Department of Political Economy Seminar Series

Semester 1, 2018

Thursday 22 February 2018, 1:00 -2:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Tao Peng
ING Bank
Title: In search of the golden elixir - a Taoist theory of economics
Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 426, H04 [map]

Tuesday 13 March 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Martijn Konings
The Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Capital and Time: For a New Critique of Neoliberal Reason

Critics of capitalist finance tend to focus on its speculative character. Our financial markets, they lament, encourage irresponsible bets on the future that reflect no real underlying value. Why is it, then, that opportunities for speculative investment continue to proliferate in the wake of major economic crises? To make sense of this, Capital and Time advances an understanding of economy as a process whereby patterns of order emerge out of the interaction of speculative investments.

Progressive critics have assumed that the state occupies a neutral, external position from which it can step in to constrain speculative behaviors. On the contrary, Martijn Konings argues, the state has always been deeply implicated in the speculative dynamics of economic life. Through these insights, he offers a new interpretation of both the economic problems that emerged during the 1970s and the way that neoliberalism responded to them. Neoliberalism's strength derives from its intuition that there is no position that transcends the secular logic of risk, and from its insistence that individuals actively engage that logic. Not only is the critique of speculation misleading as a general approach; it is also incapable of recognizing how American capitalism has come to embrace speculation and has thus been able to generate new kinds of order and governance.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 298, H04 [map]

Thursday 22 March 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Simon Mohun
Queen Mary University of London
Title: The Relevance of the Financial Crisis

The financial crisis was driven by two separate events; first, a crisis of profitability in conventional banking in the 1980s, resolved by restructuring the banking industry; and second, by the huge shift in income distribution towards the top (the 1%) over the neoliberal era. The juxtaposition of these two explains why the crisis broke out in wholesale money markets, where those with bonds who need cash meet those with cash who need bonds. This remains relevant as little has changed.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 498, H04 [map]

Thursday 29 March 2018, 4:00 - 5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Erik Olin Wright
Title: Unconditional Basic Income: progressive potentials and neoliberal traps

The idea of unconditional basic income occupies a peculiar place on the political and ideological landscape. Versions of UBI are being defended both by left-wing progressives like Guy Standing and by right-wing libertarians like Charles Murray. Both versions share a common idea: means-tested, targeted income transfer programs are replaced by an unconditional basic income given to all. Where they differ is in how generous is the proposed basic income, what range of programs would be eliminated when a UBI is introduced, and who precisely will be eligible for the UBI.

This talk will make four interconnected arguments in defense of the expansive, progressive version of Unconditional Basic Income: (1) An expansive UBI fits into a broader, long-term project of emancipatory social transformation. (2) It is economically feasible within contemporary capitalist economies; the obstacles to a progressive UBI are primarily political, not economic. (3) Even though an expansive UBI can contribute to the long-run erosion of the dominance of capitalism, it also can help solve certain immediate problems internal to a capitalist economy. This is what makes it a potentially achievable reform. (4) It is therefore worthwhile putting the progressive UBI on the political agenda of the left and struggling to discredit the neoliberal version.

Venue: New Law School Lecture Theatre 104, University of Sydney[map]

Thursday 5 April 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Peter Newell
University of Sussex
Title: The Global Political Economy of Energy Transitions

What does IPE have to contribute to pressing policy and academic debates about the urgently required transition to a low carbon global economy? Despite the obviously global, political and economic dimensions of such a transition – often likened to the ‘great transformation’ or the Industrial Revolution in its magnitude – insights from IPE have yet to be brought to bear on the question of what form such a transition might take: the relations of power which will frustrate or enable it; the historical precedents for previous transformations in dominant structures of production, finance and technology in the global economy; and the potentially central role of the state and institutions of global governance.

This talk seeks to contribute to the analysis of transitions grounded in different strands of critical IPE literature. It focusses, in turn, on the role of the state in transitions; the ways in which the globalisation of the global economy structures the possibility and likely form of transitions; and the role of global governance institutions in key energy and economic domains. For scholars of IPE, it demonstrates the centrality of energy in linking power, production and world order and highlights the need to further engage with questions of transformation in energy systems that are central to the organisation of the global political economy. This throws up questions around production, finance, technology, governance and justice which IPE scholars should be well placed to speak to, while requiring that energy takes up its rightful place as a lens for understanding and revising orthodox comprehensions of political, economic and social processes.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 426, H04 [map]

Tuesday 1 May 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Rick Kuhn
Visiting fellow in Political Economy, University of Sydney, and honorary associate professor in Sociology at ANU
Title: “At the length truth will out" (hopefully): the reception of Henryk Grossman's crisis theory
Abstract: Henryk Grossman recovered Marx's theory of economic crisis, based on the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, in his best known work, The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System, published in 1929. In that book and elsewhere, he emphasised the importance of active revolutionary politics. Yet most initial reviews accused him of having a mechanical theory of capitalist collapse. That criticism has been regularly capitulated ever since. This paper considers the adequacy of Grossman's arguments and those of his critics, as well as the circumstances which have favoured their persistence.
Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 498, H04 [map]

Thursday 17 May 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Sarah Kaine
Title: Long-term non-market strategies: how platform economy firms create favourable regulatory space
Abstract: The proliferation of platform businesses has presented a regulatory challenge in jurisdictions around the world as start-ups have sought to shape the rules that define the markets in which they operate. Uber is the most obvious and well-known example. It has aggressively pursued regulatory change and actively claimed that its business falls outside of existing rules. What Uber has done is to enter markets and deliberately undermine existing regulation because it does not suit its resource profile. This example suggests the urgency of a reconsideration of the durability of that role and the function of public regulation in the new economy. The recent examples of the strategies adopted by international mega start-ups the likes of Uber and Airbnb illustrate the importance of non-market strategies as a core, longer-term element, particularly in the digital economy. This paper will explore the long-term non-market strategies of firms to create a favourable ‘regulatory space’ and consider the implications for the regulation of these new markets. Further we suggest that considering the long term nonmarket strategies used by some actors in the digital economy provides a more complete picture of what firms do in their nonmarket environment and suggest a new analysis of how regulation of such firms and emerging markets can be designed.
Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 498, H04 [map]

Tuesday 22 May 2018, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Frank Stilwell
The Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: The Political Economy of Inequality: Taking stock and flowing...
Abstract: Concern with inequality has become politically mainstream during this decade. But what is really at stake? Why does it matter? What could be done – and by whom?

A huge literature on inequality has developed, including important contributions by Piketty, Milanovic, Stiglitz, Schneider, Pottinger & King, Wilkinson & Pickett, Dorling and others. Can we draw on this to develop a political economic approach that is coherent and useful descriptively, analytically and politically?

I am currently addressing this challenge in writing a book that is pitched at both university courses and concerned general readers. The seminar will describe the approach I’m taking and provide an opportunity for questions, critical feedback and discussion before the manuscript is sent to the publisher.
Venue: New Law LT 104[map]