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

From the Rudd legacy to the Gillard wars

I have an article in The Conversation about Kevin Rudd’s legacy. In the next Overland I will have a longer article on Rudd and Gillard. I don’t find Rudd particularly interesting. Even his parliamentary supporters such as Richard Marles can only tell us he was a nice bloke, at least some of the time. The attempt to define Rudd as exemplifying some ‘anti-politics’ seems far fetched, especially when it is undertaken by Marxists. Marxism is no more than an anti-politics than it is an anti-capitalism (but more on that another day). Continue reading

Mark Latham political seeker

For last year my online commentary focus has been The Conversation. I am relaunching this blog. Today I have a review of former Labor leader Mark Latham’s recent book Not Dead Yet at The Conversation.  With seven respondents to Latham’s opening essay it is difficult to cover.

Some additional points. The popular Labor party reform idea of the moment is primaries; this is despite the fact that Australian experiments have mostly seen low turnout and disappointing electoral outcomes for candidates selected in this manner. Latham supports primaries but wants the eligibility of candidates to contest a primary to be determined by a panel comprising ‘party elders’, local branch office-bearers, union and state ALP branch representatives. Prospective candidates will have to demonstrate record of community engagement, public speaking Continue reading

Labor’s problem: workers or the self-employed?

  1. Using the Australian Election Survey and logistic regression to estimate impact of becoming self-employed on the votes of male manual workers. I have also included deunionisation (a likely consequence of self-employment). This chart shows predicted Labor vote 1993-2010. Summary self-employment has a negative impact on Labor vote but this impact has actually declined slightly since 1993. Labor has a workers’ problem not a self-employment problem.