Corruption & machine politics

I have an article in the Conversation about the trade union and home insulation Royal Commissions held by the government. The article doesn’t imply any judgement about the significance of the matters that they investigate. Actually I think that trade union political funds (I refuse to use the meaningless term ‘slush funds’) are a notable own goal by the union movement. The use of funds raised from members in support of political campaigns in other unions is entirely inappropriate and funds raised by employer donations place in serious doubt the independence of union leaderships.

 

‘Corruption’ is a complex matter for the left. Continue reading

John Anderson, Helen Garner & racial offense

I am writing a book with the working title of Australia after socialism that explains the Australian intellectual left since the early 1990s. Tim Rowse in a review in Arena Magazine No. 4 of Meaghan Morris Ecstasy and Economics, described her approach thus:

 

Unlike those who practice political biography, she holds no brief for explicable human subjects; in her resolutely anti-humanist cultural analysis. Keating is a congeries of representations whose resolution into a single intelligible phenomenon is not to be taken for granted

 

Perhaps this is my guide and in a Focualdian style we might categorize political arguments in novel ways. The recent controversy about repeal of s18C of Racial Discrimination Act is an example. Continue reading

Is Parliament worthwhile? Further thoughts

I have an article in The Conversation on controversies around the performance of the Speaker of the Australian federal parliament.  A veteran MP from the conservative wing of a conservative party she received the Speakership as a consolation prize for not securing Ministry. Her performance has been criticized as biased, even by conservatives, and I argue in the article this may be a response to incentives. The best Speakers are likely to be those to whom it is the summit of their ambitions. There is however a broader issues to which I allude: why is Parliament important? Should we care about how it operates? Academic study of politics has often sought to restore the status of parliament and to make it a vehicle for deliberative democracy. I doubt whether this is feasiable. There is a long tradition of criticism of parliamentary democracy from the left going back to Rousseau and Marx and Lenin’s work largely builds on this foundation.  As I point out in the article many early Australian Labor activists were critical of parliamentarianism. Perhaps this contrasts with Britain where Labour’s long political apprenticeship rendered it very loyal to parliamentarianism.  ‘Old Labour’ revered Westminster; Herbert Morrison’s Government and Parliament was an example. This loyalty undermined the appeal of the radical left represented by Bennism in the 1980s. The right-wing breakaway from Labour, the Social Democratic Party, carried parliamentary fetishism further: the mere prospect of Labour Party members being able to disendorse MPs was cast as totalitarian. In the end it was New Labour that challenged aspects of Westminster traditions through its support of self-government for Wales and Scotland. Continue reading

The end of Catholic reconservatism: reblogged from 2010

The appointment of George Pell to a position in the Vatican (as a budget-cutting manager) reminds us of the interminable debate about the power of Catholic conservatism in Australia. Back in 2010 I wrote the following for this blog (and it was published on a Deakin site that has since disappeared). Events since then have only strengthened my argument. Continue reading

Class in Australia: further comments to my article

I have an article in The Conversation examining conservative responses to class in Australia. My inspiration was the rather clunky Anglo-Marxism of John Strachey and Harold Laski in the 1930s. They argued that as capitalism was in a phase of decline it could no longer afford the reforms that social democracy had offered – hence fascism, which they interpreted in a fairly mechanical sense as a creation of monopoly capitalism. Continue reading

Alfred Chandler and Amazon

What parallels can be drawn between contemporary transformations in the Internet and the corporate reconstruction of capitalism (to use Martin Sklar’s phrase) in the past?

Says Xavier Rizos

The internet took off there nearly 20 years ago with the wide dissemination of Netscape, the first web browser. Among the founding myths of this new economy was the belief that it would do away with intermediaries placing buyers and sellers face to face. Far from disappearing, new overpowerful intermediaries have actually emerged…far from having materialised the ideal of a pure market allowing perfect competition – as its pioneers believed – the internet has instead given birth to a juxtaposition of giant monopolies in separate market segments, which are often not in competition or only indirectly.. If the digital world tolerates so little of the competition, it is because of a specific law of its own: the network effect. The value of a good or service increases with the number of its users, even at the expense of short-term profitability: the product is adopted by a critical mass of users, allowing a company to acquire a dominant position on a given market. This delivers a “winner takes all” outcome Continue reading

The (partial) unoriginality of Marx’s anticapitalism

Much commentary lately on the Pope’s critique of capitalism. Some even describe it as ‘Marxist’, this is silly, but so also are many of the evocations of the Marxist legacy on the left. Marx wasn’t the first or the last critic of capitalism. The originality of Marx’s work does not lie in his moral critique of capitalism, or even his description of capitalism. In 1852 Marx declared:

And now as to myself, no credit is due to me for discovering the existence of classes in modern society or the struggle between them. Long before me bourgeois historians had described the historical development of this class struggle and bourgeois economists, the economic economy of the classes. What I did that was new was to prove: (1) that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production , (2) that the class struggle necessarily leads to the Continue reading

Secular stagnation? Paul Sweezy in Australia

I have an article in Online Opinion on Labor’s post-election prospects although my comments applicable to the entire left including the Greens. One topic I touch is the implications of slower economic growth for politics. In recent weeks we have seen a revival of the ‘secular stagnation’ thesis that due to a shortage of investment opportunities capitalist economies have entered a phase of sluggish growth. The thesis goes back to the radical Keynesians of the 1940s and also Paul Sweezy. Continue reading

Capitalism and machine politics in Geelong

Celebrity photographer and nightclub owner Darren Lyons is en route for the a victory in the Geelong Mayoral by-election with about 30%, ahead of his nearest rival Stephanie Asher with 12%. It is a compulsory preferential ballot but with 16 candidates it would be extremely unlikely for Lyons to lose from here. The City of Greater Geelong is large local government area with a population of over 211,000 in 2011.  It is not much smaller in population than the Northern Territory. It is larger in population than the Cities of Sydney and Melbourne. It is a highly social diverse city that includes affluent middle-class suburbs and northern zone with high levels of poverty and social exclusion. Continue reading

Why bother with the ABC’s ‘Keating’ ?

I wrote recently that Australians don’t revere past politicians. But evidence against this, at least for elites, is the popularity of long-form interviews with politicians past. The most recent installment is the ABC series on Paul Keating. As a historian I consider that the value of open-form interviews with past politicians, who have had plenty of time to get their stories clear is of limited value (the official description for Keating promises ‘inside stories’).  It is the case even for more contemporary analysis. It is persistent belief that if only you can talk to the ‘insiders’ you can explain why things happen. Interviews can be valuable but they need to be part of an overall research project.  Paul Keating’s continuing appeal is as spokesperson for a particular generation of policy makers. His time in office as Treasurer and Prime Minister saw both the highpoint and the effective dismantling of incomes policy. Keating seemed in control but his variant positions suggest this was not the case. This is the old problem of the role of the individual in history (on which see me here). Why are past public servants never interviewed? When Tony Cole was appointed to the Abbott government’s Commission of Audit did anyone in the media even mention his past role in Treasury during the Keating era? Continue reading