Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Was a lotta fun coulda been a lot better

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.

talking heads

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

Vale Levi Stubbs

Obituary for Levi Stubbs

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

Wallerstein's rhythmanalysis: forget the dust

Immanuel Wallerstein's latest diagnosis of the world-system is up:

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.

Wallerstein's conclusions:

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

Governmentality - Thomas Friedman

Friedman, that's Thomas not Milton, today in the New York Times was citing from a book he'd returned to recently to help him explain how the US will work through the current crises in the 'unreal' economy. Strikes me that this following passage is what Foucault meant by governmentality: techniques and rationalities by way of which the self, the household, the state are conducted.

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.

We are governed too much.

Alan Moran - Director of Deregulation at the Neoliberal Think Tank Institute of Public Affairs puts the Neoliberal case [from Unleashed] for greater Central bank deregulation. A hasty retort is attached below and Will Hutton's analysis, on which my retort is based, linked to below, as well.

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?

Will Hutton

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

economic rationalism or neoliberal governmentality?

A section from the thesis where I work through some of the writings which seek to characterise the political practices and reasoning that affected Australian Government in the long Labor Decade. Thought this might be worth throwing up here as there are debates echoing around the tubes about Neoliberalism's death, or its utter resilience. It took me a while to come around to the Foucauldian view of it as a type of governmentality, which is not to say that the more commonplace view of Neoliberalism as forms of deregulation and privatisation are not also facets in the same assemblage. However, what the governmentality approach stresses is that Neoliberalism is a set of liberal political techniques which are saturated with forms of reasoning and knowledge that aim to shape and conduct people as flexible, productive and above all as entrepreneurs of themselves. Neoliberalism is a political rationality of government that stretches from the self to the state.

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 J├╝rgen 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:

[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)

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.

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.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Goodbye to all that

Heart - These Dreams

John Cale - Close watch

Elton John – Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding

Gloria Gaynor – I Never can say Goodbye

Elton John – Goodbye Yellowbrick Rd

Heart? I'm a cancerian and there's a near to full moon. So fucking deal. I'm all maudlin and melancholy. If people don’t how great a pop artist early Elton was, well . . . just you know, do yourself a favour. John Cale? Without him Lou Reed woulda been nuthin, nuthin I tells ya. Gloria Gaynor disco fever. And adieu.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Tsunamis, financial and otherwise

Jacques Attali - The disaster we have yet to face

If climate instability accelerates as quickly as the financial crisis has unfurled, if we discover, as in the case of the economy, that not only is there no pilot in the aeroplane, but there is not even a pilot's cabin, then at a certain point the trends could become irreversible. We could even find ourselves in a situation where the global increases in temperature are final and where no human action can prevent the poles from melting, the deserts from growing, the sea level from rising, or hurricanes from becoming more numerous and more powerful.

Laurie Anderson - From the Air

Peter Gabriel - Here Comes the Flood

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tell 'em they're dreaming

Wendy Brown argues that one way to understand the American Right is to leave aside the desire to see it as a social formation bearing a homogeneous ideology and instead sit it on the couch and listen to its fantasies as 'dreamwork'. In the process she also suggests that the Left might also have to move beyond Left Melancholy and face the loss of aspects of Liberalism:

However, the figure of dreamwork taken up for political analysis also promises to puncture the conceit of our innocence and virtue: dreams often tell us things we would rather not know about ourselves, in particular revealing identifications and desires we consciously disavow. Patterning political analysis after dreamwork thus threatens to puncture a left political moralizing impulse that wants everything the right stands for to be driven by nefariousness, smallness, or greed, and everything we do to be generously minded and good, an impulse that casts Us and Them in seamless and opposing moralpolitical universes.

[T]he problematic of thinking together American neoconservatism— a fierce moral-political rationality—and neoliberalism—a market-political rationality that exceeds its peculiarly American instantiation and that does not align exclusively with any political persuasion. The aim is not to understand the project of the American right tout court, as if there were such a unified endeavor or entity behind it, but to apprehend how these two rationalities, themselves composite, inadvertently converge at crucial points to extend a cannibalism of liberal democracy already underway from other sources in the past half century. Nor is the aim to sentimentalize liberal democracy as such, but rather to grasp the implications of its waning as a political form, and even to pose a question about whether democracy continues to have meaning as a term or aspiration. If, as I have suggested elsewhere, the institutions as well as the political culture comprising liberal democracy are passing into history, the left is faced both with the project of mourning what it never wholly loved and with the task of dramatically resetting its critique and vision in terms of the historical supersession of liberal democracy, and not only of failed socialist experiments.

Tom Frank in today's Wall Street Journal seems to be edging toward a dreamwork analysis as he attempts to come to terms with the contradiction of a Republican party simultaneously calling for smaller Government, claiming that Government is the problem, all the while wanting to get into Government so that it can stuff Government which only goes to prove that Government is the problem - lookit how it makes things worse. Gosh darn it and Sheesh.

Conservative misrule, prompted by conservative disdain for government, proves that government cannot be trusted -- and that the only answer is to elect another round of government-denouncing conservatives.

"Cynicism" seems too small a word for this circular kind of political fraud. One reaches instead for images of grosser malevolence. It's like suggesting that the best way to recover from pneumonia is to stand in the rain for three hours. It's like arguing that the way to solve nuclear proliferation is by handing out weapons-grade plutonium to everyone who asks for it.

Consider also the perverse incentives that such a logic would establish. If we validate Mrs. Palin's thoughts on federal bungling by electing her to the high office she seeks, we are encouraging her to bungle everything that comes her way. After all, by her thinking, such bungling will not discredit her doctrines but rather confirm them, demonstrate the need for more Sarah Palins down the road. We will be asking for it, and it's not much of a stretch to predict that we will get it.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

You Haven't Done Nothing

Stevie Wonder at 1975 Grammys performing 'You Haven't Done Nothing'

This anti-Richard Nixon song could as easily be aimed at Dub-ya.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

That's Samuel Augustus Maverick, to you.

From the OED:


the name of Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-70), U.S. politician, and the owner of a large herd of cattle in Texas in which the calves were unbranded.

1869 Overland Monthly Aug. 127/1 One Maverick formerly owned such immense herds that many of his animals unavoidably escaped his rouanne in the spring, were taken up by his neighbors, branded and called ‘mavericks’. The term eventually spread over the whole State, and is in use now, not only to denote a waif thus acquired, but any young animal. No great drove can sweep through this mighty unfenced State without drawing a wake of these ‘mavericks’.

An etymology from the name of a Samuel Maverick resident in Boston in the early 17th cent. has elsewhere been suggested, but seems implausible in view of the date of the earliest examples of the word, and the fact that this Maverick had no connection with cattle farming; evidence is lacking to support the claim that the word is earlier attested denoting an unmarked log in a Maine river drive.

A. n.

1. N. Amer. An unbranded calf or yearling.

Friday, October 3, 2008

tempus fugitives

If you haven't already read their two current essays, that seek to articulate the complex play of the anxious and oddly hopeful structures of feeling that are currently at large, with multiple senses of tempo and temporality, and uses to which judgement can be put, then I invite and urge you to click through to Aloof from inspiration and Ads without Products talking about and through the times they're feeling and thinking and writing. Brilliantly.

Their essays have me wondering if we are in the midst of a [re]turn to thinking about time? The spatial turn in literary theory that I passed through in the 1990s, which was inculcated in me through postcolonial novels and theory, certainly holds a promising vista out before you. Authors of the Dark Side of the Dream, Bob Hodge and Vijay Mishra in a recent essay “What was postcolonialism?” argue that its moment has passed and that it was ultimately built on the premises of a singular modernity which, with its endless capitalist-based renewals and innovations, invites us to believe that its ruptures and breaks provide ‘posts’ from which the vista of the past can be laid out and tinkered with. They effectively ask: in what ways is ‘colony’ so distinct from the workings of capitalism that there can be a postcolonialism but no postcapitalism? Leigh Dale from U of Queensland has asked if capitalism worked in the grooves that colonialism cut? Is it enough to be postcolonial but ignore or let pass the question of postcapitalism?

I think the stakes in these questions form around temporalities and time more than they do space. Indeed, what are financial derivatives but highly complex temporal forms. How do we come to terms with multiple-speed economies like the one we have in Australia where a mining boom in parts of Western Australia and Queensland, feeding coal and iron ore to China, is funding parts of the national economy while other regions are in recession. How do we think economic and ecological problems together if not through tempos, rhythms, temporalities?

The spatial turn has also been the scopic and visual turn. Yet we feel rhythms, and all our senses measure durations: a smell from childhood that returns, like old sandshoe sweat, returns with measure: two points in time make a basic measure and rhythm. As Aloof writes crisis is the moment in which the times are unsettled and calling for the cure and judgement. Another way to put this is to say that the times can be harmonised – a eurhythmia. Henri Lefebvre writes:

At no moment have the analysis of rhythms and the rhythmanalytical project lost sight of the body. Not the anatomical or functional body, but the body as polyrhythmic and eurhythmic (in the so-called normal state). As such, the living body has (in general) always been present: a constant reference. The theory of rhythms is founded on the experience and knowledge of the body; the concepts derive from this consciousness and this knowledge, simultaneously banal and full of surprises - of the unknown and the misunderstood.

Along with arrhythmia, isorhythmia (the equality of rhythms) completes this repertoire of fundamental concepts. With one reservation: iso- and eu-rhythmia are mutually exclusive. There are few isorhythmias, rhythmic equalities or equivalences, except of a higher order. On the other hand, eurhythmias abound: everytime there is an organism, organisation, life (living bodies).

In this respect, thought could return to the Liebnizian principle apparently abandoned by philosophers, logicians and scientific types. Were there isorhythmia between two temporalities, they would coincide. Equivalence entails identity (and reciprocally, non-identity implies difference); polyrhythmia is composed of diverse rhythms. Eurhythmia (that of the living body, normal and healthy) presupposes the association of different rhythms. In arrhythmia, rhythms break apart, alter and bypass synchronisation (the usual term for designating this phenomena). A pathological situation - agreed! - depending on the case; interventions are made, or should be made, through rhythms, without brutality. (Lefebvre, Rhythmanalysis 2004: 67.)

So, the VP debate promises another Palin performance like the one she gave at the Grand Old Party's convention [see a video montage of the Palinator in debate mode from her run for the Alaskan Governor-ship]. The bail-out bill should get through the lower house and I'm up to my armpits in thesis completion deadline world. Time is running away. Down the street, toward the beach. Jumping ship. Fugiting.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Keating's Kondratiev-esque waves: 1982-2007 . . .

Former Australian Treasurer (1983-1991), then Prime Minister (1991-1996), Paul Keating was reflecting on the history and futures of global political economy last night on Australian Public Broadcasting's Lateline.

In this interview, Keating gave a periodisation of economic history that shares something of the durations that Russian economic historian Nikolai Kondratiev's long waves of boom-depression have. Clearly we are in a conjuncture where the credit-fuelled boom in assett prices, which has been driving high consumption, is being deflated: a long inbreath which has to be exhaled in order for new air to enter. Keating situates this outbreath alongside the geoeconomic, and geopolitical, shift of power to China.

I want to do a rhythmanalysis of these conjunctural conditions soon when I have more time. I'd like to extend these previous reflections on political-economic rhythms, based on Henri Lefebrve's practices, into ecological temporalities. Maybe such analysis is only able to be produced musically? Brian Holmes has other ideas, as does Ross Gibson. But in the meantime, here's Keating:

LEIGH SALES: Alright, let's look a bit more broadly. In July 2003 you delivered a speech in New Zealand and you spoke there about there being three economic long waves over the last century, one from 1904 to 1929, a second from 1947 to 1974 and a third which began in 1982 and you predicted in that speech that this wave should run until about 2007, 2008, which is now being born out. But how does this wave end for Australia? Well or poorly?

PAUL KEATING: Well, there's a new wave beginning. You see, in the 20th century, the first half dominated by the United States, the second half was dominated by Japan. And the first half of the 21st century will be dominated by China. The new long wave has already begun, it begun about 2000, in my opinion. Now, but what we have, we've got transitions, and in the last long wave which went for 25 years, 1982 to 2007, what happens is that in a period of long growth two relatively modest business cycle recessions, but a period of long growth, low inflation and low interest rates, you end up with complacency and coupled with financial innovation, money gets put to points in the economy, every crack and crevice in the economy gets pasted with some money.

And we saw the risk premium come right down. So what we used to call junk bonds, used to have an enormous premium over gilt treasury bonds. We saw that premium come down. When you see that risk premium come down to virtually nothing, you know we're in trouble, you know. And this is what happened in the United States. You know, Greenspan had rates at 1 and 2 per cent, less than the inflation rate. So the big investment banks geared themselves up and all the housing lenders went out and lent this money. People then got out of their fixed-rate mortgages and refinanced at much lower rates and spent the money.

The biggest problem we're facing the world today is that in the United States asset values are way too high and leverage debt is way too high. And as people are walking away from the assets, the losses are impacting on the balance sheets of Banks and the banks have to be recapitalised. So what we're facing in the world is not a liquidity crisis, it's a solvency crisis. That's why the interbank rate is 2.5 per cent. Do you understand the point? A bank won't lend to another bank because they're not sure the other bank is solvent. It's not a matter of money in the system that week. It's not liquidity, it's solvency.

And here's a slice of Keating's 2003 prophetic analysis:

The world is about to enter the final phase of the third long economic wave of the 20th century.

The first wave began in 1904 and lasted until 1929, ending with the Depression; the second ran from 1947 to 1974 ending with the OPEC oil shocks of that year. The wave we are now in, the one that began in 1982 has been overlayed by two business cycles, one from 1982 to 1990 the other from 1992 to 2000. We are about to go into the third leg which should last until around 2007 or with some luck, a bit later.

The good news is that this cycle should see synchronised global growth in 2004 with the United States, Europe and Asia all growing together for first time since 1999.

The not so good news is that this third cycle will be less wealthy than the second one, the one which lasted from 1992 until 2000 and which brought with it huge lifts in stock market value.

Over the next half a dozen years, we are going to see people of my age fall out of the labour market in their droves. This will produce a profound tightening in the labour market. And will probably lead to strong increases in real wages. Unless productivity is there to pay for those increases, it will otherwise be paid for from profits. And if it is paid from profits, profits will be smashed, investment will fall. And a recession will ensue.

The moment central banks around the world get a whiff of wage inflation, they will lift interest rates and the party will end as wage inflation bites into economic activity.

The only caveat I can see to this analysis is China.

Before the rise of China, what happened in the industrial world was fundamentally the result of what happened in North America and Western Europe.

What is happening in China today is without precedence in world history. Never before have we seen a billion-and-a-quarter people lifting themselves from poverty at such a pace.

The US will continue to be the world economic driver, but China will be a completely new factor -- and there is just a chance that China will actually be a big enough influence to extend this third long economic wave.

The more likely outcome, however, is that China will be the epicentre of the fourth long wave, the one after this.

While the 20th century was the century of the Americas, the chances are the 21st century will be the century of Asia and we may see, for the first time, a real eclipse of American economic power.
China's economy will have eclipsed Japan's in the next half-dozen years and it is going to demand a huge volume of resources -- our Australian resource industries will be a clear beneficiary.

[Link here - from 'Australia's Geopolitical and Economic Positioning (extract) - 15 October 2003' in the category "Australian Society and Economy" NB: Sales referred to another speech given in New Zealand: "The New Global Mosaic" - go to same Keating website and scroll down 'World Outlook' category. Both speeches, however, are repetitions on the same themes]