November 28, 2006
Dutch Socialist Party: the reason for their success
November 28, 2006 12:29 | by Paul Falzon
An anti-neoliberal party which last year brought about the failure of
the European Constitution, the SP knows how to defend clear
alternative proposals in the face of a consensus of left and right.
At a time when anti-neoliberals in France are attempting to define a
common strategy for the elections due to take place in 2007, the Dutch
legislative elections last Wednesday saw the success of a formation
clearly committed to the struggle against neoliberalism, the Socialist
Party (SP). The SP has quite simply tripled its representation, from
nine to twenty-six MPs (from a total of 150), establishing itself as
the country’s third political force, after the Labour Party (PvdA, 32
MPs) and the Christian Democrats (CDA, 41). If this result, given the
polls, was no surprise, it nevertheless marks the calling into
question of the policies followed for the last twenty years. “The
Netherlands has voted and shown that it wants a country which is more
human, and more ‘social'”, was how SP leader Jan Marijnissen summed
things up, emphasising that, for the first time, “the socialists have
overtaken the liberals” of the VVD, a party allied to the CDA in the
outgoing government, and one which eulogises ultraliberalism both in
its own country and in the EU. Ex-Commissioner Frits Bolkestein
numbers amongst its members. The SP is also hot on the heels of
Labour, which in recent times has had no serious competition to its
The SP’s strength resides primarily in its capacity to resist the
spirit of consensus which often deprives the Dutch electorate of a
political alternative. This is true of social questions, such as
immigration, where they lately proposed a generous right of asylum in
the face of the restrictive plans of the right and Labour, and above
all on economic questions. Arriving at the front of the political
stage at the time of the referendum on the European constitution,
where they were the only ones on the left to campaign for a ‘no’
against the consensus of the right and Labour, the SP was able to set
in motion a debate on the dangers of liberalisation and the weakening
of social protection. Their reward was a huge victory for the ‘no’
(61,6 %), three days after the treaty’s rejection in France.
During the parliamentary election campaign, the SP was able to draw a
link between European issues and Dutch realities. “I live in a working
class neighbourhood in Amsterdam, and when you talk about everyday
problems such as unemployment benefit or assistance to families and
show how the direction these were going in were laid down by the
European Union, people understand,” explains Hans van Heijningen, who
was in charge of the SP’s parliamentary election campaign.
In the last few years, the government of Jan Peter Balkenende (CDA)
has charged ahead with a series of extremely harsh reforms which have
pushed to the limits of neoliberalism the consensus-based social
system established in 1982 – the famous “polder model”. The invalidity
benefit system, which deals not only with the sick and disabled but
with thousands of people who have taken early retirement, as well as
victims of social developments, has been tightened up in an attempt to
reduce by two-thirds the number of new claimants, while pensions have
been shaved. Unemployment benefits have also been reduced, and the
retirement age put back to sixty-five. At the same time, privatisation
has multiplied, affecting the energy sector, health care and
For trade unionists the pill has been hard to swallow, all the more so
when they have accepted within the ‘polder model’, that part-time and
insecure employment, as the pay-off for safeguarding the welfare
state, has incessantly increased until it affects a third of the
workforce, in particular women. The country’s main trade union
federation, the FNV (closely linked to the Labour Party), considers
that Wednesday’s parliamentary elections have sent a “clear message”
to politicians that they must conduct “a different social policy”.
FNV president Agnes Jongerius says that “The continuation of the
policies of the last few years is not an option for the future
government… The employers have had free rein, while the workers have
lost one form of social protection after another.”
If the SP has been able to make itself “the close friend of social
discontent”, to quote the business daily Het Financieele Dagblad,
Labour has paid the price of its lack of alternative proposals. Party
leader Wouter Bos said yesterday that he had “understood the message.
The Dutch people want to see the gap between rich and poor reduced.”.
The PvdA’s separation from less favoured social layers was already
making itself felt at the time of the constitutional referendum; now
we see the party in free fall, with ten fewer MPs, unable to form a
coalition of the left. The right being incapable of forming a majority
after having lost a dozen or so seats, the Netherlands is moving
towards a “grand coalition” on the German model, uniting Christian
Democrats and Labour, “a situation” fears Hans van Heijningen,
speaking for the SP, “which risks provoking again the feeling that
right and left conduct the same neoliberal policies.”
This article first appeared in the French left daily L’Humanite and
was translated by Steve McGiffen.
November 28, 2006
Now we finally understand the experience that the Fraser Insititute feels that all of us poor bastards were deprived of by being forced to go through Canada’s ho hum public university system. It seems down at Columbia sex education is a big draw. We just knew the private sector had more fun. But do the kids get a better education? Depends what you mean by education.
|Wild sex 101
|S&M clubs, nude parties, porn, X-rated romps rule at Columbia
Famed as a hotbed of debate over academic freedom, New York’s most elite school is also a playpen for sexual hijinks, sophomoric antics and the wacky indulgences of the children of the rich.While their parents shell out $33,246 a year in tuition, Columbia University students doff their clothes at naked parties, flock to sex toys workshops, broadcast porn on campus TV, bake anatomically correct pies for the “Erotic Cake-Baking Contest” and heat up the steps of the Low Library in a mass makeout session called the “Big Kiss.”
And of course, there’s always the stimulating game, “Guess the Number of Condoms in the Jelly-Bean Jar.”
Others volunteer for the bullwhip at Conversio Virium, the university-sanctioned S&M club that means “exchange of power” in Latin. It calls itself a “discussion group” that provides “education and peer support” and promotes “safe, sane and consensual play.” But the club doesn’t just talk.
November 22, 2006
What a tangled web we weave when at first our guilt conceives. Interestingly one the groups named in Prof Nobel’s suit, the Canadian Jewish Congress belongs to The Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) the umbrella organization which provides strategic coordination for a couple of high powered lobby groups in Canada. One of its member groups is the Canada-Israeli Committee of which Mr. Kinsella is listed as a member of the board of directors. Kinsella’s group arrogantly proclaims that it is “the official representative of the organized Canadian Jewish community on matters pertaining to Canada-Israel relations”. I did not know that all the Jews in Canada held a vote on who their “official” voice was! Talk about pandering to anti-semites.
In any event and more importantly it is CIJA which was the target of one of Prof Nobel’s investigations. In his 2005 article which appeared in Canadian Dimension, Nobel argued thus:
This is not about Jews. It is not about race, ethnicity or religion. It is about power. The new Israel lobby in Canada — the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) — has enormous power, derived from abundant resources, corporate connections, political associations, elaborate and able organization and a cadre of dedicated activists. Since its inception several years ago, this hard-line lobby has used its power, first, to gain political hegemony and impose ideological conformity on the matter of Israel within a heretofore diverse Jewish community, and second, to influence government decisions and shape public opinion regarding Israel — ostensibly in the name of all Canadian Jewry. From the outset, a primary focus of this lobby’s attentions has been the university campus, alleged centre of anti-Israel sentiment, conveniently construed as anti-semitism. Over the last two years, the lobby has by various means attempted to pacify these campuses and bring them into line, particularly Concordia and York. While the lobby has made some significant gains, at York their effort has been stalled.
We wonder if Kinsella and his group will have the stones to issue a statement clarifying their position with regard to academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly?
November 22, 2006
For immediate release: PROF DAVID NOBLE SUES ISRAEL LOBBY
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
This 25 million dollar lawsuit for defamation and conspiracy, filed in
Ottawa on November 15, will be served Tuesday November 21. Defendants
include the private corporate entity York University Foundation, pro-Israel
lobbying and fundraising organizations Hillel of Greater Toronto, the United
Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, and the Canadian Jewish
Congress, Ontario, and their agents.
They are accused of trying to harm, silence, and malign York University
Professor David F. Noble because of his critical investigations into
external influences on Canada’s third-largest public university. Summarizing
the significance of this lawsuit, professor Noble stated: “In an effort to
suppress my inquiries, publicly destroy my reputation, and isolate me from
my peers, the defendants launched the most vile kind of personal attack -
attempting to stigmatize a Jewish man as an anti-semite – because I dared
examine and expose their pernicious activities. These rich and powerful
people pretend to be friends of higher learning but are in fact its worst
enemies. They think they have bought themselves a university. They haven’t.”
For more information, contact David Noble at 416-736-2100 ext 30126, or
Court File No.:
SUPERIOR COURT OF JUSTICE
DAVID FRANKLIN NOBLE
BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF THE YORK UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION 2001, THE YORK
UNIVERSITY FOUNDATION 2001, PAUL EDWARD MARCUS, LORNA MARSDEN, HILLEL OF GREATER TORONTO, HILLEL AT YORK UNIVERSITY, DORI BORSHIOV, ZAC KAYE,
TALIA KLEIN, TILLY SHAMES, CANADIAN JEWISH CONGRESS (ONTARIO REGION), JOEL RICHLER, UNITED JEWISH APPEAL OF GREATER TORONTO
November 21, 2006
Alt title: Why does Stats Can Suck So bad?
Let my qualify. Stats Can, on the collections end, is a very robust and professional organization. However on the data delivery end it is an onerous, counter-intuitive, expensive service with a Byzantine logic to the organization of its data. Really, I had forgotten how crappy it was until I had to explain to an undergrad how to go grab some time series data on real hourly wage rates going back 76. Keep in mind the student was accessing the data through CANSIM II apparently the research friendly portal to Stats Can data. I would hate to see what they do when they are not trying to be user friendly.
Stats Can seems to have the attitude that their data should presented in the most convoluted least user friendly way. Presumably to keep the non-experts out. And what is with the shitty state of the provincial time series data and the general refusal to make consistent series that go back to at least the 1960s. Either Stats Can is cashed starved or it is run by the equivalent of old-school linux geeks that have no time for pre-compiled drivers.
There is a reason why so many researchers who work with time series data choose to work on the US. First you do not have to be a member of Academic institution or a wealthy Think Tank to get access to the data: it is on-line and its free. Second you do not have to know the exact title of the series you are looking for. Indeed on some of the official US sites the data is thematically organized in easy to interpret categories. Third many of their official sites provide internationally comparative data sets. Next time I am sending my students to the American data.
November 19, 2006
By Goodwin Ginger
We are all familiar with the star system in Hollywood. Less so are we familiar with the star system in the rarefied halls of the academy and even less so when it comes to profession of academic economists. Nowhere is this more true than in the United States where a rigid hierarchy of Universities combines with a heavily policed star system. Within the economics profession this produces a small and cloistered group of individuals who occupy the top tier of the profession. Inside of this tiny world, economists beaver away on those abstract models so loved by the profession and so detested by reality. And whats more, they all have a self-understanding as a community of technocratic geniuses sans any ideological bias: just the facts ma’am.
When outsiders accuse them of been heavily implicated in a form of ‘group think’ they are more than often met with silence and sometimes with outright scorn. Anyone suggesting that they are all of an ideological type is told that “they obviously are not familiar with the diversity of methodological approaches within the profession,” or that “they obviously have not taken a higher level of training than intro to undergrad economics and as such are not able to distinguish the difference.” There is of course little truth to the first claim and some good degree of truth to the second claim.
But let us stay with the first claim for now. There is only a narcissism of small differences within the top tier of US economists (increasingly so in Canada we would argue). There is not really any ideological dispute within this top tier: they are all good liberals (non-US usage). At best there are disagreements about which models and which assumptions to invoke and sometimes which policies are best to pursue in light of their preferred models. They all agree that free markets provide the best of all possible worlds and disagreements on this question are simply about which policies might make markets better. So strong is this ideological center of gravity that even when self described New Dealers (sic) like Samuelson do construct models of free trade which demonstrate absolute and permanent job losses they are quick to argue that nonetheless governments should pursue free trade without remedial action.
To get a sense of just how bizarre and ideologically cloistered this top tier is we need look no further than John Williamson’s incredulity that someone might call him a “market fundamentalist.” John Williamson is the US economist which compiled the consensus of economic opinion which has become famously known as the ‘Washington Consensus’. The Washington Consensus represented, at that time, the state of the art policy recommendations flowing from Washington (the Treasury, the IMF and World Bank) to the periphery (Latin and South America). This consensus which was forced on countries via structural adjustment policies via the IMF and apparently technocratic assistance of economists at the World Bank eventually came under heavy criticism not just from radicals but from a Don within the top tier of the US economics profession itself: namely, Joseph Stiglitz one time head of the World Bank. Stiglitz charged:
“The international financial institutions have pushed a particular ideology–market fundamentalism–that is both bad economics and bad politics; it is based on premises concerning how markets work that do not hold even for developed countries, much less for developing countries. The IMF has pushed these economics policies without a broader vision of society or the role of economics within society. And it has pushed these policies in ways that have undermined emerging democracies.”
In Williamson’s 2000 paper for the World Bank he exclaimed his perplexion at being called a market fundamentalist by the likes of Joseph Stiglitz. Indeed Stiglitz’s critisism must have stung for every single upper tier economist clings to his (and they are almost always he) self-understanding as a non-ideological technocrat. Williamson wrote:
“My original paper (Williamson 1990) argued that the set of policy reforms that most of official Washington thought would be good for Latin American countries could be summarized in 10 propositions: (1) Fiscal discipline; (2), A redirection of public expenditure priorities toward fields offering both high economic returns and the potential to improve income distribution; (3), Tax reform–to lower marginal rates and broaden the tax base; (4), Interest rate liberalization; (5), A competitive exchange rate; (6), Trade liberalization; (7), Liberalization of inflows of foreign direct investment; (8), Privatization; (9), Deregulation–to abolish barriers to entry and exit; (10), Secure property rights.”
Following this list Williamson asks:
“How is it that a term intended to describe a technocratic policy agenda that survived the demise of Reaganomics came to be used to describe an ideology embracing the most extreme version of Reaganomics? The closest I can come to understanding this is to note that my version of the Washington Consensus did indeed focus principally on policy reforms that reduced the role of government, such as privatization and the liberalization of trade, finance, foreign direct investment, and entry and exit.”
A narcissism of small differences indeed. All these measures are supply side measures, save for perhaps the competitive exchange rate regime, and the tax recommendation looks quite Reaganomic to the (un)trained eye. All of this leads us to the second claim about the uninitiated: “those that do not have a enough training cannot see the ray of light seeping through the tiniest of cracks.” You see Reagan’s tax plan lowered marginal tax rates the most on high income earners. But Reagan also eventually extended the tax base. That is apparently all that separates the original Washington Consensus from Reaganomics: an across the board decrease in marginal tax rates and a competitive exchange rate regime. Although, given there is and was a notorious problem of tax collection in Latin and South America it is probably the case that the taxation aspects of the Consensus were in practice far more regressive than Reagan’s market fundamentalism!
Don’t you just wish you had received a graduate degree from Ivy league economics department so that you would understand the true degree of ideological pluralism at play in those departments? It takes a Jewler’s eye indeed. But this is as it is constructed to be; as Samuelson once remarked economists are like dogs they run in packs. But perhaps this is too harsh and hasty of a conclusion. Clearly good New Keynesians like Stiglitz can at least tell when the markets are not working while his New-Classical brethren seem struck by cognitive dissonance.
November 19, 2006
UTOPIA OF ENDLESS EXPLOITATION
The essence of neoliberalism
What is neoliberalism? A programme for destroying collective structures which may impede the pure market logic.
By Pierre Bourdieu
As the dominant discourse would have it, the economic world is a pure and perfect order, implacably unrolling the logic of its predictable consequences, and prompt to repress all violations by the sanctions that it inflicts, either automatically or —more unusually — through the intermediary of its armed extensions, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the policies they impose: reducing labour costs, reducing public expenditures and making work more flexible. Is the dominant discourse right? What if, in reality, this economic order were no more than the implementation of a utopia – the utopia of neoliberalism – thus converted into a political problem? One that, with the aid of the economic theory that it proclaims, succeeds in conceiving of itself as the scientific description of reality?
This tutelary theory is a pure mathematical fiction. From the start it has been founded on a formidable abstraction. For, in the name of a narrow and strict conception of rationality as individual rationality, it brackets the economic and social conditions of rational orientations and the economic and social structures that are the condition of their application.
That said, this “theory” that is desocialised and dehistoricised at its roots has, today more than ever, the means of making itself true and empirically verifiable. In effect, neoliberal discourse is not just one discourse among many. Rather, it is a “strong discourse” – the way psychiatric discourse is in an asylum, in Erving Goffman’s analysis (2). It is so strong and so hard to combat only because it has on its side all of the forces of a world of relations of forces, a world that it contributes to making what it is. It does this most notably by orienting the economic choices of those who dominate economic relationships. It thus adds its own symbolic force to these relations of forces. In the name of this scientific programme, converted into a plan of political action, an immense political project is underway, although its status as such is denied because it appears to be purely negative. This project aims to create the conditions under which the “theory” can be realised and can function: a programme of the methodical destruction of collectives.
Thus we see how the neoliberal utopia tends to embody itself in the reality of a kind of infernal machine, whose necessity imposes itself even upon the rulers. Like the Marxism of an earlier time, with which, in this regard, it has much in common, this utopia evokes powerful belief – the free trade faith – not only among those who live off it, such as financiers, the owners and managers of large corporations, etc., but also among those, such as high-level government officials and politicians, who derive their justification for existing from it. For they sanctify the power of markets in the name of economic efficiency, which requires the elimination of administrative or political barriers capable of inconveniencing the owners of capital in their individual quest for the maximisation of individual profit, which has been turned into a model of rationality. They want independent central banks. And they preach the subordination of nation-states to the requirements of economic freedom for the masters of the economy, with the suppression of any regulation of any market, beginning with the labour market, the prohibition of deficits and inflation, the general privatisation of public services, and the reduction of public and social expenses.
Economists may not necessarily share the economic and social interests of the true believers and may have a variety of individual psychic states regarding the economic and social effects of the utopia which they cloak with mathematical reason. Nevertheless, they have enough specific interests in the field of economic science to contribute decisively to the production and reproduction of belief in the neoliberal utopia. Separated from the realities of the economic and social world by their existence and above all by their intellectual formation, which is most frequently purely abstract, bookish, and theoretical, they are particularly inclined to confuse the things of logic with the logic of things.
These economists trust models that they almost never have occasion to submit to the test of experimental verification and are led to look down upon the results of the other historical sciences, in which they do not recognise the purity and crystalline transparency of their mathematical games, whose true necessity and profound complexity they are often incapable of understanding. They participate and collaborate in a formidable economic and social change. Even if some of its consequences horrify them (they can join the socialist party and give learned counsel to its representatives in the power structure), it cannot displease them because, at the risk of a few failures, imputable to what they sometimes call “speculative bubbles”, it tends to give reality to the ultra-logical utopia (ultra-logical like certain forms of insanity) to which they consecrate their lives.
But these same forces of “conservation”, which it is too easy to treat as conservative, are also, from another point of view, forces of resistance to the establishment of the new order and can become subversive forces. If there is still cause for some hope, it is that forces still exist, both in state institutions and in the orientations of social actors (notably individuals and groups most attached to these institutions, those with a tradition of civil and public service) that, under the appearance of simply defending an order that has disappeared and its corresponding “privileges” (which is what they will immediately be accused of), will be able to resist the challenge only by working to invent and construct a new social order. One that will not have as its only law the pursuit of egoistic interests and the individual passion for profit and that will make room for collectives oriented toward the rational pursuit of ends collectively arrived at and collectively ratified.
How could we not make a special place among these collectives, associations, unions, and parties for the state: the nation-state, or better yet the supranational state – a European state on the way toward a world state – capable of effectively controlling and taxing the profits earned in the financial markets and, above of all, of counteracting the destructive impact that the latter have on the labour market. This could be done with the aid of labour unions by organising the elaboration and defence of the public interest. Like it or not, the public interest will never emerge, even at the cost of a few mathematical errors, from the vision of accountants (in an earlier period one would have said of “shopkeepers”) that the new belief system presents as the supreme form of human accomplishment.
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