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  • Mark 8:11 am on May 18, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, Chris newfield, , , unbundling,   

    Unbundling the university 

    My notes on Newfield, C. (2019). Unbundling the knowledge economy. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 1-9.

    Far from being distinct institutions at a remove from society, this special issue explores their many interconnections with social and political life. Once we recognise the mutating character of the university, transforming and growing in a way which reflects wider social life, it becomes difficult to see what it means to defend ‘the university’. As Newfield writes, drawing on Jana Bacevic’s contribution to the issue:

    In a sense there is no ‘university’ to defend from marketisation and splitting up. Teaching could be handled by online courses supported with course assistants who do not need expensive doctoral training. ‘Coding camps’ are the policy world’s exemple du jour. Research could be moved into the companies that benefit from it, supplemented by hospitals and national laboratories, who could also handle advanced research training. Civic education could be handled peer-to-peer by social media, and cultural education by our wall-to-wall visual media. Perhaps our real motto should be ‘shed no tears for the university. (1-2)

    What does the tertiary landscape look like without it? As he writes on pg 2, “if we remove the university from the tertiary landscape, we are left with commercial publishers, ed-tech providers, think tanks, marketing firms, quasi-governmental agencies, ministries, supra-national advisory bodies, and technical service companies”. They have built up around supporting higher education and there is little reason to think they could provide it were universities to gradually dissolve.

    Newfield suggests five basic features of university education: autonomy (in opposition to control by state or industry), self-formation, integrated learning, basic research (funded without promise of application) and public service. Each has private and public effects, as well as pecuniary and non-pecuniary dimensions. Unfortunately, discourses of higher education tend to focus on the private benefits and pecuniary dimensions to the exclusion of all else. However it has been estimated that private pecuniary benefits is only about 1/3 of the overall value, though the irony that this relies on placing a monetary value on non-pecuniary aspects is striking. Newfield describes this as ‘dark matter’ which is excluded by the aforementioned discursive narrowness (4). Pickering’s concept of ontological veiling could be usefully applied here.

    Could the unbundled university still produce this dark matter? Or does the datafication at the heart of the project mean that a focus on the calculable private and pecuniary aspects would be the sole concern? Could post-university systems increase value in a way that would outweigh these losses? He argues that opening out this debate involves recasting claimed drivers (automation, digitisation etc) as uncertainties with contingent outcomes. Rather than being what Filip Vostal calls ‘mega forces’ which lead ineluctably to their outcome, they are factors which operates amongst others within open systems.

    He ends by framing unbundling in terms of austerity. As he writes on pg 7, “every analysis of educational quality has been predetermined by constraints of cost”. The logic of unbundling involves extracting an element in order to maximise incomes and minimises costs, away from the messy interconnections which hinder this process. If I understand him correctly, he’s saying it’s a form of hyper-rationalisation which cuts out chunks out of an organisation in order to work on them in isolation rather than merely reconstructing an organisation piece by piece. He argues on pg 8 that ‘tech isolationism’ is a core problem which points to the sustained relevance of a humanities education:

    the failure to integrate technological with sociocultural skills. In rea- lity, the world’s enormous problems require massive numbers of non-routine problem solvers. They must have higher order cognitive skills, be able to cross disciplinary and linguistic barriers, and be capable of continuous improvisation. They need what used to be called humanistic creativity, for the simple reason that every global problem had fused technical issues to extremely difficult socio-cul- tural challenges. You can’t have renewable energy conversion unless you can reduce environmental racism, for example: cultural knowledge workers will need to be seen as essential equal partners with photovoltaic device engineers. STEM education unbundled from the social sciences, arts, and huma- nities is the problem, not the solution.

  • Mark 4:21 pm on April 11, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , , , , reactionary   

    Austerity politics as reactionary populism 

    I thought this was an excellent account in Corbynism: A Critical Approach by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton. From loc 627:

    Austerity is often taken to have caused the contemporary rise of populism. In retrospect, however, it is abundantly clear that austerity itself was a populist project –both in Chantal Mouffe’s sense of the creation of a political frontier between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and Jan-Werner Müller’s notion of the hyper-moralisation of political discourse. How else to explain the singularly odd way that Britain responded to the financial crisis? The Cameron government was far from the only one to react to the crash and their ballooning deficits by insisting on the need for a programme of austerity. But in no other country did the public don hairshirts with such gusto. As Owen Hatherley has noted, Britain was convulsed by a fit of ‘austerity nostalgia’ in the wake of the crisis – unleashing dark political energies Tom Whyman captured well in the coinage ‘cupcake fascism’.

    The book was published in 2018 and presumably written in 2017. But it’s hard not to link this to Brexit when reading it in April 2019. If they are correct about austerity populism then did Cameron and Osborne sow the seeds of their own destruction in their strategic embrace of the austerity narrative? From loc 640:

    It was as if the public actively welcomed the collapse of the economy, regarding it as an event which finally gave some meaning to a life waylaid by the cheap thrills of credit-fuelled consumerism and reality TV, a form of existence that suddenly felt as toxic as the junk bonds clogging up the balance sheets of banks around the world. The austerity narrative was founded on an opposition between a national community of ‘hardworking people’ and a feckless underclass who had brought Britain to its knees –namely the ‘scroungers’, the benefit cheats, those too lazy to work and choosing to live off the largesse of the state. In this telling, the financial crisis itself was essentially caused by the Labour government’s reckless decision to rack up monstrous debts in order to fund the lavish lifestyles of their shiftless clientele. In contrast to this rotten coalition of bloated state, corrupt liberal-left political elite, and workshy scroungers, the Tories would instead take the side of the ‘hardworkers’, those willing to take responsibility for their own lives and roll up their sleeves to ‘sort out Labour’s mess’. ‘We’re all in it together’ was the cry, deliberately evoking the Churchillian spirit of wartime. The ‘deficit’ –and those responsible for it –was turned into a national enemy

  • Mark 6:12 pm on February 19, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , austerity, , , , ,   

    Abundance and austerity  

    From The Revenge of the Monsters of Educational Technology, by Audrey Watters, loc 1187:

    Many of us in education technology talk about this being a moment of great abundance—information abundance—thanks to digital technologies. But I think we are actually/ also at a moment of great austerity. And when we talk about the future of education, we should question if we are serving a world of abundance or if we are serving a world of austerity. I believe that automation and algorithms, these utterly fundamental features of much of ed-tech, do serve austerity. And it isn’t simply that “robot tutors” (or robot keynote speakers) are coming to take our jobs; it’s that they could limit the possibilities for, the necessities of care and curiosity.

    Understanding this relationship between austerity and abundance strikes me as a crucial question of political theory. One which we evade if we reduce the former to the latter or vice versa, seeing abundance as negating austerity (as Tyler Cowen does, for instance) or austerity as negating abundance (by robbing it off its  social significance as a cultural change).

  • Mark 7:10 pm on August 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , austerity, , , , , , , , , ,   

    Trump is masculinising poverty 

    An absolutely fascinating article from Arlie Hochschild, whose new book on the American right sounds like a must read:

    Traditional Tea Party supporters wanted to cut both the practice of cutting in line, and government rewards for doing so. Followers of Donald Trump, on the other hand, wanted to keep government benefits and remove shame from the act of receiving them – but restrict those benefits, implicitly, to native-born Americans, preferably white.


  • Mark 2:30 pm on July 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , austerity, , , ,   

    The coordinates of the austerity consensus are disintegrating 

    From Corbyn: Against All Odds, by Richard Seymour, pg 22. There’s a huge opportunity for the Labour left but also a huge risk, as momentum has built for an anti-austerity platform that might no longer be relevant:

    “It is not clear what will happen to the debt/speculation economy, or the ‘property-owning democracy’ where large numbers of people supplement their income by borrowing against the rising value of their homes. When even George Osborne gives up his threatened ‘emergency’ austerity budget, abandons his ‘fiscal rule’, and leading Tory candidates openly talk down austerity, one going so far as to propose a massive borrowing and spending programme, the coordinates of the old consensus are clearly disintegrating. This is one of those moments when a degree of political imagination and initiative will make a decisive impact for the next few years at least”

    As Seymour goes on to observe, “in the context of a generalised crisis of politics and the established way of doing things, anyone who has some ideas about how to change things can gain a hearing.” The book on the American right I’ve just read, Thomas Frank’s Pity the Billionaire, makes a compelling case that the resurgent free-market right capitalised on precisely this opportunity, despite the fact their ideas were inane and contradictory. 

  • Mark 2:02 pm on February 21, 2016 Permalink
    Tags: , austerity, economy policy, , John McDonnell, ,   

    John McDonnell’s New Socialism 

    I listened to this earlier today and I was really impressed:

    It’s part of a broader intellectual project in meetings currently taking place around the country. Hopefully one in Manchester soon! Here’s the list.

  • Mark 12:12 pm on November 8, 2015 Permalink
    Tags: austerity, , fiscal retrenchment, , ,   

    big data and the politics of austerity  

    From Infoglut, by Mark Andrejevic, loc 607. The context to digital innovation in public services: 

    What emerges is a kind of actuarial model of crime: one that lends itself to aggregate considerations regarding how best to allocate resources under conditions of scarcity – a set of concerns that fits neatly with the conjunction of generalized threat and the constriction of public- sector funding. The algorithm promises not simply to capitalize on new information technology and the data it generates, but simultaneously to address reductions in public resources. The challenges posed by reduced manpower can be countered (allegedly) by more information. As in other realms, enhanced information processing promises to make the business of policing and security more efficient and effective. However, it does so according to new surveillance imperatives, including the guidance of targeted surveillance by comprehensive monitoring, the privileging of prediction over explanation (or causality), and new forms of informational asymmetry. The data- driven promise of prediction, in other words, relies upon significant shifts in cultures and practices of information collection.

  • Mark 5:08 pm on April 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , , , ,   

    “The problem with capitalism is that it’s not capitalist enough”: Neoliberalism 2.0? 

    See below for comments by the Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in this article that are by now rather familiar. This notion can be formulated in many different ways but at root it seeks to redeem ‘free-market capitalism’ by agreeing with leftist critics and disowning the excesses of the last few decades, denouncing them as the result of a perverse corporatism which we now need to overcome:

    Instead of blaming capitalism for inequality and environmental degradation, Mackey suggests that we should look at the actions of governments. Departing from the dominant idea that states have retreated from the market over the past three decades, Mackey argues states have become more interventionist than ever, and that in the process they have “fostered a mutant form of capitalism called crony capitalism” that is to blame for many of the problems societies face today. Mackey does not see crony capitalism as “real” capitalism. Instead it is a product of big government in which politicians trying to preserve their cushy jobs develop symbiotic, parasitic relationships with businesspeople too lazy or unimaginative to compete successfully in the marketplace. In Mackey’s story, crony capitalism has been exacerbated by the rising power of the financial sector and shareholder value ideology — the idea that firms are nothing more than a stream of assets designed to maximize profits for shareholders. Mackey argues that this obsession with greed and profits has “robbed most businesses of their ability to engage and connect with people” and has created “long-term systemic problems” that destroy profitability and that can be deeply damaging to people and to the planet. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/04/free-market-conscious-capitalism-government/

    It might be confirmation bias on my part but I feel like I’m seeing this sentiment expressed with ever greater frequency. It becomes sinister when you consider it alongside the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the politics of austerity and the disturbingly post-democratic direction of European politics. Are we seeing the emergence of the cultural formation which will accompany the final and formal subordination of the social democratic state to the market economy?

  • Mark 5:55 pm on March 28, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , ,   

    The Emperor’s New Clothes 

    Because we’re leaving them to their own devices
    The poorest are making all of the sacrifices –
    The cost of living crisis, house prices, the cost of a deposit,
    I don’t give a shit
    But yes of course we should address it
    So we will blame the deficit on people claiming benefits
    And as we debate what people get from the state
    We don’t care about how long people have to wait in A&E
    We don’t care about your GP
    We have to get the money, it’s important to me
    And as the NHS is being sold off
    It’s businesses that get the profits in their pockets

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few

    Where is the fairness? We couldn’t care less
    One tax law for the rich and another for the rest
    And we will take interest in the very richest
    Let us make the poor their bitches
    Tax evasion is a man-made disaster
    These are the people I serve as Chancellor
    I know the answer is to fill
    The wallets of the rich and balance the bills
    On the backs of the poor.
    The rich pay less tax
    Let us make sure they don’t pay any more
    And as my chums move their money offshore
    I am the one holding open the door
    Let us be the party that makes you cry
    But madness is voting for the other guy

    Good morning everybody
    Our ideas are partly fear
    Of people from different cultures coming here
    And when I hear our policies about ethnic minorities
    We’re the only party that actually believes in social mobility
    Cos our ability to push migrants on a boat
    Is my personal priority
    Yes, the majority of our policies
    Blame people who come from other countries

    Employment legislation, blame immigration
    Excessive regulation, blame immigration
    Bad education, blame immigration
    No qualifications, blame immigration
    Radicalisation, blame immigration
    Unhappy situation, blame immigration
    The intimidation in our nation
    When we blame immigration
    Is a total abomination

    At home and abroad, we can afford to press pause
    And put the needle on the record

    Make sure the toffs stay better off
    Make sure the money stops at the top
    Take every penny from the hands of the many
    And give everything to the few
    We are not all in this together
    We want to help the rich get richer forever
    The poor will get a chance never
    We don’t give a damn about you

  • Mark 10:31 am on January 11, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , austerity, , , , , ,   

    What will post-democracy look like? 

    As anyone who reads my blog regularly might have noticed, I’m a fan of Colin Crouch’s notion of post-democracy. I’ve interviewed him about it a couple of times: once in 2010 and again in 2013. Whereas he’d initially offered the notion to illuminate a potential trajectory, in the sense that we risk becoming post-democratic, we more latterly see a social order that might be said to have become post-democratic. He intends the term to function analogously to post-industrial: it is not that democracy is gone but that it has been hollowed out:

    The term was indeed a direct analogy with ‘post-industrial’. A post-industrial society is not a non-industrial one. It continues to make and to use the products of industry, but the energy and innovative drive of the system have gone elsewhere. The same applies in a more complex way to post-modern, which is not the same as anti-modern or of course pre-modern. It implies a culture that uses the achievements of modernism but departs from them in its search for new possibilities. A post-democratic society therefore is one that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell. The energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. I did not say that we were now living in a post-democratic society, but that we were moving towards such a condition.


    Crouch is far from the only theorist to have made such a claim. But I think there’s a precision to his argument which distinguishes it from the manner in which someone like, say, Bauman talks about depoliticisation. My current, slightly morbid, interest in representations of civilisational collapse has left me wondering what entrenched post-democracy would look like. Asking this question does not refer to an absence of democracy, for which endless examples are possible, but rather for a more detailed sketch of what a social order which was once democratic but is now post-democratic would look like. While everyday life might look something like that which can be seen in Singapore, ‘the city of rules’ as this Guardian article (from which the picture is taken) puts it, I think there’s more to be said than this. However we can see in Singapore a vivid account of how micro-regulation can be deployed to facilitate a city in which ‘nothing goes wrong, but nothing really happens’ as one ex-pat memorably phrases it in that article. Is it so hard to imagine efficiency and orderliness being used to secure consent, at least amongst some, for a similar level of social control in western Europe or America?

    Photograph: Bildagentur-online/Schoening/Alamy via the Guardian

    Photograph: Bildagentur-online/Schoening/Alamy via the Guardian

    Perhaps we’d also see the exceptional justice that intruded into UK life after the 2011 riots, with courts being kept open 24/7 in order to better facilitate the restoration of social order. There’s something akin to this in mega sporting events: opaque centralised planning overwhelms democratic consultation, ‘world cup courts’ dish out ad hoc justice, the social structure contorts itself for the pleasure of an international oligopoly upon whom proceedings depend, specialised security arrangements are intensively deployed in the interests of the event’s success and we often see a form of social cleansing (destruction of whole neighbourhoods) presented as a technocratic exercise in event management. We also see pre-arrests and predictive policing deployed to these ends and only a fool would not expect to see more of this as the technological apparatus and the political pressures encouraging them grow over time.

    These security arrangements point to another aspect of a post-democratic social order: the economic vibrancy of the security sector. There is a technological dimension to this, with a long term growth fuelled by the ‘war on terror’ coupled with an increasing move towards ‘disruptive policing’ that offers technical solutions at a time of fiscal retrenchment, but we shouldn’t forget the more mundane side of the security industry and its interests in privatisation of policing. This is how Securitas, one of the world’s largest security companies, describe the prospects of the security industry. Note the title of the page: taking advantage of changes.

    The global security services market employs several million people and is projected to reach USD 110 billion by 2016. Security services are in demand all over the world, in all industries and in both the public and private sectors. Demand for our services is closely linked to global economic development and social and demographic trends. As the global economy grows and develops, so do we.

    Historically, the security market has grown 1–2 percent faster than GDP in mature markets. In recent years, due to current market dynamics and the gradual incorporation of technology into security solutions, security markets in Europe and North America have grown at the same pace as GDP. This trend is likely to continue over the next three to five years.

    Market growth is crucial to Securitas’ future profitability and growth, but capitalizing on trends and changes in demand is also important. Developing new security solutions with a higher technology content and improved cost efficiency will allow the private security industry to expand the market by assuming responsibility for work presently performed by the police or other authorities. This development will also be a challenge for operations with insourced security services and increase interest in better outsourced solutions.


    Consider this against a background of terrorism, as the spectacular narrative of the ‘war on terror’ comes to be replaced by a prospect of state of alert without end. We’ve not seen the end of the ‘war on terror’, we’ve seen a spectacular narrative become a taken for granted part of everyday life. It doesn’t need to be narrativised any more because it’s here to stay. Against this backdrop, we’re likely see an authoritarian slide in political culture, supplementing the institutional arrangements already in place, in which ‘responsibility’ becomes the key virtue in the exercise of freedoms – as I heard someone say on the radio yesterday, “it’s irresponsible to say democracy is the only thing that matters when we face a threat like this” (or words to that effect).

    Crucially, I don’t think this process is inexorable and it’s certainly not the unfolding of an historical logic. It’s enacted by people at every level – including those who reinforce the slide at the micro level of everyday social interaction. The intractability of the problem comes because the process itself involves a hollowing out of processes of contestation at the highest level, such that the corporate agents pursuing this changing social order are also benefiting from it by potential sources of resistance being increasingly absent or at least passive on the macro level.  This is how Wolfgang Streeck describes this institutional project, as inflected through management of the financial crisis:

    The utopian ideal of present day crisis management is to complete, with political means, the already far-advanced depoliticization of the economy; anchored in recognised nation-stated under the control of internal governmental and financial diplomacy insulated from democratic participation, with a population that would have learned, over years of hegemonic re-education, to regard the distributional outcomes of free markets as fair, or at least as without alternative.

    Buying Time, pg 46

  • Mark 4:33 pm on August 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, ,   

    Workshop 11-12th November 2014 – ‘Occupying Politics in a Time of Alterity’ 

    Please see attached a call for papers for the workshop entitled ‘Occupying Politics in a Time of Alterity’ to be held at Manchester University on 11-12th November 2014.

    It seems that the recent encounter with the language of crisis has imprisoned political discourse and robbed it of its imagination to think and act the politics of otherness and difference in ways beyond the existing bureaucratic processes or managerial policies whose focus is on curbing, and trying to minimise otherness in the name of ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ or on simply celebrating and defending alterity. This workshop devotes its attention to engaging with the impact of socio-political change on communities and on ideas of cultural difference as alterity; on how communities and individuals react as politically engaged creatures by protesting, rethinking, enacting and remembering otherness not just as an aberration or a triumphant moment of multiculturalism, but as part of everyday life and of identity more generally; and on the way in which alterity informs research approaches linked to ideas of becoming(s), multiplicity, acts, flows, intimacies, borders, irregularities, energies,  and aesthetics.

    We look for collaborators to expose, explore and experiment with ideas of alterity in the construction of ‘politics’ (broadly understood) and as potential sites of resistance.  We strongly welcome submissions from people in disciplines across the humanities and the social sciences, including but not limited to: art, sociology, geography, politics, psychology, education, anthropology, language, development, philosophy, business studies, law, cultural studies and environmental studies.

    Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words with a working title and 4 key words. Please submit these by 20th of September to Aoileann.nimhurchu@manchester.ac.uk. Any questions should be directed to the same address.

  • Mark 4:29 am on June 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, ,   

    Making the ‘Precariat’: Unemployment, Insecurity and Work-Poor Young Adults in Harsh Economic Conditions 

    Making the ‘Precariat’: Unemployment, Insecurity and Work-Poor Young Adults in Harsh Economic Conditions
    Free One Day Conference at the University of Leicester
    July 14th 2014

    In the UK, as well as in other parts of Europe, levels of unemployment among young people are disturbing. Youth unemployment is higher now than at any time since the 1980s recession (ONS, 2012), affecting over a million 16-24 year-olds with significantly higher rates among vulnerable populations such as early school-leavers.

    “Making the ‘Precariat’: Unemployment, Insecurity and Work-Poor Young Adults in Harsh Economic Conditions” is a one day conference addressing issues surrounding youth unemployment. Taking place at College Court, Leicester, the conference will showcase collaborate work carried out with staff from the University of Glasgow, funded by the ERSC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (Professor Andy Furlong, Glasgow; Professor John Goodwin, Leicester; Professor Henrietta O’Connor, Leicester).

    Speakers include: Professor David Ashton, Professor Melanie Simms (Leicester) and Professor Ann Berrington (Southampton)

    For more information on the event or to book a place, please visit the conference page here (http://www2.le.ac.uk/conference/precariat/making-the-2018precariat2019-unemployment-insecurity-and-work-poor-young-adults-in-harsh-economic-conditions).

    If you are unable to attend the conference, you can still join the discussion on Twitter by following @ukyouthresearch

  • Mark 9:20 pm on May 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, out sourcing, ,   

    31 things the current UK government have privatised or want to privatise 

    1. child protection services
    2. the probation service
    3. the royal mail
    4. emergency calls to the fire service
    5. the land registry
    6. the NHS blood service
    7. Eurostar
    8. large swathes of the school system
    9. significant policing functions
    10. the motorway network
    11. the met office
    12. ordnance survey
    13. companies house
    14. student loans
    15. the behavioural insights team
    16. Remploy
    17. the NHS
    18. forests
    19. Lloyds
    20. the courts service
    21. the prison system
    22. English Heritage
    23. the Defence Equipment and Support agency
    24. Food and Environment Research Agency
    25. the BBC
    26. the royal mint
    27. HMRC
    28. the forensic science service
    29. the policing of parliament
    30. job centre plus
    31. The Government Pipeline and Storage System

    The list would be much longer if it included New Labour. How far will this go…?

    My criteria for inclusion on the list are that a service has been privatised, has been subject to an attempted privatisation or that a putative privatisation has been discussed in the media. The concept of ‘privatisation’ is a bit inaccurate when applied across the list but I don’t think this detracts from the underlying point. There’s some quite specific qualifications which could be attached to many of the entries on the list but this isn’t the place for them. I was just interested to fuzzily map the scope of the privatisation agenda, getting beyond the drip-feed of news stories about particular services to try and think about the size of the broader trend.

  • Mark 9:54 pm on May 2, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, ,   

    Paul Krugman Makes Rand Paul’s Head Explode With Facts In ‘Big Government’ Debate 

  • Mark 12:13 pm on April 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , , david harvey, ,   

    The politics of austerity 

    Richard Seymour had a thoughtful and incisive analysis in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago, released around the same time as his new book on austerity (see the video above). It addresses what I take to be the questions which the left has to address: how was it that a crisis of finance capital transmuted, as if by magic, into a crisis of sovereign debt? Furthermore, what strategies can be learnt from the sheer efficiency with which this (cultural) agenda was pursued?

    How can it be that more than six years since the credit crunch, with austerity under way for more than three years, the left has barely showed signs of life, let alone scored a single significant victory? Particularly when capitalism has been in its deepest crisis in generations. We have been floored by austerity, and above all passive acceptance.

    To understand how we got to this impasse, we need to radically rethink many of our core assumptions. The first is the engrained idea that a capitalist crisis necessarily leads to radicalisation. As political theorist Antonio Gramsci pointed out, it is the “traditional ruling class” rather than its opponents who are best positioned to take command of a crisis. Its control over the dominant institutions, its loyal cadres of supporters in thinktanks and the media, and its economic and political strength, all enable it to adapt and propose its own solutions. Proactively, it seeks to meet the crisis on every level on which it manifests itself by changing strategies, winning over popular layers with “demagogic promises”, and pre-empting and isolating opponents.


    It’s really worth reading the article in full. I happened to stumble across it via his website a few hours after I’d been listening to yesterday’s Thinking Allowed at the gym*. It had two of my favourite political thinkers: David Harvey and Colin Crouch. I’ve interviewed Colin Crouch on two occasions: here and here. He remarked to Chris Mullin once that his current position as a critic from the left was a consequence of shifting political ground. As a student he had been on the right of the Labour party and he feels he’s stayed in the same place while party politics has shifted. Whatever truth there is to that, I think his critique of the institutional trajectory of representative democracy is an important one. Post-Democracy seems like a very prescient book in retrospect, one heralding changes which are really beginning to become apparent seven years on from the onset of the financial crisis. Here’s a video of him talking briefly about post-democracy:

    *Does anyone else listen to podcasts at the gym or is it just me?

  • Mark 4:02 pm on April 4, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , john redwood, ,   

    Is the state shrinking? Yes, even if John Redwood says it isn’t 

    There’s no money left in the kitty! We’ve maxed out the nation’s credit card! By this point, I find it hard to be reasonable when confronted with these inane metaphors*. But there’s been another response, recurrently voiced by the Tory right over the last few years, which is less effective for them as a rhetorical strategy but  also more difficult to straight forwardly repudiate: there are no real cuts. I’ve been trying to find a good video of this case being made (“what austerity? there’s no austerity! the state is still growing”) but instead all I could find was this hilarious video of John Redwood slipping into an Alan Partridge persona (of sorts) because he is doing a ‘webcast’:

    But Flip Chart Fairytales has posted an incisive analysis of this claim, arguing that while the “state-shrinkage seems fairly modest, taking us back to somewhere between the early and mid-2000s” this is a misleading picture for a number of reasons:

    Firstly, the population isn’t the same as it was in the mid 2000s. It contains a lot more old people who receive state pensions and associated benefits. Furthermore, this ageing population makes greater demands on public services like health and social care.

    Secondly, the labour market is weak. Average wages are set to remain low for the next few years. People in low pay, zero hours contracts and precarious self-employment don’t deliver much tax revenue and a lot of them rely on benefits. Over the next few years, despite modest economic growth, in-work benefits and pensions will keep up the pressure on welfare spending.

    The result of this increased pressure on public finances is a shift in state spending away from public services and towards welfare and debt repayments.


    It’s really worth reading the whole thing in full. The takeaway point is that “while overall public spending reduces by 3.9 percent between 2010-11 and 2018-19, per capita day-to-day spending on public services falls by around 28 percent over the same period”. Furthermore, the likelihood that budgets will be protected for certain departments amplifies the weight with which the axe will fall on others:

    As you look into the detail of public service spending, what starts off looking like a fairly small cut gets much bigger. If these spending plans are carried through to 2019, some parts of the state will not so much shrink as disappear completely.

    It will need someone with more time than me to dig out the data and work out when a government last spent as little as £3,899 per head, at today’s prices, on day-to-day public services. My guess, just looking at the IFS graphs, is that it must have been some time in the 1990s, when we had a much younger society placing less demand on services like health and social care.

    Of course, these are only plans. It may be that economic growth delivers higher revenues, or the next government increases borrowing and taxes. It may be that the spending cuts won’t be as severe. That said, taxes would have to rise significantly to prevent any further cuts after 2015.

    Whatever the headline figures might say, though, state provision is shrinking and is set to continue to do so until 2019. Fiscal, economic and demographic factors magnify what looks like a modest spending cut to a point where the squeeze on some parts of the public sector becomes severe. According to the government’s published plans, a 3.9 percent overall spending cut will become a 28 percent public service cut. This is the brutal arithmetic of public spending.


    *I used to love arguing about politics. Now I find it tiring and depressing. It means I sometimes get really pissy if someone infers from my presence on a demonstration that I wish to ‘sell’ my views to them. I’m not really sure what that transition is about.

  • Mark 10:10 am on March 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, ,   

    Austerity comes to the Ukraine 

  • Mark 8:47 pm on February 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , flood relief, TINA,   

    Cameron’s declaration that “money is no object” has destroyed his austerity message 

    George Eaton really hit the nail on the head with this. The difficulty is how to make this case, that contra TINA there is an alternative, without it sliding into an unintended attack on the flood relief action itself:

    Britain today is a country in which more than half a million people have turned to food banks since April 2013, in which homelessness has risen by 34 per cent since 2010, and in which, for the first time ever, there are more people from working families living in poverty (6.7 million) than from workless and retired ones (6.3 million). But Cameron has been able to justify all of this pain by presenting it as the tough medicine required to clear the country’s debts. As yesterday’s YouGov poll showed, 54 per cent of voters believe the cuts are “necessary”, compared to just 30 per cent who believe they are unnecessary, a gap that has remained consistent throughout this parliament.

    But yesterday, during his Downing Street press conference on the floods, Cameron suddenly abandoned this austere message. “Money,” he declared, “is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed, we will spend it.” Many voters, not least those who have lost their homes to the floods, will appreciate the sentiment, but it prompts the question: if money is no object in the case of flooding, why is it an object in the case of homelessness, unemployment and poverty? Indeed, had he adopted such a generous stance from the start, and not cut real-terms spending on flood defences (what a false economy that has proved to be), Britain would have been far better prepared for the deluge than it was.

    During the same press conference, after being challenged to divert money from the foreign aid budget to flood relief schemes, he replied: “I don’t think it’s needed to go for the aid budget because we will make available the money that’s needed here in Britain. We are a wealthy country, we have a growing economy. If money is needed for clean-up, money will be made available.”


    • Casperger 9:36 am on February 13, 2014 Permalink

      Perhaps IDS will suggest that flood relief money should be reduced to take account of unused bedrooms?

    • Mark 2:21 pm on February 13, 2014 Permalink

      how on earth did you choose that name??

  • Mark 4:01 pm on January 29, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , opportunity, , ,   

    Individual biography and the spatial distribution of variety (or, what the sociological imagination looks like to a critical realist) 

    Throughout my thesis I use the term ‘exploration’ as a short hand to designate a rather precise process. I’m trying to conceptualise a particular sort of biographical process, which in spite of its empirical variability shares an underlying structure in which the relation between concerns and context lead a person to look beyond that context in order to find a sustainable and satisfying way of manifesting those concerns. In such a movement, an inability to find a mode of life in which they feel compelled to invest themselves leads them to look beyond the boundaries of their context in pursuit of something ‘more’. Crucially, the constitution of this ‘more’ may be utterly opaque to them. Individuals can search for ‘more’ without being able to articulate what this ‘more’ is. My contention is that this is a purposive activity which is nonetheless inarticulate. People search for new things to know, new things to do and new things to be without being clear about what exactly it is they’re looking for.

    It’s in this sense that I’ve been thinking about the spatial distribution of variety. How is variety, which I’m understanding generically as opportunities (i.e. possibilities to do/know/be X which are foreclosed elsewhere), distributed in a geographical sense? Through asking this question we can begin to map a micro-sociological analysis of individual biographies (of the sort alluded to above) onto macro-sociological analysis of the mobility patterns of particular cohorts within broader populations. There was an interesting article in the Guardian recently which left these issues newly at the forefront of my mind:

    Monday’s Centre for Cities report starkly illustrated the extent of the brain drain taking place in this country as waves of gifted young people shun what is somewhat patronisingly referred to as “the regions” in order to build a career in the capital. According to the centre, a third of all people aged between 22 and 30 who leave their home towns move to the south, most of them never to return.

    I’m one of the exceptions. After six months of signing on while avoiding eye contact, I now have a job that is stimulating, rewarding, offers some hope of progression and, most amazingly of all, is in Birmingham – not London.

    I work as a university researcher and so come into contact with bright young people regularly. The students, artists, curators and designers I meet are dynamic, imaginative and energetic. They dream, think differently and make “scenes” (in a good way).

    It is inspiring, but it also makes the report’s findings all the more worrying. What does the future hold for cities such as Birmingham if the best and the brightest continue to be sucked into the capital? As the authors of the report point out, compared to other European countries such as Germany, Britain’s financial, cultural and political hubs are already disproportionately concentrated in London. A rich city is going to get richer while the rest are left to stagnate.

    Some people will stay and do what they can. But it is not enough to rely on youthful vigour. Faced with a choice between the dole and a zero-hour “McJob” outside London or the possibility of a career in the capital, graduates are doing the only thing they can do: migrating south.

    Things clearly need to change. My own university does good work in providing paid internships, artists-in-residence posts and other initiatives to help give young people a real stake in the city. But the problems are vast – they are structural and, as such, require intervention from local and national government. So here are a few ideas.

    Local authorities and other landlords outside London should be compelled to make any shop that has stood empty for more than two months available via an application process to students free of charge. This would help break down the distinction between “gown” and “town” and provide a platform for innovation for young people with ideas.

    Bodies such as the Arts Council should offer a special fund, open only to first-time applicants under 30 who have an idea for an activity taking place outside London. A young people’s commissioner with real powers should be established in every city and, importantly, it should be a recent graduate who fills the role. And we should relocate some of the key British institutions away from London to other parts of the country.


    I agree wholeheartedly with this analysis. In a sense, it’s a much more straight forward way of saying what I’ve articulated in the sometimes cumbersome language of relational realism. Macro-social trends which engender a concentration of variety in certain geographical regions and within certain social milieux (there are far more things to do, to know and to be in Manchester than there are in Rochdale) are mediated at the level of lived experience by action which aims, in various ways, to circumvent the contraction of variety in other areas as individuals try to shape a life for themselves, with the resources which individuals are able to deploy in making such moves themselves being unevenly distributed. So far from being a retreat from macro-social analysis, working at the level of individual biography offers a really interesting sort of traction on macro-social processes – these are inflected through individual biographies with all manner of aggregative consequences (the sheer weight of numbers doing X, Y, Z) and emergent consequences (acting collectively in response to convergent circumstances).

    This is how I understand the linkage between biography and history, between private troubles and public issues, or in other words what I think the sociological imagination looks like from the vantage point of the particular sort of critical realism I espouse.

  • Mark 12:21 am on January 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: austerity, , ,   

    Capitalism Is The Crisis 

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