Saturday, December 5, 2009

Carbon Trading: the 2015 crisis in sub-prime carboffsets

Hopefully, I'm not alone in being fundamentally confused and a little ignorant about what the Emissions Trading Scheme legislation rejected by the Australian Senate this week would've brought about. Putting a cap on the amount of carbon pollution and letting the market price this carbon, seem to be the basics of the scheme.

Markets and prices, huh? The ABC's radio and sometimes TV economics correspondent Stephen Long was last night discussing some of the dangers of such a scheme on Lateline. Long observes that there are already derivatives in the carbon trading markets, as investors seek to "manage risk" by hedging, securitizing, selling short, and so on, products based in these markets. He worries that the practice of investing in carbon offsets--carbon sinks or tree plantations that putatively function to balance pollution elsewhere--needs the sorts of governmental compliance, accreditation and oversight regimes that were globally absent in the lead-up to the 2007 GFC, to ensure that such carbon-offsetting actually achieves its aim of capturing carbon. Without such oversight there is the distinct danger that markets in offsetting will develop their own version of sub-prime mortgages: unsustainable carbon sinks, plantation forests that are fronts for pulp materials, land-clearing to make way for such offset plantations which are stages in plans for other forms of development, or simply forests that exist only on paper.

It makes sense then, that Murdoch's Neoliberal economist--Michael Stutchbury--supports the pricing of carbon, even though he is a trenchant critic of the Neoliberal-post Social Democracy Rudd Government which failed to get the upper house numbers to push through their Emissions Trading Scheme earlier this week; a scheme with carbon pricing at its centre.

Long argues that there are either going to be huge compliance costs if carbon trading is to be comprehensively regulated, or we could well see a crash triggered by the collapse in the sub-prime carboffset market.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Zoo Music Girls

Anwyn Crawford in the latest Overland calling the naked truth on Emperor Nick Cave:

It’s his transformation into an antipodean Elvis Costello – growing old, mild and respectably bourgeois along with his audience – that really makes me mad. Not because I believe that Cave has sold out or betrayed his musical talent – he had precious little to begin with – but because the deference paid to him and to his work grows in inverse proportion to its increasing mediocrity, to its juvenile silliness and self-parody. Witness Grinderman, a mid-life crisis thinly disguised as a Bad Seeds side project, with ‘No Pussy Blues’ or, even more crudely, ‘Go Tell the Women’, which loudly complains: ‘All we wanted was a little consensual rape in the morning/ And maybe a bit more in the evening.’ Consensual rape, eh? Happy thought, indeed

After being excited by the Birthday Party in the early 1980s, I've found nearly all of Cave's subsequent product, repetitively lifeless. Cave's literary reputation seems to have drawn on his musical one, and what's particularly valuable in Crawford's critique is that it interprets Cave's oeuvre across the forms he works in, so that his musical cachet is not permitted to bolster his literary and screenwriting ones. It takes adroit writing to kick out all three legs of this tripod. Crawford's flattening of the romantic myth built up around Cave--Hamlet pow pow pow--king hits Cave's misogyny.

There's actually something happening here. Something at stake. Devastating.


A letter in response to Crawford's essay has opened up a debate--of sorts--on Overland's new blog.

Reading through the essay again and now the replies to it, I think that while there is indeed a polemical edge to the essay, what excites me about it is that it opens up ways of talking about aesthetics and meaning--in this case pop music and the gendered, sex-murderous ways of dealing with certain desires--that is so rare in Australian textuality. It's ironic that Fotis Kapetorpoulos' letter attacks Crawford on the basis of what he argues is disavowal of Cave's Duende, his ineffable and unparalleled expressions of Eros. Ironic, as his critique reduces her arguments to a litany of pathological, sociological essences: puritanical, anglo, middle-class, 1980s undergraduate . . . You are thin-skinned, I am sensitive. You have a sociologically overdetermined response to great art, I have transcended my sociological constraints and just experience genius/art . . .

What I think is happening, then, is that Crawford has disaggregated elements of form and content in what is a repeated motif in Cave's oeuvre: his transcendence or, perhaps better, his transports of abjection out of the traps and murk of desire are constantly--boringly, repetitively--figured and formed through the sex-murder of the desired girls that pass through his songs. Cave's fixation is boring. More importantly, his modes of expressing this resolution of this strain of desire are not universal but just one way of aesthetically and ethically dealing with it and, as Crawford cogently argues, this formal and lyrical resolution is misogynist and repetitively dull.

The Birthday Party were dangerous, but Cave's art has become safe. The horror has become a stale cliche. Whether ironically intended or not, Cave's misogynist representations are also fixations that are stuck in a rut, his un-repressions long since thrilling.

Or, as Poetix puts it:

[T]he problem isn’t really to do with whether the enjoyment (or the discomfort) is sincere or not, but to do with whether the interplay between enjoyment and discomfort is managed creatively or has been allowed to become just another well-established masturbatory routine.

****One more thing****

To use a verbotten 80s undergraduate term, the primary intertext of Anwyn's critique is Peter Conrad's consecrating profile-essay on Cave in The Monthly. In other words, it's important, although not essential, to situate Crawford's critique both in the con-text of Conrad's hagiographic review of Cave's artistic production and in the broader network of literary journals and magazines, in which the role of The Monthly in relation to Overland becomes important.

In short, Overland is the literary journal with greatest claim to being on the Left in Australia. It's Communist Party of Australia roots have kept the journal close to aspects of the radical nationalist project that was strong in the 1950s and 60s. The Monthly, on the other hand, started as a quality--read glossy ads for sports watches and sleek cars--left-leaning magazine which featured long-essays aimed at a tertiary educated, well-off audience who were interested in areas of political and social life that permitted a complex, finely written analysis to enter into. As the Howard-era drew to a close, the magazine increasingly became a partisan organ, guided, it seemed, by former Conservative Right Wing Cold War-rior Robert Manne's vision of a more morally correct Australian liberalism. This project has seen Manne's voice and vision come to align the magazine with Opposition leader then Prime Minister Rudd's rhetoric and ideology, publishing Rudd's essay in praise of the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in which Rudd sought to set out his form of Christian-based social justice as a contrast to the Howard Government's dalliances with evangelical churches like Hillsong, with its prosperity gospel, and, more importantly, publishing Rudd's analysis of Neoliberalism and the Global Financial Crisis.

Rudd-Manne's analysis of Neoliberalism irks, not least because it is conducted with pious moralisms that operate within the circuitry of social-liberalism. How much a magazine of the left can The Monthly be when its central argument about the last 30 years of Neoliberalism is that there should really have been more government regulation of financial and other markets. Guy Rundle argues, in the same Overland as Crawford's essay, that Rudd's Neoliberalism seeks to shape the conduct of our everyday lives because his Government really has no interest in the transformation of society. In other words Rudd's Government is intensifying Neoliberal governmentalities. The Monthly can and will never make this sort of argument explicitly because its political essays are constrained by a social-liberalism that precludes any analysis of how market rationalities form the self and society. Instead, under the guidance of Manne (and Rudd), such analysis sees the self and society as protected from and outside of markets. Firmly regulate some of the markets, to a limited extent, and Neoliberalism is kept at bay. Nevermind that the exhortations to social entrepreneurialism and individual flexibility, just to name two Neoliberal techniques, continue unabated under Rudd.

Anyway, to see such a magazine engage in firming Cave's literary reputation is an index of how his artistic cachet has become, in Anwyn's words, middlebrow. What is at stake, then, is both the relationship of Cave's ethics to his aesthetics from a Left perspective, and practices of Left critique itself. What Anwyn has done is to perform a rigorous critique of one of the central motifs in Cave's work from both an aesthetic and feminist perspective. In so doing she has fundamentally challenged the Left-basis of--what Pierre Bourdieu calls--the symbolic capital that The Monthly and Peter Conrad claimed for Cave.

****Two more points****

Trawling the web, it appears that Crawford's reaction to Peter Conrad's consecration of Cave in The Monthly was preceded by this spray a few months back, coming from ABC radio host and former sax player with the Models (Birthday Party alumni), James Valentine. Valentine writes:

I get Nick Cave. He’s a writer, a songwriter, a hustler and a self pimper. He’s fine. He’s out there hacking away trying to pay his mortage and live an interesting life with a book advance and some song royalties. He gets asked to do this that and the other and why should he say no? He’s gotta eat. If people want to put him on the cover of the magazine and they think it will sell, why would Nick complain.
But can I just say – I’ve never heard anything he’s done that I’ve wanted to hear again. His novel was crap. His film The Proposition was OK. I’m yet to read his new book , but I’ve certainly read a lot about it already.
Such a slim body of work for so much reporting and critical comment. This is because of the very nature of his work and persona. It appeals directly to the kind of person who becomes a rock critic. art commentator, a commissioning editor.
This is because he possess that mysterious quality which was so potent in the mid seventies and eighties; credibility.
Credibility was everything back then. Credibility sought by all and granted only to a few meant that your every utterance had meaning. To be credible had nothing to do with actual ability. One had to wear only black, have only a rudimentary grasp of music and songwriting, and write tunes of great angst.
It helped if you’d experienced great angst but in Nick’s case it was enough to do a good impression of great angst. For true credibility, you had to take drugs. And the bad ones, not just a reggae cigarette in the band room.
These songs, excreable listening to most, were lauded by his followers as the most compelling utterances ever, and of course if you didn’t like them, it was because you were shallow and Nick was too much for you.
So compelling as though that may have been to the door bitches, the writers for the street papers, the JJJ set, the RRR set, I think now as we age we could apply some different criteria.
What’s he actually done?
Not that much.
Is it any good?
Not really.
Nick seems to me to be a one trick pony. He discovered early on that if you shove Jesus and the bible into your work, it makes it sound deep. Just say the word Jesus, or Elijah or Gethsemane and it sets off a whirlpool of meaning for people and you’re work is done.
His obscenity is too constant to be anything but adolescent. He has no range, he only brays.

And, finally. I was thinking of a similar Australian artist, from the same era and punk milieu, who had taken a more interesting path. I'm sure there are quite a few candidates, but Dave Graney is in many ways a more Australian figure than Cave, and a more literary one, too. Graney is a wry, larrikin version of a post-punk storyteller, a yarn-spinning bullshit artist, who has always worked at an angle to postmodern culture through gentle satire-homage of 70s and 80s suburban fantasies of cool hipsterdom. Graney, in some ways, is like Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens: actually treasured by more people because he is accessible and engaged. Unlike Cave, who presents his product as expression wrought from his soul, Graney takes his schtick seriously.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Leos, the Liberal leadership and wild flowers

Ok. Call me a bit crazy, superficial, but there's some zodiac logic that might shed a bit of light on the current conniptions in the Australian Liberal party.

Let's start with the star signs of the previous prime minister and his deputy: John Howard and Peter Costello were both Leos. Interestingly, so was the next Liberal Party leader, Brendan Nelson, and so is Joe Hockey. The Howard-era Liberal party has a certain Leonine flavour.

Consider, then, the rest of the current crop of Liberal party leaders and aspirants: Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Andrews (well, he has put his hand up), Peter Dutton and Tony Abbott. All Scorpions. All capable of intense bouts of stinging vengeance. All full of intense self-belief.

Here's the juice. One astrological theory is that, starting with Aries, each subsequent sign is a progression from the previous one: Aries->Taurus->Gemini->Cancer->Leo->Virgo->Libra->Scorpio->Sagittarius->Capricorn->Aquarius->Pisces->Aries . . .

The Hawke-Keating tussle involved a battle between the Sagittarian Hawke and the Capricorn Keating. The Howard-Rudd showdown had the Leo Howard defeated by the Virgo Rudd. This logic would see Rudd conquered by a Libran, which is Julia Gillard's sign, but not by a Scorpion, and certainly not by a Leo, like Hockey.

Australians seem to be done with Leos for now, and Scorpions seem too early. The love affair with Kevin continues. But if Joe Hockey does get in, his wooing of the electorate will need to be pretty special. It will need to be as smooth as the Floaters:

Leo and my name is Joe
You see I like all voters of the world
You see to me all voters are wild flowers
And if you understand what I'm sayin'
I want you to

Mmm take my hand
Come with me, baby, to Love Land
Let me show you how sweet it could be
Sharing love with me, I want you to

Float, float on (So float with me, baby)
Float on, float on (Yeah)
Float, float, float on (Float with Joe, y'all)
Float on, float on

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Red Toryism and Australia's Neoliberal past

British politics can be a useful guide for the direction that Australian political parties might head in. Thatcher's neoliberal programme--of privatisations, anti-unionism, small government, personal responsibility allied to a strident nationalism and moral and social conservatism--was a model that the Australian Liberal party took up and put into effect during John Howard's prime ministership: 1996 to 2007. Yet, to align the right-wing Australian party to the British Conservatives too neatly ignores a key point Guy Rundle makes in his essay "When the rubric hits the road":

Australia is not Britain, the neoliberal reconstruction of the economy was undertaken by a Labor government, which reemphasised a collective agreement with the nation, and offered some compensation for the effects of economic restructuring. And, by the standards of Thatcher, the Howard government changed almost nothing of the fabric of Australian life. (Overland 197: 9)

I think the subtext of Rundle's assertion here--that Howard had little left to work with in seeking to reconstruct society because Labor had already done most of that work--requires some unpacking. Such a disaggregation of the effects of Neoliberalism on the Australian economy and on Australian society is analytically useful because it helps in understanding why so-called Keynesian responses to the Global Financial Crisis do not end Neoliberalism but have, arguably, intensified aspects of it.

While useful as an exercise in comparisons and contrasts, mapping British political formations onto Australian ones--as though what is geographically distant is also temporally ahead--needs to take the specifically local and national characteristics of the two systems into account. So, in order to get to the main topic of this post--Red Toryism--I will quickly run through an historical sketch of Australian Neoliberal labourism. I do this as I think coming to terms with how Australian society (rather than economy) was Neoliberalised under Labor is a good starting point in seeking to understand what the implications of Red Toryism might be for Australian political culture, and, in particular, a good basis on which to see the forms of governmental practice and reasoning that Red Toryism enacts as being available to any formation within Australian political culture: the Greens, the Nationals, the Liberals and Labor. In other words, to begin to analyse Red Toryism from the understanding that Australian labourism was the carrier of neoliberalism helps to tune out the noise that disavows Labor's embedding of Red Toryist governmentalities. Such embedding might already be occurring, and whether it is framed and branded as Left or Right is, ultimately, noise.

To quickly rehearse Labor's Neoliberalisation of the Australian economy and society: it occured through the putative modernisation of Labourism and its core citizen-subjectivity: the industrial citizen. On the one hand, the transformation of the Australian political economy in the 1980s came about through the floating of the exchange rate, the relaxation of foreign banking restrictions, and the realignment of the Reserve Bank's objectives from reducing unemployment (c1983) to reducing the current account deficit (c 1986--when Keating made his Banana Republic warning) to its current and final focus on finance capital's key requirement: the minimising of inflation. Combined with reducing tariffs and privatising former government-owned enterprises, Labor's 'modernising' of the Australian political economy was accompanied by a reinstatement of the national health insurance scheme in the guise of Medicare, and a series of social-wage contracts--the Accords--which traded wage restraint for social goods, between the Government and the peak trade union body, the ACTU (Australian Council of Trade Unions).

Labor's neoliberal reformation of Australian society, however, was embedded through practices of conducting one's own and other's conduct (the conduct of conduct is Foucault's definition of governmentality). These practices were, and are, saturated with forms of thought: reasoning, concepts, calculations etc. The industrial citizen--labourism's key citzen-subject--protected by arbitration, tariffs, belonging to a trade union, and benefiting from racially exclusive and sexist policies, became reformed as a flexible enterprise, that was open and mobile, efficient and productive, independent and entrepreneurial. Labour--as a category in understanding political economy--was reformed from a fundamental category which could be protected and de-commodified, to one that was subsumed within the category of capital: from labour to human capital. This form of reasoning opened up the category of labour to a foundational reconception whereby work becomes a form of economic conduct which the individual or society can choose to invest in, take risks over, across a portfolio of skills and practices in order to generate an income stream. This Foucauldian understanding of the transformation of labour under Chicago School neoliberalism is nicely summed up in the aphorism: in neoliberalism we become entrepreneurs of ourselves.

It was thus through the re-formation of Labor and labourism that Neoliberalism became embedded as the dominant form of governmentality in Australian political culture. Labor's social-market approach to Neoliberalism--closer to German ordoliberalism than the Chicago School variant--gave the Howard-led coalition a set of social governmentalities against which to define themselves and to remake. The 'Big Picture' directions that Keating sought to move Australian political culture in--a Republic, Reconciliation, and increasing Regional connections with Asia Pacific nations--were framed by Howard as too modernist a path for those Australian traditions and values that had kept Australian society unified and anchored. Thus Rundle argues that

Labor simply took over what should have been the Liberals’ historical role – neoliberal reconstruction – and badged it as a form of modernisation, making it part of a distinctive progressive package, and leaving the Libs with nowhere to go but populism with a use-by date (Rundle, Crikey Newsletter 26.11.09).

So, any mapping of British political culture onto the Australian scene while useful is never neat. Some argue--including Paul Keating, who would say this--that Blair's New Labour, and its third way projects, was a rehearsal of ALP policy in the long Labor decade: 1983-1996. The notion that the British present is our political future needs to be taken with a wary openness. That said, I think it's worth getting some sense of what is being called Red Toryism, as outlines of the projects that are being mooted under David Cameron's leadership of the Tories, start to take shape. As I argued above, there is no necessary pipeline which articulates British Labour's policies--governmentalities--to Australian Labor's, nor one between the Tories and the Australian Coalition.

Having cleared the decks a bit, I will get to an analysis of Red Toryism in a latter post. What, however, has sparked this post was doyen of the boomer cultural left in Australia--Phillip Adams--giving a warm audience to Phillip Blond and his ideas a dew days ago on ABC's Late Night Live. Blond's website is here and he is being talked of as David Cameron's court Philosopher. Adams' response to Blond alarmed me a little as Blond's advocacy of social enterprises sounds a lot like Hayek's notion of catallaxies. I wonder, in particular, what 'social' actually means in this form of neoliberalism?

The second prompt to this post--which was meant to be about Red Toryism--is from a truly excellent analysis of the phenomenon here, which comes via Voyou Desoeuvre. Alex Andrews presents a fantastic analysis of Red Toryism: "Tory Neoliberalism: Why a vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for continuity, not change".

As Alex writes,

it is quite clear what Cameron’s Tories are really offering. There is no change here it is neoliberalism almost all the way down, ‘conservative means’ to ‘progressive ends’ are the same as they have been for thirty years. Cameron is in seamless continuity with Thatcherism and, in fact, New Labour.

Compare this to Rundle's analysis of 'Ruddism' in Overland:

Ruddism is a mode of post-social democratic labour adapted to Australian conditions and history, one that displays no real interest in challenging an atomised neoliberal social order and must therefore explore increasingly specific measures in the management of a population. (10)

Rundle goes on to write that it is Rudd's micromanagerial reshaping of social life which constitutes the essence of Rudd's governmentality: an essence which leaves untouched the "inadequacy of the conventional political frame to humanity's challenges". Getting outside this conventional political frame requires an understanding of Australia's recent past that grasps the extent to which the embedding of Neoliberalism in Australian political culture was achieved through the transformation of Labourism. Such an approach to recent Australian political history also requires that the Ghosts of Whitlam are properly mourned and that Neoliberalism is increasingly understood as more than neoclassical economics.


Gary Sauer-Thompson has also pointed to Blond's Red Toryism, here. Blond's article from Prospect Feb, 2009 "Rise of the Red Tories" makes for interesting reading. Blond's vision is neoliberal in the sense that there are multiple neoliberalisms that are essentially critiques of the previous version of liberal capitalism, which seek to establish new modes of governmentality because the previous mode governed us too much (This is Foucault's basic insight into liberalism as a mode of government: we are governed too much). Blond's progressive conservatism reads as sharing much with Hayek's liberalism, where civic associations and markets are conflated and seen as the source of liberty and moral values. As Mitchell Dean argues--here--in his discussion of Hayek, this variant of neoliberalism is both radical and conservative. Blond does not admit that capitalism plays any part in the breakdown of social life, which he blames on 1960s left-libertarianism. This is worrying as Blond's governmentality opens the door to a reactionary authoritarian response to the social fragmentation that his concomitant advocacy of greater marketisation of social relations gives rise to.

Indeed, advocating decentralisation of state-enterprises--hospitals etc.--so that local trust funds, local capital can come into ownership and control of the management of these bodies, requires a removal of forms of welfare-state style government, but not forms of government as such. The state will govern differently: it will empower and enable. Such neoliberal rostrums sound excellent, but in reality there is no single act of empowerment to be followed by the enabled local community thereafter exercising its morally edifying, defragmenting, efficient and freedom-enhancing control over the local school, hospital etc. Rather, Blond's project would see an ongoing mode of governing through communities which would be constituted on a continuum with those who are capable of self-management and self-empowerment--at one end--and those that require greater policing, older modes of government--at the other. What, also, is to prevent these public-private bodies from becoming shareholder entities, where majority shareholders determine their directions and activities if not state-based regulation and enforcement?

Red Toryism's rediscovery of the social and society is a rationality that needs to be analysed. What are the objects, aims, methods and ends of this modes of governmentality--this Red Toryism- that seeks to radically alter modes of government in the names of "society", this "civitas", the "local". What, in other words, counts as society, civic and local?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Ruddism: some thoughts

It’s probably derriere garde—in some quarters—to use the language of blog posts and newspapers as metaphors for understanding contemporary government, but I wonder if it’s worth considering that the projects of the current Rudd-Labor Government are actually happening under or over the fold.

Two years into this Government’s tenure and there is a sense that the mainstream media are propagating a continuation of the sorts of commentator culture warrior, ‘balance’ reporting-interviewing practices, that came to dominate the end of the Howard era. Such techniques seemed to have worked effectively in the early to mid noughties, when economic and national security were presented as constantly under threat and the Leader’s ubiquitous radio presence was sought to establish the firm borders between those who were with us and those against. (We still listen to the ABC’s News Radio of a morning in our household, as we did in the Howard era, and one notable difference is the lack of the Leader’s voice on the radio). So, before looking at the so-called substance of the mediatized products of the Rudd Government, I want to consider the forms of the media-government mix

The current Leader is more a creature of television and the new social media: breakfast magazine-style TV, in particular. Rudd is narrowcasting more than Howard, and this has prompted some mainstream political journalists to draw attention to the repetition of Rudd’s sequences of narrowcasts, suggesting that this technique is redolent with spin and micro-managed manipulation.

Rudd is using media differently to Howard, and these different practices have left the broadsheet, TV and radio political journalist elite at a loss. Consider, for example, the weekly ABC TV show The Insiders. This one hour Sunday morning show is a magazine-style program, which comprises about 8 segments. The primary section of the show is an ‘discussion’ chaired by ex-Labor staffer Barry Cassidy, who presides over three TV, radio or print political journalists/ commentators, as they range over what they see as the main political events of the week. This panel is meant to be ‘balanced’—meaning that to the right of the screen is a culture-warrior News Ltd commentator, and to the left a social-liberal Fairfax or Labor-aligned journalist/ commentator resides. This segment is interrupted by a cross to The Senior Political Journalist—Paul Kelly—whose magisterial analysis is handed down in a language of absolute definitiveness that frequently clashes with the shifting ephemera of week-to-week politics.

The panel, the host, the doyen . . . these are truly insiders, but what they are inside increasingly appears to be the new outside. If Rudd is the king of spin, then these in-outsiders are often secondary spinners, offered one to two minutes to interpret the political rhetoric and events of the week in ways that rarely produce any insight into what is going on, under the fold.

Rudd doesn’t appear on The Insiders. He has, however, been appearing on a talk-variety TV show, Rove, which aims at something like the 18-39 demographic. He also appears on ABC TV’s flagship current affairs show, The 7:30 Report. The point is that the mix of media through which politics is both occurring and being reported is shifting, and that the insiders of the political journalism establishment have attempted to explain changes in this mix by drawing on a discourse which personalizes politics through the leader’s style of leadership. There is, of course, nothing new in this focus on the personal techniques of self of the Leader. But such a focus is, I think, bring prompted by a lack of understanding about what is going on under the fold.

So, as the techniques of governing through the media shift, what is going on? Can these changes be reported in the old ways? Maybe not. Maybe such changes need both a new language of abstract analysis and more narrative-based forms of testimony—even collective testimony—to articulate such changes. A mixture of what can be said and told about what is happening on the ground combined with an analysis of how these forms of practices and thought can be explained at the level of larger organizations, of the state, of NGOs and so on.

What was happening on the ground during the Howard-era was to some extent routed through the figure of the ordinary Australian who was defined in the media as someone whose freedom and values were not to be contained or directed by cosmopolitan elites. Such culture war tropes were neatly allied to the figure of the small-business owner, the mom and dad shareholder, and to nebulous family values. Thus a neoliberal-neoconservative amalgam of practices and pressures circulated through the figure of the ordinary Australian: a figure that was posited as being grounded; as living in the 'real world'. The short-circuiting of this amalgam in the Australian context arrived in various events, not least, the Schapelle Corby drug-trials, the Chaser’s APEC stunt and the anti-Workchoices campaigns. These events, among others, tore at the media complicity in these amalgams of the neolib-neocon project. But the tear in media fabric has been replaced by old ideas about social democracy—fed by Rudd himself—and about Labor’s Whitlamite propensity to fiscal largesse and hence self and national destruction. Rudd’s neoliberalism is thus presented as more of the same, but with a social-democratic heart. The mainstream characterization of Rudd as the King of Spin is to some extent, the judgment of journalists whose bearings are set in an earlier period of government: the Hawke-Keating period. Howard did much to persuade people that his Government was a type of permanent opposition, rolling back the cultural arrogance of the Keating era and its allies in the arts, the universities, the Fairfax press and the ABC. Rudd’s talk appears as spin, because it doesn’t rely on the modes of consensus amongst the political-journalist class that Hawke, Keating and Howard’s spin, did. But what is probably happening is that these forms of consensus are being mediated differently. What appears as repetition to an outsider who was once inside, appears as effective rhetoric and policy to those currently inside, or at least to those connected to government in ways that make the appearance of repetition, an irrelevance--background noise.

In short, what is needed, and what may well be circulating but I don’t know of, is a language that joins the social practices of the ground—of the local, the private, the bodily—to those of the region, the state, the corporate . . . In Foucauldian terms, there needs to be a language that can narrate and explain a new continuum of governmentality.

Now, maybe such a continuum is not a cause for celebration or affirmation, but rather invites and requires critique. Fine. But there is a preliminary need to more accurately narrate and analyse the current continuum. Which brings me, finally, to some suggestive fragments embedded in a recent Guy Rundle essay, “The End of the Whitlamists” in Arena Magazine (no. 102). Rundle’s topic is the residual Whitlamism that has affected the way that some on the Left view the prospects for cultural and social reform that the Rudd Government offers. I have previously analysed Whitlamism as a spectre that haunts the Australian Left, and have argued that its ghostly-ness is evidence of a loss to be worked through. Rundle is taking a similar tack, effectively arguing that one critical component of Whitlamism is that it lingers as a form of melancholy for sections of the Left intelligentsia, especially sections working in the arts and cultural industries.

Rundle has some sharp and, I would say, Foucauldian points to make about the forms of governmentality emerging in the Rudd-era. (He hints that this line of analysis will be expanded on in an upcoming essay in Overland.) So, to the quotes:

‘New Labour’ style regimes mark the end of one type of alliance between organized labour—or the suburban mainstream as it has now become—and an avant-garde intelligentsia, a model going back in explicit form to the 60s, and with its roots in the 19th century. Yet the artistic intelligentsia cannot successfully reflect on its own presuppositions—its rebelliousness hardened into orthodoxy—to mount a sufficiently new critical position on ‘Ruddism’ One can see this, for example, in the somewhat disappointing contribution of centre-left magazine The Monthly to publish contributions with a degree of critical or theoretical depth (some essays by Anne Manne aside) because its implicit ‘Whitlamist’ attitude to Labor, state and culture, lacks a framework with which to analyse the distinctive—and far from emancipatory—approach of the Rudd government to social and cultural life.

One can see this as a renewed push for an explicitly social democratic intellectual movement from a number of left and centre-left writers and activists, one which wears its acceptance of limits as a badge of pride, a sort of reverse radicalism, Yet such moves are occupying a space that has already been carved out by the Rudd-ALP—it is an intellectual movement drawing its legitimacy from a political process, rather than leading it through the application of a critical imagination. That secondary status shunts such people into the position of supply strategies of cultural management to a ruling party—hence a new-found focus on the nature of a progressive patriotism, and a search for ways to manufacture ‘belonging’.

For many the forces of darkness [the neoconservative reaction of the Rudd Government to media-based moral panics, which see Rudd condemn certain figures and which put pressure on censorship regimes: e.g. the Bill Henson affair] are attacks on the big freedoms, which are rarely seriously attacked, while increasing regimes of subjective re-shaping and microregulation of social desires go increasingly unchallenged, because they are wrapped up in various guises (preventative health measures appear to be the most recent) that maintain the old image of social improvement. Only when such processes swing round to take in the artistic community—and that is the Henson case in essence—do such people become aware of the profound transformations of state-society relations taking place.

The avant-garde intelligentsia, by and large, haven’t understood that [there could be different ideas of progress].

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Towards an analysis of the paradoxes of libertarian climate change denial

There had, until recently, seemed to be a consensus surrounding the link between carbon pollution and climate change, following the British Stern Review and after Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. The so-called climate change sceptics and denialists, however, have maintained their position and even advanced their numbers over the last few years. On one level, the powerful coal and oil industries, and the trade unions that organise the labour these industries employ, have agents working to stall and demobilise action that would mitigate pollution, or at least to ensure that any market-schemes to reduce pollution include subsidies and deals that embed a corporatist solution. Tabloid media contrarians—trollumnists!—shock jocks, disaffected academics and the like, compose another bloc in the prosecution of this scepticism and denialism. The shills are easy to dismiss, but the force of their arguments lock into more deeply buried ideas about nature, modernity, economy, political identity and political rationalities. In particular, those that circulate in the forms of liberalism and libertarianism that have come to dominate the political-economy in the last 30 or so years. These ideas are, arguably, what enables the contrarians to appeal to and even constitute publics. While one way to understand these ideas is to see them as ideologies—the unconscious criteria for defining reality by which a society, or social group, serves its own interests—I want to apply Michel Foucault’s modes of analysis to these forms of governmentality, understanding these ideas as forms of reasoning, or rationalities, which are attached to practices, or techniques for acting.

One of the basic concepts in liberalism is the regulation of civil society and its primary mechanism for exchange—the market—by something natural and something invisible to the state and sovereign. I want to explore this concept in terms of Hayek’s concept of catallaxy and investigate what this central theoretical component in Hayek’s liberalism (or perhaps, his libertarianism) does to the natural-ness of classic liberalism’s conception of the relation between the state-sovereign and civil society. So, towards my analysis there are a number of key quotes from Mitchell Dean's analysis on Hayek's conception of freedom in Dean's 1999 book Governmentality, below. (Dean's book has a 2nd edition, with a post-GFC postscript).

Some interpretation and further reflections on Dean's excellent explication, to follow. But, something that does initially occur to me is that when nature itself begins to shift, under conditions of climate change, Hayek's tripartite structure--nature, culture, reason--is fundamentally destablized. What might follow, for Hayekian acolytes, is a mania in the wake of a loss: the loss of a unquestionably stable nature that was assumed to be impervious to the influence of culture--the markets, the family, the spontaneous social orders that culture throws up--and the state.

There might be a right-wing mourning in its early stages.


Freedom as artefact

“Neoliberalism . . . introduces a quite distinctive concept of freedom. As Graham Burchell (1996: 24) has remarked, freedom is no longer the freedom of the ‘system of natural liberty’ of Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment but freedom of ‘artefact’ of F.A. Hayek” (155).

“For neo-liberalism, freedom is no longer a natural attribute of Homo oeconomicus, the rational subject of interest. It is an artefact. Yet Hayek’s position is important because it alerts us to the different ways in which it can be an artefact. For the German post-war ordoliberals such as Alexander von Rustow, freedom is something to be contrived by a ‘vital policy’ that promotes the conditions of the free, entrepreneurial conduct of economically rational individuals (Gordon, 1991: 40-1). Hayek, however, offers a critique of this kind of approach when he conceives of culture as an intermediate and key layer between nature and reason.” (156)

“Freedom for Hayek is a product neither of nature nor of governmental policy and its institutions but of cultural evolution conceived as the development of civilization and its discipline. The introduction of this theme of cultural evolution allows his argument to outflank the either/or logic implied in the opposition between the natural and the artificial conceived as the processes of biological selection and the rational designs of government (Hayek, 1979: 155). He conceives nature, culture and rational design as three separate processes, each of which gives rise to ‘rules of conduct’. These rules are stratified: at base, the ‘instinctual’ drives; above these ‘traditions’ restraining the first; and finally, the ‘thin layer of deliberately adopted or modified rules’ (1979: 159-60). So drives, traditions and consciously adopted rules operate within the respective spheres of nature, culture and reason.” (156)

“In the course of cultural evolution, Hayek argues, rules of conduct are selected that help human groups adapt to their social environment, prosper and expand. The development of civilization is thus dependent on the capacity to learn and pass on these rules of conduct. Cultural evolution is a kind of ongoing learning process. These rules change in the course of the transition to an ‘abstract and open’ society in which relations among strangers are governed by abstract rules (forming the basis of laws) and impersonal signals (such as those provided by prices) (1979: 162). Such cultural rules of conduct are learnt not from rationally constructed institutions but from the ‘spontaneous social orders’ [catallaxies] of the market, language, morals and the law. An important consequence follows. Reason does not lead to civilisation; it is its effect. Reason is the consequence of those learnt rules of conduct by which humans become intelligent and it is by submitting to their discipline that humans can become free (1979: 163). This is one point at which neo-liberalism meets neo-conservatism and the concern of communitarianism for the ‘moral order’. In response to the claim that freedom involves a kind of romantic notion of self-fulfilment, Hayek shows that freedom depends on the disciplining effects of social orders that have developed through cultural evolution. It is by observing the rules of conduct learnt in the course of that evolution – around the market and the family, in particular – that we learn how to practise our freedom.” (156-57)

“The specificity of Hayek’s conception of freedom is that it is both negative, in that it is freedom from coercion by the arbitrary will of others, and anti-naturalist, in that its conditions are not found in the natural state of humankind. Hayek is thus able to criticize what he calls the ‘constructivism’ of the type Foucault finds in the ordoliberals and which, coming from a very different political stance, might best be represented by Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (1957), which showed how the historical establishment of markets in labour, money and land requires active legal and governmental reform.” (157)

“For Hayek . . . the market is neither a natural sphere of the relations between exchanging individuals nor an artificial contrivance of appropriate policies but a spontaneous social order governed by customary rules selected by a complex learning process. He uses the German word Bildung to designate a social order that is not a consciously designed institution but is established in the course of its own development. The question of the political conditions of the market is one of developing the appropriate constitutional framework according to the ‘rule of law’. This means that government exercises coercion and restraint of individuals only in accordance with the rules learnt from the process of cultural evolution, or, as he puts it, ‘the recognized rules of just conduct designed to define and protect the domain of all individuals’ (Hayek, 1979: 109). The rule of law means that government is limited to applying universal rules announced in advance to an unknown number of cases and in an unknown number of future instances. One consequence of this is that it is not possible to make laws which discriminate in favour or against any particular class of individuals and so avoid parliaments and laws becoming the ‘playball of group interests’ (1979: 99). Another is that is creates the conditions by which the cultural rules of conduct contained within the spontaneous orders of the market – and indeed of morals, language and law itself – can be reinforced and not abandoned or transgressed. Hayek thus agrees with the ordoliberals on the need for definite political and legal conditions of the market. However, for Hayek these are to be secured by a constitutional framework that limits governmental regulation by a conception of the rule of law that is derived from the rules of conduct arrived at in the process of cultural evolution.” (157-58)

“Hayek succeeds in providing an anti-naturalistic conception of freedom that bypasses processes of social reform and which restricts political reform to imposing limits on the action of government. Yet, as we have seen, reform is cultural not simply because this neo-liberalism has run out of alternatives. It is cultural because what is at issue are the values and rules of conduct that have been developed in the course of the evolution of spontaneous social orders. This is why the ethos of neo-liberalism is at once conservative and radical. It is conservative in its revival and restoration of the values (or ‘virtues’) and rules of conduct associated with these orders, particularly those of the market. And it is radical because, by the process of reduplication and folding back, it multiplies and ramifies these values and rules into ever-new spheres including its own instruments and agencies.” (162)

“Hayek’s philosophy makes intelligible the goals of contemporary neo-liberalism as no less than the deployment of the culturally acquired rules of conduct to safeguard our civilization and the freedom it secures. In its invocation of virtues associated with the spontaneous social orders of the market and family, neo-liberalism is clearly consistent with neo-conservatism. The clearest difference would be in the different conceptions of the means of eliciting these virtues. Here neo-conservatism only has exhortation, sovereign measures and a ‘statist’ imposition of morality that often runs counter to its anti-political impulses. Contemporary liberalism, by contrast, operationalizes culturally acquired values by reforming ever-new spheres so they are accountable to the imperatives of learnt rules of conduct, including and especially the institutions of national government themselves. When public authority must act, it must be sure that it does so in conformity with the rules of conduct associated with markets. For example, according to one influential US text ‘reinventing government’ is about making it ‘entrepreneurial’ (Osborne and Gaebler, 1993). In Australia, the public employment service is replaced by a network of employment placement enterprises, in which the public agency is now in competition with private and community enterprises. Because change can no longer be a rationally directed process of social reform, for neo-liberalism it must be conducted according to cultural values, rules and norms. So far these rules and values have been best condensed into the cultural form of ‘enterprise’ and the ‘consumer’.” (163-64)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Terra Mort

UB40-The Earth Dies Screaming. extended mix

What does a dying world sound like? A slow, unwinding. A mid-tempo dub skank. A sweet despair.

UB40's lament is both oddly nationalistic and environmental: "Your country needs you let's strike up the band". It's from the cold war period of mutually assured destruction (MAD) c1980. But it still hits hard. Now. And harder when the lyrics are deferred for the first four minutes to open up the duration of the music to the slow footsteps of the bass.

This is a sustainable speed. Those other more intensive tempos are layered as a double-skank, that comes over the walking-pace of the bass.

The libertarians, contrarians, denialists and sceptics that seek to ramp up the pace of economic growth--again--and celebrate its laying waste to the biosphere, lack a body capable of anything but isorhythmia and arrhythmia: the dissonant rhythms that impel each other into speculative furies of acceleration and . . . crash. Again and again and again.

The rhythms of the earth in harmony with the rhythms of the social--something heard at the edges of the beginnings of UB40's lament--is a eurhythmia that perhaps can only be heard and felt locally. Maybe you need to put and play your body into your local social- and bio-spheres before any movement towards region, nation . . . can be felt.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Asylum as risk-management

Perhaps one of the prisms through which many Australians see asylum seekers is that of risk. The management of and investments in forms of risk were at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis, where the collapse of an exponentially multiplying viral network of arcane financial instruments dumped the risks avoided and insured against onto the budgets of nation-states.

In our everyday lives we experience forms of risk management: on a general level these involve the physical and mental hazards we choose to avoid or engage in, while more concretely the management of risk can involve the decisions made about investing in a new set of brakes for the car or whether or not we can afford to visit the dentist. With the increasing financialization of the economy over the last 30 years, the rewards that can result from speculative risk-taking have also entered everyday discourse. For most Australians this form of risk-taking has been directed into housing: buying and selling not only the primary place of residence, but moving into investment properties. Taking up the multiple forms of credit, and financial derivatives, was regarded as a low-risk activity until the collapse of Lehmann Brothers last year.

While one way to think about asylum seekers is to consider them to be taking life-risks, their precarious passages are more impelled than chosen. The hazards faced are not chosen under the same conditions as a middle-class Australian might choose to lock-in a fixed mortgage interest rate, or whether to invest in their child’s education by sending them to the local Anglican school.

A significant amount of the vitriol directed at asylum seekers is displaced onto the drivers, bookers and owners of the boats the refugees travel on. The people smugglers are cast as the evil profiteers who tempt the refugees with promises of a supine Australian welcome. Such a narrative, with its stock characters of innocents and evil, helps to provide a target for what is fear and resentment.

I think this is displaced fear and resentment, which originally derives from how the asylum seekers project back an image of the risk-managing citizen to the neoliberal citizens of contemporary Australia. For the ‘ordinary’ Australian, risk-management is now embedded in everyday calculations. You rise or fall on the basis of how willing you are take risks, and on the basis of how hard you are willing to work to support those investments made. Asylum seekers who are cast as queue-jumping, and seen as having the savings to invest in the hazard of seeking Australian citizenship, reflect back an image of the risk-managing citizen, but it is an image whose conditions of risk-taking have to be kept out of the frame. One way to keep these too difficult worldly and global risks from interfering with the containable imaginary aspirations of neoliberal citizenship is to decouple asylum seekers from the events that are impelling them away from their homelands.

For once these more troubling events enter the frame of the movement of peoples in and out of Australian space and time, the neoliberal image of the risk-managing self starts to decompose. The edges are what need to be kept invisible and silenced, so that the image of the ordinary Australian rewarded for risk-taking and hard-work is not complicated by the social, world-systemic dimensions of the hazards. The fear of the asylum seeker is driven, in part, by a fear of the risks that can’t be managed or chosen in a bid to seek returns on our investments, and by a resentment about the artefactuality of Australian citizenship.

Perhaps then, the recent de-intensifying or this fear and resentment is a corollary of the small movements away from the heights of neoliberal financial capitalism. The Australian government responses to the GFC have, to some extent, socialised risk. The link between border and financial security appears tight. It remains to be seen whether the recent movements in the governmentality of these elements of security will be matched with a similar response to global warming and climate change.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Retired to the shoe throwing circuit

John Howard has been honoured with a hurled-shoe

attack at Cambridge. 

"It was a pathetic throw. He would never have been in my team," 
Mr Howard said.

Pot meet kettle:

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sloughing off the skin of Labourism

**Below is a long off-cut from the Phd. It summarises and evaluates a variety of political histories: Greg Melleuish's work on Australian Liberalism, George Megalogenis' The Longest Decade and Ken Wark's essayistic analysis of Australian political and cultural postmodernity.**

Paul Kelly’s extremely influential tome The End of Certainty stands out as the most widely read and referred to sources on the long Labor decade, and is still to be found on the reading lists of Australian University subjects in political science and government. Kelly’s main argument in this political history, that is densely filled with insider-detail, is that in the 1980s the exhaustion of the Federation era ‘Australian Settlement’ both became apparent and was wilfully, rightly dismantled by the Hawke-Keating government. Kelly’s text is the central history of the long Labor decade, and his heuristic of the Australian Settlement widely circulates in Australian political culture as the commonsense in popular Australian historiography of the period. As a number of critics of Kelly’s text and central heuristic have argued The End of Certainty is both a history of politics and a profoundly political historiography that claims that Australian modernity was prevented by long exhausted traditions instituted at the time of federation which were inward-looking and stunting, leaving Australia unprepared for the maturity and growth that are demanded by the new conditions of globalisation (Beilharz, 1993b, Macintyre, 2004 and Walter, 1996: 27-42). The argument of the text is that these traditions, the five pillars of the Australian Settlement,[i] are marks of an immature nation then and in 1992 and that their final dismantling under the supervision of the Hawke-Keating government  modernised Australia. Ultimately for Kelly in The End of Certainty the long Labor decade is the period of the long overdue modernisation of Australian political culture whose central hero was Paul Keating. However, the politics of this tome are located in its use of the Bildungsroman narrative form in order to use the cultural identification between Australian national character and Labourism that Russel Ward had written of in The Australian Legend (1966) to argue that the Labourist Australian national character was "a paradox: a young nation with geriatric arteries" which needed to mature by sloughing off the "Sentimental Traditionalism" of Labourism (Kelly, 1994: 13 and 2). 

Greg Melleuish’s essayistic history of post-federation Australian political culture is less inclined to see the long Labor decade as modernisation forced by global realities. Rather he sees it as a dual attack on moral and collective freedom and the traditional institutions that reproduce the conditions for these forms – the family, the Christian churches and the unified nation – by an expanding government in league with Unionism. Melleuish speaks from that morality of Liberalism that Judith Brett argues is central to the Liberal tradition in Australia (Brett, 2003: 7-12). For Melleuish "[t]he Labor mission was fundamentally corporatist and efficiency-based rather than individualistic and liberal’ and its ‘measures to deregulate the Australian financial sector and float the dollar were not introduced to enhance individual economic liberty" but were "always intended as a form of disciplinary control rather than as a tool for creating greater freedom" (1998: 55). Melleuish calls the economic rationalists ‘new liberal’ and in an assessment that chimes with those of neoliberalism in the Foucauldian school writes, “[t]hose who attacked protection and regulation used the language both of liberty and of managerial efficiency . . . the language and rhetoric [of which] achieved a wide currency [that] became embedded in public debate as an ideal measure against which the real world could be evaluated “(56).

Melleuish sees Australian political culture as having been subjected to cultural transformations that have been ‘sold’ to the Australian public through packages promising transformation and redemption (72).[ii] These packages operate against what Melleuish sees and values as the liberal propensity of localised free associations in civil society to conduct their own lives outside of any ‘’package’ that the government and the state has sought to impose on [these] ordinary Australians" (84-5 and 93). Melleuish’s analysis of economic rationalism shares much with Foucault’s analysis of Neo-Liberalism, except Melleuish has normative commitments to family, nation and church organisations as a Burkean conservative who values institutions which function to reproduce social forms that have a moral framework. The similarity then lies in Melleuish’s critique of economic rationalism as a set of practices which compel freedom: "Freedom compelled is no freedom at all. Efficiency disguised as freedom, and used to coerce individuals into forms of behaviour that economic managers desire, is no better. Despite its talk of liberty, economic rationalism – as state policy – smells too much of coercion’ (85).

There are a number of other political histories which intersect the long Labor decade. George Megalogenis, journalist for News Ltd.’s national broadsheet The Australian, in his The Longest Decade (2006) argues that the economic boom that began in 1991 and continued into 2006 is a useful periodisation on which to fashion a political-cultural history. For Megalogenis Paul Keating and John Howard’s rule should be considered as a continuous enactment of the project of economic reform. Of course Megalogenis is writing before the institution of Workchoices: a set of regulations that placed the individual contract at the heart of employment relations and also ultimately aimed to de-unionise Australian workplaces. As Megalogenis observes in his revised version: "Howard had the deregulation equation the wrong way around. He was preaching reform in the personal economy to make employees more productive. But when pressed on global warming, he reverted to a protectionist formula. He said he would not be exporting Australian jobs to Asia"(2008).

As a distinct period in the historiography of Australian political culture ‘the longest decade’ (1991-2006) is given coherence by the continuous economic growth that proceeded the recession of 1990-1991 and by Megalogenis’ claim that this ‘boom’ is the legacy of Keating and Howard’s shared project of reforming, meaning neoliberalising, the Australian economy. But Megalogenis’s periodisation is focused on the aftermath of the embedding of neoliberalism in Australian political culture rather than excavating the techniques by which it became embedded and contested. Megalogenis writes,

The boom of the past 15 years has not secured social cohesion. Instead, it has encouraged a mass outbreak of social climbing. Deregulation has taught Australians to see their self-worth through bricks-and-mortar and the size of the bribe they can extract from government. Avarice is the new black, and the political system has sanctified it with the term ‘aspirational voting’. [ . . . ] The open economy has flipped the clich├ęs of the Australian character. Egalitarianism is now the motto of the haves; capital gains, the mantra of the punters. (2006: 299)

This is breezy, punchy journalistic history, that is colloquial in tone and firm in its evaluations. Megalogenis is an economist who marshals demographic statistics into his argument in order to support his claims like that above concerning the lack of social cohesion over the period. Yet as Megalogenis’ post-2007 election revised extract above makes clear the continuous narrative of the so-called longest decade cleaved around three central, and as I will argue below, ghostly pillars of Australian Labourism: Protection, Arbitration and Unionism. In this sense the return of spectres of Australian Labourism roused by the Coalition’s Workchoices legislation draws attention from the fact of 15 years of economic growth and the cultural politics of managing the boom over that period to questions concerning the history of Australian Labourism. For if the ‘longest decade’ ends with these Labourist ghosts haunting the body politic we must wonder at the extent to which and how the living forms of these ghosts were interred, discarded and lost. The periodisation used in this thesis – the long Labor decade – complements Megalogenis’s, while their overlapping period (1991-1996) points more to the contested legacy of the Keating Prime Ministership and to the disorienting temporal effects of a neoliberalising Labor government than to any defects in either that the other can explain.


“The Hawke legacy is a laboratory of empirical experiment that is, among other things, a ‘third way’ between dogmatic insistence on a politics of rationalism and a do-nothing politics of pragmatism” (Wark, 1999: 335). McKenzie Wark’s writing on the long Labor decade is mediated through his experience of being in a Liberal Party stronghold as the results of the 1993 election are announced hearing Keating’s speech on the true believers and reflecting on how this signifier makes him feel (1999). It is also mediated by three ‘documentaries’ (two are fictionalised documentaries) on Labor in power. The first is True Believers focussing on John Curtin and Ben Chifley in office, the HV Evatt leader in opposition then The Dismissal which hones in on the final period of the Whitlam government and finally Labor in Power the short Labor decade. Wark calls each an epic and there is something of the formation of nation in each media text, and a monumental size to the importance of the three government projects, their obstacles, conditions, opponents. In a sense what Wark does is similar to what Beilharz does in Transforming Labour, which is to assess Labor tradition through ‘historiography’ so as to assess the fidelity of the Hawke-Keating government to Labor tradition. While Beilharz’s politics are enunciated from a moving position across a spectrum of Left ideologies as he attempts to  stay left as the old certainties dissolve and Labor in power shifts right, Wark’s approach is cultural and minimal and libertarian: "I used to be true believer, and a labour movement leftist, but these days I’ve lost faith in anything but the practicalities of forming electoral majorities out of a commitment to [. . .] [m]inimising avoidable suffering – if there is a feeling that structures the whole of Labor culture, I think that’s it" (Wark, 1999: 181).

For Wark the Labor party is adept at producing and circulating fables which have to reach their publics and constituents through contemporary media like radio and television. For Wark these reinventions of the fables of Labor always have this structure of feeling – minimising avoidable suffering. Wark is adept at picking up on the key implications of shifts in policy and events like the Accord, which signal that the Australian Labor Party and ACTU agree to forego short-term pursuit of wage claims, compensated for by an increase in social wage, in order to address high inflation and high unemployment.

Effectively Wark re-rells the story of the long Labor decade through the Labor in Power documentary, with short excursions into his ideas about the vectoral nature of ‘politics’ and celebrity (179). Key events are summarised: the Accord, the float, the 1985 tax Summit. Wark’s narrative shifts to a focus on Keating, to the problems with Keating’s manichean, black-white, right-wrong rationalism in opposition to Hawke’s empiricist- consensual style of decision making. Keating as the celebrity starts to ascend for Wark and then we move into the 1986 Banana Republic episode (200). Next Wark unpacks economic rationalism: idealist extrapolation of understanding of part of economy to whole economy operating through an idealist and utopian faith in a future that the present actions can bring forth (201). Wark is of course astute, bringing to bear his sociology of culture:
It envisages a change from political to economic time where change that cannot be measured, the eventfulness of fortune, gives way to uncertainty that can be quantified, the calculus of risk. This pure quantifiable time never arrives [and displaces and defers in through the techniques used to move toward it], but it acts as a permanent alternative dreamtime, the purity of which stands as a measure of the impurity of the sordid political time of the present. (Wark, 1999: 201-02)

Wark also writes that, 

The changes Labor itself unleashed when in office created an economy, a polity and a culture that were considerably more dynamic than the quiet backwater in which people my age, who I’ll call Generation Gough, were probably the last to experience. The sense that there may be profound qualitative changes afoot in the 90s contributed to the resistant mood of the information proletariat and the reactionary instincts of Hansonite populism. (Wark, 1999: 260).

For Wark these judgements are preliminary to his (post)modernist advocacy of the need for Labor to enter the information and postindustrial age by carrying their ethos of “minimising avoidable suffering” into cyberspace through the urbane and cosmopolitan cultures that travel on the vectors of celebrities (260-64).[iii] Wark’s postmodernity is a particular brand of modernity[iv] in which the traditional and even modern cultures of Labor and Labourism are to be sloughed off as redundant skins suited to suburban and therefore ineffective politics. To make his point Wark enlists the memory of those for whom Gough Whitlam was only ever a figure on television: “Besides being culture and politics, the Whitlam fable is also television. For some of my contemporaries, it was more television than anything else” (265). Thus for Wark, “[p]art of the challenge for Labor at the end of the 90s became that of finding ways of articulating this broader, less directly political memory of Labor’s past to the party’s future electoral ambition” (267).

The key sections in Wark’s book, in terms of his writing of the long Labor decade, are ‘Steering the Third Way Leftwards” and “Postindustrial Class Struggle” (272-285). In these chapters Wark argues that “[s]ome on the left of the Labor party” need to join “the public consensus on what actually happened in the 80s and 90s” (273). Via Lindsay Tanner’s gloss on Kelly’s Australian Settlement thesis, Wark argues for a new Labourist pragmatism. What is missing from Wark’s vision is any account of labour that is not postindustrial or any account of culture that is not mediated by television. That culture might be experienced while playing footy or netball is somehow too suburban for Wark and thereby ‘traditional’. For Wark the social body can be re-assembled. In the language of Deleuze it can make new assemblages, in order to accommodate the new global flows of information and culture. Yet the gains of such cheerful positivity are hardly accessible to all. Indeed as the social body reassembles those parts no longer contemporary, urbane, or able to couple are perhaps simply abjected. Wark’s conceit is that they tell fables while he deals in facts and actualities (274).

The central problem in Wark’s ‘narrative’ is that he confuses the culture of neoliberalism with cultural globalization: effectively arguing that any of the side-effects of globalization can be squared away through the more egalitarian cultural governance that such globalization brings in its wake – if only we are urbane enough to heed the call of and fall into line with the cosmopolitan slipstream. This is a dangerously circular argument that treats all blockages in the flows of globalization as opportunities for (good) cultural, and thereby economic, reform (283 and 290-2).[v] Culture is not merely as response to political economic forces not are political economic forces driven by changes in culture. Wark’s model of politics would seem to place culture in the position of that which mediates technological change and thereby is at the avant-garde of political and economic change: “[t]he medium through which economic or political change or negotiation takes place is partly cultural” (337). While there is a case for this conception of a cultural determinism, and theories of cultural materialism do give a central place to the material effects of culture, the claim that cultural forms precede political ones and that thereby politics needs to turn the forms of the cultural avant garde to its advantage, albeit guided by a specific ethos, is a more an academic disciplinary move or gambit whereby the methods and metaphysical commitments of political science and sociology are to be subsumed by those of cultural studies. Wark’s key slippage is between culture and economy: economy is a type of culture (283). Again there is some truth in this definition, but to argue that economic forms and systems are in part cultural is not to concede that the distinction is thereby redundant and the economic to be subsumed by the cultural. Equally, as John Frow among others argues, the cultural sphere is traversed by commodification and is itself an industry, part of the economy (1997 and Jameson, 1991). The other point that needs to be made is that Wark is confusing the social life of the post-commodity (the uses of information after it has been exchanged) with what is social about commodification: for Wark commoditized information cannot be reifying or alienating as information has a social life that exceeds the exchange. This is to read one temporal condition in the social life or career of a thing – the moment of use or waste or gift – onto that different temporal state of being a commodity (Frow, 1992). This is rhetorical and textual de-reification that takes information out of the circuitry of commodification by focussing on that type of information that is popular, already public and ‘cultural’. That certain information might be highly guarded, and patented, that it might constitute knowledge and disciplinary expertise within a field of technical specialities is bracketed by Wark due to the focus on popular culture, television in particular, in his text. This subsumption of economy to culture under the new conditions of media vectors in the postindustrial, information age opens the door to a discourse on cultural governance which can present itself as governance as such.[vi] What is missing in Wark’s post-long Labor decade account is a greater reach into the culture of Chicago School Neoliberalism and its focus on the microeconomics of human capital and the rationalities by which the human subject as labour becomes that human subject as enterprise and as entrepreneur of one’s potentials and capacities. Wark is too fixed on consuming and meaning-making subject to entertain the notion that information can be an investment in one’s own human capital, and that egalitarian access to information might be less a matter of keeping the postmodern light on the hill on than of furthering the Neoliberal project of embedding governmentalities which function to form the self as entrepreneur of one’s own human capital (Foucault, 2008).

[i] I will return to a more extensive analysis of Kelly’s conception of an ‘Australian Settlement’ later. However, the five pillars of the ‘exhausted’ Australian Settlement were: a white Australia which protected white male jobs from Asian emigrants and promoted White citizenship rights over Aboriginal ones; a system of industrial tariff protection which enabled employers to vouchsafe the jobs that were to be paid a ‘living wage’ according to need rather than means; an Arbitration Court which adjudicated on these wage cases and upon the principle of a living wage; a paternalistic utilitarian State which sought to support and assist its citizens in achieving ‘happiness’; and an expectation that Britain (then America) would provide an imperial benevolence in terms of financial and physical security (Kelly, 1994: 1-11).

[ii] Transformation and redemption are both operations of narrative. Melleuish has missed the obvious narrative form of the coming-of-age ‘package’.

[iii] On the meanings of culture, celebrity and cyberspace Wark writes:
If Labor is a culture then it is flanked on one side by the problem of celebrity and on the other by the problem of cyberspace. By celebrity, I mean the need to create an image for the vectors of the media, through which the public reads proposal for what it could desire. By cyberspace, I mean the need to learn empirically from the great wealth of information available and create the peculiar kind of specialized knowledge that is the guile of the political generalist. (1999: 264)
[iv] John Frow suggests that postmodernism, as a word,
[c]an be taken as designating nothing more and nothing less than a genre of theoretical writing. [ . . . Y]our first major gambit must be to predicate the existence or non-existence of the postmodern. . . . The classical structure of this gambit [ . . .] is this: first, you assume the existence of a historical shift in sensibility, which you call the postmodern; then you define it by opposition to whatever you take the modern to have been; finally, you seek to give a content to the postmodern in terms of this opposition. The content, that is to say, is deduced logically from the axiom of existence and only then described as historically real. (1997: 15)

Peter Osborne argues that modernity is a multiple, qualitative and not chronological concept (1995 and 1992). For Zygmunt Bauman the historicism of a post modernity elides, again, the qualitative shift in that experience of time and space that is better explained and connoted by the figuring of a move from a solid to liquid modernity (2000). Furthermore, the alternative modernities ‘school’ that surrounds the Chicago University based Public Culture journal, including Dipesh Chakrabarty, argue that the paths to and through modernity are multiple and that to fix any one path is often Eurocentric if not also teleological (Goankar, 2002: 4 and Chakrabarty, 2000:6-16).
In Wark’s account of the lessons for Labor of the long Labor decade revenants, ghosts, hauntings and utopias are suburban and backwards, to be blasted away by synchronising with the techniques and social forms enabled by the new modernity that is transnational, cosmopolitan and led by mediatised postindustrial information technologies. While this is a manifesto for a certain formation of Australian Left-intellectuals, not all intellectuals are caught in the slipstream that Wark argues is dragging humanity into the Network age, nor is his “temporalisation of time” (Osborne, 1995) able to account for disjointed time (Derrida, 1993) or the experience of multiple times which Ernst Bloch argued was one of the key techniques the Nazi leadership used to conduct the arrhythmic temporalities of a bloc of social formations in the 1930s (Bloch 1991: ).Overall Wark’s project for a postmodern Labor Party and Labourism is hampered, in a similar way to Paul Kelly’s project for a new Australian Settlement, by its politics of time: its deterministic modernisation that divides the social realm into those who are going forward, those stuck and those heading back.

[v] Wark writes that
whether anyone likes it or not it [Labor] will have to be open to the global information vector to some degree, for it is through globalisation that new sources of wealth creation will produce the pudding to be shared out to Labor’s traditional base. The paradox is that the only way for Labor to honour its traditional communities is a leap into a modern, perhaps even postmodern future.(1999: 292)
This is view that could be almost entirely substituted for the one Paul Kelly proffered in 1992 in The End of Certainty, save that while Kelly proselytisers for free markets Wark speaks for free information. It’s the teleological inevitability of both positions that is identical, and this is surprising since Wark’s use of the term postmodern should suggest that a teleological conception of history is rejected. The opposite is the case. Chapter 3 explores discourses of modernisation and postmodernisation in depth.

[vi] Carol Johnson is sceptical about those more ‘positive’ and triumphalist narratives, like Wark’s, in which the inevitable political implications for any Left response to a wholesale shift into the post-industrial information are glibly presented:
A modernist belief in the inevitability of technological progress and the grand narratives of economic liberalism have been combined with more postmodern conceptions of an information and cultural economy. . . .Various governments have used the information revolution to justify policies of free trade and deregulation that have a long history in neo-liberalism. Nor has the cyber-age succeeded in undermining traditional identities and power relations, rather those identities and power relations have been adapted to the new conditions. . . One needs to be deeply sceptical regarding the way in which politicians use arguments about the ‘inevitable’ implications of unprecedented social change. (2000: 138-9)