Home > Economics - General > The ideology that dare not speak its name

The ideology that dare not speak its name

April 21st, 2009
.!.

The set of ideas that has dominated public policy for the last thirty years has been given a variety of names – neoliberalism[1], economic rationalism, the Washington Consensus and Thatcherism being the most prominent. Broadly speaking, this set of ideas combines support for free market (or freer market) economic policies with agnosticism[2] about both political liberalism and the relative merits of democracy and autocracy. In response to some demands for definition, I’ll point to mine here.

A striking feature of all of these terms is that they are currently used almost exclusively by opponents of the viewpoint being described, to the point where any use of such terms invariably provokes protests about unfair labelling (this is true even of the most neutral term I can find, “economic liberalism”). Even more striking is the fact that these terms were originally used in a broadly positive sense by supporters of the ideas concerned. I’ve done the story on economic rationalism, Don Arthur covers neoliberalism and you can check Wikipedia for the others.

Why is it that neoliberalism seems to be subject to a political version of the euphemism treadmill? A look at the history will help a bit.

For each of the sets of ideas in question, two things happened. First, the ideas described by the terms evolved in the direction of a more tightly defined and hardline free-market ideology – this happened both because (positive) users of the term became more consistent in their ideology over time and because some with more moderate views ceased to identify with the term.

Second, advocates of neoliberalism gained political power without, in general, convincing the majority of the public. In Australia and New Zealand, there was a bipartisan elite consensus in support of economic rationalism during the 1980s and early 1990s. In the UK, Thatcher won a series of elections with minority support thanks to a weak and divided Opposition. In Latin America, neoliberal policies were implemented by dictators like Pinochet, and quasi-dictatorial strongment like Fujimori.

Finally, as this process took place, the term was taken up by critics, who needed a descriptive label for the set of ideas they were criticising, and, soon afterwards, abandoned by its original advocates. In the case of economic rationalism, the crucial event was Michael Pusey’s book Economic Rationalism in Canberra. While, in my view, Pusey misunderstood some key aspects of economic rationalism, confusing it with simple pro-business conservatism, he correctly identified, and communicated to the general public, the emergence of a dominant ideological framework.

This analysis gives two reasons for the euphemism treadmill. First, there is the obvious one. Unpopular ideas require euphemisms, and these euphemisms wear out over time.

The second is more subtle. From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense. It Hence, politically dominant elites don’t see themselves as acting ideologically and react with hostility when ideological labels are pinned on them. Ideology is only useful for an insurgent group of outsiders, seeking a coherent basis for a claim to displace the existing elite. Because neoliberalism typically enjoyed rapid triumphs, it never needed to express itself as a formal ideology.

fn1. Confusingly, and reflecting the different meaning of “liberal”, in the US, “neoliberal” there has a different history and application, referring initially to Clinton-era DLC-oriented Democrats. The US neoliberals share some views, such as support for free trade, with neoliberals in the (originally) Latin American sense, but the global term is more applicable to the free-market right, represented by the business wing of the Republican party than to these centrist Democrats.

fn2. That is, the neoliberal ideology itself has little to say about these questions. Neoliberals may regard democracy and ordinary notions of political liberalism with outright hostility (Lee Kuan Yew, the Mises Institute). Or, they may like Hayek, regard democracy and free speech as second-order goals, desirable only if they don’t get in the way of free markets. Mises (unlike the institute that bears his name) offers a more appealing view, arguing that, in the long run, democracy is more favorable to free markets than autocracy, whatever the initial position of the autocrat. Finally, many neoliberals are, in political terms, orthodox liberal democrats, who advocate neoliberal policy while accepting that they need to convince the majority of voters of the validity of their position. Even among the last of these groups, most are willing to make political alliances with anti-democratic neoliberals, in much the same way as many (but not all) democratic socialists felt the need to work with the communist left in the trade union movement and elsewhere.

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  1. Chris Warren
    April 22nd, 2009 at 21:05 | #1

    Someone wrote;

    In fact, is democracy a necessary characteristic of a free society? IMO bad democracy can be good for freedom (c.f. the old Hong Kong, perhaps Singapore to a lesser extent). If you can ignore the few annoyances, there’s tremendous scope for individual liberty.

    …few annoyances such as authoritarianism.

    … you can have all the tremendous scope for individual liberty … in your gaol cell.

    Without democracy, individual liberty for some comes at the cost of enslavement and destitution for others. The oppressed will then be told, but you were free to choose your predicament, but don’t you dare use democracy against the alpha class.

    Without democracy, liberty is a wankers spin slogan peddled by anonymous political perverts.

  2. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:40 | #2

    The word “liberalism” has been corrupted beyond all sensible belief.

    In classic social theory it means supporter of Small Government, free enterprise and the rule of law.

    In the US’s contemporary political parlance it means a supporter of Big Government social democracy and affirmative action for minorities.

    Since the US is the most ideologically fertile polity in the world it seems that we are stuck with this contradiction.

    I have tried to resolve this contradiction by re-packaging “liberal” into two forms:

    - Left-liberal, eg New Left favours minority ethnic cults

    - Right-liberal, eg New Right favours minority economic classes

    On this reading its easy to see how “elitism” become the common complaint leveled against liberalism. The post-modern form of liberalism certainly lacks a populist focus.

    Like Pr Q I have long believed that Catholic institutional practice is a good guide for ideological parlance. (After all its derived from the Roman Empire and they wrote the book on social organization.)

    Following the subsidiarity principle, social associations are in a constant dialectic between centripetal top-down and centrifugal bottom-up forces. Obviously there are economies associated with either form.

    All things being equal it is better to give a presumption of initiative to the local man on the spot. That is the classic notion of “liberalism”.

    On that reading, “liberalism” should refer to any person or party who supports a devolution of initiative to voluntary “individual autonomies” ie a “bottom-up” philosophy of social organization. Thus a “liberal” is one who supports consenting forms of association eg capitalism, co-ops, states rights, local branches, parishoners.

    Conversely, we need a name for the ideology that prefers to “kick problems upstairs” to more or less compulsory “institutional authority” ie a “top-down” philosophy of social organization. I have suggested “corporalism” to describe various commanding forms of association eg socialism, united nations, centralism, head office, the Papacy etc

    If we could agree on this notion of liberalism (and its converse say “corporalism”) then we could waste less time on ideological nit-picking or euphemising or baggsing brownie-pointed slogans. This time could then be more profitably used deciding the actual merits of a liberal policy eg laxer border control or a more “corporal” policy eg compulsory national health insurance.

    So far my conceptual “innovation” has not caught on. But Pr Q’s continued tinkering with the problem gives me hope.

  3. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:42 | #3

    jack strocchi is wrong about the Americas and Reagan. He was an active opponent of democratic movements there, mostly because he thought they were ‘commies’.

    Some of them were, sort of. But that’s the risk you run with democracy – people can choose the ‘wrong’ option. A recent example is Hamas. Iraq could turn out to have similar problems (from a US power perspective).

  4. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:45 | #4

    Jack, post #52 hits the nail on the head. Well, ‘corporalism’ isn’t the greatest label, but the political taxonomy is commendable.

  5. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 21:58 | #5

    Daggett#50. I have to agree. How many of us winced at the government that came before Rudd.

    I have one complaint also. I cant stand the so called “choice” I have now in the supermarket. It drives me insane and has made me so angry I shop mostly at the local fruit market, the local butcher and I write meticulous lists and stick to them when it comes to Woolies and Coles. They think I am an idiot and dont notice their obscene price rises and shrinking packaging and proliferation of “me toos” priced at “me too prices”.

    Well – I really dont need their expensive processed garbage anyway. I used to like buying yoghurts until they became so full of sugar I think I am poisoning my own son! Make my own.

    The manufacturers use sugar because it is a cheap ingredient and addictive as hell. The supermarkets sell us a multitude of similarly adulterated rubbish where the marketing and packaging costs more than the contents.

    What I feel is called “the great turn off from choice” …as does David Irving at 38 apparently.
    Too many products and too much hunting and takes way too much time, but no “real” choice and no “real bargains” at all.

    Its nothing more than a waste of time and mostly inflated prices for most products that are no good deal at all (not free choice and not better prices and not competition).

    Yet I do have the choice not to go there (the ultimate free choice – choose not to buy) and increasingly I am not…give me simplicity back in the way I buy food for my family. Ive found some freedom by not going there at all (Coles and Woolies except for strict essential lists of household hardware).

    Gone are the days I stocked up at the supermarket.

    Id rather give it to someone else (ANYONE ELSE).

  6. April 22nd, 2009 at 22:15 | #6

    Daggett#50. I have to agree. How many of us winced at the government that came before Rudd.

    Yeah but Rudd is still a lemon even if he has the virtue of not being Howard.

  7. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 22:21 | #7

    26# Monkeys uncle

    I do know I failed Godwins law. Its too easy to associate nazis with all other post dated extremists (neo nazi liberals) I did indeed. I realised shortly after I posted (damn that Godwins law! Ha ha). The extremists that shocked the world for 70 years or more.

  8. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 22:25 | #8

    Terje P at 50

    “Yeah but Rudd is still a lemon even if he has the virtue of not being Howard”

    Yeah but only a slice of conservative lemon in with some heavy common sense Terje P (like lemon in tea – thats why people prefer Rudd or havent you noticed the polls?) – not the whole bitter lemon Howard became when we woke up that he wasnt the mild mannered conservative little doormouse he looked like to start with.

  9. April 23rd, 2009 at 06:50 | #9

    Thanks, Alice.

    Alice wrote, “Howard … wasn’t the mild mannered conservative little doormouse he looked to start with.”

    I remember well thinking to myself, when I woke up the day after Howard’s election victory in 1996, thoughts to the effect of, “well, we now have a Conservative Government. It’s not the end of the world.”

    How wrong I was (of course not quite in the literal sense).

    The way his Government was able to seize upon the phony excuse of the “Beazley Black Hole” to break his election promises and launch vicious attacks on ordinary Australians is an object lesson in how shallow the facade of Australian democracy truly is.

    That the motivation of the Howard Government was malice rather than any genuine necessity to cut spending was confirmed by the way that it axed Labor’s Commonwealth Dental program and never restored it, in spite of years of the much ballyhooed budget surpluses largely delivered as a consequence of mining royalties.

    The fact this wholly nasty and incompetent (if not intentionally criminal) Government was able to cling on to power for so long is an object lesson in how our democratic processes are manipulated by our corporate and Government newsmedia. If even just the ABC, let alone the corporate newsmedia, had told the Australians the truth of the Howard Government it would not have lasted beyond 1998.

    When Jack Strocchi writes of the supposed achievement of the establishment of formal democracy in Iraq, we should remind ourselves how in formally democratic countries such as Australia, the clear wishes of the majority can be defied again and again and again to suit the interests of the corporate elites.

    Clear examples include privatisation enacted by both Coalition and Labor Governments.

    Another was the outrage of ‘Work Choices’ for which Howard never obtained a mandate. That any Government could largely succeed in savagely attacking the living standards of many of our workforce, when it had never put its plans to the electorate and then have to gall to spend well over $100 million dollars to lie to the public about what it was doing, without being immediately crucified by the newsmedia, shows the truly lamentable state of Australian democracy.

    In Queensland the state Labor Government routinely tramples on local governments in order to serve the interests of its own corporate benefactors, particular developers and land speculators. It abolished many local councils without any electoral mandate to do so and against the opposition, usually overwhelming of the people in the affected areas.

    And of course, it has also facilitated the theft of (i.e. privatised) publicly owned assets : Suncorp (formerly the State Government Insurance Office), Tab, the Dalrymple Bay Coal Loader, the Gladstone power station, Energex and Ergon, The GOlden Casket, and the Mackay, Cairns and Brisbane airports.

    In the supposedly democratic US system, the overwhelming opposition of the US public to the $700billion bailout of Wall Street was ignored by the congress last September, even though it has been since acknowledged that that money may as well have been flushed down the toilet for all the actual good that it achieved.

    So, the fact that Iraqis have decided to participate in the elections in their country tells us no more about the actual worth of their democracy than does the fact that Americans and Australians participate in their own elections.

    Many of the decisions that will go on affecting the lives of Iraqis for years, including privatisations, and the mass sacking of tens of thousands of public servants and people working for government owned enterprises, were taken whilst Iraq was a dictatorship under Paul Bremmer. Whether or not the Iraqi Parliament, from now on, any more enacts the true wishes of the Iraqi people, particularly in regard to oil, than do the Australian and US parliaments enact the wishes of their respective constituencies, remains to be seen.

    And it also remains to be seen whether, if that occurs, the occupying US forces won’t find some means to thwart that, for example, by staging yet more ‘false flag’ terrorist attacks and blaming them on sectarian insurgents as they and the British, who were caught red-handed attempting to do so in Basra in September 2005, have in the past and using that as an excuse to overthrow the government.

  10. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 09:25 | #10

    According to a SMH item of today,

    “The OECD’s report, Private Pensions And Policy Responses To The Financial And Economic Crisis, says governments need to boost confidence in private pension systems despite the stark losses.”

    http://business.smh.com.au/business/hold-tight-on-super-warning-20090422-afeh.html

    Is there any reason for people to have confidence in what the OECD says now?

    (I am aware of the subject of the thread).

  11. April 23rd, 2009 at 10:28 | #11

    Of course Ernestine’s post points to another illustration of how democracy was subverted to serve powerful vested interests at the expense of the rest of society, namely the Hawke/Keating Government’s privatisation of retirement income modeled upon the Chilean dictatorship’s privatisation of that country’s retirement income. (And we all should well know where the Chilean and other murderous Latin American dictatorships drew their guidance from by now. If not, take a look at the title of this thread.)

    Where was superannuation ever discussed before it was introduced? Where was the public given any say on whether it be introduced and how it be introduced?

    Now the chickens of that scam have well and truly come home to roost. How Paul Keating can still hold his head high in public I will never know.

    I think an accurate name for neo-liberalism would in fact be ‘neo-feudalism’, given the way nearly all ‘neo-liberal’ policies have been imposed autocratically and not democratically.

    Ronald Wright rightly pointed out near the end of “A Short History of Progress” that neo-liberal ideas are not new ideas, only old ideas that have been tried and found to have failed before, dressed up as new.

    Given the way neo-liberal policies have impoverished so many in all corners of the globe, it appears that the title of Hayek’s book that inspired so-called ‘neo-liberalism’ was accurate in a way that neo-liberals would prefer not to admit.

  12. April 23rd, 2009 at 11:05 | #12

    (Sorry about the bad link to Ernestine Gross’s post in my previous post. It was probably redundant, anyway, as Ernestine’s was straight above mine, but let’s see if this link to Ernestine’s post works any better.)

  13. Alice
    April 23rd, 2009 at 11:06 | #13

    60#
    Re Ernestine’s link

    So according to the OECD governments shouldnt provide emergency access to retirement pension funds (super I gather) but rather “shore up the peoples confidence about retirement savings.”

    Nice one. Just keep them conident and keep the funds flowing to the gamblers in Wall St and similar financial districts across the globe. Well frankly, what would we expect?? Apparently the level of retirement savings in Australia is little more in percentage terms than when they first introduced manadatory super in the 1980s. Two decades of gains wiped out and they want people to stay confident enough and do without access now, when they might just need access?

    Perhaps the OECD might like a Government television ad campaign eg

    “Grandma, dont worry.. bout a thing…your super is safe..just keep putting in”

    The lack of confidence in the financial markets is here, now and it wont go away any time soon. I would suggest the government would probably have found paying age pensions to those who needed it cheaper (rather than mandating super flows) than what this mess is costing to bailout (and in lost incomes in the future).

  14. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 12:05 | #14

    In reply to gerard’s question @12, our host, JQ, provided answers @21.

    I have a subsidiary question regarding JQ’s category (iii) “those who adopted a hardline free market definition of economic rationalism and thought it was a bad thing.”

    Prof Quiggin, my question is: In your experience, does category (iii) include people from mathematical economics?

  15. jquiggin
    April 23rd, 2009 at 13:34 | #15

    Ernestine 2 #64. The mathematical answer is that since category (iii) includes me, it includes people from math econ.

    I’d say that mathematical economists are on average less sympathetic to extreme free market policies than economists as a group (though that depends a bit on the control group). Among Nobel Prize winners, for example, Arrow, Samuelson and Stiglitz are all on the left of the profession, while most of the Chicago winners are much less mathematical.

  16. gerard
    April 23rd, 2009 at 17:50 | #16

    Alice, you described mainstream economics as “too empirical”, and said:

    Empirical analysis isnt the font of all knowledge Gerard and in fact it has become somewhat obsessively overated in economics along with neoclassical economics (and dare I say it, but very boring to many students and slightly embarrassing to teach).

    If “empiricism” is “a theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from experience”, that “emphasizes the role of experience and evidence”, that involves “the collection of data on which to base a theory or derive a conclusion in science”, then I would say that neoclassical economics (particularly microeconomics) is anything but empirical!

    I haven’t studied microeconomics, although I’m thinking of doing so. My impression of the discipline is that its most accepted models are not accepted due to their compatibility with evidence drawn from the real world. Rather, they are considered “valid” on the basis of chains of logical proofs arising from the definition of an algebraic Field of “rational individual preferences”. Not only is this not supported by any empirical data, our empirical knowledge of the human brain makes it obvious that the “rational individual” of microeconomics – making choices by instantaneously navigating indifference curves in multi-million dimensional space – is not a human at all.

  17. Alice
    April 23rd, 2009 at 20:54 | #17

    Gerard,

    I tend to agree with you on the inhuman aspects of microeconomics.

    I think in the case of microeconomics it is more that the “accepted model” is not accepted (well by students) because of its incompatibility with the real world as they experience it. It may fit in parts and it may have been a better fit in earlier times, but other parts are a poor fit. The model of perfect competition and the overemphasis on competition in the model generally is highly questionable in terms of real markets. So is the assumption that participants have access to perfect information and are rational.

    The model assumes comeptition exists to a far greater extent than it does in the real world where the exercise of market power and market manipulation is increasingly more significant in current times. (As real markets concentrate the model becomes more disconnected…along with the students?)

    Were competition really held in such high esteem by decision makers (as it is in the model), both policy makers and governments would have exercised a lot more care to protect it, rather than to continue to pretend it exists “naturally” out there, or that it regulates itself, whilst ignoring the overwhelming evidence of its demise (and efforts by market participants to hasten its demise) in many industries.

    The model discusses competition and the flexibility of prices and ignores the fact that most firms seek to reduce competition and control the price (by whatever means available). Why the emphasis on competitive behaviour when many firms prefer anticompetitive behaviour and there is little by way of regulation to curtail their actions? The model provides a thin veneer of respectibility and a pretty equilibrium that covers up the reality of chronically unbalanced markets.

  18. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 23:31 | #18

    ‘The ideology that dare not speak its name’ – uses words to describe ‘the model’ (as so nicely described by Alice @67, using an example of her choice). Potential members of JQ’s category (iii) of economists (eg gerard @66) observe that ‘the model’, when taken seriously (ie its mathematical representation), can be demolished very easily by means of counting the number of ‘objects of choice’ in the so-called ‘real world’ and then showing, by means of empirical studies, that the dimensionality of the choice space exceeds the empirically verifiable computational abilities of humans (hardly anybody would insist on empirical evidence for this one, I’d say). Pursuing this line of thought a little further, policy people who say, without blushing, on TV: “we want choice” (in this part of the real world) cause some eyebrows to be raised….

    I suggest that a distinction is to be drawn between revealing dogmatic ideology (which gerard achieved in one line) and making an empirical observation which leads to new research questions. This distinction is important. For example, does it really follow (as suggested by gerard) , that the axioms of ‘rationality’ have to be abandoned because we observe an incompatibility of ‘the model’ with one type of observation? How about we create a new model, keeping everything constant except we introduce a ‘market structure’ in the sense that the choice space is split up into sub-spaces to allow for more ‘realistic’ computational problems for sub-sets of individuals (‘bounded rationality’) and, if we want to represent a bit more ‘reality’ and make it more interesting, lets allow for some ‘agents’ (individuals or firms) to have some kind of ‘knowledge advantage’ over others (some form of information asymmetry) – what happens to the solution of the (extended, ‘new’) model? Suppose we start from another point. We empirically observe that producers and their marketing experts create real or imaginary ‘product differentiation’. This activity increases the dimensionality of the choice space (if it works). Is it reasonable to draw inferences about the ‘rationality’ of individuals from looking only at the dimensionality of the choice-space? Is it reasonable to make the notion of ‘individual rationality’ dependent on the output of the imagination of creative ad copy writers? What if people are smarter than assumed by advertising agencies – by how much will the dimensionality of the choice space shrink? Consider the usefulness of simple regulatory measures on the quality of tooth-paste – why would an intelligent consumer bother ranking 10 differently labelled toothpastes instead of buying by price only? …. And, in what sense is ‘economic rationalism’ rational? I imagine that those who have ‘one thought’ (‘the model’) and many words, would not be interested in finding answers to these questions – they miss out on the interesting interaction between empirical observations and the development of new theoretical knowledge, using an appropriate language.

  19. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 00:37 | #19

    Just in time to catch the last of the thread. Naturally, I overall subscribe more to the viewpoints proffered by Alice and Dagget.
    Some of the other comments are hardly accurate or helpful, the cherry being Terje’s outrageously ideologically impelled comment equivalencing soft-socialism and neoliberalism which makes even some of Malcolm Turnbulls recent pronouncements seem free thinking by comparison.
    No, neoliberalism had its raison d’etre in its critiqueing of Keynesianism, yet failed for the reason suggested above- its appropriation by self interested aspiring power elites financed by big corporations seeking to escape a regulatory system that was not allowed to adapt to the change from the era of nation states to globalisation, paradoxically for nationalistic reasons, in places like the US. That is, in translation to real conditions.
    In power the situation in microcosm relating to NSW applied globally from Reagan/ Thatcher thru to the culmination of the Cheney Bush era, where the corporate component of supposed freemarket ideology was hurriedly installed prior to the securing of a level playing field, particularly for the poor and offshore developing countries. This ws to prevent rather than encourage a level playing field and instead reap the global economy whilst beggaring it by drawing capital away from investment into speculation.
    The supreme expression of the era lies in the government (captured by big banks) sanctioned plunder by banks thru corpoate welfare, of the rest of us, to reward financial institutions for this manic unproductivity rather than allow them to collapse ,since this would induce an even worse punishnmet for the rest of us. In short, true highwayman stuff replete with latent coercion and implicit blackmail that unmasked finally the true nature of the rogues in control.
    In short, we witnessed the same bastardisation of a theoretical and abstract set of presecriptive notions as we saw with Stalin and Russia. And the cost has been as high, cumulatively, when we consider the bloody civil wars and famines of Africa, Iraq and so forth and the economic melt downs in Mexico, then Asia, when technology should have decreed none of this necessary.
    For we never really left the status quo in place for the preceding century, when free market theory, like socialism( both highlighting the theoretical intercourse of people and community), therefore never stood a chance against nation-state imperatives fueled by jingoism and the interests entrenched local elites.
    Oligarchy has remained the norm; as mentioned elsewhere, Plato’s point that various political ssytems fail for different reasons, and oligachy fails because of the greed of oligarchs.
    That both Blairites and Neolibs- apolitical, void of social consciousness or originally idealists captured by pragmatism and expediency- have been captured by vested interests remains my point of agreement with Terje, altho am not sure this is what he meant.
    Or perhaps its true that “markets”never really disappeared, even in Brezhnevist Russia: we just never understood what they really were in the imperfect and feudal real world of Hobbesian tooth and claw.

  20. April 24th, 2009 at 05:17 | #20

    Some of the other comments are hardly accurate or helpful, the cherry being Terje’s outrageously ideologically impelled comment equivalencing soft-socialism and neoliberalism which makes even some of Malcolm Turnbulls recent pronouncements seem free thinking by comparison.

    Outrage is noted, please don’t hurt yourself. Not sure which specific comment you are referring to but I don’t think neoliberalism is equivalent to soft-socialism.

  21. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 08:21 | #21

    speaking of alternatives Ernestine, you might find this paper by Jason Potts, to be of interest.

    http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:10468

  22. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 09:26 | #22

    Paul Walter #
    “Oligarchy has remained the norm; as mentioned elsewhere, Plato’s point that various political ssytems fail for different reasons, and oligachy fails because of the greed of oligarchs.”

    I agree with your comment above. The use of the word “model” is a convenient simplification but as Ernestine suggests above it does not entail only one thought. It is used in the same way we use the word “markets” to describe general eceonomic activity even though within “markets” there are a multitude of different activities that can be observed. I appreciate Ernestines point that by questioning the assumptions it can lead to new empirical observations and the development of new theoretical knowledge. Yet by also making fresh observations entirely new models could be developed (a model of oligarchy?) or am I being too impatient?

  23. April 24th, 2009 at 09:30 | #23

    ……………………………..
    69 posts and sure enough, someone had to bring in Stalin (without mentioning Western intervention, World War II, and Economic Warfare).

    Unreal.

  24. Ernestine Gross
    April 24th, 2009 at 09:32 | #24

    Yes, gerad @71, the paper is of interest. Thank you.

  25. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:10 | #25

    73# Chris – and your point is…?

  26. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:30 | #26

    Gerard – lovely imagery in the conclusion of that Potts paper and I do admit to much admiration for those who work at improvements, even though I have criticsed what I see as excess emphasis on empiricism in economics (and this has been criticsed by others – there are some grand histories and philosophies neglected in our communication with students). It should be remembered that not all of us as individuals are so inclined and nor are all economists, but it helps when the reader can actually interpret the ideas and that comes down to how well the paper a written.

  27. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:43 | #27

    What I really would like to see and I think students would greatly benefit from (and I am certain we would get a lot more willing economics majors) is a revival of the history of economic thought (HET) or Economic History as a subject for first year students with the thoughts or writings (in their own words) of many greats included.

    And this definitely as an introductory subject for first years and later in HET II or III extensions into areas of interest. Its only a small request.

    To think under Howard, the ABS attempted to delete these two fields as “legitimate” fields of research (that would have meant no funding) in this country (the history of our own economic development as a country. Insane – and totally bizarre). Fortunately overturned by national and international objection from economic societies.

  28. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 11:13 | #28

    well now that you mention it Alice, this brings me to another question that I wanted to ask our host Professor Quiggin.

    The University of Queensland economics school used to have had a first-year course listed on its course list called ‘ECON1600′ (and a corresponding level 7 post-graduate course) named “Economic History”. But for the past (at least) ten years, the course hasn’t been taught! Year after year, looking at the course profile, we get the message that “this course is not being offered this year”, and now finally the course has been removed from the course list (although the non-offered 7600 is still on it)

    What’s going on here, Professor Q? Is there such a critical shortage of staff that there is nobody able to teach such an important subject at UQ? Or has there been a decision that, in fact, “Economic History” is not an important enough subject to be taught at all? Or is it just a casualty of the Rodent’s medieval approach to higher education?

  29. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 13:55 | #29

    Thanks, Alice.
    The other great tyrant of our epoch is “policy”

  30. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 16:37 | #30

    78# Gerard
    Howard thought al economic historians were left or the majority were left (I dont think there is any truth to this but it is in politician’s interests sometimes to create “enemies within”.)

    The disappearance of “economic history” and thus economic historian positions in Australian universities constitutes a witchhunt going back to the 1960s (McCarthyism outpost in Australia with funding from obscure US organisations and no Im not paranoid or delusional – the history is there) and as a result economic historians disappeared from universities (tenure refused, employment refused etc) along with their subjects to be replaced by the dry mic and mac only for first years. Why do we need history when we have a perfectly good “market model” (dare I link this to neoclassicism / neoliberal agendas).

    Studying the economic history of our own development..oh no, cant do that. Might uncover some scandals or some poor economic management along the way or encourage the left view. (irony alert)

    Economic historians were just one of Howard’s little pet “enemies”… (along with the entire arts industry, the public broadcaster, university academics in general unless they did research on counter terrorism or biosecurity which was acceptable, the national museum, the public service and public servants….hmm is that all? have I forgotten any group? Oh of course, students as well.).

    I shudder at the divisiveness of it all and I cringe with embarrassment at the curtailment of freedom of ideas, expression and freedom of speech in this country. It happened under a succession of mostly liberal governments. Liberal? Hardly. Dogmatically oppressive? Absolutely.

    Im ashamed of our history on this subject.

  31. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 16:49 | #31

    Right down to its attempted erasure as a legitimate field of research merely a few years ago (that and the “history of economic thought” – one of the most interesting subjects). Another area that used to be taught was in the area of welfare economics ie social policy subjects like inequality and poverty. I think most people know what the Coalition thought about welfare initiatives so I wont go into that one – except to say a few major social policy research centres in universities had their funding more than halved in the past ten years after contributing hugely to this field for decades. Ill stop now – I can feel an injustice induced migraine coming on.

  32. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 17:20 | #32

    Once again, thanks Alice.
    A couple of years ago I got pushed in an economic history direction and found thereafter that courses seemed very thin on the ground indeed, at least in history depts, as to what one might have thought an essential subject.
    Later found there one buried away in Ad Uni economics dept, but always found their refusal to associate with rest of arts/humanities stuffy and have not moved further.
    Like wise pol economy; got into an accessible course just before it “disappeared”.
    As for the migraine, a quiet, dark place away from screens and berks.

  33. Tim Macknay (aka Tim M)
    April 24th, 2009 at 17:54 | #33

    Another thought experiment – compare Sydney’s food supply with its water supply.

    Hmm. Okay let’s see. Sydney’s food supply: food comes in a huge variety of substitutable forms, which can be produced in a range of different ways, in many different parts of the world, and many of which are readily transportable.

    Sydney’s water supply: a specific substance, without any substitutes, expensive to transport, local supply subject to limitation by rainfall and geography.

    Sorry, that thought experiment doesn’t yield any useful conclusions regarding political economy. The items being compared are too different.

  34. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 19:37 | #34

    Alice, you tell a horrible tale, but it is quite believable, considering the petty little Torquemadas that ruled over higher-ed under Howard’s reign of terror. But is there any sign of change now? Economics without history is like chemistry without labs: useless. The fact that so many economists would tolerate the marginalisation of economic history just proves that their craft is closer to religion than science.

  35. Alice
    April 25th, 2009 at 00:17 | #35

    84#
    Gerard – No not yet. Im waiting for a change. I did tell a horrible tale. Its a tale that disgusts me. You could start with “the history wars.”

  36. April 26th, 2009 at 16:49 | #36

    this set of ideas combines support for free market (or freer market) economic policies with agnosticism[2] about both political liberalism and the relative merits of democracy and autocracy.
    ,
    John I think this is an excellent description of the ethos of technocrats since at least 1980. But I don’t think it describes neoliberalism precisely.

    It does describe agents of neoliberalism to various degrees. Reagan for example was an advocate of neoliberalism. But he also had to advocate principles not held by those called libertarians. For example the Religious Right.

    When he was governator of California he quashed a move to fire gay teachers. By the time he was president he was regularly talking about the perverts and the radicals to various assemblies of the religiously political.

    This was part of the alliance between the economic liberals and the religious right whereby the Republicans were able to get blue collar people to vote for economic policies that were not in their interests. There was a tie between traditionalism and free markets even tho’ in reality there’s actually tension between the two.

    So to various aspects of geopolitical coercion. In Chile for example a dictator who usurped a democratically elected leftist was supported by advocates of liberty like Reagan and Thatcher because economically he was the first to adopt Friedman’s notions. Ever since there has been a split between liberty in the political sense and that in the economic sense. The Pinochet regime is a thorn in the side of neoliberals. Hence various attempts to portray him as a necessary evil or even not too bad.

    That all said neoliberalism was a economic philosophy. It should be regarded as such or it becomes meaningless. There’s no link inherently between respect for democracy amongst technocrats and economic philosophy. Socialists of various brands can and do regularly impede on social liberty.

    From the inside, ideology usually looks like common sense.

    Yeah you too.

    As Jane’s Addiction like to sing: Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody,everybody,everybody,everybody, everybody…

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