Author Archives: Geoff

Is Bruce Pascoe’s ‘Dark Emu’ dead?

[Just published in the Canberra Times($), with a few editorial liberties.]

Bruce Pascoe’s popular book Dark Emu argues that First Australians lived complex lifestyles that included durable dwellings and cultivation of food and that they were far from the old ‘primitive nomad’ label.

However a new book, Farmers or Hunter Gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe, is severely critical of Dark Emu, claiming it is riddled with errors, is derogatory towards hunter-gatherers, neglects the spiritual side of First Australians’ lives and pushes antiquated ideas of ‘progress’. Several historian reviewers seem to agree the new book ‘demolishes’ Dark Emu.

Paul Barry, of the ABC’s Media Watch, lamented that he and many people accepted Pascoe’s claims too uncritically, yet now they seem to be accepting the new book’s claims just as uncritically.

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Dark Ostrich: the attack on Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu

[Just published at Pearls & Irritations.]

Academics generally do not like outsiders trampling through their patch. Angry people are prone to missing irony. Semantics can be tricky when translating between very different cultures. These three factors seem to explain a fair bit of the vehement critique of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu in the new book Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate, by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe.

As an academic who has done a bit of trampling in others’ patches myself, I recognise some common defensive responses. ‘That’s not original, we’ve known that for decades.’ ‘You haven’t cited all my favourite sources.’ ‘You didn’t investigate this or that possibility.’ Yet sometimes an outsider can bring a fresh and stimulating perspective that carries some significant truth, even if it has its flaws, and certainly an outsider can be accorded some basic respect.

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It’s time – for another Labor split

[Published yesterday at Independent Australia. Meant to be provocative, and it seems to have worked on that site. Don’t know if it will get any wider circulation.]

Andrew Fisher, three times PM, and a proper Labor leader.

This time the split would be for the benefit of workers and progressives, rather than betraying them. Labor’s long-standing small-target, Coalition-lite strategy is a clear failure, and fails the country. As Labor shows no sign of changing, any members with a shred of integrity should quit.

The previous three Labor splits featured desertions to the conservative side of politics: Billy Hughes, Joe Lyons and the Democratic Labor Party. That can’t happen now because Federal Labor as a whole deserted to the neoliberal side in 1983.

The result has been accumulating disasters, but neoliberalism still promises to deliver worse: an ever-feebler economy along with the full-on police state and climate catastrophe, unless and until neoliberalism is fully repudiated. There is no prospect of that repudiation without a fundamental re-alignment of power, and votes. Continue reading

What does Gallipoli mean to us, and who says?

[First published in BWD magazine, autumn 2021, Braidwood NSW.]

The word Gallipoli evokes one of our most potent cultural stories, but in truth it is not one story but many. There are stories of sacrifice and national identity, but there are also stories of folly and destruction, and stories overlooked. We all, presumably, want to honour the fallen but there are those who, wittingly or otherwise, exploit the stories for other purposes. Can we have a conversation about these stories? Can we talk about which stories to keep, whether some might be corrected or discarded and others picked up? Continue reading

A modest proposal for generating useful analyses of economies

[Published in Real World Economic Review #95, Davies, Geoff (2021) “A modest proposal for generating useful analyses of economies: a brief note.” real-world economics review, issue no. 95, 22 March, pp. 118-123, http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue95/Davies95.pdf. Some other comments are at https://rwer.wordpress.com/comments-on-rwer-issue-no-95/ and https://rwer.wordpress.com/2021/03/25/a-modest-proposal-for-generating-useful-analyses-of-economies/.

This is written for ‘heterodox’ economists, those who recognise mainstream (neoclassical) economics is nonsense, but who seem to flounder around not knowing what to do instead. It is a little more technical than my usual posts, but the message does not depend on the details.]

I propose that economists leave philosophy alone for a while and instead try analysing some actual economic observations.

I have observed much discussion among heterodox economists about what science comprises, whether one could do “scientific” economics, and what ontology, epistemology, etc, etc, might be involved. If, for example, economies are historically contingent, how could one hope to do a rigorous analysis. I have also observed much concern about the complications of people and societies and the resulting alleged need for elaborate statistical analyses to extract an object of interest, followed by the construction of an elaborate mathematical model that includes many nuances of human behaviour.

I think the challenge is not nearly so daunting. An economic analysis does not have to emulate the precision of (some) laboratory physics to be useful. It does not have to yield a literal prediction. If one steps out of the equilibrium mindset of the neoclassical mainstream one can find obvious phenomena crying out for explanation, a financial market crash for example.

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Forget empire and swaggies, we need an anthem for all of us

Provoked by piss-weak, one-word Scotty and feisty Julian ‘Matilda’ Cribb, I offer my anthem words that come from a rather different place.

[Published at Pearls & Irritations.]

I was inspired by an early episode of Redfern Now, the one in which the scholarship kid at the posh school refuses to sing the AAF words because they insult his people. There are so many things wrong with those words. You can go through and pick at ‘boundless plains’ and ‘girt’, but for me it’s the whole tone and package.

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Cost, value and the society we might have

[This was drafted around the time of the delayed budget in October 2020. Too much was happening and I suppose the world moved on before I could submit it anywhere.]

The budget frenzy does not just highlight the familiar, toxic social and political priorities of this Government and much of the Parliament, it prompts deeper probing into common assumptions, perceptions and framing. What kind of society is desirable? What kind of society is feasible? How could we create it?

The budget is an opportunity to spell out, again, how misguided are some standard economic precepts. It reveals how profoundly awry are our conception of an economy and a society, our operating assumptions on human nature and our place in the world, and the aspirations we fall miserably short of.

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The Competition is Killing Us (Essay)

[I wrote this for an essay competition a year or so ago. It was not short-listed or otherwise noted. I thought it was not bad. You can see the winning essay here ($) or message me and I’ll email it. I wasn’t that impressed, but I wouldn’t be, would I? You can judge for yourself.]

Is there, at bottom, any real distinction between esthetics and economics? —Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac and Other Writings

For a week or so when I was a kid my father came home from the farm every evening stinking of rotten potatoes. There was a glut and much of the previous season’s crop had not been sold. It was rotting in storage and he was digging it out and dumping it. We kids complained about how he smelt, thoughtless of his day-long immersion in the stench and disgusting sludge and oblivious to the bitter reality of another season’s hard labour gone for little return.

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Do the mainstream media have much influence?

[Published today 8th Nov at Pearls and Irritations.]

The other day political commentator Mungo McCallum remarked in passing that ‘the influence of the media on public opinion has always been greatly overrated’. I beg to differ, along with quite a few other commenters on his article. Here is a longer case for profound media influence.

It seems journalists in the mainstream political bubble tend to share the disconnection  of the politicians from the rest of us, which is understandable if their perception of the world is mostly the bubble. And if your measure of the problem is the distance between the mainstream media and ‘public opinion’ you might miss something important. After all, the perceptions of most punters include the highly selected pap the media choose to serve up to them, so there’s not usually going to be a big difference.

But what would a well-informed polity, or just a polity sketchily informed with a rough balance, think? What would ‘public opinion’ be then?

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Neoclassical economics III: a machine to destroy the world

[Published at Pearls & Irritations 23 Sept.]

The false nostrums of the pseudo-science of neoclassical economics have been used to create a system that promotes endlessly increasing consumption of resources and endless elaboration of technology. This system already operates far beyond the needs of people. Our survival requires that we rein in the machine and return to proven and durable, social and moral forms of organisation.

Growth has a fundamental place in the biological world, of which we humans are a part. Unchecked growth has no place, outside of the microbial world. Unchecked growth is called a plague, an epidemic or a cancer.

Growth, among mainstream economists, has become a reflexive, mindless goal, specifically growth of the Gross Domestic Product. Growth of the GDP is the dominant global criterion for allegedly successful management of an economy. GDP is an indiscriminate measure of what we spend money on: some things good, some useless, some bad and, increasingly, some attempting to repair damage from previous spending. GDP is not a useful measure of our quality of life, whose improvement should be the real goal, but it does correlate with resource use and resource waste, also known as pollution.

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