A progressive alternative economic agenda

This is a statement released yesterday and endorsed by a group of unions and individuals, including me. It calls for a progressive alternative economic policy. It’s a statement of principles rather than a program, and essentially a restatement of the social democratic position that represents the best of the Australian labor movement, free of both dogmatic leftism and the capitulation to market liberalism we’ve seen over the past thirty years or so.

A program developed on these principles would, I believe, be electorally popular if only we could get it before the public. But the policy elite, including journalists and the press, remain under the spell of market liberalism, despite its evident failures. So, our public debate will continue to be dominated by silly pointscoring about debt, deficits and the need for “reform”.

The full text is over the fold (the link goes to a properly formatted version)

Media Release
June 25, 2015
People’s movement needed to achieve
a progressive alternative economic agenda –
a secure prosperous and sustainable future for all Australians
A new grassroots movement is underway which should demonstrate to next month’s ALP National Conference that there is strong community support for a progressive change to Australia’s cosy consensus-at-the-top that ‘markets are best’.
Instead of a public debate about the real drivers of and dangers to our economic and social security and prosperity, the focus continues on ‘more of the same’ extreme fetish for a Budget surplus, smaller government, lower taxes and ever more privatisation and deregulation.
A People’s Economic Alternative is emerging to call on Australians to engage with each other to devise a new economic direction which can overcome the ever-widening inequality and ever-greater insecurity that mark the lives of more and more people, and meet the challenge of ecological sustainability at a time of accelerating and unmitigated climate change.
A People’s Economic Alternative is an initiative of trade unions, welfare, community and political organisations. These organisations have memberships totalling over 300,000 and this is the basis for a new grassroots initiative to change the debate over the next two to three years.
The global economic system, especially in Europe, continues to be marked by high unemployment, recession or very low growth, and harsh policies directed at the majority of working people rather than on the rich who refuse to sacrifice. Fundamental reforms to the way finance functions haven’t materialised, neither have changes in the dominant economic agenda of further de-regulation, privatisation, shrinking of the state and dilution of social contracts. Unlike the period following the Great Depression, it seems few countries have learned any lessons from the GFC. Eight years on, more financial shocks are to be expected, not fewer.
In response to the continued dominance of the neo-liberal agenda, the labour and broader social justice movements want to put forward a credible, well-defined, economic agenda as a progressive alternative.
A progressive agenda needs to take the latest thinking in economics and marry it to progressive Australian values and traditions. The labour movement, as the voice of workers, and the broader social justice community, has the capacity and social connections to lead such a great project.
A People’s Economic Alternative is trying to reverse a three decade’s long conventional wisdom about what constitutes good and credible economic policy.
We intend to build a nationwide campaign for a progressive political economic strategy. That involves a broader debate about how the economy and politics work to mainly benefit the rich and powerful, and what are the basic values that a progressive economy should serve – security, fairness and ecological sustainability. The economy should serve society, rather than the reverse.
To begin this process of challenge and change, the People’s Economic Alternative has proposed a set of values and principles that can underpin a new progressive economic agenda and a process for uniting the many dynamic parts of the labour and broader social justice movements.
For further comment, contact:
Andrew Dettmer AMWU 0419 899 345
Prof John Quiggin 0400747165
Fran Hayes f-collective 0419 416 061
Underpinning values
Equity; Fairness; Equality of opportunity; Recognition of the rights of future generations; Basic equality of outcomes, e.g. a living wage and dignified social support; Recognition of roles of both markets and government; Respect for science and education, e.g. economics is much more than a slogan like ‘markets rule’; People’s wellbeing is the ultimate objective, not profits.
10 Principles
Principle 1: Economic growth is not an end in itself, but is a means to better the lives of the Australian people, including future generations.
• The environment, mental and physical health, strong communities, security, art, freedom, and fairness matter as much if not more for wellbeing as growth in income and wealth.
Principle 2: Economic growth must lead to broad-based and inclusive economic development. No discrimination – all citizens have the right to participate fully in the society
• Growth must benefit all – women, the aged, youth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples, immigrant communities. Strengthen human rights laws and agencies.
Principle 3: Government benefits must be targeted to those in need, adequate to achieve their goals and not used as punishment.
• People have a right to sufficient welfare support or a living wage.
Principle 4: Good budget management is essential, but this means ensuring solvency, not a blind insistence on budget surpluses.
• A budget surplus is not the measure of good policy, which should aim to fulfil the government’s role in a solvent way. If you don’t need our money, give it back to us.
Principle 5: Fair regulation means that we all get a go. Good regulation recognises Principle 1: it is people’s welfare, not just economic growth, which matters.
• Reject the idea that regulation is a ‘bad’. Non-income drivers of wellbeing need strong regulation to support them.
Principle 6: Workers have a fundamental human right to organise, collectively bargain and take democratically-determined industrial action.
• Workers are people, not just units of production – an economy should work for people, not the other way around.
Principle 7: Provision of government services by an independent and impartial public service is an important responsibility of our elected government.
• We want a government that understands and does its job as best as possible, not one that doesn’t think it has a job.
Principle 8: Companies and high income earners must pay their fair share.
• Our tax system is skewed for high income earners – it needs to be re-balanced and made fairer.
Principle 9: We need a broad-based economy, and not one simply based on agriculture, resource extraction and the services sector.
• The government has a strategic industrial role to play, to ensure a diversified economy.
Principle 10: Trade is crucial, but it must be fair and in the national interest.
• Trade shouldn’t be used to place corporate interests above people’s interests.
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union National; Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union; Finance Sector Union National, Maritime Union of Australia Sydney Branch; Fire Brigade Employees Union NSW Branch; National Tertiary Education Union NSW Branch; ALP Socialist Left NSW; Greens NSW; SEARCH Foundation; Evatt Foundation; F-Collective; No Westconnex Community Action Groups; Migrante Australia; AFTINET; Australian Political Economy Movement; Immigrant Women’s Speakout; Asian Women at Work.

194 thoughts on “A progressive alternative economic agenda

  1. @Fran Barlow

    I didn’t write anything about parallel universes. I didn’t write anything about universes at all.

    It never occurred to me that somebody reading the expression ‘parallel way’ would automatically associate it with parallel universes and nothing else.

    The concept of things being parallel is far older than the concept of parallel universes, and has frequently been easily understood by many people who have no familiarity with the concept of parallel universes.

    However, in order to avoid confusion, I shall strive to avoid using the word ‘parallel’ in future exchanges with you.

  2. @Fran Barlow

    How would you distinguish between the kind of circumstances where baby steps are worse than backward steps and the kind of circumstances where they are better?

  3. @Ernestine Gross

    Everyone who puts or accepts a case for something is party to a paradigm of one kind or another. Often, people assume their views spring untainted by ‘dogma’ ‘ideology’ or in your case ‘a paradigm’ but there’s no escape. Every one of us must stand on some ground otherwise that lever with which we want to move the world will have no force behind it.

    I genuinely don’t know whether my party will pay much attention to my ideas but I feel obligated to work to see that it does. The sums involved in giving benefits on the scale I proposed above to the roughly 2 million people in Australia qualifying are certainly less than the sums paid in super concessions now, and with apt adjustments to marginal taxes and other taxes and charges there would be no problem at all meeting future liabilities.

    I am glad you support my party even if you sharply disagree with me. Even if my party does ignore my input, it will still be much the best of those contesting government in this country.

  4. @J-D

    It occurs to me and I suspect, a number of others here that your reasoning sometimes comes from a parallel universe. You seem to contest semantic points just for the idle amusement of the exchanges. I took the opportunity to satirise your style with my own idle whimsy.


  5. @J-D

    I would need to know

    A) about the costs of inadequate action or deferred action that was part and parcel to the baby steps program


    B) the extent to which the baby steps barred or limited the path to adequate action

    and whether and to what extent A and B produced greater harm (both in direct and dynamic terms) relative to the specific likely consequences of the backward steps.

  6. This is actually a climate change related event but I thought I might post it here as this thread is more active, so that some of you might see it (and even be able to go to it if you’re in Sydney). Be really interested to hear what you think of it if anyone does go.

    Sydney Ideas
    Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty
    Climate + Capital

    Co-presented with the Sydney Environment Institute and the Laureate Research Program in International History

    Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty, University of Chicago

    ‘If, indeed, globalization and global warming are born of overlapping processes, the question is, how do we bring them together in our understanding of the world?

    ‘In his pathbreaking essays on ‘Climate and Capital’, Dipesh Chakrabarty has opened up the exploration of the implications of the science of climate change for historical and political thinking.

    In this conversation, University of Sydney professors Glenda Sluga and David Schlosberg take up the themes of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work to ask: What value does history have in tackling and understanding the political, social, cultural, and economic challenges posed by climate change? Can we reconcile the imperatives of capitalism and the objectives of tackling climate change?

    Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty is the Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is also a faculty fellow of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory and an associate faculty of the Department of English. He is a founding member of the editorial collective of Subaltern Studies, a co-editor of Critical Inquiry, a founding editor of Postcolonial Studies, and has served on the editorial board of the American Historical Review.

    Thursday 23 July, 2015
    Law School Foyer
    Level 2 Sydney Law School Annex
    Eastern Avenue
    The University of Sydney

    I can’t post the RSVP details but I guess anyone interested could ring the organisations involved.

  7. @Fran Barlow

    I am aware that I care about precision more than many people do; but to interpret a reference to parallels as a reference to parallel universes is the reverse of precision.

  8. @Fran Barlow

    No. I can’t see your logic. You oppose a move that is an improvement because its not the best move possible. That is fine if you are in control and can decide what happens. But you aren’t in control, so go with the best possible.

    Unless you want to play the wrecker…

  9. @John Brookes

    As always, it depends.

    As a teacher, I typically have to take ‘baby steps’ when framing learning because these are the only steps possible for a particular cohort. Equally, when pleading for resources, one typically has to make do with less than what would be optimal. I get that, and don’t rule it out.

    On the other hand those ‘baby steps’ don’t reinforce an unjust system or otherwise subvert education. They leave open the possibility of better outcomes and further improvement.

    This is not the case, IMO, with the particular policy we are discussing. The system we have now is not amenable to incremental/continuous change, and participating in trivial continuous change subverts our standing to argue for discontinuous change in the future. This is clear here because our error was predisposed by our previous defence of the old taper. Based on nothing but a prior position in 2007, a wink from ACOSS, and a tatty little $780 scrap from the table, without consultation with the party as a whole, we locked in behind an unjust set if arrangements. It was essentially reflexive arbitrage.

    Candidly, if my party were to adopt my position above, we would still not be able to implement it in the foreseeable future, but we’d have created a breach in the consensus on tinkering with the system and have opened a space on the left for more equitable dealing. Something a good deal better would have been possible and importantly, our hands would have been cleaner on this policy.

    One day, perhaps a regime in which we were the minority partner might have implemented it. That can’t happen until we junk this policy.

    I hope that clears matters up.

  10. This is not the case, IMO, with the particular policy we are discussing. The system we have now is not amenable to incremental/continuous change,

    Well it is, obviously, but I am saying that as things stand those incremental changes in practice won’t make it less unjust in any meaningful sense. Only a direct challenge to the paradigm can open the political space needed for measurably better outcomes.

  11. @Fran Barlow

    I understand if somebody says ‘Making this slight improvement now will make it harder to achieve a much more drastic improvement in the future’, and I expect that (or something like it) is true in some cases — maybe in many cases. I find unconvincing your reasons for concluding that it’s true in this case.

  12. J-D from a ‘Sandpit’ in April:

    …you aren’t interested in discussing what I actually meant, you just want to complain about the particular form of words I used to express that meaning. Why?

    Just saying.

  13. @Megan

    I am not sure whether to feel flattered or disturbed at being tracked so closely.

    I am interested in discussing what Fran Barlow actually means.

    I was also interested in discussing the particular form of words she used to express that meaning, although I hope that wasn’t a complaint.

  14. @Megan

    Well, I remembered it when you cited it, but I’d forgotten it until then. So apparently you find me more memorable than I do myself.

  15. When someone makes such an issue, so consistently, of taking pedantic/semantic language points rather than directly engaging with the core point another person is making – it tends to stand out if they then plead the opposite.

    Ikon, Fran and I (and maybe some others I have left out) have noted this trait previously.

    Your penchant for precision is apparently selective.

  16. @Megan

    Years ago I read somewhere about the distinction between wanting to be right and wanting to have been right. It was supposed to be essential to the scientific attitude to value being right over having been right. The model is supposed to be the distinguished senior researcher who responds to a presentation by thanking the speaker for proving wrong the position the senior researcher has held to throughout his career.

    Just as there is a difference being wanting to be right and wanting to have been right, there is a difference between wanting to be clear and precise and wanting to have been clear and precise. I strive to place more importance on being clear than on having been clear.

    If an expositor’s statements are misunderstood, or not clearly understood, the expositor can react by trying to clarify the position, which can be helpful, or by insisting that the position has been clear all along, which is unlikely to be helpful.

    In this case, I initially found Fran Barlow’s remarks unclear, but then she clarified them, and I was grateful and responded positively, accepting her attempts at clarification.

    In the instance you cite, I initially expressed myself in a way that failed to make my meaning clear. When I realised this, I attempted to clarify my meaning. My interlocutor disregarded this. The comment you cited was a comment on the way my interlocutor was rejecting my attempts at clarification.

    What was being done in response to me in the earlier case, rejecting my attempts at clarification, was the opposite of what I did in the present case, accepting Fran Barlow’s attempts at clarification.

    I hope this helps to make my position clearer.

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