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March in March statement

March 18th, 2014

I was invited to speak at last Sunday’s March in March, but was unable to go as I was entered in a triathlon in Mooloolaba[1]. So I wrote a statement to be read at the meeting, which was then published in in Independent Australia[2]. It’s over the fold.

After I wrote this statement, there was a bit of discussion in comments here as to whether the March was a party-political event in support of the ALP. I have no information about the organizers, but they were certainly happy to take a statement critical of both major parties

The policy of austerity, now wreaking havoc in Europe and North America, represents a continuation of three decades of failed market liberalism, beginning with the financial deregulation of the 1970s, and the policies of Thatcher and Reagan.

In Australia, these policies were adopted by the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments in the form of a commitment to hold the public expenditure share of national income at or below the level prevailing in the early 1980s. All of these governments saw regular tax cuts as a sign of good management.

The biggest, and least affordable were promised by Howard in the 2007 election campaign, and copied with modest adjustments, by Kevin Rudd. These tax cuts placed the Budget in a position of structural deficit, temporarily overshadowed by the Global Financial Crisis. The result has been a remorseless campaign to cut public spending, begun under the previous Labor government and now being pushed by Abbott’s Commission of Audit.

The Newman and Abbott governments have combined this market liberal ideology with the pursuit of tribal vendettas against everyone they perceive as being on the wrong side: public sector workers, unionists, environmentalists, the ABC and so on. Newman signalled this kind of vindictive attitude early on with the decision to scrap the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards, saving the princely sum of $244,000.

Abbott has gone even further. Axing bodies like the Climate Commission was only the start. Nothing is too petty, from shutting down the 50-year old Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia to cancelling grants to community gardens.

On the other hand, LNP politicians have shown no restraint in grabbing the spoils of office. Jobbery and nepotism have been the order of the day, along with shameless exploitation of the perks of office. At the same time as cutting a trivial sum from arts funding, Newman was demanding expensive refurbishment of his office in the Executive Building, which he now plans to tear down and replace with a new one. Thanks to the bogus accounting typical of these governments, the LNP claims that this luxury project, involving the handover of lots of public assets to corporations, will cost the public nothing.

The need for social expenditure has become more pressing over time, as has been recognized by the strong public support for measures like the Gonski reforms in education and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. But as long as market ideology remains dominant, such reforms can only be implemented at the expense of other, equally valuable measures.

The big beneficiaries of market liberalism have been those in the top 10 per cent of the income distribution, and particularly the very wealthy. Their tax contribution was slashed by Howard’s cuts, and by a range of other concessions.

It’s time for them to pay their share, rather than putting the burden on ordinary workers and their families.

[1] Given my overall performance, perhaps I would have been better off going to the March. But the cycle leg was a PB
[2] As is usual, I didn’t pick the headline. If I had, I wouldn’t have used the term “neoliberalism” partly because I prefer “market liberalism” and partly because the distinctive feature of the Abbott and Newman governments is tribalism, not ideology.

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  1. Newtownian
    March 18th, 2014 at 09:25 | #1

    Good to see your support John for the March in March. The Sydney one was small because of clear conservative dirty tricks (God providing a thunderstorm while much train transport was slowed by track work) . Nevertheless it was memorable on two counts – the appearance of arguably the inheritor of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger – Billy Bragg – and the crowd of 3000-5000 being predominantly YOUNG (<30 at a guess).

    Remember Vietnam started small but grew as the logic of policy unfolded. The same should probably happen over the coming years though what form it will take is still unclear except it will be in part the result of the Federal LNP being demonstrably thick and hence mistake prone.

    Scott Morrison and dwarves aside I offer the following proof that Tony Abbot is really too dim to stay PM for long despite his Rhodes scholarship: Tony Abbott questioned by Newtown High Students http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBZwu5bAEdo . Its not a bad version of the Emperors New Clothes (for Queenslanders unfamiliar with Newtown he couldn't have picked a more uncooperative bunch of students to try and joust with if he'd workshopped it). So there is hope.

  2. Mick
    March 18th, 2014 at 09:40 | #2

    “the distinctive feature of the Abbott and Newman governments is tribalism, not ideology.”

    As last night’s ABC 4Corners alluded to, this is also set against a background of plutocracy, where major energy companies can use the full resources and intelligence of government.

    ‘Drawing the line’ 4Corners Episode page: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2014/03/17/3962821.htm

  3. sunshine
    March 18th, 2014 at 10:00 | #3

    Melbournes march was terrific – there were tens of thousands there . The front of the march reached Treasury gardens before the tail had left the State Library . It got a story on each of the commercial TV news channels that night .Police were caught off guard by the numbers but the crowd was well behaved . Following the precedent set in the Ukraine and some other places (not Western ones) if we can get 50 – 100 thousand to stay put for 3 or 4 days and then 5 -10 thousand to set up camp indefinitely we should get a change of government ! NOT !

  4. paul walter
    March 18th, 2014 at 12:54 | #4

    Wot Mick Said.

    For those critical of Quiggin’s critiquing as too harsh, I’d say if any thing his critique of current globalising, hegemonic, homogeneic capitalism tending to feudalism and decay, is pretty much balanced: don’t forget he has the empirical tools and the wherewithal to employ these aptly, to confirm or deny his propositions as valid or not.

    It’s a sad turn when merely telling the truth must become an act of resistance.

    Btw, congrats on personal best, JQ

  5. Ikonoclast
    March 18th, 2014 at 14:11 | #5

    You need to drop the obfuscation of “tribal vendettas” terminology. These are class conflicts. You say yourself “The big beneficiaries of market liberalism have been those in the top 10 per cent of the income distribution, and particularly the very wealthy.” It is a clear case of the capitalist and rentier class making laws to re-distribute more wealth to itself.

    You never define or elucidate the details of your “tribalism” theory. Do you refer to the sociological concept of neotribalism or some other construction of your own invention? I suggest you write an essay where you try to advance cogently what your “tribalism” thesis is in relation to modern politics and economics. Try to explain why the phenomenon you refer to is “tribalism” and why it is not a class issue. Try to explain why it is not related to the power conferred by ownership of the means of production and other rentier privileges. Try to explain why class interests and class conflicts no longer exist.

    In trying to avoid using the word “class” you are practicing “Newspeak” on yourself. “Class” is a banned concept and you are trying to banish it from your vocabulary.

  6. John Quiggin
    March 18th, 2014 at 14:33 | #6

    “Class” is a banned concept and you are trying to banish it from your vocabulary.

    If you say so

  7. John Quiggin
    March 18th, 2014 at 14:36 | #7
  8. paul walter
    March 18th, 2014 at 15:55 | #8

    Goes to show how a few years can give a perspective. Its not for a moron like me to pick around terminology, but I found the sentence… “the basic structures of the welfare state are intact” less then helpful.

    If they are captured or coopted by the oligarchy, are they still welfare state structures?

    Getting back to perspective, it is fair to say the article was written at a more optimistic time, when it seemed the worst aspects and the worst propagators of the New Feudalism had seemingly been discredited and tossed out for then-promising politicians promoting rational policy planks, like Rudd and Gillard here and Obama offshore. Now the corpse has risen and civilisation is under attack by Abbott and his looters and FTA monger s offshore, in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of a few years ago.

    Tribalism versus class? I “get” what Quiggin says as to “tribalism”, it is a sign of a deterioration and ought to be left for footy matches on the weegend.
    Tribalism is the domain of the class protagonist culturally lobotomised of her sense of place and purpose; consciousness and understanding.
    Ikon, you could ponder whether Quiggin is discussing a phenomena within the working class, that comes of the inability of many people to comprehend the complexities of class struggle and its imperatives. He is quite fair to point out that tribalism of the ALP sort is not totally, authentic working class thinking, but some thing also derived of fatalism.

    “Class” informs on the exact nature of social and economic relations in an evolving capitalist society, early OR late industrial, so yes JQ, it is little wonder that when people lift the veil for a moment they are prone to pessimism, the closer they are to the bottom of the heap.
    We both KNOW how wasteful and irrational the perversion of Smithian capitalism by the rightist elites as become and we know that some thing must be done to reassert the concept of rational economics as servant to humanity than means of oppression and self delusion concerning oligarchs, so I give Ikon a huge vote of sympathy for his postings.

  9. rog
    March 18th, 2014 at 17:21 | #9

    John Menadue writes about the cosy relationship between big business and our govt.

    Like elsewhere our govt is losing the ability to represent the voter.

  10. Ikonoclast
    March 18th, 2014 at 19:49 | #10

    @John Quiggin

    You were able to talk about class in 2011 and 2012, albeit from a point a view that never seriously questions capitalism itself; especially the question of the ownership of the means of production. So why, in 2014, resile from talking about “class”? Instead you use the word “tribalism”. You still haven’t taken up the challenge to support your tribalism thesis. Do you mean neotribalism as presented in sociology or something else you have invented?

    Look, I will try not to harp on about this anymore. It’s just that I don’t understand your tribalism thesis re Abbott and Co. To me it seems plain as day that this is still about ideology and class. Australian capitalism is an odd little antipodean beast. It’s based on primary industry (farming and mining) capitalism, retail capitalism and finance capitalism. There are few, if any, industrial capitalists worth talking of in Australia. So it doesn’t match the 19th C picture of industrial capital. This of course affects the make-up of our labour force too.

    When you look at Abbott’s program it is tailor made for the capitalits mentioned above. There is, I believe, clear ideological and class consistency in Abbott’s program. Greens are a perceived threat because a Green program of any serious kind would see coal stay in the ground and trees stay in the forests. Across the board, consistent Green policy would seriously threaten certain entrenched capitalistic interests. At the same time, with suitable industry policy, it would encourage new industry (renewable energies for example). However, this latter effect, the encouragement of new kinds of revolutionary capital investment (capitalism can revolutionise too) is opposed by entrenched conservative and reactionary capital. It is entrenched conservative and reactionary capital that supports (by donation) and is supported by Abbott and the LNP and the (now reactionary and subverted) ALP.

  11. Mick
    March 18th, 2014 at 20:26 | #11

    @Ikonoklast

    The [Liberal Party right's version of] ‘tribalism’ fits the description of electoral politics and party political manoeuvrings; as I mentioned earlier all other spheres of politics are suffocated by the power of plutocracy and its warped tools of neoliberalism.

  12. geoff
    March 18th, 2014 at 21:38 | #12

    Really useful summary thanks John.

    I remember the Hawke, Keating and Howard cuts, but afterwards smart people like George Megalogenis go “it wasn’t so bad, actually these things were necessary” and I think “really”? They seemed over-the-top at the time.

    As for tribalism v class warfare, when you have lower to middle income people voting Liberal, against their own economic interests, because they identify with the haters rather than the hated (ie refugees in particular), class seems secondary to tribalism.

  13. Mick
    March 18th, 2014 at 21:40 | #13

    It’s much like Plato’s allegory of the cave (the Republic).

  14. Paul Norton
    March 19th, 2014 at 07:42 | #14

    Ikonoclast @10, when John and others talk about the tribalism of the current Coalition, Murdoch press, Catallaxy, Quadrant, etc., we aren’t simply talking about pro-capitalist, pro-ruling class or conservative politics. We are talkinng about a kind of right-wing politics that is substantially more authoritarian. intolerant, incivil and anti-rational than we have seen for a long time (if ever) in the English-speaking world, perhaps qualitatively more authoritarian, intolerant, incivil and anti-rational.

  15. Paul Norton
    March 19th, 2014 at 07:46 | #15

    Exhibit A: the newly elected Tasmanian government seeking to reopen the conflict over the state’s forests despite pleas from the Tasmanian forest industry and the forestry union that it uphold the Tasmanian Forests Agreement on the basis of entirely justified fears that failure to do so will bring down the wrath of the world markets on which Tasmanian forestry depends.

  16. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2014 at 07:54 | #16

    @geoff

    Hmmm, so hating makes one “tribal”? Hating is the definition of tribalism? What does this say about our attitude to tribal cultures? I fell into the mistake of using “tribalism” as this kind of descriptor in my first post on this topic on a previous thread. It shows how easily our cultural chavinism and civilizational supremacism are released by a poor use of words.

    “New tribalist” theorists (not to be confused with neotribalist theory) uses “”tribalism” not in its widely thought of derogatory sense, but to refer to what they see as the defining characteristics of tribal life: namely, an open, egalitarian, classless and cooperative community.” This definition for sure does runs the risk of over-idealising tribal society.

    People often envision tribalism as “the possession of a strong cultural or ethnic identity that separates one member of a group from the members of another group. It is a precondition for members of a tribe to possess a strong feeling of identity for a true tribal society to form.”

    This definition omits the relationship of the tribe to tribal lands. Tribal lore governs not only intra-tribe and inter-tribe relationships but the relationship of individuals and the collective tribe to the land. This relationship is some meld of ownership, stewardship and recognized dependency on and inter-realtionship with the land (to use Western concepts).

    We in the West relate very differently to the land. Where at least some forms of tribalism protected the land, animals and plants and their webs of relationships and foubnd a way foir humans to co-exist with them, our form of ownership and relationship to the land (late stage capitalism as a political economy) is only about despoiling the land and leaving a wasteland, indeed a destroyed biosphere. How have we advanced over tribalism? Only in short-termism and destructiveness one could say.

  17. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2014 at 08:07 | #17

    @Paul Norton

    I agree. But “tribalism” is not the right term. Authoritarianism is the correct term. You used the term yourself in your list of descriptors.

    “Juan Linz, whose 1964 description of authoritarianism is influential, characterized authoritarian regimes as political systems by four qualities:

    (1) “limited, not responsible, political pluralism”; that is, constraints on political institutions and groups (such as legislatures, political parties and interest groups),
    (2) a basis for legitimacy based on emotion, especially the identification of the regime as a necessary evil to combat “easily recognizable societal problems” such as underdevelopment or insurgency;
    (3) neither “intensive nor extensive political mobilization” and constraints on the mass public (such as repressive tactics against opponents and a prohibition of anti-regime activity) and
    (4) “formally ill-defined” executive power, often shifting or vague.”

    It is really the authoritarian urge we are dealing with here not “tribalism”.

  18. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2014 at 08:17 | #18

    Addendum.

    Let us update Linz’s examples for contemporary Australia;

    (1) “limited, not responsible, political pluralism”;

    Constraints on political institutions and groups (such as unions and environmental interest groups);

    (2) a basis for legitimacy based on emotion;

    The encouragement of hatred for refugees, indigenous people, “outsiders” in general. Especially the identification of a strict governing regime as a necessary to combat “easily recognizable societal problems” such as boat people;

    (3) neither “intensive nor extensive political mobilization” and constraints on the mass public (such as repressive tactics against Greens);

    and

    (4) “formally ill-defined” executive power, often shifting or vague.”

    The secret use of executive (ministerial) power with respect to immigaration and its co-opting of the military to support secret operations against boat people.

  19. J-D
    March 19th, 2014 at 10:04 | #19

    @Ikonoclast
    Perhaps you missed the response I made two days ago to your comment on another post, so I shall take the liberty of repeating it:

    Political parties and their leaders can adopt or advocate positions out of a mixture of motives. Sometimes they can be motivated by a belief that a policy or program will materially benefit groups they rely on for organisational, financial, or electoral support; sometimes they can be motivated by belief in moral principles; sometimes they can be motivated by calculations of strategic advantage in their competition with other parties; sometimes they can be motivated by a reflexive impulse to oppose what their (real or supposed) rivals support and support what their rivals oppose. I suspect that it’s rare for them to be motivated solely by that kind of purely reflexive opposition, but it’s clear that John Quiggin is suggesting that Abbott and the Abbott government are much more driven by that kind of impulse than past governments have been. I am inclined to think this suggestion is correct, but even if it’s not the meaning is clear. Possibly the use of the word ‘tribalism’ obscures that meaning, which is why I’ve tried to articulate it without using that word.

  20. Ikonoclast
    March 19th, 2014 at 10:15 | #20

    @J-D

    Yes, it is the imprecise and pejorative use of the term “tribalism” which I take issue with. It is clear J.Q. means neither traditional tribalism of any form, nor neotribalism, nor new tribalism. He’s basically using “tribalism”as a rough synonym for Linz’s second identified aspect of authoritarianism: a legitimacy based on emotion, especially whipped-up hatreds.

  21. Sancho
    March 19th, 2014 at 10:19 | #21

    Regarding class, it’s annoying as hell that conservatives complain about “class warfare”, and no one pins them down to explain which classes are at war.

    The rest of the time, the Right likes to argue that we’re all equal individuals competing in a free and fair economy without meaningful class divisions. Therefore the rich are just smarter people who’ve used their resources better, and everyone at the sharp end of the economy should just accept they’ve been out-competed instead of noticing the existence of a de facto aristocracy which is coddled and revered in conservative politics.

  22. J-D
    March 19th, 2014 at 10:28 | #22

    @Ikonoclast
    All political systems whatsoever impose some constraints on political institutions and groups (if I’m wrong, show me the counter-example). So the statement you have supplied of Linz’s first criterion is not sufficiently specific to be useful. I have my doubts about the other three as well. If you have vague criteria it’s easy to look at a particular case and say it falls within them. If you can show that your criteria can be reliably used to distinguish between cases, that’s worth something.

  23. geoff
    March 19th, 2014 at 13:57 | #23

    @Ikonoclast
    Hi Ikonoclast

    Hating on an “us v them” basis that crosses class lines seems “tribal” – my “tribe” is my group of similarly agitated co-conspirators (as in the Newman Government in Qld that joins together big business, agrarian interests, miners, yuppies. The tribe can change, but during the present campaign, “this” group of people who act with me are my tribe.

    The tribe thus overcomes traditional class differences between the rich and the poor in particular. Surely you wouldn’t group well-educated yuppies together with poor, racist, workers as part of the same “class”? But they are all part of that community we can call the LNP “tribe”.

  24. J-D
    March 19th, 2014 at 14:12 | #24

    @Ikonoclast
    Often it’s better to use more than one word, but if I were forced to choose just one word to capture the essence of John Quiggin’s meaning (if I’ve understood it correctly), the word I would choose would not be ‘tribalism’ but ‘spite’. John Quiggin describes examples, above, as ‘petty’ and ‘vindictive’; Paul Norton, in one comment, uses the terms ‘incivil’, ‘intolerant’, and ‘anti-rational’: spite is all those things.

    Spite is also, pretty much by definition, distinct from considerations of any kind of material self-interest (including class interest). The examples quoted in the post, like shutting down the Premier’s Literary Awards and ending grants for community gardens, are hard to explain as manifestations of class interest but easy to explain as acts of spite.

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