The Law of the Tendency of the Quantity of Regulation to Rise

Regulation

Since the foundering of the Keynesian consensus in the mid-1970s, the subsequent ‘neoliberal turn’ has seen governments worldwide make repeated attempts to deregulate markets, seemingly with little success. Indeed, strictly quantitatively speaking, there is far greater regulation worldwide now than at the beginning of the project. There are, of course, myriad forces behind this, and it is beyond the scope of this blog post to address them all. After first providing a brief explanation of how and why the neoliberal turn came about, this post’s primary focus is on the ramifications of the factor from which its title is derived; that is, the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.[1] More specifically, it focuses on the regulatory responses generated in reaction to this inexorable tendency of capitalism to undermine itself.

Those living in Western countries in the decades immediately following the Second World War could be forgiven for thinking that the countercyclical quasi-socialist prescriptions of John Maynard Keynes (1964) had put an end to economic crises once and for all. Certainly, until the mid-1970s, better working conditions and ever-higher wages likely appeared to workers to be nothing more than the natural outcome of their collective bargaining; or, when that proved ineffective, strikes. To employers, however, the full-employment regime that had at first seemed like an ingenious way to shore up demand during a downturn had by the late 1960s revealed itself to be ruinous (Streeck 2014, pp. 25–6). As predicted by Michał Kalecki (1943), the maintenance of such a full-employment program ultimately eliminated workers’ fear of ‘the sack’, thereby removing employers’ only disciplinary measure to prevent rising wages from eating away their profits (p. 326). In 1971, unable to generate profits domestically, the United States abandoned the gold standard to enable it to recycle the world’s surpluses (Varoufakis 2015, ch.4). Needless to say, this demanded an enormous amount of new monetary regulation and administration. The rest of the decade saw prices and interest rates rise, profits fall, and workers laid off faster than jobs could be created; that is, stagflation.

Meanwhile, a new consensus had been emerging among austerity-minded economists to challenge the Keynesian paradigm. With growing hostility toward the perceived failures of Keynesianism having been aggravated by two major oil-price shocks in 1973 and 1979, the ‘golden age’ of Keynesian social democracy came to an end. As Farrell and Quiggin (2011) have argued, the problem with Keynesianism was not the economics, it was that it could never be separated from the politics. Unlike employees, politicians still feared retrenchment. Therefore, increasingly, policymakers ignored Keynes’ explicit advice about accumulating surpluses during boom years, and instead carried on with voter-pleasing spending, irrespective of economic performance (p. 100). Faced with the possibility of electoral defeat by any opposition party promising to continue spending, governments’ ability to regulate their own expenditure had effectively been undermined by the democratic process.

The new British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, inspired by the ‘neoliberal’ thought collective of the Mont Pèlerin Society—most notably, the Austrian School’s F. A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and the Chicago School’s Milton Friedman—launched a project of privatisation, tax cuts, reduced welfare spending, union-busting and market deregulation. Ronald Reagan, upon his election to the US Presidency the following year, followed suit (Harvey 2005, pp. 58–62; Van Horn & Mirowski 2009, p. 140). Despite the label—which most of its proponents had anyway rejected early on—there was little that was ‘neo-’ about this economic philosophy. Like David Hume and Adam Smith before them, these neoliberals saw personal frugality and parsimony as the engine of capitalist growth, and all government debt as bad (Blyth 2013, ch. 4). All economics, in other words, was microeconomics. What was new, however, was the idea that, contra classical economists like Smith and John Stuart Mill, there was ‘no such thing as a free lunch’; which is to say, all income is earned, even that which is inherited or derived from rents (Hudson 2015, p. xiv).

This ‘supply-side’ approach sees wealth not as something to be redistributed to guarantee demand for goods and services, but as something created by private enterprise and entrepreneurial initiative, which inevitably ‘trickles down’ to workers via jobs created by the ‘self-made’ titans of industry. Employee and consumer protections are to be provided by the state only insofar as it guarantees ‘the competitive order’ between firms. In this view, the government must only be permitted to facilitate the ‘invisible hand’ of the market, never to guide it. Indeed, any attempt to do so would invariably lead to totalitarianism (Hayek 1944; Friedman 1951).

The total deregulation of the market envisioned by these neoliberal idealists was, however, always a utopian fiction. As Karl Polanyi ([1944] 2001) emphasised, the notion of ‘the economy’ as an independent and equilibrating system of integrated markets, ‘disembedded’ from society and nature, is something that cannot exist (pp. 60, 70). Even the laissez-faire system of the nineteenth century ‘was planned’; although, the necessary subsequent ‘planning was not’ (p. 141). The ‘embeddedness’ of the economy means that it can never be autonomous; rather, it is always subordinated to politics and social relations (Block 2001, pp. xxiii–iv). Any enthusiasm for the ‘freedom’ of deregulation in the good times is invariably countered by a call for regulatory protection against the excesses of capitalism in the bad. This ‘double movement’, according to Polanyi, is the motor of institutional change (Blyth 2002, ch. 1). Further, capitalism’s inclination toward monopoly and the tendency of the rate of profit to fall means that regulation is required if capitalism is to be prevented from undermining its sine qua non: the endless accumulation of capital (Ortleib 2008, p. 107).

Even before the elections of Thatcher and Reagan, the early neoliberal experiments conducted by Friedman’s ‘Chicago boys’ in Latin America had seen one-off spikes in gross domestic product figures caused by privatisation fire-sales, immediately followed by reregulation of the newly deregulated markets as soon as growth started to go backwards. But, as with any paradigm, ‘conceptual stretching’ meant that neoliberalism simply adapted to such disconfirming evidence (Kuhn [1962] 2012, p. 44). Arguably, the chief reason the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was ever allowed to implement these ‘structural adjustment’ programs in the first place was that, with the collapse of Bretton Woods and the end of gold convertibility in 1971, the IMF no longer had a function: there was literally no reason for this massive regulatory body to continue existing (Blyth 2013, ch. 5). Rather than disband, however, the IMF began engaging in ‘mission creep’ and the neoliberal program was zealously exported to less-developed countries around the world under the banner of the ‘Washington Consensus’ (Braithwaite 2008, p. 6; Babb 2012, pp. 269–74). Naturally, these huge restructuring programs, which made loans conditional on privatisation and deregulation, required their own regulation, and debtor countries soon required reregulation after the initial deregulation inevitably failed, thus creating the IMF’s new raison d’être. Aided by an ever-expanding policy checklist for ‘good governance’ produced by its sister organisation the World Bank—by 2002, the list contained 116 items—the Fund had essentially created its own perpetual-regulation machine (World Bank 2002; Sundaram & Chowdhury 2016).

The trend was hardly unique to the IMF. As Vogel observed in 1996 (p. 3):

… what we have witnessed has been reregulation, not deregulation. That is, the governments of the advanced industrial countries have reorganised their control of private sector behaviour, but not substantially reduced the level of regulation.

But, as should already be clear, the tendency of the quantity of regulation to rise, does not necessarily mean that the quality of regulation increases, nor even that it is qualitatively the same thing. To speak of ‘regulation’ in the abstract obscures the fact that there are many incommensurable types of regulation. As Caffagi and Renda (2012) point out, the continued faith in market-generated outcomes among policymakers means that the majority of guidance documents ‘award priority to self- or co-regulatory solutions before starting to consider more intrusive policy approaches’ (p.1). Only when a crisis or scandal occurs is a more restrictive form of regulation usually employed, after the fact; and even then, is typically relaxed over time (Braithwaite 2008, p. 32). The very nature of much of the regulatory policy that has emerged since the neoliberal turn is fundamentally different to that which existed during the Keynesian era. Whereas the latter was chiefly aimed at tempering the brutality of markets—a compromise solution governments proposed and businesses reluctantly accepted following the Great Depression, to appease an angry public and stem the tide of communism—much of the former has been aimed at expediting the movement of capital from those who have the least to those who already have the most (Wolff 2012, p. 23).

In the ‘idealist view of neoliberalism’, this should be of no concern, because the diminishing marginal utility of that surplus value means that the capitalist will inevitably reinvest it to create more jobs and boost productivity. In ‘actually existing neoliberalism’, wealth inequality is back at levels not seen since the 1920s, the trend is accelerating, and governments are too scared to regulate lest ‘regime shopping’ transnational corporations decide to take their business elsewhere (Crouch 2013, p. 221). The idealist view of neoliberalism, which vehemently opposes all regulation for its distortionary effects on the infallible market, today bears virtually no relationship to actually existing neoliberalism, which in practice has come to wholly embrace any and all regulation that can save it from itself. Still, the libertarian rhetoric and junk mathematical models of the former continue to be used by politicians, economists, advocacy groups, think tanks, educational institutions, the corporate media, and so on, to justify the latter (Parsons 1989). Four decades on, it has truly become ‘socially embedded neoliberalism’ (Cahill 2014, pp. 1–30). Indeed, Lady Thatcher’s claim that ‘there is no alternative’ seems somehow truer now—and in a more sinister way—than it was in the 1970s. And all the while, the quantity of regulation continues to rise apace.

 

Notes

[1] The reader should note that, despite the wording here, no strictly Marxian interpretation of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall is implied.

References

Babb, S 2012, ‘The Washington Consensus as Transnational Policy Paradigm: Its Origins, Trajectory and Likely Successor’, Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 268–97.

Blyth, M 2002, Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, e-book, Cambridge University Press, New York.

———2013, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, e-book, Oxford University Press,

Block, F 2001, Introduction, in K Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Braithwaite, J 2008, Regulatory Capitalism: How It Works, Ideas for Making It Work Better, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Cafaggi, F & Renda, A 2012, Public and Private Regulation: Mapping the Labyrinth, Working Paper No. 370, October 2012, Centre for European Policy Studies.

Cahill, D 2014, The End of Laissez-Faire? On the Durability of Embedded Neoliberalism, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK.

Chester, L 2013, ‘The Failure of Market Fundamentalism: How Electricity Sector Restructuring is Threatening the Economic and Social Fabric’, Review of Radical Political Economics, Vol. 45, No. 3, pp. 315–22.

Crouch, C 2013, ‘From Markets vs States to Corporations vs Civil Society’, in A Schäfer & W Streeck (eds.), Politics in the Age of Austerity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 219–38.

Farrell, H & Quiggin, J 2011, ‘How to Save the Euro—and the EU: Reading Keynes in Brussels’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 90, No. 3, pp. 96–103.

Friedman, M 1951, ‘Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects’, Farmand, 17 February, pp. 89–93.

Harvey, D 2005, A Brief History of Neoliberalism, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Hayek, FA 1944, The Road to Serfdom, Dymocks Book Arcade, Sydney.

Kalecki, M 1943, ‘Political Aspects of Full Employment’, Political Quarterly, 14 April, pp. 322–31.

Keynes, JM 1964, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillan, London.

Kuhn, TS 2012, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 4th Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Ortleib, CP 2008, ‘A Contradiction Between Matter and Form: On the Significance of the Production of Surplus Value in the Dynamic of Terminal Crisis’, in N Larsen, M Nilges, J Robinson & N Brown (eds.), Marxism and the Critique of Value, MCM’ Publishing, Chicago, IL, pp. 77–121.

Parsons, DW 1989, The Power of the Financial Press, Edward Elgar, London.

Polanyi, K 2001, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.

Streeck, W 2014, Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism, trans. P Camiller, Verso, London.

Sundaram, JK & Chowdhury, A 2016, ‘Ignore Standard Good Governance Prescriptions to Accelerate Development’, Global Issues, 31 March, viewed 8 May 2017, http://www.globalissues.org/news/2016/03/31/21968

Van Horn, R & Mirowski, P 2009, ‘The Rise of the Chicago School of Economics and the Birth of Neoliberalism’, in P Mirowski & D Plehwe (eds.), The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 139–79.

Varoufakis, Y 2015, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, e-book, Zed Books, London.

Vogel, D 1996, Freer Markets, More Rules: Regulatory Reform in Advanced Industrial Countries, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.

Wolff, R 2012, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, Haymarket Books, Chicago, IL.

World Bank 2002, World Development Report 2002: Building Institutions for Markets, Oxford University Press, New York.

 

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The Road to Securitisation

muslim_women_harmony_day_howard

With the exception of a brief appearance during the Gulf War period[1], ‘the Muslim question’ had been largely absent from Australian political discourse prior to 2001. Since that time, though, concerns about Muslims and Islam have, in one form or another, remained at its forefront. With the ‘Tampa incident’ followed closely by the 9/11 attacks in the United States, the framing of Muslims as a threat to Australia’s national security quickly proved a winning political formula. What had begun life as a tall tale about the questionable morality of asylum seekers morphed first into a story about a region, and then about a religion. But, this wouldn’t be its final transformation, by a long shot.

In an effort to bolster flagging public support for the ‘War on Terror’, the official justification for it was revised to include the element of gender. Muslim women were to be seen as passive victims of religiously inspired patriarchal violence who must be ‘rescued’: first, from the Taliban in Afghanistan, and then, in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion, from al-Qaeda.

In the years since 2001, countless Australian Muslim women have made it plain that they undertake their religious practices by choice and are more than capable themselves of resisting patriarchal oppression. This steadfast refusal to be ‘saved’, however, has seen a new discursive shift occur: Muslim women as agents of Islamisation. This post provides a brief analysis of this shifting discourse through the constructivist framework of ‘securitisation’.

(Securitisation refers to the process in which, through speech acts, specific issues come to be conceived and approached as existential threats to certain political communities. Chiefly associated with the Copenhagen School[2], the securitisation framework focuses on the constructed nature of security as a political category, and to the importance of how security functions politically. It constitutes a response to approaches that assert a universal and timeless definition of security, by pointing to the need to understand how security is given meaning in certain political, cultural and social contexts. Ultimately, the securitisation framework holds that the successful construction of an issue as a security threat facilitates the implementation of emergency measures in order to address it.[3])

Two weeks prior to the 11 September 2001 airliner attacks in the US, Australian SAS troops boarded the MV Tampa: a Norwegian cargo ship that had rescued 438 asylum seekers—chiefly Afghan Hazaras—from the disabled KM Palapa 1, which ran into trouble in international waters en route to Australia.[4] Swiftly denying entry to the vessel, the Australian Government ordered its human cargo detained in two hastily established processing centres on Nauru.[5] Amid international condemnation of its actions in the days following, the Coalition Government found itself in a tricky political situation, and polling suggested it was facing certain defeat in the upcoming Federal Election.[6] Although a tarnished international image is seldom viewed favourably by voters, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party had picked up more than one million disaffected voters at the 1998 election, running on an anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism platform.[7] Plus, white Australians have a long history of fearing invasion from the sea.[8]

The Government seized the opportunity to demonise those  picked up by the Tampa as ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘people smugglers’[9], which served to retrospectively justify their new Border Protection Bill, while simultaneously nullifying One Nation’s far-right appeal by mainstreaming its approach.[10] Press had been kept far from the Tampa and there was little mention of the asylum seekers’ background[11]—perhaps for fear of humanising them in the eyes of an Australian public still accustomed to previous governments’ explicitly multicultural policies[12]—but the message was clear: these people were not ‘good’ like ‘us’, these were Others.[13] While, at this stage, these outsiders were not necessarily to be feared, they were certainly not to be welcomed. As then-Prime Minister John Howard told radio host Alan Jones:

On the one hand we want to defend our borders, rightly so; on the other hand, we are a decent people […] and it’s probably because of that that we are seen by many around the world as a soft touch.[14]

By the time US newspapers went to press on the 12th of September[15], many were mentioning the name Osama bin Laden, and various Western leaders appeared in their pages pledging allegiance to the US and swearing revenge.[16] Two weeks later, the US had invaded Afghanistan in the name of a ‘War on Terror’[17], and the Australian government quickly invoked the ANZUS Treaty in order to provide military support. In terms of the security discourse in Australia, both the in-group and the out-group had now been massively expanded: no longer was it simply a case of Australians versus ‘boat people’, but rather a ‘clash of civilisations’[18] between ‘the West’ and ‘the Arab world’.

This is not to say, however, that when a securitising discourse shifts, it simply replaces what came before. Although speech acts may be used to rapidly securitise new concerns, the socially embedded nature of already existing concerns seems to make them somewhat ‘sticky’. They may recede over time, but securitisation does not function in a strictly paradigmatic fashion. Rather, it has an additive effect.[19]

When another boat, the SIEV (Suspected Irregular Entry Vessel) 4, was intercepted near Christmas Island on 6 October, Howard claimed that a number of those aboard had thrown their children into the sea. The allegations were completely unfounded. Thirteen days later, the SIEV X sunk inside a temporary Australian border protection surveillance area near Christmas Island, killing 353 asylum seekers.[20] Preying on public fears of a wave of these monstrous Others arriving on Australian shores, the Coalition went on to a landslide election victory. The Australian Arabic Council reported a rapid and twenty-fold increase in the rate of anti-Arab racial vilification in the month following 11 September 2001.[21]

By the time of the Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians, the media was doing much of the government’s securitisation work for it. Whereas immediately following 9/11, many investigative journalists had busied themselves looking for the root causes of the attacks—the long-standing US military presence in Mecca and Medina, for example[22]—it was not long before such questioning of Western foreign policy was internalised by the media as being not ‘with us’, but ‘with the terrorists’.[23]

Despite the loss of Australian lives in Bali, public support for the War on Terror had waned, and a new justification for its continuance was needed. An effective security narrative demands simplicity, and a commonality between the Saudi hijackers and the Indonesian bombers meant that it had been delivered in the form of ‘Islam’. That there are many ‘Islams’ was of no concern; what mattered was its ‘incompatibility’ with ‘our way of life’. Further, it meant that ‘they’ were no longer on the outside, trying to infiltrate our borders by boat or in a hijacked plane, but already among ‘us’.

Singled out for special attention was how Muslim men were said to treat ‘their’ women, who, at this stage of the story, served solely as passive victims in need of rescue from religiously inspired patriarchal violence. It is a familiar Orientalist tale that has held widespread appeal for Western liberals since the seventeenth century; a tale in which, as Gayatri Spivak famously put it, ‘White men are saving brown women from brown men.’[24]

‘There is,’ said the Prime Minister, ‘within some sections of the Islamic community an attitude towards women which is out of line with the mainstream Australian society.’[25] That the staunchly conservative Howard should be so concerned with the emancipation of women no doubt came as a shock to many. But, much like Lord Cromer before him—the ruler of British-occupied Egypt who championed the unveiling of ‘oppressed’ Egyptian Muslim women, despite in England having been a founding member and sometime president of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage[26]—Howard was only a feminist insofar as it served his securitisation agenda. As Leila Ahmed observes, it is an approach in which:

Feminism on the home front and feminism directed against white men [is] to be resisted and suppressed; but taken abroad […] it could be promoted in ways that admirably served and furthered the project of the dominance of the white man.[27]

However, this double standard was not practiced by white men alone. In the Western popular liberal feminist imaginary, too, these securitising discursive moves serve to ‘shore up the positional superiority of white Western feminists vis-à-vis “other” women.’[28] It is an imperial sort of feminism that creates for itself a space of innocence in which its complicity in helping to create this subaltern archetype—which it simultaneously pities and fetishises—is denied.

Then-US President and fellow conservative George W. Bush used his 2002 State of the Union address to emphasise the importance of an ongoing War on Terror in order to ‘free’ Muslim women.[29] Large public protest marches notwithstanding, the decision for Australia to invade Iraq in 2003 as part of the ‘coaliton of the willing’ met with little political resistance.[30]

In late 2005, a scuffle between a group of Lebanese men and some surf lifesavers quickly escalated into the Cronulla Riots after a talkback caller claimed the group had previously been ‘leering’ at female beachgoers. That Muslim women should refuse to be saved from such savages proved a problem for many white liberals, who consider ‘choice’ paramount, just so long as the choice one expresses is for liberalism. That a Muslim woman should opt not to ‘free’ herself—especially from her coverings, long the primary symbol of oppression in the eyes of Westerners—despite secular society affording her every opportunity to do so, simply did not compute.

By then, the War on Terror had left both Afghanistan and Iraq in ruins, and none of the promised liberation had occurred. Further, despite the public’s appetite for ‘behind the veil’-style stories by ‘native informants’[31] about women’s oppression under Islam, it had by this time become impossible—due largely to the increasing ubiquitousness of the internet—to ignore the voices of Muslim women who flatly rejected their ‘victim’ label.[32] Given that liberalism is the default state for all people, the thinking went, these women must have been brainwashed; in which case, they are a lost cause, and we should focus on saving their (‘Our’) girls by means of liberal education.[33] Worse still, they may be hiding something. Melbourne University’s Shakira Hussein notes:

As ‘the Muslim question’ has become an increasingly important issue in domestic as well as international politics … Muslim women have come to be regarded as the accomplices rather than (or as well as) the victims of Muslim men.’[34]

As in Europe, calls to ‘ban the burqa’[35] have been frequent in Australia. However, only more recently has the purported rationale become security. Once, Muslim women were to be unveiled for their own good; now, they must be unveiled for ‘our’ safety. After all, the apparatuses of surveillance—ever-expanding and justified by the securitisation discourse since 9/11—cannot function to protect ‘us’ if people’s faces are hidden. Fears of Muslim women as agents of ‘Islamification’, ‘creeping Shari’a’, radicalised ‘jihadi brides’ and burqa-wearing suicide bombers abound, inflated by sensationalist media and politicians. All of which only serves to increase the likelihood of such fears becoming self-fulfilling prophecies.

The securitisation of Muslim women in Australia is quite a recent development. What began as a security discourse about ‘boat people’ shifted its focus to the Arab world, then Muslim men more broadly, and then Muslim women. Securitisation does not operate in a strictly linear fashion, with speech acts occurring after actions as retrospective justification. Despite being initiated by the government, the securitisation discourse did not remain strictly under its control, with both the media and the public playing key roles in dictating where it led. New speech acts do not erase previous ones, meaning that at no stage were any of the concerns mentioned de-securitised and there is a tendency for short-term security measures to become permanent policy. Each new speech act builds upon the last, which can lead to contradictions, as seen in the ‘choice’ paradox of liberal feminism and the parallel but antithetical victim–suspect narratives.

Notes

[1] Although there had been comparatively more attacks on residents of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’ during the Gulf War than prior to it, their number was dwarfed by those after 9/11 and they were generally considered to be the acts of a few racist outliers, rather than part of a growing trend. Hage, G., ‘Racism, Multiculturalism and the Gulf War’, Arena, No. 96, 1991, pp. 8–13.

[2] See, e.g., Buzan, B., Wæver, O. & de Wilde, J., Security: A New Framework for Analysis, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1998; Balzacq, T. (ed.), Securitisation Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve, London, Routledge, 2010.

[3] Wæver, O., ‘Securitisation and Desecuritisation’, in R. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security, New York, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 46–87.

[4] Marr, D. & Wilkinson, M., ‘They Shall Not Land’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2001, p. 29.

[5] Every, D. & Augoustinos, M., ‘Constructions of Australia in Pro- and Anti-Asylum Seeker Political Discourse’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2008, p. 565.

[6] Kelly, F., ‘Tampa Issue Improves Coalition Election Prospects’, The 7:30 Report, television transcript, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 4 September 2001, retrieved 31 August 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s357998.htm

[7] One Nation’s political approach was, consciously or not, itself a form of securitisation that provided a convenient Other to blame for the economic insecurity many voters felt due to effects of globalisation. Tsiolkas, C., ‘Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers’, The Monthly, September, 2013, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/september/1377957600/christos-tsiolkas/why-australia-hates-asylum-seekers

[8] That is to say, in the words of Anthony Burke, of being ‘Aboriginalised’. Burke, A., Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 18–38.

[9] McAdam, J., ‘Australia and Asylum Seekers’, Editorial, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2013, p. 436.

[10] Burnside, J., ‘Refugees: The Tampa Case’, Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, p. 19a.

[11] Burnside, 2002, p. 19b.

[12] See, e.g., Stratton, J. & Ang, I., ‘Multicultural Imagined Communities: Cultural Difference and National Identity in Australia and the USA’, Continuum, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1994, p. 127.

[13] Edward Said describes the constructing of the Other as ‘disregarding, essentialising, denuding the humanity of another culture, people or geographical region’ in Said, E. W., Orientalism, London, Penguin, 1977, p. 108.

[14] Howard, J. W., ‘Interview with Alan Jones, Radio 2UE’, transcript, PM Transcripts, 3 August 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12021

[15] ‘Newspaper Front Pages from September 12, 2001’, ABC News Online, 9 September 2011, retrieved 11 September 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-05/september-11-newspaper-front-pages/2870784

[16] ‘This is not a battle between the United States of America and terrorism, but between the free and democratic world, and terrorism.’ Blair, T., ‘Statement to the Nation’, transcript, BBC News, 11 September 2001, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/1538551.stm

[17] Bush, G. W., ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’, transcript, The White House Archives, 20 September 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html

[18] A phrase coined by the Orientalist historian Bernard Lewis and popularised by Samuel P. Huntington in a 1993 article for Foreign Affairs, which he expanded into the 1996 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

[19] The problems this may pose for the Copenhagen School’s theory of ‘de-securitisation’ are beyond the scope of this blog post, but see, e.g., McDonald, M., ‘Deliberation and Resecuritisation: Australia, Asylum Seekers and the Normative Limits of the Copenhagen School’, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011, pp. 281–95.

[20] Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, Canberra, Senate Select Committee, Parliament House, 2002, retrieved 10 September 2016 from https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/report/report.pdf

[21] Australian Arabic Council, Increase in Racial Vilification in Light of Terror Attacks: Sep 2001, unpublished facsimile, quoted in S. Poynting, ‘“Bin Laden in the Suburbs”: Attacks on Arab and Muslim Australians Before and After 11 September’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2002, p. 44.

[22] Otterman, S., ‘Saudi Arabia: Withdrawal of US Forces’, Council on Foreign Relations, 2 May 2013, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.cfr.org/saudi-arabia/saudi-arabia-withdrawl-us-forces/p7739

[23] ‘Bush: “You Are Either with Us, or with the Terrorists” 2001-09-21’, Voice of America, 27 October 2009, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2001-09-21-14-bush-66411197/549664.html

[24] Spivak, G. C., ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Hampshire, UK, Macmillan, 1988, p. 296.

[25] Howard, J. W., quoted in Aslan, A., Islamaphobia in Australia, Glebe, NSW, Agora Press, 2009, p. 148.

[26] Massad, J. A., Islam in Liberalism, ePub, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2015, Chapter 2: ‘Women and/in “Islam”: The Rescue Mission of Western Liberal Feminism’, n.p.

[27] Ahmed, L., Women and Gender in Islam, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1992, p. 153.

[28] Zine, J., Taylor, L. K. & Davis, H. E., ‘Reading Muslim Women and Muslim Women Reading Back: Transnational Feminist Reading Practices, Pedagogy and Ethical Concerns’, Intercultural Education, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2007, p. 273.

[29] Bush, G. W., ‘The President’s State of the Union Address’, transcript, The White House Archives, 29 January 2002, retrieved 13 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html

[30] Jackson, A., ‘Melbourne Rallies to the Call for Peace’, The Age, 15 February 2003, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/14/1044927801876.html

[31] See, e.g., Manji, I., The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, Toronto, Random House, 2003; Nafisi, A., Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, New York, Random House, 2003; Hirsi Ali, A., Infidel, New York, Free Press, 2007.

[32] See, e.g., Abu-Lughod, L., ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3, 2002, pp. 783–90.

[33] Berents, H., ‘Hashtagging Girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and Gendering Representations of Global Politics’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8 August 2016, retrieved 14 September 2016 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2016.1207463

[34] Hussein, S., From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2016, p. 69.

[35] An item that few Australian Muslims wear, and usually employed as a catch-all term for any religious covering, including the burqa, hijab, niqab, chador and dupatta.

References

Abu-Lughod, L., ‘Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others’, American Anthropologist, Vol. 104, No. 3, 2002, pp. 783–90.

Ahmed, L., Women and Gender in Islam, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1992.

Aslan, A., Islamaphobia in Australia, Glebe, NSW, Agora Press, 2009.

Balzacq, T. (ed.), Securitisation Theory: How Security Problems Emerge and Dissolve, London, Routledge, 2010.

Berents, H., ‘Hashtagging Girlhood: #IAmMalala, #BringBackOurGirls and Gendering Representations of Global Politics’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 8 August 2016, retrieved 14 September 2016 from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616742.2016.1207463

Blair, T., ‘Statement to the Nation’, transcript, BBC News, 11 September 2001, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/1538551.stm

Burke, A., Fear of Security: Australia’s Invasion Anxiety, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2008, pp. 18–38.

Burnside, J., ‘Refugees: The Tampa Case’, Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1, 2002, pp. 17–28.

‘Bush: “You Are Either with Us, Or with the Terrorists” 2001-09-21’, Voice of America, 27 October 2009, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.voanews.com/a/a-13-a-2001-09-21-14-bush-66411197/549664.html

Bush, G. W., ‘Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People’, transcript, The White House Archives, 20 September 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010920-8.html

———‘The President’s State of the Union Address’, transcript, The White House Archives, 29 January 2002, retrieved 13 September 2016 from https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/01/20020129-11.html

Buzan, B., Wæver, O. & de Wilde, J., Security: A New Framework for Analysis, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 1998.

Commonwealth of Australia, Report of the Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident, Canberra, Senate Select Committee, Parliament House, 2002, retrieved 10 September 2016 from https://www.aph.gov.au/binaries/senate/committee/maritime_incident_ctte/report/report.pdf

Every, D. & Augoustinos, M., ‘Constructions of Australia in Pro- and Anti-Asylum Seeker Political Discourse’, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2008, pp. 562–580.

Hage, G., ‘Racism, Multiculturalism and the Gulf War’, Arena, No. 96, 1991, pp. 8–13.

Hirsi Ali, A., Infidel, New York, Free Press, 2007.

Howard, J. W., ‘Interview with Alan Jones, Radio 2UE’, transcript, PM Transcripts, 3 August 2001, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://pmtranscripts.dpmc.gov.au/release/transcript-12021

Huntington, S. P., ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’, Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, retrieved 12 September 2016 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/1993-06-01/clash-civilizations

———The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, New York, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Hussein, S., From Victims to Suspects: Muslim Women Since 9/11, Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2016.

Jackson, A., ‘Melbourne Rallies to the Call for Peace’, The Age, 15 February 2003, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/02/14/1044927801876.html

Kelly, F., ‘Tampa Issue Improves Coalition Election Prospects’, The 7:30 Report, television transcript, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 4 September 2001, retrieved 31 August 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2001/s357998.htm

Manji, I., The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, Toronto, Random House, 2003.

Marr, D. & Wilkinson, M., ‘They Shall Not Land’, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 October 2001, p. 29.

Massad, J. A., Islam in Liberalism, ePub, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2015.

McAdam, J., ‘Australia and Asylum Seekers’, Editorial, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2013, pp. 435–48.

McDonald, M., ‘Deliberation and Resecuritisation: Australia, Asylum Seekers and the Normative Limits of the Copenhagen School’, Australian Journal of Political Science, Vol. 46, No. 2, 2011, pp. 281–95.

Nafisi, A., Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, New York, Random House, 2003.

‘Newspaper Front Pages from September 12, 2001’, ABC News Online, 9 September 2011, retrieved 11 September 2016 from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-05/september-11-newspaper-front-pages/2870784

Otterman, S., ‘Saudi Arabia: Withdrawal of US Forces’, Council on Foreign Relations, 2 May 2013, retrieved 13 September 2016 from http://www.cfr.org/saudi-arabia/saudi-arabia-withdrawl-us-forces/p7739

Poynting, S., ‘“Bin Laden in the Suburbs”: Attacks on Arab and Muslim Australians Before and After 11 September’, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2002, pp. 43–64.

Said, E. W., Orientalism, London, Penguin, 1977.

Spivak, G. C., ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’, in C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, Hampshire, UK, Macmillan, 1988, pp. 271–313.

Stratton, J. & Ang, I., ‘Multicultural Imagined Communities: Cultural Difference and National Identity in Australia and the USA’, Continuum, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1994, pp. 124–58.

Tsiolkas, C., ‘Why Australia Hates Asylum Seekers’, The Monthly, September, 2013, retrieved 11 September 2016 from https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2013/september/1377957600/christos-tsiolkas/why-australia-hates-asylum-seekers

Wæver, O., ‘Securitisation and Desecuritisation’, in R. Lipschutz (ed.), On Security, New York, Columbia University Press, 1995, pp. 46–87.

Zine, J., Taylor, L. K. & Davis, H. E., ‘Reading Muslim Women and Muslim Women Reading Back: Transnational Feminist Reading Practices, Pedagogy and Ethical Concerns’, Intercultural Education, Vol. 18, No. 4, 2007, pp. 271–80.

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Small and white, clean and … maybe not so bright?

habermas

This post calls into question the inclusive potential of deliberative democracy, with particular emphasis on the influential model of deliberation laid out by Jürgen Habermas in Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy.[1] I outline the arguments Habermas puts forward for his particular model of deliberation, while drawing upon criticisms of it from a number of theorists, in addition to offering some of my own. I argue that deliberative democracy would be unlikely to facilitate better inclusion for marginalised groups, but would instead merely serve as an elaborate justification for the tyranny of the majority and the maintenance of the status quo.

The core assumption underlying Between Facts and Norms is that, given ‘sufficient time’ and ‘goodwill’, it will always be possible for any given group to achieve consensus. Leaving aside, for the moment, the practical limitations that the provision of ‘sufficient time’ is likely to reveal, it seems that the two conditions Habermas claims are required for reaching consensus rely on tautology for their definitions. Both ‘sufficient time’ and ‘sufficient goodwill’ are inherently abstract concepts, which can only be defined post hoc in somewhat concrete terms. This is to say that, however much time and goodwill is required to reach a consensus can only be deemed sufficient once said consensus has been reached. Likewise, any failure to reach a consensus must necessarily mean that the amount of time, goodwill, or both, were insufficient. Here, we can see that Habermas has implicitly defended his assumption with a circular argument that, while unfalsifiable, is also essentially meaningless.

Modern pluralist culture, according to Habermas, will inevitably cause various ethical traditions to come into conflict with one another, and so laws—which are given legitimacy through the universal voice of democracy—are required in order to maintain social cohesion. These laws, he suggests, must only be introduced once they have been unanimously agreed upon following public deliberation and reasoned argument between all affected citizens. The citizen, in this pure deliberative model of democracy, is ‘both the subject of the law and its author.’[2] The Habermasian citizen adheres to a distinctly liberal ideal of the autonomous individual, who, as Steven Wheatley has summarised:

… is able to give reasons for her actions, critically reflect on her own beliefs and, when exposed to a better argument, is willing to change her opinions.[3]

David Ingram notes that, ‘the model of rationality adduced by Habermas … reflects an intellectualist prejudice of the Enlightenment.’[4] Bounding acceptable discourse in such a Westernised fashion will inevitably bias it towards Western ideals; which is to say, liberalism in equals liberalism out. The primacy afforded purely discursive rationality in Western society, according to Pierre Bourdieu, is not due to its embeddedness in the nature of communication as such, but is rather a function of its capacity to secure the privilege of those who are possessors of ‘cultural capital’.[5] Further, he claims, language ‘games’, of the sort proposed by Habermas, although seemingly concerned foremost with communication, are in fact practices that have as their main purpose the maintenance of economic and political relationships of domination.[6]

The Eurocentrism of his idealised conception of the post-Enlightenment citizen aside, for Habermas, even if all the participants involved in deliberation should meet his exacting standards, and manage to reach a consensus based solely on the merits of the better argument, that consensus would still be fallible. This is due to his ‘ideal speech situation’ requirement not having been met. Briefly, it requires:

  1. no space-time limitation, so that argument may continue until every individual, everywhere, agrees
  2. no limitations on information, topics, or reasons
  3. equal participation, so that everybody has equal opportunity to influence the discussion
  4. the exclusion of any kind of coercion.[7]

Any one of these conditions—especially the first—would be difficult to meaningfully approximate in the real world, let alone all of them. Indeed, as Habermas acknowledges, the ideal speech situation is a requirement that can never be met; therefore, every de facto social consensus must be considered fallible.[8] So, either all deliberation must continue forever, or we must settle for majoritarianism at some point along the way.

By way of analogy, let us consider the online discourse of popular feminism. I choose this example because it seems to approximate the ideal speech situation as closely as any real-world example could hope to; most notably, the tricky first condition regarding time-space limitations. Further, in the self-publishing world of the internet, all information, topics and reasons are open for discussion. Equal participation is made possible, at least for those who are literate and have internet access.[9] And, inasmuch as the internet is largely unregulated, deliberation can be said to be relatively free of coercion. Finally, insofar as the goal of feminism, like any emancipatory theory[10], is to ‘do itself out of a job’, we may reasonably infer that the goal of discourse is to reach consensus, so that appropriate reforms may then be implemented that would enable the freedom of all women, and feminism would no longer need to exist.

Even with these conditions theoretically—if somewhat imperfectly—met, popular online feminism’s focus on consensus-building routinely serves to sideline minority voices. Despite widespread token agreement that a more ‘intersectional’[11] approach to feminism is required, the voices of the marginalised are typically only elevated for the purpose of appropriating them into the service of mainstream liberal ‘choice feminism’ arguments. As Gajalla, Zhang and Dajo-Gyeke observe:

[T]he ‘new languages’ of women’s emancipation in globalised media spaces are in fact re-codings of familiar liberal feminist discourses interweaved with a capitalist, consumerist rhetoric of individual choice … so that the overall effect is not participatory, but rather a lopsided hierarchy that still privileges those that designed it and produced the content for it.[12]

A common response to such criticism is that feminism is a ‘broad church’ that encourages rigorous discussion from a wide range of voices, and does not require women to agree with one another in order to be considered feminists. In practice, however, the preference for solidarity creates a self-selecting in-group that effectively serves to punish dissent. On deliberative democracy more generally, Ian O’Flynn notes:

The more familiar participants are with one another, the more likely it is that their deliberations will be successful. Knowing this, there is a strong temptation for the stronger members of society to exclude the weaker … the failure to afford dissenting voices an equal say may itself lead to the reification and polarisation of competing ethnic identities.[13]

For every blog post from a minority voice highlighting the problems with popular liberal feminism—even those republished in mainstream outlets[14]—there are a hundred more articles from bourgeois liberals espousing its virtues.[15] Further, in the ‘virtual’ public setting of the internet, cultural capital can be easily gained by declaring oneself an ‘ally’ of minorities. Surely, though, the onus is on the marginalised to determine who is and is not their ally. Furthermore, the only benefit from such an alliance seems to accrue to the self-proclaimed ally, inasmuch as creating a conspicuous ‘white saviour’ image for oneself can be considered a benefit. Ultimately, though, such rhetorical alliances appear to have little noticeable impact on shaping the primary concerns of the majority.

If our ethical project is to construct a model of democratically legitimate deliberation that facilitates inclusion and can produce a valid consensus in the real world, Habermas leaves us at somewhat of a dead end. As Christian Rostbøll notes, despite its foundational influence on modern deliberative democrats, Habermas’ notion of the ideal speech situation ‘is ignored or rejected by most contemporary versions of the theory.’[16] That is not to say that the ideal speech situation is of no use to us in critiquing actually existing discourse, or thinking in a utopian manner about how that might be reformed; it is simply to say that it cannot ever exist in any meaningful way beyond the realm of the thought experiment. And, even if it could, it would still almost certainly be heavily biased in favour of Western Enlightenment values as a result of Habermas’ Eurocentric conception of rational argument. Therefore, any attempt by deliberative democrats to build upon his work must first redress this imbalance if they are to solve the problem of inclusivity. Until that point, all deliberative democracy will do is serve as a justification for maintaining the intellectual status quo of the ruling majority.

Notes

[1] Jürgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg, Polity Press, Cambridge MA, 1996.

[2] Steven Wheatley, ‘Deliberative Democracy and Minorities’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003, p. 510.

[3] Ibid., p. 518.

[4] David Ingram, ‘The Possibility of a Communication Ethic Reconsidered: Habermas, Gadamer, and Bourdieu on Discourse’, Man and World, Vol. 15, 1982, p. 149.

[5] Pierre Bourdieu & Jean-Claude Passeron, Reproduction, Society and Culture, 2nd Edition, trans. R. Nice, Sage, London, 1977, p. 124.

[6] Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977, p. 24.

[7] Habermas, pp. 228, 230, 322a.

[8] Ibid., p. 322b.

[9] These, of course, are not trivial concerns. Barriers pertaining to language, accessibility and free time are of primary importance in terms of inclusivity, but may in many real-word cases be insurmountable.

[10] e.g., ‘That there is a life after Marxism is the whole point of Marxism.’ Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right, London, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 2.

[11] Kimberle Crenshaw, ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour’, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 1241, 1993, pp. 1241–1299.

[12] Radhika Gajjala, Yahui Zhang & Phyllis Dako-Gyeke, ‘Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010, pp. 69, 70.

[13] Ian O’Flynn, Deliberative Democracy and Divided Societies, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, pp. 120–121.

[14] See, e.g., Flavia Dzodan, ‘My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit’, Tiger Beatdown, 10 October 2011, http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/

[15] See, e.g., the entirety of the New York Times’ coverage of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

[16] Christian F. Rostbøll, ‘Dissent, Criticism, and Transformative Political Action in Deliberative Democracy’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 19.

References

Bourdieu, P., Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. R. Nice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977.

Bourdieu, P. & Passeron, J-C., Reproduction, Society and Culture, 2nd Edition, trans. R. Nice, Sage, London, 1977.

Crenshaw, K., ‘Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour’, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 1241, 1993, pp. 1241–1299.

Dzodan, F., ‘My Feminism Will Be Intersectional or It Will Be Bullshit’, Tiger Beatdown, 10 October 2011, http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/10/my-feminism-will-be-intersectional-or-it-will-be-bullshit/

Eagleton, T., Why Marx Was Right, Yale University Press, London, 2011.

Gajjala, R., Zhang, Y. & Dako-Gyeke, P., ‘Lexicons of Women’s Empowerment Online: Appropriating the Other’, Feminist Media Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010, pp. 69–86.

Habermas, J., Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy, trans. W. Rehg, Polity Press, Cambridge MA, 1996.

Ingram, D., ‘The Possibility of a Communication Ethic Reconsidered: Habermas, Gadamer, and Bourdieu on Discourse’, Man and World, Vol. 15, 1982, pp. 149–161.

O’Flynn, I., Deliberative Democracy and Divided Societies, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006.

Rostbøll, C. F., ‘Dissent, Criticism, and Transformative Political Action in Deliberative Democracy’, Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 19–36.

Wheatley, S., ‘Deliberative Democracy and Minorities’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2003, pp. 507–527.

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‘The Donald’ keeps banging on about how terrible NAFTA is. Might he be right? (SPOILER: Yep, it’s a turd.)

nafta

Signed in December 1992, the stated objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico were, namely, to: eliminate barriers to trade in, and facilitate the cross-border movement of, goods and services between the territories of the Parties; promote conditions of fair competition in the free trade area; increase substantially investment opportunities in the territories of the Parties; provide adequate and effective protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in each Party’s territory; create effective procedures for the implementation and application of the Agreement, for its joint administration and for the resolution of disputes; and establish a framework for further trilateral, regional and multilateral cooperation to expand and enhance the benefits of the Agreement.[1]

How did they sell it?

As a former running rate of Ronald Reagan—who had used the announcement of his candidacy for President in 1979 to advocate for the economic unification of North America[2]—by 1992, US President George H. W. Bush’s position on trade liberalisation was well known to the American people. In a September address to Congress, he stated:

This historic agreement represents a comprehensive charter to liberalise trade and investment flows on this continent … It will enhance the ability of North American producers to compete in world markets, spur economic growth on the continent, expand employment, and raise living standards.[3]

With the fall of the Soviet Union still fresh in people’s minds, Bush did not hesitate to invoke Cold War rhetoric to promote NAFTA, adding:

Our Nation won the Cold War because of its faith in the abiding power of free people, free markets, and free trade in goods and ideas.[4]

Similarly, with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s victory in the so-called ‘free trade election’ of 1988, much of the heavy lifting in terms of selling the public on the virtues of trade agreements had already been done in Canada. During that period, there had been widespread fear that the Canada–US Free Trade Agreement (CUSTA)—a trade deal with a country ten times the size of Canada, both in terms of GDP and population—would inevitably lead to a significant erosion of sovereignty, making Canada the de facto 51st state of the USA.[5] But, by the time of the NAFTA negotiations, nearly four years after CUSTA had come into effect, such fears had yet to materialise.

By contrast, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari—whose proposal of a Mexican–US trade deal was the catalyst for NAFTA—faced a public far more sceptical of trade liberalisation. Efforts to liberalise Mexican trade had been made throughout the 1980s, but people remained sceptical, as unemployment rates were higher and real wages lower than they had been twelve years prior. This was largely due to the inability of Mexico to attract significant foreign investment from the US, whose businesses were weary of a shift back to Mexican protectionism and hence the nationalisation of their investment dollars.[6] Salinas opted to focus first on selling the deal to the American people, going on tour and telling US audiences unhappy at high levels of immigration that passing NAFTA would reduce it by providing employment for Mexicans in Mexico. Only once the Agreement had been signed did he turn his attention to convincing his own citizens, claiming NAFTA would set Mexico on a course to become a first-world nation.[7]

So, why did they really do it?

Mexico faced the prospect of the West German investment it had previously enjoyed being diverted to former Eastern Bloc countries as Germany focused its attention on the reunification process at the end of the Cold War in 1991. Mexico’s then-Secretary of Commerce and Industry, Jaime Serra Puche, who led the negotiation and implementation of NAFTA, recalls:

The wall in Berlin had just fallen, so people were looking at the Eastern European countries … Salinas came to my room and said, ‘We have to do something. We are not on the map for foreign direct investment. Why don’t we start thinking about this idea of trade with the US?’[8]

Puche lists three economic rationales for the decision. First, the aforementioned need for foreign investment, ‘because [Mexico] did not generate enough domestic savings to support growth’. Second, the Generalised System of Preferences meant that Mexican exports were only tariff-free up to a certain quota, above which tariffs would be applied to the entire amount; therefore, ‘Plants … would close in October because they did not want to lose the preference and they did not want to accumulate inventories’. Third, Mexico had to negotiate, annually or biannually, the quotas for the central agreement; ‘So, exporters could say, “… As I don’t know how the negotiations will go this year, I’d better not invest more”.’[9]

As previously mentioned, free trade with the US had become far less contentious in Canada by the end of 1992. Direct competition from a developing nation, though, had the potential to radically change the dynamic.[10] Mulroney, fearing divestment by US firms seeking cheaper manufacturing costs from their southern neighbours, insisted on Canada’s involvement in negotiations. Not only would this allow Canada to be privy to the terms of the US–Mexican deal, and thus able to raise any objections before its finalisation, it also provided an opportunity to shore up and extend the benefits it had gained from CUSTA.

The United States’ dominant economic standing gave it by far the strongest bargaining position, effectively giving it the ability to dictate the rules in a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ manner. Furthermore, Bush, despite having obtained trade promotion—or, ‘fast track’—authority for the deal, and notwithstanding the hyperbole in his address to Congress, appeared relatively indifferent to the outcome.[11] A trade deal with Mexico was, after all, the brainchild of Carlos Salinas and Ronald Reagan; the latter of whom ‘clearly viewed CUSTA as a prelude’.[12] Bush could perhaps have been preoccupied with the upcoming election; or, he may have simply recognised that, should the NAFTA negotiations fail, plenty of other countries would be only too happy to accept the United States’ conditions in return for a slice of its market.

And this all sounded like a good idea, why?

A trade deal with the US was undoubtedly the best strategic move for Mexico at the time, although much more protection was needed for its agricultural sector against the large-scale and highly subsidised US farmers.[13] It should perhaps have also removed its constitutional bans on foreign energy ownership to drive investment, even though this might have been politically challenging.[14]

Canada might potentially have been better served by renegotiating CUSTA, instead of entering the trilateral agreement. Not only is it easier to reach an acceptable compromise between two parties than three, but, given the markedly different economies of the US, Canada and Mexico, any one-size-fits-all rules were virtually guaranteed to be inappropriate. As such, Canada stood a better chance of negotiating desirable Chapter 19 antidumping and countervailing duty regulations with the US if it were not lumped in with Mexico.

By adopting a common external tariff, the NAFTA partners could have promoted commerce among themselves and reduced distortions generated by rules of origin. A higher level of cooperation on domestic regulatory standards may have been beneficial, particularly in the area of food safety.[15]

More like WTAFTA, AMIRITE?

Much of what has occurred since NAFTA cannot necessarily be attributed to the agreement. As Hufbauer and Schott note, ‘Trade pacts create opportunities; they don’t guarantee results.’[16] With so many exogenous factors, such as financial crises and the myriad trade deals that have come since, accurately measuring NAFTA’s economic impact is effectively impossible.

The accord certainly helped facilitate investment and trade, and international competition has fuelled increased productivity, but this trend began decades ago and NAFTA’s implementation appears to have done little to alter its trajectory.

Income disparity between the three countries has converged little, if at all, but wealth inequality within each country has expanded dramatically.[17] Mexican manufacturing wages were 11 per cent lower in 2001 than 1994, and considerably lower than prior to Mexico’s free market reforms in 1981. Cheap US corn imports led rural poverty rate to rise from 79% in 1994 to 82% in 1998. Mexican environmental protection spending decreased by 45% between 1994 and 2009, and environmental funding from a trinational commission charged with addressing this concern has amounted to just US$3m a year.[18]

Workers, communities and the environment in all three countries have suffered. This, though, may have come to pass irrespective of NAFTA, due to increased competition from Asia. Mexican manufacturing in particular, notes Varoufakis, has been negatively impacted by China’s startling growth:

Mexico was among the first to suffer from China’s rise. Because it had chosen to invest much energy in becoming a low-wage manufacturer on the periphery of the United States … China’s emergence was a nightmare for Mexican manufacturers.

Cheap Chinese labour and China’s market access to the West (courtesy of World Trade Organisation membership) allows Chinese manufacturers to undercut their Mexican and other Latin American competitors in the manufacture of low-added-value sectors, such as shoes, toys and textiles. This two-pronged effect is causing Latin America to deindustrialize and return to the status of a primary goods producer.[19]

‘Trade’, notes Scott, ‘both creates and destroys jobs.’ Exports lead to increased domestic employment, while imports lead to job displacement. Which is to say that, as imports are substituted for domestically produced goods, production levels supporting domestic jobs falls, displacing existing jobs and precluding new employment.[20] And, obviously, not everybody can run a trade surplus.

Chapter 11 arbitrations in investor–state disputes have severely undermined each state’s ability to regulate foreign direct investment.[21] Since 1994, corporations have used Chapter 11 to challenge land-use, mining, energy, and other laws passed by the governments of all three NAFTA countries. By 2012, more than US$350 million had been paid by Mexico and Canada in investor–state cases, with billions more in claims still pending.[22] Chapter 19 arbitration has likewise proved ineffectual in the face of US Congress.

Some qualitative changes have taken place, most notably in Mexico, as Zakaria notes:

… only three decades ago, Mexico was one of the world’s most anti-American countries … Today, Mexico is transformed, unambiguously allied with the United States … It has become a core component of a closely intertwined North American economy that is the world’s most vibrant regional bloc. Many factors led to this transformation, but NAFTA was chief among them.[23]

However, privatisation has meant that employers have been granted more power to suppress workers. Attempts to unionise are met with state-sanctioned police violence in Mexico, or, in the US, employers’ threats to move operations to Mexico.[24]

Tl;dr

Judged solely on gross domestic product figures—and if we ignore exogenous factors on the three partners’ economies—NAFTA appears to have been an unmitigated success. But, applying this sort of ‘black box’ approach to economic outcomes tells us little about the material realities for the people inside those boxes. If we seek to define NAFTA’s success in terms of living standards, or environmental impact, a different level of analysis is required. And, as we have seen, this finer granularity reveals much less positive results. Or, as Chris Hedges has it:

Screen Shot 2016-09-27 at 4.01.12 PM.png

Chris Hedges & Joe Sacco, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, New York, Nation Books, 2012.

Notes

[1] ‘North American Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America, the Government of Canada, and the Government of the United Mexican States’, 8–17 December 1992, US–Canada–Mexico, 32 I.L.M. 289, p. 605 et seq. [hereinafter NAFTA], retrieved 13 October 2015 from https://www.nafta-sec-alena.org/Home/Legal-Texts/North-American-Free-Trade-Agreement

[2] The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, ‘Candidacy for Presidency: Ronald Reagan’s announcement of Candidacy for President of U.S. 11/13/79’, YouTube, Online video clip, 16 April 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAtYMD-H2UY

[3] George Herbert Walker Bush, ‘Communication from the President of the United States transmitting notification of his intent to enter into a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the governments of Mexico and Canada’, NewsBank, 102nd Congress, 2nd session, H.Doc. 392, 18 September 1992, retrieved 7 September 2015 from http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:SERIAL&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=132CD718D11FD5B8&svc_dat=Digital:ssetdoc&req_dat=102D23E2B9847C9F

[4] George H. W. Bush, loc. cit.

[5] M. Angeles Villarreal & Ian F. Ferguson, ‘North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)’, Congressional Research Service, Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, 16 April 2015, p. 22.

[6] Thomas Oatley, International Political Economy, 5th Edition, Routledge, NY, 2012, p. 39.

[7] David Clark Scott, ‘Salinas Plays It Cool After Big Win on NAFTA’, Christian Science Monitor, 19 November 1993.

[8] Jaime Serra Puche, ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Liberal Party of Canada would go on to oppose NAFTA in their successful 1993 election bid, only to reverse their position days after taking office. Michael H. Wilson, ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20.

[11] Maxwell A. Cameron & Brian W. Tomlin, The Making of NAFTA: How the Deal Was Done, Cornell University Press, 2002, p. 227.

[12] George P. Shultz, ‘The New North America’, in Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20. Bush, unlike his avowedly Friedmanite predecessor, was not in thrall to the Chicago School economists, having famously dismissed the neoliberal rationale behind Reagan’s 1980 tax cuts as ‘voodoo economics’. Bush espoused neoliberal policy only insofar as it was politically advantageous, such as in his 1988 Presidential acceptance speech, in which he urged the public to ‘Read my lips: no new taxes’, after which he promptly raised taxes.

[13] Monica Campbell & Tyche Hendricks, ‘Mexico’s Corn Farmers See Their Livelihoods Wither Away: Cheap U.S. Produce Pushes Down Prices Under Free-trade Pact’, SFGate, 31 July 2006, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mexico-s-corn-farmers-see-their-livelihoods-2515188.php

[14] Loren Steffy, ‘Are Mexico’s Oil Reforms Enough to Lure Foreign Investors?’, Forbes, 19 August 2013, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/08/19/are-mexicos-oil-reforms-enough-to-lure-foreign-investors/

[15] Gary Clyde Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott, ‘NAFTA Revisited’, Policy Options, October 2007, retrieved 15 October 2015 from http://www.piie.com/publications/papers/paper.cfm?ResearchID=898

[16] Ibid.

[17] Robert A. Blecker & Gerardo Esquivel, NAFTA, Trade, and Development, Working Paper 10-03, Center for US–Mexican Studies, the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and El Colegio de México, 2010, p. 2.

[18] Sarah Anderson & John Cavanagh, ‘Happily Ever NAFTA? A Bad Idea That Failed’, Foreign Policy, 9 November 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/09/happily-ever-nafta/

[19] Yanis Varoufakis, The Global Minotaur: America, Europe and the Future of the Global Economy, Zed Books, London, 2015, pp. 186–188.

[20] Robert E. Scott, Heading South: US–Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA, Economic Policy Institute briefing paper #308, 3 May 2011, retrieved 14 October 2015 from http://www.epi.org/files/page/-/BriefingPaper308.pdf

[21] Chapter 11 affords a foreign investor the right to take a host country’s government to special international arbitration bodies of the World Bank and the United Nations if it believes the value of its investment has decreased as a result of government action. Despite involving the government, these arbitration procedures are closed to public participation, observation and input. The US has made sure that this provision is written into every of its free trade agreements since. Ha-Joon Chang, Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, London, 2010, p. 163.

[22] Hufbauer argues forcefully for Chapter 11’s renegotiation in 2003, only to claim in 2007 that its provisions are ‘relatively uncontroversial’ and that the amounts awarded to businesses were ‘a small fraction of the overblown claims of business plaintiffs and a tiny amount compared to three-way FDI within NAFTA, now amounting to almost $900 billion’. Gary C. Hufbauer & Gustavo Vega, ‘Whither NAFTA: A Common Frontier?’, in Peter Andreas and Thomas J. Biersteker (eds.), The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a New Security Context. Routledge, New York and London, 2003; Gary C. Hufbauer & Jeffrey J. Schott, ‘NAFTA Revisited’.

[23] Fareed Zakaria, ‘You Can’t Stop the Trade Machine’, The Washington Post, 14 May 2015, retrieved 8 September 2015 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-cant-stop-the-trade-machine/2015/05/14/208d74a2-fa6e-11e4-a13c-193b1241d51a_story.html

[24] Sarah Anderson & John Cavanagh, ‘Happily Ever NAFTA?’

References

Anderson, S. & Cavanagh, J., ‘Happily Ever NAFTA? A Bad Idea That Failed’, Foreign Policy, 9 November 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from http://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/09/happily-ever-nafta/

Blecker, R. A. & Esquivel, G., NAFTA, Trade, and Development, Working Paper 10-03, Center for US–Mexican Studies, the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, and El Colegio de México, 2010.

Bush, G. H. W., ‘Communication from the President of the United States transmitting notification of his intent to enter into a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the governments of Mexico and Canada, Pursuant to Section 1103(a)(1) of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988’, NewsBank, 102nd Congress, 2nd session, H.Doc. 392, 18 September 1992, retrieved 7 September 2015 from http://docs.newsbank.com/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info:sid/iw.newsbank.com:SERIAL&rft_val_format=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:ctx&rft_dat=132CD718D11FD5B8&svc_dat=Digital:ssetdoc&req_dat=102D23E2B9847C9F

Campbell, M. & Hendricks, T., ‘Mexico’s Corn Farmers See Their Livelihoods Wither Away: Cheap U.S. Produce Pushes Down Prices Under Free-trade Pact’, SFGate, 31 July 2006, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Mexico-s-corn-farmers-see-their-livelihoods-2515188.php

Cameron, M. A. & Tomlin, B. W., The Making of NAFTA: How the Deal Was Done, Cornell University Press, 2002.

Castañeda, J. G., ‘NAFTA’s Mixed Record: The View From Mexico’, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 93, No. 1, January/February 2014, pp. 134–141.

Ha-Joon, C., Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism, Bloomsbury Press, London, 2010.

Hufbauer, G. C. & Schott, J. J., ‘NAFTA Revisited’, Policy Options, October 2007, retrieved 15 October 2015 from http://www.piie.com/publications/papers/paper.cfm?ResearchID=898

Hufbauer, G. C. & Vega, G., ‘Whither NAFTA: A Common Frontier?’, in Peter Andreas and Thomas J. Biersteker (eds.), The Rebordering of North America: Integration and Exclusion in a New Security Context. Routledge, New York and London, 2003.

Krugman, P., ‘The Uncomfortable Truth About NAFTA: It’s Foreign Policy, Stupid’, Foreign Affairs, Nov–Dec 1993, retrieved 7 September 2015 from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/mexico/1993-12-01/uncomfortable-truth-about-nafta-its-foreign-policy-stupid

‘North American Free Trade Agreement Between the Government of the United States of America, the Government of Canada, and the Governement of the United Mexican States’, 8–17 December 1992, US–Canada–Mexico, 32 I.L.M. 289, retrieved 13 October 2015 from https://www.nafta-sec-alena.org/Home/Legal-Texts/North-American-Free-Trade-Agreement

Oatley, T., International Political Economy, 5th Edition, Routledge, NY, 2012.

Puche, J. S., ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, The, ‘Candidacy for Presidency: Ronald Reagan’s announcement of Candidacy for President of U.S. 11/13/79’, YouTube, online video clip, 16 April 2009, retrieved 9 September 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAtYMD-H2UY

Scott, R. E., Heading South: US–Mexico Trade and Job Displacement After NAFTA, Economic Policy Institute briefing paper #308, 3 May 2011, retrieved 14 October 2015 from http://www.epi.org/files/page/-/BriefingPaper308.pdf

Shultz, G. P., ‘The New North America’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Steffy, L., ‘Are Mexico’s Oil Reforms Enough to Lure Foreign Investors?’, Forbes, 19 August 2013, retrieved 12 October 2015 from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/08/19/are-mexicos-oil-reforms-enough-to-lure-foreign-investors/

Villarreal, M. A. & Ferguson, I. F., ‘North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)’, Congressional Research Service, Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, 16 April 2015.

Wilson, M. H., ‘NAFTA: From Conception to Creation’, in Michael J. Boskin (ed.), NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges, Hoover Institution Press, California, 2014, ebook.

Zakaria, F., ‘You Can’t Stop the Trade Machine’, The Washington Post, 14 May 2015, retrieved 8 September 2015 from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/you-cant-stop-the-trade-machine/2015/05/14/208d74a2-fa6e-11e4-a13c-193b1241d51a_story.html

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A Brief History of Australian Xenophobia

ozenophobia

To say that Australia has had its share of misunderstandings and misperceptions about the world that exists outside its own borders is somewhat of an understatement. Seemingly, if something can be gotten wrong about the wider world, Australia has gotten it wrong at one stage or another. Just how much of this can be attributed to genuine ignorance and how much is wilful deception—self- or otherwise—as well as whether or not it is necessarily a problem, will be the focus of this post.

(N.B. The reader should take ‘misunderstanding’ and ‘misperception’ to mean, respectively: believing something that is factually incorrect, due to a lack of information; and, believing something that is factually incorrect, as a result of faulty information.)

The Australian character is most often defined in terms of what it is not. ‘Un-Australian’ has become a common descriptor in both public and private discussion. The term’s frequent use in politics, popular media and everyday speech could be seen to speak of an identity founded on misperception and misunderstanding. A typical national reflex in a range of texts and conversation has been to define Australia in terms not of what it does, but what it does not, contain; which is to say, practices and customs that are seen as occurring outside its cultural or physical borders. The nation chooses to recognise itself chiefly in the terms of what it isn’t. As such, Australian misunderstanding of other nations could be said to be not merely an error of judgement, but part of the very substructure—however unsound—upon which the nation is built.

From settlement-era fears that it would be ‘Aboriginalised’[1] by its Asian neighbours, to current political rhetoric surrounding foreign investment, the fear of ‘Otherness’[2] has undoubtedly been a constant throughout Australia’s history. Simultaneously and peculiarly, though, this Otherness has an essential function: without its unAustralian Other, the national identity dissolves.

Considering the ‘invention’[3] of New Holland and Van Diemen’s Land—born of a British desire for a strategic base in the Pacific, in addition to a sort of ‘cocoon’ to protect their own people from the criminal element[4]—it is perhaps unsurprising that the future Australia’s residents would be inclined to retain security as a central preoccupation.

As far back as their colonisation of it, the British inhabitants of the world’s largest island have—perhaps somewhat understandably—had a disproportionate anxiety about being ‘invaded’ from the sea.[5] Australia’s geographical location has resulted in those anxieties regarding invasion being directed, almost exclusively until quite recently, towards Asia; concerns unhindered by any meaningful understanding by its people of their northern neighbours.

Geography notwithstanding, Australia has always regarded itself a part of the West. Abstract notions of empire, a sense of ‘imagined community’[6] and emerging theories of race, rather than any physical contiguity, were the ties that bound Australia to Great Britain. For all of the individualism championed by Enlightenment-era thinkers, the period had done much to entrench a sense of tribalism amongst people of western European descent, with theories—or, more accurately, hypotheses—such as polygenism immensely popular at the time. Espoused by such prominent philosophers as David Hume and Voltaire, these race-as-species pseudoscientific approaches to human heredity only sought to confirm the biases of the invariably white European authors, eager to validate their self-perceived physical, mental and moral superiority.[7] As is the case with all such scientific ‘paradigms’[8], this thinking would prove difficult to shift.

By the mid-nineteenth century, Australia had seen a substantial number of Chinese arrivals on its shores as the Qing Empire’s economic downturn saw many flee poverty, towards the promise of riches in the gold fields.[9] The arrival shortly thereafter of a number of Japanese immigrants and labourers from the Pacific Islands, gradually reignited Australian fears of being ‘overrun’ that had largely become dormant over the decades prior.[10]

‘Yellow hordes’ coming from the north would become a recurrent theme in the news media and popular novels from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, usually depicting a sense of European culture being gradually usurped by that of the ‘lower types’[11] from the East.[12] This narrative would alter somewhat, shortly after Federation—the push for which can be partially attributed to anti-Chinese sentiment, particularly in Victoria[13]—replaced with much more immediate concerns about a Japanese military invasion following the Russo–Japanese war of 1904–1905.[14] A misunderstanding of Japan’s military power quickly translated into misconceptions of its military aspirations as they pertained to Australia. (The newly independent nation may have been huge, but it was almost entirely devoid of people, with the few that it did have mainly located in its south-eastern corner; hardly a deterrent against invasion from the north.)

Policy, such as the Immigration Restriction Act, that was seen to work in the interest of Australia at the domestic level, would have negative repercussions for foreign diplomacy in a rapidly globalising marketplace. Such antagonism towards a group of people might go unpunished when one has a 49:1 advantage, but this was far from the case for Australia on the world stage.[15]

Australians had been involved in a number of military expeditions—Sudan (1885), the Boer War (1899–1902) and the Boxer Rebellion (1900)—in the lead-up to the twentieth century at the behest, and with the support, of Britain. Independent or not, Australia would not be looking to dissolve its marriage of convenience to Mother England any time soon. An expeditionary strategy was secretly established in London in 1911, in which Australian forces were routinely committed to war by a handful of British ministers. [16] As Greg Lockhart tells us:

For some years before 1911, British officials helped to establish the precedent by manipulating the anxieties of Australian ministers. Contrary to their own [Anglo–Japanese Naval Treaty] policy, the British encouraged the Australians to believe that Japan was a threat to the new country and that expeditionary support for Britain in a prospective war in Europe would best lock the Empire into the defence of Australia in the Pacific.[17]

By the time war did break out in the Pacific, the implicit support of Britain seemed little more than a misperception on Australia’s part. Churchill’s plan to ‘beat Hitler first’ effectively left Australia in the lurch, and wartime prime minister John Curtin was forced to appeal to the United States of America for help.

As luck would have it, the previous government had laid some of the groundwork. Robert Menzies had assigned Richard Casey as Australia’s first legation to Washington with the aim of setting straight any misunderstandings they may have had regarding his homeland. Framing Australians as freedom-loving pioneers, akin to Americans—or, at least, how many Americans chose to view themselves—went a long way towards convincing the superpower that Australia deserved its help.[18] Though it appears, with the benefit of hindsight, that Japan had no plans of occupying Australia at the time, this misperception served as a catalyst for securing diplomatic allegiance with the US.[19]

In the period immediately following the Second World War—with Japan having bombed Darwin and various other sites in northern Australia, as well as having captured 22,000 prisoners of war, one third of whom died—cold public sentiment towards the Japanese people had certainly not thawed. However, and despite Australia’s record of staunch anti-immigration, then-prime minister Ben Chifley would launch a large-scale immigration program, appointing Arthur Calwell as the country’s first Minister for Immigration. ‘Populate or perish’ was the slogan used to sell the idea to the public; on its face, an appeal to people’s invasion anxieties, but some, such as Teicher and Griffin, suspect concerns surrounding economic growth, in what promised to be a boom period, may have been a significant factor in the decision[20]:

[A]fter the Second World War practical considerations saw the relaxation of [the Immigration Restriction Act] policy, the consequences of which has been the emergence of a multicultural society, admittedly more by default than design.[21]

With its ties to Britain then little more than symbolic, Australia had to go it alone against much more established players in the global capitalist system, and for that it would need more people, and fast. This is not to say that Australia was throwing open its borders to all comers—far from it. Calwell himself was a stalwart advocate of the White Australia policy: any new arrivals would be European, or they would be sent home. To that end, at the same time, Calwell was deporting wartime refugees from Malaya, Indochina and China, even many who had married Australian citizens and started families in Australia.[22]

Though the majority of Australians may have been clinging to their misconceptions of the Asian world, the 1960s saw a new generation of young adults eager to explore the region for themselves. Due in no small part to The Beatles’ well-publicised experimentation with Transcendental Meditation at the feet of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, India was the new destination of choice for many travellers. For those who could not afford or were too scared to travel to India, cheaper, closer places would suffice. For hippies and New Age types alike, the experience was more about their individual experiences than any specific destination. It was, as Sandip Roy would later call it, ‘white people discovering themselves in brown places’.[23]

The White Australia Policy would officially stay in place until 1971, by which time Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War—due to numerous misunderstandings and misperceptions, both its own and America’s—was nearly a decade old. The political landscape was changing rapidly, due in large part to the media. Images of the atrocities of war were beamed into people’s homes for the first time. While a dislike for the Other as an abstract notion may still have been the default position for many Australians, seeing the reality of what was being done to Others, brought to them via their home television set, would be an impetus for many to say, ‘It’s Time’.

Gough Whitlam campaigned on a platform of universal health care, social justice and an end to Australia’s involvement in the war; but it was arguably the television spots, featuring a number of prominent Australians singing the bespoke campaign song ‘It’s Time’, that sealed the 1972 election for his party. While the media had long played a part in shaping public opinion, television would change the very nature of politics. Charismatic leaders were the order of the day if the party wanted to pick up the youth vote, and they had better say all the right things lest they wind up on the nightly news looking a fool.

It has become popular in recent years—perhaps due to Malcolm Fraser’s determination to rewrite his own history[24]—to attribute the influx of refugees in the post–Vietnam War period to compassion on the part of the Fraser Liberal government, who had ousted Whitlam in a very uncharismatic fashion in 1975. But it was not until two and a half years after the end of the war that the government began to resettle significant numbers of Vietnamese people and, when six boats arrived in one day during the 1977 election campaign, Fraser told the media: ‘some Vietnamese [boat people] who landed in Australia might have to be deported.’[25]

As is characteristic of conservative governments around the world, the right wing of Australia’s political class has, if not explicitly encouraged, at least not actively discouraged discrimination against the Other. This is not to say that the left are without fault in this regard; it was, after all, Paul Keating’s Labor government that first instituted mandatory detention for all non-citizens without a valid visa, in 1992. Then-Minister for Immigration, Gerry Hand, said the government was determined ‘that a clear signal be sent that migration to Australia may not be achieved by simply arriving in this country and expecting to be allowed into the community’.[26]

Fears are leveraged, on both sides of politics, for political gain; perhaps never more so than in John Howard’s 2001 election campaign. In August, Howard ordered Special Forces to board distressed fishing vessel, the Tampa, as it neared Australian waters. Amid international outrage over their conduct, the government introduced a harsher Border Protection Bill within days. That October, in an atmosphere of increased fear following the September 11 attacks in the US, Howard alleged a number of asylum seekers had thrown their children into the sea. Preying on public fears of waves of monstrous Others arriving on Australian shores, the Coalition—whose pre-September poll numbers predicted a significant defeat—went on to a landslide victory. The allegations were completely unfounded, but the political narrative has remained the same ever since.

Through a modern, Western liberal lens, it is tempting to see all prejudice as intrinsically detrimental, but this may be an overly simplistic view. One does not need to approve of such views in order to recognise that they may have been—or at least had the potential to be—advantageous to the nation at the time. Let it be plainly said, this is not an ethical statement. Rather, it is in line with the extra-moral techniques of leaders who find advantage in ‘unAustralian’ prejudice and use it to expedite policy.

The Australian people are hardly unique in their attitudes towards foreigners. A 2011 study of 23 countries found that 45% of Australians thought that immigration has had a generally negative impact on the country, exactly in line with the global average.[27] Perhaps where the national misperception is unique is not in its intensity but its quality. Unlike other Western liberal democracies, Australia’s cultural and political dependence on the very idea of Otherness as the means by which it defines itself and offers the apparently unmistakable ‘Australian’ by comparing itself against the unAustralian, is its mark of toxic difference.

(September, 2014)

Notes

[1] D Walker, Anxious Nation: Australia and the rise of Asia, 1850–1939, UWA Publishing, Crawley, WA, 2012, p. 9.

[2] E W Said, Orientalism, Random House, New York, 1978, p. xvii.

[3] R White, Inventing Australia: Images and identity 1688–1980, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1981.

[4] A Burke, Fear of Security: Australia’s invasion anxiety, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008, pp. 18–19.

[5] J McAdam, ‘Australia and asylum seekers’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 25, no. 3, 2013, p. 435.

[6] B Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Verso, London, 2006.

[7] D Keane, Caste-based discrimination in international human rights law, Ashgate Publishing, Hampshire, 2007, p. 89.

[8] T S Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012, p.5.

[9] K W Larsen, ‘The Qing Empire (China), Imperialism, and the Modern World’, History Compass, vol. 9, no. 6, 2011, pp. 501–504.

[10] Burke, p. 27.

[11] C H Pearson, National Life and Character: A forecast, Macmillan and Company, London, 1893, p. 341.

[12] McAdam, p. 436.

[13] Burke, pp. 27–28.

[14] Walker, p. 38.

[15] W C Lines, Taming of the Great South Land: A history of the conquest of nature in Australia, UC Press, Oakland, 1991, p. 140.

[16] G Lockhart, ‘Race Fear, Dangerous Denial: Japan and the great deception in Australian history’, Griffith REVIEW, Griffith University, Edition 32, 2011, p. 58.

[17] ibid.

[18] C Bridge, ‘R.G. Casey, Australia’s First Washington Legation, and the Origins of the Pacific War, 1940–42’, Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 28, no. 2, 1982, p. 182.

[19] Stark, 1940, cited in Barclay, G, 1977, ‘Australia looks to America: the Wartime Relationship, 1939–1942’, Pacific Historical Review, vol. 46, no. 2, p. 256.

[20] J Teicher & C S G Griffin, ‘Australian immigration: the triumph of economics over prejudice?’, International Journal of Manpower, vol. 23, no. 3, p. 209–236.

[21] ibid., p. 209.

[22] Koon Wing Lau v. Calwell, 1949, cited in M Foster, ‘An “alien” by the barest of threads: the legality of the deportation of long-term residents from Australia’, Melbourne University Law Review, vol. 33, no. 2, p. 500.

[23] S Roy, ‘The new colonialism of “Eat, Pray, Love”’, Salon.com, 14 August 2010.

[24] Fraser, M & Simons, M, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Miengunyah Press, Carlton, VIC, 2010.

[25] R Stevens, ‘No, the Fraser era was not a golden age for asylum seekers’, SMH, 2 February 2012.

[26] Commonwealth, Parliamentary debates, House of Representatives, 5 May 1992, 2370 (Gerry Hand, Migration Amendment Bill 1992, second reading speech).

[27] Ipsos, ‘Global views on immigration’, findings of the Global @dvisor Wave 22 survey, conducted between June 15th and June 28th 2011.

Bibliography

Anderson, B, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism, Verso, London, 2006.

Barclay, G, ‘Australia looks to America: the Wartime Relationship, 1939–1942’, Pacific Historical Review, vol. 46, no. 2, 1977, pp. 251–71.

Bridge, C, ‘R.G. Casey, Australia’s First Washington Legation, and the Origins of the Pacific War, 1940–42’, Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 28, no. 2, 1982, pp. 181–189.

Burke, A, Fear of Security: Australia’s invasion anxiety, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2008.

Commonwealth, Parliamentary debates, House of Representatives, 5 May 1992, 2370 (Gerry Hand, Migration Amendment Bill 1992, second reading speech), viewed 18 September 2014, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F1992-05-05%2F0031%22

Fraser, M & Simons, M, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs, Miengunyah Press, Carlton, VIC, 2010.

Foster, M, ‘An “alien” by the barest of threads: the legality of the deportation of long-term residents from Australia’, Melbourne University Law Review, vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 483–542.

Ipsos, ‘Global views on immigration’, findings of the Global @dvisor Wave 22 survey, conducted between June 15th and June 28th 2011, viewed on 20 September 2014, http://www.ipsos-na.com/download/pr.aspx?id=10883

Keane, D, Caste-based discrimination in international human rights law, Ashgate Publishing, Hampshire, 2007.

Kuhn, TS, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2012.

Larsen, KW, ‘The Qing Empire (China), Imperialism, and the Modern World’, History Compass, vol. 9, no. 6, 2011, pp. 498–508.

Lines, WC, Taming of the Great South Land: A history of the conquest of nature in Australia, University of California Press, Oakland, 1991.

Lockhart, G, ‘Race Fear, Dangerous Denial: Japan and the great deception in Australian history’, Griffith REVIEW, Edition 32: ‘Wicked Problems, Exquisite Dilemmas’, Griffith University, 2011, pp. 58–96.

McAdam, J, ‘Australia and asylum seekers’, International Journal of Refugee Law, vol. 25, no. 3, 2013, p. 435–438.

Pearson, CH, National Life and Character: A forecast, Macmillan and Company, London, 1893.

Roy, S, ‘The new colonialism of “Eat, Pray, Love”’, Salon.com, 14 August 2010, viewed 21 September 2014, http://www.salon.com/2010/08/14/i_me_myself/

Stevens, R, ‘No, the Fraser era was not a golden age for asylum seekers’, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 February 2012, viewed 22 September 2014, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/no-the-fraser-era-was-not-a-golden-age-for-asylum-seekers-20120201-1qtce.html

Teicher, J & Griffin, CSG, ‘Australian immigration: the triumph of economics over prejudice?’, International Journal of Manpower, vol. 23, no. 3, p. 209–236.

Walker, D, Anxious Nation: Australia and the rise of Asia, 1850–1939, UWA Publishing, Crawley, WA, 2012.

White, R, Inventing Australia: Images and identity 1688–1980, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1981.

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Vive la liberté! (Part 2 of, probably 2)

(From 0:25:16)

‘By the way, they’re also immoral. The Left talks about these things as though [they’re] moral. It’s not moral to steal other people’s wealth just because you’re poorer than they are.’

Again with the fucking Objectivism. You realise that property rights are man-made and don’t just naturally occur, right? Of course you don’t, even though they comprise a substantial part of the exact same legal system you studied at Harvard Law, including the Sixteenth Amendment to your favourite document, which states pretty clearly that income tax is not theft.

Also, since you have provided no argument to support your moral claim, I won’t bother spending thousands of words explaining why there can be nothing moral about a tautological theory of value that justifies an opportunistic author receiving upwards of $400,000 a year while a nurse, whose job is far more demanding and infinitely more important, makes a tenth of that. And don’t try and tell me it’s about ‘freedom’, either.

But, okay, even if we grant that all taxation over and above the government’s people-shooting budget is theft—and I honestly don’t know why we would, but I guess I’m feeling charitable (call it tzedakah, if you like; of which paying taxes sounds a lot like the second-best type)—why not choose to actively engage in some non-violent tax resistance? That would be the moral thing to do, right? Take a stand, Ayn Ghandi. Sure, you will likely face imprisonment when you refuse to pay the fine, but it’s not like they’ll shoot you. After all, the government’s not just a big ‘people-shooting machine’. And you must adhere to your morals, Yahweh is watching.

‘As government has gotten larger, it turns into this giant grab-bag of cash. So, what you have is a bunch of constituencies in the United States who are dependent on these grab-bags of cash.’

You mean, how the government stepped in to save the American people from that other unmitigated disaster your beloved free market created? What, with its dreadful New Deal policies and such? The ones that worked, even despite those noble ‘captains of industry’, those ‘supermen’, the ‘job creators’ you so admire refusing to create any jobs? And the Keynesian policies that followed, which saw your heroes forced to pay a marginal tax rate of anywhere up to 94%, the results of which were so devastating that people typically only dare refer to the period by way of euphemism, such as ‘the long boom’ and ‘the Golden Age of Capitalism’? Yeah, I thought that’s what you meant.

‘Palm Beach is a very rich area, and this little old lady toddles up to [former GOP Governor Linda Lingle]—pearl necklace, diamond earrings—she walks up to her and says, “What will you do to keep them from cutting my Social Security?” And I thought to myself, who are you? Like, you paid fifty dollars into Social Security when you were thirty-five and you’re probably getting out three thousand dollars a month now.’

I mean, I could run those numbers, but I understand you were just being hyperbolic. Still, what’s your point, exactly?

‘But, because people have been made that promise, they’re now dependent on the government.’

Right, so you weren’t implying that her pearls and diamonds suggest that she is not in fact dependent on the government, but simply being greedy? Kinda seems like you were.

‘Once you get into the business of, the government takes care of you in your old age, now we’re just arguing over methodology; we’re not arguing over morality.’

Aren’t we? Because your whole objection to taxation and using it to take care of people to this point has revolved around your deontological—i.e., rule-based—‘ethical’ claims that all tax is theft, theft is impermissible, and all thieves must be shot.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal of consistent, universalisable rules. Prima facie, they seem very appealing. Herein lies the appeal of religion for a lot of people. The only problem is—to use your words—they don’t work, they’re crap. Allow me to demonstrate.

‘Don’t kill people.’

Okey dokey. Except inadvertently, in self-defence, right?

‘Don’t kill people.’

Hmm.

‘Don’t lie.’

Except if the SS officer at my door asks about the Jews in my attic, right?

‘Don’t lie.’

The only way such an approach could be viable is if you were to have an infinite number of very specific rules for the infinite number of very specific circumstances that could possibly arise; which is to say, it is not viable at all.

‘My view is that, people have been made promises. We have to keep those promises, because otherwise we just have too many people who have no source of income. You make a promise; you keep a promise. But, if you are under a particular age, no Social Security at all.’

Even though those people have also been made exactly the same promise since exactly the same date on which the promise was made to the elderly? Now, if you’d constructed an argument about how best to pay for the social safety net as a whole, that would have been about methodology. But, no, you are suggesting that some people be excluded because you deem them to be less deserving. That’s a moral position. ‘You make a promise; you keep a promise’ is a moral statement. And, not only do they happen to be in direct conflict with one another, but they’ve got fuck-all to do with methodology.

‘I want my money back, okay? I’m getting fifteen per cent of my salary taken every year to be put in a fund that I will never see again.’

Except in the form of the police, military, and judicial system of which you approve, as well as all of the infrastructure you presumably don’t use. Which, of course, you do; but perhaps you’d like it all to be privatised? A small fee every time you step out of your house to use the footpath (ugh, fine, ‘sidewalk’) or drive on a road? But then, that would require an awful lot of that bureaucracy you’re not very fond of, so I guess the whole neighbourhood would have to be privatised. Then, just throw a fence around the whole thing and you’ll keep those undesirables out, right? Nope. Oh, and don’t invite any friends from outside to visit you, or one of your fellow shut-ins is likely get spooked and blow them away. Plus, it’s still not very efficient, so you’d probably be better off just privatising the whole city, so you could consolidate the payments you have to make in order to have access to its conveniences into a single payment. Wait, what does that sound like? Oh, that’s right, it sounds exactly like taxation, except much more expensive, because every fucker involved at every step along the way is doing it for the sole purpose of making a profit.

Also, if you’re telling the truth about your income, you should really be paying at least 33% in tax.

‘I would much prefer to put that in a SEP IRA and just let that grow with the stock market.’

Leaving aside the pretty generous tax breaks you’re already getting on any SEP IRA contributions you make, when that stock market—completely unregulated, just the way you like it—inevitably crashes again, wiping out most of your retirement fund, I’m sure we won’t hear a peep out of you. You’ll just let the chips fall where they may; because, hey, you win some, you lose some, right? No, you’re probably pretty confident that governments around the world will step in, like they always do, to shore up your investments with taxpayer dollars. And exactly how, pray tell, do you suppose that would work if there were no taxpayer dollars? Oh, who cares, just as long as they’re no longer funding the global homosexualist agenda.

ALMOST CERTAINLY NOT TO BE CONTINUED

 

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Vive la liberté! (Part 1 of, I dunno, 50?)

Got another email.

CLemail2

Okay, let’s see what your new favourite guy has to say. I’m not going to bother with the host, because he’s already revealed himself to be exactly as intelligent as he looks. (I’ll be doing this on the fly, because this video is too long to watch multiple times. Really long. Feature-length, in fact.)

BenShapiro

‘There’s a couple of things that I like about Trump: one is, he says things that are not politically incorrect.’

Bold claim. Please, elaborate.

‘There’s a difference between being rude and being politically incorrect. Being rude is telling Megyn Kelly she’s bleeding from her … wherever. Being politically incorrect is saying that some immigrants that cross our southern border are criminals.’

Both of which Trump did say, albeit less delicately in the case of the latter. Way to completely gainsay the claim you just made, genius.

‘That’s politically incorrect, but it’s not rude. But, saying Megyn Kelly’s bleeding from her wherever, that’s not being politically incorrect, that’s just being a jerk.’

Unless, of course, we consider:

a) women to be a group that experiences discrimination, in which case it is politically incorrect; and

b) labelling undocumented Mexican workers ‘rapists!’ impolite, in which case it is rude.

In other words, what everybody except you understands those terms—which are not mutually exclusive—to mean.

‘We live in a “me” culture and a “me” time …’

True enough.

‘The Left, for a hundred years, has fallen in love with the idea of the “strong man” …’

Unlike the GOP, whose candidates would never dream of falling over each other to associate themselves with a certain somebody whom they are convinced singlehandedly ended the Cold War.

*** Many minutes of waffle about personality politics and how it’s bad for conservatives, but Bernie Sanders should do more of it ***

‘… if Sanders can stay away from the whole “you’re a racist, sexist, bigot, homophobe” thing …’

You mean, the kind of personal attack that you just acknowledged he doesn’t engage in, before insisting that he really should? (UPDATE 14/6/16: okay, he’s kinda started to do it against Trump now that Hillary’s got the nomination sewn up.) And why, I wonder, might Sanders—if he were inclined to such behaviour—elect to use those particular slurs against Ted Cruz? You seem pretty certain that they’d be the obvious go-to, almost as if it’s a ‘whole thing’ with Cruz.

‘Is income inequality something we ought to worry about, or is it just ramifications of a free-market system in which people make voluntary transactions happen?’

Voluntary transactions. Like, say, those with your landlord and your boss. ‘Accept whatever pay and conditions we decide are appropriate, or be homeless and starve. Your choice. Oh, no, there’s no public housing or dole for you, because we decided the government must only exist to protect our property. Yay, freedom!’

‘We’ve broken down into this identity politics that … traps people into a group identity, rather than, “go out and make something of yourself, go out and do something.”’

So, the ‘me, me, me’ mentality you described earlier is a good thing. Right. Because you said it like it was a bad thing.

‘Every society in history has had income inequality.’

Guess your parents skipped their time in the kibbutzim, huh.

‘… you’re not showing me a villain.’

We are, you’re just refusing to acknowledge its presence. Look, this fellow is even pointing at it for you:

BernieTcherneva

Too abstract? Need to put a face to it? Here’s one. Here’s another. And another. Here’s one we saw earlier. Just say when you’d like me to stop. Okay, one more.

‘The problem with the Occupy Wall Street movement … is they were saying, “crony capitalism is bad. Therefore, the government should pick more companies to help. Or, should nationalise companies outright.”’

[citation needed]

‘Being a person who operates in business does not make you a capitalist.’

Unless it’s a for-profit business, in which case it definitely does.

‘… cut off the tie between the government and the private sector completely, which I would certainly prefer’

Sounds familiar.

‘If you’re gonna argue against crony capitalism, you also have to argue against government-subsidised loans for people who can’t afford them for houses, which causes massive economic crashes …’

That’s an interesting reversal of causation. Y’know, considering the government only stepped in to subsidise those loans—that is, to ‘bail out the banks’—after the fact, because the absence of government regulation had allowed your beloved private sector to tank the global economy.

‘… which Bernie apparently doesn’t oppose, right? I mean, he would like more of those things. He would like all of us to subsidise folks with bad credit taking out loans.’

If, by that, you mean he thinks the bailout money would’ve been better spent on shoring up people’s means of shelter, rather than rewarding the finance sector for its utter incompetence, sure. But you literally couldn’t have put it in a more convoluted way.

‘[Bernie Sanders] sees somebody in a room with five dollars and somebody with one, and he immediately says the guy with five dollars must’ve stolen something from the guy with one dollar. Whereas, I say I have no evidence of that until you show me that evidence. Maybe the guy with five dollars produced more than the guy with one dollar.’

Leaving aside the baseless and ridiculous claim about what Sanders would assume about the two dudes in your little thought experiment, WHERE DO YOU THINK PROFIT COMES FROM? Because, apparently, you think it just pops into existence when you produce something.

Hey, maybe the guy with five dollars actually did produce more, is self-employed, and sold his goods in the marketplace. Good luck to him. Alternatively, the guy with one dollar may have produced more, but he works for the guy with five dollars, who sold the goods for six dollars, paid him one dollar for his labour, and kept five for himself. Or maybe, just maybe, the guy with five dollars inherited that room, and as soon as he’s done extracting that six dollars rent from the other guy, he’ll kick him out on his arse and begin the process again with the highest bidder.

I’ll let Michael Hudson explain further (from Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy):

Killing-the-Host

‘I am [in the 1%]. Yeah, I am. But, I mean, it took me a long time to get there.’

You’re 32 years old. You finished full-time study less than nine years ago.

‘I think that’s the only thing that’s charming about Donald Trump. I think you should be proud of how much money you earn in this country, because if you worked to get there—I spent a lot of money going to law school, I spent a lot of time working in the trenches …’

Let’s see now. If you’re in the top 1%, you make at least $400,000 per year. So, $400,000 divided by 52 weeks in the year, divided by, let’s say, six days a week—you’re a religious man, after all—divided by, I dunno, 12 hours a day? My, you have been working hard for your … $106.84 AN HOUR? Goodness, you must have been productive in those trenches! Considering the minimum wage in the US is $7.25 an hour (or $2.13 an hour, if there are tips involved), and given that you think income lines up exactly with productivity, you must have been really fucking productive in those trenches.

‘And I work a lot of hours to make that really good living.’

Okay, so perhaps 15 hours a day, six days a week then? With no vacation time or sick days? $85.47 an hour. According to your logic, that would mean you’re 11.8 times more productive than a minimum-wage worker for every one of those 90 hours you work each week. And that’s presuming you are paid only $400,000 a year. Yeah, that seems reasonable.

‘I think the progressive tax is a bunch of crap … I don’t see why you deserve a bigger percentage of my money because I make more money.’

You say ‘make’. Are you printing that money? Assuming you are actually producing something—legal advice, I guess?—that people are voluntarily buying from you in the marketplace for at least $85.47 an hour, how are they paying for it? Or, perhaps you are making your money from book sales, in which case it’s your intellectual property that’s returning profits for you. I realise you’d like to be John Galt, but you’re really more of a Wilt Chamberlain, only less promiscuous and not—heaven forbid!—black. Still, it kinda undermines your whole productivity–income assumption.

‘All taxes are, is a gangster shakedown. That’s all they are. And so, we can all agree that some gangster shakedowns are worthwhile, because we have to pay for police …’

Is that what gangsters spend their money on? Seems a little counterintuitive.

‘Here’s the problem with any sort of progressive tax … you have three people in a room, two of them are not Bill Gates, and one of them is. They vote two to one that they should take half of Bill Gates’ wealth.’

That sounds a lot like a criticism of majoritarian democracy, and not at all like a criticism of progressive tax. I mean, are there people outside this room? Is there a world outside this room? If so, why are only these three people voting? And if not, you’re describing a Hobbesian war of all against all, in which there is no government to demand taxes from anyone. And what, pray tell, are they going to do with all of this wealth? Is there a vending machine in the room? If not, it’s not really wealth at all, is it? It’s worthless. Money has no intrinsic value. Boy, are you bad at thought experiments.

‘Here’s my basic rule for all legislation and all taxation: if you pass this law, are you willing to shoot the person who disobeys? Because that’s what the government is. The government is just a big people-shooting machine.’

No, you want government to be a big people-shooting machine. Millions of Americans, over centuries, have democratically elected to have governments that are much more than just big people-shooting machines. You don’t like it, but—again—that’s just you not liking democracy.

‘The question is, are you willing to shoot people who don’t pay taxes if those taxes go for the national defence that protects us all? The answer is yes. Because, if nobody pays their tax, then, presumably everybody dies in some sort of terrorist attack.’

Look, I realise it can be difficult to nail down an exact definition of terrorism, but it’s not that.

‘I think the purpose of the tax is just as important as the percentage of the tax.’

So, just cut the 78 per cent currently spent on frivolous things like health, welfare, education, transportation, infrastructure and foreign aid, and people can simply pay their own way? From their $7.25 an hour? Except that, of course, that number will also fall, because you’ve decided the government shouldn’t be allowed to enforce it. But, I’m sure the market will correct for that by dropping prices, despite the complete absence of any incentive for it to do so.

From the Harvard Business Review:

PrivatisedHealth

‘Makes no sense. [Sanders] says, “I’m going to tax you five thousand dollars and you’re going to get ten thousand dollars back in medical service.” What magical box did you make that happen in?’

The equivalent of what would currently cost you ten thousand dollars. Because, yes, the public health system is much cheaper and more efficient than the private one.

‘Honestly, I wish Leftist solutions worked, because they’d be the easiest solutions in the world, right? “It’s a recession, tax everybody at 100%, redistribute the wealth”; in two days, the recession’s over. But they don’t work, they’re crap.’

First—with the possible exception of the Communist Party USA’s two thousand (at best) members—absolutely nobody is arguing for that. Second, yes, the recession would be over, because millions more people would have money to spend, and they would spend it. This is a fun little explainer on the deflationary cycle from Salman Khan, but his conclusion is wrong. Khan assumes that people—being rational actors, equipped with perfect knowledge, as they are in most modern economic models—will invariably hoard money. This might be true for those with enough disposable income to do so; e.g., deliver a stimulus package to the banks, and its management will spend it on bonuses for themselves while still refusing to lend people money. But, give a low-income earner an extra $900, and—as this guy successfully demonstrated—they’ll spend it. Because they have to. They simply cannot afford to save it. They’ll pay down their credit card debt, buy groceries or, yes, even a flat-screen TV. Which stimulates the economy. So, third, it’s not crap.

Hang on. 2160 words? That’s probably just about enough for now.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

(maybe)

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