I chaired and was involved in a roundtable discussion between colleagues in my Department and various anti-austerity activists and campaigners from the Coventry and Warwickshire region. The event took place in the Coventry Central Methodist Hall on March 3rd 2016.
An audio recording of all the speakers can be found at http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/pais/research/impact/events/austeritybritain/.
There are many instances in the history of economic thought where economists did not use what today has become the concept of ‘national competitiveness’ but nonetheless wrote about things that look eerily familiar when viewed through the lens of the modern-day Competitiveness Agenda. Veblen’s 1904 Theory of Business Enterprise contains many important passages of this nature. Business leaders, he noted, had become remarkably successful at presenting themselves as the selfless foot soldiers in a national struggle for international economic pre-eminence. Yet for Veblen this was all a carefully constructed smokescreen. They could hardly be seen as guardians of the national interest, he argued, because they enacted significant damage on the economy’s social provisioning capacity in the self-serving desire to protect the social inequalities from which they benefited so handsomely.
On December 10th 2015 I delivered a paper to the Raced Markets Workshop held at the University of Warwick, as part of a 'Key Conversations' session with Professor John Holmwood from the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham. The paper is entitled, 'Robinson Crusoe and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks', and it is available from me on request. Here is the abstract. A recording of the session was also made and can be accessed here: https://racedmarkets.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/thinking-race-through-economics-a-conversation-between-robbie-shilliam-matthew-watson-and-john-holmwood/.
"The signifiers ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’ necessarily evoke a world of racial oppression and domination, one where the economic success of the white colonist depends wholly on the forced servitude of the ‘native’ population. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium in which the relations of power that exist between the two men are simply wished away. Economists appeal to the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy to teach students basic conceptualisation techniques suitable for learning their subject field’s prevailing market models. Their Crusoe and Friday figures have none of the colonial history that Defoe imposed upon the original characters. Consequently, they are also not susceptible to the systematic deconstruction of racial hierarchies that marks the later tradition of postcolonial Robinsonades. The economics textbook writers populate their desert islands with a Crusoe and a Friday who instinctively recognise their equality under contract law and who therefore engage in entirely voluntary market exchange. Yet in acting against everything that is implied by the ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’ signifiers they do nothing to erase the racial hierarchies into which they are locked. Indeed, the whole point of writing the current paper is to think through the alternative possibility that they simply serve to reinforce them. There is an important substantive link between economists’ market models and the market institutions that are created to regulate everyday economic behaviour. Therefore, if market models do indeed reproduce the signifiers ‘Crusoe’ and ‘Friday’, the possibility exists that market institutions are similarly raced even before any conscious agency is attempted within them."
On November 23rd 2015 I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. The paper is entitled, 'Exploring Ricardo's Silences: Re-Historicising the Theory of Comparative Advantage', and it is available from me on request. Here is the abstract.
"According to David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage, all countries stand to gain if they trade freely their surplus stock having first specialised production along the lines of relative opportunity costs. This basic insight is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade, and it also continues to provide the underlying economic ethics for liberal IPE. Any numerical example attributing any level of relative labour efficiency to any two countries across any two goods provides a simple system of equations that will demonstrate how specialisation and trade increases total world production. Ricardo’s own numbers showed a productively superior hypothetical ‘Portugal’ and a productively inferior hypothetical ‘England’ share the gains from free trade. This article, however, reinserts the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the real Portugal and England that Ricardo silenced through omission. It is a highly illiberal tale of gunboats, royal intrigue and personal subjugation. Ricardo’s account of the purely market-based logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality of both imperial wars and African slavery to the early English and Portuguese experience of ‘free’ trade. Given this historical back-story, liberal IPE thus appears to be in urgent need of new normative foundations."
On November 10th 2015 the Naked Capitalism website published an update of my earlier Fools' Gold blog post exploring the relationship between the contemporary competitiveness agenda and the growth profile of the national economy. Once again the emphasis of the argument is on labour, more particularly how full-scale submission to the competitiveness agenda impacts on labour in ways that undermine both the demand-side and supply-side dynamics of growth.
On October 29th 2015 I delivered a presentation to an Undergraduate IPE Masterclass in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham. I was joined at the Masterclass by Adrienne Roberts from the University of Manchester and Liam Stanley from the University of Sheffield. The topic we were asked to address was 'How To Do Research in IPE', and I illustrated my arguments via an ongoing paper that seeks to put the historical back-story of gunboats, royal intrigue, European imperial wars and the transtalantic slave trade back into David Ricardo's theory of comparative advantage.
The session was filmed by technicians at the University of Birmingham, and the recording can be viewed here: https://bham.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=c4848b2b-8b04-4a19-9e9b-4110c446cd03. Huw Macartney from Birmingham introduces the Masterclass from the start of the recording until 02:15, and I then speak from that point until 15:30.
The purveyors of the modern-day Competitiveness Agenda exhibit pronounced Panglossian tendencies. They see only positive things for everyone if their advice is followed. A ‘competitive’ economy will boast high levels of growth, they say, and the whole of society will benefit when the trickle-down effects impact on their lives. However, this Panglossian scenario elevates optimism over evidence. The modern-day Competitiveness Agenda can be turned on its head in the interests of a more progressive social settlement by exploring its fundamental anti-growth dynamics.
The Nobel Prize winning economist George Stigler wrote a famous intellectual history of the concept of perfect competition in the late 1950s. The article has subsequently attained canonical status among orthodox economists. It does not mention the contemporary notion of competitiveness once, but it is nonetheless full of important implications for those who wish to question the intellectual authority of the modern-day competitiveness agenda. In particular, Stigler is forced to admit that there is no purely economic basis for supporting the idea of a perfectly competitive economy. His argument that there are still good grounds for keeping up this pretence boil down to straightforwardly political beliefs for wanting to keep the government out of economic life. Despite what can be shown to be their important differences, this is one thing that the theory of perfect competition and the modern-day competitiveness agenda have in common. Both are typically dressed in apparently economic clothes, but each in its own way must be understood as a purely political intervention into public affairs.
Fools' Gold Blog Post on Milton Friedman's Grand Denial of the Social Responsibility of Corporations
The legendary Chicago economist, Milton Friedman, was not somebody to do anything by halves. Where others before him had shied away from even thinking aloud about the limits of firms’ responsibilities to those around them, Friedman waded into the debate with both feet. Corporations can serve society best, he stated, by cutting their costs to the bone and accordingly by making as much profit as possible. This argument did not reference competitiveness directly in its original articulation, but it acts as an important forerunner of modern-day competitiveness discourse. Corporations that deny their broader social responsibilities, Friedman argued, set themselves on the road to a truly competitive zero rate of taxation.
Paul Samuelson pioneered the mathematical models of maximisation that today form a central part of the economics of competitiveness. It is significant, then, that the pioneer himself deployed his method of difference equations to come to a conclusion that is wholly opposed to modern-day competitiveness mantra. This post brings Samuelson’s argument to a wider audience as it traces the intellectual underpinnings of contemporary competitiveness discourse. It reviews his defence of collective provision of the public goods that enhance individual welfare and his view that the funding of public goods should be protected from race-to-the-bottom dynamics.
David Ricardo’s status as the first really famous economist of the nineteenth century rests on two capacities: his ability to think in pure economic abstractions and his ability to harness economic theory to a liberal political worldview. They came together most famously in his theory of comparative advantage, through which countries are encouraged to specialise in producing the goods in which their workers are relatively most efficient. Despite being two hundred years old, Ricardo’s theory is still the mainstay of the orthodox economics justification of free trade and, at one stage removed, of modern-day competitiveness discourse too. This post looks behind the façade of the numbers that Ricardo used to illustrate his theory of comparative advantage, to show that they were anything but an innocent account of essential economic relationships. It therefore helps to place modern-day competitiveness discourse in a far from flattering intellectual light.
SPERI Comment Blog Post on 'Osbornomics' and the Death of Benign Government
Osborne’s plan to bind all future British Chancellors of the Exchequer to produce annual budget surpluses is not driven by economic logic, but is intended to reshape the meaning of government. It is an attempt to create a fiscal environment antithetical to the very notion of a benign government with the aspiration of compensating people for life's misfortunes.
On June 26th 2015 I was one of the participants on the closing roundtable of the Tax Justice Network's Annual Research Conference, 'Should Nation States Compete?'. The roundtable was entitled, 'The Competitiveness Conundrum', and the other participants were Will Davies (Goldsmith's University, London), Ronen Palan (City University, London) and Naomi Fowler (Tax Justice Network).
On June 25th 2015 I presented a paper at the Tax Justice Network Annual Research Workshop, 'Should Nation States Compete?'. The paper was entitled, 'Following in John Methuen's Early Eighteenth-Century Footsteps: Ricardo's Comparative Advantage Theory and the False Foundations of the Competitiveness of Nations'.
A copy of the paper can be downloaded by clicking here.
I was one of what the Guardian described in its front-page report on June 13th 2015 as "77 of the best-known academic economists" to sign a letter criticising UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's plans to enshrine in law permanent budget surpluses. The letter accuses Osborne of ignoring "basic economics".
It can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jun/12/osborne-plan-has-no-basis-in-economics.
On June 4th 2015 I presented a paper at the IPE Cluster Seminar Series at the University of Warwick. The paper was entitled, 'Trapped in Other People's Histories: IPE and the Austro-German Methodenstreit'.
On May 13th 2015 I delivered the opening keynote address to the public roundtable which started the three-day New Directions in International Political Economy Conference at the University of Warwick. The conference was organised as part of the University's Festival of Social Sciences being held to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. The title of my talk was, 'Beware of Qualifying Adjectives’.
A video of the whole of the roundtable event can be found here:
On May 12th 2015 I appeared on the PAIS Post-Election Roundtable in my Department. This event was run as part of the Festival of Social Sciences held to celebrate the University's 50th Anniversary. I was invited to speak about the economic and welfare dimensions of the General Election campaign and the economic and welfare implications of the result. I was on the panel alongside my professorial colleagues Wyn Grant, Mike Smith, Richard Aldrich and Shirin Rai.
On May 6th 2015 I participated as one of the panel members for the after-show discussion held by the Dumbshow Theatre Group following a performance of their new play, ‘Electric Dreams’, at the Camden People's Theatre, London. This was a play that took shape during a two-week residency at the University of Warwick in January 2015 and for which I was able to offer advice on the political content of the script. I appeared on the after-show discussion panel alongside Michael Bryher (Director/Actor/Writer, Dumbshow), Nicola Cutcher (Actor/Writer, Dumbshow) and Ryan Shorthouse (Chief Executive, Bright Blue Think Tank).
The transcript of that discussion can be found here: http://electricdreamsdumbshow.tumblr.com/post/125174653356/post-show-talk-at-camden-peoples-theatre-on-the.
IPE PhD Student Reading Group on Adam Smith
On April 30th 2015 I attended and helped to lead a reading group discussion on Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments. This was for my Department's IPE PhD students, assisting them in their efforts to become more deeply acquainted with Smith's account of the process for delivering moral judgement and how this might be understood in the context of both the nascent commercial society of his day and the market society of our own.
On April 29th 2015 I delivered a teaching session to members of Liverpool Football Club's Academy. The men's under-18 team was visiting Warwick for two days, and this was part of my Department's attempts to show them how studying politics at university might run in parallel with trying to build their football careers. My session was entitled, 'Market Ethics and the Ability to Pay Principle'.
Fools' Gold Blog Post on Adam Smith's Critique of the British East India Company's Competitiveness Strategy
Adam Smith was an arch-critic of the regime-hopping strategies of the exclusive stockholding corporations, the forerunners of today’s multinational corporations. The British East India Company, having been granted a Royal Charter in 1600, was supposed to be acting on behalf of the sovereign to meet the country’s commercial objectives. The free hand given to the Company would presumably be couched, in modern parlance, as a ‘competitive’ strategy for Britain. Here, though, I show how rude Smith was about these corporations’ strategies in the latest in the Fools' Gold series exploring the intellectual history of the modern ways that people talk about the ‘competitiveness’ of national economies.
Re-posted on April 30th 2015 on the Tax Justice Network website.
On September 28th 2014 I delivered an invited talk to District 1210 Annual Conference of the Rotary Club of Great Britain and Ireland. The Conference was held at Venue Cymru in Llandudno. My talk was entitled, 'Fair Trade and the Possibilities for a Better World'.
On June 16th 2014 I presented a paper at the Inaugural History and Theory Workshop at the London School of Economics. The paper was entitled, 'The Misreadings of Conceptual History within IPE'.
On May 21st 2014 I presented a paper at the PAIS General Departmental Seminar at the University of Warwick. The paper was entitled, 'Uneconomic Economics and the Crisis of the Model World'.
I presented a paper at the British International Studies Association Conference in Dublin on June 20th 2014. The paper is entitled, 'How Not to Rethink Economy: The Rehabilitation of Orthodox Economics Opinion in the Wake of the Financial Crisis'.
Competitiveness discourse so clearly relates to the economy that it must have its roots in economic theory, wouldn’t you think? In the first of a series of pieces exploring the history of competitiveness thinking for the Fools' Gold Blog hosted by the Tax Justice Network, I suggest that things are much more complicated in this regard than they might at first appear. The origins of the modern competitiveness discourse are traced to Frank Knight's account of homo economicus which was designed specifically to fit developments in American neoclassical economics in the second quarter of the twentieth century. Nothing resembling competitiveness discourse had entered economics before then, and the structure of competitiveness discourse today continues to resemble what was created for that particular episode in the history of economic thought.
Even though 'Victorian values' have become bywords for reactionary social policy, the 1866 budget shows that today's Conservative Party fares badly by comparison. Watch out for what lies underneath Osborne and Cameron's claims that eliminating the deficit is a matter of inter-generational justice.
'What Has to be Civilized?', in Colin Hay and Anthony Payne (eds) (2015) Civic Capitalism, Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 109-116.
Pre-print version available here.
Business executives will continue to tell us how to cast our votes in May’s UK General Election. But, before being persuaded, check the evidence on both sides of the argument.
Re-posted on March 27th 2015 on the Tax Justice Network's Fools' Gold blog: http://foolsgold.international/stefano-pessina-and-the-two-sides-of-speaking-up-for-business/.
On Feburary 26th 2015 and on March 6th 2015 I delivered teaching sessions to different groups of secondary schoolchildren who were visiting Warwick as part of my Department's Pathways to Politics events. The session was entitled, 'Food Justice and Market Ethics'. A similarly themed session, this time called, 'Access to Food and the Market Ethic of Ability-to-Pay', was delivered to the University of Warwick Faculty of Social Sciences Widening Participation Summer School on July 7th 2015.
On February 25th 2015 I presented a paper at the SPERI Seminar Series at the University of Sheffield. The paper was entitled, 'Deep History of Economic Thought as a Methodology of 'Unlearning': Liberating IPE from the Textbook Account of the Methodenstreit'.
On January 29th 2015 I participated on the roundtable on the Ethics of Food Trade organised by Warwick University Food Co-op as part of the Warwick Hub Discussion Series. My contribution was entitled, 'Market Ethics in Food Trade: Consumer Rights, the Ability to Pay and Convenience Shopping for Ethics'.
Politics Reconsidered Blog Post on the Self-Satirising Attitudes of Conservative Politicians towards Food Bank Use
Baroness Jenkin's recent claim that the use of food banks in Britain can be explained by poor people not knowing how to cook in an economising way almost exactly replicates the plot of a Guardian microplay in which a politician undertakes a 'Ready, Steady, Cook' challenge in an attempt to show that everyone is able to make ends meet if they are sufficiently resourceful.
On December 10th 2014 I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Organisation and Management Group, Liverpool Business School, University of Liverpool. The paper is entitled, 'Back to Where It All Began? Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and the Market Coordination Problem'.
This is a link to the recording of a paper I delivered to an undergraduate masterclass delivered to International Political Economy students in the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham on December 5th 2014. The presentation is entitled, 'How I Came to IPE and Where I Think It Should Go'.
Recent research from the UK suggests that such policies constitute hand-outs, rather than effective means to shape firms’ investment decisions.
Re-posted on March 12th 2015 on the Tax Justice Network's Fools' Gold blog: http://foolsgold.international/the-false-promise-of-corporation-tax-cuts/.
The recent appearance of food bank donation boxes in UK supermarkets raises a series of ethical questions about the commodification of convenience in the sphere of charitable giving.
This is a link to a recording of the paper I delivered to the London Political Philosophy Club at St James's Church, Piccadilly on September 30th 2014. The paper is entitled, 'Markets, Markets Everywhere, But Not As You Might Think'.
This is a piece that was recorded and written up by the University of Warwick's Knowledge Centre as part of their 'Game Changer' series. In it, academics from around the institution are able to nominate a book that transformed the way in which discussions were able to take place in their part of the subject field. Along with my colleagues Christopher Holmes and Ben Clift, I chose to talk about Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation. 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of that book, and it continues to inspire academics and students alike - in the words of my project - to rethink the market.
In Fear of Flash Crashes: Stock Market Wobbles Past and Present
The new era of high-frequency trading threatens future prosperity.
Posted on 19.06.14 at http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2014/06/19/fear-flash-crashes-stock-market-wobbles-present/.
This is a link to a recording of the paper I delivered to the workshop, 'Neoliberalism, Fraud and Moral Economy', held at the University of Leeds on May 2nd 2014. The paper is entitled, 'The Expulsion of Moral Economy from Economics Proper: 'Economy' as Set of Practices Versus 'Economy' as Logic of Order'.
John Redwood recently took the politics of expansionary austerity to new heights of unbelievability when strategically misunderstanding why the reduction in the UK's top rate of tax from 50% to 45% coincided in its first year with increased overall tax revenues.
Re-posted on April 17th 2015 on the Tax Justice Network's Fools' Gold blog: http://foolsgold.international/competitiveness-myths-and-expansionary-austerity/.
This is a link to a recording of the paper I delivered at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Manchester on April 16th 2014. The paper is entitled, 'The World According to the Efficient Markets Hypothesis: Radically Conservative, Socially Empty, Financially Unstable'.
This article, entitled 'Widening access to university entrenches social class attitudes to student debt', was published in The Conversation on March 27th 2014 to coincide with the release of new data by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. It explores the relationship between higher education marketisation at the level of university income and attempts to enhance access to degree programmes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I argue that the current policy is inattentive to class differences in attitudes to holding debt and therefore has hidden costs that operate against the stated objectives of policy.
Published by Palgrave Macmillan, February 2014
Back Cover Blurb: "Matthew Watson analyses the political response to imploding markets through the lens of the history of economic thought, asking 'what has gone wrong with economics?' against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The most important historical trend, he suggests, is the development of an 'uneconomic economics', whereby attention is placed on explaining relationships in perfectly efficient blackboard markets rather than the much more chaotic institutions encountered in everyday economic interactions. Economists now routinely devise sophisticated abstract models which are theoretically rigorous but fail to capture the way everyday economic decisions are actually undertaken. Acknowledging the gap between the model world and the real world led many commentators to initially pronounce that the financial crisis was equally a crisis of economics. Watson shows, though, that the subsequent redefinition of the crisis as a problem of over-extended state spending has successfully rehabilitated the model world of orthodox economics opinion."
"To control the forces shaping our economic future, we have first to understand those shaping our immediate past. Mainstream economics claims to do that, but as this important book shows, that claim is false. Matthew Watson has written an invaluable guide to the limits of orthodox economics thinking on the 2007/8 financial crisis. It is a guide that, if read widely, will help sustain an informed citizenry on both sides of the Atlantic. Ideas matter, and the ideas discussed here matter more than most." - Professor David Coates, Worrell Professor of Anglo-American Studies, Wake Forest University, US.
"Matthew Watson's elegant and trenchant analysis shines a fiercely critical and deeply scholarly light on the profound relationship between the practices of financial markets, the modes of thought typical of orthodox economics and post-crisis policy thinking. Written with admirable clarity and concision, it stands as one of the very best - and certainly one of the most important - books yet written on the global financial crisis." - Professor Ben Rosamond, Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
This is a link to a recording of the keynote address I delivered at Hendon Town Hall on February 14th 2014 to the University of Middlesex Workshop, 'Education Meets Neoliberalism and the Political Economy of Precarity'. I spoke to a paper entitled, 'Taking the Classroom Into the Community'.
A video recording of the first half of my talk is also availble at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOz-UzY9aA0. I start at around 1:28 minute and finish at around 15:51 minutes.
Those nice people at Amazon have created a virtual market that allows us to avoid all the pushing and shoving, all the claustrophobic crowds, all the ritualised elements of having to run with the retail mob. But what does it all mean for their employees?
This is a link to a recording of the lecture I delivered to the International Institute for Social Studies in The Hague on February 6th 2014 in the series 'Crises, Continuity and Change'. I spoke to a paper entitled, 'Schumpeterian Visions, Schumpeterian Ideologies: Countervailing Influences to Crises of Economic Thought'.
The Nobel Prize and the Reproduction of Economics Orthodoxy
This year's economics laureates reflect the narrow purview of the prize and the entrenchment of familiar but limited ways of thinking about economic life.
Posted on 30.10.13 at http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/2013/10/30/nobel-prize-reproduction-economics-orthodoxy/.
Challenging the Economics Curriculum: The Quiet Revolution in Community Education
The advent of new community education programmes helping people to understand more about current economic matters is in direct contrast to the often esoteric qualities of the university economics curriculum.