Paper No. 23: The Failure of Austerity
This Paper is drawn from the Annual SPERI Lecture given by Lord Robert Skidelsky in The Octagon at the University of Sheffield on 19th May 2015. In his lecture Lord Skidelsky deplored the ‘appallingly’ low level of public debate about economic matters. We are pleased to publish his lecture as a SPERI Paper, hence contributing to a better understanding of the intellectual arguments dividing advocates of austerity and their critics.
Download SPERI Paper No. 23: The Failure of Austerity.
Paper No. 22: Inequality Redux.
SPERI Staff & Students
From February to April 2015, SPERI Comment: the political economy blog ran a series of linked posts by SPERI staff and students, all devoted to the theme of inequality. The posts were intended to paint into place a different backcloth to the issues that were being debated in the British General Election campaign that was running as the posts were published. Inequality was very much the dog that did not bark very loudly in that campaign. Now that the election is over and a new majority Conservative government has been elected in Britain, SPERI republishes the series of posts as a contribution to the cause of continuing the debate in Britain about the deeply worrying trend in society and political economy towards intensified inequality.
Download SPERI Paper No. 22: Inequality Redux.
Paper No. 21: The Moment when ‘Then’ became ‘Now': Reflections on the Winter of Discontent after the Opening of the Archives.
Three decades after the events themselves and with full access to the public record, historians and political scientists are now well-placed to revisit and re-evaluate the infamous Winter of Discontent. In this paper I reflect on the first book length studies of the period published since the opening of the archives. I argue that although neither study profoundly alters our view of this crucial episode and its place in the pre-history of Thatcherism, taken together the evidence they bring to light might provide the basis for an alternative assessment. Ultimately, however, such an assessment requires more attention to methodology and, above all, an approach to the archives and to witness testimony that is both more inductive and more deductive than that exhibited in the existing literature. In the process I hope to clarify what we now know and we have still to learn about the Winter of 1978-79 and the popular mythology to which it gave rise.
Download SPERI Paper No. 21: The Moment when ‘Then’ became ‘Now': Reflections on the Winter of Discontent after the Opening of the Archives.
Paper No. 20: The Revenge of Sovereignty: the SNP, the Financial Crisis and UK Constitutional Reform.
This paper offers a critical examination of the interaction between the SNP’s constitutional agenda, its shifting attitude to EU integration, and its economic policy goals. It adopts a historical perspective stretching back to the 1970s, and relates the SNP’s vision of social democracy as enhanced regional development policy to the 1990s European legal discourses of ‘post-sovereignty’ and ‘subsidiarity’. It asserts that there are few substantive differences between the post-sovereign model of independence proposed in the Referendum of 2014 and the ‘full fiscal autonomy’ demanded by the SNP at the 2015 UK General Election. It questions whether this policy response is really adequate to the condition of the UK economy following the financial crisis of 2007-9 and the ongoing crisis in the Eurozone. Finally, it makes some suggestions towards an alternative model of reform that would prioritise the democratic accountability of fiscal and monetary policy across the whole UK.
Download SPERI paper no. 20: The Revenge of Sovereignty: the SNP, the Financial Crisis and UK Constitutional Reform.
For over two decades, the concept of sustainable development has been salient in political discourse. But its promise of reconciling economic development, social welfare, and environmental sustainability has proven rather elusive. In recent years we’ve seen numerous competing concepts emerge in debates about sustainable economic development. While many advance ideas of a green economy and green growth, others talk about wellbeing, gross national happiness, inclusive wealth, harmony with nature, de-growth, steady-state economy, and buen vivir (living well).
This rhetorical diversity shows that there is no single vision for reconciling environmental sustainability and economic development. But the varied terminology itself obscures actual points of agreement and disagreement.
This paper reports on a bilingual ‘Q study’ of international debates about sustainable economic development. It reveals that three discourses underpin these debates: Radical Transformationism; Cooperative Reformism; and Statist Progressivism). The paper dissects these discourses and contextualises their key points of contention in wider sustainability debates over the past two decades.
SPERI PAPER No.19: Contemporary Discourses on the Environment-Economy Nexus.
This SPERI paper presents findings from a study into the rise of charitable emergency food provision in the UK and its implications for food rights. Since the mid-2000s there has been a proliferation of charitable projects providing help to people in need who would otherwise not be able to access food and the research sought to examine what this meant for the progressive realisation of the right to food for all in the UK. The research found that emergency food charities were valued sites of care and social solidarity, doing important work in local communities. However, with a particular focus on the social acceptability and sustainability of food access through these systems, the research also found that emergency food charity did not live up to ‘right to food’ standards. The findings highlight how charitable emergency food providers are in practice assuming the responsibility of alleviating acute food crises in the absence of the adequate state response that the notion of a ‘right to food’ requires. This paper argues that the human right to food provides a progressive solution to rising levels of food need in the UK and that policy makers alongside other stakeholders should work together to develop a right to food strategy as a matter of urgency.
SPERI PAPER No.18: Addressing Food Poverty in the UK: Charity, Rights and Welfare.
Paper No.17: The Global Governance of Global Crisis: Why the G20 Summit was Created and What We still Need it to Do.
In advance of the next G20 Summit which will take place in Brisbane, Australia on 15-16 November 2014, Tony Payne advocates the need for an effective, functioning G20. The body was elevated to leaders’ level in order to steer the apparatus of global governance through times of great uncertainty from 2008 onwards. Its record is not without achievement over its short life, but remains disappointing overall. Many commentators talk of the G20’s decline, which makes its next summit an important test of its efficacy. The G20 needs substantial institutional reform to become what we all now need it to be.
Credit Rating Agencies: A Constitutive and Diachronic Analysis
Ginevra Marandola and Timothy Sinclair
Credit rating agencies are poorly understood institutions and thus far efforts to govern them through rule-making have been ineffective. In this paper, Timothy Sinclair and Ginevra Marandola argue attention to rules governing behaviour is actually mistaken when it comes to finance and rating agencies. The global financial crisis occurred not because of rule-breaking but because some relatively simple but crucial social relationships came apart and prevented market actors from transacting with each other, as they had prior to the crisis. This breakdown involves quite different sorts of rules to those normally considered by regulators. Regulation has not made rating more sound and transparent, and there seems little appreciation of the barriers to improvement. The authors highlight the weaknesses of the typical resort to regulative rules, and show why it has not worked in the case of the credit rating agencies. Agencies have abandoned the norms that made them essential organizations in financial markets: the authors discuss some measures they think will return credit rating agencies to their role as reliable ‘information intermediaries.’ Rating cannot become a science, but the diachronic and constitutive approach advocated here should help prevent credit rating agencies becoming a catalyst to another global financial crisis.
Paper No. 15
The Pricing of Everything
This Paper is drawn from the Annual SPERI Lecture given by George Monbiot in The Octagon at the University of Sheffield on 29 April 2014. George Monbiot’s lecture is a powerful summary of his ongoing commentary and critique of neoliberal doctrine and its impact on environmental and social sustainability.
Paper No. 14
The hyper-Anglicisation of active labour market policy: facilitating and exemplifying a flawed growth model
Craig Berry (SPERI Research Fellow)
The paper analyses the UK’s approach to active labour market policy, which has been a central feature of economic statecraft in the UK since the 1990s. Yet despite the UK pioneering the ‘supply side revolution’, the country spends little on this area of policy in comparison to most other European countries. Expenditure is heavily concentrated on relatively inexpensive ‘job-search’ services, and active labour market policy interventions in fact overlap with cost-reducing ‘welfare to work’ initiatives, designed to improve work incentives for those with the lowest incomes. Despite a rhetorical indictment of New Labour policy in this area, the coalition government has continued and intensified recent policy practice, and as such focused on compelling individuals to accept low-paid, low-quality employment opportunities. The paper argues that active labour market policy is not a response to labour market conditions, but constitutive of the institutional framework which gives rise to certain labour market forms. Low spending does not mean that active labour market policy is marginal to the UK’s growth model and associated economic statecraft; rather, spending on job-search services seems to typify the understanding of employment – and the state’s limited role in determining the level and nature of employment – inherent in the Anglo-liberal growth model.
Paper No. 13
Climate Risk, Big Data and the Weather Market
This paper analyses the development of weather index-based risk products as a response to climate instability. Through analysis of two different forms of weather market – weather derivatives and weather index-based insurance schemes for farmers in developing countries – the paper makes the key argument that it is important to understand how these emerging responses to climate change seem likely to empower established economic interests, whilst deepening the threats facing the majority, and particularly the most vulnerable in society.
Colin Hay and Tony Payne
It is time now to move on from the analysis of the failings of the now infamous Anglo-liberal model of capitalism to begin to outline a new model that will work better in advanced capitalist societies. In this paper we set out the basic outlines of such a new model, which we call ‘Civic Capitalism’. Here we deploy the word civic in its simplest and most straightforward sense – ‘pertaining to’ and ‘working for’ all of us in society, not just as consumers, or rational egotists, or even voters, but rather as citizens of a democratic polity.
We assemble the outline of the civic capitalist model by engaging in a kind of thought experiment – taking the well-known features of the Anglo-liberal model (which is after all the wreckage on which we have to build) and then adjusting, and of course in some cases redressing completely, each of these features to build cumulatively a new working model of capitalism. Nine core elements of a new model are identified and explored. They address issues of ideology, the role of the state, the regulation of markets, the promotion of sustainable development, the idea of social quality, the redress of inequality and the reform of global governance.
In calling for the development of a civic capitalist alternative we need to remind ourselves that capitalism can and must be made to work for us. We can no longer be driven by its perceived imperatives and by those who have claimed for far too long – and, as it turns out, falsely – to be able to discern for us what capitalism needs. We argue here that it is now time to ask what capitalism can do for us and not what we can do for capitalism. If civic capitalism has a single mantra, then that is it.
Britain’s Post Crisis Political Economy: A ‘Recovery’ through Regressive Redistribution
Jeremy Green (SPERI Research Fellow) and Scott Lavery
In this paper Green and Lavery question the foundations of Britain’s much-vaunted economic recovery. They argue that, acting in tandem, the impact of Quantitative Easing and key processes of labour market restructuring have made the burden of economic adjustment highly regressive, redistributing wealth upwards and privileging asset-holders. The present growth model must be reoriented towards a recovery that stops and then reverses this bias towards growth that benefits the few. This would involve a combination of fiscal and monetary policy measures alongside an effort to drive wage-led growth and lessen the dependence upon private household debt.
The Hollande Presidency, the Eurozone Crisis & the Politics of Fiscal Rectitude
Ben Clift (SPERI Honorary Research Fellow & Professor of Political Economy, University of Warwick)
This paper analyses the political economy of the Hollande Presidency in France, evaluating the economic policies pursued by the French Socialist President since May 2012. It explains the limited coherence and success of economic policy under Hollande in terms of constraints operating at domestic and European levels, and through credibility concerns of financial markets. Domestically, it highlights difficulties managing the presidential majority, notably due to presidentialised factionalism within French Socialism. At the European level it explores disagreements within the Franco-German relationship over which economic ideas should underpin macroeconomic policies to tackle Europe’s recession and efforts to resolve the Eurozone crisis.
The Social Bases of Austerity: European Tunnel Vision & the Curious Case of the Missing Left
Stephanie Mudge (SPERI Research Fellow & Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California Davis)
The grip of austerity in European politics presents a double puzzle: electorally weak centre-left parties that appear unable or unwilling to formulate an alternative, and the surprising efficiency with which the EU, international institutions, and national governments have jointly pursued ‘fiscal consolidation’. This is all the more surprising in historical perspective, since many left parties emerged from the last great crisis as vehicles for building voter appeal on the basis of a marriage of ‘new’ economics with the traditional leftist theme of equality. Why are today’s centre-left parties failing to replay this historical role? This paper looks into this puzzle by considering how the relationship between professional economics and party politics changed between the late interwar years and the present, noting that this relationship has produced two kinds of authority figures in unsettled times: the national, party-based economist (NPE) of the 1930s versus the European economist-technocrat (EET) that features prominently today. I suggest that the EET expresses a historically specific European political order in which professional economics tends to exert authority over, not through, partisan politics. This shift, I argue, may help to explain the curious persistence of tunnel vision in European politics since the crisis.
The Crisis of the Euro: The Problem of German Power Revisited
Helen Thompson (Reader in Politics & Director of Studies at Clare College, University of Cambridge & Honorary Research Fellow at SPERI)
The durability of the euro appears to rest on the impossibility of abandoning it, rather than reform that would address its fundamental flaws. In practice, this makes the euro dependent on Germany’s commitment to maintain it. This paper considers whether Germany’s commitment to the euro is proven in the context of its history with European monetary arrangements since the last years of Bretton Woods and its actions during the euro zone crisis in light of German interests in the sovereign debt and banking crisis. It argues that Germany’s support for European monetary arrangements has always been conditional on Germany’s ability to insist on monetary stability and that the conjunction of the reappearance of German structural monetary power in the bond markets and Germany’s actions during the crisis have made the euro zone a site of potentially disintegrative conflict. It concludes that Germany’s commitment to the euro is unproven.
Are We There Yet? Growth, rebalancing and the psuedo-recovery
Craig Berry (SPERI Research Fellow)
In 2013, economic growth in Britain started to gather pace, after several years of under-performance. This has led to claims that the British economy is finally recovering, and moreover, that the ‘austerity’ pursued by the coalition government since 2010 has been successful. This paper offers a sustained scrutiny of such claims, and examines evidence on whether the economy is ‘rebalancing’ away from the key aspects of the pre-crisis growth model – as promised by the coalition government upon taking office. The paper argues that the resurgence of growth is, to some extent, illusory. Insofar as the economy is experiencing recovery, it is best characterised as a ‘pseudo-recovery’ in that it has been facilitated by a return to the pre-crisis growth model. Given that the flaws and contradictions of the pre-crisis growth model have not been addressed by the coalition government, the recovery is likely to prove unsustainable.
The UK’s Innovation Deficit & How to Repair it
Richard Jones (Professor of Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at the University of Sheffield)
The UK’s economy is much less research and development (R&D) intensive than it was thirty years ago, and it is now significantly less R&D intensive than other developed economies. This paper argues that this decline, primarily in applied research carried out in the private sector and in government funded strategic research, represents an important loss of the UK’s innovative capacity, is a direct consequence of recent changes in its political economy, and reflects in a highly developed form more general worldwide trends. The need for radical innovations in the material and biological realms is highlighted, for example, by the challenges of developing competitively priced low-carbon energy sources, and in caring for ageing populations in a cost effective way. If the UK is to play its part in meeting these challenges, and if it is to develop a new, sustainable basis for long-term economic growth, this loss of innovative capacity needs to be reversed.
The Great Uncertainty
Colin Hay & Tony Payne (Professors of Politics & Directors of SPERI, University of Sheffield)
This paper emerges out of a series of blogs that we jointly posted on SPERI Comment between 30 January and 18 July 2013. They sought to set out and link together the different aspects of SPERI’s intellectualt agenda. The blogs attracted a certain amount of attention and discussion and are gathered up here into a single argument for ease of access.
In the paper we claim that the current era in which we are living is best labelled ‘The Great Uncertainty’ and suggest, by deliberate use of this term, that the present conjuncture is being shaped by a remarkable, and hugely challenging, coalescence of three major processes of structural change occurring simultaneously and interacting in all manner of complicated ways.
They can be distinguished analytically as follows:
• Financial crisis: a largely Western crisis brought about by neoliberal excess and now rendering the resumption of economic growth a severe conundrum for the US, Japan and nearly all major European economies and a problem at least for the rest of the global economy;
• Shifting economic power: the recent intensification of longstanding movements in the locus of economic power in the world characterised by the rise of countries like China, India, Brazil and several others too;
• Environmental threat: the eventual realisation that climate change is both real and accelerating and is now asking the most serious questions about the on-going viability of traditional notions of economic growth and indeed the good society itself.
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How to Make a Bad Problem Worse: The US Federal Reserve’s Rescue of Bear Stearns
Matthew Watson (Professor of Political Economy, University of Warwick)
When Bear Stearns, one of Wall Street’s fabled pre-crisis ‘big five’ investment banks, faced imminent collapse in March 2008, the Federal Reserve intervened. It blurred the boundaries of its own legal remit by using public money to help facilitate Bear’s purchase by the commercial bank, JPMorgan Chase. It did so to prevent increasingly worthless mortgage-backed securities from creating gaping holes in the balance sheets of the entire US banking industry. Yet the Fed’s actions also ran contrary to US regulators’ justification for their tolerance towards the complex derivatives that created the mortgage securitisation business in the first place: namely, that they provide the impetus for ‘market completeness’ by synthetically linking one financial market to another. Full market completion has been the objective of US lawmakers since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 formally dismantled the Glass-Steagall ‘wall’ between investment and commercial banking activities, and stipulating the abstract conditions of full market completion has also been one of the most highly prized goals of pure economics since the seminal theoretical writings of Léon Walras in the 1870s. However, general equilibrium economics has never been able to provide a genuinely economic rationale for policies that push in the direction of market completion. Moreover, the Fed’s actions in using Morgan as a conduit for rescuing Bear have in practice merely complicated the matter further. They were presented as facilitating a market rescue that would prevent future financial crises from occurring, but they had the effect of allowing the largest banks to take the whole of the subprime securitisation cycle in-house. This in turn makes market-based checks and balances against the future inflation of subprime securitisation bubbles much less robust.
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Power, Politics & the City of London: Before & After the Great Financial Crisis
Sukhdev Johal (Reader, Royal Holloway, University of London), Micheal Moran (Professor Emeritus of Government, University of Manchester) & Karel Williams (Professor, University of Manchester & Director of the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change)
The paper examines the power of finance in the UK in the light of debates about the meaning of power. It distinguishes four faces of power. Three are drawn from an established political science literature: decision, agenda control and non-decision. The fourth is derived from the work of Foucault, capillary power. We argue that these constitute historical strategies by finance in the UK to escape democratic control, and chart the historical evolution of these strategies. The financial crisis of 2007-8 involved the collapse of a strategy pursued in the last generation to install a system of capillary power. Finance has therefore been driven back to exercising power by the control over decision.
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Capitalist Diversity, Work & Employment Relations
Christel Lane (Professor Emeritus of Economic Sociology, University of Cambridge) & Geoffrey Wood (Professor of International Business, University of Warwick)
The great value of the literature on comparative capitalism is its emphasis on the persistent viability of alternative models to market liberalism. Central to the viability of more heavily coordinated markets are specific production regimes, supported through cooperative work and employment relations, encompassing significant participation and involvement, strong industry and firm skills sets, and bargaining centralisation. In contrast, the liberal market model is distinguished by less strong unions, decentralised bargaining, weaker worker rights, insecure tenure and flexible labour markets. As such, this approach has considerable value as a theoretical starting point both for categorising different national industrial relations regimes and in explaining the spatial concentration of specific sets of industrial relations practices. At the same time, whilst the nation-state remains an important level of analysis, there is considerable variety in practice both within nations and capitalist archetypes. This would reflect the fact that institutions are rarely closely coupled, with distinct regional and sectoral dynamics. Moreover, supra-national forces may not only erode national distinctiveness, but also reinforce difference between nations.
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The British Growth Crisis: a Crisis of and for Growth
Professor Colin Hay, Director of SPERI
The global financial crisis which first began to make itself apparent in 2007 and then broke with full force in the autumn of 2008 has generated an intense debate in academic, business, journalistic and political circles alike about what went wrong and how operational faults in the prevailing Western model of political economy might best be repaired. More importantly, it has at last also begun to stimulate a deeper, albeit slower moving, consideration of whether the Anglo-American world in particular was working with the right model of political economy in the first place. It is the view I seek to defend here that if we are to address properly the former set of concerns – with what went wrong and how we might start to put it right – it is with the latter that we must start. For it is only by acknowledging the complicity and culpability of a decidedly and distinctly Anglo-American conception of capitalism in the inflation and then bursting of the bubble, that we can begin to see the full extent of what is broken and what now must be fixed. It is to this agenda that the present paper speaks. It draws on a now substantial body of empirical research, but it seeks to do so in a rather novel way – to argue that the crisis is best seen as a crisis of and indeed for growth and not as a crisis of debt. It is, moreover, a crisis of and for an excessively liberalised Anglo-American form of capitalism and the Anglo-liberal growth model (as I will call it) to which it gave rise. This is a form of capitalism and a growth model that was inherently unstable and threatened the entire world economy – its excesses cannot be tolerated again.
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