adressing the criticism publicly.

      “The financing ban for public institutions should be deleted from the EU Treaties. Furthermore, the central bank should support a large-scale, EU-wide investment programme for the socioecological restructuring of the economy, for example by buying up bonds issued by the European Investment Bank.”

      At that point I ask myself why those public institutions, then directly financed by the ECB, couldn’t be the motor of the restructutring of the economy instead of the EIB . It feels to me like cutting out the middleman and avoiding the risk of private companies “milking” the system for short term profits. Nevermind the EIB bonds could become a speculative object themselves, no? I also think my proposal could be implemented as a form of Job Guarantee thus breaking the whole neoliberal “funding” issue and adressing high unemployment both at the same time.

      I’m genuinely interested in your response and hope the dialogue continues and our common goals prevail over our divergent tactical approaches. Even if we on the “left of the left of center” don’t agree on many issues, it would be good to press those we do agree on emphatically. Otherwise, we risk perpetuating the eternal fragmentation of the left and it’s consecuential stasis in front of the monolith of capital and the media and politicians in it’s pockets.

      Cheers!

    14. Adrian

      Your articles on medium are great, thanks. I completely agree with them too. I can only see the “Europhile Left” as those having drunk the neoliberal kool-aid and that the term looks to me like an oxymoron.

    15. @Norman,
       
       
      Thanks for the interesting analysis. I’m surprised that Belgium hasn’t done as well as the Netherlands, as I thought their economies were fairly closely tied, and both of them fairly closely tied to that of Germany. Didn’t they use to peg their currencies to the DM in pre-Euro days? (I’m open to correction on that, of course).
       
       
      Re: Brexit: I’m fairly pessimistic from a Lexit point of view. There seems to be much confusion in Westminster. Heaven help the ordinary voter. My gut feeling is that Brexit simply will not happen. Either the application under Article 50 will be withdrawn before 29th March (despite Theresa May saying she will never do this), or there will be a delay (probably the longer one imposed by Brussels, rather than the shorter one supposedly favoured by May). In that time, anything could happen, but I suspect that Brexit will not be the ultimate result.
       
       
      I think that Theresa May never wanted Brexit to happen, but being short on imagination, this was the only way she could think of of getting out of it. She did what she does best: planned incompetence. Pretend to prepare for Brexit, but make such a complete hash of it that as the moment of truth draws nearer, and the outcome looking more and more like a disaster (her own version of “Project Fear”), even the most hardened and ardent Brexiteers would no longer have the stomach for it, and bottle out.

    16. Coming from a confederation of provinces (Canada), I really don’t see why the European left are so eager to discard national sovereignty in favor of a similar structure without the elected federal government?

      Getting along as 10 geographically, politically, and culturally distinct regions, each with it’s own government is no bed of roses, so what would make anyone think a larger number of separate states with much deeper histories, and cultural distinctions could be any better off?

      We have three provinces were there are always large numbers of people crowing about separation. We continue to have, have not regions, all of which are helpless to do much to alter domestic conditions without assistance from a money issuing neoliberal federal government, which at least is elected, or from a transnational corporate interest in some new found natural resource to exploit.

      The only thing that progresses with this arrangement is the clawing away of the post ww2 era advances in health, education and infrastructure, as provincial debt grows and while provincial revenue bases shrink.

    17. On brexit, here is Chris Grey on what he thinks may be going on. You couldn’t make it up. This is not inconsistent with Mike Ellwood’s hypothesis.

      “So in a couple of weeks’ time, everything in this post may have been rendered completely obsolete. Or, to put it another way, if the analysis that another referendum is now much more likely is correct, then it is less likely to come true.

      Confused? There’s a reason for that

      That paradox arises because if the possibility of extension and/or referendum makes the Brexiters more likely to pass May’s deal then denying that possibility makes it more likely that they will not pass it, which in turn makes it more possible there will be an extension and/or referendum, making them more likely to pass it, ad infinitum. This may sound abstruse, but it is precisely the paradox which structures the weird political manoeuvres that we have seen played out in Parliament this week, with May trying to play all sides against each other, and the ERG contortions that have already arisen from that.

      Because it is a paradox, it has no answer. It is this which explains the extraordinarily confusing swirl of multiple and contradictory interpretations of what just happened from politicians, the media, and even the best-informed pundits over the last couple of days. Is this a blow to the Ultras or a rout of the ‘pragmatists’? A concession by the Prime Minister or the imposition of her will? Her triumph or her humiliation? Is her deal now more likely to pass or less likely? Does it make no-deal impossible, or postpone it? These and many similar questions are pointless because most answers to them are equally plausible. And as for guessing what is going on in May’s mind that too is pointless because she almost certainly has nothing in mind other than getting through another day.”

    18. “When we state that the EU is neoliberal central, we get a lot of pushback from the Europhile progressives.”

      By WHOM (name names, individuals and organizations) do you get “a lot of pushback” when yuo “state that the EU is neoliberal central”?

      You consistently and repeatedly use the terms “Europhile Left” and “Europhile progressives” and yet you never precisely define the term, nor do you provide empirical, verifiable criteria by which you classify individuals and groups (parties, movements, etc) as being “Europhile Left/progressives” or not.

      This needs to stop.

    19. Dear Stavros N. Karageorgis (2019/03/01 at 4:28 am)

      Thanks for your comment.

      Please read my book – Reclaiming the State – written with Thomas Fazi for a complete analysis of the terminology I use here.

      I also regularly name names and organisations. How long have you been reading my work. My blog goes back 15 years and my work on Europe goes back to the late 1980s.

      How much of it have you read and absorbed.

      Please also read my 2015 book – Eurozone Dystopia – it provides 511 pages of detailed documentary analysis of what all this means. I am guessing your probably have not read either book

      Also, I get to say what I like on my own blog and determine what stops or starts. If you don’t like it, then there is no charge for not reading it.

      best wishes
      bill

    20. Bill,

      I am GreekStav on Twitter. I’ve been following your work like “forever”. I have read every single post of yours on this blog.

      Of course, you can say whatever you want on your own blog. That doesn’t mean that you’re entitled (epistemically) to characterize people and entities ad hoc as members or not members of nominal entities you have concocted for rhetorical purposes.

      So, no, I did not mean that you have to literally “stop” doing anything you please.

    21. Dear Stavros N Karageorgis (2019/03/01 at 5:10 am)

      I noted a few weeks on Twitter that you were showing a little ‘edgy-ness’ (passive hostility) to my opposition to the EU and the progressive attitude to the EU.

      But as you have been travelling our journey with us for the duration, I wonder why you wrote the previous comment – expressing uncertainty about who is who and why I use the terms I use.

      There is a clear distinction on the progressive side when it comes to the EU between those who want it scrapped (like me) and those who think it can be reformed (others) – with a curious grouping of those who sit somewhere between and are really stranded (in my view).

      What is the problem in using terminology – that I have been consistent with for years – to summarise these groups. I don’t insult people personally by their use and my criticisms are on the idea levels not the personal level.

      Anyway, stay with us. Your Twitter comments are often very valuable.

      best wishes
      bill

    22. This Syriza Academic explains in detail why the EU can’t and won’t allow itself to change, without a total collapse these institutions are welded together to ensure the Neo-Liberal agenda stays.

    23. Many leftists, perhaps most, know that the global neoliberal system is as ecocidal as it is entrenched. Impervious to change, it must crash and burn if our species, and many others, are to survive in the long term. And as Bill has made clear in “Reclaiming the State” and elsewhere, there are viable systemic options, revealed though not prescribed by MMT, which cry out to be pursued. Yet no one wants to suffer through the neoliberal crash in order to pursue those options, because the short term price, for the individual, may entail the failure not only to thrive but to survive. Does that not help explain the ambivalence toward Brexit on the left, as well as the abject failure of humanity to even begin to adequately address climate change and other ongoing environmental catastrophes?

    24. @ Newton Finn
      “Does that not help explain the ambivalence toward Brexit on the left, as well as the abject failure of humanity to even begin to adequately address climate change and other ongoing environmental catastrophes?”

      My own answers, for what they’re worth, would be:- “no” to the first and “yes” to the second.

      I don’t see the europhile left (for want of any better term) as acting anywhere near as rationally as because “the short term price, for the individual, may entail the failure not only to thrive but to survive.” I see them as motivated by blind dogma; by a stubborn refusal (or a crass inability – it makes no difference which) to look facts in the face. Anyone who, post Greece (and, I would add, post Portugal and Italy) and still doesn’t understand or isn’t willing to admit the fundamental ineradicable systemic faults in the EU has brainwashed themselves.

      There is no other plausible explanation.

    25. (postscript)

      And the breathtaking numbers in cepStudy20 “Years of the Euro: Winners and Losers” come as the clearest imaginable confirmation of the consequences (for all except the Germans and the Dutch) of the catastrophe that is the Euro.

      All totally predictable – and predicted.

      All destined to be persisted-with. Who is going to dispossess Germany and the Netherlands of their golden goose? France? Italy? How are they going to do that? Portugal? Don’t make me laugh.

    26. We should all understand the reality that class warfare exists, it is stronger now than ever before, only the owners of capital are fighting and therefore one shouldn’t be surprised that they are winning so overwhelmingly. This situation applies more or less in all nations including the democracies, former and current communist states and in the developing world. There probably are no true democracies, just levels of democratic influence over governmental institutions and parliaments.

      As there can be no doubt that the EU has been totally captured by Northern European capital centred in Germany and that there is no realistic possibility of beneficial reform unless it were to be driven by German national politics which is extremely unlikely, the only viable solution remains the exit one by one of European nations from the EU.

      Fortunately for Britain a rare confluence exists of a decisive core of capital in Britain wanting Brexit and most of those that define themselves as working class and a substantial share of the middle class that have lost out in the last 40 years of the neoliberal era, providing a majority vote for Brexit. The gut feeling of those voters that a vote against the EU was a vote against the neoliberal era including the off shoring of manufacturing jobs, savage cuts to social services, decaying infrastructure, chronic high unemployment, rising costs of living especially housing and competition for scarce jobs from even more desperate and unwelcome foreigners was in the main soundly based.

      British capital are not more virtuous than German capital but they want to continue to run the game in Britain without undue interference from across the channel. For this reason it is likely the Conservatives will allow some form of Brexit.

      Jeremy Corbyn would be wise to neuter the substantial ‘progressive’ neoliberal political faction in his own party that gained the ascendency under Tony Blair, so they can’t succeed in their aims to remain in the EU. The recent exit of a group of ‘Blairites’ and similar elitists may be a sign of this or it may be just fortuitous.

      Britain cast adrift from the EU is good for Britain as democracy and economic and social policy are still most powerful at the national level and by regaining democratic authority by whatever means the people of Britain may at some point gain the ascendency over capital and then begin to slowly unwind the neoliberal era and progress in a socially beneficial way.

      At least I see no better alternatives and waiting for that revolution will be long and frustrating with the far right more likely to gain the ascendency as that will be capitals choice.

      Britain cast adrift from the EU is also good for the people of Europe as it weakens the EU, sets a precedent and hopefully Britain at some point may prove to be a beacon of democratic, economic, environmental and social progress.

      Maybe Jeremy can get the ball rolling. Join his movement friends or shake that tree but don’t just wait for a messiah as he or she will be too vulnerable. Get the crowds roaring at those rallies and remember the downtrodden often disgusting working class is your most important friend.

    27. Newton Finn – March 1st 11.36

      ecocidal: the destruction of large areas of the natural environment by such activity as nuclear warfare, over-exploitation of resources, or dumping of harmful chemicals – to name but a few prominently discussed examples of human degradation.

      How long as this been going on at any serious level, just about 250 years – since the industrial revolution. Before that humanity, even at its advanced level, was incapable of looking forward to anything but a short life of hardship.

      Since the inception of steam power, society has improved immeasurably in so many ways, materially, physiologically and psychologically. Yet life is still burdensome, even with two cars in the drive and a choice of consumer goods that beggars belief.

      Yet, to listen to you lot we are hurtling to a a demise that is more catastrophic than all the historic wars put together and certainly more rapid. For God’s sake, we are just emerging from the worst economic setback since the Great Depression; the man/woman on the street is seeking some optimistic encouragement to replace it.

      We know about the threats of ecological disaster and slowly getting the hang of it; but only a couple of generations ago we were working underground to mine coal, scurrying for our lives at the sound of air-raid sirens, rationed in our intake of basic food.

      Try wrapping your earnest message in words of encouragement rather than chastisement. That will produce the enthusiasm you’re looking for rather than the cynical, sarcastic resentment that I hear about “do-gooders” like you.

      As for Brexit – whatever the outcome, the message is we’ll see it through. And those pronounced guilty will get well and truly roasted over an electoral spit. If that results in populism and extremism be prepared for some unexpected repercussions.

    28. I think Newton Finn’s comment was all fair and reasonable. If it appears discouraging in revealing the true gravity of global warming or of ecoside in general or was critical of all of us who really have failed to push for the global warming crisis to be adequately addressed by our governments that is all fair comment and in my opinion true.

      Global warming is indeed an impending ecoside with bigger consequences even than all out nuclear war as there is a certainty of runaway and unstoppable global warming if all currently discovered fossil fuel reserves were to be burnt which would probably lead to the eventual death of all life on earth apart from primitive life forms such as bacteria. The next ten years will be critical and we are indeed now at a crossroads if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change. Even the lower 1.5 deg C warming limit means the eventual death of 90% of the world’s remaining reef building corals and their associated diverse ecosystems.

      James Hansen’s 2009 book ‘Storms of my grandchildren’ detailed very clearly our predicament and was backed by ample credible scientific research and evidence. The link below gives a good idea of how little time we have left for effective action.

      https://www.carbonbrief.org/in-depth-qa-ipccs-special-report-on-climate-change-at-one-point-five-c

      The failure to adequately address the threat of global warming and to properly heed the best scientific advice available is firstly a failure of government to meet perhaps its most vital responsibility to protect the lives and welfare of its citizens and of future generations and the health of the essential biosphere. Our democratic and political systems and mass media in the main have clearly been corrupted and hijacked by capital and other allied vested interests so citizens can only be partially blamed for not performing their ‘democratic duties’ properly but nevertheless most of us have been too passive.

      Sorry for the lecture but I saw this as an opportunity to cover the important issue of global warming.

    29. Andreas Bimba March 1st 21.55

      Your argument is accepted on these pages without too much controversy – and eventually it will be acknowledged by a far greater circle of people.

      Even those who do not currently give ecology the same prominence in their daily lives are willing to acknowledge the impact of their own folly. But what we need to get across are many more good examples there aren’t enough of those about, especially by prominent personalities).

      It would achieve more if Newton (and others) were able to point to a momentum that accentuated the beneficial aspects of conservation programs – for instance, last evening I attended a local introductory cycling group which attracted much genuine enthusiasm (and not a word of ecological ramifications was needed to focus minds).

      It would of course help if someone like James Dyson came along to make the product more price competitive.

    30. “would probably lead to the eventual death of all life on earth apart from primitive life forms such as bacteria.”

      Reading some more recent reports means I should revise this to:

      “would probably lead to a hothouse earth with global average temperatures up to 9.5 deg C higher than the pre-industrial average and with average temperatures in the Arctic increasing by 15 to 20 deg C. This would lead to the death of most complex land based and marine ecosystems with more primitive ecosystems replacing them. Extinction of most current species as well as a massive reduction of the global human population would probably be inevitable under such a scenario.”

    31. Bill,

      ” I don’t insult people personally by their use and my criticisms are on the idea levels not the personal level.”

      Understanding what the Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” is all about is a little problematic but, like Jumping Jack, you seem to exist in a “crossfire hurricane”. And to say you don’t return fire in kind is a tad disingenuous, having read your posts for the last few years.

      Having read Henwood’s article, I thought it was restrained. To discard Henwood’s piece the way you do suggests there is a good deal of history between him and the developers of MMT. Randall Wray’s description of it as character assassination seems to be a little over the hill.

      Given the widespread focus on MMT in recent times, I imagine the pressure on the developers of MMT is jangling the nerves to a degree. Keeping a level head must be challenging.

      Whether Henwood’s critique of MMT is pertinent is another matter. Wray’s response was an interesting read.

      Like all over turnings of the old guard, there are few that are bloodless. :-)

    32. Andreas Bimba, if I take your correction as true [I’m not sure any humans would survive] I would want to emphasize that the hothouse would last for many thousands of years no matter what and might last many tens of thousands or a few hundreds of thousands of years.
      . . . How well can humanity keep the knowledge we have learned in the last 300 years for that long if it isn’t being used to survive?

    33. Please, anyone respond.
      if the US gov. used MMT to increase the deficit with good useful projects like a GND, etc. (or cut taxes on the working poor) and so add about 5% to the GDP each year.
      And if the law was changed to keep banks from lending more than some fixed percentage of the GDP (or other way to keep banks from lending too much), then
      would these 2 changes alone be enough to stop the business cycle from being boom and bust?
      If not, then what else would be needed?

    34. Steve, I don’t think MMT claims to know how to stop the business cycle in the economy completely. I sure don’t know how. MMT does show how to moderate it though- Job Guarantee.

    35. Steve, March 2 20.56

      You speak as though the business cycle is something to be avoided. I cannot recall MMT protagonists calling for this particular economic outcome – it would be interesting if it were, because much of historic economic progress has been on the back of these periodic upheavals.

      Indeed, the impression I have got of MMT and its philosophy has been that the operation of JG is designed to alleviate the human cost of these cycles.

      A JG seems a very supportive ethic, one that should fall within the gambit of any civilized government. It is already partially deployed internationally in the form of unemployment and welfare support; MMT takes that further within its Socialist and Marxist bias. It is also apparent in such examples as the UK government’s subsidized support of Nissan’s Sunderland investment.

      These extra dimensions to welfare support place an increasing onus on government to meet not only a full-employment commitment but by inference, also a responsibility for a national industrial strategy.

      By widening its responsibility a government is acting as guarantor of whole-nation prosperity and accepting responsibility for any shortfall. In a global economy still reliant on the success and failure of a competitive process, measuring prosperity, and any shortfall, is bound to lead to unavoidable political conflicts that extend well beyond the attainment of full employment.

      It also seems strange that the principle of JG has yet to be fully implemented – is it down to mainstream fear of exactly how far that responsibility will ultimately extend; and its political fall-out.

      The stability that you seek could be achieved, but it might be under an economic regime that showed less dynamism, and more importantly, one that is prepared to share the results of human endeavour more widely; and more importantly prepared to counteract its natural instinct to compete for superiority (and attendant inequality).

    36. Some parts of economic booms however such as speculation, especially in real estate could be reduced by removing the incentives to purchase many rental properties or even worse properties that are held unoccupied, through taxation and regulation. Also in a carbon constrained world if the sales of large IC vehicles or overseas holidays for example trended upward, then increasing taxes on these would also act to suppress demand and economic activity in general during booms.

      A more progressive tax system on incomes would also act to increase the counter cyclical automatic stabilising effect of this tax as would increasing unemployment benefits, JG wages, rental assistance or food stamps if in the US. The national government could also proactively increase the deficit by increasing spending on infrastructure, on services or public housing for example or by cutting taxes if economic growth fell below historical averages which would also act to shrink the numbers in the JG. Also if utilities and public transport and infrastructure like ports and airports as well as a greater share of education and healthcare returned to public ownership, then these sectors could expand or transform in accordance with long term plans and utilisation levels rather than according to the prevailing sentiment of the business cycle and how much profit could be extracted.

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