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Austerity and academia

March 28th, 2012

Austerity is hitting lots of people, across pretty much all social classes, except for the top 1 per cent, who are rapidly recouping their losses in the GFC and will soon be pulling even further away from the 99. Just at the moment, academics seem to be in the crosshairs, from Washington to Sydney and beyond. Here’s a post on the subject from my friend and former colleague Rohan Pitchford. To forestall a possible line of criticism, let me observe now that, while academics have it better than plenty of others under attack from austerity policies, anyone who plays on this kind of division is a tool of the 1 per cent, and will be treated as such by me.

Sackings Hit Economics School Hard (Guest post from Rohan Pitchford)

I was surprised and dismayed to hear that that several of my former colleagues at the School of Economics at the University of Sydney have been told to leave their jobs by July. A remarkable aspect is that the sackings happened by edict, several layers of administration above the School level. How is it possible for such a removed group to know the details of people’s work life, their roles and the reasons behind their roles without any form of consultation? (ANU also faces budget cuts, but is taking the enlightened bottom-up approach.)

I know all of those concerned personally, and the group includes both talented researchers, teachers and administrators. They were apparently selected using retrospective publication criteria. We all know that most people experience a ‘bare patch’ in their publications during the life course, whether it be because of a new child, a death in the family, illness (admin duties!) etc. Knowing the people involved, the criteria seem to me unfair and random.

Perhaps the most astounding fact in all of this is that Sydney Economics has been perennially understaffed– as a Professor there, I estimated that they were some 10 academics short of what is required to deliver requisite courses: The average class size is 110, I conjecture larger than any other department. There are not enough staff to cover all the classes taught, let alone to reduce class sizes to educationally appropriate levels. Sydney typically has had to hire part-timers to fill the gap. The department generates some 20 million dollars per year in revenue from its teaching program. I cannot imagine that this will do anything but hurt this important revenue base.

A big question is this: Are the sackings due to productivity, or are they in response to an administration that has grossly over-spent on buildings? I have heard rumours of expenditure of 100m on a new medical centre, and 360m on a new obesity centre preceded these sackings.

Solutions? I discuss a possible way forward for Australia here:

  1. Hermit
    March 28th, 2012 at 17:14 | #1

    I think shedding this is inevitable and irreversible in the arts, law and economics faculties. Ever since they dropped Latin in school educational institutions have to ask what their courses actually prepare students for. Maybe it will take a BA or BEc to flip burgers in future. LLBs get to become supervisors. I could point out that blogs are doing journalists out of a job. In the US and UK secondary school leavers ask what is the point of incurring massive debt when likely underemployment is the end result.

    My gut feeling is that it will turn even worse than we think. The successors to the educated middle class will spend their days growing vegies in communal farms, commuting by bicycle. This time of year the take home pay will be a basket of turnips. The worry is the loss of erudition we see in mob protests in which the aggrieved fail to see both sides of an argument. Thus education for its own sake is a social calming influence even if the precise subject matter is less relevant to job prospects.

    In a non-accusing tone I ask; how come the economics profession didn’t see this coming?

  2. March 28th, 2012 at 17:33 | #2

    “I was surprised and dismayed to hear that that several of my former colleagues at the School of Economics at the University of Sydney”.

    Does it include Political Science?

  3. Rohan Pitchford
    March 28th, 2012 at 18:00 | #3

    @Magpie
    There were cuts like this across the University, which might well have included some political scientists.

  4. Jasmine
    March 28th, 2012 at 18:41 | #4

    I don’t want to be pointing fingers at anyone. But, from what I heard, it does seem like a little too much money have been spent on the new buildings, at least in ANU. I have heard from fellow friends working in the new science buildings that some parts of the building are currently being rebuilt again as they don’t fit the technical (i.e. temperature) requirements of what are needed of those rooms. These rebuilds are apparently quite costly. These errors could have easily been prevented if there was better communication between the designer of the buildings and the people using the buildings? Well, for all we know, these additional money spent could well have been within budget.

  5. Ikonoclast
    March 28th, 2012 at 20:31 | #5

    JQ says: “To forestall a possible line of criticism, let me observe now that, while academics have it better than plenty of others under attack from austerity policies, anyone who plays on this kind of division is a tool of the 1 per cent, and will be treated as such by me.”

    I agree with this sentiment and back it 100%. I am not an academic myself so I am not speaking from any immediately self-interested position. However, I deplore these attacks by corporate managerialism and capital on academics and intellectuals.

    We have now reached the stage where corporate capital is overtly anti-democratic, anti-science and anti-intellectual. This is a very dangerous and indicates a proto-fascistic state of affairs.

  6. Ikonoclast
    March 28th, 2012 at 20:38 | #6

    I might also note that UQ Connect Internet, at least in its services to the general public, is closing down from 31st March. Is this an austerity measure?

  7. paul walter
    March 28th, 2012 at 22:55 | #7

    Great example of the New Nazism (yeah, I know- Godwinned).
    As Hermit says, it is an extension of the long term policy of killing off arts soc sciences and humanities in favour of tech vocational training.
    You are taught to do some thing but not know why. Very thirteenth century and the educational equivalent of the dumbing down of public broadcasting; all very self defeating and self- blinding.

  8. Socrates
    March 28th, 2012 at 23:35 | #8

    I am not an academic either and agree it is a regrettable situation. When most public servants had to give up job security in th cost cutting days of the early 90s there were redundancy payouts and award increases to compensate. Now it seems academics are simply losing it with nothing in return.

    You guys really need to organise yourselves as a (more militant) union, and treat the VCs as just managers, which is all they are now. Clearly most intend to exploit an oversupplied phd job market. Putting hope in the old career paths seems futile to me now. Our universities have overexpanded, neither side demonstrates any intention to increase funding, so attrition is inevitable. Frankly, I wouldn’t advise anyone young to go into academia. My private employer gives me more time to write research papers than my academic wife gets. As far as government is concerned, academia is an export industry, nothing more. Whether the product is visas or degrees, I am not sure.

  9. Ram
    March 29th, 2012 at 01:26 | #9

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/opinion/friedman-elephants-down-under.html
    Elephants Down Under
    By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
    Published: March 27, 2012

    “In New Zealand and Australia, you could almost fit their entire political spectrum — from conservatives to liberals — inside the U.S. Democratic Party.”

    Instant classic.

  10. paul walter
    March 29th, 2012 at 03:47 | #10

    Until a very short time ago I would have agreed with Friedman, but if I stayed where that viewpoint is I’d still be lulled into a false sense of security and deluding myself.
    Newman’s immediate attack on enviro indicates a Koch bros event starting in Australia that will smash the small liberal consensus beyond retrieval.

  11. paul walter
    March 29th, 2012 at 03:48 | #11

    Until a very short time ago I would have agreed with Friedman, but if I stayed where that viewpoint is I’d still be lulled into a false sense of security and deluding myself.
    Newman’s immediate attack on enviro indicates a Koch bros event starting in Australia that will smash the small l liberal consensus beyond retrieval.

  12. Paul Norton
    March 29th, 2012 at 06:24 | #12

    There is a certain academic division at a certain suburban university which employs a Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Finance and six finance consultants to manage its finances, and which as a consequence cannot afford to maintain an adequate teaching workforce in its degree programs.

  13. paul walter
    March 29th, 2012 at 08:28 | #13

    Sounds like the ABC.

  14. Chris Warren
    March 29th, 2012 at 08:48 | #14

    When economic academics are sacked because of economic reality – we can say they are hoisted by their own petard.

    It is the economic productions of universities that have laid waste to our economy and our future. Also, I wonder whether the same cutbacks are headed towards the business schools?

    If society can get rid of typists, bank staff, public servants, factory workers, and family businesses, I see no reason why academics should be protected.

    If the NTEU and ACTU cannot deal with the economic reality then there is going to be a whole swathe of unemployment now reaching into the middle class. They should have realised this in the 1990′s.

  15. Troy Prideaux
    March 29th, 2012 at 09:27 | #15

    @Chris Warren
    In violent agreement. As much as I don’t like anyone getting the chop from their jobs, it’s the academic economic rationalists that created this never-ending forced restructuring of the economy (job turnover) and there’s no reason why they should be immune to it also.
    Saying that, I’m sure as John and others have mentioned, lots of really good quality academics from many unrelated fields will also suffer which is a crying shame, but hey, look at all the increased productivity we get from such policies… NOT!

  16. Ikonoclast
    March 29th, 2012 at 10:23 | #16

    @Chris Warren

    Chris, that’s going a little far.

    Point 1: What if some of the economic and political economy academics are experts in Marxism?

    Point 2: Economic faculties are not homogenous (yet). They are not all neoliberal “rationalists”.

    Point 3: The worst of neoliberal ideology and economics comes out of Business Management schools not out of Economics schools.

    Point 4: Academics, teachers and intellectuals (all brain workers and human services workers) are workers not capitalists. Where is your solidarity?

    Point 4: It’s corporate capitalist business that has pushed the “economic rationalist” agenda, infiltrated its managerialism into universities and attacked democracy, science, the humanities, social equality and the sustaining environment.

  17. Tim Macknay
    March 29th, 2012 at 10:50 | #17

    Are there any public choice theorists in economics faculties today? Do they count as Marxists? ;)

  18. crocodile
    March 29th, 2012 at 11:02 | #18

    Is it just possible that to some extent this could be related to the proliferation of universities offering courses online and via distance. The so called “flexible learning” movement. Sandstone institutions like Sydney may well experience a drop in student numbers and therefore academics if they continue to trade only on reputation.

  19. Tom N.
    March 29th, 2012 at 11:19 | #19

    Actually, the only point necessary to correct Chris Warren’s latest spray is that economists have laid waste to neither our economy nor our future.

  20. Chris Warren
    March 29th, 2012 at 11:51 | #20

    @Ikonoclast

    I suppose:

    Point 1: Your expertise is maintained.

    Point 2: In my expereince, Economics Departments are strangely homogenous. To get diversity you have to set up alternative departments eg Political Economy. It is not neoliberal rationalism that is the problem, but the underlying equilibrium, marginal, and subjective theories that embed capitalist forms – Keynes’ ‘user cost’ is the epitome.

    Point 3: Yes.

    Point 4: Middle class “workers” rely on general exploitation to achieve their status, indicated by their incomes that are many multiples of the minimum wage. This occurs in big business, corporatised universities and the public service. Solidarity was needed in the 1980′s – why seek it now?

    Remember it was the NTEU membership who refused to let their union act in solidarity with other unions and affiliate with a political party. The NTEU leadership in the 1980-1990′s were quite conscious of the need for “solidarity” it was the rank and file who blocked it.

  21. Chris Warren
    March 29th, 2012 at 11:54 | #21

    Tom N. :Actually, the only point necessary to correct Chris Warren’s latest spray is that economists have laid waste to neither our economy nor our future.

    So what do you call the long run tendency for per capita debt to increase?

    Cornucopia?

  22. aidan
    March 29th, 2012 at 12:16 | #22

    Jasmine :
    I don’t want to be pointing fingers at anyone. But, from what I heard, it does seem like a little too much money have been spent on the new buildings, at least in ANU. I have heard from fellow friends working in the new science buildings that some parts of the building are currently being rebuilt again as they don’t fit the technical (i.e. temperature) requirements of what are needed of those rooms. These rebuilds are apparently quite costly. These errors could have easily been prevented if there was better communication between the designer of the buildings and the people using the buildings? Well, for all we know, these additional money spent could well have been within budget.

    The money for the new science buildings at ANU came as a direct grant from the Federal Government. I’ve also been told they have a 1 year warrantee, any out-of-spec problems are the builders to remedy. I’m also not aware of there being any cost overrun.

    The new buildings have added a large additional depreciation cost to recurrent spending. This is an issue.

    There is a great deal of confusion about how much of the budget should be used to when calculating the percentage surplus, e.g. monies paid to staff from ARC grants cannot possibly generate a surplus.

  23. aidan
    March 29th, 2012 at 12:21 | #23

    Warrantee = warranty.

    Good grief. Brain explosion.

  24. Ernestine Gross
    March 29th, 2012 at 14:02 | #24

    I should have read Prof Quiggin’s blogsite before going to the Dean’s (of Arts and Social Sciences) Reception at Sydney Uni last night. Had I done so, I would not have been surprised meeting only 1 former colleague from the former Faculty of Economics at Sydney Uni and I would not have been surprised finding quite a lot of name tags uncollected at the end of the evening

    Apparently, enrolments for 2012 are higher than ever before in the School in question but there is apparently a shortage of large enough class rooms. (Literacy is apparently not enough for management after all.)

  25. Ernestine Gross
    March 29th, 2012 at 14:16 | #25

    @aidan
    “The new buildings have added a large additional depreciation cost to recurrent spending”

    With due respect, there is something wrong here. ‘Depreciation costs’ are a non-cash item. That is, while accrual accounting treats the calculated or allowed depreciation as an expense, it does not mean it affects the cash budget. An ‘expense’ in accrual accounting is not the same thing as ‘spending’. (Even a math-econ person like myself knows that.)

  26. Tom N.
    March 29th, 2012 at 14:17 | #26

    On its own, Chris, I don’t this the fact that an economy is experiencing is a long run increase in debt (whether in aggregate or per person) tells us much of relevance at all. Certainly it gives little clue as to whether an economy (or its future) is being “laid to waste” or, in fact, is or is about to flourish. Presumably that would depend in large measure on the stream of benefits and costs that have and would arise from the stream of debt.

    But even you could advance valid grounds for being concerned about our debt build up, to substantiate your jaundiced world view about economists (or, at least, the “neoliberal” economists you imagine are in charge), you’d actually need to show that their policy advice or other actions were responsble for that debt – or at least the bad bits of that debt – and that alternative policies would have produced a better outcome. Good luck.

  27. aidan
    March 29th, 2012 at 15:59 | #27

    Ernestine Gross :
    @aidan
    “The new buildings have added a large additional depreciation cost to recurrent spending”
    With due respect, there is something wrong here. ‘Depreciation costs’ are a non-cash item. That is, while accrual accounting treats the calculated or allowed depreciation as an expense, it does not mean it affects the cash budget. An ‘expense’ in accrual accounting is not the same thing as ‘spending’. (Even a math-econ person like myself knows that.)

    I claim NO knowledge of this area, I thought I was simply repeating what was in the statement, and I quote:

    “In addition, the significant capital investments made in recent years mean that depreciation costs have increased by approximately $10 million compared with 2011.”

    Perhaps I was remiss in describing this as a cost to recurrent spending in my original comment. I can see that these things have very specific meanings.

    Still, the VC is targeting a 4% “surplus on budget”. Should this include costs for depreciation?

  28. Dan
    March 29th, 2012 at 16:15 | #28

    @Tom N.

    The debt bit is not difficult – have a look at Hyman Minsky’s Financial Instability Hypothesis.

    The neoliberal economics bit is also pretty easy: as Michael Hudson puts it, neoliberal economics has been a PR engine for right-wing economic policy. In particular, the denial of market failure and the supposed efficiency of markets have played a deleterious role here.

  29. John quiggin
    March 29th, 2012 at 17:10 | #29

    @Chris Warren Since I warned against precisely your line in the post I feel no need to hold back. You’re a tool of the bosses just like Michael Thompson.

  30. Ernestine Gross
    March 29th, 2012 at 17:22 | #30

    To all those who want to attack academic economists, I have a simple message. Go to the CBD of Sydney, New York, London, Frankfurt, Milan and ask who is occupying these expensive high rise buildings. I am very confident in saying you will find: Government offices, banks and other financial institutions, accounting firms and law firms (don’t count the chambers of barristers necessarily as law firms, nor the judicial buildings). Then I suggest you read Econometrica, the Journal of Mathematical Economics, the Journal of Economic Theory, and you will find no ‘neo-liberal writing’. Now, put 2 and 2 together and reach a logical conclusion.

    Where is Terje P when one needs him?

  31. Sam
    March 29th, 2012 at 17:37 | #31

    @John quiggin
    Agree about the overspending on buildings. I’ve just been for a walk around UQ, trying to find a quiet place to have lunch. Literally everywhere green and shady seems to come with complementary jackhammer and earth-moving equipment.

  32. may
    March 29th, 2012 at 18:06 | #32

    well here we are–the continuing (i almost said ongoing) consequences of eighties corporate governance-capital light-open discussion-share price sensitive-ponder the matrix-significant leg over(oops,i mean leg up)of higher education institutions having to pretend they are just another pay as you go business.

    druh.

  33. Chris Warren
    March 29th, 2012 at 18:21 | #33

    @Tom N.

    I don’t think the fact that an economy is experiencing is a long run increase in debt (whether in aggregate or per person) tells us much of relevance at all.

    This smacks of a head-in-the-sand approach. There are not too many people who really hold this. Of course it is open to you to “think” whatever you want and people also think that the climate is not warming.

    You have to move from “thinking” to knowing, and the data, and trends in debt is completely relevant – particularly when it is combined with – inflation, Current Account and Unemployment.

    What you get, from the 1950′s, is a long-run tendency for instability to increase over time – debt is just one aspect.

    See: http://uploads.wikidot.com/instability

    You can also see the long-run trend in America by viewing “The American Way of Debt” accessed through the series index link at:

    tinyurl.com/5ayjc3

    You only have to look at Iceland, and Europe to fathom the impacts of debt.

    The main concern over debt, is that it is needed to boost consumption sufficient for capitalist temporary stability, and the need to repay debt means the total amount compounds into the next cycle. Under capitalism, the circular flow does not balance without injections to match the prior insertion of capitalist profit.

    you’d actually need to show that their policy advice or other actions were responsble for that debt

    You just need to review Menzies response to the vernon Report (or lack thereof).

    You can also see the evolution of damaging economic policy in

    TREASURY ECONOMIC PAPER N0. 2. Economic Growth: Is it Worth Having?

    Then of course there are also crazy presentations in undergrad textbooks, etc etc.

  34. Chris Warren
    March 29th, 2012 at 18:56 | #34

    @Tom N.

    I don’t think the fact that an economy is experiencing is a long run increase in debt (whether in aggregate or per person) tells us much of relevance at all.

    This smacks of a head-in-the-sand approach. There are not too many people who really hold this. Of course it is open to you to “think” whatever you want but people also think that the climate is not warming.

    You have to move from “thinking” to knowing, and the data and trends in debt is completely relevant – particularly when it is combined with – inflation, Current Account and Unemployment.

    What you get, from the 1950′s, is a long-run tendency for instability to increase over time – debt is just one aspect.

    See: http://uploads.wikidot.com/instability

    You can also see the long-run trend in America by viewing “The American Way of Debt” accessed through the series index link at:

    tinyurl.com/5ayjc3

    You only have to look at Iceland, and Europe to fathom the impacts of debt.

    The main concern over debt, is that it is needed to boost consumption sufficient for capitalist temporary stability, and the need to repay debt means the total amount compounds into the next cycle. Under capitalism, the circular flow does not balance without injections to match the prior insertion of capitalist profit.

    you’d actually need to show that their policy advice or other actions were responsble for that debt

    You just need to review Menzies response to the vernon Report (or lack thereof).

    You can also see the evolution of damaging economic policy in

    TREASURY ECONOMIC PAPER N0. 2. Economic Growth: Is it Worth Having?

    Then of course there are also crazy presentations in undergrad textbooks, etc etc.

  35. Tom N.
    March 30th, 2012 at 01:03 | #35

    Nice to see you starting to try to fashion the beginnings of an argument to justify your statement about economists laying our economy to waste, Chris, rather than thinking that a thought fragment about debt would save you. Your latest post still feels a bit like a random walk through some though bubbles though, and statements like “you only need to look at X to fathom Y”, or “you just need to look at X’s response to Y”, don’t rate highly in the rigour stakes, I suggest.

    Dan, debt has pros and cons, but the statement I was responding to was the the economy and its future had been “laid to waste” and the only evidenc or elaboration given was to tie this to increasing debt. Sorry, but greater economic instability is not the same as an economy having been laid to waste. To justiy even that part of Chris Warren’s initial statement would involve consideration of much more complex issues and trade-offs – and I don’t think anyone would find it “easy”.

    The “neoliberal” economics bit is also not as “easy” as you think – at least, its not easy if you want to be rigorous. I called JQ on what I saw as his conveniently loose use of the smear term “neoliberal economics” at the time he was writing Zombies (so I’m not just making this up now). In your case, you say that neoliberal economics involves inter alia “the denial of market failure”. Please name the economists involved in economic policy making in Australia who deny market failure. I doubt that you’ll be able to name any – I certainly don’t know any. THat’s because real economists tend to be quite different from the straw economic men that people who use the term “neoliberal economics” generally have in mind.

  36. Freelander
    March 30th, 2012 at 03:27 | #36

    Neoliberals in their various guises have wreaked havoc both through their economic policies and through the corrupting influence of their ‘values’. By infiltrating government and both sides of politics they have made their belief “that government doesn’t work” a sad reality because, intentionally or not, in their hands, government certainly doesn’t work. A vain hope it is, but given the manifest failures of their ideology, one might hope that they would slither back into that dark and desolate place from whence they came.

  37. James Haughton
    March 30th, 2012 at 08:34 | #37

    If I recall correctly this is the same U Syd Department of Economics that has waged a vicious, 20 year campaign to drive their political-economy teaching colleagues out of their department (successful) and out of the University of Sydney entirely (unsuccessful – so far) (cf Political Economy Now! The struggle for alternative economics at the University of Sydney. Now they are suddenly discovering the need for workplace solidarity, unions, defence of academic freedom against the managerial class, etc.
    I note that the Political Economy Student Society is demonstrating and organising to support staff, including economics staff, against the arbitrary sackings. At the risk of incurring Prof Quiggin’s wrath, I can’t help wondering if the economists would be similarly leaping to the defence of their Political Economy colleagues if the latter were the ones under threat. They never have before.

  38. Wylie Bradford
    March 30th, 2012 at 08:37 | #38

    Chris Warren :
    @Ikonoclast

    Point 2: In my expereince, Economics Departments are strangely homogenous. To get diversity you have to set up alternative departments eg Political Economy. It is not neoliberal rationalism that is the problem, but the underlying equilibrium, marginal, and subjective theories that embed capitalist forms – Keynes’ ‘user cost’ is the epitome.

    If those are the fruits of your experience then I’d suggest you need to get out more. As an economics academic for more than 20 years, having worked both here and overseas, I know from
    experience that you’re talking utter nonsense. There are always factions, struggles arguments over direction etc in line with economics’ reputation for being an internally contentious discipline. Your reference to Political Economy is a giveaway on two fronts (for, no doubt, that is the channel through which you gained your so-called experience). First the laughable notion that it is through the establishment of PE departments that diversity flourishes. It’s hard to imagine a more hidebound, phase-locked, hermetically-sealed grouping of catechism-chanters anywhere in the academic field. That’s the diversity of the ‘we got both kinds: country and western’ variety. Second, your hilariously ignorant spray about equilibrium, marginalism and subjectivism that ‘embed capitalist forms’. That is straight from the PE playbook – vacuous, the product of ignorance, a form of rhetorical prestidigitation designed to wow callow undergraduates with the illusion of actual depth. The tell in this case, of course, is the bathetic reference to Keynes’s user cost as the epitome of this scourge? User cost? A confusingly constructed argument to the effect that intermediate goods had to be netted out when calculating total income? *This* is the epitome of the evil equilibrium/marginalism/subjectivism curse? Idiotic. Although it should give you some cheer that capitalist forms must have been in inexorable decline since 1936, the epitome of their embedded ideologies having been reached at that point.

  39. Paul Norton
    March 30th, 2012 at 08:41 | #39

    Sam @31, Griffith’s Nathan campus is in a similar state of repair.

  40. Dan
    March 30th, 2012 at 08:48 | #40

    @James Haughton

    As a political economy masters student at USyd, I’d argue that ECON101 and ECON102 (not just their poor ECOP cousins) should be economic history courses.

  41. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:12 | #41

    @Tom N.

    It may be best if you listened more. My statement was:

    What you get, from the 1950′s, is a long-run tendency for instability to increase over time – debt is just one aspect.

    This was in reply to someone who denied that debt was relevance.

    What is the lack of rigor in the Llewellyn, Potter and Samuelson charts? Their book seems perfectly acceptable to me. What is the problem – or are you just making issues up?

    Similarly with Vernon. The issues here were an early version of the Australian economy being laid to waste – but fortuitously, Australia then entered an era of minerals boom. The Vernon report was effectively shelved.

    What is the lack of rigor in looking at the long-run tendency for American consumer debt to increase from 1900? This has direct bearing on the university theory of the circular flow.

    Moving from the facts of Europe, through debt, in the context of Llewellyn, Potter and Samuelson, and vernon (previously) is not a random walk through thought bubbles.

    If you cannot see the rigor – that is entirely your problem.

  42. Freelander
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:28 | #42

    @James Haughton

    Yes. Exactly. The irony of neoliberal a priori thinking, after savaging so many others, has finally gone around to biting some of its proponents on the posterior.

    Also brought to mind is:

    “First they came for the communists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
    Then they came for the Jews,
    and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.”

  43. Tom
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:28 | #43

    @Tom N.

    Please show evidence of our economy is prospering.

    In my perspective we are not prospering at all but slowly strangling ourselves. At the moment, using growth in the mining industry to support our GDP growth has created in my opinion a ‘fake’ economic growth and been keeping the interest rates above Europe and US. This has attract a lot of foreign investment and appreciating our dollar, and as a result our other industries such as tourism, other export industries and other industries that have a significant link towards tourism such as retail stores etc. are struggling.

    A major flaw in the GDP is that it doesn’t measure the depletion of natural resource and they are considered having no value unless value are added or sold for a price. I’ll say my main point in a business perspective for you to understand my point easier, we are actually using our ‘savings’ (natural resources) to maintain our economy; and from excessively drawing out these non-renewable ‘savings’ from our bank account (land), we are slowly reducing our ‘income’ by strangling our income generating economic activities through what neoliberals call economic rationalisation. It doesn’t matter how many hundred years our minerals will last, it still isn’t what economist should consider as sustainable economic development by consuming our saving.

  44. James Haughton
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:43 | #44

    @Freelander
    I take the point but I’d have to say you’re committing a bit of a Godwin.

  45. Freelander
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:52 | #45

    The NYTimes had an interesting graphic. Of the total increase in income in the US, 37% went to the top 0.01%, 56% went to the rest of the top 1%, the other 99% were left with the 7% remaining.

    The rationalisation of university departmental staffing is simply part of the process of income moving upwards toward the ‘real’ wealth creators. Ayn Rand would be so happy. The hard done by 1% are slowly freeing themselves from us parasites and leeches.

  46. Freelander
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:53 | #46

    @James Haughton

    Only a tangential Godwin.

  47. Dan
    March 30th, 2012 at 09:56 | #47

    @Tom N.

    The first point I concede on the grounds of literalism, though I don’t think increasing or cyclic instability is the hallmark of a workable system.

    The second point I actually can address in probably precisely the way the you assumed I couldn’t: in my office this week we did have a senior economist from a peak body (I won’t name names) present a rather facile argument in favour of lower taxes and lower gov’t expenditure.

  48. Uncle Milton
    March 30th, 2012 at 10:25 | #48

    “360m on a new obesity centre”

    How ironic.

  49. Tom N.
    March 30th, 2012 at 11:04 | #49

    Thanks Dan on (1). On (2), evidence that an economist has used a facile argument in favour of smaller government is not evidence that said economist denies the existence of marekt failure. Again, I think you will find that the only economists who do this are in fact straw economic men; not real economists.*

    The other Tom: I do not need to prove that the economy is prospering, as I was responding to a statement (by Chris Warren) that the economy and its future is being laid to waste thanks to economists. I suggest the burden of proof lies with him. (Regarding GDP etc, these points are all well known among economists – which is why few if any policy economists advocate policies purely for the purpose of maximising GDP.)

    Chris: contrary to your post, I did not “deny debt was of relevance”. Rather, I said that, on its own, a trend of increasing debt does not tell us much of relevance. (You left off the “on its own” when you quoted me in your response – but its important. Your only justification (initially) for your statement about the economy being laid to waste thanks to economists was to point to an increasing debt trend. As I’ve pointed out, that does not go close to substantiating your statement; nor, I suggest, do your recent additions).

    _____

    * Of course, maybe there is the odd fruitloop out there who denies the existence of market failure (though even then I suspect that it would most likely be through some semantic ploy, rather than through denying the substance of market failure as the term is generally understood by economists). However,

  50. Tim Macknay
    March 30th, 2012 at 11:06 | #50

    What is the lack of rigor in the Llewellyn, Potter and Samuelson charts? Their book seems perfectly acceptable to me. What is the problem – or are you just making issues up?

    Chris Warren, there doesn’t seem to be anything unrigorous about the charts, it’s just that they only show data up to 1981. If you’re arguing that there has been a long-term increase in instability since the 1950s, it would be better if you cited data that includes the last 30 years, which is half the period under discussion.

    Of course, you may well be right – it’s just that your data doesn’t show that. It only shows an increase in instability from the 1950s through to the 1970s.

  51. Freelander
    March 30th, 2012 at 11:49 | #51

    No ‘real’ economist would say what many flesh and breathing economists say.

    Very clever …

  52. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 13:00 | #52

    @Tim Macknay

    Actually the update is pretty easy using RBA and ABS data.

    The diamond device was also used in “Australia reconstructed”.

    The Commonwealth parliamentary research service also publish additional data in one of its working papers.

    Of course its a game – sometimes they wail about unemployment, later they wail about inflation, then later they wail about debt. Each is just a facet.

    We need to wail about capitalism.

  53. John Quiggin
    March 30th, 2012 at 13:09 | #53

    @James Haughton
    A 20 year struggle is about right, but it ran from the 70s to the 90s. It was already pretty much in the past when I was at Sydney (in Ag Econ) in the late 80s. Most of the leading protagonists retired years or decades ago. So, I don’t think there’s much justification for blaming the current members of the Econ Dept.

    Still, the question you raise is a good one.

  54. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 13:10 | #54

    @Wylie Bradford

    What a nutty diatribe that, in general, does not deserve a response. However I am interested in your suggestion that:

    Keyne’s ‘user cost’ is:

    A confusingly constructed argument to the effect that intermediate goods had to be netted out when calculating total income?

    This is more difficult because intermediate goods are also capitalised. If I spend $100 in using-up “intermediate goods”, and the rate of profit is 10%, then the passed-on price is $110.

    So we need to be clear what is being netted out.

    Do you have an example?

  55. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 13:33 | #55

    @Tom N.

    You need to listen more. I deliberately did not include ‘on its own’ because this was entirely your mistake.

    This was your misunderstanding of what was said. Or maybe you were trying to deflect attention???

    No-one has suggested anything about debt ‘on its own’.

    It is reasonable to take a long-winded “does not tell us much of relevance” to mean “no relevance”. It is interesting that you resort to such nit-picking games.

  56. Wylie Bradford
    March 30th, 2012 at 13:39 | #56

    @Chris Warren

    Yeah, nice avoidance.

    I’m not defending Keynes’s definition of user cost to the hilt, merely pointing out what he was *attempting* to do (perhaps quite unsuccessfully) as a way of highlighting (possibly superfluously) how utterly risible it is for you to hold it up as the epitome (your word) of what’s wrong with economic theory in general. Someone who throws around ‘equilibrium’, ‘marginal’, ‘subjective’ (the usual PE buzzwords – what, no place for ‘methodological individualism’?) as part of a nebulous critique of economics and then produces Keynes’s user cost as the rhetorical coup de grace clearly has no idea about the history of economics or the nature of economic theory. No first-hand idea anyway. They may well have excelled in absorbing a prefab critique.

  57. Tom N.
    March 30th, 2012 at 14:00 | #57

    So Chris, you misrepresent my statement in an material way*, and its entirely my fault! Brilliant!

    Alas, there seems little point in discussing matters further with you. You are clearly comfortable to criticise straw economic men of your imagination’s own creation using loose pejorative labels such as “neoliberal” and, when rigour is sought, you seek to deflect and avoid. And when I (politely) pointed out your misrepresentation of me, you sought to shoot the messenger, rather than accepting your clear error and retracting.

    Feel free to maintain your rage against those “nasty, narrow-minded, New Right, neoliberal economic rationalists” though, if it makes you feel good. Just don’t expect to be taken too seriously in more knowledgeable company.

    ___________

    * Why did I say “on its own” and why was it material? Because in response to my challenge to show that the economy and future is being laid to waste by thanks to economists, your response (comment #21) was, in total:

    So what do you call the long run tendency for per capita debt to increase? Cornucopia?

    That is, your response went no further than the issue of debt. My point is that, on its own, debt increase tells us little of relevance. You have effectively acknowledged the turth of that by attempting to add to it in subsequent posts.

  58. rod
    March 30th, 2012 at 14:01 | #58

    I am obviously the only person who feels this way but:
    In the real world, when I was an employee my contract wasn’t renewed due to lack of funds. I started my own business, and have employees. If things were to deteriorate I would have to dismiss one or more of them. When less money comes in, less goes out.

    What makes academia different?

  59. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 14:17 | #59

    @Wylie Bradford

    Your rhetoric is impenetrable.

    Tagging common concepts as ‘buzzwords’ doesn’t help.

    If you have a view about Keynes’ “user cost”, I’d be interested in hearing it.

  60. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 14:25 | #60

    @Tom N.

    At this stage, as you have ignored all the clarification which has been placed in front of you, the face at the bottom of the well is your own.

    If you want to challenge a statement, by all means. But you need evidence.

    You may like to start at the beginning.

    I do not support that debt is the only problem. This line is generally associated with Keen’s and Minsky. Debt problems are a symptom.

  61. Graeme Bird
    March 30th, 2012 at 14:44 | #61

    The top one per cent are getting subsidised much more than any standard welfare recipient, young or old. This is because the top one percent, under our current monetary arrangements, share in the new money creation gains with the banks. We might say that they get a cut in the “fractional reserve/central bank subsidy.

    I was told by a mortgage broker, that I was maybe in the top 5% in terms of the people he sees asking for loans. What this means in practice, is that if I could live forever, from about 15 years from now, I’d be on an endless money-train. Where the subsidised interest rate, was just making me richer and richer year after year. This is a scandal. And it ought to be seen as such. The righteous way for people to get rich legitimately is to start small businesses and grow them to be medium sized businesses. But the fractional reserve subsidy spreads out unrighteous gains, all through our society, and by no means excluding our overpaid bigshots in the large corporations.

    This is not any fair version of capitalism. This is not capitalism as such.

  62. Wylie Bradford
    March 30th, 2012 at 15:36 | #62

    @Chris Warren

    LOL. Translation: I can’t justify the (obviously stupid) claim that Keynes’s user cost is the epitome of what’s wrong with economic theory because I lack the required knowledge and understanding.

    Concepts become buzzwords when habitually used by those who don’t understand them.

    Why should I have a view on user cost. You introduced it, and imbued it with inexplicable significance.

  63. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 18:05 | #63

    @Wylie Bradford

    Please read what was said – not what you imagined.

    No-one has said that “Keynes’s user cost is the epitome of what’s wrong with economic theory”.

    rather – the several underlying theories that embed capitalist forms are the problem – Keynes’ ‘user cost’ is the epitome (of these theories). I named three other examples. User cost is not, by itself, responsible for the problems of capitalism.

    Similar problems also occur with capitalist forms of equilibrium, the capitalist use of marginalism, and also the capitalist notion of subjective theory of value.

    If you do not have a view on user cost, or see no need for a view, what did you mean by:

    A confusingly constructed argument to the effect that intermediate goods had to be netted out when calculating total income?

  64. Hermit
    March 30th, 2012 at 19:48 | #64

    Perhaps economists could re-apply for jobs in the foreign languages faculty.

  65. Wylie Bradford
    March 30th, 2012 at 19:50 | #65

    @Chris Warren

    The further it goes the more garbled and incoherent you become. The reason why I have no particular view on Keynes’s user cost concept is that it is scarcely relevant to anything important. The fact that you appear to want to make it so is the marker of the fact that you have no idea what you’re talking about. As such your original comments about what economics departments are like are worthy of no consideration.

  66. Chris Warren
    March 30th, 2012 at 20:34 | #66

    @Wylie Bradford

    I would not be so sure.

  67. TerjeP
    March 30th, 2012 at 21:09 | #67

    Ernestine Gross :
    Where is Terje P when one needs him?

    A bit busy lately.

  68. March 30th, 2012 at 22:58 | #68

    John, you say: ‘ANU also faces budget cuts, but is taking the enlightened bottom-up approach.’ Not so. ANU has a $14 m profit but it is not enough, according to the VC. last year return on investments fell $30 m, and depreciation on buildings increased $10 m. So obviously the ANU needs to sack between 100 and 150 staff to fix that up. Capital has a problem and it makes labour pay. Nothing enlightened about that. And at RMIT there are now be nice and smile declarations that staff are forced to sign, presumably to sack them when they are not. And Stephen Schwartz in the AFR banging on about education and business models. Maybe the Labor and Coalition governments’ underfunding or universities should be discussed.

  69. March 30th, 2012 at 22:59 | #69

    Sorry John. It was Rohan who said it.

  70. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 09:18 | #70

    Wow, that Chris Warren’s a rather nasty piece of work, eh?

    Anyway, thanks John, and Rohan. The situation at Sydney is a mess. I can tell you, John, that the agricultural (and now, resource) economics group that you have an historical connection to is under serious threat.

    I think a point that has not been given enough prominence in the discussions that I am seeing (which focus, understandably, on things like the unfair restrospectivity of the process, and whether it is a performance-management action tarted up as a response to a budgetary crisis) is this. The nature of the rules of this process means that social sciences and humanities across the campus will be hit far harder than sciences.

    Many reserach scientists work in labs, and publish in teams (as in, literally enough people to field a soccer or cricket team, sometimes including reserves), and can publish multiple papers a year. Also the “standards of publishing” vary widely across disciplines. A colleague in engineering told me that it is standard practice for them to submit to “peer reviewed” conferences, where the rigour of review is slight and the acceptance rates high. (Journal papers are fewer, and further between, and meet a much higher standard.) This means there is very little chance any of them will fail to meet a 4-papers-in-3-years target as long as refereed conference papers count.

    I imagine the Dean of Arts and Sciences (which houses, inter alia, both Economics and Political Economy) has a much heavier job on his hands managing the individuals affected by this process than the Dean of Science. (Also, the incoming head of the School of Business will probably be overseeing the departure of a large number of academic staff. If, as is presumed, he re-fills those positions quickly, the lack of restriction on replacing staff made redundant suggests this is about perceived performance, not about budgetary crisis.)

    In my own Faculty (and your former one, John) of Agriculture and ancillary stuff, our staff numbers are dominated by applied scientists, with agricultural and resource economists a distinct mionority. But the best intelligence I have available tells me that 80% of directly affected individuals in our faculty are in ARE.

  71. Ernestine Gross
    March 31st, 2012 at 10:01 | #71

    @aidan

    Further on the previous posts, you write:

    “Still, the VC is targeting a 4% “surplus on budget”. Should this include costs for depreciation?”

    Without further information, the first sentence does not have a unique meaning.

    To illustrate, a budget is a financial plan for a period into the future (often but not necessarily 1 year). A plan entails a target.

    Financial plans are usually in cash terms (not accrual accounting), in which case depreciation is not included, directly but indirectly via taxation, if applicable, and there may be a planned savings item for future capital replacement which may or may not be set equal to depreciation that is allowed for tax purposes or otherwise.

    The expression ’4% surplus on budget’, strictly speaking, makes no sense. A (cash) surplus means cash receipts exceed outgoings. This then constitutes planned savings and should be included in the budget.

    Are you trying to say the receipts are 1.04 times the outgoings for the budget period? Or, are you trying to say, in comparison to last period’s budget the VC is targeting is a surplus of 4% in the current period’s buget?

    You may have to study the financial information of the institution in detail to get clarity on your sentence.

  72. Ernestine Gross
    March 31st, 2012 at 11:15 | #72

    @Michael Harris

    “This means there is very little chance any of them will fail to meet a 4-papers-in-3-years target as long as refereed conference papers count.”

    Not necessarily. The experts in performance mismanagement via KPIs have other tools such as preventing some staff to go to conferences via teaching allocation.

    Focusing only on research output, as measured by DETYA, may involve a retrospective reallocation of workload, setting aside all else.

  73. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 13:14 | #73

    Soviet 5 year plans were based around meeting or exceeding a number of KPIs.

    Interesting that those who independently dreamed up the same system of management in the West were free marketers.

  74. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 14:09 | #74

    Ernestine

    Maybe, but I stand by what I said, which is that I expect the effect of the Spence/Garton clean-out to be predominantly felt by social sciences and humanities schools/departments. If as an engineering academic, I was having trouble finding time to GET to conferences to present, I could still submit co-authored work and have a co-author (who may be a student?) attend and present.

    Since the retrospective rules of the Spence/Garton clean-out are “4-papers-in-3-years (minimum)”, without any reference to any measure at all, whatsoever, of publication quality OR of the number of co-authors involved, the net effect of this is going to be a disproprtionate impact on the non-sciences disciplines.

    The example of my Faculty gives you something of a clue.

    I don’t mean all the sciences (broadly defined) will be utterly unaffected. I hear stories of Vet Science reeling from the blow to one of its specialist areas, which could threaten the professional accreditation of its degree. I also hear stories of medical specialists who do life saving surgery during the day and then teach how it’s done to the next generation of surgeons coming through the ranks, but who don’t regularly publish — they’re apparently in the firing line (no pun intended).

    But all that said, the Dean of Science is likely to be having far more relaxed a time of it than the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences. (And probably the Deans of Vet Sci and Medicine too.)

  75. Ernestine Gross
    March 31st, 2012 at 15:27 | #75

    Michael,

    I take (and took) your point immediately. I was trying to say it can get even worse.

  76. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 17:29 | #76

    Ernestine: ah, gotcha. And yes it can.

    Freelander: if we knew what the KPIs were in advance, we could have responded accordingly. Most of the affected parties could have gotten book chapters or refereed conference papers out in sufficient quantities to meet the target, had the target been known in advance. The nature of the exercise is one of catching people by surprise.

    The really is a lamentable tendency amongst some of John’s commenters to reduce topics to “Well, ha, those evil free marketeers are finally being hoist by their own petards! *madcackle*”

    It’s really rather unnecessary. And distasteful.

  77. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 19:32 | #77

    The magic thing about KPIs is that those outside of the ‘in crowd’ are not supposed to meet them. That way they can be castigated for their sub par performance and in the case of some of your colleagues get canned. Those on the outer need to understand that they had it coming. Society just gets fairer and fairer.

    Yes.

  78. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 19:34 | #78

    Some of those free marketers are being hoist. But, unfortunately, only now after and amongst the millions of innocents. Not much consolation at all.

  79. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 20:18 | #79

    So, take discussion of specific topic, and just word-vomit some stuff in the comments thread related to bees you carry around in your bonnet rather than discuss the thing under discussion?

    OK. Good to know.

    Well, wait a minute: “Some of those free marketers are being hoist” — maybe you COULD be specific. Perhaps you could name the names of the individuals you are referring to.

  80. Chris Warren
    March 31st, 2012 at 20:53 | #80

    @Michael Harris

    In these situations, names of individuals are not bandied about.

    Nor should they be.

  81. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 20:55 | #81

    But you and Freelander know who they are? How important you must feel.

  82. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 22:01 | #82

    @Michael Harris

    Now you’re simply getting a bit silly.

    Very sorry that you too are feeling a bit stressed finally being at the pointy end of the ‘neoliberal revolution’.

    Who could have know it would go so far? Who would have thought it would end in one’s own tears?

  83. Chris Warren
    March 31st, 2012 at 22:09 | #83

    Michael Harris :But you and Freelander know who they are? How important you must feel.

    Wrong.

  84. Michael Harris
    March 31st, 2012 at 22:45 | #84

    I’M the one getting a bit silly? Orly?

    Ohhhh-kaaaay. *backs away slowly*

  85. Freelander
    March 31st, 2012 at 23:00 | #85

    Good man.

  86. James Haughton
    April 3rd, 2012 at 12:05 | #86

    Michael, perhaps you could enlighten me as to whether any of the Political Economy staff are at risk of the axe.

  87. John Quiggin
    April 3rd, 2012 at 12:53 | #87

    My info is second hand, but I believe Political Economy is also in the firing line (in both senses of the term). This isn’t karma – it’s managerialism laying waste to people’s careers without regard to whether their views are left or right, neoclassical or heterodox.

    Given my explicit warning in the poist, I don’t appreciate at all the comments form Chris Warren and Freelander.

  88. Fran Barlow
    April 3rd, 2012 at 12:59 | #88

    @Michael Harris

    There really is a lamentable tendency amongst some of John’s commenters to reduce topics to “Well, ha, those evil free marketeers are finally being hoist by their own petards! *madcackle*” It’s really rather unnecessary. And distasteful

    Perhaps so. Schadenfreude is not one of the more appealing of human behaviours, and IMO, we left|sts especially ought to be careful to avoid it. Unlike the right, we really do care what happens to humanity as a whole — including those parts of it who have acted unwisely or even anti-socially.

    That said, we are also in part authored by the culture. There are few alive, I daresay, who didn’t start their conscious social life learning at the bended knee of someone uttering the world according to misanthropy. We have learned our shibboleths from those who despair and in their despair cling to the Daily Telegraph or The Bible. The narrative of good and evil, of metaphysical comeuppance and of much else that is unworthy whispers insistently in everyone’s ear. When people who have behaved badly suffer blowback, it is hard to suppress a moment of perverse satisfaction. the world we live in is an ugly place, and worse yet, there is no immediate prospect of it becoming a place where the horror is answered by the rational collaboration of those in its path. The misery of some spiv raised by his or her own misanthropic malfeasance offers a real, albeit momentary salve which can be put under the heading of “teachable moment” for those doing cognitive dissonance.

    Is this ultimately a good thing? Of course not. It’s not rational politics. It can lead nowhere good. I know whom I hold responsible for it though, and why their complaints ring hollow.

  89. Chris Warren
    April 3rd, 2012 at 13:25 | #89

    @John Quiggin

    Unfortunately you have to face reality. The same rationalism has been searing through the public service for decades, including CSIRO.

    Education institutions (universities) are not being targeted – they are being included.

  90. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 13:40 | #90

    awaiting moderation?

  91. April 3rd, 2012 at 13:50 | #91

    Speaking of academics and ‘austerity’, sorry to hear about getting the sack from the Fin.

    You tweeted “not surprising, but disappointing.”

    Are you able to enlarge on “not surprising”?

  92. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 14:01 | #92

    There is a similar irony associated with those unfortunate souls who work in Australian call centres. The job is appalling in every respect, but those working there are paid, basically, to pester and abuse the public with unwanted calls or substandard service. Not that they have much say about that as they presumably have little choice ending up in a job like that. But what has happened in that sector? Progressively with the managerialist approach conditions have become worse and worse and large numbers have lost their jobs, with no recompense, as they have been outsourced to more efficient, which apparently simply means cheaper, operations overseas.

    This reduction in working conditions has not been confined to call centres but has progressively been expanded to other occupations and to higher and higher paid jobs with all the gravy flowing upward to fewer and fewer at the top.

    Of course, we are a lucky country. This process is far advanced in the worlds only ‘super-power’.

  93. Freelander
    April 3rd, 2012 at 14:04 | #93

    Sorry to hear that re: the Fin as well.

  94. Tom N.
    April 3rd, 2012 at 20:52 | #94

    When people who have behaved badly suffer blowback, it is hard to suppress a moment of perverse satisfaction.

    The main problem Fran is not leftist commentators “perverse satisfaction” in imagining that some economists are being hoist on their petards; rather its their manifest ignorance of what economists believe and why, their roles in shaping the policies in Australia over the years, and the effects of those policies and of the alternatives too them. The tendency to attack straw economic men, that has been evident among the Left in Australia at least since the time of Michael Pussey, continues today, quite immune from reality. I guess such behaviour may be of some value in a kind of group bonding or cathartic sense but, as I said above, those engaging in it just shouldn’t expect to be taken very seriously in more knowledgable circles.

  95. Freelander
    April 4th, 2012 at 04:46 | #95

    I can only speak for myself, but I don’t consider the situation karma, and for the few that you could have little sympathy for, and amongst any great number there is always a few, that leaves the rest which is a large number indeed. Unfortunately, the whole process of bastardy has been going on now for sometime, and there have been many victims. Groups of victim seem to see themselves in isolation, and hence, provide little support for others when they meet a similar fate. By first picking off the easy targets, the so-called dole-bludgers, ‘illegal’ arrivals, ‘terrorists’ like David Hicks and Julian Assange, the erosion of decent treatment has allowed movement up the food chain. This is something that I certainly feel no Schadenfreude about.
    It is not good for the current victims, and it is not good for us. Not to far down the track some of those currently administering the managerialism are likely to have it administered to them. There might be irony in that but certainly not Schadenfreude as that will just be further evidence of things getting worse.
    Over the last forty plus years there has been a very successful push to demolish decent society by those who might claim there is no society, only individuals.

  96. Chris Warren
    April 4th, 2012 at 10:10 | #96

    @Tom N.

    But the bigger problem could be capitalist commentators who pretend others have some ignorance (?!) when it is their system which is collapsing and needs up to 100 trillion of debt (and continuous population growth) to survive. The GFC demonstrates clearly that it is capitalists who have been:

    quite immune from reality

    Only the ignorant cry ‘ignorant’.

    There is no straw-man effect. This is all in your imagination.

    Please do not try to impute your sins onto others.

    If you propagate a theory that the market should determine employment, do not be distressed when the market says your employment should be elsewhere. If you want a special dispensation, then why not Commonwealth public servants who have weathered this nonsense for decades?

    Your posing reeks of denialism.

  97. Tom N.
    April 4th, 2012 at 10:16 | #97

    Q.E.D.

  98. Fran Barlow
    April 4th, 2012 at 10:38 | #98

    @Tom N.

    The main problem Fran is not leftist commentators “perverse satisfaction” in imagining that some economists are being hoist on their petards; rather its their manifest ignorance of what economists believe

    I was careful not to single out economists in the “academics behaving badly” category, though some have provided cover for the kinds of policies that are playing out now. I’m aware of the usages in the popular media, which entail selecting those most apposite to the perceived momentary needs of the ruling elite and allowing them to stand for all economists and political commentators more generally. They do this on climate science as well.

    Nor did I even endorse Schadenfreude even for those who fit the description of behaving badly. I merely explained the impulse that many on the left feel without defending it. In a world in which inclusive governance was not a hollow slogan, I doubt that diversity of opinion within academia — even in the direction of irrational inequity, secular metaphysics and/or misanthropy — would widely elicit such responses.

  99. Chris Warren
    April 4th, 2012 at 11:05 | #99

    @Fran Barlow

    Yes, it is the economic theory that is “behaving badly”. Although it is possible to implicate those who go along for the ride. They can be singled-out as they self-identify themselves, just as a Windschuttle or an Irving do, in other fields.

    Of course the ride must end one day – then they get upset.

  100. Ernestine Gross
    April 4th, 2012 at 15:38 | #100

    Following on from the thread “Austerity and academia”

    “A big question is this: Are the sackings due to productivity, or are they in response to an administration that has grossly over-spent on buildings? I have heard rumours of expenditure of 100m on a new medical centre, and 360m on a new obesity centre preceded these sackings.” (Prof Quiggin)

    Maybe it is useful to first find out what the insiders say.

    According to an open letter by the VC, Dr Spence, reproduced in the web-site below, the reduction in academic (and administrative) staff is necessitated by:
    1. A short fall of student fee income from 2011, relative to planned (forward estimate) enrolments. This has flow-on affects for the financial target for 2012.
    2. Overdue maintenance of old buildings
    3. The need for new buildings (eg Physics and ICT)
    4. Some funds from the government or foundations are tied
    5. It is too expensive to carry people who do not pull their weight.
    6. For minor items and ad-hoc hypotheses see the website

    According to an open letter to the VC by a recent graduate from the Arts Faculty, also reproduced on the web-site,
    • Academic staff is valued by students and should not be held responsible for the management’s forecasting error (ie item 1 above)
    • The University spent huge amounts of money she can’t even imagine how much on the new Law School building, which she considers luxurious, wasteful of space and expensive to heat and cool (see her description). (For convenience, a web-site on the Sydney Law School is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney_Law_School)
    • The University spent money on cobble stones which needed to be dug out and reset because they constituted a hindrance for handicapped access
    • The University spent a lot of time and money on removing car parks
    • The University removed and rebuilt and overhead bridge, which she considers even more ugly than the previous one.

    http://theconversation.edu.au/sydney-uni-to-cut-academic-and-general-staff-but-boost-it-4404

    What else can we find?

    Re item 1: There is further internal information which points to item 1 being important http://sydney.edu.au/news/84.html?newscategoryid=3&newsstoryid=8687

    Re item 2: This is not a new problem.

    Re item 3: I suppose many people will be sympathetic with the plight of the physicists’ accommodation and IT is important for just about everybody at any university.
    But: NO mention of the New Law Building and the cobble stones and the overhead bridge!

    Re item 4: If, as the VC says, the surplus is not available for paying staff salaries, the question arises, have tied funds been optimally allocated in the past?

    Re item 5: The VC does not make explicit the criteria for determining who is not pulling their weight.

    Now it gets interesting. From the information available so far, it seems there are some academics whose effective teaching load (ie number of students taught, rather than number of hours) was ‘below par’ relative to the forward estimates made by management. So one would expect a reduction in casual teaching staff numbers. But no, the VC talks about academics who did not produce at least 3 or 4 pieces of academic work during the previous 3 years. Teaching is apparently not academic work.

    Whatever conclusion people might draw, it seems to me the heading of this thread is very clever. (USA, Spain, Ireland, ….some years ago there was a excess supply of office space in the CBD……)

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