The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

The Collapse of Globalism – why Rudd offers hope

The Collapse of GlobalismI am re-reading The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World by essayist and novelist John Ralston Saul. While not likely to be popular with tax-cutters and free-market true believers, Saul presents a compelling discourse on free-market globalisation worthy of reading by all reasonable people with a passing interest in politics and economics.

Saul is “particularly known for his commentaries on the nature of individualism, citizenship and the public good; the failures of managerially/technocratically led societies; the confusion between leadership and managerialism; military strategy, in particular irregular warfare; the role of freedom of speech and culture; and his critique of contemporary economic arguments.”

For the uninitiated, Saul has had a growing impact on political and economic thought in many countries. Declared a “prophet” by TIME magazine, he is included in the prestigious Utne Reader’s list of the world’s 100 leading thinkers and visionaries.

From Julian Brookes’ interview with John Ralston Saul for Mother Jones:

The current wave of globalization has its origins in the economic crises of 1970s, when the industrialized economies, after three decades of steady growth, began to flounder, beset by persistently high unemployment and inflation, and governments began casting around for an alternative to the Keynesian orthodoxy that had dominated economic thinking since the end of the Second World War. They found that alternative in a (hitherto fringe) school of thought associated with Friedrich von Hayek and, later, Milton Friedman, one premised on the notion that in matters of economic management government was the problem, not part of the solution, as Keynesianism had it.

JRS: “When I sat down to write the book I tried to decant what is being said, and it’s this: Globalisation is a theory of truth, and the truth is that you must look at the world through an economic prism, and in that way you’ll understand nation states, war, how to organize politics, what to do in society—everything will be judged somehow through this economic prism. But economics does not apply to a still life; economics applies to real societies. All real societies have problems, have challenges, have things that aren’t what you’d expect. It has to work in the real world.

MJ: And the argument is that economic forces are inevitable and ultimately beneficent.

JRS: There are warning signals of [ideological thinking]—of ideas as religion—and one of them is this idea of inevitability. As soon as you hear somebody saying ‘This is inevitable,’ you basically know they have a weak case and are true believers in an ideology. Globalization has been immersed in just such an argument.

MJ: And it’s an argument that doesn’t have much use for the concept of the public good, correct?

JRS: Once you believe that the market is inevitable you start believing that the lower the taxes the bigger the growth, and the happier people will be. Well, there’s absolutely no historic proof for that at all. That doesn’t mean taxes can’t be too high or that they can’t be badly spent or that you can’t have bureaucratic inefficiency—you can, but those are all different issues. But once people start believing that the sign that individual rights are being successfully asserted is that you’re not paying taxes, then your society’s in real trouble. There’s nothing wrong with paying taxes; they should be paid in proportion to how rich you are. This idea that you’re going to get better growth by cutting taxes at the top has no historical justification. And it’s certainly not an argument in favor of capitalism.

Saul is not arguing that all aspects of Globalist ideology have failed, but that there is an imbalance between the promise and the outcome:

…in good part because a growing assertion of of economic wealth is matched by a growing realization of shrinking funds for the common good and greater instability in individual lives. Much of that instability is of economic origin. The mismatch between a spectacular growth in paper wealth, a marginal growth in real wealth and shrinking public and social capacities suggests some new form of inflation – a vaporization of money through an over-obsession with consumption economics and whole range of imaginary market activities as highlighted by the money markets and the world of mergers and acquisitions.

…the Globalisation movement has produced myriad market-oriented international binding agreements at the global level and not a single binding agreement in other areas of human intercourse – work conditions, taxation, child labour, health and so on. The deep imbalance of the movement, however successful in its own terms, cannot help but provoke unexpected forms of disorder.

So why should you read this book?

JRS: People have become so used to books where authors tell them what to do; or say there’s nothing to be done. What I’m doing is simply stepping back and giving people the picture—which they don’t have—of the last 30 years. And it tells you something about what works and doesn’t work. I’m saying that since 1995 we’ve been in an interregnum, a vacuum where the picture is confused, and our elites are in denial because they’re inheritors of the system. They don’t have the capacity to stand back and say, ‘We’ve got some real problems here. Let’s think about what we can do about them. If we got some things wrong, let’s do something else.’ My book contains a lot of indications of some of the things we might be doing. But mainly I’m saying, ‘Look, here’s the way things appear to be going. What do you think you can do about it?’

Saul argues that what comes next will be decided either by conscious decision, special interest groups or circumstance, and probably a mix of all three. The soundness of the outcome will depend on a balance of all three, with conscious decision being the most desirable. But most importantly, people have the ability to choose, and to believe in the possibility of change is to believe in the reality of choice, that we have the power to choose in the hope of altering society for the greater good.

In Australia we have been governed for eleven years by economic ideologues. People are tired of retrogressive ‘reform’, disillusioned with the deterioration of life quality and the erosion of traditional values, and are looking for an alternative. This is what Rudd was driving at with Howard’s Brutopia:

“JOHN Howard’s culture wars are essentially a mask for the real battle of ideas in Australian politics today: the battle between free-market fundamentalism and the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility.

“The contradiction within the political Right is as old as liberalism and conservatism: the ruthless logic of the market rubbing up against a tradition that holds that those with economic power have a moral obligation to protect those without it.

“For these reasons, it is critical that social democrats recognise that the culture war is not just a diversion. It is a fraud. There are no more corrosive agents at work today, on the so-called conservative institutions of family, community, church and country than the unforgiving forces of neo-liberalism, materialism and consumerism, which lay waste to anything in their way.”

Rudd’s essay in The Monthly was a landmark exposition of his vision for the future of Australia, and the conservatives would be unwise to ignore the power of his call to the Australian people. While they may not give a toss about Austrian economists and economic ideology, they recognise the need for change and, despite Howard’s warnings, feel that Rudd would be a change for the better, or at least couldn’t be any worse than another term of Howard/Costello.

Howard has always been big on ‘choice’. Voters now have a real choice for the future and seem poised to exercise it. As Lennon would have it, ‘Power to the people!’.

Filed under: Big Picture, Economics, Philosophy, Politics

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

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