Where does economic critique come from?
Following the global economic crash of 2008, there has been a lot of discussion about the need for a re-think of mainstream economic thought. While this “orthodox” economics held claim to the economic growth before 2008, it completely failed to predict the economic crash and seems unable to deal with the aftermath. Unfortunately, while the economy they supported collapsed, the theories that set the foundation for the economic crisis have not lost their dominance.
Almost a decade after the crisis, frustrations continue about the state of university economics courses. Even those from mainstream economic programs can see they are not getting the whole story. Student groups like the Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES) at the University of Manchester try to raise awareness. While the Society has recently received attention in newspapers like the Financial Times and Guardian for a new book on economic teaching, curriculum have not changed. Without a sense of irony, these newspapers even publish the articles about the Society alongside others arguing in support of the neoclassical tenants of free trade, central bank independence, a free market in social services (including education), deregulation, and privatization.
Student groups like PCES are confused by the doctrinaire attachment to (now utterly exposed) neoclassical theory in their course material. While the group itself seems to acknowledge the vast modern literature in heterodox, (post)Keynesian, Marxist and classical-streams of economic theory, it is unfortunately more interested in gaining plurality in these courses than looking at rejecting the current nonsense taught in economic course material.
The reality is that there are plenty of critiques of capitalist-inspired neo-classical economics. In fact, most of the problems with neo-classical theory were essentially known before it became dominant. But, the reason it became dominant was not because neoclassical theory was correct or could predict business cycles or allow companies and people to understand their place in the economy. Neoclassical theory took the centre stage of the Western economics because it supported the political ideologies of those in power. Since these folks are still in power “post-crash”, it is not surprising that neoclassical theory remains dominant.
Students need to demand change in their curriculum when it is broken and failing them – regardless of the area of study. Many student movements have been successful in changing curriculum in the past, including the establishment of feminist studies departments, political economy programs, race and gender studies courses, and the establishment of anti-colonial history degrees. However, the corporatization of universities (driven by neoclassical processes) have made this more difficult. Instead of (business) economics programs focused on critique and understanding, they respond to “market pressures” to produce the next generation of finance workers.
The stodgy nature of economic studies (and other programs taken over by uncritical ideologies) can only be broken by a mobilized student movement advocating an alternative, not just lamenting lack of pluralism. Agitation begins with small committees or clubs in universities campaigning, to education-focused outreach that loudly explains why the programs are broken, to organizing professors, graduate students, and allies out-side of the academy that will teach the alternative. Creating the “market” for these ideas happens through an active process.
If we want to avoid another collapse that destroys peoples lives and change society for the better, it is necessary to drive change in both the real economy and the academy that develops the details of the policy critique.
The struggle continues for fair wages and workers’ rights
Thousands of workers braved the rainy day on Saturday, October 1, for the Rally for Decent Work. Many unions, community groups and workers gathered at Queen’s Park to send a strong message to the government that worker-friendly improvements are needed in Ontario. The movement will continue building momentum in the lead-up to the release of the Changing Workplaces Review’s final report.
Young workers, activism, and building a better world
What’s Left contributor Roxanne Dubois often has the chance to speak to groups of young workers, most of the time Unifor members under 35, to do skill-building and engagement workshops. For those occasions, she presents different versions of this presentation, which she has adapted in a written form.
The title of the presentation is “Young workers, activism, and building a better world”, but there are subtitles. The first one is “Don’t let your age stop you from doing good things”. Despite what a lot of people say about young people being inexperienced, uninformed and incompetent, we have a lot to offer. There is nothing wrong with looking at old problems with fresh young eyes, and that’s part of why we have to develop our activism.
The second subtext is “No more excuses”. Everyone in this room is resourceful, intelligent and passionate about making change. If you’re saying that you can’t do something because a) you have no money, b) you don’t have permission or c) people don’t participate, you’re looking at the problem the wrong way. We need to flip it around: start with whatever you’ve got. If you have no money, permission or participation, then we’re here to find ways around it and still manage do get something moving.
Free trade is front and centre again
The election process unfolding in the US has, through better or worse reasons, brought free trade back into focus for millions of American workers. The elite in US politics continue to support free trade, but the Bernie Sanders campaign created space to talk about the causes of job-loss in historical industrial towns across the US. Dragging free trade and other free market policies into the light has meant that Hillary Clinton had to do a sharp U-turn from supporting any and all free trade agreements and now opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership – the new “next generation” of free trade agreements. This is even as President Obama continues to support it.
No one really believes that Clinton will retain her new dislike of free trade if she gets elected (and they shouldn’t). However, socialists should take the opportunity to discuss the alternatives to free trade agreements and promote fair trade, investments in publicly owned productive capacity, and planned supply chain networks to support worker initiatives and coops.
1. Anthems Against Dictatorship
2. Harry Belafonte: ‘Movements Don’t Die'
3. Hazel Dickens - Fire in the hole
4. Big Data - Snowed In (Feat. Rivers Cuomo)