Neoliberalism on Trial: Jokowi 2.0, Omnibus Bill and the New Capital City

piqsels.com-id-jxnok

When the majority of Southeast Asian countries began to enact more aggressive responses to the novel coronavirus, Indonesia turned a deaf ear to virus mitigation efforts. As it had no confirmed cases of the coronavirus as of February, Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) government instead kept pushing extensive economic reform agendas. It submitted a 1,028-page Job Creation Omnibus Bill on 12 February, calling the bill the country’s third great structural reform program after the  1998 International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Letter of Intent and the 1967 Foreign Direct Investment Law. Despite criticism from the opposition, the president insisted on this neoliberal agenda, claiming that the objective of the bill is to promote more foreign direct investment (FDI) in the manufacturing sector and thus create more jobs. 

What effects do neoliberal policies have on political and economic life in Indonesia and state-capital relations in particular? This blog post follows David Harvey (2006) in taking a historical-geographical approach to investigate this question, with a focus on policies put in place in the current president Jokowi’s second term. For many observers, such a bold move to deregulate the economy signals the resurgence of state-led development in a new form. Put differently, what this article would like to argue is that deregulation, an all-encompassing hegemonic ideology rather than simply a policy, has become some sort of ‘banner to unite under’ for the ruling capitalist class in Indonesia. Read More »

Assessing the ‘Return’ of the State: Bringing Class Back In

49626859048_f8b85f881c_o

There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen’, words famously attributed to Lenin. In the last few weeks the Covid-19 pandemic has led to an extraordinary series of events throughout the world. Our everyday lives, the way our economies are organised, and the ways that we exercise our basic rights and freedoms are being transformed. These changes were unimaginable only a few weeks ago.

A significant aspect of these ‘extraordinary times’ is governments’ extraordinary responses to the economic meltdown triggered by the coronavirus crisis. Within the space of just a few weeks, one taboo after another in Western capitalism has been broken, as The Economist puts it. As monetary policy measures (i.e. unlimited QE, record low interest rates) proved to be insufficient, unprecedented fiscal stimulus packages including wage and income guarantees came to the fore. In the EU, the so-called ordoliberal principles of competition, free market and a commitment to a balanced budget (that were harshly imposed upon Greek and other peripheral European economies during the Eurozone crisis) appear to have been all but forgotten by the core capitalist countries. ‘We will protect our strategic companies from foreign takeovers’ declared the president of the European Comission. The infamousschwarze Null’ budget policy of Germany, for example, was abandoned as the German government foresees an extra 156 billion in new government debt this year, and an extra €600 billion to bail out big companies if necessary. In the UK, the traditionally austerity-loving Conservative Party’s Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an enormous coronavirus package of £350 billion. The Trump administration has signed the largest ever US financial stimulus package, amounting to $2 trillion, which includes ‘helicopter money’ for the citizens. Whatever it takes’ became the motto of G20 leaders and finance ministers. All of a sudden, austerity ended as the reproduction of the capitalist system became impossible without the protective measures that were introduced. This reflects the fact that austerity was a political choice all along; despite being framed as ‘TINA’ for years. Read More »

‘Climate Emergency’, COVID-19 and the Australian capitalist state

covid-19-4926456_1920Now is the hour of our collective discontent. In order to pursue the agenda set out for this blog post series, namely: ‘to precisely identify the strategic, structural/epochal, or more contingent factors involved in the emergence of particular state–capital hybrids, as well as the specific institutional, organizational, and legal forms that facilitate such emergence’ (Alami & Dixon, 2019) my contribution examines the Australian state over the summer of 2019-20, into the COVID-19 pandemic. I argue that the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the instability and amenability to capital of our present conjuncture in ways that the bushfire crisis did not. Further, the pandemic renders our present conjuncture potentially far less stable and amenable to capital than declaration of a national ‘climate emergency’ could have, and therefore the left should consider how to force deep reorientations of state-led action (and therefore form and function) while it can.

The need for an adequate state theory

Existing scholarship on neo-Marxian theories of the state are the foundations of an appropriate diagnosis of this moment, though in the heart of an historic conjuncture is not the time to attempt a full synthesis or unified theory. Instead we should begin by using our compounding crises to work through our existing analyses and critiques. In keeping with this research agenda, I will begin with a Poulantzean reading of the state – not the blunt Althusserian structuralism of his earlier work, but his later and more nuanced work on the state theorised as an ever-contingent social relation. The state is thus conceived of as a material condensate of the balance of class struggle, meaning it is possible to isolate points of rupture and work upon and through them to alter the balance of power.

Without a reconfiguration of political and economic power, the crises we face will not resolve, but escalate by orders of magnitude. A neo-Marxian theorisation of the state reframes this political moment with a materialist analysis of the issues confronting our societies. The points of possible rupture have now become more apparent and should guide leftist strategy into and through the COVID-19 pandemic.

From ‘climate emergency’ to global pandemic (from theory to praxis)

Over the 2019-20 summer, Australia burned. Vast swathes of the country were covered in marauding fires; communities were evacuated; homes were destroyed; irreplaceable heritage landscapes were lost forever and millions of animals perished. Those physically distant from the fires were nonetheless impacted by the resulting cloaks of particulate matter draped across the country at levels ‘unmatched in terms of severity, duration and extent’ in Australia’s recent memory.

Much of the resulting political jousting focused on whether or not funding had been cut for core services that would have ameliorated the situation. Over the course of the summer, communities mobilised to meet the relentless blazes, with numerous online fundraising campaigns set up to try and resource volunteer fire services. Rolling demonstrations and protests were held across the country, demanding action from state and federal governments.

Read More »

Mind the Gap: Addressing the Class Dimension in Higher Education

7038952701_bb67cdb2d7_oThe debate in Higher Education (HE) in the UK is slowly starting to recognise that inequality in education is both the cause and consequence of societal elitism. As a result, there is an increasing debate about widening access to academia, and more and more newspaper articles are devoting attention to the few who made it through the Oxbridge close-circle system. 

On the 17th of May 2019 the Reteaching Economics and IIPPE Teaching Political Economy working group organised a workshop on economic pluralism, teaching and research. I was chairing the panel on “Challenges and Opportunities for the Economics Curriculum Around Decolonisation, Gender and Diversity” which included brilliant contributions from Dr Meera Sabaratnam (SOAS), Dr Lucia Pradella (King’s College), Dr Ingrid Kvangraven (University of York) and Ali Al-Jamri (Rethinking Economics, Diversity Campaign Manager). They addressed various political, historical and cultural  issues around neocolonialism, imperialism, racism, sexism and gender segregation in HE at large and in the economic discipline in particular. Considering the potential great complementarity of the topics, I thought it was relevant to bring in the class dimension in the discussion. I noticed that while the marginalization of women and people of color is rightly getting increasing attention, the class dimension is sometimes forgotten. Indeed, although class remains a crucial lens to untangle injustice and exclusion in the HE industry, it isn’t dealt with with as much urgency. Maybe also because it’s a bit less visible. Indeed, last week I was discussing this issue with another ‘academic migrant’ from Southern Europe, and he suggested: “Panels should ask “what do your parents do/did for a living?” during job interviews.

To prepare my presentation, I approached a couple of ‘data intelligence’ offices in UK universities asking for facts about the class dimension of access to higher education in the UK. I was pointed to the Office for Students, which is a new resource that enables us educators, but also students, to look at various key bits of data on the university sector as a whole, and on individual universities. A very useful resource indeed! 

So here is what I found, and the results are pretty discouraging. Read More »