Department of Political Economy Seminar Series

Semester 2, 2017

Thursday 10 August 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Jane Andrew
Discipline of Accounting, Business School, University of Sydney
Title: “Getting a good score”: The case management work of private prison officers

For almost forty years governments around the world have experimented with forms of privatisation within the prison sector. Despite claims of cost effectiveness, performance improvements and enhanced transparency, little is known about the impact privatisation has on the delivery of prison services and life within these prisons. As a consequence of privatisation, reporting practices within and about prisons have changed considerably in order to demonstrate compliance with contracts and to communicate performance against specified within Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), Service Delivery Outcomes (SDOs) and Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

This paper draws on interview data to explore these new reporting regimes and to understand the effect they have on the work undertaken by correctional officers within private prisons. In particular, we interrogate the production of monthly ‘file notes’ related to the case management of prisoners within one privately managed prison (Service Delivery Outcome 8 (SDO 8)). The file note, which is linked to a scoring system that determines part of the contractor’s performance linked fees, requires correctional officers to write a monthly report on each individual prisoner’s progress through the lens of their own activities as a case manager. We argue that the production and assessment of the file note magnifies the work of the correctional officer, such that the prisoner’s progress can be viewed as a consequence of the officer’s effectiveness, decoupled from other important drivers of rehabilitation – including the broader realities of socio economic disadvantage, and more concretely, the availability of appropriate vocational opportunities and personal development programs within the prison. In assessing the quality of the correctional officer’s file note, as opposed to the prisoner’s progress within the prison, the officer is required to communicate their individual effectiveness as a case manager in order to optimise fee revenue for the firm. While the officers we interviewed voiced significant concerns about their workplaces, they had learnt to write file notes that would “get a good score” because, to do otherwise could be interpreted as poor individual performance. This paper provides some insights into the effect privatisation has on the nature of work within prisons, and in particular, the need to examine reporting practices in order to understand their role in the restructuring of state/market relationships.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 398, H04 [map]

Thursday 24 August 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Rod O'Donnell
Economics, University of Technology Sydney
Title: Keynes and Marx: Towards constructive Dialogue

Both Keynes and Marx were philosopher-economists, creative thinkers, and theoretical and practical revolutionaries. This presentation revisits the complex question of the relationships between their philosophies, economic theories and policies, and politics. Since every conceptual framework has its strengths and weaknesses, one of its aims is to explore how their respective frameworks might assist in filling gaps, or overcoming deficiencies, in the other without damaging fundamental characteristics. Given the neoliberal ascendancy, the historical weakness of those critical of capitalism, and the absence of Cold War antagonisms, it seeks a constructive dialogue focused on central similarities and differences.

There are strong common elements. Early in their careers, both thinkers studied philosophy and economics, both approached capitalism as a system of interacting elements (not just an ensemble of independent individuals), both were critics engaged with analysing and removing its non-optimal outcomes (especially unemployment and inequality), and both proposed forms of socialism accompanied by strong state-driven policies to improve society. Both were also utopians with long term visions of ethically better futures where present non-optimalities were banished or minimised, comfortable lives were accessible to all, and society looked very different from current capitalsm. Marx’s goal of ‘from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs’ is entirely compatible with Keynes’s goal of huge transfers of time from the sphere of necessity (work) to the sphere of freedom (leisure, self-development, and social engagement).

Despite similarities in ends, there are stark differences in means due to different conceptions of capitalism, exploitation, socialism, and rational action in pursuit of social transformation. These differences are related to the central, unsolved, and perhaps unsolvable, problem of left politics: reform versus revolution. The philosophical, economic and political foundations of their differences are examined, and suggestions proffered as to the contributions that each theoretical framework might make to the other, without suggesting that a global synthesis is possible. Absent dogmatism, one can either be a follower of Marx with a more enlightened respect for Keynes, or a follower of Keynes with a more enlightened respect for Marx.

What might Keynes offer Marx? Theoretically, he supplied more sophisticated accounts of decision-making under uncertainty in determining investment and consumption, and the interaction of these aggregates in generating levels of output and employment via the principle of effective demand. In value theory, although largely expressing his thought in Marshallian terms, his theory is nevertheless open to using alternative theories of value. Modern Marxism can draw on this flexibility by stepping back from previous attachments to the old labour theory of value so as to also accept other exploitation-based theories of value based on new types of production in the modern world. In policy terms, Keynes provided practical, specific blueprints for economic and social change to improve system outcomes in the short term ahead of larger future changes. And his reformist politics are highly relevant where revolutionary upheavals are very unlikely but greatly improved outcomes for weaker groups/classes are still needed. His ‘liberal socialism’ provides important avenues for exploring disaster-averse options for the longer journey to utopia, and a necessary emphasis on liberty to avoid totalitarianism.

How might Marx assist Keynes? In terms of power, he adds much more sophisticated understandings of capitalism as a system grounded on entrenched self-interest, group/class conflict, state capture by capitalist ideology and interests, and the exploitation of weaker groups by stronger ones. Historical materialism is helpful in counterbalancing Keynes’s idealism which, in seeking its radical changes, relied too much on reason and the power of ideas alone. And class-based politics helps counteract Keynes’s assumed political neutrality of the civil service.

Improving society, let alone approaching utopia of whatever variety, will require coalitions of similarly-minded people, many ongoing political struggles as well as constant persuasion and significant social support within democratic environments.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 398, H04 [map]

Wednesday 30 August 2017, 12:00-2:00pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Martin Thomas and Dick Bryan
Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: Crisis and sequels: capitalism and the new economic turmoil since 2007

Like every crisis, 2008’s surprised.

By collating a series of discussions, conducted with a variety of left-wing economists in real time, as the crisis and its aftershocks evolved, Martin Thomas’s forthcoming book Crisis and Sequels: capitalism and the new economic turmoil since 2007 (Brill) tries to learn from the surprise, and not to dissolve it in a scheme of ineluctable generalities.

The book also wonders what shape of capitalism would emerge from the crash. Frequently in the history of capitalism, economic crises have broken the inertia of bourgeois wisdom and triggered political shifts or conflicts. As of 2016, when the discussions collated in the book were completed, the evidence was that neoliberalism had proved eerily resilient.

So it has: and we need to understand why. We need also to understand its developing fragilities, and the possible scope of attempts such as Trump’s to stretch neo-liberalism to the point of disrupting it from the right.

The interviewed political economists include Fred Moseley, Costas Lapavitsas, Leo Panitch, Simon Mohun, Trevor Evans, Dick Bryan, Michel Husson, Andrew Kliman, Robert Brenner, Barry Finger, Daniela Gabor, Hugo Radice, Andrew Gamble, Alfredo Saad Filho.

Emeritus Professor Dick Bryan will be joining Martin Thomas to discuss the book of which he says “Martin created a really interesting project. It will be illuminating to watch people’s views change (or not) and a great stimulus to see why (or whether) debates within Marxism matter in framing conjunctural analysis.”

Venue: Abercrombie Business School room 2130, University of Sydney[map]

Thursday 7 September 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Toby Rogers
Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney
Title: The Political Economy of Autism

Autism is a global epidemic. An estimated 1 in 40 children in Australia, 1 in 64 children in the U.K., and 1 in 45 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder. This is an enormous increase from the first known autism prevalence study in the U.S. in 1970, which established an autism prevalence rate of less than 1 per 10,000. Several studies have shown that changes in diagnostic criteria account for only a small fraction of the increased prevalence. The economic impacts of this epidemic are enormous.

A 2014 study from the London School of Economics shows that autism spectrum disorders currently cost the U.K. more than heart disease, cancer, and stroke combined. A study from U.C. Davis estimates that autism cost the U.S. $268 billion (1.5% of GDP) in 2015; it also projects that if autism continues to increase at its current rate, autism will cost the U.S. over $1 trillion (3.6% of GDP) in 2025. At the same time, several groups of leading doctors and epidemiologists including Project TENDR, the Mount Sinai Children’s Environmental Health Center, and the Collaborative on Health and the Environment have all published statements declaring that toxicants in the environment are contributing to rising autism prevalence. Yet governments have thus far failed to ban or restrict the substances that have been implicated.

Given the size of the problem and the growing evidence about factors that increase the risk of developing autism, what explains why public health authorities, thus far, have failed to engage in autism prevention strategies? This paper will also explore the question of what is to be done?

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 498, H04 [map]

Thursday 21 September 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Sophie Webber
Human Geography, School of Geosciences, University of Sydney
Title: The new "gold standard": Experimentatism, behaviouralism and marketisation for development

Development economics and institutions have a new ‘gold standard’: the randomized control trial, or RCT. An RCT is an evaluation technique that draws from experimental design in order to measure the impact of a development project. Due to randomization – randomly distributing people or communities to receive either control or treatment – advocates suggest that it is possible to measure the impact of an intervention, and attribute a causal relationship between the intervention and its outcome. As such, proponents claim that RCTs are able to get to the heart of what really ‘works’ for development interventions.

This paper charts the rise of RCTs within two major development institutions: the World Bank, and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Drawing from fieldwork at these two institutions, we follow RCTs as a technology of development, finding that they take divergent forms at each of the institutions. The paper examines the contested and uneven paths of RCTs as they have proliferated throughout development economics scholarship and practice, and teases out the new problems, subjects, spaces and governance regimes of development that RCTs engender. We build on existing research within economic geography concerned with the rise of behaviouralism as a tool for expanded, and corrected, marketisation. By centring the methodology of RCTs, we find institutional and geographical variation, as well as a reconfiguration of development governance through experimentation.

Venue: Merewether Seminar Room 398, H04 [map]

Thursday 12 October 2017, 3:00-5:00pm co-organised with the Department of Anthropology
Presenter/Affiliation: Chris Gregory
Adjunct Fellow in Anthropology, Australian National niversity
Title: What is patrimonial capitalism? Some lessons from central India

Piketty’s study of income inequality in Europe heralds the return of ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ a socio-economic category that he strives to understand by reading the novels of Jane Austin because political economy, infatuated as is by mathematics rather than anthropology, has little to say about the workings of the family firm. Ethnographic research on kinship, the economy and religion in India reveals that patrimonial capitalism, in both its elite and subaltern forms, has flourished in India in the 21st century too.

As in Europe, wealth in the form of residential urban property has emerged as the most important form of wealth as rural dwellers flock to the city and as the city boundaries expand into the neighbouring countryside. Here the newly emerging inequalities are on show for all to see in the form of the new multi-story mansions of the elite families that sit check by jowl with the mud-brick dwellings of the ex-peasant farming family whose farmlands are now being encroached upon. But the rapidly rising urban price of land has seen the paradoxical development of a new class, the ex-peasant farmer whose previously relatively worthless household land is now worth millions. They are land rich but dirt poor and have many relatives who are simply dirt poor.

Venue: RC Mills Seminar Room 148, A26 [map]

Semester 1, 2017

Thursday 9 February 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Kean Birch
Toronto University and York University
Title: Contract, Contract Law, and their Implications for Neoliberalism as a Concept
Abstract: Contractual relations underpin markets, although different analytical perspectives define contracts in very different ways: e.g. economists define contract as 'reciprocal arrangements' while lawyers define contract as 'legally enforced promises'. This difference highlights a contradiction underlying neoliberalism as a concept, namely the emphasis on neoliberalism as a market-based order in which markets are installed as the main - or only - institution for organizing and coordinating society. In contrast, the history and evolution of contract law (in common law regimes like the UK and USA) illustrates the extent to which economic relations are configured by 'contracts' (in the legal sense) as opposed to 'markets'. Contract law has moved through several different approaches, leading to the current prevailing system which has dominated since the 1990s. As part of this so-called 'anti-antiformalism' perspective, the legal system has ended up both making and unmaking markets and market actors through the institution of contractual arrangements (e.g. standard contracts) and contractual assumptions (e.g. sophistication of market actors). As a result, for example, only certain social actors (e.g. business entities, professional groups) are deemed to be, legally speaking, also market actors. This has implications for how we understand neoliberalism as a concept and its political-economic implications more broadly.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 9 March 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Nicola Piper
University of Sydney
Title: Temporary Labour Migration in Asia: Protracted Precarity and Truncated Rights
Abstract: Our work analyses the patterns and dynamics of intra-Asia temporary labour migration and the dominant global and regional migration governance frameworks that sustain them. This analysis is itself informed by the concept of protracted precarity, which contests the assumption that migrant workers ‘move into’ conditions of precarious employment when they travel abroad by emphasising the existing forms of economic vulnerability within migrant-sending countries that condition the need for workers to seek foreign employment in the first place. We find that protracted precarity is shaped by structural inequalities throughout the global and regional economy and buttressed by institutional incapacity and lacking integration of labour governance within migration governance. The key argument advanced is that the dominant project of migration governance continues to fail in several key areas, reflected by decent work deficits in relation to labour rights, the nature of employment opportunities and lacking social protection at all stages of the migration process – i.e. a failure to realise migrants’ human and labour rights prior to migration, while abroad and upon return. Without adopting a holistic understanding of migrant precarity and its spatio-temporal dimensions, migration governance’s promise to benefit all parties will continue to ring hollow for temporary labour migrants themselves.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 23 March 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Bill Dunn
University of Sydney
Title: Marx, Keynes, and the classics: Towards a theory of unemployment that is both general and specific
Abstract: The paper argues that Marxism lacks an adequate theory of unemployment and can move closer to this through the critical appropriation of Keynesian insights. Both traditions recognise the reality and importance of unemployment but what Keynes sees as pathological is for Marx a normal, even healthy part of capitalism. Very different social ontologies militate against an easy synthesis. However, it is argued, downgrading the conceptual claims of the General Theory, seeing it as less general and more specific than Keynes claimed, allows its insights to be re-worked and embedded into a more general Marxist framework.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 13 April 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Elizabeth Hill
University of Sydney
Title: Women, Work and Care in the Asia Pacific: work/care regimes in a context of extreme inequality
Abstract: This paper will develop a comparative analysis of the social, economic, industrial and migration dynamics that structure women’s experiences of paid work and unpaid care work in the Asia Pacific. The analytical framework provides a multi-dimensional template for understanding and comparing the intersection between care and employment regimes across the region and the impact on economic growth and gender equality. The paper highlights how patterns of economic inequality across the region structure national work/care regimes and frame the politics of women’s work and care.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 27 April 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Rune Møller Stahl
Department of Political Science, Københavns Universitet
Title: Ruling the Interregnum: Economic Ideas and Authority in Non-Hegemonic Times
Abstract: With Brexit, the election of Trump and the rise of anti-establishment parties to the left and right, the neoliberal ideas of the global political elite have lost much of their legitimacy. While the hegemony of neoliberalism is severely challenged, no clear alternative has yet emerged. This paper investigates the current state of economic theory and governance through the concept of interregnum. While IPE theory has a set of different theories about periods of hegemony and paradigmatic stability, the periods between stable hegemonies are distinctly undertheorized. This is especially problematic as economic history shows that these periods of interregnum can span decades. The paper will argue that the notion of interregnum is distinct from the concept of crisis, and the paper develops a theoretical concept that describes periods of interregnum through four key criteria: 1) Absence of a stable elite consensus, 2) Institutional continuity, but decreased effectiveness of key institutions, 3) Realignment of social and class forces, and 4) Presence of competing economic strategies within the elite. The concept of interregnum is employed to analyse the changes in economic ideology that followed the breakdown of the post-war Keynesian consensus in the 1970’s as well as the current aftermath of the 2008 crisis.
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 11 May 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Kurt Iveson
School of Geosciences, University of Sydney
Title: Crowds, clouds, and digital labour: Further adventures in the commodification of everyday urban life
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]

Thursday 31 May 2017, 1:30 - 2:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Terrence McDonough
National University of Ireland Galway
Title: Trumpism, Critical Elections and Stages of Capitalism
Abstract: Since the global financial crisis, elites have responded by doubling down on global neoliberalism. This is the set of institutions which led to the crisis and does not offer a viable way forward for capital. The Trump election represents a potential break with this strategy, but one with disturbing implications for working and oppressed peoples at home and abroad. Critical elections following economic crises have contributed to enduring economic, political and cultural changes in the US past. These historical events must be considered in any evaluation of the future of “Trumpism” and the potential for effective resistance. Social Structure of Accumulation (SSA) theory is a modern political economy approach to the construction and decay of stages of capitalism which lead to alternating periods of growth and crisis in capitalist history. This presentation surveys the role of critical elections in the constitution of the monopoly SSA, the postwar SSA and the global neoliberal SSA in the US past. Fascism as a social structure of accumulation is briefly discussed and historical lessons are drawn for understanding the significance of the 2016 Trump election.
Venue: Centre for Classical and Near Eastern Studies of Australia (CCANESA) Boardroom, Madsen Building [map]

Thursday 1 June 2017, 4:00 -5:30pm
Presenter/Affiliation: Jamie Martin
Department of History, University of Sydney
Title: Governing Global Capitalism in the Era of Total War
Venue: Darlington Centre Boardroom, H02 [map]