Published by Agenda Publishing and Columbia University Press, January 2018
Back Cover Blurb: "We have become accustomed to economists and politicians talking about 'market forces' as if they are immutable laws of the universe. But what exactly is 'the market'? Originally an abstract idea from economic theory - the locus of demand and supply - it has come to inform the way we speak about our relationship to the economic system as a whole. Matthew Watson unpacks the concept to ask what does it really mean to allow ourselves to submit to market forces. And does economic theory really provide insights into the market institutions that shape our everyday life? In tackling these questions, the book provides a major contribution to a deeper appreciation of the dominant economic language of our time, challenging the idea that we can simply defer to the 'logic of the market'."
"A masterpiece of erudition and concision, Matthew Watson's new book lifts the lid on a concept whose ubiquity in public discourse is matched only by its slipperiness. With immense skill, Watson explores the ways in which the idea of 'the market' has developed within the field of economics and in so doing teases out the complex relationships between academic abstraction of the market concept and the prevalence of market ideology in politics. The result is a truly impressive book that should be regarded as a vital supplement to standard economics textbooks and essential reading for anyone interested in understanding whether there are alternatives to the 'iron cage' of the market." - Professor Ben Rosamond, University of Copenhagen
"Watson has provided a history of the economic ideas that form the basis of modern economics, brilliantly explaining where many of the economic laws and concepts central to the idea of the market originated ... there are very few texts on the market that are as good as this." - Dr Huw Macartney, University of Birmingham
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.
Title: 'Michael Gove's War on Professional Historical Expertise: Conservative Curriculum Reform, Extreme Whig History and the Place of Imperial Heroes in Modern Multicultural Britain', British Politics, published online, May 19th 2019. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-019-00118-3.
Abstract: Six years of continuously baiting his opponents within the history profession eventually amounted to little where it mattered most. UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, finally backtracked in 2013 on his plans to impose a curriculum for English schools based on a linear chronology of the achievements of British national heroes. His 'history as celebration' curriculum was designed to instil pride amongst students in a supposedly shared national past, but would merely have accentuated how many students in modern multicultural Britain fail to recognise themselves in what is taught in school history lessons. Now that the dust has settled on Gove's tenure as Secretary of State, the time is right for retrospective analysis of how his plans for the history curriculum made it quite so far. How did he construct an 'ideological' conception of expertise which allowed him to go toe-to-toe for so long with the 'professional' expertise of academic historians and history teachers? What does the content of this ideological expertise tell us about the politics of race within Conservative Party curriculum reform? This article answers these questions to characterise Gove as a 'whig historian' of a wilfully extreme nature in his attachment to imperial heroes as the best way to teach national history in modern multicultural Britain.
Title: 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks', New Political Economy, 23 (5), 2018, 544-559. DOI 10.1080/13563467.2017.1417367. Article published on the NPE website in full open access format.
Abstract: 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers necessarily evoke a world of racialised hierarchies. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium to simply wish away their resulting relations of power. These are the teaching aids that inspire students analytically to think of markets as pristine economic institutions and persuade them politically that they should want to will such institutions into being. Yet they all-too-often rely on the pedagogical device of the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy, where the main characters from Defoe's most famous novel are required to instinctively recognise their equality within voluntary contracting agreements so that each can act as the neoclassical homo economicus. In other words, economists' Crusoe and Friday figures must behave antithetically to what has historically been implied by the 'Cruose' and 'Friday' signifiers. But how can this be so, given how commonplace it was when Defoe's characters were first introduced into economic theory in the 1850s to justify white settler colonialism on the grounds that 'savage' societies lacked the capacity to be self-governing? The raced market frame that emerged in practice from this assumption continues to be reproduced uncritically today by Crusoe's and Friday's presence in the textbook explanation of the most basic model of market exchange.
Title: 'Brexit, the Left Behind and the Let Down: The Political Abstraction of 'the Economy' and the UK's EU Referendum', British Politics, 13 (1), 2018, 17-30. DOI: 10.1057/s41293-017-0062-8. A view-only version of the full text is available from Springer Nature's Shared It function. The paginated version is also available to those who are able to login to the journal's website.
Abstract: UK voters' decision to overturn the country's European Union membership has left most parliamentarians looking rather distant from the constituents they represent. The politicians staked much on assuming that people would not vote to sabotage their economic self-interest, but this message conspicuously failed to resonate. When politicians spoke in abstract terms about the needs of 'the economy', significant numbers understood this to mean labour market conditions that have personally served them badly. It has been commonplace since the referendum to refer to these people as the 'left behind'. However, they might more usefully be descrbed as the 'let down'. Since the restructuring of the UK economy in line with global competitiveness norms they have been required to earn their rights as citizens through demonstrating their work readiness. Yet hard work on its own is now no longer sufficient for so many people to receive the rewards promised under the terms of the new social contract. They have been largely abandoned to their fate by the politicians as labour market segmentation has led to a significant expansion of the in-work poor. These people voted in large numbers against continued EU membership. This suggests that the referendum result can be seen at least in part as a revolt against the way in which the abstraction of 'the economy' has informed UK politics in recent decades.
Title: 'George Osborne's Machonomics', British Politics, 12 (4), 2017, 536-554. The full text is available in view-only format from Springer Nature's Shared It factility: http://rdcu.be/vt4p. The paginated version is also available for those who are able to login to the journal's website.
Abstract: Feminist scholars have described the behavioural traits that have flourished within the global economy in terms of a hegemonic 'I know best' masculinity. Whilst this literature has typically focused on a small number of business leaders around whom popular myths of wealth creation have developed, the same way of thinking might also be applied to policy-makers. At the very least, this study of George Osborne's time as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals how consistently he adopted the mantle of an omniscient hegemonic masculine subject in his approach to deficit reduction. It was an attitude to the task at hand I label 'machonomics'. This concept is designed to mean more than that the outcomes of his austerity programme disproportionately disadvantaged women. It also captures the type of policy-maker that Osborne tried so hard to convince others he was. His self-projection finds a parallel, I argue, in what the macroeconomic theory literature describes as the specifically 'conservative' policy-maker, someone reputed for trusting his own judgement even in the face of widespread dissent against his anti-social policies. The conservative policy-maker exudes the hegemonic masculinity that Osborne embodied in his refusal to voice opinions in public suggesting that there were viable alternatives to painful public expenditure cuts.
Title: 'Rousseau's Crusoe Myth: The Unlikely Provenance of the Neoclassical Homo Economicus', Journal of Cultural Economy, 10 (1), 2017, 81-96. The article is available from the Journal of Cultural Economy website in fully open access format.
Abstract: The neoclassical homo economicus has escaped the narrow confines of economic theory and is today embodied countless times over in the everyday behaviour that so much of the modern economy is set up precisely to serve. Not all of the authors of leading books on economic principles have named the neoclassical homo economicus, but when they have done so it is overwhelmingly in the same way. They have given him the human form of a Robinson Crusoe figure, despite the fact that his behavioural motivations and his practical conduct owe next-to-nothing to Daniel Defoe's original characterisation. I suggest that the route to today's cultural familiarity with the neoclassical homo economicus instead passes through the entirely unwitting hands of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He substituted Defoe's account of the castaway's continuing deference to prevailing social norms with his own idealised vision of how the individual might use solitude to escape the corrupting influences of modern society. It is altogether another desocialised individual also bearing the Crusoe name who has latterly shaped many of the economics textbooks' renderings of the neoclassical homo economicus. However, we can get to him only by first understanding the essential features of Rousseau's Crusoe myth.
Title: 'Historicising Ricardo's Comparative Advantage Theory, Challenging the Normative Foundations of Liberal IPE', New Political Economy, 22 (3), 2017, 257-272. The article is available from the New Political Economy website in fully open access format.
Abstract: David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade. It also continues to provide the underlying economic ethic for liberal IPE. Ricardo’s numerical illustration of the mutually shared gains from specialisation and trade involved complementary structures of comparative advantage being exhibited by a productively superior hypothetical 'Portugal' and a productively inferior hypothetical 'England'. Yet the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the two countries reveals Portugal’s repeated struggles to meet its treaty obligations to the English in the context of the European quest for empire. Those difficulties persisted even when it harnessed its (less profitable) commercial trade to (much more profitable) slave trading practices. Ricardo’s account of the purely mathematical 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 to decouple it from these highly illiberal economic processes.
Title: 'Re-Establishing What Went Wrong Before: The Greenspan Put as Macroeconomic Modellers' New Normal'
Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies, 7 (July), 2014, 80-101: http://www.criticalglobalisation.com/Issue7/80_101_GREENSPAN_PUT_JCGS7.pdf.
Abstract: Almost a decade after his retirement Alan Greenspan remains the world's most immediately recognisable and highest profile central banker. His opinions therefore still matter, even if it is no longer his decisions that move markets. This article reviews Greenspan's ostensible move away from efficient markets theorising as he has tried to come to terms with the patterns of 'euphoria' and 'fear' he believes explain the build-up to the global financial crisis. In truth, though, it looks much more like an attempt to rescue the reputation of his free market models in the face of an increasing number of sceptics. Greenspan's new memoire fails to acknowledge what, in effect, was the free put option the Federal Reserve provided to Wall Street traders under his leadership. Indeed, it goes as far as to promote a visualisation technique for how macroeconomic modellers should view the basic structure of the market environment which treats the now increasingly infamous 'Greenspan put' as an ostensibly formal component of asset prices. The style of policy-making that helped to stoke such extreme asset price inflation prior to the crisis is now embedded (i) within the class of models that Greenspan has presented as the post-crisis antidote to efficient markets theorising and (ii) within the recent historical data being used in the calibration tests of the models' efficacy. What macroeconomic modellers can see in the market environment when embracing the supposedly new reality of euphoria and fear is a manifestation of what the prior existence of the Greenspan put first brought into view.
Title: 'The Great Transformation and Progressive Possibilities: The Political Limits of Polanyi's Marxian History of Economic Ideas', Economy and Society, 43 (4), 2014, 603-625.
The electronic version is on the Economy and Society website in fully open access format. It is also featured on Routledge's Most Read website, which provides access to the three most downloaded papers from each of its social science journals for 2014: http://explore.tandfonline.com/page/bes/social-sciences-most-read/sociology.
Abstract: Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation remains one of the stand-out texts of twentieth-century political economy, yet it contains important conceptual ambiguities. Perhaps most significantly, the later chapters reveal the influence of his own notion of an ‘always embedded economy’, but the earlier chapters are constructed around a much more abstract conception of ‘economy’ derived from an essentially Marxian history of economic ideas. Marx worked within the basic Ricardian conception of economy as a method of immanent critique, but then proceeded to also project it backwards onto pre-Ricardian traditions of economics. Polanyi did likewise, I argue, consequently missing the opportunity to connect his own notion of an always embedded economy to pre-Ricardian studies of the substantive basis of functioning economic relations. I use the following pages to try to restore one such link, in this instance to Adam Smith’s account of the moral ‘sympathy’ underpinning the process of market coordination. This reconstruction also has implications for progressive political possibilities today. Polanyian responses to the ongoing crisis have tended to be framed by the basic Ricardian conception of economy and have accordingly been restricted to a discussion of more market or less, more austerity or less. By contrast, tracing the lineage from pre-Ricardian concerns to Polanyi’s notion of an always embedded economy allows the much more potentially radical question to be asked of what sort of economic relations best serve essential human needs.
I was quoted in the March edition of the Baffler magazine in an article written by Whitney Curry Wimbish called 'Misery Makers'. It is an article on the private equity industry and its ability to make money out of economic failure, often when those failures are engineered by investors themselves. I spoke previously to Whitney about what this meant for the conventional frames of reference we use to discuss the economy, especially those which typically suggest that 'the market' has an omniscience which allows it to reward good economic practices with higher levels of return. However, private equity investors often enrich themselves directly at the expense of the firms and the employees in whom they invest. This trait of modern finance raises significant questions about how to apply the conventional market frame.
On May 21st 2020 I delivered a paper called ‘Adam Smith and the Glasgow Tobacco Merchants’ to a specialist Smith studies workshop. It was due to be held in Newcastle, but had to be reconvened online due to the current lockdown conditions.
Abstract: The conceptual distinction between Britain and Greater Britain can be used as a starting point to help shed light on some of the difficulties Adam Smith encountered when scaling up his principles of economic development from the national context to make them suitable for the world of empire. This was certainly the world that dominated the activities of the Glasgow tobacco traders from whom Smith seems to have derived most of his insights into the economic approach of the merchant classes of his day. However, they do not get any explicit mention at all in The Wealth of Nations. They entirely fall through the cracks of two important tensions which its text reveals. The first is between, on the one hand, the overwhelmingly positive interpretation that is placed on the story of Britain’s economic development from feudalism to the mid eighteenth century and, on the other hand, the obvious ambivalence with which he treated the more recent dalliance with the colonial trade. The second is between the generally frenetic denunciation of British colonial adventures in India and the comparative soft-pedalling on the really rather similar activities taking place in its North American colonies. The former appears as an attack in particular on the merchant/political complex embedded in elite London society, whereas the latter offers something approaching a free pass to those same connections in Glasgow. The paper attempts to unpack the tensions contained in such a conspicuous silence, as they seem to run counter to the teachings of Smith’s system. I speculate on the impact that Smith’s known friendships with Glasgow tobacco merchants might have had on what look like potential misfires of his sympathy procedure when writing about the colonial trade of Greater Britain.
On May 11th 2020 I presented a version of the paper that I will be delivering 'in' Newcastle the following week to the online Political Economy Lockdown Seminar Series. The paper was entitled, 'A Failure of System or a Failure of Nerve? Adam Smith's Conspicuous Soft-Pedalling on the Imperial Adventures of Glasgow's Eighteenth-Century Tobacco Merchants'. In it, I focused on the apparent bifurcation in Smith's critique of Empire, in which the activities of the East India Company were subjected to a withering attack, but the activities of the merchants trading within the Atlantic economy were criticised much more gently, despite being different only in degree rather than in type. Smith's obvious contempt for the East India Company resulted from what he had learnt about the way in which it was intertwined with London's commercial interests to disrupt good governance norms, but the Glasgow tobacco merchants he counted amongst his friends and acquaintances were let off lightly by comparison.
In May 2020 I was one of a number of contributors invited to write a post on Brexit for the International Karl Polanyi Society in Vienna. My post was called 'The Conservative Party's Impossible Brexit Politics of 'Habitation versus Improvement''. It is available, along with the whole debate, on the website of the International Karl Polanyi Society.
On February 13th 2020 I delivered a talk to the Civil Service Fast-Streamers' Seminar on 'Exploring Economics'. I was asked to talk to them specifically about the work of Karl Polanyi and the most important insights from his Great Transformation. More generally, though, they were interested in what I could tell them about economics that they had not found out when until recently they had been studying the subject at university. The discussion focused on Polanyi's concepts of the economistic fallacy, fictitious commodification and the double movement, especially in relation to some of the more pressing public policy dilemmas of the post-Brexit transition.
I was told that I would be invited back very shortly to talk about David Ricardo and his theory of comparative advantage.
On January 17th 2020 I delivered the keynote lecture at the Political Studies Association Schools Day at the University of Warwick. The theme of the event was the politics of imperial legacies. My talk was entitled 'How should we deal today with the legacy of the British Empire', and it focused specifically on how young people position themselves in relation to the British Empire, when their history curriculum at school tells them one thing and their consciences often tell them something else entirely. In particular, we discussed how a number of British universities are attempting to confront their own history of benefiting from donations from slave traders, plantation owners, tobacco merchants and the like. Technology was used for the lecture which enabled the students to engage through anonymous voting, sometimes in relation to questions of fact (where they had to guess the most likely answer, as they could not have been expected to know it) and sometimes in relation to questions of opinion (where they could also guess how everyone else had voted before the answers were revealed on the screen).
Widening Participation Talk at Sir John Talbot's Comprehensive School, Whitchurch, and at King Edward VI College, Nuneaton
On November 12th 2019 I revisited my old school, Sir John Talbot’s in Whitchurch Shropshire, to provide a follow-up session to the one I delivered in October. This time, though, it was just the Year 13s who were in attendance. The title of my talk was: ‘How should we deal today with the legacy of the British Empire?’ I ran the students through a number of examples of how UK universities are attempting to confront the way in which their history intersects with the history of British imperialism and the history of British slave trading. Different institutions have adopted very different strategies, and I utilised interactive technology to allow the students to use their phones to vote in real time on the effectiveness of those strategies. The actions of UK universities are often a means of signalling contrition at their complicity in imperial structures, which opened up the discussion to a focus on political apologies more generally. The students were able to see just how difficult political actors have found it to offer an unconditional apology for even some of the worst atrocities committed in the name of the British Empire.
I then gave a version of a very similar talk to the Think Higher day at King Edward VI College in Nuneaton on January 30th 2020. Once again, interactive smartphone technology was used to enable the students to participate in the lecture and also to guess the opinions that they believed their classmates held on strategies for confronting Britain's imperial past and devising suitable commemorations of Empire.
On October 23rd 2019 I made a contribution entitled, 'Karl Polanyi in the History of Thought Tradition', to a roundtable discussion at King's College London which was organised to celebrate the launch of two books. One was Christopher Holmes's Polanyi in Times of Populism: Vision and Contradiction in the History of Economic Ideas. The other was Christopher's edited collection with Gareth Dale and Maria Markantonatou, Karl Polanyi's Political and Economic Thought: A Critical Guide.
On October 8th 2019 I chaired and participated in the post-show discussion of David Edgar's play, 'Trying It On'. The show had premiered at Warwick Arts Centre in June 2018, and it was back there before a short national tour. It is a Warwick Arts Centre presentation in collaboration with the China Plate Theatre Company, and through my connections with China Plate I had spoken to David about his objectives when he set out initially to research the play. It takes the form of an introspective conversation between him now and his twenty-year-old self in 1968, asking whether that younger version would recognise the path he has subsequently taken as living true to his principles.
David's play has been very favourably reviewed in the Guardian. (However, there are some spoilers in this write-up.)
On October 1st 2019 I was invited back once again to my old school to talk to the Sixth Form Forum. I provided them with a Whitchurch-specific and a school-specific talk to try to spark their interest in our Colonial Hangover project. It was entitled, 'Sir John Talbot's and Clive of India'. The link is really rather straightforward: when I was at the school, one of the houses was named after Robert Clive, who was treated as something of a local celebrity. I began by asking them whether me and my classmates should regret our passivity in the face of one of our school houses being named after someone who by today's system of public morals would be considered a war criminal. This then became a prelude to asking them to reflect on whether the Clive name should be removed from various locations in North Shropshire and what they would do about the fact that Clive's statue still stands proudly in the main market square in the county town of Shrewsbury. Sixty-seven sixth-formers were in attendance.
I was interviewed on film by Faculti for their podcast series, and I recorded three short films with them on three different elements of my project research. One film was on my British Politics article, 'Brexit, the Left Behind and the Let Down'; one was on my New Political Economy article, 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks'; and one was on my Agenda book, The Market. They are all available to view from the Faculti website. I was asked to reflect on why I had chosen to write these pieces in the first place, what their main arguments are, and what in retrospect I consider I have learnt from each of the three research processes.
Further accounts of each of these publications can be found by scrolling to the top of this 'Activities and Outputs' page.
For a week during the school summer holidays of 2019, my Department co-hosted sixteen young people along with the Departments of Liberal Arts and Sociology for Warwick's Sutton Trust Summer School. Our stream was organised around the themes and the insights of the Colonial Hangover project. I delivered three sessions to the students during the course of the week. One was with my colleagues Shahnaz Akhter, John Morris and Ben Richardson, where we relied on the help we had been given this year by our undergraduate student research assistants Victoria Carasava and Darius Stasiulevicius to deliver an Imperial Walking Tour of Royal Leamington Spa, the town in which most Warwick undergraduates live for at least part of their degree. The other sessions were interactive lectures using the Vevox app to allow the students to express themselves through in-time online voting. These latter sessions were called, 'Restorative Approaches to the Legacy of Empire' and 'Empire and the Politics of Heroes'.
Philip Hammond has recently made a rather startling confession for a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer: that 'the market' is currently failing fairness tests in the distributional outcomes it is producing in the UK. However, his solution saw him quickly restored to partisan type, idealising 'textbook' market institutions and setting as the future goal returning to the way market outcomes are 'supposed to' operate. This SPERI Comment blog post highlights the continued reification of ideal-typical market constructions within Conservative Party political rhetoric. 'The market' is still capable of producing the best possible outcomes, Hammond seemed to be saying, even if the Government of which he was a key member had found it impossible to secure the conditions under which this might be so.
I was interviewed by Jack Copley and Javi Moreno for their Political Economy for the End Times podcast series. My episode is called 'Brexit, Empire, and the 'Let Down'', and it appears on the podcast website. I was asked to reflect on the implications of Brexit for progressive political strategy in relation to European integration, and I was also asked to reflect on the way in which images of Empire have now routinely come to shape the prevailing political discourse concerning Brexit.
On June 25th 2019 I was invited back once again to my old school to talk to the Sixth Form Forum. The students had asked me to talk about Brexit back in October 2018, and they wanted a follow-up session this time around: not one that simply brought them up-to-date with things that they might in any case already have seen on the news, so much as to show them the types of questions that they might be asked about Brexit if they choose to study politics at university in due course. I delivered a new session called 'Imperial Nostalgia and Brexit' that I had worked up specifically for them. Once more I was able to speak to over fifty sixth-formers. I will be invited back in the autumn to unveil our Colonial Hangover project to them.
On June 7th 2019 I had a post published on the LSE's British Politics and Policy blog site. It is called 'Michael Gove's War on Historians: Extreme Whig History and Conservative Curriculum Reform'. It follows closely the argument in my recently published British Politics article which looks at the controversial role of imperial 'heroes' in the most recent national curriculum in history. It asks whether white settlers and their often brutal means of settling are really the most appropriate role models for children in a modern multicultural society, as well as how far access to the character of the country these children call home is restricted when treating Empire simply as a symbol of British greatness.
On June 6th 2019 I delivered the keynote lecture at the Political Studies Association Schools Day at the University of Warwick. The theme of the event was the politics of the future. My talk was entitled 'Democracy and Intergenerational Justice', and it focused specifically on how young people understand the mandate that was delivered for the UK to withdraw from membership of the European Union in a decision over which they had no say. In particular, we debated the possibility of moving towards a voting system in one-off events such as referendums whereby votes would be weighted proportionately according to how long you could be expected to live with the consequences of the result.
On December 18th 2018 I was involved in the Departmental organisation of what, we are told, was the biggest ever off-campus Widening Participation event in Warwick's history. The event was staged at the British Museum in London, and we had almost 150 Year 11 and Year 12 students attend. It was called 'The Politics of Memorialisation', and I spoke to the theme 'Memorialisation through Speech: The Politics of Apologising for the British Empire'. It was fitting that this talk took place in the British Museum, where a number of the exhibits are now deemed controversial because they came to the UK as a direct consequence of Empire. The day included a tour of the Museum conducted by our undergraduate student ambassadors, who showed the participating school students the Elgin Marbles, the Rosetta Stone and Hoa Hakananai'a, all of which have been the subject of ongoing campaigns for repatriation from people who treat their presence in the UK as evidence of imperial plunder. My talk triggered a heated debate amongst the students about the rights and wrongs of issuing historical apologies for actions that were undertaken in other times and under the influence of a very different system of morals to the one in place today. The debate itself has had an important afterlife, as it has sparked more invitations to schools to provide talks and more invitations to engage with school-aged students on the continually controversial question of how Britain made international markets for itself through Empire.
On February 13th and 14th 2019 I went on a mini-tour of London universities delivering papers related to my project. I presented one paper called 'David Hilbert and the Mathematisation of the Market Model' to the Political Economy Research Centre's General Seminar Series at Goldsmiths College, University of London. I presented another paper called 'Crusoe, Friday and the Homo Economicus of Econ 101 Courses' to the Department of Politics at Goldsmiths College, University of London. And I delivered a third paper called 'The Postcolonial Writing Back to the Robinson Crusoe Economy' to a Masterclass Lecture and Question and Answer Session delivered to the Department of European and International Studies at King's College London. The abstracts for the talks are to be found below.
'David Hilbert and the Mathematisation of the Market Model': "In general, there is a unified – albeit still deep contested – political language of ‘the market’. This revolves around the process of buying and selling under conditions of free exchange backed, if necessary, by contract. But when we turn from the political language to economic images of ‘the market’, the sense of unity rapidly dissipates. Those economic images are themselves, at heart, mathematical images, and it would be fair to say that ‘the market’ has been thoroughly mathematised in economic theory. It is the assumption that mathematics provides a universal means of exploring all scientific problems – Leibniz’s so-called mathesis universalis – that also underpins the encroachment of economists’ market model into all sorts of realms of social experience. The ‘imperialism’ of the economics imperialism phenomenon is keenly felt and often resisted by social scientists. However, some excellent work by Fine and Milonakis aside, the ‘economics’ of economics imperialism currently remains largely unexplored. My research-in-progress paper will try to shed light on the relationship between economics imperialism and the mathematisation of economists’ basic market model. Yet it will be shown that this is no straightforward matter. Ask many non-economists what is wrong with economics and they will say that it has allowed a mathematical logic to crowd out concerns for real-world experiences; push them further and they will say that it has simply become too mathematical. Looking at the history of economic thought, however, reveals that there have been over time many articulations of the market model, each of which has a mathematical essence, but that it is to mischaracterise what is important about them to think of older variants being less mathematical and newer variants being more mathematical. They are more usefully thought of as being differently mathematical, where the key difference is that they manifest entirely opposed images of the economic relations that they are designed to represent. The two most important attempts to strike out in new directions in mathematical economics – one I associate with the work of Jevons, the other with Arrow and Debreu – were enacted to solve problems that enable the political language of ‘the market’ to continue to resonate but which are largely superfluous to the way in which economists construct their market models today. Jevons used the mathematics of number to overcome the nineteenth-century free will problem, and thus to defend the notion of free exchange. Arrow and Debreu used the mathematics of signs to overcome the twentieth-century coordination problem, and thus to defend the notion that buying and selling at given prices represents coherent economic activity. However, a deeper look at the mathematics of the market models developed both by Jevons and by Arrow and Debreu implies limitations to how far ‘the market’ should be embedded in practice, the very opposite of the general political orientation of studies cast in the economics imperialism mould. Emphasising the colonisation of the market model by mathematics therefore provides an invitation to rethink the putative success of economists in colonising the other social sciences."
'Crusoe, Friday and the Homo Economicus of Econ 101 Courses' and 'The Postcolonial Writing Back to the Robinson Crusoe Economy': "Why should a political economist like me be interested in the technical details of debates presented within literary theory? In particular, why might I have persuaded myself that it is a good use of my time to find out as much as I can about what literary critics think of Daniel Defoe? The answer is relatively straightforward. Much of the discussion of Defoe’s literary characterisations focuses on the extent to which he was able, in the early eighteenth century, to distil the essence of an abstract homo economicus with whom we are still familiar today. However, that same answer also reveals other puzzles. Defoe’s characters in Robinson Crusoe continue to find their way into many economics textbooks, and they are used as pedagogical tools to enable students on Econ 101 courses to begin to ‘think like an economist’. They might remain fundamental abstractions, but they retain a rhetorical power derived from their familiarity which unlocks for students the essential relationships which economic theory attempts to describe. In the absence of appeals to Crusoe and to Friday, the homo economicus of the economics textbooks would usually remain entirely unnamed. But the economics textbooks themselves are almost the last place in which Defoe’s original characterisations remain pretty much exactly as they were in his 1719 novel. Robinson Crusoe is almost certainly the most rewritten story in the English language, with each generation of novelists since the early twentieth century providing multiple rewritings of the basic plot. Postcolonial and feminist authors in particular have engaged in a conspicuous ‘writing back’ to the original novel, in an effort to expose Defoe’s racist and sexist story lines through a mixture of caricature, satire and carefully constructed plot reversals. The absence of any similar attention to rewriting Defoe’s original novel in economics should give us pause for thought about the typical content of Econ 101 courses. Are we happy with a pedagogical approach to economic theory which tells us that we are all approximations in our economic behaviour of either the active white colonial settler Crusoe, or the passive enslaved person of colour Friday?"
This is the Introduction to a special section of the Review of International Political Economy, 26 (1), 2019, 1-24, co-authored with Caroline Kuzemko and Andrew Lawrence. It has a DOI of 10.1080/09692290.2018.1553796 (https://doi.org/10.1080/09692290.2018.1553796). The aim of the special section is to show how energy markets are changing: in essence, in scale, in constitution, in spatial characteristics and in distributional implications. Energy markets are today bigger than ever before, in that they now encompass an ever wider range of actors and sites of interaction. They are also almost certainly more complex institutional entities than at any previous time in their history. When politicians express faith in 'the market' to cater for all of their energy needs, then, they are now typically doing so whilst the exchange relations conducted between energy buyers and energy sellers look to be modelled less and less on the pure abstraction of 'the market'.
On November 14th 2018 I gave a talk to the Nuneaton Branch of the Historical Association. The ttile of my talk was 'Adam Smith, Enlightenment Sceptic of Empire'. In it, I suggested that the qualification 'Enlightenment' is important. There should be no doubting the fact that Smith, contrary to the position taken by the vast majority of his contemporaries, was opposed to Empire. Some of the most energetic performances recounted in his Glasgow Lectures came when he was outlining his attack on Empire; the same was also true of some of the least guarded passages in The Wealth of Nations. But Smith's scepticism of Empire was definitely of its time. He had overwhelmingly an economic critique of Empire, perhaps for the first time showing how it was possible to turn the image of economic inefficiencies into a political argument. It is much more usual today to think badly of Empire for the way in which it infringed upon all reasonable assumptions about human rights. Interestingly, such an argument can be reconstructed from the sympathy procedure that forms the cornerstone of Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, but it was one that Smith did not make for himself. Moreover, he raised to the position of role models in his Wealth of Nations the Glasgow tobacco merchants who he knew quite well. Yet they benefited from the economics of Empire in exactly the same way as did the East India Company, the real focus of his critique. And they created monopoly conditions from which to benefit in exactly the same way as did it. Moreover, the tobacco merchants made themselves rich on the back of a system of plantation that relied upon the labour of enslaved people. Smith was also a critic of slavery, but once again this was really only an economic argument. The system of slavery can never be as efficient as the system of free labour, he argued, because enslaved people simply do not have the incentives to work hard that free labourers do.
On 9th November 2018 I delivered a talk at the Institut du Monde Anglophone at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3. The talk was entitled, 'Brexit Threats and the Future of UK Financial Regulation'. The paper was designed to show in how many different directions the Conservative Party was pulling itself at that time over what to do about Brexit and how the City of London would fit into the post-Brexit global financial landscape. Global financial markets will inevitably be remade once Brexit frees the City from regulatory oversight from the European Commission, and the best bet at the time of delivering the presentation was that this would be in response to the City increasingly incorporating itself within the type of minimalist regulation usually associated with offshore financial centres. The paper was delivered one week before Theresa May presented her withdrawal agreement to a fractious Cabinet and an even more fractious Parliament, and at that time two potential models of the new regulatory future were still being discussed. One was the so-called Jersey Model, in which the UK would continue to follow EU rules for the trade in goods but not for the trade in services. The other was the so-called Singapore-on-Thames Model, in which a free-wheeling 'Global Britain' would seek to gain competitive advantage through regulatory undercutting. Both models seemed to me to point in the same direction when it comes to the question of how the City would in future be inserted into global financial markets. Both appeared to point to the British financial services industry being compensated for the loss of passporting rights within the EU financial space by being allowed pretty much to write its own regulatory system.
On October 23rd 2018 I was invited to speak at a Black History Month event organised by Lloyds Bank Inclusion and Diversity Division. The event had the title, 'A Mile in My Shoes: Putting the 'B' into BAME', and it was held at Chatham House in St James's Square in London. My paper was entitled, 'Windrush, Brexit and the Racialised Language of British History'. 150 Lloyds staff and guests were invited to hear a range of talks that reflected on the difficulties of a distinctively black history finding its voice in modern Britain and what this might mean for people of colour working within an organisation like Lloyds. As the one white person invited to speak, I thought that it was beholden upon me to talk about the continuing effects of white privilege and how this phenomenon is currently evident within the Brexit debate. This same theme was prominent in lots of the questions asked at the 'Question Time'-style roundtable, where the audience asked the panel members whether they believed contemporary Britain was moving closer towards or further away from racial equality.
On October 19th 2018 I was invited to Lyng Hall School in Coventry to give a talk about the politics of statues, but to do so specifically in relation to the city of Coventry itself. The students quickly embraced the issue, and they will be working with our Widening Participation team on a project this year that will ask whether an alternative way might be found of memorialising Myrtilla, who was brought to this country from St Nevis as a slave in the late seventeenth century. She is buried in the churchyard of St Lawrence in Oxhill in the Warwickshire countryside, and unusually for someone in her situation Myrtilla was provided with a headstone. However, her headstone states that she continued to be 'owned' even in death. The students are interested in developing a new way of commemorating Myrtilla's life. They have also promised to pass on to us any interesting stories they learn about the statues that they encounter in Coventry when they are walking around the city in future.
On October 2nd 2018 I was invited back to my old school following my visit in May. The students had asked me to come back to talk about Brexit, and I delivered a new session on 'Brexit and Democracy' that I had worked up specifically for them. I spoke to over fifty sixth-formers, and I will be going back again very soon.
Title: 'Vision and Ideology in Economic Theory: The Post-Crisis Persistence of Mainstream General Equilibrium Macroeconomics', in Bob Jessop and Karim Knio (eds) (2018) The Pedagogy of Economic, Political and Social Crises: Dynamics, Construals and Lessons, London: Routledge, pp. 105-120.
Extract from text: The problem facing mainstream macroeconomics is that competitive pricing dynamics are now treated as the norm on both sides of the Schumpeterian divide between vision and ideology. It is the assumption of competitive pricing dynamics that makes DSGE models thinkable in the first instance; it is their methodological condition of possibility. Yet this same assumption now routinely informs policy recommendations from DSGE modellers on how best to manage economic relations. What might originally have been merely a set of tools to guide attempts to make sense of the world in abstract terms have since become increasingly difficult to disentangle from the assertion that competitive pricing is essential to the efficient allocation of scarce resources in the modern economy. Initially, the assumption of continuous market-clearing dynamics was just a means of making the mathematics of a purely hypothetical general equilibrium model operable. Increasingly, however, this same assumption is invoked to justify remaking economic institutions and attitudes so that the world operates just like the model.
For a week during the school summer holidays of 2018, my Department hosted sixteen young people who had successfully applied to the Politics stream of the Sutton Trust Summer School at Warwick (https://summerschools.suttontrust.com/). Our week of events was organised around the themes of the Colonial Hangover project. I delivered three sessions to the students during the course of the week: (1) To What Extent Is Empire Still With Us Today?; (2) The Politics of Imperial Commemoration; and (3) The Politics of Global Apologies. I also helped to organise their outing for the day that they spent away from campus, which was designed to show them how the threads of empire were woven deeply into the Warwickshire countryside from the seventeenth century onwards.
On July 21st 2018 I appeared in an 'In Conversation' slot at the annual Belgrade Mela in Coventry and was also interviewd by Radio Plus. The Mela is a public event hosted at the Belgrade Theatre to celebrate South Asian arts and culture within the UK and, more specifically, within the Coventry and Warwickshire region. I was interviewed by my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, before the discussion was opened up to a Q&A session with the audience. The theme was the Colonial Hangover project that we have been running with local schools, showcasing the activities we have put on for students within the region and, more generally, asking how modern-day Coventry is located in relation to the ongoing political and economic structures of imperial legacies. At the instigation of both Shahnaz and the audience, there was a distinct Brexit theme to the developing conversation.
On July 11th 2018 I delivered the same lecture twice to the Sixth Form Applicants Open Day at the University of Birmingham School. The lecture was entitled 'The Politics of Statues', and I focused in particular on the statues that the students were likely to see around them in Birmingham and how they relate to patterns of political protest that have developed around public artworks in recent years.
Title: 'Foreword', in Robbie Shilliam (2018) Race and the Undeserving Poor: From Abolition to Brexit, Newcastle upon Tyne: Agenda Publishing.
Extract from text: The great merit to be found in Robbie Shilliam's book is just how clearly his voice comes across. He explores the lineage of repeated political attempts in Britain from the eighteenth century onwards to bracket off 'the deserving poor' from the broader category of 'the poor' in general. Some marker of difference must be called upon to distinguish those who do from those who do not merit political sympathy for their plight and state support to lessen their day-to-day grind of making ends meet. Shilliam shows that, often, the simple characteristic of what you look like was enough for a person of colour to be relegated from the deserving category. At other times, behaivoural traits became the means of differentiation, but assumptions relating to the propensity to display proscribed behaviour have been so frequently racialised that this symbol of exclusion has also been reduced to the issue of skin colour. Race and the Undeserving Poor demonstrates how practices of British working-class respectability have historically been inscribed with underlying images of whiteness.
A piece that I recorded for Warwick's Knowledge Centre along with Ben Clift and Christopher Holmes was cited in a lengthy article by Kumar David first published in the Colombo Telegraph on June 17th 2018 and then reposted shortly after that on the Monthly Review Online website. The article by Kumar David seeks to apply Polanyi's theory to understanding the economic approach of the British Labour Party.
On June 19th 2018 I gave a short presentation entitled 'Buccaneering Britain' to a seminar held at Queen Mary University of London on Race, Class and Nation in Modern Britain. The event was organised as part of Robbie Shilliam's leaving celebrations. My paper looked at the politics of memory in relation to the image presented by the most gung-ho of Conservative Brexiteers of a 'buccaneering' Britain that will approach free trade deals with gusto in the post-Brexit world. This construction invokes the active recall of particular aspects of British history in the form of constant repetition of a limited number of stylised tropes. Pride of place in this regard goes to 'You must remember that Britain has always been a great trading nation' and 'You must remember that Britain has always been a great maritime nation'. Yet this simultaneously entails a commitment to passively forget other histories which would focus on how the British Empire was constructed through violence and how British control of the seas meant control of all the trade that was conducted by sea, including that in people. The contemporary politics of race, class and nation in Britain is trapped, I concluded, in a telling of history that has been hijacked by Brexiteer opinion. This makes a more restorative politics - a reparative politics even - seem further away than ever.
On June 15th 2018 my Department ran a RADA Bronze Award Schools Day, where we teamed up with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art to provide the means for Year 10 students from the Coventry and Warwickshire area to study for a Shakespeare Award. We ran this in conjunction with the Colonial Hangover project. The engagement with RADA will develop over a series of sessions, each of which will explore themes of territory and empire in Shakespeare's plays. I delivered the opening lecture of the first day to 60 fifteen-year-olds and their teachers. It was entitled, 'The Colonial Hangover Project: What Should Our Instinctive Response to the British Empire Be Today?'
The second event was held on June 29th and was entitled 'Exploring Shakespeare'. I gave a short talk as a taster for the concluding event on the controversies surrounding the statues in Parliament Square, contrasting this to the politically non-controversial statues of Shakespeare and Shakespearean characters that appear in his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. This followed lectures by my colleagues Stuart Elden and Shahnaz Akhter on 'Shakespeare and Territory' and 'Shakespeare and Hip Hop' respectively.
The third event was held on July 10th and was entitled 'Shakespeare at the Houses of Parliament'. I delivered a lecture entitled 'The Politics of Statues', before the students delivered their interpretations of political scenes in Shakespeare in front of our invited guests from RADA. We then took the students into Parliament Square to look at the statues there, and my colleague Jason Dymydiuk prepared an information sheet for them on potential political controversies surrounding many of Westminster's most famous public works of art.
On June 9th 2018 I delivered a Keynote Lecture at the conference called 'Rethinking the EU' at Universität Witten/Herdecke. The title of my talk was 'Brexit and Economic Justice: From Britain's EU Referendum to Empire 2.0'.
Abstract from the conference programme: "Matthew Watson will be speaking to the conference theme of 'Rethinking Justice within the European Union' from the perspective of his ongoing ESRC Professorial Fellowship project, 'Rethinking the Market'. He will be reflecting on the post-Brexit politics of European Single Market membership in the UK, but at the same time trying to explain how some of the more surprising pro-Brexit constituencies at the 2016 EU referendum were animated by perceptions of economic justice postponed. These were people who had done everything that had been asked of them over the previous thirty years to adjust themselves to supposed new market 'realities', but who had nonetheless seen their lives get harder and their life chances less secure. For them, the vote against continued EU membership was arguably nothing to do with the European Union at all, so much as with a more generalised revolt against being sold down the river in the interests of enhancing national economic competitiveness. The Hard Brexiteer position on leaving the European Single Market and the EU customs union should be particularly troubling for these Leave-voting constituencies. It is predicated on what Bauman has called a 'retrotopia', a yearning for the return to a golden age in which British political elites were much more secure in their conceit that their country punched above its weight as an undisputed world leader. The Hard Brexiteer dream of post-Brexit 'sunny uplands' imagines the reinvention of an Anglosphere of pure free trade relations between an entirely deregulated group of English-speaking countries. This has been variously described amongst the pro-Brexit factions of the Conservative Party as 'Global Britain', 'the Singapore Option' and 'Empire 2.0'. Whatever name is eventually chosen to describe what the Conservative Government believes it wants from Brexit, the prospects for those people who voted against continued UK membership of the EU on the grounds of having had their claims to economic justice ignored will presumably only get worse. They seem sure to be required to experience an even more extreme version of what they thought they had voted to leave behind. The question of economic justice for all within the European Single Market is one that EU elites should still be prepared to pay more attention to. But the trajectory that the Hard Brexiteer settlement looks likely to impose upon the UK is no solution at all.
On May 22nd 2018 I was invited back to my old school - Sir John Talbot's Comprehensive School in Whitchurch, Shropshire - to deliver a caeers talk to students in Years 11, 12 and 13. The title that I was asked to speak to was 'My Journey from Sir John Talbot's to Being a University Professor'.
On May 18th 2018 I was invited to give a talk on my new book, The Market, to the MA students in International Political Economy at the University of Copenhagen. The book talk took the form of a question-and-answer session compered by Professor Ben Rosamond, allowing his students to ask me whatever they wanted to do about how I had come to write the book in the way that I have.
On May 17th 2018 I delivered a paper to the Department of Political Science Seminar Series at the University of Copenhagen. The paper was entitled, 'The Said, the Unsaid and the Unsayable in Ricardo's Theory of Comparative Advantage'.
Abstract: Ricardo is simultaneously everywhere and nowhere in IPE. IPE textbooks ritually nod in deference to the significant role he played in the field's historical back-story, and his theory of comparative advantage continues to be central to the underlying economic ethic of the liberal perspective that dominates the field. Yet it is extremely rare for any IPE scholar to offer anything beyond the most superficial insights into the content of Ricardo's economics. When the textbooks focus on what he said, then, what is being presented is less his own voice articulating his own ideas than a second- or even third-hand account of a deeply canonised Ricardo. I wish to push this line of argument two stages further in this paper, noting how a focus on what is said also facilitates a further focus on what is left unsaid and what was almost certainly unsayable in the prevailing political context. The dimensions of both the unsaid and the unsayable are very revealing in Ricardo's case. (1) Ricardo presented his theory of comparative advantage as a universally applicable account of the efficiency of the free trade solution, but he neglected to mention the actual trading relationship between English cloth and Portuguese wine that lay behind his numerical example of comparative advantage. This was rooted in deeply asymmetric treaty obligations that distorted the development of the Portuguese economy and that revolved around eighteenth-century European inter-imperial wars and Britain's ever deeper involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. It is hard to believe that this neglect was anything other than deliberate. However, (2) it must also be recognised that the political context in which Ricardo was writing was far from permissive. A whole host of restrictions on civil liberties were in operation for most of his adult life and served as a constant backdrop to his Principles of Political Economy. His theory of comparative advantage is generally treated as being one of the most important examples of his latterly much criticised tendency towards market-based abstraction. Yet to have attacked the treaty basis of the British economy, even to have commented upon treaties that worked as much in Britain's favour as the one that regulated the trade of English cloth for Portuguese wine, was a potentially treasonable offence throughout the period in which the three editions of the Principles were published. Ricardo's silences might therefore prove to have been a complex mixture of the unsaid and the unsayable.
On March 23rd 2018 I presented a paper at the West Midlands IPE Workshop held at the University of Birmingham. The paper was entitled, 'The History Curriculum in English Schools: What Have Our Undergraduates Been Taught About the British Empire?' It focused on the very positive effects that result from the ever greater attention that university students now pay to matters of curriculum design, in particular via the Decolonising the Curriculum movement. As a way into this question, I spoke about the prior history curriculum our English-based students would have experienced whilst they were at school, with its supposedly connected narrative of British national achievements and the Secretary of State for Education's desire for that narrative arc to be constructed around the activities of national 'heroes'. A contrast was drawn between the unquestioning ascription of heroic status to specifically imperial heroes in the Secretary of State's desired school history curriculum and our own students' deep-seated desire to challenge such assumptions.
All of the papers on the day were presented in the pecha kucha format.
On March 19th 2018 I was a participant at a workshop held at the London College of Communication at the University of the Arts London in Elephant and Castle. The workshop focused on the Annual Tax Summary that was introduced in 2014 and goes out each year to millions of UK households. It presents a breakdown of how much income tax the recipient pays alongside a pie chart that breaks down in percentage terms the different spending categories that make up state expenditures. The workshop participants were invited to critically deconstruct the content of the Annual Tax Summary so that the accounting story that appears in the official narrative can be contrasted with the political story that can only be read between the lines. As a precursor to further events, the day finished with attempts to think through alternatives to the current structure of the Annual Tax Summary.
On March 9th 2018 I delivered a lecture entitled 'The 'History Wars': How Should the History of the British Empire be Taught in Schools?' to Year 12s at King Edward VI College in Nuneaton. 65 students attended the lecture and then stayed as we outlined this year's Colonial Hangover competition.
The 2018 Colonial Hangover project for my Department's Widening Participation schools began with a full day of events on January 26th. This year's competition was introduced to the students, along with the list of milestones that will help them to develop their entries under the guidance of our undergraduate student ambassadors. I delivered the opening lecture for the day, called 'The British Empire and the 'History Wars' over the English School Curriculum'. Over seventy students were in attendance during the day.
I was one of 113 academics to sign a letter criticising the Conservative Government for its continued ideological pursuit of austerity. The letter was published on November 20th 2017 and was entitled, 'The Chancellor Must End Austerity Now - It is Punishing an Entire Generation'.
I was one of the 56 academic supporters of the Trade Justice Movement to sign a letter criticising the UK Government for so far refusing to stipulate how post-Brexit trade deals are to receive the assent of Parliament. The letter was published on October 20th 2017.
It can be found here, albeit quite a long way down on that day's published list of letters: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2017/10/20/lettersif-brexit-negotiations-fail-big-risk-comes-staying-eu/.
George Osborne was a purveyor of machonomics, an approach to economic policy-making revolving around seemingly bottomless reserves of macho self-confidence. In this blog post for the LSE British Politics and Policy blog site, I argue that Osborne modelled himself in this way on the optimal policy-maker of the so-called time consistency problem of abstract economic theory.
This post showcases the analysis contained in my recent British Politics article on the same theme. It is available in open access view-only format from Springer Nature's Shared It facility.
The question of why uncertainty does not feature more prominently as an economic ontology requires answers that are rooted in intellectual history. This post, the sixth in the SPERI series on uncertainty, searches for them by looking at how economic history has become increasingly colonised by economic theory, and economic theory by mathematics.
Recent criticisms of the mathiness of many economists has raised the question within the blogosphere of whether a fundamental fault-line has now punctured economics orthodoxy.
On October 31st 2017 I was invited to speak at a Future Leaders Event organised by Lloyds Banking Group's Inclusion and Diversity Division. The event took place in The Shard in London. 160 Lloyds staff and guests were invited to hear a range of talks about the difficulties experienced by BAME colleagues in moving through the ranks of their organisation and into middle management. I spoke about the Colonial Hangover project, linking the work that I do on one of my Department's schools outreach projects to the distance that large organisations still have to travel if they are to provide a context for their staff to experience a working environment that survives the charge of being institutionally racist. I argued that an organisation that is only partially aware of its own history is an organisation that cannot guarantee that it will survive such a charge. I illustrated this through reference to the imperial legacies that our Widening Participation students learn about through the Colonial Hangover project and the imperial legacies that all of Britain's banks still have. The evening was a great success, and further talks will follow as a means of deepening the link.
The evening event also grew to encompass an afternoon event where members of my Department spoke in an informal and off-the-record manner with executives from Lloyds, Deloittes, Ernst and Young, Bank of New York Mellon, the BBC and the Black British Business Awards on matters of inclusion and diversity. Documents under discussion were the recent Parker, McGregor-Smith and Black British Business Awards reviews on the restricted opportunities for career advancement amongst BAME staff within the corporate sector. Again, things went very well, and further meetings are planned to move the conversation forward.
Title: ‘Introduction’, in Susan Strange (2016 ) Casino Capitalism, reprinted edition, Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp.vii-xviii.
Extract from text: For anyone who is returning to [Casino Capitalism] for the first time in a number of years, it is a delight to be reacquainted with the nuance of a historical perspective that emphasises the significance of decisions that could have been taken but were not, just as much as the decisions that were actually taken (pp.47-58). History thus comes alive as a highly politicised lens in Strange’s hands through the analysis of alternatives that were available but were overlooked simply because they did not fit the prevailing political mentality. For anyone coming to this work for the first time, there will consequently by many moments of revelation. Even though a self-consciously theoretical voice was so often written out of Strange’s work, younger generations of IPE scholars will find on repeated occasions that her texts speak to them in a language that helps to confirm their own subsequent theoretical choices. Strange’s ‘amateur history’ thus pre-empts a good deal of IPE’s future, in its concern for both the way in which the financial system was becoming a repository for political power and for how this made more and more people susceptible in their everyday lives to the whims of financial market pricing dynamics.
I spent some time duing the summer of 2017 giving lectures to school-age students on my Department's Colonial Hangover Widening Participation project. On June 30th I was asked to deliver the opening keynote lecture to the Colonial Hangover Conference, which brought together A-level students with whom we had been working over the course of the year and our own undergraduates to whom we wanted to give experience of operating in an academic conference-like environment. On August 8th I gave the first two lectures to my Department's Sutton Trust Summer School, which was run throughout the week on the Colonial Hangover theme. The first lecture was entitled, 'The Politics of Imperial Names', the second 'The Imperial Politics of the Built Environment'.
I spent June 15th and 16th 2017 at the Work in Progress Workshop at the Department of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Birmingham. Whilst there, I delivered a paper of my own ('Literary Themes and Economic Models: The Novels of Daniel Defoe and the Framing of Market Agency') and I also acted as discussant for a paper delivered by Huw Macartney ('All Bark and No Bite: Bank Culture and the Political Economy of Fines').
On May 31st 2017 I delivered a paper to the Global Political Economy Research Group Seminar Series organised out of the School of Social Sciences at the University of Manchester. The paper was entitled, 'Imperial Fantasies and Marginalist Economics: Crusoe, Friday and the Myths on which Economics Textbooks Stand'.
On May 16th 2017 I delivered a paper to the Political Economy Research Group Seminar Series organised out of the Department of Politics at the University of Sheffield. The paper was entitled, 'The Storytelling Dimension of Neoclassical Models of Market Exchange: Crusoe, Friday and the Myth of Agential Equality'.
On April 23rd 2017 I delivered a keynote address at the International Philosophy Politics and Economics Conference at the Universitat Witten/Herdecke in Germany. This was a conference organised by graduate students at Witten specifically for their peers studying on PPE programmes around Europe. The title of my address was 'Foundational Stories and Persistent Myths of Liberal Economic Theory'. In it, I focused on the historical conditions associated with the European struggle for empire and how these were imprinted in both Adam Smith's conception of the market and David Ricardo's argument in favour of free trade.
On April 11th 2017 I delivered a paper at the Political Studies Association Annual Conference in Glasgow. The paper was entitled, 'Machonomics and the Politics of Inequality'. The panel, The Politics of Inequality, was convened by David Adler of the University of Oxford, and it was sponsored by the British and Comparative Political Economy PSA Specialist Group.
Abstract: Feminist scholars have described the behavioural traits that have flourished within the global economy in terms of their underlying hyper-masculinity. Whilst this literature has typically focused on a small number of business leaders around whom popular myths of wealth creation have developed, the same way of thinking might also be applied to policy-makers. At the very least, my study of George Osborne's time as UK Chancellor of the Exchequer reveals how consistently he adoped the mantle of hyper-masculinity in his approach to deficit reduction. It was an attitude to the task at hand I label 'machonomics'. This concept is designed to mean more than that the outcomes of his austerity programme disproportionately disadvantaged women. It also captures the type of policy-maker that Osborne tried so hard to convince others he was. This self-projection finds a parallel, I argue, in what the macroeconomic theory literature describes as the specifically 'conservative policy-maker', someone reputed for trusting his own judgement even in the face of widespread dissent against his anti-social policies. The conservative policy-maker exudes the hyper-masculinity that Osborne embodied in his refusal to voice opinions in public suggesting that there were viable alternatives to painful public expenditure cuts.
Whilst I was at the Conference, I also participated as one of the mentors in a 'speed mentoring' event run by the PSA's Early Career Network that covered all possible elements of academic career advice.
I spent March 22nd and 23rd 2017 at the London School of Economics, participating in a number of events.
(1) I delivered a paper to the International Political Economy and Public Policy Research Cluster that extends across the Department of Government, the European Institute and the Department of International Relations. It was called 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Pedagogy'.
(2) I held meetings with a number of Cluster PhD students housed in the Department of International Relations to talk to them about their ongoing research.
(3) I gave a talk to the Grimshaw Club Student Society, which is an affiliated society of the LSE Students Union. It was called 'Brexit and the Economically 'Left Behind''.
(4) I was one of four participants on the 1st Annual International Relations Roundtable in the Department of International Relations. The theme of the roundtable discussion was 'Restating the State of the Discipline'. My invitation came at the request of the International Political Economy and Public Policy Research Cluster.
In July 2016 I was invited to the Firesouls office in London by Dan Ebanks, the company's co-founder and CEO. Firesouls has built the Social Value Exchange, an e-auction that enables community groups to bid for resources that might have a transformative effect on the way in which life is lived locally. Dan recorded the conversation that we had about my project research, in the hope that my work on the market concept might serve as useful background information for what Firesouls is trying to do with its Social Value Exchange. The first part of that conversation was posted on the Firesouls blog site on March 7th 2017, with a further part to come.
On March 8th 2017 I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of Politics at Newcastle University. The paper was entitled, 'Decolonising Political Economy Concepts, Step One - 'The Market': Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks'.
Abstract: 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers necessarily evoke a world of racialised hierarchies. Economics textbooks are perhaps the sole remaining medium to simply wish away their resulting relations of power. These are the teaching aids that inspire students analytically to think of markets as pristine economic institutions and persuade them politically that they should want to will such institutions into being. Yet they all-too-often rely on the pedagogical device of the so-called Robinson Crusoe Economy, where the main characters from Defoe's most famous novel are required to instinctively recognise their equality within voluntary contracting agreements so that each can act as the neoclassical homo economicus. In other words, economists' Crusoe and Friday figures must behave antithetically to what has historically been implied by the 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers. But how can this be so, given how commonplace it was when Defoe's characters were first introduced into economic theory in the 1850s to justify white settler colonialism on the grounds that 'savage' societies lacked the capacity to be self-governing? The raced market frame that emerged in practice from this assumption continues to be reproduced uncritically today by Crusoe and Friday's presence in the textbook explanation of the most basic model of market exchange.
The International Studies Association Annual Convention took place in Baltimore, MA between February 22nd and 25th 2017. Unfortunately, I was ultimately unable to attend, but a condensed version of my paper was still read out by the panel's organiser, Lisa Tilley, in my absence. The panel was convened under the Raced Market initiative and my paper spoke to the content of my proposed contribution to the journal special issue that is currently being put together by the initiative's organisers. It was called 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Textbook Economics Pedagogy'. A full version of the text can be downloaded from this link.
Along with my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, I launched the Colonial Hangover project at a Schools Day event we ran for Year 12 students on January 17th 2017. The project will run for the whole year and will invite the participating students to reflect on the images of empire that they continue to find around them on a day-to-day basis. It picks up on an increasing sense that the British Empire might well have been formally disbanded, but that assumptions about empire continue to shape our everyday experiences. This has perhaps never been more amply demonstrated than in the vision of Britain's place in the world that animated the Leave campaign at the 2016 EU referendum and that now provides the dominant imagery for Theresa May's preferred account of what a post-Brexit Britain might look like.
Assisted by our undergraduate student research assistants Taznema Khatun and Jonas Eberhardt, we also put on a Colonial Hangover conference on June 30th 2017. This was designed to allow our schools competition winners to present their work - both essays and spoken word pieces - in an environment in which they could interact with our undergraduates and learn more about university life from the latter's presentations. It proved to be an exhilarating day in which all of the students took the opportunity to really talk about themselves, their experiences of the legacies of empire and what it means to live in a society that continues to be dominated by assumptions of white privilege. Recordings from the day will shortly be available.
On December 8th 2016 I delivered a guest lecture followed by a question and answer session to the Warwick Global Development Society. The topic of the talk was 'Adam Smith on Empire'.
On December 7th 2016 at the invitation of the C2G2 Centre I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton. The paper was entitled, 'The Politics of Silence in Liberal Economic Theory: What David Ricardo's Theory of Global Free Trade Still Does Not Tell Us 200 Years On'.
Abstract: David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage is now two centuries old, but it remains at the heart of economists’ theories of international trade. It also continues to provide the underlying economic ethics for liberal IPE. Ricardo’s numerical illustration of the mutually shared gains from specialisation and trade featured a productively superior hypothetical ‘Portugal’ and a productively inferior hypothetical ‘England’. Yet the historical back-story of actual eighteenth-century trading relations between the two countries reveals Portugal’s repeated struggles to meet its treaty obligations to the English in the context of the European struggle for empire. Those difficulties persisted even when it harnessed its (less profitable) commercial trade to (much more profitable) slave trading practices. Ricardo’s account of the purely market-based logic of comparative advantage writes out of economic history the centrality to the early English and Portuguese experience of ‘free’ trade of both imperial wars and African slavery. Given this historical back-story, the debates about international trade that will follow in the wake of both the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory are unlikely to ever tell the full story. There is a very good chance that they will continue to revolve around assertions and counter-assertions related to Ricardo’s original claims in favour of free trade. Equally they are also likely to remain silent on the historical experiences that Ricardo wished away in saying that England and Portugal would be best advised to continue their existing commercial relationships as a matter of pure economic logic. This paper will explore where those silences came from and also explain why they remain so important today.
On November 24th 2016 I gave a talk to a group of Year 12 schoolchildren entitled, 'The Price of Citizenship'. It focused on taxation, the way in which markets are currently being made to facilitate tax avoidance, and what the current political tendency to equate taxation with some sort of state-sanctioned theft of peronal money does to the ability to continue to fund public goods such as healthcare, education, environmental protection and pensions, access to which is traditionally seen as being part of the rights we hold as citizens.
On November 23rd and 24th 2016, along with my Department's Widening Participation Officer, Shahnaz Akhter, I gave a poster presentation on our Colonial Hangover project at the PAIS Impact Conference at the University of Warwick. The poster was seen by the eighty participants at the conference and by seventy Year 12 students visiting my Department on the second day of the conference for a Pathways to Politics Widening Participation Day. The students will be enrolled into our Colonial Hangover activities as the academic year progresses.
On October 5th 2016 I delivered a paper to the General Departmental Seminar of the Department of European and International Studies at King's College London. The paper was entitled, 'Market Models, Metamathematics and Economic Theory: How the Market Concept Came to Mean Politically Anything You Want It To'.
On October 29th 2016 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 Drs Sophie Harman and Megan Daigle. We were asked to talk to a recent paper that we had written, but less about its contents and more about the process through which we came to put the paper together in the first place. This was then to be used as guidance for the students as they work towards their own projects for the year. The paper I chose was from my Professorial Fellowship research and was entitled, 'Crusoe, Friday and the Raced Market Frame of Orthodox Economics Textbooks'. My presentation focused on why I have become so interested in understanding the silences that develop in economic theory when the market frame is taught through a basic model in which full contracting equality before the law is ascribed to Crusoe and Friday. The reality of Defoe's original novel was very different, and everywhere other than in economics textbooks the 'Crusoe' and 'Friday' signifiers continue to evoke the racialised hierarchy through which the novel's characters capture the essence of the early eighteenth-century colonial economy.
The audio recording of the whole session is available here. My presentation starts 14 minutes into the recording and ends at 26 minutes.
This is the second of the two-part blog post that OUP published on its website on October 6th 2016 to accompany the release of the seventh edition of Baylis, Smith and Owens's The Globalization of World Politics. It is entitled, 'Brexit and Article 50 Negotiations: Why the Smart Money Might be on No Deal'.
In August 2016 I was invited by Oxford University Press to do some filming for their website, answering questions on Brexit. This was to help them in their advertising for the seventh edition of Baylis, Smith and Owens's The Globalization of World Politics, to which I am a contributing author for the chapter on Global Trade and Global Finance. These are two dimensions of the modern-day phenomenon of economic globalisation that will definitely be impacted on by the UK's decision to withdraw from the European Union.
As a follow-up to my afternoon filming, I was then asked to write two blog posts for the OUP website. The first was published on September 25th 2016, and is called, 'Brexit and Article 50 Negotiations: What it would take to strike a deal'. This post, along with the accompanying film, can be found via the following link.
On July 23rd 2016 I participated in a roundtable discussion about photographic art and everyday experiences of the British Empire. This was as part of the Colonial Hangover project that I have been running for my Department's Widening Participation Programme. My talk was entitled, 'Photographs, Family Histories and the Colonial Hangover', and I appeared alongside Jason Scott Tilley and Tarla Patel. The event took place at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry and was an element of the 2016 Coventry Mela, a celebration of South Asian arts and culture within the city.
On July 4th 2016 I acted alongside Colin Hay as one of the two discussants on the panel at the SPERI Conference in Sheffield entitled, 'Exploring Alternative Growth Models'. The two papers being discussed were written by David Coates, Wake Forest University ('Riding the Tiger: Towards a New Growth Strategy for the Political Left') and Terence Casey, Rose Hulman Institute of Technology ('Rupture or Reform? In Defense of Neoliberalism').
On June 29th 2016 I gave a talk to supplement citizenship training to both Year 9s and Year 12s at Rainhill High School in Prescot, Merseyside. The talk was entitled, 'Paying for the State: Taxation and Citizenship'.
I also participated alongside my departmental colleagues Trevor McCrisken and Shahnaz Akhter on a post-EU referendum Question Time-style roundtable discussion.
On June 23rd 2016 I delivered a paper to the Work-in-Progress Workshop held at the University of Birmingham. The paper is entitled, 'The Changing Look of the Market Model in Mainstream Economics: Gérard Debreu and the Influence of the Hilbert Programme'. A copy of the paper, preliminary though it remains, can be downloaded here.
I also acted as discussant at the same event to two further papers: Huw Macartney, 'The Culture of US Banking: Legitimacy, Inequality, and the Rule of the Market'; and David Bailey, 'Challenging the Age of Austerity: Disruptive Agency after the Global Economic Crisis'.
Fools' Gold Blog Post on Friedrich List's Role in the Pre-History of Modern-Day Competitiveness Thinking
Friedrich List never once mentioned competitiveness directly by name, but he nonetheless remains an important figure in the pre-history of the Competitiveness Agenda. It would be impossible to present a comprehensive account of the rhetorical structure underpinning that agenda without at least some discussion of his National System of Political Economy. It was List who first made the case in the 1840s for collective national sacrifice in the interests of stronger future macroeconomic performance. There is no plausible philosophical mechanism in his work to explain why people should agree to the privations following from this sacrifice, in much the same way that no plausible philosophical mechanism operates in the modern-day Competitiveness Agenda to explain why the population should remain passive in the face of a race to the bottom. His argument for choosing national economic champions in the name of future society-wide enrichment therefore looks like an unsubstantiated assertion, and the same surely also applies to the Competitiveness Agenda.
On March 22nd 2016 I was the academic lead on a Schools Day event, joining together with my Department's Widening Participation team to put on a series of sessions around the theme of the Colonial Hangover. Students were asked to reflect on the ways in which the legacies of the British Empire continue to reverberate down the generations and lead to particular perspectives being taken on the issue of racial politics today.
A film of the opening lecture I delivered can be found here: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+matthew+warwick+colonial+hangover&view=detail&mid=99B586FCAE014EACB7C599B586FCAE014EACB7C5&FORM=VIRE.
For the second year running I organised a whole day's event to allow the China Plate Theatre Company's artists-in-residence at Warwick Arts Centre to engage with the academic research of my colleagues in the Department of Politics and International Studies. The artists were at Warwick for intensive meetings for the whole of the week beginning 14.03.16 in the hope that discussions with academics might lead to the spark for their next major project.
In March 2016 I hosted a week-long visit to my Department from Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen, the founder members of the Rashdash Theatre Company (http://www.rashdash.co.uk/). They were at Warwick to attend meetings that I had put together with a number of my colleagues as a fact-finding mission for one of their future shows. It will have the wonderful title of 'Capitalism: The Musical'.
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.