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.

Categories: Economics - General Tags:
  1. Chris Warren
    April 21st, 2009 at 15:13 | #1

    I have never been happy wiht the word neoliberal. It does not describe anything in particular as neoliberal tenets (free market) would exhibit vastly different socialoutcomes under; market socialism compared to market capitalism.

    I fear that spending time addressing neoliberalism (unspecified as to the political economy it operates in) may not get us to the nub of our problems.

    Neoliberalism outside capitalism or fuedalism is not a problem is it?

    My conception of market socialism is (small l)liberalism – new-neoliberalism (??).

    Why not?

  2. Joseph Clark
    April 21st, 2009 at 16:31 | #2

    Hayek argued that economic liberalism is a necessary condition for political liberalism. It’s a little mischievous to interpret this as “agnosticism about both political liberalism and the relative merits of democracy and autocracy”.

    Certainly most modern `neo-liberals’ are very concerned with political liberalism. The dialogue between neo-liberals and neo-socialists goes much smoother when this concern is recognised.

  3. smiths
    April 21st, 2009 at 16:58 | #3

    most modern `neo-liberals’ are very concerned with political liberalism
    what, like the chicago schools championing of pinochet?
    the western business establishment has confined it self to trade rules and prcatices and cares not about the systems any government may use to control its people,
    John is absolutely right in his choice of words there joseph

  4. Alice
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:10 | #4

    Well, as Galbraith noted in 1973 (below) and I think this view particularly applies to the neoliberal outlook (for really its a poor model for the reality of the economic system we deal with today) – particularly the extreme free market view….Mises / Hayek

    ‘the contribution of economics to the exercise of power may be called its instrumental function….instrumental in that it serves not the understanding or improvement of the economic system but the goals of those who have power in the system.’

    JQ you say

    “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.”

    Further to this objective to persuade or convince others of the validity of their position I must refer back to JK once more.

    ‘The power which the model protects becomes too palpable’ (JK refers to ‘neoclassical’ economics)

    ‘People can be persuaded and scholars can persuade themselves that General Dynamics or General Motors is responding to the public will’ (expressed as consumer choice).. ‘so long as the exercise of its power does not threaten public existence. When ability to survive the resulting arms competition or breathe the resulting air is in doubt, persuasion is less successful. Similarly when houses and health care are unavailable and male deodorants are abundant, the notion of a benign response to public wants begins to buckle under the strain.’

    Now add the unavailability or insecurity of employment to inadequate health care and housing and transport in many areas. Currently the neoliberal view which has its origins in the Chicago School and neoclassicism, is also buckling under the strain.

    We really have economic models like neoclassicism (and its offshoot euphemisms) that are chiefly intended to support existing power structures and to persuade others to accept an ‘industry standard.’

    That the ‘industry standard’ model is neither realistic, workable in all situations, equitable or results in a sustainable use of resources is of minor concern. Its economics used as a cloak to hide its real intents.

  5. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:15 | #5

    Friedman always asserted that in a free market, political autocracy could never work and cited Chile as an example of that.

    The last time a Government in Britain won with a majority of votes was in 1931 and it was Standley Baldwin of the Conservative Party. No offence intended ProfQ but political history does not suit your argument. Even the Labour victory of 1945 which heralded the NHS amongst other things (they happily labelled themselves as the Socialist Labour Party) was not won by move than 50% of the votes.

  6. Joseph Clark
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:23 | #6

    Alice,
    Be careful not to offend our host. He too practices the dark arts of neo-classical economics.

  7. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:24 | #7

    On the other hand, isn’t social democracy about government interference with the market through regulation and pump-priming? Is regulation not a limitation of freedom by central control of rules and regulations which must be followed or else serious consequences follow? If that is the case, does that not mean that social democracy is a restriction on political and personal freedom?

  8. Alice
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:31 | #8

    As people once were “persuaded” that Kings existed through some divine right or birthright and on this basis, could do whatever they liked (…just short of starving the population into rebellion) we are being asked to believe that AIG, Goldman Sachs, ML, Citibank, Macquarie Bank (and now Ill add Vodaphone!)can lie, cheat, commit fraud and steal because they have a new divine right. Its called consumer choice in markets.

    These organisations may act unconscionably and have the freedom to act that way, because according to neoliberal tenets, consumers chose to consume their services and that justifies their existence and any consequent actions (that consumers “chose” under false pretenses or with grossly imperfect or misleading information makes little difference).

  9. Alice
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:32 | #9

    And no offense intended JQ!

  10. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:35 | #10

    So your argument is that restricting people’s freedom to choose is a good thing?

  11. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 17:46 | #11

    ProfQ,

    This is what Friedman had to say about Chile:

    INTERVIEWER: In the end, the Chilean [economy] did quite well, didn’t it?

    MILTON FRIEDMAN: Oh, very well. Extremely well. The Chilean economy did very well, but more important, in the end the central government, the military junta, was replaced by a democratic society. So the really important thing about the Chilean business is that free markets did work their way in bringing about a free society.

  12. gerard
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:03 | #12

    Professor Quiggin, may I ask you, as an academic economist, what is the general take within the economic faculty on these matters?

    Is the definition of ‘neoliberalism’ hotly contested? or is the whole question dismissed as mere “political science”, which respectable economists should not waste their time talking about?

  13. Monkey’s Uncle
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:15 | #13

    Alice, you continually quote JKG as some sort of reasonable authority. But among other things, Galbraith opposed President Kennedy’s move to reduce the top income tax rate from 91% to 70%.

    Anyone who believes that allowing the well-off to pay 70% income tax is letting them off lightly does not even qualify as a social democrat. Communist is probably more accurate, although I don’t use the term frivolously.

  14. Monkey’s Uncle
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:19 | #14

    I would dispute the extent to which neoliberalism has really been practised over the last 30 years.

    In many cases, market-based economic reforms have only been implemented once the alternatives have been exhausted. For example, privatisation has largely been carried out either to pay down debt or fund government expenditure. Whatever one thinks of this, it has little to do with ideology and everything to do with expediency.

  15. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:40 | #15

    Alice,

    It is the neo-socialists rather than the neo-liberals that are so keen to pass public funds to private banks and the like.

  16. Jim Birch
    April 21st, 2009 at 18:45 | #16

    If you think about it SeanG @10, absolute freedom to choose is not very popular.

    Let’s start with some simple cases: Would you assert that you (should) have the freedom to build your own nuclear weapon, trade child pornography, or sell addictive drugs? What’s your position on these issues?

    In fact, every society restricts the activity of individuals; perfect freedom exists only as a fantasy. It may be psychologically appealing to some people but it’s not a real option for reasons that are bleeding obvious to most of us.

    So the question become a much more complex set of questions about what, when, where and why. Balancing the tradeoffs is the problem, and the answer isn’t going to be a one liner.

  17. jquiggin
    April 21st, 2009 at 19:06 | #17

    Sean, if you click on the Hayek link, you’ll see that I give Friedman the benefit of the doubt on Chile. Hayek, OTOH, is unequivocal in his support for Pinochet.

  18. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 19:18 | #18

    Jim Birch,

    Experiments have shown that unlimited freedome to choose is counterproductive because people are overwhelmed by the variety.

    In terms of larger companies, the overwhelming number of products in those companies rather than the number of companies, actually can result in poor decisions being made.

    I was making a political point about choice.

    ProfQ,

    You’re right. Sorry about going off on a tangent.

  19. smiths
    April 21st, 2009 at 20:23 | #19

    you what?

    you give friedman the benefit of the doubt?

    september 11 1973 unleashed what became known as the caravan of death in chile,

    friedman met him in 1975, calling for shock treatment,
    they cut public spending, mostly in health and education, by 27% that year
    when asked by a reporter “whether the social cost of his policies would be excessive” Friedman replied, “silly question”

    he was in reality an ideological sociopath

    and you give him the benefit of the doubt?

  20. Alice
    April 21st, 2009 at 20:51 | #20

    Monkey’s Uncle

    says

    “Alice, you continually quote JKG as some sort of reasonable authority. But among other things, Galbraith opposed President Kennedy’s move to reduce the top income tax rate from 91% to 70%.

    Anyone who believes that allowing the well-off to pay 70% income tax is letting them off lightly does not even qualify as a social democrat. Communist is probably more accurate, although I don’t use the term frivolously.”

    You do use the term “communist” frivolously Monkey’s Uncle. We were not communist at the time a high rate of tax was being paid by the rich in Australia. Neither was the US where tax was 91%.

    Incidentally inequality was lower, corporate salaries although high were nowhere near the multiple of average wages that they are in current times.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Galbraith that the higher rates of tax on the rich should never have been reduced (in Australia a substantial reduction in the top marginal tax rate occurred in the early 1980s).

    Income inequality has been rising ever since and corporate excess is marked. The flow on to jobs expected from trickle down theorists never materialised unless you consider more part time and minimally remunerated insecure casual jobs a substitute for secure employment at better wages. Unemployment is higher and underemployment higher.

    JKG’s opposition to this tax reduction for the rich was a wise view not an accommodating view. Neither Australia nor the US suffered from higher tax rates on the wealthy. We suffer more now.

  21. jquiggin
    April 21st, 2009 at 21:09 | #21

    “Professor Quiggin, may I ask you, as an academic economist, what is the general take within the economic faculty on these matters?”

    There was a fair bit of debate about economic rationalism back in the day, with the profession dividing into three groups of roughly equal size (IIRC the Harris and Anderson survey correctly)
    (i) those who adopted a fairly moderate definition of economic rationalism and thought it was a good thing
    (ii) those who adopted a hardline free market definition of economic rationalism and thought it was a good thing
    (iii) those who adopted a hardline free market definition of economic rationalism and thought it was a bad thing

    Over time, I think the first group has shrunk with its members going to one or other of (ii) and (iii)

  22. Alice
    April 21st, 2009 at 21:44 | #22

    Monkeys Uncle

    You can add a loss of public service spending power as a result of the loss of higher taxes from the rich. You can add further erosion of existing infrastructure. We cant afford decent transport? To upgrade the electricity grid? To adequately staff hospitals? The tax rates to the rich were reduced but financial deregulation ensured profits made here could be moved across the globe to tax havens avoiding tax even more.

    So add the erosion of public sector spending power on infrastructure and services in NSW (and likely other states) and ask whether we have implemented (neo liberal) policies that contributed to our own mess?

    The answer is yes and saying so doesnt make me a communist.

    Tonight I note Gosford Council and a whole lot of others bought CDs from Lehman across Australia. I wonder what incentives Lehman offered the honourable Councillors and what lax government legislation enabled the honourable councillors to dip the money into the private investment houses (instead of with government guaranteed bonds or some much less risky investment). They gambled with ratepayer’s funds and developer levies to the point of huge losses.

    Now the same ex Lehman cockney sounding english “dealer” gent who sold the CDs, has set himself up as Gosford Council’s investment adviser. At least he has a job again swindling ratepayers money.

    Does this ring alarm bells with anyone else? Unacceptable dealings with public monies by a gaggle of Councillors and a dealer?

    If I was a Gosford ratepayer or a local builder I would suggest a moratorium on rate paying until the entire council was sacked and all monies invested in Government bonds.

    The entire world has gone mad on the worship of private markets and it is the planning and infrastructure of our society that is being completely messed up as a result.

    The neoliberal / economic rationalist/ neo nazi liberal (whatever its latest euphemism is) is to blame for the underlying ethos that has permitted activities like this to occur. I think most of us acknowledge the usual suspect sayings ie “free to choose”, “self regulating markets”, happy “public private partnerships” (? vegemites), applying the “efficiency of the private sector to the public sector” etc, promoting happy little businesses “with no regulation” and buzzy little markets. These markets actually dont exist so much as a lot of consumers with not as much choice as they would like and a few happy mighty chains or oligopolies and a few more unhappy small businesses.

    Even where you think there is a lot of buzzy little businesses brought about by “freedom to choose” (eg the shopping mall) you realise the little businesses turn over way too fast; often into broken businesses stretched to breaking point quite quickly by the “rent and refurbish” racket in one of Frank Lowy’s malls or by planning laws that wont permit strip shopping developments (Lowy donates so we all get herded to the mall).

    Neoliberalism a dangerous view that has done a lot of damage in a relatively short time frame but then, it was never a view intended to benefit the majority or the economic system, rather a view that enabled considerable questionable gains by the powerful.

    A key tenet has also been to deride and attack the public sector – the one system capable of restraining or regulating questionable activities. If you cannot change the law, attack the instutions that deliver it. Neoliberalism may appear clever to some, and free to others, but ultimately it is self destructive.

  23. Joseph Clark
    April 21st, 2009 at 22:41 | #23

    SeanG @ 18

    Wow. Experiments. Sounds convincing.

    I guess economics is a science after all.

  24. Joseph Clark
    April 21st, 2009 at 22:45 | #24

    Alice,
    You forgot to blame neoclassical economics for the “underlying ethos that has permitted activities like this to occur”. Don’t let them get off easy!

  25. SeanG
    April 21st, 2009 at 22:59 | #25

    Joseph,

    That is why economics is termed a “social science”.

    I am just passing on the work others have done.

  26. Monkey’s Uncle
    April 21st, 2009 at 23:25 | #26

    “The neoliberal / economic rationalist/ neo nazi liberal (whatever its latest euphemism is)”

    Alice, I think you just failed Godwin’s law.

  27. Joseph Clark
    April 22nd, 2009 at 00:24 | #27

    SeanG,
    Choice experiments are pretty weak evidence.

  28. Joseph Clark
    April 22nd, 2009 at 00:29 | #28

    SeanG,
    To the point: under what circumstances do you think choices should be restricted to prevent people from having too many?

  29. SeanG
    April 22nd, 2009 at 01:54 | #29

    Joseph,

    I don’t advocate restricting choice. I was making a response to Jim Birch that when you have an abundance of choice that it can be overwhelming for an individual consumer.

    I think that choice is a good thing as it allows for increase specialisation of products and the ability to target the “fat tail” of markets.

  30. April 22nd, 2009 at 04:05 | #30


    The ideology that dare not speak its name

    Surely that ideology must be neo-socialism. They hide behind all sorts of names. Green. Progressive. Left wing. Keynesian. However they are all just neo-socialists. Surely.

    Clearly an ideology that “dare not speak its name” must be a wicked ideology. Good ideologies always speak their name. Surely.
    :-)

  31. jquiggin
    April 22nd, 2009 at 05:46 | #31

    I know this was meant humorously, Terje, but Googling neosocialism produces some interesting results. It was apparently used for a rightwing trend in the 1930s, but its current limited vogue comes from Joe the Plumber and similar, who are using it as a term of abuse for Barack Obama. Unlike the terms I mentioned fpr the right, it’s never been used on the left as a positive self-description.

    What’s striking here is the euphemism treadmill in reverse. “Liberal” and even “socialist” have lost their power to sting (and JTP’s handlers are too ignorant even to have heard of “social democrat”) so they need a new term of abuse, and they’ve picked one modelled on “neoliberal”.

  32. Monkey’s Uncle
    April 22nd, 2009 at 08:13 | #32

    “often into broken businesses stretched to breaking point quite quickly by the “rent and refurbish” racket in one of Frank Lowy’s malls or by planning laws that wont permit strip shopping developments (Lowy donates so we all get herded to the mall).”

    Alice, if businessmen succeed in using laws and regulations to restrict competition, I am not sure how this is in any way a failure of free market policies.

    If anything, it points to the dangers of regulating markets in the so-called public interest i.e. that the whole process will be hijacked by rent-seeking vested interests.

    Of course big business is driven by self-interest. But the same is true of other sectors, including the public sector. Often government departments simply want to maximise their budget, regardless of whether the resources are really being utilised to their best potential. There is no great guardian angel somehow looking out for the greater good.

  33. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 08:28 | #33

    24#Joseph
    You are right. I dont want neoclassical economics to get off easy. Thats the essence of the problem. It was too easy and too neat and too perfect (and too empirical) and and the model wasnt questioned sufficiently. The world changed while the assumptions of the model did not; in any way sufficiently. A bad fit with reality.

  34. gerard
    April 22nd, 2009 at 08:40 | #34

    “It was too easy and too neat and too perfect (and too empirical) and and the model wasnt questioned sufficiently.”

    If it wasn’t questioned sufficiently, that makes it anything but “too empirical”.

  35. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 22nd, 2009 at 09:07 | #35

    JQ – I didn’t know that Joe the Plumber had been a leading user of the term neo-socialism. However I would have thought that it was modeled on the term neo-conservatism or perhaps neo-fascism rather than neo-liberalism.

    Personally I don’t really mind been called a neo-liberal because it just means new liberal. I am a liberal but not old enough to be convincingly called an old liberal so new liberal is pretty close to the mark. And I certainly don’t want to be called a neo-conservative so if I must be put in some evilness box then neo-liberal is the prefered one. Although economic rationalist was okay also and remains okay in my book. Ideally people would just call me a libertarian because that’s what I generally call myself. Or they could try supply-sider.

  36. April 22nd, 2009 at 11:28 | #36

    As far as I can tell, ‘neoliberal’ means what people want it to mean. Thus the difference between Terje’s, Quiggin’s and Alice’s understanding of the term.

    And I never understood the opprobrium associated with “economic rationalism”. Who would want to be economically irrational?

    “Similarly when houses and health care are unavailable and male deodorants are abundant,”

    Here’s a hint – which of those markets are regulated heavily and which are not? Which has more government involvement?

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

  37. April 22nd, 2009 at 11:58 | #37

    SeanG, #18. I am not sure the ‘abundance of choice’ argument made by Barry Swartz I beleive is convincing. Latest research disputes this. See here: http://bps-research-digest.blogspot.com/2009/04/is-less-always-more-testing-limits-of.html

  38. David Irving (no relation)
    April 22nd, 2009 at 13:15 | #38

    As to choice, this is anecdotal only, but I’m often paralysed with rage at the “choices” on offer in any supermarket – 5,000 substantially identical varieties of toothpaste, except that the one I want isn’t there.

    Give me less choice, rather than more.

  39. smiths
    April 22nd, 2009 at 13:55 | #39

    theres a big difference between choice and meaningful choice,

    i would like truthful, extensive labelling on all products so that i could intelligently choose,

    i would not, for instance, choose sunscreen with nano-particles, but i cannot make this choice currently

    i would like to choose products that contain no GM ingredients, but that is almost impossible,

    it is the ‘food’ industry that squashes meaningful choice

  40. Dan M
    April 22nd, 2009 at 15:16 | #40

    Regarding rage over the number of choices, take a few deep cleansing breaths, calm yourself down and just choose one. If you like it,get it again the next time. If you don’t like it, try something different. It’s really not that difficult.

  41. Dan M
    April 22nd, 2009 at 15:23 | #41

    If the choices that you want are not available, there is obviously not a very big market for them. Do you think it is reasonable for a supplier to furnish products that people don’t buy? Popular product with a large market are profitable. Maybe you should convince lots of friends to ask for and buy those products, and thus create a greater demand and incentive to produce and supply them.

  42. smiths
    April 22nd, 2009 at 16:37 | #42

    is that in advertisers dream world dan?

    where the whole market is defined and beholden to the great and magnificent consumer …

    and cartels dont exist, and prices aren’t manipulated, and brand names dont matter

  43. April 22nd, 2009 at 17:41 | #43

    Pr Q says:

    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.

    No, thats false. Neo-liberal politicians have been the most prominent democracy promoter over recent decades. Far from being “agnostic about the relative merits of democracy” they have been amongst its truest believers. (I am talking about practical political action, not ideological musing which no scientist should take seriously.)

    No politicians in post War history have done more than the (neo-liberal) Thatcher, Reagan (and even Howard and Bush) to promote the practical conservation and extension of political liberalism.

    Thatcher was a staunch opponent of (IRA) terrorism and hastened the deposition of (Argentinian) military dictatorship. Reagan hastened the demolition of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet dictatorship that erected it. Reagan also reversed the US’s long time support of dictatorship in the Phillipines.

    Reagan term of office coincided with a massive extension of democracy in the Americas. Whether he played much part in it is open to debate. Certainly did not arrest it.

    Howard liberated the ETimorese and helped to establish a fledgling democracy there. He also did more than any other AUS politician to provide aid and comfort to emerging democratic forces in Indonesia. Certainly more than social-democratic Whitlam did when he had his chance.

    Even Bush’s blundering efforts in the ME have produced one small bonus of a democracy in Iraq. Although this is one of those cases where political liberals should be careful what they wish for.

  44. anon
    April 22nd, 2009 at 18:01 | #44

    re: jack strocchi

    At the end of the day, what is important is the goal. For classical liberals/liberatarians, individual liberty is the goal – democracy is thus but a means to an end. Can there be a better way to achieve this?

    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.

  45. April 22nd, 2009 at 18:23 | #45

    Far from being “agnostic about the relative merits of democracy” they have been amongst its truest believers. (I am talking about practical political action,….” – JS

    Surely this is a joke?

    Or is Jack confusing correlation with causation?

  46. smiths
    April 22nd, 2009 at 18:27 | #46

    sadly it is not a joke Michael,

    mind boggling isnt?

  47. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 18:51 | #47

    Gerard says
    “If it wasn’t questioned sufficiently, that makes it anything but “too empirical”.

    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).

    What point all that mathematical jargon (using constructs even if highly complex constructs) if no one out there can understand the papers or tests (except a closed enclave in unis). Academics owe the public meaningful communication.

    Empirical analysis can also be a cloak to hide behind…..there is also value in normative work in economics.

    Sigh…

  48. April 22nd, 2009 at 19:01 | #48

    Dan M wrote If you don’t like it, try something different. It’s really not that difficult.

    To the contrary, it really is that difficult. The information that we need to make the right choice is never there at the time we purchase the product. By the time we realise we have bought a lemon, it’s too late.

    How about my cousin who bought the most highly energy efficient rated fridge only to begin to see it rust 6 years later, or a sewing machine that she had to throw away, because five years after she bought it, she could not obtain spare parts?

    The so-called free market forces us to waste thousands of dollars each year on products that are designed to fall apart or stop working in a matter of a few years for lack of necessary parts.

    Does anyone here seriously maintain that that is what consumers rally want?

    Very interesting spin on the history of neo-liberalism, Jack.

    We only need look at Australia and New Zealand to see that neo-liberalism is the precise antithesis of democracy.

    Do you remember how Telstra was fully privatised when 70% of the public opposed it?

    Or how the neo-liberal establishment clamoured to have NSW’s electricity privatised last year when privatisation was opposed by 79%-85% of the NSW public?

    Or how Keating promised not to fully privatise the already half-privatised Commonwealth Bank in 1993 and then went ahead and did it anyway?

    If you ever read Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine”, you will see that there is abundant evidence that firstly neo-liberal ideologues including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are profoundly hostile to democracy.

    Far from having promoted democracy in Latin America, Ronald Reagan propped up some of the most barbaric regimes known in history in the 1980′s, including the genocidal death squad regime in Guatemala and the only slightly less less odious regime of El Salvador and he funded mercenaries to attack the government of Nicaragua which had abolished the death penalty.

  49. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    April 22nd, 2009 at 20:11 | #49

    To the contrary, it really is that difficult. The information that we need to make the right choice is never there at the time we purchase the product. By the time we realise we have bought a lemon, it’s too late.

    So you voted for Kevin Rudd did you?

  50. April 22nd, 2009 at 20:30 | #50

    Terje,

    In fact, I voted for independents, Greens and other small parties and only put Labor barely ahead of the Liberals in my order of preferences. So, yes, I did vote ‘for’ Kevin Rudd on a two-party preferred basis.

    Even a lemon such as the Rudd Government is vastly preferable to the bunch of sociopathic despots that preceded it.

    No decent, sane and compassionate person should ever regret in the least having helped to bring about John Howard’s long overdue and well-deserved demise in 2007.

    Still, the obviously unsatisfactory choices we are given in state and federal elections are instructive about the quality of democracy in Australia.

  51. Chris Warren
    April 22nd, 2009 at 21:05 | #51

    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.

  52. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:40 | #52

    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.

  53. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:42 | #53

    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).

  54. April 22nd, 2009 at 21:45 | #54

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

  55. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 21:58 | #55

    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).

  56. April 22nd, 2009 at 22:15 | #56

    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.

  57. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 22:21 | #57

    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.

  58. Alice
    April 22nd, 2009 at 22:25 | #58

    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.

  59. April 23rd, 2009 at 06:50 | #59

    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.

  60. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 09:25 | #60

    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).

  61. April 23rd, 2009 at 10:28 | #61

    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.

  62. April 23rd, 2009 at 11:05 | #62

    (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.)

  63. Alice
    April 23rd, 2009 at 11:06 | #63

    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).

  64. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 12:05 | #64

    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?

  65. jquiggin
    April 23rd, 2009 at 13:34 | #65

    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.

  66. gerard
    April 23rd, 2009 at 17:50 | #66

    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.

  67. Alice
    April 23rd, 2009 at 20:54 | #67

    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.

  68. Ernestine Gross
    April 23rd, 2009 at 23:31 | #68

    ‘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.

  69. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 00:37 | #69

    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.

  70. April 24th, 2009 at 05:17 | #70

    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.

  71. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 08:21 | #71

    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

  72. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 09:26 | #72

    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?

  73. April 24th, 2009 at 09:30 | #73

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

    Unreal.

  74. Ernestine Gross
    April 24th, 2009 at 09:32 | #74

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

  75. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:10 | #75

    73# Chris – and your point is…?

  76. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:30 | #76

    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.

  77. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 10:43 | #77

    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.

  78. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 11:13 | #78

    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?

  79. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 13:55 | #79

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

  80. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 16:37 | #80

    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.

  81. Alice
    April 24th, 2009 at 16:49 | #81

    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.

  82. paul walter
    April 24th, 2009 at 17:20 | #82

    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.

  83. Tim Macknay (aka Tim M)
    April 24th, 2009 at 17:54 | #83

    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.

  84. gerard
    April 24th, 2009 at 19:37 | #84

    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.

  85. Alice
    April 25th, 2009 at 00:17 | #85

    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.”

  86. April 26th, 2009 at 16:49 | #86

    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…

Comments are closed.