The Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme is swelling and growing in the corner and no-one really wants to think about it. Madoff, a former chair of the NASDAQ board, has been running a scam whereby existing investors are paid with the funds of new investors (the Ponzi name comes from the only episode of Happy Days ever directed by Almodovar, in which Potsy and the Fonz had an affair, and treated Mr Cunningham as their giant baby). Nothing new, except the size of Madoff's scheme -- $75 billion -- which is enough to throw a fresh wobble into the financial system's shaky orbit, and add to the sense that no figure, valuation, price etc can be trusted.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Saturday, November 29, 2008
But the Murdoch vision has all gone to shit recently, hasn't it? Governments are pump-priming demand and have had no choice but to become interventionist: investing in collapsing child-care centres in Australia and considering dropping a sly wad of largesse on the US car industry. But in the midst of all these bail-outs and ersatz Keynesianism the social forms of debt that appear to be at the heart of the current convulsions are largely left unexamined. Some Neocons have found a scapegoat, in the minor lending practices to poorer Americans, for the whole darn mess. If this falsehood is accepted then it follows that, as the Neolib-Neocons argue, we are governed too much and the world financial system will return to its marvellous wealth-generating machinations just as soon as the do-gooders are abjected from their pathological government interventionism.
Yet the problem with this version of Neoliberalism is that it still wants the state to encourage, enable and support the key organs in the body of finance capital. And to ensure that those corporations too big to fail are kept alive. Moral hazard is a luxury in times like these - so this line of reasoning goes.
If we are seeing merely a reconfiguration of Neoliberal Global Capitalism, then Murdoch's lecture is one long News Limited op-ed that argues its case, with all the narrative sweep of a stuttering collection of sentence long paragraphs and nationalist cliches about the Australian pioneer spirit that might have less to do with a public lecture series and more with Murdoch's Fox produced movie epic STRAYLA.
Shame on the ABC for giving Rupert such a prestigious platform.
More timely and less a case of self-interested rank bullshit are Margaret Atwood's Massey lectures -- the Canadian equivalent of the Boyers -- on Debt as a social form. The lectures can be listened to on the CBC website here. A recent interview in the New York Times is here.
From the CBC site introduction:
Legendary novelist, poet, and essayist Margaret Atwood delivers a surprising look at the topic of debt. In her wide-ranging, entertaining, and imaginative approach to the subject, Atwood proposes that debt is like air - something we take for granted until things go wrong. And then, while gasping for breath, we become very interested in it.
Payback is not about practical debt management or high finance. Rather, it is an investigation into the idea of debt as an ancient and central motif in religion, literature, and the structure of human societies.
Margaret Atwood writes “These are not lectures about how to get out of debt; rather, they’re about the debtor/creditor twinship in the broadest sense – from human sacrifice to pawnshops to revenge. In this light, what we owe and how we pay is a feature of all human societies, and profoundly shapes our shared values and our cultures.”
Friday, November 28, 2008
***Spoiler Alert: below is a review of this novella which discusses aspects of the plot***
Lohrey’s fifth major fictional work is, unusually for this novelist, of novella-length. In her previous four novels Lohrey turned her acute vision to fictional critiques and portrayals of the political and ethical lives of contemporary Australians, making use of the longer novel form to build size into an aspect of the narrative: the minutae of renovating and interior home design in The Reading Group (1988); the techniques of macrobiotic food preparation in Camille’s Bread (1995); the complex informal social and political network of 1950s Labor politics in The Morality of Gentlemen (1984); and the fine sifting of questions of timing a pregnancy in The Philosopher’s Doll (2004). Starting from a focus on a more publicly and male-based form of political content in her earlier novels, which are treated to astringent Brechtian alienation techniques, Lohrey shifted to a concern with more domestic and intimate forms of politics, de-intensifying the acidic effects of Brechtian presentation which were replaced by a more allusive, dream-like layering of narrating levels and tones. This shift is most notable between 1988’s The Reading Group – an elegy for an ensemble of the cultural Left in Australia who in the post-Whitlam interregnum are no longer able to read the politics of the time: the old body politic has passed, the new is yet to be born – and 1995’s Camille’s Bread – in which a triadic ‘family’ negotiate the politics of the body and the formation of new techniques of self. Indeed, Lohrey’s fictional trajectory can be said to begin with Left critiques of (political) Labourism moving into narratives heavy with (physical) labourism: from works of mourning into works of emergence.
Vertigo as both a shorter novel and coming after a novel concerned with the timing of a young professional couple’s reproduction would seem to offer no way of furthering the direction of this trajectory, for what comes after a novel about birth?
First things first. Lohrey’s voice is a distinctive one and in Vertigo the distancing tone – that in her earlier novels was at times harshly misanthropic – and sly humour are still present though there is an affection for her central characters and the community life they find after leaving Sydney, arriving in a small fictitious NSW Southern Coast town, that is increased after the rather cold portrayal of the couple in The Philosopher’s Doll. The constant narratorial distance present throughout much of the novella is, as its mysteries are revealed, seen as a technique to delay the re-connection of the central characters into their mournful emotional lives after the devastation of a miscarriage.
Vertigo is, like The Reading Group, elegiaic in tone. Unlike her post-Whitlam political work of mourning, Vertigo resolves its loss through a cathartic bushfire that opens the central couple up to working-through the pain brought by the loss of their boy, who appears throughout the novel as a ghostly child. Vertigo is a pastoral narrative that ascribes a spiritual force to the land that these young sea-changing escapees of Sydney experience as a terrifying power and as a cathartic spur to mourn a loss, enabling them to find a redemptive hope by the end of the story.
The novella is dramatically structured by the bushfire and by the effects that its aftermath has on the grief of the central couple. If there is a stunted emotional life drawn for the couple then the break-though into grief-saturated feeling near the story’s end is clearly meant to have been built toward through the more distancing narratorial tone prior to that moment. This technique of shiftnig the tone was unsuccessful on first reading as it seemed too transparently designed to promote a readerly catharthis as feeling rushes back into the narrative via the narrator closing the distance from which the lives of the central characters are presented. I actually think that this novel is profoundly conservative as it aligns reproduction with nature-land. If what the couple do in their new village is of any political consequence then we are not given any presentation of this form of politics. Surely if Lohrey’s interest in the demographics of sea-changers and tree-changers in terms of how these new forces are producing new social forms, or even hybrid social forms, then the focus on the emotional life of a grieving couple and their encounter with the redemptive power of the Bush is to present a portrait of politics that is Romantic and subject to the vitalist powers of nature. There seems to be a complete lack of what sort of social forms such stories of migration might presage or be emblematic of, except that there is the beginnings of such a paradigm shift. Lohrey has become a writer of new beginnings. The disappointment is that these conditions for new or even hybrid techniques of self are only ever part of the continuum of governmentality: techniques of self are connected to techniques of state. No one can escape the public world and a condition of the freedom to have nature cleanse and purge grief – as occurs in Vertigo – is that practices and rationalities of government extend from the preparation of a property for bushfire, the care of blackbirds and magpies to the Land Planning acts and local council regulations that fundamentally affect the Bush that is so capable of producing epiphanies and metamorphosis. In increasing her novelistic focus on emergence and re-birth Lohrey’s earlier concern with the techniques of state – the other end of the continuum of governmentality – has fallen away.
In one sense a corrective to the lack of narrativising those public-political concerns of her earlier novels in her more recent ones has been Lohrey’s non-fiction essays. Her Quarterly Essay on the emergence of the Greens in Tasmania, when placed alongside Vertigo, does indeed plug some of the gaps that the novel leaves. The poor reception of The Reading Group, which in lacking conventional narrative closure seemed to strike some reader-reviewers as thereby unsuccessfully incomplete, might explain why Lohrey abandoned the acrid Brechtian presentation of what is her most accomplished and richest novel: to have a readership.
Yet Vertigo, like The Philosopher’s Doll, lacks the warmth that dropping the Brechtian mode could allow more room to radiate. The slewing off of the negating and critical orientation in her earlier novels seems to have been exchanged for a slow diminution of a broader conception of politics in her fiction. Where in The Reading Group the loss of Social-Liberal-Labourist governmentalities is presented as a tear in the continuum of practices of self and state, in her more recent novels, techniques of self have come to dominate the narratives. The implicit project of The Reading Group -- to begin the work of mourning so as to repair and re-form a new continuum -- seems to have been placed aside and each new novel or novella has become a repetition of a scene of emergence that is never developed, or drawn into practices and rationalities of state that hover in the background, unsaid, invisible and off-stage. Where in The Reading Group these rationalities and techniques were front of stage -- the novel's bushfires symbolizing a permanent crisis of state security -- in Vertigo the bushfires are symbols of nature's sublime power to re-birth and heal, albeit a spiritually local and Australian nature. It seems jarring then that apart from the naming of the fictitious town there is little Aboriginal presence in the novel. In Vertigo nature's sublime power is specifically local, Australian and has had its indigenous history abjected.
Vertigo hints at a new forms of governmentality, but Lohrey has been hinting at emerging forms since 1995. Hopefully her next long-form work of fiction sees her return to the poetics of politics that The Reading Group dropped its readers into. If there are ways out of Neoliberalism then narratives of beginnings and emergences while good starts need to be developed. The tear in the continuum of governmentality presented so forcefully in The Reading Group is yet to be sutured. I hope her next work attends to such work as we need her voice in these times.
As I said, you can watch the long version, or get the shorter version here:
Part 2 here.
An excerpt focusing on the Tampa incident:
JOHN CLARKE: The sense was we were about to be swamped by hoards of people landing on our shores.
BRYAN DAWE: And were we?
JOHN CLARKE: No, you're not listening. The sense was that we were.
BRYAN DAWE: And where did people get that idea?
JOHN CLARKE: I don't know where people got that idea from. No idea!
No, I don't think the Navy were happy about it the all. I mean they were up there; this was dangerous.
So someone in the office thought of some tin pot place up there somewhere.
Well, we slipped them a few bucks; they signed a few documents, problem solved.
I'll tell you something I have only previously told my teddy bear. He was seriously pleased with me!
Thursday, November 27, 2008
This conclusion was a bit risky on my part, but I had decided a while ago to mix sections of anecdote and autobiography into the thesis as my engagement with Praise was initially mediated through musical culture. I also wanted to 'unpack' the term Grunge, as it is a literary genre term which has stuck - for better or worse. The tired argument that Grunge was assigned as a marketing term, while true, is somewhat to miss the opportunity of making links between postpunk cultural form and the literary forms presented in Praise and Loaded. I wanted to try and give Grunge fiction links into the postpunk musical culture that I had grown up with as having shared structures of feeling: it seemed like the best way of making this link was through some life-writing.
[W]e got this cultural shift by exposing ourselves to necessity. That is the essence of it. There remain a few people on both sides of politics who disagree, but the fact is undeniable – only by establishing an environment of necessity did we get these changes. Nothing else would do. The recognition of necessity has driven change in the past decade and it will drive it in this one. There is no greater weapon against the tendency to inertia. No better way to expose and defeat those without ideas and policies or the will to realise them. (Keating)
Being an adolescent at the moment of punk and postpunk music, succumbing to the aggressiveness, revolt and atonality of the music, influence the rhythms and tones and expression of what I wanted to write. (Tsiolkas, 2008)
We had travelled up the Pacific Highway from Sydney in our Rover Quintet, stopping at Grafton to vote, before arriving at Kangaroo Point on Friday October 2nd, 1998. The rest of “Crow” arrived that evening in the Tarago, three of my bandmates and our manager, spilling out of the bubble-van with the cigarette smoke. We had come up to Brisbane to play a short set at the Livid festival at the RNA Showgrounds along with about fifty other bands and acts.
It was a blazing heat that hit us as we set up on the Zoo stage that Saturday. We had worked our way through most of the beer rider that afternoon before going on stage, and Robert Forster from the “Go-Betweens” was gliding between the rooms of the old shed, dressed like the Great Gatsby in a linen suit and Panama hat, letting us know that we denizens of Sydney and Melbourne were close to the tropics.
When I turned around to catch my breath after the fifth song of our set, I knew that we had just been in the midst of a run of songs when the band’s power and grace, its grain and breath had for once gelled and fired. It felt like flying off a cliff.
Later we took half a pill and swooned to the "Underground Lovers", before heading back to load the van as the music stopped and the crowd leaked out. It was about nine-thirty and we were all in the Tarago ready to leave the Showgrounds when the results of the Federal election started to be called over the radio. It was lost. Pauline Hanson, the reactionary populist from South-East Queensland, had failed to win a seat in the lower house, but Labor had failed to win back Government. There was crying in the van.
After the long Labor decade the Howard years: eleven long years of an intensified Neoliberalism allied to a reactionary social conservatism. These years coincided with a long boom, partly as a legacy of the 1990-91 recession which had burned Neoliberal governmentalities into Australian political culture in ways that made them appear second nature. The early Howard years were marked by the ascendance of the reactionary populist Pauline Hanson, whose tone of grievance and appeal to a blunt equality captured that segment of the population who had felt unrecognised, unprotected and even discarded during the later years of the long Labor decade. Hanson’s culture-war appeal was pandered to by the Liberal-National Coalition who set about the slow process of reeling in her new-won constituents and undermining her through legal attacks on her party structure.
Two novels from 1996 and 1997 come out of a similar moment to Hanson: David Foster’s The Glade within the Grove (1996) and David Ireland’s The Chosen (1997). Both novels can be described as satirical pastoral, although Foster’s has a radical ecological edge (Blaber, 2006: 62). What ties these novels to the long Labor decade and the rise of Hanson is their shared sense of a rural crisis which is felt most by some deformation of masculinity. Hanson spoke to and for the men damaged not only by the recession, but by the collapse of the culture of Labourism and the political economy that had been its bulwark. In The Chosen the narrator is employed by the Lost River Council to interview one town member per week and from their stories to fashion a weaving that connects into a patchwork of stories from the ‘chosen’. The town has recently been subject to a murder and the narrator is also mourning a lost love who ghosts the narrative. What emerges from the stories is a violent patchwork of individuals whose traditions keep them from collectively unravelling at the same time as they are incommensurable. The damaged man here is Davis Blood the narrator whose work of mourning is the tapestry, which brings the plural subjects of the rural town together. Ireland’s novel suggests that if the long Labor decade produced damaged men then their best hope was to both mourn the loss of the political culture that had underwritten their centrality and to listen to the collective stories of the diverse people in their towns rather than to scapegoat as Hanson and her acolytes did, those who had never enjoyed the centrality and privileges of white, wage-earning men.
In Foster’s The Glade within the Grove a counter-mythology of settlement is presented and the birth of an eco-religion is recounted in which the men of the commune castrate themselves. Here the damage to men is a self-sacrificial offering to a spirit of reforestation. Far from Hanson’s petit-bourgeois ressentiment, the damaged men in Foster’s novel are acts of reparation to the ecosphere. The governmentalities practised in this novel are far removed from those discussed throughout this thesis. In terms of the ascendance of Hansonism Foster’s novel abjures Government, so that while Hansonites demand recognition from Government, the denizens of The Glade are part of the birth of a religion: outside the state.
The stories of feminine sexuality in the fictional texts of the long Labor decade appear infrequently in the body of the thesis above. Cynthia Lamonde in McGahan’s Praise is presented as having a voracious sexual appetite: a libidinal drive which is placed in proximity to the literal abjection of an abortion and the incidence of cancerous genital warts. In other words Cynthia has a dangerously diseased sexuality. In Justine Ettler’s The River Ophelia (1995) a highly self-conscious set of metafictional allusions are paraded through the narrative. Less concerned with deploying abjection as social critique Ettler’s Grunge novel could be said to be seeking to claim the symbolic capital in the Australian literary field for a novel that is itself abject in relation to other novels in the field (Kirkby,1998: 239). Linda Jaivin’s Eat Me (1995) qualifies as a Grunge novel on the basis of its depiction of graphic female sexuality. Its Libertarian sexuality is presented with humour but the subjects of the stories are so comfortably situated in their inner-city milieu that the playful sexual fantasies, while enjoyable, amount to an ephemeral text.
Although mentioned in passing in chapter 1, Lohrey’s Camille’s Bread is a substantial novel of the long Labor decade. Read through the concerns that this thesis has thematized, Lohrey’s novel presents what could be called a world beyond Labourism. The novel’s central female character has taken a year off from her job to spend time with her asthmatic daughter Camille. Into their lives enters Stephen, a public servant who is attempting to refashion himself as a Shiatsu masseur and who has entered wholesale non-western techniques of self, most notably by way of a macrobiotic diet. The coming together of these three poses fundamental problems over how: to move beyond Labourism for Stephen, whose past contains some un-worked through rage; to reconcile practices of single-mothering with those of self for Marita; and for Camille to learn to negotiate with a father-figure. What is of particular salience for this thesis is how Stephen’s attempts to move beyond those Labourist governmentalities he practices as union representative in his public service job, shadow his renewed self as he finds himself the object of an intrigue initiated by Camille’s estranged father, a merchant banker with a heart arrhythmia. Realising that he has been played he attacks Camille’s father, his new non-violent practices of self abandoning him as rage erupts. In this brief reading of Camille’s Bread the utopia of the reformed body, a theme carried through from Lohrey’s work of mourning The Reading Group, is shown in the character of Stephen to be carrying a kernel of unresolved rage that such a refashioned self cannot easily abject. To read Stephen’s story as emblematic of the fortunes of Labourism across the long Labor decade, we might say that while the Labourist-Social-Liberal consensus is a lost political project, a residual Labourism remains a strong core within sections of Australian political culture. The repudiation of the Neoliberal Workchoices industrial relations laws at the 2007 Federal election, the election at which Prime Minister Howard was unseated, points to this residual Labourism in Australian political culture, which may be less a lost formation than an ethos awaiting new articulations, new forms of governmentality to animate it.
This thesis presented a two track reading of key themes and genres in the textuality of the long Labor decade. Off to the side of the thesis some music could be heard: Ari’s eurhythmic dancing in Loaded; the sound of David Bowie in Capital, volume one; perhaps at some points "Nirvana’s" Smells like Teen Spirit caught your ear. While the boundary work of this thesis has shuttled between fictional and non-fictional texts, there are other boundaries to be worked, not least that between the music of the long Labor decade and its texts. Indeed, in Bob Blunt’s Blunt: a Biased History of Australian Rock (2001), the Seattle-based genealogy of Grunge music is challenged by the acknowledgement that “US Sub Pop bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney [. . .] were openly avowed fans of [Australian band] the Scientists” (151). In the short pop-song length Excursus of this thesis I gave a punk version of an alternate genealogy of musical form in which Fordist culture was presented as viscerally impacting on the formation of the proto-punk band "the Stooges". From the brief excavation of the uses of musical sociology in genre policing that was presented in the Excursus, there is surely work to be done on the boundaries between the historical sociology of musical and literary form.
Another trajectory for future research would be to perform a set of more extensive distant readings over the long Labor decade. The focus in the thesis on two Left writers could be multiplied to investigate a larger set of Left-wing texts which thematise government differently, or similar practises of distant reading could be applied to Social-Liberal writers, those whom Mark Davis argues work within the paradigm of literary Liberalism. Other themes could be the focus of distant readings including ones that take an ecological form as their unit of data, such as the use of trees in novels like Murray Bail’s Eucalyptus and Foster’s Glade within the Grove.
Finally, this thesis has sought to analyse and interpret the language of economics through its figures of speech and narrative instantiations. Recent novels like Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections (2001) and Kate Jennings’s Moral Hazard (2002) perform their own boundary work, shuttling between the discourses of the economic and the self. The complex temporal narrativity of financial derivatives must surely be the equal of any labyrinthine multi-temporal plot. In order to understand these products so that we can track their movements better narrative specialists like literary critics are well-placed to produce models that can analyze and interpret these dangerous ‘instruments’. As Keating reminds us: “They go on with all this bullshit because they won't admit it's an art, not a science” (cited in Edwards, 407). Bringing economics back into the domain of the arts by focussing on its narrativity, as this thesis has done, is one research trajectory urgently in need of extension.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
I'm back on campus tomorrow for a Work-in-Progress day: where the school's postgrads and supervisors gather for the postgrads to report on the state of their research. I'm on a completions panel and have been helpfully given a set of questions in advance that the Postgrad co-ordinator will ask a couple of us completees. So, as an exercise in preparation, and in case you might be interested, I thought I'd work through these questions in this post.
1) Did your research project change from the one you scoped in your
preliminary research plan? If so, how? How late did those changes
occur? What will / would you do in planning your next project as a
result of this experience?
The basic concepts contained in the preliminary plan remained, but the specific readings shifted considerably. My initial frame was to marry citizenship studies with the politics of Australian literary fiction in the period 1984 to 1996. So, my plan was to read around public sphere theory, theories and histories of citizenship, political theory, and Australian realist fiction. The changes occurred in the attempt to merge literary and political history with citizenship theory. For example, Habermas' history and theory of the public sphere contains an interesting theory about the importance of the epistolary novels of Samuel Richardson to the formation of the form of privateness and publicness that, in effect, provided the pre-conditions for the bourgeois or political public sphere. This is a similar argument to the one the Benedict Anderson makes in Imagined Communities: that the novel is a social form that makes nationalism through its address to a shared public who imagine that who they share the reading with forms the nation. So, it was the attempt to merge political theories like Habermas', which is elegiac -- mourning a fallen rational-critical culture -- with the imaginative and aesthetic nature of the novel that impelled me to move away from the directions I'd initially thought I'd be heading in. Luckily my supervisor could see well into the future of my project and pointed my almost immediately toward Pierre Bourdieu's Rules of Art which gave me a very useful model for blending sociology and literary aesthetics.
There were a number of other major changes from the preliminary plan to the final submission. The most significant were learning about the sociology of literary form -- rather than attempting to read fiction as sociology -- and becoming increasingly interested in and persuaded by the governmentality school as a way of approaching both the concept of citizenship and Neoliberalism as the dominant governmentality of the period.
My supervisor had also, wisely, lead me toward Franco Moretti's more recent quantitative methods for literary history, and this, in turn, helped to bring me to Moretti's earlier work on the Bildungsroman. In terms of the literary side of the thesis reading, applying and adapting Moretti's explanations for the rise of this literary form to the generationalism, contests over youth and coming-of-age novels that I was studying gave me a grammar and vocabulary for articulating a historical sociology of literary form. What was then opened up for me was how the political history and speeches of the period were also traversed by conventions of the Bildungsroman. This was a real breakthrough and a fairly late development: early in the third year. It meant that I had to get through Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship -- fairly hard going -- and Flaubert's Sentimental Education -- which reminds me that I should read this again soon, as it was so funny -- which is also the key novel in Bourdieu's Rules of Art.
The main thing I'd do differently, in terms of preliminary planning, would be to read more fiction, especially novels like the Goethe and Flaubert, as you don't really consent to the literary history, literary sociology arguments until you have a feel for the works through which these arguments are being made.
(2) How long did the process of "finishing your thesis" take? What
did it feel like? How did your relationship with your supervisor
change during this period?
The whole process is 'finishing'. I know that there were milestones which did help to punctuate the process -- giving conference papers, and passing annual reviews -- but there is a background anxiety that is really the sense that you are always slowly moving towards finishing. This anxiety, however, does intensify. Having given up smoking cigarettes in the beginning of the fourth year, I found that the shock of adrenaline that came during those acceleration periods in the final six months had to be produced out of unfamiliar parts of the body, so that when it was time to face down the deadline I didn't really know how to get moving. I put this lack of body-knowledge down to quitting smoking. So, what I mean to say is that the finishing end-game was trance-like and involved a self-game of will that was new to me and that took a long time to intensify. To be honest I had to mourn the thesis: to let it go and to say goodbye to it in order to write it. That was hard.
The relationship with my supervisor shifted along the plane of authority: I became more capable of arguing for my method and arguments and as what I had initially imagined as the reach of the research shrunk to a slice I became more the expert on the terrain of that slice. What also changed, as a corollary, was that I came more to appreciate my supervisor's areas of expertise and to gain a realistic sense of his understanding of areas that were newer to him.
(3) What would you tell yourself at the beginning of your
candidature, if you could travel back in time?
The winners of the last four years' Melbourne Cups.
To do a course in Word Processing a lot sooner. To always make notes after reading something, so to avoid having to read a chapter or essay over and over again. To use some system of book page-tagging and annotation. To use Abebooks for cheap second hand books. To take accurate bibliographic notes. To read more fiction.
(4) What is key thing you've learnt about yourself in the process of
finishing a thesis?
That I try to save up the actual practice of the literary reading until the very last minute; that's what I love doing but I try to prolong the pleasure of it, as much as possible, by over-reading the non-literary histories and theories. That I need to trust the value of my previous work more: I kept thinking that I could start afresh every time I sat down to draft a chapter, but I learnt that the guy that made those notes a couple of years ago had some idea about what he was doing and he was actually doing the same project.
(5) What is the key thing you've learnt about academic work in the
process of finishing a thesis?
That it's excruciatingly hard and pleasurable at the same time.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Krugman argues that contrary to Neoliberal orthodoxy FDR underspent:
Now, there’s a whole intellectual industry, mainly operating out of right-wing think tanks, devoted to propagating the idea that F.D.R. actually made the Depression worse. So it’s important to know that most of what you hear along those lines is based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. The New Deal brought real relief to most Americans.
That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the ’30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.”
Yes! I love this line of argument. It completely inverts the Austrian economics orthodoxy which rejects the need for social-liberal regulatory politics in the face of the finance capital convulsions because, they argue, it was government intervention that fostered the sub-prime mess in the first place. Krugman, instead, argues that the New Deal was never as interventionist as it has been painted by the Neoliberals. The US is yet to try the real New Deal.
Can our political attachments -- and many Australians are heavily invested in US politics -- move beyond this binary of a pragmatic, because intelligently reflective, despair and romantic, mindlessly ephemeral, overinvestment in political leaders and projects? Can we oscillate in a more sustainably rhythmic cycle: more like a clock pendulum than a wrecking ball?
Supervalent Thought asks whether political optimism necessary leads to mindlessness; whether political happiness must be equated
with shallowness and emotional darkness with truth and profundity.
Oh yes, about Obama, the neoliberal, gay-marriage compromised, “market guy…” Here’s what makes me politically happy about the event of Obama. He is the first mainstream politician in decades who loves the political process. He does not confuse “Washington” with politics. His organization’s practice of training other organizers demonstrates his commitment to producing skills for political world-building beyond his campaign.
In this way the event of Obama has already massively advanced the skills for democracy in the United States. In other ways he seems committed to constraining and even undermining what that might entail concretely. Protesting and appreciating, though, are some of what we do to maintain the optimism of any attachment. They keep you bound to the (political) scene, to the cognitive and affective difficulties of remaining critically present to desire.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Let's be clear about what this victory means, and why it means so much. It is not simply the victory of a black man as President. A Colin Powell becoming the new Republican Eisenhower of 2008 would not arouse a hundredth of this enthusiasm. Nor is it a victory of the left. A Dennis Kucinich, by some bizarre cosmic accident, becoming President would not arouse this level of passion.
What makes it powerful is that it is a victory of the global left in the incarnation of a black American, that it is a double blow to power and skin-privilege. Will President Obama be a programmatically radical leader? Of course not. But will he be a shivering neurotic Jesus-freak sycophant like Tony Blair? No, equally.
His achievement before anything has occurred is this: that every vector of power -- money, race, media -- has been defeated in the US, the declining but still regnant capitol of the world. That what won was the idea of wisdom, judgement, intelligence, prudence and audacity, conservatism and radicalism, a measuring up to the demands of the world. That, as opposed to past Democratic campaigns, this was not a party machine insider -- a Tennessee grandee or a billionairess's husband -- presenting themselves as the least-worst option.
It was someone who, by his own account, had come through the world of the radical left, of radical black action, to the realisation that any change in America had to come not against its traditions, but within them, and who therefore drew on the strengths of every residual radical and progressive notion of this one-time revolutionary society. It was an achievement, but it was also a channelling in to a deeper moment of historical shift.
In the USA this has been greeted, even by conservatives, as a historic transcendent moment. Why? I am reminded of the Jorge Luis Borges essay about Buenos Aires during 1940, when it looked like the Nazis -- who had a lot of support in Argentina out of hatred of British imperialism – would win. Borges, a resolute anti-Nazi, was visited by an Axis supporter.
"France has fallen," he said, "nothing can stop them now!" And then Borges notes:"I realised he was as terrified as I was".
In other words -- and am I not breaking Godwin's law -- there are moments in politics when, on one side, no-one really wants to win. That was the curse of the McCain campaign. Deep down they knew that McCain's moment was 2000, and that it had passes. But they kept going, against a historical moment which, deep deep down, most of them -- and that may well include John McCain himself -- wanted to happen, and, deep deep down, did not want to stand in the way of.
For those of us who committed ourselves to the left, whatever that means, these are great days not because of what Obama will do, but because of what he will not do -- because he will normalise progressive, moderate, multilateral, modernised politics in the US and in the western world, and that is the context in which we will work.
If you want to see some graciousness in that moment, read (sections of) the US conservative press. If you want to read bitterness and incomprehension about it, read Albrechtsen and Sheridan in The Oz today.
For the rest of us it is tears and laughter, laughter and tears. For all the people I've marched with, argued with, whatever, this is a moment. I have no compunction at all about feeling part of this in however distant a manner. For the right, globally, you will have to reinvent yourselves. You are the Whigs in the 1850s. You are about to cease to exist.
Tears and laughter and laughter and tears.
Below is a pessimistic or, maybe more, a realist view from Davis on the elevation of the Democrats and Obama to power which holds that the Neoliberal revolution has been so complete that Obama will come nowhere near challenging its key practices and logics of governmentality. Davis' pessimism of the intellect presages a collapse of the ephemeral optimism currently invested in Obama, and thereby
"[t]he great challenge to small bands of the left is to anticipate this mass disillusionment, understanding that our task is not "how to move Obama leftward," but to salvage and reorganize shattered hopes. The transitional program must be socialism itself."
Writer, historian and socialist activist Mike Davis is the author of several books, including Planet of Slums, In Praise of Barbarians and City of Quartz.
FORTY YEARS ago this week, the Democratic Party (the party of Jim Crow and the Cold War, as well as the New Deal) shipwrecked itself on the shoals of an unpopular war in Vietnam and a white backlash against racial equality.
The "emerging Republican majority," as Nixon's Machiavelli, Kevin Phillips, famously branded it, was always episodic and often paper-thin in national elections, but it was galvanized by impressive ideological and religious fervor, as well as lavishly subsidized by an employer class everywhere on the offensive against New Deal unions and social programs.
Republicans, although more often than not the minority party in Congress, dominated agendas (the New Cold War, the tax revolt, war on drugs and so on) and led the restructuring of government functions (abolition of direct federal aid to cities, deliberate use of debt to forestall social spending and so).
The Democratic response to the Reagan revolution from 1981 was not principled resistance but craven adaptation. The "New Democrats" under Bill Clinton (whose personal model was Richard Nixon) not only institutionalized Nixon-Reagan economic policies, but sometimes surpassed Republicans in their zeal to enforce neoliberal doctrine, as with Clinton's crusades to "reform" welfare (in fact to create more poverty), reduce the deficit and implement NAFTA without labor rights.
Although the New Deal working-class core continued to supply 60 percent of the Democratic vote, party policy was largely driven by the Clintons' infatuation with "new economy" elites, entertainment industry moguls, affluent suburbanites, yuppie gentrifiers and, of course, the world according to Goldman Sachs.
Crucial defections by Democratic voters to Bush in 2000 and 2004 had less to due with Republican manipulation of "family values" than with Gore's and Kerry's embrace of a globalization that had devastated mill towns and industrial valleys.
This week's election paradoxically augurs both fundamental realignment and fundamental continuity.
The Republicans now know what 1968 was like for the Democrats. Blue victories in formerly bedrock Red suburbs are stunning invasions of the enemy's electoral heartland, comparable to George Wallace's and Richard Nixon's victories more than a generation ago in Northern ethnic-white, CIO neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the desperate marriage-in-hell of Palin and McCain warns of the imminent divorce of mega-church faithful and the country-club sinners. The Bush coalition built by Karl Rove's thuggish genius is breaking up.
More importantly, tens of millions of voters have reversed the verdict of 1968: this time choosing economic solidarity over racial division. Indeed, this election has been a virtual plebiscite on the future of class-consciousness in the United States, and the vote--thanks especially to working women--is an extraordinary vindication of progressive hopes.
But not the Democratic candidate, about whom we should not harbor any illusions. Although the economic crisis as well as the particular dynamics of campaigning in industrial swing states finally drove Obama to emphasize jobs, his "socialism" has been far too polite to acknowledge vast public anger about the criminal bailout or even to criticize big oil (as has off-and-on populist McCain).
In policy terms, what would have been the difference if Hillary Clinton had won instead? Perhaps a marginally better health care plan, but otherwise the result is virtually the same. Indeed it might be argued that Obama is more a prisoner of the Clinton legacy than the Clintons themselves.
Waiting in the wings to define his first 100 days is a team of Wall Street statesmen, "humanitarian" imperialists, ice-blooded political operatives and recycled Republican "realists," which will thrill hearts from the Council on Foreign Relations to the International Monetary Fund. Despite the fantasies of "hope" and "change" projected onto the handsome mask of the new president, his administration will be dominated by well-known, pre-programmed zombies of the center-right. Clinton 2.0.
Confronted with the Great Depression of globalization, of course, the American ship of state, whatever the crew, would probably sail off the edge of the known world.
Only three things, in my opinion, are highly likely:
First, there is no hope whatsoever of the spontaneous generation of a new New Deal (or for that matter, of Rooseveltian liberals) without the combustion of massive social struggles.
Second, after the brief Woodstock of an Obama inauguration, millions of hearts will be broken by the administration's inability to manage mass bankruptcy and unemployment, as well as end the wars in the Middle East.
Third, the Bushites may be dead, but the hate-spewing nativist Right (particularly the Lou Dobbs wing) is well-positioned for a dramatic revival as neoliberal solutions fail.
The great challenge to small bands of the left is to anticipate this mass disillusionment, understanding that our task is not "how to move Obama leftward," but to salvage and reorganize shattered hopes. The transitional program must be socialism itself.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Emperor Rupert's introductory lecture in his series of six - The Golden Age of Freedom - was issued last night and 'twas a dog's breakfast of generalisations including Blairite platitudes on neoliberal-globalisation and appeals for the Australian pioneering Bush myth to be updated via an "education revolution" in Australian human capital. Why Rupert needs a forum like the Boyer Lectures I just don't know: News ltd copied his first lecture online and his flagship broadsheet summarised it in its editorial. Considering that among Murdoch's key warnings to Australia were that it should discourage "bludgers" and "big government", surely he could have got off his regal arse and just published his own thoughts through, I don't know, one of his own companies rather than via one of dem corporations that are GOVERNMENT funded. Fucking hypocrit.
Davis' book and Murdoch's lectures are both concerned with "Australia in the 2000s". Expect a post entwining them in the near future.
Anyhow, in the meantime and in the interests of spreading the love here's some tunes from Prefab Sprout from their Thomas Dolby-produced 1990 LP - Jordan the Comeback
Carnival 2000 lives come and go but life no denial is always in style
Welcome to Carnival 2000 loves come and go but love above all is belle of the ball
Looking for Atlantis
You should be loving someone and you know who it must be
Cause you'll never find Atlantis 'till you make that someone me
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Some rays pass right through
Don't think I can fit it on the paper
Expose yourself up there for a minute
Take a little time off
Even though it was never, it was never in doubt, still might be chance that it might work out.
Completion was like a manic episode. Some mistakes went through. Basic ones, but hopefully there's enough interesting, original argument and theoretical insight in the thesis to distract from these formatting and taxonomic problems.
Here's a slice from a sub-chapter on Paul Kelly's The End of Certainty.
Two trends coalesced during the 1980s – the internationalisation of the world economy in which success became the survival of the fittest; and the gradual but inexorable weakening of Australia’s ‘imperial’ links with its two patrons, Britain and America. The message was manifest – Australia must stand on its own ability. Australians, in fact, had waited longer than most nations to address the true definitions of nationhood – the acceptance of responsibility for their own fate. (Kelly, 1994: 13)
In Kelly’s The End of Certainty the Australian nation is personified and emplotted through the narrative model, and using the narrative techniques of, the classical Bildungsroman. In this narrative of nation a youthful Australian economic self is presented as being pulled into an uncertain future by irresistible, modernising global forces. The combination of the twin forces of economic globalisation and post-colonial de-coupling from Great Britain and America present Australian political culture with an opportunity to come-of-age: to be independent. For Kelly this opportunity for independence is to be understood by acknowledging why the long Labor decade had been such a period of transformation, and indeed loss. The long Labor decade needed to be understood as the exhaustion of what he calls the ninety-year-old Australian Settlement:
The story of the 1980s is the attempt to remake the Australian political tradition. This decade saw the collapse of the ideas which Australia had embraced nearly a century before and which had shaped the condition of its people. The 1980s was a time of both exhilaration and pessimism, but the central message shining through its convulsions was the obsolescence of the old order and the promotion of new political idea as the basis for a new Australia. The generation after Federation in 1901 turned an emerging national consensus into new laws and institutions. This was the Australian Settlement.
Kelly’s Australian Settlement is comprised of five pillars or five institutional commitments which gained consent from a dominant bloc in the political class in the immediate post-Federation period, and which he groups “under five headings – White Australia, Industry Protection, Wage Arbitration, State Paternalism, and Imperial Benevolence” (1-2). More specifically Kelly characterises these foundations of Australia as:
faith in government authority; belief in egalitarianism; a method of judicial determination in centralised wage fixation; protection of its industry and its jobs; dependence upon a great power (first Britain, then America) for its security and its finance; and, above all, hostility to its geographical location, exhibited in fear of external domination and internal contamination from the peoples of the Asia/ Pacific. Its bedrock ideology was protection; its solution, a Fortress Australia, guaranteed as part of an impregnable Empire spanning the globe. This framework – introspective, defensive, dependent – is undergoing an irresistible demolition. (2)
Kelly’s essential argument here is that Australian political culture is both reacting to exogenous economic and post-imperial shocks and to an endogenous institutional and cultural agreement that is exhausted. For Kelly
the 1980s saw the Labor-Liberal paradigm being eroded as the major battleground of ideas [as t]he real division is between the internationalist rationalists and the sentimental traditionalists; it is between those who know the Australian Settlement is unsustainable and those who fight to retain it. (2)
Thus Australian political culture in the long Labor decade is to be understood as being remade in the face of new realities. Throughout this thesis I have largely agreed with this line of argument. But Kelly’s story of the long Labor decade is one that uses this heuristic of the ninety-year-old Australian Settlement in order to bring a specific representation of what Tim Rowse calls a “characterology” into this narration of nation (1978: 94). In a close-reading of Keith Hancock’s influential “enquiry [into] the status of Australian nationhood or civilisation,” Australia (1930), Rowse detects a particular logic at work in Hancock’s text; a
generous use of characterological explanations for the flawed policies he is criticizing. Not a particular class or interest (such as a working class defending itself through reforming ideologies), but the idealism of a ‘people’, the optimistic, generous, reckless instincts of every Australian were evident in its ill conceived economic and political arrangements. Hancock moves effortlessly from personality to national policy. I shall call the logic of this kind of argument the immanence of subjectivity: the national or social level is reducible to the personal. In Australia this logic is exploited enthusiastically. Hancock lifts characterology from the subordinate marginal place it occupies in previous sociological descriptions of Australia, and places it at the centre of his nationhood argument. The dilemmas of an ethical, interventionist [social] liberalism, its aspirations and pitfall, are evoked as the engaging but innocent quality of the emergent Australian personality. The metaphors of youth, age and maturation which run through the book have a logical as well as a literary felicity. (1978: 79, 93-94)
The “immanence of subjectivity” whereby the national or social level is reduced to the personal is a logic we have seen at work in the language of Keating. For Rowse, Hancock’s master-work presents an Australian character through which he makes his arguments about the direction that Australian political culture should proceed by casting Social-Liberal ideals as adolescent and thereby as able to come-of-age toward a “cultural maturity” which was defined by “its defence of British interests in particular and of Australian capitalist interests in general” (79, 81).
Kelly too deploys a characterology, an immanence of subjectivity, which shifts from the qualities he characterises as embedded in the Australian Settlement to those needed and to be affirmed in the time of the post-Settlement. Thus in the following section we can see how Kelly “moves effortlessly from personality to national policy” when he writes:
The obsolescence of the old order is documented. Since Federation Australia has failed to sustain its high standard of living compared with other nations. Australia’s economic problems are not new; they are certainly not the result of the 1980s, the 1970s, or the 1960s. The malaise stretches back much further to the post-Federation Settlement. Australia’s economic problem is a ninety-year-old problem. The legacy of the Settlement has been relative economic decline throughout the century. Australia is a paradox – a young nation with geriatric arteries. (13)
There are similarities here with Keating’s statement that
It was our view that finance is the lifeblood of the economy and that this country’s financial arteries were clogged by redundant and outdated regulation and the lack of effective competition. In a sluggish economy that needs investment and dynamic entrepreneurship it is essential that the financial system encourage and sponsor the initiative rather than stifle it (Keating, 1987: 184)
The similarities between Kelly’s and Keating’s body metaphors turn on the figure of financial arteries which suggests that the paradox Kelly is referring to is that of a young political culture which has not been mature enough to embrace, by encouraging to make flow, the vital lifeblood of international finance and which has been locked into the debilitating stasis of the Australian Settlement’s “introspective, defensive, dependent [. . .] Fortress” (2). The paradox is thus a political culture which has stuck to an immature Settlement and thereby overprotected and restricted the economy with “protectionist shackles which stifled its first century” (6). By casting the destruction of the Australian Settlement as inevitable and those who resist its demise as “sentimental traditionalists” Kelly presents a modernisation thesis which gains in power by the immanent subjectivities ascribed to both the old and new Australia; here represented as those in the Fortress and the masculine builders:
[t]he [long Labor] decade saw the collapse of the Australian Settlement, the old protected Fortress Australia. In the 1960s it was shaken; in the 1970s its edifice was falling; in the 1980s the builders were on site fighting about the framework for the new Australia. (13)
Kelly’s thesis of the inevitable dismantling of the Australian Settlement provides a structural organising power over the temporality of the text. At those moments in the detailed narration when interpretation and, indeed, evaluation are proffered, Kelly consistently reaches into the temporal and characterological binary opposition between, on the one hand, the traditionalists who valued the Australian Settlement and Fortress Australia, and on the other, the modernisers who reformed the economy in line with the expectation and judgements of the international markets. Emblematic of the structural power of Kelly’s modernisation thesis is the manner in which he frames and presents the micro-economic labour reforms of the late 1980s. Here Kelly presents the problem – a series of economic crises – the solution for which he advocates as being heedful of “the need for more efficient workers, firms and industries” (386). Next, he asserts that the solution to the problem was one of changing “work habits and company practice” (386). This solution is presented as a “new benchmark against which Australian institutions and practice would be measured – the benchmark of international competition. It was a repudiation of the values of Fortress Australia” (386). The evaluative weight clearly lies on the side seeking to avoid the illness, old-age and immobility of the traditional forms of governmentality. The characterology Kelly employs in this evaluation of micro-economic policy is redolent with this modernist temporality:
The new benchmark would affect ultimately every enterprise in the nation. It derived from the realisation that lack of international competitiveness had declined over the previous two decades, a legacy of cultural attitudes dating back to the post-Federation Settlement and more recent economic policy failures. Hawke’s initiative was an attack on the habits of protection, regulation and national introspection. It meant changes in how people worked, their motives, their outlook and their relations with fellow workers and managers. (386)
Similarly his final evaluation on this episode of the long Labor decade intensifies the violent undercurrent that this modernizing inevitability is presented through: “[m]icro-economic reform was about changing Australia’s work culture and destroying the mindset that produced the Australian Settlement” (398). Near the end of Kelly’s story of the long Labor decade he writes that with the passing of the Australian Settlement there is an optimism
rooted in an appreciation of the progress towards a new national compact. [. . .] The essence of [which] was national maturity, more emphasis on individual responsibility and less on state power, a more open and tolerant society, an economy geared to a new test of international competition, a greater reliance on markets to set prices, an emphasis on welfare as a need not a right, a growing stress on individual achievement, history and national destiny. (679-80)
Near the end of the long Labor decade, in Kelly’s estimation, Australia was coming-of-age.
Tim Rowse, Australian Liberalism and National Character, 1978.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Not as mellifluous as Smokey Robinson nor as street-tough as the Temptations, the sound of Stubbs' voice , and the songs it was used on, seemed like an early example of a masculinity in crisis. Reach Out relied for its impact on his extraordinary tussle with the lyrics, driving them foreward with that resonant "hup and holler" - the sudden "work shout" - rare for the white pop charts of the 60s, but familiar to black record buyers raised on churchgoing and gospel, and hence soul music's mix of the sacred and profane. Yet ironically, when Holland, Dozier and Holland had first played the song to the group, Stubbs had disliked it and initially pressed for one of the others to sing lead.
Reach Out I'll be There
Same Old Song
& Billy Bragg's Levi Stubbs's Tears
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Commentary No. 243, Oct. 15, 2008
"The Depression: A Long-Term View"
Strikes me that Wallerstein is practising a type of multi-temporal analysis, effectively analysing the different political-economic cycles in play in the present conjuncture. There is a marvellous essay by Ernst Bloch on the politics of time during the rise of the Nazis, where Bloch argues that Hitler effectively conducted three different social formations by appealing to the divergnet senses of time each had. Bloch's essay in Heritage of Our Times is also, I would argue, a form of rhythmanalysis: disaggregating an ensemble of rhythms, separating out what feels like arrhythmia so as to understand and perhaps explain the sense of asynchrony, a contemporary non-contemporaneousness, felt in the 1920s. [some discussion of Bloch's ideas here]
History is no entity advancing along a single line, in which capitalism . . . as the final stage, has resolved all the previous ones; but it is a polyrhythmic and multispatial entity, with enough unmastered and as yet by no means revealed and resolved corners (Heritage : 62)
Like uneven development, history as polyrhythmic poses a problem for analysis that wants to spatialize social formations, that wants to divide the world into substance blocs. A rhythmanalysis eschews the tyranny of the scopic by focussing attention on rhythms whether they be seen, heard, smelt, tasted or felt. Rhythms then.
Of course everyone is asking what has triggered this depression. Is it the derivatives, which Warren Buffett called "financial weapons of mass destruction"? Or is it the subprime mortgages? Or is it oil speculators? This is a blame game, and of no real importance. This is to concentrate on the dust, as Fernand Braudel called it, of short-term events. If we want to understand what is going on, we need to look at two other temporalities, which are far more revealing. One is that of medium-term cyclical swings. And one is that of the long-term structural trends.
The capitalist world-economy has had, for several hundred years at least, two major forms of cyclical swings. One is the so-called Kondratieff cycles that historically were 50-60 years in length. And the other is the hegemonic cycles which are much longer.
What happens when we reach such a point is that the system bifurcates (in the language of complexity studies). The immediate consequence is high chaotic turbulence, which our world-system is experiencing at the moment and will continue to experience for perhaps another 20-50 years. As everyone pushes in whatever direction they think immediately best for each of them, a new order will emerge out of the chaos along one of two alternate and very different paths.
We can assert with confidence that the present system cannot survive. What we cannot predict is which new order will be chosen to replace it, because it will be the result of an infinity of individual pressures. But sooner or later, a new system will be installed. This will not be a capitalist system but it may be far worse (even more polarizing and hierarchical) or much better (relatively democratic and relatively egalitarian) than such a system. The choice of a new system is the major worldwide political struggle of our times.
As for our immediate short-run ad interim prospects, it is clear what is happening everywhere. We have been moving into a protectionist world (forget about so-called globalization). We have been moving into a much larger direct role of government in production. Even the United States and Great Britain are partially nationalizing the banks and the dying big industries. We are moving into populist government-led redistribution, which can take left-of-center social-democratic forms or far right authoritarian forms. And we are moving into acute social conflict within states, as everyone competes over the smaller pie. In the short-run, it is not, by and large, a pretty picture.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Yes, this bubble is about us — not all of us, many Americans were way too poor to play. But it is about enough of us to say it is about America. And we will not get out of this without going back to some basics, which is why I find myself re-reading a valuable book that I wrote about once before, called, “How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything in Business (and in Life).” Its author, Dov Seidman, is the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical corporate cultures.
Seidman basically argues that in our hyperconnected and transparent world, how you do things matters more than ever, because so many more people can now see how you do things, be affected by how you do things and tell others how you do things on the Internet anytime, for no cost and without restraint.
“In a connected world,” Seidman said to me, “countries, governments and companies also have character, and their character — how they do what they do, how they keep promises, how they make decisions, how things really happen inside, how they connect and collaborate, how they engender trust, how they relate to their customers, to the environment and to the communities in which they operate — is now their fate.”
We got away from these hows. We became more connected than ever in recent years, but the connections were actually very loose. That is, we went away from a world in which, if you wanted a mortgage to buy a home, you needed to show real income and a credit record into a world where a banker could sell you a mortgage and make gobs of money upfront and then offload your mortgage to a bundler who put a whole bunch together, chopped them into bonds and sold some to banks as far afield as Iceland.
The bank writing the mortgage got away from how because it was just passing you along to a bundler. And the investment bank bundling these mortgages got away from how because it didn’t know you, but it knew it was lucrative to bundle your mortgage with others. And the credit-rating agency got away from “how” because there was just so much money to be made in giving good ratings to these bonds, why delve too deeply? And the bank in Iceland got away from how because, hey, everyone else was buying the stuff and returns were great — so why not?
Of course, Friedman, in quoting Seidman, is not saying anything out of the ordinary- ethics is an old subject. But what the highlighted passage does show, I think, is that the reasons or rationalities for practices are, to turn Seidman's logic around, what saturates the practices, and that these techniques of conducting conduct are practiced across a continuum of bodies: countries, governments, corporations and selves. So, rather than the ideology of deregulation or of the creative innovations of free markets, or the rhetoric of completely new markets that will never fall to earth, Friedman is drawing attention to techniques. And it's to this level that the regulation-deregulation debate needs to shift. Not whether or not to have regulation, because as should be clear there were regulations governing, for example, sub-prime mortgages, but the how of regulations - governmentalities.
Reprising the 1930s degringolade
"You don't know what you're doing" is the soccer crowd's refrain to a failing team manager's player selections. Such an accusation applies to almost all the world's central bankers, whose carefully cultivated pretensions of deific prescience are now deflated.
Aside from attempting to address the economic mess they have created, central bankers are setting out their apologias. The authorised version is given by Charles I. Plosser, President and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
Plosser tells us that monetary policy can't do everything. He says it cannot protect against buffeting caused by non-monetary disturbances, such as a sharp rise in the price of oil or a sharp drop in the housing market.
In fact, soaring oil price increases over the past couple of years were absorbed without causing economic dislocation. As for house price increases, these were caused partly by governments forcing up the price of housing land (and in the US requiring relaxed lending standards) and partly by the reckless expansion in the money supply fomented by the Fed and, indeed, by our Reserve Bank.
Plosser adds. "Encouraging the belief that any system of financial regulation and supervision can prevent all types of financial instability would be a mistake. Instead, our goal should be to lower the probability of a financial crisis and the costs imposed from any troubled financial institution." Having specified such limited goals, neither Plosser nor other central bankers and Treasury chiefs have acknowledged their abject failure to meet them.
For the central bankers, their bail-out proposals are policy-on-the-run with no sense of fitting the colossal rescue sums they want into what is needed. The US $700 billion is inadequate to liquidate the "toxic debt" variously estimated at $3-6 trillion. It will be used to reward the very people who have acted recklessly in their borrowing and lending and it is being accompanied by a re-run of the very low interest rates that were the original cause of the debacle.
The central banks have been set up with dictatorial powers over the money supply and interest rates precisely so that these levers of a stable economy can be kept away from the political process. Wisely, the machinery of monetary management has been removed from the control of politicians who therefore have to be open in borrowing and stealing to buy votes.
But, in taking such powers from politicians, we have surrendered considerable discretion in monetary management to detached experts. These reserve bankers have basked in that power. They have encouraged an army of sycophants examining every word they utter looking for hidden meaning or some hint as to where the great minds' thoughts are developing.
In fact the Masters of the Policy Levers had no clue what the money supply was doing. The recession we now face is due solely to their monetary mismanagement. When a central bank presides over year after year of money supply increasing at double digit rates, something in their training and qualifications should be asking "where is all that money going"? The increased money supply can only be reflected in inflation, transfers overseas and real economic growth.
We are pretty certain that economic growth was at levels of only 3-5 per cent, so the rest must have been boosting inflation or was being accumulated by overseas borrowers. The overseas accumulation of Australian funds is certainly one direction where the monetary expansion went. The collapse of the $A is a vivid illustration that the lenders want their money back and, in claiming it, are causing just the sort of policy surprises and wild fluctuations that the monetary policy managers were supposed to prevent.
As for the rest of the surplus money created by the Reserve Bank, if it was not being measured in the CPI it must have gone into other forms of inflation. Housing is the obvious area. House prices were inflated by mismanagement in other arms of government, which boosted prices by creating land shortages and excessive taxation of new developments. This created a casino with prices escalating and home owners complacently took out second mortgages to finance rental properties and overseas trips.
In the current debacle, there have been calls for punishment of the merchant bank Masters of the Universe. But all they were doing was responding to the policy environment set by the central bankers, and it is they who should be called to account.
Far from acknowledging their culpability, central bankers and Treasury chiefs are calling for even greater powers. It would be foolish to agree to this.
Many voices are calling for greater regulation. Regulatory controls should be constantly reviewed, though in the current world crisis it is not always the lesser regulated countries that have fared worst. In Australia, Lindsay Tanner has recognised that there remain areas where red tape is excessive and costly. Knee-jerk regulatory intensifications and government interventions have not worked in the US and UK and can store up real future problems.
*********Retort, posted to this thread, following***************************
Trust the market seems to be Moran's message, along with the old, tired Neoliberal mantra of 'free us from the shackles of being overgoverned'.
Moran doesn't appear to even believe in a democratic public sphere, otherwise he'd be down hear with the plebs defending his Neoliberal whinge. C'mon, Moran, please explain how Government ancouraged the market in credit default swaps; please explain to us ignorant people how we should be ensuring that Government gets out of the way of the various markets in financial derivatives. Please explain how the current global financial system's complex and opaque market in derivatives was based on anything but the normalization of lies and obfuscation.
The market in financial derivatives was plenty regulated. The problem is that its fundamental form of regulation was to lie about the value of the asset on which the financal instrument was supposedly based. At the heart of the current crises is the fact that there is a multi-trillion dollar global industry in financial derivatives and no one trusts the value that any other corporate body place on these products. The convulsions in the stock markets probably won't stop until true valuations can be made on the assets that these instruments are based on.
The problem then is not one of regulatin or deregulation: the market in derivates was meant to be a means of regulating risk. The problem is the degree of abstraction in this system. Failing a concrete grounding this system ran on until it hit the valuation embedded in US sub prime defaults. These aren't the cause of the mess, but the catylyst, where the currents in the credit markets came back to earth.
Reserve banks, households, corporations, states - we are all part of this system of regulation. To use an older meaning of the word government, we have all governed ourselves, our economies, our states, badly. The answer is not a return to regulation, but a different set of regulations. On a household level that means keeping your credit grounded, same as on a state level, and also for business.
Arguing like Moran does that Central Banks are solely to blame by setting the framework for financial policy gives the illusion that deregulation will not only make us freer but would have avoided the current crises. Isn't this precisely the sort of mentality that has led to the current situation?
A lethal new threat is emerging at the dark heart of the financial system. We must have a unified global response or an already perilous position will become a calamity.
The problem is that the markets no longer have any faith that the world financial system they helped create has any future. The model is bust. It is encouraging that both the Americans and Germans are now moving towards what they considered ideologically unthinkable a fortnight ago - they are preparing to follow the British lead, take big public stakes in banks and offer guarantees to the interbank market.
But while this is a necessary condition for stabilisation it is not sufficient. What needs to happen on top is an assault on the dark heart of the global financial system - the $55 trillion market in credit derivatives and, in particular, credit default swaps, the mechanisms routinely used to insure banks against losses on risky investments. This is a market more than twice the size of the combined GDP of the US, Japan and the EU. Until it is cleaned up and the toxic threat it poses is removed, the pandemic will continue. Even nationalised banks, and the countries standing behind them, could be overwhelmed by the scale of the losses now emerging.
This market in credit derivatives has grown explosively over the last decade largely in response to the $10 trillion market in securitised assets - the packaging up of income from a huge variety of sources (office rents, port charges, mortgage payments, sport stadiums) and its subsequent sale as a 'security' to be traded between banks.
Plainly, these securities are risky, so the markets invented a system of insurance. A buyer of a securitised bond can purchase what is in effect an insurance contract that will protect him or her against default - a credit default swap (CDS). But unlike the comprehensive insurance contract on your car which you have with one insurance company, these credit default contracts can be freely bought and sold. Complex mathematical models are continually assessing the risk and comparing it to market prices. If the risk falls, the CDSs are cheap; if the risk rises - because, say, a credit rating agency declares the issuing company is less solid - the price rises. Hedge funds speculate in them wildly.
Their purpose was a market solution to make securitisation less risky; in fact, they make it more risky, as we are now witnessing. The collapse of Lehman Brothers - the refusal to bail it out has had cataclysmic consequences - means that it can no longer honour $110bn of bonds, nor $440bn of CDSs it had written. On Friday, the dud contracts were auctioned, with buyers paying a paltry eight cents for every dollar. Put another way, there is now a $414bn hole which somebody holding these contracts has to honour. And if your head is spinning now, add the three bust Icelandic banks. They can no longer honour more than $50bn of bonds, nor a mind-boggling $200bn of CDSs.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Anyway here's a slice relevant to a debate that while a little old is I think still pertinent.
Economic Rationalism and Neoliberal governmentality
Fucking locusts: the moment they smell something green it’s gone in an instant.
[A] very senior (and battle-weary) person in one of the service departments in answer to a question about his view of the economic rationalists in the central agencies.(Pusey, 1991: 174)
In a 1995 review of Beilharz’s book [Transforming Labor Carol] Johnson wonders if Beilharz’s approach to the Hawke-Keating government and Labor tradition fails to take into account the possibility that the transformation of Labourism was less its exhaustion than its expansion to include social groups outside the white, male heterosexual wage earner (1995). She also wonders “what use Beilharz might have made of more recent Foucauldian approaches to issues of political economy and governmentality” (ibid: 102).
While Johnson’s 1989 political history is based on the method of an ideology critique, which “concentrates on the dominant premises underlying government policies”, her 2000 text is a more methodologically diverse approach to political science and, indeed, towards political culture (ibid: 3). In Governing Change: from Keating to Howard (2000) Johnson reaches back through the Howard Coalition Government into the Keating-led period of the long Labor decade and approaches this approximately nine year period through a range of analytic methods, which she applies and evaluates according to their interpretive and explanatory power and utility. While heuristics based on technology, gender and sexuality are placed over the period to draw out the causes and implications of changes in governing and government that these methodological grids enable, it is Johnson’s use of theories that emerge out of the Foucauldian governmentalities school and use of the Habermas-based critique of economic rationalism that Michael Pusey makes which is her central and important contribution to an understanding of the long Labor decade.
Rather than seeing the rise of Australian Neoliberalism solely in terms of an ideology which presents itself as the necessary withdrawal of the state through such practices as “privatisation, deregulation, free-markets and the increasing role of the private-sector” Johnson’s use of a governmentalities-based approach to the long Labor decade leads her to argue that “other forms of state activity” accompany these practices, which include “shaping and influencing the behaviour of its citizens, encouraging new forms of self-managing and self-regulating behaviour by individuals and relying on the disciplinary power of the market to influence citizen behaviour” (2000: 100). Considering that it is only recently that the lectures in which Foucault most fully outlined his theories and critique of Neoliberalism, were published in English it is not surprising to find that definitions of Neoliberalism rarely countenance Foucault’s concepts that it is also a political rationality rather than just an ideology about market freedom and that it is a form of governmentality that changes the techniques by which states and individuals govern and are governed (Foucault, 2008: 215-238). The advantage of this approach is that it sets aside the claims of an ideological focus and critique in order to track the reasoning or rationality upon which government practices are based. Such an approach uncovers the view that contemporary forms of liberalism differ from earlier forms in that they do not see the market as already existing in some natural form but as something that government needs to actively construct through establishing particular political, legal and institutional conditions. The state is then faced with the additional dilemma of needing to encourage the development of the particular forms of ‘autonomous’ and ‘free’ individuals that neo-liberal styles of government depend upon, given that liberal sovereignty in general takes a less directly coercive form than more authoritarian forms of rule (Johnson, 2000: 102).
This is an argument which seeks to explicate the ‘Neo’ in Neoliberalism. A complementary historical argument is that the target of Neoliberalism in many countries is the practice of Social-liberal techniques that were instituted through Keynesian practices in the period after World War Two until the early 1970s. The ‘Neo’ prefix thereby refers to the specific nature of this historically recent object of critique; a critique which, as Foucault argues, projects itself along the well-worn Liberal path of “governing too much,” but which because of its Keynesian and Social-liberal object can be called New (Foucault, 2008: 319).
Thus Johnson’s application of the insights of the Foucauldian conception of Neoliberalism to the long Labor decade leads to her depiction of it as a specific project of identity construction and thereby behavioural ‘encouragement’: “In the Keating government’s practice, governmentality took the form of attempting to construct a range of identities in ways that are compatible with Labor’s conceptions of reconstructing the Australian economy” (2000: 104).
Johnson’s use of Foucauldian methods is a cautious one as she finds them inadequate for dealing with forces exterior to the state-subject relationship, such as market power in a capitalist economy. In order to better approach these forces she turns to Michael Pusey’s application of Jürgen Habermas’s theories in Pusey’s Economic Rationalism in Canberra: A Nation Building State Changes its Mind (1991). For Johnson, Habermas’s method relies on an opposition between a “lifeworld” of human subjects that contains “culturally secured meanings, and . . . social action,” and “systems structures,” forms of which are money and power and which threaten to mediatise and colonise the lifeworld (Pusey, 1991: 175 and Johnson, 2000: 112). To some extent Habermas’s schema is a retooling of the concepts he employs in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (1989) where he places the practices and institutions of rational-critical discourse as central to the democratic potentials of modern liberal political life (1989: 51-56). According to Habermas there is a form of rationality higher and more suited to the lifeworld, the source of democracy, than to those forms embedded in ‘money’ and (bureaucratic-state) ‘power’ (Johnson, 2000: 112).This is both an argument for the safeguarding of these higher and more democratic forms from ‘colonisation’ and a reiteration of the central thesis of his earlier work on the political public sphere.
For Johnson, Pusey’s research into changes in norms and practices amongst Canberra’s Senior Public Servants and critique of economic rationalism go far in explaining how and why “the Canberra Bureaucracy itself became a site intimately implicated in the colonisation of the lifeworld by the economic subsystem” (ibid: 113). Indeed, Pusey’s critique is a compelling one that has a sharp moral edge and is one drawn on a comprehensible spatial model which clearly demarcates the sources of economic rationalism against what must be protected from it: the lifeworld and its practices of communicative rationality. In a sense Pusey’s is form of immanent critique, taking the language of the object, turning it back on itself and thereby undoing its claims to any moral superiority or longevity:
Yet the limits of Pusey’s critique of economic rationalism are those that the governmentality ‘school’ treat as the central objects of their practice. Pusey’s Habermasean schema makes assumptions about the nature of the lifeworld and the human-subjects who populate it which are not held by those that practice with more Nietzschean-influenced ideas on the relation of truth-subject-power that Foucault wields. Specifically, Pusey’s critique is, like aspects of Habermas’s writings, caught in the paradox of thinking a modernity that ruptures historical time into a traditional past and new future. The paradox is that ‘tradition,’ like heritage, doesn’t pre-exist modernity so much as it is made in the moment of the modern. The concept of ‘lifeworld’ and of a transparent communicative rationality would seem to be Janus-faced: the lifeworld a condition or state of human community that is the projection of a temporalization made in the cauldron of modernity, and facing another way, the dream of a pure communicative rationality seemingly a secular model of redemption without the violence or revolutionary desires that Benjamin’s messianic time conjures. While this thesis sides with the Foucauldian concept of Neoliberalism as a form of governmentality which ascends in the long Labor decade, it follows Johnson’s scepticism about its limits and thereby accepts the usefulness of Pusey’s critique to explain aspects of the forces operating on the long Labor decade.
[T]his doctrine and its sponsors will pay the price of casting society itself both as the object of business strategy and, just as negatively, as the generic source of all ‘market failure’. It is an aggressive reduction that pretends not to see that in the West in the space of little more than a generation, extended family, church, and local community neighbourhood have all been burnt up as fuel in the engine of economic ‘development’. (Pusey, 1991: 241)
One dimension of Neoliberalism is its forming, or bildungs, and re-forming of citizen-subjects in terms of freedom and market rationalities. This process of what Mitchell Dean calls “culture-governance” is analogous to the Bildungs: a term denoting the formation of self through culture and a term more commonly known through its deployment in the anglo-linguistic world as the novel genre of the Bildungsroman: formation-novel (Dean, 2007: 198). Much of the thesis is concerned with formation novels, or Bildungsromane, that traverse or arise out of the long Labour decade, and it argues that the representations of subject-formation in realist novels of this period are ones that can be seen to engage with the forces, rationalities and technologies of neoliberal governmentalities working in and through the cultures and discourses of Australian Labourism and industrial citizenship.
There is ongoing debate over how to describe and theorise the political project that the long Labor decade both attempted to enact and in part succeeded in realizing. The key tension in this debate concerns the description of Neoliberalism as the submission of the State to global corporations and markets by privatising formerly state-owned and run businesses and utilities, by deregulating formerly protected and state-controlled markets in finance and labour, and by adopting business techniques in the running of bureaucracies and state utilities. This conception of Neoliberalism, shared by such global Left intellectuals as David Harvey (2007) and the late Pierre Bourdieu (1998), is firmly rejected by those theorists of Neoliberalism influenced by Foucault’s writings and lectures on the subject (Lemke, 2002: 54-60). The terms of this debate will be explored in more depth throughout this thesis, in particular in Part 3. But the advantages of a literary history of the long Labor decade as a track running alongside the political history is that fiction is more conducive to investigating the representation of political forces as they form the self. This thesis’s focus on formation novels aims to give an account of Australian literary-fictional responses to Neoliberalism which complements and contests non-fictional accounts.