A recent exchange between Jason Hickel (and here and here) and Dean Baker (and here) on whether humanity can have a viable future and still have ‘economic growth’, nicely highlights the way old concepts and words can trap us in unproductive debate and action.
The way forward is to recognise the need for a fundamental re-framing of the nature and purpose of our societies, and their economies. The terms growth, GDP, capital and capitalism are so ill-defined, confused or inappropriate they only hinder debate.
The economic ‘reforms’ of the 1980s are supposed to have set Australia up for an unprecedented run of prosperity: 27 years, and counting, without a recession. The economy’s robustness is supposed to have saved us from the Global Financial Crisis. In fact our economy has been unstable, and its performance has been mediocre verging on anaemic. Any appearance of robust prosperity is due to a huge run-up of debt, some direct intervention, high immigration, overwork, selective blindness and over-active imaginations.
I attended the New Economy Network Australia conference in Melbourne recently (19-21 Oct). There I met in person Karl Fitzgerald who does a spot call Renegade Economists on radio 3CR , and with whom I’d done an interview a few years ago. We didn’t manage an interview at the conference, but did one by phone a couple of days later.
I found NENA to be a very diverse group very engaged with each other. They even listened to my pitch about The Little Green Economics Book and bought copies. There are so many people and groups doing good things, my impression is that NENA is likely to spread rapidly and link us into a more powerful movement. It was just their third annual conference.
The right-wing ideology of the past 40 years has failed. It was always going to fail, because it is based on nonsense ideas, and because it harms people and the natural world. Australian politics has been dragged far to the right since 1980 because both major parties embraced an agenda promoted by right-wing radicals. Now the radical right’s grip on power is finally slipping. We are poised for a major political re-alignment.
Tony Blair, like a lot of mainstream people, is mystified why anyone would support Jeremy Corbyn for the leadership of the UK Labour Party, but then he’s mystified why anyone would think invading Iraq illegally based on a lie was stupid and wrong, so his views are not worth discussing.
The useful thing to discuss is whether it can be sensible to oppose austerity, and possibly some of the other ills of the modern world like rising inequality and social discord, and a feral and destructive financial system. Young Labourite Rosie Fletcher is right, this is not 1980, and a few things have become clearer since then, to those who will look.
For example, economic performance in the neoliberal era has never equalled the economic performance of the postwar mixed social-democratic economies.
[The recent TV series by George Megalogenis on how neoliberal market reforms allegedly saved Australia from the Global Financial Crisis caused me to read his 2012 book on the same theme, wondering if any evidence at all might be found for such an unlikely (but widely believed) claim. I have written my response into the book I’m working on, as follows.]
Despite their mediocrity and failure, and their lack of basis in human nature or defensible theory, the rightness of free competitive markets is taken almost completely for granted in mainstream discussion. That was true when neoliberalism was introduced in the 1980s and it remains true today. Back in the 1980s, I would look out for the basis for the praise being heaped on the latest reform. All I ever seemed to find was the circular reference back to free markets, which were self-evidently good. The mantra of the open, competitive economy is repeated a thousand times a day. Such immersion can lead one to doubt one’s reason and common sense, so it may be useful to search for any robust logic in the daily deluge.
[Probably last post until Sept – see previous post. The tax-cutting mania may have started in California, so it’s fitting if CA shows the way back. It was always nonsense. The real reason is to shrink government. Governments get in the way of rich people making money, because a few of the things they do are good for the rest of us. Well, used to be good for the rest of us. So Jerry Brown may be among the most subversive people on the planet at the moment, because he’s showing government isn’t all bad. It can do good stuff. Of course the lesson will probably be lost on Oz for another decade, it usually takes about that long.]
How Jerry Brown Got Californians to Raise Their Taxes and Save Their State
There’s a case to be made that Jerry Brown is the most successful high-profile Democrat in America today. And there is simply no debating that, after four decades in the national limelight, he stands out as an intellectually dynamic and politically untethered leader in a time of gridlock, frustration and dysfunction.